Friday, September 30, 2022

Captain Action!

I was the ideal age (pardon the pun) to be attracted to Captain Action when he first dropped onto the scene. I never got the doll (I resist the convention to call him an "action figure") but I always wanted one and have come close to pulling the trigger on some of the modern releases of the toy by others than the original Ideal company. 

So being so enticed by the doll, I was certainly interested in the comic book which came out from DC Comics in late summer of 1968. I was just beginning my life-long career as a comic reader and wasn't at that moment as tuned into DC so I missed these issues when they first dropped for whatever reason. But I've made up for in the intervening years, collecting up all five of the originals some decades ago. But that said I still quite excited when finally a handy dandy reprint volume was announced earlier this year. I now have it, have read and here's a full report. 

Captain Action is brought to life by boy writer Jim Shooter and veteran artist Wally Wood. Under a potent Irv Novick cover these two talents combine to give us the story of Clive Arno and his son Carl. Along with his associate Krellik unearth a trove of magic coins. They are told by the god Odin that the coins can give the powers of the gods to those who possess them. Krellik is immediately interested in getting hold of the coins for his own purposes but fails and instead comes into possession of another coin which gives him evil powers. Arno for his part returns home and becomes Captain Action with Carl becoming Action Boy. They confront Krellik who also is faced with Superman. Arno gets Superman to stand down and he takes the battle to Krellik but is seemingly defeated at the end of the story. 

Gil Kane steps in to pencil with Wally Wood on inks. This is now a superior team as Kane's dynamic style is perfect for the title. Krellik allows Arno to survive but his desire for all of the coins remains. They battle and battle for possession but eventually Arno tricks Krellik with fake coins. Still he slips away as his threat is ended for the time being. As it turns out that's the last time we ever see Krellik. In the next issue we will meet Dr. Evil. 

Dr. Evil makes his debut in issue three. Also making a debut is Gil Kane...a the writer. He takes over both the scripting and the art chores with Wally Wood's help on inks. The story is wacky one indeed with psychedelic overtones. Dr. Evil is in fact one Dr.Tracy (Arno's father-in-law in fact) but he gets transformed when an earthquake triggers a massive explosion which throws him into a strange dimension. He loses his humanity but gains vast intelligence along with desire to destroy mankind. It's all Captain Action and Action Boy can do to fend off the bizarre attacks which use the very forces of nature as weapons. He is though fended off with a classic Gil Kane punch. 

But Dr. Evil turns up in the next issue which sees Gil Kane on writing and full chores. Dr. Evil with deadly race (which looks what he's turned into) and uses that knowledge to bring deadly menaces to the planet Earth. It should be noted that when Kane took over the writing he made Captain Action less omnipotent and gave limited powers such a great sight, ability to throw lightning and possessed of great strength. For his part Action Boy is reduced to mere super speed. Dr. Evil lives up to his name when he uses the ghost of his own daughter to haunt both Captain Action and Action Boy. She had been wife to Arno and mother to Carl. The attacks stop when the aliens step in to stop their former agent. 

The fifth and final issue of the brief run sees Wally Wood back on inks. The story by Kane this time features a wannabe despot named Blackwell who uses hate to whip the populace into a frenzy to support him. (Sounds too close to reality for me these days.) He's actually a split personality and his other self is the father to a son who protests against the Blackwell forces. Captain Action and Action Boy fight these authoritarian forces but alas the tale ends quite tragically. Of all the very excellent Captain Action covers this one is my favorite. 

Chic Stone is tapped to create art for a mini-comic for the Ideal Toy folks. It's mostly an excuse to shill Captain Action toys. 

This comic book package is handsome and durable. It also features a lot of Captain Action extras like the ads which permeated the comics of the time as well as original artwork by Kane. This was Kane at his finest, with pages that never stop moving and at times burst off the page into the readers face. The stories are wild and imaginative if not always logical. We also get some of letter pages as well some of the text pieces which appeared in the comics at the time. Great package and highly recommendation. 

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Thursday, September 29, 2022

Space Sentinels And The Freedom Force!

Filmation was an upstart animation house in the 60's which made its first mark on Saturday morning television with Superman cartoons. They went on to become somewhat specialized in "superheroes" so it came as little surprise when they dreamed up a team of their own named Space Sentinels. Originally the "Space Sentinels" were to be called the "Young Sentinels" but the network liked the idea of "Space" in the title as in the late 70's that made it connect to Star Wars in some vague way. 

There are three Space Sentinels, each of them a human being who was taken away from the Earth in an earlier time period. They were whisked to a distant planet where they were gifted with powers. Hercules was given great strength and Mercury was blessed with amazing speed. The field leader of the trio is Astrea who can transform into any animal. Another detail about the trio is their racial diversity. While Hercules is the typical default white male, Mercury is Asian and Astrea is Black. Such racial diversity was common on TV cartoons at the time but had yet to really make much headway in the comic books. 

Another detail is that each character was voiced by someone of the race they portrayed. Hercules was voiced by George DiCenzo who would achieve greater fame as the lawyer Vince Bugliosi in Helter Skelter. Evan Kim voiced Mercury and Dee Timberlake spoke for Astrea. The trio was led by a computer named Sentinel One and DiCenzo also did the voice for this disembodied projected head. The team is assisted by M.O. (Maintenance Operator) a robot meant to supply humor and another touchstone to the Star Wars fad. The whole operatior was in a spaceship tucked neatly into a volcano away from prying eyes. 

The team fought menaces on Earth, in space and even in other dimensions. Typically slow-paced for a Filmation show, the variety of the foes was really interesting and makes for a pleasurable viewing experience. The slender listing of thirteen episodes goes down quickly. 

Also on this DVD package was Freedom Force, a Filmation cartoon meant to be part of Tarzan and the Super Seven. These cartoons are a meager ten minutes and number only five. But they are interesting as far as they go. The Freedom Five are Isis, Merlin, Hercules, Sinbad the Sailor and Super Samurai. The latter was a young boy who transforms into a giant samurai warrior. Hercules looks identical to his Space Sentinels self, but is voiced by a different person and seems not to be a part of any outside outfit other than the magical which protects the valley they live in which is outside of time. Merlin casts some spells and Isis is the same character as appeared in the live action show but she is not voiced by Joanna Cameron. Sinbad barely makes two brief appearances in the five cartoons and does very little. 

All in all these are fun cartoons if you can find, certainly a marker of a different era. 

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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Justice League Unlimited 2004-2006!

Justice League Unlimited is the continuation of the Cartoon Network production, but the folks making this show were savvy enough to know that changing the format would make the fans happy and the way they did it made this fanboy very happy.

They did it by taking the Justice League and dialing it up to eleven by adding in just about as many DC characters as they could get their mitts on. I was content to live out my life never seeing the likes of Captain Atom, the Shining Knight, Vigilante (Golden Age version), Red Tornado, Metamorpho, and even B'wana Beast on a cartoon, but now I have done and I am a better person for it. A young Supergirl is featured in the series and her maturation is one of the plots that moves through several stories. Green Arrow is a featured player and that means some Black Canary. Wildcat shows up and more and more and more. It's a festival.

There's Zatanna, Hawk and Dove, alongside Dr.Fate and much of the Justice Society. Even Power Girl shows...sort of. They did themselves proud and took the series out in bang!

NOTE: This is classic post which first appeared at Rip Jagger's Other Dojo.  

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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Justice League 2001-2004!

Cartoon Network's Justice League might possibly be the finest representation of the Justice League of America ever done for either the small or large screen. The makers of the cartoon series had honed their understanding of the DCU with groundbreaking series with Batman and Superman and this was just the next natural progression. What we get in these two seasons are detailed well-crafted stories with real adult appeal and members of the League who were specific distinctive personalities.

While it was of course the Big Three (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) who sold this show, the producers were keen to put the focus on other League members like Martian Manhunter, Flash, and especially Green Lantern and Hawkgirl who spark up a bit of a romance in these tales. In the first season all of the stories were two-parters, a pain when they first ran, but watching them again on DVD merely a nifty structure which assured a cliffhanger of sorts most all the time.

I was enthralled with these when they first ran, a time when the Avengers and the Justice League of America were the two top comics on my reading list, a time when both comics were the best things their respective companies were producing. Even the lighter-toned comic which developed from this cartoon was a grand read.

NOTE: This is classic post which first appeared at Rip Jagger's Other Dojo.  

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Monday, September 26, 2022

Legends Of The SuperHeroes!

The success of the 60's Batman TV show was a wonderful boost to the lifeblood of the comic book industry. It was a short-term shot of adrenalin which pushed the comic book into the public consciousness in a way more positive than the witch hunts of the 50's hand done. 

In the public imagination comic books lost that atmosphere of creepy attempts to subvert children and instead became goofy and rather lighthearted attempts at entertainment. It was a positive change, but alas a lasting one. For decades and to this day still at times a story in the broader media about comic books is marked by a sense of frolic and frivolity. In the 70's superheroes were goofy nonsense for most folks and maybe that explains NBC's The Challenge of the Superheroes. 

This peculiar special event was done in two parts. The first is an adventure which has the heroes seeking a doomsday device built by Dr. Sivana (Howard Morris). The villains are led by Mordru (Gabriel Dell) and include the Riddler, Sinestro, Giganta, Weather Wizard and Solomon Grundy. The Riddler is performed by Frank Gorshin reprising his role from the Batman TV show. Also from that show are Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward). Also among the heroes are Captain Marvel, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Black Canary and the Huntress. Charlie Callas gives a singular performance as Sinestro and Jeff Altman is a snarky Weather Wizard. NBC created a new old hero called both Retired Man and the Scarlet Cyclone played by William Schallert. It's a goofy misadventure made on the cheap in and around the backroads of the area and is harmless fun. The laugh track is painful though at times. 

Ed MacMahon joins the heroes and villains for a Superherores Roast the following week.  (Celebrity roasts were all the rage for a short time back then.) The Riddler is gone but most of the rest of the original cast reappear in a goofy event which is neither fair nor foul. It's harmless nonsense which is easy to ignore. 

It was fun in the late 70's to see superheroes in pretty much any format so I remember these shows. But watching them again on DVD reminds of how far we've come in the the societal view of superheroes. It would've seemed ludicrous for these costumed types to have been taken seriously back then. The Superman movies helped somewhat but it would decades before the after-effects of the Batman show would wear off. I can't recommend this one really, but it is harmless. 

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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Shazam! The World's Mightiest Mortal - Volume Three!

The third volume of Shazam! The World's Mightiest Mortal is all about E. Nelson Bridwell and Don Newton. Bridwell had proven his affection for the characters from Fawcett when he took over the writing chores from Denny O'Neil and Elliot S Maggin. He sent the character onto a premise-changing tour of the country alongside his "Mentor" when the TV show caused a spark of interest in the waning comic. And now he was there to shepherd the Marvel Family as they moved from their own comic into the expansive pages of World's Finest. This was in the days of the dollar comic and DC once again proved creative in trying to find packages and price points which allowed fans to get value for money and which would allow DC to ascend once again to their coveted number one position. That never happened but it wasn't for lack of trying. 

Don Newton was a Captain Marvel fanboy from way back. I do believe that he cosplayed as the "Big Red Cheese" at early comic book conventions. Newton was a fan artist of some repute who finally got a gig at DC drawing the heroes he adored. He'd busted out in the pro ranks at Charlton on Lee Falks' The Phantom. Later he'd make a mark on Batman, but I firmly believed his best work was on Shazam! in the pages of World's Finest and later Adventure Comics. And it's all here between these two covers. 

Bridwell and Newton gave the reader fresh stories which drew successfully on the rich history of the Marvels. Familiar villains such Dr. Sivana, Mr. Mind, Ibac, and Captain Nazi made appearances. But so did less familiar baddies such as Sabbac and Oggre. They even created a few new menaces such as Darkling and Chain Lightning. The adventures are brisk and fun but not as light-hearted as what had come before. There was a sense of consequences and a whisper of real danger which had not been with the early Shazam! stories. The stories might even continue from month to month such as a three-part yarn which reformed the infamous Monster Society. Bridwells demonstrated a keen knowledge of the Marvel mythology and Newton brought it to life in a delightful manner.  

Alas Shazam was not featured on the covers of most of the World's Finest run. But here are a few select covers on which Captain Marvel does put in an appearance. 

The series wrapped up its World's Finest run when that comic reverted to a regular format. The last two stories by Bridwell and Newton appeared in the first two digest-sized Adventure Comics. 

The Marvel Family then went on a hiatus and would not make a substantial return to the DC firmament until after the Crisis on Infinite Earths when Captain Marvel was tapped to join the Justice League. There was a meager attempt to revive the characters by Roy Thomas and Mark Beachum but it failed to find its mark. Later Jerry Ordway developed The Power of Shazam which took the same approach in art that Don Newton had followed and gave us a Shazam for new audiences. The characters remained in the ever-changing DCU until in more recent years a feature film has once again raised awareness of one of comic's most successful characters. 

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Saturday, September 24, 2022

Jack Kirby's Super Powers!

Among the many reasons DC saw fit to bring Jack Kirby back one final time in the mid 80's was not only to finally complete his epic "Fourth World" saga but to do so in such a way as to leave the characters available for future storytelling. Some of that new storytelling happened simultaneously with the development of Kirby's finale and some immediately after. And it weirdly blended the "Fourth World" with the classic Super Friends format to create something which is to my mind still surprisingly entertaining.

The Super Powers was an attempt by DC and Kenner to make the DC heroes successful as a toy line akin to the then wildly successful Star Wars and G.I.Joe toys among many others. To that end Jack Kirby gets to do what he'd sort of wanted to do with the Fourth World heroes so long ago, write a story another artist would draw, though Kirby supplied the action-filled covers. The artist chosen was Adrian Gonzales who is inked variously by Pablo Marcos, Alan Kupperberg, and himself. Joey Cavaleri gives Kirby a scripting hand in this series.

It's typical Bronze Age artwork, sturdy and straightforward which tries to evoke that Kirby mojo, but alas falls short. The story is an oddball one which has a hidden Darkseid (Gonzales does not actually draw any of the classic Fourth World characters in any way that they can be immediately identified) who sends his four "Emissaries of Doom" (four rather bland Apokolyptian warriors sad to say) to go attack the Earth by using four super-villains (Lex Luthor, Joker, Penguin, Brainiac) to battle the Justice League across the world, all of which is ruse to hide the proper invasion of Earth led by Darkseid himself in the fifth and final issue which is vigorously drawn by "King" Kirby himself.

It's solid superhero action, but it doesn't have any of the philosophical depth of the original series. Aside from some hints about the extras-special nature of Superman, this seems mostly to be a rockem' sockem' adventure, diverting but little else.

But there's more after a look at some action-filled Kirby covers.

The next year, after the appearance of "The Hunger Dogs" graphic novel, the storyline properly continues in the second series of Super Powers books, this time a six-issue limited. Jack is tapped not only to write, but draw this series, his final full-blown professional work. And while this is not Kirby at the peak of his powers, it is nonetheless better than most other comics of its time. Kirby supported Greg Theakston is tapped to finish the art.

The story begins with the revolting Hunger Dogs having driven Darkseid from power on Apokolips. This leaves the despot having to take his things and find a new place to conquer. He chooses Earth and rounds up his henchmen the resurrected and slightly altered Desaad, Kalibak, Mantis, Steppenwolf, and assorted Para-Demons to help with that end. The plan is to send five "Seeds of Doom" to Earth, each powered by some part of Darkseid's "Omega Effect" and allow the weird seeds to send their roots down into the core of the Earth, eventually tapping that power and demolishing the planet as we know it making a proper Apokoliptian landscape for Darkseid's purposes. But there's a secret.

The Justice League gathers and in a fantastic shout-out to classic DC super-team dynamics break up into teams of two and three to battle the"Seeds" across the globe. But in another clever allusion to the seventh issue of Forever People, the "Seeds of Doom" powered by the Omega Effect send our heroes through time where they have to confront a nicely wide assortment of threats and villains from many sources. It's a nicely drawn, rich, and classic superhero adventure with a few surprises, some great Kirby action and a pretty neat finale.

Now it must be said, that despite his direct involvement with this series, this again is a story which lacks the depth of the original Fourth World material. The Darkseid here, while properly evil lacks the subtlety of characterization which makes him so calmly malignant in the original series. He's more the cliche cackling villain here, he is full of anger more often than the cold disdain for others which gave him such a frosty menace before in Kirby's treatments. The henchmen too are just classic baddies, but they might be forgiven since they are literally mere shadows of their former selves.

Again, Kirby does some interesting things with Superman, and it makes me wish he'd been able to do more with the classic hero. Clearly, he had insights into the character which were colorful and interesting.

A final word after a very handsome cover gallery.

All in all, Super Powers is an above-average story told in a DCU which at the time was undergoing its infamous "Crisis". So, it's easy to understand why this yarn got lost among all that transforming hubbub, but every Kirby fan needs to check these stories out, and any Fourth World fan owes it to themselves to see the "King's" last fling with these wild evocative characters before he once and for all time left the building.

 NOTE: This is a Revised Dojo Classic Post. 

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