The Stan Lee Story (Taschen)

Stan Lee Story

CREDIT: Taschen

Rating: 5/5 – A Lavish & Thorough Treatment of Stan’s Life & Career.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

I’ll be up-front with the fact that I loaned lots of comic books and related material to Taschen for them to photograph for inclusion in this book.  I was happy to do it as a life long Stan Lee fan.  My compensation for this was getting copies of both the limited edition book (that came out last November) as well as this new $200 edition that comes out July 25th, 2019.  That I got a comp copy does not affect my love for this book.  I’d have happily paid $200 for this because I am a HUGE Stan Lee fan.
It is available on the Taschen web-site, Amazon, and I’m sure in a few other places as well.
Written by Roy Thomas and designed by Josh Baker, it covers Stan’s childhood through to his later years doing cameos in the Marvel movies and acting as an elder statesman of comics. Roy takes care to give credit where credit is due to co-creators and this seems to be a very balanced and thorough biography of Stan with LOADS of pictures of people, documents (like the patent statement for “Marvel Comics”), comic books, toys, original art, movie stills, etc.  The text accompanying the pictures is informative, an easy read, and flows nicely from one topic to the next.
Stan Forward
To give an idea of everything covered, here are the chapters:
  • Stanley Martin Lieber (1922-1940)
  • Stan Lee’s Golden Age (1940-1949)
  • Atlas Hoists That Globe (1950-1961)
  • The Marvel Age of Comics (1961-1964)
  • An Expanding Universe (1964-1968)
  • Days of Destiny (1968-1972)
  • Stan Lee Presents (1972-1980)
  • Welcome to Hollywood (1980-1990)
  • The Notorious Nineties (1990-2000)
  • 21st Century Unlimited (2001-2018)
The book itself is massive, 12 inches by 17.5 inches and weighing in at over 15 pounds!  It comes in an illustrated cardboard protective box with a handle (like other Taschen books in this large format).
Since I have both the ultra expensive limited edition that sold out within days of its release as well as the new $200 version, I thought it would be good to offer up a comparison of the two.  All-in-all the $200 edition has pretty much everything that’s in the unattainable limited edition and given its size and production values seems to be a pretty decent deal for people who are fans of Stan Lee and his legacy.
The $200 version is PRETTY DARN NICE. It’s just as large as the limited edition, the main differences being:
In Memoriam
  • The limited edition is signed by Stan (probably among the last things he signed) on a vellum overlay page that is bound in next to the shot of him in the tuxedo at the beginning.  The $200 edition does not have the vellum overlay/signature and has added an “In Memoriam”
  • The limited edition came in a 1/4″ thick clear lucite slipcase with a circle cut out in the middle where Spider-Stan is (instead of the dustjacket on the $200 edition).  The $200 edition comes with the illustrated cardboard carrying case not present for the limited edition.
  • The limited edition came with a separate reproduction of Lee’s “Secrets Behind the Comics” booklet from 1947 (reproduced from my copy of that book)

    Chapter heading

  • At the beginning of every chapter there is a white sheet that looks typed overlayed on top of some art. In the limited edition those are actual separate pieces of paper that are adhered to the book along their top edge (so you can lift them and see the art underneath).

    Selected comics

  • In 13 places: For example page 43 where you see the little Mystic Comics image at the top of the page, page 139 where you see the little “Day in the life of the FF” splash page from FF #11 at the top, etc. Basically anyplace you similarly see a little comic on the top of a right hand page with a description of it).
    In the limited edition, a reproduction of that comic is bound into the book along its left edge right there.

    In the $200 edition you get these reproductions all at the end (after chapter 10) on the giant-sized pages that make up this book. Arguably, this is even cooler than “same size” reprints on pulp paper in the limited edition.

The design of the book is awesome in the limited edition.  Having all the reproductions bound in make it look very unique.  However, even without these, all the information is still there in the $200 edition and the layout and flow of material, including the curation of some really spectacular items to visually highlight the points Roy is making in his text, makes this a must-read for “Stan Fans”.

Stan on Stool

$200 seems like quite a lot, but look at it this way:  a 22 page comic book is $4, which means you can get 50 comics for $200.  That would be roughly 1100 pages of comics.  This book is 624 pages, each of which is 4 times the size of a comic book page.  I guarantee this will take at least as much time (probably more) than it will take to read 50 comics.  On a page for page, pound for pound, and hour for hour basis this book delivers more entertainment to Stan Fans on all counts, so the price tag seems downright reasonable to me.

 

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics For Fans who Love Comics

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Ghosted in L.A. #1 (BOOM! Box)

Ghosted1

CREDIT: BOOM! Box

Rating: 5/5 – Making Friends in L.A. is Hard, but Daphne Gets Creative.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

The newest comic from creator/writer Sina Grace (Iceman, Not My Bag) is a story where the main character Daphne goes away to college in Los Angeles and finds that everything is not going the way she had dreamed it would.  Friends (both her boyfriend & friends at school), social interactions, and life in general all end up being more complicated than she had hoped.  But then… ghosts!

The ghosts are pictured on the cover, and referenced in the multiple meaning title, so their presence is not much of a spoiler, but I won’t go into the specifics of how Daphne meets them or how their initial interactions proceed.  That would spoil the enjoyment you would get from reading the issue, and I really hope people will love this title as much as I did.  Grace’s dialogue flows naturally and the events “feel real”, which is hopefully a goal of writing a book that’s essentially slice of life, but with a fun twist.

Siobhan Keenan provides the art (with a contribution on a few pages from Grace, who is also an accomplished comic book artist, though he is mainly writer on this series).  Keenan his a very clean style that conveys they action and emotion without a lot of additional/unnecessary linework.  She has a great facility in facial expressions and body language that added a lot to the story in a subtle way.

There’s a lot more story to tell, Grace & Keenan have just revealed the tip of an iceberg in this debut issue.  I look forward to continuing on with the series as they flesh out the Ghostly characters and build more out of their interactions with the living world, as well as Daphne’s continuing adjustment to life in L.A.  I can see this growing into a solid spot in my top 10 if I enjoy subsequent issues as much as this debut.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics For Fans who Love Comics

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Batman Universe #1 (DC)

BU1

CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 4/5 – Awesome Reprinted Story with a Too-High Price Tag.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

Batman  Universe #1 reprints the Batman story written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Nick Derington that was originally included in 100-Page Batman Giant #3 & 4 which were available only at Wal-Mart stores.

The story is great.  In my opinion Bendis does best on street-level heroes and I enjoyed his work here on Batman far more than on Superman.  Derington shines on the art, a clean/crisp style that does a great job in conveying both action and signature Bendis “talking heads” pages.   Appearance by The Riddler and Jinny Hex are well done and convey the gist of the characters with ease as part of the story, which makes this very new reader friendly, which was the stated intent of the original Wal-Mart issues (reaching new readers).  That said, charging $4.99 for this 24 page issue of reprints seems a bit excessive, given that the original Wal-Mart issues were 100 pages, a 12 page new story and 88 pages of reprint material.   Sure, it’s “new to comic shops” but DC is really reaching into the wallets of their fanbase with this one, it should be $3.99.

My quibble over the pricing of this series aside, it really is a great story (5/5 – 1 point for predatory marketing).  A good story for new readers, but given that this will run 6 issues and it’s reprints anyway, it might be a good idea to skip six $4.99 issues that will cost ~$30 and just get the collected edition when it comes out.  I suspect it will be fairly easy to get the collection at a price less than $30.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics For Fans who Love Comics

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The Dark Age / Afterburn FCBD 2019 (Red 5 Comics)

DarkAge

CREDIT: Red 5 Comics

Rating: 4/5 – Red 5 Spins Post-Apocalyptic Tales.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

In the opening pages of The Dark Age, a mysterious gray mist descends on the Earth and dissolves all metal to dust.  Society breaks down.  Then the story time jumps to 13 years later where the world has devolved into feudal states, roving bands of cannibals, etc.

The 16 pages presented in this FCBD book focuses on a Father (who was fortunately a professor who specialized in studying ancient cultures and their survival methods) and his son/daughter, facing just a few of the perils of this new world.  This is a good setup and gives a taste for what these people will be facing in the new Dark Ages. What makes it more interesting to me is the list of consultants for the story: An associate professor of Anthropology and Archaeology, a PhD sudent in Medieval Studies, and a medical consultant.  This tells me that writer Don Handfield and artist Leonard Rodrigues are making a decent attempt at accurately portraying the regressed world instead of just making up stuff that “seems right”.

If this sounds like the kind of story you like, it will be worth looking for.  You can ask your Local Comic Shop to order issue #1 for you, out in July and solicited in the current Previews as MAY191885.

The second story in the issue is an 8 page taste of the work of Afterburn (“Soon to be a major motion picture!”, we are told).  This is another post-apocalyptic setting.  Two years prior to the events in this story a massive solar flare hit the day side of Earth (which at that point was Europe/Africa/Asia) killing most living things and mutating what it didn’t kill.  That’s the world building part, which we get from some set-up text, but is not featured in the story, which is primarily a heist focusing on a group of raiders who are going into Moscow to get some Faberge eggs for a Russian millionaire and who have a run in with local mutants which makes it a bit more challenging than just walking in and taking them.

This is an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic in that it doesn’t just focus on basic survival, instead telling tales of adventuring in the altered world.  The current series of this being published as single issues, is called “Afterburn: Crossfire” and issue #3 is in the current May Previews catalog as MAY191884.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics For Fans who Love Comics

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Man and Superman 100 Page Super Spectacular (DC)

Man Superman

Rating: 5/5 – A Super Story Focusing on Clark Kent’s First Days in Metropolis.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

In his forward, Marv Wolfman says: “I may be totally deluded, but I truly believe this story is arguably the best Superman story I ever wrote.”  You’re not deluded, Marv.  This is a pretty awesome Superman story.  One of the best I have ever read.

Wolfman also gives some history to the story, originally written for the Superman Confidential series between 2006 and 2008, and drawn back then by artist Claudio Castellini, that series was cancelled before the story ever saw print and it has been sitting complete for over a decade.  This is 4 full issues of content and since the Superman Confidential series had a price tag of $2.99 per issue, we would have had to pay $11.96 for the 4 issues 10 years ago…. so paying $9.99 for all 4 issues as one giant 100-page Spectacular is a pretty good deal.  Even better considering the normal price of a comic is now $3.99 which would put 4 issues at $15.96.

On to the story.  Wolfman deftly zeroes in about what makes Superman special to me.  It is the MAN more than the SUPER.  He has all these powers and he chooses to do good.  He chooses to do the right thing.  Superman is an inspirational hero and represents the best parts of humanity even though he is the last son of Krypton (for which we can credit his upbringing in Kansas).  He is what heroes should aspire to be.  Is is this core that I find attractive and Wolfman spends that vast majority of the four chapters focusing on Clark going through the key transitional period when he has arrived in Metropolis but has not yet donned his uniform.  He is going through the final bits of character building that get him ready to don that uniform, and what better to help shape that decision than initial encounters with Lois Lane and Lex Luthor (and by the way, Wolfman cuts to the core of these iconic characters as well, emphasizing what makes both of them tick).  We don’t see Superman in the familiar red-and-blue much at all, which may disturb some readers, but the whole of the story builds to that final moment where he transitions from being the “flying man” to truly becoming Superman.

What about the art?  Claudo Castellini did a fabulous job of keeping my interest despite the lack of big super-hero action and splashy costumed battles.  The storytelling is carried by the the characters as they move through their world and interact with one another.  Wolfman’s words and Castellini’s art blended together to carry me through the tale, keeping my rapt attention from start to finish.  I loved how Clark has to buckle down and show the determination to win a job at the Daily Planet.  This is a top newspaper, and he’s usually shown as just walking in the door having been given a job.  There are also some nice moments as he realizes that he really needs to be a bit more careful about concealing his identity.  Wolfman fills in some blanks in the Clark/Superman backstory for us admirably, and Castellini steps up and beautifully renders each and every moment.

This 100-page 4 chapter story is well worth finding, though I understand it is selling out at many stores.  Hopefully it will get a second print or be added to some collection.  It deserves to stay in print and available to fans who would like to read a really nice “behind the scenes” story about Clark Kent as he transitions to his more famous identity.  I also appreciate that no attempt is made to shoehorn it into current DC continuity.  It’s a nice tale that stands on its own outside of the shackles of a continuity that changes fairly regularly anyway.  This is highly recommended for all fans of the man behind the Superman.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics For Fans who Love Comics

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Norroway Book 1 (Image)

Norroway

CREDIT: Image Comics

Rating: 4.5/5 – An All-Ages Fantasy-Adventure with a Resilient Girl at its Core.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

Sisters Kit & Cat Seaton bring us the first part of a fantastic embellishment/retelling of the Scottish fairy tale “The Black Bull of Norroway” in this thick 224 page volume that hit shops in November.

Writer Cat Seaton heightens the realism of the plucky heroine Sybilla with her dazzling dialogue, but it is the art of Kit Seaton that brings Sybilla and the entire world of Norrway to life with her spectacular art that I found evocative of Jeff Smith’s work on Bone in its simplicity of line and clarity of layouts and storytelling.  At its core, this is the story of a girl who is prophesied to become the wife of the Black Bull of Norroway, a man cursed to take on the shape of a Bull.  She sets off with him on a hero’s journey but does not shrink into the subordinate female role, standing her ground and asserting her will when necessary.

Norroway is what I’d consider a truly “all ages” book (like Bone).  It is not written “down” to kids and can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.  I read this on my own and it’s something I that would be great to read to your kids, if they are of the age where you still read to them (my son is 27 so read it himself…and loved it). If you can’t find this at your local shop & they cannot reorder it for you from Diamond, it is also available on Amazon.com.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics For Fans who Love Comics

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Sandman Universe #1 (DC)

SU 1

CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 3.5/5 – Neil Gaiman “curating” a series in not the same as Neil Gaiman writing a series.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

Daniel, Lord of Dreams and successor to Morpheus, has goes missing and it is causing problems in the Dreaming.  DC, failing to have seriously popular new/original Vertigo series for several years, has fallen back on its greatest success to create/revive several spin-offs in hopes of getting readers back.

This issue is a mixed bag.  It’s an anthology giving sample stories of the 4 series that will be set in the Sandman Universe created by Neil Gaiman.  As with most anthologies I’ve read, I didn’t like everything, but everyone will have their own take on these samples and this issue is a good way to try out all 4 series in one place.  The series revivals (Lucifer & Books of Magic) are the ones I liked the least, and maybe that is because I liked the originals so much that I can directly see a lack of the same “spark” for me that existed in the originals.

The story is credited to Neil Gaiman (meaning he came up with the general idea / structure?) but the comic is scripted by Nalo Hopkinson, Kat Howard, Si Spurrier, and Dan Watters, who are each writing one of the four books spinning out of this comic. I’m guessing each writer scripted the parts of the comic that tie-in with their own series, but that’s not actually stated in the credits.  Nalo Hopkinson is scheduled to be writing House of Whispers, a new house in the vein of the Hoses of Secrets & Mystery with a New Orleans/voodoo flavor and the only totally new series.  I enjoyed this one, it seemed to have some fresh ideas and I liked the main character Erzulie.  Kat Howard is writing The Books of Magic that brings back Tim Hunter as Neil Gaiman’s boy magician.  Si Spurrier is writing The Dreaming (another series revival) which gets to play with familiar characters like Lucien, Merv Pumpkinhead, Matthew the Raven and others.  Spurrier seems to have a decent handle on weaving a tale of these characters dealing with the absence of Daniel and a new threat that looms in Daniel’s absence. Finally, Dan Watters is writing Lucifer in which the character faces a new set of struggles but does not measure up, in this short sample, to Mike Carey’s epic run writing the character.

For me, Neil Gaiman “curating” this series (and I’m not really sure exactly what that entails) did not feel like a series actually written by Gaiman.  He created the core universe and many of the characters, but they’re now being handled by other writers.  It’s hard for me not to feel that DC is using Gaiman’s name as a draw on this the same way that companies slap Stan Lee’s name on things where he contributes an idea and then the books are written by others.  I suspect they will be successful with this at first as people who love Gaiman’s Sandman try out these new books and that will settle down over the next few months as people decide how much they actually enjoy the work of the creative teams on the books and either stay or drift away from the spin-offs from this anthology.  If Gaiman was actually writing any of these they would be auto buys, but with his limited oversight level of participation, seeing the samples presented here,  the only one I feel strongly compelled to try is The Dreaming.  House of Whispers is a “wait for the trade”.  Lucifer & Books of Magic are “if I see them in bargain bins”.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics For Fans who Love Comics

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