Friday, June 29, 2018

JAMES BOND NEWSPAPER STRIPS PART 3

“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” | “DR. NO”
February 1st, 1960 - October 1st, 1960
Written by Peter O'Donnell & Henry Gammidge | Illustrated by John McLusky

James Bond's fifth and sixth adventures were adapted into the film series' second and first movies, respectively -- and as a result, the big screen versions of DR. NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE may be the most faithful of all the entries in the series.

There are differences, certainly -- both movies feature the organization SPECTRE in some form or another, while SPECTRE does not yet exist in the novel/comic strip source material. The movie version of DR. NO also introduces Felix Leiter, who is nowhere to be seen in the book, and who Bond had actually already met three times previously in the original continuity(CASINO ROYALE, LIVE AND LET DIE, and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER). There are also additional "conquests" for Bond and an extra action set-piece or two in the movies -- but aside from all these relatively minor discrepancies, and aside from the flipped order, the film versions of both stories match up very cleanly with the originals.


In FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, the Russian intelligence agency SMERSH decides to demonstrate its power by killing a British secret agent, and settles on Bond, using a secretary named Tania Romanova as bait. Romanova states that she will defect in Turkey and will bring the Soviet cipher device, the SPEKTOR, with her -- but she will surrender herself only to Bond, with whom she's fallen in love via his dossier. Admittedly, the setup to the film version is different -- where here, it's SMERSH alone after Bond, partly due to his foiling some of their prior operations, in the movie it's SPECTRE manipulating SMERSH so they themselves can steal the cipher device (known in the movie as the LEKTOR rather than the SPEKTOR for obvious reasons).

Monday, June 25, 2018

WONDER WOMAN #9

“BLOOD OF THE CHEETAH”
Plot & Layouts: George Pérez | Script: Len Wein | Finishes: Bruce D. Patterson
Letterer: John Costanza | Colorist: Tatjana Wood | Editor: Karen Barger
Thanks to: Bob Smith

The Plot: Chuma performs a ceremony on Barbara Minerva. The next day, Diana and Myndi Mayer visit Doctor Minerva at her hotel, where the doctor unwittingly touches Diana’s lasso and reveals that she lied about possessing a second Girdle of Gaia. Diana leaves, horrified that a fellow woman would deceive her.

Later, Minerva transforms into the Cheetah. As Diana sleeps beneath a tree on Julia Kapatelis’s property, the Cheetah attacks. Cheetah seem to have the upper hand until Julia arrives with a hunting rifle and shoots her, knocking into the lake. Diana searches for her beneath the water, but there is no body to be found.

Diana decides the time has come to leave Man’s World and return to Paradise Island. She bids Julia and Vanessa farewell, and departs.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: We’re reminded again about the “Wonder Woman Tour” which has seen Diana traveling the world as a goodwill ambassador… which of course begs the question, if she’s making such highly publicized travels, why has Clark Kent had such a difficult time tracking her down? If Superman wants a date with Wonder Woman, all he has to do is turn on the TV to find out where she is, then fly there!

The Cheetah apparently gets her power from the tree she brought to the United States, which narration seems to imply is actually some ancient god in Earthly form. Also, Chuma refers to Cheetah as the last of her kind, but what that kind is goes unrevealed.

Friday, June 22, 2018

JAMES BOND NEWSPAPER STRIPS PART 2

“MOONRAKER” | “DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER”
March 30th, 1959 - January 30th, 1960
Written by Henry Gammidge | Illustrated by John McLusky

Last week I touched on the Bond film producers occasionally removing scenes from certain big screen adaptations, only to insert them into subsequent movies later on. This week we'll note how the producers would occasionally discard an Ian Fleming story entirely, keeping the name and perhaps the names of certain characters, but otherwise coming up with an entirely new story.

"Moonraker" is a great example of this. The movie, released in 1979 as the twelfth film in the series, is a globetrotting adventure which sees Bond travel from England to California to South America to outer space, accompanied by beautiful CIA agent Holly Goodhead, in search of a missing space shuttle. The novel, published in 1955 as the third book in the series (and of which this strip is a faithful adaptation), is set entirely in and around London and sees Bond playing undercover detective as he works with beautiful Scotland Yard officer Gala Brand to determine who has murdered the head of security at a private rocket complex.


So... yeah. It's clear that by the Roger Moore era, the Bond film producers had found a formula that worked, and were unwilling to deviate from it at all, even if it meant coming up with a new story from whole cloth and slapping the title of an existing book on it. The only commonality between both the MOONRAKER film and book is the name of the villain, Hugo Drax -- and even then, it's literally only the name which holds. The Drax in the movie is a sinister American businessman. The Drax in the book (and comic strip) is a German posing as a Briton in order to launch his rocket at London and avenge the loss of World War II.

Monday, June 18, 2018

SUPERMAN #10

“THE SUPER MENACE OF METROPOLIS”
Story & Pencils: John Byrne | Inks: Karl Kesel
Coloring: Tom Ziuko | Lettering: John Costanza | Editing: Michael Carlin

The Plot: At the Daily Planet, Clark Kent’s X-Ray vision acts up, followed by his heat vision. He hurries out of the building and into the sky, where he’s attacked by a being calling itself Klaash. Superman battles Klaash, but his malfunctioning powers lay waste to Metropolis in the process.

Finally, when he realizes that Klaash isn’t visible to anyone other than him, Superman deduces that Lex Luthor has been using a satellite to make his powers act up. He disables the satellite and returns to Luthor, than brings Luthor to Maggie Sawyer for questioning—but when Luthor’s attorney reveals that the satellite and Klaash project were manufactured legally as part of a government contract, and when Luthor accepts partial responsibility for the incident and promises to repair all damages, Maggie has no choice but to let him go.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Clark recalls that his battle with Rampage was ten days ago, and wonders if all the excess energy he absorbed from her is the cause of his power fluctuations.

For those keeping track of time passage, recall that three days passed at the end of the Rampage issue, during which the “Pocket Universe Saga” took place. Which means that in the past seven days, Superman has (at least according to the story order presented in the MAN OF STEEL trade paperbacks) fought the Fearsome Five, teamed up with the Metal Men, battled Doctor Stratos, fought the Joker, been involved with Luthor's plot to turn troubled teens into a criminal army, and been captured by Sleez. But of course, a week passed during the Fearsome Five story, which presumably means all this other stuff took place in between the cracks of that story, even though none of it was mentioned (since it hadn't happened yet).

Sunday, June 17, 2018

THE UNBOXING - JUNE 2018

No new books this month; just a brief Digital Unboxing. Last month, Comixology ran a big sale on "Young Readers" material from Dark Horse, and around the same time there was a Dark Horse 50% off coupon as well -- so, at the recommendation of several posts on the Marvel Masterworks Message Board, I doubled the sales up and purchased eight volumes of the USAGI YOJIMBO SAGA -- which is every volume in that series printed to date, covering more than 150 issues, plus some specials and the like. I've had mild interest in Stan Sakai's samurai rabbit epic for several years, and now I finally own a massive chunk of it -- though when I'll actually settle down to read this stuff is anybody's guess.


(Also, I've learned that there was an earlier USAGI YOJIMBO series which lasted thirty-eight issues and whose reprint rights currently lie with Fantagraphics rather than Dark Horse -- so whenever I finally get to USAGI, it will certainly not be until after there's a Fantagraphics sale allowing me to pick up the eight volumes covering that series as well.)

Friday, June 15, 2018

JAMES BOND NEWSPAPER STRIPS PART 1

“CASINO ROYALE” | “LIVE AND LET DIE”
JULY 7TH, 1958 - March 29th, 1959
Written by Anthony Hern & Henry Gammidge | Illustrated by John McLusky

The comic strip adventures of James Bond begin, as they did in novel format, with "Casino Royale", a tale that sees British agent Bond dispatched to the French town of Royale-les-Eaux with a mission to gamble in high-stakes baccarat against Le Chiffre, a Frenchman in the employ of Soviet spy organization SMERSH. It seems Le Chiffre lost the Russians some money, which he now intends to win back on penalty of death -- and Bond's job is to see to it that he fails in this last-ditch gamble to save his own life.


It's kind of impressive how closely to the original novel the Daniel Craig CASINO ROYAL film hewed. As noted on Sunday, I did read the first three Bond novels a few years ago, and with them reasonably fresh in memory, I can say that this adaptation is quite faithful -- and that, aside from the entire first act, which fills in a lot of background for Bond's mission, such as how the secret service learns of Le Chiffre and his intentions, the movie follows the plot of the book very closely as well.

And that plot is relatively simple: Bond arrives in Royale-les-Eaux, is joined in his mission by assistant Vesper Lynd, French operative Rene Mathis, and CIA agent Felix Leiter, survives a handful of assassination attempts, defeats Le Chiffre, is kidnapped and tortured for his trouble, sees Le Chiffre assassinated by SMERSH, recuperates in the hospital, vacations with Vesper, falls in love with her, and then finds her dead of suicide, having left a note explaining she's actually a double-agent for the Russians.

Monday, June 11, 2018

ACTION COMICS #592 & #593

“…A WALK ON THE DARKSIDE!” | “THE SUICIDE SNARE”
Story, Pencils, & Figure Inks: John Byrne | Background Inks: Keith Williams
Lettering: John Costanza | Coloring: Tom Ziuko | Editing: Michael Carlin & Andrew Helfer

The Plot: (issue 592) Big Barda, former agent of Darkseid now living on Earth, is captured by a creature from Apokolips called Sleez, who uses her purloined mega-rod and his own power of suggestion to take mental control of her.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent visits a hospital in Suicide Slum, where he learns that a number of patients have lived well past the average life expectancy. Noticing unusual radiation on the patients with his super-vision, Clark changes to Superman and heads out to investigate. The radiation leads the Man of Steel to Sleez’s sewer lair, but a misunderstanding leads to a brief skirmish between Barda and Superman, allowing Sleez to drop them both down a trap door.

(issue 593) Mister Miracle and his assistant, Oberon, return to their home to find Miracle’s wife, Barda, missing, and Darkseid lounging in the living room. Darkseid shows Miracle a salacious videotape starring Barda, and explains that it was purchased in Suicide Slum. Meanwhile, Sleez visits a pornographer named Grossman, selling him on the idea of a sex video starring Superman and Big Barda.

Mister Miracle evades Sleez’s gang of street thugs and arrives at Grossman’s office just as shooting begins on the super-porno. He breaks in, disrupting Sleez’s control over Barda and Superman. While Barda rescues Miracle from an Apokoliptic creature called an Ash-Crawler, Superman chases Sleez back into the sewers. But the villain chooses apparent death over capture, striking a match and causing a massive natural gas explosion.

Later, Clark visits the hospital once more, having deduced that Sleez “fed on human misery… but somehow… gave off the excess energy as pure life force,” which is what had kept the elderly patients alive. Expecting them to all be dead now that Sleez is gone, Clark is surprised and troubled to find that the radiation still exists in their bodies, and that Sleez must therefore remain alive and at large.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

THE SUMMER OF 007

This summer season, we'll take a look at one of my favorite fictional characters in a format (and, in a way, in stories) where I've never seen him before.


I became a James Bond fan at a pretty young age. My dad was big into the movies, so I started watching them too whenever they aired on TV (one of the cable channels -- I think maybe it was TBS? -- used to do a Bond marathon every Thanksgiving, as I recall). These days I have pretty much all of the "classics" (Connery) memorized, and I'm pretty sharp when it comes to Moore and Craig, as well. Dalton and Brosnan, however, I think I've only seen one to two times each (though I did see all the Brosnans in theaters, at least).

Anyway -- over all these years of loving the character and watching the movies, I never looked at the source material, Ian Fleming's novels, until relatively recently. It was about two years ago that I found the full run of Bond novels free in Amazon's Kindle lending library, so I started checking them out with a plan to read every last one -- but I only made it through three before stopping, for whatever reason.

Which brings us to The Summer of 007. As I started getting into newspaper strips (which I may have mentioned here once or twice in the past), it came to my attention that Britain's Daily Express published a Bond strip for over twenty years, beginning in 1958 -- and that the first ten or so of those years were comprised of relatively faithful adaptations of Fleming's novels.

So here we are! Over the next several weeks, we'll look at eighteen of the strip's story arcs at a pace of approximately two arcs a week. I may not have read Fleming's actual books, but for me, at least for now, this will qualify as rectifying that oversight.

Friday, June 8, 2018

KELLY GREEN: THE COMIC-CON HEIST

By Leonard Starr & Stan Drake

Kelly Green's final adventures, while still dealing with some heavy material, turns out to be the most light-hearted, or perhaps least depressing, installment in her saga -- it even comes with a happy ending for our heroine (though we'll get to that in due time)!

The adventure begins as San Diego Police detective Gunther moonlights at the home of TV talk show host Dave Farrel in the capacity of a security guard. Gunther kills a robber in cold blood, then our tale moves into the story proper when Kelly is recruited to act as go-between for an art gallery looking to recover a million dollars worth of original comic strips. Kelly travels to San Diego with the museum's Gretchen, who gives our heroine a crash course in the history and value of sequential art.

At this point you may get the idea that this story is a big ol' love letter from Leonard Starr and Stan Drake to their profession, and you'd be a hundred percent right. Much of the action, as the title suggests, occurs at or adjacent to the San Diego Comic-Con. There's a scene where Gretchen shows Kelly around the Con, pointing out Drake's detailed likenesses of Will Eisner, Milton Caniff, Burne Hogarth, and Jack Kirby as they stand around chatting. Gretchen also introduces Kelly to Comic-Con co-founder Shel Dorf, and a brief conversation ensues.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

SUPERMAN #9 (BACKUP STORY)

It was brought to my attention by reader David P. in the comments to this past Monday's look at SUPERMAN #9 that I had not covered the issue's backup story, "Metropolis 900 Mi". I admitted that the Joker story felt a bit short to me when I read it, but I didn't actually go back to count pages and verify. Well, it turns out that this popular tale was inexplicably omitted from the MAN OF STEEL vol. 6 collection reprinting the issue! Not cool, DC. Not cool at all.

Anyway, I managed to find scans of all seven pages online, so here in a special Wednesday bonus post is the missing material from Monday's review:

“METROPOLIS 900 MI”
Story & Pencils: John Byrne | Inks: Karl Kesel
Letters: John Costanza | Colors: Tom Ziuko | Editors: Michael Carlin & Andrew Helfer

The Plot: At a small diner called Ralli's, nine hundred miles outside Metropolis, Lex Luthor presents a waitress named Jenny with an offer to move to the city with him for a month in exchange for one million dollars. Jenny chews Luthor out, but he tells her he'll be waiting in his car outside for ten minutes. The other waitresses discuss the offer with Jenny and, in their own ways, suggest she take it. Jenny makes a phone call to her husband, but hangs up before telling him anything -- then she's told by another waitress that Luthor has left before the ten minute deadline expired.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Luthor brags that he owns "ninety percent of the state" as he hits on Jenny. He also says that he's had eight wives -- something mentioned previously by Lois in THE MAN OF STEEL, but which I think I forgot to note here at the time.

At the story's conclusion, Luthor orders his driver, Cynthia, to return him to Metropolis and "Project Overload", which we'll learn more about when we get to SUPERMAN #10 in a couple weeks.

Monday, June 4, 2018

SUPERMAN #9 & ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #432

“TO LAUGH AND DIE IN METROPOLIS”
Story & Pencils: John Byrne | Inks: Karl Kesel
Letters: John Costanza | Colors: Tom Ziuko | Editors: Michael Carlin & Andrew Helfer

The Plot: A fake Superman robs the Metropolis Diamond Exchange. When Superman responds to the robbery, the imposter reveals itself as a robot with a nuclear bomb in its chest. Superman flies the robot into space, where it explodes, then returns to Metropolis to find that the Joker was behind the robbery. Joker calls on Superman with Jimmy Olsen’s signal watch, revealing that he’s captured, Jimmy, Perry White, and Lois Lane, and is holding them hostage in lead-lined coffins around the city. But Superman easily determines the coffins are empty, then tracks down the Joker, saves his friends, and brings the Clown Prince of Crime to jail.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Clark receives a package in the mail at the Daily Planet, containing his mother’s scrapbook which was stolen by agents of Lex Luthor in issue 2. Soon after, in Smallville, Lana Lang is approached by a strange probe which knocks her out.

Upon returning to Earth after disposing of the bomb, Superman attempts to fly and falls flat on his face, furthering the sub-plot about his powers periodically acting up.

Maggie Sawyer puts in an appearance, allowing Superman to explain to her that he and Batman are not friends. Moments later, Superman notes that Jimmy created his signal watch himself, and muses that the young man is destined for great things.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

WHAT DO COMIC BOOK PROFESSIONALS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT “NOT A HOAX”?

So John Byrne discovered my blog yesterday, and now I have a really awesome pull quote that I’m seriously considering putting up at the top of this thing!

Also, for what it’s worth: the main sticking point among Byrne and his forum members here with regards to my look at FANTASTIC FOUR 262 seems to be that I’m ignorant of the fact that stories published at the same time don’t need to take place at the same time. That’s not the case at all; it’s something I fully understand and embrace — except where actual continuity errors spring up, which is the case here.

See, Byrne’s trial of Reed Richards, depicted in that FF issue, was conceived in part due to a page in Chris Claremont’s UNCANNY X-MEN 167, in which Lilandra chastises Mister Fantastic for saving Galactus’s life some time earlier. At that point, Deathbird had usurped the Shi’ar throne (it’s noted in the same scene where Lilandra contacts Reed). But in Byrne’s story, which must take place afterward as it’s a direct continuation of this sub-plot established in the X-MEN issue, Lilandra still presents herself as the empress. This isn’t a case of me misunderstanding something; it’s a simple continuity glitch.

Anyway — if you’re reading, John, I’m still a fan.

Friday, June 1, 2018

KELLY GREEN: THE BLOOD TAPES

By Leonard Starr & Stan Drake

For a change, Kelly Green's life doesn't feel like a never-ending stream of agony and despair! It's not all roses, of course -- it never is. But at the least, her latest adventure, THE BLOOD TAPES, doesn't see her beaten, tortured, or plagued by the loss of a friend or loved one.

Our story begins as rock star Alec Blood lays down a track for his new album, then drives home and gets shot as he exits his car. Soon after, it's revealed that the tapes for what is now Alec's final album have been stolen and are being ransomed back to his record label for $500,000. But the company doesn't have cash to spare, so they make a deal with mob boss Tom Ragan to supply the funds. Naturally, Kelly is retained as the go-between, having apparently built a pretty good reputation since entering the business.

So Kelly flies to California for a meeting with the record execs, then moves on to Las Vegas to pick up the cash from Ragan. But she finds herself unexpectedly attracted to the mobster, who reminds her, in his own way, of her late husband. It's a similarity that even her friends, Spats and Meathooks, pick up on when they come to Vegas to try and talk Kelly out of doing business with Ragan. Once the well-meaning men realize there's a spark between Kelly and Ragan, they back off and return to New York, leaving Kelly on her own for the rest of her adventure.

As with the previous three stories, there's a bit of a mystery involved in this one -- namely, who killed Alec and stole the tapes? The answer turns out to be that it was two different parties, operating distinctly from one another, but this scarcely feels like any sort of revelation since no one in the story spends any time wondering about the questions. The mystery is more of an afterthought as the story concentrates mostly on Kelly's interactions with Tom Ragan.