Friday, June 24, 2016

Planet Of The Apes - The TV Series!

The Planet of the Apes TV series followed quickly after the final Apes movie Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Supposedly while a decision to end the film series had already been made there was thought that a TV show might gain some footing. The series debuted on CBS and went head to head with popular shows Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man. It was in the final analysis a fail as only thirteen episodes made the air with a fourteenth produced.

Living in the wilds of Kentucky with only aerial antennas to get reception of the three big networks a decision had to be made whether to bet NBC and ABC or CBS by itself since all three were never readily available from the same direction. We were an NBC family so much of what showed up on CBS was missed by yours truly as a kid. This show was no different. But now I've rectified that gap in my complete understanding of the PotA universe at long last.

The show was frankly better than I expected. The premise doesn't wander far from the movies as we once again find a couple of astronauts from Earth's present (or slight future) stranded far in the future among a society dominated by intelligent Apes. How it fits into the larger time scale of the movies is beyond me and frankly I don't see how it can be jiggered, but whatever.

The astronauts named Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Peter Burke (James Naughton) are stranded after their ship crashes and their shipmate is killed. Apes find the ship but not before a lone human being rescues them and hides them in his bunker which was left from previous eras. The humans of this Ape planet are more intelligent than the feral lot that Taylor discovered in the first movie, these are humble characters able to speak and do most everything save make decisions for themselves. They are ruled by Apes and are a definite second class in a world which little values their lives.

Virdon and Burke decide to take steps to return home, however unlikely that seems and so helped by a chimpanzee named Galen (played by Roddy McDowall) they investigate this new world they are trapped upon. They are pursued by the always upset General Urko (Mark Lenard) who serves with reluctance the orders of Zaius (Booth Colman). In most episodes Urko is hot on their heels but in others not so much.

In fact the series seems to begin with the definite sense that Virdon and Burke with Galen's help are looking only for a the means to return home. But after several episodes of this mission they seem to forget about it and take to helping the humans who often take care of them. The trio become defacto Robin Hoods, helping in spite of the fact that they themselves are outlaws. Weirdly they often walk right into the teeth of the authorities, but are always nimble enough to escape eventually.

The show does lack the focus and the dour outlook of the movies, as most episodes end on upbeat notes with most humans finding their lot improved thanks to the astronauts. But sometimes you have to wonder what they are doing, since it often seems that they are just tempting fate. One episode has the astronauts help a farm family improve their lot with new techniques and attitudes and another explores a human village where sacrifices are routinely captured to fend off Gorilla attacks. Lots of moral questions are raised and in the best stories the answers are not necessarily easy, though TV couldn't really deal with the complexities the best movies touch on.

The series is in retrospect hobbled by the necessities of episodic television of the time, requiring too many concessions which undermine the theme. Today of course a more elaborate story line would be developed allowing for a richer experience, and I'd love to see what someone could do. 

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Rude Jimmy!

Here are a trio of comic book covers by Steve "The Dude" Rude for Legends of the DC Universe. This series ran a bunch of different stories featuring different characters and three times they picked up on Jimmy Olsen during his memorable period by the late great Jack "King" Kirby. Haven't dug these out and re-read them in a long while, but I'm always eager to revisit the DNA Project and especially the delightful land of Transilvane (though I wouldn't want to live there).

Here's a peek at a few pages from issue fourteen for which Rude also did the interior artwork.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Kamandi - Forbidden Planet!

In the twenty-fifth issue of Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth Jack Kirby sends his bond-haired hero on arguably his weirdest adventure yet. In the course of the preceding issues  Kamandi has bounded all across the North American continent and beyond but always in the upper reaches of that continent has been a territory mysteriously labeled "Dominion of the Devils". We met a "Devil" in some earlier stories, and it turned out to be an enormous grasshopper Kamandi bonded with.

Now in this story Kamandi and Ben Boxer prepare to leave Ben's comrades Renzi and Steve behind as well as the oddball cadre of Flim-Flam and his trained humans. The duo use a giant Eagle to fly over a great barrier into this unknown territory. The Eagle is injured and dies in the attempt but does get them into a new land filled with giant plants and giant insect life. Attributed to a Greenhouse Effect the land once known as Canada has become a wild jungle filled with teeming life of all kinds. Not least among these are the Leopards who work for Sackers Department Store. They are in this land to capture what they can and kill what they can't. Needless to say Kamandi and Boxer have other ideas.

Kamandi and Ben Boxer also find the offbeat Captain Pyper, a member of a European army of British Bulldogs who have affected the dress and style of the British Cavalry as seen in the classic poem "Charge of the Light Brigade" by Tennyson.

He and his capable ally an Aborigine which is in fact a giant mutated Ant, help Kamandi and Ben Boxer escape the rapacious Leopards working for Sackers and the two end up effectively conscripted into his foreign force, with Kamandi assuming a role akin to the famous Gunga Din.

Kamandi finds that three armies have used a land bridge to travel from what was once Europe into this area formerly known as Canada.

The three forces are part of the Nations of Atlantic Testament Orders (N.A.T.O.) and are comprised of the Bulldogs which affect a British feel, Wolves which speak French, and Apes which have a Prussian cast to their dress and style. They are battling the Leopards for control of the Dominion of the Devils, and the resources there. After a great battle among the forces both Kamandi and Ben move on.

Kamandi and Ben Boxer see a flying Ape. They then find the Tablet of Revelation which tells the story of "The Mighty One" who looks very familiar to regular DC readers. A cult of Apes worship this Mighty One and have devised tests which attempt to approximate the powers he was reputed to have in order to detect who might be a worthy to gain control of the mantle of "The Legend".

Ben and Kamandi get drawn into these tests competing with an Ape named Zuma. The tests are to be flung up, up and away into the air by catapult, lift a great stone dubbed "The Daily Planet", and survive a hail of gunfire by being faster than a speeding bullet. Kamandi finds a familiar red and blue suit and knowing who the owner was leaves it for his eventual return.

Finally begins one of the weirdest Kamandi adventures yet. Kamandi and Ben Boxer take refuge in what they believe to be a small bunker but which is in fact a legit U.F.O.They found by the Pilot who takes them in tow and they travel quickly and far.

When they escape the craft they find themselves a junk yard of time with artifacts from across the whole of human history sprawled in the sand. Apparently these things are being sent through a vast door in space. Boxer and Kamandi find themselves on an airplane of the dead headed into the maw of this door but the activation of a briefcase nuclear device causes the doorway to abruptly close stranding the Pilot wgi confronts Kamandi and Ben but loses cohesion since it is a creature of pure energy when his suits is torn apart. Kamandi recovers only to find that Ben has changed dramatically.

Clearly Kirby is redirecting the series now, having entered the Dominion of the Devils he has exhausted the parameters of his original map of the post-Great Disaster world and must reach beyond it for more. Cleaving off Kamandi and Ben Boxer is smart as it reduces the cast and makes the adventures quicken in pace and style. Now we have the two most interesting characters in the series entering some truly startling new landscapes. The inclusion directly Superman is in keeping with Kirby's work since coming to DC, but it does specifically link the world of Kamandi with the larger DCU. With the U.F.O. adventure Kirby seems to want to expand beyond the limits of the post-Apocalyptic setting and get into some other sci-fi tropes. I'm not sure how effective it is, but we'll discover more next time.

More to come.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Parallax View!

The Parallax View is a movie I've heard of but never seen. I caught it the other day and was in the mood for some offbeat mystery (even if it did have Warren Beatty in it) so I lingered and ended up watching it through. This political thriller is about a reporter who uncovers a company which appears to train assassins ready for political attacks across the globe. As part of their training they are subjected to psychological conditioning which was represented in the movie by a wide assortment of images associated with particular words like "Mother", "Father", "Country" etc. The aim as I far as I could tell (and this is a movie that doesn't overly explain for sure) is to changed the individuals presented with the programming to make them more amenable to their tasks.

What startled me was the sudden inclusion of the image above by Jack Kirby and Vince Colletta used as part of the conditioning.

The image was taken of course from this 1966 issue of Thor showing the Asgardian facing off against an array of alien weaponry. The image appears several times in the montage sequence used to represent the conditioning.

Used only a single time (as far as I remember) was this image of the Man-Beast, also by Kirby and Colletta.

This one comes of course from a slightly later 1966 issue of the Thor comic.

What these images are supposed to represent is a mystery to me. The other images show mundane things alongside somewhat racy material, but these are the only images of comic art represented. I don't really understand it, but take a look. Caution though since some of the images feature some nudity.

I assume Thor is supposed to be a variation of the classic power fantasy associated with the Aryan mythology promoted by Hitler among others. I'm just guessing. Maybe someone can explain. Is my love of Kirby really an expression of my subliminal desire to off politicians?

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Battle For The Planet Of The Apes!

Battle for the Planet of the Apes is generally held by most to be the weakest installment of the film series. I'd have to agree. There were indications that the fourth movie was to be the final one, showcasing how the Apes triggered their rise, so the story here seems at some level unnecessary. But that said, the movie does show the beginnings of story elements which showed up in earlier movies.

The story offers up a frame set hundreds of years in the future and gives us John Huston as "The Lawgiver" who relates what happened in the early days following the events of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. And this is the most confusing part of the tale. We follow Caesar and Lisa from the previous movie and they have now had a son named Cornelius. We also see that Aldo from the earlier movie is now "General Aldo" and his pugnacious attitude causes a lot of the conflict in the story. The main villain of the tale though is Governor Kolp, formerly head of the security for the Governor in the last movie, who leads the mutant human survivors of a nuclear war still living in the ruins of the city.

Apes live in relatively harmony with humans in what is often called "Ape City", but which is mostly a collection of tree houses and wooden huts. There is a brewing conflict as the Gorillas led by Aldo seem to want to segregate the humans out, but Caesar supported by wise apes like the Orangutan Virgil keep the peace but barely. An expedition by Casear and Virgil alongside a human McDonald leads the mutants there to attack Ape City and that is the nominal "battle" of the movie's title.

This is a ramshackle movie with a shifting focus that doesn't allow the narrative to find firm footing. Too much doesn't make sense too much of the time and simple solutions seem to be bypassed in order to allow the story unfold as the writers desire. Distances are a big problem, as at times the distance between Ape City and the Forbidden City seems vast and at other times short. The mutant army is on the march for about half the movie and don't make many efforts to hide their presence, but nonetheless are able to effectively sneak up on the Apes in a wide open field.

As much as I can detect it, the theme of the movie seems to be that societies are complicated and that the aspirations of Caesar aside, the notion that Ape society will not be fundamentally different from the flawed and violent human society which preceded it. But despite this lesson and the foreknowledge that the audience has that eventually Apes will ascend and humans will fall low, we end the movie in the time of the Lawgiver with humans and Apes in relative harmony. But I guess we're supposed to see that won't last, and that explains the tear on the face of the statue of Caesar which closes the film.

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Command D!

Here are some remarkable images which decorates the comic shop called (appropriately enough I think) Command D. The mural is beautifully done and immediately resonates with any comic fan of a certain age. I'd have to stop and walk into this place and check it out, no matter the reason I happened to be driving by.

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Watch This!

What exactly is the controversy with DC Comics using The Watchmen as an element of their latest reborn-rebooted-revised-rehashed DC Universe. If you don't appreciate the "purity" of The Watchmen franchise being sullied by association with mere superheroes, then okay. Get mad, don't buy any of those issues and re-read the original story yet again and savor an excellent bit of storytelling. But why the outrage?

Many seem to suggest it's immoral for DC to use these characters as they desire. I'm not aware they need the permission of the creators to do with these characters as they desire, they own them, but they have been gracious in the past and asked both Moore and Gibbons to weigh in on any future plans. The characters have proven to be successful, so it's obvious why DC wants to market them, it's the nature of business. From what I can gather DC has lived up their side of the bargain struck many decades ago with Moore and Gibbons. That the deal didn't work out exactly like Moore anticipated is not DC's fault. The flaw in Moore's reasoning is that The Watchmen proved to be more successful than anticipated. Shucks what a problem to have since Moore gets a cut of all sales.

Let me be clear. Comic book creators in the past have been royally screwed by comic book companies and famously so. Characters worth millions if not billions have been harvested and their creators have gotten little if any recompense for their dutiful and diligent effort. Companies screw people all the damn time, it's one of the more repulsive aspects to the celebrated capitalism everyone gets giddy about when the stock market tickers start buzzing. Winners and losers, part of the great game, and at least part of the target of the story told by Moore and Gibbons in their remarkable adventure.

But that said, Moore and Gibbons are not among those creators who have been screwed. They were lucky enough to come along when contracts were more fair if not ideal and they have reaped significant profit from their efforts, and Moore could've have gotten much more if he'd been more agreeable to what plans the publisher might've had. He's entitled to believe what he wants, but no one can say he's been screwed out of any money. And it's rich that folks suggest Moore of all creators is a victim of this kind of pilfering since he's made a sizeable portion of his post-Watchmen career scraping out the enormous bins of the public domain and using characters and situations originally developed by such giants as Verne, Rohmer, Baum, Stevenson, Dickens, Wells, Haggard, among countless others. I don't condemn him for these borrowings, I just find it rich that he is put up as a victim when he's a pilferer just like so many of us can be.

Now DC has incorporated The Watchmen into the broader DCU. So what? Why is everyone outraged? God, people get over it already. DC wants to sell comics and they've been rather poor at it in recent years despite making every effort to entice folks to drop five bucks for a slender slick and quickly consumed comic (could that be the problem). If they want to forestall their inevitable doom by using all the tools they have then so be it. There's nothing in the arrangement with Moore and Gibbons that suggests they cannot do it that I'm aware of.

So folks might think it's a bankrupt move creatively, but I cannot for the life of me get why folks think it's immoral. The Watchmen were hatched on the bones of characters from Charlton and elsewhere. Steve Ditko, Pete Morisi, Pat Boyette, Jim Aparo, and Joe Gill get no cut of the profits when characters clearly inspired by their stories featuring Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Nightshade, Thunderbolt, and the Question. Gibbons and Moore cobbled "new" heroes on the heap of the classics and made a damn fine comic. Great! They cut a dandy deal with DC for a piece of the action. Fantastic! Where's the particular and distinctive immorality on DC's part here?

Help me to understand.

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