Friday, August 31, 2007

Justice League Unlimited #1 - 2005

sgAs everyone knows, Justice League was supplanted by the amazingly-expansive, DC Fanboy Dream Show Justice League Unlimited, so the comic quickly followed suit.

While I was sad that my hero Aquaman would probably be showing up even less now that he had so many more heroes to compete with, the overgrown fanboy in me was tickled that I'd get to see characters like The Shining Knight, Zatanna, and B'Wana Beast(B'Wana Beast!) on a TV show. I think Timm and Co. have single-handedly kept a stable of third or fourth-tier DC heroes viable for a whole 'nother generation.

Anyway, JLU the comic kept up the fine tradition of solid, fun stories, perfect for kids of all ages:
"Divide & Conquer" by Aam Beechen, Carlo Barberi, and Walden Wong
"Poker Face" by Beechen and Ethen Beevers
"Small Time" by Beechen, Barberi, and Wong
"Local Hero" by B
eechen, Barberi, and Wong
"Monitor Duty" by B
eechen, Barberi, and Wong

...these stories featured the main JLU members, plus appearances by heroes like Captain Atom, Zatanna, The Huntress, Firestorm, The Atom, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, even Adam Strange! Whoo-hoo!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Justice League Advenutres #2 - 2004

sgMore fun with the JLA! And with everybody's favorite Multiverse-rememberer, Psycho Pirate!

Stories include:
the great "Local Hero" by Dan Slott, Min Ku, and Mark Propst
"An Angry Tide"(featuring guess who!) by Matthew Manning, John Delaney, and John K.Snyder
"Hide and Seek" by Scott McCloud, Delaney, and Snyder
"What's In A Hero?" by Michael Bernard, Delaney, and Rick Burchett
"Emotional Baggage" by Jason Hall, Burchett, and Snyder

...another fine collection. Scott "Zot!" McCloud in particular seemed to have an excellent grasp of these characters, keeping them in character yet coming from unusual story angles. He wrote some excellent stories for Superman Adventures which we'll get to shortly!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Justice League Adventures #1 - 2004

sgAnother fine DC/Cartoon Network title, Justice League Adventures was, to me, a better, more consistent JLA book than the regular title has been for a long time.

I'm not sure why these digest collections hop around the original series to pull stories from, but what the hey:
"The Star Lost" by Fabian Nicieza, John Delaney, and Radny Elliott
the really fun "Wolf's Clothing" by Dan Slott, Min Ku, and Dan Davis, featuring approximately ten thousand DCU villains
"Must There Be A Martian Manhunter?" by Josh Siegal, Chris Jones, and Christian Alamy
"The Moment" by Slott, Ku, and Davis
"Cold War" by Christopher Sequeira, Ku, and Mark Propst I said, a really solid collection of JLA tales, featuring sharp characterization, action, and a really good sense of humor.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Batman Adventures #2 - 2004

sgThe second and last volume of the fine Batman Adventures series(it was replaced by a series of Batman Strikes! digests), featuring some more excellent Tales of the Bat:
"Shot to the Heart" by Dan Slott, Ty Templeton, and Terry Beatty
"Liar, Liar" by Templeton, Rick Burchett, and Beatty
"Playing with Matches" by Slott, Burchett, and Beatty
"Two Minute Warning" by Templeton, Burchett, and Beatty
"A Bat In The House" by Slott, Burchett, and Beatty
"The First Time" by Templeton, Burchett, and Beatty
"Masquerade" by Slott, Burchett, and Beatty
"Face to Face" by Templeton, Burchett, and Beatty
the uber-fun "Deathtrap A-Go-Go!" by Gabe Soria and Dean Haspiel
"The Couch" by Vito Delsante and Haspiel

...while I know these stories are intended for young kids, I think the overall quality of these tales belies the conventional wisdom that you can't write short superhero stories anymore. Every mainstream superhero book seems to feature six-issue-long story arcs, while some of these tales are barely eight pages long.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Batman Adventures #1 - 2004

sgStarting in 2002, DC returned to the world of digest comics--sort of.

They released a whole line of reprint, almost-digest sized(5x7 1/2") books featuring their Cartoon Network "All Ages" material. To say I was thrilled was an understatement, and I quickly made an effort to grab every issue of every title DC put out in this format.

This is one of the later series, Batman Adventures, featuring a typically beautiful cover by Bruce Timm. It reprints issues of Batman: Gotham Adventures and Batman Adventures, featuring these stories:
"Second Timers" by Scott Peterson, Tim Levins, and Terry Beatty
"No Asylum" by Ty Templeton, Rick Burchett, and Beatty
"Free Man" by Templeton, Burchett, and Beatty
"Fowl Play" by Dan Slott, Templeton, and Beatty
"Breathing Room" by Slott, Templeton, and Beatty
"Need To Know" by Slott, Templeton, and Beatty anyone who watched Batman: The Animated Series or read the tie-in comic knows, BTAS presented some of the best Batman tales around. Free from crippling continuity and the dependence on endless storylines, these Batman stories were short, direct, full of adventure and fun. A great collection of tales.

My only quibble with this new line of digests was how it was conceived--first off, each of these books retailed for $6.95, which seems like a high cover price when you're trying to market to younger readers(and their parent's wallets). While the thick covers and high-quality paper stock are nice, it might've been worth the effort to cut corners here and there and get the price down.

Also, this new digest line consisted of Justice League Adventures, Powerpuff Girls, Scooby-Doo, Superman Adventures, and Cartoon Cartoons. Worthy titles all, but once again they were only sold at comic stores, virtually guaranteeing books like Powerpuff Girls and Scooby-Doo would sit unsold. I know that getting new books into places like bookstores and supermarkets is difficult and expensive, but if you're going to do a line of books for younger readers, you have to go to them.

I have seen some of these digests at Target and major book chains, which is a good start. But I wonder what kind of success DC might've had with these if they had managed to knock the price down by a buck or two and gotten them next to the Archies in the supermarket check-out lines.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #71 - April 1986

It's been a long time coming, but here we are--the final issue of DC's longest-running digest title, The Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #71, featuring one last Year's Best collection. The irreverent cover(with Ambush Bug, you could expect nothing less) is of course by Keith Giffen and Karl Kesel, suggesting an alternate way maybe one could put these Year's Best collections together.

DC's best of 1985 included:

• "The Day The Earth Died" by our pal Paul Kupperberg, Ed Hannigan, Curt Swan, and Al Williamson (from Superman #408) 
"Mogo Doesn't Socialize", a goofy one-off by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons starring The Green Lantern Corps (from Green Lantern #188) 
"Trick Trap" by Gary Cohn, our pal Dan Mishkin, Giffen, and Gary Martin (Blue Devil #8) 
"Brief Lives" by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill (Omega Men #26)
the classic "Modern Spring" by Moore, Steve Bisette, and John Totleben (Swamp Thing #34)
"The Silent Treatment" by Mike W Barr and Jerome K Moore (Batman and the Outsiders #21) 
"Bits of (Ambush) Bugginess" by Giffen, Robert Loren Fleming, and Bob Oksner (Action Comics #565) 
"The Ghost of Krypton Past" by Cary Bates and Klaus Janson (from DC Comics Presents #82, starring Supes and Adam Strange, featuring a superb art job by Janson) 
"Forever Blowing Bubbles" by Mike Baron and the late, great Marshall Rogers (Green Lantern #187) 
"Just As Night Follows Day..." by Doug Moench, Gene Colan, and Alfredo Alcala (from Batman #383, featuring something you didn't--don't--see much: a whimiscal Batman story) 
"Hukka Vs. The Bob!" by Giffen, Loren Fleming, and Kesel (from Atari Force #20)

...the inside cover features a brief editorial by Randall, who mentions "[this] is the last issue for now. We may be publishing digests again later on, but for now, we'll say good-bye to you with the best stories we could find from 1985."

Sadly, of course, publishing-digests-again-wise, that didn't happen. Other than Archie Comics, this was the last series from any major comics publisher in the digest format. The victim of a changing comics marketplace, the ever-increasingly-aging fanbase wanted higher and higher quality collected editions, not cheap digests you could stuff in your back pocket.

So, does this mean this is the end of the DigestComics blog? No, not just yet...
like I've said before, I have no desire to collect, read, and catalog the approximatelty fifteen million Archie and Harvey digests published over the last few decades(as fine as they are), but we will be spending some time with some other publishers who tried their hands at digests here and there, and even take a look at DC's quasi-attempt at digests over the last few years.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #70 - March 1986

sgAh, the final Binky collection. Binky, we hardly knew ye.

I love this cover, commissioned for the digest. It reminds me of those "hippy" covers comics had in the late 60s and early 70s, where mostly middle-aged comic guys attempted to portray what they thought hippies looked like. Clearly, any band dressed like Culture Club who showed up at an actual punk club would've been murdered, right there on stage.

But let's not quibble, let's get to the Binky! Stories include:
Binky in "The Earth People", "Easy Bread", "The Unbelievers" and "A Natural Born Foul-Up"
Scooter in "The Ghost is Clear", "Not A Very Safe Place To Be", "A Hairy Tale", "Present For A Sassy Kid", "Vote For Miss Noble", and "The Plenty Potent Potion"
Debbi in "Scrambled Brains" and "Love Those Bad Kids" odd thing is, even though there's a Digest Forum column, Nick Cuti is no longer listed as editor, having been replaced by Barbara Randall.

Frequently in comics you'd see a new editor take over a book for its final two or three issues, with the idea I guess the senior editor would be moved onto more important work and a new editor could get some experience guiding a cancelled title into the great beyond.

*sigh* Be here tomorrow for the big conclusion!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #69 - Feb. 1986

sgWell, they did Year's Best Superman and Year's Best Batman, why not Year's Best Team Stories?

The cover is by our pal Joe Staton, and does indeed feature some great stories:
"We Are Gathered Here Today..." by Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Mike DeCarlo, and Dick Giordano, from Tales of the New Teen Titans #50, the Donna Troy wedding issue.

Even though I was fourteen when I read that issue and hardly interested in weddings, I remembered really liking this issue, because they took the gamble of doing a straight wedding story, and not, you know, have the Fearsome Five break in at the last second.

The other stories are "A Thorn Grows in Paradise" by Roy Thomas, Don Newton, and Joe Rubinstein (from Infinity Inc. #13)
"Triangle?" by Paul Levitz, Mindy Newell, Dan Jurgens, and Karl Kesel
...and the underrated classic "Who's Afraid of the Big Red 'S'?" by Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo (from Batman and the Outsiders #19--it's a nice, heartwarming Christmas story, plus you get to see Superman and Geo-Force beat the crap out of each other for five pages! One of my all-time favorites.)

One of my favorite single digest collections--each story is solid, and some are even classics; amazing that DC published them all in the space of a single year!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #68 - Jan. 1986

Sadly, this is the last Sugar & Spike digest collection. Never again would Shelly Mayer's wonderful little creation get as much regular exposure as they did in the digests. So let's just enjoy what we've got, eh?

Stories include:
"Halloween Cats"
"The Day The Trees Got Sloppy"
"Halloween Goblin"
"Space Sprout"
"Uncle Charlie's Talking Pumpkin"
"Sugar and Spike Get Up in the World"
"Space Sprout Returns"
"The 4000-Year-Old Baby"
"The Shiny Round Roller"
"Halloween Magic"
"Who's Who"

...for some reason, other than a single Millennium Edition reprint in 2000, and they're charming cameo in Crisis on Infinite Earths, Sugar and Spike have pretty much vanished from the pages of DC Comics. They didn't even rate a lisiting in the catch-all Who's Who series(oh, how the last story's title in this book is ironic!) despite many readers writing into complain and demand their inclusion.

Sugar & Spike remain two of DC's most original creations, and so it was nice for them to have a few last shots at the spotlight in Best of DC Digest.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #67 - Dec. 1985

We've arrived at the last Legion digest collection!

The cover is by Karl Kesel, obviously focused on Starfinger, a very familiar-looking Legion villain. I wonder if he and Black Manta ever compared notes?

Stories include: 

• "Starfinger!" by Edmond Hamilton, John Forte, and Sheldon Moldoff 
"The True Identity of Starfinger" by Hamilton, Forte, and Moldoff 
"The Insect Queen of Smallville" by Otto Binder and George Papp 
"The Weddings That Wrecked The Legion!" by Hamilton, Forte, and Moldoff 
"The Menace of the Sinister Super-Babies!" by Jerry Siegel(oh, Jerry...) and Forte 
The Sacrifice of Kid Psycho!" by Binder and Papp 
"Hunters of the Super-Beasts" by Hamilton, Forte, and Moldoff

Editor Nick Cuti was so committed to the Digest Forum and presenting other readers' thoughts that he ran a long letter by one fan in the empty space after each story, which was only about a 1/4 page in size, so that the letter and its answer is spread out over seven pages. It makes for awkward reading, but I think it shows the lengths Nick would go to to fit as much in an issue as possible.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #66 - Nov. 1985

sgSuperman team-up action! 100 pages of costumed excitement!

The incredibly overstuffed cover is by Dennis Jensen, and features the following tales of Supes pretending he needs the help of other DCU heroes:
Superman and the The Metal Men in "Sun-Stroke!" by Len Wein and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez
Superman, Batman, and the JLA in "The Prisoner of the Kryptonite Asteroid!", a two-part tale by Bob Haney, Kurt Schaffenberger, and Murphy Anderson
Superman and the Legion in "To Live in Peace--Nevermore!" by Paul Levitz, Dick Dillin, and Dick Giordano
Superman and...Superboy?!? in "Judge, Jury, and No Justice!" by Levitz, Dillin, and Giordano a letters page asking why DC doesn't reprint more Golden Age tales, and a refreshingly honest answer from editor Nick Cuti:"The casual reader and the fan still outnumber the fan-collector and they would not appreciate the simple storylines and crude art(by today's standards) of the Golden Age classics."

Wow, how times have changed. $50 Archive editions, anyone?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #65 - Oct. 1985

sgMore Sugar and Spike! It's interesting to look over these books, after hearing about how editor Nick Cuti kept running mostly as an excuse to talk to Sheldon Mayer and commission a new cover from him. I find that really funny and charming--screw the superhero zombies, we're running more S&S!

Stories(all by Mayer, of course) include:
"Bernie the Brain"
"Mystery Toy"
"The Rise of Sugar & Spike"
"The Adventure of the Wet Stuff...The Shiny Thing...and the Sweet-Mush"
"Impossible Adventure"
"The New Hat"
"Adventure with the Wooden Pussy-Cat"
"Sugar's Greatest Discovery"
"Who Stole Our Ocean?"(sounds like an Aquaman story)
"Growing Pains"
"Sugar Becomes an Indian Chief" a letters page, an innovation from Mr.Cuti and something I wish had appeared more.

The only negative thing about this book is that it was printed with the Flexographic process, the evil evil evil coloring system DC had a brief, torrid affair with. The results aren't as bad here as other places, but it still hurts the eyes a bit.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #64 - Sept. 1985

sgAh, the Legion is back. Let me contain my excitement.

Ok, done.

Behind the vary busy cover by Paris Cullins and Bob Smith are the following Legion adventures:
"Superboy and the 5 Legion Traitors!" by Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan, and George Klein
"The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire" by Siegel and Jim Mooney
"The Trimuph of the Legion of Super-Villains" by Siegel and Mooney
"The Super-Moby Dick of Space!" by Edmond Hamilton and John Forte
"The War Between Krypton and Earth!" by Hamilton and Forte
"The Unknown Legionnaire!" by Hamilton, Forte, and Sheldon Moldoff
a fun feature about the various Legion HQs, written by Nick Cuti and E.Nelson Bridwell, with art by James Sherman, Jack Abel, Jim Janes(?), Frank Chiaramonte, Keith Giffen, and Larry Mahlstedt the usual text-piece on the Legion by Paul Levitz, whose enthusiasm for these characters is evident. Maybe that's why his Legion tales were so good!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #63 - Aug. 1985

More Plop!

I guess we have to thank Mr.Cuti for this second volume, since I got the sense from our interview that the first one--or pretty much any of the non-superhero collections--didn't sell too well. That's a crying shame, since as we'll see these Plop! collections featured some outstanding work, behind the front cover by Wally Wood and inside front cover by Basil Wolverton: 

• An intro starring Cain and Abel by Sergio Aragones 
"Love Is A Dandy!" by Steve Skeates, Steve Ditko, and Wally Wood 
"The Aladdin Frame-Up" by Skeates and Aragones 
"A Tale Before Sunrise" by Skeates and Vicent Alcazar, aka the Final Batman Story 
"A Likely Story" by Skeates and Aragones 
"The Collector" by Coram Nobis and Wood 
"The Demand" by Aragones 
"A Perfectly Crazy Crime" by Skeates and Aragones 
"The Message" by Sheldon Mayer and Alfredo Alcala 
"The Locked Door of Harkness House!" by Maxene Fabe and Dave Manak 
"The Man Who Came to Dinner" by George Kashdan and Nick Cardy 
"We're Always Working For Your Wowweee!" by Skeates and Manak 
"All Wet!" by Skeates and Lee Marrs 
"Once Upon A Swine..." by Victor Schwartzmann, Fabe, and Aaragones 
"Vampire At The Circus" by Dave Edwing and Manak 
"Bug In The Works" by Skeates and Manak 
"The Escape!" by Aaragones 
"The Spell!" (uncredited) 
"Cain's Game Room" by Edwing and Manak 
"The Temple of Ikka-Ka-Ka!" by Skeates and Aragones 
"A Rejection From Cain" by Michael Pellowski and Alcala 
"Molded in Evil" by Ed Noonchester, Kashdan, and Berni Wrightson, that's a lot of material crammed into one book! Props to DC, Nick Cuti, and all the fine creative madmen behind the all-too-short-lived Plop!


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #62 - July 1985

sgDC did a Year's Best for Superman, so why not Batman? Heck, you could argue there was more reason to do this, since the Bat-titles were done by very different creative teams, allowing for a greater variety of stories, wherein Superman and Action Comics always sorta seemed like the same book.

Behind the cover by Joe Brozowski and Larry Mahlstedt were these Batman stories considered the best of 1984:
"...The Player on The Other Side!" by Mike W.Barr(a vastly underrated writer, IMO), Michael Golden, and Mike DeCarlo, from Batman Special #1
"Down Below" by Doug Moench, Gene Colan, and Bob Smith, from Detective Comics #537
"What Price, The Prize?" by Moench, Don Newton(talk about underrated!), and Alfredo Alcala
"Boxing" by Moench, Newton, and Smith a fun pin-up of Bats and some of his friends and foes:
sgOoh, I know, I know--clockwise from right: Catman, The Spook, Clayface II, The Cavalier, Tweeldedum and Tweedledee, The Gentleman Ghost, Mad Hatter, Killer Croc, Signalman, Mr.Freeze, Commissioner Gordon, The Joker, The Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, um, that pirate guy whose name escapes me at the moment(anyone?), The Penguin, Matches Malone?, Two-Face, Black Spider, The Riddler, Batgirl, and Alfred!

*Whew* I'm exhausted. This digest thing can be hard sometimes...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #61 - June 1985

sgIt's that time of year again, time for another Year's Best collection! This time the members of the DCU decided to hold the awards ceremony in outer space, as you can see by this Pat Broderick cover.

This year, as in previous years, collects some absolutely fantastic stories:
the modern classic "The Anatomy Lesson" by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, and John Totleben (Swamp Thing #21)
"If Superman Didn't Exist..." by Marv Wolfman and Gil Kane (Action Comics #554)
"Killers Also Smile" by Bob Kanigher and Adrian Gonzalez (Sgt.Rock #391)
"Guess What's Coming To Dinner?" by Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen, George Tuska, and Larry Mahlstedt (Legion of Super-Heroes #308)
"Final Duties", a Tale of the Green Lantern Corps by Len Wein and Kane (Green Lantern #177)
"Viva Nebiros!" by Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, Paris Cullins, and Gary Martin (Blue Devil #5)
"Who Is Donna Troy?" by Wolfman, George Perez, and Romeo Tanghal (New Teen Titans #38)
"Babe's Story" by Gerry Conway, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, and Ricardo Villagran (Atari Force #8)

...the only thing taking away from these stories--some of them bona-fide classics--is that DC was in the middle of its (thankfully)brief love affair with the Flexographic printing process. You remember Flexograpghic printing, right? Garish colors, giant weird blobs of color where they don't belong, mis-registered printing. Flexographic was bad enough on regular-sized comics, but on a digest-sized book it's even worse. Luckily, DC would soon see that it was hopeless, and went back to their regular way of coloring their books.

One other nice thing in this book is from editor Nicola Cuti--he writes an editorial on the inside back cover, called Digest Forum, where he actually asks to start a dialogue between the book and its readers. He asks what do the readers want to see, and to send letters, which was really cool, since for so long most comic reprint titles seemed to be produced by magic; the readers never getting a sense who was putting these things together.

This request would soon result in something a digest book never had before--a letter's page.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #60 - May 1985

sgI don't know whose idea it was to do a Plop! collection, but bless their little hearts for doing so! Plop! was a great book that died all too quickly, so it was so cool for DC to dig some of the best material up and put it between two covers, all for a measly $1.50!

Front cover by Wally Wood, inside front by Basil Wolverton(!), and opening page by Sergio Aragones! And that's just the first three pages! There's also:
"The Poster Plague!" by Steve Skeates and Aragones
"The Gourmet" by Skeates and Berni Wrightson
"Depressed Elephant" by Skeates and Aragones
"Wednesday's Child" by Marv Wolfman and Wally Wood
"The Showdown Sonata" by Lee Marrs
"The Last Laugh" by Skeates and Frank Robbins
"The Lawn That Devoured Cleveland" by David Michelinie and Aragones
"Super Plops!" by Murphy Anderson and starring various members of the DCU
"The Killer Kind!" by Jack Oleck and David Manak
"The Uninvited Guest" by Skeates, John Jacobson, and Bill Draut
"The Secret Origin of Grooble Man" by Skeates, Jacobson, and Aragones
"Old Butterfly Story" by Skeates and Robbins
a one-page Cain pin-up by Michael Kaluta
"Trick or Treat" by ? and Sid Greene
"A Fate Worse Than Death" by Aragones
"The Ultimate Weapon" by Skeates and Frank Thorne
"The Ultimate Freedom" by Coram Nobis(surely someone's pseudonym) and Aragones
"Switch Ending" by Oleck and Manak
"Moment of Decision" by Arnold Drake and Draut
"What Are Little Ghouls Made Of?" by E.Nelson Bridwell and Aragones
"The King of the Ring" by Wood

...what a line-up of talent they had for Plop!, it's a crime it didn't last longer. Good to know it wasn't forgotten by the folks at DC, and this is a really funny(and beautifully drawn) collection. One of DC's best digest collections.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #59 - April 1985

sgA genuinely spooky cover, courtesy Klaus Janson. I'm not sure what "Sagas" means, since one of these stories is only nine pages long, but:

"The Second Coming of Superman" by Cary Bates, Curt Swan, and Vince Colletta (a sixty-three--well, that's a saga--page story from Superman Spectacular #5)
"The One Minute of Doom!" by Edmond Hamilton and John Forte
"Let My People Grow!" by Len Wein, Swan, and Frank Chiaramonte a Superman vs. Brainiac pin-up by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, that on the table of contents is listed as "from the 1982 DC Comics Style Guide." Editor Nick Cuti was being charmingly honest with that credit. Did most readers know what a "style guide" even was?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #58 - March 1985

sgOne of the strangest, if not the strangest, digests DC ever published--the Super Jrs. Holiday Special, an all-new sixty-five page story aimed directly at young kids!

It's a fanciful Xmas tale that features five little kids who get transformed into pint-size versions of Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and...Flash(you all know what I'm thinking).

There's no writing credit, but the art is by Vince Squeglia, someone I've never heard of before and as far as I know this is his only comic-book credit.

The story is wonderfully told and Squeglia's art is beautiful, and the whole piece has a definite Sheldon Mayer-esque feeling to it. It's a really great kids comic, and again all credit to DC for commissioning it. I'm betting this didn't sell very well, because A)you never saw Squeglia's art in another DC comic, and B)this is one of the hardest digests to find--if not the hardest--on ebay, since I bet not many copies gor saved over the years.

There's also three Sugar & Spike tales thrown in: "Spike's Big Problem", "Cowboy Santa Claus", and "A New Adventure With the Genius", making for an excellent kids and/or Christmas comic.

I would love to know the origins of this book's creation, whether it made especially for the digest or for something else(an abandoned children's book, possibly?). It's a wonderful anomaly.

Update: Since writing the above, I did a little research and found an entry for this book in Scott Shaw!'s Oddball Comics column. Apparently, the Super Jrs. was a merchandising concept used overseas, and this story was originally done for a Mexican comic, and then translated into English for this American digest version.

And of course, now we know from our interview with Nick Cuti that importing this story was his idea. It may not have sold well at the time, but speaking for this longtime comics reader, I'm really glad he did it!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #57 - Feb. 1985

sgThe Legion is back, and with a really weird and creepy cover by Pat Broderick. There was something about the way Broderick drew evil women's faces--they looked positively satanic. I mean, look at the women's faces--they look like they're about to eat the Legionnaires, but not before tearing them apart. *shudder*

Unfortunately, none of the stories here are quite that gripping, since they're all culled from the Legion's mid-60s run in Adventure Comics:
"The Legion of Super-Outlaws" by Ed Hamilton and John Forte
"Lex Luthor Meets the Legion" by Jerry Siegel and Forte
"The Revolt of the Girl Legionnaires" by Siegel and Forte
"The Lone Wolf Legionnaire" by Hamilton and Forte
"The Lad Who Wrecked the Legion" by Siegel and Jim Mooney
"The Bizarro-Legion" by Siegel and Mooney

...there's also a three-page "Powers of the Legion" sequence of panels each demonstrating the Legionnaire's individual powers. Drawn by Curt Swan, there's a great shot of Matter-Eater Lad knawing on a fence. You'd think that was the most interesting and/or bizarre one, but you'd be wrong:

Friday, August 10, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #56 - Jan. 1985

sgMore aliens! Man, does Supes look pissed on this cover(courtesy Pat Broderick)!

Stories include:
"The Island That Invaded The Earth!" by Len Wein, Curt Swan, and Murphy Anderson
"The Electronic Ghost of Metropolis" by Denny O'Neil, Swan, and Anderson
"The Menace Called 'It'!" by Leo Dorfman, Swan, and George Klein
"The Skyscraper That Screamed For Its Life" by Eliott S. Maggin, Swan, and Anderson
"Danger--Monster At Work!" by Wein, Swan, and Anderson
"Fury of the Energy-Eater" by Wein, Swan, and Anderson

This story features a particularly effective opening, when the bad guy in question(aka known as The Galactic Golem), walking a lonely road, comes across a "Metropolis: Home of Superman" billboard. In his rage, he smashes the sign to bits. He turns, and sees a little dog. He leans over the dog, gently pets its head, and walks off.

The entire two-page sequence is almost wordless, and its very moody and powerful. I'm not known for being a big Curt Swan fan, but this is one of the best Superman story openers I've ever read. If this were done nowadays, the bad guy would slaughter the dog, just so we get hit over the head of how evil he is.

Not a bad collection...hey, isn't Supes an alien?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #55 - Dec. 1984

sgThis is the final Funny Stuff collection, hold back your tears. Sorry, I shouldn't be so snarky--there should be more comics like this for little kids, and as I've said repeatedly, points to DC for trying.

Stories include:
Peter Porkchops in "Prehistoric Daze"
Bo Bunny in "See Ya Later, Alligator" and "Topsy-Turvy"
Stanely Scarecrow in "Timberrr!"
Peter Panda in "A Visit to Mirrorland"(sounds like a Flash story)
Three Mousketeers in "Upsa-Daisy", "Bugle Blues", "Rufus Rat", and "Fatsy's Dilemma"
Nutsy Squirrel in "For Goodness...Snakes", "Paint We Got Fun", and "One for the Books"
Fraidy Cat in "Give Him The Air"
Dizzy Dog in "Crazy---Like A Fox"
Dodo and Frog in "The Artist"
Doodles Duck in "Music! Music!", "A Toothy Problem", and "Revenge Is Sweet"(featuring the Doodles Duck Revenge-Squad)
Raccoon Kids in "Watermelon Woes"
Blabber Mouse in "Walkie-Talkie"

The front cover is by Chuck Fiala and the back by Jim Engel, who drew in The Monster(as in "Stanley and...") even though he doesn't appear in the book. Oh, well, thanks for the laughs, Funny Stuff!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #54 - Nov. 1984

sgAh, DC found a way to squeeze a few more Superman-themed collections in before Best of DC went belly up. It features a particularly brutal cover, too--Bizarro really looks like he's got Superman good, and with all the bad guys cheering it reminds me of that opening scene in Justice. The cover is Ed Hannigan and Klaus Janson, and it's partly due to Janson's rough edge that I think this cover has that feel. Ouch!

Stories include:
"Mxyzptlk Spelled Backward is T-R-O-U-B-L-E" by Martin Pasko, Curt Swan, and Frank Chiaramonte
"The Sixty Deaths of Solomon Grundy" by Steve Englehart and Murphy Anderson (guest-starring Swamp Thing, who when you come to think of it is a great sparring partner for Grundy!)
"Gorilla Grodd's Grandstand Play" by Eliott S. Maggin, Swan, and Anderson
"Target of the Toymen" by Cary Bates, Swan, and Anderson
"The Man With the Kryptonite Heart" by Pasko, Swan, and Tex Blaisdell
"Happy New Year...Rest in Peace" by Pasko, Swan, and Chiaramonte

...the Toyman story is notable because it includes an appearance by a Toyman that looks just like the one that appeared on Challenge of the Super-Friends, a version I thought only ever existed on the cartoon.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #53 - Oct. 1984

sgMore Binky!

A couple of comments on this nice cover by Stan Goldberg--first, the two girls in bikins are reminders that, while this material is meant for kids, this Archie-style produces some of the most beautiful Good Girl Art I've seen. I mean, wow.

Secondly--the girl walking into the water behind Binky. With her flailing arms, it sorta looks me to like she's a blind girl that isn't sure where she's heading. I can see tomorrow's Daily Planet headline: Senseless Tragedy Mars Youth Group's Day at Beach.

Luckily, nothing so dramatic happens in any of these stories, which include:
Binky in "Real Swinging Advice"(!), "Chivalry Anyone?", "The Exterminator" and "Nobody Nose"
Debbi in "Muffins Keep 'Em Moving", "Spots and Flowers", "Dress Dilemma", "Debbi Meets the Hawk", and "Speak Louder, Please"
Scooter in "Malibu the Matchmaker", "With This Cruise, You Blow A Fuse", and "No Place For A Hero"
Li'l Leroy in "Sleep Tight"
Mona in "Equal Rights"
Malibu in "Seace is Believing"
Sylvester in "It's Magic"


Monday, August 6, 2007

Digest Comics Interview with Nick Cuti - 2007


We interrupt our daily profiling of Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest to present our very first
interview at Digest Comics! I've been doing them for a while over at The Aquaman Shrine and Treasury, and getting to talk to people whose work I really admire is one of the greatest thrills of doing these blogs(if not my life).

As I began to talk about the later issues of Best of DC Digest, I realized that it would be really interesting to hear from the then-editor, writer/editor Nick Cuti. Since the digests were all reprints(most of the time), who better to get a behind the scenes glimpse on how they were put together than the editor?

I couldn't figure out how to contact Nick until I realized I could go through
our pal Joe Staton, who had done an interview with me for One email to Joe and about an hour later, I was in contact with Nick! Thankfully, Nick did not laugh at my suggestion at an interview or say something like "You want to talk about what?"

Digest Comics:
How did you end up as editor of the digests?

Nick Cuti:
I started my career at DC Comics as Joe Orlando's assistant. Joe was in charge of Special Projects, which ment merchandising. I helped to design a Supeman peanut butter tub, a Batman coloring book and a Wonder Woman school portfolio holder. It was fun, but I wanted to get into real comics and so I transferred over to Dick Giordano's division as assistant to Len Wein.

Although Len was great to work for, I wasn't doing any editing on my own. Dick was sympathetic and so he put me in charge of the digests. They weren't doing well, it seemed only Archie and Harvey had any success with digests, so Dick figured I would either turn them into money makers or run them into the ground. I loved the digests and had a ball working on them but I did run them into the ground.

All my decisions about the contents were made from the heart, what I would buy if I saw them on the shelf, but I was obviously out of touch with the fans.

DC: How were the contents decided? Was it decided from high up "do three Supermans, two Batmans..." etc.?

They had a schedule but between the "Superman" and "Batman" required series, I was given flexibility. For example I came up with the idea of publishing a "Kryptonite" issue which would reprint all of the stories about the different forms of Kryptonite and what effects they had on Superman. I even did a single page which listed the different Kryptonites and their effects, as a sort of reference book.

How much say did you have on what stories to reprint in an individual issue?

Dick and Len were very good about backing me up on my special issues but they were also very supportive about which stories I chose for the regular issues.

Publishing Funny Stuff and Sugar and Spike was definitely unusual by the 1980s. Was this an attempt to see if a younger audience was still there for this kind of material?

As I mentioned only Archie and Harvey seemed to have success with the digest sized comics so I thought I would look into the DC humor books and that's when I discovered Sugar and Spike. I thought they were terriffic. I called Shelly Mayer, their writer/artist/creator, and he did a new cover for each issue. I couldn't wait for them to pop up on the schedule so I could put together another issue and chat with Shelly. I loved his stories about the old days of comics. He was a very witty and likeable person, reminding me of my old friend, Joe Gill.

Were the more unusual digest-headliner choices (Super Jrs, Plop!) because people on DC were fans of the material?

NC: I have to take the blame for those as well. I was never a big super hero fan and so I was always trying to find a new direction for the digests. I believed superheroes should be in full sized comics where their action could be fully exploited and the off beat stuff could be in the digests. Mad put out pocket-sized versions of their early stories so I thought Plop! would be a natural.

When I ran accross a pamphlet with the Super Jrs. I figured they might work as a Christmas special. I was certain I was on the right track but sales figures don't lie and they kept dropping.

Speaking as a kid growing up reading a lot of reprint books, they frequently seemed just thrown together, with no editorial "voice". When you took over the digests, you started up regular editorials and even a letters page. What inspired you to try this? Did you receive the kind of feedback that you were looking for?

NC: I was seriously trying to turn the digests into a viable media and so I hoped for reader support but it never came. We received only a few letters and...oh, those sales figures.

DC did a lot of superhero, horror, war, and funny animal themed digests, but never really any sci-fi ones. As a big sci-fi fan, did you ever want to do an all-space-hero collection(Adam Strange, Space Ranger, Atomic Knights)?

I am a huge sci-fi fan, especially concerning Space Opera but even I wasn't naive enough to think that a sci-fi digest would succeed when all the other genres had flopped. That's why I eventually did my own space opera, Captain Cosmos, the Last STARveyer. It's not exactly successful but I put it out as an act of love for the genre.

I think I did approach Len and Dick about the possibility of sci-fi digest...once. Their laughter could be heard throughout the offices.

The Manga format, which is hugely popular now, is very similar in size and style to the digests. Any chance we'll ever seen an E-Man digest? Those stories are charming and timeless, perfect for a big collection!

Hey, flattery will get you anywhere. I never even considered such a thing but now that you mention it I think it's a fine idea. If you can find a publisher who agreees with you, I'm sure Joe and I would be happy to give it a try. Thanks for bringing it up, Rob!

I was thrilled to get to talk to Nick about the digests. I loved them as a kid, love them now(as if you couldn't tell), and Nick was extremely friendly and generous with his time, answering my geeky questions. Thanks Nick!