Saturday, January 28, 2023

Miracleman Book Four: The Golden Age!

I confess that when I first began my journey to revisit the Miracleman stories, it was not my intent to read the Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham stories which comprised Book Four. Given the title The  Golden Age, these stories are wildly different from the stories concocted by Moore and his artists. These are short stories, one-off tales about normal humans among others who are trying find a life in this "Golden Age" brought on by the advent of superpowered beings who have eliminated war and poverty among other things. This is a utopian world but as you might suspect not everyone is filled with joy. 

We meet a man who lost his family to Johnny Bates known as Kid Miracleman wreaked havoc in the center of London. He is on a quest to ask for a miracle. We listen to another young man who escaped that same destruction through sheer luck and is trying to make sense of that. We meet another fellow who has a romantic affair with the ideal woman -- Miraclewoman. He learns that perfection is not all it's cracked up to be. We sneak a peek at some youngsters who have weirdly made a hero of Bates, a perverse attitude all too common in our world. We visit the underworld run by the Qys where an undead Andy Warhol makes friends with the resurrected Emil Gargunza. We spy on a woman who is losing her family but trying to still makes some sense of this perfect world. We read a fable of Miracleman's daughter Winter and how she went into deep space to have adventures. We follow a young woman who thinks she's a spy in a dark grim world where the sun never shines, and rain is perpetual. She too must see a new truth. And finally, these characters, those that can, assemble in a celebration which ends in them being given the gift of flight. 

Deep stuff. Not to be approached lightly, but while I won't pretend I understood it all, I found I was indeed fascinated by much of it. Glad I took the plunge. Below are the original coves for the Eclipse Comics run from the early 90's and after that the covers for the more recent reprints from Marvel.

Gaiman and Buckingham weren't done with Miracleman though. They started a saga dubbed "The Silver Age" which was to tell the story of Miracleman seeking his lost ally Young Miracleman. Two installments were done in the early 90's and then it stopped when Eclipse itself ceased to exist. 

(I actually bought the original two issues on the strength of the Barry Windsor-Smith covers. Those lurk in my long boxes somewhere or other.) The characters then fell into the clutches of Todd McFarlane and thus began the lawsuits which froze the character for years until Marvel was able to gather them up. Gaiman and Buckingham have been finishing this tale in recent times and when it's collected. I hope to grab hold and read it also. 

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Friday, January 27, 2023

Captain Scarlet - The Complete Collection!

Just spent a few wonderful days in the early part of this new year enjoying the classic Gerry Anderson "Supermarionation" adventure show Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. This is one from my childhood, a classic TV entertainment which seared a spot in my noggin and never left. The classic opening has reverberated in my imagination for decades. 
The show followed quickly upon the success of Thunderbirds, but offered up puppets with more lifelike proportions and a storyline with a darker, sometimes even adult tone. It's this latter aspect which I think made this show stick with me. This was grim stuff at times. The premise is that in 2068 an Earth expedition led by Captain Black of the Spectrum organization happens across the alien Mysteron base on Mars and wrongfully attacks it. The Mysterons though have technology which can recuperate from destruction and death itself and do so, pledging at the same time to wage an unending "war of nerves" on the Earth in general and Spectrum in specific.

What makes their attacks so grim is that they use revived humans and equipment to wage their war. The invisible Mysterons first kill you (usually with vehicular homicide), then revive you and have you serve them slavishly. That's rough stuff. I was reminded this time of the ludicrous movie Plan 9 From Outer Space which sought to revive the dead to wage war on the Earth, and thought to myself how Captain Scarlet sort of actually follows through with this plan.

The first Mysteron agent is Captain Black himself, who looks zombie enough most of the time, a pale grim figure shown weekly lurking in a graveyard. He plots, then Spectrum blocks or not. The good guys don't always win on this show, and that's rugged territory for what is supposed to be a kid's show.

Captain Scarlet himself is something of a rogue Mysteron agent. In the first episode he is killed and revived, but circumstances cause him to revert to his heroic pose but armored with an indestructible nature. He dies more than a few times during the series, but always returns to fight another day. He is assisted by Captain Blue and the other agents of Spectrum, all led by Colonel White. Beautiful women called Angels are a constant flying circus protecting Cloud Base, a giant airborne aircraft carrier. From this high-tech location the unending Mysteron war is waged.

It's a tight premise, and the half-hour episodes are told with skill and supreme craftsmanship. The editing on a show like this is crucial and the story is rarely muddled and a great deal is jammed into a small space. This makes for brisk and enjoyable entertainment. I will admit that in certain moments the show does resemble Ken and Barbie playing spy, but most of the time, the creators are able to avoid that pitfall. This is a smart snappy show with more than a gram of wit.

It's a precursor of sorts to the later Anderson live-action show UFO which also has Earth engaged in a battle with mysterious aliens, this time led by the secret SHADO organization. There are more than a few similarities between these shows, almost making you think UFO is Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons done in the live-action format.

If you haven't seen Captain Scarlet, I heartily recommend it. It's pure entertainment.

NOTE: This is a Dojo Revised Classic Post. 

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Thursday, January 26, 2023

Space Trilogy - That Hideous Strength!

In contrast to the two previous installments of the "Space Trilogy" the story of That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy Tale for Grown-Ups is set on Earth (or Thulcandra as it's also known in the trilogy). The action concerns a group of college academics who are lured into becoming part of a dangerous conflict between two philosophies. Out the Silent Planet evoked First Men to the Moon by H.G. Wells. and Perelandra brought to mind Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsey, while That Hideous Strength seems to evoke the kind of sci-fi and fantasy menace which was a staple of the Quatermass yarns a decade later.  The story begins in the most mundane way at a college filled with the abstracted minds which populate such establishments plodding through their lives and workdays filled with small dramas and noisome struggles. 

We follow a married couple who are headed in different directions. Mark is the husband, an up-and-coming member of a small rustic college who is playing the game of politics which seem to be a part of all aspects of human life. He is a man who celebrates modern ideas and notions and imagines that human beings can be made better with the proper guidance and environment. His wife Jane, also an intellectual is left behind somewhat in the wake of Mark's ambitions but begins to have dreams which turn out to be both prophetic and true. She is taken in by a group who stand in opposition to NICE, an atheistic organization with a disdain for individual suffering in the cause of making mankind something else. Mark has been scooped up by NICE and promised power. How these two people react to the problems and threats they encounter is the core of the story. 

This much longer story is connected to his prequels when the protagoniist of those novels shows up at last in this story, playing a rather different role. That Hideous Strength is a novel which seems longer than it needs to be. Much of what happens in the first one hundred pages is not unimportant, but could've been collapsed into a shorter span. Certainly, Lewis had some reason for treating us to intentionally bland meetings of college professionals, a dreary crowd of graspers who celebrate intellect as much as they seem to have disdain for their fellow man. The notions of Christianity are celebrated (no surprise there of course) but combined with a strange acceptance of pagan worship (the resurrection of Merlin being one instance). The battle here is not between Christian and pagan, but between a world view in which there is more than man and one in which there is not. I'll let you read the book if you choose to see who prevails. 

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Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Space Trilogy - Perelandra!

When C.S. Lewis decided to continue his "Space Trilogy" with the book Perelandra, it had been five years since the publication of Out of the Silent Planet. The world was at war and England especially was under specific threat. That war does get some mention in this story which sees our philologist protagonist Ransom head to Venus to do the bidding of the Maledil, the spirit which rules the universe. Whereas the first novel had imitated the H.G.Wells novel First Men in the Moon, this one reminded me of Princess of Mars by E.R.Burroughs. Our hero climbs into a magic casket and is swept away to the Venus where he wakes up naked on a neve-rending ocean. This method of travel reminded me of  A Voyage to Arcturus, a major influence on this space trilogy according to Lewis himself. Our her encounters a strange shifting world, some weird creatures and then a lovely nude green woman. 

Now in the ERB book, the dashing hero would have become a contestant for her favors, but this story is not that kind. Doctor Elwin Ransom has come to Venus (known as Perelandra) to debate with the Devil. It seems that Perelandra is in that state which Earth found itself when the Garden of Eden was extant. The naked green woman is a Venusian Eve and Ransom is there to talk her out of disobeying God. Now it's more complicated than that, especially when the Devil shows up in the form of Weston, the adventurer who had kidnapped Ransom in the first novel. Though dead Weston is inhabited by the spirit of the great deceiver and works diligently to get the green woman to develop bad habits such vanity, modesty and a false sense of pride. Ransom and Weston do this by talking to her. And that's what the core of the book is, talking. Eventually Ransom must fight Weston more directly and that leads them into an underworld which in turn takes them to a mountain which Ransom must climb to fulfill his mission, among a lot of pomp and circumstance in which we meet the green woman's mate the King among others as a second paradise is established.  If philosophical and theological debate is your thing, this is a book for you. 

I give Lewis great credit for creating a truly alien environment, a world in which the land masses don't stop moving for the most part. A world of fluid in which sticking to a place is largely impossible. The animals are more fantasy than sci-fi but they properly weird. There is one more installment of this saga, the largest one yet. More on that tomorrow. 

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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Space Trilogy - Out Of The Silent Planet!

I wrote this review almost exactly a year ago. I meant to finish the trilogy at the time, but now at long last have finally done so. 

I'm not crazy about the cover of this edition of Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis. The first annoyance is how small the actual title is, tiny compared to the name of the author (which I can understand I guess) but even subordinate to the title of another more famous work by the author. And the artwork, which is lovely and pastoral, is indicative of the story I guess but seems clearly to me to sell whimsy and make the book feel like a kiddie offering, which it ain't. 

But it's no less accurate than this cover, the edition I first bought of this story many decades ago. This is selling it like it's hard science fiction and that ain't right either. Out of the Silent Planet is sci-fi in the long tradition of H.G. Wells more than Robert Heinlein, with doses of Jonathan Swift and more than a mote of Biblical allegory (which I'm sure Lewis would deny). It feels like science fiction right up until our kidnapped hero Dr. Elwin Ransom (a philologist on a holiday) actually gets to Malacandra/Mars. Before that we get some pretty fascinating details about space flight and its effects on a human being. Ransom is taken to Perelandra as something of a sacrifice by profiteer named Devine and a physicist named Weston. When they land on the planet the story gives me a sense of a fantasy as we follow Ransom encounter three different species on the planet -- the Hrossa, the Seroni, and the Pfifltriggi

Ransom spends time with the Hrossa who look rather like giant otters with aspects of humanity tossed in. Later he encounters the Seroni who he thinks are menacing. These are extremely tall creatures with incredibly long legs. The Pfifltriggi are only glimpsed but are more along the lines of a reptile. This is the story of man who must overcome his fear of the unknown and confront the invisible intelligence which seems keep order on the planet and does so for most planets in the solar system. Earth is the exception and so it is dubbed Thulcandra or "The Silent Planet".  Ransom appears to become something of an envoy for opening up the Earth for contact, but that's rather vague. 

This novel is followed by two sequels -- Perelandra about Ransom going to Venus and That Hideous Strength which stays on Earth but deals with matters of a supernatural kind. I am looking forward to diving into these two follow ups. The latter novel has references to the "Numinor" a slightly misspelled reference to J.R.R,. Tolkien's epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings. A legend exists that these two gentlemen who were colleagues at Oxford set out to make two fantasies -- Lewis would one about space and Tolkien would focus on ancient history. I'll be getting to these sequels in due course. 

Look for a review of Perlandra later today. 

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Monday, January 23, 2023

Thunderbirds - The Complete Collection!

I came very, very late to this particular "Supermarionated" party having never seen the show even once in my life. I saw and loved Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons as a kid, but never saw any of the other Gerry Anderson shows save Stingray. Rewatching it this time was very enterttaining. 

I'd read about Thunderbirds, and heard people rave about it so my curiosity finally got the better of me and after seeing the two feature versions of the show which impressed a little at the time, I broke down and ordered it at long last. It took many months for me to finish the series (lots of diversions you know) but I have, and I began to see the appeal. This second viewing was much more rapid, only a few days. 

I began to get why folks are so balmy about this series. The good guys are exceedingly good, if powerfully naive, and the baddies are properly bad and stupid. The storytelling is sluggish in places, but from what I read that was somewhat the result of late decisions by the producers about expanding the series to an hour from a very effective half hour.

I did get confused about the way in which International Rescue fit into the global scheme of the 2060's as sometimes they are rogues operating outside the system and sometimes they seem almost an arm of the governments they often benefit. Their secrecy was wildly inconsistent too as in one episode a kid who stows away on Thunderbird 2 is approached as a mild menace and in at least two other episodes kids are given tours of the island and the equipment. Sometimes the Tracys reveal their names, sometimes they fight over having their pictures taken. Their picture detector is a pretty cool device and I'm sure many stars who fend off the paparazzi would like one. That stuff aside it's still wild fun.

I might say the episode where they attempt to move the Empire State Building might be my favorite,  it is such a wacked-out notion. The world of 2060 something is pretty hair-raising in some respects and amazingly familiar in others.

The fashion as always in an Anderson production becomes fetishistic with the puppets (yes I know they are marionettes) looking more than a tad goofy from time to time as they try painfully to look cool. The whimsy of the whole affair makes the attempts to hip and cool harmless fluff, a product of a time when such things were somehow taken seriously. (We're much better now of course.)

It's easy to see why these shows hold up, the craftsmanship is top notch and really the kind of thing which could not be done in the modern world. Not because of the craft, but because the insane costs. We caught a comet with this show and the ones which came before and after, and I have to admire that.

Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6, the two big-screen renditions of the classic British sci-fi tv show are dandy. I found them for tiny money in a discount store somewhere I now forget, and tried to watch them, but the pace of the opening scenes of Thunderbirds Are Go, which is measured even by the admission of the director, always did me in. I just got bored in the first fifteen minutes or so and bailed, choosing to do something else, then forgetting about the movies completely. Now I know what to expect and found them just fine. The problem was me. 

Now I even began to relish it as the spaceship dubbed the Zero-X slowly and relentlessly assembled itself in the opening moments of the movie. The story then begins to dabble out, the International Rescue team is called in after a disaster to supply security months later. Months later still the Zero-X arrives at its destination of Mars and runs into trouble. Months later still it returns home and runs into still more trouble requiring the intervention of International Rescue yet again. There are some great big explosions, some handsome model work, and an interesting sci-fi scenario.

But ultimately the movie is so uneven, it defeats its own good qualities. I was slightly stunned by the inclusion of a dream sequence which featured the music of Cliff Richard and The Shadows, a totally weird and totally 60's moment. The movie though in the final analysis was entertaining after I got into its flow, though it could've been better.

I really began to appreciate the relative seriousness of Thunderbirds Are Go when I saw the sequel Thunderbird 6. This one is played for more laughs and features a handsome biplane which dominates way too much screen time in my estimation.

The weaknesses of the first movie are amplified in the second. It essentially is a world tour via anti-gravity airship which gives the model makers the chance to fashion a Statue of Liberty, the Great Pyramids, and other notable iconic items. That stuff is the highlight as the plot makes little sense. Villains (who are never really identified) are trying to lure International Rescue into a trap and take the most elaborate and complicated way imaginable to do that.

These are diverting movies, curiosities of a time when special effects really seemed special. I can appreciate them and even enjoy parts of them, especially the first one which as I learned actually has a connection to my favorite Anderson production Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons.

NOTE: This is a Dojo Revised Classic Post. 

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Sunday, January 22, 2023

Captain Britian - Before Excalibur!

Captain Britain as first designed in the late 70's was not quite the hit Marvel hoped for. I personally always liked that original look, but it's safe to say that his original adventures despite some good talent were less than stellar. But the 80's changed all that. 

It began in a book called Daredevils where Alan Davis took hold of the character. Joined by writer Alan Moore and others he recreated Captain Britain, making him more physically imposing. While I like the original look, there's no doubt this revision is better, more powerful. The world in which Brian Braddock lived was also transformed, becoming less like a British version of Peter Parker's and into something and quite evocative. 

Following on after that shake up the Captain was given a slot in The Mighty World of Marvel for a short spell before getting his own title once again. Writer Jamie Delano came aboard and the Captain Britian stories bloomed into full flower. The tradition of weirdness which had marked the earlier efforts in Daredevils was continued in this new book and made even more so. Enemies spilled out from across multiple dimensions, bringing both life and death to those around the Braddock clan. We learn dark secrets that some of the family hold. Death is not an uncommon visitor in the book, which plays for high stakes all the time. The Brian Braddock gets a strange love interest in the werewoman Meagan, a strange creature who comes into her full powers as the series continues. We encounter other "Captains" from other places, some with murderous intent. Brian's sister Betsey even becomes Captain Britain for a short time. 

Below are the covers by Alan Davis for this potent run of the series. 

The series does find an ending with old foes finding some peace. New missions are given to those who have lost their way and Captain Britain seems for a brief time to have found some measure of contentment. 

This collection features the blurb "Before Excalibur" and while the issue above is not in the collection, it is clearly the purpose of the trade to put into readers' hands those Captain Britian stories which will impact the fledgling Brit X-team. It was a time when Marvel was all about all things X-Men, and squeezing Captain Britian into that frame was better than losing him all together. 

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