Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Covers This Week #44-50 -- Surf's Up!

I'm going to be out of town this week, so I won't be able to update things here. So let me leave one and all with a cavalcade of my Favorite Comic Book Covers. These all celebrate my favorite comic book company Charlton and the ultimate summer activity surfing. Hang Ten!

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Today #43 - Wizard Of OZ!

Remember when MGM's The Wizard of OZ was a big deal? Once a year we'd anticipate with glee getting to see all those wonderful fantasy characters again. We'd get to hear follow the yellow brick road and be charmed, entertained and frightened. It was a treat. Then we grew up, VHS became commonplace and the specialness of getting to see such things as this movie became less special, less thrilling. It's a pity really, but life and technology moves on. Now convenience has replaced patience and anticipation, possibly to the ultimate regret of most involved.

This comic was equally bizarre, a collaboration between DC and Marvel, unheard of at the time. A special comic book in a special size for a very special movie. I haven't read this comic, nor watched the original movie in years and years. I need to rectify both situations at the soonest possible juncture.

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I recently picked up a DVD version of Ralph Bakshi's Wizards. After watching it twice (once with Bakshi's very informative commentary and once without) and I have to say I've never enjoyed this film more. It looks outstanding on this DVD. I saw it in the theaters, I have it on VHS, but I've never seen the material as vivid or compelling as on this DVD. The Mike Ploog artwork which is used as sepia-toned stills to supply the history of the Wizard's world and some inbetween material looks lush and beautiful. The backgrounds are bright and even florescent at times. Maybe I'm in the right place for the satire right now, but I found the story really engaging for the first time ever. Usually I just drink in the images, but here I found the themes themselves more compelling. Bakshi is a frank and entertaining commentator on his own work and gives praise to those involved (including himself) and you can really tell he dislikes Walt Disney. There's also some added features on this DVD, a half-hour (or so) interview with Bakshi that is really enjoyable. There are the usual trailers and some production stills. All in all a good solid DVD package, with some really great comic book connections.

My favorite insider detail is that at one point the "hero" Avatar pronounces a spell invoking the names of "Krenkel, Morrow, and Frazetta" (spelled "krinkle, morrow, and frizeta" in the titles). Bakshi reveals this was an intentional homage to three of his fave comics artists. He gushes about comics and mentions most of the classic names we love here, especially Eisner.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Today #42 - Size Matters!

Hank Pym is arguably my favorite character at Marvel. His problems are exceedingly well documented, and that weakness of character is what makes him compelling to me. He's a hero in spite of his flaws. Not perfect, but a man looking for success and seeking redemption. My favorite sequence of stories with Pym was when Marvel returned him to his Ant-Man role in a series of stories in Marvel Feature. Herb Trimpe started out on the series and drew some outstanding stuff, especially this cover which to my mind evokes quite effectively the classic story which doubtless inspired the creation of Ant-Man himself, The Incredible Shrinking Man.

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The Valley Of Gwangi!

The Valley of Gwangi is huge favorite of mine. Long before I'd ever get a chance to at last see the movie, the comic book was my source. The comic itself is nothing to get too excited about, featuring a fairly humdrum adaptation by Jack Sparling. Back then I got most of my movie news this way, by way of comics and MAD magazine. But I'm sure I bought the comic for the same reason I still treasure it, the outstanding cover artwork. It's the same art used on the movie posters, and it's perhaps the single most dramatic image of a dinosaur I've ever seen.

Now the "Gwangi" on this cover is far bigger than the actual dino in the flick, but that doesn't take away from the awesome power of this image. The Godzilla-sized Gwangi flicking his tale among stones and bones and a virtual army of fleeing cowboys, horses, and dames is a masterpiece. My question has been -- who is the artist?

The answer-- Frank McCarthy! McCarthy, who has since passed away was renowned as a western artist, but early on did many movie posters, many for the Bond films. But my favorite McCarthy piece will always be the truly awesome image of Gwangi.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Today #41 - Korg!

This is a wacky series by Charlton based on a TV show. The TV show was pretty interesting as I recollect, but the comics as drawn by the truly incomparable Pat Boyette were very interesting. It's been too long since I read these, I need to fix that. Great offbeat dinosaur here.

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Finding The Lost World!

I snagged an entertaining gem, Irwin Allen's The Lost World starring Claude (Invisible Man) Raines, Michael (Klaatu) Rennie, David (The Fly) Hedison, Jill (Tiffany Case) St.John, Fernando (It is better to look good than to feel good) Lamas, and many more. (Surprisingly large cast given a "lost world".) It also features one of the most annoying animals ever in a movie, Frosty the Poodle, a beast you are actually eager to see gobbled up by a big old lizard. (I posted on this movie here a few years ago after seeing part of it; my opinion of the action is the same though overall it's a better story than I thought then.)

This is a project presumably that Willis O'Brien and perhaps Ray Harryhausen were scheduled to do, but which slipped away because of time and costs. So what you get here are giant lizards with stuff glued on them for dinosaurs. It's pretty ho-hum save actually when two of them fight and it's surprisingly intense. The acting is blah, the story is coherent, the sets are pretty fine, and the wardrobe offbeat and distracting in a movie supposedly set in the Amazon. St.John wears some distracting pink boots and pants through most of it, but then she might be distracting regardless. After they get to the Amazon the night before they helicopter onto the "lost world", they lounge around a pretty remote looking outpost in ties and dresses, looking way too slick for the outdoors. The whole of the production has that patented Irwin Allen antiseptic look to it, that might cut it on TV, but tears into the "realism" of a larger effort. But that didn't stop me from finding some enjoyment in this one, after finally getting to see it all the way through.

But what really got me to buy this wasn't the 1960 version, but the fact this package also included a restored version of the 1925 original with Wallace Beery and special effects by Willis O'Brien. I have this on VHS but this is a much better copy with many added scenes and much greater clarity. As one review put it, at last I got to enjoy this movie on its own merits as a story that actually captured me and moved me along, rather than endure a truncated version primarily to get to see some great special effects. The Missing Link character is in full form here and comes across much more menacingly. The Challenger character by Beery is hilarious and actually a bit scary from time to time. The dinos are great and the especially the bronto in London, a great great sequence. They used tones on this print, using sepia for day shots and blue for night shots adding to the emotional range of the movie. The organ music background was adequate and actually keyed to the action. All in all worth the price of the package all on its own.

And then there are the other extras, such as really lush galleries of photos and promotional materials. Included also is the complete Dell comic book adaptation by Gil Kane or maybe Alex Toth, there seems to be disagreement. That's a real treat, since I've seen a few pages but never the whole thing. It follows the movie fairly closely and those pink pants are just as distracting when Kane/Toth renders them. I see a lot of Kane here by the way, though I don't rule out Toth's hand.

All in all this is a dandy little package, well worth the bucks, and more so if you can scrap up a few coupons like I did.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Today #40 - Doomsday!

This was a great little series from Charlton Comics. John Byrne was still a fresh raw talent, full of energy and oozing talent and anxious to tell stories. Joe Gill fashioned his typical wonderful script, giving us four very differnt individuals. The three astronauts, two women and a guy meet up with an unfrozen Viking after the world is destroyed by nuclear weapsons while they glide helplessly in orbit above. The world they find when they land is dangerous and exotic. The use of the Statue of Liberty was iconic, bringing to mind the post-apocalyptic vision of Planet of the Apes and Jack Kirby's Kamandi. This is jewel.

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More Than Meets The Eye!

How come these guys don't have a summer blockbuster movie coming out today? They were "awesome", it says so on the ad.

Actually I've never seen the first Transformers movie, and I need to do that. At this point I'll just wait until the second one comes out on dvd and catch them both back-to-back. They look like fun flicks.

The Transformers were a phenomenon back in the day, a true phenomenon. The cartoons weren't half bad and the toys were fascinating, blending an echo of the Rubik's Cube with sci-fi and cheesy adventure. I was too old to really get it, but I still found them rather clever and pretty dang cool.

Still and all, I bet a Gobots movie would rock.

No, really.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Today #39 - His Name Is Savage!

Here's a kickass comic book cover by the late great Gil Kane. This is a cover for the 80's Fantagraphics reprint of Kane's pioneering independent magazine His Name Is Savage. The Lee Marvin version below is wonderful, but this Kane illustration above really captures the violence of the character.

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The Doc Savage Reports #5

I wrap up my look at the color Marvel Comics appearances today with reviews of his guest-starring roles with a couple of Marvel mainstays and a reprint of a different kind.

Giant-Size Spider-Man #3 is titled "The Yesterday Connection!". It's written by Gerry Conway and features artwork by Doc Savage's main man Ross Andru this time inked by his longtime partner Mike Esposito. The cover is by Gil Kane. The story begins in 1974 with Spidey on patrol when a flickering light catches his attention. He gleans it's a message for help and off he swings to the location of a vintage 1930's building about to be demolished. Suddenly he's attacked from the shadows but a backflip later he sees his attacker is a stunning blue woman clad in strategically placed straps. She says her name is Desinna and by using a translating device she tells Spidey a story from 1934 when the building was just being constructed. We cut to 1934 and find Doc Savage and his team (Monk, Ham, Renny, Johnny and Long Tom) attending the dedication when a mysterious gunman tries to kill Mayor La Guardia. Doc dispatches the villain but isn't at all convinced that that threat was the reason they'd been summoned to the building the night before. They return to the Doc's headquarters and after some lab tests determine the message they recieved came from another world. Back to 1974 and Spidey and Desinna come under seeming attack by a giant ghostly image resembling a satyr. After some fisticuffs, Spidey determines the creature is electrical in nature and uses a jackhammer to short the being out. Then Desinna reveals she was there in 1934 with Doc Savage. The story cuts back to 1934 and Doc and his men are searching the building site when they encounter Desinna who tells them of her otherly dimensional world that exists alongside Earth but in such a way as time effectively is absolute. She speaks of a scientist named Tarros who has an experiment go wild seemingly killing him but creating the electrical creature Spidey had fought earlier (or later depending on how you view it). She claims she needs Doc's help to capture the creature and after much ballyhoo Doc and his men succeed in trapping Tarros inside the building's keystone where he will be trapped until the building is torn down. Back to 1974 and after jackhammering the keystone, Spidey frees Tarros but in a twist he's realized that Desinna is the villain, something that Doc and his guys weren't culturally capable of detecting (or so claims Spidey) and her story is not true completely. Tarros takes Desinna and the pair disappear. Spidey prepares to swing away and in the background is a nodding Doc Savage.

Marvel Two-In-One #21 happens two years later. The story is titled "Black Sun Lives!" and it's written by Bill Mantlo. It's drawn by Ron Wilson with Pablo Marcos on inks. The cover is by Wilson with Joe Sinnott inks. This one begins 1976 and 1936 respecitively. Two tales are told simultaneously so be patient as I wind through this saga. In the Baxter Buidling in 1976 The Thing and The Human Torch get a visitor; likewise in 1936 in the Empire State Building HQ of Doc Savage, he and his partners Monk and Ham get a visitor. The Thing and Torch welcome in a beautiful woman; likewise so do Doc and his men. The woman in 1976 collapses; so does the woman in 1936. The woman in 1976 named Lightner tells of her twin brother named Tom who is obbessed with the scientific work of his father and has bankrupted them to follow his passions; the woman in 1936 is also named Lightner and tells of her husband and how his scientific work has overcome his reason. Both women tell similar stories of how the two generations of scientists work to complete the sky cannon, a telescope affair that apparently can tap the power of the stars. Then in 1976 the sky goes dark and a glow in the distance seems to come from the location of the sky cannon; likewise in 1936 the sky goes dark and there is a mysterious glow in the distance. The Thing and Torch along with Miss Lightner take the Fantasticar to investigate; Doc Savage and his aides along with Mrs. Lightner do likewise. When the two aircraft reach their respective targets a ray blast envelops both and suddenly the limits of time are broken and the members of the Fantastic Four and the Fab Five and Doc find themselves together confronting a menace composed of both the father and the son called BlackSun. The teams quickly come to terms with the peculiar situation and work together against the seemingly all-powerful villain. After much battle Doc finally notices that the absence of starlight weakens their foe and so when the Human Torch enlightens the environment with his flame BlackSun becomes weakened enough to be captured. With his fall time's limits reassert themselves and Doc and his men fade away while Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm plan to take the injured Lightner to a doctor.

There is one more Doc Savage color comic book out there from Marvel. In 1975 they published Giant-Size Doc Savage #1. It's tied into the movie which was hitting theaters, and it's essentially a reprint of issues #1 and #2 of the original series. But there is substantial redrawing of Doc throughout the story to make his image more consistent with what was appearing in the B&W magazines. There are also a couple of pin-ups of Doc from the B&W magazines here in color. The comic closes with an article by Robert Sampson called "Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze" which gives brief character sketches of Doc and his team.

Next time, I'll begin to examine the Black & White run of magazines featuring Doc Savage.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Today #38 - The Axe Man Cometh!

This classic cover by Johnny Craig just might be the most evocative comic book cover ever done. The angle, the blood, the head. And what's the most effective, is we must imagine the look on this killer's face, as Craig keeps him out of the frame. This cover demands that the story underneath be read. I dare you not to want to read this comic. It's utterly impossible.

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The Doc Savage Reports #4

Today I conclude my review of Marvel's original Doc Savage comics run.

Doc Savage #7 begins an adaptation of Kenneth (Lester Dent) Robeson's Brand of the Werewolf. The first part is titled "Brand of the Werewolf" and is written by Tony Isabella and drawn by Ross Andru with Frank Springer on inks. The cover is by Rich Buckler. The story begins in Canada as we watch a man seemingly transform into a werewolf, who then attacks a car containing Alex Savage, Doc's uncle and Pat Savage's father. Next we cut to Doc's skyscraper headquarters and he is getting a call from Pat telling him of the tragic murder of her father. Doc along with Monk, Ham, and Renny head off to Canada. They end up taking a train on which they meet Senor Corto Ovega, his daughter, and a man named El Rabannos. There is an attack on Doc's train compartment using gas. After rescuing his team, Doc then finds the same gas used in the compartment of the Ovjeas. Then the train comes to an abrubt halt because the tracks are blocked by timber, and the Ovejas and El Rabannos leave the train headed into the woods. Doc has his men follow them while he helps get the train tracks cleared. He quickly is under attack by thugs, but dispatches them quickly. Meanwhile Pat and her Indian servants Tiny and her husband Boatface hear howling. Pat goes to search but returns and finds her servants unconscious. She knows what the attackers wanted, a cube with a strange brand of a werewolf. Boatface sees where this is hidden and soon steals it and takes it into the woods for a clandestine meeting with the Werewolf rejects Boatface's attempts to raise the price and who attacks and kills him. Doc and his men get back together in time to see a mysterious plane leaving a remote hanger, one they'd seen from the train. They find Alex Savage's grave and the body of Boatface along with the peculiar clues of pine bark and a ptarmigan feather. Doc heads out across the trail of the killers but finds the trail stops at a ravine with a single rope across it. He takes a balancing pole and starts across when a sniper shoots him, causing him to fall.

Doc Savage #8 concludes the story and the series run. The story is titled "Werewolf's Lair!" and is written by Tony Isabella and drawn by Rich Buckler. The inks are by both Tom Palmer and Jack Abel who alternate througout the story. The cover is another Buckler effort inked by Klaus Janson. The story picks up with Doc grabbing the rope across the ravine to save his life but then a second shot sends him falling out of sight. The gunman is quite pleased and goes back to camp to encounter the Werewolf. Pat and Tiny have been captured by the thugs but Pat tries to escape with Tiny. They are recaptured when suddenly Doc appears and battles thier captors. The three head off into the woods while Doc explains to Pat what's been going on and explains how a nearly invisible wire had saved his life at the ravine. The trio encounter the Werewolf but Doc quickly dispatches the "monster" revealing him to be a man in an elaborate costume, but more men arrive and they flee. The trio meet up with Monk, Ham, and Renny at Pat's cabin and suddenly Senorita Cere Oveja shows up. She explains that she and her father are descended from Alfredo Leon, a 17th century pirate called "The Werewolf". He apparently had a treasure that he'd hidden in the region and the cube was the only means to discover it. Doc has him men go and find the cube hidden in a ptarmigan nest as he'd suspected by Boatface. Then quickly it's revealed that the cube unfolds to make a map showing the location of the treasure. Then the Werewolf and his gang return, use gas to capture Doc and the team and take to a mine that held the treasure. Doc wakes up tied and it's revealed that El Rabannos is behind the gang. But Doc and his men had been faking and a fight erupts in which the Werewolf and the gang are subdued including the Ovejos who turn out to be part of the scheme. Doc and his men are just able to save the Ovejos and the treasure before the mine collapse killing the remainder of the gang. The story ends with Pat vowing to join Doc's team and the treasure headed to do good works. The story closes with a quote from Doc's Code and that ends the initial run of Marvel's Doc Savage.

It's announced in the letters page of this issue (for the record the letters page is titled "What's Up Doc?") that the series is being cancelled due to poor sales. Apparently the series was being retooled a bit with Tony Isabella scheduled to continue as the regular writer while apparently Rich Buckler was coming on as the new regular artist. Whatever the case, the last issue is a jumbled affair showing that it was produced with a great deal of speed. It's unfortunate that the series goes out on such a low note. Also, I never knew it, but the original pulp tale doesn't have any werewolf in it at all, but for the more visual comics medium a man in a costume looking much like Jack Russel's Werewolf by Night was thought necessary. I don't disagree, as the lack of any werewolf (real or fake) in the pulp was a disappointment for me. The Bantam novel cover even shows one, but alas not to be.

But Doc Savage wasn't quite done at Marvel. Next up are visits with the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man and the Ever Lovin' Blue-Eyed Thing!

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Covers Today #37 - Father's Day!

Have a happy Father's Day!

But don't go to sleep.

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The Doc Savage Reports #3

I continue with my review of Marvel's adaptations of Kenneth (Lester Dent) Robeson's Doc Savage novels.

Doc Savage #5 begins a two-part adaptation of The Monsters. The title of this story is "The Monsters" and it's adapted by Steve Englehart, scripted by Gardner F. Fox and features artwork by Ross Andru and Tom Palmer. The tale begins with a trapper named Bruno Hen under attack by mysterious creatures against which his shotgun is no good. Carl McBride, another trapper finds Hen dying and fulfills his dying request that he take Hen's money and hire Doc Savage to avenger him. Next we see McBride aboard a Ford Tri-Motoer heading to NYC and talking up his plan to a beautiful blonde who fills him in on Doc and his aides and how they don't necessarily take jobs for money. There's a mysterious ad in the newspaper saying "The Monsters Are Coming". McBride gets to Doc's skyscraper but when he steps off the elevator a thug guns him down and would have done likewise for Doc Savage but for bulletproof glass. Doc takes the case and orders Monk and Ham to follow the killer, develops clues to Michigan, then reports to the location where Monk and Ham have followed the gunman. It's a giant walled-in estate but a grappling hook later Doc is skipping across the unusual electrical fencing that sits on top of the walled estate from corner to corner. Slipping into the mansion he comes under attack while Monk and Ham work their way toward him. Once inside he finds the same blonde who had spoken to McBride and she reveals herself to be Jean Morris a lion tamer with a special talent for speaking Swahili. Just then a giagantic head breaks through the floor of the mansion and just as quickly disappears, seemingly inside a truck that rushes away from the building. Jean Morris likewise disappears. Doc then goes into the basement and finds Griswold Rock, the owner of the estate who claims he was abducted by criminal genius named Pere Teston. Doc orders Renny to track the truck which Doc has tagged with ultra-violet markers. Renny does, but has his plane shot down. Doc shows up to find the abandoned truck with Renny captive inside. Hearing the ticking of a bomb, he saves Renny but before he can penetrate the mystery in the back of the truck it explodes leaving Doc and his aides to watch a plane escape into the distance.

Doc Savage #6 finishes this story with a story titled "Where Giants Walk!". It's written by Gardner F. Fox, and drawn by the team of Ross Andru and Frank Giacoia. I like Giacoia, but there is a definite loss of atmosphere and mood with the loss of Palmer. The story begins dramatically with a giant hand rising out of a lake and grabbing Doc's plane. Doc and his aides have followed the clues to Michigan and they find themselves fighting off many giants. Doc finds Bruno Hen's cabin then is shot at. He chases the gunman and finds his body in a sand bog. They find a note on his body and follow the clues to a deserted mill where they find Griswold Rock who claims he got a telegram from Doc to show up there. The team then go to a hotel to regroup and get word from Renny about the giant who died in the truck. Renny is supposed to come meet Doc, Monk, and Ham, but next morning they get word he has crashed his plane. Rushing out to assist him, Doc and his team come under attack which they repel with their superfirers. Renny shows up later and he and Doc use the Auto-Gyro to head back to town while Monk chases the hoods. Doc finds Ham having suffered an attack and Griswold Rock missing. Monk returns and the team takes the Auto-Gyro to find the ultimate hideout of the criminals only to be waylaid by another plane with Jean Morris inside. The attack results in both planes going into the lake where two giants appear armored with plates of steel. Doc and his team along with Morris are captured by the giants and taken to the criminal gang who are hiding underneath a tarpaulin made to look like an island from the air, and then who put them into a deep pit. Doc escapes the pit, finds evidence that can be of use to him in the criminal lab and then returns to captivity. Next morning he tells the giant monsters, criminals in fact who have been changed as part of a criminal scheme, that they cannot be changed back. This causes a riot between the giants and the normal-sized gang and they battle one another. Meanwhile Doc finds the Pere Teston, not a criminal and saves him. One of the giants releases poisonous chlorine into the air but Doc and his team are safe in makeshift air pockets. When they emerge they find everyone in the gang, monster and hood, dead along with their real leader Griswold Rock.

This is a pretty decent adaptation of the plot-heavy tale. Thankfully the whole business of some of the monsterous giants being African Mongoloids has been dropped. It's a curious detail from the original story and would've been out of place in this modernized version. Though that then does make Jean Morris's presence pointless. But in the press of the action, that detail doesn't matter all that much. Gardner Fox as the writer certainly gives this tale a real pulp connection, though I have to confess his script didn't seem as tight as Englehart's had been.

More next time as Doc and his team confront meet up with Werewolves!

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Today #36 - Green Hornet!

There have been a lot of great Green Hornet images, but this one by Steranko for NOW's debut issue is top of the line. Gorgeous!

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The Doc Savage Reports #2

My reading of Marvel Comics adaptation of the Doc Savage novels continues.

Doc Savage #3 begins a two-part adaptation of the Kenneth (Lester Dent) Robeson novel Death In Silver. Under an outstanding Jim Steranko cover, the story is written by Steve Englehart and illustrated by Ross Andru on pencils with Tom Palmer offering up inks and colors. This issue and the next are the absolute best the series will look in my opinion. Palmer brings a great sense of mood to Andru's very dynamic pencils. The story is titled "Death in Silver" and it begins with a hectic phone call by Paine L. Winthrop who threatens to turn in a mystery partner who tricked Paine into building something undetermined for a foreign power. The phone call is abrubtly halted when the office Paine is in explodes. That office was in the building shared by Monk Mayfair who at that moment was visited by Ham Brooks and Long Tom Roberts. They investigate find a witness who then is suddently killed by an arrow fired by a assassin clad head to toe in silver. A chase is given through the building ending up in the basement where the silver costume is found and the killer disguised as a janitor escapes but not before overhearing Monk say that they need to get Doc Savage involved. Doc is reluctant to take the case but then an armored tank car bursts through the wall and the three aides are kidnapped. Doc races to the scene but finds only a few clues which lead him to the waterfront. Meanwhile more witnessess have been killed by the murderous Silver Death's-Heads. Doc heads to the waterfront and stumbles across a woman named Lorna Zane and man named Harry "Rapid" Pace who both worked for Paine. The Silver Death's-Heads appear and a battle breaks out but Pace and Zane are protected in a closet while Doc battles the villains. Afterwards he takes Zane to his cousin Pat for safekeeping and he and Pace go to see Bedford Burgess Gardner a rival of Paine's. As they arrive the Butler is shot, Doc races into the mansion to find Gardner very hostile to the idea of help. He and Pace split up. Soon a mysterious figure speaks to the assembled Silver Death's-Heads who are hiding in the basement giving them orders. Doc encounters some of the Death's-Heads and fights them off. One is captured. Then a man is found in the closet, one Hugh McCoy who claims that Gardner shot the Butler, Then Doc and McCoy find Pace unconscious. The captured Death's-Head swallows a capsule he thought would induce amnesia but instead is poison, and realizing he's been betrayed the villain utters a single clue "Indian's Head". The story closes with Doc vowing to save his men.

Doc Savage #4 gives us the second and concluding part of the story. It's titled "The Hell-Diver!" and it's again written by Englehart with the art team of Andru and Palmer returning. The cover this time is by Gil Kane with great inks by Palmer. The story opens with the Silver Death's-Heads holding a wanted poster signed by their leader Ull offering $10.000 for the death of Doc Savage. They see a blind cripple and harrass him only to find that the man is Doc in disguise who rises up and beats them up. Doc is wearing a bulletproof vest this time out. Along with Doc are both Hugh McCoy and Rapid Pace. Doc breaks down a door to the Indian Head Night Club and finds his three captured aides in a backroom. Quickly Monk, Ham, and Long Tom are freed. Silver Death's-Heads appear and shoot pointblank at Doc but his vest saves him. He battles the villains and ultimately a grenade is lobbed through a skylight ending the battle. A search for clues gives them a set of tracks left in spilled vaseline jelly and Doc using ultra-violet equipment follows the trail to a trapdoor to a hidden lair in which they find a revealing map of New York harbor. Doc sends Ham off to research the business dealings of Bedford Gardner while he and the rest head to the Hildalgo Trading Company location and break out Doc's submarine the Hell-Diver. Not long after entering the waters around NYC, Doc finds the Silver Death's-Heads by using their own buoys which guide their secret submarine, the technology they'd using to both evade capture and destroy their enemies with the guns the sub possessed. A battle between the two submarines ensues and Doc and his men disptach the Death's-Heads forcing them to surface. Doc sees two men escaping capture, follows them and finds the leader of the Death's-Heads Ull talking to another masked man, his boss who is chastising Ull for wasting time with his wild crimes while he the true boss was making milliions with their true scheme. Doc arrives, dispatches Ull and evades the secret leader's knife-pistols and unmasks him to reveal Bedford Burgess Gardner. But in a twist he then rips off a wig and false beard and reveals the true face of Hugh McCoy who had previously slain Gardner and had been impersonating him to arrange the crimes. The story ends with Doc explaining the plot and Lorna Zane and Rapid Pace finding perhaps some romance.

This is a solid tale, very pulpy in its way. The move to keep the stories set in the 1930's really pays off in this one, and there is a lot of great atmosphere.

More Doc Savage adventure next time with "The Monsters".

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Friday, June 19, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Today #35 - EH!

We all know this quaint old saying I suspect. Neat cover, bodaciouis babe!

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The Doc Savage Reports #1

Marvel adapted the great Doc Savage stories in the early 70's. I well remember the small ad which featured Doc's head announcing the new title alongside other new features like Gunhawks and Man-Thing. Of those three, who would have guessed Man-Thing would have the most staying power, at least in comics. But for our purposes here, Doc Savage is the center of attention.

Doc Savage #1 begins a two-part adaptation of the first Doc Savage pulp novel, "The Man In Bronze" by Kenneth (Lester Dent) Robeson. The first part is titled "The Man of Bronze!" and it's plotted by Roy Thomas, scripted by Steve Englehart, and drawn by Ross Andru on pencils and Jim Mooney on inks. The cover is a very muscular and effective image by John Buscema, though the scene doesn't take place in the actual story. As the story opens it appears that Marvel has decided to update the Doc stories to the then present day of the early 70's (Monk in particular gives a clue to this by his clothing which is very much of the period) and this is verified by a comment in the text page in the second issue. But by then, cooler heads had prevailed and the setting for that second part and all subsequent stories was returned to the original 30's-40's era. The plot is pretty straightforward and familiar for those who've read the novel, a strangely garbed assassin climbs a tower next to Doc's NYC headquarters and takes aim through a window at the Fabulous Five (Monk, Ham, Renny, Long Tom, and Johnny) who are awaiting the arrival of Doc Savage himself. The assassin wants Doc it seems so he waits too. Doc appears, fresh from a trip to his secret Fortress of Solitude and we learn that Doc's dad has died of an unkown disease, then heads to his wall safe and discovers papers giving him provisional possession of territory in Hildalgo in Central America, at which time the assassin fires a laser right at him. But trick glass in the window caused the attack to fail and then the team sets about finding out where the shooter is located. The find him and Doc sends Ham off to get the red tape taken care of for a trip to Hildalgo while the rest go to intercept the assassin. Ham leaves via autogyro, and Doc and the rest leave using a tricked out vintage runabout especially equipped with running boards. Doc and the boys get to the location and Doc begins a daring climb up an uncompleted skyscraper after the assassin, and then by use of his athletic skills and some technology in the form of a blinding mirror Doc captures the culprit. An attempt at hypnotism fails and the villain jumps to his death. Doc and the rest return to headquarters to find the wall safe ransacked and a note on the was saying "Savage: Turn back from your quest, lest the Red Death strike once again.". Needless to say this doesn't work and Doc and the boys make plans immediately to head to Hildalgo to avenge the murder of elder Savage. An epilogue introduces us to a mysterious figure called "the Feathered Serpent". There is a small text piece identifying Doc's aides, a task deemed to complex for the story proper.

Doc Savage #2 concludes the adaptation of "The Man of Bronze". The story is titled "The Master of the Red Death" and it's written by Steve Englehart and drawn by Ross Andru inked this time by Ernie Chua (Chan). The cover is an outstanding image by Jim Steranko. The story picks up as the team has just flown to Hildalgo where they've come under attack by military forces. Their plane is shot down but the team survive uninjured due to air bag technology. They are greeted by Carlos Avispa the President of Hildalgo and Don Rubio Gorro the Secretary of State. Very quickly the team is on its way into the interior to follow Doc's father's map and to find the "Valley of the Vanished" hidden among the mountains of the country. After landing the team is attacked almost immedately by men dressed the same way as the assassin from the first part of the story, but the attack is stopped by King Chaac and his daughter Princess Monja. The leader of the warriors, a guy named Morning Breeze objects though. The natives speak Mayan and turn out to be lost descendants of this once great culture. But apparently for the last twenty years they've been dealing with Doc's father. After 30 days of observation, the King is to make available to Doc a great treasure, if he makes the grade. The team are made comfortable, but that night Monk can't rest and he goes out just in time to see his friends being thrown into a pit by the costumed warriors, the thuds of their bodies sicken him. After the villains leave, he rushes to the pit to discover that Doc had been tricking the villains by saving his aides and throwing rocks to mimic their bodies hitting the bottom of the pit. Later Doc uses simple trickery to convince the superstitous warriors that his men have returned from the dead. We then cut to a meeting between the frustrated Morning Breeze and his leader the mysterious Feathered Serpent who announces it's time to break out the Red Death. Soon a plague marked by red spots rages through the community. Doc uses his considerable medical skills to concoct a cure and races through the community tending to the afflicted all the while being chased by Morning Breeze and his warriors. They take refuge in the temple but when the once-ill people begin to announce their cure, Morning Breeze loses his nerve but is gunned down by his boss. Doc and the Feathered Serpent fight, the Serpent falls to his death and is revealed to be Don Rubio. Then it's time the King announces to reward Doc, as clearly he's up to the task his father set for him and so Doc is shown the great gold wealth of the hidden Mayans, much of which is now his to use in his work in the larger world. Doc and the team fly away leaving behind a tearful Monja, but headed smiling into a new adventure. There is a text page with information on the pulp roots of Doc, some stuff about Lester Dent, and chatter about how the mileau of the adventures had been changed.

And that closes the first Marvel Comics Doc Savage adventure. More next time.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Today #34 - The Barbarian!

This is my favorite image of Conan the Barbarian. This iconic image by Frank Frazetta demands your complete and undivided attention. It's well used on this Dark Horse reprint of the recent adaptation of "The Tower of the Elephant" by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord.

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Gold Key Doc Savage Report!

I finally got to read this story by Leo Dorfman and Jack Sparling. It's an adaptation of the vintage pulp "The Thousand Headed Man" by Kenneth (Lester Dent) Robeson, one of the early Doc pulp stories. The one-shot comic was produced by Gold Key in 1966 in conjunction with a planned-but-not-produced film featuring Chuck Connors as Doc. The cover is by James Bama.

The story is a solid Doc adventure with a mix of urban and jungle action. There's a neat mystery concerning three keys and some ancient treasure and there are villains galore. The mystery begins in London but winds its way in complex form to Cambodia where an ancient cult of cobra worshippers who use versions of the cobra venom to create mists that make folks unconsious. The London part of the story seems pretty much intact, though the notion of the keys is changed substantially in the comics story. They are just keys, but in the pulp I think they are sticks which function as keys. The mystery here is in what they are composed of which is the same as the pulp. The Cambodian element of the story is very compressed, and I'll have to say the pacing of the story isn't completely successful. The first part seems neatly done, but they have to really run through the more exotic aspects of the story. A plane explosion is relegated to a single panel, and isn't at all threatening.

Jack Sparling isn't a fave of mine, though he does his typical journeyman job here. I can follow the story most of the time without fail, though the sheer number of Doc's aides seems a bit of a problem for him at times. Doc himself looks like the Bama painted version, but when rendered by Sparling here he looks like a very old man instead of the hard-bitten adventurer that Bama presents. It's nice that Sparling stayed close to the source material, but it doesn't completely work.

All in all this is a fun and diverting comic. Not a completely successful adaptation, but it's unclear if they were adapting the pulp or perhaps a screen treatment, so I'll not condemn the producers here for those flaws necessarily. A worthy addition to the collection, and I'm very glad that I at long last got to read it.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Today #33 - Jimmy Olsen!

Jimmy Olsen as the "Giant Turtle Man" has become a comics icon. So weird, so peculiar, so much a product of the sizzling 60's. Of course that cover was inspired by the Thrilling Wonder Stories cover below. (It's one of the very few pulps I actually own.) It's no less impressive for all that. Love this cover!

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The Superman Cartoons!

I've collected them on VHS and I've collected them on DVD many times over. It once was a challenge to find all of them, but then I picked up a collection of the Fleisher Studio cartoons featuring Superman in chronological order. The Bosko collection is from 1991 and was originally on VHS. I picked up the DVD version several years ago, but somehow I've never sat down and watched them all in order. I did yesterday. And it was enlightening. I knew that after the first nine cartoons the Fleisher studios essentially disbanded and became Famous Studios. Reading the credits you can see that many of the same talents stayed on board to guide the Man of Steel in these mini epics. These are very entertaining cartoons, wonderfully and briskly paced adventures of high order. The early ones are high sci-fi and high fantasy. Superman battles comets, giant dinosaurs (in a cartoon that reminded me a lot of Beast From 20,000 Fathoms which inspired Godzilla), and robots. The later cartoons show Superman fighting the war and offer up some neatly constructed propoganda. Lois Lane is in all but one of them and she's her usual annoying self, creating havoc and once in a while proving useful. Superman in these cartoons is an enigma to the public, a impossibly powerful force who shows up in times of crisis and then disappears. Neat touch. Needless to say these are lush and beautiful cartoons, full of vivid and lively images. Since I'm also watching Popeye cartoons right now, it's interesting to see analogs between the two. Watching these in order it's neat to see the evolution of the character and how he's percieved. Sometimes his might is incredible and sometimes he seems all too vulnerable to mundane threat. Superman fights the enemies of WWII on both fronts, underworld Hawkmen, giant gorillas, jewel theives, and madmen of all stripes. Great stuff! Rip Off

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Today #32 - Hercules!

This is a rarity. This is a B&W magazine reprint of issue #8 of the color Hercules run from Charlton. The contents are the same, but just bigger and sans color. Charlton clearly was exploring other ways of distributing these stories, and as handsome as this issue is, it's a pity they didn't do more of these.

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The Mighty Hercules!

I watched two classic flicks back to back yesterdy-- Hercules and Hercules Unchained, the original two Steve Reeves movies starring the muscleman as the mythic hero.

One thing I noted about both films is that they are a bit too long. There is some great action (for the time) but there are spots where the story languishes for no clear reason. I'm not someone who demands furious activity all the time in my movies, but I do want all the minutes in a movie to contribute to the story significantly. These movies seem to pad a bit here and there.

But that's a quibble. Steve Reeves is amazingly handsome in these movies and he towers over the other actors adding to the suggestion of his superhuman status. I'd never noticed how many costume changes there are in both flicks, something of a fetish almost. Every half hour or so Herc is sporting some new tunic. My favorite was the fur one in the original movie. Also in that one Hercules swings both a giant club and chains to very good effect. This movie gets a bit somber in spots, but the action sequences are stupendous.

The sequel is pretty good and offers a neat mystery at the beginning. Hercules though takes a very long time falling into the clutches of the villainess, though things propel okay once he's there. The battle before the gates of Thebes is pretty well done and reasonable spectacle for the day and the budget.

These aren't great movies, but they are fun. Only in movies like this can you accept the ludicrous dragon that Jason battles for the Golden Fleece. It seems to be full-scale but we never get a decent look at it before that single spear kills it. That was an odd moment.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Today #31 - Children Of Doom!

This is one of those gems. Produced by Serius O'Shaugnessy (Denny O'Neil) and Pat Boyette, this is a downright weird science fiction fable, an oddly serious and moving story. Memorable is what it is.

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The Dungeon Of Harrow!

Pat Boyette is one of my all-time favorite comic book artists. He did a mountain of work for Charlton and others over the decades. He was a friendly and independent Texan, a good man by all accounts. I wish I'd been able to meet him. But he did more than comics. Boyette also wanted to make movies, and he did make one called The Dungeon of Harrow.

This is really a pretty terrible movie by any absolute standard. The sound and picture quality are suspect, but that is the poor quality of the print really. The color drops out periodically and sometime that helps. This might've been better in B&W actually.

The sets are meager, making Ed Wood's stuff seem polished in places. It all does have a claustrophobic feeling, but that' because the rooms are just tiny. I'm afraid the ubiquitous torches are going to incinerate the place any minute.

The story is pretty slim. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say the hero gets stranded on an island with some pretty insane characters and there's some torture, killing, and ghostly visitation before it's all said and done.

But aside from the visuals, which from time to time do deliver a compelling sense of drama, the thing that makes this movie flow like molasses is the horrible horrible acting. Boyette's voiceover is the best acting in the thing, making me wish he'd dubbed the main hero. This guy is wretched. He never seems to know what to do with his eyes, seems unclear of where to put his hands, and his delivery of dialogue is sometimes painful. His acting makes me yearn for the subtle nuances of Sven-Ole Thorson! The "Captain" who is standed with him is better but not by much. The others are better than these two leads, but it's likely because they have somewhat less to do. Now though, I think of the henchman "Mantis" and I take that back; he sucks too. I'll let other reviews give out more painful details, but suffice it to say, this is perhaps the worst acting I've seen in a professional movie. It's dreadful.

That said, there is an offbeat charm to this movie, a quaint dreamlike aspect that makes it better than the sum of its parts. But sadly when it comes to Pat Boyette, I'll take his comics work anytime over this example of his cinema work.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

My Favorite Comic Book Cover Today #30 - Flag Day!

Here's a comic I found and added to my collection just yesterday. It's a solid comic inside and the cover is perfect for this holiday.

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