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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Jerry Juhl, R.I.P.

Jerry Juhl passed away this past Monday. Over the past few months I've been re-watching a lot of the two shows he wrote for the Jim Henson Company, THE MUPPET SHOW and FRAGGLE ROCK, both among my favourite TV shows ever, and just wanted to say thanks. Read more about his life at IGN and Jim Hill Media.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

My Collection - THE NEW TEEN TITANS [1980 Series]

The New Teen Titans [1980 series]
40 issues [1980 - 1984]
1 - 40

Boy, I loved this book back in the early 1980s. This is of course the popular revamp of DC's teen sidekicks team by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. After #40 it was retitled to TALES OF THE TEEN TITANS so this title could be used for a new version of the book in a misguided publishing plan. Speaking of misguided publishing plan, I wish they'd reprint this stuff in something other than overpriced hardcovers. It would be great to see some of it with good printing, but not at that price.

Looking at the cover gallery on the GCD, it was a pretty consistently good run, lots to like. Good use of classic heroes and villains, plus a lot of new ones thrown in. Good long-term plotting, a nice mix of single issues and longer stories (but never more than four issues to a resolution of some sort).

A few favourites:

#13 - #15, the hunt for the killers of the original Doom Patrol, a great example of how they mix the old and the new, juggling a lot of characters, mixing action and humour.

#38, "Who is Donna Troy?", not really a Titans story, more of a Robin and Wonder Girl story, but a touching story really well told. Glad they haven't seen the need to complicate her origin any more after this...

Movies - A MIGHTY WIND (2003)

A Mighty Wind
Directed by Christopher Guest
Written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy

While I kind of enjoyed Guest's previous fictional-documentary style films BEST IN SHOW and WAITING FOR GUFFMAN, I somehow never got around to watching A MIGHTY WIND until now. That was a mistake, as it's easily the best of those three, and is close to on the level of the classic SPINAL TAP (which it also shares some cast with, of course). There seems to be a lot more affection for the characters in here than in Guest's previous two films, although it doesn't shy away from laughing at them (and also has a lot of secondary characters to mock unmercifully, in particular Bob Balaban's especially clueless character). Or at least I wound up caring about them more than I did the dog and theatre people of the other films.

To do then now would be retro. To do then then was very now-tro, if you will.

This is the story of a folk reunion concert prompted by the death of the record executive who founded the label of those acts. Three acts, the nine-member New Main Street Singers, the trio The Folksmen (played by the Spinal Tap trio) and the duo Mitch and Mickey, get together for a concert, and this has the road to the show, highlights of the actual show and the aftermath.

The Folksmen were definitely the highlight of the show. There are a lot of scenes of the three playing off each other which could have come straight out of SPINAL TAP (how they got bumped to a lesser label where the records were made without holes in them). The Mitch and Mickey story was also pretty touching, in a weird sort of way, and I thought Eugene Levy did the most inspired acting turn in the movie.

Also some great music in the film. I love a movie that puts a lot of thought into the music, and the selections written for each of the groups is perfectly in synch with the timelines and archetypes they represented.

I see that the DVD of this has a whole lot of extras, including the complete concert. I guess I'm going to have to pick that up.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Doctor Who - The Dalek Invasion Of Earth

Got another old DOCTOR WHO tape from the library, "The Dalek Invasion Of Earth", a second season story with the original Doctor William Hartnell, plus the last with the full original supporting cast. Unfortunately I'd say I had a mixed reaction to this one at best. The Daleks were pretty good as always, but there wasn't nearly enough of them in this six-part story. Plus it's one of those where the main cast splits up for the bulk of the story, so there are three or four storylines to follow for most of the show, not all of them that engaging.

There were a lot of pretty good scenes mixed in that make it worth watching, including a rather odd chase scene in London which felt pretty different for the show, and the ending, where the Doctor's grand-daughter Susan is left behind on future Earth, is pretty good.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Muppet Show - John Denver (73)

Episode 73 - John Denver

One of the human guests I most associate with the Muppets is John Denver. This episode (the first of season four) always seems to be one of the first I catch when the show comes up in syndication, and I used to catch the two specials he did with the Muppets a few times even when the original show wasn't on anywhere locally. He works nicely with the Muppets, very much interacting with the characters. And he kind of looks like a Muppet...

(I didn't used to be a big fan of Denver outside of his Muppet related stuff, but a few years ago I picked up an album of him doing acoustic versions of many of his songs, and I liked it a lot more than the standard radio versions of most of those songs, thanks to the absence of the country twang that infects those)

Anyway, it's a great episode, with a lot of highlights. On the top of the list is the "Happy Wanderers" number (listed on that episode summary linked to above as "Falderee, Falderah" for some reason). That one makes my list of top ten Muppet Show skits easily, and probably one of the few featuring pigs to make the list (I'm not a big fan of the pigs, overall). In particular I love the inflections of the final pig as he goes from nervous to triumphant.

Second best of the show is Denver's first number, "Magic Garden" (or as I originally learned it, "Inch by Inch"). One of my favourite kids songs growing up, and Denver does a great job singing it here with a bunch of Muppet produce.

I also like the rather odd version of "Why Can't We Be Friends" (with very different lyrics). A good use of the old Muppet stand-by of blowing things up. Denver's version of "Grandma's Feather Bed" with full background and visual accompaniment by the Muppets, is also great fun, although I prefer the version Kermit sings on an old Muppets audio tape I have.

It's a pretty rare episode where there are four musical numbers and I rate them all so highly. I also liked the backstage plot, of Kermit planning a trip back to the swamp and the various complications that ensue. You know it's a good when the Swedish Chef is by far the weakest part of the show.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Make your own modern analogy..

While re-reading the 1980s run of THE QUESTION, I came across this scene of an unnamed cabinet secretary following Hub City descending into chaos after a storm and other assorted disasters.

Elections, Pogo style

From the stuff that amuses me as still more relevent than most current political humour, courtesy of Walt Kelly from 1957 (printed in G.O. FIZZICKLE POGO).

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bet you didn't know...

...that Batman has a "Bat-sense" which warns him of danger.

Written by Bob Haney, of course. Art by Jim Aparo, which (along with the reprint back-ups) did a lot to make THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD issues of that era tolerable.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

EC - Kamen's Kalamity (Kamen)

Kamen's Kalamity
art by Jack Kamen, story by Al Feldstein
Tales From the Crypt #31[#15] (1952)

An unusual story from the EC line this time, as Kamen draws a (hopefully) fictionalized account of his career at EC, from his initial hiring by Feldstein and Gaines to do romance comics and then his transition to horror comics after the romance books collapsed, and how he really began to live the part of those stories.

A very silly story, which works pretty well. The small touches are nice, like the "Den of Iniquity" logo in place of the usual "Crypt of Terror", with dollar bills spelling out "The Den of", and the cameos by Ingels, Craig and Davis, all doing random violence to little Gaines effigies.

There were a handful of such self-referential stories scattered through the EC books, and this is one of my favorites. It's kind of interesting to see the various ways that EC built up the EC-brand and fan loyalty through such things.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

My Collection - KAMANDI, THE LAST BOY ON EARTH [1972 series]

Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth [1972 series]
41 issues [1972 - 1977]
1 - 40, 50

KAMANDI was of course one of Jack Kirby's most successful 1970s creations, in terms of longevity for both his own run (40 issues, until he left the company) and overall (59 issues, until the "DC Implosion" cancelled it in mid-story).

This was one of the first Kirby books of the 1970s that I started buying when getting into back-issues in the late 1980s. The issues from the second half were still pretty common and cheap at the time. Not sure why I have that one post-Kirby issue, I guess it much have been pretty cheap when I was picking up some others. I might have been attracted by the Kamandi/OMAC cover, since I think when I got it I had seen the character OMAC and was intrigued by the design, but hadn't picked up any of the original issues. It's not that good an issue, despite some talented creators.

The Kirby stuff was of course lots of fun, and will be covered in detail in another weblog, in posts like these:

Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth! #7
Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth! #13
Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth! #26
Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth! #29
Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth! #32
Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth! #40

Keeping all the Kirby ones, at least, even with the upcoming release of the first KAMANDI ARCHIVES.

Friday, September 16, 2005

THE QUESTION by O'Neil & Co #26, #27 Annual #2 +

More on THE QUESTION, with some guest stars and guest art, while Denny O'Neil continues to write of course.

#26 is "Riddles", with Bill Wray doing the pencilling duties with regular inker Malcolm Jones III, and from the Batman family of titles the Riddler shows up (as well as a cameo by James Gordon). Not really one of my favourite issues, though I find Wray's work a bit less jarring than I did when it was first published. I just couldn't really get into the villains of the piece, although I liked a lot of the scenes with Vic and Tot. Fair enough on it's own merits, but definitely weak for the whole series.

#27 was definitely a return to form, as Denys Cowan returns to provide layouts for the bulk of the issue, Jones finishing the art (a few pages are ostensibly from an old WWII comic book, and drawn by Rick Stasi and Terry Beatty). In this story, Tot has a visit from a long-lost cousin of his, who drew the Nazi-busting adventures of "Captain Stars and Sergeant Stripes" back in the 1940s. Meanwhile, in the real world, Myra is still in a coma and Vic is fighting an increasingly desperate and losing battle against the crime of the city and his own darker nature (with a few scenes harkening back to the original version of the Question). These two worlds collide in a solution that takes an odd but effective mystical turn, and works a lot better than I'd expect.

Useless continuity note, this issue would seem to imply that Superman is a fictional character in this world, while surrounding stories make it clear that Batman and Green Arrow aren't.

The Question and Green Arrow continue their cross-over ways with their 1989 Annuals, starting in THE QUESTION ANNUAL #2, "Losing Face". Bill Wray back on the art, which works a bit better here, and Shea Anton Pensa provides flashback sequences as this issue shows how exactly Professor Rodor gave Vic Sage a faceless mask. The origin is partly integrated into the main story, as Green Arrow comes to town looking for some killers who fit Vic's lack of description, who turn out to be working for a doctor who was a former associate of Tot in developing the artificial skin which is used in Vic's mask, jailed by Vic on his first adventure and recently released and out for revenge. That eventually takes Vic and Green Arrow down to crime haven Santa Prisca where the evil Doctor Twain has set up base to produce mass quantities of a variation on Tot's old formula, which effectively turns people into mindless, docile zombies (when it doesn't kill them). With Vic's current feelings about humanity, that almost sounds good to him for a while.

A bit of an uneven story, I liked parts of this issue a lot, but a few things didn't quite work, and I think the origin of the character might have been one of those "best left unknown" things.

This issue also provides "Who's Who" profile pages for the major characters, and a text page where editor Mike Gold runs down the history of The Question at Charlton.

GREEN ARROW ANNUAL #2, "Saving Face" (with art by Ed Hannigan, Dick Giordano and Frank McLaughlin) begins with a jump back in time, showing the Seattle events Green Arrow alluded to earlier, then a quick summary of the other annual before bringing Green Arrow back to Hub City solo, where he has to work with Myra and Izzy to stop the plan to poison the city with the aforementioned chemical. Meanwhile, in Santa Prisca, Vic encounters Gomez, the monster-turned-saint from his previous Santa Prisca adventure, and they work out Vic's conflicted views of humanity, free will and suffering. Overall this second half worked a lot better for me, as the GA parts are a good adventure story using the regular supporting cast of THE QUESTION and the Vic Sage scenes have some interesting relationship to the conflicts of the previous year of the book.

Next time, Vic's back in Hub City and Shiva's there to meet him.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Barks - Too Much Help

Four Color #1150 - December 1960
W OS 1150-04

This 4-page Barks illustrated story is from a Daisy Duck spotlight issue of FOUR COLOUR, and is possibly written by Vic Lockman. It has Daisy assuming from tear-marks on a letter that Grandma Duck's farm is in trouble, and brings Gladstone along on a visit to work his trademark luck.

Only a fair story overall, Barks peak period was just past at this point, but I do really like this one panel a lot, with Grandma Duck throwing a flying tackle at Gladstone. Sheer poetry in motion.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

My Collection - CAPTAIN AMERICA [1968 Series]

Captain America [1968 series]
42 issues [1969 - 1982]
112, 136, 176, 193 - 214, 216, 256 - 257, 259 - 271, 273

Taking over the numbering from TALES OF SUSPENSE with #100, Cap's adventures continued in full length stories in this book, which ran until 1996 when re-numbering fever hit, and has been restarted, I dunno, about a dozen times since. I like Cap a lot, and picked up the book at various times, but haven't found too much of the stuff worth keeping. The DeMatteis/Zeck run I kept some of was good. Roger Stern wrote some good stuff, but I didn't keep those because I picked up the reprint of some of them. Which I now seem to have lost. The back-issue buying was of course primarily the Jack Kirby run of the 1970s, plus a few scattered other issues.

Not getting too many back-issues here, although I'll happily keep buying ESSENTIAL CAPTAIN AMERICA if it goes into the early 1970s material.

Most of this is going to be covered in the Kirby weblog, of course. Highlights among the non-Kirby issues I have:

261-263 - The Red Skull, robots, Nomad, all sorts of fun

269 - Introducing Team America! Okay, so not the greatest run of comics ever...

EC - Fired! (Williamson/Frazetta)

art by Al Williamson & Frank Frazetta, story by Al Feldstein
Crime SuspenStories #17 (1953)

Knowing that this is a story drawn by Al Williamson and Frank Frazetta, is anyone surprised that it features sexy women and rugged men?

I didn't think so.

Frazetta did most of his few stories at EC with Williamson, and it's a really nice combination. Frazetta's influence nicely softens Williamson's usual hard-line, fitting this combination romance/crime story, and all the female figure rendering is as sexy as you'd expect from the two.

This story features a ranch hand getting close to the lady owner of the Circle-Diamond, parlaying her affections to an easy foreman job. Soon enough he gets bored with her, refusing to be tied down, and starts spending time with a sexy singer in town, completely unapologetic to both when confronted. That kind of behaviour is rarely rewarded in comics that trade in the twist ending, and so it is here.

Note: among the features of the upcoming "Picto-Fiction" hardcover set is an unpublished and unfinished Frazetta story.

Friday, September 09, 2005

My Collection - ADVENTURE COMICS [1938 Series]

Adventure Comics [1938 series]
42 issues [1948 - 1982]
127, 292, 317, 333, 372, 375, 390, 416, 428 - 431, 445, 458, 460, 463, 465 - 490

This is the long-running book which took over the numbering from NEW ADVENTURE, which in turn continued from NEW COMICS, the first comic from the company that became DC. Ran a variety of features through the years, including a long run of Legion of Super-Heroes, and was eventually renamed to ADVENTURE COMICS DIGEST with #491, lasting 13 issues with that name.

I was buying this towards the end, through several changes in format. The last few "Dollar Comic" format issues, when it was a general over-sized anthology, then a run where it had the Ditko/Levitz Starman, which I liked, plus some okay Plastic Man and later Aquaman stuff. Then it changed format to the "Dial H For Hero" format, which featured two kids who temporarily tranform to reader designed super-heroes. I liked those at the time, but I was 11 at the time. Some of them still hold up as dopey fun.

Picked up a few back-issues later. Low grade Legion of Super-Heroes issues, a few issues with Sheldon Mayer writing on Black Orchid and the like.

Not too many I'd get rid of among these. I wouldn't mind picking up the few "Dollar Comic" issues I'm missing at some point, but they're absurdly overpriced.

Notable issues:

#428 - #430 - Sheldon Mayer introducing the Black Orchid, with Tony DeZuniga artwork, a lot of fun, a kind of golden-age throwback character.

#431 - the first Aparo/Fleisher Spectre, plus one of my favourite comic stories ever as the backup, Mayer and Alex Toth on "Is a Snerl Human?"

#467 - #478 - The Ditko/Levitz Starman, which is a nice little space-opera, with constant twists and new surprises every issue.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

TABOO and Bissette links

After a few days of technical difficulties, updates are showing up on Steve Bissette's blog, so there's a lot to read now, including some stuff about his early days in the Kubert School.

He also points to an interview he did earlier this year about his classic horror anthology, TABOO, which includes a complete index and comments on the 10 issues, plus lots of background on the creative and business side.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Make your own modern analogy..

Not even close...

Now if you told me the vice-president was really Lex Luthor, that would be credible.

Swan/Adams from 1969

Monday, September 05, 2005

EC - A Timely Shock (Kamen)

A Timely Shock
art by Jack Kamen, story by Al Feldstein
Weird Fantasy #10 (1951)

This Jack Kamen illustrated story has a mineralogist going out on a fishing trip in the woods. Despite his desire to get away from his work, he notices an odd outcropping of a quartz-like material. As he examines a sample, a storm comes up and he's struck by lightning.

Recovering, he sees his fishing rod and the rock are gone, and he finds an attractive young woman in the water nearby. She's sure there's no cabin other than hers in the woods, and as she suspects the location of his cabin is empty. Going to her cabin, he also finds out she's a pretty direct woman, wasting no time in proposing. The next day they find out that he's in fact come 100 years into the future thanks to an experimental rock she was working on, and he finds out that a lot of things have changed in the future.

Pretty decent story with an odd surprise ending. As usual for a Kamen story, he takes any chance to draw a woman in a sexy pose, sometimes in quite unlikely ways. I also liked his view of futuristic architecture and design.

Stuff of Interest - November 2005

The Kirby-centric version of this list is here.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Fraggle Rock - Sprocket's Big Adventure (71)

Continuing the occasional looks at various Jim Henson related projects with the 71st episode of FRAGGLE ROCK, the season 4 debut.

Sprocket's Big Adventure

An unusual episode, one of the few I've seen where the Sprocket, the dog, takes center stage. In earlier episodes he'd finally made friends with Gobo, although still having no luck convincing Doc of the existence of furry creatures beyond the hole in the wall. However, plumbing problems lead to a hole in the floor, which allows Sprocket to dig through to Fraggle Rock, where he encounters Doozers (in a Gulliver's Travel type scene), Gorgs and the Trash Heap before finally returning home. Busy day.

I especially liked some of the extended Doozer scenes (including of course Cotterpin) in this episode, as they're one of my favourite bits of the show, with that odd way they look and move and are operated, which makes them a bit different from the everyday muppets. I also thought it was a nice touch that they remembered to do a few camera affects to make Sprocket smaller than he would normally be in relationship to the Gorgs naturally (as they always use smaller full-figure models of the Fraggles when they interact directly with the Gorgs).

As mentioned before, the first season of FRAGGLE ROCK is being released next week. Based on the stuff I've been watching in the past few weeks, I'm leaning towards picking it up, as most of my favourite MUPPET SHOW episodes are in later seasons, while the FRAGGLE ROCK stuff starts off stronger (but I'll probably also pick up the final FRAGGLE set, as about two-thirds of the episodes I've never seen will be on there).

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Random fact and fiction

Some stuff I've read lately, in lieu of horseback riding, either books I bought or library copies, recounting events both real and imagined from through time and space.

EMBROIDERIES by Marjane Satrapi - I'd been hearing a lot of praise for Satrapi's work, so I picked this up when I saw it in the library. It's a fairly straight-forward story about a group of Iranian women of several generations exchanging stories and gossip about sex and marriage. It's an interesting read, with a look at an aspect of the culture of the region that doesn't get a lot of exposure. I wasn't overwhelmed, the art was kind of loose (though sometimes clever) and found the story a bit tedious towards the end as it became clear that it was just a series of anecdotes without a unifying point, but I will probably try her PERSEPOLIS volumes, which I gather are much more detailed in both art and plot.

300 by Frank Miller is a quick telling of the story of Spartan King Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae, told in big drawings (the original serialized version was composed of all double page spreads, which are each printed as a single page in this double-wide format). I'm not a huge fan of the stuff Miller writes and draws himself, my favourites of his stuff have always been the David Mazzucchelli illustrated stories and a few early stories he drew but didn't write. This didn't change my mind, but I did think the artwork was a lot better than stuff like SIN CITY or DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN. Especially DKSA. It's pretty clear that he was into the story and it suits his art. Unfortunately the story was terribly light, a quick read without giving any real details of the story (I had to consult a few independent sources to find out what he was actually trying to tell us) and full of lots of stupid macho bravado disguised as characterization. Worth the time reading, but I'm glad I got it from the library.

The latest volume of Osamu Tezuka fanciful history of Siddhartha is BUDDHA v5 - DEER PARK (Budda Dai Gokan Rokuyaon). Still one of Tezuka's oddest work, with a lot of his odd sense of humour, anachronisms and extreme situations. The first half of this book deals with a lot of the characters we had met in previous volumes suddenly finding their paths interacting, as Tatta getting involved in Devadatta's schemes. Later on the focus goes back to Siddhartha, now known as Buddha (the Enlightened One), as he begins preaching the philosophy of life to deer. Boy, I see why they need that note in every issue about having characters and events not from the historical record. I always enjoy the wackiness, but I do wonder how Tezuka will tie it all in for the ending (three more volumes to go, all of which should be out by the end of the year).

More Tezuka, this time returning to the future with his loosely linked Phoenix saga in PHOENIX v5 - RESURRECTION, a pretty complicated story about a man in the 25th century who falls out of an air-car and is saved by a new medical procedure that makes him partly a robot and affects his perceptions, so he sees living beings as abstract shapes and a robot as human. And it gets weirder from there. Jumps back and forth in time and has a few characters who appear in the earlier volumes set further in the future, so I'll have to re-read those with that in mind. I've been preferring the PHOENIX stuff set in the past to those in the future, but there's always some thoughtful and delightful stuff in every volume. I mean, come on, a robot zipping around on its butt?

THE R. CRUMB HANDBOOK by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski is a nice thick 400+ page, compact sampler of Crumb's work from through his life, along with various auto-biographical notes from Crumb and a lot of photos. I've never been a huge fan of Crumb, but I find some of his stuff interesting, and it's nice to have a single book with a survey of his career, with bits from sketchbooks, commercial work, gallery shows and early work in addition to the comics. I was a bit sorry that it didn't include "Meatball", probably my favourite Crumb story, and of course a lot of the stuff included does go into the uncomfortable sides of Crumb's attitudes (without getting into the discussion of whether his work actually shows him to be racist and sexist or just comments on racism and sexism). I could have done with fewer photos and such and more comics, but it's a good intro to Crumb for the price. Also includes a CD of Crumb playing music, but I haven't listened to that.
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