Marvel Triple Action 17, 1974 “Once an Avenger”

Let’s face it, villains are much cooler than heroes. Their ability to make us think, to challenge the hero, to explore boundaries, etc., is way beyond that of their counterparts. Take Kang the Conqueror for instance. He’s without a doubt a top-tier villain in any universe, and has proved that since 1964 (Avengers 8). This mag is a reprint of The Avengers 23, 1965, and the fourth appearance of the character in under two years! For any era, that’s pretty good, and shows what kind of staying power Kang would have for years to come!

In this issue, we see Cap leaves the team after some turmoil (he was a bit temperamental back then!), and attempts to take a job as a sparring partner for a boxing champion. That lasts about two seconds, and he returns to the team afterward. Just in time, as the rest of the team has been subdued by Kang! And immediately after taking down Earth’s Mightiest Heroes…Kang attempts to take Ravonna out on a date but her dad says no (panel below). No joke!

This epic tale was brought to you by Dashing Don Heck (pencils), Jazzy John Romita (cover and interior inks), Stan “the man” Lee (writer), Artie Simek (letters), and Jack “King” Kirby (cover pencils)!

 

 

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DC Archive Editions: World’s Finest Comics vol. 3

Thanks to a discount store (Ollie’s Bargain Outlet), I grabbed several great trade paperbacks of DC comics’ greatest characters! My library is very much dominated by Marvel Comics (the first 20+ years of reading/collecting I was a marvel Zombie for the most part), so any time I get the chance to grab some DC material from the Bronze Age (or earlier), I waste no time!

A team up book starring two of the greatest heroes ever in comics (maybe the best ever?) during an era that saw comic books under fire from the U.S. government (the misguided buffoons) gave us some of the most ludicrous stories ever. These stories are still very high in entertainment value, and are incredibly well drawn. Aliens are the big threat throughout this beautiful hardcover but also crooks, magicians, a Bat-Jester, Bat-Mite, Mr. Mxyzptlk, and more! Credits include- Curt Swan, Bill Finger, Dick Sprang, Jerry Coleman, Sheldon Moldoff, and Stan Kaye.

 

 

Marvel Collectors Item Classics 6 and 11, 1966/67

The Silver Age is when it all turned around for Marvel comics. The company went from vanilla books starring monsters, western heroes, and cheesy romance characters, to exciting titles like the Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man, etc. After just a few short years, Marvel had bona-fide hits on their hands, so they began to issue reprints of these stories (just 4 years after they were first printed!). These books are great, and you get four stories in each one! Classics starring the Fantastic Four, Iron Man (Tales of Suspense), The Incredible Hulk, and Dr. Strange (Strange Tales)! You get the best from Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Stan Lee, and more! Rather than droning on about how great these books are, I’ll just let the images do the talking for me!

 

Captain America – Top 5 Creative Teams

The character Captain America is not only the greatest superhero to ever don the red, white, and blue, but also the only hero from the Golden Age strictly born out of patriotism that survives today. That alone says something about the strength of the character, and in a small way about patriotism in general. That being said, Captain America has had some very thought-provoking story lines over the years, and a select few men have been responsible! Here are my choices for the five best of all time!

 

 

5. Joe Simon (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist)

There are two reasons I have these gentleman on this list (and where). First, I don’t believe you can have a list like this without the creators of the character. Not having read very much material from the Golden Age is why this team isn’t higher on the list. The fact that these men created one of the most iconic characters ever, but that they had him punching the ultimate personification of evil (Adolph Hitler) in the face is absolutely fantastic.

 

4. Stan Lee (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist)

In his second run with Cap, Kirby really cranked up the visual feasts. He took Cap to new heights that haven’t been reached again and probably never will be. The stories in this era (Silver Age in Tales of Suspense, and then his own title) had more intrigue and spy material than straight up war angles, and that fit perfectly with the Cold War going on at the time.

 

 

3. Roger Stern (writer) and John Byrne (artist)

If you sit back and think how great this run was and that it only encompassed nine issues, that alone tells you how great it truly was to read. Any creative team that can produce a serious story about Cap considering running for the presidency and you believe it, has to be near the top of any list. And just the creepy Baron Blood issues alone are incredibly good!

 

2. Ed Brubaker (writer) and Steve Epting (artist)

To say that Captain America (and a lot of the Marvel Universe) needed updating after the turn of the century is an understatement. The shot in the arm was delivered by this awesome team. And yes, this is a list of Cap creative teams, but this team bringing back Bucky, and turning him into Steve’s worst nightmare was pure genius. No one has come close to this level of writing since.

 

1. Steve Englehart (writer) and Sal Buscema (artist)

From issue #153-181 (with almost no interruptions), Steve and Sal gave the readers everything they could possibly want. The political intrigue, racial bigotry, disturbing truths about a government he trusted, etc. The best part though, was Cap’s friendship with the Falcon. He and Sam Wilson grew to be best of friends, and an awesome crime fighting team! The villains were a big part of this run as well- Dr. Faustus, the 1950s Cap and Bucky (click here for details), Red Skull, Yellow Claw, Serpent Squad, Baron Zemo, Moonstone, and more! All the while having guest stars like the X-Men, S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Panther, Iron Man, you name it. This creative team pulled out all the stops (even Cap quitting!), and that is why they are number one!

 

 

Honorable mentions; first, to the team of Jack Kirby (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist)! His return to Marvel in the mid-1970s ushered in some incredible trippy stories starring Cap, and even if the stories don’t grab you, the mind-numbing artwork will! Also, Stan Lee (writer) and Gene Colan (artist). Awesome run with more action than you can ever want, and a signature art style that is absolutely unique!

 

Marvel Treasury Edition 17, 1978 “The Incredible Hulk”

A few years ago, I discovered the awesomeness known as Treasury Editions. I knew of their existence, but never bought one due to the hefty price-tag they usually carry. Being a huge Doctor Strange fan though, I grabbed Marvel Treasury Edition 6, as I just couldn’t pass up the book and the $10 sticker! Back to the matter at hand though. Recently issue 17 popped up in front of me and just from seeing the cover and knowing there would be work by Herb Trimpe, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Sal Buscema, etc., I couldn’t resist buying it.

The cover blurb reads…”A Cataclysmic Collection of Classic Confrontations!” That blurb isn’t one of those familiar bait and switch deals, it’s for real. Inside we get four incredible stories, and each one shows the Jade Giant in some wars that he doesn’t necessarily come out of as the winner. Yep, he’s known as the strongest one there is, but it is cool to see even the strong get humbled and beaten once in a while. One of my favorite horror creatures and Hulk antagonists ever is in the first story, too!

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: Top Ten Hammer Films!

Lets cut to the chase, I’m a Hammer studios addict, and that being said, we all know they’re the greatest studio to produce horror films that ever was, is, and will be. With stars like Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Veronica Carlson, then adding great character actors like Michael Ripper, Oliver Reed, Andrew Keir, Andre Morell, etc., and under the direction of Terence Fisher, John Gilling, Anthony Hinds, and Jimmy Sangster, their films have no competition (overall in the broad sense).

Obviously an argument could be made for Universal, but I tend to look at it as Universal being the foundation and Hammer being the house. Yes, you do need a solid foundation but no one looking to be a home owner is excited about stone and mortar. When is the last time a party-goer entered a house and complimented the owner on the cinder blocks? Important, yes. The best part, I think not.

So, with all that being said, here are my top ten Hammer Studio films! Keep in mind, just straight up horror films here for the most part! Enjoy!

 

10. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

  • This film isn’t perfect by any means, and the rape scene is absolutely ludicrous (Dr. Frankenstein would never commit that act). But when there is action a-plenty, gruesome murders, and one scene of dialogue in particular that sums up the good doctor perfectly. Cushing is on top of his game for sure in this film, as usual. Oh, and the gorgeous (and most beautiful Hammer girl in my humble opinion) Veronica Carlson is in this film.

9. The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas (1957)

  • A Hammer film about a Yeti? Yes! This black and white gem is nothing short of incredible. It’s not because a Yeti invades an encampment and starts tearing people’s limbs off, then beating them over the head with them (although that would be cool), it’s because the film builds tension and the suspense is great. Think John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). Yes, in that film there are plenty of gruesome moments, but its the suspense he builds that makes the film outstanding.

8. The Reptile (1966)

  • 1966 was a great year for Hammer studios. Five films and four of them were very solid films. This one in particular is a favorite of mine because of Jacqueline Pearce. She portrays a young woman who is seemingly kept prisoner by her own father. We later find out why he’s so overbearing. Her performance is quite good along with a larger than usual role for Hammer stalwart, Michael Ripper. Anytime he gets more screen time, the film is better for it! Good sets and atmosphere in this flick.

7. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

  • Not wanting to be typecast, Christopher Lee bowed out of playing Dracula after Hammer’s first film starring the count (more on that one later). The franchise did suffer without him briefly, but he returned to the role that put him on the map a few years later in this film. With no dialogue (Lee has his version why and so does Jimmy Sangster (the writer) about why), Lee manages to be extremely menacing and cements himself as the best Dracula ever.

6. The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

  • In this movie, André Morell shows us just how good he can be in a horror film. Not only is he the “hero,” but also a concerned, loving father, a friend, a smartypants, and a gentleman, all at once. throw in another appearance by the lovely Jacqueline Pearce, along with Diane Clare, John Carson (a great lout in this one!), and once again, Michael Ripper! Great atmospherics, music (James Bernard), and sets in this one.

5. The Gorgon (1964)

  • This one is based on a classic Greek myth of old and stars Cushing, Lee, Shelley, and had Terence Fisher directing, and John Gilling writing. The gang’s all here for this one, and it really does put on quite a show. An insane asylum, a corrupt town hiding a secret, Cushing in more of a heel role with Lee more of the hero along with a fine performance by Richard Pasco. This is a film that can be watched every so often and never get tiresome. Another film with a noteworthy musical score as well as excellent sets.

4. (Horror of) Dracula (1958)

  • The first Dracula film by Hammer, and it’s still probably the best Cushing/Lee team up of all time. Cushing is an excellent Dr. Van Helsing, and Lee was born to wear the fangs and hiss at audiences with blood dripping from his lips. Michael Gough is also on top of his game here with George Woodbridge in a small role as he had in multiple Hammer films. Never miss an opportunity to see this film.

3. The Mummy (1959)

  • Hammer really went away from the original 1932 film (Boris Karloff), borrowing elements from other films and adding in their own ingredients, and mixing it all together. This film is definitely in Peter Cushing’s top five performances of all time. He really commands the scenes and shows why he, along with Lee are the faces of Hammer films. Very good sets, and the action scenes are tremendous.

2. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

  • Another film with the dual threat of Cushing and Lee, we also get André Morell as well! In this adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous novel, we see Cushing (Sherlock Homes) and André Morell (Dr. Watson), play off of each other wonderfully. Throw in a solid performance by Christopher Lee, an incredible score by James Bernard, all under the watchful eye of director Terence Fisher, and you get one of Hammer’s best films no matter what genre you compare it to!

And the number one film is…

 

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

  • In this first horror film collaboration between Cushing and Lee, you can see the teamwork and power these two have together. Cushing is perfect for his role as the morally ambiguous doctor, as is Lee in his depiction of the unfortunate creature. Good performances by Robert Urquhart, Hazel Court, and Valerie Gaunt, add to the great gift this film truly is for film addicts. The beginning of the film, the flashback that dovetails around right back to the beginning/end is marvelous in every sense that a film can be. This is the one that started it all (the great horror run for Hammer)!

Honorable mention for films that didn’t quite make the cut (pardon the pun)!

Brides of Dracula (1961)

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

 

 

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!

 

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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Cinema Sunday: Nightmare Castle (1965)

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Title: Nightmare Castle

Distributor: Allied Artists Pictures (U.S.)

Writers: Mario Caiano, Fabio De Agostini,

Director: Mario Caiano

Producer: Carlo Caiano

Starring: Barbara Steele, Lawrence Clift, Paul Miller, Helga Line

Released: July 1965 (Italy)

MPAA: UR

 

Taking a break from the Boris Karloff addiction, and roaming across the seas for a look at one of my favorite scream queens of all time, Barbara Steele! A while ago I reviewed Black Sunday, another film starring Miss Steele, and that one was a product of the late, great Mario Bava. This film didn’t have his legendary vision, but I’ll bet it will surprise you! Alright, let’s get down to business!

 

The film starts with a mad scientist guy experimenting on frogs. A beautiful woman approaches, and we find out then that Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) is on the precipice of a break through. His wife, Muriel (Barbara Steele), taunts him, as he’s about to leave on a trip to a science conference. The maid interrupts their little spat, and then later, Stephen leaves in a carriage. Before he leaves, he leaves instructions with the gardener, David (Rik Battaglia), that he needs to take care of a few things while he’s gone.

 

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After he leaves, David comes into the house and at this time we find out that he and Muriel have had an affair. As they run to the greenhouse to make whoopie, they’re both seen by the maid, and she has a sinister look on her face. The two begin making out in the greenhouse, but before things can get to crazy, they’re surprised by Stephen. Apparently he knew something was up and faked his departure earlier. He smashes the gardener over the head with a poker, then the next time we see the trio, Stephen has the two adulterers chained up in the basement, and is whipping the beejeesus out of them.

 

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As the torture is continuing, Muriel tells him that she knew that he was a beast, so she tore up the old will she had made that bequeathed everything to him, and made a new one that leaves every penny to her sister (who’s apparently mentally unstable).  Stephen then tries to get Muriel to tell him where the will is, and that if she does, he’ll not kill her and things can go back to normal. She refuses of course, and then we see him and the maid, Solange (Helga Liné), trying to formulate a plan. They resolve that they’ll kill the two in the basement, and then set their sights on the sister.

 

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He concocts a plan, and then executes it. He ties Muriel to the bed, then drops some acid on her! He then releases her boyfriend, who lunges to her side. At that moment, he electrocutes the two of them! Time passes, and we see Stephen continuing his experiments. He uses the blood from his dead wife and her lover to reverse the aging process on the maid, Solange (who’s now beautiful, and not old and decrepit).

 

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The scene changes again (some time passes I believe), and the carriage approaches the home. We now see Solange, as she comes outside to greet Muriel’s sister, Jenny (Steele again, but now blond, instead of her trademarked jet-black hair). Solange is startled at the uncanny resemblance of the girl, but also the fact that Stephen is with her, and announces that the two were married just this morning. The two then set out to drive Jenny insane, and then they’ll have the family fortune all to themselves. Stephen and Solange think they have Jenny trapped like a fly in the web of a spider…but what they don’t realize is that sometimes the spider becomes the fly, and can become the victim as well!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

This film is one that fits into the category of being better than it gets credit for. Of course you’ll have those that will say it’s cheesy, or cheap, or that it lacks quality in certain areas. While that may be true at times, you cannot deny the foundation of the film, which is the actors. Barbara Steele does a great job in her dual role (actually triple role, but I’ll let you figure that one out for yourself). She really has a knack for playing someone who is truly sinister. Between this film and Black Sunday, she should be mentioned in the same breath as the other female horror greats that have graced the screen.

The film is also slightly esoteric, but this is part of its charm (and all movies of this type). Some get put-off by dubbing, but this film does a decent job compared to some atrocities that are out there. The home where the film largely takes place, is atmospheric enough to lend some weight to help things along. A mediocre sound track also helps in a couple of spots as well. The two leading ladies are nothing short of gorgeous (images below), and that is something this era is spectacularly known for, and is expected by fans. Murder, betrayal, possession, ghosts, torture, you name it, you get it all in this must see film for any Barbara Steele fan!

 

Click here for the trailer (even though I believe the film is public domain)!

 

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The Human Torch 8, 1974 “The Painter of a Thousand Perils!”

Alright, so, Torch got his own series in the 1970’s…sort of…yes, it’s reprints, BUT the cover is brand new, and the reprints are good stuff! When you have villains as sinister as The Painter (Wilhelm Van Vile), and “Scar” Tobin, you know that your chances of survival are minimal! OK, maybe not, but these two evil-doers are definitely near the top of the cornball list, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s an awesome list.

When I look down at the credits box, and see Jack “King” Kirby (pencils), I understand that there will be a quality to this book that few others can even think of attaining. Frequent inker of the Silver Age (but also a good penciler and overall artist since the Golden Age) “Darlin” Dick Ayers, is a name most will remember from his inking in the early Marvel Age. He also did some great stuff in the military and western genres as well. The scripter, Robert Bernstein, is an enigma to me. I believe I’ve only heard his name once or twice before, and to my recollection, this is the only comic I own with his work in it. The cover is by one of my favorite unsung heroes of the Marvel Bronze Age, “Rampaging” Ron Wilson! A plot by Stan Lee and letters by Terry Szenics rounds out the creative team! Oh, and don’t miss the advert at the bottom! 

 

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