Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
So a whole bunch of stuff has been piling up around here and I am going to do my best to clear it all out of the In-Box in “one swell foop,” as Johnny Storm used to say.
More From The Licensing Bureau: So at Emerald City a couple of weeks ago, Julie scooped up a whole bunch of stuff out of the quarter boxes — mostly for the kids, junk comics we keep around to give out in class or to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. But she also likes to grab things she thinks I’d like. For example, my bride knows that I am interested in licensed books, since they’re unlikely to be reprinted. And she scored a whole bunch of DC’s adaptation of “V.”
She found something like a third of the run, which sounds more impressive than it is — there were only 18 issues total, the book was never a hit.
The interesting thing is, though, these comics are a lot better than I remembered them as being. I had only seen a couple of them when they came out — suffice it to say that the early 80’s was kind of a rocky time for me personally, and I wasn’t reading too many comic books.
But, as I’ve said in this space before, I was a fan of Kenneth Johnson’s TV work since his Bionic Woman days, and I’d enjoyed the original television mini-series version of V. I’d always been curious to see more of the comics.
And these are really quite good — certainly better than the weekly television show that spun out of the mini-series. Tight scripts from Cary Bates, and interesting art from Carmine Infantino.
Infantino works best when he’s got a strong inker, and the decision to pair him with Tony DeZuniga is an odd editorial gamble that nevertheless really pays off. For whatever reason, considering this was probably a just-a-paycheck job for both guys, their styles complement each other to where they’re producing something kind of cool; Infantino’s science-fictional, angular, Adam-Strange design sense normally makes his drawings look airy and lightweight, but the gritty inks of Tony DeZuniga gives the art a weight and power it wouldn’t have otherwise.
And I don’t know if Infantino was just amusing himself to stay interested, or what, but the page layouts themselves are also often pieces of clever, innovative design. Look at this one, here — the tilted angle adds to the sense of tension and chaos, but the storytelling is effortless, the reader’s eye is never confused about how to read the page.
I admit it, I’m a design geek, but this sort of thing really interests me. Here’s another one. (I apologize for the picture quality, but I think you can still get the idea.)
Jerry Bingham’s covers are nice too, especially the way he often will incorporate the “V” spray-paint logo into the drawing itself.
Now, I freely grant you that this stuff isn’t Watchmen or anything, but it’s solidly entertaining comics, especially if you have any fondness for the original television mini. And we got them for a buck and a half. I might have to spend another three or four dollars and track down the rest of the run, now.
Julie also found a bunch of the old Topps X-Files books.
I think this was easily the most successful book Topps did during their brief foray into funnybook publishing.
The nice thing about the X-Files ancillary licensed things, novels and comics and so on, is that the original show pretty much had dibs on any of the sprawling-hidden-conspiracy stuff. The comics people didn’t dare try to do any stories that moved the conspiracy arc forward or give away any clues. Which leaves the licensed books with The X-Files‘ secondary story premise: two FBI agents who specialize in investigating the paranormal, one a driven believer, the other a hard-nosed skeptic. That’s actually a much better place to be; in retrospect, I think most fans of the show agree that the alien-conspiracy story got dragged on way too long. The TV series worked better when it was more generally about “the FBI vs. weird shit,” which is the way the comic is set up.
What really struck me, reading these, was how the comics reminded me how good The X-Files used to be when it was on television. Which is what you want from a licensed book — it should evoke the original, but it should also give you something new. These comics actually made me want to watch the show again. (I used to be a fan, but I kind of lost interest after the release of the first movie. For me my personal little X-verse only goes through the first four TV seasons and the big-screen movie, or thereabouts.)
Julie found me five of the comics, #27 through #31, all written by John Rozum. The art is by Gordon Purcell and Josef Rubinstein till you get to #30, when it is taken over by Alex Saviuk and Rick Magyar. There are two arcs — the first one involves agents Mulder and Scully trying to find out who’s been killing a group of CIA psychic “remote viewers.” The second one involves the two agents in a Waco-style hostage situation, except there’s some sort of monster in the compound with the hostages that’s killing people in really gruesome ways. Both of them are fun, spooky stories that stand alone, and everyone on the book was clearly enough of a fan of the series to bring their A-game to the comic book work.
At any rate, the comics are certainly worth a look, especially if you can find them as cheap as we did. There are a couple of trade collections, too, that you could probably find used. Try Amazon.
From the Mailroom: I haven’t talked that much about BOOM! Studios output lately, but that doesn’t mean that the tireless Chip Mosher, truly the Energizer Bunny of comics PR work, hasn’t been sending the CSBG crew a lot of cool stuff. Usually I leave it to Brian or our other Greg do the reviews on the books, but I did want to chime in on a couple of pieces that I thought should be called to your attention.
The first one is The Stardust Kid, a book that deserves to do huge numbers and probably won’t, at least not in comic book shops.
From J. M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog, this is a story about kids from our world colliding with the world of Faerie and having a grand adventure. But that summary hardly does it justice.
Nobody’s breaking new ground here, exactly. The story of people from our world visiting a magical one and having adventures has been done lots of times, from Oz to Narnia to Harry Potter to Raymond Feist’s Faerie Tale.
It really is a fantasy sub-genre all its own, though you don’t see it in comics very often… come to think of it, the last comics-type entry in the genre I recall was also called Stardust, though that one was nothing like this one apart from the title coincidence and the bare fact of its our-world-meets-fairytale-world premise.
But Stardust Kid has two things going for it despite the mild feeling of deja vu the cover blurb might give you. The first is DeMatteis, who is at his best when he’s telling this kind of story. DeMatteis is interested in the idea of people growing emotionally and spiritually, and he’s also interested in coming-of-age; many of his best stories involve people learning truths that change them forever afterward. Because of that, I think he brings a joy and a passion to this book that you don’t see that often in his other work; this is a story that’s clearly important to him. The humor that served him so well in the Justice League International days is on display as well, though naturally it’s reined in a bit. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that the story of twelve-year-old Cody finding out that his best friend Paul is not of this world, and the crisis that brings to their friendship, works as a swashbuckling adventure and a literary metaphor and even as an old-fashioned bedtime story. It’s playing to all of DeMatteis’ strengths, and it’s certainly the best thing I’ve seen of his since Moonshadow.
The other thing the book has going for it is the magnificent Mike Ploog. Just like the plot serves DeMatteis’ strengths as a writer, the visuals required for this story is something that plays to all of Ploog’s strengths — he gets to do the kind of horrific monsters he was doing at Marvel in the 70’s, AND he gets to do the kind of fantasy art he used for Weirdworld and Wizards… really, this is the strip Ploog was born to draw. It’s perfect for him.
Full disclosure — I’m a big admirer of Mike Ploog, I used to see him a lot when he’d come into the printshop I worked at during the early 90’s. He’d stop in to get color proofs on his originals, which meant I got to see and handle a lot of his paintings and really appreciate the craft that went into them.
So I’m hardly unbiased about his skills… but damn, this is a good-looking book.
I’d buy it just for the art, but the story is great fun too. Recommended.
The other entry from Boom! that I wanted to mention is Salem: Queen of Thorns.
Part of this springs from guilt, because I did a column making fun of the ‘controversy’ surrounding the book’s advance publicity. I figured I ought to at least actually look at the book when it came out and give it a fair shake.
And you know what? I rather like it.
The tag line for the series is “In the tradition of Solomon Kane!” and there are indeed echoes of Robert E. Howard’s crusading Puritan in Salem‘s protagonist, Elias Hooke. But I think that’s mostly superficial, and probably more to do with Hooke’s fashion sense than anything else. Hooke appears to be as dark and driven a guy as Solomon Kane, but he has none of Kane’s self-righteousness. Kane was out to rid the world of evil — Hooke is more about redeeming his past mistakes, now that he knows the Real Truth.
Again, I don’t want to spoil it for people, but suffice it to say that Hooke and his friends are caught between the church conspirators who are hiding said Real Truth, and the genuine occult menace that countless innocents found guilty of ‘witchcraft’ have been getting the blame for. Maybe I just have X-Files on the brain this week, but Elias Hooke seems more to me like the Fox Mulder of the Puritan era than he does Solomon Kane. Hooke’s dealing with as much or more peril coming from the church hunting him as a heretic, as he is any he may face from the monstrous Queen of Thorns.
So far the first two issues, #0 and #1, are a promising start. The scripting from newcomers Chris Morgan and Ken Walsh is pretty good and the book moves at a nice pace. I also like the spiky, angular look of the art from Wilfredo Torres, it’s certainly suited to a story about someone named the Queen of Thorns. At any rate, I’m on board for the time being, and I’d definitely recommend this to anyone looking for spooky, atmospheric adventures.
Oh, Speaking of Kenneth Johnson: I finally got to read the actual prose sequel to the original V that Johnson published earlier this year.
This novel arbitrarily dumps everything that came after the original four-hour television mini-series, which can make it a bit jarring in places to those of us that enjoyed V: The Final Battle (or the comics reviewed a few paragraphs up.) But it’s still pretty good.
It’s based on a screenplay for a motion-picture version that Johnson has been shopping around for a while, and I have to say that I think this works better as a novel than it would as a movie. The gradual build and more thoughtful pacing is something that would be way too slow on film, not to mention all the necessary exposition. Also, the fascist allegory that is at the heart of Johnson’s cautionary tale seems a bit less heavy-handed here than it probably would on screen. The prose is occasionally clumsy — it’s obvious that Johnson is far more at home writing screenplays than books. But nevertheless I enjoyed this and I’d rate it as a solid B-minus. If it does eventually get made into a movie I’d like to see it tightened up quite a bit, though.
The other Johnson project we’ve been waiting for is the DVD boxed set of the Alien Nation movies.
The original TV show has been available a while now, but these reunion films made for Fox after the show was canceled have been on hold for far too long and we’re delighted the set’s finally out. It’s nice to have them available, especially since the first one, “Dark Horizon,” is the resolution to the cliffhanger the TV show ended on; that cliffhanger was something that was very frustrating to the people that only discovered the show on DVD (like my wife.)
The set’s loaded with extras, too. Johnson does commentary on all five films, and I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating – Kenneth Johnson does some of the best DVD commentary out there. He gives you countless behind-the-scenes anecdotes about whatever’s on the screen at any given moment, and his affection for all the people he worked with comes through clearly.
That affection is also on display in one of the coolest DVD extras I’ve ever seen — the cast party at Johnson’s home where everyone just hangs out and reminisces.
This is vastly more interesting, and a lot more fun to watch, than the kind of retrospective you usually get where a bunch of individual interviews are cut together and you never get to see everyone in the same room. Here, you really get a sense of the genuine fondness these people all have for one another and how the show was such a labor of love for everyone involved. I’d recommend this set even to people who weren’t big fans of the television series, but if you did like the show, trust me, this will send you into orbit. It’s priced a bit high but there are lots of online dealers offering it at a deep discount, and it’s definitely worth checking out.
Bionic Buffoonery: Lately, as it happens, in addition to the other bits of Kenneth Johnson’s oeuvre that have been showing up around here, we’ve been watching a lot of the old Six Million Dollar Man on DVD.
This is a show that obviously never was meant for home video; it suffers a bit when you screen a bunch of them all in a row. Things that worked fine when you only saw them once a week start to seem a bit formulaic and silly when you see them repeated over six episodes in sequence.
I don’t drink any more, but it occurs to me that there’s the making of a good drinking game there. So I wrote one. And here it is.
The Steve Austin Drinking Game
You must take a drink when you see any of the following:
– Steve Austin gives a pep talk to a plucky woman doing a man’s job
– Steve hangs up on Oscar Goldman
– Oscar pauses dramatically and removes his glasses (in our house, we call this “the move.” Oscar was doing it years before David Caruso on CSI Miami.)
– A mad scientist embarks on an evil scheme to prove the government should have funded his research
– someone asks Steve in astonishment, “How did you do that?” after Steve exhibits bionic strength
– someone makes a joke comparing Steve to a car or other mechanical device (“Time for your ten thousand mile checkup, Steve.”)
– Steve is jogging in his sweatsuit (other than in the opening credits, that is)
– Oscar Goldman uses the word “pal”
– Oscar Goldman is made to look like an idiot despite his years of experience running an espionage agency (for example, a naive civilian suggests a solution that Oscar’s been unable to think of, even though logically Oscar SHOULD have thought of it first)
– Steve goes undercover in a profession not his own (lumberjack, dockworker, cowboy) and cheats bionically to be better at it than anyone doing it for real
– Steve gets involved in something because he knows someone from college (Steve apparently went to school with Larry Czonka and Sonny Bono, among others.)
– Steve’s skin is peeled away to reveal bionic circuitry
– Steve throws someone into a pile of boxes
– Steve throws someone into the water
– Armed thugs take on Steve hand-to-hand, one at a time, instead of shooting
– Steve winks at someone to cheer them up
– Steve is showing way too much chest hair (Julie contributed that one.)
– An OSI agent is revealed to be a villain
– Steve’s intervention in her affairs gives a widow the strength to go on and make a new life
– Steve gives a joke explanation for his super abilities (“Vitamins.”)
You must chug an entire beer when:
– someone OTHER than Steve Austin or Jaime Sommers gets to move in bionic slow motion (i.e., The Seven-Million-Dollar Man, Bigfoot, fembots, or George Foreman)
– Oscar Goldman shouts at someone
– an actor from a different Kenneth Johnson show appears (i.e., Jack Colvin from The Incredible Hulk.)
– Lee Majors sings a song (trust me, you’ll need the drink.)
– there is a comedic sound effect in addition to the usual bionic one (i.e., the sound of tweeting birds after Steve clobbers a guy)
– the episode crosses over with The Bionic Woman
There you go. Feel free to embroider on this, but I think that list would get you pretty messed up after a couple of episodes.
And that’s all I’ve got for this time. See you next week.
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