Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Atlas-Seaboard was an upstart company started up by Martin Goodman, the former publisher of Marvel Comics, to compete directly with the company he'd begun and had run for decades. It was an act of spite pure and simple, as well as a questionable act of commerce in the final analysis. The company began with a bang but ended with a whimper only a few months after it debuted. It was a glorious moment, but a moment only in comics history.
Dick Giordano was one of the many excellent talents of the time who worked for the company. He did some of their most iconic covers for many of their debut issues. Above is a complete gallery of his work for them. "The Crusty Bunkers", the unofficial squadron of talent overseen by Giordano and Neal Adams did some work on these books, and that's likely how Giordano was involved, so his hand might be hidden in a few of these books. I suspect he might've inked a few pages in Wulf the Barbarian myself. But these covers are all the work that is confirmed.
Dick did all the covers above, including the fantastic cover for Phoenix #1 by himself, save for the Morlock 2001 cover which features his inks over Al Milgrom's pencils.
I'll have a more detailed look at Atlas-Seaboard coming up in a few weeks. This is just a taste.
Shadow of the Vampire is a strange "vampire" movie for sure. It doesn't pigeonhole neatly into the genre, as it's mostly about other things. But then most vampire movies are really about other things.
The main conceit of this film is that when F.W. Murnau made Nosferatu he cast a real vampire in the role of Count Orlok. It's a clever idea, but a bit clumsy to make work in places.
The best parts of this flick are the acting which is top notch in nearly all respects, though I do confess a small dose of John Malkovitch does go a long way in his overwhelming role of Murnau. Willem Dafoe is masterful as "Count Orlok", the vampire, at times scary and at others quite funny. Cary Elwes and Udo Kier are great in this one, doing some fantastic bits of business.
The setting is pretty dang fine too, as apparently they used a real castle in Luxembourg and its battlements to frame the movie. It works really well, and gives the whole affair a real authenticity.
I really enjoy this movie, but the storytelling is pretty spare and you have to really fill in some holes to make the thing string together. Characters disappear without comment and that's a bit annoying. It's got some great scenes, but the territory between them is undeveloped a bit.
But as commentary on movie making itself as a being akin to vampirism, the movies main theme seems a bit unproven to me. I get what they want to say, that the camera "sucks" life and keeps it for all time, but I don't see that immortality in the same way as being a vampire. You are reduced to a shadow of your true self, I get that, but it's the inevitability of time that does that, not film. The move makes the connection, but doesn't necessarily prove it's by itself bad, just transformational.
All in all this is a fun flick, though one that takes itself way too seriously.
Now while I was watching this one, I dug out Nosferatu again and watched it through. I haven't seen it in several years, and it was in many ways fresh again. The version I have is not pristine by any means, and I keep meaning to get a good one, but this one served well enough.
I noticed this time how long it takes for the protagonist to get to Orlok's castle, a long set up, longer than I remember. Because of having seen the other flick, I was pretty sensitive to setting this time through and they work quite well.
I have always found the horror of the ship in the story to be a highlight, and I really like seeing movies that deal with that part of the story. Many drop it out entirely or merely allude to it, and I understand why, but it's among the scariest parts of Stoker's novel. This movie does the best with that material of any I've ever seen.
All in all a nice day of vampire watching.
Now I've got to dig out my VHS copy of the Werner Herzog version and give it another look. It's been many years since I watched this one through.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
My local Wal-Mart busted out the vampire movies galore to (I'm sure) jump on the bandwagon of sales for the latest Twilight release. These modern wimpy vampires have little interest for me, but I will say that some of the releases have been most interesting. I've been loading up on some very good cheap movies. Many of these I have on VHS, and this is a good opportunity to add them to the dvd shelf as well.
One of the ones I picked up is Dracula 2000. This is ironic in that alongside the vampire movies, Wal-Mart is also pushing the annual Easter flock of movies, a myriad of Bible adaptations and whatnot. The connection thematically between movies celebrating the resurrection of Christ and movies showing a multitude of darker and more dangerous resurrections is pretty curious indeed. But nowhere is the connection deeper than Dracula 2000.
Now there are spoilers galore below, so if you've not seen this movie I'd hesitate to go on. Get it, it's worth it.
Despite its awful title, Dracula 2000 offers up a tasty vampire brew. The premise is that Abraham Van Helsing (played by Christopher Plummer) has been holding Dracula prisoner for a century, using the vampire's own blood to prolong his own life to make such a thing possible. It seems Van Helsing has an estranged daughter in New Orleans who because of the connection in blood is connected to Dracula as well. A gang of thieves steal Dracula's coffin and he escapes to create new little vampires and to seek his soul mate the daughter of Van Helsing. He is opposed by Van Helsing and a young man who works for him.
That's the plot in a nutshell, and there are a ton of sleek and clever gimmicks adapting vampire lore. I read a review that suggested this movie didn't make sense. I can't figure what the reviewer meant, unless he's a moviegoer who doesn't pay attention to subtext. This movie makes more sense than most vampire movies, as there's a strict backstory being adhered to, a secret to be revealed. It's Dracula's secret origin if you will.
He's Judas Iscariot. No Vlad the Impaler here, save perhaps as a role the ultimate betrayer of Christ played for a time. Dracula here is the man who betrayed God and who after a few thousand years still holds a heavy grudge against the humble carpenter and his dad.
This movie reveals its secret nicely and when you see it, you have that neat thing in stories that it all makes a weird sense of sorts. Dracula doesn't fear crosses and holy water and whatnot, he hates them. Silver can hurt him because silver is the burden he bears.
This movie is very well cast. Gerard Butler is Dracula and while a bit too slick in places, he's very much physically capable of playing the part. The vampire chicks are very sexy, and the action is high speed. If anything, that's a knock on this one as the action is almost too over the top to develop a sense of reality to the proceedings. The characters live in a cartoon world a bit and that undermines the empathy for their plight.
But intellectually I like what they tried to do with this one. It's got a neat gimmick and pays off neatly.
By all the reports and interviews I've read, Batman was Dick Giordano's favorite "super" hero. I put the quotes there, because Dick Giordano eschewed the idea of superpowers, and that's why he launched and encouraged the creation of the "Action Heroes" at Charlton. These were all men who didn't have great powers, but rather depended on their skills, admittedly extreme, and their technology to win the day.
Above are some great Giordano covers for DC comics featuring Batman. And I've included one starring "Batgirl", because it's one of my favorite Giordano images.
Thank you and have a good afternoon.
Monday, March 29, 2010
This is a vampire tale with a distinct difference.
I've heard about this movie off and on over the years. Like most folks I'm a fan of Night of the Living Dead and so the name George Romero carries some weight with me, especially when it comes to the horror genre. Like the more famous zombie movie, this story about a boy vampire was shot on a shoestring budget and yet makes the most of its tiny dollars.
Simply, the story concerns a boy named Martin who has been told his whole life he's a "Nosferatu", a vampire. He says he's 84 years old, though he looks to be in his late teens, and many members of his family seem to agree with him about his nature. As we learn from his uncle, who has taken him in, the family produces someone like Martin every once in a while and they live forever, so three are till around including Martin.
There's no direct evidence that Martin is a vampire, save for what he and some of his relatives believe. He does kill people and he does drink blood, but he doesn't have fangs, and he doesn't dread the sunlight, and he cannot transform into a bat or wolf. Garlic and crosses seem not to affect him at all. So as far as "magic" is concerned, Martin rejects all of the claptrap and though he's convinced he's a vampire he seems to think it's merely his nature.
The movie is held together by the lead actor, a young man named John Amplas, who gives a mesmerizing portrayal of the weird boy. We get the sense from what he says, that he kills people to drink blood when he feels the "shakes" to do so, and he is successful because he uses drugs to put his prey to sleep and he covers up the deaths, making them to appear to be suicides. He watches people closely and chooses his victims in such a way as it will hide his activity. It all comes across as oddly plausible.
The basic nature of the movie making by Romero and his crew really gives this movie a texture that adds to the reality. Martin's mental state is sometimes represented by black and white sequences which imitate vintage vampire movies with gothic settings and angry villages with torches and whatnot. This is countered by the austere real color world in which Martin actually lives. The setting is a stark mill town in Pennsylvania that is in hard times and the decaying buildings and grim streets add to tone of the movie.
There's some pretty good acting in this, and sadly some pretty bad acting as well, so it's not all even. But overall, the movie does get hold of you and the ending is a shocker for sure, and as you reflect on the development of the story oddly inevitable.
At DC some of my favorite covers ever were by Dick Giordano for the Lois Lane comic. The book was at a weird point during this run of handsome covers. Jack Kirby was bursting onto the DC scene and he'd absorbed Jimmy Olsen. The editor of Lois Lane tried to catch this train a bit and had some elements of that larger story leak over into Lois's territory a few times. Whatever, we got some smooth and handsome covers by the incomparable Dick Giordano. Issue #111 might just be my all-time favorite DC cover aside from New Gods #1.
Thank You And Have A Good Afternoon.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Dick Giordano has passed away at the age of 77. Born in 1932, he has had a most influential career in comics. Longtime artist and art director at Charlton Comics, he rendered scores of comic book covers. Later he took over as editor of the comic book line and gave us the fantastic "Action-Heroes". He unleashed some great talent to do some great work. He and Joe Gill created Sarge Steel, one of the toughest mugs in comics history.
He did so well with this stint at Charlton that when DC comics wanted to boost their flagging sales in the face of Marvel's onslaught, tipped by Steve Ditko, they plucked Giordano to come over from his post at Derby and he brought with him much of his Charlton talent like Jim Aparo, Steve Skeates, and Denny O'Neil.
Giordano went on to produce some memorable work at DC, including becoming arguably the finest inker in the industry over the work of his longtime business partner Neal Adams. I especially was fond of his effect on the pencils of Dick Dillin on the Justice League of America and elsewhere. His favorite character was Batman, and Giordano did some fabulous work on him. He was editor of DC during the momentous "Crisis on Infinite Earths", and later still became an important figure in much of the 90's independent movement.
He and protege Bob Layton even started up their own company, Future Comics at the turn of the century, but alas the economics did work out. A few years back he re-teamed with Roy Thomas to complete an adaptation of Dracula begun decades before, but never finished. It's been collected.
His work was always crisp and clean, as seemingly was his professional reputation.
Up top is a gallery of some of the great covers he produced for Charlton.
Farewell Mr.Giordano. Thank you and good afternoon.