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The Back Issue Bin

Buried Treasures of the Month
Lee Dunchak

For this article I wanted to take a break from talking about old comic books and talk about something different.  Specifically, I wanted to talk about a magazine called Amazing Heroes.

Amazing Heroes, or AH, started in the early 80’s as a magazine that published the news and events of the day.  It is similar to Wizard but without the price guide, toys, and movie references.  What makes AH so interesting these days is the blend of interviews, promotion for new series, reviews, and trivia style articles about comics. 

When you read a copy of AH, you have to remember that they were written well before the internet.  It was before Newsarama, Comic Book Resources or any of the other web pages that update us daily on the status of the industry.  In fact, one of the primary methods of learning about new projects was read about them in magazines like AH.

Here are some examples that I found.

Amazing Heroes 20, February 1983

AH issues always follow a simple format; news and events, a promotional article about an upcoming series, comic book trivia, reviews, and a letter page.  All sections weren’t equally interesting but there’s always a gem in there.

In addition to all the other material, early issues daily of AH reprinted the Star Wars daily syndicated strip by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson.  I found these strips particularly exciting because I never knew that Star Wars was syndicated. 

Since I knew so little about the Star Wars strip, I did a little research and Dark Horse had this to say:

From 1981 to 1984, comic-book greats Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson turned out a popular series of Star Wars newspaper strips. Featuring the adventures of Luke, Leia, and Han in the time between the first and second movies,

Dark Horse reformatted those strips to make them work as a continuous story in a series of comic books, with Al Williamson himself redrawing and extending many panels for the new format. This book collects the first seven issues of the popular Dark Horse comic, with a new introduction from Archie Goodwin, new cover art, and never-before-seen art from the sketchbooks of Al Williamson.

It should be obvious that collected newspaper strips read differently from standard comic books.  It doesn’t make them better or worse, just different.  I am something of a purist and I can’t help but feel that DH’s reformatting of the strips loses something in the translation.  The same way comic books lose something when they were crushed down to pocket digest size.

After the Star Wars reprints, the news and events section covered who the upcoming artists and writers are for the various publishers.  It was an easy way to see who was going to be doing what or to see if there were any blips in the schedule.  Obviously the material is very dated but there are always gems to be found.  In this case, I learned that Howard Chaykin and Terry Austin were the art team on Indiana Jones #7.  I may not want that issue in my collection but it is worth looking at in the store to see how pretty the art is.

The promotional article for this issue is a behind the scenes look at the Amethyst Princess of Gem World series.  While the series itself was short lived, this article makes it look like the next big thing.  The article talks about how the authors, Mishkin and Cohn, developed the idea and chose Ernie Colon as the artist. Previously, I discussed Mishkin and Cohn in my article about Blue Devil if you want to see more of their work. This article represents why AH is such a great magazine.  Mishkin and Cohn wrote comics for a number of years in the early 80’s but they never reached the super star status of Starlin or Miller.  But for older readers such as me, they provide insight into the comics that I read as a kid.  Finally, the article is peppered with art including pencil pages. 

The comic trivia article in this issue is a hero history of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, Pt 1, by Lou Mougin.  The hero history was a chance for a writer to detail all the events about a particular character.  Basically, it was a long synopsis of the characters adventures.  I will remind you again that this was 1983 and long before the internet.  Today, there are hundreds of web sites dedicated to some aspect of the New Gods mythology.  In 1983 there were older fans and this article.  This is 12 pages of art and text that detail the beginnings of Kirby’s Fourth World.  

This issue also has a short interview with Fred Hembeck.  Fred is one of the funniest men in comics.  This article is full of wit and insight and not much wisdom.  Everyone knows Fred for his big knee characters, but did you know that he actually tried to become a serious comic book artist.  There is even a sample page that he submitted for review.  I love Fred’s work but he is correct when he says “I was average at best”.  There is a great splash that highlights the some of Fred’s favorite characters including Superman, the Question, and L’il Archie.

The new comic reviews and letters page fills out the remainder of the issue.

Amazing Heroes 21, March 1983

The usual material is still in place but the gem of this issue is its “silly cover”.  The “silly cover” was a parody of a character or group using a fake comic book cover.  In this case the artist pokes fun at Conan and the Warlord with his rendition of Barbarian Blood Bath Comics.  The artist is none other than Bruce Timm, creator of the Batman cartoon.  Bruce Timm’s art is good but it isn’t what you would expect.  This is not the Batman style that he currently employs.

The promotional article is a preview of Steve Englehart and Steve Leialoha’s series Coyote.  In this case instead of many pages of text there is an interview with the author Steve Englehart.  As always it is interesting to see what he was trying to accomplish.  I own the Coyote series and it is not going to be reprinted anytime soon.  I read this article and read the issues.  The comparison between what Englehart was trying to accomplish and the end results are worth seeing for yourself.

As a special bonus, there is a 2 page interview with the artist Steve Leialoha.  You will always learn something in an interview no matter how short.  In this case, Steve completely redesigned the main character.  This isn’t the most in depth article I have ever read but it presented a nice balance between writer and artist.

The hero history of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World continues with part 2, by Lou Mougin.   The article is only 9 pages this time but manages to cover the Kirby New Gods, Mr. Miracle, and Forever People and the late 70’s revival.

This issue wraps up with reviews of the Batman and the Outsiders Preview, Pacific Presents 1, and Defenders 116.  Old reviews are a great way to see what people thought of old books.  I can’t say that I agree with the Defenders review, strangely positive, but the reviewer got it right with Pacific Presents, very positive.

Amazing Heroes 71, May 15, 1985

The Alan Moore issue.  There is no need to say why this issue is so collectable.

The first article in this issue previews a new comic book called Shatter, the first computer generated comic book.  It is very common these days to have computers create comics, and there’s even a controversy about computers doing all the coloring on comic books but that wasn’t true in 1985.  The art was completely created using an Apple Macintosh computer which in 1985 was an amazing thing.  It’s interesting to see how the creators felt about what they were doing.  I found it amusing that the art was created on the computer but was being colored by hand. 

 The real gem of this issue is the interview with Alan Moore and any interview with Alan Moore is bound to be exciting.  There has been so much written about him this much of this material may have been reprinted since this article was written.  The introduction lists many of Alan’s early credits including “”Roscoe Moscow” and “The Stars my Degradation” which were printed in the British equivalent of Heavy Metal.  The thing about interviews and why this is collectable even with all the other material out there is the stories are fresh in Alan’s mind.  If you have read any of the Stan Lee interviews you know that he can’t always remember everything from 1962.  The Swamp Thing series which propelled Alan to superstardom was still in its heyday.  The stories that he relates describe the environment completely.  These aren’t vague recollections but the events as they have occurred.  There is an Alan Moore checklist of his works up to that point in time.  The list includes the published date, title of the story, number of pages, and the artist.  Did you know that Alan Moore once did “Fanzine reviews” or wrote an article called “Stan Lee: Blinded by the Hype” I have never read either but I am sure they are interesting.

The trivia article for this issue was a check list of the Brave and Bold team ups for issues 117-200.  The list states the writer, artist and even provides a brief synopsis of the issue.  This was an invaluable tool for seeking out back issues in the early 80’s.  Before all of the indexing programs available today the best way to develop a wish list was to have another collector publish it in AH.

Amazing Heroes 89 February 15, 1986

This issue opens with another Silly Cover by Bruce Timm which is a parody of Dave Steven’s Rocketeer called The Bucketeer.

Another section in all issues was the Previews.  These days we have a monthly book dedicated to the upcoming books but Previews wasn’t around in 1986.   It’s always interesting to see who the writer, artist, and cover artist were for issues.

There are two promotional articles in this issue, a preview of the Fantagraphics comic Threat and the new Upshot Graphics line.  The Upshot Graphics interview by Mark Waid, current writer of the Fantastic Four.  It’s always interesting to see how today’s superstars made a living before achieving success.  Peter David worked in Marvel’s marketing department and Mark Waid wrote for a fanzine.  The Upshot Graphics preview consisted of an interview with Jan Strnad.  The line was never successful and eventually stopped publishing but not before releasing the gem Dalgoda.

The trivia article is a Hawkman hero history by Bill Kropfhauser.  Hawkman’s history is one of the most convoluted in all of the superhero universes.  Bill did an excellent job of explaining an impossible origin.  He does an excellent job of discussing Hawkman’s major storylines in 70’s when he didn’t have his own series which amounted to various appearances in Justice League and World’s Finest. 

There is a special review in which Ken Jones makes the argument that Big Apple Comix and High Adventure may have been the first true alternative comics.  Big Apple Comix was published by “Fabulous Flo” Steinberg and featured such talents as Marie Severin, Archie Goodwin, Wally Wood, Herbe Trimpe, and Neal Adams providing adult oriented material.  High Adventure was the brain child of Mark Evanier with help from Steve Leiahola and Mike Royer.  Both books were one shots that are highly collectable and present some amazing talent doing some bawdy work.

One of the highlights of any AH issue is the review section.  Like today there were so many comics produced that it was hard to know which one were or were not good.  There are many review sites on the internet but that wasn’t the case back in the day.  This was one of the few ways that you could make a decision on what to buy.  In this issue, the new comic reviews included At Home with Rick Geary, The Adventures of Captain Jack #1, Nemo, The classic comics library #16, Love and Rockets #15, Threat #1, Neat Stuff #2-3, Journey #22-24, and Critters #1.  The best part about reading old reviews is when they get it completely wrong.  Critters 1 is the first appearance of the long running, critically acclaimed series Usagi Yojimba by Stan Sakai.  The reviewer describes an action sequence this way “…six pages of swordplay that aren’t nearly as entertaining (as the character development pages) and are in fact mildly disturbing.”  I have to say that with all the violence and adult material in comics this is an interesting opinion on the ronin rabbit.  But to the reviewer’s credit, he did compliment the art.

Amazing Heroes 111, February 15, 1987

This issue was packed full of shorter, trivia style articles.  The lead off was ‘The Dark Knight History of the DC Universe’ by Andy Mangels.  This is an interesting breakdown of everything Miller Dark Knight.  This is very similar to the annotated “League of E. Gentlemen” websites.

There is an essay called “Ditko: An Overview” by Rodney Schroeter.  As you surely know Ditko doesn’t do interviews.  In fact Ditko does very little with regards to the comic book media.  I think it is safe to say that he doesn’t like the media at all.  Since he won’t speak for himself all that is left are the essays that people write about him.  This was an excellent one.  Unrelated to AH, The Comics Journal recently did an all Ditko essay issue.  If you are interested in him and his work at all I strongly recommend having Rusty getting you a copy.

Finally, there is a Secret Society of Super Villains hero history by Greg Gildersleeve.  If you have ever wondered where I get my gobs of useless information about old series, it is from articles just like this.  The best part this article is that it actually makes me want to find these back issues.  I know that the SSSV series was terrible but I still want them after reading this article.The majority of the issue is taken up by an interview with Ty Templeton.  This article predates his work on the JLA and How to Draw Batman or How to Draw Superman books.  Ty is a very funny man who has done lots of funny things in the industry.  I highly recommend reading this.

Fan art was always appreciated by AH.  In this issue is a small sketch by a young Phil Hester of Green Arrow fame.  While not the best art Phil has ever done it is far better than what I can do.  It is always interesting to see an artist’s development.

Amazing Heroes 123, May 15, 1985

The only reason to find this issue is for the Frank Thorne interview.  I fell in love with Frank Thorne’s art from the first time I saw it in Red Sonja.  Unfortunately I knew so little about him that it was difficult for me to find any other books that he had worked on.  It was almost impossible for me to find any information about the man himself.  But as always, there is so much information to be gained from interviews that aren’t written anywhere else.  In this case, I had incorrectly assumed that Frank’s first work was Red Sonja.  Boy was I wrong.  It turns out that he was doing daily strips from 1957 until 1962 for a feature called Dr. Guy Bennet. I haven’t even heard of the strip but apparently it was direct competition for Rex Morgan, which is still running to this day.  I even learned that Wendy Pini, creator of Elfquest, used to dress up as Red Sonja and attend conventions with Frank.  That must have been a sight to behold.

Another place that you find the most interesting things is in the advertisements.  In this case there is a full page ad for Dave Stevens interview in The Comics Journal.  Now I have talked about the Comics Journal before but they do some of the most in-depth, best interviews ever.  A Dave Stevens interview with unpublished art (at that time) is something worth trying to find.

Finally, in the letters section there is a great Conan head sketch by Gary Kwapisz.  Gary would draw many, many issues of Savage Sword of Conan.  I don’t know if this is pre-Conan or if he already had the job. 

In conclusion, Amazing Heroes is a great way to see what the “hot” books of the day were.  It is a great way to find forgotten gems such as Dave Steven’s interviews.  Finally, it is just plain fun to see artists such as Bruce Timm and Phil Hester long before they were household names.


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