Wednesday, May 31, 2017


It's a weird title for this entry, but just to unpack it: Here's a pair of Quarter-Bin Heroes with which I have, at the very least, a cranky relationship. Stay tuned and watch me dish the gossip!

The Guardian (Spectrum Comics)
2 issues, 1984

About five years into the blog's run, I briefly experimented with having other writers dive in and pen articles for Gone&Forgotten. It was a short-lived experiment with only a few contributors, and it didn't last more than three or four months (by my recollection, anyway. Records of this era are sparse, and much of its history has been handed down in the oral tradition by elders of the community).

I don't think that guy on the right is laughing.
One of those guest authors was my college roommate, Josh, an avid comics reader who was also my traveling companion on our traditional Saturday morning jaunt. Being poor-as-motherfucking-church-mice, we managed to make five dollars last a whole day in a totally Mayberry-RFD-type little kid adventure. Even though we were twenty years old. But, anyway, we'd get a Slurpee apiece over at the Circle K, play Black Tiger all the way to the end on a single quarter (we had that game DOWN), and then head over to Bookman's to tackle what was literally a dime-comic bin. We'd walk back to our apartment with a grocery bag full of comics. This is how I got that 15,000-comic collection which was mentioned on my This American Life appearance way back in the 14th century, before the invention of steam.

Anyway, where I'm going with this is that Josh had a collection which rivaled mine, and we shared some tastes in comics -- specifically, lesser-known and outright terrible ones. This is why Josh ended up writing about The Guardian for the site. I don't recall it being a particularly vicious review -- and having re-read the book for this write-up (and I promise I will get to the book in a moment) I think it wasn't much more than fair criticisms.

The bad guy literally says "fool!" every third panel.
Disagreeing with that assessment was a member of the book's creative team who shall remain nameless. A few years after the review was posted, I received a peevish email from the fella in question, who felt it necessary to defend his work. Which, hey, it's his work, defend away. I'm the sole creator of a legitimately terrible comic released while I was in college, and while I'd be mortified if someone reviewed it online, I understand the urge to defend it.

So I always remember this fella's letter whenever I happen across a copy of this book, or any of the other Spectrum Comics titles. Nothing much more to it than that. He was by no means as ardent as the guy who created Zen:The Intergalactic Ninja, though, who has also sent me multiple comments over the years about a bad review of his book which I also did not write. I dunno why I attract these guys. I guess they gotta get it out of their systems.

The thing about The Guardian is, of course, it's not a bad comic. Tom Morgan's art is Byrne-esque and rough, but competent and clear. The story is bog-standard if ever there were one -- an ex-cop turns to costumed crime-fighting to end the career of a violent drug dealer. His former partner is embroiled in the whole mess, and there's a mysterious lady assassin who keeps showing up, getting involved for her own ambiguous reasons.

That it was inspired by Frank Miller's Daredevil is clear, if only for the surprising amount of venetian blinds decorating every window in the city. There's also a card-throwing supervillain, a la Bullseye, and the thing about that guy -- which I believe is one of the things which my roommate had made it a point to call out -- is that the guy, who prefers to throw Ace of Spades as his signature card, is called The Spade. And is black.

Now, whether that was unintentional is ... well, besides robustly unlikely ... irrelevant. What we have here is a comic with a black supervillain in it and his name is The Spade. This is the worst addition to the Challenge of the Super-Friends ethnic superhero roster imaginable. It's also wholly distracting from a book which wasn't really solid enough to stand distractions.

Still, outside of that, it's a decent read. It could probably be updated  for the contemporary market without much fiddling, although it really wouldn't be my cup of tea. I hope, if the offended creator comes across this, he finds that at least a fair assessment, all told.

Solson's Comic Talent Star Search (Solson Publications)
2 issues, 1983-1986 (!!)

As for Solson, I hate these people and I'm not a hundred percent sure "why."

It's not necessarily the laziest catalog of comics I'd ever seen published -- why, that would be my own aforementioned college-era title of which I am, from this point, disavowing all knowledge. It's not the most cynical, the shoddiest, or the vainest, either. It's not even some of the worst written and drawn comics I've ever seen, and I've seen ::gestures at entire blog:: two.

But few other companies -- maybe NO other company -- was all of these things in abundance. Solson comics struck me as cynical, and the worst kind of cynicism t'boot. It was the cynicism of forced enthusiasm, the assertion of slack-jawed grinning and back-slapping "Pal, you like comics? Well feast your eyes on THIS beauty!" sales pitch over content. They are the stereotypical used car salesmen of the publishing world, and I say that about a world that once had Harry "A" Chesler in it.

While your criteria are certainly your own, I could have forgiven much of Solson's excesses had they put any effort into either the content or the materials of their work. Or the promotion, production, packaging or presentation. Solson books look like crap.

The thing to remember about the company is that its figurehead and top cat was Sol Brodsky's son Gary, and comics artist Rich Buckler -- so, frankly, they should have known better.

But, book after book, they paid out for the cheapest material, the tackiest plots and premises (Learn martial arts from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Learn how to draw Sexy Women! Here's Reagan with a machine gun! Here's some sexy teen superheroes, have a gawk!) served up with a timid, giggling preteen chastity that was far from charming.

Which leads us to the Solson's Comic Talent Star Search, a two-issue series comprised almost entirely of un-inked pages run hastily through a photocopier. The first issue didn't even have any art on the cover. It looked like what a comic book might be in the world of Repo Man.

Yeah, that's some big fun all right...

It's hard to actually review a Solson comic, because they generally have no content worth speaking of.  The lead-ins to Star Search (and how exactly do you think they got that name past the trademark lawyers?) were unremarkable as sturdy independent superhero comics of the Eighties, but the book was packed with filler. Ten pages of the thirty-six page second issue are penciled, unlettered art. Eleven pages are ads for other Solson productions, and Rich Buckler's "Feature Film" Last Hour of Honor, which I need to see somehow, preferably drunk). That's almost two-thirds of the book given over to ... nothing. Shades of the How to Draw Sexy Women comic all over again.

It just all seems so seedy and tacky. I feel like it brings comics down as a medium and an art form, frankly, which is a helluva burden for a company that brought you something called Samurai Funnies.

Seriously, I need to see this trainwreck.


Arthur Melzer said...

I have fond remembrances of some of those old Ape-Law and Livejournal posts. Will they ever be available again?

Calamity Jon said...

Gone ... like tears in the rain.

Bram said...

I bet I had (still have?) that Guardian somehwere. IIRC, a product of my home state of Connecticut's Spectrum Comics. I know I got an issue or two — signed, thankyouverymuch — of their Survivors.

neofishboy said...

From "From The Desk of Rich Buckler: Part Eight - Martial Arts & Movies"

"Under my film direction we shot about fifteen minutes of a Mafia movie called "Last Hour Of Honor" in New Jersey. This was the closest that I ever got to the "real thing." It starred Freddy James (who had played a minor role in "Prizzi's Honor"), with Freddy also co-producing and providing the start-up financing.

We did a one-day shoot and I thought we had some promising footage. The project was edited and Freddy shopped it around a product reel for a couple of years afterward but it just languished after that and nothing further came of it."

I'm so sorry, Jon.

Calamity Jon said...

I'll never love again

Ted Craig said...

"we'd get a Slurpee apiece over at the Circle K"

They only sell Slurpees at 7-11. Get your story straight!

Calamity Jon said...

Sorry, I meant "Shamrock Shakes"

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