Friday, December 13, 2019

Ozymandias!


The Dojo is going on a wee bit of a hiatus. My computer is on the fritz, or at least that's my diagnosis and all things being equal, I'll need to replace it. Machines are delightful things until they're not.  My goal at this time is to have everything geared up for the new year. I have posts already in the queue and plan to finish my look at the Super Friends -- many of those posts have already been written. But that might take a bit, so while I still have the capacity to do so on this machine at this blog, let wish everyone a pleasant holiday season, enjoy your families as much as you can, and take good care when you travel. I shall return.

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Hello,This Monster!


It seems that every decade or so I have to buy a new version of this comic. Spectacular Spider-Man: Lo, This Monster reprints two distinctive Marvel classics, the first two attempts to take Spider-Man beyond the confines of his regular comic (if you don't count the annuals) and bring him to a broader audience, one which didn't look for reading on the spinner racks but on the magazine shelves. The experiment was worthy, but since there are only two issues, one can only conclude it was insufficient. Both are reprinted in this latest volume from Marvel Comics,  but I'm only interested today in the first one.


I didn't dredge up a copy of the original thirty-five cent magazine for many years, but I was hyper aware of it for all my time as a Marvelite.


The iconic cover image of Spider-Man captured in a spotlight as drawn by Johnny Romita and painted by Harry Rosenbaum is a classic.


It was actually the ads which fired my boyhood imagination, seeing the raw Romita artwork and the promise of grand new adventures beyond the four-colored universe.


The story Richard Raleigh, an infinitely corrupt politician running for mayor of New York City and at the same time engineering his own crime wave to make himself the hero for stopping it seems so outlandish. But now as an adult, weary with news, I know only too well that politicians use fear of crime and other acts of terror to gain footholds from which they can wield power. Richard Raleigh is not just a corrupt politician but a truly evil, likely unhinged man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants and if that means killing someone like Gwen Stacey's father, then so be it. He uses as his instrument of terror, a thug who has been transformed by science into the titular "Monster", but as in any decent Frankenstien-like yarn he falls victim to his own creation.



Weirdly that didn't stop Raleigh from making another appearance in a Marvel Comic, specifically Daredevil #42 in which he enlists the Jester to attack Franklin "Foggy" Nelson. But the Jester's attack is stalled by Daredevil of course and before a second scheme can be hatched, Jester finds what remains of Raleigh as a consequence of the events in Spectacular Spider-Man. It's a nifty little crossover, the kind of think Marvel excelled in.




Many moons later Marvel took the bones of the story and reworked it for the regular Amazing Spider-Man comic, changing names where necessary and replacing the already deceased Captain Stacey with Robbie Robertson. They have to add pages, alter dialogue to make the old story cohere to the Spidey mythos of the day, and Raleigh gets a new identity as "The Disruptor" and his man-monster is dubbed "The Smasher". No Jester as far as I can recall.


This story was reprinted about a decade or so ago in its original magazine format and I have it lurking around here in the bowels of my collection somewhere. Now I have to see if I can find that. Wish me luck.

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Thursday, December 12, 2019

It's A Madhouse!


The Dojo may be having some unusual technical issues. So if there is some delay or momentary stoppage in output, be patient amigos.

Later the next day - I'm up and running but the front page is giving me all sorts of problems. I have no idea what the issue is and can only hope it clears up sooner than later. It seems to be a problem with Blogger and not extending anywhere else, at least for now. Something alas to do with the latest update on my computer which might just be getting too long in the tooth.

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A Fantastic And Vivacious Voyage!


Fantastic Voyage is one of those movies that just holds me spellbound when I see it. For those who might not know, it's a the bombastic tale of a team of surgeons and spies who are shrunk to bacterial size to help a dying man who holds the secret in his damaged mind of how to keep things small.


The movie features an ensemble cast with heavyweights like Donald Pleasance, Edmund O'Brien and Arthur Kennedy on hand. I love the pacing of his movie which establishes the story and gets the amazing mission underway in quick fashion. The movie never feels like its running away, but it does have a measured but steady pace that keeps the watcher involved. Something seems always to be happening, even when it takes a second or two to build a bit of character.


The movie was adapted to novel form by the famous Isaac Asimov.


The movie was adapted to comics form by the always ready Gold Key Comics.



Gold Key also published two issues of a comic adapting a cartoon which spun out of the original movie.



And now let me talk Raquel. This movie was the breakout appearance by one of the true bombshells of film history, the astoundingly lovely Raquel Welch. For men of my generation she was the iconic beauty, and not a winsome skinny beauty as fashion wanted to push upon us, but a buxom full-bodied babe who drew your attention without even batting an eyelash. But when she batted those eyelashes..oh man that's one fantastic voyage indeed.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Worm Returns!



"The Valley of the Worm" is one of my favorite comic books. This 1973 all-in-one Robert E. Howard classic showed up in the third issue of Supernatural Thrillers, Marvels somewhat underrated attempt to bring some classic monster and horror tales to the four-color market. Here is a review of the original comic which says almost everything I could say, so why repeat it.   What prompts all my renewed interest is that Marvel has seen fit to reprint this vintage classic in their "True Believers" link, meaning you can have it for very cheap. Roy Thomas and Gil Kane are at the tops of their games in this one with Ernie Chan around to cement it into the larger Marvel REH universe. I can't say I'm thrilled by what Marvel is doing with Conan these days since they've gotten back the dour Cimmerian, but once upon a time they did it better than anyone.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

John Henry And The Inky-Poo!


The tale of John Henry resonates unlike many other of the American myths because simply put it deals with a black man, and further makes him the powerful if ultimately tragic hero of the story. For that reason George Pal wanted to make his version of the story in John Henry and The Inky-Poo (the latter being the steam engine John Henry battles against). It's a fine and wonderful example of Pal's Puppetoon technique, striving perhaps for a tiny bit more realism than was the norm.


Pal's Puppetoons are entertaining if somewhat date in certain cases. But unfortunately the most successful of the line were cartoons dedicated to a frisky young man named "Jasper". Jasper was not the ugliest stereotype of the era by no small margin, but nonetheless not unlike Will Eisner's "Ebony White" can be a little hard to decode properly in the modern era.


It seems Pal was sensitive to the criticism he got in the day about Jasper and made the John Henry cartoon as something of an attempt to treat black characters with more deliberate dignity. Not all might agree, but then that never happens. I recommend catching this particular Puppetoon if you not seen it. Here's a link.

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Monday, December 9, 2019

Walt Disney's American Legends!


The Disney group has produced some interesting cartoons over the decades, many featuring their famous Mouse and his gang, and a bunch that mine the rich ore of fairy tales and myth. It's in that last vein I wish to explore with four Disney cartoons dedicated to some popular "Tall Tales" or somewhat more modern American myths, or as they are labeled here "legends".


The first of the four is 2000's John Henry, the most recent of the cartoons produced and clearly done so with an eye to recoup some of the sympathy from African Americans which Disney might well have surrendered with works from previous decades such the now banned Song of the South. I love the texture of the animation here, which attempts to blend the effects of quilting and classic animation and cover them all over with a vibrant quasi-traditional hymn style to the music. The story of John Henry, a totemic black man who proves the power of man over machine is well known and the tragedy of the story is glossed over here a bit but still intact.


1948's Johnny Appleseed is a more vintage Disney effort and consequentially has some of those early flaws. The fact that this yarn, based on a true living man, depends so heavily time and again on outbursts of religious fervor to move its theme and attempt to make the story even more potent works against it. While there's little denominational about the invocations of the Lord's name, the sheer number of references become distracting and make the show a bit less than an account of a true rebel.


The one cartoon included here which I remember from decades watching The Wonderful World of Disney is 1958's  Paul Bunyan. I love the modern UPA style animation in this cartoon which relates the saga of the most outlandish of the characters in this set. This giant and his enormous ox Babe have all the struggles attributed to them in myth, and this tale more than any other in the set feels like true American myth-making. Loved watching it again.


But much to my surprise my favorite in this set turned out to be 1950's The Brave Engineer which relates the story of Casey Jones and his attempt to keep to schedule against impossible odds aboard his legendary train. The animation here is classic and downright run on its own terms. It's a sheer pleasure to watch and endlessly inventive as it prowls for only a few minutes.


This set of yarns are introduced by Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) who does his best to make them seem a bit more important than they are. But they no less entertaining.

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Sunday, December 8, 2019

The All New Super Friends Hour 1977!



When the Super Friends finally returned to television with new episodes, they were of a somewhat different character. First and foremost, the pacing was quickened as these were not hour-long single stories, but an essemble of shorter tales. Typically an episode of what was now called The All New Super Friends Hour began with a shorter story featuring one of the four mainstays (Superman, Batman, Aquaman and Wonder Woman) teaming with a lesser known hero such as Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, Green Lantern, Flash or a few times even Rima the Jungle Girl. Then we had a cautionary tale for youngsters featuring the Wonder Twins (more later).  Then a longer epic tale with most of the team which often had wild fantasy elements and lastly a final tale again with a few members.


The biggest change was the removal of Wendy and Marvin and Wonder Dog (never addressed on the TV show but explained in the comic book) and the addition of Zan and Jayna the Wonder Twins with their monkey Gleek. They were aliens from a planet called Exxor and when they touched and said a key phrase, they changed. Zan could be any form of water, including countless things made of ice. He seemed also not to be limited by volume. Jayna turned into animals and they were almost exclusively Earth creatures. They looked alike and rarely was one seen without the other. Gleek was comedy relief and better at it than hapless Wonder Dog.


This version of the Super Friends was snappy and played well to an audience which with each passing year was losing more and more attention span. These are a great deal of fun to watch, but the stiff formula loses its edge by season's end.


But The Super Friends had at long last become a part of DC's publishing schedule as well, with talents like writer E. Nelson Bridwell, Ric Estrada, Ernie Chan helping to launch the book. Later Ramona Fradon came on as regular artist and gave this title a handsome flavor all its own, a worthy addition to the DC line-up in a time when the company needed friends of all kinds, super and other wise.

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Saturday, December 7, 2019

Super Friends 1973!



In 1973 I was truth told probably too old for the Saturday cartoons, but I didn't let that stop me from enjoying the Super Friends. I was always annoyed that my beloved Justice League of America didn't get much of a billing in this show and instead went by the somewhat insipid title of Super Friends, but still and all in those ancient days, getting any superheroes in most any format in most any medium was a treat to be savored. So I choked down my concerns and watched the hour-long show that teamed up Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Robin, and Aquaman. Despite this being a Hanna--Barbera show, aside from Wonder Woman all of these heroes had pedigrees on Saturday morning thanks to Filmation studios. Frankly I assume that's pretty much the only reason Aquaman was part of the gig. As much as I liked the Sea King, he can be a hard sell.


I mentioned that this was a Hanna-Barbera show and that is most likely why we are introduced to Wendy, Marvin and (gulp) Wonder Dog. Now since the character designer of this show was Alex Toth, the look was often pretty sleek and that sure applied to Wendy, who I always numbered among the animated hotties of Saturday morning. Marvin though hearkened back to other Hanna-Barbera types mostly notable Shaggy of Scooby-Doo fame and his relationship with the weirdly anthropomorphic Wonder Dog was certainly in that vein. H-B had that stuff in most of their shows in the 70's and even the Super Friends were not spared.


Watching these shows again after so many years, I find I don't dislike Marvin as much I once did and his hijinks with Wonder Dog are okay, and they work to fill up the long running time of the show. And that's the biggest dig at the show, the pacing. The Super Friends would become aware of a threat, most often by way of the kids and their dog and then fumble around to confront it, often spending time in offbeat denials. As most folks know, the threats were rarely if ever from super-villains, but mostly from over zealous scientists or the like trying to help the world confront some problem or other like pollution or over-population.


Television is all about formulas and they found one here that worked. The addition of another DC characters such as Green Arrow, Plastic Man or The Flash added some spice and made you want more. The Hall of Justice was an imposing building, apparently inspired by the Union Terminal in Cincinnati, so oddly whenever I am traveling that direction I get to see the "Hall of Justice" and it makes me wonder.


The first season of Super Friends has real charm and that no doubt accounts for the way it found a way into the hearts and memories of so many youngsters (and even a few oldsters) from that time. And it was just the beginning for the team, but it would be some years before that would happen.

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Friday, December 6, 2019

Davy Crockett And The River Pirates!


Unlike its predecessor the movie Davy Crockett and the River Pirates only examines one Crockett adventure, but one that pits him and his steady ally Russell (Buddy Ebsen) against riverboat legend Mike Fink. Fess Parker puts on the coonskin cap one more time as Davy and we have here a uproarious and light-hearted adventure which nonetheless deals a bit in death.


Davy and Russell have furs to trade and need to get down the Mississippi to a port which will offer good bargain. To that end they seek a boat and happen on Mike Fink who has a mighty opinion of himself and who has a hearty and roughneck crew.


They don't sail with him but rather find another boat with Captain Cobb and the two race down the river New Orleans. The danger is not just between them but comes from a gang of cutthroats who are pretending to be Indians to raid boats as they pass a bogus inn.


There are lots of hijinks, but having told Crockett's whole story in bried in the first movie the focus in time in this one is offbeat a bit. Nonetheless we have a entertaining broad adventure with good natures and bad and as much action as any movie goer could wish to see. I wonder if Disney had some scheme for Crockett to meet other of the American myths in later flicks, it is a dandy notion.

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Thursday, December 5, 2019

King Of The Wild Frontier!


I'm too young myself to remember the coonskin cap craze initiated by the release of Walt Disney's Davy Crockett King of the Wild Frontier, but from what I gather it must've been mighty indeed, an early indicator of the enormous power of the "Baby Boom" generation as they began their rule of the modern marketplace. The movie holds up quite well I think, or maybe I just enjoy its old-fashioned glamour too much.


Fess Parker I first met as Daniel Boone when he took his coonskin cap to my native Kentucky and rocked the NBC airwaves for several seasons. He and his amigo Mingo (Ed Ames as a Cherokee) held sway. My first taste of color television was watching an episode and I still remember the green trees swaying slightly in the breeze, no less green than those actual Kentucky trees right outside my window, but somehow more evocative.


The movie Davy Crockett "documents" his life so to speak, using the lyrics of song to transport the viewer from episode to episode as Davy and his friend Russell battle Indians in Florida as part of Andrew Jackson's cadre, and later as a family man. Turns out he wasn't much of a husband or father, since he mostly abandons them for what might be good reasons, but after his wife passes and he's not around, we never see any reference to his two sons again. It's not part of the legend but its a smear on his character for sure.


In addition to fighting Indians, Davy stands up for them in Congress, or at least that's the myth. And we follow him on his final excursion into Texas to land ultimately at the Alamo. I've always liked the way the movie never shows Crockett actually die, but gives us a final image of him swinging away against impossible odds.


This movie is light and entertaining and of course no one thinks it's really the life of a full-fledged man, but it's the yarn of a myth of a man who represents that yearning in most folks to push out beyond the limits of what the world gives them. It's a thrilling little ride, not at all unlike something you'd find at Disneyland, and it's a ride you want to ride more than once.

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