Friday, November 29, 2013

WHAT I BOUGHT AT WIZARD WORLD 5

Time was running out last Friday evening for the first day of Wizard World Austin Comic Con. There was about thirty minutes to go before the doors to the convention hall were going to close for the night. My buddy Matt and I were in search of a dealer's booth that he had seen earlier in the day. He swore that this guy had a ton of trade paperbacks, hardcovers and graphic novels, all for half-price.

After much searching and a few stops at some other dealers who also had half-price trades, we finally found the booth we were looking for. Remember the last shot in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK? This was almost like it as there were at least thirty (possibly more) long boxes full of trade paperbacks and hardcovers, all of them for sale at half the original cover price.

I knew I could get into big trouble mighty quick here. I'd already spent close to the entire amount that I had budgeted for the day and I didn't want to buying stuff like a drunken sailor in a woman's prison with a fistful of pardons (if that even makes any sense). I had paid cash for everything thus far and I didn't want to go the credit card route but geez, did this guy have the goods.

The very first book in the very first box in which I looked was the book you see pictured above. Regular readers of this blog know that I am a huge Doc Savage fan and this item was on my current want list. I knew I had to have this one so I pulled it out of the box and set it aside. And then I found something else I wanted, and something else, and oh, boy, does this look cool and hey, I've been looking for this one and so on and so on. I soon had a small stack of books that, even at half off cover price, were going to amount to more money than I wanted to spend. I slowly put everything back into the boxes where I'd found them and decided that there was only book that I absolutely HAD to have and providence, fate, kismet, destiny, whatever, I decreed which book that was.

I bought DOC SAVAGE: SKULL ISLAND by Will Murray and walked away knowing I had done the right thing. I don't know when I'll get around to reading it but it's on my shelf alongside DOC SAVAGE: THE DESERT DEMONS (which I've read), DOC SAVAGE: HORROR IN GOLD (purchased at Midtown Comics in New York City) and DOC SAVAGE: THE FORGOTTEN REALM (a gift from my sister last Christmas). These are all brand new Doc adventures written by pulp expert Will Murray. The books are based on notes, outlines and other materials left by the late Lester Dent, the creator and chief writer of the original Doc Savage series of pulp novels.

As I said, I've yet to read SKULL ISLAND and other than the fact that it involves Doc and King Kong, I have no idea how the actual story within plays out. I tell you that because in 1979, my buddy Bob Parker and I, had a similar idea. We were going to write our own original Doc Savage novel (I guess you'd call it fanfic nowadays) which would explain where Doc was when Kong was on his rampage in New York and why Doc wasn't involved in such an obvious 1930s New York City set adventure.

We decided to approach the story by declaring that everything that happened in the film, KING KONG (1933) and the early Doc Savage novels, was canonical and really happened exactly as depicted on screen and page. Our job was to fill in the blanks, answer some obvious questions and create an "untold" story of Doc's earliest days as an adventurer and crime fighter.

We decided that all of the equipment that Carl Denham used on his expedition to Skull Island had been purchased from a young Clark Savage Jr. who held the patent on the gas grenades and other gear used in the film. Doc didn't make the voyage to Skull Island because he was involved with two equally pressing matters in New York City: his first major super villain and his first (and to date, only) love interest.

That's right, Doc was going to be in love for the one and only time in his career in our tale. We pictured a young Clark operating entirely on his own without the aid of the Fabulous Five. He had his headquarters on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building and flush with cash from his sale to the Denham expedition, was busy developing new technology to use in his war on crime.

His on-going battle with his first super foe (a villain who had stolen some of Doc's devices) intersected with Clark's love affair with a beautiful young woman. Everything would come to a smashing climax on the night King Kong was on the loose in New York City. While Kong climbed the Empire State building, Doc and his foe were engaged in a literal fight to the death within Doc's headquarters on the 86th floor. In the process, Doc's love was murdered by the villain and Doc was forced to take the bad guy's life (again, for the first and only time in his career).

Devastated by the loss of his one true love, the blood on his hands from the killing of his foe and from his inability to stop the giant ape from wreaking havoc, Doc would shutter his headquarters and retire to his Fortress of Solitude. There he would re-dedicate himself to his campaign against crime, swearing to never again take a human life and to never allow himself to fall in love again. He would also realize that as supremely skilled as he was, Doc couldn't take on his lifelong crusade single handedly. He'd tried that once and failed. And so, he would decide to enlist the aide of his five best friends from the Great War and make them his team-mates in his adventures.

Bob and I were jazzed with what we had come up with. Remember, this was in 1979 and we were both young enough and foolish enough to believe that we could actually write such a book. Our working title was "Apocalypse Night" and we started writing it in a unique way. We decided to alternate chapters, Bob would write one, I'd write the next and so on with the goal of ending each chapter on a cliffhanger that would have to be resolved by whoever wrote the next chapter and that writer would then advance the narrative and end his chapter on another cliffhanger.

That was the plan. The execution was something entirely different. If I recall correctly we wrote a total of two chapters. Bob wrote the first one, I wrote the second (in which I had Ann Darrow working in one of Pat Savage's beauty salons) and that was it. We never wrote another word, collectively or individually.

I'm anxious to see what approach Will Murray takes with his story of Doc and Kong. I'm sure it'll be a good one and I know I'll enjoy reading it. But I can't help but wonder if it will in any way remotely resemble what Bob and I dreamed of doing thirty four years ago.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

WHAT I BOUGHT AT WIZARD WORLD 4

I scored a still shrink wrapped, hardcover copy of MARVEL MASTERWORKS: SGT. FURY VOLUME 3 for half-price at Wizard World Austin Comic Con last week. This handsome volume (love the military camouflage graphic) reprints SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS #24-32 and ANNUAL #2. The stories herein were written by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas (my all-time favorite comic book writer) and illustrated by Dick Ayers.

I wasn't buying SGT. FURY on a regular basis when these comics were originally published in 1965 and 1966 (that habit started in September, 1966, when I started buying every issue of every Marvel comic I could find). These issues mark a turning point in the series as Stan Lee turned the scripting reins over to young Roy Thomas (who, in his introduction to the book, confesses that SGT. FURY was one of the few Marvel comics he did not read).

 One of the key issues for me in this collection are #27 (Feb. 1966) featuring "Fury Fights Alone" in which the secret origin of Fury's later, post-war permanent eye-patch is revealed. I never bought this comic when I was a kid but I recall seeing it advertised in almost every Marvel comic that was published that month.

 The other standout issue for me is #29 (April, 1996) with the story "Armageddon!" I remember reading this comic one afternoon at summer camp and wondering how in the world to pronounce this new, unknown word: Armageddon. I sounded it out as "Ar-Mage-Don" but somehow, I knew that wasn't correct cause I'd never heard anyone say such a word.  I finally figured it out later and added a new, somewhat sophisticated word to my ten-year-old kid vocabulary.

Who says comics aren't educational?

Monday, November 25, 2013

WHAT I BOUGHT AT WIZARD WORLD 3

Once upon a time, major motion pictures had souvenir program books produced for sale at select first run movie theaters across the country. You'd buy your ticket to the show, your popcorn and Dr. Pepper (that's what I always get) and if you were lucky enough, a souvenir program book.

These booklets were sometimes hardbound, sometimes soft cover and they were full of color stills from the film you were about to see along with information about the cast and crew and the production of the film. My collection of these souvenir movie program books includes EXODUS, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, BEN-HUR, SPARTACUS, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. I used to have more, including 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE GODFATHER, STAR WARS, ALIEN and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.

When I found the program booklet for SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE at Wizard World Austin Comic Con on Friday, I knew it was an item that I had to have. It's a neat little collectible from one of my all-time favorite films. The one I bought was in pretty rough shape and the dealer wanted five bucks for it. He was also selling the James Bond mag I wrote about in my previous post so, taking a page from the AMERICAN PICKERS handbook, I bundled the items and asked him what was the best he could do for the two books considering the lower grade condition of both. He let me have them for twenty-five bucks, which means I got this movie program for free. Sweet!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

WHAT I BOUGHT AT WIZARD WORLD 2

Dell published thousands of paperback books, comic books and magazines over the years the company was in business. At the height of the mid-'60s James Bond craze (circa 1965), the company published the magazine pictured above. It contains articles and photographs from the first three Bond films: DR. NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and GOLDFINGER. The mag is a much sought after item and is highly prized by 007 collectors.

I found a copy at Wizard World Austin Comic Con this past Friday. The condition wasn't the greatest. There's a light stain on the front cover but the mag is completely intact and readable with no loose or missing pages. A better condition copy would have cost 3 to 4 times as much as this one which I gladly paid twenty-five dollars for. A great find!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

WHAT I BOUGHT AT WIZARD WORLD 1

Here is the first of the several treasures I bought at Wizard World Austin Comic Con yesterday.

Pictured above is STAG Magazine for July, 1955. Regular readers of this blog know of my affection for vintage men's adventure magazines or "men's sweat mags" as they have sometimes been accurately called. I asked around at several dealer's booths yesterday in my quest to find some affordable men's adventure mags. I was directed to one dealer, Black Cat Comics, but alas, I don't recall the name of the gentleman I dealt with. He was a nice guy though and he gave me a fair price on the mag.

He had only one men's adventure mag for sale and it's pictured above. I bought it immediately. He told me that a few years ago he bought a pretty sizable collection (80 some odd issues) of vintage sweats, kept a few of the very best issues (the ones with Nazi bondage covers) and sold the rest on eBay.

Granted, I didn't canvas every single dealer at the con in search of men's adventure mags but I think the fact that only one of the dozen or so dealers I did check out had any of these for sale and only one issue to boot proves my theory that these babies are becoming harder and harder to find and if you're a collector of this material, you've got to buy them when and where you find them.

This one's a beauty with a great head hunter cover. I've already filed it away with my other sweats and in doing so, discovered that I have more issues of STAG (ranging from the early 1950s to the early 1970s in cover dates) than any other men's adventure magazine title.

More to come. Stay tuned. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY

Like every other American of a certain age, I have a story about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that occurred in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963. In very many ways, it is the exact same story, no different than yours (if you have one). Yet, also like each and every one of the countless "I remember" stories that our generation has to tell, it is different.

I was a seven-year-old second grader on that fifty years ago Friday. The city of Austin was abuzz about the president's scheduled visit to our city. The plan was that when the Kennedy entourage left Dallas, they would journey to Austin for a parade down Congress Avenue followed by a big fundraiser dinner that night at Municipal Auditorium (now the Long Center). The appearance of the president in our city was such a big deal that the superintendent of the Austin school district, Irby Carruth, had declared that all AISD schools would be let out early that day to accommodate those of us who wished to go downtown and see the president.

School was let out and I was walking along the sidewalk in front of Brykerwoods Elementary school when a kid (and for the life of me, I cannot remember his name), came up to me and said that I shouldn't bother to go downtown to see the president because he'd been shot in Dallas. I had no idea what that could possibly mean, other than that I would not have a chance to see the president.

I walked home and found both my mother and father at home from their jobs (unusual for that time of day) along with my older brother and sister (who were in high school at the time). Every adult in our neighborhood was at home that afternoon and in every house on the street, families were doing what my family was doing: watching television for more information about this horrible tragedy.

I remember that a classmate of mine, a boy named Keith Walton, was scheduled to spend the night at our house that evening and we went ahead with our planned sleep over. Keith and I awoke early on Saturday morning, went into the den and turned on the television. We were going to do what all kids did on Saturday mornings back then: watch cartoons. But there were no cartoons that morning. There was nothing on television (Austin only had one television station at the time, KTBC, which was owned by Vice President (now, suddenly, President) Lyndon B. Johnson) that day except coverage of the Kennedy assassination.

After we took Keith home, my dad took me to Marshall's Hobby Shop on  the Drag (just north of the UT campus). We purchased the new Aurora plastic model kit of The Phantom of the Opera and spent the afternoon painting and building the model. It was more like a regular Saturday afternoon for me but for my dad I suspect it was a way to take his mind off of what was going on in our nation. Both of my parents were staunch, rock-ribbed Republicans who harbored no great love for either President Kennedy or, especially, Lyndon Johnson. But everyone, regardless of their political party affiliation was shocked and moved to tears by what had happened.

It was on that Sunday, after church, that one of my most indelible memories of that weekend occurred. We were gathered around the dining table in our den with the big, clunky black and white television turned in our direction so that we could watch the transfer of Lee Harvey Oswald from the Dallas police department to the county jail. My father's friend Bill Kuhn was dining with us. While we ate and watched Bill suddenly shouted "that guy's got a gun!" And indeed, "that guy", Jack Ruby, did have a gun as we watched him murder Oswald live on television right there on a fine Sunday afternoon.

Years later when I was in high school, I had the opportunity to view for the first time, the famous Zapruder film of the assassination. Some guy whose name I don't recall had a copy of the film and he was making the rounds, showing the film to any group of people who wanted to see it. The screening was held after school one day at Austin High and I definitely wanted to see the film. I think there was a slight admission fee which I gladly paid. I have mixed feelings about seeing this bloody part of American history. It was truly vivid, graphic and disturbing to watch and it sure looked to me as if that fatal final shot came from the front. But I believed then and I still believe now that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone as did Jack Ruby.

Finally, a few years later, when I was working as a television news reporter at KTVV (now KXAN) Channel 36, I was handed an odd assignment one weekend. It seems there was a man here in Austin who allegedly owned the funeral hearse that was used to take Lee Harvey Oswald to his final resting place. A photographer and I met the guy in Zilker Park and saw the vehicle for ourselves. We looked it over (and filmed it) from front bumper to rear door. The owner, if I recall, did not have any provenance to support his claim and he told us that he used the hearse to carry his gear on fishing trips. I have no idea of the whereabouts of that vehicle today but if his story was true, for a few brief moments, I was in contact with a tangible, physical object that was connected, however tangentially, to the Kennedy assassination. It was a macabre relic of both American history and eternity.




MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 50

Lon Chaney Jr, as Larry Talbot, the Wolfman, adorns the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #99. This issue features a 16 page film book of the Universal "monster rally" horror classic HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Great!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 49

A nice portrait of one of the titular characters from INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN graces the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #98. Other features include BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB (Hammer horror), When Dracula Met The Vampires. THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (a horrible film) and DR. PHIBES WRITHES AGAIN (I love Dr. Phibes!) 

Monday, November 18, 2013

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 48

There must have been a budget crisis at Warren Publications in the early 1970s. How else to explain yet another issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS, this one #97, with artwork from a then current horror film? This approach must have been cheaper than commissioning original artwork and I can understand and respect that costs had to be cut in order for the company to stay in business. But I really don't care for some of these FM covers circa 1972/1973. Didn't stop me from buying 'em at the time though. When I was in high school, I bought every Warren mag I could get my hands on! 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

THE LAND LEVIATHAN

I finished reading THE LAND LEVIATHAN by British science-fiction author Michael Moorcock the other day. It's the second book in his Nomad of the Time Streams trilogy. I recently posted about the first book in this series, THE WARLORD OF THE AIR. I have a copy of the third and final book, THE STEEL TSAR, on my shelf waiting to be read.

LAND continues the story of one Oswald Bastable, a British soldier from the turn of the 20th century who has somehow become adrift in time. This drifting causes him to visit various alternate timelines in which history happened differently than it did in ours.

In LAND, Bastable finds himself in a world in which, due to some advances in technology in the late 19th century, World War I occurred several years earlier than in our timeline and with drastically different results. The major European powers as well as the United Stares, have been devastated by the war with Great Britain a no-man's land due to the use of plague weapons in the war. The three remaining world powers include the Australasian-Japanese Federation, Bantustan (formerly South Africa, now a peaceful, neutral nation ruled by President Mahatma Ghandi) and the Ashanti Empire, an alliance of African nations ruled by Cicero Hood.

As in the previous novel, Moorcock uses this strange new world to explore ideas about geo-politics, systems of government, race relations, philosophies and more. Bastable wanders this timeline for a while before settling in Bantustan in the service of President Ghandi. But it's not long until he's asked to be a representative to the Ashanti Empire, where he learns more about the warlord Cicero Hood who has built the most technologically advanced army in the world, a military force comprised of ships that fly in the air, upon the water and below the waves, along with immense tank-like ironclad vehicles. Hood plans to invade the United States and liberate the black men and women who have been forced into a new iteration of slavery.

There's a tremendous air/sea battle in the North Atlantic, an attack on New York City and a climactic showdown in Washington D.C. in which the monstrous Land Leviathan is used to conquer the white slavers. The book ends with Bastable's where-abouts unknown but that question is sure to be answered in the third and final novel.

THE LAND LEVIATHAN is a relatively short novel and it reads very quickly. I wish Moorcock had lavished a few more pages on details on some of the battle sequences (they seem to be over much too quickly). Also, the first fifty pages are all prologue in which Moorcock's grandfather goes searching for Bastable in China only to find the mysterious Una Persson (another time traveler who also appeared in THE WARLORD OF THE AIR) and the manuscript of Bastable's adventures. Still, I enjoyed reading THE LAND LEVIATHAN and will get around to STEEL TSAR after I read something else for a change of pace.

Friday, November 15, 2013

FIVE YEARS, ER, WEEKS IN A BALLOON

I was six-years-old when Irwin Allen's FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON was released in 1962. I didn't see it at the time. In fact, I'd never seen this film until I watched it this afternoon. My critical faculties were fairly undeveloped at the age of six. I tended to like pretty much every movie and television program I watched and loved every comic book I read. I was part of the audience this film was aimed at when it came out but I think that even as an indiscriminate kid of six I would have turned my nose up at this turkey.

Loosely based on the Jules Verne novel of the same name, this comedy-adventure film is lacking in both departments. Set in Africa but filmed on the 20th Century Fox back lot and ranch,.FIVE WEEKS is a politically incorrect story of adventurers seeking to plant the British flag in an African country ahead of a bunch of slavers. It's a race by hot-air balloon to the distant land and you've got to wonder if the trip was really worth the effort.

Red Buttons gets top billing and that should tell you something right there. Next is the Elvis wannabe Fabian who repeatedly croons the wretched title song over and over again. The lovely Barbara Eden doesn't appear until halfway through the movie and her presence certainly makes the film much more watchable. Sir Cedric Hardwick, in a horrible wig and wearing his pants just south of his nipples, is the inventor of the balloon and the leader of the expedition. He trades quips throughout the film with fussy British military officer Richard Haydn. Peter Lorre is genuinely funny as a corrupt slave trader who climbs on board the balloon while escaping an angry mob. Barbara Luna is a slave girl, Billy Gilbert mugs shamelessly in two un-funny scenes, Herbert Marshall showed up for one day to collect a paycheck and appear as the British Prime Minister while Raymond (Milburn Drysdale) Bailey is an American newspaper publisher who agrees to finance the tip in order to get his reporter son, Red Buttons (!) on board.

The only interesting thing about this film are the connections between the actors, Irwin Allen and Jules Verne. For instance, Peter Lorre appeared in the far superior Walt Disney production of Jules Verne's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954), Lorre and Eden co-starred in Allen's VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1961) and Red Buttons was in the Allen produced disaster film THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972).

FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON is a tedious, cheap looking film. I suggest you don't bother taking this trip.

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 47

Two recycled images are used on the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #96,  a "Special Wolfman Issue". What's wrong with this picture? The blue-skinned beast on the left is Mr. Hyde, not a wolfman or  a werewolf!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

UNDER FIRE

I recently finished reading UNDER FIRE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE ATTACK IN BENGHAZI by Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz.

 Full disclosure: Fred Burton is a friend of mine. I've had the honor and privilege of working with Fred numerous times over the last 3-4 years. I've been there at his public speaking engagements to sell copies of GHOST (his first book) and CHASING SHADOWS (his second). I've already done three book selling gigs for UNDER FIRE and we've got another already lined up for next year.

Fred Burton, who spent several years as a counter-terrorism agent with the U.S. State Department, now lives and works right here in Austin. He's employed with Stratfor, a private global intelligence and security company. During his career, Fred has traveled the globe from one hot spot to another. He's investigated numerous acts of terrorism and has played a part in the arrest and conviction of several major players in the world of terror including Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the first World Trade Center bombing.

Fred has seen a lot of bad stuff in his career. He has written about his experiences in his first two books and his public talks are always engaging, compelling and thought provoking. But, as I've often said to him, it's the stuff that he doesn't talk and write about that scares the hell out of me.

Fred is also one of the kindest, most unassuming and gracious people I've ever had the pleasure to know and work with. He is a straight shooter, a man who tells it like it is. His honesty, integrity and character is beyond reproach. He truly is one of the good guys.

UNDER FIRE is a riveting page turner of a book, a harrowing minute-by-minute account of the attack on the U.S. Embassy compound in Benghazi, Libya on the night of September 11th, 2012. Fred and his co-author Samuel Katz, faced an almost impossible deadline in getting this book written and published to coincide with the first anniversary of that attack which left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

If you think you know what really happened that night you're wrong. For instance, there was never a protest in front of the compound over an alleged anti-Muslim video, a protest that got out of hand and became an attack on the villa. The attack, as shown in the book, was planned and executed as an act of terrorism from the get go. If you think there was an order to "stand down" to prevent American forces from attempting a rescue operation, you're wrong. Help did come from at least two in-country sources. They just got there too late in one instance and were held up at the Benghazi airport until a bribe was paid in the other.

Burton and Katz do an excellent job of sticking to the facts of the incident. They do not play politics here and do not affix blame to anyone in Washington. They present the facts and let the reader draw his or her own conclusions. They also do an outstanding job of setting the scene in Benghazi prior to the attack. Libya, after the fall of Qaddafi, was a lawless, wide-open country, much like the wild west of American history. There were various factions and warlords vying for power and control and the black market for drugs, weapons and who knows what else was flourishing. In short, it was a powder keg of a country in which something like the attack was not a matter of "if" but "when".

UNDER FIRE puts you side-by-side with American agents and soldiers fighting for their very lives against an almost unstoppable enemy force. Comparisons to the battle of the Alamo are not too far off. Burton and Katz give us a peek behind the scenes of U.S. Embassy security details and how things are supposed to function in the best of circumstances. There were no "best" circumstances in Benghazi and these brave young men knew it. The book is a tribute to the heroism, valor and courage under fire that these extraordinary men showed during a long night of terror.

I cannot recommend UNDER FIRE highly enough. This book should be required reading for every thinking adult American. Yes, I'm prejudiced. Yes, Fred Burton is my friend. But all that aside, UNDER FIRE is one helluva book.

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 46

The cover art for FAMOUS MONSTERS #95 is totally uninspired and completely generic. It's not a bad piece of art it just doesn't belong on the cover of an issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS. It's better suited to an issue of CREEPY or EERIE. Features include Guess What Happened to Count Dracula,  DR. PHIBES, the new PLANET OF THE APES film and BLACULA. Photos or art from any one of the latter three films would have made a much better cover. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 45

A great portrait of the Frankenstein monster by Sanjulian graces the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #94 (from November 1972). Forry puts the entire table of contents on the cover of this one and the line-up of features and articles is a good one. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

"CAN I HAVE MY SHOE BACK?"

I'm just back from seeing THOR: THE DARK WORLD (in 3-D!) and I loved every minute of it.

As stated in my last post, I started reading THOR comics in 1964 on a hit-and-miss basis. I liked the character a lot and in September 1966, I began buying THOR every month (along with every other Marvel comic then published). I liked Thor's adventures on Earth well enough, especially when he duked it out with The Absorbing Man but it was always the scenes set in Asgard that really blew me away. Over the years I came to feel that Thor, as a character, worked better in Asgard (and other cosmic locales) than on Earth. Asgard, as drawn at the time by Jack Kirby and Vince Colletta, was a fantastic realm of the imagination where Thor and his supporting cast worked best and where The King could cut loose with his incredible artwork.

That's a big reason why I enjoyed THOR: THE DARK WORLD so much. Three-quarters of the film takes place either in Asgard or the titular Dark World. The climax takes place both on Earth and throughout the Nine Realms. We see more of Asgard than in the previous THOR film and it's all good. The eight-year-old kid in me was practically giddy with joy at seeing the work of Jack Kirby and Walt Simonson brought to life on the big screen.

The action is fast and furious, the special effects breathtaking and the comic relief is doled out in just the right amount. Two Asgardians die (one gets better), the fate of another Asgardian is a mystery at the end of the film and two Asgardians figure prominently in the now standard after credits teaser sequence.

About that sequence: By Odin's Beard! I never thought I'd see the day when Marvel villain *** ********* would appear on a movie screen. Fantastic! And the plot thickens regarding some certain gems.

Natalie Portman is lovely as Jane Foster and she shares a lot of screen time with Chris Hemsworth's thunder god but I wish Sif (Jaimie Alexander) had a bigger part. I know the producers are playing up the god/human love affair between Thor and Jane Foster but I always preferred Sif as Thor's true love and would love to see the two come together eventually.

On top of all of the Asgardian goodness to behold, there was a terrific trailer for CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. I cannot wait for April 4th!

Face it True Believers, this is the Marvel Age of Movies!

 'Nuff Said!


MY FIRST THOR (AND A FEW OTHER MARVEL COMICS)

I'm looking forward to seeing THOR: THE DARK WORLD later today and my anticipation of the second Thunder God film has me thinking about the first time I ever encountered the character.
It was November 1964. On Friday afternoons after school my mother would take me with her to do her weekly grocery shopping. The store she went to is now a Randall's in the Casis Village Shopping Center but back in the 1960s, it was, if memory serves me right, a Rylander's grocery store. The store was smaller back then and many years ago the space was expanded to the footprint it now occupies. In order to add more square footage, the neighboring space was taken over. That space was home to a drug store which I cannot remember the exact name of. While my mother shopped, I would go next door and look at (and buy) comic books.

The drug store had a magazine stand at the front of the store but back in the back, tucked into the left rear corner of the store and next to the honest-to-goodness horseshoe shaped soda fountain (which served food and beverages) were not one but two wire spinner racks full of comic books.

I couldn't buy everything I saw even though I wanted to. After all, I was only eight-years-old and I usually didn't have more than a quarter to spend (which in those days would cover either two twelve cent comics or one twenty-five cent giant-size beauty). I bought a wide variety of comics but the books published by Marvel were starting to catch my eye.

There was something about the artwork, the characters, the lettering, the cover copy, even the coloring, that set these books apart and made them appear far more dramatic and exciting than anything else on those spinner racks. JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #112 really appealed to me. I had no idea who Thor or the Hulk were. I only knew that here were two super-heroes (one of them a kinda Frankenstein looking guy) fighting. I decided to take a chance and buy it. Boy was I glad I did. I loved it!

In addition to being exposed to both Thor and the Hulk, I was exposed to the history of the early Marvel Universe (the story in JIM #112 took place "off camera" during AVENGERS #3). I was also treated to the storytelling magic of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Chic Stone. It was love at first sight.


November 1964 was a momentous month for me in terms of comic book purchases. The other Marvel books I bought that month include:



AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #21



FANTASTIC FOUR #35



TALES OF SUSPENSE #62

My Marvel buying habits continued from that point on but on a very sporadic basis. I didn't buy every issue of every title but I almost always bought one or two Marvels every time I visited that drugstore. In September 1966 I took the plunge and decided to buy every issue of every Marvel comic every month from then on.

I'll never forget discovering those mind-blowing mid-60s Marvel comics on those spinner racks at the back of that long gone drugstore. Pure magic!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 44

Another image from an outside source graces the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #93 (October 1972). The skull with one eyeball image is from the one-sheet poster for the British anthology horror film TALES FROM THE CRYPT, which adapted stories from the classic E.C. horror comics of the 1950s. However, this issue is a "Fearbook" (Forry speak for yearbook) which means it's an all-reprint collection of the best material from past issues. Featured here are werewolves, robots, KING KONG, Man-Eating Plants, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM and more.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 43

FAMOUS MONSTERS #92, from September 1972, is devoted to the life and films of Bela Lugosi, one of my all-time favorite horror film stars. A great issue!

Monday, November 4, 2013

WEB OF THE CITY

I finished reading WEB OF THE CITY by Harlan Ellison the other day. It was my second-time around for the novel, which was Ellison's first. The first time I read it, back in the 1970s, the book looked like this:



As you can see, the cover art for both editions couldn't be more radically different if they tried. While I admire all of the covers by the Dillons that adorned the Pyramid Books series of mid-'70s Ellison paperbacks, I have to admit that I prefer the 2013 version courtesy of artist Glen Orbik. Hard Case Crime does a great job of producing books that have a distinct retro look and vibe and WEB OF THE CITY, first published in 1958, fits the bill perfectly.

WEB is the story of one Rusty Santoro, a Brooklyn high-school student by day and a gang leader by night (and other times off). As the story begins, Rusty has decided to call it quits with the Cougars, the street gang he has been presiding over. But you don't just quit the Cougars and Rusty has to prove himself in a vicious knife fight with Candle, the young thug who replaced him as leader of the Cougars.

Rusty is victorious and begins to believe that maybe he really can quit gang life, finish school and pursue a career. But when his younger sister Dolores is raped and murdered, Rusty finds himself back on the mean streets and tracking her killer with a fiercely determined single-mindedness. Rusty's search takes a few twists and turns before ending with a rooftop battle to the death with the killer. Even though Rusty survives, his life is just as bleak and doomed to a dead-end as ever before.

WEB OF THE CITY is far from Ellison's best work. That would come later. But it does demonstrate that as a young writer Ellison had stories to tell and a unique voice to tell them with. WEB paints a vivid picture of gang life in 1950s New York City and even though slightly pulpy at times, the portrait rings true and accurate with Rusty a sympathetic, if doomed, protagonist.

The remainder of the book contains three short-stories by Ellison. The first, NO WAY OUT, first published in GUILTY DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE in September, 1957, is essentially one long chapter of WEB OF THE CITY with a different ending. The next, NO GAME FOR CHILDREN (from ROGUE, May 1959) is a cat-and-mouse game between a young punk and his older, intellectual neighbor with a neat twist ending straight out of an E.C. crime comic. The final short story, STAND STILL AND DIE! (GUILTY DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE, September 1956) is a fast-paced, uber pulpy yarn about a hard-boiled cab driver who fights crime with his fists and his smart-aleck mouth.

Look for a longer post coming soon about Harlan Ellison and the effect his work has had on my life. For now, check out WEB OF THE CITY to see how his illustrious career got started. You won't regret it.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

"DO YOU WANT TO BE A PUBLIC NUISANCE?"

Judy and I and our house guest for the night Jeffrey enjoyed watching DUCK SOUP (1933) last night. I don't know how many times I've seen this film. It is far and away the best film the Marx Brothers ever made which means it's also one of the funniest films of all time. I laughed long and hard while watching it last night and Judy, who was seeing it for the first time, loved it.

DUCK SOUP is a surreal, bizarre film that finds one Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho), in charge of Fredonia, a tiny, middle-European country. There's international tension between Fredonia and neighboring country Sylvania and the Sylvanian ambassador (Louis Calhern) plots to seize Fredonia without going to war. To further his ends, he employs two "spies" Chicolini (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo). Eternal Marx brothers foil Margaret Dumont is also involved in the madness as Mrs. Teasdale, who installed Firefly as head-of-state.

That's about all the plot and narrative you need (and it's all you're going to get) as the brothers Marx (Zeppo is along for the ride as Firefly's secretary) go berserk. The usual Groucho insults (and fourth-wall breakage), word play, atrocious puns, sight gags and slapstick humor abound. There's even a couple of big musical numbers staged on an enormous art-deco set. Chico and Harpo wage an on-going battle with harried street vendor Edgar Kennedy (the master of the slow burn), Harpo chases everything in a skirt and there's the classic "mirror" sequence which plays brilliantly without music, dialogue or sound effects. There is no consistency in any of the military costumes and uniforms seen throughout the film. Some appear to be the real deal while others look like they were borrowed from a college marching band.

The climax of the film, which finds Fredonia and Sylvania engaged in a fierce battle is told in a series of sequences that shatter time and space as military uniforms and costumes change from scene to scene. DUCK SOUP scores some points for lampooning the (literal) insanity of war and international politics but the boys are too busy having fun to hit those points hard enough to be preachy.

After 80 years, DUCK SOUP stands as a comic masterpiece of a film. If you've never seen it, you are in for a treat. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. I love it!

HAIL FREDONIA!

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 42

Another movie poster serves as the cover art for FAMOUS MONSTERS #91 from July 1972. FROGS is one of several low-budget nature-strikes-back films that were popular in the 1970s. Other features in this issue include COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE, THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA, GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER and TALES FROM THE CRYPT. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 41

Forry, or Jim Warren, or both, took the easy way out with the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #90 by using movie poster art for the film SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN. The 1972 horror film starred the unholy trio of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It's an interesting cover image but not a great one. 

"...OR GOD, IF YOU PREFER YOUR BIBLE STORIES"

My first encounter with both FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine and the classic 1935 horror film, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN occurred simultaneously. FAMOUS MONSTERS #21, pictured above, was one of the first three issues of FM (along with #24 with a Werewolf of London cover and #25 which featured a KING KONG film book) I ever saw. They were on display in a five and dime store (I forget the name) in the Allandale Shopping Center on Burnet Road in Austin. Much to my eternal regret, I didn't purchase any of the magazines but I soon sent in a coupon, which came in an Aurora plastic Monster Model Customizing Kit, and received via the mail my first ever issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS. It was #26, with a terrific OUTER LIMITS cover. My life has never been the same since.

Over the years, I read about BRIDE in the pages of FM. I bought, painted and built the Bride of Frankenstein Aurora model kit (which was subsequently and appropriately enough, blown to bits by Black Cat firecrackers). But it was years before I saw the film itself.

I was in junior high school and Ricky, my brother's roommate from junior college, had moved in with us for a semester. He brought with him a small, portable black and white television. Late one Saturday night, when both my brother and Ricky were out on dates, one of the local television stations broadcast BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Here at last was my chance to see this legendary film. Ricky kept the television set at the head of his bed and when he watched it, he did so on his stomach, his chin propped on his pillow, his face inches away from the tiny screen. He wore sunglasses to cut down on the glare from the tube. This was certainly not the most optimal way in which to watch anything on television (then or now) but since it was the way he had things set up and I was using his television in his absence, I opted to watch BRIDE the way I'd seen Ricky watch other shows. And so, flat on my stomach, my chin and arms resting on a pillow, a pair of sunglasses protecting my eyes, I watched BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN for the first time. My life has never been the same since.

I've lost track of how many times I've seen the film over the last forty-some odd years. My buddy Kelly Greene and I showed it to our class when we co-taught a short course on the history of horror films through Austin Community College back in the early 1990s. I've introduced it at the Paramount Theatre. I own it a copy of it on DVD (VHS before that). In short, I've seen the film many times and I never tire of watching it. It is without a doubt my favorite Universal horror film and in my estimation, the greatest horror film ever made.

Watching BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN on Halloween night is becoming a tradition here at Casa Campbell. Judy and I watched the film again last night (as we did last Halloween). We started off the evening with fifty-cent corn dogs from the local Sonic, then settled in to view the film. Our porch lights were off to eliminate interruptions from trick-or-treaters.

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is such a thematically rich and visually imaginative film that I pick up something new almost every time I see it. To begin with, there's the question of just when and where this film is taking place. Although filmed in 1935, BRIDE opens with a prologue set sometime in the 1800s. The prologue features Mary Shelley (played by Elsa Lanchester) the author of the original 1818 novel, FRANKENSTEIN, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron. While a fierce storm rages outside, Lord Byron recounts events from the story (illustrated by scenes from the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN) after which Mary Shelley precedes to tell them, like a Gothic Paul Harvey, "the rest of the story".

 But if the action in the introduction takes place in the early 19th century, exactly when does the subsequent narrative of BRIDE take place? Some of the characters are seen wearing contemporary, 1930s style fashions, while others are clothed in what look to be 1800s Middle European garb. There doesn't appear to be widespread usage of electricity (expect in Frankenstein's castle laboratory) as candles can be seen in many of the interior shots. The telephone appears to be an exotic instrument when it is used in one scene to allow Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive)  to communicate with his human bride-to-be Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson). No motor vehicles are seen in the film, but horse drawn carriages, carts and wagons figure in several scenes. All of the castles, cemeteries, villages, huts and forests look like something out of a fairy tale and certainly do not accurately represent Europe in the mid-1930s.

But that's okay because they're not supposed to. BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is a dark fairy tale that exists outside of the space and time in which it was made. It is clearly taking place on an alternate earth in a parallel universe that while similar to our reality in many ways, is radically different in others. The film takes place on what I like to refer to as "Earth Universal", a realm in which all of the classic Universal horror films take place.

Religious themes abound in BRIDE. There are constant allusions to the monster's Christ-like status, especially when he is "crucified" by the villagers in the forest. There's a crucifix image in the blind man's hut that is optically highlighted while the scene fades to black and the monster rampages through a cemetery in which a statue of Christ is prominently displayed.

And then there's Dr. Pretorius. Superbly played by Ernest Thesiger, Pretorius is a mincing, effeminate, Mefistophelian presence in the film who mixes science and sorcery to his unholy ends. In his first onscreen appearance, he's wearing a collar that resembles that worn by the clergy while he's later seen wearing a yarmulke while displaying his bottled specimens to Henry. It's as if he's a mad rabbi using ancient Hebrew mystic texts (ie, the Kabala) to work his magic. Pretorius blasphemes both Jewish and Christian theology in his attempt to play God and create life. And it's no accident that the first encounter between Pretorius and the monster occurs in an underground crypt. These two characters belong in the underworld, the land of the dead, the home of fallen angels. 


Judy and I both noticed some minor continuity errors in the film and during the kite sequence, some of the actors become momentarily transparent, their images clearly optically imprinted into the castle roof set. I also realized for the first time that several of the magnificent sets are clearly used more than once. For instance, the pool at the bottom of the windmill at the beginning of the scene appears to have been redressed for the scene where the monster encounters and kills a young shepherdess alongside a waterfall and pool. The interior of Castle Frankenstein may have done double duty for the crypt robbing sequence while the towering dungeon in which the monster is temporarily imprisoned is clearly used later for the castle laboratory. 

There are unanswered questions and things that are just plain odd in the film. Where did the screeching magpie Minnie (Una O'Connor) come from? Her character does not appear in the original film. Why does Castle Frankenstein have a doorman who speaks like he's on loan from a Warner Brothers gangster film? And what's going on with Karl (Dwight Frye)? When the monster escapes from prison and rampages through the village, at least three murders occur. However, we do not see anyone, human or otherwise, commit these crimes. It's implied that the monster did it but according to what I've read about the film, Karl is the actual killer and he uses the monster as a convenient patsy. Scenes explaining this bit of back story were never filmed which causes a bit of narrative disruption.

As mentioned above, the sets in BRIDE are magnificent and director James Whale sends his camera on the prowl throughout each one. The mobile camera work here is fluid and extremely accomplished. And during the creation of the bride sequence, the camera angles go askew (reminiscent of the old BATMAN television show), as Whale rapidly cuts back and forth between Pretorius and Henry, the off-kilter horizon representing just how much these characters are unhinged both psychologically and morally.

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is a remarkably fast paced film. Whale orchestrates the action well and moves smoothly and quickly from one classic scene to another. By the time we get to the lab in the third act, the action is almost non-stop and it's underscored by a relentless heart-beat, a tympani drum acting as a metronome of impending doom.

Memorable moments abound. The blind hermit sequence (which was savagely and hilariously parodied in Mel Brooks's YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN) remains powerful and full of genuine human emotion. The creation sequence is spectacular and Lanchester as the hissing, spitting bird-like bride becomes an immortal horror icon while appearing on screen for less than five minutes. "Don't touch that lever! You'll blow us to atoms!"is a line I heard Forry Ackerman repeat when I toured the Ackermansion in Los Angeles in 1994. And has there ever been a finer coda for a horror film than "we belong dead"?

Sexual themes are rich and abundant in the film and it's impossible to ignore the fact that three gay men (Thesiger, Clive and director Whale) team-up in the film to create a woman in their own image. And let's not forget the music which contains several great motifs and cues, among them a theme that I believe was later appropriated as "Bali Hai" in Rodgers and Hammerstein's production of SOUTH PACIFIC.

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN mixes humor with horror to create a wonderfully perverse and subversive film that works on many different levels. It's simply a great film and if you've never seen it, I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

And next Halloween, I'll watch it again. Sonic corn dogs optional.