Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Big Audio Wednesday - Superman/Batman Continued

Continuing the "Dr. Blythe's Confidence Gang" storyline featuring the first existing team-up of Superman and Batman on the radio (as I explained in probably too much detail here, there was an earlier team-up that appears to be lost, or at least, it's not among the episodes on Internet Archive).

The story so far: Batman and Clark Kent, investigating the disappearance of Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Dick Grayson from an amusement park, chased a mysterious figure into a hall of mirrors, where Batman fell into a deep, flooded pit containing the two missing boys. They were on the verge of drowning in the cold water when they were rescued by Superman. Shortly afterward, they learned that Lois was being held in police headquarters for murder.

And now... (click the widgets for streaming play in browser or right-click to download)

Oh, and if you're curious about the military insignia buttons advertised on the show, click on the pic for a larger view of the complete set.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

For Realz

I read about guys like this recently, but can't remember if I linked it. Anyway, here's an article from Rolling Stone about real-life costumed "heroes." When I was a kid, I would have thought this was the coolest thing ever.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Vault Extra - Foglio/Hitchcock

This won't be news to anyone who follows Phil Foglio's career, but Foglio, like Hitchcock, inserts himself (to be exact, a very specific caricature of himself) into pretty much every series he draws.

I really miss DixieRemember yesterday when I mentioned his first strip, What's New with Phil and Dixie? Well, the Phil of the title was Foglio himself, explicitly referred to by last name on more than one occasion (as in the sample panel here). This strip ran in Dragon magazine in 1981.

Notice the very specific outfit he's wearing here: white turtleneck sweater and bowler hat. Now look at the following panels from:

D'Arc Tangent, 1982...

Foglio as some kind of cosmic trickster
Buck Godot, Zap Gun For Hire, 1986 (sorry about the crappy scan, but I didn't want to destroy my trade paperback to scan part of one page) (ETA: Buck Godot's continuing adventures can be read online here)...

So Buck Godot and Phil Foglio go into a bar...
and Girl Genius, 2006.

Look, now he can afford a coat!

I haven't dug my XXXenophile issues out of the Vault yet, so I have no idea if Phil appears in those or not. It probably doesn't matter to anyone but me, anyway, but I find it amusing.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Out of the Vault - D'Arc Tangent

Cover of D'Arc Tangent #1So since I've been reading Girl Genius lately, I decided to devote this week's Vault visit to an earlier Foglio work, the one-shot D'Arc Tangent.

D'Arc Tangent #1 was published in 1982 by ffantasy ffactory, a company formed by Phil Foglio and Freff (hence the doubled 'f's in the name). Following the example of Elfquest, it was an independent comic, black-and-white on magazine-size newsprint with a quarterly release schedule (in theory, anyway).

Foglio by that time had already made a name for himself among sf fandom as a fan artist, and among gamer geeks (like me) for a strip in Dragon Magazine called What's New with Phil & Dixie (available on the web here). Connor Freff Cochran had also published as both a writer and illustrator (you can see sample pages from issue 2 on Freff's site).

Between the two of them (with the help of SF author Melissa Ann Singer as publisher), they concocted an ambitious tale of star-spanning romance. In the first issue, we were introduced to a huge interstellar empire, a mysterious would-be conqueror, an enormous city built on an ancient artifact that dwarfs Ringworld, a grieving alien widow, and a medieval French nobleman whose personality is imprinted upon a robot, which in turn begins to develop an emotional bond with the widow.

The story was planned to run 16 issues.

It lasted one.

It wasn't a problem with either the art or the story; though neither were perfect, they were solid, with the promise of great improvement over the full run of the tale. It wasn't necessarily a problem of low sales or of the implosion of the black-and-white market that doomed so many other small-press B&W books in those days.

Screaming Won't Make the Work Get Done FasterNope, Foglio and Freff simply split up due to creative differences.

What creative differences, you might ask? Well, here's a clue. When the editorial page in the first issue features one creator screaming at the other to finish the damn book already, you can assume that there's friction in the partnership.

Looking at a sample of the book in question might help explain a bit more. Here's a portion of a typical page below. It appears that penciling duties were split between the two. Foglio obviously drew the shorter Frenchman, as well as the unmasked robot, while Freff appears to have penciled the taller Frenchman and the alien babe Avari T. But from the editorial cartoon, it seems that Freff was doing all the inking, and just look at the inks on this page: lots of cross-hatching, multiple flavors of zip, and a hell of a lot of black. Now multiply that through the entire book, and you can see why they had trouble making a deadline.

Holy Crap, That's a Lot of Black!

All that work was not wasted, however. The next year, Foglio drew a rather long science-fiction tale featuring Buck Godot, Zap Gun for Hire (released in 1986 through Starblaze Books), and the character of the Pistol Packin' Polaris Packrat featured a very familiar profile.

D'Arc Tangent as a Robot, and...D'Arc Tangent as a Space Rat

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Big Audio Wednesday - Dimension X-Mas

Interrupting the Superman/Batman team-up to present the Christmas Eve broadcast of Dimension X from 1950, 58 years ago tonight. After a special Christmas message from President Truman, the program presents a dramatization of "The Green Hills of Earth" by Robert Heinlein. (Warning: lots of singing in this one)

Superman and Batman will be back soon.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Wasted Day (Not Really)

As part of my contemplation of a possible Digger webcomic, I decided to look at some successful webcomics to see how they do things. Which led me to Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio.

I've been hearing buzz about Girl Genius for quite awhile. The Foglios had a big booth at Worldcon where they seemed to sell out of Girl Genius collections and merchandise. Some of my fellow fans here in Tulsa also love it, but I've been reluctant to jump onboard because it's been running so long.

Well, I decided to take the plunge yesterday. Read the first couple of volumes last night and have spent all day today reading strips. I'm now about halfway through volume 6 and can't get it to load anymore. I think I killed their bandwidth.

Well, back to working on the T-shirt, I guess. I think I've got the background solved. Just needs a little tweaking and a logo. I tried drawing my own logo, but I suck as a letterer, and when I transferred it to Inkscape to try to edit it, something weird happened in the transfer. So I guess I'll try something with an existing font.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Out of the Vault - Dr. Spektor

In his legendary introduction to The Great Comic Book Heroes, Jules Feiffer wrote this about Fox Comics:

Fox had the best covers and the worst insides. The covers were rendered in a modified pulp style: well-drawn, exotically muscled, half-dressed heroes rescuing well-drawn, exotically muscled, half-dressed maidens.

When I was a kid, that torch had been passed to Gold Key/Whitman.

Okay, that may be a bit harsh. Gold Key actually put out some good comics, most notably their Disney-licensed stuff and Magnus, Robot Fighter. But in general, no company had a bigger disparity between their covers and interiors than Gold Key, except maybe Charlton, home of stiff-anatomy master Pat Boyette.

Gold Key (which also distributed its comics under the Whitman logo, don't ask me why) made most of its money from licensed properties, doing comic book adaptations of Disney characters and TV and movie adaptations like Lost in Space, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Dark Shadows. But they also had a few original characters, like the aforementioned Magnus, Robot Hunter and Turok, Son of Stone (whose name, at least, survives to this day as a video game character).

And then there was Dr. Spektor, or as the full title states, The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor. He was an occult investigator who battled monsters.

The sole issue I have is issue 10, published in 1974 (according to the indicia--the cover bears no number at all), the same year that Kolchak got his own TV series after two successful TV movies. I'm pretty sure I didn't buy this one, either. It either came in a multi-pack with something I did want (Whitman would often bundle three comics in a plastic pack to be sold together), or else it was bought for me.

When I was a kid, whenever we went on a trip, my step-mother would buy my step-brother and me a bunch of comics to read on the way. I don't think she even looked at them, just grabbed whatever happened to be on the spinner rack, because there would be this weird hodge-podge of Harvey kiddie comics and DC/Marvel superheroes, and Charlton romances. The Vault is riddled with baffling one-offs that I got this way.

Anyway, in the lead story of the issue, occult investigator Doctor Adam Spektor battles the rejuvenated mummy Ra-Ka-Tep in a sequel to a story from an earlier issue. The cover is your basic Gold Key painted cover, but the art inside isn't actually too bad. It's uncredited, but has a florid style that looks to be one of those Filipino guys who were all over the black-and-white books at Warren and Marvel, guys like Alfredo Alcala and Nestor Redondo and Tony DeZuniga and Alex Nino.

And yes, in fact, the miracle of the Internets tells me that the art for this issue was done by one Jesse Santos, whose early work looks really interesting.

In this story, written by Don Glut, Dr. Turhan, one of the few surviving members of the Sect of Anubis, resurrects Ra-Ka-Tep using a magic amulet. He brings the mummy to America and displays it in a museum in Dr. Spektor's hometown, knowing that this will lure the occult investigator to him. While they are visiting, Turhan overhears Spektor invite his psychic friend Elliott to a costume ball that he and his secretary/girlfriend Lakota (yes, she's an American Indian) will be attending.

Turhan's plan is simple: it is, in fact, the Batman secret identity ratonalization come to life. Since Dr. Spektor is too powerful, having defeated Ra-Ka-Tep previously, Turhan will take revenge on him by having the mummy capture Lakota for a human sacrifice.

The mummy bursts into the costume ball, overpowers Spektor and Elliott, and carries away the rather underdressed Lakota.

The mummy carries Lakota to Turhan's secret hideout in an unfinished subway tunnel, where Lakota is hypnotized and dressed in a traditional costume or something, giving us another bit of fan service. Bless you, Jesse Santos.

But before the ceremony can be completed and Lakota killed, Doctor Spektor bursts in and uses an even more powerful amulet to counter the effects of Turhan's amulet, sending the mummy after Turhan instead. Once Turhan is dead, the mummy crushes Spektor's amulet and threatens to kill him and Lakota, when suddenly the police arrive.

They shoot the mummy with a hail of bullets, but bullets don't even slow down the undead. In a vaguely-sourced word balloon, someone (maybe Elliott) says:

Don't waste your ammunition! You'll have to use the flamethrower on that monster!

Notice that he doesn't say, "you'd need a flamethrower to hurt that monster," which is what I took him to be saying when I initially skimmed the dialogue. No, he says, "You'll have to use the flamethrower...," and in fact...

Dude, you do not want to rob a bank in that town. Those cops are serious.

Anyway, all's well in the end, followed by a nonsense backup feature with way too many words about the origins of the Dark Gods that Spektor apparently battled in another issue, and that's all.

One other thing I noticed, though, is the ads. Not just ads for the usual kid things, like the life-size monster ghost and "Make Money Selling Grit," and the 100 pc. Toy Soldier footlocker for $1.50, but ads for black light posters and iron-on T-shirt transfers (from Roach Studios, man), and this ad for cloth patches from Gandalf Products.

Keep in mind, this was 1974. Hippies had not yet faded completely from vogue. But though comics were increasing their readership among college students, they were still mainly aimed at kids. I never stopped and wondered back then, though, why they had a full-page ad pitching patches with the Playboy Bunny and the Budweiser logo, or proclaiming one's status as a member of the U.S.A. Drinking Team. The ad's nonsensical copy states, "Each groovy patch measures 3". Made to sell for much, much more."

I'm sure it made much more sense if you were high.

Friday, December 19, 2008

New T-Shirt Preview

So last week I mentioned that I was thinking about ideas for a new Digger website. One of the things I've been contemplating today, seeing as how I'm dipping a toe back into artwork again, is doing Digger as a webcomic. I come up with lots of ideas like this, and very few of them ever make it beyond the, "Wouldn't it be neat if...?" stage. But I'll probably play with it for awhile, knock out some test strips and see how I like them.

In the meantime, here's a look at the T-shirt design I mentioned earlier, based on "Double-Secret Weapon." It's still very much a work in progress, as I'm mainly not sure what to do with the background. What's there right now is a photo background of an actual food court. I spent about two hours tonight screwing around with it, trying different ways to make the background look cooler. Came up with something pretty decent-looking, although I still wasn't completely happy with it. And then Gimp crashed.

Hadn't saved, either.

So now I get a mulligan. But not tonight. Maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

WTF Moment From the Vault - Liefeld

Okay, first, a note about my day. I've used this particular mechanical pencil (the actual name for it is a leadholder, I found out) for over 20 years, and it requires a special type of sharpener, called a lead pointer. And I lost mine a while back, so for the last few years, I've been using my pocket knife to sharpen the lead, which you might imagine isn't optimal. So I finally decided to bite the bullet and headed down to Hobby Lobby, braved the Christmas crowds and bought a new pointer for close to ten bucks.

Then when I got back, I became curious for some reason and looked up my leadholder (that sounds dirty, for some reason) on-line, and guess what I found out? It actually has a lead pointer built in. Huh. I've had this thing for over two decades and never knew that. Anyway, on to the subject of today's post...

As I was browsing the contents of the Vault (I need a way to shrink that phrase down, don't I--why don't I just say Vaulting?), I ran across a book I didn't know I had and don't believe I bought.

Why don't I believe I bought it?

Because a) it was an early Image book and I really didn't buy any early Image books, other than a couple copies of Spawn and 2) it was by Rob Liefeld and I don't think I ever purposely bought a Rob Liefeld book since the Hawk and Dove miniseries, and iii) it was still in its sealed polybag with collectors card inside, and if I buy something, I open it and read it. Always. As I've occasionally said, I'm not so much a comics collector as a comics accumulator.

But anyway, reading comics blogs had led me to this site which purports to list the 40 worst Rob Liefeld drawings of all time. And looking through that list, you see a lot of bloopers, but you know, every artist has his quirks and shortcuts and bad days. Even the greats like Kubert put together a bad panel or two.

So I decided to open the polybag and flip through the comic (Extreme Destroyer #1, January 1996, in case you're curious) just to see how bad it could be. And yeah, it was pretty bad. A plot centering around a Galactus rip-off come to Earth with his Firelord/Silver Surfer rip-off to "harvest" a crop of Earth's super-beings and yada-yada-yada, Kid Supreme takes two punches and runs away like a girl. Thirty-eight pages long, with fully thirty-five pages devoted almost exclusively to talking and posing, and that only because one of the two punches Kid Supreme takes is a double-page splash panel. And no, I didn't actually sit down and read all 38 pages; I'm not that much of a masochist (although I was enough of one to count all 38 pages).

But though there were some weak panels here and there, there was nothing outstandingly horrible about the art.

Until I got to the last page. And there, in an ad for a convention called the New York Comicbook Spectacular, was this illustration of Captain America.


Looks like Cap's had some work done by a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. I mean, look at those 45DD pecs. He could lay his People magazine flat on those to read while he runs on the treadmill in Avengers Mansion. Not to mention that I have no idea how his arm is supposed to be fitting under that shield.

I mean, I guess I could find a dozen more things to nit-pick about the drawing, but it mainly comes down to two things. Number one, this isn't some random minor panel he drew when he was having a bad day. This is an illustration chosen specifically to promote Liefeld's work to his audience.

And number two, let me just say again, look at that freakin' shelf in front of Cap's neck!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Big Audio Wednesday - More Superman and Batman

Sliding in under the wire after a hectic couple of days to present the next two chapters of "Dr. Blythe's Confidence Gang," a Batman/Superman team-up from 1945 on The Adventures of Superman radio series.

As I said last time, there's something I like about these adventures, in that they're not the Batman and Superman we know. By which I mean, they're not fully developed characters, with all the details and backstories, but they're also not as invulnerable. When Robin and Batman are stuck in a deviously simple deathtrap, you can sense real jeopardy in their voices. Even though you know there's no way they'll die, you can feel the pain, the human vulnerability, in a way you never do with today's iteration of the character.

Another thing I like: the way Bud Collyer's voice drops when he changes from Clark Kent to Superman. The Fleischer cartoons (also voiced by Collyer) featured the same gimmick, but usually only for a couple of words. On radio, Collyer would change his voice mid-sentence, and you could almost see his stature change and understand why people didn't immediately peg Kent as Superman (though not for lack of trying--almost every episode, he says something absent-minded that would give away his secret if anyone were actually paying attention to what he said, not that Batman is any better).

The story so far: Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Dick Grayson have all disappeared at Playland amusement park. Clark Kent and Batman, along with an Irish cop (all radio cops were Irish) named Riley, searched the River of Horrors ride and discovered a secret passage. Following the passage to its end, they came out near the Hall of Mirrors and spotted the false publicity agent the boys described to them. Batman and Clark Kent rush into the Hall of Mirrors after the mysterious white-haired figure.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chuck Rocks

So I'm watching Chuck's Christmas episode tonight (it's not available on Hulu yet, but I'll update with the link tomorrow ETA: Here it is) and it sets up this hostage crisis in the Buy More. And suddenly, we hear just a hint of "Ode to Joy" on the soundtrack, and I'm thinking, "Is this supposed to be some sort of shout-out to 'Die Hard,' what with the hostage crisis at Christmas and everything?"

And then the LAPD pull up outside, and who should be with them?

That's right: Sgt. Al Powell.

But since Chuck is nothing if not unafraid to go over the top, instead of then slamming us over the head with a dozen more "Die Hard" references, they throw in a reference to a completely different cool-ass movie. You see, the guy taking everybody hostage is named something like Nate Rhyerson, but everybody calls him "Ned." Bing! (Full disclosure: Ned 'Rhyerson' is not in fact played by Stephen Tobolowsky, but Sgt. Al Powell is played by Reginald Veljohnson)

Heroes wasn't bad as a finale to the "Villains" arc, and I hope like hell Sylar's really dead, cause I'm sick of the sight of him, but of course, we never saw the body, so he'll be back, dammit. He'll be back.

And I'm afraid we may have seen the last of My Own Worst Enemy, which is too bad, because I was having fun with it. It's problem is that as a spy drama, it's as unbelievable as Chuck, but not as funny, so it's harder to buy into. Sort of a TV version of "True Lies," but without Jamie Lee Curits and Eliza Dushku, more's the pity.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Vault Extra - Big Jim's P.A.C.K

So I was glancing through an issue of Fantastic Four cover-dated January 1976 (which means it came out in late 1975 sometime), and an ad caught my eye for Mattel's Big Jim toy line. I'll get to the ad eventually, but first, some background.

Big Jim was Mattel's answer to Hasbro's G.I. Joe action figures. First sold in 1972, during the final years of the Vietnam War, Mattel decided against making Jim any kind of soldier or adventurer. Instead, Big Jim was a sports-themed doll, with outfits available for all manner of sports, from baseball to football to karate.

When I was a kid, I actually preferred Big Jim to G.I. Joe. Big Jim was better sculpted and designed. G.I. Joe was a hideous creature, with his scarred face and grotesque scarecrow's body, barrel chest and skinny arms with bulbous joints and exposed metal screws. Joe's hands were arthritically contorted into painful shapes that only looked right when holding a weapon. Joe was the ultimate soldier.

But Big Jim (ironically named since he was 2 inches shorter than Joe) had a handsome Ken-doll face, a muscular sculpted torso and naturally proportioned limbs (more natural than Joe, anyway). His knee joints were cleverly designed to hide any connecting hardware, and his arms were covered with a soft plastic sheath that concealed a mechanism that made his biceps flex when you bent his arm.

Joe's grotesque veteran's body only looked right in uniform. Big Jim was explicitly designed to go shirtless, and in fact was sold wearing only a pair of gym shorts. After a hard day of throwing baseballs or breaking boards with his patented karate chop action, Big Jim could lounge around the locker room in his orange shorts, doing curls with a dumbbell and flexing for his shirtless buddies, Big Josh the lumberjack and Big Jeff the Australian and Big Jack the Black Guy and oh my God do I have to draw you a freaking map to where this leads? Jim was simply the Gayest Toy Ever.

Kids apparently thought so, anyway, because in no time at all, Mattel was retooling the line to make Jim more action-oriented. They introduced a line of spy gear and a bad guy in the form of Dr. Steel, a bald Asian with a metal hand and a dragon tattoo on his bare chest.

And in 1975 (only three years after his introduction), they retooled the line again. Shirtless buddies Josh and Jeff and Jack were gone, and the sports outfits were history. Now Big Jim was leader of an elite paramilitary squad called the P.A.C.K. That's the ad I mentioned at right. Other members were Warpath, the Whip, and Dr. Steel (who in a Heel-Face Turn worthy of Dragonball had gone from Jim's greatest enemy to his right-hand man). No longer a pretty Ken lookalike with a great throwing arm, Big Jim had now morphed into a Kirby hero (who else could have drawn that ad?).

Didn't help. Big Jim was never able to find his place in the world of action toys and faded out of the U.S. toy market in 1976, after only four years. He apparently hung on in Latin America into the early 80's, like the original Volkswagen Beetle, but is now long gone.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Out of the Vault - Eagle

Digging through the vault archives, I sometimes come across a book I don't remember. Not in a "I forgot I had this" way, but more in a "What the hell is this?" way. I literally remember nothing about the title in question.

And that's to be expected when you've accumulated several thousand issues across forty years or so. Some things you buy once, you read, you say, "meh," then you bag it up and toss it in a box and never give it another thought. Then years later, you run across a random single issue of whatever and say, "What the hell is this?"

The thing that freaked me out when I ran across Eagle was, I had bought the first 10 issues. So I must have liked it, at least enough to keep buying it month after month. And yet, I had absolutely no memory of this book whatsoever. Why? Rereading the series, I figured out the answers.

I apparently kept buying the series because I wanted like hell to love this book. Eagle was an independent title published by Crystal Comics during the big black-and-white boom of the 80's (1986, to be precise). It was drawn by Neil Vokes and Rich Rankin (who apparently also co-plotted), with scripts by Jack Herman. Now, none of those guys have gone on to become huge household names, but they had all been connected to projects that were dear to my heart at the time.

Vokes had been penciling one of Comico's Robotech books, adapting the animated series; I liked the TV series, but was only lukewarm on the comics. Rankin, meanwhile, had started out inking Bill Willingham's Elementals, which I loved. I have a Rankin-inked Elementals page hanging on my wall at this moment, in fact.

But see, the thing about Elementals was, it had its beginnings in a game module for a superhero role-playing game called Villains and Vigilantes, which I played. And Villains and Vigilantes was designed by a couple of guys named Jeff Dee and Jack Herman.

So here was Eagle, penciled by a guy who also adapted anime, inked by a guy who also inked one of my favorite books at the time, and scripted by a guy who co-designed a game I liked. In addition, Matt Wagner (creator of Mage and Grendel) did the colors for the first issue's cover and contributed a pin-up, Arnold Pander (of the Pander Brothers, who did a long run as artists on Grendel) helped design the logo, and various other up-and-coming names (like Marc Hempel and Adam Hughes) continued to contribute to the book.

It was like these guys were all buddies just hanging out together and putting out this little labor o' love comic on the side, and I wanted to feel like I was part of that circle, so I kept buying the book, hoping that these talents whose other work I liked would eventually turn it into something awesome.

Unfortunately, the awesome never happened with Eagle. It was, literally, forgettable.

Eagle stars Richard Eagle (though we don't learn his first name for several issues), a master martial artist who works as a sort of private detective-slash-bodyguard (I wrote out the slash, because he literally slashes people--notice the sword on the cover above). He is also a powerful magician, drawing power from a mysterious orb that resides within his chest. The orb itself is a malign entity that slowly takes him over whenever he uses its power, so he uses it only reluctantly.

He also has a less-than-friendly relationship with the police. And in this scene from the first issue (click the pic for a larger version), we see one of the problems with the book. There is some extreme storytelling compression going on in this scene, what with the cop being over-the-top belligerent, and then cowering like a puppy after one good hard stare from Eagle. Only the art doesn't really carry off the extreme bad-assedness we're supposed to get here, there's no caption telling us what a powerful presence Eagle is, and the dialogue is stiff and somewhat nonsensical (what exactly would they charge him on--aggravated staring?). The whole scene feels cliched and underdeveloped.

Also, the ugly cop there? The reason he's so ugly is that he's an alien (although we don't find that out until issue #8, so until then, I just assumed he was badly drawn). And that becomes another of the problems with the book. This is, in many ways, a book by fans for fans, so there's a sort of throw-everything-in-there-and-see-what-sticks sense to the story. Eagle is a martial artist, but this isn't a martial arts story. Eagle is also a magician, but magic isn't really central to the story, either. Aliens and time travelers wander in and out of the book, but none of them really give the book any sort of firm direction. There were elements in there, like Eagle's relationship with the orb, that promised drama in the future, but it never came together and ended up seeming kind of aimless.

The art, meanwhile, had its ups and downs.

Here's an example of the art at its best. This is a scene from issue #7, where Eagle is fighting a Dr. Strange-inspired astral battle with the spirit of the orb. Dramatic layout, good solid drawing, simple and powerful inks with a nice balance between lights and darks and just the right touch of zip. Gorgeous.

All to often, though, we got scenes like the one above, a little stiff and clumsy, both the pencils and the inks feeling off-balance.

Another example is below, a romantic scene between Eagle and his love interest, city councilwoman Sivia Myers. Her large eyes say young, but her sunken cheeks make her look old. And in black-and-white it's hard to tell if her hair is white or blonde. So, is she young or middle-aged or even old? Hard to tell, and we should be able to, especially given what a major character she is.

Eagle did manage to create one relatively successful breakout character, a Terminator-inspired defender from the future named Death's Head, first seen in issue #4 (followed in issue #5 by a completely different Terminator-inspired character who fights a street gang inspired by Mike Baron's Badger--like I said, this was a book by fans for fans). He returned in issue #7 and had his own spin-off published for one issue before running afoul of Marvel's legal team (turns out they had trademarked a minor character named Death's Head themselves).

Death's Head was cool. Strong, silent, nicely designed. The one thing that annoyed me about him, though, was that his guns were never explained. Most of the time, he walked around empty-handed as in the panels at right. Every now and then, though, he'd shoot these double-barreled shotgun pistols, but he wore no holsters, so you never saw where they came from. They were just in his hands in the panels where he needed them, and then gone the next. But it's never mentioned that they magically appear or disappear. For all I know, he pulled them out of his ass.

Eagle eventually ran 23 issues, followed up several years later by a 4-issue miniseries. Vokes has rereleased Eagle in e-book form and is apparently planning on doing more Eagle someday. You can learn more here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Ackermonster

I'm noodling the idea of starting a stand-alone website dedicated to the Digger universe, to include not only the four Digger-verse stories published so far (plus new illustrations) but new stories and a serialization of the Digger novel, "Hero Go Home." Plus Digger merchandise including but not limited to Digger T-shirts (I'm working on a new design based on "Double-Secret Weapon" as we speak) and more.

In other news, the current plan for the blog is to feature a new radio program each Wednesday, and a new Vault comic each Saturday. However, I just delved into the vault again and emerged with 2 more boxes, so I may expand Out of the Vault to a twice- or thrice-weekly feature. And starting in January, I'll be reviewing one superhero movie a week for at least ten weeks (if anyone knows a good Windows XP-based way to do screencaps from DVD, clue me in).

But before I do any of those things, I need to do this...

Forrest J. Ackerman died last week. I know everybody and his dog are probably doing tributes or have already done so, but here's my two cents.

I never met Forry in person, but I was introduced to him in Famous Monsters of Filmland #108 when I was 11 years old. It was the King Kong issue, with a long feature article full of puns and details about the various King Kong films that had been done up to that time. Being an 11-year-old kid, I promptly decided to improve the black-and-white photos by drawing random blood on them in red pen.

But I learned a lot from Forry. Mainly, I learned that it is easy to be deceived and disappointed by an awesome cover or one-sheet.

For instance, on the left is the cover (by Ron Cobb, no less!) to FMoF #42, featuring Frankenstein vs. The Wolf Man. Needless to say, the actual 1943 film (starring Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man and a feeble and sick Bela Lugosi as the Monster) isn't nearly as dynamic and exciting as this single image (hat tip: Frankensteinia).

But then, that's the power of single images. They can appear without context, without explanation, with only their own symbolic, iconic power. But that's another post, I guess.

Forry taught me that it is possible to be disappointed by the disconnect between the product and the tease, and yet still love the product on its own terms, warts and all. Forry taught me that something doesn't have to be perfect to be enjoyed. Forry taught me that monsters can be fun.

My big regret is that I didn't take the opportunity to visit the Ackemansion when I was attending college in L.A. A classmate of mine told me that Forry was a super-nice guy, and loved to give tours and I should go, but I was too shy. And now the opportunity is lost forever.

But the real truth is that my loss was not Forry's loss. The man had his disappointments, but he also got to spend decades making his living doing what he loved, and none of us can hope for a better fate.

So raise your glass in salute to Forry, the Ackermonster. We all owe him a debt we can only repay by paying our love of the genre forward.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Big Audio Wednesday - The First Batman?

I was going to post the second part of the Dr. Doom story today, but it's not as funny as the last one, and besides, I'm on vacation today, so I have time to write a more extensive entry.

I can't remember what it was that spurred me a few weeks ago to hunt for the first appearance of Batman on radio. It may have been the news about The Brave and the Bold premiering on Cartoon Network, or it may have been a confluence of my interest in old radio with my interest in "The Dark Knight" movie. Whatever it was, it got me thinking back.

It started for me in 1972 or thereabouts. I was in a bookstore with my mother (God knows why--she wasn't the type to frequent bookstores, I don't think) and I saw this big hardback titled Batman: From the 30's to the 70's. Of course, I had to have it.

When I got it home, I opened it up and read the introduction by E. Nelson Bridwell, and these are the opening paragraphs.

I don't remember the date... or the exact year... of that fantastic occurrence. I know I was a fan of the "Superman" radio show, and on this particular day Superman found a wounded boy in a drifting rowboat--a boy clad in a red vest and yellow cape.

It was, of course, Robin, the Boy Wonder!

And thus began the fabulous Superman/Batman team.

A few weeks ago, it suddenly occurred to me that, thanks to the Internet Archive, I could actually hunt down this legendary program that I'd first read about over 35 years ago!

But how to track it down seeing as how I knew neither the episode number or title or date? Google, of course. The first couple of sites that I came across simply repeated the same basic information from Bridwell's intro--Supes finds Robin in a rowboat. But the Superman Super Site added some extra detail...

On 5 September 1945, the Man of Steel came to the rescue of an unconscious boy adrift in a rowboat. Superman was quick to notice that the young boy was wearing a red vest with the letter "R" under his street clothes. "Great Scott," he proclaimed. "If this boy is who I think it is, this is serious business!" Superman had rescued Robin, the Boy Wonder and sidekick of Batman. Five days later, the Man of Steel would rescue Batman, who would repay the favor by pinch-hitting for Superman during the years to come.

While the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader had previously appeared together on symbolic comic book covers and in a brief cameo in a 1941 issue of All Star Comics, the 10 September 1945 radio broadcast was the first time that Superman and Batman worked together as a team. Batman and Robin would guest-star with Superman in 13 radio serials over the next several years, including one of the greatest adventure serials in the history of the series, "The Atom Man."

This article adds lots of convincing detail, even including a line of dialogue. Unfortunately, when I tried to use this information to pin down the exact episode in the Internet Archive, I was disappointed. According to both Internet Archive's Superman page and this page on the Superman Homepage, the September 5, 1945 episode was part of the "Dr. Blythe's Confidence Gang" storyline.

But although Superman discovers a rowboat in the first episode of the story (or perhaps the last episode of the previous storyline, episode 1095 (1096 on Internet Archive)), there was no Robin in it, just a bad guy with a sack of gold. Dick Grayson is mentioned in the next episode (1096 (1097 on IA), listed as the 9/5/45 episode on the Superman homepage), but he is not discovered in a rowboat. Instead, he is first referenced this way.

Jimmy Olsen: Come on, Miss Lane. Tell me what gives?

Lois Lane: Uh-uh. I'll tell you what, though Jimmy. I'll give you a chance to find out.

Jimmy Olsen: What do you mean?

Lois Lane: How would like to go to Playland this evening?

Jimmy Olsen: Playland? Well, sure, you bet. They got a terrific giant roller coaster there and... oh-oh, I forgot. I got a date with Dick Grayson.

Lois Lane: Dick Grays-- Oh. The boy you found in the boat that time.

Jimmy Olsen: That's right. Dick's a swell guy, but every time I tell him something about Superman, he comes back at me with something he heard or read about Batman.

So it appears that, if the episode dates on Internet Archive and the Superman homepage are correct, the September 5, 1945 episode is one where the rowboat incident is only discussed as having happened in the past. The real debut of Robin happened on some other date, and unfortunately, there are very few episodes from the previous three years on Internet Archive (54 out of almost 700) and no clue as the actual storyline being referred to.

And though Batman first appears in the Dr. Blythe storyline on Monday, September 10, 1945, it's apparent that Clark Kent and Batman have met before. So the dates given for Batman's debut appearance on the Superman homepage (and subsequently on every other page that uses that page for reference, which seems to be all of them) are evidently wrong (BTW, the aside that Batman also appeared in the Atom Man storyline is also wrong--I've listened to that entire story and Batman doesn't appear at all). The actual episodes and actual dates of Batman's debut appearance seem to be lost, at least so far.

So here is the first extant meeting of Superman and Batman from 10 September, 1945*. The storyline so far:

Dr. Blythe's underling Dixie Lamarr has killed a cop and is certain to go to the electric chair. However, it turns out that Dixie is a dead ringer for Lois Lane, so the criminal doctor comes up with a plan. He lures Lois to an amusement park with the promise of a bogus award, and plans to kidnap her inside a house of horrors. However, Jimmy Olsen and Dick Grayson tag along, and when Lois disappears, they call Clark Kent and Batman for help. When Clark arrives, he finds that Jimmy and Dick have gone missing, too.


If anyone asks for it, I'll post the rest of the episodes. They make an interesting contrast with later depictions of both Superman and Batman, since neither at this time was nearly as invincible as later comics mythmaking would depict them to be.

* I know the file says it's the 9/11/1945 episode, but that's wrong. The previous episode teases this one by saying "Tune in Monday," and the second Monday in September 1945 was the tenth.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

WTF Moment From the Vault - Canimls

Okay, so I mentioned previously that Neal Adams, god-in-human-flesh that he was with a pen, was not so great with the creative concepts. While trolling the Vault for this week's entry, I happened to run across this as a further example.

To the right, you see the back cover of Echo of Future Past #1, an anthology comic published by Adams's Continuity in 1983. This is an in-house ad, offering cute and lovable characters available for "licensing and projects." And they're pretty standard. On top, we have Bigfoots, lovable baby animals with big feet. At the bottom, we have Li'l Dragls, charming baby dragons with human friends.

But that middle tier...

Let's have a closer look.

These are the Canimls, odd little two-fingered, three-toed monsters that, from the look of the "I" in the name, come in a can. And each one has a different color, different property and a name to match. Reading from right to left, we have "bashfl" (don't ask me what's up with the missing vowel before the "L"--it's an Adams thing--witness "Dragls"), "dangl" (?), "fondl" (??), "nibbl" (???), "tickl" and "cudl." I've left the last one's name deliberately blurred for now, but there's enough here to make anyone knit their brow. I mean, taken individually, the names aren't anything definitely objectionable, but taken as a group, they certainly are at the very least wide open to mockery, especially given the fact that they're meant to be marketed to kids.

But what about that last Caniml, there in the upper left. What's his name. I mean, it couldn't be any worse than "nibbl" or "fondl," could it?

Wait for it...


Awww, cute, fuzzy wittle "canibl."

And that, folks, is what is known around here as a true WTF moment.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Random Sunday Notes

It's the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Mentioned without editorial comment, simply that it's worth remembering. I don't always make it a point to post this, but I probably should.

Had my company Christmas party last night. In keeping with the economic events of the past few months, it was less lavish than previous years, and subsequently, people didn't stay as long. So I got home earlier than I'd planned, poured myself a drink and watched "Daredevil," of all things. Don't want to discuss it too extensively right now, because I plan to start blogging about movies pretty regularly soon, and I plan to concentrate, at least at first, on comic adaptations, so I want to keep that round in the chamber until then. Suffice to say that it's a movie that ages less well with each viewing.

Did something I haven't done in over a year on Friday. I bought a new comic book. Besides delving into the Vault, I've been reading through the archives of several good comics blogs lately and just got the itch. I'll write about the comic I bought tomorrow or Tuesday. But in the meantime, if you've got time to kill, look at Gone & Forgotten, Dial B for Blog and Slay, Monstrobot of the Deep!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Out of the Vault - Plop!

In mid-1973, DC launched a new title, an experimental book combining humor and horror. Titled Plop!, it billed itself as "The Magazine of Weird Humor." (Please excuse the quality of the scans; the comics are old and yellowed, and the printing quality wasn't the best to start with. I tried to clean them up as well as I could. And remember, you can click on any image to see a larger version)

See the thing about horror comics in the 70's was, they weren't. Horror, I mean. They tried, lord, they tried. While Marvel was trying the Monster-as-Superhero route with mixed success, DC continued to publish traditional horror anthologies like House of Mystery, House of Secrets and The Witching Hour. However, they were heavily restricted by the Comics Code Authority, so much so that they couldn't even use the word "horror" in the titles. So although they copied the tried-and-true format of EC comics, with creepy hosts giving pun-filled ironic introductions to stories of the macabre (a format lifted by EC from radio shows such as Inner Sanctum Mysteries and The Hermit's Cave), the stories themselves rarely managed even a single goosebump. They were more often little morality plays, where a bad character receives his just desserts in an ironic twist, and usually more funny than scary.

So in 1973, DC apparently decided to just go with the humor whole hog and created Plop!, a combination of their regular horror mags with early Mad comics. Above you can see the cover of the first issue, typical of most of the run--a bizarre random Basil Wolverton character (who has nothing to do with the inside of the book) surrounded by Sergio Aragones drawings.

The insides were just as much of a hodge-podge. Each issue had a framing sequence drawn by Aragones, featuring the hosts of DC's horror comics--Cain from House of Mystery, his brother Abel from House of Secrets, and one of the witches from The Witching Hour. The three would try to outdo each other in telling outrageous stories of things that go "plop" (that moment when everything goes down the tubes). There were no ads. Instead, between the framing pages and the four- and five-page stories would be pages of single-panel gag cartoons around subjects like monsters and prison.

Most of the gags were corny, but some of the stories were fun. Like "The Escape" in issue one, an Aragones story in which a prisoner escapes from a dungeon with the help of an army of trained rats. Unfortunately, when he and the rats escape to the outside world, they bring the Plague with them. D'oh! I also liked this Aragones story from issue 10, which has fun with the Shazam problem, namely, if saying "Shazam!" makes Captain Marvel super, why don't the bad guys do it too?

As corny as the book was, though, it was a Who's Who of big comics names. Comics legend Wally Wood did a few covers. Kurt Schaffenberger and Murphy Anderson came over to do some humorous comics featuring DC's superheroes,including this further illustration that Superman is, indeed, a dick, (although frankly Lois was asking for it).

The biggest coup of all, though, was landing Berni Wrightson, who had become a certifiable star for his work on Swamp Thing. Wrightson did stories for at least the first two issues, but the one that will be remembered for all time, the one that made Plop! an early success (successful enough to run for 24 issues, anyway), the one that will always give it a place in my heart, is "The Gourmet."

Written by Steve Skeates, illustrated by Wrightson, and winner of the Shazam Award for Best Humor Story of 1973, "The Gourmet" tells the story of Vernon Glute. Insanely rich and grotesquely fat, Glute spends his days at his dining room table eating the world's finest delicacies, including his personal favorite, frogs' legs. And Glute demands they be fresh, the fresher the better, so fresh that he has live frogs shipped to his kitchen so they can be butchered on the spot.

Then one day, the frogs have their revenge...

PLOP! heh heh

Friday, December 05, 2008

Jackie Chan Hates Glass

Pawing through the $5 DVDs at Wal-Mart, I found a special collector's edition of "Police Story" starring Jackie Chan. I had seen it many times in its dubbed version as "Jackie Chan's Police Force," but the Chinese version on the new DVD is complete with scenes cut from the American release, as well as some behind the scenes features. If you're not familiar with it, you should hunt it down and watch it. This was one of the films that rejuvenated his career after his unfortunate first foray into American filmmaking, and one whose influence profoundly affected Chinese and American action movies in general.

The basic story is pretty simple. Jackie is a cop named Chan who captures a big drug boss during a raid gone wrong. He tries to convince the boss's secretary to testify against him, but when she learns he has deceived her, she leaves him with nothing but a taped testimony that ends up getting him laughed out of court. The kingpin goes free, but lures Chan into a trap and frames him for the murder of a fellow cop. Meanwhile, the secretary decides to turn on her boss for real, and Chan must save her life when the thugs try to keep her from escaping with evidence that can put their boss away for life.

By American standards, the writing and pacing are somewhat weak. But Jackie Chan himself is an amazing performer, and this movie is full to bursting with incredible stunts and action sequences, from the destruction of the shanty town to Jackie hanging from a double-decker bus by an umbrella to a brutal climactic fight in a huge department store.

If you've seen "Tango and Cash," you've seen one of this movie's signature stunts--the semi stopping short and flinging two thugs through its windshield (in "Police Story," it's a bus and it's three guys coming through the windshields). If you've seen "Rapid Fire" starring Brandon Lee, you've seen several of this movie's stunts "homaged." Likewise, a major sequence in "Bad Boys II" is lifted from this film.

One thing that stands out to me every time I watch this picture is how much glass gets broken in it. Jackie Chan must have had a rich uncle die or something and leave him a fortune in stunt glass, because if there's glass in this movie, someone's head is going through it. In the opening sequence, guys fly through winshields. When Jackie is attacked while driving the secretary to his apartment, both the car he's in and the car that attacks have windshields and windows broken. In a fight in an apartment, one guy is thrown through a window, another smashed through a glass table. In the final department store fight, people are constantly being thrown into showcases. At one point, a bad guy ducks two punches from Jackie that very precisely target two framed pictures on the wall, breaking their glass. In the final moments of the film, Jackie punches a henchman in the eyeglasses, breaking the lenses, knocks another guy through some glass shelves then throws the big boss through a display case. It should be titled "Jackie Chan Hates Glass," seriously.

Final trivial notes: even if you haven't seen this film, you may have seen its sequels without knowing it. "Police Story 3," co-starring Michelle Yeoh, was released in the U.S. as "Supercop," and Police Story 4 was released here as "Jackie Chan's First Strike."

Seriously, if you have five bucks to spare, go to Wal-Mart and grab this.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Heroes Huh?

I just noticed that last post was my 400th. Woo-hoo. However, seeing as how my first post was a dummy placeholder to stash the graphics I was using on the blog, this is more properly my 400th post. So yay.

Back when I was buying comics regularly, the way I decided to drop a title from my list was if I noticed that I was regularly pushing that title to the bottom of my reading stack. If I got to the bottom of the stack and said, "Oh crap, I've still got to read Flash," I knew I was pretty much done with that title (then again, simple inertia kept me reading Flash for probably two years past when I really should have stopped).

I''m noticing the same thing with Hulu, now. When I log onto Hulu to watch my slate of Monday shows, I'm like, "Heroes? Nah, later. Terminator? Yeah, but Chuck first, then Terminator, then Heroes and My Own Worst Enemy if I still have time."

I felt bad for Jeph Loeb when I learned he'd been fired from Heroes, but frankly, even though this season is better than last, it's still disappointing. That's the risk you run with series that have a central mystery. If the mystery disappoints as it is revealed, the entire series deflates, especially if you haven't managed to craft characters the viewer wants to stick with for the long haul.

I can count the characters I really like watching on one hand (Hiro, Claire and HRG), with some others I'm fairly interested in (Daphne and Elle). Some characters I used to like have turned ridiculous and annoying (Nathan and Suresh), and I was tired of Sylar by the end of Season 1.

But the thing that's got me writing about Heroes now is the lastest Hiro subplot. Hiro's brain has been regressed to age 10, and his only way of finding out what's been going on in the last few months has been to read issues of 9th Wonders, the prophetic comic book drawn by the late Mystery Sock.

We first learned that the comic was prophetic in episode 2 of season 1. Hiro uses that issue to guide him for several episodes, then in episode 19, we see Isaac shipping the "last" issue to the printers via bike messenger, which it appears never gets published, because whenever characters reference the story in the future, they're looking at unpublished proofs, not the actual issue in question. And that issue tells how Hiro travels to the future, then comes back and stabs Sylar in the final episode of Season one.

But now, ten and eleven episodes into Season Freaking Three, 9th Wonders is still being published, still depicting events contemporaneous with the show's timeline. Who has taken up the mantle of prophetic cartoonist? Oh, these are issues that Isaac drew before he died, only now the inventory has finally run out. But there is a rumor that there is one final story out there, in a sketchbook Isaac gave away just before he died.

Remember when I was complaining about "Bolt" and moviemakers purposely getting their own job wrong for story convenience? That goes double for this show, with an exec producer who is a working comics professional resorting to this kind of ridiculous retcon to write characters out of a fix. Seriously, as much as I love Hiro, I wouldn't cry if they killed him off, along with Peter and Angela and Poppa Petrelli and Sylar and any-fucking-body else who can time-travel/predict the future. It was cool for a season, but now it's seriously hurting the show. We're all getting sick of that shit. Either dump the prophecies, or at least stop making the show completely revolve around them.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Big Audio Wednesday - More Doctor Doom

So I'm coming home from work, and as I come down the exit ramp, ahead of me I see a low-slung sports car with a naggingly familiar silhouette. Low and wide, it looks sort of like a Ferrari, only with two dark rectangular attachments on either side and something slender and white sticking up from the center. "No way," I thought, but as I got closer, turns out I was right.

It was a DeLorean, fully tricked out as a replica of Doc Brown's time machine, complete with Mr. Fusion. No bullshit, Jack. Coolest drive home from work I've had in a long time, let me tell you.

This week's old-time radio show is another Fantastic Four episode, starring Bill Murray among others. In this episode, the Fantastic Four are joined by Ant-Man as they battle the return of Doctor Doom.

I don't want to spoil the hilarity for you, but let me just say, this is probably the trippiest and silliest superhero adventure I think I've ever listened to, and that includes the juvenile Power Records adventures I listened to as a kid.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Game Over, Man! Game Over!

So Lost has been running this Alternate Reality Game for several months now, basically since the end of last season, with the basic conceit being that Dharma is recruiting new members. You would log onto their site and every couple of weeks or so, a new test would appear that you could take part in, and by the end of the testing, you would be assigned to some project that would get you ramped back up into the story of Lost leading into next season. My dossier said I was going to be assigned as a psychologist. Hah.

But it seems that the financial crisis hit the makers of Lost just as hard as it's hitting everybody else, because the big announcement from Dharma was, "go to and watch a video of Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof saying, 'There's not going to be a cool game, just a few behind the scenes videos. Sorry."

So the game is no more. Boo. But Lost season 3 on DVD is coming next week. Yay. And the new season starts on the 21st (ETA: of January, that is). Double yay. I've been waiting for this a long time. Now I have to think seriously about getting an HD converter and DVR from Cox to watch it properly.