Rich Kreiner reviews the Magicman Archives by Richard Hughes and Pete Costanza

Posted by on December 24th, 2009 at 9:00 AM

Dark Horse; 264 pp.; $59.95; Color; Hardcover; ISBN: 978-1-59307-985-7

Magicman, the cover feature for 17 consecutive issues of ACG’s  Forbidden Worlds from 1965-67, was part of the company’s belated attempt to catch the wave of superheroes’ popularity rising in the market. Today Magicman reads as the product of a spur-of-the-moment, seat-of-the-pants, see-what-sticks-to-the-wall, lift-all-the-boats optimism that lacked any compelling reason for success. Even the question posed in this hardcover’s introduction seems mockingly non-rhetorical: “why in the name of Herbie Popnecker did you buy this archive edition?”

Well, most likely because you have a fuzzy if unaccountable nostalgic fondness for the character and the disposable income to indulge it. Maybe you have sharp memories of oddly spectacular set-pieces involving sea-serpents, giant apes, alien aliens, or prodigiously fanged snakes. Once you probably could entertain fantasies well insulated from physics, history, human behavior and cause-and-effect.

Or you might be a Pete Costanza completist. Having drawn the Captain Marvel family of books for Fawcett, Costanza here renders a similar sort of defiantly crazed proceedings performed by goofy creatures with benign sparkle. His is an accessible, open style, featuring broad faces that radiate moral disposition, stereotypic role and basal emotional state.

Magicman’s author is the prolific Richard Hughes, here in one of the many aliases — Zev Zimmer — that he used to write so much of the ACG line. He also edited the books, which makes shortcoming in qualitative oversight at least understandable if hardly less dispiriting. Plotting is haphazard, humor leaden, dialogue wooden and characterization thin, yet none so very far below the era’s genre standards.

Covers, most included at full size, are attributed to Kurt Schaffenberger and Costanza, so again, completists take note. To others, I say that these same covers accounted for the fact that even when liquidating my American coin collection at face value to purchase superhero comics like a profligate, I wouldn’t bite on these lures.

The contributor notes are quite fine. Binding is handsome and reproduction crisp. There’s every reason in the world to believe this edition will be the all-time definitive, silk-purse compilation of the sum total of Magicman’s adventures. There’s also the unspoken concomitant encouragement that every single superhero series from the past, no matter how obscure, no matter how aesthetically or historically wanting, will at some point in time be given a deluxe reprinting, thus nurturing the hope that someday Brain Boy will soar again!

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One Response to “Rich Kreiner reviews the Magicman Archives by Richard Hughes and Pete Costanza”

  1. UCollPsycho says:

    It’s true, the Luddite blogs! So do you email too? Former roommate wants to know!