Monday, April 23, 2018
Aquaman is a hero who often gets little respect. And frankly I've always wondered why that is. Likely it's the fact his first really high-profile gig was with the Justice League of America where his specific skill set was difficult to work into a story. After many years as a reliable back up (no doubt somewhat a result of the fact he was created by Mort Weisinger, a powerful editor at DC at the time) he started to get some attention which really bloomed when he was tapped to join Superman in animated form on Saturday mornings starting in 1967.
The Adventures of Aquaman cartoons are really good and stand up well to a modern eye. Filmation did a pretty good job creating a credible undersea realm for Aquaman, Aqualad and Mera to function in. With the aid of Storm and Imp, two enormous seahorses the undersea duo rode and the comedy relief of Tusky, a walrus, the heroic team faced monsters which threatened the domed city of Atlantis. We also get to see some of Aquaman's better foes as Black Manta gets at least three appearances and the Fisherman shows up a couple of times.
Aquaman comes across as a very capable hero, voiced by Marvin Miller who gives him great authority. He demonstrates a steady confidence and calm in the face of some staggering threats. Each cartoon reaches its end when Aquaman says with assurance that it's time to go home, a reassuring comment for the viewer.
Sunday, April 22, 2018
After the successful debut of the The New Adventures of Superman in 1966 which brought back to the small screen the Man of Steel and gave birth to Filmation, more was required. And so we got two more seasons. But as was the practice back then, shows were often not just renewed from season to season, but refreshed and reformatted to add luster to cartoons which at times might well have been re-runs.
In the case of Superman, when he came back in 1967 he brought with him the underwater hero Aquaman to make a full hour of superhero adventures. So we had a show which not only had one hero but if you count Superboy and Aqualad and Mera, five superheroes. You might throw Krypto into that mix too. I'll take a closer look at Aquaman later. The Superman cartoons in '67 were much like those in the previous year. The had the Man of Steel battling monsters and even a few of his villains, though except for Lex Luthor they were rarely recognizable from the comics.
In 1968 the Superman series was brought back again, but this time paired with Batman and Robin. The Dynamic Duo had just lost their famous prime-time live-action gig and were extremely high profile additions. One change they brought with them were longer cartoons with a "cliffhanger" of sorts. This format was used in the Superman cartoons as well as the Batman ones. And frankly it's not an improvement, the storytelling seemed weaker and truth told the animation which had been ideal in the first season looks even more limited in this third and final season. But still it's all quite entertaining. More on Batman and Robin later too.
So after three seasons Filmation, now established, had created a wonderful collection of Superman cartoons, cartoons that effectively for the most part captured the essence of the 60's era Silver Age comics. They hold up extremely well even today, and I recommend them to any comics fan with no hesitation.
Saturday, April 21, 2018
If you forced me to pick a single Superman feature as my all-time favorite, Superman and the Mole Men would get the nod. I love this delightful introduction to the George Reeves Superman which functions very effectively as a fable of mankind's fear of the unknown.
The Mole Men are small people who rise up out of a oil well hole which has sunk too far down. They emerge and are deemed hostile as humans get injured around them through a combination of fear and the innate radiation which emanates from the creatures themselves. They explore the small town in which they emerge and are met with fear by adults and ease with a small girl who warmly welcomes them into her bedroom.
This scene of the Mole Men lurking around the window scared the bejeezus out of me when was a youngster. It seems a pretty naive scene today, but back then I was most affected by it. I love to revisit that tiny terror memory when I watch this one over and over. Phyllis Coates is effective as Lois Lane, though she is a particularly bitchy version of the character. No other regulars from the eventual Superman series appear.
This is a very good entertainment and gets my highest recommendation.
Friday, April 20, 2018
I've always loved Birdman, the Hanna-Barbera cartoon hero who burst onto the TV screens when superheroes were ubiquitous in the culture. He followed the success of Space Ghost, but brought the adventures down to Earth. With his eagle assistants Avenger and Birdboy, and working under the auspices of Falcon 7, a pipe-smoking, eye-patching sporting leader of a spy organization that used Birdman's powers to defeat evil in the world.
In the revised Hanna-Barbera universe currently on display in Future Quest Presents, we have somewhat more series attempt at the character. Birdboy is gone and Falcon 7 is revealed to be a ruse by the female leader of the spy group named Dev. In this more emotional renditon of the story, Birdman's enthusiastic "good guy" approach to the world is looked at with a jaundiced eye by the folks around him. He's seen as naive and they fear his approach to fighting evil will make him succumb to it. Their fears are played out to some extent in this three-part story.
Without revealing too much we meet Mentok, a villain from the original cartoon series who is revised himself here and given a back story which is ripe with an attempt to humanize even this vile user of other people. We learn more about how Birdman was born and about who he was before he became a vessel for Ra the Sun God. We learn how he came to become Birdman and maybe we learn what he yearns for even as he fills the shoes of the noble hero who protects us all. The relationship between Birdman and Avenger is even given a fresh take. All in all this trilogy is a treat for Birdman fans.
And last but not least is Steve Rude. Steve Rude is the ideal artist for the Hanna-Barbera heroes, he transmits the elegant Alex Toth designs into the comic with a modern gloss which nonetheless has a retro feel appropriate to the material. Steve Rude is arguably the finest comic book artist working today.
If you're a fan of Birdman you likely already have this one. If you are and you don't get it.
NOTE: Just found out that Future Quest Presents will end with issue twelve. It's a sad day for moi amigos. More later.
Thursday, April 19, 2018
My daughter is the one who convinced me I needed to see the movie I, Tonya. I admit that since it starred Margot Robbie, an actress I have immense respect for after seeing her in great roles in the last few years, it was a relatively easy push, but left on my own I'd likely have not gotten around to this one. But let me say, it's a darn great flick. (It also stars Sebastian Stan so if you like we have a clever crossover for comics fans -- Harley Quinn and Bucky Barnes in the same movie.) This is comedy of the darkest sort, a smart movie which does its due diligence and tells us a version of the famous "incident" which thrust skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan into the spotlights beyond the relatively obscure realm of figure skating. But it's much more than that too.
This is a movie with real villains, but mostly it's about cracked people filled with conflicted emotions and grim desires who try to find some sunshine in a world which gives them little beyond clouds and rain. It's about people who desperately want love, but because of the nature of their raising and the dark contours of their souls are unable accept and hold onto what little love they find. It's like all great movies, it's not just about something that happened once upon a time in America, but it's about all of us and how we're all in this show together and we need to be on mark for one another. It could be me, it could be you. This is the smartest movie I've seen in a long, long time. See it if you haven't.
Found The Snow Creature in a cheap collection buried in a bin at a local discount store. It was one of those packages in which it's hard to see what's really in it, but since it was a mere three bucks, I though the damage was pretty insignificant. Even if I hated everything, there were monster movies I hadn't seen. The real draw was this one though.
It's the same plot pretty much as King Kong, Gorgo, and several other monster flicks. An expedition runs across a dangerous monster/creature and struggles to capture it in order to bring it to civilization where it promptly escapes and causes some measure of damage. In the case of this "Monster", the damage is pretty minimal. The creature, a ragtag costume which is mostly hidden in the shadows of the night, caves and later the sewers is stunningly bad.
I cannot really recommend this one, it's pretty weak, but for any fan of vintage monsters movies, this one is a nifty primordial example of what would develop in the 50's.
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Finally got my mitts on "Weapon of the Soul", the Epic collection of the earliest Master of Kung Fu comics from Marvel's Bronze Age heyday. The whole world was Kung Fu fighting when comics latched onto the trend and gave us a bevy of martial arts comics. The best of the best was MoKF and that is for one simple reason -- Fu Manchu. I really think of this not as a series of Shang Chi comics, but a graphic novelization of a Fu Manchu novel. After finally reading the Fu Manchu canon, I see now how like the novels the adaptation by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin actually was. The book was picked up soon enough by Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy, but in the hands of these talents we have a tremendous treatment of a very venerable property. I'm eager to tear into these pages when time permits with my deeper understanding of the lore of the "Devil Doctor".
Here are the covers in this collection. There's another off-beat story with Midnight included from the back pages of an Iron Man annual or something like that.