Thursday, April 25, 2024

Spinner Rack Flashback: Saga of the Swamp Thing #14-15

Saga of the Swamp Thing #14-15

Cover Date: June-July 1983
On Sale Date: March 10 and April 14 1983
Editor Len Wein
Cover Artists Thomas Yeates

Story Title:  "Crystal Visions, Shattered Dreams"; "Empires Made of Sand"
Plotter/Penciller: Bo Hampton
Scripter: Dan Mishkin
Inker: Scott Hampton
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Tatjana Wood

Trey: Swamp Thing was created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson for House of Secrets, but somewhat retooled, starred in his own series from 1972-1976. In 1982, with a movie by Wes Craven on the way, the series was revived. This series, and perhaps the character in general, is best known for the run by Alan Moore, mostly with Steve Bissette, but there were 20 issues of the title before that creative team came together. Most of them were scripted by Martin Pasko, but there was this two-parter where another writer stepped in, Dan Mishkin, joined by the Hampton Brothers, Bo and Scott, on art. These issues happen to be my first exposure to Swamp Thing comics as a kid.

One interesting thing about this issue is the origin of the villain here parallels the Swamp Thing’s origin—and this being the Bronze Age, they don’t fail to clue you into that fact even if you have no prior knowledge of the character!

Jason: As a kid growing up in a one-spinner rack town, the editorial practice of endlessly recapping prior issues and origins in ongoing stories actually served its purpose, as I often didn't have the opportunity to get consecutive issues of comics. Early 80s pocket money being what it was, I sometimes had to settle for a single issue of the Micronauts after squandering my quarters on the most fleeting of video game thrills (damn you Centipede!).  

As in this issue, the origin recap also gives the current art team a crack at presenting the story in their style. The Hampton brothers, both of whom were in their early 20s at the time of publication, provide as seamless a transition from Thomas Yeates as readers were likely to get, as they both embody a classic comic strip and illustration style. The EC Comics influence, especially Al Williamson (and Frazetta), is strong and appreciated by me!  

Trey: One thing I appreciate now but I didn't appreciate at the time was how much this is a Phantom Stranger story. He's obviously a guess star, sure, but the structure of the story is very much like the Phantom Stranger backups by Barr and others that had been running in earlier issues of Swamp Thing: the Stranger introduces the situation as narrator. He then intervenes at points, trying to get characters to do the right thing. This playing with the conventions of DC horror anthology titles in a more different sort of narrative is something that Alan Moore would do in his run. In many ways this story is in line with his approach.

Jason: While it will still be a sea-change when Moore takes over, the book is already moving in a more adult oriented direction as evidenced here. Not quite there, but still better than I expected. 

Trey: What I also didn't recall is how poorly fleshed out the bad guy's plan is! I mean, sure he's made of living crystal, but other than them both containing the element silicon, how exactly will that enable him to control computers and rule the world?

Jason: Well, we see it all happen right there! I mean, silicon. Computers. You know! Seriously, that's the trouble with comics struggling through these growing pains. Swamp Thing is still a weirdo-of-the-month Frankenstein vs. Dracula book and you're asking it to make sense?

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Spinner Rack Flashback: DC Comics Presents #59

DC Comics Presents #59

Cover Date: July 1983
On Sale Date: April 7 1983
Editor Julius Schwartz
Cover Artists Giffen/DeCarlo

Story Title:  "Ambush Bug II"
Plotter/Penciller: Keith Giffen
Scripter: Paul Levitz
Inker: Kurt Schaffenberger
Letterer: Ben Oda
Colorist: Carl Gafford

Trey: This post debuts a new feature here on the Flashback Universe blog. Jason and I thought we'd take a break of watching old TV shows and get into...reading old comics! Which, I have been doing a lot of anyway. In it, we're going to discuss some comic, probably from the Bronze Age.  First up, the second appearance of Ambush Bug.

Jason: Trey, as the only person I know who has undertaken a systematic reading of DC Comics' output in the years leading up to Crisis on Infinite Earths, you are uniquely positioned to speak to this issue in relation the slow transition from the late Bronze Age to whatever comes next.

While merely an okay, readable, perhaps entirely forgettable comic of its day, I think there are at least tonal elements that mark it as (slightly) ahead of its time. Am I all wet?

Trey: Having read every other comic DC put out that week (and the week after for that matter) I can say these Ambush Bug appearances are atypical. I think that's down to Giffen (Ambush Bug's creator) taking his first forays into writing.

Jason: It feels like Giffen stands on the precipice of nailing down a humorous approach to superhero comics that will see fruition several years later in his highly successful Justice League run (written in collaboration with J. M. Dematteis). The arch tone is in place, but this is an early attempt.

Trey: I think you are right, though first he's going to go to his more overtly comedic collaborations with Robert Loren Flemming in the Ambush Bug limited series.

Jason: Do you think Giffen's use of humor is, in part, a tribute to or revival of the light, sometimes wacky sensibilities of DCs Silver Age?

Trey: That's an interesting question. I'm tempted to say no to revival, but I do think there's is a bit of celebration in its goofiness at a time when comics were becoming more serious. Unlike later works which will try to rehabilitate it, though, I think here in the 80s the approach of doing that seems to be to (lovingly perhaps) make fun of it.

Jason: I thought the running gag involving the never resolved fate of Stoneboy was the most successful and most "modern" use of humor in the story. 

Trey: Well, you should read the Legion of Substitute Heroes oneshot from Giffen/Levitz in 1985, because there's more of that!

Jason: Giffen's art is in a transitional phase as well, somewhere between his Kirby-derivative Marvel period and his incorporation (some would say "appropriation") of the influence of Jose Munoz a few years later. I always enjoy an homage to Joe Shuster's slit-eyed style, and Giffen brings out this retro-Superman's old school charm.

Trey: Yeah, it's good stuff, I think, though he has quite perfected the look of Ambush Bug, I don't think. It gets better.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Classic TV Flashback: Have Gun – Will Travel (1957)

Have Gun – Will Travel
Debut: September 14, 1957
Created by Sam Rolfe, Herb Meadow
Starring: Craig Stevens, Lola Albright, Herschel Bernardi, Hope Emerson, Byron Kane
Synopsis: The man known as "Paladin," a gentleman gunfighter, makes his living as a troubleshooter-for-hire in the Old West. 

Trey: The television version of Have Gun – Will Travel aired on CBS from 1957 to 1953. Interestingly, there was a radio version starring John Dehner as Paladin which debuted on November 23, 1958, making Have Gun – Will Travel of the few shows in television history to spawn a successful radio version, instead of the other way around.

We watched Season 3 episode 1 "First, Catch a Tiger" on YouTube. In this episode, two of the three men responsible for hanging Jacob Mordain's son have been gunned down, shot in the back, by the assassin, Fred Horn. The third, Paladin, is invited to Wyoming to face him, and finds himself staying in a hotel with three other men, unsure which is the killer.

I have heard a few episodes of the radio show on radio classics. I must admit having Richard Boone in the lead had kept me away from the TV version a bit. The urbane air of John Dehner seems to fit the character for me. Boone is familiar to me as the heavy in Westerns like Big Jake and The Shootist or more rough-hewn characters like in Rio Conchos. I guess there's always his role in The Last Dinosaur, but anyway nothing makes me think "gentleman gunfighter."

Jason: Bonus points awarded for Boone's ability to pull off that mustache. 

I'm also a fan of his rugged not-so-good looks as a breather from today's relentless beauty.

The well-established relationship between the Western and Chanbara genres really jumped out at me in this episode.  Paladin, Mordain, and the three possible assassins are all bound by rigid (if idiosyncratic) codes of honor without which, we would have no plot. Paladin voluntarily checks into a hotel full of hostile parties, not least among them the proprietor, and hangs out awaiting an inevitable attempt on his life with all the grim dispassion of Mifune's Sanjuro munching on rice balls in a town full of cutthroats. 

Trey: All of the additional cast here are classic TV stalwarts. No particularly other roles jump out at me, but I know I've seen them all before.

Jason: Hollywood legend Ida Lupino directed this episode, and it feels richly cinematic despite the economies of tv production. It looks damn good (and I was grateful for the image quality of the scan we watched) and Lupino's visual storytelling choices shine.  When violence breaks out, while kept relatively bloodless for television, it hits hard. The fistfight sequence was pretty epic! 

Trey: Indeed! Despite my prejudices against Boone, I liked him in this, and I enjoyed the episode overall. In fact, I wish there was more of it! It's really too short to build much tension, and tension is what it's plot needs.

Jason: We agree on Boone and the episode, though in regard to your previous criticism, I may have felt the tension more keenly. Or maybe after reviewing shows like M Squad and Peter GunnI've become some kind of 30-minute drama format knee-jerk partisan! 


Related Posts with Thumbnails