Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Femme Noir #4 Review

Comixtreme's "Done-In-One Reviews" wraps up the miniseries…
Port Nocturne seems to attract every sort of villainy, from the garden-variety skells and grifters to robots with human minds and with this issue people raised in the jungle primeval. And that person wants revenge on some of the Dark City’s most affluent citizens. I’ve always enjoyed how that even though the 1930’s weren’t that long ago you have the feeling that the world was still young and things like "lost islands" and "unexplored regions" were still possible. This story builds on that feeling and then some; in fact I kinda wish we had a full issue of what transpired on the Lost Island instead of simply flashbacks. Still, the story is fun and seeing the Blonde packing heat is exciting in of itself. This is the final issue of the mini-series, but I hope we get to see more adventures of Femme Noir sometime very soon.
Rating: 3.5/5 --Terry Verticchio

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Have a Hardboiled Holiday!

Rick Burchett, "Digger" McCrae (a/k/a "Gravedigger") and I would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas. And if things get a little too warm and fuzzy today, why not enjoy a bit of cinematic holiday mayhem like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or (for the more genteel among you) The Thin Man, while the Christmas dinner digests?

Be safe, everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Femme Noir for Christmas!

According to the Diamond Comics Distribution shipping list, the fourth and final issue of the first Femme Noir miniseries, The Dark City Diaries, will be in comic shops this Wednesday, December 24th... just in time for Christmas!

Written and pencilled – as usual – by myself and the incredible Joe Staton, this issue is inked by the talented Mark Stegbauer (who previously inked Issue #2) and introduces our new colorist, Michael Watkins. Michael's done such a good job that we've asked him to keep working with us, and he'll be applying his computerized hues to several upcoming Noir projects (see below).

As I recently posted in this very blog, while this is the final issue of the miniseries, it's not the last you'll be seeing of Femme Noir. In 2009, she'll be appearing in Ape Entertainment's Free Comic Book Day special, and a 48-page one-shot called Femme Noir: Supernatural Crime. We also have two paperback collections in the works, one of which will contain newly re-colored and re-mastered versions of the original FN webcomic strips.

The other, of course, is the trade paperback edition of the Dark City Diaries series for those who were unable to persuade their local shopkeepers to stock the comic books, or those who "waited for the trade" and a heftier volume for their bookshelves. I'm putting that weighty tome together now, and it's coming together great. Aside from the four installments of the Diaries mini, the book will include at least two more short FN bonus stories, a foreword by Shamus-Award winning crime writer Max Allan Collins, and an afterword by Kevin Burton Smith, of the Thrilling Detective website.

So... thanks to everyone who's been buying the series, and I hope you'll pick up #4 this week. And for those who are only just now discovering the series, hang around – there's a lot more Femme Noir on the way!

Into The Blu

Friday night, my wife and I picked up a Sony Blu-Ray player and a bunch of discs from our local Circuit City. The player and discs were a Christmas gift from my generous in-laws.

As the Circuit City chain is in financial straits, they had some pretty good deals on players and discs, so we were able to pick up three of the first six James Bond Blu-Ray editions (I had won a fourth in an online contest a few weeks ago), Predator (a guilty pleasure), The Fifth Element (an even guiltier pleasure) and The Dark Knight. I already had those Bond movies on DVD, of course, but let's face it – I'll be upgrading those movies with every technological advance that comes along, right up to the point they're converted into some sort of fully-immersive Virtual Reality.

Oh yeah, Circuit City also threw in a free Hancock Blu-Ray disc with the purchase of the player, but I haven't watched it yet, and I'm in no hurry.

Now, we still only have a standard-definition television, so we're not getting the full benefit of the Blu-Ray technology, but I have to say I can see some improvement in picture quality and an even more pronounced upgrade in audio quality, even with our archaic set-up. Hopefully, sometime in the next year or so, we'll be able to purchase a hi-def TV, and really see what this machine is capable of.

I'm grateful, of course, that it also plays standard DVDs, since I still have a couple thousand in my library, and I'm not convinced that Blu-Ray's going to totally usurp that format soon, especially in this economy. If it hadn't been a gift, we wouldn't have been buying a Blu player for a long time, and the discs are, generally, way more expensive than regular DVDs. I can't see people rushing out to upgrade to Blu en masse, not with money so tight, and with DVDs looking and sounding pretty damned good already. Maybe in a couple years, when the hardware and software prices come down... but by then, the manufacturers will be trying to foist another new format on us, and I suspect that it may not even be a physical one.

It'll probably be exclusively digital downloads, and personally, that doesn't appeal much to me and my collector's instincts.

I'm glad I have the Blu-Ray player, though. We all know I love me my movies, and the better the quality of the viewing experience, the better I like it. That's why I had a laserdisc player back during the VHS era, and why I have Dr. No in at least four video formats... and counting.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Weekend Theater: Bravo Scooby Doo

Back in the day, Cartoon Network programmers had some genuine respect for classic animation, and so did the creators of their original World Premiere Toons, also known as What A Cartoon Show and Cartoon Cartoons.

This episode of the Johnny Bravo series (which I was a huge fan of, along with its companion series, Dexter's Laboratory, Cow & Chicken, and I Am Weasel) is a fun and funny parody of the original Hanna-Barbera Scooby Doo: Where Are You? TV series, but it also has a bunch of clever references to other classic cartoons, including a couple of vintage Looney Tunes shorts. Sadly, in the short ten years since this was made, Cartoon Network has devolved beyond being capable of producing anything this clever. (Bigfoot?!)

Makes me glad I no longer have cable.

Friday, December 19, 2008

R.I.P. 2008

Turner Classic Movies remembers those film industry personalities who have passed away in this past year. Obviously, this was created before the death of Van Johnson last week, at age 92.

And, sadly, we must also add Majel Barrett Roddenberry, wife of Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, to this list. The actress who portrayed several roles in the Trek franchise, beginning with "Number One" in the original pilot, "Nurse Christine Chapel" in TOS and the movies, and "Luxwanna Troi" on TNG and DS9. She also provided the computer voice for most of the spin-off series and was announced as doing the same for J.J. Abram's new Trek film.

She died yesterday at age 76.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wednesday Cover: Back to Mongo

I've been reading Arthur Byron Cover's novelization of the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, and finding myself entertained (and occasionally appalled – according to the author, Dale Arden had a penchant for 70's New York swingers clubs before being shanghaied to Mongo) by Cover's embellishments to the Lorenzo Semple screenplay.

That paperback has a boring movie still on its cover, though, so here's another Gold Key Flash Gordon comic from that era, cover artist unknown. Great Ming, and I love those rocketships...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Kolchak Kontest Winner

The names went into my Indiana Jones™ fedora, and my wife picked out a winner...

Charles Gramlich!

The signed variant cover editions of the Kolchak Tales: Night Stalker of the Living Dead miniseries will be going in the mail on Monday. Congratulations, Charles, and a big thanks to everyone who entered!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bettie Page, RIP

I discovered 50's pin-up queen Bettie Page through the pages of the late Dave Stevens' Rocketeer comics, and Greg Theakston's marvelous fanzine, The Betty Pages. Like virtually every red-blooded man (and many women) who laid eyes upon her sublime beauty – a tantalizing blend of sultry sensuality, good-natured naughtiness and playful innocence – I became fascinated by her.

That was the mid-Eighties, and back then, nobody knew what had become of the sleek, raven-haired model. Many believed that she had already passed away, never knowing that she had achieved a new fame and rabid fan following, comprised, in large part, of young men who hadn't even been born when she had last posed for a professional photographer.

Eventually, though, she was "found," and thanks mostly to Stevens, was able to financially benefit somewhat from her renewed popularity. She was made aware of the incomparable impact that her unique image had made on several generations of artists, musicians, filmmakers and admirers of female pulchritude.... and discovered, I hope, that she was greatly loved.

Bettie Page has passed away at age 85.

Kolchak Kontest Reminder

Here's a quick head's up – the Kolchak giveaway ends at midnight Friday, so if you want a chance to pick up the variant cover editions of the Kolchak Tales: Night Stalker of the Living Dead miniseries from Moonstone Books, you need to get your entry in before then.

Details and rules in THIS post.

Winner will be announced on Saturday.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wednesday Cover: Planet Stories

Don't know who painted this flame-haired, axe-wielding interplanetary amazon – but that's my kinda woman!

ADDENDUM: Apparently the artist is Allen Anderson. Cool.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I Want to be Punished!

Boy, that subject line is going to attract a lot of kinky new readers. Anyway, the latest comic book-based movie, Punisher: War Zone, starring Ray Stevenson, has crashed and burned at the box office. Even though it was the sole wide opening release last weekend, it came in #8 and grossed a mere $4 mil in 2,508 theaters, far less than the $13.8 mil that the Punisher (starring Thomas Jane) took in four years ago.

The majority of reviews have been decidedly negative, although there are a few dissidents out there who thought it was fun. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing it – on DVD – because: I like the character, the 2004 film, and will even will admit to enjoying the Dolph Lundgren Punisher version from 1989. No, seriously.

Frankly (ha! The Punisher's real name is "Frank Castle"), I don't need much from a Punisher film – just lots of mob guys getting mowed down with a wide variety of deadly weapons. A plot or wit would be nice bonuses, but aren't vital.

I guess it's just more proof that my taste in movies is – shall we say – masochistic.

ADDENDUM: Scott Mendelson compares all three Punisher movies here – and it doesn't sound like he hates the Dolph Lundgren version either.

Monday, December 08, 2008

DVD PReview: 42nd Street Forever V.4

Movie trailer compilations aren’t for everyone, but I enjoy the hell out of them. It can be a kick seeing how distributors and exhibitors have tried over the years to sell their wares, and when the wares in question are sleazy exploitation films, the trailers can often be more entertaining than the movies they promote.

Synapse Films continues their awesome 42nd Street Forever DVD series in January with Volume 4: Cooled By Refrigeration, containing 105 minutes worth of sleazy exploitation film "coming attraction" previews and TV spots, running the genre gamut from crime thrillers to horror to slob comedies and blaxploitation.

The Syndicate: Death In the Family, Combat Cops, It Came Without Warning, No Blade of Grass, Yor: The Hunter From the Future, Simon - King of the Witches, The Psychic, Schizoid, Tender Flesh, Die Sister Die, Silent Scream, New Year's Evil, Mortuary, Humongous, Embryo, The Boogeyman, The Legend of Boggy Creek, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Gray Eagle, Shadow of the Hawk, Rituals, Americathon, Can I Do It...'Til I Need Glasses, Die Laughing, In God We Trust, Undercover Hero, The Jezebels, Fighting Mad, Moving Violation, Bonnie's Kids, Walking Tall Part 2, The Klansman, Monkey Hustle, The Soldier, Blackout, Shout At the Devil, March or Die, Hog Wild, The Hard heads, The Chicken Chronicles, Best Friends, Our Winning Season, Coach, Goldengirl...

As usual, I've only ever seen a handful of these titles, and after watching this compilation, I'm reminded again of just how many B-movies and drive-in classics I have yet to see.... and how many still haven't appeared on DVD. Some of these trailers are mini-masterpieces of hyperbole and ballyhoo, making the most abysmal dreck look tantalizingly appealing. Many familiar faces appear in these trailers, which just goes to show that almost every actor of note has a few of these kinds of skeletons in their cinematic closet – among those aforementioned faces are Martin Landau, Lee Marvin, Roger Moore, Robby Benson, Steve Gutenberg, John Ritter, Gene Hackman, Michael Biehn, Cathy Lee Crosby... and O. Jailbird Simpson.

Since these are old, much-run theatrical trailers which were never intended to have a life beyond the films they advertise, never mind be preserved for posterity, picture and sound quality varies widely from preview to preview, with a lot of wear and tear evident on most clips. Still, the overall presentation is quite watchable – all of the trailers are intact – and the scratches and soundtrack hiss just add to the overall grindhouse experience. The disc also includes a commentary track by Fangoria magazine editor Michael Gingold, film historian Chris Poggiali and Edwin Samuelson, editor of the AVMAniacs website. Oh, and the package art is fantastic – a great tribute in style and execution to 70's exploitation film posters.

For anyone with an interest in such things, the entire 42nd Street Forever series is a treasure trove, and worth checking out. (Be warned, though – in addition to the four-volume regular series, there's also a "XXX-treme Special Edition" installment that features hardcore porn trailers from the 70's.)

Personally, I really want to know why The Soldier isn't on DVD....

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Kolchak Kontest

When Moonstone Books published the Kolchak Tales: Night Stalker of the Living Dead miniseries, they also released very limited variant cover editions of each issue (seen above), drawn by Moonstone Art Director/Kolchak editor Dave Ulanski, with colors by Ken Wolak. These variants were so limited in number that even I only have one extra set.

Because you folks have been so supportive of my work on the book, I'm going to give away that extra set to one of you. All you have to do is send an e-mail containing your name and mailing address to with the words "Kolchak Kontest" in the subject line. I'll pick one entry at random, and send the complete set – signed, of course – to the lucky winner.

Entries must be received by midnight Friday, December 12th. The winner will be announced sometime on Saturday. Good luck, and thanks for your support!

One entry per person, please. Double entries will be disqualified. One winner will be drawn at random and announced on Saturday, December 13, 2008. The winner’s name will be posted here and will be notified via email. All entries will be deleted immediately after the contest’s close, and no personal information will be retained or transmitted to any third parties. The contest is open to anyone, in any country. Unfortunately, I cannot assume responsibility for items lost or damaged in transit.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Forrest J Ackerman, RIP

The legendary Ackermonster, Forrest J Ackerman, has passed away at age 92.

The pun-loving literary agent, author and professional fan of "imagi-movies," was the founding editor of the influential Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine in the 60's and 70's, coined the term "sci-fi," and discovered Ray Bradbury. His love for the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres was contagious, and through the pages of his magazine, he inspired countless young people to make their own careers in those fields, from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg.

I'm a little too young for Famous Monsters to have been a big part of my genre education – by the time I discovered it, it was no longer under his guiding hand; Starlog and Fangoria were my poisons – but I was well aware of "Uncle Forry" and his life-long passion for fantasy.

Here's an excerpt from his AP obituary:

Ackerman died Thursday of heart failure at his Los Angeles home, said Kevin Burns, head of Prometheus Entertainment and a trustee of Ackerman's estate.

Although only marginally known to readers of mainstream literature, Ackerman was legendary in science-fiction circles as the founding editor of the pulp magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. He was also the owner of a huge private collection of science-fiction movie and literary memorabilia that for years filled every nook and cranny of a hillside mansion overlooking Los Angeles.

"He became the Pied Piper, the spiritual leader, of everything science fiction, fantasy and horror," Burns said Friday.

Every Saturday morning that he was home, Ackerman would open up the house to anyone who wanted to view his treasures. He sold some pieces and gave others away when he moved to a smaller house in 2002, but he continued to let people visit him every Saturday for as long as his health permitted.

"My wife used to say, 'How can you let strangers into our home?' But what's the point of having a collection like this if you can't let people enjoy it?" an exuberant Ackerman told The Associated Press as he conducted a spirited tour of the mansion on his 85th birthday.

His collection once included more than 50,000 books, thousands of science-fiction magazines and such items as Bela Lugosi's cape from the 1931 film "Dracula."

Ackerman himself appeared in numerous films over the years, usually in bit parts. His credits include "Queen of Blood," "Dracula vs. Frankenstein," "Amazon Women on the Moon," "Vampirella," "Transylvania Twist," "The Howling" and the Michael Jackson "Thriller" video. More recently, he appeared in 2007's "The Dead Undead" and 2006's "The Boneyard Collection."

Ackerman returned briefly to Famous Monsters of Filmland in the 1990s, but he quickly fell out with the publisher over creative differences. He sued and was awarded a judgment of more than $375,000.

Forrest James Ackerman was born in Los Angeles on Nov. 24, 1916. He fell in love with science-fiction, he once said, when he was 9 years old and saw a magazine called Amazing Stories. He would hold onto that publication for the rest of his life.

Ackerman, who had no children, was preceded in death by his wife, Wendayne.

Rest In Peace, Forry.

December's Femme Noir Update

I'm told that Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries #4 should be on sale in the next few weeks, just in time for the holidays. The issue features the usual dual covers – a lovely, pulp magazine-ish illustration by Joe Staton & Alfredo Lopez and a magnificent alternate cover penciled by the late Mike Wieringo, inked by Joe, and colored by Garry Henderson. There's also a short text feature in this issue by yours truly, revealing a bit of the history of the character and project. I'll let you know when to look for it as soon as I get the shipping info.

This week, I wrote a short – very short – Femme Noir story for 2009's Free Comic Book Day Cartoon-a-palooza special from Ape Entertainment. As usual, Joe Staton is laying down the graphite, and inker Mark Stegbauer will be slapping on the India ink. Michael Watkins – who colored Issue #4 of the miniseries – will be providing the hues. It's called "Demon Bat," and will be the first of several Femme Noir projects planned to appear next year.

I'm currently scripting a 48-page "annual," subtitled "Supernatural Crime," co-starring the skull-visaged vigilante known as Brother Grim (last seen in Issue #1 of the mini) – and featuring an all-new origin story for the character. Why a new origin? Don't ask. It's too sordid a saga, and it just pisses me off. But the plan is to have the one-shot special out in the second half of the year.

We're also planning to release a trade paperback collection of the original Femme Noir webcomics, re-colored and "remastered." I'm hoping Joe will have enough time to draw a fourth story for the collection – the script is pretty much written and it'll round out the volume nicely. In any case, it'll definitely include the three online classics: "Cold, Dead Fingers," "An Eye For A Spy," and "Chambers of Horror." More info on this as it comes together.

And, of course, there will be a trade paperback collection of the Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries miniseries, which will include all four stories from the comic books, as well as the 2008 FCBD Cartoon-a-palooza story, "A Night In The Life," and the 8-page bonus tale, "The Dingus." There will also be character design sketches by Joe, a special foreword and afterword by a couple of renowned crime fiction personalities, and a surprise or two. You'll also get to see all the original cover art, this time unobscured by logos and text.

With #4 still to hit the shelves, I suppose I could play it cagey, and say "oh, there's no plans as yet for a trade, so you better go out and buy the individual issues," but does anyone believe that anymore? Besides, Ape published only enough copies of the miniseries to meet the initial retailer orders – and there will not be any additional printings. I know a lot of people couldn't find copies of the first three issues at their local stores, and #4's orders were – as is typical with a miniseries – lower than the others, so it may be hard to find, too. I also know that in today's market, a lot of readers habitually "wait for the trade." Hell, I'm one of them.

So, a trade paperback collection was/is inevitable. Aside from making the material available in a more durable format, it can also (hopefully) get into regular bookstores and maybe reach a wider audience. I don't want anyone to feel cheated or that they now "have" to buy the material twice, but the graphic novel/trade paperback format is becoming the format of choice among consumers, and we have to play along. Now, I wanted the stories to come out as "floppies" (I detest that term, but it's slightly better than "pamphlets") first because, dammit, after all that work, I wanted a Femme Noir comic book to hold in my hands and see displayed on the comic shop shelves! But I also want the property to have a life beyond those 4 issues, and having a trade paperback available and in print is a necessity.

Beyond those projects, I have tentative plans for a second miniseries, probably for the Summer of 2010 – if I can keep all the balls in the air – and make it worthwhile for my valued collaborators, Joe foremost among them. A lot will depend on how well-received the projects mentioned above are. I hope things work out, because I still have a lot of Femme Noir tales to tell...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Wednesday Cover: Batman R.I.P

So... I hear that Batman's dead again. Obviously, this isn't the first time he's kicked the bucket and I doubt it'll last. The first time I saw him die was within the pages of Batman #291, back in the mid-70's. Unfortunately the story wasn't quite as satisfying as this great Jim Aparo (him again!) cover – just look at how cool the Batman statue on the tombstone is posed! – it had the villians pictured above "on trial" by Ras Al Ghul to determine which would get the credit for capping the Caped Crusader.

I never did understand what the hell Luthor was doing there...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

DVD Review: Burke's Law, Vol. 2

I reviewed VCI Entertainment's first Burke's Law DVD back in May (Season 1, Volume 1). Now Volume 2 is on sale, with the second half of this 1964 detective series' first season.

As I wrote at the time, I find this light-hearted mystery series to be highly entertaining, with clever, twisty murder plots, eccentric suspects and a charming leading man. Homicide Captain Amos Burke (Gene Barry) lives a very Playboy/Rat Pack lifestyle, romancing a different gorgeous babe every night, and possessing a heroic tolerance for dry martinis.

As with the first batch of episodes, the guest stars are a delightful mix of classic Hollywood veterans and fresh, young (in '64) faces: Dan Duryea, Ed Wynn, Carolyn Jones, William Shatner, Howard Duff, Michael Ansara, Dorothy Lamour, Spike Jones, Kevin McCarthy, Jim Backus, Barbara Eden, Tab Hunter, Fess Parker, Nancy Kovack, Jane Greer, Buster Keaton, John Cassavetes, Mako, Agnes Moorehead and Forrest Tucker are just some of the familiar faces who show up in these 16 episodes.

The writing is also superior, with several scripts penned by Harlan Ellison, and Gold Medal paperback writer Day Keene.

The full-frame, B&W picture quality is excellent, on a par with the previous set, and like that volume, VCI has included a bunch of vintage television commercials. In fact, my one complaint with the first set – its bulky packaging – has been remedied with this volume, as VCI has placed all 4 discs into a single, standard-sized DVD case.

Overall, it's a great presentation of a highly entertaining – and generally underrated – classic television series. If you collect old shows, like I do, you won't be disappointed in this set.

Highly recommended.