martedì 12 novembre 2013


An homage to the great Carmine Infantino by modern DC artist Francis Manapul.
I like Manapul and his work on the Flash, and I particularly enjoyed the "Gorilla Warfare" run. It had such a vintage taste!
Below a little Superman sketch that Manapul made for me at the Narnia Comics Convention (in Narni, Central Italy)

sabato 9 novembre 2013


Recently I stumbled upon a list of the 75 best stories of Superman. 
Now, this is MINE favorite Superman list. My all-favorite top 20 Man of Steel stories. Do you agree? Do you disagree?

20.SUPERMAN #140 "The Son of Bizarro" by Otto Binder (text), Wayne Boring (pencils), Stan Kaye (inks)
Best and most funny Bizarro tale ever! Also featuring a Bizarro Supergirl, an hilarious glimpse on Bizarro World and much other!

19.ACTION COMICS #1 by Jerry Siegel (text) and Joe Shuster (drawings)

Not only because it all started here. ACTION COMICS #1 is ACTUALLY a good read, rich in perception of human feelings, a tipycal feature of Siegel's writing. Tell the truth, didn't you identify yourselves in the poor Clark dumped by cruel least one time in your life?

18.SUPERMAN #53 "The Origin of Superman" by Bill Finger (text) Wayne Boring (pencils) Stan Kaye (inks)
The canonical tale about Supes' origins. 

17.SUPERMAN ANNUAL #11 by Alan Moore (text) and Dave Gibbons (art)
I know, I know, it would  have been better if I had put this story in the top 5. It's clearly a masterpiece. But its dark, almost decadent, tone it's not what I exactly expect from a Superman story (okay, in the New 52 DCU dark tones are predominating, influencing also the other media, see the problematic Superman of "Man of Steel" movie, but this doesn't mean I must like them!).
Anyway, an highly recommended story.

16.SUPERMAN ELSEWORLDS: "Red Son" by Mark Millar (text) Dave Johnson, Kilian Punkett (pencils) Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong (inks)
The best Superman imaginary tale (they call them "Elseworlds" today) of our times! What if Kal-El's rocket ship had landed in the URSS and NOT in Kansas? What if Superman had grown up as a staunch Communist??? A great, funny, and well-written tale to be read and re-read again.

15.SUPERMAN #126: "The Luthor & Brainiac Team" by Ed Hamilton (text), Curt Swan (pencils), Stan Kaye (inks)
The first team-up between Superman's ach-enemies. The outcome of the battle is debated: Superman escapes destruction but Luthor & Brainiac escape free. The last panel with Superman thanking the citizens of Kandor for their sacrifice is a favorite.

14.SUPERMAN #147: "The legion of Super-Villains" by Jerry Siegel (text), Curt Swan (pencils) Sheldon Moldoff (inks) 
I love Lighting Lord. Period. 
This is a great tale featuring Superman, Lex Luthor, the Legion of Super-Villains and the Legion of Super-Heroes!!! What do you want more? 

13.ACTION COMICS #18 (vol.2): "Superman against the Demon of Dimension 5th" by Grant Morrison (text) and Rag Morales (art)

Masterpiece. Almost each panel has a Silver Age connection. A great tribute to the eternity of Superman's mythos.

12.SUPERMAN #164: "The Showdown between Luthor and Superman" by Ed Hamilton (text), Curt Swan (pencils) and George Klein (inks)
Superman and Luthor are fighting each other au pair. Stripped from his superpowers on a Red Sun planet Superman finds himself in deep shit, while Luthor uses his genius to make himself loved by the primitive inhabitants of the planet.
I think Hamilton offers a great clue here: maybe the evilness of Luthor is a result of Kal-El's super-presence on Earth?
I hope to see the planet Lexor, first appearing in this tale, in modern Superman issues too.

11.DC ONE MILLION SERIES by Grant Morrison (text) Val Semeiks (pencils) and Prentis Rollins (inks)

Another great Morrison's tribute to Superman, his world and his never-ending appeal.

10.SUPREME #52A "The Return of Darius Dax" by Alan Moore (text), J.Morrigan and Norm Rapmund (art)
Whaaaaat? A non-Superman story in the top ten of a Superman's best titles list?
Wake up! THIS IS a Superman story. One of the best Superman sagas ever told, indeed. And it is also a DECLARATION OF WAR. A declaration of war against the "Marvelization" of Superman, against Byrne's masked "great power with great responsibilities" cliché, against the "realism" in Superman's stories. 
And it is also an ACT OF LOVE toward Superman, his world, his crazy fantastic approach to reality and a proof that Superman CAN BE WRITTEN today, too. The Silver Age had provided a whole universe to draw new ideas from; an universe than is far more funny than reality :)

9.ACTION COMICS #775 "What's so funny about Truth, Justice, and the American Way?" by Joe Kelly (text), Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo (art) 
It's more about philosophy than action or adventure. It's the tale of Superman against the Elite, a super group symbolizing all the violent, pitiless and inhuman super-leagues of modern times (the Authority etc...). 
Don't worry, Kal-El gives them a good old fashioned whoop-ass!

8.SUPERMAN #162 "The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue" by Leo Dorfman (text), Curt Swan (pencils), George Klein (inks)

Unforgettable and super-funny.
Plus, Superman (well, at least one of the two! :)) marries Lana and I'm a big Lana fan.

7.ACTION COMICS AND ACTION COMICS ANNUAL: "Superman: Last Son" by Geoff Johns & Richard Donner (text) and Adam Kubert (drawings) 
Superman against general Zod....again! But this time Kal teams up with Luthor, and there is a son to deal with. Masterpiece.

6.SUPERMAN #137: "The two faces of Superman" by Jerry Siegel (text), Curt Swan (pencils) and John Forte (inks)
See the review below.

5.SUPERMAN #149 "The Death of Superman" by Jerry Siegel (text), Curt Swan (pencils) and Sheldon Moldoff (inks)
Best imaginary tale. And it crushes the '90s story-arc about the Death of Superman.

4.SUPERMAN #156: "The Last Days of Superman" by Ed Hamilton (text), Curt Swan (pencils), Stan Kaye (inks)
Not a hoax! Not a dream! But real!

3.ALL STAR SUMPERMAN by Grant Morrison (text) and Frank Quitely (art)
A moving, entertaining, inspiring textbook example of how Silver Age Superman never dies. And he's still the best. 

2.SUPERMAN'S RETURN TO KRYPTON by Jerry Siegel (text) and Curt Swan (art)

When I bought this volume, I read Curt Swan's version of the classic "Superman's return to Krypton" first appearing in Superman #141. The daily strips version is much better, primarily because Swan depicted Superman's feelings with much more efficiency and pathos than Boring. 
The story is terrific. The relation between Kal and Lyla Lerrol is so intense! And for the first time, Superman feels himself loved not as a "Super" but as a "Man"

1.SUPERMAN #423 AND ACTION COMICS #583: "Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow" by Alan Moore (text), Curt Swan (pencils), Pérez and Schaffenberg (inks)
The definiteve LAST Story of Silver Age's Superman. A great Alan Moore masterpiece.

Maybe somebody would be surprised by the absence of Byrne's "Man of Steel", or Loeb's "Superman for all seasons", and other celebrated stories.
Well, you've guessed it, I'm a fan of Silver Age Superman and I strongly believe with Moore and Morrison, than Superman belongs to the realm of fantasy and dreams, and that Silver Age-like tales can be still narrated today. "All Star Superman", and other titles offer a good proof of that. 
What I don't like of Byrne and post-Crisis Superman in general is the attempt to put Superman in a context as much realistic as possible. This killed a lot of features of Superman's world (Supergirl, LITERALLY killed, then resurrected, the bottle city of Kandor, the most bizarre superpowers etc...) and in doing so greatly restrained the character's possibilities.
This is all, folks!

mercoledì 6 novembre 2013

It's a bird! It's a plane! F**k it! IT'S ULTRAMAN!!!!

Why is ULTRAMAN my favorite DC villain?
Well, basically for two reasons:
1) This Cover:
I lo-o-o-o-o-ove this one. I love this issue, featuring for the first time ULTRAMAN and the Crime Syndicate. And I love the sweet worried Black Canary of the cover.

2) Because Grant Morrison used ULTRAMAN in his JLA: EARTH 2 to reaffirm the superiority of Silver Age mythos over the boring, dull, "realism" of post-Crisis DC. 
Long live ULTRAMAN!

FIGHTING FOR AMERICA! (Il Comandante Mark)

Let's go back in the '50s. Amongst the most famous and praised Italian comic book authors of the period we find the "ESSEGESSE" team. ESSEGESSE actually stands for S.G.S., which were the initials of the authors' names: Sinchetto Giovanni, Guzzon Dario and Sartoris Pietro. They were behind the creation and/or publication of some of the most interesting titles of the time; let's name only a few: KINOWA, text of Andrea Lavezzolo, drawings of the ESSEGESSE team, was one of the most mature readings in the Italian comics world of the '50s; created in the 1950, the character was a masked vigilante whose adventures were set in the Old American West. The character's personal story was a little disturbing for the time: Kinowa as a young boy saw his parents killed and himself scalped by a group of hostile American Indians, and since then he sought revenge against anyone related with the killers of his parents!
CAPITAN MIKI was a considerably less dark and violent character: the ESSEGESSE created him in 1951 and they were both writers and artists of Captain Miki's adventures. The series narrates the adventures of a young Nevada Ranger, the first of a long series of teenage heroes in the Italian comics (Un Ragazzo nel Far West, Il Piccolo Ranger, Kit Willer son of Tex Willer, to name only a few).
The other ESSEGESSE's creature also enjoyed an immense popularity amongst the young readers of the '50s: IL GRANDE BLEK, a.k.a. as BLEK MACIGNO, created in 1954. The series somewhat distanced itself from the all-present Old Western settings of the other comic books of the period; the trapper Blek, the hero of the series, and his friends lived their adventures during the American Revolution, fighting against the evil Redcoats for America's freedom. The popularity of the weekly strips of IL GANDE BLEK was great, and the sales increased considerably week after week.
This success probably impressed Sergio Bonelli, the owner of the Sergio Bonelli Editore colossus (the main publisher of comic books in Italy) so much that years later, in 1966, he asked the ESSEGESSE to repeat Blek's formula in another similar monthly series. This was the origin of IL COMANDANTE MARK (Commander Mark). Mark was the chief of an irregular American militia called LUPI DELL'ONTARIO (Ontario's Wolves) fighting the hated Redcoat during the American revolution. From their headquarters at Fort Ontarrio, our heroes launch themselves in dangerous and daring missions, issue after issue. Mark's friends and sidekicks were Mister Bluff, a former pirate and adventurer, Gufo Triste (Sad Owl) an emaciated Indian with a very pessimistic nature, Flok, Mister Bluff's dog, and Betty, Mark's eternal girlfriend.

The cover of the first issue already introduced the three main heroes of the series. Clearly Mark was the dominating figure, sword in the hand, smiling, gallopping free and confident toward the next battle. Behind him, Mister Bluff and Gufo Triste are trying to follow him but clearly they aren't worth their chief. This will be a permanent pattern in the series: the two sidekick will be useful to Mark, but basically their main role is to offer some comic relief during the dramatic expolits and adventure of th Commander.
Mark was present in every cover of the series, mainly in heroical attitudes
The world of IL COMANDANTE MARK was a world where one could immediately recognize the good from the evil.
The Redcoats, for example, were almost invariably depicted as a drunken, stupid and violent mob; their evilness was reflected by their generally ugly appearance, which was in striking contrast with the nice look of Mark.
Mark's girlfriend, Betty, is depicted as a very jealous character. And apparently, her jealousy is justified, since Mark is not indifferent to other women's beauty. This often caused trouble in their relation
The stories have a generally simple plot, but are fresh, funny and highly redeable. Mark and his "wolves" are irregulars and their missions are usually the most dangerous and risky, and more than often they must infiltrate amongst the British ranks. Most of the stories indeed are about Mark fighting (and defeating) the Brits, but sometimes there are some nice variations on the main theme: in an unusually long saga (3 issues), for example, Mark goes to Africa to rescue a kidnapped Betty in a mistery journey involving Living Mummies, Holy Monkeys and Forgotten Civilizations. In another adventure, Mark finds two immortal men fighting each other. These are only but a few examples.
The series enjoyed a great success lasting 281 numbers and ending his publications in Jan.1990 (even if some special issues were published again afterwards). From 1966 to 1990, the series was able to collect a loyal readership, thanks to its main hero, to his funny sidekicks, to the simple but entertaining plots. It's incredible how a narrative formula basically born in the middle '50s was able to withstand through the '70s and '80s in competition with more elaborate and adult comics. This is probably the best proof of ESSEGESSE's skill as story-tellers. Throguh 281 numbers, Mark was the scourge of every Redcoat of every Redcoat serving on American soil: his naive adventures amongst immense forests, great rivers, hostile or friendly Indian tribes, greatly charmed the imaginary of the readers.
Then came 1990. One of the ESSEGESSE authors died, and the other two were old. A veteran of Italian popular comics, the female artist Lina Buffolente, was called to help finishing the last stories. But the times of the daring exploits of Mark and his militia were gone. The success of more modern, more mature comics such as Dylan Dog made cruelly evident the vintage candour of Mark's adventures.
Suddenly the decision was taken of ceasing the publication of IL COMANDANTE MARK. A "last story" was written in all haste, combining an old ESSEGESSE unpublished plot with brand new pages by author Mauro Boselli which saw the "Last Victory" of the Americans over the Brits (this was the title of the story: L'ULTIMA VITTORIA, i.e., the Last Victory) and FINALLY the marriage between Mark and Betty.
So the Great Epic ended. Mark lay down the sword and became a perfect husband, his daring exploits living probably only in his memoirs. But certainly the readers didn't forgot him. Immediately after the end of the publications, a complete reprint of Mark's adventures appeared in the newstands, celebrating him as one of the more present heroes in Italian comic books collections.

martedì 5 novembre 2013

DIFFERENT PATHS (Superman #137)

It's probably inevitable that the first review of the blog is a Superman review.
I can't really say why I prefer Superman over all other superheroes published by DC and Marvel. I started reading Superman out of curiosity: since in Italy the popularity of Big Blue's comics is really low in comparison to that of Marvel or Batman titles, many years ago (I was 15 or something) I bought a Superman issue to try to understand why he was so underrated. And, yes, also to pose myself as "the expert of unusual comics" in my school :) The first issue I found was an o-o-o-o-o-o-ld Mondadori book which published the story THE LAST DAYS OF SUPERMAN ("Not a hoax! not a dream! But real!"), i.e. number 156 of the American original edition. I was lucky, since the story is one of the best Superman tales of the Silver Age and as a consequence I fell in love with the character.
I still buy literally all the Superman titles published by DC Comics today, but the Silver Age version of the Man of Steel is my favorite. Often dismissed as "childish tales", the Superman tales of the Weisinger era sported an extraordinary perception of human feelings and motives. In my opinion a great sensibility lay behind the typical Silver Age mask of alien invasions from outer space, or bizarre transformations of human bodies.
Superman #137 is a text-book example of my point.
This is the American cover
As a premise, I must say that I DID NOT POSSESS Superman #137.
I have the SUPERALBO NEMBO KID # 5. Nembo Kid was the name Superman was know with in Italy back in the 60's. The origin of the name is debated, but still remains a mistery. As a consequence of the change of name, the "S" on Superman's chest was erased ON EVERY PANEL of EVERY Superman Italian publication, leaving him with just a bizarre empty yellow shield on the chest. Generally speaking, the Italian editions were less colorful than the American originals. I mean, LITERALLY less colorful: only two pages each four were in full colors, the others were in b/w. The balloons on the covers also were cancelled. Below it was the cover of the Italian edition
The story is divided in 3 parts, and the original titles are: THE SUPER-BRAT FROM KRYPTON; THE YOUNG SUPER-BULLY; SUPERMAN VS.SUPER-MENACE. It's interesting to see how the name Super-Brat is a clear opposite of Superbaby, Super-Bully of Superboy, and Supermenace of Superman.
The authors of the story are: JERRY SIEGEL (text), CURT SWAN (pencils), JOHN FORTE (inks).
About Jerry Siegel, we'll just say that during the Silver Age he changed considerably his writing, adapting it to the new "Weisinger Superman" who is very different from his Golden Age counterpart. Siegel's texts are now more fantastic, less realistic and socially involved than his previous Superman tales of the 40's. The enemies in Siegel's Silver Age stories are worlds-destroying aliens, creatures of pure energy, bizarre animals, and so on, and no more the gangsters or the violent husbands of his beginnings.
This change did not affect the ability of Siegel. His texts are still fresh, funny, with a peculiar ability in reproducing human emotions.
Curt Swan just is the best artist ever seen on Superman comic books. Okay, there may have been BETTER, more sophisticated pencillers in modern times, but nobody had ever reached the ability of Swan in creating a Superman who is so.....Superman: strong but human, almost dreaming; smiling but also slightly gloomy. Swan is one of the best comic books artist I ever saw.
The inks of John  Forte are pretty good as well.
The story opens with a clearly deceptive couple observing a masked super-brat evading by a fake toy-prison.

Who is he? Is he Superbaby turned evil? Why is he masked?
Suddenly we step back in time, at the begin of the Superman mythos: the explosion of Krypton. We see Lara and Jor-El, Superman's parents, launching the rocket ship with the little Kal-El inside, just seconds before the total destruction of the doomed planet.
This is a scene that had been repeated millions of times in previous Superman titles. But now we learn a new detail about Kal-El's trip to Earth: his rocket ship clashed against a mysterious big spaceship from God-knows-what solar system; the incident left Kal's rocket ship undamaged, but from the big spaceship a strange laser is fired, the effect of which is to DUPLICATE the rocket ship with Superbaby inside.

The shocking consequence is that now there are TWO SUPERBABIES heading toward Earth.
This is an untold story in Superman's past and the attention of the reader is immediately captured.
Both rocket ships landed on Earth in the vicinity of Smallville. The fate of the "right" Kal-El is not told: after all, everybody knows that he is found and adopted by a lovely couple, the Kents. The story focuses on the fate of the "duplicate" of Kal-El. He is less lucky. He's found by a couple of criminals, "Wolf" Derek and his wife Bonnie.

The difference between the fate of Kal-El and that of Super-Brat (this will be the name of the duplicate baby) are striking. Kal is found by a couple who donate him all the love possible; they protect him, they teach him the meaning of justice, and the value of doing good to others. Super-Brat is found by a couple full of fear and hate: they greeted him by shooting him and calling him freak.
The paths of Kal-El and Super-Brat are already diverging. I think that we have a great lesson here, a typical Silver Age lesson, I'd say: the importance of education and parental love on a man's life. We'll come back on this later.
Wolf Derek decides to adopt the child anyway: faking a non-existing love for him, Derek trains the child to become a supercriminal. Derek's goal is to use his super-son to eliminate Superman and become himself the King of Gangsters.
The first contact between Super-Bully (teen version of the duplicate baby) and Superboy (teen versions of Superman) happens in the second part of the tale
In his teen years Super-Bully is already a dangerous criminal: he causes natural disasters (which are promptly limited by Superboy), he helps scoundrels, frustrates the police....
The result of Derek's education is clear, now.
The relation between father and son is complicated. Super-Bully clearly loves his father and admires him. But Derek's love his only a trick. Inside him, he hates and fears Super-Bully.
The story continues. Strangely enough, for a perfect duplicate of Superman, Super.Bully is invulnerable to Kryptonite. This discovery makes Derek happy, because it's clear that his boy is stronger than Kal-El.
For Super-Bully, this is an hollow moral victory. He is tormented by the jealousy toward Clark kent/Superboy, whose secret identity he knows. Clark has a couple of loving parents, has friends, has everything.
The image of Super-Bully secretly spying the happy life of Clark Kent is one of the saddest things I ever read in Superman comics. His education in hate and in the culture of brute force prevented Super-Bully from experiencing real teenage happiness.
It's not a surprise that he nurtures a deep hatred from Superman until his adult age, when his change in Supermenace (Criminal Kid, in the Italian version). It's showdown time between him and Superman
There is something similar between Supermenace and Bizarro. Both are Superman duplicates, but there is a great difference. Bizarro's mind is twisted for the beginning; he is a pathetic and imperfect creature that doesn't understand the world of normal peoples and, as a consequence, creates a world at his own image. For Supermenace, the path of evil has not been an entirely conscious choice, but the fruit of a depraved education; had he been educated by the Kents, probably the duplicate wouldn't be that different from Kal-El.
Enough philosophy, it's destruction time! During a gangster meeting, Derek communicates to his fellow criminals, the intention of using Supermenace to destroy Superman. Supermeance is happy, finally his dream of a mortal duel with Superman is coming true! But before he flies away to face Superman, Supermenace with his X-Ray vision and super-hearing, grabs his father's voice talking with the other criminals and boasting that he had just faked love for Supermenace during all those years, with the only purpose of using him as a weapon against Superman.
The world of Supermeance collpases at this new. He realizes that his entire life has been an empty lie. As a consequence, his hatred toward the heroical Superman increases. Superman had had everything in his life, while he, Supermenace, had just been a toy in the hand of a stupid gangster. It's significant that the focus of Supermenace's jealousy is the love of the Kents for Kal.

The big fight between the two super-creatures begins. The world itself seems collapsing on the wake of their fury. The Leaning Tower of Pisa crumbles down, a rare homage to my country in DC Comics (although the Tower of Pisa itself, as far as I remember, appears a time again in a Superboy story and also in a Supergirl tale)
At the end of the duel, Supermeance defeats Superman. Being invulnerable to Kryptonite radiations, Supermenace use them to bring the Man of Steel down. Before the defeat, Superman discovers and reveals to Supermenace that he is not a true man, he doesn't have veins, or muscles, he is just pure energy in human form; the duplicating ray of the big spaceship at the start of the story just created a likeness of Superman, with similar powers, but formed only with energy and not entirely human.
This new humiliation further enrages Supermenace.
But just when the Man of Steel is passing away, the unthinkable happens. Supermenace thinks back of his life, and discovers that the true responsible of his wasted youth is Wolf. The criminal had educated him to hate, fear, jealousy, violence, and this only to follow his dirty plans. Supermenace realizes that Superman is innocent, and at the last moment, saved his life.
Another great morale behind this story. The education of our parents is important, of course, and the story of Supermeance shows it: but in the end, the choice of what men we want to be is on us, and on us only. The rebellion of Supermenace to his "father" shows that a change, a conversion, is always possible, even in the most twisted and ruined minds.
The end of the story is tragic. Supermenace goes back to face his "parents". Again, it's showed the depravity of the couple, and the natural fate of every life based on hate and evil: facing Supermenace and fearing his fury, Derek and his wife Bonnie at first quarrel each other, and then start insulting Supermenace. They try to make him feel guilty of his "different" status.
Supermenace without any further reason of life, ends his tragic existence by coming back to his natural status of pure energy and in doing so purposely killing Derek and his wife. Superman watches powerless at the scene, feeling sorrow for the ultimate fate of the tragic creature.

lunedì 4 novembre 2013


Dear reader,
This is just another blog of a compulsive scribbler who is trying to appease his boundless ego by writing about comic books published in various countries a lot of years ago. Is there anything worst than that? You have all the rights to skip this blog and spend the day in better occupations. But if you, like me, love the good old comics of the past, you might enjoy reading a couple of reviews and comment a few issues with me. As you already guessed, English is not my first language: actually I'm writing from Southern Europe (well, what's left of it). However, I decided to write the reviews in my broken English for a number of reasons, but we will talk of this later. My favorite comics are: DC comics of the Silver Age; South American historietas, particularly the great Argentine school; Italian comic books of the 60's and 70's. I hope you will find this trip into the unforgettable "world of paper" interesting and amusing. 
Welcome aboard, pal!