Friday, June 18, 2010

Mr. Condor goes to Washington

As mentioned before, the Black Condor was a beautifully drawn, wonderfully off-beat Golden Age character from the aptly named Quality Comics (Plastic Man, Blackhawk and many others).

Shortly after the character's unspeakably bizarre origin, he found himself taking the place of a recently deceased U.S. senator. As a result, the Black Condor was more likely to take on corrupt politicians and greedy industrialists than to battle super villains.

If Frank Capra had made comics, it might have looked something like this:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Iron Man 2 and the Coffee House Script

**** Warning: here there be spoilers ****

Don't get me wrong. I liked Iron Man 2. I felt it was well worth the $6 I paid for a matinee show. I would have probably felt the same way about a full price ticket. The effects were good, the pace didn't drag and Downey remains an ideal choice. Nonetheless IM2 remains an almost perfect example of a coffee house script.

If you've lived in LA, you've probably been forced to overhear a couple of aspiring industry types working on a movie treatment. I suppose that technically what they are doing would be called 'writing,' but it's fundamentally different from any writing process I'm familiar with.

You won't overhear them talking about story or character or even great scenes; all they are interested in are elements.

A typical conversation might go like this:
"He's got a loner."
"A tortured loner."
"A tortured loner... and he's like totally dedicated to his job."
"Because his wife died and he wasn't there to save her."
"Because his child died because he wasn't there to save her then his wife left him because he had like a breakdown."
At this point the one with the laptop starts typing while the other sits back and reflects on which actress he should sleep with first once he makes it big.

I could easily imagine Iron Man 2 emerging from a similar process. The script is largely a collection of elements, almost none of which emerge logically from what there is of the story, from the terminal illness, to Downey's bad-boy bits to pretty much every fight scene (and while we're on the subject, how did Vanko know that Stark would be driving the car?).

The low point was unquestionably the daddy-loved-me moment. In no way justified by character or situation, it was simply there because the film-makers needed it there.

There are any number of ways to dramatically convey a man's discovery of his father's pride and love. If you give yourself a couple of minutes I'm sure you can think of a half dozen or so that are better than having the father pop up for no reason -- deus ex video -- and just spell it out.

Screenwriter Justin Theroux had never written a screenplay before (I have a hunch Favreau and possibly Downey had a hand in some of the dialogue but Theroux is the only credited writer on IMDB). Other than a story credit for Tropic Thunder, all of his previous work has been as an actor.

It shows.

What's wrong with comics -- The Black Condor

The original Black Condor was a unique combination of gorgeous art, unspeakably goofy comic book physics, and Capraesque political fantasy. Created by Will Eisner and Lou Fine for Quality in 1940, he was a wonderfully representative product of his times.

Now he has been retconned into something tired and boring and utterly pointless. I am so tired of seeing Golden Age characters being dredged up so that fan boys will be able to congratulate themselves on catching an obscure reference. Why can't we just let these characters rest in peace?

(just to be clear, it's OK to have a revisionist take on a Golden Age hero if you have something interesting to say. Check out Paul Pope's Batman: Year 100 to see this approach done right)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Target Comics supports the troops

They paid for letters?

Target Comics volume 3, number 6, August 1942

If Mike Hammer had fought a giant octopus...

I was putting together some Spacehawk stories from Target Comics when I came across the following text story by Mickey Spillane. His grasp of marine biology leaves a bit to be desired but it's not a bad little story.

Target Comics volume 3, number 6, August 1942

Saturday, June 12, 2010

ER --


That's the only sign of surprise these guys show. I guess you develop a high threshold when you live in a Wolverton comic.

Friday, June 11, 2010

More wonderfully off-kilter weirdness from Wolverton

There's some question about who drew the cover but even without the byline there would be no doubt who's responsible for "Swamp Monster."

Love those fangs.

Himan Brown -- master of the Inner Sanctum dies at 99

As mentioned before, Brown's radio show, Inner Sanctum was one of the main inspirations for EC's horror line, which is more than enough to put the man in the comics hall of fame.

From the LA Times:

Himan Brown, the pioneer radio producer and director of "Grand Central Station," "Inner Sanctum Mysteries" and other popular shows of the 1930s and '40s who returned to the airwaves three decades later with " CBS Radio Mystery Theater," has died. He was 99.

Brown died Friday of age-related causes at his longtime apartment on Central Park West in Manhattan, said his granddaughter Melina Brown.

In a career in radio that began in the medium's infancy in the late 1920s, the prolific Brown's credits include "The Adventures of the Thin Man," "Bulldog Drummond," "Dick Tracy," "Flash Gordon," "The Adventures of Nero Wolfe," "Terry and the Pirates" and many others.

Along the way, he directed stars such as Orson Welles, Helen Hayes, Edward G. Robinson, Mary Astor, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre.

"He was one of the great storytellers of the heyday of the golden age of radio," said Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media in New York City. "He symbolized an entire era of dramatic radio entertainment."

Brown may be best remembered for creating "Inner Sanctum Mysteries," which debuted in 1941 and ran until 1952. The show's opening featured one of the most famous sound effects in radio history: an eerie creaking door.

"That great sound effect just gave you a sense of mystery and suspense, symbolizing Hi Brown's flair for the dramatic," Simon said.

Long after the rise of television, Brown returned to radio to produce and direct the Peabody Award-winning "CBS Radio Mystery Theater," which ran from 1974 to 1982.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

What's wrong with comic book fans -- fictional biography edition

Intellectual Amos was a feature that ran in the back of the Spirit Section (greatest comic book ever, but that's a topic for another day). Its creator was a talented Haitian-born artist named Andre LeBlanc best known for his illustrated Bible.

I know this because the good people at Lambiek have a biological sketch on LeBlanc. You can also find an entry on Andre LeBlanc in Wikipedia. The only trouble is that it's not an entry on the artist; it's an entry on a fictional DC Comics villain probably named after the artist (though that fact isn't mentioned).

The only thing more boring than a fictional biography of a comic book character is a retconned biography. None of what's good about comics -- either as works of art or pieces of entertainment or business case studies or historical documents -- makes it into these dreary, badly-written Cliff Notes.

OK. I've got it out of my system. You can come back now and enjoy this story from July 9, 1944.

Eisner's effects

Jules Feiffer famously called Eisner the artist other artists stole from. I believe he was talking about the late Thirties and early Forties when Eisner was spewing out art and scripts and characters at an astounding rate and advancing the medium on an almost daily basis.

But as amazing as that work was, it still had a callow quality. The Spirit was, for me, the first fully mature, fully realized comic. There had certainly been entertaining, even great comics before but I don't think anyone before had used the medium to this extent before. Here's an example in a clever story involving an evil spymaster, a wind-up Spirit doll and two pairs of similar looking glasses

Here are the last two pages (I think you can piece together the plot up to this point). Pay close attention to the top of the final page.

Look at how the path of the bullet both connects the panels and conveys a distinct sense of time. Eisner came up with an entire library of methods for depicting the passage of time and, true to Feiffer's words, you can find artists stealing them to this day.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Calling all artists

"It... is... later... than... you... think..."

The last post got me thinking, I don't know if someone has already tried this but the Light's Out scripts of Wyllis Cooper and Arch Oboler would make great comic books.

Here's a list of notable episodes from Wikipedia:
  • "The Ugliest Man in the World", a sentimental tale of a hideously deformed man seeking love in a cruel world, inspired by gentle Boris Karloff's typecasting in horror roles, and enlivened by strikingly expressionistic dramatic effects.
  • "Profits Unlimited", a still-relevant allegory on the promises and dangers of capitalism.
  • "Bathysphere", a political thriller about a scientist and a dictator sharing a deep sea diving bell.
  • "Visitor from Hades", about a bickering married couple trapped in their apartment by a hellhound.
  • "Come to the Bank", in which a man learns to walk through walls, but gets stuck when he tries to rob a vault.
  • "Oxychloride X", about a chemist who invents a substance that can eat through anything.
  • "Murder Castle", based on the real-life case of H. H. Holmes, Chicago's notorious serial killer.
  • "Spider", in which two men attempt to capture a giant arachnid.
  • "The Flame", a weird exercise in supernatural pyromania.
  • "Sub-Basement", which finds yet another husband and wife in peril—this time trapped far beneath a department store in the subterranenan railway of the Chicago Tunnel Company.
Listen to them here -- really amazing stuff.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Frankie, Raymond and the birth of EC

At least the birth of EC's horror line which was inspired by what was thought of, even in the Fifties, as old time radio horror shows like Inner Sanctum (which featured the creepy, pun-loving host, Raymond) and Light's Out (which had stories every bit as violent and disturbing as anything EC ever published as well as a progressive political viewpoint similar to that of Gaines). Sanctum has dated badly but most of Light's Out remains effective to this day (listen for yourself here).

With that out of the way...