Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Savage Wars!

Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon is a remarkable achievement. Not only has the now venerable Image Comic lasted for a few hundred issues, it's had an amazing consistency rarely matched in the field. Most creators drift away from even their most successful creations and allow other hands to take over the day to day, but Larsen has demonstrated a will to stand fast which is all too rare. I have to admit I've not followed the series, but recently when I was doing a tour of the cover gallery for the series I was impressed. And I stumbled across the very familiar cover image above for the two hundredth issue.

Clearly that image is an homage (and a noted one for sure) to this classic Jack "King" Kirby image showing Cap and Bucky kicking Nazi ass as they were wont to do back in the day.

This pencil image first appeared in the first volume of Jim Steranko's influential, incomplete, and visually impressive History of Comics.

Here's the original Kirby image graced with the inking of the late Dave Stevens. It's a keeper for certain. 

And here is a full-frontal image of the Savage Dragon cover sans the logo and other accoutrements we associate with such publications. Beauties!

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Power Of The Daleks!

The Power of the Daleks is a curious bit of entertainment. It's a recreation of a lost story from the vast Doctor Who catalog. Apparently the BBC in a stunning bit of forward thinking erased a number of the vintage Doctor Who episodes so they re-use the magnetic tape the shows were recorded on. This splendid bit of insight has created a chasm in the Doctor Who lore with many of the vintage shows with the First and Second Doctors being completely or partially missing. The Power of the Daleks is one of the latter -- six episodes of a story which has been completely erased. Now they do have a soundtrack and that's the basis for this recreation. That original sound has been bonded with an animated recreation of the action which blends together to give something altogether different.

(Real Doctor Who and Companions Ben and Polly)
Patrick Troughton is the Second Doctor Who, taking on the role from the First Doctor William Hartnell. This first transition from one Doctor the next must have been a mighty event and it was neat to see this initial adventure. The Doctor's companions in this one are Ben and Polly and frankly that have little to do in this story (besides get captured and bicker a bit).

(Animated Doctor Who and Companions Ben and Polly)
The story is set on an Earth colony called Vulcan which as the story opens has just found a spaceship which holds three inert Daleks. An unwise scientist named Lesterson thinks these remarkable robots might be useful to the colony, which is under pressure from its masters to produce and from its population to improve conditions. There is much inner political strife between the Governor and his various subordinates and the Doctor gets involved when they think he's a visiting official who had been murdered before the Doctor's eyes. He uses this authority to gain access to the colony and attempt to exert control when he understands the threat the Daleks pose. He's unsuccessful of course and the Daleks are not only reanimated but begin to increase their numbers and the colony itself suffers an existential threat.

(Animated Daleks)
It's all good and rather typical Doctor Who fun but the gloss of the animation does make the watching a bit of a different experience. The humanoid characters are animated in a limited way which gives them limited motion  (especially when they try to walk -- South Park anyone?) but the movement of the Daleks is downright eerie. The animation does a superior job of giving the dastardly alien cyborg machines a convincing gloss and their silent motions are as effective as any I've seen for them in any Who adventure.

It's all rather typical for Who fans, but I found it very diverting. Recommended.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

The Silver Age Of Comic Book Art!

When The Silver Age of Comic Book Art by Arlen Schumer hit the bookshelves over a decade ago I admit I was intrigued by a book a which placed some of my favorite comic artists in such high esteem. As Schumer points out in his introduction, this is not a book about the Silver Age, the Silver Age heroes, nor even the Silver Age companies Marvel and DC.

Rather this is a distilled look (emphasis on look) the artwork which graced the narrative filled pages of the finest Silver Age books. Each of the primary artists identified is given several pages (both Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby get the most) showcasing artwork from various periods of their careers. The art is transformed and rearranged to make that which is sometimes all too familiar to us fans fresh and exciting all over again.

The other artists in addition to Ditko and Kirby highlighted are Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Gene Colan, Jim Steranko and Neal Adams. Also given a few pages each in a separate section called "More Masters" are Murphy Anderson, John Buscema, Nick Cardy, Curt Swan, and Wally Wood. That's a lot of great talent packed into what feels like very few pages. It's impressive.

This book apparently inspired by classics such as Jules Fieffers' The Comic Book Heroes and Jim Steranko's The History of Comics and began as a scheme for an art gallery presentation and that's really what the book feels like as you amble through its pages.

Here are some samples of what the pages (almost all presented as double-page spreads of one sort or other) look like. Enjoy!

I picked up this book for tiny money. I wouldn't pop for it at the original fifty dollar asking price, but if you can find it for a discount snap it up. It ain't just one comics lore volume to add to the dozens already out there. This is something different, something special. There is a revised edition out now, but I haven't seen that one.

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Incredible Hulk - The Monster And The Machine!

In the fourth issue of The Incredible Hulk by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers, we are treated to a pair of stories which again alter the status quo of the character.

In the first tale we see Rick Jones administering more gamma radiation to the figure of the Hulk in an effort to return him to his Bruce Banner state and that works, but it comes with a side effect that the Hulk, who had for a short time been essentially an automaton under the direction of Rick acquires some degree of intellect from the Banner side of his existence. But it's clear that while the Hulk retains some degree of intelligence, there is also a hostile and antagonistic aspect to his personality. In the story the Hulk ends up helping out some folks in emergencies but his bellicose attitude is not especially that of a humble hero.

In the second tale this new Hulk encounters an alien invader named Mongu who arrives dramatically and calls for a champion to appear and represent Earth in a battle for its very freedom. Bruce Banner sees this and transforms into the Hulk and challenges Mongu. It is quickly revealed that Mongu is a sham, a robot operated by a Soviet operative named Boris Monguski and it is revealed that this all was a rather unclear scheme to capture the Hulk and return him behind the Iron Curtain. The Hulk though is able to pretty much mop up the soldiers who try to capture him and the military soon arrives to take charge of the Russian soldiers and the  MIG fighter which they had disguised as a spaceship. Meanwhile Rick helps Bruce Banner back to the underground cell to keep him safe.

So within a mere four issues the premise of the series had been altered up in each issue, as Stan and Jack seemed clearly to be uncertain what they wanted the Hulk to be. The tone of this issue at least was consistent with the previous one, though unlike both the first two issues. The role of Rick is somewhat diminished in this issue after his dominant role in the third issue.

But it's not over. To be Hulkinued next week as this new somewhat smarter Hulk goes beneath the Earth .

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Incredible Hulk - The Ringmaster!

The early issues of The Incredible Hulk offer a somewhat different take on the core concept each and every issue. In the first issue we had an emotional classic sci-fi tale about a man who is transformed against his will into a creature of great might and the in the second we get a hair-raising and somewhat hare-brained goofy sci-fi tale of alien invasion. The third issue offers up something else yet again. The focus in the series really shifts a bit to Rick Jones who through no great planning comes to be in control of the power of the Hulk.

In the first story Rick is convinced by General Thunderbolt Ross to lure the Hulk onto a rocket ship for the good of his country. He has been told that only the Hulk can survive the test vehicle's trip but then he discovers it was a ruse to send the Hulk into deep space. That plan fails when the Hulk's ship encounters a belt of radiation which seems to augment and alter the Hulk's body and since Rick was attempting to communicate with him runs down those lines of communication and stings Rick as well. When the Hulk's ship crashes he emerges and is discovered by Rick who learns that now the two of them have a bond and he can control the behemoth.

The second story reprises the origin in a sleek three pages by means of Rick's reflection. It's an economical way to keep new fans up to date and is very effective.

The third story introduces The Ringmaster and his circus of crime. While Rick Jones sits watch outside the underground chamber in which the Hulk is imprisoned, the Circus of Crime invades a small town and after the Ringmaster has hypnotized everyone, they rob them blind. They move on to the next town where Rick, taking a break, finds it and looks to relax. He is hypnotized and that brings the Hulk who is also brought under the Ringmaster's spell and even performs as an attraction. But that doesn't last and the Hulk ends up causing havoc and the FBI finally arrive to sweep up the criminals. The story ends with Thunderbolt Ross crying out that he shall capture the Hulk but it's futile as Rick atop his Gamma buddy heads off into the sunset.

There is almost no Bruce Banner in this one. The conflict between the Hulk and Banner is largely dismissed and the trauma this time is centered around Rick Jones. I don't know to what extent the convoluted solution to have a teenager in control of the Hulk was intended to be the new paradigm of the series, but it's a strange change from both of the previous issues.

But hang on as things change yet again. To be Hulkinued.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Dipping Into Deadpool!

Truth told, it's entirely possible I might not have seen Deadpool the movie for a very very long time. I didn't feel compelled to see it in the theater, I didn't feel compelled to get it on DVD, and I doubt that it will be on regular TV for some time (if ever). But I got a copy of the DVD for Christmas and I'm very grateful I did. It's a howler of a good movie, slick and clever and frenetically paced.

My only experience with Deadpool was when he turned up in those tiresome New Mutants comics by Rob Liefeld. He seemed at the time just one more overly designed bad-ass wannabe character among an avalanche of such types which fell upon us in those days. I found the name memorable because of the Dirty Harry movie but beyond that very little about him stuck. I quit the X-Men and later all new Marvel and so was only aware of the success of the character from a remote distance, not one which allowed me to have much real appreciation of the character.

But that's not quite true. I did see Deadpool as part of the ensemble around Logan in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. As portrayed by Ryan Reynolds he did stand out and became a significant part of that movie. I got the sense at the time that his many fans were not especially happy with the version which showed up in this movie, but since I only really knew maybe half the mutants on display in this story it was fine by me.

(I must confess I almost bought this one when I saw it one the stands just for the cover.)
And it appears Ryan Reynolds was not happy either as he pushed to have this Deadpool movie made. And I"m glad he did. The "Merc with a Mouth" as he's apparently called made for a fun adults-only movie which added a neat smear to the whole superhero genre. Reynolds is the heart and soul of this movie and without him it doesn't happen, pure and simple. As miscast as he was as Green Lantern, he's ideal for this role. But then he seems to agree with that. His snarky Deadpool put me in mind of his Hannibal King character in Blade:Trinity, a rather underrated movie in my opinion.

The first hour or so of this movie is a delight, bristling with witty dialogue and structured in such a way as to not really to allow the audience to slip too far away from the moment at hand. It's a dandy bit of movie-making. Sadly the last half hour is less stellar and the movie falls flat just a little bit though the ending has just a nifty mix of mirth and romance.

One weakness is the villain Ajax who seemed by my expectations a great henchman, but who somehow lacked the verve to rise above that status. I kept waiting for another baddie to emerge from the shadows, but then I realized that this guy was it.  His sidekick named Angel Dust was actually a bit more interesting when all things are considered.

The appearance of Colossus was fun though far afield from his more sedate presentation in the earlier X-Men movies. But I"m fine with that and the newbie named (and I had to look this up) "Negasonic Teenage Warhead" was just fine. I wanted more, but as Deadpool himself lamented, maybe the budget wasn't up to it.

So in the end Deadpool is a movie with a real neat blend of funny and fight, a film that doesn't expect much of its audience other than rapt attention and a willingness to forget that these X-Men movies are supposed to be serious endeavors. This one ain't and that's dandy.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Most Special Agent!

As far as I can tell I've wrapped up my multi-year exploration of the Gerry Anderson TV shows. It's been a weird and wonderful trip for the most part, as I've moved beyond my boyhood fascination with Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and Stingray to examine not only Space:1999 and UFO (two shows I also watched on the tube) but also Thunderbirds, Fireball XL-5, and Supecar. There was one pure "Supermarionation" show left and despite it looking decidedly sleepy I rolled the dice and picked up Joe 90. Overall I'm glad I did.

(Joe 90 in BIG RAT)
This is show which has some significant flaws but there's enough of the Anderson studio magic to make it worthwhile. Joe 90 is in fact a nine-year old boy named Joe McClaine who becomes the subject of his scientist Dad's experiments in brain manipulation. Sounds pretty gruesome put that way, but in some significant ways this is a gruesome show. The setting is the early 21st Century and the world is united under a single sprawling government and policed to some extent by W.I.N. (World Intelligence Network) who are represented in the series by Agent Sam Loover and Commander Shane Weston. Using a trippy device dubbed BIG RAT (Brain Impulse Galvanoscope Record And Transfer) to transfer the brain patterns of one human into the brain of another Doctor Ian McClaine attempts to move science ahead. Instead his son gets fixed for the affair and after that becomes a double agent, often called a "Most Special Agent" because who would believe a nine year old was a deadly secret agent. Lots of high tech hijinks ensue and we have a show.

(Sam Loover, Dr. McClaine and Joe)
But it's a pretty sleepy show and after the first several episodes the special nature of Joe gets lost a lot. Why he's called "Joe 90" is open to debate but it's a name Gerry Anderson cottoned to. Joe saves people from deadly scenarios (Thunderbirds) fights deadly foreign agents (Captain Scarlet) and jets around in a nifty futuristic car of his Dad's design which looks like nothing else on the road and flies to boot (Supercar). In fact of all the shows this late 60's show resembles to me was Supercar, though seeming to add more sophisticated characterization with more human-like puppets. Sadly they end up having less character than the zany cartoonish Supercar characters and prove in the end to be less compelling.

(The Jet-Air Car)
Captain Scarlet looked similar but was driven by a heavy dark atmosphere and a high-tech continued threat which gave it an epic quality. Joe 90 is more episodic and the danger while often lethal feels less robust. Joe does in fact shoot and kill a few folks along the way, something I imagine would raise some hackles these days. Some have suggested this is a boy's fantasy and I'm good with that as a general premise, but it doesn't make the show any better for being correctly identified. This one falls into the near-miss category for me, full of some interesting spectacle from time to time, but laboring under some rather dull lead characters.

Still and all it was diverting and even a weaker Anderson show is still a cut above many others.

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