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Another Friday In The Mailroom

by  in Comic News Comment
Another Friday In The Mailroom

One of the minor pleasures of this weekly column gig is that I get all kinds of interesting mail. I try to answer everything, and once in a while I get something that’s worth sharing here. We have a few of those this week… some updates, some Batman, some Doc Savage, some answers to frequently-asked questions, and a conundrum I’m hoping readers can help with, because I’m stumped.

*

Without a doubt, the column that has generated the most mail is the one about old-time paperback illustrators. Apparently that particular piece is one of the first things to turn up in a search engine when people want to know something about those guys, which on the one hand is very gratifying…. but on the other hand, it always is a little embarrassing when those same people e-mail me to inquire about one or another point of information about those great illustrators and I have to confess that I don’t actually know anything else, I pretty much shot the works in the original article.

In particular, Fred Pfeiffer continues to be a figure of mystery.

Pfeiffer was the guy, for those of you that don’t know, that followed James Bama as the cover illustrator of the old Bantam Doc Savage paperbacks in the 60s and 70s.

Those were always my favorite pieces of his, though there were many other fantasy and science-fiction paperback covers he did for Bantam as well.

The thing is, there’s frustratingly little that’s known about Mr. Pfeiffer, other than that he did a number of striking covers for Bantam Books and others, and that he was an unhappy man who eventually took his own life. I am often asked (by people who Google his name and find my old column mentioning him) if I can add anything to those meager biographical tidbits.

Sadly, I can’t. But I do occasionally hear from Courtney Rogers, a nice fellow who has been trying to research an article about Mr. Pfeiffer for a while. And last week I heard from Courtney’s friend Scotty Phillips, who tells me Courtney is still hard at it, and that they’ve been in touch with Pfeiffer’s fellow Doc illustrator Bob Larkin as well as former Bantam Books art director Len Leone, both of whom were able to supply some facts about Mr. Pfeiffer for their article. Additionally, Mr. Pfeiffer’s sister was able to provide a photograph that Scotty turned into this cool painting.

So at least now we know what he looked like.

Scotty also sent along a couple of his re-creations of Pfeiffer’s Doc covers he’s done for friends and fellow fans, and those are too cool not to share. So here they are, as well.

Anyway, my understanding is that the research is progressing, and our intrepid researchers have both assured me that when the article’s done they’ll let me know. When they do I’ll certainly pass it on to you all.

*

Speaking of Doc Savage, any number of people are asking me what I thought of DC’s recent Batman/Doc Savage one-shot.

I can understand why the question keeps coming up. The title alone suggests that DC was thinking of me specifically when they decided to do it. And the idea of DC creating a separate sort of “pulp universe” combining their own vaguely pulpy characters like Batman, Black Canary and the Blackhawks with the likes of Doc Savage, the Avenger, and the Spirit is a tantalizing notion for an old pulp fan like me as well.

But the execution falls a little flat. The plot is strictly by the numbers — Batman thinks Doc is an establishment tool, Doc sees Batman as a dangerous outlaw, they fight, they learn to respect one another and find common cause, the end.

Like that’s a totally new idea.

We should do a story teaming up a Light Hero and a Dark One! Their contrasting characters will tell us Something Important about What Being A Hero Means!

Well, okay, the premise is a little tired, but premise isn’t everything. Ongoing superhero premises, almost by definition, tend to be limited anyway. It’s always about the execution, especially in superhero comics.

Except the execution here is pretty limp… bordering on perfunctory. Nothing much happens in Brian Azzarello’s script; the character introductions are not terribly surprising, and the changes made to Batman and Doc Savage to fit them into this new “First Wave” universe feel like change for change’s sake, there’s nothing particularly compelling about the re-imagined versions of either Batman or Doc Savage. (Really, we’ve seen better re-imaginings of both characters before, too.)

As far as the plot itself is concerned, nothing’s really resolved and the story is padded out to a ridiculous length.

The best part of the book comes at the end: the eight extra profile/proposal pages for the “First Wave” universe in the back of the book are far more engaging than the bland by-the-numbers team-up story that precedes it, and the sketches by Rags Morales are far more lively and dramatic than the art job Phil Noto turned in on the actual story. And it hurts me to say that because I usually really like Mr. Noto’s stuff — but there’s something curiously flat and distant about his pages here, they look like a series of PowerPoint slides or something.

The whole thing comes off as… stilted, I guess would be the word. I don’t know how else to try and explain it.

But the “First Wave” proposal, overall, does look kind of cool, especially as rendered by Rags Morales.

Truthfully, looking through those pages is the only thing that keeps me feeling mildly optimistic about the whole First Wave project, but they’ll have to do a lot better than what we saw in Batman/Doc Savage.

Also, not to sound like Old Man Crankypants, but five dollars for a book as lightweight as this one ended up being is just highway robbery. I’d have been a lot less annoyed about the story if this had been a 99-cent promo book or a giveaway for Free Comic Book Day or something. Because that’s what this felt like… it wasn’t really a comic, it was a promotional puff piece.

So. Wanted to love it, honest I did, I went into it prepared to be delighted…. and, well, I wasn’t. It was mostly a ‘meh.’

*

Other Doc stuff has been arriving in the mail, as it happens. I finally scored a nice set of the Doc Savage color comics from Marvel, which I had never read before.

I enjoyed them well enough, but I was mildly disappointed to discover that they were all adaptations of four of the original Doc novels — The Man of Bronze, Death In Silver, The Monsters, and Brand of the Werewolf. Two issues each, for a total run of eight issues.

They’re very well done with tight scripts from Steve Englehart and nice art from Ross Andru, but they’re still stories I’ve already read. However, I got the lot of them for less than the five dollars I paid for Batman/Doc Savage, and our godson Phenix will enjoy them — since seeing the George Pal Doc movie, he’s been very interested in the Man of Bronze.

There are plans afoot to collect both Marvel’s color Doc Savage comic from the 1970s and the DC ‘updating’ of Doc Savage that appeared in the 1980s in trade paperback. Sadly, though, no one seems interested in reprinting Doc’s finest hour in comics — the eight-issue run of Marvel’s black-and-white Doc Savage magazine with all-original stories by Doug Moench and Tony DeZuniga.

That’s still the one to beat for people adapting Doc Savage to comics, as far as I’m concerned.

And I can’t talk about Doc Savage without taking a minute to plug the reprints of the original pulp novels coming from Anthony Tollin and Sanctum Books. They’re just plain awesome.

Mostly they are presented with the original pulp formatting and illustrations intact, but every once in a while they throw a bone to us Bronze Age kids by doing a variant cover with one of the Bantam illustrations. I already own most of these stories in their 70s paperback format, but lately Sanctum are getting to the ones I don’t have and after picking up a couple on sale at Amazon I am helplessly in love with these volumes. Not only is it a kick to see the original illustrations, but there’s lots of extra historical material and reminiscences from folks like Will Murray and Gerry Conway, among others. Recommended unreservedly.

*

And now for something completely different.

A video archivist by the name of Kevin Segura dropped me a nice note regarding the column I did a while ago about getting into comics in a big way back in 1975. Specifically, he mentioned that he too had grown up in Portland, Oregon, watching the old Sinister Cinema on Saturday nights, and he was kind enough to point me to this clip of our old horror host Victor Ives hamming it up in one of his intros. And now I’m passing it on to you. Enjoy.

*

Another picture too cool not to share — my former student, Katrina, put up a scan of a drawing she did back when she was in my class five years ago, side-by-side with another one of the same character she did last week. It’s quite a progression.

Katrina, Brianna, Stephanie, Lynn, Rachel, Aja, Lindon, Nadine, Emily, Amanda… these girls all have kept up with comics and writing and drawing since leaving my class, they’re going to be hitting college pretty soon — some already have — and I’m telling you, in another two or three years there is going to be such an explosion of female comics talent from the Pacific Northwest that no one will dare to say “girls don’t like comics” ever again.

*

And finally, a question I’m throwing out to the floor.

Harris Diamant writes in to ask, “Perhaps you can help me.

“I’ve owned the wood carving pictured in the attachment for some time. My efforts to identify the character have met with no success. Any notion or information that you have would be greatly appreciated.”

Here’s the photo he attached.

And another view.

I’ve looked around and done some Googling but honestly I can’t get past the tendency to see it as Woody from Toy Story, and I know that’s wrong.

So have at it, internet. I hope one of you out there has a notion. I got nothing.

*

Thanks to all who wrote in with stuff that let me stitch together a kind of a column out of it all… keep those cards and letters coming!

And everyone else… I’ll see you next week.

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