Friday, December 12, 2014

A File of a Few Faithful Frankenstein Fables

Having previously composed lists of Old-Time Radio shows featuring werewolves and vampires, it seems only right to complete the unholy trinity with the Frankenstein Monster!

However, the Frankenstein Monster is - by definition - a particular creature adapted from Mary Shelley's novel, unlike the generic werewolves & vampires who came from legend & folklore. To be sure, Frankenstein has inspired many tales of men making creatures/monsters/robots, but for the sake of this list I'm only collecting those which acknowledge their debt to Shelley's novel; hence - adaptations (and some fun stuff)!

THE ADAPTATIONS

Appropriately, we begin again with the grandmother of Old-Time Radio horror, the Witch's Tale and their 1935 adaptation of the novel. For a half-hour program, it actually does a decent job of compressing the story to fit its run time, although in this version Frankenstein refuses to build the creature a mate.

Right-click here to download the Witch's Tale's version of "Frankenstein" from archive.org

I don't normally involve international radio in these lists, but it would be an injustice to omit this 1938 Australian serial which adapts the novel into 13 chapters; it's very faithful and quite well-done!

Right-click here to download part 1 of the Frankenstein serial from archive.org part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 part 8 part 9 part 10 part 11 part 12 part 13

In 1944, the Weird Circle got in on the act with a half-hour adaptation. Their real strength lay in adapting short stories; here, they make numerous changes from characters to locales and cut the story off short from the novel's finale.

Right-click here to download the Weird Circle's version of "Frankenstein" from archive.org

In 1947, Ronald Colman hosted an adaptation on his program Favorite Story wherein comedian Fred Allen chose the novel as his favourite story! The adaptation does its best to cover the novel, but again runs out of time and ends on a cliffhanger. For what it does cover, it's quite good.

Right-click here to download the Favorite Story version of "Frankenstein" from archive.org

In 1951, NBC Short Story presented an adaptation designed for students who would listen in as part of their courses. This version does include some good background information on Mary Shelley, but the story itself is an uncredited rebroadcast of the Weird Circle version! Considering how many liberties that program took with the novel, I hope those students didn't write up their book reports with this as their primary source!

Right-click here to download the NBC Short Story version of "Frankenstein" from archive.org

Finally, radio's outstanding theater of thrills Suspense adapted the novel in 1952; this version has the highest profile of any of the adaptations, given Suspense's prestige and the presence of Herbert Marshall as its star! However, it's the least faithful version on this list. It barely feels like Mary Shelley's story, instead departing so far from the novel that one wonders if someone authored a script about a man making a monster and was told, "Frankenstein is in the public domain and has a great reputation, why don't we simply call your script that?" Marshall's Frankenstein has wildly inconsistent characterization (such that co-star Joseph Kearns twice notes how quickly Frankenstein's motivations swing) and rather than a tale about a man who made a monster and how it destroyed his life, it's the story of a scientist who has a pretty bad afternoon one day. They performed this script again in 1955.

Right-click here to download Suspense's first version of "Frankenstein" from archive.org Right-click here to download the second version from archive.org

THE FUN STUFF!

I don't want to become too frivolous in how I connect programs to Frankenstein, but I think it's worth noting in 1941 Boris Karloff appeared on Eddie Cantor's show It's Time to Smile and much was made there of his history playing the monster; Karloff even performs the monster's growl a few times! Unfortunately, Cantor's humour hasn't aged gracefully.

Click here to listen to Boris Karloff on It's Time to Smile at Youtube

The link here is even more tenuous - but in 1943, Bela Lugosi appeared on Fred Allen's Texaco Star Theater and celebrated Easter with a horror skit (huh?) which name-checked Frankenstein and involved Lugosi attempting to build a monster. Lugosi seems much more at ease in this show than in either of those I posted in my vampire list; although Allen has a reputation as a comedian too topical to be funny for today's audiences, I think this show works very well.

Click here to listen to Bela Lugosi on the Texaco Star Theatre at Youtube

Also worth noting: in a 1943 appearance on Information Please, Karloff is one of the guests and uses his monster's growl to alert host Clifton Fadiman when he'd like to answer questions; it's always very interesting to hear Karloff on Information Please to discover more about his personal interests; the man's knowledge of nursery rhymes and fairy tales is quite impressive (but not surprising to those of us who grew up with cassette tapes of Karloff reading Hans Christian Andersen).

Right-click here to download Boris Karloff on Information Please from archive.org

Karloff appeared on a 1945 episode of Duffy's Tavern to help sell war bonds; he performs a Frankenstein sketch with Duffy (Ed Gardner) at the end of the show.

Right-click here to download Boris Karloff on Duffy's Tavern from archive.org

Finally, Quiet, Please - a series created by Wyllis Cooper, the screenwriter of Son of Frankenstein - offered a horror tale directly drawn from Frankenstein about a scientist designing a robot which - like the film version of the creature - needs a human brain!

Right-click here to download Quiet, Please's "Is This Murder?" from archive.org

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Unearthed: Secret Origins #48

In my previous Unearthed entry, I looked at an issue of DC Comics' Secret Origins which interested me because of the two characters who were featured; this time, I have an issue which features four characters in short stories - only one of which I had an actual interest in.

Secret Origins#48 assembles four stories which editor Mark Waid (yes, he was an editor circa 1990) helpfully places in context on the editorial page. There's nothing in particular which weaves Ambush Bug, Stanley & his Monster, Rex the Wonder Dog & the Trigger Twins together, but heck, why not cover them? While I'm a big fan of Ambush Bug - and sought this issue out to complete my collection - the other three I know only of primarily via their Who's Who entries. Let's learn their stories together!

There's not much point in describing the plot to an Ambush Bug story, but here we go...

We open with "The Secret Origin of Ambush Bug: We Thought Him Up," by the same team who delivered the Ambush Bug mini-serieses - Keith Giffen & Robert Loren Fleming. Here, the Bug is approached by an agent of the National Bureau of Origins (N.B.O.), who demand he comply with the laws of having a "credible origin story." The Bug sends the agent packing to Kansas to find a rocketship while Ambush Bug himself tries to dredge up memories of his origin. Instead, he finds himself before another agent who isn't fooled by his claims of being bitten by a radioactive spider. Ambush Bug tries again to remember his origin, this time by returning to the warehouse where he first fought crime with Cheeks, the Toy Wonder (his toy sidekick from Ambush Bug#1). Instead, the Bug finds the warehouse now full of leftovers from Giffen's recent Invasion! crossover and he has to scour every DC comic just to make sure Cheeks wasn't misplaced during a tie-in.

Ambush Bug finally concludes that the secret of his origin can only be found with Cheeks and that since Cheeks is dead (again, Ambush Bug#1), he'll have to find him in Heaven. To accomplish this, the Bug taunts one of the Lords of Order (from Giffen's Dr. Fate, I think) until the Lord of Order kills him. We then switch to "The Origin of Ambush Bug," drawn in Giffen's stick-man style, presenting Ambush Bug as a being sketched into life by Irwin Schwab who leaves the printed page in order to save Irwin's class from a rampaging dinosaur. From there, we move to "The True Origin of Ambush Bug" as Vril Dox (of L.E.G.I.O.N. - not sure why he's here) tries to interrogate Ambush Bug's charred remains. We switch again, this time to "The Honest-to-God, Swear-on-Our Mothers'-Graves, Real Origin of Ambush Bug," wherein a bat splatters itself on a window pane next to the Bug's ashen remains.

Meanwhile in Heaven, Ambush Bug finds out he's due to be sent into a new life and is routed back to Earth, landing in an alley (where a newspaper can be seen displaying: "Lord of Order Gets the Chair"). Ambush Bug realizes now that he's on a new life the N.B.O. won't be able to find him and he can have a new identity; unfortunately, that identity is as one of the "Big Fat Freakin' Frogs" (this was 1990, after all) and he's horried to discover "I've come back as the one thing even lower than a comic book character! I'm... merchandise!" Not unlike Giffen's own Rocket Raccoon, come to think of it. Anyway, the N.B.O. collect Ambush Bug and send him to Belle Reve, hoping he'll be sent on a mission with the Suicide Squad and quietly killed without having to deliver an origin story. Then we learn that Cheeks is still alive, and running the N.B.O.! It's a twist ending worthy of a 1990s comic book!

It's funny that Giffen often likes to take shots at comics fandom when he's perhaps the second greatest fan of DC's Silver Age in the business (the top spot belongs to this comic's editor). I don't always understand Giffen's references, though, as noted above, I have at least a hazy idea of who Vril Dox and the Lords of Chaos are (my main DC Universe interests are the Suicide Squad & Ambush Bug; I still don't know much about Invasion! and that's despite having read tie-ins). This story was best enjoyed by audiences in 1990 and even then it wouldn't have been to everyone's tastes. You've really got to love comics to enjoy seeing them mocked Giffen-style. Giffen evidently trusted that his readers - recognizing Ambush Bug was a character without a real status quo - wouldn't expect an origin and simply wanted another Ambush Bug tale; thus, so he did deliver.

The second feature is Stanley and His Monster, written & drawn by Phil Foglio. The story concerns a demon whom Lucifer has to expel from Hell because he "brings sno-cones to the souls in the inferno... knits mittens for those entombed in the plains of ice... sings hymns in the great wasteland of the TV evangelists" and spreads "Have a Nice Day" stickers everywhere. Lucifer's reasoning is that being amongst humans, the demon's true nature will be unleashed due to the cruelty humans heap upon each other. However, this doesn't work because the demon meets Stanley, a friendly and adventurous young boy who welcomes the monster into his home. It's a brief tale, but it's gentle and works well; Foglio revisited the characters in a 1993 limited series.

Next we have "The Birth of Rex the Wonder Dog" which, unfortunately, requires a few words. Written by Gerard Jones and drawn by Paris Cullins, the story opens in World War II (a strange place to start given that Rex dates back only as far as 1952) as Dr. Anabolus has designed a Super-Soldier formula; anyone with a smattering of comics knowledge will recognize this as a parody of Captain America, but we have no choice but to read through all 8 pages (or leave now! it's not too late! I warned you!!!), rather than Giffen's super hero origin parodies in the lead story which sometimes took up all of one panel (don't bring your weak sauce Captain America parody to an anthology with a Giffen lead feature; just don't). The one and only good gag in the story is the Airplane!-like bit above: "But where did you learn to draw so well?"

Anyway, all you need to know is that the Captain America origin is faithfully recounted, but with Rex the Wonder Dog in his place for some reason. If you find that inherently funny, please tell me before I have to sit next to you on an airplane. One Lt. Dennis (who looks vaguely like Bob Hope) brings Rex (and his son Danny) to Dr. Anabolus where the pooch is tranformed by Anabolus' serum into a Wonder Dog (complete with Kirby crackle, seen above). Dr. Anabolus is killed by a German agent and because he didn't write down his formula, Rex is a one-of-a-kind. Lt. Dennis suggests to Danny that after the war they could travel the globe: "We'll work for circuses and rope wild horses and solve strange crimes and find lost civilizations..." which Danny thinks is "a lotta hooey." The joke is that that's exactly what they wind up doing in Rex's 1952 adventure series. Get it? That's the joke! THAT'S THE JOKE! It's funny! You're supposed to laugh! It's hysterical because the ideas Lt. Dennis suggests are so unrealistic next to the entirely grounded and believable story we just suffered through. Ha. Ha. Much like Power Pachyderms, this story is comic book humour on life support. Even the writers of Spider-Ham knew there had to be a joke beyond "Spider-Man, but a pig!"

Gerard Jones would go on to inflict Wonder Man on readers, but I understand his Justice League was a cult hit and I know his various non-fiction books about comic books such as Men of Tomorrow are very good. Plus, I'm sure he'd hold the door open for you at the gas station.

The Trigger Twins close out the book with their origin, as presented in eight pages by William Messner-Loebs & Trevor von Eeden. There's very little I can say about it; twin brothers Wayne & Walter Trigger are followed through their birth to fighting in the US Civil War, to Walter becoming a gunfighter and sheriff of the town where Wayne works. Wayne helps out Walter in a gunfight by pretending to be him and from then on, they are the Trigger Twins. On the editorial page, Waid admits he was a great fan of the Trigger Twins stories, hence their inclusion here - they don't fit the humourous tone of the other entries. Von Eeden's art is totally solid - evocative of 1950-60s Gene Colan here in his silhouettes. DC could have printed this story in the 70s and no one would have batted an eye - I mean that as a compliment. After the previous 8-page tale, the Trigger Twins are more than welcome to close the issue out.

One great story, one lousy story and two okay tales; but really, if you're an Ambush Bug fan you won't care what's on the other pages.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Winterworld: breaking the political divide

Earlier this year, Chuck Dixon - who may have his name on more Batman comics than any other writer - added to his authorial credits an article for the Wall Street Journal where he bemoaned the forces of liberalism in the comic book industry. He also appeared on Fox News to repeat his dirge.

Obviously, a Conservative speaking to Conservatives about something Conservatives aren't terribly interested in to begin with isn't going to affect much change; indeed, the greatest impact I saw from Dixon's efforts were increased attacks on him by comics fandom. But leave us not be divisive - how can we bridge the gap between comic book-reading Conservatives, Liberals and the rest of us who truly do not care? Perhaps Dixon himself has the solution.

In 1987, Dixon authored a short-lived comic book series for Eclipse titled Winterworld. It's set in a catastrophic future where the Earth has been covered with snow and ice and humanity must forage for survival, barely able to grow any crops to sustain themselves. The chief protagonist, Scully, drives a vehicle which can run on almost any form of fuel and he wanders the frozen globe, looking out for himself (and his pet badger Rah-Rah; also, teenage waif Wynn).

Obviously there's nothing particularly political about the concept, but that's not my point - Dixon has a pretty good record of keeping politics out of his stories to begin with. Carrying on, the original Winterworld stories were collected by IDW in 2011 and earlier this year Dixon began a new series which seems to be existing as a series of mini-series (there's also a TV show being developed).

In issue #3 (from which these panels, drawn by Butch Guice, originate), Scully has found a veritable paradise in an unfrozen part of South America, so naturally genre-savvy readers are curious to learn what the "catch" will be. Obviously Scully's journey can't end here (not if the series is to continue), so what's wrong with these folk? They're very interested in Scully's vehicle and reveal they have enormous stockpiles of fuel. However, they don't want Scully to go driving on missions for them, but to simply pour the fuel in and let the engines run.

One of the locals explains their theory: the Earth became a frozen wasteland because there weren't enough cars emitting co2 to cause global warming; their plan to save the Earth is to return to the ways of their ancestors, as detailed in a sacred book; Scully can't read Spanish and doesn't recognize the tome but it's obvious to we readers that the book is a copy of Al Gore's Earth in the Balance.

Now that? That's pretty funny! When you're aware of Dixon's politics you might read the scene as being anti-climate change (because climate change is something Conservatives are lockstep against for... unclear reasons). But the scene is funny because we're privy to information the characters aren't. Their situation is tragic, but their attempted solution is so clearly misinformed that it can't help but be amusing.

This, then, is something which Conservatives, Liberals and the apathetic can all agree upon: Al Gore is funny!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Oh, Murder!

Being interested in Steve Ditko's work, I learned he contributed stories to an anthology series from 1986 entitled Murder, printed in black & white by the now-defunct Renegade Press and edited by Robin Snyder, Ditko's present-day editor. Like most comics from the black & white boom & bust period it sells dirt cheap today so all three issues can be obtained for a pittance.

Now that I have Murder in hand, what is it? Well, it's... it's an anthology title. Called "Murder," for unclear reasons. An illustration which opens the first issue (drawn by a young Erik Larsen) asserts the series' full title is "Murder, Tales of Psychological Tension." That's pretty much hooey - it describes some stories but not others - some are simply short comedic tales. Several look to be inventory tales prepared for other publishers. It's a hodge-podge with no clear theme.

Thus, the stories anthologized in Murder don't really compliment each other and must stand on their own merits. Considering the contributors include Steve Ditko, Alex Toth, the aforementioned young Erik Larsen, Dan Day and a previously-published Wally Wood story; the other talents are unfamiliar names. Of course, even the masters contributed very little; there's exactly one page of Toth content in each issue: two single page illustrations and one cover (above, looking strangely evocative of Dave Sim).

Larsen's contributes what's easily the funniest of all the humour pieces in Murder#3, Jim Stenstrum wrote and Larsen "drew" the one page "Jim Stenstrum's Tales of the Siberian Snowtroopers#2." Seemingly a response to John Byrne's infamous snowstorm scene from Alpha Flight#6; the panel above is the entire joke - word balloons against a white background. It goes on for one page, which is the exact length the gag demands.

Now for the main attraction: Steve Ditko himself! Ditko's stories are "The Big Man" (issue #1), "A Deal is a Deal" (#2) "My Brother..." and "Social Justice" (both #3). These come from the period in the 80s where Ditko was finding less work at Marvel & DC, no longer had Charlton to fall back on and after his falling-out with Eclipse. Like Ditko's current output under Snyder's watch, Ditko's Murder scripts are fairly bare-boned, told in short-hand. I count Ditko as one of the greatest storytellers in the medium. but he's not very good with dialogue; take the "etc, etc, etc." above - not quite William Faulkner, eh?

The stories are pretty familiar ones with twist endings where the guilty are punished through ironic means, but they're well-told; "The Big Man" concerns a killer who eliminates his rivals by seemingly growing in size to crush them; in "A Deal is a Deal," a man tries to cheat death by bargaining away his possessions; "My Brother..." features one brother who's a criminal, the other a lawyer and how their lifelong contest comes to an end; the best is easily "Social Justice," a funny two-pager wherein a television set compels a man to commit crimes - when caught, he fingers the TV and the TV goes to jail! I'm not certain whether Ditko is accusing those who blame their crimes on media or those who try to accuse media of causing crimes. Either way, it's a pretty approachable bit of social satire.

Murder's confused lack of a mission statement renders it little more than a curiosity, but if you - like me - are curious to see Steve Ditko cutting loose - it's an interesting oddball. If you can only obtain one issue, make it #3 with the Toth cover, the great Larsen one-pager, the double dose of Ditko and the Wood reprint.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

"Sometimes a fight you cannot win is still worth fighting." The Shadow Hero review

In recent years, comic book publishers came to the realization that many Golden Age super hero characters had lapsed into the public domain. Eagerly, they sought to rebuild those lapsed properties into new franchises, but the characters had become so forgotten over the decades that they might as well have been new characters - and the comics market, already overburdened with super hero material, has never been welcoming to new faces.

However, at least one fine book has come to us thanks to these developments: The Shadow Hero by writer Gene Luen Yang and artist Sonny Liew (with letterer Janice Chiang making it an all-Asian extravaganza!) through publisher First Second. It concerns a long-forgotten super hero called the Green Turtle, whose untold origin Yang & Liew proceed to tell.

Lore surrounding the Green Turtle asserts his creator Chu Hing intended him to be an Asian hero but his publisher wouldn't permit him to. According to this lore, Hing deliberately withheld the Green Turtle's origin and frequently concealed his face so that the creator would - if nowhere else - remain Asian in his mind.

The story Yang & Liew cook up doesn't completely mesh with Hing's work (they note themselves how they altered his cape), but it still goes to a lot of effort to line up with the 1940s stories (including an explanation for why an Asian man would have pink skin - seriously!). More importantly, the story they've chosen to tell is fun and clever on its own, an absolutely charming tale of super heroes quite unlike most of the marketplace (which is why it hasn't been marketed to super hero fans, I would assume).

The hero is Asian-American Hank Chu; after a super hero saves the life of Hank's mother, she becomes obsessed with the idea of turning her son into a super hero, with mostly comedic results (she even chauffeurs him on his first patrol like a parent whose child has a paper route). Super hero comics frequently work on father-son relationships, but this one has a fun take on a hero whose mother is the driving influence behind his donning a cape and cowl.

Hank even winds up with super powers in the end (albeit, not due to his mother); the spirit of the Tortoise comes to dwell within Hank's shadow and grants him immunity to all guns. Thus, while Hank is mortal in most respects, bullets have a way of missing him, no matter how close the gun is held. This ability is, likewise, a frequent source of comedy. He can also consult the Tortoise in his shadow which grants him someone to both monologue with and to play games of tic-tac-toe against.

The entire story is set around San Incendio (San Francisco?) in the late 1930s and it does a convincing job of making the environment seem authentic and lived-in. As the Green Turtle, Hank becomes a champion of Chinatown - although most of his enemies live in Chinatown too. Despite Hank's powers, it's ultimately his wits which serve him best, particularly when he meets a similarly-enhanced crime lord whose magic power is to win every fight - Hank actually beats the no-win scenario!

In all, the Shadow Hero is an atypical super hero romp, somewhat irreverent and quite funny. If you are interested in the original 1940s stories, the first one is included in the back of the book as a bonus feature. The Shadow Hero came out earlier this year and should still be available at superior bookstores, comic shops & online stores everywhere.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Somehow I knew you would be here—when my star rose." Black Ace by George Bruce

Earlier, I blogged about the three issues of the Weird Tales pulp magazines I'd acquired. Although I enjoyed some of the stories a great deal, for the most part I felt dispirited to discover Weird Tales wasn't a treasure-trove of great supernatural stories - they had their hits & misses, the same as everyone else.

When I found a couple of issues of Argosy from 1935 & 1936 selling for low prices I decide to gamble again; the issues didn't contain any authors I was familiar with, but knowing the reputation of Argosy as a great adventure pulp which delved into every possible genre for material, I thought at the very least the issues would be worth sticking on a shelf next to my Weird Tales. I bought them with low expectations.

Now, let me tell you what I found in the 1935, Vol. 259 No. 6 issue of Argosy: "Black Ace" by George Bruce. I hadn't heard of the author before; I checked up on him and found he'd published a lot during the pulp era, but his stories hadn't seen much republication. And now I'm convinced that's a pity.

"Black Ace" is the story of Jefferson Rolfe, an African-American pilot; it is told through the eyes of Caucasian pilot Ken Morey. It begins in the days of the air circuses when Morey discovers Rolfe is offering an exhibition in Birmingham on the same day as Morey's circus. Thinking Rolfe might drum up extra business, Rolfe invites him into the circus. However, it quickly becomes apparent Rolfe has never actually flown a plane before. Impressed by Rolfe's courage, Morey offers to train him, but after months of work Rolfe still can't land a plane - he's "ground-shy." The men drift apart for years.

Eventually, the story shifts to Ethiopia; Morey is now selling combat aircraft around the globe and has offered his vehicles to Ras Tafari himself for use against the impending Italian invasion (the Italians aren't identified by name, but Ras Tafari is so there's little hope of readers missing which conflict this is). Rolfe winds up in Ethiopia as well, still trying to make something of himself - feeling that as a pilot, he could be an inspiration to other African-Americans. When the Italian bombers begin their assault, Rolfe finally has his chance.

I'm glad I had my expectations set so low because this story - WOW! - my summary doesn't do it justice. It's a great drama, very different from anything I've found in other popular entertainments of the time, primarily in how it depicts Rolfe; Rolfe is courageous, noble, well-spoken (described as having an "Oxford accent") and, in the closing pages, heroic. If it had been a film in '35, it would have likely starred Paul Robeson and it's the kind of part Robeson would have excelled at.

If this is the only great story George Bruce ever wrote, then I'm glad I found it. If he wrote anything else worth reading, I hope I'll soon find it!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Various Venerable Vampires of Variable Value in Vintage Radio

Earlier I composed a list of appearances by werewolves in old-time radio programs. Although I collected those shows because I have a particular interest in werewolf fiction, I began to wonder - what about some of the other familiar monster types who appeared on the radio?

It seems natural, then, to continue this series with the vampire, probably the most popular monster in fiction (unless you count ghosts). However, old-time radio was slow to gain interest in horror stories and even then, many early broadcasts have been lost to time and wear. It is perhaps notable that while film studios began to lose interest in horror movies as the 1930s wore on, the 1930s were a golden age of horror radio programs. I haven't found many shows which utilized genuine vampires, but here's my complete findings.

Note: I'm also aware there's a 1941 episode of Front Page Drama entitled "House of the Dead" which supposedly deals with vampires, but I couldn't locate a copy of the audio to verify it.

VAMPIRES IN NAME ONLY

The early program Police Reporter dramatized real-life crimes and one 1935 entry told the story of the "Vampire of Dusseldorf," an oft-recounted tale of a mad serial killer in Germany so named because he actually drank the blood from some of his victims! This isn't the kind of subject which would pass muster on radio in the 1940s.

Right-click here to download Police Reporter's "The Case of the Vampire of Dusseldorf" from archive.org

One of the 1935 episodes of Alex Raymond's adventure comic strip Jungle Jim concerned Jim battling a "Bat Woman" of the jungle who wore a bat costume while commanding her subjects. The same story was adapted to radio and the entire story has, luckily, been preserved. It's not vampires, but it's a pretty good adventure yarn. Get out your comic strips and follow along!

Right-click here to download the Adventures of Jungle Jim's Bat Woman story, part 1 from archive.org part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 part 8 part 9 part 10 part 11 part 12 part 13 part 14 part 15 part 16 part 17 part 18 part 19 part 20 part 21

Remaining with comic strips, Mark Trail himself once tangled with "Vampires of the Deep" in a 1950 episode, but these "vampires" were merely fish thieves, not blood suckers.

Right-click here to download Mark Trail's "Vampire of the Deep" from archive.org

VAMPIRE HOAXES

1944 saw a great episode of Nick Carter, Master Detective where he faces off against weird, unseen creatures which have been preying on the blood of young people ambushed in the park by night. Even though you can be assured they won't turn out to be real vampires it's a pretty great mystery-thriller - though it gets a little racist when the creatures are finally revealed.

Right-click here to download Nick Carter, Master Detective's "Death After Dark" from archive.org

For all the jokes about vampires on Inner Sanctum Mysteries, they don't seem to have thrived in the surviving episodes. The 1945 episode "the Undead" has a neat story about a woman who gradually begins to believe her husband is a vampire. Unfortunately, like so many Inner Sanctum stories the supernatural doesn't truly exist and the explanation at the end is dumb, dumb, dumb, to the extent that you feel dumb for even listening. Interestingly, when Ernie Colon adapted this story for his Inner Sanctum graphic novel, he chucked out the limp ending and went with real vampires (I reviewed Colon's book on the blog here).

Right-click here to download Inner Sanctum Mysteries' "The Undead" from archive.org

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes famously dealt with a supposed vampire in his story of "the Sussex Vampire," which the radio program adapted in 1947. However, earlier in the year the series tackled a similar case in "the Adventure of the Carpathian Horror," concerning a nobleman who's being gaslighted into thinking he's a vampire.

Right-click here to download the New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' "The Adventure of the Carpathian Horror" from archive.org

Right-click here to download the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' "The Sussex Vampire" from archive.org

Our friends Jack, Doc & Reggie tangled with vampires a few times in I Love a Mystery, most notably in the serial "Temple of Vampires," an absolutely terrific serial adventure whose 1950 adaptation still exists. You can listen to the episodes in a marathon, but I find I enjoy them the most when I hear them one chapter per day, as originally intended. There's also one existing chapter of the serial "My Beloved is a Vampire" from 1952, which is otherwise apparently lost to the ages. Neither of these serials deal with real vampires, but there's enough tension and excitement that it doesn't really bother me.

Right-click here to download I Love a Mystery's "Temple of Vampires" part 1 from archive.org part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 part 8 part 9 part 10 part 11 part 12 part 13 part 14 part 15 part 16 part 17 part 18 part 19 part 20

Right-click here to download I Love a Mystery's "My Beloved is a Vampire" Part 25 from archive.org

VAMPIRES, FANGS AND ALL

Our friend Old Nancy of Salem hosts the earliest vampire story I've found: a 1933 episode of the Witch's Tale entitled the Graveyard Mansion in which the new inhabitants of an estate discover a beautiful lady vampire lurks on the grounds! It's early, primitive radio drama, but not bad.

Click here to listen to the Witch's Tale's "The Graveyard Mansion" at Youtube.

Undoubtedly the most famous radio vampire story is the Mercury Theatre on the Air's adaptation of "Dracula," the premiere episode of that series! Orson Welles himself plays Dracula (and Dr. Seward) with the other Mercury players in very fine form. It's an excellent performance and many of the lines stay with you; certainly, I find myself occasionally imitating Martin Gabel's Van Helsing ("Strike, Harker!") while watching Dracula films.

Right-click here to download the Mercury Theatre on the Air's "Dracula" from archive.org

The following year, 1939, found Bela Lugosi vamping his way onto radio to satirize himself on Texaco Star Theatre for a skit called "Dracula of Sunnybrook Farm." In 1939, Bela would have been both struggling with cash (as he usually was) and without many horror roles, so I can't fault him for this - but boy, he got a lot of mileage out of making fun of himself over the decades. Also, Texaco really wanted to be the Jack Benny Program, but despite having secured Kenny Baker from that program, their writing simply isn't up to snuff.

Click here to listen to Texaco Star Theatre's "Dracula of Sunnybrook Farm" at myoldradio.com

Weirdly, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's vampire story "Carmilla" - while appreciated amongst aficionados - has not only failed to attain the widespread acclaim of Dracula, but the 1940 radio adaptation is also largely forgotten, even though it was presented on the prestigious Columbia Workshop by no less than adaptor Lucille Fletcher (best-known for the Suspense episode "Sorry, Wrong Number") and starring Bill Johnstone. Those people who do talk about "Carmilla," primarily talk about the lesbian subtext. Personally, I think calling it a "lesbian vampire story" is kind of dismissive - it's a great vampire story - isn't that enough?

Right-click here to download the Columbia Workshop's "Carmilla" from archive.org

You know, a lot of people give Inner Sanctum grief for not delivering on the supernatural elements they'd tease, but as a counterpoint I offer you the Hermit's Cave, a show which ran contemporaneously and featured real supernatural terrors, but, unlike Inner Sanctum, possessed no understanding of subtlety. Yes, you read that correctly - I'm stating for the record that even Inner Sanctum has more subtlety than the Hermit's Cave. The episode "The Vampire's Desire" concerns a vampire attempting to trap new victims in his home. Unfortunately, from the host's cackles to the strained performances, there's no room left for the listener's imagination to inhabit this story.

Right-click here to download the Hermit's Cave's "The Vampire's Desire" from archive.org

Bela Lugosi made light of himself again in a 1946 Halloween episode of the Rudy Vallee Show. Let me warn you right now, this broadcast is painful; the studio audience's lack of reaction to most of the jokes should tell you something. Bela is supposed to be in-character as a vampire called "the Bat," but he cracks up at co-star Billie Burke's performance in the skit, somewhat wrecking his role as the straight man. There aren't many vampire jokes either - "the Bat" quickly turns to Frankenstein Monster jokes, so the vampire material was probably there to justify casting Lugosi.

Click here to listen to the Rudy Vallee Show's 1946 Halloween episode at Youtube.

The simply triumphant program Quiet, Please told one of my favourite vampire stories in "My Son John," wherein a man raises his son from the dead, only to find his son is now a vampire (serving Dracula himself, no less!). These vampires don't behave according to the usual rules (notably, they seem able to shapeshift into anything), but don't let that throw you.

Right-click here to download Quiet, Please's "My Son John" from archive.org

Finally, we have the Hall of Fantasy, a seldom-praised but frequently-effective horror program which never shied away from the supernatural - or downer endings. This time, the 1953 episode "The Marquise of Death" features a hunt for a lady vampire but the protagonist is about the most thick-headed man to ever feature in a vampire story; he should have held out for a part in the Fearless Vampire Killers.

Click here to listen to the Hall of Fantasy's "The Marquise of Death" at oldtimeradiodownloads.com

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Unearthed: Secret Origins#28

I've indicated before that John Ostrander's Suicide Squad is one of my all-time favourite comic book series. Going through the early years of Ostrander's run, one character I had trouble with was Nightshade, one of the few true-blue super heroes on a team comprised mostly of villains. Nightshade's origins were a major part of her character arc in the series, but I'd only ever read one of her old Charlton adventures (and it had nothing to do with her origin).

My confusion reached its zenith around Suicide Squad #14, when the Squad began a multi-part story delving into Nightshade's home dimension and her brother; all through, I felt pretty lost. Now, I finally have the "missing" issue of Suicide Squad which explains everything; for some reason, the missing issue was published as Secret Origins #28.

I'm sure DC thought it a grand idea at the time - encourage their readers to pick up Secret Origins #28 for the full story on Nightshade's past! It's like a bonus issue of the Squad and keeps the exposition from bogging down the series proper. Of course, as a collector who came to the series years later, I didn't imagine I'd be buying up issues of Secret Origins for the sake of the series at hand (I also had to buy #14).

The tale, "A Princess Story" was written by Robert Greenberger, at the time Suicide Squad's editor. The artist is one... Rob Liefeld?! Yet, you'd hardly recognize him circa 1988. Back then he drew feet and more than three expressions, y'know. In this story, Eve Eden (Nightshade) narrates her origin story to Father Craemer, Suicide Squad's ever-popular prison chaplain (certainly one of my favourites from the series). Eve explains how her mother came to Earth from another dimension. When Eve and her brother Larry were still children, their mother brought them to her home dimension to reveal everything about her origins to them, but the creature who originally drove her to Earth - the Incubus - hadn't been driven away as the mother had been led to believe. Monsters working for the Incubus kidnapped Larry and killed Eve's mother; gaining her mother's power to becoming a "living shadow," Eve escaped back to Earth.

Eve describes how she learned to master her powers over the years and tried to explore the other dimension, but nearly died in a close encounter with the Incubus. She finally decided to become a super hero and went to work for King Faraday, battling people like the Black Spider and Punch & Jewelee. Eventually she came to Amanda Waller and made a deal - she'd join Task Force X in exchange for the Squad's help in rescuing her brother from the Incubus. She's brought all of this to Father Craemer because the mission against the Incubus is only now finally going forward. Craemer offers his best encouragement to her, reminding her to keep her faith in Jesus Christ (Nightshade was one of the few Squad characters who shared Craemer's Christian faith).

The story fills in blanks I had about Eve, her brother and the Incubus; I wish I had it in hand when I first read through Suicide Squad, but it's fine - I'm simply glad the details were to be found somewhere. Pretty good art by Liefeld too - definitely the work of a young artist with a few things to learn, but based on these pages he looks like an Art Adams-in-waiting, rather than the entity he soon became.

In our second feature we have "The Secret Origin of Midnight" as told by Roy Thomas & Gil Kane, based on the story by Jack Cole. Wow! What a great creative team! And Midnight is definitely one of the better Golden Age heroes, thanks to Cole's wild storytelling. The story sees one Dave Clark, radio announcer for an adventure radio program featuring a hero called "Midnight." After seeing a building collapse due to deliberately-slipshod construction, Clark dons a mask and calls himself Midnight so he can bring the crooks to justice.

I wish I could say more about the Midnight story, but it's all pretty rout. Kane illustrates everything prettily and with tremendous energy, but the story has no sense of fun. Cole's later Midnight adventures were, like his Plastic Man tales, absolutely off the chain, practically a satire of the super hero genre. It's because of those later tales that Midnight is remembered (if, indeed, anyone remembers him at all). This tale marks only the 2nd time Midnight appeared in comics following the 1940s - both penned by Thomas and both bereft of fun. Midnight is treated seriously as a two-fisted masked hero, and thus is utterly unremarkable. The most interesting thing Thomas comes up with here is the idea that Midnight took his identity from a radio program - otherwise, it follows the character's 1941 origin story pretty much faithfully (as expected from the Rascally One).

Still, Gil Kane throws in one last image of Midnight with his later sidekicks Doc Wackey & Gabby, presented by the editor as a bonus. This is the Midnight who I'd like to read more stories about, though Thomas probably wouldn't have been the one to write them, even in 1988 (Sergio Aragones, though - I bet he'd be a great Midnight author).

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"If you want to be good at this, you need to do your homework." DKW review

In his comic DKW: Ditko Kirby Wood, writer/artist Sergio Ponchione argues Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby & Wally Wood were (and are) the "trinity" of comic books. In this comic, a veteran comic book creator describes Ditko, Kirby & Wood to a novice artist and his descriptions of each man's work are told through pages illustrated in a style similar to the artist at hand. Ponchione's ability to mimic them is quite a feat - it's not indistinguishable from the real thing, but it is something to see an artist of this time who can draw upon the skills of a true comic book master (much less three of them!).

I grew up on comics in the shadow of Wood's death and a time when Kirby & Ditko had been relegated to less-visible, less-prestigious books. In due time, as a huge Marvel Comics fan (and eventual freelancer for them), I came to explore and love their Marvel work. It took longer for me to step into their non-Marvel work or take an interest in their personal lives (which, I tend to prefer creators keep personal, so I don't begrudge Ditko's quiet withdrawl from the comics scene at all).

Ponchione's Kirby pages seem to be drawn almost exclusively from the pages of the Eternals (note the structure above which is based on the Celestials' Mothership) which suits me fine, it being my favourite Kirby series. Both the Kirby and Ditko pages celebrate the imaginative work produced by those men without any real gray clouds.

However, Wally Wood seems to provoke melancholy wherever his name is mentioned due to how his final years played out. For a long time I didn't know his name - and even when I did see people discussing it, I didn't understand why. In that regard, I could have used a copy of DKW about 15 years ago to educate me on why he's considered a legend. Ponchione seems to have recognized this as he spent quite a bit of text on Wood's style and innovation.

DKW is perhaps something you could hand to a friend who doesn't know too much about Ditko, Kirby or Wood. I already knew those names - but now Sergio Ponchione is another name I'll have to revisit.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Where the werewolves were in old-time radio

I was recently reading Guy Endore's 1933 novel the Werewolf of Paris and I began to reflect on how werewolves were portrayed in popular culture of the time, as I spent a lot of time enjoying literature, films and radio programs of the past. Although Universal's the Wolfman is one of the giants of classic monster movies, there really weren't very many werewolves on screen in those days. Similarly, while Dracula and Frankenstein are two of the great classic horror novels, there's no werewolf book whose reputation permits it to stand alongside them.

And what of radio? What I find interesting about werewolves on radio is that while they were frequently spoken of (say, in Raymond the host's jokes on Inner Sanctum Mysteries), they only infrequently figured in plots on the radio and even less often appeared in the fur & flesh - most radio werewolves involve a hoax of some sort. I can only go by what episodes still exist today, but going from that I've composed a list of werewolves on the radio, grouped together for your convenience into "name only," "hoaxes," and "the real deal."

PART 1: WEREWOLVES IN-NAME-ONLY

There are two 1949 radio police drama shows featuring criminals who terrorize women and are referred to as a "werewolf," but only in allusion to the supernatural beast, not because anyone believes they are such. The two are so similar, I wonder if they were both inspired by the same real life event? First, an audition show for a series called Prowl Car presented "the Wilshire Werewolf," then a very early episode of Dragnet delved into its own werewolf.

Click here to listen to Prowl Car's "the Wilshire Werewolf" at myoldradio.com

Right-click here to download Dragnet's "the Werewolf" from archive.org

PART 2: THE GREAT WEREWOLF HOAXES

The earliest "hoax" program I've found is 1935's Front Page Drama, which presented an episode entitled "the Werewolf" which seems to be based on true events where people's superstitions about werewolves nearly leads to an innocent girl's death. The ending is a bit muddled but the most interesting thing about it is that this show uses the standard rules about vampires for werewolves! At one point the term "werewolf vampire" is uttered as though they were the same thing! Yes, vampires often change shape too, but since the supposed werewolves in this story are said to be corpses by day who can only be destroyed with a stake through the heart, it sure sounds like vampires, huh?

Right-click here to download Front Page Drama's "the Werewolf" from Radio Echoes.

I've found two episodes of the Shadow where he tangles with suspected werewolves. The first one, 1941's "Death Prowls at Night" is actually very good, involving a madman who can hypnotize people into thinking they're werewolves; but maybe he really is a werewolf? It ends on an ambiguous note. The second, 1947's "the Werewolf of Hamilton Mansion" involves a wealthy man who thinks his son is a werewolf and has kept him locked up, but it's all a trick.

Right-click here to download the Shadow's "Death Prowls at Night" from archive.org

Click here to listen to the Shadow's "the Werewolf of Hamilton Mansion" at youtube.com

I Love a Mystery has (barely) two surviving storylines involving werewolves: "Bride of the Werewolf" and "Bury Your Dead, Arizona." The former exists in only two parts out of fifteen, one produced in 1944, the other from 1952! The latter's 1949 version is complete and involves a supposed mystic whose assistant can become a wolf, but as I Love a Mystery is the program which inspired Scooby-Doo, you may not be surprised to hear it's all a fake.

Right-click here to download I Love a Mystery's "Bride of the Werewolf" part 3 from archive.org; part 12

Right-click here to download I Love a Mystery's "Bury Your Dead, Arizona" part 1 from archive.org; part two; part 3; part 4; part 5; part 6; part 7; part 8; part 9; part 10; part 11; part 12; part 13; part 14; part 15

A 1946 episode of the Adventures of Dick Cole entitled "The Werewolf of Farr" has a plot so slight it should have been an episode of Five-Minute Mysteries, yet drags itself out to a half-hour. People are convinced there's a werewolf loose, yet since the episode mentions early on that a real wolf has escaped you really shouldn't expect to be surprised by the climax.

Right-click here to download the Adventures of Dick Cole's "the Werewolf of Farr" from archive.org

Sherlok Holmes occasionally tangles with the supernatural, but by the very nature of his character - a man who make sense of the seeming insensible - the supernatural is thoroughly debunked each time. Such an instance is found in the 1946 episode of the New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes entitled "the Adventure of the Black Angus," in which a Scotsman believes he's inherited the family curse of lycanthropy. Weirdly, when Sherlock first says "werewolf," Watson responds "A vampire!" which is either exposing the cursory research of the creators or represents yet another "dumb Watson" moment.

Right-click here to download the New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' "The Adventure of the Black Angus."

Easily the best werewolf hoax on this list, Escape presented an adaptation of Geoffrey Household's "Taboo" in 1947. Never mind that the suspected werewolf is only a man - it's a suitably terrifying story about hunting a monster at night - or being hunted by a monster! It also hints at some very dark, grisly affairs.

Right-click here to download Ecape's "Taboo" from archive.org

The New Adventures of Michael Shayne being set in New Orleans seemed contractually obliged to tell a "loup-garou" story and they got it over with early in 1948. It has lively performances by Jeff Chandler & Jack Webb, but the plot is nuts.

Right-click here to download the New Adventures of Michael Shayne's "the Case of the Bayou Monster" from archive.org

There are two western programs involving werewolf hoaxes: the Challenge of the Yukon's "Trail of the Werewolf" from 1949 and Wild Bill Hickok's "The Wolf of Ghost Mountain" from 1952. Both are juvenile westerns with simple hoax plots.

Right-click here to download the Challenge of the Yukon's "Trail of the Werewolf" from archive.org

Right-click here to download Wild Bill Hickok's "the Wolf of Ghost Mountain" from archive.org

Finally, Escape ventured into the bayou with their 1952 episode "Loup-Garou," wherein a man is accused of being a werewolf by a hateful mob; the play was performed again as a 1956 episode of Romance which is in much better condition than the earlier version.

Right-click here to download Escape's "Loup-Garou" from archive.org

Right-click here to download Romance's "the Loup-Garou" from archive.org

PART 3: THE REAL DEAL - WEREWOLVES IN THE FUR, FLESH & FANG

Appropriately, we begin with the Witch's Tale; unlike many of the later horror programs (such as Inner Sanctum Mysteries or the Mysterious Traveler), the Witch's Tale never shied from the supernatural. Unfortunately, surviving episodes tend to be of very poor sound quality, sound effects are minimal, performances are flat and there's very little tension. Placing only that aside, we have the 1935 rendition of "the Werewolf" (earlier versions are lost) in which the course of true love never did run smoothly; two young lovers are torn apart by the fact that the young man tears people apart at night when he becomes a wolf.

Click here to listen to the Witch's Tale's "the Werewolf" at youtube.com

Much later we have 1942's Dark Fantasy and "W is for Werewolf." Dark Fantasy is not a very distinguished program but it told its rather pulpy stories well. Like the Shadow episode I described above, this involves a man locking up his supposed-werewolf son - only this time, it's the real thing!

Right-click here to download Dark Fantasy's "W is for Werewolf" from archive.org

Sadly, very few episodes of Creeps by Night have survived and their audio quality tends to be very poor; considering the show used both Bela Lugosi & Boris Karloff it's quite a loss to classic horror fans! However, we still have 1944's "the Hunt," a story where people toss around the "w" word at each other - but who is the werewolf who's been terrorizing the area?

Right-click here to download Creeps by Night's "the Hunt" from archive.org

The Weird Circle didn't have the best actors in radio, but they adapted their material from some of the best classic horror fiction so it's a show of interest to all fans of radio horror. Their 1944 episode "the Werewolf" is adapted from a passage in Frederick Marryat novel the Phantom Ship, involving a woodsman who takes a new wife whose hobbies include hunting at night in the form of a wolf. Should've had a pre-nup.

Right-click here to download the Weird Circle's "the Werewolf" from archive.org

Special thanks to Ian Griev for pointing out this quick story from 1945's Strange Adventure; in "Werewolf Island," a wolf has been devouring sheep and the beast appears so intelligent that people suspect it's a werewolf!

Right-click here to download Strange Adventure's "Werewolf Island" from archive.org

Werewolf fans frequently cite the 1946 Suspense episode "The House in Cypress Canyon" as a werewolf program, even though the term never appears. It's actually to the show's benefit to not explain too much about what exactly the horror is - but if you like werewolf stories, this one delivers big time!

Right-click here to download Suspense's "the House in Cypress Canyon" from archive.org

Finally, in 1957 comedian Stan Freberg threw the films I Was a Teenage Werewolf and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit into a blender and came up with an episode of the Stan Freberg Show with the hilarious skit "A Gray Flannel Hat Full of Teenage Werewolves." It concerns a werewolf who is cursed to become an advertising executive by day!

Right-click here to download the Stan Freberg Show's "A Gray Flannel Hat Full of Teenage Werewolves" from archive.org

Thank you for checking out this list!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Quiet, Please: the list of recommendations

Part of what makes the Old-Time Radio hobby so easy to slip into is that so many of the surviving broadcasts which circulate are in terrific condition and quite pleasant on the ears. However, because those who address the largest audiences prefer the clean audio, there are all kinds of less-than-clean programs whose entire catalogs don't seem to receive air time; if you're a fanatic about Old-Time Radio, then you have to track those shows down on your own time.

I had been a fan of OTR for years (beginning with an interest in the horror & science fiction shows) when I had the pleasant surprise of discovering Quiet, Please, a program which ran from 1947-1949 and whose body of work is near-complete - albeit often in poor audio condition. Quiet, Please is not the type of program today's jockeys like to use - it's a challenging show with (naturally) a very quiet tone. There are few actors, with most of the work being done by star Ernest Chappell. There are few instruments, mainly an organ and a piano. There are even fewer sound effects (frequently the piano or organ take their place). The stories are often melancholic and demand a listener's full attention - unlike, say, a horror program such as Inner Sanctum Mysteries which has a "shocking development" every 3 minutes or so, when Quiet, Please is telling a horror story it usually builds to a single moment of horror (and many episodes aren't horror stories at all).

Quiet, Please might be better termed a "dark fantasy" series rather than horror. Wyllis Cooper's stories often feel like poetry, brought to life through Ernest Chappell's performances. Chappell, as some have observed, serves as a fantastic everyman performer, being able to disappear into his roles, sometimes by adopting accents, different pitches or verbal tics. Taken as a whole, Quiet, Please is a combination of horror, humour, fantasy, poetry and melancholy - so, basically, it's great for Edgar Allan Poe fans.

For all these reasons of audio quality and story content, I think it might be helpful to offer my suggestion of 10 great Quiet, Please episodes. It's my belief that if you are an OTR fan and you enjoy any of these shows, you will enjoy them a lot and probably seek out the rest of the series. This list is simply a handy means of getting started. All links lead to the mp3 files at archive.org

  1. "Beezer's Cellar" is a horror story about a gang of robbers who learn of an unfinished cellar and decide it would be a good place to stash their loot. However, this cellar turns out to be literally incomplete - it's not entirely part of this world.
  2. "Let the Lilies Consider" is a strange tale of weird fantasy in the vein of Algernon Blackwood. A man adores his flowers but his wife grows increasingly outraged by them, feeling truly jealous over his plants. Much as in a Blackwood story, nature proves stronger than humanity.
  3. "My Son John" is a vampire story, albiet one with a few unusual rules about vampires and told in a way that's half-horrifying, half-amusing. A man desperate to see his dead son again raises him from the dead - but now his son is a vampire who intends to feast upon the living.
  4. "Northern Lights" is a weird science fiction tale about two men whose experiments in time start bringing frozen caterpillars into their lab. Caterpillars who sing.
  5. "Presto Change-o, I'm Sure" is pretty representative of the series' take on fantasy. A young man obtains a real magic wand; although he doesn't entirely understand how to use it, he learns enough to get himself into trouble - particularly with the wand's original owner, Cagliostro.
  6. "Shadow of the Wings" is an Easter story about the angel of death seeking the life of a dying child and the child's mother attempting to fend off death, himself.
  7. "The Thing on the Fourble Board" is easily the best-known episode of the series. It's isn't to everyone's tastes, but if you like radio horror you really do owe it to yourself to hear this one. It's a freaky tale about a drilling crew who unearth something from deep beneath the surface - something like an invisible spider. And it has a voice.
  8. "Wear the Dead Man's Coat" involves two men's discovery that if you wear a dead person's clothes you can become invisible, which seems like a condition with no drawbacks - but oh, there definitely is one!
  9. "Whence Came You" is another very well-thought-of horror episode concerning an archaeologist who opens up an old tomb there's something still alive in there - possibly an irate Egyptian god!
  10. "Where Do You Get Your Ideas?" is almost a parody of Quiet, Please in which a drunk pesters Wyllis Cooper in a bar, attempting to tell him stories about the weird things on the moon and how he keeps killing the same woman over and over again.

If you dig Quiet, Please then be sure to let me know which episodes are your favorites!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Unearthed: "Revelations" by Christopher Priest & Eric Battle

Completing my three-day appreciation of Christopher Priest, I'm turning the clock back to 1998 and JLA 80-Page Special#1, featuring the story "Revelations" by Priest and artist Eric Battle. Earlier, I featured another of Priest's stories from the 80-Page Giants: "The Game"; I only learned of this tale thanks to J. Caleb Mozzocco.

At merely 10 pages it's a quick story, so it says something that people remember this tale so many years later.

We open with Wonder Woman responding to a distress call sent by Aquaman. Wearing a rebreather, she dives underwater to rendezvous with him. This tale is during Aquaman's hooked, bearded, frowny days and he's definitely crabby with his teammate from the outset. "I just-- expected J'onn -- or Superman--" he complains. The problem is a fairly simple one to solve, it merely requires an extra set of hands: a band of underwater treasure hunters submerged into an Atlantean labyrinth and now their craft is stuck; to add insult to injury, the underwater "gold" is fool's gold. Aquaman can't free the vessel alone, but with Wonder Woman's help he might succeed.

As they begin to work on the problem, using Wonder Woman's lasso to tow the vehicle, Wonder Woman wonders why Aquaman seems more grouchy than usual.

"Sometimes it's just easier to fence off the world. And, the truth of it is-- I spend a lot of time wondering what I'm doing in the JLA to begin with, Princess--"

"--Diana, Arthur. Unless you prefer I call you 'my lord.'"

"Actually-- I would."

Aquaman continues to grouch along, calling her "a little vapid and boring" and hates how people assume they "have anything at all in common simply because we're both royalty." Then his secret comes out: "I can't find any rational reason-- why I want you so badly." Wonder Woman deduces he's become tangled in her Lasso of Truth, hence his session of truth-telling. Unfortunately, this is carried entirely by the dialogue because the artist doesn't bother to show it all. Hey, it's only the incident the entire story depends on, no big deal.

Their conversation is interrupted by a second team of treasure hunters - these, figures wearing diving suits and carrying weaponry. Wonder Woman's communicator is knocked out so Aquaman monologues the rest of the underwater scenes solo, continuing to remark "wish they'd sent J'onn." However, now that she can't hear him and he's not wrapped in the lasso, he also remarks she's "part of the reason I remain with the JLA" and "I don't like to be alone with you."

They successfully fend off their attackers and save the submerged craft, but Aquaman is somewhat sheepish over what he admitted to her before. When he wonders if he can trust her to "keep this incident between us," she responds by swimming close to him and pressing her hand against his cheek. "Arthur -- my lord king --" and then she dives underwater, leaving him rattled and confused.

"Yes... well... glad we got that settled... wish they'd sent J'onn..."

Thoughts: While not wishing to psychoanalyze Priest, I do recall one of his essays described a relationship he'd wanted to pursue which didn't pan out - he wound up in "the friend zone," to use current parlance. He seems to put Aquaman through something similar here through the hero lusting after Wonder Woman while realizing such a relationship probably wouldn't work and his feelings probably wouldn't be reciprocated.

I don't know DC Comics continuity particularly well so I can't say whether this characterization of Aquaman & Wonder Woman holds (ahem) water. I do find it interesting to note that when people try to pair Wonder Woman off with one of her peers in the League (because that's what strong, independent women want, right? to be someone's "and..."), they pair her with Superman because they have similar power levels (and he's popular!) or Batman because they're children of royalty (and he's popular!). Poor unpopular Aquaman actually seems like a decent choice for her, given they originated in warrior-culture hidden lands with deep mystical/mythological connections. Then again, perhaps that's why they couldn't ever work out, they'd be all like, "Oh my gods, you follow Neptune? What's wrong with Artemis?" "I can't stand listening to the Greek pantheon, give me the Romans any time." "They're the same gods starfish-brain!"

Eric Battle's art is an unfortunate demerit; as noted above, he doesn't capture the Aquman-tangled-in-lasso moment at all and in general his panels don't tell the story; you could redialogue this tale into almost anything. The load is left upon Priest to carry the tale with his scripting and, fortunately, Priest was (and is) a fantastic scripter. The art isn't up to the same standard as Cary Nord in "the Game," but this is a minor triumph in Priest's bibliography. This one was definitely worth unearthing!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

"There's all kinds of ghosts. I'm not one who particularly likes to show off." The Phantom#1 review

At the same time I was in the shop to pick up Q2: The Return of Quantum & Woody#1, I saw something else on the stands which seemed to be the perfect companion: The Phantom#1 from Hermes Press.

I had thought the Phantom's rights were currently tied up with Dynamite Entertainment, but somehow Hermes - who have been reprinting the character's earlier comic strip & comic book adventures - have landed this limited series. And its connection to Quantum & Woody? It's drawn by Sal Velluto, Priest's longest (and greatest) collaborator on Marvel's Black Panther. Also, I suppose, the author is Peter David, whom Priest helped get started in comics. There, I've played my "six degrees of Priest" game.

Being a Peter David-scripted comic book, you can expect the characters will mouth glib dialogue; they do. Being a Sal Velluto-drawn comic book, you can also expect lushly-rendered scenery and believeable people; they are. It appears to be set during the same timeframe as the original comic strips (not having read the early strips, I wouldn't know for sure). The Phantom's wife Diana is a major character, giving David the kind of strong female lead he enjoys writing. All the trappings of the Phantom are here: the jungles, the pirates, the unapologetically garish purple bodysuit (compare to how ashamed the 2009 TV movie was of his visual), the horse Hero and wolf Devil - and there's someone lurking in the periphery of the story who might be Tarzan (or a Tarzan analog).

Velluto remains a gorgeous artist, here providing his own inks; the two-page recount of the Phantom's origin is, on its own, a triumph. I'm very pleased to see both Priest & Velluto on the stands again (even if they aren't together) and I'll be interested to see where this Phantom mini series goes.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"Buffer zone! Buffer!!" Q2: The Return of Quantum & Woody #1 review

When the revived Valiant Comics announced they would be bringing back the series Quantum & Woody, but without creators Christopher Priest & Mark Bright, my reaction wavered somewhere between "what's the point?" and "this is disgrace." Creators and their interpretations of characters come and go; sometimes in comics, the character's creator is not the person who develops the definitive version of that character. And yet, Quantum & Woody is a Priest/Bright comic book. You could plug in any talented creators and tell decent stories, but you would be stripping away the particularly unique vision Priest had in the original 1990s series.

It would be easy to see Quantum & Woody as a super hero comedy series, or as a satire of the genre. In part, that's true, but there's a particular style Priest used to tell his stories; his Quantum & Woody seemed to be super heroes in a world which didn't really have a use for them; Quantum in particular was earnest and intelligent about his goal to fight crime, yet the tropes which normally make crime-fighting for super heroes easy, never quite clicked (consider how infrequently the duo actually/successfully fought criminals in the series). Eric & Woody's deep, lengthy bond of mutual loathing made it a perfect companion to Priest & Bright's Power Man & Iron Fist.

Fortunately, Valiant seems willing to do right by Priest & Bright, hence the recent release of Q2: The Return of Quantum & Woody#1, reuniting the creators with their creations in a project which seems to exist in the original Valiant universe, rather than the one where "I can't believe it's not Priest & Bright's Quantum & Woody!" reside. Predictably, Priest has chosen to pick up where he left off - resuming the character's lives in the present, that is (just as an earlier semi-cancellation caused Priest to skip months ahead into the story).

In this future, Eric & Woody have drifted apart somehow and neither one is an active super hero. And yet, there's still a Quantum & Woody out there (in what seems to be a metatextual reference to "Store Brand Quantum & Woody"). Woody goes investigating and winds up waging a war of insults with the new Woody. As before, the story also breaks to visit Eric & Woody's childhood and there's a quick recap of their origin for latecomers. That said, anyone who hasn't read Priest & Bright's Quantum & Woody before would do better to begin with the original stories (collected into trades & digital copies by Valiant) rather than start here; you can follow the story, but you might not get it.

Considering Priest & Bright have been away from comics for awhile, it's astounding to see how easily they slip right back into their roles. I've enjoyed the smooth, round lines in Bright's art for ages, yet he seems better than ever here (perhaps some of the credit belongs to inker Dexter Vines?). And while some authors simply become parodies of themselves with age, Priest seems content to satirize everything (himself included).

Although I would be happy to see Priest & Bright continue to tell Quantum & Woody stories beyond this limited series, frankly I'd be content simply to see Priest & Bright at work somewhere in this medium. These jokers are as good as they've ever been, yet they've created barely any comics in the last decade! Comics industry: go stand in the corner and think about what you've done, then offer them all the money in the bank before they drift away again!