Friday, April 20, 2018

The Super-Secret Origin Of Birdman!

I've always loved Birdman, the Hanna-Barbera cartoon hero who burst onto the TV screens when superheroes were ubiquitous in the culture. He followed the success of Space Ghost, but brought the adventures down to Earth. With his eagle assistants Avenger and Birdboy, and working under the auspices of Falcon 7, a pipe-smoking, eye-patching sporting leader of a spy organization that used Birdman's powers to defeat evil in the world.

In the revised Hanna-Barbera universe currently on display in Future Quest Presents, we have somewhat more series attempt at the character. Birdboy is gone and Falcon 7 is revealed to be a ruse by the female leader of the spy group named Dev. In this more emotional renditon of the story, Birdman's enthusiastic "good guy" approach to the world is looked at with a jaundiced eye by the folks around him. He's seen as naive and they fear his approach to fighting evil will make him succumb to it. Their fears are played out to some extent in this three-part story.

Without revealing too much we meet Mentok, a villain from the original cartoon series who is revised himself here and given a back story which is ripe with an attempt to humanize even this vile user of other people. We learn more about how Birdman was born and about who he was before he became a vessel for Ra the Sun God. We learn how he came to become Birdman and maybe we learn what he yearns for even as he fills the shoes of the noble hero who protects us all. The relationship between Birdman and Avenger is even given a fresh take. All in all this trilogy is a treat for Birdman fans.

And last but not least is Steve Rude. Steve Rude is the ideal artist for the Hanna-Barbera heroes, he transmits the elegant Alex Toth designs into the comic with a modern gloss which nonetheless has a retro feel appropriate to the material. Steve Rude is arguably the finest comic book artist working today.

If you're a fan of Birdman you likely already have this one. If you are and you don't get it.

NOTE: Just found out that Future Quest Presents will end with issue twelve. It's a sad day for moi amigos. More later.

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ice Princess!

My daughter is the one who convinced me I needed to see the movie I, Tonya. I admit that since it starred Margot Robbie, an actress I have immense respect for after seeing her in great roles in the last few years, it was a relatively easy push, but left on my own I'd likely have not gotten around to this one. But let me say, it's a darn great flick. (It also stars Sebastian Stan so if you like we have a clever crossover for comics fans -- Harley Quinn and Bucky Barnes in the same movie.) This is comedy of the darkest sort, a smart movie which does its due diligence and tells us a version of the famous "incident" which thrust skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan into the spotlights beyond the relatively obscure realm of figure skating. But it's much more than that too.

This is a movie with real villains, but mostly it's about cracked people filled with conflicted emotions and grim desires who try to find some sunshine in a world which gives them little beyond clouds and rain. It's about people who desperately want love, but because of the nature of their raising and the dark contours of their souls are unable accept and hold onto what little love they find. It's like all great movies, it's not just about something that happened once upon a time in America, but it's about all of us and how we're all in this show together and we need to be on mark for one another. It could be me, it could be you. This is the smartest movie I've seen in a long, long time. See it if you haven't.

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The Snow Creature!

Found The Snow Creature in a cheap collection buried in a bin at a local discount store. It was one of those packages in which it's hard to see what's really in it, but since it was a mere three bucks, I though the damage was pretty insignificant. Even if I hated everything, there were monster movies I hadn't seen. The real draw was this one though.

It's the same plot pretty much as King Kong, Gorgo, and several other monster flicks. An expedition runs across a dangerous monster/creature and struggles to capture it in order to bring it to civilization where it promptly escapes and causes some measure of damage. In the case of this "Monster", the damage is pretty minimal. The creature, a ragtag costume which is mostly hidden in the shadows of the night, caves and later the sewers is stunningly bad.

That said, there are some redeeming factors in this earliest Yeti movie. The Sherpas are somewhat more fully realized characters with motivations beyond being servants to all-knowing white explorers. Also there is a brief discussion of what the Creature might be, and how human it could be considered. But all that goes out the window when it breaks loose and wanders around inflicting a lot of panic and some mayhem and murder.

I cannot really recommend this one, it's pretty weak, but for any fan of vintage monsters movies, this one is a nifty primordial example of what would develop in the 50's.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Son Of Fu Manchu!

Finally got my mitts on "Weapon of the Soul", the Epic collection of the earliest Master of Kung Fu comics from Marvel's Bronze Age heyday. The whole world was Kung Fu fighting when comics latched onto the trend and gave us a bevy of martial arts comics. The best of the best was MoKF and that is for one simple reason -- Fu Manchu. I really think of this not as a series of Shang Chi comics, but a graphic novelization of a Fu Manchu novel. After finally reading the Fu Manchu canon, I see now how like the novels the adaptation by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin actually was. The book was picked up soon enough by Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy, but in the hands of these talents we have a tremendous treatment of a very venerable property. I'm eager to tear into these pages when time permits with my deeper understanding of the lore of the "Devil Doctor".

Here are the covers in this collection. There's another off-beat story with Midnight included from the back pages of an Iron Man annual or something like that.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Golden Age Of DC Comics!

When I saw The Golden Age of DC Comics for relative cheap at my local Barnes and Noble store I knew it was a but a matter of time before I had to pick it up. This over-sized tome by Paul Levitz features an interview with Joe Kubert and offers up a nifty overview of DC's earliest years. But what it really showcases is some grand artwork alongside other ephemera from the broad impact of Superman, Batman and other heroes from the company. We get not only the core heroes but also Captain Marvel and MAD magazine, two properties the company acquired over the years. This is fun book for any comics fan. Some time ago I picked up the Bronze Age edition of this series leaving me only the Silver Age volume to acquire. That might be sooner than later. (For record, I know there are later editions for the 80's and 90's but I have zero interest in those.)

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Thanos The First!

Among my most favorite epics in all of comics is Captain Marvel's first struggle against Thanos the Mad Titan. Jim Starlin was a fledgling talent, fresh to professional comics who brought with him a cavalcade of new characters. He was allowed free reign in the pages of Captain Marvel, a comic which was flailing to find its way forward despite having enjoyed the talents of men like Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Don Heck, Arnold Drake, Dick Ayers, Frank Springer, Gil Kane, Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman, and even Superman legend Wayne Boring, among many others. But it was the young and energetic Starlin who finally found the formula for success when he turned Mar-Vell into a golden-haired cosmic hero who was effectively reborn to battle the enemy of all the living universe, Thanos the nihilistic worshiper of Death.

Thanos of course became a force beyond any single hero's control and Starlin with the help of others has continued to bring him back time and time again until soon we will see him take on the Avengers in a blockbuster film released in just a few weeks. To celebrate and promote that film, Marvel is giving us dollar versions of vintage Thanos tales, and two of them are his debut in Iron Man (of all places) and his appearance in Avengers when that title crossed over briefly into Captain Marvel's epic struggle. I owned these books in the original and in reprint many times over, but nonetheless I bought them again, they are just that good.

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

The New Adventures Of Superman 1966!

The New Adventures of Superman from 1966 is a pivotal cartoon series in many respects. It marked the first time Superman had returned to any kind of screen since the lapse of the classic live-action Adventures of Superman TV show starring the late great George Reeves. It also showcased for fans of the comic at the time the then-current style of the book which was defined by the rather realistic style of Curt Swan. The cartoon also was the beginning of one of the most significant animation studios in the history of television -- Filmation. Filmation was born in no small part to do Superman, fleecing their way into the contract, and then proving to all parties that they could deliver a bonafide entertainment on a regular basis.

The individual cartoons are frothy bits of fun with a real Silver Age sensibility. Lois and Jimmy and Perry are part of the picture, all coming into danger with degree regularity. But the cartoons are not slaves to this approach and do a pretty decent job changing up the villains and threats that Superman confronts. Recognizable villains like Lex Luthor and Toyman and Brainiac are on hand and variations like Prankster and Parasite are also around. There are lots of aliens, threats from space which Superman often solves by shoving them onto an asteroid or their planet of origin. Superman fights apes, a giant alligator and even a giant lobster. He confronts Lava Men, Iron Eating monsters, and Energy creatures. It's all a wonderful mishmash and evokes the flavor of the comic effectively.

Originally the show featured two Superman cartoons with a Superboy cartoon tucked in between. But as far as I know the Superboy cartoons have not been released, almost certainly owing to the legal complications regarding the character's ownership. I hope that gets cleared up as I'd love to see them again as well.

This first season was a huge success in advancing Superman for a new generation and establishing Filmation as a viable cartoon studio, and it's easy to see why watching them all over again. There would two more seasons. More on those next week.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Atom Man Vs. Superman - 1950!

Atom Man Vs. Superman is the second of Columbia's serials with the Man of Steel and coming out in 1950 is among the last serials ever in a world in which television is fast changing the nature of entertainment. In fact there is more than a mote of self-awareness of this transformation in the story itself.

The "Atom Man" of the title is in fact Lex Luthor (Lyle Talbot) hiding behind an enormous helmeted mask, who for much of the duration of the serial pretends to be a reformed criminal helping the authorities. He is of course fraudulent and is instead in the guise of Atom Man leading a cadre of thieves use television trucks and the cover of a television operation to arrange and commit burglaries. One of the dopier details of this story is that Luthor's gang use equipment which is so high-tech that it seems way more valuable than anything they steal. One device is a coin which signals teleportation, another is deadly heat ray, and Luthor even has a rocket, a flying saucer, and a small space ship in his collection. 

The first part of the story though involves a device called the "Main Arc" which can send someone into a nether dimension called the "Outer Dark". It's very much like the Phantom Zone and eventually Superman is sent there and becomes a ghost on Earth. Sadly this gimmick is abandoned half way into the serial.

Once again  Kirk Alyn is Superman and Clark Kent. He seems a little better this time, less mincing and more virile. Noel Neill as Lois Lane is also good as is Tommy Bond, back as Jimmy Olsen. Pierre Watkin is Perry White and a joke about him trying to light a cigar extends through the whole serial. This one makes use of a lot of stock footage, especially near the end and as I've said seems to change gears half way through becoming more episodic and less of a singular story line. 

Nonetheless it's quite an entertainment and well worth any Superman fan's time.

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Friday, April 13, 2018

You Are Now Leaving Astro City!

Despite my presence here at this blog every day, I'm not much to wander the byways of the comic news internet. That's why it was very much a surprise when my local shop owner told me that the last regular issue of Astro City will be the fifty-second issue of the current run from DC Comics. I am very sad. I've been on the tour of Astro City from the very beginning in 1996 (over twenty years ago...sigh). I'll admit I've gotten off the series a few times, but I've always returned with a renewed vigor to see all that's visible or at least what Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross allow me to see. To be fair, the series has dumped me a few times too, jumping publishers more than once and also going on hiatus, often having to do with Busiek's fragile health. Astro City was always a run I expected to end at almost anytime, so while I was momentarily surprised, and I am sad, I'm not terribly shocked. The series did a magnificent job of presenting a superhero universe as seen from the perspective of not only the heroes, both young and old, both male and female, both human and otherwise, but from the perspective of the humble citizen on the street, just trying to cope in a world full of wild science and magic and more. The series was a parable of real life, and like real life, loss is a normal part of it, sadly. So it's farewell to Astro City the series. The saga is supposed to continue in periodic graphic novels, really a great way to tell these stories, but who knows what will come next. The fate of Astro City like life itself is a mystery.

A year ago I posted a reflection on the series, to see it go here.

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With the recent cancellation of Popeye from IDW and now this, I am down only one regular comic book series -- Future Quest Presents. And frankly I'm not sure how long that will last. It's just barely possible that I will have no regular comics on my reading list sooner than I expected. For a guy who has at times had scores of comics each month, that's quite a change. 

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