A few more thoughts on the full new season of DOCTOR WHO. Probable mild spoilers starting a few paragraphs in for those who haven't had a chance to see it. Overall I liked it, but a bit less so now that I've had a chance to watch or re-watch some of the originals. Almost everything in the new series was better than anything I've seen from the last decade of the original show, so that's something. I'm honestly amazed the original lasted as long as it did given the quality of those. Momentum is a wonderful thing, I suppose. At least so far this new one is getting better as it goes along. I'll definitely be around for the Christmas special later this year and new season sometime in 2006.
But it wasn't quite as good as most of what I saw from the earlier seasons. Some of that might be nostalgia, but even beyond that, I just think that despite the more limited budgets the early stuff had a sense of fun and was generally more cohesive than the new series.
As I've noted before, there seemed to be an odd internal struggle between completely getting what Doctor Who is about (and successfully translating that to modern terms) and completely missing the point. I don't know if this has something to do with different people working on the show, pressures to keep it "up-to-date" or what, but sometimes it really did feel like I was watching scenes from two different shows in the same hour.
I did like most of the characters, though. The new Doctor seemed a bit awkward at first, but I did like him a lot more as the series went on. Did a good job of being human but not quite. Rose was pretty decent as well, although she had more than a few moments of getting on my nerves. Captain Jack was pretty funny for the most part, a good foil for the other two, but sometimes a bit too precious. Rose's mom and Mickey are, well, they sure are there, all right.
Episode by episode:
The big re-introduction, mostly works on what's a tough amount of new stuff to get through in a one-hour show. The choice of villains, the Autons, still seems weak, and compared to the later stuff it doesn't work nearly as well, but it's solid.
The End of the World
The first trip through time, into the far future, I like this more now than I did originally, mostly because it sets up some later stuff well. It's good space opera, fast paced (maybe too fast, could have been a two-parter) and with some good character bits. On the other hand, points off for bad use of pop music.
The Unquiet Dead
The weakest episode, by a good stretch, goes back to Victorian England. Always a mistake. Not entertaining and not half as clever as it thinks it is.
Aliens of London
World War Three
Back in modern times with the first two-parter. A lot of good stuff in here, and I liked the way they integrated some modern special effects with the look of the original show. The cliffhanger was especially good. A bit of a weak ending in some ways, but overall solid.
Really good, maybe the best of the year, but that just may be my unnatural (and illegal on some planets) love of the Daleks coming through. Still think it's a shame that they couldn't do this without advertising "Dalek" in the title and promos, as the first scene with the Dalek would have been much stronger with some element of surprise. Still, a good episode, looks really sharp, very dramatic and well-paced. Again, the ending was a touch weaker than it could have been, but not as bad as it could have been.
The Long Game
Back to the far future, a pretty average episode for the season. Nothing especially noteworthy, nothing really offensive.
Ah, time paradox. Means it didn't make a huge amount of sense, but it was something different, and did pretty well with the material. Also a focus on Rose in this episode, and she does a pretty good job.
The Empty Child
The Doctor Dances
A two-part story set in WWII. Started a bit weak, but recovered nicely, and the second part is the other contender for best episode. Introduces Captain Jack in this story, and he's a lot of fun, and the ending is really strong and funny in the best WHO tradition.
Back to modern times for the sequel to the "Aliens of London" story. I liked bits and pieces of it, but the whole thing didn't quite hang together for me. The second half was just trying to hard, a bit too earnest, and a lot of it just didn't seem to make sense.
The Parting of the Ways
The concluding two-parter. Starts off really bad with a parody of British reality TV and game shows. I'm sure that was cutting edge back in 1999. Got a lot better as the first part went on, and again the introduction of the Daleks was great (and again would have been stronger if they didn't feel the need to include it in the promos). Second part continues that momentum for a while, but gets a bit bogged down later, and then the ending is some sort of late-1970s Marvel comic cosmic-powers, glowing eyes thingee which was full of itself. A shame, as up to the last act it was shaping up to be the best of the season. Good stuff overall, though (I can't hate something with this many Daleks), and of course the ending leads to yet another Doctor starting later this year.
Saturday, July 30, 2005
The Spectre [1992 series]
44 issues [1992 - 1997]
1 - 5, 7 - 21, 23 - 33, 38, 44 - 47, 49, 52 - 57, 0
This longest running version of the title based on the Golden Age DC character created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily was written by John Ostrander throughout, and mostly illustrated by Tom Mandrake, with a few fill-ins (including one by 1970s Spectre artist Jim Aparo and a few by John Ridgway that I liked a lot), plus lots of different cover artists. It lasted until #62.
I found it a bit uneven when I started reading it early on, and managed to miss several issues. Had some good points, but would sometimes drift for a few issues. Eventually I dropped it after about two years, but liked it enough that when I saw a bunch of the later issues in a quarter bin I picked them up, although I haven't gotten around to reading them all yet, so the number of issues I have is deceptively high.
When I get a chance to read through them I'll have to decide if I want to track down a few of the issues I'm missing, or get rid of some that I have.
A lot of the covers are pretty generic, so hard to remember particular issues of note. #16 has the guest art by Jim Aparo, so that's pretty good. A bit over-powered by the inking, but still good to see him on the character again.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Keep meaning to start writing something about movies on this thing. I really like movies, although for the past few years I haven't gone to see many in the theatre. Most just don't seem that interesting for the price and the experience isn't that much better than watching them at home. Worse in a lot of ways. Anyway, this is the first in probably a weekly look at some movies I enjoy.
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson
RUSHMORE was that fairly rare experience of a movie that caught me almost completely off guard. I only vaguely recalled it coming out, and it didn't seem interesting enough to see. Don't recall anyone talking about it. It caught my eye later when I saw that Criterion had released a special edition of it, and was surprised since they don't do a lot of releases for recent movies. So I rented the tape from my video place, and couldn't believe how good it was. Possibly my favourite movie in the last decade. Certainly in the top five.
Unfortunately that Criterion edition was a bit too pricey, so I just got the regular DVD edition, which is pretty much barebones but at least is widescreen as opposed to the original VHS version I saw. Still, every time I watch it again I'm tempted to get that special edition. That current price for it actually isn't too bad...
Hard to pick up where to start on reasons I liked the movie. I guess the dialogue overall would be the best. It's just great film dialogue, far from realistic but very natural sounding, witty and with a lot of levels of meaning (can someone explain to me how Owen Wilson, who clearly knows good writing from the films he's written, can stand to spout that writing in movies he acts in?). A constant surprise, and I liked how elements from the early part come back later. I also think all the actors just nailed their roles, which were some odd characters. Even the minor ones were convincing, which is pretty good for such a large cast.
Max: Oh, I was gonna try to have that tree over there fall on you.
Blume: That big one?
Blume: It would have flattened me like a pancake. What stopped you?
I think what sells the movie is the complete quirkiness. Any of the odd elements taken alone might not work in another movie, but take them all together and they paint a cohesive picture of an odd world that's a half-step away from our own. Such a world is very appealing. I also liked how it's all about changes in relationships, going through several different phases in how each character relates to the others, rather than the one big shift in one relationship that most movies of the type are about.
You can also see some of this quirkiness in the way that the music was used, sometimes just overpowering with long clips accompanying vignettes to make some story points and move the story along. I especially liked the sequences with The Who's "A Quick One" and the Rolling Stones' "I am Waiting", which have a lot of story bits that I'm still just picking up after seeing the movie a dozen times. I also always like a movie tha introduces me to at least one new song I like, in this case "The Wind" by Cat Stevens.
I like this movie more every time I see it. Check it out if you haven't had the pleasure yet.
A random bit of Will Eisner
The Spirit Section #529
July 16, 1950
This classic bit of page drama sees the Spirit trapped in the desert after a plane crash while escorting a convict back to Central City. The story picks up as the Spirit wakes up, still cuffed to the prisoner, Tate.
Eisner of course excelled in taking such set pieces and creating minor masterpieces out of them. In this episode I especially liked how he made each page a small scene, skipping a few hours each time, with a clever visual device of growing panels to emulate the effect of a fade-in would give in movies, and how the Spirit gets gradually more hot and tired throughout. Tate was also a great foil for him in this situation, constantly talking about all sorts of nonsense while trying to manipulate the situation to his advantage.
While I've enjoyed some of Eisner's later "serious" work, I don't think anything matches what he was able to do with those tight deadlines and strict 7-page format from those first few post-war years.
The Legion of Super-Heroes [1980 series]
45 issues [1980 - 1984]
269 - 313
Lots of name changes with this title. It picked up the numbering from SUPERBOY AND THE LSH with #259. Eventually became TALES OF THE LSH with #314. I used to have a few from those first 10 issues, but they've been misplaced. I had become interested in the Legion based on some older comics shortly before this run, and I guess enjoyed the early issues of this when I was a 10-year-old, though I think mostly for all the great characters rather than the actual writing. I distinctly remember thinking "okay, that was kind of dumb" at some of the story resolutions. Though I didn't pay attention to credits at the time, I recall thinking it took a leap up in quality when Roy Thomas took over from Gerry Conway for a brief run, then another leap up when Paul Levitz started writing, and finally Keith Giffen came on the artwork and it was one of my favourite books for a while. In fact, I think it may actually have been with this book that I first started paying attention to credits in comics.
Not looking to get any of those 10 issues I'm missing. And I'm keeping these because I doubt we'll ever see an affordable reprint for anything but the "Great Darkness Saga". Might see a hardcover reprint someday, but that won't be for a while and their insistence on completeness despite quality for the DC Archives program means they've got a few deserts of quality to cross to get here.
Series highlights, well pretty obviously "The Great Darkness Saga" from #290 - #294. I'd seen Darkseid used in JLA a bit earlier, and liked the character, but this was much better and truer to the original. It would still be a while before I read Kirby's version and realized this was just a pale shadow, but hey, when you're that dark even a pale shadow is dark. I also really like the run from #301 - #306, with some strong single issue stories by Levitz and I think one of Giffen's best art periods.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
The on-going adventures of Vic Sage as chronicled by Denny O'Neil, Denys Cowan and others.
#20 is the first issue that Cowan took off, to work on the Annual below. Regular inker Rick Magyar filled in with both pencils and inks on "Send in the Clowns", including the cover. I didn't like it as much first time around, but looking at it now I think he did a good job, maintained the overall look without copying Cowan's style and told the story. Which in this case involved some more politics as the circus comes to town, a TV clown goes crazy on the air and people seek revenge.
This seems to be the best place to put in the "Fables" crossover, a three part loosely linked story that ran through the Annuals for DETECTIVE, GREEN ARROW and THE QUESTION in 1988. All three parts written by O'Neil with different artists.
DETECTIVE COMICS ANNUAL #1 - Klaus Janson pencilled with Tony DeZuniga inking, which is kind of unusual. I can't recall otherwise seeing Janson not doing finished work (either over his own pencils or another penciler). It's not bad looking, but a few parts seems a little stiff and I can't help but think Janson would have fixed those if he'd done the finished art. Anyway, the story is "The Monkey Trap", and Vic appears briefly in this story, as Shiva comes to Hub City to see if he can get her in touch with Batman, to fulfill a request by her old teacher the Sensei (who I once assumed, wrongly, was supposed to be the O-Sensei who taught Richard Dragon and Ben Turner. His backstory is told throughout these annuals). Vic is able to help by means of leaving a cryptic message on a computer network, and this seems to establish that their first meeting that Vic remembered back in #2 was real, but their second, while Vic was injured in that issue, was not. The main story is a very good Batman story, with Ra's al Ghul in a supporting role, plus Talia and the Penguin, and an interesting insight into Batman's character in the parable the Sensei tells him.
GREEN ARROW ANNUAL #1 - Tom Artis and Tim Dzon on the art, and it's not bad but looks a bit weak compared to the others, but that might just be the bright pastel colours. Vic doesn't appear in "Lesson for a Crab", as Shiva and the Sensei make their way to Seattle and tell a timely story to Green Arrow just as he's suffering a crisis of confidence due to another archer killing some people to challenge him. I really liked this story. As I mentioned with the previous Question/GA meeting, no one else has quite managed to write the Green Arrow that O'Neil defined back in the early 1970s as well as O'Neil.
THE QUESTION ANNUAL #1 - the regular team of Cowan and Magyar team-up for last time for the conclusion, and by far the best chapter of the crossover, "The Silent Parable". Shiva returns to Hub City to recruit Vic for the final mission this was all leading up to, and after a brief amount of violence they're off to Asia (leaving Batman behind because he makes Vic feel inadequate). I love this issue more everytime I read it, and it might just be my single favourite issue of the run. The extra pages really give the story room to breath, and it's full of great character bits for everyone. Even throws in a flashback to Vic's training with Richard, which is always welcome, and lays down clearly a lot of the themes of the book that had been under the surface.
I'm really sorry we haven't seen a collection of this storyline. It would seem to be a natural, and also a great way to test the waters for further collections of THE QUESTION. Strong story, starts with Batman, recognizable villains in his story, some good Green Arrow, another character with some name recognition and even a great painted Cowan/Sienkiewicz image that's only been used as a poster that they can use for the cover.
Next time, back to high school, then the election.
art by Wallace Wood, story by Harvey Kurtzman
Frontline Combat #12 (1953)
Capping off the Air Force issue of FRONTLINE is this story featuring the Sikorsky H-5 helicopter in Korea, on a rescue mission to pick up an F-80 pilot who parachuted down behind enemy lines. Very tight 8-pager with various twists involving enemy attacks, equipment failure and heroics, well told with some interesting layout tricks to help the pacing of the story.
It's an interesting contrast with the Alex Toth story in the same issue, with Wood's attention to detail being at its peak, trying to draw every fold in the clothing, every instrument on the control panel. Plus he's using a lot of tone-work at this point. Meanwhile of course Toth was trying his best to tell the most with the least number of lines. Both valid approaches, of course, the variety of the excellent art in each issue is a big draw of the EC books.
Marvel's Greatest Comics [1969 series]
45 issues [1969 - 1980]
23, 25 - 30, 33, 37, 43, 45, 47 - 54, 56, 61 - 68, 70 - 81, 83 - 85, 88, 94
Hm, not much to say about this one that won't end up on the Kirby weblog (one of them is the first place I remember seeing Kirby's art, and I'll talk about that at length on the other weblog in a few weeks). This was obviously my big source for affordable (usually edited but still brilliant) reprints of the Kirby Fantastic Four. Early issues continued the format of MARVEL COLLECTORS' ITEM CLASSICS as well as the numbering, with other reprints including Iron Man and Doctor Strange, which were fun. All that stuff is available in better editions now, of course. After a while they went to just FF reprints, first two per issue, then down to regular comic size and one issue of FF each month.
I do have a few issues that reprint post-Kirby FF, mostly because they were cheap and I was mildly curious. Don't think much of them, though, although some of the art is good and Joe Sinnott obviously did a good job of keeping the overall look of the series going for years.
Now that we're finally getting un-edited reprints of the later FF issues these are a lot more disposable. A few I'll definitely keep, though. In particular the few that Kirby did new covers for
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
As I think I mentioned before, they're finally going to start releasing full season sets of FRAGGLE ROCK and THE MUPPET SHOW this fall. While glad to see them, being a big fan of all things Henson, I have to face the reality that for the moment I'm going to have to pick and choose which to buy (and which seasons in particular). So I figure I should do some re-watching of the episodes I've recorded over the years, plus other assorted Muppet related bits I have, and write about them here on occasion. And y'know, there's something wrong with the fact that I can have access to over 200 channels and not one of them shows any Muppet related stuff other than Sesame Street?
Let's start with FRAGGLE ROCK. This show ran from 1983 to 1987, with 96 episodes over five seasons (though 4 and 5 were half-seasons, so when collected will probably be in one set), plus at least two specials, one "behind the scenes" and one a clip-show of songs from the show. I loved the first season as a kid, but for some reason never could remember when it was on after that (I think it either kept being moved around or was on a channel that would preempt it for sports). Caught it a few times since, fortunately it was on at a convenient time to tape, as well as getting a copy of the final two episodes with the big finale dubbed from someone.
I'm going to assume anyone continues reading past this point is somewhat familiar with the show and use odd words, names and phrases without explanation.
First up, the 34th episode:
A Friend In Need
Rather neatly, picked it at random and it turned out to be one of the episodes directed by Henson (he directed about a dozen, plus did voices of non-regular fraggles Cantus the Minstrel and Convincing John). This is also a kind of interesting episode as it has the inklings of a warming of relationships between the Fraggles and some of the other species that inhabit their world, the giant Gorgs and the dog from "outer space" (ie, our world), Sprocket. When I finally got a chance to see some of the later episodes I liked how the status quo on the show was allowed to change over the years.
But mostly I just love the main cast, who never really change. They're drawn broadly but very clearly, there are all sorts of little personality quirks that reinforce the basic character niche each one fills, from the way they look to their voices to how they move and especially what they say.
Anyway, the basic plot of this one involves Sprocket chasing a ball through the hole into Fraggle Rock from outer space and getting stuck halfway. Gobo tries to free him, and goes to get something from the Gorg garden to help, but gets caught in a trap. Meanwhile, the other Fraggles go to look for Gobo and think he's been eaten, which leads to a touching moment when Wembley forgets himself and shows some courage. Gobo meanwhile is able to use his wits to gain some sympathy from the Gorg Queen and get released and finish off his mission, along with providing some unintended aid to Doc.
Man, I still love this show. I'm definitely going to pick up at least one season set of it. The basic theme of the inter-connectedness of all things really appeals to me for some reasons, and the weird ways that always comes up on various episodes manages to surprise me far more often than it should.
Latest series of posts for the weblog, short notes on every Carl Barks story (except the one-pagers). Should take about ten years at one per week.
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #105 - June 1949
W WDC 105-02
A Donald Duck story in this issue, featuring Huey, Dewey and Louie trying to get sixty cents from Donald, who is out practicing his vaunted echo skills (like all his skills, probably never mentioned before or again) for an upcoming demonstation. HD&L somehow manage to prevent natural echos and make Donald pay a dime for their imitations. The usual escalation, dirty tricks and reversals ensue. I love that aspect of Barks' work, how he'll take something simple and build it up to an absurd level within a few pages. He does that better than anyone.
The highlight of the artwork in this issue is definitely the sequence of Donald demonstrating his echo making technique to the Nature Boys meeting. A really good use of the aspects of the character designed for animation on the page.
Monday, July 25, 2005
Sunday, July 24, 2005
Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck
by Don Rosa
Gemstone recently released their collection of Don Rosa's 12-part epic from the early 1990s, at $17 the first somewhat affordable edition they've done since the original serialization. It was good to see, although they've mentioned doing a hardcover edition and I wish they'd released some details about it before this came out. If it's in the $25 - $30 range I might have preferred it. More expensive and I'm happy with the paperback.
I'd read most of these when they first came out in english, and a few times since, but a couple of the chapters I managed to miss, so I only read them once when I borrowed them. It was good to finally have my own copies of those two, in particular "The New Laird of Castle McDuck", one of the return to Scotland issues that's a lot of fun.
It was also good to see all the supplemental material they included, expanded versions of Rosa's notes from the original issues, alternate covers (including a lot of the foreign ones, which for some reason often used non-Rosa art on the covers), the Duck/McDuck family tree and other stuff.
I do like the format a lot. Same size as the regular comics and thick at 256 pages, as opposed to the european album sized of Gladstone's 1990s books, larger but very thin at only 50 - 70 pages usually. Gives a much more substantial reading material for the money. I hope they do a few more books like this. A few "Best of Barks", mixing his 10-pagers with a few of the feature-length epics, would be great. I guess if this one does well their temptation will be to do another volume of Rosa's similar historical stories ("Chapter 0" and the various "1/2" issues of Life of Scrooge) or other long stories ("Son of the Sun", "Return to Plain Awful") but I'd prefer to see something that includes some of his shorter less continuity minded stories, which have some good visual comedy.
Dream of Doom
art by Wallace Wood, story by Harry Harrison (?)
Weird Science #12[#1] (1950)
More early New Trend fun, with a story about a man, Art Bristol, who is trapped in an endless sequence of dreams, constantly thinking he's just waked up only to find another level. Not the most original idea, but well executed in this version, especially the transitions from one dream to the next being in the sound effects (a ringing phone becomes a ringing alarm clock).
Also interesting how some of the dreams involve being an artist, such as a trip to publisher "Gill Baines" with the art for this very story, who is excessive in his praise for the art. Later there's some two-fisted cartoonist action as Art has a discussion about the merits of photo reference with his studio mate Bill Kurtz.
Still early Wood, but you could see the distinctive inking developing in a lot of places.
Saturday, July 23, 2005
I sometimes wonder about the holdings of the Toronto Library system. The other day I noticed a copy of one of the digest formatted Elfquest volumes DC is publishing now. I'd been curious about those, but not enough to buy them, so I decided to try to get the first volume of THE GRAND QUEST or WOLFRIDER. When I checked the system, though, I saw that they had 56 copies of GRAND QUEST v3, 44 copies of GRAND QUEST v4 and... that's it. None of the first two volumes of GRAND QUEST, none of WOLFRIDER. Seems an odd choice of what to get. I wonder how that happens? Some dollars just happened to open up in the budget in the right week? The two volumes they got being on sale? An order not being filled (I sometimes see that they have an upcoming book listed as "On order", and then still being "On order" months after it comes out, and then eventually being scrubbed from the system).
Anyway, just a pointless observation on a hot afternoon.
Sugar & Spike [1956 series]
65 issues [1957 - 1971]
6 - 11, 19, 25 - 27, 29, 31 - 32, 37, 41 - 42, 44, 48 - 61, 65 - 98
Boy, this is some book. 98 total issues published, all written and drawn by Sheldon Mayer, over 15 years. The last of those came out when I was about Spike's age and probably getting up to similar antics. This is one of my favourite comics of all time, by one of my favourite cartoonists.
I first encountered the characters in a mid-1980s reprint digest, sometime after it was published. Don't even recall where or why I got it, but I do know that I liked it a lot. A few years later I happened upon a comic shop that had all its back-issues at half-price, and looked through for anything interesting (I recall getting my first taste of Kirby's JIMMY OLSEN at the same time), and they had some beat-up later issues of SUGAR & SPIKE for a few bucks each. Even better than the digest. Been picking it up ever since, getting a pretty decent collection in widely varied conditions (a few with pages missing or with the Write-Your-Own pages written or coloured on). Keeping all of these at least until the unlikely day that they're reprinted, and probably a lot longer. Didn't get any issues for a while, but now thanks to the internets (invented by Bernie the Brain, no doubt) I've got some more, and might actually one day track down the 33 I'm missing
It's hard to explain exactly why I love this even more than the work of other contemporary humour cartoonists like Barks or Kelly or Schulz or whoever. I guess everyone has a few cartoonists who just manage to speak to a part of their brain, depending on exactly when they first encountered them and any other variables. For lack of a better term, cartoonists who feel like home. I'd say three reach that level for me, and Mayer is one of them (one of the others should be obvious, the other, well, is still a few dozen entries down on this set of posts, but there's a clue in the name of the weblog).
For me just about everything just works in Mayer's work. The basic concept of S&S is brilliant in its simplicity. Babies who can talk to each other but not to adults. But far beyond the concept, Mayer's execution was sheer genius. He's one of those cartoonists who can draw everything funny, so the facial expressions, the body language, all the background bits, the character designs, everything on the page contributes to the humour. The writing easily matches that, with lots of explorations of the life of a baby, both logical and fanciful as the story calls for. I especially like how effortlessly Mayer seems to clearly define and constantly reinforce the differences between Sugar and Spike without needing to say it explicitly. A lot comes out just in how they talk and act towards each other.
In the later issues Mayer started doing longer stories and then injecting fantasy elements in the stories (most notably in regular character Bernie the Brain introduced in #72 and soon a de facto third star of the book, getting cover billing for a while). That stuff still works for me, and indeed many of my early favourites are among those stories since that was the first stuff I read, but I'm glad that later Mayer backed off a bit from the fantasy elements, and did a healthy mix for stories in the last dozen issues (plus the later new stories he did for foreign markets).
Okay, I'll shut up now. Just wanted to write enough to justify the number of scans I wanted to include. All complete stories, click on them and check them out.
Eh, all of them.
Friday, July 22, 2005
Continuing ever onward, rather slower than I was planning on, with one of the consistently best ongoing DC books of the 1980s. #16 - #19 form a kind of loose story about plastic guns, a topic that as I recall raised some small controversy in the letter columns (I haven't been re-reading the letter columns this go-round, but they were fun).
#16 is untitled, so let's just call it "Butch and Sundance" since that's what the villains take their inspiration from. The main focus of this story is Izzy O'Toole, and various attempts on his life as he takes the unusual position as one of the most respected public officials in Hub City. This brings arms dealers Butch and Sundance into town with an improbable assassination attempt involving using an armed helicopter to take down Izzy's apartment. Vic emerges victorious in the end, of course, but the best scenes in this issue clearly belong to Izzy.
#17 is "A Dream of Rorschach", and as the title suggests, this features the quasi-crossover with Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore's then recently completed WATCHMEN series and the character Rorschach, who was the Question in an earlier proposal of the story. In this issue, Butch uses some plastic guns to spring Sundance from custody, sending Vic up to the northwest in pursuit. For reading on the plane he picks up a copy of WATCHMEN, leading to a dream of the murder of Loomis from a few issues back, only with Vic wearing a Rorschach mask. Vic pulls some amateur moves in Seattle and gets captured by confederates of Butch and Sundance, and as he's about to be dumped in the snow along comes Green Arrow....
#18 "Desperate Ground" is the big team-up with Green Arrow, which is just wonderful stuff. A few others have done a credible job, but O'Neil's version of GA works best when written by O'Neil. The verbal sparring between GA and Vic as they decide whether to trust each other is just golden, and one of my favourite scenes in the series, and this issue one of the top three or four. Some very clever twists and turns (I loved the stuff about the passwords), great action scenes (some of the best of the Cowan/Magyar run) and an interesting end (although I still don't get the reference to the story of Herod on the last page).
The reading list entry for this issue is Sun Tzu's "The Art of War", and (along with the previous issue) it's one of the rare issues where the reading list is explicitly referred to in the story.
#19 "The Plastic Dilemma" brings us back to Hub City and some loose ends, namely who was behind the hit attempt on Izzy and the plastic guns. Odd story, some kind of gross scenes involving a plastic sex doll, but funny in a quirky way. Myra's race for Mayor also returns to center stage this issue, which has some smart writing about modern politics, with a weird mix of cynicism and optimism.
Next time around guest art from the inker and the "Fables" crossover with Green Arrow and Batman.
It's going to be out of my price range, so I'll have to hope for an eventual "Best of Picto-Fiction" or individual reprints, but it's good to see that they're releasing the missing piece of the old EC Library with this set of the short-lived illustrated story experiment, including everything available for the unpublished issues. Some good looking art in there.
THE COMPLETE EC PICTO-FICTION LIBRARY SET
Gemstone Publishing at long last presents the final component of The Complete EC Library! Seldom seen and highly sought-after for generations, Shock Illustrated, Terror Illustrated, Crime Illustrated and Confessions Illustrated are among the hardest-to-find EC titles. Not only are each of the published issues collected in this deluxe hardcover set, but so are 18 previously unpublished Picto-Fiction stories! Featuring the work of artists Reed Crandall, Jack Davis, George Evans, Graham Ingels, Jack Kamen, Rudy Nappi, Joe Orlando, Bud Parke, Charles Sultan, Angelo Torres, Al Williamson, and Wallace Wood, and writers Robert Bernstein, Al Feldstein, Daniel Keyes, John Larner, Jack Oleck, and Richard Smith.
Murder May Boomerang
by Johnny Craig
Crime SuspenStories #1 (1950)
This is one of my favourite Craig crime stories from EC, a really intense piece that makes good use of the 8-page format with a tightly written complex story with what I found to be a genuine surprise ending.
This story has a man with his elderly father driving in the rain, with the younger man desperate for some reason. His mind flashes back to his boyhood and all the sacrifices his father made for him, until finally he was successful enough that his father could retire and they go on a camping trip to celebrate. Unfortunately, during the trip there's an escape at the nearby prison, which leads to a chain of events that brings us back to the beginning.
As I said, very intense, and as the lead story in the first "New Trend" crime comic of the EC line it really sets up the mood for what was to come.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
Thanks to a mention by Mark Evanier I was able to tape the PBS AMERICAN MASTERS special on Bob Newhart. It'll probably be repeated at various times in the next few weeks, and if you've ever been a fan of Newhart in any of his incarnations it's well worth watching. Lots of interesting footage of his early stand-up days, his short-lived first two TV shows, well chosen clips from his more successful shows and interviews with Newhart and people he worked with.
As I recall I sort of discovered the major bits of Newhart's career all at once in the early 1980s. When his 1970s show was on, if I ever saw it I was too young to appreciate it, but I remember starting to watch NEWHART when it started in 1982 and I was 12, and really liking it. Around the same time I was listening to the radio shows that ran stand-up and musical comedy on Sunday nights, and whenever they played any of Newhart's 1960s material that was invariably the highlight of that particular hour, and I would tape them off air to listen to over and over. So with those two encounters in mind I was sure to check out THE BOB NEWHART SHOW whenever it came on in syndication (which was rarely at a convienient time, unfortunately. I think it was something like Sunday afternoon for a while. I specificially remember for a while it was on during the day while I was at school, and I was hoping to be able to watch it in the summer, then just before school let out they replaced it).
Hm, just checked and I see that THE BOB NEWHART SHOW has just started to be released on DVD. Damn, that's tempting. The only show I've bought a full season collection of so far is SPORTS NIGHT, but now BOB NEWHART is out, NEWSRADIO is coming out, THE MUPPET SHOW and FRAGGLE ROCK are coming out. Decisions, decisions....
Or maybe I should buy one of the CDs of his stand-up. That's still my favourite Newhart stuff. I can still remember most of it by heart. The TV special had a few good samples, but didn't have a few of my faves. I think the "Nobody Will Ever Play Baseball" is the definitive one ("Three strike and you're our? And three balls... Four balls? Why four, Mr. Doubleday.... Nobody's ever asked you that before?"). Or maybe the introduction of tobacco ("You shred some tobacco... you roll it up... wait, don't tell me Walt, then you stick it in your ear.... oh, between your lips? And then what do you do.... You set fire to it?").
Anyway, the special's definitely worth checking out.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Here are some links to GCD entries for books featuring Jim Aparo covers. I especially recommend checking out the issues of THE PHANTOM.
Space Adventures #4
Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves #14
Phantom, The #33
Phantom, The #35
Phantom, The #37
Phantom Stranger, The #21
Brave and the Bold, The #107
Phantom Stranger, The #33
Adventure Comics #439
Adventure Comics #450
Batman Family #14
Detective Comics #470
Secrets of Haunted House #6
Brave and the Bold, The #144
House of Secrets #153
Brave and the Bold, The #150
Adventure Comics #468
Brave and the Bold, The #167
Best of DC, The #26
Legion of Super-Heroes, The #283
Brave and the Bold, The #194
Outsiders, The #7
First read it over on Fred Hembeck's site, now it's been confirmed all over, Jim Aparo passed away last night at age 72. I'm of an age where Jim Aparo was pretty much the Batman artist I grew up with, especially with his work on THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD. I especially liked his take on many of the classic Batman villains. I continued to enjoy the new stuff as well as various older works like Spectre, Aquaman and Phantom Stranger as I discovered them.
There's a good interview with Aparo that Jim Amash did for CBA a few years ago about his early Charlton work. Go read.
Illustration above is from THE COMIC READER #180. Don't know why exactly Aparo drew it, but I love that distinctive Aparo forehead and eyebrows combo. Here are a few more TCR covers to go with the Captain Marvel one posted last week.
Monday, July 18, 2005
Recently released is THE STEVE DITKO READER v3, another 160 page collection of Ditko's work for Charlton in the 1950s (plus one later gem) from Pure Imagination. This is also the third major Ditko reprint book of the year, following one from Marvel and one from Vanguard and it the one I was most looking forward to.
Ditko's work of that era is always worth a look, and this is a nicer and more varied sampling than the other recent books have provided. About half of the stories hadn't been reprinted before, and even among the others the reprints aren't always easy to find (books published by Eclipse or Robin Snyder in the 1980s). I have them, but then, I'm probably insane...
I've listed all the contents below. I'm going to try to try to spread out the reading of this rather than taking the whole thing at once, and will add a few comments on each story as I read them.
The cover is actually from a 1960s fanzine, not a Charlton comic, although it's very much in the spirit of his covers there, with a classic sci-fi theme, ray-gun wielding hero, dangerous beasties and a fanciful background. Fun stuff, and it looks really nice in colour (I assume it was black and white in the original, as it was in the prior reprint where I first saw it).
"Avery and the Goblins" from THE THING #13 (Apr 1954) - Among Ditko's earliest stories, maybe a dozen stories into his career, already showing most of his distinctive touches. This is a clever haunted house stories that gives him a chance to do some heavily moody work evocative of one of his influences, Will Eisner. Heavy shadows, lots of smoke effects. I especially liked what he did with some of the goblin's doors, which show the same design sense he would refine a decade later in Doctor Strange.
"The Payoff" from STRANGE SUSPENSE STORIES #20 (Aug 1954) - One of the reasons I prefer this book to the Vanguard book is that it gives a wider range of the genres Ditko did in that era, rather than just the sci-fi/fantasy. This is a spy thriller set in Eastern Europe back in the early days of the Cold War, about a female spy trying to sell a smuggled vial of a deadly plague. Very smart and swift story, still very early but you could see the Ditko hands developing.
"Von Mohl Vs. The Ants" from STRANGE SUSPENSE STORIES #20 (Aug 1954) - A story about an ant invasion of a plantation in Africa, and how one greedy landowner tries to turn it back. Oddly, one of the few short stories I remember reading in junior high was about the same thing, and while I don't remember it clearly, I suspect that vast tracts of this story are lifted from it. Either that or maybe ants attacking plantations was a common theme in pulp fiction. Anyway, insects are a Ditko specialty, so he does well with them here even if they aren't of the giant variety, and an overall nice sense of place on an exotic locale.
"What Happened" from OUT OF THIS WORLD #3 (Mar 1957)
"The Supermen" from OUT OF THIS WORLD #3 (Mar 1957) - An old favourite of mine from previous reprints, this is a story about some scientists who begin to mutate to an advanced mental state thanks to a radiation leak. One of the better surprise endings of these kind of stories, and a few very uniquely Ditko storytelling tricks along the way. Plus any story where people mutate to big-headed geniuses is worth having.
"They Didn't Believe Him" from MYSTERIES OF UNKNOWN WORLDS #3 (Apr 1957)
"A Forgotten World" from MYSTERIES OF UNKNOWN WORLDS #3 (Apr 1957) - Kind of an oddly written story. It's about a man who wanders into an underground civilization that's extremely hot, and winds up under a death sentence. Seems to be going somewhere but then has a disappointingly abrupt final page ending. Nice art, including one of those Ditko women with the odd hair. By the way, I love the title lettering on some of these stories. I wonder if Ditko did that himself or there was someone at Charlton was good at those. The actual story lettering is usually solid but unspectacular at this point (before their "A. Machine" era).
"The Man Who Could See Tomorrow" from UNUSUAL TALES #7 (May 1957) - This story is missing a page, unfortunately. It's pretty easy to extrapolate what happens in the missing page, and I'll see if I can get a copy of that page. Anyway, this is another of those short fantasy stories that are more about the technique that Ditko employs, with a lot of very evocative looks at the eyes of the lead character in some extreme closeups.
"The Man Who Painted on Air" from UNUSUAL TALES #7 (May 1957) - Amusing little story about a down-and-out promoter who finds an artist capable of making paintings in the air before him, which quickly dissolve. The promoter decides he can exploit this and plans a major show to which he invites all sorts of national leaders, before suspecting that something might not be kosher. Gives Ditko a good chance to draw some unusual situations and angles, and kind of has a plot that foreshadows something in an early SPIDER-MAN.
"The Flying Dutchman" from OUT OF THIS WORLD #4 (Jun 1957)
"Director of the Board" from STRANGE SUSPENSE STORIES #33 (Aug 1957)
"The Mirage" from MYSTERIES OF UNKNOWN WORLDS #5 (Oct 1957) - A clever little jail-break story about an escapee who has to cross a vast desert to get away. There's some nice writing in here, and Ditko's art reinforces the theme of this convicts determination to be different from other failed escapees, and how that leads to his eventual downfall.
"All Those Eyes" from OUT OF THIS WORLD #6 (Nov 1957)
"The Man Below" from TALES OF THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER #5 (Nov 1957)
"Above the Topmost Peak" from TALES OF THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER #5 (Nov 1957) - An interesting short about a mountain climber, with a kind of predictable but well done ending. The most interesting thing in this tale is the use of the "Mysterious Traveler" narrator. In his book he's always around in the background of a few panels, sometimes in interstitial linking panels, but in this story for some reason he's this giant head floating in the background of every single panel, making for a very visually arresting story out of one that otherwise would have been routine.
"The Sultan" from TALES OF THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER #5 (Nov 1957)
"Night of the Red Snow" from UNUSUAL TALES #9 (Nov 1957)
"Free" from STRANGE SUSPENSE STORIES #35 (Dec 1957) - Odd 3-page short notable for a different art technique, a detailed stippling pattern used for the shading on the underwater scenes. There are a few times he would use such a look in his later work, but not much. It's always interesting when Ditko experiments with techniques, like his later ink-wash work.
"The Strange Fate of Captain Fenton" from MYSTERIES OF UNKNOWN WORLDS #6 (Dec 1957) - Adventures out at sea, which are always fun. I love the way Ditko draws boats. This features a cruel captain who eventually faces karmic justice from an unexpected direction when his ship capsizes and (abandoning his men) he winds up among a tribe on a Pacific island, apparently fulfilling a prophecy.
"Mister Evriman" from TALES OF THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER #6 (Dec 1957) - Unfortunately missing a page in the middle, although not one crucial to the story (the page numbering is changed, too, which makes me think this was edited in a prior reprint). This story is about TV quiz shows, very much a product of its time when TV was sort of between the big new thing and a taken-for-granted part of everyday life in the US. Ditko got a chance to draw some interesting faces in this one as part of the plot.
"When Old Doc Died" from TALES OF THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER #6 (Dec 1957) - Another one of my old favourites, this tells the story of a small town doctor and what happens when he goes up to heaven and beyond. I especially like how Ditko varies the linework during various parts of the story for the different settings, and there's a clever story that Ditko is able to fully realize, as a lot of this story depends on some facial expressions.
"The Old Fool" from TALES OF THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER #6 (Dec. 1957) - Another old favourite from a prior collection, and good thing too because this version is missing the final page. Frustrating, to be sure. Anyway, this is a vignette about a strange old hermit living in a small town, and how the Mysterious Traveler reveals his secret to us. An oddly touching story.
"Tomorrow's Punishment" from TALES OF THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER #6 (Dec 1957) - Mystic objects abound in stories of this era, and this is a good example, with a mirror that tells the future. Great bit in the opening where a thief buys the mirror, with some other odd objects in the antique shop, the kind of stuff Ditko does so well. Anyway, the thief uses the mirror to decide which jobs he and his men will succeed in, but of course as happens in these things eventually greed and arrogance collide and it all comes to a bad end. Some very clever visual bits which bring to mind another story involving mirrors that Ditko would do later, but much more proficiently.
"Mystery Planet" from STRANGE SUSPENSE STORIES #36 (Mar 1958)
"The End of Edward" from TALES OF THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER #9 (Sep 1958)
"The Shining Stallion" from BLACK FURY #17 (Jan 1959) - Ditko did relatively few westerns in his career, maybe a dozen stories, under 100 pages. A shame as his style really does seem to fit the material, so it's always good to see one of those few examples in a reprint. This particular story features the title character, Black Fury, an untamed stallion out on the western trail who carried a book from a surprisingly long time. In this story, an outlaw tries to capture him in a fenced off corral, but of course he escapes. Fun stories in small doses, I'm not really sure how the book lasted a dozen years except for the usual, y'know, it's Charlton.
"The Great Escape" from SPACE ADVENTURES #27 (Feb 1959)
"With the Help of Hogar" from FANTASTIC GIANTS (Sep 1966) - A great later story, also the longest story in the book at 10 pages, this is a nice one to finish the book with as an example of the definitive form Ditko's work took in his most prolific period following those early years of development with a similar type of story. This is the story of a meteor that lands in Africa, which an evil and ambitious witch-doctor forms into a giant monster which comes to life thanks to a mix of radiation and lightning. Interestingly this is written entirely in captions, so there are no bubbles covering the artwork, which shows of some of Ditko's strengths even more than most.
Alter Ego [1999 series]
47 issues [1999 - 2005]
1 - 39, 41 - 42, 44 - 49
Roy Thomas's currently on-going magazine from TwoMorrows, devoted to mostly pre-1970 mainstream American comics. The original ALTER EGO was a fanzine in the 1960s originally published by Jerry Bails, later others including Thomas. Thomas revived it in 1998 as a flip-book with the more modern themed fanzine COMIC BOOK ARTIST, and went solo after five joint issues with CBA, starting quarterly but gradually building up to monthly as it continues today.
I've been getting it from the start, although I managed to miss a couple of issues in the past year. Didn't notice at the time as I tend to let issues pile up, flipping through and just looking for interesting art when I first get an issue, then reading articles randomly when the mood strike. One of the ones I missed, #40, looks like one I really want, with stuff on Gil Kane, Julius Schwartz and Russ Heath. The other has some stuff I wouldn't mind seeing.
I've been thinking of dropping the book for a while now, at least as a monthly purchase, only picking up those issues with cover features of excessive interest. I enjoy it, but kind of think monthly is too great a frequency for it. There's a lot of stuff I still haven't gotten around to reading in the 47 issues I have, and there's sometimes an excess of mostly pointless articles. Every dozen issues could probably be distilled down to five or six excellent issues.
However, there's a lot of interesting stuff in almost every issue. Even when the focus is on a writer or artist whose work I'm not very familiar with, it's interesting to find out things about how the business worked back then, what life was like, and see samples of some of the work. It can be a bit frustrating sometimes, as the regular feature on Fawcett comics features page after page about books which haven't been reprinted in decades. I wish they'd reprint complete stories of some of the public domain stuff more often, as reading about the comics is no substitute for actually reading them (Michael T. Gilbert's section has some of that, with rare unearthed oddities, and is often my favourite part of any issue). It's been a while since I've even read one of the Fawcett articles as it's at the point where what I know about the company far exceeds what I know about the actual comic stories they published.
The biggest weakness comes when Thomas starts writing about his own comics, which is one of the few times he'll venture into post-1970 material. He has a tendency to go on and on about some of those projects, especially a few that failed to get off the ground and, based on the evidence, deserved that failure, even if Houseroy doesn't see it that way. Seriously, if you thought what he did with Captain Marvel in the published books was bad, you don't want to see what was rejected. He can also sometimes go on about early fandom, which is nice in small doses but a fanzine covering early fanzines... snakes swallowing their tails (weblog posts about fanzines, though, are fine).
And I say this as someone who likes Roy Thomas quite often. Fortunately those articles on his own work aren't as frequent as they seem and are overshadowed by historical stuff.
Keeping all of these for now. I suppose in years to come I might decide to winnow it down, but it'll be hard to pick any issues without something I want to keep. The good stuff is too scattered to single out any particular issues, but leafing through I remember liking the Lou Fine spotlight in #17 a lot, as well as the Infantino and Broome stuff in #10 and both the Gene Colan and Mac Raboy stuff in #6. Plus any issue with one of those weird little essays by Alex Toth is fun, especially when he's talking about other artists he admired.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
Latest batch of DOCTOR WHO tapes I got from the library did much to dispel the bad taste of the last batch, and cover four of the first five Doctors.
"The Crusade" and "The Space Museum" are on one tape, featuring the original Doctor William Hartnell. Unfortunately two of the chapters of "The Crusade" (chapters 2 and 4) are among the lost, but they cover for that in two ways, first by including the audio for them on a CD and second by getting the actor who played Ian Chesterton to reprise his role and describe the missing bits, plus an overall introduction. What remains is a very good adventure where the Doctor and company wind up back in the time of King Richard and get involved in his various entanglements amidst the Crusades. A lot of fun, and I'd love to see the missing bits.
"The Space Museum" takes a sharp turn to straight science fiction as our intrepid bunch wind up on a planet ruled by a warlike race who have built a museum, and thanks to odd time paradoxes know they'll wind up as exhibits if they don't change the future. A bit of an uneven serial, there were a lot of good bits but a few odd holes in the plot that were distracting. Still enjoyable, and a great surprise ending which makes me wish I had the following serial available.
"Planet of the Spiders" jumps forward a decade and is the final adventure of Jon Pertwee as the third Doctor. It was nice to see this as I actually saw most of it back when I was a kid, but never did see the final episode for some reason, just the following one with a new Doctor. The villains, crudely moving giant model spiders, are kind of lame, but there was a lot of interesting stuff as well, and it's always good to see Sarah Jane Smith and the full UNIT cast. The ending was pretty satisfying, there was a good enough reason for this to be a big enough threat to require regeneration at the end.
"The Face Of Evil" is a few more years down, with Tom Baker as the Doctor now, and the episode introducing Leela as his companion. They include a short interview that the actress, Louise Jameson, did for a British TV show at the time, discussing among other things the reaction to Leela's relative state of undress in her first few adventures. It was okay, about average for the Tom Baker stuff, showing off some of the quirky humour that I like in those, a bit over-acted in places.
Finally I had "Castrovalva", the first episode where Peter Davison takes over as the fifth Doctor. Weakest of these, but then when comparing it to some of the others I've seen recently it improves greatly. Still don't really like the companions he inherited from the Baker years here, and since this was one of those "unstable after regeneration" things he couldn't really define his own character much. I did like the Master in the first half of the serial, although for the big climax I thought he was played a lot more broadly "villainous" which didn't work (and yes, I know the character is meant to be played broadly, but there's a tipping point that was crossed there).
No more on the way in the near future, unfortunately. Based on the number of holds looks like I can expect "The Five Doctors" in about a month, "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" in early autumn and a few more late this year. Still mean to write some more about the current series (currently being re-run on Sunday nights in Canada for those who missed it) soon. Might also subscribe to BBC Kids channel which is showing it, but currently they're on late Tom Baker episodes which isn't worth it at all, especially if they continue on from there. I'll have to see if they ever go back to the older stuff. Unfortunately the only other show they have that's remotely interesting is BLACKADDER, which I've heard good things about but never watched.
Saturday, July 16, 2005
Friday, July 15, 2005
Our Fighting Forces [1954 series]
48 issues [1966 - 1978]
104, 109, 114, 118, 124, 126 - 132, 136, 138 - 141, 143, 145 - 162, 164, 167 - 174, 176 - 177, 180
Another long-running DC war comic, this one going through quite a few regular lead features. Gunner and the Sarge for a bit, then Captain Hunter in Viet Nam, then Hunter's Hellcats in WWII before finally settling in for the Losers, a group made of several other features (Gunner and the Sarge, Captain Storm and Johnny Cloud) in a fanciful "special missions" task force in all areas of WWII.
My history on this is pretty much the same as the other war books previously discussed, adding in a slight twist with the dozen issue (#151 - #162) done by Jack Kirby, which were specific issues I looked for among the other back issues. The last of those dozen took me years to find. The Kirby stuff will be discussed in detail on the appropriate weblog, of course.
Of the non-Kirby stuff, Robert Kanigher wrote most of the other lead stories, and his stuff is usually fun. There's a really good run of issues right before the Kirby stuff when John Severin was the artist, which is amazing stuff. I'm not as impressed with the post Kirby stuff, which is George Evans but much weaker than his EC work. Lots of other good back-ups, including a lot of Sam Glanzman stories and the occasional bit by Ric Estrada, Russ Heath, Alex Toth and others.
For back issues, I'll probably pick up the issues in the issues from #133 - #144 that I'm missing, some good Kanigher/Severin leads in all those. And I might get some earlier issues if I ever see them fairly cheap. Not getting rid of any for now, though I might someday decide I don't want the ones after #162.
#132 - Severin's first issue, with the return of Pooch, Gunner and the Sarge's pet dog, plus back-ups by Kanigher/Estrada and Glanzman
#138 - High seas adventure with the Losers, plus Glanzman doing a comic about drawing comics during the war and a Kanigher/Heath reprint
#152 - One of Kirby's best, "A Small Place in Hell", reportedly based closer than most on some of his own experiences in Europe.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
A very striking cover to announce THE COMIC READER running Kane's Star
Hawks strip, which was a lot of fun. That's some finely rendered tech
in the background. Unfortunately the hardcover collection of the
strip that came out a few years ago didn't look that impressive (in
production terms) for the price on a quick glance. Does anyone know
if the softcover version ever came out?