Monday, January 16, 2017

BACK ISSUE #94

“Indie Superheroes!” is the theme of Back Issue #94 [January 2017; $8.95]. The Neal Adams cover of Ms. Mystic kicks off an examination of such fan favorites as the Justice Machine, Captain Paragon, the 1980s versions of the Mighty Crusaders and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Steven Grant’s Whisper, the super-heroes from Adams’ own Continuity Studios and much more. Among the creators interviewed for the issue were Adams, Grant, Bill Black, Norm Breyfogle, Rich Buckler, Mike Gustovich, Bill Reinhold, Jerry Ordway and even some writer by the name of Isabella. The 84-page magazine is filled with history and inside information, side by side with never-before-seen and rarely-seen artwork. It’s the Bronze Age and Beyond!

Keep watching this bloggy thing for more alerts to new TwoMorrows publication.

OLD COMICS: LASSIE #56

Welcome to “Old Comics” where I write about random comic books from my legendary Vast Accumulation of Stuff. For the most part, I’ll be talking about issues that predate my entry into the professional comics industry in late 1972. However, if I come across comics from the 1970s through the 1990s that I find interesting enough to write about, I’ll write about them.

Today’s old comic is Lassie #56 [Dell; January-March 1962]. It’s a standard ten-cent comic book of the period, 36 pages in length (if you count the covers and I do) with almost all of those pages going to editorial material. The indicia does not list an editor.

The photo cover shows Lassie and Timmy [Jon Provost] with the lad holding binoculars with which he is spying on the sexy cheerleader camp below. Just kidding. Come on, this was the 1960s and this was a press photo from a beloved and suitable for all ages TV series.

Lassie was created by Eric Knight in a short story that he expanded to the novel Lassie Come Home. The novel was filmed by MGM in 1943, which led to six additional movies. The TV series made its debut in 1954 and ran for 19 years.

Young Tony Isabella was not an avid Lassie viewer, though others in my family were. Since we only had one TV set, I’d watch whatever was on or go to my room to read. I didn’t seek out Lassie, but it didn’t drive me from the living room. The writing was good enough to keep my interest, the dog was cool, June Lockhart was lovely and Jon Provost’s Timmy seemed like a pretty nice kid.

I met Jon and his wife Laurie Jacobson at Roger Price’s Mid-Ohio-Con and the three of us hit it off famously. I love them madly and wish I saw them on a regular basis. As kind of a lark, I began to collect Lassie comics with Jon on their covers. In typical Isabella fashion, I have no idea how many of these issues I have or how many I still need. Someday I’ll be organized enough to complete my run of the title...and have Jon sign at least some of them.

The prolific Gaylord DeBois wrote the two Lassie comics stories in this issue. This confirmed by his own meticulously-kept records. He also wrote just about everything else in the issue. The two Lassie stories were drawn by Bob Fujitani and lettered by Ben Oda.

The plots of these stories aren’t complicated and they are squeaky-clean. That doesn’t mean they are dull. DeBois didn’t stint on the suspense and tension in writing these tales.

Since these stories have not been reprinted in the United States, I’m going to give you fairly detailed accounts of them. Which means I have to let you know there are...

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


“Enemy Country” (13 pages) is the first of the two Lassie stories. From the issue’s cover: Lassie and Timmy brave a bear’s slashing paws to rescue an unfriendly neighbor.

The longer version. Timmy is fishing when he meets Williston Tice, a clearly well-to-do youngster who has never gone fishing. Timmy lets him use his fishing pole and “Bill” catches a fish. Their fun is interrupted by Bill’s snobbish mom:

Williston! Williston Tice! Get away from that dog! You know you are allergic to animal fur!

Mrs. Tice calls Lassie a “wretched dog” and tells Timmy that he is trespassing. She bought all the land on that side of the river and will not allow strangers to engage in fishing, hunting or trespassing. She brandishes some sort of long thin walking stick at Timmy and Lassie.

Thinking Mrs. Tice means harm to Timmy, Lassie growls at her. She threatens to have Lassie shot if she ever sees the dog on her land again. Nice lady.

Timmy’s parents tell him that Mrs. Tice is within her rights when it comes to keeping people off her property. Timmy feels sorry for her son, who he thinks is a pretty good sport.

Later that week, Mrs. Tice takes her son fishing. To be accurate, she takes him to watch her fish. From across the river, Timmy and Lassie watch them. Timmy spots a bear behind them.

Mrs. Tice tells Bill to run for the house and tries to fend off the bear with her fishing pole. The bear gets tangled in the fish line. Lassie crosses the river to help them.

Timmy yells that the bear wants their fish and tells Mrs. Tice to drop her basket. But the bear keeps coming.

Mrs. Tice trips on a tree root. Timmy yells for the mother and son to play dead, which stops the bear long enough for Lassie to get to them. Timmy is on his way as well.

Lassie barks and bites the bear. The collie trees the bear. Timmy and Bill help the injured Mrs. Tice to their home.

Mrs. Tice has mellowed considerably, but still doesn’t understand how things work around those there parts. She wants to give Timmy a cash reward. Timmy declines:

Neighbors don’t take money for helping one another...not in our part of the country! Don’t you see? Lassie or any one of us would take a risk to help someone in trouble without expecting any special thanks!

Mrs. Tice asks Timmy and Lassie to return tomorrow. If Bill doesn’t get an allergy from playing with Lassie, she will let her son have a dog. Lassie barks in approval.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER


See what I mean about DuBois? This story has a human conflict and real danger. It resolves both in an exciting manner while offering a solid moral code to its young readers and allowing an unpleasant character to find redemption. I love this story.

Next up is “Blaze Makes a Goal” (4 pages). Written by Debois with art by Till Goodan, it’s a slight story about a college student and his horse. Ted plays polo, so, from the get-go, I have absolutely no affinity for him. He and his horse are recruited to search for a bank robber. It’s a yawner.

Dell (and Gold Key) included ongoing features like Blaze in order to qualify for second-class mailing privileges. Apparently, comic books need to have some feature unrelated to the title feature to  get this coveted designation. Sometimes we lucked out and got gems like Brothers of the Spear (in Tarzan). Other times we got Blaze.

The centerspread of this issue, coming smack dab in the middle of the Blaze story, was a house ad for the Dell Trading Post. One of the dumbest promotions ever.

Readers had to cut off the top strip of their Dell Comic covers and send them in - with some cash - to get “outstanding premium values” from the trading post. A regulation football would set you back $2 and five cover strips. For an “initialed slave bracelet” - I am not making this up - you sent three cover strips and fifty cents. Just thinking about it horrifies me!

Did comics fans really go for this promotion? Were countless comic books destroyed in the process? I’d really love to hear more about this. If you have information, please send it my way.

Before we reached the second Lassie story of the issue, we got “Not So Dumb” (1 page). Judging from the uncredited illustration on this uncredited prose tale, a dog digs up some roses with a hoe-wielding man and his friends some distance away. I didn’t read it. I never read these prose stories. I bought comic books for comics stories. If I wanted to read prose, I went to the library. Which I did with such regularity that librarians finally stopped questioning me when I checked out a half-dozen or more books at the time.

“The Prairie Wolf” (11.5 pages) is the second and final Lassie tale in this issue and it’s terrific.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


When a college pal of Mr. Martin’s stops by for a visit, Timmy and Lassie take his son Randy on a hike. Randy admires Lassie’s skills at flushing out birds. On their Arizona ranch, his dad raises game birds and trains dogs for hunting them.

Lassie is alarmed when snowflakes start to fall. Before long, the boys are caught in a heavy snowfall. Knowing they can’t make it to his home, Timmy has Lassie lead them to “Old Lige Bailey’s cabin.” As they arrive, they see a coyote enter the cabin through a hole in the bottom logs. They also see that there’s no smoke coming from the stovepipe.

They enter to find the old man deliriously sick in bed. The coyote is by his bedside with her three young pups. There’s a dead but still warm bird on the bed. The coyote was trying to help the old man, who, apparently, raised her like a pet dog.

The boys start a fire and get the old man some water. Timmy writes a note calling for help, which Lassie will carry back to his folks. Meanwhile, the collie has made friends with the coyote.

Lassie takes off to deliver the note. The boys make some hot soup for the ailing Bailey. The old man knows he must go to a hospital, but is concerned that Spunky - the coyote - will think she didn’t take good care of him.

Bailey is also concerned that Spunky will be shot when she is out hunting for food for her pups. Not all the landowners around there are fans of coyotes.

The next day, the boys see Spunky being chased by hounds. They try to hide her in a barrel, but the hounds keep coming until Lassie and Mr. Martin chases them away. They secure Spunky and put her in a grain room. They will also bring her puppies there.

Lige Bailey has a long recovery before him. The question is: what to do with the coyotes until the old man can return home?

Randy’s dad has an idea. He thinks he can train the coyote pups to act as hunting dogs. He’ll take Spunky and her young to his ranch in Arizona...and bring Spunky back in the spring. It’s a solution that works for Old Man Bailey.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER


This Lassie story has considerable menace for the boys and for the title character. There’s a subtle message about supposedly natural enemies making friends. It has a satisfying ending. Comics writers can learn from this and other DuBois comics.

What else is in this issue? The inside front cover has the black-and-white “Breeds of Dogs: Boxer” by DuBois and Fujitani. The five-panel comics page offers facts about boxers:

The boxer was named for his habit of using his forepaws to begin a fight...must as a human boxer uses his hands.

The inside back cover is “Breeds of Dogs: The Newfoundland,” also by DuBois and Fujitani.

The last page of “The Prairie Wolf” is only half-a-page. The rest of the page is an advertisement for “Tubble,” described as “the new fun bubble soap.” Its spokescreature is Tubby the Whale.

The back cover is a full-page advertisement for the Schwinn 5-Speed Corvette, “the most thrilling new bike you’ve ever seen!” The bike has a suggested price of $79.95. It also has a coupon you can clip and mail to get a free bike catalog. How many innocent comic books had to die for stuff like this?

I hope you enjoyed this look at a fun comic book from the distant reaches of time. I’ll have more of these flashbacks in the future. Come back tomorrow for something different.
 
© 2017 Tony Isabella

Sunday, January 15, 2017

SUNDAY DOUBLE FEATURE

I have two very different films to tell you about today. From 2010, one advertised itself as the coming of “a new generation of killer car movies” and the other, from 1972, is said to have launched the “Kung fu” craze in the United States.

Super Hybrid (2010) is a pretty great thriller with a dull title. From the Internet Movie Database:

Late one night, a mysterious car is brought into the Chicago police impound garage after a deadly traffic accident. The on-call mechanics soon discover the car has a mind of its own. With hundreds of horsepower and two tons of reinforced steel at its command, it's a seemingly unstoppable killing machine capable of outrunning...and outwitting...humans.

The movie was directed by Eric Valette, whose resume consists of a couple movies, various episodes of overseas TV series and a bunch of shorts. Writer Neal Marshall Stevens, who sometimes writes under the name Benjamin Carr, has a lot of credits, including low-budget fun Zarkorr! The Invader (1996) and Kraa! The Sea Monster (1998).

The movie stars Oded Fehr from The Mummy, various other movies and TV series and a whole lot of voice acting for various super-heroes toons. He plays Ray, an unpleasant jerk who runs the Chicago police garage/impound lot.

Shannon Beckner plays mechanic Tilda, a veritable whiz with cars who carries baggage from tragedies in her past and has a deadbeat boyfriend. She butts heads with Ray frequently and has close ties to two of the other mechanics, one being the nephew she helped get a job at the garage.

Melanie Papalia plays secretary Maria with big hair, big attitude, fishnets and high heels. The actress has been in many movies and TV series and, though this role is a little over the top, she makes it fun. Like her, almost all of the characters in this movie are very likeable.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


The movie opens with a black “fourth-generation Chevy Nova” turning into a flaming red Chevy Corvette Z06 and so luring two young men of bad character into trying to steal it. When they get into this car, the door handles and ignition and everything else disappears. Then it eats them. Burp!

Looking for its next meal, the shape-shifting killer car gets demolished when it’s stuck by a speeding car. It’s taken to the impound lot. It reforms and kills one of the mechanics.

The precise origin of the car is not given, but, after some of the cast gets a look at the octopus-like thing that is it’s true self, nephew Bobby [played by Ryan Kennedy] opines that it’s like a real-life species of octopus that disguises itself to lure prey to it. This creature disguises itself as cars so that it can search for prey instead of prey coming to it. It’s an outlandish theory, but it works for me.

The mechanics are trapped in the garage with the creature, mostly because former soldier Ray wants to hunt and capture it. He locks them into a garage and claims he lost the key. That he also had the emergency doors welded shut to prevent theft, well that’s just one more case of his extreme douche baggery.

"NO SIGNAL" NOTE: There’s no cell-phone reception in the garage and the only outside line gets destroyed.

The mechanics get picked off one by one. Most die heroically. The car-creature is damn smart. Ultimately, Ray and Tilda are the only ones left to fight the monster...and the climatic battle with the car is very good. So is the ending.

Ray opens the garage door. Once he gets out, he uses his phone to call a television station. Tilda walks out as well, but she turns to see several black Chevy Novas, all looking like they just came off an assembly line, drive out of the garage. The “super hybrid” was pregnant.

Tilda walks off in a daze, too spent to do anything except try to get as far away as possible. Ray looks up to find himself caught in the headlines of the baby killer cars.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER


I love Super Hybrid. It has terrific characters played by terrific actors. It has an interesting menace. It never drags and if often surprises. I would watch it again and I recommend it to you.

I also recommend Bill Dever’s B Movie Nation, an amazing blog that updates every day and which has introduced me to this and many other cool movies. Check it out. I think you’ll love it.
                                                                              
Five Fingers of Death (1972) was originally titled Tian xia di yi quan, which Google tells me means “TI press the first lap.” It has also been known as Hand of Death, Invisible Boxer, King Boxer and others. King Boxer seems to be the most common and, in the United States, it’s Five Fingers of Death or 5 Fingers of Death. However, what’s most important is that some consider it the movie that began the “martial arts movie” craze in the United States.

John David Warner reviewed the movie in The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 [April 1974]. I never saw the movie when it was released, but, intrigued by my recent rereading of Warner’s review, I got a copy from my local library system and, just a few days ago, watched it for the first time. The Internet Movie Database synopsis is almost ridiculously short:

Two martial arts schools prepare for an important tournament.

The movie was directed by Chang-hwa Jeong, who directed over fifty movies from 1953 to 1977. It was written by Yang Chiang, credited with 17 films over roughly the same period. All I know about either of them is that, via the IMDb, Jeong received the third Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award when King Boxer was screened at the New York Asian Film Festival on Saturday, June 30, 2012.

Lo Lieh plays martial arts student Chao Chih-Hao. He seems to be a pretty good actor, but it’s difficult to be certain of any actors in this film, due to the primitive voice-dubbing. I’ll talk about some of the other actors in the spoilers zone.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


The “battling martial arts schools” was a cliche in films like this and even in American movies like The Karate Kid. But there seems to be more to it here. It appears the dominant school rules the area. Its members bully civilians and take what they want, be that food or women.

Chin-Hao loves his elderly master’s daughter Sung Ying Ying [Wang Ping] and vice versa. His master sends him away to train at another school to better build Chin-Hao’s skill. On the trip to the school, he rescues a pretty singer [Wang Chin Feng] from an assault by the students of local martial arts tyrant Ming Dung-Shun [Tien Feng]. Forgive me if I misspell some of these names. The research sources I’m using aren’t consistent.

What follows is lots of action, lots of drama and even some doomed romance. Chin-Hao fails in his initiation test at the new school. He is relegated to menial tasks. However, this is a further test. Shen Chin-Pei [Fang Mian] is so pleased with Chin-Hao’s dedication and humility that he decides to teach him the secret of the dreaded “Iron Fist.” No relation to my old pal Danny Rand.

Ding-Shun keeps rolling out new killers to vex the good guys. The worst of the bunch are three Japanese thugs, but Ding-Shun’s son is no slouch in the monster department either. It is the son who will fight Chin-Hao in the tournament.

Han Lung [James Nam], one of Chin-Hao’s teachers, is jealous of the young man on two fronts. He resents Chin-Hao being their master’s chosen successor, and he’s in love with the singer, who is in love with Chin-Hao. He lures Chin-Hao into an ambush. Ding-Shun’s men beat the student and break his hands. He’s left alive because this would have been a short movie otherwise.

Things go badly for Han Lung. The singer still rebuffs him. When he goes to collect his reward from Ding-Shun, the tyrant’s son attacks him and plucks out his eyes. The blind traitor is thrown out into the street.

The disheartened Chin-Hao is found and nursed back to health by the singer. His master convinces him that he can overcome his injuries. Which he does. He leaves the singer to return to the school.

Meanwhile, Ding-Shun sends his son and assorted thugs to kill Chin-Hao’s old master. Because they are just bad people.

Ding-Shun’s Japanese hitman try to ambush Chin-Hao as he travels to the tournament but he is warned by a Ding-Shun flunky who has had his fill of that family. Chin-Hao defeats the two lesser Japanese  hitmen, killing them in the process. The flunky faces the worse of the trio to buy Chin-Hao time to get to the tournament. It doesn’t go well for the flunky.

The tournament. Chin-Hao arrives in the nick of time. Ying-Ying has come to cheer him on. The singer sees the obvious love between the two young people and leaves the tournament. Outside, she finds the blind Han Lung and opens her heart to him.

Chin-Hao beats Ding-Shun’s son and wins the tournament. Ding-Shun congratulates Shen Chin-Pei, then stabs him to death in the middle of the cheering crowd.

Back at his school, Ding-Shun prepares his men for the attack from Chin-Hao’s school that he knows is coming. Han Lung and the singer have gotten there first. They kill the lights and, in the darkness, Han Lung beats several henchman and plucks out the eyes of Ding-Shun’s son. He tricks Ding-Shun into killing his own son. However, when the lights go back on, Han Lung and the singer are killed by the enraged Ding-Shun.

Chin-Hao and his men arrive. Ding-Shun commits suicide rather than face the iron fist of the angry young man. It’s over...except for that remaining Japanese killer.

Short story. The Japanese killer attacks Chin-Hao in an alleyway. Summoning up the power of the iron fist, Chin-Hao sends the killer to meet the rest of his evil ilk in Hell. The conquering hero and his girl walk into the moonlight.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER


Despite the poor dubbing - it was a struggle to follow the dialogue at times - I enjoyed this movie. It did drag in places, but, when it did, we got action or a new villain. The main characters’ arcs were interesting and, tragic though some of those arcs turned out to be, the redemption scenes moved me. The performances of Lo Lieh, Wang Chin Feng and James Nam were excellent.

If I had seen this movie in 1972, I don’t think it would have made me a martial arts fanatic. Movies like Enter the Dragon and Black Belt Jones were more to my liking back then. That said, I’m glad I finally got to see this movie.

As I reread those back issues of The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, I’ll be looking for reviews of other martial arts movies of that period that I might enjoy. If I can find them, I’ll watch them and review them in future bloggy things.

That’s all for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Friday, January 13, 2017

JULY 1963: BATMAN #158

Today’s bloggy thing continues my 136-part series on the comic books that hit the newsstands in the month of July 1963. That month was pivotal to my comic-book career because it was the month when Fantastic Four Annual #1 ignited my desire to write comics.

Batman #158 [September 1963] has a cover by Sheldon Moldoff, most prominent of the Bob Kane ghosts of the period. He also pencilled all three interior stories, which were inked by Charles Paris. At this point, we’re in the last issues of Jack Schiff’s editorship of the Batman titles. With the June 1964 issue, Julius Schwartz will launch the “new look” Batman.

The inside front cover hawks “the amazing MADE SIMPLE self-teaching encyclopedia” from Cadillac Publishing. The first volume costs one dollar plus “a few cents mailing charge.” Customers had ten days to decide if they wanted to keep the volume. They would then receive each of the remaining 24 volumes as they were printed...at a cost of $1.98 (plus a few cents for shipping) per book. In 2017 dollars, that would be $15.62 per volume. A quick eBay search found some of these volumes selling for as little as three dollars plus change.

“Ace - the Super Bat-Hound” (8.66 pages) was written by Dave Wood. The Grand Comics Database has this synopsis:

Bat-Mite shows up again to have some fun and decides to give Ace some super powers, which he uses to aid the Caped Crusaders. However, when Ace chases crooks into a cave, the mine fumes cause havoc with the dog's super powers, and he turns on the Dynamic Duo.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


Oh, Bat-Mite, you’ve done it again! When Batman and Robin leave Ace in the Batcave because they don't think they need him on what should be a routine case, the poor pooch whimpers at being left out of the action. Bat-Mite shows up and Ace, unlike his human owners, is happy to see the inter-dimensional imp. The dog knocks over some chemicals in his delight.

Bat-Mite gives Ace super-powers. Batman and Robin get in trouble on account of they got cocky. Ace saves them. Not realizing Bat-Mite is behind Ace’s new abilities, Batman decides those spilled chemicals must have caused the change. Even though Ace has been around those same chemicals before. If I'm the Batman of 1963, my first guess whenever crazy stuff happens would be...Bat-Mite.

Ace joins the Dynamic Duo when they go after the criminals who got away the other night. But coal gas seepage in the mine where those crooks are hiding makes Ace retreat from them.

The crooks strike again the next night. Ace attacks them, but the criminals have figured out coal gas affects the super-pooch. A vial of the gas sends Ace after Batman and Robin instead.

To save his heroes, Bat-Mite reveals himself. He uses his powers to protect them from Ace and then undoes the effects of the coal gas by removing Ace’s powers.

Batman and Robin tell Bat-Mite they like their pet just as he is. Batman starts to scold Bat-Mite and the imp heads back to his own dimension. Shakespeare, this ain’t.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER


Poor Ace. The courageous dog is living full-time with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, but only appears occasionally. I wonder what he did the rest of the time.

This story, like the issue’s other two Batman adventures, has never been reprinted in the United States. Also like the other stories, the bottom third of its final page is a paid ad. The ad invites the reader to “try a tongue teaser” by saying “A green glass gas globe” five times in eight seconds without making a mistake. After that, said reader is invited to buy a tongue pleaser, namely, a delicious Tootsie Roll. According to the ad, it’s “America’s favorite candy.”

Warden Willis appears in a half-page gag by the ever-prolific Henry Boltinoff, who wrote and drew hundreds of these strips for various DC comic books. The warden is pleased with his idea of using a dog on night patrol, especially a dog trained in the K-9 Corps of the army. The punch line?

The dog was in a mechanized outfit. He won’t walk. The guard has to pull him around in a wagon.

The bottom half of the age is an ad and coupons for the Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey.

The next page has two half-page ads for Giant Batman Annual #5 and Giant Superman Annual #7. The former features “The Strange Lives of Batman and Robin”; the latter celebrates the silver anniversary of Superman 1938-1963.

One more house ad before the next story. Batman tells readers they can get a two-year subscription to their favorite Dc comics at only ten cents per issue. The titles offered: Batman, World’s Finest, Detective Comics, Blackhawk, Superboy, Jimmy Olsen, Green Lantern, Tomahawk, Our Army at War and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. What Batman doesn’t tell readers is that the comics will arrived folded in half with a crease that will never go away.

“The Secret of the Impossible Perils” (7.66 pages) was written by Batman co-creator Bill Finger. The GCD synopsis:

Matt Carter returns from a jungle expedition and, although racked with fever, recounts stories of giant animals that he found including a dinosaur.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


The main action for this story is in South America, but it begins in Gotham City as Ted Carter tries to convince the Explorer’s Club (of which Bruce Wayne is a member) that his father saw the strange things he said he saw. But, without proof, the club won’t elevate the still-hospitalized elder Carter to its inner circle.

Armed with part of a map his dad drew, Ted plans to travel to South America and prove his father’s claims. Bruce says he’s sure he can convince his friends Batman and Robin to go with Ted.

Take a moment here. Can you imagine the Batman of the last three or four decades taking a week off from Gotham City crime-fighting for such an expedition? Not a chance. Batman 2017 is too obsessed with his self-proclaimed guardianship of the city to ever consider such a thing. Yet, back in the 1950s and the early 1960s, Batman would often mix things up like this.

Matt Carter’s map has a giant moving head, a dinosaur, a partially-missing note to “beware of the great cat...” and something called the “valley of the golden city.”

Batman, Robin and Ted fly to South America in the Bat-Plane. With less than eight pages in this tale, they find the giant moving head on page three. It’s an ancient idol that can be moved by a set-up of pulleys and wheels.

A giant armadillo shows up on page four. It’s a regular armadillo who’s been turned into a giant after drinking from a pool of water containing freak chemicals. Batman figures this out by noticing the animal’s tracks leading to the pool are normal-sized, but the ones leading away from the pool are giant-sized. The “dinosaur” seen by Ted’s dad was just a common lizard. The effects of the pool water are only temporary.

The “great cat...” is actually “catapults” rigged by ancient Aztecs to topple giant stone statues on intruders. A trigger stone sends them falling at Batman and friends, but our heroes are too quick to be crushed.

The golden city? It’s a lost city with a bronze mirror set on the hills above it. When the mirror is in sunlight, it reflects golden rays on the city.

With the proof gathered by his son, a healed Matt Carter earns his spot on the inner circle of the Explorer’s Club. He recommends the same honor be bestowed on Batman, Robin and his son.

SPOILERS OVER
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SPOILERS OVER


This story isn’t suspenseful, but it is inventive. Four mysteries solved in under eight pages. Not too shabby.

The bottom third of the final page is an ad for Tootsie Roll Pops. They came in six delicious flavors and the original assortment was chocolate, orange, raspberry, grape, cherry and lemon (discontinued but reintroduced 2015). The sixth flavor changes from time to time and the company offers dozens of other flavors in other assortment packages and as singles.

There’s a full-page ad for Task Force, America’s Most Exciting War Game. It came with two giant battlefields, a 88-piece task force and 375 red markers to record bombings. The cost is only one dollar plus twenty-five cents for postage and handling.

The single-page “Letters to the Bat-Cave” is next. Philip Miller of Gadsden, Alabama and Clarence Barkley, Portsmouth, Virginia praise recent issues. Miller wants to see more of the Penguin.

Thomas Thek of Oceanside, Long Island takes DC to task for a lack of clarity in two stories. DC’s stern response suggests he read the stories more carefully.

Dennis Bova of Ambridge, Pennsylvania wants to see more team-ups of villains. He suggests The Joker and Clayface, the Human Firefly and Mirror Man, and Mr. Polka-Dot and the Planet Master. DC responds to this with a plug for “The Great Clayface-Joker Feud,” scheduled to appear in Batman #159.

Both Pat Romanelli of Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania and Marti Kniest of Edmonds, Washington want to see more Batwoman and Bat-Girl. Joseph Mattarella of Valley Stream, New York wanted to know why Bat-Girl doesn’t wear gloves to prevent her from leaving her fingerprints at the scenes of crimes. The DC response promises more of the ladies and that Bat-Girl will start wearing gloves.

Wesley Machulis of Chicago praises some recent stories and asks for a preview of what’s coming. The DC response announces “Batman and Robin, the Mummy Crime-Fighters” for the October issue of Detective Comics; “The Return of the Terrible Trio” (Fox, Shark and Vulture) for the November issue; and “Superman’s Master” for World’s Finest Comics’ November issue. It also list two issues that are on sale: “The Batman Nobody Remembers” in the September World’s Finest and “The Fantastic Dr. No-Face” in the September Detective. Even back in 1963, I always wondered if such letters were actually written by editors. But I didn’t care. In those pre-Internet days, I was glad for any advance information on my favorite comic books.

Dave Wood returns with “Batman and Robin--Imposters” (7.66 pages), the third and final Batman adventure of the issue. Here’s the GCD synopsis:

The Caped Crusaders must deal with some criminals who are posing as them in public, and are getting away with it because the Batman impersonator actually has one of Batman's authentic utility belts that he stole.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


“Batman” and “Robin” tell a jeweler that his store is about to be robbed, then allow the thieves to escape with the jewels. They tell the jeweler they plan to track the robbers and recover all of the loot they’ve stolen. However, the “Caped Crusaders” are actually a pair of actors/acrobats. Imagine the jeweler’s surprise and horror when, in front of the press, the real Batman and Robin tell him the other Caped Crusaders were imposters.

Despite the press alert about them, “Batman” and “Robin” tell the robbers they have all the angles figured. That very noon, in front of the police headquarters, they approach Commissioner Gordon and tell him a bank across town is about to be robbed. Gordon sends the entire police force to set up roadblocks.

The crooks rob a loan company. They are spotted by a beat cop, but the officer is directed away from the escaping robbers by “Batman” and “Robin.” The acrobatics of the imposters convince the officer that they are the real deal. The imposters tell the crooks this is the result of them training for months to pull off this deception.

That evening, the real Batman and Robin go on TV to ask the police and the public to double-check if they see them in action. In the Batmobile, Batman proclaims:

If we don’t solve this case fast, it may mean the end of our crime-fighting careers!

The imposters aren’t sure they can try another robbery. But one of the robbers says he could guarantee they could pull it off for one more job. He introduces them to “Bobo Cullen...the Heist Man!”

Bobo got his hands on one of Batman’s utility belts at an airport terminal. With a bat-flare illuminating the scene, a stray bullet from the criminals shattered an acid capsule in the belt. The acid ate through the belt fabric. Cullen got away while his companions were being captured.

Bobo wants a third of the take from the third and final job. But, as the deal is being struck, “Batman” triggers a smoke-bomb in the belt. It’s the real Batman and Robin...and they make short work of the three criminals.

At the airport, the bat-flare malfunctioned. To fix it, Batman had to remove his glove. Apparently, after he fixed and fired the bat-flare, he put his glove back on and the device back in the belt. His fingerprints were on the device, which is why he and Robin had to get the belt back or risk Batman’s identity being exposed...and the end of their crime-fighting careers.

“Batman” and “Robin” were actually the real Batman and Robin all along. Commissioner Gordon, the beat cop and the jeweler were all in on the scam. I’m guessing the loan company was also in on this double deception, though the story doesn’t state that explicitly. The Caped Crusaders get the utility belt back and net three wanted criminals as well.

This story is truly of its era. We see Batman working closely with the police to set up this scam. We see him and Robin operating in daytime, even holding press conferences. And, despite the utility belt being evidence in a crime, no one in authority had a problem with Batman getting it back. Simpler times, indeed.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER


An advertisement for Tootsie Roll Fudge, which only costs a penny, occupied the bottom third of the final page of the story. The rest of the interior pages, inside back cover and back cover were ads.

Half-page ads for “104 Kings Knights” and “150 Civil War Soldiers.” Full-page ads recruiting sellers for Christmas cards from Wallace Brown; a pitch from the American Body Building Club for a book on gaining “mighty muscles”; and the back cover’s “100 Toy Soldiers” for $1.25.

Rereading this issue for the first time in decades, I can see why DC would largely lose me to the more exciting Marvel super-heroes. At least until I figured out how to many enough money to buy lots of comics for all of the comics publishers. While there are clever bits in the stories and the Moldoff/Paris art, this isn’t much of an issue. Batman clearly needed a change.

Quick sidebar. I was supposed to write about another comic book in this installment of my “July 1963" series, only to discover that I didn’t have the comic book. When I ordered the missing issue years ago, I was sent the wrong issue and failed to notice the seller’s error. Fortunately, I have ordered another copy of the issue and it should arrive in plenty of time for the next installment of this ongoing series. Watch for it.

I'm taking a day off, but I’ll be back on Sunday with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Thursday, January 12, 2017

THE DEADLY HANDS AND ME #1

Marvel’s The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu ran 33 issues from April 1974 to February 1977. There was a Special Album Edition that came out between issues #3 and #4 and the all-article The Deadliest Heroes of Kung Fu that came out between issues #15 and #16. Issue #15 was all-reprint except for some editorial material.

Marvel has reprinted those first eighteen issues and the specials in The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Omnibus Vol. 1 [$125], published in November 2016. The second volume, featuring the rest of the issues, will be published in June.

I was the editor of Deadly Hands of Kung Fu for a small handful of issues. I wrote a few articles and plotted some comics stories for the magazine. Of all the titles I edited or otherwise worked on at Marvel, Deadly Hands was the most challenging.

Horror and monsters? No problem. I grew up on that stuff. Planet of the Apes? Okay, I didn’t enjoy editing that magazine, but, save for some legal mishaps, it wasn’t particularly difficult to helm that title. But I was a novice to the martial arts and, when I edited or worked on Deadly Hands, I always felt like I was playing catch up. Every other Deadly Hands editor was almost certainly better than I was at editing the magazine.

Time passes. Over forty years of time passes and, out of nowhere, Marvel Comics Collection Editor Cory Sedlmeier asks me to write one of three forewords for the first omnibus volume. My job is to write about the non-comic features in the magazine. It’s an interesting gig. I write what I hope is an amusing, informative piece sprinkled with some personal reminiscences. I like it. Cory likes it. Grass-roots movements spring up demanding that the Will Eisner Awards add a category for best introduction. Okay, I made up the last one on account of it leads us to a cogent point:

As contributor to and editor of The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, I was pretty much making it up as I went. I had no comics-magazine role model for this type of magazine. I threw stuff against the printing press and hoped it would come out okay. Or more than one occasion, in my useful enthusiasm, I announced stuff that wasn’t actually in the works. I bow my head in embarrassment.

However...readers liked the magazine. And now, that I’m able to sit back and enjoy the issues at a more leisurely pace, I can see what those readers saw in it. Hence, this new ongoing series within the bloggy thing wherein I will share my thoughts about these issues. It won’t be an issue-by-issue, story-by-story, feature-by-feature kind of thing like I do with The Rawhide Kid. It’ll be more along the lines of, hey, that thing in that issue makes me want to write this about it.

This series within the bloggy thing doesn’t have a set expiration date. When I get to the end of the magazine’s run, whether that’s in five columns or fifteen columns or more, I get to the end of it. Hopefully, we’ll all enjoy the journey.

Before we get into the actual issue, let’s talk about those three forewords to the first omnibus. Mine revealed that Marvel’s budget for Deadly Hands and the other magazines only allowed for thirty of so pages of new comics stories. This wasn’t a problem with the horror magazines because we could reprint stories from the 1950s and the 1960s to fill pages. However, Marvel had no such backlog of martial arts comic-book tales, unless you want to count Captain America’s battles with Batroc. Which I did. Once. Out of desperation when a scheduled story was anywhere near completion and an issue had to be shipped to the printer. Not my proudest moment.

Gerry Conway’s “Clawed by a Tiger” piece is a true confessional about how his Roman Catholic upbringing hadn’t exposed him to people of other faiths and nationalities. It’s a wonderfully honest piece in which Gerry is way too hard on himself. His Sons of the Tiger stories do have some martial arts movies cliches, but he treated those characters with respect. The comic-book industry was overwhelmingly white in those days. Guys like Gerry and myself might not have gotten some of this stuff right, but we did our stories with clean hands and honest hearts. For readers seeing characters of color, characters who, for the first time, looked like them, these comics transcend any failings of their creators. In short, Gerry did good.

Doug Moench’s “Color Ain’t Enough?” has him struggling to remember the background of his stories for the magazine. I’m not surprised. Doug wrote scripts faster than I could proofread them and, my mouth to Odin’s ear, they were as clean as they come. No matter how odd the word in a script, Doug spelled it right and used it right. His grammar was equally impeccable and, as I said, he wrote faster than anyone else on our roster.

Doug couldn’t recall coordinating with either myself or assistant editor Chris Claremont on the kind of sort of team-up of Iron Fist, the Sons of the Tiger and Shang-Chi in The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Special Album Edition. He did, but the story was designed by yours truly to avoid a lot of back and forth between the writers.

I came up with the basic idea: Fu Manchu would try to start a war between the United States and China. Iron Fist would try and fail to prevent the kidnapping of the Chinese ambassadors to the United Nations. The Sons of the Tiger would fail to prevent the kidnapping of American diplomats. Shang-Chi with his MI-5 associates - British intelligence - would rescue the hostages and stop Fu Manchu’s plan.

Doug wrote the Iron Fist and Shang-Chi chapters. Chris wrote the Sons of the Tiger chapter. I wrote a full-page splash page for the whole thing and a single-page epilogue. I’m not surprised Doug did not remember this minor coordination. I’m surprised I remember it.

The contents page of The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 [April 1974] does not list me as a member of the editorial staff. I do remember seeing the Neal Adams cover in the office and being given a printed copy of the interiors of the issue. My memory gets a little foggy here. I would be added to the editorial staff listing in the second issue, but my becoming editor of the magazine with the third issue might have already been in the works.

The Shang-Chi story by Steve Englehart, Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom was the highlight of the issue for me. The Grand Comics Database has this synopsis of the tale:

Shang-Chi has turned against his father Fu Manchu, and now Fu Manchu wants answers from the priests who trained Shang Chi. Fu Manchu is unable to understand that it is his own brutality that has driven a wedge between him and his son.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


That’s only part of the story. One priest was actively working to turn Shang-Chi against Fu Manchu, albeit in subtle ways. This guy is so good Fu Manchu never realizes he has been betrayed, but the last panel shot of the priest’s face says it all. Even before re-reading this story, I remembered that face.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER


The first issue articles were on Bruce Lee, martial arts training, the Kung Fu TV show and 5 Fingers of Death. Writing as Wan Chung O’Shaugnessy, Denny O’Neil did one piece on martial arts training and one on Kung Fu. John David Warner reviewed Five Fingers of Death, did an article on Kung Fu, and the first installment of his “Under the Pagoda” column. Warner was one of the magazine’s best article writers. Don McGregor was his only equal.

Rereading Warner’s Five Fingers of Death review made me want to view the movie for myself. Fortunately, I was able to get a DVD through my local library. Look for a review soon.

The article on Bruce Lee was by Lorraine Zenka-Smith, who I don’t think I ever met. She might have been someone from Martin Goodman’s  non-comics magazines.

Duel editorials by Roy Thomas and Marv Wolfman don’t stand the test of time. Reading them in 2017, they sort of come off like, “Hey, Marvel figures there’s money to be made from this kung fu stuff, so here we are.” I don’t fault them; we were all feeling our way with this kung fu stuff and I stumbled as much or more than anyone else who worked on the magazine.

Gerry Conway’s first Sons of the Tiger script felt like a martial arts movie. Mysterious assassins attack a martial arts school and kill Master Kee. Lin Sun, Kee’s most accomplished student, is given three amulets. One is a jade tiger head, the symbol of the school, and the other two are tiger paws. There’s an inscription with this gift that has always reminded me of Green Lantern’s oath:

“When three are called, and stand as one, as one they’ll fight, their will be done...for each is born anew, the tiger’s son!”

To avenge Master Kee’s death, Lin recruits two friends and fellow students. Abe Brown uses his skills to fight drug dealers in his neighborhood. Actor Robert Diamond came to the school to pick up a few tricks for his action movies and learned to respect the martial arts and himself. Though some of this origin story’s elements are stereotypical, Gerry was way too hard on himself. He wrote a solid story. Dick Giordano’s art was an attraction as well. I was a fan of his since before his legendary runs as a Charlton editor and then a DC editor, a fan ever since he draw the wonderful Sarge Steel title at the former company.

As I said up top, this isn’t going to be an issue-by-issue series on The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. I’ll be jumping past stuff to write about the stories and articles that interest me as I reread the issues. But I felt the first issue needed to be covered more fully because of its premiere and pivotal status among the “kung fu” comic books of the era.

This series within a series will continue from time to time. However, for tomorrow, I’ll have something different for you.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 97

The Rawhide Kid is my favorite western comics character and one of my favorite comics characters period.  Something about the short of stature (but big on courage and fighting skills) Johnny Clay spoke to the short of stature (but big on comics-reading skills) teenage Tony Isabella.  After rereading the Kid’s earliest adventures when Marvel Comics reprinted them in a pair of Marvel Masterworks and an Essential Rawhide Kid volume, I wanted to reacquire every Rawhide Kid comic, reread them and write about them in this bloggy thing of mine. This is the 97th installment in that series.

The Rawhide Kid #111 [May 1973] features a reprint of the 18-page “The Tyrant of Tombstone Territory” from issue #41 [August 1964]. The Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers cover is also from that issue. The story was written by Stan Lee, penciled by Jack Keller and inked by Paul Reinman. My comments on this adventure were originally posted on October 24, 2012 and can be read here.

This reprint led to the only awkward moment I can remember having in my long friendship with Larry Lieber. The stories and art didn’t always come easy to Larry and, on rare occasion, he struggled and, when he did, a reprint would be scheduled.

George Roussos, my office mate and Larry’s inker, suggested I speak to Larry about my helping him out on the writing end. George knew how much I loved the character and Larry’s work. Larry was not at all pleased with the suggestion, even though it was made with the best of intentions. Larry let the matter drop and never spoke of it again. Though it had no lasting consequences - Larry and I worked on other things together - I always regretted causing him even this momentary discomfort.

The 18-page lead didn’t leave many editorial pages for the rest of the issue. There was no Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page, “Ridin’ the Trail with Rawhide” letters page, house ads or pin-ups. However, we did have room for a non-series reprint.

“The Promise” (4 pages) was by Stan Lee with Al Williamson on the pencils and Gray Morrow on the inks. It first appeared in Kid Colt Outlaw #60 [May 1956].

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


The story opens with Sheriff Jim Hawkes at the bedside of Corbett, who was the best friend of the lawman’s father. Corbett knows he’s not done the best job guiding his wild son Chance. He asks Jim to promise to take care of Chance.

Chance arrives in the room and, instead of grieving for his father, opines that he can whoop it up a lot more in town now that Hawkes will be taking care of him. The whooping commences and everyone in town wonders why the sheriff is looking the other way.

When Chance violates the sheriff’s law against wearing guns in the town, the sheriff confronts him. Chance is defiant and tells Hawkes he’ll have to shoot Chance’s guns off him. Which, after telling the young man to draw, is exactly what the sheriff does.

Sheriff Hawkes proceeds to knock Chance to the ground with a single punch and then throw him in a cell. Chance says Hawkes is breaking his promise. Hawkes disagrees:

I just realized I promised yore paw I’d take care of yuh! An’ that’s what I’m a-doin’! If I don’t stop yuh now, yuh’ll end up on the gallows!

The sheriff wraps it up in final panel:

This is yore chance...yuh can come out of that cell a decent hombre or an outlaw who I’ll hunt down like a dog! I’m givin’ yuh a chance to decide...the choice is up to you!

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER


This is a simple story that gets to the point without dragging it out. Stan’s writing is crisp and concise. The Williamson/Morrow art is terrific, even with the lousy reproduction of Marvel’s reprints in the 1970s. I’d love to see the originals.
                                                                              

As I said above, this story originally appeared in Kid Colt Outlaw #60 [May 1956]. The powerful cover of that issue was drawn by the great Joe Maneely. But here’s a neat little oddity...
                                                                                  
   
Three years later, the cover was reused for Two Gun Kid #49 [August 1959]. Kid Colt was retouched into the Two-Gun Kid. Some cover copy was added. Finally, Stan Goldberg, who’d colored the earlier cover, re-colored this one.

There are only four more new Rawhide Kid stories before the title goes all-reprint. Once we get through the new stories, “Rawhide Kid Wednesday” will continue right through the final issue. However, depending on how loquacious I get in discussing the covers, back-up stories and other editorial material, I expect to discuss anywhere from two to four issues in each installment.

Once I get to Rawhide Kid #151, I’ll be changing things up a bit. I’ll still be writing about westerns, many of them Marvel westerns, but I’ll have some surprises for you as well.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

CITIZEN TONY THANKS THE PRESIDENT

President Barack Obama is the best president of my lifetime. There hasn’t been another president who has faced such rancorous racism from the opposition party. There has rarely been a president whose political opponents so manically rebuffed every offer to work with him in a bipartisan manner. And yet, despite that hatred from the Republicans and other right-wingers, President Obama achieved much good for the American people. No matter what happens in the years to come, no matter how the vicious right-wingers try to and maybe even succeed in rolling back some of those gains, history will always know that such things were and still are possible. We will not forget. Not the dream, not the hope, not this President.

Early in December, I did something I should have done much earlier in Obama’s presidency. I wrote him a letter thanking him and, with that letter, I included a copy of Black Lightning Volume One, which reprinted the character’s first run from the late 1970s. It seemed not nearly enough to do for the man.

I have no idea how such things work. I assume a President gets more mail and packages than I can even imagine. I suspect much of this does not actually reach him. I hope he got my letter and the book. I hope he enjoyed them both.

Ever since I sent this letter, I have been considering whether or not I should share it with my bloggy thing readers. There were good reasons to share it and at least one good reason not to share it. My gut told me to share it. I’m going with my gut...

Dear Mr. President...

This is a long overdue note to and gift for the best President of my life. While I haven’t agreed with every decision you have made - I don’t think American DNA allows for any citizen to agree with all government decisions - I have admired your dedication to our land, your intelligence, your grace and your dignity. That you and your lovely family have maintained that grace and dignity in the face of so much partisan and even racist adversary is astonishing, even to this 65-year-old guy who’s been writing super-hero and other comic books for going on 45 years.

I created Black Lightning in the 1970s out of simple fairness. My first black friends were comic-book fans and there weren’t too many black people in the comics they loved. When I was hired at Marvel Comics, I did what I could to bring more diversity to the comics. Misty Knight, another of my creations, was a prominent character in the recent Luke Cage series on Netflix.

I see a lot of you in Jefferson Pierce, the schoolteacher who finds himself a reluctant warrior in the battle against the criminals who infest his community. I wanted to create a relatable super-hero who would be a positive image and role model for young readers. Though the character has not been an overwhelming commercial success, he has remained in the DC Comics Universe for forty years. The company currently has a pilot commitment from Fox for a Black Lightning TV show. I’m even writing a new Black Lightning comic-book series, my third such series since creating the character.

Black Lightning has been a part of my life since I created him. In the same way, your inspiration has become a part of my life. Your accomplishments have been minimized by the opposition and I’m sure they will try to undo them. But...history will rightfully rank you as one of our finest presidents and, no matter what bumps our road may take, I have no doubt that your accomplishments will remain or return...and that they will stand the test of time.

Thank you for your service, Mr. President. It has been my honor to have voted for you twice.

All the best to you and your family in this holiday season and for many years to come.

Sincerely yours,

Tony Isabella


I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella