Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wearing His Foreigner Belt, I'm Sure

From Vic Garbarini's liner notes for Foreigner's The Very Best and Beyond (1992) :

Recently, Foreigner's Mick Jones was accosted by a famous model in a New York restaurant. "I've got a bone to pick with you!" Seems she was the ex-girlfriend of Johnny Rotten (now Lydon) of the Sex Pistols back in '78. She claimed Lydon kept her up for two nights dancing to a red vinyl promo disk of something called "Hot Blooded" that the former Pistol just couldn't get off his turntable.

For some reason, I very much doubt the veracity of this tale of Johnny Rotten secretly getting his groove on to Foreigner. But I hope with all my heart that it's true.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009



I purchased Jetta during March/April 2006, though it had originally been scheduled for November (?) 2005. I don't know what delayed it for several months. It was published by Airwave Publishing, and their website was my source for the cover image seen here. That site, and presumably Airwave itself, is no more. If anyone has information to the contrary, I'd love to hear it.

Anyway, this is a collection of 1950s stories by Dan DeCarlo, who would later gain more than a little recognition for his work at Archie Comics. The stories in here are certainly in the Archie mold, with a number of familiar teen comic archetypes. Except - it's all in THE FUTURE! DUM DUM DUM DUM!

Seriously, the stories are cute but hardly groundbreaking stuff. The only difference is all the silly futuristic trappings. The art is all attractive and reproduced fairly well. After seeing several horrible computerized "reconstructions", kudos to Airwave for getting it right. There is some misplaced text in the introduction, but overall I'd say this is a worthy investment for your funnybook dollar if you like teen humor and/or DeCarlo's art. Oh yes, and there's a brand-new story that hits the spot, too.

That's Jetta. It's nothing to get super-excited about, but an interesting read if you can find it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

My Top 10 Godzilla Movies

There was once a time when Godzilla flicks were my primary fandom. I still love them, but the enthusiasm I once had for them has flagged considerably over the years. I blame this on getting so immersed in them that they lost some of their appeal to me. The movies didn't change, but I did. I'm probably a little poorer as a result, but that's a danger of becoming too involved with anything.

Nevertheless, I can still kick back and enjoy the King of the Monsters every now and then. What follows is my purely subjective list of the Top 10 Godzilla films in terms of entertainment value. I've limited my choices only to the original 1954-1975 series, because anything beyond that is a whole other discussion.

This list is fluid, and could be somewhat different next week. But for today, this is MY...


10 - GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA/GODZILLA VS. THE THING (1964) : Often hailed by many fans as the finest Godzilla movie. Well, I like it just fine, but it doesn't grab me the way it does them.

9 - GODZILLA VS. GIGAN/GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND (1972) : Colorful and completely absurd, though loaded with way too much stock footage and stock music.

8 - TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975) : The swan song of the original series has some true greatness, even though its continuity is not the best.

7 - GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA/GODZILLA VS. THE COSMIC MONSTER (1974) : I am that rare person who thinks the first Mechagodzilla movie is much more fun than its successor. Heck, I even love King Seesar!

6 - DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968) : Not quite all the Earth's monsters, but more than enough to make your head spin. I like this movie so much that even I'm shocked it only comes in at this position, but the rest of the list beats it out for me (though some just narrowly).

5 - GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966) : This one ranks as highly as it does almost solely on the charismatic pair of Akira Takarada and Kumi Mizuno, neither of whom plays your standard issue character for them.

4 - INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER/MONSTER ZERO (1965) : My first Godzilla movie, and the one with Nick Adams in all his Nick Adams-ness. A little slow at times, and not enough monsters, but nostalgia bumps this one up a couple of slots.

3 - GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973) : Either beloved or reviled, this is one of the more polarizing entries in the Godzilla "canon". It's cheap and more than a little dopey in places, but still a good time.

2 - GODZILLA/GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (1954/1956) : The one that started it all! The Japanese cut is probably the better piece of cinema, but I have a soft spot for the Raymond Burr-starring American edit, too.

1 - GHIDRAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964) : From top to bottom, my favorite. The monster footage (including King Ghidorah's classic rampage), the human characters, the humor, the music - all of it adds up to a movie that never fails to bring a smile to my face.

And there you have it. If you're compulsively curious, here's the movies from that era that "bubbled under", and didn't reach my Top 10:

11 - SON OF GODZILLA (1967)
13 - KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962/1963)

For the record, I don't hate any of these movies, and would in fact watch any of them over the Godzilla films that followed the first fifteen. But that's just me.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Baker Street

I can't really explain why I love the song "Baker Street" so much. Is it Gerry Rafferty's vocals? Raphael Ravenscroft's brilliant saxophone? The slightly desperate tone of the lyrics? I tend to think it's all of the above, plus what can only be labeled "the magic of the music". Some songs just click. I like Gerry Rafferty's other work (including the classic Stealers Wheel tune "Stuck In the Middle With You"). I've liked the cover versions of the song I've heard from Foo Fighters and Waylon Jennings. But this particular version of the song truly resonates with me.

In 2005, I sort of adopted this song as part of the soundtrack of my life. I purchased a CD of Rafferty's 1978 album City to City just so I could have a copy. Then I decided that I would learn the words, and I can still belt them out on a moment's notice. My fannish devotion to this song is so well-known among my friends that there are several people who instantly think of me when they hear it.

Gerry Rafferty, wherever you are and whatever you're doing, thanks for "Baker Street". It gives me joy even in my lowest moments.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Under The Influences

If you're a creative type, you have influences. You might have moved away from them over time, but they made their mark on you in some fashion. I'm not much of an artist myself, so I can't really call any of my favorite artists "influences". Ah, but writing, that's another story. There is a short list of people who made such an impression on my (non-fiction) writing style that I still feel their presence to this day.

One is Roy Thomas, famed comic book writer/editor and current head honcho of Alter Ego magazine. I can't say his approach to scripting is much of an influence, but his letters pages and editorial voice definitely are. I was enthralled by his work in the 1970s-80s, and while the bloom is off that rose in many respects, I still hold him in very high esteem.

Another influence of mine is Damon Foster, pioneering (I bet he'd hate that word) editor of Oriental Cinema fanzine. Damon covered all sorts of films in his 'zine's heyday, and did so with a sense of humor and style that are often sorely lacking in fannish circles. I'm not even sure OC is still a current thing, but it was and is always a welcome sight to those of us who remember it.

The last person may be a bit surprising to many of you. It's Joe Kane, aka "The Phantom of the Movies". I found a copy of his book The Phantom's Ultimate Video Guide circa 1988-89, at a time when books of that nature were a bit harder to find in your corner bookstore. It opened my eyes to a whole world of movies not listed in the standard filmbooks. I often disagree with the Phantom's reviews, but his way with words left a deep and lasting impact on my own writing style - particularly when I use colorful and/or bizarre phrasings. So yeah, I'd call him an influence.

Who are your creative influences?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Triumphant! Green Wyvern

I recently commissioned my good friend Kabuki Katze to do a picture of ROJ character Green Wyvern in what I described to her as a "Frazetta type" pose. She just finished it, and her blog entry about it is worth reading.

"Smokin' Sentai Stunner" @ Kabuki Studios

I'd also suggest you check out her posting of the picture on deviantArt to see what all the cool kids are saying about it.

Thanks for such an excellent piece of artwork, Kabuki!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Metal Men, Slight Return

I want to make a small amendment to the previous entry. I stated that the story in Metal Men #45 was originally slated for First Issue Special. This may be true, and my gut instinct is that FIS was its original destination. However, the Metal Men were mentioned in the letter column of Super-Team Family #1 as making an appearance in #3 of that series. No creative team was listed there, but the Gerber/Simonson pairing gets the nod in #2's letter column when it is revealed that the rambunctious robots won't be in S-T Family after all because of their impending return in their own comic.

And since someone asked me about this, here's a sample of the negative reaction elicited by the 1970s Metal Men series from one Dave Blanchard :

METAL MEN #49 proved to be useful; it was a prime example of the worst type of hack-writing to ever be implemented between the covers of a four-color comic. If ever there was one single issue that could represent the bottom-of-the-barrel sort of comic, this is it. For the first time EVER, I was actually repulsed by a comic.


Pasko has missed the good boat. Pasko should be removed from the METAL MEN. Pasko is no good. Stop this stream of sewage immediately. Now.

These selected quotes from a letter appearing in Metal Men #51, though his missive in #52 wasn't a whole lot happier.

By the by, I'm pretty sure Dave Blanchard is still a voice on the comics internet, so there's a good chance he might show up here someday. Hi Dave! I hope you don't mind me digging up a critique that's over 30 years old!

(And to Marty Pasko, I liked your issues way more than Dave did.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Metal Men #45-#56 (1970s series)

As I chronicled in the pages of OWARI many years ago (in an article I should reprint here someday), the comic book that sealed the deal to make me a fan for life was Metal Men #48. The funny part is that I only owned TWO issues of the series - #48 and #50. I did manage to eventually read the run from #45-#49 in the criminally obscure DC trade paperback Art of Walt Simonson. Still, the remaining issues had proven elusive all these years. That is, until I took advantage of one of Lone Star Comics' recent sales, and put together the entire run of the 1970s revival of the title.

By way of explanation, the Metal Men are a band of robots with very sharply defined personality traits. They were decently successful for a portion of the 1960s before their book ran out of gas and was cancelled with #41. #42-#44 were all reprint collections from the early 1970s, during a period when DC experimented with a number of titles in this format. About three years later, it was decided to try again with new material, and a one-shot story originally slotted for the beautifully awful tryout/inventory dumping ground series First Issue Special instead launched Metal Men #45.

And the results? Well, they are mixed. I have a lot of affection for comic books from this period, and this series in particular, given its impact on my life. However, I'm not blinded by nostalgia into thinking they're all top-notch works. Everything in the 1970s industry was entirely too scattershot, and it only rarely made books that were consistent. In some ways, Metal Men is an example of how random comics could be.

It's hard to argue with the pedigree of the creators that got the ball rolling. Steve Gerber was arguably one of the hottest writers in comics in the 1970s, and his script for the debut issue hits the right notes. It's not as "out there" as his Marvel scripts, but it's still quite quirky and idiosyncratic. The art duties are handled by Walt Simonson (if you hadn't guessed from the opening paragraph), and this turned out to be his first regular series since the Manhunter strip from Detective Comics. It's offbeat and stylish work, and is more flamboyant than the gritty action called for in the Manhunter feature.

With #46, we get our first hint that Metal Men will not be a stable book. Gerber is out as writer (in fairness, the debut tale was originally commissioned as a one-shot, with no guarantee of a series). His replacement is Gerry Conway, the title's editor. This is not a bad choice, though there is no way even an experienced writer like Conway can ever hope to replicate Gerber's unique sensibilities. Simonson's artwork keeps a sense of continuity, as does Conway dutifully following the threads of Gerber's story through #46 and #47.

We arrive at #48, and yet another writer change. Gerry Conway departed for the sandy shores of Marvel (in fact, I think this was his two week stint as editor-in-chief there) and Marty Pasko was drafted to write the book from Conway's plot. Pasko quickly took his turn making his "mark" on the book, as it began to drift into even more flippancy than before. Recall, this is a revival engineered by STEVE GERBER'S scripting. This is the storyline that won over my tender young mind, and it's not hard to see why at this late date. Simonson's art and storytelling are simply magnificent, and he's at the top of his game.

...So naturally, it follows that he left the book right afterward. He hung around for a few more covers, but the interior artist became Joe Staton. There are, in my experience, comics fans who are down on Staton's artwork. I'm not one of them. His style is not "realistic", but then again, neither is Walt Simonson's. Staton has a pleasant, cartoony style, and he gets the points across dynamically. I don't think it's an accident that a ton of the comics I bought as a kid featured his pencilling and/or inking.

Pasko and Staton's presence in #50 are minimal, however, because Metal Men fell victim to the Dreaded Deadline Doom. So beyond a framing sequence, the bulk of that issue is given over to an excerpt of Metal Men #6 by Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, and Mike Esposito. This bit of 1960s awesomeness is pretty far out, even if a number of captions have been re-written (whether by Pasko, new editor Paul Levitz, or someone else, I don't know). Also of note in this issue's new material is a rather odd implication of a budding romance between MM creator Doc Magnus and his female shrink!

I don't have to explain the fundamental wrongness of breaching medical ethics that way, do I? To say this idea is summarily dismissed is to not go far enough. Not only is it never mentioned again, but the CHARACTER never appears again. Though I find myself wondering if it was the ethical implications of the matter that kiboshed the idea, or other concerns. Because, you see, Doc's doc happened to be an African-American woman.

At any rate, Staton takes over full art chores with #51, and retains those duties for the rest of this title's existence. The writing, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. That issue is a collaboration between Pasko and Jack C. Harris. It has enough distinctly Pasko earmarks to show his involvement. But it's #52 and #53 that are the issues that epitomize Pasko's direction for Metal Men.

I think when you trot out a villain named "Dr. Strangeglove" and give him a typewriter hand, you're signalling that you're playing matters tongue-in-cheek. Nothing wrong with that, and the Metal Men lend themselves well to humor. It just never seems like there's a strong enough commitment to the idea (and oh, was there some backlash from a few letter hacks!), and so it doesn't feel like it's given enough opportunity to develop. Pasko and Staton did better remembered humor in the Plastic Man feature that started in Adventure Comics a couple of years later and then bounced around (pun intended) after that book changed formats for the umpteenth time. But the seeds for that collaboration are planted here.

Then comes such an abrupt change of direction that it would give an Atlas/Seaboard comic a run for its money. Gerry Conway, of all people, is drafted back onto the title, and promptly begins playing the whole thing with an almost totally straight face. He takes a humorous Pasko ending and somehow manages to play it into a Very Serious change in direction. I'm not even sure the 60 day gap between issues for a bi-monthly series was enough time to lessen the shock of such a turn.

What happened? One can only guess it was done at the behest of editor Levitz in an attempt to boost sales. Ditto for that Green Lantern guest appearance, with his logo emblazoned on the cover. Those last three issues are by no means poorly done, but they're so different from what had gone before that they stick out like a sore thumb. Even compared to Conway's earlier scripts, it just isn't the same. And really - portraying the Missile Men as an unstoppable juggernaut across the universea, akin to Galactus? Really?

In the end, all of what was done in those last few issues didn't matter one iota, sales-wise. The book was cancelled with #56, with the Metal Men declared "citizens of the world" by the U.N. at the conclusion. It was an upbeat ending for the series, and then the Metal Men returned to their utility duty as potential guest stars.

One of the most striking things about the 1970s Metal Men as I read it was the hidden subplot you probably noticed during this overview. Namely, wow, that is a lot of creative team turnover for a book that only ran for two years and 12 issues. And since artists always take the rap for being flakes, it's worth noting that the book only had TWO during its abbreviated run. Simonson hung around for 5 issues, and Staton did the last six, and even contributed art to the fill-in issue. Both of those guys did full pencils and inks, so they did their jobs the best they could on the title.

There were four writers on the 1970s Metal Men during its 12 issues. FOUR. Five if you count Kanigher's story reprinted in #50, and six if you count Conway's second stint as a different writer. The latter sounds kind of ridiculous, but it's such a departure from his first run that I think it's almost plausible. There are at least three distinct directions for the book, and one fill-in issue that is essentially just wheel-spinning. Remember, this is a book that only ran for two years, and only racked up 12 issues.

That, in a nutshell, was one of the biggest problems with comic books in the 1970s. The creative team merry-go-round that plagued many books meant that they never could find a clear direction for the reader to get behind. If Joe Q. Comixfan liked an issue of something, the odds were better than average that either the writer or artist of this favored issue would soon be gone, or the book would be off into a new direction not to his liking. Possibly all of the above. In that respect, Metal Men was no different from dozens of comic books published during that decade.

My take on this series is that the Simonson-drawn issues have a unity of style and creativity that allows them to rise above any shortcomings they might have. There is a bravura in his work that makes you sit up and notice them. Plus, it didn't hurt that he is credited with co-plotting, thus having more input in what is on the page. The fill-in issue is nice in that recalls the glory days of the team, when their book was still fresh and distinct. The Staton-drawn run is perfectly fine, but there is less vitality to them. I don't think that's even a function of his art, but more due to the fact that there is less "bigness" in Pasko's issues, and Conway's second run feels all wrong for the book. They aren't BAD comics, just ordinary.

I still have a lot of fondness for this title, and this particular run of issues. There are some great comics, some good comics, and some passably readable comics. There was a lot of potential, but it frustratingly never got realized before sales spelled the end.

Read more about it?

Cover gallery @ GCD

DarkMark's Index for the entire series

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Legion of Heroes - ca. 1979

My Legion of Heroes ca. 1979

Well, here's a REAL blast from the past. I figured I should probably scan this one before it disintegrates entirely. So you, my lucky followers, get to hear the (very truncated) history of the "Legion of Heroes". Gosh, isn't that an original name? I'm so creative sometimes!

The Legion was probably my main conglomeration of characters in those early days of childhood. In fact, the only thing that kept them from being more important was that I churned out dozens and dozens of characters and groups and such. So I never really concentrated on any of them for very long. Which is a pity, in that the Legion has some decent superhero archetypes running around. Of course, much of it is just me shamelessly riffing on established characters for my own. Hey, at least I'm going to be up front about it!

Let's look at the Legion of Heroes membership.

Ferro Man : The "big gun" of my superhero lineup. Armored genius, but stuck in his power suit (or tragically disfigured, it changed). He was a cross between Iron Man and Ferro Lad of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Even his costume is derived from Ferro Lad. Through evolution and merging with a couple of separate characters, he more or less became "Captain Satellite", the main hero of my current "universe".

Elastic Man : Your obligatory stretchy superhero. Was his costume meant to be black, or was that just to indicate shading? I have no idea - I have never found a color picture of him.

Red Circle : An adventure hero-type who developed the power to shoot out energy in the form circles. Yeah, a bit on the nose as far as powers go. He also had a sidekick at one point named "Reddy" (I am very sorry). Remind you of the Japanese flag, or the sentai character Battle Japan? Well, his design came from a "Captain Japan" that appeared in Marvel's Fun & Games puzzle comic.

Force Field : I honestly don't even remember this guy. Other than the obvious, I'm at a bit of a loss. There he is, and yet he doesn't ring a bell.

Muscle Man : Every group needs a big strong guy. MM is my completely generic strong guy type. Was his emblem on a leotard, or a tattoo? I can't remember now.

Black Knight : Believe it or not, he is not ripped off from any of the many "Black Knight" characters in comics. I just liked the term, and, ignorant of those guys at the time, used it. He wielded an energy sword to go with his special armor (what, again?).

Unknown Man : God, I still love this guy. He is a ROBOT IN A SUIT. Quality! His design is clearly based on DC's Golden Age Sandman, a look that still fascinates me to this day. Unknown Man was super strong, could fly, and had laser eyes.

Amazing Girl : Amazing Girl is kind of a strange case now that I think about it. I'm pretty sure she was a telepath, and probably based on the Jean Grey Marvel Girl from early X-Men comics (they were being reprinted at the time in a book called Amazing Adventures). Funny thing is, her costume bore a passing resemblance to Menthor of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and there was later a female Menthor in the revivals of that series. Amazing Girl predates those revivals, and I had never seen Menthor prior to them. Weird, no?

The rest of these guys (and gal) are the second string as far as I'm concerned. While the above characters comprised my early Legion in now lost drawings, these folks came along later.

Mr. Tough : Dear lord, I must have gotten this name from somewhere. It's TERRIBLE, and yet not the kind of thing I can see myself coming up with on my own. My best guess is that he was a strong guy near the level of Muscle Man, but with a "bad attitude". Or something.

Muscle Woman : I think I deserve points for my sheer audacity with her. Yes, let's give the strong guy a female sidekick! And get this - she's ALSO super strong! That outfit is sure tame by today's standards, too.

The Viking : Well, look at him. He's a viking. He has an enchanted sword. He has a dragon ship that flies. I'm sure he said "thy" and "thou" a lot. Probably derived from Odin in Marvel's Thor comics.

Neautro : My assumption is that I was shooting for "Neutro" here. I guess he had the power to neutralize (or is that "neautralize"?) things. What that precisely entailed is a mystery.

The Avenging X : A hero with no super powers and an interestingly-shaped head. Well, I seem to be trying to make it look like a mask by this point, but you get the idea.

Sherman Tank : Ho ho ho! A heroic tank robot guy. Originally based on the Shogun Warriors "Combatra" (Combattler V) mecha. I doubt that is apparent to anyone familiar with the robot.

My first thought when I looked at the bottom was that it was different cases of the Legion. A closer examination revealed different members confronting each foe. Was my first instinct correct? Or was this part of some grand adventure? You'll have to invent a time machine and ask me in 2nd grade, because I am sort of clueless now.

Panel 1 : Ferro Man, Amazing Girl, Red Circle, and Elastic Man battle the hideous giant I variously dubbed "Klaytron" and "Slaytron".

Panel 2 : Force Field, Black Knight, Sherman Tank, and Muscle Woman race to tackle a pair of baddies. The dude with the sword is, I am fairly certain, called the Conqueror. I have to say, I think his design is pretty doggone good even today. The amorphous blob fellow next to him might be my recurring villain the Black Terror (no relation to any other character of that name). The only trouble is that the Black Terror doesn't look like that in any other drawing. So I don't know.

Panel 3 : Unknown Man, Muscle Man, The Viking, and Avenging X take on a giant robot. If that guy had a name, it is lost in the mists of time. Most probably, he was just a "giant robot".

Where are Mr. Tough and "Neautro" in all of this? Urrrr...maybe watching the HQ? Ya got me.

I hope this particular little foray into my imaginative youth was worthwhile. I mean, look at it this way - I still sort of draw the same way, so it can't be TOO bad.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Toei Tokusatsu Hero Box - Disc 6

(We're in the home stretch now!)

One of the confusing things about Japanese superheroes to the outsider is the maddening array of sub-genres available in something that looks all the same to them. Is it a Rider show, or a sentai show? How should they know? But at least there is some logic to why those shows are slotted into those categories. Not so much for the "metal hero" genre, which is based on two factors : 1) shows that aired in the same time slot on a certain network and 2) heroes that use metal.

Pretty flimsy basis for a genre, don't you think? Yet "metal hero" is a commonplace shorthand even for Toei, despite the fact that it covers everything from armored heroes to robot policemen to heroic ninja to mechanical dog things. By pure happenstance, Disc 6 of this collection turns out to be a "metal hero" disc. This is a much better thing than you'd probably gather from my intro.

It is worth noting that METALDER is considered one of the best Japanese superhero shows ever by a number of people who've seen a lot of them. I'm not sure I agree, but it's dark and somber and filled with robots whaling the hell out of each other. It's also sort of loosely based on KIKAIDER, and later became an aspect of the nearly forgotten American series VR TROOPERS.

The JIBAN movie is entertaining and filled with creepy monsters (courtesy of Keita Amemiya, color me unsurprised). I was not expecting this. JIBAN is one of those shows that is known for dialing down the action content, but they amped it up a little here. Jiban himself? Though there are obvious differences, he owes a certain debt to a chap named RoboCop.

Speaking of RoboCop, an old penpal of mine once exclaimed "A purple RoboCop!" regarding the JANPERSON movie. He wasn't wrong. Janperson is possibly even more influenced by the character than Jiban. Though this story lacks both Bill Goldy and Gun Gibson from the series (don't ask), it still manages to be complete insanity. To give you an idea - evil clowns are only the BEGINNING.

BLUE SWAT has a not undeserved reputation as one of the most boring tokusatsu series ever. The movie does little to persuade me otherwise, though it isn't horrible. I'm a little vague as to whether it is original, re-edited from the series, or some combination of the two. I haven't ever found myself caring enough to research this.

B-FIGHTER was touted by some as a return to form for the "metal hero" genre (cough cough). That's debatable, but there are certain similarities to the fast-paced, action-packed "space sheriff" shows which launched the whole shebang in the first place. After several years of stoic armored/robotic champions, the B-Fighters were a breath of fresh air. The insect-themed gadgetry added to the novelty, and toy sales, too. I'd still sort of like one of those functionally improbable "Input Magnums".

And on that toy-focused note, we conclude this installment of this seemingly never-ending review series. But fear not! This is the penultimate chapter, and whenever I next discuss this set (don't wait up), we'll bring the proceedings to a rousing conclusion! Well, no, probably not, but it sounds better that way.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cowboy Comics

Cowboy Comics

In January, I visited my gal pal Sara, and we took a trip the Phoenix Art Museum. One of the pieces we saw was Gary Erbe's "Cowboy Comics" pictured above. This is what the exhibit had to say about this 1996 piece.

This sculpture displays Erbe's affinity for optical trickery. In the style of trompe l'oiel, a French term meaning "to fool the eye", Erbe attempts to convince the viewer that this is a real stack of 1950s comic books. In truth, they are made of bronze and painted to appear authentic. The "comic books" rest on a gilded pedestal, adding to the novelty of the work, as it seems to venerate such everyday objects. Erbe's close attention to detail, including the use of real staples on the comics' bindings, adds to the life-like quality.

A self-taught artist, Erbe is drawn to subject matter from his childhood memories and American popular culture. He believes that common objects are universally understood and appreciated.

I'm not going to comment on the loftier interpretation of the work offered above, as you can take it as you wish. I will say, however, that I feel the photo of the piece adds to any perceived illusion. Under a reasonable amount of scrutiny, you can detect that these aren't real comics. That doesn't detract from the impressive skill it took to duplicate them in the first place.

Because it's what I do, I tried to find out which comics Erbe used as models for his work. It turned out to be remarkably easy, because the artist's keen eye led him to reproduce many details that might have been lost in lesser hands. The visible comics recreated in the work "Cowboy Comics" are :

Roy Rogers Comics #30

The Lone Ranger #14

Hopalong Cassidy #77

Gene Autry Comics #26

Tom Mix Western #7

Go check out those covers and compare them to Erbe's loving homage to them. Then you can visit his site through the link in the first paragraph, to see more of his fantastic work. You won't be disappointed!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ball-peen Bulletins

ITEM! The extremely talented Lewis Smith posted a piece of art of the ROJ character Silver Raven recently, and it's amazing! It will be appearing on the ROJ site for the next update, but you can see it right now!

ITEM! I don't usually promote posts on my LiveJournal here (it's actually vice-versa), but I recently hit a milestone - 2000 entries! Go take a look at my old place if it's not on your usual list and see what it's all about.

ITEM! I've done some fiddling with the sidebar here again. This is mostly to eliminate some of the redundancy of links between this site and the ROJ Links Page. There's always going to be some, but I'm hoping variety will get people more attention.

ITEM! I'm still working on one of the entries that I'd intended to post here last month. Hopefully, this will be its month! I have a couple more pieces in various stages of completion, so I'll try to get some of them finished. I've also begun to tentatively work on some ROJ stuff, so maybe the next update will happen sooner rather than later. Fingers crossed!

That's all this time, pilgrims! Excelsior!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cult Rockers

As a public service to you, my faithful readers, I present one of my favorite books for those brief moments when you just need to be alone (don't make me say it) :


This is one of the many books I purchased at the much-missed Book Warehouse in Iowa, LA. Though it has totally ruined me with some of its peculiar phrasings, I find it wonderful reading - particularly in small doses. It's in no way a complete catalog, but it doesn't claim to be. It's more like an informal survey of a lot of different kinds of musicians. Most aren't household names, though some are. I mean, you can't do a book like this and not have the Grateful Dead get coverage. But for every act you might know, there's an obscure punk band or a guitar hero who doesn't get a lot of press. It's a fun book, and worth picking up for a few dollars.

Monday, July 6, 2009

You Have Perception

How we perceive the world determines the kind of world we occupy. That's pretty heady stuff, and is a lot fancier than the rest of this entry is going to be. But I tend to believe it.

To use a perfectly mundane example, I believed that the TV series THE MASTER was incredibly popular during its run because everyone I knew was always talking about it. As it turns out, THE MASTER (which features Lee Van Cleef as a heroic ninja) ran semi-erratically for 4 months, disappeared for 3, and then was trotted out for two additional episodes before being put out to pasture. It turns out my schoolmates in junior high were not a good sample of the viewing public at large. But if you had asked me for years afterward, I would have sworn up and down that THE MASTER was quite popular and ran at least more regularly than it did.

Of course, that's just a misperception. According to everything I've ever read, however, my memory has a serious fault in chronology regarding a completely different - and completely trivial - thing. It's the kind of thing that shouldn't even BE a memory, and yet it is, and it contradicts the facts as I later learned them.

Are you ready for this? Alright, according to my memory, Wang Chung hit it really big with "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" (are you ready to wang chung yet?) and the less-remembered but still huge "Let's Go". Then, the movie TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. came out and it featured the band performing a song of that same title, along with other music by them.

It makes sense, doesn't it? A band becomes the big hot thing with a monster hit or two and then gets on a movie soundtrack. It's perfectly logical and tidy and orderly and that's how it plays out in my memory. I had no reason to ever wonder about it, because...well, why would I?

Except it's wrong. Despite how I remember it, the movie came out in 1985, and "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" came out in 1986. I've checked in more than one place and it seems like there is no error, except in my brain. I somehow sequenced these things incorrectly and it became fact to me. I could see getting confused about the songs - it's not particularly unusual for an older song to be re-released successfully after an act hits it big. Heck, Aerosmith's "Dream On" became more than a footnote that way. And yet...yet, my memory persists in telling me the MOVIE came after Wang Chung's hits. This is demonstrably not so.

Release Dates:
TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (soundtrack album by Wang Chung) - September 1985
TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (film) - November 1985
MOSAIC (Wang Chung album with "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" & "Let's Go") - September 1986

As it turns out, "Let's Go" did not even receive release as a single until the early days of 1987.

Could this all be a massive cock-up? Could these dates be wrong and it all happened just the way I remembered it? Well, anything's possible. But it certainly looks to me as if my wires got crossed quite significantly about this, even though absolutely nothing in MY life relies on it. I'm not even the biggest Wang Chung fan I know. (That would be this guy, by the way.)

The reason I bring this up is that it makes me wonder how much of my memory is a forgery that I have inflicted upon myself. There are plenty of memories swirling around in my head that are a lot more important than stuff involving Wang Chung. How have I selectively edited and rearranged them into a more satisfying form? Do I build myself up better than I am? Or do I knock myself down lower than I should? That's the part that is potentially interesting to me. I wonder how much of who I am is shaped by these distortions.

The deep questions are probably unanswerable. I'm just content to understand why I think about ninja when I'm watching spaghetti westerns.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Captain America Says It Well

Our pal Cap has this to say, courtesy of Stan Lee & Jack Kirby (ably abetted by Chic Stone & Sam Rosen) :

Cap vs. Zemo

Happy Independence Day, United States!

Image from The Avengers #6 (July 1964), as reprinted in Avengers Classic #6 (January 2008). Art & characters © Marvel Entertainment.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Comics That Will Never Be Reprinted

It's no secret that there is money to be made in the reprinting of vintage comics. Certainly, both Marvel and DC have been mining their back catalogs as best they can. There are some stumbling blocks along the way, though. Reprint fees are a concern, and then there's the thorny issue of licensing. Already, collections of titles like Shazam! and Marvel Two-in-One have had to skip stories because the publishers no longer hold the rights to characters appearing in them. This sort of thing will continue, and it means there is at least one comic book series that will almost certainly NEVER be reprinted in any form.

That series is Marvel Comics' Shogun Warriors.

To give a bit of background for those coming late to the party, the Shogun Warriors were a line of toys produced by Mattel, through an arrangement with the Japanese company Popy. These robots weren't original toy creations - each was a licensed property based on either an anime or a tokusatsu production. When Marvel gained the license to put out a comic book based on the "Shogun Warriors" property, that complicated things. They couldn't just use any robots they wanted in their stories. In fact, they were limited to only three :

1) Raydeen - based on 勇者ライディーン/Yuusha Raideen

2) Combatra - based on 超電磁ロボ コン・バトラーV/Chodenji Robo Combattler V

3) Dangard Ace - based on 惑星ロボ ダンガード A (エース)/Wakusei Robo Danguard Ace

There were requests for other "Shoguns" to be used in the book, but for various reasons, it was for naught. Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe did a workmanlike job on the title, comparable to their run on Marvel's Godzilla comic book. And as you may know, that series was reprinted in a B&W "Essential", through a special arrangement with Toho. Such a fate will probably be denied the thematically similar Shogun Warriors

So, what is the real problem? Well, for most properties, there is a single license holder. The Shogun Warriors is different. To reprint this comic, Marvel would need to deal with a licensing FOUR separate properties - each robot, and the title itself. And the reality of the relative values of those properties is far different than it was in 1979.

Here's how the indicia of a typical issue of Shogun Warriors broke it down (note that I'm not reproducing the whole thing, and the weird capitalization was in the original) :
  • Combatra Copyright ©1979 Hiromi Pro/Toei
    I don't really know how "Hiromi Pro" (also associated with the tokusatsu series THUNDERMASK) fits into this, but Toei Video released a DVD box set of COMBATTLER V. You might notice that the only copyright notice on the page is for "Toei". Interestingly, that doesn't say "Toei Animation", but simply Toei.

  • Dangard Ace copyright ©1979 Reiji Matsumoto/Toei Animation
    Leiji Matsumoto (his preferred Romanization) is renowned for things far, far bigger than DANGUARD ACE, but I'd assume he's still involved with it. Toei Animation definitely is.

  • Raydeen copyright ©1979 Tohokushinsha
    Tohokushinsha is still going strong, and so is Raideen. In fact, there was a brand-new series just two years ago!

  • SHOGUN ™ and SHOGUN WARRIORS ™ are trademarks of MATTEL, INC. and are used with permission.
    I'm not linking to Mattel's site, as you can find it on your own if you're so inclined. I'll hazard a guess that they probably don't have a trademark on "shogun" anymore, and possibly not even "shogun warriors". I mean, wasn't there a totally unrelated video game by that name? However, their distinctive logo was still used, and I can't see how you could exclude Mattel as a result.

Can you say "cost prohibitive"? It's a shame - Shogun Warriors is a fun comic, even if it has absolutely zero to do with its source material. But because reprinting it would be just too astronomical to be worth it, it must be consigned forever to the dusty back issue bins of history.