Monday, June 28, 2010

Devo - Something For Everybody (2010)

In February, I lamented the passing of local music stores, framed through the story of how I discovered Devo. As it turned out, I had the chance to put my uneasy feelings to the test just a couple of weeks ago. Devo's new album came out on June 15, and I went looking at my remaining options. Unsurprisingly, I came up dry. They didn't even acknowledge that the CD had even come out. I cut my losses and ordered it online that night. And they wonder?

But back to more positive vibes. Yes, Devo is back with Something For Everybody, their first new album in 20 years! Of course, Devo has never really gone away. True, their last album, Smooth Noodle Maps dates all the way back to 1990, and isn't even that well-remembered in the first place. But Devo has soldiered on through soundtracks, compilations, archival releases, live shows, and side projects. Now, Devo has returned to the racks in a music industry that is a shadow of its former self.

I'm a realist. While I think Devo is one of the best bands of the 70s and 80s, it seems pretty obvious that they scored a deal with their old label Warner (the same company that dropped them after Shout in 1984) because the execs see money to be made by appealing to the nostalgia market. How many old-timers have we seen trotting out new projects in the last few years? It smacks a little of a desperate ploy by record companies, as you KNOW a lot of those folks would never have gotten such distribution in a healthier marketplace. And honestly, some of them shouldn't. But older fans have money and will (theoretically) pick up something from an old favorite based on name value alone. Heck, Jimi Hendrix just put out an album in 2010 despite the handicap of being dead for 40 years. At least Jimi is only clinically dead, as opposed to artistically dead.

That was the real question I had going into Something For Everybody. Devo has put out some interesting songs during the interval between their albums. Could they sustain themselves over an entire CD? Or would this be just a novelty that fizzled out? I couldn't deny that their later studio albums, particularly the ones recorded for Enigma, didn't have quite the same "punch" that had brought Devo accolades from those who loved them. What exactly would this new album be like?

My fears were allayed just moments after popping the CD into my car's player. This is Devo at their very best. Is every single track going to stay with you forever? Well, no, probably not. But the vast majority are irresistibly catchy and have plenty of lyrical bite. To me, songs like "Fresh", "What We Do", "Please Baby Please" and "Don't Shoot (I'm A Man)" can take their place among the classic Devo catalog. Plus, that last song mentioned had a genuine laugh out loud moment when "Don't tase me, bro!" became the coda that brought the tune to its conclusion.

Will this album's sales justify returning Devo to the "New Releases" section? Can it, in this day and age? Will it win over new converts to Devo? I don't have the foggiest idea. All I do know is that it is an energetic return to form for the band - probably their best album since at least Oh, No! It's Devo in 1982.

You may learn more of Devo's wisdom at Club Devo.

Friday, June 25, 2010

OWARI 10th Anniversary by Lewis Smith (2005)

OWARI 10th Anniversary by Lewis Smith (2005)

In the interest of full disclosure, the above image was uploaded to Blogger for the Return of Jetman site. That particular entry, which will have an identical title to this one, is still a few months away. However, I received the e-mail from Lewis Smith that he had finished this picture on June 25, 2005. So this seems like as good a time as any to discuss this piece here. Aren't you glad you read both sites? (hint hint)

I wish I could remember my specific instructions to Lewis regarding this piece when I commissioned him. I am reasonably certain I asked for Green Wyvern, Captain Satellite, and (probably) El Beardo. El Beardo, in case you have forgotten, is OWARI's erstwhile mascot and devil-may-care bon vivant. You may notice that Lewis re-imagined El Beardo into an even wackier character, complete with a killer sombrero. That is the kind of mad genius that is Lewis' trademark.

Two aspects of this picture that were NOT part of my original request are the inclusion of lovable rogue Phil Moskowitz from WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY? and a design that explicitly homages the Irwin Hasen cover of All-Star Comics #37. The presence of Phil Moskowitz, amiable zany, is easily explained. I had cover-featured that movie on OWARI #3, and the still I used got an amazing reaction from everyone who saw it and became one of the enduring memories of the fanzine. So naturally, it made sense to Lewis to include his representation of the character so memorably embodied by Tatsuya Mihashi. I'm very glad he did.

I'm not sure what prompted the All-Star tribute, which is odd when you consider what a huge fan of the Justice Society I am. But no, Lewis arrived at that independent of any influence from me. I ran with the idea, though, and structured the cover of OWARI #12 (which used this image as its cover) around the original comic's design. One of these fine days, we'll discuss the contents of those musty old fanzines.

For OWARI readers today, I'd imagine the two most prominent characters are Green Wyvern and Captain Satellite. Wyvern was a no-brainer, as she was the most memorable character born from "Return of Jetman" in the 'zine's pages. In many ways, she was the original reason that project continued at all. In reviewing my memory for this write-up, I realized this was the last time to date that Lewis drew Green Wyvern. I honestly had no idea it had been so long.

And then, we have Captain Satellite. Yes, that is Cap between Wyvern and Phil. Don't quite recognize him? Well, he does look a bit different than the more familiar image of him I've presented here. There are a couple of reasons for that.

At the time this piece was done, I had only created a handful of pictures of Cap, and none for the rest of his current cast of characters. I had no solid plans to use him at all as anything other than a superhero image. I cast him in amusing comic vignettes, but didn't intend for him to become a full-blown character. He was essentially just another mascot.

This was the status quo for Cap when this picture was conceived. Lewis asked for my permission to redesign the character for his purposes, and I gave my OK. Cap as Lewis pictured him got another color (yellow) and a few other costume modifications. He even got a chest insignia, something I'd omitted from the suit a few years earlier.

Well, I was pleased as punch with the picture, and it served its purposes well. But this particular iteration of Captain Satellite has not been seen since. At this point, he probably won't be back. Why?

As I explained, there were no solid plans to do anything with Cap when this picture was done in 2005. He was just a symbol. The wheels for the building of an actual Captain Satellite "universe" didn't start turning until 2007. This picture was done in a comparative vacuum, separate from that process. In fact, this was the very first time ANY member of the Captain Satellite cast was drawn by anyone other than me. That gives this image even more significance than it originally had.

In all honesty, I didn't even remember this design of Captain Satellite when I set out to make that character something a little more than just a star of funny pictures I drew. If I had, I might have incorporated some elements into my work. As it stands, this particular version just paints an interesting portrait of "what might have been."

Some of Lewis' innovations have made their way into other interpretations quite by coincidence. Kabuki Katze's recent picture (my current model for "realistic" Cap) gives the same treatment to the eyes and the belt. She also emphasized the blue more than I have, and that too is in line with his ideas.

So, hats off during OWARI's 15th Anniversary celebration to Mr. Lewis Smith for the outstanding job he did on this 10th Anniversary picture. Though neither of us knew it at the time, he earned yet another spot in OWARI's Hall of Fame by being the first artist to handle the Captain Satellite cast.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Showcase Presents Dial H For Hero

When I was a kid, I really dug the revived version of "Dial H For Hero" that ran for a time in Adventure Comics and Superboy. I never understood how that strip wasn't more successful. It had a plethora of heroes and villains in every issue, all courtesy of the magic of reader submission. But it wasn't to be, and "Dial H" faded into obscurity again.

Recently, DC published a collection of the ORIGINAL "Dial H For Hero" stories that ran in House of Mystery in the 1960s. Showcase Presents Dial H For Hero is only in black and white, true, but it's a steal at a mere ten bucks. You just can't find almost 300 pages of wonky Silver Age diversions for a lower price.

I had read a grand total of one of these stories prior to picking up this collection, but I had a pretty decent idea of what to expect. They manage to be colorful even in B&W, but I wouldn't rate them as especially lively. There are interesting ideas thrown about, such as the hero splitting into two different heroes or his alter ego being poisoned and "dying", but they aren't explored very much. The whole affair often sinks into the innocent and pleasant banality that was the hallmark of much of the DC line in those days. I wonder what might have been had Julius Schwartz been involved with the feature, as his books tended to be a little bit more sophisticated.

The bulk of the art is by Jim Mooney and he does a great job in realizing such diverse characters as the Human Starfish and Robby the Super Robot. It is, however, a crime that there are so few opportunities for him to draw ANY females. What a waste. Other hands take over for the last few tales, and they too do a good job as the Powers That Be tried to remake Dial H For Hero into something more "hip." I have no idea if it was due to slumping sales or just a desire to do something different, but House of Mystery shortly afterward became a genuine mystery book. That left Robby Reed, the wielder of the H Dial, out of a job.

Maybe that was for the best. Robby was spared the radical direction change that marked a lot of other DC features right before they died and couldn't resolve them. He simply went gently into the good night. Based on the contents of this book, I can't imagine a late-in-the-game makeover winning new converts.

I had a lot of fun with this book, and it's really a nice price, too. It's not for everyone, but it might be a kick if you're in the mood for "turn off your brain" superhero action.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Heroes of the East

Oh, HEROES OF THE EAST. I had high expectations for you, and you still managed to exceed them. That is a rare feat.

I've known about HEROES OF THE EAST (aka SHAOLIN CHALLENGES NINJA) for a long time. I even tried to purchase it once before. However, while the DVD case on that item was very clearly SHAOLIN CHALLENGES NINJA, the disc itself was actually SHAOLIN VS. NINJA. Now, you would think would be the same movie. I am here to tell you, it is not. Not by a longshot.

Not long ago, I picked up the Dragon Dynasty DVD of the film. It is gorgeous and loaded with extras. To give you an idea, I still haven't found the time to finish watching the English dub track that is included. Between the excellent Mandarin track, the insightful commentary track by Bey Logan, and the abundance of bonuses, it just has fallen by the wayside. I am sure it will be chock-full of "But still" dubbing goodness.

The plot involves a Chinese man (Gordon Liu) marrying a Japanese woman, and the culture clash between the two lovers. This leads to misunderstandings that culminate in a challenge by eight Japanese fighters to our intrepid protagonist. And since the Japanese contingent counts Yasuaki Kurata in its number, you just know that's going to be good.

HEROES OF THE EAST is an action-packed martial arts movie that also manages to be thoughtful in its treatment of the characters. Unusually for Chinese martial arts epics, the Japanese are not treated as evil. They are the "villains", for lack of a better term, but they aren't really villainous at all. They are adversaries that are to be respected, but they never do anything particularly awful. It's a respectful and interesting tactic, though it probably has a lot more impact if you are familiar with the traditional portrayals of this rivalry.

HEROES OF THE EAST is one of the most enjoyable martial arts movie I've ever watched. I give it my highest possible recommendation!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Well You Know My Name Is Nimon

Well You Know My Name Is Nimon

This DOCTOR WHO story + this old cartoon x being up far too late = this picture.

Yeah, "The Horns of Nimon" is (or was, I haven't been in WHO fandom in a looooong time) a fairly notorious installment of the long-running English sci-fi series. Fun trivia - my local PBS station offered an actual script from this serial as a gift during one of their pledge drives. I wonder if anyone got stuck with it?

I can't remember when I saw that "Simon" cartoon, but I'm never going to remove that theme song from my brain. NEVER! So one night, somehow the song popped into my head and I started substituting "Nimon" for "Simon." This piece of fanart is the tragic result.

Oh, and by the way? I did make sure to have "Police Box" written on the TARDIS. It's just too small to see it. Trust me, it's there.

I thought now would be as good a time as any to post this picture on the blog, since "The Horns of Nimon" is set to debut on American DVD in just a few short weeks!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Making of "A Nightmare Made Flesh"

Urban Nightmare is possibly the most misunderstood character I've ever created. I chalk this up to a couple of deficiencies in my original presentation of him. "A Nightmare Made Flesh" is my attempt at correcting this problem.

Even when I was unsure if Captain Satellite's world needed other heroes like the Invincible Alliance, I was already convinced that Urban Nightmare filled a vital role in that setting. He is the "normal" hero who fights "normal" crimes. I guess you could compare him to Batman (and I have), but Bats has never been a prime source of inspiration for him. He owes far more to the masked heroes who otherwise eschewed spandex costumes. I could make a big list, but the two most important for our purposes are the Question and Mr. A.

Steve Ditko is primarily revered for his work on Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, but he has had a lengthy career in comics, and since the 1960s he has often created stories influenced by his belief in Objectivism. The Question served as a vehicle for those types of tales when Ditko was at Charlton, but the character that really and truly embodied that philosophy was Ditko's creator-owned champion Mr. A. I have always been fascinated by both of these heroes, their stories, and their striking visuals. In developing Urban Nightmare, I became enthralled with the idea of him filling a similar role as the Question/Mr. A - only NOT as an Objectivist mouthpiece, but rather as someone who guarded the city streets.

In many ways, I consider Urban Nightmare the most moral and capable of my heroes. His motive is simply to protect people, and he's doing it the best way he can. He has no powers or gimmicks, but fights with just his strength, his skills, and his wits. Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons started with the Question and gave us Rorschach; I started with the Question and came up with Urban Nightmare. Same beginning, radically different result.

Unfortunately, the Urban Nightmare's look is one that is harder to get across through my art than your typical superhero spandex suit. So my version looks a little ridiculous at first glance with his yellow rain jacket and pimp hat. That was why I hatched the scheme to commission my friend Kabuki Katze to reimagine the character with her typical flair. But I didn't leave her at sea with the project, oh no. She can testify to the fact that I sent her a bunch of visual references beyond just pointing to my original profile picture and asking her to improve it. I am really pleased with the job she did on this project - one of the more atypical works she's created in the last couple of years.

The other issue I had with Urban Nightmare was that I was deliberately vague in sketching out his original profile. Though expanded from the 2007 version, his backstory was still a little nebulous. I had some ideas, but they really required thought and care before I was comfortable presenting them to an audience. One thing that needed addressing was deciding on a new name for the character's alter ego, because the old one had to go. I consulted this site on Zulu culture to develop a name that conveyed some of my notions about Urban Nightmare's other identity. "Xolani Shabangu" was my choice, and if you look up the meaning of "xolani" on that site, you may understand why.

I realize it may be hard for some to reconcile a world that features superhero craziness with the events described in "A Nightmare Made Flesh." What can I say? It's a big, self-contradictory world that we occupy in real life, so I don't have difficulty imagining a fictional world where the real and the unreal co-exist. I also have no trouble believing that Neil Gaiman's Sandman occurs in the same world where the Justice League fought a giant starfish.

"A Nightmare Made Flesh" was another interesting effort in writing a first-person narrative for a character that was unlike me. It's brief, but I like to think it gets its point across. Hopefully, it will serve as a foundation for establishing Urban Nightmare's place in my world.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hello It's Me

Somehow, I managed to neatly miss the song "Hello It's Me" until a year or two ago. This despite the fact that it is over 30 years old and was featured in an episode of the TV show THAT 70S SHOW. Yes, because despite faithfully watching that series for two or three years, I've never seen the original pilot. But that's not why we're here today;"Hello It's Me" is. I feel like I missed out by not latching onto this song earlier. "Hello It's Me" is simply one of the most beautiful pop songs I've ever heard.

Todd Rundgren actually had two hits with "Hello It's Me". Originally, he scored with it as part of the band the Nazz. But it is as a solo Rundgren tune that "Hello It's Me" truly shone. I fell in love with the song to such an extent on my first listen that I immediately looked into the artist. And that is, as I said, Todd Rundgren.

Todd Rundgren is someone I had read about and heard about, but never bothered to investigate myself until recently. He's justly hailed as something of a musical renaissance man. Pretty much everything he's attempted, he's done well, and that covers a LOT of ground. He has gone from the pure incandescent pop of this song and "I Saw The Light" to the progressive sounds of the band Utopia to brain dead fun music ("Bang The Drum All Day") and been brilliant with all of them.

Nearly everyone that I've played "Hello It's Me" for has fallen in love with it, too. Why not check out this Youtube video and see if you agree?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sean Moore Strikes Again!

PSC - Shelly Ericson, Ultimate American, Urban Nightmare, Elektroid, Firegirl

Hey, you remember this entry, right? Well, as you might notice, I purchased a few more Personal Sketch Cards from the talented Sean Moore. This time, I asked for Shelly Ericson, Ultimate American, Urban Nightmare, Elektroid, and Firegirl.

Sean did a great job once again, and he said he had a lot of fun working on my characters. I think you can tell, especially on Elektroid there!

So, if you like the results on my PSC, check out Sean's dA page and see about hiring him to do some Personal Sketch Cards for YOU!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

R.I.P. Shunsuke Ikeda & Al Williamson

I haven't really written a lot of memorial posts here for famous people. It's not because of a lack of respect, but more because I feel like there are others out there who can do a much better job. However, this weekend saw two passings which I feel compelled to mention.

We learned on Friday of the loss of Japanese actor Shunsuke Ikeda, featured in such tokusatsu favorites as RETURN OF ULTRAMAN and KIKAIDA 01. As you might recall, I watched the entire KIKAIDA 01 series last year. The show has its share of problems, but Ikeda-san is never one of them. He always turned in great work, even though the series wasn't as focused on his character as the title would lead you to believe. If I could ask for one thing differently from KIKAIDA 01, it would be to give me more of Ichiro/Kikaida 01.

On Saturday, illustrator Al Williamson left us. I raved about the book collecting his Flash Gordon work in August. But Williamson's career was far more extensive than even that iconic spaceman. Many knew him for his work on STAR WARS comics and newspaper strips, or from the classic EC Comics from the 1950s, or from any number of other sources. Ironically, I recently reacquired a handful of Marvel books that feature him inking Steve Epting. I am proud to say that one of only two letters I've had printed in Marvel publications praises Al Williamson's work.

August Ragone has an essential and informative memorial to Shunsuke Ikeda on his blog. Flesk Publications' owner John Fleskes has posted the official announcement approved by the family for Al Williamson. I urge you to check them both out.

Two different men, on two different continents, with two different careers and lives. And yet, I'll feel their losses equally. Rest in peace, gentlemen. You both gave us your best.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Nightmare Made Flesh

Urban Nightmare by Kabuki Katze
Urban Nightmare by Kabuki Katze


A Nightmare Made Flesh by Christopher Elam

I grew up in "The Minors." When I was 12, I saw my little brother Dennis gunned down in front of me. That's the kind of thing you never forget.

I've always strived to better myself, and make the most out of the opportunities I have in my life. Somewhere along the way, as I studied my people's African heritage, I left Jim Lawrence behind and found Xolani Shabangu in his place. But I've never forgotten my roots. That's why I moved back here.

The old neighborhood might be even worse now than when I left it. I've worked hard to be a civic leader and make a difference in people's lives, but there's only so much you can do when faced with such crushing poverty. That's especially true when the establishment would rather sweep the problem under the rug and pretend your concerns don't exist.

One evening in particular will be burned into my brain forever. My outreach session had just finished when a hail of gunfire filled the air. Drive-by shooters left 4 people dead. One of them was a 10 year old boy - the same age Dennis had been when he left for a better place.

Those gunmen had been trying to send me a message, but it was others who paid the price. As I watched a woman crying as she held her lost baby, I felt a despair I hadn't felt in a long, long time. Would those jackals really win? For a moment, I wished they had taken me, too.

I laid in bed that night, staring at the ceiling. I thought about Captain Satellite, and all the good he did. But even if Captain Satellite lived in Major City, he belonged to the world. Captain Satellite was too busy fighting terrorists, super villains, monsters, and aliens to have time to deal with the small stuff like muggers and pushers.

But what if...what if there was a super hero for the little guy? A hero who patrolled the streets and kept them safe. A hero who made a difference on a smaller scale. A hero who tried to prevent what had happened hours earlier. Why couldn't a man do that for his community?

Well, why couldn't he?

Three nights later, I saw a young woman hurrying home from a late night work shift, and I saw the predators lying in wait for her. But none of them saw me.

When those punks slithered out the shadows and I heard a switchblade open, I acted. I emerged from my hiding place behind them and told the girl to run away. As she obeyed, her would-be attackers angrily whirled to face me.

"You're a dead man!" one of them screamed. "Who do you think you are?"

My muscles tensed beneath my rainjacket, preparing for the first of many lessons I would be teaching on the streets. "I'm the Urban Nightmare," I seethed, "and I'm taking back my city."

No one has forgotten my name since then. Crime will never go away, but now the criminals look over their shoulders, too. Sometimes, that's the best you can do when faced with impossible odds.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Shelley Sweeney

As amazing as it is to me, it was almost a full decade ago that GODZILLA 2000 was released in American theaters. Boy, I was super-excited for that - saw it twice, despite it only playing at the (now-closed) bottom feeder cinema. In fact, I was so excited that I couldn't contain myself at one point and inadvertently blurted out something in response to the action on-screen.

The amusing part of this anecdote is that it came during one of the crowd shots, when I exclaimed to a clueless Louisiana audience, "Hey, it's Shelley Sweeney!"

Shelley Sweeney, if you don't know, is a Canadian model and actress living in Japan. She made a big impression on Godzilla nerds the world over in the 1993 GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA. She later turned up, albeit in a much smaller role, in GODZILLA VS. DESTOROYAH (1995). There were also appearances in shows like ULTRAMAN TIGA, MEGARANGER, and B-FIGHTER. So seeing her playing a reporter in an incidental role wasn't exactly news. But it was still exciting!

In the last year, it was been my privilege and my pleasure to get acquainted with Shelley Sweeney via the magic of Facebook. Even though our interaction has been limited at best, I feel I can say with confidence that she is as classy and personable as she is beautiful. And that is saying a lot, because Shelley is an absolute knockout.

You can learn more if you visit Shelley Sweeney's official website. Be sure to tell her that Christopher Elam's OWARI sent you!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Kabuki Katze's Greatest Captain Satellite Hits - Vol. 1

Captain Satellite and Shelly Ericson
Captain Satellite & Shelly Ericson

Firegirl vs. Hugo Beaumont and the Phantom Rogue
Firegirl vs. Hugo Beaumont & the Phantom Rogue


Continuing the Cap art trend from yesterday, I thought I'd post this entry to take us into the weekend. You've seen both of these images before, in this entry and this entry. However, those older entries only included smaller versions, and linked you to Kabuki Katze's dA page.

That was all well and good, but I decided that I should have the full-size versions available here, too. It seemed especially silly to not have them here when I considered that I would be hosting a number of images that aren't available anywhere else. Why skimp on a pair of triumphs like these?

Oh, and "Vol. 1"? Does that mean there's more to come? Yes. You'll be seeing both new Cap art from Kabu, and vintage art dating all the way back to 2005.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

It's In The Cards

One of the joys of being a member of deviantArt is that it has led to a lot of cool things that otherwise wouldn't have happened. A case in point is the image in this entry.

Sean Moore is an artist based in Florida who has done some of the sketch cards that are randomly inserted in packs of non-sports cards these days. He has recently been offering people a chance to get their own personal sketch cards, drawn to order.

This was simply too irresistible to me, so I pre-ordered a few and asked for renditions of a few of my personal characters. You can see the results below.

PSC - Captain Satellite, Devil Dynamite, Blue Behemoth, Drone Man

We have Captain Satellite (natch), Devil Dynamite, Blue Behemoth, and Drone Man. As you might imagine, just seeing these scans was quite the charge. Now that I have them in my hands, it's even better.

Sean is still taking orders for these Personal Sketch Cards, and is even running a special deal at this writing. I have another order in the pipeline, and you can expect to see more of the Captain Satellite crew in card form. If you like what you see, I'd recommend motoring over to his dA page at the link above and checking out the terms. It would be money well-spent.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

History, Revised : The Caesar Salad

The Caesar Salad has been the source of many spurious tales through the years. The actual story is quite fascinating and deserves to be told.

The Caesar Salad is named for its inventor, the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar. It is not commonly known that Caesar was an absolute connoisseur when it came to the matters of green leafy vegetables. Since the majority of his time was consumed with the day-to-day business of running a vast empire, he chose to keep his burgeoning salad business a secret. Considering subsequent events, this bit of caution may have been his undoing.

It is widely believed that Caesar was slain due to internal politics. Actually, it was the professional jealousy of his "good friend" Brutus. Brutus had entered the catering business after the breakup of his band the Ides Of March (they had been unable to follow up the smashing success of the song "Vehicle"), but was stymied in his efforts by the Not Caesar's Catering Service. A late night break-in at his rival's headquarters, subsequently revealed by informant Aurelius Sexius, brought the truth to light.

Brutus' plan was cunning and simple. One sabotaged Salad Shooter later, Julius Caesar was no more. As the Romans gathered to pay homage to their fallen emperor and pray to the great god Popeil, one wiseacre piped up and said, "I have not come to bury Caesar or to praise him - but to get that damn salad recipe!"

This touched off days of burning and pillaging. When it was all said and done, an unknown ruffian had absconded with the recipe and proceeded to bootleg it far and wide. Thus, the Caesar Salad went down in the annals of history while its true source remained forgotten. Until now, that is.

Friday, June 4, 2010

*WARNING -- ELECTRICITY IS DANGEROUS*

Let's talk about Power Comics today. And what, pray tell, was Power Comics? Power Comics was a series published by Eclipse Comics in the 1980s that reprinted superhero comics done by British talent for the African market. Here's a little of how Dave Gibbons explained it to Jim Salicrup in Comics Interview #16 (October 1984; the place I learned where these stories existed) :
"My agent was approached by a company in Nigeria. They wanted to do a black version of SUPERMAN without having to pay the people who created SUPERMAN. It was called POWER MAN. Probably they should have paid Marvel something. (Laughter.)"

Fast forward a bit, and Eclipse had major success with their repackaging of the "Marvelman" strip from Warrior under the title Miracleman. The name change was necessitated by, you guessed it, Marvel Comics. The twists and turns of Marvelman/Miracleman since then are enough to fill a book (not kidding here), but for our purposes, all you need to know is that it gave Eclipse incentive to search for something that might interest people who bought Miracleman. That's my assumption as to what led to Power Comics.

I mean, you can't fault the logic. On the surface, it seems like a surefire success. First, the stories were produced in the U.K., and the 1980s comics mania for all things British was on par with the 1960s "British Invasion" in music. The art was produced by two men who were eminently bankable (Gibbons and Brian Bolland) at the time. And the book even required relettering just like Miracleman to avoid hassles from Marvel. Hence, "Powerman" becomes "Powerbolt" in Power Comics.

The hitch in this cunning plan is the key difference between Miracleman and Power Comics. While Miracleman features some of the smartest and most challenging comic writing of its era, Power Comics, to be charitable, doesn't. That Nigerian company seemed to seriously question the abilities of its potential readership, and demanded stories that are even less sophisticated than you could imagine. Heck, they even required each panel on each page be individually numbered so no one would get confused about the sequence. So whereas Miracleman is still revered as a landmark, Power Comics is an obscure curio.

The aspect of Power Comics that has always floored me, especially given the concerns of its original sponsor over whether kids would "get" what was happening, is how Powerbolt recovered when he was injured. You see, our intrepid hero's origin is that he was struck by lightning as a child, and this granted him special powers. The lightning even "calls" him when danger is nearby. For reasons I don't recall catching, his only weakness is a snakebite. Naturally, it follows that he gets bitten by snakes almost as many times as gangsters stumbled across stray Kryptonite meteors in 1960s Superman comics.

What does Powerbolt do when he gets a snakebite? Well, here's one extreme example :
Powerbolt Fig. 1
You might think there's no way they would actually depict this in a comic book, but you would be wrong :
Powerbolt Fig. 2

Wow. And just think, I saved until last to mention Powerbolt's implied prodigious prowess as a lover. Apparently, that Nigerian company thought such a detail was important, too.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Tale Of Two Annes

If you have seen the TV series ULTRASEVEN, you know that the heroine of the show is "Anne Yuri" (called "Donna" in the now nigh-forgotten Cinar English dub aired on TNT), played by the lovely and talented Yuriko Hishimi. In fact, Hishimi embodies Anne so well that it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role.

But suppose that wasn't always the case?

I have a theory, and I will be the first to admit that I know of no anecdotal support for it. Still, circumstantial evidence for it seems to point to...well, something. My theory is that Yuriko Hishimi was not the first choice to play Anne Yuri in ULTRASEVEN.

Well then, who else might have played the part? This woman.

Anne Mari is not well-known even among Japanese film fans in the West, but it appears she had carved out an impressive career for herself by 1967. So much so, I don't think it would be a stretch to imagine Tsuburaya Productions wanting her as a regular on one of their shows. Plus, there is the fact that she had already played a similar role ("Patra", from Science Patrol India) in an episode of ULTRAMAN.

Also - Anne Mari, Anne Yuri? Is this just chance? Maybe, maybe not.

So, why did Anne Mari not play the part of Anne Yuri, if it was offered to her? Who knows? Maybe she wanted to maintain her film career and felt it might interfere. Whatever the reason, Yuriko Hishimi ended up as the heroine of ULTRASEVEN and it wound up being the defining role of her career. Personally, I like them both.


2010 Commentary : An earlier version of this piece ran on my old Livejournal on September 12, 2005. The omission of a link for my friend M.Y. Chong is mainly because I have no idea what (if any?) site she currently uses.

This article gained an interesting second life after I posted it, and is one of those times when you have to file things under "You just never know!" Why's that? This is why. At least, I think that is the original, as I seem to recall it got a lot of mileage.

Sadly, my own translation attempts and inquiries to others better-versed in Japanese all indicate that Japanese fans are unaware if my theory is true or not. They do, however, appear to be intrigued by it. I wonder if I am the first person to suggest it?

Also, please note that the Japanese blog author felt the need to provide a special translation for the phrase "ended up." Who woulda guessed THAT would be the part that got "lost in translation?"

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Everything Old Is New Again

Yesterday was a rather momentous day for the Return of Jetman site. Episode 1 made its return in revamped form, and that marks the beginning of new "airings" of the entire series. Longtime readers might notice some subtle updates and corrections that have been made. Let me tell you, there is very little more frustrating to me as a writer than coming across typos that have eluded me for EIGHT YEARS. Wow.

Reviewing that particular story is an eye-opener to me every time. It was very tentative when Lewis Smith wrote his original drafts back in 1995, and I was definitely very unsure of myself when I wrote this version in 2002. Lewis' work evolved considerably from that initial installment, to the point where he was ready to apply the lessons learned from ROJ to his own creations. He's done that amazingly, as both Gunmetal Black and Seven Spheres Legend can attest. I finally feel confident enough in my own characters that I am ready to do the same thing now, and you've been witnessing some of that evolution happen on this very blog.

I have stated in the past that launching the sequel "New Return of Jetman" series was something of a mistake on my part. I still sort of think that. ROJ tied up very neatly, and there was no real need to do any kind of follow-up. However, I was caught up in the spirit of the story in 2003, and proposed some things to keep that spirit alive after the main story was finished. That stuff became the main thrust of NROJ because it seemed a shame to let it go to waste.

When I began NROJ in 2005, I only envisioned it going on for a year. I had no idea the rollercoaster ride of life that was about to happen to me, and I couldn't have imagined the second series would still be sitting unfinished in 2010. There have been many, many times during the intervening years where I viewed NROJ as a chore and a burden. In fact, the only reason I continued it at all was because I had made it available to the public and therefore felt committed to reaching the end. Otherwise, I would have felt like I cheated everyone that cared about those characters.

So I kept working on NROJ even when I'd just have rather forgotten the whole deal, and something profoundly odd happened. One of my goals in tackling the first series on my own was to prepare myself to write other things. I never felt like I achieved that particular goal, and that was a major disappointment. As I worked on NROJ, sometimes under protest, I found that pushing myself led me to create new and different ideas - ideas that, while building from the experience, were drifting further and further away from writing about a Japanese superhero team.

During the last year or so, I finally realized that the struggles in piecing together NROJ were inadvertently laying the foundation to tell new and different stories when this project was over. It was liberating to throw aside the fear that I was a one-trick pony only capable of compelling people with a fan-made sentai that wasn't even my creation in the first place. I could do my own thing, and have it be totally mine. The Captain Satellite/My World profiles and "Shelly's Story" are examples of that.

"New Return of Jetman" is still not quite finished, but that conclusion is definitely in sight now. And honestly, even if the series was unnecessary from a dramatic point-of-view, it does do a lot of novel things, and addresses some weaknesses I perceived in the first series. I mean, Dirk Dixon alone might be one of my greatest ideas ever, and he works best in the context of this story.

I look back on the last 15 years, and it really sometimes is about the little things. I think I remember the collaboration between Lewis and I on ROJ better than anything else from 1995. Would it have been the same if he had chosen the obvious route and created his Jetman sequel as a starring vehicle for the TV characters, rather than his own original heroes? Would we have sustained interest without his lightning in a bottle creation of Green Wyvern? Would I even be writing any kind of fiction if Lewis hadn't essentially and very generously handed me the keys to his story in 2001 and let me drive it around to see where it took me?

I don't have any answers to those questions, and thankfully, I won't need to find them.

If you haven't tried it yet, now is as good a time as any to check out Return of Jetman. You can still get in the ground floor of this relaunch and experience it like it was new. Even though it is far from perfection, I am still quite proud of the work everyone has put into it.