Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Captain Atom's Space Adventures!

The four issues of Space Adventures hit the comic racks in the late 70's when the little Derby company that could was on its last legs and was trying to use reprints to keep some kind of presence in the market. These four issues gather together the earliest Captain Atom stories drawn by Steve Ditko. It was my first glimpse of the raw Ditko from that era, though I had several issues of the later version. I noticed that the covers for all four of these comics were derived from using images from the stories and imaginatively re-arranging them. That potent space background on all four is an excellent way to make these look unified.

The folks at Charlton had pulled a similar trick in the middle 60's when they reprinted these stories the first time in the pages of Strange Suspense Stories. None of the covers are original, but rather expanded images lifted from Ditko's interior story artwork. Aside from the first one with the faux torn paper effect they're really not that impressive, but they did prove successful in that Ditko was soon generating new stories as part of the "Action Heroes" line. 

Eventually I was able to put together a complete set of Captain Atom's earliest adventures, once again in the pages of a different Space Adventures comic sequence. The Charlton covers of this era were weirdly complicated with all sorts of smaller elements making the overall impression. Charlton was always promoting some gimmick giveaway or contest on its covers and while these nods to commercialism might impinge on the purity of the artwork, it serves to make these covers delightful time capsules of a more light-hearted time in comic history. But once again no original artwork by Ditko is used on any of these, just carefully selected bits of story art. 

As it turns out Steve Ditko did not actually draw an actual cover for Captain Atom's adventures until the issue of Strange Suspense Stories now called "Captain Atom" in which new late 60's adventures began. It's a zesty action-filled image featuring the gleaming golden hero. I bring all this up as a way of transitioning into October's Halloween focus on the early horror, ghostly, and science fiction stories of Steve Ditko. That begins tomorrow amigos. 

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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Star Trek - The Key Collection Volume Five!

The fifth and alas final volume of Star Trek - The Key Collection from Checker brings adventures of the Enterprise crew from 1975 to 1977.  The series from Gold Key goes through some profound changes during this time with a new artistic approach being brought to the series. To this time the Alberto Giolitti studio had been handling the artwork as they had done for any number of Gold Key projects, but a new artist Al McWilliams will become the mainstay of the series. Arnold Drake becomes the the regular writer of the series and wrote all the scripts in this volume. 

Drake and Giolitti tell the story of a world of crystal people who are also artists who eschew the sciences. Sadly this has made them prey to a deadly crystal dragon who can read their thoughts. The Enterprise crew fights to save them despite the distrust of the natives. A weakness in this story is the oddly cartoonish way the crystal people are rendered. 

Following a reprint issue the next new Star Trek story is a wild adventure that finds Scotty traveling back in time to the wild west and Kirk heading to the movie-making capitol of the world Hollywood in the 20th century. They are chasing some deadly weapon stolen and taken into the past, but to be honest the story was difficult to fathom at all times. Giolitti's art is inked by McWilliams giving an indifferent result, but pointing to the future changes. 

After yet another reprint issue Drake is joined Alden McWilliams, and the duo are the mainstays on the series from then on. This is a weird story which as Kirk tapped to go undercover on a planet being infiltrated by Klingons and a new captain taking command of the Enterprise. It all works out in the end, but it's a roundabout path indeed. 

The Enterprise chances upon a the body of a famous Earth scientist who was renowned not only for his intellectual accomplishments but also famous for his leadership of peace movements to end unpopular wars. No names were mentioned, but this seems clearly to be a spin on Albert Einstein and the war seems clearly to be the Vietnam conflict. But it turns out this scientist is not dead and the truth of his survival is even stranger still and poses a significant threat to the safety of Earth itself which the crew visit. 

It's back to Earth again when the Enterprise needs repair and the crew gets some shore leave. Kirk is introduced to Dr. McCoy's daughter, a lovely xenobiologist who is working with a large telepathic creature which becomes crucial in saving the Enterprise, Mr. Spock and solving an old crime. It's a topsy-turvy story but the characterizations do seem legit to the series. 

Now almost all of Gold Key's painted era were by George Wilson, but this one is not credited to him and the artist is unknown to me. The story is probably the heaviest in the volume and my favorite premise. A planet worships a god who is given credit for creating their civilization when suddenly a giant space ship arrives and their god is there before them, a member of a race who claim the planet itself because of prior occupancy. They are repelled, but not before it makes the people of the planet nearly mad because of the loss of their religion. 

This is a zany story about a race which due to a strange radioactive deposit is aging backwards until at the time the Enterprise arrives the world is occupied exclusively by children and led by same. The team tries to help but fall victim quick de-aging themselves before they can solve the problem. 

The final story in this final Key Collection is issue forty-three dated February 1977. It deals with a race of people who voluntarily turned themselves into water-breathers to escape deadly stellar radiation and carefully monitor the birth of all children not adapted to the sea. But it seems some do survive and a small but growing group of air-breathing folks do point to a new way forward. This story brought back McCoy's daughter who was specifically assigned to the Enterprise for this mission. This time however she brings with her an enmity for her father for his dedication to his career which deprived her of his attentions as a child. There was no hint of this in her first appearance. 

When this series began it was a full decade before in 1967 and the world was much different. In the time of these issues the United States has suffered through Watergate, an OPEC oil crisis, and a generally downward trending economy. Despite even a bicentennial celebration the mood of the U.S. was not all that great. I'd matured, gone to high school, started college and had gotten married in that time. I quit buying Star Trek comics after the first issue mentioned in this review, perhaps because of the change in artists, or more likely the need to economize. I wouldn't buy a Star Trek comic again until I picked up the adaptation of the movie, a movie made possible by the stalwart support of the fans over many years and the success of Star Wars. I have followed Star Trek over the years, but in the final analysis I'm a fan of the original series and these days pretty much ignore the successors. 

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Monday, September 28, 2020

Star Trek - The Key Collection Volume Four!

The stories in the fourth of the Checker Star Trek  - The Key Collection series gathers together stories published over the course of a year in 1974 and 1975. The artwork is again credited to the Alberto Giolitti studio, but more that usual the evidence of multiple hands is in evidence. George Wilson again is the cover artist, though truth old these are among his most lackluster efforts. The covers for issues twenty-six and thirty-three have some of that vintage drama, but others seem as strong as what Wilson typically did. One issue in fact eschews the painted cover entirely but still is an effective image. There is one reprint during this time in the twenty-ninth issue.

Arnold Drake wrote this story of a world on which the population is getting smaller and smaller with each succeeding generation. They fear that the process will not stop and they will careen into a microscopic world. That's borne out a bit by Scotty falling victim to just this problem. 

John David Warner wrote this story about a bizarre world which is speeding through the universe and holds a seemingly ideal society similar to medieval Japan, but one which carries a deadly secret. Uniformity to the culture is certainly brought into focus and criticized. 

Warner is again the scribe in this story of a world of weather extremes populated by a strange race of  turtle people. The biggest mystery at first is how do they survive, but soon questions of morality and ethics put a heavy strain on a team trying to abide by the Prime Directive. 

George Kashdan wrote this story about a planet which is home to a strange creature that creates duplicates of things and people. To be honest this is one of the most confusing comics I've ever tried to read and I'm still not really all that sure what happened. 

Following a reprint of the debut issue, we get this story written by Allan Moniz, of a world on which only one creature seems to still live. But is this ancient woman really a woman or a celestial being named Isis. This as it turns out was the very first issue of the series I bought off the stands, and despite George Wilson's absence on the cover, the art which is a groovy reworking of interior panels works quite well. 

I missed this issue written by John David Warner and sadly is another confusing effort. There's this ambassador who gives Kirk a hard time when they all end up on a hollow planet covered in moss and hiding deadly secrets. 

Arnold Drake delivers what might be the best story in the volume about a world which wants to isolate and ultimately eliminate the "Animal People" who live there and serve as slaves. Presumed to be dumb, these "Animals" are adept at guerilla warfare and survival. One can speak and that changes things  for the Enterprise team. '

And finally Allan Moniz returns with a weird story of alternate universes. The Enterprise locates the point in the universe in which the "Big Bang" happened and fall into an alternate universe. The trouble though is after their return a doppleganger of Kirk begins to raise havoc. 

This volume is not as strong as those that preceded it. With the ever-changing writing roster, the comics is dealing with the same problem which beset the Star Trek show itself, a pronounced uneven quality to the efforts. There is one more volume in the Key Collection and that will be the subject of tomorrow's post. 

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Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Sunday Funnies - Star Wars Volume Three!

The third volume collects up all the remaining Star Wars comic strips produced before the strip ended in 1984. Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson are on hand throughout the process and generate stories of a singular mature character that fill-in the several years between the end of the debut Star Wars movie and the first sequel The Empire Strikes Back. The strip  never deals with the tumultuous revelation by Darth Vader that he is Luke Skywalker's father. The romance between Leia and Han Solo is left on a low simmer. Many of the stories are cannily written with the knowledge of the movie The Empire Strikes Back and toward the end the final film Return of the Jedi, but at no point are the storytellers allowed to drift into the core themes of the epic. 

As with any saga in which the ending is known to some degree, a suspense and tension is difficult to manage. I'm thinking the long years of Conan the Barbarian comics written by Roy Thomas filling in gaps in the published Robert E. Howard adventures. The trail can be a winding one, filled with danger and doubt, but always we know that eventually we will end up in a recognizable spot. Star Wars the comic strip is never allowed to reach that recognizable spot, though they do a pretty good job of it in the end with the use of the planet Hoth as a setting. 

Williamson didn't work on the artwork alone on this strip this time, getting help from his friend and studio mate Carlos Garzon. In later storylines artists such Tom Yeates and Brent Anderson, both working over Williamson layouts. The artwork in the series is the thing that makes it sing, it's absolutely divine, an ideal matching of talent and subject. The strip ended in early 1984 having told the story it was allowed to tell, and telling that story in a beautiful way.  

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Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Saturday Serials - Return Of The Jedi!

I'm not going to lie -- I'm not a big fan of this movie. Star Wars burned out my old-fashioned eyes when it debuted and rewired my boyhood brain with fresh understandings of both movies and science fiction. Loved it fiercely and still do! The Empire Strikes Back added to the saga effectively, picking up the hints and suggestions from the first and fleshing them out and setting the stage for a stunning finale. Tragically Return of the Jedi had the least mustard of any other original trilogy and while they are not the only problem by any means, I mostly blame those damned Ewoks. Wicket the Ewok Vintage 1983 Star Wars Return of the Jedi Board  Game: Toys & Games

Now I don't hate the Ewoks. Wait..let me correct that statement...I do hate the Ewoks. They are the antithesis of what I'd come to expect from the Star Wars universe, a romanticized good guy-bad guy situation, but one with a sometimes grimy appearance and sometimes a gleaming appearance. Aliens were weird, really weird, but one thing they never ever were was...cute. The Ewoks brought "cute" to the franchise much to its detriment and the ersatz teddy bears proceeded to demolish not just those Imperial walkers but my trust in George Lucas.

Star Wars- Return of the Jedi (1983) Episode VI - gold slave bikini- Carrie Fisher- H 2016

Now that doesn't mean that the movie doesn't have its charms. And for that I'll point to every Star Wars fanboy's wet dream, the ravishing Princess Leia in her slave bikini. Now in the previous flicks Leia had been more tomboy than vixen, a damsel well capable of getting herself out of distress in the first one, and a no-nonsense warrior in the second. She does give in to her love for Han in the first sequel, thus cracking her tough skin just a wee bit, but it's not until she's chained at the...uh...ahem..."feet" of Jabba the Hut that classic sci-fi sexuality is allowed to sizzle forth from Carrie Fisher's portrayal. She soon strangles the nasty Jabba with is own chain showing her mettle (no pun intended) has not slackened. But make no doubt about it,s slavegirl Leia she's occupying new territory in the fanboy imagination.

Another thing I didn't care for in Return of the Jedi was the quick dispatch of Boba-Fett, a character I thought was worthy of a better send-off. We get his origin decades later and that helped soothe my woes, but it was a prickly point at the time. On the plus side, I did very much enjoy seeing a confident Luke Skywalker taking it to the Emperor as well as arguably the most delinquent father in film history. He's gone from white to gray to black and with each shift in color his skills have developed. Now the swiftness of the training is a bit of a nag, but that's not uncommon in these stories and give Lucas a pass on that one. The relationship between Leia and Han Solo is really nicely done as they can now get on with the lovemaking since we now broken off the Luke angle on the triangle. (That was a tad icky by the way.)

The ending is a little too overgrown for my tastes, a fan of westerns in which the hero just saunters away into the sun when the work is done, but I can handle celebration in moderation. (I generally hate applause by characters inside the narrative of a movie -- it almost always seems contrived to elicit a similar reaction from the audience.) The misty trio from the source -- Obi Wan, Anakin and Yoda -- was a bit over the top, but I'll suck it up for the kiddies. It sounds like I hate Return of the Jedi and I don't. If it had been the only one of the three, it would've been a triumph for science fiction fantasy on film. But given the expectations and the opportunity it presented, it falls short of what was anticipated for several years. And that can leave a mark. 

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Friday, September 25, 2020

Aliens All Over!

Galaxy of Terror jumped into theaters in 1981, a brazen rip off of Alien by the shlock-meister of exploitation Roger Corman. Based on what I've read Corman's main contribution to this grim and gritty little flicker is a surreal rape sequence on a gorgeous dame by an enormous and squishy alien worm. That encounter is depicted in the poster above, sort of. This is a grim movie, with dark grisly sets recycled from Battle Beyond the Stars. I found few of the characters in this movie likable. They are either too weak and scared, too brazen and cruel, or too stupid and cracked up to trust. Some are better than others and Sid Haig as a mostly silent blade-wielding joker is my favorite. What's that say about the script, that my favorite character says virtually none of it.

Forbidden World from 1982 is another attempt to rake up some of the leftover money stirred up by giving us a heart-warming tale of a distant outpost at which they concoct deadly mutant monsters (none of which look like the critter in the poster) which immediately escape and set about killing all the staff, including some very attractive babes. This one has some humor to leaven its horror and some really nifty nudity for those who like that sort of thing. The special effects won't light up anyone much, but they serve to move the plot along. This one is better than its predecessor from the Corman farm because of its lighter tone and if only to wait to see some really compelling images of  some very pretty girls with their shirts off. 

Contamination is a movie by Luigi Cozzi (Lewis Coates), the man who gave us StarCrash and sadly it lacks the charm of that galactic mind-bender. Astronauts are possessed and bring alien seed pods to Earth to raise in hidden farms and then contaminate the world with the deadly results. A former disgruntled astronaut, a NYPD cop and an attractive lady scientist are called upon to get to the bottom of what appears to be a scheme to take over the world. It's not quite Invasion of the Body Snatchers nor Alien but it's a low-budget blending of both in equal parts. It's pretty darn gory though, much much more than StarCrash. Lots of exploding bodies and such when many rounds of bullets are fired. If grisly don't bother you, then Contamination (sometimes called Alien Contamination) is worth a quick look. 

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Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Illustrated Alien!

I appreciated the team of Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson from the very beginning when they first gave us Manhunter in the back pages of Detective Comics. And I picked up and read their adaptation of Alien for Heavy Metal when it hit the shelves, and liked it. But after just reading it again in a newer edition from Titan Books, I have to say my admiration waxes more and more. This is a darn good adaptation of a darn good movie. Nothing about it feels stock or obligatory, rather it's a story crafted in both script and art to this one story the best it can be told.

Some things are less well done than the movie (to be expected) but some other things top the film. The sudden demise of Captain Dallas in the ducts is much better in the movie where it makes me jump still. But the reveal of the enormous space craft on the stormy planet is way better. The best use of a two-page spread other than those used by Kirby and Steranko. And the little Alien bursting through the chest of the tragic Kane is much much better, and doesn't put me in mind of a Muppet as it usually does in the movie. The navigator Lambert is a stronger character in the comic, less of a victim. Harry Dean Stanton always steals the movie for me when I watch it, but here the character of Brett is less dominant.

Alien: The Illustrated Story | Xenopedia | Fandom

This is a delightful comic. But sadly there is only so much a comic can do in the end. The movie Alien usually unnerves me, and at the time I first saw it theaters scared me spitless. But while Alien - The Illustrated Story is fascinating and compelling, but never scary. Very few comics can do that.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2020


Dan O'Bannon said of the failure of the movie Dark Star, a movie which he wrote and was instrumental in getting made alongside director John Carpenter, that if he couldn't make people laugh
using a story set in outer space, he'd scare them instead. With the movie Alien, directed by Ridley Scott, but written by O'Bannon, he did just that. Alien is one of the scariest damn movies I've ever seen in the theater.

Alien (1979) - Photo Gallery - IMDb

I am not a person who seeks out the dark of the cinema to watch really frightening stuff, rather saving that material for the comfort and security of my home, but Alien was the exception. The movie brilliantly paced and the short glimpses of the implacable predator from the depths of space are more than enough to feed the eager imagination about what it was. We all know now with many films and comics and such, but not then. It was a furtive creature, constantly changing its shape and size and tactics as it relentlessly killed off the crew of the space ship Nostromo.

Alien review – Ridley Scott's masterpiece is lethally contemporary | Film |  The Guardian

I assume everyone has seen this, so I will not belabor things with a reprise. But it's impossible for me to watch Alien anymore without reading the subtext of female empowerment the movie pushes forward. Ripley is almost always the crew member who is properly cautious and properly bold in response to the threat which comes from both outside the crew and from its membership. The symbolism of the movie forces the viewer to see the Alien as an enormous phallus penetrating and striking down people indiscriminately though saving Ripley for the last. Ash the android tries to push a penis-looking rolled up porn magazine into Ripley's mouth to end her threat to the masculine warlike agenda of the owners and masters of the Nostromo. Only Ripley and her cat, her pussy if you will, survive the assault. In the next movie she will become a mother, but many things will have happen before she's ready to assume that role. In this movie she lives and that's enough, barely.

Alien movie review & film summary (1979) | Roger Ebert

And if that ain't enough to sell you did I mention it's a damn scary movie. It also was exceedingly well served by an outstanding comic book adaptation which I'll take a glance at tomorrow.

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Possible Engine Trouble?

Just a quick note to all the folks who check in here regularly. I'm starting to detect some wear and tear on the site. If this place should shut down unexpectedly, I will be shifting gears and returning to Rip Jagger's Other Dojo. I'm not saying that will happen, but I don't want to have a situation in which I am unable to communicate such a move. Hopefully things will keep running here relatively smoothly...I hope. 

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