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Category: Retro Fix


   

Eighty years ago Superman first hit neighborhood newsstands in Issue #1 of Action Comics–an issue that if you kept your copy could pay off your house, car, and retirement.  The cover was dated June 1938, but it was in kids’ hands first on April 18, 1938.  DC Comics is celebrating Superman’s big anniversary this week with a celebratory issue of Action Comics numbered 1000, created by some of DC’s top writers and artists, an anthology of stories just as you’d find in Action Comics’ first 500 issues.  The 1,000 issues is spot-on with the number of Action Comics issues released, but those counting the months since 1938 will come up short:  Action Comics shifted from a monthly to a bi-weekly once upon a time, and you won’t find numbered issues #905-956, which were replaced by 52 issues of the New 52 reboot numbering 1-52.  For American comic book fans, there’s something special about holding this issue in your hands.  It’s no small feat seeing such a truly undisputed iconic character get to this point.

The 80-page giant issue is one not to pass up.  For current fans, it’s a ramp-up to Brian Michael Bendis’s writing run beginning with the complete issue #1001.  For everyone else, it’s a nostalgic trip via variant covers and dozens of classic and modern creators offering up stories about the Man of Steel.  The writers?  Dan Jurgens, Peter Tomasi, Marv Wolfman, Paul Levitz, Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, Scott Snyder, Tom King, Louise Simonson, Paul Dini, Brad Meltzer, and Brian Michael Bendis.  The artists? Dan Jurgens, Pat Gleason, Curt Swan, Neal Adams, Olivier Coipel, Rafael Albuquerque, Clay Mann, Jerry Ordway, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, John Cassaday, Jim Lee, Norm Rapmund, Butch Guice, Kurt Schaffenberger, Kevin Nowlan, Scott Williams, Hi-Fi Color, Alejandro Sanchez, Dave McCaig, Jordie Bellaire, Trish Mulvihill, Laura Martin, and Alex Sinclair.  Cover artists include Steve Rude, Michael Cho, Dave Gibbons, Michael Allred, Jim Steranko, Joshua Middleton, Dan Jurgens, Kevin Nowlan, Lee Bermejo, Dave Dorman, George Perez, Neal Adams, Jim Lee (providing the main cover and two variants), Curt Swan, Felipe Massafera, Nicola Scott, Jock, Oliver Coipel, Jason Fabok, Kaare Andrews, Gabrielle Dell’Otto, Artgerm, Tyler Kirkham, Pat Gleason, Francesco Mattina, Ken Haeser, Doug Mahnke, and Tony S. Daniel.  Check out images of all the variant covers below.  Our favorite?  Danielle Dell’Otto’s take on Christopher Reeve at the Fortress of Solitude, and Pat Gleason’s cover, which includes Krypto.

   

Some comic book stores are holding events to celebrate the Man of Steel’s big day.  This Saturday if you’re in the Kansas City area head on over to Elite Comics, where you can pick up copies of Issue #1000 plus a limited exclusive Superman print (shown above) by artist Bryan Fyffe, a nationally-recognized artist whose licensed works include projects for Disney and Star Wars.  Or check out your own neighborhood store.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

After its second week in theaters, Ready Player One is still chalking up sold-out screenings nationwide.  Whether or not you’re a video game fan, and whether or not you read Ernest Cline’s novel the film is based on, it’s a fun way to spend 2.5 hours.  Although his producer credits are hit-and-miss over the past few decades, director Steven Spielberg tends to take on films he cares about, and handles them with care.  Same goes for Ready Player One.  Along with his Oscar-nominated film The Post, Ready Player One proves there’s no slowing down for the director’s success in making good films.  Even if Ready Player One is not as great as the films from the 1980s that it honors (Spielberg’s choice to ignore references from his own films leaves a big, obvious gap throughout scene after scene), it’s a nice story, and a progression of the kind of coming-of-age story the director first created long ago with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  Yet the backbone of the story doesn’t flow from the 1980s, but the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, based on Roald Dahl’s 1964 book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 

In the year 2045, Wade Watts, played by Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse), and a group of people he has only met as their avatars in a giant MMPORG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) called OASIS, embark on a quest to solve the late OASIS founder’s puzzle in three steps, which would reward the winner with control of the OASIS and the hundreds of millions of dollars the company behind it (called IOI) is worth.  The big win is the authenticity of relationships between Sheridan and his co-stars, including Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel) as Art3mis (pronounced Artemis), Aech (sounds like the letter “H”) played by Lena Waithe (Master of None), Daito (Win Morisaki), and Sho (Philip Zhao) as they work together on their journey.  Cooke’s character really comes alive as the high point of the film.  The villains are more textbook bad guys, led by Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), with his bulky minion i-R0K (“I rock”) played by T.J. Miller (Deadpool), and a seriously underutilized Hannah John-Kamen as F’Nale.  i-R0K carries the bulk of the film’s best comedy lines.  Surprisingly the story misses the opportunity to give the viewer enough information to solve the three riddles of the film.  Instead we watch the characters move through a great big fictional world only they know about.  But the adventure is a good ride.  Look for Mark Rylance (Dunkirk) and Simon Pegg (Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Shaun of the Dead) as an interesting odd couple of Gates/Jobs-inspired visionaries.

Get ready for dizzying races and chases with the latest CGI and motion capture special effects–so much so that much of the movie feels like an animated movie.  We’ve come a long way from the 1980s version of the subject matter in Disney’s Tron–the first visit into a video game world.  But Ready Player One is similar in tone to Tron and another video game movie of the era, The Last Starfighter–all good family films with positive themes.  Here that’s the importance of community, leadership, and personal responsibility, and the negative side of new and emerging technologies like drones and having more than merely virtual social relationships.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Bradley W. Schenck’s sci-fi-meets-retro novel Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis, was our favorite read of 2017.  Schenck created a unique story within a world we’ve never seen before, a world only hinted at in early 20th century pop culture, early pulp novels, and film.  For fans of classic sci-fi and all things retro, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom handled science fiction futurism like rarely seen before.  With the same imagination and fun, Schenck is back again in Retropolis with a new book of short stories, Patently Absurd: The Files of the Retropolis Registry of PatentsAll but one of the stories were originally published in 2016 and 2017 in Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, and the new story ties together the other stories in the volume, which all really read like a single narrative with clever titles to the chapters.  As with last year’s novel, it’s all great fun and smartly written.

Readers again revisit Retropolis’s day-to-day, the mundane, and the ordinary, in an uncertain world of tomorrow where nothing could possibly be mundane or ordinary, but this time Schenck hones in on one segment of the city, the Registry of Patents and new heroes of the office: Ben Bowman, investigator of patents, and secretary to the Registrar, Violet the humanoid robot.  Ben does not have aspirations of greatness, he’s content to do his job, but Violet is a robot who knows she was built to be an investigator.  The problem is that she’s gone through more than 14 bosses now–the Registrars–and still hasn’t been promoted.  Is it because they leave each other notes in the locked safe in the Registrar’s office about Violet?  And is it possible the office keeps losing Registrars because Violet is working her way through them?  Nah.

Big, bright, and detailed, like Tron, Logan’s Run, Walt Disney’s vision of Tomorrowland, a bit Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, a larger dose of Metropolis, and an equal dose of Office Space and The Office–readers won’t find anything like Scheck’s world elsewhere.  The final story in the volume, “The Enigma of the Unseen Doctor,” is as compelling, rich, and poignant as any other master of science fiction’s take on what it’s like to be a robot.  Scheck turns the tables as we meet a robot with compassion for what it’s like to be human.  Patently Absurd provides the next step in science fiction’s investigation of the soul.

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Forty years ago this weekend, the soundtrack to the movie Grease was released in stores, two months in advance of the premiere of the movie.  Singles from the LP, “Grease,” and “You’re the One That I Want,” went to #1 in the United States, while “You’re the One That I Want,” and “Summer Nights” went to #1 in the UK, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “Sandy” went to #2 in the UK, and “Grease” made it to #3 in the UK.  Back in 1978, even in advance of the movie, the radio was playing these songs and every teenager knew the words to this musical set in the 1950s with a disco beat.

The Bee Gees lead Barry Gibb wrote the song “Grease,” released on the album on the heels of The Bee Gees’ megahit album Saturday Night Fever from only a few months back in November 1977–still unsurpassed as the best selling soundtrack album of all time.  The song “Grease” also includes guitar work by Peter Frampton.  Five of the 24 tracks feature vocals by the film’s leads John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, with six performed by 1950s throwback group Sha Na Na.

Grease, the movie, expanded on the success of both Happy Days and American Graffiti, and the 1970s nostalgia for the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Fathom Events and TSM Big Screen Classics brought Grease back to theaters this week and you have one final opportunity to catch a screening this Saturday, April 14, 2018.  Check your local listings and the Fathom Events website here for details.  Released in June 1978, Grease became the highest grossing musical film ever, and forty years later it holds a spot in fourth place.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Comparable in every way to the team-up with Green Lantern and Black Canary in the famed Dennis O’Neill and Neal Adams run on Green Lantern in the early 1970s beginning with Issue #76, Mike Grell would take over the artwork on the O’Neill/Adams run sporadically for the next ten issues and create more than 80 issues about the bow-wielding superhero for the next two decades.  A four-issue series featuring Green Arrow would prove relatively unnoticed in 1983 (without Grell onboard), but in 1987 everything in comic books would change as Grell returned to Green Arrow with his three-issue series The Longbow Hunters Hot on the heels of the previous year’s groundbreaking, prestige format series The Dark Knight Returns, The Longbow Hunters was the perfect dark and gritty follow-up story only this time it presented the superhero lead inside the ongoing narrative of the DC series at the time.  It was Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance, relocating from Star City to Seattle, and the DC Universe became more grounded in reality.  The success of The Longbow Hunters gave Grell the opportunity to take Oliver Queen (referred to in-story as Green Arrow only once in his stories) to the next level in the late 1980s, cementing the superhero as a title character in his own right.  DC Comics has reprinted The Longbow Hunters, and in recent years it has been peppering the market with reprints of Grell’s fantastic storytelling and sometimes artwork for 80 issues from 1988 to 1993.  DC Comics has now released the last of Grell’s incredible run on the Green Arrow monthly in its ninth collection from the series, Green Arrow: Old Tricks.

Green Arrow: Old Tricks is an even greater DC release because it also bundles in Grell’s last work of the era on Green Arrow in the 1993 four-part mini-series Green Arrow: The Wonder Year.  Unlike the past few years of the monthly series, which was illustrated primarily by Rick Hoberg and inker John Nyberg, Grell both wrote and illustrated the official Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths origin story in this mini-series along with inker Gray Morrow.  Along with the origin story that would stand until writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock’s mini-series Green Arrow: Year One in 2007, we see a flashback of Oliver Queen in the heyday of his 1970s “man of the people” political activism.  As for the story at the end of Grell’s run on the monthly comic and the mini-series, Grell went out with a bang.  The stories both hone in on the women in Queen’s life, primarily Dinah, but also Shado and a fling with a local woman half his age, all while Queen is out battling bad guys inside and outside of the city.   Grell’s story is great and the artwork by Hoberg and Grell equally vivid and compelling.

In the section of Green Arrow: Old Tricks reprinting the monthly ongoing series are four stories: the two-part “Trigger,” the single-issue “Auld Acquaintance,” the three-part “Killing Camp,” and the two-part “New Dogs Old Tricks.”  The most memorable to readers of the series will be the New Year’s Eve story “Auld Acquaintance.”  After 80+ issues of Oliver Queen messing up his romance with Dinah Lance, she finally says “goodbye” for good in the series pretty 75th anniversary issue.  Oliver then gets away from it all thanks to a story that calls back to Grell’s own real-life intelligence work, as Queen teams up with Eddie Fyres in a good ol’ James Bond-inspired adventure.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

At first blush it’s hard to wrap your head around, after decades of seeing (and buying) variant comic book covers, learning that the first goes back only so far as 1986, with DC Comics releasing two covers for the first issue of The Man of Steel.  Variant covers–those alternate editions of a comic book where the only difference is one or more optional covers are made available for that issue, the economics behind them, and a high-quality look at many of the often rare artistic works that DC Comics has published since it created the idea, is the subject of a giant, over-sized, coffee table book coming your way this month.  DC Comics Variant Covers–The Complete Visual History offers up many full images of the artwork that became variant covers over the past 30 years, printed on the type of thick paper with vibrant ink reproductions that may prompt some to (carefully) pull out pages and frame them.  It’s like a book full of frame-worthy art prints.

Comic book and film writer Daniel Wallace has tackled the task of selecting highlights from DC Comics’ long run of variant covers–the “Complete” in the title is about the scope and range of variant projects that the publisher has taken on.  He opts to show large images, often full-sized and even double-page spreads of many pieces of cover art, instead of an edition with hundreds of thumbnails of every DC Comics variant that’s seen print.  Compiled in a single book, it will make many a variant collector shudder at the thought of just how many variants exist from all the comic book publishers.  But the images, many familiar, some rare and sought after in comic book form, and some not-so-rare, get their own showcase here, most reflecting the artwork without the title, logos, and other text and branding.  As readers will learn, variant cover collecting has become its own niche for collectors–some books have been bought and sold for thousands of dollars.  Readers will also learn the types of releases that determine rarity and why DC Comics has evolved its strategy for variant covers over time.

The best sections of DC Comics Variant Covers–The Complete Visual History spotlight the covers of Darwyn Cooke (it’s incredible to marvel at six of his images over-sized in the late artist’s bright color palette), Ant Lucia’s DC Bombshells, homage series featuring Mad Magazine, movie posters, Looney Tunes team-ups, convention and store exclusives, and many variant covers from Alex Ross, Frank Cho, and Frank Miller.  Some of the most eye-popping images reprinted include cover art for JSA Classified #1 featuring Power Girl, by Adam Hughes, Batman (Vol. 2) #51, and Superman, #33, by John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson, Wonder Woman (Vol. 5) #1 by Frank Cho, and Batman ’66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peele #1, by Cat Staggs.

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A few hours ago Lucasfilm released a new, very long trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story.  If you’re not already all-in for this next Star Wars adventure, this may get you there.  Lucasfilm also released a new, retro style movie poster.  But be forewarned:  We’re getting to the point in the cycle of a coming summer blockbuster where Hollywood starts showing audiences too much of the film.  So if you have the patience, you may want to move along.  It’s doubtful any major spoilers are given away in this trailer, but it seems likely we’ve had a peek at at least 90% of the key environments in the film already.

What?  You’re still here?

If you’re like us, you can soak in all the Star Wars goodness as Disney & Co. is willing to serve it up, spoilers be damned.  The most exciting bit from this new look is Chewbacca.  We hoped and expected he would be key to this film, and so far it seems director Ron Howard is going to deliver on that expectation.  The other bit of note is Donald Glover’s assimilation of Billy Dee Williams’ performance from The Empire Strikes Back as Lando Calrissian, his summoning of all that cool from the actor now frequenting conventions across the country, his transmografication into the suave character we want to see.  Everyone else looks great, too, including new Han Solo, Alden Ehrenreich.  If you don’t think he evokes Harrison Ford, so what?  Consider if you’d seen this Solo movie in chronological order, before 1977.  From the trailers Ehrenreich’s entry into the franchise seems more like Mark Hamill’s back in 1977.  We hadn’t heard of Hamill either, yet the unknown actor jumped in nicely to lead the way in the new galaxy, far, far away.

So get ready, if you dare, for the next dive into the past world of Star Wars in this new trailer from Solo: A Star Wars Story:

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Probably no other visionary from the 19th century except Mary Shelley and Jules Verne is as synonymous with the genre of science fiction as H.G. Wells.  How many science fiction works did Wells inspire with his stories, with elements infused into books, television series, and movies–120 years later and never going out of print?  Only hours ago the BBC announced a new three-part series adapting The War of the Worlds will be arriving later this year, starring Rafe Spall (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Shaun of the Dead), Eleanor Tomlinson (Jack the Giant Slayer, Alice in Wonderland), Robert Carlyle (28 Weeks Later, Once Upon a Time), and Krypton and Sherlock’s Rupert Graves.  The War of the Worlds.  The Time Machine.  The Invisible Man.  The Island of Dr. Moreau.  A new series of graphic novels from Insight Comics is adapting all four of Wells’ classics.  These go beyond the old Illustrated Classics editions, taking on several science fiction paradigms: warnings of the dangers of new technologies, the cost of hubris, and the adventures and trials that come from the unknown worlds of the future.

First in the new series is an action-packed adaptation of The War of the Worlds.   Tailored from the original 1897 tale of freakish alien tripod alien invaders annihilating parts of England, the writer known as Dobbs provides a faithful take on Wells’s work.  It’s always interesting to see new interpretations of the look of Wells’ invaders, and artist Vicente Cifuentes (best known for his DC Comics art) provides a visually striking view of the varying appearances of the invaders as well as an authentic and engaging feel for the 19th century setting of the original novel.

Scientist Dr. Robert H. Goddard referenced The War of the Worlds as an influence for creating the real-world liquid-fueled rocket that would later take humans to the Moon.

Take a look at these sample pages from the first book in the new H.G. Wells series from Insight Comics, courtesy of the publisher:

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Years after a much publicized but failed effort to restore the Star League by the likes of Steven Spielberg and Seth Rogen, the writer for 1984’s beloved science fiction classic The Last Starfighter looks like he may finally be getting a sequel off the ground.  According to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars Rebels writer Gary Whitta, he has teamed up with writer Jonathan Betuel on a film that would stand as a sequel and a reboot to the original story that watched young Alex Rogan leave planet Earth to become a Starfighter to defend the Star League against the Ko-Dan Armada.  It’s one heck of a tease–on the heels of last weekend’s release of the 1980s nostalgia-driven film Ready Player One, Whitta picked a great time to pique the interests of the original film’s legion of fans.

Originating from a video game parked conveniently at a rural trailer park and store called Starlite Starbrite (the store still exists in Acton, California, southwest of Vasquez Rocks Park), a young man demonstrated for the first video game generation that–despite parents’ protests to the contrary–you can save the world by playing for the high score.  Although plenty of movies enter the concept art phase only to end up a footnote in a retrospective film art book decades later, preliminary design drafts of what has been referred to previously as merely Starfighter emerged via Whitta’s Twitter account Wednesday.  Matt Allsopp, a concept artist who worked on Rogue One along with Whitta, created these unmistakable designs, incorporating the Star League emblem, Gunstar ships, and Starfighters.  This takes the idea past the rumor phase, providing some evidence that this latest effort looks to be real after all.

Whitta teased the coming film project with eight photographs of concept art, writing on his Twitter page, “Okay, probably shouldn’t show you this so early but here’s a little something I’ve been tinkering on with my co-writer Jonathan Betuel.  You might recognize the ships.  Thanks to the amazing Matt Allsopp (lead concept artist on ROGUE ONE) for creating these images for us.”  He later added, “People seemed excited by the first tweet so here’s a tiny bit more of Matt’s concept art. Can’t show anything more after this, it’s all too spoilery [smile] #GreetingsStarfighter”.

Lance Guest as Alex Rogan, as he is about to take his first step into a larger world, from 1984’s The Last Starfighter.

Our hope?  How about bringing in original director Nick Castle, and if he’s not interested, what is Rogue One director Gareth Edwards up to these days?  It seems like an obvious target release for the second half of 2019–the 35th anniversary of the original.  It would also seem obvious to include actors Lance Guest, who played Alex, and Catherine Mary Stewart, who played Maggie.  Both well-known The Music Man star Robert Preston and prolific TV and film actor Dan O’Herlihy, who played Centauri and Grig, respectively, passed away several years ago.  In addition to the top photo above, check out seven more images of Matt Allsopp’s gorgeous, futuristic, and evocative concept art below:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You don’t expect a crime novel or pulp fiction to be funny.  Sure, any good story has some humor, but crime mysteries are the stuff of suspense-thrillers and dark alleys, right?  Maybe so, but then there is the late great crime fiction writer Donald E. Westlake.  His novel Help I Am Being Held Prisoner has a lead character that would knock any reader off his chair.  The Chicago Sun-Times called Westlake “the funniest crime writer going” and they’re probably right.  His humor sometimes comes out of nowhere.  It’s not the hard-boiled flavor you may be used to, but his characters are still clever as ever, possessing those traits that make everyone appear so real.  His comedy is decisive and quick and the next thing you know tears are shooting out of yours eyes and coffee out your nose.  Hot on the heels of last year’s posthumously published action thriller Forever and a Death (reviewed here), Westlake’s Help I Am Being Held Prisoner is the latest classic find from the Hard Case Crime series, a 1974 novel now back in bookstores in a new edition for the first time in decades (with a great painted Paul Mann cover), and making people laugh again 44 years later.

Westlake’s protagonist this time is Harold Künt, last name pronounced “koont.”  The umlaut is important because pretty much no one has pronounced his name correctly in his life.  He’s 32 years old and unmarried, after three girlfriends refused to marry him, mainly because of his name.  In a roundabout but direct way, the joke God played on him with his name–in Künt’s mind–was rationale to play jokes on everyone else.  So Künt rebelled and got a sweet vengeance against everyone and anyone via his unique brand of practical jokery.  His signature?  The best practical jokes are the ones you don’t see play out.  You just set them up and walk away.  Künt is a pretty satisfied guy until one of his jokes goes too far off the rails and he lands in a New York jail–five to fifteen years in the penitentiary–a steeper penalty than warranted.  But two married Congressmen and unmarried ladies in the cars with them were part of a 17-car collision caused by Künt’s latest prank.  So Künt was due for his comeuppance.  The novel begins with Künt’s first day in the slammer.  Jailed for a joke, he’s resigned to becoming rehabilitated.  Sort of.  No more pranks, the warden orders, as Künt leaves some goo on the door handle as he leaves with the guard.  Künt is provided good advice, and he’s shown which of the inmates to steer clear of and for which reasons.  Then his roommate gets paroled and everything falls apart.  Or does it?

  

It’s a crime novel, so the novel needs a crime.  Künt falls in with exactly the wrong crowd, a group of thugs who have control over a tunnel out of the prison where they have found a way to live a second life outside of their jail sentences.  Is Künt in or is he out?  The band of criminals develop a plan to rob not just one but two of the local town banks.  What better an alibi to an armed robbery than being locked in jail?

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