10 THINGS I LIKE ABOUT APRIL 2011 COMICS

by KC Carlson


Archie's Mad House Vol. 1

Archie's Mad House Vol. 1


1. Archie’s Mad House: One of Archie Comics’ odder (and older) titles, Archie’s Mad House barely had any Archie characters in it at all! The core title ran 65 issues from 1959-1968, although the Archie gang only appeared in the first 18 issues. Under various name and format changes, the book continued on in some fashion until 1982. Those who remember the title probably recall some incredibly strange superhero stories — most notably starring Captain Sprocket or Ronald the Rubber Boy — in the 1960s. A slightly younger fan might remember the 1970s Mad House Glads — the third great Archie feature based on a rock band (after The Archies and Josie and the Pussycats) — who took over the title. The Glads were fronted by Clyde Didit, sometime mascot of the original Mad House comic. (The character also made occasional appearances in the pre-Pussycats Josie comics, although he looked different.) The rest of the band was made up of his three brothers, Dippy Didit, Dick Didit, and Dan Didit, but much of the focus was on the band’s crazed groupie chick, Fran the Fan, and a fashion-obsessed mod known as Rod the Mod — and both eventually became the focus of the feature, pushing the band aside. Fran subsequently dated both Clyde and Rod and she was frequently the center of attraction (especially when Dan DeCarlo drew her on covers).

I’m not sure if Fran and the Didits will be in Craig Yoe’s Archie’s Mad House reprint anthology, a new 204-page hardcover from IDW collecting selections from the bizarre title, but hopefully there’ll be some behind-the-scenes info on the series, as little has been written about its origins. The IDW book looks mostly to draw from the title’s earliest years, when it was a bizarre combination of typical Archie-style hijinks, the popular monster mags of the era, and a less-than-subtle rip-off of the format and satire of early Mad Magazine (post-Kurtzman). They weren’t exactly alone in this, as the very clever cover copy of the book indicates by namechecking other popular humor magazines of the times.


Sabrina's first appearance anywhere, from Archie's Mad House #22. Art by Dan DeCarlo.

Sabrina's first appearance anywhere, from Archie's Mad House #22. Art by Dan DeCarlo.


Also notable in these early Mad House issues: it’s the location of the earliest appearances of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. She first appears in issue #22 (Oct. 1962), written by George Gladir and drawn by Dan DeCarlo, and makes sporadic appearances for several years after. What’s most interesting about these early (and rarely reprinted) appearances is that this Sabrina is not the Sabrina you know and love from the Saturday morning cartoons and more recent TV appearances (not to mention her way-cool manga-esque incarnation by Tania del Rio). This early Sabrina is a bad girl! She uses her powers to snare unwitting boyfriends and to torture would-be-rivals for said boyfriend’s attentions. When she’s at home, she tends to lounge around in very un-demure outfits, thinking evil thoughts. At this point, Sabrina is not considered one of the Archie cast of characters. She doesn’t become part of the gang (with an accompanying personality change to being friendly and helpful) until her animated series began in 1970.

While it may be shocking to today’s Archie readers to find out Sabrina was not originally conceived as the wholesome, kid-friendly character she is today, it really wasn’t that unusual at the time. For many longtime Archie fans, the late 50s and early 60s were Archie’s “golden era”, at least in terms of creativity and personality-based storytelling. Also at this time, both Veronica and Reggie weren’t exactly good upstanding solid friends of the gang like they are today. Veronica was a “witch” in her own way, in terms of how she dealt with both Betty and Archie, as well as being downright cruel to Jughead on occasion. Most Archie/Reggie encounters ended with at least one of them with a black eye. The more sharply defined characterizations of the era made for more conflict and richer stories than the latter-day stories where all the Archie gang are good friends (with occasional differences of opinion). These harder-edged Archie characterizations faded away in the late 1960s, probably not-coincidentally around the time they made their debut in the then-closely-parental-group-controlled “everybody is friends”/no-conflict atmosphere of Saturday Morning children’s television. The comics then changed to reflect the character’s blanderized TV personalities.

That’s one of the main reasons that I’m very much looking forward to reading the freewheeling Archie stories of this era, as well as the stranger-than-fiction faux superheroes like Captain Sprocket and Superchick/Mighty Chick/Mighty Girl. (They weren’t exactly consistent with names at Mad House — including the title of the book, which was either Mad House or Madhouse.) And wait ‘til you meet Lester Cool and Chester Square! This book will be filled with wonderful artwork from many of Archie’s greatest artists, including Dan DeCarlo (Betty & Veronica, Josie), Samm Schwartz (Jughead), Joe Edwards (L’il Jinx, Captain Sprocket, Super Duck), and Orlando Busino (Tales Calculated to Drive You Bats). In addition, you may be surprised to hear that the legendary Wally Wood was also an occasional contributor to Archie’s Mad House, and some of his stories will be included.


Chester Square and Lester Cool from Archie's Mad House #21. Art by Dan DeCarlo.

Chester Square and Lester Cool from Archie's Mad House #21. Art by Dan DeCarlo.


As the sell copy says (and I can’t better it), Archie’s Mad House “brilliantly combines satire magazines, superhero send-ups, monster magazines, sexy teenage girls, surrealism, beatniks and hippies, and wackiness.” Archie’s Mad House is one of comics’ authentic “Sputnik moments” from the days when mainstream comic books had more than just superheroes to choose from. (Published when Sputnik was actually in orbit!) Don’t miss this great slice of little-known comic history from IDW.


Dark Horse Presents #1

Dark Horse Presents #1


2. Dark Horse Presents #1: Comic’s greatest modern-day anthology returns with a first issue line-up that will make your heart rush! It features new work from Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, and Richard Corben; a new Concrete (one of the stars of the original DHP!) story by Paul Chadwick; a new Star Wars Crimson Empire story; an all-new all-color Finder story by Carla Speed McNeil; the return of Michael T. Gilbert’s Mr. Monster; a new prose piece by Harlan Ellison (who apparently isn’t dead– yay!); AND a sneak peek of the highly anticipated prequel to 300Xerxes by Frank Miller. And that’s just the first issue!

Buy why waste time reading me blathering on and on about how great this is when you can get the lowdown from Dr. Dark Horse himself, Mike Richardson. Mike recently spoke with Westfield’s Roger Ash about the project and you should go immediately here to read all about it (if you haven’t already).


Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Vol. 1

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Vol. 1


3. Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: In one of comics’ most unexpected team-ups, Fantagraphics Books is pairing with Disney to present the definitive collection of the classic Mickey Mouse newspaper strip. It concentrates on the epic run of artist and writer Floyd Gottfredson, considered not only to be one of the greatest cartoonists of the 20th Century, but also “the” Mickey Mouse artist.

Gottfredson’s Mickey stories are nothing like the easy-going personality of the current host of everything Disney. These rip-roaring adventure tales not only portray Mickey as the scrappiest, rough-and-tumble mouse of all time, they are also said to be the foundation of all Disney comics to follow — including the classic work of “The Duck Man”, the amazing Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories of Carl Barks. Talk about Epic Mickey!

While many of the classic Gottfredson Mickey Mouse tales have been reconfigured into comic book format and reprinted as such, the entire original newspaper strip has never been comprehensively collected in English — until now!

Starting with the strip’s 1930 launch (and initially featuring work by the legendary animator Ub Iwerks), Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Volume 1: Race to Death Valley includes more than a dozen complete Mickey tales in a 260-page hardcover — and all restored from Disney’s original negatives and proof sheets. Plus, there’s more than 50 pages of fascinating supplementary features, all in full color: behind-the-scenes artwork and publicity material, as well as commentary and essays from noted scholars, including Warren Spector, Floyd Norman, Thomas Andrae, and David Gerstein (co-editor of the project with Gary Groth). Check out Roger’s recent chat with Gerstein for more details on this wonderful project.

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Volume 1: Race to Death Valley (the first of a projected 13 volumes, sales pending) is one of comics’ major archival projects of the year. Fantagraphics’ decades-long devotion to high quality earns this project Westfield’s highest recommendation.


Fear Itself #1

Fear Itself #1


3.1. Fear Itself Event: I spoke about this new Marvel project at length last month here,  so I won’t spend a lot of time repeating myself (for a change). But now we have an idea of what we’re up against, as the first issue (and the inevitable tie-ins) have been officially announced. At least right now, it looks pretty under control — the core Fear Itself book (7 issues, by Matt Fraction, Stuart Immonen, and Wade Von Grawbadger), the “shadow” title: Fear Itself: The Home Front (7 issues by Christos Gage, Peter Milligan, Mike Mayhew, Elia Bonetti, and others), a couple of series tie-ins, and a pair of stand-alone books. I generally enjoy these “sidebar” event titles, as they tend to offer up a “worms’ eye view” of the main event, from the eyes of the average citizen of the Marvel U or the less-than-top-tier heroes, and how they cope with yet another major disruption to their way of life. By their very nature, they’re not as inherently exciting as the “real deal,” but they have the opportunity to offer up insight and background to the main event as it barrels along at top speed.

So far, there are only a couple of tie-in series to Fear Itself, those that Fraction himself are involved in. The Fraction-written Invincible Iron Man will be directly connected, as will the new incarnation of Journey Into Mystery starring the Thor supporting cast (while Fraction launches a new Mighty Thor title, which apparently isn’t going to directly tie-in, at least for right now). Fraction explains some of this in his recent interview with Westfield’s Roger Ash here, which is a must-read, if only to hear Fraction’s thoughts on Man-Thing (Marvel’s premiere Fear-based character, if you weren’t already aware).


Fear Itself: Sins Past

Fear Itself: Sins Past


There’s the Fear Itself Spotlight, which is the Marvel Spotlight magazine installment about the event, featuring interviews with both Fraction and Immonen, as well as a look at other big Marvel events from the past, and a feature about the original Journey Into Mystery Thor run, written by Bob Greenberger . . . And then there’s Fear Itself: Sin’s Past #1 — one of those really annoying Marvel reprint projects that also include a short (usually five pages or less) all-new “framing sequence”. Ostensibly, this book reprints the first appearance of Fear Itself’s Big Bad, Sin (aka The Red Skull’s daughter), which would be cool if it didn’t occur in the middle of Mark Gruenwald’s wackadoodle run of crazy Cap stories — this one featuring Captain America regressed to a 98-pound teenager (and trying to fight in a really baggy costume) facing a teenage death cult and the Sisters of Sin (who, like Sin, have a super-creepy origin story: that of young girls rapidly aged to adulthood). Not essential. Hopefully Marvel will come to their senses and put up the handful of new pages on their website at some point, if they’re actually important.

And that’s it (so far) for Fear Itself tie-ins. Of course, Marvel has yet to release the full Fear Itself checklist… That may be something to fear itself!


Miss Fury

Miss Fury


4 & 5. The Fury and the Furry: Two cool selections from the Library of American Comics this month: Miss Fury is a 240-page collection of the very best stories of the first female superhero created and drawn by a woman, the acclaimed Tarpé Mills. Starting life as the second (of many) characters called the Black Fury, this sexy costumed adventurer (with a catsuit outfit) first debuted in 1941 as a Sunday-only comic strip. Eventually, she became known as Miss Fury, and her adventures continued until 1952, when Mills largely retired from comics. Marvel Comics (then known as Timely Comics) reprinted many of these comic strips in comic book format from 1942 to 1946. In 1979, Mills began a graphic novel featuring Miss Fury, which ultimately was unfinished — although this collection will include pages from the project. While the Miss Fury material has been reprinted a number of times over the years by small publishers, for this latest outing, the very best stories have been selected by Trina Robbins. Mills’ Miss Fury work was so popular with WWII G.I.s, the beautiful character was often painted on the nose cones of their bombers. Making her a true bombshell heroine.


Bloom County The Complete Library Vol. 4

Bloom County The Complete Library Vol. 4


Also this month, IDW’s acclaimed Bloom County collections continue with Volume 4, complete with Bill the Cat on the cover. These strips are from the period in which creator Berkley Breathed won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning. He also broke his back in a ultralight plane crash — which caused not only a delay of the strip, but became fodder for the infamous Steve Dallas breaking his back sequence — although in that case, it was because Steve was attacked by an enraged Sean Penn. I hate when that happens.

As with previous Bloom County volumes, IDW (and Westfield) are also offering a limited edition of Volume 3, including a signed (by Breathed) and numbered bound-in bookplate — strictly limited to 500 copies.


DC Comics Presents: Legion of Super-Heroes - Damned

DC Comics Presents: Legion of Super-Heroes - Legion of the Damned


6. DC Classic Reprints: Legion of Super-Hero fans are rejoicing over DC’s announcement of a reprinting of Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Olivier Coipel’s massive Legion Lost 12-issue series in a 296-page hardcover. Bob Greenberger will have a more detailed preview of this soon. In the meantime — and if you want to check out this LSH dream team, but haven’t got the dough for a giant hardcover — their work also appears in DC Comics Presents: Legion of Super-Heroes — Legion of the Damned, a 96-page softcover reprint collecting Legionnaires #78 & 79 and Legion of Super-Heroes #123 & 124. More recent LSH is in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes: The Early Years, a 144-page paperback collection of Paul Levitz’s recent untold flashback tales, illustrated by Kevin Sharpe and Marlo Alquiza . . . Ever wanted to read Neal Adams’ vintage work on Deadman, but couldn’t afford the giant hardcover? Deadman Vol. 1 collects most of the Strange Adventures run (#205-213) for a fraction of the hardcover price . . . One of the more important DC historical series (as well as a great read!) is finally being reprinted in a nice hardcover format. Infinity Inc.: The Generations Saga collects the earliest adventures of Infinity Inc., starring the sons and daughters of the original Justice Society of America members (some of whom — like Power Girl and Jade — are big names in the DCU today). These early stories from All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc. are written by Roy and Dann Thomas, with art by Jerry Ordway, Mike Machlan, Tony Dezuniga, Don Newton, and others — including early, pre-Spawn work by Todd McFarlane. 192 pages . . . While not a book, fans of Jill Thompson and cute eternal beings should check out The Little Endless Portfolio set. Twelve 8” x 10” prints (six featuring images from The Little Endless Storybook and six from Delirium’s Party) are printed on high-quality matte paper and shrink-wrapped into a four-color folder.


Milton Caniff's Male Call

Milton Caniff's Male Call


7 & 8. Hermes x 2: Hermes Press is offering up two interesting projects this month. Milton Caniff’s Male Call: The Complete Newspaper Strips: 1942-1946 collects Caniff’s popular comic strip, which was only carried in U.S. military publications during WWII. Starring the popular and sexy Miss Lace (just “Lace” to her friends, which included pretty much every G.I. in the service!) in adventures that were just a little bit risqué — perhaps a bit more racy than traditional civilian features, but not enough to create problems with military censors. Ultimately, Lace became one of the most popular military-based cartoon characters ever (along with Sad Sack, Willie & Joe, and Pvt. Snafu — but Lace was in a class of her own). Hermes’ new book replaces the long-out-of-print 1987 Kitchen Sink collection, including every strip along with unpublished comics, ad material, an introductory essay by Caniff historian R.C. Harvey, a historical essay, and other special features. 156-page hardcover (w/dust jacket) in black & white and color.


My Favorite Martian

My Favorite Martian


On the surface, Gold Key Comics’ My Favorite Martian seems like an unusual series to collect. Based on the popular (yet seldom seen today) 1960s sitcom, the My Favorite Martian comic ran nine issues from Gold Key between 1964 and 1966. The first seven of these issues are being published by Hermes as My Favorite Martian: The Complete Series : Volume One — a 224-page full-color hardcover. (Why not include issues #8 & 9? They’ll be in Volume Two, with reprints of the British TV21 material.) Volume One features some great artwork by Russ Manning, Dan Spiegle, and Mike Arens with stories by Western publishing legend Paul S. Newman. Don’t miss it.


Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish

Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish


9. Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish: Not much to say about this one other that it’s writer Mike Mignola teaming up with artist Kevin Nowlan for an all-new one-shot! While it’s not exactly Mignola doing the whole thing again, in some ways this might be better. At the very least, it’ll be AWESOME! (What’s better than a giant spacecraft of mutated livestock? Am I the only one able to compare?) . . . Also check out the new B.P.R.D. miniseries, The Dead Remembered by Mignola, Scott Allie, Karl Moline, and Andy Owens about 14-year-old firestarter Liz Sherman, and Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #3 by Mignola, John Arcudi, and John Severin! They’re Hellboylicious!


Super Dinosaur

Super Dinosaur


10. Buy a kids comic (but read it before you give it to your kid): With Super Dinosaur #1, Image’s Robert Kirkman puts his money where his mouth is and creates his first all-ages comic book, about a 10-year-old kid and his best friend, a nine-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus Rex who loves to play video games. And who actually looks like a video game character himself, being all armored-up and packing some huge weaponry. Plus, he talks and apparently really enjoys taking baths, so girls will like him as well! (He’s so dreamy!) Is it just me, or does the evil Doctor Max Maximus look kinda like a prominent comic industry figure? (Perhaps I’m reading too many comic books!) Anyway, Super Dinosaur looks to be packed with action and fun, as well as well-drawn (by Jason Howard). It’s for everybody, so everybody should like it!

KC CARLSON sez: Hmmmmm… Teenage witches; hippies; a giant stone man; a mouse who thinks he’s Indiana Jones; a couple of WWII vintage pin-up queens; a scruffy, spitting (alleged) cat; a Martian; a talking dinosaur who’s packing big guns; and whatever the hell Hellboy is. Yeah… just another day at the office.

I love my job.

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