1/12/2010. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: DC Comics. 528 page graphic novel softcover. Price: $16.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-40121-725-9.
check out website: www.dccomics.com
‘Over 500 pages of comics!' shouts the blurb on the cover of ‘Showcase Presents: Challengers of the Unknown Volume 2’ and it's true for there are 520 pages of comics. The original issues of even ordinary stuff from the early sixties retails at ludicrous prices now but if your aim is to read rather than invest the ‘Showcase’ volumes present a marvellous opportunity, albeit in black and white. But the colour wasn't great in those days anyway.
The stories here are usually about twelve pages long and there were two per issue when they were originally published. The covers are included, too, as usual with ‘Showcase’ editions. The art is all by Bob Brown. Most of the stories are by Writer Unknown, which either means he's too shy to own up or no one can remember. Arnold Drake and Ed Herron are credited with some of them but whether they did the unknowns or not is unknown. Certainly the stories with which they are credited are not particularly distinguishable from the writer unknown tales, so they might have.
The heroes are the Challengers: Ace Morgan, fearless jet pilot; Prof Haley, master skindiver; Red Ryan, circus daredevil and Rocky Davis, Olympic wresting champion. They are joined on many adventures by their friend, June Robbins, and by their alien pet, Cosmo, who can rend steel with his teeth and shoot disintegrator beams from his eyes. The villains are scientists, criminals, criminal scientists, aliens, alien scientists and criminal alien scientists. There are some monsters and magicians, too. If you read more than four stories in a row they tend to blur together into an indistinguishable alien-scientist-monster-challenger mess in the mind so this is a book best dipped into rather than read at a sitting, unless you can't get to sleep.
This is, of course, the second ‘Showcase’ volume of ‘Challengers Of The Unknown’. The first volume featured some of Jack Kirby's best art, beautifully inked by Wally Wood. How do you follow that? I suppose you just do your best. Actually Bob Brown took over the art chores on COTU #9, about half-way through the first volume so anyone who owns that tome will already have seen his stuff. There's nothing wrong with his art: everything is plain to see, the layouts are pretty good and the story is easy to follow. Workmanlike is the word that springs to mind. Bob was a competent craftsman turning out decent stuff but had the bad luck to follow a super-star arguably at the peak of his abilities. Two super-stars if you count Wally Wood and I do.
But even without that odious comparison, I'm afraid this would not rank on anyone's 'must have' list of classic comics. The stories are not bad, the art is not bad, the book is not bad. Challengers went on for 77 issues altogether, nearly a ten year run with Bob Brown on the art, so it must have had pretty decent sales and some appeal to readers of the sixties. I'm not sure how much appeal it will have to adult readers at the close of the noughties but the kids might like it and at this price it makes a cheap stocking filler.
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