The Best of Alter Ego Volume 2

Review by KC Carlson

The Best of Alter Ego Volume 2 is a collection of material from the legendary fanzine founded by Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas, originally published (mostly) in the 1960s. Thomas is still involved with the current incarnation of the magazine (with almost 120 issues published), and he’s also the co-editor of this volume along with comics historian Bill Schelly. Both assembled the original Volume 1, called Alter Ego: The Best of the Legendary Comics Fanzine (originally published by Schelly’s Hamster Press in 1997 — and since reprinted, and still in-print, by TwoMorrows).

The editors have done an excellent job of making this volume more than “more of the best from Volume 1”, with a number of great features that for one reason or another were not included in the original book. More important is the never-before-seen interview with Jerry Bails, conducted by publisher John Morrow, shortly before Bails passed away. It’s the longest interview that Bails ever did, accompanied by plenty of pictures of Bails provided by his widow.

Other new features include a bizarre but fascinating essay about how the early issues were produced — on a Spirit Duplicator machine, an ancient, complicated, unruly (and possibly defunct) medium on which Bails somehow managed to print the cover of #1 in six different colors, one of which was apparently only available from South Africa. Additional tidbits include the short history of “Crudzine”, a 1965 parody of early fanzines, featuring contributions by a young Steve Gerber, and a discussion of the never-published first attempt at Alter Ego #10 from late 1965, which was set aside after Thomas became a full-time professional comic book writer and editor. (A “real” professionally published A/E #10 appeared in 1969/70.)

Also included are a Bails essay about Wonder Woman, Thomas’ notorious “Bestest League of America” comic (2 versions!), and articles about the All-Winners Squad, the Golden Age Hawkman, Blackhawk, and lots more, much of it illustrated by charmingly crude and (originally) poorly reproduced fan artwork. There is also much annotation of the older articles and features by Thomas throughout the book.

The Best of Alter Ego Volume 2 is an historically important and very entertaining 160-page B&W paperback. It’s a fascinating snapshot of an era where both comic books and fandom were maturing, and it depicts one of the most important eras of comic book history. It’s also an essential stepping stone to when comic book fans slowly became comic book professionals, something that still affects us today. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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