Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Batman 1966!

Recently finished the first season of the legendary Batman TV show from the halcyon days of the swingin' 60's. Of course I've seen the show off and on over the decades but I was not much of a fan at the time of its original airing, though I did catch a few here and there. Mostly I came to the show in reruns, but this is the first time I've been able to watch the show with an eye for its tropes and how they developed over time.

Several things surprised me. Batman looks better than my memory suggested, in fact despite the distinct lack of muscles Adam West nonetheless came across as a reasonably fit guy who had the misfortune to wear a costume which begged to showcase weaknesses in physique. In the first season at least, he comes across reasonably well, though poor Burt Ward did have a downright goofy costume to manage.

The secret to this show is that despite its humor, which is played a little bit down in the first season, the heroes are absolutely not in on the joke. There's no winking from the far side of the tube as Batman and Robin face up against the usual gang of villainy.

I was surprised how much Frank Gorshin's delightful Riddler dominated the first season, showing up for four stories and eight episodes of the thirty-four produced. Penguin and Joker tie for second place with three stories and six episodes each. Mr. Freeze, Mad Hatter, and False-Face all clock in with one story and two episodes each, while created-for-TV-villains Zelda, King Tut, and Bookworm do likewise. The biggest surprise to me aside from the Riddler's dominance was that the iconic Catwoman (called "The Catwoman" I noticed) played by Julie Newmar only had a single story, a mere two episodes.

I noticed that as the season progressed the humor started to broaded just a bit, with more overt social commentary coming into play. Only one of the famous window cameos showed up in the debut season, by Jerry Lewis. That might well be the marker for the show beginning to lose the little bit of edge it retained.

The jokes of the show in these early stories is that the comic stories adapted to the screen (as they might've been done in the comics) really do come off as wildly absurd on a fundamental level, but they don't work unless the players all buy in. The earliest episodes have little of this, though it does twinkle a bit here and there (Batusi anyone?).

This season led directly into the feature and I have that queued up to watch next.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Knock Out Artwork!

Above is the amazing Neal Adams cover for the once-in-a-lifetime meeting between Superman and Muhammad Ali. Several years ago I fulfilled a lifelong goal and got my mitts on a copy of this iconic comic magazine from the Bronze Age.

And this fact is certainly something I knew but had totally forgotten. Joe Kubert, the maestro of many a  DC comic book cover was the first guy tapped to have a go at the historic clash. But apparently by all reports the folks in the Ali camp did not cotton to the artwork supplied by Kubert. Looking at it above, it's hard to fathom what they might've objected to, since the image is amazingly energetic. Possibly they felt that the Ali figure was not sufficiently recognizable.

Anyway, the job was shifted about and eventually Neal Adams was given the gig. His cover art clearly retained the layout from the Kubert original but added a multitude of famous faces where Kubert merely renedered a crowd. This Sgt.Pepper-izing of the image did elevate the cover from merely a great strong image to a time capsule of sorts of pop culture of the day.

The original Kubert was used later by Jim Steranko in his Mediascene magazine and the energy of the art is even more evident. The sheer lushness of Kurbert's strokes always impress me.

The best look I had of this comic for many years was this ad featuring the Adams version of the final cover. Beautiful work by some top tier talent for sure.

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Legionnaires' Reprise!

This is at last "My Legion"! With the publication of the most recent Showcase volume, DC has at long last gotten around to the ground-breaking issues of Superboy in which Dave Cockrum revived the Legion of Super-Heroes with hip new costume designs and a slick new look to the future in which they operated. Quickly the feature (as it had once before in Adventure Comics many years before) caught the imaginations of readers and took over the somewhat moribund Superboy comic.

But as quick as he arrived Cockrum left to head on over to Marvel where he'd pull the same trick with the X-Men. Let there be no doubt, Dave Cockrum saved both these teams with his chic sense of design, he took teams which screamed 60's and surged them forward giving them a gloss of the modern which redefined them visually. Mike Grell stepped in and took the reins of the Legion and while his awkward anatomy has always been a problem for me, he nonetheless successfully channeled what Cockrum had begun. Likewise John Byrne would pick up the mantle at the X-Men and take them forward, but always within the visual outlines of Cockrum's designs.

These stories (mostly written by Cary Bates and later legendary Legion scribe Jim Shooter) clicked with me immediately when I was beginning as a young reader to sample what lay beyond the Marvel Universe. It will be a hoot to read these stories again and travel at once both back in time and forward into a future which (for a while anyway) really looked and felt like the future.

Here are the issues in this volume which includes also the debut issue of Karate Kid.

Added to these volumes below, the whole Legion saga is at our fingertips. The artwork might be black and white, but the imagination in these yarns is brightly colored indeed.

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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Superman Of Two Worlds!

During the Bronze Age DC Comics tapped longtime Aquaman artist Nick Cardy to do most of their covers giving the whole line a warm and friendly look. Cardy came up with some truly memorable images, though his style seemed less well suited to Batman who always looked a bit too chummy when Cardy drew him, at least compared to the stern image developed by Neal Adams about the same time.

But while Cardy's style might not have been ideal for Batman, it was exactly that for Superman. Cardy produced some fantastic covers for Superman and especially Action Comics. Many of these touched on the Superman mythology in a somewhat winking way, if not breaking the famous Fourth Wall, then certainly denting it.

The cover above does just that with a young boy clearly an adoring fan of the Man of Steel, so much so that he is surrounded by some somewhat generic but still oddly specific Superman books and other ancillary material.

At the same time the boy looks at the poster in his room of the Man of Tomorrow, Superman flies by his window adopting a pose very reminiscent of a classic pose used by Neal Adams on a particularly impressive cover of the comic.

That same pose is used on a record album which features some of the vintage Superman radio adventures from decades gone by. Looking at the floor of the boy's room and you can see perhaps this very album.

Another book on his floor might well be the Bonanza volume above, the only book of the correct vintage which I can locate to serve the purpose.

On the wall you can see a simplified version of this fascinating Map of Krypton.

And almost certainly this Amazing World of Superman is on the floor also.

The poster I can find no match for, the only poster of the correct vintage I've found is this zingy one with Superman expressing his desire for peace in our time, or is that victory.

Cardy drew a lot of great Superman images, some of my favorites. Here are some which push at the Fourth Wall just a bit.

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