Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rob Liefeld: Acquired Taste or Guilty Pleasure (?)

Following his first major comics work (DC Comics Hawk and Dove mini-series in 1988), Rob Liefeld struck creative gold with his 1990’s Marvel Comics series The New Mutants and X-Force (after New Mutants was renamed) selling 4 million copies of the # 1 issue of the re-titled series. He was later one of the seven super-hot, largely X-Men related artists, who broke ranks with Marvel and founded Image Comics in 1992. And then the trouble with Rob really began!

Although Liefeld’s Youngblood series (which was based on an aborted Team Titans idea that he had previously proposed to DC) was the first out of the Image Comics gate, his frequent publication delays, major changes in direction (literally from one issue to the next) and his stereotypical huge muscles, breast and guns art style led to his increasingly being seen as a controversial figure within the comics industry.

Liefeld returned to Marvel in 1996 for the “Heroes Reborn” event alongside fellow Image partner Jim Lee, but Rob’s work on relaunches of The Avengers and Captain America met with less than enthusiastic response and Marvel terminated his contract early. Rob Liefeld wasn’t exactly welcome back at Image either, he was accused of writing checks to cover personal debts from Image funds, copying artwork from the other Image partners work, moving established Image properties to his own imprint, and using Image staff to do production & promotional work for his own private publishing efforts. Depending upon whose side you want to believe the most, Liefeld either resigned or was fired by the other partners in the wake of this litigation.

After several years of courting Hollywood in an effort to adapt one of his creations to the big screen, including meetings with Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise, Liefeld managed to make small returns to DC (on Teen Titans) and Marvel (on X-Force). Still considered a lightning rod for hostility within the comics community, Liefeld has refused to completely fade away (exaggerated musculature and all), his Youngblood series has currently returned to Image Comics under a new creative team, but with Liefeld producing the covers, and he was reunited with the other Image Comics founders at the 2007 San Diego Comicon for the fifteenth anniversary of the company. It was the first time that all seven had appeared together on stage.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Review: The Death of the New Gods

SPOILERS are not necessarily ahead, but I may make an unfortunate slip of the tongue and ruin the plot - - - even though I intend to avoid it for those of you who are waiting on the collected version.

Jim Starlin (aided and abetted by Matt Banning, Mark McKenna & Art Thibert on inks) has completed his magnum opus “The Death of the New Gods” 8-issue mini-series. In many ways it was superior to the recently concluded yearlong “Countdown” weekly maxi-series, which also utilized a few of the (now-departed) New Gods characters. The Fourth World characters which were originally created by Jack Kirby have often fallen by the wayside in the greater DC Universe, despite several high-profile attempts to launch them in an ongoing monthly book.

Creators as diverse as John Byrne and Walt Simonson have produced memorable runs using the New Gods cast without having to basically redraw the map that had been established by the “King”. That‘s an important point to keep in mind when reading this short-run series, because despite the carnage visited on the inhabitants of Apokolips and New Genesis, it appears that while the curtain has seemingly been closed on the Fourth World; a “Fifth” World incarnation is likely in the offing.

Jim Starlin is well known for his epic runs on classic, cosmic-scale characters like Captain Mar-Vell, Adam Warlock and Dreadstar (from Metamorphosis Odyssey) and he really gets back on his game with this series. Starlin’s artwork was nothing short of breathtaking throughout the entire eight issues. Panel-after-panel, page-after-page of simply beautiful Starlin artwork unfolds, that is at least on par with some of his past creative triumphs. I give him very high marks for stepping up his efforts on this book! The three inkers mentioned above, all turned in fine work to maintain the titles monthly status and visual consistency.

Be warned that many of your Fourth World favorites make their final exit off camera (so to speak), with the series main protagonists Mr. Miracle, Orion and guest-star Superman investigating their friends passing ala TV’s CSI, once the corpses are eventually discovered. It’s also worth mentioning that there are intentional macguffins tossed in to throw suspicion on various New Gods cast members, who may or may not be the real perpetrator of the carnage.


The penultimate issue reveal involving the planets Apokolips and New Genesis, suggests that the readership may actually be having their collective chains yanked somewhat, is my only quibble with the end result. I hope that I'm wrong, but ....

Shown earlier in flashback, Kirby’s original fate of the “Old Gods” dramatically points out the danger of sweeping these wonderful characters under the rug - - - only to quickly bring them back - - - although somewhat adjusted in either motivation or appearance and then passing it off as something NEW.

If the New Gods have died, let’s see what you’ve creatively got for a “Fifth World” DC, but if you just want to “update” King Kirby – please let that idea sit on the shelf and spare us the trouble.

It’s all been done before!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Free Comic Book Day in one week! (May 3rd, 2008)

Free Comic Book Day is a single day when participating comic book shops across America and around the world give away comic books absolutely free to anyone who comes into their stores. Most major comics publishers, including DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, Archie, Bongo, etc. provide special comics collecting past favorites or all-new material for these freebies.

Free Comic Book Day has three main purposes: 1) To introduce everyone to the joys of reading comics. 2) To call back former comic book readers. 3) To thank current comic book buyers for their continued support.

The next event will be on May 3, 2008. That's SEVEN days from today, folks! Please support your local comics retailer, many of whom host special "Free Comic Book Day" programming in connection with this annual event (which also, usually coincides with a major motion picture release connected to the comics industry; this year it's the May 2ND debut of IRON MAN). And those free comics still cost the retailers anywhere from 12-50 cents per copy, so take advantage of the sales and other neat items that these people have on hand next Saturday.

It's a nice way to say thank you for some cool swag.

Friday, April 25, 2008

1970's Flashback: Strange Sports Stories

DC Comics had featured "Strange Sports Stories" in five issues of The Brave and the Bold in the 1960's, but editor Julius Schwartz commissioned all-new material for his relaunch of the concept in its own title beginning in 1973 with Strange Sports Stories #1 (Sept./Oct.).

The admittedly quirky series had some topnotch talent working within its pages, Superman artist Curt Swan provided pencils for both tales in the first issue (and beyond), and Dick Giordano, Murphy Anderson, Irv Novick and Nick Cardy all contributed to the decidedly different stories published during its eight issue, bi-monthly run.

There isn't much info online about this series, and it is seemingly all but forgotten these day, still I do remember purchasing the first issue off of the stands and despite its lack of DC Universe superstars, the book was just different enough to fill an itch for something off of the beaten path and that's saying something.

"Gal" Friday (& Classic Cutie)! Hazel Court

British actress Hazel Court passed away from a heart attack on April 15, 2008, near her home at Lake Tahoe at the age of 82. She had made a name for herself in film & television comedy roles, when she began appearing in various Hammer Horror films in the 1950's & 60's.
Her genre roles in films included: Devil Girl From Mars, The Curse of Frankenstein, Dr. Blood's Coffin, The Premature Burial, The Raven, The Masque of the Red Death and her brief final movie appearance in Omen III: The Final Conflict.
On the small screen, Hazel was in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Twelve O'Clock High, Mission: Impossible, Dr. Kildare and The Twilight Zone.
Her autobiography, Hazel Court - Horror Queen, which was previously published in Britain, is due for release in the United States in 2008.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

From the Dust Bin: The Four Comrades

Here is a quick glimpse at another golden age feature from the Better/Standard/Nedor line of publisher Ned Pines.

The Four Comrades were juvenile boxing champ Buzz Brandon, Irish street urchins Pudge O'Conner and Tip Adams and boy inventor Tommy Tomkins. Lifting an earlier plot device from the Black Terror, whose costume was left over from a party, the Comrades donned identical, discarded theatrical suits to battle against wartime criminals and foreign agents. While they possessed no extraordinary powers, the four were very adept at fighting together as a team and were able to handle even the toughest of foes, including one recurring nemesis by the name of Black Satan, who sported a nifty pair of horns on his noggin.

Their golden age adventures were chronicled in Startling Comics #16-31, 33-34, & 36.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Quick Review: The Lost Oasis by Kenneth Robeson

The Lost Oasis was the first Doc Savage paperback that I picked up to read and it instantly won me over from my other preferred hero at the time, Warner Paperback Library's The Avenger (another old pulp hero enjoying a popular renaissance in the 1970's).

Oasis had been abandoned by an unknown schoolmate of mine on a window shelf, where it sat for a few weeks fading in the spring sun, before I finally opted to try it out.

"While seeking to solve the mystery of " the trained vampire murders," Doc Savage and his amazing crew suddenly find themselves prisoners of Sol Yuttal and Hadi-Mot aboard a hijacked Zeppelin. Their deadly destination is a fabulous lost diamond mine guarded by carnivorous plants and monstrous, bloodsucking bats." This particular Doc adventure truly has it all; high adventure, exotic locales, memorable villains, and Doc's entire crew - the Fabulous Five - are all on hand for the perilous trek into the desert via dirigible.

The Lost Oasis remains my personal favorite Doc Savage story and I encourage anyone who loves old-school-style adventure stories to seek it out. Many comic book & genre icons owe a hearty thanks to Lester Dent's terrific Doc Savage tales, up-to-and-including Harrison Ford's soon-to-be-back-in-theaters Indiana Jones.

Doc Savage in the Comics

Doc Savage has enjoyed numerous incarnations in the four-color world during his seventy-five years in the world of fictional adventuring.

Street & Smith first brought their pulp character into comics with 1940's Doc Savage Comics #1, which ran for 20 issues between May 1940 and October 1943. They couldn't resist the urge to pattern Doc after the other caped wonders exploding across the landscape, so by his fifth issue he started wearing a red hood and going around bare-chested.

Twenty+ years later, Gold Key released a single issue adaptation of the Doc Savage pulp novella, The Thousand-Headed Man in 1966 as a tie-in for the proposed Doc Savage movie, but no further issues came in its wake when the film project was scraped.

Not quite a decade later, with Bantam Books enjoying enormous success re-issuing the old pulp stories as paperbacks, under some beautiful James Bama painted covers, Marvel Comics mined the Savage mythos with an eight issue run of Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze #1; beginning in October 1972. This series featured nice Ross Andru interior artwork and a couple of covers by the legendary Jim Steranko. Marvel tried Doc out again in their oversize, black & white magazine line in 1975, but this much better series [the subject of one of my earlier 1970's Flashbacks] also sadly, only lasted eight issues.

Marvels Distinguished competition (DC Comics) also gave Doc a whirl in a four issue, mini-series beginning with Doc Savage #1 in 1987. This revisionist effort, which portrayed a generational family of Doc and his heirs, led to a 24 issue run beginning the following year.

In the 1990's, both Millennium Publications and Dark Horse comics published various Doc related one-shots and mini-series, but neither company stuck with the Man of Bronze beyond this.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Have no fear! Doc Savage is here!

Yeah, right!

It's a quote taken from that horrifically bad 1975 camp action film starring Ron Ely as Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze.

George Pal, who had produced such classic sci-fi/genre films as Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide, The War of the Worlds, Houdini, Conquest of Space, Tom Thumb, The Time Machine, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, sadly rounded out his movie resume with the absolute worst travesty of celluloid that ever befell an old pulp hero.

Saying the '75 Doc movie is campy is doing it a disservice, Pal was either a closet admirer of the old Batman TV show or he had a grudge against someone at the studio .... cause he really baked a turkey with this film.

As an avid teenage fan of the Man of Bronze, at the time of the films release, I was rabidly waiting in line to see all the glory that was Doc brought to magical, technicolor life on the big screen. Although once the lights dimmed and the action began, I simply couldn't believe it. It was the first time in my life that I actually wanted to ask for my money back from the box office.

If you've never seen the movie .... NEVER waste your valuable time wondering about it. That's all that I can say about it.
Tomorrow I'll conclude my 75th anniversary tribute to Doc Savage with a look at some of the many comic book versions of the venerable Man of Bronze.

Heeere's Johnny? (Your Choice)

I've found two great character actors from the 60's decade, either of whom would have made a fine Johnny Littlejohn in the aborted Doc Savage movie from 1966. Name your poison (that means pick your personal favorite) and, with the exception of the female Pat Savage role, we've rounded out the cast of our lost opportunity Man of Bronze film - - - circa 1966. Dang it!

William Schallert (of TVs The Patty Duke Show) and Herbert Anderson (of TVs Dennis The Menace) were regular staples of the small screen back in those days and each occasionally appeared on the big screen as well.

The Aborted Doc Savage Movie of 1966

Doc Savage's co-creator, Lester Dent, retained radio, film and television rights to his character as part of his contract with Street and Smith Publications, original publishers of the Doc Savage pulp magazine. Although Dent succeeded in launching a short-lived radio program, he was never able to interest Hollywood in a Doc Savage film. Upon his death in 1959, the rights reverted to his widow, Norma.

A production team led by Mark Goodson and Bill Toddman eventually announced their intention to produce a Doc Savage feature film to cash in on the popularity of the reissued pulp novels by Bantam Books and the James Bond craze sweeping the movies in the 1960's. The film would be based on the 1934 pulp novel The Thousand-Headed Man, and starring Chuck Connors (of TVs The Rifleman) as Doc, for a 1966 release.

Unfortunately, the producers and Conde Nast Publications, the new copyright holder of the Doc Savage brand, failed to secure the film rights from the Lester Dent estate. By the time the legal issues had been resolved, the production crew and cast had moved on to do an offbeat western, Ride Beyond Vengeance. Only the now rare, one-shot comic book movie tie-in published by Gold Key, with cover artwork by James Bama, remains to mark this aborted film undertaking.

It would have been nice to see this film come to fruition. My own picks for some of Doc's fellow adventurers are highlighted above: Noted character actors J.D. Cannon (of TVs McCloud) as Ham Brooks, Neville Brand (of TVs Laredo) as Monk Mayfair, Ray Walston (of TVs My Favorite Martian) as Long Tom Roberts and Fred Gwynne (of TVs the Munsters) as Renny Renwick. I don't really have a good pick for Johnny Littlejohn, but maybe some of you could make a suggestion.

Any takers? Comments?

Doc Savage' s Fabulous Five

Industrial chemist Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Blodgett "Monk" Mayfair and his pet pig, Habeas Corpus. Monk got his name from his simian appearance, notably his long arms, and he was covered with coarse, red hair.

Lawyer Brigadier General Theodore Marley "Ham" Brooks and his pet monkey, Chemistry. Ham (the shyster, as Monk usually referred to him) got his name after teaching Monk some French swear words to innocently use on a French general. Shortly afterwards, a large joint of ham went missing and turned up among Brooks' things, so he was blamed and got that nickname.

Construction engineer Colonel John "Renny" Renwick. Renny had fists like buckets of gristle and bone and no wooden door could withstand them.

Electrical engineer Major Thomas J. "Long Tom" Roberts. "Long Tom" got his nickname from an incident with a World War I cannon of that nick-name. Long Tom was a sickly-looking character, but fought like a wildcat.

Archaeologist and geologist William Harper "Johnny" Littlejohn. Johnny used long words ("I'll be superamalgamated!" was a favourite saying). Johnny wore a monocle in early adventures (one eye having been blinded in World War I). Doc later performed corrective surgery.
[The Fabulous Five in James Bama's famous Bantam Books back cover illustration above; left-to-right: Ham, Johnny, Renny, Long Tom & Monk.]

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A 75th Anniversary Salute to The Man of Bronze

Doc Savage started his illustrious pulp magazine career in 1933. the character later made the jump to comics, radio and film. Doc was given a new lease on life and earned new generations of fans when Bantam Books began republishing his adventure in paperback form in the 1960's. The basic concept of a man trained from birth to fight evil was created by Street and Smith Publications executive Henry Ralston and Editor John Nanovic, to further capitalize on the success of their other pulp hero magazine success, The Shadow. Ralston and Nanovic wrote a short premise establishing the broad outlines of the character they envisioned, but Doc Savage was only fully realized by the author chosen to write the series, Lester Dent. Dent wrote most of the 181 original novels, hidden behind the "house name" of Kenneth Robeson. Currently Nostalgia Ventures is repackaging the Savage stories in a new series of double novels.
Doc Savage, whose real name is Clark Savage, Jr., is a physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher, and musician. A team of scientists assembled by his father trained his mind and body to near-superhuman abilities almost from birth, giving him great strength and endurance, a photographic memory, mastery of the martial arts, and vast knowledge of the sciences. Doc is also a master of disguise and an excellent imitator of voices, though he admits to having trouble with women's voices. "He rights wrongs and punishes evildoers."
His office is on the 86th floor of a New York City skyscraper, implicitly the Empire State Building, reached by Doc's private high-speed elevator. Doc owns a fleet of cars, trucks, aircraft, and boats which he stores at a secret hangar on the Hudson River, under the name The Hidalgo Trading Company, reached from his office by a pneumatic-tube system called the "flea run." He sometimes retreats to his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic (which pre-dates Superman's similar hideout of the same name). All of this is paid for with gold from a Central American mine given to him by the local Mayans in the first Doc Savage story.
[We will take a look at his very interesting assistants in the next post.]

Friday, April 18, 2008

From the Dust Bin: Hale of the Herald

Here is yet another glimpse at a forgotten golden age feature from publisher Ned Pines Better/Standard/Nedor Comics.

Hale of the Herald followed the daring adventures of an intrepid newspaper reporter who battled against crime in America via the use of an illicit drug which allowed the young man to temporarily turn invisible. Hale would conveniently pop a pill when imperiled and put the kibosh on confounded evil-doers.

The strip ran primarily in issues of Thrilling Comics, but Hale also made a single appearance in an issue of Black Terror and he also fought the good fight in twin appearances in Fighting Yank.

"Gal" Friday! Kate Beckinsale

From The Daily Dish: "British actress Kate Beckinsale has apparently been "driven to despair" by rumors that she has undergone breast enlargement surgery.

The star of Pearl Harbor, Underworld, Van Helsing & Vacancy was reported to have opted for a figure-enhancement operation in 2005, after she was photographed sporting a noticeably larger chest.

But the 34-year-old insists her breasts grew naturally when she gained weight for her role in 2005 movie The Aviator.

And now the fetching Beckinsale has vowed not to answer any further questions about the rumored surgery, because she is sick to death of talking about it.

She says, "The boob job thing has driven me to despair. I'm not discussing my breasts with anyone but my husband and my daughter from now on.

"I think once you start saying, 'No, I haven't' too many times, it sounds as if you're protesting too much."

Alas, at least here in the Catacombs, the discussion of Kate's boobs will likely continue ad infinitum, AND she's earned the latest "Gal" Friday spot. We'll call this one a sympathy vote,now if we could just shift the happy debate over to her very fine booty.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Review: Wizard #200

I didn't buy Wizard magazine's 200th issue, but a friend did and he loaned me his copy. The thing is, I am just not a fan of Wizard's style (or methods) of reporting, it's blatant self-aggrandizement, internal philosophy, etc, and I haven't regularly purchased any issues since it's first year in existence.

That's 1991 for those of you who aren't' aware of the passing of time.

Still, their 200th anniversary issue effectively trumpets all of the things about the magazine AND modern comics that I personally dislike. And, "Who'd a thunk it?", it is actually a fascinating read!

There really isn't anything wrong with Wizards taking a well-deserved look back at its publishing history or the industry that it has nurtured since its inception. The features in Wizard #200 include: Our Favorite Stories, The 200 Greatest Comics of Our History, Our Favorite Stuff and, well, you get the picture.

It's that "Our" aspect of the magazine that is what I found most fascinating about it. Wizard has certainly had a major impact on the comics genre during the past 17 years. They have always promoted "their" preferences - often at the exclusion of anything else and they have played an integral part in elevating certain artists and writers that they've deemed "hot." Brian Michael Bendis, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Joe Quesada, Alex Ross, Michael Turner, Ed McGuinness, and Todd McFarlane should all pay commission to Wizard for the mighty boost this magazine has given each of them - their own individual talents notwithstanding.

There are also looks at unreleased art pieces that were commissioned, events that rocked comics over the years of the "Wizard Era" and memorials for those creators who have passed during their tenure.

Like it or lump it, Wizard magazine definitely reflects what comics have become these days and this issue is a testament to those somewhat irritating rascals who produce it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

They were seven - And they fought like seven hundred!

I watched this movie again last night for the umpteenth time:

A poor Mexican village imperiled by raiding bandits was the setting for the popular 1960 western, The Magnificent Seven. Inspired by Akira Kurosawa's 1954 Seven Samurai, director John Sturges cast up-and-coming stars, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Brad Dexter, Robert Vaughn and Horst Buchholz, alongside film veteran Yul Brynner as the down-on-their-luck gunmen who come to the villagers aid.

The latter film was closely modeled after the Japanese original, but replaced its wayward samurai with gunfighters; with some characterizations and even whole dialogue lifted from the Kurosawa film. The Magnificent Seven proved to be a box office smash, and it launched many of the actors into successful careers. The film also inspired three sequels: 1966's Return of the Seven (Brynner reprised the role of Chris), 1969's Guns of the Magnificent Seven (George Kennedy replaced Brynner as Chris) and 1972's The Magnificent Seven Ride (featured Lee Van Cleef as Marshal Chris Adams).

Guns is the superior of the three sequels, however, my recommendation is to avoid the tepid television series based on Sturges western film which ran from 1998-2000.
[Trivia] Yul Brynner basically reprised his signature role twice more. The robot that Yul Brynner portrays in 1973's scif-fi thriller Westworld is an homage/spoof of his character Chris from The Magnificent Seven and he wears the same costume. Brynner's final film appearance was in the 1976 sequel, Futureworld, where he again appeared as the robotic gunslinger.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Losing Control of the Headmen

They are one of the oddest, quirkiest, most peculiar assemblages of baddies to ever occupy the greater Marvel Universe, but the Headmen are also an awful lot of fun and I've loved these whacked out super-brains since the first time they appeared (as a team) in The Defenders #21 (March 1975); written by the late Steve Gerber. They are nefarious, would-be masterminds who used magic, science, and surgery to gain super-powers. During their careers, they’ve fought against the Defenders, She-Hulk, and Spider-Man on different occasions.

Gerber culled the Headmen from 1950s anthology appearances which had been reprinted in Weird Wonder Tales #7 (Dec. 1974). Dr. Arthur Nagan (Gorilla-Man) from Mystery Tales #21, was a former surgeon who took the organs from gorillas to use in people. However his scheme was thwarted by the gorillas who somehow transplanted his head onto another gorilla’s body. Chondu the Yogi, from Tales of Suspense #9, is able to manipulate the forces of magic for a limited number of effects, including inter-dimensional travel, the casting of minor spells, self-levitation, and illusion-casting. Dr. Jerry Morgan (Shrunken Bones) from World of Fantasy #11, was an expert mixer of potions and serums, who had almost perfected a shrinking gas when a failed experiment caused his bones to shrink , leaving his skin in a loose, hanging form; Morgan now shies away from physical conflict.

In The Defenders #32 (Feb. 1976), the Headmen were joined by Ruby Thursday (Thursday Rubinstein), who was the instigator of the death of Omega the Unknown. Ruby had her head replaced by an organic computer which is composed of a malleable red plastic to form various shapes or mimic someone’s appearance, or to explode her head to knock out anyone in her vicinity.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Captain's Trading Post: Monday, April 14, 2008

These items are offered - for trade only - to anyone interested in swapping some swag with ye olde Capitane.

Ironjaw #1 (Atlas Comics;Jan. 1975) is graded Fine+. Written by Mike Fleisher & illustrated by Mike Sekowsky and Jack Abel. "Iron Jaw is captured and imprisoned in a dungeon. Princess Elena learns that he might actually be her long-lost brother."

DC Direct Superman, from Alex Ross Justice Series 1, was displayed by yours truly for a brief period of time upon its initial release, but was later restored to the original packaging and stored in pristine condition. No flaws!

Fantastic Four, from producer Roger Corman is a bootlegged VHS copy of the unreleased, crappy, cult film version from 1994, that I picked up out of curiosity at a comic book convention.

From the Dust Bin: Son of the Gods

I've been a big fan of the Nedor characters from the golden age of comics for some time now, so I tend to search out all the info, online scans, etc., about even the most obscure among that old stable of heroes. Here is a a dust bin look back at one their earliest short run characters:

After discovering the "Ring of Poseidon" used by his ancestor, the Greek hero Theseus, Dr. John Thesson has been endowed with superhuman strength which he has pledged to the service of humanity, as a modern day Theseus, called the Son of the Gods.

Son of the Gods ran as a feature in Exciting Comics #2-8, from May 1940 to March 1941.

[The panel, at left, is from Exciting Comics #4.]

Friday, April 11, 2008

"Gal" Friday! Drew Barrymore

Being born into a 200 year old acting dynasty is a great way to earn a toehold into Hollywood, but it's what you do with the opportunity that really counts.

Everybody remembers Drew Barrymore's "Gertie" character from E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982), but even though she made several other notable child-star roles, it was her rebound from early alcohol & drug addiction (as a pre-teen) into the sexpot ingenue of some fun, light-hearted romantic comedies that secured her place as a major film star. Ever After, Never Been Kissed, Charlies' Angels, 50 First Dates, Fever Pitch, Music & Lyrics and Lucky You, among many others, has made Drew a highly bankable box office draw for many fans.

She's also landed her spot on the Catacombs "Gal" Friday feature with genre-busting roles such as, Firestarter, Batman Forever and Titan AE. Plus, she's such a cute little, sexy minx that I couldn't NOT include her after finding this photo, and this week it helped her edge out a hot British actress and two unidentified super-convention-chicks that will probably show up here soon anyway.

Seeing double, anyone?

Captain Marvel (of the Kree) in both of his classic costumes. Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) in both of her classic costumes.

What's not to like on this terrific Secret Invasion-themed, variant double cover image from Ms. Marvel #25 by dynamic Terry Dodson.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Somethings Missing (Addendum): Spider-Man Medallion

Did anybody out there actually order this item? I've always been curious about whether the things tarnished over time or not. I remember these advertisements running back in the 70's, but I never took the bait and sent off for one.
There were at least two other "Marvel Medallions" featuring the Incredible Hulk and Conan the Barbarian. Now after all these years, I finally have a hankering for something like this, nostalgia cravings I suppose, but I imagine they would be hard to come by.
If any lurkers in the Catacombs have a line on these coins, or bought one for themselves and want to drop a comment, please feel free .... and thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

1970's Flashback: Satana

Satana is the sister of Daimon Hellstrom aka the Son of Satan in Marvel Comics. Created by Roy Thomas & John Romita, she made her first appearance in Vampire Tales #2 (October 1973).

Satana is a half-demon/half-human hybrid, and a succubus; she has several innate mystical abilities. She can feed on the souls of men to empower herself, allowing her to fly, fire blasts of eldritch force or hellfire, and hypnotize her victims. If she touches any object which has been used to kill someone (like a knife or sword) she can absorb its "blood energy" to become stronger. Satana was also trained in the mystic arts and learned how to cast spells and perform witchcraft.

From 1975 through 1976 the character made several marquee appearances, apparently in an effort to establish her as a headliner, none of which really led anywhere, but Satana has still popped up from time to time in the Marvel Universe.
[Illustration, above, is by Esteban Maroto.]

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"Figuring" things out

Mattel's DC Universe action figures have been hitting the stores for some time now and these 6-inch action figure assortments are quite a bit better than their older DC Direct peers.

Don't get me wrong, DC Direct issued some lovely toy versions of many classic DC Comics stars, but despite the really awesome sculpts on most of them, they failed in one major respect. The damn things just wouldn't stand up!

I had purchased about twenty of them over the years ranging from the fairly crude golden age Wesley Dodds/Sandman to the twin pack of Hawkman & Hawkgirl, but the last straw came for me with the Alec Ross Justice line of figures. Those figures certainly managed to capture the signature Ross art-style, but after buying three figures from the inaugural wave (Superman, Sinestro & Barry Allen/Flash) I threw in the towel on any further DC Direct figures. The Flash figure's knee gave out less than a day after purchase. This was primarily due to an obvious design flaw. All of the figures weight was placed on the same leg that attached to the base stand peg and the stress caused the knee peg to quickly fail.

Unless you're one of those really peculiar little people that prefers to leave their toys in the original packaging, this is a problem that repeated itself over-and-again with various DC Direct characters. They may not all have broken in the same manner, but the often bulky PVC on the upper portions of the figures just didn't lend itself to being supported by the legs of the figures. I couldn't tell you how many of them just kept falling over on the shelves, but it was beyond irritating.

I just saw a couple of the DCU Classics characters for the first time, at a local Target store and thought that Penguin and Orion not only looked very cool, but they seemed to be better realized - - - even with the enhanced articulation on the figures. Penguin included the upper torso & head of Rex "Metamorpho" Mason, the chase figure of that wave, and seeing them really made me want to head out and collect the whole batch in order put him together. It looks like upcoming waves have other ultra-cool assembly characters - for those who buy the entire lot. Gorilla Grodd in Series 2 and Solomon Grundy in Series 3; may have me playing with toys - - - all over again.

Monday, April 7, 2008

In Memorium: Charlton Heston

Legendary actor Charlton Heston, who starred in some of Hollywood's greatest epics, passed away on Saturday at the age of 84. Although the cause of death has not been cited, Heston had withdrawn from public life after announcing that he was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease in 2002.

The Greatest Show On Earth, The Ten Commandments, Touch Of Evil, Ben Hur, El Cid, 55 Days At Peking, The Agony And The Ecstasy, Khartoum, Planet Of The Apes, Soylent Green, The Three Musketeers, well, the list just goes on and on. Despite criticisms of his politics, both as a Democratic supporter of the civil rights movement & as a Republican supporter of gun advocacy, Heston was an important cinematic figure in American history with undeniable box office success and appeal for many generations of film goers.

Heston said that Planet Of The Apes (1968) was the most physically demanding film he had ever done, because he was sick with the flu during filming. The producers decided to have him act through his illness, even though it was physically grueling, because they felt the hoarse sound of his voice added something to the role of Col. George Taylor. Heston recounted in a diary he kept during filming that he "felt like Hell" during the filming of the scene where his character was forcefully separated from Nova (Linda Harrison), made worse by the impact of the fire hose that was used on him.

Many condolences go out to his family, friends, peers and worldwide fans.

Friday, April 4, 2008

1970's Flashback: Giant-Size X-Men # 1

As a result of a sudden leap in evolution, mutants are born with latent superhuman abilities, which generally manifest themselves at puberty. Ordinary humans fear and/or distrust of mutants (often referred to as Homo superior), who are regarded by a number of scientists as the next step in human evolution and are thus widely viewed as a threat to human civilizations; mutants who use their powers for criminal ends often exacerbate these tensions.

Welcome to the world of the X-Men, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, they originally debuted in September 1963. Formed by the benevolent Professor Charles Xavier, (a.k.a. Professor X), a telepathic mutant who founded an academy to train young mutants to protect themselves and the world from Magneto and other mutant threats. The original X-Men consisted of Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Marvel Girl.

However, a phenomenon was launched in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (1975), when writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum introduced an "all-new, all-different” team of X-Men who were led by Cyclops (from the original team). This group consisted of adults who hailed from a variety of nations and cultures, including Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm, Thunderbird, Banshee, Sunfire, and Wolverine (who became the most popular new X-men character). Former member Jean Grey soon rejoined the X-Men as the Phoenix; and previous members Angel, Beast, Havok and Polaris also made significant guest appearances in the newly revamped series, simply called X-Men starting with issue # 94.

The revived series was illustrated by Dave Cockrum, and later John Byrne, but writer Chris Claremont became the series' longest-running contributor. The rejuvenated book earned great critical acclaim with stories like the "Proteus Saga", the "Dark Phoenix Saga", and later the grim "Days of Future Past"; these are arguably some of the greatest story arcs in Marvel Comics history.
Whether the fictional X-Men are fighting mutant criminals or galactic threats, the series draws its strength from portraying conflicts between mutants and normal humans and for many of the books readers these reflect those “real-life” experiences of many minority groups in America.

"Gal" Friday! Blythe Metz

Blythe Metz is a Chicago-based actress whose resume consists of roles in a few mostly forgettable films and a couple of horror genre releases like The Nightmare Man & Jacqueline Hyde (loosely based on the Robert Louis Stevenson literary classic, of course).

She is also one of several pro-active young starlets that jockeyed for the role of DC Comics Wonder Woman, but in her case she managed to make a cute little film of herself "performing" some action scenes as the Amazon Princess Diana in the costume pictured at right.

It's available on You Tube if you search under her name, and you really outta go check it out when you get the chance.

I don't see Blythe as WW for any big screen version, but if they had intended to do a simple TV remake of the old Lynda Carter series; maybe on the CW network - - - then I think she would have been ideal.

Now, if only she would consider doing a private command performance here in the Catacombs .....

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Review: Project Superpowers # 2 (Dynamite)

The credits for this series are as follows; Alex Ross: Plot, Covers and Art Direction, Jim Krueger: Plot and Script, Carlos Paul: Interior Art, Simon Bowland: Lettering, and Debora Carita: Colors.

Then there are the usual management designations for Dynamite's President, Chief Operating Officer, Director of Marketing, Creative Director, and Graphic Designer.

What is glaringly absent here is an effective editor.

Three issues (counting the "0" issue) into this reimagined series and the most painfully apparent thing to me is that, despite the participation of Ross & Krueger, this series needed to be polished a hell of alot more than it actually received. Despite any other more lenient reviews which you may read, Carlos Paul does NOT possess the talent necessary to sustain this book beyond its overall glossy sheen. The lovely Alex Ross covers and few interior character designs in each issue, do not justify the utter mess of the overall artwork of Mr. Paul. In fact, his pencilling is so amateurish that Ms. Carita's color palette attempts to compensate for his serious shortcomings as an illustrator.

Shoddy artwork aside, the storyline also fails to measure up and this falls squarely onto the shoulders of Mr. Krueger. There are at least three moments when the action of the issue simply - leaps elsewhere - with no preamble whatsoever. I do get that the captured heroes seem to have been released back into the world with the shattering of Pandora's Box last issue, and that they are scattered throughout the entire globe, but they are jumbled together with other heroes who were not imprisoned by Bruce Carter and perhaps even one new hero using the name of another old Nedor hero.

I believe that the creators actually had their "series" bible in mind when producing this issue, but that doesn't help the readers who may be in the dark about what's going on. Significantly missing back story does not make for a successful series!

I WANTED to like this book and I'm a huge fan of many of the golden ager's who are present here (particularly the Better/Standard/Nedor gang), but damn fellas - - - they all deserve a better effort than this. Spray-painting a nice coating of Alex Ross art over the top of this steaming cowpie just wasn't fair.
I am very ambivalent about investing more time, energy and money on this book.

Review: The Twelve # 4 (Marvel Comics)

[Art by Chris Weston at left is not #4's cover.]

Marvel's solicitation copy for this issue reads, "As the savage murders continue, and members of the Twelve come under a cloud of suspicion, tensions flare, and hero faces off against hero! Plus, the unbelievable origin of underground secret agent Rockman!"

Maybe, but after reading this latest Joe Straczynski offering, I'm still really waiting for something of substance to happen. Chris Weston's art holds up very well as the series progresses, but it would be nice to see him get a chance to do a bit more with this disparate group of time-displaced WWII heroes than simply have them standing (or sitting) around talking.

We finally do get the lowdown on Rockman's origin and there's a page and a half of the Laughing Mask's first modern day attempt at heroics, but other than that, the issue primarily shows the entire group having a going away party for Mastermind Excello whose financial foresight allows him to peel away from the community house that the government has temporarily set up for them. This issue closes out with the Phantom Reporter's initial Daily Bugle article on the nature of old-school heroism versus the modern equivalent of gritty, dysfunctional heroism.

Or so it seems.

A 25th Anniversary Salute to Alpha Flight # 1 (April 1983)

Alpha Flight originally appeared in Uncanny X-Men #120 (April 1979) where the team was meant to simply be a part of the back history of the X-Men’s Wolverine, but they became noteworthy for being one of the few Canadian superhero groups. Throughout most of its existence the team has worked for Department H, a branch of Canada’s Department of National Defense that deals with super-powered threats.

In 1983, creator John Byrne reluctantly launched the team in their own self-titled series that was patterned somewhat after the old TV spy show, “Mission: Impossible”, with story lines that dealt with one or two characters at a time, seldom bringing all the members together. Although this unusual approach contrasted with other popular Marvel team series during that time, Alpha Flight attracted many fans and the series continued past Byrne’s involvement (he exited with issue # 28) for 130 issues until 1994; although three short-lived revivals have been subsequently attempted.

The initial makeup of Alpha Flight included Guardian: (Originally Weapon Alpha, then Vindicator), James MacDonald Hudson was a scientist from Ottawa who wore a suit of battle-armor which allowed him to fly and manipulate Earth's magnetic field, Heather MacNeil was the wife of James Hudson. After Guardian's apparent death in Alpha Flight #12, she took his costume and became field leader of the team, Marrina was an amphibious woman from Newfoundland, who was actually part of an extraterrestrial invading force known as the Plodex, Northstar: Jean-Paul Beaubier was a mutant with powers of super-speed and light generation. He was the first openly homosexual superhero in the Marvel Universe, Aurora: Jeanne-Marie Beaubier was Northstar's schizophrenic twin sister. Like her brother, she was also a mutant with powers of super-speed, flight, light generation, and molecular acceleration, Puck: Eugene Milton Judd was a dwarf bouncer from Saskatoon with enhanced strength and extraordinary acrobatic abilities, Sasquatch: Walter Langowski was a scientist from British Columbia who could transform into a giant fur-covered beast. This character originally developed his powers from a gamma radiation experiment that was affected by a solar-flare, but eventually it was explained that Sasquatch was actually a mystical monster, Shaman: Michael Twoyoungmen was a First Nations medicine man from Calgary, who was both a skilled doctor and sorcerer, Snowbird: (Also known as Narya) was an Inuit demi-goddess from Yellowknife who could fly and transform into animals of the north.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

From the Dust Bin: John Wayne Adventure Comics

"The Greatest Cowboy Star Of Them All!"

As one of the most popular motion picture icons in the history of cinema, John Wayne was the leading box office star for many years receiving the 1969 Academy Award for his role as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. Wayne's status also brought him the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Duke also was featured in his own comic book published by Toby Press entitled John Wayne Adventure Comics.

It ran for 31 issues from 1949 thru 1955. The stories were not all western, but also represented the war and adventure genres that he was known for as well. Most issues had photo covers of Wayne. Later, Dell Comics also published a few comic book adaptations of some of John Wayne's popular movies, including Rio Bravo, The Sons of Katie Elder, The Wings of Eagles & The Searchers.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Live from the Oval Office in the Catacombs

My Fellow Americans: As you all know, the defeat of the former Iraqi regime has long been completed.

Since congress does not want to spend any more money on this war, our mission in Iraq is completed.

This morning I gave the order for a complete removal of all American forces from Iraq and this action will be completed within 30 days. It is now time to begin the reckoning!

I have before me two lists. One list contains the names of countries which have stood by our side during the Iraq conflict. The list is short. The United Kingdom, Spain, Bulgaria, Australia, and Poland are some of the countries listed there.

The other list contains every nation that is not included on the first list. Most of the world's nations are on that list. My press secretary will be distributing copies of both lists later this evening.

Let me start by saying that effective immediately, foreign aid to those nations on List 2 ceases immediately and indefinitely. The money saved during the first year alone will pretty much pay for the costs of the Iraqi war. Then every year there after it will go to our social security system so it won’t go broke in 20 years.

The American people are no longer going to pour money into third world hellholes and watch those government leaders grow fat on corruption.

Need help with a famine? Wrestling with an epidemic? Call France.

In the future, together with Congress, I will work to redirect this money toward solving the vexing social problems we still have at home. On that note, a word to terrorist organizations, screw with us and we will hunt you down and eliminate you and all your friends from the face of the earth.

Thirsting for a gutsy country to terrorize? Try France or maybe China.

I am ordering the immediate severing of diplomatic relations with France, Germany, and Russia . Thanks for all your help, comrades. We are retiring from NATO as well. Bon chance, mes amis.

I have instructed the Mayor of New York City to begin towing the many UN diplomatic vehicles located in Manhattan with more than two unpaid parking tickets to sites where those vehicles will be stripped, shredded and crushed. I don't care about whatever treaty pertains to this. You creeps have tens of thousands of unpaid tickets. Pay those tickets tomorrow or watch your precious Benzes, Beamers, and limos be turned over to some of the finest chop shops in the world. I love New York!

A special note to our neighbors: Canada is on List 2. Since we are likely to be seeing a lot more of each other, you folks might want to try not pissing us off for a change.

Mexico is also on List 2, its president and his entire corrupt government, really need an attitude adjustment. I will have a couple extra thousand tanks and infantry divisions sitting around. Guess where I am going to put them? Yep, border security.

Oh, by the way, the United States is abrogating the NAFTA treaty - starting now.

We are tired of the one-way highway. Immediately, we'll be drilling for oil in Alaska - which will take care of this country's oil needs for decades to come. If you're an environmentalist who opposes this decision, I refer you to List 2 above: Pick a country and move there.

It is time for America to focus on its own welfare and it s own citizens. Some will accuse us of isolationism. I answer them by saying, 'darn tootin.'

Nearly a century of trying to help folks live a decent life around the world has only earned us the undying enmity of just about everyone on the planet. It is time to eliminate hunger in America It is time to eliminate homelessness in America. To the nations on List 1, a final thought. Thank you, guys. We owe you and we won't forget.

To the nations on List 2, a final thought: You might want to learn to speak Arabic.

God bless America . Thank you and good night.

* [Happy April Fool's Day, but I can't say that I'm really joking in reusing this statement from an unknown genius)

In Memorium: Jim Mooney

One of the most prolific artists to ever draw comic books, Jim Mooney, passed away in Florida on Sunday. He was born in 1919 and had been in failing health for some time, especially since the passing of his wife Anne in 2005.

Mooney began his career in the golden age working for Fox Publications, Fiction House and Timely Comics. His twenty-two year association with DC Comics led to his working on Batman, Superboy, Tommy Tomorrow, Dial "H" For Hero, the Legion of Super-Heroes and Supergirl. He later jumped over to Marvel where his pencils & inks were featured on such titles as Spider-Man, Thor, Marvel Team-Up, Man-Thing and Omega the Unknown.

Jim Mooney was a class act and his comics work was topnotch. Many condolences go out to his family, friends and fans.