Friday, May 29, 2009

Worst of Fighter

Does a person really count as a "mixed martial arts fighter" if their one bout ended with them being carried out on a stretcher?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Toei Tokusatsu Hero Box - Disc 4

(See? I haven't forgotten this.)

Some odd shows cropped up in the latter half of the 1970s. I know there are folks who would label the entire tokusatsu genre "odd", but Toei really seemed to be trying to do something different from the standard henshin hero at that time. The results were...well, mixed. This disc contains some cinematic artifacts of that period.

THE KAGESTAR was apparently an attempt to do an "American" style superhero show. Check out the dude's overly large star-spangled cape just for starters! As I understand it, there were also a lot of villains who were completely unconnected to one another. Well, they get to team up here, but my enduring memory of this featurette is the hero jumping to kick a huge satellite dish OFF A MOUNTAIN. This was sort of out there even by the standards of the folks who gave us the Kamen Riders.

KYODAIN is the slightly unholy result of merging the Toei hero aesthetic with a style akin to ROBOKON. I can't call it bad, per se, but some of the action sequences are almost headache-inducing the way they are set up. This series is notable for being the only non-Rider tokusatsu to feature Takeshi Sasaki ("Hayato Ichimonji"), and it co-stars singing star Mitsuko Horie.

NINJA CAPTOR is obscure even by Toei superhero standards, and that is saying something. It's a 7 member team of heroes, in a move that both does and doesn't anticipate super sentai (it comes after GORANGER, but before BATTLE FEVER J). The real novelty is that the team includes both Daisuke Ban (Naoya Ban here) and Kenji Ushio! Yes, you too can marvel to Jiro and Jigoku Daishi fighting for the same side!

DAI TETSUJIN 17 ("Giant Iron Man 17") is represented with two separate movies. The first is made up primarily of the first episode, with some of the second one thrown in for good measure. The editing on this pretty much throws continuity out the window. The second is a full episode, and is the last stand of the villainous Captain Roper! OK OK, that's his character's name in the American English dubbed compliation video BRAIN 17, but you've got to admit it has a nice ring! And you sure can't go wrong with legend AKIHIKO HIRATA in the role, either!

DAI TETSUJIN 17 is a show of many influences. Though credited to the pen of Shotaro Ishinomori, it's hard to miss its similarties to Mitsuteru Yokoyama's TETSUJIN 28/GIGANTOR and GIANT ROBO/JOHNNY SOKKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT. If this wasn't a Toei show, it would probably be actionable. There are also strong thematic connections to both the animated "super robot" shows and Tsuburaya's giant hero genre. In many ways, I'd call DAI TETSUJIN 17 Toei's most atypical 1970s tokusatsu show. I also think it may be one of my favorites.

With the possible exception of DAI TETSUJIN 17, none of the shows featured on this disc are well-remembered today even in tokusatsu fan circles. While I wouldn't call any of them a "must see", they all manage to be entertaining in their own right. Well, maybe not KYODAIN - I'll let you judge that for yourself if you get the chance.

Next time in this ongoing review series (when I remember it), we'll talk about Disc 5! That's right, I have no special hook for you on this entry. Sadness.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pretzel Logic

You know, I don't care what your feelings are about SPACE GHOST COAST TO COAST, I still say this is one of the funniest panels I have ever seen in a comic book.

Trust me, context would not help

From : Cartoon Network Presents #2 (DC Comics; Sep. 1997). Script : Matt Wayne. Pencils : Joe Brozowski. Inks : Bob Smith. Letters : Pat Brosseau. Colors : Trish Mulvihill. Editor : Bronwyn Taggart. © The Cartoon Network, Inc. and Hanna-Barbera.

Monday, May 18, 2009

For Sarapuu - EVERYBODY

For Sarapuu - EVERYBODY

(Click to view full-size)

This piece was originally drawn and submitted to my deviantArt account on April 1, 2007. It was most definitely not an April Fool's Day joke.

I had been messing around with drawing some of my old childhood characters during this time, and was entertaining the notion of doing a big picture depicting a bunch of them in action. The original idea was for a "reunion" shot - and that picture did wind up happening eventually. But another idea jumped ahead of it in terms of importance.

I had a befriended a young lady who went by the handle of Sarapuu on dA in 2005. She was always so cheerful and positive, and she never failed to make me smile. Sara was having a rough go of things at this point in her life, and I decided to give her some giftart to maybe cheer her up. The concept quickly grew out of control, and incorporated characters from my current pantheon as well as the childhood favorites.

The lineup : The Viking, Captain Satellite, Thunder Man, Enemy Alien, Ferro Man, Red Circle, Hugo Beaumont, Force Field, Bat Eater, Black X, Unknown Man, Drone Man, Bird Man, Exploding Man, Elastic Man, Muscle Man, Klaytron/Slaytron, Ultimate American, a Third World agent, Firegirl, Mr. Tough, Avenging X, Elektroid, Black Terror, Neutro, Blue Behemoth, Conehead, Amazing Girl, Sherman Tank, Muscle Woman, Black Knight, Conqueror, Shelly Ericson, and Urban Nightmare. That's the best I can do as far as listing them in order. You'll be seeing most of them again on this blog.

This picture accomplished its goal of bringing a smile to Sara's face. What's more, it sparked a creative outburst from her using my characters. I was humbled and amazed to see how she could breathe life into my crude sketches.

In a departure from my rule against discussing personal matters on this blog, I should mention that Sara and I eventually became more than just friends. That aspect of our relationship has concluded for now, but I still consider her one of the best friends I've ever known. She has changed me for the better, and I continue to treasure everything she brought into my life. She is the best, and don't let anyone tell you any differently.

Sara, this one's for you. I raise a glass to all the great memories we've made, and all the great memories yet to come.

Friday, May 15, 2009

History of ROJ - Part 5

Part 5 - Today's Lesson, Boys & Girls

"Return of Jetman" was always, for good or bad, one of the central components of OWARI - even when we tried to shuffle it to the side. One of the reasons for OWARI's birth was to publish ROJ and the fact that most of it never saw the light of day was always a sore spot for me. Getting the chance to do justice to it and the characters I grew to love was one of the highlights of my writing...well, "career" is far too strong of a word. Let's say "hobby" instead. It was tricky making sure Green Wyvern didn't take over the whole thing again (*laughs giddily*), but that was a challenge I was willing to take. It wasn't necessarily brilliant, but I never intended it to be. I only wanted it to be faithful to the material and a good read. In the process, I learned a lot about writing, and myself.

Lewis didn't come out too badly from the ROJ experience, in my estimation. The positive reinforcement and collaboration seemed to spark more and more creativity in him. When ROJ went away the first time, parts of it were reincarnated in "Seven Spheres Legend". When Lewis self-published GUNMETAL BLACK #1 in 2002, it took months for me to realize that it was (unintentionally) his upscale version of the book I had promised him in 1999. Stray influences from the story still pop up here and there. If the original ROJ made Lewis' subsequent artistic triumphs possible, it was a success.

So, how to sum up ROJ? Well, Lewis Smith started this series rolling way back when, so it's only fitting that he has the last word. In OWARI #11 (August 2002), in his "More Truth Than Reality" column, Lewis wrote:

"It was good for me. It gave me the confidence to go on and do later stuff, and there's always a part of me that wants to go back and do the old number one last time. Because like all good rock and roll songs, it takes you back to a time when it was fresh and you had a power over life you never knew you had. A time when it felt like you could take on the world with what little you had...and win."




Get the full story at!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

History of ROJ - Part 4

Part 4 - Reborn! Return of Jetman

ROJ never really went away for us. During the summer of 2001, Lewis did four new pictures for it just for his own amusement. Both of us wrote reflections on the series in various places. But we had, by and large, consigned it to the past. At least for a little while.

Assorted personal issues had sort of left me adrift in the early months of 2002. I was scrounging about looking for something new, something different from what I had been doing. In the midst of this lack of direction, my thoughts returned to "Return of Jetman".

On April 7, 2002, someone with the username "Ali24" began a thread on the now-defunct Xenorama ezboard message board asking about Return of Jetman. To say this left me flabbergasted is a bit of an understatement. When I replied to this thread, I opined, "It's unlikely at this point the story will ever be finished."

As far as I knew at the time, that statement was true. And yet...the more I thought about ROJ and the potential it held, the more I became gripped by a sensational idea. I could take the series and finish it myself. I could use its familiar territory to return to fiction writing in earnest for the first time in years. And then - I could post it on the Internet!

I did what I usually do when I have a radical idea - I started to work on it in secret. No sense in getting anyone excited if nothing came of it. I sat down with Lewis' originals and determined that my best course of action would be to revamp the whole thing from the ground up, using his plot structure as my guide. This was no knock on his storytelling, but rather an acknowledgment of the fact that we are not going to approach a story the same way. If this new ROJ was to have any stylistic continuity, it would have to be me from start to finish.

My plan was ambitious - TOO ambitious. I wanted to write an elaborate, 52 story epic that would emulate the basic structure of the Japanese "sentai" shows that inspired the story. As I worked my way through the planning process, I came to understand that such lofty goals were setting myself up for failure, or at best mediocrity. I wasn't ready to do something of that scope. I scaled back gradually until I arrived at the present total of 14 stories for ROJ.

The glue that bound my new story structure together was something I called "Uchu Sentai Galaxyman" years ago. Basically, while Lewis was creating ROJ, "Galaxyman" was a similar concept that I was toying with in my head. I never set any of it down in writing, but I developed a general plotline for "Galaxyman" that I found satisfying. I incorporated workable elements from that plotline into my new ROJ concept, with modifications.

(Ironically, in between my creation of "Galaxyman" and my relaunch of ROJ, one of Toei's sentai series was named GINGAMAN, which translates as..."Galaxyman". I guess it was too good a name to go unused forever.)

Well, when I had something solid, I presented it to Lewis for his approval. He was surprised but enthusiastic. Of course, he couldn't realize what he was getting himself into by greenlighting the thing. You see, I had loved Lewis' 4 new ROJ pictures. So much so, I wanted to put them up on the 'net. The story gave me a perfect excuse. But he had only done four characters. I would need the rest. This led me to actually commission Lewis to do new versions of those characters he had created so long ago. I think "dumbfounded" would be the best way to describe his reaction. But Lewis came through with flying colors, turning out some sensational new pictures.

While Lewis worked on his art, I was toiling away on recreating the magic of 1995. No one was more surprised than me that it was working. The new ROJ was coming together better than I could've dreamed possible. I came to realize that the ROJ site was not just a faraway possibility. It was something that HAD to happen and SOON.

I quietly posted early drafts of the first two episodes of the "new" Return of Jetman series on Lewis' late lamented ESB/GMB Forum in June 2002. They didn't garner much notice there, but seeing them online was a start. It also gave me the opportunity to work out a few kinks that I had let slip in due to a lack of attention and/or inspiration. But I had much bigger things in mind.

I would found my own message board, dubbed "OWARI Message Board", on July 30, 2002. This board was created for a myriad of reasons, but one of the main ones was for me to have a place to promote the new ROJ material and get feedback on it. It proved to be an excellent vehicle for those purposes, first in the separate "Return of Jetman" forum and later in the "OWARI" forum when I merged the forums together.

The "Return of Jetman" page made its official debut as a subsection of my OWARI site on November 18, 2002. A new episode debuted every month until ROJ reached its conclusion on December 23, 2003. The message board hosted a number of fun and enlightening discussions about the series, but it began to wind down after the narrative finished. I ultimately decided to shut the board down entirely in October 2004.

However, the wrap-up of the ROJ series didn't mean the end of ROJ entirely. I continued to bring in new content until I decided that my small ROJ webspace was entirely too limited to hold it all. This led me to launch in 2004, with the hopes of having all relevant ROJ content in one easy to find location.




Get the full story at!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

History of ROJ - Part 3

Part 3 - Not With A Bang...

ROJ Part 6 was a strange animal. Lewis had mentioned the big plans he had for it - it was to be a turning point of sorts. When it arrived, it was only 3 pages long. Coming on the heels of the epic Part 5, this was a shock.

What I didn't know then was that Lewis' own personal life was taking its toll on him. By the time he began work on Part 6, it had pretty much overwhelmed him. He felt like it would be best just to try to work his way through it. It didn't quite pan out.

After what he had already done in ROJ, I didn't feel like we could get away with Part 6 as it was. I discussed the matter with Lewis at length. At first, he was convinced he could rework the story into something a little more elaborate. A letter dated July 9, 1997 includes a list of 17 (!) replies to suggestions I had made. Most of these have faded from my memory, but one was to call the baddies "The Chaos Coalition" - the first use of that name. I was thinking it might be useful when we restarted.

Yes, as incredible as it sounds, we considered redoing the whole thing from the ground up only two years after we began. I don't know why either. That ended up falling by the wayside quickly. Eventually, Lewis decided that he just couldn't go any farther with the series.

At this point, I apparently volunteered to PLOT the rest of the series, with Lewis writing the actual stories. It sounds good in theory, but the evidence indicates otherwise. The plot notes I wrote out - the rewrites of Parts 3 & 4 (with plenty of gratuitous ideas added on) - some of my suggestions - all of it points to the inescapable conclusion that ROJ would've gone to hell in 1997 if we had been able to make our plan work. I kid you not, I cringe when I read some of it today.

It was all academic. I stubbornly continued to work on the next issue of OWARI even though I knew I really couldn't publish it. Lewis still wanted to do ROJ, but his heart wasn't in it anymore. Eventually, the whole thing just petered out. Though neither of us ever came out and said it, I think we both knew the truth. ROJ was dead.

Or was it? By January 1999, I had abandoned the idea of ever publishing OWARI again. Naturally, a new issue came out not too long afterward.

Lewis and I had continued to correspond, but we hardly ever discussed ROJ. I clung to the notion of bringing OWARI back for a long time, but finally discarded it as unworkable. Then I was struck by a thunderbolt of inspiration ("Change the format!") and completed OWARI #4 (April 1999) in one week. OWARI #5 (July 1999) followed close on its heels.

The triumph of reviving my almost totally forgotten fanzine led me to consider the fate of ROJ. I conferred with Lewis and we hatched a cunning plan to bring it back. ROJ would return - but NOT in OWARI itself. It would instead be reprinted, completed, and expanded as a separate publication of its own (though still under the "OWARI" banner to try to avoid legal entanglements). Each story would be accompanied by brand-new spot art by Lewis. Lewis turned out two magnificent drawings in short order and I wrote a teaser that I dropped into OWARI #6 (October 1999). We were off and running!

Er, or maybe not. After a strong start, the new ROJ proposal stalled. In the time since ROJ, Lewis had established his own little fiefdom on the Internet and he was turning out material on a regular basis. I'm not sure the exact timeframe on it, but his much-storied "Seven Spheres Legend" was coming out in this period.

So, why am I telling you this? Because Lewis had volunteered to complete ROJ not because he wanted to finish it, but because he felt like he should finish it. He didn't have a clear idea of the direction he wanted and literally had started over with every new letter. I backpedaled a little in OWARI #7 (March 2000), saying that we were "working on it".

Well, as 2000 progressed, even dense ol' me sensed that something was wrong. I pressed Lewis more than once, but he always insisted everything was fine. I told him, in essence, "I don't want you to do this if it isn't something you want to do."

Inevitably, the other shoe dropped. Lewis' letter dated October 15, 2000 declared the ROJ revival "stillborn". We tossed around some publishing ideas in subsequent letters (Nov. 26, 2000, Dec. 26, 2000 & Feb. 23, 2001) involving Seven Spheres Legend, Lewis' Ronin character, the relatively new Kienan series (soon to be tagged "Gunmetal Black") and perhaps some sort of ROJ article. Nothing came of it, due largely to difficulties I had encountered on other projects.

I regretted that I wasn't able to give Lewis the publication I had promised him. However, I was relieved that we'd quit bashing our heads into walls over ROJ. Clearly, its time had passed.




Get the full story at!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

History of ROJ - Part 2

Part 2 - Behold! Green Wyvern

Lewis' letter dated July 29, 1995 turned out to be a pivotal one. Midway through page 1, he says, "I've got a sixth member, why not push the envelope and add a seventh?" Well, my fear was that the story might become too crowded and not do justice to all the characters already floating around. Still, it was Lewis' baby, so he had final say. He outlined his plans for a character then named Kujaku. "Kujaku" is Japanese for "peacock" and also the name of a character in GOSEI SENTAI DAIRANGER. Lewis had even gone so far as to design a chariot mecha for Kujaku based on a peacock motif. But he was not satisfied with what he had done and felt it needed alteration. I inadvertently set him on a different path with my unlikeliest contribution to ROJ as a whole - art I did when I was 12 years old.

It's probably not surprising that I loved the cartoon BATTLE OF THE PLANETS as a kid in the late 1970s-early 1980s. I even had my very own BATTLE OF THE PLANETS lunchbox, which went M.I.A. years ago. BOTP was an "Americanized" version of the hit Japanese show GATCHAMAN, but I didn't know that at the time. All I knew was that I loved the style and I loved the characters. In fact, I loved them so much, I did something that was rather rare for me - I concocted my own stories about them.

Oh, I was always making up tales of superheroes in those days, don't get me wrong. But my superhero stories always involved original characters, even if they were blatant copies of established characters. BOTP was the only series where I felt the urge to extend their adventures through my own imagination. I blame my spotty exposure to the show and its comic book tie-in for leading me down that path.

How did this fanfiction lead to an influence on ROJ? I'm glad you asked. It's all due to one of the innumerable characters I made up for my BOTP adventures. His name was David the Green Condor.

David was an ordinary guy who was given powers by Zoltar (Berg Katse) and the forces of planet Spectra to be an evil counterpart to the heroes of G-Force (Gatchaman). Certainly not a bad plan, except for the fact that David was not inherently evil. A bit of a rebel, sure, but far from a villain. Plus, he developed a crush on G-Force member Princess (Jun). David ended up turning on his evil masters and the Green Condor (I thought Jason/Joe was a hawk then, rather than a condor) became a hero. Though he never officially joined G-Force, he was ready to fight by their side whenever they needed him.

Does any of this sound vaguely familiar to you? It should if you remember the early years of MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS. I was stunned by the parallels between my BOTP "fanfiction" (it mostly existed in my head) and the Green Ranger storyline as it first played out on MMPR. I don't think it was a case of my idea being ripped off (how?); it was just a lot of odd similarities. This was only driven home when Green Ranger actor Jason Frank started using his middle name - David.

The Power Rangers were going strong when ROJ was being developed, so I told Lewis during one of our conversations about the weird Green Condor/Green Ranger story. I even confessed to having done crude sketches of David and many other of my BOTP characters. Lewis somehow convinced me to photocopy that art and send it to him. I wonder if there was drinking involved?

I suppose my work had an effect on Lewis, because "Kujaku" soon became "Green Wyvern". Her picture arrived in short order and on August 14, 1995, Lewis provided me with a few details (Brackets are additions by me) :

"Green Wyvern's bird is a Japanese RPG standard and was thought up at the spur of the moment because the only bird I could think of that was green was a peacock. It's described different ways, but the best I can describe it is as a cross between a bird and a dragon. Jet Wyvern [rechristened Dragon Wyvern for the current series] is serpentine, like Ryusei-Oh [Ryu Ranger's mecha/robot from GOSEI SENTAI DAIRANGER], and converts to humanoid form. ...By the by, what did you think of Green Condor's final form? It's amazing what you set in motion, huh?"

I'll say. And I was willing to admit that I was wrong to have doubted Lewis' instincts. I liked Green Wyvern quite a bit, even though she tried her level best to be dastardly at every turn. She was a rogue Jetman, with a vendetta against the team. But she turned on her evil masters too and became a lone wolf. Ultimately...well, I suspect you may have an idea of where that was heading. Getting there is part of the fun.

A funny thing happened as ROJ continued to develop. Both of us began to put a lot of thought into Green Wyvern. We pondered her backstory, her motivations - the things that made her tick. As we did so, ROJ sort of became her story.

If you'll recall, ROJ was originally planned as a short fanfiction series for a Japanese superhero fanzine. While Lewis did a superb job of creating it and shaping it, I'm pretty sure that was how we both continued to view it - as a tribute to Japanese superheroes. But as Green Wyvern grew as a character, she somehow became...REAL to us.

This was a significant turning point for ROJ. I can't speak for Lewis, but this was the first time a character I had a hand in took on a life of their own. "Profound" is probably not too strong of word to describe that development. I think the focus on her increased as we went along because we were so fascinated with her. As we focused more on her, the story itself began to drift away from its origins as a Japanese superhero fanfic. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Although ROJ still had the trappings and characters, it ceased to be just a fanfiction and was transformed into its own story. Heady stuff.

Of course, there was still the matter of publishing this li'l epic. OWARI soon became a reality, with the first issue dated Oct./Nov. 1995. Strangely, there is absolutely NO "Return of Jetman" in it!

You see, by mutual agreement, Lewis and I decided to "hold" the first installment of ROJ until #2. We felt like the extra time would give us the chance to polish the story and make it something special. While that turned out to be true, it proved to be a double-edged sword.

OWARI #1 did have plenty of work from Lewis, including the story "Mysterious Shadow : Guyver 3". Today, that initial effort is a fascinating artifact, full of vitality but generally poorly planned and laid out. Still, the orders were decent and the feedback was encouraging. I set out to make the second issue an improvement in all respects.

As I sat down with ROJ Part 1 in preparation for OWARI #2, I made the decision to "re-edit" it for publication. At that juncture, all I did with the story was smooth over some rough spots in the narrative. Lewis gave me his approval, so that altered version was the one that saw print in OWARI #2 (May 1996). At last, months of work had led to something tangible. The reaction? Almost total silence.

OWARI #2 was somewhat better in most respects, but it still was a long way from looking good. I had also miscalculated a bit in that the contents were extremely limited (ROJ, two articles, and some artwork). The toughest part, however, was the lack of enthusiasm. Very few people who ordered #1 took the time to order #2. OWARI had failed to grab them as something they needed to continue getting.

Would it have made a difference if ROJ had run in #1? I really don't know, but the story would have reached a far wider audience than it did in #2. OWARI #2 had a print run of 50 copies and I never quite got rid of all of them.

For his part, Lewis was ecstatic to have gotten into print, even if it was only in a cheap fanzine. The stories and art he was turning out just got better and better with each passing month. His artwork especially became more daring. He was really finding his voice as a creator.

I continued to offer Lewis advice and suggestions for the story and, to his credit, he listened - even when they were bad. Despite the discouraging results of #2, I pressed ahead with work on OWARI #3. My "re-editing" on ROJ Part 2 was a bit more extensive in that I reworked portions of the story, but the lion's share of what saw print was Lewis Smith through and through.

While I was laboring over OWARI #3, Lewis was turning out some of his best work to that point - ROJ Parts 4 and 5. I can't even begin to describe how excited I was as I read them. Lewis had taken the story to a new level. Part 5, in particular (completed in two parts on July 11, 1996 & September 19, 1996), upped the ante of the story tremendously. With this new work in hand, I was really eager to see the project reach completion.

Alas, this amazingly fertile creative period coincided with one of the hardest periods of my personal life. I wasn't able to do any kind of justice to OWARI #3 (Nov. 1996). My well-intentioned efforts to cram as much as possible in it resulted in it being cluttered and hard to read in places. My own articles, so promising in my head, fell short of what I wanted. And promotion and distribution? Forget it. OWARI #3 was seen by less than 20 people. It was a disaster.

I felt horrible that not only was my 'zine failing before my eyes, but all the hard work Lewis was putting into ROJ was barely reaching anyone. This wasn't what I had envisioned at all. As I was struggling to figure out what to do, Lewis sent me ROJ Part 6. Unfortunately, that welcome arrival soon compounded our problems.




Get the full story at!

Monday, May 11, 2009

History of ROJ - Part 1

PREFACE : In the weeks leading up to the launch of the original "Return of Jetman" website in 2002, I teased the project with a thread entitled "History of ROJ" on the now-defunct OWARI Message Board. This thread outlined the evolution of "Return of Jetman" from its humble beginnings in 1995 up to the then-impending debut of the new site. This "Making of" feature was something that I enjoyed creating, and I feel like it generated excitement for ROJ. This week, I will be serializing an adaptation of that material, with numerous additions, adjustments, and what have you. Special thanks to series creator Lewis Smith and number 1 fan Amy Elam for sharing their insights into the days when ROJ only existed as a special secret among us.

Part 1 - The Coming of "Jetman 2"

"Dear Mr. Elam. I saw your classified ad in SENTAI #5." With those words, I began my association with Lewis Smith back in 1995.

First, a bit of background. After a few false starts, I had finally made my way into Japanese sci-fi fandom in 1994. I began receiving fanzines devoted to the subject and even wrote for a few of them. I was motivated to see new things and learn about all the fascinating movies and TV shows that were out there. In the latter part of that year, I decided to place classified ads seeking penpals and/or video traders in two of those fanzines - G-FAN and SENTAI.

This proved to be an incredibly smart move on my part. Those two ads brought me into contact with a lot of people and opened a lot of doors for me. Probably the most important certainly didn't seem all that momentous at the time.

Lewis Smith's first letter to me arrived from Chowan College (which?) in North Carolina probably sometime in January or February of 1995. I wish NOW I had saved the envelope, but oh well. It was printed from a computer (dot matrix!) and probably the most noteworthy thing he mentions in it is the KAMEN RIDER ZO video game that was released over here. There's nothing within that first letter to give any indication of things to come.

I wrote back to him, of course, and enclosed my video list. I was heavily into video trading at that point in time. Lewis didn't really have anything I needed, but I ended up making a deal with him and taped some stuff after he sent me some blank tapes. It seemed to work out fairly well and those early letters are filled with discussions on all sorts of Godzilla and sentai matters. We later worked out a system where he traded me computer printouts (I was a long way away from computer access) for tapes. We were already talking on the phone too, and we had hit it off pretty well.

Everything was going great, but there was still nothing too out of the ordinary. Our letters were getting longer though, and the discussions were getting more involved. Then, in a letter dated July 1, 1995, Lewis mentions my "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers vs. Godzilla" fan story which saw print in G-FAN #15 (May/June 1995). (NOTE : This story is kind of cute, but failed to be as humorous as I'd intended. I still kind of like it though). Lewis said, "I thought it was really cool, and I might try writing something like that soon. After all, what I'm writing now isn't that much different." He later discusses JETMAN and mentions a couple of times that it is one of his favorite sentai shows.

The handwriting was on the wall. By his next letter, Lewis had something to show me. That letter arrived in mid-July 1995 and starts out much like his previous ones. However, he quickly lets me know he's included a couple of things that would change everything (though neither of us knew it at the time). One was the story "Mysterious Shadow : Guyver 3", a short fan-fiction sequel to the two live-action GUYVER films. The other? Well, this is how he described it then:

". . .a top secret early sketch for a possible H-fan feature. . .Jetman 2!"
(For those of you unaware, "H-fan" refers to a working title for the Japanese sci-fi magazine that would be ULTRA-FAN, later KAIJU-FAN.)

Well, I was duly impressed and let Lewis know in no uncertain terms. In fact, I did more than just that - I asked him to contribute to a fanzine I was planning. I even offered him the guarantee of publishing JETMAN 2 instead of the uncertainty of a blind submission.

I had entertained the notion of publishing a fanzine at least as far back as 1994, but the idea had never amounted to anything. That was mostly because of the work it would have taken to do the whole thing on my own. Now, armed with Lewis' stories, art, reviews, etc. - done strictly for his own amusement, mind you - I knew I could put together a fanzine if he agreed to let me use his work. I was an incredibly prolific writer in those days and combining my work with Lewis' work would give me plenty to publish in the fanzine I would end up naming OWARI.

In a letter dated July 26, 1995, Lewis enthusiastically agreed to my proposal and outlined his plan for the as-yet-unwritten "main story" (i.e., first chapter) of JETMAN 2. He explained in rough detail the new team (such as the fact that they had capes like the heroes in GATCHAMAN, a big influence on us and the makers of the original JETMAN), their adversaries (who were in a constant state of flux), the story (the idea was for it to run 10 parts or so), and his "Jet Phoenix" character (who threatened to steal the show all by his lonesome). When the next envelope arrived, it contained the first draft of THE RETURN OF JETMAN.

Heh, that's another thing. Lewis HATED the name JETMAN 2 almost from the start and was determined to change it. He usually called the characters "Neo-Jetman" in the early going, blissfully unaware then that the series had a team by that name, too. My memory tells me that I was the one who coined the "Return of Jetman" title, but I have no written record of this. One title I DID suggest (because Lewis mentions it) is "Zoku Jetman", which roughly translates as "Jetman Continues." As you may have guessed, it was an unwieldy title that faded away almost immediately. My best guess at this late date is that the ROJ moniker was born in a telephone conversation. It's probably a play on the "Return of Ultraman" English title for KAITEKKA ULTRAMAN (for, like that series, the story focused on new characters rather than an actual return of the original).

Names aside, I really loved the first draft, and was suitably flattered when Lewis insisted on naming me co-author. After all, he was the one doing the really hard work. I took the first draft and decided to do something to earn that title. I did a little reworking on the prologue and added a couple of new scenes. I also wrote copious notes on the story as a whole (they're dated August 10, 1995). This was my first stab at writing ROJ, but it wouldn't be my last. Lewis took what I did to heart and in fact adapted some of it when he turned in the second draft of the story.

The story itself is actually pretty much the same story as the first episode of the current ROJ series. It's somewhat more primitive, of course, and a lot less detailed. More characterization would be added as time went on, and there would be more elements to flesh out the fictional world of ROJ. But the basics of what captured our imagination are all there.

The letters Lewis and I exhanged at that point were running several pages each. We were rambling about much of what we had before, but we were also bouncing all sorts of ideas for ROJ back and forth. It's fascinating to me to see the evolution of concepts which now seem so fundamental to the story. We had to work to get such things as Jetman's base and mecha the way we wanted them. And we were constantly hashing out the development of the plot and the characters.

As it turned out, the single most important element of the story to develop from that give-and-take of ideas was a particular character who would ultimately steer the course of the entire series, not to mention changing our outlook on it in the process. Ironically, I initially thought her introduction into ROJ would be a serious mistake. To paraphrase Lewis from an early ROJ story, I couldn't have been more wrong.




Get the full story at!