Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mind-numblingly shameless self-promotion.

My little e-pamplet--99 Films and Cartoons Your Children MUST See Before Growing Up: OR THEY'LL TURN OUT TO BE AXE MURDERERS!!--has garnered a couple of good reviews. Here's one of them:

Wonderful guide to many "almost forgotten" pop culture gems that will be great fodder for fun family viewing. Lots of great choices, and very insightful (and funny) commentary. There are loads of great stories, characters and even heroes for kids to be found here... and boomers will be reminded of some beloved treasures from their own past. A great guide for families wanting a change of pace from the glitz and crap passing for entertainment today.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

Mr and Mrs North: "Fool's Gold" 10/14/52

Most mystery series need two elements to survive: a well-crafted mystery AND a likeable and/or interesting protagonist.

Pam and Jerry North were certainly likeable enough. He was a publisher and she a housewife, but they seemed to stumble over corpses with alarming frequency. Fortunately, Pam (despite seeming a bit scatterbrained) has a talent for deductive reasoning and usually manages to point out the killer by the end of any one episode.

The show was based on an equally entertaining series of mystery novels. Initially played by Alice Frost and Joseph Curtain, the Norths are an appealing pair--witty, smart and obviously in love with each other. Dropped into reasonably clever whodunits each week, they usually managed to deliver a satisfying half-hour of radio each episode.

"Fool's Gold," though, kind of emphasises yet another aspect of murder mysteries that is always in the background in just about any entry from the genre. The episode is works as an almost classical tragedy as well as a whodunit.

A man is serving on a jury. His greedy adult daughter convinces him to take a bribe to insist the gambler on trial is innocent. When the man's wife later learns about this, she feels obligated to report it.

But the wife soon turns up dead. Convinced the gambler is responsible, the husband attempts to kill him in revenge. But is the gambler the killer? Pam North soon helps clarify that matter.

It is indeed both a well-written whodunit and a tragedy. The poor sap who takes the bribe gives way to greed just once. This snowballs out of control and by the end of the episode, his family has been destroyed and he's off to jail. It's his own fault, of course, but you can't help feeling sorry for him.

That's something that's in the background of just about every murder mystery ever written--just about all of them are on some level morality plays as well as mysteries. That's probably one reason the genre always remains popular.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mickey, Horace and a really good gut punch.

If I ever need help rescuing a kidnapped girl from gypsies, who should I call? Batman and Robin? No, not tough enough. The Green Hornet and Kato? No, not skilled enough in hand-to-hand combat.

No, I’d call two guys who make those heroes look like wimpy losers. I’d call Mickey Mouse and Horace Horsecollar.

For proof, I refer you to a 1931 sequence from the Mickey Mouse comic strip. Minnie has been kidnapped, having learned that she has a rich uncle. But the uncle is off traveling and can’t be contacted for the ransom money.

Fortunately, Mickey learns she’s being held in a abandoned mill. So he’s off to the rescue.

Though outnumbered, Mickey (with an assist from Minnie) acquits himself quite well and gets his gal out of the mill. But there’s more villains waiting outside.

That’s when Mickey’s pal Horace shows up. He starts laying out gypsies right and left. Look at the gut punch he’s throwing in the first panel of the strip just below. That’s a good punch. It kinda hurts just looking at it.

Then Horace’s girlfriend Clarabelle Cow gets involved and the bad guys are soon in full retreat.

The Mickey strip was primarily done by Floyd Gottfredson, who did both the story and pencils on the kidnapping sequence. Gottfredson accomplishes something very similar to what Carl Barks would do with Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck in the 1940s and 1950s—he balanced a funny animal strip full of gags with solid adventure storytelling. The end result was a unique and always enjoyable comic strip.

Batman? The Green Hornet? Spider Man? Nightwing? Bah—amateurs and pikers.  When facing off against villainy, I’ll take Mickey and Horace every time.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: April 1967


There’s no rest for the weary—as soon as they get home, the FF gets attacked by some of Reed’s own scientific devices. It soon turns out that the Sandman has again infiltrated the Baxter Building and is turning Reed’s own stuff against him.

This is the introduction of the more high-tech looking costume that the Sandman would wear for several years before finally reverted back to his traditional stripped shirt. I have to say that I never really cared for the newer look. In the end, Flint Marko is just a thug who lucked on to a super-power. The stripped shirt fit his personality. The high-tech suit is just too generic.

Which brings me to another change in the character I don’t think really worked. Flint’s been “brushing up on his science” and is now able to operate many of the devices he’s captured into weapons. I can’t really buy that. I know the Marvel Universe is one where anyone who likes to tinker in his machine shop can build a super weapon, but Flint doing a little reading on the side and then becoming an expert on Reed Richards-designed tech is stretching things a little too far.

But all whining aside, it’s still a good issue with a typically wonderful fight scene.

Other events mixed in with this include the Silver Surfer’s board flying back to him while he’s being tormented by some of Doom’s guards. With his powers now back, he announces that he’s decided the entire human race is evil and, leveling Doom’s castle, flies off.

Also, the Inhuman royal family is hiding out in Europe until they can decide whether or not it’s safe to make contact with humanity. Crystal, though, is pining over Johnny. Black Bolt lets her take Lockjaw to find her one true love. They find Wyatt, who tells her about the battle with Sandman.

That battle ends when Reed blows the hatch leading to the Negative Zone. (This is, I believe, the first issue in which it is called the Negative Zone rather than simply sub-space.)  Sandman has to beat a hasty retreat to avoid being sucked in to the Zone. Reed, though, actually IS sucked into the Zone. He’s LOST FOREVER!!!

Well, he’s not, of course. But this is the set up for yet another well-written and beautifully visualized adventure.


We start this issue with a flashback to a scene we’ve actually never seen before. It turns out that when Kraven the Hunter last fought Spider Man, he was being paid by the Green Goblin to do so. And he followed a man he THOUGHT was the Goblin’s flunky back to Norman Osborn’s home, coming to the erroneous conclusion that Osborn worked for the Goblin.

Now out of prison, Kraven reads that the Goblin is “dead.” So he decides to find Norman Osborn and get some money from him, figuring he earned some pay for at least trying to take out Spidey. I’m not sure of Kraven’s business logic, but it fits quite nicely into his egotistical character.

That all leads to Kraven trying to kidnap Harry Osborn at Flash Thompson’s going-away party. Norman shows up soon after and Kraven captures him. But when Norman claims to know nothing about the Goblin, Kraven’s jungle instincts detect he’s telling the truth. Disgusted, he leaves Norman behind and leaves. Jungle instincts are apparently fooled by amnesia. (Of course, Norman fully believed he was telling the truth, so I really shouldn’t make fun of that plot point.)

The whole kidnapping thing is wrapped inside Kraven’s fight with Spider Man, who manages to save Harry, but get knocked out while trying to save Norman. This leads to an interesting ending to the conflict. Kraven finally defeats the websliinger, but really doesn’t care because he was concentrating on collecting a perceived debt from Norman. After he decides that the Goblin had tricked him months ago into just thinking Norman was a henchman, he simply leaves the scene.

The finally two panels are really nicely done. Peter says goodbye to Flash and sincerely wishes him luck. Flash coughs up a near-compliment for Peter.

That takes Flash out of continuity for a time, which gives us an opportunity to look back at his evolving characterization. Stan Lee really handled him nicely. He was the high school bully, but every so often would show a nicer side to himself. Now a few years later, he’s matured past the overt bully phase, but can still be a bit of a jerk while also showing signs of being a decent and brave man. (He attempts to jump Kraven when the villain first grabbed Harry, for instance.) When he returns to Spider Man, he and Peter will evolve into friends. When its all said and done, Flash’s character arc is very human and very believable.

THOR #139

Thor is stuck on Earth without his hammer, about to turn back into Donald Blake. Knowing that Asgard is being overrun by trolls, his off-the-cuff plan is to allow himself to be run over by a subway car after reverting to Blake. Then he’ll go to Valhalla and be in position to defend Asgard again.

This is a brave but dumb plan, since a GODDESS CAPABLE OF TELEPORTING THEM BOTH TO ASGARD IS STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO HIM. Fortunately, Sif keeps her head and makes the suicide gambit unnecessary. In fact, she zeros in on Mjolnir, zapping Thor and herself into position inside the trolls cavernous homeland.

In the meantime, the troll army, equipped with super-scientific/magical weapons from another dimension, are on the verge of overrunning Asgard. Odin is kicking butt and taking names, but it’s uncertain if even he can stand against the onslaught.

But Thor regains his hammer, knocks out Ulik and frees a super-being called Orikal, who had been forced to provide the trolls with the super-weapons. Orikal zips back to his home dimension, the troll weapons stop working and Asgard wins the war.

I’m describing this very briefly, but this is once again a plot which allows Jack Kirby’s art to really shine. Once again, every panel looks awesome and drips with a sense of cosmic power. The bizarre designs of the troll weapons (such as the “ulti-force cannon”—I’m not sure what it does, but it looks fantastic) only add to the coolness factor, as do several successive panels of Thor and Ulik pounding away at each other again. .  Even considering Thor’s brief moment of plot-induced stupidity at the beginning, this is a great story.

The Tales of Asgard feature involves Thor and the Warriors Three locating Mogul’s mountain fortress (the mountain actually stretches down underground rather than up into the sky), confronting Mogul’s giant jinn in the last panel. These feature continues to exist primarily to showcase Kirby’s strength as an incredible artist.

That’s it for April. In May, Reed Richards continues to drift through the Negative Zone; Spider Man encounters another old enemy; and Thor returns to Earth to face a threat from the future.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cover Cavalcade

I think the artist here manages to generate an appropriately creepy vibe, even though the ghost is actually kinda nice-lookin'.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

NBC University Theater: "For Whom the Bell Tolls"--11/20/49

This show and Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre on the Air both did pretty much the same thing--one hour-long adaptations of classic novels.

Both were excellent series, which is an amazing accomplishment when you consider the challenge of jamming a novel-length story into an hour time slot. Sometimes, this would lead the writers to rush through a story a little too quickly for it to be completely satistfying. But sometimes, the episode would work because it draws on one aspect or plot-line from the original novel and concentrates almost exclusively on that.

That's what the creative staff of NBC University Theater did when they turned to Ernest Hemingway's classic story set during the Spanish Civil War. The main character is an American named Robert Jordan, who is fighting for the Republicans. Traveling behind enemy lines to blow up an important bridge, he hooks up with a band of guerilla fighters led by a man named Pablo.

And it is this dynamic--the clash of wills between Jordan and Pablo (and the uncomfortable possibility that Jordan might have to assassinate Pablo)--that the radio adaptation concentrates on. And it does a great job, especially a sequence in which Pilar, Pablo's woman, recounts the story of how Pablo once led an attack on a particular town and had all the captured facist leaders executed afterwards.

Of course, this leaves out a lot of cool stuff. Jordan's romance with Maria is absent (Maria is there, just not as an important character). The last stand of El Sordo and his band is gone. Jordan's internal thoughts about the morality of war are gone. Anyone familar with the book will miss all this, but the show does such a good job with what it does keep that there's really no reason to complain. It's an excellent hour of drama, demonstrating just how good a storytelling medium radio can be.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Woes of Suspended Animation

The April 21, 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone was “The Rip Van Winkle Caper.” Written by Rod Serling, it’s a very good entry in the series. Not one of the classics, but still a solid story.

Actually, if you get to know Serling’s style as a writer, you can start to identify the Zone episodes he wrote by listening to the rhythms and word choices in the dialogue.  Dialogue was one of his real strengths as a writer, maybe coming from the fact that he starting his career doing radio scripts, having been influenced by skilled writers such as Arch Oboler and Norman Corwin.  Serling developed a knack for using just the right word choices and sentence structures needed to advance both characterizations and stories.

On The Twilight Zone, his sharp dialogue was helped along by the many excellent character actors who appeared on the show. In “The Rip Van Winkle Caper,” Simon Oakland and Oscar Beregi, Jr. bring solid credibility to the lead roles.

Anyway, the point of this post is to point out an instance where Serling may have re-used an incident from this episode in a later screenplay.  “The Rip Van Winkle Caper” is about four guys who rob a gold shipment. One of them is a scientist. They hide out in a cave in the desert, where the scientist will put them all into suspended animation for 100 years. When they wake up, the heat will be off and they can freely spend their ill-gotten gains.

Well, when only three of them wake up. A falling rock cracked open the suspension chamber of the fourth guy—all that’s left of him is a decayed skeleton.

It’s an effective scene visually and also helps advance the plot by confirming to the other characters (and to us) that they actually have been asleep for a century.

Now let’s jump ahead about seven years. Serling is co-writer of the screenplay for the original Planet of the Apes, staring Charlton Heston. 

As this movie begins, four astronauts are in suspended animation during a long space voyage. When they crash land on a planet, three of them wake up. The fourth, though, is a mummified corpse. Her suspension chamber cracked open during the flight. 

That makes me think that maybe Serling consciously re-used the same idea to convey the same information to us—that the characters had been in suspended animation for a very long time. 

I’m not familiar enough with the production history of Apes to know this for sure. I know other writers worked on the script after Serling did a first draft, so I don’t even know for sure if he put that incident into the story.

But if he did, and if it was deliberately lifted from his previous script, then it’s to his credit as a writer.  Serling was a great writer—he understood story construction and good characterizations. Recognizing that he could re-use a small detail that helped one story along for the same purpose in another story (but still keep both stories original) is something I could see him doing. He was talented enough to know when he could "steal" from himself without hurting the quality of his work.

I wish Serling had stuck around longer—he died in 1975 at the age of 50. There have been few television shows that have matched the best Twlight Zone episodes in terms of great stories and sharp dialogue. The Vast Wasteland that is network TV has always needed more of that quality.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

More Terrifying Than a Tyrannosaurus!!!!

Turok and Andar, the two American Indians who spent many comic book years trapped in the Lost Valley, had more than their share of dinosaur encounters. Fortunately for them, they had learned how to coat their arrow points with a virulent poison, making them effective Weapons of Mass Destruction against even the largest saurian killer.

But, though taking on the average T-Rex was all in a days work, there were at least two issues from the mid-1960s when Turok was forced to go one-on-one against particularly nasty meat-eaters.

The first instance was in Turok, Son of Stone #46 (November 1965). Turok and Andar find a giant stone wall and decide to climb it to see if it leads to a way out of the valley. But they inadvertently cause a rock slide that weakens the wall. This soon allows a legendary monster named Karalak to burst through.

The local cave men had described Karalak as a fire-breathing, multi-armed creature. Well, it turns out to be a really, really big carnosaur. And I mean REALLY BIG—this guy can strangle a brontosaurus and apparently consider the ensuing meal to be just a light snack.

Sentenced to death by the cave men unless they kill the monster, Turok and Andar go hunting.

Karalak turns out to be annoyingly hard to kill. It’s immune to their poison arrows. So they try to lure it off a cliff; set fire to it; and dump an avalanche on it. It’s only when Karalak chases Turok into a swamp that the Indian is able to improvise a last-minute plan to lure it to its death.

Well, you’d think one particularly nasty carnosaur would fill poor Turok’s quota for awhile. But only a few months later (Turok #50—March 1966), the same darn thing happens again.

Well, almost the same thing. While exploring a high-altitude section of the valley, they see a large carnosaur frozen in the ice. This particular beasty seems to be a mish-mash of several different species—he’s got the basic dino meat-eater shape, but the carapace and tail of an anklyosaurus.

An earthquake changes the landscape enough to let direct sunlight hit the frozen area and the monster is soon running loose. It soon proves to be a pretty nasty creature, able to mop the floor with gangs of more conventional carnosaurs.

Turok finds some cave paintings that indicate this creature will soon lay a large batch of eggs. Both it and the eggs will need to be destroyed or this powerful species might overrun the whole valley. Basically, they opt to finish off an endangered species—PETA would hate this story. 

The trouble was is that the Indians were currently out of poison arrows (a situation left over from the previous issue in a rare instance of between-issue continuity). That means escaping the monster long enough to find a poison berry patch and make some more of their WMDs.

But that’s actually the easy part. The hard part is getting rid of those darn eggs. The monster lays them on the bottom of a river that seems to be infested with countless meat-eating monsters—everything from over-sized piranha to a hungry plesiosaur to the traditional multi-tentacled giant squid.  Our heroes make several attempts to get to the eggs without becoming lunch for something before they finally figure out how to succeed.

Most Turok stories were written by Paul S. Newman (no, not THAT Paul Newman) and drawn by Alberto Giolitti. In past posts, I’ve often praised the dynamic painted covers from this series, but been a little bit critical of the artwork. As I look at these stories again via the current Turok Archives reprints, though, I become more and more appreciative of Giolitti’s art. I’ll always think of his figure work as a little bit stiff, but his jungle designs are often magnificent and his sense of composition was really sharp.

And Newman was a skilled writer in the best pulp/comic book tradition, a man able to churn out a huge volume of quality work—never producing a true classic, but always telling a entertaining story.

One thing I really like about the Turok stories is how the protagonist is presented as an intelligent and quick-thinking man. Turok and Andar were given an effective anti-dinosaur weapon pretty early on, but Newman and other writers were always placing them in situations where simply firing another barrage of poison arrows wasn’t enough to get the job done. They had to THINK—as well as fight--their way out of dangerous situations.

Well, that completes our visit to the Lost Valley. Next week, we’ll return to the Marvel Universe.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

Casey, Crime Photographer: “Treasure Cave” 9/25/47
The character of Flashgun Casey was originally created in 1934, in a series of short stories written by George Harman Coxe.

Flashgun was a hard-boiled, tough news photographer who took pride in doing his job well, but whose empathetic nature would often sink him deeper into a criminal investigation than simply snapping a few pictures.

Coxe’s stories are fun and fast-moving—worthy additions to the hard-boiled genre.

But when Casey came to radio, he was softened up quite a bit. A pretty girl reporter, Ann Matthews, became his regular partner in what was a much more traditional whodunit.

For fans of Coxe’s original character, this is a bit disappointing. But, on the other hand, the show was well-written and well-produced. The mysteries were fairly constructed and intriguing. If Casey didn’t have the same strong personality as his prose counterpart, at least he was likeable and believable as a crime-solver.

In this episode, Casey, Ann and Captain Logan (their regular police contact) end up investigating a series of mysterious deaths in a remote cave. Supposedly, the cave is haunted by the ghosts of pirates and each of the victims died in some strange way related to old-time piracy—one was drowned, one was cut down with a cutlass and the third was shot with a flintlock pistol.

Our heroes soon figure out what’s going on (though not in time to stop another murder—this one via a flint-tipped arrow) and catch the real, very non-ghostly killer. It’s a good mystery---a bit spooky at first, but with an understandable motivation for the crimes eventually revealed.

It’s too bad the hard-boiled Casey never made it to radio. Shows like Sam Spade, Pat Novak and Philip Marlowe clearly demonstrated that the hard-boiled style translated very well to radio. But the radio Casey we do have is a nice guy. And he’s good at catching crooks. It was enough to make the show still enjoyable to listen to today.

Click HERE to listen or download

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My new e-pamphlet

Only about 10,000 words, so I don't want to call it an e-book. But you can now buy my newest offering--99 Films Your Children MUST See Before Growing Up: OR THEY'LL TURN OUT TO BE AXE MURDERERS!!! for the Kindle app or other e-formats by clicking HERE.

Terror in Space

Page 161 of the Encyclopedia of Monsters by Jeff Rovin contains the entry for It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958), a low-budget but intelligent and suspenseful science fiction horror movie. 

It deals with the first manned expedition to Mars in the far future year of 1976. (Which, by the way, makes me want to curse Real Life—why the heck aren’t we on Mars?)

That first expedition has a rotten time. Everyone but the commander was killed by a barely-glimpsed monster during a sand storm. When the commander is rescued by a second expedition, he’s accused of murdering his crew to hoard supplies.

He’s abruptly proved innocent during the return trip to Earth, when it turns out the monster has sneaked aboard. A couple of crewmen are whacked and suddenly the survivors are in a fight to the death against an apparently indestructible opponent.

There are several factors that make this a great film (and the eventual inspiration for 1979’s Alien). First, it’s the perfect setting for a horror movie—you can’t just leave a space ship and go run somewhere else.  Right from the beginning, it’s clear that either the monster dies or the entire crew dies. There’s no third option.

The design of the space ship also helps. It’s a traditional cylindrical affair divided into levels. A lot of the action depends on what levels are currently controlled by the monster and what levels the crew can gain access to.

Also, the movie never forgets that the ship is manned by trained astronauts and scientists. It’s crammed with smart people who act in an intelligent fashion. Every plan they try makes sense. When guns don’t work, they rig up some booby-traps with hand grenades. When that doesn’t work, they try gas. When that doesn’t work, they try an electrical booby-trap. And so on. They theorize about the nature of the creature and act accordingly. A couple of them take a space walk to move “below” the monster and set up a trap. The movie doesn’t depend on smart people acting foolishly or stupidly to generate danger—that all grows out of the monster’s ability to withstand enormous damage and keep going.

(Actually, I suppose you can argue that setting off hand grenades inside a space ship surrounded by vacuum isn’t terribly brilliant, but I suppose they were fragmentation grenades that aren’t designed to do structural damage, so we’ll give that to them.)

There is one brief instance where you see 1950s sensibilities slipping into the film. There are two women crewmen—one a doctor and the other a geologist. But they’re the ones serving the food and coffee at dinner time. Oh, well, maybe it was just their turn. Besides, both get to act intelligently during the crisis—especially the doctor.

That's a major key to getting a horror movie right--no matter what its setting. The characters in danger can't be stupid or act stupidly. They have to be threatened in spite of their ability to think or fight. Only then  can you generate a real sense of suspense.

The movie is good enough to make one easily forget the occasional special effects failure. Most notable is probably the monster itself—stunt man and former serial star Ray “Crash” Corrigan in a rubber suit. But you find yourself accepting the monster as is. The story as a whole is too good to do otherwise.

The script for It! was written by Jerome Bixby, a talented science fiction writer with quite a bit of geek credibility attached to his career. Among his other credits are co-writing the story for Fantastic Voyage (which gave us the second coolest fictional submarine ever); the short story that was the basis for “It’s a Good Life,” arguably the best and creepiest Twilight Zone episode; and several Star Trek episodes including “Mirror, Mirror”—which gave us an alternate universe evil Mr. Spock (complete with goatee).

There’s one interesting bit at the very end. Most science fiction B-movies dealing with space travel (at least the ones made in the 1950s) were ultimately optimistic about exploring the final frontier. This one ends with the surviving crew members sending back a radio message warning that we might have to bypass Mars because of the danger there—that “another name for Mars is Death.”

I suspect the filmmakers simply wanted a cool sounding line to end with and didn’t have a deeper point behind it, but gee whiz—that’s a downer!

Last week, I ranted about how cool black-and-white photography makes movies look. This, by the way, is another example. No way this movie would have been half as good in color.

Anyway, that’s it for our four week experiment in randomly picking subjects for me to write about. Next week, I’ll have to actually think of something on my own again. No telling what I’ll come up with.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: March 1967


It’s been a few years since I last looked at this issue and I’d forgotten how magnificent is the extended fight scene between the FF and Doom. First Johnny alone, then all four, team up to fight a desperate holding action while the army finishes building Reed’s new super-weapon. Both Ben (who manages to deck Doom for a moment despite being literally tortured by comic energy) and Sue (who gets Doom to slam into the side of a cliff by making it invisible—I love that) get Crowning Moments of Awesome.

This is one of the fastest paced issues in the Lee/Kirby run, moving at breathless speed from cover to cover. There is a brief pause for a couple of pages as we are updated on the Inhuman royal family that is probably necessary to keep that story arc progressing, but it’s a scene that perhaps would have been better to leave for another issue than to interrupt the faster-than-light action.

Anyways, Reed’s weapon turns out to be a decoy that tricks Doom into trying to follow it into space. This activates Galactus’ defenses (set up to keep the Surfer from leaving the planet) and Doom is zapped away--- somewhere. Reed says its probably better if we never know where.

So the threat of Doom is ended, as is one of the best Dr. Doom story arcs ever. Kirby’s visuals, a strong plot and some great character moments all come together to make for a great issue.


Spider Man meets the Shocker, a crook with enough mechanical know-how to build a device that sends out destructive vibrations and a shock-absorbing suit to protect himself from feedback.

He’s definitely a second-stringer, but he’s interesting enough to make an occasional issue interesting. Spider Man gets knocked out the first time the two fight—he’s still has an arm in a sling at the time. In a nifty little bit of business, the Shocker ignores Spidey after knocking him out. He just wants the money he’s stealing and could care less about killing or unmasking the webslinger.

In a rematch at the end of the issue, Spidey beats Shocker by the simple expedient of webbing his thumbs so he can’t press the triggers for his vibration weapon.

In the meantime, Harry Osborne gets an apartment and asks Peter to room with him. Aunt May, at the same time, is asked to move in with Anne Watson. This frees Peter up to accept Harry’s offer and finally move out on his own. Also, Peter is gradually deciding he likes Gwen better than Mary Jane.

There’s also a fun scene in which Bugle reporter Foswell follows Peter, hoping to get a line of Pete’s connection with Spider Man. He nearly tumbles to the whole secret identity, but Peter manages to pull  an off-the-cuff con that convinces Foswell that Peter and Spidey are two different people (who work together to get Peter photo opportunities).

But the issue ends with Peter feeling depressed and homesick, wondering if he can ever be happy. One of the strengths of Spider Man is Stan Lee’s success in giving Peter believable problems that can generate real sympathy, but I have to say Stan drops the ball a little this time around. Peter actually has some good stuff happen to him this time out and he’s got no reason to be whining about it.

Oh, well, it’s still a good issue overall. Even the Spider Man issues from this era that aren’t classics are still good, solid fun.

THOR #138

While the trolls invade Asgard and threaten to overwhelm the kingdom through sheer force of numbers, Thor is on Earth looking for Sif. He and Ulik have a rematch—another outstanding Kirby fight scene that ends in another draw. The trolls manage to trap Thor’s hammer inside a magical device that nullifies the “only Thor can lift it” spell. They head back to Asgard, leaving Thor and Sif trapped on Earth—with Thor due to change back into Donald Blake in just a few seconds.

That’s a pretty short summery, but the flow of the story is once again constructed around opportunities for Kirby to really go to town with his visuals.  Like this month’s Fantastic Four, its non-stop action that moves along from one “Wow—that’s awesome!” panel of art to another.

The Tales of Asgard entry finds Thor and the Warriors Three (well—the Warriors Two while Volstagg is taking a nap) fighting a giant cyclopean creature in order to gain access to Wazir the prophet. Wazir tells them where they can find the Mystic Mountain so that they can fulfill their quest to take out Mogul.  What with this fight scene and the visuals from the main story—this issue is in danger of putting readers into a sort of sensory overload. How much cool artwork can one comic book contain?

That’s it for March 1967. Next week, we’ll pause from Marvel to take a look at two different instances in which Turok, Son of Stone was forced to hunt down a particularly nasty dinosaur.

In two weeks, we’ll cover April 1967, in which the Fantastic Four get ambushed in their own home; Spider Man fights Kraven the Hunter yet again; and Asgard teeters on the brink of troll-induced destruction.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My trip to Sudan

 Sorry to intrude with real life on my blog, but if anyone is interested in hearing about my trip to Sudan, click on the link below to watch the talk I gave about it at my church. Send the women and children from the room first, though--I'm afraid I'm one butt-ugly dude.

Calvary Chapel Sarasota

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: “S.S. San Pedro” 8/22/48

A ship leaves Hoboken, bound for the tropics with cargo and 172 passengers. But the captain is sick and getting sicker; the ship begins to list slightly to port for no apparent reason; and a corpse-like man named Dr. Percival, who supposedly disembarked before the ship sailed, is seen aboard. But no one can find Percival after he’s seen and, to top it all off, the weather is getting worse.

Technically, the plot is a little slow-moving. But the story doesn’t seem slow at all, gradually building up a strong sense of tension and mystery as the captain grows sicker and the ship lists farther and farther to port. Backed by John Dehner’s strong performance as the First Mate and the narrator, “S.S. San Pedro” makes for a genuinely creepy horror story with a very effective ending. The sound effects—always a strong point on Escape—are even more notable in quality this time. Everything from the sound of footsteps going up a ladder to the sound of wind and breaking waves are pitch perfect. It’s another great episode from this excellent series.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Everything looks better in black-and-white

Page 173 of 101 Greatest Films of Mystery and Suspense is the entry on one of the best Film Noirs of the 1950s.

The Big Heat (1953) begins with a dirty cop committing suicide and leaving behind a confession that would send the local mob boss (and the dishonest police commissioner) to the slammer.

But the dead cop’s wife knows a good thing when she sees it. She hides the confession and begins to blackmail the mob boss.

Events cascade out from there and soon lead to the murder of a clip joint girl that the dead cop had been seeing. The cop investigating all this is Dave Bannion—effectively played by Glen Ford as a tough guy who will not compromise his principles, even when ordered to do so by his superiors.

Bannion’s principles, though, soon lead to his wife’s death in a botched attempt to kill him. Suspended from the force, Bannion continues to investigate on his own.

Like many Film Noirs, this one is filled with interesting supporting characters. One of the most notable ones here are Vince Stone, the mob boss’s chief enforcer. He’s played by Lee Marvin—who was better at being loathsome than just about any other character actor in film history. In fact, as cool as Marvin could be playing the lead in films like The Dirty Dozen, I’d have to say he was at his best playing bad guys.

He’s terrific in this film. Stone has a violent temper but is ultimately gutless—something brought out in a very tense scene where he and Bannion confront each other for the first time. Marvin gives this despicable man a veneer of believability that makes him all the more loathsome. If you watch the film, pay attention to his performance—there’s a lot of subtlety in how he reads the lines or the gestures he makes. Marvin could play over-the-top villains with style (as he did in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence), but he could also tone it down when the movie required it.

Gloria Grahame gives a remarkably empathetic performance as Stone’s girl, Debbie Marsh. She takes a liking to Bannion, which results in Stone throwing… Well, that part is better left as a surprise.

It’s Debbie who elects to take a particular course of action near the end of the film that brings everything to a head.

And, boy, does this film look great. Directed by Fritz Lang, it uses black-and-white photography to set the mood, tell the story effectively and simply look really cool.

This movie is one of many that could be used to prove that it’s a tragedy that 70% to 80% of films aren’t still made in black-and-white. Heck, 70% to 80% of real life would look better in black-and-white.  I’m pretty sure that Film Noir would not have been half as successful or memorable if it had come along after color photography became the usual thing in Hollywood.

Next week, we’ll end our experiment with picking random entries from various reference works when we take a look inside The Encyclopedia of Monsters.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: February 1967


A lot of this issue deals with the Inhumans. Black Bolt finally realizes that he needs to speak—which for him means setting off a really powerful sonic blast—in order to break down the force field that surrounds their city. He does this and, even though much of the city is reduced to rubble, he does break them out. The royal family decides to contact the outside world while the rest of the Inhumans rebuild, so it appears Johnny will finally get to hook up with his girlfriend again.

The main Dr. Doom storyline only advances a little in terms of plot, but Lee and Kirby manage to build up quite a bit of tension to lead into next issue’s finale. Reed is pretty desperate to figure out how to defeat an all-powerful Doom and at one point even seems to despair. There’s a great scene in which Ben eggs him on to keep trying. At the end of the issue, Reed has completed building some sort of new device.

Johnny, in the meantime, has convinced himself that he can use speed and surprise to take out Doom himself.

It’s all good stuff. Lee has these characters down pat, with their dialogue consistently ringing true to their personalities.


Despite having one arm in a sling, Spider Man continues to search for the Lizard, eventually confronting him aboard a train that’s carrying a reptile show from NYC to Philadelphia. The Lizard, of course, is planning on using the reptiles as the first “recruits” for the army he needs to wipe out mankind.

The train is a cool setting for the ensuing fight. Spidey is physically outmatched, but manages to lure the Lizard into a refrigerator car, where the cold weakens the villain. Spidey then takes him back to Curt Connors’ lab and whips up a cure.

In the meantime, Peter is beginning to realize that Mary Jane might be a bit too shallow for his tastes. It’s interesting to remember that at the time Lee and Romita were planning on Gwen being the main gal in Peter’s life. Romita was later quoted as saying they really worked to keep her at the forefront, but Mary Jane simply kept overshadowing her. The long term effect of this, of course, would be to pretty much sign Gwen’s death warrant.

But that’s still a few years in the future. This issue ends with an interesting counterpoint. Peter is at home thinking about how being Spider Man regularly messes the rest of his life up, while the Connor family is talking about how a guy as cool as Spider Man must have everything he wants in life.

THOR #137

Lee and Kirby jump right into yet another magnificent story, with a well-constructed plot supported by astounding visuals.

Thor and Sif are ambushed by trolls, who manage to kidnap Sif. Thor follows and encounters Ulik, a huge troll who seems to match the Thunder God in raw power.

In fact, it looks as if Ulik has the upper hand, but then he abruptly vanishes in a flash of light.

It’s all part of a clever plot by the king of the trolls. He’s managed to tunnel out a path directly into Asgard, but knows he can’t conquer the place as long as Thor is around. So he’s sent both an unconscious Sif and Ulik to Earth, forcing Thor to follow them there. That leaves him free to attack Asgard.

It really is a cool plan. On Fantastic Four, Lee and Kirby manage to continually mix strong characterizations into the action. On Thor, there’s just one main character rather than four (though there are plenty of fun supporting players), so the characterizations are more straightforward. But we can see how the plots are structured in such a way as to highlight Kirby’s layouts—perhaps even more so than on FF. As I’ve mentioned so many times in the past that you’re all probably sick of reading it, Kirby was at his best when he could draw bizarre and cosmic-level images. Thor has been giving him an excuse for doing this every single issue.

In the “Tales of Asgard” feature, we find out why Hogun is called the Grim. Our heroes encounter Mogul of the Mystic Mountains, who is responsible for enslaving Hogun’s people and killing his family. Ouch. When Hogun vows to finally take vengeance, Thor, Fandral and Volstagg elect to tag along.

More great visuals here, of course, especially a panel showing Mogul being carried off by his giant Jinni slave.

That’s it for February. In March, the FF continues their fight against Dr. Doom; Spider Man adds a second-string villain to his Rogue’s Gallery; and Thor returns to Earth while Asgard is invaded.

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