Summertime with the Amazing Heroes swimsuit special

It’s the end of August and summer is winding down.  Yes, technically it doesn’t actually end until September 23rd.  However, the unofficial end of the summer season here in the States is Labor Day, which is only a week away.  Most people regard these as the closing days of summer.

So before all the kiddies return to school I wanted to end the summer with an appropriate post.  Let’s cast our eyes back to 1988 and the pages of Amazing Heroes #138, their second annual swimsuit issue.

For younger readers, Amazing Heroes was published by Fantagraphics between 1981 and 1992.  It featured in-depth articles and interviews on both mainstream comic books and the ever-growing independent scene.  For most of its existence Amazing Heroes was edited by Kim Thompson.

Amazing Heroes had a few swimsuit editions in the late 1980s and early 90s.  Unlike many of the comic book swimsuit specials that would follow from other publishers that were tacky T&A fests, Amazing Heroes approached theirs with tongue planted firmly in cheek.  A diverse selection of artists contributed to their specials.

Amazing Heroes 138 cover signed

The cover to Amazing Heroes #138 is penciled by the legendary Neal Adams and inked by Art Nichols.  It features four lovely ladies from Adams’ creator-owned Continuity Studios books.  I’m not familiar with the gals in the middle.  But on the left is Ms. Mystic and on the right is Samuree.  I always chuckle at this one.  In the Ms. Mystic series the title character’s costume is always rendered by Adams with zip-a-tone.  So the joke here is that, in lieu of a swimsuit, Ms. Mystic is wearing an actual sheet of zip-a-tone to the beach.

I got this autographed by Adams recently.  It’s a lovely piece by him, a playfully sexy pin-up illustration.  I hope one of these days Adams collects his creator-owned material into trade paperbacks.  I feel that is an often-overlooked aspect of his career.

Here’s a look at just a few of my favorites from the many great pin-ups featured in Amazing Heroes #138…

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 31 John Workman Big Barda

John Workman renders Big Barda of Jack Kirby’s New Gods in a bikini.  Workman is best known for his extensive work as a letterer, frequently working with Walter Simonson.  But Workman is also a talented artist.  As can be seen from this, he also possesses a great sense of humor.  This is a cute send-up of good girl art, simultaneously sexy and self-deprecating.  That “tapioca pudding” line totally cracks me up.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 38 Hernandez Bros

If you are Fantagraphics and you’re going to do a swimsuit special, certainly you’re going to ask two of your best artists, Love and Rockets co-creators Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez, to contribute a piece.  After all, both brothers are well-regarded for their depictions of the female form.  Of course, Beto and Jaime draw some good looking guys, too.  Here’s a jam piece by Los Bros Hernandez.  On the left is Israel by Gilbert.  On the right is Danita by Jaime.

This pin-up and a great deal of other material that had originally appeared in a variety of places was reprinted in the Hernandez Satyricon trade paperback.  As much as I love Gilbert & Jaime for their very compelling characters & intricate plotting it was also nice to have many of their beautiful pin-ups gathered together in one volume.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 39 Fred Hembeck Ditko Zone

I really enjoy Fred Hembeck’s fun, cartoony artwork.  He is a huge fan of Silver Age comic books, especially the Marvel Comics work of Steve Ditko.  Hembeck has done quite a few loving Ditko homages over the years, including this one, “Surfing in The Ditko Zone.”  It brings a smile to my face seeing Doctor Strange, Clea and the dread Dormammu in swimsuits riding the waves in one of Ditko’s psychedelic alternate dimensions.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 45 Reed Waller Omaha

As I’ve mentioned before, my girlfriend Michele is a fan of Omaha the Cat Dancer by writer Kate Worley and artist Reed Waller.  I’ve never read the series, but Michele has all of the collected editions, so one of these days I’ll sit down and immerse myself in it.  Omaha is an exotic dancer / stripper, and the book is definitely for mature readers.  The series was partly created as a protest against censorship.  It perfect makes sense that Waller would draw Omaha as “Ms. First Amendment” here.  It’s a beautiful illustration.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 72 Bo Hampton

In the late 1980s Eclipse Comics was publishing their revival of the Golden Age aviator hero Airboy written by Chuck Dixon.  The talented Bo Hampton was one of the artists who worked on it.  For this swimsuit issue Hampton renders Airboy / Davy Nelson III, the near-mindless swamp monster known as the Heap, and the femme fatale Valkyrie at the beach.  I always chuckle at the sight of the Heap in a pair of swim trunks!

IDW is currently reprinting Eclipse’s Airboy in a series of trade paperbacks.  I recommend getting them.  They contain excellent writing and artwork.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 84 Evan Dorkin

Here’s a great pin-up of the whole crew from Evan Dorkin’s irreverent creator-owned series Pirate Corp$ / Hectic Planet jamming at the beach.  It always amazes me at the insane amount of detail, as well as the just plain insanity, Dorkin always manages to pack into his artwork.  He draws a huge crowd of characters and successfully invests each one with an individual personality.  Dorkin is definitely one of the most talented and underrated comic book creators around.

In the late 1990s Slave Labor Graphics released three trade paperback collections of Hectic Planet.  You can find them on Amazon at affordable prices.  Again, I recommend them.  Dorkin did good work in those stories.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 81 Bruce Patterson original

Bringing things to a close, here is a scan of the original art for a pin-up of Purity Brown and Nemesis the Warlock from the pages of 2000 AD drawn by Bruce Patterson.  As an inker, Patterson has worked with a diverse number of pencilers.  This piece demonstrates Patterson is also able to do extremely good work on his own.  Purity Brown of course looks damn sexy in her black bikini.  As for Nemesis, there’s comedy gold in seeing the alien chaos lord clad in a black Speedo holding a beach ball.

I won this on Ebay in the late 1990s.  Only a couple other people bid on it, so I got it for an amazingly low price.  I owned it for almost 20 years before eventually selling it to another collector when I had some bills I had to pay.  The art board Patterson drew on had warped a bit by the time it made its way into my hands, but it still looked great.  This is a piece that I feel, due to the subtle shading Patterson utilized, did not reproduce especially well on black & white newsprint.

Older fans often look back at the demise Amazing Heroes in 1992 as an unfortunate setback to serious journalism on the industry.  I think that’s a valid argument.  Even more so when you consider that following in Amazing Heroes’ footsteps was Wizard Magazine.  If Amazing Heroes was the New York Times of comic book reporting then Wizard was definitely the NY Post!

Many of the old Amazing Heroes issues can be found on Ebay for low prices.  They’re well worth picking up for the interviews and the in-the-moment examination of the dramatic changes the comic book industry underwent throughout the 1980s.  And, of course, you also had fun features like their swimsuit specials.

E-Man: the First Comics years, part one

During another recent stop at Mysterious Island (aka Roger’s Time Machine) I discovered that they had in stock the entire 25 issue run of E-Man published by First Comics between 1983 and 1985. I was already a huge fan of the original E-Man series by Nicola Cuti & Joe Staton that Charlton had published a decade before, as well as the more recent specials released by Digital Webbing. So here was a good opportunity to pick up much of the material that I was missing. This is the first part of my look back at that First Comics run.

E-Man v2 1 cover

Okay, truth be told, I was a bit hesitant to read these issues. Erik Larsen, the super-talented creator of Savage Dragon, is a huge fan of E-Man. And he has commented in the past that he was not fond of the First Comics issues. During this time, Cuti was working on staff at DC Comics, which prevented him from returning to E-Man. Instead, the writing chores initially fell to Martin Pasko, whose work Larsen did not really like.

And, yeah, the first few issues of E-Man written by Pasko are a bit rough. Suddenly Alec Tronn and Nova Kane, who had previously started to become romantically involved, are now back to being platonic roommates, with Nova bringing home a different guy each night to sleep with. She is also suddenly upset about the fact that she has gained super-powers similar to Alec’s. Sloppy hardboiled PI Michael Mauser, instead of just being his usual rude, brusque self, is downright obnoxious, insulting Nova left & right. Oh, yes, and the ghost of Albert Einstein is narrating the book in a very thick accent.

Upon reflection, I did realize that Cuti and Pasko have very different styles of humor. Cuti’s work is undoubtedly on the subtler side. Pasko, on the other hand, is extremely blunt & heavy with his satire. I do think that Cuti’s approach works better for the characters, but Pasko, once you get used to him, does pen entertaining stories.

Pasko’s two-part tale in issue #s 2 & 3 is a heavy-handed parody of a certain popular group of mutants. Deranged scientist Ford Fairmont has been kidnapping teenagers and transforming them into real-life incarnations of his favorite comic book superheroes, the Unhappy F-Men. Mauser & E-Man are drawn into the case when they are hired to find one of those missing kids, Kitty, by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Porn… which makes their daughter Kitty Porn. Groan… insert rimshot! That said, Pasko does do a fair job satirizing Claremont’s purple prose. I’m a fan of those classic X-Men stories, but I still found this rather funny.  Anyway, things come to a head when Nova is also kidnapped and turned into Jean Beige, the Dark Albatross, before becoming completely depowered.

E-Man v2 5 pg 19

Probably the stand-out story of Pasko’s time on E-Man is issue #5, in which he takes his sledgehammer wit to the task of pummeling Scientology, and very effectively at that. “Getting Void” features the menace of the Psychobabbler, aka Elrod Flummox, head of the Church of Technolography.  And if you’re wondering what that “Pauline Blooper” bit on the page above is in reference to, be sure to do a Google search on Paulette Cooper or Operation Freakout.  It’s very disturbing stuff.

Paul Kupperberg scripts over the plots to Pasko’s last couple of issues, bringing with him perhaps a less heavy-handed touch, before Joe Staton himself takes over as writer. Staton’s first issue is #9, wherein E-Man and Mauser encounter the femme fatale Tyger Lili, who is in fact “Commander Zhong of the Grand Army of the Communo-Socialist Worker’s Party of Greater Macao.” Faster that you can say “better dead than red,” E-Man and Mauser are racing the prevent Tyger Lili from getting a hold of a miniaturized neutron bomb that’ll wipe out all life in the good old U.S. of A.

The next two issues are co-plotted by Pasko and Staton, with scripting by Kupperberg. This two part tale is an interesting look into Nova Kane’s previously unexplored origins. We witness the bumpy, unhappy journey she took from her younger years as Katrinka Kolcnzski of Barrentown PA to the geology student / burlesque dancer that we all know & love. It’s a rather poignant story which does good work developing Nova’s character.

Staton becomes the permanent writer on E-Man #12, which sees the return of Tyger Lili. The socialist seductress has joined forces with Big Al, a talking, cigar-smoking albino sewer alligator who dreams of conquering the world in the name of reptile-kind. Lili eventually realizes that Big Al has it in for all of humanity, and she quickly switches sides, freeing an entrapped E-Man so that the hero can stop the gigantic robot Gai-Tor from demolishing the city. It’s a very goofy story, but definitely a lot of fun.

E-Man v2 9 pg 6

Joe Staton’s artwork on these first dozen issues is very good. As I mentioned in my previous blog post about E-Man, the original Charlton issues were among some of his earliest professional work. A decade later, it is obvious that he has grown as an artist & storyteller, producing very strong, exciting, funny work on E-Man volume 2.

Perhaps because he was also busy as the Art Director at First, Staton did not do full artwork on E-Man after the initial five issues. Beginning with #6, Rich Burchett takes over the inking chores. I was already a fan of Burchett’s art from later at DC in the 1990s on various titles. Seeing his earlier work here was a pleasant surprise. He really complements Staton’s pencils, resulting in very nice artwork. Truthfully, even though I think Staton usually looks best when he inks his own pencils, after looking at these issues of E-Man I definitely have to put Burchett on the list of the top inkers to have worked with him.

The first ten issues each have a bonus page in the back, parodies of those old Hostess ads that used to run in comic books back in the 1970s. These spoofs are drawn by a number of talented artists, among them John Byrne, Bruce Patterson, and Fred Hembeck. One of my favorites was in issue #5, written & drawn by Reed Waller, featuring his erotic funny animal character Omaha the Cat Dancer. Michele is a fan of Waller’s work, and had previously seen this piece when it was reprinted in The Complete Omaha Volume 2. So she enjoyed getting to see it in color.

E-Man v2 5 pg 30

As E-Man #12 ends, Nova has received a job offer in Chicago, to work as a hostess on a monster movie television show. Despite Mauser’s protestations, Alec decides to join the woman he loves, and the couple is off to the Midwest, leaving behind a melancholy PI who is surprised to discover he is going to miss them.

In the next installment (hopefully coming soon, time permitting, cross your fingers) we shall see what sort of misadventures await Alec Tronn & Nova Kane in the Windy City. And we’ll also find out just what sort of trouble Michael Mauser gets up to without those two to keep an eye on him.