Monday, March 30, 2015

Flashback Universe and Its Amazing Friends

Face front, true believers!  Kick back like Dennis Marks in the screencap below and enjoy a fantastic foray into the Flashback Universe!

In case you don't recognize the name, Marks was the producer on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and its lesser-remembered sister show Friendless Spider-Man.  (O.K., that show was called just Spider-Man.)  As such, he's featured alongside writer Christy Marx, animator Larry Houston, and Stan Lee in this rarely seen 1981 documentary about the making of Amazing Friends, called Spider-Man on the Move.  According to Dan "Peter Parker" Gilvezan's Facebook fans, this was a joint production of KDKA in Pittsburgh and KPIX in San Francisco — which may be why I'd never seen it until recently.  (Did it air only in those markets?)

Sadly, it's not included on the series DVD* nor available to stream, but we can enjoy it online via the magic of YouTube.  Watch for Frank Welker discussing the process of working out what Ms. Lion should sound like.  That alone is worth your time.

Intermission! Grab some popcorn and a Coke.

Did you catch Marks explaining the creation of Firestar for the series at 5:25 in the first part?  The story he tells, about the show originally being planned around a trio of Spider-Man, Iceman, and the Human Torch, has been repeated often through the years.  It's perfectly plausible, and the version I had heard was that the Torch was absent from 1978's The New Fantastic Four cartoon* (you know, with H.E.R.B.I.E.) because his licensing was tied up in the even-then-in-development Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.  That story was usually told to debunk the notion the Human Torch had been removed from the FF cartoon out of fear of kids settling themselves on fire — the same story Marks tells here about Amazing Friends!

Which got me wondering:  Did Marks's story from this very documentary special, rarely seen as it is, create the perennial kids-setting-themselves-on-fire myth?  Did it backwash from here to the earlier FF cartoon?

Apparently not.

Let's loop back and close off some rumor threads.

As it turns out, the Human Torch character was not tied up in the development of the Spider-Man/Torch/Iceman show that would later become Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.  According to Mark Evanier, whose business cards may as well read "who would know," the Torch was licensed out to Universal for a live-action TV movie that never came to fruition.  (If it had, it would have been a sibling to the Doctor Strange and Captain America telefilms starring Peter Hooten and Reb Brown, which also came out of the deal.)

Brian Cronin, of CBR's Comic Book Legends Revealed, speculates that the Torch license still lay with Universal when Amazing Friends was in development.  Given that the Strange and Cap films aired in 1978 and '79, Amazing Friends started airing in '81, and animation takes a fair while to develop for television, this seems reasonable.  (Then again, the first bit of poppycock I shared with you "seems reasonable," so take that with a grain of salt.)

He makes being on fire look so cool!
In that case, the Human Torch was likely never a serious contender for the third slot in the Spider-Friends — except perhaps during the very early concept stage, before anyone checked the availability of the characters against existing licensing agreements.  It's not impossible that Marvel, working almost in-house with a studio they had bought and turned into Marvel Productions, could have made the novice mistake of incubating a series without checking the licenses.  But even that seems unlikely — grain of salt in the "seems," remember — because the earliest concept art for the show, by John Romita for the pitch to NBC, shows Firestar (then "Heatwave") in the line-up, with no mention of the Torch.

It's also worth noting that Marvel Productions, before being bought by Marvel and given that name, had been DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, the studio that produced The New Fantastic Four back in '78.

So where did that story about kids setting themselves on fire to emulate the Human Torch come from?  Dunno.  I was excited to watch Spider-Man on the Move and hear it from Dennis Marks himself.  I thought I'd found the point where it entered the culture, but, by all accounts, Marks was repeating a story he'd heard somewhere, one that had already made the rounds about The New Fantastic Four.

Wherever it comes from, it's a proper urban legend, complete with gruesome imagery of child immolation.  It's liable to survive in some form or other.

Decades before we'd heard of creepypasta, John Byrne mined the legend's seediness and silliness in Fantastic Four #285, which reads like a cross between an ABC after-school special, Amazing Spider-Man #50, and a Jim Wynorski melodrama.  More recently, The Super Hero Squad Show enjoyed one of its high points lampooning both the rumor and its status as inside-baseball trivia in a H.E.R.B.I.E.-centric episode.

Any day now, I expect to hear Marvel let Fox hang onto the Fantastic Four movie license in order to keep their distance from any Human Torch-related incidents.

* Getcher Region 2 DVD players here, America!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Irwin Hasen and Wildcat

A few weeks ago (March 13th) the comic industry lost one of the last great Golden Age creators: Irwin Hasen. At the time I wanted to do a post honoring Mr. Hasen, but illness has kept me from posting on the FBU of late. And while my random thoughts here won't be as good as the Irwin Hasen tribute on A Shroud of Thoughts blog, I thought I would still share some of my thoughts on meeting Mr. Hasen and his most famous comic book character Wildcat.

Gina (my wife) and I were fortunate enough to meet Mr. Hasen at HeroesCon 2006 where I purchased this sketch from him.
During my conversation with him, we talked about a number of topics ranging from what it was like to work during the Golden Age of comics, working with Bill Finger (co-creator of Wildcat) and Dondi.

I told Mr. Hasen how much I loved reading Dondi when I was growing up. At the time, our local newspaper didn't have a lot of serial comic strips, sticking mostly with the day to day humor strips (Beetle Bailey, Hagar, BC, Peanuts, ect...) Still, there were a few serial strips (Steve Roper/Mike Nomad, Dick Tracey, Mary Worth) but none of them really appealed to young Jim Shelley the way Dondi did (which makes sense considering the lead character was a young boy.)

Gina and I found talking with Mr. Hasen very enjoyable and he seemed to enjoy talking with us as well. He had a very graceful, easy way of talking about his life that encouraged us to ask him more questions, which he seemed more than happy to answer. (I suspect his booth didn't get much traffic.)  It was one of the magical comic connections you can sometimes make at cons that make the expense and trip worth it.

FBU Co-Editor Scott Simmons also had a memory of meeting Irwin Hasen:

 I met him at Heroes Con, too.  The year I was there, he was milling around his booth by himself, so I went up to chat before getting back to work at the Heroes booth.  He was sketching Jay Garrick, so I asked him about the Golden Age Flash, and he talked about how some guy had been going on and on about the "right" belt on him and now he was second-guessing whether he was drawing his belt correctly.  We chatted for a bit, and before I left, he said — completely without ego — "If you like the Flash, you really need to go see Carmine [Infantino].  He's here, you know, and you'll never forgive yourself if you don't go meet him." I really dug how he recommended I go see Infantino (who was much busier and whom I didn't get to spend nearly as much time chatting up).

On the subject of Wildcat, I believe he was the first Golden Age character I encountered in comics (discounting Golden Age reprints of Batman and Superman). This was the issue where I first discovered the character:

Also in this issue was a Golden Age story with Wonder Woman and Doll Man, but for some reason the Wildcat story is the one that sort of opened my eyes to the idea that there was an age of comics that preceded the one I was currently living in. I was aware of Silver Age stories (of which there was an Atom SA story in this issue as well) but somehow those didn't seem as special to me as this Golden Age story.  I also think the whimsical nature of the story (which introduced his sidekick Stretch Skinner) also helped earn Wildcat a special place in my heart.

Sometime after this issue, DC would publish more 100 Page Super Spectaculars and I would be introduced to many more Golden Age characters (and the JSA itself) but Wildcat didn't make many more appearances in the 100 page giants for some reason. (You tended to see Doll Man, Robotman and Starman the most.)

Where Wildcat DID show up (much to my delight) was in the pages of the Brave and the Bold. Here his pugilistic detective style made him a well matched companion for Batman stories, whether he was helping Batman...

  ...or fighting him. (Which was a popular theme.)

The appearance of Wildcat (who was resident of Earth-2) in the Brave and the Bold is sometimes derided by people who feel the Bob Haney Batman was a bit off the rails, but I totally disagree. (Hopefully, we'll someday have an article on the FBU that goes into more detail on the merits of Bob Haney's writing style.)

Regarding those Bob Haney Brave & the Bold stories: Scott told me there's a memo from Roy Thomas in the Crisis Compendium (that came with Absolute Crisis on Infinite Earths) where Roy offers to insert a plot thread into All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc. showing that the Crisis caused random characters from Earth-2 to temporarily intersect with Earth-1 at various points in history, just to explain the "Earth-Haney" team-ups.  :D  Sadly, I don't think that ever happened.

After the Bronze Age I sort of lost track of Wildcat (and comics in general to a degree.) For instance, I never read either of these mini-series:

And I've never been curious enough to track them down and read them since discovering them. (Something about Chuck Dixon's writing style has never grabbed me.)

As I got back into comics, I was happy to see Geoff Johns make Wildcat a prominent member of his JSA series. Even if it meant having to put up with some tweaks and additions I wasn't always fond of. (Like the idea that he had 9 lives because Zatara altered a curse put upon Wildcat. Does anyone know if that was ever shown in an earlier story or was that just a retcon?)

I also wasn't a big fan of Ted Grant's son (Thomas Bronson) being a sort of werecat:

Though I did like the Yolanda Montez version of Wildcat who appeared in Infinity Inc. (One of those titles I missed when it was coming out but rediscovered later in life.)

I think I was actually reading Infinity Inc while reading JSA so it may have been a case of I was introduced to the Montez Wildcat first, so she felt like the rightful heir to the name whereas the Bronson Wildcat struck me as being a bit too Wolveriney or something.

Currently, I've been digging Ted Grant's appearances on Arrow:

It's not Wildcat in costume, but it's still a nice tip of the hat to the character.

Not sure what the future holds for the character (or any DC character, honestly, given the sort of editorial upheavals the company has been prone to the past several years) but I would love to see someone like James Robinson or Ed Brubaker give their take on the character in a mini-series. (Brubaker might sound like a weird choice but his Fade Out series from Image shows he has an appreciation for 40's era stories.)

It'd be nice to see a collection of he Golden Age Wildcat stories as well, but that may be a bit much to ask.  :)

- Jim and Scott

Monday, March 16, 2015

Valiant News and Ninjak 1 Review

Editor's Note: With the recent news that  Valiant has secured funding for a 9 figure movie development deal, I thought now might be a good time for a review one of their most recent comic offering: Ninjak. StevieB also read the comic and agreed to help me with this review. Here's what we thought.

JIM: First, I want to say how amazed I am that Valiant has managed to get such a major development deal. In some ways, it makes perfect sense. Superhero movies are big now and Valiant is most likely the third biggest franchise available right now. (What else would even come close?) As it stands, they have a lot of cool characters that I would like to see make it to the big screen.

STEVIEB: Yessir! XO-Manowar should be the first!

JIM: I sort of agree with you there Steve, but I don't think we'll see him right off. I think the plan is go with Archer and Armstrong and Shadowman first. Both aren't really the trump cards I would play right off, but I suspect they may be cheaper to produce.  Ninjak sort of falls in the easy/cheap to make so I'm puzzled he wasn't listed over Shadowman as he seems a bit more popular. Speaking of which, what did you think of the first issue of Ninjak?

STEVIEB: Ninjak #1 brings to life the child hood fantasy of being a Ninja. The internet refers to him as a little bit James Bond and a little bit Batman. I disagree; replacing Batman with Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe fame seems a bit more in the right direction.

JIM: I can definitely see the James Bond comparison. I think gives that is where the series will thrive for me. Stories of International Intrigue and fast Action Adventure are always good comics fodder. Whether it's Layton/Micheline Iron Man or Ed Brubaker's Sleeper. I would say this book is on the right foot to begin a run that stands with both of those aforementioned series. Though I might be jumping the gun as this is just the first issue.

STEVIEB: Yeah, I’ve only read Ninjak in the Armor Hunters series. I’m currently in the first arc of XO-Manowar and I believe Ninjak’s first appearance in the rebooted Valiant Line is within the pages of the second arc. Thankfully, for a Valiant newcomer like myself, you don’t need any back story of the character to enjoy or understand this. You get introduced to his skill set by a comparison of a “Mark” that’s part of a mission that MI6 has tasked him with.

JIM: True. This issue was very nicely self contained. I suspect if I was a wider read Valiant fan, I'd see more easter eggs, but there was nothing that made me feel like I was missing anything. What did you think of the art?

STEVIEB: Clay Mann’s art is incredible.

JIM: Agreed. I especially liked the work he put into what I would consider non-essential details (like the monkeys on this page)

It's that sort of extra effort that makes a great artist. If I had any complaints about the issue, it's that the main story is too short.

STEVIEB: Yeah, there’s three different stories that take place in this issue: All written by Matt Kindt. Two in the main run that include a current story, a child Colin King (Ninjak when he’s not … Ninja- ing), that acts as flash backs that refer back to what’s going on in the main story; and

STEVIEB: The main story...

JIM: Which I liked better...

STEVIEB: ...takes us through a day in the Life of MI6’s most popular freelance Ninja and starts a fun action packed story that involves Ninjak’s infiltration of an Arms Making organization called “The Weaponer”. The second story - a backup of Colin when he first joined MI6 and had no training: beautifully drawn by Butch Guice.

JIM: I think Butch Guice was a good choice for the second story, though it didn't grab me right off. I liked the main story better. After his excellent run on Captain America, you sort of expect these type of Super Spy Espionage stories from him. His eye for city scenes and expressions gives such stories the realism needed to carry off the plots.

JIM: Overall, I give this first issue a thumbs up. Like all the Valiant books, there is a sense that they are keeping a very tight rein on their titles and not letting events lead their storylines. (So far. Hopefully that will continue after the movies start coming out.)

STEVIEB: I agree and highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a well written, action filled story that starts off very strong and starts the development of one of Valliant’s most intriguing characters. Ninjak brings the fun and thrills that seem to be missing from the Big Two lately.

- Jim and StevieB

Monday, March 9, 2015

Reading "Watchmen"

Scott here.  Someone on Facebook recently asked for people's recollections of reading Watchmen in single issues as it originally shipped.  While I didn't read it that way, I couldn't resist sharing my own Watchmen story, which is also a Christmas story and a coming-of-age story.

The original, more affecting cover.

If you don't own Watchmen already,
please buy it right now.

The Deluxe Edition includes bonus
"making-of" material but has an
even less inspired cover than the
current non-deluxe edition.
I grew up rural and didn't have access to a comics store in 1986-'87. The nearest shop was a 45-minute drive away, and, though indulgent, my parents were not as convinced of the importance and transformative power of comics as I. To keep abreast of the increasing output of direct-sales-only titles, I'd learned to shop the ads and trade magazines (Comics SceneAmazing Heroes, The Comics JournalDavid Anthony Kraft's Comics Interview) as well as the mail-order c (Mile High and Bud Plant) and buy in chunks issues I was missing through the mail. I followed the discussion of Watchmen through those secondary sources without actually reading the issues (as I did DC's reprints of V for Vendetta the following year). I was hungry for more Alan Moore stories and eagerly anticipated snapping up the 12 issues of Watchmen as a Christmas gift for myself in 1987, by which time the mini-series would be over. I was surprised to see the trade paperback solicited (often advertised alongside The Dark Knight Returns and Ronin) almost immediately when the mini-series finished.

My mom, who paid more attention to things than I sometimes realized, must have noted that I wondered aloud about the trade several times and that I seemed particularly thrilled it would be coming out in a bookstore edition. (Just typing the words "Warner Books edition" in the same sentence as Watchmen evokes the image of that spinning bottle of Nostalgia in my mind.) She ordered me a copy from an ad in Comics Scene. It arrived at our house the day before Christmas Eve, a complete surprise, addressed to me. I remember being intrigued by how nondescript the cover was. (It was the one with the shattered glass and the dirigible in the distance, the Comedian's blood-stained button suspended in the air just before it begins to fall. I don't know about everyone else, but in my circle, that's sometimes called "the prequel cover.")

The book sat in my room as I ran errands and went about my day, but I started it first thing when I woke up on Christmas Eve, carrying it with me as my mom and dad dragged me along to visit cheer on aunts and uncles and deliver presents to neighbors. I was 14 at the time, and I couldn't put it down. Maybe I could have during the first "chapter," but once I'd gotten into the excerpt from Under the Hood before "chapter II," I was hooked. (They were chapters to me then, so I probably should use that word here.)

It took me the bulk of the day to work my way through five chapters of Watchmen. As we prepared to head to my grandmother's house for Christmas Eve dinner, I kept returning to that magnificent (enormous) trade, picking my way through Rorschach's confessional in #5 several panels at a time.

Nothing but the meaning we make.
Going to my maternal grandmother's for dinner on Christmas Eve was something we'd always done, and though I had no idea at the time, '87 would be the last year my dad's extended family gathered there in health and happiness. My grandmother was terribly ill the next Christmas and gone by the following summer. Reeling in shock from hitting the almost-halfway point in Watchmen — I still had the pyschiatrist's notes from the back matter to read when I got home — I stood on my grandmother's front porch, alone in the cold night air and under an eerily appropriate starless sky, looking across the street at the empty house where the Duncan family had once lived. When I indulge the dramatic instincts of my memory, I sometimes say I was a kid torn between Nietzsche and Christ — between the nihilism of Rorschach's brand of objectivism and the religious merriment of the holiday. On the one hand, Rorschach's case for meaninglessness was compelling, and the sky was dark. On the other hand, that dark sky was too laden with significance for me to take it as meaningless. I gazed into the abyss, and — well, you know. Secondhand Nietzsche, like every other teen-age comics reader than year.

The thing about my dark night of the soul is this: There were voices laughing, arguing, and even occasionally singing behind me, in my grandmother's house. Making meaning. An assortment of thermodynamic miracles, though I hadn't gotten to that point yet. (It would be years before I realized I was living out foreshadowing on that porch.) More than a quarter century later, I can put myself in that moment and conjure the last Christmas Eve at my grandmother's house with a precious crispness I owe Watchmen.

I continued to obsess over the trade for the next two days, finishing on Boxing Day. I wept at the two-page spread in the final chapter. Crying over all those nonexistent strangers was a tremendous catharsis. I remember thinking back to the previous Christmas, when I'd cried over something I'd read that night, and wondering if I'd spend puberty (and possibly adulthood) as some hormonal, misty-eyed sadman.

I put the book down when I finished and didn't touch it for days, as if it were radioactive. I thought about it with every spare minute. Like every 14-year-old boy who's ever read Watchmen, I recognized the adults in my life in five of the main characters and what I aspired to be myself in Rorschach. I couldn't have said so at the time, but I felt an age-appropriate self-loathing at that recognition.

1986-'87 was an era of the conceivable made
concrete and of the casually miraculous.
To my knowledge, no one at school had read this book. I tried broaching the subject with some adults here and there but was rebuffed as wasting their time or eyed suspiciously enough that I dropped it before the habit of reading blood-soaked comics featuring full-frontal nudity and shaking my faith in cultural institutions landed me on some responsible adult's watch list and possibly cost me access to all the books I was discovering around this time. (That same instinct led me to keep my trap shut about the Marquis de Sade, whose books showed up with frightening regularity at the Goodwill store I frequented.) This was proper subversive stuff. As Warren Ellis might have described it after we all had e-mail accounts, a real Come in Alone experience with comics.

Just after the Christmas holiday, we were visited by the biggest snowstorm my Southern town had ever seen, and the green of a discarded Christmas wreath poking out from beneath the snow that morning reminded me of Veidt's Antarctic Karnak. I picked up Watchmen again and started over, at the beginning. I noticed for the first time how the creeping ice in that chapter mirrored the dripping blood of the endpapers (back covers).

Oddly enough, it's snowing this morning — a relatively rare occurrence down South.

Every time it snows and I'm home, I think of Watchmen and the last Christmas of my childhood.

That's my Watchmen story, as I shared it on Facebook.  What's yours?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Is The Power Rangers Fan Film Too Dark?

StevieB returns to the FBU with his opinion of the recent Power Rangers  fan film that was released last week:

So if you weren't arguing about the color of a dress this week you may have checked out the short Power Ranger fan film directed by Joseph Kahn and produced by Adi Shankar (Dredd).

 I grew up in the 90’s: I was 8 when I first watched Power Rangers. I was the target for this “remake”.

The first time I watched this I absolutely loved it. I thought “This is exactly how an adult Power Ranger should be!” But after sitting with it for a while and watching it again, my mind changed. This short may have actually been too dark.

I know what a lot of you are thinking:

Look, I love the dark and gritty like any other twenty something male but I think this was over the top. For something like this to be successful as a legitimate remake it needs to appeal to both the young and the old. You can make a movie adult but keep it tame enough to also appeal to children. This is important because it’s currently on TV as a child’s show. There doesn’t need to be gratuitous sex scenes, hardcore drug use, and massive amounts of violence for the movie to appeal to multiple generations and actually be good.

From a fan perspective, I really didn’t like the helmet design.
The color matches and it has the mouth piece but that’s about as far as it resembles the original Pink Ranger Helmet. I was actually off-put by this even the first time I watched.

The costumes as well:

I’ve always thought that an “Adult Power rangers” would be more armored. The gloves and the skin tight costumes never made much sense. I mean, if you’re going to try to make it more adult at least make the costumes more believable.

I still think this was a well done Fan Film and a nice “Else Worlds” tale. A “What if?” if you will. It just doesn’t have the themes and fun that make Power Rangers what it is. I am still very much looking forward to the legitimate movie coming out next summer.

What did you think of the fan film?

You can still check it out here. Watch it while you can. Saban is fighting hard to have it taken down.

- StevieB


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