Comic Review: Action Comics, Issue #23 – First Appearance of Lex Luthor

Published: March 31st, 1940
Written by: Jerry Siegel
Art by: Joe Shuster, Paul Cassidy

DC Comics, 14 Pages

Review:

I had never read the first appearance of Lex Luthor but I had always heard that he was a weird ginger dude that may have been smart but was not very Lex Luthor-ish.

Well, that’s an accurate description. And frankly, I’m glad that Luthor, as he’s just called here, evolved into something more akin to his modern form. Honestly, I couldn’t see him lasting in the form that he took here.

However, I guess this issue was popular enough to have the character return, albeit retooled and repackaged into the bald, power hungry tycoon he’s most most recognized as.

The story is pretty short and it just sees Lois Lane get kidnapped. Superman gets a clue to her whereabouts and tracks her down in Luthor’s lair. He bests the ginger madman and saves Lois, the end.

I’d have to go back and read more on the history of kryptonite but there is a sequence here where Luthor weakens Superman with a green laser beam. It’s unclear what the beam is but maybe this was an early version of kryptonite being used.

Anyway, this wasn’t a terribly exciting comic but it was okay for what Golden Age comic stories were.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Golden Age Superman comics.

Comic Review: Avengers, Issue #6 – First Appearance of Baron Zemo & The Masters of Evil

Published: July 8th, 1964
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby, Chic Stone

Marvel Comics, 24 Pages

Review:

I recently read Avengers issue #8, the first appearance of Kang the Conqueror and I really enjoyed it. And since I actually now own a high quality original issue of this comic, the first appearance of the original Baron Zemo and his Masters of Evil, I figured that I’d read this one too.

Granted, the comic I own is graded and slabbed, so I read this digitally. It’s actually free for Comixology Unlimited members.

I’ve got to say, I enjoyed this issue immensely. Even more so than the Kang issue.

This was a pretty high energy issue that was mostly action, as the Avengers didn’t fight one big villain but instead, fought a group of villains that were very aware of each hero’s weakness.

The story also ties back to the death of Bucky and how personal that tragedy was for Captain America. We learn that Zemo was behind Bucky’s death and that gives some added emotional weight to the story, cementing him, immediately, as one of Cap’s greatest rivals.

I loved Stan Lee’s writing here, especially his dialogue. I also appreciated the extra layers added to the plot that called back to past events that existed before Stan was even writing comics.

This is, of course, all enhanced by the stupendous artwork of Jack Kirby, who is still my favorite person ever to draw Captain America. He also really gives Zemo a presence and style that no one else has been able to replicate with the same sort of impact.

For those of you that just like old school comics when stories were told over just one issue, this is a great representation of that bygone narrative style.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Stan Lee and Jack Kirby era Marvel stuff, especially The Avengers and Fantastic Four.

Comic Review: Detective Comics, Issue #359 – First Appearance of Batgirl

Published: January 4th, 1967
Written by: Henry Boltinoff, Gardner Fox
Art by: Murphy Anderson, Henry Boltinoff, Carmine Infantino

DC Comics, 25 Pages

Review:

I recently bought this comic, graded and slabbed. It was pretty high up on my bucket list for years, as the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl is one of my top heroes of all-time. Granted, a lot of my love of the character came out of the ’60s Batman TV series and the casting of Yvonne Craig, who brought a lot of energy to the show.

Still, I’ve loved Barbara Gordon for almost my entire life. I felt the horror when the Joker shot her, crippling her and ending her career as Batgirl, I felt proud when she picked herself up and became the Oracle and then I was initially excited to see her return to her Batgirl role in recent years. However, those stories pretty much snuffed out my excitement in record time.

Anyway, I’ve always wanted to own this and now I do. But I can’t read a slabbed comic, so I bought this digitally. You can get this on Comixology for less than two bucks if you want to check it out.

This is a pretty solid introduction for its time but the story itself isn’t that great. We immediately learn who Batgirl is and she meets Batman on her first outing. The story here pits her against Killer Moth and his two henchmen that look too much like he does, so it’s visually confusing. This was also the era where Killer Moth looked like a ridiculous D-level villain and not the solid C-level one he would become over the years.

As is typical with late ’60s comics, the story is pretty self-contained and over rather quickly. Part of that is also due to the issue having a short story with the Elongated Man wedged into the end of the book, taking real estate away from Batgril’s debut.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other late ’60s Detective Comics and Batman stories.

Comic Review: Avengers, Issue #8 – First Appearance of Kang the Conqueror

Published: September 9th, 1964
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers

Marvel Comics, 22 Pages

Review:

This is one of the comic books that is pretty high up on my bucket list. I still don’t own it but I wanted to read the story, so I bought a digital copy on Comixology for under two bucks.

While this isn’t technically the first appearance of the character that would become Kang, this is his first appearance as Kang. Before this, he appeared as an Egyptian pharaoh-looking villain named Rama-Tut in Fantastic Four number 19 and Fantastic Four Annual number 2.

For the most part, this was a cool read. It had that great Stan Lee style to the action and dialogue and it featured art from my favorite artist of all-time: Jack Kirby.

While this isn’t the start of a big multi-part story, a lot happens in these 22 pages and you get a real sense of who Kang is and what he is capable of. It is a pretty solid Lee/Kirby era intro to one of their greatest villainous creations.

I wouldn’t consider this a must read but it will probably be enjoyed in an old Avengers collection alongside other stories from the time.

I personally love Kang, though, so I probably enjoyed this more than the average bear.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Stan Lee and Jack Kirby era Marvel stuff, especially The Avengers and Fantastic Four.

Comic Review: Batman, Issue #386 – First Appearance of Black Mask

Published: August 7th, 1985
Written by: Doug Moench
Art by: Tom Mandrake, Adrienne Roy

DC Comics, 24 Pages

Review:

While I’m a fan of Doug Moench’s writing, especially on Batman, as well as being a fan of the Black Mask character, I had never read his first appearance, which also serves as his origin story.

Recently, I bought the comic, graded and slabbed to add to my collection, but I wasn’t able to read it due to it being near mint and inaccessible in its sealed case. So I bought the issue digitally, so I could at least enjoy the story inside.

While I know the gist of Black Mask’s origin, I was glad to see it fleshed out. While his backstory is pretty unique, it’s also overly complex and it’s kind of strange.

This shows how he has ties to Bruce Wayne and in some ways, Black Mask’s childhood association reminded me of Hush’s even though this came out nearly two decades before Hush’s debut. And Black Mask also doesn’t know that Bruce Wayne is Batman.

The story here is a multi-part arc, which is continued in Detective Comics before bouncing back to the following issue of Batman.

I didn’t read the whole arc, as I mostly just wanted to read his debut issue. Plus, all of this will most likely be collected in Black Mask’s Batman Arkham collection, which is slated to be released in a few months. And since I plan to buy that and review it, I’ll read the whole story there.

In the meantime, this was a pretty impactful debut, enhanced by the art of Tom Mandrake and Adrienne Roy.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Batman stories by Doug Moench.

Comic Review: The Ghost Rider, Issue #1 – First Appearance of the Phantom Rider

Published: February, 1967
Written by: Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas
Art by: Dick Ayers, Vince Colletta

Marvel Comics, 18 Pages

Review:

The character referred to nowadays as the Phantom Rider was actually the first version of Ghost Rider. They changed his name later on due to there being confusion with the more modern Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze. However, now there are at least five different Ghost Riders, so whatever… confusion once again ensues!

Anyway, I’ve read stories featuring the Phantom Rider but I never really knew his origin story. I guess I always assumed that it was similar to all the other Ghost Riders but it is, in fact, quite different.

Being that this is his first appearance, this also serves as his origin.

This Ghost Rider a.k.a. Carter Slade was just an average dude in the Old West. He had some boxing experience under his belt, so I guess that helped him know how to throw a punch. However, he gets his ass kicked almost immediately and nearly dies.

He is then saved by some powerful spirit while in the care of some nice Native Americans. They give him some glowing powder, he then tames some special horse, decides to rub the glowing powder all over his outfit and thus, becomes the original Ghost Rider.

It’s a bit of an odd origin tale but so where a lot of early comic book origins. But this is also probably why he was soon replaced with Johnny Blaze, the first Ghost Rider with a flaming skull, motorcycle and magic chains.

The story is hokey and kind of weird, even for late ’60s comics. But I thought the art was pretty good for the time and it lives up to what was the Marvel standard.

Having now checked this out, it’s certainly not a must read and the first Ghost Rider is kind of an obscure character anyway. But it’s not a waste of time and worth reading if you already have an affinity for the character.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the issues that came after it, as well as other ’60s and ’70s Marvel titles with horror elements.

Comic Review: The House of Secrets, Issue #92 – First Appearance of Swamp Thing

Published: June 30th, 1971
Written by: Mark Evanier, Jack Kirby, Virgil North, Len Wein
Art by: Dick Dillin, Bill Draut, Alan Weiss, Bernie Wrightson

DC Comics, 26 Pages

Review:

While this issue is mostly widely known because it is the first appearance of Swamp Thing, I can’t review it just based on that story. This is an anthology comic and I have to review this issue as one body of work.

That being said, the Swamp Thing story was far and away better than the other chapters in this. But I’m also not a big anthology fan, as I’ve stated many times. And this issue is an example of why I’m not big on anthologies, as it features one great story while the rest fall well below the mark of this issue’s only memorable tale.

However, these old school ’70s horror comics still resonate with me and luckily, the Swamp Thing story resonated enough with other people that the character would go on to survive for decades and even get multiple films and television series.

I think the reason it really had the lasting power it did was due to the artwork of Bernie Wrightson. The art is spectacular but I also have to give credit to Len Wein’s writing. But when you put two superb talents like this together, magic often times happens, as is the case with this character and his first story.

For fans of Swamp Thing, it is really worth going back and checking this out. Luckily for all of us, DC just released a facsimile edition. But you can also read it digitally on Comixology for just a few bucks.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other early Swamp Thing stories, as well as other issues of The House of Secrets anthology comic.

Comic Review: Iron Man, Issue #55 – First Appearance of Thanos and Drax the Destroyer

Published: January 31st, 1973
Written by: Mike Friedrich, Jim Starlin
Art by: Jim Starlin, Mike Esposito

Marvel Comics, 21 Pages

Review:

As big of a character as Thanos has become over the last few years, he had to start somewhere. And interestingly enough, his first appearance is also the first appearance of Drax the Destroyer, who would go on to be a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

I also find it interesting that both characters first appeared in Iron Man, as neither are really all that tied to Tony Stark outside of major events with “Infinity” in the title.

This was a quick, short story but it did a really good job of establishing these two characters. Thanos is the big bad here but the comic seemed more interested in establishing the Drax character. I’m not sure if Jim Starlin really knew what he had with Thanos yet. But he would certainly turn Thanos into one of the biggest threats in the entire comic book medium over time.

What’s cool about this is it actually shows how powerful of a character Drax is in the comics, which is something that might surprise people that only know him from the Guardians of the Galaxy films. But this also gives some context to the history between Drax and Thanos.

While Iron Man is the star of his own book and in the foreground of this story, this issue is really about Drax and Thanos.

But this has a good plot, solid old school Marvel styled art and it helps enrich the already rich Marvel cosmic mythos.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s Marvel cosmic stuff.

Comic Review: Batman: Vengeance of Bane, Issue #1 – First Appearance of Bane

Published: December 31st, 1992
Written by: Chuck Dixon
Art by: Graham Nolan, Eduardo Barreto, Adrienne Roy, Glenn Fabry

DC Comics, 56 Pages

Review:

Chuck Dixon really is a master of his craft. I always loved his Batman work, as well as what he did with The Punisher and G.I. Joe. And usually first appearances aren’t very good in retrospect. However, Dixon made Bane a true heavy hitter with just this comic.

This is sort of a prologue to the events of Knightfall, which was one of the biggest and most prolific Batman story arcs of all-time. It’s mostly known for being the story where Batman had his back broken by Bane, a plot point that eventually made its way to the big screen in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.

This story goes way back and actually introduces us to Bane as a child. It shows how he loses everything from his childhood, is raised in a prison and how he becomes the man that really controls that prison and everyone in it.

Vengrance of Bane also gets into how Bane got extremely intelligent and how he learned about Batman and got the drive to make his way to Gotham City to challenge its famous and revered protector.

Chuck Dixon tells a great, fluid and rich story in just these 56 pages. Even though Bane is clearly a villain, it’s hard not to have some sort of sympathy for him, seeing how he came to be. Now you certainly don’t side with him but this does more to flesh out this character in one story than most first appearances come close to managing.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Chuck Dixon’s work on Batman titles, especially the massive Knightfall storyline.

Comic Review: Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, Issue #134 – First Appearance of Darkseid

Published: December 2nd, 1970
Written by: Jack Kirby
Art by: Jack Kirby, Vince Colletta, Neal Adams (cover)

DC Comics, 22 Pages

Review:

Man, this was a weird ass comic book! But it was also done by Jack Kirby during his stint at DC Comic, where he did some really outside of the box stuff that led to the creation of his Fourth World universe within the larger DC Universe.

This issue of Jimmy Olsen was tied to all of that, as this is the first appearance of Darkseid, one of the greatest villains in the entire history of DC Comics.

I wanted to read this, as I’ve been reading a lot of the first appearances of some of my favorite villains. That being said, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this comic but it was pretty insane.

This issue is trippy as hell! I’m not sure if that was normal with Jimmy Olsen but I really dug it, even if it was hard to make sense of the proceedings, as I don’t have the issues around this to give it more context.

Superman even shows up in this but he was a pretty regular fixture in this title. Sadly, we don’t get to see Supes square off with Darkseid. In fact, we only get a peek at Darkside in one panel. That’s it, his big debut was just in a single panel where he was a talking head in a TV set, giving commands to one of his minions.

This is creative, kind of nuts and it flew by. I can’t say that it’s a solid comic as a standalone issue but reading it was interesting, as it was a quick, small sample of Kirby’s earliest work at DC.

For Jack Kirby fans, this is worth checking out.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: any of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World titles at DC Comics.