So what is it about Neal Adams, anyway?

I was a Batman fan before I could read. Growing up in the early 70s, my exposure to Batman was courtesy of the famous Batman television show. Sock! Pow! Bam! “Holy Campy TV Show, Batman!” I was under the age of ten, I wasn’t reading yet, and my early experience with comics was learning to read (“so the fluffy clouds mean they’re thinking… and the plain round balloons mean they’re talking!”) via Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes. Pretty harmless stuff.

Then something happened.

It happened around 1977. I was ten years old and I saw something that made me stop in my tracks. It was the oversized collection of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ Ra’s Al Ghul stories. Originally published in 1971, the series completely redefined a Batman who was suffering from camp and overexposure, returning him to his “Dark Knight” roots and electrifying the comics industry with a combination of O’Neil’s dark, compelling stories and Adams’ dynamic, almost hyper-realism. All this had occurred about six years earlier, but it was all new to me. I was about six years or so behind that curve, but my childhood love of comics was started by the very same series of events. Up to that point, I thought Batman was funny. He fought silly villains named, “The Mad Hatter”, “Egghead”, “King Tut” and “The Riddler”. He had a hyperactive sidekick who only seemed capable of annoying you to death with his endless stream of “Holy Catchphrases”. He certainly wasn’t someone to take seriously… like Superman… or Flash.

But here he was, on the cover of that book looking like he could easily kick the ass of every character in the DC Universe, and he was suffering… and waitaminute… is that Robin? Dead? And who’s that evil sonofabitch behind him with the claws, looking like he’s actually happy that Robin’s dead? Now, I’m only ten years old, but I couldn’t help but notice there’s a very exotic woman there looking pretty damn sexy off to the side. What’s she got to do with all this? It’s a dollar, it’s a giant comic book. Well, I just HAVE to have this.

So I got my hands on it and sat down and proceeded to learn about Talia, Ra’s, the Lazarus Pit. I was mesmerized. This wasn’t the Batman I knew. This was… I dunno, a real Batman. This wasn’t a guy with impossible powers travelling at Super Speed, or an alien from Krypton. This was the world’s greatest detective, and he was detecting. He knew martial arts and was a master of disguise. He was a scientist and an escape artist, and he was armed with the most awesome set of gadgets money could buy.

Once this switch was turned on, it would never again be turned off, and I would never again look at “comics” or “superheroes” the same way again. This was the bar. Neal and Denny had raised it to precisely this point.

It also exposed me to “creators” for the first time ever. I mean, I had to learn, “who were these guys?” and “Why was this comic so radically different from everything else I had read before?” and the answer of course was storytelling and art. So naturally, I had to find out, “who wrote this?” and “who drew those amazing images of Batman and Robin?” I began looking for more of Neal Adams’ work, and more stories written by Denny O’Neil. The next, most obvious discovery was the work the pair did outside of “The Demon” series of stories involving Ra’s. The work on Batman and Detective with Two-Face, the Joker, and the reinvention of the gothic Dark Knight Detective. That led to his work on Brave and Bold, and eventually I came across the ground-breaking work the two did on Green Lantern/Green Arrow. Admittedly, those books were a little too advanced for a ten year old, but I still “got it”. These weren’t your typical superhero books. This wasn’t Spider-Man cracking jokes and shooting webs at a Lizard Man, or a guy who could stretch his arms around Dr. Doom. This was… well… “real”.

So that’s really it in a somewhat long-winded nutshell. I love superheroes, I love Batman, and I’ll never forget the first time I realized that Batman was real.

The most difficult book I ever tried to obtain (so far…).

Dead 'til Proven Alive!


Jumping on the "Paul is Dead" bandwagon.

I don’t understand it. For the last couple of years I’ve concentrated almost solely on Bronze Age Batmans. Specifically, Batmans from around issue 200 to 251. This represents, in my opinion, the best example of “modern Batman” there is. Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ excellent “re-imagining” of the “Dark Knight Detective”. The re-introduction of Two-Face, Ra’s Al Ghul and Talia, the League of Assassins, a much more sinister and menacing Joker. All happened in the pages of Batman and Detective during the early 70s, coming on the heels of the campy 60s TV show and taking the character back to “his roots”, so to speak.

Slowly (and somewhat meticulously) I’ve been putting together what I consider fairly nice quality examples of those books. Some, like issues 232 and 234, have understandably been a bit difficult to locate and acquire for a moderate sum. Others have been pretty easy to locate. I was actually a little surprised that so many copies of issue 200 in high grade were available, which was pleasant considering it meant that the price would be appropriately kind.

But the one that just out and out shocked me was issue 222. It’s a Beatles parody issue, playing off the “Paul is Dead” urban legend started around 1969. Overstreet lists an 8.0 copy at around $35, however, that’s perhaps the most underrated price I’ve ever come across. I can tell you from personal experience, having watched every single one that’s gone on sale on eBay for the last two years that it’s going for multiples of that, unslabbed. Slabbed copies have gone for upwards of $2,000. It’s not just the price either, it’s the demand. I recently (two night ago) won a nice looking copy after trying unsuccessfully at least 50 to 60 times. The bidding on this is outrageous… and heated. I put in a bid in the last 10 seconds of a copy and as soon as I hit submit, my ultimately winning bid was immediately my maximum bid. Not a penny less. I was stunned. Moreso because I actually won the damn thing.

But it’s crazy how many people bid on this book and the prices it ultimately goes for. For the first time I started to wonder just how accurate Overstreet really is, after all.

Frank Miller’s Speech to the 1994 Diamond Retailers’ Summit

Frank Miller

[Full Audio Below]

In college, I was hopelessly addicted to comics. As is the case with most addictions, it doesn’t take long before you realize that the easiest and best way to fuel your addiction is by becoming a dealer. So around my junior/senior year of college, I decided to form a “Comic Book Co-Op”. I had some friends in college who shared my passion for comics and had the requisite monthly appetite. I got myself a Tax ID, a Diamond account, and began ordering books for myself and friends, and passing along the 40-50% discount. It was pretty cool while it lasted, and I made a little money on the side selling exclusives, variants, and whatnot at a time when those things commanded a decent price in a hot collector’s market.

It also got me into retailer-only events, one of which was the annual Diamond Retailers Summit. In 1994, this was a huge affair. This was the year that Dark Horse Comics debuted its “Legends” imprint, which at the time, was a SuperGroup of comic imprints. Jim Shooter was also in attendance to promote his new “Defiant Comics” brand, after having just been ousted at one of the hottest publishers of the day, Valiant Comics. It was a crazy time to be in comics, underscored by the fact that the first great talent of my youth, Jack “King” Kirby had passed away and it truly felt like an era had passed, and here, in this convention center, was the future of comics unfolding before us. So there was excitement tinged with melancholy.

So it was with tremendous anticipation that I looked forward to that year’s annual banquet, hosted by Steve Geppi, with none other than Frank Miller… yes, the Frank Miller giving the keynote speech.

It was classic Frank. To set the stage, at the table in front of him sat most of Marvel Comics’ senior editorial staff, and to the right of them sat DC comics. Keep that in mind while you listen to one of the best, “angry men” in comics at the time. It was the first time I ever saw a crowd of people give a comic book creator a standing ovation.

Frank Miller’s Keynote Speech to the 1994 Diamond Retailers’ Summit
[Click Below to Listen]:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are assholes.

Marvel Comics Civil War

"You got your chocolate in my peanut butter... you got your peanut butter in my chocolate!"

I can’t believe I’m reading Marvel Comics’ Civil War… what, 3 years after it was published? Well, blame my iPad I suppose. I was always interested in reading the whole series and crossovers, but I was never going to buy the Trades Paperbacks.

Enter the iPad.

Yep, all it took was getting my hands on an iPad, discovering a few good comic book reader apps, and stumbling across The Complete Civil War. So I sat down with all 109 issues and gave Marvel a shot. Now, if you’re not aware, I’m not the biggest Marvel fanboy. In fact, I don’t really like Marvel Comics. I’m not a big fan of Spider-Man, don’t really like Iron Man, and I’m pretty sure X-Men canon is the most convoluted storytelling in history. I’ve tried over the last few years to read things like the Ultimates line of titles, some the Noir stuff, and gave Secret Invasion a shot initially, but nothing Marvel has ever really grabbed me. I’m just not a “Make Mine Marvel” kind of guy.

But I have to admit, of all the things Marvel has done over the years, this story really piqued my interest. The idea that the Marvel Universe would be split down the middle over Government registration and oversight of the superhuman community following a catastrophic event really resonated with me. With the superhuman community of the Marvel Universe being led on one side by Captain America (Anti Registration) and on the other side by Iron Man (Pro Registration), it was interesting to see how each hero struggled (or didn’t struggle, as the case may be) to decide which side they were on, and following the fallout as hero and villain alike made decisions that seemed to have real weight and significance behind them.

And that, to me, was the best part of the series. I really enjoyed watching the Fantastic Four being ripped apart by the very real, and very believable issues facing each member (I was surprised someone as intelligent as Reed would take the side and view he took). I thought Black Panther and Storm flying around the world, working up support against the very real fear that the US would export its “anti-hero agenda” was compelling and engaging story-telling. Namor exacting revenge for the death of Namorita through a predictably independent Wolverine, who has his own “revenge agenda” was a bit of fun, made more entertaining with the Damage Control/Walter Declund subplot. By far, the biggest surprise of the whole story to me was the Black Panther storyline. I started off initially not really caring about T’Challa and Storm because… well, they’re T’Challa and Storm. But as the story unfolded and plots began to intertwine, I began to enjoy their point of view and their mutual efforts.

That really sums it up for me though. Sadly, the periphery was the most entertaining part of Civil War. The central books in the series, focusing on Steve Rogers and Tony  Stark were total disappointments. They both seemed to come off as self-absorbed, sanctimonious, assholes. I believe they had, what, about half a dozen fight scenes over the course of the series, each one betraying a little bit more about their own insecurities and selfishness in the process. In particular, Tony Stark seemed almost ruthless in the pursuit of his agenda, which would’ve been bad enough on its own, but he was pretty much supported by the justification that Steve Rogers provided with his almost completely irrational behavior throughout the series. My main problem is the conflicting ideas that “today’s society is complicated, and The Superhero Registration Act is a necessary step in today’s world” and Steve’s over-simplified, idealistic view of “America”. It seems as if Marvel wanted to create a complex story but populated it with two paper-thin main actors who are both too baking-pan-shallow to carry the weight of the idea. The end result that they both come off as two assholes content to beat the shit out of each other while monologuing. The ending was so abrupt and so dissatisfying, that I found myself flipping back several pages, and going back to previous issues to see if there was some central plot point I missed. There wasn’t. It was as if suddenly the end of World War II was decided when the Japanese went, “wait, you’re pissed about that whole Pearl Harbor thing? Oh, our bad… mulligan?” It just fell completely flat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large storyline resolved in so few panels.

I think the blown opportunity was the Fantastic Four. While there was a nice bit of story there and it filled out nicely, I would’ve loved to have seen more of it. Reed’s treatment throughout the series was perplexing. He’s positioned as the greatest mind in the Marvel universe, but he’s frequently relegated to the role of b-team nerd. Disappointing to say the least. It would’ve been great to see Reed put to use as a hole card in the Pro-Registration side’s fight against Cap’s troops as an effective neutralizing agent. Using his super-intellect to negate their various super-powers. I would’ve loved to have seen Reed show up during Civil War 4′s Battle Royale with an Anti-Registration version of the Ultimate Nullifier. It’s not just Reed’s treatment either. Sue, Ben, Johnny… all seem hurried and rushed, which is a shame, because they’re essentially Marvel’s “First Family” and sadly, they’re short-changed.

It’s not the worst Marvel series I’ve read though, just wait until you read my review of Secret Invasion…hahaha…

“Thor”… ’nuff said.

So here we go. One more Avenger gets his movie. I dunno, I mean, it’s Thor, you know? It’s not Tony Stark, it’s not a suit of armor, it’s not “witty” like Robert Downey Jr. It’s not supposed to be. It’s walking a razor thin line though. These movies are notoriously hard to pull off (Clash of the Titans ring a bell?  Percy Jackson, anyone?) and unfortunately, my only reaction to seeing Anthony Hopkins wearing an eye patch is, “really? THAT’S Odin?”

My only hope is that Natalie Portman could save it, but then again, she chose to star in those horrible prequels for George Lucas…

UPDATE: Guess was apparently bootleg video footage was yanked from Trailer Addict?

I've never wanted to go to San Diego… until this year.

I’ve never really been into the San Diego Comic Convention. For years now it’s become an annual pilgrimage of geeks, nerds, and comic book fans alike. An orgy of licensed mayhem. It’s fun to sit back and read/view/watch all the mayhem, and occasionally I’ll get somewhat melancholy about something cool happening, or read about some awesome con-only variant or limited edition bit of schwag that makes me think for a half second, “that’d be cool to have”. Then just as quickly, I remember that I hate clutter, I hate comic “chotchkies“, and a quick trip to eBay confirms my belief that there’s a sucker born not quite every minute, but pretty close.

However, if there’s one person who every year makes me second guess my conviction, it’s Chuck Rozanski. If you don’t know who Chuck is, you don’t collect comics. Chuck is the owner/founder of Mile High Comics, and the man responsible for perhaps the greatest “find” in comic history, appropriately named, “The Mile High Collection”. If you’ve never heard the story of its discovery, then I urge you to read Chuck’s first-hand account here. It’s broken into multiple parts, so make sure you set aside some time and read all of them. It’s amazing. A collection so profoundly “perfect” that it single-handedly adjusted the pricing scale for what’s considered “near-mint”. It actually started the practice of labeling comic pedigrees, and is still the benchmark that all other pedigrees are measured against.

Personally, I’ve never seen a “Mile High Copy” of a book. I’ve seen them on eBay, and I’ve seen them get snatched up at auction for many multiples of guide value (In other words, if the near mint price of a book is, say, $20,000, a “Mile High” near mint copy of that same book would go for upwards of ten times that price).

The thing about the Mile High Collection though, is the books we haven’t seen. The ones Chuck kept. The ones he’s never shown in public.

Until now.

Recently, in Chuck’s newsletter (one of the most eloquent, prolific, consistently entertaining and simultaneously riveting pieces of writing on the subject of comics & the comics business in existence, I believe) he revealed that this year he’s going to take about 40 of his personal “Mile High” comics to display and sell at this year’s San Diego Comic Convention. The collection includes books such as a 1940″Red Raven #1” which is widely considered to be the rarest known Timely-Marvel book ever published, a complete, 22 issue run of Will Eisner’s “Spirit”, published between 1944 and 1948, and a copy of “Feature Book #26″, the highest graded Prince Valiant comic in the world.

Of all the things I am, comic book lover is perhaps the most descriptive. Sure, I collect them, but I collect books I love. I have a deep appreciation for the art form and its history. I wouldn’t normally consider a trip to San Diego, but this year I’ll be truly sad that I’m going to miss an opportunity to see these books. Knowing the pedigree of these books, and knowing the audience of likely buyers, I think there’s a good chance that not only will these books be snatched up and considered a bargain by whoever gets them, but they’ll likely never see the light of day in public again once they’re out of Chuck’s hands. That’s really a shame, but I understand.

So if you’re at San Diego this year, do yourself a favor and stop by Chuck’s booth. Take some pictures, enjoy the experience of the convention, but don’t forget what put that convention on the map in the first place… comic books.