Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Stan the Man?

With several artist co-creators, (most notably Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko), Stan Lee co-created Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, and many other iconic superheroes, introducing complex, naturalistic characterizations within a thoroughly shared universe into comic books. He led the expansion of Marvel Comics from a small publishing house into a large multimedia corporation.
In response to DC Comics successful updating of their portfolio of original characters which had begun in the 1950’s, publisher Martin Goodman tasked Lee with creating a new superhero team to compete with DC’s Justice League of America. Lee's wife urged him to experiment with stories that he preferred, since he was considering on changing careers, leaving comics behind and at this point he really had nothing to lose. Jack Kirby also suggested creating flawed heroes, ones whose superpowers would not enable them to escape from personal problems such as relationships and money. Lee acted on their advice, giving his new superheroes a flawed humanity; at the time a huge change from the ideal archetypes that were typically written for pre-teen readers. These heroes had bad tempers, melancholy fits, vanity, greed, etc. They bickered amongst themselves, worried about paying their bills and impressing girlfriends, and were even sometimes physically ill. Before this “revolution”, most superheroes were idealistically perfect people with no serious, lasting problems: Superman was so powerful that nobody could harm him, and Batman was a billionaire in his secret identity.
The group that Lee and Kirby created became the first family of Marvel Comics - The Fantastic Four. Its instant popularity led Lee and the newly christened Marvel to produce a cavalcade of new titles. With Kirby, Lee also created the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, the Mighty Thor and the original X-Men; with Bill Everett, Daredevil; and with Steve Ditko, Doctor Strange and Marvel's most successful character, Spider-Man. Following up on DC's earlier reinvention of the superhero, Marvel’s pioneering new methods of comics storytelling and characterization, attracted a vast new readership by addressing more serious themes, and in the process keeping and retaining their growing audience. Among this new generation of readers were fans who wanted to write or draw comics themselves, within the new style that Marvel had pioneered, and to push the creative envelope even further.
Of course, Lee's Marvel revolution extended well beyond the characters themselves, by engaging the readership and building a sense of community between fans and creators. Lee introduced the practice of adding a credit panel on the splash page of each story, naming not just the writer and penciller - but also the inker, letterer and colorist. News about Marvel staff members and upcoming storylines was presented on the Bullpen Bulletins page, which was written in a friendly, chatty style. Throughout the 1960s, Lee scripted, art-directed, and edited most of Marvel's series; moderated the letters pages; wrote a monthly column called "Stan's Soapbox"; and produced endless promotional copy, often signing off with his trademark phrase, "Excelsior!" To handle such a massive workload and still meet deadlines, Lee used a system that was used previously by various comic-book studios, but which became known as the "Marvel Method" or "Marvel style" of comic-book creation. Lee would brainstorm a story with the assigned artist and then prepare a brief synopsis instead of a full script. Based on the synopsis, the designated artist would draw the allotted number of pages, determining the panel-to-panel storytelling on their own. After the penciled pages were turned in, Lee would write the word balloons and captions, and subsequently oversee the lettering and coloring. In effect, the artists became co-plotters, whose collaborations Lee built upon. In recent years however, and largely due to this system, the actual division of creative credits on his comics has been disputed, especially those drawn by either Kirby or Ditko. Although Lee has always praised the artists, some historians argue that their contribution was far greater than how they were credited. The dispute with Ditko over Spider-Man has often been acrimonious, although Ditko and Lee are both formally credited as co-creators in the credits of the three Spider-Man films.
Regardless of any criticism .Stan Lee's superheroes captured the imagination of teens and young adults who were part of the post World War II baby boom. Sales soared and Lee realized that he could have a meaningful and successful career in the medium after all. He even indirectly reformed the old Comics Code. In 1971, the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare asked Lee to write a story about the dangers of drug use and Lee wrote a story in which Spider-Man's best friend becomes addicted to pills. The three-part story was slated to be published in Amazing Spider-Man #96-98, but the Comics Code Authority rejected it because of its depiction of drug use; the CCA deemed the story context irrelevant. With his publisher's approval, Lee issued the comics without the CCA seal. When the comics sold well, Marvel won praise for its socially conscious efforts. This caused the CCA to loosen the Code to allow negative depictions of drugs, among other new freedoms.
Lee used comic books to provide social commentary about the real world issues like racism and bigotry. "Stan's Soapbox," besides promoting upcoming comic book projects, also addressed issues of discrimination, intolerance or prejudice. Stan Lee took pride in using sophisticated vocabulary for stories' dialogue to encourage young readers to learn new words. In later years, following Marvel’s ascension to the number one comic book publisher, Lee became the beloved figurehead and public face for Marvel Comics.

Monday, October 29, 2007

DVD Review: Planet Terror

Planet Terror is a a film tribute to the zombie genre about a group of people who are attempting to survive an onslaught of zombie-like creatures, as they also feud with a military unit. Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez. The new to DVD movie stars Rose McGowan, Josh Brolin and Bruce Willis. Planet Terror was released theatrically as part of a double feature with Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof under the title Grindhouse in order to replicate the experience of viewing earlier exploitation-style films in a "grindhouse" theater.

Grindhouse was released in April 2007, but despite mostly positive reviews, the film vastly underperformed at the box office. Tarantino & Rodriguez reproduced the "grindhouse" look of damaged film reels by editing the movie with real film damage, plug-ins, and stock footage. They also experimented with this technique by inserting "missing reels" into the film.
For horror addicts, Planet Terror has plenty of gory fun moments, special digital effects (check out McGowan's rifle prosthetic), and also features other genre stars such as Tom Savini, Michael Beihn, Jeff Fahey and Lost’s Naveen Andrews.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Worth checking out ..... Silver Comics!

I just love the world wide web, you never know what kind of cool things you're gonna find there and being a life-long fan of comics, its always nice to find some new stuff that hearkens back to the "good old days" (they really were) of comics silver age.

Picking up the mantle of the original golden age comic book legacy, the silver age of comics that began in the mid-1950's, really hit its stride in the long-haired hippie-type, pinko-fag era of the 1960's with the emergence of Marvel Comics and the transformation of staid rival DC Comics that occurred near the end of the freelove decade in response to Marvel's incredible publishing surge.

Cut to today, where established artist Juan "Johnny" Ortiz and several of his talented cronies have quietly been issuing a title known simply as Silver Comics. Both an homage to the classic age of the same name and a refreshing alternative to the grim & gritty, entirely-too-adult-themed shee-ite that DC and Marvel dump in mass quantities on the stands these days, Silver Comics President & Publisher Ortiz and Vince Musacchia (Dr. Monster), Dan Beltran (Capt. Rescue), Ruben Procopio (Chameleon Man), Chris Roberts (the Silver Comics logo), Bryan Mon (Sea-Bolt/Tuff-Girl), Merrill Hagan and Dennis Rau offer something that may be more suitable for "true" fans of the comic art form like me who've become jaded by the darkening of the comics genre. Aiding this wonderful gang of miscreants on covers and interior pin-ups are some very well known comics icons such as: Frank Brunner, Nick Cardy, George Tuska, Dick Giordano, Jim Starlin, Al Milgrom, Alex Toth, Russ Heath, George Perez and Steve Rude. Other fun characters that you'll meet within the pages of various issues of Silver Comics are Cloud Buster, The Man Called Santa, Man-Star and The End.

Based on the photo (above) of noted motion picture critic Leonard Maltin, he certainly appreciates Silver Comics efforts, so please give 'em a read, will ya'!

1970's Flashback: Skull the Slayer

Created by Marv Wolfman and Steve Gan, Skull the Slayer debuted in his own Marvel Comics series in August, 1975. Jim Skully was an adventurer whose plane went through a time warp in the Bermuda Triangle, marooning him and three companions on an alternate Earth where dinosaurs, primitives, and even aliens co-existed. After eight published issues chronicling his adventures, Skully and his three companions were eventually rescued and returned to their own world by the Thing of the Fantastic Four.

Skull the Slayer was a trained soldier turned superhero who wore a Scorpian powerbelt that enhanced his strength and durability. The belt also had preservative effects on his body's metabolism. On one occasion, Scully was able to funnel this energy into an explosive force. The full capabilities of the belt are unknown ...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Donna Feldman ... mercy, mercy me!

I happened upon this stunning photo of the vivacious Donna Feldman while casting about for something to profile on the blog a few days ago.

It was a painful moment (in a good way), so I trolled the web and found out that she is a model based out of California. She was one of the briefcase-wielding ladies on the hit NBC game show "Deal Or No Deal" during its maiden season, before she bailed to pursue other opportunities. There are many more delectable images of Donna out there, for those stout-hearted among you who wish to make this pleasant voyage.

1970's Flashback: Star*Reach

Star*Reach was a science fiction and fantasy comics anthology published by Mike Friedrich and sold though those few comic shops around in the early 70’s, as well as head shops (think druggie paraphernalia), or via subscriptions and mail order.

Star Reach was truly one of the first mainstream independent comic books, and being the first with any significant distribution, it bridged the gap between the countercultural underground comix and more traditional news stand fare, providing mature genre stories that were intended for an adult audience. Along with Flo Steinberg's Big Apple Comix, published in 1975, and Harvey Pekar's naturalistic Everyman series American Splendor, which was first published in 1976, Star*Reach was an important forerunner to the late-1970s rise of the modern graphic novel, and a real precursor of the 1980s' independent comics boom.

Eighteen issues were released between 1974 and 1979. Contributors included such notable Marvel and DC writers and artists as Howard Chaykin, Jim Starlin, and Barry Windsor-Smith. Respected author Roger Zelazny, wrote the 13-page prose story "The Doors Of His Face, The Lamps Of His Mouth", with illustrations by Gray Morrow, in issue #12 (March 1978). A veritable “who’s who” of the decade provided work to the magazine during it’s heyday: Neal Adams, Frank Brunner, Gene Day, Steve Englehart, Michael Gilbert, Dick Giordano, Al Milgrom, Dean Motter, P. Craig Russell, Dave Sim, Walt, Simonson, Joe Staton, Len Wein and John Workman (whose “Key Club” tale from issue #2, remains a favorite of mine to this day). The company ceased publishing in 1979.

Doc Samson? Superman?? What the ... ????

I missed this piece of superhero casting news, but actor Ty Burrell (2004 Dawn of the Dead remake) has been cast as Doc Samson in the upcoming "The Incredible Hulk" movie starring Edward Norton & Liv Tyler. No I don't get it either!

That's sort of like casting the weenie sidekick from the Hellboy flick as, oh say Superman in the upcoming Justice League movie.

What? You're kidding me .......

You haven't heard this other piece of Hollywood lunacy. Rupert Evans = Superman? Well, check 'em out for yourselves:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

DVD Review: Transformers

"Robots in Disguise!"

Originally a popular 1980's childrens cartoon show about robots who physically shape-shifted themselves into cars, planes, tanks, etc., Transformers has grossed $701.6 million worldwide this year, including $318.3 million in the United States alone, becoming director Michael Bay's highest grossing film to date. Detailing a war between alien robots called Autobots (the good guys) and Decepticons (the bad guys), Transfomers starred Shia LaBeouf, Jon Voight, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson and melt-in-your-mouth, hottie ... Megan Fox. A plus for fans of the old cartoon series was the return of voice actor Peter Cullen, reprising his original role of heroic Autobot leader, Optimus Prime.

The film is loaded with awesome special effects (particularly Megan Fox) and has action, humor, tension and, did I mention Megan Fox. Whether such fare is your cup of tea or not, check out these photos of Ms. Fox and go rent this damn dvd ... asap.

1970's Flashback: Hercules Unbound

Since Halloween is this month, I've tried to skew close to a theme with my 70's Flashbacks. Swamp Monsters, 3-D Men, sci-fi heroes, etc. (The hot chicks that were profiled this month were a bonus.)

Hercules Unbound #1 was published by DC Comics in October 1975. The series created by writer Gerry Conway and artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, featured the adventures of Hercules in a post-apocalyptic future. Hercules Unbound lasted 12 issues and during its year-long run made use of several existing [but on hiatus] company characters and concepts such as The Atomic Knights and the intelligent animals from Jack Kirby's Kamandi series in an effort to tie some of these future series into a cohesive part of the vast DC Universe. It was later hinted that this version of Hercules was actually part of a dream suffered by Atomic Knights lead Gardner Grayle, but this Hercules was later shown to have actually existed somewhere in the Multiverse; however he was later eliminated during the Crisis on Infinite Earths event. Other talented artists that worked on the book were Bill Everett (on a few early issues), Walt Simonson and Wallace Wood even inked some of them towards the end of his career.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

1970's Flashback: Shade, the Changing Man

Shade, the Changing Man #1 was created by Steve Ditko for DC Comics in 1977.

Shade, the Changing Man told the story of a fugitive (whose full name is Rac Shade) from the militant planet Meta in another dimension. Rac Shade, was a secret agent in the Meta-Zone, a dimension near that of Earth, who had been framed for treason and sentenced to death. Shade was powered by a stolen "M-vest" (the Miraco-Vest) which enabled him to project the illusion of becoming a large grotesque version of himself. Through various events, Shade spent some time on Earth trying to clear his name, and using the retrieved M-Vest in the process, but he encountered resistance from the Meta-Zone authorities at every turn. Shade was attempting to clear his name bit by bit, but he remained a wanted fugitive, and he continued to use the M-Vest. The M-Vest creates a strong force-field that repels weaponry, allows a degree of flight and distorts Shade's appearance dependent on the viewer's mental state or his own.

The character was the first that Ditko had created for a mainstream publisher for many years. Prior to joining DC Comics, Ditko had worked on characters such as his Mr. A. Shade was Ditko’s return to mainstream superheroics, although Shade was set outside the DC Universe. The series ran for eight bi-monthly issues in 1978 before its untimely cancellation in the wake of the notorious "DC Implosion" event, when the company dramatically slashed their output.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Whatever happened to Dave Stevens?

During the early 1980's independent comics explosion, a wonderful artist by the name of Dave Stevens introduced his cool, retro character, The Rocketeer, at Pacific Comics.

The Rocketeer was actually 1930's aviator Cliff Secord, who discovered a futuristic jet pack and then launched his high-flying career as the heroic Rocketeer - all the while being chased by various crooks, federal agents and even the very mysterious creator of the jet pack (who bore a small resemblance to a certain "Man of Bronze" from the era of the pulps). Secord seldom had two nickles to rub together and this made his efforts to woo his hot-as-a-pistol model/girlfriend Betty a bit problematic. The character jumped to another publisher (or two) when Pacific folded, but then he got the public's attention by scoring his own Walt Disney produced motion picture in 1991.

Creator Dave Stevens was a like a breath of fresh air to the comics industry, hitting fandom just as hard as Adam Hughes would almost at the same time. But Stevens, other than producing some truly beautiful covers for several publishers, pretty much dropped out of comics for good in the wake of the Rocketeer movie.

He regularly works in the film industry as a storyboard artist and also - if rumors be true - makes a living doing advertising work and limited commissions. Stevens himself is an affable sort. I met him once, around the time the Rocketeer was filming, when he took a break to appear at a Parts Unknown weekend convention in Greensboro, NC.

The world of comics really lost a potential giant {though some would argue that his limited comics work grants him such status} when Dave Stevens flew the coop. I think that his last published work was issue #3 of the Rocketeer Adventure Magazine from Dark Horse, which was released in 1995 [later collected with a new cover in '96]. The issue itself required several artists assistance to complete as Stevens had pretty much "left the building" and was struggling to finish Cliff Secord's swan song. Artists Art Adams & Jaime Hernandez, at least, helped out on the last hurrah of the Rocketeer.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Recommended reading - "The Twelve" ... Jan. 2008

One upcoming series that I'm really looking forward to is this one, which has been solicited by Marvel Comics for January 2008:

THE TWELVE #1 (of 12) Written by J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKIPenciled by CHRIS WESTON. Yesterday's Men of Tomorrow—Today! Thought lost to the pages of time, a dozen former mystery men from the "greatest generation" of World War Two find themselves thrust into the morally-gray world of the 21st century! Now, Captain Wonder, Dynamic Man, Mastermind Excello, Mister E, the Laughing Mask, the Witness, the Black Widow, the Phantom Reporter, the Fiery Mask, Rockman, the Blue Blade and Electro the Marvel of the Age must seek a place for themselves in the modern Marvel Universe—while a silent killer seeks to eliminate them, one by one! 32 PGS …$2.99

X-Men Origins: Wolverine ... May 1, 2009

Variety reports that 20th Century Fox has chosen May 1, 2009 , the first official weekend of summer movie season, to release X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

That’s right, the spin-off now has a confirmed title.
The film starring Hugh Jackman and directed by Gavin Hood, will begin shooting later this year in Australia before moving to New Zealand and then to New Orleans. The trade paper notes that the latter location could mean the inclusion of Gambit in the storyline which, as the title suggests, deals with Wolverine’s early years.
Also, according to Variety, actor Liev Schrieber is reportedly in final talks to play the younger version of Col. William Stryker, originally portrayed in X2: X-Men United by actor Brian Cox.
Wolverine is expected to feature mutant characters that are new to the franchise and also to have others return from the three previous X-Men films.

Friday, October 19, 2007

1970's Flashback: 3-D Man

Roy Thomas debuted the 3-D Man during the 1970s in the Marvel Comics anthology series, Marvel Premiere #35 (April 1977), although his adventures were actually set in the 1950’s.

Chuck Chandler was piloting the experimental XF-13 rocket plane when he was captured by the alien Skrulls. When they attempted to interrogate him, Chandler escaped, damaging their warp star-drive in the process. The Skrull saucer exploded as the XF-13 flew away, exposing Chandler to strange radiation and the experimental plane then crashed into the Mojave Desert. As his brother Hal attempted to rescue him, Chuck Chandler disappeared, but Hal soon discovered that his missing brothers image had been imprinted onto the lenses of his eyeglasses. When Hal wore the glasses and concentrated, he triggered a dimensional shift that caused Chuck to materialize, however in this new form Chuck’s bodysuit had become red & green, and he found that he had triple his normal strength, speed, and stamina. As the costumed 3-D Man, Chuck Chandler fought crime and against the Skrull plot to invade Earth..

By concentrating on the image of his brother imprinted on his glasses, Hal Chandler could summon a super-powered version of his brother as the 3-D Man. This action would cause Hal to lose consciousness while the 3-D Man was active, and in turn, Chuck chandler could only exist for three hours at a time before Hal regained consiousness; causing the 3-D Man to subsequently disappear.

As his name suggests, the 3-D Man possessed three times the physical capabilities of a "peak" human male. 3-D Man is three times stronger, faster, and more durable than a normal man. His senses are also three times more acute and his rate of healing is three times as fast as that of a normal human. Additionally, the 3-D Man could detect Skrulls no matter what physical form they took via shape-shifting.

Kristen Bell joins Heroes on October 22, 2007

Okay, it's no secret that I love me some brunettes, but every now and then ya' also just gotta love a blond. This coming Monday night former Veronica Mars star Kristen Bell joins the already swollen cast of hit NBC series Heroes. Her character, Elle, is rumored to be a part of the "company" that has been bagging & tagging the emerging Heroes for study or other nefarious purposes.

Still if they've got uberhot, megababes like Ms. Bell working for them, then they can't really be all that bad ..... can they?
And before you make any snide remarks about that drool pouring off of my chin, I'd like to point out the fact that Kristen is 27 years old. That puts her well within the acceptable range for a mid-life-crisis-kinda guy like yours truly.

Can you believe that the CW network actually cancelled her cool series, and yet continues to air many episodes of bullshit wrestling? No I don't get it either!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

1970's Flashback: Ragman

Ragman was a weird hero in a quirky series. His villains were of the fairly plebian mobster type, existing in a neighborhood that was a hotbed of gang activity. Rory Regan’s ghetto was a dangerous place, and as the Ragman he didn't have any of the usual superhero gimmicks. However, his costume, which often acted of its' own accord, was another matter. It actually defended its' wearer and enabled Ragman to perform amazing feats. Composed of discarded rags that were sewn together, they mirrored his worn out surroundings. Amongst a populace of the poor and homeless (otherwise people without hope), he was the essence of what a true hero would be. Ragman was someone who had not been dealt the kind of hand that he would have wished, yet he fought the good fight anyway.

Ragman #1 (Aug/Sept. 1976) was scripted by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by the Nestor Redondo Studio, but the character of Ragman was originally created by Kanigher; with none other than comic-artist-supreme Joe Kubert! Unfortunately, by the time the series appeared, fans were tiring of "weird" superheroes. Ragman was canceled after only five issues. Crisis on Infinite Earths pretty much erased the history established by the first Ragman tales and the character could easily have been forgotten. But he has been revived as part of the Shadowpact series which spun off from the recent year-long crossover "52" by DC Comics.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Classic Cuties: Mara Corday

Mara Corday's principal career in movies only lasted about seven years, from 1951 until 1958, but as a result of a handful of those films -- coupled with her status as one of the most photographed models of her era -- she has maintained a steady fandom for over 50 years. This is especially true among science fiction buffs, among whom Corday's three movies in the genre -- Tarantula, The Giant Claw, and The Black Scorpion -- remain beloved films of their era. It was her work in this trio of genre films that has ensured Corday a devoted fandom for the past several decades. In Tarantula (1955) the actress was cast in a demure, intelligent role as a scientist's assistant, quite unlike the hardboiled girls from the wrong side of the tracks that she had often played in the past; and while the 200-foot-tall spider of the title attracted a lot of attention, Corday's good looks were impossible to ignore. In The Giant Claw (1957), which suffered from ludicrous special effects, she was the best thing to look at in the entire movie, even for filmgoers under the age of 13; and in The Black Scorpion (1957), she actually supplied her own wardrobe, and looked nothing less than stunning in virtually all of her scenes, and she even got to fill the role of a full-blooded heroine, complete with acts of bravery of her own.

Corday's modeling career continued uninterrupted, culminating in October 1958 when she was the featured Playmate of the Month in Hugh Hefner's Playboy magazine -- she would probably have been able to build on the momentum of the Playboy issue, but for the fact that she later married actor Richard Long (tv's The Big Valley, Nanny and the Professor), who insisted that Mara stay at home to raise their family. Following Long's untimely death in 1974, Corday resumed her film career with help from one of the most successful of her fellow Universal contract players, Clint Eastwood, who gave her roles in The Gauntlet (1977), Sudden Impact (1983), Pink Cadillac (1989), and The Rookie (1990).

Trivia: Mara Corday's lifelong friend, Clint Eastwood, had a small role in Tarantula. He was the fighter pilot who napalmed the beast in the films climax.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

1970's Flashback: Man-Thing

Marvel Comics introduced their own muck-monster which was created by writers Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway (with artist Gray Morrow) in Savage Tales #1 (May 1971). Man-Thing went on to become the lead feature in Adventures into Fear and eventually his own series; Man-Thing vol. 1, which was written by Steve Gerber, introduced the popular cult character Howard the Duck. Man-Thing also starred in a god-awful 2005 TV-movie that must be avoided at all costs.

Man-Thing is a large, slow-moving, vaguely humanoid creature living in the Florida Everglades near the Seminole reservation. Ted Sallis was a biochemist who developed a "miracle drug" later defined as an attempt at recreating the "super-soldier serum" that had created Captain America. Betrayed by his lover, Ellen Brandt, Sallis flees from agents from AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics), who coveted his formula and research. Sallis injected himself with the serum, but after crashing into a swamp and apparently drowning, he was transformed into a swamp creature through a combination of his formula and (it was later explained) magical forces extant in the area. Ted Sallis' mind was apparently extinguished, although it was later shown that he could briefly return to consciousness within his monstrous form and indeed he has even been briefly returned to his own human form several times. Sallis's assistant, introduced later, was an elderly, African-American scientist, Dr. Wilma Calvin.

Gerber expanded on the notion of the swamp having mystical properties and in issue #14 coined it the "Nexus of all Realities", thus supplying numerous demons, ghosts, time-traveling warriors, etc., to serve as the Man-Thing's antagonists—although he continued to encounter non-supernatural villains as well, including land developers, fascist vigilantes, and common criminals. If this sounds similar to DC's Swamp Thing character, well, you wouldn't be the first to notice the "Big Two" publishing similarly-themed comics within weeks of each other. It was a common habit back in those days.

Industrial Espionage? Maybe!

Monday, October 15, 2007

1970's Flashback: Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing was created by writer Len Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson for DC Comics. The character first appeared in House of Secrets #92 (June/July 1971), but was subsequently featured in his own long-running series of the same name. Swamp Thing is a humanoid mass of vegetable matter who fights to protect his swampy home, the environment in general and often humanity from various supernatural or terrorist threats. The series later enjoyed a popular reinvention of the character in 1984 by British writer Alan Moore and artist John Totleben; which has been particularly influential on modern comics. Under Moore's stewardship, the character became a psychologically complex creature immersed in an auto-referential journey to determine his capabilities, the actual degree of his humanity and his true place in the world.

Originally Swamp Thing was simply Alec Holland, a scientist who had been working on a top secret bio-restorative formula (that could make forests out of deserts) in the Louisiana swamps. Holland was caught in the explosion of a bomb planted by agents of the mysterious Nathan Ellery, who wanted to black market the formula. Splashed with burning chemicals during the massive fire, Holland ran from the lab and fell into the muck-filled swamp nearby, and following which a creature resembling a humanoid plant was seen shambling out of some time later. The creature called Swamp Thing, was originally conceived as Alec Holland, having mutated into a vegetable-like creature or nothing more than a "muck-encrusted mockery of a man". However, under writer Alan Moore, Swamp Thing was reinvented as an elemental entity who was created upon the death of Alec Holland, but possessing Holland's memory and personality. Swamp thing is now described as "a plant that thought it was Alec Holland; a plant that was trying its level best to be Alec Holland."

Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of "The Prisoner"!

The Prisoner was an allegorical British science fiction television mini-series starring Patrick McGoohan. It followed a British agent who (after abruptly resigning from his position as a top-level government operative) is held captive in a small, colorful village by unknown people who are concerned about his resignation. Each episode typically featured the imprisoned former agent, now labelled "Number Six" by his captors [who refuse to use names] failing to escape from "the Village", but successfully resisting various interrogation and brainwashing attempts made by his mysterious captors.

The ground-breaking show was created by McGoohan and George Markstein, with exteriors filmed primarily on location at the Hotel Portmeirion resort village in Penrhyndeudraeth, North Wales. Only seventeen episodes were produced, with the first being originally broadcast in London in October 1967. Although marketed as a spy thriller in the mold of McGoohan's previous series, Danger Man, the show's combination of 1960’s countercultural themes and its surreal setting had a far-reaching effect upon science fiction-fantasy-genre television and also popular culture in general.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

1970's Flashback: Rima the Jungle Girl

Rima was the heroine of the 1904 Victorian-era novel Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest by Argentine-British writer W. H. Hudson, a naturalist who wrote many classic books about the ecology of South America. Hudson based Rima on a persistent South American legend about a lost tribe of white people who lived in the mountains. DC Comics adapted the character in a short-lived comic book series, Rima the Jungle Girl in 1974.

All but forgotten now, the 7-issue run of her monthly series is of significance within the world of comics, because it features rarely seen interior artwork by famed Filipino illustrator Nestor Redondo and covers by Joe Kubert. Rima the Jungle Girl is noteworthy as one of DC's first major publishing efforts (other than Wonder Woman) to feature a woman hero as the titular star of her own book. The ecology movement of the early 1970s also made her stories very timely. Writer Robert Kanigher, used many themes showing Rima passively interfering with predatory hunters and natives rather than engaging them in outright battles.

Like other jungle girls, Rima is always scantily-clad and barefoot, however unlike the literary character, DC’s Rima is a fully-grown and powerful woman with Ashe-blond hair. In the Hudson novel Rima the Bird Girl was 17 years old, small (4' 6"), demure, and dark-haired. Natives avoided her forest, calling her "the Daughter of the Didi" (an evil spirit), but Rima's only true defense is a reputation for magic, earned through the display of such strange talents as talking to birds, befriending other animals and occasionally plucking poison darts from the air.

Trivia: Green Mansions became a 1959 film for MGM Studios starring Audrey Hepburn as Rima. This filmed adaptation deviated far from the novel; in particular, Hepburn's Rima was simply a mysterious girl who lived on her parents' plantation.

Monday, October 8, 2007

In Memoriam: Richard H. Goldwater

Richard H. Goldwater, President/Co-Publisher of Archie Comics, passed away October 2, 2007, after battling cancer. Richard’s father, John Goldwater, was the co-creator of Archie Andrews – America’s perennial teenager, and his girlfriends Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge. In 1941, John and his business partners, Louis Silberkleit and Maurice Coyne, founded MLJ, the company that later became Archie Comic Publications. Richard joined the Company after college and, worked his way up through the business learning all facets of running a successful publishing empire.

Richard was instrumental in the introduction of new properties, such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Josie and the Pussycats. He took great satisfaction knowing that Archie Comics only produced comics with content that parents could trust to be appropriate for their children. Richard also assisted efforts to expand Archie’s core characters into other mediums – including countless “Archie”, “Sabrina” and “Josie” animated television series, a live action “Sabrina” television series, a “Josie and the Pussycats” theatrical motion picture and “The Archies” musical group that had tremendous success in the 60’s and 70’s.

1970's Flashback(s): The Invaders & The Liberty Legion

Roy Thomas loves golden age comics and the many heroes who got their start during the WWII period. In the 1970's while he was a writer/editor at the House of Ideas, Thomas tried twice to recapture the magic of the "golden age" using Timely's [former name of Marvel] original stable of heroic champions.

Giant-Size Invaders #1 (June 1975) regrouped Captain America and his sidekick Bucky, the original Human Torch and his sidekick Toro and the Sub-Mariner as an Axis-busting team who would take the fight right to Hitler's Fortress Europa stronghold on behalf of the Allied Forces. After this single, annual-sized one-shot, The Invaders were spun off into their own series which lasted for 41 issues.

Less successful, but equally appealing, The Liberty Legion, first appeared in back-to-back issues of Marvel Premiere #29 & 30 (April/June 1976). This team was organized by Cap's young partner, Bucky when his Invader pals were struck down by the Red Skull. The Patriot, Miss America, the Whizzer, Jack Frost, the Blue Diamond, Red Raven and the Thin Man all responded to Bucky's wartime radio broadcast for super-heroic assistance. The Liberty Legion never made it to their own mag, but the characters made sporadic appearances throughout the Marvel universe and several later became Invaders themselves.

Note: Roy Thomas would pull the same stunt for DC comics in the 1980's with his All-Star Squadron series which utilized golden age characters from DC's vast stable of similar WWII period heroes.