Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Handbook in September



SHIELD Santa Claus from the Siege Perilous with the Skrull Kill Krew as this comprehensive guide to the Marvel Universe continues! This volume features Sasquatch, Snowbird, Silver Surfer, Sandman, Selene, She-Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Scourge of the Underworld, Speed, and not one, but two alien races from the 60's (can you guess?)! So come join the Savage Land Mutates in the Savage Land, while having a devil of a time with Satan, Satannish, and Satana! Slither around with the Serpent Society, Serpent Squads, Set, Seth, and the Sons of the Serpent! Get stung by Scorpia, Scorpion, Scorpio, and the Silver Scorpion as you team-up with the Salem's Seven, Secret Defenders, Sinister Six, and Six Pack! All this and much much more! 240 PGS./Rated T+ ...$24.99 ISBN: 978-0-7851-3107-6

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Index in September


Continuing the chronicle of the Marvel Universe, starting with Spider-Man (from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #385 on), Iron Man (from IRON MAN #315 on) and the X-Men (from UNCANNY X-MEN #364 on). Follow the history of the Marvel universe as it unfolds month by month with the All-New Official Index to the Marvel Universe. Each issue provides synopses for dozens of individual comics, including back-up strips, introducing you to the characters, teams, places and equipment that appeared within, providing vital information about first appearances, where they last showed up and where they appeared next! 64 PGS./Rated A ...$3.99

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Good Week to be a Roger Stern fan

Although I don't believe he has any current regular assignment in comics, Roger Stern had three different stories released this week from Marvel Comics. As an immense fan of Stern's work (his Dr. Strange#55 is my all-time personal favorite comic), I was all too happy to find so much from him all at once.

Some time ago, Stern wrote an issue of Thor (#394) about a television writer who interviewed people who had met Thor to help her compose a script proposal. The people interviewed included supporting characters from Thor's past, but also random passerbys from old stories. Last year Stern had a new story in Giant-Size Incredible Hulk which took a similar tack, with old Hulk supporting character Fred Sloan interviewing people who had encountered the Hulk. Each of the three Stern stories released this week were of a similar retrospective nature.

First up, Captain America#600. This issue won a little publicity and was released in the USA on Monday rather than the standard Wednesday date. The main story deals with people meditating on the anniversary of Captain America's death and Stern provides a back-up story on that subject. Stern's story features Bernie Rosenthal, a supporting character he created for Cap back when he wrote the book, but she hasn't been seen since Mark Gruenwald's last issue (Cap#443, 1995). Also appearing is Josh Cooper, another character who appeared in Stern's run. Bernie and Josh have a private celebration of Cap's life and recall the time they spent with him. With only 12 pages to work with, it doesn't get around to much, but mostly it's overshadowed by the main story, featuring characters with contemporary ties to Cap.

Next is Amazing Spider-Man Family#7. This series is an anthology book which features a number of Spider-Man characters by various creative teams. Stern leads off this issue with a story of Peter Parker and his Aunt May going through the family photo album. May relates the stories of how she met Uncle Ben, their engagement, marriage and the birth of Peter. Some of this was familiar to me, a fair bit wasn't. There are also some cute touches to explain Marvel's sliding timeline. The most interesting facet of the story is that it examines how May made her share of mistakes over the years and went through troubles with Ben; it proves that Peter isn't the only one who suffers from the "Parker luck" and draws the two closer. The tragic story of May's miscarriage also alters the way we view her constant doting on Peter, demonstrating that he was the son she couldn't have.

Last up is Young Allies Comics: 70th Anniversary Special#1. This is one of several such one-shots which have been released to celebrate Marvel's 70th year of publishing (I have one too). This book looks back on the Young Allies, a team of teenage boys led by Captain America's sidekick Bucky and the Human Torch's sidekick Toro. The other four boys were pretty identifiable stereotypes - the fat kid, the smart kid, the tough kid and the unfortunate racist caricature kid. Stern's story goes some way to making amends for those comics by simultaneously bringing the Young Allies firmly into continuity while kicking their actual appearances out by dismissing them as comics published within Marvel's fictional universe.

At any rate, the present-day Captain America is the grown-up Bucky Barnes and he finally decides to look up his old pals from the Young Allies. It's a moving story, wonderfully illustrated by Paolo Rivera and has the adventure, pathos and love that I associate with the best of Stern's work.

I enjoyed the Young Allies special the most of the three books. If it were the only Roger Stern comic which came out this week, I would be a very happy man. As one of three? I'm fairly giddy!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Marvel Pets! Tomorrow!

Wednesday sees the release of the latest Marvel Handbook, this one spotlighting the many Marvel Pets. It's a lot of fun. Check out the solicitation here. The Marvel Pets Handbook is also the pick of the week for Newsarama's J. Caleb Mozzocco.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I have a terrific book coming up in September



As the Marvel Universe celebrates 70 years of the world's greatest comics, journey back to where it all began -- OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE style! Featuring the greatest characters of Marvel's first year -- a year that not only gave us the Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch, the Angel and Ka-Zar, but also THE TWELVE's Black Widow, Phantom Bullet, Electro, Mister E, Dynamic Man, Phantom Reporter, Fiery Mask, Master Mind Excello and Laughing Mask! Also featuring a host of oddities from Fletcher Hanks' Whirlwind Carter to Taxi Taylor! Plus: an introduction by Timely comics scholar Dr. Michael J. Vassallo! 64 PGS./Rated T+ ...$4.99

The Golden Age of Marvel Comics has been one of my passions for a very long time so I'm quite excited about the opportunity I had here - getting to write up all the starring heroes of Marvel's first year makes for an eclectic bunch of profiles. It may not be the most popular handbook I'll ever write, but it's the one I'm most proud of right now.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Most Problematic Program of Old-Time Radio

When I first became interested in Old-Time Radio, the comedy genre was one of the most difficult for me to appreciate. Initially, I found OTR comedy to be dated, stodgy and not especially funny. Gradually, I found a number of comedians whose work was timeless but there are still certain programs I have little interest in. Perhaps the most difficult program for a modern-day listener to appreciate is Freeman Gosden & Charles Correll's Amos 'N' Andy.

In my early days online I found an OTR fan page where the author summed up how I felt about Amos 'N' Andy, which is likely how many OTR fans feel: grave discomfort. He recalled how he went to purchase a collection of episodes from a bookstore but was so ashamed of it that he tried to conceal it on his way to the till and was afraid the clerk would call him a Klansman for buying it.

If you aren't familiar with Amos 'N' Andy, then you may wonder why we OTR fans are so guarded about the show, often afraid to admit if we like it or not. Amos 'N' Andy depicted for most of its 30+ year run a cast of characters who were predominantly African-American, but the majority of the characters - particularly in the series' original incarnation as a serial - were voiced by Gosden and Correll, a pair of white men. (There was also a lot of furor over the Amos 'N' Andy tv series in 1951, but that has little to do with the radio program.)

My favorite OTR comedian Jack Benny waxed late in life about the depictions of race on his own show, where Eddie Anderson portrayed his valet Rochester:

"But remember, you who look back with perhaps contempt or patronizing pity on the old radio programs, that like most entertainers of that period I was brought up in another time and another place. I developed and learned my trade in Vaudeville. In the golden days of Vaudeville, there were blackface comics and there were black comics - like Bert Williams. There were also Swedish comics, Jewish comics, Dutch comics, Italian comics and Scotch comics.

Bad as you may think this kind of humor was, I think it was a way that America heated up the national groups and the ethnic groups in a melting pot and made one people of us - or tried to do so. Everybody loved ethnic humor during Vaudeville and often the people who were being ridiculed most enjoyed the kind of ethnic humor aimed at their own group. During World War II, attitudes changed. Hitler's ideology of Aryan supremacy put all ethnic humor in a bad light. It became bad taste to have Jewish jokes, Italian jokes and Negro jokes."

I've had an inexplicable fascination with the story behind Amos 'N' Andy, a magnetism stronger than my interest in the programs themselves. What were Gosden and Correll's intentions? How did Amos 'N' Andy become the most popular radio program?

The first place I went to for answers was Melvin Patrick Ely's The Adventures of Amos 'N' Andy: a Social History. Although there were some interesting pieces of history recounted in this book, it wasn't particularly concerned with Gosden and Correll themselves, nor with the content of the radio program. It had more to do with the television program and was somewhat dismissive of the radio series, likening it to a minstrel show. This, it seems, is fairly typical of modern analysis of Amos 'N' Andy.

However, the sort of book I had been looking for does exist; Elizabeth McLeod recently authored The Original Amos 'N' Andy: Freeman Gosden, Charles Correll and the 1928-1943 Radio Serial. McLeod points out many of the flaws in modern analysis of the series and goes into a terrific exploration of the program's earliest years. Amos 'N' Andy was at its most popular in it's first few years, particularly around 1930-1931. Unfortunately, scarcely any recordings exist from 1928-1943 and the bulk of what we have now is from the era where the show was reworked into a situation comedy, the same format used in the ill-fated television series.

Fortunately, McLeod delved into the original scripts which have survived but have been mostly neglected by scholars. As it turns out, Amos 'N' Andy was originally a nightly serial program similar to the old soap operas. The series offered long-running storyarcs about Amos and Andy trying to make ends meet first in Chicago, then in Harlem. The humor which developed in these early years was a gentle sort, like that of OTR shows Vic and Sade or Easy Aces, not the latter-day sitcom variety. Amos in particular tries to improve his standing in life, eventually becoming a successful businessman, marrying a refined woman and becoming a perfect father; Andy remains shiftless and often unable to learn from his mistakes, but his braggadocio conceals his own insecurities.

McLeod deftly summarizes the continuing problem of Amos 'N' Andy:

"Today, Amos 'N' Andy is a complex relic of an often-confusing past, and modern commentators tend to see in the program what they have been conditioned to see - conditioning that may involve racial issues and political ideologies that have nothing to do with the content of a radio program. It is far simpler, far more comfortable, and far less challenging to their own assumptions for these modern analysts to criticize Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll for what they were not than to attempt to understand what they actually were to the three generations of radio listeners of all races and backgrounds who embraced their creation."

Before I read McLeod's book, I had no idea that Gosden & Correll had brought about the advent of radio syndication, nor the influence the series had in spawning not just imitators but in bringing talent to radio who realized through Gosden & Correll that it was a medium which was vibrant and rewarding. Gosden and Correll were pioneers of radio broadcasting and for this alone, they deserve their place in history. I strongly recommend McLeod's book to anyone with an interest in the history of radio broadcasting, particularly that of radio drama.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

August solicitations

Not much doing for me in the month of my birth:


Continuing the chronicle of the Marvel Universe, starting with Spider-Man (from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #342 on), Iron Man (from IRON MAN #277 on) and the X-Men (from X-MEN #321 on). Follow the history of the Marvel universe as it unfolds month by month with the All-New Official Index to the Marvel Universe. Each issue provides synopses for dozens of individual comics, including back-up strips, introducing you to the characters, teams, places and equipment that appeared within, providing vital information about first appearances, where they last showed up and where they appeared next! 64 PGS./Rated A ...$3.99

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Out today...

Today saw the release of the Official Index to the Marvel Universe#6, bringing us up to the days of Spider-Man facing the mystery of the Hobgoblin, Iron Man donning his "Silver Centurion" armor and the X-Men in Inferno. I blogged about it here. Something less self-promotional to come on this blog soon, I promise.