Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

April 7, 2007

Batman, Marvel books a good read, but for different audiences

By Mark Allen

I love a good Batman tale. I’ve also always loved the work of Matt Wagner. Batman and The Monster Men would seem proof of the belief that you can’t lose when the two get together.

Taking place one year into the Batman’s career, the story reintroduces Professor Hugo Strange. Strange is a scientist who truly seems to have mankind’s best interests at heart, desiring to better the species through genetic research. He is not portrayed as your run-of-the-mill “mad scientist” character, much to Wagner’s credit. His methods of improving said species, however, are chilling.

Wagner successfully conveys a sense of terror throughout the story, as Batman tracks Strange down and confronts his “Monster Men.” Proving his versatility, however, he also gives the story a definite “crime noir” sensitivity, and even includes one laugh-out-loud scene that takes place between Bruce and Alfred in the Bat Cave. Far be it from me to give it away, but it involves the Batmobile and demonstrates Matt Wagner’s talent and versatility as a writer.

As a writer and an artist, Wagner has proven in the past that he knows Batman, young and old. This is the former. Strong, confident and determined. But, still new to the game, still finding his role as crime-fighter. Still trying, and succeeding, in being the horrific “creature of the night,” striking terror into the hearts of criminals. The older Batman simply succeeds without trying.

Wagner’s art style is not ultra-realistic, but that of caricature. Well-suited for this story, as the characters perfectly express the horror, anger, shock, etc. so often called for in the course of the tale. This is, indeed, one of the instances when the characters themselves are integral in the telling. Again, to Wagner’s credit.

Batman and The Monster Men is recommended for older readers, not youngsters, due to horrific imagery and language. Find it at comics shops, some bookstores and online retailers and auctions.

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Stan Lee’s Amazing Marvel Universe

Surely, an adequate test of whether or not you’ve purchased a good book is a faint sadness at turning the last page. If so, then Stan Lee’s Amazing Marvel Universe is a good book.

Written by Roy Thomas, a Marvel scribe and editor for many years, the book catalogs the major works of Stan Lee at Marvel in an insightful and entertaining manner.

Highlighting 50 “legendary Marvel moments,” the book also treats fans to hundreds of full-color cover and page reproductions dealing with important events in Marvel’s vast superheroic history.

Making the book even more enticing is the digital playback device that is attached. Containing 68 voice tracks from Stan the Man himself, readers can gain special insight from the uber-imaginative creator.

These selected excerpts from an interview with Lee enhance the printed information and illustrative glory found within the pages to such a degree as to make this a must-have for Marvel fans, comic book enthusiasts, pop culture nuts, or what have you.

If I were to wish one thing about this book, it would be that it could be thicker, with more pages and more information. Considering the years Roy Thomas spent behind the scenes at Marvel, he is in a position to reveal historical tidbits that many fans-turned-researchers could only dream of.

As it is, he brings to light several items that I never knew, even after close to 35 years of reading comics. You might be surprised, as I was, to learn that Marvel’s character the Black Panther once changed his name for political reasons. Or that the Comics Code Authority rejected artwork for a particular Marvel comic due to a puff of smoke in the panel. Interesting stuff, to be sure.

Stan Lee’s Amazing Marvel Universe is highly recommended for all fans of superhero comics, comic book history or Marvel Comics in general. Find it at comics shops, bookstores and online retailers and auctions.