Saturday, September 24, 2022

Jack Kirby's Super Powers!

Among the many reasons DC saw fit to bring Jack Kirby back one final time in the mid 80's was not only to finally complete his epic "Fourth World" saga but to do so in such a way as to leave the characters available for future storytelling. Some of that new storytelling happened simultaneously with the development of Kirby's finale and some immediately after. And it weirdly blended the "Fourth World" with the classic Super Friends format to create something which is to my mind still surprisingly entertaining.

The Super Powers was an attempt by DC and Kenner to make the DC heroes successful as a toy line akin to the then wildly successful Star Wars and G.I.Joe toys among many others. To that end Jack Kirby gets to do what he'd sort of wanted to do with the Fourth World heroes so long ago, write a story another artist would draw, though Kirby supplied the action-filled covers. The artist chosen was Adrian Gonzales who is inked variously by Pablo Marcos, Alan Kupperberg, and himself. Joey Cavaleri gives Kirby a scripting hand in this series.

It's typical Bronze Age artwork, sturdy and straightforward which tries to evoke that Kirby mojo, but alas falls short. The story is an oddball one which has a hidden Darkseid (Gonzales does not actually draw any of the classic Fourth World characters in any way that they can be immediately identified) who sends his four "Emissaries of Doom" (four rather bland Apokolyptian warriors sad to say) to go attack the Earth by using four super-villains (Lex Luthor, Joker, Penguin, Brainiac) to battle the Justice League across the world, all of which is ruse to hide the proper invasion of Earth led by Darkseid himself in the fifth and final issue which is vigorously drawn by "King" Kirby himself.

It's solid superhero action, but it doesn't have any of the philosophical depth of the original series. Aside from some hints about the extras-special nature of Superman, this seems mostly to be a rockem' sockem' adventure, diverting but little else.

But there's more after a look at some action-filled Kirby covers.

The next year, after the appearance of "The Hunger Dogs" graphic novel, the storyline properly continues in the second series of Super Powers books, this time a six-issue limited. Jack is tapped not only to write, but draw this series, his final full-blown professional work. And while this is not Kirby at the peak of his powers, it is nonetheless better than most other comics of its time. Kirby supported Greg Theakston is tapped to finish the art.

The story begins with the revolting Hunger Dogs having driven Darkseid from power on Apokolips. This leaves the despot having to take his things and find a new place to conquer. He chooses Earth and rounds up his henchmen the resurrected and slightly altered Desaad, Kalibak, Mantis, Steppenwolf, and assorted Para-Demons to help with that end. The plan is to send five "Seeds of Doom" to Earth, each powered by some part of Darkseid's "Omega Effect" and allow the weird seeds to send their roots down into the core of the Earth, eventually tapping that power and demolishing the planet as we know it making a proper Apokoliptian landscape for Darkseid's purposes. But there's a secret.

The Justice League gathers and in a fantastic shout-out to classic DC super-team dynamics break up into teams of two and three to battle the"Seeds" across the globe. But in another clever allusion to the seventh issue of Forever People, the "Seeds of Doom" powered by the Omega Effect send our heroes through time where they have to confront a nicely wide assortment of threats and villains from many sources. It's a nicely drawn, rich, and classic superhero adventure with a few surprises, some great Kirby action and a pretty neat finale.

Now it must be said, that despite his direct involvement with this series, this again is a story which lacks the depth of the original Fourth World material. The Darkseid here, while properly evil lacks the subtlety of characterization which makes him so calmly malignant in the original series. He's more the cliche cackling villain here, he is full of anger more often than the cold disdain for others which gave him such a frosty menace before in Kirby's treatments. The henchmen too are just classic baddies, but they might be forgiven since they are literally mere shadows of their former selves.

Again, Kirby does some interesting things with Superman, and it makes me wish he'd been able to do more with the classic hero. Clearly, he had insights into the character which were colorful and interesting.

A final word after a very handsome cover gallery.

All in all, Super Powers is an above-average story told in a DCU which at the time was undergoing its infamous "Crisis". So, it's easy to understand why this yarn got lost among all that transforming hubbub, but every Kirby fan needs to check these stories out, and any Fourth World fan owes it to themselves to see the "King's" last fling with these wild evocative characters before he once and for all time left the building.

 NOTE: This is a Revised Dojo Classic Post. 

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Friday, September 23, 2022

Wonder Woman - The Complete Third Season!

Superman ruled the 1950's! Batman kayoed the 1960's! And Wonder Woman wowed the 1970's. Lynda Carter's portrayal of the William Moulton Marston creation from the 1940's was iconic. Alas the show around her distinctive and memorable portrayal was less so. The first season hued close to the comics, setting the story in the World War II era and giving us comic book captions to transition between scenes even. Diana Prince worked for the military and for the man she fancied, one Steve Trevor. Even the redoubtable Etta Candy got some airtime. But then when the showed shifted from ABC to CBS the setting was shunted forward to the then modern 1970's. At first things were okay with Wonder Woman helping the next generation of Trevor's fight world-beating threats as part of an espionage outfit reporting directly to the President. Then slowly things continued to change, some a result of new producers taking the helm. 

The comic book touches disappeared, the captions lasting a bit longer than the four-color credits. Then slowly but inevitably Steve Trevor became less and less significant. Trevor's airtime was given over to new gadgets like the I.R.A.C. computer and his little mobile buddy "Rover". While based in Washington D.C., Diana began to roam far and wide to battle threats as momentous as alien invasions and as small as corporate embezzlers. The Amazons faded away until by the third season they were never mentioned to my memory. Diana became less and less concerned with her secret identity, transforming in more and more open areas until finally she was seen. The third season also saw new music at the front of the show which reflected the noxious Disco scene which swallowed pop culture for a time. 

Science fiction seemed always to be near the writers' minds in the show with several episodes evoking classic sci-fi classics. Andros who appeared in both the first and second season (played by different actors) is more than a bit similar to Klaatu from the classic The Day the Earth Stood Still.  There is even one episode which had naught to do with aliens which used the title "Farewell to the Master", the title of the story which inspired the movie. Another show elicited memories of War of the Worlds, specifically the notorious radio play, when a hoax invasion was staged to bring out nuclear chaos. One truly weird episode had a woman who was transformed into a creature who could control ants. A strong episode in the second season gave the viewer a cloned Hitler even. 

Clearly it was decided that the less Wonder Woman looked and felt like a comic book come to life on the small screen then the more the admittedly tepid ratings would increase. Superman starring George Reeves lasted nearly a decade, while Batman starring Adam West burned hot but out quickly in only two. By the third season it was clear that Wonder Woman was fading away and so in what was the last episode made (but not shown) there were changes made for the proposed upcoming fourth season. The writers sadly reached into their bag of TV cliches and made the show even worse. Lyle Waggoner's personable Steve Trevor was out, and a new boss was added who was blustery and disagreeable, a Lou Grant for Diana Prince to contend with. Diana for her part moved to Los Angeles giving away the specialness of the D.C. setting. Apparently even a partner of sorts was proposed when an "Invincible Man" was introduced as well. He came with (gasp) an invincible chimp. Worst of all was "T. Burton Phipps III", a stereotypical black kid who was a hustler, a low-grade pimp who traded in Hostess Twinkies and other snack treats for the busy office worker. 

The invincible man was to be Brett Cassidy and his origin was startling in that he was a normal human who was made indestructible and given above normal strength by means of an illegal experiment conducted by a madman with more than a sniff of the Nazi about him. He was for all intents and purposes identical in form to Wonder Man, the Marvel hero created by Baron Zemo. I have to admit the idea of Wonder Woman teaming with "Wonder Man" in the fourth season is a tad intriguing but in the final analysis it's likely good for everyone that the show was mercifully put down before the fourth season could develop. 

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Thursday, September 22, 2022

Adventures Of Captain Marvel!

The Adventures of Captain Marvel serial is generally regarded as the best one ever. It's public domain status makes it widely available, and it was one of the very first serials I ever saw on VHS. I hadn't watched again for many years, but I of course got a new DVD version some time ago and have enjoyed several times over the years. It is splendid!

The advantage it has is the decision to make Captain Marvel's backstory different from the comic pretty much and linked specifically to the particular threat of the Scorpion. Binding the hero and the villain together makes for more immediate tension. The variation on threats in this one is pretty good. They rely mostly on using unseen footage to explain the escapes which is mostly fair. I get weary of serials that just have the hero dust himself off after landsides and such. It makes it all less intense. Captain Marvel's threats were exotic and his escapes mostly reasonable within the story's parameters.

The villain is a good one and the way the story gives you red herring after red herring suggesting first one guy then another as the perp makes it all hang together quite well. The Scorpion seems to don that costume in some strange places but overall I like his presentation, particularly now that I've been able to compare it other villains.

And of course the flying is outstanding. I expected that, well remembering it from previous viewings and it didn't disappoint. Tom Tyler looks outstanding as Captain Marvel, the best looking hero ever on screen most agree.

All in all a dandy serial, and a great way to spend an afternoon.

 NOTE: This is a Revised Dojo Classic Post. 

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Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The Super Powers Team Galactic Guardians 1985-1986!

This series broke the mold, almost literally as all of the character designs done by Alex Toth so many years before were ejected in favor of new ones with a nod to DC artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, who at the time was giving all of the DCU a facelift with sleek modern looking idealistic presentations. Also gone were the Wonder Twins, replaced to some extent by the buddy team of Firestorm and new addition Cyborg. Much is made of Cyborg's reluctance to join the League, but within a few episodes he's on board and in most all the stories.

Those stories focused even more on Apokolips and the schemes of Darkseid and his minions. Parademons and fire pits create a dark threatening world and it takes a somewhat more determined and gritty batch of "Super Powers" (no longer called "Friends") to dispatch these threats. These shows are meant to do two things, entertain as cartoons and to promote the toy line from Kenner and to that end we get attacks on the team from such as Scarecrow and the Penguin. There's a nifty variation of the ever-changing Royal Flush Gang led by the Joker and Lex Luthor is around in his armored super-suit.

Good stuff, a cartoon fit for its time but also the end of the line for the "Super Friends". The Justice League of America would not find a way onto the small scree for many years until Cartoon Network decided they wanted to see what might be done with them.

NOTE: This is classic post which first appeared at Rip Jagger's Other Dojo.  

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Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Super Friends - The Legendary Super Powers Show 1984-1985!

Super Friends Challenge of the Super Powers marks a major shift in the focus and tone of the series as a new Kenner toyline is now part and parcel of the storytelling decisions. It does serve to give the stories a bit more dramatic heft, most of that delivered by the appearance of new villainy.

Darkseid and his minions Kalibak and Desaad are welcome additions to the rogues gallery of the Super Friends. Darkseid here is not quite the debased dictator of his comic book appearances, but the gravity of his presence does give his threats a grimness heretofore unseen in the series. He wants Wonder Woman as his bride and queen and that is running story through the season. He's not the only villain the team faces as a new deadlier Brainiac is also on hand.

But the big shift is the addition of Firestorm, a young hero who utterly changes the way the team functions. The Wonder Twins are still around but while Firestorm is a bit goofy at times, he's not just comedy relief as had been Gleek. With the ethnic heroes Apache Chief, El Dorado, Black Vulcan and Samurai sill very much in evidence the show becomes a really nifty version of the Justice League.

NOTE: This is classic post which first appeared at Rip Jagger's Other Dojo.  

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Monday, September 19, 2022

Shazam! The TV Show!

I don't know why it took me so long to finally get around to ordering a copy of Shazam! from the Warner Archives. This delightful show was an absolute frolic when it hit television screens in 1974. Produced by Filmation, the story was full of charm and with its tiny budget produced a fairly entertaining superhero adventure geared for the youth of the day. Sadly, my copy doesn't feature the exquisite Jerry Ordway image above, but has the assembled actors seen below.

Regardless the shows inside are fast-paced and for the most-part light-hearted fables for the young-at-heart. A typical show begins with Billy Batson (Michael Grey) getting a message from "The Elders" (Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury) which then almost immediately leads him, and his older confidant actually named "Mentor" (Les Tremayne) to some danger. They roll up in their RV and before long Captain Marvel (played first by Jackson Bostwick and later by John Davey) is called upon with the classic magic word to save lives and the day in general. It's a solid premise which lasted two full seasons on Saturday mornings.

The show makes do with some vintage George Reeves Superman TV flying special effects and a memorable gimmick which puts the actor playing the Big Red Cheese out in the wind -- impressive. This will make a great addition to the shelves right next to the other Shazam live-action opus, the totally awesome 1941 Republic Pictures flick starring Tom Tyler and Frank Coghlan, The Adventures of Captain Marvel. A nifty bit of trivia is that Frank Coghlan actually makes an appearance in the 70's Shazam TV show. 

More on the movie serial later this week. 

NOTE: This is a Revised Dojo Classic Post. 

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Sunday, September 18, 2022

Shazam! The World's Mightiest Mortal - Volume Two!

DC had brought Captain Marvel back to life again after decades in limbo thanks to DC's very own lawsuit. They had brought back one of Captain Marvel's original creators in C.C. Beck. Despite this though the book seemed to not be catching on. Beck himself was disgruntled and after a year slipped away from the title. Artists like Kurt Schaffenberger (another original Cap artist) and Bob Oksner among others moved in to make the book look a bit more like other DC titles. But the attempt to target especially young readers seemed a failure. That is until TV took an interest. 

DC slapped a little blurb on the cover which said "Shazam! Saturday's TV Hit Show!". The live action Shazam! show from Filmation was making people take notice. So in another brilliant move DC decides to double down and give the comic reader even more new wonderful Shazam! stories. Well actually they didn't. 

What they did was turn the book into a reprint magazine for four issues. While still touting the TV connection the reader found solid but aged Fawcett stories inside the comic which was for sell on the stands. It wasn't until the TV show got a second season that DC finally got gears going to revise the series to fit and they gave us all some wonderful surprises as well. 

E. Nelson Bridewell and Kurt Schaffenberger gave us a new more DC friendly version of the hero. Billy Batson is sent on an across-country odyssey during the United States' bicentennial year to visit important cities. His companion is Uncle Dudley who functions as his "Mentor" on the trip. This new mentor and Billy use an RV to traipse across the land and there they meet others and save lives from various plots by Dr. Sivana or Mr. Mind. Further Billy is given a device which allows him to contact the very "Elders" who give him his powers for useful advice. In other words, DC made the comic as much like the TV show as possible and thanks to Bridwell they did it in a rather clever way. 

And then there was Isis. Dick Giordano knocks out some typically handsome art to introduce the Filmation-created female counterpart for Captain Marvel. She's a teacher who is empowered by Egyptian gods. She gets her very own comic for a time and so the Saturday morning comic corner at DC gets a little bit larger. 

So Billy Batson and his "Mentor" Uncle Marvel (sporting a mustache to evoke that Les Tremayne look) travel to the cities of Washington D.C., Philidelphia, Boston, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Columbus meeting TV executives and battling the menaces they find there. They are aided in the battle by Kid Eternity and Minute Man. The "Superman" featured on the cover of one issue is not who you think it is. They battle the schemes of Sivana and the brawn of Black Adam and IBAC.  

Then Schaffenberger steps aside and is replaced by artist Tenny Henson, a Filipino talent. He's really good and wraps up the peripatetic adventures with stops in Detroit and Indianapolis. Mr. Mind steps in as the uber-villain while Mr. Atom shows up to supply the muscle. Bridwell's scripts are smart and clever and do a grand job of transferring the essence of the TV show to the handsome comic. But things are about to change big time. 

The cross-country odyssey is ended when the threat of Captain Nazi resurfaces. But the biggest change is the art which is done in this single issue by Alan Lee Weiss with inks by Joe Rubinstein. The classic appearance of the Marvels is at long last abandoned and a more realistic look wins the day. I liked the classic look, but I loved this new more muscular modern Captain Marvel. 

In the next issue a new artist appears by the name of Don Newton and Captain Marvel and the Shazam Family will never look the same. Under a rugged Mike Nasser cover we have a Cap who is at once more real and still evocative of the classic in a battle against the evil King Kull which blows the top off. Sadly this is the last issue of the classic Shazam! run, but it's not the end of E. Nelson Bridwell's and Don Newton's Captain Marvel. But first there's this. 

DC had teased a meeting between "The Man of Steel" and "The Big Red Cheese" several times over the years since they had procured the rights to Fawcett's number one hero. But despite many tempting covers, the contact always proved less than advertised. Superman makes two appearances on Shazam! series covers and is not featured in the comic book. Lex Luthor does make contact with what was dubbed "Earth-S" but thinks he had a dream. DC worked extra hard to make the first conflict between these two mega-heroes a big deal and they succeeded with the "All New Collectors' Edition" of "Superman Vs. Shazam!". Rich Buckler is tapped to draw this oversized epic with a script by Gerry Conway, the writer who had previously given the world the first ever team-up of Superman and a certain friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. Supergirl and Mary Marvel have substantial parts to play in this yarn, but after all these years the excitement of that first big clash seems somewhat dimmed. 

Still, it's a great way to wrap up this volume. Next time we get to see what I think is perhaps Captain Marvel's most shining moments at DC when we follow Bridwell and Newton to Worlds Finest and beyond. 

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