Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Karen says: Welcome to the Sanctum, part 4

Welcome back to part 4 of my own little magical mystery tour of my comics room, or The Sanctum, as I like to call it. Today we'll be looking at the southwest corner, which is home to both the Justice League of America and all things Star Trek.

Besides Marvel Comics, Star Trek is probably the other major influence on my childhood. When I say Star Trek, I'm talking old school here: the original show, with the legendary team of Kirk and Spock (and McCoy too). Although I did enjoy Next Generation, and I really liked Deep Space Nine, classic Trek is and always shall be, my favorite.

On my bookshelf here you will see a signed photo of Kirk and Spock. For some reason I really dug the black and white picture, and managed to get it signed by William Shatner and then a year later, signed by Leonard Nimoy. It's one of my favorite items in my collection.

On the table in front of the photo are a variety of Trek knick-knacks, including a Spock button I purchased way back in 1975 at the San Diego Comic Con -my first convention -and some poker chips from the Las Vegas Hilton, former home of the Star Trek Experience. There's also a nice communicator replica that a friend got for me. As a kid I had a ton of Trek toys, models, Mego figures, etc, but that stuff is all gone now. Mostly I just have my books and autographed photos.

On the wall to the left of that photo are autographed pics of Shatner and Ricardo Montalban. I was very lucky to see Montalban at a Star Trek Creation Convention in Pasadena; I believe it was his only convention appearance. He was a wonderful speaker; I enjoyed his honesty, as he said there was no work for "crippled old mexicans" in Hollywood! Still, despite his obvious frustrations, he was a perfect gentleman, and despite being in considerable pain from back problems, he signed hundreds of autographs, and was gracious and friendly when I spoke to him.

I have gotten Shatner's autograph three times now. Although I have an insane admiration and love for The Man, he can be somewhat indifferent when signing. I did manage to get his attention one time when I mentioned that I loved his film Incubus, a film where all of the dialogue was in Esperanto. That got a very strange look from him. I don't know if he thought I was joking, or if he was afraid I was serious and possibly dangerous.

Nimoy on the other hand has been very friendly the couple of times I have met him. Unlike his Spock role, he seems to be a very warm guy. I also met George Takei (Sulu) outside of a convention panel one time and had a brief conversation with him, which resulted in taking a photo together. A year later, I returned to the convention and brought the photo for him to autograph. He looked at it and said, "I remember this!" and we chatted briefly, much to the annoyance of the folks in line behind me! Another good egg was the late James Doohan (Scotty). Back in the days before the Trek cons became so commercialized - ie, back when autographs were free! - I was able to meet Doohan a couple of times. He was a gregarious guy and loved talking to people. After one show in San Francisco, I spotted him in a gourmet market at Fisherman's Wharf, strolling around shopping. People came up to him and he was just as nice as could be.

Then on the other hand...I hate to say this, because the character of Uhura is so dear to me, but Nichelle Nichols was not the nicest person I ever got to sign. I think the reason for this was, the photo I asked her to sign was a group shot from Star Trek II, and her face was partially in shadow. All I know is, when I slid the photo before her, she looked at it, then looked up at me with a frown. She then turned to a friend sitting next to her and pointed to the picture. Her friend then also frowned at me. She signed it but said nothing to me. A few years later at another convention, the program explicitly stated that "Ms. Nichols will not sign photos where her face is obscured". Well OK!

The other residents of this area are the Justice League. I absolutely love the Bruce Timm Justice League cartoon and these large and small figures are here because of that. The glasses are ancient history. I got them from Taco Bell back in the mid70s. At one time I had all of them - the set included not just the ones here but also Superman and Wonder Woman - but only Aquaman, Batman, and Robin have survived. Unfortunately we didn't know back in those days not to put these glasses in the dishwasher! Because of that they are quite faded, but I still enjoy having them around to look at.

Up above this area of the room, I have some small sci fi posters, and a couple of copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, signed by the late, wonderful Forrest Ackerman. I had been hoping to get Ray Harryhausen's autograph on the same magazines at the same time but unfortunately I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe some day though...

Last but not least, although it's not technically part of the sanctum, my tiki mug shelf would be in the sanctum if I still had any wall space! These tiki mugs, shot glasses, coasters, and swizzles sticks come from a variety of tiki bars (and stores) chiefly in California and Arizona. What's ironic about all this is I'm not actually a drinker -I just like the way they look! I'm particularly fond of the top shelf, which includes a nifty rocket decanter, as well as robot and space-alien mugs. A good source for cool tiki mugs is Tiki Farm ( There's just something about the tiki aesthetic; it fits in perfectly with comics, sci fi flicks, and monsters! One of these days, I'll have to provide a tour of the Orbit Room, my outdoor tiki patio/lounge. But we'll save that for another time! I hope you all enjoyed this little glimpse at one woman's idea of heaven.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Birth of Phoenix, Part 5: X-Men 101

X-Men 101 (October 1976)
"Like a Phoenix, From the Ashes!"
Chris Claremont-Dave Cockrum/Frank Chiaramonte

Doug: Welcome back, to the conclusion of our look at X-Men #'s 97-101. It's been a really fun month revisiting some treasured memories from roughly 35 years ago (wow -- has it been that long??). We're actually only going to review the first half of this issue, as the book is somewhat of a conclusion to the Sentinels arc and a prelude to the coming Juggernaut tale. Maybe we'll get back to that later, True Believers!

Doug: Our story picks up right where it left off, with Jean Grey attempting to bring the Starcore space shuttle back to earth. There had been intense solar activity, and Jean's telekinesis was required to not only hold the ship together upon re-entry to earth's atmosphere, but also to shield the ship from the radiation. As the shuttle got closer, it became apparent that a safe landing was not a done deal.

Karen: The fact that Jean was able to telekinetically hold together something the size of a space shuttle, for a prolonged period of time, while simultaneously screening out lethal radiation, would indicate to me that she was already a pretty powerful mutant! Certainly this was the greatest use of her powers we'd yet seen.

Doug: Jean managed to guide the ship toward JFK in New York. I thought this was somewhat odd, as even when the shuttle program was in its first flights it was always landed in the desert. I'm not certain if we should assume that a) Jean wanted to land in NYC, b) the shuttle was programmed to land there, or c) Claremont just wanted the X-Men back in New York as a plot device. At any rate, they end up with a water landing after torching through a runway at Kennedy.

Karen: The double-page spread of the shuttle crashing and coming apart was pretty spectacular. But I thought this issue was a step-down, art-wise, from the previous. Frank Chiaramonte's inks have an unfortunate scratchy look to them, not like the fuller, thicker inks of Cockrum himself in the previous issue.

Doug: As the team surfaces, they do a headcount and determine that Jean is not among them. As Cyke announces that he's going back down for her, the water begins to bubble and a woman bursts upward, shouting, "Hear me, X-Men! No longer am I the woman you knew! I AM FIRE! AND LIFE INCARNATE! NOW AND FOREVER -- I AM PHOENIX!" She just as abruptly does a burn-out and falls back into the bay. But before she fell, she did show off some pretty cool togs, in Marvel Girl green/yellow no less!

Karen: Originally they intended for the costume to be white and gold, which I think would have been an interesting color scheme - certainly a unique one. But my understanding is that the white portions of the costume would have allowed whatever was on the other side of the page to show through (because of the thin newsprint pages) so green was chosen instead. It does seem appropriate since, as you mention Doug, it is her original Marvel Girl colors.

Doug: As the team makes their way to shore, Professor X suggests that the fewer costumed adventurers, the less explaining there will be to do. Nightcrawler uses his image inducer, and Xavier creates an illusion that Storm is in plain clothes. The next scene takes us to a wandering Wolverine, musing to himself how he feels toward Jean like he's never felt toward anyone. He buys a bouquet of flowers and heads to the hospital to "maybe get to talkin'". For whatever reason, he's surprised when the rest of the team is already there.

Karen: It's funny how things change. I never considered Wolverine a legitimate threat to Scott and Jean's relationship. Wolverine was depicted as a short, rather unattractive jerk with no social skills. But I think that over the years, as Wolverine has gained popularity (and certainly once Hugh Jackman portrayed him in the movies), the whole Jean-Scott-Wolverine triangle actually became a reality. But it didn't really exist back in the issues we are reading. All that was there was Wolverine's unsatisfied desires.

Doug: This chapter in our story ends with an announcement from Jean's attending physicians (including Dr. Peter Corbeau?? -- doesn't the guy work for StarCore?) that with rest and care, she will be fine. The team is elated, as you might imagine. But... due to the strain of the past several days, and the fact that Jean needs R&R, Xavier announces that the five new X-Men will be placed on extended vacation. Yeah, like the Juggernaut wouldn't show up to ruin that...

Karen: I really liked the way Clar
emont portrayed Scott here. We find out that he realizes that it is Jean, and not the X-Men, that gives his life meaning. When the doctor announces that she will recover, Scott goes off by himself and collapses in tears of relief. That was a very well-done scene.

Karen: All in all, I thought this storyline was entertaining. I really enjoyed seeing the Sentinels come back, although they were hardly the threat they originally were. But there was so much packed into each issue, like the return of characters like Havok and Polaris (was this the first time she had been called Polaris?), and the continued development of the new X-Men, that this title was consistently the most exciting book on the stands. Revisiting those days has been a real blast.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Birth of Phoenix, Part 4: X-Men 100

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, from Karen and Doug!!

X-Men #100 (August 1976)
"Greater Love Hath No X-Man..."
Chris Claremont-Dave Cockrum (pencils and inks)

Doug: This is it, mutant-lovers -- the penultimate chapter to the very exciting conclusion to our first foray into one of the best runs in Bronze Age history, the A
ll-New, All-Different X-Men (yeah, so mark me off for a run-on sentence...)! Our first note today is a huge kudo to Dave Cockrum for the fantastic cover -- this one about knocked me over when I saw it on the spinner rack at the Osco Drug back in the summer of '76. It's a motif that's been used often, and quite successfully.

Doug: Let's get this rolling -- As you'll notice above, Cockrum inks himself in this issue and the results are impressive. It's my opinion that the art in the past few issues, even from panel to panel, was somewhat inconsistent. However, this is vintage Cockrum and there's a pay-off immediately with an outstanding first-page splash followed by a double-page spread featuring 12 X-Men in pitched battle. It's poster-worthy, folks (how's that for being Seinfeldian?)!!

Karen: I really like Cockrum's inks. It's far less sketchy than w
hat Grainger did.
Doug: The next several pages are full-on action as the two teams divide based on powers and personal dislikes. Despite the fact that the new team is taken aback by the fact that these X-Men had all fought together only months ago, there is little quarter offered. The highlight is our inaugural look at the Fastball Special, as Colossus and Wolverine combat Angel, only to be assaulted by Havok. We commented a couple of issues ago how much we liked Cockrum's pencils on the energy-wielding mutants, particularly Havok. Alex Summers' attack on Colossus is beautifully rendered -- powerful and savage.

Karen: Oh I agree, it's a great image. Cockrum really shines here. You know, when Cockrum returned for his second stint on X-Men, I really didn't care for his artwork. It had obviously changed some, but it's hard for me to say exactly what it was I didn't care for. But I thought it was no where near as good as what he did in this issue.

Doug: Of course, Storm attempts to reason with Jean, but Polaris ends that conversation. Banshee stems that tide, and Wolverine battles his way across the room to Xavier. I think this is the issue that made Wolverine a star. Marvel had long been way out in front of DC in terms of taking chances with characters. Wolverine's encounter with Xavier and then Jean Grey showed not only the extent of his mutant abilities not being his claws, but that he could rely fully on those abilities.

Karen: It's a nice show of Wolverine's ferocity; he was a real wild card back then. If I had to pick his star moment though, I think I'd go with issue 133, where he goes after the Hellfire Club. But this issue clearly illustrates the anti-hero nature of the character, which was still pretty unusual back then.

Doug: Cockrum follows the revelation that the original team was really comprised of high-tech lookalike Sentinels with another two-page spread. I think the best aspect of this are the looks of horror on the faces of the real Jean Grey and Scott Summers, captured and "stored" in giant test tubes. What was going through their minds? That Lang had the technology to create such able dopplegangers, or that Wolverine had carved the Marvel Girl Sentinel without a second thought?

Doug: Cyke is able to blast his way out of his restraint, and immediately frees Jean, Corbeau, and the professor. Lang of course flees, hopping into a small shuttle craft. Jean takes over the controls of Lang's little ship and he crashed it, allegedly killing him. As the carrier is now badly damaged, the X-Men and Corbeau scramble to find a way out. The only way is aboard the space shuttle they'd come in on, which is itself damaged.

Karen: Yes, the space shuttle with the big gaping hole in the hull. Oh boy!

Doug: It's determined that Jean will fly it, using her telekinesis to keep out any radiation, as well as to hold the ship together. Do you remember when I remarked in our review of issues 97 and 98 that I thought she was depowered, and mused that it could be a way to show how powerful she would become as Phoenix? Well here it seems like Claremont amped her up as a plot device to get her to the point where she could be transformed. As an aside, I'd also like to say that the Claremont/Bolton second story in Classic X-Men is spectacular. It shows the interaction between Jean and the Phoenix-force aboard the shuttle in the last minutes before the Phoenix assumed Jean's identity. It's a very moving tale of a young woman's love for a man, and of her sacrifice to save that man. As we'd find out much later, to some extent it became a deal with the devil...

Karen: That last page, with Jean telekinetically holding everything together, was pretty awesome. I like the way Cockrum made Jean's powers more visual -even if that really didn't
make sense!

Karen: More than anything though, these issues moved the Scott-Jean romance into the legendary category. These were two people who would do anything for each other. It made it gut-wrenching when Jean died. The first time, I mean.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Our Wish Lists

It's Christmas Eve, kiddies!
Get yourself in bed, and no peeking down the stairs!

Doug: Wouldn't it be cool if, in addition to world peace, I found these things under my tree this Friday?

Sal Buscema: Comics Fast and Furious Artist from TwoMorrows Publishing.

Let's hear some love for Big John's little brother, Sal! If you're a Bronze Age fan, and I'll assume you are since you're here, then Sal's your man. Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel Team-Up, the Incredible Hulk, the Defenders, Peter Parker, the Avengers -- you name it, Sal drew it! Sal's long been due some love for his contributions, and I'd love to read this new retrospective.

Mego 8" Super-Heroes: World's Greatest Toys from TwoMorrows Publishing

I've chronicled a couple of times my love for Megos. I had the chance to thumb through this tome last summer, and will heartily recommend it to any early '70's action figure enthusiasts. This book is very colorful, incredibly detailed -- from what I could tell, all variations in packaging, clothing, head sculpts, etc. are depicted in photos large enough to do justice.

DC Universe Illustrated by Neal Adams

I own the 3-part Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams and am looking forward to this and the coming volume 2. I have Adams' Green Lantern/Green Arrow work collected in two tpb's; I do not have his Deadman volume. Anyone out there want to recommend that? I should say that I've read some reviews of this book and some Adams fans are put out that Neal was allowed to re-ink and re-color some of his work here and it wasn't all that pleasing. I can't comment on that, but thought I should at least state it.

Marvel Comics in the 1960's from TwoMorrows Publishing

The main premise of this book is available online at the Silver Age Marvel Comics Cover Index, but I wanted the book format. My biggest complaint is that the original cover art was much cooler than what shipped. I'm a sucker for comics history, so I'm looking forward to reading this take on Marvel's expansion throughout the Silver Age.

And last but not least, how about the blue and yellow Goliath figure from Hasbro's Marvel Universe line? At 12" tall, he will fit in just fine with my Marvel Legends, and give me a nice survey of the career of Dr. Henry Pym -- I already have the little and 6" size Ant-Man, the Giant-Man build-a-figure, and Yellowjacket. This will be perfect!

Karen: Well, Santa has already left a really big box under our tree this year. I have a sneaking suspicion that a rather large bust or figure might be inside. I'll get back to you after the 25th!
For myself, there's a few things out there I'd really like. Doug, I also would like to get that Sal Buscema book from Twomorrows, and I have the Marvel Comics in the 1960s book, so if you get that one, we can do a review on it! Now as for other presents I'd like to receive, this first one is definitely on its way, as I just ordered it! The Marvel Masterworks series has been moving into the 1970s, and I've already got the Warlock and Captain Marvel editions. I was really excited to see that Deathlok was getting the MM treatment! This volume has ASTONISHING TALES #25-28, 30-36, MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #33, MARVEL TEAM-UP #46, MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #27, 54 and CAPTAIN AMERICA #286-288 - basically all the Deathlok you need!

One other book I'd like is Keep Watching the Skies by Bill Warren. This is a massive (1040 pages!) book that examines the classic sci fi movies of the 50s and 60s. As this is a period of great interest for me, and the book comes highly recommended, I really hope to get it some time soon. The price is a bit steep but I'm sure it's something I would reference again and again. You never know when you'll need to have info on Invasion of the Saucer-Men at your fingertips!

It would be great to get this boxed set of Ray Harryhausen movies at Christmas - then I could sit back and watch flicks on my days off! This set contains the films 20 Million Miles to Earth, 7th Voyage of Sinbad, It Came from Beneath The Sea, and Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, all pretty entertaining stuff. But I'm a Harryhausen nut - I can never get enough of seeing his little creations running around!

I hope everybody gets something nice from Santa -and may everyone have a safe, healthy, happy holiday.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

5 Pop Christmas Songs to Love

Say, there -- how about your favorite recording artists getting in the holiday spirit? Nothing screams commercialism like a pop star or group mining some old yuletide standbys. I've included links to the sound samples from in case you've never heard the version of the songs I'm mentioning. Here are five I really like:

1. Merry Christmas, Baby by the King of Rock 'n' Roll Elvis Presley
It truly doesn't get any better than this, and that's why it's at the top of the list. Elvis at his bluesy best. This one really picks up steam as it goes along, and finishes quite well. A true standard.

  1. 2. Little Saint Nick by the Beach Boys

A little sappy, but a nice little toe-tapper, sing along (how about the Run, Run Reindeer part of the chorus?) -- always, always seems to get stuck in my head after I hear it. Standard Beach Boys from the era, but what's wrong with that?

3. Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town by the Jackson 5

Little Michael just a'wailin' is what makes this song special. It's the familiar arrangement, but really amped up by Michael's vocals. This comes from their early era, back in the days of ABC, I Want You Back, etc.

4. Happy Xmas (War is Over) by John Lennon

A much better effort than Paul McCartney's Christmas effort, Wonderful Christmas, which gets a little tired after a very short time. Lennon manages to squeeze his mission for world peace into his Christmas offering. The children's chorus really sends his point home with emphasis.

Recorded right after the band scored mega-big with their live/studio combination Rattle and Hum album, this song is one of the true highlights of the very first A Very Special Christmas compilation. It's upbeat, Bono's vocals are great, and it's, like several listed before, a toe-tapper

Honorable Mention: Do They Know It's Christmas? by Band Aid

I love this song, and to this day can pick out the various artists singing. While USA For Africa's recording We Are the World was equally important in terms of the talent assembled to play/sing, I just like this song better. It still evokes memories of those days when big time world issues were at the forefront of our MTV news, and giving was encouraged by our superstars.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Birth of Phoenix, Part 3: X-Men 99

X-Men #99 (June 1976)
"Deathstar, Rising" 
Chris Claremont-Dave Cockrum/Frank Chiaramonte

Doug: Welcome back, as we wind our way through the first epic in the All-New, All-Different X-Men. Let's get right into this installment, in which the team discovers that all is not what they thought with Dr. Steven Lang and his Sentinels!

Karen: I remember when this issue came out how annoyed I was with the color errors on pages 1, 16, and 17 - what should have been red was purple, what should have been yellow was blue, and so on. The worst thing though was that X-Men was still bimonthly! I would re-read issues a dozen times over before the next one came out!

Doug: Banshee's face on the splash page is just vintage Cockrum. We've said before that Dave's work was very distinctive, yet somewhat hard to put a finger on as to why. For me it's always the faces.

Karen: There's something about his style that is very rounded, graceful; and yet, he pulls off the technical stuff, like the space shuttle, very well.

Doug: I'll have to admit that I had to read page 2 twice. Call me dense, but the columnar lay-out got me the first time. Made a heck of a lot more sense once I figured out the panel order. And hey, I've always been one of those readers who thought the directional arrows some artists use are insulting to my intelligence. Joke was on me here, though!

Doug: But anyway, can any of you physics experts out there explain to me why our three heroes weren't sucked inside out by the vacuum of space? Unless I missed it, when they burst through the hull of the carrier in the last issue they were not wearing any transuits (that's in the Legion, right?) force fields, etc. So by the time the Sentinels got out there to envelop them in the bubbles it should have been too late.
Karen: Yes, even as a kid I knew better. I guess we just have to suppose that the sentinels got there pretty darn fast. And a good thing too, because I would hate to see inside-out mutants!

Doug: How about Geraldo Rivera turning up in this story?? He was a muckraker from the very beginning...

Karen: Yes, that panel was hilarious. Dig that groovy hair!
Doug: Karen, you mentioned the intricate (too much?) backstories that Claremont devised for these characters. It's in this issue that we learn that Petr's brother Mikhail was one of the USSR's first cosmonauts. But, wouldn't that have made him much older than Colossus?

Karen: Sure seems like it. Gagarin went up in 1961, 15 years prior to this issue. But even beyond that, how does a poor peasant from a tiny obscure villag
e just happen to have a brother who was a cosmonaut? To make matters worse, his sister later become a demon-child! It's just a lot of unnecessary junk that Claremont always lays onto characters.

Doug: As the story goes, Corbeau commandeers a space shuttle and the earth-bound X-Men head to the carrier to rescue their mates. There's a funny scene with Colossus getting airsick. The shuttle is attacked by space-faring Sentinels (as I said last time, it's revealed that this version of the giant robots was inferior to their predecessors -- these guys don't seem to have too much trouble navigating the cosmos, however), and the progression of the battle necessitates Corbeau ramming the shuttle right into the side of the carrier. But again, no vacuum of space. I wonder if Claremont had done any reading on this issue at all, because he writes this like a 1950's DC rather than a Bronze Age Marvel...

Karen: It's almost as if he couldn't be bothered to come up with a reasonable way to get the team on the station because he was in such a hurry to move the story forward. Although, for all we know,Cockrum may have been the one to bring these elements into the story. In any case, your description is apt.

Doug: Three pages of full-on battle ensue, and Claremont and Cockrum manage to work in some characterization that will stick with these characters for year's to come. Of note would be their depictions of Nightcrawler's and Colossus's personalities.

Karen: Colossus flips out over Storm's safety. It seems that they might have been planning for those two to become a couple, or at least have Colossus be interested in Storm. In later issues, we see both Nightrawler and Colossus show romantic inclinations towards
her, although Storm seems uninterested in either of them. I'm glad they never explored these ideas further! I thought the panel of Storm and Colossus in profile was a nice example of Cockrum's skill with faces, as you have mentioned Doug.Doug: Cyclops leaves the team so he can rescue Jean and the Professor from Lang. Once he finds them, Cyke cuts loose with his fists, not his optic blasts, and beats Lang to a pulp. Jean stops him before he kills Lang. You know, Scott Summers has always been an edgy character, but Claremont was really putting him through the wringer in these early issues. I think what we see here is the stress and frustration of leading the new team, the death of Thunderbird, and his growing love for Jean Grey all manifesting itself in a Wolverine-like berserker rage.

Karen: This is the Cyclops I used to love, not that screwed up joke they have over at Marvel now. Here was a guy who had kept so much bottled up inside -both his eye beams and his emotions - and Claremont was showing how he was finally, through his relationship with Jean, beginning to allow himself to feel. His love for her and his sense of responsibility for the team made him a compelling character. Now he just seems to be a jerk who's into telepathic chicks.

Doug: The last page is a full splash to remember -- the new team rounds a corner to come face-to-face with the original five. And the originals ain't happy!


Friday, December 18, 2009

TV Party Tonight! -Christmas Specials

Karen: Well, it's that most wonderful time of the year. We put out the eggnog, hot chocolate, and cookies, so let's sit down by the fire and watch some of our favorite Christmas shows!

First, to get the juices going, let's start with that beloved classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas. I've seen it a million times but I can never get enough of it. There's so much to love here, especially the incredible music of Vince Guaraldi. Charlie Brown's valiant stand against the commercialization of the holiday is a classic. There are so many great moments - the ice skating, the kids dancing during rehearsal, Snoopy's prize-winning decorated doghouse, and of course, Linus' moving speech about the true meaning of Christmas. An absolute gem.

How about a little musical number before we get to our movie? This is an odd little bit from the 1977 Bing Crosby Christmas Special. Bing Crosby and David Bowie?! You couldn't get two more diametrically opposed personalities. And's a beautiful performance. Check it out.

And of course, what would a Christmas special be without a commercial? I know, it would be much better! But this is a pretty cute commercial:

Let's get to our main feature, shall we? While there have been many, many film versions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, my favorite one is the 1951 movie with Alastair Sim as Scrooge. I think what gets me the most about this version is the time spent showing Scrooge the child; it's easy to see how such a lonely, unhappy child could turn into such a cold, distant creep later on. But the possibility of redemption exists, and we get our happy ending, as Scrooge attempts to make up for the past and become a good man. Whenever I see this I always feel acutely my own short-comings toward my fellow men. It's a good reminder that we only have so much time in this world - we should strive to do well with it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Birth of Phoenix, Part 2: X-Men 98

X-Men #98 (April 1976)
"Merry Christmas, X-Men..."
Chris Claremont-Dave Cockrum/Sam Grainger

Doug: You may have noticed that last time we included the original cover to X-Men #97, as well as the mid-80's Classic X-Men that reprinted that tale. For this series, I've been reading from the Classic X-Men issues. I had very fond memories of those stories, and I recall at the time that I enjoyed the extra backstories done by Claremont and artist John Bolton. However, upon revisiting these books some 25 years later, I am a bit taken aback at a major element I'd forgotten, and that is the inclusion of additional story pages in the original tale. This is akin to the many "adjustments" made by George Lucas to the original Star Wars trilogy and I'll be honest -- looking at it now with a more mature lens, I'm not a fan. I still like the backstories, but the stuff they squeezed inside (obviously with art not by Dave Cockrum) is rather wasteful and detracts from the original work.

Karen: This might be side-tra
cking a bit, but Doug, did you ever read John Byrne's X-Men: The Hidden Years? I know I bought the series for awhile but I honestly have no memory of it now! But it featured "untold" stories of the X-Men. Just curious what you might have thought of that.

Doug: I bought most of it, but it wasn't memorable creatively -- as you stated. I got irritated that he began to introduce major characters, like Storm, before they were introduced! How can you steal the thunder from one of the greatest runs of all time -- as you mentioned earlier, X-Men 94-140-something??

Doug: X-Men #98 separates itself from the previous issue. We begin this story at Rockefeller Center for a Christmastime night on the town. All of the team is assembled, sans the Professor who is on recuperative leave dealing with his nightmares. Shortly, everyone goes their own separate ways, Scott and Jean to dinner, Banshee and Moira for a walk, and Nightcrawler and Colossus chasing skirts. We're left to wonder exactly where Wolverine and Storm go...

Karen: It's kind of funny, Cyclops makes a comment about how the new X-Men have been together almost a year - well, sure, in real-time, but in Marvel time, that means there's a lot of time in between adventures! I mean, we're only talking about GS X-Men 1, and issues 94-97. That's not a lot of adventures for a year.

Doug: One of the highlights of this issue is a 2-panel cameo by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Cockrum gets their likenesses down, but one certainly has to wonder if the pleasant tone with which they address each other was realistic for this time. Having read much about their actual relationship, I liked it better when I was young and dumb. Tarnished heroes aren't much fun.
Karen: Besides the Lee/Kirby cameo, we also see Nick Fury and the Contessa on the splash page, and if you look hard, you might notice a certain Latverian monarch ice skating at Rockefeller Center! I'm not certain, but I think Cockrum also drew himself and his wife (girlfriend?), Paty, on the lower right hand corner of the splash as well. Is it just me, or does Stan Lee's face in the second panel look like it might have been retouched or completely re-drawn by Marie Severin?

Doug: Now that you mention it, Stan's face looks very similar to the portrait that appeared in the house ads for Marvel's Pizzazz magazine -- right around this era
. Marie Severin probably did most of that sort of artwork.

Karen: It was good to see Scott and Jean have some romantic time together. This was a couple that really hadn't been much of a couple before, with all of Scott's agonizing over his dangerous eye-beams. Claremont just sort of moved it right along.

Doug: As Scott and Jean settle down to their table, what should appear but two very large blue-and-purple fellows -- Sentinels! In a great entry panel, Cockrum unleashes the terror they bring over the next two pages. However, as was often the case, the giant robots always seem to underestimate the power of a cornered X-Man.

Karen: I really liked the way Cockrum illustrated Jean using her powers. No more little dashed lines shooting out of her head! She actually looked formidable.

Doug: Which brings me to a question I kept asking myself over the course of these issues we are discussing (you'll excuse me if I make a few general comments that get ahead of ourselves). It's stated later that the Sentinels that appear in issues 98-99 are not the original and were duplicated with faulty matierals. That would explain how different members of the team just annihilate these robots. But I thought there were several occasions where our energy-wielding friends, from Cyke to Jean to Ororo seemed vastly powered up. Did you get that sense, Karen?

Karen: Well, Jean flat-out says she's more powerful than she was before, and I always thought Cyke was very powerful. Storm was the newcomer, but she was consistently portrayed as being perhaps the most powerful X-Man at that time. So it all worked for me.I enjoyed seeing Storm create a gigantic tornado with lightning bolts in the sky!

Doug: Jean is taken by one of the Sentinels, who speeds off into the night, leaving Storm and Cyclops to sort things out. Scott senses that this may be an assault on the entire team, and fears for the professor. We then shift to the Bahamas where Xavier is vacationing with an old pal, Dr. Peter Corbeau. I didn't know that Dr. Corbeau had been around the Marvel Universe for a short time -- I always assumed he was created to fit into the X-Universe. You can check out his appearances at the Comic Book Database. In another grand entry panel, Cockrum draws a Sentinel emerging straight out of the ocean to confront Corbeau's boat.

Karen: OK, I looked up that entry on Corbeau, and I have to admit, I had no idea he started out in The Incredible Hulk!I had always assumed his first appearance was in Avengers 103. Another little detail: his boat is named Dejah Thoris, the princess of Mars from Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars series.

Doug: After being captured, Banshee, Jean, Wolverine, and the Professor soon meet their captor -- Dr. Steven Lang. Lang had debuted in X-Men #96. Lang taunts the team, and Jean baits him into physically attacking her. This is not to "the Wolverine"'s liking (did you think it was weird that he kept referring to himself as "the"?), and Logan bursts his shackles, claws ready for action. A Sentinel pays the price, and Lang and his henchmen scatter. What is really interesting about this scene is that Logan is barechested; Banshee remarks shortly thereafter that he had no idea that the claws were a part of the body. The assumption was apparently made, as John Romita had originally intended, that the claws were affixed to Wolverine's gauntlets.

Karen: I recall when I first read this I was puzzled and intrigued by the technician's statement that he wasn't sure Wolverine was a mutant - "His readings are nothing like the others". In retrospect, I wonder if this comment was put in there because they were still planning to go with the idea that Wolverine was actually a real wolverine that the High Evolutionary had transformed into a man? It seems like an odd statement.

Karen: Of course, the real shock here was the claws coming out of his hands! Wow! That was definitely a curve ball.

Doug: So speaking of Wolverine's characterization, we are really getting a slow reveal from Claremont. We've seen the berserker rage, the gruff personality, and now we've seen that the claws come out of his arms. But the funniest thing is the panels where Jean is trying to tear her gown (remember, she and Scott had been out to dinner when all of this came down) and Wolverine just walks over and rips it up to her buttocks! Now we start to see Wolverine's brash sense of humor...

Karen: I think it may have been a matter of writer and artist warming up to the character. I know I've read that Cockrum really didn't care for Wolverine, his favorite was Nightcrawler. Of course, when Byrne came on to the title, his favorite was Wolverine, and we all know where that went.

Karen: The artwork for Banshee, Wolverine, and Jean's escape attempt was very dynamic. Although I've always wondered how someone Banshee was carrying wouldn't be knocked silly by all that damned screaming!

Doug: As Cyke and the rest of the team try to find those captured, they are visited by Dr. Corbeau who has trekked all the way from the Bahamas to fill them in on Xavier's capture. After some conversation the assemblage determines that all efforts by Cerebro to locate the missing X-Men failed because... the team is not on earth but out in space! Stay tuned!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Welcome to the Sanctum, Part 3

Okay partners, we're moving on to another area of my comics and pop-culture sanctum today. We'll see super-heroes, monsters, aliens, and even Mickey Mouse! Sure it's eclectic, but variety is the spice of life and all that.

Here you see an assortment of posters, although 3 of them are all by the same artist, the amazing Alex Ross. The largest of them is a recent X-Men poster he did, which unfortunately is reflecting some light from outside. But it's a spectacular work with all the really worthwhile X-Men, although for some reason Gambit is there. I like how he depicts the original X-Men in their old 'school uniforms'.

Above and to the right of that is a print Ross did many years ago, probably around the time the "Marvels" series came out, called "Heroes" (there was a companion piece, called "Villains" of course, but I don't have that). It's a nice look at the Marvel heroes circa about 1964 -it kind of blows my mind when I realize how small the Marvel Universe was at one time.

The picture to the far right is really what I consider my gem: the Avengers, with Ross painting over the late great John Buscema's pencils. It's a truly gorgeous piece, and also signed by Ross.

Above the X-Men poster are 4 small posters, all recent acquisitions. I discovered these as part of a Marvel calendar for 2010. It was an 18 month calendar, so there were 18 classic covers! They are 11" X 17". I could easily quibble with some of the choices -and particularly over what was left out - but in general I'm very happy to have these. The calendar was perforated so the pages were easily removed. I have a few more of these around the Sanctum.

Below and to the right of the posters are my busts and statuettes. I have a good friend who started getting busts as gifts for me - the Namor and Dr. Doom ones were from him - and then I began to add to it slowly. My fiance also contributed a few.

We'll go shelf by shelf. First, the monsters.

We have some more Harryhausen critters here, including (from left to right) Talos from Jason and the Argonauts, a skeleton also from Jason, and the dragon and cyclops from Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Behind them are two great robots from the 1950s, Robby the Robot, and Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still. On the right side of the shelf are a set of busts that originally came in the "Universal Monsters Legacy DVD" box set. Besides these excellent busts, you got complete collections of the Dracula, Frankenstein, and Wolfman films from Universal Studios. These busts are well-done, and I really wish they had put some out for the Mummy and Creature from the Black Lagoon too.

And now shelf 2: classic Marvel heroes:

On the far lest is a statuette of the Vision, one of my all-time favorite Avengers. Next to him is of course the Star-Spangled Avenger, Captain America himself, and his lunchbox rests behind him. The mighty god of thunder, Thor, completes this mini-Avengers section. Then we're on to another favorite, the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing! An outstanding bust designed by Ross, and a very cool Thing vs. Hulk piece that recreates a scene from Marvel Feature #12.

Shelf number 3 is That 70s Shelf!

Ah yes, I love the 70s so much that I have a whole shelf devoted to it! We start with the super-cool Defenders mini-mates (including Namor in his black leather S&M threads), the Phoenix in full glory (this was from the Hero Clix game), and an X-Men tin from Nabisco (I think). Then we come to the cosmic coalition, with decidedly non-70s mini-mate versions of Gamora and Nova -but they were 70s characters, so it still counts - a genuine 70s Warlock Slurpee cup, another nice statuette of Warlock, a Thanos mini-mate (watch out, he has the Infinity Gauntlet!), and then my favorite zombie cyborg, Deathlok, in both a Ross-inspired bust and statuette.

Next stop: Disney.

My fiance collects Disney watches, and they often come in very decorative tins or containers. The one on the left is hard to see but has a silver colored Mickey head on it. Next is a wooden and glass case from Fantasia. Then there's the Aladdin tin, and the best of all, a cool semi-bust of Mickey as the Sorcerer's Apprentice.

The last two shelves are a hodge podge.

The Doom bust is a classic and I absolutely love it. It has occupied the top shelf more than once! But for now, I gave it over to the monsters, and the good doctor will have to wait his turn. Next to him are the Invaders mini-mates. For this and the Civil War mini-mates to the right, I made copies of covers, in this case Invaders #1, to use as a backdrop for the mini-mates. An exquisite Barbara Gordon Bat-Girl is next. She is still the only Bat-Girl to me. A statuette of John Stewart (the Green Lantern, not the talk show host) from the Justice League cartoon is my only other DC representative here. I really need to see about getting a few more DC pieces. And then there is the afore-mentioned Civil War mini-mate set.

On the very bottom is a set of Iron Man armors - modern, Silver Centurion, and a cool retro version. Some Iron Man mini-mates are bouncing around the bases of the busts. Iron Man used to be a part of the Avengers set, but I decided to split them up - hey, just like the comics! The proud Sub-Mariner occupies the last spot.

These busts all get moved around a lot, and I have some Star Wars busts that are awaiting a new bookshelf before they can return to the sanctum. Our next stop will be where no man has gone before- with a detour to the Halls of Justice!

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