Sunday, July 01, 2007

DO judge a book by its cover

This Friday while I was at my usual comic shop I showed my comics dealer the cover of SUPERMAN 661. Because my brother has brought it to my attention ( since I still have not started reading the issues ) and when you really think about it there is something wrong with it.

I mean there is this woman who apparently has beaten up Superman and brags about it and all Wonder Woman has to say is : " Oh ? "

What´s up with that ?

She´s not saying " Keep your hands of my man, beyatch. " or " Superman, are you okay ? " or not even " No one manhandles this guy on my watch. " Well, I guess Diana must have skipped all the eloquence sessions on Themyscaria. You know, the only thing that would be worse would be if she would be saying : " D óh ! "

Anyway, as usual my comics dealer did totally misunderstand what I was talking about ( I tell you satire is totally wasted on this guy ) and all he said when he saw the word balloon on the cover was : That´s so totally sixties. Which was meant as a negative thing. And that lead to a discussion because for me it has always been a sign of quality when a comic has word balloons on the cover.

I know, from the viewpoint of today´s comic readers it´s frowned upon to have word balloons on a cover because that´s just totally out and uncool. Well, till someone like Bendis brings them back. I swear, the fact that he ONLY RECENTLY discovered what thought balloons are really for let me seriously doubt his writing abilities. I mean that would be like if someone like Adam Hughes would just now discover what kind of nifty things you can do with shadows. Give me strength.

Anyway, when I grew up and started reading comics covers with text and word balloons were the norm. Because then a cover had to sell the comic. Most comics were standalone, done - in - one issues and the stories were not the neverending six - part made - for - trade sagas. Back in the day every comic was telling one story ( or more ) and at the end of the issue the status quo was the same as the beginning. So every issue had to fight for itself. They started at square one and could not rely on previous issues to sell them.

Because that is something that happens today in most books. You don´t buy the comic because of the story told in THIS issue. Much rather you buy the comic because of previous and future issues. You can´t just buy one because that would be only one part of a six - part story. Now while it was a bad thing that every issue had to sell itself all over again they had the benefit that at the end of the story they were at the same status quo like in the beginning of the story. And while that meant that the characters did not evolve very much it also meant that you could do whatever you wanted. Because no matter what you did to the hero at the end of the story he was back at square one. Like an indestructable Road Runner.

And they had the craziest ideas because the competition was so fierce. Back in the day you didn´t need to explain HOW aliens were able to distort time and space, steal all the water of the earth or other crazy shit. They were aliens for heaven´s sake ! They had mad skillz. What more is there to say ?

Today you need a doctor in astrophysics and bioengeneering but when I was a kid you just needed to tell a good story. Because it was irrelevant how the aliens did this or that. It did not make the story better or more interesting. Nowadays that focus has shifted and as a result comics have suffered.

If Lex Luthor wanted to turn his enemies into kids then he just did it and later did the research if something like that was even possible. I mean what good is a mad scientists if he can´t even turn Superman and Batman into cute, widdle kiddie versions ? I bet there were even little ads in the newspaper for that like the " Charles Atlas - hero of the beach " ad.

Tired of getting beaten by superheroes who are intellectual inferior ? Tired of being slapped around ? Well, you can´t beat them but now with Lex Luthor´s new secret formula you can beat the s#it out of them little tykes. And if that doesn´t work....well, if you can´t even beat up on a bunch of helpless kids you´re hopeless anyway. Ah, the blissful days of yesteryear when it was political correct to beat the snot out of little kids.

The covers had only one purpose : sell the comic and let the readers know what story is inside. Today it´s difficult to find out what´s going on inside a comic so that´s the reason you have to take the comic and open it. I mean you can put 20 issues of Ultimate Spider - Man or Punisher with the Bradstreet cover next to each other and you have no idea what happens in which issue. They all look alike. That´s why sometimes the covers were self - explainatory.

Go Superman statue, indeed. Now growing up I was of course reading the german versions of the comics which in this case meant reading SUPERMAN BATMAN. I know that DC is selling it like a new idea today but in fact it is one of the oldest concepts. And like most good inventions it was invented by the germans. Now SUPERMAN BATMAN had adventures of Superman and adventures of Batman inside. One month you had Superman on the cover.

And the next month it was Batman.

But it also had stories of the Legion of Super Heroes. In fact most of the stories I read of the Legion were published in SUPERMAN BATMAN.

As you can see on the cover above the text in the word ballons is done by machine lettering. In the german superhero comics almost none of the lettering was done by hand. Which meant that there was less words in the comic not only because they usual shortened the sentences when they did the translation. They also shortened it so that the machine lettering could fit better.

Now at that time I didn´t know that so it didn´t bother me. The only comic company that had hand lettering was the Williams Verlag who later on published Marvel comics. Even following comic companies that came later had the machine lettering like the Condor Verlag who began publishing Spider - Man comics again about 1980 I think. Handlettering for comics came only back to Germany when DINO started publishing BATMAN ADVENTURES and resucitated the single issue comic market - that had been dead till then.

Now while SUPERMAN BATMAN was offering various series the covers were often mirrored which doesn´t make any sense to me - besides the possibility that they made it because they had less space because of the two logos. And more ofthen than not the word balloons were erased, oh the blasphemy. Here´s one example.

Another thing was that the stories were not released in chronological order. The Vartox story above was in the SUPERMAN BATMAN issue from March 15th of 1975 but his first appearance wasn´t published in Germany till the issue of January 2nd 1978 almost three years later.

VARTOX was one of the characters I totally forgot but it all came back to me when I was doing the research for this post and was going through the covers. Back then I had not seen ZARDOZ and didn´t know who Sean Connery was. So I had no idea who was the reference for him. As far as I can remember he was an enemy at first who then turned into a colleague and friend of Superman.

Now the costume did not look very strange to me as a kid but seeing it today it looks like the forgotten member of the Village People to me. Let´s see Grant Morrison bring him back in one of his comics.

Vartox was not the only superpowered alien appearing on Superman. I also remember this ugly sumbitch causing all kinds of trouble for big blue.

Or this one. I guess the idea of horny aliens coming to earth was not restricted to b - movies at that time.

Another menace from outer space was Terrax who was basically a cowboy but from outer space. The whole concept sounds to me like DC wanting to keep their cake and eating it. A cowboy but with weapons from outer space.

I mean the guy comes from another planet with supersophisticated weaponry and superscience and stuff......but he still uses a sixgun shooter and rides a horse. Well, maybe he was just trying to reduce the CO2 production. The first environmentally friendly space menace.

But Superman was not just fighting aliens. No. Like Bret " the Hitman " Hart at the WWF ( when they were still called the WWF ) he showed that he was the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be. Like the pink and black attack Supes took on all comers. Anytime, any place, any one, any match. He even fought nature.

Or time itself. No matter. Big blue laid the smack down no matter who his opponent was. He even fought time itself.

No opponent was too big, no challenger too small. Really.

Well, there was one instance were he had a bit of a problem. But that has always been his weak point.

Yes, those were the days. Beating kids and Superman fighting with Lois. But best of all : the supermobile ! Oh yeah, I know that you are all cringing inside at this moment. But for me the supermobile was the absolutely coolest superhero contraption ever. Before Mtv brought us PIMP MY RIDE we already had PIMP MY SUPERHERO. Forget the Batmobile or the Batplane. This was both in one. It was mobile and it could fly. But best of all : it could punch stuff.

No, I mean you know how many times I have been standing at the traffic light whishing I had the supermobile ? Take that Mercedes ! Sayonara Porsche ! Man, not only could I open a can of whup - ass on any car that has the misfortune to cross my way I could get rid of all the pests that make circulation in cities almost impossible. I would whack all the old ladies, school kids or paraplegics I want. Man, I would give.....something really valuable like my firstborn........for the supermobile.

And best of all the thing was even AMAZO - proof. Yup, back in the day Supes took on Amazo all by himself without the help of the Atom or the entire Justice League like nowadays. No Sir, he just took the keys to the Supermobile and...well, run him over with it. I mean it´s so simple that I wonder why nobody has thought of it in his last confrontations with the Justice League. I mean, what is he gonna absorb ? Power of a hundred horsepowers ? I´m just waiting for the issue when Batman runs him just over with a big effing truck.

Owned ! ( Because today Batman gets to do all the cool stuff. )

Doing the research I stumbled upon some interesting covers. Like these for example. Hmmm, I wonder who´s this sailor supposed to be ? Reminds me of someone but I can´t quite put my finger on it.

Another thing that I discovered is that the idea of Superman having a son is of course nothing new that was invented soleley for SUPERMAN RETURNS. Now I knew that there were dozens of stories with Superman having a son. What I didn´t know is that there was one storyline called " Die Supersöhne " ( the supersons ) where not only Superman had a son but Batman also. And apparently Superman and Batman were using them to prove who´s the mackdaddy of all superheroes.

While we´re at the subject of old comics, some months ago I got a package of old comics ( mostly spanish stuff ) that I had to throw away because they were too old and battered. But there were also some german comics in the package like these three that I would have liked to keep.

In this one Superboy gets turned into a fishman and he finds out that it´s not so easy living underwater. Sadly he forgot all about that when he later on encountered Aquaman - at least it never showed in the stories by Superman cutting old Aqua some slack. The best part is when he kisses a mermaid and thinks to himself : Tastes like fish. Well, duh........

Kobra tries to blackmail Superman by threatening to kill his dead parents. In the old continuity Superman´s parents had died when he was Superboy - something that Byrne retconned when he restarted the Superman mythos. Which in my opinion has had a positive effect on the Superman comics.

And finally and most of all I would have liked to keep this issue. As you can see from the cover this book contains a Batman story with wonderful art by Jim Aparo. For me he is the definite Batman artist. Whenever I think of Batman the first image that comes to mind is something drawn by Jim Aparo. I try to get my hands on as much of his work which isn´t very easy here in Germany. When he died I thought - no, I hoped DC would honor his contribution to their universe with some special editions but so far the only thing they reprinted was his run on the SPECTRE in the trade WRATH OF THE SPECTRE.

Well, they released a SHOWCASE with his work on THE PHANTOM STRANGER

which is one of my most prized posessions and they will publish a SHOWCASE with his issues of BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS

but I want more. Come on, there are a pletora of comics from this man like some incredible earth 2 stories.

He deserves his own SHOWCASE section.

Now back to the subject of covers with word balloons one of the books with the best covers is THE FLASH. You just can´t help yourself but you just have to find out what´s the story behind the cover. And that´s what a good cover should do. Tell you a story and make you wonder : how could it have come so far ? How could the Flash sink so low ? What the f??*'*%& happened ? Nothing works better than to leave the reader absolutely baffeled with his mental sanity depending on finding out if the hero survives this issue.

Seeing all the old covers above you might really get the feeling that it´s a thing of the past to use word balloons on covers. So here are some examples of more recent ones.

While going through the covers I found some that looked slightly familiar. Maybe you can see the resemblace.

Well, this post has gone long enough. I´m writing on this post for 9 days and it´s about time to wrap it up. So what´s my final statement ?

There´s this saying that you can´t judge a book by the cover. And if we are talking about comic books that can be true. Sometimes you have Adam Hughes on the cover or Frank Cho and when you look inside it´s done by Frankie Notalent Copyswipe. I mean do I really have to say more than " variant cover " ?

But when it comes to word balloons on the cover I really do judge a book by the cover. And I really like it if I don´t have to buy comics blindly. I want to know what´s going on inside a comic before I buy it.

Call me old fashioned but I like to know in what I invest my comic money. So I´m all for that.

And comics with word balloons on the cover. Because the best comics I have read had such covers. So for me it has always been a sign that I should check out the comic. Because normally it means that there is a lot happening in the issue.

So next time you see one of this covers you might check it out and not dismiss it because the idea behind it was invented a few decades ago. You know, Coca Cola was not invented last year but that does not diminish it´s quality.

By the way.....the same is true for monkeys on the cover.

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