Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tohope And Change - The Mysterians!

The Mysterians is one of the great titles in all of the history of film. I immediately want to know what they are, who they are, what they want. Well it turns out that they are aliens who have come to Earth covertly to steal women to help reinvigorate their declining population. It's not a novel motivation for aliens, as we've known that Mars and other planets need women for women time. Women are certainly something that many of us want. But Ishiro Honda's The Mysterians presents this hoary theme with no small amount of imagination and vigor.

Honda's message in The Mysterians is simple. Mankind must put aside its petty differences and worth together in harmony to fend off greater threats from beyond. There's a naive elegance to the idea, but it's aspirational simplicity demands attention, at least in my eye. We fight among ourselves here, with often terrifying consequences, but we much quench those pugnacious passions to achieve greater goods as our footprints begin to spread into the depths of space. This was a real goal in the time when The Mysterians was made, though sadly the world has grown all too inward looking in past decades to really and truly reach for the stars.

More to come.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Tohope And Change - Rodan!

Rodan is one of my favorite Kaiju movies. Though it doesn't star Godzilla and though Rodan himself is not the sexiest of monsters, the movie succeeds on the sheer strength of really good storytelling. Rodan does the best job since Godzilla itself of presenting strong well developed characters who are involved with one another before they are drawn into the larger melee of monster madness. The story of Rodan is brilliant in that we begin with a small mystery, a horror yarn really about killings in the depths of a wonderfully realized coal mine. This yarn spins out with great attention to detail before the threads of the larger tale become clearly seen by one and all. When Rodan appears there are still more surprises to see, not the least of which is the that there are two. This is a movie which does a fine job of keeping the watcher engaged on all levels.

Rodan holds up exceedingly well after all these years because it is so very well constructed as a story of horror and threat. Rodan's power of producing enormous winds is one aspect of the bomb which was not included in the elegantly designed Godzilla himself, the shock wave is terrifying. Since the Rodans are once again products of radiation, the sins of man come back to haunt him quite literally as the skies become havens for threats. Watching the skies is a warning about space aliens, but of course it's really a shout out to be aware of pugnacious neighbors right here are on Earth who would do us harm. The Japanese, and Honda were all too aware of the nightmare which can arrive via the air.

More to come.

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Monday, June 18, 2018

Tohope And Change - Godzilla Raids Again!

Godzilla Raids Again (called more evocatively Gigantis, the Fire Monster in the United States) is in many ways the least of the many Godzilla movies which have been made. It's certainly a dandy tale and if it had not been created in the shadow of its awesome predecessor would be considered what it in the final analysis it actually is -- a perfectly fine monster movie. Godzilla Raids Again is the most like the other monster movies which tumbled onto big screens after the enormous success of Godzilla. The movie has much more in common with Gorgo, The Giant Behemoth, Reptilicus, and suchlike. We have a giant monster which does enormous damage which is ultimately defeated by the courage and even sacrifice of brave men or women.

That's the template for a monster movie. The behemoth threat is really a cauldron in which people burn and ultimately reveal themselves. Those that rise to the challenge are deemed heroic. Those that don't are deemed somewhat less. That's what happens in this movie about a "new" Godzilla  which rises out of the ice to threaten Japan once again but who is ultimately defeated by the real hero of the story, the man we'd imagined was only the comedy relief. This is  Honda's trick in this story, them misdirection of who the story is about and it is the one real surprise in a movie which is all too commonplace.

More to come.

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Sunday, June 17, 2018

Tohope And Change - Godzilla!

For the last several years after testing has wound down in the last days of the year I have shared the original movie Gojira with my students. I feel that's worthwhile to share with students a foreign-language black and white movie which promotes very serious themes. Those themes are a rejection of war and a sincere desire for peace built on the idea that such a dream is only supported by sacrifice of individual citizens.

That utopian dream is one held by the director of Godzilla -- Ishiro Honda. I was much impressed by the message of world peace which defines the original Godzilla movie and I am always moved, nearly to tears by the lovely "Prayer of Peace" which ultimately motivates the suffering Doctor Serikawka to destroy the monster, his work and ultimately himself in order that the world might survive one more day. Honda's movies all seem to have this sublime notion that mankind can indeed find another way forward, that people can work together to beat monsters or make the world better for everyone. Wishing to drench myself in the hope of Honda as opposed to the dreary news of the real world, I have been watching in order as many of his movies as I have in my possession and took steps to increase that hoard. Over the next few weeks I will be offering small reflections on many if not most of those delightful movies from Godzilla's Showa period.

The first is of course Godzilla. I grew up having only ever seen Godzilla - King of Monsters starring Raymond Burr. As entertaining as it is, the original has the power and majesty of Honda's message and presents that message of a world order which rejects the danger and damage of atomic weapons with a quiet potency. As I try to explain to my students, Godzilla is the atomic bomb, a fantasy recreation of arguably the greatest horror ever unleashed on mankind. He's an implacable force which demands death and destruction. Honda's direction along with Eji Tsubaraya's special effects and Akira Ifukube's masterful music blend to give the world a work of art which like Picasso's Guernica demands that the horror of war be confronted. The sacrifices required to end the threat of Godzilla in this cinematic debut are the absolute extreme. A man gives his life for others, so that the world will continue to be after he is gone and the movie ends with the prayer that world will learn and improve itself. It's a vain hope alas, but a hope worth having and one which Ishiro Honda continued to have in his many movies of the Showa era.

Escapism at its finest. More to come.

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Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Day In The Anti-Life - Reign Of Error!

In recent months I have made conscious attempts to steer away from news coverage of our loathsome "so-called" President and instead tried to fill my life with more uplifting presentations. The daily assaults on truth, honesty, integrity, and honor which flow from the White House daily make me ashamed to be an American citizen. I did not vote for the odious Trump, but so many of my kith and kin did that I feel responsible still that we have allowed such a troll to occupy the highest office in our land. He is keenly unfit for office, a fact revealed almost hourly as he spews venom in all directions save Russia's oligarch-in-chief and other enemies of freedom across the globe. That this creature has taken hold of our government is awful enough, but that he is supported in so many quarters is what frightens me most.

I was confident that even if the vile Trump did attempt his tricks that eventually even his fellow Republicans would rise up against his worst outrages, especially after having gotten their long-sought tax cuts. But still they quiver, putting political expediency ahead of moral courage and true patriotism. Instead of curbing the excesses of our "so-called" leader, they lick his boots and echo his words in moronic chants which serve to undermine the rational application of governmental forces. We are in feuds with our staunchest allies in wars past and embrace enemies who are proven murderers many times over. Virtue is ridiculed and crime is overlooked as the sociopath who preens in the White House equates the murder and suppression of innocents with mere political gamesmanship. His ignorance is breathtaking, even now after months, years even of listening to his prattling nonsense.

What I see clearly now is that no amount of rational discussion and fact checking is going to sway someone who believes in the lies of Donald Trump. His "cult" as it as been identified by some, is built on emotions and in many cases very ugly ones. I don't condemn all who voted for him, because that would suggest that voters who have been told by candidates for decades that it was wise to treat Mexican immigration as a top-tier crime wave and that putting the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is a good idea wanted someone who would actually follow through. Lies have been promulgated for years and years and it was and is the responsibility of leaders to tell their people the truth, even the hard truth. If that had been done, then a Trump would never have found the fodder with which he could kindle the fire which burns through our national governance.

To escape the noxious fumes of the daily news I have taken to fiction, movies in particular to find messages more uplifting than the lies which tumble out of  my own American government. What that particular fiction is I will discuss tomorrow.

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Dojo Classics - Charlton's E-Man In The Bullseye!

As promised several months after the cancellation of the E-Man regular series, stories did begin to appear in The Charlton Bullseye. After a cover-shot on The Charlton Bullseye Volume 3 Number 2 he would get a full story eventually.

The Charlton Bullseye Volume 3, issue 4 of the fanzine published by CPL/Gang Publications showed up in the spring of 1976. The fanzine was edited by Bob Layton. The color cover for this black and white magazine is by Joe Staton.

"...And Why the Sea is Boiling Hot" was written by Nicola "Nick" Cuti and drawn by Joe Staton. The story begins with E-Man and Nova on duty disguised as water buoys in the ocean. They are part of an investigation in conjunction with Michael Mauser and the military to investigate the disappearance of ships and aircraft in this area of the ocean. They soon detect what seems to be a ghostly galleon flying the Jolly Roger, the symbol of piracy. They board the ship and discover that it is powered by alien technology but then they are attacked by classic pirates armed with rayguns which send them both confused and dazed into the sea. Nova recovers and spies a weird submarine which she follows into a cavernous dock and to escape detection she pretends to be a bat, but not before she is slightly wounded. After some confusion E-Man appears and the two of them join forces to fight off the aliens who seem to want only Earth's resources as any pirate might. Implementing Plan 25 Nova and E-Man bond their mass to become a great cannon which allows them to fight through to the ghostly alien galleon. They commandeer the craft but are chased by the alien subs. They lead the aliens into the air above the ocean where Mauser is waiting as well as General Dove along with a squadron of military fighters who engage the aliens. The Earth appears to be save again but as Mauser notes man continues to pollute this world he claims to treasure.

To read this story in its original form see this groovy link.

This story was reprinted by First Comics in 1986 and later in E-Man - The Early Years. But there was another story included in these reprints.

There is a blurb in the "The Charlton News" section that E-Man will appear in every other issue but alas this single story is the only one to see print since The Charlton Bullseye ceases publication after the very next issue.

But another story was already prepared for publication. It would not see print for many years.

In 1985 and 1986 First Comics made an effort to put all of the E-Man material into print again in a series of comics which combined stories from the E-Man title and also Michael Mauser stories from Vengeance Squad. The stories done for The Charlton Bullseye were also included and that counted a story done for the Bullseye but never published.

That story titled "Vamfire" was written by Nicola Cuti and drawn by Joe Staton. Bob Layton is listed as editor and Wendy Fiore did the colors for the reprint, though the original would've been published in black and white.

The tale begins way back when E-Man himself was first created when a distant sun went nova and spewed out the energy packet which would become E-Man. Another packet of energy was also released, this one of a more "vampiric" nature which followed the first through space eating up the trail of energy left behind. Eventually after a vast number of years the second packet finds its way to Earth and trails the energy to a meager dinner named "Joe and Nicks" run by two familiar faces and who cater to Nova Kane who powers up their neon sign with her energy powers. Thinking this is the energy trail it has been following for so long the alien assumes a shape similar to Nova's and adopts the name "Vamfire".


New York City is struck by a plague of power outages caused by the alien. But when Vamfire tries to feed from an atomic energy plant at Minnesota Flats she runs into Nova who is trying to locate the cause of the power failures. The two fight and Vamfire learns that Nova is not the energy creature she had followed all those years, but an Earth woman who as it turns out has a stiff uppercut which stuns Vamfire. E-Man appears and applauds Nova's handling of Vamfire's threat and realizes that she must be something akin to his sister, a thought that disturbs Nova and bemuses Vamfire.

To learn more about Vamfire check out this link.

These final E-Man stories done in some manner under the Charlton banner have a more tongue-in-cheek character than the original ones in the regular series. Nick Cuti seems to know of course that he's now writing to a pure fanboy audience and that he can play even more with the conventions of the form.

The Vamfire story seems very much a story for fans, with Nick Cuti and Joe Staton even making cameos in the story. Vamfire seems not so much an actual threat as an excuse to concoct a tale. The story lack any of the real tension that even the funniest of the originals had in some small measure. But it's still a hoot of a story.

One of the clearest examples of playing to the fanboy audience is in the first story from Bulleye in which Nova responds to a comment E-Man makes about the color of some object being confusing because they are now in black and white. I noted that when this story was reprinted in the First Comics series with color, that comment and the bubble it was contained in were eliminated, the only change of such a type that I noticed in those reprints. This wording was returned in the E-Man trade reprint.

It's too bad that Bullseye couldn't have continued and so give us more E-Man stories. But then if Charlton hadn't collapsed then the property wouldn't have been available for First to make use of. While most fans think the 80's E-Man series is inferior to the Charlton run (myself included) it did free E-Man from the servitude in endless cheap reprints most of the Charlton canon fell into when the properties were sold off to Richard Broughton and his ACG/Avalon brands. Along with the "Action Heroes" which went to DC and a few others like Thunderbolt which fell to its creator PAM, E-Man found a way to stay alive popping up every few years here and there. First, Comico, Alpha, Digital Webbing, Twomorrows, and most recently AC Comics under the Charlton Neo brand, have all taken a swing at an E-Man story. In addition E-Man has shown up in all sorts of benefit books over the years. The character is a bit of an icon to indie comics, a pioneer project which seems never to quite thrive, but never quite disappear, though reports indicate the last E-Man story has dropped.

The character touched a nerve with us happy lucky few who stumbled across him all those decades ago now. His smiling mug gave superheroes a happy face when one was sorely needed, in a decade which reminds me much of modern times. A war which seems to grind on ceaselessly and an economy which teeters day to day are stresses which make readers relish a sunny diversion. E-Man by Cuti and Staton is the very tonic!

"E is for Engery...E is for E-Man - From the the ridiculous, from hurling pure energy with his bare lurking in a light bulb/ E-Man's fantastic ability to all the forms of energy makes him a formidable foe of Evil!!"

Thanks Nick! Thanks Joe!

SPECIAL NOTE: This concludes our E-Man coverage for this month. I had originally planned to continue reviewing (albeit less comprehensively) the E-Man stories from First, Comico, Alpha, and others, but frankly I'm enjoying reading these stories and will finish the run, but I don't at this moment have much more to say. These E-Man comics are among my most prized and the E-Man books that have dribbled out over the decades are remarkable in many respects. Maybe later I'll feel like tearing into them with more vigor. But right now, my mind is on other things. More tomorrow.

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Dojo Classics - Charlton's E-Man #10

E-Man Volume 3, Number 10 is dated September, 1975. It was published by Charlton Publications, Inc. The editor is George Wildman. The cover was painted by Joe Staton. To get a glimpse of what else was on the stands when this issue hit take a look at this amazing link.

"The Witch of Hog Wallow" was written by Nicola "Nick" Cuti, drawn by Joe Staton with colors by Wendy Fiore. The story begins in the apartment of Nova Kane and Alec (E-Man) Tronn when E-Man is reading a fairy tale to the unusually intelligent koala bear Teddy. Nova bursts into the room and blasts E-Man angry and wanting to know why a beautiful blonde woman named Maisy-June is wishing to come and visit her old friend. E-Man calms the jealous Nova by relating a story that happened soon after he came to Earth but before he met her. He too the form of a fawn and wondered the woods looking for friendly folk and encountering a bear which he gives a shock to by becoming a fawn with extremely large fangs.

He then spies the lovely blonde figure of Maisy-June Braggs carrying a book which she then reads to the animals in the forest, E-Man among them. He listens to her stories for several days then one day decides to speak and show himself becoming a heroic figure like the ones from the stories. Maisy-June is not frightened but delighted by this powerful creature she dubs a "Genie". They have fine and innocent fun in the woods until one day they are seen by some of the locals who imagine that Maisy-June must be a witch.

The community rises up and tries to capture Maisy-June but she escapes and is saved from being shot by the arrival of her Genie who then adopts a superhero costume like he'd seen in the comics complete with flowing cape. Maisy-June now afraid no longer seeks to frighten those who frightened her by showing them her power assisted of course by the Genie. They make the locals think that Maisy can transform into a panther but nonetheless she is taken unaware and captured and taken back to the community where the frightened people try to burn her at the stake.

E-Man arrives but trips over his cape, at which point he disappears the silly accoutrements. In an effort to scare off the threatening folk, he appears before them and then frees Maisy-June from her bonds. He then transforms himself seemingly into a giant image of Satan himself sending the locals screaming away in terror. Maisy-June though becomes different and very violent wishing that her Genie destroy the people. Her mother arrives and tells E-Man that Maisy-June is mentally ill and though she has tried to keep her from it, needs to be admitted to a sanitarium. E-Man recognizing the truth of the situation creates the illusion of himself as a charming prince and leads Maisy to a beautiful castle which in reality is the asylum. He walks away sad, but sure he's done the correct thing.

Nova is affected by the story but still wonders what Maisy-June wants with her boyfriend when the doorbell rings. In walks Maisy-June seemingly cured and happy and much to Nova's relief she introduces her husband a familiar looking cuss named Dabney Slocum.

To get a look at this story in its original form see this groovy link.

"E-Mail" offers up three letters of comment in response to the eighth issue. The reactions are mixed on the transformation of Nova into a superhero. Some think it's a positive move and others fear it undermines the unique quality of the series. Sadly there is an announcement at the bottom of the page saying that this is the final issue of E-Man and that despite "spectacular" fan interest, there simply have not been enough comics sold to keep the title going. It is noted that thanks to Bob Layton and the CPL Gang the E-Man saga will continue in The Charlton Bullseye.

"Rog 2000 Vs. Sog" was written by Nicola Cuti and drawn by John Byrne. The story begins in a New York City evacuated and under siege as Rog-2000 decked out in a soldier's helmet and armed with an exotic rifle stalks the streets. He thinks back on how at the bottom of the ocean the pollution gave rise to a creature soon to be called "Sog" made of pollution and muck and animal remains which rises to overwhelm a fishing boat and its crew, and then comes ashore and begins to overwhelm the city absorbing people and getting larger and larger as it goes. Unaware of these goings on, Rog finds a deserted church and then is confronted by General Dove in a tank who tells him of the threat and offers the robot the chance to help by giving him a "Neutron Gun". That brings the story back to the present and Rog confronts the creature dubbed Sog but just as he is about to fire the weapon a little girl gets in the line of sight and he has to save her. Sog comes forward relentlessly until in the final moment collapsing into a mass of crud and pollution. The theory is that Sog died from overeating overwhelmed by the garbage in NYC. As General Dove and his men clean up Rog takes the little girl home.

To read this story in its original form see this groovy link.

This comic was reprinted completely under the Modern Comics label in 1977.

The E-man story was reprinted in 1986 by First Comics and later in E-Man -The Early Years, and the Rog-2000 story was reprinted in 1982 by Pacific Comics.

The end of E-Man was a sad day in comics. The industry had in the Bronze Age been a chaotic environment full of experimentation in the Big Two and briefly it seemed also in Charlton, the perennial also-ran publisher. E-Man was an attempt to break out of the doldrums and reestablish an identity on par with Marvel and DC. It failed. To its credit Charlton seemed to give E-Man a good long try-out, and they did follow it up with other inventive books. But alas the company then needed to focus on licensed material and the moment which was kindled with E-Man began to flicker and wane. Soon Charlton would be a shell of its former self and then after a few more years defunct.

E-Man continued to have fun with the superhero dynamic right up to the end though, as one of my favorite scenes in the series is when E-Man trips over his cape. A similar scene was a highlight of Steve Englehart's Nomad stories in Captain America. This kind of thoughtful comment made the books seem smart and made the reader feel as if they were in on the secrets.

Also this story brings E-Man right into my backyard. I'm a product of the hills of Eastern Kentucky and the yokels of Hog Wallow that E-Man encounters in this tale are versions of Al Capp's "hillbillies" from his famous Li'l Abner comic strip. Maisy is Daisy and Dabney is Abner for sure. Staton even puts a few shout outs to Capp in the story. But the land of Dogpatch, the home of Abner though famously thought to be in Arkansas and around that area, was originally identified as Kentucky, specifically the Appalachian hillsides I grew up on. So this story has a special echo for a country boy like myself.

But it wasn't quite over, as indicated in the announcement of cancellation. The stories by Cuti and Staton found a new home briefly in Charlton Bullseye. I'll touch on those efforts next time.

And while E-Man would eventually return many times in his own title, these ten issues will always be special in the minds of fans. They are of a time and have a special magic, that certain something which makes comics particularly fun.

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