Sunday, September 27, 2015

Scooby Doo Meets Kiss vs Gods and Monsters

This weekend was a very animated themed one for me as I was able to catch up on some cartoon movies/shows I had missed recently. Here's what I saw:


 Friday night, I had the good fortune of watching Over The Garden Wall with my friend and sometimes FBU contributor, Trey Causey.
I had never heard of this  10 episode Cartoon Network series (it is fairly new) but I was given the choice of watching it or the new DC direct to video feature Justice League: Gods and Monsters. I don't quite recall what it was that Trey said that convinced me to give Over The Garden Wall (OTGW) a try, but I would describe the series as a beautiful mash up of the old Merrie Melodies cartoons with a Southern Gothic mystery. 

The main story focuses on two boys Wirt and his younger brother Greg who are lost in a mysterious woods. As they try to find a way home, they encounter a number of creepy scenarios, that evoke the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain. The animation is breathtaking and the music perfectly captures the old Merrie Melodies feel. 

Currently the only way to watch the series is on DVD, and while I don't buy many DVDs these days, this is one I could see buying. I just watched it Friday, but I already want to see it again.

Later in the weekend, I decided I also wanted to give Justice League: Gods & Monsters a try, so I rented it from Amazon.

If you missed out on the hubbub of this movie when it came out last July (as I did), here's a quick synopsis from Wikipedia:

In an alternate universe, the Justice League is a brutal force that maintains order on Earth. This universe has its own versions of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman:
  • This universe's version of Superman is Hernan Guerra. He is the son of General Zod who was rocketed to Earth as a child and raised by a family of honorable and hardworking Mexican migrant farmers. Having to go through the troubles that illegal immigrants have in the United States leads him to become short tempered and withdrawn from humanity.
  • Batman is Dr. Kirk Langstrom, a scientist who, after graduating college, has inadvertently transformed himself into a form of pseudo-vampire in an attempt to cure his cancer, feeding on criminals to satisfy his hunger after his hunger begins to eat away at his humanity.

I can say without a doubt, that my Friday choice of Over the Garden Wall, was the best decision. Gods & Monsters wasn't bad as these sort of things go, but the very nature of the movie (introducing 3 new characters complete with the backstories) didn't give the writers Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett a lot of room to build much more than a conventional (and somewhat predictable) plot. I found myself bored in a lot of places which led me to wonder what exactly was the purpose of this movie. This is what, the third? the fourth? animated version of a darker DC Universe, so it's hard not to get a been there/done that vibe from the movie.

The Justice Lords from the Justice League animated series

Overall, this strikes me as a movie for only the most ardent DC Universe fans. It's definitely not something you would spring on someone just getting into comics...or an old school fan who might not enjoy their super-heroics with so much neck-snapping and sword gouging. 

Watching it, I wondered how the DC Direct To Video movies were doing. You may recall I did a post two years ago examining the track record of the DC DTV features wherein I notice a downward trend. Well, here's what the trend looks like now:

At the time of my first analysis, I thought that Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox would do as good as Justice League: Doom (I was wrong about that. Only Son of Batman has come close to matching Justice League: Doom.) As it is, the home media sales are continuing to drop off pretty steeply. Part of that could be a lot of people simply watch the movies on home streaming services like Amazon (or Netflix eventually) as I did. It's also possible that comic fans simply don't feel compelled to buy these movies when they first come out as they did years ago.

Whatever the reason, I don't see us getting a Legion of Super-heroes DTV feature anytime soon. :(

Anyway, the last animated movie I saw this weekend was Scooby Doo and Kiss" Rock and Roll Mystery.

Before I go into my review, let me say, I'm a big Scooby Doo fan with a LOT of thoughts about the show. As such, I'm working on big article for a future post. But for today, I'm going to try and restrain myself and just focus on this lone feature.

This is another movie I was on the fence about watching. Yes, I like Scooby Doo. Yes, I was a big Kiss fan back in the day. So, you would think I'd be all over this thing, right? Not so much. Part of me viewed it with the same suspicion I had for the old Scooby Doo Movies. (Yeah, it was cool when Batman and Robin showed up, but the one with Cass Elliot was sort of hard to sit through.)

 As it turns out, this movie sort of encompasses that whole good/bad experience. Parts are funny and play it pretty straight with the whole Scooby Doo formula (which is a good thing in this case.) There are some nice bits with Daphne having a crush on Paul Stanley that totally remind me of the 1970's Scooby Doo movies. And the voice acting is good if not a bit strange. Where else are you going to find Darius Rucker (of Hootie and the Blowfish) in the same movie as Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes (Jay and Silent Bob.)

What really brings the movie down is the parts where the movie wants to delve into the Kiss as Superheroes idea that was started with Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park and the old Marvel Magazines. That aspect is okay at first, but the movie builds on it until it overwhelms the story. And what they ultimately do with the idea is sort of disappointing as well.

Overall, of the recent Scooby Doo animated efforts, I still prefer the two season Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated series which came out in 2010.

Anyway, next week is my anniversary, so I will be taking next weekend off with no new post. Have a great week!

- Jim

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Saturday Morning Cartoon Previews

This time every year, I get wistful for the old Saturday Morning Cartoon Preview shows the Big Three networks would run when I was a kid.

Often these shows would be accompanied with comic book ads promoting the new cartoons. (You can click to enlarge the ad below)

A lot has been written about the demise of the Saturday Morning Cartoons with most commenters lamenting the passing of such targeted programming. On one hand I can totally sympathize with such commenters. As each year would bring us a new round of cartoon shows to enjoy, it was a bit like Christmas for TV. In this pre-Internet age, you had no idea what each show might be like so there was always that compulsion to see them all. And if there was a scheduling conflict between two favorite shows, you had to choose one and hope the other lasted long enough to go into reruns.

Here's another great comic ad:

There is the knee jerk reaction to think that kids today are getting cheated because there are no more Saturday Morning Cartoon programming blocks. I think that's wrong. The landscaped has changed such that kids programming isn't restricted to just one day, but is now, in many cases, a 24/7 event on cable and satellite stations. In addition to that, Netflix and Amazon Prime give kids instant access to the shows they want when they want them. Man, I would have traded all my comics for a instant streaming version of the old 1967 Spider-man cartoon!

Still, as my friends and I would often remark, there was something cool about having one day out of the week set aside just for us kids. And the modern random introduction of new children shows lacks a lot of WOW factor when compared to the deluge of new shows we used to get every September.

What do you think?

- Jim

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Secret History of Earth Who

On our world, the unprecedented success of The Beatles in the 1960's was a siren call to other  London lads to join up with bands and set sail for American shores in what would later be called the British Invasion. However, what if instead of staying with the Beatles, George Harrison had tried out for the lead role in a new science fiction show called Doctor Who? How might have history changed? Today, I present to you The Secret History of Earth Who!

1963 - 1966: Whomania
Doctor Who first aired in 1963, but the show was in development early in 1962 under the dramatic helm of Sydney Newman. While trying to decide who should play the lead in the show, Newman was fascinated by the obsession his female assistant had for an English pub band and their hit song "Love Me Do." After asking a few questions about the band, he arrived at sensational way to launch his new series: Why not cast one of the lads in the band as the Doctor? Newman reached out to Beatles manager Brian Epstein and they both decided that George Harrison would make the best candidate. After a successful screen test, contracts were signed and George left the band to become the BBC's first doctor.

Newman's strategy proved successful and Doctor Who became an astounding hit, especially among teenage girls who soon began forming Doctor Who clubs all across the UK. This led to many other television production companies starting up science fiction shows starring gaunt British boys. Almost overnight, English pubs were all filled with throngs of screaming girls crowded around black and white tellys watching alien creatures and rocket ships.  However, after 3 years as the lead, Harrison decided to leave the show so that he could marry one of his co-stars, a companion by the name of Marianne Faithfull. 

1966 - 1969: The Power of the Davies
In search of a replacement, Newman chose the star of  the BBC horror anthology series You Really Got Me for the lead: Ray Davies.

Ray Davies proved equally successful as Harrison in the role thus continuing the shows rank as number 1 in the UK. During Ray's tenure in the role, his brother Dave appeared as a guest star. At the time, Dave was a sound engineer on the show who was becoming renown for his innovative use of feedback to create special effect sounds. After what was supposed to be a one off cameo, Newman was so impressed with the professionalism and cooperation both brothers demonstrated when working together, he made Dave a series regular. Many television historians have often remarked that it was the amiable collaboration between the brothers that aided in the rapid syndication of the show into America (where its popularity spread even further.) Unfortunately, after 3 years, the Davies brothers left the series when they were offered starring roles on an American sci-fi series Supersonic Rocket Ship (it would eventually be renamed Star Trek.)

1970 - 1974: Doctor Who Are You?
With the departure of Ray and Dave Davies, Newman cast about among the numerous science fiction shows now dominating the BBC. After some deliberation, he picked Roger Daltrey, an actor from the show Keith's Moon.

Daltrey brought a new, mod sensibility to the shows costume department which, with the arrival of color, gave the show a modern, hip look. He was also a more exuberant Doctor than previous versions, often wailing his lines with the gusto of a Shakespearean thespian while overturning some bit of scenery. This exuberance was contagious and when Petey Townsend joined the show as a companion, it wasn't long before entire set pieces were being destroyed during a show. One such scene, where Townsend smashed a mandolin into a Dalek, was later copied by other BBC actors.

1974 - 1981: Who Lotta Love
While he lasted longer than prior actors in the role, both Daltrey and Townsend eventually left to become part of an American science fiction comic book adaptation, Tommy Tomorrow. As before, Newman found a replacement on another BBC series The Zeppelin of Space, a charismatic actor by the name of Robert Plant.

With his shoulder length mane of curly hair, producers were originally concerned about how this incarnation would be received. However, Plant's dramatic flair and austere persona soon won audiences over. As time would go on, he would remain in the role longer than any actor before and is to this day the actor most most often associate with the show.

It was only in 1981, after the sudden departure of series regular Johnny Bonham, that Plant finally stepped down. This time Newman sought the talents of an actor who was making himself famous on the series The Space Police.

1982 - 1984: Can't Stand Losing Who
Going by the lone appellation of Sting, this newest actor to play Doctor Who reflected many of the changes that were going on in the sci-fi scene at the time.

Gone was the flower power idealism of the previous decade. Sci-fi was now filled with more somber and sardonic themes with many shows set in post-apocalyptic worlds. This was the era that led to such movies as Logan's Runaways, Escape from The New York Dolls and Dawn of the Deadheads. And while Sting did bring a stately elegance to the role of the Doctor, he didn't stay long preferring to take a role in the movie production of Dune. This turned out to be a great move, as that movie became a  mega blockbuster. The success of Dune led to many sequels and silenced many critics who had declared the sci-fi genre dead when Star Wars had bomb a few years earlier.

1984 - 1986: Diary of a Time Lord
To replace Sting, Newman selected the well known stage performer from Birmingham by the name of Oswald Osbourne. (He would later shorten his name to Ozzy on the advice of his manager Sharon.)

Ozzy's time as the Doctor is best remembered as one of the most eloquent eras of the franchise as the series writers took advantage of Ozzy's masterful enunciation skills to pepper his dialogue with numerous memorable monologues. This was also a period where the traditionally riotous BBC after parties were banned as Ozzy was a well documented teetotaler and frowned upon such activities.

Ozzy would eventually leave the series to appear in the sequel of Mad Max, an American sci-fi film starring a blonde haired Hollywood sensation named Randall Rhodes. So popular was Randall that the sequel put his name front and center: The Rhodes Warrior

1987 - 1989:  Who You Remember?
The final actor to play the Doctor during this span was Phil Collins, who was introduced to the UK in the episode: The Secret Police Box's Other Ball.

Collins actually got his start in acting on Doctor Who many years ago in a brief part on the Genesis of the Daleks episodes. He often said he owed his success to Genesis. He would later leave the series to reprise his guest star role as "Phil the Shill" in the American sci fi show: Martian Vice.

After that, there was a period of cooling down for the franchise until Russell Davies (no relation to Ray) brought the show back in 2005. I may cover that period in another post. Only Time Lords will tell.

- Jim

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Golden Age Series: Public Domain Heroes in Prose

 I recently introduced readers to The Steel Ring, a prose novel featuring many of the characters from the Centaur Universe written by R.A. Jones and edited by Jeff Deischer of Westerntainment. As it would so happen, Jeff saw the interview and contacted me. He was kind enough to provide me with this excellent interview which introduces us to his series of Public Domain Superhero novels under The Golden Age banner.

FBU: Jeff, how would you introduce yourself to the readers of the Flashback Universe?

Jeff: I’m best known for my chronologically-minded essays, particularly the book-length The Man of Bronze: a Definitive Chronology, about the pulp DOC SAVAGE series. It is a definitive chronology, rather than the definitive chronology, because each chronologist of the DOC SAVAGE series has his own rules for constructing his own chronology.

 Adventure fiction made a lasting impression on my creative view as a child, and everything I write has Good Guys and Bad Guys – in capital letters. As an adult writer, I try to make my characters human, as well.

I primarily write fiction, and, combining my twin loves of superheroes and pulp, began THE GOLDEN AGE series in 2012. This resurrected, revamped and revitalized the largely forgotten characters of Ned Pines’ Standard, Better and Nedor publishing companies.

These characters, drawn from superhero, pulp and mystic milieus, fill the “Auric Universe”, as I call it.

FBU: Why you enjoy working with Golden Age characters?

With the characters already created and possessing backgrounds (and foes), it provides a great base to start from. Ideas just start flowing. That’s true of any “resurrection” of old characters (at least for me). I specifically wanted to try golden age superheroes because superheroes are my first love, and I thought that they’d work really well with my style, which is pulpish. They’re not far removed from the pulp era, and really, they’re the next step in pulp – visual, long on action and short on characterization.

I looked through the various defunct comic book companies and saw that Ned Pines’ companies (Standard, Better and Nedor) had the most characters. That gave me a lot to work with, which fit into my plan of introducing an entire universe of characters in the book – which turned out to the first in a series. I also didn’t want to use characters that other writers were using, like R. A. Jones and the Centaur THE PROTECTORS. It wasn’t until I’d finished the first volume, The Golden Age, that a friend of mine said, “You know, Alan Moore’s using some of these characters. Tom Strong is Doc Strange.”

 D’oh! I found that he’d used very few characters and had altered them even more than me!

FBU: What new things have you brought to the characters

Jeff: Anyone who’s read golden age comics knows that the characters don’t have much personality, so that was my primary goal – giving the characters personality. This included detailed origins for them (which many didn’t have). I also did some revision to make the Auric Universe a more cohesive whole, altering a few names and such. Mostly, readers have liked this, though a few think I went too far in a couple of cases. That’s one reason I call it my Auric Universe – Ned Pines’ universe is still there, exactly as fans remember and want it. That said, I did as little revising as possible. Some of this was due to my lack of knowledge about the characters, relying on a couple of internet sources. I was over halfway through the first volume when I discovered online archives, and later books reflect my greater knowledge of the characters as I worked my way through the stories. I started to use more villains from the actual comic books in later volumes, and they are much more “comic booky” as a result (from Dark of the Moon on).

Here is a list of the books in the series so far:

The Golden Age (Volume I)
In 1942, the world is at war. Spies and saboteurs seem to lurk around every corner in America. But, in the shadows, real danger awaits. Following the Battle of Midway, the Dragon Society of Imperial Japan sends agents on a secret mission to knock the U.S. out of the war. And only the superheroes of the Auric Universe can stop them.
Mystico (Volume II)
1940: The Nazis are obsessed with mystical artifacts. Believing one was hidden in America centuries ago by the mysterious Knights Templar, the black wizard Nacht sends a party led by the sorcerer the Baron to find it. He is aided in his quest to gain one of the greatest prizes of all by Reinhard Heydrich, the infamous “Hangman”, who now controls the dreaded Vril power, becoming Nietzsche’s Ubermensch.
Dark of the Moon (Volume III)
The Auric Universe's oddball, fringe and civilian heroes get play here as Dr. X, an “occult scientist”, sends his team, which includes his niece Cynthia, her fiancé Bob Stone, Judy of the Jungle and her companion Pistols Roberts of Europol, and a patchwork giant called Jobe, to investigate as cities are being destroyed by mysterious tidal waves.
Future Tense (Volume X)
Like many other heroes of the Auric Universe, Major Future seemed to come from nowhere. In his case, it was more true than in others’. In 1943, a man with superhuman powers that included strength, agility and the ability to see radio waves, found himself in Los Angeles. How he got there and why he had these special abilities, he did not know. Impelled by some inner drive to help others, he took the name “Major Future” and became a superhero.
Bad Moon Rising (Volume XI)
The spotlight is on Major Wonder, my homage to the fun (i.e., smartass) superheroes of my youth. In this volume containing six independent but interrelated short stories adapted from his series in MYSTERY and WONDER, he faces dark times that run the gamut from superhero to horror to Sci-Fi.

Included in each volume are End Notes, which describe the factual or historical basis for things in the story, as well as a documentation of the changes I made in original story or characters. There is also a timeline of events of the book, and a lexicon of characters used, as well as an Afterword.

My webpage is, where I post the first chapters of the first novel of each of my series, so that potential readers can peruse my work without having to spend several dollars on a trade paperback to find out if they like it or not. The publisher’s website is

Thank you Jeff!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Should DC Stop Batgirling Superman?

So, with us not even 3 months into the new DC You initiative, the internet was abuzz with stories that DC wanted a return to more old school, meat and potatoes superhero comics. The rumor was that DC editorial had requested writers stop Batgirling titles (a term inspired by attempts to capture the lightning in a bottle popularity of that title.) Among the titles brandied about as a failure was DC's new take on Superman.

But a week on the internet is a long time, so by Saturday, DC had put out a statement trying to dispel this rumor. And while DC's statement may quash the rumor for now, there's no denying that so far Batgirling Superman has not work. Check out these July 2015 Sales numbers from ComicsBeat:

36 - SUPERMAN ($3.99)
07/2005: Superman #219  -- 71,036 
07/2010: Superman #701  -- 54,506
07/2011: Superman #713  -- 36,646 <-- Last pre-Flashpoint issue
07/2012: Superman #11   -- 56,066 <-- Jurgens DC 52 Run
07/2013: Superman #22   -- 42,961 
07/2014: Superman #33   -- 62,998 (- 39.1%)<-- Start Johns/Romita Run
08/2014: Superman #34   -- 56,568 (- 10.2%)
09/2014: Futures End #1 -- 77,949 (+ 37.8%)
10/2014: Superman #35   -- 53,692 (- 31.1%)
11/2014: Superman #36   -- 52,272 (-  2.6%)
12/2014: Superman #37   -- 50,383 (-  3.6%)
01/2015: --
02/2015: Superman #38   -- 48,987 (-  2.8%)
03/2015: Superman #39   -- 50,260 (+  2.6%)
04/2015: Superman #40   -- 52,666 (+  4.8%) <-- End Johns/Romita Run
05/2015: --
06/2015: Superman #41   -- 53,393 (+  1.4%)<--- First DC You Issue
07/2015: Superman #42   -- 46,691 (- 12.6%)

Looking at the numbers, we may see a return to Superman selling at an all time low again. Which brings up the question: Can Superman Ever Become A Major Seller Again?


I've danced around this question before, but since that post, we've seen quite a number of talented writers work on Superman (Grant Morrison, Dan Jurgens, John K. Snyder, Geoff Johns) but none have them have been major sales successes.

I think part of the problem is that today's writers tend to try to apply modern storytelling techniques to the character using personal crisis or identity searches as the axis of their stories when in truth most Superman fans don't want any of that crap. IE: It's okay if Batman wants to struggle with what it means to be THE BATMAN. Batman's already a headcase to begin with. What's more morbid introspection for that guy?

Superman, on the other hand, is supposed to epitomize humanity. He gives his fans an oasis from their real world pressures with his never ending mantras of self affirmation. Like this classic scene form Superman 397 in the 70's.

So, rather than use the trope of  Hidden Depths characterization that seem to get trotted out with each re-visioning of Superman, why not put him situations that take advantage of his (arguably antiquated) personality traits and focus on how they help him survive some hooky insurmountable circumstance.

Here's how I see the Superman formula should work:
  1. Superman faces some villain/obstacle that overwhelms him on some level
  2. The apparent solution to is one that would make Superman break his moral code -- (this could be things like killing a villain or leaving a planet to be ruled by a tyrant)
  3. Superman uses his brains and/or determination to find a better solution
  4. This story unfolds in 1 or 2 issues, tops, but can play into a larger story overall.

Now imagine 12 issues of a run like that. That's the sort of evergreen graphic novel DC could sell for a long time to a wide range of fans. (You could argue that's what All Star Superman is, but that just proves my point.)

So, will we ever get a return to a top selling Superman title? Maybe. I'm just not convinced so-called Batgirling is the answer.


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