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January 2003  
1. Whiz Comics
2. Richard Corben: A Look Back
3. Really Strange



January 25, 2003
Big Apple Comic Book Art and Toy Show

St. Paul the Apostle Church Auditorium
New York, NY

February 28 – March 2, 2003

Orange County Convention Center
Orlando, Florida

Whiz Comics
Michelle Nolan

Several special issues in the 155-issue, 13-year run of Whiz Comics make Fawcett's flagship title one of the most collectible of the classic Golden Age anthology titles.

Fortunately for collectors, the Captain Marvel appearances in the first 24 issues of Whiz from 1940-41 are available in the first three Shazam Archives from DC Comics, including the Spy Smasher stories in #16-18. In those three issues, the two Whiz headliners both appeared in the other's strip in a novel-length "battle" tale, covering 57 pages in all.

The early issues of Whiz are prohibitively expensive, even in lower grades, because of their historical importance. Fortunately for collectors, however, they are far from the best issues of Whiz. In addition, now that the leading stories from the first 24 issues are available in reprint form, it might behoove the opportunistic collector to consider later issues. This is especially true considering the quality of the covers of the 68-page World War II issues, which ran through #50 (January 1944).

The first four issues were numbered 2 through 5 (February 1940 through May 1940), apparently because of the "ash-can" issue #1, and the corrected numbering began with the "second" #5 (June 1940). All of the four long-running backup features – Spy Smasher, Golden Arrow, Ibis the Invincible and Lance O'Casey – began in the first issue along with the debut of Captain Marvel.

Other than the first issue, which DC has reprinted several times, the Holy Grail of Whiz collectors is #25 (dated Dec. 26, 1941), featuring the origin of Captain Marvel Junior. It's part of a historic trilogy involving Captain Marvel Junior and the classic villain Captain Nazi, sandwiched between Master #21 and #22. This milestone issue of Whiz lists for more than $500 in "good" in the Overstreet Price Guide – more than any other issue of Whiz except the first issue.

It should be noted that Whiz featured specific "daily dates" on issues #15-43.

However, the single best issue of Whiz is #33 (Aug. 7, 1942), which features a 24-page team-up epic of Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher, along with perhaps the best of all Whiz covers. The cover is a classic of World War II propaganda, hitting the stands in the dismal days about six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. If you can afford only one issue of Whiz, this is the one to shoot for – and at only $61 in "good," it's one of the best bargains among all Golden Age comics.

Fawcett modestly plugged the epic Captain Marvel/Spy Smasher team-up story in #33 as "The Greatest Story Ever to Appear in a Comic Magazine" (they were seldom referred to as "comic books" in those days, but usually "comic magazines"). The cover showed Captain Marvel slugging bayonet-wielding Japanese soldiers through the air into the arms of Spy Smasher, as Captain Marvel yelled "Next!" and Spy Smasher replied with the outrageous pun "Keep 'em flying, Cap!"

Other World War II issues of Whiz to shoot for are the four tongue-in-cheek issues guest starring the three Lieutenant Marvels - #21 (Sept. 5, 1941), #29 (April 17, 1942), #34 (Sept. 4, 1942) and #40 (Feb. 19, 1943). These three largely long-forgotten members of the Marvel Family – Tall Billy, Hill Billy and Fat Billy – are also featured on all four covers.

Another Whiz gem is #43 (June 9, 1943), featuring the appearances of Spy Smasher, Ibis and Golden Arrow in an entertainingly light-hearted Captain Marvel story. In this tongue-in-cheek tale, Captain Marvel and the other heroes of Whiz battle "Sabotage at the (Whiz Comics) Printing Plant" in order to show how the comic magazine itself can help defend America.

Finally, Mary Marvel completists need to find a copy of #48, featuring a guest appearance of Billy Batson's sister in the Captain Marvel story.

Whiz dropped to 52 pages with #52 (March 1944), and soon fell to 36 pages for many issues, although 52-page issues frequently appeared as late as #134 (June 1951). The last 21 issues were all 36 pages, and several of them are surprisingly difficult to find.

Fawcett's editors also made an odd decision beginning with Whiz #136 (August 1951). Fawcett dropped the Captain Marvel stories to only 7 pages all the way through the last issue, but continued to run Ibis, Golden Arrow and Lance O'Casey in 6 or 7 page stories as well, rather than dropping one of them entirely, until Golden Arrow made way in the last issue for a war story. Captain Marvel always appeared on the covers, but all three of the others were also frequently cover-featured as well.

The Overstreet Price Guide lists Whiz #153-155 as scarce, and it would be hard to argue with that contention. Those three 1953 issues are dated January, April and June, indicating that sales were flagging after Whiz's gloriously long monthly run through #152 (December 1952). Whiz #154 and #155 are also curiosities, in that Dr. Death supernatural stories ran in the same comic featuring Captain Marvel – an odd synergy of the Golden Age and Atomic Age. Those last two issues are thus well worth picking up as comic book oddities, especially for those who just enjoy collecting inexpensive rarities.

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Richard Corben: A Look Back
Shawn Caffrey

I remember when I first started collecting comic books and think of those times I skipped the new release rack and headed straight for the 50 cents boxes. I would finger through each book and only pick out the ones that caught my eye: mostly obscure independent titles, but occasionally some Marvel and DC superhero.

But yet, no matter how many times I went there, nothing caught my eye more than one book. It was called Mutant World and was put out by Fantagor Press. On the cover was this ferocious drooling monster violently charging through a pile of debris while a buxom blonde stood aside in horror. The style of art was something I had never before seen. It was crisp and detailed, like it had come directly from my imagination or straight from the lens of a camera. I only dreamt of what was inside. Then, one day, I picked it up when the store owner wasn't looking. You see, it was for "mature readers only" and I was only 10 years old at the time. Nevertheless, I insisted on skimming through the pages. And there it was, for the first time in my hands, my introduction to the world of Richard Corben.

Now, for those Golden and Silver Age collectors out there, I know what you're thinking. There are a lot of people that could put him to the test. True, but for me, this was it. I was born in the Modern era, and this was the first moment in my early life that I was introduced to true artistic talent. At the time, I had no knowledge of artists like Frank Frazetta or Bill Everett. Richard Corben was compelling. His art came alive and would reach out to its readers. Titles such as Slow Death, Death Rattle, and Twisted Tales had me begging for more. His pencils and inks seemed to breathe with bubbling stipple-like action and gore. I felt so sneaky in the buying process too, as I would secretly hand money to my best friend's mom so she could purchase them for me. Soon the 50 cents boxes were completely stripped of anything by Corben. Some of my favorite Corben, and maybe a few of his best works, are his adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" and "Fall of the House of Usher." They kept me up at night, with chilling illustrative renditions of classic Poe literature.

I felt I had finally completed my collection of Richard Corben comics, but then I was introduced to Warren magazines, in which he worked on both Creepy and Eerie titles beginning with Creepy issue 36 from 1970. And for Corben, who is sometimes credited for horror in underground comics, it was a great place to show off his skills with illustrative horror. He also was a regular with Heavy Metal magazine, where he began his barbarian fantasy story titled "Den," which eventually became its own title under the Fantagor label. He also worked on "Arabian Nights" in Heavy Metal, which was an adventurous voyage of Sinbad taking place in several issues. Most stories saw many reprintings in collections and trade paperbacks.

Although Corben has produced mostly less-mainstream work, he is currently working with Marvel Comics on a new title called Cage, as part of their adult line Max. It's an off-the-wall, violent story of Luke Cage, which you may remember from the Hero for Hire title published by Marvel starting in the 1970s. And Richard Corben pulls out all the stops for this one. His art hasn't changed a bit over the past three decades. It's still the photo-like line work, the texture of realism, and of course, the true buxom, full-figured women.

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Collectors' Society Boards

Really Strange
Phil Kaltenbach

When my brother Tom received his handful of back issues from Marvel in 1962, the one that made the biggest impression on us was Strange Tales #26 (March 1954), which gave us our first astonished glimpse into the world of pre-code horror comics.

We found this book curious for a number of reasons: for one, it sported a star-shaped code approval instead of the familiar stamp shape in the upper-right corner, so we wouldn't get the full story about the death and rebirth of comics for years to come. More important to us, though, the book had a wildly different look, including a completely unfamiliar title logo, and contents that startled us like a furtive look through a forbidden keyhole.

The cover, though I cannot identify the artist, shows a striking, balloon-free image of a man chained to a wall, screaming at a knife-wielding figure apparently made of red stone and crumbling before his eyes. I have always considered this one of the most unusual and effective of all Atlas horror covers. Inside lurks a wonderful assortment of odd and terrifying stories.

The first is a typical but well-rendered morality fable, "The Last Stop" by Gene Colan, about a drunken bum who resolves to kill himself because his wife and children were murdered by stray bullets from a mob hit. The kicker, of course, is that the bum was once the prosperous hit-man who was responsible for the deaths that now haunt him. The final story, "It Could Be You" by Vic Carrabotta, makes use of a very familiar plot device in which a man who has been tortured and left for dead by vicious aliens begs any reader to try to remember if he is the hypnotized victim who unwittingly carries a device of mass destruction planted on him by the aliens.

Both these stories seemed uniquely disturbing to me 40 years ago, as did two others: "A Grave Mistake" by Tony DiPreta, about an unscrupulous man who unionizes gravediggers for his own profit; and "To the Stars" by Carmine Infantino, about how young people are constantly lured to adventure and exploration regardless of the danger. Today I find the Infantino effort a special Atlas treat, but back then, both stories filled me with awe and amazement.

The second story, however, has stuck most vividly with me ever since I read it. "Guinea Pig" by Jack Katz tells the story of a deranged scientist who has sent numerous guinea pigs into space, only to have them return radically changed, much stronger and apparently filled with hate. Since these creatures, destroyed before they can harm anyone, cannot reveal what happened to them, the scientist decides to send his diminutive assistant in the next rocket. When he returns similarly transformed, the scientist finds he is no match for his murderous strength and rage. The distorted and grotesque figures and violent images in this tale, beautifully detailed by the artist, immediately captured my attention and haunted me until I finally found my own copy of this book nearly 15 years ago.

Strange Tales #26 is, at least from my experience, one of the most difficult books to find in this long-running Atlas/Marvel title. In future installments, we'll examine some other standout issues from this and other titles.

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