Thursday, December 12, 2013
This is a fun Free Comic Book Day offering from 2008. The EC Sampler showcases some vintage EC Comic tales from the 50's and makes clever use of this vintage Wally Wood artwork to boot.
Here's the original from the 1951 Tales from the Crypt comic. This one seems a tad more gruesome than its later counterpart for sure. I love the expressions and that flickering red tie is a stunner.
Here are the striking covers for the comics in which the four stories contained in this gem reprint originally appeared.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
As one of the last sentient beings on the planet to have at long last seen the James Bond movie Skyfall, I feel competent to judge the latest Bond movies and what they might mean for the franchise.
It's nothing less than a rebirth. The change of Bonds from the excellent Pierce Brosnan, who despite some criticism was still not too old to play Bond a few more times, was at best a sketchy move by the producers. I was not happy to hear that an actor I knew mostly from his sidekick role in a Tomb Raider movie was the new guy. He seemed at first too short for the role and lacked that certain chemistry needed for the incredibly demanding role. I was dead wrong.
He might well be too short, but that doesn't matter as Daniel Craig has returned to the violent roots of Ian Fleming's highly successful character and has given us a Bond who is more man than superman. He's no longer just someone to root for, he is someone we can root alongside with, a man who is dark and dangerous and familiar.
In Casino Royale we meet the new Bond, in a story which turns out to be his secret origin. We see him become a double "O" agent, and we seem increasingly hardened by the killing he is required to do. Where has death-dealing has always been the calling card of all the men who have been called Bond, this one seems less aloof and more emotionally vulnerable, though no less ready to end an enemy's life. Hard-bitten cruelty is part of the character from the very beginning in Fleming's pages, and you find them in Sean Connery's early portrayals. But even by the end of his initial run, the darker aspects of Bond's character had been replaced by over-reliance on charm, wit, and gimmicks. The gritty willingness to kill a dangerous man with a simple direct gunshot, so brutally demonstrated in Dr.No, is almost never repeated in the series.
In Casino Royale that brutal man is back and not only willing to kill, he is willing to break a sweat doing it. That change, the decision to show Bond as a man with deficiencies and doubts is what makes this new Bond so compelling. And while we know that Bond will never die, we suddenly feel that he thinks he could, and that's a game-changer on how to involve yourself with the narrative. By the end of this story he is a hard edge of an agent, fully Bond, but with motives and plans apart from what "M" might design for him.
We see that played out to some extent in Quantum of Solace where Bond not only battles the secret society he uncovered in the previous movie, but seeks revenge for the death of his lost love. This is first time I can recollect that the Bond movies had real memory. Sure Blofeld shows up early on, but each time he is recast and reconfigured as if it were a new time. In this sequel we know that the story of the last movie is still the story we are following here as demonstrated by the simple fact it picks up immediately where the first movie ended.
Quantum of Solace is ultimately a less successful movie than Casino Royale, but not for lack of trying. It's that the finale seems oddly disconnected from what had preceded it, but nonetheless we are left with a Jame Bond who is not averse to getting mussed up, though admittedly a few elements of the superhero do emerge in this story.
Skyfall then comes along and we see the death of Bond, and to no small extent his rebirth into the fully-functioning agent we have been familiar with for so many decades. By the end of this movie which pits him against a depraved version of himself, he finds that he must destroy his very past to save his future. It's as much a personal tale as a battle for the good of Britain, though the consequences are exceedingly grave.
Javier Bardem has gotten kudos for his villainous portrayal and he deserves them, but I must say that so far in this new Bondian age my favorite baddie has been Mads Mikkleson as Le Chiffre from the first flick. What really won me over on this one though was the idea of spies and how they live in the shadows. From the very beginning of the movie when Bond walks out of a literal shadow this story becomes a match between two cyphers who battle to first discover one another then decode one another. The one who out thinks the other is the one who will win, and we all know that will be Bond, we think.
Even at this remote stage I hate to spoil a story which I found very compelling, but I have to say the final showdown in the remote and spare country of Bond's boyhood home gave the proceedings a truly weird feel, and helped make the finale less of a predictable Bond affair.
This new Bond might be with us for only a short time now, but I must say this trilogy of movies so far have revealed more about the character than decades of previous movies have done. James Bond has been rescued from his cliche-ridden past and transformed into a startlingly interesting character.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
The debut of the Marvel Comics Conan the Barbarian was a watershed event for yours truly. Consequently the cover of the first issue is imprinted in my brain ways any comic fan will identify with. The cover is dynamic if less graceful than the art Barry (Not-Yet-Windsor) Smith will soon create for the series, but it does have a double helping of his Kirbyesque dynamics.
When this art was reprinted for this Portuguese comic it was necessary to add a bit to Smith's original art and we bet a full wing for the flying demon and some obligatory smoke and classic "Kirby Krackle" for fill out the image. It's likely the muddy reproduction, but the cross-hatched ground seems different too.
I've looked at this cover image before here and here.
And if you've wondered why he's called "Conan the Barbarian", check this out.
Monday, December 9, 2013
Editora Bloch was a Brazilian publisher until the early 90's and during the course of their business they reprinted a lot of American comics from a lot of different sources. One such comic was Hercules from Charlton Comics. This vintage comic by Joe Gill and the much underappreciated Sam Glanzman was a huge hit for yours truly if not for the world at large. Those thirteen issues of the mythical strongman are large in my imagination and I've taken close looks at them here.
The cover for the second issue of Editora Bloch's Hercules run though featured a cover which seemed to draw from a different source, a rather popular one in fact. The figure of the looming monster is definitely swiped from Frank Frazetta's "Swamp Demon" painting.
The Herc figure as well as the sitting girl both seem familiar too, but I haven't yet placed those sources.
The debut issue of the comics featured a painting by some dude named "Villafuerte" (see signature) and was a montage which drew at least some inspiration from the actual debut cover of Charlton's Hercules by Sam Glanzman.
The third issue used the Glanzman artwork directly, though offering a different and rather appealing color scheme, making the artwork look rather fresh.
The red framing on this fourth issue also works to pep up the Glanzman's art making this strong composition pop out a wee bit more.
By the fifth issue we are seeing some very interesting new color combinations. I like the yellow background which contrasts nicely with the blue loincloth.
The choice of a white background here really serves this Glanzman art exceedingly well. The original alas tends to blur together undercutting the strength of the compostion. The Brazilian version works much better to my eye.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Doomsday +1 was a most memorable comic book from the friendly folks at Charlton. Produced by the combo of wily veteran Joe Gill and upstart John Byrne, this comic told the tale of three astronauts who find themselves in orbit when society is largely destroyed by nuclear attack. They return to a ruined world and find an ally in a giant ancient Goth released after centuries from his icy tomb and together these four stalwarts battle against aliens, mutants, robots, and more for six ferocious issues. For more detail go here.
The book was cancelled with a seventh story finally seeing publication in a few issues of The Charlton Bullseye. Then Charlton decided to reprint the six original comics and sales early on suggested it might be time to try a new installment, but with John Byrne unavailable editor George Wildman turned to Tom Sutton to whip up a new chapter. But then final sales reports were less impressive and the new material was tucked away for decades until Mike Ambrose, publisher of Charlton Spotlight got hold of it through auction and just this month has published this time-lost gem for all true-blue Charlton fans.
The artwork needed a script so Mike contacted Nick Cuti to do the honors along with Bill Pearson on letters and Donnie Pitchford on colors. What we have is a four-color blast from the past as the Doomsday +1 team set out to solve one more mystery on the devastated Earth. The threat this time comes from what was once Southern Europe and the team finds mysterious high-tech warriors in the garb of the Roman legions awaiting them, but that's just one of many secrets in this story's raucous fifteen pages. No decompressed storytelling here.
Here's a glimpse of the complete Tom Sutton cover from the back of Charlton Spotlight. After hearing about this lost story for years, it's exceedingly sweet to finally get a chance to enjoy it.
And one more time here is the front cover. To order your own copy go here, and tell Mike that I sent you.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Try as I might, I cannot really control my reading. I venture from tale to tale, yarn to yarn as my interests take me, despite any long term plan I might've concocted to read this volume or peruse that tome. Lately I've stumbled back into reading some heady Sherlock Homes pastiches, especially those which pit the hyper-logical denizen of 221B Baker Street against things that go bump in the night. These like as not don't turn out to be bogus Baskerville hounds, but truly awful creatures of the beyond.
To that end I've ordered up and got in the mail just yesterday Gaslight Grimoire - Dark Tales of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of stories which pit Holmes and his ever faithful biographer Dr. John Watson against some terrible beasties, or at least claim to do. This winter storm has hit, giving me some unexpected extra reading time.
But as soon as I ordered that volume I became aware of two sequels, Gaslight Grotesque - Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes and Gaslight Arcanum - Uncanny Tales of Sherlock Holmes. Unless the first volume is much worse than I expect, I will have to get hold of these too. Writers never ever seem to tire of writing a good Sherlock Homes mystery, even those that plumb unknown and perhaps even unknowable depths.
Friday, December 6, 2013
Thanks to the bargains of "Black Friday" I found all the Harry Potter movies for tiny money and promptly brought them home. I've never actually watched a Harry Potter movie all the way through, catching them on television here and there and watching, even most of some, but never all of any of these very successful movies.
Well I then went about the rather monumental task of viewing them all in sequence. Since each flick clocks in at well over two hours, close to to two and a half, it required some steady neglect of my wife and household duties to accomplish this feat, but I was up to the task.
I won't belabor this by reviewing at length each of the seven stories (eight movies) but will only make general comments. I assume most folks have seen these so I won't bother with spoilers, so tread carefully if you haven't and still want to.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone kicks off the saga with a heartwarming story of a small boy rescued from near death and stashed with his neglectful relatives until that wonderful day he is inducted into the Hogwarts School, a magnet school for wizards. He meets Ron Weasley and Hermoine Grainger and the trio are fast friends (mostly) throughout the series. The battle against the villain Voldemort begins in fine fashion, but alas this first movie so much a children's flick that the danger is never more than remote though the charm is in full force. The same can be said for Harry Potter and Chamber of Secrets, though the sense of danger and the menace do seem a bit more palpable.
It's in the third movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that we really begin to learn seriously about the magical world beyond Hogwarts and this opens up the series in some vital ways. The kids grow older and so do their concerns, also making the movie less an ode to children and a successful fantasy action flick. That tempo picks up again in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, as does the sense of menace. Voldemort returns in the full flesh in this one with a deadly cost. The threats are not the stuff of child's play any longer, but the lasting deadly concerns of adults.
This continues in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix which again features significant deaths that move the story forward. By the time of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince we are fully engaged in an exceedingly dark fantasy with more blood than whimsy. The finale Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows is a duo of movies which are full-fledged classic fantasies worthy of Tolkien and beholding to him I must say in their structure and tone.
The core of these stories is the trio of teens who battle the dark threats of Voldemort's "Death Eaters". Harry, Ron, and Hermione are a wonderful blend of traits, three misfits more or less who find friendship and more with one another. That Hermione and Ron find romance is a nice addition to the later stories, and isolates Harry properly when he's at his most endangered. Harry is clearly a Frodo-like figure in the movies, especially the later ones, a reluctant hero charged by fate to stand toe to toe with the dark forces which seem at a glance more than a match for him. The last couple of movies in particular seem to make a conscious effort to evoke aspects of the Tolkien canon with dark objects having grim effects on the personalities of the heroes as well as being structured around the heroes finding and destroying mysterious magical items which prove ultimately fatal to the malicious villain.
The adults in these movies can be fascinating as well. Dumbledore, at first a charming father-figure is revealed to be a much more conniving and cold-blooded figure than we are first led to believe and the remote and sometimes cruel Snape is revealed to be the hero at the heart of the mystery, a man who did not love too little, but loved too much. This is the core revelation which saves these stories from becoming mere pablum, and makes all of them significant.
Watching the movies in close proximity it's easy to not only experience the changes in tone, but to follow the sometimes complicated plotting which relentlessly moves toward a deadly conclusion. Characters do indeed die in this story, sometimes in gruesome ways. There are unredeemed villains, villains with multiple motivations, and villains who really want to be heroes, but plenty of baddies to populate several yarns.
There's more than a mote of social commentary here and there throughout the flicks, especially the critique of modern educational techniques. The Harry Potter movies are entertainments through and through which strove to grow and advance with their primary audience, the kids who discovered and made a massive hit of the series. On that count it succeeds, and even as an eventually mature and fully satisfying fantasy of the second if not first rank. It's sure worth the time it takes to watch them through.
I'm glad I did.