Monday, 22 July 2019

Star Trek Magazine #71: Picard, the Borg, Jeri Ryan and Jonathan Del Arco

Anyone with even half an eye on events at this past weekend's San Diego Comic-Con 2019 can't have failed to notice the revelations about the forthcoming Patrick Stewart-starring Star Trek: Picard. The biggest surprise at the Hall H panel on the Saturday was the announcement that both Jeri Ryan – Star Trek: Voyager's Seven of Nine – and Jonathan Del Arco – Star Trek: The Next Generation's Hugh Borg – will be making appearances in the show (as will Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis, as Data, Riker and Troi respectively). So it would be remiss of me not to point out that both Ryan and Del Arco are interviewed in the current Star Trek Magazine, issue #71 (#198 in the UK) – a Borg 30th anniversary special, still on sale now.

Clearly I was exhibiting some form of precognition when I commissioned those interviews... and Ryan wasn't exactly fibbing when, in answer to the question would she ever return as Seven, she replied, "Never say never."

If you're interested in reading Ryan and Del Arco's thoughts on the Borg – or indeed former Star Trek executive producer Rick Berman's reminiscences about Borg creator Maurice Hurley (among many other Borg- and non-Borg-related Trek matters) – Star Trek Magazine #71 is available at newsagents, in specialist sci-fi and comic stores, or direct from Titan Magazines.

Friday, 12 July 2019

80s Comics Cavalcade Back Issue Bonanza: Captain America, New Teen Titans, Legion of Super-Heroes and More

I've documented most of the early–mid 1980s Gerry Conway/Doug Moench/Don Newton/Gene Colan et al Batman and Detective Comics, er, comics I've collected – in fact have pretty much finished collecting; just the elusive (and pricey) Batman #386 from Moench's run left to secure – since the start of the year, but I've been picking up lots of other 1980s comics besides – not to mention turning up ones I'd forgotten I even had...

Somewhere, sometime – no idea where or when but it must have been a good few years before this latest collecting frenzy – I'd somehow conspired to collect (or rather re-collect; I originally had them back in the 1980s) a good number of J. M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck's Captain America comics (plus the preceding short stint by Roger Stern and John Byrne). With my fervour for '80s comics reinflamed this year, it seemed the right time to collect the post-Zeck DeMatteis Caps as well, which I duly did at a London comic mart, with a couple of stray issues from Dave's Comics in Brighton.

To those I added a run of late-1980s Mark Gruenwald/Kieron Dwyer Caps, which I came across at the Lewes Book Fair. I've not read those ones before, so I'm interested to find out what they're like.

Something I have read before, in large part, is George Perez and Marv Wolfman's New Teen Titans, and again in Brighton, in the basement of the ramshackle, aptly-named Raining Books (previously Rainbow Books) on Trafalgar Street I found a stack of cheap copies from early in the run. Courtesy of Dave's Comics I filled in some gaps, and then on eBay I secured a run of issues #3–15... key issues DC Comics Presents #26 – which has a 16-page New Teen Titans insert, the first appearance of the team – and Tales of the Teen Titans #44, which is the first appearance of former Robin, Dick Grayson, as Nightwing (long one of my favourite comics characters).

Then in Scorch Comics in Eastbourne, for just a tenner, I scored the first issue of the series:

(plus some Mike W. Barr/Alan Davis Detectives, and a couple of post-Moench Batman issues), meaning I now have a near-complete run of #1–50 (missing just #2, the pricey first appearance of Deathstroke).

Once again from Dave's in Brighton, I bought a run of Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen's Legion of Super-Heroes – some from the 50p dump bins, some from the general back issue bins – including the celebrated "Great Darkness Saga" – plus most of the Legends-tie-in Cosmic Boy miniseries...

...the sole remaining issue of which I subsequently picked up in 30th Century Comics in Putney, along with the first four Legion Annuals. While I was there, I also bought the issues I was missing from Steve Engelhart and Joe Staton's Millennium miniseries, some of which I'd already found in those aforementioned Dave's Comics 50p dump bins....

....alongside all manner of other 50p comics: Robert Loren Fleming and Trevor Von Eeden's Thriller #1; Cary Bates, Gene Colan and Klaus Janson's Silverblade #1...

...all four issues of Max Collins and Terry Beatty's Wild Dog miniseries; the first three issues of Jim Starlin and Berni Brighton's The Weird miniseries...

Roger Slifer and Keith Giffen's Omega Men #1; Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo's Outsiders #1; Gerard Jones and Mike Parobeck's El Diablo #1; plus a late-1990s JLA in Crisis Secret Files and Origins.

Further afield, in the Cartoon Shop in Basildon, I came across a cheap set of the first 13 issues of Roy Thomas and Jerry Ordway's Infinity, Inc...

...which was handy, because I've also been collecting the "Ultra War" storyline from Roy Thomas and Jerry Ordway's All-Star Squadron, which features the first appearance of Infinity, Inc.

And, inevitably, there have been more issues of Batman and Detective, too – from Mega City Comics (Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola's Gotham by Gaslight, the first Elseworlds title), 30th Century Comics (Batman #307, the first appearance of Lucius Fox), Gosh! Comics (Detective #575, the first part of "Batman: Year Two", which completes my run of Barr/Davis Detectives), Dave's Comics, and Scorch Comics (where I also scored DC's two-issue Christmas with the Super-Heroes, the second issue of which features stories by Paul Chadwick, Eric Shanower and Colleen Doran) – not least, and returning to my earlier comment about turning up comics I'd forgotten I had, these:

Batman #408–410 by Max Allan Collins, Chris Warner, Ross Andru and Dave Cockrum (in which, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, Jason Todd, the second Robin, is reimagined as a juvenile delinquent rather than a circus acrobat – comics, eh?), which I came across in the loft whilst hunting for something else, and which I have no idea where (or when) they came from. A turn up for the (comic) books indeed.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Anthony Price, 1928–2019

I wasn't planning on commemorating Anthony Price, who died last Thursday, 30 May; I was content to let my 2011 two-part interview with the spy novelist stand as tribute (along with all my other Price posts). But Ethan Iverson – who has posted his own typically excellent tribute – encouraged me to do so, and so here are a few thoughts.

I still think fondly of the day I interviewed the author at his then-home in Oxfordshire: spotting red kites on the drive there; the warm welcome Rachel and I received from Price and his late wife, Ann, when we arrived, exemplified by the salmon lunch we were served; and Price's candour during the interview in his study, including the revelation – which I left out of the transcript at his request – that the reason he never wrote the 20th David Audley novel after 1989's The Memory Trap was because Ann had fallen seriously ill.

Something else I haven't since revealed is that following the interview, Price and I corresponded for a little while, exchanging the odd letter and Christmas card. When his wife died in 2012 he wrote of the funeral and his memories of Ann, and when Rachel and my daughter Edie was born in 2013, he commended the choice of her "lovely Anglo-Saxan name", and shared the news that he'd moved to Blackheath in London and had just been to a "wonderful, but terrifying!" Leonard Cohen concert at the 02. ("All those people!") I regret that I didn't keep up the correspondence past that point – I didn't want to pester him – but I shall always treasure my small stash of letters.

I'll also treasure the firsts of The Labyrinth Makers, The Alamut Ambush, and Our Man in Camelot he inscribed to me. And I'll continue to make my way through the David Audley series, which I'm ashamed to admit I'm still not even halfway through. Tomorrow's Ghost is next up for me, even though Price somewhat spoiled the fate of its protagonist during our interview. I wouldn't have it any other way though.

Addendum: There are now obituaries at The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Times, and The Telegraph, all of which refer to my 2011 interview.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

80s Comics Cavalcade: Collecting Conway and Moench Batman and Detective Back Issues

So much for maintaining my blogging momentum this year: this is the first post I've managed since I declared my intention to blog more frequently two bloody months ago. I've been pecking away at a prospective post about Batman comics, but it just wasn't coming together, so rather than persist in fruitlessly puffing at the flickering flame of what I laughingly call my muse, I thought I'd simply post a bunch of pictures of the early–mid-1980s Batman and Detective Comics I've been collecting since the start of the year, and write whatever comes into my head about them.

Comprising consecutive runs by writers Gerry Conway (Detective #497–526/Batman #337–359, 1980–83) and Doug Moench (Batman #360–400/Detective #527–566, 1983–86), a lot of these issues I had and read as a kid, around the age of twelve or thirteen or so, but subsequently flogged (probably to long-lost London back issue specialists LTS/Paradise Alley to fund the purchase of import electro and hip hop 12"s from long-lost London record shop Groove Records).

Boasting terrific art by Don Newton, Gene Colan and others (with some fab Jim Aparo covers thrown in for good measure), this era of Batman is notable for the way Batman and Detective became increasingly interlinked, with stories weaving back and forth between the two titles so that they effectively became one fortnightly series. It also marked the arrival of a more sophisticated style of storytelling, with more defined characterisation and multiple ongoing subplots which would simmer away until exploding into lead stories – all of which the Gotham Calling blog has identified as the 'Marvelization' of Batman.

That's besides more prosaic – but of course of vital interest to superhero comics collectors – fictional events as the debuts of Jason Todd (although I haven't yet got my hands on the issue with his first appearance in it; I'm still missing the odd issue here and there), Killer Croc and Nocturna (all characters I have a lot of time for), the return of Bruce Wayne/Batman to Wayne Manor (after an extended stint living in the penthouse of – and Caped Crusadering out of a Batcave beneath – the Wayne Foundation building), and Batman briefly becoming a vampire!

I've been picking up issues of Batman and Detective in a handful of comic shops – my local, Dave's in Brighton, as well as Uncanny Comics in Worthing and 30th Century Comics in Putney – plus on a visit to the bimonthly London Comic Mart at the Royal National Hotel near Russell Square, which I hadn't been to in over a decade (the comic mart I mean; I've been to a fair number of book fairs at the same venue in the interim).

Somewhere else I found myself for the first time in probably a dozen years was Mega City Comics in Camden. I made the journey there on the off chance, not really expecting to find anything, only to discover that they'd just got in a collection of precisely the era of Batman and Detective I was after – the sort of serendipitous occurrence that us collectors can usually only dream of, even in the internet age.

Speaking of which, I've been picking up issues on eBay as well – a run of ten Detectives from one seller, half a dozen Detectives from another, random issues of Batman and Detective here and there.

Although this is all ostensibly an exercise in nostalgia, I am intrigued to find out if these stories are as good, as contemporary-seeming, as I half-remember and half-suspect (I've only read/re-read up to the end of 1981 so far, so the best stuff is yet to come). Certainly Gene Colan's appositely shadowy and swirling art is as excellent and evocative as I remember, and Don Newton's is even better than I recall, owing an obvious debt to Bernie Wrightson and Neal Adams but still distinctive and aesthetically inviting.

And then there are all the additional pleasures of reading these stories in their original floppy format (rather than in collections or online): comics adverts for Hostess Twinkies (and Fruit Pies and Cupcakes) and Bubble Yum; other adverts for plastic toy soldiers and Sea-Monkeys and bodybuilding courses and magic tricks and pranks and Grit newspaper and the Olympic Sales Club ("Prizes for cash") and NBC's Super Star Saturday cartoon marathons (oh how I wished we had those in the UK back then) and comic book back issues; letters pages; a very modern (employing narrative captions rather than thought bubbles) Conway-written Robin back-up strip circa 1981; house ads for other DC comics; and from 1983 onwards, DC Managing Editor Dick Giordano's Meanwhile... columns.

Collecting – or in many cases re-collecting – these comics has been a lot of fun, and reading them has been just as enjoyable so far. And hopefully, when I get a little further along in my reading, I'll find time to write about them again.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

First Editions of Raymond Chandler's The Little Sister, John Rowland's Calamity in Kent and Henry Kane's Trilogy in Jeopardy

It's perhaps a measure of the neglect Existential Ennui has suffered in recent times – on my part I mean; whatever commensurate neglect there's been on the part of the readership is neither here nor there – that I haven't updated my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page in well over a year. That's partly down to my gravitating more towards science fiction from the 1970s and later in my collecting and reading over the past few years, and as a consequence acquiring fewer books that fit with that 50s/60s theme; but it's not the whole story. As I mentioned last May, the blogging muse, such as it was, rather deserted me in 2018; so while I have still been picking up books here and there, the wrappers of which have been eminently suitable for Beautiful British Book Jacket Design, I haven't been able to summon the impetus or enthusiasm to blog about them.

This year, however, the muse has seemingly made a marginal return. I managed two posts in January – a nascent series called 80s Comics Cavalcade, which I hope to continue – and am keen to maintain that momentum, however faltering it may be. To that end, I thought I'd increase 2019's post tally by showcasing a few finds which I'm adding to the aforementioned Beautiful British Book Jackets page, starting with a small haul from one of Brighton's flea markets last year – small but, I feel, given the piddling prices paid, impressive, especially this book:

A British first edition/first impression of Raymond Chandler's The Little Sister. Published in hardback by Hamish Hamilton, strictly speaking its issue date of 1949 should disqualify it from inclusion in Beautiful British Book Jackets of the 1950s and 1960s; but I've made exceptions before, and its wrapper, by Cecil Walter Bacon, is too good not to include, especially as it makes a nice companion to the two other CWB jackets on the page.

The fifth of Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels, The Little Sister is quite a valuable book in British first (the true first of the book, as it preceded the American first by three months), especially in its original dust jacket, even a somewhat chipped and worn one as here. When I spied this copy on the shelves of the bijou book stall in the flea market, I couldn't quite credit what I was seeing, but on closer inspection I realised it was indeed a British 1st/1st, and with a ludicrously low price pencilled on its front free endpaper. I've come across some real bargains in my time collecting books, but this is by far my biggest find: the closest comparable copy I can see online is listed at £375 –  rather more than the £3 I paid.

The other two books from this haul aren't in quite the same league as the Chandler, but they are both pretty scarce and fairly valuable. Probably scarcest of the two, at least in first edition, is this one:

Calamity in Kent by John Rowland, published by Herbert Jenkins in 1950. One of two Rowland novels reissued by the British Library in 2016 under their Crime Classics imprint (the other being 1938's Murder in the Museum), Calamity in Kent is an entry in Rowland's series of novels featuring Inspector Shelley (and one of the last he published), and is set in the fictional Kentish coastal town of Broadgate, a name which Rowland presumably arrived at by shmooshing Broadstairs into Ramsgate. As a Kent man myself (originally – I suppose I'm more of a Sussex sort these days), I can only commend this act of geographical commingling.

John Norris of Pretty Sinister Books wrote about Rowland back in 2016, so head to that post if you want to learn more about the author. What concerns us here is the dust jacket of the first edition, which was designed by an H. T. Watts... although I've been able to find out very little about him, if indeed he is a him. I do know he also designed the wrappers for the 1950 Jenkins edition of Leonora Starr's Azaleas on the Hill and the 1950 Sampson Low, Marston & Co edition of Paul Townend's The Modern World Book of Wonders, but beyond that, I've drawn a blank. I did wonder if H. T. Watts might have been related to the publisher Charles Albert Watts, for whom I believe John Rowland worked at one time, but that's barely even conjecture on my part.

One note, however, before we move on to the final book in this haul: there was a John Rowland designing dust jackets in the 1950s and 1960s – I wrote about him here, and his work is featured on the Beautiful British Book Jackets page. Were Rowland the author and Rowland the illustrator and designer one and the same? As ever, if anyone can shed any light, do please leave a comment.

At present I can't see any jacketed firsts of Calamity in Kent for sale online, so the £2 I paid for mine, even with its torn wrapper, has to be considered something of a steal. As does the £3 I paid for this book:

A British first edition of Trilogy in Jeopardy by Henry Kane, published by T. V. Boardman in 1955 – #113 in the publisher's American Bloodhound Mystery series. I've written about Boardman, and the designer of most of their dust jackets and book covers, Denis McLoughlin, many times, so I shan't tarry here; follow the links for more on both. This particular book, a collection of three of Kane's Peter Chambers P.I. stories (namely "Slaughter on Sunday", "One Little Bullet" and "Skip a Beat"), is in very short supply online: I can see a couple of jacketed copies in the US priced at around £40, but that's it.

I've added all three of those wrappers to Beautiful British Book Jacket design of the 1950s and 1960s, but blogging about Trilogy in Jeopardy has reminded me that I have some other McLoughlin-wrapped Boardmans to add to the page. I shall endeavour to do that at the earliest opportunity.

Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 8/3/19.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

80s Comics Cavalcade: Detective Comics #526; the Best Batman Comic Ever?

In my previous 80s Comics Cavalcade post I mentioned how Doug Moench and Gene Colan's 1983–84 stint on Detective Comics and Batman made a big impression on 13–14 year-old me. But what I didn't mention was that it was probably the issue just preceding Moench's run that made the biggest impression of all: Detective Comics #526, written by Gerry Conway, art by Don Newton and Alfred Alcala.

I would have been on the cusp of 13 when this issue was published in 1983; cover-dated May, it was published in the US on 24 February, so I reckon it would have made its way over to British newsagents by early March – newsagents being where I bought the majority of my American comics at that point (I wouldn't find my way to any of London's comic shops for another year or so). I even know which newsagent I bought it in: a corner shop (long since converted to residential use) opposite Beckenham Rec on Croydon Road, south London, which I'd walk the 20 minutes to from my house at least once a week to see what new American comics might have arrived.

So vivid is my memory of buying this issue that I can pretty much picture it on the right-hand side of the bottom shelf, where the US comics were kept, its gold-stamped cover calling to me... although the copy seen here isn't actually the one I bought back then: my original copy is long gone, sold, I expect, to central London back-issue specialists LTS/Paradise Alley off Denmark Street, where a lot of my comics ended up (flogged off to feed a subsequent habit: the acquisition of import electro/hip hop 12"s from Groove Records on Greek Street). This particular copy is a more recent purchase, nabbed by chance on a flying visit to Uncanny Comics in Worthing.

Reading it again over 35 years on from first exposure, I experienced a rush of nostalgia, pages and panels so familiar to me that I can only conclude that teenage me must have read and reread the comic countless times. It's easy to see why. A 68-page square-bound anniversary issue, boasting a 56-page story (plus ads, plus a celebratory Bob Kane pin-up page), Detective #526 features all of Batman's recurring villains teaming up to take him down – an obvious conceit on reflection but one which I'd not come across before (and have rarely seen since).

But I was most struck by how the smaller character moments have stayed with me all these years: the way Conway and co. deftly demonstrate Two-Face's mercurial nature by having him let Talia al Ghul escape after his scarred coin lands good side up; Vicki Vale, working late, having to forcefully fend off the unwanted amorous advances of a sleazy colleague; Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) revealing to a shocked Dick Grayson that she's worked out that he and Bruce Wayne are Batman and Robin; various bizarre villains (some of whom I would have recognised at the time, others I wouldn't; this wouldn't have been the first Batman comic I read, but it was an early one) unused to working together, blundering into one another and taking each other off the field.

I also see things now I didn't see then, notably Conway's refreshing characterisation of Batman as a relatively balanced individual; a crime-fighter more than a crusader; an adventurer rather than an avenger: a Batman who quips, as opposed to a Batman Who Laughs. As Batman, Talia and Catwoman race to their cars, Conway's narration notes: "Three grins light three grim faces. This is what they love: in a way, it's what they live for. The chase. The hunt. The thrill of facing the unknown."

Such is the nature of nostalgia that we believe the things we loved as kids – comics, books, TV shows, films, toys – were better than the things that came later, irrespective of whether they were or not, and no doubt that's the case here too. Even so, reading Detective #526 again at this remove, I think there's more going on here. I've read a lot of brilliant Batman stories over the years – The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, too many others to name – but I struggle to think of a single issue – as in a stand-alone, effectively done-in-one instalment – as good as this one. The best Batman comic ever? That's a bold (maybe even a brave and a bold) claim. But Detective Comics #526 is hard to beat.