Friday, April 27, 2012

Showcasing Things Out

I'm a big fan of DC's Showcase books; these are hefty 500+ page collections of comics, reproduced in black and white, priced at less than twenty bucks. After a bit of a lean spell, we've had three great weeks of Showcase volumes: The Losers, All-Star Squadron, and The Spectre.

I enjoyed these three books in different ways. Showcase Presents the Losers was a real treat for me, since I had read fewer than 10% of the stories in this book. Even better, the stories that I hadn't read yet were almost entirely ilustrated by the incomparable John Severin, one of the finest comic artists of the past half-century And after several pleasant evenings of reading, I came to one unavoidable conclusion: if you're in trouble, you never ever ever want to be rescued by the Losers... it's about as worrisome as being given a spare red shirt by the crew of the USS Enterprise while on a Federation mission. The Robert Kanigher stories are similar enough that they don't fare as well in large helpings as some tales; there is a similarity of structure that makes these guys seem like the WWII equivalents of Garfield or Ziggy... .they just can't get a break! But each tale functions well on its own; I enjoyed this book more when I decided to break down into smaller reading installments, enjoying four or five stories then moving on to something else to cleanse my literary palate, returning to The Losers once again the next night.

Showcase Presents All-Star Squadron is a collection of 1980s-created stories set in the Golden Age; this is prime Roy Thomas storytelling, with some great early work by (among others) Jerry Ordway, an artist whose linework I have loved ever since I saw his earliest professional art.  These stories are the sort of stuff that Thomas does incredibly well; it's obvious that he has a deep appreciation of the Golden Age, and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the era; he demonstrates both in his storytelling. (I should also note that the early issues feature art by Rich Buckler, a skilled illustrator who seems to have become a very polarizing figure in the industry; I always thought that Buckler was a capable visual storyteller with a polished style, so I enjoyed seeing his work here.) It's rare to see DC publishing Showcase volumes from the 1980s; the line generally focuses on books from the late 1950s through the early/mid 1970s, so this is a pleasant surprise from a more recent era.

Showcase Presents the Spectre was a wonderful chance to revisit some wonderful stories from the past. I loved the Spectre from those cosmic Showcase tales through his own book into the Adventure Comics run, and all those eras a represented in this volume. There's some great art by Murphy Anderson, Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, and some of the first professional work of one Berni (now Bernie) Wrightson. The best-known tales are the Michael Fleisher-Jim Aparo tales of guignol-esque justice/vengeance; these are harsh Old-Testament-esque "eye for an eye" tales, and it's interesting to see how the Spectre metes retribution on the wicked.

Three different books, three different eras, three different sorts of stories--but all great fun, and at a bargain price. If you want to revisit comics' bygone days without spending a small fortune, these are the books for you!

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