Sunday, March 22, 2015

On the Shelf: DC & Marvel revive some forgotten titles

In the 60's, 70's, & early 80's, it was common to find anthology titles from both DC & Marvel, as well as other publishers, on the spinner racks at the neighborhood newsstands. However, as we got deeper into the 80's, the anthologies were being phased out. Charlton & Gold Key had faded out, while DC & Marvel became more involved in developing line-wide "universes".

In recent years, DC has revived some of their old anthology titles under the Vertigo label. House of Secrets and House of Mystery didn't have the staying power of their earlier incarnations, largely because the host characters created for those books in the late 60's, DC's versions of Cain (House of Mystery) & Abel (House of Secrets and, later, Unexpected) were co-opted by acclaimed author Neil Gaiman for his legendary Sandman series, later spun off into The Dreaming, with allusions that they were in fact the original Biblical characters, albeit with pointed ears. Please. In short order, Weird War Tales, Weird Western Tales, & Strange Adventures were all brought back as Vertigo miniseries. The stories were written in the same manner as in the original books, but without the restrictions of the now-defunct Comics Code Authority, giving the creators greater artistic freedom.

The latest revival is that of a short-lived series from the 70's, Strange Sports Stories, which lasted 4 issues the first time around, but was later collected in a digest-sized TPB in the 80's. As usual, it's 4 issues, but 48 pages per, with a $5 cover price. We mentioned before how former WWE & Ring of Honor champ CM Punk was doing some writing for this miniseries. His first DC story appears in issue 3, in May. If you thought he hit one out of the park in the Thor Annual for Marvel, this might be his encore.

The material in the 1st issue offers a portent of things to come. The emphasis is more on science fiction than the original series ever was, with soccer among the sports themes. Artwork's nice, too.

Rating: A.

In 2011 & 2012, DC/Vertigo revived two long running anthologies as 1-shot specials. Ghosts & The Unexpected couldn't match the magic of their earlier incarnations, but it was decided to combine the two into a trade paperback volume under the Unexpected title. Despite solid contributions from fan favorites such as Phil Jiminez, Paul Pope, David Lapham, Gilbert Hernandez, and the late Joe Kubert (his last story, neither inked nor colored, was published in one of the two volumes), and previews of Voodoo Child and yet another anthology revival, Time Warp, the latter featuring the Dead Boy Detectives, who now have their own series, the writing is wildly inconsistent, as there were some stories that left me scratching my head and trying to figure out what the writer(s) were trying to say. Being a sucker for the old titles, I invested, and regretted it.

Rating: C.

Marvel gets in on the act again in May with the return of Where Monsters Dwell, only this time, there is a storyline that runs through the entire series. We'll see how this plays out.

Retro reads:

Staying with the anthology theme, Dark Horse in 2009 published the first Archives volume of a treasured Gold Key series that I actually had issues of back in the day. Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery launched in 1962, with the first two issues using the title of Karloff's NBC series, Thriller, before a title change in issue 3, coinciding with a reduction in cover price (!) from 25 cents to 12, and a lower page count. Artists familiar to DC readers, including Mike Sekowsky and Dan Spiegle, worked on the series, which ran for 18 years total before being cancelled in the 80's. Another TV anthology adapted to comics, The Twilight Zone, lasted a bit longer than that, and has been revived by other publishers since the end of its Gold Key run (Dynamite---what a shock---has the license for Zone today). That, I think, is because Zone had a longer TV run than Thriller, which was cancelled after 2 seasons (and previously covered in this space), and is better known by comics and TV fans alike. Too, GK hasn't exactly been treated very well, though some of the properties it was known for have been revived by Dynamite and other publishers as well.

Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery gets a B.

After taking over Strange Tales (1st series) in the 60's, Dr. Strange was granted a 2nd chance in the 70's, spinning out of Marvel Premiere. As a jaded fan today, I am looking back at some of these stories that I've read in the past, some of them when they were brand new, and wondering why I was even interested back then. It was the writing of ace creators such as Steve Englehart that hooked readers, plus the likes of Jim Starlin, Marv Wolfman, and Gene Colan. The series included a cross-over with Wolfman & Colan's legendary Tomb of Dracula (1st series).

Rating: B.

The Metal Men were one of Robert Kanigher's many creations to debut during the Silver Age at DC. The gimmick was that the "token female", Platinum, or, Tina, if you will, was crushing on her creator, Dr. Will Magnus, who couldn't for the life of him figure out why she had any emotions in the first place. Now, this was a series begging to be adapted for television, and never did in its prime years. DC revived the series twice in the 70's, first in a series of reprints, one of which I copped, and then, new material began appearing, illustrated by Walt Simonson, which was awesome in and of itself. You don't believe me, scope out The Groovy Agent's Diversions of the Groovy Kind, which has showcased some of those Simonson specials.

Metal Men gets an A-.

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