Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Dystopian Countdown #7 - War Of The Worlds!

War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells feels like the original dystopia and Marvel was brilliant to adapt the novel to comics form by focusing on the rebellion which might develop when the Martians returned to Earth and succeeded as they had not done in the Wells novel. In the pages of Amazing Adventures we meet Killraven, a gladiator in the arenas of the Martian-Earth of 2018 A.D. (I have lived long) who becomes the Sparticus of his brave dark world and he and his fellow rebels take it to the invaders in fine form.

Neal Adams was involved with the series for the briefest of times when it debuted in Amazing Adventures, producing some of the pages in the debut but the strip was lucky to find other creators of talent like Herb Trimpe and Howard Chaykin to handle the art chores. The writing though would eventually fall to the verbose Don McGregor who with P. Craig  Russell made Killraven their own as the years went by.

Unlike other dystopic comics at Marvel and elsewhere, the future of Killraven seemed to stay isolated and so not a proper part of the Marvel mix like Deathlok would do. Nonetheless the series is fondly remembered and is one of the most evocative and most imaginative variations on the themes H.G. Wells developed so long ago.

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Monday, September 16, 2019

Dystopian Countdown #8 - Mighty Samson!

Mighty Samson was from Western Comics, a branch of the Western Publishing complex and producer of handsome, if not always thrilling comics. For that reason this young up and coming Marvel Zombie gave many of them the pass, much to his older version's lasting regret. That young man did later dabble, but it was after the heights of the series which showcased a "N'Yark City" after the apocalypse, a territory populated by regular humans scraping to get by and all sorts of mutated beasts and creatures left to prowl the streets. Standing against them, guarding the gate for humanity was Mighty Samson, a one-eyed blonde giant with (as the cover boasts) "stupendous strength" and even more courage.

Image result for the mighty samson archives

Of course as deadly as the monsters of the future are, the real threats are other humans and such seeking to gain advantage and control over other humans. It's the oldest story, but one played out against a blighted landscape of the reasonably near future (at the time). Written by comics veteran Otto Binder who brought a legit sci-fi cache to the series and with art originally by Frank Thorne the series was a solid entertainment. Later less dynamic artists like Jose Delbo and Jack Abel stepped aboard, but the stories were still strong. The covers by Mo Gollub and George Wilson also went a long way to sell the series.

Samson was not revived when Jim Shooter created Valiant Comics did not stand alongside other Gold Key greats like Magnus and Turok, but Shooter did get his mitts on him at Dark Horse when he tried to recapture that Valiant magic. It was handsome and smart, but lacked the spark of novelty which had fueled the fire of Valiant,a company at the right place at just the right time.

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Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Dark Futures Of Jo'Burg!

Neill Blomkamp, a native of Johannesburg South Africa and a director sets all his movies there has created some of the most compelling images of a dark future. His first film and his masterpiece still is District 9 a masterful bit of storytelling which speaks to the darkest parts of civilization bringing into full focus slavery and racism. The country of South Africa is a land which has risen from deep shadows of both and Blomkamp's movie is at once and indictment and sign of a better tomorrow in that it was made at all. The story tells of an enormous spaceship which descends to Earth and parks directly over the city of Johannesburg. Out of this ship come aliens who are apparently the slave work force of the pilots of the ship.

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In a bizarre act of compassion mankind welcomes the aliens but also segregates them into a devastatingly ugly slum in the ship's shadow. The decision is made to movie the aliens along, to another more remote reservation and to that end the story's protagonist, a functionary in the government is infected with alien DNA and we begin our suffering along with him as he loses touch with his world and becomes a pioneer of another. There is enormous emotion in this story and incredible cruelty, cruelty of both thought and deed. The poster says "You are not welcome here." but everyone should visit District 9.

On the heels of the success of District 9 comes Elysium. This is another future in which the world is suffering and the uncanny ability of some humans to both profit from and live literally above their fellow man is showcased. An enormous rotating habitat is in Earth's orbit and in that ship the richest of man lives, pursuing lives of comfort and relative immortality thanks to great breakthroughs in medicine. Those breakthroughs though are not to shared and on Earth itself the poor scrabble for some footing in a world of pain and want. Then one man finds out he's dying and in trying his best to live a few more days leads a revolution which changes the world. Matt Damon and Jodie Foster aren't the best choices for the parts, parts I'd like to see got to less well known actors, but it works for the most part in spite of that Hollywood gloss.

Chappie is the third offering from Blomkamp, and this time the future brings artificial intelligence, specifically robot cops which are at once an apparent boon to society and potentially a great threat. Hugh Jackman seems actively miscast to me in this as much as I like him and as hard as he works in this movie, but Dev Patel is ideal as the nerdish tech wizard to makes intelligent robots and in the case of one dubbed "Chappie" by the gang of robbers who come across him, a robot with a heart, or at least programming much the same. The story is a whipsaw as we follow one character then another, and see one startling transformation after another. Intelligent life indeed.

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In all of these movies is Sharlto Copley, a South Aftrican actor who made some splash after his affecting role in District 9 as the man who becomes an alien. He's a ruthless mercenary in Elysium and in Chappie, he's the voice of the robot himself. Blomkamp's vision of the future is pretty grim,  but populated by folks as fascinating as those portrayed by Copley at least it will be interesting.

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Saturday, September 14, 2019

Dojo Classics - When Max Got Madder!

Like many folks I'd imagine, I saw the sequel The Road Warrior before I ever got the chance (or had the inclination or even knew about it to have the inclination) to see the George Miller original Mad Max. So to some extent the intensity of the original was undone (at least initially) by my knowledge of what came after.

But just a while back I got to see Mad Max again, after many many years and with the original Mel Gibson-voiced soundtrack (the other is totally offbeat) and I have to say it holds up remarkably well and I'll even go so far as to say better than its more famous successor. What is missing from The Road Warrior is an emotional story that has sufficient bite to hold the audience, despite several attempts to superficially tug at the heartstrings. Mad Max is loaded with that and more.

The world of The Road Warrior is so alien and so depraved that identifying with the survivors can be difficult. Not so with the immediately recognizable folks who populate Mad Max. The story of Max's family is a tragic one indeed, but the story builds to its somewhat inevitable conclusion with remarkable steadiness and with a patience which is oddly missing from the more spectacular sequel. Mad Max has real tension and even a few actual surprises. The Road Warrior is a bombastic adventure with lots of spills and even a few chills, but little suspense.

So there you go, a change of heart. Mad Max is for me at least (as of this writing) my favorite of the three Mad Max movies so far.

The overly sentimental and wildly over-the-top Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was never in the running by the way. Though even it survived Tina's overacting and gave us some grand scenes and memorable characters.

UPDATE: Since I first composed this several years ago a whole new Mad Max movie has landed and let's put Fury Road into the context of the earlier movies. It's wildly kinetic and absorbing. Tom Hardy is a wonderful replacement for Mel Gibson and he gives Max that quixotic brew of cruelty and kindness which defines the character in the barren landscape of a world undone. So now Mad Max still wins, Road Warrior is second, this one a close third and sad old Thunderdome is dragging up the tail still and all.

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Friday, September 13, 2019

Dystopian Countdown #9 - Deathlok The Demolisher!

Rich Buckler was one of the Bronze Age's greatest talents, and his magnum opus with the assist of writer Doug Moench, was Deathlok the Demolisher which debuted in the pages of Astonishing Tales #25. The comic had hosted Dr.Doom and Ka-Zar, but with the latter's graduation to his own title room was available for new occupants. Deahtlok was the saga of a cyborg warrior who found he worked for the wrong side in a world where good and evil was difficult to discern. He and 'Puter revolt against the government that built them and try to find fragments of the life Deathlok left behind when he "died" and bring some measure of justice to a cracked up civilization once considered the home of free will.

Deathlok is Luther Manning a man who falls victim to the government's desire for an effective efficient killer. He is deemed dead and his body fitted with all sorts of computer hardware and equipment. He rebels almost immediately from his boss, a lunatic military man named Ryker. The time of the original stories is the 90's (at the time the future) but to make Deathlok more a Marvel character he is shifted in time to the then current Marvel Universe. Others have been turned into "Deathloks", but for me Moench's and Bruckler's is the real deal.

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Dystopian Countdown #10 - Judge Dredd!

I don't know really when Judge Dredd debuted (second issue of 2000 AD -- I looked it up), but I first encountered his delightful brand of justice in the debut issue of Judge Dredd from Eagle Comics. It was some dang frosty storytelling with a slightly adult tang that made it ideal for the burgeoning direct sales marketplace. I was eager to sample all the new wares in this new market and I found Dredd dealing justice in his over-populated cities in his blighted future a real a page turner.

Judge Dredd's ability to mete out justice on the spot has a nice efficient ring to it that should terrify anyone. Bringing evildoers to justice is the work of a cop, but Judge Dredd's authority was greater and he could pronounce and carry out the sentence of death. It's a poignant way to point at the corruption which all too often corrodes the process of justice for so many. Dredd is a steely honest "Street Judge", a man of integrity dedicated to the job. But others are not so stalwart.

One of my favorite recent movies was Dredd starring Karl Urban and I give him enormous credit for keeping that helmet on just like Dredd in the comics. It's what elevates the character and makes him greater than himself. Mega-City One needs him, or someone like him.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Dystopian Countdown #11 - Xenozoic Tales!

Dinosaurs are always guaranteed entertainment and when you mix them with sophisticated human society it's a go, though as with all dystopias it's not a world in which I personally would prefer to live. Mark Schultz too those notions of dinos and autos and created Xenozoic Tales for Kitchen Sink. It's post apocalypse and after a five hundred year tenure underground mankind emerges to find a brand new or really vintage fauna inhabiting the world. It's the story of Jack Tenrec, who fixes old vehicles in particular vintage Cadillacs and Hannah Dundee, a politician and scientist with some kickass moves as they work together, mostly, to try and keep human society afloat despite all sorts of threats.

The series was exceedingly well crafted and only got more so as it continued. It was picked up by Marvel and later Topps and later still Dark Horse, and got some measure of fame and was even a cartoon on TV for a time. But Schultz had a hard time finding time to keep it going and it lasted a mere fourteen lush beautiful issues. It's a dangerous world, but lovely to behold.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Dystopian Countdown #12 - Magnus Robot Fighter!

I can see where folks might think that Magnus, Robot Fighter is not in a dystopian world but just the opposite, a high-tech utopian  paradise. But it's what lies beneath all that sleek Russ Manning splendor that becomes top of interest in the Valiant revival. Magnus is rocked to learn that there is a great deal of suffering which makes the life in the clouds possible. Also his war on robots is not so much the center of the tale as just one more way in which the future has gone haywire.

Russ Manning conceived Magnus as a Tarzan of the future, a man somewhat out of step with his future era but nonetheless dedicated to it and willing to sacrifice his life to protect it. But like soldiers in all societies, it ain't as simple as that of course.

One other way in which the world of Magnus is explored is in the pages of Rai, and there too the utopian experience is tempered significantly. I found Jim Shooter's take on the classic Gold Key universe astonishingly fresh and real. He's tried to work the magic a few times since, but it never worked so well as when he peeled back the veneer of the future world of Magnus and allowed all of us a peek at its tawdry interior.

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Monday, September 9, 2019

Dystopian Countdown #13 - Planet Of Vampires!

I was all in on Atlas-Seboard, the little company that burst onto the comic racks in the mid 70's all ready to pick a fight with Marvel and anyone else. They got the best talent available at the time, launched a bunch of great comics and promptly folded. One of their titles was titled Phoenix and that explains the companies rise and demise pretty well. One comic they published was Planet of Vampires which postulates what it would be like when four astronauts return to Earth after a worldwide conflagration and find the populace of the planet changed into blood-seeking enemies. The creative teams on this changed up pretty much each of its three issues but they were all good with the likes of writer John Albano and artists Neal Adams, Pat Broderick, and Russ Heath in the mix. It's like spoiling a movie to talk about this comic, but know that you'd better not attached to any of the main characters all that much as the book shifts its focus with each issue, a common feature of Atlas-Seaboard comics.

I almost gave Morlock 2001 its own entry, but thought it just as well to mention this blend of George Orwell's 1984 and the classic comic The Heap here. Again after a lustrous start it transformed and transformed again lasting three issues I think. The first two issues are by Mike Fleisher and Al Milgrom with Gary Friedrich, Steve Ditko and Berni Wrightson handling the third. There was a fourth issue advertised I think.  We have a man who is not a man but a plant monster and despite the cover above, they are not opponents but aspects of the same creature. The "monster" was created to face up against a totalitarian society and hopefully bring some measure of justice to that world. It seemed a bit far-fetched even in the comic itself.

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Sunday, September 8, 2019


It is hard to believe that it's been nearly forty years since Thundarr the Barbarian debuted. I was so hungry for science fiction entertainment in those days that I gobbled up all the episodes. And it didn't hurt that artistic heroes like Alex Toth and Jack "King" Kirby and writer Steve Gerber were involved in major ways in the development of the characters and the look of the far future world after a speeding planet passed between the Earth and the Moon, shattering the latter into two pieces. The Earth is filled with "Wizards" and society hangs on by its fingernails. Riding across this rugged wasteland are three mates, the stalwart but sometimes foolishly brave Thundarr, the clever and loyal sorceress Princess Ariel and Ookla the epitomy of Mok-dom. I gobbled them up and felt lucky as hell to get them on DVD a few years ago, so that I can relive those days of a future which will never be.

Here's a gaggle of Thundarr stuff. Nifty and keen are words which leap to mind.

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Comic Book Dystopian Countdown!

Starting tomorrow and continuing on weekdays this month the Dojo will present a baker's dozen (or more) of my favorite comic books set in dystopian environments. Heroism is easy to spot in terrible societies which demand ultimate sacrifices sometimes to bring about positive changes. These are some of the comics from years past which I found particularly enjoyable. So slip on your apocalyptic loafers and amble along with me as we revisit some really delightfully terrible places.

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Saturday, September 7, 2019

Repent Harlequin!

"'Repent Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman!" is maybe my favorite Harlan Ellison story. As a parable of the modern day this dystopic tale captures the soul-destroying incessant race to nowhere which typifies most of modern life it reminds us one and all that apple carts are made mostly to be upturned. It's the best way for any of us, all of us to find ourselves and others in a reality which seems increasingly bent on its own self immolation. I savor the jellybeans the Harlequin sends down in a rain of delirious nonsensical pointlessness save for the utter necessity of pointlessness itself. Jim Steranko caught some aspect of that always instant in time when he attempted to capture the sheer madness of the story and convert it images which made you feel the same sort of thing.

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