I bet you all think I forgot about the resolution I began the year with…. no new books until I get through the to-read pile. You know, the promise that I only managed to keep until March. But I really am trying to conquer the Shelf of Shame, and the next few weeks I’m going to make a real effort to get to all the stuff that I’ve been muttering about building a column around.
This week I am all about the Warren magazines.
Well, technically, the Warren archives from Dark Horse. Warren Publishing has been defunct for a while now. I was around for their heyday, but even in the seventies when they were a huge presence on newsstands (they tended to penetrate further into magazine markets than Marvel did) I largely ignored them. Warren’s magazines were usually found racked alongside stuff like CARtoons and High Times and True Detective. As a result, I assumed they were trashier than they really were, and certainly the covers did nothing to suggest that they weren’t exploitationist crap.
So I eschewed them in favor of the Marvel offerings. Even though Marvel was covering a lot of the same ground.
Part of it was just avoiding the fight I’d have had with my mother if she’d ever seen the things. (Come to think of it, the Marvel magazines pictured above are all books I’d regretfully put back on the shelf for the same reason. They didn’t get here until I was in my forties.)
But my curiosity got the best of me when I picked up a big Vampirella reprint book, just on a whim.
The reason was simple– the author of record was Archie Goodwin. The same guy who wrote my favorite superhero series of all time.
Not to mention the only guy to ever get me seriously reading DC’s war comics.
So I figured it had to be at least good, even though I still thought Vampirella was an absurd concept. And I was right. Goodwin made it work, and the Jose Gonzalez art was exquisite.
The more I looked into the history of Warren, the more obvious it became that Archie Goodwin was basically their secret weapon. He was responsible for stuff like Blazing Combat, which was essentially a reboot of EC’s Frontline Combat but with a post-Vietnam sensibility.
Not only was Goodwin a story factory himself but he mentored dozens of other talents who got their first big break from him at Warren: Don McGregor, Paul Gulacy, a host of others.
So for the last few years I’ve kind of been on the lookout for collections of Goodwin’s Warren work. But other than the Vampi book and a Blazing Combat collection, there was nothing in my price bracket.
Apart from the Creepy and Eerie archive collections being priced way too high for a cheapskate like me, I wasn’t really interested in straight chronological reprints of those magazines anyway. Too much of a mixed bag, too long to get to the good stuff. I’m too poor to be buying fifty-dollar hardcovers anyway.
And then, lo and behold, suddenly the kind of theme collections I had been wishing for began to appear. Much more reasonable in price– we’re talking twenty bucks as opposed to fifty, and I generally found mine used or remaindered for considerably less than that. Moreover, these collections got straight to the good stuff.
Here’s the rundown on the ones I fell for.
Creepy Presents Steve Ditko. Stories by Archie Goodwin, art by… well, you know.
Kind of like the Vampirella collection, this is pretty much fluff as far as the stories are concerned… though with Goodwin scripting, it’s good fluff. Once again he’s channeling his inner EC fanboy, but with the seasoned craft that defined pretty much every story he ever wrote. Really, though–and I almost never say this– the reason to get this book is for the art. Ditko is absolutely at the top of his game.
The gray-wash technique he’s using here is a thing of beauty. It makes me wish he’d had a chance to try it with Dr. Strange at some point.
Anyway. There’s just nothing not to love here. Hugely recommended.
Creepy Pressnts Alex Toth. Scripts by Archie Goodwin, art by guess who?
Honestly, you can take pretty much everything I wrote in the above capsule review and repeat it here, substituting Toth’s name for Ditko’s. Again the stories are fun but not terribly demanding, and again the art is just stunningly gorgeous.
The cool thing here is that Goodwin’s approach is always to try and serve his artists. He tries to tailor the stories to the things they’re good at. In Ditko’s case that meant giving him lots of weird shit to draw. In Toth’s case, it means trying out different approaches to the page itself.
Again, hugely recommended.
There are a couple of other collections, one for Berni Wrightson and one for Richard Corben; sadly, they’re both out of print and going for gouger’s prices on the secondary market. But you can bet I’ll be keeping an eye out.
Emboldened by my success up to this point, I decided to roll the dice on a title I knew nothing about. W.B. DuBay’s The Rook Archives Volume 1, stories by Bill DuBay, art by various hands but mostly Luis Bermejo.
No Goodwin involvement here, but I still really dug this book. I used to see the magazine on the stands in the 1980s and wonder what the hell was up with it, because it always looked kind of deranged.
But the Rook’s time was also when, as recounted previously, I was going through some ugly personal stuff and fallen out of buying comics, so I never really looked to see.
Turns out I was correct in that original casual assessment. This is the kind of grindhouse batshit-crazy storytelling you’d get from Robert Kanigher or Bob Haney back in the day.
Robots, cowboys, time travel, alien war, it’s all thrown in there with no thought to any kind of larger epic or continuity or anything other than FLOOR IT LET’S GO!
Volume 2 is even more lit than volume 1, and I would not have thought that was possible.
Most of the stories begin with something as simple as answering a call for help or the Rook’s crotchety grandpa from the old West pressing the wrong button…. or, in some cases, both at once.
It’s the kind of demented fun you never get to see from DC or Marvel any more and the perfect antidote to the grimness of Real Life at the moment. As such, you bet I’m in for Volume 3. It’s not for everybody, but if you liked the crazier comics from the Groovy Age like Brother Voodoo or Kamandi or Prez, well, you probably would enjoy the Rook, too.
Well, that’s a dent in The Pile, anyway. Back next week with something cool from the Shelf of Shame.
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