Monday, June 30, 2014

Manhunting Again!

I stumbled across this tome in the latest set of solicitations. I fear they might be about to get more money out of my wallet. Sheesh! Here are the details.

"This will be an amazing book! (I can say this because I’ve actually held some of the pages of this wonderful series in my own hands.) Manhunter by Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson must be the most acclaimed back-up feature in comics history, winning numerous awards upon its original publication in the 1970s as an eight-page bi-monthly back-up in DC’s Detective Comics. What’s even more incredible is that the series revolves around a long-forgotten third-tier series from Adventure Comics which only became popular when Joe Simon and Jack Kirby revamped the series in 1942, adding superhero elements to a standard detective character. 

When revived by Goodwin and Simonson, it was not their original intent for their star to be the same Golden Age character. They used the Paul Kirk name as a homage to the previous, but as the story progressed, the creators adopted elements of the original to quickly establish a backstory for the character, given their limited amount of pages. The entire story was only seven episodes long — six of them only eight pages each. The final chapter was “full-length” and guest-starred Batman for the explosive resolution of the story (and the finale of “this” Manhunter). 

This new Manhunter Artist Edition presents the entire saga, with nearly every page shot from the original artwork, courtesy of Simonson’s personal archives. As a special treat, this collection will also include much of Simonson’s other work for DC during this period, including amazing Dr. Fate, Metal Men (written by Steve Gerber), and Captain Fear adventures, as well as a stunning Batman story. I predict this Artist Edition will sell quickly, so don’t wait to order! DC Comics let Manhunter slide in and out of print for decades, so at times, it’s been difficult to find. It currently resides in the Tales of the Batman: Archie Goodwin hardcover, which features the entire work, plus an epilogue, plotted by Goodwin years after the series finale, but not actually produced and published until after his death in 1998. This additional silent story, originally published in Manhunter: The Special Edition in 1999, will reportedly be included in this Artist’s Edition. 176-pages

Sounds like an absolutely beautiful volume. Where will I store it? I don't know. Can I really afford it? Probably not. Will I get it? Almost certainly.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Incredible Melting Man!

This is a woeful movie. The Incredible Melting Man was released in 1977 it appears to be a remake of the classic 1950's B-flick First Man Into Space. Both movies tell a tale of an astronaut who is exposed to unusual outer space radiation which has a slow but unrelenting effect on their bodies. In this case of the "Melting Man" it does just what it sounds like as his body slowly falls apart and his features slide into a hideous mass. Also it seems he needs to kill other humans to offset the material he's losing. This hideous creature escapes from his secret hospital location and roams the countryside killing and moaning while a single doctor and a single general search for him sort of when they're not enjoying dinner or bitching about how difficult the situation is.

This flick got released just in time to get a feature in the soon-to-be-cancelled Famous Monsters of Filmland. That's certainly a coup of sorts, one of the last classic monster movies sort of. But it's a rather terrible movie, unintentionally funny in places and painfully slow throughout.

Some sources suggest the movie might've been made originally as a comedy and later was forced into a more traditional horror mold. That's likely given some of the scenes, but I suspect it would've been just as lugubrious as a comedy as it is as a fright flick. The problem is very little happens and what does happen makes little sense. The monster-astronaut seems to lack any motivation, just wanders around killing folks as a biological necessity, so it's difficult to feel any sympathy for him despite the movie's efforts to do so. His victims are mostly innocents, caught in his path and don't really do any of the classic things which might mark them for doom.

The Incredible Melting Man is a gross movie with some icky special effects. This is the work of Rick Baker and does what it's supposed to do, make you woozy, but it's not especially nuanced. Like the acting and the directing the movie seems to go through the motions with some degree of competence but little subtlety.

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Murder They Filmed!

Thanks to Turner Classic Movies, I've at long last been able to see Fritz Lang's classic M. This 1931 German-language talkie (Lang's first) tells the story of a city terrorized by a mysterious child murderer who lurks among the people innocuously but who has killed eight children. Peter Lorre is remarkable in the role and much to my surprise has far less screen time than I expected.

The focus of this movie is on the effects of the murders on the city itself, especially where it concerns the professional criminal class who suffer from the relentless police presence the murders have elicited. In an odd parallel storyline both the underworld and the police investigate and ultimately find the killer, who is brought to justice in a most unusual way indeed.

Lang's visuals of the city are often weirdly compelling and the distinctive mugs of the characters in this movie reminded me of the various faces in Island of Lost Souls the film adaptation of The Island of Dr.Moreau. I was also reminded of many of Will Eisner's layouts from The Spirit. The ending of the restored version which I saw offers up a much different take on the situation than I expected.

Another famous murder flick I've never seen until the last few days was the film adaptation of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.

I've never read the book, though I've got it floating around here somewhere and may put it on the docket for this summer if I can locate it. It is another odd yarn which focuses to a much greater extent on two killers who for reasons which seem to even escape them, brutally kill an entire family.

The two killers are played by Scott Wilson and Robert Blake and both are striking and memorable in the roles. Wilson's character is loquacious and chillingly charming while Blake's is strange and by turns warm and malevolent. Both are compelling as they seem so matter of fact about their crimes that it becomes quite uncomfortable to watch them mingle with regular folks afterwards.

We also follow the police led by John Forsythe, as they try to wrangle this pair who almost despite themselves elude the authorities rather effectively for quite a spell. 

Both of these movies offer insights into some very depraved minds, dark characters who are dangerous in that they seem at the same time so banal and commonplace.

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Flashes Of Color!

Al Williamson
Here are some remarkable painted covers for Flash Gordon printed by Epucol / Editorial Novaro, a Columbian publisher. What is so striking is how the artist (unknown to me) has taken the original cover art by Al Williamson, Reed Crandall, and Pat Boyette done for the King and Charlton runs of the comic and adapted them in lush sometimes garish colors.  Some of the designs cleave pretty close to the original and some offer up some intriguing variations. Enjoy.

Al Williamson

Al Williamson

Reed Crandall

Reed Crandall

Pat Boyette

Pat Boyette

Pat Boyette

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Legendary Phantom!

The only reason I'd for a moment think to pick up a copy of Dynamite's downright weird crossover series Legendary is the presence of Lee Falk's The Phantom. But based on the alternate cover above for the fourth issue, it's pretty clear "The Ghost Who Walks" is not particularly well served in this alternate-universe, steampunk-flavored opus.

The Phantom doesn't look his self-assured self in this image, rather he appears to be some bumpkin dressed up to look like Falk's vintage action hero. Between you and me, the defender of Bengalla don't do cosplay.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Devil Of A Dinosaur!

Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia
Devil Dinosaur is one of Jack "King" Kirby's weirdest offerings. Coming late after his return to Marvel in the Bronze Age, this wacky tale of a pre-human cave-boy and his amigo, a mighty T-Rex is at once bizarre fantasy and oddball allegory. Moonboy is a youthful protagonist who is separated from his tribe the "Small Folk" and finds a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex who has ferociously fought off raiders dubbed the "Killer Folk" who have annihilated his whole brood. A fire causes the T-Rex's skin to turn a fiery crimson and so he gets his sobriquet of "Devil Dinosaur". Moonboy and the Devil inexplicably bond and are able at some basic level to communicate.

Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
They revenge the death of Devil's "family" when they confront the giant spider god and see to it that the prehistoric raiders who were responsible meet a properly grim fate.

Jack Kirby and Dan Green
They battle a giant caveman who proves a rival to Devil himself, but find some level of peace in this encounter.
Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott
And then things really being to heat up when aliens descend from outer space and start herding up biological samples into their spacecraft. Moonboy and Devil Dinosaur become separated when Moonboy is captured and Devil must make other allies to battle against the alien threat.

Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott
This story continues when Devil and his new allies Stone-Hand and an Elder make use of giant ants to battle the aliens, to a very large extent defeating them and saving the creatures they captured.

Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott
Then the allegorical aspect of the series, already hinted at in places comes fully to the fore when an ersatz Garden of Eden is established by a remnant of the alien technology (which remarkably resembles a tree) and Stone-Hand and his newly acquired "mate" Eev find themselves held captive within. The garden is a mixed blessing as it offers lush sustenance but limited liberty.

Jack Kirby and Steve Leialoha
Then Devil invades this "Eden" and things change pretty dramatically. I won't spoil it.

Jack Kirby and Walt Simonson
For the final two stories in this brief series, we get Devil and Moonboy battling against cave-dwellers who have "domesticated" dinosaurs as steeds.

Jack Kirby and John Byrne
And Devil finds his way into the future world of 1978 when he falls into the magical pit of a witch-like crone. Needless to say that Devil finds plenty to do in his brief stay in the "modern world".

All in all, the Devil Dinosaur series is a hoot and a half, full of riotous action and some of the absolute best two-page spreads in Kirby's illustrious career. The lush inks are by Mike Royer. See below for some wild examples.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Industrial Strength Entertainment!

Let me say categorically that "The DNAgents" might be my favorite title for any comic anytime. It's ferociously clever and instantly communicates not only the name of the heroes but also identifies their plight as "artificial" human beings. Grown in a vat from strands of select DNA and a multitude of chemicals these superhumans are wonderful analogs for any marginalized group who might want to identify with them, a fantastic ploy for comics seeking readership. Created at the height of the popularity of the X-Men and the New Teen Titans, Mark Evanier (a first-rate writer and comics-lore expert and raconteur) and Will Meugniot (the second best Good-Girl artist of his generation after the late Dave Stevens) found a fantastic formula (almost literally) which tapped into that same vein without seeming imitative. Some of that goes to the strength of the characterization which is evident in both the writing and the illustration. These are stories about "people" seeking relationships among themselves, others outside their group and with the broader society which slowly learns of their existence.

For those who might not know The DNAgents are Surge, Rainbow, Tank, Amber, and Sham, five teenagers who are all of five years old. Grown in a lab they have been developed and programmed by rather cold-blooded scientists and even colder-blooded businessmen to serve the interests of the Matrix Corporation, specifically one man named Lucius Krell. The team are sent to perform various tasks for Matrix, rarely if ever told the truth behind their missions and at the same time they are seeking to find some semblance of what passes for a normal existence as college students in Southern California.

I've always gotten a smidgeon of a Jack Kirby vibe off this book, not in the way that often comes across as an attempt to clone Kirby's style in the art, but rather in regard to the themes. The Maxtrix Corporation always struck as me as The DNA Project/Evil Factory set in a more realistic and recognizable environment. The Agents themselves have a "Forever People" vibe, though the personalities are slightly different. Their "bus", the awesome ship they used to travel in from time to time reminds me of the Super-Cycle and the Fantasticcar at the same time. I say this not to suggest the DNAgents are mere copies of other work, but that like most superhero work they evolved from that which had come before, using the themes and tropes in new ways to somewhat different effects.

Also I've always thought (and maybe Evanier or someone else has said as much) that the DNAgents were a commentary on the then new concept of creator-owned properties. That the Agents are the "property" of Matrix goes to the thematic core of the comic, and it's difficult to imagine that Evanier and Meugniot weren't speaking to the comic book powers-that-were-at-the-time about the changing nature of the enterprise. 

I read the saga as it first appeared, but then ultimately traded away those comics. Then I re-gathered them again many years ago. Most recently I picked up the black and white reprint of the adventures from Image which featured many pages developed directly from Meugniot's originals. The DNAgents, published by Eclipse was always a professional looking publication, properly bright and colorful. But reading these same stories in a restrained black and white format has caused me to focus more intently on the writing and less on the shiny well-crafted images, and good writing it is indeed.

I bought The DNAgents - Industrial Strength Edition a few years ago, and it was published a few years before that in 2008, so this review is long delayed. I'm bad to buy a thing with every intent on reading it immediately and then getting distracted by some new shiny thing. That happened here, but a few days ago this volume came to light and seemed ideal for the time I had available to read carefully. It was well worth the time and effort as the stories seemed somehow more restrained and personal in the new format. Also quite nifty are the many "extras" such as original artwork and covers and ads and such which featured the characters.

It's a total hoot to read stories filled with nostalgic tech such as video game parlors, walkmen, and pagers. The 80's seems like yesterday to me, but then I'm getting rather old and reading stories which document that time can really drive home how quaint it all was compared to the way technology has seered its way into nearly all aspects of modern life (this blog for instance).

Here are the lovely covers for the issues contained in this volume. 

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