Monday, August 31, 2009

The Phantom Creeps!

I get it!

I've known about this vintage serial for quite a few years, but I always thought the title was "The Phantom Creeps" with "Phantom" being an adjective and "Creeps" being a noun. It never seemed like much of a title to me before, but suddenly while watching the feature-length version, it flashed on me that it's "The Phantom CREEPS" with "Creeps" being a verb like in "The Shadow Strikes". Sheesh! I'm a maroon.

I like this title much better, and as it turns out I really enjoyed this movie much more. It must be my mindset, because I watched this same flick several years ago and I was much less impressed. This time, I viewed it as part of a little Bela Lugosi festival and it hit me much better. Lugosi's vintage mad scientist is a hoot. I've now seen the full-length serial version and it makes a bit more sense, but it's not necessarily more exciting.

Inspired by seeing The Return of Chandu, so far I've seen The Ape Man, The Gorilla, The Devil Bat, The Human Monster, The Invisible Ghost, The Return of the Vampire, The Black Dragons, The Corpse Vanishes, and finally The Phantom Creeps. It's been a real eye-opener on Bela. I've always liked his hammy style, but I'm beginning to gain a real empathy for his madmen, something I've never felt before. Whatever you think of Bela, he's magnetic on the screen, a presence you can't ignore. It's amazing in a flick like The Gorilla filled with Ritz Brothers romp and goofiness, Bela just has to show his mug and there's instant tension. And a movie like The Invisible Ghost which makes no sense narratively, still works mostly because of his compelling presence.

I'll have to combine The Phantom Creeps serial with Gene Autry's The Phantom Empire and Ray Corrigan's Undersea Kingdom for a mini "Outlandish Robot Festival"!

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Return Of Chandu!

After finding the first Chandu movie tucked in among some other horror flicks on a Fox collection a few months ago, I've been wanting to see Bela Lugosi in the sequel where he switches from the villainous Roxor role to become the hero himself, Chandu. There are several collections available and I even found it for free on the net (after I bought one).

It's from 1934 and the version I have is in rough shape, but maybe the best it gets. I got the best version according to some reports, so I can't imagine following this on a rougher cut. There are deletions and scratches and what you expect in old films, but I've been spoiled I guess by some really good restorations.

The story is also available in two feature-length forms and I frankly recommend those. The serial is a stylish thing but wastes a lot of time if you watch it as I did in a few sittings. Now it's not fair to judge these things like regular movies, but even at that, I did find the amount of material repeated from episode to episode a bit more than I'm accustomed to from later serials. The action is evenly split between running around first California and later someplace called Suvo. Then the second half of the story shifts to Lemuria, the island of the Black Magicians.

Bela is not really very good, as much as I like him. He's miscast here unfortunately. I want to believe him as a romantic lead, a hero, but it doesn't work. He moves so slowly that he comes across as either laconic or sneaky, neither a trait of a hero. He grimaces in that traditional way and it's not pleasant, good for villainy but hard to watch on a hero. And his co-star Maria Alba is almost as incoherent as Bela, so you have two leads who speak a somewhat leaden English. There's a lot of pointing in this movie. The threats are pretty tame, but there is a scene with a rock on a chain that slowly descends (and I do mean slowly) that's pretty clever. One scene after a ship sinks, Chandu is found floating by the other survivors (his sister and her two kids who are in the whole thing) and he reveals he knocked himself out by hitting the raft with his head. Not something I'd suspect Buster would've done.

One treat in this movie is the unexpected use of the gates from King Kong as a key visual in several scenes on the island. Those majestic gates opened slowly by many seemingly golden slaves as scores of magicians and attendants walk somberly though is the visual highlight of the movie. They do it several times with a few alterations. Later the gates are closed against a savage uprising, but little is done with them after that. As a diehard Kong fan, this was worth the price by itself, but I wish I'd enjoyed the actual movie a bit more.

It's a fun bit of stuff, but I reckon the features are the way to go. You won't miss much I suspect.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Godzilla 1985

After years of camp sequels, the boys at Toho figured it was time in the early 80's to revive the sagging Godzilla franchise by going back to basics, and so they essentially ignored all the stories after the original Gojira/Godzilla and offered up a "new" sequel which treated Big G as a monster again and not as a giant pal for kids the world over.

I remember going to the American version, this one with Raymond Burr reprising his role from the original Ameerican adaptation. It's interesting in a way that these Godzilla appearances caught Burr on both sides of his career, once as an up and coming film star and again as a mostly retired TV star. Godzilla 1985 was a decent monster movie with just enough of a serious tone to offset the memory of the late 70's monster romps (as fun as they could be). I even snagged a copy of the poster after the run and still have it around here somewhere. I used to keep it up in my classroom much to interest of my students, many of whom only had vague notions of Godzilla.

Surprisingly engaging is Dark Horse's reprint of the original Manga story which adapts the orignal Japanese version of this Godzilla epic. I'm not a Manga fan by any means, but it's hard not to see the craftsmanship in this story. I have a hard time investing in the characters since most of them are drawn as children with glandular problems, but the sequences with Godzilla are actually compelling and border on spooky. He's presented as an eyeless force of nature, largely silent save for his massive honk which shakes the soul. The devastation is enormous and the story shows it.

It's a good monster story, feeling not unlike an old Lee-Kirby monsterwork with a more heinous agenda!

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Friday, August 28, 2009

I Have Heard The Word -- And It Is Kirby!

It's Jack Kirby's birthday. Lots of websites are making note of it, and lots of folks are singing the much deserved praises of "The King". I'll only add my small note to the chorus by saying that when Jack Kirby launched the Fourth World at DC, this former-youngster had his world utterly transformed by the majesty and the splendor and the drama. Epics would come and go over the next several decades, but Kirby's Fourth World remains the first and most potent.

Thanks Jack.

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Starr The Slayer!

I adore the artwork of Barry Smith. Not Barry "Windsor" Smith, but simply "Barry Smith", the raw talent who wandered into the Bullpen in the late 60's from across the pond with his Kirby/Steranko pastiche style which worked because of pure enthusiasm and a sense of wonder. His flaws in this early stage of his career are many, but there was the pleasure of watching someone improve literally before your eyes as he took on one story and then another.

Among Smith's early efforts of course are a single X-Men story and some few covers, a couple of Avengers tales, a few SHIELD stories, a Doc Strange and Captain Marvel cover among other things. He has two early stories, one a western and the other arguably Marvel's first sword and sorcery story since the old Black Knight saga from the 50's. It appeared of all places in Chamber of Darkness #4 under a Marie Severin/Bill Everett cover and without fanfare, but it was the spark that lit the revolution that was Conan the Barbarian. It was called Starr the Slayer!

The original story has been reprinted several times. First in Conan the Barbarian #16,then later in Conan Saga #6 and later in Essential Conan. Currently it's available in the Marvel Visionaries-Roy Thomas volume, taking the place of the many many Conan stories that Roy developed over his time at the company.

It's a pleasure to see such sheer pleasure being taken in the production of a comic book character and story. All too often these days, we get over-produced and overly-hyped post-post modern ironic spins of concepts we've seen several times before without the joy that makes early comic book concepts so glorious. I look at Starr the Slayer and I see youth, the sheer unbridled unaware power of youth.

Comics today could use some of this untutored and selfless energy.

Marvel is currently publishing a new Starr story. Aside from the Rich Corben artwork attached to the project I have almost no interest. I'll wait until it's collected in trade and give it gander. If I like what I see I might pop for it, assuming I have some sheckels that I can part with relatively painlessly. Otherwise I'll just continue to bask in Barry Smith's original wonder.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bat Lash!

I just finished the Bat Lash Showcase volume. I've had a hankerin' to read these vintage DC western stories almost from the time I started reading comics. I saw the mysterious ad that announced the beginning of this series, but I'll confess that when I finally saw some issues the character there didn't seem much like the ad. He looked sleek, debonair, and handsome. And of course he was.

How else could he look rendered by Nick Cardy. I'm not sure how Sergio Aragones wrote these issues, but I'm guessing he wrote by drawing the panels which Cardy then rendered in detail over Aragones' roughs. I have no other notion save that the early stories don't really feel like raw Cardy to me.

The episodic nature of the series makes it a neat one-off charm. You can read any of the early issues of Bat Lash and not need another. That's true save for the final two issues of the first run which gives his "origin" and then follows up with another story tied to that first story. Otherwise, Bat Lash is a classic western type, the charming rogue who roams the West seeking gold and romance, if not true love.

He is a man rootless and at times bewilderingly callous to those around him. Just when you think his own personal interests will rule the day though he does something mildly heroic that keeps the hope alive that this rogue at heart might still be a good guy. He's not so much a "good guy" though in these stories as merely a "better guy" than most of the others. There are some selfless souls in these tales, and they offer an interesting counterpoint to Bat Lash's life choices.

By the end of the this jagged saga, it's clear that Bat Lash will never ever really be happy, but he will never be glum either. He lives in the moment, but that's almost to spare him from his past.

Good reading. Recommended.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Box Full Of Segars!

I chomped at last and popped for the Fantagraphics Popeye books by Segar. These are oversized extravaganzas of the earliest Popeye madness. I've been enjoying the Fleisher cartoons in the great collections which have been coming out in recent years, so it was only natural I'd finally get to the source itself. These are really giant books. I've seen the first one in a store and picked it up and perused it, but didn't bite on the $30 price tag. Amazon though offered up all three existing volumes for just under $20 each along with the upcoming fourth volume for the same and I couldn't resist regardless of the local economy. They showed up yesterday in the biggest box I've gotten from Amazon ever. These big old books demand being read in a prone position. It's difficult to read them like a normal book, but they are neatly designed. The cover features a die-cut which looks through to a second cover. It's a bit over-the-top but it's certainly distinctive. When I'm going to fit these in is anyone's guess, but I must read them sooner than later. I must know about Popeye's for-true story. Rip Off

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Shadow Reports #14 & Final!

The Shadow #12 is the last issue in the run. Under a very moody Mike Kaluta cover is the story titled "Night of the Damned". It's written by Denny O'Neil and again illustrated by E.R.Cruz.

The tale begins with Margot Lane and Harry Vincent driving in to a town called New Gotham a place apparently famous for its Revolutionary War period design and feel. The car blows a tire, crashes, and they are set upon by hooded thugs who kidnap Margot and throw Harry into the river. The Shadow meanwhile is interviewing a Russian weightlifter about an arch-villain named Ivan Zaronovitch, a man in league it seems with the Devil himself. The Shadow heads out to New Gotham after offering a kind word to Shrevvy who has recovered from his wounds. The find Margot in a classic sacrificial ritual complete with hooded villains pitchforks. The Shadow intercedes, saves her and then finds Harry who it seems was saved by a local monk named Father Flotsky. Later Harry attacks both the Shadow and Margot and they then find themselves on a classic witch's dunking stool. The Shadow escapes the trap, frees Harry from his hypnotic trance, and reveals the true villain Father Flotsky to be the Russian arch-fied Zaronovitch who races up a belltower and then is killed when an inexplicable wind swings the bell and throws him to the ground, apparently indicating that God himself took a hand to assist the Shadow. The story ends with the Shadow's laughter.

And so ends the series.

I found the Shadow read to be more compelling than I actually expected. I'd read sample issues before, mostly the Kaluta stuff. It was fun, but I found as I read the whole run the pulp roots became more and more established, giving the whole experience a nice dark feeling. This is a surprisingly dark comic for its time. The Code is still in the cover and despite that death is not an uncommon feature of the book, though always the villains are dispatched by the last page, usually on the last page. There is a certain sameness to the storytelling which is seen clearly when several issues are read together. The villains often it seems fall their deaths. I didn't actually count, but it happens at least a half-dozen times in the twelve issues. Margot is in every issue. The single issue mentioning Kent Allard is a neat twist, and one I'd have missed if I'd read the issues when they first came out.

As for the art, I'd have to say Kaluta is the most successful. Frank Robbins offers up a very active Shadow, but the atmosphere isn't as rich under his hand. E.R.Cruz is an artist who I should like more than I do, and I'd have to say he's a decent choice for this title. His oily inks serve the mood well.

Denny O'Neil did a good job here translating The Shadow to comics. I got a real sense of his mystery and also a sense of the humanity of his team. There did seem to be a trend in the later issues to focus on the characters of the agents more, but always it's The Shadow we want to see. All in all a very good read, very fun.

No more to come.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

A Day With Dracula!

I spent yesterday between household chores and whatnot watching four Hammer movies starring Christopher Lee as the immortal Dracula. It was fun and enlightening.

I've never seen any of Lee's Dracula movies save for his first turn in the role in Horror of Dracula which I've had on VHS for many years. I've long regarded this movie as a favorite Dracula flick, a lean efficient and compelling movie. But my respect for it has increased a great deal having seen some of the sequels. Peter Cushing is single minded and his cold analysis of what needs to be done is frightening all by itself. And the way Christopher Lee switches from a composed nobleman to a savage beast on a dime always makes my skin crawl a bit. When he tosses Mina into the makeshift grave at the finale is so perfect, it shows his absolute disdain and disregard for people so completely. He's not human, it shows in the little things. As many times as I've seen this one, I'm always a bit surprised that Van Helsing actually defeats the Count.

Compared to the truly scary Hammer original, the sequels are too long in general and don't focus nearly enough on Dracula himself. They are diverting and some are stronger than others. But all fall short when it comes time to deliver the coup de grace to the master vampire himself.

Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is the mopiest of the lot, wasting a very intense beginning to spend far too much time climbing mountains and rooftops and showing a romance that not one person in the movie buys for ten seconds. The lead actress, the focus of Dracula's revenge is not very good unfortunately and gives the whole film a flat dimension that keeps even a few choice scenes like Dracula leaping off a balcony for instance from working as they ought. The ending is lurid but not very scary, not in the least. Despite a bravura performance from Rupert Davies as the Monsignor dedicated to God, this movie still never gets out of the blocks. It seems to want to say something about faith as an Athiest is the hero, but thematically I can't tell what's going on.

Taste The Blood Of Dracula is a tad better focusing on some depraved small town business types who get hooked into resurrecting Dracula in a particularly unconvincing way. Once he gets up and running (or standing since that's about all he does here) it gets better, and I will say the plot is unpredictable in its small details if not its larger arc. The end has Dracula trapped in a church throwing a tantrum and anything he can get his hands on, but his aim is peculiarly poor. Dracula seems to be attacked by religion itself in this one, though the ending is vague and confusing.

Dracula A.D. 1972 gets the Count into the 20th century after a good deal of hocus pocus. The attempt here to evoke the counter-culture scene of the early 70's is pretty interesting as a backdrop for a vampire, but little is actually done with this after the first few minutes. It's a generational battle as Dracula plots revenge against the descendants of Van Helsing. There's some pretty nifty scenes in this one, but again the denoument is disappointing as a silver knife takes out Dracula rather easily actually. More interesting is the death of his henchman in a shower. The presence of both Chris Lee and Peter Cushing in this one really help elevate the proceedings.

All in all a diverting day. I really learned I adore the original Hammer movie. It's a story told with a spare but effective care. Details are just what is needed and we as the audience are required to fill in as it unfolds. Nonetheless it works remarkably well. I wouldn't mind catching some of the other Lee sequels, as he's always visually interesting as the Count, but I know enough now not to expect much from them.

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The Shadow Reports #13

The Shadow #11 is a humdinger as it guest-stars another pulp hero DC was trying to kickstart, The Avenger. The issue is written by Michael Uslan (his second effort on the series) and drawn by new regular artist E.R.Cruz who also does the cover. The story is titled "The Night of The Avenger" logically enough, following the established pattern.

The tale kicks off with the Shadow on the trail of some stolen munitions, a threat he takes so seriously that he calls in many of his reserve agents but before orders can be given the meeting is attacked clearly indicating a traitor in the Shadows team. The leader of the attack force is captured and is revealed to be Smitty, an agent of The Avenger. We cut to the Avenger's headquarters where he is visited by Margot Lane who gives him the Shadow's location. The Shadow later indicates that Margot is the traitor, or at least that's what his notes might indicate. (Special note though, it's a neat touch when Shrevvy is reading the debut issue of Detective Comics).

The two teams of crimefighters end up at a summer resort in New Jersey at a lighthouse where Oriental villains are discovered. One calls The Shadow "The Dark Eagle" and we suddenly realize the threat to the Shadow is from someone who knows his secrets. The Avenger's team show up and gunplay ensues, but the battle is halted when The Shadow seems to realize the true nature of his opponent. The debate crimefighting technique meanwhile discovering that both Smitty and Margot have been controlled by another mastermind, specifically it is revealed almost immediately to be Shiwan Khan. There's more gunplay, Khan attempts to escape in a submarine but is locked in battle with the Shadow and then a well-placed grenade from The Avenger blows the sub up. The Shadow survives and the teams go their seperate ways with The Avenger hoping that someday he won't have to bring The Shadow to justice.

Solid issue, if a tad jammed. But I like that feeling in my comics. To heck with decompression, give hyper-compressed comics!

One more to come.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Return To Camelot!

A friend came by yesterday and wanted to go shopping. I took him up on it, and we went to the local comics shop. He had quite a few back issues waiting on him to pluck through and I spent my time wandering around checking out the new stuff. It has been a few weeks since I was in and a few new covers graced the walls. But after it was all said and done, I only picked up one new comic they were holding for me (the Black Coat one-shot from Ape) and the Mark Schultz and Gary Gianni Prince Valiant tome.

It's a beaut. Gianni's artwork on this strip is stirring and lush. And the storyline is at once rich in characterization and exotic adventure. The rigor of a weekly strip affects the pacing necessarily, but you have to make concessions to a given format and adjust your expectations. Nonetheless this saga of Val and Arn away from Camelot among Vikings and Sea Monsters and Ancient Curses is a heady read.

I followed these adventures online several years ago as they ran, and it's a treat to get to see the few I missed and to have such great artwork on nice paper. Good stuff.

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The Shadow Reports #12

The Shadow #10 offers up another change for the series. Denny O'Neil returns on scripts and Mike Kaluta turns up to give the issue its cover. But E.R. Cruz becomes the new regular artist on the series.

The story is titled "The Night of the Killers" and it involves a murderous family named Crouch. Papa Crouch, Ox Crouch and his wife Flossy kidnap some citizens after a hold-up and Harry Vincent and Shrevvy (returned from vacation which is mentioned pointing to some hint of continuity in the series) come across it. There's gunplay and Shrevvy is hurt but not before he spots an important clue which he passes to the Shadow. The Shadow seeks out the one law-abiding son, Moose Crouch a bartender but he's gunned down by another thug. There are many twists and turns with the auto-gyro coming into play and a bridge getting blown up to stop pursuit. The action moves to a train graveyard where there's a final shootout with the Crouchs. The lone survivor, Flossie reveals that one of the earlier hostages a Judge Blaney is the real mastermind who attempts escape but drives his car accidently over the exploded bridge. Shrevvy's clue is not revealed but made into a contest for readers.

The story is okay, and the artwork is more muscular. I have to confess that despite his virtues as an artist, Cruz doesn't really excite me much. He tells a decent story with solid images, but the overall impression is less than its parts, at least in my estimation. Still they could've done much worse.

More to come.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Shadow Reports #11

The Shadow #9 is titled "Night of the Falling Death". (All the titles begin the same way now it seems.) This one offers artwork by Frank Robbins with inks by Frank McLaughlin. Joe Kubert though does the cover. The script though is done by Michael Uslan and there's definitely a different tone in the story.

It concerns a smuggling ring which somehow uses Nigagra Falls. A man on death row points the Shadow towards a villain named "Murdock", but apparently that's all and several "Murdocks" fall unders suspicion. Shrevvy focuses on one who turns out to innocent and the Shadow sends Shrevvy away on vacation, clearly a rebuke. The Shadow in this story is much more stern with his aides, less sympathetic. Eventually the action ends up at the Falls with Lamont Cranston and Margot Lane getting "married" to cover the investigation. The Murdock they are looking for turns out to be a woman who does some daredevil stunts at the Falls and she and the Shadow battle on a rope across the Falls before predictably she tumbles to her death.

One dandy addition to this issue is a two-page text piece on the history of The Shadow. It's titled "The Shadow: A Dossier" and it's written by then DC staffer Anthony Tollin, the same Anthony Tollin who is currently gracing us with some wonderful Shadow Double-Novel reprints.

More to come.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

The Shadow Reports #10

The Shadow #8 was written by Denny O'Neil and illustrated by Frank Robbins who also does the cover. It's titled "The Night of The Mummy".

The tale begins in the jungles of Central America and almost immediately a Mummy attacks a Professor's assistant (not unlike the original Mummy movie from Universal). Margot Lane is at the dig and surprisingly so is the Shadow who jumps in and battles the Mummy and some natives who run to his assistance. There's a trap, gunplay and all sorts of mayhem, possibly the most rockem sockem beginning yet in the series. The assistant, named McMasters is saved, and the Professor, Margot, a guy named Louis and he are taken back to the city in a plane flown by Kent Allard. (An aha moment for all Shadow pulp readers indeed!)

Louis is killed aboard the plane which is met by Lamont Cranston. Margot who thinks Cranston is the Shadow is shocked and she is told that as we know the Shadow only takes Cranston's place from time to time. Harry Vincent is involved and the story rolls along with more gunplay and a Mummy threatening folks here and there, and whatnot until the finale in which it is revealed that McMasters was the Mummy after they returned to the city and the mastermind behind the scheme all set up to make sure he got the credit for the great archeological find. He ends up hanging himself accidently when his wrappings catch as he falls off a building.

This is a solid adventure, and points to a move to the pulp side of the Shadow's backstory away from the radio play.

More to come.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Shadow Reports #9

DC's The Shadow was a bi-monthly comic and in between issues he appears next in Batman #259, another crossover. The story titled "The Night of the Shadow" is written again by O'Neil with excellent Bat-art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano.

The Shadow appears in the prologue to this story, set twenty-five years previously in Bruce Wayne's boyhood and we find the Waynes stuck in the middle of a jewel heist and young Bruce is traumatized by the use of the guns. Cut to the current day and Batman is dealing with the hood from that heist who is just out of jail and looking for revenge on the folks who sent him up. There is some confusion about the tiara in question and it turns out there was more to the crime than first suspected. But the culprits are dealt with and the Shadow does show up in the end to congratulate Batman-Bruce Wayne (The Shadow knows!) on his overcoming his fear of guns.

This one was a well-crafted tale visually, but I've grown weary of stories that ceaselessly complicate Batman's backstory. This one seemed pointless. It's one thing when they occur in the Haneyverse of the Brave and Bold, but presumably this story is canon. I imagine like everything else though this Bat-Shadow connection was washed away by the original Crisis. It is interesting though that DC saw the obvious connection between the heroes, the influences of the Shadow on Batman. This connection is even stronger than has been long believed according to the research of Will Murray. Neither Bob Kane nor Bill Finger were afraid to lift things from the pulps to use in their comics, making for some compelling parallels.

More to come.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Shadow Reports #8

The Shadow #7 is written by Denny O'Neil and Mike Kaluta is replaced on the art chores by Frank Robbins.

The story titled "The Night of the Beast" concerns a former fun moll turned actress named Morag Mayne. She's kidnapped by a hunchbacked giant who is able to dispatch The Shadow with a single punch. There is much ado about her past, but it seems a gangster and her former boyfriend named Joey Lyce wants her dead, and the giant is one of his henchmen named Pile. Morag is saved when gunplay makes the giant run away, but despite protection from the police and the Shadow she's kidnapped again by Pile who it seems is trying to save her from Lyce. He takes the slum of the city to hide and gives his life to save her, as Morag shoots him thinking him to be Lyce. Her appreciation for his sacrifice is muted to say the least.

The Shadow has lots of action in this one, but it's always on the periphery of the main plot. Again, I like Robbins and I found this a neatly paced offbeat adventure. His loose style is great for portraying action and motion. Solid comic.

More to come.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Terminator Salvation!

I liked Terminator movies. The first one was a heady blast of sci-fi and action, with a clever mystery and a juicy time-travel twist. I like time travel stories in general and the first Terminator was a good one, with lots of shootin' and fightin' mixed in. The relentless nature of the machine determined to complete its programmed assignment is truly frightening. There's no reasoning with the Terminator, it does what it does out without malice, there's no blame to attach despite the crimes it commits. But there's likewise no stopping it, at least not very easily. The sequels added neat twists to the tale, but neither captured the sheer cool factor of the original despite their many virtures as action movies. The time travel storyline got more complex, but not to the point that I found it confusing.

The latest one wasn't necessary to advance the story, but it does so neatly. Getting to the war was required at this point. What makes this one work, is that despite cleverly paying tribute to particular moments from the previous movies, especially the first one, this one doesn't allow itself to become merely a reworking of old tropes. The new darker setting gives the action a ferociousness, and the action is hard and fast. If anything there's almost too much action and not enough mood, but that's always tradeoff in these kinds of flicks.

The real pleasures in this movie is that at last we move beyond the persona of Arnold Schwarzenegger and advance the franchise into broader waters. Don't get me wrong, Arnold is fabulous in the movies. But one more movie with him doing his tried and true Terminator thing would've been dull. Sam Worthington as the latest model is a new kind of machine and changes the status quo bringing an upredictability to the franchise not seen since the twist in the first sequel when we learn that Arnold's Terminator is there to save John Connor and not to kill him. This is a new way of seeing these machines.

The story is a complicated one, but holds together just enough to keep me following it. Christian Bale is an actor who fascinates me, and his take here on the resistance leader who knows the future is remarkable. At the end of this movie, we are pretty much full circle on the series having reached the point where Skynet will likely feel the need now to send the first Terminator to kill Sarah Connor. So the story can end here and I'm fine. It's a cool tale all told, with a clever idea underneath and some dandy action throughout.

I really enjoyed this movie.

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The Shadow Reports #7

The Shadow #6 is titled "Night of the Ninja" and is again by the team of Denny O'Neil and Mike Kaluta, and as you likely suspect it pits The Shadow against some of the infamous Asian assassins.

The tale begins in Chinatown and the deaths of some minor drug figures by a masked Ninja. The Shadow intervenes in time to save one of the three junkies, but the Ninja escapes. Next we follow Lamont Cranston as he meets G. Oyle Proud a candidate for District Attorney who has (ahem) just returned from the Orient and is anxious to clean up the city. (Can you see this one coming?)The Shadow sends his agents into Chinatown where they a young woman who had just lost her father at the hands of the Ninja but she turns out to be pretty dangerous herself. Harry Vincent gets drugged, the D.A. disappears and the Shadow is dodging deathstars left and right. As it turns out Proud is the culprit, hoping to increase his profits in drug smuggling by killing off his partners. Needless to say the Shadow brings him to justice in a most final manner.

The artwork by Mike Kaluta is a bit scratchy in this one, and as it turns out it's his final bow on the character in this initial DC run, at least on the interiors.

More to come.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

The Shadow Reports #6

The Shadow #5 offers a story titled "Night of Neptune's Death". This one is written by Denny O'Neil but the artwork is by Frank Robbins. There is much debate on the effectiveness of Robbins, but I'm definitely a fan and I like his work here. The cover by Robbins really shows his more action-oriented take on the Shadow.

The story deals with military-style gang who are led by a guy named General Sodom. He wants to make it in with the rising autocratic leaders overseas (Hitler and Mussolini) and works to prevent a peace envoy named Cyril Bench from reaching Europe. He and his gang take over a ship named the Neptune on which Margot Lane is beginning a cruise while the Shadow and Harry board The Boxer, the ship taking Bench. Sodom holds the passengers of the Neptune hostage and demands that the Boxer bring Bench to him. The Shadow makes this happen in spite of the FBI's feelings on the matter and when the ships hook up the action gets underway. After much battling Sodom and the Shadow face off in a lifeboat with Sodom apparently drowning.

This one is a pretty straightforward tale, full of action nicely rendered by Robbins. He puts the emphasis on action and movement as opposed to period atmosphere, but nonetheless a successful translation of the pulp to comics form.

More next time.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Shadow Reports #5

Next from DC we pulp fans gotThe Shadow #4. This is again written by Denny O'Neil and illustrated by Mike Kaluta. This issue has another outstanding cover, very dramatic image.

"Death is Bliss" deals with a scheme by a crooked undertaker who offers thugs a way out of their problems by plastic surgery and then a notable death, conveniently allowing the part of their deceased body to be played by a drunken bums from the Bowery who matches the description. The Shadow gets onto this scheme goes in undercover as Lamont Cranston to the Bliss Mission where the bums are acquired under the guise of helping them. He meets Homer Bliss, the mastermind, but soon is in trouble. He fights his way out and heads to Blissful Gardens, the cemetary and base of operations. Harry and Margot go undercover, and the action ensues. They are detected and Bliss intends to use them to take the place of some thugs, but before he can send their car over the cliff the Shadow shows up in the auto-gyro and saves the day. Bliss escapes but the Shadow and he fight in a small plane and Bliss falls to his death.

This one is okay, but seemmed the most tame story overall since the debut issue. Whatever that pulp punch is, this one seemed a wee bit mild. It does however remind of Bela Lugosi's The Human Monster, another story about a mission fraud that took advantage of bums and others down on their luck.

More to come.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Death Of The New Gods!

I've put off getting this for well over a year now. I didn't follow the series last summer because I'm just pretty well weary of following modern comics as they weave through endless events parading under countless alternate covers. I get a choice few here and there, but the number has almost dwindled to nothing.

That said this series did intrigue me because of Jim Starlin. Starlin burst onto the scene with his variation on the Fourth World developed for Marvel in Iron Man, Marvel-Two-In-One, Captain Marvel and elsewhere. No amount of discussion will ever convince me that Thanos ain't supposed to be Darkseid, and Mentor is Izaya and Eros is Lightray. They've developed well beyond these homages, but that's where they come from, let's be honest. And I really liked what Starlin did with these Kirby-lite characters.

So when Starlin gets the chance to play with the real Kirby-items it intrigues me. Then the story got out that this "Death of the New Gods" was not the true one, that Final Crisis was going to largely ignore this telling and knock the New Gods off all over again, and the story became a sidebar. That's good for me, as I prefer it skewed off on its own. I can read it as is.

The story is not a bad one. Some mysterious killer is knocking off New Gods, both from New Genesis and Apokalypse and leaving their blooded bodies to be found. Some of the favorites get knicked pretty quickly beginning with Lightray and soon followed by Big Barda and others. There are lots of red herrings in this storyline and Starlin did a good job keeping me off balance. After a year of waiting for the trade reprint I had forgotten most of the bluster about the story online but I somehow thought I remembered the culprit's identity. I was wrong and my mistake made for a real surprise as the story unfolded at last.

There's much to like here. Starlin's style suits the New Gods, though as always no one other than Kirby can draw Orion's helmet. Starlin's version is particularly annoying. Otherwise I like what he does, and his Darkseid is magnificent. This is a good story, compelling. I'll just view it as the end of the Kirby Fourth World for now, and I can easily forget whatever it is DC might dream up for the dopplegangers it still controls from now on.

The New Gods are dead. Long live Kirby's New Gods!

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The Shadow Reports #4

DC's The Shadow #3 is titled "The Kingdom of the Cobra". It's another Denny O'Neil and Mike Kaluta effort, but this time Berni Wrightson is on hand to assist with the artwork, and it's a bit hard to determine always what is him and what is Kaluta but Wrightson does a lot of this story.

The story is about a prison that's been taken over by The Cobra, a criminal mastermind who is letting prisoners out to commit crime then allowing them to return for complete safety. The Shadow gets onto this, goes into the prison undercover with Harry Vincent and Margot Lane and they eventually break up the scheme by rescuing the Warden and the one surviving guard. There is some really good explosions in this one and the Cobra blows himself up good, trying to take the Shadow along but of course fails.

This is a solid pulp adventure, very gritty. The slaughter of the prison guards (though we don't see it) is especially intense for a comic of this period. I love this cover on this one too, with Margot being led to the electric chair.

More to come.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

The Shadow Reports #3

The next DC Shadow appearance is the January 1974 The Shadow #2. The comic sports one of my favorite covers from the run, a really dramatic image by Mike Kaluta. Denny O'Neil is on hand for the scripting again and Kaluta handles the art throughout.

"Freak Show Murders" amps up the weird factor in these tales quite a bit. There's a strange new metal called "Alumite" and its inventor is dead, so the one sample (a life-sized art deco statue of a woman) is the only sample. A "Harlequin" in green shows up to steal it from its owner and involves a guy named Steven Kilroy who wanted to buy it legitimately. The Shadow shows up a bit late but does apprehend some of the gang. Next thing we know he's telling Margot to join a carnival, which she does becoming "Spidora" a freak with the head of a woman and the fake body of a spider (special effects). There's also in this sideshow Benzare a knife expert, Damon and Pythias -- siamese twins, Alhambra a snake-charmer, Panchini a tatooed man, Nicco the a cigarette fiend, and Ajax the wild man. They are all under a guy named Pop Sorber who runs the carnival.

The action unfolds in vintage pulp fashion as Margot seeks the secrets, but eventually we find out that Kilroy was Ajax hiding to save his life and find the statue, and that Nicco was The Shadow himself. They uncover the fact that the twins aren't what they seem but two spies pretending to be conjoined (done with mirrors no less). The pacing in this issue is furious but in the end the statue and the villains are dispatched by falling into a river. Whether the metal is recovered is left for another day. All in all a heady little tale, full of the pulpish zest I've come to expect in a Shadow tale.

More to come.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Shadow Reports #2

The second appearance of The Shadow at DC comes not in his own comic, but as a guest-star in Batman #253. The cover is a superb illustration by Mike Kaluta. This story "Who Knows What Evil..?" by Denny O'Neil and artwork by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano (who would've been great choices for the main Shadow book, their lean Shadow is very effective) gives us a tale primarily starring the Batman.

Bats is tracking down some counterfieters, which leads him out west. All along he's helped here and there by a mysterious force which offers only bullets and a cold laugh. We get the sense Batman might just know who his secret helper might be. Out west, Batman meets a scientist named Lamon Cranston, a distinguished gent with the standard comic book code for age, white temples. Batman doesn't come off in this story all that bright as he thinks Cranston might be the key culprit and so misses the real badguy. But the timely intervention of The Shadow helps him out again, and the two crimefighters shake hands with Batman expressing his admiration for the Shadow and indicating he'd been a big inspiration for him. There's some talk of The Shadow coming out of retirement, but it's left open at the stories end.

The highlight of this story is the artwork. Irv Novick is a name that rarely gets much mention, but his pencils were vivid and dynamic. His storytelling was impeccable and on something like this he's an ideal choice. It's a shame he didn't do more Shadow work, as it would've looked outstanding.

More to come.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Shadow Reports #1

DC's The Shadow comics from the early 70's are some of the most handsome comics of the decade. These offer up some juicy Mike Kaluta artwork in the early issues and Denny O'Neil is the writer througout. Even the ad announcing the series features some lush Berni Wrightson work. Several months ago I finally completed my run on these pulp-comics classics and I want to share the reading experience.

The Shadow #1 has a cover date of November 1973 on it. It offers up a typical crime story called "The Doom Puzzle". We meet The Shadow, Lamont Cranston, Margo Lane, Shrevvy, Burbank, and Harry Vincent. The Shadow is up against a gang planning to rob a currency transfer from Wall Street to the Captiol. It involves submarines and all manner of henchmen. There is the usual mussem-up style of fisticuffs, Harry gets held hostage briefly, the Shadow gets a few with his pistols, and the auto-gyro comes into key performance giving the Shadow the chance to drop some depth-charges on the sub. The utlimate villain isn't that hard to detect, but the way he's dispatched is worthy.

All in all a solid Shadow adventure, compressed to comics size, but holding most of the key elements a fan familiar with the later Shadow tales might well expect. The text piece in this one tells the story of how Editor Denny O'Neil was contacted by the Shadow and more or less compelled to begin relating his stories. There's also a cool code and some code-breaking.

A solid comics package. I bought it off the stands way back when, but for some unknown reason I never bought another issue of The Shadow, at least for several decades.

More to come.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Tingler!

I've read about this movie for as long as I can remember. The showmanship of Willaim Castle is renowned, and I've seen House on Haunted Hill, so I have a taste of his style and its effect on the audience.

The Tingler stars Vincent Price in the role of a very very strange scientist who simultaneously seems a gentle and just soul but also plays with the lives and emotions of those around him. His blend of kindness and cruelty is something only an actor of Price's dimension could sell and he does just barely. The movie also stars "Dobie Gillis" (Darryl Hickman), but his part is small and according to the actor he did it mostly as a favor to Castle who put him in it to draw the teenage girls.

The story is simple enough. The Vincent Price character discovers through his work with the executed prisoners that the human spine undergoes inhuman stresses during death or more specifically the mortal terror that precedes it. He further learns that screams relieve this tension. After finding a very odd couple running a silent movie emporium, a laconic mortician-like character named Ollie and his deaf-mute wife, the Price character decides to find the source of the tension. He experiments on himself with LSD and his trip is unusual at best, then the story suggests he gives LSD to the deaf-mute woman who then has her own horrifying trip which results in her death and the discovery of the creature "The Tingler", a wormlike critter that co-exists with us humans. Price tries to corral it but it gets away and escapes into the theater creating havoc.

I'll limit the review as there are a few twists and turns, but that's the general thrust of the story. When the Tingler gets loose, that's when Castle's gimmicks really kick in. "Percepto" is the name a system of buzzers attached to selected movie seats that would be activated intermittently when the Tingler is loose, adding the chaos in the theater. By some reports it was quite successful at creating a thrill and something of a sensation.

This is a peculiar movie, presenting very unlikeable charcters. Price's wife is a cheat and plots his murder, but then so does he in a way. The notion of fidelity and murder seems to be a theme in this story as much as I can make a theme out. The idea of communication and successful blending into society is in there too but it's a bit of a muddle admittedly along these lines.

The Tingler ain't a great movie, it might not even be a good one, but it's a diverting entertainment and I suspect might age well with repeated viewings.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

My Little Marge!

This My Little Marge cover entertains me. The gag is pretty decent but the colors on the cover a bright and engaging. I love the way the 10 cent label is drifting down the page, off the comic as it were. The little note about fashion also dates this one neatly. Cool cover.

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

I Am Legend!

Richard Matheson's I Am Legend is probably the scariest story I ever read. The heady blend of mundane with the bizarre, the way he scientifically accounts for the details of vampirism making it seem plausible, along with his spare engaging style make the story vivid and exciting and memorable. I read the story when I was young and never ever forgot it. I read it about the same time as I read some Lovecraft and Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles, other works that blend the mundane with the horrific. But where the Doyle solves the mystery and resets you in a world of sense and order, both Lovecraft and Matheson get you off the beaten path and leave you there. In Matheson's case the path is one I greatly identify with, understand, so one I feel more strongly. Lovecraft scares my brain, while Matheson scares my soul.

That said, there have been some tasty movie adaptations of the story. The first time I owned and read it was when it was tied into the Charlton Heston remake The Omega Man, a movie I think I saw in the theatre, but surely one I've owned and seen many many times since. It's not Matheson's story, it lacks the immediacy, but it's a rousing tale reasonably well told.

I read for a long time of the original film adaptation The Last Man On Earth starring Vincent Price, but none of TV stations I ever watched seem to ever show it. I didn't get to see this flick until I was in Nashville one wee morning in a motel room and some horror host show came on and they played the movie. I saw 95% of the movie that morning and liked it pretty well. Later I found it on one of those ominbus collections of cheapo horror flicks and since I've bought it a few more times. It's the truest to Matheson's story, though oddly aloof in its presentation. It's got some very scary images in it though for sure.

And then there's the recent adaptation I Am Legend with Will Smith. It's a pretty good movie, and Smith does a very fine job of getting Neville's isolation. In fact all three movies do a fine job of casting good actors who do a dandy job of getting Neville, but the other details fall by the wayside. While the vampires of the Price movie move so slowly they seem to stand still sometimes, the mutations of the Smith movie move so fast it's hard to follow the action at times. The mopey beings in the Heston movie are pretty normal but very very crazy, something we know because of their ability to talk if not reason.

After viewing all three films this past weekend in quick succession, I have to give the nod to the most convincing to Price's Last Man On Earth despite its somber pacing, and I'd give the most emotionally involving to Heston's The Omega Man for making Neville a full-blooded human being, and finally I'd give Smith's I Am Legend kudos for revealing the a real world of isolation and near madness.

Good movies all. Watch 'em.

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Jungle Tales Of Tarzan!

My beautiful wife gave me permission to go to a comics shop yesterday. How rare is that. We had a great anniversary dinner and while she spent her afternoon working on some pottery, I was to go see Terminator Salvation at the cheap movies. But it was her idea for me to go on up to a local shop I rarely visit and give it a lookover. I was stunned, but not so stunned as to not take advantage.

Long story made shorter, I went and I found a gem of a comic. I've been needing the debut issue of Charlton's Jungle Tales of Tarzan for practically a year. This series by Joe Gill and Sam Glanzman is a gem. The first three issues are by Glanzman and the 4th is by the Montes @ Bache team. Pat Masulli's cover for the issue #1 is fascinating, showing the clear influence of Gordon Scott's physique. I've been finding an issue here and there of this four-issue series, but I despaired finding the #1. Yesterday there it was for a very reasonable price. And I have my wife to thank for it. Great day!

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Prince Valiant!

I saw this on the racks at a local shop and I was simply blown away. I have one volume of the old paperback reprint from Fantagraphics and it was interesting enough, but this new hardback volume at twice the length and even larger in dimensions is one of the most outstanding comics publications I've ever seen.

The story is clear and easy to read, the grandeur of young Prince Valiant's setting becomes increasingly magnificent as Hal Foster finds his way through this new/old setting. And for anyone who might've doubted the genius of Foster, this volume should answer any questions. I see clearly why guys like Kirby worshipped at the alter of Foster, these strips are glorious.

The color is the big thing. Apparently they shot the strips this time from some original materials or something like that, because the subtlety of the colors transforms the understanding of the way this strip is supposed to work.

I read Prince Valiant dutifully when I was a kid, but by then the strip had become a medieval domestic saga with Val and his son getting lose from the house long enough to dabble in adventures. It was grand stuff next to more humdrum artwork on other strips, but well below the grandeur of the original material from the 30's.

They are planning to release two of these a year, or so it seems with another scheduled for next spring. At $30 dollars this is a bargain, essentially still priced the same as this material was in the 80's with superior production qualities. They could easily charge $50 for this and we wouldn't think it odd. This is the best buy I've come across in comics in many a moon, and even in these hard times a must have.

Maybe even because of the strips high romance and its historical tie to other hard times, it might even be considered a requirement.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Great Comic Book Heroes!

As a youngster just getting into comics and hungry for anything comics related, finding this Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroesat the local library was like discovering the tomb of King Tut or finding Blackbeard's treasure. It was filled with comics stories featuring heroes almost like the stars I followed on the stands.

I enjoyed Superman's origin, I was impressed by the spare style of the Batman's conflict with the Joker, I was intrigued by the glimpse of the Big Red Cheese, I was amused by the chaotic art on The Flash and the Human Torch, I was taken aback by the energy of the Captain America origin story, and I was amazed by the detail of the Hawkman story. The Spirit story left me cold and I wouldn't get the Eisner thing until Warren's reprints many years later. The comics, the color, the history, it was all so magnificent.

And Feiffer's essays about his feelings a boy and then as a man about the heroes and heroines was revealing and not unlike Stan the Man's prose connected with me, suggesting a kindred spirit. He spoke with a candor and a wit that was uncanny and uncompromising. He spoke his truth, and you knew it. It is a great book, and I checked it out time after time after time.

These days I keep three copies. I've a hardback I found somewhere long ago which is at home, and I've a vintage paperback version which I keep at my workplace, and I've a copy of the much more recent reprint from Fantagraphics around here somewhere. The essays are intact in that one, but alas the glorious reprints are not included. This trove was an atomic bomb of comics creativity for my young mind, and I despair that youngsters today awash in media can't really savor the joy of such a find. Or maybe they can in their own way.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Panic In Year Zero!

I've read about this movie for years. I'd not seen it until yesterday. I found a movie that was more involving than I frankly expected.

The story for those who don't know is basic enough. A family on vacation pulls away from their home very early one morning and soon find that the city has been hit by nuclear attack. The father (Ray Milland) quickly sees that swift action and hard choices will save the day and he and his son (Frankie Avalon) find food, fuel, and battle threats of all kinds to get the family into the hills and the relative safety of a cave. There they try to assemble some sort of life, but find threats all around. The family despite the father's best efforts are all damaged by the events of the choices they make challenge their very notions of civilized behavior.

There was an unexpected edge to the movie. I thought it would blithely dither along at the pontification level and mope about the frailties of human beings. It doesn't, but rather puts it characters in exceedingly tough situations and while they do desperate things, at no point do I feel that they make fundamentally wrong choices. The father and son murder two teenagers who have raped the sister and given the options, it seemed the only fitting solution. The father constantly chooses his family's needs over the needs of others and while at times his son's advice does cause him to relent, I cannot fault the father for what he does. The clarity of his knowledge about what's to come is probably the most frightening aspect of the movie, and Milland does an excellent job of showing us a man who has to make hard violent choices. Those choices leave a mark on him and his family.

This movie does suffer from its smallish budget. The small cast creates flaws in logic (they keep coming across the same people for instance) and the cave set is pretty classic Hollywood undercutting the sense of reality in much of the rest of the movie. But those are small flaws in a movie that is doing what it can to tell a small story about a gigantic event. There are no hordes of mutants roaming the countryside, there are no big special effects showing the deaths of millions, but what is missing does reinforce the sense of isolation the characters feel.

Apparently this movie is based on some stories called "Lot" and "Lot's Daughter". I've never read these stories, but they seem far darker than the movie. The movie doesn't indicate any source material, so who knows for sure.

This ain't a great movie, but it's a really good movie. And that surprised me.

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The Astounding She-Swipe!

The two images above pretty well speak for themselves. Walt Simonson is a man who clearly finds inspiration where he can in a comic that's got a great cover and ain't half as bad as you'd suspect. As for the movie, it's a cheapo clunker, but that is a great great poster.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Kolchak Papers!

A few years ago I was able to at least do something I've itched to do for decades -- read the original Jeff Rice novel The Kolchak Papers better known as the The Night Stalker.

Like droves of other folks, I'm a fan of the original TV movie starring Daren McGavin, based on Rice's book, with a Richard Matheson script, and which gave me shudders for many a moon after. It's possibly the creepiest movie ever made for TV, with a wildly successful noir tone blended with an easy comedic charm that makes the whole far greater than the sum of the parts.

Well the novel version of the story which was published only after the success of the movie, has been notoriously hard to get until recently Moonstone, the company which has taken charge of the much negelected and abused Kolchak property, released both the original novel and its sequel which became The Night Strangler.

The TV-movie follows the novel very closely for the first third then veers off a bit and the ending is essentially the same but altered in some very interesting ways from the original. That's why I much prefer reading books which have inspired films rather than film novelizations, because the differences are very interesting and can be very revealing about the story's real value.

I also scouted up Moonstone's first trade reprint of their original adaptation of the "movie". The adaptation is written by Jeff Rice (making it very desirable) and drawn by Gordon Purcell (who does a workmanlike job). It draws both from the TV movie and from the novel offering up yet a third iteration of the original Kolchak story.

I don't recommend either of these unless you're already a fan of the franchise, but if you are, then you won't be disappointed by these other "versions" of the story.

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