Thursday, December 21, 2006

Top Ten: Fictional Characters

Over on Chuck Dixon's message board, the question was posed: who are your top ten favorite fictional characters? So here's mine, in no particular order:

James Bond – from both Ian Fleming's books and the movies
Tarzan – from both Edgar Rice Burroughs' books and the movies
John Gaunt a/k/a Grimjack
Dick Grayson a/k/a Robin, Nightwing
Parker – from the Richard Stark novels
Mike Hammer – from Mickey Spillane's novels (and I like Stacy Keach's version, too)
Matt Helm – from the Donald Hamilton novels
Richard Wentworth a/k/a The Spider
James Tiberius Kirk
Sherlock Holmes

Runners-up: Sinbad the Sailor, Batman, Carl Kolchak, Lawrence Talbot, Conan, Indiana Jones, Flash Gordon and John Carter.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Superman Returns

Over the weekend, Brandi and I finally got to see Bryan Singer's Superman Returns on DVD.

While there were things about it I liked ("wait for it"), overall, I was disappointed. Now, don't get me wrong – just by its sheer scope and technical competence, it far surpassed any of the other sequels to Richard Donner's original film (which I happen to like a great deal, despite its flaws), but, unfortunately, Returns just wasn't very satisfying.

While I understand the practical reasons for casting young, Brandon Routh still looked more like Superboy to me than Superman (I had the same problem with Dean Cain). While I was willing to give it a chance after seeing the initial stills, I ended up hating the revised costume. Dark, dingy and with an understated "S" shield, it almost looked like the production people were embarrassed by the openly idealistic, bright colors of the traditional costume, and thought that by darkening it up, it would seem less... I dunno? Cheerful? Inspiring? In fact, there seemed to be a palpable cynicsm regarding the character and what he's traditionally represented, which seemed odd, especially considering Singer's slavish narrative devotion to the original, more upbeat, 1978 film.

Routh looks okay, but he delivers more of a Chris Reeve impression than an actual performance, and, unfortunately, he lacks Reeve's charm and charisma. The chick who played Lois was unmemorable and bland, and Frank Langella's Perry White came across as a stock Hollywood newspaper editor, with no attempt made on the actor's part to rise above the thinly-written material. Kevin Spacey could have been a fine, effective Luthor... if he wasn't forced to reprise the Gene Hackman interpretation. Oh, he's slightly more menacing, but only slightly. The always annoying Parker Posey essentially plays the Valerie Perrine role... and she's no improvement. At least Perrine provided some sexy eye candy. On the other hand, I kinda wish Posey had played Lois – at least she could have brought back some of Margot Kidder's neuroses and quirkiness.

The plot – well, it sucks. It's essentially an inflated remake of the '78 film with bigger FX, but even less logic. Additionally, the overall pretentiousness of the exercise sucks a lot of energy and charm out of what little's there.

And speaking of pretentious – okay, the Christ allegory has always been inherent in the Superman mythos, but it really didn't need to be played up so obviously and in such a hamfisted manner.

A digression, if I may: Personally, I never saw Supes as a "savior." Instead, he always just struck me as a good neighbor and citizen, who was brought up right by strong, moral foster parents. A guy who did right because it was right, and helped people because he could.

I guess that just isn't believable nowadays.

So, what did I like in Superman Returns? Well, it sure looked like most of the film's record-breaking budget was up there on the screen, so that's cool. The photography and production design were beautiful. The offices of the Daily Planet finally looked the way I always thought they should, and the effects were... well, super.

Filmmaking technology has finally caught up with the Man of Steel. Never before on film have Superman's powers and abilities been showcased as impressively as here. The flying scenes are amazing; no longer does he look like he's pasted into stock aerial footage. His strength, invulnerability and speed have never been as impressively and convincingly displayed. Every time Supes got to strut his stuff, my inner fanboy was thrilled.

John Williams' score still impresses and stirs the emotions, and John Ottoman does a fine job of adapting and expanding on the classic themes. I loved seeing Jack Larson in a cameo – the 1950's Jimmy Olsen still looked spry and healthy, and was even given a few lines of dialogue and some decent screen time.

I hope that in the next one, Singer & company – now that they've gotten their valentine to Donner and Reeve out of their system – will take the character in a new direction. I'd like to see them use a different villian (Brainiac, maybe) and bring some of the brightness and idealism inherent in the character back to the screen.

Most of all, I'd like to see Routh abandon the Reeve impression, and find his own take on the character.

I wanted to like it more. I may buy a copy eventually, just for the action/FX scenes and because I'm a Superman fan... but I doubt I'll watch it very often.

Friday, December 15, 2006


I have once again contributed a special DVD Late Show column to IDW Publishing's DOOMED magazine.

The article appears in Issue #4, which hit the shelves last week.

I understand there's some pretty good comic book adaptations of classic horror stories in there, too. Stuff like Robert Bloch's "Ego Trip," F. Paul Wilson's "Faces," David Schow's "Coming Soon To A Theater Near You," and Richard Matheson's "Legion of Plotters," featuring horrific art from Ashley Wood, Toby Cypress, Rufus Dayglo, and Dario Bruzuela. Plus a Richard Matheson retrospective, and words of loathing from Ms. Doomed, of course. Spectrum Award-winning artists Ashley Wood and Jeremy Geddes provide macabre covers.

Sounds like it's definitely worth your money.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tom Floyd's Spider

The talented Tom Floyd, creator of the online adventure comic Captain Spectre and the Lightning Legion, is the interior illustrator for Moonstone's upcoming Spider anthology.

Over on his website, Tom's set up a Flash-animated slideshow which previews all the gorgeously grotesque illustrations that he's done for that forthcoming volume of blood & thunder fiction.

Now, I've been a fan of Tom's pulp-styled art for a few years now, but these marvelous drawings really blew me away, and made me very eager to read the stories that will accompany them. That one of them was written by yours truly makes it even more of a thrill.

Check it out for yourself. You won't be disappointed.

Peter Boyle, RIP

Nothing new to add to the thousands of other online memorials to the fine actor, except that I admired him greatly. He starred in probably my favorite X-Files episode, was great on Everybody Loves Raymond (I didn't love Ray – but I liked his mom, dad and brother) and appeared in many of my favorite movies... including this one:

This is probably the most-linked to video around right now... and it deserves to be. It's a classic cinema moment, and Boyle is much of what makes it magic.

Rest in Peace, Peter.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tinsletown Pulp

A couple of interesting announcements in the last few days from Hollyweird.

Sam (Spider-Man, Evil Dead) Raimi is going to be producing a new Shadow movie.

While I thought the early 90's Shadow film had some nice visuals, the tone was all over the place, shifting from blood & thunder pulp to broad slapstick comedy – sometimes in the same scene! I'm hopeful that Raimi and his collaborators will come up with something closer to the character's pulp roots and Walter Gibson's concept. Here's an excerpt from the official announcement:

(Culver City, Ca – December 8, 2006) – The Shadow, the legendary Conde Nast comic book character, will come to the big screen from Columbia Pictures and producers Sam Raimi and Josh Donen of Buckaroo Entertainment and Michael Uslan of Comic Book Movies, LLC/Branded Entertainment, it was announced today by Matt Tolmach and Doug Belgrad, Presidents of Production for Columbia Pictures.

The screenplay is being written by Siavash Farahani. CBM/Branded’s FJ DeSanto will co-produce the film. Sam Dickerman is overseeing development of the movie for Columbia Pictures.

Raimi says, “I’ve been a passionate Shadow fan ever since I was a kid and have long dreamed of bringing this character to the screen.”

Tolmach adds, “We’re thrilled to be re-teaming with Sam as he brings another legendary comic-book character to a new generation of fans. This property is in the perfect hands.”

Uslan says, “My first comic-book writing gig in the 70s was writing for DC’s ‘Shadow’ comics. I had the chance to spend time with Walter Gibson and derive my understanding of the character directly from the original source himself. Working with Sam, Josh, and the entire team at Columbia, I know I am working with the Shadow Dream Team.”

Donen says, “We envision building a strong, character-driven, plot-intensive story filled with mystery and action that establishes a Shadow true to its roots and unlike any way he’s been presented in the past.”

Jerry Birenz, Counsel to Conde Nast, says, “Conde Nast has had a number of important filmmakers and companies approach us over the past few years, but only this team, as proven by the fact they have so successfully brought characters to the screen who are the crown jewels -- the life-blood -- of their respective comic book companies, has the incredible passion and experience to reignite and re-imagine The Shadow for a new generation. It doesn’t get better than knowing our film is in the talented hands of producer Sam Raimi.”

Also announced today was a new television series in development based on Raymond Chandler's classic P.I. character, Philip Marlowe. Rather than be set in period like the 80's HBO series with Powers Boothe, this one will be updated to the double-oughts and be called Marlowe (like the James Garner film, which was also updated to the then-present).

Here's part of the Variety article on the project:

Philip Marlowe could soon be back on the case.

ABC is teaming with producer Sean Bailey for a fresh take on Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled detective. Greg Pruss and Carol Wolper will write and exec produce the potential series along with Daniel H. Blatt, Phil Clymer and Bailey.

Hourlong drama "Marlowe" -- one of three scripts Bailey has set up at the Alphabet this season via the LivePlanet banner -- would be a present-day procedural crime drama with noir aspects and set in Los Angeles. Touchstone Television, which has an overall deal with Bailey, will produce if the project goes to pilot.

Bailey said "Marlowe" will be "a detective show, but very much a character-based one. "He's a guy who can travel in the highest echelons of power and the darkest and dirtiest corners of the city," he added, noting the new Marlowe will still "get his ass kicked every once in a while."

As of now, there are no plans to use any of Chandler's Marlowe books ("The Big Sleep," et al.) as source material for storylines. Still, "You can expect to see your femme fatales and very wealthy individuals," Bailey said.

Producer said the project came together when Endeavor, along with the rights holders to the Marlowe character, contacted him "with the idea of updating the DNA of Marlowe and taking him into 21st century LA."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Supermen... and boys

Like a lot of folks, I've been watching a lot of Superman lately. Everything from the Kirk Alyn serials to the 80's Superboy show to Lois & Clark. Just about the only thing I haven't watched recently is Superman Returns... and I intend to rent it soon.

One thing I've noticed is that the various Superman film and TV shows have almost always been well cast. But I still have my favorites.

Even though no one asked, here are my choices for best actor/character match ups.

Superman: Christopher Reeve (Superman the Movie)
Runner Up: Kirk Alyn (Superman serials)
Clark Kent: George Reeves (The Adventures of Superman)
Lois Lane: Phyllis Coates (Adventures of Superman S1)
Runner Up: Terri Hatcher (Lois & Clark)
Jimmy Olsen: Michael Landes (Lois & Clark S1)
Perry White: Lane Smith (Lois & Clark)
Runner Up: John Hamilton (Adventures of Superman)
Jonathan Kent: 3-Way Tie – Glenn Ford (Superman the Movie), Stuart Whitman (Superboy), John Schneider (Smallville)
Martha Kent: K Callan (Lois & Clark)
Runner Up: Annette O'Toole (Smallville)
Lex Luthor: Tie – Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville), Clancy Brown (Superman the Animated Series)
Superboy: Gerard Christopher (Superboy S2-4)
Lana Lang: Tie – Stacy Haiduk (Superboy) and Annette O'Toole (Superman 3)

And my favorite Jor-El and Lara are George Lazenby(!) and Britt Ekland(!) from Superboy (even if they were, technically, imposters.).

Least favorites:
Superman: Dean Cain (Lois & Clark) – Not a bad Superman, just my least favorite.
Lois Lane: Noell Neill (The Adventures of Superman) – Not bad in the serials, though.
Superboy: Tom Welling (Smallville) – This guy just annoys me.
Lana Lang: Kristin Kreuk (Smallville) – Ditto.

ComicSpace: the Final Frontier...

I pretty much enjoy my time on MySpace. I have met some cool people there, been able to spread the word some about my work, and there's no question that the recent financial crisis with my kitty was helped considerably by my Friends there.

But lately I've been doing most of my blogging here, and the number of legitimate MySpace Friend Requests I've been receiving has been dwindling. Lately, it's all naked ladies and hip-hop musicians, and I really don't think they're all that interested in me or my work, actually, just artificialiy inflating their "Friend" numbers.

The last few days, I've been spending a lot more time over on ComicSpace, which is kind of like MySpace for comics fans and professionals. Over there, I feel like I actually have at least one thing in common with every single person on my Friends list – a love for comics.

Right now, it's skewed toward webcomics creators and fans, but a number of print guys are starting to join in. Warren Ellis, who has always known the value of the viral nature of the web for self-promotion, signed on early, and a number of other recognizable names have followed suit.

In doing my comics on the web over the past few years, I've gotten an awful lot of attitude from both webcomics folks and print folks. The dead trees folks tend to look down on the web guys, and the webcomics folks tend to be dismissive of print comics – and both groups are damned snobbish. I'm hoping that with ComicSpace, the two communities will actually start to come together, and realize that it's all about the comics, and that's what really matters.

The site's only a few days old, and doesn't offer all the features that MySpace does, but it's still evolving. It's going to be fun seeing if it can keep pace with its rapidly growing membership and fulfill some of its great potential.

If you're interested, you can find me over there on this page. I've also set up another page to preview and promote the upcoming Femme Noir miniseries I'm doing with Joe Staton.

If you're a comics fan or pro, you should check it out.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Calling Dick Tracy!

Thanks to the generosity of an unnamed benefactor (Hi, CR!), I recently got my hands on IDW Publishing's The Complete Chester Gould's DICK TRACY, Volume 1, the first installment in an ambitious program to eventually reprint in beautiful, hardbound editions, the entire run of Gould's seminal newspaper adventure strip.

The first volume covers the years of 1931 to 1933, and includes nearly 600 daily and Sunday comic strips.

Now, I love crime comics, so I'm automatically a Tracy fan, but I can't claim to any great authority regarding the actual strip. It never ran in any of the local Maine papers while I was growing up (still doesn't, actually), so my exposure to the character is limited to a few random comic books, the Republic serials of the 30's, the RKO B-movies of the 40's, a couple of reprint volumes... and the Warren Beatty film (which I actually like quite a bit, despite its weaknesses). Of course, I've also read Max Allan Collins' Tracy novels, which spun out of that film's merchandising.

Therefore, this is my first exposure to the early strips, and... wow!

No political correctness here! Heinous acts of bloody violence are carried out on almost a daily basis, frequently occurring on-panel. Even the origin story is surprisingly grim: Tracy begins his legendary law enforcement career after his girl, Tess Trueheart's, father is shot, and she is kidnapped by mob boss Big Boy's hoods. All the more shocking, Tess is then pressed into service as the gangster's reluctant moll! Tracy joins up with the police department (being immediately made a plainclothes detective!) to find his abducted girlfriend and avenge her father's death!

Great stuff, and IDW's presentation is astounding. The artwork is clear and crisp, as if shot directly from Gould's original art (and for all I know, it may have been!). There's a fine introduction by the aforementioned Max Collins, as well as a vintage interview with Gould, conducted by Collins and Matt Masterson. The book also includes Gould's original try-out strips, which he called Plainclothes Tracy. ("Dick" was the syndicate's idea.)

I only hope that this first volume sells well, that IDW can continue publishing the series, and that I can somehow keep getting them!

Check 'em out for yourself.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Kolchak Kameo

As some of you may know, I'm writing a three-issue Kolchak the Night Stalker miniseries for Moonstone Books, called "Night Stalker of the Living Dead." The three-parter is drawn by Tim Hamilton and – as the title suggests – involves Carl Kolchak with George Romero-esque zombies. It's being drawn now, and should be out sometime in '07.

But here's an interesting bit of trivia: this isn't the first time I've written the character in comics.

Okay, it's the first time officially. But, back in the mid-Nineties, while I was an editor for Tekno Comix and writing their flagship title, Leonard Nimoy's Primortals, I slipped in a three-panel cameo appearance for a tabloid reporter, whom I simply called "Carl."

Now, in the script, I simply described him physically – never using the words "Kolchak" or "Darren McGavin" – but artist Scot Eaton wasn't fooled. He knew who I was describing, and drew a pretty fair likeness of the late Mr. McGavin. (Click on the image for a slightly larger view.)

Yeah, I know I spelled "Vincenzo" wrong (I did in my first Moonstone script, too. Oops.). And take a gander at that mid-Nineties cel phone!

Pretty cool, no?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Buy My Books!

So, you're thinking about picking up a copy of The Night Driver graphic novel (adapted by yours truly) or the forthcoming The Spider Chronicles (which includes my short story, "The Spider and the Monster Makers," among its varied literary riches), but don't know where to find them?

Well, in an effort to aid the curious consumer in locating (and, one hopes, purchasing) these extraordinary publications online, here are the respective listings (just click on the titles):

The Night Driver
A full-color, square bound graphic novel based on a story by John Cork, adapted by yours truly with art by Christopher Legasse. Published by Cinemagraphix and Moonstone Books.

The Spider Chronicles
A trade paperback prose anthology containing all new adventures of the legendary pulp hero by such authors as John Jakes, Mort Castle, Bill Crider, Shannon Denton, Chuck Dixon, Steve Englehart, Martin Powell, Joe Gentile, Rich Harvey, John Helfers, C. J. Henderson, Howard Hopkins, Anthony Kuhoric, Elizabeth Massie... and, well, me, with illustrations by my pal, Tom Floyd. Also published by Moonstone Books.

Now, I won't actually make any additional money if you buy these – I was paid a flat fee for my contributions – but hey, despite spurious rumors to the contrary, I'm a team player and want to help spread the word on these fine books. They were fun projects to work on, and will hopefully do well for all involved.

Check 'em out.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Hot Fuzz

Shaun of the Dead was one of my favorite films of recent years; a smart, clever and hysterically funny comedy, yet respectful of the genre it was having fun with. In other words – a spoof of zombie films that was actually a great zombie film! Not an easy trick to pull off, but they did it.

Well, the boys are at it again:

Was that Timothy Dalton? Cool.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

So Good... it's Criminal.

Been meaning to write about Hard Case Crime for a while now. If you're not familiar with HCC, it's a publishing imprint that's just about to go into its third year, offering top-quality hardboiled (mostly) crime fiction – both vintage reprints of rare pulp and old school-style originals – in paperback, with brand new painted covers and graphic design that evokes the era of the great PBO publishing houses like Gold Medal.

Among the authors in their stable are such names as Max Allan Collins, Lawrence Block, David Dodge, Cornell Woolrich, Richard S. Prather, Charles Williams, Ed McBain, Richard Powell, Ken Bruen, Jason Starr, Donald E. Westlake (and Richard Stark), and Stephen King, among many others. In fact, among them are line founders Charles Ardai and Max Phillips, who have both contributed their own books to the line; Ardai writing as "Richard Aleas." Authors announced for future volumes include Gil Brewer, David Goodis... and Mickey Spillane!

The cover illustrations are gorgeous. Artists include Richard B. Farrell, Michael Koelsch, Gregory Manchess, Chuck Pyle and Glen Orbik. Hard Case Crime has even managed to coax brand new paintings out of legendary paperback illustrator Robert McGinnis... and they've been among his best!

Unfortunately, finances have prohibited me being able to buy every title the line, which generally releases a book a month, but I've got probably two-thirds of the Hard Case library, and not one has been a disappointment.

Hell, I've even been published by Hard Case! Sorta. When HCC republished Donald Hamilton's Night Walker with a quote on the back culled from the Thrilling Detective Website – the quote was from an article I wrote! Too bad they didn't attribute it to me on the cover, but hey – it's there, it's mine, and as a huge fan of Hamilton, I'm appropriately... thrilled!

Speaking of Thrilling Detective, after a long hiatus, hardboiled webmonkey Kevin Burton Smith has just posted a new "issue" of his amazing and invaluable website, with a bunch of brand new short fiction and over 300 new or updated files added to its already extensive database of private eye characters, authors and scholarship.

I've been a fan of the site for years, and long ago, I had the honor of being among the first authors to have their P.I. fiction published on the site, with stories featuring my own P.I. character Matthew Dain. Surprisingly, even after all these years, I still occasionally get e-mails from folks saying kind things about my stories there.

Maybe it's time to write some new ones?

Friday, December 01, 2006

A World of Thanks!

In less than 24 hours we've received enough donations to pay for Audrey's surgery, so we've stopped accepting contributions. Our deepest and most heartfelt thanks to everyone who donated.

I'll keep you updated here about how Audrey is doing. Right now, the surgery is scheduled for next Thursday.

If you were planning to donate and didn't get the chance, why don't you consider making a contribution to your local shelter or to another animal organization in need? I'm sure they would appreciate it just as much as we do.

Again, thank you all from the bottom of our hearts. It's enough to make an old cynic cry.