Bronze bronze or, Pro Forma Cover

This quarter has turned out to be even busier than I thought it would be even after I knew it was going to be busier than I had originally expected; I am having trouble finding time to just read all the blogs I enjoy, much less write postings of substance here. I don't imagine that much will change until April, so I am looking at six weeks of short posts before I can move on to the stuff I really want to talk about.

That said, here is a small favorite:

Giant-Size Doc Savage, 1975
Writer: Steve Englehart; Plotter (part One): Roy Thomas

Penciller: Ross Andru; Inkers: Jim Mooney and Ernie Chua

This comic is in the shortbox for only one reason. It's not the story concept, which seems to have suffered from a little "mission drift": you can never really tell if the intent was updated version or a traditional version of the classic thirties pulp characters. I mean, Monk has sideburns and wears bell-bottoms, yet Ham flies to Washington DC from New York in an autogyro; Doc still rides on the running board of his roadster, but the police cars they pass look like seventies sedans; the bad guys communicate with portable TV units, but Doc and the crew fly to Hidalgo in a prop plane. Even accounting for "advanced" technology on the part of the protagonists, it's hard to tell what's up, and I can remember thinking 30 years ago that Roy Thomas had changed his mind mid-production about what they were doing; I am sure the tepid movie tie-in influenced that.

The plot and action are not the draw, either. It read to me more like a Doc Savage primer than an actual story adaptation: here's Monk and Ham squabbling; here's Renny putting his fist though a door; here's Doc hypnotizing someone with his gold-flake eyes. Granted, the original stories were pretty much schematics anyway (I think Steranko listed Lester Dent's all-purpose plot outline in his History of Comics), but this comic doesn't present an interesting take.

The art doesn't excite either. I consider Andru one of the stalwarts of the Bronze Age, but this issue looks rushed, and the inking is muddy, and the printing looks like it was photocopied.

No, I think the only reason this comic hasn't gone away is that I find the Buscema cover totally compelling: with fine, clean art and great composition, it's paradigmatic of what covers used to be like. And I guess that's all it is.

Side note: The Doc Savage property has bounced around between comics houses several times. Shortly after this, it moved back to DC for a mini-series by the Kubert boys. (That version was a little disappointing, too.) Before the series came out, DC ran a house ad showing a dark-haired Doc with a ponytail, wearing Chuck Taylors, fiddling with a gun. Does anybody have a comic with is ad in it? I'd love to see it again. While the concept was never executed in the mini-series, I can still remember the heated discussions it raised among my pulp-loving pals.


I'm a big fan of the genre (sub-genre?) of Alternate History, which features stories set in a world much like ours, except with a crucial difference: the South won the Civil war, or the Nazis won WWII, or something. Those two are probably the most common "points of divergence" (or POD) anyway; I have read stories based upon many others (the Spanish Armada succeeded; Napoleon was born 50 years earlier; the American Revolution failed). My interest stems not from a love for or interest in history per se, although that is a frequent entry point for readers and writers both, and allohistories have often been used for scholarly musing as well as entertainment. Sometimes I think that growing up with DC's multiple Earths just made the idea of alternate histories very easy for me to accept; in any case, it is more often the mood or tone of the history that draws me rather than the counter-factual details.

For example, alternate histories set in the 20th century almost universally posit the continued use of zeppelins, and that's just cool. So any comic that opens like this has pretty much got me hooked:

This particular alternate history comic benefits not only from the presence of zeppelins, but from having as its author Will Shetterly. That shot of Hannah Freidman opens Will's Captain Confederacy.

Captain Confederacy Nos. 1-4, Nov 1991 - Feb 1992
Writer/colorist: Will Shetterly, Penciler: Vince Stone
Epic Comics

This is actually the second Captain Confederacy series. The first series, which is not in the Last Shortbox, began publication in 1986 and centered on Jeremy Vincent, (the white man in stars-and-bars on the above cover) who is the government-sponsored superhero of the 20th-century CSA (Confederate States of America), anmd the stories mostly centered on internal CSA politics and intrigue.

This mini-series really opens up the stage. Gray has retired as Captain Confederacy, and as Kid Dixie acts as sidekick to the new Captain Confederacy, his fiancee Kate Williams (the African-American woman in stars-and-bars on the cover). They travel to the Louisiana Free State to take part in a "Heroes Conference" with the international array of adventurers/government agents/public relations figures that comprise superheroes in this world.

In addition to Hannah Friedman, Germany's reluctant Iron Falcon, we meet the representatives from the People's Republic of California, the Spirits of the People (think Guardian Angels who kick a little more ass); Lone Star, a cyborg Texas Ranger; Union Maid, the U.S.A.'s supermodel-hero-mascot; Dr. Deseret, a Mormon ninja who uses drugs to increase her physical and sensory capabilities; and an alternate-history, comic-book version of a lucha libre star, Mexico's El Brujo.

The story that spans the four-issue series involves these heroes and several others in the investigation of the murder of Lone Star and theft of his rocket-pistol, and all the action, intrigue, double-crossing and double-teaming that takes place as various political powers, anti-establishment groups, and crooked individuals try to exploit the situation to their advantage. The story is competent if relatively unexceptional, except in its effective blending of spy action and superheroics. Shetterly really shines, however, in creating a credible and plausible alternate world, where political and cultural movements are embodied in the various countries of a balkanized North America. The landscape is full of little thrown-away what-ifs, such as the protagonists heading off to a Jesse Presley performance. Issue 2 contains a click-the-TV-dial montage that gets across this flavor nicely.

Ultimately, the story gets resolved in an extended negotiation between the good guys, the pretty good guys, the not-so-bad guys, and the really bad guys - and this might be the series's weak point. Shetterly is an intelligent and thoughtful man, with a strong grasp of politics and social dynamics in the real world; towards the end of Captain Confederacy, the plot can almost feel a little too grounded in realpolitik, and some of the developments have the same tone and timbre as explanations of the Iran-Contra affair.

But this is balanced off with a last minute sharpshooting stunt by Union Maid, clad only in a stars-and-stripes bathrobe, so who am I kidding: Shetterly knows his comic-book business.

Extra notes:

The original Captain Confederacy series made the news a few weeks back.

Partially in response to that news story, Will Shetterly is posting the entire first series on a blog for your enjoyment. Check it out.

And check out Will's general-interest blog, It's All One Thing, as well. It has been on my read-regularly list for a while now.

Here's Will's response to that news story, so you don't have to dig it out (it's actually on another of his blogs.).


I have just started reading been trying to find time to read Gerard Jones's Men of Tomorrow, his chronicle of the origins of the comic book in America. That history is, in his take, a story of not-so-very-nice people doing some not-so-very-nice things while inadvertantly cutting a new facet on popular culture. One of the better-known stories of this sort from comics' closet is the rather shabby treatment of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, the creators of Superman, who were kept for far too long from what many believe was their fair share of the financial bonanza that that character created. Perhaps that alone is the reason this comic remains in the shortbox:

Siegel and Shuster: Dateline 1930s
Eclipse Comics
November 1984

This isn't a single comic or even a collection of stories; it is more of a portfolio: single chapters of series, stand-alone panels, and short gag strips are presented with little rhyme or reason. All of the material was culled from work created by Siegel and Shuster around 1935, before they had success with Superman. Also included are a text page written by Siegel specifically for the comic and an interview conducted by Shel Dorf with Siegel and Shuster some months before publication.

To be frank, none of the stuff is very good: it is the juvenalia of two clearly talented guys, but it is immature work nonetheless. None of it is very engaging, some of the influences are obvious, and all of it is pretty mainstream. Two things strike me, however. One is the breathtaking breadth of genres the pair was willing to experiment in; the collection contains a wide range of writing and art styles - these kids were really hustling. The other is the energy that crackles in the pages. As undeveloped as these pages are, it's not hard to believe that the creative team went on to create a long-lived American icon.

Here's a sampling of works:

A single-panel "What the future will bring" feature:

A science fiction cop series that reminds me of Dick Calkins's Buck Rogers:

Some sort of potpourri gag strip:

A rich-guy-in-the-depression strip that looks a lot like The Little King:

And a -- well, I'm not sure what this is. Sort of like Smurfs?

Actually, now that I think about it, I remember a strip a lot like this last one running in the New York Daily News when I was a kid in the sixties... Acorn People or something.

Siegel's text explains that these were originally intended for publication in a special digest but never saw the light of day (and that the creators never got paid for them either). It was a beau geste on the part of Eclipse, I think, to devote some ink, however belatedly, to the early work of two men who should have been a bigger figures in - and had a bigger piece of - the comics field.

PS: I also like the subtle way the cover makes you think that you are looking at Joe and Jerry creating Superman on some weird, futuristic comic book generator - that's Jerry on the left, manipulating the scriptomatic, and Joe in the center, operating the page-layout controls. At least to me.

PPS: There was at least one more issue of this title; I have number 2, but it mostly contains unfinished black and white artwork.

False post

I have backdated this post to put it in the proper spot. My February 3rd post entitled "Quick Bronze," about Marvel's What If #9 from 1978 (What if the Avengers had been Formed in the 1950s?) seems to have disappeared from Blogland. I will check with bBlogger to see if it can be recovered.

--Walaka, 2/10/06