Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wednesday Covers: DANGER TRAIL

In 1993 DC Comics published a 4-issue revival of their 1950 spy comic, Danger Trail. The '93 miniseries was written by Len Wein, and illustrated by Carmine Infantino and Frank McLaughlin. The story was a fairly shameless rip-off of various James Bond movies, and featured DC superspy King Faraday in an adventure pitting him against the supervillain Kobra.

It was enjoyable stuff, but highly derivative. Fortunately, DC had the good sense to hire comicdom's premiere spy artist, Paul Gulacy, to draw the dynamic, eye-catching covers. Check them out:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The End of GRAVEDIGGER

After about ten years of work, and a year-and-a-half online serialization, the hardboiled crime webcomic by Yours Truly and Rick Burchett, concludes today. That's right - Gravedigger is done.

At least for now.

"Digger" McCrae will probably be back, though. He’s a tough sonuvabitch. I’m already talking to publishers about print editions and digital download versions of both “The Predators” and “The Scavengers,” and I’m hopeful that we’ll be seeing said versions sometime soon.

Rick Burchett and I do hope to complete at least one more Gravedigger comic (tentatively titled “The Marauders”) sometime in the future. First, though, we have a different comics pitch (kinda like Gravedigger, but not) that we’re putting together, and Rick will be inking Joe Staton’s pencils on a new Femme Noir graphic novel that I hope will be finished next year.

Gravedigger has been - and still is - my love letter to old Gold Medal crime pulp paperbacks, 60s and 70s caper films, and all the great Hollywood tough guys. It's been a real pleasure collaborating on it with Rick off and on over the last decade, and I'm grateful that the strip - and its protagonist - seems to have garnered a loyal cadre of fans.

Interestingly, the strip received a very in-depth and thoughtful write-up by Timothy Cramer on his excellent blog just this past week. The Gravedigger comic has gotten a fair number of positive reviews over the years, but I was quite impressed by Cramer's analysis of the storytelling of the strip. It actually makes it look like Rick and I know what we're doing!

In any case, check out the final page of "The Predators" here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A MAN CALLED SLOANE: "Demon's Triangle"

Episode five of A Man Called Sloane (original airdate, October 20th, 1979) is probably the best of the run so far... except for one annoying little thing, which I'll gripe about later.

The episode opens at an airport in some Central American country, where UNIT's gadget girl Kelly (series regular Karen Purcill) is waiting to board a plane to the United States after enjoying a long-overdue vacation. Unexpectedly, Sloane and Torque show up, pursued by armed troops, and, pressing her into service as an impromptu courier, give her a top secret microchip, which she hides in her ring while the boys lead their pursuers away.

Unfortunately, Kelly's plane disappears in The Demon's Triangle ("Like the Devil's Triangle, only not as well known," according to The Director). There's only one inhabited island in the area – Corsair Island – so Sloane and Torque are off to the Caribbean to search for Kelly and the microchip, which – not unexpectedly – could compromise national security if it should fall into the wrong hands.

Well, the island is lorded over by Morgan Lancaster (Clive Revill) who claims to be the direct descendant of Sir Henry Morgan. He has a device that allows him to remotely control aircraft, and he's behind the disappearance of Kelly's flight. Surprisingly, he has no knowledge of the microchip nor Kelly's UNIT ties – all he wanted was the pilot, one of the few men on Earth qualified to fly America's most top secret aircraft, the XT-100 (which stock footage reveals to be an apparent code name for the then-new B1 bomber). The experimental plane is scheduled to make a test-flight over the area, and Lancaster needs a qualified pilot to bring it down with his machine.

Needless to say, Sloane and Torque not only rescue Kelly from the modern-day pirate's clutches and retrieve the microchip MacGuffin, but foil his skyjacking plans as well.

"Demon's Triangle" has a clever, pulpy script and makes good use of the characters. It's nice to see Kelly out of the lab, and she uses her wits to keep the microchip out of Lancaster's hands. Revill makes a fine Bondian villain, and delivers his comic book dialogue with relish. Sloane, Kelly & Torque escape from a prison cell through an absurd but cleverly-executed plan, and the producers even manage a fair approximation of a Caribbean island setting. Hell, the villain's lair is even hidden within "Voodoo Mountain!" That's some fun spy-fi, right there!

My only complaint? Why call it "Demon's Triangle?" Did someone at NBC Standard & Practices think that the names "Devil's Triangle" or "Bermuda Triangle" were trademarked by a rival network? Cripes!

• This episode was written by Jimmy Sangster, who also wrote the great 60's spy-fi classic, Deadlier Than The Male, and the 1980 telefilm, Once Upon A Spy.

• Clive Revill also played the villain – a different but similar character – in the pilot film T.R. Sloane (a/k/a Death Ray 2000).

Friday, November 14, 2014

Guns In The Gutters: MAD DOGS (1992)

Written By Chuck Dixon
Illustrated By Victor Toppi
3-Issues, B&W Comics Format

Eclipse Comics, 1992


Chuck Dixon has written a lot of crime comics. Most of them, though, have headlined such spandex-clad characters as Batman, The Punisher and Catwoman.

Mad Dogs, however, is a straight-up, no bullshit crime story; dark, brutal, action-packed, and with nary a cape nor cowl in sight.

Guy Brennan, an ex-cop booted from the force for rule-breaking and excessive force, is charged by the Philadelphia D.A.'s office with forming a special, quasi-official anti-crime unit. He proceeds to recruit four more loose cannons like himself and one sexy "Dirty Harriet," before setting his sights on bringing down an Asian drug dealer named Billy Lin. Without badges or warrants, his team swings into action, and before long, bullets are flying, blood is spraying, and it looks like his new team's days are numbered.

This is some hardcore stuff. When we first meet Brennan, he's sucking on the barrel of a .45, about to eat a bullet. Pretty much every member of his team is responsible for at least one dead criminal before they even join his squad, and the depiction of gang violence in the series is disturbingly realistic. Dixon's dialogue is tough and convincing, and characters are skillfully and economically established in a minimum of pages, leaving plenty of space for the elaborate action sequences.

Toppi's art is the very definition of "gritty," with intricately detailed linework bringing considerable texture and atmosphere to the urban jungle setting of Dixon's tale. The crumbling slums and dilapidated crackhouses are so lovingly rendered that you can almost smell the rot and decay.

On the down side, Toppi's storytelling can get a little muddled at times, and in a few places, poor placement of word balloons by the letterer made following the dialogue a little confusing. Overall, though, the book is nearly as satisfying visually as it is narratively.

According to Dixon:  "The genesis of this series is interesting.

"I was creating new properties for a Swedish publisher and they specifically asked for a very violent police thriller. When I handed it in they were horrified. They paid me but never published it. I offered it to Eclipse and they picked it up."

Mad Dogs is a mean, violent crime story with interesting – if not necessarily likable – characters that deserved a sequel (or two). Too bad that never happened. But in many ways, this feels like a warm-up for the tales Dixon would go on to tell in mainstream books like The Punisher, and those are worth reading, too.

Four out of Six Bullets

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wednesday Cover: FLASH GORDON

This one is cool. It's the fourth volume of Tempo Books' late 70s paperback reprints of the Flash Gordon newspaper strips, and its cover features a rare, non-painted cover illustration by Boris Vallejo. I have several of Vallejo's art books, and I always thought that his freehand line drawings were more dynamic than most of his paintings, which often have a very "posed" quality. Since, according to those aforementioned books, he frequently painted using posed photos of models, that's probably not too surprising.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A MAN CALLED SLOANE: "Masquerade of Terror"

The fourth episode of A Man Called Sloane (original airdate: October 13th, 1979) is a pretty good one. "Masquerade of Terror" begins when Jeremy Mason (veteran heavy Richard Lynch), a master of disguise and old enemy of T.R. Sloane's, escapes from prison. KARTEL hires him to impersonate a U.S. general in order to steal a top secret laser satellite system known as Seeker.

UNIT's only lead to Mason is a nightclub dancer he's obsessed with named Linda Daniels (LaVelda Fann). Sloane and Torque keep her under watch, waiting for Mason to make contact, but they don't have to wait long before Mason, in disguise, kidnaps her right from under their noses.

The episode has two intertwining plots: Mason wants revenge on Sloane for putting him away, and KARTEL wants to use Seeker to assassinate a visiting African dignitary. Actually, the realization of the Seeker satellite weapon is pretty cool. Unlike the laser satellites seen in Diamonds Are Forever or Real Genius, the Seeker homes in on its targets with small targeting discs. These discs have to be physically placed on or within the designated targets, but it makes it impossible for the orbiting weapon to miss.

Richard Lynch is awesomely evil as usual, and makes a very formidable foil for Sloane. His ability to whip up Mission: Impossible-styled disguises using only standard make-up is unbelievable, but it's a classic spy-fi trope. LaVelda (as she is billed in this episode) is a lovely woman and has genuine chemistry with Conrad. She dances great, too!

This one's a lot of fun, and probably the best in the series so far.

• Lavelda is Robert Conrad's wife, and according to her IMDb page, she has pretty much only acted in her husband's productions, including guest roles on The Duke, High Sierra Search & Rescue and the TV movie Sworn to Vengeance.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

What I'm Reading

Currently, I'm working my way through several trade paperback collections of comics in several different genres: pulp crime, space opera and superhero action. I love 'em all.

First off, I recently ordered the trade collection of the Dick Tracy movie tie-in comics from Walt Disney, originally published back in 1990. "The Complete Truehearts and Tommy Guns Trilogy" collects the two movie prequels written by John Moore and the film adaptation, scripted by Len Wein. All three are illustrated by the amazing Kyle Baker, whose stylized cartooning both perfectly evokes and puts a fresh spin on the world of Chester Gould's classic comic strip.

The art is beautiful and lively, marred only by Disney's insistence that Detective Tracy look like movie star Warren Beatty. The story goes that the mercurial actor only approved a handful of drawings of his face, which were then used repeatedly in the comics, pasted in whenever the character showed his mug.

Also at hand is the Deadshot: Beginnings trade paperback from DC Comics, which collects the 80s miniseries penned by John Ostrander & Kim Yale, illustrated by Luke McDonnell. This Suicide Squad spin-off is sort of superhero noir, focusing on the high-tech hitman's grim backstory. Bleak stuff, but exceptionally well-done.

The book also includes a couple of the character's earlier comic book appearances battling Batman, including the classic Detective Comics #474 by Steve Englehart & Marshall Rogers.

Finally, there's Flash Gordon: The Complete Dailies November 1951- April 1953. Published back in '88. this volume showcases the first couple years' worth of Gordon strips by Dan Barry, written by Harvey Kurtzman. Barry wasn't enamored of the more fantasy, sword & planet approach of creator Alex Raymond, and with the syndicate's blessing, took the character in a more sci-fi, rocketships and rayguns direction. The artwork is astounding, and the stories are pure, space age pulp adventure... although the fantasy stuff does creep back in eventually.

These should keep me busy for at least a little while....

Friday, November 07, 2014

Guns In the Gutters: FALLS THE GOTHAM RAIN (1992)

Written by Devin O'Leary
Illustrated by Jason Waskey

2 Color, Graphic Novel

Comico, 1992


This slender, 48-page graphic novel from '92 is a bit of an oddity. It's a 40's-styled film noir pastiche with subtle sci-fi overtones that possesses some minor similarities to Alex Proyas' 1998 motion picture, Dark City.

Trench coat-clad P.I. Vin Dressler searches for a missing girl in an unnamed city/police state divided into a red sector and a blue sector, where it "rains every day." Like the aforementioned Dark City, the town has numerous billboards scattered around, advertising luxurious, tropical vacations, but no one seems to have ever left the city, nor does there appear to be any world beyond its borders.

The plot is thin and straightforward, the script by O'Leary rife with captions and dialogue loaded with the stereotyped similes and metaphors generally associated with private eye voice-overs. So loaded, in fact, that it's almost a parody of the Raymond Chandler style, though I somehow doubt that was the intent. The writer tries for a Kafka-esque tone of surreality, but is only partially successful. It's not terrible, just kind of half-baked.

The art by Waskey, apparently rendered in black & white pastels with occasional spots of red, is nicely done, atmospheric and moody, although there's a heavy reliance on photo reference. In fact, various noir icons make appearances in the book – copied directly from classic film stills – including Peter Lorre, Ingrid Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock. Some panels (the heavily referenced ones) are nicer than others, but the overall effect is quite pleasing, and is the book's main selling point.

For fans of classic film noir, Falls The Gotham Rain is a decent homage, but offers very little in the way of anything new. Its sci-fi elements are so slight as to be easily missed, and have little effect on the story itself, effectively amounting to nothing. Still, the art is nice, it's a quick read, and its heart seems to be in the right place.

If you stumble across a copy in a back issue bin somewhere, its worth picking up.

Three out of Six Bullets.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Wednesday Covers: AIRBOY ARCHIVES

One of my favorite comics of the 1980s - in fact, one of my favorite adventure comics ever - is Eclipse comics' revival of Forties WWII hero, Airboy. Under the guiding hands of editor/artist Timothy Truman and writer Chuck Dixon (who wrote all 50 issues of the series), the book built brilliantly on the legacy of the Charles Biro character, updating the concept for the Regan era.

IDW is currently re-issuing the series in handsome archive editions, and Truman - always one of my favorite comic book artists - has created striking new covers for the collections.


Monday, November 03, 2014

A MAN CALLED SLOANE: "Tuned For Destruction"

In re-watching this series, I'm struck by just how bad Thomas Remington Sloane is at maintaining a cover. In each of the first three episodes, his undercover identities are completely blown within minutes of meeting his opponents — or sometimes even their underlings! Well, I guess it's difficult suppress your natural persona and pose as someone else when you're as cool as T.R. Sloane!

Anyway, in the third episode (original airdate: October 6, 1979), "Tuned For Destruction," UNIT agents Sloane and Torque are pitted against a rogue ex-general named "Wild Bill" McAvoy (the always reliable Geoffrey Lewis), and his personal aide-de-camp, Corporal Comfort (pretty soap opera vet Denise Duberry), who are using a newly-invented sonic, amped-up tuning fork "Metal Debilitator" (which can create instant metal fatigue in metal objects like safes, gates, etc.) to penetrate the defenses of a government facility in order to steal a nuclear bomb.

Of course, Sloane attempts to infiltrate McAvoy's private army by posing as a merc, only to be exposed immediately, and moments later, Torque – who had snuck into the villain's compound to back-up Sloane – is also captured... and his cybernetic hand disintegrated by the Metal Debilitator!

The boys ultimately escape and foil the plot, and there's a great helicopter-to-moving-halftrack transfer stunt by Conrad's stunt double to liven up the final act. There's also a pretty decent martial arts fight in the opening scene between Conrad (who appears to be doing most of the fighting himself) and an Asian mercenary.

Interestingly, McAvoy is revealed to be working for the organization KARTEL – a mysterious group of war profiteers and arms merchants first mentioned in the (at the time still unaired) TV movie pilot, T.R. Sloane (a/k/a Death Ray 2000).

• This is one of two Sloane episodes penned by Dick Nelson, whose other spy-fi writing credits include episodes of It Takes A Thief and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Halloween is my favorite holiday. Candy, monsters, candy, ghosts, candy, bats (of all kinds) and no uncomfortable family dinners. It also happens to be my wedding anniversary - this year marks fourteen years of marriage to my own Batgirl, Brandi. I'm a very lucky guy. With her in my life, it's tricks and treats all year 'round!

Here's wishing you and yours a truly spooktacular celebration!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wednesday Cover: VAMPIRELLA #2

And... here's the second Adam Hughes cover for Harris Comics' 1992 revival of the Warren classic, Vampirella. Nobody drew sexier women in the 90s than Hughes.

You know, I think I bought a tee-shirt with this image on it.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A MAN CALLED SLOANE: "The Seduction Squad"

In the second episode (airing September 29, 1979) of NBC's A Man Called Sloane (although, from the amount of footage in this episode that is incorporated into the series titles, it was probably shot first), "The Seduction Squad," Sloane and Torque are investigating acts of industrial sabotage that threaten the country's defense contractors. Eventually, it turns out that important industrial and military figures have been seduced and hypnotically brainwashed by the supermodel operatives of a slightly fey fashion and cosmetics king played by I Spy's Robert Culp. His goal? War in the Middle East... though I'm still not exactly sure what he expected to get out of it.

Not a lot to discuss here. Sloane and Torque go through the usual motions, and aside from an action-packed opening scene featuring Sybil Danning, explosions and a great zipwire stunt, it's not a particularly involving episode. The women of the titular Squad are all pretty hot, though, big hair and all, and Culp's clearly having a hell of a good time, camping it up as the heavy. He and Conrad - or, more precisely, their stunt doubles - do get a little hand-to-hand combat in near the climax, though.

Anthony Eisley, star of one of my favorite Eurospy flicks, Lightning Bolt, and Robert Conrad's co-star on Hawaiian Eye, shows up here as a Defense Department bigwig who is brainwashed into nearly starting WWIII.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Guns In The Gutters: YOU HAVE KILLED ME (2009)

Written by Jamie S. Rich
Illustrated by Joelle Jones

B&W, Hardcover Graphic Novel

Oni Press, 2009


Modern authors who attempt period private eye stories often end up turning out pale pastiche or unintentional parody. Or their stories are so heavily infused with the author's historical research that they read dry and artificial. What is often forgotten is that the private eye mystery - regardless of period - revolves around character more than plot. This is different from most other sub-genres of mystery fiction, where plot is all; a puzzle to be solved. In a P.I. story, it's all about people; their secrets, their motives, their passions.

Jamie Rich and Joelle Jones' You Have Killed Me is a private eye tale that remembers that, and is filled with deftly-drawn (in all senses of the word), richly-developed characters.

Private investigator Antonio Mercer is hired to find an old flame, a high society gal from his past, who has gone missing on the eve of her wedding to a down-on-his-luck gambler. It's no surprise that Mercer's investigation leads through smoky jazz clubs and dark back alleys, to various and sundry unsavory individuals, nor that it ultimately becomes very personal for our protagonist.

Rich's script is sharp, with terse dialogue and narrative captions that don't fall into the trap of trying to emulate Chandler's distinctive - and easily parodied - flair for simile. Instead, the first-person captions are employed sparsely and used to provide a bit of insight into Mercer's private worldview. The story treads very familiar ground, but that's okay - while familiar, it is feels fresh and is skillfully constructed.

Jones' art is clean and well-composed. Backgrounds are occasionally sketchy, but the characters are all distinctive and expressive, and her storytelling is clear and cinematic. Overall, it's beautiful stuff.

Oni Press has done a really nice job on the production of the book, with striking, attractive graphic design and high-quality paper and binding. It's a truly gorgeous book.

You Have Killed Me is an excellent period P.I. tale, extremely well told. Highly recommended.

Six Out of Six Bullets.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wednesday Cover: VAMPIRELLA #1

Back in 1992, Harris Comics revived the classic "Good Ghoul" character Vampirella, with a new, full-color series that was a far cry in style and tone from the legendary B&W Warren magazine originals. And of course, since it was 1992, who better to render the covers than the hottest "hot chick" artist of the time, Adam Hughes?

I admit it. I bought it because of the cover, too.