Tag Archives: comic books

RIP Darwyn Cooke


This is the worst. Darwyn Cooke is gone. 

The artist and writer, whose work was somehow nostalgic and innovative at the same time, has passed away after a battle with cancer.

Cooke wrote and drew comics and covers for characters like Catwoman and the Spirit, but my favorite of his work was “New Frontier,” his “retelling” of the origin of the Justice League in the 1940s and 1950s. 

He was a huge talent and is greatly missed.

Comic book ads: Zombie mask and former NYC magic shop

zombiemaskcomicadRegular readers of this blog know I love old comic book ads. I grew up perusing them right along with the Marvel and DC comics stories wrapped around them.

So I’m somewhat surprised that I don’t remember – and haven’t run across before – the ad above that I found online.

Almost certainly from a comic book, this ad for “The Zombie Mask” did a nice job of selling its product.

“This fiendish, evil mask is terrifyingly lifelike in appearance,” the ad’s breathless copy maintains. “Made of top quality sanitary rubber … if your friends have bad hearts, don’t wear it.”

The mask includes a wig of “finely spun hair.”

All for $2.98. Or, for the same price, you could get a Frankenstein mask.

Hopefully some reader can fill in some details on these masks, including the manufacturer. A Google image search didn’t turn up much in the way of who made it.

There are a few interesting details to be had, however, in the company that was selling these masks.

The Magic Center – which billed itself as “the world’s largest magic store” – was a frequent advertiser in magazines like Popular Science and Google searches find their ads as far back as 1949.

magic center ape man mask

These ads were usually for magic tricks, although a 1953 issue of Popular Mechanics found the Magic Center – still located at 741 Eighth Avenue in NYC – offering a “terrifying” ape man mask.

What happened to the Magic Center? I wish I knew. Google searches turn up, in recent years, a “dive bar” at the location. And it looks like the bar itself has closed.

I’m afraid there were few zombie or ape man masks to be found there in the past couple of decades.

‘The Secret History of Marvel Comics’

secret history of marvel comics

“The Secret History of Marvel Comics” missed a great opportunity with its title alone.

“The Secret Origin of Marvel Comics” would have been a more accurate title for Blake Bell and Michael J. Vassallo’s book because it looks at the pre-history, in a way, of the artists and writers who shaped Marvel and its earliest incarnations but specifically focuses on publisher Martin Goodman, who published pulp magazines beginning in 1933 before riding the tide of reader interest into comic books in 1939.

You can tell the authors’ premise with the quote that begins the book. “Fans are not interested in quality,” Goodman is quoted as saying, and as much as that can be disputed – even a World War II-era kid knew the difference between a good Captain America comic and a bad one – it was a mantra that served Goodman well as he moved through the New York publishing world.

The book follows Goodman’s publishing enterprises through western and detective pulps and gives us some beautiful illustrations from covers and inside the magazines.

The text emphasizes, again and again, that Goodman was fairly ruthless in his dealings with artists and writers. Some of them were among the men and women who would go on to become the best in the comics field once it kicked into high gear in the 1950s and 1960s.

They’re all here, from Stan Lee (related to Goodman by marriage) and Jack Kirby – who would team to co-create classic comic characters for Goodman’s Marvel Comics – to Kirby’s Captain America co-creator Joe Simon to the likes of Dennis the Menace creator Hank Ketcham.

Everybody worked for Goodman, it seems, even if many of them came away not particularly enjoying the experience.

Although the first half of the book, with its assessment of Goodman’s character, feels repetitive, the second half is eye-opening, with reproductions of art by artist after artist. Here you’ll see Kirby’s art – raw and edgy – for detective pulps like “Detective Short Stories” and fantasy pulps like “Marvel Stories.”

kirbyqueenofvenus

Here’s a two-page spread by Kirby and Simon for “Queen of Venus,” from Marvel Stories 2 in November 1940.

The artists reproduced here gave readers an unending parade of gangsters and molls and tough guys and bad girls and aliens and murderers. That’s the best thing that “The Secret History of Marvel Comics” shows us.

MMMS: I was a member

MMMS house ad

Remember the Merry Marvel Marching Society?

In the 1960s, it wasn’t enough that Marvel’s comics were the coolest to read. Marvel made sure you felt like you were part of the Marvel comics scene with the Merry Marvel Marching Society.

Created by editor Stan Lee and publisher Martin Goodman in 1964, the MMMS was a fan club for Marvel comics, basically.

For your dollar, you received a membership card, a scratch pad, sticker, a large pinback button and a 33-and-a-third record of the MMMS song sung by (allegedly) Marvel bullpen types.

I wonder how many of us joined? And how many still have their MMMS gear? (I still have my button. Somewhere.)

Why Ant-Man – and maybe ‘Ant-Man’ – matters

tales-to-astonish-35

I know there was some discontent out there with the trailer for Marvel’s “Ant-Man” movie, but I was relieved when I saw it the other day.

Why?

Mostly because I was relieved the trailer indicated the movie, starring Paul Rudd as the second Ant-Man, Scott Lang, will address some of the same questions the moviegoing public will have: Why do we need a superhero who shrinks? And why would anyone call themselves Ant-Man?

But also because the movie will finally acknowledge the place in the Marvel Universe of one of its pioneering characters.

So who is Ant-Man and why should we care about him?

Tales_to_Astonish_Vol_1_27

Ant-Man is best known as Henry, or Hank, Pym, and he debuted in comics in “Tales to Astonish” 27, published in January 1962. Pym was an unfortunate scientist who could shrink to ant-size … but couldn’t defend himself from ants. He barely survived this tale that was a retread of “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”

But Pym returned in “Tales to Astonish” 35, this time as Ant-Man and sporting a helmet that let him communicate with ants. He was their master!

After several issues of adventures, Pym and girlfriend (later wife) Janet Van Dyne appeared in the first issue of “The Avengers,” as a diverse group of heroes got together to defeat Thor’s brother, Loki.

antmanavengers1panel

Pym and Van Dyne even named the group, which makes it all the more important that their history in the Marvel universe be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Avengers co-founders!

Pym is a problematic character on a couple of counts, though.

pymandultron

It’s not like the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs another genius scientist, even if Pym created Ultron, the villain in the upcoming “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” The MCU already has Tony Stark and Bruce Banner.

pymhitjanet

Plus, Pym was always an erratic character. That’s a plus for the realistic 1960s-and-beyond Marvel Comics universe, but not for movies that increasingly play to a wide mainstream audience. So Pym the brilliant genius who had emotional breakdowns, masqueraded as at least one super-villain and even struck his wife is shifted to a secondary role in the movie.

antmanEWcover

Why the “Ant-Man” movie matters is another thing. but I think that it does.

Everybody worried when the movie’s original director, “Shaun of the Dead” creator Edgar Wright, left the project and he and Marvel cited creative differences. The temptation was to worry that Marvel wanted Wright to make his movie more mainstream and he didn’t go along.

I trust ultimate director Peyton Reed – “Bring it On” is a classic – but more than anything, I trust Marvel.

Why?

Well, their track record is pretty good. Most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have been good to great, with only a couple of lesser entries (“Iron Man 2” to some extent).

antmanduoEW

I also think “Ant-Man” will explore the idea of failure, loss and redemption in the Marvel universe. And that’s good, because those story beats and emotions are a huge part of the comic books.

The upcoming “Doctor Strange” movie, with Benedict Cumberbatch set to play the arrogant surgeon who rebuilds his life, should strike some of the same notes.

But more importantly, I think Marvel will use “Ant-Man” to fill in the gaps in its movie universe.

How?

Rumors indicate that portions of “Ant-Man” will take place in the 1960s, with a younger actor playing Michael Douglas’ role of Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man. It’s been suggested that we’ll see 1960s-period-appropriate versions of Howard Stark and other characters long established but unexplored during a period of several decades.

Just like “Agent Carter” on TV right now is filling in the blank spots in the post-World War II Marvel universe, I believe “Ant-Man” will fill the gaps in the 1960s, with a young Pym and wife Janet Van Dyne (parents of Hope Van Dyne, the character played by Evangeline Lilly in the movie) adventuring and working with SHIELD.

There’s a ton of material here that, if properly explored, will fill in “lost years” and make the Marvel on-screen universe feel even more like a real, if fantastical, world.

So yeah, Ant-Man matters because of his history and “Ant-Man” matters because of how it might flesh out the Marvel history onscreen.