Monday, September 29, 2014

MIGHTY SAMSON


When I was a kid (and boy howdy, just how many of these blog posts have started out with those exact same words? I'm thinking about renaming this blog to "When I Was A Kid". But I digress....) there was a comic book entitled MIGHTY SAMSON. Published by Gold Key comics beginning in 1964, the series took place in a post-apocalyptic New York City, now named "N'Yark" by the handful of humans living there. Among the humans was the elder scientist/wise man Mindor (who was always drawn by artist Frank Thorne to resemble actor Anthony Zerbe), his oh-so-lovely daughter Sharmaine and the hero of the book, the Mighty Samson, a one-eyed, animal-skin-wearing super-strong man.

The series lasted 32 issues, which was a pretty good run for an original Gold Key title back in the day. It ended in 1982. The early issues featured stories by Otto Binder and artwork by Frank Thorne (yay!) and Jack Sparling (ugh!). Thorne's expressive, baroque, slightly rococo style was a joy to look at, at least it was for my young (and now old) eyes. But Jack Sparling's artwork, on whatever comic book he worked on, always struck me as ugly and unpleasant. Jack himself may have been one helluva guy but his artwork? Remember the movie MY LEFT FOOT? I think it was a documentary about Sparling's drawing method.

MIGHTY SAMSON was a rollicking sf/adventure series with Samson, Mindor and Sharmaine encountering various mutated beasties and tribes of other human survivors in the ruins of New York and the wastelands of the Eastern Seaboard. It was a fresh and exciting concept and I loved it.



Recently, Dark Horse Comics acquired the rights to once again produce a regular MIGHTY SAMSON comic book. The first four issues of the series have been collected in MIGHTY SAMSON: JUDGMENT (pictured above)  which I read the other day. The script by Jim Shooter extrapolates and expands the basic Samson set up by telling the story of two warring tribes of humans, one in New York City, the other in New Jersey. There's all sorts of political intrigue and power struggles along with bloody battles and the requisite mutated monsters. Into this conflict plops Might Samson who begins playing both ends against the middle and ends up in control of the New York tribe by the end of the story arc. Mindor and Sharmaine are along for the ride along with a number of supporting characters (good and bad).

The artwork by Patrick Olliffe is very loose and sketchy looking in a number of places. It's not bad but it's not Frank Thorne. I enjoyed reading MIGHTY SAMSON: JUDGMENT for the most part. It's a fresh spin on a venerable character and the story was well plotted and complex enough to keep me turning the pages. I didn't like it well enough to want to seek out other Dark Horse issues of MIGHTY SAMSON however. Nope, it just made me want to dig out some Gold Key issues of MIGHTY SAMSON (I have several)  and take a stroll down a disaster devastated and mutant monster populated memory lane.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

TARZAN/CARSON OF VENUS


I picked up this beauty in a recent trade with a fellow comic book collector (thanks Nelson!). It's the Dark Horse trade paperback collection of the four-issue series TARZAN/CARSON OF VENUS originally published in 1999.

I'm a fan of both of these characters although I must admit I've absorbed much more material featuring Tarzan (movies, books, comics) during my life than I have Carson of Venus. I read one of the original ERB novels years ago and I've got all of the books in the series on my bookcase shelf but the character hasn't had nearly as much exposure as Tarzan or John Carter of Mars. There was a short lived Carson of Venus comic book series back in the 1970s. It ran as a back up in issues of DC Comics' KORAK, SON OF TARZAN series. The stories were beautifully illustrated by Mike Kaluta (who also did superlative work on DC's THE SHADOW series from the same era).

The Dark Horse series finds Tarzan transported to Venus (in much the same way John Carter traveled to Mars and back). There, he meets Carson and they have a rip-roaring adventure. It's pretty standard stuff and you either dig this type of pulp interplanetary adventure yarn or you don't. Me? I loved it.

The script is by Darko Macan and the artwork is by Igor Kordey. Kordey's work is an amalgamation of Kaluta's art deco style and the work of underground comic book legend Rich Corben (especially on characters' faces). I know. Sounds weird. But it works.

I enjoyed TARZAN/CARSON OF VENUS. If you're a fan of either character or the works of ERB in general, check it out. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, September 22, 2014

TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD


Coca-Cola was big in Mexico City in the mid-1960s. Really big. Huge. How do I know this? Because there's an action sequence early on in TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD (1966) that takes place at a bullfighting stadium that is covered in billboards all sporting the Coke logo. There's even a giant Coke bottle that Tarzan (Mike Henry) topples and sends tumbling down the rows of the stadium where it smashes into and kills a sniper.

That bullfight arena scene has a low-rent James Bond feel to it. Tarzan, newly arrived in Mexico City, is garbed in suit and tie, there's a Cadillac convertible and several high powered automatic weapons used in this attempt to kill the ape man. After the assassination attempt, Tarzan gets a briefing from Mexican law enforcement officials that includes another Bond type plot gimmick: an exploding Rolex watch.

What does all of this hugger mugger at the beginning of the film have to do with anything? Not much as it turns out but that's pretty par for the course in this low budget B movie that tried to reinvent Tarzan as a Bond-style, globe trotting adventurer. Both the screenplay (Clair Huffaker) and direction (Robert Day) are slap dash although Mike Henry does make a fairly good Tarzan. He's tall, dark, handsome and magnificently muscled, all of which are prerequisites for playing the Lord of the Jungle.

I recall seeing TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD when it was first released in the summer of 1966. It played a double bill (anybody remember those?) with the Japanese giant-monster epic FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. I loved the way cool one-sheet pictured above. I loved both movies. I was ten-years-old. It was my Golden Age.

I watched TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD for the first time since 1966 yesterday. It wasn't near as good as I remember it but I still dig the one-sheet, which is another sterling example of selling the sizzle not the steak. The story brings Tarzan to Mexico in an effort to find the fabled lost valley of gold and protect it from the rapacious Augustus Vinero (David Opatoshu) and his deadly line of explosive jewelry.

The lovely Nancy (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS)  Kovack is along for the ride for no discernible reason other than that an attractive woman of some kind is needed since Tarzan's mate, Jane, is not in the film (or ever mentioned). Kovack was a last minute replacement for Sharon Tate (who appeared with Henry in several pre-production publicity stills). But there's no spark, no chemistry between Kovack and Henry. Sure, a romance would have slowed things down in what is essentially a kids' action/adventure film but there is a distinct lack of attraction between the two.

Vinero's hulking right-hand man is played by the ginormous Don Megowan, who memorably played the "Gill Man" in THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956), the third and final film in Universal's CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON series. He's a big, bald brute and if a Thor movie had been made in the 1960s, he would have made a perfect Absorbing Man (or Executioner). Megowan and Henry square off in a short and clumsily staged fight scene at the climax of the film. It's a pity and a waste of two impressive physical specimens. A bigger budget, a better script and a more imaginative director could have delivered a knock-down, slob-knocker of a fight between these men.

Filmed entirely on location in Mexico, TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD cannot rise above some severe limitations behind the camera. Cheapskate producer Sy Weintraub took over the Tarzan film franchise in 1958 and delivered his first Tarzan film, TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE in 1959. He hired Henry (whose NFL career lasted from 1958 to 1964, with first the Pittsburgh Steelers and then the Los Angeles Rams) to star in three Tarzan films: TARZAN AND THE GREAT RIVER, TARZAN AND THE JUNGLE BOY and VALLEY OF GOLD. With the film series at an end, Weintraub decided to turn Tarzan into a weekly television series that would utilize the Mexican locations and production crew from VALLEY. Henry was offered the part but he declined. The role went to Ron Ely and the series lasted two seasons (1966-1968) on NBC TV. Ely's co-star on the series was young Manuel Padilla Jr. (from VALLEY) as Jai. Makes you wonder. Who the hell was Manuel Padilla, Sr.?

Mike Henry went on to co-star with Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason in the enormously popular SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT films. He wasn't a great actor by any means but I thought he made a serviceable Tarzan. There was a novelization of the film released, written by science fiction/fantasy/horror author Fritz Leiber. It was the first authorized Tarzan novel by anyone other than Tarzan's creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs.

 TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD is for die-hard Tarzan fans only.

 Or anyone who saw it when they were ten and wants to relive an afternoon from their childhood.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

DAREDEVIL: FATHER


There's so much emotional baggage to be found in DAREDEVIL: FATHER, that buyers should receive a matched set of two pieces of luggage when they purchase this book. One suitcase should read "Daddy", the other, "Eyes".

Those are the two motifs that dominate DAREDEVIL: FATHER, a six-issue mini series written and illustrated by Joe Quesada. The series was originally published in 2006. I read the hardcover collection of the material yesterday and I must confess that I rather enjoyed it. It's not the best Daredevil story I've ever read but it's certainly not the worst.

Matt Murdock agrees to represent Maggie, a young married woman who has cancer due to exposure to toxic waste generated by a local municipality. There's also a serial killer operating in New York. Nicknamed "Socket Johnny", the killer removes the eyeballs of the victims before killing them. Oh, and there's also a new team of super powered individuals, The Santerians, on the scene. Almost all of these plot elements are connected in some way but it takes Matt a long time to finally figure out just what exactly is going on. Hint: one of these narrative threads is a red herring.

The four main characters, Matt, Maggie and Sean (her husband) and NeRo (a mysterious young media star) all have major father issues. and two of the three characters have backgrounds that directly relate to Matt's childhood.

Quesada's artwork is powerful and dynamic. In some scenes he appears to be channeling Frank Miller. In other places, his Daredevil looks more like Dare-Hulk, a massive, heavily muscled figure that doesn't quite jibe with the trim and graceful gymnast physique that is usually associated with the character.

Bottom line: DAREDEVIL: FATHER is a well executed Daredevil story. It's got a nice mystery plot with a surprise ending that I didn't see coming. It's definitely worth reading if you're a fan of the character, Joe Quesada or both. Thumbs up.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

PROJECT PENDULUM


I'm a sucker for a good time travel story. Always have been. Always will be. So when I stumbled across a paperback copy of Robert Silverberg's PROJECT PENDULUM in a thrift store the other day, I couldn't resist buying it. After all the price was right. A buck.

I've read other books by Silverberg and I've enjoyed every one of them. He's one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time. In PROJECT PENDULUM, twin brothers Eric and Sean (one a physicist, the other a paleontologist) are chosen as the first test subjects of a time travel device. The mechanism, which is composed of a man-made, extremely small black hole set in opposition to an equal size, artificial "white hole", will send Eric into the future and then back into the past and then the future, and so on, at gradually increasing intervals of time from where the experiment begins at Time Zero in 2016.

Brother Sean will likewise travel through time on a swinging pendulum of shunts, first into the past, then the future, then the past, and on. When one brother is in the past, the other is in the future, each progressing farther and farther into both the past and the future on each respective swing. When both brothers reach Time Ultimate, the absolute outermost edges of time past and future, they began to move back to Time Zero in swings in the other direction with each twin now experiencing the various time periods and situations that his brother previously encountered.

It's a great idea, a terrific concept and it's extremely well executed. Silverberg never lets us get lost along the way of relating these parallel, separate trips through time. But the book is sorely lacking in any character development or suspense. Each chapter is short and things move along at a brisk pace. In fact, I finished reading this book (210 pages) in less than two hours. Each time period visited (past and future) made me want to read a longer story set in each year the brothers visit. In short, I wanted more, much more.

PROJECT PENDULUM isn't a bad book. But it's not an entirely satisfying one either. It's more a novella built around a really great concept. The bones of a great story are there but there's not much meat on them.

Monday, September 15, 2014

THE MAN WITH THE GETAWAY FACE


Ya gotta love a crime novel with a title like this one. THE MAN WITH THE GETAWAY FACE is the second Parker novel by Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark. Originally published in 1963, the edition I finished reading yesterday evening (pictured above), was published by Avon books in the mid-'80s. I've had this book on my shelf for years but never read it until I got off on my recent kick of reading the Parker novels.

As the title says, Parker gets a new face at the beginning of the book courtesy of a plastic surgeon whose clientele is exclusively criminals. With his facial features changed, Parker sets out to join a small gang and plot an armored car robbery. As usual, part of the beauty of these yarns is watching how Parker puts his team together and how they meticulously plan and execute the robbery. Parker even spots the double cross that's coming and makes plans to eliminate it once the job is done. But as in all good heist stories, something goes wrong after the caper. It's a loose end from the beginning of the book that Parker didn't see coming and he's forced to deal with it in his own inimitable way.

Tough, fast, grim and gritty THE MAN WITH THE GETAWAY FACE is a first-rate crime novel. I couldn't read it fast enough. Highest recommendation.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT


Let's face it. Quatermass is a dick.

 At least, he is as portrayed by American actor Brian Donlevy in the British science fiction film THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955) (released in the U.S as THE CREEPING UNKNOWN).

The first Quatermass adventure was was originally written by Nigel Kneale as a six-part serial that was broadcast on BBC-TV in 1953. The "mini-series" proved to be enormously successful and the material was developed into a film by Val Guest (director/writer) and Richard Landau (writer). The film is an important "first" for two reasons. It's the first science fiction/fantasy/horror film to be produced by the legendary Hammer Studios and thus qualifies as the first official Hammer horror film. It's also the fist in a trilogy of films that include QUATERMASS 2 (1957) (released in the U.S. as ENEMY FROM SPACE (or "Enema From Space" as we referred to it when we were kids)) and QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1967) (known in the states as FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH). All three films are highly recommended but let's look at the first entry (which I watched again the other day with my movie buddy Kelly Greene) a bit more closely.

Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) is a brilliant scientist who has financed, built and launched his own private rocket ship. The ship, carrying a crew of three men, crash lands back on earth outside of London at the beginning of the film. Emergency crews quickly respond. One spaceman emerges from the ship in a near catatonic state. When Quatermass and others enter the ship, they find no sign of the other two crewmen, only their empty space suits.

It soon develops that the sole survivor has become infected with an alien entity which causes him to consume the life forces of other living things (people, animals, plants) in order to sustain itself. After ingesting a variety of life forms, the space man transforms into a gigantic, one-eyed, multi-tentacled monstrosity which takes up residence inside Westminster Abbey. It's there that the creature is destroyed after which Quatermass strides off into the night determined to build another rocket ship and send men back into space. We see him do this in a brief scene that fades out at the end of the film.

Although he helps save the day, Quatermass is also responsible for putting the citizens of London in jeopardy in the first place. After all, it was his space ship and his crew who encountered the alien. The trouble is, Quatermass treats all of this a minor inconvenience that must be overcome quickly so he can get on with the business of science.

Donlevy's portrayal of the character makes Quatermass come across as rude, brusque, belligerent, impatient, arrogant, and selfish. He's far from likable and not the least bit sympathetic. He's like a dark Reed Richards, a man so obsessed with exploring the unknown that he completely disregards the consequences that may occur as a result of his recklessness. In short, he's a dick.

THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT succeeds despite Donlevy's unsympathetic portrayal of the title character. The story is compelling enough to overcome the decision to have an American actor play a British scientist with a gargantuan ego and immeasurable hubris. The black and white photography is crisp and atmospheric with many scenes shot on location on the streets of London and the surrounding countryside. The special effects are serviceable and there's a real sense of the uncanny at work here. Highly recommended.