Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Day In The Anti-Life - Kneeling Power!


The Crackpot-In-Chief has done it again. In an effort to distract the public attention from his myriad and profound inadequacies, he has thrown out the vitriolic red meat his sycophants so enjoy to chew on. I suppose he thought he was on pretty safe ground with his fans when he tried to twist the controversial protests around the national anthem in the NFL and elsewhere to serve his immediate  needs. But this one didn't turn out quite like he expected, though I suspect he's still pretty satisfied with the sheer spectacle and the fact he's once again at the center of a new media controversy.


Colin Kaepernick has succeeded beyond his wildest imaginings I have to think, despite the current unwillingness to add him to a roster. When he opted to take a knee during the national anthem, an act of protest intended to be sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter protests in the streets and elsewhere around the nation, he was making a move which has captured the collective imaginations of the country. Folks were supportive or they were not, but as far as I can tell, few folks don't have an opinion. His protest was at once a poke in the eye of game which tries to have it both ways when it comes to race. An industry in which almost exclusively white men employ a large cadre of black men to work for them is a showcase for the ruptures of race relations in this country. It reeks of the classic plantation and despite the large sums which many garner, it can never not be about men of color sacrificing their bodies (and as we are learning their minds) so that white men can make a profit.


It's a perfect place for Kaepernick's protest and the reaction to that protest points up many of the conflicts in the country. I keep hearing mealy-mouthed folks suggest they are in sympathy with Kaepernick's cause but wish he'd have found some other means to make his point. But they miss the point and purpose of protest, to leverage whatever power one might have to make a larger point by inconveniencing others so that they will pay some small attention. Marching in a street and blocking traffic for some measure of time, shouting slogans and upsetting the public quiet for a bit, whatever the means, it must make some folks uncomfortable or it's not going to have much effect. Kaepernick's protest afflicts many who want their sports to be free of politics, but fail to realize that the insertion of the anthem at the sporting event is in itself a political act.


Our "so-called" President is a racist. I don't mince my words on that point, as it's been demonstrated many times over. Folks don't want to admit that simple fact, but that doesn't make it any less true. When he's under stress his racist attitudes emerge as a natural impulse to fend off those people he feels threaten him. It is his racism which makes him comfortable waging this new tempest he's picked out, which speaks to a base which is itself peopled by racists and folks who are intentionally ignorant of  how power is distributed in this country.  This latest brouhaha will blow over just as most of his little ploys do, but the defiance demonstrated by the NFL has to sting a little bit, even as it serves his larger purposes.

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The Golden Derby - September 1967!






Fifty years ago this month, the loyal fan doesn't know it yet, but a change is coming as the Silver Age superhero boom is about to bust big time. At the little Derby publisher there is a shift in visuals as new discovery Pat Boyette makes his mark in a big way and has three comics featuring his work this month. The most significant is the second issue of Charlton Premiere which features the memorable apocalyptic tale of "The Children of Doom". This story by Denny O'Neil with art by Boyette was reputedly done in a big hurry but  that doesn't impact the final impression as we have here a truly strange story of the future with desperate humans and peculiar and possibly deadly mutants. It's a grabber and has found its way into the lore of comics as one of Charlton's highlights. Boyette also stepped in on Thunderbolt, taking the reins from its creator Pete Morisi, again with an O'Neil script . The wacky Prankster makes a one and only appearance in the back up position. (Noted that O'Neil is writing under the name "Sergius O'Shaugnessy"). And Boyette makes a third bow with his own hero Peacemaker who once again struggles to save a war-weary world from itself. On the other side of things, we have a new feature written by Willie Franz, when Sam Glanzman illustrates the adventures of The Iron Corporal, an Australian fighting the good fight in the Pacific theater in Army War Heroes. Though I'm sure his Confederate dress would not get him much love these days, one of my favorite western heroes is the one-armed Captain Doom who does the right thing in the pages of Outlaws of the West. Rocke Mastroerio's cover is a dandy indeed.

More to come next month as Charlton continues to wind down its superhero line up.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Dojo Classics - Silver Star!


Toward the end of Jack "King" Kirby's vibrant career before he went off to the animation field to at long last make some real money, he put together some memorable comic books for the fledgling direct-sales outfit Pacific Comics. In fact it was his Captain Victory and his Galactic Rangers which initiated Pacific's presence on the comic book racks. Kirby's other Pacific book was Silver Star. That concept as well as Captain Victory and a host of others are currently being revived over at Dynamite Comics.


I just read the Image Comics reprint of Silver Star. This came out several years ago, and it offers a slightly larger version of Kirby's tale of the rise of Homo-Geneticus. The original was printed with various papers making for an uneven reading experience.


Here's the premise. A Doctor Bradford Miller experiments with the human genetic code using many volunteers. He wants to create a human able to withstand an atomic war. His results are a wave of children possessing vast superhuman powers, who are able to varying degrees to manipulate the very molecules around them. Our protagonist, a young man named Morgan Miller, has his powers erupt on him during a stint in Vietnam, when he throws a full-sized tank against the enemy. He shuts down immediately and the military begin to assess the problem, robing their new superman in a silver alloy.


Years pass and other of Miller's children make their presences known, especially an evil character named Darius Drumm, the son of a bogus preacher. Other members of this new species, "Homo-Geneticus", are encountered as the six-issue storyline unfolds. We meet Norman Richmond, a beautiful blonde actress who has the gift. We also encounter Elmo Frye, a young black man who can become the giant defender of the inner city, Big Masai. As Silver Star narrows his search for the arch-fiend Darius Drumm, there are casualties. Eventually a great battle is had involving the life-erasing Angel of Death.


This tale was originally a screenplay and the Image reprint offers up Kirby's play to compare to the comic which eventually developed from it. There are some differences.


Silver Star wasn't one of Kirby's greatest concepts, but it is a weird and wacky ride full of Kirby's bluster and distinctive storytelling. The early chapters seem to have been done long before the finale was concocted, they have a different feel to them, and frankly seem to be made by a Kirby more in commmand of his skills.


Also of note is the inking. Mike Royer inked the early installments and Bruce D. Berry the last few. Mike Thibodeaux inks some of the covers. Royer does the best work on Kirby, while Berry stays true to the King's lines with great fidelity, if not special energy.


There's a version from Twomorrows with just the pencils. I might have to get this sometime and compare.


UPDATE: I was all set to write a review of the Silver Star series after reading it recently when I remembered I'd done that already. Here it is above. Since that time so many years ago, I've gotten hold of the Graphite Edition and will be offering a look at it in  a few days. Also my appreciation of this story has, if anything, increased. While it's a gonzo effort on Kirby's part for certain, the singular direction and relatively small cast of this series really gives it a nifty cohesion. Not one of Kirby's best, but far from his least.

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Captain Victory - One For All!


I have to confess I was more than a bit surprised when I stumbled across this new Captain Victory number one way back at the turn of the century. Apparently Kirby's grandson tried to market Captain Victory but sadly it was a failure in two ways. The black and white comics take the original Kirby story and cut it up and reorganize the narrative to create a different tale. The printing is amazingly primitive given the abilities of the modern age and I'm fairly certain I could do a better job using a typical industrial copy machine.


I have not ever seen in the actual pulp the second issue and according to Wikipedia, the third and final installment received only online publication. This was a misguided attempt to revive "King" Kirby's creations and while I wish the Kirby family good fortune in reaping what benefit they can from the hard work of their of father and grandfather, I am not sad that this meager effort fell flat.


Galactic Bounty Hunters which dropped from Marvel's short-lived Icon brand was a bit more successful. Written by Kirby's daughter this project was another weird offspring of the Captain Victory material, using early versions of the Wonder Warriors to create a different story line. Captain Victory even puts in a cameo in one issue.


And since no company has been able to get it together to reprint the Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers material in a proper form, it likely remains one of the King's most obscure efforts. Image tried and failed, only giving us a collection for Silver Star.


Dynamite tried a few times to revive the series but for whatever reason has not ever appeared to attempt to reprint the vintage stuff.  Why this series has not gotten the nod is beyond me, but it's well past time someone did the deed.

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Captain Victory - All For One!


Let me close out my look at Jack Kirby's Captain Victory and The Galactic Rangers from Pacific Comics with a look at the exceedingly peculiar Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers Special one and only. It's a odd story by any stretch and fitted within the broad cosmic confines of what had preceded in the comic, even more so.


The story begins aboard the Dreadnought: Tiger still waiting for a new engine (after losing its original to the Voice and his Wonder Warriors). To pass the time Egghead (sometimes called Mister Mind) has arranged elaborate trips into the past of the planet Earth using information he recorded while on the planet fighting the Insectons. Captain Victory, Major Klavus and Tarin the Tri-Command of the Tiger are suddenly swept up in this scheme and shunted into Paris of the historical past blended with the ficitonal works of both Alexander Dumas (The Three Musketeers) and Victor Hugo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame).


The find Egghead playing the role of Quasimodo, sort of, and quickly find themselves clothed and cast as the Three Musketeers. Plenty of action ensues as they seek to rescue a female Ranger who is being burned as a witch and stop a "Q-Bomb" which has been triggered inadverdantly. The of course save her and the misadventure comes to an abrupt halt when they shunted back to the Tiger with Egghead trying his best to rectify things.


Meanwhile the Q-Bomb having been transported into space explodes in a massive and colorful Kirby collage.




The Special also offers up some tasty Kirby pin-ups with insights into other aspects of the Ranger forces. Sadly these are glimpses of concepts we will never get a chance to see developed.  And with that Kirby says a fond farewell to his last great creation. He's not quite done with comics, but his later work will be almost exclusively with scripts written by others.

As for Captain Victory, he will return yet again, but more on that next time.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Return Of The Deadman!


Deadman is among my favorite protagonists in all of comics. I came into possession of a few vintage issues  of Strange Adventures (back when they weren't so vintage) as a kid and absorbed them. Adams produced artwork unlike any seen in comics at the time, bristling with a dynamic realism which was both vivid and exciting. He elevated what fans expected from the comic book page and his work on Batman was revolutionary for that most-famous character. But it was on Deadman co-created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino, where he got to play the most, becoming more and more the master of his own fate, even writing the last few issues of that all-too brief original run.


And now after all these decades he's set to do it again. Adams has been revisiting some of his old haunts and does so literally now that he's about give us six issues of a Deadman limited series which asks the age-old question which motivated the original series so effectively -- Who killed Boston Brand?


I'm signing up for this one. (Though I might well wait for the trade reprint.) Neal Adams is a once-in-a-generation talent, and while his skills have lost a bit of their polish, he's still got a game well above the majority of the youngsters who ply the trade today.

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Tiny Wheels Of Justice!


What a strange, strange world we live in where such a comic book actually exists. I have no earthly idea what prompted Neal Adams to create the notorious Skateman but he did and then he used his sway with Pacific Comics to get them to publish it. I'm sure they were eager enough to put more Adams on the stands with their brand on it, but really.


Actually the story of Skateman is pretty straightforward if overwrought. He's has enough motivations for a good half dozen vigilantes but Adams keeps adding in the angst. Our hero is named Billy Moon and he's a nice enough fellow, motivated by a need to serve, he took martial arts lessons young and went to Vietnam. Saddened by what he saw he returned home and sought some release but found work difficult to keep until he became a roller derby wonder. But the suspicious death of his best friend Jack caused him to move away with his lovely girlfriend Angel who worked with migrant workers. But those migrant workers are being exploited by a motorcycle gang and Angel gets killed by them and all this might have something to do with Jack's death too, but that's left open.


He has been hanging out and helping a youngster named Paco who likes comics and inspired by those Billy becomes a roller-skate hero named...ta da..."Skateman". Skateman then takes off after the cycle gang and other villains and gains a small rep. But he gets his butt kicked as our story opens and we see him recuperating and remembering all of his origin while a new girl named Jill tends to his injuries. Then she gets kidnapped and he's off again to save her which of course he does as the story abruptly ends.


A lot of stuff is jammed into a short space and there's no small dose of action, so why don't folks like this book better. Well the premise is pretty lame, a guy uses roller skates to gain an edge on drug pushers and has a costume which would look lame at Halloween. "Skateman" is arguably the stupidest name in the annals of comics, though it's brutal directness is admirable in a strange way.


To my knowledge there's never been more Skateman adventures and after reading this story again after all these decades, I'm good with that. Looking at some prime Neal Adams art though is always nifty.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Machine Man - Mister Monster!


While on hiatus the Machine Man series gets a boost by the lead character being featured in the pages of the hot Marvel comic The Incredible Hulk.


Beginning in issue #234 of the comic by Roger Stern and Sal Buscema we meet X-51, the robot known as Machine Man who comes into conflict with the Hulk. Both are manipulated into fighting by the gangsters known as "The Corporation".


We get a few issues of wall-to-wall slam bang action as Jadejaws and X-51 battle it out. They seem well matched at first but as happens most of the time the relentless assault of the Hulk begins to win the day and Machine Man suffers significant damage.


When the Hulk ends the melee by bringing down the skyscraper which houses The Corporation, the battle ends for him while Machine Man must be repaired. More on that when Machine Man's comic is revived with a new team.


One thing that Marvel got right most of the time was that when a series ended abruptly due to poor sales, the stories were almost always picked up somewhere in the larger Marvel Universe and given a proper send off. (Warlock, It, Woodgod) The Hulk was a common place for this to happen with Machine Man getting the help here to transition from the Kirby years to what was to come.


More on that next week.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Dojo Classics - Edge Of Chaos!


Pacific Comics was one of the more interesting Indy publishers in the early days of the direct-sales market. One title the Pacific crew came up with was a potential opus by Gray Morrow called Edge of Chaos which has a pretty dandy high-concept.


A man named Eric Cleese ("Hercules" of course) is lost in the Bermuda Triangle and whisked into the ancient past (vague timeframe) by aliens who have been stranded on Earth and have become the basis for our mythological gods. He meets a beauty named Diona and accepts a mission to undo the harm the alien-gods have done so that the aliens can at last go home. He must battle a renegade alien named Moloch who mourns for his dead mate, and he does this with a couple of buddies he picks up in a local bar named Flan (a drunken fellow with a baboon face) and Slag (a neanderthal looking chap). As the first issue ends the trio ride off to complete their mission riding prehistoric beasts.


The final two issues of the run though fail to really follow through on the excellent set-up. In the second issue Eric and his buds fight the "Hill Hag" a sorceress and her monsters. They overcome her fairly readily, then in the next issue we have to see all this great landscape wrapped up as characters are eliminated and the status quo is transformed because the three-issue series is coming to an end. It's a pretty random and confusing conclusion with characters popping up faster than the reader can process them, though given the space crunch Morrow does okay I guess.


It's a disappointment because this series had great potential. A strength is the artwork of Morrow, a man who was unusually gifted at drawing lovely women in all manner of undress. A weakness is his writing. Many of the pages are overwritten, with words overcoming the pace of the story. There are instances where captions get lost on the page and the text almost contradicts what we're seeing on the page. This series seems to have fallen victim to some scheduling or contractual problem that made its conclusion rushed and ironically chaotic. It's a pity.

UPDATE: Gray Morrow's artwork continues to shine through the years. He was a singular talent who seemed unusually capable of rendering lovely, sexy, realistic women. (Not like the sex doll fantasies which pass for women in so many comics in recent years.)  His heroes were grounded in a base reality which added to the fantasy which always seemed to erupt.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Get Your Tales In A Twist!


If there was ever a bit of visual irony in the back issue bins, it's when modern readers stumble across pretty much any issue of Twisted Tales from Pacific Comics. There's an image such as the one above by Rich Corben with the peculiar brand of "PC" in the corner. Whatever you might want to say about these "twisted tales" from the pen of Bruce Jones, one thing you won't say is that they are "Politically Correct" - a term blessedly unknown in the 80's.


Twisted Tales is the pretty much the brainchild of Bruce Jones, the writer of all the stories which are among the best Warren horror stories not written for the pages of Creepy and Eerie. Jones, who has had a long career writing comics specialized in horror and Twisted Tales was part of a little mini-house he operated within the confines of Pacific Comics. Twisted Tales had a sci-fi sister book called Alien Worlds, but it's TT that stands in my memory and it's because of these covers.


With talent like Rich Corben and Berni Wrightson it's no wonder the images still grab after so many decades. These men were the kings of horror  art in their generation.


They are joined on cover art duty by John Bolton, at the time an up and coming British artist making his bones on fantasy and such, but displaying a real flair for horror here.





Another artist brought over the pond was John Pound who had that old magic and fit in quite well.


Twisted Tales survived the demise of Pacific Comics and ended up  at Eclipse. (Didn't everyone end up at Eclipse  at one time or another? It feels like it.)


After ten harrowing issues the run comes to an end, but still thanks to the great printing and the pure punch of the imagery they still hold up. The interior art and stories were fantastic with talents like Alfredo Alcala, Mike Ploog, Rand Holmes, Doug Wildey, Brett Blevins, Butch Guice, Val Mayerik, Bill Wray and others even Jones himself who ain't a half-bad artist in his own right.

Vile stuff ! Really vile. Highly recommended.

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