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Friday Retail Therapy

by  in Comic News Comment
Friday Retail Therapy

When the going gets tough? The tough go shopping.

You may recall that we had one of Steve Miner’s one-day shows here last weekend. Ostensibly this was one of our informal field trips for the Cartooning Class, but as it turned out, none of the kids made it. That made it 0 for 2 on recent outings as far as students were concerned. Pity.

Except this time, I had Julie with me. And extra cash.

So we–

… well, we went nuts, really. We blew all sorts of dough on all sorts of things.

We rationalized it as being something we deserved, we’ve had a lot of aggravating personal stuff and medical crap to deal with over the last few weeks, and so on and so on… but the truth is, we just don’t have a lot of sales resistance. And there was a lot of good stuff to be had.

Here’s the thing. My wife is not a shopper. She’s a browser. She loves to look at things and chat up the dealers and poke through all the quarter boxes for hours at a time. But, left on her own, rarely will she purchase anything over a dollar. She has no interest at all in getting anything for herself, she’s not acquisitive in that sense.

But if I’m there WITH her… Julie morphs into a shopping ENABLER. “Oh, come on, honey. When are you going to ever see that book again? You should just get it.”

Dealers love this, as you may well imagine. “Yeah, how can you pass it up, mister? If the missus approves…”

Julie just likes seeing people who are happy. Scoring cool old books makes me happy; selling books makes dealers happy; and being surrounded by happy people makes Julie happy. Result: we accumulate old books and comics the way clothes dryers accumulate lint.

Even so, this was a bit of a spree, even for us. My wife rationalized it this way: “You can write about them in your column.”

Which is all the excuse I needed, and so here is an accounting of our loot, interspersed with the usual rambling anecdotes and commentary and so on.

In fairness, it didn’t really start at the show. It started the day before, when we had some time to kill before seeing a movie and we wandered into Half-Price Books down in the Southcenter Mall. Julie wanted some Ellery Queen and she left me poking through the comics. And there was an amazing unbroken run of the 80’s Hawkman; the Shadow War mini-series, the one-shot Special, and then the first year or so of the monthly that followed it up, for thirty-two cents each. Seventeen books in all. Total cash outlay — maybe six bucks with tax.

I don’t know that you’d really call me a Hawkman fan; I’m almost a Hawk-fan though. I have a vague affection for the basic concept, and so I guess I fall into that gray area of readers that would buy a Hawk series if it was good, but that doesn’t happen often enough to suit me. (My friend Kurt Mitchell and I have often killed a large hunk of an evening talking about how to fix Hawkman.) I suppose you can trace my affection for the character to my childhood love of the original Birdman cartoons.

Pause for digression. This may well be yet another of Hatcher’s maybe-you-had-to-be-there geezer things, but… You have to understand, all those 60’s Alex Toth adventure toons for Hanna-Barbera — Herculoids, Space Ghost, Mightor, Birdman and the Galaxy Trio, all of them — they were pure adrenaline. They were six-minute shorts and at least four-and-a-half of those minutes involved the hero breaking stuff or blowing it up. Wall-to-wall violence. That was their great charm. Space Ghost, the template for all the rest, was practically the Dirty Harry of outer space in his original incarnation. Typically, the big guy would end a battle by hurling Brak or Metallus or whoever into a flaming energy vortex, and when the screaming died down, intone “A fitting ending for his kind!” and that would be that.

Of course, once parents got wind of this, it was all over; they were so appalled and threw such a fit that all sorts of restrictions were promptly put into place by the networks, which is why nobody ever threw a punch on Super Friends. But for one glorious season, ’67-’68 I think it was, you had hours of these explosive animated superheroics, most of them designed by Alex Toth working out of the Hanna-Barbera studios. I know most of you reading this are thinking, “Wait a minute — Harvey Birdman? That wimp? Huh?” but when I talk about Birdman, I mean this guy.

The human avatar of the sun god Ra, that came screaming out of the sky to blast evildoers into their component atoms.

Of course, I knew about Hawkman too, from the same Saturday-morning season — the Hawkman shorts rotating through the middle of The Superman-Aquaman Hour.

Those were fun, but on TV Hawkman was rather bloodless compared to Birdman. Birdman had a secret headquarters in a mountain, blasters, a glowing energy-shield, and the attitude of Charles Bronson in Death Wish. Hawkman drove around in a spaceship that looked like it was being piloted with my grandma’s 10-key adding machine, his only weapon was a club (well, okay, a mace, but still) and he never even hit anybody with the damn thing. Plus he was a lot stiffer and slower-moving than Birdman. At the tender age of six, I couldn’t tell exactly why Filmation’s cartoons always looked crappier than Hanna-Barbera’s, but I knew it was true.

In comics, though, it was a different story. Birdman rotated through Gold Key’s Super TV Heroes and had rather pedestrian adventures.

The book had that vague ‘off’ feeling that I often got from the Gold Key super-hero books… it wasn’t enough like the TV show to be satisfying and it had nowhere near the power of the Marvel and DC books.

The comics Hawkman was better. Especially the reprints with the Joe Kubert artwork. I could get behind those. When Kubert drew the Hawks, they had power. Majesty, even. But still… the stories weren’t really doing it for me. With Hawkman it was always the visuals. I loved drawing him — my fifth-grade notebooks had lots of Hawkman doodles. But the stories were, too often, just plain dull. Why couldn’t we get more moments like in the origin story, where the villainous shapechanger Byth turned into a dinosaur and the Hawks beat him by putting on pointy brass knuckles (a helpful footnote explained it was called a “cestus”) and flying up to hit him in his giant snarling lizard face?

Now THAT was bad-ass. Even the TV Birdman might not have had the balls for that.

….so, anyway. All this rambling reminiscence is by way of explaining why I was willing to take a chance on 80’s Hawkman. I’d missed it the first time around, thinking it was the same old dullness, but in the intervening years I’d read enough about what Tony Isabella had been trying to do with the revival that I was interested. Particularly in how he tried to fix what Kurt and I have always thought was the biggest problem with the Silver Age Hawkman — Thanagar.

I love Hawkman, but I hate the Thanagar origin. It doesn’t make sense on any level. Two cops chase an alien supercrook to earth in a spaceship armed with rayguns and a mind-reading device, and then they ignore all this alien tech they brought with them and spend the next 20 pages trying to catch this super-powered alien with clubs and big nets. Worse, the reason they decide to keep hanging around Earth after they catch the guy is to study our police methods. The raygun-armed, telepathy-machine-owning cops who can fly want to see how we do it? Learn police work from the DC Silver Age police that couldn’t even catch the Turtle Man? Even at the age of seven I knew that was stupid.

Geoff Johns, with the current version, handled the Thanagar problem by dumping it completely and doing the Golden Age reincarnated-Egyptian Hawkman instead, with just a couple of brief nods in Thanagar’s direction; an elegant solution. Tony Isabella’s solutions to the same questions aren’t quite as good but I did like the attempt a lot. He manages to explain a lot of the contradictions in the Silver Age origin story, or at least acknowledge they exist, and he picks up on the idea that the Absorbacon is actually a pretty scary device and runs with it. The mini-series reads fine on its own but it also sets up a really nice premise and story springboard, and insures the basic series conflict is one where Hawkman and Hawkwoman can’t just phone the JLA and take care of it over the weekend. Plus, he has the Hawks acting like actual married people which always gets points from me.

Sadly, when Isabella left the book it suffered a little, the Mishkin-written issues don’t feel nearly as personal; but the books Isabella wrote are worth picking up, especially the original four-issue mini-series revival, Shadow War of Hawkman.

The art from Rich Howell is nice too. I especially liked it when Alfredo Alcala was inking it, that combination evoked the Kubert look without actually imitating it. I certainly enjoyed these books six dollars’ worth, at any rate. Particularly when Byth showed up around nine issues into the regular monthly. (And if you want to see Hawkman and Hawkgirl punch dinosaur-Byth in the face with their nasty spiked Roman-gladiator brass knucks, the upcoming Hawkman Showcase will have that one. I swear I’m not making it up.)

*

That rambled a bit more than I intended, so I’ll try to keep the rest of the accounting short. (No promises, though.)

When we were actually at the show and decided we were having a shopping day, the first thing Julie asked me was, “Do you see our guy here?”

“Our guy” is Art Mallonee, who actually deals only peripherally in comics. Art’s booth is a wonderland: he carries original Oz hardcovers, Big Little Books, movie and TV publicity one-sheets, and rare old pulp magazines and paperbacks, along with obscure old comics. No matter how stern and budget-minded we try to be, we invariably end up dropping a huge wad of cash at Art’s table because his entire STOCK is comprised of stuff about which my wife can say, “oh, but if you don’t get it today then when are you ever going to see it again?”

I found one of the old Gold Key Lone Ranger reprint books I didn’t have, for three dollars, and foolishly thought I was done. I told Art, “I think I’ll take this one.”

Art’s great gift is not salesmanship, exactly, but rather what retailers call ‘upselling.’ He has an uncanny knack for getting you to add stuff to your total. Art saw my piddling little three-dollar reprint Ranger and said, “Oh, hey, you know I’ve got some other Lone Ranger books here.” He dug around in the back of the booth and pulled this out of its mylar sleeve:

I probably gasped audibly, because Art smiled the smile of a man who knows he’s got a live one. “Number thirteen, from 1949,” Art said slyly. “In great shape. And look here on the back, they always had these great Native American drawings.” It was a head shot of an Indian chief that, according to the tiny type below, was Geronimo, an Apache Chief. Art spun it around to display the front cover again. “You can see he was still in the red shirt, it wasn’t until Clayton Moore and the television show that they put him in the blue.”

“Oh, you know you want it honey,” said my wife, encouragingly.

“But… thirty-two dollars?” I was desperately trying to hang on to some shred of willpower.

“Half-price,” Art said, instantly. “I’ll go sixteen. Sixteen dollars for a genuine Golden Age original. Can’t beat that.”

Finally, I nodded. I’m weak.

Then Art asked Julie if she saw anything SHE liked. Now I knew we were doomed, because it didn’t matter WHAT she said — Art would have it. He’s got everything.

“Oh, I just like Peanuts books,” Julie said.

And as if by magic Art produced this one:

“The Peanuts stories in here have never been reprinted anywhere, this is the only place you can find them,” Art said.

“Not even in the Fantagraphics books?” Julie was surprised.

“No,” I agreed. “These are the ones by Dale Hale, remember, I wrote about them a while back, when you got your other Peanuts comics. These are all-original, they were never in newspapers at all.”

“Tell you what, I’ll go sixteen on this one too,” Art said.

Julie looked doubtful. I said, with some asperity, “Oh, get something for yourself for once. It’s not like you don’t deserve a treat. –We’ll take it.”

Julie protested a little but her heart wasn’t in it. So we started out to spend three dollars and dropped almost forty. That’s Art.

Later at home I looked them up on the GCD. The Ranger book lists Fran Striker as writing the stories, though it’s possible they were ghosted by Gaylord DuBois, I suppose; he was already doing the novels for Striker. DuBois is credited with the backup strip in the issue, featuring “Young Hawk.” Overall the book is great fun — two Ranger adventures, the Young Hawk story, and a text piece from Bill Ely, that he apparently also illustrated: “Bear Evidence,” about a bear hunt gone horribly wrong. Plus, a page of fun facts about war clubs and tomahawks.

Julie’s was the better deal, though. That one is absolutely pristine except for a slight age yellowing, and it has not only a new Peanuts story by Dale Hale, but also a Nancy strip by John Stanley and Hy Eisman that Julie enjoyed a great deal, and also a story with the Katzenjammer Kids (here called “The Captain and the Kids”.) Even the mighty researchers of the GCD have been unable to identify who did the last story in the book. You can read more about Dell Comics and this particular hiccup in newspaper strip history, the only non-Schulz Peanuts comics ever published, here.

After we spent all that you’d think we were done, right? Well, I’d have thought so too — but two tables down from Art was Randy’s Readers Comics, the place for cheap Bronze Age goodness. Randy’s booth always sweeps me away. And this time he’d brought his Marvel Magazine stock.

He had Deadly Hands of Kung Fu and The Hulk! magazines listed at a dollar each. ONE DOLLAR. These are two runs I’ve been picking at on eBay for the last year and a half, but not often, because you almost never see them for under ten dollars a book.

“Billy Jack by Neal Adams,” Randy said, grinning. “Can’t beat that.”

I must have the most readable face ever; dealers can always tell when I’m overcome with temptation. “You sure can’t.”

I surrendered to the impulse. After all, as Julie says, when were we ever going to see these again?

We dropped twenty-two bucks there. Put a huge dent in the Hulk want list, and damn near cleaned up the Deadly Hands list. I’ve written about both books at some length in this space before and so I won’t go through it all again. But I was a very happy man, if for no other reason than finally getting the first chapter of “Swordquest.” I’ve been waiting thirty-some years to read that one.

So that was our shopping spree. A couple of quick footnotes to it — when we got home, there was more loot to be had in the mail. My deep-discounted pulp replicas had arrived — the new Shadow and the new Doc Savage.

I already own a great many of these stories in the old 70’s Bantam and Pyramid paperback editions, so I couldn’t in good conscience spend the money on new editions of books I already had, no matter how lovingly re-created. But these were stories I hadn’t read and didn’t own, and when I saw them on Amazon for a third of the list price it was an automatic reflex to order them.

I mention them here mostly to plug them because I’d love for this venture to be a success — the books are gorgeous, and there’s lots of new material, too. The Doc reprint pictured not only has a great intro by Peter David (well, I thought it was great, probably because he reminisced about how he encountered Doc — on the drugstore spinner rack in the 60’s, same as I did) but there’s also a terrific historical piece by Will Murray, with lots of cool photos of Lester Dent. Recommended, especially since they are taking a “Best Of”, greatest-hits approach with how they choose the tales to reprint, rather than just doing them in chronological order… so you get right to the good stuff.

And now we have lots to read. I got a column out of it, and with Julie convalescing at home for the next month, she says that she is going to really get caught up on HER reading.

As a housekeeping note, I should add that my wife got all puddled up seeing all the well-wishes extended here in last week’s comments. “Bless you all,” she says, but adds, “I felt kind of bad for Trevor, you gave him such a great review and nobody cared. People should talk about the books, not me.”

So, thanks again to everyone who expressed get-well wishes. Know that we are doing quite a bit better, all medical prognoses are good, and, you know, feel free to talk about the books, okay?

See you next week.

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