Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Fifty years ago this month there was a blockbuster event at the small Derby, Connecticut publisher known as Charlton. Steve Ditko's great recreation Blue Beetle hit the stands with a mighty number one issue. It was the final piece of the "Action Hero" line and alongside the new Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) there debuted The Question, a hero properly fit for Ditko's ever sharpening political tracts. Blue Beetle #1 is a fantastic comic, chock full of entertainment and arguably the apogee of the company's output at the time. Also on the stands was the latest issue of Captain Atom in which the good Captain battles his arch foe The Ghost again. The Blue Beetle is along for the ride in the back of this issue, the place he'd debuted some months before and at the same time a great way for editor Dick Giordano to cross-promote the new "Action Hero". In many ways, these two heroes (Captain Atom and Blue Beetle) are Charlton's legacy as both are (in mutated forms of course) still being published by DC Comics which long ago bought the rights. Judomaster #95 is also available in a new issue in which creator Frank McLaughlin has the "Scarlet Smasher" battle a foe dubbed The Acrobat. (Seems like Captain America was fighting an identically named villain at about this same time.) Dick Giordano supplies a terrific cover for Career Girl Romances which has a weird pop culture vibe, not unlike when members of the classic Rat Pack tried to evoke the zeitgeist of the era, something which they might'be had sympathy with, but not an affinity for. And the durable Jack Keller turns out another compelling cover for the adventures of Clint Curtis and the Road Knights in the latest issue of Hot Rods and Racing Cars.
More to come next month.
Monday, April 24, 2017
When Godzilla's next opponent reared up in the 1993 flick Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla II there was little doubt that the battle would be ferocious, and it was. I'm a big fan of Mechagodzilla, really having enjoyed his original appearances in the canon in previous decades, and the rationale for his creation here is quite logical, to a point. I like that in this version he's actually bigger than Godzilla.
Godzilla's ongoing menace has prompted the creation of G-Force dedicated to his utter destruction. To that end they create Garuda, a gunship not unlike Super-X from the 1984 revival movie which kicked off the Heisei movies. They also use the technology from the defeated King Ghidorah (from a few movies past) to build the ultimate anti-Godzilla weapon, the Godzilla-like Mechagodzilla.
Meanwhile scientists find an egg on a distant plateau which is seemingly that of the flying Rodan. But it seems that actually Rodan has been fooled and the egg hatches to reveal a baby Godzilla. There is much battling and whatnot which proceeds from all this hectic activity, but in the end Rodan ends up helping Godzilla defeat Mechagodzilla while sacrificing his own life. The psychic Miki Sagura is able to bond with Baby Godzilla and even ends up influencing Godzilla himself to take the tyke under his protection and the movie ends as the parent and child head off into the ocean.
I was very much reminded of the classic British flick Gorgo by the ending. It does much to undermine Godzilla's status as a pure deadly monster and once again the movies begin the steady process of personifying him and to no small degree undermining his monster status.
More to come.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Fantastic Four #23 pits the Fab 4 against Doctor Doom yet again. This time Doom goes to some lengths to acquire a team to help him bring the FF low. That's not how he usually works, but as we'll see he is firmly in character by the story's end. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are joined on this issue by inker George Bell (George Roussos).
The story starts in the Baxter Building as the team go about their daily lives bickering about leadership and chasing down dinosaurs brought forward in time by Doctor Doom's time machine which has been brought there for study. Meanwhile Doctor Doom by means of a robot proxy gathers together three men by bailing them out of jail. The three are strongman Bull Brogan, con man "Handsome" Harry Phillips, and mystic Yogi Dakor. These three are given enhancements by Doom which make Brogan inhumanly strong, Phillips with keener hearing and Dakor made fire proof. Then the trio are sent to lure the Thing, Invisible Girl, and Torch into battle respectively and capture them.
Doom himself captures Mr. Fantastic and encases him in a clear box. Having no further use for the trio of villains Doom sends them to another dimension to await his call. Then the FF escape from Doom's clutches and a furious battle breaks out. When Doctor Doom tries to snare the team into a "Solar Wave" which will cast them into the depths of space he his forestalled by the Invisible Girl and finds himself falling victim to the trap. As he disappears into space the Fab 4 escape and ponder if he will once again return.
As it turns out this story has a neat little sequel which appeared in the pages of Strange Tales #122 when the "Terrible Trio" return from the other dimension and battle the Human Torch. Thanks to a reprinting in Marvel Tales I read this story long before I was ever able to read the FF story which introduced the Trio.
Doctor Doom of course does return, but that will wait until the second Fantastic Four Annual which not only returns the master villain but gives us a fully-fledged origin story as well.
More on those most important stories later.
Saturday, April 22, 2017
I loved this alternate cover when I first glommed my eyeballs onto it. I was totally jazzed way back in the earliest 70's when Jack "King" Kirby was given the chance to start up The Inhumans in their own title (of sorts). In the grand tradition of Marvel, it was a split-book titled Amazing Adventures and co-starred the Black Widow.
Here's a look at the sumptuous artwork by Kirby and inker Chic Stone given modern gloss and depth suitable for its new status as a cover image.
It began life as a splash page, the first first splash page and as we see the Inhumans are racing at you with all the proper energy and intensity. Given only ten pages to work with, Kirby was unable to offer up his by then typical classic splashes on this series and so this first page had to serve. The read the story itself go here. Nice to see some vintage Kirby get a new place of prominence in the marketplace. If I see this one on the stands I might just have to grab up a copy.
As you might suspect from many of my previous comments I am not a particular fan of Fox News. The cable news outlet has been of even more notoriety recently because of the belated firing of the loathsome Bill O'Reilly, but it's other Fox programming changes which prompt my comment today -- the cancellation after ten years of the late-night "comedy" show Red Eye.
I've been watching Red Eye off and on since it's beginning. For one thing it's original programming at a time when I for some reason am all too often awake. As is obvious from postings here, I function mostly strongly in the early hours (losing steam steadily as the day drifts by). Mostly on TV are old movies, vintage TV series, or reruns of news shows which aired earlier in prime time. In the middle of all of that popped up an irreverent "news" show named appropriately enough Red Eye. It was hosted by Greg Gutfield originally, and other regulars included Bill Schulz the rare liberal voice on Fox and Andy Levy, a truly dedicated Libertarian. The show offered up what Fox News promoted most of the rest of the day but almost never produced, a show which was well and truly "fair and balanced". With a snarky lack of respect for authorities of all kinds and a rambunctious disrespect for decorum, the show was an uneven and occasionally even blithely absurd bag of commentary on the events of the time, both large and tiny.
Bill Schulz left after a time and his liberal perspective was never adequately replaced, and Gutfield left the show for other parts of the Fox News landscape becoming more and more a standard party hack and less the unpredictable voice he'd been in the deep night. Only Andy Levy remained and it was for Andy's "Halftime Reports" that I mostly tuned in, often just for those in recent years. Levy is a commentator with real conviction who is unafraid to critique all in the world which he finds offensive or stupid, and that is regardless of the political persuasion. As "Obamamania" swept up the Fox News company, Red Eye remained an outpost where a somewhat more fair assessment of those years sometimes broke through.
It's a shame Red Eye got cancelled, but truth told since the advent of host Tom Shillue the show had already to a great degree abandoned its unpredictable nature and had become yet another place where I could anticipate a steady if not quite unrelenting criticism of anything labeled "liberal" or "progressive". In a world in which far too many consumers of media hunt down only those outlets which confirm their inclinations, a show like Red Eye is even more necessary, at least a show like Red Eye was once upon a time.
While reading about a British Doctor Doom here, I learned that DC Comics had created their own "Dr.Doom" way back in 1950, many years before Stan and Jack used the nom de crime for their Fab 4 master villain. The DC Dr.Doom was a one-shot Atomic Age character who appeared in Detective Comics a single time, and appeared to die in a final fashion at the story's end.
The story written by Edmond Hamilton, goes that while taking an inventory of their one thousand trophies in the Batcave, Batman and his youthful ward Robin get a call from Commissioner Gordon about a smuggler named Dr.Doom. They arrive to see the villain seemingly drown, but little do they know that he has hidden himself in a mummy case. That case ends up in the Batcave where the sinister Dr.Doom appears with a improvised plot to kill off the Dynamic Duo.
But his scheme falls short and Batman and Robin survive while Dr.Doom himself gets trapped inside the air-tight case and suffocates. The air fully out of his villainy he is apparently never deemed worthy of revival (even by the likes of Steve Englehart) and so remains among Batman's long list of deceased enemies.
And that's why the name "Doctor Doom" was ready and waiting when Stan and Jack needed it for their malevolent mastermind in the full bloom of the Silver Age.
Friday, April 21, 2017
Maybe it's because the first Godzilla movie I ever saw was a late-night presentation of Godzilla Vs. The Thing, but I've always liked Mothra, Mothra works despite so many elements of the creation working against it. For one thing there's no expression possible with the giant insect which just flies from perch to perch using its giant wings to blow things around. The larvae form of the Mothra can shoot out silky fibers to entrap its enemies but they always move so slowly that it's difficult (not unlike the Mummy) to really feel much threatened by them. All that said, the sheer elegance of the creation of Mothra works.
So that made me actually anxious to see Godzilla Vs. Mothra - The Battle For Earth. This project apparently began as a straight up Mothra project but it was decided that Godzilla was a better antagonist for the god-moth.
The story is somewhat convoluted but echoes in many ways the original confrontation between the two monsters from decades before. Godzilla is awakened and later a giant egg is found on a distant island protected by two little girls dubbed the "Cosmos". We get an ancient yarn about there being two moth-gods, Mothra and another named Battra who fought long ago with Mothra coming out on top. Now it appears Battra seems to be on the verge of being revived. Meanwhile a devious business man tries to kidnap the Cosmos and gain control of their power. Mothra and Battra emerge at last and begin to fight when Godzilla pops out of Mount Fuji and the two team up to take on the greater threat. This ends up with Battra's destruction and Godzilla imprisoned again. But now Mothra must take up a prophesied mission for Battra and leaves Earth with the freed Cosmos to confront a deadly meteor headed for Earth in the future.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Following on after Will Murray's Return To Pal-Ul-Don this novel by Michael Sanford is the second of the "Wild Adventures". Tarzan On The Precipice is a new yarn commissioned by the folks at Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc, and is I suppose part of the official canon now. That's unfortunate in many ways since despite some intriguing elements the novel falls well short of the classics written so long ago by ERB himself.
The story begins where the classic Tarzan of the Apes leaves off, with Tarzan in America. Having given up his inheritance and the hand of the woman he loves, Tarzan heads off into the wilds of Canada and there confronts of all things another tribe of ape-like creatures and a well and truly lost civilization. The civilization he discovers is a tribe of lost Vikings who have survived in the maw of a deep and broad territory created by a massive meteor strike eons before. Alongside them thrive a colony of Sasquatch who appear to be of a similar lineage though markedly different in key details to the Apes among which Tarzan grew up.
Tarzan finds his way into this hidden land thanks to the handiwork of to proper villains who make a living waylaying and robbing trains and who also have an enterprise with some elements inside the pit in which Tarzan finds himself. Also on hand is a naive and beautiful girl named London as well as her mother and her tutor. All of these folks get drawn into a somewhat sprawling adventure which lasts a strangely undefined but lengthy time and all are changed by the sometimes grisly events.
I don't want to spoil any of the surprises, few as they are alas, so I will keep the details of the tale under wraps. But to speak to the writing style, it's a far cry from the fast-paced classic hand of ERB with diversions into all manner of background information. Especially in regard the Vikings we get pages of cultural detail which only marginally helps to freshen our understanding of the events at hand and do remarkable harm to the pacing of the story. When Tarzan is interacting with the Sasquatch the story feels more organically paced. Weirdly the story at times reads almost like a summary of events and not a true engaging narrative.
This is a young Tarzan, still fresh from the wild and barely civilized. My favorite moments in the book speak to Tarzan's nature and seeing him trying to survive in the deciduous forests of Canadian north are really vital. I have to say that the elements of a grand story are all here, but somehow the execution simply falls short. This story reads alas like what it is, an above average bit of fan fiction by an academic who is unable to parse the difference between detail and relevant detail.
I wanted to like this more, but I only liked parts of it. Will Meugniot's artwork is not bad at all and does add value to the book. I would recommend this one to Tarzan purists. It's recognizably Tarzan but sadly not the exciting version ERB often wrote about.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
In what is perhaps Marvel's first continued tale, Fantastic Four #17 has the Fab 4 face off against Doctor Doom yet again. In the past Stan and Jack had allowed a few issues to pass before pitting the team against the same foe (sometimes years as in the case of the Mole Man) but Doctor Doom is different, he's the one who has become their main opponent and that's settled once and for all with this issue by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Dick Ayers.
The team has just returned from Micro-World and bid farewell to Ant-Man who assisted them there. After a few pages of reprise we find the FF pursuing their lives when Doctor Doom unleashes his lighter-than-air "Followers" to locate each member and cause distraction. The Followers seem to be more an annoyance than a true threat but that's only the first part of Doom's scheme. He captures Alicia Masters and taunts the team from his airship hidden in a cloud over the city. In fact Doom attempts to blackmail the United States itself and proves his mettle by disrupting electricity all across the country. The FF are conscripted to confront him and they do. Reed locates Doom and realizes that the Followers had been more than a mere annoyance, rather they had recorded the FF's atomic structures and those details made a deadly force field around Doom's aircraft deadly to the team specifically. To counter this Reed uses a formula to change the Thing to Ben Grimm who penetrates the field and allows the rest of the team to enter. They battle many traps set by Doom but in the end are able to save Alicia and defeat the villain and send him sailing out of the craft, seemingly falling to his doom. But the FF know better.
There's a really high level of inventiveness in this issue. The Followers at first seem rather silly and are played for laughs but their threat is all too deadly by the story's end. Doom is bristling with equipment and despite his defeats seems eager to confront his deadly enemies again. By this time Doom's larger motivations are becoming a question and the need is developing to learn more about him but that will not happen immediately.
More to come.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Godzilla Vs. King Gidorah from 1991 attempted to recapture the box office lost by the artistic and atmospheric predecessor Godzilla Vs. Biollante by returning a lighter touch and classic monsters to the overall Toho mix. But this time with rebooted origins and backgrounds, something comic book fans should be well comfortable with.
The story is a creaky one but begins with a tale from World War II in which a band of Japanese soldiers are stranded on an isolated island toward the end of the war when the United States was pressing the attack into the Pacific. These desperate men were saved from certain death when the U.S. soldiers were killed a ferocious dinosaur who seemingly dies in the battle. The Japanese soldiers hold the dinosaur in esteem and later it is speculated that this dinosaur must've been the creature which became Godzilla.
Then time travelers show up and they purport to come from a future when Japan is the economic master of the world and for reasons which don't even make sense in the story they seek to go back further in time and undo the events which will result in Godzilla's creation. To that end they enlist three humans to go with them to witness the changes and they move the dinosaur and leave behind three cute critters called "Dorats".
When they return to our time (1991) they find that the world has changed and Godzilla is seemingly gone and has been replaced by King Ghidorah (the result of the mutated Dorats) and they use his might to attempt to conquer present day Earth and rule the future as well. But Godzilla has survived and even thrived and he confronts Ghidorah and ultimately defeats him and the future people are betrayed by one of their own and a deadly cyborg who is programmed to fight against them. Even Ghidorah returning from the future armed with cyborg parts is no match for the Big G.
In the end Ghidorah is seemingly dead, the Future Men are seemingly destroyed in an atomic blast, and the future of Japan is secure. Also Godzilla is even more powerful than before so that plan backfired big time.
It's a hectic mess of a movie with some fun bits and pieces but overall difficult to engage with. The shout outs to other movies of the time like Back to the Future and Terminator are too obvious to ignore and in fact get in the way of the overall effectiveness of this movie. There is so much derivative material that it's actually distracting. King Ghidorah is a favorite of mine and it's fun to see him and Godzilla mash it up as always and this is pretty good fight, though to my mind Ghidorah is defeated a bit too easily. It does though prove to be a movie with importance for future installments.
More to come.
Monday, April 17, 2017
When finally Doctor Doom returned again in Fantastic Four #16 it was into an expanding Marvel Universe of which the FF itself was the hub. As such this issue features some clever marketing by guest-starring Ant-Man from the pages of Tales to Astonish, a tiny hero who had just gotten a distaff partner named the Wasp in his own series.
When we'd last seen Doctor Doom he was shrinking thanks to his own scheming and disappeared from sight. As this story opens the Fab 4 are comparing notes and learn that each of them have been suffering bouts of strange shrinkage over the past several days. They call in shrinking expert Ant-Man for advice and he gives them some of his potent shrinking formula. In answer to a strange voice they shrink themselves to such a tiny size that they discover a whole new "Micro-world", a world in which Doctor Doom has made himself master after deposing the King and his lovely Princess Pearla.
The FF are thrown in to prison alongside the regals and learn of what has happened. Doctor Doom plans for each of the four to become his slave in different ways and to forestall that outcome they escape their cells and confront the tyrant who seeing imminent defeat grows himself away to safety. The kingdom of Micro-world now safe from harm the Fab 4 vow to return to normal size and confront the menace of Doctor Doom again.
And that battle will happen almost immediately. The book is filled with some neat character touches such as when an overly enthusiastic Reed gives Ben yet another serum which changes him back to his human self for a short time, and we get a sense that maybe that's not really what Ben wants. Johnny is practicing his powers and showing off as usual. Sue is working to make her powers more effective by cancelling out smell as means of detection. But all of this falls away in the face of Doctor Doom who increasingly dominates the stories in which he appears.
More to come as Doctor Doom returns in the very next issue.
Sunday, April 16, 2017
Let Jack "King" Kirby's three truly awesme images of God himself speak volumes on how I feel this Easter about the majesty of the Almighty. I have indeed learned that we are not the masters of our own destinies, not even a little. As for Jacob Kurtzberg's religious beliefs, this article offers some insights into all of that through the lens of his most famous Jewish creation, Ben Grimm the Thing.