Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

The 2022 PopCult Gift Guide-Day Twelve: Graphic Novels & Comics

Today we’re going to recommend some graphic novels, or collections of comics, in The 2022 PopCult Gift Guide.

Captain Action: The Classic Collection
by Gil Kane, Jim Shooter, Wallace Wood
forward by Mark Waid
IDW Publishing
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1684058907
$29.99 (discounted at Amazon)

Captain Action was a 12″ action figure that could be dressed up as a variety of superheroes, using outfits (each sold separately). Thanks to the less-sophisticated licensing deals of the day, Ideal Toys was able to offer outfits for the Captain featuring heroes from DC Comics, Marvel, King Features Syndicate and more. It was a great gimmick and the toy line did good business until the 1960s superhero boom went bust after a couple of years.

However, during that time DC Comics picked up the license to produced a comic book based on Captain Action. It lasted five bizarre and intriguing issues, and those make up the bulk of this book.

Captain Action: The Classic Collection collects the entire five-issue run of the comic book, complete with covers and bonus material.

Since the character was pretty much a blank slate, much of his mythos had to be created out of thin air by the writer of his first two issues, a teenaged Jim Shooter (later to be a controversial editor at Marvel and Valiant Comics). Shooter, under the guidance of editors Mort Weisinger and Julie Schwartz, came up with his secret identity (Clive Arno), his job (Archeology Professor with a Museum named after him) and a source of super powers (magic coins imbued with the power of the gods).  The series featured spectacular art, with the first drawn solo by the legendary Wally Wood, and the second with Wood’s inks over the equally legendary Gil Kane.

After the first two issues, which told the origin of Captain Action and gave us a great Silver age super hero action story, Shooter was gone. With the third issue, Kane took over as both the writer and penciller (and he even inked the fourth issue himself). It was at this point that the series took a turn toward the psychotronic.

With Gil Kane in charge (under the editing of Julie Schwartz), Captain Action became one of the first truly psychedelic superhero comics. Dr. Evil was introduced, but instead of simply being his “enemy from Alpha Centuri,” as the toy was identified, Dr. Evil in the comics was an alturistic scientist mutated by an accident who becomes a god-like blue-skinned alien with an exposed brain and telepathic powers…who now hates humanity.

Captain Action is very much a work of its time, and when Kane took over writing the book, the influences of Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, and a culture that was experimenting with all kinds of ways to expand your mind were in the air. Kane’s stories are cosmically aware, yet are still filled with superhero action and great comic book melodrama.

Highly recommend for the toy collector/comic book fan on your holiday shopping list.

Fantastic Four: Full Circle
by Alex Ross
Harry N. Abrams/Marvel Arts
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1419761676
$24.99 (discounted at Amazon)

Fantastic Four: Full Circle is a stunning valentine to Jack Kirby and his brilliant late-1960s run on Marvel’s Fantastic Four. With dialogue and editing by Stan Lee, Kirby told epic superhero tales of cosmic adventure that set the standard for the Marvel Universe.  Alex Ross has long been established as a master of telling dynamic superhero stories with a photorealistic style. Full Circle is the first time that he’s handled both the writing and the art solo, with no collaborators.

This is the first “Marvel Arts” book, a joint venture of Abrams Arts and Marvel, and it gets the imprint off to a strong start. Ross jumps right in, unburdoned by decades of complicated continuity, and tells a direct sequel to a couple of Kirby/Lee FF stories from the 1960s.

The end result is a spectacularly-illustrated 64 page story that reads like a lost classic Fantastic Four Annual from thecomic’s peak period. The artwork of Alex Ross is pure eye candy, and he shows off the strength of his layouts here as well. He perfectly recreates the fast pace of the classic comics and crams tons of action into a very short space.

Ross did not paint the art here. It’s drawn traditionally and colored by Ross with Josh Johnson in wild day-glo hues, with digital effects to lend the art the hand-separated dot-pattern look of old school comics. It’s got just the right touch of nostalgia, without turning it into a gimmick.  Another really nice touch is a fold-out dustcover that retells the origin of The Fantastic Four, just to bring new readers up to speed.

The story itself is an adventure in the Negative Zone, which spins out of dangling storylines left over from the Kirby days. It is everything a fan could want in a Fantastic Four story set in the Negative Zone.

Ironically, despite its setting in the Negative Zone, the story is overwhelmingly upbeat and positive. Thematically it would fit right in with the treasury-sized specials that Ross did with Paul Dini at DC over twenty years ago.

Fantastic Four: Full Circle is a must-have gift for any fan of classic Marvel comics.

The Spider: Crime Unlimited
written by Jerry Siegel, Donne Avenell
art by Aldo Marculeta. Giorgio Trevisan
Rebellion Publishing
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1786184658
$24.18

From British comics of the 1960s comes The Spider. The Spider was the most accomplished criminal in the world, to the point where he got bored hanging out with other criminal masterminds and started fighting crime alongside the police. Because he was the smartest man in the world, nobody every really trusted him, but when it came to foiling epic plots to dominate the Earth, he was the go-to savior of the planet.

The character is a bit sinister-looking. He had a large nose, pointed ears and a widow’s peak. That he usually wore a black bodysuit makes him bear an uncanny resemblance to the Golden Age depiction of Captain Marvel’s strongest foe, Black Adam. However he didn’t have that kind of superpowers. He was sort of like a Bond villain who would switch sides and help the good guys. It’s also worth noting that while The Spider’s adventures span the globe, he is based in New York City, which was a bit unusual for a British comic of the day.

This hardcover reprint volume collects two long adventures of The Spider from 1967, and there’s a lot of note here.  The first story is written by none other than Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman, who found himself begging for work after DC Comics (then National Periodical Publications) blacklisted him for trying to reclaim ownership of his creation. Somehow he found himself writing for the top publisher of comics in Britain, and his work here is among his best.

Although the pacing and structure of the comic book is very much in line with UK comics aimed at kids, the ideas at work here are more subtle and sophisticated than one might expect. The dialogue is state-of-the-art 1960’s spy/action jargon, but the plot of this story, which opens with The Spider robbing a retirement trophy from the police commissioner, veers into the morality of mind control as a professor attempts to create a ray that will turn evil people good, and that experiment backfires, turning the professor evil instead, while giving him super powers.

The Spider: Crime Unlimited is a great introduction to one of the more unusual British comic book characters of the 1960s. I highly recommend it for fans of the period, fans of the spy/crime genre or just anybody who likes good comics. You ought to be able to order it from your favorite comic book shop or bookseller, or through Amazon.

Love and Rockets: The First Fifty: The Classic 40th Anniversary Collection
by GILBERT HERNANDEZ, JAIME HERNANDEZ, MARIO HERNANDEZ
Fantagraphics
ISBN-13 9781683965541
$400.00

This is the most expensive non-regrigerator gift suggestion in this years PopCult Gift Guide, but it’s worth every penny. In celebration of the 40th anniversary of Fantagraphics’ flagship series, this prestigious box set presents bound facsimiles of the original fifty issues of the Love and Rockets comics magazines.

Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez are now recognized as two of the greatest cartoonists in the history of the medium — award-winning, world-renowned, critically acclaimed. But in 1982 when the first issue of Love and Rockets came out, they (occasionally working with their brother, Mario) were two young, struggling, unknown cartoonists who were bucking the dominant comic book trend of costumed characters and adolescent content with intimate, complex, humane, novelistic stories told in comics form. Love and Rockets has appeared in a variety of formats over the years and continues to this day, but the original 50-issue run represents a milestone in comics history. Fantagraphics is celebrating and honoring the 40th anniversary of Love and Rockets and the debut of the Hernandez’s’ first published comics with a gigantic eight-volume slipcase reprinting each issue in a facsimile edition.

Their organic body of work is available in a series of scrupulously and logically organized graphic novels, but here Fantagraphics honors the original quarterly format by presenting the comics as they appeared between 1981 and 1996, recreating not only the reading experience of tens of thousands of fans, but of a particularly fecund period in comics history when a new generation of cartoonists was exploding the idea of what comics could be. Painstakingly recreated in issue-by-issue facsimile, this boxed set includes every cover, comics page, and letter column (even advertising!) in seven hardcover volumes. An eighth volume densely collates selected essays, reviews, and profiles that appeared in the popular (and unpopular) press between 1981 and 1996, along with over 100 pages of additional, rarely-seen comics from the period by all three Brothers, plus dozens of book and magazine covers – a virtual history of the growth of Love and Rockets and the simultaneous rise of the literary comics movement of which they were exemplars and trailblazers.

Love and Rockets: The First Fifty: The Classic 40th Anniversary Collection is part of the Love and Rockets series. Recommended for the comics fan on your holiday shopping list that you love enough to drop four hundred bucks on.

Groo Meets Tarzan
by Sergio Aragones with Mark Evanier and Thomas Yeates
Dark Horse
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1506722375
$19.99 (discounted at Amazon)

Groo The Wanderer, the hapless barbarian created by Sergio Aragones for a benefit comic forty years ago, has proven to be one of the most durable independent comic characters ever since, appearing in books published by Pacific Comics, Eclipse, image, Marvel’s Epic imprint and Dark Horse Comics.  Aided and abeted by Mark Evanier, Aragones has told his tales of the clueless harbinger of destruction at a steady pace for decades now.

In Groo Meets Tarzan, jungle adventure, time travel and wizardry come into play as the bumbling barbarian encounters the cunning lord of the jungle. Will Groo wind up destroying the jungle itself or teaming up with Tarzan to fight slavers?

With cartoonist Sergio lost and running from hungry lions in Chula Vista’s Jungle Safari Land and script writer Mark doing panels all day at Comic-Con International, how will this comic get finished? Legendary Tarzan artist Thomas Yeates swings in to help! Plus—the legendary Rufferto backup strips from the comic series and an introduction by Mark Evanier are also included! The confident lord of the jungle meets the dangerous master of cheese dip!

This book collects Groo Meets Tarzan comics #1 to #4, and is a great gift for fans of Aragones’ work in MAD Magazine, fans of Groo, fans of Tarzan or just any comics reader with a healthy sense of humor.

Available from any bookseller, or from Amazon, at a discount.

There you have five gift suggestions for today. Check back tomorrow as The 2022 PopCult Gift Guide brings you a day filled with totally randome gift ideas.

1 Comment

  1. Thomas H. Wheeler

    Well, you’ve definitely got me interested in that Fantastic Four book, and “Groo Meets Tarzan” has to be the most insane crossover I’ve heard of in quite some time.

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