Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year's Eves!

I looked and it seems I promised that this month I'd give you all a glimpse of my favorite super dames in countdown form. So being a man of my word (mostly) I am here on this final day of the year to comply with my personal list of favorite daughters of Eve. Above is the vivacious Black Canary as rendered by the late great Alex Toth.

I always liked the Canary in her JLofA appearances when she stepped in to take Wonder Woman's spot. She held her own with the big hitters and wore fishnets to boot.

Mantis is next. The mysterious maiden was the concoction of Steve Englehart and Don Heck, but this drawing by Dave Cockrum is my favorite. She was a martial artist with a deep hidden past it seems almost no one could discover, but eventually they did and she became the "Celestial Madonna" of all things.

One of the remarkable things about Mantis is that she has other identities across the comics multiverse. She goes where Steve Englehart goes.

She is named Willow in the DCU when she appeared in an issue of JLA written by Englehart.

And she's named Lorelei in Eclipse's Scorpio Rose.

Karnilla the Norn Queen always captured my fancy and her long-standing attempts to win the admiration of Balder the Brave showed that even a woman of her substantial gifts could be smitten low by the power of love. Balder always seemed more than a minor dimwit to me for constantly rebuffing Karnilla's advances -- I'd have not been so strong.

Marvel Girl was one of my earliest crushes in comics and what's not to like with that flaming red  hair and that amazing mini-skirt. Her telekinetic powers were sometimes difficult to showcase on the page, but her beauty never was. 

Even a budding talent like Barry "Not-Yet-Windsor" Smith hit it out of the park in his debut comic. This full-page shot of Jean Grey is an all-time fave.

Over at DC the arrival of that delectable Supergirl from another Earth really shook things.

Linda Danvers had been quite retiring but Power Girl was far from that and her abilities were really more than any man could stand.

Vampirella won hearts from the minute she showed up at Warren to drain them.

This blood-sucking babe from the depths of space came to Earth and soon enough began to solve mysteries and battle demons all while wearing an impossibly scanty outfit and some knock em' dead high-heeled boots.

Phantom Lady was one of the original dynamite babes, thanks in no small measure to the talent of Matt Baker. She wasn't the mightiest of heroes but she looked the best at doing it.

She became Nightveil at Bill Black's AC Comics and a founding member of Femforce which includes super babes such as Ms. Victory, Tara, Dragonfly, Stardust, and many more. This comic always sat on the edge of being a little too risque for my tastes, but in the 90's it found the perfect balance and became a real must-read for me. Alas in more recent years the appeal is not something I cotton too all that thoroughly.

Batgirl  had her million dollar debut at just about the time I was discovering comics and I fell for the "Dominoed Daredoll" almost instantly.

She had the additional advantage of being real, as portrayed by the late and lovely Yvonne Craig. We miss you Yvonne.

Jezebel Jade caught my heart when she brandished her weapon in early episodes of Jonny Quest. She looks downright luscious when drawn by the late-great Dave Stevens.

But Stevens was only enhancing the beauty that creator Doug Wildey had invoked upon her fromthe very beginning. Demure, deadly and decidedly a dame for the ages.

The Black Widow has found much fame in recent years due to her outstanding stints in the Avengers movies as portrayed by Scarlet Johansen. She comes close to stealing everyone of those Marvel flicks she's in, if she doesn't actually do it. Beginning as classic femme fatale she adopted the fishnets to fight against and alongside Hawkeye and the Avengers early in her career.

And then she decided to change it up with this sleek design by John Romita. I'm not sure, but it's entirely possible I went through puberty between pages eight and nine of this particular issue of Spider-Man that gave a glimpse of the new Black Widow.

The Fourth World was not complete until without warning Big Barda made the scene in issue four of Mister Miracle. She was a no-nonsense broad who had battled with the best and worst of them. Tested she look great in her armor.

And she looks even greater out of it. This splash page by the late Jack "King" Kirby might well have made many a young lad simmer along with "girl watchers' in the panel.

When Barda decided to take a bath (thanks to Marvel Evanier who needed to write one more page for the comic) the world and moi fell absolutely in love with the future Mrs. Free. Sigh.

But it will likely come as no surprise to any regular reader of this here blog that my favorite dame of all is the vivacious Nova Kane (real name Katrinka Colchnzski), college student, exotic dancer and the paramour of the space-faring E-Man. The bold personality of Nova won hearts and minds from the first panel when E-Man needed a place to land in the pages of Nick Cuti's and Joe Staton's mighty comic.

She became his partner in all ways some few issues later when superpowers became hers. E-Man might be retired and Nova with him, but she will live forever in the depths of this fanboy's beating heart.

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Slime People!

What is not to like about the 1963 sci-fi flick The Slime People. Some might bicker at the amateurish acting which rumbles out largely unchecked from the three youngsters in the movie. Some might point out the deficient and overwrought special effects which hamper the storytelling as our party of doughty survivors ramble around a mostly deserted town supposedly the city of Los Angeles. Some might suggest the premise of underground dwellers rising up from the "bowels of the Earth" and causing chaos is too improbable. But I say thee nay! All this and even more is what makes The Slime People so captivating in its sublime and  goofy and gooey awfulness.

The plot couldn't be simpler (or dumber) when critters from beneath the Earth's surface use machines to throw a somewhat suspect barrier over the California city and proceed to have their way with the inhabitants, who seem mostly to have escaped based on the lack of both people and bodies. Inexplicably a professor of something or other and his two delectable daughters have stayed behind and hook up with a reporter (Robert Hutton) who just flew into town to combat the menace.

They meet a young and impulsive but loyal soldier and this band of merry survivors then wander around for little purpose through most of the movie. The highlight for me is when they meet Les Tremayne, a wacky writer who despite bountiful evidence denies the threat all around him. I'm guessing they shot all of Tremayne's footage in one day as it's fitted into the larger story with some gaps. (His relationship with his goat is best not spoken of in polite society.) Our heroes make a thundering series of  stupid mistakes until pure dumb luck puts them into a position to end the menace of the Slime People. (By my count there are no more than three Slime People by the way.) Do they succeed?  You must witness it for yourself.

The Slime People is currently available in this Creepy Creature Double Feature. It's highly recommended for those who need diversion and laughs. And for the record The Crawling Hand is pretty fun too.

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Saturday, December 29, 2018

Dojo Classics - The Man From Planet X!

I got hold of a DVD copy of the sci-fi classic The Man From Planet X. I've had this on VHS for several years and enjoyed it. Watching it again, I was struck by the atmosphere of the movie, the somber mood which enhances the mystery. To be honest as a sci-fi movie it's limited. Apparently it's the first to trade in this stuff by a small margin, beating The Day the Earth Stood Still by a few months. It's nowhere near as good as that classic, but it's interesting in its own way.

Robert Clarke does the best acting job I've ever seen him do, and that might must be the result of some good direction from Edgar Ulmer, a quality talent relegated to B movies, but a director with real flair. Sadly Clarke is often directing himself and that doesn't seem to bring out the best in him. William Schallert is on hand as the obligatory baddie, and he does a really top notch job. A face you've seen a thousand times, this time he's got an edge we don't associate with his good-neighbor mug.

Everyone else is adequate and keeps the story moving. But that's the problem. There's not really all that much story. A mysterious planet is heading for the Earth and an astronomer has made some intriguing deductions about it, so Robert Clarke as a reporter with some ties to the guy goes to Scotland to get the story. He meets the daughter who has grown up into a love interest and Schallert who is a down-on-his-luck guy with a bad rep and is helping the astronomer at his remote tower lab. The town folk are typically nervous about what is going on. A ship lands and quickly a little big-headed alien appears and the story unfolds. Whether the alien is a threat is seemingly solved.

It's a decent movie, with some outstanding images of remote landscapes. As a movie I give it a solid grade, but as a sci-fi flick I'd have to give deduct a few marks. The weakness is in the alien design. The alien is never more effective than he is in the movie poster. He looks weird, but that's about it. He doesn't speak and he doesn't really do anything all that overtly interesting, save walk around. It's great to look at, but it doesn't come to much as the film unfolds. He seems frankly disinterested in humans and certainly doesn't seem intrigued by heaving bosoms as the poster suggests.

The comic book adaptation from Fawcett is available for your reading pleasure here. See this link for details.

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Friday, December 28, 2018

Dojo Classics - Revolt Of The White Zombies!

White Zombie is my favorite Bela Lugosi movie. I'm not alone in that opinion I suspect. This early independent horror flick by the Halperin Brothers features a vital Bela just months away from his defining role as Dracula playing an even creepier sorceror who enslaves the living and the dead.

Murder Legrande is a great villain, self-abosbed and absolutely ruthless. He doesn't seem to care a whit about anyone but himself. The movie is rich with atmosphere and if a bit stodgy in spots, nonetheless an enthralling movie.

Revolt of the Zombies is the belated sequel to White Zombie and this one I'd not seen until recently. Both this movie and its precursor are in public domain so it can be found for the cheap on many collections of old fright flicks. Coming to this one with a profound appreciation of the original, I had read that it was a bit weak. I found it stronger than I expected. The story is clever in that it eschews the setting of the original and goes to the Far East for its atmosphere. This is very smart and gives the film its own character. The acting is pretty decent, at least as good as the original save for Bela, and the plot ain't all that bad. But it suffers from a terrible ending, one that could've been outstanding but alas falls victim to the budget.

Unlike Murder Legrande, the villain here is a man torn by his passion for a woman who utterly and callously rejects him. We are more able to understand this "nice guy" seeking another solution. His choices doom him and many others, but it's a story that requires more identification with the badguy than the original. Dean Jagger in the lead role is pretty darn good. White Zombie is pretty scary for what it seeks to do, and this one is far less so, but it does offer up a few creepy sequences and at least one iconic image of zombies marching into battle. That's a chilling sequence for sure.

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Thursday, December 27, 2018

Dojo Classics - The Scream Queen Trilogy!

I can be something of a dunce from time to time. Despite collecting and viewing with great relish the three flicks Doctor X, Mystery in the Wax Museum, and The Vampire Bat it never once occurred to me that all three feature the same leading duo of the original "Scream Queen" Fay Wray and one of my favorite Golden Age actors Lionel Atwill. I knew they were in these movies, but I'd never once considered (or at best had all but forgotten) that these three flicks are connected productions.

Both Doctor X and Mystery in the Wax Museum are two-strip color productions from Warner Brothers, both wonderfully lurid horror flicks directed with luster by Michael Curtiz, which are so raw that they are unpredictable. The conventions of horror are present, but they are not locked in to the point of destroying a sense of surprise. These movies have definite twists.

Doctor X tells the story of the "Moon Killer" a deranged cannibal who lurks in the night and kills all manner of folks and seems to be connected to Doctor Xavier's surgical research center. Atwill plays Doctor X and a ravishing Fay Wray plays Xavier's daughter with a loopy reporter-type in the male lead, such as it is. Xavier gets permission from the police to conduct some wacky investigation involving an outlandish lie detector he's concocted and it goes horribly awry. There's some outstanding action in this one and some truly strange images when the Moon Killer is revealed.

Mystery in the Wax Museum is the most famous of this trilogy and was the follow up to the reasonably successful Doctor X. It's a story most know of a sculptor played by Atwill who is disfigured and seeks revenge and a means to recreate his art in perhaps the most insane way possible. House of Wax starring Vincent Price is the more famous remake, but in my estimation I find the original infinitely more watchable. That's in no small part to the lovely Wray who is the chief victim in this one, if not the chief female character.The reporter role here goes to the wonderfully funny Glenda Farrell. The sets if anything are more bizarre than in Doctor X, and those were strange for sure.

Now apparently while the post-production of Mystery in the Wax Museum was underway, an independent company called Majestic hired Atwill and Wray and used the publicity of their familiar teaming to make The Vampire Bat. This is a movie that makes use of old Universal sets and adds Dwight Frye to the cast making it as near a Universal monster movie as it's possible to make without actually doing it. It features Atwill as the suspicious doctor in a typical vague European town plagued by a seeming vampire. Melvin Douglas is on board as the resident skeptic and inspector. This movie turns out to be a wonderful blend of Dracula by way of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Frankenstein.

This last movie was a quickie and all of these flicks were made and in the theatre before Fay Wray appeared in her defining role in King Kong. Her chemistry with Atwill is tremendous in these movies and even in the one where he plays her father there's no small amount of sexual tension, as unsettling as that seems. Atwill shows up in all three films with an urbane smoothness that can be quite creepy. Kong might've been her biggest co-star for sure, but Atwill was certainly a worthy contender.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

What Do These Things Have In Common?

Given several you might say it's all about television shows that focus on espionage, and you'd be right as far as that went. If you look at the several of the others you might say they are classic animated shows from decades past and you would again be correct as far as that went. But the real answer is that these are all things I was gifted with for Christmas by my lovely and doting daughters. They asked me concoct a list of things I wanted for the holiday and put it on Amazon and they then proceeded to get me darn near all of it. I'm a lucky man indeed, and they help me hook up my second  DVD player in the bedroom in the nick of time. I'll be needing it in the weeks and months to come.

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