Friday, October 18, 2019

Dojo Classics - Monster Kong!

This adaptation of King Kong by Don Simpson for the Fantagraphics Monster Comics label is lively and true to the source material. While it's seemingly an adaptation of the novel again, I see elements, especially in the later chapters where the film version comes into play. The escape from Skull Mountain in particular feels like its from the movie and not the novel, though given the way the rights to Kong have been divided over the decades I understand why they wanted to say it was the novel.

Don Simpson is a favorite artist of mine. His artwork is muscular and vivid, a nice mix for the mighty Kong. Having said that, his King Kong is a wee bit too cartoonish for my tastes. More of a character than the Gold Key adaptation in which he's a big bluish ape, this Kong is a personality through and through. That's good, but the face sometimes seems a bit too funny for the right scary effect.

Another thing is the update of the characterizations. Denham is more of an ass in this one, and Driscoll calls him out several times in the story. Driscoll here is a more modern man, less noble but no less brave. Ann Darrow's plight is undermined a bit by her becoming aware of Driscoll's attempt at rescue much sooner, thus limiting her isolated time with Kong, and the horror that instilled.

Simpson is known for his babes and he draws Ann here as one. She's sexy, but not as much the innocent as in the other versions I've seen. I have less empathy for the humans in this version and more for Kong, and perhaps that was Simpson's intent.

The NYC stuff is very good and the ending is abrupt, but then so it is in the original. This is a solid adaptation by an excellent talent. It's not his best work though, and that's a shame. Still the covers for the series by Dave Stevens, Mark Schultz, Bill Stout, Ken Steacey, and Al Williamson are superb.

Look for more "Eighth Wonder of the World" as the Halloween Countdown continues.

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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Comic Book Ape Countdown - Part Three!

The favorite comic book ape countdown comes to a close today with part three and the top seven apes. I don't know if you will agree with my assessments, but I'm pretty sure most everyone will agree with number one. I'm eager to hear from you.

7. Sam Simeon was delightful in his way as a partner with Angel O'Day. They were a dandy and entertaining pair in the relatively few issues of DC comics which featured them. Sam himself was a comic book artist as well as a detective of sorts and the fact he was a gorilla seemed of less concern to him and others as one might've thought.

6. M'Baku the Man-Ape is really an ape I know, but he made a tremendous impact on this Marvel Zombie from the very fist time he showed up to challenge the rule of T'Challa The Black Panther. The Panther had just become an Avenger and needed a villain and Man-Ape filled the bill with gusto. I guess based on the movies he's something of an ally for T'Challa these days, but it's the Man-Ape of yesteryear that makes me happy.

5. Kerchak is maybe the most important ape on this list. Without the ferocious Kerchak and his impact on the life of the one and only Tarzan of the Apes, pop culture as we know it might look quite different. In the earliest tales of Tarzan we see him grow and become a thorn in the side of Kerchak, but when he finally challenges the leader of his tribe to the right to rule he became a king of sorts in the dark territories of the mythical Africa.

4. Another bad ape is Grodd, the infamous member of the Flash's rogues gallery who seeks nothing less than the subjugation of mankind itself. While considered technically a rogue, you always knew that Grodd was something else, something  more dangerous and deadly. The Trickster wanted to make you look foolish and get booty, Mirror Master wanted to prove his mettle in battle against the most potent enemy he could locate, but Grodd just wanted to kill you.

3. Gorilla Man is a delightful character erupting from the depths of Marvel's horror past when the company was dubbed "Atlas". He was a man who was transformed into a gorilla by dint of a curse and that was his tale of morality until he was rediscovered by Roy Thomas and Don Glut and made a part of the 50's Avengers in an issue of What If?. He proved to be a fascinating character and even rated his mini-series at one time.

2. Perhaps the most successful comic book ape was Konga. Based on a British monster flick which wanted to capture a wee bit of the old King Kong magic, Konga landed at Charlton Comics where the ape fell into the hands of the late great Steve Ditko. Ditko imbued Konga with a charming personality, perhaps a bit too broad at times, but the stories have been reprinted time and again since proving that they have a lasting appeal.

1. And finally at last we have the number one ape in comics, in fact  he's the number one ape in any list of any kind. King Kong is the well-spring of modern pop culture, a tale in which for the first time a thing which never lived demanded the empathy of the world and proved that all that hokum could be used to tell stories of lasting lingering power. While it's been many decades since Kong fell from the Empire State Building, he's never ever lost his lofty perch on top of the modern imagination.

Special Note: As we get well into the second half of October and continue the countdown to Halloween, the focus on reviews will be on many things Kong. Expect some reviews of comics but mostly of the classic films themselves, as well as a host of the sometimes hapless imitators which hoped to capture a little of the Skull Island glory.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Comic Book Ape Countdown - Part Two!

Let the games continue as we look at the next batch of seven of favorite apes in comic books. I'm counting to seven and not five but it still works out.

14. Monkeyman was an Indy hit back when the artist reigned supreme in the comics world and comic books were never "hotter". As is often the case Monkeyman was partnered with a beautiful girl, this time to form a duo against evil. Axwell Tiberius is Monkeyman's real name and he's a genius from another dimension brought to Earth when Ann O'Brien opened a portal. She got super strength and stature and he got stuck, but together they were a formidable team in all too few adventures by their creator Art Adams.

13. Cowboy Gorilla is the creation of Don Simpson and while not as successful as Megaton Man or even Yarn Man, he's a hoot. Often teamed with Phantom Jungle Girl he's a force for good alongside the other heroes of the Fiascoverse. Sadly Don Simpson, his creator has taken a step back from regular comic book production and that's hurt Cowboy's chances for the big time.

12. Who doesn't like Magilla Gorilla? While that might seem a rhetorical question it's actually one which could be asked of any of his potential owners, the folks who have tried to take Magilla home from Mr. Peebles' pet shop. Dressed like some misfit hobo Magilla is memorable if not exactly striking, but he means well. Hanna and Barbera came up with a winner with Magilla.

11. When is an ape not an ape? When that ape is the Ultra-Humanite. A super-villain from the earliest days of Superman's adventures, the Ultra-Humanite is the intellect to confront Superman's brawn. His schemes were many and varied but when he decided to become an albino ape, he found the body he'd dreamed our worst nightmares.

10. And then there's Superman's other ape foe -- Titano the Super-Ape. Not unlike the Fantastic Four or the Red Ghost's own Super-Apes, Titano was once upon a time merely a chimp named Toto who was launched into space and irradiated. Returning to Earth he became an enormous gorilla armed with eye beams of sizzling Kryptonite. Take that Superman. '

9. Malevolent is the Mandrill, the sinister creation of Steve Gerber who battled against first Sheena the aptly named She-Devil and later Daredevil with the assistance of Nekra, an albino female vampire of sorts. Jerome Beacham is the Mandrill's real name and he's the mutated son of a pair of scientists once bombarded with radiation. Nekra it turns out is the daughter of a black cleaning lady also irradiated in the same accident. Together they hate the world and themselves and are extremely dangerous. 

8. Monsieur Mallah is part of DC's Brotherhood of Evil, the vile counterparts to the Doom Patrol. He's a loyal follower of The Brain who created him by experimenting on those of his kind. Along with the ductile Madame Rouge they are villains tough enough for anyone. And who doesn't love a gorilla with a gun? Oh that's right -- everyone!

Tomorrow the countdown concludes with the final seven. Be here.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Comic Book Ape Countdown - Part One!

Today begins a three day excursion down one of the Dojo's patented countdowns as I take a look at my favorite comic book apes. Apes of all kinds are abundant in the comic books as they are in lots of other venues of popular culture. DC Comics famously had a love affair with apes in the 60's when the editors noted upticks in sales when apes showed up on covers. There have been giant apes, smart apes, civilized apes, ferocious apes, and even a golden ape.

So let me jiggle this barrel of monkeys and see what tumbles out. You can tell me if I have strung them together successfully or not. Let's begin.

21. The movie Planet of the Apes was a huge success in the 70's spawning sequels, toys, a TV show and a comic book. There was also a magazine, both were published by Marvel and featured some dandy talent. Whether your goal is to get beneath, escape, battle or got to conquer these blokes no list of favorite comic book apes would be complete without at least a mention of Caesar and his ape associates.

20. On Saturday mornings the spy craze of the time met up with ape craze to give us Lancelot Link Secret Chimp. I'll confess watching an episode these days might be a little tedious but back in the day I loved it as the agents of the Agency to Prevent Evil battled the never ending schemes of  the Criminal Headquarters  for the Underworld's Master Plan. Chimps aren't my favorite apes, but for Lancelot and best girl Mata Hairi I'll make an exception.

19. Spider-Man has an impressive rogues gallery, arguably the finest in all the Marvel Universe. But likely not on the A-list is The Gibbon. Martin Blank has powers and wants to be best buds with his his friendly neighborhood Spider-Man but things go wrong, he gets juiced and ends up battling Spidey as the "The Gibbon". It's a short battle, but I loved it.

18. Saturday mornings also gave us Bingo, a member in good standing with the Banana Splits. I was much too old to admit liking the Banana Splits when they were on TV, but by gosh I did enjoy their zany antics which happened between episodes of other not-that-bad cartoons and such entertainments. I hear there is a rumor they've gone rogue and have been killing folks, but surely not Bingo. Say it ain't so Bingo.

17. The Red Ghost, a spy for Mother Russia needed help when he planned to take on the Fab 4, but the Fantastic Four still got the best of him despite his trio of Super-Apes (gorilla, orangutan, and baboon) getting super powers like super-strength, super-magnestism and shape-changing respectively. I know I liked them when they popped by the Baxter Building.

16. Never read too many Golden Gorilla stories but the idea that he and Congo Bill shared a brain later in their careers was too much of a hoot. That's the kind of wack creativity that has made comics such a wonderful terrain for so many decades.

15. Rounding out the first gaggle of apes That's what he's called in the hilarious George of the Jungle cartoons and the comic books as well. While George is clumsy, dim, and an all-around goof, it is Ape who is the sophisticated voice of reason in the depths of the jungle. His cool head and refined manner make George a better boy. 

Another seven amazing apes in tomorrow's installment. 

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Monday, October 14, 2019

The Gorilla!

The Gorilla starring the Ritz Brothers is a wacky haunted house-like yarn from the silent days of film when such films as The Bat were popular and later again in 1930 in the earliest days of sound. Neither of those efforts survive leaving only this version. This 1939 variant sports a nifty cast with Lionel Atwill in fine form and Bela Lugosi doing what he did best, giving the whole shebang an eerie feeling.

This story has all the earmarks of a Scooby Doo yarn. A rich guy (Atwill) is threatened by his backers and seeks a way out of his dilemma and invites his niece over, a girl he just happens to share interest in a valuable piece of property with. He is seemingly threatened by "The Gorilla", a murderer who has terrorized the city in recent weeks and everyone is concerned.

He hires the Ritz Brothers who in this instance play a trio of detectives known as "Garrity, Harrigan, and Mulligan". They are as hapless as you'd expect and there are other mysterious figures and such. Patsy Kelly as a maid who keeps trying to leave but with no success.

The ambles along after Atwill's disappearance and all through the melee there is the resolute Bela Lugosi as a butler who seems weirdly unaffected by any of the odd goings on in the house. His straightforward portrayal plays nicely against the hectic Ritz Brothers and actress Patsy Kelly. I've seen a lot of people pan this movie, but I rather liked it for what it was and by the way there is actually a gorilla in it. 

Related image

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Strange Adventures Of The Apes!

Gorillas sell! Or at least that's what they thought at DC Comics and so thanks to that we have some delightful comic book covers with all sorts of apes doing all sorts of things. They seem to run into the legal system quite a lot and eventually they take to air and even get into space. Here are the Strange Adventures covers which featured an ape. Enjoy!

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