Review by KC Carlson
Reaching the milestone of a hundred consecutive issues is certainly an accomplishment, especially in an era where the source material for Alter Ego — comic books themselves — are constantly rebooting and re-numbering, chasing those fans that believe that a first issue is a more valuable reading experience than something with a little history behind it. So, it’s doubly important to celebrate the 100th issue (or even the 120th, if you count the prior incarnations of Alter Ego) of comics’ premiere fanzine and ongoing source of comic history.
Originally created in 1961 by the late Dr. Jerry Bails (popularly known as the “Father of Comic Book Fandom”), Alter-Ego (then with a hyphen) sprung out of plans for a JLA-centric newsletter. It became larger in scope after Bails visited DC editor Julius Schwartz in New York and discussed the plan with uber-fan Roy Thomas — long before his almost 50-year professional career in comics editing and writing. Bails was the first editor, with Thomas as co-editor and sole contributor to the first issue (reproduced in full in Alter Ego #100). Thomas eventually took over the whole thing to allow Bails time to research what became the Who’s Who of American Comics (still available online), as well as many other important early — and invaluable– indexes and guides about comics and their creators.
Thomas has been the sole editor of TwoMorrows’ 100-issue run of Alter Ego (originally launched as a back feature in Comic Book Artist), and thus he’s the focus of the main article in this anniversary issue. That’s a 45-page, heavily illustrated, in-depth interview covering Thomas’ time at DC Comics in the 1980s and 90s as one of the companies’ last writer/editors, following his departure from Marvel Comics in 1981. Primarily focusing on his main titles — All-Star Squadron/Infinity Inc. and Arak/Son of Thunder, Thomas pulls few punches in discussing the problems of working remotely, miscommunications with decision-makers and his DC-assigned “assistants”, and generally trying to cope with both a rapidly changing industry and an ever-more corporate DC. Many of his fan-favorite projects are also discussed, including Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew!, Secret Origins, Shazam!/Captain Marvel, and his acclaimed work with Gil Kane on the beautiful The Ring of the Nibelung, based on the operas by Wagner. There’s even a discussion of Thomas and Gerry Conway’s work on the the early (in-pack) versions of Atari Force and Swordquest!. Secrets are revealed, an occasional ego bruised, and plenty of not-to-be-missed insight provided on surviving (or not) Crisis on Infinite Earths and other DC continuity-altering events.
The massive Thomas interview was conducted by Alter Ego’s key interviewer, Jim Amash, who — in turn — is interviewed himself for some great insights on how he goes about his work. I’m a big fan of Amash’s interviews in AE (especially the massive, recent George Kashdan interview), because he picks his subjects for their importance to history, not controversy; he’s incredibly well-researched; he asks all the same questions I would have asked, and more; and he treats his subjects with dignity and respect — without putting them on a pedestal. An interview with Amash is like listening in on two old friends having lunch and talking about the most amazing history. It’s good to see Jim in the spotlight for a change! (As well as giving him a chance to spotlight his art!)
Taking advantage of Alter Ego #100’s 32-page full-color section is another selection of Alex Wright’s digital transformations of some classic “calendar girls” into stunning portraits of some DC-centric wartime heroines. This time around, instead of using photographs of actresses, Wright has used some classic “good girl” art originally done by the leading artists of that genre’s era (Vargas, Petty, Elvgren, and more) as his “base”, creating an interesting fusion of so-called “junk” art forms and classic artists and characters. The originals are printed alongside the the transmuted versions for comparison.
Also in the 160-page trade paperback are more annotated features about the original Alter-Ego fanzine, as well as pages of testimonials — both written and drawn — from pros, peers, and big-name fans, including Marie Severin, Frank Brunner, Gerry Conway, Maggie Thompson, John Romita Sr., Marv Wolfman, Scott Shaw!, George Perez, Jerry Ordway, Paul Gulacy, Ted White, Gene Colon, Stan Lee, and a touching note from Dick Giordano received by Thomas a few months before Giordano’s passing.
There are also plenty of Alter Ego’s regular features as well, including an extra-length “Mr. Monster’s Comic Crypt” by Michael T. Gilbert, featuring a lot of early work and influences. There’s also a new “FCA (Fawcett Collectors of America)”, spotlighting Fawcett’s Spider-based characters; a look at the first fictionally chronological meeting of Captain Marvel and Superman (from Roy’s All-Star Squadron); and another chapter of Fawcett artist Marc Swayze’s memoirs. “Comic Fandom Archive” looks at the fan-produced 1964 Super Hero Calendar, which featured unique sketches by pros Ditko, Kirby, and Russ Manning alongside “fan” artwork by Alan Weiss, Biljo White, Buddy Saunders, and more. An obituary for Mike Esposito and an extra-long lettercol wrap-up the issue.
It’s a great issue for a great historical fanzine, with hours of great reading! Best wishes for 100 more — there’s always more history to be found! Look for the wonderful JSA cover by Rich Buckler and Jerry Ordway. It’s a personally commissioned (by Roy) reworking of the interior “cover” for the All-Star Squadron Preview from Justice League of America #193 (with an artistic tweak — can you spot it?).
Preview pages are posted at the publisher’s website. The publisher provided a review copy.