Sunday, May 1, 2016

Activate The Opticon Scillometer!


On Saturdays in the month of May the focus here at the Dojo will be on DuMont's Captain Video and the Video Rangers, the mostly lost vintage TV series which informed much of what developed later on television, movies and comics during the 50's. Captain Video was a television show which directly blended the tried and true action tropes of the classic Western with the cutting edge vibe of Sci-Fi, as often the show itself used vintage Western adventures to fill out the time. Even the comics followed suit as we'll see. The show was filled with weirdly-named gadgets like the "Opticon Scillometer" and such which allowed Captain Video to see all over the world and which he used to fight villainy where he found it. There was a wide array of firsts associated with this seminal TV show and expect to see much of it here.


All throughout the month look for a lot of variety, as we take a month-long look in the Favorite Covers feature at comics which feature characters trying to hitch rides on rockets and missiles and all things ballistic. Like the bronco busters of the Old West, these modern riders seek to tame the power between their legs, a power distinctive to the 20th Century and beyond and symbolic of the constant struggle man has had with the things he can build. 


Of course there will be the usual gaggle of Charlton stuff and whatever else chances to catch my fancy. I've heard something about a movie coming up with some Marvel characters in it; should be interesting. So hang around for May as the Dojo enters its eighth year.

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Paul Ryan - Artist Supreme!


I liked the art of Paul Ryan right from the get-go. Sometimes I admit I have to warm to a new talent, but there was something about the no-nonsense straight-forward storytelling style of Ryan which appealed to me immediately. His work was free of the bombast and hyperbole which infected so many of his peers in the late 80's and 90's. The school of art inspired by Image washed over the industry almost totally, but it never touched Ryan. Working in tandem with Tom DeFalco and often with inker Danny Bulanadi, Ryan produced some of the sleekest comics of the era. While many decry his epic run on the Fantastic Four (five years or so) I loved it and it remains one of my favorite eras for the team which has fallen on hard times of late.

(Paul Ryan's first published work under a Paul Gulacy cover.)
Ryan started in comics older than many do, and comics remain a young man's domain by and large. He was slated to debut in Charlton Bullseye, that company's last-ditch effort to produce new material (albeit by fans) before they finally wrapped up operations. A story by Ryan called "Breed" was picked up by Bill Black and saw publication in a one-shot titled Starmasters which sports a handsome Paul Gulacy cover. This led to Ryan getting gigs as an inker at Marvel and soon he was the regular artist on the New Universe title DP7, the one written by Mark Gruenwald which most fans (me included) think was the the best book in that batch. Later Ryan stepped in to finish up Gruenwald's epic Squadron Supreme run.  Gruenwald used Ryan and his new partner Danny Bulanadi on Quasar, one of my all-time favorite titles and a rarity as it was about a smiling hopeful hero in 90's. Eventually Ryan found common cause with DeFalco and along with artist Ron Frenz and Pat Olliffe formed a kind of studio of sorts that produced handsome comics which thrummed with a classic vibe.


After the Fantastic Four job went to hotshots at Image, Ryan found work at DC and eventually became the main artist on The Phantom, a thankless job in the United States, but one which Ryan was ideal for and which I'm sure brought him great fame worldwide. Paul Ryan was a damn great artist and he died too young. Here are some of my favorite Ryan covers.  Enjoy!
































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Friday, April 29, 2016

The Golden Derby - April 1966!






Fifty years ago this month Judomaster was given his own title, overcoming the curse of his bizarre one-off showcase in the Special War Series many months before. Written and drawn by Frank McLaughlin, Judomaster fights the good fight behind enemy lines in the Pacific during World War II. In this debut of his regular series he battles Mountain Storm, a giant Sumo wrestler who serves a conniving Japanese commander. Despite his opponent's bulk and his own rather-too-stylish top knot he prevails. Thunderbolt returns in another issue of his ongoing series by the distinctive Pete Morisi (P.A.M.) and with these books the framework of what will become "The Action Heroes" is becoming clear, low-powered human protagonists fighting against deadly dangers. This month also saw the debut of Go-Go, an anthology of sorts which featured the adventures of the blonde bomshell Miss Bikini Luv as well as other spoofs and lampoons of various kinds, focused mainly on the then burgeoning rock and roll scene, as well as superheroes. Charlton continued to crank out romance titles such as Sweethearts, and many had handsome Dick Giordano covers as does this issue. Giordano was taking the reins of the editorial offices (he edited Judomaster, and in fact this month was something of a transition wth Pat Masulli moving on to other duies. War and Attack was yet another Charlton war comic entry, but with an above average and powerful logo. The cover above by Rocke Mastroserio is particularly dramatic and captures a moment of despair and relative quiet in the aftermath of a deadly battle. Charlton's genre books were often filled with forgettable yarns cursed with a bland sameness, but not always and this one is an example.

More to come next month.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Scary Monsters!


I'm sad to hear the Dennis Druktenis has left Scary Monsters magazine after twenty-five years and one hundred issues.


I discovered this certain labor of love over a decade ago and began gathering up an issue here and there when I chanced upon them in certain stores -- not all places carried it. The bright and inviting Terry Beatty covers were a great draw, but the magazine was also attractive because of its non-glossy pages filled to over-flowing with images and words and more words about all sorts of horror flicks and monster movies. The ads had a vintage flavor and the whole package evoked  Forrey Ackerman's classic Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine which was a staple of monster fans many decades ago. Unlike other horror magazines on the newsstands overripe with gore on slick paper, Scary Monsters seemed to be about the word more than the picture even though the subject matter was pictures.

Here's a report done with Druktenis as the centennial issue approached. 


With issue one hundred Druktenis is hanging it up and the magazine has been sold to another firm in sunny California. Will it stay the same? No chance, because even if they wisely keep the format and the look, the love and care which Druktenis brought to this delight will not be there. Will it be worth checking out, likely so, but I don't expect it to be the same. The one hundred and first Scary Monsters is supposed to hit the stand this summer. If I see one, I'll give it a look.

Thanks Dennis and congratulations, it's been a hoot.

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Sacred Cash Cows!


It's amazing to me what can stir up an argument in this country. The current brouhaha over the changing of the faces on some of our currency seems like one of those shallow trumped up controversies meant to allow conversation about deeper issues which by themselves would prove too toxic for public consumption. That conversation is that for the whole of our history women and people of color have been deemed second-class citizens in a country which has traditionally elevated white men exclusively to positions of power and influence.  The money we carry around in our pockets merely documents that long-held prejudice, and now that finally after many decades of broader social urging we are seeing some transformation in these long benighted areas, those who cling to the past see any of these changes of "tradition" as a challenge to their basic understanding of how the world is supposed to work.


Whether it's Alexander Hamilton or Andrew Jackson or Benjamin Franklin or Ulysses S. Grant, someone will have to lose his spot to make room on the buckaroo bus. Whether it's Harriet Tubman or Martin Luther King Jr. or Elanor Roosevelt, a new face and a broader understanding of the true history of the United States of America will eventually be front and center on the federal documents we handle on a daily basis. It's symbolic for sure, but just like integrating bathrooms or housing or public transportation, making certain that all kinds and types of people are evident and even celebrated is significant to a population who aren't all white guys as much as some seem to forget that fact.


Andrew Jackson will not stop being a significant historical figure because he's replaced on a bit of currency, and neither is it required to demean him beyond his already famous faults to justify his replacement. It's just a necessary change in a country which needs to reorganize the limited parameters of its public imagination. And no, it's not sufficient to do something else to celebrate those new faces, as I hear so many critics quickly put up as a dodge on this issue. We are finally a nation which has celebrated having a black president, the first in forty-four tries and soon we might be celebrating a woman taking the helm for the first time. If that happens both events will for the time being, still remain one-offs. We aren't there yet folks.


But those changes nonetheless threaten many folks who still imagine that life is what it is pretended to have been in some misty golden era when America was "great". I fear the current fascination some folks have with returning to that imagined greatness is about limiting access and keeping a rigged game in place for those who have traditionally been in charge. I guess it shouldn't amaze me that this is a controversy after all, since the very fact it is a controversy, proves the need for us to make the changes and move beyond it.

It's not "politically correct" to want to finally at long last have someone other than a dead white guy on the money we use. It's just a necessary course correction. 

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

I Am Iron Man!


An exceedingly talented, but woefully arrogant man with substance abuse issues which threaten to derail a brilliant career. That's both a description of Tony Stark the character and the man who has played him many times Robert Downey Jr. Rarely in my experience has an actor so thoroughly owned a part as Downey has done Iron Man. When he says at the end of the first movie "I am Iron Man.", it was totally true in that fictional moment and as it turns out has come to be true for several years and arguably for several years to come. Now with his sixth (or is it seventh) outing in the role about to hit theaters and his future as the character more assured, it's clear that Downey is going to "be" Iron Man for a long time to come.


The only comparison I can think of is when Batman and Adam West were bonded for all time in the iconic 60' s TV series. West could not shake the character and other actors would forever and day be compared (even when it was a total waste of time) to the classic West rendition. (To a somewhat lesser extent this happened with Christopher Reeve and George Reeves with Superman; the untimely deaths of both men making the comparison less apt.) Downey has done that now with Iron Man. It's difficult to imagine someone else playing the part, and if they do (which I imagine is inevitable if the movies keep making great jack) that actor will have a damn difficult time moving out of Downey's shadow.

George Tuska and Frank Giacoia

The reason is simple. Tony Stark seems to be Downey, or at least as we perceive him. The wild arrogance which defines the character seems to be a trait which Downey has. The endless quips, the rough and tumble banter have been so ingrained that the more sober Iron Man long evident in the comics has been demolished and replaced. In my own imagination, when I thought of Iron Man the first image was something from the long rich tapestry created by George Tuska, but in more recent years I see Downey in the role.


Now there are limits of course. When the attempt was made (stupidly) to take that wiseacre act to the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle it bombed. Downey's Sherlock Holmes is a parody unfortunately. It's one of the greatest examples of a hand being overplayed that I can think of. But I see a third one is in the works...sigh.


As good as Chris Evans is as Captain America (and he's outstanding), as ideal as Scarlet Johanson is as Black Widow (and she's delightful), Downey's Iron Man still holds sway. The Avengers movies are just Iron Man movies by another name, or at least that's got to be how Tony would imagine it to be.

I never would've predicted it. I thought he was miscast. I was wrong. He is Iron Man.

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