Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Night Fights! Jack Klugg-Man

PETER PARKER THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, by Bill Mantlo and early-early Frank Miller all at home in the dark. says he don't ask twice about such things. After that, the only answer is the sound of blood.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES 191: "Decision at Volstadt"

The story opens with Gudren Schopfer, the child the Solder saved last ish, captured by "Brownshirts," Austrian children being trained as Nazi soldiers. The Soldier had left Gudren alone in the forest while he went into a local village for clothing to replace his Nazi uniform. By the time he had returned, Gudren had been found by Hitler's Youth. Worst than that, the Brownshirts have obtained the Soldier's "mask-making gear" in a leather briefcase. This is cause for serious concern, as the "secrets and innovations" it contains cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of Nazi Intelligence. The Soldier must get it back, but doesn't want to risk Gudren being killed in the melee. He follows instead.

With a Luger trained on the child, the Brownshirts prod Gudren back into the village. The Soldier, face bandaged, is stopped by a Nazi officer, curious why his face is hidden. The Soldier attempts to bluff his way out, but the Nazis aren't convinced, forcing him to attack them and flee. Turning down a blind alley, the Soldier is hidden by the Volstadt Resistance. The woman to whom the Soldier communicates his needs is named Joanna. She informs him that his briefcase, and Gudren, have been taken to Nazi General Von Bittschwann, head of the Occupation Forces in Volstadt, and also the man who has lured the children of the village into the Hitler Youth.

In an office nearby, General Bittschwann is meeting with Lt. Rico Strada, who pierces the General's sense of national pride by being "a mere Italian...(risen) to Officer's rank and have orders directly from the Fuhrer...orders that supercede your own authority!" Strada's righteous mission is to find the owner of the make-up kit, the man who Strada believes "cost me my arm--as well as the only family I ever had (Father Memmoli, the slain village priest from ish 187's "A Death in the Chapel.)"

The Volstadt Resistance helps the Soldier infiltrate the Nazi HQ, and find Gudren. The Soldier senses a trap too late, as Lt. Strada's soldiers cut off the Resistance. The Soldier quickly acts however, providing an escape route. With Gudren in hand, the fighters make it outside. A lone Brownshirt with a Luger draws down on them, and Joanna has the closest shot to kill the boy. However, she cannot bring herself to do it. The next moment, the boy shoots her in the back.

Back in the catacombs of the Resistance HQ, Joanna dies while pleading that "it was dark...and (Erik) couldn't...see...couldn't..."

The Soldier is informed that the boy who shot Joanna was named Erik, her own son. The Soldier takes up a rifle to return to Von Bittschwann, to get the make-up kit and with "a debt to pay."

The Soldier again sneaks into the Nazi HQ, but before he can kill Bittschwann and reclaim his briefcase, young Nazi Erik appears with his Luger, holding the Soldier at bay. Bittschwann orders Erik to execute the Soldier. The Soldier reveals to Erik that the woman he shot in the alley was his mother. Further, the boy may "have held the gun...but sure as hell it was Von Bittschwann who pulled the trigger!" When the Soldier illustrates who really deserves to die, the boy agrees and shoots the Soldier.

Von Bittschwann is relieved, and proud, but Erik quickly informs the General that he'd done his duty, but "this is for--my mother!" He empties his pistol into Bittschwann. A moment later, the boy is shot by alerted Nazi guards.

The wounded Soldier awakens to find himself a prisoner of war, with Lt. Strada proclaiming, "It is over. You gambled once too often--and you've lost."

Great little hard-hitting story here, as Michelinie continues to orchestrate the subplots expertly with his wartime mini-dramas. Again, it isn't the power of the Nazis which instills the greatest fear, but the corruption of the soul. While the Soldier fights on a superior moral authority, still his primary responsibility is to obtain his make-up gear, his "identity" as the unstoppable secret weapon of the Allies. And again, amid the espionage, the small crushing loss of love and family, a mother and her son sent to early graves, wounds the Soldier just as truthfully as the bullet he received.

Out of Five 3D Men

Facebook Comic Con

I think this is a pretty keen idea. Particularly where it concerns a ton of comic book artists and writers both professional and non- getting to interact.

Spread the word among you Facebookers.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Night Fights! Superman's Boom! Boom! Boom!

Roger Stern and Steve Rude produced one of the most enjoyable, fun, and amazing comics I've ever read, via THE INCREDIBLE HULK VS SUPERMAN. Not only that, it's poignant and even chokes you up by the end. And all due to Stern's ability to illicit just what you need to pay off the end of the one-shot one-and-done single issue of a meeting between the world's mightiest mortal and the world's most tragic. expects you will whimper from the pain, but try not to embarrass him while doing it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


The creative team wastes no time, as the Soldier, disguised as Colonel Rolf, one of the few men with access to "Project Omega" is about to be shot from behind with a Luger.

After a brief flashback sequence to establish the first part of the story, Col. Rolf meets with Dr. Schopfer to obtain vital information from him. As Rolf turns away, the scientist pulls the pistol. However, Rolf is contacted that a Nazi General Olbricht and his staff have arrived for the demonstration of Schopfer's Nazi super weapon. Dr. Schopfer hides his pistol, unable to pull off the assassination. The General and his people greet Col. Rolf, and the demonstration begins.

Massive steel doors open to reveal strange ape-like men, towering tall, and the General is assured the creatures are fully controlled. Dr. Schopfer's experiments involved "strengthening" the Nazi soldiers into practically unkillable monsters, but at the "cost of their minds!" Schopfer has implanted electronic devices in the creatures' brains, not only to keep them docile, but to control them.

Dr. Schopfer ends his speech by addressing the General directly, "But that's all wrong, can't you see? I only wanted to save lives, not turn men into mindless zombies!"

To which the General replies, "But my dear Doctor--what do you think good soldiers are?"

Resistence fighters attack the Castle at that moment. The General is overjoyed at a chance to see the "Super Soldats" in action, live. Col. Rolf is instructed to activate the creatures, but the false Rolf has no idea how. The General takes over, ordering Dr. Schopfer to intiate the monsters' attack. The Underground is swiftly destroyed by the beasts.

Col. Rolf slips away while General Olbricht crows about using the Jews as "raw material" for mass producing the monsters. At the lab once more, Rolf is faced down by Dr. Schopfer, who begins firing at him with a pistol. The Soldier removes his Rolf mask, revealing himself before Schopfer can wound him. The Soldier asks Schopfer to sabotage his own implants, which he does, causing the creatures to go berserk, killing Nazis and anyone else in their way.

Back at the lab, the Soldier is about to spirit Schopfer and his little daughter away from the castle when the General arrives, tattered and wielding his Luger. Dr. Schopfer attempts to shoot the General and is himself mortally wounded. The Soldier snatches Schopfer's falling Luger out of mid-air and guns down the General.

The dying scientist sends the Soldier to take his daughter from the castle, in order to set off explosives that utterly destroy Project Omega and everyone involved in it. Only the Soldier, his face hidden by rags tied over his horrible scars, and the child who bears the knowledge of his father's death, walk from the smoldering ruins.

An epilogue shows Nazis investigating the rubble the next day. A one-armed Leutnant searches for clues as to what happened. Other soldiers describe him as "obsessed with finding the Amerikanisch spy who cost him his arm!"

Lt. Rico Strada stands, displaying the discarded Col. Rolf mask worn by the Unknown Soldier. Strada promises to kill the Soldier, who "...took more than mere flesh--for he also murdered my soul."

There's an odd schism this issue between Michelinie's script and Gerry Talaoc's art, regarding the "monsters." Michelinie must have wanted something a bit more like, well, zombies...actual soldiers enhanced in some grotesque way. Perhaps even linking to Anton Arcane's "un-men" from SWAMP THING a couple years earlier. Talaoc renders the monsters as gorillas with very long arms and legs, standing upright. Though not actual gorillas, they're built like the Harlem Globetrotters, with little menace.

Strange to consider, but I'm wondering if this was a case of Michelinie going too far with the whole science-fiction/horror aspect and Joe Orlando or some other editorial force put the nix on the thematic choices. I feel like it wouldn't have been Orlando, per se, but someone "got" to Talaoc to slap the old gorilla motif atop Michelinie's gene-altered zombies. DC Comics was the old dependable company, and though dabbling in horror was one thing, I suspect DC might have a hard time spinning an Unknown Soldier vs Nazi zombies comic to readers of war comics who bought the Unknown Soldier. Believe it or not, comic book companies once upon a time didn't change a character's modus operendi at the drop of a hat, in order to satisfy some "hot" writer or artist. The Soldier was a war comic, incorporating aspects of horror, but not a horror comic. Case closed.

Thus, this short foray into a more fantastical arena for the Unknown Soldier comes to an end. There's a lot crammed into this issue, and not a lot for the Soldier to do (though certainly the Talaoc-rendered catch-the-falling-gun and blast-the-General panels are a nice innovation.) This war formula story clashes uncomfortably with the horror aspects, but is entertaining overall.

(2 1/2)
Out of Five 3D Men

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Night Fights! Wildcat and Batman's Power PTOW!

Because a Classic never gets old, BRAVE AND THE BOLD ish 118 by the incomparable Bob Haney and Jim Aparo. One of the best Batman fights of all time, and one of Wildcat's best moments as well. will tell you, if he wants you unconscious, there's not a thing you can do about it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Patrick McGoohan, Dead at 80

Another one of my heroes has perished. Be seeing you, Number 6.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES 189: "The Cadaver Gap Massacres"

Here comes perhaps the craziest story in the Michelinie/Talaoc run of Unknown Soldier.

Some American soldiers on the Austrian Front are set upon by huge, monstrous figures who are unstoppable by bullet or bayonet. Three units end up ripped to pieces by these creatures.

Watching a short film obviously shot by one unit's cameraman, the Soldier receives his orders from Allied HQ in Corsica. The intel is sketchy, as all the Allies have are rumors of experimental research in an Austrian castle. An important SS Officer is traveling to the castle to provide a demonstration of the new "weapon" for the Nazi higher ups. The Soldier must take the place of the Officer and discover what the weapon is, and sabotage it.

On a road in the Alps, a car carrying SS Major Wollheim is stopped by an obstruction. The driver struggles to move the rocks and branches. Wollheim is garroted while the driver is occupied. When the road is clear, the driver is met by Wollheim, returning from "the call of nature." Wollheim arrives at Castle Todesfall, greeted by an eyepatch-wearing Colonel named Rolf.

Moments later, local Resistance fighters escape their cells, and take off across the fields. This gives Rolf the chance to demonstrate one of the Reich's new inventions: small pipe jets in the field release what appears to be lasers which utterly incinerate the Rebels. Afterward, Wollheim is introduced to the lead scientist, Dr. Schopfer and his small daughter Gudren. A brief conflict erupts between Schopfer and Col. Rolf over the morality behind murder, even during war. Rolf makes implies once again that Gudren will be harmed if the scientist does not remain loyal to the Reich.

Wollheim is led about by Col. Rolf, who introduces him to "...everything from gases that turned the nervous system into jelly--to land mines set to explode at the mere heat of a human body." But none of these deadly weapons match what the Soldier saw in the film. Wollheim quickly finds the most guarded project and attempts to bluff his way inside "Project Omega." Col. Rolf arrives curious why Wollheim would try to enter, since it was under his orders that only Rolf, Dr. Schopfer and the Fuhrer himself be allowed in. Wollheim passes it off as a "security check" to insure his orders are being carried out. Later, the Soldier determines he must take the place of Col. Rolf, become Rolf, if he is to infiltrate "Project Omega."

However, the suspicious Col. Rolf has baited Wollheim, and holds a gun on the spy, taunting him. The Soldier quickly disarms Rolf and batters him into unconsciousness (Talaoc's art shows Col. Rolf with one staring eye, quite dead...but this is a mistake, or Col. Rolf sleeps with his eye open.) When the Colonel awakens, he looks up to find himself. The duplicate Rolf forces a Wollheim mask over the Colonel's face, and leads the new "Wollheim" gagged and at gunpoint outside.

Col. Rolf instructs "Wollheim" to begin running, and the real Rolf flees directly into the field of lasers. The Soldier as Rolf takes a long time to finally push the button, milking the sadistic Rolf's terror before finally obliterating him, and the Wollheim personae.

The new Col. Rolf determines to get inside the guarded room. Meanwhile, Dr. Schopfer stands over his sleeping daughter, whom Rolf has threatened. Coming to a final decision, Schopfer takes up a Luger and promises to assassinate Col. Rolf at the first opportunity.

The story is more science fiction oriented than perhaps any Unknown Soldier story ever written anywhere (outside of the unfortunate revision series from the 1980s that cast the Unknown Soldier as a "super soldier" via chemical enhancement, giving him quick healing and a measure of superior physical strength...good stories but just not quite right.) Massive lurking man-monsters and lasers aside, the story concentrates on the brief test of intellects between Col. Rolf and the Soldier (which Rolf actually wins, resulting in a gruesome death.)

The SF elements actually don't harm the formula of the war story, and as usual Editor Joe Orlando follows the compelling story wherever it leads. Also, here in this comic and ish 188 as well, the letters pages begin to reveal reader opinion on the new direction. One reader , Bob Rodi, calls the Unknown Soldier comic the "most promising series of 1975." Joe Orlando calls out for more feedback, asking if readers want, "more two-part stories? Or feature novel-length adventures...more frequently?"

I miss the way the world used to work, when an actual letter meant something, both for the writer and reader.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tarzan: Joe Jusko Style

I don't know admittedly very much about Joe Jusko. His art is found in such places, and at other sites associated with the man. I haven't found much to indicate who he is or where he's from, but I recently stumbled onto a ton of Tarzan paintings from the man.

It's rare to have a visceral reaction where I immediately think, "Yeh, this is pretty much what Tarzan would look like." And I'm not a big believer in the beefcake overmuscled hulk to indicate anything to do with power and strength in characters (see Superman, who shouldn't look like a body-builder...what is he using to build his muscles up with? He's super strong, naturally, and aside from being a bruiser at his height/weight, he's not going to look all cut and sh*t.) Still, Jusko has some awesome stuff going on here. I can't help but be impressed.

All these scans from

Go there to check out other Jusko amazement, including John Carter and Conan and other similar pop culture properties.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Friday Night Fights! Wildcat's Kangaroo KO!

Scan courtesy of "The Comic Treadmill"...brilliance courtesy of Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson, from BRAVE AND THE BOLD ish 62.
Life may not be complete without seeing Ted Grant knock out a marsupial. I'm dying to find out what happened when he tried that with the polar bear! screams prayers for the evil to leave your body, so he can kick it right in the crack part!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Don Westlake Interviews Richard Stark, October 18th 2002

This is a fun piece which I'll scan in here, just for posterity's sake.

A few years ago, I ran across this thing and found it pitch perfect, as the comedic/playful novelist Donald Westlake interviews the hard-bitten Richard Stark, author of the "Parker" novels ie the finest series of crime novels ever written.

Having maintained absolute silence for 23 years, 1974 to 1997, the famously reclusive crime novelist Richard Stark (RS) suddenly reappeared with a new novel, Comeback (1997), featuring his amoral anti-hero, Parker. Since then, the once-taciturn Stark seems unable to shut up; 5 novels in 5 years, including his latest, Breakout. At the time of his initial comeback in Comeback, (hah!), RS agreed to be interviewed by fellow crime novelist Donald E. Westlake (DW), in September of 1998. The feathers ruffled during that exchange having finally been smoothed (one hopes), the two participants have agreed to a rematch.

This second interview took place in an alley behind a poolhall on October 18, 2002.

DW: It seems your voice is well and truly back. Congratulations.

RS: I see you're still grinding them out, too.

DW: Yes, well. The last time we chatted, there was a certain . . . hostility in the air. I hope we're past that now.

RS: I'd been traveling.

DW: So I gathered. Would you say your latest Parker novel, BREAKOUT, is the most autobiographical so far?

RS: No, I wouldn't, and if you're smart you won't, either.

DW: You do seem to know quite a bit about crime and the criminal mind.

RS: I read the papers. The business section. You mostly read the funnies, I think.

DW: The greatest insights come from so-called comedy, I believe. But how do you manage to maintain absolutely no sense of humor year after year?

RS: No sense of humor? Don¹t make me laugh.

DW: I wouldn't even try. But speaking of humor, perhaps inadvertent, what did you think of Payback, the Mel Gibson programmer based on Parker's first outing, THE HUNTER?

RS: It was a remake. The first time, Point Blank, with Lee Marvin, I got paid. Also, it was a better picture.

DW: You didn't get paid for PAYBACK?

RS: Ask me again what I know about the criminal mind.

DW: You must be a little shallow-pocketed at the moment. What's next for you and Parker?

RS: Who wants to know? I like that watch.

DW: Thank you. Is there another outing for Parker com--

RS: I said, I like that watch.

DW: This interview is over.

Copyright 2002 by Donald E. Westlake

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


A rarity, Joe Kubert doesn't provide the cover for this issue...Ernie Chan, one of the second-generation artists post-Silver Age, renders a basic mirror image of the Soldier and a Nazi antagonist effectively enough.

"Encounter" is almost like "Part Three" of the two-part Monte Grande story previous, with the Unknown Soldier in his "non-mission" trenchcoat and stingy hat and facial bandages, on a hospital ship full of wounded soldiers heading to Corsica. The "last mission left a bad taste," and the Soldier is eager to move on from it. So eager that the near-zero visibility of dense fog slowing the ship is a welcome opportunity for the Soldier to be "alone."

While brooding on deck, the Soldier is surprised by Nazi soldiers invading the ship. The Soldier swiftly reacts, escaping into the hold. Stalking one of the Nazi hunters, the Soldier kills him, but is concussed during the fight and blacks out. A flashback occurs of several hours before, with the Soldier's arrival on the hospital ship. While visiting the head nurse onboard, a woman named Lt. Molly Barnes, the Soldier walks in on Nurse Molly and her wheelchair-bound fiancee, Sgt. Cross, having a tender moment. Sgt. Cross is immediately agitated, and seems to recognize the Soldier. This arouses the Soldier's curiosity, since he is, well, "unknown." When asked about her involvement with Cross, and his odd antagonism toward the Soldier, she relates Cross' paralysis and bitterness over his wounding. The Soldier is privvy to Molly's new-found romance with Cross, how a woman who is "not very...attractive" is treated so well by a man like Cross.

Unconcious only a few seconds, the Soldier uses his make-up kit to assemble a mask of the slain Nazi. Appropriating the SS uniform, and dressing the corpse in his own clothing, the Soldier tosses the body over the side and opens fire on it. The other soldiers arrive with "Stefan" claiming to have killed the escapee. Stefan joins the rest of the Nazi boarding party who have taken the , crew, doctors and nurses prisoner. One of the Nazis relates the mission objective to the prisoners, pointing out their destination of Port Boursin contains the largest of the Allied Naval Support Group in the Mediterrean, and the entrance to the harbor is narrow enough to be blocked, crippling the American Fleet. The hospital ship itself is to be scuttled, creating an impassible barricade. When the Nazis reach for the explosives they will plant for this task, Stefan draw his weapon on them. The next instant, Stefan is knocked out from behind by Sgt. John Cross, out of his wheelchair with Luger in hand, revealing himself to be Hauptmann Johann Kraus, a Nazi spy. Molly Barnes is confused, and Kraus explains to her that he recognized the Soldier by his face bandages and determined to neutralize him. Kraus sets the task of throwing the Soldier overboard to two soldiers and takes Molly into the Captain's Quarters.

While apologizing for betraying Molly's confidence, Kraus admits he has fallen in love with her. When expecting her loathing, Kraus finds Molly truly loves him as well. She cuts off the light, promising herself to Cross/Kraus, unable to let true love slip from her hands.

Meanwhile, Stefan/the Soldier is being dragged topside when he awakens and kills the soldiers. Taking a weapon, he makes his way to the explosives the Nazis have activated, discovering them welded to the hull with no chance to be defused in time.

Molly and Kraus discuss their issues in the face of the War, how their love is forbidden. Molly is willing to live as best they can, as long as they can.

In the hold, the Soldier determines the only thing to do about the bomb is to set it off prematurely, before the ship reaches the Port. He fires his weapon at the explosive, which tears a massive hole in the hull. The Soldier then begins evacuating the wounded Allied troops onto lifeboats, just as Kraus and Molly arrive to stop him. Kraus gets the drop on the Soldier, pointing out he cannot have the soldiers leave. They are the enemy, and even though his prime mission has failed, it is best the soldiers die on the vessel than in battle. Molly is incredulous the man she loved would murder innocents, and Kraus reminds her "There's no such thing as murder in war, Molly--and very little innocence either!"

Pleading to Molly to understand his actions, Kraus is distracted long enough for the Soldier to tackle and disarm him. With water fast rising, the two struggling men are stopped by Molly, who holds the Luger now. While the Soldier and Kraus continue to battle, Kraus asks Molly to shoot the Soldier, preserve their love. Molly fires the weapon. Leutnant Kraus falls, dead.

Eventually the hospital ship is fully evacuated, and the Soldier rides in one lifeboat with Molly. He tells her she made the right choice, to save all those lives and help the War effort. Molly, weepingly, points out what a sheltered life she'd led, how she'd learned little of men, or weaponry. She then tells the confused Soldier: "...You see (sniff) I was really aiming that pistol--at you!"

One of the best of the Michelinie/Talaoc stories, "Encounter" is a remarkable achievment in story economy and characterization. With little to support the doomed love between Nazi spy and lonely Allied nurse, the writing effortlessly details the conflict. Again, the individual tragedy has been lost amidst the struggle of Wartime, with only the Soldier aware of the details. The story ends on the lifting of the fog and the dawn's light, but the realization is apparent: Molly cares nothing for flag and country in the face of agonizing mortality, and if not for the whims of Fate, she could have altered the course of World War 2. The individual choices do affect the tides of history, but those choices have meaning only to those who make them. History does not acknowledge the "faceless" dead.

The best issue of the run so far.

Out of Five 3D Men.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Pulp Masters: Stark and Cartier Tribute

"The Shadow Magazine" cover illustrator Edward D. Cartier and Richard Stark (Don Westlake) by birth, are no longer with us.

Over at Francesco Francavilla posted this beauty in tribute.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Somehow I'd missed out on this Jim Rugg creation. I'd "felt" it before, but never so strong as now.

Rugg is, needless to say, the Mack.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Friday Night Fights: It's Machine Man's Kang Thang

Aaron Stack received a royal all-over Hulk Smash! in INCREDIBLE HULK 235, getting hit so hard his robot body flew into pieces.

Well, by ish 236, Machine Man has put himself back together in order to save his friend/psychologist from a very angry Hulk, but he's in too big of a hurry to repair himself altogether. Thus, he's carrying one of his arms while he runs to intercept the Hulk. Courtesy of Sal "Brings It" Buscema, scripted by Roger Stern, providing the first truly "badass" moment of Aaron Stack's career where he actually defeats the Hulk. By himself. A robot.

Stack reminds the Hulk that the ugly part of the bruise is purple. reminds you that whatever you call it, whether a severed arm or a "figment of your imagination," it still hurts.

The Last Heist

I have to come up with something a little more intensive, but we lost a great one today.
A great novelist and a reinterpreter of the form of crime fiction, Don Westlake.
His shadow self, Richard Stark, influences everything I do. Without Stark, and his creation Parker, I don't know where I'd be.
So, think about Parker driving some dark highway, not speaking to the studious man in the passenger seat, the man with the plan, the man who always had the plan. The two men don't speak because it's all been said. There is only the doing now.