Time Warp 1, 1979 “Doomsday Tales and Other Things”

In the late 1970s, DC cut back on their titles, and laid off a ton of employees. The comics just weren’t selling, and they needed to regroup. The early 1980s would bring some new hope in the form of All-Star Squadron, and New Teen Titans, but there were also some additions that are very obscure, but noteworthy for the comic book aficionados out there!

A short series of only five issues, this weird book gave us some rather interesting material. Mostly sci-fi (with a little horror), this first issue is chocked full of creators with a long list of credits, and quite frankly, legends in the business. From aliens to spider-men, you’ll be whisked away to fantasy worlds that will take you back to a time when comics were great!

Cover by Mike Kaluta, interiors stories by Denny O’Neil, Michael Fleischer, George Kashdan, Mike Barr, Jack Harris, Bob Rozakis, and Paul Levitz. The art teams are nothing short of spectacular and include the late, great Rich Buckler, Dick Giordano, Steve Ditko, Tom Sutton, Jerry Grandenetti, Don Newton, Dan Adkins, and Jim Aparo!

 

 

Cinema Sunday: The Flesh and the Fiends (1960)

Title: The Flesh and the Fiends (Mania- U.S. title)

Distributor: Regal Film Distributors

Writers: John Gilling (and Leon Griffiths)

Director: John Gilling

Producers: Robert S. Baker, Monty Berman

Starring: Peter Cushing, June Laverick, Donald Pleasance, George Rose

Released: February 1960 (U.K.)

MPAA: UR

 

 

By the time the year 1960 rolled around, Peter Cushing was blooming into a horror film star. He’d already launched Hammer Studios into the atmosphere (along with others like Christopher Lee), with films such as Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958), and The Mummy (1959). As if his incredible presence wasn’t enough, we get a very young Donald Pleasance (Circus of Horrors– 1960, Halloween– 1978, Escape from New York– 1981) as one of the main players as well!

Based off of a true story (Burke and Hare), this film is considered a horror film but is more like a noir film with other elements, like mystery, crime, etc. Let’s get on with the synopsis!

 

 

The film begins with some grave-robbers in a cemetery. They’re digging up a corpse, but for what purpose, we do not know. The scene then switches to a street in Edinburgh, and the Academy of Dr. Knox (the year 1828). We see a beautiful young lady, Martha Knox,  (June Laverick) the niece of Dr. Knox, as she’s exiting a coach. She knocks on the door, and is greeted by Dr. Geoffrey Mitchell (Dermot Walsh). They exchange pleasantries, and he explains that he didn’t recognize her at first because she’s been gone for three years (she’s matured a lot apparently).

 

Inside the classroom, Dr. Knox (Peter Cushing) is teaching a room full of students hoping to become doctors themselves one day. He jokes with them, but also tries to impress upon them the importance of striving to push forward and break down barriers. He gets a standing ovation, then exits the hall. He’s pursued by one student in particular, a young man named Chris Jackson (John Cairney). He wants some input about how he can get better and graduate, something he believes he would’ve done by now. Dr. Knox tells him that he can get some extra tutoring but must pay for it by helping out around the school to earn extra money.

 

Afterward, Dr. Knox comes into the living room (apparently the school is attached to his home), and i surprised by his niece. Before they can get the conversation going, Chris comes in and tells Dr. Knox that some gentlemen are around back with a “stiff.” Knox chides him for using such terms, and then heads back to inspect the corpse. He pays the men for it, then sends them on their way.

Later that evening, the men are at a local pub (The Merry Duke) getting drunk and tell about how Dr. Knox pays well for cadavers. Two other men that are on hard times financially overhear this. Both William Burke (George Rose), and William Hare (Donald Pleasance) realize this is a way to make a quick buck, so they begin digging up fresh corpses for the good doctor to use at his school. Burke and Hare are an unscrupulous lot, and after a short spell, the fresh corpse market dries up. The two then resort to murder, and their reign of terror haunts the back alleys of Edinburgh.

 

Meanwhile, the good doctor to be, Chris, finds himself a girlfriend. The only problem is that Mary Patterson (Billie Whitelaw) is a rather seedy type herself, and eventually breaks his heart. She just cannot turn away from her promiscuity and drinking, no matter how much Chris seems to love and care for her. As this is going on, Burke and Hare manage even to murder a poor, local boy, Daft Jamie (Melvyn Hayes), but as they do, a witness sees the deed going on, and informs the authorities.

 

Will Burke and Hare pay for their crimes? And what fate will befall Dr. Knox for his role in this murderous scheme? You must watch to find out the surprise ending to this film!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

This story is a good one, and the fact that it’s based on a true story makes it all the better. Another fact is that the film being in black and white is for the best as well. As usual, Cushing delivers a rock-solid performance, and his fans expect nothing less. His ability to lift inferior scripts, casts, etc., to greater heights. Not that he needs to necessarily in this film, but the cast isn’t over the top great. There is one other outstanding performance, and that is the one portrayed by Donald Pleasance. He really turns on the creep factor, and is a very evil person in this film. Billie Whitelaw is also quite good in her role, if not slightly outrageous.

The sets, costumes, and music (Stanley Black), are all splendid. There are a couple of surprises in this one, and they’ll not be spoiled in this review, so no worries. The director, John Gilling, is most known for his work with Hammer Studios, as is Cushing, of course, but this film was actually put out by a smaller production company (Triad Productions). But don’t let that fool you, the film is a winner, and more than worth your time! This company had a few good films including one of my favorite sci-fi/horror films, The Trollenberg Terror!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

1 vs 1 Which comic is Best?

I was thinking about boxing matches the other day, and how two big-time fighters entering a boxing ring to duke it out used to be a bigger deal than what it is today. In the vein of that time-honored tradition, let us take a look at two “number ones” and see how they stack up against each another! The first round will feature two books from DC comics, and they are good ones! Batman and the Outsiders #1 (1983) vs All-Star Squadron #1 (1981), are the two participants so get ready for a throw down of epic proportions!

Batman, Metamorpho, Black Lightning, Katana, Halo, Geo-Force, and Looker. This team, mostly composed of new characters was a good mix, and that favored the book’s appeal. Not only that, but it didn’t hurt that Mike Barr (writer) and Jim Aparo (art) were the creators. A jam-packed first issue featuring the sinister Baron Bedlam!

 

Secondly, we have All-Star Squadron! A period piece starring some of the Golden and Silver Age heroes that were a part of the JSA (Justice Society of America). Hawkman, Atom, and Dr. Mid-Nite are joined by Plastic Man, Robotman, Liberty Belle, and Johnny Quick, as they meet the POTUS, FDR, as he helps them create a new super team, to fight against the Axis powers in WWII! But, before that they need to find some missing members of the JSA as well! The creative team is one of legend, as Roy Thomas (writer), Rich Buckler (pencils), and Jerry Ordway (inks) brought a fantastic new comic book to the shelves!

 

Time to break these two books down: first the covers…

Cover – All-Star Squadron (+1)

While the B&TO has tighter pencils and inks, I think All-Star Squadron is better overall. The different array of characters in the pictures is pretty cool. I do love two of the faces on the other cover though, as Superman and Metamorpho are the best reactions to Batman’s dialogue. Speaking of that dialogue, it seems a bit forced and doesn’t match the interior page, so that is definitely taking points away. Buckler and Ordway are on point with this cover for sure. Definitely in the “iconic” category.

 

Interior art – Batman and the Outsiders (+1)

This is a close one, but Aparo definitely pulls slightly ahead of Buckler and Ordway if for nothing else than his rendering of Batman. That aside, both books have some very strong work, but again, Aparo is just a bit cleaner with his style. Colors and letters are both on the same level.

 

Story – All-Star Squadron (+1)

This one isn’t even close. A good WWII story with a myriad of characters that come together to fight Nazis, plus save other heroes from Solomon Grundy, Professor Zodiak, Sky Pirate, Degaton, and Wotan! Don’t get me wrong, Barr tells a good story in the other title, but it’s just not on par with this one by Roy “the boy” Thomas. Oh, and FDR (image below) is in this comic, so that seals it!

 

So, by a score of 2-1, All-Star Squadron #1 is the winner!

 

The Man-Thing! by Steve Gerber!

I know the Silver Age was the foundation for just about everything (except most notably Captain America, the Human Torch, and Namor) at Marvel, but the Bronze Age was the age that brought comics into the modern era, because it explored ideas that were previously ignored or even taboo. Drugs, violence, religion, you name it, this time in comics was exactly what the industry needed. One of the creators that helped lead the way with his unique style of storytelling was Steve Gerber. He was a shot in the arm no doubt as the pages were filled with social issues galore, and along with his idiosyncratic style, humor, and tons of off-the-wall stories readers were enthralled with these books!

 

Imagine if you will, trying to write stories in which the main character cannot speak. Taking over the character Man-Thing in only its third appearance, Gerber immediately turned the direction of the book/character from a straight up horror character, to one that is centric to stories with social issues, but you still get the horror angle as well (just not the main point of the story). The issues of (Adventures Into) Fear that featured Gerber’s work did lean slightly more towards more horror than anything, but once Manny transitioned to his own title, the restraints were completely off.

Let me be frank, Gerber could write any kind of story, not just one solely focused on social issues. He actually would write an issue or two with that as the main idea (Fear #12, 16), but then turn around and write a few issues in a row of just straight up horror (Fear #13-15). He wrote superhero stories (check out his trippy Daredevil run, Marvel Two-in-One, Omega the Unknown, and Guardians of the Galaxy!), and everything in between, but what most consider his crowning achievement is Howard the Duck. I’m partial to the Man-Thing  stories though, and if you read them, I guarantee you’ll become a fan!

Check out these images that really drive home how awesome the Gerber Man-Thing is! Enjoy!

 

 

 

Haunted Horror- A trip into Pre-code madness!

For all those that wonder in amazement over the horror comics they see today, do yourself a favor if you already haven’t. Go back in time (thanks to IDW and Yoe Books), before the CCA (Comics Code Authority) was instituted, and revel in the brilliant, thought-provoking, and outright envelope pushing work that was done in the era before that foolish code was created.

Kudos must be given to the creators of this incredible work, but also to Craig Yoe, for putting this all together, and reminding us all of those great times. Getting this material back in front of comic book buyers in this day through a big publisher like IDW is something to be lauded.

The stories are various in their subject matter, but the resounding theme was horror, straight up. Zombies, murderers, radioactive insects, vampires, werewolves, etc. These wild comic books were carefully hidden under the beds of kids everywhere back in the 1950’s, in hopes that mom wouldn’t find them and throw them away. Don’t let that fool you though, they’re still pretty edgy even in this era. Do yourself a favor, grab these issues before they get too expensive, because we all know how expensive the original comics are from this age!

 

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Cinema Sunday: It Came from Outer Space (1953)

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Title: It Came from Outer Space

Distributor: Universal-International

Writer: Harry Essex (novel by Ray Bradbury, and perhaps the screenplay as well)

Director: Jack Arnold

Producer: William Alland

Starring: Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Russell Johnson, Joe Sawyer

Released: May 1953

MPAA: Approved

 

 

After a long winter hiatus, I wanted to return to my roots and review a film from the classic sci-fi (B-movie) genre! Along with classic horror, this category is near and dear to my heart, for reasons that would take forever to explain. Suffice to say they both are treasures from my youth that I still hold close, and got me through some adverse times.

One thing that makes B-movies from the 1950s and 1960s so good, was the “tough guy” lead actors. Perhaps none more so than Richard Carlson. A real life bad apple, serving in the United States Navy as a pilot, Carlson brought his fearlessness to the big screen (and small screen). A cigarette smoking, fist fighting, ladies man who had a very short list of peers in those categories (probably only John Agar), Carlson epitomized everything about that far gone era of films.

In this film however, Carlson is more of the reasonable man, than throwing punches every five minutes. Yes there is some action on his part, but he’s mostly the voice of reason that doesn’t use violence. OK, let’s get on with the show!

 

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The film begins with a spaceship crashing to Earth, on the outskirts of a small, middle-American town. A voice tells us that a little about the town, and the scenery there. We see inside the voice’s home, and as John Putnam (Richard Carlson), and his girlfriend, Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush) are sharing a quiet moment together, they head outside to stargaze. Putnam has a huge telescope, and he peeks through it, hoping to see something. Ass the two are about to start making out, they see a meteorite (or so the think)rocketing towards the nearby desert. It smashes into the Earth, and Putnam, being an amateur astronomer gets riled up about it.

 

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We the viewers get to see that it was no meteorite, but a space ship that crashed. As the smoke clears, we see a terrifying looking alien pop out of a door on the ship! It searches the nearby area, leaving a trail of slime behind it as it scares off the desert animals. The following day, John, Ellen, and a chopper pilot (Dave Willock) investigate. John heads down inside the crater to get a closer look, and when he does, he’s shocked to see an alien space craft! He approaches the open door, but it slams shut, causing some loose rocks to slide down over the craft. John manages to crawl out unscathed, but Ellen and Pete don’t believe him.

 

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As they’re trying to figure things out, Sheriff Matt Warren (Charles Drake) shows up with his deputy, and of course they laugh at Putnam, saying he’s nuts. Of course Ellen and Pete can’t verify the story since they didn’t go down to see it themselves. As they’re driving home, one of the creatures is standing right in the middle of the highway! It forces them off of the road, causing them to almost smash into a rock. As John gets out to investigate, the creature is in the brush, watching him.

The following day, the news media has found out about the “meteorite” crash, and is going crazy. Scientists, the military, and even the sheriff and his men are there lurking around. They continue to make fun of John, and even harass Ellen. The sheriff also tries to warn off John about being with Ellen (as he worked for her father and told him he’d look out for her after his death). John tells the sheriff that Ellen does what she wants, and that he isn’t telling her to do anything she doesn’t want to do.

 

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On their way home, John and Ellen run into a couple of friends that work for the utilities company. One of them, George (Russell Johnson) tells them that everything has been calm as far as they’ve seen. He and Frank (Joe Sawyer) let John listen to some strange noises over the phone lines, but they can’t figure out what is causing it.

Over the next few days, townspeople, begin to disappear for a day or so, only to return in a dazed state like they’ve been hypnotized. They seem to have an ulterior motive for everything they do, and that eventually gets the skeptical sheriff to wonder what is going on. John eventually searches the desert area by the crater, and finds an old abandoned mine. He tries to enter but is confronted by one of the aliens. The alien tells him they mean no harm but recruited the townspeople to help repair their ship, so they can return to the cosmos. Putnam believes the creature, but will the sheriff?

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

One of the earliest films about this subject (you did already have The Thing from Another World, and The Day the Earth Stood Still at this point, plus some other notables), the angle of aliens that were not evil is something you really need to consider. That was not the norm and quite frankly still isn’t. We have Ray Bradbury to thank for that, and from some reading I’ve done, the man credited as screenwriter pretty much just took what Bradbury wrote and made extremely minor changes. We all know Bradbury is a beast at writing scary, weird stories, but he should get the credit for this one.

Most of the films from this era don’t have very notable music but Herman Stein did a good job on this one. Very threatening, and melodramatic when needed. Clifford Stine was on top of his game with the cinematography as well, especially in the scenes with the aliens.

Carlson is his usual awesome self. He’s a very strong presence in every film he’s been the lead in, and that is a fact. Barbara Rush is quite good as well. She does a fantastic job as John’s girlfriend, a concerned citizen, trying to balance being a school teacher and that usual form of reasoning versus her feelings for John and his beliefs and so on. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a very beautiful woman either (image below), as she’s basically the only woman in the entire film!

 

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Don’t hesitate, look this one up and give it a viewing. Set aside a rainy afternoon and check out this classic! You won’t be disappointed!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

 

 

Batman Family 4, 1976 “Dangerous Doings for the Dynamite Duo!”

I recently declared in a group on social media that I read the greatest Batman comic of all time, and could now die a happy man. Some thought I was joking…I wasn’t…not one bit. Yeah, I know The Dark Knight, Birth of the Demon, The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, etc., etc. all get the critical praise, and rightly so, but my tastes are a little different (and I have read most of those stories). Batman meeting Fatman cannot be topped. A cover showing Robin getting the stuffing knocked out of him by a faux Santa Claus is pretty cool as well! The other stories in the book are good stuff and Elongated Man has always been one of my favorite ancillary characters in the DC universe. The Batgirl/Robin story is solid, but the real gem is the ludicrousness of the Batman/Fatman story. It is awesome.

When you see the glorious cover by Ernie Chan (pencils and inks), and Tatjana Wood (Colors), you know how awesome this book is going to be!  The interior pages hold more delight, as Elliot S. Maggin, Pablo Marcos, Vince Colletta, Bob Rozakis, José DelboBill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff, Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella, and more!

 

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Jack Kirby’s – Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth!

A post-apocalyptic world dominated by talking apes with an odd assortment of other talking creatures such as killer dolphins…yep. The unbridled imagination of Jack “King” Kirby (writer, editor, penciler) is something of wonder to us mere mortals, and it has been from his earliest works to his creations in the 1970s- work such as Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth!

The book has a Planet of the Apes meets Escape From New York kinda vibe to it, and that’s a wonderful combination. No, Kamandi isn’t Snake Plissken, but the general tone and war-torn future definitely match up. There’s quirkiness to this title that has all the charm you’d expect from a comic produced by Kirby. Every issue I own contains not just a wild story, but also multiple splash pages that will absolutely blow your mind!

The early issues were inked by Mike Royer (also inker on another great Kirby DC title during this era, The Demon), and other than Joe Sinnott and Bill Everett, he’s probably my favorite Kirby inker. The later issues were inked/lettered by D. Bruce Berry. His style fit Kirby pretty well too, but not quite as powerfully as Royer’s. My absolute favorite issue is 29, because of the Superman tie-in! Kirby was a creator that can make anything seem real, no matter how ludicrous it seems when you step back and look at it.

 

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X-Men Classics 1, 1983 “The Sentinels Live!”

Back in the Silver Age, the X-Men weren’t a big deal. The book just never seemed to be able to find an audience. The early issues were a bit tough to get through reading, but the Kirby artwork obviously helped. That said, after issue 66, it went into reprints. That’s the part that baffles me, since leading up to that last issue of new material (the title was cancelled and went into reprints for over four years, until 1975), the book was producing the strongest material to date by a long shot!

This fantastic reprint book shows us issues 57-59, with that incredible story with the return of the Sentinels! Of course that means Trask as well, but we also see the dangerous Mesmero too (and Magneto…sort of)! The interpersonal relationships between the team members is on full display in these issues for sure.

Roy Thomas (writer) was certainly a gifted writer and that was clear on any kind of book, but his keen sense on writing team books was certainly felt by the readers of the X-Men. He knew how to weave the personal nature of the X-Men and the real world applications together seamlessly. The team of Neal Adams (pencils) and Tom Palmer (inks) put on quite a show in these issues as they did in pretty much everything else they touched as creators during their storied careers. The colors were courtesy of Daina Graziunas. Throw in a great wraparound cover by Mike Zeck (and Palmer on inks again), and throw in some extra art by Adams as well, and you get to see a visual feast!

 

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Thor 198, 1972 “And Odin Dies!”

After the departure of Jack Kirby (in 1970), Marvel comics needed someone to step in and fill the gigantic shoes of that legend. Not that anyone can do what Kirby did exactly, but to keep the titles rolling on pace, and with solid work. The Fantastic Four and Thor were books that Kirby made into gold with his style and powerful pencils, not to mention his imagination. With the source material already in place, they turned to “Big” John Buscema to take over the artistic duties.

In this issue, we see the return of the mighty Mangog! One of the few beings that has actually rivaled Thor in power, and strength (and making bold statements!). Throw in the Warriors Three, the Grand Vizier, and just about every other inhabitant of noble Asgard, and you’ve got a story to remember! A slam-bang action issue that features all the characters you know and love from this corner of the Marvel Universe!

Written by Gerry Conway, pencils by “Big” John Buscema, inks by Vince Colletta, John Costanza on letters, and edited by Stan Lee!

 

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