Archive for September, 2011

Review by C.J. Bunce

(with spoilers)

Writer Tony S. Daniel may have created a nearly perfect origin story, although it actually starts at the end for Hawkman, and we don’t really know the origin of his powers.  But if this is the first issue of Hawkman you ever read, you will be instantly hooked, just as this reader was.

Hawkman was that stoic hero that stood in the background of full-scale Justice League adventures.  He and Hawkgirl always looked cool, quick to sweep into the scene with full wings spread, ready for any brawl.  One of my favorite exchanges in recent Green Arrow stories is a presumed argument between resurrected Green Arrow and Hawkman in Green Arrow 12 that turns into a full-on laugh fest/yuk it up at the expense of Dinah Lance/Black Canary.  Here is Matt Wagner’s original artwork for that issue:

And let’s face it, Hawkman has always had one of the best costumes around.  How many people have doodled this guy in the margin of papers in school?

But a series all his own?  And why is he “savage” Hawkman?

Even a comic book of 24 pages sometimes takes a few sittings.  You want to give every page its due.   And for $2.99 you’ve got to get as much bang for your buck as possible.  Savage Hawkman #1 is a one-sitting read, not because it is a “quick read” but because you just can’t put it down.

The story starts at The End.  Actually the end for whatever came before, as Hawkman has evidently experienced all he can take and is ready to throw in the towel.  But something called the Nth metal will not let him leave.  It keeps pulling him back in.

Hawkman is really Carter Hall, a linguistics expert/Eqyptologist whose name instantly conjures the ghost of Howard Carter (the Eqyptologist who discovered King Tut).  In trying to burn his very awesome Hawkman super suit, the suit has different ideas.  Carter wants to kill Hawkman.  But he can’t.  It won’t let him.  Flash forward.  A team.  An archaeological dig.  Aliens?  We need to call in the expert.  No one knows where he is?  Find him.  Mummified aliens.  Wait a second, they’re not dead?  And in nice Incredible Hulk-like fashion we find out what happened to the super suit.  Don’t make him angry.  You won’t like him when he’s angry.   (We do).  And the result is even cooler than we thought.  Where can we get some of that Nth metal anyway?

Tony Daniel described Hawkman as “Indiana Jones fighting alien threats.”  That’s pretty good.  You’ve gotta love when the creators know their character and want to bring out the best in that character.  Philip Tan’s painterly art has great style.  I don’t know whether it is because Hawkman looks so much like Warlord, but Tan’s style reminds me of Mike Grell.  Hard to beat a comparison like that.  For anyone with no background on Hawkman, this would be a good first comic book to pick up and plunge right in.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

It’s like a film noir for super folk.  Just saying that, without even opening the book to one of the well-drawn pages, you can see them in your mind’s eye, pulling on a cigarette and blowing out the smoke or casually cutting into a bloody rare T-bone and thoughtfully chewing between each sentence detailing how they got to where they are.  In addition to dames and money, it adds something more mysterious, something more powerful and every bit as tragic.

I recommend Sleeper: Season 1.  Pick it up.  Read it.  It holds up seven years later and it holds up to a second read.  Probably a third one as well.  Don’t believe me?  Eh, go to hell.

You’re still with me?  Good.  You can get all of what I said in the pages of the trade paperback as you sit in your comfy chair, immune to the ills of the world since you got a roof over your head and money to spend on comic books.  It sure as hell can’t make you any softer boyo.  The story’s all there, maybe the second most famous Holden serving as a double agent and trying to figure out the madness of his underworld boss.  Pretty simple stuff.  The twist?

Every instance of pain inflicted on Holden, no matter how deadly, can be transmitted in the same magnitude to whomever he touches.

Don’t tell me that power is not one for a bad guy.  He doesn’t feel his own pain.  He makes you do it for him.  You’ll die so that he can live.

That’s about as anti-Christ as they come.

As you read, the other villains in the upper echelons of this criminal organization slowly start to reveal their powers.  I won’t spoil them for you, but let’s just say they would only work for bad guys as well.  What polite society would consider bad at least, but I guess it depends on the society you keep.  For you, enjoying your iced tea and slab of pizza as you watch another episode of Spongebob, yeah, it’s bad.

So, it got me to thinking.  Do the powers that you have automatically make you good or evil?  Nah, that’s too simple.  We know the world has a lot more shades of grey than that don’t we boyo?  Still, would it be better to have any random power as a hero or villain?  Let me take you on a quick ride to the country and we can talk about it as we drive.


If the villains can’t hurt you, a hero can use less force to bring them to justice.  Kill or be killed isn’t the equation since one side is an impossibility.  On the other side, invulnerability means that the good guys can’t hurt you so that you can take more risks.  Jump into an active volcano.  Plunge off a 100-story building.  Hide on the bottom of the sea.

So, on one side, a bunch of villains can have fun, the hero can let them feel they’re doing well while they wail on his invulnerable self and he or she just waits until they tucker themselves out and he takes them off to jail for a nice nap.  It’s like being Dad to a world of super-powered three-year-olds.

On the other side, maybe a villain robs all the rich folks camping up on the side of Mount Everest, climbs to the top and sleds to the bottom, creating the single steepest, greatest thrill ride of all time.  Our villain dusts herself off, walks down to the sea and figures she’ll use her ill-gotten gains for Cuba Libres and helicopter lessons.

Advantage: Villain.


With the omnipresence of porn on the Internet, being a villain and sneaking into locker rooms just doesn’t hold the cachet it used to.  Riding an ant into battle?  If horses are smelly, ill-tempered beasts, I can’t say that riding an ant would be much better.  Stop, miscreant, or you’ll step on me doesn’t even put the fear of Tom Hanks into a person.  I guess these heroes and villains will always have reconnaissance and espionage.  Then again, that’s Archer’s realm, so they’ll have to take a distant second.

Advantage: People without Internet that live near a gym.


You might immediately think this one would go to the villains, but you’d be wrong.  What does a villain have to think about?  Head or heart.  Head or heart.  That’s it.  A hero on the other hand, gets to aim at wooden cross beams at their weakest points, causing them to collapse on the stack of water-filled vats, spilling a tidal wave of water toward the inflated inner tubes, pushing them up into the sharp bowl of knives that cut a rope, releasing a crate of guitars that gently nudge the villain into a pit of extremely viscous pudding.  The hero becomes the star of their own OK Go video every time they fight crime.

Advantage: Hero.


The hero/villain becomes an entrepreneur/inventor.  If you wanted to be Ron Popeil all your life and created super juicers and vacuum cleaners that get the hard to reach dirt, well then, this is the super power for you.

Dolls that come to life?  Combination night vision goggles and underwater breathing apparatus?  A hot plate that can be thrown like a Frisbee?  What great Christmas gifts for only $19.99 plus shipping and handling.

Advantage: The ghost of Billy Mays.

So, that’s that, and lookee here.  I’ve driven to a nice deserted field.  Well, what’s this in my trunk but a shovel.  Didn’t you say you liked to dig?  You didn’t?  You better learn quick boyo.  Think of yourself as The Shoveler.

You shovel well.  You shovel very well, because I ain’t got all night.  While you dig, I’ll ponder to myself other superhero powers like power beams, adamantium claws and talking to the fishes in a non-concrete galoshes kind of way.  But in an hour we’ll both be done.  I need my beauty sleep.

This past weekend the state library of Kansas and first lady of Kansas, Mary Brownback, held the annual award ceremony for the Kansas Notable Book winners along with a new event promoting reading–the 2011 Kansas Book Festival.  Hundreds attended the event Saturday at the Kansas Historical Society in Topeka, which featured presentations by this year’s Notable Books honorees and a keynote address by David Eisenhower, grandson of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

This year’s Kansas Notable Book list of 15 books featured several non-fiction works, and also fiction works, including the high fantasy novel StarCrossed by contributor Elizabeth C. Bunce, who also won a Kansas Notable Book medal for her novel A Curse Dark as Gold, in 2009.  Here is her book with the Notable Books gold seal:

Other books named to the 2011 list are: Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber, Vintage Notions: An Inspirational Guide to Needlework, Cooking, Sewing, Fashion and Fun by Amy Barackman, And Hell Followed With It: Life and Death in a Kansas Tornado by Bonar Menninger, Appetite for America: Fred Harvey and the Business of Civilizing the Wild West–One Meal at a Time by Stephen Fried, Baking with Friends: Recipes, Tips and Fun Facts for Teaching Kids to Bake by Charlene Patton and Sharon Davis, Bound: A Novel by Antonya Nelson, A Distant Home by George Paris, Flyover People by Cheryl Unruh, Ghost Stories of the New West: From Einstein’s Brain to Geronimo’s Boots by Denise Low, Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project by Jack Mayer, Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, A Prairie Peter Pan: The Story of Mary White by Beverley Buller, Prairie Rhythms: The Life and Poetry of May Williams Ward by Lana Wirt Myers, and The Scent of Rain and Lightning: A Novel by Nancy Pickard.  The authors are pictured above with Roy Bird and Joanne Budler, from the state library and Kansas Center for the Book, and First Lady Mary Brownback.

“The State Library of Kansas appreciates this opportunity to recognize and celebrate Kansas’ rich literary heritage,” said State Librarian Joanne Budler.  “The Notable Books list captures the best work of our native sons and daughters, and truly captures our heritage–Kansas history, Kansas heroes and heroines, and so much more.”

Keynote speaker for the festival was David Eisenhower, co-author of Going Home To Glory: A Memoir of Life with Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961-1969, with wife Julie Nixon Eisenhower, daughter of President Richard Nixon.  Authors, speakers and guests were invited to the governor’s mansion Friday night before the event.  Mr. Eisenhower shared stories about his interests and the writing process and discussed books with other authors.  The Friday event was held by the governor and first lady on their terrace.  Pictured here is Mr. Eisenhower with me at the governor’s mansion:

Next year’s Kansas Book Festival is scheduled for September 15, 2012.

C.J. Bunce


Review by C.J. Bunce (with spoilers)

Kevin Smith and Phil Hester’s second issue of the new Bionic Man comic offers some great exchanges between characters, particularly between Oscar Goldman and a lead of the O.S.I. branch responsible for the bionics division named Margaret.  Margaret must select a second candidate for the bionic program as the prototype has gone all “Frankenstein’s monster” and ripped up a few special strike force SEAL teams.  The bionic prototype, called Hull, has created its own goons and they are not just killing their creators, they are eating them.  It’s a strange turn of events for this story, yet it seems to be a good segue into the types of stories from the original Six Million Dollar Man TV series a lot of us loved 35 years ago.

And artist Jonathan Lau’s depiction of this Margaret character would be nicely portrayed on-screen by TV series Psych‘s chief Karen Vick, played by actress Kirsten Nelson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Everwood).

Time to cast Bionic Man for a new series or movie?

For some unreal circumstances the character exchanges are believable, and whereas the first issue seemed to spend too much time on more clichéd exchanges, the dialogue seems to have kicked in.  The O.S.I. team needs a new bionic man to take out the first creation that has failed so miserably and the board room exchange is full of politics and posturing.  We want to like this Oscar Goldman fellow, and the set-up allows us to want to support this guy’s efforts.

It is the background story that takes charge in Issue #2, primarily because our series lead has crashed his experimental aircraft at the end of Issue #1, with the fallout spilling into Issue #2.  Goldman only late in his discussions learns his friend Steve Austin is barely alive, and jaws of life can’t get him out of his smashed plane.  Goldman doesn’t ask anyone for permission, he gets his crew to start working straight away to use the resources available–the best resources anywhere–to save Steve.

In the first 48 pages we haven’t moved toward Austin’s reactions to the bionics, so it will be interesting to follow the pacing of the Bionic Man series.

Alex Ross continues to provide superb cover art, as does Lau with alternate covers.  From time to time you buy a book with a Ross cover and you’re disappointed with the interior art.  Not so with this issue and Lau’s good images.

Here is Lau’s alternate cover to Issue #2 featuring the mangled and menacing bionic villain Hull:

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s no secret that Green Arrow is my favorite DCU character.  As re-envisioned in the early 1970s by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, he became less of a Batman knockoff and more of a completely separate and identifiable voice.  Even early on with O’Neil and Adams, Green Arrow and Green Lantern were a mirror image of Batman and Superman.  Superman tending to be the holier than thou determiner of right and wrong, and Batman more subversive, critical of the powers that be, cutting through everything to solve real problems, in a practical way.  Green Arrow was influential, even in his first meeting with Hal in Green Lantern 76.  Over the years Green Lantern, watcher and guardian of Earth, became more like Green Arrow, critical of the status quo.  Green Lantern/Hal Jordan learned from Green Arrow/Oliver Queen as their relationship grew.  But lately, especially with the recent Green Lantern movie, it’s getting harder to tell Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen apart, with Hal becoming more critical and brooding.

The DC Comics New 52 Green Arrow #1 came out two weeks ago.  I read issue #1 quickly.  Then I put it aside because I hate when reviewers, instead of reviewing what is in front of them, review what they wish was in front of them.  Hence the delay.  So I re-read it.  And I still find it baffling.

I also read the one-shot issue Flashpoint: Green Arrow Industries, which seemed to be a lead in to the new Green ArrowGreen Arrow Industries has Oliver Queen as the head of some military industrial complex.  He is Tony Stark from Marvel Comics’s Iron Man, and nothing else.  Other than in the first Iron Man movie, I have never cared for Tony Stark.  He is arrogant.  He lives a life of privilege.  Oliver Queen is not that guy–his back story is that he was a millionaire that lost all of his money.  He is not the owner of Halliburton or of Stark Industries or of Wayne Tech.

Queen learned what is important is watching out for the little guy.  The Flashpoint: Green Arrow Industries one-shot may be the most unexplainable, out of left field one-shots I have read.  Right up there with the bizarre Green Arrow: One Million book from a few years back, but at least that book had some context.  As expected, the New 52 continues with Green Arrow as this new leader of what is called Queen Industries.

The new Green Arrow is gadget happy.  Oliver Queen has never needed to rely on gadgets to be a superhero.  Like Batman, Green Arrow has no super powers.  He uses his brain.  He solves mysteries.  Gadgets?  That’s for Bruce Wayne.  We like Bruce Wayne and his toys.  Again, that’s not Oliver Queen, except for one thing:  trick arrows.  That said, the best Green Arrow stories leave out the trick arrows.  They are an amusing gimmick that even Oliver Queen jokes about when using them.  Oliver Queen doesn’t need a trick arrow with bluetooth technology that can be shot onto a boat and allow someone far away to control the boat via satellite.  A nice idea for someone else?  Maybe.  Put that story in the next Batman arc.  And Green Arrow also doesn’t need a Geordi LaForge-like visor.  Green Arrow just wears a mask for disguise.  He doesn’t need X-ray vision.

Neither is Oliver Queen James Bond.  We love James Bond.  But the two guys just are not much alike.  Part of the problem may be that even JT Krul has acknowledged Queen’s new “globe-trotting, James Bond, high adventures.”  Writers and artists who are not familiar with Green Arrow’s decades of character study and growth might think they are the same.  And I think the guys rebooting Green Arrow wish they were writing Tony Stark for Marvel Comics.

Recent issues of Green Arrow have shown Green Arrow as a hunter.  That makes more sense.  Oliver Queen was inspired by Robin Hood, specifically the classic film The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn.  Oliver Queen can survive in a forest, like Robin Hood in Sherwood.  And all he needs are arrows and a bow.  Nothing else.  No iPads or iPhones (called not-so-creatively qPads and qPhones in this issue).  No Oracle-type helper constantly feeding him the latest tech data.  Queen also knows how to adapt his carefully honed skills to the life of the urban cliff dweller.

Recent storylines had Green Arrow losing control because the baddies hurt his friend Roy Harper, formerly his sidekick Speedy, and killed one of Harper’s kids.  Oliver Queen murders the evil Prometheus in revenge, and the Justice League gets on his case for not properly bringing Prometheus to justice.  Like Batman over the years, Green Arrow issued some vigilante justice.  That storyline was interesting and going someplace.  The new Green Arrow is preachy and sounds like the old Silver Age Hal Jordan or Superman.

The new Green Arrow has no similarities to the O’Neil/Adams creation.  It has no similarity to 100 issues of the Green Arrow as further refined by Mike Grell.  It has no familiarity to the faithful ongoing adventures re-envisioned by Kevin Smith, Phil Hester, Ande Parks, Brad Meltzer, Judd Winick, or even the artist Jock.  Fans of Green Arrow as interpreted by Cliff Chiang and Mauro Cascioli will not recognize the new Green Arrow.

So what is the audience for the new Green Arrow?  I think I figured it out: (1) Readers who do not like Oliver Queen, or (2) readers who really liked his son Connor Hawke as Green Arrow.  Or readers who like a stubbly looking hero like Wolverine.

After Queen supposedly died (in the last 30+ issues of the first ongoing Green Arrow series that started with the Green Arrow: Longbow Hunters mini-series), Hawke took over as Green Arrow, sometimes referred to as Green Arrow II.  Hawke was purportedly written for a newer audience.  I would understand the new Green Arrow series if only they referred to the new Green Arrow as Connor Hawke.  The similarities are all there:  Hawke has no Van Dyke beard or goatee like Queen had.  Hawke had this more vinyl/leather looking suit, like the Green Arrow on Smallville wore, and like the new Green Arrow is wearing.  Hawke had this ongoing grudge against one thing or the other.  If this is where DC’s editors want to go, why not take Hawke along for the ride and give fans of Green Arrow our goateed hunter and partner to Dinah Lance and pal to Hal Jordan back?

Here is the new Green Arrow:

…and here is the more similarly drawn Connor Hawke:

If you take on a beloved character that has a 70+ year back story, you should be passionate about that character.  DC Comics announced this month that JT Krul is no longer writing Green Arrow with issue #4.  Good choice, JT.  JT Krul has written solid Green Arrow stories before.  His non-Green Arrow stories are also awesome, including his work on the new Captain Atom.  So what happened?  Was Green Arrow just an unfortunate casuality of mismatched post-its on the wall of the DC editors when re-assigning characters in the new DCU?  Does anyone love this new Green Arrow?  Will replacement writer Keith Giffen be given any latitude to fix the direction of the new Ollie?  We can only hope.  My guess is Krul was just hamstrung by new decisions of the editorial team.  So far I have enjoyed the rest of the New 52 for the most part.  “You can’t please everyone on everything” probably applies here.

Even if this series was not about Green Arrow–about some other new character with this plot–I think storylines that have used the reality TV storyline, as Green Arrow #1 does, televising anything and everything, are just tired.  The Running Man did it and The Hunger Games did it again.  Enough already.

And not to throw too many darts at the new Green Arrow series, but what’s with these new villain names: Dynamix?  Doppelganger?  Supercharge?  About the only thing right about the new Oliver Queen is he is back in Seattle where he belongs.

Had DC changed Batman or Superman as they did Green Arrow, they would have lost a ton of readers.  You can’t remove Batman’s cowl and his detective work or Superman’s cape and kryptonite and still call them Batman and Superman.  Same goes for Green Arrow’s goatee and the essential elements of his character.   You strip away the basics and it’s no longer the same guy.

Review by C.J. Bunce

In the DC Comics New 52 readers are not told in the issues themselves how the new series are supposed to relate to one another.   Action Comics #1, which will be reviewed here at a later date, does include “continued in” references at the back of the first issue pointing readers to the continuation of the story in other issues.  With all the Batman books, a fair question is “which one is for me?  Comparing Detective Comics #1 with Batman #1, this reader would choose the Batman series as an ongoing read.

Detective Comics was dark and disturbing.  Batman is dark, but in a less gruesome way.  That said, the story takes place in Gotham City (they haven’t changed that about Batman) and we see one gruesome death with a victim stuck with dozens of knives.  Skillfully told at the beginning of Batman #1, we are reminded in a speech by Bruce Wayne given at a solicitation for investors, that Gotham is “damned,” “cursed,” and “hopeless.”  Ultimately Gotham is Batman.  Bleak comes with the territory.

But good Batman stories also have some surprises and Batman #1 has a fair number.  We see a nostalgic team-up Batman and the original Robin and briefly-Batman-replacement, Dick Grayson (who has his own title as Nightwing).  The story includes a great moment with all the boys and men who have been Robin standing alongside Bruce in Wayne Manor and you could foresee an interesting story that could develop later involving all these wards (and one son) of Bruce Wayne.  If you aren’t keeping track, that’s Dick Grayson, Tim Drake (now Red Robin), and son Damian Wayne, the current Robin.  Recall that the second Robin, Jason Todd, was killed in the Batman series A Death in the Family story arc, but has been brought back in different incarnations and last we saw him he was in jail in Gotham.

The new Batman crams its first issue with false facts, fake clues, Wayne Manor, a jail break and cameo of almost all of the Arkham Asylum villains, a Batman/Joker team-up (!), Alfred, and the Batcave, complete with vintage Batmobiles.  We have mystery, a set up for future issues, and layering of dialogue with action.  We don’t have the inner thoughts of Batman here, something we did find in Detective Comics #1, which makes me think that is part of the distinction between the series.

Along with a good opening story by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo’s  art fits well, the locations are familiar, and the colors all scream Gotham.   In fact if you pulled out the text the artwork alone could carry the story from beginning to end.  About the only thing I didn’t care for was the weak title logo on the cover.

For first-time readers we get a good story that covers all bases and seems to borrow a lot from the Michael Keaton Batman movie, with some nods to the most recent Dark Knight film.  “Why so serious?”

With all the Batman books coming, and no indication why we should read one over the other, this #1 was a nice surprise.

Review by C.J. Bunce

Jonathan Frakes has directed nine of the 60 episodes of Leverage in its first four seasons. Leverage is a good series that lacks some consistency, maybe because it has several creators that have been rotated in and out in the ordinary course of the series. Each of the episodes directed by Frakes demonstrates a knowledge of the material, which includes a level of informality and humor between the characters that is rare in episodic television.  You wonder whether he learned it as cast member Commander Will Riker in his seven seasons and four Star Trek: The Next Generations films, a place where he got to work with a close-knit family of actors that reflect their camaraderie on-screen.  If you happened to see this season’s finale, then you witnessed a perfect episode of TV, with a great ensemble cast, and everyone in prime form.  Frakes and me at Comic-Con in 2008:

Leverage is a good series in its simplicity.  It’s a fun show and never takes itself very seriously.  We’ve compared it before to shows like The A-Team.  There is a mission, these are the good guys, they are understood.  They always get the job done.  And episodes are peppered with the best character actors.  And one of our favorites of any series popped up in this season’s finale–Mark Sheppard as Jim Sterling.

This season’s finale, “The Queen’s Gambit Job,” was a great action drama on several fronts:

Academy Award winning actor Timothy Hutton’s Nathan Ford got to revel in his mastermind role, playing a high stakes game of chess in a Casino Royale story with the fate of a nuclear weapon up in the air.

Parker gets to get stuck in a vault, only to figure her way out and end up on the roof of the second tallest building in the world, the Skyspire of Dubai.  And she gets to free fall over the edge because of a parachute packed by Hardison.

Hacker Hardison (Aldis Hodge) and thief Parker (Beth Riesgraf) get closer and become even more of a team, thinking like each other and covering each others’ backs.

Hitter Eliot (Christian Kane) actually loses this round for once, to none other than Sheppard’s Sterling.  Eliot and Sheppard’s verbal sparring rival any actual fighting Eliot has encountered in the series so far, as well as his verbal sparring with Hardison in several episodes.  This episode shows Sheppard at his best–his normal dark and quiet demeanor gets stretched here and he seems to really lose it when engaging with Eliot in the car.

The only character who doesn’t get much screen time this round is grifter Sophie (Gina Bellman).  For the most part her role is the weakest and some focus from the writing team on her character next season is overdue.

There is always a double cross on Leverage, and clues are carefully laid out for the viewer to catch what is really happening before the big reveal.  The team always gets caught, but are they really?  In this episode, even though team members feel a loss, everyone actually wins.  It is a good spin on the normal Leverage story.  The cast has such chemistry at this point you just hope they can keep it up for a few more seasons.  And while they are at it, since this was his second appearance, why not make Sheppard a series regular cast member?

And how about Frakes as the permanent series director?  His other episodes were also top-notch shows: The Lonely Hearts Job, The Wedding Job, The Snow Job, The Juror #6 Job, The Fairy Godparents Job, The Bottle Job, The Reunion Job, The Studio Job and The Morning After Job.

For the fun of it, here is E.C. Bunce and me at Comic-Con where we ran into Mark Sheppard in the Gaslight District in our Chuck meets Alien Nation garb.  Photo courtesy of the gracious Mrs. Sheppard:

BTW, Sheppard said he read this article on him in a prior post.  Definitely our favorite guest star on nearly every all of our favorite TV series.

Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

If those words mean nothing to you, it’s about time to get caught up on the classic sci-fi series Lost in Space, a series that, in its own way, rivals the original Star Trek and the Twilight Zone and even today surpasses in storytelling a lot of 21st century sci-fi series.

Although it still is not available via Netflix on streaming video, the 1960s sci-fi series Lost in Space is available in DVD season and boxed sets and via Netflix on DVD and two episodes per day are airing Mondays through Thursdays on the FamilyNet HD cable channel.  The series has never before been seen in such clarity and color and the HD channel appears to be showing the episodes in their original uncut versions.

Making its debut in the 1960s only a few years before the moonshot, this sci-fi classic showcases the adventures of the Robinson family, who find themselves adrift in outer space when their mission to colonize the last frontier is sabotaged.  It’s good in part because it is an adaptation of The Swiss Family Robinson, a classic adventure novel (and one of the better Walt Disney adaptations, called Swiss Family Robinson).  It also was a good Gold Key comic book–the first incarnation of the idea.  Take the same story and drop it in the future and an entertaining series was born.  Lost in Space consists of 82 episodes and aired from 1965 to 1968, with season one in black and white.  The science looks good because it reflected some forward thinking by NASA at the time, including great spacesuits and realistic spacewalks made well before the C-131 Samaritan zero G jet was used to mimic weightlessness by Hollywood as used in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13.

The third season episode “Condemned of Space” aired today.  It was one of two episodes that featured Robby the Robot, one of the most famous sci-fi robots ever, who originally was featured in the classic sci-fi film Forbidden Planet.

Why is Lost in Space different from other sci-fi series?

It’s got a great theme song by none other than the great soundtrack composer and Boston Pops conductor John Williams (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park).

The opening credits alone were ahead of their time, whether you’re viewing the original black and white or the revised color introductions in later seasons.  In season three look for a round forming symbol later used (intentionally or not) for the Imperials in the Star Wars trilogy.

The ship, the Jupiter 2, featured a crew before its time, half men and half women.  Although there are several gender role issues you might frown a bit at today, like the fact that the youngest daughter Penny isn’t the whiz kid, and instead her little brother Will, the genius kid scientist, seems to talk down to her all the time, and both girls tend to be featured in emotional themed episodes.  But sometimes even Penny gets to be the voice of reason and save the day.  Again, ahead of its time.

The cast didn’t phone in their performances, especially the evil Doctor Smith, who when he wasn’t evil he served a comic relief, allowing the kids to teach an adult lessons in kindness, ethics, and morality in several episodes.  Jonathan Harris’s performances as Smith were so passionate and over the top that he often stole the show.  He’s a little Mad Murdock from A-Team, a little Gaius Baltar from Battlestar Galactica.  The rest of the cast included Guy Williams (Zorro, Bonanza) as Dr. John Robinson, June Lockhart as Dr. Maureen Robinson (Sergeant York, Lassie, The Drew Carey Show)–yes, a woman as a doctor on TV in the 1960s!–Mark Goddard as Major Don West (The Detectives, Johnny Ringo), Marta Kristen (My Three Sons) as Judy Robinson, Billy Mumy (Twilight Zone, Babylon 5), and Angela Cartwright (The Sound of Music, Logan’s Run) as Penny Robinson.  And don’t forget the great B9 cybernetic character “The Robot” with flailing arms and blinking lights.

Monkeys in space!  Penny had a companion chimp named Debbie.

Star Trek made use of red, yellow-green, and blue as the main Starfleet shirts, but Lost in Space stretched the bounds of TV sets’ color dials (remember those?) with its secondary colors and showed a vision of the future (ahem, the lift-off occurs in the future year 1997) with corduroys and velours.

Kids got to be smart and not the ones making mistakes–Will Robinson was the obvious idea behind Will Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Adventure and fantasy in space–long before Star Wars was the greatest space fantasy of all time, Irwin Allen made Lost in Space bridge a look at our future with action and adventure stories.  it’s hard not to compare the Salt Vampire and Gorn of Star Trek with every creepy creature the Robinson’s met stranded on various planets.

The only drawback for some viewers may be the dated clothes, the gender roles, and some melodrama, especially from Doctor Smith.  But if you can put that aside Lost in Space is a fun series that is still watchable more than 40 years later.

C.J. Bunce


Review by C.J. Bunce

The short-lived but fan favorite TV series Heroes launched a concept that really hadn’t been tried before in this way:  starting each episode not at the beginning of the story, but well into the story, and often at the best part–that point where the guy is hanging over the edge of the cliff, right where the cheerleader falls off the building, or right where the samurai gets the sword in his gut.  You feel a little bit of a slingshot at the back of your head at first, then you grab the rope, the boat pulls tight and before you know it you are skiing along with the characters at full throttle into the unknown.  Captain Atom #1 is a comic for readers who like wall to wall action, and it avoids any introductory phase–placing us right where the story gets good.  There are no gimmicks here that you might find in other books, just a good read that makes you hate having to wait a whole month for the next issue.

If you’re not a regular DC Comics reader, you may not think you know Captain Atom but you probably just haven’t put it all together yet.  He’s so familiar and you can’t quite place why you know him, even though he is not another current Justice League headliner (although he has served in the Justice League and led Justice League Europe in the past).  If you’re like me, you read his comic back in the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths 1980s, or you saw him in the more recent Superman/Batman.  But more likely you recognize him as Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen, either the comic or the movie, because what comic reader hasn’t seen one of those?  Alan Moore originally designed his atomic man as Captain Atom, but DC decided not to let him use the newly absorbed Charlton Comics pantheon of characters in Watchmen at the last minute.   As stunning and surreal as Dr. Manhattan was portrayed in the Watchmen movie, he really comes to life in the new DC 52 Captain Atom #1.  And he’s not aloof like Dr. Manhattan–speaking to us through his thoughts we get to like this guy and feel for his circumstances quickly.  Dr. Manhattan is in the background in this shot from the Watchmen movie:

Like our heroes in the first issue of the new Justice League, superheroes are finding themselves as targets more than heroes.  Captain Atom finds himself defending himself against an attack, only to learn his powers are more expansive than he knew.  He begins to melt metal and it seems congeal and drip off the page.  Captain Atom surprises himself.  Like Han Solo said “sometimes I even amaze myself.”  Although I have liked most of what I have seen so far from the new DCU, this is the first ‘zine where the story doesn’t let up from the first panel through the last panel.

It can’t be easy drawing the visual expression of seemingly unlimited power as pure energy.  Freddie Williams II is at the top of his game here.  JT Krul has taken what he did with the edgy Soulfire and Fathom series coupled with his hero work on Green Arrow and has paced out a story with non-stop action, a smart hero, and intelligent writing.  We are pulled through the story via Captain Atom’s own thoughts and watch him try to control what is probably uncontrollable.   Williams renderings of Captain Atom as distinct from the rest of the art, and coupled with Jose Villarrubia’s creative use of color–red and blues are used to stunning effect–this book made me want to track down some 3D glasses to see if this could be viewed in actual 3D (I looked and couldn’t find the pair that came with the Chuck Season 2 DVD set).

For new readers you get enough back story to see what is going on.  Krul slips in background information just when you want it and sets up the action for coming issues.  Williams’s style seems inspired by the eye-popping visuals of Michael Golden, Howard Chaykin and Alex Nino–and this makes sense as a character who absorbs energy has got to ooze energy across the page.

I also like characters who are seemingly stronger and more powerful than the often one-note Superman.  Like Captain Marvel, Captain Atom is a character that makes you glad to know there is someone else out there who can carry the weight of the DCU world.  Like Firestorm, an old favorite hero with similar powers, this guy is not just a human in a supersuit.

Eagerly waiting for Issue #2!

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

American Gods is a pretty wonderful book and I can’t help but think about what a friend said after her husband read it.  He said, “I think this book would have blown my mind if I read it when I was eighteen.”

I can totally relate to that and I don’t mean it as a criticism, it’s just that it’s those years that really are the time when we explore religion.  We take the actual step into adulthood.  Eighteen is the age to go off to college, to find a job, to move out of the house and find your way in the world.  Faced with such a change in lifestyle, we all contemplate what it all means.  Is it money?  Is it happiness?  Money may not buy happiness, but it certainly makes it easier, right?  (I mean, how many of the fights that we saw between our parents were about money?)

If it is money, then we can measure how well we do in life by the amounts of money we make.  There is a measure to tell us how well we are doing.

Then after four weeks working at a campus snack bar, we hope that isn’t true.  Getting to the level of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Carlos Slim seems to be way out of reach.

So, maybe it is happiness.  Maybe we can find it and “win” at life.  So, we go to the local Christian church to find the joy, the power of an unconditional love and forgiveness.  We know that there will be trials and tribulations on Earth (and we’ve seen that first hand with that first paycheck that will never, ever come close to paying our rent), but if we love our neighbors, if we follow those commandments, if we turn the other cheek, we will find eternal happiness in about 49 years.

However, as teenagers, that seems way too far away and won’t help us at all with the possibility of missing our cell phone payment or a lifetime of chronic masturbation that faces us if we can’t get a date for this weekend.

How do other cultures find happiness?  Soon we look at the stories of heroes, of rebirths, of meditation, of inner peace and we can pick and choose what we like and what we don’t (or maybe we find a religion that suits us perfectly in every which way – though like a political platform, I find that less and less likely.)

Then we come to the realization that we’re the only person that believes in the combination Hindu-Buddist-Norse-Egyptian-Aztec-Judeo-Christian-Flying-Spaghetti-Monster belief system that we’ve described and defined in a three-ring notebook complete with commandments, tenets and a very liberating dogma.  That also means that the weekly prayer meetings are very lonely and dates for many of the following weekends look less and less likely if we keep following this path.

At that point, we look for things that help us to connect with more people.  Instead of being the only person under the age of twenty, thirty or even forty at an Audubon Society meeting, maybe we start to volunteer at the campus radio station.  Instead of constructing a really cool Dungeons and Dragons adventure that will probably never be played by another living soul, but if it was, they would get so many experience points, we sign up to go to football games with a big group from our dorm floor.  Instead of going home right after work, we think that a beer does sound like a good idea with the rest of our co-workers because they know the bartender and he’ll let us drink even though we’re underage.  Instead of living in a dorm, we join a fraternity, an organization that promises friends, lifetime bonds and the chance to meet girls on a regular basis.  Instead of staying home for the weekend, we go to WonderCon, DragonCon or many other trade shows/festivals where there are thousands of people with the same interests.

Soon our beliefs are that there is no way the Yankees will ever miss the playoffs, Batman is so much cooler than Superman and we have had enough dates to actually hold an opinion on the question of whether blondes are better than brunettes. (The answer is brunettes.  For now.)

We have found happiness.  We have surrounded ourselves with friends that like to do the same things, that love to talk about music, movies, comics and sports and we share the cool things that we find with each other.  We are no longer tied around a building where a lone figure talks to us from a stage on Sunday mornings, but rather a bunch of like-minded folks that we connect to on a daily basis, there for us when we need to keep busy to forget about money, break-ups or our other problems.  Sure, there are still those occasional Sunday meetings 6,000 strong in Hall H at San Diego’s Comic-Con listening to Steven Moffat, or the Sunday afternoon 30,000 strong in Dodger Stadium, because we all generally still have that day free to follow what we believe.

We believe in watching our DVR’d episode of Community.  We believe in community.  It may not include a promise of eternal life (or it may because we have just added our faith in the Christian God to our other beliefs) but it is a promise that our days don’t have to be spent in solitude, that as Kurt Vonnegut proudly exclaimed, “Lonesome No More.”

Would this book have been better as I transitioned to being an adult?  Sure.  Is it great now that I have become an adult and can look at all of my beliefs, my loves that I have brought around the world and thought about so furiously (please, please, please, let the St. Louis Cardinals win and let Albert Pujols hit three home runs for my fantasy team; please, please let Hurley survive the island; please, please, please let “Dogtooth” win an Academy Award) and wonder how they would effect the world Neil Gaiman has created?  Absolutely.

A book through the eyes of a child, a teen and an adult can be three very different things.  I may not know how American Gods would have affected my younger self, but I do know that it made for some really cool reflections and an enjoyable read right now.

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