Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sunday, July 22, 2012

In Search of "My Batman"...

Here's an update of a post from 2008...
Okay, I know Christopher Nolan Batman series is a top-notch film trilogy. It's got a talented cast, superb acting, incredible stunts, sate of the art effects, impeccable production values, and drama of epic proportions. Now having seen all three, you may ask "Did I enjoy them?" Well, let's just say I survived them. 
Let me start by saying I am a Batman fan from way back. I've been buying, collecting and reading Batman (and various other DC) comics since about 1972 - when I was 8 years old.
I have a collection of hundreds of Batman toys and trinkets. I grew up on the old BATMAN TV series (Aunt Harriet! Batgirl! Lola Lasagna!), the wooden Filmation cartoons of the late 60s and of course the various corny but fun incarnations of SUPERFRIENDS throughout the 70s and 80s.
Also along the way there was the ridiculous 1966 feature with much of the TV cast, the newer (and improved) Filmation series from the late 70s (even though that show brought us the dreaded Bat-Mite!)
and the various odd projects like LEGENDS OF THE SUPER-HEROES (yikes!) and the infamous guest spot on THE NEW SCOOBY-DOO MOVIES.
While Batman continued to be marketed to us 70s kids in every shape and form from Underoos to Ben Cooper Halloween costumes, some of the best Batman comics ever were be published by National Peroidical Publications, aka DC Comics. 
Great runs like the sophisticated and gothic Denny O'Neill/Neal Adams issues which introduced the darkly seductive Talia (as seen in THE DARK NIGHT RISES) and the bold Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers run in DETECTIVE COMICS (#469-476) which brought us the sexy and sultry Silver St. Cloud, were among the best and definitive interpretations. There was also some later good stuff in the early 80s from teams like Doug Moench/Don Newton and Mike W. Barr/Alan Davis. These were all "my Batman".
Along the way, there was some pretty dreadful stuff too, like most of WORLD'S FINEST and many BRAVE & THE BOLD outtings. Then came Frank Miller. 
Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and BATMAN: YEAR ONE (issues 404-407 of the BATMAN monthly) changed everything. These two grim and gritty bookend miniseries told the last and first Batman stories, setting the new standard for storytelling about the caped crusader and leaving other creators to fill in what happens in between. 
At the time, I thought both Miller's writing and artwork were refreshing and unique- but by the time he returned for a sequel, 2001's miserable and offensive THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN - I loathed both him and his style. His most recent Batman maxi-series (did it ever conclude??), ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER is pretty to look at (thanks to Jim Lee), but was not on my "must buy" list. Again, not "my Batman".
Tim Burton's BATMAN hit theaters in 1989, I was in fanboy heaven. Despite the miscasting of Michael (MR. MOM) Keaton as Bruce Wayne, there was finally a Batman that wasn't silly, corny and campy - though looking back, it might be after all. Then the dreadful Prince soundtrack kicked in. Ugh. But I liked it because there were lots of cool toys and other merchandise that I could buy and finally the Batman that I was reading about in the DC Universe kinda sorta existed elsewhere now.
Burton's sequel BATMAN RETURNS was a bit better, thanks to the Catwoman subplot...
and the great Siouxsie and the Banshees song "Face to Face" over the closing credits.
The less said about Joel Schumacher's BATMAN & ROBIN, BATMAN FOREVER and Pitof's (what the fuck kind of name is that?) ludicrous CATWOMAN the better. None of these were "my Batman" or "my Catwoman" - they were closer to being "My Little Pony".
Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and all it's various sequels were a lot closer to the Batman that I knew and loved, though I was not a fan of the futuristic and unneeded BATMAN BEYOND.

Another animated series called THE BATMAN ran from 2004-2006. I only saw a few episodes here and there. Looked okay, was a bit too Manga-oriented for my tastes.
Christopher Nolan's BATMAN BEGINS was a vast improvement upon the the Burton and Schumacher films - borrowing some elements from the O'Neill/Adams run. I was not and still am not impressed by the tank-like Batmobile. aka the Tumbler Definitely not "my Batmobile". I have only seen it BATMAN BEGINS once, and don't plan on watching it again any time soon, the same for the uber-popular sequel THE DARK KNIGHT. 
While die-hard fans of the 1960s ABC series wait for Fox and Warners Bros. to come to terms about releasing the show on DVD, Fox has released the 1966 theatrical film on blu-ray utilizing a deceptive DARK KNIGHT-themed advertising campaign. One wonders who might buy this expecting to see a grim and gritty Adam West.
The recent THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD animated series was pleasant and unxpected a return to "my Batman" - with great guest stars like Plastic Man, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, the Doom Patrol and the new Blue Beetle. The stories were smart, fun and placed the character firmly in a universe of super-powered friends and enemies that felt like the DC Universe I grew up loving.

As THE DARK NIGHT RISES continues it juggernaut across movie theater screens across the world, I wonder if there will ever be a film that lives up to the expectations that I have for "my Batman"...and will I ever see Aunt Harriet again?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Doc Savage - Part 4 Star of All Media

Today, I conclude my look at the history of Doc Savage, originally posted in April 2010.
Doc Savage starred in 2 radio series during the pulp era. The first was a 15-minute serial which ran for 26 episodes in 1934. A second series aired in 1943. No tapes exist from either series, although some scripts have been collected. In 1985, NPR aired The Adventures of Doc Savage, as 13 half-hour episodes.
In 1975 Doc finally made it to the big screen in a campy Warner Bros. feature that owed more to the BATMAN TV show than James Bond.

The film was released internationally and was supposed to launch a franchise, but it's lackluster performance put the kabosh on any hope of a sequel.

The posters were pretty sensational though.

TV Tarzan (and future FACE THE MUSIC and MISS AMERICA PAGEANT host) Ron Ely was cast as The Man of Bronze.

The film was released on VHS.

And was made available on DVD on demand through the Warner Archive Collection.
The movie is a mid-70s curiosity, as is the soundtrack by John Philip Sousa!

As an addendum to my look at Doc in comics, you may want to check out Wildstorm's brilliant PLANETARY series, which featured a thinly disguised homage to Savage named Alex Brass. That's all I've got on Doc, hopefully someone out there appreciated this exhaustive (and exhausting) look that the classic pulp character. I know I enjoyed pulling it all together!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Doc Savage - Part 3 The Cape-free Crusader

From April 2010: Continuing my look at the history of Doc Savage, today let's look at the many comic book lives of the character.
In this Gold Key issue from the 60s, Doc wraps his hands around a spitting cobra! Get you minds out of the gutter!
Doc headed over to Marvel in the early 70s with an all-new series done in the mighty Marvel style.
Readers (such as I) were introduced to Doc's team of fearless friends in this campy take on the character.
Doc is depicted as a "heart-stopping sight" - and his costume consists of tight white slacks and a skimpy black leather vest.
The text page in Issue #1 goes into detail about Doc's loyal teammates: Monk, Ham, Long Tom, Renny and Johnny!
Issue #2 featured the fearsome foe called The Feather Serpent!
Some dude called Silver Death was the villain in Issue #3.
Doc went topless and took on the Hell Diver in #4.
And then he faced the Night of the Monsters in Issue #6.
A giant sized adaptation of Warner Bros.' feature film  DOC SAVAGE: MAN OF BRONZE  followed. (More on the movie tomorrow!)
And oddest of all, Doc teamed up with The Fantastic Four's very own Thing in MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE.
A magazine-sized movie tie-in featured this iconographic image of Doc in all his manliness.
Doc donned rocket-powered skis for this magazine-sized adventure, but his tenure at Marvel was nearing it's end.

Years later, Doc & company showed up at DC, starring in an acclaimed four-part miniseries (recently collected into a trade paperback. Oddly enough, DC will be soon reprinting the Marvel stories in another trade collection).
A monthly series followed and ran for a while, but soon Doc was in comic book limbo once more.
Next he resurfaced in a short-lived series from an indie publisher called Millennium.
The homoerotic covers continued to follow Doc during this brief run.
So, that brings us right back to DC, where the new DOC SAVAGE comic debuted in April 2010. Doc also recently teamed up with Batman in a one-shot special and was featured in a miniseries called FIRST WAVE, which I covered in my tribute to Rima, the Jungle Girl. Come back tomorrow for my final Doc post.