Half the fun of a Retro Review is being able to show off some of my favorite comics (for good reasons or bad) that perhaps don’t have the level of visibility of a Hulk 181 or a Batman 429.  If you were to ask me for my short list of the best single issues I’ve ever read, I’d take about six months to whittle down the list, but the top five would certainly contain a certain star-studded Atlas/Seabrook jam…  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!

SUMMARY

Pros
One of the best single issues I’ve ever read.
Legends and future legends kicking out the jams.


Cons

No real continuity from #1.
This is the final issue.

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

READER RATING!

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TAS1CoverTHRILLING ADVENTURE STORIES #2
Writer: Archie Goodwin/Gabriel Levy/John Albano/Steve Mitchell/Ric Meyers
Artist: Walter Simonson/Jack Sparling/Russ Heath/John Severin/Alex Toth
Editor: Jeff Rovin
Publisher: Atlas/Seaboard Comics
Cover Price: 75 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $50.00

Previously in Thrilling Adventure Stories:  In 1968, at the height of Silver Age Marvel mania, founder of Marvel Comics Martin Goodman sold his company, possibly presuming that it’s upward momentum couldn’t last forever.  By 1972, along with his son Chip and Larry Lieber (brother of Marvel Editor-In-Chief Stan Lee), Martin was ready to re-enter the comics scene with his new venture, Atlas Comics.  Offering excellent page rates, as well as unprecedented level of creator’s rights (Atlas returned original artwork to the creators, and even offered royalties and creator ownership), the company burst onto the scene with a huge array of titles, offering not just comics to compete with Marvel and DC, but black-and-white magazines to compete with Warren Publishing.  Sadly, their good intentions weren’t always visible in the execution, and Atlas/Seaboard books quickly got a reputation for being knock-offs of existing titles.  When Thrilling Adventures Stories #1 came out, it was an okay book, featuring some excellent work by old pros, including a promising first chapter of a ‘Lawrence Of Arabia’ serial.  But there was no way to prepare for what awaited between the pages of #2.  What’s so special, you ask?

How about Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson, the team behind the legendary ‘Manhunter’, clearly enjoying a tale of two samurai?

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That page is just plain exquisite.  The story is no slouch either, as the two warriors decide that there’s no benefit in two more deaths, instead striking out together as ronin.  They encounter a young thief, who saves himself from dying by the sword with a tale of treasure hidden in the hills.  The two men accompany him, what with their previous livelihoods mouldering away with their former employers in the battlefields…

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Things quickly get serious, as the young samurai and the female caretaker fill their idle moments with some (beautifully rendered and tastefully represented) super-happy grown-up fun time.  Their passion, and the elder samurai’s slumber, are interrupted by the screams of the thief, whom they find hanging…

…in a massive web.

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I find it kind of interesting that the elder warrior looks a bit like Lee Van Cleef, later to become the eponymous Master of the television show of the same name (probably best remembered for it’s appearance as a “movie” compilation on Mystery Science Theatre 3000.)  Moving deeper into the caves, the two samurai quickly discover that where there’s a giant web, there’s generally also something that made such a thing, and they quickly encounter a giant spider!  As the two warriors engage the temple guardian, only Ishiro the elder warrior thinks to watch their backs…

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Betrayed by his younger comrade, Ishiro is left to face his fate alone.  Luckily for him, he’s got a young Walt Simonson to help him out…

Fra

Holy crap, is that beautiful.  Battling his way out of the temple, Ishiro makes his way to the temple steps, sitting serenely, as if waiting for something to happen.  Soon enough, a piercing scream tells him that it has…

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And a lovely twist ending, Rod-Serling style.  It’s easy to see the care and creativity that went into this story, to the point where it’s worth reading the worst drek that Atlas/Seaboard has to offer (that, by the way, is the last two issues of ‘The Pheonix’ for future reference) to allow a story this good to get bankrolled.  But Thrilling Adventure Stories isn’t through yet, kicking us over to a tale of Kromag, the only continuing story from the previous issue…

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Kromag himself isn’t particularly memorable, but the tale itself is pretty fascinating, with no dialogue at all (since the characters are cave-people who do not yet possess language.)  The main character is driven by the urge to protect his son, and the art is once again wonderful.  Jack Sparling, known mostly for the comic strip Clare Voyant, isn’t a name that most people remember, but he knocks this one outta the park.  Then, there’s a story by a name you SHOULD know, one Russ Heath…

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Police officer Mike Croft was paralyzed in an arranged accident, and now spends his days in a wheelchair.  His nephew, Jimmy, has followed in his footsteps as a policeman, but a running gun battle with criminal Abe Torry puts him in the hospital.  Jimmy is angry when his supervisor tells him he’s being suspended, but things are about to get worse for the young man…

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The hardest part about this review was getting my yellowed copy of the book to look good while maintaining the lovely grey-tones that Heath delivers in this story, especially as Young Jimmy races away to save his paralyzed uncle from a fate worse than death.  Torry and his gang arrive at Mike’s house, confronting the old man with their intention to kill him.  That’s when Mike turns the tables on them…

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Black-and-white magazines of the era were notable for their use of sexuality and violence (“adult content”) to differentiate themselves from the kid’s stuff perception of comic books, and this story clearly has that in mind.  That said, the skill and care in the art job overcome the shortcomings of the story, especially as Jimmy arrives at uncle Mike’s house…

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That top panel always makes me laugh, for some reason, even as I love Heath’s incredible figure work.  For some reason, we’re treated to a text piece about the new blockbuster, ‘The Towering Inferno’, followed by a war story drawn by another artist with an epic pedigree, John Severin…

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The DETAIL in those pages!  Every panel is a perfectly rendered little vignette, following the small squad of soldiers into the village.  They are nearly wiped out by an ambush, leaving only Private Bobby Carson alive to face a battalion of German soldiers…

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One by one, the German soldiers fall, thanks to Bobby’s Colt pistol, until only one man is left standing… or so it seems.

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A downer ending to a rather uninspired story, but once again the art brings it to life, elevating the standard war-comic script to something more than average.  As we wrap things up, Thrilling Adventure Stories hands things over to an artist who doesn’t get near the recognition that he should: Alex Toth.

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In the near future (for Atlas, but nearly a quarter century ago for us) of 1990, officer Jeff Landers walks a beat, dealing with not only criminals, but with the latest trend in drugs: Arsenic.  When he discovers that his own son has been taking the pills, Jeff takes to the streets in a rage, defying his captain’s orders and shaking down the criminals who would push pills in his city…

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I love the fact that Toth doesn’t use word balloons in his work, instead putting his dialogue unfettered on the page, and allowing more of the underlying art to show through.  Given the quality of the art in question, you can’t blame him.  Landers tracks the drugs back to their source, beating the hell out of the pusher and taking him into custody…

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Even though he has defied direct orders and clearly violated the criminal’s rights, Jeff has brought down the source of the drugs that might have killed his child, stalking off into the night knowing that he has done the right thing.

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It’s a bleak, 70’s-style grim ending, but one that I kind of love anyway.  Given the pedigree of the creators that Atlas/Seaboard collected (in addition to the artists inside, this issue’s cover was provided by Neal Adams, while Wally Wood, Steve Ditko and a young Howard Chaykin were also among their bullpen), it’s surprising that there aren’t more books among their small pool of published material that are this impressive.  All the same, Thrilling Adventure Stories #2 is on of Atlas’ rare gems, an issue that never fails to impress me with it’s quality, while depressing me with the thoughts of what might have been, earning 5 out of 5 stars overall.  The best part is, being only 2 issues long, TAS never hit the dreaded Atlas third-issue switch…

Rating: ★★★★★

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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1 Comment

  1. November 18, 2013 at 7:40 am — Reply

    I just recently got into some of these types of older stories. Some of the old Crime SuspenStories from EC comics, because it was easy to find collected reprints. But I really like the art in this, especially the stuff by Toth.

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