Monday, November 30, 2009
I don't own a single copy of Larry Ivie's Monsters and Heroes but I've seen several, priced just above what my interest allows me to spend, but I have read a few stories featuring Altron Boy, the hero from this very handsome run of fan-created magazines.
He's the son of a scientist and is enlisted by a young female peer to investigate the disappearance of her dad. It seems a villain named Voltar is making off with scientists. The boy finds a flying belt and a costume that goes with it and armed he prowls the mystery finding his way onto the island lair of Voltar, place brimming with dinsaurs.
It's good old-fashioned fun. And the covers for this series are simply magnificent.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
I've spent the holiday enjoying some movies by Ralph Bakshi. Bakshi is a notorious maverick in the animation industry, a garrolous New Yorker with a charming personality and a contentious turn who produced some fascinating cartoons during the 60's, 70's and 80's.
I first learned of Bakshi with his movie Wizards which I saw in the theater in that notorious summer just days before Star Wars transformed the science fiction and fantasy landscape forever. Wizards is a fun frolic of a movie that I enjoy a bit each time I see it. It's clever, witty, with just enough smarm to make it work but not become cloying. It's philosophy is thin, but works well enough for practical purposes. Two brothers, wizards both, embody the battle between nature and technology with technology being associated with war and death and misery while nature is all about fairies and goodness. The animation features some great work by Mike Ploog, some details by Jim Starlin and lots of sturdy animation from the Bakshi studio. It's a lovely movie with charm and a hint of wit.
It was followed up by Lord of the Rings the first and infamous adaptation of the Tolkien classic. Bakshi's LotR is a pretty good movie for about an hour and a half, right about the time they encounter the Balrog in Moria. Then slowly the move seems to lose its pedigree a bit as a successful blend of animation and live action. I don't find the techniques used in LotR to be offensive, they work quite well early on in the cartoon. But apparently money wasn't there to animate the last half as effectively and sadly it shows. The story ends abruptly and the whole thing was overall disappointing. Though before the Peter Jackson epics, the only attempt ever made to translate the work to film, however limited the success.
Lastly I watched Fire and Ice, Bakshi's turn at bringing a Frank Frazetta comic book to the screen. This uses the same techiniques of rotoscoping experimented with effectively in Wizards and used to less effect in Lord of the Rings and offers up a complete translation. This movie written by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway does what it advertises, bringing Frazetta images to life. It's a pretty straight ahead story about a sorcerer who wants to conquer the world by pushing his ice kingdom across the landscape and he's opposed by folks who live atop a volcano. A hero chases about after a kidnapped princess and is helped by a mysterious masked fellow who seems to know a lot about the backgrounds of everyone involved. There's not a lot of complexity to it, but it's good enough for adventure purposes. It's a decent enough story and offers some fun visuals. It's not as charming as Wizards but more complete than LotR.
Overall I find the Bakshi stuff highly enjoyable, smart and punchy in a way a lot of animation just isn't alas. Now I need to get myself a copy of Fritz the Cat the seminal Bakshi film I've never seen all the way through.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Above is a wonderful run of comics produced under the watchful eye of the late great Gray Morrow. Every now and again Archie Comics wants to try out something under their "Red Circle" logo. Morrow was the kahuna of this experiment by Archie to capture a bit of anther aspect of the comics market in the early 70's. Sorcery and Madhouse are filled with really outstanding artwork by Morrow and others like Doug Wildey, Vicente Alcazar, and Frank Thorne.
All the covers above are by Morrow.
I finished up this final iteration of the Rocketman series. It's considered by some a serial, but it's not. It's an attempt by Republic to create a TV show out of their serial material. Watching these episodes is like watching old Superman or Lone Ranger shows, and while pretty entertaining in spots not even a serial in tone or character.
The story though does have something of a throughline. Yet another alien menace from space-parts unknown (possibly Venus at first) named "The Ruler" plots to overwhelm the Earth. His schemes involve mucking with the weather a lot, usually creating a heatwave, a deep freeze, a series of storms, or whatnot. His invading forces usually consist of two guys in a single rocketship and two other guys who have infiltrated human society. Their art always two of them I guess so they can talk to one another. Lyle Talbot plays one of the Earth spies in several episodes, though his ultimate fate is left open somewhat. It's the use of these same actors as The Ruler and such that make people think of this as a serial I guess.
Commando Cody is played by Judd Holdren who started this series assisted by Aline Towne. But after three episodes this series was put on hold to make Zombies in the Stratoshpere in which the name "Commmando Cody" is dropped though both Holdren and Towne show up under new names. After that serial completed they went back to produce the other nine episodes of this show.
The shows have a real formula to them, and that's fine but watching them close together does point up the weaknesses in this approach. They are fun shows, harmless fluff. But they don't have the power of the serials, the momentum is missing and that really hurts the overall impact of the threats. You don't know how, but you know it will be solved by the end of the show, unlike serials which can throw you curves as they unfold.
Good stuff still though.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Created by Howard Keltner, a fan-talent and part of the "Texas Trio", Dr.Weird has gotten a life in comics outside his fannish beginnings. Keltner is not timid about saying that Mr.Justice, the old MLJ hero was Weird's inspriation.
I first chanced on the good Doctor in a Caliber Comics reprint of vintage Dr.Weird stories by now-famous writer George R.R. Martin and now-famous comics artist Jim Starlin. They kindle with the robust energy of youth and have a vigor and life missing from most modern comics, overcome by ironic commentary. Starlin's artwork is very like the stuff he first showed up at Marvel with on Iron Man and Captain Marvel, a fusion of Kirby and Kane and others, a synthesis of what was good in comics art at the time. The special reprints the contents of the two Dr.Weird issues published by Keltner along with a few other short tales.
The stories are a blend of science and sorcery. The Doctor is a lost time traveler who dies before he was born creating a paradox that gives him a weird unlife in which he's given the mission to use vast powers to help mankind in the 20th century. The threats are cults and demons and whatnot, vaguely Lovecraftian with a comics twist.
Dr.Weird got a few issues from Caliber of new adventures but these don't have the same magic somehow. Then he was folded into the Big Bang universe and had some fun things happen there. I've seen a few other issues advertised but I don't have those.
He's also shown up at Hamster Press in some classic reprints from the 60's with artwork Landon Chesney and others, really fine stuff. Howard Keltner his creator apparently sold the rights to the Big Bang guys, but I don't know where they reside now since Keltner passed away.
Dr.Weird is good reading for fans of vintage comic book heroes!
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Wow! What a serial that was. I've been watching a bunch of serials lately, those featuring Bela Lugosi. The latest one I've got hold of was the Republic SOS Coast Guard which offers up some delicious action, a decent hero, and some great villains.
The plot is simple, a scientist named Boroff has created a "Disintegrating Gas" which effects are demonstrated with the tried and true Republic melting image method. He is trying to sell it to a foreign power named "Morovania" and he's helped by a robust gang and a fantastic mute giant named Thorg. The Coast Guard officer named Terry Kent, a plucky girl reporter and a hapless photographer named Snapper all oppose him. Boroff in the outstanding first chapter kills Kent's brother and that's the motive to keep Kent on his trail.
There's lots of water action as you'd suspect and some good action otherwise. Kent has a habit of getting tied up a lot, three seperate times by my count, but other wise he's a worthy hero played by Ralph Byrd. But it's the villain Boroff played by Bela Lugosi who dominates many of the scenes thanks to some outstanding lighting effects. He looks menacing and downright mean all the dang time.
The real treat in this flick though is Thorg. Thorg is a mute giant who at once is slave to Boroff and hates for mutilating him, but Richard Alexander without saying a word presents one of the best screen baddies I've ever come across. Thorg is downright monstrous as he swims and climbs out of the shadows. Never saying a word, Alexander still communicates effectively and his large frame and powerful eyes make Thorg a great one. His demise is worthy of his standing in the flick, a great character.
This is a good serial through and through. But Thorg will stay with me always; who says they weren't making horror movies at this time. This is a classic!
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I recently read The Rocketeer stories by Dave Stevens in their original format. That means scrounging up many different comics titles from four different comic book companies. It's quite a saga that is spread across many years.
The story begins in the Pacific Comics title Starslayer. In the debut issue of that title there is a one page ad for the Rocketeer. It got many people interested. I was there, and I can tell you that's true. As interesting as Starslayer was, it was that one Rocketeer page that got you humming. In the next issue of Starslayer we actually meet Cliff Secord, his sidekick and mentor Peevy, and his knockout babe Betty. It's a few pages but it's choice. And we get to see the Rocketeer fly. The third issue of Starslayer follows up nicely with a second chapter.
Then the story shifts to a new title Pacific Presents for two issues and two more chapters. The chapters are a bit longer and the art seems a bit brighter as the story of the stolen rocketpack and Cliff's love affair with the glorious Betty continues to unfold. We meet some characters who evoke a memory of some classic pulp heroes associated with a certain Man of Bronze to boot.
Then it stops.
Eventually the story is continued and the first story at long last completed by The Rocketeer Special Edition, the first comic dedicated solely to Cliff's adventures. The art is even brighter still on great paper and it looks fabulous, especially Betty. This comic was published by Eclipse Comics who stepped in to rescue the tale from oblivion after the fall of Pacific Comics.
And Eclipse then collects the first story in a great album. The story though ends on an odd note with Betty and Cliff both headed to New York City. It's not as neatly tied up as one would like.
Eventually in the late 80's, Comico steps in and publishes two issues of The Rocketeer Aventure Magazine offering up the lushest Dave Stevens artwork yet on Cliff's journey to NYC and how he meets up with an old pal and dives headlong into a mystery that delves into his past with a very bizarre carnival. A series of murders committed by a guy who looks like famous movie villain Rondo Hatton put Cliff in great danger but he's saved by a most mysterious fellow he met at the Cobalt Club, another pulp hero it seems. All this and he wants to win back Betty's love to boot.
Then after two issues it stopped.
It's the 90's and finally at long last the third and final issue of The Rocketeer Adventure Magazine is published by Dark Horse Comics. It completes the saga of Cliff Secord and his romance with Betty though still up in the air does seem to progress a bit. The story ends with all parties either in California or headed back there.
And that's the saga. No more Rocketeer tales have been told aside from the movie and its two adaptations. That's a long time to wait for such a story, no matter its wonderful art to unfold, but many did it. Now sadly with the death of Dave Stevens there will likely be no more Rocketeer tales. It's a pity, because I think he wanted there to be. But I've read nothing to indicate such will happen.
But never say never. If any hero can come back it's the Rocketeer.