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Monday, June 17, 2019

Sgt. Pepper Taught the Band to Play... 10 Years Ago Today


To be honest, it was 10 years ago yesterday, but hey - it's my blog.

A seeming lifetime ago, on June 16 2009, my writing partner and I started a little venture called Bronze Age Babies. Karen Walker and I had blogged before for a brief period with a third partner. But what we wrought in the 7 1/2 years we wrote together has always been a source of pride for me. Even now, 31 months later, we often share the same brain in conversations we have via email or Twitter direct messages. Swell times.


It's been close to seven months that this space has been called home. Back in the autumn of 2018, I became aware that the boys at Back in the Bronze Age were thinking of scaling back on original content, moving their focus instead to once-a-week open forums. Martinex1 and Redartz had been key contributors to the BAB during the last few years of its existence. As the boys zeroed in on their last date, I contacted the two of them as well as Karen and expressed that I had the blogging itch again. With each of their blessings, the Black & White and Bronze Comics blog went live on November 26. While the BAB was a daily for much of its publishing history, and BitBA was prolifically produced for the better part of its two years, I wanted to try to keep the BWBC manageable in terms of the pace of publication. Two days each week seemed doable, and for the most part it has been. I'll freely admit that when I began, I was able to get way ahead on polished posts. But the past couple of months I've been working on more of a week-to-week basis.

And that brings me to the conclusion of today's post, and a quasi-announcement - this space isn't going anywhere, but I must inform my readers that the two-posts/week pace may become a bit erratic moving forward; may not. I just want to be up front that there may come a Monday or a Thursday when you happen by this place and there is stale content. Although most of you know I'm a school teacher, and thus benefit from extended time away from work throughout the year, life does still happen and believe it or not - sometimes finding an hour here and there just doesn't happen. I love reviewing comics and/or stories, and I've found the artist appreciations fun to cobble together. So I don't want to end either of those things, but I do want to be fair to everyone involved. I'll still use Twitter to publicize new posts, and any of our readers can continue to email me at bronzeagebabies AT yahoo DOT com. Have a guest-post idea? You go right ahead and suggest it - my eyes and ears are open!

I appreciate the feedback on the various posts and on Twitter. It's always nice to have a conversation with true believers of black & white art - so I want that to continue. And thanks for humoring me during the past decade - you have been my buds on Wednesdays at the LCS!

Behave yourselves...


Thursday, June 13, 2019

Gene Colan - Born for Black & White



An artist for whom my appreciation has grown throughout my comics reading life is Gene Colan. It's tough to recall where I first encountered Gentleman Gene's work - it was most likely in Daredevil, though we all know he had lengthy tenures on Iron Man and Captain America (Tales of Suspense, as well as their solo titles), and of course Tomb of Dracula. I am less familiar with his time at the Distinguished Competition, though DC fans I'm sure have fond memories of his Batman and Wonder Woman output.

If ever there was a penciler who could look better in black & white, it's Gene Colan. His mastery of both motion and shadow make his work really pop without colors. Hopefully the samples I've provided today show this. And if I ever find a little extra cash laying around, I'd love to be able to purchase a copy of the IDW Artist Edition that showcases Colan's Dracula series.

Many thanks to all the wonderful people around the World Wide Web who have posted their Gene Colan treasures - they retain all ownership of these resources.










 

Monday, June 10, 2019

"Child of Sorcery" - a Review from Savage Sword of Conan 29


Savage Sword of Conan #29 (May 1978)
"Child of Sorcery"
Roy Thomas-Ernie Chan

Sometimes when you're a so-called blogger, you read a story and just know you're going to review it. This is one of those stories. I recently read this for the first time, from the Dark Horse collected edition Savage Sword of Conan, volume 3. Those are wonderful books, and I'm happy to own the first four volumes. Long out of print, I should pick up whichever copies in the series on which I can lay hands. Just like Marvel's Essentials and DC's Showcase Presents lines, they are a super-affordable way to get a ton of material as reprints.

This story was of course written by uber-Conan scribe Roy Thomas, based on a story originally conceived by Christy Marx. I did some minor digging to find out about Marx (I'm certain I'd not heard of her before or since), and here's what I discovered:
Christy Marx (born c. 1952) is an American screenwriter, author, and game designer, best known for her work on various TV series including Jem, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Conan the Adventurer, G.I. Joe, Hypernauts, and Captain Power. She is also known for her original comic book series Sisterhood of Steel as well as work on Conan, Red Sonja, and Elfquest. Marx has also authored several biographies and history books (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christy_Marx).

Further, from an interview on the Things From Another World site, back in 2012:
TFAW.com: How did you break into the comics industry?

Marx: It was a combination of luck and preparation, as these things usually are. I lived in L.A. at the time and Roy Thomas had just moved to L.A. while still working for Marvel. I found out that he’d be speaking to a group of fans in a small setting (not a convention), so I showed up with a Conan story I’d written, listened carefully to the questions being asked, and then at the end asked him the question nobody else had the bothered to ask. While I still had his attention, I asked him if he would read the story. He did and he bought it and that was my first sale.
So there you have it. Who knew? Not me - that's why I looked her up!

NOTE: Our friend Pete Doree gave some thoughts, as well as scans, of the complete story just a few months ago. You can check that out here. But since you came to this space today, you must also be curious of my thoughts. Well, away we go!

100-Word Review:
A priestess, nay - a goddess - sits staring at the northern mountains. Her solace is interrupted by the clamor of other priestesses bringing a teen before her. The teen is accused of being found in the embrace of a man, something that is apparently forbidden. After an argument the goddess wins, the priestesses depart, and the older woman spins a tale of her own youth to the girl at her feet. She tells of a wizard who once entered the nunnery, and who spirited her away via a winged demon. Able to send an astral form in search of a champion, she found... Conan the barbarian.
 

The plot is slightly thicker than that, but hey - I only give myself a measly hundred words to whet your appetite. Onward.

The Good: I really liked this story. It's not perfect, and seems to borrow from other sources - sources as disparate as the fairy tale about Rapunzel and Meat Loaf's Paradise by the Dashboard Light. But it ends in a twist that I suppose we should all have seen coming; to my admittedly limited knowledge on all things Conan, the man had no known offspring before becoming king of Aquilonia. Apparently, not so - he did! And I think that's what I liked best about this. It sort of blew the lid off an issue many of us probably suspected all along - let's face it, Hyborian birth control ain't the pill, IUD, or condom! So why wouldn't Conan have a daughter? Or 23?

Ernie Chan's art is as we'd expect - it's just vintage Ernie. It's his own, yet as you read through the 20 pages, you can see elements of Barry Smith, of George Perez, and of course of John Buscema. The final product ends up being a nice stew of all of the above, with Ernie's lush inking of his own pencils to ice the cake. I found the art very comfortable, as I do most work I see between the covers of Savage Sword. There is the occasional odd fit (Carmine Infantino's story in SSoC #34 was better than expected, but I think Alfredo Alcala had a hand in that), but overall the Filipino masters and of course Big John always gave us a treat.

I'll get to a few of the aforementioned plot elements in my next section, but here I'll flip a kudo Roy Thomas's way. The man consistently gave Conan the voice we'd expect, and also wrote the nasties wonderfully. The wizard in this story is no exception. Shoot, even the uppity priestesses near the beginning of the tale seem perfectly voiced. Roy's dialogue smooths some of those plot head-scratchers.

 

The Bad: OK, it's not bad, really. But the plot device where our protagonist animates a few strands of her hair such that they form a very long braid, strong enough for Conan to climb, seemed a bit of a rip-off. I also felt that the whole "the girl was seen in the embrace of a man!" was not sufficiently explained. Were these women like the Amazons of Paradise Island? Was the encounter with the wizard when our narrator was a young woman the catalyst for this man-hate? Sure, I could infer either of the two scenarios and feel good about it. But maybe the story's small length of 20 pages hindered the revelation of such details. But my imagination is good enough.

I'd actually have liked to witness a goddess/sorceress cat-fight somewhere in the narrative. That might have been cool.

I found Chan's wizard evil, but not Buscema-esque over the top evil. He fit the bad guy bill, if underwhelmingly. Conan, after many trials, gave the fellow his just desserts.


The Ugly: Ah, this isn't horrible, either... probably falls more into the "Really?" category. But I had to laugh when I read Roy's exchange between the goddess and Conan the morn following their post-coital bliss.

She: If -- if I come with you, will you stay with me forever? Will I turn to you... and always find you there?
Conan: No. I cannot promise that.

Paradise by the Dashboard Light was also released in 1977. Witness this:

She:
Stop right there
I gotta know right now
Before we go any further
Do you love me?
Will you love me forever?
Do you need me?
Will you never leave me?
Will you make me so happy for the rest of my life?
Will you take me away and will you make me your wife?
Do you love me?
Will you love me forever?
Do you need me?
Will you never leave me?
Will you make me so happy for the rest of my life?
Will you take me away and will you make me your wife?
I gotta know right now
Before we go any further
Do you love me?
Will you love me forever?
 
He:
Let me sleep on it
Baby, baby let me sleep on it
Let me sleep on it
And I'll give you an answer in the morning
Let me sleep on it
Baby, baby let me sleep on it
Let me sleep on it
And I'll give you an answer in the morning
Let me sleep on it
Baby, baby let me sleep on it
Let me sleep on it
I'll give you an answer in the morning
 
Now our Conan was a bit more emphatic than that, but the message was the same - "Nope". So it's not at all the worst part of this story, but it did make me smile.
 
 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

John Byrne - Sketches Across the Marvel Universe



Few creators in comics history have been the beneficiaries of an adoration for their work as most collectors hold for John Byrne's run on the X-Men. Following a wonderful run by Dave Cockrum, Byrne (in collaboration with inker Terry Austin) launched Uncanny X-Men into the stratosphere. From that point, Byrne parlayed his success into lengthy runs illustrating the Fantastic Four and then on to DC where he was allowed to revamp the Superman mythos. At times controversial, Byrne never shied from either the spotlight or from speaking his mind (or from creative decisions such as his dismantling of the Vision).

Today I am featuring sketches of Marvel characters (and thanks to the various owners of these pieces for making them available on the Web); perhaps at some future point we'll take a look at some DC characters as rendered by Byrne.

From the standpoint of my own satisfaction, I tended to enjoy Byrne's work most when he had an inker who would exert some degree of positive influence. Whether Joe Sinnott, Austin, Bob Layton, or Dick Giordano, I wanted an inker to add some boldness to Byrne's lines. During his Fantastic Four tenure, and then on into some creator-owned projects like Next Men, I felt that Byrne left to his own devices could produce work that seemed a bit scratchy. My eyes prefer "polished", and that is what Austin, et al. lent to Byrne's pencils. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments below.

Onward!












Monday, June 3, 2019

Phoenix Rises, in Bizarre Adventures 27 - a Review


In case you've been under a rock, or perhaps you're like me and you don't really care, you might know that the next X-Men motion picture drops at the end of this week. To "celebrate" (OK, really, to "observe"), today I'm featuring a post that originally ran at the Bronze Age Babies back on 13 June 2013. Hard to believe I wrote this six years ago! Have fun, and please leave a comment at the bottom. Thanks for stopping by today.


Bizarre Adventures #27 (July 1981)
"Phoenix"
Chris Claremont-John Buscema/Klaus Janson

I think, and don't hold me to this, I got this at a nice discount way back around 1990 when I was a subscriber to Mile High Comics' monthly service.  As I seem to remember, owner Chuck Rozanski had specials each month, and I'm almost certain this was how I acquired this magazine.  I can guarantee you I didn't buy it from a newsstand, as this was released during the time I was not buying comic books.  There are three stories between the covers, and about mid-month throughout the summer we'll be picking our way through the book.  At the beginning of each story is a one-page "data sheet" on the featured hero, and I'll run those right alongside the magazine's cover as I've done above.  So without further ado, what say we take a look at the recently-deceased Phoenix and... Attuma?

Reading these stories (at this writing, I've obviously read today's fare, but also the next tale which is of Iceman), one has to wonder why they were created.  Just after the table of contents is a short editorial from Denny O'Neil where he touts the X-Men as Marvel's breakout stars and how he knew them way back when.  He also says that Bizarre Adventures will contain lots of new and exciting material.  But he makes a comment which prompted my statement just above; he writes, "Certain X-Men stories we wanted to tell were, for various reasons, not suited to the color format.  The answer?  Good old Bizarre Adventures."  So I don't know if the three stories within were made just for this publication, if they were stock waiting for a chance to see daylight at the back of an annual or in something akin to Marvel Fanfare (which, if you're like me and wondering when that debuted, it was in March 1982).  As there are references to past continuity, 'tis a mystery.

We open in a cemetery, at the grave of Jean Grey.  Her sister Sara Grey is visiting again, and today is the first anniversary of Jean's death on the moon.  Sara kneels to place flowers and talks to Jean.  Sara is concerned because her own son is 11 years old now, and will soon begin adolescence -- the age of manifestation for certain mutants.  Sara worries about that -- what would it be like for her boy Tommy?  She says to Jean -- "Your powers killed you, Jean.  Will they kill my son?"  And then her mind wanders back to a time two years prior, when she and Jean headed to the docks to spend a day sailing before meeting their significant others for dinner.  But all is not without incident, as two young bucks make a play on the women.  Jean flirts momentarily before telekinetically pushing one of the guys into the drink.  They aren't hassled any more as they board their small craft.  Out on the water the sisters talk, Sara wanting to know about Jean's powers and why she's a mutant and not Sara herself.  Jean has no answer.  This is a very vivacious Jean Grey, funny and loving life.  It's interesting to see Chris Claremont write her free from the bounds of the sullen Scott Summers.  One could almost imagine this Jean Grey being the woman to tame Wolverine...

Jean continues to play around with Sara, telekinetically drawing out the lunch cooler and then emptying it by ejecting the sandwiches and drinks like little missiles.  Sara isn't all that comfortable.  Suddenly they are aware of a fog bank, one that shouldn't be there.  It spreads across their course, seemingly creating a barrier to their travel.  Sara attempts to radio to shore, but the transmission is blocked.  Suddenly Jean is aware that Sara has passed out, and before she can mount a defense of her own she also succumbs to the attack, and slumps over the side of the boat and into the ocean.  Once unconscious, her mind dreams back to a time when she was 10 years old, and playing with her best friend Annie.  They were playing frisbee in the front yard of the Greys' home.  The Greys lived on a blind curve, and the frisbee that Jean threw got away from Annie; Annie chased it into the street where she was struck by a passing car.  Jean rushed to her side, and as she cradled Annie's dying body Jean's own mind reached out and into Annie's.  This was the first manifestation of Jean's mental powers.  She wasn't able to save Annie Richardson on that day, but she experienced her death by her side.  This was very traumatic for Jean, and eventually served as a catalyst for joining the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters.  There she learned to use her powers, and Charles Xavier protected her from those horrible memories until they could work through them together.  It was also at the School where she met Scott Summers and fell in love.  It was after graduating from the School that she died and was resurrected by the Phoenix Force, forever changing her.


Jean groggily wakes, but is shocked to find herself clothed as some sort of consort of plaything.  Sitting up, she notices that her skin has turned... blue!  I thought that was sort of a funny concept, in a black and white mag, but then whenever we read novels and the like I guess we have to do the imagining ourselves, huh?  She also becomes aware that she is underwater, and breathing!  Her mind races, going first to Prince Namor and a previous meeting between he and the X-Men.  Suddenly she hears someone scream (under water?) and takes off in that direction -- running at first and then swimming.  Entering the next chamber, she finds Sara overcome with shock and horror at their circumstances.  Jean gives her sister a telepathic bolt to put her down, and then enters her mind to calm her.  Sara thanks her, her previous fears set aside.  At that point armed guards enter and inform the Grey sisters that they are now brides, and are to accompany the men to their master.  And he is?  Attuma, Scourge of the Seven Seas!

So it's like this -- Attuma ain't so dumb after all.  Tired of being second tuna to Namor, Attuma has decided to kidnap mutant women (yep -- he's got Sara Grey all wrong) for breeding stock.  After some time, he'll have created his own Atlantean mutant army, strong enough to finally defeat Prince Namor.  But Attuma's biggest problem (among many) is that he thinks Jean is Marvel Girl and has erected psychic dampers to keep her in check.  It's a pity, because his plan may have succeeded -- if Phoenix had not exploded on his scene, blasting him into a wall while destroying the machines that had clouded her mind earlier.  It really isn't even fair; Jean makes short work of every warrior that enters the barbarian's chamber.  She and Sara flee, but are soon cornered by Attuma himself.  You know how these things go -- if he can't have it his way, there'll be hell to pay!  Attuma wields a mighty large blade, and flails it about wildly.  His strength is surprising to Jean, and she's actually forced back.  Yeah, that lasted for about two seconds and then Blammo! again.  She literally brings the house down this time.  Swimming like crazy for their liberty, the sisters make it to the surface -- only to discover that Sara's infection with Attuma's virus has left her a water-breather.  She nearly suffocates once she hits the atmosphere.

Jean takes Sara back underwater while she thinks of what to do.  Sara laments that she might actually like the adventure of Attuma's offer (man, I thought this scene was weird -- "The things, I could learn down here, the places I could see.  I could spend a lifetime just talking to those dolphins.  If I was single."  Really??  Be Attuma's love slave?).  But Jean tells her that she thinks she can return her to her human attributes, but it will basically require a reworking of Sara's DNA.  It works, and Sara surfaces.  But where's Jean?  Sara dives back down, to find her sister being nudged toward the surface by the dolphins.  Sara's able to haul Jean ashore and revive her.  The two ladies build a fire and warm themselves.  Jean sent Scott a telepathic S.O.S., and told he and Sara's husband of their location.  They continue to talk about Sara's fears for her children.  Jean reaches out one more time, and mindwipes Sara's memories of their Atlantean adventure, and of Phoenix.  As far as Sara will know, they had a boating accident and Sara saved Jean's life.  She also thinks that she'll ask Professor X to have the kids genetically scanned.

Back at the gravesite, Sara thinks that the mind block disappeared when Jean died.  She thinks that Jean shouldn't have done it in the first place, but she's glad that Jean loved her.  She also knows that Jean never got around to asking the professor to see about Sara's kids.  But in the end, Sara thinks that she's not quite as afraid as she used to be; after all, if her kids are mutants and turn out like their Aunt Jean, that wouldn't be all bad.

This was an interesting story.  I warmed to it more the second time I read it, which was for this writing.  My initial reaction was that it was pretty far out there -- Attuma??  But he merely served as a vehicle for Claremont's bigger issue, which was an examination of Jean Grey in a snapshot taken a year before she died.  It was also a tale of those affected by mutants and how they deal with those issues.  Metaphorically, I suppose the script plays into our hopes and fears for all sorts of relationships and life situations.  John Buscema's art is pretty typical of his output in the early 1980's -- it's obviously Big John's greatness, as we have grown used to seeing him in his main B&W venue, Savage Sword of Conan.  I'm pretty sure these are tighter rather than sketchy lay-outs.  Klaus Janson does wonders on the inks and with wash; there's no zipatone, but what there is is a ton of backgrounds!  It's really a pretty lushly-illustrated story.  So for fans of both artists, I think you get the best of both worlds.  This won't necessarily be my stance in mid-July, when I'll treat you to the second story in this magazine.  The Iceman tale was drawn by George Perez and inked by Alfredo Alcala.  I'll challenge you then to pick out the Perez influence.  Nuff said.

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