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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Super Blog Team-Up: The Redemption of Red Sonja - a Review from SSoC 1

Savage Sword of Conan #1 (August 1974)
"Curse of the Undead-Man"
Roy Thomas-John Buscema/Pablo Marcos

Welcome to the first Super Blog Team-Up of 2019. I'm somewhat of a seasoned veteran of these interweb collaborations, but this is my first appearance as a solo act on this blog. I'd encourage you to check out my previous participation as one half of the Bronze Age Babies. This time around we're discussing Redemption. When Charlton Hero of the Superhero Satellite approached me about joining today's fun, and of course knowing my focus on black & white comics, it didn't take long to choose today's topic.

Several years ago on the Bronze Age Babies blog I'd reviewed Conan the Barbarian #24, "The Song of Red Sonja". That post, as well as quite a bit of reading of Savage Sword of Conan mags, made this almost obvious. Here's a snippet from the end of that Conan post:
Doug: Sonja explains that the wizard of Pah-Dishah had given her an incantation to keep the serpent tiara an actual crown. However, she forgot what to say as she first held the precious bauble. Sonja offers Conan to take as many jewels as he can carry - he declines, saying he has to live yet in the city. Then he tells her that he fought tonight, after all, for other rewards. Leaving the tower, Sonja rappels quickly downward, far faster than the Cimmerian. He calls to her to slow down, but as she hits the ground she quickly lights the rope afire. It literally burns through Conan's hands, and he falls hard to the ground. Stunned, with legs that won't work quite right, Conan nonetheless reaches Sonja - who is not atop her mount. He tells her that she'll pay him now with kisses aplenty.  She explains that no man shall have her, lest he first best her in battle. And that is something (as she rides away, knocking Conan down yet again) he shall not do this night.  Beyond angry, Conan smoulders as he limps back into town - vowing to have that woman, even if she least expects it.
Today I want to delve into Sonja's next appearance, her 3rd overall. This would come in the pages of Savage Sword of Conan #1, of course in the black & white format. It's worth noting that the shift from the color monthly to the B&W mag also brought a change in artist, but perhaps more notably a completely revamped look. And what a look! Designed by Esteban Maroto and approved by Roy Thomas, John Buscema brought the chain-mail bikini to the masses - and in the first full-panel reveal, an iconic image. Let's look then, at a 100-Word Review:

Zamora’s “Maul” finds a certain Cimmerian in search of debauchery. Approached by a trio of ladies of the evening, Conan contends that he has no money for… drinking. Enticed, Conan strides deeper into the Maul in search of “skulls to crack”. However, a cacophony of screeching, fleeing priests draws our barbarian into adventure. Soon overwhelmed in a brawl of swordplay, Conan’s would-be murderer is himself run through – by Red Sonja. Renewing grudges, our Hyborian heroes set off to solve the mystery of a severed-but-bejeweled finger. Sonja tells of a wizard executed and a curse – the Curse of the Undead Man, upon the head of Berthidla the Brythunian.
As is my general habit in writing reviews, let's examine this 18-page tale in a 3-tiered judgment.

The Good: I think it's appropriate whenever reading a John Buscema-penciled story to heap praises on the art. This story would be no exception! I'm not always the biggest fan of Pablo Marcos's inks, but his performance is pretty solid over Buscema here. On Savage Sword, I've generally preferred Alfredo Alcala and sometimes Tony DeZuniga over Buscema. But Marcos doesn't fail Buscema or the readers in this story. Anyway, the panel layouts are typical Buscema - no barriers broken, but a nice double-page spread in the midst of the action. Red Sonja is suitably sexy, although with little left to the imagination in her new "outfit". I preferred her in her original Barry Smith-designed garments (regardless of how impractical the hotpants were).

John Buscema excelled at two things in the sword and sorcery genre - beautiful women, and ugly bad guys. There is no shortage of either here. From the prostitutes who greet Conan on page 2 to the thugs overpowering him in the first battle, Buscema just turns it loose. The choreography of the execution of the wizard Costranno was also top shelf. Another excellent scene that turns up time and again in Buscema-illustrated Conan yarns is the bar brawl. We get that, and are better for it. This one is especially fun, as it's Sonja who deals out lessons.

I enjoyed the interplay between Conan and Red Sonja. Conan was of course still smarting from her treatment (and besting) of him in their previous adventure, and her rescue of him near the beginning of this story only poured salt in that wound. But Roy Thomas writes some effective banter, the two mercenaries support each other in battle, and the last panels of the story leave just enough open to the reader's imagination to believe that all previous transgressions are forgiven and that a flagon of wine will indeed be shared. Red Sonja had redeemed herself in the eyes of the barbarian. Now, whether or not he got that kiss is another matter...

The Bad: I'm really waffling on the plot here. I've read this story three times, and each time I just feel that my cup's not quite full. Don't get me wrong - I like it. It's just different from a lot of Conan stories. Conan himself wasn't wronged, no one is out to get him, he's not after some treasure of any sort, he isn't seeking to protect a female "friend" (although he does venture deeper than he needs to out of a sense of honor). This one is a sort of mystery. Again, that's not bad... just different. I didn't mind that Conan and Sonja had a chance encounter - those things can always be explained away. See what I'm doing here? Waffling. To firmly put my finger on it, I guess I'll say that there was nothing new here. Wizard, thugs, monster, tons of swordplay... just a solid Conan story. There was a slight twist at the end - that Berthidla the Brythunian wasn't all that thankful toward our heroes for the rescuing. But even that seemed to be easily written off by Conan and Sonja.

But you know what this really was? A vehicle. A vehicle to launch Red Sonja into a solo color book and further appearances in the B&W mags. Granted, it would take a little over a year for her Marvel Feature series to begin, but in the interim she showed up seven times in various barbarian-themed periodicals. If that's the worst thing that could happen, then my concerns are misplaced.

The Ugly: I think I always put a character's countenance in this section when I review a John Buscema tale. No human stood out to me, so I'll just mention the big hairy arm that rose out of the pit in an effort to pull Sonja below. That had to be scary, and what was on the other end of that limb must certainly have been unpleasant.

Please patronize the other blogs and podcasts in today's event. You won't be sorry to have invested a bit of time along the way!

Coffee and Comics: Green Lantern #100

Two Staple Gold: Just a Pilgrim

Comic Reviews By Walt: Shredder 

The Superhero Satellite: The Walking Dead - “Redeeming Negan”

Comics Comics Blog : Elfquest - Cutters Redemption

Longbox Review: Nightwing's Redemption

Between The Pages Blog:  The Secret Origin Of Spider-Man

The Unspoken Decade: What If V2 #46 and #47

The Daily Rios:

Chris Is On Infinite Earths: The Pied-Piper Reforms! Flash (vol.2) #31

Crapbox Son Of Cthulu:

In My Not So Humble Opinion - The Other Side of the Wind - The Redemption of Orson Welles

The Retroist Via Vic Sage

The Source Material Comics Podcast: Penance - The Redemption of Speedball

Monday, January 21, 2019

Beautiful Works by Nestor Redondo

I am pretty certain the first time I encountered the art of Nestor Redondo was in the pages of the lone issue of Rima the Jungle Girl I ever owned. Even as a then 7-year old, his work was lush, the backgrounds beautiful. Seeing it in color was one thing... seeing the original art is quite another. About a year ago I read (for the first time) the seminal issues of Swamp Thing. Redondo replaced Bernie Wrightson on the book. I was immediately taken back to that appreciation of his work I'd had over 40 years earlier. One of the masters.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Guest Writer - Thoughts on Eerie 9, with Simon

Doug: We're in for a treat today, friends. Going back several years, the Bronze Age Babies regularly featured guest writers. When I started this new blog, I knew there would be times when I wouldn't be able to meet my goal of publishing twice weekly. So right from the top, in pre-blog publicity to friends who'd stood by us at the BAB, I made an offer to all writers with an idea - bring it, try it, I'll make it happen. Today I'm quite pleased to feature the thoughts of Simon, he of The Glass Walking Stick. Simon's been a contemporary and friend of ours for many years. We now interact primarily on Twitter, and I think you'll find him thoughtful and right in line with the love of Bronze Age comics we all share.

Doug: In one of the stories featured below, you'll see a Holocaust-era tale by Archie Goodwin and Gene Colan. That story is reprinted in a book I purchased in the spring: We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust, by Rafael Medoff, Neal Adams, and Craig Yoe. It's a wonderful collection - quite thought-provoking as you'd imagine. It's also an effective survey of just how that event has been handled from shortly after the War to the near-present. Simon has inspired me to give my own spin to "Experiment in Fear!" at some distant time.

Doug: Now, enough from me - let's get to the work of today's guest writer.

Eerie 9 (May 1967)
Warren Publishing

Simon: Hello. First of all, many thanks to Doug for kindly inviting me to do a guest post here at Black & White And Bronze! One of the most significant aspects of the B&W comics of the Silver and Bronze Ages is that they allowed artists to break out from the restrictions of the four-colour comics. The lack of Comic Code approval meant stories could be more adult (or adolescent at least...), while artwork could be presented on larger pages (typically 11" x 8.5" instead of 10" x 6.5") and the B&W format allowed for more artistic experimentation. The leader in the larger-format market was Warren Publishing who struck (monochromatic) gold with their horror mags Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. Although Marvel, Skywald and Atlas attempted to replicate this success they never came near to Jim Warren's creepy creations. I'm going to spotlight an issue of Eerie, #9 from May 1967, which may be stretching the definition of the Bronze Age, but which is a great example of the artistic delights of the format. Behind a suitably, er, eerie cover by Dan Adkins, this issue contains some sterling work by top comics creators Archie Goodwin, Neal Adams, Steve Ditko, Gene Colan and Adkins himself. We'll start with Sturdy Steve...

Simon: "Isle Of The Beast" is a self-aware twist on that hoary old chiller, "The Most Dangerous Game", in which a hapless shipwrecked sailor finds himself pursued across a desert island by a sadistic big-game hunter. For those familiar with Ditko's super hero and fantasy work for Marvel and Charlton this must have been a revelation as the artist used the freedom of the B&W format to work in a beautiful "wash" style, with varying shades of grey and black achieving masterful effects. This painterly approach is evident on this splash page as Ditko creates wonderful three-dimensional landscapes with nary a "hard" inked line in sight. See the contrast between the dark, devilish form of the villain, the delicate impressions of jungle foliage and the Eisner-esque folds and creases in the sailor's clothes. These effects simply wouldn't have been possible in a colour comic, given the printing capabilities of the time.

Simon: By contrast, Gene Colan's artwork for "Experiment In Fear!" shows how these techniques could amplify the realism of Archie Goodwin's hard-edged script. Colan was an artist who always worked superbly with light and shade in his pencil work - something many of his inkers struggled to convey in the finished product. As seen on this splash page, Colan inks his own pencils here and also adds wash tones which give the faces of the main characters a palpably three-dimensional feel. This is suitably ironic as these characters are Nazi officers whose cruel experiments on Jewish prisoners mark them out as more inhuman than any of the supernatural antagonists in the rest of the magazine. The realism of the artwork makes this story, for me, the most chilling piece in this issue.

Simon: Finally in this trilogy of terror, we meet "The Wanderer" in a moody fantasy from Goodwin and Dan Adkins. This eerie, eschatological tale of a man's soul trapped between life and death takes us on a journey through a black and white limbo. Adkins' work was often oddly static but here it seems appropriate as the main character floats helplessly through a hellish afterlife. The interplay of light and shadow on the unnamed man's face perfectly conveys his wonder and horror, while the final panel beautifully evokes the heat and turmoil of the fiery pit... and all in monochrome.

Doug: My thanks to Simon for his analysis and presentation today - all images are scans of the magazine itself. And it looks to be in great shape, even 50-some years later! Now for your part - please feel free to leave a comment with your own impressions.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Evolution's Nightmare - a Review from Planet of the Apes 5

Planet of the Apes #5 (February 1975)
"Evolution's Nightmare"
Doug Moench-Ed Hannigan/Jim Mooney

I read this story for the first time about two weeks before Christmas, at the back of the Planet of the Apes Archive, volume 4. It was the final Apes story reprinted in those fabulous hardcovers from Boom! Studios. And I'll say that while I was "Meh..." about the inclusion of all of the articles in the Deadly Hands of Kung fu Omnibus, I really missed them in the recent PotA Archives. I can recall, as a child, generally skipping the comics within the PotA mags and skimming the articles at the grocery store. Stills from the films, especially those dealing with production aspects of the make-up, etc. were enthralling to my young eyes. But as was my condition back then, I was allergic to black & white comics... Dumb me.

I wondered as I read through the four PotA Archive collections how it was arrived to organize the books as they did. At times I felt, and I suppose this is the most practical way, stories were fit into the page allotments of each volume. Sort of like working a literary jigsaw puzzle. Today's offering is a case in point - first appearing in the 5th issue of the PotA magazine, it was the last tale to be included in the the hardcover series. One might argue they saved the best for last, though, as it is a pretty good story. Let's check it out --

100-Word Review:

War rages on the Planet of the Apes in a time long before Taylor’s arrival. Armed humans on one bluff, equally-equipped Apes across from them, with a Forbidden Zone valley the site of what will become near-complete carnage. Yet two survive the drenching of blood – Jovan the human, and Solomon the gorilla. Mutually disabled post-battle, they are forced to collaborate for survival. Setting off in a symbiotic relationship, they encounter the mixed-breed hermit Mordecai. A man-ape of thought and good will, Mordecai nurses the former combatants back to health. But once healed, their hatred still burns. Will it consume them?

The Good: What can I say about Doug Moench's tenure as scribe of these Apes adventures that others have not already said? I certainly was aware of Moench's various writings when I was a child (and onward), but I don't know that I comprehended just how prolific he was - and especially in the B&W mags. Having taken the complete tour of the PotA magazines over the past two years, I think I've elevated Moench in my personal rankings of the pantheon of comics writers. What an imagination, and a true mastery of pace, plot, and parlance. This story is certainly no exception. While the theme is borrowed, that of two former combatants forced to rely on each other for survival, Moench throws this into the apes/humans dichotomy with that extra flair that resonates with the watcher/reader of the PotA mythos. I found myself on the edge of my seat, waiting to see how these sworn enemies would resolve their foundational issues. I was not disappointed, even though the morality play conclusion seemed predictable. 

The introduction of the hermit Mordecai proved pivotal, and it was a stroke of genius to craft the character as a human/ape hybrid. Of course, that raises all kinds of other issues (moral, biological, and so on), but maybe that's the point: If Mordecai could grow from a union that would undeniably be considered taboo among the races (nay... species) of his parents and be a fount of virtue, then surely good could come to our combatants if they would but tolerate one another.

As an aside, Andrew E.C. Gaska delved into various ape/human and ape/ape hybrid possibilities in his highly recommended (by this reader) Death of the Planet of the Apes novel. Get a copy!

Ed Hannigan and Jim Mooney were solid on the artwork. Mooney seemed a bit out of his element, as those "Mooney eyes" are perhaps better placed in a Spider-Man or especially Supergirl comic. But for the most part I could get past the inks and enjoy Hannigan's pencils. This team did an excellent job of pacing Moench's script. While the inital battle scene seems long in retrospect, on my first read it was appropriate in length. Moench wanted to establish a) how brutal was the fighting and b) that it could only end in extinction of one side by the other. Yet, when that did not happen, the table was set for the main course. Hannigan and Mooney showed the scope and scale of Moench's desired carnage. I was reminded of another battle that raged to an equally-dreaded conclusion. That panel appears below, by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga, and comes from Thor Annual 5. Overall, Hannigan chose a pretty straightforward panel layout, but as you can see from the samples I've provided, he did occasionally burst the conventional bounds.

The Bad: I don't have much to say in this box, other than the perplexing implications of Mordecai's parentage. My mind wandered to Dr. Zira's rebuke of Taylor's kiss, telling him, "You're so damned ugly!" Indeed...

The Ugly: And speaking of "ugly", I'd just say that while well done and effective, the previously-mentioned length of the opening battle had a "make it stop!" quality. So while brutal in its telling, Moench achieved his goal. 

If you've never read any of the PotA Bronze Age magazines, I'd heartily encourage you to seek and obtain the four Archive hardcovers. They are a treasure. A pricey treasure, but nonetheless I am happy to have provided them a warm home. These are books I'll return to over and over. As mentioned above, I do wish they'd included the letters pages and articles, but it is nice to have access to the comics. As we move on during the life of this blog, I'll hope to bring reviews of some of the other material from those books - the roster of artistic talent is beyond compare. 

Thanks for reading, and don't hesitate to leave me a comment below, if you're so inclined.

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