Saturday, December 22, 2012

...And I Feel Fine

No, Walter, I'm really not sure at all.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Star Trek #7 (Marvel)

Gold Key published their final issue of Star Trek (#61) in late 1978.  December of 1979 saw the theatrical release of the long awaited and highly anticipated Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Accompanying the film's release was a brand new comic book series, this time from Marvel Comics. Marvel began their tenure as keeper of the Trek flame with an adaptation of the movie which origanally published as the magazine sized Marvel Super Special #15.  The adaptation was then recycled as the first three issue of the ongoing comic book format series.   With issue #4, the comic began presenting new adventures of James Tiberius Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise as they boldly went where no man had gone before, though they couldn't say that.
Such  were the terms of Marvel's licensing agreement with Paramount that the publisher ostensibly had only the rights to use characters and concepts presented in the film.  However, ST:TMP was very much a movie made for those already familiar with Trek.  There's little in the film in the way of establishing the world of the series or the backgrounds and personalities of the characters on which to base an ongoing series of adventures.  However, it appears that Paramount wasn't paying very close attention to the comic.  Thus, concepts from the TV series, such as the Organian Peace Treaty, established in the episode "Errand of Mercy," began to infiltrate the scripts, especially those written by Martin Pasko.  It seems that the terms of the licensing deal served mainly to give Marvel's editors a prefab response to fans calling for the return of characters from the TV or sequels to their favorite episodes.  Though, I'm sure that if Marvel had attempted so blatant a violation of their licensing pact as bringing back, say, Harry Mudd or using the Romulans, Paramount would have put their foot down.  An occasional mention of the Prime Directive probably wasn't considered worth fussing over.
Judging by their letters (when they were printed, which was rarely), this wasn't quite the Star Trek series that die hard Marvel Zombies expected or wanted from the so-called House of Ideas.  They seemed to envision a series more in the style of Marvel's super-hero line, featuring the company's trademark continuity with continued stories and ongoing subplots, akin to the approach DC would take with the property a couple of years hence.  Other than the three part adaptation of the film and an initial two parter in issues #5 and #6, the series consisted of a succession of completely self-contained single issue stories with only rare occassional references to events in past issues, more in the vein of the TV series or, dare I make the comparison, the Gold Key comic.
Though it lasted only eighteen issues, Marvel's Star Trek went through more than its share of writers and artists for such a short time.  Marv Wolfman stayed on four just four issues; Mike W. Barr wrote three, one of those co-authored by Dennis O'Neil; and Michael Fleischer and J.M. DeMatteis each contributed a single issue.  Martin Pasko, with eight issues, is the closest thing the series had to a regular writer.  Among the artists who took there turns at the Enterprise crew were Dave Cockrum, Joe Brozowski, Luke McDonnell, Leo Duranona, Ed Hannigan and Gil Kane. The story in #7, "Tomorrow or Yesterday," was written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Mike Netzer, or "Nasser", as he was known at the time, with inks by Klaus Janson.
The story opens with a splash page depicting the Enterprise approaching a planet partially obscured by the "Captain's Log" caption box.  As the caption explains, the ship has been dispatched to an unexplored region of space through which a cloud of deadly radiation is passing.  Their mission is to evacuate any populated planets that lie in the cloud's path.  On the world classified as Andrea IV, Spock detects a small, seemingly primitive civilization. Despite an energy field surrounding the planet that makes transporting difficult, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and two security officers beam down to convince the Andrean natives to abandon the world of their birth.
The landing party greeted by one of the locals in a hovercraft, the only evidence of advanced technology visible on the planet, and taken to the planet's main settlement where they are shocked to see giant and apparently ancient statues of themselves.   The crew's efforts to organize an evacuation prove fruitless as the Andreans seem convinced that the Enterprise personnel are the long prophesied "saviors-from-the-sky" who will save their world in its hour of need.
On top of all that, the landing party find themselves unable to get back to the Enterprise due to interference with the transporters by the planet's mysterious solar energy field.  With time running out, Kirk sends the Enterprise, with Scotty in command, off to attempt to disperse the radiation cloud using the ship's phasers.  This effort, of course, fails utterly, leaving the Enterprise crippled, with only its shields for protection as the cloud engulfs it.
Back on the planet, Kirk and Spock discover one of a series of giant solar collectors responsible for the planet's energy field. They return to the settlement to witness one of the Andreans undergoing a bizarre transformation.  In the local vernacular, he is about to "step beyond."  The Enterprise officers follow the evolving alien through a door in the base of the giant statues of themselves.  They descend into a vast chamber filled with high tech machinery that had gone undetected by the ship's sensors.  Spock mind melds with the evolving Andrean and learns the true nature of their race.  The Andreans who have "stepped beyond" are able to exist in all times at once, thus they foresaw the approach of the space cloud thousands of years earlier and prepared for it by building the solar collectors and the underground complex.  Spock pulls a lever that releases the centuries of pent up solar energy surrounding the planet, dispersing the cloud.
I enjoyed this story when I first read it in 1980, and I still enjoy when I reread it today.  DeFalco does a decent job of recreating the feel of a Star Trek episode, and he gets the characters individual voices down.  This story reminds me a bit of the third season episode "The Paradise Syndrome," which also featured a primitive society imperiled by a space borne threat which the Enterprise  is powerless to stop and a device left behind by the ancients to save the day in just such an emergency.
Netzer and Jansen capture the actors' likenesses pretty well in most spots.  There are, however, a few panels toward the end of the story where the art isn't quite showing you what the captions or dialogue say you should be looking at.
All in all, this issue, somewhat derivative though good but by no means great, is fairly representative of the Marvel Star Trek series as a whole.

Friday, November 9, 2012

At Least They're Not Letting J.T. Krul Write It..

In keeping with my usual practice of bringing you yesterday's news today, you might be interested to learn, in the unlikely event you haven't already heard, that DC has cancelled its longest running title--or, rather, its longest running title that has never been rebooted or renumbered--Hellblazer
Dan DiDio pulls the trigger on Hellblazer
Actually, I held off writing about this development until I could figure out exactly what, if anything, I had to say about it.  After all, there are plenty of comics news sites where you can get the bare facts.  I like to season my posts some opinions, analysis, and insight, no matter how poorly reasoned or ill-informed.
Anyway, enough of this meta-crap.  Let's get to the pontificating...
We should have seen this coming.  
After all, it was almost two years ago, I believe, well before the advent of the New 52, that DC announced that the mainstream DC Universe would be reclaiming all of the Vertigo characters who had originated there.  This immediately led to questions concerning the future of Hellblazer, as John Constantine was the only such character whose adventures were still being chronicled in an ongoing monthly comic.  Doom Patrol and Animal Man, two more of the six titles that formed the original core of the Vertigo imprint, had long since migrated back to the main line, and Swamp Thing was in publishing limbo.  
However, when no announcement of Hellblazer's impending end was immediately forthcoming,  it seemed as if the venerable title would remain unaffected.  Even when Constantine was eventually reintegrated into the mainstream DCU with the New 52's Justice League Dark, Hellblazer continued and for more than a year now, DC has been giving readers two different versions of John Constantine on a monthly basis.
That ends in February, when Hellblazer comes to an end with its 300th issue, to be replaced in March by Constantine, a comic set firmly in the world of the new 52.  
Its my guess that DC was planning something along this line all along, and was simply waiting for the series to reach the milestone tricentennial issue before pulling the plug.  
I definitely plan on picking up the final three issue story line "Death and Cigarettes", which, by the way, is the perfect name for a story about John Constantine and I'm sort of surprised no one's used it before this.  I will also probably grab at least the first issue of the new series, just to see if its any good.  However, I'm not holding out much hope that it will be.
It's not that, as has been decried by some other on-line opinionators, that the new writer, Robert Venditti, is an American.  He will not, after all, be the first American to chronicle the character's life.  While, as I wrote last week, Brian Azzarello's first storyline may have  ultimately disappointed me, he did, despite not being British, manage to capture the essence of Constantine's personality.
It seems to me there's a double standard here.  Fans react with indignation to the idea of an American writing John Constantine, but I don't recall ever hearing of anyone having problems with the very British Alan Moore writing Swamp Thing, a series set mostly in the southern United States,  or with any of the other Brits, from Neil Gaiman to Paul Cornell and including Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis and James Robinson, who have written comics with American characters and settings. 
What matters, far more than the nationality of the writer, is whether they can tell good stories regardless of where they are set or where the characters hail from. Besides, as I say in the title of this post, at least they haven't handed the new book to one of their staff hacks such as Krul, or Dan DiDio or Geoff Johns.
My doubts about the new Constantine title have to do with Max Lord.
I have, for some time, been of the opinion that the reason that characters like Maxwell Lord and Amanda Waller have so poorly handled in recent years, including in OMAC, a New 52 title I otherwise enjoyed, is that, as originally conceived and written by their creators, these characters do not fit neatly into the black and white categories of hero or villain, existing instead in a grey area between the two, and it seems to me that, under  the leadership of Dan DiDio, there is apparently no room in the vast DC Universe for moral ambiguity.  Now, there is no more morally ambiguous character in all of comics than John Constantine.  This aspect of his character is, to me, what makes him interesting and, I believe, the secret to Hellblazer's longevity.  If that part of Constantine's character is ignored or played down,  I'm sure that his new comic will not have nearly as long a run as it predecessor.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Gutter Talk Endorses....

With the polls closing in a couple of hours here in Ohio, its a little late to be endorsing a candidate--or even to exhort you to get out and vote, though I certainly hope you did.  However, in American politics, its never too early to get started on the next campaign...provided, of course, that the world doesn't end next month, or we all get absorbed into the Superstructure, or whatever Grant Morrison thinks is going to happen on December 21st.   In that spirit, GUTTER TALK wishes to be the first to get behind a candidate for 2016.
In this blog's opinion, there is only one man--or rather demonic killer ape doll--with the vision and strength of character to look America's problems straight in the eye and boldly SMASH THEM WITH HIS "MAGIC CANE"!! (I could make some sort of crude joke here about Mitt Romney and "magic underwear", but this this being a political endorsement, it should be treated as a solemn and dignified occasion--and besides, I couldn't think of a good one.)
Therefore, GUTTER TALK AMALGAMATED MEDIA ENTERPRISES INTERNATIONAL officially and unequivocally endorses for President of the great nation of the United States of America in 2016:
MR. MONSTER
 
Thank You, and Grodd Bless America!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Return of MR. MONSTER!!

It's been a little while since I checked in the blog The Comics Curmudgeon, so I spent a good portion of this morning catching up.  While clicking through the archives from the past couple of months, I came across this Family Circus panel from September 19:

At first it seems like just another failed attempt at heartwarming gentle humor with nothing especially remarkable about it. Then I took a closer look at one of the dolls that Dolly is carrying.

Could it be?  
Yes, I think it is.
It's none other than Mr. Monster, titular star of the lead story in the issue of Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery that I reviewed yesterday.

Apparently, some time after the events of that story, Mr. Monster escaped his attic trunk prison, murdered the entire Harrison family in their sleep and fled, leaving his top hat and "magic cane" behind at the scene of the massacre, eventually making his way back to the old toymaker's stand where he was purchased by FC's Daddy as a gift for his not so angelic little daughter.  Obviously, poor little P.J. needs a hug because he's just endured a savage beating at the hands (or, rather, paws) of the demonic doll.
Joshua Fruhlinger, the author of The Comics Curmudgeon, has long intimated that there's something sinister going on in the cartoon Keane household, and this rather disturbing panel only confirms that for me.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

MORE Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery

Before we totally put the Halloween season and our focus on old horror comics to rest for now, there's one more issue of Gold Key's Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery that I'd like to spotlight here.  Its an issue from the last year of the title's run, #91, and features a nicely eerie painted cover with the wonderfully ominous tagline "Mr. Monster wants a playmate--to destroy!"
The accompanying story, entitled simply"Mr. Monster", which leads off the issue, is probably the best story in the four issues of this series that I dug out of the clearance boxes at Half-Price Books.  That's not to say, however, that its actually good, merely that it rises ever so slightly above the book's usual low standard.  
The story begins with young Billy Harrison requesting a new doll for his upcoming birthday because he claims that his beloved clown doll, Corky, is lonely and needs a friend.  The next day his father encounters a Geppetto look-alike street vendor selling hand-made dolls and purchases an ape doll wearing a tuxedo and top hat and carrying a cane that the old man calls Mr. Monster.  As Billy's dad is heading off, Geppetto tells him that "If you want my doll to live for your child, your child must love him."  Dad brushes him off with a brusque "Sure! Thanks a lot, pal!" and hurries to get the hell away from the creepy old coot.
By the way, I find it interesting that, even though the protagonist of the story is a boy, the unnamed writer makes no apology for referring to Corky and Mr. Monster as "dolls."
Sure enough, when he is presented with the new doll, Billy instantly falls in love with it.  Mr. Monster soon repays that love by using his "magic cane" to destroy Billy's train set, much to Billy's delight.  His parents dismiss Billy's claim that it was the doll who caused the destruction, at least until they hear him breaking up Billy's toy lighthouse while the kid is staying over at a friend's house.  The next day, after Billy arrives home, Mom, who'd earlier expressed some uneasiness over Mr. Monster's life-like appearance, catches the animated ape doll in the act of whacking on poor old Corky with his "magic cane."  This assault causes Billy's love for Mr. Monster to turn instantly to loathing, as he tells the doll that "I never want to see you again!" The withdrawal of Billy's affection causes Mr. Monster to revert to a harmless, lifeless toy, which Mr. and Mrs. Harrison lock up in a trunk in their attic.  "However," Karloff intones in the last panel, "you can bet the Harrisons do peek into the trunk every once in a while just to be sure!"
Though it ultimately fails completely to be even remotely disturbing, "Mr. Monster" at least has the potential within it to be scary.  After all, the premise of a child's toy come to murderous life has provided fodder for several successful spooky stories over the years.  I seem to remember an episode of The Twilight Zone in which a killer clown doll menaces Telly Savalas.  Then, of course, there's the entire Child's Play franchise.   "Mr. Monster", however, fails to invoke any terror at all since, in the end, it is only other toys that feel the sting of the toy ape's magic cane, and not Billy himself or his somewhat clueless parents.  Mr. Monster himself never looks as menacing in the actual story as he does in the cover painting. 
If "Mr. Monster", as I said above, manages to infinitesimally transcend Tales of Mystery's somewhat degraded definition of horror, the remaining stories in the issue, on the other hand, fail to clear even that low bar.  Honestly, they're really barely worth mentioning, but I'll give you a quick rundown of each nonetheless.
"A Drop of Water" tells the story of young boy who, while looking through his microscope, discovers a microscopic creature resembling some sort of demonic frog in, what else, a drop of water.  Foolishly, little Jimmy decides to experiment with various chemicals from his chemistry set in an attempt to make the creature grow.  Succeeding beyond his wildest expections, he dumps the immense monster into a local lake, giving rise to legends of a Lock Ness type monster living there.
You know, I've often lamented that my synopses of stories on this blog tend to make them sound worse than they actually are, but in the case of "A Drop of Water", the story is so lame that I really think the opposite is true this time.
"Dial-A-Monster" attempts to play on fears of technological advancement in an era when the 8-track tape was the state of the art in recording technology by a freak accident caused by a storm in turn cause a giant energy monster to emerge from a fax machine,  here referred to a "telecopier,"  instead of the intended message.  However, once the message the creature is attempting to convey is deciphered, it simply fades away. 
Finally, "Tit for Tat" has an old lady conjuring up demons to intimidate her feline hating landlord after he threatens to have her many cats hauled away to an animal shelter.  Once again, that brief description might make make the story sound better than it actually is, but in reality its the weakest tale in a mostly pretty weak issue.
Still in all, I suppose that for "Mr. Monster" alone, Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery #91 is at least worth the twenty five cents that I paid for it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Stan Lee's TOP 5 "Amazing Spider-Man" Story Titles

(I shall be honest here and admit that this is pretty much just a quick post put up mostly just to be posting something, as I've been on a bit of a streak lately and I'd like to try and keep it up as long as possible.  I'll take some time tomorrow and provide some more of the in-depth analysis and perspicacious prose you've come to expect of me in my next post.)
Perhaps Stan Lee's most overlooked talent was his ability to come up with attention grabbing and memorable titles for his little tales of super-heroic adventure, which ranged from the terrifically tongue-in-cheek ("Never Step On A Scorpion" or "You Think It's Easy to Dream Up Titles Like This?" from Amazing Spider-Man #29) to the magnificently melodramatic ("If This Be My Destiny...!" from ASM #31 and "O, Bitter Victory!" from ASM #60).   Below is a list of my five personal favorite story names from Lee's 105 issue run on Amazing Spider-Man:

5.
"Bring Back My Goblin To Me!"
(Amazing Spider-Man #27)


4.
"The Tentacles and the Trap!"
(Amazing Spider-Man #54)


3.
"If This Be Bedlam!"
(Amazing Spider-Man #74


2.
"The Molten Man Regrets...!
(Amazing Spider-Man #35)


1.
"How Green Was My Goblin!"
(Amazing Spider-Man #39)
 

It seems that the Green Goblin really got Stan's creative juices flowing, at least when it came to campy and creative story titles. 
Someday soon, I'll have to do a similar list covering Lee's run on Fantastic Four.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Back To Basics--Hellblazer #147

Looking back over some of my old posts, I see that its been more than a year since I've done one of my series of posts on the 147th issues of a comic series lucky enough to have lasted that long.  There doesn't seem to be a resounding outcry amongst my readers for a new installment.  However, I've got this pile of borrowed Hellblazer comics, including #147, that I've had for several months and its long past time I returned them to their owner. 
Hellblazer #147 contains the second installment of "Hard Times," the inaugural storyline of writer Brian Azzarello's two and a half year stint on the title.  Much was made at the time of Azzarello being the first American to chronicle the ongoing adventures of John Constantine.  Many wondered if he would be able to accurately depict the London setting that had become so integral to the series.  In what could be perceived as an admission that his critics were right, Azzarello took Constantine out of his familiar environs and sent him on an extended tour of the colonies.  More charitably, this move can be seen as an attempt to breathe new life into the series by taking the character out of his comfort zone.
In "Hard Times," Azzarello throws Constantine into a very unfamiliar and hostile setting--an American prison.   The story begins in #146 with Constantine arriving at the prison.  His reasons for being there aren't yet revealed, and, quite frankly, when they are in #150, the final issue of the storyline, I didn't quite buy them.  That, however, is irrelevant to the issue at hand.
A con named Traylor takes a liking to "Connie" (For some reason, I'm attempting to be as delicate as possible here, but if you've ever seen any prison movies you probably know what I mean by that.), and gives him a tour of the place, introducing him to the various prisoner cliques.  After using magic to put an end to Traylor's advances, John begins to develop a rep as being dangerous. In part two in #147, representatives of the aforementioned cliques have decided that something's got to be done about Constantine, so they go to Stark, the lifer who runs the prison from his cell, to tell their tales of their encounters with the Englishman.
When Alan Moore introduced Constantine early in his run on Swamp Thing, it was as an enigmatic and possibly dangerous character.  However, once Constantine graduated to his own title, and after more than ten years and lengthy runs from Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis and Paul Jenkins, the mystery was pretty much gone.  Familiarity dulled Constantine's edge.  Azzarello attempts to bring back the mystery in this issue by showing John Constantine as seen through the eyes of people who've just met him as,  In fact, until the last page of the issue Constantine doesn't actually appear except in flashback in the tales of his fellow prisoner.
Though, as I stated above, I found the storyline as a whole disappointing, Hellblazer #147 is a very good single issue and works as a reminder of what makes the character of John Constantine so cool.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery


Like their Star Trek comic, Gold Key's Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery is another TV show adaptation that far outlived not only its source material, but its star as well.  The series began life as Boris Karloff Thriller, and was based on Thriller, the short lived horror anthology hosted by Karloff, that aired on NBC from 1960 to 1962.  Gold Key was a little late to the game with their adaptation, which debuted with an issue sporting an October 1962 cover date, which means it probably hit the spinner racks in either July or August, when the final episode of the TV show had been televised the previous April.  Nonetheless, the comic continued, becoming Tales of Mystery with #3 and lasting until 1980, publishing a grand total of 97 issues.  
Each issue featured four short stories, with Karloff, as he had on TV, appearing at the beginning of each tale to give a short introduction.  However, unlike the TV show, he reappeared at the end of the stories to deliver a punchline, in the tradition of such comic book horror hosts as The Crypt Keeper and his many imitators.  Like some of those other horror comic hosts, Karloff would often be drawn in a costume reflecting the story he was introducing, such as a sombrero for a story set in Mexico or ancient Egyptian headgear for a story about a pharaoh's tomb or a caveman's loincloth for a story involving dinosaurs, whereas on TV he basically wore the same drab black suit every week. Even though Karloff died in 1969, the Gold Key series still bore his name and his avatar continued his hosting duties for the entirety of the comics' run. 
A little while ago, I came across a quartet of issues from relatively late in the run in one of the clearance boxes at the North High branch of Half-Price Books priced at a quarter apiece and promptly scooped them up.  
The stories are pretty tame, even by the standards of Bronze age horror.  At that time, even though the Comics Code had been somewhat relaxed at the beginning of the 1970's to allow depictions of "classic" monsters such as vampires, mummies and werewolves, bringing about a wave of horror titles that included Tomb of Dracula and Swamp Thing, it was still restrictive enough to prevent any so-called horror comic from being truly horrible.  Despite the fact that Gold Key comics did not carry the Code's stamp of approval, they still adhered to its tenets.  Thus, there is nothing in any of these comics that would give any but the most sensitive of children any sleepless nights.
Since I recently posted about the exhibit at Wild Goose Creative of art from the Sunday Comix anthology A Bowl Full of Happiness, which featured comics inspired by the ads for Sea Monkeys that used to run in comics from the Silver and Bronze Ages, I'm going to spotlight an issue from late 1975, #65, which cover featured a tale entitled "The Mail-Order Monster," also clearly inspired by those same ads.
"The Mail-Order Monster" is the third story in the issue.  The lead story is "The Pharaoh's Zoo" in which two archeologists uncover the long buried site of Pthager, the "summer residence of the Pharoahs" and the eponymous Pharoah's zoo, which houses a collection of mythological beasts such as Cerberus and the Phoenix who are held in suspended animation until awakened by the modern day interlopers.  
The second story is "No Thing Is My Enemy."  A young boy plants mysterious seeds borne to Earth by a meteorite that crashes near his isolated farm that quickly grow into an intelligent creature that the boy mistakenly takes to be hostile.
At last we come to the cover story, "The Mail-Order Monster." Young Bobby Ryder sends away for "Sea Monster" eggs, which he attempts to conceal from his parents, who have commanded him to stop ordering so much crap through the mail.  However, it soon becomes impossible to keep his purchase a secret when one of the eggs, apparently planted among the others by aliens as an "experiment", grows into a gigantic silly looking lobster monster. 
While there are no credits on any of the stories in this issue, the Comic Book Data Base lists Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez as one of the pencillers.  Garcia-Lopez is one of my favorite artists and, based on my familiarity with his style, its rather obvious to me that his contribution is to the issues final story, "Don't Put It On Paper," though it is obviously some of his earliest work. The story tells the tale of  Professor Mendez, who travels to the remote village of the Xota Indians in Mexico to create an alphabet for their previously unwritten language.  However, when he writes down the natives' word for the devil, he inadvertently summons forth the demon.
While the stories are by no means great, or even all that good, for that matter, Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery still provides a healthy dose of decidedly campy fun.  Much of that comes from seeing the cartoon Karloff cavorting costumed as the Sphinx or in a space helmut or as a stereotypical Mexican peasant.  (The caveman outfit I alluded to earlier is in a later issue.)  A good chunk of the series has recently been collected in hardcover by Dark Horse as the Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery Archives.  However, these reprints only go as far as #41, and do not include the issue discussed above. Still, I'll bet there's plenty of similarly fun and silly stories contained in those six volumes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Newest Disney Princess: Princess Leia

You might have heard this already, but it seems that the Walt Disney Company has purchased Lucasfilm.  You know, when I first saw links to this start popping up on my Facebook wall, I initially thought it was some sort of Halloween prank.  But when trusted old media news outlets like The Washington Post (via The Associated Press) are reporting it, then I suppose its got to be true.  Even better, or worse, depending on your point of view, the House of Mouse is promising that there will be a new Star Wars film coming to a theater near you in 2015, with further adventures to follow every couple of years thereafter.  
Marvel's final Star Wars Comic--for now at least.
Except for the first movie (that's the first first movie, not the second first movie), I'm not that big of a fan of the Star Wars franchise.  Thus, I'm neither thrilled nor overly chagrined by this news.  However, I can't help but wonder, being a comics blogger, how this is going to affect the industry I'm unhealthily obsessed with, specifically Dark Horse Comics, current publisher of Star Wars adventures in sequential form.  After all, it seems only logical that as proud owner of its own comics company, Disney would want to produce Star Wars comics in-house, and thus bring the license back to original home at Marvel Comics.  
I just now as I type this heard some economic expert on the International Public Radio program Marketplace say that Disney is "pursuing a strategy of buying big entertainment companies and monetizing that content across all divisions of the company."  That little bit of financial double speak would seem to argue for the Star Wars franchise returning to Marvel once Dark Horse's license expires.
As with all things, only time will tell and when there are any more newsworthy developments, I'll let you know.

Saga of the Swamp Thing #13

With all due deference to Mr. Timothy Callahan, an on-line columnist whose work I have often cited and linked to on this blog and with whose opinions I generally concur, I must, on this one occasion, respectfully disagree with his assertion, put forth in a column earlier this year at Comic Book Resources examining the last issue of The Saga of the Swamp Thing prior to Alan Moore's historic run, that Martin Pasko is a bad writer.
On the contrary, in my eyes, at least, Pasko is quite a good writer of certain types of stories, his forte being super-heroes.  Many of my all time favorite Superman tales, including "Race/Chase To The End of Time" (DC Comics Presents #'s 1 & 2), "Backward Battle for the Bizarro World" (Superman #306), and "A Million Dollars A Minute" (Superman #326) all carry his writer's credit.  He also turned out some pretty decent Star Trek comics for Marvel, including "All The Infinite Ways" in issue 13, which is one of my favorite Trek stories and which I may get around to writing about here someday.
Horror, on the other hand, based on the evidence of Swamp Thing, seems to be a bit outside of his wheelhouse.  
The first handful of issues are alright.  The stories have some nice premises and good ideas in them, but Pasko, though he tries mightily, never succeeds in recreating the atmosphere of Gothic creepiness that pervaded Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson's run on the original series from a decade earlier.
By the thirteenth issue, however, the book had gone seriously off the rails.  This issue is, to be blunt, a mess. "Lambs to the Slaughter" is the conclusion of a multi-part storyline that wraps up some of the plot threads that Pasko had been dangling from issue #1.  It seems as if he's trying to pack too much into too short a story and the effect is that the story ends up making not one damn bit of sense.  I have never read any other story that was so heavily laden with expository captions and dialogue yet, paradoxically, utterly failed to satisfactorily explain what the bloody hell was supposed to be going on.  
Though this may be a very bad comic, and, judging from Mr. Callahan's review of #19, the series may have failed to get any better, at least until Moore took over, its rather unfair to dismiss Pasko's entire body of work based on one misstep.  After all, even Alan Moore didn't create an enduring classic of sequential literature every time he sat down at the typewriter.  If I were to show his Green Arrow story to someone who had never read any of Moore's work, this mythical straw man reader would, I'm sure, no doubt be confused as to what all the fuss over Moore is about. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Superman #13 Reviewed (With Accompanying Rant)

DC's PR department certainly earned its pay last week, as they managed to generate a fair amount of unwarranted hype over Clark Kent's leaving the employ of the Daily Planet in Superman #13.
Tuesday must have been what we in the journalism biz call a "slow news day".  (Not to be confused with Andi Watson's charming graphic novel Slow News Day, which I highly recommend, by the way.)  How else would you explain ostensibly serious news outlets such as NPR and the BBC devoting any airtime at all to a relatively minor plot point in a comic book?
It's hardly that big a deal, after all.  This isn't the first time Clark's left the Planet.  He spent most of the 70's and the first half of the 80's working in TV as the anchor of the WGBS Evening News, and in the mid-90's he briefly left his newspaper job to become an editor at newsmagazine Newstime.  Besides, this dramatic  development will probably be undone by the next writer anyway, and, judging from the turnover on this book so far in its New 52 incarnation, that next writer will be along in about three or four months. 
However, all cynicism aside, the publicity was sufficient to induce me to purchase a copy of the issue just to see if the actual story, if there was one, was actually worth reading.  
Truthfully, there really isn't much of a story here.  The meat of the issue is your basic Superman versus giant alien monster story.  I've never been a huge fan of Scott Lobdell, the Superman writer of the moment.  His stories aren't bad, but neither are they all that especially good, either.  This issue is squarely in that area.  It's an entertaining, but not that impressive or especially memorable, few minutes read.  That's  pretty much what I've come to expect from Superman stories, and this issue delivers.
To me, the most interesting aspect of this issue is the confirmation that the  ridiculously powerful Superman of the late Silver and Bronze Ages who could push planets around with his pinky is officially back.  The issue opens with the Man of Steel in some sort of secret underground research facility attempting to discover the upper limit of his super-strength and being told, essentially, that there isn't one.  Further, Lobdell goes so far in this issue as to introduce a new super-power, or rather, perhaps more accurately, a heretofore unseen application of one his long time powers.  Apparently, his super-hearing is able to act like sonar to form an image in his head of distant objects.  
Also back in the New 52 is the proliferation of survivors of Krypton.  This issue features a guest appearance by Supergirl and (obligatory but half-hearted SPOILER WARNING) the aforementioned giant alien monster turns out to be of Kryptonian origin.  This issue also serves as a prelude to an upcoming crossover in all the Superman related titles, except for Action Comics, which takes place five years in the past, called "H'El on Earth," which seems like it will introduce yet another Kryptonian refugee who, from all indications I've seen, looks like he'll turn out to be related to Kal-El in some way.   I'm not sufficiently impressed with this issue, however, to follow the story any further to get the full details.  
Meanwhile, over in Action, Grant Morrison reintroduced the Bottle City of Kandor some months ago and in the latest issue he brings back both the Phantom Zone and Krypto.   Honestly, as my all time favorite Superman stories are from the Bronze Age, especially, as I've stated one or two times  before, Martin Pasko's run on Superman in the mid-70's, these are not, to me, totally unwelcome developments.
Going back to Clark's decision to quit his day job, it seems to me that Kent's actually got a valid point in his condemnation of the state of modern mainstream news coverage in which he laments that news has been totally supplanted by entertainment.   The last time I watched one of the three original broadcast network's evening newscast, I found it as devoid of anything resembling actual news as Monty Python's cheese shop was uncontaminated by cheese.  I tuned into the NBC Nightly News the night before the Olympics began to find that the broadcast was less a newscast than an extended promo for the network's upcoming coverage of the Games.   Later that evening, starved for some real information, I checked out BBC World News America on one of the digital sub-channels of the local PBS station.  There was, as you might expect since the Olympics were held in London this year and the first B in BBC does stand for "British", a fair amount of Olympic boosterism, but it didn't dominate the half hour.  They actually found some time to report on events of actual significance.  
Thankfully, there are still a few outlets, such as the BBC, NPR and PBS, that still believe in actually delivering real news, even if they do ocassionally give into the impulse to report on a fictional character leaving his fictional job at a fictional newspaper as if it actually mattered to anyone besides me and my fellow middle-aged fanboys.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Bowl Full of Happiness" Exhibit at Wild Goose Creative Part 2

Here are some more photos from the exhibition of pages from the Sunday Comix benefit anthology A Bowl Full of Happiness at Wild Goose Creative taken by niece Tamara Marshall.   This batch spotlights a few of the individual pages.   
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Here are Tamara's and my contributions:
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Sea "Monkees" by Sue Olcott
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Kira Keck's Kontribution
(Sorry.  I kouldn't kontrol myself)
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A beautiful piece by Maryanne Rose Papke 
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This one is by Ron Hill and frequent American Splendor artist Gary Dumm.
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Here's a piece of hard-boiled detective fiction--with Sea Monkeys--by Bob Corby
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Parody and puns from Matt Wyatt
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Mike Carroll's full color back cover mash-up of two fondly remembered perrennial comic book ads
Here are a couple of extreme close ups highlighting Mike's unique sense of humor
(It is highly recommended that you click on these to enlarge them so that you may read and appreciate them properly.  Or, even better, buy a copy of the book.)
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This is only a sampling of the art on display.   These represent the ones that Tamara saw fit to record.  I can not account for her choices, anymore than I can explain her somewhat mystifying decision to photograph a plate of cheese and crackers, as seen in my previous post.  Also on display were pieces by Max Ink, Michael Neno, Canada Keck, Sheldon Glaser and Jonathon Riddle, Steve Peterson, Frank Cvetkovic, Dan Taylor and more.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

"Bowl Full of Happiness" Exhibit at Wild Goose Creative Part 1

About a week and a half ago (Thursday, October 18, to be exact),  Columbus arts space Wild Goose Creative hosted the artists reception for an exhibit of artwork from  A Bowl Full of Happiness, the Sunday Comix cartoonists group recent anthology to benefit The Hero Initiative, a charity which provides aid to comics professional in need.   The art may still be on display, though I would probably contact Wild Goose to make sure before heading over there.  
Anyway, as one of the artists represented in the exhibit,  I attended the event with my niece Tamara Marshall, who also contributed to ABFoH and thus had a piece on display.  Tamara had the foresight to bring along a camera and below are a few of the photos she took.  
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The Sunday Comix Banner
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 The cover of A Bowl Full of Happiness
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 Comics as "fine art"
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Snacks!! 
Courtesy of Sunday Comix member Canada Keck
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As always at Sunday Comix events, there were the inevitable Jam Comics:
Bob Corby starts one off...
 
...Tamara follows up...
...then Michael Neno puts his spin on it.
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That's enough for one post, I think.  Next time, Tamara and I will spotlight some of the individual pages from A Bowl Full of Happiness.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Star Trek #7 (Gold Key)

Oddly enough, I happen to own every Star Trek #7 ever published.  That is, every seventh issue of a comic series entitled simply Star Trek and featuring the exploits of a character named James Tiberius Kirk.  Since I reviewed the most recent one not too long ago, I thought I'd take a look back at the others, starting with the very first, from the first Star Trek comic book series, published by Gold Key.  I also have seventh issues of  some of the comics based on later iterations of Trek, and I may get to them as well.
Back in the mid-to-late 1960's, Gold Key seems to have been the go-to comics publisher for TV and movie adaptations.  They churned out four color versions of everything from well known classic series such as The Munsters to short-lived obscurities like The Governor & J.J.  For the most part, the books lasted less than a handful of issues; more often than not only one.  However, like Trek fandom itself, the Star Trek comic far out-lived the series. 61 issues were produced between 1967 and 1978, after which the license shifted to Marvel, which produced comics set after the first movie.
Gold Key's Star Trek appears to have been one of the first comic series to be collected in trade paperback form, as the four volumes of The Enterprise Logs.  In fact, Gold Key seems to have been a pioneer in placing comics in book stores and other non-traditional venues, such as the bagged three packs of Gold Key  and other publishers' books rebranded with the Whitman Comics ensignia which where sold to toystores. These innovations seem motivated mainly by desperation, as newstand sales steadily declined throughout the 70's. 
Enough history, then, let's get to the issue at hand.
Among Star Trek fans who've read any of it, myself included, there is a decided lack of love for the Gold Key comic series.  The few I've slogged through have been utter failures on every conceivable level.  They don't work as Star Trek, as science fiction, or even simply as stories.  I've heard that some of the later issues were written by Len Wein.  It's possible that those might be worth reading, as Wein wrote some excellent stories for DC's first Trek series.  I have no idea who wrote issue #7, as there are no credits, but he sure as hell is no Len Wein.  The story, "The Voodoo Planet," does have one saving grace, however.  It is, in places, absolutely hilarious.
Out in deep space, the Enterprise encounters an exact duplicate of Earth.  Kirk and Spock beam down to a city that looks like Paris, except that it is deserted and all the buildings, including a scaled down replica of the Eiffel Tower, are made of papier-mache.  A laser beam from out of nowhere destroys the papier-mache Eiffel Tower.  At the same time on Earth, the real Eiffel Tower collapses.  After the Roman Coliseum is destroyed in a similar manner, Kirk realizes that they are dealing with VOODOO.  Tracing the destructive beam to its source, the Enterprise comes to a planet surrounded by space debris.  Hiding the ship amongst the debris to escape detection, Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to the planet.  There they see primitive natives tossing spears at man shaped wooden cutouts and, in the distance, a building resembling an Earthly observatory which they conclude is the source of the voodoo beam.  Taking out the native guards, they enter the structure to discover a robed and hooded figure just as he presses the firing button on his laser, destroying the papier-mache Sphinx and its Earthly counterpart.
As Kirk and Spock move to apprehend the figure, two of the natives produce Kirk and Spock voodoo dolls into which they plunge huge pins, causing the captain and the vulcan to double over in pain. The robed man removes his hood and Kirk recognizes him as Count Dressler, a rogue dictator from Earth who eluded capture by escaping to the stars.
Strangely, in the flashback  panels accompanying Dressler's tale of how he came to be on the Voodoo Planet, the debris surrounding the planet isn't seen as his ship is shown approaching.  By the way, if the natives of this world are so primitive, where'd all that space junk come from, anyway?  Inconsistencies such as these appear throughout the issue.
Getting back to the story, such as it is, Dressler conquered the natives, learned their voodoo ways and set out to get his revenge on Earth.  He demonstrates for the caged Kirk and Spock (oh, I forgot to mention that they left McCoy standing guard outside) his voodoo ritual, which consists of chanting some nonsense syllables and drinking some strange green liquid, before destroying the Leaning Tower of Piza. McCoy sneaks in and frees Kirk and Spock and the three beam out.  Oddly, Dressler, an Earthman of Kirk's era, seems never to have seen or heard of a transporter, gasping, "Vanishing...before my very eyes! Incredible!" as the trio escape.
Back on the ship, Spock performs a ritual that gives him and Kirk ancient Vulcan voodoo powers to counter Dressler's.  They then beam back down to the planet and capture the mad dictator.  Instead of taking him back to Earth to face justice, however, Kirk takes it upon himself to sentence Dressler to exile on a deserted planet.
It is well known that the artist, Alberto Giolitti, who lived in Italy, had never seen Star Trek.  Giolitti apparently was provided with some reference photos, which he seems to have glanced at once or twice.  Some of the likenesses are just barely acceptable.  Spock and McCoy look like themselves in most panels, though Spock's ears are drawn way too big.  The character claiming to be Kirk, however, bears no resemblance whatsoever to William Shatner.  Giolitti doesn't get the uniforms quite right, either.  The collars are too high, the gold braids on the sleeves are missing in many panels, and the Starfleet insignia are absent throughout.  The outside of the ship is pretty much on model.  It appears, however, that Giolitti didn't get any photos of the inside of the ship, as absolutely nothing appears as it does on the show. Of course the most serious art mistake is that he draws flame and smoke coming out of the back of the warp nacelles as if they were rocket engines. 
It seems that the unknown writer of this issue hadn't seen the show either. I have referred to the characters in this story as Kirk, Spock and McCoy, but they aren't really.  They neither speak nor act at all like their TV counterparts.  Spock, for example, repeatedly displays emotions, or at least as close to emotion as this writers limited skill allows him to convey.
He also doesn't seem to realize that Trek is set in the future.  Dressler seems more a product of the late 20th century geopolitical scene than that of the 23rd as seen in Trek. Also, noting how deserted the replica Paris is, Kirk mentions the absence of cars and buses,but I believe that it was established in some episode that internal combustion powered vehicles no longer existed in the time of Trek.
Further evidence that our uncredited author may never have actually seen Star Trek is provided by the many continuity errors in the issue.  Dressler's tale directly contradicts much of the future history of Earth as established in the show.  The reference to cars and buses, furthermore, is just one of the many errors in Trek technology.  At one point, Kirk refers to using an old fashioned radio, not a communicator, to  contact the ship.
I realize that my laundry list of errors may read like the nitpicking of an obsessive Trekkie, and it is true that I can be a little obsessive when it comes to Star Trek, especially the original series.  However, it is perfectly reasonable, and not at all obsessive, to expect any adaptation to bear at least a passing resemblance to the source material.
Normally, I'd end this post with a paragraph summing up my thoughts on the issue.  However, there's really no need to restate just how awful Gold Key's Star Trek #7 is.  It should be pretty self evident from everything I've written above.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ugli Studios Presents #1 Reviewed

Submitting your self-published small press comic to a 'zine or website for review is always a tricky proposition.  You want the world to greet your brainchild with universal acclaim, but you know that's not always going to be the case.  I guess that I ultimately don't have the stomach for it. When I was actively publishing my own comics, I stopped sending out review copies after a  couple of write ups that weren't exactly glowing.  One of them even led to me eventually abandoning a particular comic book series altogether.
So, I was sensitive to the potential for offense and hurt feelings when I got a message through the Gutter Talk Facebook page from an artist named Jason Lenox asking me to review his initial self published effort.   At the same time, I was honored that anyone would seek out my opinion in that way.  Therefore, I feel that I owe it to Jason to respect the trust he's placed in me by giving my honest opinion, for good or ill.
The good news is that I don't hate Ugli Studios Presents #1. It's nothing that would have me tossing the book against the nearest wall if Jason had sent me a physical copy rather than a PDF file. However, neither can I say that I loved it, or even really liked it all that strongly, either.
The thirty page comic consists of two separate sci-fi/fantasy short stories written by Lenox and David Paul and illustrated by Lenox as well as selection of pin-ups from various guest artists.  Jason's art in both stories is quite nice.  He has a good sense of design and storytelling and can draw a mean looking monster or alien as well as some pretty nice looking human beings.  The coloring job by Dani Kaulakis is particularly effective.  I hope that the actual book is printed on paper stock of sufficient quality to show it off to its full effect.  Kaulakis can also draw pretty well, as one of the pin-ups demonstrates.
On the other hand, the stories themselves don't quite work for me.  In each case, Lenox and Paul seem to be going for a Twilight Zone/Outer Limits--or maybe EC Comics would be a better comparison--style twist ending, but in neither instance do they quite pull it off.
The lead story, "Through The Eyes of Griselda," takes place in the mythical realm of Xendria, an ancient kingdom under the thumb of an evil sorcerer, and tells of an uprising against the wizard's oppressive rule as told from the perspective of his familiar, a cat named Griselda.  Unfortunately, the attempted twist is telegraphed in the art several pages before the actual revelation.
The second tale, "The Great Vermin," tells the story of an interstellar expeditionary force sent to a devastated planet to exterminate the last remnants of a vicious predator species.  Lenox and Paul pull off the twist ending a little better here, but I can't say that I was exactly shocked by it.  The big reveal left me with a strong feeling of having seen it before and done much better.  In fact, the final panel reminded me very much of a story called brief encounter from the fifth issue of a short lived science fiction anthology from DC Comics back in the early 80's called Time Warp.  The tone of that story, however, wasn't quite as grim as Lenox and Paul's.
Overrall, though, Ugli Studios Presents #1 is a good first effort.  There's definitely potential for improvement, but I certainly seeing more from these creators.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Slightly Off-Topic: Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea Movie Reviewed

So, I arrived home Sunday from the monthly gathering of the Sunday Comix cartoonists group in time to catch the last forty-five minutes of Voyage To The Bottom Of Sea, the 1961 feature film by Irwin Allen upon which he later based the 1964-68 TV series of the same name, and I kind of feel like writing about it here.  Sure, this is supposed to be a blog about comics, but when it comes down to it, its my damn blog and I'll write about what I damn well want to write about and you don't have to read it if you don't want.  I haven't written anything for quite a while, so maybe I need to write about something other than comics just to shake loose the mental cobwebs, break down the mental blocks that are keeping me from writing, and get my fingers used to the feel of the keys again.  I do try to tie my tangents on this blog to comics in some way, however, and in this case its not really a stretch, as there were comic books based both on this movie and on the TV show inspired by it.
Anyway, even though I missed over half the movie, I had seen it before, though its been many years, so I knew the basic plot.  Besides, it appears that I didn't miss much.  It seemed as if not much had really happened up to the point I started watching.  At least not compared to the final twenty minutes or so, in which everything comes to a head and events seem to be happening all at once.
The basic premise of the film is that something has caused the Van Allen radiation belt surrounding the Earth to catch fire, heating the planet and threatening all life.   Admiral Harriman Nelson, in defiance of the United Nations and all world governments, takes his experimental sub, the Seaview, on a quest to save the world by firing a missile which, he believes, will extinguish the fire in the sky.  This is the movies, after all, where just about any problem can be solved by shooting it.
So, at the point that I joined the film, the Admiral is convinced that there's a traitor on board attempting to sabotage the mission, especially after an attempt is made on his life.  The Seaview's captain, Lee Crane, however, is beginning to think that the Admiral is mentally unstable.  Thus he also begins to doubt whether Nelson's plan will actually work.  To make matters worse, approximately half of the Seaview's crew, believing the end of the world to be at hand, desert to spend their last days with their loved ones.  At the same time, the crew learns that the United States has dispatched its entire submarine fleet to find and stop the Seaview.
Finally, all the various plot threads converge as the films barrels toward its conclusion.  The ship reaches its destination, arriving at the exact position and time at which the missile must be fired.  Convinced now that Nelson is nuts, Captain Crane moves to relieve him of command and stop the missile from being fired.  Meanwhile, one of the pursuing subs catches up to the Seaview and begins firing torpedoes at them just as the traitor reveals herself by sabotaging the ships nuclear reactor, taking a fatal dose of radiation in the process.  After eluding the attacking sub, the Seaview is then attacked by a giant squid. (After all, you just can't have a submarine based science fiction film without a giant squid.  It's like a law or something.)  Then, as if all that weren't enough, a religious zealot, believing the sky fire to be "God's will", holds the control room hostage with a bomb to stop the missile firing.  In the end, of course, the missile is fired, the flames are extinguished and the Seaview heads triumphantly home.
What really makes this film work despite its frankly ridiculous premise is that the actors portraying the Seaview's crew totally commit to the premise.  They seem to really believe in it and thus effectively sell it to the viewer.  Because of this, what could have turned into high camp becomes a tense and involving science fiction thriller.
Even with the scientifically questionable idea of the atmosphere catching fire, the most unrealistic part of the film, and the subsequent TV series, is the Seaview itself.  Anyone who's ever seen any other movies or TV shows set on a sub will be immediately struck by just how roomy the Seaview is, with its wide corridors, spacious living quarters and huge control rooms.  Even the crew dining area is gigantic.  This ship must be just crazy big, though the exterior shots don't really give a feeling for that scale. Its kind of like an underwater version of Doctor Who's TARDIS, bigger on the inside than on the outside.
This movie can be seen as foreshadowing the remainder of Irwin Allen's career.  As I've already mentioned, it inspired his first, and longest running, TV series.  The success of the TV version of Voyage would lead to the creation of the far campier Lost In Space, and the less successful The Time Tunnel and Land of Giants.  Furthermore, the dubious, and, for the most part, totally made up, science upon which the film is predicated would become a hallmark of Allen's TV output in the 1960s. You could also say that with its all-star cast, which includes Walter Pidgeon, Barbara Eden, Peter Lorre, Joan Fontaine, Michael Ansara and Frankie Avalon, facing impossible odds while trapped together in a confined space, Voyage set the template for Allen's string of blockbuster disaster films in the 1970s, especially The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno
 For me, watching Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, especially the series, carries with it a certain nostalgic resonance.  Voyage was a favorite show of my father's and I sort of feel a little bit of a connection to him whenever I watch it, or Mission: Impossible, which was another show he watched whenever it was on, mostly Saturday afternoons as I recall. Though, even without that extra layer of meaning, I'd still enjoy this movie, and if you have a chance to see it I'd definitely recommend that you do so.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Marvel Graphic Novel #4: The Coming of the New Mutants and the Beginning of the End of the Bronze Age

While the Bronze Age is generally considered to have ended  with the publication of Crisis On Infinite Earths in 1985, certain avatars of the new age began to appear as soon as the early 1980's.  One such was Frank Miller's initial run on Daredevil, which presaged the darker tone of the so called "Modern Age" of comics.  Another was Marvel Graphic Novel #4, introducing the New Mutants and heralding the transformation of the X-Men from a single comic into a "franchise". 
It strikes me that the cover price of $4.95 was a bit much for a 48 page comic in 1982, even if that comic was bigger than the standard monthly periodical and printed on nicer paper.  The contents don't really seem to merit this "deluxe" treatment and price tag.  "Renewal" is a fairly standared and somewhat formulaic super-team origin.  We are introduced to each of the five future members of the team that would come to be known as the New Mutants as they discover their mutant gifts, as well as their mutual foe, a rogue member of the Hellfire Club named Donald Pierce who seeks to destroy them.  Then the scene shifts to the Xavier Academy, where Charles Xavier, also known as Professor X, believing the X-Men to be dead, is reluctant to expose any more young mutants to that kind of danger.  Convinced by his old friend Moira McTaggert of the continuing relevance of his vision of peace and friendship between mutants and humans, Chuck overcomes his doubts and sets about uniting these aforementioned young mutants to defeat Pierce.  He then convinces them to stay on at his school so that he can teach them to control their newfound mutant abilities and use them for the benefit of all mankind.
Chris Claremont's typically dialogue and caption heavy script is fairly routine and by the numbers while the art by Bob McCleod is pretty representative of the Marvel house style at the time under editor-in-chief Jim Shooter.  In short, other than the format,  this is a fairly typical Marvel comic of the era, and while it might not have been quite worth five bucks thirty years ago, the two dollars I paid for it at Half Price Books a couple of months ago seems like a pretty good deal.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rushes

(Note: I composed this post before hearing the news of the shootings during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado.  I gave some thought to not posting this, as perhaps some people might find a somewhat snarky post about DKR to be inappropriate at this point in time.  Of course, this piece has nothing to do with that tragedy,  just as it is likely that  the tragedy had nothing to do  with DKR.  The shooter was obviously a very deeply troubled individual and the film that happened to be on the screen when he chose to launch his assault was probably completely immaterial.  Nonetheless, I sincerely apologize to any who might find fault with the timing of this post.)
One of the most astounding traits of the American people is our nearly limitless capacity for outrage.  We are able at the drop of a hat to get ourselves all bent out of shape at the most trivial of provocations.   This quality is not limited to the pundits of the extreme right, though they tend to be the most vocal about and thus garner the most mainstream media attention for their lunatic rantings.  The latest case in point concerns our old friend Rush Limbaugh, who worked himself into a lather on his show a couple of days ago over the fact that the villain in The Dark Knight Rises is Bane, whose name just happens to sound like Bain, as in Bain Capital, the suddenly controversial firm headed by Republican Presidential nominee-to-be Mitt Romney back in the 80's and 90's.
"Do you think that it is accidental," Rush bloviated, "that the name of the really vicious fire breathing four eyed whatever it is villain in this movie is named Bane?"  
(I know that films based on comics often take a lot of liberties with the source material, but does DKR's Bane really have four eyes and breathe fire?  If so, I have got to see this movie!)
While I am familiar with the concept of rhetorical questions, this one deserves an answer.  It is not "accidental" that the film's villain is named Bane.  Few screenplays are written by accident.  It is, however, completely coincidental that the villain's name sounds like the name of Romney's former employer.  
It has, of course, been repeatedly pointed out elsewhere in cyber-land that the character of Bane was created in 1993, long before Mitt Romney even got into politics, much less thought of running for  President.  More germane to to this so-called controversy, however, is that DKR director Christopher Nolan apparently conceived of his Batman films as a trilogy right from the start.  Therefore, it is likely that he had the whole series, including Bane's appearance in the final installment, mapped out before the cameras even rolled on Batman Begins.  That film hit theaters in 2005, three years before Romney's first, unsuccessful quest for the GOP nomination.
Anyway, Rush seems to think that people are going to see this film and come to associate Mitt Romney with a comic book super-villain.  Maybe he's got a point.  After all, I believe it was legendary showman P.T. Barnum who said that no one ever went  broke by underestimating the intelligence of the American people.  (...which sort of sounds like it could be Rush's motto, come to think of it.)  And aren't the voters of this nation so easily misled that four years ago they were tricked into electing a Kenyan-born Muslim Socialist to be their leader?
Because of Rush's comments, Chuck Dixon, writer of Vengeance of Bane, the character's debut appearance, has felt the need to defend himself by asserting that he and VoB artist Graham Nolan are two of the comics industry's staunchest conservatives.
That got me to wondering about something.  If Nolan really is the rock-ribbed Republican that Dixon says he is, how did he feel about drawing Hawkworld, a comic with a unabashedly liberal point of view?   He probably, I suppose, viewed it as just another job.  There's certainly no indication in the issues he drew that he was giving the assignment any less than his best effort. 
I've noted before that there seems to be something almost inherently right wing in the very concept of the super-hero.  This sort of makes me wonder why I remain a fan of the genre.  According to a quiz that I recently took on Facebook, my own political views would appear to be more in line with those of the Presidential candidate of the Green Party.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

THIS Is The Best You Got? Seriously?!?

It has often been observed that prior to John Byrne's 1986 revamp of the character, Superman had become so ridiculously powerful that it was difficult for the writers to come up with credible challenges for him.  To me, that sounds like a lame excuse for churning out mediocre stories.  Still, I suppose there is some truth to it. If Superman #299 is any indication, it certainly seems to have been nigh impossible for Silver and Bronze Age writers to come up with decent villains for him to fight.
"The Double-Or-Nothing Life of Superman" was written by Cary Bates and Elliot S! Maggin and drawn, it pretty much goes without saying as we are talking about 1970's Superman here, by Curt Swan with inks by Bob Oksner. It is the concluding chapter of a four part epic (that should probably be in quotes) centered around the machinations of Clark Kent's mysterious neighbor, Mr. Xavier.  It turns out that Mr. Xavier is really Xviar, an agent of an unnamed alien planet referred to only as "Homeworld" which plans to destroy the Earth in order to make way for a hyperspace by-pass, because, of course, "by-passes have to be built."  
That is not just a random Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy allusion that I threw in just for the heck of it.  It's the actual plot of the story.  Ok, so Bates and Maggin don't call it a "hyperspace by-pass".  Instead, its a "teleportation route", but the basic effect is the same. 
Anyway, as part of his plan to use Superman's powers to destroy the planet, Xviar rounds up Superman's "9 Deadliest Foes".  There's a panel early in the issue where the villains are all convened in Clark Kent's apartment before being dispersed to the far corners of the globe by Xviar. (Funny that none of them questioned why they were summoned to that particular apartment and put two and two together to deduce that Clark Kent just might be Superman.)
Those gathered include:
  1. Lex Luthor
  2. Brainiac
  3. The Parasite
  4. Terra-Man
  5. The Toyman
  6. The Prankster
  7. Mr. Mxyzptlk
  8. The Kryptonite Man
  9. Amalak
This bunch of clowns are Superman's deadliest foes?
Seriously?  
Ok, Luthor, the Parasite and Brainiac I can buy. They are legitimate bad asses. The rest, however, are kind of lame.  Who's even heard of Amalak?  If he was really one of the Man of Steel's "deadliest foes," how come he didn't rate even half a page in Who's Who?  Furthermore, I've never really thought of Mxyzptlk as a "fearsome super-villain" but as more of a pain in the tuchus.
And why only nine? Was Superman's Rogue's Gallery really so weak that Bates and Maggin couldn't even muster a top ten?  
If they were having a lame villain convention, maybe they should have invited Whirlicane, so named because he is "dual master of whirlwind and hurricane!" as he tells us in #303.  I don't think Blackrock had been created yet, but he would have fit right in with this pack of losers.  The same goes for the Purple Pile-Driver. (No. I did not just make him up.)
You might be wondering why Bizarro and Metallo didn't make the scene.  Without asking Bates or Maggin, I cannot account for Bizarro's absence.  Metallo, on the other hand, was at the time spending a few years dead for tax purposes.  (That, by the way, IS a Hitchhiker's reference.  More specifically, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.)
Actually, the original Metallo would remain dead. About a year later, Martin Pasko would create a new Metallo, the brother of the first one.  He also brought back from comics limbo Titano the Super-Ape, who would have fit right in with crowd listed above, though he might not have fit into Clark's apartment.