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:
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:

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

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

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

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

"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.