Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wednesday Cover: Superman & The Demon

DC Comics Presents was a monthly Superman team-up book (like The Brave & The Bold was with Batman) which featured various guest stars from the DC universe. This issue, illustrated by the legendary Joe Kubert, paired up the caped Kryptonian with Jack Kirby's supernatural creation against a resurrected druid sorcerer.. The story (by veteran Len Wein) was okay, but the art was stunning.

Of course, the main reason I remember this issue so clearly is that in 1984, when this comic was published, I was a student at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon Art in Dover, New Jersey. At that time, Joe was doing very little comics work, instead concentrating on the school and its expansion plans (the following year, it moved to the larger building that it still occupies today), so a new Kubert comic was notable. In fact, Joe had us all go out and buy a copy of the book so we could devote an entire class to a panel-by-panel dissection of Joe's amazing visual storytelling. He literally explained the creative choices behind each and every drawing in the book.

I think that one session taught me more about narrative art than I got in the rest of my two years there. I still use what I learned that day every time I write a comic book script.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Buck VERSUS Flash!

It's the clash of classic comic strip space aces in a contest for cosmic supremacy – Buck Rogers: heroic aviator who is transported to a war-torn 25th century by a freak dirigible accident with his teenage sidekick Buddy, and Flash Gordon: Yale polo star who, along with the beautiful Dale Arden, is shanghaied by the mad Doctor Zarkov to the oppressed planet of Mongo!

Of course, both of these interplanetary paragons were portrayed in Thirties serials by the same Olympic swimmer-turned-action star, Larry "Buster" Crabbe.

Now, Buck's got cool 25th century gadgets (courtesy of Dr. Huer) and a sexy female pilot (Wilma Deering) to chauffeur him back and forth to Saturn, but his arch-foe, Killer Kane, is pretty much just a hood with delusions of grandeur. Flash has a smokin' hot girlfriend (Dale) lots of weird, alien allies (Barin, Thun, Vultan), is good with fists and swords, and has as his nemesis probably the coolest galactic despot ever, Ming the Merciless.

I'm calling this one for Flash (after all, he had three chapterplays to Buck's one), though I really love the 1939 Buck Rogers serial, and think it's highly underrated. Besides, I think it's telling that when Buster showed up on the 1979 Buck Rogers In The 25th Century television series, his character was named Brigadier Gordon.

"Captain, I've been doing this sort of thing since before you were born."

"Think so, huh?"

"Son, I know so."

What do you folks say? (Remember, it's only the Buster Crabbe serial versions of the characters that we're dealing with here.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday Afternoon Miscellany

• This is cool. Pulp writer Lester Dent, the creator and primary author of the legendary Doc Savage novels, has a new book coming out!

Actually, as the pulps were dying out, Dent turned his talents toward the growing paperback market, and actually sold a crime novel to Gold Medal Books. Now, Charles Ardai of Gold Medal's modern counterpart, Hard Case Crime, has uncovered another, previously unpublished, crime novel by Dent. I don't know how that guy keeps coming up with these treasures, but I'm grateful that he does.

Here's what HCC has to say bout the book: If you were small-time grifter Walter Harsh, recovering in a hospital with a broken arm, you’d listen to a proposition that could net you a cool $50,000 for impersonating the South American strongman you resemble. You'd pay attention when the dictator’s sultry mistress started putting the moves on you. And in the dead of night, when no one was watching, you might just hatch a plot to get it all for yourself: the money, the girl, and the stash of stolen loot she’s conspiring to spirit out of the country...

Dent's Honey in His Mouth will be published by HCC in October with a very nice cover by Ron Lesser. For more info and a sample chapter, click here.

• Over the weekend I watched Roland Emmerlich's 10,000 B.C. Normally, I'm not a fan of Emmerlich's movies, which generally seem to be constructed on the contemporary theory that if you have enough special effects, you don't need a story – or at least one that makes sense. But when my pal Martin Powell gave me the key to enjoying the director's recent cinematic caveman saga, I decided to put it in the Netflix queue.

According to Martin, the movie reminded him of an Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure story... and after watching it myself, I agree. Like Pathfinder – another generally panned fantasy that I enjoyed – the negativity that followed its release seemed to be based on the movie's clear disregard for historical accuracy in favor of pumping up the adventure story, and the perceived "corny-ness" of certain story points. But, you know, I just finished reading two classic Burroughs stories, and if held their corny-ness and cliche's against them, I wouldn't have been able to enjoy the blood & thunder fun of the tales. And really, it's much the same with 10,000 B.C.

The story is somewhat simple and ultimately predictable – in fact, it follows a classic ERB template: the hero's beautiful princess is kidnapped, and he sets out on a quest through a dangerous world of prehistoric beasts and human savages to rescue his true love from a technologically advanced society, ultimately uniting warring factions and leading a rebellion against a possibly-alien tyrant. Deep? No. But satisfyingly pulpy, and quite well-executed.

The cast is made up entirely of athletic unknowns (but the script really doesn't demand much thespic heavy-lifting), and the CGI effects work is really quite good. Personally, I got a kick out of seeing thundering herds of mastodons and a flock of ferocious, giant, flightless birds, as well as the spectacle of the climactic scenes.

And really, it's a caveman movie. What do you want?

• It's still a ways off, but it looks good that artist Joe Staton and I will be sharing a table at the Maine Comics Festival in mid-May. It's being held at the Ocean Gateway Building in Portland, Maine, and it's being put on by my good pals at Casablanca Comics.

I'm hoping that we'll have the Femme Noir trade paperback available for sale by then, but even if it's not, we'll have plenty of copies of the individual issues. I'll also have copies of some of my other books, and I'm sure that Joe will be doing sketches and selling art.

This is the second new comics show in Maine in the last couple of years (after last Fall's BangPop show), and I'll be very interested to see how well it goes, especially in this economy.

• And, following up on my other recent Buck Rogers posts, here's a Buck fan-film that also riffs on Kerry Conran's Sky Captain And the World of Tomorrow. It's pretty cute.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Buck Rogers!

This, my friends, is one cool friggin' statue! This is the new Buck Rogers statue from my pal (and employer) Michael Hudson's ReelArt Studios.

Sculpted by artist Tony Cipriano, this figure is 16 inches high(!) – including the smoke from Buck's rocket pack. The detailing is incredible, and remarkably faithful to the original comics art. I particularly love the jet of flame from the muzzle of Buck's ray gun.

Now, as mentioned above, I work for Michael, editing his Sequential Pulp comic book line, but he didn't pay me to plug this thing. I just think it looks amazing, and as one space opera fanatic to (I presume) others, I wanted to share it. For more shots of the sculpt, click here.

Ravenwulf, Swordsman of Tanar'r

About six years ago, I came up with the idea for a sword & sorcery graphic novel featuring an aging barbarian adventurer, who, having declined a kingdom of his own, had settled in a small mountain village with a simple –but beautiful – woman, to raise a family and put a life of bloodshed and adventure behind him.

Obviously, it's a "what if Conan hadn't become king" set-up, but I hoped to make it slightly more than just another Conan pastiche. I saw it as a High Plains Drifter/Unforgiven type of story transplanted into the S&S genre. My intention was to serialize it online in a format identical to my original Gravedigger and Perils on Planet X strips with an ultimate goal of seeing it in print, and to that end, I began a search for the right collaborator.

Eventually, I came in contact with artist Sergio Cariello, who has gone on to fame and a steady paycheck with Dynamite Comics' Lone Ranger revival. Sergio seemed perfect for the project, and I sent him the script for the first 8-page chapter. He finished half of it before having to step away from the strip in favor of paying work. These are his pages above – click on them for readable sizes.

Well, I haven't done anything with the character or story since, although the story has been safely tucked away in some otherwise unused corner of my cerebellum, slowly gestating. I've been thinking about it quite a bit lately, and I believe that in a few months, I'll sit down and try to write it up in novel form. Now, I've had such ambitions before, and made nothing of them. But, this time, I think I just might....

Of course, I've got a lot of stuff to get out of the way first!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Number 46 With A Bullet!

This is interesting: the e-Justice blog, just announced their Top 50 Detective Blogs, and my Guns In the Gutters blog came in at #46!

Pretty cool!

I guess this means I really should update that site more often.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wednesday Cover: Dejah Thoris

The most beautiful woman of two worlds, Dejah Thoris, princess of Helium, as drawn by the late, great Dave Cockrum for the cover of Marvel Comics' John Carter, Warlord of Mars #11.

Not coincidentally, I'm re-reading Edgar Rice Burroughs' Gods of Mars at the moment.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday Morning Miscellania

• It's snowing. Which is actually preferable to the record cold snap which we had last week. As I've mentioned before, I live in my late grandfather's old farmhouse, which was built ages ago. It's poorly insulated, drafty, and has a kitchen that was a late addition with no insulation or heating at all. In the winter, it's like a giant walk-in refrigerator and last week, it was a walk-in freezer. Thursday morning, we had an icicle hanging from the faucet, and the jugs of drinking water and every bottle of my Pepsi cache (which we keep on the floor out of the way) were frozen solid.

Oh yeah, winter's so much fun. Because I won't be able to get out and shovel out the mailbox tomorrow, we won't get our mail. Which normally wouldn't bug me too much, since it's usually just bills and threats anyway, anyway, but since I've rebooted my DVD Late Show column (new installment tomorrow), I've been getting some cool screeners... and those I look forward to. :)

• Remember a year or so ago, when I posted about some Star Trek fans, led by a fellow named James Cawley, who were making their own episodes based on the original series and offering them over the 'net for free? Well, according to Ain't It Cool News, the same group of folks have actually made a deal to produce their own version of Buck Rogers. This project is officially licensed from the rights holders, and I'm guessing that I'll like it better than the proposed Frank Miller version.

• After reading about it all year over on Tanner's Double-O Section blog, I finally rented the French Eurospy spoof, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, from Netflix.

It was awesome! Jean Dujardin plays French secret agent OSS 117, who's sort of a cross between Maxwell Smart, Inspector Clouseau and a Gallic Sean Connery. He's sent to Cairo – a "nest of spies" – to investigate the death of another agent, his "close friend," Jack. Set in 1955 (with a hilarious WW2-set prologue), OSS 117 is a dead-on parody of the Eurospy genre. In fact, it's directly spoofing an actual, long-running series of films from the early Sixties.

The jokes and sight gags are funny, the characters are great (I especially enjoy how the filmmakers were willing to let their hero be a complete and utter ass sometimes), the girls are gorgeous, and the production and costume designs are incredible. I especially dug the swinging, loungy musical score.

I'll definitely be adding this one to my collection as soon as possible – it was vastly funnier than the Get Smart remake and smarter than the Austin Powers films. Here's the trailer:

Apparently there's a sequel in the works. I hope it makes to America quicker than the first one did!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dinner... With Digger McCrae

Progress continues to creep along with the upcoming Gravedigger graphic novel, "The Predators." It's coming slow, but it's looking great!

Here's a page I particularly like. Pencils by Rick Burchett, of course, with inks by my pal Fred Harper. Click on the image for a larger view.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Kind Words From Uncle Tony

Tony Isabella, the creator of the DC Comics character Black Lightning, former DC and Marvel writer and editor, columnist and reviewer has just posted to his website the reviews he wrote for the first two issues of Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries and Kolchak Tales: Night Stalker of the Living Dead miniseries for the Comics Buyers Guide magazine a couple months ago. At the end, he gives a little update, with his views on the third issues, which came out after the reviews were originally published:
...Femme Noir: Dark City Diaries #3 which pits the mysterious Blonde Justice against a "Killer In Steel." Let us heap more well-deserved kudos on Mills and Staton.

And Kolchak Tales: Night Stalker of the Living Dead #3 wrapped up that Mills-written thriller with a satisfying, shocking, and thoughtful conclusion. I continue to shake my head in abject bafflement that this writer has been overlooked by the big outfits and by far too many comics readers.
Quite a compliment, and especially gratifying, coming, as it does, from a talented creator that I've long respected and admired. Thanks, Tony. A little ego boost like this is always appreciated.

Ricardo Montalban, RIP

Why is it that I always seem to be posting obituaries in bunches?

Ricardo Montalban, the distinguished Mexican actor who was immortalized in countless movies and television shows, has passed away at age 88.

Like any other card-carrying Trekkie, I will always hold a special place in my heart for Senor Montalban's portrayal of genetically-enhanced 21st Century warlord Khan Noonian Singh in the classic Star Trek episode "Space Seed," and in the 1982 feature film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan:

"He tasks me. He tasks me and I shall have him! I'll chase him 'round the moons of Nibia and 'round the Antares Maelstrom and 'round Perdition's flames before I give him up! "

Rest in peace, sir.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Patrick McGoohan, RIP

The enigmatic star of Sixties spy-fi classics Danger Man/Secret Agent and The Prisoner, has passed away at age 80.

The Theater Mania website had this obituary:
Emmy Award winner and stage veteran Patrick McGoohan has died at age 80, according to the BBC.

Born in New York City, but raised in Ireland and England, McGoohan began his career on the stage in such shows as The Taming of the Shrew, Serious Charge, Orson Welles' Moby Dick Rehearsed, and Henrik Ibsen's Brand, which was filmed for television. His sole Broadway appearance was in Hugh Whitemore's 1985 play Pack of Lies, for which he received a Drama Desk Award nomination.

McGoohan gained international fame in 1967 when he starred in the TV series The Prisoner, in which he played the role of Number Six. He later won two Emmy Awards for his guest spots on Columbo. The actor also appeared in numerous films including Mary, Queen of Scots, Ice Station Zebra, Silver Streak, and Braveheart.

He is survived by his wife Joan and their three children.
For me, I'll best remember him as the defiant, unbreakable Number Six, and – believe it or not – the ghost of The Phantom in the movie of the same name, where he popped up occasionally to offer advice to his son and successor, played by Billy Zane. He was charming, funny, and brought great warmth and heart to the film.

Thank you, Mister McGoohan, sir. Rest well.

Al Williamson's Flash Gordon

I mentioned this over on the Planet X blog a couple of months ago, but I wanted to bring it up again over here, since the book is supposed to be coming out soon.
Al Williamson's Flash Gordon: A Lifelong Vision of the Heroic - Coming in early 2009!

Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon: A Lifelong Vision of the Heroic, collects all the major works of the artist featuring the character. At 256 pages, it encompasses Williamson’s three stints of depicting Flash in comic book format: the legendary King Comics stories from the 1960s, the 1980 adaptation of the Universal Flash Gordon motion picture, and the Marvel Comics miniseries of 1994.

In addition to these classics of sequential storytelling,
Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon features Williamson’s Flash drawings done for commercial illustration and prints, his assists on the Flash Gordon comic strip, a variety of Flash images contributed to amateur publications, and a selection of largely unpublished images spanning his interest in the character from childhood to the conclusion of his career. With an introduction by Sergio Aragones, text by Mark Schultz, and images reproduced directly from the artist’s original drawings, this long-overdue collection of evocative artwork documents the lifelong impact that Flash Gordon had on Williamson and the particular impact that Williamson had on Flash Gordon.

Hardcover, 256 pages,

ISBN-10: 193386513X

ISBN-13: 978-1933865133

Flesk Publications
I own much of this material already, in various formats, but to have it all collected under one cover is like a dream come true. More information from the publisher can be found here.

Right now, Amazon is offering it for pre-order at a substantial discount, with the $45 hardcover edition marked down to only $30 bucks, and the softcover for $20. Trust me, for this material, which represents some of the greatest adventure comics art of all time, that's a bargain!

Wednesday Cover: The Spider

One of my favorite pulp magazine covers, featuring one of my all-time favorite pulp heroes. One of the things I'm most proud of in my so-called "career" is being allowed to contribute a story to Moonstone's authorized Spider anthology a couple years back.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Skeletor VERSUS Ming the Merciless!

It's the clash of 80's cinematic intergalactic despots: Skeletor from the 1987 live-action Masters of the Universe, versus Ming the Merciless from the 1980 film, Flash Gordon!

Both tyrannical titans are probably the best things about their respective films (both flicks are favorites of mine, nonetheless) – as both Frank Langella and Max Von Sydow rise above their scripted dialogue with classy, sublimely sinister performances. Langella, in particular, shines, working through a thick, nearly immobile rubber mask.

But in a battle between ultimate evils, who would win?

Skeletor, with his army of Darth Vader-esque stormtroopers and the stolen power of Castle Grayskull, or the self-styled Emperor of the Universe, with his ability to control the weather of distant planets, brainwashing rays and fleet of art deco rocketships?

Place your bets, folks!

(Note – we're only taking about these particular versions of the characters.)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Wednesday Cover: Pulp Fantastic

Pulp Fantastic was a virtually ignored, 3-issue science fiction mystery written by Howard Chaykin & David Tischman, drawn by my good pal and collaborator Rick Burchett, and published by DC/Vertigo back in 2000.

The story was a sort of space opera take on The Maltese Falcon, filtered through the Chaykin prism. The art by Rick, was marvelous, with the PI hero resembling a sort of futuristic Peter Gunn. As usual, Rick's covers were sharply designed and eye-catching (though apparently not eye-catching enough, considering the low sales).

If you can hunt up the issues, it's well worth the effort.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

DVD Late Show Reborn!

After many, many months of trying to decide whether or not I wanted to continue writing my DVD review column (it's a surprisingly time-consuming endeavor), and then trying to find a new home for it (the present regime at Quick Stop Entertainment never really seemed very interested in having the column on their site, though they were quite patient when my health issues first made posting infrequent), DVD Late Show is returning to the interwebnet.

The first new column – which will be mostly old stuff to regular readers of this blog, though the second installment (on the 20th) will be pretty much all-new – makes its debut today over at Forces of Geek, a brand-new pop culture website. It's an exciting new site with a couple dozen columnists and plenty of fun stuff to check out.

DVD Late Show will be appearing on a bi-weekly schedule for now. With luck, I'll be able to maintain that pace for a while.

As to my DVD Late Show archive site... it's a mess at the moment, out-of-date and falling apart. I do have hopes of rebuilding it sometime this year, but I couldn't hazard a guess as to when it might actually get done. It's a real irritant, because there's several hundred reviews there, and I really would like them to be accessible. Oh well, one of these days...

Monday, January 05, 2009

Tales Of An Ancient Empire

I've admitted my fondness for the 1982 fantasy flick The Sword & The Sorcerer here before, and further confessed my delight in hearing, some months back, that director Albert Pyun had announced that he was finally preparing to film the long-promised sequel, Tales of the Ancient Empire.

Well, AICN has posted some stills from the filming of that much-anticipated sequel on their site today.

Pyun has not made another film nearly as entertaining as The Sword & The Sorcerer in 27 years, and he's made a lot of movies. Still, I'm embarrassingly excited about this new flick, and can't wait for it to come out... almost certainly direct-to-DVD.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Donald E. Westlake, RIP

I've been suffering with the flu the last few days, so I haven't been online much. When I checked my e-mail last night before going to bed, I had a note from Craig Zablo notifying me of the passing of one of my all-time favorite authors, Donald E. Westlake. My head swimming with cold meds, it's taken until now for me to feel coherent enough to write about this sad event.

I can't begin to describe what an influence Westlake's writing has been – and continues to be – to me. A prolific, award-winning author of around a hundred novels and several screenplays (including The Grifters, based on the novel by Jim Thompson), Westlake also wrote under various pseudonyms, the most notable being "Richard Stark." It was under the Stark name that he wrote his series of hardboiled caper novels starring the the single-named antihero, Parker.

Under his own name, he was best known for his comic crime novels, especially those featuring a New York heist artist named Dortmunder and his accomplices, whose capers never quite seemed to go as planned. I adore these books, and recently re-read six of them in rapid succession over about a week. They're that good and that much fun.

For many years now, Westlake has been among my top five favorite authors, one of those who – even when money is/was tight – I tried to keep up with. His Parker novels, in particular, have really resonated with me as a reader and writer, not only influencing my own Gravedigger comic character and his universe, but leading me toward a general preference for the more amoral, antiheroic fictional characters.

Westlake was 75.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Into 2009 With The Doctor

Well, Brandi and I rolled into the New Year with a Doctor Who marathon. Over the last few days, we finished watching Year Four of the "new" Who show on DVD, and it was an exhilarating ride, with the biggest, most explosive season finale yet – and considering that every one of the last three series have had huge conclusions, that's saying something.

Hell, the last hour was a giant Whovian orgy of guest stars, references and fan serving moments, and still, somehow, managed to carry a tremendous amount of dramatic weight and emotional resonance. Russell T. Davies delivered his best script ever, and David Tennant cemented his position as my second-favorite Doctor, with a bravura performance as the last Time Lord.

I wasn't a big fan of Catherine Tate's "Donna Noble" when she made her first appearance in Year Three's Christmas special, "The Runaway Bride," but over the course of Year Four, she grew on me very quickly, becoming one of my favorite "companions" ever. She deserved a better farewell than she got, but knowing the Who team and their reluctance to let any character go, I suspect we'll be seeing her again.

Aside from the epic season finale, other high points of Year Four included the two-part Sontaran story, which not only brought back one of my personal favorite alien menaces, but also briefly returned to the style of story prominent during the Jon Pertwee (my favorite Doctor) era – with The Doctor fending off an alien invasion of Earth alongside the forces of UNIT – a multinational paramilitary task force. And then there was the delightful meeting with author Agatha Christie in an amusing parody of her drawing room mystery novels.

On New Year's Eve, we watched two "classic" Doctor Who episodes: "Warriors of The Deep" with Peter Davison and "Timelash" with Colin Baker. Neither of them are among the original series' best productions, but both were fun.

So... 2009 began well.

Here's hoping that the year is an improvement over '08 for everyone. The world's in rough shape, pretty much everyone's having a rough time of things these days (well, everyone except the CEOs), and the only things I'm good at aren't in much demand in this economy... still, I'm trying to remain hopeful. I do have a few things on the table that might see daylight in '09, and I've got good friends, a few fans, and an inexplicably supportive spouse who believes in me and my talents. Things could be worse. ;)

Happy New Year, everyone.