Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wednesday Covers: Sinbad!

In recognition of Ray Harryhausen's famous series of Sinbad adventures, here's a quartet of comic book adaptations of those selfsame cinematic fantasies: both Dell and Marvel adapted 1958's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad into 4-color form (decades apart), and Marvel also produced a two-part adaptation of 1974's Golden Voyage of Sinbad when that fantastic film came out.

The comics are fun, but the movies - featuring Harryhausen's stop-motion marvels - are better!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Happy Harryhausen Day

I don't really know how to express what the amazing animation of Ray Harryhausen means to me. Working virtually alone in small, stuffy studios, he made movie magic.

In Ray's deft hands, small, articulate puppets came to life on the silver screen, with genuine performances that almost invariably outshone (and upstaged) the thespic efforts of the human casts. Unlike virtually any special effects artist before or after, Harryhausen was able to infuse his own innate acting talents into a few ounces of sculpted foam rubber over small, intricate metal armatures. Be it skeletons, cyclopses, harpies, scorpions or dinosaurs, what might otherwise have been simple cinema creatures became characters. More, they became movie stars.

Even today, with millions of dollars and entire armies of animators working in shifts 24 hours a day, no other movie monster possesses the sheer personality of Harryhausen's Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth, or the skin-crawling reptilian menace of his Medusa. His creatures, laboriously animated one frame at a time by hand, have a undeniable "alive-ness" about them that contemporary CGI critters just don't possess.

The films that showcased his animated performers are among some of the finest cinematic fantasies ever made, and unlike many of today's Hollywood efforts - slick and fast-paced as they may be - movies like The Golden Voyage of Sinbad or Jason & the Argonauts, or even the original Clash of the Titans, are just loaded with enthusiasm and earnest charm. Even the weakest "Harryhausen film" (and how many other movies are ever thought of as the effect artist's films?) is elevated above clunky scripts and uninspired acting by his exemplary effects work.

Ray Harryhausen turns 90 years-old today. I'm glad that he's lived long enough to see how his talents inspired and encouraged so many creative artists in a multitude of fields, from filmmakers and authors, to cartoonists and musicians, to... well, me.

"Some people say Casablanca or Citizen Kane... I say Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest film ever made!" -- Tom Hanks

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hither Came Conan....

I don't know a thing about actor Jason Momoa, except that he was on one of the half-million Stargate shows and that, from the first "official" photo from the upcoming Conan film, he looks very much the way I would picture the younger version of our favorite Cimmerian.

What little I've heard about the film's plot, though, does not sound at all promising. Sigh.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Not Your Grandfather's Captain Midnight....

I was bit disturbed when I popped over to Amazon to see if there had been any reviews posted for the new Captain Midnight Chroniclescollection and found a customer review by a Mister Stephen Kallis who seemed quite personally offended by our version of the character.

It's not that the review was a negative one that bugged me, but that his expectations of what the book was going to be were considerably different from what he got. I genuinely felt bad about that, and I didn't want anyone else to be caught off-guard by our "take" on the character, so I posted this over on the product page:
As the editor of the Captain Midnight Chronicles, and the author of the character "bible" that the contributing writers used in writing their stories, I would like to respond to the review written by Mr. Kallis, who was sorely disappointed that we did not provide him with the flight back to the days of the original Captain Midnight radio show - which he considers the "definitive" version of the character. The fact that our stories incorporated elements from later incarnations of the character seems deeply offensive to him, and I genuinely regret that. I understand his affection for the radio show; it was a classic.

But which radio show does he consider the "definitive" one, I wonder? The original Skelly Oil-sponsored series? Or the more well-known version of the program famously sponsored by Ovaltine? The two shows had some notable differences in the portrayal of the character and his supporting cast, after all.

The point I'm clumsily attempting to make is that for fans of any classic fictional character - especially one that has had as long and successful run as the dear Captain - the "definitive version" is usually the one a person is exposed to first. For some people, James Bond is Sean Connery, for others it's Daniel Craig. For me, it's the guy that Ian Fleming wrote about.

Whereas Mr. Kallis clearly first encountered the heroic aviator's adventures over the air, other fans first met the Captain in the comic book series published by Fawcett Comics in the early 1940's where he was portrayed as a scarlet-clad superhero who battled alien invaders like Yog from Saturn, or the 1942 Columbia movie serial starring Dave O'Brien. Many Captain Midnight fans - apparently a bit younger than our Mr. Kallis - know the character only from the early Fifties television series starring square-jawed Richard Webb, who piloted the sleek jet plane, the Silver Dart.

When we started the process of reviving this classic but long-dormant character, a great many creative and commercial choices needed to be made. If we stuck religiously to any one specific version of the character, we risked disappointing those who favored another. And as several decades had passed since the last time the Captain had taken flight in the public eye, we had to also acknowledge that a great many of today's readers had no idea whatsoever who Captain Midnight was. If we had decided to target, say, only the fans of the radio version (not a particularly large audience, these days, I'm afraid), it was unlikely that we would sell enough copies of the book to make the effort worthwhile. If bringing the character back was worth doing at all, we needed to at least try to make him appealing to as many readers as possible - young and old and in-between.

So, I tried to pick what I thought were the most interesting and unique elements of all of the character's various incarnations and created an amalgamated Captain Midnight. I listened to all the surviving radio episodes, read the comics, Big Little books and watched the serial and TV series. I consulted with several well-known Captain Midnight fans and started drinking Ovaltine. And, in the end, I put together a new version of the character that incorporated the best (I hope) elements of all his incarnations. It was suggested by several people that we simply update the character and bring him into the modern day, but being a fan of the Captain and his Secret Squadron myself, I rejected that idea outright. It may have been necessary to make some alterations to the concept to make it viable for contemporary audiences, but I didn't want us to lose the essence of the character.

I can't speak for every author who contributed to the book, but I wouldn't have spent - literally - the last five years of my life working on this volume if I didn't love and respect the character.

I'm posting this not solely to address Mr. Kallis' criticisms - he paid his money, and he's entitled to his opinion, after all - but to try and let other readers know exactly what the book contains, so that they can make their decisions about whether or not to buy the book based on what the book actually is, and not what their expectations might be. I am quite sincerely saddened that he could not enjoy our efforts, and would like to help make sure that no one else is taken by surprise by what we've done with the character.

The Captain Midnight Chronicles portrays a version of the classic aviation hero that, we hope, is recognizable to existing fans and also relevant for new, 21st Century readers who have never encountered him before. The stories are varied - some are gritty war stories, some are fantasies, some are two-fisted pulp adventures - but all of them feature a Captain Midnight of great personal strength, integrity, and idealism. He exists in a fictional universe where history is somewhat different from our own, a world where one man - and his Secret Squadron - can stand against the forces of global tyranny and injustice and keep the peace through the wise application of strength and intelligence.

I suppose one could say, "This isn't your grandfather's Captain Midnight!" - but I think he is. He dresses a little differently, his equipment, aircraft and relationships may be somewhat altered, but he's still a champion of peace and protector of freedom.

Those kinds of heroes are kinda hard to find these days... and we thought it was time to bring one back.

Friday, June 25, 2010

I Should be Excited.... But....

Yeah, I mean it looks okay, and I like the premise. But are these what pass for movie tough guys these days? Now, I know, it's not the 80s anymore, and we're not all about muscles and badass quips. Schwarzenegger, Weathers, Ventura, Chaves... they're all so yesterday. And, yeah, I understand that we're supposed to want our action heroes to be leaner, meaner and have deeper personalities.

But Adrien Brody? Seriously?

(Okay - Danny Trejo, I can buy. Maybe Fishburne... but... sigh.)

I guess I'm just old-fashioned. I love the original Predator. I watched it again not long ago on Blu-Ray, and was again struck by what a perfect action film it is. And what a perfect cast it has.

This new trailer for the sequel, though, makes me all that much more eager to see... The Expendables.

Monday, June 21, 2010

I'm On My Way!

...and you should be, too! I received an e-mail in the wee hours of this morning from Jim Doherty informing me that a new tribute site to the great Dick Tracy, Plainclothes, has just been launched. In his words:

It includes a Tracy comic book story, "Fireworks," written by Max Allan Collins and illustrated by Joe Staton.  Originally intended for DISNEY ADVENTURES but never actually printed, it was intended to cash in on the then-hot DICK TRACY movie.  Collins, of course, was then the writer of the Tracy strip, and was also the creator of such comics sleuths as MS. TREE, a Chicago private eye who took over her husband's P.I. agency after his murder, MIKE MIST, another Chicago shamus who starred in a series of "solve-them-yourself" whodunits, as well as the writer of ROAD TO PERDITION, the first graphic novel ever to make it to the New York TIMES best-seller list.

It also includes two prose stories about Tracy.  "The Treasure of Captain Cannonsmoke," by the aptly-named Tracy Kazaleh, is set in the world of the UPA animated TRACY cartoons, and features more humorous takes on Tracy's famous Rogues' Gallery, together on a cruise ship in search of hidden treasure.

"Murder Is My Hobby," by Jim Doherty, pits Tracy against a serial killer.

The centerpiece of the site is a new comics story in newspaper strip format, "Major Crimes Squad," illustrated by Staton and written by Mike Curtis, publisher of Shandafa Comics.  It features the return of that long-ago villain Willie "The Fifth" Millyun and his odious lawyer Flyface, and answers the question that has baffled Tracy fans for decades:

"Whatever happened to the Space Coupe?"
Dick Tracy, Joe Staton, Max Allan Collins, previously-unpublished stories... yeah, I'm definitely on my way. See you there!


I love this animated commercial for the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The character design, voice work and the animation itself is sublime. Produced by MAKE.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New ATOMIC PULP Homepage!

My wife and I (okay, mostly her) are still working to resolve some minor domain name/redirect issues, but the new Atomic Pulp site - the "official" homepage of yours truly - is now live.

Unlike the previous version, this one is built on WordPress software, so updating it will be a lot easier. No more old, outdated information (like where it still said that Femme Noir was "coming soon") hanging around forever, and all news items about my projects will be right there on the front page... while they're still news. No more hunting around for them only to find they're months old, and no more having to come to this blog to find out what I'm up to.

In fact, there will be far fewer work-related posts here, although there will always be some. However, the plan is that this blog will be more about my pop culture obsessions and personal musings, while the professional stuff will be primarily kept over on, well, my professional site.

Anyway, check it out.

Monday, June 14, 2010

R.I.P. Al Willamson

Possibly my favorite adventure cartoonist of all time, Al Williamson, passed away yesterday at the age of 79. I have been a fan of Williamson's art since at least the early 80s, when he drew the Marvel Comics adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back. In the years that followed, I made a concerted effort to track down as much of WIlliamson's work as I could find - and when I got my hands on James Van Hise's book, The Art of Al Williamson, I was knocked off my feet.

I loved his detailed, lush art style, his noble-but-human heroes, his stunning women, his imaginative and utterly convincing alien worlds. He was as much a master of real-world adventure (Secret Agent Corrigan) as he was interplanetary adventure (Flash Gordon, Star Wars), and he was equally adept at atmospheric horror (Creepy), gritty Westerns and exotic jungle thrills (Jann of the Jungle).

Right next to my desk, on a bookshelf within easy reach, are nine large volumes devoted to his work: the aforementioned Art of Al Williamson, Al Williamson Hidden Lands, Al Williamson Adventures, the lovely Al Williamson's Flash Gordon collection, the hardcover edition of his Flash Gordon movie adaptation, three volumes of Classic Star Wars strips, and a Secret Agent Corrigan album from Pioneer Books.

Following so quickly on the heels of the death of his friend Frank Frazetta, I can't help but feel that a distinct era of heroic fantasy illustration has passed, and that we'll never see its like again. Oh, there are talented artists out there working in the tradition of Frazetta and Williamson, like Mark Schultz, Gary Gianni and Mike Hoffman, but it's not the same.

Rest in Peace, Al, and thanks for sharing the adventure. I miss you already.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sinbad 2010

As some of you already know, one of my favorite fictional characters is the legendary Persian mariner, Sinbad the Sailor, from the Arabian Nights. Depending on when you ask me, 1974's THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD is likely to be among my top ten movies of all time, and I'm a big fan of most of the other cinematic voyages of the character as well. Hell, I even like the 90s syndicated TV show, and paid way too much to buy the Canadian DVDs.

So, when I found out that microbudget moguls The Asylum planned their own Sinbad film, to ride the coattails of this summer's PRINCE OF PERSIA, I was interested. Admittedly, I was less interested when I discovered that they were making a contemporary, 21st Century version of the character, but I was still willing to give it a chance. I'm glad I did.

THE 7 ADVENTURES OF SINBAD (2010) introduces us to Adrian Sinbad (Patrick Muldoon, STARSHIP TROOPERS), the young CEO of a major shipping company. When one of the company's oil tankers is hijacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean, his partner Simon Magnusson (Bo Svenson, INGLORIOUS BASTARDS) sends him out to negotiate. He arrives just in time to see a giant, tentacled creature drag the tanker beneath the sea before a storm crashes his helicopter. Soon, he - and a handful of survivors from his helicopter and the tanker - washes up on the shore of a tropical island, where a mysterious woman (lovely Sarah Desage) tells him that an ancient prophecy says that he must face seven trials and save the world. Then the island is revealed to be a gigantic monster.... and he's off.

Co-written and co-directed by Ben Hayflick & Adam Silver, THE 7 ADVENTURES OF SINBAD is definitely one of the better action fantasies to come out of The Asylum.

The filmmakers may have contemporized the story (including some uncomfortably timely stuff about crude oil spills) for budgetary reasons, but they clearly have an affection for the Ray Harryhausen classics of the 60s and 70s. The script is thin, but the performances are much better than usual for an Asylum picture, the Chris Ridenhour musical score is excellent, Mikey Jechort's cinematography is professional and slick, the Belize locations are lush and picturesque, and the CGI creatures are really quite decent - especially for (all together, now) an Asylum film.

The monsters - which include classics like a giant crab, a cyclops, a flock 'o rocs, etc. - may lack the personality and charm of Harryhausen's stop-motion beasties, but they're reasonably well-designed and animated, and much more detailed than I expected.

Muldoon, the latest in a line of very whitebread Sinbads, may lack charisma, but he acquits himself adequately in the lead, while Svenson seems to be a bit more animated than usual as Sinbad's treacherous partner. Sarah Desage is quite good, and makes for some sexy eye candy, as well.

The Asylum's DVD sports a fine 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Digital audio options, a "Making of" featurette, deleted scenes, gag reel, and the usual Asylum trailers.

I was quite pleasantly surprised, and would rate this among the studio's best productions. It's a surprisingly solid fantasy B-movie adventure with some decent production values and acting, and reasonably cool monsters. If you can handle your Sinbad wielding a machine gun instead of a scimitar, you might enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Captain Midnight Chronicles Takes Off

After several years, the long-awaited Captain Midnight Chronicles short story collection is - according to the publisher - back from the printer and now available to purchase.

Edited by yours truly, and based on my reimagined version of the character - which incorporates the best features of the radio, film, comic book and television incarnations of the character - the book features some thrilling adventure stories by a stellar line-up of talent.

Here's the contents of the volume: "Countdown to Midnight" By Christopher Mills, "Captain Midnight at Ultima Thule" By Win Scott Eckert, "The Black Dragon" By Mark Justice, "Shipwreck In The Sky" By Robert T. Jeschonek, "Death Master of The Secret Island" By Trina Robbins, "Wind & Rain" By Tim Lasiuta, "Cushy Job" By P.C. Hamerlinck, "Captain Midnight Meets Airboy" By Chuck Dixon, "Fantastic Island" By Robert Greenberger, "The Dark of Midnight" By Stephen Mertz, "Witch of The Waning Moon" By Howard Hopkins, and "A Mission In Time" By James J. Nance. The hardcover version includes a brief introduction to the character by P.C. Hamerlinck and an additional short story by yours truly, "The Mediterranean Intercept."

Both versions of the book can be ordered now directly from the publisher, Moonstone Books, or through Amazon.

Hopefully, I'll be getting my copies soon. I'm looking forward to finally holding it in my hands. Hopefully, it will sell well enough to allow for a second volume.

Wednesday Cover: Superman & Spider-Man

This dramatic cover by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano (with some uncredited tweaking by Neal Adams, reportedly) graced the very first - and still the best, IMO, crossover between rival comics publishers DC and Marvel Comics. The story was great, pitting the heroes against an unholy alliance of Lex Luthor and Doctor Octopus, and the book was just beautifully drawn.

It was originally published in an oversize, "tabloid" format, but I've long-since lost that copy (or perhaps it fell apart after too many re-readings). Fortunately, it's been reprinted a few times, and I have one of those on my bookshelf.