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One of the Best Serials Ever Made: The Adventures of Captain Marvel, Chapter One: Curse of the Scorpion

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Adventures of Captain Marvel poster-smallPop quiz. Who was the first superhero to make it into film?

Yes — you in the back…what? Spawn?! Sit down! Okay… you there, in the Marvel Zombie tee-shirt… no, it was not Wolverine, though there may never be another superhero movie made without him. Yes, I see you… Superman? Good guess, but nope. Batman? Warmer, but still no.

The first superhero to make it into the movies was Captain Marvel (or as his four-color arch-nemesis, Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, contemptuously dubbed him, “That Big Red Cheese”), in the 1941 serial, The Adventures of Captain Marvel.

Captain Marvel and his alter ego, young radio reporter Billy Batson, made their first appearance in Fawcett’s Whiz Comics #2, in February of 1940. The character, the creation of writer Bill Parker and artist C.C. Beck, quickly became extremely popular, and for the remainder of the 1940′s, comics featuring him and the other members of the “Marvel Family” often outsold those featuring Superman.

National Periodical Publications (commonly known to comics fans as DC) tried to nip the rivalry in the bud by suing Captain Marvel out of existence in a legal wrangle that wouldn’t be decisively resolved until 1954. Well before that, though, Republic Pictures hopped on the bandwagon with The Adventures of Captain Marvel, a twelve-chapter serial that aficionados of the form regard as one of the best ever made.

The serial was directed by John English and William Whitney and written by the team of Ronald Davidson, Norman Hall, Arch Heath, Joseph Poland, and Sol Shor. They all keep the pot bubbling with action, peril, suspense, red herrings, and the crackling, popping energy that seems to be a unique feature of the best cliffhanger serials.

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Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part Fifteen

Friday, May 9th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Flash Alpha 1Flash Alpha 2“Return to Mongo” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from January 2 to March 24, 1956. The story gets underway with a party celebrating Dr. Zarkov’s newly discovered young adult daughter Zara and her arrival on Earth after growing up on an otherwise deserted swamp planet with her mother. Flash, Dale, and the Space Kids are at the party when Zarkov is alerted to the discovery that Mongo is once again entering Earth’s orbit and threatening our world’s stability. Willie, who still has the ability to psychically grant wishes, inadvertently teleports everyone from the party to Mongo.

Flash and the Space Kids are immediately set upon by Queen Azura’s cowled servants, who nearly massacre them. Working as a team to defeat Azura’s servants, Flash and the Space Kids are overcome by a paralyzing gas as they explore a nearby cave. They are subsequently captured and brought to Queen Azura’s palace, where they learn she is plotting to overthrow Prince Barin.

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Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part Fourteen

Friday, May 2nd, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Barry Gordonkurtzman_flash_gordon_cvr11“The Swamp Girl” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from October 31 to December 31, 1955. Just as Dan Barry guided the strip closer to its origins, he took two sidesteps in introducing a back-story for Dr. Zarkov that Alex Raymond never intended. “The Swamp Girl” introduces us to a hot-tempered, beautiful young woman called Zara, whose mother was the sole survivor when her rocket crashed on the swamp world of Malagua twenty years before.

As the story begins, Lisa (Zara’s mother) is succumbing to malaria just as her daughter has finally succeeded in repairing their rocketship. Zara sets off to visit her father’s home world of Earth and fulfill her mother’s dying request that her daughter bring the father she has never met to see her mother before she dies, so that her mother may reconcile with him.

Zara arrives on Earth with her pet black panther, Octavio. Their ship’s coordinates take them to the desert town where Zara’s father, Dr. Zarkov, lives. After upsetting the neighborhood and evading the police, both the swamp girl and her panther reach their destination.

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Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part Thirteen

Friday, April 25th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Space Circus tradSpace Circus alt“Space Circus” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from September 5 to October 29, 1955. “Space Circus” is significant for being the first time in the Dan Barry strips where Flash’s past adventures on Mongo are now an integral part of the storyline. One wonders if reader response prompted King Features to request a change of direction from what would today be considered a reboot to a direct sequel to the original storyline of the early 1930s.

“Space Circus” gets underway with Flash abducted by a flying saucer while out driving on a desert road late one night. Abduction by UFO was a relatively new concept in the 1950s, but one that was spreading rapidly as a fear that many shared during the Cold War era. The aliens are from the planet Mesmo and appear as Asian caricatures. While a number of the inhabitants of Mongo were depicted as Asian in appearance, they were portrayed as being exotic and not as demeaning cartoonish representations. While there were certainly many more offensive Yellow Peril figures in comics of the era, the Mesmans are a far cry from the seductive and imposing inhabitants of Mongo as Alex Raymond portrayed them.

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The Series Series: The Barrow by Mark Smylie

Friday, April 18th, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Avery

The Barrow-smallThe book mugged me. It was supposed to stay safely several weeks down in my queue while I kept commitments to other law-abiding books that had been waiting patiently for review. Then up walks The Barrow, brazen as you please, distracts me by flashing its jacket copy, and steals two weeks of all my attention right out of my calendar. But what else can you expect from a book full of gangsters, extortionists, rabble-rousers, mercenaries, slumming disgraced nobility, and assorted other low-life types?

I haven’t quite figured out how Mark Smylie pulled it off. The book has some obvious excellences, and some obvious failings, and some oddities that might be mistaken for one only to turn out to be the other. I’ll need to read more of Smylie’s work to figure out what tipped the balance in the book’s favor.

I found most of the characters somewhere between off-putting and odious, and nearly every time the body count went up by one, I was relieved at not having to put up with that character for one page longer. It’s as if Smylie had set himself the task of outdoing George R.R. Martin for grittiness of characterization, and overshot by twenty miles.

There are readers who love that sort of thing; I’m not usually one of them. As the endgame of the novel came in sight, there were only three characters I cared about at all — the enigmatic hero Stjepan Black-Heart, the cross-dressing street fighter Erim, and the disgraced noblewoman Annwyn. I kept coming back to my two snarky rhetorical questions: How are these two women going to survive ten more minutes surrounded by all those sociopaths? And when is Stjepan going to have a male friend who does not suck?

Only it turns out those are the questions that matter most, and several of the glitches I had mistaken for goofs on the author’s part ended up being the keys to the story’s other puzzles.

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Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part Twelve

Friday, April 18th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Barry Gordonkurtzman_flash_gordon_cvr11“Starling” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from July 11 to September 3, 1955. “Starling” starts off with Flash visiting Dr. Zarkov one evening to find his old friend depressed, as the U.S. Government has turned down his request for an additional million dollars funding to finish construction of the Super-S Rocket. It is a nice hint of direction for the strip to come, which will take the series closer to its roots. Flash and Zarkov are startled by the discovery of a prowler outside, but the man gets away.

Over the next few days, similar disturbing incidents occur. Flash and Dale are nearly run down by a speeding car while out walking one afternoon on the grounds of Zarkov’s estate. Later, a crate is dropped off the roof of a downtown building when Flash is walking beneath and just misses him. Shortly thereafter, Zarkov receives a telephone call from B. B. Remsen, the billionaire industrialist requesting an interview with Flash.

Upon visiting Remsen’s estate, Flash is outraged to discover Remsen hired his goon, Byron, to test Flash’s reflexes by nearly running him down with a speeding car and dropping a crate off a building. Byron was the prowler at Zarkov’s estate who learned of the need for financing for the Super-S Rocket. Remsen agrees to finance the rocket if Flash will take on a unique assignment. Remsen’s very wild granddaughter, Starling, wants to travel in space and Remsen wants Flash to pilot the rocket that will take her to the stars.

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Hurry Up With That Doctor Strange Movie, Marvel

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Mesmeretics Doctor Strange poster-smallMarvel Studios has certainly been dragging its feet with the long-delayed Doctor Strange feature film. It still doesn’t have a release date. (Or a star. Or a director.)

That hasn’t stopped enthusiastic fans from trying to nudge the project along with fake trailers and posters, like the fan-made effort from Mesmeretics at left. C’mom, Marvel. If fans can make something that looks that sharp, so can you.

I consider Doctor Strange to be the last major untapped Marvel property and I’m a little cranky that C-listers like Ant Man and Rocket Raccoon are making it to the silver screen before he is. It wouldn’t surprise me if Baron Mordo was behind it all, somehow.

Doctor Strange was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (the same team that created Spider-man) in 1963. He has flirted with live action versions before… there was a 1978 TV movie starring Peter Hooten, which I watched after school and thought perhaps was the coolest thing in the history of ever. In 2005 Paramount acquired the rights to Doctor Strange from Miramax and in 2008 reports surfaced that Guillermo del Toro was attached to direct and that he’d approached Neil Gaiman to do the script. Never happened.

More recently, in June 2010, Marvel Studios hired Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer, the team behind the underrated Sahara and the 2011 reboot of Conan the Barbarian, to produce a script, and in January of last year Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige confirmed that Doctor Strange would be part of “Phase Three” of the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe. In November, he confirmed that a Doctor Strange feature is in development, but so far no additional details have emerged. And so we wait.

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Leiji Matsumoto, Bushido, Manhood, and Womanhood, Part 3

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 | Posted by Elwin Cotman

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The Japanese have accomplished miraculous economic growth and have an abundance of material things, but as a result there is pollution and high prices, and we’re far from leading happy lives. We are all just helpless cogs in the machine of the industrial world, especially when it comes to the material aspects of our lives. Will we find a way out of this predicament? History will allow us to determine this.
—Leiji Matsumoto

[Read Part 1 of Leiji Matsumoto, Bushido, Manhood, and Womanhood here, and Part II here.]

Thirty-some years later, still relevant words. I would love to hear Matsumoto’s thoughts on our current mechanization: our attachment to technology, our GMO foods, the surveillance culture that is growing daily. In the seventies, he was writing about fantastical apocalypses. Smack dab in the middle of our man-made apocalypse, the world needs space pirates more than ever.

For this series, I’ve been doing a bit of a Matsumoto re-watch. Nothing serious, just an episode here and there. I’ve been watching Galaxy Express 999. Make no mistake, this is Matsumoto’s Sistine Chapel. All of his themes are wrapped up in this fairy tale, but one is central: human potential over the dehumanization of industry, as represented by the Machine Empire. It is also the story he most wanted to tell, dreaming up fairy stories while the market demanded war tales.

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Rising Star Indie Publisher Mirror Comics on their Weird Western Mission Arizona

Saturday, March 8th, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

a MISSION_GN_00_cover_02bMission Arizona, the graphic novel from indie publisher Mirror Comics, recently came out on ComiXology. I already had a paper copy and loved this take on the weird western (like the dark weird westerns Buried Eyes by Lavie Tidhar or A Feast for Dust by Gemma Files), but I knew less about making comics or the changes in the comic book industry with e-comics sites like ComiXology, so I decided to chat with Mirror. Dominic Bercier is the president and publisher (and artist of Mission Arizona), while Kristopher Waddell is the editor-in-chief and co-publisher (and the writer of Mission Arizona). Both live in Ottawa, Canada.

Mission Arizona is a dark weird western about an old west town that has an unpleasant crossing with the supernatural world. Its outlaw hero is destined, by fate and birth, to face this supernatural evil.

Derek: Where does Mission Arizona come from? It’s got a bit of a spaghetti western feel, overlaid with the destiny of facing off against a terrible evil, but begins with a travelling showman sequence. How did these different flavors make it into the mix?

Kris: My interest in writing in this genre came from my childhood experiences watching old Roy Rogers and Gene Autry westerns with my Dad. Horror has always interested me because I’m fascinated by the abject, and our culture’s obsession with fearing the other. It probably doesn’t help that I watched Nightmare on Elm Street, Jaws and Alien at a very young age.

In Mission, I really wanted to explore loss and redemption. Padre Martin Risk loses his wife and child, Samuel Risk loses his home and his family, while the town of Mission loses its soul. I wanted to write about the struggle and the consequences of dealing with loss, and the protagonist’s fight for redemption.

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Another Crowdfunding Fail: John Campbell Self-Destructs on Kickstarter

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Pictures for Sad ChildrenWe’ve reported here on a handful of Kickstarter failures, including Erik Chevalier, whose Doom That Came To Atlantic City campaign raised an astounding $122,874 on a $35,000 goal, and who managed to spend virtually all the money without producing a single copy of the game. But I don’t think I’ve ever read an example as egregious as John Campbell’s Sad Pictures for Children.

Campbell is the author of the web comic Pictures for Sad Children. He self-published his first book, collecting the first 200 comics, in 2011 and launched a Kickstarter campaign in April 2012 to fund a second volume. He set a goal of $8,000 and raised over $51,000.

Unlike Chevalier, Campbell managed to print the books and began distributing them to backers, but he quickly became disillusioned with the level of effort and cost involved. As complaints from his backers mounted, an apparently furious Campbell posted a video showing him burning 127 copies of the book, one for every e-mail he received requesting an update.

In a rambling and nonsensical Update 32, Campbell vents his wrath at his backers, saying no more books will be mailed, that he’ll burn one copy of the book for every attempt to contact him, and asking for more money — this time with no promises attached.

I shipped about 75% of kickstarter rewards to backers. I will not be shipping any more. I will not be issuing any refunds. For every message I receive about this book through e-mail, social media or any other means, I will burn another book… If you would like a refund, please contact a fan of my work directly for your money. This is where the money would come from anyway. I am cutting out the middle man…

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