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.