Friday, July 31, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Right Now #4 -- Conan the Barbarian #1







This comic book rocked my world. The image of Conan in the midst of battle, a beauteous babe at his feet, and winged monsters on the prowl was the very essence of cool. I'd chanced across Conan in the lone REH novel, Conan the Conqueror (thanks local library), but still the comic book adaptation by Roy Thomas and Barry (Not-Yet-Windsor) Smith brought the character completely into my wheelhouse. John Verpoorten inked this classic image, and he's one of those guys who gets little credit these days, a forgotten man. I always liked his rough inking, it brought out the best in many somewhat quiet artists. Dan Adkins would ink the debut issue of Conan and do a typically masterful job, Adkins being another artist who doesn't get enough attention these days.

Here is that cover and several other versions of that iconic image. I own most of these, though the resin statue is a bit out of my league financially. It's rare I want a statue, but this is one I'd love to have.

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The Justice Inc. Reports #4



Justice Inc. #4 completes the run. It's another original story by O'Neil and again Kirby and Royer are on the artwork. The cover this time is by Joe Kubert, who it turns out was producing several covers for DC and especially for Kirby's books as this was at the very end of his tenure at DC before returning to Marvel.

The title of the story is "Slay Ride in the Sky" and the story begins as the Justice Inc. team follows a airliner in a small plane to investigate airliner disappearances, just as the airliner is attacked by a flock of gulls. The gulls prove more than a nuisance as they explode effectively downing the plane in the sea. The team itself is set upon by gulls and their plane too explodes but they parachute to safety. Once down they swim to help survivors from the larger plane but a boat appears and gunmen shoot down the helpless people in the water. Enrage The Avenger and his team apprehend the men who indicate they don't know who masterminded the plot. Cut to MacMurdie hours later in his lab and he identifies the explosive as "Tintiabulum" a new and experimental explosive not yet on the market developed by Olympia Laboratories. The team heads there and confront the owner Jason Lynn but soon after his denials of guilt an explosion rocks the office killing him.

The Avenger and his team survive and Benson takes on the identity of the slain Lynn and heads to see Rufus Comb the chairman of the airline which has been suffering the tragic explosions to their aircraft. It turns out Comb is the villain and he knows of Benson's ruse and captures him taking him and Smitty to a blimp, the base of operations for the scheme to bilk insurance money for the destroyed aircraft and then head to safer climates. Benson and Smitty escape and a fight breaks out on the blimp. Benson chases Comb as he attempts to escape in a small plane. During the battles gulls show up homing in on a most dangerous signal and explode the blimp. The Avenger knocks Comb off the plane to his doom and intercepts the falling Smitty and the pair fly off leaving the villains to fall to their much deserved deaths.

And that's it for the series. Four issues didn't really seem to be enough to find out what this series could do. The first two issues were truncated adaptations of the original pulp novels and the last two issues were original. The team itself was barely organized by the end of the run. The letters pages in issues #3 and #4 talk about the fact they really need to do multi-part stories in the series, but the editorial response is strictly negative to that idea. I find that approach quaint in the modern world of comics and especially DC where the saga rolls on in an unending fashion these days.

The crossovers with The Shadow were fun, and if the books had continued it's likely that there would've been more of this kind of thing. One clear problem for the series was Josh and his step 'n fetchit characterization, which in the comics is presented as a ruse by the extremely well educated black man to put his white opponents off guard. Still it's uncomfortable to read such dialogue in anything approaching a modern comic. You can tell that they were nervous about this presentation as it never goes on too long.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Justice Inc. Reports #3


Justice Inc. #3 is an original story by writer Denny O'Neil with artwork by Jack Kirby and his ace inker Mike Royer. The cover is by Kirby with inks by Al Milgrom.

The story is titled "The Monster Bug" and it features a returning villain and introduces Fergus MacMurdie. A group of thugs led by Colonel Sodom threaten Fergus MacMurdie a renowned chemist and try to coerce him to help. The Avenger shows up saying he's been tracking Sodom since he escaped The Shadow's agents (Sodom was the villain in DC's The Shadow #5 though he seems to have suffered a demotion since then when he was "General Sodom") and a battle breaks out. So does a mysterious chemical called the "Monster Bug" which becomes a vapor that transforms the wife of MacMurdie into a hideous monster who is then quickly shot down by Sodom who then escapes. MacMurdie is quickly gathered up by Benson and Josh and becomes a member of Justice Inc.

Next the team figure Sodom will target the next most prominent chemist in town, so The Avenger uses his flexible face to become a duplicate of the man and the team goes out on the town as decoys. The plan works and Sodom and his henchman attempt to apprehend Benson but Sodom transforms some of his men into monsters and battle for life and limb erupts. The monsters are subdued and the team quickly reassmbles to go after Sodom after learning his hideout's location from a captured henchman. They then pursue Sodom as he goes after the famed chemist again, but during the final fight the "Monster Bug" infects Colonel Sodom and in a fit of madness he crashes through a wall and falls many stories to his presumed death.

This is a pretty solid issue, and does blend the world of DC's pulps. The Avenger showed up in The Shadow series before this issue. (I'll get around to this review eventually.) Jack Kirby continues to be a draw, no pun intended.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Justice Inc. Reports #2


Justice Inc. #2 is a great departure from the debut. Denny O'Neil is still scripting, apparently adpating a second Robeson story titled "The Sky Walker". The big shift though, that replacing the realistic if somewhat somber Al McWilliams is the legend Jack "King" Kirby. Suddenly the comic is possessed of an energy, but an energy derived at the cost of the noir mood of the debut.

The story begins with a train derailed through mysterious means. The Avenger comes across the wreck and some looters and takes action alongside Smitty. The looters don't seem to have been the cause of the crash, but soon The Avenger sees the culprit, a man seemingly walking in the air. Cut to the mansion of Robert Gant, an inventor and who is attacked and killed. His attackers are themselves attacked by his black servant Josh and his black maid Rosabel who drop their subserviant stereotypical speech patterns when not in the presence of white men. The Avenger appears to help and finds help in the college-trained Phi Beta Kappa man Josh and Rosabel who join Justice Incorporated. Soon this new team sees a skyscraper tumble to the ground and they stop to help. Benson goes onto the offices of Abel Darcy the man financing the deceased Gant, and quickly takes on his identity to gain access to his files. He is discovered soon after proving Darcy's guilt and the battle is on. The Avenger and Josh are captured but escape in time to confront Darcy, the Sky Walker who uses Gant's twin inventions an invisible airplane (hence the apparent sky walking) and a sonic cannon capable of the destruction seen so far in the story. The Avenger takes to the sky in a plane and shoots the villain down by causing the sonic ray to destroy the plane sending the mastermind plunging to his death. There is a text piece by Allen Asherman about a possible Justice Inc. movie and possible casting choices.

While not probably true to roots of the character the use of "King" Kirby on the title really gives it a boost it needed. The stories zing along with a typically robust Kirby vigor. Kirby was finishing out his contract with DC at this stage, after the disappointing Fourth World affair. But being a true pro his work is always of interest, and highly desirable.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Space Eagle - Operation Star Voyage!


After a small wait of forty years or so I get to finally read the second Space Eagle book from Jack Pearl. The first Whitman novel starring the Space Eagle fell into my young clutches and I absorbed it at right the same time as I was discovering comic books like The Flash and Captain Marvel and getting to see flicks like Planet of the Apes. It was a Doc Savage-esque story of space exploration melded with Bondian intrigue and and derring-do. The hero Paul Girard through use of a Faster-than-Light spacecraft called the SWIFT and some gimmicks and disguises infiltrates a madman's lair and saves the world from utter atomic destruction.

In this sequel Paul Girard and his genius twin sister Julie are back. She developed the SWIFT based on the work of a Russian defector scientist, and this scientist tips off the government that the Soviets (the Cold War still rages in this alternate future) are about to master FTL flight themselves using "Spartanium" the rarest of metals found only behind the Iron Curtain and a small particle of which powers the SWIFT. Paul adopts a disguise, goes behind the Curtain and infiltrates the prison camp that masks and mines the ore. He finds out the threat is real and that the source of the Spartanium is an ancient giant meteor. He returns to the U.S. after some gunplay and prepares to head to Alpha Centauri, the only place where Spartanium is found in the spectrum. He takes with him Samuel Aarons, a giant but gentle black man who is also a family friend.

They go into space and using the FTL drive go almost instantaneously to a planet named Mega-3 where the Megans are not all that happy to see them. The Megans explain in fuller detail to the relatively witless humans the details of FTL transportation but uttlerly refuse to give the primitive humans anymore dangerous Spartnaium. As it turns out the Megans are all too familiar with us, having visited us in those pesky UFOs for quite a while. They do though after becoming convinced of the Space Eagle's virtue, and impressed with a speech given by Sam give the humans another element called Xenon that will make Spartanium useless. The Space Eagle and his deputy return to Earth but before they can make landfall they are intercepted by Space Pirates led by Luchesi Muta who survived his apparent death in the first novel and now wants the get the FTL drive for himself. Ultimatley Paul and Sam escape and defeat the pirates and attempt to drag their space ship the Ming 5 along with in an FTL jump, but the pirate ship is lost in the mists of time. The Space Eagle returns to Earth, seeds the Xenon in the clouds which destroys the Spartanium mine by rendering the mineral useless and the world is safe from tyranny once more.

Pretty dang good stuff. The story this time did seem somewhat more outlandish, losing a bit of the spy intrigue of the first one. But the sci-fi elements are ramped up for sure. The Megans are pretty stereotypical aliens -- tiny pale eggheads -- and the whole trip to another solar system is presented in a somewhat bland way. The spectacle of the first novel is lost a little in the mad dash of this plot. The return of Luchesi at the end was a neat surprise, but it might've been one detail too many in an already crowded plot. Nonetheless, this is a slam bang entertaining novel, and well worth the forty-year wait.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

The Justice Inc. Reports #1


Today I begin review of DC's pulp series Justice Inc.

Justice Inc. #1 is titled "This Night an Avenger is Born!" and purports to adapt the novel of The Avenger's origin from the Kenneth Robeson novel. Having just read the original, this is pretty concise adaptation of the original, though of course they had to drop several details. The script is by Shadow veteran Denny O'Neil and the artwork this time is by Al McWilliams, an artist while somewhat lacking in dynamics was pretty good at street level realism. The cover is by Joe Kubert.

The story begins as Richard Benson and his wife and daughter board a plane. Mysteriously during the flight Benson's wife and daughter disappear and he is knocked out during a fight with thugs on the plane. He wakes up three weeks later in hospital with his skin having gone ghostly pale and his facial muscles paralyzed. Quickly he uses his skills as a world adventurer arming himself with "Mike" his slender gun he keeps hidden and "Ike" his throwing knife. He returns to the airport, but soon is in struggle with a giant who turns out to be the Physicist Algernon Heathcote Smith or "Smitty". Smitty is a fugitive, wrongly convicted and he agrees to help Benson. They board the plane, gunplay ensues, and they find a map to a distant island. Getting into disguise as an old man the Avenger boards the ill-fated plane again and off they go until he's threatened to be thrown out of the plane sans parachute. It seems the scheme is to kidnap and drop certain controlling shareholders in Acme Motor Company to coerce them to sign over control of the company. Benson learns his wife and daughter were thrown from the plane and killed. He himself is thrown from the plane but he has a hidden parachute. He confronts the thugs who killed his family and the mastermind a man he thought was at first a victim. He is saved from killing the man in revenger by Smitty who then bonds with The Avenger to form Justice Incorporated. There is a text piece by Allen Asherman about the history of The Avenger.

I've only ever read one Avenger novel, though I've read that one twice, and as I mentioned once again in paperback and just a few weeks ago when it was reprinted in grand style by Anthony Tollin at Sanctum Books. I'm hoping to enjoy all the reprints of this most intriguing hero as they become available. Meanwhile, tommorrow more on the DC comics series when Jack "King" Kirby takes the helm.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lancer Books!


I've been doing a lot of reading about Robert E. Howard lately and of course one of the key elements of REH's continuing fame was the revival of Conan in the Lancer paperbacks way back in the 60's. Conan was a phenom in the pulps, was revived in the 50's in some handsome hardbacks, but it was the blend of Howard's blood and thunder (as could be detected under the revisions of his editors and posthumous collaborators) and Frank Frazetta's muscular imaginings that propelled Conan into the next level of prominence. Off those Lancer paperbacks came the comic book, which eventually led to the magazine which led to the movie and then well, it became a bit of a mash, but you see my point. Without Lancer, there likely would've been no modern Conan, maybe, but maybe not.

Lancer also reprinted some of the earliest Marvel comics, offering up B&W versions of the FF (two volumes), Spidey, Thor, Hulk, and DD. These are some of the jewels in my collection. I love these funky old reprints, as they break apart the classic pages and fit them onto the paperback pages. They're fun to read, if you read them very very carefully.

I've tried to do some research on Lancer, but I find little. They apparently did a lot of exploitation material, and a series called "Man From O.R.G.Y." gets my attention, it appears to be a mildly pornographic version of James Bond. I've never read one, but I bet it's fun. Lancer faded away in the 70's, and the Conan franchise shifted over to Ace Books without missing a beat. While it was the Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror that introduced me to the character, it was the Ace paperbacks in which I first read the balance of the Conan material. I've picked up a few of the original Lancers since, and I'd like to have a full run perhaps someday.

Lancers are fun books to look for. They often have colored edges and have a feel dissimilar from other paperbacks of the time. Not unlike Charlton comics which have a unique feel to the covers, Lancers have that same offbeat tactile quality. Anyone else into Lancer or know a bit more about the company. For a company that seemed so seminal to the the fantasy and comics hobbies, there's precious little out there I can find.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Space Adventures Presents UFO -- The Adventures Of Paul Mann!


Space Adventures had been published by Charlton since the 50's. The issue in question is alternately listed as issue #60 or issue #1. It's indicia says it's "Space Adventures Presents U.F.O. Vol.3 No.60, October 1967". And it's frequency of publication is four times a year, though this is the only issue with this title that I know of.

The comic features a typicially dynamic cover by the painfully overlooked Rocke Mastroserio. It's mesmerizing and it's also true to the contents of the comic book itself. The editor of this comic is Dick Giordano.

Now the stories in this comic feature a reporter named Paul Mann. He works for the Jackson County Intellegencer and he's given the task of looking into the UFO phenomenon.

Chapter One is titled "Healers from Nowhere" and it's written by Sergius O'Shaugnessy and drawn by a guy named "Melonius Thonk". It's a very peculiar piece and seems actually to be some sort of file story from Charlton's sci-fi past. The artist isn't anyone I can identify immediately and likely neither could Giordano or his staff hence the offbeat pseudonym. The story begins with Mann taking the assignment reluctantly, then giving us a somewhat abbreviated history of man and the UFO. The story proper begins when he relates how a saucer was seen by a young cripple hillbilly boy who leaves his home so as not to be a burden but is found by eggheaded aliens. His parents part of the Archer clan find him gone and immediately suspect the Goodwin clan with whom they are feuding. The two clans face off but before things can become too tragic the flying saucer descends and the young boy returns healed. The two clans discover they can't remember why they feud and it ends happily.

Chapter Two of this saga is titled "The Plague" and it's drawn by Pat Boyette. And I assume this one is fully scripted by Sergius O'Shaugnessy (Denny O'Neil). This one begins with a robbery at a top secret government installation and Paul Mann is sent to find out what's up, the suspicion being some sort of potential for germ warfare. He is rebuffed by the military but at a local bar stumbles across the theif and follows him only to discover an alien (the same aliens as in the first story) is in his backseat. The reporter and the alien go to the where the thief is exchanging his plunder but a fight results in the toxins being released. The aliens save Mann and the surrounding town with a mysterious light that expunges the poisons and then disappear. Mann's editor rejects his story as poppycock, but the alien returns to tell Mann that though they cannot reveal themselves to the public they can show Mann what it's all about.

Chapter Three reveals the secret. It's titled "The Secret of the Saucer" and it's presumably written by O'Shaugnessy again and is drawn by Jim Aparo. The alien takes Paul Mann inside the saucer and reveals to him that they are not in fact aliens but humans from the future, specifically the year 4000 AD. They have come back in time to stall a world war between the Honjnos Nation of the Eastern Hemisphere and the Esrom Nation of the Western Hemisphere. The war destroyed man's civilzation but these future men want to change that history. After he's told this Mann hears an alarm which indicates the future men have been followed by the Honjnos enemy. A battle between spaceships follows until Mann learns that the ship can make relatively short time jumps easily, and further that they are above the island of Bikini. He tells them to jump back in time from 1967 to 1964, which they do and the Honjnos follow. The good aliens with Mann then escape back to 1967 leaving the Honjnos ship to endure the effects of the first Hydrogen bomb test on Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1964. Having destroyed the immediate enemy, the aliens send Mann back as their emissary after spending thirteen years aboard the time ship training him. He is released back into the very world and time he left and the UFO disappears, but leaves Paul Mann behind to take action to save the future.

This is a very peculiar comic book. I'm only guessing, but I'd imagine that someone wanting to take advantage of the UFO craze found the old story about the aliens and then got the young writer O'Neil to spin enough out of it to make a full comic. Then two Charlton reliables like Boyette and Aparo were brought in to finish it off, likely working simultaneously to meet the deadline. That's just speculation, but seems to fit the evidence the comic itself supplies. It's a weird comic, but a memorable one.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Rodan!


I love Rodan, the movie that is. It was my first Japanese monster movie I think. For some reason it played on my local TV stations while I could hardly get the other films, save for some of the later and weaker Godzilla flicks. Along with the other dandy Godzilla Vs. The Thing which showed up on Halloween flim fests, I cut my teeth on Kaiju with Rodan.

And as it turns out I was lucky to do so. Rodan is a rich movie for any pulp-genre fanboy. It's part noirish murder mystery, part bug-monster movie in the traditon of THEM, part UFO flick, and part giant Japanses monster movie, with a little romance flicked in at the end for good measure. This movie has got it all.

Recently I finally got to see Rodan in the original Japanese form, and it's a somber monster movie, with a real mystery to be solved. Rodan doesn't show up for a very very long time, while the screen is occupied by some above-average acting. The scenes where the hero finds himself stranded among the insect-monsters in the egg chamber of Rodan gave me shivers as a kid and still is an effectively creepy scene. That it's presented as a memory gives it an added dimension, a dreamy delusional quality.

The UFO portions of the movie are decent, but when Rodan finally shows up and starts blowing over buildings the movie really gets humming. More even than Godzilla (a living a-bomb), Rodan is a natural disaster producing in his/their wake a small flood, an earthquake, and an ersatz hurricane. Maybe it's the recent news, but seeing an entire city getting blown off its foundations was pretty unnerving, even in a funky old monster movie.

The ending continues to affect me. The Rodans cleave together in a world they cannot cope with, and die in yet another natural disaster, a volcano. It's an odd twist and ties them to the young lovers we've watched throughout the movie, who have also been rocked by the disasters both personal and ecological in the movie.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Right Now #3 -- Bizarre Thrills!


Joe Staton is my favorite comic book artist. Every since I chanced upon his work in E-Man #6, I've been a fan. I got hold of as mucn of his Charlton work as I could, and I still seek it out. I followed him to DC where he became a go-to artist in many respects. His revival of E-Man at First was a highlight of my collecting experience, as have been the various revivals since. Each new Staton project gets my attention, even his work on Scooby Doo and suchlike. It's been a great year to be a Staton fan as he's produced not only new E-Man work, but his Femme Noir stuff with Chris Mills is superb (it's what DC's Spirit should've been), and he's also done some fun stuff with Jughead for Archie Comics.

The cover above for Bizarre Thrills is an old AC Comics version of Bill Black's Nightveil/Blue Bulleteer character. She's always lovely, but this version of her by Staton is especially provocative.

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King Kong Escapes!


The Rankin-Bass team are famous for their Christmas specials, most famously Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But way back in the groovy decade of the 60's they tried to branch out a bit and bring back a classic monster, King Kong. The deal was complicated but essentially they contracted with Toho Studios, the home of Godzilla and the last known residence of Kong after his skuffle with Big G several years before in the 3rd Godzilla movie, to make a cartoon version of Kong's adventures for TV and also a couple of live-action movies starring the Big Ape. It all gets sort of complicated.

Well anyway, I've rounded up both volumes of the cartoons, and I landed the double set of Toho Kong films - Godzilla Vs. King Kong and King Kong Escapes. The former I'm familiar with, but it's been a very very long time since I've seen the latter film, which is pretty directly developed from the cartoon. Supposedly the damsel in the movie is supposed to be the girl from the cartoon, though that wouldn't really make sense given her attitudes about Kong in the first part of the movie. The long story short, I recommend this flick. It's very long and features some pretty interesting spins on both the original Kong flicks and on classic Toho big-suit movies. On "Mondo Island", Kong reprises his classic battles from the original 1933 flick, and there are scenes which remind me of the first Toho flick. The fight between Kong and MechaniKong (created by a guy named "Dr.Who" also from the cartoon) is pretty fun, with the suit-actors really giving the pair some vivid characterization. This movie even stars Rhodes Reason, brother of and lookalike for Rex Reason, the hero of This Island Earth, and his commanding presence is actually pretty good. This is kids stuff, but then that's what we're about here.


The movie and the cartoon attempt to blend Kong, spies (the family is named "Bond" for no small reason I suspect), Toho magic, and the whole Rankin-Bass zeitgeist into a single package. It's a heady brew, and while it misfires from time to time, overall the cartoon and the movie are pretty diverting entertainments.
This version of Kong has only been adapted to comics once that I know of, in the one-shot America's Best TV Comics which also features classic FF and Spidey material along with George of the Jungle, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Casper stuff. The Flying Nun even shows up on the back cover. This comic book is a real artifact of the time.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Brute That Conquered The World!



One vintage Japanese monster flick that has always eluded me was Frankenstein Conquers the World (one of the great titles in all the history of hyperbole). Its "sequel", War of the Gargantuas (starring Russ Tamblyn of West Side Story fame) was a movie I saw a lot when I was young as it played on TV all the time. I later learned this rather athletic Japanese monster movie was a the follow-up to the earlier "Frankenstein" movie, a movie I'd read about in Famous Monsters of Filmland. But this one never played on TV, or at least never around me. Being a fan of Frankenstein movies and of Godzilla movies, I naturally wanted to see this one, and when I read somewhere that it was originally the brainchild of Willis O'Brien the grandaddy of King Kong, I had to see it.

And I did finally, on TV some years ago.

And again just a few months ago after getting it on DVD. The Japanese title is the far less memorable Frankenstein Vs. Baragon but it is what it is. The DVD I picked up had three versions, the original Japanese version, the American version, and an extended International version (with extra Octopus action at the end that really confuses the plot terribly). I watched the Japanese version first and found it to be a surprisingly somber and nearly serious presentation, downright understated for a Kaiju flick. This one seemed to treat the material, which begins in around Hiroshima with a sober attitude that overcame the more common hijinks these movies had largely descended into by the 60's. This tone was more like the original Godzilla than anything else, and I found it fascinating. By contrast the American version is more quickly paced, drops some of the more somber subplots, and is more a bang-up monster fight flick. I prefer the original.

Now what's this to do with comics?




Well, for a long time I've always assumed that Atlas-Seaboard's comic The Brute by Michael Fleisher, Mike Sekowsky, and Pablo Marcos was based on Trog the 60's movie about a subterranean caveman who gets lose and tears up an English village. It's a hoot of flick itself, and the parallels to Brute are obvious. But one review of Brute suggested that Frankenstein Conquers the World was also an influence. And after watching this movie carefully now, I'd have to concur. The Brute in some scenes is suggested to be a giant (the debut cover no less)and his conflicts with the police are rather like the Frankenstein creature's battles in the movie. Both films have similar themes, monsters who are more than just savages despite their genetics and circumstances, and who are violent to no small extent due to the violence they are confronted with. I might have to read those Brute issues again and see what else might have been lifted from the Japanese classic.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Speed Racer!


I've never much cared for Speed Racer. I never saw the show when I was young, and when I caught it on TV later it always confused me.

But the other day I was trying to burn up some credit at Best Buy and looking for something of interest. Their racks were bereft of vintage material in my price range, until I stumbled across a box set of dvds with the original Speed Racer cartoons from the late 60's. Attracted by the handsome package, I rolled the dice.

And I'm glad I did. The episodes are bright, colorful, and watching them carefully, they do indeed make sense. I've learned a lot about Speed and his family in the last 24 hours, and I have to say there's a lot to recommend here. I never imagined the cartoon was a blend of Elvis in Viva Las Vegas and James Bond in Goldfinger (the Aston Martin don't you know)-- a heady brew indeed. The Mach 5 is pretty dang cool I'll have to admit. And I don't know if it's me, but the characters seem vivid and real in ways I never imagined possible. I get a Jonny Quest vibe off the cartoon. There's a contrast between an exotic homelife and adventure that twists and turns in unexpected ways.



I'm anxious to see more and learn more about Speed and his world. I'd like to get a glance at some of the original Mangas, to get a sense of where the characters roots come from. I've never been a fan of Anime, but early examples do fascinate me somewhat for the historical context they thrive in.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

The Great American Bubble Machine!


I've been reading about this Rolling Stone article by Matt Taibbi for a few weeks now. I've wanted to read it and finally by way of Mark Evanier's site I was directed to the full thing. It's a vivid narrative about the firm Goldman Sachs and why our economy teeters and so many suffer while at the same time so many preen. It made me mad, but mostly it made me sad, sad for my children and grandchildren that their futures are being raided while those blowhards put in public office to protect us and them sit and count their lucre, and at the same time while those self-congratulatory peons in bigtime journalism say nothing. It's a tale of woe.

Here's the link:

The GREAT AMERICAN BUBBLE MACHINE

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

One Giant Leap For Mankind!

Putting a man on the Moon. It's the stuff of legends, but in our take-out society, it's been transformed into something so bland as to be forgotten. That's a shame really. Here are some comic book covers from times when going to the Moon was a grand adventure.







That last one with the Fantastic Four is an offbeat tale of the FF protecting the original Moon landing. Since of course they'd been to the Moon before, in the Marvel Universe Neil Armstrong's achievement is less magnificent, but not in our world. At least it shouldn't be.

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The World Of Steve Ditko!


Blake Bell's biography of "Sturdy" Steve Ditko is a big book, full of great images from across the span of Ditko's career. I learned a lot about Ditko I never realized before. He comes across in Bell's bio as the dedicated craftsman we knew him to be, but also a man who is full of compulsions. His absolute acceptance of Randian beliefs has at once inspired and hampered his career, at least in terms of what we might consider success in the classic mold. As described by Bell, Ditko's decisions seem sometimes less motivated by adherence to a code than simple peevishness.

The stories of people who attempt to work with Ditko, only to find themselves cast out because they insult him for some reason or other is lengthy. It becomes a pattern, a man holds not only himself but all those around him to a strict code and even when they insult his integrity, even in a way not commonly understood, they are cut off. Ditko comes across in this book as a real man, not the Randian hero he might imagine himself to be. It often seems unfair and ultimately hurtful to Ditko himself. That's in my estimation a good thing in the final analysis, because it allows me to feel more strongly about the work and the man himself.

One thing this book does is put Ditko in his generation, something I've always been a bit confused about. The tracking of his early career really allows me to see how he fits among the larger history of comics. As a Charlton fanboy, I adore the work of Ditko to whom who they gave such complete control. It's one of the grand ironies of comics that Ditko found Charlton, a place which because it usually cared so little about the editorial content of its comics gave him the free creative rein he craved. It's the very defintion of benign neglect.

I recommend this book, though it is a bit pricey. It makes a great companion to the Kirby book by Mark Evanier. It's a better read, maybe because I knew less about the subject and more of it seemed fresher.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Gods And Comics!



I was recently reading Robert E. Howard's "Cairn On The Headland", a short story about a mysterious pile of rocks under which we discover is buried the body of Odin himself. As I read this story I flashed on images of Odin and his early days from the vintage comic book Tales of Asgard, a Thor annual which collected many of the earliest Tales of Asgard stories, stories that present the Nordic myths of the creation of the Universe and present us with a young and vital Odin.

And then it crossed my mind that most of what I know casually about mythology comes from some basic comic book sources. Tales of Asgard and Thor inform my mutated understanding of Norse myth, despite having read many of the orignal sources and multiple books on the subject. All that scholarly stuff has been pushed into some deep recess and on it sits the vivid four-color images of "King" Kirby and others. What I know about Greek myth comes from Charlton's Hercules comic and other comics. Glanzman and Gill trump Edith Hamilton in my memory it seems. Also important was the Daularies' Book of Greek Mythwhich is a glorious oversized volume filled with bright images and good basic tale. It was one of the key books I had to buy for my own kids when they were young and I pushed it into their paths as often as I could.

Myth of all sorts permeates comics. Marvel doubtless has key elements of both Greco-Roman myth and Norse myth fused into its universe, forming almost a substrate for that universe. DC toys with it more, but offers up Hercules among others. In college I once talked a professor into letting me write a paper on Thor, and lots of it was about the comic. It was a really lame paper, but memorable in its awfulness.

But it's clear to me that without the "education" that I got from comics, my understanding of the world of myth and many other things would be quite different.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Right Now #2 - Black Fury!



How many comics feature a horse's rear as the focal point of the composition? Not many I suspect. This is, despite its offbeat perspective, still a fairly dramatic image. I think this is a Dick Giordano cover. Some artists can just draw horses pretty nicely.

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Conan The Advertisement!


Who do you think is the illustrator of this advertisement for the then new Conan the Barbarian comic book?

This is one of my all-time favorite house ads and was only the third illustration of Conan I'd ever seen at the time, the first being Frazetta's cover to Conan the Conqueror found at my local library and the second possibly, was an ad in a Warren magazine for Conan the Freebooter.

The Conan in this ad looks a lot more like the Lancer Frazetta Conans, older and less handsome than the pert young man Barry (not-yet-Windsor) Smith would draw so magnificently. I like this version a lot.

My guess is Jim Steranko, with maybe a few Marie Severin touch-ups on his face. I also see a hint of Dan Adkins. The truth is I just don't know. What do you all think?

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Space Eagle - Operation Doomsday!


As I mentioned in an earlier posting, this Whitman novel The Space Eagle - Operation Doomsday was a big influence on my young self. The novel was written by Jack Pearl with illustrations by Arnie Kohn. The idea that "superhero" adventures expanded beyond the comics was enlightening and gave me a broader perspective about the nature of genres. Also it plugged into neatly the very real excitement of the times, an era when the Moon landing was imminent and the exploration of space a real and thriving possibility. We live in less exciting, more mundane times now having given up the thrill of exploration for more prosaic pursuits. The Space Eagle remains a neat tie for me to all that excitement.

Let reprise the plot briefly. Paul Girard and his sister Julie are twins in command of a large R&D conglomerate that has ties to space travel and cosmetics of all things. Paul is a famous handsome adventurer well liked by almost everyone. His sister is a genius researcher who prefers the lab to the broader world. After using an experimental faster-than-light spacecraft to rescue some scientists stranded in orbit, Paul is called upon by the President of the United States to be a defacto Marshall of space. This is a world still ruled by the Cold War which has spread into the very cold reaches of space and the colonies established there. Paul takes the challenge and adopting the identity of Space Eagle he uses the SWIFT (his FTL ship) and other scientific breakthoughs from his sister to fight dark menaces. The first he is called upon to battle is a mad doctor named Luchesi who plots to use nuclear missles to draw the Superpowers into a conflict leaving him and his ilk to sort out the aftermath. Using special chemicals Paul adopts the role of Luchesi's son to infiltrate the hidden Himalayan lair and after much activity overcomes Doctor Luchesi and his robot agent. The Space Eagle then uses the SWIFT's ftl capabilities to effectively stop time enabling him to end the threat of the nuclear weapons stalling the threat to the world. As the story ends he and his sister wait the next challenge.

It's good rousing stuff. Paul is a blend of Doc Savage, The Avenger, and Flash Gordon with a healthy dose of James Bond dashed in too. The story is brisk and involving, offering up some neat suspense. The dilemma is worthy of a superhero and demands both physical skills and dexterity of mind. That's probably what I like most, the Space Eagle must solve most problems with his mind, or the mind of his sister through her special weapons and potions. It's a heady brand of adventure. Good stuff.

There's a second novel in the series, one I've never ever owned nor read. I'm anxious to tear into it.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Right Now #1 - Starro Meets Freud!





I offer up these three comic book covers without comment, save to suggest that while the connection between Fantastic Four #1 and its inspiration Brave and Bold #28 is apparent and well documented, the homage for this scenario evident in Bizarre Sex #1seems equally obvious to me. How about you all?

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