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CSBG Archive

Cross-Hatchings for December 2012

Just stuff. Cool books people sent me, footnotes to some previous columns of the past few weeks, this-n-that.

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Into Darkness: You know how, if people know you are into comics and SF and so on, you become their human information kiosk for everything geek-related?

For me the latest iteration of this is the people that keep asking me if I’ve seen the new Star Trek trailer and what I think of it. In particular, they want me to weigh in on whether or not Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Khan or Gary Mitchell.

My money's on Mitchell, even though the movie press people say Cumberbatch's character's name is 'John Harrison.' The character is wearing a Starfleet uniform, and is described as a human weapon of mass destruction. So I say Mitchell, but I'm probably wrong. Won't we all feel stupid when he actually turns out to be Charlie X?

What really struck me about the Into Darkness trailer, though, is that it really, really has a bad case of Avengers.

Psycho supervillain under glass? Check.

And both of them all gloaty and looking like this is just part of the master plan.

Mass destruction in a major city? Yeah.

One is Manhattan, and the other is apparently future San Francisco.

And so on. Now, this is only the trailer, and it’s probably quite a different sort of story, but whoever cut together that trailer is making a pretty brazen grab for some of that Avengers money.

And then there's THIS....

Between that and totally stealing the Dark Knight Rises graphic for the poster, it makes you wonder if there’s any actual Star Trek going on in this new movie at all. I’m still very much looking forward to Into Darkness, but I wish the advertising wasn’t all so hell-bent on persuading me I’ll like it because it’s just like all these OTHER loud movies.

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Burroughs Bibliophile Footnotes: It was pointed out to me several times in emails and such that I omitted to mention Tarzan: The Epic Adventures in last week’s Tarzan roundup column. It’s true, I did. Because it’s really, um… Not Good.

Seriously. The Wolf Larson half-hour version was better-- hell, the Disney syndicated cartoon show was better.

It pains me to say it because of all the attempts people have made to bring Tarzan to the screen, this one actually looked to be trying to give us the authentic Burroughs Tarzan, with Nikolas Rokoff and the lost city of Opar and even a trip to Pellucidar.

But it’s awful. It’s shot so completely on the cheap that it looks like a student film, and Joe Lara as Tarzan just looks perpetually perplexed. Allow me, once again, to point out that the Conan approach doesn’t work– you don’t hire someone who looks the part and try to teach him acting. That never ends well. Much better to take the Superman approach– you hire a guy like Christopher Reeve who can really act and talk him into bulking up.

You don’t have to take my word for it. All the episodes are now available on Hulu –basic, not “Plus”– and you can see for yourselves.

In fairness, the novel that R.A. Salvatore did based on the pilot is okay (considering it’s not handicapped by Joe Lara’s lugubrious delivery) and it has the ‘official’ seal of approval from the Burroughs estate… but honestly, the Burroughs pastiche to beat these days is still Nathan Long’s Jane Carver of Waar.

Putting an angry biker chick in the traditional John Carter role is so inspired I don’t know how no one thought of it sooner, and Long’s writing strikes exactly the right balance between affectionate parody and straight-up adventure. The second in that series, Swords of Waar, just showed up and it’s every bit as much fun as the first one. I did mean to mention that last week and forgot, so I wanted to be sure and rectify that.

Also, between last week and this one, because I’d enjoyed Arvid Nelson’s take on Tarzan so much in Lord of the Jungle, I made it a point to acquire the two Warlord of Mars trade collections from Dynamite also scripted by Mr. Nelson.

I liked those a lot too– the flaws in the story are built-in, the fault of Mr. Burroughs, not Mr. Nelson. Overall he does a good job of papering over most of the cracks without losing the sense of the original or, God help us, trying to “update” anything. I especially liked that, in the same way Burroughs originally structured the Mars series, Nelson’s not afraid to do stories without John Carter in them at all, since that means that we might eventually get to my two favorites in the Mars series, Chessmen of Mars and A Fighting Man of Mars.

The art by Stephen Sadowski is pretty good too– he seems to be enjoying himself more here and trying out different ideas, much more than he ever did on the DC superhero books he worked on. I’m on board for the trades– which are, again, a much better package than Marvel or DC is currently putting out. Eight or nine issues instead of six, plus bonus material, feels much more like an actual book. Recommended.

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From The Review Pile: People keep sending me cool books to review and I keep running into this brick wall of having nothing to write about them other than this is good, you should buy it.

For example, Titan Books sent me their two hardcover collections of the Flash Gordon Sunday strips by Alex Raymond, and I just don’t have a lot to say about them other than “Wow.”

These are just terrific comics, presented beautifully.

This is Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon from the beginning, and I can’t think of anything to add to the reams of critical praise already written about this strip other than yeah, it’s as good as everyone says it is.

My experience with Flash Gordon, oddly enough, has been limited to ancillary stuff like the paperback books from the 1970s and the Dan Jurgens version DC put out a couple of decades ago.

I actually quite liked the Goulart paperbacks AND the Jurgens mini-series, so I'm kind of a heretic.

But this is the real thing, Flash from the beginning, and it’s clear why everyone in comics stole from it for decades.

The first FLASH GORDON, from 1934.

I haven’t really read the book so much as paged through it and stopped to be awed by the art.

I keep spotting stuff Golden Age comic books were swiping wholesale. DC's early HAWKMAN should have given Raymond a credit.

Plus there’s all sorts of ancillary material– essays from folks like Alex Ross and Doug Murray, photos from the Flash serials, all sorts of stuff, and all of it put together in really stunning coffee-table art-book hardcover. There’s two volumes so far and I hope Titan does well enough with these to keep going and eventually give us the whole run. Each volume is priced very reasonably at $39.95, but you can find them on Amazon for considerably less than that. Well worth it either way.

Another terrific book Titan sent is the first volume of Major Eazy strips, Heart of Iron.

I don't know if I'd call these strips GREAT, but they are great FUN.

These originally ran in Britain’s Battle Weekly, back in the 1970s.

American comics readers might not be ready for the ultra-condensed, in-your-face style of British weekly comics, but I kind of love them.

Major Eazy was kind of an odd strip in a book full of odd strips. Forced to define him, I guess I’d say he’s sort of a cross between Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name and Jack Bauer on 24… if that guy was fighting in World War II alongside the Rat Patrol.

By the way? These are all pretty cool comics too.

Unlike most stateside World War II comics heroes, Major Eazy is not particularly noble, nor is he devoted to the other guys in his unit. He’ll use anyone and do anything to accomplish his objective.

This is probably Eazy's most famous moment of nasty.

These are fun stories, though perhaps you shouldn’t read through the book in a sitting; it gets a little repetitive in places. But writer Alan Hebden is clearly having a good time, and the art from Carlos Ezquerra is suitably hard-edged and tough-looking. If your idea of World War II stories isn’t about history so much as it is macho guys shooting people and blowing shit up, this is the book for you.

Artist Carlos Ezquerra certainly picked up on the Eastwood thing. Writer Alan Hebden has said that he was, in fact, thinking much more about Eastwood westerns than he was classic WW2 storytelling.

…hmp. Even promising myself I wouldn’t go on and on, I seem to be going on and on. Okay, two more quick recommendations.

The first is the new autobiography of Lou Scheimer out from TwoMorrows.

More than any other studio, Filmation was responsible for 'my' cartoons, growing up.

A really good book on Filmation was long overdue, and it’s nice to get one this comprehensive at last. Lou Scheimer: Creating The Filmation Generation is co-written with Andy Mangels, who is pretty much the authority on this stuff– I’m old enough to remember his old TV column in Amazing Heroes, and he’s carved out a niche for himself as being THE go-to guy for the history of super-people on television. Good stuff and also available digitally at $9.95 if the $29.95 price point’s a little much for you.

And finally, I wanted to put in another plug for Pro Se Press. I’ve talked about their Pulp Obscura novels before, but somehow I’ve neglected to mention their ongoing pulp ‘zine, Pro Se Presents.

I love this title both in concept and execution.

This is a monthly anthology of various ‘new pulp’ efforts, some continuing character stuff and some one-offs, but all of it great fun. Really I love it because it’s the closest anyone’s ever come to my beloved Weird Heroes books from the 1970s, it’s got a very similar vibe. Six bucks to Pro Se will get you a hard copy, or you may prefer the $1.99 e-book version. Occasional e-correspondent and friend of the blog Adam Garcia has a nice story in the upcoming #15, which reminded me that I’d been wanting to mention the magazine here for a while.

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And that’s all I’ve got, this time out. Everyone have a happy and safe holiday, whatever particular occasion you observe this time of year… and I’ll see you next week.

12 Comments

Hatcher, I know that you have done a few blogs on the action/adventure pulp books like the Don Pendelton and Marc Bolan stuff,how you don’t do one on the other side of the spinner rack like the Ashes series, the Survivalist stuff

Everything in this column was great but I can’t say that I’ll check out the Rat Patrol. To see both the Rats of Tobruk and the Digger’s Slouch Hat co-opted in such a way and no mention of the Anzacs, yes the Kiwis were there too. Most of the obscure stuff you post are hidden gems Greg, but due to historical inaccuracies, I hope the Rat Patrol remains buried.

I’ll second that vote to have anyone talk it up concerning the Survivalist (Ahern) or Ashes (Johnstone) paperback series. Both series were great stuff and so much more than the other mindless action adventure stuff that was being put out during that time. The well thought out storylines and premise of the Survivalist alone have always caused me to wonder why no one ever picked up the series for movie or television treatment.

By Grodd, those Flash Gordon books look great! I’ve only seen bits of the strip here and there over the years, and it always makes me a little sad that work of that calibre is beyond dead in newspaper strips. I can only imagine what it must have been like to get the comics section of the newspaper back then. The art is absolutely killer; it’s has a very definite Alcala vibe that evokes memories of the early Masters of the Universe minicomics. (And yes, I know Flash came about five decades earlier, but those MOTU minis were the first comics I ever read, so they were first for me.) I had no idea this chronological collection had started. I really need to get my hands on these.
I have that Filmation book, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. I keep hearing nothing but good things about it.
I’ve had the first Dynamite “Warlord of Mars” trade for months now. I’m gonna read it soon, honest! Stuff just seems to conspire against me to keep me from catching up on my reading. There’s just too much to read, and not nearly enough time.
I picked up the first Jane Carver book based on your recommendation a few months ago. It was indeed great fun; I was unaware the sequel had been released. Gotta pick that up.

The original Flash Gordon comics are indeed gorgeous – about a year ago I checked a Flash Gordon reprint book from the library (it collects the first 2 years of the strip). That was actually the first time I had read any of the original strips outside of seeing reprinted panels in other books, and you’re right, I was amazed at just how much it influenced all later SF and superhero comics.
As for the new Trek film, apparently we had the same thought after seeing that trailer, i.e. is this even a Trek film? In fact, I’m still kind of on the fence about this whole Trek reboot – I saw that first movie, and really enjoyed it (it was a great SF action film), but it just didn’t seem like the ‘real’ Trek – and I’m not just talking about the fact that it has all new actors playing the old characters – it was more like well-made (really well-made) fan fiction. I’m kind of getting the same vibe from this one as well. And by the way, there’s no way the villain is Khan, because then they would have cast The Rock to play him, duh. Or maybe Antonio Banderas… ;)
Best holiday wishes to you and Julie.

Alex Raymond never drew Tarzan but he did draw Jungle Jim, a topper for the Flash Gordon Sundays, that was his take on ‘white-man-in-Africa’. IDW is currently reprinting both strips in their Definitive Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim. If you have the shelf space — each book is a massive 16″ by 12″ — the set of four (projected) volumes is definitely worth it.

Thanks, Greg!!! The story is definitely a change of pace, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

But more importantly: MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! Hope you and yours are well this holiday season!

-Adam!

Thanks for a year of great columns. Have a great new year Greg.

http://flashgordon.wikia.com/wiki/Queen_Undina

In one story arc, Flash Gordon gains the ability to breathe underwater and wears a scaled orange shirt.

On behalf of every contributor to the magazine and the Pro Se Press staff, thanks for the kind words about Pro Se Presents.
MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Lee Houston, Junior
Story Editor: Pro Se Presents magazine.

The OTHER great John Carter of Mars pastiche, not to mention its true inspiration– THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN– *and* Jack Kirby’s work– is BLACKTHORN: THUNDER ON MARS! I’m going to have to get a review copy to you. But in the meantime, the Kindle edition is only 99 cents for a limited time, here:

http://www.amazon.com/Blackthorn-Thunder-on-Mars-ebook/dp/B006FBRHG8

Or you can go the trade paperback route, via that same link.

And if you dig the short stories in that volume, there’s a full-length novel sequel to it, by Ian Watson, with the sweetest cover art of 2012 going for it:

http://www.amazon.com/Blackthorn-Dynasty-Mars-ebook/dp/B008NYCVLQ

You can’t go wrong with either of these books, especially if you love Kirby, Carter, and/or Thundarr, Princess Ariel, and Ookla!

Tarzan the Epic Adventures did result in a John Carter action figure so that is something.

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