Saturday, February 25, 2012

Same Story, Different Cover: Here's your next major crossover event idea, DC

L: DC Super Stars #10 (December 1976), pencils and inks by Ernie Chan, colors by Tatjana Wood, letters by Joe Letterese
R: DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest #13 (September 1981), pencils by Rich Buckler, inks by Dick Giordano
(Click picture to double-header-size)

366 Days with Alfred Pennyworth, Day 56

Splash page of Batman: The Case of Batman II! (Kellogg's Pop-Tarts giveaway comics, 1996),
adapted from Batman #40 (April-May 1947)

Friday, February 24, 2012

But not tonight

In the exact same issue of Fantastic Four where there's a fairly unnecessary panel of Medusa, we also get a couple panels featuring big-time FF co-star Barney Slocum. As I like to say, "now that Barney's become such a major part of the Marvel Universe, it's fun to see where he got his start!"

Panels from Fantastic Four #158 (May 1975), script by Roy Thomas, pencils by Rich Buckler, inks by Joe Sinnott, colors by Janice Cohen, letters by Joe Rosen

Just like Barney, whose story may someday be told (perhaps in the upcoming limited series Fear Itself: Barney Slocum vs. the Marvel Universe), yet again tonight I'm unable to give you the second half of my series on volume numbers and issue numbers which started here. Lesson of the week: never say "tomorrow" when I don't have all the scans done yet. Next week, I hope..but you will get to read it!

Apologies to you, apologies to everybody who wrote in about it, but most of all, apologies to Barney Slocum.

366 Days with Alfred Pennyworth, Day 55

I asked you yesterday: What vital information do we find out about Alfred for the very first time in Batman #216?

Sean Murphy commented
Alfred has a little family reunion, right?

Panels from Batman #216 (November 1969), script by Frank Robbins, pencils by Irv Novick, inks by Dick Giordano

And...that's actually absolutely correct, Sean, and you get a Bruce Wayne-endorsed Bull-Prize (not valid in Metropolis).

But actually, it's not the big reveal I was thinking of. Batman #216 is the first time that we learn Earth-1's Alfred is surnamed...Pennyworth!

But yes, there's a family reunion, and it goes about as well as most family reunions.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ask any otter you happen to see, what's the best comic? It's Archie!

366 Days with Alfred Pennyworth, Day 54

Cover of Batman v.1 #216 (November 1969), pencils by Irv Novick, inks by Dick Giordano

Say, Alfred fans...we learn something really vital about our bestest butler in Batman #216. Q: What is it? Answers on a postcard, please...but don't mail 'em in, because I'll reveal the answer tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

They Just Didn't Care

How much did Marvel care about its 2011 miniseries Marvel Zombies Christmas Carol? Chances are, this is the first time you've ever heard about it, right? That's because Marvel just didn't care.

Yep, despite what you see there, the official name of the book is Marvel Zombies Christmas Carol. Why didn't Marvel put that title on the book? To fool folks into thinking this was yet another go-round with half-head Captain America Zombie or Iron Zombie or Spider-Zombie or She-Thing-Zombie? Me, I like to think it was because over at Marvel...they just didn't care.

How much did Marvel Comics care about Marvel Zombie Christmas Carol? So much that they cover-dated issue #1 as August 2011...and issue #2 as July 2011.

My conclusion? They just didn't care.

Now, there were many fine creators working on Marvel Zombies Christmas Carol, and I'm not pointing any fingers at any of 'em. I'm just cocking my head suspiciously at Marvel, trying to milk one last buck out of an overdone franchise. 'Coz, you see...they just didn't care.

366 Days with Alfred Pennyworth, Day 53

Page from Batman: Shadow of the Bat #45 (December 1995), script by Alan Grant, pencils by Michal Dutkiewicz, inks by Gerry Fernandez, colors by Pamela Rambo, separations by Android Images, letters by Bill Oakley

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pump Up the Volume

Hey, ya know what will be fun? Let's talk about comic book volumes and numbers. (Yes, yes, I know it's not as much fun as pudding. Bear with me a moment.)

Unlike most (but not all) magazines, comic books are identified by a number: Detective Comics #27. Uncanny X-Men #201. Ambush Bug: Year None #6*. As well, specific runs of comic titles—usually but not always starting with #1—are numbered with volume numbers: a volume number that exists with the comic until it is cancelled or rebooted to a new number one.

Here's an easy example: below is Batman volume 1 #1, and Batman volume 2 #1. One of these comic books is worth thousands and thousands of dollars, so choose carefully.

Another classic example: Action Comics volume 1 and 2's #1s.

Such renumberings will no doubt lead to non-collectors running into your friendly neighborhood comic book store exclaiming "I've got Action Comics #1! Gimme a million bucks for it!" and thrusting the Grant Morrison issue at the clerk. It's the volume number that's important here. You want Action volume 1 #1 to retire on, volume 2 #1 for a decent read but not much of an investment.

Detective Comics works the same way, although you won't find Batman on the cover of Detective volume 1 #1. If you want to make trivia out of comic book history, the next couple years will be the first times we ever see Batman in Detective Comics #1-26.

And then there's Superman. Yep, that's Supes volume 1, 2, and 3 numbers 1 below. But as the lady in the Pandorica said: "Okay, kid...this is where it gets complicated."

In 1986, DC capped off its fiftieth anniversary with Crisis on Infinite Earths, for which we have to blame every furshlugginer comic book crossover since. War of the Gods? Crisis's fault. Atlantis Attacks? Blame Crisis. Onslaught? Cri...well, actually, let's just blame that one on the 1990s.

Following Crisis, DC rebooted the Superman franchise with new creators (Byrne! Ordway!), a new back history (Ma and Pa Kent are alive! Lex Luthor is Donald Trump!), and a brand-new Superman #1. Volume 2, #1, to be precise (see the middle comic above). Volume 1 of Superman had ended earlier in the year with Superman v.1 #423, the sublime "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?", celebrating the Silver Age concepts that the reboot (temporarily) wiped off the Super-slate: Krypto, Superboy [and the Legion], Supergirl, the Fortress of Solitude, Morgan Edge and WGBS, and approximately one bajillion other survivors of Krypton.

Also the same month Supes v.2 #1 (and I say that just to annoy John Byrne) premiered and Action Comics #584 became a post-Crisis team-up title to replace the cancelled DC Comics Presents, a third Superman title premiered with a new name and a familiar number: The Adventures of Superman. #424. Wait, what? Why that number for a first issue?

Adventures picks up the numbering from volume 1 of Superman, which ended with #423. Renaming comics without renumbering them, of course, was not a new concept to the comic book industry. We can blame, as we can for many, many, things, the United States Postal Service, and by extension, we may as well blame the first Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin, for his role in the ephemeral film Money Talks!, if nothing else**.

Money Talks (1955). This MSTed version is from Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 621 (1995),
starring Mike Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, and Kevin Murphy.

Here's the explanation of the second class mail permit regulations' effects on comic books, the brief version: publishers of magazines and periodicals (including comics) were charged an expensive permit fee to register a new title to be shipped through the postal service at a cost-savings bulk rate. But, just as Brian Bendis does every time we look too carefully at one of his stories, those publishers discovered an escape clause loophole: if you changed the name of the comic book but kept the same numbering, you didn't have to apply for a new permit...even if the renamed comic had nothing to do with the original. Want some examples? Sure, why not?
  • One of several Marvel Silver Age examples you're probably familiar with: Atlas [1950s Marvel]'s Journey Into Mystery began with #1 in 1952 as an anthology of mystery and horror stories and eventually evolved into the popular "monster of the month" anthology in the late 50s and early 60s. But as all Marvel Maniacs worth their weight in adamantium know, Journey Into Mystery #83 introduced the Mighty Thor, who became so popular that he later took over the entirety of Journey Into Mystery through issue #125. The following month the book was officially re-named Thor #126, and Stan and Company could cackle merrily because they'd just succeeded in avoiding paying a new second class registration. The same happened with most of Marvel's anthologies turned superhero double-features like Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish, and Tales of Suspense.
  • But you didn't necessarily need to keep the same star in a comic when you renamed it. Timely [Golden Age Marvel]'s Terry-Toons Comics began with #1 in 1942 and ran through #57 in 1947. It then became a western comic: Best Western #58 and #59. (Ignore for the moment that fact that Marvel actually managed to also sneak a pair of Terry-Toons #58 and #59 past the postal service as well.) Best Western was renamed Western Outlaws and Sheriffs with 1949's #60. Sneaky, Stan, sneaky!
  • Consider EC's Moon Girl and the Prince #1. Which became Moon Girl #2-6. Which became Moon Girl Fights Crime #7-8. Which became, with so much chutzpah I've got to salute William Gaines, A Moon, A Girl...Romance #9-12. Which became Weird Fantasy #13-17. Which became Weird Fantasy volume 2, #6. Aieee! Gasp...choke!

  • More recently, remember when Incredible Herc took up the numbering from Incredible Hulk? When Daredevil became Black Panther: The Man Without Fear and then Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive? When Deadpool: Yet Another One of His Series became A Really Good Series That Isn't About Deadpool for Once? Oh, sorry, the last one only happened in my brain.

As far as volumes, however, how do we count the volume numbers? Returning to the Superman example:

...those are, from left to right and very clearly, Superman volume 1, 2, 3. But what do you call its volume number when, in 2006, both Superman volume 2 and The Adventures of Superman stop publishing (with issues #226 and 649, respectively), and are followed the next month with one comic: Superman #650? Hmmmmmmm! I can definitely see what they're doing here: while DC cut the title line by one, this restores the original 1938 numbering to the Superman title. But is this volume 1? Or volume 2? (I sometimes internally refer to it as volume 2a, but really...that's just cheating!) Luckily in 2011, after a year of the Man of Steel wandering aimlessly on foot across America, Superman volume whatever ends with #714 and is rebooted as Superman volume 3 #1, an era we're now six months into.

Which begs the question: what happens next? I'll bet my last donut (and it's a cream-filled one) that at some point DC will revert the issue numbers on volume 3 to add 'em all together for the proper, straight-since-1938 numbering scheme. We've seen this happen at Marvel as their occasionally-rebooted and renumbered comics have reached milestone anniversary: Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Thor, and most recently Wolverine. Also, for some reason, X-Factor, which I think is cheating a little. That series was outright cancelled, not rebooted, in 1998! DC's done the same with Wonder Woman and Adventure Comics. And I bet my cuppa coffee (for dipping donuts in, doncha know) that I can guess pretty much exactly when it will be cover-dated: December 2018. Why? Because that's the date that, assuming Supes v.3 continues along at 12 issues a year, that it would hit #86, which, added to the 714 we'd had of volume 1 and volume 1a, equals...#800! It doesn't hurt that 2018 is also Superman's eightieth anniversary. (Eighty years times twelve issues is actually 960, but Superman hasn't always been published monthly.)

By that same Bully-logic, in about seven and a half years, Action Comics volume 2 #95, cover-dated September 2019, will be published, following the next month by Action Comics #1000. (It's coming sooner than you think, fans who use a three-digit numbering index system...get ready for Y1K!) Detective Comics could be renumbered as potentially soon as the middle of next year (The New 52's Detective #19 is Detective #900), or it could wait until Detective Comics #1000, which would follow Detective Comics v.2 #117, approximately September 2021 (Though it's an older publication, Detective has a lower issue count than Action because of Action's weekly publication in 1988-1989).

And it would only take one more issue...but Sugar & Spike will probably never reach issue #100.

*This comic book does not exist.
**This film has nothing to do with the rest of this post. Fun, though, huh?

366 Days with Alfred Pennyworth, Day 52

Panels from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #160 (December 2002), script by John Ostrander, pencils by David Lopez, inks by Dan Green, colors by James Sinclair, separations by Digital Chameleon, letters by Kurt Hathaway

Monday, February 20, 2012

Ten of a Kind: Wolverine, did you cut down this cherry tree?

(More Ten of a Kind here.)

366 Days with Alfred Pennyworth, Day 51

Panel from World's Finest #281 (July 1982), script by Cary Burkett, pencils by Irv Novick, inks by Frank Chiaramonte, colors by Carl Gafford, letters by Milt Snapinn

Today in Comics History: Batman begins to read the Twilight series

Panels from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #73 (July 1995), script by James Robinson, pencils and inks by John Watkiss, colors by Digital Chameleon, letters by Willie Schubert

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dear Batman!

If you were wondering what the Sam Scratch Alfred and Jim Gordon were up to in today's "366 Days with Alfred Pennyworth" feature...well, then, you need to check your Earth-1 datebook, because it's one of the most important days of the year! No, it's not the anniversary of the time that Batman met Ben's actually on this day, mumble mumble years ago, that Bruce Wayne was born! In other words, it's the Batman's Birthday! Why else do you think that Gordon and Alfred made that extended trip to Party City? Bruce loves Uglydoll party supplies!

Panels from "Surprise! Surprise!" in Batman Family #11 (May-June 1977), script by Bob Rozakis, pencils by Carl Potts, inks by Frank McLaughlin, colors by Bob LeRose

Luckily for them, when the birthday boy enters later on, he's not wearing his blue and purple leotards, but rather a grey jacket and a two-toned turtleneck that would make Chuck Klosterman flee in terror. Hey, all his friends are there! Even...y'know...what's his name!

But wait a do we know that Batman is, like Aquaman, a Pisces? (His horoscope: "Your parents will be killed in front of you, and a large winged mammal will fly through one of your windows, inspiring your career. Later, a South American wrestler will break your back, and still most people will remember you as guy in sayings like 'Holy [blank], Batman!' Also, you are the g--d----- Batman." Whoa, pretty darn accurate!)

We know that because of the Roy Thomas of the DC, at least before Roy Thomas went over to work in the DC Universe...Bob Rozakis, the DC Answer Man! Bob wrote the text of the rightly famous Super DC Calendar 1976, which provided many of the birthdays of the DC heroes and villains (Alfred Pennyworth: April 8; Shrinking Violet, June 3; Mitch Shelly: February 3, March 17, March 30, April 18, May 1, May 2, May 3, June 14...)...

...but also author of the perpetual fan-favorite DC "Answer Man" column, in which he answered important questions like "How many horsepower does the Jokermobile have?" (750.) and "What happened to Zook, the Martian Manhunter's alien sidekick?" (Zook was barbecued and eaten at the last DC Comics summer picnic). Here's the word itself from the man himself on why we need to have February 19 off from work (or, in the case of 2/19 falling on a Sunday, we should have Monday off as "Batman's Birthday (Observed)."

from "Ask the DC Answer Man!" in World's Finest #271 (September 1981)

...and Rozakis is the author of the above story in Batman Family #11 which also establishes February 19 as Batman's birthday! Which, if you think about it, kind of makes Bob Rozakis the "father" of Batman. Which is all the more coincidental when you remember that Bob Rozakis once walked through Gotham City's Crime Alley late one night discussing upcoming plots with the great comedian Bob Hope for upcoming issues of The Adventures of Bob Hope...and then the Joker jumped out and shot Bob Hope right in the ski nose, scarring Mister Rozakis for life and turning him into the DC Answer Man. After all, we should have expected that. If there's one thing we know about that part of Gotham that there is no Hope in Crime Alley.

It certainly wasn't the first Batman birthday story, though, and if I have my way, it won't be the last. There's a fine good old-fashioned Bat-birthday tale in Batman #130, in which Batman gets stuck up to his utility belt in frosting so creamy, you could spread it with a paper knife! (But use a spoon so you get every drop.)

Splash page from "Batman's Deadly Birthday" in Batman #130 (March 1960), script by Bill Finger, pencils by Dick Sprang, inks by Stan Kaye, letters by Stan Starkman

So brilliant was this deathtrap that the producers of the 1966 Batman live-action TV series used it again! Holy vanilla frosting, Batman! Still, that's not the weirdest part of this story. If you think you get oddball presents you'll rush to return to the store as soon as your birthday's over, consider the plight of poor Batman, awarded a silver replica of my mom, stuffed with cash that he can't even keep. Geez, guys, maybe an iPod would have been more appropriate?

Then, there's a fireworks display that is supposed to portray images of Batman in action, but instead winds up looking pretty much like every other abstract fireworks display. I'm thiunking the designed this thing for Daredevil, actually. "And now, Daredevil, the fireworks are exploding into a scene of you clobbering the Purple Man!" "KA-BOOM!" "Wow...that's amazingly lifelike, thank you!" "(snicker)"

No Batman story is complete without explaining the weird-ball mage you saw on the cover or splash page. Here's a giant cake that you can't eat is presented to Batman. Thanks so very much, citizens of Gotham. I suppose that picking up an actual Fudgie the Whale cake was a little too expensive for the guy who's saved the city umpty-umpt times, huh?

Oh! And there are also some criminals, who come to a...heh heh heh heh...sticky end! Bwah-ha-ha-ha!

Still, was this Batman's weirdest birthday? Oh, you know the answer to that. No, it was not. There was also the birthday where...okay, get this...Wonder Woman and Batgirl were both battling each other to give him the best presents and prove she loved him the most. Wait a minute, is that Batman's birthday or Hugh Hefner's birthday?!?

Panels from The Brave and the Bold #78 (June-July 1968), script by Bob Haney, pencils and inks by Bob Brown

It's the catfight so extreme it tilts the panel into a Dutch angle! (Look it up, Bat-fans!)

Babs bought Bats a new cape! Woo.

Diana bought that gold statue of himself that Batman had on his Amazon Wish List!

Then, apparently, they both go shopping at Spencer's Gifts for something subtle.

Then, it gets personal. (Wocka-cha-wocka-cha-wocka-cha-wocka!)

How does it all end? I've got no idea. I have the feeling that Batman will soon be calling up Archie Andrews for some hints on juggling two girlfriends. This whole situation is going to cause some problems at the next sock-hop at Gotham High, Batman!

So: Batman, being fought over by Lynda Carter and Yvonne Craig? Best birthday ever.

Happy Birthday, Batman!

House ad from House of Mystery #180 (May-June 1969)