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Serious about comics; Reviewers reminisce, share favorites


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Comics entertain by letting us escape from the ordinary --- into worlds where animals can talk, people can fly, and the impossible seems not only logical but inevitable. It's no wonder that many readers of all ages develop strong affection for the format.

For evidence, look no further than downtown Atlanta this weekend, where fans of science fiction, fantasy, gaming and comics gather for the 19th DragonCon.

To mark the occasion, we asked our comics experts --- the reviewers who contribute to our regular Words and Pictures column --- to tell us about some of the comics they love.

And while most of the comics are no longer available in their original editions --- except perhaps at places like DragonCon's dealers room --- we've listed currently available compilations so you can check them out for yourself. Frank C. Rizzo's pick: The Flash Archives #1-3

The Golden Age of comics was 1938 to 1945, from the creation of Superman and other heroes to the end of World War II. But individually, it's said that the Golden Age of comics is 12.

At that intense age, readers strongly believe in and identify with their heroes. Years later, the intensity is gone, leaving a sense of wistful nostalgia about a time when a simple pleasure seemed so important.

I was 12 in 1962, and the comic I found spellbinding was "The Flash."

When a lightning bolt struck through a window of the Central City Police Department, police scientist Barry Allen was bathed in an electrically charged mixture of chemicals that transformed him into the Fastest Man Alive. The Flash not only could run fast, he could control the vibrations of his molecules, which protected him against friction and eventually let him cross into other worlds and times.

The Flash soon acquired a colorful rogues' gallery of villains that rivaled Batman's. The Mirror Master, Weather Wizard, Captain Cold, Heat Wave, Gorilla Grodd (an intelligent, evil ape, of course) and the Trickster all vied to capture Flash in some ingenious death trap, but he always figured a way out. He also had a great supporting cast, including fiancee Iris West, stretchy sleuth the Elongated Man and sidekick Kid Flash (in that case, lightning really did strike twice).

When Flash accidentally entered a gateway to a parallel Earth and met an earlier version of the Flash that had been popular in 1940s comics, I was in heaven. Two worlds inhabiting the same space but vibrating at different speeds? Two heroes with different costumes but the same name? My mind boggled --- and I eagerly soaked up every word and picture.

These days, Barry Allen is gone --- he died a hero, as you'd expect --- and his former kid sidekick is now the Flash, with his own life and problems. I read the new series from time to time, but for me Barry Allen will always be the Flash. (DC Comics. $49.95 each archive edition. All ages.) Khari J. Sampson's pick: 'Power Pack Origin Album'

If C.S. Lewis had written a superhero comic instead of his Narnia Chronicles, it might have read somewhat like "Power Pack" issues 1 through 4, collected in this volume. Written and drawn by Atlanta natives Louise Simonson and June Brigman, the first four issues of this mid-'80s comic about super-powered kids remains a timeless classic. When I was 13, this was the first comic I picked up, month after month, without fail.

The premise is simple: An alien crash-lands and passes on his powers over gravity, velocity, mass and energy to four kids to save the world where he cannot.

The execution of the premise is pure delight as Power siblings Alex, Julie, Jack and Katie rise to the challenge against alien and human opposition alike.

Although the book is certainly aimed at a young audience, it never, ever talks down to it. Big words like "disintegration" populate nearly every page. Yet the kids' voices still ring as utterly genuine. Despite having the fate of the world on their shoulders, they bicker like real-life siblings do --- or worry whether the Tooth Fairy can find them in deep space.

"Power Pack Origin Album" is out of print, so it may be a little hard to get ahold of. Fortunately, the first four individual issues of "Power Pack" are not terribly expensive, and the series holds much of its initial charm well into its 62-issue run. Page for page, I still think there's no comic that's better reading for comics fans --- of any age. (Marvel Comics. Issues 1-4, $2.25 each. Older children and up.) Dawn M. Burkes' pick: Archie Double Digests

That was me in the corner, at about 7 or 8 years old, trying to control my kicking and screaming while we waited in line at the grocery store. I wanted, needed that Betty and Veronica Double Digest. I succumbed and fell to the floor, letting the kicking, screaming me out for all the world (and my harrumphing mother) to see.

My mother always could make me freeze with just one look, unless it involved an Archie Double Digest.

A big Double Digest almost always ensured a story about a gang that was dressed in '50s attire, as well as a short Li'l Jinx tale. And Katy Keane! Self-assured, self-aware, beautiful and smart beyond Betty or Veronica, she was what Brenda Starr wishes she could have been.

My kicking and screaming didn't last very long. Picture my mother as Archie's no-nonsense teacher, Ms. Grundy. The first time is funny, second time's cute, third time --- well, you don't want to try for a third time.

Anyway, the Archie digests were the first comics I loved. You can read Archie online (at archiecomics.com), but I still like to pick mine up at the grocery store (ah, fond memories).

The stories have been updated --- look, Archie has a desktop computer and Veronica takes her laptop on vacation! --- but they're still good, clean fun with good, clean lessons at the end. And when I see a Double Digest, I know I might get an "otherworld" story where Archie and Reggie are superheroes or Milton and Midge take over. Maybe someday they'll give Coach Clayton his own book. I'm waiting for that . . . right in line at the grocery store. (Archie Comic Publications. $11 for a 5-issue Double Digest subscription. All ages.) Ed Hall's pick: 'The Best of Gahan Wilson'

When I was a boy, I would regularly take scissors to my dad's Playboy magazines and hide the pages that I "liberated." No, not those pages, the Gahan Wilson cartoons.

Blame my parents. They fed me a steady diet of macabre humor, starting with Charles Addams, whose cartoons were the basis for TV's "The Addams Family." Addams' work was a touchstone for my entire clan, but Wilson's was --- and is --- my favorite.

As a cartoonist, Gahan Wilson has a style that's recognizable in a (telltale) heartbeat: delicately cross-hatched shading; the beady-eyed, faintly overinflated look of his people; a palette that includes colors like fresh mold, raw wound and jaundice.

Wilson's genius, though, lies in captions that push understatement to its limits. A decaying corpse listens as his doctor tells him, "We may already be too late, Mr. Parker." One exterminator, caught in the claws of a partially obscured giant insect, warns another, "Ed! Run! It's a trap!" A child with a detached head in tow says to a relative, "Something's wrong with Uncle Ted."

Gahan Wilson spins gruesome little stories one picture at a time. His magic is to make them hilarious by greeting the casually monstrous with an absurd calm.

And people wonder why I turned out the way I did. (Underwood Books. $15. Teens and up.) DID WE MISS ONE? Share your favorite comics from today --- or days long gone --- by e-mailing buyersedge@ajc.com.

Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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