The Groovy Agent's Pad

Like classic/retro comics, music, tv, movies, sci-fi, fantasy, etc., etc., and etc.? Then hang out with The Groovy Agent as he makes the universe safe for all the cool stuff that has come before...and even makes a little room for cool stuff yet to come!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Groovy Age, Marvel, and Rock n Roll!

(Now, before we even get started, I know that both the Beatles and Kiss had made cameo appearances in comics before the books I'm gonna rap about, so don't go sending me nasty messages about it. The Beatles (as a group or as individual members) appeared in anything from a Thing/Human Torch issue of Strange Tales (#130), to satirical strips in Not Brand Echh (#8 reprinted in Crazy! #1, f'rinstance) and Spoof. (They appeared in some DC comics and under other publishers, as well). I know KISS appeared in Howard the Duck #13. The Beatles' stories I haven't had the pleasure of reading (besides, except for the Spoof appearances, they came out pre-Groovy Age), and I've not seen the ish of HTD--yet. So I'm gonna start where I started...thanks for your kind indulgence. )

Ol' Groove was 13 years old and just getting into rock (as opposed to Top 40/Pop). If you were 13 in 1977, chances are your favorite rock group was KISS. If you were a KISS fan and a comicbook fan, 77 was a great year!

Being a member of F.O.O.M., I knew about the coming of a KISS comic (actually Marvel Comics Super-Special #1) months before my buddies. Good thing, too, 'cause when I found a copy at a local convenient store, it was the only copy on the rack! I snatched it up, plunked down a week-and-a-half's allowance and was blown away by the insanity that KISS, writer Steve Gerber, and artists Alan Weiss, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema, and Al Milgrom cooked up.

The first thing that struck me is that this was an event, not just your average comicbook. It was magazine sized, in full color, and was twice the number of pages of a regular comicbook. About half the book was devoted to KISS' superheroic exploits (more on that below), the rest of the book was like a fan/rock magazine devoted to the real KISS, complete with group history, discography, and loads of pics. Oh, and it was printed using the band's actual blood. (Honest!) It's been reported that the first KISS comic was Marvel's best-selling comic, and held that title until 1990s Spider-Man #1 by Todd McFarlane.

Let's just say it was a hit with Teen Groove, too! After all, the boys gained cool powers and fought Dr. Doom and Mephisto--two of Marvel's greatest villains. What's not to love? I read it til it fell apart (and looking at what it goes for in the back issue market, it makes me kinda sad!). If you'd like to read a good summary of the story, it's right here, along with a summary of the second KISS comic, Marvel Comics Super-Special #5.

Now, the second KISS comic didn't have near the cool factor as the first one (even the Creem style articles were gone), but it was a good comic. Nobody does weird like Steve Gerber, so writer Ralph Macchio (no, not the actor) went for more of a fantasy bent, with bits of humor. The mage had a great poster--and even better cover!

A few months before the second KISS comic, Marvel released Marvel Comics Super-Special #4 which featured the comicbook biography of the Beatles. Now this mag was in the same style as the first KISS mag, but instead of making up a story with the Beatles as superheroes, Writer David Kraft and artists George Perez and Klaus Janson set out to present the whole history of the Beatles in comicbook form. It was an original and intriguing idea for a comic, and Teen Groove surely enjoyed and appreciated it. The creators obviously put their whole hearts into the project, and it was also obvious that they loved the Beatles. Made for one of the most heartfelt and bittersweet comics I've ever read.

I've heard stories told in hushed whispers about Marvel Comics Super-Special adaptation of the BeeGees/Peter Frampton film fiasco Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (based on the Beatles' album, natch). From all accounts, the comic was never released in the U.S. but sadly, the same can't be said about the movie. (The soundtrack was pretty good, though. As was Steve Martin--but of course!)

The next rock n roll Marvel Teen Groove got his hands on was none other than Marvel Premiere #50, featuring the one and only (thank goodness!) Alice Cooper! Now, this was a standard comic in size and dimensions--but the story and art were definitely out there (and in a good way). "From the Inside" was a side-splittingly hilarious adaptation of AC's then recently released album of the same name. Written by Alice Cooper (himself!), Jim Salicrup, Roger Stern, and Ed Hannigan, with pencils by the criminally underrated Tom Sutton and inks by the legendary Terry Austin, this comic was unlike anything Ol' Groove has seen before or since. Captured and placed in an insane asylum, AC has to learn to adapt or escape--and meets up with folks way crazier than himself in the process. The story was done as an homage to the old EC horror comics, right down to the lettering style, by way of EC's own Mad (the comics version, not the magazine). Hard to believe, but it's even better than the first KISS comic!

Now, if you've got the time/money/inclination to track these magnificent mags down, have a blast! ROCK ON!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

8/16/77: Remembering the Day the King Died

It was my first day of high school, so to celebrate, I got to help mow the yard that evening. My dad was at work (at a coal mine), my sister (as usual) was inside watching tv (bear in mind, she had a huge crush on Elvis at this time, and I really dug him, too, but I didn't let her know that because I liked to tease her about it), so I was mowing and my mom was cutting weeds.

We were nearly finished when my sister came to the back door. She was hysterical. All she could say was "He's dead! He's dead!" My mom and I were scared, thinking she was talking about my dad, considering how dangerous his job was.

Mom was yelling, "Who's dead?", shook her and was almost ready to give her that "Snap out of it!" slap when my sister finally moaned, "Ellllviiiiiiiiiissss!"

I also remember at 11:30 one network had a special showing of Jailhouse Rock. We were given permission to stay up and watch it. My sister did; I went back to sleep. Next day, she got to stay home from school because she was so tired from staying up so late. I had to go, since I was bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

But I love both Elvis and my sister, anyway.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

What Made Comics Groovy! Part 6: Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes

When it came to superheroes, I doubt any costumes that just cried out, "I'm Groovy!" more than those worn by the Legion of Superheroes. Some of them were holdovers from the Silver Age, and they looked cool enough not to mess with (Especially Ultra Boy and Sun boy). Dave (X-Men) Cockrum got the ball rolling with magnificently designed new uniforms for Lightning Lad, Star Boy, Colossal Boy, Phantom Girl, Dream Girl, Duo Damsel, Shrinking Violet, Chameleon Boy. and especially Princess Projectra and Timber Wolf. Sleek, hip, and very modern, those costumes (and Cockrum's art) got Ol' Groove hooked on Superboy and the Legion.

Soon, Cockrum left, but he was replaced by an artist who, while very different, also had a knack for making Superboy and his pals look incredibly groovy: Mike (Warlord) Grell. Now Grell didn't have quite the knack for costuming Cockrum did. His Cosmic Boy costume was hideous, and he stripped enough of Colossal Boy's costume away to take out any of the cool factor. His Tyroc design wasn't too bad, though. But, when it came to drawing outer space scenes, science fiction sets, etc. Grell rocked! Another good thing about Grell was that he stayed on the book for a good, lengthy run. Fans could count on his slick, energetic, and futuristic art to make a trip to the spinner rack worthwhile.

After Grell's departure, various other artists took over with varying degrees of success. The best of these was James Sherman, who's art was closer to Cockrum's style wise, but was very much a slave to whomever inked his work. When Joe Rubenstein or Bob McCleod inked him, though, the art ranked with the best of Cockrum and Grell.

Haven't said much about the stories, have I? The stories (especially those written by Cary Bates) were pretty nice. This was a time when DC was struggling with their identity: did they write for kids, or were they going after Marvel's older, college-age readers? S/LSH stories usually had that awkward identity tug-of-war going on. Plots came first (for the kids), some characterization (even a bit of edginess--Timber Wolf's hot-headedness, for example) for the college crowd, and some lame attempts at futuristic slang that satisfied neither the kids nor the college folk.

Still, it was a fun book with a huge cast of colorful characters. A truly groovy book from the Groovy Age.