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! 

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