Monday, June 29, 2015


I'm damn glad I didn't pay for this turkey. If I had, I think I'd have asked for my money back. I acquired the book pictured above in a recent trade with my comic book collector buddy Blake Long (hi Blake!). It's not his fault that this is a bad book. I'll try and sell it on eBay eventually (which I planned to do all along). But I thought I'd at least sit down and read it and see what it was about. There's thirty minutes of my life I'll never get back.

I like the Hulk. I like the Silver Surfer. I like Galactus. All three of those characters appear in this book. But I didn't like this book. Skaar, for those of you who came in late (like me), is the son of the Hulk. He's a barbarian warrior king on the planet Sakaar. Think Conan on steroids with green skin.

The story is really not worth repeating here. That's because there's not much of one. Oh, there's page after page of rock 'em sock 'em fight scenes between the major (and minor) players. There's lots of over-the-top action with wild, exaggerated sound effects (SHAKOOM!) everywhere. It's punch him in the face stupidity with little or no plot or character development. If you like this kind of stuff, fine. I get tired of it very quickly.

But here's where this thing goes completely off of the rails. At one point, the Hulk (wearing battle armor) appears to join the constant fighting on Sakaar. It's never explained where he came from. Was he already on the planet? Did he come from earth? Just how the hell did he get involved in this story? And then, just as quickly as he appears, he's forgotten. In the next chapter of the story, there's no mention of him and he's not shown in any of the panels. Where did he go?

Skaar eventually gets sucked into a wormhole and transported to earth and guess who's waiting for him there? Yep, old Jade Jaws himself. Is this the same Hulk Skaar fought on Sakaar? How did he get back to earth? I'm confused.

It took four people to create this hot mess. Writer Greg Pak and artists Butch Guice, Ron Lim and Dan Panosian. Guice only drew the first chapter and I like his work here. I'd have liked to have seen more of it. Ron Lim is a competent draftsman. His art is okay, nothing great, nothing horrible. Frankly, I didn't care for Dan Panosian's artwork on the chapter he illustrated and Greg Pak doesn't impress me as a writer.

For the record, Mark Paniccia is listed as the editor of record for this book along with assistant editor Jordan D. White. Neither of these gentlemen did a very good job here. A good editor would have addressed that continuity glitch involving the Hulk first on Sakaar and then on earth with a footnote or an explanatory caption of some kind. It wouldn't have hurt the story, it would have clarified a point of confusion for the readers.

But a good editor seems to be something that doesn't exist in today's Marvel and DC comics. Time and time again I've read a comic book in which the hot, flavor-of-the-month writer has been given carte blanche to do whatever the hell he/she wants, good storytelling be damned. Or, it's the other way around. All of the editors collaborate on the general plot line of a given epic cross-over event (that will change everything until the next change everything crossover event comes along) and then they dictate to the writers what must happen in their books for the duration of the crossover event.

Sure, mistakes happened all of the time back when Stan Lee served as both writer and editor for almost danged near every Marvel comic published. But Lee owned up to his errors, acknowledged readers when they spotted a goof and awarded loyal Marvelites with the much treasured No Prize.

That's a pretty good summary of HULK: PLANET SKAAR. It won't get any prizes, certainly not from this reader.

Friday, June 26, 2015


The last time I was in a comic book shop was May 2012. I visited Midtown Comics on Broadway in New York City (pictured above). A couple of days before, I had made a stop at Forbidden Planet, also in Manhattan. I didn't buy a single comic book at either of these fine stores. Oh sure, I bought comic book related stuff: an OMAC action figure, t-shirts (Nick Fury and The Silver Surfer), a DC Showcase Presents SEA DEVILS volume, a book about Stan Lee, another book about Lee and Kirby's run on FANTASTIC FOUR, an issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS, a new DOC SAVAGE novel and pulp double reprint volumes of DOC SAVAGE and THE SHADOW. I definitely got my hard-earned money's worth plus some great memories to last a lifetime.

Back before I was married (ten years and counting now I'm happy to report) and bought a house (or two), I was at the comic book shop every Wednesday dropping more money than I should have on that week's new releases. That came to a halt many years ago and the only "new" comics I acquired were gained in trades with other collectors or plucked out of the boxes at Half-Price Books. When both DC's New 52 titles and Marvel's NOW reboot launched in 2011, our store carried a few of those titles on our newsstand. I decided to give them a try. After all, I got a 30% employee discount. I bought and read the first years' worth of several New 52 titles and a handful of Marvel NOW books and I was underwhelmed by nearly everything I read. And so once again, I decided to quit buying new comics completely.

The other day, I had reason to stop in at Rogue's Gallery comic book shop in Round Rock. After taking care of business, I decided to look around the store and see what was new in the world of comics. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of titles they had on display on their walls. Comics from Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse and other publishers I was unfamiliar with covered the display racks. Where to start even looking? Do I buy a favorite character, work by a favorite writer/artist team or the latest multi-issue cross-over "event" series which will "change forever" the respective comic book universe (DC or Marvel) until the next such event is published a few years down the road?  

Well, I've always liked Thor so I went to where the THOR comic books were. I found several titles (one called THORS which made me wonder, how many Thors are there?) while the main THOR comic featured a female version of the God (Goddess) of Thunder. I don't want to read that version of the character and besides, I know it's yet another superficial, cosmetic change that was done to get an immediate spike in sales and it's destined to not last long.

I like Captain America so I went to where the Cap titles were. The Falcon is now Captain America. Nothing against the character, in fact I like the Falcon and think he's always been a pretty cool character. But I don't want him to be Captain America. I want to read about Captain America and the Falcon. Pass. Oh, and this is another gimmick that won't last long.

The Avengers have always been one of my absolute favorite super hero teams. There are at least half a dozen Avengers titles on the stands now. Which one do you pick? All of them? How about none.

Another factor to consider is the price of an individual monthly comic book these days. $4.99 for something that I can read in about five minutes? No thanks. And it's only one part of a six-part (at minimum) story arc that will eventually be collected into a trade paperback. "Wait for the trade" is something many fans do these days.

On the plus side, I will say that there is a ton of great vintage material (from many different publishers) available these days and this is the material that I'm most interested in. Tons of great Golden, Silver and Bronze age comics are being reprinted and it's a second Golden Age for fans of that material like myself.

I imagined for a moment that I'm Joe Average, a guy who recently went to see AVENGERS: THE AGE OF ULTRON and really enjoyed it. I decide I'd like to read an Avengers comic book. I go into the local comic book shop and I'm dumbfounded. There are multiple Avengers comics, many of which feature characters and line-ups that are not in either of the AVENGERS films. There's a long and convoluted back story, there are books that are in continuity and some that are not. Where to begin?

Well I hope Joe Average finds a knowledgeable, friendly and patient comic book shop sales clerk to help him get started. If so, it's possible that Joe can find something he likes. But if that help is not forthcoming, he's going to turn around and walk out the door without purchasing anything.

That's my point. Comic books today are not reader friendly. I consider myself very knowledgeable about comic books and their history but I have absolutely no idea about what's going on with Marvel and DC these days. And frankly, I have no desire to invest the time and money that's necessary to bring me up to speed. That train has long since left the station for me.

Instead, I take great pleasure in digging through my many long boxes of comics and finding books I haven't read yet or books I want to re-read again and again. I do buy the occasional hardcover or trade paperback reprint of vintage, classic material and I get a kick out of seeing stuff I've either never seen or material I'm familiar with in a nice, more-or-less permanent edition.

I don't want this to sound like I have anything against Rogue's Gallery. The gentleman I spoke to was kind and friendly. They have a clean, well-lit and well-stocked store and they're obviously doing good business. They're in business to make money and they do that by selling comic books (and other things like statues, action figures and RPG material). No beef there and if I was inclined to get back into comics, I'd make some of my first purchases there.

But I have no desire to get back into new comic books now or for the foreseeable future. If you buy and read the new stuff, good for you. I hope you enjoy it. Me? I'll get my kicks from the old stuff.

And there's plenty of that out there.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


I was in the mood to read something different comic-book-wise yesterday afternoon so I looked through one of my long boxes and found the comic pictured above. It's TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED #103, published by DC Comics. The issue has a cover date of November 1967 but it actually went on sale in August of that year. The book itself is fairly routine with three six-page science fiction stories. But what caught my eye was a two-page spread advertising the upcoming Saturday morning line-up of animated cartoons for the CBS television network. 

I know it's a little blurry. I could probably find a sharper image somewhere on the Internet but I wanted to scan it quick while it was still fresh in my mind. Besides, this shows that it came straight from a real comic book.

What a fantastic line-up of cartoons! Moby Dick! Mighty Mightor! Shazzan! The Herculoids! Jonny Quest! The Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure! And more. The exact line-up (shown in the yellow box at bottom right) reads like this (all times Eastern Time Zone):
8:00 a.m. Captain Kangaroo
9:00 a.m. Frankenstein Junior and the Impossibles
9:30 a.m. The Herculoids
10:00 a.m. Shazzan!
10:30 a.m. Space Ghost
11:00 a.m. Moby Dick and The Mighty Mightor
11:30 a.m. The Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure
12:30 Jonny Quest
1:00 p.m. The Lone Ranger
1:30 p.m. The Road Runner
The small print at the bottom of this book encouraged kids to "Tear this out and carry it with you everywhere so you'll remember all of Saturday's super heroes on CBS. All in color."
This was nirvana for me when I was a kid. I was eleven-years old at the time. September of 1967 puts me in the sixth grade. I was still young enough to enjoy Saturday morning cartoons, but that pleasure would only last a couple of more years.
I've always thought it was interesting and somewhat odd that Aquaman was chosen to co-star with Superman in their hour-long show. He wasn't exactly an A-lister at the time and his share of the program was later replaced by a more familiar DC super-hero, Batman. Also of note in the Superman-Aquaman hour were the stand-alone cartoons that featured for the first time ever, animated versions of such varied DC characters as The Flash, The Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom, The Justice League and The Teen Titans.
All of these cartoons have been released on DVD. I have the complete JONNY QUEST series but I have yet to acquire MOBY DICK/MIGHTOR, HERCULOIDS and SHAZZAN! (all of which were produced by Hanna-Barbera). The Superman, Aquaman and solo DC hero cartoons (all of which were produced by Filmation) have all been released on separate DVD collections and I'm proud to say I own them all.
This ad appeared in every DC comic book that was on sale in August 1967. But it didn't appear in any Marvel Comics. Instead, Marvel ran an ad promoting the ABC-TV Saturday morning lineup which featured animated adventures of both Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four.
Yep, it was a good time to be a kid.

Saturday, June 20, 2015


Pictured above is a British paperback edition of THE QUICK RED FOX by John D. MacDonald. It's the fourth Travis McGee adventure, first published in 1964. I finished reading it this morning for the second time. I didn't read the edition pictured above, but I like the image.

In QUICK, gorgeous movie star Lysa Dean is the target of a blackmailer. It seems that she participated in an orgy with several other people at a California beach house. Someone took very graphic photographs of that wild afternoon and has put the touch on Miss Dean not once but twice. She hires the services of Travis McGee to find out who the blackmailer is and put a stop to the threat. McGee is aided in his investigation by Dana Holtzer, Miss Dean's personal assistant.

The trail leads Travis and Dana all the way from Florida to New York, to California, Las Vegas and Phoenix. Along the way they discover that almost everyone else that took part in the orgy is either dead or severely incapacitated. Oh, and by the way, just how many blackmailers are there?

McGee thinks he has it all figured out but he guesses wrong and the identity of the real killer comes as a surprise. But it's too late to stop the murderer from injuring both Travis and Dana. Of course, Travis and Dana wind up in bed and of course, since this is a series and McGee can't be tied down to any one woman, the two part company at the end.

I first read THE QUICK RED FOX thirty some odd years ago back when I was inhaling every John D. MacDonald book I could get my hands on. It's a good one, highlighted by McGee's battle with two bull dyke lesbians in a Las Vegas trailer park. The usual cynical ruminations about mid-century life and culture abound, along with colorful characters, vivid descriptions of place and crackling dialogue. Recommended.


Friday, June 19, 2015


If I recall correctly, I saw SERPICO (1973), when it was first released at the old Aquarius Four theater on Pleasant Valley Road (off of Riverside Drive) in Austin. I remember it being a solid film and when I watched it again this afternoon for the first time in 42 years, my memories were confirmed.

SERPICO is the true story of New York City police officer Frank Serpico (Al Pacino). Serpico is a rare animal for the NYPD of the late '60s/early '70s. He's a straight arrow, honest cop, perhaps the only one in the entire department not on the take. The story follows Serpico's career from patrol officer, to working in the fingerprint identification bureau, to becoming a plain clothes officer working vice squad. At each level and each new precinct, he encounters crooked cops who are taking bribes, kick-backs and skimming a piece of the action off of the top of various gambling operations. He wants to blow the whistle on this rampant corruption but it seems that all of the top brass are concerned more with covering their own asses and offering up a few, low level officers as token fall guys. Serpico soon finds his life in danger and he's eventually shot in the face during a drug bust. He survives, testifies before an investigative commission and then retires from the police force.

SERPICO was filmed entirely on location in New York City by director Sidney Lumet and he brilliantly captures the gritty look and feel of a corrupt and dangerous urban environment. The screenplay by Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler is based on the bestselling book by Peter Maas and does a fine job of condensing action and creating composite characters while remaining faithful to the events as they really happened.

SERPICO is a character driven crime film and that character is brought to vivid and intense life by Al Pacino. SERPICO was Pacino's fifth feature film appearance following ME, NATALIE (1969), THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK (1971), THE GODFATHER (1972) and SCARECROW (1973). While THE GODFATHER showed Pacino's acting ability (he earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination), that film really belonged more to Marlon Brando and director Francis Ford Coppola. SERPICO is all Pacino, all the time and it's a very strong performance. It's the picture that made Al Pacino a bonafide movie star.

SERPICO earned two Academy Award nominations: Best Actor (Pacino) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Salt and Wexler).

Back in the 1990s, when I was doing freelance article writing for a couple of law enforcement magazines, I almost had a chance to meet and interview Frank Serpico. I knew a woman with the Austin Police Department who had some connection to him and she indicated that it might be possible to put me in touch with him. Alas, nothing ever came of this but for awhile there I thought I might score a real coup in my writing career.

SERPICO is a fine police drama that stands the test of time thanks mainly to the phenomenal talent both in front of and behind the cameras. It perfectly captures New York City at a time when the crime rate was high and crooked cops were everywhere. Recommended.


Friday, June 12, 2015


I first saw Hammer's HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) at the old Austin Theater on South Congress sometime in the mid 1960s. It was on a re-release double bill with the studios' other blockbuster horror film, CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957). Both films starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and I fell in love with those men and their work on that long ago day. In the years since, I've always enjoyed watching Cushing and Lee, separately or together, in any film that they starred in. Even in small parts, they were always watchable, always professional and always a pleasure.

I watched HORROR OF DRACULA again this afternoon in honor of the recent passing of Sir Christopher Lee earlier this week at the age of 93. It's a fine film that holds up remarkably well after fifty-seven years. Released as DRACULA in the UK, the film was re-christened HORROR OF DRACULA for release in the United States. I suspect this was done in order to avoid confusion with Universal's DRACULA (1931), which was still enjoying the occasional theatrical re-release as well as showings on television.

Peter Cushing gets top billing and Christopher Lee has very little actual screen time (and minimal dialogue). Yet these two figures dominate the film. Lee was a big man and his entrances as Count Dracula are framed for maximum impact. Many are shot from a low angle, with Lee, ramrod straight and stiff, magnificent in his flowing black cape, standing in a doorway. He's just suddenly there. But Lee's Dracula is no static creature of the night. He jumps and leaps and runs and cavorts across the screen with a fierce energy and power. Here is a Dracula of uncanny strength and vitality, a far cry from Bela Lugosi's more subdued interpretation of the character. And Cushing matches Lee in the athletic sweepstakes, especially in the thrilling climax. I can't see Bela Lugosi and Edward Van Sloan duking it out like Lee and Cushing do.

The sets are good, with many simply redressed and shot from a different angle to give the illusion of a more expansive production. There's a nice matte painting employed to give some depth to Castle Dracula. The Technicolor cinematography by Jack Asher is sharp and director Terence Fisher does his usual capable job. Note how he often places inanimate objects in the foreground of his frame, giving the film a quasi-3D effect. The screenplay by Jimmy Sangster uses the original Bram Stoker novel as a starting point but condenses much of the action and leaves out several characters. James Bernard's score is used judiciously but when it does kick in, it's a corker.

Michael (BATMAN) Gough as Arthur Holmwood, provides strong support to Cushing's Dr. Van Helsing, while his wife Mina is well played by porcelain beauty Melissa Stribling. Unlike the original novel and the 1931 film version, all of the action in HORROR OF DRACULA appears to take place somewhere in continental Europe. There's no mention of England and even though the actors all speak with British accents, the names of the towns, buildings and the dress of supporting characters place the film in Europe.

HORROR OF DRACULA was a ground breaking film for many reasons. It was the first Dracula film to be shot in color, it featured several actresses in low cut dresses and gowns in order to accentuate their bosoms and underline the sexual, erotic aspects of vampirism and it featured vivid, red blood. Granted, not much blood is actually spilled on screen but we do see it in several scenes. These were all radical elements for a 1958 British horror film.

The film also solidified the reputations of Cushing and Lee as horror stars and it indelibly linked Lee to the character he played in several more films over the years. Lugosi will always be the first cinematic Dracula but for my money, Lee's portrayal of the character is the best I've ever seen on screen. He's a throat-ripper, a beast, a savage blood-drinker.  He's fierce, feral, big, fast and strong. That's a deadly combination and it makes Dracula a monster to truly fear.

Besides having a copy of the film on DVD, my other HORROR OF DRACULA collectible  is the magazine pictured here.

This is a copy of FAMOUS FILMS #2, a short lived magazine series published by James Warren in the mid '60s. The other two issues in the series featured HORROR OF PARTY BEACH and THE MOLE PEOPLE (by the way, I have all three issues in my collection). The concept behind FAMOUS FILMS was to present classic horror films in a photo-format using stills from the movies with added word balloons, to tell the story. This issue is a double feature of CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA. In those days, there was no such thing as home video and you had to wait for a movie to either be shown on television (and hope you could see it), or be released (or re-released) to a local theater. That was it. But a magazine like FAMOUS FILMS gave you something to either remember the film by (if you'd already seen it) or something to tide you over and whet your appetite for the day you finally got to see one of these films for the first time.

The magazines look quaint today. They have a crude, primitive vitality but they're also cool as hell.


In 2002, Judy and I, along with her parents, took a trip to London. We had a great time. One afternoon, I wanted to go shopping at Forbidden Planet, a world famous comic book store, or, as the signage pictured above says "The Cult Entertainment Megastore". That's a more accurate description than "comic book store" because this place has everything.

Judy and I set off for FP, leaving her parents at our hotel. We took the Underground and soon found ourselves in front of this super store. On our way in, we noticed that several people were lined up on the sidewalk outside of the store in anticipation of some event to take place later.

Once inside, I was like a kid in a candy store. I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of pop culture goodness that was on display. While I was looking around, Judy struck up a conversation with a sales clerk and asked him what was going on with the people lined up outside. He told her and she came over to me and said, "all of those people lined up outside are here to see Christopher Somebody."

For whatever reason, perhaps I was still in a state of euphoric bliss over all of the cool stuff on display, what she said didn't register with me. I didn't have a clue as to who "Christopher Somebody" might be. I kept looking.

I finally purchased a British SF paperback, THE SECRET OF LIFE by Paul McAuley, a book about the Godfather films and SHOCK THEATER: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY

While I was paying for my purchases, I asked the clerk who this "Christopher Somebody" was that people were lining up to see.

"Oh, Sir Christopher Lee is going to make an in store appearance later today," he said. "That's what everyone is lining up for."

I turned to Judy and said, "It's not Christopher Somebody, it's Christopher Lee!"

"Who's he?"

"Dracula!" I cried. "Dracula is going to be here later!"

She said that if I really wanted to meet him that she'd be willing to wait in line with me. I considered it for a moment. It was sweet of her to offer but we'd already been in the store for more than an hour and I knew all of this pop culture geek stuff was probably getting on her last nerve. Besides, we really needed to get back to the hotel and her parents to get ready for the theater that night. So we left. I could have met Christopher Lee but really, I have no regrets. I made the right decision.

And that's how I almost got to meet the one and only "Christopher somebody."


THRILLER, hosted by horror film icon Boris Karloff, was an hour-long suspense anthology program that ran on NBC TV from September, 1960 to July, 1962. I never had the opportunity to see the show when it originally aired and reruns have been few and far between. I have always been under the impression that all of the episodes contained some kind of horror/supernatural element and while some certainly did, the show was at first primarily focused on telling straight, suspense stories. I've watched a couple of first season episodes lately (thanks to my DVR and MeTV) and enjoyed them both.

The episode I watched today, FATAL IMPULSE, was first broadcast on November 29th, 1960. It's the story of a mad bomber (Elisha Cook Jr.) who plots to kill a mayoral candidate by placing a bomb in the man's office. When his plan is thwarted, he hides the bomb in a ladies' hand bag on a crowded elevator. He's then killed while escaping the police but warns them of the bomb in the bag with his dying words. It's up to a determined police detective and his men to race against time to find the right woman and her purse and stop the bomb from exploding.

Several things about this episode stand out. The teleplay by Philip MacDonald was adapted from a short story by John D. MacDonald. Regular readers of this blog will know that John D. MacDonald is one of my all-time favorite writers so seeing his name in the credits was a real treat. The supporting cast includes Ed Nelson and a very young Mary Tyler Moore (in only two scenes). The woman with the bomb in her bag is played by the luscious Whitney Blake, who co-starred on the HAZEL situation comedy TV series. Here's a photo of Ms. Blake.

Robert Lansing stars as the detective hero and while watching him, a weird thought crossed my mind. Here's Mr. Lansing.

Check out those eyebrows and that prominent forehead. What if, when the back-up comic book series, JOHN JONES, MANHUNTER FROM MARS was first introduced in DETECTIVE COMICS #225 (DC Comics, November 1955), it became a huge success, so popular that the Martian Manhunter was eventually awarded his own self titled comic book series. And what if that series went on to become one of DC's top sellers, right behind the big three, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman? Here's how the character looked in both his Martian and human forms way back when.

Flash forward to 1966. BATMAN, produced by 20th Century Fox Television, is a huge success for ABC-TV. The networks and studios are anxious to get another comic book super-hero series into prime time while the craze is still hot. Execs look around, discover MARTIAN MANHUNTER comics, secure the rights from DC and cast Robert Lansing in the lead as both John Jones and the Manhunter from Mars. Sure, the make-up would have been crude, and they would have had to find some way to pad out Lansing's rather slight, slim build, but dammit, those eyebrows and forehead practically scream Martian.

What do you guys think? Am I crazy or could something like this have ever happened? Your thoughts and comments are appreciated.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015


I had a lot of time on my hands to fill while recovering from my recent hernia surgery. I watched several films (and blogged about them here), lots of old TV shows, read a bunch of comics and a couple of paperback mysteries. A few days ago, I was in the mood for something fairly light that I could through pretty quickly. I immediately went to the Doc Savage shelf in the man cave and selected the book pictured above.

THE POLAR TREASURE was originally published in June, 1933 making it eighty-two years old this month. It was the fourth Lester Dent penned Doc Savage pulp adventure to be published and it was the fourth of the original pulps to be reprinted by Bantam in the 1960s. The Bantam reprints don't always line up with the originals in terms of publication dates but here's a case where number four is really number four.

It's a fast paced adventure thriller in which Doc and his men race to the arctic to recover a fortune in gold and jewels supposedly hidden in the bowels of a grounded ocean liner. The first clue to the treasure is a map tattooed on the back of Victor Vail, a blind violinist (and where else but the pulps would you find a set-up like that?). The map is only visible when exposed to X-ray radiation (!). Two rival gangs of pirates want Vail and his map. The first part of the book takes place in New York City as Doc and his men rescue Vail, then get captured, escape, rescue, get the picture.

Doc hires the captain and crew of the Helldiver, a submarine specially rigged for traveling under the ice. They set out for the arctic only to find numerous twists and turns awaiting them. Doc quickly gets separated from his men and much of the story focuses on Doc's solo adventure. There are the murderous pirate bands to deal with, an aerial dogfight, marauding Eskimos (of course, Doc speaks their language) and oh yeah, a fight to the death between Doc and a polar bear. Doc slays the beast with his bare hands, a feat which establishes Doc's bad-ass credentials once and for all.

You can tell that Dent was still working out the various elements of the Doc Savage mythos at this stage of the game. Doc and his men do indeed kill many of their opponents in this story. There is no word whatsoever of mercy bullets, although Doc's lobotomy treatments for wrong-doers is mentioned.

I remember reading THE POLAR TREASURE for the first time back when I was in high school in the '70s. I read it on a bus trip on the way to a weekend at a Christian-oriented camp in the Texas hill country. I also brought along for the trip a stack of Jack Kirby's DEMON comics. It's a wonder I didn't get thrown off of the bus!

THE POLAR TREASURE is pure pulp bliss. It's got wild story elements, a breathless pace, plenty of action, cool vehicles, tons of bad guys and a beautiful damsel in distress. They don't write 'em like this anymore.


Friday, June 5, 2015


Since buying a Blu-ray disc player more than a year ago, one of my holy grails has been to collect all of the James Bond films to date in the Blu-ray format. This means buying movies I already own on DVD and I'm sure that at some point in the future, I'll replace the Blu-rays with whatever new technology comes along. Once I acquire a Bond Blu-ray, I sell the DVD copy of the film on eBay so that my collection remains in equilibrium. A new one comes in, an old one goes out. So far, I've purchased the first ten Bond films on Blu-ray: DR. NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, GOLDFINGER, THUNDERBALL, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, LIVE AND LET DIE, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. I hope to continue adding more titles as funds become available.

Today, I opened up the Blu-ray of DR. NO and sat down and watched it. I was blown away! Boy, does this movie look beautiful in this format. There's a clarity and depth to the images I hadn't seen before, the colors are rich and vibrant and the amount of minute details visible in every frame is simply astonishing. I saw hand prints on copper plated doors I hadn't noticed before and I could even see the weave of the fabric in Bond's "Nehru" jacket. Amazing!

I didn't see DR. NO when it was first released in 1962. As regular readers of this blog know, my first Bond film was GOLDFINGER. As I recall, between the release of GOLDFINGER and THUNDERBALL, DR. NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE were re-released on a double bill and that's how I saw both of those films for the first time. I honestly don't know how many times I've seen DR. NO. either on television or in a movie theater. Suffice it to say it's a lot. But I never get tired of this perfect pulp adventure movie.

 I love everything about it from the Steve Ditkoesque room where Professor Dent is interrogated by an unseen Dr. No, to the guy on the gun boat with a bullhorn crying out "let's go" in an amplified voice, even though he's not holding the megaphone anywhere near his mouth. I love the "Bond Girls" on display here, Eunice Gayson as Sylvia Trench and the immortal Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder rising up out of the surf to become an indelible film icon. And of course, I love Sean Connery's portrayal of Bond, a ruthless, sardonic spy with a license to kill (which he does). The exotic locale is lush and beautiful, the Ken Adam sets spectacular, the music serviceable and the supporting players (including Jack Lord) are all good. The film follows the original Ian Fleming novel (which I've read several times) fairly closely although Bond must run a longer, deadlier gauntlet in the book to escape from Crab Key. It's a great, fun film and I'm sure I'll watch it again and again and again...

The Italian one-sheet pictured above hangs on one of the walls of my fabled man cave. I love the simplicity of the image and the likenesses of Connery and Andress are good. Here's a DR NO collectible that I don't have but hope to acquire some day

This is SHOWCASE #43, published by DC Comics in April, 1963. It's a reprint of the British comic book adaptation of the film but it's the first appearance of James Bond in an American comic book. It would be the only comic book adaptation of a Bond film until the 1980s when Marvel Comics adapted FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. The current Overstreet Price Guide lists SHOWCASE #43 as going for $1200 in NM- condition with a GD condition copy listed at $46.00. As you can see, this baby is not cheap. Who knows? Maybe someday I'll score a copy.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


It's the end of the world as we know it in PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! (1962), which I watched for the first time this morning. This grim, downbeat film, directed by the film's star Ray Milland,  was released by American International Pictures It's probably the only AIP film to deal with a nuclear attack without resorting to monsters and mutants to spice things up.

Ray Milland stars as Harry Baldwin, a middle class resident of Los Angeles. He's taking his family, wife Ann (Jean Hagen), son Rick (Frankie Avalon) and daughter Karen (Mary Mitchell) on a camping/fishing trip in the hills outside of LA. It's Ozzie and Harriet meet the Apocalypse.

On their way out of town, the family witnesses a bright flash of light and when they look back they see an enormous mushroom cloud (the only special effects shot in the film) rising over the Los Angeles basin. They start to head back to the city but are met with a steady stream of automobiles fleeing the area. If you look closely you'll notice that it's the same cars on the same road, over and over again. Budgetary restrictions didn't allow for the hiring of more than a handful of vehicles.

Baldwin quickly goes into survival mode. He buys up groceries in a small town along with hardware and weapons. When he can't pay for the guns and ammunition, he takes the weapons at gun point. The Baldwins eventually reach their original campsite destination. They collapse a bridge into the area, ditch their camper and take up residence in a cave. Harry insists that they maintain a regular routine and try to remain civilized at all costs.

But danger rears it's ugly head when three hoods (Richard Bakalyan, Rex Holman and Neil Nephew) show up. The Baldwins had encountered the punks on the road earlier in the film. The bad guys have taken up residence in a farmhouse where they keep a frightened young woman, Marilyn (Joan Freeman), captive. Two of the men try to rape the Baldwin daughter and it's up to Harry and Rick to gun the men down and rescue their captive. The third hood shows up later and seriously wounds Rick before being killed by Marilyn.

Harry realizes that in order to save his son's life, he must return to civilization and put some trust and faith back into mankind. They load up the car and head for a nearby refugee center only to be met by the U.S. Army who is now in control of  the area. A tenuous peace has been negotiated between the countries involved in the nuclear war and the Baldwins are permitted to proceed to their destination. The film ends on a cautious note of optimism.

PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! is an earnestly mounted production. It treats it's subject matter quite seriously while avoiding some major issues, such as radiation and fallout. Ray Milland does a competent job directing the action and his performance as Harry depicts a man rapidly descending to the level of "every man for himself" in order to secure his family's continued existence. Milland appeared in a several other genre films including THE PREMATURE BURIAL (1962), X-THE MAN WITH THE X RAY EYES (1963), FROGS (1972) and THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972).

The first (and best) half of the film was filmed on location in the hills and canyons outside of Los Angeles. When the family arrives at their new cave home, the action moves to a studio sound stage. It's a bit jarring to move from a realistic to an artificial environment. The jazz inflected score by Lex Baxter is good, but it belongs in a different film. It's too upbeat for the depressing story on display. One nice note: we see only the title of the film at the beginning. Full credits do not appear until the very end.

PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! isn't the greatest end of the world movie ever made but it's certainly a product of it's time. I'm sure it resonated with audiences in 1962, tapping into the threat of nuclear war that was a clear and present danger in the Cold War years. It's sober, well-meaning and compelling. Recommended.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015


INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS was released in 1973. I was in high school at the time and if I had chanced to see this film at a drive-in (which is where it really needs to be seen to be appreciated), I would have loved it. There's a fair amount of naked female flesh on display in this film which would have certainly carbonated my teenage hormones at the time. Watching it today for the first time, I could still admire the lovely ladies that populate the film but there's not much else going for this one.

Perhaps the most salient feature of INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (besides the T&A) is the fact that the screenplay was written by Nicholas Meyer. Meyer went on write the Sherlock Holmes novel THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION (he also wrote the screenplay for the film version), he wrote and directed TIME AFTER TIME (1979) and he directed what remains to this day the greatest STAR TREK movie of all time, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN. Oh well, I guess everybody has to start somewhere.

The story deals with a mad scientist, Dr. Susan Harris (Anitra Ford), who works at a California scientific research center. There's something going on involving the combination of female human and queen bee genes to produce stunningly attractive women with jet black eyes and voracious sexual appetites. The women have sex with various hapless men and all of the men die in the throes of ecstasy. As one character puts it, "they're coming and going at the same time."

The death of a male scientist with government connections prompts an investigation by State Department Security Agent Neil Agar (William Smith). He's aided by Julie Zorn (Victoria Vetri), who runs the research library at the facility.

The body count climbs and more women are turned into "bee girls" before Agar finally figures out what's going on. He smashes into Harris's lab where she's in the middle of transforming Julie into a "bee girl". He shoots his gun at the machinery, it blows up and all of the girls die. 

The three main stars all had interesting careers. Anitra Ford was a model on television's THE PRICE IS RIGHT from 1972-1976. Victoria Vetri was PLAYBOY'S Playmate of the Month for September 1967 and was later named Playmate of the Year for 1968. She starred in WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1970) and made numerous appearances on television shows throughout the '60s and '70s. William Smith starred in dozens of films and television shows. He was Conan's father in John Milius's CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982). Smith could play both good guys and bad guys and his rugged good looks served him well over the years.

INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS is a typical, low-budget '70s exploitation film. The film stock is grainy and many of the scenes are poorly lit. The film looks like it was shot largely on location somewhere in California. The cars and clothes are vintage, retro cool and keep an eye out as Smith's wardrobe goes from suit and tie to turtleneck back to suit and tie in the space of three scenes. The closing credits steal Richard Strauss's "Also sprach Zarathustra" (which was used to great effect in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). Here it just seems like a lame attempt at profundity.

INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS provides plenty of eye candy but very little else. Worth watching at least once if you're a fan of the genre.


My wonderful wife Judy takes very good care of me. For the last two Christmases, she's given me both a one-year subscription to the new FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine and a couple of nifty FM posters. We've framed and hung the Ray Harryhausen poster in the man cave but we have yet to get the Forrest J. Ackerman poster framed and hung. Maybe sometime this summer.

I enjoy reading the new FM. It has a good mix of material, covering old films, television shows and books, as well as current media, including comics. There's something of interest to me in each issue and while I prefer reading about the older, classic stuff, I can well appreciate the need to include coverage of what's new in the horror field in order to satisfy a diverse audience.

I received the latest issue, #280 (pictured above), in the mail this past Saturday and I finished reading it today. It's got a lot of interesting material. Let's take a look.

To begin with, there's a celebration of the 50th anniversary of GAMERA. I must confess, I've never seen a single Gamera film and I don't know that I have any real desire to ever do so but the articles are well-written. The character definitely has a devoted fan following. From giant, flying, fire-breathing turtles, we move to a retrospective of Robert Wise's masterpiece, THE HAUNTING (1963), which is truly one of the scariest movies ever made. Then, there's a nice look back at MAD MAX and THE ROAD WARRIOR (to tie in with the release of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD) along with an interview with Vernon Wells who played Wez in THE ROAD WARRIOR. There's a very brief piece about post-apocalyptic films, television shows and books which could have used some more space to fully explore the sub-genre and offer insight into why this stuff is so damn popular these days.

A nice article about FIRE CITY: INTERPRETER OF SIGNS,  a new, independent horror film, follows. The people behind the film stress practical effects and make-up over CGI. Next, it's the 50th anniversary of another science fiction landmark, Frank Herbert's DUNE, a book which, I must confess, I've never read. To be honest, I really have never had any desire to read this book. Maybe I'm missing something truly magnificent but I just can't muster up the will to tackle it. I did see David Lynch's 1984 DUNE film. I didn't care for it. The issue wraps up with an interview with comic book writer Rick Remender and a sneak peek at BORNHOME, a new science fiction comic book published by Famous Monsters. The preview pages didn't make me want to buy the book unfortunately but I hope it does well. Just not my cup of tea.

All in all, it was a good read. A very mixed bag of articles with something to appeal to almost every horror fan. And you've got to love a magazine that can pay tribute to both Gamera and DUNE in the same issue!  


Here's yet another example of a movie poster being far, far better than the film it advertises. It's what I like to call "selling the sizzle and not the steak". In this case, the steak is tough, stringy and hard to digest.

INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES (1962) may be one of the worst movies ever made, science fiction or otherwise. Believe it or not, it's a comedy, a dreadfully unfunny comedy that is completely and totally devoid of any laughs whatsoever. The comedy team of Robert Ball and Frankie Ray (yeah, I know, who?) are more like two actors thrown together to fulfill the requirements of the script. They try to channel comedy "geniuses"  Huntz Hall and Leo Gorcey of the Bowery Boys but fail. The two men have absolutely no comic chemistry, no timing, no give and take like you see in the best comedy duos. They are simply stupid, dull and annoying.

The plot, such as it is, concerns an enormous explosion that occurs near a U.S. military base named Nicholson (a nod to screenwriter Jonathan Haze's buddy Jack Nicholson). The explosion has created an enormous crater and unearthed a hitherto unknown cave (Bronson Canyon). A group of soldiers including our heroes and led by a hep cat, jive talking sergeant, are sent to investigate.

What they find is a hidden space ship containing two Amazonian alien women, Dr. Puna (Dolores Reed) and Professor Tanga (Gloria Victor) and two ambulatory plant men called Vegemen. Let's take a moment to examine the names of these women a bit more closely. Puna and Tanga. Put 'em together and you get "PunaTanga" or "poontang". That's the best joke in this entire mess of a movie.

The women and the alien plant men chase our heroes repeatedly through one cave set. The interior of the ship is cheap and phony looking. The women, who are supposed to tower over the men, are clearly standing on platforms which are visible in some shots. The men eventually escape, return to Nicholson base and recruit help from Colonel Awol (funny, right?). On their return trip to the cave, they meet a group of American Indians (two of which are on horseback). They stop for a long, pointless scene with the Indians which does nothing to advance what passes for a plot.

What happens next? Hell if I know. I stopped watching at this point, figuring I'd had enough of this dreadful piece of cinematic junk. INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES has absolutely nothing going for it. It's not one of those "so bad it's good" camp classics that bad film aficionados love to embrace and champion. It's painful to watch and I cannot recommend it to anyone, even hardcore science fiction genre fans.

You may be wondering why I've been watching all of these vintage science fiction movies of late. Well, I'm still at home recuperating from hernia surgery and I'm passing the time by watching DVDs that I have in my collection, most of which I've never watched. It's a good way to entertain myself (except when the movie sucks like this one) and clear out my movie shelves. INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES is on a double feature DVD that I have. The second feature on that disc is INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS. I hope to watch it and blog about it sometime today. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


When I was a kid (and yes, this is yet another blog entry that starts with those hallowed words), there were monster trading cards. I bought as many of these packages of delight as I could find and afford. They usually cost a nickel or a dime at best and contained several cards printed with black & white images from classic horror, science fiction and fantasy films. Most of these contained some type of humorous caption. Oh, and there was a stick of gum that appeared to be manufactured from the same card stock material used for the cards.

One of the lines of monster trading cards was the Monster Laffs Midgees issued by Topps in 1963. The actual cards were slightly smaller than regular monster cards and they came on a 3-card, perforated panel. They looked like this:

The images on these cards came almost entirely from films either produced or distributed by American International Pictures. The cards contained several images from a weird looking science fiction  film. These images aptured by imagination. I had no idea what the title of the film was, only that it looked like something that I just had to see.
I didn't discover the identity of this mystery science fiction film until a few years later when Forry Ackerman ran some of those same stills in an issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS and identified the movie. I now had a name to go with those images: JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET. Still, that's all I knew about the film for many, many years. I finally got a chance to see the movie a few years ago when it was released on DVD. My buddy Kelly Greene and I watched it one afternoon. I watched it again yesterday, and now, after two viewings, I can safely say that any of my remaining curiosity regarding this film has been extinguished.
Made in 1961, JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET is an American/Danish co-production. American actor John Agar is the star and all of the other actors (male and female) are Danish with bad English language dubbing. The story takes place in the year 2001 when the United Nations has established a benevolent one-world government. A spaceship is sent to explore the seventh planet in our solar system. Waiting for them on the planet, is an immense alien brain who has the ability to probe the five crew members subconscious and materialize their darkest fears and deepest desires. These include a variety of fake looking monsters (including a cyclopean rat-demon that is brought to life via crude stop-motion animation) and a bevy of hot Danish babes.
The idea of a planetary consciousness would later be explored in Stanislaw Lem's novel SOLARIS, which was first published in 1961. Who knows, maybe Lem was inspired by JOURNEY. SOLARIS has been filmed twice, the first time in Russia in 1972 and again by Steven Soderbergh in the U.S. in 2002.
It's an imaginative concept but unfortunately, director Sid Pink and screenwriter Ib Melchior (who collaborated, with roles reversed, on THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1959)) do nothing to develop the idea to its' fullest extent. It's never explained exactly what the giant, one-eyed brain is or how it came to be on the planet but it does reveal (through one of the female constructs), that it wants to return to earth and conquer our planet. The sets look like they're made of Styrofoam with lots of multi-colored gel lights providing "atmospheric" illumination. The animated rat monster is bad but to make matters worse, when the crewmen are supposed to be encountering another monster of some kind, the producers splice in blue-tinted footage of a tarantula, footage which is lifted directly from Bert I. Gordon's EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958). The actual monster that was constructed for this sequence is glimpsed only briefly but I recall that it was featured on one of those trading cards, along with a still of an astronaut whose lower legs have been somehow dissolved down to the bone. That scene does not occur in the film but it's an image that has stayed with me for all of these years.
The astronauts have cool looking spacesuits (except for the rubber gloves which make them look like dishwashers). They all carry ray guns but again, the budget was so low that instead of inserting an optical effect for the ray blasts, the producers simply scratched the film, leaving a white streak to stand in for the blasts. This is a film making special effect that my buddy Blake Brown and I used when we were making our own movies back in high school. It's simple, effective and cheap (free). But it is time consuming. Still, it's the best two no-budget filmmakers could do at the time. I expect something better from a motion picture that I'm asked to pay money to see.
The women are also a problem. The crewmen know that they are created by the brain but they react to them and interact with them (kissing, hugging and lord knows what else), as if they're real flesh and blood women. One of them even comes on board as the ship blasts off at the climax but she quickly fades into nothingness since the brain has been destroyed. Oh, and how many science fiction films have a love song sung over the closing credits? JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET does, and it's an absolutely dreadful ditty written by Jerry Capehart and Mitchell Tableporter and sung by Otto Brandenburg. You have to hear it to believe it. Or not.
Despite all of it's many flaws, I derived a fair amount of nostalgic comfort while watching JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET again yesterday. Yeah it's a bad movie but it took me back to the days when monster trading cards contained mysteries and secrets that I still have yet to entirely unlock.
Oh, and for those counting planets at home, the seventh planet in our solar system is Uranus which makes the film's alternate title, well, you know. You may thank me for going this long before making that obvious joke.
JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET can't be recommended but it's worth seeing at least once if you're a hard-core 1950s (and 1960s) science fiction film fan.  


Comic book writer Grant Morrison runs hot and cold. When he's good, he's really good, close to greatness. His ability to come up with fresh, bold and innovative ideas and concepts are second only to the legendary Jack Kirby. In the '90s, Morrison took B-list characters and titles ANIMAL MAN and DOOM PATROL and turned them upside down and inside out, making for some truly groundbreaking comic book storytelling. Morrison can find new ways of looking at old, tired and worn out characters and injecting them with fresh creative blood, as if we're seeing these familiar characters and narrative tropes for the very first time.

But when he's bad (as he has been recently), he's terrible. I've found some of his recent work right next door to incoherent. His stories in such titles as BATMAN, FINAL CRISIS and the New 52 re-launch of ACTION COMICS were puzzling, confusing and deeply frustrating. After reading them, I'd sit and scratch my head and wonder what I just read. And it's not that you had to read all of the issues in a story arc to finally "get it". Even after reading the entire story I felt like I was still in the dark. It's my opinion that Morrison has oftentimes coasted on his name and reputation with editors at DC giving him carte blanche to write whatever the hell he wants to write because, hey, he's Grant Morrison and his name alone will sell books.

Morrison's book SUPERGODS (2011) was part memoir/part deconstruction of super hero comic books. It also provides a clue as to what may be going on. In the book, Morrison admits to copious drug use, especially drugs of the psychotropic variety. That could explain a lot of what goes on in his work. But I wish Morrison would lay off the drugs and concentrate on writing good comic book stories. That said, I highly recommend SUPERGODS. It's an engrossing, thought-provoking read.

Which brings us to Morrison's ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, a twelve issue mini-series that ran from November 2005 to October 2008. I sat down yesterday and read the entire run in a handsome trade paperback edition and I have to say that it's one of the very best Superman stories that I've ever read.

Morrison and artist Frank Quietly make us see the familiar Man of Steel and all of his iconic baggage in a new and inventive way. When Superman rescues an expedition to the sun, he's bombarded by solar radiation, suffering an overdose of the power source that makes him super. Faced with inevitable death, Superman must perform a series of trials and labors before leaving earth and humanity behind for good.

Each issue reads like a classic SUPERMAN comic book turned up to eleven. The Lois Lane chapter is an issue of SUPERMAN'S GIRL FRIEND LOIS LANE in which she receives super powers for 24 hours. Jimmy Olsen's chapter reads like an issue of SUPERMAN'S PAL JIMMY OLSEN but without the dorky, stupid and lame antics of the Olsen of old. The chapter set in Smallville is reminiscent of an issue of SUPERBOY with supporting players Ma and Pa Kent, Lana Lang, Pete Ross and Krypto (!) on hand. There's a visit to the Fortress of Solitude, the Phantom Zone provides a solution to the problem of two renegade Kryptonians, and mythological strongmen Samson and Atlas appear to challenge Superman for the hand of Lois Lane. There's a totally "bizarre" spin on the Bizarros and their world, the Parasite makes an appearance and Lex Luthor schemes to rid the world of the Man of Steel.

But wait, there's more. Solaris, the tyrant sun, a character Morrison created for the DC ONE MILLION mini-series in 1998, is here as is P.R.O.J.E.C.T., a super science consortium led by Dr. Leo Quintum and it's this organization that holds the key to Superman's future.  The Daily Planet supporting cast of Perry White, Cat Grant and Steve Lombard play key roles as does Clark Kent himself. The book ends with Superman "dying" but the last page offers a ray of hope.

Frank Quitely's artwork is very good and consistent across all twelve chapters. Each chapter provides some new take on what we think we know about Superman while providing excitement, suspense and action. The story was made into a direct to DVD animated film in 2011. I watched the film and reviewed it here a couple of years back. I liked it but now that I've finally read the book, I plan to watch the film again with a new perspective.

Superman is my all-time favorite comic book super hero. I've read a lot of Superman stories over the years, some good, some bad, many of them average or mediocre. But when a creator truly gets what it is that makes the Man of Steel such a vital and important character, the results can be spectacular. Alan Moore did it with his WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MAN OF TOMORROW two-issue series in 1986 and Grant Morrison has done it here with ALL-STAR SUPERMAN.

Highly recommended for anyone who has ever read and enjoyed a Superman comic book at some point in their life. And isn't that almost all of us?