Posted tagged ‘Showcase Presents’

Review: Showcase Presents Aquaman Vol.1

February 26, 2010

Oh Aquaman, the #1 punching bag in comicdom.  But before he lost his famous orange shirt….and his son….and his hand….and became a zombie, he was one of DC’s big 7.  And that’s where the first Showcase Presents volume of his stories takes the reader.

These stories mark the start of the silver age interpretation of the character, in which his origin is altered making him a half Atlantian.  The stories are fairly typical for silver age DC.  Hokey, full of crazy monsters, black and white morality, and people without personalities.  Aquaman and Aqualad certainly don’t have any, and Quisp is only mischievious because he tells the reader so.  

Then there are the incredibly formulaic plots.  In each story Aquaman runs across a pirate/evil sea captain/alien fish monster, discovers their evil plan to take over the world/hijack some ships/recover a sunken treasure chest, gets captured and is kept from water for 59 minutes, then gets rescued by Aqualad (who first appears here)/his water sprite friend/his pet octopus.  Yet the sheer craziness of these stories manage to make them a lot of fun, especially thanks to the art of Nick Cardy and Ramona Fradon.  Granted they still draw undersea cities as if they people who lived there walked through them instead of swam, but then so does pretty much everyone else.

So, Aquaman is pretty good silver age fun, but probably only in small doses.  This volume collects over 500 pages of comics and it took me 2 months to finish between other books because I just couldn’t handle that much Aquaman at once, despite actually being someone who enjoys the character.

Review: Showcase Presents Batman Vol.2

September 8, 2009

The second Showcase Presents collection of Batman stories captures an interesting period in the character’s history.  Namely these are the comics published during the height of the Adam West show.  

It’s pretty clear that TV’s influence was starting to affect the comic.  The sound effects are plentiful, the puns from Robin are attrocious, and the number of costumed villains is begining to skyrocket.  

Now it’s that last bit that actually starts to make these comics feel like the Batman people have come to know.  Prior to this time many members of Batman’s rogues gallery were present, but more often than not he was just running up against fairly standard bank robbers and gangsters.  But in this collection that changes with the introductions of Poison Ivy (whose meerly a femme fatale in an Eve costume at this point), Blockbuster, the Cluemaster, the Outsider, and a bunch of forgettable gimick villains that don’t make the cut.  The book also brings back the Riddler, the Joker and brings Batman into contact with the rest of the DC universe thanks to appearances by Elongated Man and the Weather Wizard.

These are hardly great comics by any means, but they are a lot of fun and a key part in the character’s development.

Review: Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol.3

June 1, 2009

Last time I reviewed one of these I said I was finally starting to understand the appeal of the Legion, well with volume 3 I’m well and truly hooked.  This volume collects the earliest Jim Shooter stories and is where the series hits its stride.  The issues here introduce Shadow Lass, the Fatal Five, Universo, the Sun Eaters, the Controllers, the Dominators, the Dark Circle, and the Miracle Machine recently used in Final Crisis.

As you can imagine a lot happens here, and it’s all a lot of fun especially as this still falls into DC’s silver age and so Shooter is still doing the occasional silly story (the superpets revolt against their owners, the Legion are turned into babies, etc….).  But at the same time a few more serious stories come through in astonishing fashion.  A tale of the Legion teaming up with the Fatal Five and sacrificing one of their own to battle a Sun Eater threatening the galaxy takes a single issue.  A few decades later when the same story is essentially retold in the Final Night it had to be its own mini-series, complete with a multitude of tie-in issues.

Comics just aren’t written this way anymore, so thank God for reprints.

Review: Showcase Presents the Doom Patrol

May 16, 2009

I’m still sick dammit, but that does allow me plenty of time for reading, which is sort of nice.  So I just finished DC’s collection of the earliest Doom Patrol stories, one of their better silver age books.  What sets it apart is the comic’s byline, “the world’s strangest heroes”.  The Patrol don’t see themselves as superheroes, they see themselves as freaks.

This gives the book just enough of its own identity to set it apart from most of DC’s other output at the time.  It also allows writers Arnold Drake and Bob Haney to tell some slightly odder stories, most notably ones featuring the Brotherhood of evil.  Nowhere else could you see something like Monsieur Mallah, the super-intelligent, French gorilla.

This is one of the best of DC’s Showcase collections.  The stories are fun, the characters are fairly strong, and the book has a nice air of historical significance.  It also gets bonus points for featuring a female superhero in 1963 (Elasi-Girl) that is actually portrayed as the physical equal of her co-stars.  Well worth a read.

Review: Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol.2

April 5, 2009

I never really understood the appeal of the Legion of Super-Heroes.  That might be because I grew up as a Marvel junkie, so by the time I got around to catching up on what DC had to offer the backstory was a little too daunting.  The 30th centry teenage super-heroes with the inane code-names number in the dozens and they always seemed to be a bit interchanageable.  Furthermore the three continuity reboots don’t exactly make them easier to follow.

But I am enjoying Geoff Johns Legion of 3 Worlds series (when an issue actually comes out) so I figured it was time to try picking up some of the older comics again, and I think I’m starting to get it now.  For a silver age comic an awful lot happens during the course of this volume.  There is no reset button present in these stories.  Legionnaires actually have to pay the consequences for their actions routinely, and that alone gives the stories much more weight than most of DC’s other output at the time.

The stories are often pretty clever too, which they have to be to take advantage of characters like Matter-Eater Lad and the Legion of Substitute Heroes (the less said about the Legion of Super-Pets the better).  The last three issues collected here are particularly good, featuring the first work by writer Jim Shooter (who was 14 at the time), and which introduce Karate Kid, Ferro Lad, and Princess Projectra (clearly maintaining the standard for stupid names).

I think I’m actually becoming a fan now, or the Pre-Crisis Legion at least.

Review: Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown Vol.1

January 25, 2009

The Challengers of the Unknown is one of DC’s best, failed comics.  The concept is pretty straight forward, 4 adventures have a near death experience and decide they are living on borrowed time (which they never get tired of saying).  Thus they decide to live the rest of their lives risking death and routinely saving the Earth from alien menaces and evil scientists.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is the book Jack Kirby was working on just prior to the Fantastic Four, three out of four team members are nearly identical (if you must know Ace Morgan and the Invisible Woman are the odd ones out).  So if you ever wondered what the FF would be like without super powers, this is that book.

The stories themselves are nothing that special, lots of women in distress, lots of three part McGuffin quests, but every now and then something odd sneaks in.  I particularly liked the two issues with Multi-Man, a villain who gleefully commits suicide in order to be reborn with a new power set.  And the premise of the comic makes this one out shine a lot of DC’s other silver age comics for me.  The plots really are identical, but just the fact that you’ve got a professional wrestler doing the same sorts of things as Superman at the time elevates it a bit.

However, the Challengers never really caught on, and that’s hardly surprising given that you can look back at them as an inferior version of the FF.  It’s a shame though, given the chance (Darwyn Cooke did his best to save Ace Morgan in the New Frontier) there’s some potential in these characters for further adventures.

Review: Showcase Presents Green Lantern Vol.2

November 3, 2008

Green Lantern, despite being one of DC’s biggest titles, was also one of the siliest for a long time.  During the silver age era collected here, Green Lantern could do anything, except affect things that were yellow (even if those yellow things were actually invisible).  His villains weren’t much better at the time.  This book introduces the Shark (a shark evolved into a human), Goldface (who becomes immune to Green Lantern’s powers by drinking gold), Evil Star (and his evil Starling minions), Doctor Polaris (back when he was a schizophrenic who worshiped magnatism) and Black Hand (whose defining characteristic in his first appearance was a love of cliches).

In other words it’s a fairly standard silver age book from DC, nd by that standard there are a few things that help it to stand out.  First and foremost is the art from Gil Kane.  Kane was one of the most gifted super hero artists ever, and Green Lantern was probably his best work.  This was a book in which completely crazy things happened in every issue, and I don’t know of another artist who could have drawn half of what occurs here with the same level of skill.  This is a beautiful comic, such that it’s almost enough to make up for the rest of the book’s flaws, but not quite.

Review: Showcase Presents the Flash Vol.2

September 14, 2008

In terms of history, the Flash is one of the most important out there.  The first appearance of the Barry Allen Flash (contained in vol. 1) marks the start of the silver age by introducing the first superhero since the introduction of the comics code all but destroyed the medium.  Now in the second collection there’s the Flash of Two Worlds, which introduces the concept of DC’s multiverse, sets up the reintroduction of the golden age heroes, and inspires more stories than anything else DC ever produced.

Now unlike a lot of the other DC comics from this era, the Flash is actually pretty good on its own merits.  Carmine Infantino made his name as an artist on this book, and the skill and imagination at play are a wonder.  The villains form what is maybe the third best rogue’s gallery out there next to Spider-Man and Batman’s (this collection features the first appearances of Professor Zoom, the Top, Abra Kadabra, and Head Wave).  And for what it’s worth Barry Allen and Wally “Kid Flash” West, don’t come across as quite so unbareably two-dimensional as the rest of DC’s characters from that era.

But the book does still wear it’s age on it’s sleeve.  The writing uses far too many captions.  The Flash is rediculously overpowered (he has control over all his molecules, turns invisible regularly, and at one point reaches warp-7).  There’s also the cosmic-treadmill, which for some reason managed to stick around as part of the lore.

But overall, this is the best of DC’s silver age superhero books and is a required part of any serious comic collection.

Review: Showcase Presents the House of Mystery Vol.1

September 6, 2008

The House of Mystery is not a good comic.  The book was DC’s attempt at a horror anthology, very much in the Tales from the Crypt vein (complete with awful pun spewing host), except under the silver age comics code so no interesting stories could be told in such a format.  The end result is a collection of mediocre campfire tales with occasionally clever strips from Sergio Aragones.

But the saving grace of this collection is the art.  This book contains a who’s who of comics legends; Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Alex Toth, Wally Wood and tons of others.  This is also one of the times in which having a black and white collection is really a virtue.  

So in summary, as an art gallery this book is great, but as a comic it falls flat.

Review: Showcase Presents Booster Gold

August 23, 2008

1986 was the year that everything changed in comics, being the year that the superheroes grew up.  The year brought Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Swamp Thing, Miracleman and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow.  Frank Miller released his triumvirate of the Dark Knight Returns, Born Again and Elektra Assassin.  It also gave us Crisis on Infinite Earths, Squadron Supreme, John Byrne’s Fantastic Four, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and Dark Horse.  In the midst of all this DC launched Booster Gold, a superhero book that was every bit as radical as the rest of the list (not to mention a lot more fun), but which I think was passed over given all the competition that year.

Booster Gold as envisioned by Dan Jurgens is the hero despised by all the other heroes.  He’s a disgraced athlete from the future who comes back in time, armed with a stolen super suit and a cynical robotic sidekick, to be a hero and make a bit of money on the side.  He rapidly becomes a millionaire thanks to his future knowledge of the stock market and his willingness to accept nearly any endorsement deal.  The book falls apart a bit towards the end when the book gets caught up in the awful Millenium Crossover and half the supporting cast vanishes, but until then it’s a brilliant take on superheroics unlike anything previous to it (sadly not the case anymore).

But while the comic ended the character survived thanks to a stint in the Justice League and a great revival in which Booster finally grows up but has to keep pretending to be a jerk anyway.  I recommend that book highly as well.