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Tag Archive: Joe Simon


Review by C.J. Bunce

A new edition of a book about the popularity of Fawcett Comics‘ original Captain Marvel, the world’s mightiest mortal–the superhero renamed Shazam and featured in a new movie this month starring Zachary Levi–will be the perfect trip through time for fans who have enjoyed the character in his many stories going back to his debut in 1939.  My personal favorite Captain Marvel stories can be found in the original Whiz Comics (all in the public domain and available to read online now here) and as drawn by Alex Ross in his landmark graphic novel with Mark Waid, Kingdom Come.  For the first time in a softcover edition, Chip Kidd’s Shazam: The Golden Age of the World’s Mightiest Mortal has been reprinted by Abrams ComicArts just in time for the release of the film, Shazam!

For those not in-the-know, this is the Captain Marvel who now goes by Shazam (the word that causes him to bring forth his powers)–the one owned by DC Comics today, and not the one owned by Marvel Comics and also in theaters now in the movie Captain Marvel (reviewed here at borg).  Shazam: The Golden Age of the World’s Mightiest Mortal is a historical work, and it doesn’t hesitate to use the name he’s always been known as by his fans.  As told by writer Chip Kidd, the Captain Marvel fan club had 400,000 people in it in its best year in the 1940s, and Fawcett projected 40 million followers of the character in books and film.  Captain Marvel books sold 1.3 million copies per month, not a common feat even today.  Does anything approach that kind of fan club status today?  At the height of the character it was more popular than Superman and Batman, and so of course the character had hundreds of tie-in products.

Readers will marvel over a reprint of the entire story from Captain Marvel Adventures, Issue #1–created by two then unknowns: Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, and reprints of several colorful covers from Whiz Comics, Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Mary Marvel Comics, WOW Comics, Master Comics, America’s Greatest Comics, Spy Smasher, and even Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny, plus pages of scans of original comic pages from ex-Fawcett staff.

The book uses photographs from a collection of some of the scarcest superhero collectibles known, including images of books, toys, and paper ephemera for Captain Marvel and the entire Marvel Family–superhero kids like Billy Batson–the boy who turns into Captain Marvel–and his friends who use the Shazam powers but remain as kids.

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Next week Quirk Books is releasing its follow-up look at the obscure side of comic books with The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains, a companion book to its 2015 release The League of Regrettable Superheroes (reviewed previously here at borg.com).  Cartoonist and graphic designer Jon Morris has again researched the archives of Digital Comic Museum and Comic Book Plus to locate oddities from the Golden Age of comics to more recent series.

Morris collected more than 100 of these antagonists of the comic page, many only serving their plot in a single issue of a long forgotten publication.  These are villains that today seem laughable as bad guys, like Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, Bloor (The Dictator of Uranus), The Horrible Hand (a giant hand), and The Human Flying Fish.  The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains is a great excuse to look back to the roots of comicdom, its creators, and the publications that have come and gone.  Morris’s overview of the far recesses of the Golden Age of comics may remind readers of the changing times–the changing audiences–for comic books, and how the industry has grown.  Creators of the obscure are mentioned in the book when known, and sidebars list plenty of humorous weaknesses of these vile fellows.  The Balloon Maker is particularly nefarious, and a baddie before his time–he’s something out of House of Wax or Silence of the Lambs.  As much as some entries are obscure, others, like MODOK, are better known–but still strange.

   

You’ll see plenty of examples of full color covers and interior art from the characters represented, as well as characters created by legends in comics like Dick Sprang, Frank Frazetta, Gill Fox, Jack Cole, Otto Binder, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel, Joe Simon, Neal Adams, and John Romita.

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If you are looking for an introduction to critically acclaimed comics in one volume while also getting a dose of exposure to some newer talents, Atomeka Press has teamed up with Titan Comics to release a new hardcover volume, A1 Annual: The World’s Greatest Comics.  With such a loaded title, you’d expect the entries to be pretty powerful stuff.  You’ll certainly find a broad mix of story and art styles, but ultimately beauty is in the eye of the reader.  Does the volume live up to the title?

No doubt everyone, no matter how critical your eye, will find at least a few gems here.  When you realize you’re dealing with the likes of Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Dave Gibbons, Bill Sienkiewicz, Jim Steranko, Alan Moore, and James Robinson, it’s pretty easy to see why the editors had the chutzpah to come up with such a cocky title.

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PBS is airing a new documentary series tonight and re-broadcast October 22 focusing on the impact of comic book superheroes on America and American culture, in Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle.  It’s a good history lesson in the creation of the modern comic book and the development since the 1930s of the comic book art form.  Packed with interviews with key creators and industry professionals, and comic book page and TV and movie clips, it tells a history of America as much as the comic book medium.

Not surprisingly the documentary, funded by both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, focuses on U.S. comics and comic stories tied to patriotism across the past 100 years.  Written and directed by Michael Kantor, it covers how changing times is mirrored in comics, but also dictates the stories of comics, from the Great Depression, to World War II, McCarthyism in the 1950s and the Cold War in the 1960s to 1980s, the psychedelic 1960s, drugs in the 1970s, to Watergate and terrorism.

Liev Schreiber hosts Superheroes on PBS

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Their names evoke the best of the Golden Age of comic books.  Modern readers can still appreciate that their work stands up against the best modern storytelling.  Joe Simon and Jack Kirby hold a unique place in the history of comics, known for creating hundreds of characters, but most notably Captain America.  Throughout the 1940s and 1950s and into the 1960s they also put their own mark on the science fiction genre, carrying forward the futuristic vision and stories that melded science fiction and fantasy first brought to comic book form by Alex Raymond in 1930s Flash Gordon strips.  Jack Kirby is still king to many comic book readers today.

Titan Publishing’s release of The Simon & Kirby Library has re-introduced modern readers and fans of these classics with volumes highlighting both their Superheroes stories and their Crime stories in The Simon & Kirby Library: Superheroes and The Simon & Kirby Library: Crime.  The third installment now available reprints their collaboration in science fiction spanning more than 20 years in The Simon & Kirby Library: Science Fiction.

Space Garbage panel

The volume includes “Solar Patrol,” written and drawn by Simon, and “Solar Legion,” written and drawn by Kirby, both from 1940.  Blue Bolt issues 1-10 plant the seeds for elements of modern sci-fi books, TV series, and movies.  Spaceships, space cars, rockets, spacemen and aliens all can be found here, with stories reminiscent of The Twilight Zone and Kirby’s classic pencil work.  The Simon & Kirby Library: Science Fiction includes stories from several other Golden Age comic titles, including Black Cat Mystic, Alarming Tales, Race for the Moon, Alarming Adventures, and Blast Off.

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