Monday, April 30, 2018

Eighty Years Of Action!


Superman has been around a long long time, eighty years to be exact. In that time he's been featured in a cool one thousand Action Comics. Here are the covers for the centennial issues of that venerable run.










And that wraps up a month-long look at the Man of Tomorrow. Will there be a thousand more, will there be a Superman eighty years from now? Time will tell.

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Man And Superman!

Philip Wylie's novel Gladiator is cited as the source of inspiration for both Street and Smith's Doc Savage as well as DC's Superman. We have here a man named Hugo Danner, made "super" by dint of his father's immoral experiments and who must then live his apart from other humans with whom he has relatively little in common. The absolute cruelty of the father in the story is downright shocking at times as he runs roughshod over the norms of his  scientific era by experimenting on his own progeny and the brutal way in which he treats his own wife as merely a vessel in his experiments. There's strange lip service about being subject to her desires and wishes, but it's poppycock.

Hugo Danner grows up to be a weird young man who has a strange interaction with a world in which he is nearly impervious to harm and filled with vast strength, but is not gifted necessarily with special insights into humanity itself. He's a freak of sorts, an outsider who tries to find inroads into the larger society, but who fails and not always because of his unique physical nature. His first romance, one which seems headed for marriage is waylaid after sexual contact proves oddly inadequate though pleasurable. Women become something seemingly that Danner dispenses with early in his life, and Wylie's tale suggests that has much to do with the cold relationship of his parents.

(Gladiator was adapted to comic book form by Marvel in ninth issue of Marvel Preview under the title of "Man-God".)

Hugo Danner becomes a man who doesn't fit into society, his strength a boon to many, but the oddity of his nature making him an outsider. He seems to want to be a good guy, but the idea really feels alien in a story which seems to not fully understand the signficant element of compassion in the make up of a hero. Either the writer Wylie does not want Danner to be a "hero" or he doesn't feel that aspect of humanity is valid. The ending of the story is a bit of a surprise, but weirdly not a letdown.

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Superman 1988!

There was something of a Superman revival in the late 80's following on after the four Chris Reeve movies and the reboot of the series in those halcyon post-Crisis days by John Byrne and others. One thing which stood out to me at the time was the use of Gil Kane on Superman all over the place. It's Gil Kane who is the primary designer here as Ruby-Spears tries to present a Superman which is at once smart, sentimental and self-aware. They don't quite get it done, but it's a noble effort.

The stories are pure 80's with nods to Star Wars, horror flicks, and other tropes from the time. Lex Luthor is much in evidence, the industrialist Luthor, not the mad scientist and there's even a special feature which explores the role of greed on the 80's and how Luthor is an expression of that dark sentiment. There's magic, time travel, and space travel alongside high-tech pirates and such. The Prankster shows up to give the show a nostalgic gloss as well.

The Daily Planet crew are intact, with Lois getting her usual high-profile treatment. They put her in a horrendous pink in the series and like much of the clothing the characters are drawn with, it consumes her. There's a general thickness to the character designs which is frankly odd. Everyone looks to be a good hundred pounds heavier than they should.

The episodes show real care has been taken, but to my mind the leads cartoons were almost all too long with not enough real plot in them to justify that length. They felt plodding at times. Also each show had a short which followed Kal-El as he grew up on Earth with the Kents and became Superman. It's a nifty idea and we see him as a baby, a little boy, a young man and finally on his first day as Superman, but there's a cloying quality to it which irks.

I want to like this collection of cartoons better than I do, because I respect the talent which worked on them, but sadly they fall somewhat short of the ambitious goals of the creators who are to be congratulated for trying something really smart.

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Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Mysterious Doctor Satan!

According to what I've read the Republic serial Mysterious Doctor Satan began its existence as a Superman story, but when negotiations with DC fell through a different hero was substituted and much of the story was changed. To be honest I don't see much if any Superman left in this thing, and I imagine folks who do are projecting a bit. But I've been wrong before.

Now we do have a chick named Lois (Ella Neal), but she's not a reporter and to my eye doesn't have the same style of spunk as Superman's Lois Lane. Not to say she's a wallflower, she's not by any means. In fact the women in this story hold their own pretty well thanks going to Dorothy Herbert as a pretty blonde spitfire of a secretary Alice who trick rides and swings from ropes kicking the dope out of thugs all over the place. Apparently she was a famous horsewoman with Ringling Brothers and others. She sure adds a new dimension to this serial, a strong reliable and capable woman, not remotely a damsel in distress.

The story is a weird combo of western and superhero yarn with the hero named Copperhead, a second generation taking on the mantle of a western anti-hero and bringing that two-fisted justice to the big city. Bob Wayne (Robert Wilcox) has the most marginal superhero costume of all time, a simple copper hood which he digs out of his suit and slips over his head and instantly he's become the Copperhead. Later he takes off his coat and tie, but little beyond that to distinguish him from his former self. Not much is made of a secret identity and I cannot imagine most of the folks around him were fooled really. Especially his sidekick, a reporter named Speed Martin played by William Newell.

But the hero is not the star of this vehicle, the villain is. Dr.Satan as played by Edward Cianelli is a grim mad scientist who has a scheme to rule the world by dint of his deadly robots. We get to see one of those robots in action quite a bit in the serial, and the chase after his counterpart Dr. West's (C. Montague Shaw) remote control technology gives the show a real continuity many serials actually lack. And it rather makes sense. He has the robot but the remote control devices allow him to use them at distance.

All in all, it's a tasty serial, with some really ultra-violent fights in the classic Republic style. When they fight in this one, no table goes unturned and not set of shelves goes unripped off the wall. The fights are real mayhem and fun to watch. This one is recommended, even if there ain't no Supermen in it.

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Friday, April 27, 2018

The Silver Age Of DC Comics!

I knew when I picked up the  Golden Age volume it would not be long before I had to have The Silver Age of DC Comics, part of Paul Levitz's long overview of DC history. I ended up using some Amazon credit to cut the price down to the quite reasonable and snatched up the tome. It's a hoot, love it all the way through. The Golden Age stuff is fantastic, but it's not my era. The Bronze Age volume is all about the comics I collected as a teenager. But this tome is the one which features the comics which ignited my imagination and made me a lifelong fan of comics. Great stuff all the way through. As I've said before, there are two more volumes in this series, but they have no interest for me. Comics for all practical purposes ended in 1985 with the Crisis on Infinite Earths, though a few good ones have surfaced here and there along the way. The stuff I crave all dropped before that magic date, and much of that stuff is here between these two great covers.

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Blackhawk - Freedom's Champion!

The Blackhawks are a great idea and for a very long time they were an idea and a comic book which found a respectable audience. Launched by Quality Comics, the squadron of heroes were aviators who took it to villains overseas and elsewhere, led by Blackhawk. Eventually the team was brought to the big screen in a Columbia serial with Superman himself, Kirk Alyn in the starring role of "Blackhawk".

To be honest, Alyn looks more fitting as Blackhawk than as Superman. His posing seems more rugged and his acting less particular. Being one of many in their well designed fighting togs, the heroes here look good, even if the stories often fall a bit short. But even there, it's a small complaint.

All the Blackhawks are in evidence, even if the older Henderson (Frank Ellis) only ever gets a tiny role, never leaving the hangar where he works on plane continually. The other Blackhawks get screen time with Olaf (Don Harvey) and Andre (Larry Stewart) getting the least. Stan (Rick Vallin) is featured in the first few chapters because he has a double role as his treacherous twin brother Boris. The majority of the action though is seen by Blackhawk and Chuck (John Crawford). There is though one great scene for Chop-Chop (Weaver Levy) who gets to whip up on a guy attempting to hold him hostage.

The villain of the piece is really the Commies, particularly in the form of Laska, a seductive spy played by Carol Forman (who had also been the Spider Lady opposite Alyn's Superman in the first of those serials). She is outstanding as the nefarious and unscrupulous femme fatale, much better here than as the Spider Lady. She looked like a real-life version of Natasha from the Bullwinkle cartoons but much more deadly.

The serial hums along pretty well, with little maguffins showing up all the time to lead the team into some pretty decent fisticuffs. But alas the serial falls off the rails a bit at the end when Blackhawk and Chuck end up in Mexico for several chapters, which separate them form their Blackhawk comrades and also make the show feel like a western in an odd way. It's a shift in tone which hurts the eventual finale which does bring everyone back together.

But all in all this is a fun one and worth the time. Recommended.

P.S. After I wrote up this review, I discovered that I had written much the same thing many years ago when I first saw this movie on VHS. Now I've seen it on a better DVD transfer and maybe that helped me to like it a bit better than I did then, or maybe I had adjusted my expectations remembering how unlike what I expected at Blackhawk adventure it turned out to be. Whatever, I find I agree with my former self, but maybe have warmed over the years.

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

That Girl!

Apparently there's some movie or other debuting this weekend and some rumors have it that Carol Danvers, she who has become Captain Marvel over the years since the death of the good Kree Captain, will play some small role in it. That is substantiated by the publication of True Believers : Carol Danvers which does something I never thought I'd see in my lifetime, gives a high-profile reprint for a vintage Captain Mar-Vell  story from the pages of Marvel Super-Heroes #13, just before the good Captain got his own self-titled gig.

Here are the pages in which Carol Danvers makes her very first comic book appearance in some handsome pages by new writer Roy Thomas, artist Gene Colan and inker Paul Reinman.

And here's the magnificent cover for MSH #13 by Gene Colan and Frank Giacoia, one of my all-time favorites and the last original Captain Marvel story I was able to add to my collection. Love the battle between Mar-Vell and Sentry #459 as they face off. Cap's little belt rockets made little sense, but I adored them.

I started on "Marvel's Space-Born Hero" with the debut of his own comic and it would be several years before I was able to find these vintage back issues. Now the story is readily available for everyone to enjoy.

Now what's this movie everyone is talking about?

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

DC Super Heroes - The Filmation Adventures 1967!

Among the real treats of the Filmation Superman cartoon shows was the way in which it allowed for other DC heroes to get the animated treatment, if for only a short time. Tucked into the show when it expanded to one hour were single cartoons for Green Lantern, Flash, Atom, and Hawkman as well as cartoons for the assembled Justice League of America as well as the Teen Titans.

Each of the heroes got three cartoons, which usually pitted them against alien invaders or insects or often a combination of the two. Monsters and villains were pretty ho-hum, but it was still a thrill to see the Atom shrink and fight against full-sized thugs, the Flash to race around fighting some monster from space, or Green Lantern battling some weird alien threat. Hawkman was a challenge and often used his space ship to get things done. Green Lantern had a partner from Venus, a nifty way to avoid the racist character of Pieface from the comics. Kid Flash often helped the Flash. But both Atom and Hawkman (surprisingly) always operated solo.

The heroes bonded into the JLA to fight other threats and Superman shows up to lead the ranks. Superman was the obvious leader and inevitably gave the other heroes their marching orders. The Teen Titan cartoons were a lot of fun giving us the team of Speedy, Aqualad, Kid Flash and Wonder Girl. For whatever reason, Wonder Woman was never part of the Filmation animation world, but Wonder Girl does give us a glimpse of what it might have been like to include her.

There are all briskly paced delightful little adventures that do a surprisingly accurate job of translating the heroes to the small screen. Few liberties are taken with the core aspects of the heroes, though there is little time for supporting casts.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Adventures Of Batman 1968!

When the famous Batman television starring the late Adam West and Burt Ward show left the air, Filmation had a chance to at the Gotham superhero to their line-up in tandem with Superman and they did. The show attempted with some success to keep the lively playful Batman from the live-action series intact although new voice actors were used.

The show featured the villains from the comics such as Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Mr. Freeze, and Catwoman. With the exception of Mr. Freeze the others often worked together (sort of) to wind up Batman and Robin and attempt to execute some weirdo plot against Gotham City. Also on hand were the Mad Hatter and a new villain Simon the Pieman.

The adventures were structured with a cliffhanger which was a format also used in the Superman cartoons in 1968. To my mind this idea hurt the overall effectiveness of the cartoons, making them too long often. These adventures worked best when they were brisk and the attempts to break made the stories softer than was ideal.

That said, these are still pretty fun. Batgirl is on hand and plays a nice role, often teaming with Batman and Robin. It's almost as if the live-action series just went animated with a little less satire and a bit more pure  Silver Age superhero adventure.

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Monday, April 23, 2018

The Adventures Of Aquaman 1967!

Aquaman is a hero who often gets little respect. And frankly I've always wondered why that is. Likely it's the fact his first really high-profile gig was with the Justice League of America where his specific skill set was difficult to work into a story. After many years as a reliable back up (no doubt somewhat a result of the fact he was created by Mort Weisinger, a powerful editor at DC at the time) he started to get some attention which really bloomed when he was tapped to join Superman in animated form on Saturday mornings starting in 1967.

The Adventures of Aquaman cartoons are really good and stand up well to a modern eye. Filmation did a pretty good job creating a credible undersea realm for Aquaman, Aqualad and Mera to function in. With the aid of Storm and Imp, two enormous seahorses the undersea duo rode and the comedy relief of Tusky, a walrus, the heroic team faced monsters which threatened the domed city of Atlantis. We also get to see some of Aquaman's better foes as Black Manta gets at least three appearances and the Fisherman shows up a couple of times.

Aquaman comes across as a very capable hero, voiced by Marvin Miller who gives him great authority. He demonstrates a steady confidence and calm in the face of some staggering threats. Each cartoon reaches its end when Aquaman says with assurance that it's time to go home, a reassuring comment for the viewer.

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

The New Adventures Of Superman 1967-1968!

After the successful debut of the The New Adventures of Superman in 1966 which brought back to the small screen the Man of Steel and gave birth to Filmation, more was required. And so we got two more seasons. But as was the practice back then, shows were often not just renewed from season to season, but refreshed and reformatted to add luster to cartoons which at times might well have been re-runs.

In the case of Superman, when he came back in 1967 he brought with him the underwater hero Aquaman to make a full hour of superhero adventures. So we had a show which not only had one hero but if you count Superboy and Aqualad and Mera, five superheroes. You might throw Krypto into that mix too. I'll take a closer look at Aquaman later. The Superman cartoons in '67 were much like those in the previous year. The had the Man of Steel battling monsters and even a few of his villains, though except for Lex Luthor they were rarely recognizable from the comics.

In 1968 the Superman series was brought back again, but this time paired with Batman and Robin. The Dynamic Duo had just lost their famous prime-time live-action gig and were extremely high profile additions. One change they brought with them were longer cartoons with a "cliffhanger" of sorts. This format was used in the Superman cartoons as well as the Batman ones. And frankly it's not an improvement, the storytelling seemed weaker and truth told the animation which had been ideal in the first season looks even more limited in this third and final season. But still it's all quite entertaining. More on Batman and Robin later too.

So after three seasons Filmation, now established, had created a wonderful collection of Superman cartoons, cartoons that effectively for the most part captured the essence of the 60's era Silver Age comics. They hold up extremely well even today, and I recommend them to any comics fan with no hesitation.

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