Monday, June 29, 2015

Free Download - Flashback Team Up - So Falls The World!

It gives me great pleasure to present today a NEW Flashback Universe Comic! Free to download by clicking the image or link below. This issue features at titanic team up between the Creature and Wildcard as scripted by charismatic Chris Sims and wonderfully rendered by gentleman Jerry Hinds.

Download Flashback Team Up - So Falls The World!

If you are a fan of Bronze Age Action, you'll love the story Chris and Jerry have worked up for you! It's a loving homage to all those fantastic done in one Marvel Team Ups and Marvel Two-in-One stories. You won't see any lazy decompressed storytelling here. It's all fun and adventure from start to finish!

Check out some of these amazing action scenes:

To learn more about both Chris and Jerry, feel free to read these creator profiles from the FBU Archives:

Chris Sims Creator Profile
Jerry Hinds Creator Profile

Let us know what you thought of this issue in the comments section down below.

- Jim

Monday, June 22, 2015

HeroesCon 2015 - ComicBlitz! and Babs Tarr

I've just returned from HeroesCon 2015 where I met a lot of great creators and vendors, one of which I'm eager to share with you: ComicBlitz! As leaked last week on Bleeding Cool, ComicBlitz is a new digital comics platform that promises to bring a Netflix approach to reading digital comics. For $9.99, you will be able to read an unlimited number of comics on their application.

I was able to get a video interview with Jordan Plosky, the founder of ComicBlitz where I ask him for details about how the service will work. Check out the short (4 mins) video below:

Some of the key details he shared with me were:

  • There will be a mechanism to save books for offland reading
  • There will be a time delay between same day comic akin to that of trade paperbacks
  • Dynamite and Valiant are already signed up for the Beta, but more comics will be added when the product goes live
  • There are plans to have original content on the platform down the line
If you are interested in participating in the ComicBlitz beta test, sign up at their site.

Note: I'm dressed in cosplay as Davial as my daughter Haigen was dressed as Malificient (see below)

As I mentioned, we met a lot of great creators. One Haigen was especially anxious to meet was Babs Tarr, the artist of the new Batgirl comic!

While the comic may have its detractors among long time collectors, I can definitely say without hesitation that DC has been successful in retooling Batgirl for a younger generation. Haigen bought the graphic novel last weekend after pouring  over a stack of comics at Punk Monkey Comics and she was instantly drawn to the new Batgirl trade paperback. When we got to Heroescon a week later, I was surprised to discover that Haigen had taken it upon herself to bring the grahic novel along in hopes of getting it signed.

Babs was super nice at the convention. She answered Haigen's questions, signed her trade paperback and suggested the posed picture you see above. This was definitely one of the highlights of the con for Haigen.

I had a great time too and met a few vendors who publish comics which I think will definitely appeal to readers of this site, but that post will have to comic later this week as I'm under a time crunch today. (Look for it around Wednesday or Thursday)

- Jim

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

(Top) 10 Things About David Letterman — Good Night, Everybody!

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Thanks for sticking with me through this day-long reflection on David Letterman's career.  Here's the whole list in one place for easy navigation:
  1. Worldwide Pants
  2. Everyone Is a Star
  3. Freaks and Geeks
  4. Impeccable Timing
  5. The Anti-Show
  6. Biting the Hand That Feeds Him
  7. Top Ten Lists
  8. Real Journalism
  9. The DIY Ethos
  10. When Things Got Real
Similar things were said about Johnny Carson when he retired, and I know detractors tire of hearing them, but:  It really is impossible to overestimate the influence and importance of David Letterman to television.  If nothing else, he's been on every weeknight for most Americans entire TV-watching lifetime.

Late Night was once the title of a single quirky program that aired after the The Tonight Show.  Now it's an entire genre that comprises Tonight itself and a host of competing programs.

Many of these shows rely on guest- and audience-participation games, something Letterman pioneered.  In 1993, NBC lawyers may have tried, with a straight face, to claim that talk-show games were their intellectual property.  If they tried that now, they'd be laughed out of the room with the same vigor Letterman's CBS audiences showed when Dave rolled his eyes as said the words intellectual property.

The apex of late-night games remains Letterman's "Is This Anything?" — an outgrowth of "Will It Float?" that consisted of an enormous curtain opening to great fanfare and Letterman and Shaffer passing judgment on whether the thing behind the curtain (animal, vegetable, mineral, or, most often, showbiz act) was something or nothing.

"Is This Anything?" was David Letterman's shtick in microcosm.  And, man, was it ever something.

— Scott

(Top) 10 Things About David Letterman — Number One: When Things Got Real!

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Photo by Susan Wood.  via
Letterman is never more memorable than when his show stops being a show (or even an anti-show) entirely.  In these moments, the veil drops, and audiences glimpse the David Letterman behind the ironic TV persona.  Sometimes slack-jawed, sometimes annoyed, sometimes unexpectedly sincere, this is the Letterman who breathes life into the TV host façade.

This is the Letterman Drew Barrymore flashed and Crispin Glover nearly kicked in the face.

More significantly, he's the one who brought Bill Hicks's mother onto the show in 2009 to apologize for cutting her son's appearance on the show back in 1993.  (The Late Show was new to both CBS and 11:30 at the time, and Letterman found Hicks's material, violent and rife with political incorrectness, problematic.  In 2009, he acknowledges that as a mistake brought on by his own insecurity.)

He's the one who devoted an episode to Warren Zevon following the musician's death.  (Zevon had been a regular guest on Late Night and had subbed in for Paul Shaffer.)

He later did the same to commemorate the passing of his comedic mentor Johnny Carson, the guests for that episode being Tonight Show alums Peter Lassally and Doc Severinsen.

Most humanly of all, this is the Letterman who admitted to having affairs with members of his own staff in order to cut short an extortion attempt.  The details were deliciously seedy, but Letterman managed to blend his on-air and off-air personas in a funny, defiant, and penitent on-air confession.

It was simultaneously his finest hour and his lowest ebb.  No matter what you thought of the man behind the curtain during that segment, you had to admit you were watching riveting television.  Which, when all is said and done, is what Letterman always delivered.

Thanks for indulging my Top Ten reflections on David Letterman.  Come back at the top of the hour for a few closing thoughts and a round-up of links to the individual posts.  (In case you've been playing along on social media, we'll make sure these links that actually work.)

— Scott

(Top) 10 Things About David Letterman — Number Two: The DIY Ethos!

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Giant doorknob aside, Letterman's no prop comic — but he knows how to get a laugh with whatever's handy.

The same way he roped staff and neighbors into bit parts on the show, he built legendary routines around items from the studio closet.

Chief among these were the wacky suits.  Letterman had more specialty outfits through the 1980s than Iron Man did in the '90s (and Iron Man had a toy line!).  I could embed suit videos all day, but instead I'll recommend you click here to visit the blog Rediscover the '80s, which has the most comprehensive collection of them I could find.

Dropping things off the roof.  Crushing things with a steamroller or an industrial hydraulic press.  (Breaking things, it turned out, was the perfect pastime for a show breaking the television format.)  Throwing pencils.  Actually taping the show at 4 o'clock in the morning.  Strapping cameras to himself, Paul, guestsaudience members, Vegas showgirlswater hoses, and, yes, monkeys.

The camera was a favorite tool in Letterman's arsenal.  Rather than insisting on its invisibility, he brought the camera to the fore whenever possible, filling interstitials with roller coaster-style Thrill Cam rides and even doing an episode of Late Night where the camera rotated 360° over the course of the show (to many viewers' annoyance).

The one thing these high-concept shows had in common wasn't performance art but something much more low-brow.  These were things you might do if you had a television camera, an audience, and the social capital to ask someone to let you do them.  They were another way Letterman let the audience in on the joke, said joke usually being, "TV is dumb, but it's fun."

On a couple of occasions, he engineered shows where applause determined which gags and props got used. (Consider for a moment how much effort went into taping and having all the unused segments on hand.  These weren't cheap laughs, no matter how it appeared.)  Building the show out of whatever was on hand made having a late-night show feel like something you could (almost) do at home.

Perhaps the best-remembered of these breaking-the-format shows occurred during a 1985 New York City heatwave, when Late Night decided to forego a studio audience and shoot the show in their offices rather than on the set.  I doubt television can break the fourth wall more decisively than this episode, which opens with Letterman reading jokes from his monologue with show writers — to neither audience reaction nor musical cues.  (Paul Shaffer is standing in the hall before they realize he should be making some sort of sound to accompany the zingers.)

Brilliant as these innovations are, they're not why the episode is fondly remembered, largely by middle-aged men.  That honor belong to guest Teri Garr, a staple of Late Night who might be better described as part of the recurring cast than as a recurring guest.  Garr had proven game for many of Letterman's shenanigans, engaging in awkward flirtations that may have been put-ons or may not have.  Whatever lay behind the banter, Letterman bordered on the inappropriate with Garr, one time passing her a note during a taping that became a notorious cornerstone of armchair psychologists' analysis of him.

The creeper-sweet infatuation he cultivated was never funnier than during the heatwave show, when he attempted to convince Garr to take a shower on the program.  Uncomfortable, titillating, and hilarious in ways that build over the course of the hour, this is an episode that could only have existed at the forlorn end of the broadcast day.  In 2015, it retains a surreal quality that might make you think you'd imagined it if it couldn't be found on YouTube.

Coming up:  Number one on our homemade Top Ten list!

— Scott

(Top) 10 Things About David Letterman — Number Three: Real Journalism!

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David Letterman — a journalist?

Absolutely.  A nightly interview show will do that to you, whether anyone expects it or not.  By CBS's count, Letterman has interviewed 19,932 guests on The Late Show alone.  Consider he was on Late Night 11 years before that and The David Letterman Show six months before that, and you rack up a guesstimate of interviews in the tens of thousands.  Even if 95% were softball celebrity puff pieces, Letterman's still talked to somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 pundits, politicians, writers, and scientists.

And he hasn't rolled over and played dead for them.  Letterman's been as challenging and demanding with Presidents as with celebrities, and that's no mean feat.  Appearances by Fox News's Bill O'Reilly following the invasion of Iraq became instant highlights because of the two's combative chemistry — and because Letterman both asked and answered questions you didn't expect to see a host grappling with.

Letterman did more than answer questions from his talk-show chair.  One week after September 11, 2001, The Late Show set the tone for entertainment programming returning to normal.  New York City's ambassador to the rest of America for two decades, Letterman gave voice to the city's perseverance, gratitude, and overwhelming sense of loss.

Given the scuttlebutt CBS may want him to host high-profile interview specials, we may not have seen the last of Letterman the interviewer.

— Scott

(Top) 10 Things About David Letterman — Number Four: Top Ten Lists!

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Letterman's Top Ten lists were such a fixture of both late-night shows that almost no one remembers they were a late-comer.

Letterman read the first one on September 18, 1985.  To put that into context, imagine there's a classic bit of Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show shtick Fallon has yet to invent; on the Top Ten list timeline, that bit is still more than two years out.  There's no mention of the iconic Top Ten list in Avengers #239 because it didn't exist yet.

When Letterman left NBC after being passed up as a replacement for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show in 1993, the network claimed most of the recurring routines on Late Night were the intellectual property of NBC — including the Top Ten list.

In the months between his last broadcast on NBC and the premiere of The Late Show on CBS, commentators were nervous what an 11:30 Letterman without Top Ten lists, special suits, a never-seen home office, Stupid Pet Tricks, and throwing things off the roof would look like.  More nervous than modern audiences are about an out-of-character Stephen Colbert.

"Intellectual property" became a buzzword in an America where the combination of those two words was still inherently funny.  That's almost impossible to imagine now.

Fans needn't have worried.  Letterman replied to NBC's claim on the Top Ten by saying it couldn't belong to NBC since he had plagiarized it from somewhere else.  He threw watermelons off the roof of the Ed Sullivan Theater, joking that if NBC came after him, maybe they would also go after teenagers on overpasses.  When his mother appeared on the show, he even quipped that he might have to call her "Dorothy" since "Dave's mom" was the intellectual property of NBC.

And maybe it's just me — I've never heard anyone else say this — but isn't #4 (sometimes #3) on the Top Ten list always the funniest, usually the punchline to the whole Top Ten bit, with #s 2 and 1 serving as comedic dénouement?

— Scott

(Top) 10 Things About David Letterman — Number Five: Biting the Hand That Feeds Him!

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If you wanted contempt, Late Night had plenty of that on offer, too.

You got hints of it in Letterman's public feuds with Bryant Gumbel and Jay Leno and sometimes in his prickly, combative dealings with guests like Cher or Oprah Winfrey   It was usually for a laugh — at least on Letterman's part.  (He is a comedian, after all, with the driving comedic instinct to get a laugh whenever possible.)

Most often, though, you got it in the most unexpected, uncomfortable, and yet natural place in the world, someplace we can all relate to: Letterman's relationship with his bosses.

Though he had dust-ups with CBS over the years, Letterman was largely valued at that network and treated with some dignity.  (Except in Sioux City, Iowa, where the local affiliate refused to carry The Late Show back in 1993.)  At NBC, however, he'd started as a disposable cog in the network machinery.  Over time, his influence with viewers and sponsors grew to the point where he became more important to the network than any of his bosses — or even their bosses, as proved the case when General Electric bought NBC and became the target of Letterman's mockery.

Working for GE inspired some of Kurt Vonnegut's best work, and it did the same for David Letterman.

Nor were advertisers safe from Letterman's sharp sense of humor.  He rarely went after them directly, both versions of the show routinely featured jokes about the need to sell advertising and spoof products deflating the snake-oil hucksterism of TV commercials in general.

Letterman closed "Will It Float?" bits with a pitch for the home game.  He awarded studio audience participants with boxes of Explod-O-Pop microwave popcorn, a gag rooted in people's distrust of the microwave.  (It was always described with toxic adjectives. e.g. "contaminated with flavor!")  When CBS lightened up on the use of the word ass, he introduced Big Ass Ham, roping good-natured celebrities will to play on their — ah, let's say "abrasive" — reputations into recording spoof commercials for the brand.

— Scott

(Top) 10 Things About David Letterman — Number Six: The Anti-Show!

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Letting everyone in on the joke, from the office staff to the home viewer, was the just the beginning of Letterman's shtick.  Late Night was thoroughly anti-establishment and deeply ironic.  It never missed an opportunity to lampoon the superficial spectacle of television itself.

One time, that involved retooling the show for people who taped it and watched in the morning.  Another time, it involved an empty studio as Letterman waited at home for the cable TV installer.

Late Night never forgot its place in the television continuum.  On the rare occasions he resorted to them, Letterman took otherwise straightforward spoofs and turned them into meditations on the form.

Consider this After-School Special parody I'd never seen before.  (Shout-out to Stephen Robinson for sharing.)  Lesser shows would have settled for poking fun at the earnestness of real After-School Specials, but Letterman and his writers manage to equate cancellation with death — and NBC's 1983 fall season with the cycle of life.  Whereas a real After-School Special teaches children important coping skills for life, the Late Night version teaches audiences coping skills for watching television.  It's as profoundly irrelevant as the shows that inspired it sought to be relevant.

Many feared the "underground" or "countercultural" tone would evaporate when Letterman left 12:30 for 11:30 to compete with the mainstream powerhouse The Tonight Show, but it didn't:  It just became a little slyer.

Letterman's first episode on CBS featured staid, mainstream Paul Newman standing up and walking out because the show didn't feature "singing cats" (a nod to "Stupid Pet Tricks," a bit NBC wouldn't let him Letterman take to CBS) — and irreverent youth-culture icon Bill Murray defacing Letterman's new desk.  If that didn't put you on notice the show would continue to be subversive, even in the hallowed halls of 11:30, well, maybe you were aging into that "mainstream" part of the demographic that doesn't appreciate irony and subtext.

Like most revisionists, Letterman's desire to tear apart and rebuild television was born not of contempt but of reverence.  That reverence was on full display when he collaborated with Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, spoofing programming trends of the day with a manufactured feud whose solution was pure television.

Letterman loved TV.  If you doubt me, just look at the way he relentlessly needles it.  Letterman mocks the medium as only a friend can — with intimate understanding of it and ultimate forgiveness for its flaws.

— Scott

(Top) 10 Things About David Letterman — Number Seven: Impeccable Timing!

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Letterman is a comedian's comedian.  His timing, with guests and with a punchline, is as flawless as it is unique.  He pauses for laughs at odd moments, slides in punchlines when you're not expecting them, and knows when to let a bit linger long past the expiration date in the script.  He and Saturday Night Live perfected this style in the '80s, crafting gags that overstayed their welcome so long they became funny again.

The same instincts that let him milk a bit always told him when it was time to let go — which is why there are so many classic Letterman routines you've surely forgotten a few of them.  Some bits, like "Beat the Clock" and "Is This Anything?," lay dormant for months or years before making a comeback when the time was right.

That giant doorknob from the Avengers issue?  That was a funny bit about prop comedy mostly lost to the ages.  (There are no clips to be found on YouTube.)

"Will It Float?" started simply enough (as the name of the game implies), but it escalated quickly, reinvigorated by the addition of embarrassingly naked showmanship whenever its popularity began to flag.  A giant curtain restored the mystery in its early days before scantily clad hula-hoop and grinder girls upped the ante on spectacle.

Not that Letterman's gags needed spectacle.  More often, they were defined by the lack of pomp and overproduction, as when he showed the audience his record collection or sent his mom abroad to award canned hams to Olympians.

He knew exactly how long to hold a joke, and he knew it long before the audience did.  This allowed him to run ahead of his own gags and lay the groundwork for laughter when audiences would grow tired of a bit or think they'd exhausted its comic potential.  Bit that seemed painfully ill-conceived played out over entire episodes, revealing themselves as hilarious slow burns given time and space to come into their own.

My personal favorite, nowhere to be found on YouTube, were the high-definition television special guests.  When HDTVs were becoming commonplace and cable and satellite providers offering content in the new format, Letterman had walk-on cameos from celebrities who stood off to the side of the picture — guests who would only be seen on HD's 16:9 ratio but remained tantalizingly off-screen for viewers watching the 4:3 standard-definition broadcast.  Harvey Pekar might have seen this as contempt for the working class who couldn't afford to buy new TVs just to keep up with the Joneses — but we all laughed.  It was a bit that could have worked only at that time, and Letterman kept it around just long enough to do its job.

It's fitting, then, that Letterman announced his retirement with a prolonged, rambly shaggy-dog story that turned out to be concise and relevant, though the audience never realized it until he hit the punchline.

That's Letterman:  Perfect timing and thinking faster than his audience all the the way up to the finish line.

— Scott

(Top) 10 Things About David Letterman — Number Eight: Freaks and Geeks!

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Talk-show hosts (even late-night talk-show hosts) used to interview celebrities.  Letterman, already blurring the line between cast and staff on Late Night, decided he might as well interview interesting people who weren't celebrities.

And so the world met Harvey Pekar, an autobiographical cartoonist from Cleveland (by night; Harvey was a file clerk at the Veterans Affairs Administration by day).  Pekar and Letterman clashed several times over the years.  Just as Letterman jabbed at television convention with his brash, irreverent show, Pekar jabbed at Late Night.  Theirs was a thorny relationship, with Harvey Pekar more real than the realest guy on television.  Letterman eventually stopped inviting Pekar to the show, but not before he had him on the more staid, mainstream Late Show once, in 1994.  Once was all it took for Pekar to address the in-studio audience, telling them, "Letterman has more contempt for you than I do.  Don't kid yourself."

Oh, and Letterman teamed up with the Avengers during Assistant Editors Month.

Sure, Obama has met Spider-Man, but that's in an age when the Avengers themselves are blockbuster movie stars.  In 1983, when Letterman's 12:30 show had barely been on a year, comics were anything but hip and Letterman was all but unknown.  But he was popular among New Yorkers and college students, which meant there was counterculture synergy to be had in blending Late Night with Marvel characters.  (Then-)assistant editor Mike Carlin recognized the value in a crossover and contacted NBC to "book" the Avengers for an appearance in their own title.  The issue was equal parts super-hero throwdown and sketch-comedy romp, writer Roger Stern scripting such convincing versions of David Letterman and Paul Shaffer I sometimes attribute one-liners from this issue to the actual show.

The Avengers weren't even the show's oddest guests.  Late Night also had Andy Kaufman on at his strangest and most controversial, during his infamous feud with professional wrestler Jerry "The King" Lawler.  Feuds being a standard trope of both pro wrestling and celebrity, Kaufman staged a perfect one — sometimes a delightful circus, sometimes erupting unexpectedly into (seemingly) real violence and confusion.  Audiences of the day struggled to tell how much was performance.  When Kaufman frothed over in a tirade of obscenities on Late Night, no one thought it could have been a bit.  Letterman seemed visibly upset.  Lawler seemed furious.  Kaufman seemed unsympathetic and perhaps unhinged.  If the whole thing were staged, no one would have let it go that far off the rails — would they?

Jim offered up a fun analogy when were talking about Kaufman and Letterman's rising stars in the early 1980s.  They both worked in absurdity and surrealism, tearing down institutional comedy from within like true subversives.  In this, they're much like the Fawcett Comics characters.  Letterman, in retaining his Midwestern naïveté and acting as the protagonist, is Captain Marvel.  Kaufman, with his put-on sniveling and sincere cynicism, plays the role of Black Adam.  Two opposing forces wielding the powers of celebrity and intelligence.

Patton Oswalt summed it up well when he called Letterman's world a "twilight circus of irony, sweetness, freaks and geniuses" on Facebook and explained Letterman himself as a freak who could pass among straights on Conan just before the Late Show finale.

— Scott

(Top) 10 Things About David Letterman — Number Nine: Everyone Is a Star!

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To be in David Letterman's orbit is to be a prop for his talk show, whether you're on the staff (like long-time producer Biff Henderson, seen here in a clip from 1986) or just work nearby (like Hello Deli owner Rupert Jee or Pocket Books rep Meg Parsont).  As Jee explained to Rolling Stone, "People tell me that when they're out of ideas, they call me."  Incidentally, that's the same reason Letterman called the Simon & Schuster building facing his NBC offices and met "Meg from Across the Street."

And, of course, Letterman pioneered forays into the audience.

Involving staff, bystanders, and audience members brought the home audience into the show as well, giving them "characters" who existed as real people they could drop in on during their tourist trips to New York and reinforcing Letterman's standing as an everyman.

Turning the irony dial up to 11, the "real" bits of both shows were more real than audiences gave them credit for.

Tony Mendez, the angry cue-card guy, got fired from the show last year for being too angry over the cue cards.

Stephanie Birkitt, the droll intern who grudgingly tolerated Letterman's flirting and acted as a reluctant correspondent (occasionally snapping back as part of the joke), turned out to be his mistress.  (If you click only one link in this section, click this one to read Amy Argetsinger's smart reflection on the role Birkitt played on The Late Show.)

What Andy Warhol's Factory stars were to the art world, Dave's extended cast were to America at large.  Hats off to all of 'em.

— Scott

(Top) 10 Things About David Letterman — Number Ten: Worldwide Pants!

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According to TV legend, Letterman formed his own production company as a means of protecting the material he created for The Late Show on CBS from being owned by the network.  Unfortunately, that's a bit of an exaggeration.  Pants had been around and co-producing Late Night with NBC before all the bad blood.  (It shared a 1991 Peabody Award with the network.)

Once known as "Space Age Meats," the administrative branch of Letterman's media presence took its more famous name from a Late Night bit NBC comically censored: "Guess What's in This Guy's *****."  To the Late Night staff's surprise, NBC censors bleeped the word pants, leading Letterman to work it into all manner of odd phrasings until the joke finally died of old age.  It enjoyed a long second life in the form of the odd phrases Late Show announcer Alan Kalter boomed over the production company logo at the end of Late Show episodes through the '90s and '00s.

Worldwide Pants became Letterman's incubator for talent.  Its alumni include innovative, one-season, comedian-driven sitcoms like The BuildingEd, and Welcome to New York and one show that managed to land at just the right time to become a long-running hit, Everybody Loves Raymond.

Letterman also used Pants to create a later-night offering for CBS to pit against NBC's retooled, Lettermanless Late Night with Conan O'Brien.  The Late Late Show started out with more serious late-night talk hosted by Letterman's NBC predecessor, Tom Snyder.  Over the years, it took many forms, eventually culminating in a decade-long run under Scottish comedian Craig Ferguson, who subverted and defied late-night expectations in much the same way Letterman had done 20 years earlier at NBC.

David Letterman was an one-man incubator for new talent above and beyond Worldwide Pants.

Late Night  introduced the world to Chris Elliott, a second-generation comedian who sharpened his ability to walk the line between endearing and menacing on Late Night.  Afterward, he turned his unique shtick into one of the fledgling Fox network's first original shows, Get a Life.  The whole early Fox line-up looked like it could have come from the Late Night writers' room, filled with smart, deconstructionist "sitcoms" (or were they spoofs of sitcoms?) like Get a Life, It's Garry Shandling's Show, and Married ... with Children.  You can see that throughline today in The Simpsons — and you can see Elliott in Eugene Levy's Schitt's Creek.

— Scott

(Top) 10 Things About David Letterman — A Little Counting Music, Please ...

A Little Counting Music, Please ...
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David Letterman by Al
Milgrom and Joe Sinnott,
from Avengers #239
(January 1984).

A couple of weeks ago, David Letterman said goodbye to late night.  Wanting to address his 33 years in television here on the Flashback blog, I dug into the research — which is to say, I wasted hours watching Letterman clips on YouTube.

That means I have a bevy of videos, tidbits, and thoughts to share with you.  Unfortunately, you're going to have to sit through yet another "tribute" Top Ten List to get them.  Before you roll your eyes and start pelting me with rocks and garbage, remember we already do a feature called 10 Things About ... here at Flashback, so it's only natural we're making our "10 Things About David Letterman" into the "Top Ten Things About David Letterman."

Plus, I'm not alone in stealing this bit.  Everyone from Jimmy Fallon to James Corden has done a wannabe Top Ten to commemorate the Indiana weatherman's retirement.

To put a little fun into this one (and give you time to watch all the video clips), I'm going to trickle the Top Ten out throughout the day.  We'll publish a new item at the bottom of every hour until we get through all of them.  Think of it as a bloggy version of "Beat the Clock" with me as the Guy Under the Internets.

All you need to play along at home are a keyboard and your own band.

— Scott

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Thoughts on Convergence and Secret Wars

Scott and I have been focusing so much on retro-post here lately, that we've sort of neglected the current state of comics books. Fortunately, old contributor Caine Dorr asked me via email about my thoughts on Convergence and Secret Wars... today, I'm breaking our unofficial boycott of current comic news to expound on these latest (and greatest?) events... - Jim

Both events are remarkably similar (which I think is due to both companies walking down an ever narrowing path of event fatigue plus a shared limited notion about what makes a good event.) On the surface, both sound like the sort of thing I would really dig: A wide variety of writers given free range to play with a subsection of comic continuity for two issues.

And if it had been JUST that, I think I would have enjoyed the spin-off issues. But two things killed it for me:

Bowers/Sims on this should be good!
One, most of the issues I've sampled (all DC - I'm waiting for the Sims/Bowers X-men 92 - which I expect to be pretty good - before I take the plunge into Secret Wars) feature a lot of hero vs hero stuff that I've grown tired of. (Though, I'm not sure that if the issues had been heroes vs villains if it would have been that much better. It's more of a preference than a surety.)

Two, I had zero interest in the main storyline from either company. I'm just turned off by anything with a ton of spin-off series.

Here's the thing - say DC _had_ gone with a more retro approach with retro heroes fighting retro villains for two issue: would it be embraced by today's comic market? I'm not sure. DC did something once before with Mark Waid's The Silver Age mini-series (which was a lot of fun and I'm surprised it's never been collected...) Maybe that's my answer. Looking on Amazon, I don't see The Silver Age offered as a TPB.

I'm inclined to say that there's a very small market for 2 issue mini-series featuring retro versions of the Freedom Fighters or The Seven Soldiers of Victory.

However, a longer series packaged as a prestige graphic novel (like James Robinson's The Golden Age) might work. It's takes the right writer tapping into the appropriate nostalgia while adding just enough modern sensibilities to keep it from being too, hm...Roy Thomasy (No offense to Roy. I loved his Invaders run, but something about his DC nostalgia books tend to make them read more like a Who's Who than a comic written by a guy who was an editor during the Bronze Age.)

However, that's not what we got. Yeah, the convergence mini-series might have The Seven Soliders on the cover, but the storytelling beats might as well have been the DC 52 Suicide Squad. I think that's partly because there was a directive to tie the stories into the main storyline.

The only one that was close to what I would have liked to have seen for the whole event was the Shazam two issues. (Shazam's been having a good year! First Grant Morrison's fun turn on the character in Multiversity and now this..)

Again, let me repeat, I've not read any of the Secret Wars books, so I may try one tonight to see if they fall into the same setup of 70's Master of Kung-Fu vs Future Imperfect Hulk (with zero thought put into the environment of either title.)

But I'm not holding out much hope for it. If anyone out there as read the new Secret Wars stuff, let me know what you think!

- Jim

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Top Ten Offbrand Superhero Cartoons

Reviewing the Superheroes in Animation link over on Wikipedia, I found it woefully lacking as it was missing quite a number of my favorite superhero cartoons. Upon closer inspection, I noticed it seemed mostly devoted to cartoons from the Big Two (Marvel/DC). I thought about fixing the entry myself on Wikipedia, but I've had problems with their site in the past, so today, I present (in no particular order) the Top Ten Non-DC/Marvel Superhero Cartoons!

1. Space Ghost
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Space Ghost is a fictional character created by Hanna-Barbera Productions and designed by Alex Toth for CBS in the 1960s. Space Ghost is credited with being almost single-handedly responsible for the popularity of superhero cartoons in the 60's. In his original incarnation, he was a superhero who, with his sidekick teen helpers Jan, Jace, and Blip the monkey, fought supervillains in outer space. A DVD Collection of the original Space Ghost cartoons is available on Amazon.

In the 1990s, the character was brought back as a host for his own fictional late-night talk show, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, on Cartoon Network and Adult Swim. In the 2000s, he was revamped as a serious superhero once again in a mini-series by DC Comics. ~Wikipedia

2. Space Sentinels (aka Freedom Force)

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Space Sentinels (originally titled The Young Sentinels and renamed midway through its only season) is a Saturday morning animated series produced by Filmation which debuted on the American NBC network on September 10, 1977 and ran for thirteen half-hour episodes. The series has been called "ahead of its time" due to its racially diverse cast of main characters. In this series, the Roman mythological figures Hercules and Mercury are joined by Astrea, a character created specifically for the series, to form a superhero team to protect mankind.  The show would evolve into the Freedom Force by the next year (see following entry). The complete series of the Space Sentinels was released on DVD along with the complete series of The Freedom Force. ~Wikipedia

The Freedom Force is a 1978 animated television series produced by Filmation and aired on CBS as a segment of Tarzan and the Super 7. It showcased a superhero team gathered by the heroine Isis from around the world to help fight evil. Isis had previously appeared in the live-action television series, The Secrets of Isis, although the actress who portrayed her, Joanna Cameron, did not reprise the role for the cartoon. Only five episodes of the series were produced. ~Wikipedia

3.  Defenders of the Earth

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Defenders of the Earth is an American animated television series produced in 1986, featuring characters from three comic strips distributed by King Features SyndicateFlash Gordon, The Phantom, and Mandrake the Magician—opposing Ming the Merciless in the year 2015. Supporting characters include their children Rick Gordon (son of Flash), Jedda Walker (daughter of the Phantom), Kshin (adopted son of Mandrake), Mandrake's assistant Lothar, and Lothar's son L.J. The show lasted for 65 episodes; there was also a short-lived comic book series published by Star Comics (an imprint of Marvel Comics), created by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru and John Romita, Sr.. The closing credits credit Rob Walsh and Tony Pastor for the main title music, and Stan Lee for the lyrics. The series was later shown in reruns on the Sci Fi Channel as part of Sci Fi Cartoon Quest. ~Wikipedia

4. Birdman and the Galaxy Trio

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 Birdman and the Galaxy Trio is an animated science fiction television series created by Alex Toth and produced by Hanna-Barbera. It debuted on NBC on September 9, 1967, and ran on Saturday mornings until September 6, 1969. The program consists of two segments: Birdman, depicting the adventures of a winged superhero powered by the sun, and The Galaxy Trio, centering around the exploits of three extraterrestrial superheroes. NBC ran two new segments of Birdman each Saturday, separated by a segment of The Galaxy Trio.

Birdman (voiced by Keith Andes) - An ordinary human endowed by the sun god Ra (although this origin is only vaguely and briefly hinted at during the series; his real name is given as Ray Randall) with the ability to shoot solar rays from his fists and project "solar shields" to defend himself against attacks. He was recruited by a top-secret government agency, Inter-Nation Security, and now works full-time fighting crime, assisted by his eagle sidekick Avenger. In addition to the abilities he received from Ra, Birdman also possesses the power of flight, thanks to the giant wings which sprout from his back. His sole weakness is that he must periodically recharge his super powers through exposure to the sun’s rays, a weakness that is exposed in nearly every episode. His trademark is his battle cry of "Biiiiirdman!!" when he goes into battle.

The Galaxy Trio is a group of three extraterrestrial superheroes, Vapor Man, Meteor Man, and Gravity Girl, who patrol space in their cruiser Condor One maintaining order and fighting evildoers in the name of the Galactic Patrol law enforcement agency. The ship was equipped with a "displacer" very similar to the transporter device on Star Trek,[citation needed] which was a contemporary show.
  • Vapor Man (voiced by Don Messick) - He has the ability to transform part or all of his body into gaseous form (a power shared by at least some residents of his home planet of Vaporus), enabling him to fly, escape from physical bonds, and squeeze through very small spaces, as well as producing various forms of "vapor" (such as "freeze vapor") from his hands.
  • Meteor Man (voiced by Ted Cassidy) - A native of the planet Meteorus. Meteor Man is distinguished by his ability to increase or decrease the size of any part of his body. He gains superhuman strength in any limb that he chooses to enlarge.
  • Gravity Girl (voiced by Virginia Eiler) - She has the ability to bend the laws of gravity to her will, allowing her to fly and lift very heavy objects with her mind. The daughter of the king of the planet Gravitas, she left her luxurious home and life of privilege at an early age to fight crime with the Galactic Patrol and was subsequently assigned to the Galaxy Trio team, with whom she has served ever since. ~Wikipedia
 5. Young Samson

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Samson & Goliath (also known as Young Samson) is an animated television series produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions for NBC, where it debuted on September 9, 1967. Primarily sponsored by General Mills, who controlled the distribution rights through its agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, Samson & Goliath was retitled Young Samson in April 1968 to avoid confusion with the stop-motion Christian television series Davey and Goliath.

The series was the only Dancer Fitzgerald Sample-sponsored cartoon to be outsourced to Hanna-Barbera; the agency's in-house studio, Gamma Productions, had closed shortly before the series began. (It was also the only cartoon in the DFS portfolio not to be created by Jay Ward Productions or Total Television.) A young Tim Matheson did the voice of Samson, while Mel Blanc supplied the voice of Goliath. John Stephenson did the various character voices. ~Wikipedia

6. Phantom 2040

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Phantom 2040 is a French-American animated science fiction television series loosely based on the comic strip hero The Phantom, created by Lee Falk. The central character of the series is said to be the 24th Phantom. In the year 2040, environmental disasters and the economic Resource Wars of the early 21st century have decimated the fragile ecological balance of an Earth once teeming with life. Everywhere, the privileged and wealthy continue to thrive in expensive real estate developments that tower above the suffering masses. The victims of Earth’s misfortune have been forced to subsist on scavenged refuse from the past on the mangled streets of forlorn city-states.

The only hope for the survival of humanity is the Ghost Jungle — thousands of square miles of mutated vegetation that may be the planet's salvation. This secret source of life is submerged beneath Metropia,unseen by most. College student Kit Walker Jr. is chosen by fate to save the world, donning the black mask and purple suit of his people’s savior, the 24th Phantom.

The unusual character designs were the distinctive work of Peter Chung, creator of Æon Flux.
The show debuted in 1994 to rave reviews, though it survived only 35 episodes before it was relegated to weekend repeats in 1996. Along with action sequences, stories focused on intelligent plotting and character development, winning the series praise for its subtle teaching of such values as individuality, freedom and the volatility of humanity. ~Wikipedia

7. WildC.A.T.S

The WildC.A.T.s television series was created in 1994 and aired on CBS. The series was produced by WildStorm Productions in association with Nelvana. Although DC Comics owns the rights to the characters (due to DC's 1999 purchase of WildStorm), FUNimation Entertainment distributed the series' run on DVD, which was released on July 19, 2005.

It ran for thirteen episodes with a family-friendly storyline. WildC.A.T.s featured a rock soundtrack, and a theme song performed by Sheree Jeacocke and Gerry Mosby. WildC.A.T.s, along with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Skeleton Warriors, was grouped into the "Action Zone" showcase that used a wraparound animated fly-though pre-credit sequence to bookend the three very different programs. The series was canceled around the same time that the "Action Zone" concept was officially retired (although TMNT retained the "Action Zone" credit sequence until the end of its run two years later) ~Wikipedia

8. Spawn

Todd McFarlane's Spawn is an animated television series which aired on HBO from 1997 through 1999. It is also released on DVD as a film series. It is based on the Spawn comic series from Image Comics, and was nominated for and won an Emmy in 1999 for Outstanding Animation Program (longer than one hour)

The series centered around the story of an ex-serviceman named Al Simmons, who fought in the Vietnam War as a commando. He was betrayed and killed by a man whom he believed to be his close friend (the man, Chapel, burned him alive with a flamethrower). Upon his death, Simmons vowed revenge on Chapel and hoped that he would one day return to his beloved wife Wanda.

In order to accomplish his vow, he makes a pact with the Malebolgia (who was the overlord on the eighth plane of Hell). The pact was a simple one: Simmons would become a Soldier in Malebolgia's army (known as the "Hellspawn" or "Spawn" for short) in return for the ability to walk the earth once again in order to see Wanda. However, Simmons was tricked and his body was not returned to him; instead he had been given a different body which was a festering, pungently cadaverous, maggot-ridden walking corpse that had a massive living red cape attached to it. The head of this new body had been rotten for some time and was in an advanced state of decay, which led to Simmons donning a mask in order to cover its grotesque appearance. ~Wikipedia

9.  Savage Dragon

In 1995 the Savage Dragon appeared in the half-hour animated television series The Savage Dragon as part of the Cartoon Express on the USA Network. Produced by Universal Cartoon Studios, it ran for 26 episodes from 1995 to 1996 and featured numerous supporting characters from the comic book series, including She-Dragon, Horde, Barbaric, Mako and Overlord. The Dragon was voiced by Jim Cummings.[1] Additional voices were provided by Mark Hamill, Michael Dorn, Jennifer Hale, Rene Auberjonois, Frank Welker, Paul Eiding, Rob Paulsen and Tony Jay.

Episode 21 of Savage Dragon, "Endgame", served as the second part of a four-part crossover with three other shows in USA's "Action Extreme Team" programming block: Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm, and Wing Commander Academy. ~Wikipedia

10. Hellboy

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 Hellboy Animated are original straight-to-DVD animated films based upon the Hellboy comic books by Mike Mignola. Both films, Sword of Storms and Blood and Iron, received the signature of Mike Mignola and Guillermo del Toro.

 Sword of Storms
In Sword of Storms, Hellboy and Kate Corrigan are dispatched to Japan to solve the mystery of a professor possessed by the Japanese demons Thunder and Lightning. The demons wish to get their hands on a powerful haunted sword, which will free them, and allow them to unleash their brothers and destroy the world. While Hellboy is sent into an alternate dimension, facing Yokai on the way, his B.P.R.D. teammates, Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman, try to stop one of the Dragons on the first wave of the coming chaos. 

Blood and Iron
Hellboy: Blood and Iron deals with Professor Trevor Bruttenholm's experience with a vampiress (the blood countess) in 1934 and the present day. Hellboy also faces off against Hecate. The DVD for this also includes a bonus short called Hellboy: Iron Shoes. ~Wikipedia

Honorable Mention


There was a short-lived Ultraforce animated television series that ran for 13 episodes. It was based on the first version of the Ultraforce comic book, and was produced by DiC Entertainment and Bohbot Entertainment.[2][3] There was also an Ultraforce action figure line produced by Galoob.

The Ultraforce is a fictional superhero group that appears in comic books published by Malibu, and later Marvel, as well as an animated series produced by DIC. Their purpose was to protect the public and keep other Ultras from getting out of line. The membership consisted of various "ultras" (superheroes) in Malibu's Ultraverse, including the super-strong Prime; Topaz, warrior queen of Gwendor; Prototype, Ultra-Tech's armored spokesperson; the undead Ghoul, the last surviving member of the Exiles; Hardcase, one of the first public Ultras; and the mysterious Contrary, who organized the team and provided their technology. ~Wikipedia

I think that's all the cartoons I can remember. If I missed one of your favorites, please post it in the comments!

- Jim


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