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CSBG Archive

Another Friday at the Tipping Point

Last week I talked a little bit about that moment of discovery, when you become a fan of something, rather than just a casually-interested member of the general audience, and gave a few specific examples. This week, we do it again with a different list.

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Jim Aparo: I was a Bat guy from the moment I encountered the character on TV in the days of Adam West, but it was the coolness upgrade Batman got from Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams after the television show was canceled that sealed the deal. (I wrote about that particular tipping point here, a couple of years ago.)

So I was all about this new, darker, scarier version of THE Batman. (It was very important to all of us back then to be sure and say “The” Batman, because no one wanted our new, cool “comics are serious!” version to be confused with the mocking BIFF BAM POW! television one.)

Occasionally I’d see a question from a reader in a Batman or Detective letter column about getting Jim Aparo to draw a story. I had no idea who Jim Aparo was, but the way the letter-writers carried on, it sure made me curious.

When I did finally see the work I was blown out of my chair. That was in one of my favorite issues ever of The Brave and the Bold, #112, teaming Batman and… the Joker??

This cover sold me the book, but it was the Aparo art inside that made me a fan.

It was heresy at the time but I thought Aparo’s Batman was even better than the Adams verison. The emotions felt more visceral, the action scenes looked more heated somehow; and I especially dug his use of light and shadow. It probably didn’t hurt that the story itself, a clever and suspenseful mystery from Bob Haney, was my first exposure to the scary homicidal 1970s Joker after years of Cesar Romero’s bubbly television version.

I know I say this kind of thing a lot, but it's true-- for those of you who only know modern-era comics, you have NO IDEA what a revelation 'The' Batman was to us Bronze Age kids. Scary Joker was a big part of that; a murderous psycho Bat-villain really was a novel idea back then, instead of a monthly routine.

It also didn’t hurt that DC immediately thereafter embarked on their experiment of turning many of their books into 100-page Super-Spectaculars, and that Brave and the Bold was among the best of those.

I loved that whole 100-page era at DC, but among the brightest stars of that time were Jim Aparo and the amazing run he was having on B&B. Really hitting his stride. These were GREAT stories, and Aparo drew them with an incredible sense of kinetic urgency.

But Aparo’s art, itself, was a delight all its own. I stared at it for hours trying to figure out how he was doing it. It seemed so much more authentic than anything else from DC at the time… especially when he was drawing something dark and spooky.

Seriously. Look at the amazing Gothic vibe Aparo gives this couple of panels.

Years later I realized that the reason it was all so seamless was because Aparo was doing everything himself. Pencils, inks, even the lettering — every page was the result of a a singular artistic vision. I think Jim Aparo was the only guy at either Marvel or DC at the time that was that kind of one-man band, other than maybe Joe Kubert.

As much as I loved Aparo’s Brave and Bold stuff, though, my feeling is that his finest hour was when he got to do solo Batman stories. In particular, the first two chapters of “Bat-Murderer!”

Everything awesome about Jim Aparo is here on this one splash page; the use of the design elements to lead the eye, the deep shadows, the atmospheric lettering style,and the slightly exaggerated posture and facial expression on Batman himself. It's the Neal Adams vision, but turned up to eleven.

It was a seven-issue serial– really an epic event, back then, especially from DC that was usually the company that was all about the done-in-one. I’m annoyed to this day that Jim Aparo didn’t get to draw (and ink, and letter) the entire thing. Ernie Chan did a perfectly acceptable job on the concluding chapters, but his work just didn’t have the power Jim Aparo’s did.

Check out the use of a continuous background, and the great staging and positioning of all the characters in the scene. I could go on about Aparo's storytelling and page design for hours, but it boils down to, BEST ANGLE, EVERY PANEL, EVERY TIME.

DC did reprint the whole of “Bat-Murderer” once, as one of its digests, back in 1981. (Best of DC #9, for those who were wondering.)

I don't know why this particular epic doesn't get more love.... no one ever mentions it when they talk about Ra's Al Ghul stories, even.

A digest is better than nothing, I suppose. But that story really deserves its own trade collection, even if the art’s not quite up to snuff in the back half. Anyway, it was all the amazing work Aparo did in the 100-Page books that really made me a fan, and those are still some of my favorite Bat-stories today.

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Doc Savage: I’ve mentioned them here many times, so you’d think that the Bantam paperback reprints of the original Doc pulp stories would have been where I first fell in love with Doc Savage. Not so!

Of course I was interested in the Bantam books. The covers were amazing, and the back cover copy teased what sounded like an incredible adventure series: To the world at large, Doc Savage is a strange mysterious figure of glistening bronze skin and golden eyes. To his amazing co-adventurers – the five greatest brains ever assembled in one group – he is a man of superhuman strength and protean genius, whose life is dedicated to the destruction of evil-doers. To his fans he is one of the greatest adventure heroes of all time, whose fantastic exploits are unequaled for hair-raising thrills, breathtaking escapes, and bloodcurdling excitement.

When I was in eighth grade a kid at school loaned me two of his Doc books: The Green Death and The Crimson Serpent. I liked them okay, but that was all; they didn’t send me scurrying to the bookstore looking for more.

Part of the problem was that the covers were way too cool for the books themselves, the stories inside didn't match the promise on the front.

But, a few months later, the first issue of Marvel’s Doc Savage black-and-white magazine appeared at the local Sentry Market. It was the only Marvel magazine that ever showed up there, although they did install an actual comics rack a couple of weeks after that.

Anyway, I bought the Doc magazine on a whim, and the balls-out adventure story by Doug Moench, John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga really sold me, it genuinely had the kind of action and adrenaline rush the Bantam novels’ back covers had promised. From that point on I was on board.

Maybe it was just the right time for me to give Doc another chance-- a boy of fourteen is probably the ideal Doc Savage reader-- but for me it was that Moench and DeZuniga actually brought the big adventure and the coolness that it felt like the novels should have given me when I had tried them.

So the next day I was back at the market looking for more Doc paperbacks on the spinner rack. What I found was The Devil Genghis, the only Doc Savage novel to feature a villain (the sinister John Sunlight) coming back for a second try at world domination; and Philip Jose Farmer’s biography of Doc Savage, just out in paperback.

These two sealed the deal.

The Devil Genghis I liked a lot more than the other two I’d read; I liked the idea of an actual recurring Doc supervillain, it felt very comic-booky. And Farmer’s biography of Doc Savage fascinated me… especially his explanations and theories about the Wold Newton Universe.

Farmer's family tree of Doc Savage led me to many other amazing books, as well... but that's a different column.

It hit me right where I lived, since I was getting into the Marvel universe pretty seriously for the first time that year, as well– so the idea of all these heroes from pulp magazines and classic adventure stories ALSO living in a shared universe sounded awesome to me. From there I branched out into other paperback pulp reprints– the Avenger, the Shadow. I made it a point to seek out their comics incarnations as well. But none of them hit it out of the park with me the way Doug Moench and Tony DeZuniga did with those black-and-white Doc Savage magazines. There were only eight of them, and it took me quite a few years of hunting through back-issue bins throughout Washington and Oregon to find them all (in those pre-internet days, that’s how you had to do it) but it was worth the hunt. I loved every one.

One of the most valued comics in my collection is #5 from that series, signed by both Tony DeZuniga and also the late Marshall Rogers; I'm not normally that big on signed books but I really treasured both of those experiences GETTING the signatures. Spent a fair amount of time geeking with each of them (at different shows) over art and designing for black and white and even a little about Doc himself.

You don’t have to get those books the hard way, though. DC just reprinted all eight in a Showcase Presents volume, as it happens, and I really recommend it.

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Well, this is getting rather lengthy, and honestly I have a long weekend of work ahead of me as the Emerald City Comic-Con is bearing down on our household like a runaway freight train. So I think we’ll save the rest of the list for next week’s column.

Do come and see us, if you are at the show– we are at table B-12 and B-13 in Artist’s Alley, and this year we’re bringing both Cartooning and Young Authors. It’s shaping up to be an amazing show for us and I hope to see you there.

Otherwise, feel free once again to share your similar experiences of fan discovery below in the comments, and I’ll be back here with the last of my list of reminiscences about these tipping points… next week. See you then.

26 Comments

I picked up that Brave and the Bold with the Joker on the cover at a recent Ithacon, and one of the guest artists at that show, John Hebert, saw it on my pile and said something to the effect of “Aparo at his best”.

Now I just have to read it…

Your bit about Doc Savage and the back cover copy promising much more than the stories themselves delivered reminds of one of the big “tipping points” in my own comics reading: Jeff Rovin’s Encyclopedias, particularly the Encyclopedia of Super-Heroes. So many of the pulp and early comics characters were so lovingly described, I couldn’t help but fall in love. Plus, the Flaming Carrot description is awesome. Basically, those descriptions drew me into the whole interconnectedness of comics and pulp and so on, and made me fall in love with comics, and geek out over all of it.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized why there was so much about the Atlas books. I think I found out here at CSBG that Rovin’d been an editor there, so of course he spotlighted that stuff.

And also, many of the characters and books spotlighted in that book weren’t quite as cool to read in and of themselves. But I’d been too hooked at that point….

Don’t remember where I first saw Aparo’s art, but I know it was an issue of Brave and the Bold – and since then, I’ve always considered him THE Batman artist (Don Newton comes in second on my list). And I agree that the Bat-Murderer story needs a better reprint than that digest.
Your “discovery” of Doc Savage via comics reminds me of my own path to Tarzan and all things Burroughs, as well as Conan and all things REH, via comics (which I sort of mentioned in my comment last week). I started reading Marvel’s Tarzan at just about the time John Buscema turned over the art chores to Sal, and I was sucked right in (by the way, I know this puts me in a very small minority, but for me Tarzan as rendered by the Buscema brothers is the gold standard for comic versions of that character – sorry, Messrs. Manning and Kubert). The comic got me interested in the books, which at the time were being published with those exquisite Neal Adams covers, and I got hooked there as well. And I noticed there were these other books, something about Mars, right next to the Tarzan volumes, and so thought I’d give those a try too (that alluring cover for “A Princess of Mars” by Michael Whelan certainly had a lot to do with that decision).
I got into the Conan books less directly, as I was not as big a fan of the comics, but one of my best friends at the time was, and he informed that there were books as well and let me borrow a few of his. Again, I got hooked. I never became a month-to-month reader of Conan or Savage Sword, but I consistently bought every Conan book I could find.
By the way, I recently picked up both the Doc Savage Showcase and the Man of Bronze volume that collects Marvel’s color series (it’s still so weird seeing this material published by DC), but they are languishing on my personal shelf of shame…

Detective 439 was the issue that made me hold onto a comic-before that I would return to the exchange store. “Night of the Stalker” and Manhunter and a mixed bag of reprints for 10p-Gold. It took me over ten years to read Manhunter-worth the wait.

Detective 437 with Jim Aparo and Walt Simonson,again beautiful.

This is the period I started reading Batman comics too. A lot of these issues were re-printed in the UK in the late 80’s/early 90’s and it’s my favourite Batman stories to this day. There’s a continuity in the story lines you just don’t get now

When I was a kid a I got as a present I’d received a one year subscription to my choice of any Marvel Comic. I chose Chuck Norris & the Karate Kommandos(shut up, I was 8!) The first issue I received was also the final issue they published, #4. I remember getting a notice in the mail from Marvel about the cancellation, and the offer to switch to another comic. Dejected, I looked at the list and really had no idea which one I wanted. My only experience with superheroes was a few issues of John Byrne’s Fantastic Four run from a couple of years before, and the Secret Wars toyline. But for whatever reason nothing stood out so I chose the most interestingly worded title on the list: The Silver Surfer.

My first issue was vol 3, #13. That and #14 were pretty good, but it wasn’t until #15 when Ron Lim started drawing the book that I completely fell for the character. His first storyline, incorporating the Fantastic Four(well, Reed and Sue and Franklin anyway) and the story of the Infinity Gems and The In-betweener and his alternate dimension and a dying Galactus, wow. And then it culminated in my (still) all time favorite cover, #18 http://images.wikia.com/marveldatabase/images/6/62/Silver_Surfer_Vol_3_18.jpg ). Ridiculous but enthralling. And that this story laid the foundation for years of other stories in the Marvel Universe(the whole Infinity Gauntlet storyline sort of started here).

The Silver Surfer is still, by far, my favorite superhero and it was almost completely random chance that I chose his comic. My #2 choice was going to be Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-ham. I probably would have stopped reading comics if I had chosen that one!

@Travis:

r…eminds of one of the big “tipping points” in my own comics reading: Jeff Rovin’s Encyclopedias, particularly the Encyclopedia of Super-Heroes.

Same here. Those Rovin encyclopedias were a HUGE influence on me back in the day. I pored through them so much I damn near memorized many of the pages.

It’s always interesting that WHEN you encounter someone’s work is almost as important as encountering. The first comic I ever bought featured Aparo art, but it was the first chapter of “Death in the Family,” and by the late 1980s, it didn’t look as good as the stuff you show here. I don’t know why, but over the next few years, Aparo drew a lot of Batman, and while I didn’t mind it, it didn’t click with me all that much. Then, of course, I began seeing some of his older stuff, and I realized why everyone loved him so much. It’s not that the late ’80s/early ’90s stuff was bad, per se, but the 1970s/early ’80s stuff was a LOT better. I wonder why?

I think it was the fact that Aparo was doing it all in his earlier career-IIRC he would do a page a day-pencils,inks and lettering.When you have that much control everything gels well.

I would guess just doing pencils worked out a better deal for him

Aparo drew a lot of Batman, and while I didn’t mind it, it didn’t click with me all that much. Then, of course, I began seeing some of his older stuff, and I realized why everyone loved him so much. It’s not that the late ’80s/early ’90s stuff was bad, per se, but the 1970s/early ’80s stuff was a LOT better. I wonder why?

Like someone else said, it’s because for the first half of his career it was the total package; pencils and inks and letters, he started with the script and blank sheets of bristol and when he was done the book was done, except for the color.

It’s an intangible thing and clearly Aparo himself, whether for reasons of money or health or whatever, was okay with compromising on it in later years; but I really feel that when you are doing the whole job, you draw it differently, and usually you draw it better. Aparo knew how he was going to ink it and letter it when he was penciling it, and when you are doing it that way, a lot of the art and design happens in those finishing stages. The biggest weakness of the assembly-line system is that the pages go through multiple hands, and each artist has to try to second-guess what the other guys are going to do.

I run into this in class. What I always tell my kids is, “The inking isn’t where you TRACE the pencils, it’s where you FINISH the pencils.” Little Eileen– she loves cartooning, you can see her in the last couple of years’ worth of show photos from Emerald city, the happiest person there– has been partnering up with other kids as an inker, because she likes doing detailing and shading and stuff but she hates the idea of conceptualizing a page. What she’s found is that you have to work just as hard at the inking, and it’s funny because the pages are turning out so much BETTER than the kid who pencils them think they’re going to (because in 7th grade, a penciler using an inker is just trying to get out of DOING any work. That doesn’t work in my class, everyone works, but it’s how they stumble into the studio system.)

It’s not just Aparo. Dave Cockrum was always better when he inked his own stuff — look at X-Men #100, compared to the scratchy inks on either side of it in #99 or #101. John Romita Sr., too, his Spider-Man improved by an order of magnitude when he was inking it and not, say, Mike Esposito. Gil Kane preferred to ink his own stuff when he had a chance. I don’t know if it’s a subconscious thing or what.

Heck, I’ll raise you – Aparo’s almost the most obvious example, but I’d say at least half of the major comics artists were their own best inker.

RE: Jim Aparo’s 1960s / 1970s era vs. Aparo’s 1980s / 1990s work —

One reason Jim was able to do full art (including lettering) himself early on was because he worked almost exclusively on bi-monthly titles throughout the late 1960s and all of the 1970s. The AQUAMAN, BRAVE & THE BOLD, PHANTOM STRANGER, and THE PHANTOM stuff he did was all bi-monthly. Most of the other stuff he did during this time (like the HOUSE OF MYSTERY or HOUSE OF SECRETS work, or his ADVENTURE COMICS run with the Spectre) was “catalogue” work, or short series work, which often was buffered between his bi-monthly assignments.

That’s not to say Jim couldn’t have handled full art chores on a monthly scheduled book back then – he probably could have. But by the 1980s, when Mike DeCarlo took over inking duties when Jim came on to BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS… my guess is DC may have felt Jim was getting a little long in the tooth and couldn’t handle a monthly schedule solo, especially since his reputation proceeded him as a bi-monthly artist.

proceeded = preceded. Was typing too quickly and hit send before I realized the error.

When I first encountered Aparo on Batman and the Outsiders, I was not at all a fan (When Alan Davis took over, they kept getting letters asking for Aparo back and I was insanely baffled). Then I read that Joker story in “The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told” and I was absolutely blown away. SInce then, of course, I’ve tracked down his legendary runs on The Phantom, The Spectre, etc. and I consider myself a huge fan. The pre-80s stuff is so wonderfully noir and gritty, whereas the 80s-90s stuff is just way too clean.

I’m working my way through that Doc Savage Showcase now and it’s fantastic.

i first came across aparos work on not only a reprint of that joker story but also on batman and the outsiders . have to say Jim is one legend who really knew how to capture the joker and all his nasty pycho glory.

I remember when I went from being a reader of comics to being a collector who had to read everything and it was the 100 page spectaculars of DC’s that did it. Particularly the DC 100 Page Spectacular #6. It reprinted the first JLA / JSA meeting and they book ended it. In between were some great reprints and a lost Golden age tale. I had never heard of Johnny Quick or the Vigilante and it was my first time reading the JLA / JSA original crossover. After that I bought up any 100 pagers or big reprint Annuals that came out. They are still some of my favorite comics. B & B #116 reprints my favorite Teen Titans story that took place in a school that crossed over with another dimension. Great fun.

In the Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing, Dave Sim has some interesting things to say about inking, and inking one’s own work, and the notion of the guy who does it all having to think differently at different stages of the art (penciller has to make sure every line is clear for the inker to know what needs to be inked, etc, etc). There’s definitely the suggestion that, since the inked work is what is printed, that’s the most important bit, and so on.

The newer book version is probably too much to spend on more than maybe a classroom copy, but the original comic book size version of the CGtSP, especially if you find copies in a cheapo bin, would probably be a good thing for your students to at least take a read through. Regardless of your opinions of his writing, he was/is a working cartoonist who kept a near monthly schedule for a quarter century, and has things to say to help the working cartoonist, from my reading of the book.

I actually just bought this past Wednesday the Showcase Presents volume of Brave and the Bold when Jim’s run started, and I was sold on the cover alone. Him and Neal Adams, just knock it out of the park for me, even Aparo later on into the 90s with Knightfall is gorgeous stuff. It’s just that B&B (even in black and white) looks more gorgeous. I plan on picking up volume 3 at some point, and hopefully they’ll finish out his run. From what I understand his run on the book is getting reprinted in color this year, and at some point I imagine I’ll pick that up too lol

Yeah, I remember first seeing Aparo’s stuff in collections of “Death in the Family” and “A Lonely Place of Dying”. It didn’t think it was that great. I’ve never bothered to look at any of his older stuff, but that’s mostly ’cause I ain’t a DC nut. I may have to dig around for some of that now…

With Aparo I disagree with Mr. Hatcher. I think the decline in his work was there by the early ’80s when he was doing Batman and the Outsiders and he inked and lettered that.

I think a couple of things happened with Aparo. He changed his style somewhat, from a fusion of Milton Caniff and Neal Adams to something more towards Milton Caniff and Toth: He used less fine linework and a more simplified style with thicker blacks. lt wasn’t just with his inks but with his pencils too: we used to joke in the comic shop that he now drew the same face one every character, like the Archie characters.

The other thing is… well, he just got older. The ugly truth no one wants to say in comics is that many artists just get worse as they age. Jack Kirby’s later work was, frankly, really, really ugly. Carmine Infantino’s was even worse. Will Eisner pushed the form and layout of comics, but he also drew cartoonier and with a scratchier line It gets harder to draw with the sort of fluid line and detail that comics fans like as one gets older. Artists compensate by simplifying their style or changing it up or just getting scratchier and scratchier. There are people who buck the trend: Joe Kubert still looks great, and I think Norm Breyfogle still looks good. But on the whole, I just think Aparo, like so many artists, had work that was so much better when he was younger.

Pete Woodhouse

March 25, 2012 at 4:33 pm

I think Graeme & others have a point with Aparo. It’s a combination of him just doing pencils, his age (he must’ve been into his 50s by the time the post-Death of the Family into the Nightfall storylines came about); plus DC not wanting to risk giving him monthly pencil-inks-letters duties.
Look at Infantino early-mid 60s then his Nova and later Flash 80s stuff. Still good, but nothing like his early Flash work. Although it helps when your covers are inked by Anderson and in 1964 you’re inked by Giella. Giella’s another example. I didn’t like his inks late 70s/80s when going over rookie artists in Batman/Tec back-ups like Batgirl.
Anyway, Aparo rocked in B&B and Spectre. Fantastic angles/shots; moody gritty artwork. That Demon page above, wow!

"O" the Humanatee!

March 25, 2012 at 7:36 pm

That issue of B&B was also very important to my appreciation of Aparo, though I think I’d seen a bit of his art before then. About “BEST ANGLE, EVERY PANEL, EVERY TIME” (well put, Greg!): That issue contains one of my favorite pages for showing what good comics storytelling can be. All it “really” shows is Batman picking up a card with a note from the Joker telling Batman where to meet him (“old lock 39 outside town”), followed by Batman’s arrival at the lock, where he finds another card. But in the course of six panels Aparo takes us through a medium-long shot of Batman picking up the card, a close-up on the writing on the card, a very long scene-setting shot of the lock (with Batman a tiny figure in the back), a dramatic shot from behind and a little above of Batman looking down into the lock, a moderate close-up of the second card at the bottom of the lock, and a long-ish shot, tilted off angle, of Batman descending stairs into the lock. No fights, no dialogue (though thought bubbles) – and yet Aparo keeps your eye moving and makes it very dramatic (helped by Bob Haney’s words, of course). Can you imagine how awfully a lot of artists (especially modern-day ones, I’m tempted to say) would have drawn that? It’s a page I’d love to own.

But I also agree with Graeme that his art declined fairly soon; he had a relatively short “sweet spot” – though I’d like to go back and look at his Charlton stuff. Calling Aparo a combination of Neal Adams and Milt Caniff seems close to right – certainly Aparo was on the Caniffian side of the inking fence – but there was something in his art that was very much uniquely Aparo. I’m not sure I see “kept Caniff/lost Adams/gained Toth” in his later work, though. I think that work was actually marked by (among other things) a loss of very Caniffian sort of of inky swampiness, as well as by a more conventional way of rendering anatomy.

Speaking of Charlton, anyone who’s a fan of both Aparo’s and Don Newton’s Batman is alright in my book, Edo!

In the fall of 1975, my new friend Greg Hatcher forced me to watch a show called Star Trek, which wasn’t very nice, because I have OCD, and I had to go out and buy books (The Trouble With Tribbles…The World of Star Trek…The Star Trek Concordance…The Star Fleet Technical Manual). I still remember having to race home in a panic after my weekly guitar lesson to watch “Wink of an Eye,” at five, because it was the only episode (of the original series) that I hadn’t seen. No…not very nice at all. And now he’s doing this…

Ooh, I just saw on Diamonds’ site that next week there’s a Legends of the Dark Knight Jim Aparo HC coming out. It’s got his B&B work in it. However, given that I hear iffy things about DC’s HCs and so forth, I’m not sure I’d plunk down the 50 bucks for this.

On a completely unrelated note, I find it very funny that an ad on the DC site is for a video game called Hitman Absolution, and it DOESN’T feature Tommy Monaghan.

I first saw Aparo’s art in the mid-80s. I liked his Batman instantly, but he didn’t immediately become one of my all-time favorite artists. Nope, that happened once I got to read some of his work from the ’60s and ’70s. Aparo at his peak is as good as anyone has ever been, plain and simple. I’ve got the first volume of the Aparo HC on order, and I can’t wait for it to arrive! I’ve never read many of the stories reprinted on its pages.

[…] right between the eyes was his Doc Savage. It was just a few weeks ago I was looking back fondly on the run of Doc Savage that DeZuniga did with Doug Moench. That?s the only time I ever felt like the character actually […]

The Doc Savage stories in the magazine seemed to capture the characters a lot more than the short-lived Marvel comic book of that time, which was hurt by trying to adapt the original novels. I was really disappointed when they canceled that magazine…

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