If you've read one Astro Boy story, then the odds are pretty good that it's 1964's "The Greatest Robot On Earth." It's considered to be a high point not only for Astro Boy, but for Osamu Tezuka's career, a massive, sweeping story full of Earth-shattering fight scenes and a villain who, despite his horrible acts, isn't entirely evil. It was even revived as the basis for 2003's Pluto, one of the greatest comics of all time, where Naoki Urasawa retold the story as a murder mystery from an entirely new perspective. It is, by any measure, one of the all time greats.
But let's be real here: Why would anyone ever talk about that comic when the very next volume has a story where Astro Boy fights Lord Satan in an amusement park full of robot deathtraps?
I've written before about how a lot of the fun of reading Golden Age comics is in seeing people who have no idea what they're doing scrambling to figure out the limits of a whole new medium, but if you ever need definitive proof that it was the Wild West back then, just flip through the pages of 1942's Scoop Comics.
It's the home of an early superheroine called Mother Hubbard, and if you haven't heard of her, don't worry. I hadn't either, until I read about her in Jon Morris's League of Regrettable Superheroes, and I think he said it best: "Back then, everyone in a cape and cowl fought a few Nazi masterminds. Only Mother Hubbard confronted a race of gnomes who pried the eyes out of children's heads with a crowbar!"
You might not realize it, but we're currently living in a Golden Age of licensed crossovers. I mean, really, you can go out right now and pick up a comic about the Ninja Turtles hanging out with the Ghostbusters and it'll be a rewarding experience that ties in logically to both ongoing series about those characters, and when you really think about it, that's mind-blowing. There was, after all, a time not too long ago when the big boom brought us a new installment of Such-and-Such vs. So-and-So almost every month, and getting excited for any of them was almost always a recipe for disappointment.
Except, that is, for the time Frank Miller and Walter Simonson decided to do a book about RoboCop fighting the Terminator and gave us the greatest crossover of all time.
This week, Boom Studios --- which, in the interest of full disclosure, is a company I've done some writing for --- announced that they'd acquired the rights to Power Rangers with plans to launch a new series sometime this year. It's pretty exciting news, but at the same time, the news about a bunch of teenagers with (shockingly positive) attitudes coming to comics always gets me a little bit down, because it reminds me of one of the biggest missed opportunities in the history of the franchise.
See, this isn't the first time that the Power Rangers have made an attempt at conquering the world of superhero comics, and there was a time when they only made it through one issue with a story that was more notable for the books that it advertised and never came out than what happens in the issue itself. The year was 1996, the comic was Power Rangers Zeo, and the man who had the license... was Rob Liefeld.
If you're not familiar with Max Alan Collins and Terry Beatty's Wild Dog, the simple explanation is that he's DC's version of the Punisher. I don't know if that's exactly what they were inspired by, but it's hard not to look at the two characters and see a pretty huge influence in Wild Dog and how he works, especially when you consider how popular the Punisher was getting in the late '80s.
The thing is, Wild Dog doesn't really feel like he's meant to be an equivalent as much as the product off someone reading comics about a perpetually grumpy vigilante who runs around with a giant skull on his chest and saying, "Well we can do something weirder than that."
Ever since I wrote about how great Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo is a few weeks ago, it's been the only comic I want to read. As a result, I've been re-reading the entire run, and it occurs to me that even though I wrote at length about how great it is, I might've actually undersold it a little bit. I mean, I talked about the craftsmanship, the accessibility, the commitment to historical accuracy and the effortless way that it's blended with myth and legend, the instantly engaging characters and all that stuff, but when you get right down to it, that's only part of what makes that comic so great.
I mean, I didn't even mention the time that Usagi fought Mothra and summoned the King of All Monsters. That seems like something worth mentioning, right?
I've never been good at playing fighting games, but when I was growing up, there were few things in this world I loved more than Street Fighter. I think I've mentioned this before, but my first memory of actually trying to make a comic was when I was ten years old and I drew the junkyard fight scene from Batman #425 and replaced the bad guys with Blanka and Dhalsim, and really, you can draw a pretty straight line from that to where I am today. I've even written a tiny little bit of Street Fighter comics myself, and I am still very much a person who thinks karate guys throwing fireballs at each other is the highest form of art.
Of course, they didn't exactly make it easy for us to like Street Fighter back then. The games were great, sure, but if you wanted a little more story about it on this side of the Pacific, your options were pretty slim. There was the movie in 1994, and the cartoon that was somehow a sequel to it, but if you wanted to see those characters in comics, you had only one choice: Malibu's Street Fighter --- the comic so legendarily rough that it was canceled after three issues with an apology from the publisher.
When I'm looking for something to read, there are certain things that will make me pick up a book immediately. It's probably the same way with you, and while I think we all have the usual soft spots for a favorite villain or a cool plot point, every now and then you run across a story title that's just so weird that you absolutely have to see how it all plays out. This, for the record, is the reason for about 90% of my back issue purchases, and was basically the leading theory on how to design a DC Comics cover for about thirty years.
What I'm getting at here is that when I was looking at the stories included in the new Judge Dredd Complete Casefiles v.10 paperback and I saw that there was one called "The Fists of Stan Lee," I pretty much dropped everything so that I could read it. And yes: It is, in fact, Judge Dredd fighting Stan Lee. Just, you know. Not that Stan Lee.
Since the last installment of the Bizarro Back Issues column was a request explaining one of those memorable Silver Age covers that only got weirder once you cracked it open and read the actual story, I thought it might be a good idea to see if there were any other comics people had always wondered about. I put out the call, and to be honest, the last thing I expected was to find out about something I'd never heard of before, but then @saintwalker88 suggested a story that I knew would be amazing before I even read it.
Because this is the story of the Arkham Asylum Softball Team and their game against Blackgate Prison.
Earlier this week, Matt Maxwell posted the cover of Detective Comics #426 on the always-fantastic Intrapanel Tumblr, and ever since, I've gotten a a few people asking just what exactly is going on in that story. It makes sense that they would, too -- as Maxwell quite rightly points out, it's one of the best examples of the "I Have Got To See What's Happening In This Story" school of cover design that served DC so well in the Silver and Bronze Age.
Still, as much as those comics usually made the reader ask questions, very few of them went as far as having Batman sitting there holding a loaded gun to his head with a suicide note, apparently getting ready to blow his own head off. It's a hell of a cover, but as you might expect, it's not exactly what happens in the actual story. It turns out, what happens there is even weirder.
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