Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Busy Week For Death

The little baby in the first SANDMAN to feature the main character’s sister, Death, asks, "Is that all I get?" I suppose it’s inevitable that it never really seems enough for any of us. And it all happens in what seems like the blink of an eye. Maybe I’m just at an age where it feels like things are moving so incredibly fast. Maybe it’s because I’m notorious for not living my life in a linear fashion. Sort of like Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut’s SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, I tend to be "unstuck in time," at least in my own head. Now Vonnegut’s gone. Yesterday, Joel Siegel, GOOD MORNING AMERICA’s optimistic movie critic for nearly three decades died. A little more than a month ago, he wandered into the store where I work and bought a book on Jackie Robinson. While he was there, I reminded him of a time my wife met him on the GMA set back in 2001.
This past week, my friends Brittany and Cassandra each lost someone. Death was having a busy week. Last evening, though, she found the time to drop by our house where my wife’s mother had been living with us since Tuesday. Two years after discovering inoperable cancer, she had remained surprisingly healthy on the outside until relatively recently. A month ago, though, she ended up in hospice with perhaps only hours to go. She rallied to the point where she was released…not once but twice!... but slipped into a light coma not long after coming to stay with us. Suddenly, the months of excruciating pain and painkillers by the carload seemed to fall by the wayside and she had several long days of seemingly peaceful sleep and pleasant dreams. She was no doubt pleased to see Death.
Thank you, Neil Gaiman, for SANDMAN # 8, itself now 18 years gone! I re-read the issue (for about the fiftieth time) last week and somehow, as always, it spoke to me as it has to so many others. It makes it all seem so natural. Since the very first time I read it, I have not feared Death. I am in awe of her and have a keen sense that each breath brings her closer. Naturally.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

King Features Contest-1990

Here's an intriguing little flyer. No doubt thousands of hopeful cartoonists (myself included) entered this contest from 1990 hoping to create the great new comic strip for the new decade. Unfortunately, my own strip, BESS SELLERS, was an also-ran. At the bottom of the second page, it says you can get a list of the winners for an SASE. I sent went along but never received a thing. Anyone know what strip or strips actually resulted from this King Features Syndicate contest? Were they successful?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tootsie Roll Rockets

The other day we mentioned the so-called "space race" between Russia and the US to see which one would achieve this or that "first" in space. It's generally conceded that once the US landed men on the moon...well...we won. Leading up to that climactic 1969 moment, however, were a million or so cool rocket toys including this one--a Tootsie Roll rocket!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Many Faces of Prince Namor

Actually, ol' Subby has had a heck of a lot more unique depictions than these but recent readings of some golden and silver age stories made these "looks" stand out. Note that only his creator Bill Everett (represented here from the mid fifties and the mid sixties)seems to realize that he's meant to have rather long lashes.I've particularly become intrigued by what I call the triangle head Namor. I believe that one's drawn by Carl Pfeuffer.What was he thinking!!?? The other two "looks" her are from Jack Kirby and Gene Colan.

Bit O'Honey Ad 1948

Here's a cute BIT O'HONEY comic strip ad from 1948. So why does it leave me feeling a bit...weird? Could it be the slightly seductive pose our jailbait heroine strikes in panel one? Perhaps the final panel telling us to eat Bit O' Honey (which has already been established as the girl's name)? And what's with OLD NICK down at the bottom extolling the virtues of his nuts? Maybe it's just me? Maybe I should call my therapist. Did Dr. Wertham know about BIT O'HONEY?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Better Dead Than Red

All of this recent talk about a new "Cold War" reminded me of today’s offering from the Library, BETTER DEAD THAN RED! Published in 1992 and written by pop culturist Michael Barson (the man who had previously brought you the Marx Brothers’ FLYWHEEL, SHYSTER AND FLYWHEEL book), this book is self-described as "…exemplifying America’s xenophobia at its greatest excess." Heavily illustrated with historic photos, ads, comics and posters from "…the golden years of Russiaphobia," BETTER DEAD THAN RED is at once satirical, scary and downright laughable. Providing to some extent a brief historical perspective on communism and the rise of the Soviet Union, the book mostly touches on the pop aspects of the "red scare" as our national fears were exploited for the good old American dollar! Lots of stuff on the space race, Sputnik, bomb shelters, Khrushhchev and Castro but also pages from magazines including the famous TREASURE CHEST comics feature, "This Godless Communism" drawn by Reed Crandall (whom you may recall from yesterday’s NoMan feature). Movie posters and ads abound such as this true story adaptation of the popular radio series I WAS A COMMUNIST FOR THE FBI. Ironically, the radio series starred movie star Dana Andrews whereas this feature starred radio actor Frank Lovejoy (THE BLUE BEETLE).

When I was a kid, it was all still going on. We regularly had "civil defense drills" in which we were led in an orderly fashion down to a subbasement at the school (next to an ancient coal chute) and told to "duck and cover" up against the far wall. Not sure how long these drills went on but we never horsed around like we did on fire drills. No way, Jose! As unlikely as a FIRE was in real life (??), we knew that at any given moment, those evil Communists might launch a completely unprovoked attack on us kids with nuclear weapons! In fact, I had one teacher who regularly "reassured" us that, in spite of our drills, we would die quickly as the Russians had undoubtedly long since targeted a nearby munitions plant! Strangely, in all my years in this area, I’ve never really heard anything about a big munitions plant anywhere around her from anyone except that guy!
Somewhere before the seventies, we stopped the bomb drills. In the early seventies, suspected commie Howard DaSilva gave a brilliant Broadway and motion picture performance as American uber-patriot Benjamin Franklin in 1776…and then turned right around and portrayed Khruschev in the TV play/film THE MISSLES OF OCTOBER. The lines were blurring.

In the early eighties, I dated a girl whose family was still prepared for the bomb. Their basement doubled as a bomb shelter and the walls were lined with stocks of water, crackers and feminine hygiene products! Then came Glasnost and Reagan and Gorbachev and the fall of the Berlin Wall and it was all over. Cold war novelists had to switch their evil communist plots to missing Soviet weapons and rogue KGB officers. Gorbachev himself actually appeared on the big screen in one of the greatest cameos of all time in the German film, FARAWAY, SO CLOSE!

And now the Russians (and the world press) seem to want all of that paranoia back! Don’t we have enough to worry about with our own leaders at this time? Sigh. Like in the real world, we dream of a simpler time. As paranoid as you feel when you finish this book, there is undoubtedly a certain nostalgia involved, also. BETTER DEAD THAN RED is fun in a sense but at the same time, it was all too real…and the nightmares aren’t necessarily over yet.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


Scientist Doctor Dunn worked for a secret organization known as T.H.U.N.D.E.R. (The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves). Old and dying, he transferred his consciousness into a lifelike android he had created. He was then entrusted by the organization with a cloak that caused de facto invisibility to its wearer. Thus was born the 1960’s Tower Comics character NoMan, one of the few truly unique superheroes in all of comicdom. Doctor Dunn was able to transfer his consciousness at will between various android bodies but there was only one invisibility cloak so he was constantly having to salvage it.
Other T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents included Dynamo (a Superman type with a belt that gives him super-strength), Lightning (a Flash type whose use of his speed powers speeded up his life, also) and Raven, a Hawkman type. NoMan, though, was unlike any other hero who came before him.
NoMan appeared as Ilya to Dynamo’s Napoleon Solo in twenty issues of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS and four issues of DYNAMO as well as in two of his own self-titled comic. Although never as popular as the Marvel or DC heroes of the day these hybrid spy/sci-fi/superhero tales are fondly remembered collectors items today. Despite a solid premise, they were always a bit light in the writing area but oh, that artwork! With Wallace Wood as their co-creator and guiding light, the Tower heroes also featured work by Gil Kane, Steve Ditko, Reed Crandall (who did the very first NOMAN story), George Tuska and Mike Sekowsky, all of whom were working for other publishers at the time. Also featured were artists Ogden Whitney, Manny Stallman and Dan Adkins who actually ghosted Wood’s work quite a bit in these comics.
Revived intermittently over the years (both legitimately and illegitimately), the Agents have suffered from major legal headaches which have kept them pretty much relegated to cult status. Most recently, DC has reprinted these original tales in their overpriced Archives series. If you’re tired of cookie cutter heroes, look for the reprints or better yet, track down the originals on these to check out NoMan!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Library

Here's a recent digital shot of the actual Booksteve's Library (or a portion thereof anyway) that I wanted to share with all of you. As a reminder, when my wife and I bought this house seven years ago (and we ARE now completely cleared of foreclosure thank you very much!), it had a good-size dining room but like most Americans, we eat in front of the TV set. Thus, we put nineteen bookcases of varying sizes around the room, added a few discarded spinner racks from stores in which I had worked and voila! The fact that we've had to curtail our bookbuying habits in recent years (as well as selling off quite a bit) is probably a blessing or we would have needed to annex the living room as well. As it is, we have 6 small bookcases in there as well as 4 more upstairs! Yes, it's more than a bit cluttered and every single guest we've ever had has said something along the lines of, "Wow! I've never seen so many books!" Still, we wouldn't have it any other way!

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Date With Judy

Here's an odd tie-in comic done by DC. A DATE WITH JUDY was a pleasant but not necessarily memorable radio series that ran from 1941 through 1950 with a feature film spin-off in 1948 starring Jane Powell. The series itself featured several young women as Judy over time, most notably Louise Erickson who appeared in Judy-esque roles on lots of shows in those days including a stint as THE GREAT GILDERSLEEVE's niece, Marjorie. It was in that capacity that I got to meet and work with the delightful Ms. Erickson in the early nineties at one of the Cincinnati Radio Conventions. Along with the lovely Shirley Mitchell and the late Willard Waterman (as Gildy), Louise re-created her original role in a script in which I appeared as the gruff Judge Horace Hooker.

DC Comics, as part of its attempts at finding new types of subjects for the dwindling comic market of the post-war years, offered A DATE WITH JUDY as a comic book that tied in both with its expanding humor line (LEAVE IT TO BINKY) as well as its radio line (GANGBUSTERS). As unremarkable as the radio series itself, Judy went from one innocent ARCHIE-style mishap to another with only the tiniest bit of cheesecake to distinguish it at all.Even though the series ended in 1950, the comic also tied in with the romance comics mini-boom of the fifties and thus continued on until, surprisingly enough, 1960, a full decade after its inspiration's demise.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Walt, Mickey and Me-Paul Peterson

WALT, MICKEY AND ME is the title of the 1977 book by former child star Paul Peterson in which he says some less than flattering things about the Disney folks, then catches up with his former fellow mouseketeers. Last night my wife was flipping channels and briefly lit on one of the entertainment/gossip shows when she recognized Paul. Oddly, even thirty years after this book's publication, he was discussing what happened to his fellow mouseketeers as well as the members of the mid-seventies NEW MICKEY MOUSE CLUB which was just starting as the original book came out.
Paul Peterson himself had been fired from the original group after only a few weeks for "conduct unbecoming a mouse." If I recall correctly he punched out Mickey Rooney's kid. I first knew him as Donna Reed's son Jeff on my mom's favorite sitcom of the early sixties, THE DONNA REED SHOW. In retrospect, Herman and Lily Munster were a more realistic couple than Donna and her doctor husband but it was still fun. He didn't work too much as an actor after that, though, and eventually drifted into writing pulp novels. Although it wasn't easy, Paul managed to get through all the rough times associated with suddenly no longer being the flavor of the month child or teen star and decided to help other child stars and former child stars to do the same.

A Minor Consideration Website details the history and ongoing work of the impressive organization that Peterson eventually founded. For every former child star who gets in trouble, there are probably three more who don't just because they had Paul's group to help. Being a child star is something that will forever be alien to most of us and in a way it's easy to make fun off them because we weren't there. In most cases, their childhoods were sacrificed so they could be a star. It's like play to a child actor in a way but then when it goes away, they are quite literally lost. Usually without the best of education, all they know how to do is act or be cute and when those awkward years hit, it can be a nightmare to any teen. Not only that, many child stars become more self-conscious as teens and young adults and the natural acting talents they had shown early on often fade. As an example, Shirley Temple as a four year old was a talented actress. As a teen, she was cute, dull and lifeless and it looked like she was trying way to hard.

Outside of a few school plays, I was never a child actor but I always hated to hear horror stories about my TV friends--Anissa Jones, Trent Lehman, Dana Plato and so many others. Paul Peterson hated to hear them too and he's done something about it. Paul Peterson may not have lasted long as a mouseketeer but he's long-since become one of my real-life heroes. Thanks, Paul.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Marvel Comics has had several officially sanctioned fan clubs over the years, the most nostalgic being the M.M.M. S. (the Merry Marvel Marching Society, a pun on the 1940's "Mary" Marvel Marching Society), the most unfulfilled in expectations being the late sixties' Marvelmania and the most forgotten being the seventies F.O.O.M. (the Friends Of Ol' Marvel). F.O.O.M., if remembered at all, is usually recalled for the participation of Jaunty Jim Steranko some years after his peak creative period at the company. Today, though, we offer this interesting fumetti (a picture comic strip in case you didn't know) ad for the club. Photographed by the much maligned inker Vince Colletta and starring now legendary comics scribe Marv Wolfman (never met him but I stood behind him in line at a Chicago hotel once when he was having major issues. Didn't seem the right time to introduce myself, y'know?) and someone named Cristen Steen. Hmmm...Don't know her but wonder if she could be the "Kristen/Kirsten/Christine" Steen listed on IMDB from a number of seventies cult flicks including TEENAGE HITCHHIKERS and ALICE IN WONDERLAND (the adult musical version). If so, how'd she end up a Friend Of Ol' Marvel? Perhaps our on-the-mend Net-buddy Tony Isabella, who's credited with writing this mildly amusing ad-strip ( from CRAZY) could enlighten us?? Hope all is well, Tony!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dean Martin's Comedy World

Recently I wrote of first seeing Monty Python on a Dean Martin summer replacement series but I couldn't recall the name of it. Here we see the lovely and sensual Ms. Barbara Feldon (post 99) with a jacket that solved that little mystery. Suddenly it all came back to me. DEAN MARTIN'S COMEDY WORLD ran in the summer of 1974. Dean Martin himself did not appear as that was the whole point. It was a place holder until his series returned in the fall. The series was hosted by Jackie Cooper, Ms. Feldon and Nipsey Russell and spotlighted classic clips from films and television as well as presenting more contemporary comedy bits from around the world. Thus...Python. I enjoyed the show myself but it's quick-cut editing was way ahead of its time and it was not a hit.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Dairy Queen

Nothing tastes better on a 96 degree humid day than Dairy Queen. Not the walk in and sit down Dairy Queens, mind you. No, it has to be the walk-up kind that are only open in the Spring and Summer. I haven't actually been to one in years but I drove past one yesterday wishing I had some cash and now here I find this cool comic book coupon...What?? Awww, maaaan! It expired 50 years ago. Sigh. Always behind the times.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Witches

This morning on one of the cheaper cable movie channels I finally saw a movie that’s been on my "Movies I’ve Always Wanted To See" list (and yes, I do have one) for more than thirty years. Well, to be fair, I didn’t catch the whole movie but I did get to see the segment I most wanted to see. THE WITCHES is certainly the least known movie to feature Clint Eastwood. I first heard about it in Stuart Kaminsky’s 1974 Eastwood biography and re-examining that today, I’m not even sure that Kaminsky had ever seen it either.
Richard Schickel, in his 1996 Eastwood bio, gives the whole story of THE WITCHES. Seems that aging Italian sex symbol Anna Mangano was married to mega-producer Dino DeLaurentis and he fashioned a segmented film as a vanity production to highlight her vast range and send her career to the same levels as those of other Italian sex bombs such as Sophia Loren and Gina Lollabrigida. Segmented films were particularly popular in Europe at that time for all types of films. BAMBOLE, for example, was a sex comedy that used to turn up on late night TV a lot. Then, of course, there’s BLACK SABBATH with Boris Karloff’s absolute scariest performance ever!
LE STREGHE, translated as THE WITCHES, features five segments with Clint Eastwood appearing only in the final one entitled, "A Night Like Any Other." Clint’s 1965 involvement in this unlikely mix grew out of his immediate European popularity from the previous year’s Spaghetti westerns A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. De Laurentis made him a deal for cash AND a Ferrari!
Eastwood plays the complacent middle-class American husband of a frustrated Italian woman (Mangano) whose imagination constantly gets the better of her in a series of increasingly bizarre fantasy sequences. In one she looks more like something from Mario Bava’s DANGER:DIABOLIK as a black-suited dominatrix type with weird headgear and a gun! Looking more like HRG from HEROES than the Man With No Name, Clint’s performance is purposely monotone, dull and annoying.
Surprisingly, Eastwood’s segment was directed by the legendary Vittorio De Sica, whose SHOESHINE and THE BICYCLE THIEF are required viewing for film students throughout the world. According to Schickel, De Sica called Clint "the new Gary Cooper." While this has long since been proven, the author adds that said reputation was in no way enhanced by THE WITCHES.
Eastwood moved directly into his seminal THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY and when all of his Sergio Leone westerns were finally released in the US, he was at long last a movie star in his own country. With that US popularity, THE WITCHES was picked up for release but quickly disappeared. Somewhere I have a third feature drive-in ad for it from the seventies with first two Leone Westerns. I can only imagine that even then Eastwood fans missed it as they decided to drive off early in the absence of their hero from the initial segments of the film.
Impossible to dismiss completely as directors of the other segments include fellow legends Pasolini and Visconti, THE WITCHES is now on American cable but I really don’t think anyone besides me will even care all that much at this late date. The good news? The fact that it HAS turned up at last gives me hope that LET'S GO FOR BROKE may turn up too!
The photos above are reprinted from THE FILMS OF CLINT EASTWOOD.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

McHale's Navy

My early Fathers’ Day gift (early because we had a 40% off coupon) was Season 1 of McHALE’S NAVY on DVD. An early favorite, I really hadn’t seen many episodes of the 1962-66 TV series since meeting co-star Bob Hastings about 15 years ago. Bob played the fidgety, sycophantic, brown-nosing Lt. Elroy Carpenter on the World War II Naval comedy, a character I was surprised to see was not in the original first episode (the actual pilot—which does NOT appear her strangely—was a dramatic show entitled "Seven Against the Sea"). Carpenter works for Capt. Binghampton, played by the uniquely comical Joe Flynn, a little exasperated man with big glasses. When I first met Bob at the Cincinnati Radio Convention, Flynn (who went on to be a popular character actor but ALWAYS played that same type) was all anyone wanted him to talk about.
The series is a great ensemble like the later M*A*S*H with Oscar winner (for MARTY) Ernest Borgnine, one of the great movie "heavies," as Quinton McHale, heading up a group of misfits who’d never let the war interrupt their otherwise hedonistic island lifestyle. The great and hilarious Tim Conway (who once came in the store where I worked but I was off that day! AARGH!!) steals most scenes he’s in with ease as Ensign Charles Parker, a by-the-book nebbish slowly being corrupted by McHale. The rest of the great cast includes handsome Edson Stroll, Gavin (THE LOVE BOAT) McLeod, the likable but ill-fated Gary Vinson and best of all fast-talking Carl Ballantine (as in "Ballantine the Magician!") as conman Gruber. When you consider that some of these episodes were written by Joseph Heller who would later write the classic anti-war novel, CATCH-22, one must pause to wonder if he brought some of McHale’s men to his later story!
The episodes are great fun if a little too politically incorrect (in terms of WWII era negative racial terminology) to run regularly in reruns today. Lots of mishaps with the boys having to actually be heroes in order to stop threats to their fun or outwit the Captain and Carpenter trying to find an excuse to court martial the whole bunch.
The only extra is a 2007 reunion with most of the surviving cast members including Bob. It’s so cool to see him chatting with Tim Conway and Ernest Borgnine just a couple months before I appeared on stage with him again (for about the 18th time!) as a mouse at this year’s Radio Con. My son was recently wondering what Kevin Bacon’s got that I haven’t! The reunion is fun but as always Conway steals the show. At one point he says that most of the roles were very similar to the actors in real life to which Bob tells him to watch it! Stroll still looks great in his seventies, Bob looks much younger than his 82 years, Borgnine has thinned down and looks just like Don Rickles (!), Ballantine is just as crotchety as you’d suspect and Tim is still very much Tim! Don’t know where Gavin was but they all seemed to be having great fun. In an outtake at the end of the reunion, someone implies that they shot hours of footage of these guys sitting around reminiscing. I would have watched it all!
Hopefully future season sets will include that TV pilot (which I have on VHS somewhere from TV Land) and some of the great blooper reels that surface from McHALE’S NAVY from time to time.

By the way, the shot above is your humble host onstage playing opposite Bob Hastings two months ago at this year's Cincinnati Con.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Vintage Batman Ad

Here's one my spooky memory hasn't forgotten. I bought this issue at Woolworths on a 1966 Thursday evening. Woolworths tended to get comics up a few days earlier than the local drugstores at the time. They also stayed open past their normal 6:00 closing time on Thursdays for some reason. This particular Thursday, my parents were going grocery shopping at Albers Supermarket and my Giant BATMAN comic and I stayed in the car in the parking lot behind the store with the windows open. I read the comic (which was my first exposure--although I didn't know it yet-- to artist Dick Sprang and what we'll call the Jack Schiff BATMAN) until it got too dark. Years later I was present (in a story already told here) when Sprang met DC publisher Jenette Kahn for the first time. Ahhh...the go-go check years were a good time for comics. Back when I had any money I once thought of collecting all the go-go check DC's from this period!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Happy Flag Day

Happy Flag Day! The one US holiday Hallmark doesn’t even seem to have a card for! Thus, we offer the one true CAPTAIN AMERICA in celebration of the continuing dreams of liberty. This rendition by the great Jim Steranko was cover-featured on the 1998 prose novel, LIBERTY’S TORCH, one of the better Marvel novels. It was written by my pal Tony Isabella (Get well, Tony!) and his pal Bob Ingersoll. It’s long out of print but worth the Net search to find!

Will Eisner's Gleeful Guide to the Quality of Life

I bow to few in my admiration of the late, great Will Eisner but let us not ascribe sainthood to the man (especially since he was Jewish but that’s not the point). Here we have what undoubtedly must be considered the skeleton in Will Eisner’s closet.
In 1974 and ’75, just as THE SPIRIT revival was picking up speed, Will published a number of humorous and/or informative paperbacks including a guide to haunted houses hosted by the Spirit himself! Most of what came out, though, were Eisner’s "GLEEFUL GUIDES." The series offered humorous cartoons and commentary on plants, taxes, astrology and cooking. If the pages seen here were originally from one of these (and they may NOT have been) then it may have been the one entitled HOW TO AVOID DEATH AND TAXES AND LIVE FOREVER.
WILL EISNER’S GLEEFUL GUIDE TO THE QUALITY OF LIFE appeared in a mid-seventies issue of Al Goldstein’s slick porn mag (not the newspaper) NATIONAL SCREW. Oddly enough I (still underage) was purchasing this disgusting rag (ahem!) because they were running some great, funny Wally Wood strips! When I saw this by Will Eisner I was flabbergasted! Nudity? Rape jokes? Extreme violence? This was from the man who would go on to detail social ills so understandingly in various graphic novels? Rape isn’t funny and never was but there was a time in the seventies when apparently that sensitivity wasn’t there yet. Knowing that one can understand perhaps how this came about but it’s still profoundly disturbing. Offered today in the interests of historical context and accuracy—WILL EISNER’S GLEEFUL GUIDE TO THE QUALITY OF LIFE.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Y’know, this past weekend’s episode of DOCTOR WHO had a lackluster trailer that made me put off watching it until yesterday. Now that I have, however, the episode, entitled BLINK, may well be my favorite of the current series! Every season, there’s one episode where they give the stars a rest and build the episode around guest stars. The Doctor and his companion appear only briefly. Prior episodes of this sort were quite well done and never left the audience feeling cheated that the leads weren’t more front and center. BLINK actually works best when they aren’t there!
First of all, though, it isn’t a perfect episode. For one thing, the basic plot of the Doctor and Martha being trapped in 1969 without the TARDIS would be negated if he would simply contact his 1969 self (Troughton) for assistance. Failing that, the Brigadier and UNIT could surely help. Or did that oft-mentioned "time war" that killed all of the other time-lords eliminate his own earlier incarnations also?
Anyway, granting them that one point that our heroes can NOT escape 1969 on their own for whatever reason, they need the help of one Sally Sparrow. Played by Carey Mulligan (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, BLEAK HOUSE), Sally is a plucky young Nancy Drew type whom we meet as she’s exploring an old abandoned country house. On the wall she finds words half buried beneath wallpaper. As she rips off the wallpaper, it’s revealed as a message to her by name! Then things get weird! Returning to the house the next day with a friend, there’s a knock at the door. There she meets a man bringing her a message from that same friend (who she believes to be hiding upstairs) that he’s had for two decades! She goes to try to explain to the other girl’s brother that she won’t be coming back and finds him investigating a series of mysterious video clips hidden as Easter eggs on DVDs…all featuring the Doctor. She goes to the police where one of the cops hits on her and succeeds in getting her phone number. He then disappears. When her phone rings just a few minutes later, it’s him, now an old man dying in hospital but with yet another message for her. Throughout all of this, there are mysterious statues that seem to move when no one’s watching them.
See, even there it doesn’t SOUND all that interesting. There’s lots of cool bits though! The Doctor having half a conversation on tape from a transcript made of that very conversation AS the transcript is itself being made! The young policeman dying as an old man in a rain-swept hospital room. Sally meeting her friend’s pantsless brother for the first time. The Doctor’s "timey-wimey"explanation of time and reference to his own wedding! Sally’s meeting with the Doctor and Martha in which she, herself, sets everything in motion for the story just seen. Then, of course, there are the monsters—malevolent statues when you see them but ancient energy-devouring creatures when you aren’t looking. And that ending!
Add to all this first class performances all around, beautiful atmospheric camera work, the series’ trademark sense of humor and enough time paradoxes to give one a headache and I swear BLINK, based on a short story from a DOCTOR WHO ANNUAL, may just be my favorite episode yet! Well done!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Origin of the Inhumans

In late 1967 Marvel had restructured the distribution deals that had limited them to no more than a certain number of titles and were beginning to look at their first expansions. Among the characters that fans were clamoring to get their own book were the Hulk, Nick Fury, Captain America, Iron Man and the Inhumans. Within a year, all but the latter would come true. What many folks don’t know, however (or forget perhaps) is that the Inhumans DID get their own series. It was, however, a 5 page back-up series in, of all places, THOR. Replacing the venerable TALES OF ASGARD back-up, THE ORIGINS OF THE INHUMANS debuted in THOR 146, dated November, 1967. It would run only through issue 152 dated the following spring. Well written and with quite marvelous artwork, the whole enterprise was produced by Lee, Kirby and Sinnott—the same folks who would later bring you the less than satisfactory SILVER SURFER graphic novel we wrote about yesterday.
The first two chapters retcon the story as to why "inhumans" exist at all in the Marvel Universe, throwing in the alien Kree as "seeders." After that, we have the actual birth of Black Bolt, the silent (but deadly) leader of the so-called "royal family." We meet the rest of our familiar characters after that, albeit in younger versions—Medusa, Gorgon, Karnak, a very young Crystal and the mad Maximus. There follows a multi-part story of Triton, the green, scaly, water breathing inhuman and his first exposure to life outside the Great Refuge. Triton gets caught up with a movie company doing a monster picture. When he escapes, he runs home to Black Bolt and suggests that the whole race hide even better than they had been because humans are nuts!
The series ended there and I’ve long suspected that these may have been the first couple issues of an intended INHUMANS series, cut up and repasted into these little lost back-up stories. These were reprinted somewhere at least once but they’re still pretty obscure and unknown. When THE INHUMANS series next surfaced in AMAZING ADVENTURES a few years later, Kirby would still be at the helm but by that point he was on his last legs at Marvel and it showed.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Silver Surfer 1978

The most anticipated comic book event of 1978 was this SILVER SURFER graphic novel. It was the first (and last) collaboration between Stan Lee (who swore no one but he would ever write the Surfer) and Jack Kirby (who created the Surfer in FANTASTIC FOUR without telling Lee) after the latter's return to Marvel. It came ten years after the comic book event of 1968 (the first, origin, issue of the Surfer’s own series) which, since Kirby had not been involved, reportedly drove a wedge in the duo’s working relationship.
There are a number of problems with this book, not the least of which was that, no offense, both creators were past their prime and out of sync with each other. I adore Kirby creativity in all forms but his later stylized art is not my favorite phase. Lee’s tendency to overwrite had by this point become his standard style. Still, the most disappointing thing to me at the time was that this was not even OUR Silver Surfer. No this was some unspecified alternate universe Silver Surfer in a complete reimagining of his first visit to earth…only without the Fantastic Four! If the fan press at the time was touting that, I missed it. Thus I found myself immediately crestfallen. To be fair, the art here is some of the best Kirby art from his final Marvel stay but I credit much of that to inker Joe Sinnott who simply and beautifully works the symbiotic magic he always did on the artist’s FF work. Even then, though, Kirby’s fabled storytelling techniques sometimes fail him here in my opinion and the story gets confused. It also drags horribly in spots. Without Alicia Masters or Sue Richards appearing at all, Kirby creates Ardina, a golden girl who (no spoiler alert needed as it’s pretty obvious) works for Galactus. The Surfer DOES get to have some fun here, however, as in for instance his first sex scene! See for yourself. After all, the creators had to do something to highlight the fact that this was not approved by the Comics Code. If you still aren’t sure that's what's happening here, check out the panel that immediately followed this full page romp. I mean, seriously. All that’s missing is the cigarette.
Overall, this was a serious disappointment to me then and now. From the crummy logo and "high-tech" looking fonts over Earl Norem’s less than wonderful painted cover to the anticlimactic ending. I remember sitting comfortably in my bed, aged 19, and reading this straight through and thinking…that’s it? Hopefully this coming weekend’s cinematic debut of the Silver Surfer won’t leave us old geeks with that same thought.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Meet Monty Python

Here's a great TV cover of the gents from Monty Python by Daerick (INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE) Gross. Although I had seen a few clips of MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS more than a year earlier on a DEAN MARTIN summer replacement program that I'm too lazy to look up right now, the series first landed in Cincinnati in 1975, about the time it was actually ending in the UK. In those pre-Internet, pre-ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT and pre-E days, this review by Mary Wood was my only hint of what to expect. Mary was THE last word in television in Cincinnati, a surprisingly hip middle-aged woman who counted amongst her best friends Larry Hagman and Burgess Meredith (I wish I'd clipped out all her stories of the friendship and feud between those two Bohemians!). She lived down the street from me and as a child I would often trick-or-treat at her house. Even then she would tell us kids great stories. Anyway, Mary was hip enough to like Python so I was ready for 'em! She was, of course, correct. Recently, I even showed ten year old BookDave LIFE OF BRIAN. I figured the social and political humor would outweigh the naughty bits and strangely my wife agreed. Now he likes Monty Python, too!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Perishers

Here's a book that found its way into my hands last Summer. THE PERISHERS is a PEANUTS-like British comic strip with a more than thirty year history. Since my only exposure to the strip has been through this delightful book, I refer you to The Perishers - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia to read more about Wellington, Maisie, Baby Grumplin' , Marlon and Boot the dog. Me, I'm just going to share a few sample strips.