Monday, December 15, 2014

A MAN CALLED SLOANE: "Sweethearts Of Disaster"

The ninth episode of A Man Called Sloane (originally airing on December 1st, 1979) opens with Sloane and Torque in France, covertly observing a test of a laser cannon in an isolated valley that in no way resembles L.A.'s Bronson Canyon. (Sure!) They're not the only ones, as Sloane observes an attractive woman (Andrea Howard) also watching. As these bystanders stand by, a team of six women attack the scientists testing the laser, beat them up, and steal the weapon.

Sloane repels down a cliff to intercept their fleeing truck, only to have his ass handed to him by the "Sweethearts," and then be tossed unceremoniously off the moving vehicle.

It's not a total embarrassment for UNIT's "only Top Priority Agent," though – somehow, in the melee, he managed to steal the ruby needed to make the laser cannon function. Anyway, UNIT decides to try and lure the thieves into the open by having Torque pose as an African king who is auctioning off one of the only two other rubies capable powering the device. KARTEL baddie Bannister (Ted Hamilton) and his all-female terrorist squad - The Sweethearts – as well as the beautiful KGB agent that Sloane saw in France, all converge in Vancouver to fight over the gem. The usual hi jinks ensue.

As a poster on the IMDb points out, this is a smaller-scale, faster-paced remake of the Death Ray 2000 pilot film, which hadn't been seen on TV yet, with the gratuitous addition of the sexy "Sweethearts" – a virtual necessity on Fred Silverman's NBC at the time. The episode is briskly directed by veteran B-movie and TV auteur Jack Starret (Cleopatra Jones, Race With The Devil), who, in keeping with the tradition of nepotism on the Sloane set, cast his daughter as one of the Sweethearts! Not the series' best episode, but far from its worst.

• Andrea Howard, who portrays KBG operative Anna, also co-starred with Don Adams the following year in the first Get Smart feature, The Nude Bomb, where she inexplicably took the place of Barbara Feldon's 99. She was pretty and likable, but a poor substitute for Feldon.

• With so much of today's TV being shot in Canada, I find it interesting and amusing that in this 1979 production, Los Angeles is standing in for Vancouver, rather than the other way around!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Guns In the Gutters: TOUGH GUYS AND WILD WOMEN #1 (The Saint)

Written & Illustrated by Various
B&W, Comics Format

Eternity Comics, 1989


Beneath a nicely-designed cover, this comic reprints four adventures of Leslie Charteris' Simon Templar, a/k/a The Saint, originally published within the pages of the popular character's eponymous comic book series back in the late Forties.

The first story, "Suite Number 13," (The Saint #7, 1949) solely credited to Walter Johnson, finds the legendary gentleman adventurer and his muscular sidekick, Hoppy, at a French Riviera resort, where he tangles with a sultry baroness, duels with a snotty count, and recovers a stolen treasure – all in 8 pages. The story is typical pulp, and the artwork is rather pedestrian, with a constantly smiling, square-jawed Templar. In fact, he rather presciently resembles actor Roger Moore, who took on the Templar role some years later on British television.

The second story, "The Blackmail Beauty," (The Saint #7, 1949) appears to be the work of the same creators, and has Templar back in London, involved with sexy blackmailer. Story number three, "The Diamond of Death," (The Saint #5, 1949) is the work of a different, better artist, one who's clearly influenced by Milton Caniff. In fact, the Oriental femme fatale of the tale is a dead ringer for Terry And The Pirates' Dragon Lady.

The issue wraps up with "The Saint Breaks A Spell, "(The Saint #5, 1949), which features yet another artist and an energetic, two-fisted Templar with a perpetual toothy grin – even in the most inappropriate situations. The Saint is pitted against an evil cult out to scare an heiress to death.

The four stories in this comic are pretty standard, unremarkable Golden Age stuff, with decent art and serviceable writing. But they don't hold a candle to The Saint newspaper strip (which Eternity also reprinted some of in their Private Eyes title), which was witty as well as exciting.

I found this in a bargain bin for 50¢, and don't regret picking it up, but I wouldn't recommend making an effort to hunt down a copy, unless you're a die-hard Saint completist and can't afford the 40's originals.

There was at least one more issue of this title, but I don't have a copy.

Two Out of Six Bullets.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mad Max: Fury Road

I have to say, the trailer for next year's Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky and directed by series creator George Miller, is the best film preview of the year. Visually awe-isnpiring, marvelously edited, and featuring an incredible soundtrack, it really has me revved up to see the long-promised (I first saw a reference to it as being in development in a film magazine back in the late 90s!) post-Apocalyptic adventure.



So, next year, there's a new Star Wars movie, a new James Bond movie, a new Terminator movie, a Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, a new Avengers movie (and Ant-Man!), and a new Mad Max film. Too bad they couldn't have gotten new Planet of the Apes and Godzilla flicks made in time. Still, looks like a helluva year, movie-wise.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Statham is a WILD CARD

I was just thinking that it was time for another Jason Statham actioner, and, sure enough, here are a couple of posters for his latest: Wild Card. Directed by Simon West (The Mechanic), this is a remake of the troubled 1986 Burt Reynolds vehicle, Heat, written by William Goldman. Should be interesting.

Monday, December 08, 2014

A MAN CALLED SLOANE: "Samurai"

Episode eight of A Man Called Sloane (Originally airing on November 24th, 1979) features yet another "old enemy" of T.R. Sloane's – this guy's got a lot of old enemies! Didn't he ever, you know, kill, any bad guys?

In this case, it's a man named Tanaka (the always-welcome Mako), a martial arts master, who's escaped from a Jakarta prison and founded his own religious cult in the U.S. Aside from exploiting the youth of America with his so-called religion, he also takes on odd jobs for KARTEL, like kidnapping the daughter of a South American Premier (right out from under Sloane's nose!).

KARTEL demands that the Premier resign – publicly, on live TV – so one of their puppet politicians can assume leadership of the country. UNIT's only lead is a young woman named Carrie Baldwin (Nancy Conrad), a former member of Tanaka's cult. Eventually, Sloane and Tanaka face off in a decently staged – if too brief swordfight – and, with the help of a faked newscast, the girl is saved.

This episode is more down-to-earth than previous installments, with no big sci-fi MacGuffin or mad scientists. Sloane even has to do some legwork this time. Fortunately, Mako portrays Tanaka as a worthy adversary with some honor and respect for his opponent, and he even gets to knock Robert Conrad around a bit!

• More nepotism! Nancy Conrad is – no surprise – Robert Conrad's daughter. Like Conrad's wife, Lavelda (who guest starred in episode four), Nancy appears to have pretty much only acted in projects Mr. Conrad starred in, including Baa Baa Black Sheep and Murph the Surf!

• This is episode is written by TV veteran Dick Nelson, who scripted an earlier entry, "Tuned For Destruction," as well as several episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Guns In The Gutters: DODGE'S BULLETS

Written by Jay Faerber
Illustrated by James K. Francis

B&W, Graphic Novel
Image Comics, 2004


Veteran comics and TV writer Jay Faerber clearly loves the crime genre. Sure, much of his comics work is in the superhero field, but he's managed a few notable crime comics credits, too, with The Hat Squad, Near Death, and Point Of Impact...  and his 2004 private eye graphic novel, Dodge's Bullets from Image.

Webster Dodge is a young Seattle private eye, who lives on an old houseboat and plays guitar in a struggling bar band. He doesn't have an office, instead meeting his clients at a local coffee shop with convenient Internet access. One of those clients hires Dodge to find his long lost father, a picture of whom he's spotted in a newspaper photo of a Seattle marathon. Dodge takes on the seemingly-simple job, but soon finds himself – as is to be expected in a good private eye story – embroiled in a twisted case of false identities, stolen money and kidnapping.

Faerber's script is excellent, with a twisty yet logical mystery that keeps both his protagonist and his readers perpetually off-balance. The character of Webster Dodge is an inspired creation – an utterly believable contemporary shamus with a satisfying slew of insecurities and personal issues that keep him rooted in reality. He's not a perfect TV eye, nor a film noir cliche.

The black and white art by James Francis is suitably gritty, with an appealingly organic aesthetic and clear storytelling. Some of the backgrounds are a little too sketchy for my tastes, but at least they're there. Faces are distinctive and expressive, and the overall effect is very pleasing. it's nice stuff.

Dodge's Bullets is most notable for attempting – and rather successfully – to tell a modern private eye story, set in contemporary world of cellphones, PDA's, and laptop PCs, rather than being another pastiche of 40's genre tropes. There's no trenchcoats or scarfaced gangsters here, just a good mystery in a recognizably realistic 21st Century Seattle. Sure, the modern approach is common in prose fiction, but comics creators can often cling tenaciously to the comfort and safety of pastiche, and it's nice to see Faerber and Francis break free of the tired noir trappings.

(Says the genius behind Femme Noir! Ah, irony!)

When Jay saw that I had Dodge's listed as an upcoming review on the original Guns In the Gutters blog a few years back, he offered to share some background information on the creation and history of the project. Here's what he sent along:
I've been a private eye fan for as long as I can remember. It probably started with Magnum PI, which I used to watch religiously with my dad. From there, I discovered Spenser: For Hire (and that, in turn, led me to discover the Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker). It wasn't until I was in my 20s that I discovered The Rockford Files, but those three PI characters served as the main three inspirations for Dodge's Bullets, which remains a project of which I'm immensely proud.

The original plan was to do a three (or was it four?) issue mini-series, but once work got under way, Image convinced me to just make it a full-fledged "graphic novella." The original artist was Mike Norton, who has since gone on to make a name for himself at DC Comics. Mike was the first artist to actually draw Webster Dodge, and he even drew a 5-page sequence. Eventually, he had to back out due to being overcommitted. But he recommended an artist named Tom Feister, who was doing a lot of work with Tony Harris. Tom drew some pages, and brought his own sensibilities to the book before he, too, had to back out due to being overworked. Like Mike, he's gone on to bigger and better things at DC.

I then came across James Francis, a (fairly) local artist who had graduated from the Kubert School but hadn't done much in the way of comics. The book was to be set in Seattle, which is where I live, and James lived on the Washington coast, so he was much more of a local than Mike or Tom ever was. He at least got the Pacific Northwest "vibe" we were going for. At any rate, James signed on to draw the book, and we started over. That is, we weren't going to use any of the stuff Mike or Tom drew.

James did an amazing job with the book. That double-page title spread is still one of my favorite pieces of art from any of my projects. I served as a bit of a "location scout" for the book, tolling around Seattle and taking photos of various landmarks and locations for James to incorporate into the book. Sure, he lived in Washington, but Washington's a big state, and he was a good 90 minutes away from downtown Seattle, where most of the action from the book took place. So I'd email him photos and he'd use them for reference.

In addition to the artwork, my favorite thing about Dodge is the relationship between Dodge his policeman father. I'm not sure the rest of the supporting cast is as strong as it could've been, and if I ever revisit the character, I may tweak things in that regard.

James and I came really close to doing a follow-up mini-series at Moonstone Books. Image didn't really have any interest in a Dodge sequel, but Moonstone was eager to do something. James's band (yes, James is a musician, and so is Mike Norton and Tom Feister -- I'm the only one who isn't musically inclined) ended up getting more and more gigs, and he seems to have faded away from the comic book scene, and the sequel never took root.
Thanks for sharing, Jay.

Dodge's Bullets is a solid contemporary PI tale that deftly sidesteps, or finds new angles for, most of the common cliches of the genre, and is well worth picking up if you can find a copy.

Five out of Six Bullets.
Dodge's Bullets may still be available through Amazon and other online dealers.

Monday, December 01, 2014

A MAN CALLED SLOANE: "Collision Course"

The seventh episode of A Man Called Sloane (original airdate, November 17, 1979) begins with Sloane in London, where he is to meet another UNIT agent at a planetarium. When he arrives, he discovers his contact – an old friend – murdered, with strange markings on his neck. Noticing a beautiful woman apparently fleeing from the scene, he follows, and is attacked by a couple of thugs.

Investigating the agent's death, Sloane discovers that an old adversary, Jefferson Crane (Eric Braeden, The Rat Patrol), a man that Sloane believed he had killed some years before, is behind a plot of cosmic proportions. Using two stolen nuclear missiles, he plans to divert a comet (the fictional Caesar's Comet, which the script would have us believe was first spotted at the time of Julius Caesar's assassination, and which has returned every 100 years since) and crash it into the Earth.

Soap opera veteran and popular heavy Braeden makes a satisfactory villain, and Nancy DeCarl, as the dead agent's sister, is a lovely girl of the week, but the story is pretty unspectacular. For one thing, while the script goes to great lengths to emphasize how involved and difficult it was to calculate the comet's trajectory, it also posits that the U.S. military transports nukes around on the back of easily hijack-able trucks. (Actually, stealing nukes is made to look very easy throughout the series!)

Not one of the stronger episodes, unfortunately... though the scene where a bunch of polo players on horseback attack a van containing Sloane, Torque and the girl is both kinda cool and damned weird.

• This episode was written by Stephen Kandel, a frequent contributor to various spy-fi shows, including Mission: Impossible, The Wild Wild West, It Takes A Thief and MacGyver.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wednesday Covers: WINTERWORLD

Winterworld was a 3-issue miniseries by Chuck Dixon and artist Jorge Zaffino, originally published in 1987 by Eclipse Comics. A post-Apocalyptic tale of survival, set in an unspecified future where the world is covered in ice and snow, the series featured some pretty savage action and brutal storytelling by Dixon & Zaffino.

The original miniseries - along with a previously unpublished sequel, Wintersea, by the same creative team, was recently published in trade paperback form by IDW Publishing, and Dixon has followed  that collection with a new, ongoing Winterworld comic book series. I've only read the first issue, but it was terrific, and I wouldn't hesitate to highly recommend both the trade collection and the new series to fans of hard-hitting action and adventure tales.

Here are the original Eclipse miniseries covers by Zaffino.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"This Organization Does Not Tolerate Failure..."

I don't know if this image is official or fan-made, but it made this long-time Bond fan smile... and with the rumors that Christophe Waltz is playing SPECTRE mastermind Ernst Stavros Blofeld in the as-yet-untitled film, I'm hopeful that we can put that QUANTUM idiocy behind us and welcome the original evil empire back to the series.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A MAN CALLED SLOANE: "The Venus Microbe"

Episode six of A Man Called Sloane (original airdate: October 27, 1979) centers around a lethal alien microorganism brought back to Earth by a Venus probe. (Funny how in reality, our interplanetary probes aren't actually ever intended to return to Earth, though they regularly do in fiction!) This "microbe" is so dangerous that the government both fears that it might get loose and salivates at the thought of using it as a weapon. Thus, they have a team working on an "antidote."

Dr. Franklyn (Alex Henteloff) is part of that team of government scientists, but KARTEL has snagged him in a honeytrap using a professional seductress named Charlene (Zacki Murphy), and turned him. He steals both the microbe and antidote with her help, inadvertently trapping a couple of his colleagues in a sealed chamber and exposing them to the microbe.

Sloane and Torque happen to be visiting the lab at the time, and chase after him. Unfortunately, KARTEL has him covered, and our heroes are attacked by an "ambulance" with a rocket launching "siren." We discover here, for the first time, that Sloane's vintage Cord has some defensive capabilities, as he employs a good old fashioned oil slick to thwart his would-be assassins. ("I guess we gave them the slip!") Unfortunately, the ambulance attack has allowed Franklyn and Charlene to escape with their deadly prize.

Franklyn turns the microbe and the as-yet-untested antidote over to casino proprietor and KARTEL honcho Jonathan Cambro (veteran character actor Monte Markham). Obviously, KARTEL needs to know the antidote works, so the sinister Cambro forces Franklyn to test it on himself. It doesn't work. Apparently the good doctor misplaced a page while transcribing the formula, and that page is now in the hands of neophyte private eye Melissa Nelson (Morgan Fairchild). Eventually, Melissa and Sloane combine forces, and with only 48 hours to recover the antidote (remember those trapped scientists?), go after the sinister Cambro.

Not the strongest episode, but Fairchild and Conrad play off each other quite well, and Markham is, as always, excellent in his villainous role. The science is ludicrous, of course, and the plot is all-too predictable, but it moves along briskly.

• Scriptwriter Marc Brandel also contributed scripts to Danger Man and Amos Burke, Secret Agent.

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.