Sunday, November 30, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
"The fiction and movies of the early 1960s through the mid-1970s produced the apex of manly pursuits. Vice aside, secret agents and professional heist men and boxers and macks and ex-pro football players and karate fighters never came off better in books, film, or comics. You had to go a long way to find a woman who was sickened by the idea of James Bond's hairy chest against their lips. It's almost impossible today to imagine women feeling secure in the knowledge that a swank-tough handsome man who keeps to himself doesn't need to be changed...he just needs a reason to protect what's his.
"So, with that in mind, a visual education is always best, since real men really are visual. I refer you to AGENT X9 starring Corrigan, with help from Rip Kirby, in this series of covers from overseas, interspersed with a little Modesty Blaise. In some perfect world, the union of Blaise and Corrigan/Kirby begat an Earth where men retained their creative allure, probing the unknown with the conviction of cool only found in men's fiction. What it comes down to, us men had something to live up to back when, and I for one think we need it back."
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
It's time for the Shadow to invade the public consciousness once again.
One of the greatest literary creations ever, right up there with your Tarzan and your Sherlock Holmes, the Shadow hasn't been heard from much in recent years. His copyright owners are probably mostly responsible, as Street and Smith keep a tight rein on who gets to produce Shadow work, from movies to books to comics.
The shame of it all seems to me that no one has written a "contemporary" Shadow novel. Novelists Joe R. Lansdale and Philip Jose Farmer both received permission from the Edgar Rice Burroughs estateover the last twenty years to produce one Tarzan novel each. Farmer wrote one original Doc Savage novel some years ago.
But not many have dabbled in the Shadow. Certainly entertainment media have been slow to realize the potential.
Of course, we have had a fairly well-made Shadow movie, in 1994 and starring Alec Baldwin. Every time I sit down to watch it, I've forgotten almost everything about it except the actual Shadow himself (nice make-up and glittery eye effects.) I watch it and immediately forget what I've seen once more. The worst thing to say about the movie was that it wasn't bad, but it's dated already by its time frame, and not in a good 1970s kind of way.
So THE SHADOW movie was unremarkable, but not bad by any stretch. Acceptable might be another word, but not mediocre.
The last I'd heard, Sam Raimi had designs on making a Shadow film...it could be argued he already has, to a degree, with DARKMAN. If you took the Shadow and mashed him together with Frankenstein's Monster, you'd have Darkman. Love the movie, even though there's flaws...DARKMAN is one of the best neo-Pulp movies out there, made four years before THE SHADOW and not suffering from "gotta be a hit"-itis. DARKMAN gets a point across while THE SHADOW pinpointed the BATMAN crowd like a voodoo doll.
I'm not saying Raimi's the best man. The old joke is, two young people are about to get married. The preacher asks the groom, "Who's your best man?" The groom's buddy steps forward. The preacher says, "Is this the best man you could find?"
Sam Raimi's kind of like that. At least he grasps the concept of what the Shadow could be, and is, if DARKMAN is an indication. What you fear with any Hollywood product is, well, the movie being a Hollywood product.
I think the Shadow would work spectacularly better as a series, one of those HBO type things like "Dexter." The problem with television is a lower budget, and that means losing the 1930s era in which the Shadow operated, as "period" stuff is much harder to replicate and sell.
From a personal standpoint, I don't think the Shadow has to be "period." I find something strangely alluring about the Shadow appearing anytime between the 1930s and the turn of the century. His anachronistic obsession with justice, his views on what constitutes evil from a time when Hitler threatened to take over the world, might clash interestingly with today's "shades of gray" society. The Shadow is an "A is A" kind of guy.
Pretty much everything I'm saying to repeated ad nauseum anytime a character like the Shadow or some superhero thing pops up in movie talks. The idea of television allows the Shadow to operate more as he should, a prevading presence in the lives of criminals and agents. In a modern context, think of Keyser Soze in USUAL SUSPECTS...Soze dominates the running time without physically appearing more than three total minutes the entire film.
My view is that the Shadow should be riding the cresting wave of Pulp Hero interest which has arrived in recent times. Comics (always the forerunners on thematic trends these days) have come around to the idea of Pulp as genre, evidenced by Hellboy's popularity, spawning the Goon by Eric Powell, referencing the Phantom published by Moonstone Comics, and circling to Atomic Robo by Red5 Comics, coursing bloodily through JONAH HEX at DC Comics and insinuating itself in Ed Brubaker's work at Marvel, particularly CAPTAIN AMERICA and the idiosyncratic SLEEPER from a few years ago.
If comics trigger the interest of the buying public, surely the Pulp wave will come next once the superhero "craze" has died down. At some point, American culture always returns to the dark side of heroics, the obsessed fistfighters and bullet dancers of Pulp. Indiana Jones followed SUPERMAN THE MOVIE into the consciousness of our society...BATMAN begat DARKMAN and THE SHADOW and THE PHANTOM movies. What's coming then, in the darkening surf after the superhero waves have passed?
Is that a Shadow of something?
All artwork by spectacular contemporary artists Chris Samnee http://www.chrissamnee.com/2008_11_01_archive.html, John Cassaday, Gary Gianni http://www.garygianni.com/, Francesco Francavilla at http://pulpsunday.blogspot.com/, and the inimitable Jim Steranko on those classic novel covers of the 1970s.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
David Michelinie and Gerry Talaoc's first issue begins with the revelation of the face of a soldier, horribly disfigured by a grenade blast. Informed by the doctor that "plastic surgery is a young science," the man with the skull face breaks down.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
The brilliant Francesco Francavilla has struck again, creating this sweet incarnation of one of the first and best of the Peter Lorre "Mr. Moto" films of the late 1930s.
This was the first Mr. Moto I saw, mere weeks ago, and it is a fabulous Pulp film with a mysterious Asian named Moto (no first name) who is out to destroy a British assasssination ring. Trust me, it's even better than it sounds, as Moto is a seemingly amiable man of the Orient, self-effacing and humble, but turns into a vicious judo master and assassin himself at the drop of a hat! Not only that, but he's a master of disguise, Sherlock Holmes style.
Peter Lorre, it should be said, is brilliant in the role. Suffering from illness in his personal life and addicted to morphine, Lorre's sleepy menace emerges from this dependancy and hallucinagenic calm. Also, Harvey Parry as the stunt man behind some of Moto's more violent judo-refic escapades positively makes today's quick-cut crappy fists fights seem tame by comparison.
Thanks to Francesco Francavilla and Pulp Sunday http://pulpsunday.blogspot.com/
Sunday, November 16, 2008
A horde of "Avenger" shows (a massive Shadow rip, but entertaining nonetheless!), Charlie Chan, the "Man Called X!"
I'm officially overcome.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Sunday, November 9, 2008
In an interview, David Michelinie (pronounced MIK-A-Lean) didn't really buy the notion of a man whose face was blown apart by a grenade wrapping his head in bandages and then using rubber masks over the bandages to infiltrate Nazis forts. To Michelinie, that seemed too far-fetched even for comics.
Michelinie decided to have the Soldier only wear the bandages when he wasn't on a mission. The Soldier's destroyed face during missions would wear masks with make-up applied directly to the Soldier's actual face. For the first time, the Soldier's true face would be revealed, and Joe Orlando didn't waste any time being coy about it. The cover of the team's first issue gives us Joe Kubert's version, which the great Joe K made a kind of "Death's Head."
Inside the comic, first page, Gerry Talaoc's version is even more horrific, as the Soldier is given his first view of the result of a grenade explosion, breaking down in tears as he's informed "plastic surgery is a young science. Perhaps in a few years..." "Yeah, Doc. Sure. A few...years..."
Thus begins the indictment of war which will inform Michelinie's run. The Soldier has faced the horror of his own maiming, his loss of any meaning outside of war, and is given the choice to become a "super-soldier."
Unlike Captain America and the Mighty Destroyer however, the Soldier is not assisted in this by a secret formula designed to boost his skills and physical abilities. Through sheer, torturous training of mind and body, the Soldier quickly becomes a top commando.
The revelation of the Soldier's true appearance disappointed a lot of readers, particularly War Comic readers who made up a nice portion of the DC Comics audience in those halcyon days of multi-genre offerings. In the letters pages, you get the sense the "old school" War readers didn't care for the approach. The logo of the comic reflected a new "mystery comic" angle, and the grotesque face of the Soldier represented a further exploitative discomfort.
Like many great writers of the era, Michelinie managed to subvert the genre without damaging the formula of the War Comic. Michelinie was breaking new ground (particularly at DC; Marvel had made the illusion of "change" a resounding call to arms, while DC maintained the "tried and true." This fundamental difference would define the two biggest comic book publishers for nearly two decades.) Stories were focusing on themes and situations more adult than any before. The understanding that this could be done in the "b-list" comics, the War and Mystery Comics, insured that the flagship titles like SUPERMAN and BATMAN remained gateways to new comic book readers, an audience that turned over every five years or so. However, the conventions of the medium of superheroes didn't affect the horror comics of the 1970s, like Steve Gerber's MAN-THING or Wolfman/Colan's TOMB OF DRACULA, and certainly DC's offerings like BEWARE THE CREEPER and HERCULES UNBOUND were found too unconventional to catch on with audiences.
Michelinie and Talaoc begin a process of adult story-telling, the kind we associate with later "adult" fare like WATCHMEN and KINGDOM COME, and they do it with a firm hand and eye toward the formula of the genre they're working in. The job presented these men with a chance to produce, while grasping what they produced. At this time in comics, no one thought subversion of genres was a necessity to or of the work.
The job was to produce War Comics for DC. And Orlando, Michelinie and Talaoc did that better than anyone else ever had. And for a side item, they decided to kick the bones of War Comics out of the way and discover something else buried in the ruins. Something gold.
Next up: the first Michelinie/Talaoc story: "8000 to One" in issue 183 of SSWS.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
I'd "reported" that THE PHANTOM series by Moonstone Comics was ending. Dynamite Comics was set, I guess, to take over the franchise, but after some haggling, Dynamite gave it up and Joe Gentile's Moonstone company kept the rights.
It's timely in that David Michelinie, whose Unknown Soldier I'm delving into, is editing this book, thirty-four years after the Faceless Avenger's stories.
Thirty-four years, folks...and I'm 38 in a few weeks!
I'm intrigued by the inclusion of Michelinie, but I'd noted the PHANTOM has been a decent comic but nothing earth-shattering. I like it fine but don't seek it out.
The hope here is that Michelinie brings his writing saavy and Joe Orlando time-tested editorship to the role, introducing some elements into the series that will make it as "evergreen" as former works of his own.
I've had a problem with the Phantom not having many real challenges in these books. It's one thing to use him as a revenger for sins committed against the innocent and all, but I think there needs to be other elements as well. Where Doc Savage and the Shadow have fallen off the pace in recent years (not the least to blame the copyright holders Street and Smith, as I haven't seen a project headlined by those Pulp Heroes in years now,) the Phantom will hopefully advance. I'm hoping the indication that this relaunch happens "years" after the former series will provide the Phantom with dangers and adventures befitting his status as one of the cornerstones of Pulp comics.
Personally, I think the Phantom needs to be more the Ghost Who Walks, who strikes utter terror into men in his territories, which it sounds like will happen.
Also, he needs a counter, a mirror-image adversary. A Moriarty, someone who can oppose the Phantom anywhere under any circumstance.
I'm definitely picking up this Michelinie-influenced edition. Not to slight the current writer and artist, but I'd like to see a PHANTOM comic actually become a hit in the States.
As discussed here http://pulphero.blogspot.com/2008/10/pulp-herounknown-soldier.html the Unknown Soldier had one of the finest series of stories I've ever read produced from December 1974 to December 1976, approximately.
Written by David Michelinie, most well-known for lengthy writer stints on Spider-Man (and he created Venom, for better or worse) and Iron Man through the 1980s, and drawn by the much less-known Gerry Talaoc, another of those talented Filipino artists like Tony De Zuniga, Pablo Marcos, the brothers Redondo, the Unknown Soldier stories came out of the oceanic darkness of comics, movies, and novels in a way I hadn't expected. A wholly unique but recognizable shape from the bottom of the sea, and worth far more than gold.
I first saw Talaoc's work on the INCREDIBLE HULK, as inker over Hall of Famer Sal Buscema and young gun Mike Mignola (creator of Hellboy,) which continued in the Mignola ALPHA FLIGHT for a time. I was never nuts about Talaoc's style on those books, as like Frank Robbins (INVADERS) before him, Talaoc was best suited to Non-Superhero fare. Like the Unknown Soldier.
Before revealing the last ingredient of this great run of exactly twenty comics, I'd like to say I picked up this run of comics sold for a dollar apiece at a comic book "con" in Northern VA, nearly two years ago. The thing was, I'd owned exactly one Unknown Soldier comic in my life, which I hadn't appreciated as much as I should have--mind you, the Soldier and his little bowie knife vs a grizzly bear while Nazi soldiers close in on him (UNKNOWN SOLDIER ish 251.) Thusly:
And that's not even part of the run we're discussing here, that's just a cog in the Faceless Avenger's Awesome Machine.
So, at this con, I ran across some STAR-SPANGLED WAR comics, starring the Unknown Soldier. I hadn't heard good or bad about these stories, but I wanted to try them on the blind chance. A blind purchase, with only a brief perusal of these unbagged, unboarded comics, noting Talaoc's art with an Okay Shrug. I bought issues 187-201. Later I'd pick up the last three issues on the strength of that initial exposure.
After discovering what would be a defining comic book run that I never knew existed, that apparently no one knows existed (which is the point of these entries I'll be making,) DC Comics released the SHOWCASE: UNKNOWN SOLDIER trade, completing my run with issues 183-186 included, in black and white but still...gorgeous to behold.
In interviews I've read with Michelinie, he was a young guy at the time and this was one of those books a young writer could mess with to learn his craft. I'm guessing anyway. Michelinie is also the guy who had a supervillain kill Aquaman's son, yes Aquababy, in a vengeance ploy...and that's about Aquaman's defining moment right there. But that was slightly later. For now, circa 1973, Michelinie is doing what so many rookies had done before him, taking a character who isn't integral to the company, a character without much invested in him, and trying out the formula of the war story as understood in previous issues. Writing for the audience, writing to entertain, and writing for Joe Orlando.
The other part of this equation during the 1970s at DC was Editor Joe Orlando, for whom Michelinie was part of a "stable" of fresh-faced writers breaking into comics. DC had an "apprenticeship program" back then, and Orlando ended up with Michelinie's scripts and saw something in the man, enough to bring him in under this apprenticeship banner. Joe Orlando was a former artist/writer for EC Comics, whose horror-themed books like TALES FROM THE CRYPT and VAULT OF HORROR during the 1950s influenced a young Stephen King, and eventually drew the ire of one Dr. Fredric Wertham, who claimed comics led to juvenile delinguency in his book SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT. This treatise led to one of the first "witch hunts" of the 1950s, as a Congressional Hearing went after EC editor Bill Gaines, and the Comic Code Authority (to censor comics) was formed by the publishers to "self-police" their lines. This led to the dissolution of EC and the beginning of "Mad Magazine" for Gaines, a popular title even today. All those writers and artists from EC who had known wicked creative freedom under Gaines' editorial now found themselves working for the blossoming Marvel or old reliable DC.
In 1973, there's something to be said for Joe Orlando's time at EC, and how his editor skills seemed to push imposed limits. Prior to Orlando, Michelinie, and Talaoc, the Unknown Soldier stories had been exercises in typical War Comic irony, stories with clear meanings and conclusive monochromatic plotting. With Vietnam raging, the Unknown Soldier had already been introduced as a faceless "spirit" of the fighting man of World War II, a rubber-masked mummy-bandaged saboteur who achieved his mission and didn't stray very far from the rigors of the War Comic formula. With Michelinie and Talaoc, under Orlando's steady guidance, that was about to change.
Part Two tomorrow.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Here, Willis is incorporating the unity of shapes (and he'd be a better one to explain it,) but as I understand it, what you're looking at is two shapes joined to create solidity.
There is a central upside-down "U" shape, ending at two legs, and a standard "U" shape running in the opposite direction, kind of reinforcing the first shape, and ending at the points of the elytra on the back of the body.
The antennae are very prominent, but Willis noted they are not particularly "beetle-like." They are insectoid, in a standard way; some beetles do have extended antennae, but if we're being specific to the Ox Beetle, the antennae are not correct.
As a beautiful dame named Sydney rightly pointed out, antennae are important on this character. In point of fact, she said, there is something strangely "sensual, almost erotic" about antennae. Since she's not a freak by any standard, I took this as a thinking woman's addition. There will be a kind of...eerie eroticism about a man-beetle. Considering the intended "love story" of the main character, who must now communicate love as a monster and not a man, it makes sense these probing scent-catchers are inherently sensual in female eyes. Another good instinctual add by Willis.
The lightning bolts on the back are, as Willis said, "kind of like racing stripes." They're additions on the shell, most likely by military men, who adorn the Beetle in much the way they paint slogans on fighter planes and torpedos, as a way to personalize the machines of war. This fits with the notion the Atomic Beetle is, early on, "Government property." Created by a military-funded accident (much like Bruce Banner's Gamma Bomb irradiation,) I imagine the military trying to make chicken salad out of chicken sh*t and failing. Their mistake has cost a man his life, his humanity, his love, his honor, even to a degree his soul. The military will want to use the Beetle if they can, but I think it'll be hard to convince the Beetle he's little more than a cognizant bomb.
In Version 4, upcoming, we will see what is likely the final preliminary design. And it is well worth the wait, folks.
*"Natural elegance" means how a beetle is put together, but not to indicate how it moves and functions. The indicator of "clunky" in relation to the character is part of the charm of beetles...they really are bulky tanks with little agility and the fearless attitude of the insect, which has a very strict life span (four months for the Ox Beetle) and a job to do, usually involving masticating organic material (including dead animals and other unspeakable filth) until it's a ball of mummified wax, and then finding a female to implant some eggs in that underground bad boy so a bunch of beetle larva can roll around in it and chew on it for a while.
Beetles may not be pleasant, but they're incredibly beneficial to the natural environment. Yeh, I didn't know it either. I guess I figured everything dead just ended up as fly and ant food. Wrongo.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Willis decided to "monster-up" the Atomic Beetle "suit-guy," thus resulting in this bruiser.
In this version, you can see the "spires" develop in the character; here, these spires are the ends of the "elytra", which are hard, shell-like coverings over the more delicate wings of the beetle. These spires replicate the horns of the adult male Ox Beetle. The females don't have horns.
Willis convinced me the Atomic Beetle should fly. It sets up a nice contrast with the Beetle being a "burrower" with the thorny protrusions on the arms and legs used to dig beneath the earth. Coupled with a clumsy, ridiculous ability for such a creature to fly, and I started digging the concept.
As Willis indicated, when a beetle flies, it's like a tank with wings. The beetle is not aerodynamic, and is more likely to not only batter into objects while flying, bouncing off and continuing on, but usually crashes when it lands.
My only caveat with "full-on beetle" is the eradication of so much of the "man" aspect to get the creature part. Plus, truth to tell, I'm reminded very much of THE FLY, with Vincent Price. Not that I don't like THE FLY, mind you, I love it...but I wanted more distinction for a character who is actually a beetle, which has its own distinct look.
And, Willis and I were of the same mind about the aspect of a "suit" melded with the beetle aspect, a man trying to hide a deformity behind a mask, and also plating to potentially protect the more vulnerable belly of the creature, which is not quite as tough as that armor shell.
Version 3 begins to reveal the true Atomic Beetle. Stay tuned.
Appendium: I'm reminded again of the Internet Culture, and the improbable nature of such a culture to find fault, even insult, in two characters with the same name.
I realize "Atomic Beetle" is the name of a character in a role-playing game, which I did not know existed before coming up with "Atomic Beetle." Because of the Internet, I looked up the name to see where and how it might have been appropriated, and was met with a costumed crimefighter from the "Virtue Universe."
There's a simple reason that I do not think anyone will mistake my Atomic Beetle with the gamer's version: it's not that version. That is lame, this is cool. Trust me.