Monday, December 17, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 17: Gunsmoke

Earlier I looked at a somber Christmas episode of Dragnet. Another radio program from the same era which also strived for realism was Gunsmoke, but their Christmas episodes are feel-good programs. And so it is with the one I've chosen from December 20, 1952. It features Marshal Matt Dillon (as played by William Conrad) trying to get home to Dodge City for Christmas by hitching a lift with a very taciturn man. As Dillon tells his new acquaintence what Christmas is like in Dodge he gradually begins to win the man's friendship.

You can hear the episode on archive.org here.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 16: Tarzan

Everyone wants to get in on the holiday spirit - even everyone's favourite problematic jungle hero! Tarzan presented the episode "Congo Christmas" on December 27, 1951. This one features moon worshipers trying to rise up against Christians just ahead of Christmas. Good thing Tarzan's there to make peace! You can listen to it on archive.org here.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 15: Jack Benny

It's Saturday, so that means I'm posting another episode of the Jack Benny Program! In this episode from December 24, 1939, Jack hosts another Christmas party at his house. The highlights include a visit from Jack's brother-in-law, who is constantly comparing Hollywood against Waukeegan and deciding the former comes up short. Rochester proves himself to be the show's MVP as he gets many of the episode's biggest laughs.

You can hear this episode on youtube here

Friday, December 14, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 14: The Adventures of the Falcon

One radio series which I haven't listened to often is The Adventures of the Falcon. The character is best known for the motion pictures he appeared in during the 1940s. Back when QR77 would run their "12 Days of Christmas", every year they would include the episode "The Unwelcome Christmas Present" from December 20, 1951. That was the only time QR77 ever played an episode of the Falcon and in all the years since then, I've only heard one other episode of the show.

And the thing is, it's pretty good so far as radio private eye programs go. In this episode, a man buys a fur coat for his girlfriend; the next thing he knows, criminals are trying to get the coat from him. It must surely be a stolen coat worth a fortune - but if that's the case, why do the department store appraisers identify the fur as worthless? You can listen to it on archive.org here.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 13: Our Miss Brooks

So far as radio sitcoms go, Our Miss Brooks was one of the most formulaic - just about every episode's misunderstanding which leads to increased complications followed the same flow - but it didn't matter because it was done well by a great cast of comic actors, particularly Eve Arden, Jeff Chandler and Gale Gordon.

There are few nice Christmas episodes of Our Miss Brooks, but my favourite is "The Magic Christmas Tree" from December 25, 1949, in which Miss Brooks purchases a Christmas tree which transforms people's personalities after they touch it. It's mostly an excuse for the cast to behave out-of-character, and that's reason enough. You can hear it on archive.org here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 12: Dragnet

Most of the Christmas radio programs I'm featuring are comedies or feature stories which are ultimately life-affirming and warmhearted. Something a bit stronger, however, is Jack Webb's show Dragnet. There are some very nice holiday episodes of Dragnet from over the years, but the one I've chosen to look at is a notorious episode called "A .22 Rifle for Christmas" from December 22, 1949. Two children disappear just ahead of Christmas. When one of the boys reappears, he has a tragic story to share about playing with the rifle his father bought him for Christmas.

This episode was not beloved by the NRA (to put it mildly). Like all Dragnet episodes, it's based on actual events; like most Dragnet episodes, it's grim and stark. But not entirely without heart. You can hear it at archive.org here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 11: Duffy's Tavern

The radio series Duffy's Tavern is an interesting one. Starring Ed Gardner as Archie, bartender at the titular pub, it had a lot of blue collar humour. Many of the laughs would come from the way Gardner would speak malapropisms. However, there's one Christmas episode which is played primarily for drama.

Called "Miracle on Third Avenue", the epsiode features Archie feeling downcast around the holidays. Then he meets a stranger played by Jeff Chandler who tries to show Archie what makes Christmas so special. It was first broadcast December 22, 1948 and you can hear it at archive.org here.

Monday, December 10, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 10: Miracle on 34th Street

While it was interesting that Lux Radio Theater adapted It's a Wonderful Life during the month of March, the film release of Miracle on 34th Street is even more astounding; it was released by 20th Century Fox in June, 1947! Knowing that a Christmas film was an odd choice for summertime viewing, the studio actually played down their own premise and simply let word of mouth generate the buzz; apparently it worked, because by the time Lux Radio Theater adapted it on December 22, 1947, the film was still playing in theatres!

This radio version is great, with Edmund Gwenn's marvelous voice a real treat. You can check it out at archive.org here.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 9: Truth or Consequences

Setting aside Information Please I'm not terribly interested in old radio game shows; winners and losers of 70 year old contests don't really matter to me. I'm not especially fond of Truth or Consequences either. It was a game show where the contestants were usually doomed to answer host Ralph Edwards' questions wrong and then perform some humiliating stunt. I really cannot stand Edwards' histrionic performance as the host. The series does nothing for me.

Except for one episode! On December 22, 1947, Edwards hosted a special Christmas program where he welcomed a bedridden veteran over the radio. In an excellent use of radio's ability to engage the listener's imagination, Edwards proceeds to whisk the veteran to his hometown as they had set up remote broadcast stations throughout the town in preparation. It's an immensely heartwarming program and one of the best ideas for a Christmas show in the history of radio.

You can hear the episode at archive.org here.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 8: Jack Benny

Yes, more Jack Benny! There will be a Jack Benny episode every Saturday during this theme month. He's my favourite, after all!

This time out I've chosen the December 25, 1938 episode of the Jack Benny Program. Jack hosts a Christmas party at his house and has a devious plan to upstage Phil Harris by dating Barbara Whitney, Phil's girlfriend. However, Phil upstages Jack by arriving with Jack's film co-star Joan Bennett as his date!

You can hear the episode on archive.org here.

Friday, December 7, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 7: It's a Wonderful Life

There are certain films which have become traditional holiday viewing in my family's household; back in the days when It's a Wonderful Life was in the public domain, my father bought a cheap copy as one of the first VHS tapes in our collection. It was my first exposure to film star James Stewart and director Frank Capra. In some ways the film isn't quite a Christmas movie - the main action of the film is set on Christmas, but the rest of the picture is made up of flashbacks from throughout George Bailey's life. But as it isn't entirely a Christmas film, I suppose that's why it was adapted for radio in the month of March!

Lux Radio Theater adapted It's a Wonderful Life on March 10, 1947, three months after it had debuted in theatres and brought back James Stewart & Donna Reed to reprise their film roles. Henry Travers wasn't present to reprise the role of Clarence the angel, but it's a pretty good radio adaptation - definitely far superior to the half-hour version done on Screen Director's Playhouse which doesn't have anywhere near enough time to tell the story effectively.

You can listen to the Lux Radio Theater adaptation of It's a Wonderful Life on archive.org here.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 6: My Friend Irma

Marie Wilson's portrayal of the titular Irma in My Friend Irma must be one of the great prototypical 'dumb blondes' of fiction. Wilson portrayed the character on the radio, television and in film. Unfortunately, she was upstaged in her own movies thanks to the presence of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis.

Wilson was supported by a first-rate radio cast, including John Brown as Irma's no-good boyfriend Al and Cathy Lewis as Irma's sensible best friend Jane. In this Christmas episode from December 20, 1948, Irma is eager to celebrate the holidays with her friends, only to find Al, Jane and the rest have other plans.

You can listen to the episode at archive.org here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 5: The Plot to Overthrow Christmas

Norman Corwin is very highly regarded among old-time radio fans, but if you aren't interested in radio drama you've probably never heard his name. There were basically two kinds of scripts he wrote: highly patriotic scripts about American values, and deeply silly scripts which often played out in rhyme. Such a script is "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas", which was broadcast several times over the years with various different casts.

The plot involves the greatest fiends in Hades deciding to "bump off" Santa Claus so that they can bring an end to all the goodness of Christmas. The rhyming dialogue is often apologetic for the extreme lengths it goes to in order to complete a rhyme.

The version of "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas" found at archive.org is dated as being from December 24, 1942. You can listen to it here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 4: Phil Harris & Alice Faye

My first exposure to the Phil Harris/Alice Faye Show was through a version of their annual Christmas program. Virtually every Christmas they would use the same script and it was a pretty great one. As you can hear in the first version from December 21, 1947, the plot involves Phil and Alice hiring an actor to portray Santa Claus: Jack Benny himself!

It's a very funny episode, not only because Jack Benny is excellent, but for Elliot Lewis' turn as Frankie Remley, who is disgusted with Phil for hiring an "impostor" to play Santa Claus. Eventually, after Jack Benny went from NBC to CBS, he stopped appearing in the Christmas shows and Jack's friend Andy Devine took his place. But you can't replace Jack; the idea of the stingy, miserly Jack portraying Santa Claus is innately funny.

You can hear the 1947 version of this story at archive.org here.

Monday, December 3, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 3: Dark Fantasy

Scott Bishop's series Dark Fantasy is a bit of an oddity. We have practically the entire series intact. It was a kind of low-budget horror series, but with very expressive writing. I have no idea why Scott Bishop didn't go on to greater things in radio, his scripts were well above average. At any rate, "The House of Bread" from December 26, 1941 was his Christmas-themed episode of the series, in which Bishop himself is a character in the story, seeking to learn where to find the titular "House of Bread."

You can listen to "The House of Bread" at archive.org here.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 2: A Christmas Carol

No Christmas season would be complete without Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I grew up enjoying the 1951 film version, Scrooge, but I believe the single best adaptation of the tale occurred on Orson Welles' Campbell Playhouse on December 24, 1939. It features Orson as the narrator with Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge and Welles' Mercury Players in the other roles.

Lionel Barrymore made his performance as Scrooge an annual tradition on the radio for many years and this time, with the best radio players in the medium, it comes off amazingly well. You can listen to it at archive.org here.

More OTR holiday programming tomorrow!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 1: Jack Benny

I've often devoted the month of October to a day-by-day blogging exercise where I look back on one old-time radio episode per day, all themed for Halloween. This year, I'm going to blog every day of December instead and look at shows related to Christmas and the surroundings holidays.

I love Christmas old-time radio shows. My interest in OTR began when I would listen to "Those Old Radio Shows" on QR77, which used to be broadcast on every night of the year (currently they broadcast on Fridays & Saturdays). When I first became a listener the shows were taken from a pretty limited library. Each year before Christmas, they would run "The 12 Days of Christmas" from Dec. 14-25 and the first program of each block would be a Christmas episode of an OTR show. Some of them were programs which didn't otherwise exist in their library.

As I've noted before, initally I didn't care for comedy programs and I'd often turn off my radio when one came on, but during "The 12 Days" I would listen to the Christmas shows. Eventually I developed a better appreciation for radio comedy. And so, my hope is that during this 31-day blogging exercise I might get you to try out a radio program you might not otherwise sample.

As Jack Benny became my favourite old-time radio comedian, it's Jack Benny who I'm beginning with. On December 12, 1937, The Jack Benny Program featured Jack and Mary Livingstone shopping for presents. It's not the greatest episode in the series as there were still a few kinks being worked out, but it's a very snappy episode. More to the point, it established what became a tradition - an episode of Jack going shopping and being frustrated by unhelpful store staff, with various jokes about how cheap Jack is. You can listen to the episode on Youtube here.

More seasonal OTR tomorrow!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Angola in the Comics #10: Swamp Thing #19

Here's another very brief look at an appearance by Angola as the setting of a DC super hero comic. Like my previous look at a 1977 Batman comic, Angola appears for only a single panel. The book in question is Swamp Thing #19 and the story "Rootless" by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artists Giuseppe Camuncoli & Cameron Stewart, originally released in 2001. It seems appropriate that a DC super hero visited Angola near the beginning of the Civil War and likewise one visited near the conclusion. (there doesn't seem to be any appearances from the middle though)

Swamp Thing is normally a thoughtful horror/fantasy book about the plant elemental creature Swamp Thing who, per Alan Moore, once thought he was a man named Alec Holland. However, the star of the Swamp Thing series which ran during 2000-2001 was Tefé Holland, the half-human/half-plant daughter of the original. Brian K. Vaughan was a relatively young comics author at the time, this being before his breakout work on Y: The Last Man or Runaways. In fact, Vaughan has said in interviews that he doesn't think too highly of his early comics work, that he saw it as a means to get "bad writing" out of his system.

It seems Tefé and her friend Pilate are searching for the literal Tree of Knowledge and their quest has brought them to Africa. Like, the entire continent. In a quick series of panels we see them visit just about every hotspot in Africa circa 2001: first an "amputee camp" in Sierra Leone, then to the civil war in Angola, then rescuing slaves in the Sudan, then opposing female genital mutilation in Ethiopia, then starvation in Somalia, and finally battling rebels in Namibia. Any one of those subjects could have been the subject of a half-decent post-Alan Moore Vertigo comic, but it's ultimately Namibia where the bulk of issue #19 goes down.

So all we're left with is that panel of Tefé & Pilate fighting nondescript people in a nondescript location which is only identifiable as Angola because the caption tells us it is; are those guys UNITA? MPLA? Mercenaries? Or just criminals? Heck if I know. Giuseppe Camuncoli has come a long way since 2001 - his work in this comic is very thin on detail. Even with Cameron Stewart inking him, it looks very dashed-off.

Swamp Thing was frequently a great platform for authors to talk about environmental issues they were passionate about and there is much to discuss about Angola - you could talk about how landmines have wrecked the agricultural industry, discuss the perfect environmental conditions they enjoy. You could talk about the unique plant life found only in that part of the world, like yesterday's Poison Ivy comic did. But nope, it's just glanced over, which is a pity. The actual plot in Namibia reads a little strangely as Tefé & Pilate encounter an African mystic who talks to them in English. Pilate says it's the first English he's heard in weeks, which is... huh? There's a pretty visible white population in Namibia and plenty of English spoken there. Heck, they'd just come from Sierra Leone, which has a lot of English spoken. Good rule of thumb for writers: former English colonies tend to have English-speaking populations.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Angola in the Comics #9: Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death #1

Welcome to another entry in my occasional series, Angola in the Comics where I explore those rare times in which Angola has appeared as the setting of a comic book. This time out it's Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life Death #1, the first issue of a six-issue limited series from 2016. I won't be examining the entire series - in fact, I'm only going to look at the first few pages of issue #1 because it's the only part which concerns Angola. The story is written by Amy Chu and drawn by Clay Mann & Seth Mann.

We are, of course, looking a story where the protagonist is a villain. Poison Ivy is a long-time Batman villain but, like most of his enemies, she's acquired a healthy fanbase of her own, hence the mini-series.

We open in the deserts of southern Angola, where an African fellow named Dr. Nepolo is driving a jeep containing Dr. Pamela Isley, the civilian identity of Poison Ivy. Dr. Nepolo brings Isley to the site of a welwitschia, which is Isley's reason for being here. Now, she didn't have to go all the way to Angola to find one as they are also found in Namibia and as she's entering Angola from the south, she would have had opportunities to find one there. But this is all very accurate. The welwitschia is indeed a very rare plant (found only in Angola & Namibia). On my 2nd visit to Angola, my uncle insisted on show one to me; we didn't have to offroading in the desert like Isley, though - we could see one from the highway as we were driving through Namibe and he pulled over, then took me to see it. The weltwitschia is one of the oldest plants in existence.

Sure enough, the creators bring up these details - Dr. Nepolo identifies the plant as "at least 2000 years old." That's quite a statement based only on visual evidence - I believe the plant does become bigger with time, but heck, it looks about the same size as the one I saw by Namibe and it was less than a thousand years old.

Isley crouches down next to the plant, telling Dr. Nepolo she's having a "conversation" with it. This is something Poison Ivy does all the time in the comics, but of course Dr. Nepolo doesn't realize he's working with a super-villain and raises his eyebrow at this. Then they pull out shovels and start digging. It occurs to me that for all of Poison Ivy's claims that she is a protector of the plants, she's uprooting a unique specimen from its native habitat just so she can place it under her own care, really no better than those who capture animals for zoos. What I'm saying is, maybe super-villains don't have a moral code.

Before they can finish digging the plant out, a truck pulls out and two men emerge, brandishing guns. Dr. Nepolo identifies them as men from the nearby diamond mines. That's a little strange, as Angola's most fertile diamond fields are way, way up in the north, but I guess it's not impossible... on the other hand, the men speak perfect English, which is also not what you'd expect to find in southern Angola. The men accuse Isley and Nepolo of trespassing, but Ivy causes the welwitschia to spring to life and ensnare one of the men. The scene shifts to "48 hours later" as Isley finishes depositing the welwitschia in the Gotham Botanical Gardens. That's quite a feat, safely unearthing a plant that old... but putting it in a hothouse in the northern United States? Considering the welwitschia requires such an exact desert climate in order to thrive, I don't think a hothouse is the right place for it. And I definitely think there are safer cities than Gotham, considering how often that city seems to burn to the ground. What I'm saying is, maybe super-villains are not the brightest people around.

Anyway, this was a pretty minor appearance of Angola and although you could quibble about the details, they got a lot of things right!

  • +2 estrelas for using the weltwitschia, a plant found in southern Angola
  • +1 estrela for correctly identifying Angola as a place where diamonds are found.

TOTAL SCORE: Três estrelas!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Lights Out everybody

Yesterday I blogged briefly about the Inner Sanctum comic which (unexpectedly) appeared in an issue of Super-Magician Comics in 1943. Although the feature never reappeared in that series, in 1944 Street & Smith were ready to try again.

In two issues of Super-Magician Comics (v3 #6 & v3 #9), the radio program Lights Out appeared as a comic book feature. It was a strange time to trying to adapt Lights Out as the series had gone off the air in 1943. Still, I suppose it brought a bit of money to the program writer/producer Arch Oboler. Unlike the previous Inner Sanctum story where I was not certain whether the plot was adapted from a radio script, this time both instances are definitely adapted from Oboler's stories - they're both stories which have survived as recordings!

The feature in v3 #6 opens just as the Inner Sanctum story did, by providing a history of the personality behind the show; last time, it was a biography of the host, Raymond Edward Johnson. This time, it's of Arch Oboler himself (who did, of course, also host the show during his tenure). As before, The Grand Comics Database has no idea who worked on this feature. Most of the first 3 pages are spent describing Oboler's career, including his script for the film Escape and they drop the name of the radio show's last sponsor, Ironized Yeast.

Partially into the third page, the adaptation begins: it is of "Meteor Man" which you can hear at archive.org right here. The story involves a scientist who discovers a meteorite with a living creature inside whose mental powers threaten to enslave humanity. I understand that the original 1937 script of "Meteor Man" was a little more gruesome than the later radio play, which is the only one which survives (evidently the monster killed more people in the original). The comics adaptation would seem to be nearest to the later version.

In issue v3 #9, the adaptation is of 1942's "Come to the Bank" which you can hear at archive.org here. This one is about a man who tries to place mind over matter and succeeds in walking inside a wall - but then can't get out. identifies this one as being drawn by Charles Boland, who signed the final panel.

It's pretty neat to discover Lights Out had its own comic book feature, even if it was limited to only two instalments. Although Arch Oboler's stories were written with actors & sound effects in mind, I think many of them would have been effective as comic book adaptations. Too bad it didn't appear more frequently!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Pleasant dreams?

It's kind of amazing that I have been a fan of comic books and old-time radio for as many years as I have, and yet still have so many new things to discover in how those two hobbies overlap. Just recently I was amazed to learn that radio's Inner Sanctum appeared as a comic book! Sure, a few years back Ernie Colon made a comic with semi-adaptations from the radio show (I wrote about it here), but this was a comic book from 1943 when Inner Sanctum was still on the air!

The comic book in question is Super-Magician Comics v2 #7, published by Street & Smith. The Grand Comics Database has no idea who was responsible for this comic, as Street & Smith's comics were usually printed anonymously and there simply hasn't been as much scholarly attention placed on them as on Fawcett, Quality, Marvel or Dell comics of the same era.

Interestingly, the comic's Inner Sanctum feature begins as a biography of Raymond Edward Johnson, using a very loose cartooning style to illustrate his time as a golf caddie and waiter before becoming an actor. On the third page, Raymond is dressed up in black and wearing a top hat (as he often appeared in publicity pictures for the radio show) and within an old house with a squeaking door.

The story is about 'the mummy's curse' and if it was based on a radio script, I haven't been able to find it. A woman believes that a mummy has the face of her missing husband and there's an evil yogi who tries to hypnotize her. It has a very strangely dizzying pace which leads me to believe it's trying to adapt a 30-minute radio play in only 5 pages, but I can't be sure.

Come back tomorrow for another radio/comics oddity...

Thursday, November 22, 2018

"The Shogunate must not learn the secrets of our religion!" Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden #7 thoughts

I suppose one of the most impressive things about Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo is that the series is constantly able to tread new ground and delve into previously-unexplored concepts. This is no mean feat for a 30+ year old title. Without transporting the series into a different setting (outside of Space Usagi, which has its own continuity) and without succumbing to tie-ins to other titles (other than the occasional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles jam), Usagi Yojimbo finds new ideas by simply exploring different aspects of feudal-era Japan.

Most recently the series ran Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden, a seven-issue limited series with an intriguing hook: two men are murdered and Usagi joins his old friend Inspector Ishida in examining the crime. However, the dead men are Christians at a time when Christianity is an illegal religion. As the story advances, they learn the dead men were carrying a Bible. A thief plundered the dead men and now various people are after the book; the killers turns out to be agents of the Shogunate, so it's the law vs. the law - Ishida as a local police inspector against the superior authority of the government.

Along with the recent Martin Scorcese film Silence, Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden is one of the few American pieces of pop culture exploring this interesting period of Japan/Christian history. The text pieces by Sakai were very fascinating, especially in the final issue where he describes how Japanese Christians would use mirrors to fashion the symbol of the cross.

The climax of the tale involves a very neat little sleight-of-hand with a genuinely surprising reveal on the final page which changes how the previous 6 issues are interpreted, which is again no small feat. Stan Sakai remains a master of comic art storytelling and Usagi Yojimbo continues to prove itself his masterpiece.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Some recent Marvel profiles at the Appendix

I am no longer an active writer/editor at the Marvel Appendix site, but recently they held a special 2018 Halloween Event. I did contribute two profiles to that one: Hag and Troll, a pair of forgotten Ghost Rider villains. Check 'em out!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Live Like That

Yesterday I delivered a new sermon at my church, which can be listened to at this page. The gist of it is: I am now an associate with SIM Canada and will begin taking longer mission trips to Angola in the future.

As for the song I'm referencing, it's here:

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Available at Comixology - Marvel Legacy: The 1980s Handbook

Comixology is carrying this handbook as well, with a 1980s OHOTMU-style cover by Sal Buscema!

Marvel Legacy: The 1980s Handbook #1

From the Venerable Vaults of Marveldom, it's the Mighty Marvel Handbook - 1980's style! Just what is the 1980s Handbook, you ask? Imagine a Handbook written at 11:59 PM Dec. 31, 1989. The profiles within cover everything published by the hallowed House of Ideas up until that point. So if it's from a comic that has a December 1989 cover date or earlier, you'll find it in this magnificent mag! Featuring 1980s takes on the Avengers, Captain Marvel, the Defenders, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, She-Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor and Wolverine - plus U.S. Archer, Captain Hero, the Crossroads, Crystar, DP7, Fusion, Hercules of the 24th century, Lady Daemon, Lunatik, Necromon, Nightmask, Nuke, Rocket Raccoon, Spaceknights, Spider-Ham, Micah Synn, Zaniac and more!

You can buy it on Comixology here!

Friday, November 16, 2018

On Comixology - Marvel Legacy: The 1970s Handbook

Also on Comixology! Going very cheap! And check out the awesome Sal Buscema cover!

Marvel Legacy: The 1970s Handbook #1

From the Venerable Vaults of Marveldom, it's the Mighty Marvel Handbook -- 1970s style! Just what is the 1970s Handbook, you ask? Imagine a Handbook written at 11:59 PM Dec. 31, 1979. The profiles within cover everything published by the hallowed House of Ideas up until that point. So if it's from a comic that has a December 1979 cover date or earlier, you'll find it in this magnificent mag! Featuring the Avengers, Captain Marvel, the Defenders, the Fantastic Four, Power Man, the Punisher and the X-Men as they were in the 1970s, as well as'70s-era characters such as Black Brother, the Deadly Dozen, the Faceless One, Golem, Hellcow, Lady Liberators, Manphibian, Ms. Marvel, Mr. Zodiac, Sons of the Tiger, They Who Wield Power, Xorr the God-Jewel and more!

You can buy it on Comixology here.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Now on Comixology - Marvel Legacy: The 1960s Handbook

These were fun books to put together and Sal Buscema's covers were really neat. And now they're on Comixology!

Marvel Legacy: The 1960s Handbook #1

Here it is, True Believers! You knew we'd do it sooner or later! From the Venerable Vaults of Marveldom, it's the Mighty Marvel Handbook -- 1960s style! Just what is the 1960s Handbook, you ask? Imagine a Handbook written at 11:59 PM Dec. 31, 1969. The profiles within cover everything published by the hallowed House of Ideas up until that point. So if it's from a comic that has a December 1969 cover date or earlier, you'll find it in this magnificent mag! From the Acrobat to Zota -- with the Avengers, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the Silver Surfer, Spider-Man, the Sub-Mariner, Thor and the X-Men as they were in the 1960s, as well as '60s-era characters such as Factor Three, the Beasts of Berlin, Chili, the Infant Terrible, Mogul of the Mystic Mountain, the Painter of 1000 Perils, the Living Brain, Patsy Walker, the Blackie Drago Vulture, the Ringo Kid and more!

You can buy it from Comixology here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Stan Lee: "It's complicated."

As I indicated when I wrote about Stan Lee's death, there are certain criticisms I have about him, but it didn't seem right to bring them up when his life really does deserve to be celebrated.

Stan Lee's most obvious failing was his knack for putting his name on all kinds of terrible products. As more and more time elapsed, he would put his name on an increasingly-large market of subpar products, not only in comics but in film, television and cologne.

But the aspect of Stan Lee's character which I found problematic was his approach to credits. As I noted before, he did a great thing by standardizing creator credits at Marvel Comics - he frequently would talk up the artists who collaborated with him. Virtually all of his collaborators found him a very fine guy.

The way in Stan wrote comic books was to provide artists with a rough idea of what the plot could be, then he would dialogue the pages as they came in. It became called the "Marvel Method" but it was primarily a means to an end - Stan didn't have the time to type up full plots/scripts. Fortunately, artists like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko & Don Heck didn't require any hand-holding, they could throw together the pages on their own. Kirby in particular would offer suggestions for dialogue and we know from existing samples that Stan would often take Kirby's suggestions.

The problems began as Marvel Comics became famous and the media started approaching Stan. Stan eagerly adopted the role of spokesman for comics, but because journalists didn't understand much about how comics were made, they tended to assume Stan was the person most responsible for the comics - heck, they'd even assume he drew the comics unless expressly told otherwise. What Stan was doing was a collaboration and the media didn't quite get it - and they definitely didn't get how heavily skewed the collaboration was towards the artists' strength.

The problem deepened as Stan would, as he often said, "take any credit that wasn't nailed down." He would shrug off his credit-stealing by blaming his faulty memory, but there was a definite change in how he spoke about his creations over time; in the 1960s, he readily admitted Dr. Strange was 100% Steve Ditko and the Silver Surfer was 100% Jack Kirby - but more and more, he would refer to himself as "the" creator of the Marvel Comics super heroes. It's understandable why he thought this, because the concepts frequently originated in his mind, then he would ask an artist to develop the idea. But those characters did not really exist until the artists visualized Stan's idea and plotted out their adventures.

Detractors of Jack KIrby & Steve Ditko have often pointed to their post-Marvel work as being inferior. I recall several people complaining to me about Kirby's scripting on The Eternals back when I ran an Eternals fan page. But heck, the Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, New Gods, the Question, the Creeper - those characters may not be as good as the 1960s Marvel super heroes, but they're a thousand times better than anything Stan Lee created after 1972.

It's a difficult thing to talk about, even now - the weird alchemy of time and place and of writer and artist (colorist too, for that matter); what makes a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby super-villain instantly memorable and a Stan Lee/Don Heck super-villain instantly forgettable?

Because Stan Lee was such a wonderfully friendly person and because journalists weren't usually educated on how the comics were made, it was difficult to discuss these matters throughout Stan's life. I recall being amazed at Jonathan Ross' documentary In Search of Steve Ditko because Ross actually tried to pin down Stan during an interview - it's the only time I've ever seen footage of Stan Lee with a camera on him and uncomfortable about it.

Some people try to turn these questions into "are you pro-Stan or anti-Kirby" etc. I have no interest in that. I definitely agree they did their best work together, and I likewise adore Lee/Ditko. (Lee/Romita, Lee/Maneely & Lee/Colan were pretty good too) But now that Stan has passed away and I've taken this off my chest, I don't think it will bother me too much... except for all the times in the future where I'll see the phrase "Marvel Universe credited by Stan Lee" and sigh a little. There are so many more creators to talk about. So many.

Monday, November 12, 2018

RIP: Stan Lee

Stan Lee died today. He was 95 years old. My feelings about him are somewhat divided, so today I'm going to celebrate his life; tomorrow, I'll criticize him.

Stan came to work for Marvel Comics in the 1940s as a mere teenager, an office boy hired by his cousin's husband, who just happened to be Martin Goodman, owner of Marvel Comics. With aspirations of being a great author, Stanley Lieber used a variety of pennames when writing comics so as to preserve his real name for his hoped-upon literary career; the penname he used most often was 'Stan Lee.'

From scripting, Stan eventually added editing to his duties. Marvel Comics were an also-ran in the comics industry, never publishing the sort of trend-setting fare such as Fawcett, DC or EC printed, instead chasing whatever new trend their competition had unearthed. Although major talent like Jack Kirby and Harvey Kurtzman passed through Marvel in the 1940s, their defining work was published elsewhere.

Marvel Comics imploded in 1957, going out of business for several months after losing their distributor. Stan was one of the few to keep his office job while Goodman let the others go; when they resumed publishing comics, Stan was left scripting most of what Marvel printed. Fortunately, Marvel was blessed with the work of Jack Kirby, who quickly became Stan's preferred artist. With Kirby, Steve Ditko and Don Heck as his most prolific artists, Stan wrote a variety of science fiction and western comics, favouring stories with giant monsters on Kirby's evocative covers.

When Lee and Kirby launched the super hero comic Fantastic Four in 1961, it was supposed to be yet another instance of Marvel chasing another popular trend - in this instance, the renewed interest in super heroes over at DC. But what Lee & Kirby turned in was different - a super hero soap opera which compelled readers to return month after month to follow the development of the heroes' lives. Unlike the stagnant world of Superman and Batman, the Marvel Comics heroes could change and grow; Spider-Man's initial love interests Liz Allan and Betty Brant were gradually phased out of his love life (yet not the comic) while he developed affections for Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy; the Fantastic Four's Mister Fantastic and Invisible Girl got married and had a son; wartime hero Nick Fury lost an eye and became a secret agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The stories which Lee scripted were also willing to push boundaries. This had been true of Lee even in the 1950s when he railed against the attempts to regulate the comics industry, but even under the 1960s auspices of the Comics Code Authority, Lee's scripts would confront racism and, eventually, reflect young people's anger at the Vietnam War.

But most importantly, the Marvel Comics of the 1960s were ingratiating; they were welcoming; Lee's caption boxes would often break the fourth wall to joke with the reader. It was a lightning-in-a-bottle situation which was only helped by Marvel's status as the bottom rung of a marginalized artform - he made reading a super hero comic book feel subversive, hip, counter-cultural. His became the "voice" of Marvel Comics, one which other scripters like Roy Thomas would emulate. For once, Marvel Comics had taken the lead; the rest of the industry took years to comprehend what was going on and how to respond. Since then (by and large) Marvel Comics have been the industry's trend-setter for what is popular in super hero comics.

Lee stopped writing comics regularly after 1972 to become president of Marvel Comics after Goodman sold the company (a move Goodman regretted almost instantly). Most of Stan's efforts from then on were focused on widening Marvel Comics' audience, such as shopping them around to television and Hollywood, which did bear fruit in places such as the live action Incredible Hulk television show or the animated TV series Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. Stan Lee himself would narrate the openings to the latter animated show, which was the first time I took notice of his name; I soon recognized his signature in the masthead of every Marvel comic book I owned. "Stan Lee" was the first comic book creator whose name I knew.

Although Stan returned to write an issue or two of comics here and there from the 70s-00s, he didn't do so on an ongoing basis. His writing presence at Marvel Comics was most keenly felt in his editorials, 'Stan's Soapbox', which would appear in places such as the Marvel Bullpen page and in Marvel Age magazine; at one time, I think I had read more entries of Stan's Soapbox than I had Stan Lee comic books.

Originally a man ashamed to sign his real name to the comic books he wrote, Stan Lee ultimately embraced his new identity, registering 'Stan Lee' as his official name and going before journalists to speak passionately about comic books, making himself the ambassador of comics - largely because when he started talking to the media, no one else was speaking up. Stan Lee became a known name to people who had never read comic books and eventually his cameos in Marvel-branded motion pictures would make his face and voice recognizable around the world.

Perhaps the greatest thing Stan Lee did to comic books was to standardize the credits box; not every comics writer or artist would sign their work (especially writers) and publishers would sometimes wipe their signatures off the page, creating the impression that comics were made by committee, not by people. Stan made the credits box standard and expected within the industry; he even made it fun, peppering the credits box with nicknames for the creators and in-jokes.

What I enjoyed the most about Stan Lee's stories were the jokes he would include to liven up scenes; when he wanted to be dramatic, he went all-in, but the rest of time, he had a lightness of touch, a warm joshing manner in his scripts which was very appealing.

Rest in peace, Mr. Lee.

Here are some blog entries about his work I penned in the past:

I Love Atlas Comics: "Burton's Blood"

Why Do I Like Super Heroes?

Thor: 40 Years of Favourite Moments

Captain America: Recommended Reading List

And this one, which I posted right after Steve Ditko's death earlier this year:

Unearthed: "The Man Who Captured Death"

Friday, November 9, 2018

Angola in the Comics #8: Batman's Aerial View of Angola

By October of 1976 it had been almost a year since Portugal recognized the MPLA (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola) as the official governing body over Angola. The two rival revolutionary parties FNLA (Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola) & UNITA (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola) disputed this and the civil war would continue through 2002. No one in 1976 expected the war would continue for so many years.

Against that backdrop, permit me to share a panel from Batman #283 and the story "Omega Bomb Target: Gotham City" by writer David Vern and artist Ernie Chan, released October of 1976.

This panel taken out-of-context raises many questions. Perhaps first and foremost: why is Batman flying over Angola's airspace? The short answer is: he was headed back to Gotham City from Burundi. But that only raises further questions...

This tale was a three-parter, with #283 being the finale. It began in issue #281 when three Interpol agents were found dead in Gotham. Investigating these deaths led Batman on an international quest, first to Hungary, then Burundi, then back to Gotham, all to foil a terrorist plot to build and detonate an atomic weapon. During his flight from Burundi, Batman was ambushed by two terrorists who had stolen aboard his airplane. After besting them in combat, Batman fastened parachutes to the men and ejected them from his plane. The following panel is the beginning and end of Angola's involvement in the story.

Batman has a code against killing; most super heroes who were published during the Silver Age did, but Batman's code was especially well-known and has been frequently trotted out over the years. After all, if Batman were comfortable with murdering his foes, surely Arkham Asylum wouldn't be such a lousy revolving door facility. Batman's refusal to murder can be seen as part of the character's optimistic spirit - that on some level he believes criminals can be reformed and redeemed (which has happened from time-to-time in his adventures). Therefore, Batman's refusal to claim lives adds complexity to his character; no matter how grim or vengeance-driven he might seem, he has a moral compass and there are lines he will not cross.

So what's going on in this panel?

I cannot claim to hold any experience in skydiving, but it's my understanding that if you're unconscious when you hit the ground, it does not end well for you. Hurling two men from his plane in parachutes seems like a good way to get both men killed, regardless of where in the world they're being dropped off.

But Batman doesn't simply let these men fall into an open field - he drops them into a war zone which neither man has anything to do with. "They'll know how to deal with these two unidentified parachutists," Batman muses to himself. But who is "they"? The government? FNLA? UNITA? The Angolan Civil War was a bitter affair and I have to think that if two foreigners fell from the sky and were - miraculously - still alive, they would be considered enemy agents by whichever of the three armies found them. Perhaps they would be interrogated, placed in confinement and eventually repatriated to their homelands; then again, perhaps they'd be summarily executed.

Batman knows all of this. He is dropping these men into a war zone. And why? Why indeed? We soon discover that Batman's plane is so ridiculously fast that he gets from Angolan airspace back to Gotham in only two hours. If Batman had moved a little slower in his fight with the terrorists, he would have been over the Atlantic Ocean by the time they were defeated. Surely he wouldn't have ejected the unconscious men into the ocean? And if not that fate, then why drop them into the Angolan Civil War?

At this point, Batman has uncovered a major terrorist plot, but he has precious little in the way of evidence. Upon his return to Gotham, he has to convince the authorities that he knows what the plot is about and how to stop the bomb. Considering that, why not simply tie up his opponents and present them to the authorities as proof of the terrorist plot and potentially useful subjects for interrogation by the law?

The only conclusion I can come to about Batman dropping these men over Angola is this: he's lazy. Perhaps he isn't being cold-blooded, but simply... lackadaisical. He can't be bothered to do the work of keeping his prisoners tied up and transferring them to the authorities, so for expediency's sake he throws them out of his plane. Dead on impact? Executed on sight? Incarcerated for the duration of the war? None of those options would bother Batman if his only true concern was the most convenient course of action.

I don't know why Batman did this, but I don't think he's lazy, a killer, or someone who places others into situations where they would be killed (jokes about Robin's bright red chest aside). I can only conclude: Batman is not callous about human life -- but comic book creators are.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Angola on the Radio #1: Tarzan "Across a Continent"

From time to time I feature "Angola in the Comics" on this blog and I've long wished to continue that trend by spotlight occasions where Angola appeared as the setting for an old-time radio program. However, I couldn't find any instances... until now.

I suppose it shouldn't be that surprising that the series in question is Tarzan. (I last blogged about Tarzan in Angola here) There weren't too many jungle adventure programs on the radio and although Tarzan had a program in the 1930s, he sat out the 1940s. Finally, in the early 1950s Tarzan returned to radio as a half-hour syndicated adventure program starring Lamont Johnson and that's where I've drawn my example from.

The episode is called "Across a Continent" (March 15, 1951). The story opens in Bechurata, which appears to be somewhere on the east coast. Tarzan looks up a governmental agriculture officer, one Erik von Horn (the Germanic name suggesting the setting is in a former German colony). Tarzan takes an interest in Gabrielle, a singer at Von Horn's nightclub (she sings in French, somewhat complicating clues about the locale).

After discovering Von Horn is a criminal, Tarzan goes on the run and takes Gabrielle with him. Gabrielle claims to have friends in Luanda who will take care of her. Tarzan points out Angola is on the opposite side of the continent, but being a gallant hero he agrees to lead her there. As they travel Tarzan begins to fall in love with Gabrielle (no idea where Jane is supposed to be on this radio series), but just as they're nearing Angola, Gabrielle is arrested by a team of international policemen for diamond smuggling.

It's not a bad use of Angola - I get the sense the writer had at least cracked a book open before writing it. Near the end Gabrielle and Tarzan are inside a cavern and declare Angola is "just over this ridge," Tarzan estimating themselves to be about a mile from the country. This is one of the few 'jungle adventure' stories I've heard which really has a sense of Africa as a continent instead of a vague/vast jungle.

It's a bit distracting that von Horn's top aide is played by the guy who did advertisement for Kellogg's Corn Pops on radio's Wild Bill Hickok. It's hard to accept him as menacing when any moment I expect him to extoll the virtues of Sugar Corn Pops to Tarzan.

You hear "Across a Continent" for yourself at archive.org. You can even buy the 1950s Tarzan series from Radio Spirits if you've got money burning a hole in your pocket.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Marvel Atlas #1-2 on Comixology!

I headed up the Marvel Atlas in 2007, four years before I became a real international traveller. I would certainly have done a better job had I not written the book until after seeing more of the world, but this was the effort we made at the time to establish how Marvel's version of the Earth fits together. And now, Comixology is selling them for $1.99 per issue!
Walk through Marvel's Earth with the first-ever official atlas! In the first half of this indispensable guide, travel through Europe, Asia and the Pacific with digestible in-depth features including: the splendor of Dr. Doom's Latveria! The wonders of Muir Island! The glory of Silver Sable's homeland Symkaria! The urban squalor of Madripoor! The underwater marvels of Lemuria! From the shores of Ireland to the ocean's very depths, it's all mapped out for you courtesy of handbook legend Eliot R. Brown!

You can buy issue #1 here and issue #2 here!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

"Reckon our romance is over." A few thoughts about Red Range: A Wild Western Adventure

I was a supporter for publisher Drew Ford's Kickstarter project Red Range: A Wild Western Adventure, a hardcover collection of a western comic book story from 1999 by writer Joe R. Lansdale and artist Sam Glanzman. Ford wanted to get the book back into print and it sounded interesting enough. Unfortunately, due to some postal mishaps, I didn't receive my copy of the book until a year after I should have.

During the time from when I backed the Kickstarter to the present, Ford took his label 'It's Alive' to IDW, but continued launching Kickstarters to republish various comics, many of them by Glanzman, who passed away during one of the Kickstarter campaigns. I didn't feel right supporting Ford's efforts until I knew what he was capable of... and frankly, I was also ambivalent about supporting someone whose work was being printed by IDW. I mean, it's just reprints - and you've got a major publisher. I don't feel right putting money in the hat at that point, especially when most of what he's reprinting can still be obtained in its original format for much, much less than one of his Kickstarter copies. All the same, I was very tempted by his hardcover reprint of Dope by Trina Robbins, but I have all the originals.

Red Range, then. It's the story of a black man who is a masked outlaw and rescues a black boy from being killed by Klansmen; the Klansmen give chase. Eventually the pursuit leads into a weird time-lost land made up of various time displaced things like conquistadors and dinosaurs.

In the afterword, Stephen Bissette compares Red Range to Quentin Tarantino's film Django Unchained. I mean, I guess so? Both of them are well-crafted pieces of exploitative trash where white creators get to depict lynchings and use the n-word a lot, but it's okay because the protagonist is a black guy who is rather good at using guns and the villains are comical scumbags. Hooray? (I am not a fan of Django Unchained, suffice to say) It's an unpleasant read, with a black man being castrated on the first page and a few beastiality jokes in the middle. And then, somehow, the setting changes to a lost valley with conquistadors and dinosaurs. It's an abrupt change to the story and has no payoff - Red Range simply runs out of pages.

At least the pages are lovely; I have never seen Sam Glanzman's art looking so spectacular, being used to seeing his work printed on cheap Charlton paper with their lousy colours and dull lettering. This book pops, it looks absolutely terrific. But if I'd taken just 5 minutes to learn what Red Range was before supporting the Kickstarter, I really wouldn't have bothered.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Taking aim on Targets

Perhaps you don't know about the 1968 film Targets. It was the true directorial debut of Peter Bogdanovich... and it's possible you don't know who he is either, since although he's still making movies, he hasn't been a big name since the 1970s.

Targets was a low budget film from Roger Corman's stable and when Corman gave the assignment to Bogdanovich, the infamous B-movie king didn't expect too much out of it. However, Bogdanovich had an interesting idea for the film and the support of Boris Karloff.

Targets tells two stories which collide in the climax; the first is the story of aging horror film star Byron Orlok (Karloff), a one-time cinema great who now appears in cheap movies; the second is the story of Bobby Thompson, a Vietnam War veteran who snaps one day and goes on a killing spree. The stories cross paths at a drive-in where what Orlok intends to be his final film is making its debut.

The second half of Targets is where the film becomes tense, where Bobby's rampage begins. It's an immensely terrifying premise because Bobby is shooting people in a dark drive-in while they sit in their cars; the sound of his rifle is drowned out by the motion picture itself.

As great as the premise for Targets is, it could have been simply an exploitative B-movie, but Bogdanovich was young, hungry, and eager to show what he could do behind a camera; the film is full of interesting photography which keeps the visuals from seeming flat. One of Bogdanovich's tricks to avoid expensive bullet effects is to zoom-in when people are shot, which gives the impression of the bullets striking targets without actually having to spend the money on make-up.

When I first came across this picture on cable I was mesmerized; despite being a Karloff fan, I knew nothing about it and the climax - when Orlok faces off against Bobby - was absolutely riveting. I'm petty enough to wish this was Karloff's last picture, but of course he went on to make a few more cheap-o horror flicks; at least Targets gave him one last great picture before the end.

I rewatched Targets to celebrate Halloween this year and it holds up. Check it out if you can.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Creator credits for Daredevil season 3

Hey, do you like Frank Miller & David Mazzuchelli's 'Born Again'? Great. Interested in a filmed adaptation of the story? Fine, fine. How about stretching it into 13 episodes, adding Bullseye in a manner mostly reminiscent of other half-baked villains like Typhoid Mary in the most recent Iron Fist season and mostly fumbling every single moment which made 'Born Again' so great?

The Marvel Netflix shows are dying, and I can't say I'll miss them very much.

Frank Miller: creator of Elektra, Matt's lover, an assassin dressed in red (Daredevil #168, 1981); of Bullseye going insane (Daredevil #169, 1981); of Wilson Fisk's name; of Wilson Fisk as Daredevil's primary enemy (Daredevil #170, 1981); of Stick, Matt's mentor (Daredevil #176, 1981); of Bullseye using the name 'Benjamin Poindexter'; of Elektra dying; of Daredevil breaking Bullseye's back (Daredevil #181, 1982); of Matt distraught over Elektra's death (Daredevil #182, 1982); co-creator of Josie's Bar, a dive bar in Hell's Kitchen tended by the titular Josie (Daredevil #160, 1979); of Jack Murdock's name; of Hell's Kitchen as Matt Murdock's childhood borough; of Urich becoming an ally of Daredevil (Daredevil #164); of Melvin Potter's name; of Melvin's lady friend Betsy; of Melvin's mental problems (Daredevil #166, 1980); of Wilson Fisk controlling the police and using the authorities to wreck Matt Murdock's life and target his allies; of Fisk learning Matt Murdock is Daredevil; of Karen Page having a drug problem; of Karen inadvertently giving away Murdock's secrets to the Kingpin (Daredevil #227, 1986); of Murdock wearing stubble in both of his identities; of Murdock being isolated from his friends and suffering from hallucinations when he tries to fight the Kingpin; of Fisk trying to kill Murdock by sealing him inside a yellow taxi cab driven into the river; of Fisk stunned when Murdock's body isn't found in the taxi; of Felix Manning, one of the Kingpin's top operatives (Daredevil #228, 1986); of Sister Maggie, a nun who cares for Daredevil in a church shelter; of Matt Murdock being believed dead (Daredevil #229, 1986); of Sister Maggie tending to Matt after he was first blinded; of Matt Murdock's mother being Sister Maggie; of the Kingpin threatening Betsy in order to get Melvin Potter to make a duplicate Daredevil costume (Daredevil #230, 1986); of the Kingpin sending a psychotic man out in a Daredevil costume to discredit Matt Murdock; of Murdock fighting the impostor (Daredevil #231, 1986); of Murdock wearing black costume while operating as anonymous vigilante (Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #2, 1993);

Stan Lee: co-creator of the Kingpin of Crime, a mob boss dressed in white who organizes the disparate underworld elements under his leadership from the heart of Manhattan (Amazing Spider-Man #50, 1967); of the Kingpin's wife, Vanessa Fisk (Amazing Spider-Man #69, 1969); of Matt Murdock, a lawyer who also fights crime as Daredevil by using his superhuman sensory powers; Murdock blinded as a child while saving a man from a truck carrying radioactive waste; billy club as Daredevil's primary weapon; Murdock as son of the boxer Battling Murdock, who rasied him alone and wanted him to gain a superior education; the elder Murdock dying after crossing a crooked boxing promoter and refusing to lose a fixed fight; Fogwell's Gym as Murdock's training place; Murdock partnered with his college friend Franklin "Foggy" Nelson at Nelson & Murdock law firm; Karen Page as Murdock & Nelson's secretary and object of affection to both men (Daredevil #1, 1964); of Daredevil's ability to detect lies (Daredevil #3, 1964); of Daredevil's red costume; of Daredevil's gimmick billy club (Daredevil #7, 1965); of Gladiator, a costume designer who makes a Daredevil costume and fights Daredevil with a saw weapon, wear's a yellow shirt with a 'V' (Daredevil #18, 1966); of Foggy Nelson running for district attorney (Daredevil #36, 1968)

David Mazzucchelli: co-creator of Wilson Fisk controlling the police and using the authorities to wreck Matt Murdock's life and target his allies; of Fisk learning Matt Murdock is Daredevil; of Karen Page having a drug problem; of Karen inadvertently giving away Murdock's secrets to the Kingpin (Daredevil #227, 1986); of Murdock wearing stubble in both of his identities; of Murdock being isolated from his friends and suffering from hallucinations when he tries to fight the Kingpin; of Fisk trying to kill Murdock by sealing him inside a yellow taxi cab driven into the river; of Fisk stunned when Murdock's body isn't found in the taxi; of Felix Manning, one of the Kingpin's top operatives (Daredevil #228, 1986); of Sister Maggie, a nun who cares for Daredevil in a church shelter; of Matt Murdock being believed dead (Daredevil #229, 1986); of Sister Maggie tending to Matt after he was first blinded; of Matt Murdock's mother being Sister Maggie; of the Kingpin threatening Betsy in order to get Melvin Potter to make a duplicate Daredevil costume (Daredevil #230, 1986); of the Kingpin sending a psychotic man out in a Daredevil costume to discredit Matt Murdock; of Murdock fighting the impostor (Daredevil #231, 1986)

Bill Everett: co-creator of Matt Murdock, a lawyer who also fights crime as Daredevil by using his superhuman sensory powers; Murdock blinded as a child while saving a man from a truck carrying radioactive waste; billy club as Daredevil's primary weapon; Murdock as son of the boxer Battling Murdock, who rasied him alone and wanted him to gain a superior education; the elder Murdock dying after crossing a crooked boxing promoter and refusing to lose a fixed fight; Fogwell's Gym as Murdock's training place; Murdock partnered with his college friend Franklin "Foggy" Nelson at Nelson & Murdock law firm; Karen Page as Murdock & Nelson's secretary and object of affection to both men (Daredevil #1, 1964)

Gene Colan: co-creator of Gladiator, a costume designer who makes a Daredevil costume and fights Daredevil with a saw weapon, wear's a yellow shirt with a 'V' (Daredevil #18, 1966); of Foggy Nelson running for district attorney (Daredevil #36, 1968); of Paxton Page, Karen Page's father (Daredevil #56, 1969); of Karen Page learning Matt Murdock is Daredevil (Daredevil #57, 1969); of Blake Tower, New York district attorney frequently embroiled in Nelson & Murdock's affairs (Daredevil #124, 1975); of Ben Urich, an aging reporter with a relentless dedication to the truth (Daredevil #153, 1978)

Roger McKenzie: co-creator of Ben Urich, an aging reporter with a relentless dedication to the truth (Daredevil #153, 1978); of Josie's Bar, a dive bar in Hell's Kitchen tended by the titular Josie (Daredevil #160, 1979); of Jack Murdock's name; of Hell's Kitchen as Matt Murdock's childhood borough; of Urich becoming an ally of Daredevil (Daredevil #164); of Melvin Potter's name; of Melvin's lady friend Betsy; of Melvin's mental problems (Daredevil #166, 1980)

Marv Wolfman: co-creator of Blake Tower, New York district attorney frequently embroiled in Nelson & Murdock's affairs (Daredevil #124, 1975); of Bullseye, an expert assassin who can turn any object into a lethal weapon, battles Daredevil; Bullseye as former baseball player; of Bullseye with a target on his forehead (Daredevil #131, 1976)

John Romita, Jr.: co-creator of Matt Murdock going to regular confession (Daredevil #267, 1989); of Murdock wearing black costume while operating as anonymous vigilante (Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #2, 1993); of Rosalie Carbone, an Italian mob princess (Punisher: War Zone #2, 1992)

John Romita: co-creator of the Kingpin of Crime, a mob boss dressed in white who organizes the disparate underworld elements under his leadership from the heart of Manhattan (Amazing Spider-Man #50, 1967); of the Kingpin's wife, Vanessa Fisk (Amazing Spider-Man #69, 1969)

Bob Brown: co-creator of Matt Murdock's Catholicism (Daredevil #119, 1975); of Bullseye, an expert assassin who can turn any object into a lethal weapon, battles Daredevil; Bullseye as former baseball player; of Bullseye with a target on his forehead (Daredevil #131, 1976)

Dennis O'Neil: co-creator of Dr. Oyama, a physician who tends to Bullseye's broken back (Daredevil #196, 1983); of Bullseye's back being reinforced with metal by Dr. Oyama (Daredevil #198, 1983)

Kevin Smith: co-creator of Matt Murdock wearing red-tinted sunglasses (Daredevil #1, 1998); of Bullseye fighting Daredevil in a church, trying to kill Karen Page with a billy club (Daredevil #5, 1999)

Joe Quesada: co-creator of Matt Murdock wearing red-tinted sunglasses (Daredevil #1, 1998); of Bullseye fighting Daredevil in a church, trying to kill Karen Page with a billy club (Daredevil #5, 1999)

Brian Michael Bendis: co-creator of Jessica Jones, a superhuman private investigator (Alias #1, 2001); of the FBI investigating Matt Murdock and Daredevil's connection (Daredevil #31, 2002)

Lee Weeks: co-creator of Bullseye disguising himself as Daredevil (Daredevil #288, 1991); of Daredevil bringing down Fisk's criminal empire (Daredevil #300, 1992)

Roy Thomas: co-creator of Paxton Page, Karen Page's father (Daredevil #56, 1969); of Karen Page learning Matt Murdock is Daredevil (Daredevil #57, 1969)

Ann Nocenti: co-creator of Matt Murdock going to regular confession (Daredevil #267, 1989); of Bullseye disguising himself as Daredevil (Daredevil #288, 1991)

D.G. Chichester: co-creator of Daredevil bringing down Fisk's criminal empire (Daredevil #300, 1992); of Daredevil wearing body armor (Daredevil #322, 1993)

Len Wein: co-creator of Blake Tower, New York district attorney frequently embroiled in Nelson & Murdock's affairs (Daredevil #124, 1975)

Steve Englehart: co-creator of Ben Donovan, an African-American lawyer who works for criminals (Hero for Hire #14, 1973)

Billy Graham: co-creator of Ben Donovan, an African-American lawyer who works for criminals (Hero for Hire #14, 1973)

Larry Hama: co-creator of Dr. Oyama, a physician who tends to Bullseye's broken back (Daredevil #196, 1983)

William Johnson: co-creator of Bullseye's back being reinforced with metal by Dr. Oyama (Daredevil #198, 1983)

Tom DeFalco: co-creator of the Kingpin continuing his criminal activities from his cell (Spider-Girl #1, 1998)

Alex Maleev: co-creator of the FBI investigating Matt Murdock and Daredevil's connection (Daredevil #31, 2002)

Jeff Christiansen: creator of Penelope Page's name (Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A to Z #3, 2006)

Ron Frenz: co-creator of the Kingpin continuing his criminal activities from his cell (Spider-Girl #1, 1998)

Michael Lark: co-creator of Matt Murdock being caught inside a prison during a riot (Daredevil #86, 2006)

Wally Wood: co-creator of Daredevil's red costume; of Daredevil's gimmick billy club (Daredevil #7, 1965)

Marc Guggenheim: co-creator of Brett Mahoney, a police detective (Marvel Comics Presents #1, 2007)

Chuck Dixon: co-creator of Rosalie Carbone, an Italian mob princess (Punisher: War Zone #2, 1992)

Ed Brubaker: co-creator of Matt Murdock being caught inside a prison during a riot (Daredevil #86, 2006)

Dave Wilkins: co-creator of Brett Mahoney, a police detective (Marvel Comics Presents #1, 2007)

Michael Gaydos: co-creator of Jessica Jones, a superhuman private investigator (Alias #1, 2001)

Jim Shooter: co-creator of Hell's Kitchen as locale patroled by Daredevil (Daredevil #148, 1977)

J.M. DeMatteis: co-creator of Foggy Nelson learning Murdock is Daredevil (Daredevil #347, 1995)

Gil Kane: co-creator of Hell's Kitchen as locale patroled by Daredevil (Daredevil #148, 1977)

Ron Wagner: co-creator of Foggy Nelson learning Murdock is Daredevil (Daredevil #347, 1995)

Joe Orlando: co-creator of Daredevil's ability to detect lies (Daredevil #3, 1964)

Scott McDaniel: co-creator of Daredevil wearing body armor (Daredevil #322, 1993)

Tony Isabella: co-creator of Matt Murdock's Catholicism (Daredevil #119, 1975)

Richard Starkings: creator of Daredevil logo (Daredevil #1, 1998)

Friday, October 5, 2018

My Incredulity Concerning Avatar

From time to time I've mentioned that I enjoy the 2009 film Avatar. It's definitely not fashionable to admit it, considering the plethora of online articles I see which are incredulous that the film was the #1 box office success of all time. I've heard the criticisms and don't much care for them; I like the film and watch it about once per year.

Where the sequels are concerned, I'm a little skeptical - it's unproven whether the concept of the film can sustain itself over multiple pictures. Maybe it won't - maybe Avatar II: Na'vi Boogaloo will be the franchise-killing flameout much of the internet would like it to be - but then again, maybe it will work. I'm skeptical but optimistic.

This, on the other hand...

Next January, Dark Horse Comics will begin publishing the mini-series Avatar: Tsu'tey's Path, celebrating Avatar's 10th anniversary. Incredibly, Avatar II has been filmed but isn't scheduled to debut until 2020! You could see this comic book as an effort by the filmmakers to keep the Avatar property in people's consciousness, but...

...Look, I don't see myself buying this comic - no offense to the creators involved, but I don't typically buy comic books which are adaptations from another medium. If you put 10 people who like Avatar in a room and asked them, "Who's Tsu'tey?" I think you'd be lucky if half of them remembered: "Oh yeah, the guy who lost his girlfriend, mantle of leadership and life within a week all thanks to Jake Sully."

This is a prequel to Avatar telling what Tsu'tey was up to prior to the first film. If this had been released around 2009-2010 that would be a pretty good hook for your typically-inconsequential Dark Horse film tie-in product, but 10 years out? At this stage, who is interested in a prequel about one of the film's second-tier characters? This would be like Dark Horse putting out an Aliens prequel in 1996 which told us Hudson's very interesting backstory (please don't tell me if Dark Horse did this).

On some level, I feel like the primary reason this comic book exists is because Dark Horse has been steadily losing the licenses which used to be their bread and butter (Star Wars, Conan) and are flailing about for something which has a built-in following.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

They weren't called 'Atlas' because they held up well.

I've been reading a lot of 1950s Atlas Comics from the war/spy genres recently and have begun to notice some peculiar recurring ideas. Perhaps it shouldn't surprise me that much to find similar ideas repeated again and again in the comics, but these four tropes were a bit surprising.

Trope the first: Women Must Die!

This one came specifically from reading a bunch of issues of Kent Blake of the Secret Service back-to-back. Kent Blake's stories were usually set in Washington DC but would send him all over the world to ferret out communist spies. Sometimes the stories were established as a mystery to make the reader guess which suspect might be a commie. Frequently, the spies would die in the climax.

What's amazing about the Kent Blake series is how often the spies turn out to be woman and that the series almost always kills them. If the spy is a man, he might die or he might be captured. If the spy is a woman, statistically she is almost certain to die (so far I've read only one story where the woman spy is taken alive). It's not that the character of Kent has a thirst for women's blood - they tend to fall off roofs or be murdered by their male associates. There was something which convinced the Kent Blake creators that women were soft on communism and therefore deserving of death.

But even the women on Kent's side tend to be picked off, be they Iranian women or Korean women, simply associating with Kent is a good way for women to enter an early grave. In one story, Kent has a girlfriend named Gale who invites him her to home for a vacation (which naturally leads to a "find the commie" plot that ends with a woman spy dying). Gale wants to marry Kent; that's enough to make Kent want to get as far away from her as he can. Totaled up, Kent Blake has a pretty strong misogynistic streak within it. It makes you wonder if Mickey Spillane were still writing for Marvel in those days.

Trope the second: Peace Is Hell!

Now and then a character in a war comic might wistfully wonder, "can't we give peace a chance?" The plot will almost always demand, no, you cannot. There are some stories set during the Korean War where communist soldiers realize "the American way" is superior and will defect to the other side (usually executing a few of their fellow commies to prove themselves), but usually when a soldier in one of these stories thinks something outrageous like "communists are people too," the story will go out of its way to prove him wrong, wrong, wrong by having the communists commit terrible atrocities, disobey the rules of war and prey upon the soldier's weak-minded egalitarianism. By the climax, the peace-minded soldier will have learned his lesson (the only good red is a dead red) and will probably die in a suicidal strike against the communists.

Trope the third: We Have Met the Enemy!

It would be wrong to think the Atlas Comics glorified war. I mean, they did, but some of the time - particularly pre-Code - they told a number of "war is hell" stories where good men die senseless deaths, sometimes killed by munitions dropped by their own side. Still, you almost never saw a story where the United States Army were the bad guys...

...Unless you count stories set during the US Civil War. The one time where it is acceptable to depict the United States as an unjust aggressor battling a noble people? That would be the time they had to fight their own rebellious citizens, y'know, the ones who believed in racial superiority and the principle of owning other men as property; that never comes up in the Atlas stories, as you can well imagine. Virtually every Civil War story is some variant on "Lost Cause" hogwash and ends up taking the centrist position of, "gosh, there were very good people on both sides." There's something very unsettling about the one scenario where the US Army are allowed to be the bad guys is when they were battling a tyrannical slave state.

Trope the fourth: Yellow Fever!

Atlas Comics had a whole cottage industry of war comic book features starring a pair of vitriolic best friends, two manly men who would always be bustin' each other's balls while going on consequence-free adventures in the middle of a war zone. That is, they were basically rip-offs of the characters Flagg & Quirt from the film What Price Glory? and were often written by Hank Chapman.

Within those stories there were a number of notable female villains - Asian women often dressed in military garb (but just as often showing off their cleavage) whom our heroes would spar with time and again, never killing them despite their deadly possibilities. They were essentially ersatz Dragon Lady copies. Some of these ladies appeared so frequently they would fight the heroes in more than one story per issue!

Combat Kelly and Cookie Novak had Yalu River Rosie, the Panther Lady, Muktong Molly and Korea Katie; Battle Brady and Socko Swenski had General Olga; Iron Mike McGraw and Gunny Gorski had Chee; Battleship Burke and Salty Smith had Hungnam Hannah (I commented about her before). That's everyone I've found so far. Obviously there was a bit of the ol' fashioned western interest in Orientalism, particularly on the exoticism side. It also seemed to provide a means to belittle the USA's communist adversaries: "Hey, dem commie dames jus' wanna tough 'Murican guy tah put 'em in der place."