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Monday, October 31, 2016

The 1988 Wrath of The Spectre mini-series

In 1988, based on the renewed popularity the Spectre was receiving thanks to his 1987 ongoing series written by Doug Moench, DC comics decided to reprint the Spectre’s "controversial" stories that ran during 1974-1975 in Adventure Comics. Wrath of the Spectre reprints Spectre stories from Adventure Comics #431 to #440 and three additional Spectre stories (that never saw print) in a 4-issue deluxe format mini-series. The creative team responsible for the Adventure Comics Spectre stories were Michael Fleisher (writer), Russell Carley (art continuity), Jim Aparo (art), Frank Thorne (art) and Joe Orlando (editor). These stories were considered controversial as editor Joe Orlando was trying to push the limits of the Comics Code as far as he could.

A little bit of context: the Comics Code Authority was formed in 1954 as an indirect reaction to a book by Fredric Wertham called Seduction of the Innocent which claimed that scenes of graphic violence, sex, and drug use within comic books encouraged similar behavior on impressionable youths. During the late 1940s and early 1950s it was not uncommon for a comic book to have scenes of graphic violence (real or implied) since horror and crime comics dominated the comic book market. One of the comic book companies to be hit the hardest was EC Comics (known for classic horror and crime titles such as Tales of the Crypt, Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear and Crime SuspenStories). EC Comics went down in a blaze of glory and fought tooth-and-nail to print the material they deemed fit - Comics Code Authority be damned. EC Comics was eventually sold to the company that also owned DC Comics in the early 1960s. Why is this relevant? Because Orlando’s comic book career (first as a penciller and then as an editor) started at EC Comics. You see, Orlando had vast experience working with horror titles (ex: EC Comics, Warren, and Atlas comics) and while Spectre wasn’t a horror character per se - it sure seemed that way based on his original stories.

The Spectre was created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily and first debuted in National Allied Publications’ More Fun Comics #52 (1940). It was speculated that Siegel, who also co-created Superman prior to creating the Spectre, was influenced by the success of Gil Kane and Bill Finger’s Batman (published in 1939) and decided to create a darker, grimmer super-hero. When the Spectre first debuted, he was the ghost of a slain cop whose modus operandi was to hunt down murderous criminals and mete out brutal supernatural vengeance. Additionally, the Spectre also fought other mystic beings that were just as powerful as he was. The Spectre was popular enough to become a chartered member of the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics #3 (1940), and then suddenly the Spectre stories were toned-down drastically - starting with the introduction of Spectre’s new bumbling sidekick in 1941: Percival Popp the Super-Cop. Once DC realized that the introduction of sidekicks helped sales of a book (ex: Batman and Robin), nearly every DC hero was assigned one. Unfortunately, the Spectre was relegated to keeping his bumbling sidekick out of harm’s way - which pretty much killed the eerie supernatural tone of the series first established by Siegel. The mid-1940’s were not kind to super hero comics as their popularity had waned and other genres of comic books (ex: war, western, science fiction, romance, crime and horror) had become the big sellers. The Spectre was last seen in All-Star Comics #23 (1945) before he slipped into 'comic book limbo’.

Fun Fact: The Spectre story in More Fun Comics #52 (1940) had the first appearance of DC’s version of God in the story. Hint: The Voice that gave Spectre his powers was intended to be the Voice of God.

Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson revived the Spectre in 1966, thanks to the guidance of editor Julius Schwartz who had been systematically reviving/updating all Golden Age heroes (ex: Flash, Green Lantern, the Atom, Hawkman, etc) for a new generation of comic book readers. This newly introduced Spectre was a watered-down version of the original, who now apprehended villains and delivered them to the police instead of slaying them. Furthermore, this new Spectre really played up the “battling powerful cosmic villains” aspect of the Spectre mythos.

In 1972, under the direction of editor Joe Orlando (who was also editor for DC’s House of Mystery), Adventure Comics was gradually shifting from the superhero genre to the supernatural/fantasy adventure genre. By this point the Comics Code Authority has loosened it’s censorship, and horror comics were able to get away with more - which is why the market was suddenly flooded with horror titles again. Orlando was experienced with horror comics and it was a genre he was familiar with, he just needed a superhero he could feature in Adventure Comics who could also be played as a horror character - enter the Spectre. Fleisher was chosen as the writer for the Spectre based on his previous experience writing horror/suspense stories and his knowledge of Golden Age DC characters (Fleisher researched and wrote all 3 volumes of The Encyclopedia of Comic Books Heroes). Fleisher was insistent on capturing the original 'vengeful’ essence of the character (as introduced in the early Jerry Siegel stories) rather than the cosmic champion he was portrayed as during the 1960s in the Gardner Fox stories.

The reason this series was so controversial (at the time) was because the audience of the 1970s were not accustomed to super heroes killing villains. The only other Spectre stories the audience would’ve been familiar with were the Gardener Fox stories of the mid-to-late 1960s in which the Spectre conformed to the “super heroes never kill” rule. It may not be the fact that the Spectre killed criminals that was so appalling, but the manner in which he did it (ex: turn them to wax and have them melted, turned to wood and hacked up with an ax, etc) and the fact that it seemed like the Spectre took pleasure in it. In truth, the creative team was actively trying to recreate the spirit of the EC horror comics of the 1940s, but the comic readers of the 1970s probably would not have been aware of that. Joe Orlando was researching the Comics Code, finding out what he was not allowed to do, and then doing it anyways thanks to some loophole in the Comic Code guidelines (you’ll notice that all of the Adventure Comics issues featuring the Spectre have the Comics Code Authority seal on them). A few readers wrote in to state that they were uneasy with the idea of a super-hero delivering vengeful justice, and a new reporter-type character [Earl Crawford] who represented their views on the Spectre was introduced to the series. The most notable thing about this controversy, however, is that most of the outcry against this series came from within the comic book industry - fan-oriented writers and assistant editors were upset that a super hero character was getting the horror treatment and boldly stated that Orlando, Fleisher and crew were ruining the “American Super-hero”. It was rumored that a combination of DC’s apprehension towards the “controversial” content of the series and dwindling sales were the reasons the feature was cancelled and replaced with an Aquaman feature instead (Adventure Comics #441).

NOT Clark Kent - Earl Crawford (Wrath of the Spectre #4)

I really enjoyed this reprint series. In the 80s, reprint collections weren't as easily attainable as they are today, so you either needed to own the original issues (or have a friend lend them to you) to read the original material. The coloring is absolutely beautiful and does Jim Aparo’s illustrations a lot of justice. I don’t think anyone can do swooping and swirling capes quite like Aparo. I always liked the Spectre, but only knew of him from whatever I read during All-Star Squadron, so I never really understood his powers as they were never fully explained. Is he omnipotent? Just how powerful is he? This reprint series didn’t answer any of these questions, as he seems to be invulnerable and can’t be harmed by anything. The stories all kind of followed the same formula: a murder/crime is committed, detective Jim Corrigan is on the case, the Spectre catches up to the killers and they meet a gruesome supernatural death at the hands of the Spectre. The stories were pretty self-contained - very much the same approach you’d find in a horror anthology comic.

The last three unpublished stories started adding continuity, and that seemed like a step in the right direction. The 'new' material was actually originally written by Fleisher back in the 70s, but was never illustrated because the Spectre feature in Adventure Comics was cancelled before it could see print; Paul Levitz, assistant to editor Joe Orlando at the time, was so fond of Fleisher's work that he kept them for safe-keeping should the series ever be resurrected again. Aparo getting the opportunity to illustrate these fifteen year-old scripts in the late 80s is a lucky break, indeed. Aparo's pencils for his 'new' work didn't seem as dark and shadowy as his early 70s Spectre work, but it still fit the overall theme nonetheless. Aparo explained that, since the Wrath of the Spectre didn't carry the Comics Code Authority seal, he could get a little more explicit with the horror sequences in the 'new' material he was illustrating. When Fleisher was asked if he'd ever consider writing the Spectre again, he replied with "I think it would be intriguing to try. but I don't think I have it in me to do what I was doing then." In the letter column of Wrath of the Spectre #4 (1988), Fleisher elaborates that his 70s Spectre features was his first attempt at writing a continuing comics series and that he just did whatever he felt like doing and described it as a naive effort that lacked refinement. He explained that he felt he was now too sophisticated and would not be able to approach the project with the same energy he originally approached the project with. (Fleisher was well aware that his 70s work broke a lot of unspoken rules in regards to what was crossing the line in a superhero comic. He acknowledges this as a major factor in his early Spectre's notoriety among fans.) Fleisher would go on to write Jonah Hex (and then Hex) for DC comics from 1977 to 1987.

Worried you missed out? The Wrath of the Spectre is now available as a collected edition, reprinting all 4 issues... in color!


[This article first published in Nov 2013 on the DC in the 80s tumblr.]

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A comprehensive review of the 1987 Spectre v2 ongoing series

Our first article about the Spectre v2 ongoing series began with us telling you about the origin of the series and the Spectre's scaled-down powers, but quickly got side-tracked as we began outlining all the great artists who had collaborated on the series. In this second part we're striving to give you an overall summary of this 1987 ongoing series...

[I'm trying my best here to review this series as objectively as possible. It's been a while since I've read 1992's The Spectre v3 (aka: John Ostrander's Spectre) or any 1940s Golden Age stories from his More Fun Comics days. For all intents and purposes, I'm more or less going into this with a 'clean slate'. -J]

The Spectre v2 ongoing series ran for 31 issues and a single 1988 annual (all written by Doug Moench). This series was only offered via Direct Edition — it wasn't sold on newsstands — meaning you either had to have a home subscription or purchase it from your local comic book shop. Being a Direct Edition made it possible for Spectre v2 to bypass the Comics Code Authority (CCA) seal and contain content geared towards a 'mature audience'. This was very much in-step with what was happening with Swamp Thing v2 at the time, Despite being a 'no label' book, DC editorial opted not use profane words, show graphic sex or violence and only be as strong as 1988 prime time television.

This ongoing series also sported the NEW FORMAT seal on the cover — this meant that there were 24 pages of story instead of 22, all of the ads were at the back of the book, the paper stock was better than newsprint (but not as good as Baxter), and new 'computer coloring' was being used. Swamp Thing v2 would also move into this format with issue #60 and Doom Patrol v2 with issue #19.*

Under the editorial direction of Bob Greenberger, Moench initially sets up the Spectre v2 as a supernatural mystery comic; James Corrigan is no longer a cop, he's a private investigator with an office above Madame Xanadu's Greenwich Village parlor. The stories are mainly narrated from Corrigan's point of view and tend to involve a supernatural case/mystery that he's trying to crack (often involving a murder). The Spectre is a discarnate spirit which comes and goes as he pleases, but is usually working towards the same objective as Corrigan. The first three issues establish the tone of this series, and by issue #4 the series really starts to hit it's stride. Reader reaction to a new Spectre ongoing series consisted of a lot of hesitation — readers pointed out that the reason a Spectre series hadn't worked very well in the past is because the character was too powerful (on the verge of being God-like) and thus difficult for the reader to form a relation to. Moench effectively fixed this by scaling down the Spectre's powers and giving him a weakness.

Spectre v2 #3

I honestly don't think that Doug Moench is given enough credit as a writer of supernatural fiction. Moench is best known for co-creating Marvel's Moon Knight, his run on Marvel's Master of Kung-Fu with Paul Gulacy and, most notably, his 1983 to 1986 stint as a writer for Batman and Detective Comics. Most fans don't realize that Moench's 1970s writing resumé includes a huge catalog of work for Warren Publication's Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella horror magazines, as well as a variety of Marvel's black-and-white Curtis Magazine titles (i.e., Dracula Lives!, Haunt of Horror, Vampire Tales, Monsters Unleashed, Tales of the Zombie).

If I didn't know any better, it would seem like Moench's first major goals with this series were to try to conclude a few open-ended story lines. In a two-part story illustrated by Gene Colan and Steve Mitchell, Moench explains what happened to Jim Corrigan post-Crisis up until the beginning of Spectre v2. Moench masterfully sidesteps around the continuity nightmare that is Crisis on Infinite Earths by explaining it as a natural phenomena ["red rains"] that happened to be occurring during the course of the story:

Spectre v2 #5 - Ernie Colon and Steve Mitchell art

Issues #7 and 8 of the Spectre v2 reintroduces Golden Age mystical super-villain Wotan (last seen in 1981's All-Star Squadron) to a current audience in what may be the creepiest Zatanna story I've ever read. Moench keeps a tight continuity in these issues, as the remaining Demon Three members (Abnegazar and Ghast) are still looking for their missing brother and references to Justice League of America #256 - 257 are mentioned. (At this point, Zatanna was predominantly a Justice Leaguer, having last appeared during 1986's Justice League Detroit run.) Moench also resolves the lingering question of what happened to Zatara following the events of Swamp Thing v2 #50:

Spectre v2 #5 - illustrated by Cam Kennedy

Spectre v2 #9 is the first issue that Gray Morrow starts his six issue run (as penciller AND inker) on the series. Issue #9 incited a lot of controversy in the comic book fandom community at the time, not because the Spectre (a spirit) and Madame Xanadu (a human) 'consummate' their relationship [that idea has already 'been done', as seen in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing v2 #34], but because of all the nudity in the issue. (Fun Fact: Madame Xanadu sleeps totally in the nude while wearing ALL of her jewelry. Flaunt it if you've got it, is the message here.) Comic book stores owners were taken by surprise because there was no mention of adult content on the cover of the issue, and they had no forewarning of the nudity within the issue. One rumor is that DC editorial thought the dark green overlays printed over the image would conceal enough to not be an issue — but as evidenced by the finished product, this was not the case whatsoever.

Truth be told, the Morrow-illustrated issues were my favorite issues of the Spectre v2 to read. Morrow's art brings a sense of realism and fits the mood of the series — his Spectre is a very human-looking Spectre (which, y'know, adds to the creepiness factor). It feels a bit like a throw-back to the Golden Age version of the character when the writers were still trying to flesh out his powers.

Spectre v2 #12 - illustrated by Gray Morrow

As mentioned, Morrow's last issue was Spectre v2 #15, which is also the last issue Robert Greenberger is credited as editor. Starting from #16 (and until the last issue of the series) Andy Hefner would now be manning the editorial reins. Issue #15 concluded with the promise of 'A New Beginning' and issue #16 quickly wraps up the lingering Cult of the Blood Red Moon storyline (that's been running since issue #1) with Chris Wozniak and Mark Farmer on art. Corrigan also comes clean to his police department contact about who he really is (this is a bit of a change, since a previously recurring plot device was Corrigan going to great pains to conceal his association with the Spectre).

Issue #18 brings a BIG CHANGE to the character, as Jim Corrigan and the Spectre are no longer two separate entities, but one and the same person who switch back & forth (think: Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde). I'm not 100% sure, but I think the Spectre's powers get augmented, too.
Spectre v2 #19 - Corrigan changing to the Spectre. Mark Badger art.

By issue #20, we're seeing a completely NEW direction in this series: Jim Corrigan decides to run a paranormal detective agency and begins hiring eccentric employees to fill the roster. For a few issues, Spectre v2 goes back to the whole 'detective agency/mystery' aspect, but ultimately gets derailed by a 6 issue story arc that, in my humble opinion, killed interest in this series.

Written by Moench and pencilled by Tom Artis (along with various inkers), the Ghost in the Machine story arc (Spectre v2 #24 - #29) involved the Spectre battling a new meta-human with the power to control... (wait for it)... computers! This was honestly one of those 'what were they thinking' moments that had me scratching my head. Considering issue #23 was an Invasion! tie-in and guest-starred Deadman, Dr Fate, Phantom Stranger and the Demon, it would seem like great things were in store for Spectre v2. Ghost in the Machine featured NO guest stars, didn't really add any new plot development, featured a throw-away villain and took half a year to tell. Depending on who was inking his pencils, I found Artis' art a little too exaggerated/comical for the story... which really gave the whole thing a light-hearted feel. The only noteworthy item about this story arc is that it's the first appearance of Jason Praxis — a character who would later become a member of Booster Gold's Conglomerate in the issues of Justice League Quarterly (circa early 90s). But really, that's not enough of a reason to track these issues down.

The final two issues of the series, #30 and #31, feature a two-part story that kind of just... ends the series. It was actually a very well-written story involving Corrigan's paranormal detective agency and a haunted house/demon possession. The art (Fred Butler and Gonzalo Mayo) was back to being shadowy and sinister, and the story itself was very suspenseful. Moench seems to have put a lot of heart into this 2-parter: a recently introduced character is given the spotlight in these issues and subsequently killed off. Part of me wonders if Moench was blindsided by the cancellation of this series, and was trying to give a new character he created a respectful send off.

The Spectre is (quite possibly) one of my favorite Golden Age comic book characters. Aesthetically speaking, he's easily recognizable in his green-and-white colors and possesses a disquieting demeanor that is just begging to have ghastly stories written about him. Doug Moench, under the guidance of Greenberger (I'm starting to assume), really wrote this character correctly by keeping him closely tied to the other mystical characters of the DCU — essentially continuing what Moore's Swamp Thing v2 had started. Appearances by Phantom Stranger, Madame Xanadu, Zatanna, Zatara, Deadman, Dr. Fate, The Enchantress, and Baron Winters really anchored this book as part of a separate universe within the DCU (which would somewhat end up being the foundation that is Vertigo). Everything from issue #1 to issue #16 was engaging and entertaining to read, and had me guessing which DC mystical character might appear next.

panels from The Spectre v2 #11 (1988). Gray Morrow art.

Keeping all this in mind, Spectre v2 felt like two different series' joined together (with the second series starting at issue #17). I'm assuming it was a change due to Helfer's editorial direction, but Spectre v2 #17 and beyond felt like the emphasis was mainly placed on Corrigan and his budding detective agency while the Spectre's involvement with the rest of the mystical DCU took a back seat. (The exception to this, of course, would be the Invasion! tie-in issue which had an ensemble cast of DC mystical characters.) In the letter column of issue #18, Greenberger directly states to a reader:  "Doug, Chris and Andy are moving the Spectre out of the mystical realm for a while, allowing the character to investigate the new changes that have wrought these last few issues".

To see a series change so drastically while written by the same writer always leaves me a little conflicted. I really enjoyed the first half, and the second half not so much. Moench did a great job of keeping the Spectre away from the rest of the mainstream DCU. Even with the mandatory Millennium and Invasion! cross-overs, he still manages to keep the presence of *other* DCU characters at a minimum (the exception being Batman, but it was for a crossover with Detective Comics #582). Moench inserts a lot of philosophical discussion into the story (this was something readers noticed he did with Master of Kung-Fu as well): Corrigan is often discussing moral issues with the Spectre regarding who deserves to be punished and how badly they should be punished. Is anyone really 'evil'? Or just a victim of circumstance? It's worth noting that nowhere in this series is 'The Voice' (the one that Spectre answers to) ever identified as 'God'. Most stories in this series take up two to three issues and there aren't many stand-alone issues.

Why was Spectre v2 cancelled after issue #31? I have no hard evidence or sales numbers, but I'm going to boldly guess that an editorial change, a new 'direction' halfway through the series, inconsistent art teams (Bart Sears was rumored to be next in line to illustrate the series, drew one issue and then left for something else), and shipping delays (the Invasion! tie-in issue was released 2 months after the event had ended) killed interest in this book.

While I just made this series sound like a dud, let's not forget that Spectre v2 had an incredibly strong opening with a terrific creative team (Moench/Colan/Mitchell/Greenberger) and some beautiful covers illustrated by A-level talent. Additionally, the Spectre is such an interesting character, Who doesn't like the Spectre? The book practically sells itself. At it's peak, this series inspired enough renewed interest in the Spectre to justify DC publishing the 1988 Wrath of the Spectre limited series (reprinting the Michael Fleisher/Jim Aparo Adventure Comics stories and a few brand-new stories originally written in 1974).

How does Spectre v2 hold up today? Well, there's a few moments in this series that, as you read them, really make you think "yep, this was definitely written for an 80s crowd in mind". A few notable examples include:

-a veiled rant about Ronald Reagan (exhibit 'F'):

Spectre v2 #12

-an issue all about crooked cops trafficking cocaine:

-the entire 6 issue Ghost in the Machine story arc is about a meta-human who is attacking humanity via arcades, computers and electronics. Remember when local arcades were still a "thing"? The meta-human's plot involved enslaving all 983, 523 computer users all across the country. Wow... that takes me back, Another cover has the Spectre being attacked by CDs. Remember when Compact Discs were the newfangled thing and your friends would show off their new CD-player and CD collection like it was the most glorious piece of hi-tech equipment to ever exist? Yeah, those were the eighties.

As of this writing, I do not believe that ANY of the Spectre v2 has been reprinted in a collected format by DC comics. Which is a shame — since those first sixteen are definitely worth reading. If nothing else, pick up those Gray Morrow issues (#9 to 15) which can probably still be found for under $4 a piece. Issue #11, which is a Suicide Squad tie-in, is especially worth the effort of seeking.

As we conclude this comprehensive review, I'd like to leave you with what the Spectre looks like under his cowl (courtesy of Gray Morrow):

Spectre v2 #15


*Big thanks to Rob Perry for filling in the gaps about the NEW FORMAT edition, rumors about artists meant to draw the book and the shipping delays during the last half of the series.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A review of the 1987 Spectre v2 ongoing series

It was DC Executive Editor Dick Giordano's idea to give the Spectre his own book again. This was apparently decided before Crisis On Infinite Earths, since the DC editorial team determined that the Spectre was TOO powerful of a character and would need to be taken down a few notches before he was given his own ongoing series. Marv Wolfman, Roy Thomas, Steve Gerber* and Bob Greenberger conferred and set a plan in motion: as a result of various events in 1986's Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series, Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and the Last Days of the Justice Society Special #1, the Spectre gets demoted to becoming a lesser-powerful supernatural being.

*If you're wondering why Steve Gerber is in the aforementioned list, it was because Gerber was Giordano's original choice as writer for the Spectre v2 ongoing series (scheduled to start in 1986), Gerber is best known for his work on Marvel's Man-Thing, Defenders and Howard the Duck titles. Due to scheduling conflicts between Gerber and DC comics [i.e., animated G.I .Joe cartoon and Howard the Duck film], Gerber writing Spectre v2 never actualized. Actually, a few of Steve Gerber's early 80s DC proposal never saw the light of day, and you can read about them on Brian Cronin's Comic Book Legends Revealed #254.

Prior to Spectre v2, Doug Moench had been writing Batman AND Detective Comics, as well as a few other projects for DC (Slash Maraud, Electric Warrior, and Lords of the Ultra-Realm). When Denny O'Neil became editor of the Bat-books in 1986, he was looking to move Batman into a new direction and Moench was replaced as writer [don't worry: Moench would return as regular writer again in 1992]. Moench offered a proposal to Giordano and Greenberger on a Spectre v2 ongoing series, which was well-received and the idea was ultimately given the 'go ahead'.

As the ongoing series begins, Moench wastes no time in addressing what happened to the Spectre after Swamp Thing v2 #50 and Last Days of the Justice Society Special, quickly explaining to the reader that this is a not-so-powerful Spectre who has had most of his powers stripped away. Moench also quickly introduces Kim Liang and (re-introduces) Madame Xanadu as supporting characters — as they will both play major roles throughout this series. Jim Corrigan was also reinstated as the Spectre's 'alter ego', but more on that later. Meonch chose the Cult of the Blood Red Moon (last seen during the I...Vampire! issues of 1982/1983's House of Mystery) as the Spectre's first major antagonists and they would remain a thorn in the Spectre's side for the first dozen issues or so.

By issue #2, we get a better idea of the Spectre's situation; the Spectre is Jim Corrigan's "soul", and can leave Corrigan's body for a maximum of 48 hours. It's explained that if Corrigan dies then the Spectre has no "host" body to return to and will also die (in a manner of speaking). Having the Spectre's incorporeal form split from Corrigan is a painful experience for Corrigan.

As far I can tell, the Spectre has the following powers: he can 'possess' inanimate/inorganic objects and transform them, he can become invisible, he can turn into a mist, he can communicate with the deceased (some exceptions apply) and he has limited mind-reading capabilities. Despite being 'ghost-like', the Spectre can still throw a punch. Another stipulation imposed on the Spectre (by whoever he answers to) is that he now has to mete out punishments that 'fit the crime' — no more turning jaywalkers into glass or whatever.

Spectre v2 #1 - pencils by Gene Colan and inks by Steve Mitchell
The Spectre v2 really makes a REALLY STRONG first impression with Gene Colan on pencils and Steve Mitchell on inks. Colan and Mitchell (along with Gerber) were part of Giordano's original vision for the Spectre v2 creative team. [Coincidentally, like MoenchColan had also been working on Detective Comics from 1982 to 1986.] Colan on the Spectre is a natural choice, as Colan is best known for his work on Marvel's The Tomb of Dracula (and other various Dracula-related titles). Colan's pencils bring a sinister and foreboding atmosphere that is perfectly suited for supernatural-themed stories (as evidenced in DC's Night Force). Mitchell's inks compliment Colan's pencils quite nicely, and it's a bit of shame that the Colan/Mitchell team-up only lasted for the first six issues of the series. Nevertheless, after Colan and Mitchell left, we were still treated to a really impressive line-up of artists:

Spectre v2 #7 - illustrated by Cam Kennedy 
Cam Kennedy (best known for his work on 2000 AD's Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper features) took over as guest artist for two issues.

Spectre v2 #10 - illustrated by Gray Morrow
Gray Morrow became the regular penciller and inker as of Spectre v2 #9 and remained until issue #15. Morrow, who's realistic art had been featured everywhere in the 1970s (DC, Marvel, Warren Publishing and Archie Comics), was an amazing fit for this series and I'm so glad that this series existed just so that Morrow had a chance to draw several issues.

Spectre v2 #17 - Chris Wozniak pencils with Ricardo Villagran inks

Gray Morrow would be the last regular penciller/inker for the next nine issues. Following Morrow leaving the book, it was pretty much a rotating creative team. Chris Wozniak was one of the few pencillers that would stay consistent and on any given issue teamed up with Mark Farmer, Ricardo Villagran, or Mark Badger. Bart Sears and Mark Pennington illustrated issue #22. Tom Artis pencilled a six issue story arc that lasted until issue #29. Artis had a rotating cast of inkers which included Ralph Cabrera, Al Vey, and Tim Gula during this run.  The series concluded with Fred Butler and Gonzalo Mayo as pencillers for the last two issues. respectively. Jim Baikie pencilled and inked the 1988 Spectre v2 Annual #1.

Spectre v2 #19 - illustrated by Mark Badger
I wanted to give a special mention to Mark Badger's art for Spectre v2 #19 (as well as issues #18, #20 and #21 — you can see his strong influence in the finished work). During a previous review of the 1988 Martian Manhunter mini-series, I was a little harsh regarding his art on that mini stating that it was 'too abstract/psychedelic' for the story. In this case, Badger's abstract style fits the mood and theme of the Spectre v2 ongoing series perfectly, and I really wish he had stayed on as the regular artist until the end of the book. Just terrific stuff.

I can't talk about the art in this book without mentioning how impressive the cover gallery to the first half of this series was. A lot of big name (and soon to be 'big name') artists had contributed covers that are absolutely pin-up worthy. Here a few covers that really stood out...

A few Mike Kaluta covers:

A few Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez covers:

A few Mike Mignola covers:

A few Charles Vess covers:

I feel that some books (particularly the Spectre) need the RIGHT artist in order to convey the RIGHT mood, which is why I'm putting so much emphasis on the art in this book. Now that we've dealt with who illustrated what, it's time to talk about what was going on between the covers. So far, this article is running way longer than I had planned, so we'll conclude with a comprehensive review in part 2.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

DC in the 80s interviewed by Ed Catto for Mike Gold's ComicMix

We are elated to announce that ComicMix - a comic book & pop culture website overseen by Mike Gold (yes, THAT Mike Gold) - has taken interest in our humble little 80s-centric webzine and decided to interview myself and executive editor Mark Belkin regarding the origins of this site and our favorite material from DC comics (circa 1980s).

ComicMix is kind of a BIG DEAL to us since it's regular roster of columnists include notable 80s greats such as John Ostrander, Dennis O'Neil, Mindy Newell and Mike Gold himself. Robert Greenberger has also been known to pitch in a review article or three.

Ed Catto, who is also the co-founder of the Bonfire Agency, conducted the interview. Not only is Ed a marketing strategist, he's no slouch when it comes to illustrating, either. Ed graciously allowed us to share two of his recent pieces:


Our interview is up at:

Here's a few other Ed Catto articles/interviews (written for ComicMix) that you may enjoy:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Phantom Stranger mini-series (1987)

The Phantom Stranger had a consistent showing in the 1980s. During the early 80s, he had a long running back-up feature in the Saga of the Swamp Thing as well as the occasional guest appearance in the rest of the DCU. In the mid-80s, he had become synonymous with DC's 'mystical elite' and was often found in the pages of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, Doug Moench's Spectre, or even J.M. DeMatteis' Dr. Fate. Let's not forget that he was a pivotal character in 1986's LEGENDS cross-over as he wagered with Darkseid over the perseverance of humanity. An extremely well-written Secret Origins #10 (featuring four different hypothetical origins of the Phantom Stranger) had hit the stands in early 1987, and by this point DC had realized the character had enough of a fan interest to at least merit a four issue mini-series.

Paul Kupperberg was in-between projects (Super Powers v3 and Doom Patrol v2) when he was offered the assignment to write a Phantom Stranger mini-series by DC Executive Vice President Paul Levitz. According to the letter column of the fourth issue, Kupperberg's main idea with the Phantom Stranger for this mini-series was to 'mess him up, tear him down and reassemble him better and more aware than before'. Evidently, Kupperberg decided that the most effective way to do this was to have the Phantom Stranger lose his powers in the first issue and have him be a mortal for the rest of the mini-series.

The plot of this mini-series can be summarized with: A de-powered Phantom Stranger tries to thwart Eclipso from ushering in the end of the world. Along the way, he is assisted by a few familiar faces from the DCU.


I'm not going to lie - I had a hard time staying interested in this mini-series (or at least the Phantom Stranger segments, anyways). Anytime the Lords of Order/Lords of Chaos are mentioned, I just sort of gloss over the word balloons as I feel the whole idea is too conceptual for me and would require some great mental energy to decipher what's going on. This, of course, is not a fault of Kupperberg's. I always felt that the Phantom Stranger is a rather boring character who works best in the shadows as a deus ex machina (as he first appeared in his 1950's Phantom Stranger v1 and 1970's Phantom Stranger v2 stories). To be honest with you, the real star of this mini-series is Eclipso.

Panel from Phantom Stranger v3 #1 (1987). Property of DC comics.

Appearing a few months prior in Outsiders v1 #18 (1987), this is the first we've seen of Eclipso possessing some sort of MAJOR magical powers: Eclipso becomes an agent of Chaos and he's got demon minions at his beck and call. During the 1980s, Eclipso was gradually evolving from a C-list super-villain to a mystical threat worthy of having his own company-wide cross-over (see: 1992's Eclipso: The Darkness Within) and later his own ongoing series (see: 1992's Eclipso v1). I don't know if the evolution of Eclipso was a result of editors Mike Carlin and Denny O'Neil's direction, or if this was all Kupperberg. Nevertheless, Kupperberg handles the villain really well, and Mike Mignola's pencils combined with P. Craig Russell's inks are a visual treat for the eyes.

Panel from Phantom Stranger v3 #3 (1987). Property of DC comics.

Did I mention that this was some of Mike Mignola's first DC work? This is actually a selling point on it's own. (That statement may be a little biased since Mignola is one of my favorite comic book artists.) There was lots of demons and dark cult-ish things to draw, so this was right up the future creator of Hellboy's alley. Shortly after this project, Mignola pencilled John Byrne's World of Krypton mini-series - which is also a beautiful looking series - and then 1988's Cosmic Odyssey mini-series. Our co-editor, Mark Belkin, chatted with Mignola at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con, and Mignola revealed that he felt he was stretched too thin at DC comics during the late 1980s and his best work did not come out. Personally, I just don't see it.

Despite my overall lack of interest in the Phantom Stranger, the mini-series does have it's moments. As I'm somewhat familiar with Kupperberg's work, I can quickly identify a few Kupperisms throughout the mini-series:
  • the nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia is played up to great effect in this mini-series. A hot button topic, Cold War tension would play a great role in 1988's Checkmate! ongoing series (also written by Kupperberg). This mini-series was obviously written before the fall of the Berlin Wall...
  • ... and since we're on the topic of Russia (and Checkmate!), it's important to note that Lt. Col. Valentina Vostok (aka Negative Woman) appears in this mini-series as a supporting character. (Negative Woman was created by Kupperberg and Joe Staton for the new Doom Patrol revival in 1977's Showcase #94.) She would be appearing later that year in Kupperberg's new Doom Patrol v2 as a main character. Actually, Negative Woman is one of the things that kept me reading this mini-series as I was hoping she'd play a larger role in the story. Kupperberg like to work characters he's familiar with into his stories (such as the example provided), which leads us to...   
Panel from Phantom Stranger v3 #3 (1987). Property of DC comics.

  • ...appearances by Jimmy Olsen as a supporting character. Did you know that Kupperberg had written more than five dozen stories for Superman-related titles during the late 70s to the mid 80s? This also includes the 1982 Supergirl ongoing series that ended under mysterious circumstances. Commissioner Gordon also appears a few times in this mini-series (since most of the action takes place in Gotham City), and, you guessed it... Kupperberg had written a few issues of Batman in the early 80s, too. As a matter of fact, Gotham City Police Department Sgt. Harvey Bullock was given a new life as an agent of Checkmate in Kupperberg's late 80s run on Vigilante and his Checkmate! series.

I'm saving the best for last here, but one of the most amusing developments in this mini-series is the pulse-pounding battle between the Phantom Stranger and then-President of the United States, Ronald Reagan:

Panels from Phantom Stranger v3 #3 (1987). Property of DC comics.

Please notice that the Phantom Stranger is trying to rip the red phone out of Reagan's hands as he's trying to call on a nuclear strike against Russia. This is a solid gold 80s reference and I'm sure it captured the spirit of America's disdain toward Reagan and his right-wing policies. Just to be clear, that was not the real Reagan but just a doppelganger working for Eclipso.

I can appreciate that Kupperberg manages to keep this within then-current DCU continuity and references the 1987 Dr Fate v1 mini-series a few times (which would have been published one month prior) and keeps in-step with the whole 'Lords of Order/Lords of Chaos' stuff which is something I'm not too familiar with but seems to have come to prominence sometime in the early to mid 80s. The exclusion of Dr Thirteen or Tannarak - two characters I feel are closely associated with the Phantom Stranger - was a bit of a surprise, but didn't detract from the story.

Something curious about this mini-series was that I was unable to find any DC house ads promoting it. Usually it's pretty easy to find DC house ads promoting a DC mini-series from the late 80s, but all of my searches turned up nil.

As far as I know, the Phantom Stranger was NOT optioned for an ongoing series after this mini, but Kupperberg DID write a Phantom Stranger feature for Action Comics Weekly from 1988 to 1989 (featuring a rotating cast of artists).

For your enjoyment:

There is an excellent Phantom Stranger site called 'I am the Phantom Stranger', curated by Rob Kelly, that is absolutely a must-read if you're a fan of the character.

Rob Kelly interviews writer Paul Kupperberg about his work on Phantom Stranger and even discusses Kupperberg's original mini-series pitch to editor Denny O'Neil: "that story was essentially Phantom Stranger as Jesus. The Lords of Order say it's over, the Stranger is left to wonder why he has been forsaken, and left to the tender mercies of mankind to judge him" (Paul Kupperberg).

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

An interview with Gerry Ross (of 1,000,000 Comix) 30 years later

In 1986, Gerry Ross and Montreal's 1,000,000 Comix were featured on the National News thanks to a $35,000 USD sale of six Marvel comic books. Below is the original footage that someone has generously uploaded to youtube for all to enjoy. For those of you who don't have access to audio, don't worry, we'll transcribe the key parts of the interview below.

This interview was a somewhat accurate foreshadowing of the 'comic book speculator boom' that would mark the late 80s and early 90s. The most telling part is the newscaster probing Gerry Ross for which "current" comics collectors should start 'investing in' in order to see a long-term financial gain.

Thirty years later, by pure happenstance, we ran into Mr Ross at our local sport memorabilia & collectibles show. When we introduced ourselves and told Mr Ross that we wrote for DC in the 80s, he bellowed "Why talk about 80s comics? Let's talk about 50s comics! They're way more interesting!" and that pretty much set the tone for our interview. (He was actually still riding the high of his recent sale of Action Comics #1 for nearly a million dollars.) All kidding aside, Mr Ross was very pleasant and easy to talk to. We had a chance to ask him what it's like to be a high-value comic book dealer, which DC comics from the 80s will rise in value, his opinions on comic book restoration and grading measures, and some hopeful news for Legion of Super-Heroes fans.

[Editor's Note: Parts of this recorded interview were transcribed out of sequential order, but only so it makes sense to the reader.]

DC in the 80s: "You're a big DC comics collector. You were telling me that you started off collecting DC comics in your youth. Is that correct?"

Gerry Ross: "Well, I'm 61 years old, so if you do the math I was born in 1955. In 1962-1963, when I started to get into comic books at age 7, Marvel comics was only a year or two old...and I didn't buy Marvel comics. The other thing that kept me into DC comics was a lot of people in my age group were watching the Superman TV show. If you had cable TV - which most didn't, but there was always one guy on the block who did -  so you went over as a little kid to watch Superman in the 1950s TV show. That hooked you onto Superman with George Reeves, of course. And then it hooked you onto all of the DC titles. It was a big fight in those days: by the late 60s, when Marvel comics was really breaking through and getting a lot of fans, the question was 'Are you a Marvel or DC guy?'. A lot of people were either/or. And Gold Key [comics] we didn't even talk about. Although there were a lot of people, obviously, who read Gold Key and liked them."

DC80s: "Here's the real reason for this interview: I found a recording of a televised news clip from 1986, featuring a very young Gerry Ross smiling into the camera, being interviewed by [what appears to be] a Toronto news program..."

Ross: "That was the National News. Somebody posted it recently. That was when I sold the first six Marvel comics - at the time - for a record price...  "

DC80s: "$35,000 USD"

Ross: "...I think it was for more than that, but anyways it doesn't matter. It's so long ago - that was 30 years ago, I was 31 in that video and now I'm 61. So that will give you an idea of how long I've been doing this, because I'm one of the first to even be a "comic book dealer", or set up at a convention, or be involved in conventions, or any of this stuff. Just because of my age that makes me one of the first guys in the hobby. "

DC80s: "I'm understanding that you're more of a high-value comic book collector/dealer. We're not talking about $50 books, we're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars of comics per book..."

Ross: "Well, recently we sold the highest rated Action Comics #1 (1938) ever to go on the Heritage Auctions website about a month and a half ago. That went for $956,000 USD. That was exciting to watch that book sell. To watch an unrestored Action Comics #1 go for that much money. I was happy, I have to be honest with you, I was happy. I went in on this deal with another guy in the United States who I know quite well. Believe it or not, he had to do a lot of the legwork on this at the end - I got tied up with some other stuff. Y'know, I've done a lot of high dollar deals over the years."

DC80s: "So is it exciting? Do you sleep with the phone by your pillow like a high-value trading broker waiting for that 2 am phone call? 'Sell! Sell!'"

Ross: "The big problem in this business is that you have to tie up a LOT of money. If I paid $1 for that Action Comics #1 that would be GREAT, but in reality, we paid a lot MORE than one dollar."

DC80s:"I remember you mentioning that in your 1986 newscast. 'I can spend up to one hundred thousand dollars at any given time for good material from the 1940s...even the 1960s.' "

Ross: "Yeah, but I mean AGAIN I had to buy it. It's not like I bought it once, I bought it twice. Twice is enough. I've been around a long time - I've seen a lot of Action Comics #1's go, well... not a lot, but enough to just be amazed. I am amazed that one just sold for three million dollars last year. That's amazing stuff."

DC80s: "You also mentioned to me (in a previous conversation), in regards to a very scarce copy of Action Comics, that you kept buying it, re-selling it, re-buying it and re-selling it to the SAME collector over the span of the thirty years. Am I misquoting you, or is that something that was happening?"

Ross: "Yeah, that was the Action Comics #1 that just sold."

DC80s: "How does that happen that you keep re-buying and re-selling the SAME issue to the SAME collector? Is that a normal thing for collectors to do when they're into high-end dealing? Or was it just a fluke?"

Ross: "Well, the collector died."

DC80s: "Oh! Sorry. Didn't realize that." [feels like a heel]

Ross: "So that's what happened."

DC80s: "What prompted that 1986 National News interview? I'm assuming it was that massive sale of those six early Marvel comic books?"

Ross: "...and they were the Larson copies..."

DC80s: "In the interview, you were talking about the Lamont Larson collection as well as the Mile High collection from Denver, Colorado (also known as the Edgar Church collection). Is that still around? Have any other mint collections of Golden Age comic books been discovered since then? Or is it still only down to the Larson and Church collections?"

Ross: "Well, that was a big collection purchased by Chuck Rozanski who started Mile High Comics in 1976. There were many thousands of books, but they've been, more or less, dispersed over the years. So that's basically where the Church collection is. I wouldn't know, right now, how much Chuck Rozanksi still owns or how much has been sold. Couldn't tell ya."

[Editor's Note: I found a link from the Comic Book Pedigrees website that answered the 'Have any other mint collections of Golden Age comic books been discovered since then' question.]

DC80s: "In the same interview, the anchorman made a joke along the lines of 'If only I'd kept my old copies from back then, I'd be a millionaire today'. I guess he was also try to put you on the spot and asked you "Are there any comics being released NOW that are worth saving? Like brand new ones that'll be worth something in thirty years?" and this was in 1986. You quickly suggested Dark Knight Returns #1 by Frank Miller. You also explained that there's a new phenomena in which there's "comics that are released now that, because of the supply and demand, shoot up in price rapidly and within a period of months can be worth a cover price of a buck or two to a cover price of forty bucks".

Ross: "So what else did I recommend to buy? Was there anything else? I'm curious how smart I was. Or how dumb I was. What I should've said was 'early Marvel comics'. But I probably thought that they were in such great supply that they would last forever - which was a BIG mistake because, I mean, early Marvel comics... well, I think everything has shown big increases: early DC comics AND early Marvel comics. "

DC80s: "Well, the anchorman was pressuring you for something on the stands RIGHT NOW."

Ross: "And that's all I said? Dark Knight Returns #1? Let's look at it: it was, like, five bucks cover price back then, it now goes for $140. That's about a 25 to 30 times return on your money. Now let's look at Action Comics #1 in 1986: A low-grade copy was $5000 USD, it's now worth $125,000 USD. That's a 25 times return on your money. Let's look at Amazing Spider-Man #1: let's look at a high-grade copy in 1981 - just a $1000. Or Amazing Fantasy #15: let's look at a 9.0 copy in 1981: that's a $1000. It's now worth a million dollars. Or let's say a 9.2, 9.4, or a 9.6 (somewhere in that range)... they're worth $500k to a million dollars.So that would've been the GREATEST return on your money."

DC80s: "Absolutely. At that time period in the 80s, investing in Golden Age books - especially scarce mint copies - would've been your best return on investment. I know that you still deal with comic books, more so with Golden Age because that's where the BIG money is..."

Ross: "Well. that's not completely true, I sell everything. When I go to conventions, what I do is... in Canada - I have my BEST stuff here, because I'm in Canada more often now than in the United States for convention, because there's a lot of good conventions in Canada (whereas ten years ago, all the good conventions were in the United States). but in Canada, I bring 30,000 comic books minimum. They're runs. I try not to bring 'dollar' books. Although, I have a complete run of Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, y'know... and Batman is very hot at DC comics. Well, the 70s Batman, I'd say, are a lot hotter than the 80s Batman."

"In the 80s you have Batman: Year One (Batman #404 - 407, 1987), the Death of Robin books (Batman #426 - 429, 1988). So, those two right there are REALLY popular."

"You also have Year Two in Detective Comics which are pretty highly sought after. You have the first Killer Croc in Batman #357 (1983) - that's very hot. The Killing Joke which is pretty hot. The Vengeance of Bane one-shot is a very hot book."

DC80s:"So, essentially Batman has always been pretty hot, especially in the back issue market. First appearances of major characters, as well as really pivotal issues (written by Miller or whatnot), and stuff with low print runs?"

Ross: "I would say 'not'. I would say Batman has gotten hot - well I don't like using the word 'hot' - so let's just say Batman is the #1 selling DC back issue RIGHT NOW. Twenty years ago it was Superman and Action Comics, but things tend to go in cycles in comic books. So, right now, I believe the reason Batman back issues are so popular right now are due to two factors: the movie and Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker. Joker covers are going for a premium right now."

DC80s: "Joker covers? Are you referring to variant covers?"

Ross: "No. I don't know if variants are a good investment or not. My guess would be 'no', but I could be wrong. I don't know for sure about everything. I'm just saying that I think that anything with a Joker cover is good. There's another good Batman issue that I just thought of: Batman #423 (1988). It's a Todd McFarlane cover of Batman."

"Batman Begins, to me, was the key movie. I like Batman very dark because he's psychotic, as far I'm concerned, watching your parents get killed in front of you does not leave you normal. Very angry. The Joker is portrayed perfectly in Batman Begins by Heath Ledger. It's really a shame he died because he would've done a few more portrayals. So that's what really elevated Batman. The thing is, I think Detective Comics #27 (1939) - the first appearance of Batman - is going to set a world record in price when a high-grade copy comes along. Incidentally, I've been working on that. I may be able to have one, hopefully, this year... if we can reach an agreement. I think the book will go for, in higher grade, from four to five million dollars. More or less."

"So, Batman is definitely the most popular DC back issue without any question. In terms of overall sales of newer comics, I'd say Harley Quinn is EXTREMELY popular. So, since we're talking about the early 1980s and onward, we'd need to mention that Batman Adventures #12 (1993) - the first appearance of Harley Quinn - is a $2000 book if you have it slabbed and it says 9.8. And I have a feeling that book is going to go higher. I don't know if it's going to be like an Incredible Hulk #181 9.8 - which is, like,  fifteen to twenty thousand dollars. But I think over time it's probably going to be good because Margot Robbie's portrayal is REALLY good - she's going to have her own movie - this is probably going to be a book that is going to keep going up."

DC80s: "So your predictions are based on theatrical performances? Let's suppose a REALLY good Green Lantern film came out next year - a film that blew all the critics away - would you suspect this would bring in new interest for Green Lantern? Early issues of Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn would suddenly shoot up in price?"

Ross: "Yeah, without question. And the reason you can say that is because Iron Man was a very middling character in the Marvel Universe, and then you had the performance by Robert Downey Jr and he just caused interest in Iron Man to go crazy. I'll give you an example: probably six years ago an Iron Man #1 (1968) NM was about $300 USD to $400 USD, an Iron Man #1 (1968) NM is now $1300 USD to $1700 USD, I'd say."

DC80s: "Could you tell me briefly, because you were active as a collector back then, what were the comic book collecting habits in the 1980s? I understand that collectors were trying to restore their Golden and Silver Age books because they just wanted to keep their books looking good, not realizing it would hurt the value of the book? I seem to recall this was a collecting trend in the 80s?"

Ross: "Yeah, things go through phases. The idea was 'Can you make the comic look nicer and get MORE money for it?' So what did collectors and dealers start doing? Y'know,... taking a magic marker and coloring the white stress marks on the spine or corner creases or stuff like that. That's where it started from. And then it got professional - they started learning that you could take tape off of comic books. Restoration has it's place, that's for sure. For example, a comic book with,say, a 7 inch rip up the spine, just for cosmetic purposes, you'd want to seal that tear just so it could survive a little while longer.  If you look at most hobbies or collectibles (like art), restoration has a definite place in it. And there's different types of restoration."

"What I find strange is 'pressing'. The pressing of comics, in my opinion, is really over-hyped. There's only so much you can do with a comic book just pressing it in a heat press with Mylar protection. It really does not change it that much, if at all. And it can sometimes hurt it. And I've seen that - guys who don't know what they're doing.  We used to use that pressing to take out spine roll. To do that properly, you need to take out the staples of the comic. Which means you have to open them up in the middle, take out the staples and you can take out spine roll by progressively pressing it and making a new fold in the comic down the spine. Just to press a comic by itself is not going to take out any creases or anything. What you're actually doing is your imparting some gloss from the Mylar onto the comic by heating Mylar. That's all your doing. So when people think they're really improving themselves by pressing a comic book, they have no clue what they're talking about."

"Basically, 'slabbing' books started in 2000. Sending your books down to Florida and having them graded by CGC. This makes it a pure collectible and a pure 'investment grade' comic. The only problem with slabbing books is that the grades are assigned rather than calculated. To me, someone with a math background, a number should represent a calculation. In other words, defects should be assigned numerical values - they should be added up or subtracted from a 100 point scale - so your number has validity. Right now, the numbers aren't valid because it's like a beauty contest and you're just ranking it subjectively. Supposedly, your subjectively is objectively compared to a collector's subjectivity. It's third-party graded, so that's why people like it. They're saying 'okay, the person grading it has no ax to grind' but my problem is there's always going to be, for the really expensive books, outside influences affecting the grade. It would be much better if we had an actual grading scale where we could assign defect points - subtract the points from a hundred - and come up with a number that is valid. Right now it's like you're judging a dog contest. Why not assign defects points to begin with so you have a uniform way of calculating it? They don't want to do that because it would take a lot of time, obviously. But they should do it for the very expensive books. I don't know if that'll ever happen, but that's the way it should be done: to have a system where the number means something. Otherwise they should just call it a Very Good or Fine. That would be more accurate than giving it an actual number. Numbers are objective and precise. Whereas this is like you're looking at a Cocker Spaniel at a dog show and saying 'This is a great breed, I want to give it a 9' and I say 'Well, I'll give it an 8'."

DC80s: "I'm going to pick your brain here for a second. Here's the theoretical situation: I have $200 USD in cash to spend, and I can pick any bunch of DC books from 1980s (barring Batman). What do you recommend I should invest in in order to see some sort of growth or investment value? No Batman, no Detective Comics, no Harley Quinn. Nothing like that."

Ross:"And it has to be from the 1980s? Alright. Teen Titans. New Teen Titans #1 (1980) is probably pretty undervalued. I hear there's lots of rumors about a Teen Titans movie or something else. And of course you've got New Teen Titans #2 (1980) - the first appearance of Deathstroke - people seem to really want that one. That one's going up in price a lot. And all the other issues too are petty good. Tales of the Teen Titans #44 (1984) is the first Nightwing - Robin becomes Nightwing. That's a good issue to pick up. "

DC80s: "Would you go with anything from...say... Legion of Super-Heroes?"

Ross: "You can get those for next to nothing now. You can get them for a buck or two a piece. Most of the Superboy and Legion of Super-Heroes - they start at issue #222 (1976) - you can get most of those issues REALLY cheap."

DC80s: "Are you a LoSH fan? Did you read them when you were younger?"

Ross: "Of course! Of course, yeah!"

DC80s: "What do you think the problem with the Legion of Super-Heroes is? Why can't they hold a series? They had their heyday in the 80s, but they just can't retain sales for an ongoing series now."

Ross: "There's a lot of 'em. Again, it comes down to if they're delineated properly. From my time period it was Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad and Cosmic Boy. Those were the first three. If you look at Adventure Comics #247 (1958) - they're first appearance - they're on the cover. I think there's rumors they will be appearing on the Supergirl TV show. You can have a lot of fun with that."

"So yeah, I'd say that if you want to buy something cheap that could go up a lot, buy the late 70s Superboy and Legion of Super-Heroes comics or any Superboy comics with the Legion in them. Mike Grell did a lot of great work in those books. And Adventures Comics, too. The first three Legion of Super-Heroes appearances: Adventure Comics #247, Adventure Comics #267 (1959) and Action Comics #267 (1960)."

DC80s: "In your opinion, is it better to spend a lot of money on one really high-grade copy? Or to diversify and buy a few okay or very good copies with my money versus buying one really high grade copy?"

Ross: "For investment purposes, it's better to get a high-grade copy."

DC80s: "So the highest grade you can afford, basically?"

Ross: "Yeah, FINE or better. A lot of people are really into that. They want higher grade copies."

DC80s: "Are you still running 1,000,000 Comix?"

Ross: "I started the whole company. All the stores got franchised out many years ago. For me, the best place to be is NOT in a store, the best place for me to be is buying collections and going to conventions because you have fun and get to check out different locales. We all need variety in our life."

DC80s: "Thank you so much for chatting with us, Mr Ross."

Ross: "It was a pleasure."