Saturday, October 31, 2015

Who's the Best... Monster and/or Horror Artist?

Karen: Happy Halloween friends. Today we're talking about who's the best Bronze Age horror or monster artist. A lot of great names...Ploog, Wrightson, Colan instantly come to mind. Who's your choice for the top spot in comic book horror from the 70s/80s? And you can name others.

Bernie Wrightson

Mike Ploog

Gene Colan

Friday, October 30, 2015

Guest Review - Alien: The Illustrated Story

Doug: Edo Bosnar is in the critic's chair today. Kick back and relax with his thoughts on the Alien graphic novel -- and be sure to leave the man a comment for his troubles!

Alien: The Illustrated Story (June 1979)
Archie Goodwin/Walter Simonson

Edo Bosnar: Just in time for Halloween, here’s one that really deserves some attention here at the Bronze Age Babies, because it combines two things much-loved by most BAB regulars: SF/horror flicks from the ‘70s and ‘80s, and, of course, comics. Plus, it was one of those cool projects not published by one of the Big Two back then.

Originally, this comic/graphic novel version of Alien was published by Heavy Metal Magazine as a separate special. It’s something I never had, nor even knew existed back then, but once I learned about it (via the internet, of course), I really, really, really wanted it. But it was hard to find at any reasonable price, and for a while it would have counted as one of my Holy Grails. And then, a few years ago, Titan Books reprinted it in a handsome new edition, and I bought a discounted copy from the Book Depository.

Often, when you get one of these long sought-after items, you experience of bit of disappointment because of high expectations. Well, that wasn’t the case here for me: this is just a really nicely done comic.

I’m assuming that everyone reading this has seen Alien at least once, so I won’t go into a summary of the story. This comic adaptation is pretty faithful to the original – at least as far as I recall, since it’s actually been a while since I’ve seen the movie.

I realize I’m probably beginning to sound like a broken record (or scratched CD, or, hmmm, decompiled mp3?) in my praise of Simonson’s art, but I can’t think of an artist better suited to doing an adaptation like this. He really owns the art in a way that few other comic book artists do in these film adaptation books. The images flow; they don’t have that often stiff look that movie adaptation comics do, when the artist tries too hard to capture the likeness of the actors or the various poses from actual scenes in the movie.

Another thing I found is that the adaptation really looks (and reads for that matter – gotta give Goodwin his due) like an original graphic novel: you don’t need to see the movie to appreciate it, or even have to know that the movie exists.

Needless  to say, I can warmly recommend this one for anyone who likes Alien, Simonson’s art and/or horror and SF. And since it’s been recently reprinted, it’s pretty easy to come by I think, and probably quite inexpensively.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

BAB Review: Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (1943)

Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943)

Karen: Yes, your friendly co-editor has been on a bit of a Universal Monsters binge of late! A week after I watched The Wolfman, I put the disc with this gem in the player and sat back and enjoyed the first genre cross-over event! This really is monumental in a way; it's the first time the Universal creeps shared a film, and by doing so, it established something of a shared universe, even if the continuity of said universe was shaky at best. Was this the first shared universe in popular culture? I'm not sure, but it seems like it may have been.

Despite the Frankenstein Monster getting top billing, this is really a Wolfman picture, as poor Larry Talbot (played again by Lon Chaney Jr.) is unfortunately brought back to life when his tomb is disturbed by some grave robbers, in one of the most chilling scenes in a Universal monsters film. Transforming into his hairy self, he rampages and passes out, and is taken to a hospital. Realizing that he can't die, he decides to seek out the Gypsy woman Maleva (the wonderful Maria Ouspenskaya again) who agrees to help him. She has heard of a doctor who might be able to cure him, a miracle worker by the name of -Frankenstein! The two head of across Europe to the village of Visaria, only to discover Frankenstein's castle in ruins, the doctor dead, and his legacy held in loathing by the townspeople.However, Larry eventually discovers the Monster, frozen in the sunken ruins. 

The Monster this time around is portrayed by horror veteran Bela Lugosi. To this point, we had seen the Monster played by Karloff in three films (the original Frankenstein, Bride of, Son of), then Chaney Jr. stepped in for Ghost of Frankenstein, and next came Lugosi.  Honestly, while I thought Lugosi made a terrific Dracula, and I absolutely love him as Ygor in Son of and Ghost, he is a lousy Monster. Part of it is just his physical characteristics don't go well with the established Monster -his face is round and full, whereas the Monster we know from Karloff has a gaunt look. But what hurts him even more is that much of his performance was cut from the film, and what remains appears to be idiotic. To explain: this Monster had the brain of Ygor, the scheming murderer who had manipulated the Monster in the previous two Frankenstein films. But he was also blind as a result of incidents at the end of Ghost of Frankenstein. The script for this film had the blind Ygor-as-Monster talking to Larry Talbot, helping him look for Dr. Frankenstein's hidden notes so he could try to find release from life. But when executives saw scenes of the Monster speaking in Bela's thick Hungarian accent, they felt it was ludicrous, and had all his speaking scenes cut. So there's no explanation of why the Monster is stumbling and fumbling around as if he's had too much to drink, or why Larry seems to think he can be of help.

I'd be unhappy if my speaking scenes were cut too.

Some critics have pointed out that it is Lugosi's version of the Monster - arms outstretched, hesitant, jerky walk - that has actually become the accepted cultural version of Frankenstein! This was also how later actor Glenn Strange played the role, so I guess we can blame him too.

Despite this, much of the film still works. Chaney is still a compelling sympathetic figure in his quest for death, and this time he's got angry villagers after him, which is fun to watch. The usual suspects are here - Lionel Atwill shows up as the Mayor, and Patric Knowles is Chaney's doctor, who suddenly decides he wants to follow in Dr. Frankenstein's footsteps. Ilona Massey is the late doctor's daughter, who spends the last part of the film in a nightgown and must be partial inspiration for Madeline Kahn's character in Young Frankenstein.

The confrontation between the two monsters at the end is perhaps a bit of a letdown, in this day of flashy films. Even though Lugosi has clearly been replaced at points by a bigger stuntman (either Gil Perkins or Eddie Parker) as the Monster, the action is fairly mild, with the Wolfman and Monster doing some wrassling, the Wolfman jumping around a lot, and the Monster throwing lab equipment, before the dam above the castle explodes and washes them away. It's funny watching these films as an adult, because I certainly had built the action up in my head as a child. Still, it has its charms, and I wouldn't want to see some bloated CGI version of it (we shall never speak of Van Helsing at the BAB. Ever.)

I can't end this post without leaving you with the most memorable scene from FMTW -no, I'm not talking about the monsters, I'm talking about the Song of the New Wine! Listen at your own peril; it's like It's a Small World -once you get it in your head, you'll never get it out.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Discuss: CBS' Supergirl

Doug: I've only seen about the first 2/3 of the show -- but I'd like to finish it. This show is the breath of fresh air DC has needed (admittedly I don't watch the Flash). What I saw was light, perfect fare for the 7:00 hour. And Melissa Benoist is charming in the lead role, both as Kara Danvers as well as our heroine. She looks great in the suit as well -- and I understand why they went with the tights after seeing a few of the flight sequences. There's a cute nod to the fashions of superhero women (see below). I couldn't figure out, however, why no one could utter the name "Superman". It's not like he's Y_HW_H or anything... Some of the plot seemed like it was getting a little wonky, and as I mentioned I'll need to find time to finish my viewing. But overall I thought I liked what I did see. Your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

BAB Review: Dracula (1931) -Bilingual Style


Dracula (1931)

Karen: I had the pleasure of seeing the original Universal Studios  Dracula this last Sunday on the big screen courtesy of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies (TCM). I actually saw Dracula twice: first the classic Bela Lugosi version was shown, and after a ten minute intermission, the Spanish-language version, made on the same sets but with a different cast, was shown. I highly recommend seeing classic films like these on the big screen; it's a completely different experience than seeing it on a TV set. The Lugosi Dracula was also the restored, high def version that is  available as part of the blu-ray set of Universal Monsters films that came out a couple of years ago, and it's astonishingly clean and sharp. I know I was particularly amazed at how clear the sound was -no hissing or crackling!

I probably can't add anything new to the reams of commentary that have been made about this classic. I will say that the story seems almost truncated, like a Cliff's Notes version of the novel, with whole scenes whittled down to bare sketches (the time at Dracula's castle, the voyage on board the Vesta, etc.) although the Spanish version does slightly expand some scenes and adds a few shots that help tell the story a bit better. This was the first time I saw the entire Spanish language version, and while I can understand why some people might argue that it is the better production, there is one thing that keeps that from being true: Carlos Villarias is an absolutely awful Dracula! He is constantly mugging and grimacing, and his Count is utterly devoid of menace. 

Carlos Villarias as Dracula

This brings us to Lugosi. I think over the years people have tended to downplay his performance. Perhaps they have seen Ed Wood and look upon him as some sort of goofy, tragic character. But if you really watch him, he's quite  compelling. Yes, his line delivery is odd at times, but it actually enhances the other-worldliness of the character. And the aura of command, of danger, around him is palpable. There's a reason his is the foremost image of Dracula (sorry Christopher Lee) even today.

I want to say I am not connected to Fathom Events, TCM, or Universal in any way, but I encourage all of you to catch these films on the big screen. Fathom showed Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein around Halloween last year and it was fabulous. At both last year's and this year's shows, TCM host  Ben Mankiewicz appeared at the beginning of both films to provide some insights into each movie. I've read a ton on the Universal films and nothing he said was new to me, but I'm sure it was enlightening to some of the folks in the audience I was with. I appreciate Fathom, TCM, and Universal putting these films back out there and keeping them alive in theaters. I hope that perhaps another generation of film-goers can experience them and understand what makes them so special. Please note that many theaters will also be showing this double-feature this Wednesday, October 28th, so you still have a chance to see it! Check out the Fathom website to locate a theater near you. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Guest Review - When comics guys write “real” books: Stephen Englehart’s The Point Man

Karen: Today we have a guest book review from our pal Edo Bosnar looking at comic writer Steve Englehart's science fiction novel, The Point Man. Take it away, Edo.

When comics guys write “real” books: Stephen Englehart’s The Point Man

It’s always interesting to see a “normal” book written by a comics writer, especially when it’s not just a merchandising tie-in featuring superheroes or other characters from the comics. Some efforts like this can be found in the Weird Heroes books (that I wrote a post about not long ago), with, say, Archie Goodwin, Elliot Maggin and Stephen Englehart writing short stories featuring original characters.

In The Point Man, Englehart introduces Max August, a Vietnam vet who works as a popular radio DJ in San Francisco. His on-air persona – he goes under a pseudonym, Barnaby Wilde – is sort of outsized and outgoing, while in real life he’s more subdued, and, except for a friend or two, keeps mostly to himself. It’s in the sanctuary of his home that he discovers his distinctive lion statue is stolen and replaced by a virtually identical replica. It’s one of his most beloved possessions as it was given to him when he was still a boy by his uncle; unbeknownst to him, it’s also a magical talisman, which is why it was stolen.

Rather quickly, August gets drawn into a tangled situation in which an attempt is made on his life (a mind-controlled out-of-towner shoots at him while he’s working his DJ gig in one of those street-view radio studios), the FBI questions him because it’s investigating the sexy yet mysterious new manager of his station, he meets an apparently centenarian wizard (who’s also the manager of a popular singer, who in turn eventually becomes his love interest) and he learns that it’s all part of a plot to usher in a reign of chaos by another wizard named Wolf Messing (who was actually a real person (, although, obviously, not really a wizard – more like a charlatan – and already dead for about 6 years when this novel was published). Max soon decides that he has to become a wizard-in-training to best deal with the entire conundrum (and just to pique everyone’s interest, I should note that part of the preparations for the big showdown with the bad guy involves tantric sex).

The Point Man is a pretty solid read all in all. It combines elements of suspense/espionage thrillers with horror, and at a few places the story even evokes the X-files a bit, because one of the FBI agents specializes in “weird cases” (although unlike Mulder and Scully he’s rather unlikeable). Also, the magic, wizards and August’s decision to learn the supernatural arts out of necessity are all quite reminiscent of Dr. Strange. On a 5-star scale, I’d give it about a 3.5, mainly because there are a few points at which the story drags a bit (mainly due to overly lengthy exposition). Also, the use of US/Russian Cold War politics as a plot device was a nice touch, but it also dates the story quite a bit, and may throw some readers out of it … although just the fact that the protagonist is a popular rock radio DJ sort of dates the story as well, I suppose.

I think fans of Englehart and/or Dr. Strange and other magic-based heroes might get a kick out of this book. Englehart fans might also be interested in knowing that more recently (starting in 2009), he wrote several sequels: The Long Man, The Plain Man and The Arena Man – which I have not read. (The Point Man was also reprinted, but I snagged a copy of the original 1980 paperback, which has the awesome cover art by Richard Corben).

I actually wanted to open the discussion up to other, similar efforts by comics guys: I know that, for example, Don McGregor, Mike Barr, John Byrne, Alan Moore, and, quite recently, Irene Vartanoff, as well as comics writers who became well-known mostly after the Bronze Age, like Chuck Dixon and Greg Rucka, wrote prose books. Has anyone read any of these, and what are your thoughts?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Suggestions Unboxed -- Getting My Comics Outside the 'Big Two'

Jeirich: I'd be interested in a discussion of the short-lived Atlas Comics line in the mid 70s. They managed to attract an amazing level of talent, which they promptly seemed to waste: Ditko, Adams, Toth, Heath, Chaykin, Buckler . . . I think a creator's rights approach helped them get these heavyweights (and to-be-heavyweights).

pfgavigan: There is a lot of great material out there that was produced by the small independent companies that we rarely touch upon that might make a good subject for a post. First, Pacific, Valiant are just a few of the companies that I was reading at the time.

To be honest, reading a lot more than the Big Two at the time.

Garett: I'll second PFG's suggestion about independent comics. To me they were a major part of the Bronze Age.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

#Inktober - Romita's/Kane's/Zeck's Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man

Doug: Happy #Inktober (our fourth installment, no less!) to all. Our Saturday feature today is not the work of one great Spider-Man artist, but three. I'm going to shove some work from John Romita, Sr., Gil Kane, and Mike Zeck under your noses. All images today come from the following books:
  • John Romita's Amazing Spider-Man Artifact Edition
  • Gil Kane's Amazing Spider-Man Artist Edition
  • Mike Zeck's Classic Marvel Stories Artist Edition
I must confess that in some cases the scans don't look so great. That would be due to the tremendous size of these books -- and the Jazzy One's Artifact Edition is the biggest yet, as it's reproduced in the "twice-up" size of that era (hence, I've generally only provided single panels). It's a beast!! But I hope you'll get some enjoyment out of my choices. I've had fun providing them (hernia notwithstanding!).




Friday, October 23, 2015

Suggestions Unboxed -- Free-for-All Friday!

Doug: Because Fridays can be somewhat slower than the beginning of the week, I am taking the liberty of tossing together a cornucopia of suggestions from several of our comments. Anything below is fair fodder for rumination today, friends!

Colin Bray: Perhaps the golden age of comics podcasting has passed, but there is still a lot of great existing material to explore. How about favourite comics podcast together with favourite comics podcast episode complete with links?

David B: Best original cast SNL character(s).., again from 1975-1980? And with 'Star Wars' fever raging back in 1978, helmed by the still-hot comic genius of Buck Henry along with notable movie star Richard Benjamin fresh off Westworld, why was 'Quark' so miserably terrible..?

Redartz: Comic creators' work in other media (such as Kirby and Gerber in animation, for instance), and how about Dungeons and Dragons/role playing games... or even favorite board games?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Suggestion Unboxed -- All Cereal, All the Time!

Martinex1: I know we have talked food, but has favorite cereal, favorite cereal related memory (toy inside; mail in prize; commercial) been covered?

Doug (now): I don't know if we've specifically covered cereal, but I'll add the following question -- was "kid cereal" a sort of forbidden fruit to you when you were a kid, or were you fully indulged?

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