Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Favorite Comic Covers - Origins Of Marvel Comics!

These volumes are sentimental faves. They offered reprints in context at a time when such collections were quite rare. These collections always struck me like Stan offering up his very personal history, but as we've learned his memory was not up to the task. Johnny Romita's covers are exceptional.

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Hercules Unleashed!

I spent a rather interesting day yesterday watching Hercules movies. Many months ago I picked the nicely priced Hercules Collection. I got it mostly for the classic Hercules starring Steve Reeves, but it also included a host of other pepla stars such as Reg Park, Gordon Scott, and others. I watched the Herc movie yet again, but the first time on dvd and the first time in widescreen and later I snatched up the sequel Hercules Unchained and finished the Reeves Herc specific canon. I didn't know that another movie on this collection, Hercules and the Captive Women was a sequel to the first two.

Now that varies according to sources, but whether it's the third "real" Hercules movie or not, it's still a spectacle. Again in widescreen this one offers Reg Park as Herc and he's not half bad. His beard doesn't sell as well as the one on Reeves, but nonetheless he finds quite a bit of trouble when he's shanghied by his friend to check out some indistinct trouble that threatens the kingdom. He doesn't know his grown son is part of the plan too. After some mishaps he ends up saving a chick from Proteus a shape-changing monster but despite her turning out to be a princess the kingdom of Atlantis ain't happy she's back, especially her mom. More stuff happens and eventually Herc ends up saving the princess and his friends but the island is of course destroyed. One thing this movie had were some neat villains, especially the "super soldiers" who all look alike (Stormtroopers of the ancient world perhaps) and form an "unbeatable" army.

This is followed by Hercules and the Prisoner of Evil which pits Hercules (Park again) against a witch and "werewolves". These monsters are pretty scary actually in some scenes. I won't say much about this one as it has some neat twists in it. But it's pretty clear this is a Hercules picture in name only. The setting seems to be more like Transylvania than Greece and all the men wear pants. This is in fact an "Ursus" movie which got retitled for American distribution.

The third Reg Park offering was Hercules the Avenger and it was largely a compilation of footage from Park's first two movies, the aforementioned Hercules and the Captive Women and one directed by Mario Brava Hercules in the Haunted World. It has Herc go to Hades to rescue his son's soul where he fights zombies and whatnot in some pretty moody stuff. Meanwhile Antaeus, the son of Mother Earth impersonates Herc and hooks up with another misguided queen to kill and steal from the people. Hercules returns in time to fight him and send him back to momma.

The final flick I enjoyed was Gordon Scott in Hercules and the Princess of Troy which was a TV pilot. This one is not dubbed and despite some odd effects on the film negative still delivers a sharp adventure in a short order running just under fifty minutes. There's a pretty neat monster in this one and some surprisingly robust action sequences.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Last Comic Book On Earth!

I love it when comic book characters read comic books, especially when they go to the trouble to reproduce an actual cover. The panel above from Kamandi #4 is more than a bit clever by using the companion Kirby book of the time - The Demon.

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Gunga Din And The Temple Of Gold!

I'd never seen the classic RKO flick Gunga Din until yesterday. Loaded with a few Borders coupons I headed off to the store to get some specific REH tomes, but alas there were none to be had. The coupon was time sensitive, so I wanted to get some value out of it, and eventually I found a copy of this Cary Grant heroic vehicle directed by George Stevens. I love great commentaries on old flicks and this one seemed to offer a good one by Rudy Belhmer, a critic I've come to trust on over things. So I tumbled and I'm glad I did.

I probably knew that Gunga Din inspired Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, or at least I'm sure I read it somewhere. But gosh almighty there's a lot of parallels to the later flick. You have the Thug cult of Kali, a hidden temple, a dangerous rope bridge, and lots of heady action. Cary Grant is outstanding, a true action star in this one, he dominates the screen even when up against a powerful personality like Victor McLaglen. These two along with Doug Fairbanks Jr. offer up a trio of British hero types who are at once engaging, manly, and funny.

I won't belabor the obvious cultural points, but always movies of this type and period show the limits of understanding. But villains are villains though they are given some depth and even nobility despite being murderers all. Eduardo Chianelli as the Guru head of the cult is profoundly threatening like a spider, but also a true believer. Sam Jaffe as Gunga Din the waterboy is a real stretch, but it works by and large. I'm not as convinced as others that only Jaffe could've done it, but he does a fine job all around.

There's a real sense of threat in this movie, at least early on. Death and the threat of death though more suggested than shown really amp up the intrigue. Despite the clowning of the heroic trio, you are never allowed to forget that doom is just around the corner.

Great flick!

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by Rudyard Kipling

You may talk o' gin an' beer
When you're quartered safe out 'ere,
An' you're sent to penny-fights an' Aldershot it;
But if it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An' you'll lick the bloomin' boots of 'im that's got it.
Now in Injia's sunny clime,
Where I used to spend my time
A-servin' of 'Er Majesty the Queen,
Of all them black-faced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.

It was "Din! Din! Din!
You limping lump o' brick-dust, Gunga Din!
Hi! slippy hitherao!
Water, get it! Panee lao!
You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din!"

The uniform 'e wore
Was nothin' much before,
An' rather less than 'arf o' that be'ind,
For a twisty piece o' rag
An' a goatskin water-bag
Was all the field-equipment 'e could find.
When the sweatin' troop-train lay
In a sidin' through the day,
Where the 'eat would make your bloomin' eyebrows crawl,
We shouted "Harry By!"
Till our throats were bricky-dry,
Then we wopped 'im 'cause 'e couldn't serve us all.

It was "Din! Din! Din!
You 'eathen, where the mischief 'ave you been?
You put some juldee in it,
Or I'll marrow you this minute,
If you don't fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!"

'E would dot an' carry one
Till the longest day was done,
An' 'e didn't seem to know the use o' fear.
If we charged or broke or cut,
You could bet your bloomin' nut,
'E'd be waitin' fifty paces right flank rear.
With 'is mussick on 'is back,
'E would skip with our attack,
An' watch us till the bugles made "Retire."
An' for all 'is dirty 'ide,
'E was white, clear white, inside
When 'e went to tend the wounded under fire!

It was "Din! Din! Din!"
With the bullets kickin' dust-spots on the green.
When the cartridges ran out,
You could 'ear the front-files shout:
"Hi! ammunition-mules an' Gunga Din!"

I sha'n't forgit the night
When I dropped be'ind the fight
With a bullet where my belt-plate should 'a' been.
I was chokin' mad with thirst,
An' the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinnin', gruntin' Gunga Din.

'E lifted up my 'ead,
An' 'e plugged me where I bled,
An' 'e guv me 'arf-a-pint o' water—green;
It was crawlin' an' it stunk,
But of all the drinks I've drunk,
I'm gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.

It was "Din! Din! Din!
'Ere's a beggar with a bullet through 'is spleen;
'E's chawin' up the ground an' 'e's kickin' all around:
For Gawd's sake, git the water, Gunga Din!"

'E carried me away
To where a dooli lay,
An' a bullet come an' drilled the beggar clean.
'E put me safe inside,
An' just before 'e died:
"I 'ope you liked your drink," sez Gunga Din.
So I'll meet 'im later on
In the place where 'e is gone—
Where it's always double drill and no canteen;
'E'll be squattin' on the coals
Givin' drink to pore damned souls,
An' I'll get a swig in Hell from Gunga Din!

Din! Din! Din!
You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
Tho' I've belted you an' flayed you,
By the livin' Gawd that made you,
You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Invaders From Mars!

I watched both the 1953 original and the 1986 remake of Invaders From Mars yesterday. I've long had VHS copies of both, but I don't think I've ever watched them both back to back. My VHS copy of the classic movie by Cameron Menzies was pretty grainy and not really all that much fun to stumble through. I replaced it with a dvd version several months ago, and recently I picked up the Tobe Hooper version as part of a Midnite Movies double feature. To be frank, I don't really have much affection for the remake. I saw it in the theater, but don't really have any strong memory of it. Getting it on VHS many years ago was simple completism. I've watched it once I think.

But I have to say watching them back to back really opens up both movies a bit for me. For one thing my dvd copy comes with two versions, a British cut and a longer American cut. When I got the dvd I watched the British cut and the picture quality seemed not unlike my VHS copy. I was pretty disappointed. But this time I watched the American cut and this is the cleanest version of the movie I've ever seen. It's really a feast of images.

Tobe Hooper made his version out of an affection for the original, but sadly the pacing of the 1986 movie is too slow. Stuff happens but the editing of scenes is relaxed and there are things we don't need to spend so much time on that make the story almost stop in places. The stuff at the school for one just gets on my nerves. They needed to stay focused on David's home and his parents more. But that would've meant getting rid of much of Louise Fletcher's stuff and she's one of the most entertaining things in this movie, her over-the-top villainy is fun to watch.

There is a weird dreamlike logic to the original, supported by the high-art style they used. The movie has a steady beat to it as the story gets a bit more peculiar all the way through right up to the rumble through the Martian tunnels. The fact they had to make do with men-in-suits and other limited effects put the premium on the story and the pacing. Sadly Hooper is able to use more elaborate physical effects and that seems to slow things down too. You build a wonderful set and you want to show it off, I get that, but it's to the detriment of the story.

I will say it's always refreshing to see any movie that relies so heavily on physical effects for its monsters though, as I'm about tired of the endless CG critters we get nowadays.

I really found the story of young David compelling in the original this time, more than ever and the themes of the story, ripe with paranoia really shine through. The death of the little girl was shocking and gave the story a weight it would otherwise lack. The deaths in the Hooper version were less involving, more played for humor even in spots. None of that in the original. It was creepy.

I like that Jimmy Hunt, the actor who played the original little boy "David" in 1953 showed up as an adult policeman in the 1986 movie. That kind of insider stuff is cute and doesn't hurt the story if it's done quietly. It's not like Stan Lee showing up and taking you out of the movie, just a hidden gem for folks in on the secret.

So I find I like the original a lot more than I ever imagnined I would. The remake is still unremarkable.

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Scott Un-Free!

This cover from Gemstone's The Overstreet Guide To Collecting Comics, a Free Comic Book Day offering, totally cracked me up. I'll have to try and snag one just for the cover. It got me to thinking though how ironic it is for any toy packaging holding a Mr.Miracle "action figure". He wants to break free from those plastic confines, and of course he will, unless he finds himself in the clutches of a "collector". Now that's an Anti-Life Equation for you.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

The Monster Reads!

I love this gentle image of Boris Karloff toting a little girl and prowling a spinner rack. It's impossible to see all the books on that rack, but I've identified three of them. These comics date the photo in 1958. Fun stuff!

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The Animated Spider-Man Season Two!

It's definitely a change, but I have to say I prefer this second season to the first. The stories were slightly more complex and had a vaguely more adult feel to them. This is especially so of the origin story in the first two episodes of season two. The art on those was pretty good and the story very much like a Spidey comic. I love the backgrounds in this series, the colors are vibrant and intoxicating often making up for admittedly lackluster animation.

Now after that beginning things get strange. But knowing that fantasy masters like Lin Carter on the writing and Gray Morrow on the art design are at the helm I can't be surprised all that much that Spidey spent most of the season out of the city and in some vague jungle/alien setting up to his webs in plants and weird bat-things. One thing I noticed was that many of the stories really threw curveballs, in that Spidey would begin his adventure normally enough with crime and thugs but then there would be a shift and he'd find himself in the future, underground, or on a bizarre island somewhere.

I consider these adventures to be similar to the kinds of adventures that Spidey would have in Marvel Team-Up in which he'd often venture into territories radically different from the classic big city crime story he's rooted in. The MTU Spidey would travel in time, go into space, venture into lost worlds and do all manner of things bizarre by his standards. This second season had that kind of feel to it.

Here a dozen things I learned watching this second season of Spider-Man:

1. The sky is often green and always always dramatic as if a storm is about to erupt.

2. Purple gorillas are seen by the criminal set as effective disguises for some reason. Maybe it's a DC thing.

3. Spidey can pilot experimental jetplanes and has ready access to them on a whim, and no one misses them when they fly away.

4. Mole Men are ridiculously stupid, getting duped by the same criminal in two episodes. And they like to gong a lot.

5. Giant doors are common in many alien landscapes, as if Kong himself were on the other side.

6. Spidey loves to swing and swing and swing and swing and swing though the city, often attaching his webline to no discernable object.

7. Villains are most often green, the sure sign of villainy in the Bakshiverse.

8. Peter Parker plays baseball.

9. Parker sure hangs out with a lot of different girls, but I'm guessing he's not a FWB (Friend with Benefits), accounting for that gloomy puss he wears most of the time.

10. Manhattan is a remarkably sturdy cityscape and can survive mutltiple sinkings of various buildings and even detaching from the earth and flying into the sky.

11. Martians look amazingly like ancient gods of Norse and Greco-Roman mythology.

12. The power of flight is achieved by putting a blender on your head.

Ralph Bakshi produced a wacky cartoon, that's so bizarre that I wouldn't mind watching it again in a few years. The stories are at once patterned and unpredicatable. Spidey seems mostly trusted by the police, even admired by them save for the last episode when inexplicably he's seen as a baddie and a threat. The villains are cackling madmen, but intreresting looking by and large.

Things happen in the Bakshiverse that require no explanation, they just are. And in the context of these stories, I can accept that. You might even dub this season of Spidey stories his "Weird Adventures" and be very close to capturing the feeling they have.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

My Favorite Comic Covers -- Codename: Danger!

I've always adored this cover image by Rick Buckler and Bob Mcleod! It's got that neat hard edge that Buckler could be so good at when he was in his own style, a subtle blend of Neal Adams and John Buscema. The story underneath this one is pretty decent too, offering a Mission Impossible-like scenario with the hero Paul Makor a tough-as-nails operative who gets particular talent for particular missions.

This book was to be part of David Singer's comics empire alongside the luscious The Futurians by Dave Cockrum and the revived Thunder Agents, but all that tumbled apart for a host of legal reasons it seems. There are three more issues of Codename:Danger but they have a more superheroic flavor to them, and I never got them. This is the only issue featuring the work of Buckler. And this is one fantastic cover, my favorite ever by Buckler and that's saying something.

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Very Strange Invaders!

I remember this one from the theaters. I have a VHS copy of it somewhere but it's been years and years since I watched Strange Invaders. The movie is one I fondly remember, so when I found it in a discount bin on dvd I snapped it up.

But alas my memories are more kind than my review. The movie has a charm to it, but I have to say it's difficult to watch a movie where the dialogue is difficult to pick out because of the sound quality, and that's the original recording as far as I can tell. They must've done quite a bit of the sound on set, and sadly it shows.

The story is a clever one, or at the least the initial notion is. A group of aliens appear in the 1950's above a small Illinois town and take over. We cut forward to the 80's and we find a professor of entymology becomes embroiled in a mystery involving his ex-wife and his daughter. It turns out his ex-wife is one of the aliens sent to learn about human life and now the aliens are leaving and they want everyone to go even the little girl, the progeny of alien and human. There's a lot more in this like the usual government cover-up, blistering blue balls of light, ghost dogs, and whatnot, but all these clever bits don't really blend neatly.

The story just doesn't fall together. There is a curious sidestory about a man who goes on vacation with his family in the blighted town and loses his wife and kids and finds himself labeled years later a madman. It's his struggle that really gives the story some heart but sadly his tale doesn't fit in until the flick is half over.

Maybe it's the acting, which comes off as insincere, but something kept me outside the flow of this movie. As much as I liked see Kenneth Tobey in a smallish role as the top alien the movie is lethargic. It's got some neat scenes like when the professor is in a diner with a bunch of aliens who ignore him or when the aliens come to NYC to get the girl. Their out-of-time goofiness gives a creepiness to it all, but in the final analysis I just didn't care about the characters enough to invest in the overal expeience.

I give this a mild recommendation for the curious.

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The Animated Spider-Man Season One!

I finished up the first season of the 1960's Spider-Man TV show. It's a hoot. This cartoon, along with the Hanna-Barbera Fantastic Four and the Marvel Superheroes in syndication were my window into the Marvel Universe and the comics in general. I have great fondness for them, despite not having seen most of them for decades.

The first season of Spidey is a pretty formlaic affair. There are plenty of baddies from the comics series. There was Dr.Octopus, Elektro, Sandman, Mysterio, Lizard, Vulture (called Vulture-Man for several episodes), Rhino, Scorpion, Green Goblin and a few others. Notably missing was Chameleon though there was a make-up villain named "Charles Cameo" in a few episodes. Most of the villains got two episodes with a few getting into three. The most fun in that category for me though were the "new" guys they invented. Dr.Noah Boddy ("Nobody" get it) an invisible guy, The Human Fly twins (named "Stan" and "Lee"), some guy named The Phantom, and my personal fave Parafino proprietor of a wax museum and fabulous baddie. Also I assume that the Aussie hunter named "Clivendon" is a stand-in for Kraven the Hunter. This change along with the Chameleon one I don't get, as they originals are perfectly fine characters.

The other side of the coin was pretty thin. Betty Brant starts out as a pretty good character, but as the episodes roll on she becomes a cypher, merely a friend of Peter Parker's who stands up for him with J. Jonah Jameson. JJJ is in just about every episode and frankly it gets a bit tiresome, as way too many plots revolve around the Daily Bugle or its publisher in some way. JJJ seems to be the mayor of NYC the way the act in this cartoon. Aunt May shows up maybe once or twice at most, though we do see the Parker home many times.

The stories are pretty simple affairs. Spidey becomes aware of a threat usually by chance, intervenes and encounters the villain, we get the title of the episode, then Spidey loses the initial conflict. After that he goes to see Jameson for some reason or other, then fights the baddie again and usually loses. Then in the last battle he wins, typically by throwing webbing over them, a scheme that often doesn't work earlier in the story.

Here are a dozen things I learned watching this cartoon:

1. The streets of NYC are largely deserted save for a few villains, their victims, and at most five cops at any given time. Cop cars show up in threes and most of the cops are of Irish extraction.

2. The Rhino looks hilarious when he runs, picks the lamest hideouts, and his motivations for his crimes are ludicrous. A golden statue? Really!

3. The Green Goblin is a really little guy and wants to master real actual magic for some reason despite his many gimmicks of science.

4. The pictures in the Daily Bugle are not hung all that well and constantly shift when doors are slammed, or maybe that only applies to those featuring Jameson's mug.

5. Spidey's webbing has some really curious properties such as functioning as small motors for no discernable reason. He makes fans and propellers and all sorts of things. I love that he whips up special webbing on a whim.

6. The police really trust Spidey, but I can't really tell why. Maybe that's why he seems to know all sorts of classified stuff he really shouldn't know.

7. NYC has a Conservatory of MOD Music.

8. Dr.Connors has two arms on TV all the time.

9. Spidey spends quite a bit of time at the docks and more time in and around the water than I'd have expected. As a consequence he fights way too many gators.

10. Giant robots like to eat cars and appear for no reason in the middle of the city.

11. Pluto is inhabited by ice men, perhaps they are time-lost members of Martinex's race.

12. It always bugged me as a kid wondering where exactly Spidey's weblines were attached as he swung through the city, and after watching the full first season, I don't have any more idea about it than I did then.

As always in these stories, if the villains just used their intellects for good they'd make a lot more money than they do with crime. The Phantom could use his shrinking machine to revoltutionize shipping for instance.

The first season was fun, but after the thrill of seeing Spidey actually swinging across the city it gets a bit weak. I love the few shots we get now and again of actual comic art, especially the few images of Ditko Spideys.

Good fun. Next up is Season Two!

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Who Is... Starhawk?

Back in the 60's Marvel used Marvel Super-Heroes (formerly Fantasy Masterpieces) as a Showcase-style tryout book. New characters like Phantom Eagle and The Guardians of the Galaxy debuted in those pages, and others like Ka-Zar and Medusa were given solo stories to test the waters. But it all ended abruptly with a new Doc Doom story in issue #20, but not before a one page ad heralded the coming of a new hero by the name of "Starhawk". This was a new sci-fi hero by Roy Thomas and Dan Adkins. The ad showed promise but the title turned to reprints of The Avengers and The X-Men and Starhawk alas never appeared.

Until several years later when the cover art graced the issue #3 of Marvelmania Magazine.

Later the pages already produced by Thomas and Adkins were published in Marvelmania Magazine #6 under an unrelated Neal Adams cover.

The story is incomplete, literally a cliffhanger, but I for one was exceedingly happy after nearly forty years to at long last get a closer look at the hero who ignited my imagination so long before. Here are those pages.

Here are some other Starhawk images from The Comic Buyer's Guide where some Adkins art was adapted and a new image of Starhawk was produced by a fan artist named Bob Conway.

These are fun images.

The "Mandroid" name was dusted off and used again in an issue of Captain Marvel, ironically enough an issue written by Roy Thomas and inked by Dan Adkins.

And believe it or not, the "Mandroid" name gets used yet again by Roy in an issue of The Avengers during the famous Kree-Skrull War. This time the Mandroids are SHIELD agents in armor. I've lost track of such things, but it's possible these "Mandroids" are still extant in the Marvel Universe.

The name "Starhawk" of course was revived and given to a totally new character who hooked up with The Guardians of the Galaxy (who as noted debuted in Marvel Super-Heroes) and is still around as far as I know.

So alas the original Starhawk is lost to ages, but some remember.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

The Reason For The Season!

Have a safe Christmas Day! I have to travel, but with only some wind and rain to worry about, I'll count my blessings when I see what the folks in the Midwest are struggling with today.

We open our presents on Christmas Eve and it was a great time. It seems my family always has a great Christmas when the money is a little tight. We have replace mere commerce with more imagination, planning, and caring making for some wonderful presents. This year was one of the best Christmas Eves ever!

I hope your Christmas is wonderful too.

Merry Christmas!

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Night Before Christmas!

’T WAS the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”
--Clement Clarke Moore

Have a Merry Christmas!

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