Sunday 28 May 2017

Batman by Steranko

I've recently joined a Facebook group called Illustration Art Archives which is a wonderful resource for images from all different times and places. Sometimes comic book images are posted there and yesterday I came across this stunning Batman illustration by Jaunty Jim Steranko and knew it was destined for TGW-S. Apparently this was a variant cover for issue 33 of Detective Comics, part of the much-maligned DC New 52 revamp in 2014.
This lovely image got me thinking how cool it would have been if Steranko had worked for DC back in the 1970s and had drawn a Batman strip instead of moving into publishing. Of course, the Jaunty One was never too good with deadlines and his lovingly-rendered, time-consuming style just about functioned for 10 page strips in Strange Tales but I'm sure would never have withstood the deadening grind of 20-page monthly comics. Still, it's a nice idea...
Here's the actual cover to the comic...
This is a classic take on Batman, with our hero ( yes, he was a hero at one point before he became a psychopath... ) battling mobsters against a typically Gothic Gotham backdrop of Art Deco buildings and cloud-shrouded moon. The only real problem for me in this composition ( apart from the bloody awful logo which isn't Steranko's fault ) is the hooded, er, hood at the bottom right who seems to be looking in completely the wrong direction. You'll never shoot Bats like that, buddy! I suppose it could be argued that Batman swung in so fast that the bad guy was left pointing his gun at the spot where he first saw the Caped Crusader... but I think it's probably more down to Steranko's occasionally wobbly sense of human anatomy. But, for all that, it's a lovely, retro piece in Steranko's often-imitated but never-equalled style.
And, as a Batman Bonus, here's the cover of the original Golden Age Detective Comics #33 from way back in 1939:

Sunday 21 May 2017

Rich Buckler

Following the sad news of comic artist Rich Buckler's untimely death there are many excellent tributes to the man on the net so I won't attempt anything like that here, but I thought I'd just post some of my favourite pieces of his artwork. Above is the one and only issue of his creation Demon Hunter from Atlas Comics, September 1975. This was a very promising supernatural / super hero hybrid which I'm sure could have done very well in the era of Swamp Thing, Ghost Rider et al but which unfortunately disappeared along with its publisher. Buckler, never one to give up on an idea, later recycled the character as Devil Slayer for Marvel.

I've posted the two images above before ( from Fantastic Four no. 142 ) but they're worth repeating because they show Buckler at the top of his game, adapting his chameleonic style to that of Jack Kirby's quintessential Marvel idiom. And, of course, Joe Sinnott's inking helps immeasurably with that.
And here's another graet Fantastic Four cover, depicting one of THE classic Thing / Hulk smack-downs in a suitably Marvel-ous way.
I'll finish with a page of Buckler's pencils from a 1996 Captain America one-shot called The Medusa Legacy as a fine reminder that Rich Buckler was a consummate story-teller. In an age of often self-indulgent, flashy artists who were more concerned with innovative panel arrangements or cosmic spectacle, Rich Buckler was a master of continuity  -  his layouts and finished artwork always clear, concise and readable, with everything perfectly poised to further the story. This is a skill that many modern comic book artists seem to have lost but Rich Buckler had running through his veins.

RIP Rich and thanks for all the wonderful memories...

( All images above are from my own collection apart from the last one which I nicked from Twomorrows' Comic Book Artist no. 7, Feb 2000. If you're interested in 1970s Marvel this is a wonderful resource, featuring great interviews with comic creators from the time and some lovely artwork such as the piece above. Track it down, you won't regret it. )

Friday 19 May 2017

Doctor Who: Series 10 Catch Up

As has been pointed out to me by certain fellow bloggers ( initials KR and JP  -  who else? ) I've been neglecting the good Doctor's latest adventures so I'll do a very quick run down of my thoughts on the recent crop of stories, starting with
In the second episode of the series the Doctor takes Bill on her first proper Tardis journey into the future. They arrive at a human colony on a distant world which seems like a paradise... except there aren't any colonists. It turns out the AI that have been sent on ahead of the first settlers have gone haywire and have been using their seemingly-cute "Emojibots" to turn colonists into fertilizer.
This episode is designed to give the Doctor and Bill a chance to get to know each other while investigating this deserted world. There's some lovely location footage here ( filmed at Valencia's beautiful City of Arts and Sciences ) and some interesting moments between the two leads as Bill starts to figure out who the Doctor is and what he does. Unfortunately, there's not a lot else going on  -  the threat is never very convincing and the story-telling energy levels have dropped significantly since the first episode, so I'll give this a lukewarm Three Out Of Five Sonic Screwdrivers ( or Smiley Faces )
Thin Ice
The third episode is much better. Another fine script from promising newcomer Sarah Dollard
 ( author of last series' Face The Raven ) which sends our Time Lord and friend back to Regency England and the last of the great Frost Fairs. People have been disappearing in mysterious circumstances and something extremely fishy is going on underneath the frozen Thames.
This episode is a delight  -  lots of convincing period detail, some excellent effects and more charming moments between the Doctor and Bill. Underlying all this are themes of capitalism and racism which give the story some backbone... and give Peter Capaldi as the Doctor the chance to rail against the evils that men do ( always worse than the aliens ) and to actually punch out a bigoted capitalist fop. Well, he did once describe the character as 100% Rebel Time Lord. The only slight let down is the actual monster  -  a supposedly huge sea-serpent which, when finally revealed, is about as frightening as a fish finger. But, never mind, this is a wonderfully old-fashioned Who adventure with some modern twists which I'll award Four Out Of Five Sonic Screwdrivers ( or fish tails )
Knock Knock
There have been a few "haunted house" stories in Nu Who and the production teams always seem to find a new take on the old trope. In this episode, Bill and some friends are looking for student digs and end up in a creepy house, owned by an even creepier landlord ( the fantastic David Suchet ) who has no intention of letting them leave. There's something lurking in the walls of this creaky old building and Bill and her housemates are on its menu...
Another cracking ( and creaking ) episode with some genuinely spooky moments  -  especially if you have a phobia of insects en masse which Sarah certainly has ( she had to cover her eyes a few times during this one )  -  and an eerie but beautiful "monster" with a tragic secret. Capaldi and Suchet both give it the full thespian treatment and there's plenty of awkward humour in Bill's relationship with the Doctor  -  here more parent and child than teacher and pupil.
This one rates a Four Out Of Five Sonic Screwdrivers ( or creaky floorboards )
Probably my favourite so far, this episode has a take-no-prisoners script from the ever-challenging Jamie Mathieson, some proper science fiction concepts, beautiful special effects and some real jeopardy for the Doctor, Bill and Nardole. ( Yep, Nardole has a proper role in this story and Matt Lucas does a great job in showing the real person behind Nardole's bumbling facade. I have to admit I really misjudged him and he's growing on me episode by episode. )
The story is set on a mining station in deep space ( no, not Red Dwarf ) where evil capitalists ( see a theme here? ) are now even exploiting the very air we breathe and not even the dead are beyond the bosses' control.
A tense, claustrophobic episode with some beautifully played scenes by the main cast ( especially Pearl Mackie who knocks it out of the park ) and top-notch direction from Charles Palmer, this is sure to be seen as a classic in years to come. And that cliffhanger! Excellent stuff.
I'll give this one a breath-taking Four And A Half Out Of Five Sonic Screwdrivers

And still another 7 episodes to go this series! If this momentum can be maintained, Capaldi will definitely go out on a high...

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Recent Movies: Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Beauty And The Beast and more...

Hello blogosphere. ( Hello yourself. ) First of all, my apologies to the approximately two and a half people who still visit this 'ere blog  -  the frequency of posts here has yet again slipped to a level somewhere in between pathetic and non-existent. Anyway, for my sins I'm going to test the waters of the blog-ocean again by quickly running through some recently-watched movies, starting with...
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2
The first outing for these interplanetary A-holes was a surprise hit and one of the freshest, funniest and most colourful takes on the super hero genre in a long time. This sequel, while inevitably short of the novelty factor of seeing talking raccoons and anthropomorphic trees in outer space for the first time, is still loads of cosmic fun. There's little in the way of plot  -  our anti-heroes again save the galaxy, while at the same time managing to piss off just about everybody around them, and Star Lord's dad turns out to be a psychotic living planet ( it's that kind of film )  -  but most of the enjoyment comes from the sheer, exuberant spectacle and the priceless interactions of the bickering but lovable main characters. And it's great to see Karen Gillan and ( especially ) Michael Rooker getting a chance to flesh out Nebula and Yondu. Hopefully we may get some similar character development for Rocket in the inevitable threequel. The only real let-down for me is the obligatory third-act CGI-fest, during which my mind started to wander back to the boring old real world, resulting in me giving the movie a still pretty cosmic Three And A Half Out Of Five...
Beauty And The Beast
Disney's programme of live action remakes of classic cartoons reaches 1991's Beauty And The Beast. The original was the immediate successor to The Little Mermaid, Disney's return to greatness after years of mediocrity, and I can well remember seeing it in the old Gloucester cinema with Sarah. It became an instant favourite, winning us over with its charm, colour and memorable songs. So,what of the new version?
Well, technically it's a triumph  -  the sets, costumes and effects ( apart from a couple of dodgy "Beast" moments ) are all superb and the songs still retain all their charm ( there's that word again ) and vibrancy. Luke Evans enjoys himself hugely in full-on Panto mode as bully Gaston, Dan Stevens acquits himself well from behind his CGI shell and there's twinkling support from Kevin Kline as Belle's father. Ah yes, Belle. I must say I'm always a fan of Emma Watson and her ongoing journey from the over-enunciating moppet in the early Harry Potter films to the educated activist and occasional actor of today. But I think she's miscast here -  not "wooden" as she's been rather cruelly dubbed in some quarters but a mite too subtle for what is basically a cartoon character. Much as I hate to say it, but the projecting-to-the-back-of-the-theatre Emma of old may have been more suitable.
Beauty And The Beast is good, old-fashioned fun but there is a niggling feeling that this remake ( where most of the creative decisions were made over a quarter of a century ago ) is pretty pointless. I'll give it a beastly Three Out Of Five...
( Could you get any two more contrasting movies? ) This is the Oscar-winning story of a young African American's struggles as he grows up a victim of prejudice in a crack-riddled Miami ghetto. And it's not as grim as it sounds, honest. Moonlight is often quite moving and profound, while also surprisingly beautiful, considering the brutal upbringing of its main character, Chiron. He is portrayed by three different actors through three different stages of his life  -  childhood, adolescence and mid-twenties manhood. The two younger actors ( Alex Hibbert and Ashton Sanders ) are both astonishing, often working with very little dialogue, communicating Chiron's joys and pains mostly with their eyes. The oldest version of the character, played by Trevante Rhodes, is the least successful, mostly because Chiron at this point has sunk into a stereotyped "Gangsta" lifestyle and his struggle to reconcile this with his long-suppressed sexuality seems beyond the ability of the movie-makers to convey. And, to be honest, the last third of the movie really drags. Anyway, it's always good to see something slightly out of your comfort zone, so thanks to my good friend and fellow blogger Tom Wiggins for dragging me along to this film, which I will have to give an aspirational Three And A Half Out Of Five...
La La Land
Purely by chance I saw this and Moonlight back to back  -  the two films at the heart of that ridiculous Oscar ceremony cock-up. La La Land ( in case you didn't know  -  where have you been, on Mars? ) is a wonderful, pitch-perfect tribute to classic Hollywood musicals. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play two Dream Factory hopefuls  -  him a musician, her an actress  -  who meet in a car jam on the LA Freeway and, after the inevitable distrust and irritation at first, eventually fall in love. This is a bittersweet tale of success and failure in the unforgiving entertainment industry, where a happy ending is never guaranteed. Gosling and Stone are endlessly watchable and have an almost superhuman chemistry which fizzes from the screen when they're together. Everything about this movie  -  the songs, the routines, dialogue, cinematography  -  is a delight and it became an instant favourite for me, Sarah AND James on just one viewing. La La Love It!
A dazzling Four And A Half Out Of Five
( I'm only docking it half a point because our viewing experience was marred by our local Cineworld's inability to project a film in focus. It looked fuzzy when it should have been pin-sharp, which really annoyed. A few other people mentioned this too, so it wasn't just my fading eyesight. I complained to the staff but nothing was done. Grrrr! Maybe when I see the movie on Blu-Ray I'll award it the full Five... )

Soundtrack: loads of songs by the amazing Robyn Hitchcock, including stuff from his new, self-titled album. I really need to buy that.


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