Sunday, May 20, 2018

Not The Trump You're Thinking Of!


Most magazines that flame out after only two issues would likely not be all that memorable or significant. That's not the case with Harvey Kurtzman's Trump, a magazine he produced briefly for Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner. After his split from William Gaines Jr. and MAD magazine, Kurtzman was casting about for his next gig and already had a scheme worked up with Hefner to produce a satire magazine. To that end he brought with him several of the original MAD talents and for two dazzling installments they made a go of it.


But for complicated reasons, some having to do with the compulsive personalities of both Kurtzman and Hefner and some having to do with the simple rigors of publishing finance, the book only lasted for two issues. Kurtzman and his gang went on to other gigs, and of course Hefner's success is well documented. But Trump was a failure, at least financially.


The intentions with Trump was to repeat the wild satirical energy of MAD but in a slick magazine format. The features in the debut are a weird blend of what one might've discovered in a typical issue of MAD along with somewhat more visually exotic devices using photographs. There's a wacky fold-out in this first issue, which spoofs the infamous fold-outs of the sister magazine Playboy. Oddly Alfred E. Neuman makes a cameo in this feature. The little figure who adorns the cover is called "The Knave" and many suggest this spare cover style, an apparent attempt to separate the magazine from its inspiration MAD is one reason the magazine failed to find an audience. That would be true if if in fact the magazine had not sold well, but it did.


The second issue has a cover which is even less visually robust than the first one, almost a negative companion. It was not the plan for there to be only two issues, there was a third in production when the cancellation of the mag came abruptly and from Hefner himself to a gobsmacked Kurtzman. Stories vary, some suggest it was merely financial hijinks which doomed Trump, but Hefner himself later indicated he was unhappy with the magazine. Whatever the case, he was not especially unhappy with Kurtzman, as he hired him along with Will Elder to draw Little Annie Fannie for a few decades, some years after Trump folded.


Having looked at the first two issues of this magazine, thanks to the great Dark Horse reprint tome which is filled with explanatory notes by Denis Kitchen, I can see what Kurtzman wanted to create. He'd keep trying, but the magazine of his dreams wouldn't come along for a few more decades and it would be by other folks inspired by MAD no doubt, but younger men and they'd call it The National Lampoon.


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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Magoo Goes Mad!


I've been reading MAD magazine collections and related material lately. And I've also been watching The Mr. Magoo Show from 1960 and 1961. So I was well and truly gobsmacked when these two things crashed into one another in the Magoo cartoon "Magoo and the Beanstalk".  As you can imagine from the title, the Magoo animators took the classic tale of Jack and the Beanstalk and slammed the myopic Magoo into it. Spoilers be below, so tread carefully.


We meet a forlorn giant named Alfred whose face we never see, but who is unhappy that no one has climbed a beanstalk and brought about fame and fortune for him as they did for his dad and mom. Immediately a beanstalk grows in Magoo's garden and the brash old Magoo rides it up into the clouds where he mistakes the giant's castle for his neighbor's house. He makes off with the giant's belt and we see that the giant is left alone once again where it is revealed that he is reading a MAD magazine, (issue twenty-six seen above) and that when his face is revealed he is Alfred E. Neuman and spouts his famous like of "What me worry?" when asked about what will happen next. It's a bit if a shocker really, to see such a specific reference to another character and publication.


I've been unable to find out much about it online, so if anyone can point me in a direction, I'd love to learn more about how this crossover came to be. Here's a little bit at the Big Cartoon Database.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

MAD's Original Idiots - Wally Wood!


Wally Wood has to be my favorite of the original MAD artists. More than any other artist, Wood was able to find that delightful middle ground between his MAD spoof style and his regular style used on the many adventures he drew over the decades. The sweet spot he discovered allowed his art to be instantly recognizable regardless of the genre he worked in.


Wally Wood was also the most tragic of the classic talents who launched MAD. He was a man tormented by health issues, both physical and spiritual and that eventually resulted in his taking his own life when he was still a relatively young man. But it was not before he inspired a cavalcade of young talents, providing them inspiration and opportunity in the various fan and alternative pro comics and strips he pursued during his career.


Most folks are pretty certain it was the phenomenal success of Kurtzman and Wood's "Superduperman" that cemented MAD as a must-have for fanboys across the generation. It's an amazing send up of a classic property and has never really been topped as many times as the Son of Krypton has been spoofed. Later he did the same for Batman.


It's hard to pick a favorite of his MAD parodies, they are all so very good and so very consistent but perhaps I'd have to give the nod to Prince Violent and Flesh Garden because they are the King Features triumvirate.


It's too bad he didn't get around to doing a Phantom spoof too.


Wally Wood was a master, largely self-taught, he was sadly the tortured artist we think about in the cliches about great artists. But for all his pain or perhaps because of it, he was great.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Dojo Classics - Bubba Ho-Tep!


I'm late to this party I know, but I found a cheap copy of Bruce Campbell's Bubba Ho-Tep at my local Borders and it has become my new favorite movie. I've watched it a several times, with commentary and without, and I'm about ready for another viewing. This is a great flick, full of belly laughs, significant social commentary, and mummies!


The movie came out in 2002 sort of. The saga of getting this movie made and shown is a fascinating tale on its own. Joe Lansdale, a sometimes comic book writer, first wrote the long short story "Bubba Ho-Tep" many years ago for an Elvis anthology. Briefly it tells the story of an aging Elvis Presley stranded in an old folks home in East Texas and along with a black man who is convinced he's JFK, and together they confront an ancient misplaced mummy who lurks about the place sucking the souls of the helpless oldsters. The director Don Coscarelli got the movie going for very small money and created a wonder to behold, a true gem of a little film. Then he and Campbell literally carried it around showing it until it became a hit at film festivals, before getting some theater release.


Bruce Campbell is outstanding as the old Elvis, the late great Ossie Davis is magnificent as "Jack", and the other cast members do great work to sell this impossible scenario. The tone, the atmosphere of this movie are compelling. The score is magnificent despite having not a lick of Elvis music in it (too costly for this little flick) and the ending is pure schmaltz, too perfect to debate.


The special features on my copy are superb. There's a really good and insightful commentary by Campbell and Coscarelli, and another commentary by Elvis himself (Campbell in character as the King watching the movie for the first time, it's insanely funny all by itself).


This movie has been out there a long time. I've heard of it, but never ever seen it. I've been negligent and if you're like me, then you need to make a point to find and watch Bubba Ho-Tep the best "redemptive Elvis mummy movie" (to quote Campbell) around today!


There's a joke at the end of it about an upcoming movie called Bubba Nosferatu, and there has been an attempt to actually make it, but Campbell has said no, so it's no longer in the offing. I'd be afraid a sequel would take the bloom off this classic masterpiece of filmmaking. It's an exquisite movie.

Why this hasn't been adapted to comics I'll never know. It seems a natural.


UPDATE: While the movie Bubba Ho-Tep has not been adapted to comics still, Joe Lansdale has written a prequel featuring Elvis which hit the stands just yesterday. I didn't coordinate this re-post by the way, it's just a fluke. I didn't get the debut issue of Bubba Ho-Tep and the Cosmic Bloodsuckers but I will likely get any trade from the folks at IDW.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Beastmaster!


I have always appreciated the movie The Beastmaster. I didn't realize until recently that it was directed by Don Coscarelli, the director of Phantasm and one of my all-time fave movies Bubba Ho-Tep (more on that tomorrow).


When I went to see The Beastmaster in the theaters, I knew I liked the look of Marc Singer in the title role, his physique was exactly what I wanted to see on Conan. Conan the Barbarian had recently been released and Arnold had made his muscular mark on that role, one which I always thought was too large. I've changed my mind a bit on that, but the lithe Singer was more like the early comic Conan than was Arnold and that I liked a lot. Also this movie features the fetching Tanya Roberts, fresh from her Charlie's Angels role and in this one deliciously topless for a blazing moment.


The story is derived sort of from the work of Andre Norton, though as I understand it, the changes made were so extensive that she removed her name from the project. The movie is really nothing like the exciting Norton books, which deserved a movie of their own.


The villain in this one is played by Rip Torn who does his usual bravura job of chewing scenery in grand fashion. The movie is a well-paced adventure with lots of magic and witchery to make it work. There are a few large-scale battles, one the sacking of Dar's hometown and later the seige of the city. The enemy is the Jund, underdeveloped barbarians who just seem to thunder across the landscape in impossible clouds and create mayhem.


The Beastmaster is very much a product of its time, but also has a timeless quality which allows it to be watched with aplomb many years later. There were two sequels, coming many years later, but they are not remotely as charming as the original, not in the least.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Margot Kidder R.I.P.


The passing of Margot Kidder has affected me more than I might've expected. The Superman movies of the late 70's were some of the most thoroughly convincing presentations of a superhero on screen I'd ever seen. Christopher Reeve was ideal in the title role but his counterpart of Lois Lane as portrayed by Margot Kidder added the pepper to a story which could have easily mired itself in schmaltz and self-importance. Kidder's Lois was a sultry and snarky and potent agent of her own, not looking to anyone on this world or any other to protect her, though her reckless nature made that saving important.


Kidder herself was a rambunctious person by all accounts who truly sucked the marrow out of life before life turned on her in brutal ways. Her difficulties are well known, and her brave, even brazen manner made her survive them all and even allowed us to root for her as she struggled to find balance in a life we all fight to make sense of. Margot Kidder was a "dame" of the first order, a powerful personality who for a brief time evoked a character who represented the best in us all, the desire to know the truth whatever the cost.

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Phantasms!


It's something of a mystery to me as to why I have only just now gotten around to seeing Don Coscarelli's Phantasm. Doubtless I was put off by what I perceived to be the slasher and horror elements of the movie which I assumed was just a typical gory mess from the era. I was really wrong about that. Phantasm is a low-budget masterpiece. It's a movie made over a very long time on a shoestring budget by people dedicated to the weird project. We don't have a slasher film here at all, but a dreamlike horror movie which plays with the head as much as the gut. It's a quiet and suspenseful movie which doesn't pretend to answer all the questions it asks and I have to say I'm sorry I never got around to seeing this flick sooner.


It would be many years before there was Phantasm II and frankly it's a rather poor follow up. The lead actor Michael Baldwin from the first movie was denied by the new studio bosses in this one and his replacement is capable but not the same. They wanted to turn what had been a bizarre tone piece into an action horror blend and it's a mess full of visual gags and nonsense. It's clear in this second story that Reggie Bannister who plays the Ice Cream man named "Reggie" will be a focus of the story. He becomes the center of the story and over the next several sequels the glue that holds the yarn together along with Angus Scrimm as the mysterious and vile "Tall Man".



Phantasm III and Phantasm IV were made pretty much at the same time and the return in both of the original hero played by Michael Baldwin allows them to reclaim much of the flavor of the original, though both while giving us more insights into the mystery of the "Tall Man" don't actually tell us everything. And that's the beauty of these Phantasm movies, the same as existed with the Wolverine character for many years, a profound mystery at the core which defies exposure, though remaining tantalizingly close to revelation. It's a nifty formula to keep the fans coming back. Also Reggie is back as the main driver in the story, becoming more and more central to narrative. Both these movies were direct-to-video, though neither was made with that intention, and one can tell that was a significant disappointment for director Coscarelli.



And finally from 2016 we get the fifth and "final" Phantasm movie, this one named Phantasm Ravager. Our heroes have aged and the new director, under the close watch of producer Coscarelli, does much good work taking advantage of this changed circumstance. This is the best Phantasm movie since the original and does a wonderful job of switching up timelines and creating a mystery which is more than a mere conundrum. We follow our  heroes as they confront mortality in real time. Angus Scrimm  actually passed away soon after this final movie was made. It gives this last Phantasm a sting of reality which adds to the luster of the storytelling, sad as that might be. These movies are purported to be reflections on mortality and certainly this final one does that in spades.


You can get the Phantasm movies cheaply enough these days and I heartily recommend them. I'm late coming to this fascinating show, but I'm glad I finally did.

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