Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Sunday Funnies - Let's You And Him Fight!

Popeye lifts Thimble Theater to new heights of popularity. It is while the comic strips in this volume are being produced that the Fleischer Brothers first reach out and begin their long and highly successful series of cartoons starring the Sailor Man and some of his sidekicks. It is during these strips that Popeye encounters Bluto in the daily strip and Wimpy takes over the scene in the Sundays. 

And that latter situation changes the tone of the comic strip quite a bit. In this third volume from Fantagraphics Popeye is solidly established as a success and Segar seemed content to explore others in the cast. Wimpy had started as a referee in some of Popeye's bouts and showed up at Roughhouse's eatery with his omnipresent desire to eat today and pay on some imaginary Tuesday. This becomes the focuse of the strip and we spend many a lazy Sunday at Roughhouse's place seeing Popeye somewhat in a secondary seat watching  Wimpy pull his latest shenanigans. What Popeye had done to Castor, now Wimpy seems to be doing to Popeye -- taking the limelight. Also the violence in the Sunday pages diminishes quite significantly. I can only imagine that the success of the strip had drawn more attention and the chaotic fighting which gave such verve to the earlier strips is pared back quite a bit to the strip's detriment. It begins to feel like many another gag cartoon. 

In the daily strip though the adventures continue and Popeye, Olive and gang head off with the always agonized King Blozo to seek fortune in "The Eighth Sea". They find there way by way of an inscrutable Black Parrot and a master of quick disguise named Merlock Holmes, but eventually they find a mythically sinking island and gather some signficant gold. During the sea voyage Popeye is in fine form, taking no guff from his mutinous crew and generally asserting himself as captain of his tiny vessel. When he finds the pirate Bluto hidden aboard the two have a tremendous two-week tussle for the ages. It's some blessed violent relief in a strip which was on the verge of getting a bit chatty. Popeye ends up again in Nazilia. King Blozo finds himself in a furious election to keep his position and let's just say the open cheating and fraud in this Segar election makes the real world quiver. There is even (preserve us) a host of late ballots that show up and change the result, the early presumed winner being displaced when the full will of the people is revealed. Later Popeye gets his own kingdom, but that proves a difficult proposition when his utopia is invaded by jaybirds and is threatened with war. 

Popeye eventually gives up being a ruler and along with Wimpy and Olive heads back to the United States where he promptly uses his wealth to buy a newspaper called The Daily Blast and installs himself as a "star reporter" with Wimpy as his photographer. He's not very successful at that, but while he's at the paper he gets a mysterious box and inside is a little baby who Popeye calls "Swee'Pea". It turns out Swee'Pea is a lucky charm for the people of a little territory called Demonia and they want him back. They attack Popeye who refuses to give up his new charge and as a result Popeye gets hit on the head very hard and contracts the nigh always fatal "Bonkus of the Konkus". It causes him to imagine he's a cowboy and he heads into the desert with Swee'Pea and they find some comfort with an old lady Popeye imagines is his mother but who simply needs help. As always Popeye steps in and saves the day, recovers from his illness and as the volume ends is set to take over a little paper in a little town as editor. On the horizon though is the dangerous Sea Hag. 

The daily strips still have the luster of wildness that Segar infused into the series with twists and turns coming quickly. I'm struck by the lack of repetition in the daily strips which makes reading them in this way much more enjoyable. 
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Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Best Of Star*Studded Comics!

Star*Studded Comics was arguably the finest of the classic fanzines dedicated to just presenting amateur art and story. Fantasy Illustrated was in that class but was more catholic in the kinds of strips it offered. Star*Studded was able to get the best of the up and coming talents and get them to draw good old fashioned superhero strips with a few exceptions. The fanzine was the product of the "Texas Trio" which was primarily comprised of Harry Keltner, Larry Herndon and Buddy Saunders. In actual fact there were more than three in this "trio" with guys like Gary Accord and Howard Waldrop among others providing critical help in the practical nature of getting a zine manufactured and delivered. 

Bill Schelly's book attempts to offer up what he sees as the very finest of the work offered in Star*Studded while at the same time providing a range of the various kinds of items offered and all the while focusing on several fan artists of note. Alan Lee Weiss is interviewed and four of his stories are offered up. But I'd have to say this book is dedicated, if not literally, then practically to the compelling comics talent Richard "Grass" Green who had passed away while this volume was being composed. There are five "Grass" Green pieces included, some of his best stuff. 

The volume begins with an issue by issue breakdown of the contents of the sixteen issues of Star*Studded produced between 1963 and 1972. Then we go on to two stories which have been collected by Schelly before but which he felt were crucial to any collection hoping to represent what Star*Studded had been about. The first is the Liberty Legion story which brought together many heroes as well as top fan talents to tell a story reminiscent of a vintage Justice Society story or the more recent Justice League. Also we get a story about The Eye by Biljo White. 

After that the focus shifts to a Xal-Kor the Human Cat story by Richard "Grass" Green and then a very nice Dr. Weird story drawn by Landon Chesney. There are some splash pages and covers featuring other characters tucked in between these dandy tales as well. 

The first of several interviews is next focusing on Gary Acord, considered the "fourth member" of the Texas Trio. That is followed by another Biljo White effort, this story starring The Blade a hero in the classic swashbuckling style. Then it's the first of two Powerman stories featuring his battle with "The Transmuter" drawn by Bill DuBay and written by Dave Kirby. 

A prose story titled "The White Dragon Strikes Back" written by John Wright is included to represent the prose which did appear at times in the fanzine. This is followed by another "Grass" Green Xal-Kor story and then the second Powerman story, this one drawn by Larry Hutchinson from a Larry Herndon script. Powerman is forced to kill his opponent and this proves to be a moral dilemma for him. The second Dr. Weird story is next, but this one is really different as it's drawn by future Underground artist George Metzger. 

What follows is a big section dedicated to Alan Lee Weiss. First is an interview with Weiss about his fanzine days and then we get five stories of a wide variety. There are two more Dr. Weird stories in which the "Golden Ghost"  takes on first two mystical foes and then has to have a second bout with the scary Skullwing. That first encounter had been reprinted by Schelly in an earlier volume. My favorite piece is a western by Weiss titled "The Battle of Credibility Gap" which shows off some of Weiss's art chops to great effect. The section ends with another superhero, this one called Dragonfly

Following this heady section we get some more vintage "Grass" Green and his two sturdy superheroes Wildman and Rubber Boy. After that there's a Roy Thomas interview in which he discusses how he came to adapt Gardner Fox's novel Warrior Llarn. Ronn Foss was supposed to do the adaptation but dropped out when some money issues over possible overseas reprints came up clearing the way for Sam Grainger to step in. We have the entire twelve-page adaptation here in all its glory. This first section wraps with a Ron Foss story titled Excel, a truly fine yarn and one that had been reprinted by Schelly before. 

Schelly wraps up this book with some high-quality fan stories that actually did not appear in Star*Studded Comics, but in Schelly's mind were good enough and to do so and too good leave out of what proved to be his final fanzine anthology. There's a story written by Mike Vosburg featuring his hero named The Cowl as drawn by Ronn Foss who is at his finest here. Then we get more Biljo White with The Lion, a one-shot hero who had appeared in ditto form, but we get an inked version this time. There's a character named Ace of Spades with his sidekick Joker who fight crime in stories written by Mike Kelez and drawn by Mickey Schawberow. Next is a MAD-like yarn starring a vampire named only "The Count" by Steve and Dave Herring. The Spook by James and Alan Hanley calls to mind Eisner's Spirit. There's a story of Powerman drawn by Jim Starlin. 

The finale of the rich tome brings us back to Richard "Grass" Green. Green had passed away recently before this book was wrapped and as a tribute Schelly gives us one more story by him starring a hero named Crime Crusher who fights a vintage Yellow Peril type baddie dubbed the Black Dragon. And after a few closing comments that wraps up this look back at a great fanzine from which nearly spanned the entirety of the Silver Age of Comics. It's a fun read for fans of old-fashioned comic yarns.

Here the rest of the covers from that Star*Studded illustrious run. 

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Friday, January 29, 2021

The Alien Factor!

The Alien Factor is a movie which makes me feel both old and young at the same time. Old in the sense that this little homemade science fiction flicker was made during 1976 and 1978 in some of the coldest times of the last half century. That's a long time ago now and I was a mere youth, freshly married and happy as a clam in my ignorance of the often callous world. But when I reflect on this movie and how it was made in Baltimore by folks not that much different from me back at the time who just wanted to make their own little science fiction movie, I am filled with the eternal springtime of youth and the scales of the years fall away. 

I confess to being a latecomer to the pleasures of this flick. I've seen it a few times over the years but its glory never revealed itself until recently when I was in just the perfect mood for a hokey movie about a ship full of aliens crashing on Earth and three of those critters becoming a nuisance as they hunt and kill various members of the small town in Maryland in which the crash occurred. There are three species of aliens who pose the threat. 

Perhaps the most memorable is the "Zagatile", a giant furry critter with ferocious fangs who likes to hang out in dark places like basements and jump on people without warning. A pair of short stilts makes this monster suit at once fascinating and also makes you wonder when the guy inside the suit will fall on his face. 

The "Infrabyce" is a cockroach-man like affair who also strikes from ambush. One of the more furious battles involves this alien in the woods where it slaughters several, the director of the movie included. 

Perhaps the most mysterious is the "Leemoid", a creature of energy who is ultimately realized on film by stop-motion work. There are two versions of the Leemoid and after seeing both, I prefer the one that didn't make the final cut of the movie though both have their adavantages. 

The final alien of substance (there's another who dies pretty quickly) is called "The Inner Man" and that's because he's different from the other creatures, as he's intelligent and he's here to round them up. He adopts a human guise which works well for most of the movie. 

This humble yet ambitious project is the brainchild of director Don Dohler, a fascinating figure who started out in the fanzines of the 60's and with his creation of ProJunior made a mark in the Underground Comix world. According to the legend a life-threatening robbery caused Dohler to get off his duff and make the movie he'd always wanted to do and The Alien Factor was the result. Dohler went on to make several more movies including another one I've seen called  Galaxy Invader. Alas that film seems just as bereft of funds as The Alien Factor but some of the energy of fun is missing from the final product. 

One cast member in particular stands out. He plays the mayor of the town on which the aliens descend and he's played by Dick Dyszel, a local TV star who played the shock theater character "Count Gore De Vol". (Love that hokey name.) The movie came to the attention of Forry Ackerman who touted it in Famous Monsters of Filmland, resulting in one of the more interesting covers of the final days of that significant publication. (See the Count with Forry above.)

In the final analysis for all its many flaws, what makes The Alien Factor a downright movie to watch is the omnipresent sense that these are people making a movie under somewhat difficult circumstances and using every ounce of wit and energy they have to make it work. And that energy shows through and lets the viewer join the fun. 

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Thursday, January 28, 2021

Classic Crisis #9 - The Secret Origin Of The Guardians!

Next up is one of the single most important stories in DC Comics history. When Julius Schwartz, John Broome and Gil Kane decided to reveal the history of the Oans and to give the two Green Lanterns their first full-issue team-up they introduced concepts that would resonate in the DCU for all time.

"The Secret Origin of the Guardians" marks the first time that someone other Gardner Fox had written an Earth-2 story. John Broom with his partners Gil Kane and inker Sid Greene craft a worthy entry. It begins on Earth-2 with Alan Scott and Doiby Dickles dressed up as they were twenty years previously to go to a party when what seems to be meteor streaks across the sky. When Green Lantern tries to stop it, he succeeds but discovers his ring no long has its longstanding weakness against wood. Thinking that the Green Lantern of Earth-1 might soon be visited by a similar meteor, he heads there and encounters Hal Jordan. But it turns out his ring is not changed after all and when the two GL's ask the ring to tell what's happened the secret story of the Oans unfolds. The Oans were immortals who lived in paradise free of strife until one of them named Krona tried to find out about the origins of the Universe and probes too deeply into the past. This hubris unleashes evil into the universe and Krona is punished by transformed into energy and sent hurtling across the vastness of space. The Oans then create the Green Lantern Corp to cope with the evil that has bloomed. It turns out it was Krona hiding in Alan Scott's ring who made it have power over wood and it all a scheme to allow Krona to re-enter the Earth-1 universe. Having arrived there he immediately sets out to finish his work from millions of years previously. Both of the Lanterns are tapped to try and stop him. In Part 2 the two Lanterns stop natural disasters unleashed by Krona. But when they report to the Guardians, Hal Jordan is stunned when the Oans want to strip him of his role and give the mantle to the Earth-2 Green Lantern Alan Scott. Part 3 shows that Krona has possessed Alan Scott and he using his ring had implanted the devious suggestion to the Guardians. Later Krona dispenses with Scott's form and heads off to complete his work of ultimate discovery. When Alan Scott recovers he and Hal Jordan compare notes. Jordan then attacks Krona and surprisingly is able to defeat Krona's yellow defenses with his ring. Krona is defeated and it's revealed that at Alan Scott's suggestion the two Lanterns had exchanged rings, thus tricking Krona into offering up useless defenses. The Guardians then transform Krona back into energy and send him off once again across the galaxies, this time never to interact with any planets at all. Krona is never heard from again. Or is he?

Of course this story is the source code for a much larger epic many years later when once again Krona's sin forms the basis for the entire Crisis on Infinite Earths by creating both the Monitor and the Anti-Monitor. That's whole other saga, but it had its roots here in this humble Green Lantern tale. This is a beautifully rendered story, filled with complications. Finding out the history of the Oans must've been thrilling for longtime Green Lantern fans of the time. And using an Earth-2 crossover story to give it added oomph was a smart move. I know that the lore of the Green Lanterns gets much more intertwined, but it's stories like this one that make me really keen to explore these tomes. 

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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Elvis Has Left The Building!

It's surely one of the signs of the impending apocalypse or perhaps yet just another indicator of my ongoing state of decay, but a friend of mine related this sad tale to me. The context doesn't matter but in an attempt at a light humorous response to an online thread of conversation my friend simply posted the following phrase: "Elvis has left the building." It's literal meaning was just what it says, used by folks in auditoriums and stadiums and such to let the faithful know that their hero was no longer present and they needed to drift to the parking lot. This onetime iconic phrase has also been for most my life at least, a wry commentary on any activity which has lost its focus or point or purpose. Where once a thing meant something it no longer does, the context having shifted or key elements having drifted out of focus or the significance of a thing having lost its saliency. It can also mean simply that one is separating from a situation. It's proven to be a pretty powerful metaphor.

All of these variations are keyed to one unassailable fact -- that everyone knew who Elvis Presley was. But alas I'm here to report that Elvis is no longer a permanent or ubiquitous fixture of the pop cultural landscape. Because when my friend inputted the phrase " Elvis has left the building." the nonchalant yet earth-shaking response was merely "Who's Elvis?" This remarkable query was offered by a youth who in the vitality of her existence does not know or has not had the foresight to make herself cognizant of what once was  once everyday knowledge in her forefather's day. I can suggest that the child is bereft of knowledge and hence possibly wisdom also, or I can face the simple and dreadful fact that like so much of the Twentieth Century which was my heyday, the "here and now" is slowly but relentlessly replacing the "there and then" and in the fullness of time will expunge nearly all of it. 

As we used to say once upon a time -- "Elvis has left the building." Time to look for the exits amigos. 

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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Classic Crisis #8 - Without A Justice League

The fourth crossover between the Justice League and the Justice Society had a very different character than those that had preceded it. In this one the League is all but disappeared from their own comic book and the JSofA steps in to take over for them.

"Earth-Without a Justice League!" was again written by Gardner Fox and illustrated by Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs. Murphy Anderson as usual handled the inks on the cover. It begins with Johnny Thunder of Earth-2, the Society's resident doofus wondering about his counterpart on Earth-1 and since for him with his magic servant the Bahdnisian Thunderbolt, all he has to do is say it and it happens. But when he confronts his doppleganger he discovers that Earth-1's Johnny is gangster who takes control of the Thunderbolt almost immediately and knocks Johnny out. Planning a crime spree, he has the T-Bolt go back in time and effectively undo the origins of the members of the JLofA, and the result is a world minus a League as Part 1 ends. In Part 2 the Justice Society of America discovers this skullduggery and heads to Earth-1 to help out. The team is made up of Dr.Fate, Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Atom and Mr.Terrific. They find bad Johnny and his T-Bolt who has to fight against the Society against his will. But he does the minimum and the JSofA survives and go to find out what happened to the JLofA. They then decide to fill in for the missing heroes and assume their identities. Part 3 begins as the Society assumes the appearance of the League members and set out to confront the T-Bolt and his criminal controller. He is ordered to break himself into six parts to battle the imitation Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Atom, Flash, and Martian Manhunter and being weaker is ineffective. Johnny then orders T-Bolt to once again go back in time and have gangsters aquire the powers of the League members. He does and as the story ends, this criminal League is set to take on the JSofA who have resumed their original identities.

In "Crisis on Earth-A" (again by the Fox, Sekowsky, Sachs team) we find Earth-A, dubbed so by evil Johnny because it is an Alternate Earth, the scene of a ferocious battle between the "The Lawless League of America" and the Justice Society. The battle is intense but the JSofA comes out on top, beating the thug League. In Part 2 of this tale Johnny then has Thunderbolt hit the JSofA with a hurricane, then an earthquake in an increasingly desperate effort to defeat the heroes. The Society overcomes both threats so Johnny has the T-Bolt transport him to the Moon where he imports an atmosphere. The JSofA using the combined magic of Dr.Fate and Green Lantern head to the Moon to confront the nefarious Johnny who has had Thunderbolt create three ultimate super-villains. The trio named Medusa-Man, Absorbo-Man, and Repello-Man confront the Society and quickly Medusa-Man turns Mr.Terrific and Atom into wood, Repello-Man causes both Hawkman and Flash to defeat themselves, while Green Lantern is defeated when Absorbo-Man turns his own green power against him. This leaves only Dr.Fate to confront Johnny Thunder and his baddies. Fate has already neutralized Medusa-Man with a mask, then uses the wooden forms of Terrific and Atom to defeat the Lantern-powered Absorbo-Man, and finally turns Repello-Man's powers against him with reverse attacks. Finally defeated evil Johnny wants for it all to be over so he wished that everything go back to the way it was before he met the Thunderbolt. The T-Bolt all too happy to comply resets the Earths and happily both the Society and Justice League are up and running as the story closes. T-Bolt tells the reader that only he and the Bolt know what happened.

This is rousing action romp with evil Johnny Thunder supplying a surprisingly effective threat. But as he becomes more desperate his wits desert him and his weak character cause his downfall. Fox does a dandy job of creating a what if scenario here, imagining what an evil Thunder would be like. And despite having great power, we learn that is not enough for evil to overcome good. That's a pleasant message for the story to end on after all the chaos. The tactic to nullify the League by canceling their origins is a clever move, though in the case of Batman for some reason T-Bolt doesn't just stop the bullets that kill Bruce Wayne's parents, but frustrates Batman on his first case (which by the way was the same as the Golden Age Batman). And when the thugs assume the JLofA identities, the creation of a fake Superman and Martian Manhunter seems too weird given the innate nature of their powers. 

This is a wacky tale for sure, but an enjoyable fest, that wouldn't see a sequel for many, many years. Rip Off

Monday, January 25, 2021

Marvel Classic Sticker Book!

The second I got a glimpse of the Marvel Classic Sticker Book online I wanted it. Why? Just because I find all the offbeat paraphernalia associated with comics fascinating. The weird attempts to market characters to kids and capture the fancy of even young adults can create some real curiosities. The stickers here are something else showcasing images of Marvel heroes and villains from the very pages of the books themselves but with incongruous word bubbles attached. There are stickers from the 70's and 60's both included. 

Then there are just floating heads of characters as stickers too. Also in this book is an interesting but sadly somewhat meager collection of those delicious corner boxes that once decorated each Marvel comic book, each distinctive to that title. I'd have loved to have seen a comprehensive gathering of these, but we do get a few dandies. 

But the real amazing thing about this little book are the pull-out posters. These are replicas of the amazing Jack Kirby Marvelmania posters along with a Johnny Romita one which revised the original Kirby. 

I confess to buying two copies of this book so that I could in fact pull these out and still have an intact copy. I have plans to get these properly framed (in cheap poster frames admittedly) and get them displayed. These are amazing images from the "King" even if it was his poor compensation for these and work like them which caused him to bolt from the House of (Mostly His) Ideas!

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