Sunday, November 25, 2012


Full disclosure: I love Virginia Mayo. Terribly underrated in my opinion, Mayo was the complete package. She could sing, dance, play the sweet girl next door one minute and the evil femme fatale the next. I first came to know the stunning long legged Mayo through the musical comedies she did with Danny Kaye such as The Kid From Brooklyn and Secret Life of Walter Mitty. But it was her femme fatale roles that I enjoyed the most. Undoubtedly, Mayo’s most famous femme fatale role was Verna, the double dealing and deadly moll to James Cagney’s psychopathic Cody Jarrett in the gangster classic White Heat. Mayo more than held her own with Cagney in that film. Also released the same year as White Heat was another film that featured Mayo as a femme fatale. Flaxy Martin.

The always lovely Virginia Mayo
Zachary Scott plays Walt Colby, a mob lawyer working in the more legitimate end of the organization. But he's getting called on more and more to get mob boss Hap Richie’s (Douglas Kennedy) goons out of jams. Having to get one of the goons off of a murder charge is the last straw for Colby. Especially when he finds out that boss Richie paid for perjured testimony from a woman who decides her testimony is worth more than she‘s already been paid. Enter Flaxy Martin (Mayo). Flaxy is Colby’s girl, a nightclub singer who looks out for her own interests above all others. She's cheating on Colby with Richie and is smooth talking Colby to continue working for Richie who gives her lots of money. And if there's one thing Flaxy loves, it's money.

Elisha Cook Jr. gets the drop on Scott and Malone in Flaxy Martin
Extra Mayo, please!
Flaxy goes to warn the woman who was paid for false testimony to keep her mouth shut and smacks her around, but Richie sends his goon to silence the witness for good. The police think Flaxy is the murderer and she needs Colby to defend her. Colby, in a dizzying display of logic and overconfidence in his own legal skills, decides that he can admit to the murder and get himself off because there's not enough evidence against him, getting both he and Flaxy off the hook. Afterwards, Colby and Flaxy will leave Richie’s employ and live happily ever after. But Flaxy has other ideas. It isn’t’ long before Colby realizes he’s been railroaded by his employer, his lover and his own arrogance. But clearing his name and getting payback against a femme fatale the likes of Flaxy Martin is a dangerous proposition. Especially when she has the mob to back her up. Armed with only his wits and a helpful Librarian (Dorothy Malone) who cooks a mean steak, Colby is determined to take down Flaxy.

Cagney's "Cody" vs. Mayo's "Verna" in 1949's White Heat

This movie is a whole lot of fun. It has some crackling good dialogue and fun banter. The often wooden Scott is great here as the fearless lawyer. Elisha Cook Jr. has lots of fun here in a variation of his role as “Wilmer“ from Maltese Falcon. Malone is also very good and adds a bit of mystery to the traditional "good girl who helps the hero for no comprehensible reason" role that she usually plays. Last but definitely not least is Mayo as the title character. 1949 was a great year for Mayo. It seems she did the bulk of her film noir roles that year with Flaxy Martin, Red Light, White Heat. She also did another favorite of mine, Colorado Territory which was Raoul Walsh’s remake of his 1941 film High Sierra with Mayo in the Ida Lupino role. I know this will sound heretical, but I prefer Colorado Territory to High Sierra.

Virginia Mayo in Colorado Territory
 With the possible exception of White Heat, I don't think Mayo has ever nailed the role of the "Moll" quite as perfectly as she does in Flaxy Martin. She is a wildly entertaining and sassy femme fatale. She has a very funny scene where she relays her "feelings" about Cook by playing a specific tune on the piano. The movie is chock full of funny quotables. The photography by Carl Guthrie is fantastic. Lots of dark, dank streets and alleys and a rather spectacularly shot rooftop confrontation between Scott and Cook. Its just so entertaining that Scott admitting to murder and then trying to get himself off actually seems daring rather than unbelievably idiotic. Flaxy Martin will be just one of 7 films in a "Virginia Mayo Marathon" showing on Turner Classic Movies this Friday, November 30. Don’t miss it!

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Larry Hagman as the villainous oilman J.R. Ewing
Larry Hagman, one of the most iconic television personalities in the history of the medium, passed away this Thanksgiving weekend from complications due to his battle with cancer. He was 81 years old. Many will remember Hagman’s role as Major Tony Nelson from the 60s comedy series I Dream Of Jeannie. But it was in the role of the ruthless, charismatic, villainous Oil Baron J.R. Ewing on the television series Dallas that Hagman achieved world wide fame.

The original cast of Dallas
Like many, I was deeply saddened by Hagman’s passing. I was a big fan of Dallas. Night time soaps about the ruthless and wealthy were a huge part of my youth and none more than Dallas. Hagman’s “JR” was a villain for the ages and particularly for the excess filled 80s. I was in junior high when Dallas premiered in 1978 and out of school and firmly established in the work force when it ended in 1991. The only other show to be such a big part of my life for such a long period of time was M.A.S.H. Each week I tuned in to see what shenanigans JR and the Ewing family was up to. This wasn’t just a show about rich people being evil and decadent. At its core, Dallas was a show about family and in a strange way, I identified with the Ewings and to a certain extent, JR. Sure, JR could be downright evil at times. But when the Ewings were in trouble, JR always put his personal conflicts aside and rallied to his family. He could and would be just as ruthless in the defense of his family as he was with the myriad of enemies he confronted over the shows more than decade long run.

Momma's boys.  Larry Hagman, Barbara Bel Geddes and Patrick Duffey
In my own family, I was the one that often struggled in school and acted out while my sister got straight A’s and was the more responsible one. We fought all the time just like JR and his goody two shoes brother Bobby. But at the end of the day, my sister and I always put our differences aside for the sake of our mother. Mom was the “Miss Ellie” to my “JR” and my sisters “Bobby”. I know a lot of kids typically rebel against their parents, but our Mom was just too nice. We actually felt bad almost immediately after giving her any nonsense because she was so great! Just like JR, I tried my mothers patience at times but always came to her defense when she needed it (which she rarely did as she was and still is one tough lady).

JR was one of those characters that, as a nerd, I lived vicariously through. JR had meticulously planned schemes, stratagems and gambits. Just when you thought JR was down for the count, he struck back even stronger than ever. He never let his enemies see him look beat. He always kept that smug smile on at all times even though on the inside he had never felt more defeated. Like JR, I never let the bullies get my goat and never let them see they had me on the ropes. Like JR, I used my wits and at times, just bluffed a whole hell of a lot to get out of any potentially hazardous situation that I often found myself in during my, at times, rather treacherous high school years. Of course I wasn’t always as successful as JR but nor was I as self destructive. Often times being more like Bobby was the smarter way to go.
David Selby as "Richard Channing"
Hagman’s JR Ewing spawned many imitators. My favorite of which was the character “Richard Channing” from Dallas’s competitor for night time ratings Falcon Crest. Played by David Selby, Richard Channing was a slightly nicer version of JR. While JR always had Bobby and other cast members to offset his evil, Channing started out as a villain but when the main good guy “Chase” played by Robert Foxworth left the show, Channing’s evil was toned down and he became the protagonist to the more ruthless antagonist and family matriarch Angela Channing played by Jane Wyman. I delighted each week in the adventures of JR Ewing. The boardroom power struggles, the political and corporate jockeying for power, the stunning defeats and inevitable comebacks, the internal battles with family. Like the other 83 million people who tuned in all over the world, I was on the edge of my seat when the mystery of Who Shot JR was finally revealed. The world of these wealthy, ruthless millionaires took my mind off of other things such as typical high school melodrama, the battle to get my drivers license, graduation and the constant talk of the possibility of nuclear war, driven home by TV movies such as The Day After (the “duck and cover” cautionary tale of it’s time).

The J.R. Ewing of outer space?
Through all of this, JR persevered. Doing whatever he could to keep his company and his family safe and doing all the most reprehensible things possible to achieve that goal at any cost. Even if such actions had a high cost and often ended in JR losing it all. Ultimately, I wasn’t quite as motivated as JR was, nor was I as larcenous. Never the less, for a time he was an inspiration and for an even longer time, he was the source of much entertainment. As the years rolled on and after Dallas finally ended, I continued to see variations of Hagman’s J.R. Ewing. Most notably the legacy of Hagman’s JR was never more apparent to me than in the character “Scorpius” from the science fiction soap opera “Farscape”. Like JR, Scorpius often did many, many evil deeds in the cause of what he perceived to be a greater good. Just as JR struggled to amass a fortune and an empire so big that no one could touch him or his family, so did Scorpius commit all manner of horrible acts in order to get the wormhole technology from innocent astronaut John Crichton in order to use the knowledge as a weapon to fend off the even greater evil of the Scarrans.
R.I.P. Larry Hagman: 1931-2012
I’ll miss Larry Hagman and the character he gave us in J.R. Ewing. I’ll miss the evil twinkle in his eye, the grin and chuckle he would give when his evil schemes came to fruition, the joy he felt when he destroyed an enemy or took over a company. In a television world inhabited by snarky ER doctors, sensitive policmen and whiny sheriffs full of self doubt who battle zombies, it’s easy to forget that an entire generation of night time television was dominated by the classy, tenacious, humorous, joyously ruthless, supremely confident, meticulous and Machiavellian villainy of good old boy J.R. Ewing. Portrayed with heart, charisma, verisimilitude and the slightly mad genius of Larry Hagman. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012


In the early days of the San Diego Comic Convention aka SDCC aka Comic Con International, you could walk down artist alley and see the likes of Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, John Romita Sr., Neal Adams, Jim Steranko and on and on. It was smaller and in a more intimate venue than the expansive San Diego Convention Center. Media promotion was rare and the biggest movies to debut were films such as Howard the Duck and Return of the Living Dead. Over the years SDCC has changed quite a bit. It’s now a media frenzy where big Hollywood deals are made and blockbuster films are promoted and debut. Areas where you would once see fans sitting and reading the comics they had purchased along with the ocean view are now blocked off to make room for E Channel and Entertainment Weekly to interview movie stars posing for photo ops. Table space at SDCC can potentially cost thousands. Saying that SDCC has become a monster is putting it mildly.

Unfortunately, this monster is no longer all that friendly to the small comic book retailers or to new, Indy comic creators who are just starting out. More and more these comic book creators new and old, fans and retailers alike are heading to comic conventions that have a less hectic and claustrophobic atmosphere, little to no media attention and more laid back and family friendly. Conventions such as Heroes Con in Charlotte, Wondercon in Anaheim, Baltimore Comic Con, Dragon Con in Atlanta and so on have become the new hot spots for fans, creators and retailers. These conventions have quickly become the new fishing holes whose secret location has been revealed. One of the newest comic book conventions to throw it’s hat into the ring is the North Carolina Comic Convention or NCCOMICON.

The historic "Tobacco District" in the heart of Downtown Durham.

Started in 2010 by Alan Gill and Eric Hoover, the first venue was an outlet mall in Morrisville, just a short drive south of Durham. This year the show has been moved to Downtown Durham, at the Durham Convention Center. Located in the heart of the trendy Historic Tobacco District of renovated, brick tobacco warehouses that now house art galleries, pricey condos and restaurants that would put San Diego‘s gas lamp district to shame. It is also just up the street from the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and is right next door to the historic Carolina Theater, home to the North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. A much larger and appealing location for the young convention although you wouldn’t know it from the crowds of people that were packed in on Saturday. At one point on Saturday, the crowd became so huge that the exhibit all had to be closed due to having gone over capacity. It is a young convention and there are still many organizational issues and bugs to work out but this is nothing new to comic conventions.

Durham Convention Center
The hallway of the convention center was full of men and women, boys and girls, people of all ages and nationalities. On Sunday they had the costume contest. There were so many fans in all sorts of amazing costumes just lined up to register for the event, never mind the crowd of people there to watch them, that the location of the event had to be moved out of the small panel room to the more spacious hallways. Convention goers were lined up along the wall like sardines with cameras snapping away as fans dressed as their favorite heroes or in costumes of their own design filed down the center of the hallway, posing for fans and photographers. One young woman wore a rather spectacular Iron Man costume. There was a terrific looking Shadow. A fun spirited “Carrie Kelly Robin”, a sexy Black Cat, an imposing Ghost Rider and an adorable little blond girl dressed as Thor. Not to mention Green Lanterns, a pretty cool Havoc a few lady Boba Fetts, classic Princess Leia, Stormtroopers, Jedi’s and other various Star Wars characters. They even had the classic Batmobile from the Adam West TV show, the Back to the Future Delorean and the “Mystery Machine” from Scooby Doo!

Carrie Kelly Robin with slingshot
There was definitely a fun family vibe at the convention. Everyone seemed to be smiling or intently interested in the various comics, toys and other merchandise. Cosplayers and fans searched through long boxes trying to find that elusive comic book or “books” for their collection. Nearly half of the exhibit hall table space was set aside for creators, artists and writers to display and sell their comics or art. I saw some talented new faces as I roamed the aisles and some familiar and established ones as well such as Liberty Meadows creator and prolific comic book artist Frank Cho who was featured in a panel discussion of his career late Saturday afternoon. Cho talked about his influences, his early work, his career at Marvel, why he doesn’t’ work for DC (“Marvel pays more”) and his affinity for drawing the female form, or as Cho put it “I like big asses”. The male audience members seemed to find the discussion of female objectification in comics more amusing than some of the female audience members who delivered more than a couple eye rolls. At one point a woman in the audience spoke up and asked Cho why he doesn’t draw more naked men. Cho stammered for a second and then mentioned his work on Tarzan. Cho defended his work by saying that he loves the female form and always tries to draw his women empowered if at times scantily clad. He also talked about wanting to draw Conan and how he was not a fan of Barry Windsor Smith‘s work on the original series, citing what he felt as Smiths lack of understanding of anatomy. Also at the con was Flaming Carrot creator Bob Burden who was part of a very entertaining discussion on self publishing and making Indy comics. He was joined by Jeremy Bastion (Cursed Pirate Girl) and Firetower Studios creators Jason Strutz and Jeremy Whitley (Order of the Dagonet).

Sunday traffic at the NC Comic Con
Also at the convention was writer Ben McCool who was promoting several books, one of which was “PIGS” by McCool, Nate Cosby, Breno Tamura and Will Sliney. PIGS is the story of Russian agents in Cuba in 1962 whose offspring are trained from birth to be just as ruthless as their parents. In 2011 the children of the Russian spies are activated and sent to destroy the United States. It’s a fun, fast paced, violent spy romp. I bought the trade of the first four issues “PIGS: Hello Cruel World” which features cover art by Amanda Conner and Becky Cloonan and had Mr. McCool sign it, naturally. At the same table as McCool was the high priestess of comics journalism herself, Heidi McDonald of TheBeat. I had the privilege of speaking with McCool and McDonald at length about everything from horror comics to NC politics to Durham area Bars. This was probably the highlight of NCCC for me as I am a longtime fan of McDonalds work going back to her days on Amazing Heroes.
Also at the con was BOOM! Studios where I purchased the first two issues of Hypernaturals by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Another highlight was getting to speak to John Morrow from TwoMorrows, the publishers of Alter Ego and Back Issue magazines respectively as well as The Kirby Collector and the Modern Masters series. Morrow spoke with me about many things including his over 20 years as publisher at TwoMorrows, the good, the bad and the ugly of selling at Conventions, the endless energy of Roy Thomas, the transition of Alter Ego and Back Issue from black and white to color. It was a very fun chat and definitely another highlight for me as I’ve been a fan of Back Issue magazine since their debut issue.

The Batmobile at NCCC

Who knows what evil lurks at NCCC? The Shadow knows!
I also wanted to add my two cents about the recent internet kerfuffle about “fake nerd girls/Cosplayers” who need to prove themselves. I had the pleasure of meeting several terrific women and children at NCCC, many who were dressed as their favorite characters from comics, video games, Star Wars and anime. I’m here to tell you folks, these terrific girls and ladies are definitely not poseurs or fakers or whatever it is they’re being labeled. I saw many women at NCCC doing everything from engaging in discussions about the history of Green Lantern to flipping through long boxes with the laser focused intensity of the Queens Guards. I also saw young fans, many of them young girls with their parents and many who were at a convention for the first time.

I envied them that experience and it made me recall my own fond memories of my first few conventions and the friendly people I met who welcomed me into the world of comics. It was heartening to see so many young fans of both genders and of all races showing an interest in comics and gaming and art and cosplay. This hobby is filled with old men(like me) and it is in desperate need of younger blood if the comic culture is to survive in the long term. We have to be inclusive and welcoming to these new fans, young and old. If anyone has to prove anything it’s the longtime fans who need to prove that this is an awesome hobby that welcomes any and all who would show interest. Another factor in the survival of the comic book culture is a fun, energetic, welcoming, friendly convention. The North Carolina Comic Con certainly meets that description. I look forward to 2013.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Steve Gerber’s Omega The Unknown is a bit of an odd duck even by today’s standards. That’s probably why it’s still such fun to read. I can understand how this series would have had comic readers a little puzzled, even in the 70s. But there is some pretty remarkable stuff in here, both for it's time and even today. Even the intro on the first page header was out of the ordinary and definitely original. The space usually reserved for the Hero’s origin and motivations, the intro for Omega set him apart from his fellow heroes. It read:

ENIGMA THE FIRST: the lone survivor of an alien world, a nameless man of somber, impassive visage, garbed utterly inappropriately in garish blue-and-red. ENIGMA THE SECOND: James Michael Starling, age twelve raised in near isolation by parents who (he discovered on the day they “died”) were robots. ENIGMA THE THIRD: the link between the man and the boy, penetrating to the depths of the mind and body, causing each to question his very reality of self.”

It takes place in Hells Kitchen and Gerber's portrayal of it is pretty grim, even compared to the Hells Kitchen stuff in Millers Daredevil. The odd boy "James-Michael" going to school after being "home schooled" for so long and trying to navigate the social hierarchy and the physical hazards of a rather dangerous public school is still timeless. James friend is beaten by bullies so bad he winds up in the hospital in a coma. Then, when he finally gets out, he's beaten again which aggravates internal injuries from the previous beating and he dies! I can see now why Gerber had some clashes with the comics code folks. We also see James smacked across the face by one of his Teachers.

James parents die in a car crash but his parents turn out to be androids, giving him cryptic advice before they self destruct and dissolve. Then there is the super powered Omega, whose character has taken a warriors vow of silence so we only see into his thoughts through the narration (somewhat similar to the narrative in Gerbers Man-Thing) which I found to be the most entertaining part of the book. But over the course of the 10 issues, Omega does speak. His first "word" is to a woman he saves from a suicide attempt. It's such a foreign concept to Omega how someone can be in such pain that they take their own life. He simply says "Why?" (and that isn't until issue 4).

Even the villains are far from the garden variety (for their time at least). When one villain fights Omega to a stand still, then tells Omega why he's stealing money from a bank, Omega sympathizes and lets him go. The villain then carries on with his robbery. Omega is then soundly and loudly criticized by the victims of the robbery. Several issues later, he confronts the villain again, only this time Omega is intent on defeating him solely for the reward money. This was a nice twist by Gerber I thought, as Omega, who so far hasn't cared anything about personal gain or wealth is suddenly and mysteriously intent on getting some cash. It turns out he wants to buy a suit to wear to the funeral of the boy who was beaten to death by bullies. There is also a villain called The Wrench, a handy man who bludgeons victims to death with a pipe wrench. Turns out he has gone insane due to the death of his mother, killed by muggers. There is also an interesting turn by another Gerber creation...the Foolkiller.
The series is peppered with a few "name brand" characters as well, a clear attempt to gain readers to a very odd series that had trouble finding an audience. We get Electro and the Hulk as well as a cameo by Peter Parker. Then there are James' guardians. Two women, one a shy, neurotic nurse and her roommate, a sexy, cynical, streetwise photographer who takes a shine to James and vice versa.

I can understand some of the criticisms about the series having an aimless feel to it as well as why some people say it worked better for them as a trade than as a ongoing series. I think the reason for this is that Gerber is going for more of a "slice of life" vibe. Also problematic is a story arc big enough that we don't have time to get to the next phase before the series is canceled. It's more about Omega and James interaction with life and people than about a more traditional superhero story arc with a standard protagonist. The villains that are there are mainly to give Omega and James some cathartic introspection.

However, in issues 9 and 10, it's obvious that Gerber is about to do something major with the series. He's gearing up to steer the story to another level. Unfortunately, Gerber leaves after issue 10 so we never find out what his intentions are with the story and characters.  The fate of Omega is then wrapped up in Defenders by writer Steven Grant. These issues are really bad. Both in how the fate of Omega is ham handedly delivered through the exposition of various superheroes like Moondragon and Hellcat, as well as the horrible art. I'm not a huge fan of Jim Mooney, but he does a decent job for the most part in Omega 1-10. But in the two issues of Defenders, Herb Trimpe takes over. I've enjoyed a lot of Trimpes work on Hulk. I don't know if he was rushed, or what, but it's really unattractive.

Also, Grant tries to tell a story to wrap up Omega that is just too big to fit into an issue and a half of Defenders. It's not that Grants wrap up story to Omega was all that bad. It's more traditional than what Gerber might have done, certainly. Grants wrap up is a decent idea, but it needed another 4 or 5 issues at least in order for it to be remotely comprehensible. I now know why this trade includes the Omega origin segment from "Handbook to the Marvel Universe" in the back of the book. It needed the nine paragraphs of text to explain the origin. Just going by the Defenders story, it's almost indecipherable.

This was obviously a project that was personal to Gerber and I like when the writer makes that clear to the reader. I like stories where you know the writer has a definite emotional investment. I wish this series had fared better with readers of the time. But with only 10 issues and no hint of where the plot is headed with the exception of a few little peeks in issues 9 and 10, I can see how this flamed out pretty quick with readers used to more traditional fare.

I think it works on many levels.  As an experiment, an oddity, a labor of love by Gerber, a symbol of Bronze Age creativity and as something that was just not like anything else out back then. Gerber delivers some interesting dialogue and a still rather unique narrative. It can be a challenging read and at times a frustrating one. In spite of and because of this, Omega The Unknown drew me in and I wanted to see what happened with this offbeat tale of self exploration. Marvel Classics: Omega the Unknown collects Omega the Unknown issues 1-10 and Defenders #77. A unique story even today and a must have for any fan of Gerber or great Bronze Age stories.  Next in my series of reviews of Marvel Classics I take a look at What-If?

Friday, November 16, 2012


Friday on TCM is really shaping up nicely. Some of the big ones include The Great Race, In Like Flint and the epic to end all epics, Lawrence of Arabia. But there are a couple that I wanted to single out that might get lost in the shuffle.

Randolph Scott, Karen Steele and Pernell Roberts in Ride Lonesome
Ride Lonesome (1959) is one of the more enjoyable team-up's between Randolph Scott and director Budd Boetticher. In this exciting B western, Scott is a bounty hunter who captures bad guy James Best. Pernell Roberts and James Coburn are crooks-turned-bounty hunters who also want to bring in Best. Seems part of the reward for turning in Best is amnesty for all past crimes. Roberts and Coburn hope that bringing in Best will help them to start new lives as honest men. Best warns the bounty hunters that big brother Lee Van Cleef is coming to rescue him. Then there’s the pretty station agents wife(Karen Steele) who is being hunted by Indians. In spite of all these dangers, Scott is intent on bringing in Best. But is it really the bounty that Scott is after?

This is an enjoyable little western with some interesting twists and turns and solid performances by all the principles. Pernell Roberts steals the show in my opinion. He’s charismatic and there is some fun back and forth between him and Scott. There’s also a lot of tension between Scott and Roberts. We can see these two easily becoming friends in spite of their different backgrounds and we wonder as the film brings us closer to a possible confrontation between the two, who will come out on top? I recommend giving Ride Lonesome a chance.

Also on the schedule and firmly in the “Bad Movies I Love” catagory is The Manitou (1978), an adaptation of the Graham Masterton horror novel. First off, if you haven’t read the Manitou, read it. It’s a great horror story. I read it in junior high and it scared the crap out of me. The movie version…not so much. The movie takes a few liberties with the Masterton novel and does some tweaking with the end that hurts the story.

That is one evil little Manitou.
The movie is about an evil, 600 year old Indian witch doctor or “Manitou” named Misquamacus who tries to beat death by using Susan Strasberg as his means of rebirth. What starts out as a lump on Strasberg’s neck is the fetus of the Manitou. Strasberg is hospitalized and doctors who attempt to remove the growth are killed. Strasberg calls in ex husband and con man Tony Curtis in for moral support. After numerous possessions and deaths, Curtis realizes he’s in over his head so he calls in modern day witch doctor Michael Ansara. As the hospital is slowly taken over by all sorts of evil spirits and as Strasberg comes closer to giving birth to the Manitou, it becomes clear to Ansara and Curtis that they might be outmatched and a 600 year old witch doctor deformed by x-rays just might raise hell on earth.

Curtis is fun here even though he really isn’t at his best. There are fun appearances by Burgess Meredith, Ann Southern and Stella Stevens. It even has one pretty good special effect when a table becomes possessed during a séance that goes disastrously wrong. If you’re looking for a guilty pleasure and a decent little horror story hiding under a big helping of 70s cheese and hammy acting, then check out The Manitou. And read the Graham Masterton novel!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Avengers vs Thanos
In 2014, Marvel/Disney will grant the wishes of die hard Marvel Comics fans with the much anticipated release of Guardians Of The Galaxy. In the world of Marvel fandom, in particular that group of readers who, like me, are fans of Marvel’s “Cosmic” tales, this might be more of a “Holy Grail” of comic book movies than even Avengers. At the end of the Avengers film we saw one of the evil aliens behind the attack on earth telling a shadowy figure that to attack heroes such as the Avengers would be to “court death”. We then see a certain purple skinned villain turn to the camera and give a crooked, sneering smile. If you heard a bunch of people cheering and clapping, that was those Marvel Cosmic fans I was talking about. If you heard one scream like a teenage girl at her first Beatles concert, well, that was me. If you weren’t sure who that big purple guy at the end of Avengers was, that was Thanos the Mad Titan. Even though Thanos makes his film debut in The Avengers, he has very strong ties to Marvels space spanning group of heroes The Guardians of the Galaxy. But I’ll get to Thanos in a minute.

With the release of all the new Marvel Superhero movies we also get the re-release of many wonderful old comic book stories about characters that these films are based on. Characters that are now finding new life and a new audience on the big screen. Some of these characters are not widely known and even a bit of a mystery to comic book readers who might be relatively new to the hobby. In order to get this new generation of readers up to speed on the complex and often frayed tapestry that is Marvel Comics continuity, Marvel has been releasing various collections of stories that give us the origins of these heroes who have been appearing on the big screen as well as some of their earliest adventures.

This is nothing but good news to fans of comics and comic book movies alike. Especially since the adventures of some of these characters are often not contained to a single comic book series but are part of story arcs that weave in and out of many other titles. This can make it difficult for new readers to learn about a characters history(although not as difficult as it used to be before the internet). Now and then, comic book companies will make it easy on us and find all the comics that are connected by a single story or character and collect them into one volume. There is one particular compilation of tales being released by Marvel early in March 2013 that I wanted to talk about here. It’s a collection of stories that shows us the origins of Thanos, his first encounters with the Avengers and certain characters that would go on to be members of The Guardians of the Galaxy. 
Thanos meets the Golden Avenger in Iron Man #55
Avengers vs. Thanos is a wonderfully thorough and relatively complete collection of tales that represent not only some of the best of Marvels “Cosmic” themed stories but also represents some of the best comic stories ever written. Avengers vs. Thanos collects Iron Man issue 55, Captain Marvel issues 25-33, Marvel Feature issue 12, Daredevil issues 105-107, The Avengers issue 125, Warlock issues 9-11 & 15, Avengers Annual #7, Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 and a back up story in Logan’s Run issue 6. The meat of this collection is the stories in Avengers, Warlock, Captain Marvel and the Avengers and Marvel Two-In-One annuals. Most of these stories are written and drawn by Jim Starlin who was the prime driving creative force behind Marvels Bronze Age “Cosmic” stories. Starlin revived and defined characters like Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock as well as created various characters such as Thanos and Guardians of the Galaxy team members Gamora and Drax the Destroyer(co-created with Mike Friedrich).

In Iron Man 55 we get the first appearance of Thanos as well as that of Drax The Destroyer, father of Moondragon (who makes her debut prior to this story in Iron Man 54 which is not included in the collection). With the introduction of Thanos in Iron Man 55 the “Thanos War” effectively begins. The tale continues in the stories collected in Captain Marvel issues 25 thru 33 and Avengers #125. In these now historic and epic 9 issues we see Thanos using Skrulls to attack Captain Marvel and Rick Jones. It seems in the aftermath of the Kree Skrull War, the Supreme Intelligence hid the location of the Cosmic Cube in Rick Jones sub-consciousness and Thanos wants it. We also get the origin of Thanos of Titan as well as that of his father Mentor and Thanos brother Eros. We also see Captain Marvel given the Power Cosmic by Eon. Thanos faces off against his godlike Grandfather Kronos and the Avengers and Marvel pull out all the stops to keep Thanos from using the Cosmic Cube. These issues also contain some terrific art by Jim Starlin.

Marvel Feature #12 and Daredevil issues 105 thru 107 sort of takes place in the middle of the story going on in Captain Marvel. In this more peripheral part of the story, Iron Man flies out to the desert where he first met Thanos’ goons The Blood Brothers. Iron Man is trying to learn more about Thanos but ends up in a grudge match with the cosmic, vampiric siblings. He escapes with a little help from the Thing. Meanwhile, over in Daredevil, Moondragon thinks Daredevil is in thrall to Thanos and stirs up all kinds of trouble by creating a bunch of supervillains before realizing that Daredevil is a good guy. We also see some conflict between Captain Marvel and Rick Jones and some other strange and odd things going on as written by Steve Gerber. These stories aren’t really all that relevant to the Thanos War but we get more information about Moondragon and Titan and they’re still good, kooky fun. Plus, it’s Gerber so nuff said.

The next batch of collected tales in Avengers vs. Thanos is Warlock issues 9 thru 11 and #15. These stories by Jim Starlin still hold up today as some of the most entertaining, dynamic and beautifully drawn comic book space opera ever seen. It’s just a rollercoaster ride of crazy action. In this part of the story we see Adam Warlock enter Thanos orbit. Warlock is having a hard time dealing with the knowledge that in the future he will become the evil overlord known as The Magus. Helping Warlock is the deadliest woman in the universe-Gamora. Unknown to Warlock, Gamora works for Thanos. Thanos has bred and trained Gamora to do one thing-kill The Magus. Thanos teams up to help Warlock but this is simply a ploy to get control of the Soul Gem in Warlocks possession. Warlock is on the verge of a nervous breakdown after confronting future self The Magus and Thanos must help Warlock to find the backbone necessary to help change Warlocks destiny in order to prevent the Magus from ever existing. In issue 15 we see Thanos come closer to achieving his ultimate goal of galactic Armageddon.

The Thanos War concludes in the now epic, historic finale in Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2. Here we see the Avengers gathered along with Captain Marvel and Moondragon as Adam Warlock tells them all what Thanos is up to. Seems Thanos has fallen in love with the personification of Death and wants to give her something special to prove his love. His gift? Destroying all life in the solar system. The Avengers take off after Thanos and it’s a battle royal. Unfortunately they’re no match for Thanos who captures all the Avengers, Moondragon and Captain Marvel. Meanwhile, back on earth, Spider-Man dreams about the Avengers epic battle with Thanos thanks to a telekinetic distress call from Moondragon. He turns to the Fantastic Four but the only one home is Ben Grimm aka The Thing. The Thing is skeptical upon hearing Spider-Man’s story but that doesn’t stop them from flying up and checking it out.

They find Thanos Space Ark and try to fight their way to the Avengers but they’re out of their league and quickly captured by Thanos. Realizing that he’s completely out of his depth, Spider-Man runs away, leaving the Thing and the Avengers behind. But he regains his nerve and becomes an integral part in turning the tide against Thanos. Finally, there is Logan’s Run #6. This is a bit of an oddball. It came out the same year as the two Annuals above but its place in the timeline of events isn’t clear to me. It seems to take place sometime before events in the Avengers and Two-In-One annuals (and was released the same year) but it could also fit nicely just before the stories in Iron Man and Captain Marvel. It’s a short story that isn’t’ integral to the Thanos wars, revolving around a minor skirmish between Thanos and Drax the Destroyer. It’s drawn by Mike Zeck.

I can’t express enough how much fun these stories are. The stories collected in Avengers vs. Thanos are representative of the most creative period of the Bronze Age of comics when a new breed of talent who grew up as comic book fans. People like Jim Starlin, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams and others who injected some new blood into an industry that seemed to have run out of new ideas and which had become creatively stifled by the limitations of the comics code. The Avengers vs. Thanos collection is nearly 500 pages and contains two wildly entertaining and historic story arcs that are connected to form an epic cosmic tale of adventure. Of course there are other Thanos stories that are very entertaining, but none of them really come close to the magic of these stories. Starlin’s run on Warlock and Captain Marvel is talked about in hushed reverence to this day. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning brought back some of these characters in the mid 2000’s when they revived these Cosmic characters for the epic sagas Annihilation and Annihilation: Conquest. Characters like Warlock, Gamora and Drax the Destroyer were brought back along with the mothballed Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Mantis and Starlord. Eventually they banded together to form the Guardians of the Galaxy, characters who will be as big as life on your local theater screen in less than two years.

From Warlock #9
I read these stories when they were originally released in the mid to late 70s. Now, over three decades later, they’re gearing up to make a movie about the Guardians and I couldn’t be more thrilled. But before the movie comes out, treat yourself to some of the most exciting, fun and colorful cosmic tales ever seen in comics and buy Avengers vs. Thanos in March. If you’re wondering who that big purple guy at the end of Avengers was, or if you know who he is but aren’t familiar with his earliest stories or his origin, this collection of exciting cosmic tales are definitely for you. I should add that all of the Warlock stories as well as the Avengers Annual and the Two-In-One annual can be found in Marvel Masterworks: Warlock vol-2. Similarly, all of the Captain Marvel stories and Iron Man 55 can be found in Marvel Masterworks: Captain Marvel vol-3. If you have both of those volumes then there really isn’t much need to get Avengers vs. Thanos. But if you only have one or the other or neither, then Avengers vs. Thanos comes highly recommended.