Monday, January 29, 2007

Richard Benson, The Avenger

In 1939, Street & Smith Publications, publishers of the legendary pulp magazine heroes Doc Savage and The Shadow, launched another crime-fighter onto the newstands and magazine racks of America. Allegedly written by Kenneth Robeson, the masterful scribe of Doc Savage's adventures (in fact, "Robeson" was a S&S "house" name), new hero Richard Benson, alias The Avenger, made his debut in a high-octane thriller entitled "Justice, Inc."

Never quite as popular as Savage or The Shadow, The Avenger nonetheless managed to secure a small cult following, and when the paperback reprints of Doc Savage became best-sellers in the 1970's, Warner Books reprinted the 24 Avenger adventures as well. Those sold so well that acclaimed sci-fi author Ron Goulart was commssioned to ghost write another dozen or so. There was even a very short-lived comic book from DC around that time, called Justice, Inc., after the character's debut story, drawn by the legendary Jack Kirby (the cover above is from that series, drawn by the equally-legendary Joe Kubert. Beautiful, isn't it?).

Richard Benson was a grim vigilante with a deathly gray, immobile, wax-like face, which he could reshape into various disguises simply through manipulation of his deft fingers. He had a few assistants (just like Doc and The Shadow), and carried a custom firearm he called "Mike" and a slim throwing knife named "Ike." The Avenger may not have been the most popular pulp hero, but damn, he was cool.

So what provoked this little informal history lesson? Just this: Moonstone Books, for whom I'm writing a Kolchak The Night Stalker comic book, and already wrote a Spider prose adventure, have landed the license to The Avenger and have asked me to contribute a short story to a new Avenger anthology. Reportedly, they've even persuaded the above-mentioned Ron Goulart to contribute a new story to the book. I also know that my pal Martin Powell – who previously contributed to The Spider, Kolchak and Phantom anthologies – is participating in this one, too. It should be a great book!

I always wanted to be a "pulp" writer – and now I am! And best of all, these are authorized, licensed projects, so I'm legitimately part of the characters' legacy. How cool is that?

More details when I can. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

DVD Review: Maniac Cop

I need a break from this script I'm trying to finish, so let's knock out one more DVD review before I head for Boston, kidney surgery, a week of hospital bed rest and legal drugs...

One of my favorite action/horror films, William Lustig's MANIAC COP (1988), has finally received the quality DVD release it deserves, thanks to the fine folks at Synapse Films.

Previously issued on laserdisc by Elite Entertainment and as a full-frame DVD by a budget label in a decidedly fuzzy version, this new release is not only the best the film has ever looked on home video, but includes all the great extras from the laserdisc, as well as a few new features created specifically for this edition.

When a psycho killer in a police uniform starts murdering innocent people on the streets of New York, the city is gripped in paranoia and afraid of their own police force. Soon, a young cop named Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell of EVIL DEAD and BUBBA HO-TEP fame) is wrongfully accused of being the "Maniac Cop" when his wife turns up dead and he's arrested. But while Jack may be an unfaithful jerk, he's no serial killer, so it's up to his policewoman mistress (Laurene Landon, YELLOW HAIR AND THE FORTRESS OF GOLD) and veteran NYPD detective Frank McCrae (the great Tom Atkins, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, LETHAL WEAPON) to find the real Maniac Cop – a scarred, Frankenstein-esque hulk named Matt Cordell (the imposing Robert Z'Dar of SOULTAKER) – stop him, and clear Jack's name.

A great B-movie cast (which also includes William Smith, Richard Roundtree, Sheree North and Sam Raimi!), slick, noir-ish photography, a nearly perfect script by exploitation vet Larry Cohen (IT'S ALIVE, Q, BLACK CAESAR, ORIGINAL GANGSTAS), an evocative score by Jay Chattaway, and gritty direction by William Lustig (VIGILANTE, MANIAC) combine to create a top-notch, fast-paced entertainment, with plenty of thrills, impressive stunts and some genuine scares.

Synapse's DVD presents MANIAC COP in a brand-new, high definition, 1.85:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer from the original vault materials. The movie looks amazing, with a level of clarity and detail unseen in previous video incarnations. The film has also been given a new DTS 6.1 surround audio mix as well as a crystal Dolby Digital 5.1 version.

There's plenty of extras, including a highly entertaining group commentary (ported over from the LD) with director Lustig, writer Cohen, star Campbell and composer Chattaway. There are several theatrical trailers and TV spots, a still gallery, a bunch of short scenes shot to pad out the running time for Japanese television (featuring Leo Rossi of Lustig's RELENTLESS), and a new-to-this-DVD on-camera interview with Robert Z'Dar.

As you may of gathered, I've been a fan of this movie (and its first sequel) for years, and I'm absolutely thrilled to have this new edition for my DVD library. As I mentioned before, despite its long history on video, it has never looked or sounded as good as it does on this new DVD. Synapse is to be commended for putting in the effort to present this cult favorite in such a high quality package. Strongly recommended.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Drive-In DVD Reviews... n' Other Stuff

I've got a lot of DVDs piling up on my desk waiting to be reviewed for my DVD Late Show column. Here's a few examples:

BCI Eclipse has acquired the old Crown International exploitation film library, and has been making good use of these classic drive-in crowd pleasers. Crown was around from the Sixties through the Eighties, and their prodigious output covered the gamut from horror films to action flicks to teen comedies – any genre that could be produced cheaply and profitably appeal to a young audience.

JOCKS (1986) is one such Crown "classic" from BCI, a college sports and sex comedy with a decidedly unusual supporting cast for the genre.

Directed by exploitation veteran Steve Carver (LONE WOLF MCQUADE, BIG BAD MAMA), JOCKS's performers include a very young Mariska Hargitay (LAW & ORDER SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT), Tom Shadyac (who later directed the Jim Carrey vehicles LIAR, LIAR and BRUCE ALMIGHTY) and B-movie stalwarts Richard Roundtree (SHAFT) and Christopher Lee (HORROR OF DRACULA, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT).

The story follows a small college tennis (!) team made up of misfit players (including REVENGE OF THE NERDS' "Ogre," Donald Gibb) who travel to Vegas for an tournament, unaware that if they fail to win the championship, their dean (Lee) will shut down the tennis program. Of course, the boys are more interested in partying in the pre-Disneyfied Sin City than playing tennis, and their coach (Roundtree) finds it nearly impossible to ride herd on them. Will they win the tournament and save their team? More importantly, will they get laid?

What, haven't you seen one of these flicks before?

Despite the racy cover art, the film is relatively tame sexually, with only a little bit of female nudity (not Hargitay, unfortunately) but lots of innuendo. While JOCKS is utterly predictable, the cast is appealling, the pace is good, and the movie is fairly entertaining, if not particularly memorable; the kind of movie that used to endlessly run on Cinemax in the wee hours.

BCI's DVD is quite nice. It's a bare-bones package, but the 20-year old movie is given a solid, sharp 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that belies its age and low budget. The film looks damned good. The disc also includes trailers for four other Crown teen comedies of the era, THE BEACH GIRLS, WEEKEND PASS and the popular cable programmers TOMBOY and MY CHAUFFEUR – all of which will (hopefully) soon be on DVD from BCI, if they're not already.

If you happen to remember this movie or just have a fondness for teen comedies of the era, JOCKS is an inexpensive, nicely-packaged trip back to the Eighties.

Disney has really dropped the ball when it comes to their handling of the Roger Corman film library. They acquired the movies last year with some fanfare, assuring Corman and his fans that the company was uniquely positioned to handle the DVDs better than any other studio. Well, a year later, the releases have slowed to a trickle, they continue to offer the titles in an unmatted, full-frame format, and seem determined to give each title the ugliest, most misleading cover art imaginable.

Case in point: Ron Howard's 1977 directorial debut, the light-hearted car crash comedy GRAND THEFT AUTO, has been packaged as a FAST AND THE FURIOUS clone and labeled as a "Tricked Out Edition." Sigh.

In 1976, actor Ron Howard, who was then starring in the hit sitcom HAPPY DAYS, played the lead in a low-budget, rural car chase movie for Roger Corman entitled EAT MY DUST. The movie was hugely successful on the drive-in circuit, and Corman wanted an immediate follow-up in the same vein. Howard was agreeable – but only if Corman allowed him to direct the movie as well. Corman agreed. Immediately, Ron and his father, veteran character actor Rance Howard, began to put together the script for a fast-paced, funny car chase flick they called GRAND THEFT AUTO.

Here's the plot: young Sam (Howard) and Paula (Nancy Morgan) are in love and want to get married. Unfortunately, Paula's wealthy parents object – they intend for her to marry rich, spoiled Bigby Powers (Barry Cahill). Paula's the headstrong type though, and after storming out of her parents' house, she and Sam steal the family's Rolls Royce and heads for Las Vegas to elope. Paula's father puts a $25,000 bounty on his daughter, and soon the two young lovers find themselves chased by a motley assortment of pursuers – including amateur bounty hunters, inept private eyes, various cops, an ambitious radio DJ in a helicopter, and Paula's spurned fiance.

Of course the plot is just there to link the car stunts together, and it works. In fact, it's great fun, with plenty of well-staged car crashes, comedic appearances by Ron's whole family (or, at least, father Rance and brother Clint) and HAPPY DAYS mom Marion Ross, and even a little bit of pointed media satire.

Disney's DVD presents the film in an unmatted, nonanamorphic full-frame 1.33:1 transfer that makes a mockery of Gary Graver's fine cineamatography, leaving far too much image information on the top and bottom of the screen. Picture quality is good, but there's a bit of dirt and debris that probably could have been digitally cleaned up, if anyone had cared enouigh to do so. The audio's been given a decent 5.1 Dolby Digital remix, and it sounds fine.

As for the "Tricked Out" extras, there's a documentary called "A Family Affair" which is essentially an on-camera interview with Rance Howard and son Clint. Director/star Ron, however, is mysteriously and disappointingly absent. There's a short introduction to the film by Roger Corman, and the amusing original theatrical trailer.

The best extra, though, is the audio commentary by Corman and Ron Howard, who clearly has fond and vivid memories of his directorial debut. Corman doesn't contribute a whole lot to the discussion, but the two clearly are enjoying hanging out and watching the movie again, and they're obviously proud of the film.

And they should be. It's unassuming, funny, and damned entertaining. I recommend picking it up, even with Disney's stupid packaging and substandard transfer.


I'll be checking into the hospital in Boston on Tuesday morning for my surgery. They'll be removing my right kidney. Recovery period is expected to be three or four days in the hospital, and then I'll be heading back here to Maine, where I hope to get back to work by the following Monday.

I won't have access to my e-mail or internet during the hospital stay (I don't own a laptop), but I'll be back online by or before the 5th.

Wish me luck!

Also, Moonstone has quietly announced on their website that I'll be working on some Captain Midnight color comics for the company, so I guess it's okay for me to talk about it now. The company has some ambitious plans for the character, including a prose anthology among other things, and I'm intimately involved in the whole project, helping to define and shape Moonstone's version of the Captain. It's thrilling to be able to put my own stamp on such a venerable, classic adventure hero, while trying to remain true to the spirit of the original creation. Hopefully, the fans will like what we come up with.

But most of all, I'm looking forward to working with my pal Rich Clark on the Captain Midnight comics. We've been friends for a number of years now, and this will be our first chance to actually collaborate on a project. Should be fun.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Art of Joe Staton

Joe Staton is – obviously – one of my favorite comic book artists. I've been a fan for most of my life, and I'm honored to have been his collaborator on the Femme Noir comic strip and comic book for the last few years. It astounds me that he's not more in demand by DC and the other major comics publishers, especially since I think his work is as vibrant and dramatic and dynamic as ever, if not moreso. His pencils on the forthcoming Femme Noir miniseries may be the best he's ever done.

Here are a handful of my favorite Joe Staton covers. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

National Gorilla Suit Day

I no longer own a gorilla suit (had to throw it away after loaning it to a co-worker who didn't get it dry cleaned after wearing it on a particularly humid Florida evening – pheww), and I'll be hospitalized on January 31st this year... but I wouldn't be able to call myself a Don Martin fan (and I've been one since getting my hands on the Mad Adventures of Captain Klutz paperback when I was twelve!) if I didn't recognize National Gorilla Suit Day.

Thanks to Mark Evanier for keeping the tradition alive.

Femme Noir Preview

It's still a long way away, but I thought I'd post the first two pages of the first issue of Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries here as both a preview and as a welcome to our new colorist, Melissa Kaercher. These two pages landed her the gig.

The 4-issue miniseries will be coming from Ape Entertainment, hopefully before the end of the year. Pencils by Joe Staton, inks by Horacio Ottolini, story, script & letters by yours truly.

I'll post more art over the next few months.

Click on the images for a larger version.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Early Morning Musings

It's snowing heavily this morning. First time this year, really. (We got a little bit of white stuff a week or so ago, but not much.) My wife, who's been complaining all winter that there hasn't been any snow, will be happy... but not in a few hours when she has to go out and try to get the car out of the driveway and to work.

I'm going to Boston on Monday for my last round of tests, and then, just about a week later, I'll be checking into the hospital down there for my surgery. If all goes well, I'll be hospitalized for only three or four days. Good thing I still have a lot of books to read.

My pal Jim just sent me a couple cool comic reprint collections for the recovery period – if I can make myself wait until then to read 'em! One is SHOWCASE Presents: The House of Mystery, with tons of beautiful art by Jerry Grandenetti, Neal Adams, Berni Wrightson, Alex Toth and others, and the other is Justice League of America: We Elect... , a collection of all the classic JLA stories in which the League invited new members into their ranks. Always loved those stories, and most of these are drawn by the underrated Dick Dillin.

My DVD review column for Quick Stop Entertainment has been on hiatus since November (and the DVD Late Show site's been idle for even longer, unfortunately), while I was dealing with other writing gigs and, later, my health issues. Still, the review discs are piling up. You'll probably start seeing random DVD reviews appearing in this blog again soon, to be compiled into columns when I get enough. Think of it as being privileged. You get to read 'em first!

Speaking of DVDs – I watched the new Chuck Norris flicks I ordered last night. Silent Rage was, sadly, not one of my hero's best. It's an interesting attempt to meld an action film with a sci-fi/horror film, but it just never comes together. Chuck's fine as a small town, karate-kicking Texas sherriff (well, duh.), but the movie's structured as a slasher film, and the director never manages to build any suspense. The pacing's terrible, the script is worse, and although the game cast tries their best, the movie just doesn't work.

Oh well. Forced Vengeance, on the other hand, was fun, if average. At least it had nice Hong Kong location work and some good action sequences.

I don't think The Spider Chronicles will make it to the shelves this month after all – I only just received a pdf "galley" of my story yesterday. Looks great, though – very slickly designed, and Tom Floyd's illustration is perfect – so whatever delay there might be should be worth it. Hopefully, it won't be long.

Well, I'm beat. Been working all night, and I think I'm going to go watch a short movie or TV show on DVD and hit the hay before dawn.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

No-Brainer: The War That Time Forgot!

As I've stated repeatedly in this blog, I can't afford to buy many comics these days. And when I do shell out for something, it's been mostly reprint volumes of older material. Well, add another one to the "must buy" list:

Written by Robert Kanigher
Art and cover by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito
Over 500 pages of classic adventures are included in this value-priced volume collecting one of the most unusual series ever from DC Comics! On an unnamed, uncharted Pacific island, dinosaurs continued to thrive while World War II raged across the globe. It's there that members of the U.S. Military found themselves armed only with standard-issue weapons against the deadliest predators ever to roam the Earth!
Advance-solicited; on sale May 2 o 560 pg, B&W, $16.99 US

Soldiers vs dinosaurs! The original kid-appeal "high concept!" Didn't every kid have green army men and plastic dinos? Pure, friggin' genius. And considering how much I've been enjoying the SHOWCASE PRESENTS: Haunted Tank and Unknown Soldier volumes, I'll definitely scrape up seventeen bucks for this one, somehow.

(It'll be cheaper through Amazon, I bet).

News Flash!

Reportedly, SciFi Channel is developing a new Flash Gordon television series, reportedly as a "lighter" alternative/companion to the excellent, if unrelentingly downbeat Battlestar Galactica. The show is to be produced by Robert Halmi and Robert Halmi Jr. (The 10th Kingdom, Dinotopia, Farscape, and a bunch of other miniseries, usually for Hallmark Channel), although no showrunner has been named, never mind cast or writers.

Well, it'll probably suck. But I doubt it will suck as much as what would have been crapped out by Stephen Sommers, who was said to be developing the property as a feature film a couple years ago before the much-deserved box office crash and burn of the dismal Van Helsing put a kibosh on the deal.

Cynical? Negative? Yeah. But given Hollywood's track record of late with classic adventure characters and concepts, can you blame me?

On the other hand, I'd sure love to be proven wrong.

I actually believe that Flash Gordon could be played faithfully to the original storyline and still work for the modern audience. Set it in period, have the actors play their roles with conviction, and pump up the special effects to fully realize the visual wonder of Alex Raymond's draftsmanship... and you'd have something special.

Well, we'll see. Or not. A lot of these projects get announced and never get made. I almost hope this is one of them.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Spider's Justice...

Here's an excerpt – the opening paragraphs, in fact – of my contribution to Moonstone Books' The Spider Chronicles, a charming little potboiler of pulp pastiche and purple prose that I like to call (in the tradition of original Spider author Norvell Page), "The Spider and the Monster Makers"...

As Mickey "No-Nose" Norton plunged from the 31st floor of the Belmont Towers with the crimson likeness of an eight-limbed arachnid seared on his forehead, it was not his short, sordid, and utterly misspent life of petty larceny and craven violence that flashed before his gaping, mud-brown eyes.

No, in those last scant moments of awareness before his mortal existence came to an abrupt conclusion on the concrete sidewalk that bordered bustling Broad Street, all that occupied the pitiable hood's consciousness was the grotesque, leering face of the cloaked apparition known as the
Spider. The blazing demonic eyes gleaming behind a black domino mask and grinning, fang-filled maw of the Master of Men filled Norton's brief final thoughts, dominating them completely.

Even the roaring wind in "No-Nose's" ears could not compete with the
Spider's hellish laughter, a mirthless, soul-shattering cackle that drowned out Norton's own screams and echoed thunderingly within his skull.

Spider perched precariously on the narrow ledge and watched with grim amusement as the flat-faced felon splattered scarlet on the sidewalk thirty-one floors below. Pulling his black cloak tightly around himself, he turned to the sheer brick face of the building and began to ascend as effortlessly as the arachnid that was his namesake, his strong, deft fingers snagging purchase in the slightest of recesses.

There was some irony, the darkling figure mused, in "No-Nose's" unfortunate plummet, as the case which currently consumed the
Spider had begun with a different fatal plunge, just weeks before....

Want to read the rest? For ordering information, check out the previous post below.

Updated: The Night Driver On Sale!

A month or so ago, I posted here that my first graphic novel, The Night Driver, was on sale at your local comic shops. I based that assumption on the fact that I had received a couple of comp copies in the mail. Well, apparently, those were very early "approval" copies, and the rest of the print run was (literally) on a slow boat from China.

Well, the folks at Moonstone tell me that the book is now definitely available.

Purely a work-for-hire assignment, I was commissioned by CinemaGraphix last year to adapt a screenplay by John Cork (Bond Girls Are Forever) into graphic novel form, and it was illustrated by newcomer Christopher Legasse. Although the story isn't my own, it was a real challenge to take a script intended for film (which has sound and motion) and make it work in comics form (static images and text), especially as it's a suspense story, a decidedly unusual genre for comic books.

Overall, I think the final book turned out pretty well. I hope that it does well for Moonstone and CinemaGraphix, and I want to thank CGX honchos and Ed Polgardy and Darin Scott for the opportunity to work on the project. It was a challenge, but I learned a lot.

I recently stumbled upon a pretty decent review of the book here.

If you can't find a copy at your local comics shop, I'm sure the fine folks at Moonstone will be happy to sell you one! You can also find a great deal on the book over at Amazon.

And don't forget, The Spider Chronicles, the new pulp fiction anthology featuring my short story, "The Spider and the Monster Makers," should be on sale in the next few weeks.

It too can be purchased through Amazon at a decent discount, although with all the other talented writers that contributed to it – John Jakes, Mort Castle, Bill Crider, Shannon Denton, Chuck Dixon, Steve Englehart, Joe Gentile, Ron Fortier, Rich Harvey, John Helfers, CJ Henderson, Howard Hopkins, James Anthony Kuhoric, Elizabeth Massie, Will Murray, Rafael Nieves, Ann Nocenti, Martin Powell, Richard Valley, & Robert Weinberg – it's pretty much a bargain at any price.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Feel free to skip this post, 'cause I'm going to bitch about my current medical crisis for a couple of paragraphs. You remember – the cancer in my kidney. Compared to Chuck Norris movies and old Saturday morning TV shows, it's pretty boring stuff. But I need to vent for a second.

The good news is, my wife's insurance will apparently cover all the expenses of the surgery after all.

The bad news is... not if I want the doctor I already have and actually trust, nor if I want the surgery locally. No, they'll only cover it if I go to Boston. To me, this suggests having to start all over again with a new doctor, running all the tests again and having to travel two states away and back for everything. So much for keeping a positive attitude and my stress levels down.

...It's bad enough that they have to cut me open and take a kidney; why do they have to make the whole thing a huge friggin' pain in the ass, too?

ADDENDUM 01/12/07: Had my first consultation in Boston on Thursday. Eight hours in the car for a 90-minute meeting with a doctor... who won't even be the one performing the surgery. Have to go back next week to meet that guy, who can only see me at 9 AM – which means I have to get up at four in the morning to drive back to Beantown. And I have tests scheduled again a few days later – another 8-hour trip.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Kick-Ass 80's: Norris' Best

Everyone's got their favorite Chuck Norris movies. Well, everyone cool does. Well, everyone cool who was a teenage male in the early 80's does. And, as one of that noble – and cool – generation, I too have a few Chuck Norris movies that I believe stand above the rest, both as pure drive-in entertainment and as showcases for our hero's unique screen... charms.

Interestingly, all three of these films were made outside of the two "studios" most associated with Norris – American Cinema (
A Force of One and The Octagon), and Golan-Globus' Cannon Films (The Delta Force, M.I.A., Invasion U.S.A.). Hmmmm.

Anyway, I'm not here to make fun of Chuck Norris. I genuinely like his movies and I'm pretty sure I'd like the guy. In interviews, he's always come across as a decent, grounded person, with genuine martial arts cred. He's no worse an actor than most on TV and better than many in the action genre. He's got a sense of humor about himself and seems to have a pretty good grasp of his strengths and limitations. And I almost always have a good time watching his movies (okay – not
Hellbound, Hero & The Terror, The Cutter or Top Dog – even I have standards).

Sherman, set the Wayback machine for 1981....

An Eye For An Eye, 1981, Avco-Embassy, Directed by Steve Carver.

If I remember correctly, this is the last of the beardless Norris flicks (did he have a beard in the subsequent
Forced Vengeance or Silent Rage? Or just the 'stache? Been so long since I've seen them, I can't recall).

Veteran exploitation director Steve Carver (
Big Bad Mama, Jocks) worked well with Norris, playing to his leading man's strengths and shooting action scenes with a certain amount of clarity and style. He also knew how to fill out the supporting casts with talented, veteran character actors, allowing Chuck to concentrate on the ass kicking while others handled the heavy lifting, acting-wise.

In this particular film we have an all-star exploitation line-up, including Mako, Christopher Lee, Richard Roundtree,
Star Trek DS9's Rosalind Cho and Space Academy's Maggie Cooper, all working their butts off to help make Chuck look good in what's essentially a fairly routine cop movie. But it's a lot of fun, and very well directed and paced by Carver, with a standout (if too brief) battle between Chuck and wrestler Professor Toru Tanaka. The best part of this film, though, is the late, great Mako, who is in top form as Chuck's acerbic sensei.

Lone Wolf McQuade, 1983, Orion Pictures, directed by Steve Carver.

Chuck's cinematic valentine to Clint Eastwood (check out the name of the hospital in the film) manages to combine Clint's "Man With No Name" and "Dirty Harry" into one iconic character, and gives Chuck what is arguably his best role (derivative as it may be) in loose cannon Texas Ranger J.J. McQuade. Hell, in his later, long-running TV series
Walker, Texas Ranger, he played what amounted to a toned-down, TV-safe version of the character, so even Chuck knows it.

Once again, director Carver ropes in a great B-movie cast – L.Q. Jones, William Sanderson,
Star Trek Voyager's Robert Beltran, sultry Barbara Carrera fresh off I, the Jury, and, of course, the legendary David Carradine as Rawley Wilkes, the bad guy in the even worse sweater.

At the time, the poster above was enough to trigger an adreneline surge in this teenage movie freak. The idea of Chuck Norris throwing down with Kwai Chang Caine made this movie a must-see.

As it turned out, it was. And it still is.

Granted, it's ludicrous, with a trivial plot and cliche dialogue. But it's just so much damned fun. You've got David Carradine hamming it up, Barbera Carrera looking great, beautiful desert photography, great gunfights, plenty of roundhouse kicks, an Ennio Morricone-inspired soundtrack, a dwarf crimeboss... and Chuck's pick-up truck, which deserves billing on the poster, it's so badass.

Seriously... how can you resist?

Code of Silence, 1985, Orion Pictures, directed by Andrew Davis.

Of all Chuck's movies, this is probably the best
film. Very ably directed by Andrew Davis, who also directed Steven Seagal's best two movies (Above the Law and Under Siege) before hitting it big with The Fugitive, Code of Silence is a better-than-average police drama that benefits from gritty Chicago locations, superior cinematography, a fine supporting cast (including the always-reliable Henry Silva and Dennis Farina), and a memorable (if gimmicky) final shootout.

Again, Chuck's given very little dialogue here, but still manages to create and maintain a formidible screen presence as the archetypical honest cop who finds himself pitted against the corrupt members of his own police force and abandoned by them when the mob puts a contract on his hirsute hide. It also features the best Chuck Norris one-liner ever: "When I want your opinion, I'll beat it out of you."

I'm fond of other Norris films too –
The Delta Force is damned good until the last half-hour and has the added bonus of Lee Marvin as the world's oldest commando, The Octagon has Lee Van Cleef and lots of nasty ninjas, Sidekicks is a charming kid's film (kinda The Secret Life of Walter Mitty crossed with The Karate Kid), and Invasion U.S.A. is like a Spider pulp for the Reagan decade; probably the most over-the-top, paranoid action film of the 80's – but these are my favorites.

All three of these movies are on DVD from MGM.
An Eye For An Eye is presented in a terrible full-frame transfer that looks as bad as an old VHS tape, while Lone Wolf McQuade and Code of Silence are presented in anamorphic widescreen with acceptable transfers. All three discs include the original theatrical trailers.

Ahhh... the 80's. When heroes had facial hair, starlets showed their breasts... and action scenes didn't require wires and computer animation. Those were the days.

ADDENDUM: Well, I just went and ordered Forced Vengeance and Silent Rage from Deep Discount DVD for about six bucks each, as writing this nostalgic post made me realize I hadn't seen either one in forever. In fact, I don't think I've seen Silent Rage – an odd combo of action film, sci-fi, and slasher horror – since I saw it in the theater in '82.

For the record, these are the Chuck Norris films I actually already have in my DVD collection: A Force of One, The Octagon, An Eye For An Eye, Lone Wolf McQuade, Code of Silence, Invasion U.S.A., and The Delta Force. I'd like to pick up Good Guys Wear Black, The Hitman... and Firewalker – the latter only because it's so friggin' awful – eventually.

Recent Stuff

Got my review copy of the new BCI/Eclipse release of Space Academy – The Complete Series yesterday. The episodes look very good. Not pristine, but better than the Ark II episodes released on DVD a couple months ago.

Like Ark II, I'm finding the series better and smarter than I thought it would be, and that my memories of the show were remarkably accurate and vivid. I'm also still impressed by the special effects. Shot on a shoestring Saturday Morning budget, they still rival Brian Johnson's work on the much-more expensive contemporary series, Space: 1999. (Forget those IMDB readers comments that describe the FX as "cheesy" – I've come to realize that "cheesy" is just a modern-day euphemism for "crafted by hand and executed with talent and skill.")

The only disappointment in this fine DVD set is that neither Pamelyn Ferdin (Laura) or Maggie Cooper (Adrian) were involved in the reunion/documentary. It's a shame, because Ferdin was one of the most prolific and familiar child actresses of the late 60's-70's, and Maggie Cooper was... well, a babe.

I also received yesterday the latest Richard (Donald Westlake) Stark "Parker" novel, Ask the Parrot. It picks up literally seconds after the end of the previous series entry, Nobody Runs Forever, and Stark's prose is as sharp, lean and compelling as ever. I'm already more than halfway through the book. It's good. Really good.

It feels great to sit down with a novel again. Still remaining on my TBR (To Be Read) pile are Road to Purgatory by Max Allan Collins, Something Is Down There by Mickey Spillane, Mildred Pierced and Now You See Him by Stuart M. Kaminsky, The Peddler by Richard Prather, The Last Match by David Dodge, All the Flowers Are Dying by Lawrence Block, and Kull, Exile of Atlantis by Robert E. Howard.

Managed also to pick up a few *new* comics this week. Got a hold of the first issue of The Immortal Iron Fist by Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction, with art by David Aja and others. Liked it quite a bit. I actually recognized Daniel Rand in there, and thought that Brubaker and Fraction had come up with a nice new angle on the chracter/concept. Plenty of story for a first issue, too. Also read the first issue of Matt Fraction's Punisher War Journal, which I thought was nicely drawn with a decent, well-written story, but – and here's the problem – Frank Castle was way out of character. Too bad. Won't be buying any more, even if I see them.

Although I recently said I haven't been able to follow any monthly comics for a while, there has been one exception. I've actually been reading She-Hulk for a few months now (thanks to the fact that they carry it at the local Barnes & Noble), since my pal Rick Burchett started drawing it, and I'm enjoying it quite a bit. writer Dan Slott is having a lot of fun with Jen and an extensive supporting cast of cast-off or obscure Marvel characters like the Two-Gun Kid and Stargod... and the fun is contagious.

Check it out. It's good.

Regarding Comments

I'm a dunce.

Apparently, I had the Comments function set so that I had to approve all comments before they were posted.... and didn't set it to notify me when I had comments to approve.

So... my apologies to all who've been kind enough to comment to my silly little blog posts, and I appreciate everyone's thoughts and observations. Thanks!

And thanks to Charles for pointing out my incompetence. We all need more friends like that.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The 2007 "To Do" List

Well, it's the first day of the New Year. Time to make some resolutions – or at least, tidy up my "To Do" list.

But first, while I've kept personal stuff to a minimum on this blog, preferring to concentrate on my creative work and pop culture obsessions, I feel I probably should mention that last week, I was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in my right kidney. Sometime in the next month, after further tests, I'll be going under the knife and having the kidney removed.

I am nervous, as I've never undergone any surgery in my life, and this unexpected and under-insured medical expense means that my already precarious financial situation is not likely to improve any time soon. In that regard, anyway, the future is bleak.

But on every other front, there is hope.

As has been pointed out to me, the kidney is both mostly self-contained and redundant, so there's a good chance that this procedure will be the only treatment necessary to take care of the cancer. Once this is done, with luck, my overall health situation will improve dramatically.

Creatively and professionally, I have more irons in the fire than ever before... and I'm actually optimistic about their prospects, for a change. I have projects in the works for three established indy publishers and several short prose stories that have been bought or commissioned for upcoming anthologies.

Among those projects is the long-delayed and much-anticipated Femme Noir miniseries, the Kolchak miniseries and the Spider short story collection. All three represent personal and creative milestones for me. I've been a Kolchak fan since I was 11 and the show was originally on the air, and while I've been a Spider fan for a somewhat shorter time, it's still been about 15 years.

As for Femme Noir, well, Joe Staton and I have been trying to put this comic book out for nearly seven years... and it's finally coming together after more than a few false starts and unexpected obstacles.

So, to make all that work out, what is it I need "To Do" in 2007?

Well, most of it depends on me developing a more disciplined approach to my work and maintaining my health. It also means that I'll have to get a handle on the bouts of depression and discouragement that have traditionally plagued me. I'll also have to work on my pathetic time-management skills. All of which – I am assured by those wiser than myself – is "Do"-able.

And what do I want "To Do" in 2007?

Read more books. For some reason, in the last two years, I've fallen out of the habit. Not all that long ago, I was reading at least two novels a week, along with a bunch of comic books and magazines. But while I can no longer afford the comics and magazines, I've still got plenty of unread or under-read books in the house, and I really need to delve into them.

Hell, just from the last couple months – between Christmas gifts and a couple of bargain table finds – I've acquired new books by Richard Prather, Richard Stark, Mickey Spillane, Lawrence Block, Stuart M. Kaminsky and Robert E. Howard! What more motivation do I need?

Make more money. I really need to. My freelance career – as I somewhat laughingly refer to it – has not really been what one could call a success. My income over the last two years has been the lowest I've ever had... at least since my voice changed. I'm hopeful that the projects I mentioned above will help open doors at other, better-paying, publishers, but even if they don't, I'm going to have to find some way to bring in more cash. Maybe the time has finally come to set up an eBay store and start selling some of my precious stuff.

And, if I can manage to make more money... I want to read more comic books. Over the last two years, I haven't been able to buy any regular monthly comics, and only a few trade paperback collections (mostly old 60's and 70's stuff). I'd like to get back to collecting at least a couple monthly titles and to try an occasional new indy book. Frankly, I've really been feeling out of the loop.

Hell, I even miss reading Previews – isn't that sad?

So, wish me luck as the new year unfolds before us, and I'll do the same for you (assuming anyone actually reads this blog... and if you do, would it kill you to post a comment once in a while, so I'll know you're out there?).