Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun!

It's just barely possible I saw Journey to the Far Side of the Sun in the theater in 1969. I have some nagging memory of that, but no certainty. I've long wanted to get another look at, especially in light of rediscovering so many great Gerry Anderson productions such as UFO, Space:1999 and Captain Scarlet and the MysteronsThunderbirds among others to my collection.

This movie was called Doppleganger in Europe, a name which has a proper mystery to it and of course points quickly the theme of the flick which features many of the classic Anderson touches. After years of puppets on television the Andersons wanted to break into live action and especially into film. They certainly the technical chops for it, but as this movie demonstrates, there's a lack of thematic depth which holds the work back.

The story is a simple enough affair. A new planet is discovered on the far side of the Sun in 2069 and Eurosec director Jason Webb (Patrick Wymark) wants to send men there, but it costs a lot of money. To fool the U.S. into being the sugar daddy for the operation, Webb allows the secret discovery to fall into the hands of the Soviets. This triggers a team up between Europe (Britain really) and the U.S. with Roy Thinnes showing up as ace astronaut Colonel Glenn Ross. Along with Ian Hendry in the role of Dr.John Kane, the two train then eventually head to the new planet. Crashing upon a arrival they discover that the world they have arrived at seems almost like the one they left.

This movie is a wonderfully quiet and technically sound presentation of space flight. The characters are by and large restrained with just enough personal intrigue to tell them apart. The movie seems to want to tap into the 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe with some psychedelic sequences and an ending which really does evoke the classic Kubrick space opera. The biggest problem with this movie is that the payoff doesn't really measure up to the build-up. The discovery is curious, but doesn't seem to sufficiently challenge the protagonists enough to make me really care about their fates. It's all a bit too low key all the time.

This is a beautifully fabricated movie, but it sadly lacks enough of a point to make it elevate to a really rich viewing experience. If I actually did see this movie when it came out, I'm realizing why it left such a vague memory.

NOTE: This is a Dojo Revised Classic Post.  

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Monday, January 30, 2023

Night Raven - From The Marvel UK Vaults!

Where Brooding Darkness 
Spreads Its Evil Wings 
The Night Raven Stings!

That is the mysterious and ominous message left by Night Raven after he's put an end to some injustice he comes across in his nightly patrols in the big city. It's the olden times of crime run wild in the streets as honest men and women must pay protection to keep the wolves from their throats. Extortionists, robbers and murderers prowl the night, but they are not alone. The Night Raven is an avenger in the style of the classic pulp heroes who hidden behind his mask stalks the villainy that makes civilized life so difficult. His adventures are gathered together in Night Raven - From the UK Vaults. 

Created by Dez Skinn, the character's adventures were written by Steve Parkhouse and drawn by David Lloyd. Lloyd had yet to create his masterpiece V for Vendetta when this strip started in the back pages of Hulk Comic in 1979. The stories are short punchy events told in three-page snapshots. In the earliest yarns the Night Raven, who is given no origin nor any secret identity, puts stop to gangsters seeking them out in their haunts as they play cards or hide. He hunts them down when they try to run protection scams on innocent shopkeepers and murder to enforce their terror. In later tales he is hunted down by a paid assassin but is able to win the day barely in the end. Lloyd drew all these tales, but artist John Bolton takes over when Night Raven goes up against a "Dragon Lady" and her deadly Tong. As masterful as Bolton is, Lloyd's version of the character is definitive to my eye. Borrowing shtick from the pulp hero The Spider (slapping deadly brands on the foreheads of criminals), this comic book character is in the grand tradition of The Shadow. 

I first read the adventures of Night Raven in the 1990 Marvel Graphic Novel which gathered his first adventures from the pages of Hulk Comic numbers one through twenty. It's a slim read, coming in at a mere sixty pages. Since that time a new graphic novel has been created as well as other appearances of Night Raven as a guest star. But this is clearly a character who works best in his original milieu, the savage streets of a city writhing with crime. 

I didn't really have much of an idea what had happened to the Night Raven in the prose pages of many British publications. The idea of a comic was abandoned and driving right the roots of the character, his nightly adventures were presented in prose form with spot illustrations. These are grity stories, deep in character. Stories are told form multiple viewpoints, almost never Night Raven's. We see his deadly struggle against crime as things get more brutal. We learn that he is poisoned by his arch-enemy but that the poison also gives him immortality but at the cost of immense pain. We follow Night Raven through the decades, as he struggles to keep his sanity and fulfill his mission. There are stories by the likes of Alan Moore and Jamie Delano, among others. These were of surprising quality as I'm used to dismissing text in comics, but here are solid noir tales that would've been welcomed in many a pulp magazine back in the day. 

I came to this collection because of the great comics, but I recommend it mostly now because of the outstanding short stories. 

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Sunday, January 29, 2023

Joe 90 - The Complete Collection!

As far as I can tell I've wrapped up my most recent exploration of the Gerry Anderson TV shows. It's been a weird and wonderful trip for the most part, as I've moved beyond my boyhood fascination with Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and Stingray to examine not only Space:1999 and UFO (two shows I also watched on the tube) but also Thunderbirds, Fireball XL-5, and Supecar. There was one pure "Supermarionation" show left and despite it looking decidedly sleepy I rolled the dice and picked up Joe 90. Overall I'm glad I did.

(Joe 90 in BIG RAT)

This is show which has some significant flaws but there's enough of the Anderson studio magic to make it worthwhile. Joe 90 is in fact a nine-year old boy named Joe McClaine who becomes the subject of his scientist Dad's experiments in brain manipulation. Sounds pretty gruesome put that way, but in some significant ways this is a gruesome show. The setting is the early 21st Century and the world is united under a single sprawling government and policed to some extent by W.I.N. (World Intelligence Network) who are represented in the series by Agent Sam Loover and Commander Shane Weston. Using a trippy device dubbed BIG RAT (Brain Impulse Galvanoscope Record And Transfer) to transfer the brain patterns of one human into the brain of another Doctor Ian McClaine attempts to move science ahead. Instead his son gets fixed for the affair and after that becomes a double agent, often called a "Most Special Agent" because who would believe a nine year old was a deadly secret agent. Lots of high tech hijinks ensue and we have a show.

(Sam Loover, Dr. McClaine and Joe)

But it's a pretty sleepy show and after the first several episodes the special nature of Joe gets lost a lot. Why he's called "Joe 90" is open to debate but it's a name Gerry Anderson cottoned to. Joe saves people from deadly scenarios (Thunderbirds) fights deadly foreign agents (Captain Scarlet) and jets around in a nifty futuristic car of his Dad's design which looks like nothing else on the road and flies to boot (Supercar). In fact of all the shows this late 60's show resembles to me was Supercar, though seeming to add more sophisticated characterization with more human-like puppets. Sadly they end up having less character than the zany cartoonish Supercar characters and prove in the end to be less compelling.

(The Jet-Air Car)

Captain Scarlet looked similar but was driven by a heavy dark atmosphere and a high-tech continued threat which gave it an epic quality. Joe 90 is more episodic and the danger while often lethal feels less robust. Joe does in fact shoot and kill a few folks along the way, something I imagine would raise some hackles these days. Some have suggested this is a boy's fantasy and I'm good with that as a general premise, but it doesn't make the show any better for being correctly identified. This one falls into the near-miss category for me, full of some interesting spectacle from time to time, but laboring under some rather dull lead characters.

Still and all it was diverting and even a weaker Anderson show is still a cut above many others.

NOTE: This is a Dojo Revised Classic Post. 

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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Miracleman Book Four: The Golden Age!

I confess that when I first began my journey to revisit the Miracleman stories, it was not my intent to read the Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham stories which comprised Book Four. Given the title The  Golden Age, these stories are wildly different from the stories concocted by Moore and his artists. These are short stories, one-off tales about normal humans among others who are trying find a life in this "Golden Age" brought on by the advent of superpowered beings who have eliminated war and poverty among other things. This is a utopian world but as you might suspect not everyone is filled with joy. 

We meet a man who lost his family to Johnny Bates known as Kid Miracleman wreaked havoc in the center of London. He is on a quest to ask for a miracle. We listen to another young man who escaped that same destruction through sheer luck and is trying to make sense of that. We meet another fellow who has a romantic affair with the ideal woman -- Miraclewoman. He learns that perfection is not all it's cracked up to be. We sneak a peek at some youngsters who have weirdly made a hero of Bates, a perverse attitude all too common in our world. We visit the underworld run by the Qys where an undead Andy Warhol makes friends with the resurrected Emil Gargunza. We spy on a woman who is losing her family but trying to still makes some sense of this perfect world. We read a fable of Miracleman's daughter Winter and how she went into deep space to have adventures. We follow a young woman who thinks she's a spy in a dark grim world where the sun never shines, and rain is perpetual. She too must see a new truth. And finally, these characters, those that can, assemble in a celebration which ends in them being given the gift of flight. 

Deep stuff. Not to be approached lightly, but while I won't pretend I understood it all, I found I was indeed fascinated by much of it. Glad I took the plunge. Below are the original coves for the Eclipse Comics run from the early 90's and after that the covers for the more recent reprints from Marvel.

Gaiman and Buckingham weren't done with Miracleman though. They started a saga dubbed "The Silver Age" which was to tell the story of Miracleman seeking his lost ally Young Miracleman. Two installments were done in the early 90's and then it stopped when Eclipse itself ceased to exist. 

(I actually bought the original two issues on the strength of the Barry Windsor-Smith covers. Those lurk in my long boxes somewhere or other.) The characters then fell into the clutches of Todd McFarlane and thus began the lawsuits which froze the character for years until Marvel was able to gather them up. Gaiman and Buckingham have been finishing this tale in recent times and when it's collected. I hope to grab hold and read it also. 

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Friday, January 27, 2023

Captain Scarlet - The Complete Collection!

Just spent a few wonderful days in the early part of this new year enjoying the classic Gerry Anderson "Supermarionation" adventure show Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. This is one from my childhood, a classic TV entertainment which seared a spot in my noggin and never left. The classic opening has reverberated in my imagination for decades. 
The show followed quickly upon the success of Thunderbirds, but offered up puppets with more lifelike proportions and a storyline with a darker, sometimes even adult tone. It's this latter aspect which I think made this show stick with me. This was grim stuff at times. The premise is that in 2068 an Earth expedition led by Captain Black of the Spectrum organization happens across the alien Mysteron base on Mars and wrongfully attacks it. The Mysterons though have technology which can recuperate from destruction and death itself and do so, pledging at the same time to wage an unending "war of nerves" on the Earth in general and Spectrum in specific.

What makes their attacks so grim is that they use revived humans and equipment to wage their war. The invisible Mysterons first kill you (usually with vehicular homicide), then revive you and have you serve them slavishly. That's rough stuff. I was reminded this time of the ludicrous movie Plan 9 From Outer Space which sought to revive the dead to wage war on the Earth, and thought to myself how Captain Scarlet sort of actually follows through with this plan.

The first Mysteron agent is Captain Black himself, who looks zombie enough most of the time, a pale grim figure shown weekly lurking in a graveyard. He plots, then Spectrum blocks or not. The good guys don't always win on this show, and that's rugged territory for what is supposed to be a kid's show.

Captain Scarlet himself is something of a rogue Mysteron agent. In the first episode he is killed and revived, but circumstances cause him to revert to his heroic pose but armored with an indestructible nature. He dies more than a few times during the series, but always returns to fight another day. He is assisted by Captain Blue and the other agents of Spectrum, all led by Colonel White. Beautiful women called Angels are a constant flying circus protecting Cloud Base, a giant airborne aircraft carrier. From this high-tech location the unending Mysteron war is waged.

It's a tight premise, and the half-hour episodes are told with skill and supreme craftsmanship. The editing on a show like this is crucial and the story is rarely muddled and a great deal is jammed into a small space. This makes for brisk and enjoyable entertainment. I will admit that in certain moments the show does resemble Ken and Barbie playing spy, but most of the time, the creators are able to avoid that pitfall. This is a smart snappy show with more than a gram of wit.

It's a precursor of sorts to the later Anderson live-action show UFO which also has Earth engaged in a battle with mysterious aliens, this time led by the secret SHADO organization. There are more than a few similarities between these shows, almost making you think UFO is Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons done in the live-action format.

If you haven't seen Captain Scarlet, I heartily recommend it. It's pure entertainment.

NOTE: This is a Dojo Revised Classic Post. 

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Thursday, January 26, 2023

Space Trilogy - That Hideous Strength!

In contrast to the two previous installments of the "Space Trilogy" the story of That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy Tale for Grown-Ups is set on Earth (or Thulcandra as it's also known in the trilogy). The action concerns a group of college academics who are lured into becoming part of a dangerous conflict between two philosophies. Out the Silent Planet evoked First Men to the Moon by H.G. Wells. and Perelandra brought to mind Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsey, while That Hideous Strength seems to evoke the kind of sci-fi and fantasy menace which was a staple of the Quatermass yarns a decade later.  The story begins in the most mundane way at a college filled with the abstracted minds which populate such establishments plodding through their lives and workdays filled with small dramas and noisome struggles. 

We follow a married couple who are headed in different directions. Mark is the husband, an up-and-coming member of a small rustic college who is playing the game of politics which seem to be a part of all aspects of human life. He is a man who celebrates modern ideas and notions and imagines that human beings can be made better with the proper guidance and environment. His wife Jane, also an intellectual is left behind somewhat in the wake of Mark's ambitions but begins to have dreams which turn out to be both prophetic and true. She is taken in by a group who stand in opposition to NICE, an atheistic organization with a disdain for individual suffering in the cause of making mankind something else. Mark has been scooped up by NICE and promised power. How these two people react to the problems and threats they encounter is the core of the story. 

This much longer story is connected to his prequels when the protagoniist of those novels shows up at last in this story, playing a rather different role. That Hideous Strength is a novel which seems longer than it needs to be. Much of what happens in the first one hundred pages is not unimportant, but could've been collapsed into a shorter span. Certainly, Lewis had some reason for treating us to intentionally bland meetings of college professionals, a dreary crowd of graspers who celebrate intellect as much as they seem to have disdain for their fellow man. The notions of Christianity are celebrated (no surprise there of course) but combined with a strange acceptance of pagan worship (the resurrection of Merlin being one instance). The battle here is not between Christian and pagan, but between a world view in which there is more than man and one in which there is not. I'll let you read the book if you choose to see who prevails. 

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Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Space Trilogy - Perelandra!

When C.S. Lewis decided to continue his "Space Trilogy" with the book Perelandra, it had been five years since the publication of Out of the Silent Planet. The world was at war and England especially was under specific threat. That war does get some mention in this story which sees our philologist protagonist Ransom head to Venus to do the bidding of the Maledil, the spirit which rules the universe. Whereas the first novel had imitated the H.G.Wells novel First Men in the Moon, this one reminded me of Princess of Mars by E.R.Burroughs. Our hero climbs into a magic casket and is swept away to the Venus where he wakes up naked on a neve-rending ocean. This method of travel reminded me of  A Voyage to Arcturus, a major influence on this space trilogy according to Lewis himself. Our her encounters a strange shifting world, some weird creatures and then a lovely nude green woman. 

Now in the ERB book, the dashing hero would have become a contestant for her favors, but this story is not that kind. Doctor Elwin Ransom has come to Venus (known as Perelandra) to debate with the Devil. It seems that Perelandra is in that state which Earth found itself when the Garden of Eden was extant. The naked green woman is a Venusian Eve and Ransom is there to talk her out of disobeying God. Now it's more complicated than that, especially when the Devil shows up in the form of Weston, the adventurer who had kidnapped Ransom in the first novel. Though dead Weston is inhabited by the spirit of the great deceiver and works diligently to get the green woman to develop bad habits such vanity, modesty and a false sense of pride. Ransom and Weston do this by talking to her. And that's what the core of the book is, talking. Eventually Ransom must fight Weston more directly and that leads them into an underworld which in turn takes them to a mountain which Ransom must climb to fulfill his mission, among a lot of pomp and circumstance in which we meet the green woman's mate the King among others as a second paradise is established.  If philosophical and theological debate is your thing, this is a book for you. 

I give Lewis great credit for creating a truly alien environment, a world in which the land masses don't stop moving for the most part. A world of fluid in which sticking to a place is largely impossible. The animals are more fantasy than sci-fi but they properly weird. There is one more installment of this saga, the largest one yet. More on that tomorrow. 

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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Space Trilogy - Out Of The Silent Planet!

I wrote this review almost exactly a year ago. I meant to finish the trilogy at the time, but now at long last have finally done so. 

I'm not crazy about the cover of this edition of Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis. The first annoyance is how small the actual title is, tiny compared to the name of the author (which I can understand I guess) but even subordinate to the title of another more famous work by the author. And the artwork, which is lovely and pastoral, is indicative of the story I guess but seems clearly to me to sell whimsy and make the book feel like a kiddie offering, which it ain't. 

But it's no less accurate than this cover, the edition I first bought of this story many decades ago. This is selling it like it's hard science fiction and that ain't right either. Out of the Silent Planet is sci-fi in the long tradition of H.G. Wells more than Robert Heinlein, with doses of Jonathan Swift and more than a mote of Biblical allegory (which I'm sure Lewis would deny). It feels like science fiction right up until our kidnapped hero Dr. Elwin Ransom (a philologist on a holiday) actually gets to Malacandra/Mars. Before that we get some pretty fascinating details about space flight and its effects on a human being. Ransom is taken to Perelandra as something of a sacrifice by profiteer named Devine and a physicist named Weston. When they land on the planet the story gives me a sense of a fantasy as we follow Ransom encounter three different species on the planet -- the Hrossa, the Seroni, and the Pfifltriggi

Ransom spends time with the Hrossa who look rather like giant otters with aspects of humanity tossed in. Later he encounters the Seroni who he thinks are menacing. These are extremely tall creatures with incredibly long legs. The Pfifltriggi are only glimpsed but are more along the lines of a reptile. This is the story of man who must overcome his fear of the unknown and confront the invisible intelligence which seems keep order on the planet and does so for most planets in the solar system. Earth is the exception and so it is dubbed Thulcandra or "The Silent Planet".  Ransom appears to become something of an envoy for opening up the Earth for contact, but that's rather vague. 

This novel is followed by two sequels -- Perelandra about Ransom going to Venus and That Hideous Strength which stays on Earth but deals with matters of a supernatural kind. I am looking forward to diving into these two follow ups. The latter novel has references to the "Numinor" a slightly misspelled reference to J.R.R,. Tolkien's epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings. A legend exists that these two gentlemen who were colleagues at Oxford set out to make two fantasies -- Lewis would one about space and Tolkien would focus on ancient history. I'll be getting to these sequels in due course. 

Look for a review of Perlandra later today. 

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Monday, January 23, 2023

Thunderbirds - The Complete Collection!

I came very, very late to this particular "Supermarionated" party having never seen the show even once in my life. I saw and loved Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons as a kid, but never saw any of the other Gerry Anderson shows save Stingray. Rewatching it this time was very enterttaining. 

I'd read about Thunderbirds, and heard people rave about it so my curiosity finally got the better of me and after seeing the two feature versions of the show which impressed a little at the time, I broke down and ordered it at long last. It took many months for me to finish the series (lots of diversions you know) but I have, and I began to see the appeal. This second viewing was much more rapid, only a few days. 

I began to get why folks are so balmy about this series. The good guys are exceedingly good, if powerfully naive, and the baddies are properly bad and stupid. The storytelling is sluggish in places, but from what I read that was somewhat the result of late decisions by the producers about expanding the series to an hour from a very effective half hour.

I did get confused about the way in which International Rescue fit into the global scheme of the 2060's as sometimes they are rogues operating outside the system and sometimes they seem almost an arm of the governments they often benefit. Their secrecy was wildly inconsistent too as in one episode a kid who stows away on Thunderbird 2 is approached as a mild menace and in at least two other episodes kids are given tours of the island and the equipment. Sometimes the Tracys reveal their names, sometimes they fight over having their pictures taken. Their picture detector is a pretty cool device and I'm sure many stars who fend off the paparazzi would like one. That stuff aside it's still wild fun.

I might say the episode where they attempt to move the Empire State Building might be my favorite,  it is such a wacked-out notion. The world of 2060 something is pretty hair-raising in some respects and amazingly familiar in others.

The fashion as always in an Anderson production becomes fetishistic with the puppets (yes I know they are marionettes) looking more than a tad goofy from time to time as they try painfully to look cool. The whimsy of the whole affair makes the attempts to hip and cool harmless fluff, a product of a time when such things were somehow taken seriously. (We're much better now of course.)

It's easy to see why these shows hold up, the craftsmanship is top notch and really the kind of thing which could not be done in the modern world. Not because of the craft, but because the insane costs. We caught a comet with this show and the ones which came before and after, and I have to admire that.

Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6, the two big-screen renditions of the classic British sci-fi tv show are dandy. I found them for tiny money in a discount store somewhere I now forget, and tried to watch them, but the pace of the opening scenes of Thunderbirds Are Go, which is measured even by the admission of the director, always did me in. I just got bored in the first fifteen minutes or so and bailed, choosing to do something else, then forgetting about the movies completely. Now I know what to expect and found them just fine. The problem was me. 

Now I even began to relish it as the spaceship dubbed the Zero-X slowly and relentlessly assembled itself in the opening moments of the movie. The story then begins to dabble out, the International Rescue team is called in after a disaster to supply security months later. Months later still the Zero-X arrives at its destination of Mars and runs into trouble. Months later still it returns home and runs into still more trouble requiring the intervention of International Rescue yet again. There are some great big explosions, some handsome model work, and an interesting sci-fi scenario.

But ultimately the movie is so uneven, it defeats its own good qualities. I was slightly stunned by the inclusion of a dream sequence which featured the music of Cliff Richard and The Shadows, a totally weird and totally 60's moment. The movie though in the final analysis was entertaining after I got into its flow, though it could've been better.

I really began to appreciate the relative seriousness of Thunderbirds Are Go when I saw the sequel Thunderbird 6. This one is played for more laughs and features a handsome biplane which dominates way too much screen time in my estimation.

The weaknesses of the first movie are amplified in the second. It essentially is a world tour via anti-gravity airship which gives the model makers the chance to fashion a Statue of Liberty, the Great Pyramids, and other notable iconic items. That stuff is the highlight as the plot makes little sense. Villains (who are never really identified) are trying to lure International Rescue into a trap and take the most elaborate and complicated way imaginable to do that.

These are diverting movies, curiosities of a time when special effects really seemed special. I can appreciate them and even enjoy parts of them, especially the first one which as I learned actually has a connection to my favorite Anderson production Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons.

NOTE: This is a Dojo Revised Classic Post. 

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