Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review- MARVEL MASTERWORKS: ATLAS ERA STRANGE TALES VOL. 5

MARVEL MASTERWORKS: ATLAS ERA STRANGE TALES VOL. 5 (Marvel, 2011; Hardcover)
Collects Strange Tales Nos. 40-48 (cover dates November, 1955- July, 1956)
Writers: Carl Wessler, Paul S. Newman, and other unidentified writers.
Artists: Bill Benulis, Bill Everett, John Forte, Paul Reinman, Fred Kida, Robert Q. Sale, Dick Ayers, Joe Orlando, Joe Maneely, Bernie Krigstein, Doug Wildey, Bob Powell, Tony DiPreta, Bob Brown, Larry Woromay, Bob Forgione, Ed Winiarski, Joe Sinnott, Bernard Baily, John Severin, Steve Ditko, Bob McCarty, Vic Carrabotta, Jim McLaughlin, Jack Abel, Manny Stallman, Bill Walton, Mort Meskin, and covers by Russ Heath, Carl Burgos, and Sol Brodsky.
Wow! There is a marked improvement across the board from the previous volume. The writers have figured out how to write clever stories within the confines of the Comic Code Authority, and the editors brought in a higher caliber of artists. Bill Everett and Steve Ditko absolutely shine here, especially in glorious “high definition”. While there is only one Ditko penciled story in this book, we get three Bill Everett stories along with a cover. Everett is truly one of the greats, as demonstrated by the page below. 
Issue 42's The Faceless One! is another Everett penciled work of art. Carl Wessler's script is extremely clever if familiar and predictable here in 2013. Everett is a genius, and I am really looking forward to reading my copy of the Bill Everett Archives Vol. 1 someday.
More brilliance from Bill Everett. No photoshop artwork back then, kids.
John Forte is another exceptional artist who isn't given much recognition these days. This statement is true of many of these artists. Just replace John Forte with the name of any of these forgotten greats. It is also worth noting that these cats toiled in anonymity and near poverty to create this stuff. Art for the sake of art, and if you could eat and pay the rent, all the better. 
The whole UFOs as a metaphor for the fear of Communist infiltration during Cold War-era America is a recurring theme throughout the book. Many of the values held near and dear to the denizens of mid-20th century America are comical to read in the here and now. The Vanishing Brain! is a prime example of this. In it, Professor Hayden is a smug intellectual elitist who frowns upon jocks and those who are physically active, just like the sissies who dominate the world today. He ends up walking through a break in the time flow and wound up in the Paleolithic Age, where he gets captured by Neanderthals and turned into a slave. This physical labor makes him become a musclebound, virile specimen. Once he makes a break for it and returns to our century, he finds that the girl he loves has found a “puny specimen like that” and “doesn't deserve the love of a real man”...while having his arm around his former rival for her affections. I hope that Phil and Hank wound up being happy together. 
The genius of Steve Ditko.
Issue 48's I've Got To Hide! is brilliant. At only 4 pages long it crams in tons of story, and it seems to get ready to go nuts and then is reeled in in the last two panels. If you removed them and continued the story in a different direction this could be one sick tale. 
Look kids, it's the future! This guy has a phone WITHOUT a cord that he can carry with him. Wow!
Some of these stories are corny, others dated, and all are lovable relics of their era. This stuff bleeds charm and is worth owning for historical value. Collecting the original issues would be expensive and time consuming.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.25 out of 5.

The OCD zone- I heart the Marvel Masterworks line of hardcovers.
Linework restoration rating: 5 out of 5. Consider these the Masterworks the BluRays of comic books, painstakingly restored in “high definition”.
Color restoration rating: 5 out of 5. Dots or solids? Color values? These are questions better posed as a philosophical argument rather than a technical one, since it boils down to preference. I love it all as long as it is faithful to the original color palette. Are the colors on the screen when you watch BluRays of a '60s TV series garish when compared to the original television broadcast, or is the more modern format merely taking advantage of what was originally there that you couldn't see given the technology restraints of the day? Discuss.
Paper rating: 5 out of 5. Super thick, smooth coated stock. The paper has a slight sheen which I like a lot.
Binding rating: 5 out of 5. Whew! The stiffer binding found in Volume 4 was nothing more than a hiccup. This has the same superb sewn binding that I have come to know and love, laying perfectly flat from the first page to the last.

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