Category Archives: Features

The True Origin of Black Lightning

As those with an interest in comics history (and specifically when it comes to the super-hero genre) know, Black Lightning is an African-American super-hero created by writer Tony Isabella with artist Trevor Von Eeden for his own short-lived title under the DC Comics banner back in 1977. While it was one of many casualties of the DC Implosion, which saw the cancellation of a slew of titles, the character has lived on through the decades, both under Isabella’s guidance (sporadically, due to conflicts with the publisher over the years) and in stories penned by other writers.

Recently, the character’s profile in the broader pop-culture consciousness has seen a huge bump with the success of the first season of the Black Lightning television series on the CW.

But when perusing a back issue of another DC title recently, I discovered Black Lightning debuted long before 1977. In fact, the name showed up in a DC comic three years before Isabella was even born.

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Discovering Treasures of Bronze

Used-book stores and flea markets were key for this small-town kid who loved comics and didn’t have access to a comic-book store until his high-school years. But even with a great local shop these days and the availability of just about anything a comic collector could want online, I still like to hit a flea market from time to time in search of treasures.

The problem I’ve encountered, though, is that many vendors at these markets and even at used-book stores are turning to price guides — both printed and online ones — to guide them in pricing comics. Often, they don’t know how to grade or interpret those guides — I saw one flea-market vendor offering a copy of Freedom Fighters #1 that looked as though it had been run through the wash for $10; it wasn’t worth a quarter, though I would’ve paid 50 cents to read that bit of comics history from 1976. Other vendors don’t completely understand the marketplace, such as those who feel Superman #75 from late 1992, featuring the “death” of the Man of Steel, should be worth big bucks, but they don’t understand just how many copies of the first printing are out there and how many other ways there are to read that story.

But once in a while, you happen upon a vendor at a flea market who knows what a flea market is about: haggling and clearing out stuff he or she doesn’t want lying around anymore. And this weekend, at the weekly Sunday flea market in a school gym, I happened upon just such a vendor. In addition to many non-comics related flea-market fare, he had a small stack of Bronze Age comics, all bagged and boarded, most with sticker prices ranging from $14 up to $40. Definitely pricier than what I was looking for, but the array of these 1970s and 1980s books were just so appealing.

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Justice Replayed Is Justice Replied

I’m looking forward to DC’s No Justice “event,” a series of four one-shots that will bridge the current Justice League series and a relaunched title, to be written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Jim Cheung. The No Justice one-shots will run weekly in May, and I’m always interested in weekly stories, and I’m a fan of several of the creators involved in them (such as Snyder and artists Francis Manapul and Marcos To).

Based on the promotional artwork, it appears the main Justice League team is fractured, and key members have formed their own squads. Included in those lineups are some unlikely members, including several Teen Titans and, oddly enough, some villains. Sure, No Justice isn’t shaping up to be particularly cerebral, but the unexpected array of characters do promise a lot of super-hero genre fun.

However, when I first heard of these No Justice comics, the weekly schedule and the promise of a fractured Justice League forming new teams, I was immediately struck by the fact that DC has travelled down a similar road in the past. Justice Leagues was one of DC’s “fifth-week events,” something it would do to fill out its publishing lineup in months that had five Wednesdays, or five days in which new comics shipped to direct-market comic-book stores. That story, published in 2001, also featured a divided League forming alternate versions of the title team.

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Hiding in Plain Sight

I was reading the sixth issue of writer/artist Sean Murphy’s superb Batman: White Knight when something on the cover caught my eye. I hadn’t noticed it before on the covers of any of the previous issues I’d read. I checked into it, and I realized the reason: I picked up the regular cover editions of the all previous five issues, but for #6, the variant cover (also by Murphy) had been tucked into my pull slot at my local comic shop.

I looked online at the other variant cover editions for the previous issues, and I spotted the same thing. A subtle little trick: the variants boasted a different masthead, specifically, the part reading “Batman.” And there’s something hidden in Batman’s name in those sans serif logos: Batman himself.

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Frankly, You’ve Made a Mistake, Ms. Jones…

Like many devotees of great comics and great TV, I sat down today to begin viewing Season 2 of Jessica Jones on Netflix. The first season was my favorite Netflix show to date (thanks in no small part to my love and appreciation for Alias, the Brian Michael Bendis/Michael Gaydos comic series upon which it was based).

I loved the first episode and how the writers took the Golden Age concept of speedster hero the Whizzer and adapted him for Jessica’s gritty, oddball world.

I always watch all of the end credits for each episode, in part to see what actors played certain roles, but also to see the customary note of appreciation for the comics writers and artists whose past work was adapted in some way for the show as well.

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That’s Some Damn Fine Parenting

My seven-year-old son was home sick from school the other day with a sore throat and after a cough-filled and sleep-deprived night. Since I was home anyway convalescing from my recent shoulder-replacement surgery, I found myself oxymoronically in the roles of patient and caregiver.

The boy was enjoying some of his screen time during the day, so I decided I deserved some as well. I’ve been picking away at Marvel’s The Punisher on Netflix lately, so I decided to delve into another episode on my computer (with my headphones on so my son wasn’t hearing the cursing and violence, since we were in the same room).

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Artful Obsessions: Panther’s Page

With the Black Panther movie approaching the $1-billion gross revenue mark, it’s clear the enthusiasm and appreciation for this movie — and more importantly, what it represents — is likely without end. It’s sets an intimidatingly high bar for the inevitable sequel, but given the intelligence of the story and characters in the first, it’s something Marvel Studios and the creatives who crafted the film can achieve.

The Panther pandemic means the property has remained at the forefront of my mind as of late. Previously, I revisited my review of the first issue of the Priest-helmed Black Panther series from 1998. Now, I’m turning my attention once again to the only Panther-related piece in my collection of original comic art.

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Letter Bugs – A Blast From My Past

Once in a blue moon, I run a feature here on the site spotlighting letters penned by comics industry professionals back when they were fans. Generally, I do this when I happen upon such a piece in an old comics letter column in a back issue I’m reading. However, lots of people have been logging such letters in the digital age, and it’s much easier to find these messages from people of creative of influence in the medium.

So, the other day I was Googling my own name (as just about all of us are wont to do from time to time), and I happened upon something from my past of which I had no memory. Thanks to the Grand Comics Database, I discovered that I had a letter printed in a Superman comic published in late 1988 (though I’m not suggesting I’m of any influence in the industry).

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The Art of the Steal

The ever-vigilant Terry Beatty, professional comic artist and comic art collector, posted links to “original” art listings on eBay through his Facebook profile over the weekend, calling into question their authenticity. Beatty has an excellent eye and track record for this sort of thing, and as a collector of comic art myself, I’ve always been interested in the field and instances of fraud.

I clicked on one of the eBay links Beatty posted and then on the list of all items this particular seller — collections_of_art — was offering through the auction site. I was immediately drawn to what was reportedly a sketch by the late, great Superman artist Curt Swan, listed for $999 US. It’s been more than three decades since I saw the original version of that so-called sketch, but I immediately recognized it as a figure from cover art from the classic “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” story by Alan Moore and Swan.

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Spidey on Trump’s Threads

It doesn’t matter where you are, what you’re doing or with whom you’re speaking — it’s next to impossible to avoid references to Donald Trump these days. From social media to social situations, from televised fiction to telephone conversations, Trump is everywhere. Of course, comics — and especially the super-hero genre — have always served as an escape for the masses.

An even safer bet for refuge in comics are back issues. I’ve been poring over dozens of older comics — dating back a couple of years to a couple of decades — as of late, finding some charming storytelling, some impressive work and some clunkers as well. I’ve been making my way through a stack of old Spectacular Spider-Man issues the last couple of days, enjoying the artistry of Sal Buscema.

And then I hit Page 6 of Spectacular Spider-Man #171, published in late 1990, and I was jolted from my escapist reverie.

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Justice

With an adult comics enthusiast (me, for the record) and a seven-year-old in the house, comics and their representations in other media often factor into the holidays in our homestead. This year was no exception, with Santa dropping off a super-hero video game for the boy, among other items.

My wife — aware our son has been learning how to play chess at his after-school program and that my father, brothers and I often played chess during my youth — picked up this little number when she spotted it at a discount dollar store in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

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All-Stars Game

A DC comic came to a DC television show, but it only “flashed” on screen for a couple of moments. In this week’s episode of The Flash on the CW (CTV in Canada), we catch a glimpse of super-hero-in-training Ralph Dibny (not yet dubbed the Elongated Man) reading a comic book. I spied right away that it was an issue of Young All-Stars, a 1980s comic set during World War II.

A quick search online yielded a screen capture (seen above), and then a perusal of the Young All-Stars cover gallery on the Grand Comics Database uncovered a match to issue #20 (released January 1989), written by Roy and Dann Thomas, with art by Michael Bair, Ron harris and Tony DeZuniga. Its appearance as a prop in “When Harry Met Harry,” episode six of Season Four of The Flash, was a delight for this longtime DC reader.

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Comic Art Listing Looks a Bit Sketchy

The market for original comic art, commissioned comic art and sketches by noted professionals in the medium has exploded in recent years. Pieces that were once valued at less than $100 are now selling for hundreds more. Four- and five-figure prices for sought-after art and artists is commonplace these days. With the rise in demand and corresponding rise in prices comes an unfortunate side effect: fraud.

Phony comic art has definitely circulated in the marketplace, so buyers have to be knowledgeable and aware so as to avoid being fleeced. In addition to reading comics, I’m a collector of original art, and as such, I’m always scanning the marketplace for affordable pieces. Ebay has been a great resource to get bargains, so I peruse the original comic art listings on the site almost on a daily basis.

I stumbled across a piece Sunday that caught my eye; well, truth be told, it was the listing title that caught my eye: “BLACK CANARY FULL FIGURE original art commission by DARWYN COOKE (BEAUTIFUL).” I have three sketches from the late artist in my convention sketchbook, and I’ll always treasure them. As a fan of his work, I’m always up for a glance at something else he did.

As I looked at the scan of the sketch included in the auction, I immediately had some questions about it.

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