Sunday, March 27, 2011

Reviews: Vampire Tales Vol. 1; Marvel Masterworks- The Human Torch Vol. 1; Soundgarden- Live On I5

One could argue that we are currently living in the Golden Age of comic books. No, I am not saying that sales are anywhere near where they were in the halcyon days of the 1930s and 1940s, but in terms of the sheer depth and breadth of titles from all eras being readily available to all readers. Collections range from bargain priced crash courses into character history (i.e Essentials, Showcase Presents, Chronicles TPBs) to comprehensive high end collections (i.e. Masterworks, Archives, Omnibus editions, etc.) and all price points in between. Flip through a copy of Diamond Previews and see for yourself. On any given month, there are collections available from every decade (the 1930s- present day collections) in all shapes and sizes. Some are very affordable and go to the level of being...not as affordable. As a fan and reader foremost, I feel like I can stand at the crossroads and cherry pick comics from every decade and every genre, and bask in the warmth of the promise of future treasures from all eras being unearthed. When I was a collector starting out in the 1980s, it was current comic books and cheap-o '70s or lesser condition '60s comics. That was it. I couldn't even dream of affording, let alone reading, comic books from the '30s-50s. A fan starting out today could literally become an expert on the medium with far less investment. 
VAMPIRE TALES VOL. 1 (Marvel, 2010; softcover)
Collects Vampire Tales Nos. 1-3 (cover dates 1973- February, 1974)
File this one under "dreams come true". I have long wanted to see this series collected in ANY format. It was released in Marvel's new "Graphic Novel" format, which is a bit smaller and narrower than a standard comic book. It's not my preferred format, but it's better than nothing. The cover image is a poor choice, especially when you consider how impressive each issue's painted cover is. Any one of them would have helped to make this a more attractive package.
All of the original text pieces are included, and the covers are presented in full color. The original issues were black and white. There are some reprints of Atlas Era Horror material as back up features, and they are included here as they were in the original issues of Vampire Tales.
I had Issue 3 back in the '80s. Morbius the Living Vampire has been a favorite of mine since I first encountered him in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #38 back in 1978. My Mom bought me that one evening when we went grocery shopping at Farmer Jack. Morbius was originally the star feature of this title until Issue 3, when all of the focus seemed to shift to Satana, the Devil's Daughter. I love '70s Horror comics, with their faux-Satanic, Hollywood-tinged evil. It's so much more interesting than "real" evil or Satanic stuff, which is just stupid.
One of the things that I enjoy about these '70s Marvel Horror magazines are the way that they push the envelope. Freed of the Comics Code Authority, they can do pretty much whatever they want to. Drug references, violence, bloodshed...they're all here. I have a double standard: I love this stuff in comics, but not in mainstream Marvel Comics. When it comes to Spider-Man, Captain America, etc., I want things to be age appropriate. When it's Horror or non-Marvel stuff, then the sky's the limit as far as I am concerned. Again, it's a total double standard and I freely admit it, but I think that it boils down to the fact that Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, etc., are all marketed to children, whereas Morbius the Living Vampire is not.
I am still keeping my fingers crossed for a comprehensive Morbius Hardcover series down the road. I'd love to see a Masterwork or an Omnibus. Hey, a guy can dream, right? Just like I used to dream about seeing this series reprinted...

MARVEL MASTERWORKS: THE HUMAN TORCH VOL. 1 (Marvel, 2006; Hardcover)
Collects selections from Strange Tales Nos. 101-117 and Strange Tales Annual No. 2 (cover dates October, 1962- February, 1964).
I picked this up at the Motor City Comic Con last May for $15 in mint condition, still sealed in the original factory shrinkwrap. I mean, the cover states that it's by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It's got to be gold, right? Wrong! Stan Lee only plots and edits the bulk of these issues and turns over the scripting duties to brother Larry Lieber and other third stringers. Jack Kirby only does the occasional pencil layouts or inking, and Dick Ayers does most of the artwork. Ayers is my least favorite artist from this era of Marvel. His artwork leaves me cold. I forgot just how unlikable the Human Torch was back then. Come to think of it, I always considered him to the weak link of the Fantastic Four, being too hot headed and rash for my tastes.
The later issues in the book step up in quality when Stan and Jack handle the book themselves. Lots of fun stuff occurs, like the Torch fighting the Sandman, the Puppet Master, and  the Acrobat, who poses as Captain America in a story that came out before Marvel reintroduced Cap. After enjoying the last few issues in the book, I am on the fence about Volume 2.
This book was something of a shock to the system. I have become quite spoiled by the quality of Masterworks over the last few years, and forgot about some of the speed bumps that the line had along the way. This book is from the era where they got the coloring, linework, and paper down pat, but suffers from glued binding. Not just glued binding, but super tight mousetrap style binding. I'm serious, this is a two-fisted read. If you let go for one second, SNAP!, the book closes just like a mousetrap. Glued binding on hardcovers is the devil, and this was a trip back to the bad old days. 
Soundgarden/ Live On I5 (A&M, 2011)
I have fond memories of the Soundgarden concert I attended in November of 1996, and I jumped at the chance to buy a live album recorded a month after that show. The setlist is a bit different than the one that I saw, and the CD doesn't sound anywhere near as powerful as the concert did. That's the drawback of live albums. While they are important documents of a specific era of any given band, it can't replicate the sensory experience that is a live concert.
The sound quality and performances are both excellent, and I wish that they would have released this years ago. Oh well, better late than never.

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