Monday, May 30, 2011

'Stoker's Dracula': A faithful adaptation
in a classy format

Stoker's Dracua (Marvel Comics, 2005)
Writer: Roy Thomas, based on Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula"
Artist: Dick Giordano
Rating: Ten of Ten Stars

In the early 1970s, Marvel Comics augmented their flagging superhero comics by doing horror "The Marvel Way."

Th Marvel horror boom was kicked off by a series that saw Dracula return to 1970s England in "Tomb of Dracula", and the King of Vampires remained a corner stone of the Marvel horror boom until it it became a bust during the early 1980s. At the height of his popularity with Marvel readers, Dracula headlined three different comic magazines ("Tomb of Dracula", "Giant-Sized Dracula", and "Dracula Lives") serving simultaneously as the hero and villain of some of the darkest tales Marvel Comics ever published, while making guest appearances not only in some of the other horror titles (including an outright cross-over with "Werewolf By Night"), but even facing off with Spider-Man and Dr. Strange.

One of the most interesting and classy initiatives that Marvel Comics undertook with Dracula as an ambitious adaptation of the novel that gave birth to the character their creative staff had so adeptly taken over and made their own, Bram Stoker's "Dracula".

With Roy Thomas adapting the novel and Dick Giordano handling the art, the series was an anchor serial in the "Dracula Lives" magazine, and its perhaps the most faithful comic adaptation of the novel ever published. The creators stay true to both the intent and storyline of Bram Stoker while successfully highlighting those parts of the book that lend themselves to a graphic media. The result are comics that truly were mature more than a decade before the industry decided to market comic books as such.

Unfortunately, Thomas and Giordano were not able to finish their adaption. The height of the popularity of Marvel's horror titles began to wane, and "Dracula Lives" was cancelled. A few more installments appeared in "Vampire Tales", which was then cancelled, and then "Legion of Monsters". But the adaptation remained unfinished.

But Thomas and Giordano, both of whom had great affection for Stoker's original novel, talked together many times of finding a way to finish their work, including buying the original material produced for Marvel and self-publishing. The busy careers of successful writers and artists being what they are, these idle speculations never became anything but that... until Marvel Comics approached the men about finishing what they had started.

Thirty years after it had been begun, Thomas and Giordano reunited and completed the "Dracula" adaptation. In 2004, Marvel Comics reprinted the original chapters and followed them by the roughly 100 pages of new material in a four issue mini-series, keeping all of it glorious black-and-white--or, rather, shades of gray, because Giordano makes skillful use of ink-washes and occasional subtle application of zip-a-tone throughout.

Since Thomas and Giordano had originally envisioned their adaptation as being collected in a single volume once it had been completed, the hardcover collection that Marvel published in 2005 reads far more smoothly than most other volumes made up of stories originally presented in smaller chunks. There's no recapping of what just happened two pages ago, and the pacing from the original novel is retained. In every way, the hardcover of "Stoker's Dracula" is a perfect translation of the novel to comic book form. And the hardcover book, complete with a simple, tasteful dust-jacket and bookmark, gives it the classy packaging it deserves.

It's actually hard to tell that Thomas and Giordano didn't create the material specifically for this book format. It's almost as hard to tell that three decades passed between Giordano's first and last brush strokes. If you look carefully, you can tell--some pages have slightly thicker black borders at the bottom (where there once were "to be continued"-type tags, while the lettering on the last 100 pages is slightly larger and more legible than on the first 100 because it was produced for the comic-book-sized page rather than a magazine-sized one. Another tell-tale sign of the span between start and finish is that Giordano's inking style changed subtly and he is more prone to let his art spill beyond the panels into the margins--knowing that modern printing processes are more forgiving to that than in the old days--so simply looking at the edge of the pages with the book closed will give you an idea of where the modern content starts.

All that amounts to nitpicking, however, and if you're just reading the book instead of looking for things to point to, you will not experience any shifts or disconnects at any time while reading. It's a great way to re-experience Bram Stoker's "Dracula" novel, as opposed to other works that take his name in vain as part of the title instead of honoring it as they do here.

Sadly, the book is officially out of print as of this writing. Copies are still available second-hand from and elsewhere. I recommend getting your hands on one.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Celebrating Dracula, Part Three

Here's a third and final collection of line drawing of the King of Vampires, offered in observation of the month when Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula" was first published.

By Mike Hoffman

By Dick Giordano
By Mike Ploog

By Gene Colan and Dave Gutierrez

Monday, May 23, 2011

'The Amazing Transparent Man' not worth seeing

The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)
Starring: Douglas Kennedy, James Griffith, Marguerite Chapman, Ivan Triesault, and Red Morgan
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Major Krenner (Griffith), the insane commander of a mercenary army forces an ex-Nazi scientist (Triesault) to perfect a process to turn living things invisible. He breaks Joey Faust (Kennedy), a famed bank robber out of prison to use him to do double-duty as a final field test and to steal an unstable radioactive isotope that will make the invisibility process more effective. But the psychopath failed to take into account the stubborn nature of the sociopath... and the now-invisible Faust runs wild.

"The Amazing Transparent Man" is a title that reflects more the hopes of the filmmakers than the actual end result. Joey Faust is one of the least amazing invisible men I've come across, being devoid of imagination or ambition and merely setting his mind to using his invisible state to resume his career as a safe-cracker. In some ways, Faust's lack of ambition seems to mirror that of the screenwriter behind this film. The script offers a constant promise of better things to come, yet the writer never manages to capitalize on those ideas.

This is a film that could have successfully merged sci-fi with film-noirish crime thrills in a way similar to the classic "The Walking Dead", or it could have heighten the horror present by bringing to the fore the darkness in the soul of an otherwise good person with the captured scientist becoming as ruthless as the heroine in "The Man Who Changed His Mind" in an attempt to save a loved one. At the very least, director Ulmer could have tried to live up to his own proven ability to direct movies that take full advantage of the darkness within the characters featured, like he did with "The Black Cat" and "Strange Woman".

I mention those films, because they all came to mind while I watched "The Amazing Transparent Man" as I saw opportunity after opportunity for some good slip by. The actors all give performances better than the script deserves and the same can be said of the technical crew, but nothing they do can make up for the fact that the film's story only works because the main characters behave the way they do or the story would fall apart, and the police are so dumb that even Inspector Clouseau would be embarrassed on their behalf.

What really does the movie in, though, is the inability of Ulmer or the writer to take advantage of the horror situation they've set up. Neither Major Krenner nor Joey Faust are used to their fullest potential as characters... neither exhibiting the dark and foul nature that their dialogue implies they possess and that other characters claim they have. Faust ultimately emerges as an interesting character because he takes on the hero mantle for no reason other than Krenner has ticked him off, but Krenner comes across as idiotic rather than evil; he's the leader of a mercenary army who is supposedly adept at forcing others to do his bidding by knowing their weak spots and exploiting them ruthlessly, yet he picks a man with no attachments to speak of and no concerns beyond fulfilling his own desires to be the subject for the ultimate trial of the invisibility process. That's the act of someone who is not crazy, but stupid.

The ultimate demonstration of incompetent story-telling in this film comes when the secret behind a locked door around much build-up has taken place is revealed. Supposedly, Krenner is keeping the young daughter of the ex-Nazi scientist prisoner in the room, but he forbids anyone to enter it. When Faust finally does break it open, there could have been an opportunity for tragedy, horror, or even pathos. Instead, it's anti-climactic disappointment. The gun over the fireplace might have gotten fired, but the only thing that came out of the muzzle was a flag with "Bang!" written on it.

"The Amazing Transparent Man" can be found in several sci-fi and horror-oriented DVD collections of old movies. You should save it for a time you've watched everything else whatever set you encounter it in has to offer.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Should we feel sorry for the End-of-Worlders?

Writing on the New Republic website, under the headline "Too Much Judgement: The Media's Shameful, Cruel Obsession With Those Awaiting The Rapture", Tiffany Stanley provides a serious-minded article on the Rapture of May 21 That Didn't Happen (well, there's an hour to go, but the smart money's on "no Rapture today").

For me, the most thought-providing bit was this: "Do the end-timers seem ignorant? Yes. Are they insane? Possibly. But should our reaction to them be chuckling glee or something more like sadness?":

Should we feel sadness that there are people whose lives are so miserable they spend their days dreaming about being taken away to Heaven?


And we should probably also ask why we take such delight in mocking them. (I know why I do it... I'm a mean-spirited bastard. Don't know about anyone else, though.)

Friday, May 20, 2011

It's 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day 2011'!

Why we draw:

And we'll keep drawing until they get the message. Click here for my 2011 ceremonial Mo-toon.

Death threats and actual murders are not an appropriate response mere words and scribbles on pieces of paper. If Muslims want the world to respect them and their all-precious Prophet, they need to behave like they are deserving of respect and they need to join in the condemnation of those who don't. Like, for example condemning in no uncertain terms those who issue death threats or commit mayhem and murder over "blasphemy against the Prophet" instead of making excuses for them.

It's 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day 2011'!

Later today, I'll be posting some oldies-but-goodies I've been saving for Mohammed Mondays, but if you have original black-and-white Mo-toons you would like me to host, I'll be happy to put them up. Just send them to me as email attachments. You can also click here to see my contribution to this blessed day when sane people let blood-thirsty idol-worshipers know that they don't scare us, and that we don't subscribe to their belief that drawings of the Prophet Mohammed (may peas be upon him) have the power to corrupt the souls of human beings.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Celebrating Dracula, Part Two

Here are a few more illustrations of the world's most famous vampire, in celebration of the month when Bram Stoker's "Dracula" was originally published in 1897.

By David Hoover
By Chris Samnee
By Tony Harris

By Dick Giordano
By Gene Colan

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Batman that I can't love

DC Showcase Presents: Batman, Volume One (DC Comics, 2007)
Writers: Ed Herron, Gardner Fox, John Broome, and Bill Finger
Artists: Carmine Infantino, Bob Kane, Murphy Anderson, and Various
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Batman and the characters of the Fantastic Four are my favorite superheroes. But the FF left me behind some time in the early 1990s--the issue with the image of the Wizard snatching Franklin from a sleeping Ben Grimm is the last FF story I acknowledge--and Batman moved beyond me around the time "Batman Year Two" saw print.

With the FF, I LOVE everything from the first issue (where they were Kirby's recasting of DC's Challengers of the Unknown with superpowers) through the above-mentioned issue, which was #302 or something like that. I like the FF as porrtrayed in the "Spider-Girl" M2 universe, but mainline Marvel is dead to me. (Okay... I could do wihtout most of the Inhumans, but Crystal and her romance with Johnny I liked.)

With Batman, I LOVE just about everything from the late 1970s through the early 1990s... "Detective Comics", "Batman", "Batman Family", "The Brave & the Bold", "Worlds Finest's Comics"... I love 'em all. The Doug Moench scripted, Don Newton/Gene Colan/Alfredo Alcala illustrated tales in "Detective" and "Batman" are the high points of my Batman experience, along with the Bob Haney-written, Jim Aparo illustrated tales from "The Brave and the Bold".

So, I figured I'd enjoy "Showcase Presents: Batman"--a massive, 500+ page book reprinting stories from "Detective Comics" #327-342 and "Batman" #164-174--because I love the FF from the same period, and I greatly enjoy the 1960s Batman TV show.

I was, however, wrong. While I detest the psychotic, grim-and-gritty Batman that came into fashion in the 1990s, I found myself equally turned off by the frivolous stories in this volume. They were virtually all forgettable, too cutesy and self-consciously camp, and downright embarrassing whenever they attempted to get "hip." Even the great artwork of Carmine Infantino can't dress up these turkeys... and the always mediocre Bob Kane only manages to drag down a few of the better tales. (Yes, he created Batman... and yes, I enjoy the early tales he produced. But there were far more talented creators working at the same time he was.)

There were a few memorable highlights--such as when the killed off Alfred to the point where his dead body is even shown on panel--and a handful of borderline film-noir crime tales and a couple of stories featuring Patricia Powell, a clever police woman and potential romantic interest for both Bruce Wayne and Batman. (The only two things I'm curious about in this book is how Alfred came back to life, and whatever happened to Powell. Maybe I'll have to pick up Volume 2 and find out.)

It's interesting to me that Batman is such a huge character, given that comics from the same period featuring Hawkman, Elongated Man, and the Flash were so vastly superior. The power of marketing and branding at work, I suppose. I can, however, easily see why Marvel Comics caught on the way they did. The quality of those early Marvel tales are heads and shoulders above those featuring the DC headliners of Superman and Batman.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Celebrating Dracula, Part One

In May of 1897, Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula" was first published. It went on to popularize vampires and become one of the most adapted books ever. Counting the numerous spin-offs, Dracula may well be the most written-about figure in all of pop culture.

This is the first in a series of posts presenting artist visions of the King of Vampires. This week's selection are all interpretations of Dracula as viewed through the editorial lens of Marvel Comics.

By Russ Heath
By Dick Giordano

By Gene Colan

By Bob Hall

Monday, May 9, 2011

Featuring the craziest pre-1960s femme fatale?

Night Editor (1946)
Starring: William Gargan, Paul E. Burns, Janis Carter, Frank Wilcox, and Jeff Donnell
Director: Henry Levin
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A homicide detective (Gargan) having an affair with a thrill-seeking married wealthy woman (Carter) witnesses a murder during one of their trysts. Even though he can identify and arrest the killer (Wilcox), he can't do so without causing a scandal, destroying his family and ruining his career. Will a good cop who made a bad call do the right thing, or go further down the path of corruption?

This is the stuff good 1940s film noirs and crime dramas are made of, and this is pretty good crime drama. Part proto-police procedural, part film noir, part melodrama, this film is fun! It gets really exciting when classism enters the picture, and the psycho dame the cop is fooling around with decides to choose between "her kind" and doing the right thing when the cop's conscience really starts bothering him. It's a nice twist that comes at just the right moment to kick the film's suspense level up even higher.

While the high quality of the film--with its perfect pacing, appropriately moody lighting, superior cinematography, and a cast that gives excellent performances all around--is to be expected from a major studio like Columbia, the film offers the surprise of what is perhaps the most sociopathic/borderline psychopathic femme fatale I recall seeing in a Hollywood movie made before the 1960s. From her demand to see the body of the murder victim to the icepick action late in the film, I was surprised by just how nasty she was. She makes the crazy scheming women of "Strange Woman" and "Lady From Shanghai" look like they should be selling Girl Scout cookies. While Janis Carter made a career out of playing characters like this, this is the most twisted character I've ever seen her play, and I wonder if this extreme character could be a reason the film sank from view after its initial release.

The only serious complaint I have with "Night Editor" is that they filmmakers, aside from the cars being driven, didn't make even a halfhearted attempt to match the look of the characters to the late 1920s time-frame the bulk of it takes place in. Would it really have been that hard for a major operation like Columbia to adjust the hairstyles of the women and get proper wardrobe for the entire cast instead of having everyone in contemporary mid-1940s styles?

A smaller complaint is that the film's resolution is ultimately predictable (doubly-so if you pay close attention to the exchanges that take place in the newsroom as the story unfolds). However, getting there is so much fun that it doesn't really matter.

Fans of film noir pictures, classic mysteries, and the type of crime dramas where the hero has to work backwards to prove the guilt of a murderer he has already identified will find plenty of entertainment here. This is one of the many movies that could do with a little more recognition from us film-fans.

Trivia: "Night Editor" was a popular radio anthology series where the editor of title would relate the "unreported facts" of some news item. It later became a television series.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Picture Perfect Special:
Princesses of Mars, Part Eight

Dejah Thoris and other Martian Princesses are hanging out at my house, celebrating my birthday! (Okay, so it's just my cats and I. But a guy can dream, can't he?)

By Bruce Timm
By Randy Green
By Mitch Foust
By Paul Renauld

In all seriousness, I'm getting together with friends. But Martian Princesses would be welcomed at the table if they chose to show up!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

'The Capture' fails because it is well done

The Capture (1950)
Starring: Lew Ayres, Teresa Wright, Victor Jory, Jimmy Hunt, and Barry Kelley
Director: John Sturges
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Oil-man Lin Vanner (Ayres), haunted by guilt after killing a suspected murderer and payroll thief, seeks out the dead man's family (Hunt and Wright) to make amends. He soon discovers that he may have killed an innocent and sets his mind to finding the real thief.

In concept, "The Capture" is interesting enough. It is a modern-day (well... 1930s, which is more modern than the 1870s) Western that deals with the emotional impact killing another human being has on an Everyday Joe who isn't a trained soldier or police officer, as well as the void that person's death leaves for those who love him. The tale is spiced up with some romance, intrigue, drama, and true crime-style action, but it ultimately comes off as less than interesting.

The biggest problem with the film is that its central character, Lin, is just a little too much of an Everyday Joe. Lew Ayres does a fine job of portraying this character... a hard working, honest man who is concerned with all the usual things--earning a living, impressing his boss, looking good to his girlfriend--when his life is thrown into turmoil because of a single snap decision. But Lin is such an Everyday Joe, both because of the way the script is written and Ayers performance, that he is boring. There's a reason they don't make movies and write adventure stories about people like you and me, Dear Reader, it's because we're boring. And Lin is like us, just an Everyday Working Stiff. Lin's ordinariness also makes it very hard to suspend disbelief during the film's third act when he turns hardcore amateur investigator/tough guy in his search for the real thief and peace of mind. In other words, the filmmakers and Ayres do such a good job of portraying Lin as just a normal guy that it ends up working against the entertainment value of the film.

Another problem rests with Teresa Wright's character. Wright struggles mightily to give texture to her, but she can't overcome the fact that the character is written to be a dishrag who can't even pull of a revenge scheme properly when she discovers Lin killed her husband. Then, to make her character even lamer, she becomes the subject of another movie Insta-Romance when she marries Lin is what seems like an overnight conversion from resentment to true love.

Despite the good acting on the part of both Ayres and Wright, the film becomes almost unbearably boring in the middle when it's mostly about them--two characters that are written to be uninteresting. However, viewers who stick with the film are rewarded when things pick up toward the end, even if Lin's transformation into a sort-of tough guy is unbelievable.

"The Capture" isn't a film that's worth seeking out on a stand-alone DVD, but it's harmless filler if you see it in one of those big 20 or more movie multi-packs.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mohammed Monday:
Remembering Osama bin Laden

By now you've probably heard that Osama bin Laden is dead. If you haven't, click here for that important news.

Today, we pay homage to Bin Laden and his love for the Prophet Mohammed (may peas be upon him) as well as the male prostitute Mohammed with whom Osama shared his bed these past six years (when he wasn't taking it up the ass from Mullah Omar or Aymen Al Zahrawi).

Osama did truly loom large among those who idolize the Prophet Mohammed (may pecans be upon him). Never before has a mere mortal so embodied the values of Jihad, with a life so full of murder, mayhem, misogyny, homosexual escapades, and sex with little girls.