Monday, September 30, 2019
We close out this month of apocalyptic damage with some exceedingly whimsical covers from DC's venerable sci-fi comics Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space. Much has been made (and will be made again perhaps even next month) of DC's use of gorillas to motivate sales. But something about the beautiful "Blue Marble" we call Earth seems to have been a winner also given the number of covers which have exceedingly light-hearted fantasy themes.
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Silent Running is an impossible movie with an improbable hero but imbued with a grace and charm which can steal your heart. Bruce Dern is one of the cockeyed actors who plays the bejeezus out of outlandish villains, so to see him here as a gentle soul, albeit one who commits multiple murders, is weird in its own way.
The premise of Silent Running is totally off the wall. Earth has become toxic and the few remaining bits of natural landscape, forests and deserts and such have been dug up, popped into massive terrariums, attached to immense space ships and put into space to save them until such time as Earth might be more capable of maintaining them. But that project is scuttled and the forests along with it as the weary spacemen eagerly begin the trip home. But one man has a different notion, and instead kills his three amigos who disagree with him, pretends to destroy the forests in his care and then tries to find a quiet zone of space to hide his treasures.
He has three robots to help him and one by one the project takes its toll on them. The finale is striking and depends completely on whether you have any sympathy for a man who is willing to kill human beings to save a tree. Lunatics come in all types and sweet though he might be, the futility of his plan begins to wear on him and eventually things change.
This is a lovely movie with elegant images of space and some dandy music. It's message of ecological awareness had a few more teeth back in the 70's when such notions were hardly widespread and the destruction of the Earth's resources was only beginning to kick into high gear.
Saturday, September 28, 2019
Children's television has been a battleground since its inception at the very beginnings of the medium. There have always been watchdogs who kept close tabs on what was being beamed into the homes and psyches of tots, often raising a clamor when some show or other seemed either too violent or too sexy or too Commie or too something or other. In the late 80's the watchdogs had been on the prowl with a vehemence since the advent of ready cable television had unleashed new channels and new shows to fill up the hours. Cartoons based on toys were the rage with He-Man and G.I.Joe leading the way. Was Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future just one more of these? Yes and no it seems.
To begin with, the show was live action and most kids programming in the era was at the time animation, animation made cheaper by creators sending the work overseas and doing so to such an extent that Filmation might have been the last house standing domestically at the time. But Captain Power too was produced in a foreign country, Canada to be exact. Canada welcomed productions and offered sweet deals to get it and the producers of Captain Power - Landmark Productions in partnership with Mattel seized the chance.
So yes Captain Power was yet another toy tie-in show and so open to the charges that it was merely a half-hour ad for the toys hawked by Mattel. The toys in question were interactive jets and suchlike (guns were absolutely verboten at the time) which would allow a kid to knock off the robots and tanks which were the primary cannon fodder on the show.
The show generated a tie-in comic book from Continuity Comics, the house which used Neal Adams as its primary visual guide. The story is set in the year 2147 and a great conflict dubbed the "Metal Wars" has torn the world apart and now a few ragtag human resistance groups fight against the machines led by a cyborg named Lord Dread. Called the Bio-Dread empire, this is a premise that takes a notion similar to that of The Terminator and explores it more closely in the years before Terminator 2 and Star Trek would battle The Borg. In fact the folks at Captain Power suggest the Borg are a rip off.
I've had this set of twenty-two episodes for a few years, getting it as a Christmas present some time back. I watched a few episodes, but something always caused me to stop. Well recently I made it a mission to crush all twenty-two episodes and really came to appreciate what the creators were trying to do even more. Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was above average kiddie entertainment, the best kind which is intended for kids and adults at the same time.
Friday, September 27, 2019
V for Vendetta is in my estimation Alan Moore's finest work. I know that Watchmen gets enormous attention and deservedly so, but it's always been this more relentlessly somber tale that's captured my fancy first and foremost. Perhaps it's because it all seems so very very real. V for Vendetta first ran in the magazine Warrior, where Moore partnered with David Lloyd created a dour vision of Britain run by Fascists and standing up to them was only a single man who refused to be just a man,but became a symbol of revolution.
The story survives because it found a home at DC Comics where thanks to the success of Watchmen, it has remained in print. I prefer it, but I think it doubtful this dour tale of a dark tomorrow would be so readily available if Alan Moore wasn't such a bankable name.
Despite the fact that Moore wouldn't put his name on the film version. The movie is exceedingly entertaining, if a bit more hyperbolic than the relentless comic story, but those are variations I think fitting to the form. V for Vendetta was written many years ago when it seemed that regressive forces were seizing command of the society, a retrograde movement which fought against the future, a future filled with greater liberties for a broader range of people.
The story is about staying true to one's self when doing so is not just upsetting but possibly dangerous. Dangerous times are on us again alas and the words about Guy Fawkes have a resonance in these grim times.
Remember, remember, the Fifth of November
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot:
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Thursday, September 26, 2019
It's as close to poetry as comic book stories can come. From out of nowhere in the second issue of Charlton Premiere a little gem of a tale was told by Denny O'Neil (as "Sergius O'Shaugnessay") and the late great Pat Boyette. "Children of Doom" is one of those yarns that rises above its genre roots and takes hold of your imagination in strange ways and unexpected ways. The story is part apocalypse, part ghost story, and part vintage space opera and yet none of these really. It's a truly unique tale (an overused word) told with pace and using the range of Boyette's artistic techniques to throw actual real atmosphere into a comic book story, something quite rare.
If you'd like to read this 1967 classic online check out this Groovy link.
If you'd like to read it in paper form of course you can seek out the original or perhaps one of its reprints. There's the 1978 reprint in Space War #32.
And more recently the 2010 publication from Abrams Books of Art in Time.
Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Sadly when Jack "King" Kirby was not able to finish his epic Fourth World saga as he saw fit, I took that moment to leave DC behind for a bit. I'm sure other matters had something to do with it, but it neatly coincided with the end of the New Gods material and the beginning of Kirby's other projects The Demon and Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth. Consequently I had a disdain of sorts for these latter efforts, allowing my disappointment at not getting epic Kirby to color my appreciation of his other storytelling styles. I've long ago seen the error of my ways and long ago filled in my collections of these books as well as pop for collections.
In Kamandi we get to see the world as it is after having suffered a "Great Disaster". Vague is the word as to what happened exactly, but whatever it was resulted in an avalanche of new evolved species as all sorts of creatures such as Rats, Tigers, Bats, Bears, Wolves, and more were changed from what we know in our world into beings able to create offbeat societies echoing those of men across the years. Mutants too, human or at least appearing so walked this new world and Kamandi, a boy who was raised apart from the world and is discovering through eyes as fresh as our own.
There is some hint he was raised by Buddy Blank, the protagonist of OMAC another Kirby series picturing an earlier dark future. But this is the same "Great Disaster" which we first learned of in the pages of The Atomic Knights and learned more about in Hercules Unbound. In later issues of Kamandi after Kirby had left, these connections are made more clearly in back-up stories.
So as can be seen "The Great Disaster" was arguably the most comprehensive of the post-apocalyptic futures seen in comics, as it spread far and wide thanks to the cleverness of many creators over many years. Now it's just a once-was, disappeared as was so much by the Crisis on Inifinite Earths, but for me it will always loom.
Tuesday, September 24, 2019
Hercules is the perfect superhero, a demi-god on Earth trapped between his two heritages and generally striving to improve the lot of those regular folks he lives among. Usually he struggles with his own limitations, anger and such, but holds himself to a standard beyond that of mortal men. Such a character is ideal to plunk down not in the usual mythic setting, or even the modern day, but in the future, particularly a future which erupted from the "Great Disaster".
Part of Gerry Conway's "Conway Corner" productions (though the nickname might've been dropped by this time) Hercules Unbound was drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez with Wally Wood inks. Later Walt Simonson stepped in, so this is a consistently good-looking comic. Hercules here comes to future Earth and immediately sets out to help people against an array of threats. He deals with the kinds of things that had much in common with other DC comics like sentient animals and suchlike. The Atomic Knights make a guest-starring appearance, their first in many years. Much of the world Hercules worked in was at first made into a dream and then wiped away all together with the ballyhooed Crisis on Infinite Earths.
But for this fanboy, the "Great Disaster" has always happened, and we'll take a look at yet another part of it tomorrow in a third and final entry.
Monday, September 23, 2019
The Atomic Knights are just freaking cool. I ran across them for the first time in reprint form but instantly fell in love with the idealistic artwork of Murphy Anderson who with writer John Broome gave us the offbeat image of stalwart men and women using ancient medieval armor to withstand the radiation of a Great Disaster. "The Great Disaster" itself was oddly unclear, an atomic war presumably given the look of much of the territory and the radiation which quickened the suits to be proof against the weapons of their enemies was suggestive. We have communities, living hand-to-mouth but with the knowledge of what had gone before.
The Knights as rendered by Murphy Anderson had that clean-cut handsomeness so common in his work, even though it might've made them seem a little too polished for the existence they lived in little "Durvale". In the wastelands of what was once the United States they faced threats in the pages of Strange Adventures and their travels were wide ranging across the continent taking them to Washington DC, Los Angeles, and New Orleans among other places. There is something delightfully marvelous about the idealism of Gardner Grayle and the other knights faced with a bleak future, something for all of us to pocket for tough times.
This is but the first installment of Dystopian Countdown #3. Be here tomorrow for part B of this expansive entry on the "Great Disaster".
Sunday, September 22, 2019
Zombies have become ubiquitous in modern culture, so commonplace that they are used for all manner of dramatic, comedic, and pedagogic purposes. The zombie is a blank through which all of mankind's weaknesses and even some strengths can be showcased. "Zombie Apocalypse" is a phrase known to most all people these days, a short hand metaphor for anything which threatens the security of modern daily life. But it all started somewhere and as far as I can figure we have George Romero and his mates from Pittsburgh to blame. Night of the Living Dead is a masterpiece of independent film making, perhaps "the" masterpiece. In that sometimes rugged black and white tale much is revealed and not all of it intentional, but no less valid. Turns out the story was a comment on our society's tendency to isolate the individual and focus on what makes us different than what makes us alike.
When next Romero took on the dead, it was to poke fun at the consumer culture which has simultaneously buoyed and diminished our culture in the last many decades following the last great World War. The unyielding quest for things (of which I claim no immunity) has defined us in the time since I've been around. We are citizens of course, but first and foremost we are customers, catered to and coaxed constantly to buy what we don't need and eventually need what we shouldn't want' When war came knocking as the twin towers tumbled, we were told to go about our business, to keep the economy humming in the face of the assault. Romero's Dawn of the Dead tagged us long before Osama Bin Laden thought to throw our gross impulses into our faces.
And we are never any uglier than the society seen in Day of the Dead. The world seems lost as the dead have overwhelmed society and people hide away and slowly go mad in their own ways, desperately cleaving to the identities they had before the world was whisked out from under them. Without orders soldiers lose their way, without a way to plan for the future even those who love do so in the minute and in the minute alone. We become prisoners behind cages built to contain others, our jailers are ourselves.
And finally when society does begin to reorganize the old hates and class divisions rear up to make again a mess of the world which was taken away. When even the dead begin to change and show some spark of empathy, mankind's inability to do so shows all to readily why we all of us might well live in a Land of the Dead already. Romero's use of the zombie apocalypse movie, a form he invented is all about showing the world not what could happen, but what has already happened. We don't await the zombie apocalypse, alas we are all of us too often part of it.
I know there are two more zombie movies from Romero, but I haven't seen them yet. Soon maybe.