Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea

I never watched Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea on television when I was a kid. It aired from 1964 to 1968, and I wasn't born until '65. Unlike Star Trek and The Wild Wild West, Voyage never aired in syndication in Maine during the 70's.

In fact, before catching an episode or two in the wee hours on the SciFi Channel in the mid-90's, my only glimpse of this Irwin Allen production was around 1975 when I was visiting my grandparents in Jupiter, Florida. I only saw about half an episode, but it stuck in my mind, especially the distinctive design of the submarine Seaview and the bright yellow Flying Sub.

I did, however, have the Whitman kid's hardcover novel (by acclaimed sci-fi pulp author Raymond F. Jones of This Island Earth fame) pictured to the right, and I loved it, although, at the time, I had no idea that it was based on a television series.

You see, I had a fascination with fantastic submarine adventures ever since seeing 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea on The Wonderful World of Disney. A few years later, I stumbled across a copy of Rex, King of the Deep, a WWII adventure novel by prolific Dell and Gold Key comics writer Gaylord DuBois, which chronicled the adventures of privately financed and built supersub battling Nazi U-Boats.

As a teenager, I read articles about the series – and the feature film it was derived from – in Starlog magazine, which also published an episode guide to the show's 110 installments. Eventually I caught the feature film on AMC, and saw those few episodes on SciFi.

Well, a couple of Christmases ago, I took advantage of an Amazon sale and picked up the first season of Voyage on DVD. I was quite surprised to find that the early B&W episodes were often quite intense espionage stories, as I had expected lots of goofy Irwin Allen monsters like on Lost In Space (turns out, most of those came later). Leads Richard Basehart and David Hedison were clearly taking their job – and craft – seriously, giving even the sillier episodes a certain amount of gravity. The production values were generally excellent, benefiting from the use of sets and miniatures built for the big-budget theatrical film. The pacing was a bit slow compared to today's television, and there were virtually no female guest stars at all. Like The Rat Patrol or Combat!, Voyage was a very testosterone-driven show.

Well, Deep Discount recently had a sale on Fox DVDs, and I was able to pick up Season 2 at roughly 50% off its usual price. I've watched the first half of the season, and it's clear that the series was changing rather radically.

Aside from now being in color, I've read that the show was moved to an earlier, weekend time slot, which caused the producers to adjust their approach, writing more for the kiddies – specifically, young boys. There are still spy plots, but they more resemble The Man From U.N.C.L.E. than the tense, Cold War stuff of the first season. There are more monsters, and virtually every episode features at least one female guest star. Still, Basehart and Hedison keep things grounded, and never camp it up.

I'm enjoying the show – we all know I love the cheesy monsters and old-school miniature special effects – but I haven't decided if I'll be picking up Season Three...

Anybody else remember the show?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Femme Noir #2 in Stores Wednesday

According to Diamond Distribution's ship list for this week, the second issue of Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries will be in comic book shops this Wednesday, July 30th.

This issue is a complete, stand-alone story called "Dead Man's Hand," pencilled – as usual – by the legendary Joe Staton, and inked by relative newcomer Mark Stegbauer. Veteran colorist Matt Webb provides the hues, while Matt Haley contributes the variant cover. The "A" Cover is once again provided by the team of Staton and Alfredo Lopez, Jr.

I have also just been informed that this issue will be reviewed on this week's Comic Addiction podcast. I hope they like it!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dick Tracy Serials on DVD

While my DVD Late Show review column has been on hiatus for many months now while I ponder its future, I still get the occasional discs in my mailbox for review.

In fact, I've recently received two Dick Tracy serials from the 30's – Dick Tracy Returns and Dick Tracy's G-Men – from VCI Entertainment.

As you might gather from the latter title, in these 15-chapter serials from Republic Studios, the hardboiled detective is actually an FBI agent, and not a big city homicide cop. Nonetheless, Ralph Byrd, who also played the character in two features for RKO and on television in the 50's, makes a formidable Tracy, and the pacing and action in these cliffhangers is unrelenting. It helps that both serials are directed by Republic's A-Team – William Witney and John English, the directors responsible for all of the studio's best chapterplays.

In 1938's Returns, Tracy's up against a tight-knit family of crooks led by the ruthless, saturnine Pa Stark (played by Charles Middleton, the original – and best – Ming the Merciless) and in 39's G-Men, he's up against an international spy and saboteur.

Great stuff, and the visual quality of these DVD transfers is far better than I expected, considering how beat-up 30's serials tend to look after all these decades. Each of these editions also include brief introductions from Tracy expert Max Collins. Definitely recommended for serial buffs.

ADDENDUM: VCI also offers the original Dick Tracy Republic serial, and plans to release the remaining one, 1941's Dick Tracy Vs. Crime Inc., soon. They also offer all four of the RKO Dick Tracy B-featuresDick Tracy, Detective, Dick Tracy Vs. Cueball (both starring Morgan Conway), Dick Tracy's Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (both with Ralph Byrd reprising the role; Gruesome is Boris Karloff!) – in a single set. These are also available from numerous budget labels, but VCI's versions are of somewhat better quality.

Still Alive...

...if not exactly "kickin'."

Sorry I haven't posted for a while (nearly a week!), but there hasn't been much going on around here, nor all that much interesting stuff (or what I consider "interesting") on my mind. I've been slogging away, trying to get a handle on my various freelance commitments, watching some TV with the wife in the evenings (we're in the midst of a How I Met Your Mother marathon on DVD), and reading a few books.

I found a website called Book Closeouts which has great deals on brand-new remaindered books, and was able to pick up about eight hardcover novels for the price of about two and a half. I finally got a copy of The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril pulp homage novel by Paul Malmont, as well as several Max Allan Collins, Stuart Kaminsky and Bill Pronzini hardbacks that I had missed. These are three authors who, when I was financially solvent, I tried to keep up with and collect in hardcover, but as times grew leaner, I fell behind. Fortunately, I was able to find three of the last four Pronzini "Nameless Detective" novels on the site for only a few bucks each, so I'm nearly caught up with that series.

Still haven't seen Hellboy II or The Dark Knight. So keep your spoilers to yourself.

The second issue of Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries should be out in a week or two. I know that it's been shipped to the distributors, so the street date depends on how quickly they can process it and ship it out. My guess is that it'll be in stores on the 30th (but it might be the week after).

Finally, we had a bad wind and rain squall here last Friday, and it knocked the hell out of a couple of our old trees. From the flattened grass in the field behind the house, it looks like a whirlwind touched down briefly. One of the trees split, dropping a heavy limb on the roof of our house. This mutha was huge, and it took my father and brother-in-law – along with several more family members – all day Saturday to cut it up and get it off the roof without damaging the building or hurting anyone.

More soon...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Operation Stormbreaker

I only discovered the "Alex Rider" teen spy novels by Anthony Horowitz a few months ago. I picked up the first three books, read them, and thought that they were quite entertaining. They're fast-paced, reasonably credible espionage adventures featuring an English teenager who is recruited by MI:6 after his superspy uncle dies on a mission. I look forward to reading the next few volumes.

Once I learned that the inaugural novel, Stormbreaker, had been adapted into a movie, I became interested in seeing it. But none of the local video stores had a copy for rent, nor for sale. Recently, Brandi signed us up for Netflix, and I was finally able to check it out.

It wasn't bad.

Scripted by series creator Horowitz, the film, Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker (a bit cumbersome, that) closely follows the plot of the novel (which, in turn, borrows heavily from Ian Fleming's Moonraker in structure), and even improves on it slightly, with a bigger, more dramatic climax. Newcomer Alex Pettyfer is a decent Alex, and most of the casting is quite solid. The pace is good, the fight scenes (choreographed by Hong Kong star Donnie Yen) are great, and the production values are quite high. The plot – as in the novel – is a bit by-the-numbers, but serviceable. Oh, it has a few problems, primarily in the handling of the villains, who are portrayed in a very campy manner in the film, which severely undercuts their menace. Mickey Rourke is decked out in some sort of Eddie Izzard ensemble, henchwoman Missi Pyle – a talented, chameleon-like character actress – is a Cold War cliche sporting an outrageous Natasha Fatale accent, and Andy Serkis' "Mr. Grin" sports creepy-looking make-up, but isn't even much of a presence, never mind a threat.

Still, I liked it enough to order a copy from Amazon ($5.99 new) for my spy film collection, and thought it was a decent foundation for what could have been a fun action franchise for teens. Unfortunately, the film's U.S. theatrical distribution – and subsequent home video release – were badly mishandled by the Weinstein Company, and the movie was a box office flop, effectively killing any potential series.

It's too bad. The plots in the subsequent novels are much stronger, and the Alex Rider character develops in an interesting way, and it would have been fun to see those developments play out over a series of films.

Oh well. I still recommend the movie to fans of spy flicks. It's not a classic, but it's entertaining enough, and better than, say, Agent Cody Banks 2.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Still More Noir

Alan David Doane at Comic Book Galaxy has posted a very nice review of the first issue of Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries at his site.
I can't tell you how many comics I've read in the past ten years that have tried and failed to achieve the sort of storytelling and atmosphere that Femme Noir gets just right. It's about as good as crime comics get these days, fine competition for my other favourite crime comic Criminal, with the added bonus that its tone and style are completely different. The Spirit may provide a bit of the inspiration for this series, but Mills and Staton take that inspiration and make something both new and familiar, something gorgeous to look at and wildly entertaining to read.
Much more at the link above.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

More Noir

I just found out about another good review (scroll down) of Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries #1 at the Comic Pants website (Thanks for the head's up, GrayPumpkin!) Now that the book's finally out there on the shelves, I hope that there will continue to be positive word-of-mouth.
There’s no shortage of noir crime in comics these days, but fun, pulpy crime books like Femme Noir are less common. Mills serves up three potential origin stories (each serving as a self-contained pulp adventure to boot) for his mysterious blonde avenger, and even if a two-gun toting, trenchcoat-wearing tough dame is not the newest concept in the book, Mills captures exactly what’s fun and alluring about this type of character.... Even better, it features some of the best art I’ve ever seen from longtime comic book artist Joe Staton, paired with relative newbie inker Ottolini and colorist Melissa Kaercher to paint a detailed, shadowy picture that reminds me in style of Will Eisner’s work.

New review at Comixtreme: "Done in One Reviews" as well;
It was a dark and stormy night in the naked city...Visually that is how this story opens. It has an intrepid reporter trying to break the story of a lifetime: The identity of Blonde Justice, a vigilante hero who has been taking down some of the worst criminals in the city of Port Nocturne. This is a fun book. It runs the gamut of every hard-boiled pulp cliche imaginable. Even the names of the three suspects the reporter has for Blonde Justice are priceless. There's the ex-mob Princess, Vanessa DeMilo, the sultry chanteuse, Dahlia Blue and my personal favorite the ace reporter, Laurel Lye. Okay things are laid on pretty thick, but darn it all, its fun. Even the art is perfect for the story; the lines are clear but rugged and exaggerated, it also has an almost Will Eisner feel to it. So if you like your dames armed to the teeth, togged to the bricks and dirty as all outdoors then this here book is for you, buddy ghee.
Rating: 4/5 --Terry Verticchio

Kolchak Tales #2 Review

Reviewer Ray Tate at Comics Bulletin just posted a very positive review of Kolchak Tales: Night Stalker of the Living Dead #2, which is still on sale.
What makes Kolchak unique is Kolchak himself. Christopher Mills taps out the purple prose of Carl Kolchak in the engrossing narration and the monster hunting journalist's snappy patter. Very easily I heard Darren McGavin speaking each word. His charm comes from the way he sweet talks a sympathetic sheriff, and of course, Carl is the person you want to have by your side when your world takes a dip into a pool of blood being supped upon by cosmos knows what.

Another thing that I feel Mills must be credited for is separating the zombie film from the infection film. When you get right down to it, the films everybody can identify as zombie films really aren't. Most students in the macabre genre know this. They simply cannot shake off that damn zombie moniker. Who better than Carl Kolchak to relay the truth:

"My dear. I know zombies...And these are not zombies."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Popthought Interview

Joe Hilliard, one of the columnists at Popthought, just interviewed me about my various projects. Won't be much there that's new to regular readers of this blog, but if you'd like to check it out, click here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Incredible Hulk

Last night, Brandi and I saw The Incredible Hulk. In some ways, I liked it better than Iron Man, but then, I've always been a Hulk fan, while I never had too much interest in Iron Man. I never read the armored avenger's book on a regular basis, but I collected ol' greenskin's title for a number of years, and as a kid, I loved the TV series.

That's probably why I enjoyed the latest film incarnation so much; it's a canny amalgamation of elements from the comic book and the 70's television show. I think that was a smart move, along with the choice of making it more of an action film than Ang Lee's 2003 adjectiveless Hulk film. Director Louis Leterrier – a veteran of the first two Transporter films – wisely raises the action level and stages (with the assistance of several armies-worth of computer animators) several exciting "Hulk-out" scenes, beginning fairly early in the film.

In general, the cast is a large improvement over the 2003 film. While Ed Norton's not quite as amazing as everyone seems to think, he's still a huge improvement over bland Eric Bana. Liv Tyler (who I've lusted for since the crappy Empire Records) is an effective love interest, and her character is much better-handled than in the previous film, where Betty (portrayed by a dour, emaciated Jennifer Connelly) betrayed the love of her life repeatedly. At least this Betty stands up to her military father (played by William Hurt very much like Sam Elliot in the previous film), and doesn't keep turning poor Banner over to the clutches of the Army.

Even the obligatory Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno cameos are cleverer and actually integrated into the story.

The script is decent, the pace is good, and the CGI Hulk is considerably more convincing than in the earlier film. Even though – like most super hero movies – the film eventually degenerates into two computer-generated cartoons beating up on each other, the rest of the production was executed well enough that I actually managed some emotional investment in the big FX scenes.

Anyway, I liked it and am looking forward to owning it on DVD. I have a feeling I'm going to re-watch this one a lot in the years to come, as opposed to the Ang Lee version, which I've watched just twice....

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Damn, I'm Old.

I just turned 43.

Wednesday Cover: Frankenstein

A couple weeks ago, I shared the cover of Dell Comics' attempt to turn Dracula into a costumed super hero. Well, here's its inevitable companion title – Frankenstein – featuring the muscular, emerald-skinned cadaver in combat against the villainous Mr. Freek!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Joy of Paperback Pulp

So, I was talking to my pal Martin Powell – a prolific and talented writer of long acquaintance – last week, and our meandering, long distance conversation was passing the first hour mark when we wandered into the realm of 70's paperback pulp fiction.

It was then that Martin brought up a series that I had been vaguely aware of – mostly through intriguing Captain Company ads in the back of Warren's Eerie and Creepy magazines – the "Dracula Horror Series" by Robert Lory.

Published by Pinnacle Books, legendary home of such 70's paperback pulp "aggressors" as Don Pendelton's The Executioner, Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir's The Destroyer, and a well-armed militia of lesser heroes (The Butcher, The Death Merchant, Nazi Hunter, The Penetrator), the Dracula Horror Series hearkened back to the more bizarre pulp fiction of the Thirties – but with a decidedly Seventies' flavor.

The premise was insane.

A wheelchair-bound scientist and his Puerto Rican ex-New York cop assistant travel to Transylvania, where they revive Count Dracula with the intention of using the Lord of Vampires as their agent in a war against evil. They figure to control the Count by surgically placing a mechanical implant into Dracula's chest that, should the fiend defy them, will drive a sliver of wood into his heart. The scientist has an implant of his own – if his heart should stop beating, it will send a signal to activate Dracula's.

They succeed, and over the course of the series Dracula is pitted against giant vampire bats, voodoo masters, satanic cults, Elizabeth Bathory(!) and other forces of evil, while constantly scheming to free himself and take his revenge upon the crazy crime fighters.

Well, before Martin had even finished expressing his enthusiasm for the series, I'd already ordered copies of the first two volumes from online used book dealers.

I received the first book, Dracula Returns!, yesterday and finished it this evening. It's utterly ludicrous, but incredibly entertaining. "Robert Lory" (or whatever his real name was) is a solid wordsmith, who manages to keep the pace brisk, the characters interesting, and the wild, left-field story elements coming one after another. His handling of Dracula is interesting – thousands of years old (not just a few hundred), physically imposing, and despite his predicament, imperious, arrogant and commanding.

It's cool stuff, and although reminiscent of some of the odder hero pulps of the 30's, very much a product of the early 1970's, with the overriding theme that it takes evil to battle evil, and the danger of that evil turning against the ones controlling it.

The books aren't easy to find, and kind of pricey (especially with shipping costs added on), but I think I'll probably try to collect all nine books in the series. It's not often that I find pulp fiction as bugnuts fun as this.

Femme Noir Thursday UPDATED

According to the distributor's shipping list, the first issue of Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries will be in the majority of U.S. comic stores – those that ordered it, anyway – on Thursday, July 10th. Normally, new comics go on sale on Wednesday, but shipping was delayed a day by last Friday's holiday. Interestingly enough (to me, anyway), if not for that delay, the book would be streeting on my birthday, Wednesday the 9th.

Also, any stores that didn't get their copies of Kolchak Tales: Night Stalker of the Living Dead #2 last week, should be receiving them Thursday, as well.

I'm thinking of driving down to Portland Thursday evening and maybe snap a photo of the books actually on the shelves....

UPDATED: The fourth and final issue of this Femme Noir miniseries is currently listed in the July Diamond Comics PREVIEWS catalog. You'll find it on page 198 under "Ape Entertainment," and it has been singled out by the distributor as "Certified Cool." The Diamond Item Codes are: JUL083648 for Cover "A" (Staton & Lopez) and JUL083649 for Cover "B" by the late Mike Wieringo and co-creator Joe Staton.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Inside The Actor's Studio...

More Nocturnal Musings

It's after 2 AM and there's a night construction crew about twenty feet from my front door repaving the road. Now, I'd normally be awake now anyway, but the constant rumbling, bright lights, back-up beeping, and periodic seismic tremors that shake this old farmhouse's dirt foundation and rattle the dishes is a bit distracting. I hope Brandi is sleeping through it all okay, otherwise tomorrow's going to be a really tough day for her.

This is another catch-all "musings" post, as I've been a bit busy over the last couple of days, so be prepared for rapid subject shifts.

Friday I picked up the DVD of George A. Romero's latest "Dead" film, Diary of the Dead. Reviews had been mixed, but I am a huge Romero fan – not only of the original "Dead" trilogy, but of films like Martin, The Crazies, Creepshow, and especially Knightriders – so there was no way I wasn't going to add this latest installment to my collection. Brandi and I watched it last night, and I loved it. I thought it was much better than Land of the Dead (tho I liked that one better than most people, I think) and I feel that it's the best of these "camcorder mockumentaries" I've seen so far. Once again, I think Romero proved that he makes the smartest zombie movies, and if you're a Romero fan, you should check it out.

• Ray Harryhausen's birthday was on Sunday. He turned 88 years old. Although he's allowed his name to be attached to some questionable stuff lately – like those horrible Ray Harryhausen Presents comic books from Bluewater – he's still one of my personal gods. His films are magical, and all the moreso because he created their effects scenes entirely by hand and, most often, virtually alone (he sometimes employed a cameraman to shoot his animation). Nowadays it takes a huge crew of people and lots of expensive computers to mimic what the maestro managed on his own with vastly less sophisticated technology. And even with all those people, today's CGI creatures and characters have none of the personality and, well, character, of those he created in his tiny studio in the Sixties and Seventies.

Don't believe me? Watch 20 Million Miles To Earth again and marvel at the physicality and "emoting' of the Venusian "Ymir," and remind yourself that it was a rubber model only about a foot tall. Or spin the Jason And the Argonauts DVD and study the sequence where Jason and his crewmates battle a squad of sword-wielding skeletons. The choreography is as elaborate and precise as any modern kung fu fight scene or classic MGM musical number directed by Busby Berkeley. Like I said: magic.

Happy belated birthday, Mister Harryhausen, sir.

• Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries made its debut last weekend at the Wizard World Chicago comic book convention. I'm told sales were pretty slow for just about everyone – in this economy, I'm not surprised, I guess. I thought the book would be on sale tomorrow, but my publisher tells me that though it's printed and has shipped from the printer, it may still take a couple weeks for the distributor to process it and ship it out to stores. So, I still don't know exactly when it will be on the shelves. It's kind of frustrating... grrrr.

Finally, the first official teaser trailer for the next James Bond film, Quantum Of Solace, made its online debut yesterday. Looks bloody awesome!


And if the production company has that yanked off YouTube, you can also find a better-quality version of it on MSN here.