Sunday, April 30, 2023

Showcase Corner - Legion Of Super-Heroes Five!

The Legion of Super-Heroes had really been one of DC's more organic successes. The team started out in the late 50's in a one-off story guest-starring with Superboy in Adventure Comics, but soon they were showing up in Action Comics with Supergirl and more and more often in Adventure Comics, Superboy, and elsewhere. That led to their own feature in Adventure Comics, replacing Superboy's feature which had introduced them and they thrived, especially among the young fans of the 60's looking for a fresh take from DC. But as they grewand devleoped and added a seemingly endless cast of characters,  they also began to dwindle in popularity and gave over Adventure Comics to an updated Supergirl. They went on to take up residence in Action Comics, hidden behind the main Superman stories. Then they were shifted over to Superboy's main title and history began to repeat itself as they came to absorb it as well. Superboy was still a significant part of the proceedings but there was no doubt the Legion was the rising star.

DC also was not experimenting with different size comics featuring reprints but also offering up complete reprint comic books. The Legion of Super-Heroes was given a four-issue run which might've been an attempt to test the waters for a push into a title of their own or perhaps DC was just trying to defend its position on the spinner racks with the myriad Marvel comics hitting shelves in droves. Despite the long history of the Legion this was first self-titled series. 

That revival was largely the result of the art of Dave Cockrum. He came to the strip as an inker working with longtime DC great Murphy Anderson, but soon was doing all the art, and bringing some fresh design ideas to the series. 

The Legion was a wonderful Silver Age comic, but Cockrum tooled it to become a wonderful Bronze Age comic. New sleek costumes for heroes such as Colossal Boy, Shrinking Violet, Element Lad, Star Boy and many more. Cockrum had a knack for drawing young characters with fresh handsome faces. He gave Timberwolf a ferocious new look. And new legionnaire Wildfire was designed by him. One of his neatest contributions was giving the Legion a sleek new cruiser evocative of a certain enterprising starship from another franchise which had its ups and downs. In conjunction with writer Cary Bates, they made the Legion exciting again. But Cockrum was only there a little while before jetting over to Marvel to pull off a similar trick with a new set of X-Men. 

Mike Grell stepped in to fill his shoes and he did so wonderfully. Grell's work was not as sublimely elegant as Cockrum's, but it was more dynamic and a bit more exciting to read. His girls weren't as pretty, but they were sure pretty enough. In tandem with Bates and returning writer Jim Shooter, Grell made the Legion a must read. Heroes married, moved into new careers, and even died in these Legion stories, and the stakes were always seemingly higher than in other DC comics. With all of space and time to play with, it's no wonder the Legion of Super-Heroes became a hit all over again. 

Below are some of Cockrum's costume designs alongside some classics. 

The Legion was so successful in the 70's that Val Armorr, the Karate Kid was granted a spin-off title making late advantage of what Kung Fu craze was still left in 1976. Karate Kid featured art by Ric Estrada and one of my favorites Joe Staton. Paul Levitz wrote the initial scripts, his first connection to the Legion as far as I know. This story has the Kid shift his work to the 20th Century where he found life at once more challenging and more fulfilling, at least for a time. 

Here are the covers from this run on which the Legion appears. Many feature the creamy art of Nick Cardy. The rest are by Grell. 

And that wraps my month-long read of the Showcase Legion tales. I've been hankering to get to this one for a long time and it's a pleasure finally get it completed. These are fun stories which speak of their respective eras delightfully. 

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Saturday, April 29, 2023

Star Trek - The Animated Series!

On Star Trek the Enterprise was famously on a five-year mission. But thanks to the hostility of NBC to Gene Roddenberry and his little TV show, only three years made air. But in 1973, four years after the cancellation of the show, the fourth year was finally broadcast. Now admittedly it was not live action, but animation, but that was actually a good thing. 

When the Roddenberry machine hooked up with the Filmation outfit, we got a Star Trek that was even more capable of going "where no man had gone before", because it's way cheaper to draw the unknown and impossible than to cast for it. Star Trek - The Animated Series kept the smart bits which made Trek special and added scope. 

The smartest thing was making sure that cast members like William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy along with most of the rest were available to voice their animated counterparts. This more than anything else gives the show its legitimacy. Save for Walter Koenig who was not cast for cost reasons, the whole gang is back. Nichelle Nichols and George Takei are on the bridge, though the latter was unavailable for a time because of TV fair time rules because Takei was running for public office in California. James Doohan proved to be perhaps the most important member of the animated cast as he provided a cavalcade of voices for the show. Many of the others did too, but nowhere near as many as Doohan. One source said he did nearly fifty different characters for the run of the show in its two season. 

I also think the Enterprise looked fabulous in its animated form. It was sleek and moved across the screen with a casual grace the live action had not been able to present. In the two seasons which added to a total of twenty-two episodes (sixteen in the first and another six in the second) Kirk and his crew found all sorts of new threats and all manner of different alien species. 

Two new aliens actually served on the ship, one a three-legged and three-armed navigator named Arex and the other a catlike communications officer named Mress. Many of the aliens the crew encoutnered were equally off the human model. In fact the designs often reminded me of the science fiction art of Jack Gaughan. And that added a whole layer of utter weirdness that the live-action shows of the time were just not able to match. 

I'm an enormous fan of the animated Star Trek. I think the shorter episodes of twenty-two minutes make for a more brisk storytelling and even at this size some of the stories seem to dawdle. Filmation uses limited animation by necessity and having so many different faces and form to switch back and forth between made Star Trek a visually more vibrant show than some of their efforts. The cartoon show kept the Star Trek boat afloat at a time when there was an enormous swell of interest in the show. Syndication had proved to be a surging and fabulous success. 

The comics from Gold Key were finding an eager audience. The "Trekkie" was a new creature lurking among us. There was interest in those wags who had killed it off to try to find a way to get a little of the golden goose they'd let slip between their fingers. They were anxious to get of the glamour and maybe that might be on the big screen. A few years later when a little thing called Star Wars taught Hollywood a thing or two, a Star Trek movie was a certainty. But more on that next month when the Dojo reviews the Star Trek movies starring this great first cast. 

Live long and prosper.  

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Friday, April 28, 2023

Mr. Spock's Music From Outer Space!

Star Trek was a hit, at least it made a big impression on those Americans who were susceptible to its science fiction charms. Attempts to monetize that success among the cast was best accomplished by Leonard Nimoy who as "Mr. Spock" was a sex symbol to some of the younger set. Tall, dark and sort of handsome in a weird way is an apt description of the Vulcan Spock. 

Leonard Nimoy would go on to record several albums, but his first played hard on his Spock image. Dot Record's Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock's Music From Outer Space was released in the spring of 1967 and achieved some success, reaching 83 on the Billboard chart. The album was rereleased in the United Kingdom in 1973 as the relentless mania which is Star Trek took hold overseas. I wouldn't call Leonard Nimoy a singer really, but his voice isn't unpleasant and blended with copious gimmicks it almost works. 

"A Visit to a Sad Planet" was the only actual "hit" from the album when it was released as a forty-five single. The B-side of the record was the Star Trek Theme.

To listen to this truly amazing recording check out Music From Outer Space at this link.

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Thursday, April 27, 2023

Just Imagine!

The movie Just Imagine from 1930 is one of those movies that has to be seen to be believed. Let me try to offer a nutshell description. Just Imagine is a science fiction musical set in the year 1980 which follows the romantic woes of two young lovers separated by the arcane marriage laws of the time. The hero and his friend take up with a man frozen since 1930 who must adapt to the wild future world as well as outer space when the three guys head to Mars. On Mars they find a strange culture of bizarre good and evil twins, but as we suspected at the beginning by the end all is well. 

I don't know if I want to say if Just Imagine is a good movie or not. I know I have to be in a right mood to delve into its strange world of flying cars and amateur spaceships. The society is intentionally weird and intended to upset the expectations of a typical 1930's movie goer. It upset mine and I lived through 1980. (It's difficult to know that we almost as far away from that future time now as the 1930 audience was from their target time. Yikes!) Maureen O'Sullivan is lovely as ever as the love interest named LN-18 and John Garrick is perfectly okay as the main hero J-21. His mate RT-42 is played by Frank Albertson. My favorite name is MT-3, the villain of the piece played by Kenneth Thomson. 

El Brendel plays the hapless chap who wakes up in 1980 having been asleep since 1930. Brendel is the comedy in this movie, and uses his Swedish accent material from Vaudeville to liven up the proceedings. The truly wacky stuff happens on Mars where the we find the strangest aliens on film to that point. I find these Martians more terrifying in their own way than the classic critters from War of the Worlds. It's ultra strange! 

This is an oddball movie and I don't really recommend it unless you are totally into this kind of weird cinema or can find it for little or no money. To that end let me offer this link to Youtube. Enjoy at your own peril. 

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