Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Golden Derby - April 1967!

Fifty years ago this month there was a blockbuster event at the small Derby, Connecticut publisher known as Charlton. Steve Ditko's great recreation Blue Beetle hit the stands with a mighty number one issue. It was the final piece of the "Action Hero" line and alongside the new Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) there debuted The Question, a hero properly fit for Ditko's ever sharpening political tracts. Blue Beetle #1 is a fantastic comic, chock full of entertainment and arguably the apogee of the company's output at the time. Also on the stands was the latest issue of Captain Atom in which the good Captain battles his arch foe The Ghost again. The Blue Beetle is along for the ride in the back of this issue, the place he'd debuted some months before and at the same time a great way for editor Dick Giordano to cross-promote the new "Action Hero". In many ways, these two heroes (Captain Atom and Blue Beetle) are Charlton's legacy as both are (in mutated forms of course) still being published by DC Comics which long ago bought the rights. Judomaster #95 is also available in a new issue in which creator Frank McLaughlin has the "Scarlet Smasher" battle a foe dubbed The Acrobat. (Seems like Captain America was fighting an identically named villain at about this same time.) Dick Giordano supplies a terrific cover for Career Girl Romances which has a weird pop culture vibe, not unlike when members of the classic Rat Pack tried to evoke the zeitgeist of the era, something which they might'be had sympathy with, but not an affinity for. And the durable Jack Keller turns out another compelling cover for the adventures of Clint Curtis and the Road Knights in the latest issue of Hot Rods and Racing Cars.

More to come next month.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Godzilla's Robot Buddy!

When Godzilla's next opponent reared up in the 1993 flick Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla II there was little doubt that the battle would be ferocious, and it was. I'm a big fan of Mechagodzilla, really having enjoyed his original appearances in the canon in previous decades, and the rationale for his creation here is quite logical, to a point. I like that in this version he's actually bigger than Godzilla.

Godzilla's ongoing menace has prompted the creation of G-Force dedicated to his utter destruction. To that end they create Garuda, a gunship not unlike Super-X from the 1984 revival movie which kicked off the Heisei movies. They also use the technology from the defeated King Ghidorah (from a few movies past) to build the ultimate anti-Godzilla weapon, the Godzilla-like Mechagodzilla.

Meanwhile scientists find an egg on a distant plateau which is seemingly that of the flying Rodan. But it seems that actually Rodan has been fooled and the egg hatches to reveal a baby Godzilla. There is much battling and whatnot which proceeds from all this hectic activity, but in the end Rodan ends up helping Godzilla defeat Mechagodzilla while sacrificing his own life. The psychic Miki Sagura is able to bond with Baby Godzilla and even ends up influencing Godzilla himself to take the tyke under his protection and the movie ends as the parent and child head off into the ocean.

I was very much reminded of the classic British flick Gorgo by the ending. It does much to undermine Godzilla's status as a pure deadly monster and once again the movies begin the steady process of personifying him and to no small degree undermining his monster status.

More to come.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Doctor Doom - The Master Plan!

Fantastic Four #23 pits the Fab 4 against Doctor Doom yet again. This time Doom goes to some lengths to acquire a team to help him bring the FF low. That's not how he usually works, but as we'll see he is firmly in character by the story's end. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are joined on this issue by inker George Bell (George Roussos).

The story starts in the Baxter Building as the team go about their daily lives bickering about leadership and chasing down dinosaurs brought forward in time by Doctor Doom's time machine which has been brought there for study. Meanwhile Doctor Doom by means of a robot proxy gathers together three men by bailing them out of jail. The three are strongman Bull Brogan, con man "Handsome" Harry Phillips, and mystic Yogi Dakor. These three are given enhancements by Doom which make Brogan inhumanly strong, Phillips with keener hearing and Dakor made fire proof. Then the trio are sent to lure the Thing, Invisible Girl, and Torch into battle respectively and capture them.

Doom himself captures Mr. Fantastic and encases him in a clear box. Having no further use for the trio of villains Doom sends them to another dimension to await his call. Then the FF escape from Doom's clutches and a furious battle breaks out. When Doctor Doom tries to snare the team into a "Solar Wave" which will cast them into the depths of space he his forestalled by the Invisible Girl and finds himself falling victim to the trap. As he disappears into space the Fab 4 escape and ponder if he will once again return.

As it turns out this story has a neat little sequel which appeared in the pages of Strange Tales #122 when the "Terrible Trio" return from the other dimension and battle the Human Torch. Thanks to a reprinting in Marvel Tales I read this story long before I was ever able to read the FF story which introduced the Trio.

Doctor Doom of course does return, but that will wait until the second Fantastic Four Annual which not only returns the master villain but gives us a fully-fledged origin story as well.

More on those most important stories later.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Inhumanizng Influence!

I loved this alternate cover when I first glommed my eyeballs onto it. I was totally jazzed way back in the earliest 70's when Jack "King" Kirby was given the chance to start up The Inhumans in their own title (of sorts). In the grand tradition of Marvel, it was a split-book titled Amazing Adventures and co-starred the Black Widow.

Here's a look at the sumptuous artwork by Kirby and inker Chic Stone given  modern gloss and depth suitable for its new status as a cover image.

It began life as a splash page, the first first splash page and as we see the Inhumans are racing at you with all the proper energy and intensity. Given only ten pages to work with, Kirby was unable to offer up his by then typical classic splashes on this series and so this first page had to serve. The read the story itself go here. Nice to see some vintage Kirby get a new place of prominence in the marketplace. If I see this one on the stands I might just have to grab up a copy.

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Red Eye Out!

As you might suspect from many of my previous comments I am not a particular fan of Fox News. The cable news outlet has been of even more notoriety recently because of the belated firing of the loathsome Bill O'Reilly, but it's other Fox programming changes which prompt my comment today -- the cancellation after ten years of the late-night "comedy" show Red Eye.

I've been watching Red Eye off and on since it's beginning. For one thing it's original programming at a time when I for some reason am all too often awake. As is obvious from postings here, I function mostly strongly in the early hours (losing steam steadily as the day drifts by). Mostly on TV are old movies, vintage TV series, or reruns of news shows which aired earlier in prime time. In the middle of all of that popped up an irreverent "news" show named appropriately enough Red Eye. It was hosted by Greg Gutfield originally, and other regulars included Bill Schulz the rare liberal voice on Fox and Andy Levy, a truly dedicated Libertarian. The show offered up what Fox News promoted most of the rest of the day but almost never produced, a show which was well and truly "fair and balanced". With a snarky lack of respect for authorities of all kinds and a rambunctious disrespect for decorum, the show was an uneven and occasionally even blithely absurd bag of commentary on the events of the time, both large and tiny.

Bill Schulz left after a time and his liberal perspective was never adequately replaced, and Gutfield left the show for other parts of the Fox News landscape becoming more and more a standard party hack and less the unpredictable voice he'd been in the deep night. Only Andy Levy remained and it was for Andy's "Halftime Reports" that I mostly tuned in, often just for those in recent years. Levy is a commentator with real conviction who is unafraid to critique all in the world which he finds offensive or stupid, and that is regardless of the political persuasion. As "Obamamania" swept up the Fox News company, Red Eye remained an outpost where a somewhat more fair assessment of those years sometimes broke through.

It's a shame Red Eye got cancelled, but truth told since the advent of host Tom Shillue the show had already to a great degree abandoned its unpredictable nature and had become yet another place where I could anticipate a steady if not quite unrelenting criticism of anything labeled "liberal" or "progressive". In a world in which far too many consumers of media hunt down only those outlets which confirm their inclinations, a show like Red Eye is even more necessary, at least a show like Red Eye was once upon a time.

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The Sinister Dr. Doom!

While reading about a British Doctor Doom here, I learned that DC Comics had created their own "Dr.Doom" way back in 1950, many years before Stan and Jack used the nom de crime for their Fab 4 master villain. The DC Dr.Doom was a one-shot Atomic Age character who appeared in Detective Comics a single time, and appeared to die in a final fashion at the story's end.

The story written by Edmond Hamilton, goes that while taking an inventory of their one thousand trophies in the Batcave, Batman and his youthful ward Robin get a call from Commissioner Gordon about a smuggler named Dr.Doom. They arrive to see the villain seemingly drown, but little do they know that he has hidden himself in a mummy case. That case ends up in the Batcave where the sinister Dr.Doom appears with a improvised plot to kill off the Dynamic Duo.

But his scheme falls short and Batman and Robin survive while Dr.Doom himself gets trapped inside the air-tight case and suffocates. The air fully out of his villainy he is apparently never deemed worthy of revival (even by the likes of Steve Englehart) and so remains among Batman's long list of deceased enemies.

And that's why the name "Doctor Doom" was ready and waiting when Stan and Jack needed it for their malevolent mastermind in the full bloom of the Silver Age.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

What Is Bugging Godzilla?

Maybe it's because the first Godzilla movie I ever saw was a late-night presentation of Godzilla Vs. The Thing, but I've always liked Mothra, Mothra works despite so many elements of the creation working against it. For one thing there's no expression possible with the giant insect which just flies from perch to perch using its giant wings to blow things around. The larvae form of the Mothra can shoot out silky fibers to entrap its enemies but they always move so slowly that it's difficult (not unlike the Mummy) to really feel much threatened by them. All that said, the sheer elegance of the creation of Mothra works.

So that made me actually anxious to see Godzilla Vs. Mothra - The Battle For Earth. This project apparently began as a straight up Mothra project but it was decided that Godzilla was a better antagonist for the god-moth.

The story is somewhat convoluted but echoes in many ways the original confrontation between the two monsters from decades before. Godzilla is awakened and later a giant egg is found on a distant island protected by two little girls dubbed the "Cosmos". We get an ancient yarn about there being two moth-gods, Mothra and another named Battra who fought long ago with Mothra coming out on top. Now it appears Battra seems to be on the verge of being revived. Meanwhile a devious business man tries to kidnap the Cosmos and gain control of their power. Mothra and Battra emerge at last and begin to fight when Godzilla pops out of Mount Fuji and the two team up to take on the greater threat. This ends up with Battra's destruction and Godzilla imprisoned again. But now Mothra must take up a prophesied mission for Battra and leaves Earth with the freed Cosmos to confront a deadly meteor headed for Earth in the future.

There's a hectic activity to this one and the battles between the monsters are pretty good, though as with all battles with Mothra, the fights are limited in their kinetic variety. All in all this one gets good marks for tone, but can't really be called exciting at much any point.

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