Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
As you read this, Julie and I are safely ensconced in rustic Oak Harbor. Rather than try and figure out any kind of family Thanksgiving, we fled to Whidbey Island for a four-and-a-half day holiday of loafing around and bookscouting and goofing off. Don’t tell my relatives.
Eventually, I’m sure, the highlights of our trip will end up here, since people seem to enjoy tales of our various back-roads expeditions. But in the meantime, here’s some bits and pieces to tide you over.
Not Strictly Comics, But….: Roger Ebert has a short article up about one of my very favorite pulp/paperback guys, John D. MacDonald.
MacDonald is the writer that gave us Travis McGee, the character that I will go to my grave believing was a primary inspiration for the O’Neil/Cowan version of The Question.
But he wrote lots of other stuff too. Some of it’s good and some of it’s great. Any MacDonald book, though, is guaranteed to be a compelling, hard-to-put-down good time.
In other sort-of-but-not-really-comics-related news, I wanted to mention that I got a huge kick out of The Green Hornet Chronicles, the latest pulp-hero anthology from Moonstone Books (co-edited, by the way, by Wold Newton expert and friend of the blog Win Scott Eckert.)
The entry that is getting all the press is Harlan Ellison’s story fragment, and though I can’t blame Moonstone for wanting to plaster Mr. Ellison’s name all over the thing, the truth of the matter is that it’s probably the weakest piece in the book, and that includes the giant essay/excuse that bookends it. Virtually every other story in the collection is better, and in particular I got a huge kick out of Greg Cox’s “I Had The Green Hornet’s Love Child!” which is every bit as much fun as it sounds, and Win Eckert’s own “Fang and Sting,” a story that not only answers a question Hornet fans have wondered about for years but has a few Easter Eggs for the alert Wold Newton scholar, as well.
I’m a story guy, but I don’t mean to slight the work of illustrator Ruben Procopio here. He contributes a bunch of wonderfully gritty black-and-white interior illos that really suit the noirish pulp feel of the book.
Also, this may or may not matter to you but it got points with me — the book is very firmly set in the continuity of the 1967 TV series starring Van Williams and Bruce Lee.
Lord knows, what with Dynamite flooding the market with The Green Hornet and Kevin Smith’s Green Hornet and The Green Hornet Year One and so on and so forth, not to mention the upcoming Seth Rogen movie, it can be hard to keep track of all the different Hornets out there, so I was pleased to see that this book featured the one I think of as “mine.” If you are curious about the Green Hornet and want to know more, but unsure where to start, well, you can’t do better than this collection.
And while I’m at it, I will also mention that I really enjoyed the Moonstone anthologies featuring Kolchak and the second one starring the Phantom, as well.
And I believe I already plugged the Avenger and Spider collections in this space a while ago. At this point I’m ready to go with just a blanket recommendation of ALL the Moonstone prose anthologies. Good stuff.
From the Mailbag: You may recall that one of my semi-regular correspondents is Courtney Smith, who’s been researching the life and work of illustrator Fred Pfeiffer.
I knew Fred Pfeiffer largely from his Doc Savage work but he did lots of other good stuff too. And you can see a great deal of it on display now at Courtney’s new web site, The Pfeiffer Pfiles. All sorts of interesting things to look at.
Also, Adam Garcia sent a great piece of teaser art by Mike Fyles for Adam’s new Green Lama novel for Airship27, Green Lama: Crimson Circle. In his note, Adam said, “This is by no means the final cover (heck I need to finish writing the damn thing) but it does feature a scene that will appear in the novel. Hope you like it!”
Well, of course I like it, and it’s too good not to share so now you all get to see it too. If you’ve been reading this column for any length of time you’ll know how much I enjoyed Adam and Mike’s first collaboration, Green Lama: Unbound, and we’re very much looking forward to Crimson Circle in this household.
TV From the Vaults: You ever wonder what Star Trek would look like if it had been written by Austin Powers? Well, I’m here to tell you that it would look a lot like Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s UFO.
This was the show that the Andersons did in 1970 or thereabouts, between Thunderbirds (with the puppets) and Space: 1999. I had very vague memories of seeing this in syndication when I was a kid; I tried to watch it once or twice but it was too weird and creepy for ten-year-old me.
Last week I came across the first season set for $5.00 and thought, Hell, for forty cents an episode I’ll roll the dice. Mostly I was curious to see what had frightened me off it.
Well, I’m four or five episodes in and I think the main thing that must have been bugging me back then was that the entire show is insane.
UFO is the story of Ed Straker and the agency under his command, S.H.A.D.O., the Supreme Headquarters of the Alien Defence Organization. The premise is that in the far future of– 1980!!– SHADO is engaged in a secret war with green-skinned, liquid-breathing aliens who are here to– wait for it– harvest human organs for transplant.
The aliens look just like us, except for their green skin. They are allegedly trying to ‘infiltrate,’ but mostly they seem to just fly around in giant silver spinning dreidels and blow stuff up.
But the reason I say the show is insane is that nothing makes any sense at all. The stories have no real interior logic. Straker pulls brilliant deductions out of thin air, and no matter how lunatic or paranoid his guess sounds, he always turns out to be right. The physics are even wonkier than the science in Irwin Allen’s science fiction and that’s saying something. Finally — this is our favorite — it’s apparently required for all female personnel who serve on SHADO’s lunar base to have purple hair. Why? I don’t know. It’s just there. They never explain it at all. I thought maybe it was supposed to be some sort of futurist fashion statement but there was one show where a female Moonbase officer had to report to Straker at SHADO headquarters to deliver a report or something and when she arrived on Earth, somehow her hair was no longer purple. Maybe, it’s, uh… the lighting?
And all of it’s presented with this deadly serious, they’re coming for all of us tone. I’ve decided UFO belongs in the top three paranoid-fantasy television series ever, right up there with The Invaders and The Prisoner. The one thing that never changes about the show is its mission statement — on UFO, all aliens must die. Period. No matter what cloak-and-dagger stuff goes on in the beginning of the episode, the last ten minutes or so of each one are always the same. Ed Straker calls together his SHADO task force and launches an attack by land, sea and air, eventually managing to blast this week’s dreidel ship out of the sky. Happy ending.
The actors, led by Ed Bishop as Straker, manage to be more wooden than the stop-motion puppets on Thunderbirds, believe it or not. The real stars of the show are the various ships. The Andersons clearly knew it and merchandised the hell out of the series, and there is a sizable fandom among the toys-and-collectibles folks for the show to this day.
There were even a few attempts at comics. Britain’s TV ACTION had a weekly strip for a while.
Seven or eight years ago an outfit called Mayhem tried to get something going with the property again, but didn’t get beyond some teaser cover art. The comics never happened.
It’s not really surprising. There were already lots of UFO-themed comics out there, so there was no reason for publishers to spend money on a license. Gold Key was already doing UFO: Flying Saucers and then UFO and Outer Space for the entire time the show was airing here in the States.
Nevertheless, UFO in its TV incarnation still has a healthy following. There’s dozens of web sites out there about the show and all the swag it engendered. Not quite as many as the ones for Thunderbirds or Captain Scarlet or Space: 1999, but nothing to sneeze at.
Anyway. It’s not a good show, but we’re enjoying it. It’s an entertaining cultural snapshot of what passed for futurism in the 1970s. Let’s put it this way — five dollars for the set is about right. Here’s a brief montage of clips, just to give you a taste. And what the hell, here’s one more.
And… that’s all I’ve got. Those of you who are celebrating the holiday, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, and I’ll see you next week.
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