Thursday, December 24, 2009

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

We were watching the Grinch (the classic Chuck Jones cartoon, not the overblown Jim Carey movie) last night and marveling at how well it has held up. The show was made in 1966 and all of the principles have died (at ripe old ages) but the show still seems fresh.

Part of this is the source material. This was the only Seuss book that is really aimed at the entire family instead of very young children. It is similar to Dickens's A Christmas Carol with a lonely character having a life-changing experience revolving around Christmas.

Part of it is the animation. This is Chuck Jones at the top of his form. You don't have to see the credits to know that he directed it but it is not as stylized as some of his work. It is also the best animated Christmas special that I can remember from the 1960s through the 1990s. The Charlie Brown Christmas special was done on a very limited budget and even that was nearly twice what CBS paid to show it. It didn't make a profit until its second showing (which was once per year back then). The Rankin Bass programs like Frosty the Snowman were poorly done and got progressively worse into the 1970s. The Grinch is theatrical-quality animation.

Then there is the voice talent. I'm sure that Boris Karloff would be pleased to know that his best know work turned out to be a classic children's tale instead of horror roles. Then there is Thurl Ravenscroft who sang "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" and June Foray who did Cindy Lou Who. While best remembered for voicing Tony the Tiger and Rocky the Flying Squirrel respectively, these voice actors were mainstays of animation for decades.

The splashy new Christmas special this year was Disney's Prep and Landing. While very well done, you wonder if how it will hold up in 40+ years.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Story

I haven't seen anyone mention it but the events in Christmas Story take place 70 years ago this year (1939).

The movie was not a big hit when it came out but it has gained a huge following thanks to repeated showings on cable, especially USA's annual 24 hour marathon.

I think that the secret to the movie is that it is a realistic depiction of Christmas from a child's point of view. While I was born too late for radio dramas, classrooms had not changed appreciably between the 1930s and the 1960s. And who among us hasn't had fantasies about what we will do with a new toy? Or had a classmate dare another one into doing something dumb?

The kids act like real kids but the adults don't act like real people. They act the way that kids think they act.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Zune HD Review

I got a Zune HD for my birthday. It is a fun device.

Previously I had been using a Sansa View and a Nokia n800 Internet Tablet for viewing media. The Zune falls somewhere in-between these. It has similar dimensions to the Sansa and can do a lot more than the Sansa but it isn't up to the Nokia. The Nokia has a larger screen and more applications. On the other hand, it is too large to carry easily and the battery life is too short.

The Zune is incredibly small and light and the battery life is rated similar to the View - up to 33 hours of music or 8+ hours of video.

Like other Zunes, the HD supports WiFi. It can use this for wireless syncing and it comes with a web browser. The browser is slow and automatically switches to mobile pages where available. It does not support Flash so you cannot watch Youtube on it. Besides Flash, I would also like to see an email application on the Zune. It does support a Zune-only messageboard. It also has an app that supports Twitter.

There are several apps available. The Zune Marketplace has some, both general and games. All are free but the games have ads that play when they start.

Microsoft has released a game developer kit and people have already used this to create some freeware. The best part about this is that it is not as tightly controlled as the iTunes store.

Microsoft has a special program for communicating with the Zune. This will automatically sync content or allow you to drag and drop. Personally, I prefer the directory model where I can move files directly into the Zune's directories.

As a media player, the Zune is easy to use. The touch screen makes navigation easy. I have a wide selection of videos I've saved from YouTube or ripped from DVDs. All of them played without any problems, even a couple that always caused my Sansa View to hang up for unknown reasons. The display is sharp and there is no sign of choppiness, even when playing a movie I had ripped for my netbook.

It is a long-standing rule of thumb that it takes Microsoft at least three releases before they get a product right. That puts the Zune right on schedule.

Update: I found a major limitation in the Zune's implementation of WiFi and the browser. Most hotspots redirect the first page to a form where you either log in or at least agree to their terms of service. The Zune will not connect with these. It just gives an error and tries connecting again. It does not connect with WiFi that requires a security key, either. The only place that it can connect is to a completely open WiFi. That makes it useless as a mobile browser since almost all hotspots have a redirected opening page. I hop that Microsoft issues a fix for this.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Platform wars

Things are getting interesting in technology. A lot of new players have entered the arena and there will be a lot of shake-out in the next couple of years. Lines are blurring between PCs, netbooks, phones, MP3 players, and digital book readers. All of these can now play music and most of them can browse the Internet.

The big loser is Microsoft. I'm not sure that they've noticed yet but they have become irrelevant to all of the interesting technologies. Yes, they have a new operating system out. You can run a crippled version on netbooks. That's about it. It doesn't do anything that the old versions of Windows didn't do and it doesnt' run on anything except PCs.

Microsoft did introduce a new touch-screen Zune which got good reviews. This may be their salvation if they can expand it into phones. It's long-term success is doubtful. Previous versions were easy to find at places like Walmart and Target. The new Zune HD is not. Walmart offers "ship to store" which means placing an order and coming back in a day or two. There is no sign of it at Target.

Regardless, touch-screen MP3 players are the little brothers to the new breed of touch phone. Microsoft has a version of Windows Mobile that runs on these but it is a third-tier player.

Several ebook readers came out this year. All of them have significant flaws. The biggest one is that you still pay twice as much for an ebook as for a paperback. On top of that, you don't really buy books. You buy the rights to read them on a specific platform or device. They only make sense if you carry a lot of hardbacks around with you. The real purpose of these devices is to tie you to one book-seller. I expect them to eventually vanish.

For the last few years Apple owned the touch phone market. That is over. There are a slew of competing phones on the market. I'm going out on a limb and predicting that Google android will be the eventual winner. The phone market right now looks a lot like the PC market did in the early 1980s and the lesson from that is that the operating system that runs on the most platforms wins. Google's Android is not tied to a specific phone company or manufacturer the way that all of the other phones are. They have also announced the Chrome operating system which is designed to run on netbooks. Nothing will actually run or be stored locally. Chrome will do nothing except run the Chrome browser and everything else will be a web service running somewhere else. This is a direct threat to Microsoft.

Microsoft practically gave away MSDOS in the 1980s in order to spread as far as possible. Google is giving away their operating system. Their goal it to get as many people onto their search engine as possible. With wide acceptance running across multiple platforms they could easily be the default operating system for everything smaller than a business workstation.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Good by Mr. Monk

Something over eight years ago Tony Shalhoub came up with an idea for a TV detective. This one would be obsessive-compulsive name Adrian Monk - sort of an anti-Columbo. He would also notice and remember everything. The networks passed but USA picked up the show. The show was a hit, such a hit that NBC showed Monk reruns.

Monk had a fair amount of back-story. He was a cop who had married in college. When his wife was murdered, he had a breakdown and had to leave the force. When the show started he was trying to get his badge back and doing police consulting to make ends meet. He also had a full-time nurse who accompanied him everywhere and handed him hand wipes whenever he touched anything (or anyone).

The early shows featured crimes that only Monk could solve because he noticed and remembered everything.

Somewhere along the way the format changed, possibly when USA adopted their "characters welcome" promotion. Monk episodes were no longer about the crimes. The crimes were just a way of placing Monk in new and (usually) uncomfortable positions. Often the crimes were an afterthought. At the same time Monk seemed to pick up new phobias weekly. The writing became lazy.

When it was announced that Monk was in his final season, a few questions remained - would he solve his wife's murder? Would he get his badge back? Would he become involved with his assistant?

The series finale is a two-part episode. Prior to that they answered the question about the badge - yes he got it back but he decided that he preferred consulting and resigned again. This was very disappointing since it was something he had been working for the entire run of the series. Just a couple of episodes earlier he had been meeting with the review board.

As for his wife's murder, it was pretty obvious from the first part who had her killed and the episode ended with him about to receive the final clue. The big question is if he will survive since he was poisoned in part one.

Even if the way that the series is closed is unsatisfying, at least it came to an orderly close. Many series, Columbo to name one, just trail off.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In Defense of the Little Mermaid

Wired's Geekdad listed Top 10 bad lessons from good movies movies. Number two was:

It's OK to completely change your physical appearance and way of life for the person you love, even if he makes no sacrifices at all (from The Little Mermaid). This movie has the single most appalling ending of any Disney movie ever made, which is a shame because, apart from that, it's a great film. I just cannot comprehend how anyone could make a movie in the late 1980s with this message, which is not exactly subtle: Ariel gives up her home, her family, and BEING A MERMAID because she loves Eric so. And he gives up … nothing. Yeah, that marriage is off to a great start.

At least he included the movie as a good movie. In fact, this was arguably the most important hand-animated movie of the last fifty years. After years of shoddy animated movies, Disney probed that it could still make one as good as any produced under Walt. It was the first of two decades of great Disney movies.

Regardless, it has been attacked since it came out. Feminists didn't like it because Ariel chased a prince and was eventually rescued by him. It didn't matter that she saved his life twice and he saved her twice. They didn't give the movie much credit for presenting the first Disney prince with a real personality or the first time that Disney had an actual courtship between one of their princesses and her prince.

But, that's not Geekdad's complaint. His complaint was that Ariel became human in order to be with Eric. Is this a valid complaint?

Keep in mind that staying a mermaid was a deal-breaker with their romance. They could only have a tenuous relationship on the boarder between land and sea - an environment that was dangerous to both. The choice was transform or give up someone you love.

This is not the same as having breast enhancements. The closest equivalent is leaving your native country to marry someone.

I'm sympathetic to this. My daughter moved to England to get married. A close friend moved to America from Canada to marry his girlfriend. I used to work with a German woman who married an American serviceman and moved here. She had to give up her language.

By Geekdad's reasoning, all of these choices were appalling.

Also, it was established early in the movie that Ariel was fascinated with the surface. You got the feeling that she may not have been ready to make a deal with the devil but she would gladly have traded her tail for legs, even before she met Eric.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why Are They Showing This Now? - the game

It used to be that studios simply advertised movies. Now they market them with other movies. When I watch a movie on TV I tend to wonder, "Why are they showing this movie now?" You can make it into a game. Here are some examples from the last couple of days:

The Matrix Trilogy - the Directors have a new movie coming out on Thanksgiving.
Demolition Man - Two possibilities - Sandra Bullock as a movie coming out (The Blind Side) and has one out on DVD (The Proposal).
Almost Famous (a movie about a 1970s rock band) - Pirate Radio just came out (a movie about rock in 1966).

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Original Prisoner

It came and went forty years ago on American TV as a Summer replacement series. I was syndicated in the 1970s on independent stations. It went on to have a huge, devoted cult following. I'm referring to The Prisoner staring Patrick McGhoohan.

The premise was simple. A secret agent angrily resigns. As he is packing his clothing he is gassed. He wakes up on in the Village on an island where he is told that no one has a name, just numbers. He is Number 6. The island is governed by Number 2 (who changed weekly). Everyone on the island was under constant supervision. Many of the people there were there against their will. Others were spies. There was no way to tell who was who.

That's about all that we ever learned. We were never sure if Number 6 was abducted by his own government who suspected him of defecting or by a foreign government that figured that whatever made him resign must be important. It is possible that the Village was run by multiple governments as a sort of retirement center for spies who knew too much to be left out in the wild.

Every episode was different. Sometimes the new Number 2 would try a new interrogation technique. Sometimes he simply played mind games with Number 6, making him think that he was escaping only to fail at the last minute. A few times Number 6 played mind games with Number 2, doing meaningless activities designed that looked like a plot with the idea of implicating Number 2.

Prior to making the Prisoner, McGoohan had played a secret agent (Danger Man in the UK, Secret Agent in the US with the song "Secret Agent Man" as the theme song). We never learned if he was playing the same agent or if this was a different character. In fact, about the most we ever learned about Number 6 was that he built his car himself and it was one of his few prized possessions.

The show finally ended with Number 2 and Number 6 locked in a bunker until one of them broke. Number 6 won and was told that he was the new Number 2. In a surrealistic episode, he brought down the Village and escaped to London where he had the option of returning to his old life (symbolized by his apartment) or leaving (symbolized by his car). He drove off. The last shot had the door of his apartment closing automatically - something that the door in the village did.

The show was the only tv show or movie that the Beatles licensed a song to (All You Need Is Love in the final episode). They were big fans.

The show had long-term impact on other media. The Fantastic Four did a couple of issues inspired by the show. The Simpsons did a great parody. AMC is showing an updated version this Sunday.

Side-note: Patrick McGoohan turned down the chance to replace Sean Connery as James Bond. It was a wise move. The Bond movies of the 1970s were progressively sillier and he would have been a poor fit.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Dickens's Christmas Carol

A new version of A Christmas Carol comes out today. This one uses motion capture and CGI. Reviews have not been kind. From the beginning I was wondering why we need a new version. The advertising for this version has been relentless and all of it has focused on Scrooge flying through London.

This seems like a good time to mention some previous versions that are redoubtably better than the new version.

Years before Charlie Brown's Christmas, Mr. Magoo did a version. I was very young at the time - I turned 8 a few days after it was shown. In retrospect, this was a very 1960s production. The animation was not all that good. Regardless, it holds up fairly well.

CBS aired a made-for-tv production in 1984. CBS was at the top of their game in the 1980s. This one had a great cast starting with George C. Scott as Scrooge. We watched it last year. It holds up very well. Production values were very high. The sets look authentic. Scott plays the part with a light touch. His Scrooge is never evil but events in his past conspired to make him lonely and bitter. Regardless, he never lost his sense of humor. He tries to dismiss Marley's ghost as indigestion, using line straight from the book. about my only quibble is that Tiny Tim looks too well-fed and healthy.

WKRP in Cincinnati did a Christmas Carol adaptation in the early 1980s. The Art Carleson, the station manager, ate some funny brownies and dreamed a version. It was one of the best episodes of one of the best sitcoms of its day. Again, this was a CBS production.

Bill Murray did a great update of the story in 1988's Scrooged. This includes a play within a play where Murray is producing a live TV special of a Christmas Carol while living the story. It includes lots of digs at TV producers. This is up there with Groundhog Day.

Also in 1988, BBC's Black Adder did a Christmas special in which the nicest man in England is accidentally visited by a spirit who gives him visions of his ancestors and decedents. It turns him into the meanest man in England.
Following Jim Henson's death, the Muppets went from new plots featuring Kermit to adaptations of classics as ensemble productions. Their 1992 version of a Christmas Carol was the first of these and quite effective.

There have been other versions but none of them are worth looking up.

In the meantime, wait until December before watching any version.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Too Many Vampires?

MSNBC asks if there are too many vampire movies and TV shows. Their conclusion:

While their popularity may ebb and flow, vampires always will have a place in the audience's heart, said Nicolas Cage, who starred in 1989's "Vampire's Kiss" and was a producer on 2000's "Shadow of the Vampire."

"The vampire is always going to be fascinating," Cage said. "It's like the vigilante cop, or it's like the cowboy or the Western. It's part of the fabric of society."

I agree that vampires have a strong place in movies but there is a real possibility that they are overexposed. I remember a "what's coming" column (sorry, no link) that vampires are so 2008 and that werewolves are the new big thing. Since the next Twilight movie features werewolves, this may be hard to prove. Similarly, the Sookie Stackhouse books that Tru Blood is based on adds several other types of supernaturals into the mix.

Back in the early 1970s, Hammer Films thought that vampires were a bottomless well. Hammer released several Dracula movies (Dracula AD, Taste the Blood of Dracula, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, the Scars of Dracula) plus Captain Cronos Vampire Hunter, the Vampire Circus, and the Vampire Lovers. Other vampire movies and movies with vampires released around then included House of Dark Shadows, The House the Dripped Blood, Black Sabbath, and a really cheap Dracula vs. Frankenstein.

On TV, Dan Curtis followed Dark Shadows with Night Stalker, both a made for TV movie and a series, and a version of Dracula. PBS did their own adaptation of Dracula.

Inevitably, the supply exceeded demand. Most of these movies lost money and Hammer went out of business.

The vampires of today have more variety than the 1970s versions. Back then vampires were always monsters. Some, like Dark Shadow's Barnabas Collins, were sympathetic but they were still monstrous (Barnabas still drank women's blood then strangled them but he felt bad about it). Today's vampires have transcended the traditional image of the undead who thirsts for blood. Some of them are outright heroic. That gives today's vampire movies more variety but there is still a lot of them. Also, many of them are aimed at a narrow demographic that has a tendency to outgrow such things. When that happens, the next generation often establishes its own tastes.

Bottom line, there will always be vampire movies but don't bet the house on the current fad continuing much longer.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Raven

In the early 1960s, American International pumped out a series of movies loosely based on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe and staring Vincent Price. While The Raven was one of them, it was quite different - it was done for laughs.

I was watching the movie for the first time in years on the cable channel MyTV. It continues to be entertaining.

This is a movie that would not be made today. It is too obvious that everyone in it was having fun. Even today's comedies take themselves more seriously than the actors in the Raven.

It had an all star cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and a very young Jack Nicholson. Much of the movie is scenes with Price and Lorre and those feature a lot of ad-libbing. In one clever bit, the pair are about to open the coffin of Price's character's lost love, Lenore. Lorre's character finds nothing unusual with keeping a coffin in the house. The pair remove a velvet cover from the coffin and carefully fold it up, then Lorre tosses it over his shoulder.

The highlight of the film is the wizard's battle between Price and Karloff's characters. Unfortunately, MyTV cut the movie for time and cut out the entire battle. A shame since this made the movie a cult classic.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Coming IPhone App Crash

Newsweek has an article on how few IPhone developers actually make money. This is probably the first part of a market shakedown.

The math is pretty simple. It takes $20,000-$100,000 to develop an app. Most apps are priced low enough to be impulse purchases - around $1 and the developer only gets part of that amount. This means that you have to sell tens of thousands of apps before you break even. That might be possible except you are competing with 80,000 other apps. Unless you get very lucky and get a lot of word of mouth, no one will even find you app so you might have to spend additional money on publicity.

There is nothing mysterious about this. A new market opened up and started a gold rush. When this happens, only a very few get rich. Most people lose their shirts. Sometime soon, a lot of IPhone developers are going to move on to some other occupation.

This is a familiar pattern. When the IBM PC was first introduced there were a lot more programs available for it. A lot of those have fallen by the wayside over the years. A lot of web sites have come and gone in the last 15 years, also.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Monty Python at 40

40 years ago this month Monty Python started running on the BBC. A few years later it appeared in America on PBS. On the station I watched, it showed up at 10:00 pm on Sunday.

I started watching it fairly early. My father had been channel surfing (with only a dozen channels available you went through everything pretty fast) and left it on this for a while. I heard him laughing and turned it on in the basement. I got hooked pretty fast.

The show was unlike anything preceding it and very little after it. The general formula was to get it, tell your joke, then get out before the sketch turned stale. Often sketches would be ended by a BBC announcer, an army officer, an armored knight armed with a rubber chicken, or an animation. There were often running gags such as the Spanish Inquisition which turned up when someone said, "I wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition."

Back when the show was new it was also pretty obscure. Almost no one I knew watched it. When I started college I found more people were fans. Regardless, it took it a long time to seep into the public consciousness. A movie that was nothing but clips from the tv show toured campuses but I don't think it was shown in theaters. Monty Python and the Holy Grail showed for one week in Columbus in one small theater.

The show appealed to comic book fans and there were occasional references to it in comic books. In a short-lived revival of the Metal Men, Walter Simonson slipped in a chapter title named "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition". Iron Fist's girl friend carried a Colt Python with "Monty" engraved on the barrel.

Things changed in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. The Life of Brian got a lot of notice, mainly because many people assumed that it was a parody of Christ and called for it to be banned. A lot of people went to see what the fuss was about. PBS syndicated it nightly in most markets which gave it a lot of exposure. Still, I was quite surprised that my daughter's friends could recite scenes from Holy Grail.

Modern shows like SNL could learn a lot from Monty Python. SNL in particular relies on the one-joke sketch too much. In this, there is one joke. It takes around 40 seconds for the audience to get it but they continue the sketch for five minutes or more - long past when it stopped being funny. They could really use a pompous official coming on every now and then and proclaiming that the sketch had become silly or boring and needs to stop.

Friday, October 02, 2009


50 years ago Peanuts started. It had a long run with the last new strip appearing the day of it's creator's death (Charles Shultz had actually retired a few weeks earlier). This was back in the days when every city had at least two papers and every family subscribed to at least one. Everyone read the comics.

Peanuts was special. Only children appeared but they lived in an adult world. Instead of cheap jokes, the kids worried about things like wearing away the planet by scuffing feet.

From the beginning Charlie Brown had a pet dog. In fact, Shultz's first published drawing was of a dog that looked a lot like Snoopy in Ripley's Believe It or Not. The real turning point in the strip came when Snoopy started thinking. After that he often took over the strip. He even got the last line in the last strip. 40 years ago he acquired a side-kick, a bird named Woodstock after the rock concert. Other characters were added over the years.

The strip looks dated now, especially the early ones that are currently being syndicated. The girls always wear dresses, the kids are all white and none of them come from broken families. This reflects how society saw itself at the time. Still, most of the humor still works.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

FF Blogging - Galactus

It's been a while but I got up to FF #48-50. Stan and Jack wanted to introduce something new - a character so powerful that he thought of Earth in the same terms that a human thinks of an anthill. This character was Galactus.

I already covered some of FF 48. This combined the wrap-up of the Inhumans arc and the introduction of the Silver Surfer. In the beginning of the issue Maximus discovers that the Inhumans are mutated humans instead of being a different sub-species. The knowledge drive him insane and he uses his atmo gun to create a negative zone around the Inhumans' city, sealing it off from humanity. The FF escape before the dome can harden and return to New York where they discover that the sky is on fire. People panic, blaming the Human Torch. The Thing rescues the Torch and the flames vanish. Later they are replaced with flying boulders.

It turns out that Reed and the Watcher have been collaborating on masking the Earth from the Silver Surfer. Reed has been working non-stop for days and is unshaven.

The boulders do not work. The Surfer senses that something is unnatural about them and flies through them, landing on the roof of the Baxter Building (because he senses the Watcher?) where he signals his master. A moment later the Thing knocks him off of the building and across town. He is too late. Galactus arrives.

In the next issue, the Torch and Thing try attacking Galactus. He absorbs the Torch's flames and extinguishes the Torch. Then he uses the equivalent of a bug bomb on the Thing.

The FF retreats to plan their next step. Reed finally shaves and they try again, without the Torch. This time they attack Galactus's converter, the machine that will drain the Earth of life. Galactus summons the Punisher, a short, powerful being who quickly defeats the FF.

In the meantime, the Watcher sends the Torch to Galactus's homeship.

In the meantime part 2, in an amazing coincidence, the Surfer lands in Alicia's apartment. She convinces him that humanity is worth saving. He vows to use his power to stop Galactus.

In issue #50, the Surfer fails to defeat Galactus but delays him long enough for the Torch to retrieve the Ultimate Nullifier. Appalled at something so powerful in the hands of a human, Galactus agrees to leave the Earth. On his way out, he imprisons the Surfer on Earth.

The issue has a low-key ending with Johny enrolling at Empire State University and meeting his new roommate, Wyatt Wingfoot.

Several things about this story arc:

  • It completed the transition from the early FF to the more mature version. The earlier stories often had more energy but just as often suffered from sloppy plotting and pacing (see my post about the first appearance of the Frightful Four).
  • This was the first "cosmic" story arc and one of the most successful. The FF had faced enemies with immense power before but never one who was so impersonal. Galactus never directly addressed the FF until Reed had the Ultimate Nulifier.
  • The general form of having the climax in the middle of the issue with an epilogue was used in some of Stan's best-remembered stories. A Spider-Man story where he was trapped beneath tons of metal in a flooding building is another example.
  • The Surfer was an after-thought. Stan and Jack had a story conference and Jack drew issue #48. When Stan saw an unfamiliar character he called Jack to ask who it was. Jack replied that someone as powerful as Galactus needed a herald. Regardless, the Surfer quickly became Stan's favorite character. During the days when Stan was still active at Marvel he never allowed anyone else to write the Surfer.
  • This wasn't the first time a character dropped in on Alicia. Just a few months earlier the Torch and Thing's fight with Dragon Man burst through her roof. The Surfer met her several times later including a quick affair near the end of the second run of his own comic.
  • For years the letter columns of the FF and Thor had debates over who was more powerful - Galactus or Odin. I don't think that this was ever resolved.
  • Galactus raised the power level of the Marvel Universe by a quantum level. Up until then it was obvious that DC characters were much more powerful than Marvel ones. Superman was splitting planets in half while the Hulk was trying to batter his way out of a cave. With the introduction of the Surfer and Galactus, Marvel had a character who could probably beat Superman (the Surfer) and one who could eat him and the planet he rode in on.
  • It was one of the few "big" anniversary issues that worked. By contrast, FF #100 was thrown together as an afterthought and completely forgettable.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Disney and Marvel

Over the weekend Disney announced that it was buying Marvel for $4 billion. This is probably a good thing.

For the short-term, it does not mean a lot to Disney. Marvel has been pretty aggressive about licensing so there isn't much left for Disney. Long-term, Disney hopes to either continue profitable licensing contracts or to take them over as they expire. It is also hoping to appeal to boys. After years of marketing Disney princesses, fairies, Hanna Montana, etc., it finally occurred to them that boys have money, too.

This could mean a lot to Marvel. For decades they have been the tail wagging the dog. They have been owned by companies that were less profitable than Marvel. At least a couple of times Marvel's parent company has filed for reorganization. In contrast, DC has been owned by Time-Warner for decades. Time Warner regards DC as a source of licensing revenue and treats it pretty well. In particular, the animated versions of DC characters have all been consistent and high quality.

There has been a bit of meddling from DC. When the first Batman movie came out and they found out that Robin had been killed (and therefore could not be licensed) they directed that he be brought back. This turned out well. The new Robin was critically praised.

I'm not too worried about Disney meddling like this. After the current Marvel editorial staff came up with A Brand New Day, eliminating decades of Spider-Man continuity, it's hard to believe that Disney could be any worse.

Side-note - the Hulk is green because Marvel's owner in the 1960s used a cheap printing process that had trouble with colors. The Hulk was supposed to be gray but came out a different color on each page. After the first issue came out, Stan changed the character to an easier-to-print green.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Netbooks, Microsoft and Apple

(Taking a break from comic book blogging)

Netbooks are currently the hottest part of the PC market. These are loosely defined as an low-cost, low-power, ultra-light PC with a screen no larger than 10 inches and with a long battery life. Both Microsoft and Apple have made some disparaging remarks about this market segment. Microsoft expects it to vanish when the new line of thin-screen PCs are introduced. Apple refuses to discuss making inexpensive hardware but there are rumors that their new tablet computer will be aimed at this market. I don't think that either company understands the market.

Let's be honest - netbooks are lousy PCs. They are under-powered for games and they have tiny screens. So why are they popular? Because they are so portable. Their small screens may be harder to read but they also reduce the size and weight enormously. They are underpowered because the high-powered chips suck up battery power. A more powerful CPU means more batteries and more weight or shorter battery life which means adding in the weight and size of a power brick. They are also cheap which is important because they are a second PC for most people.

I have a netbook. I got it for traveling. It is great at that. I can stick it in my carry-on. I don't need a separate PC bag which is bigger and heavier than my carry-on. The 10-inch screen is big enough for web browsing and email which is what I take it for in the first place. An IPhone-sized screen is just too small for serious web browsing.

The new, thin laptop PCs that Microsoft is pushing will be more expensive and they will not be as portable. No matter how thin you make it, laptop with a a full-sized screen is still bigger than a 10-inch one. Battery life will be a problem again, also.

Then there is cost. Microsoft is almost giving away Windows XP on netbooks. They want to sell Windows 7 for a lot more. That will add to the price. So will the new technology. These will not be priced to be second PCs.

It's hard to figure out what Apple's market will be. Rumors say that their tablet will be a larger IPhone. Without AT&T subsidies it will be a lot more expensive. Will people want something that expensive with no keyboard that is too big to put in a pocket? How many people use an IPhone as their primary computing device?

Monday, August 03, 2009

More Anti-Hero Villains

Continuing my last post...

Marvel has a long history of noble villains who crossed over but still maintained most of their original characteristics. Hawkeye may have joined the Avengers but he remained a smart-mouth rebel.

Joining the Avengers seems to assure that someone will eventually reform, even if that wasn't why he joined in the first place. Both Wonder Man and the Swordsman joined the Avengers with the intention of betraying them. Both had a change of heart, reformed, died and were resurrected. With Wonder Man the process was fairly straightforward. He was given his powers by Baron Zemo with the caution that they would kill him within a week without further treatment. After betraying the Avengers, he repented and freed them but died without the treatment. As it turned out, he actually went into a state of suspended animation while his body rebuilt itself. He joined the Avengers for several years and even got his own strip before dying and being reanimated again.

Swordsman stayed a villain for several years until he reformed with the urging of his girlfriend, Mantis. He eventually died. When Mantis became the Celestial Madonna, swordsman's body was reanimated by an intelligent plant so that its marriage with Mantis could be consummated although this body eventually crumbled to dust.

The Fantastic Four introduced several characters who started as enemies but eventually became allies. Many of these were never really villains but ended up on the opposing side. Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner is at the top of this list. He was anti-human back when he was first introduced in the 1939. Eventually he was persuaded to limit his fight to the Nazis. He later mellowed. When he was brought back in FF #3 he found that his ancestral city of Atlantis was deserted. Blaming human nuclear testing, he declared war on the human race starting with the USA and New York City. When the FF stopped him, he transferred his rage to them personally. Despite this, he was infatuated with Sue Storm (prior to her engagement to Reed). Magneto tried to recruit Namor but he ended up refusing to join either side.

Even after the Sub-Mariner got his own strip in Tales to Astonish his role was ambiguous. As Prince of Atlantis he sometimes came in conflict with humans. Later his book took on environmental overtones causing more conflict.

I'm trying to confine myself to characters from the 1960s but I have to include Thanos in this discussion. He started as the ultimate villain - powerful, crafty, and literally in love with Death. In his first appearances in Iron Man and Captain Marvel he was evil personified.

Things got more confusing when he appeared in Adam Warlock. Adam was fighting a rogue version of himself called the Magus and Thanos came to his aid. Why? Somehow Magus became the champion of life. He was also a ruthless tyrant. As death's champion, Thanos wanted Magus eliminated. Despite his motivations, Thanos was a valuable ally. He reverted to type in his next appearance - a pair of annuals wrapping up the plotlines from Warlock's canceled comic. Thanos had built a machine capable of destroying the stars, hoping that it would win Death's affections. Along the way Warlock died but returned long enough to kill Thanos.

Thanos returned again several years later and collected the Infinity Gems in order to gain ultimate power. Warlock also returned and defeated Thanos. In the aftermath Warlock divided the gems between six guardians including himself and Thanos. From that point on, Thanos tended to side with the heroes although it was often in self-defense. He even gained ultimate power but detected a flaw in the Universe which required his self-sacrifice to fix (surprisingly, he survived). He even got his own comic book for a short time.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Anti-hero villains

I was just thinking about some of the early Marvel villains. I've always maintained that one of the reasons for Marvel's prominence is that they have better villains than the competition. Part of this is that many Marvel villains were more complex than elsewhere.

This started with FF #1 and the Mole Man. He wasn't just a megalomaniac who wanted to conquer the world. He was a ugly little guy with glasses who wanted to conquer the world because he was too short to get a date.

Magneto's motivations were pretty straightforward at first. He felt that mutants were superior to normal humans so they should be in charge. He was solo in his first appearance in X-Men #1 but he was back a few issues later with the "Brotherhood of Evil Mutants". This was a very strange brotherhood. They all hated each other and only stayed together because they feared Magneto. The brotherhood consisted of the Toad who was mainly there to flatter Magneto's ego. Mastermind was kind of creepy and obviously in it for the power. The unusual ones were the brother and sister - Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Magneto had rescued the Scarlet Witch from a mob earlier. They joined him out of gratitude and stayed out misplaced loyalty and fear.

The X-Men recognized this and tended to go easy on these two. Eventually Magneto was taken off-world by the Stranger and the Brotherhood broke up. Shortly afterward Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch joined the Avengers along with Hawkeye.

Hawkeye was another example. A circus performer, he decided to become a superhero using trick arrows. He quickly foiled a robbery but was soon with the stolen money and assumed to be the thief. Not long after that he met and became infatuated with a Russian agent - the Black Widow. She convinced him to attack Tony Stark's factory which brought him into conflict with Iron Man. Not long after that the Widow wanted to quit spying but her parents were threatened (the became a continuity problem later). She was given a costume and sent to re-enlist Hawkeye. She vanished after this appearance and Hawkeye joined the Avengers.

The Black Widow eventually resurfaced. She had defected and become a member of New York society. She made herself a new costume and tried it out on Spider-Man who was, as usual, wanted by the law himself. SShe eventually joined the Avengers herself.

Friday, July 24, 2009

DRM and digital devices

Two incidents have come up recently which illustrate the problems with modern electronic devices.

The first happened with Amazon's Kindle e-book reader. Recently they discovered that the company that was selling electronic versions of George Orwell's works did not have the rights to do this. If this had happened with a printed book then money would change hands between publishers and booksellers but people who actually had a printed copy of the book could keep them.

In the new digital age, this has changed. Amazon remotely deleted the books (along with any notes that students had been keeping) and refunded people their money. This is a reminder that you are not buying a book, you are paying for the rights to read a book. The rights are subject to many more restrictions than a physical book.

Amazon announced that it has changed its internal procedures and will not do something like this again - unless it changes its procedures again.

The other incident involves Apple's iTunes and the Palm Pre. When the Palm was released, one of its features was that it could load music directly from iTunes. Apple recently pushed out an update to iTunes that stopped non-Apple devices from connecting to it (the Pre is the only non-Apple device that can connect). Palm just released an update that restores this feature.

Again, with iTunes you are not buying music. From Apple's point of view, you are buying the right to listen to music on specific devices - theirs. Loading music that you have paid for onto an unauthorized device is a violation of their license and they have the right to stop it. This will probably hurt Apple in the long run. Once someone has paid for something they don't like it being tied to a particular manufacturer.

Sony learned this the hard way. Since Sony has both a media publishing arm and a hardware arm, the media wing was able to impose restrictions on their media players. Sony never released an MP3 player. Their digital players used a proprietary format that only they supported. No one was interested. They wanted to play MP3s.

Apple got around this two different ways. The first was that iPods can play MP3s. Most of the music on iPods was ripped from CDs (yours or someone else's). The other way is that Apple's DRM is fairly light-weight and their price per song is so low that people don't worry about it.

Imagine what would happen to the iPod market if Apple did what Amazon did - remotely removed content that people had paid for. They can do this with the iPhone.

The bottom line here is that there are still major issues with digital rights that have not been solved.

Comic Con

It is amazing how important Comic Con has become. A few years ago hardly anyone knew about it. Now it gets national attention. A good bit of this has little to do with comic book characters per se. It is the way that studios have used the convention to market new movies.

Consider what the news is - movie previews. Twilight is the big story but major directors and stars are coming to the convention to promote their new movies. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp were there along with a sneak peak at Alice in Wonderland. James Cameron showed 20 minutes of his new 3-d movie. A sequel to TRON is coming and Jeff Bridges was showing concept sketches.

All of this becomes a cycle feeding on itself. The bigger the stars who show up, the more national press it gets which attracts even more stars, etc.

While the studios have figured out that going to Comic Con is a cheap way of getting publicity it also shows a major shift in attitudes about superheroes and comic book characters (or characters who could be in comic books).

Back in the 1960s, comic books were dismissed as kid stuff. Yes, the Batman TV show was a big hit for a short while but it defined camp. The 1970s didn't help super hero acceptance much. The Hulk, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man all had TV shows but they were cheaply produced. The Hulk was critically the best of them but it followed the same formula as a dozen other shows. A rewrite of the script could change an episode from the Hulk to Airwolf or Kung Fu. Attempts were made to adapt Captain America and Doctor Strange but these were flops that never made it past the pilot movie. Superman the Motion Picture made a lot of money and showed that a comic book character could appeal to a broad enough market to support an A-level movie but there was still far too much camp.

The 1980s were kinder to superheroes (except for the Superman movies which came out with decreasing quality). Original superheroes did fairly well on TV. Shows like Beauty and the Beast moved beyond camp and attracted critical praise.

The big breakthrough was 1989's Batman. While over the top in places, it showed that a comic book movie didn't have to be campy.

The 1990s is when comic book based entertainment really took off. Batman descended into camp (along with bat nipples) but other comic book-based movies were bit hits, especially ones adapted from independent comics. They also established comic book movies as adult entertainment. By 2002, the Road to Perdition, which was adapted from a graphic novel, was on several critics' top movies list.

Which brings us to the 2000s. This decade has been dominated by superheroes. Spider-Man was one of the top draws of the decade. The reboot of Batman was phenomenally successful. The new Superman movie was a mess but it still made a lot of money. The X-Men movies became important events. Ghost Rider was an unexpected hit. When it was announced that the category for best picture would be expanded to ten nominees, Dark Knight and Iron Man were given as movies that should have been nominated but were not.

Even the blockbusters that have not been comic book adaptations featured characters who would fit nicely in a comic book. The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and the Matrix all featured characters with superhuman powers.

Somehow comic book conventions have incorporated this better than more general science fiction conventions. Which brings us back to Comic Con and the convergence of popular culture.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Thor Rumors

I'm seeing a lot of rumors about the upcoming Thor movie. Chris Hemsworth has been cast as Thor. He seems kind of young and thin for the part. Natalie Portman is Jane Foster. Brian Blessed as Odin. Kenneth Branagh is directing.

This will be a tougher movie than Iron Man. The character of Tony Stark had a lot of dramatic potential and updating Viet Nam to Afghanistan made the movie relevant.

In contrast, Thor started out fighting the Stone Men from Saturn. It took years before Odin and Asgard were incorporated into the comic. During that time, Jane Foster became a liability and was eventually cut from the book. The high points of the comic were the Lee/Kirby years and the Walt Simonson years. Both built on previous works and the Norse myths. I'm not sure how this can be worked into a movie.

Branagh has a mixed record as a director and his best works have been Shakespeare. On the other hand, Thor speaks a kind of Shakespearian English so maybe it will work out.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Chrome OS

Google announced that they will produce an operating system called Chrome OS to go with their Chrome web browser. The OS will come out sometime in the second half of 2010 and be targeted at netbooks. The PC pundits have gone crazy over this. Some think it is the most significant announcement in years and signals that Microsoft's dominance in operating systems is at an end. Others think that it will crash and burn. Let's take a closer look.

First, this announcement does not affect Microsoft's core business in any meaningful way. Netbooks are the hottest part of the market right now, but they are still a tiny portion. By definition, they are not gaming machines or business workstations. That leaves the majority of the market to Microsoft. In fact, the netbook market is one that Microsoft is still trying to figure out. Currently they are selling Windows XP for netbooks and only charging a few dollars (the rumor is $15). They floated the idea of having a stripped-down version of Windows 7 for netbooks then relented. Either way, this is not their taditional market and they do not make much money on it. Losing it would not affect them except in a pyrrhic way.

So, Google is not a real threat to Microsoft. What about the other way - can Google establish itself on the netbook?

The first generation of netbook was based on the Linux operating system which is what Chrome OS will use. As netbooks matured, the market switched to Windows XP. There are several reasons for this and Google can learn from them.

The first netbooks were based on the ARM chip which Microsoft does not support. That made Linux the only choice. Intel introduced the Atom chip for low-powered applications and most netbook makers switched over. At the same time, Microsoft made several concessions, allowing netbooks to run Windows XP instead of Vista and reducing the licensing fee. This made Windows a viable choice.

The Linux that was being offered on the netbooks was not that attractive. since it is a new operating system, the makers wrapped it in a gui that tries to simply everything. This reenforced the fact that Linux is not Windows. When presented with an alien gui or the familiar Windows, most customers went with Microsoft.

Google's lesson here is that it is possible to make an operating system too friendly. The transition from Windows XP to a full-featured version of Linux such as Ubuntu is no worse than the transition from XP to Vista. More important, once you fire up your browser, there is virtually no difference. Google seems to have figured this out. They are promising that the operating system will not get in your way.

Google is promising an operating system that will boot fast and be virus-free (good luch with that part) and that will mainly exist to run the browser. Everything that you really need will be web-based.

There are skeptics:

But it's not just Office that will keep Microsoft's hold on the PC market. Can you replace Active Directory with a web app? Is there a site I can visit to connect to my office's shared printer? What do you mean World of Warcraft doesn't run in the browser? How do I play a DVD in Google Chrome?

This argument misses a big point - people do nto buy netbooks to connect with active directory or an office's shared printer. You cannot play World of Warcraft on a netbook and they do not come with a DVD player. Netbooks are used by people who want small, light PCs that are easy to carry around.

I will add that I have an Aspire One netbook. I installed Ubuntu Linux on it with a dual boot. I can switch between the two operating systems and do about everything I need in either. I can even play DVDs on an external drive in Linux.

This brings me to a final point. With Ubuntu I had to load several drivers and plug-ins. Some of these are deliberately kept out of the distribution because of licensing restrictions - you have to pay a license fee to distribute them. Presumably Google is big enough that they can cut a deal on these packages so that Chrome OS will come with everything that you need, out of the box.

If they manage that then they could capture a significant portion of the netbook market. If they can convince some of the makers to switch back to the ARM chip for extended battery life then they will have that portion of the market to themselves.

None of this is a threat to Microsoft but it could affect Apple by offering a second alternative to Windows.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Flash Gordon

On the 4th of July Spike TV showed Star Wars and G4 showed Flash Gordon. What a contrast.

Flash Gordon was one of a spate of science fiction movies produced after Star Wars in the hope of attracting the same audience. There were several others including Start Trek, the Motion Picture, but Flash Gordon manages to distinguish itself in its look and feel.

Ironically, the two movies share the same background. Star Wars was meant to recapture the excitement of the serials - movies released one reel at a time over several weeks. The Star Wars movies (and the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies) each break down into three distinct chapters per movie. The capsule description at the beginning of the movies comes straight from the serials.

While the serials were one influence on George Lucas, there were several others. The serials mainly influenced the form of Star Wars, not the content.

On this other hand, Flash Gordon was essentially a remake of a serial and took all of its inspiration from them. The result is visually stunning but very campy. A good bit of the dialog is tongue-in-cheek. The special effects manage to look expensive and cheesy at the same time. They capture the look of the old serials when spaceships were hung from wires but with state of the art (1980) effects. For example, the cloud of hawk men is impressive but their tiny wings could never support them.

The musical score deserves mention. It was done by Queen not long after their classic hit Bohemian Rhapsody. I think that this and Highlander were the only two scores that they did (It is hard to tell for sure. IMDB lists every movie that used a clip from Queen which is a very long list).

The cast includes Max Von Syndow as the Emperor Ming, Topol, Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin, and Brian Blessed as the bombastic ruler of the hawkmen.

The plot is too fast-moving and superficial to describe. The movie is best enjoyed by ignoring the plot twists and holes and listening to the over-the-top dialog. Just a few examples from IMDB:

Dale Arden: Flash, Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!

Flash Gordon: Prince Barin! I'm not your enemy, Ming is! Let's all team up and fight him.

Zarkov: We are only interested in friendship. Why do you attack us?
The Emperor Ming: Why not?

Zogi, the High Priest: Do you, Ming the Merciless, Ruler of the Universe, take this Earthling Dale Arden, to be your Empress of the Hour?
The Emperor Ming: Of the hour, yes.
Zogi, the High Priest: Do you promise to use her as you will?
The Emperor Ming: Certainly!
Zogi, the High Priest: Not to blast her into space?
[Ming glares at Zogi]
Zogi, the High Priest: Uh, until such time as you grow weary of her.
The Emperor Ming: I do.
Dale Arden: I do NOT!

Dale Arden: I'm a New York City girl. It's a little too quiet around here for me.

Princess Aura: But my father has never kept a vow in his life!
Dale Arden: I can't help that, Aura. Keeping our word is one of the things that make us... better than you.

Prince Barin: [to Flash] Welcome back from the grave.
[to Princess Aura]
Prince Barin: I knew you were up to something, though I'll confess I hadn't thought of necrophilia?

Klytus: No one - but NO ONE - dies in the Palace without a command from the Emperor.

Doctor Hans Zarkov: Look at them! The poor wretches are just waiting for someone to lead them in revolt...!
Flash Gordon: [annoyed] Oh, are you looking at ME, Zarkov?

Kala: We're going to empty your memory as we might empty your pockets... Doctor.
Doctor Hans Zarkov: Don't empty my mind! I've spent my whole life filling it!

The Emperor Ming: Klytus! Are your men on the right pills? Maybe you should execute their trainer!

Robot: Long live Flash! You've saved your Earth. Have a nice day.
Flash Gordon: YEAH!

Prince Barin: I've changed.
Princess Aura: I've changed, too.
Zarkov: [Successfully picks the electronic door lock] A-ha! I knew it was one of the prime numbers of the Zenith series. I haven't changed.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Goodbye Michael

On reflecting on the career of the late Michael Jackson, I have to start by saying that I hate child singers. Their voices grate on my nerves. The Osmonds and the Jackson Five are at the top of this list. That colors my views of the rest of Michael Jackson's career.

Something else, he was always a little creepy. His first number 1 solo hit was Ben which was a love song sung to a rat from the movie of the same name. I didn't pay much attention when he released his album, Off the Wall.

Then came Thriller with its first two releases, Billie Jean and Beat It. I didn't mind Billie Jean and I kind of liked Beat It, especially the video (although these days I can't watch it without thinking of Weird Al's version). The rest of the world went crazy over Michael. Everything he touched turned to gold. MTV devoted huge chunks of time to Thriller and the Making of Thriller (which was longer). Just signing background for an unknown like Rockwell (Somebody's Watching Me) guaranteed a huge hit. All of his siblings released records, even the ones who had never recorded before or who had retired from singing.

Michael began to get seriously weird. It is impossible to say at this point just how strange Jackson actually was. Some of the original stories were planed by Jackson and his publicists. He didn't really sleep in a hyperbaric tube. He just posed in one for a fake story. The same was true about his wanting to buy the Elephant Man's skeleton.

Other stories were true. He underwent a lot of plastic surgery. Between his first and second solo albums he changed his nose and straightened his hair. Later he added a cleft chin. His face kept changing over the years until he began to resemble Morbius the Living Vampire. At the same time his skin got paler and paler. Officially he was under treatment for a skin condition. There were rumors that he had taken drugs that totally removed all skin color. This is possible. He stopped going out in the sun and even when he moved between a car and a building his handlers held up umbrellas to shield him from the sun (another Morbius similarity).

Pop psychiatrists say that he was so busy performing that he missed his childhood causing him to fixate on it as an adult. He was said to be fond of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. This was the inspiration for his home/theme park, Neverland.

This might be charming in a 20-something but it starts to get strange in a 20-something and outright disturbing in a 40-something.

As Michael was to find out, once you start planting stories about a celebrity being strange, they develop a life of their own and can never be taken back.

By the end of the 1980s, pop music had moved on. Michael still managed some hits into the 1990s but his production costs were so high that even his best-sellers didn't make money.

Michael married Elvis's daughter. They broke up and he married the mother of his first two children. That also broke up.

Questions remain. Did he actually sleep with either of his wives? Did he really give his second son the same name as the first? And did he actually call him Blanket? How did a black man produce blond children? Did he die a wealthy man or one heavily in debt?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

FF blogging - the Inhumans

Continuing my blogging on old issues of the Fantastic Four...

I left off with the defeat of the Frightful Four. This was followed by an annual where Reed and Sue were married with nearly everyone in the Marvel Universe making a cameo. The monthly comic continued from there with a four and a half issue story. It started with a domestic scene - Reed turning his inventing skills to making a dishwasher for Sue.

The issue introduced Gorgon who could shake the entire city or cause a building to collapse with a stomp of his foot. He was chasing Medusa, the only member of the Frightful Four still at large. She carjacked the Torch and had him drive her to someplace secluded. Gorgon stole the FF's helicopter and followed.

As it turned out, Johnny drove Medusa to an area near Empire State University which had figured in one of the last single-issue stories the previous year. Gorgon found them there but the ruckus disturbed the Dragon Man, an artificial creation from that same issue. Sue had made an impression on Dragon Man in kind of a King Kong/Fay Wray way. Remembering Sue, Dragon Man took Medusa to safety.

The FF and Gorgon caught up with them on an abandoned sky scraper. Dragon Man grabbed Sue, Gorgon grabbed Medusa and caused the building to collapse.

In the following issue Reed, Johnny, and the Thing survived the building's collapse, recovered Sue, and sort of adopted Dragon Man as a pet. This caused problems since he had the mind of a child, could breath fire, and was stronger than the Thing. They finally sedated him.

Cut to the remnants of Johnny's love life. While he had his own comic he had been dating Doris Evans but she dumped him. He was wandering around a bad part of town when he saw a lovely red head. She called up a wind storm and vanished. He managed to find her again. She caused a fire but he flamed on and absorbed the flames.

It turned out that she was an inhuman and mistook him for one also. She started introducing him to her family. Things went well enough until she got to Gorgon and Medusa. The Torch summoned the rest of the FF and Black Bolt, the head of the Inhumans returned. Cut to the next issue.

The Inhumans attacked the FF. Black Bolt took on the Thing fighting him to a tie. The Inhumans were mainly trying to hide from someone called the Seeker who managed to capture the Inhuman Triton during the fight. The rest of the Inhumans escaped with the help of Lockjaw, the Inhuman's giant dog. Lockjaw could open time/space portals.

Next the Seeker invaded the FF's headquarters and took Dragon Man, thinking that he was an Inhuman.

When they returned, Reed checked his survelance tapes to see what happened to Dragon Man then used one of his gadgets to track the Seeker. The Seeker turned out to be quite reasonable. His job was to rund up Inhumans and return them to the Great Refuge where they belonged. He offered to return Dragon Man with appologies. Unfortunately, the sedative wore off and Dragon Man woke up, tore loose of his restraints, and left.

The next issue started with Reed and Sue saving Triton after Dragon Man shattered his water tank. Johnny and Ben pursued Dragon Man. In an amazing coincidence (that would be repeated two months later), they caught up with Dragon Man right outside Alicia's window (Alicia was the Thing's girlfriend). Johnny eventually subdued Dragon Man and the army took him to a deserted island off-panel.

The Seeker escorted Reed and Sue out and returned to the Great Refuge, but not before Reed planted a homing device.

The FF chartered a jetliner and followed. Johnny was obsessed with Crystal, the red haired Inhuman.

In the meantime, Lockjaw trasported the Inhumans royal family back to the Great Refuge and we found out a little more about the politics. Black Bolt was the rightful ruler but lost his voice in an accident caused by his brother Maximus. Maximus was the current ruler and dreamed of killing humanity so that the Inhumans would be the only race on the planet.

Things got a little confused. Maximus wanted to marry Medusa. She, in turn, was in love with Black Bolt which is why she left the Great Refuge in the first place. There was an implication that Gorgon had been sent by Maximus to retreive her which does not explain why he took her to Black Bolt, instead. Possiblt Stan gave Gorgon a line that he meant to give the Seeker.

Regardless, Black Bolt reclaimed his crown with Medusa speaking for him. Maximus went along with this since he intended to activate his human-killing device and reclaim the crown.

The FF finally made it to the Great Refuge as maximus activated his device.

Cut to next issue - the device was a dud. Humans and Inhumans are genetically identical. The only difference is their artificially-induced powers. This knowledge drove Maximus mad and used his machice to create a negative zone cutting it off from the rest of the world. The FF escaped with the help pf Sue's force field but the Inhumans, including Johnny's new girlfriend, Crystal, were trapped.

And that was just the first half of the issue.

These issue were interesting for several reasons. It introduced the Inhumans who continue to be supporting characters in the Marvel Universe. At four and a half issues, this was the longest continued story that Lee and Kirby did. It also marked the start of Joe Sinnott as the FF's regular inker. He gave Kirby's art an updated look.

This story arc marked the beginning of Reed and Sue's marriage, one of very few super hero marriages in the 1960s. Implied, Johnny Storm graduated from high school and moved into the Baxter Building along with Sue (they previously lived in the house she inherited from her parents). Johnny and Crystal's infatuation marked Johnny's transition to adulthood. Their romance lasted through the Lee/Kirby years.

The only problem was what to do for an encore? With issue 50 coming up fast, Stan and Jack had something special planned.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Land of the Lost II

I haven't seen the Land of the Lost movie and I don't intend to so I can't offer a review of it. What I can do is review why I don't want to see it. I'm not alone in this. The movie is a major flop. It cost something like $200 million to produce and promote (IMDB gives $100 million but does not include marketing) but it only took in $18 million on its opening weekend.

Some movie ideas are so stupid that you wonder how anyone ever thought that people would watch them. The Jack Black/Green Lantern is one of these. Mercifully, it never got beyond the talking phase.

Land of the Lost can best be described as a Bizarro-world version of the TV show. The TV show was a serious drama aimed at kids (although adults could appreciate the science-fiction concepts). It was centered around a family of a father and his two kids. It was produced on a shoe-string budget. Top science fiction writers worked on it. The kids acted like kids and the animals acted like animals.

In contrast, the movie is a crude PG-13 comedy. It revolves around three unrelated adults. According to several review, the plot is mainly a bunch of comedy sketches strung together. There are no kids and the animals act like whatever the comedy bit requires.

So who was the audience for this thing? Fans of the original will not find much to like. Will Farrell fans who were not into the show are probably wondering why he did this?

This is not Farrell's first problem with translating 1960s and 1970s material. Bewitched and The Producers both bombed. The Producers was actually pretty good but Bewitched wasted both Farrell and Nichole Kidman in a script that couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to be.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Futurama Returns

Futurama was created as a companion piece to the Simpsons. Originally Fox showed it immediately after the Simpsons but the later player with the schedule, showing it at 7:00. In addition, once they started carrying football, the games always lasted until 8:00 or later so Futurama was only seen for the second half of the season. Between the earlier time and reduced exposure, it's audience averaged half that of the Simpsons. Since Fox ordered full seasons worth of episodes but only showed half-seasons, Futurama continued for a season after Fox stopped ordering new episodes.

This was a shame. The show started out amusing and got progressively better as time passed. Its best episodes were in its final season and it went out on a high note with Fry, the main character, exchanging his hands with the Robot Devil in order to gain the musical ability needed to make Lela love him (the Robot Devil got his hands back at the end leaving the show on an ambiguous note).

Cartoon Central bought the rights to the show and it quickly became a staple. When the rights expired Comedy Central picked it up and commissioned four made-for-DVD movies that could be cut into four episodes each. These in turn were popular enough that Comedy Central just announced that they are ordering 26 new episodes.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Land of the Lost

During the 1960s and 1970s, Hanna-Barbera ruled Saturday morning with limited-animation cartoons. In the late-60s and early 70s they had some competition from a couple of puppeteers named Sid and Marty Kroft. The Krofts produced several live-action shows that made a splash. The Krofts' first several shows were light-weight entertainment aimed at kids. In 1974 they did a serious show called Land of the Lost.

As originally promoted (and as implied in the theme song), a family was on rafting trip when an earthquake dropped them into a valley where dinosaurs still existed. What was actually produced was a science-fiction cult classic.

From the first few lines of the first episode it was established that the Marshall family was no longer on Earth. The world that they ended up in had dinosaurs but it also had ape-men called Pakuni and lizard-men called Sleestak.

Several of the best known science fiction writers were involved with the show as well as some Star Trek alumni. The story editor was David Gerrold, best known for the Trouble With Tribbles episode of Star Trek. Trek's story editor, D. C Fontaina contributed a script as did Walter Koenig.

As revealed over the first season, the Land of the Lost was a tiny pocket universe created by a lizard-like race called the Altrusians. This universe contained glowing crystals with special properties according to their color. If several crystals were combined into a matrix then they could control aspects of time and space. A number of pylons containing these matrixes maintained the Land of the Lost, controlling things such as the  weather and the movement of the sun and moons.

At some point the Altrusian race fell and devolved into the Sleestak. One of the Altrusians named Enik was stranded in his people's future and was trying to return to his own time to warn his people. Enik was a frequent ally but his degenerate descendants, the Sleestak were mainly interested in sacrificing the Marshals to their god.

A few times the closed nature of the pocket universe was demonstrated. The Marshalls tried to escape by following a river only to end up back where they came from. On a high cliff the Marshalls used binoculars to look at the next cliff only to see their own backs.

A young pakuni named Cha-ka was a regular. A consistent language was created for the pakuni.

All of this was at odds with the production values. Saturday morning shows were produced on a shoe-string budget. The Krofts typically spent most of their budget up-front on sets and costumes. Even that didn't go far. The show only had three sleestak costumes and three pakuni. In order to show a jungle-universe on a budget, many sets were constructed in miniature with the live-action cast added through chromakey. This was never very convincing.

The dinosaurs were animated through stop-motion supplimented by puppets. The models used were poor, even by 1970s standards.

While science fiction was part of the show, the episodes centered on the relationship of the Marshall family and their efforts to return home.

The show's cult status comes from this mix of ambitious science fiction and shoe-string budget. Watching it requires a major suspension of disbelief, much like the 1960s Dark Shadows.

The first season ended with a clever twist. Rather than leave the Marshals stranded in case the show was cancelled or precluding the possibility of other seasons, the last episode of the first season managed to do both. Enik managed to create a time doorway but it was stuck on the Marshall family plunging down a waterfall (as shown in the opening credits). The Marshalls couldn't leave the Land of the Lost until three people entered and the earlier version falling down the waterfall couldn't enter until three people left. The solution was for the two sets of Marshalls to exchange places. The current version went home and the earlier version came to the Land of the Lost, bringing the series in a full circle.

Presumably the second season was events that happened to the Marshalls before they left but had not been shown earlier.

For the third season the show changed studios and everything changed. Spencer Milligan who played the father, Rick Marshall, left the show and was replaced by his "brother", Uncle Jack Marshall. The family moved from the cave they had been living in to an abandoned Sleestak city.

The quality of the scripts declined. Many of the rules established in the first two seasons were dropped. The show was cancelled after this season.

A new version of Land of the Lost was created in the 1990s. It had a revised setting and improved production values but the scripts were uninspired.

A theatrical version will be released this week. The previews make it look like nothing more than a framework for Will Farrell jokes.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lost & Heroes

Now that Lost and Heroes have wrapped up their 2009 seasons, how did they do?

Heroes divided the year into two "books". The first one "Book 3 - Heroes and Villains" shown during the Fall of 2008 was a mess. The concept was to offer complex questions about what makes someone a hero or a villain and shake up our concepts. It sounded good but it got tiresome fast. Worse, the writer threw in a number of elements from the first season in an effort to recapture its feel. This didn't work at all. The visions of the future and quests to prevent a coming Apocalypse have been done too often.

NBC agreed and brought in a new writing staff. The result was a fresh approach with no time travel or visions. Book 4's best moments were the first few episodes with groups of agents taking down the heroes and taking them away to some sort of holding facility. It bogged down a bit at the end as Sylar changed sides a couple of times and went through an identity crisis. His argument with his "mother" was a classic bit that made Norman Bates seem normal. The conclusion set up for the next book and Sylar's eventual return.


Lost recovered from its slump a couple of years ago and had a season that seemed far too short. Where Heroes dropped time travel, it was the major point of Lost with half of the cast stuck in the 1970s.

Structurally, Lost's season was divided into two parts. The first part was the return to the Island for the ones on the mainland. Meanwhile, the ones who were left behind went through a number of time shifts and cast reductions. By the end of this arc, the survivors of the original crash were down to the core cast (plus Rose and Bernard who retired).

Once the time jumps stopped then we were back to something like the original format with an over-all plot plus flashbacks for a specific character showing how he came to the island.

Several questions were resolved or at least explored in more detail. We now know what the huge statue looked like. We saw the plane crash and got a glimpse of Daniel's group before she shot them. We also got to know the Dharma Initiative. We found out why the original hatch was built. Most important, we found out that the mysterious Jacob is a real person and has been near when ever important events happened to the core cast.

The last two season have been dominated by the fight between Ben and Widmore. The last few minutes of the season finale set up for a larger conflict between Jacob and his unnamed rival.


A couple of other shows are worth mentioning. In its first season, Chuck was fun but seemed like it could have been better. In its second season it was better, finally living up to its promise. After keeping fans in suspense for weeks, NBC renewed Chuck, at least for 13 episodes.

Dollhouse has an interesting premise. The star is a different person every episode. The first season was interesting but it will be difficult to keep it up. The first season featured two plot arcs. The first was a detective searching for the Dollhouse. This was wrapped up by the season finale. The second arc concerned "Alpha", one of the dolls who went crazy after being given multiple personalities simultaneously. Alpha escaped se we probably will see him again. Dollhouse was renewed but with a reduced budget.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Star Trek's view of the future

If you didn't live in the 1960s then it is hard to imagine the impact of the space race. When Star Trek premiered in 1966, we had gone from sub-orbital space flights to reaching for the moon in five years. It seemed obvious that this rush to space would continue. Star Trek offered an optimistic view of the future. Just as technology had progressed over the last couple of centuries, it would continue to progress. The world of star Trek was the world of the 1960s advanced into the future.

First, there was Star Fleet. Like the modern (in 1966) Navy, some of the most important ships were years or decades old. The name the Enterprise was a nod at the nuclear aircraft carrier, one of the most advanced and powerful ships ever built.

In 1966, the United Nations was a lot newer and there was a lot more optimism about it. It seemed like an obvious progression - individual states to United States to United Nations to a Federation of Planets. Star Fleet and the Federation of Planets seemed like the United States and/or the UN writ on an interplanetary scale. Unfortunately the Cold War still existed too with the Klingons and Romulans standing in for the USSR and China.

In 1966 we had American exceptionalism. In Star Trek we had Human exceptionalism. Every few months some ancient, wise alien would tell us that we were better than other species, especially Klingons.

Most people discovered the show after it was cancelled. It got poor ratings but it was popular in syndication. By the  early 1970s, it was the most-watched program in the country, possibly the world. One of its attractions was its 1960s optimism. In-between we had constant predictions of environmental meltdowns that make the global warming forecasts seem like happy talk. A future in which humanity not only survived but prospered had a lot of appeal.

Strangely, a lot of the sophisticated technology was done for budgetary reasons. It was cheaper to teleport people than to put them on a shuttle craft. Space suits were also expensive and hard to move in so only a couple of episodes required them. Warp drive was a necessity in order to drive the plot.

I've seen several rundowns of the show's technology and how modern technology has advanced to match it but there is one piece that no one even mentions - the doors. In 1966, the only automatic doors had pressure pads in the floor. The doors in Star Trek had stage hands opening them off-screen (the blooper reel shows them not opening). Doors that use sonic motion detectors are so common today that no one even thinks about them.

Monday, May 04, 2009


Back when Wolverine first appeared in the Incredible Hulk, I doubt that anyone would have predicted that he could headline his own movie. During the 1970s, someone at Marvel decided that there were too many heroes concentrated in the USA so they introduced some new national heroes.

The Hulk strayed north of his usual haunts in the American South-West and was fighting a rematch with the Wendigo. The Canadian authorities didn't care for this and sent in "Weapon X" to break up the fight. Weapon X turned out to be Wolverine.

As originally conceived, the character didn't resemble the current incarnation. He had strength and speed similar to Spider-Man and his costume included retractable claws.

The following year (1975) Marvel decided to resurrect the canceled X-Men as a new, multi-national team. The original team, with the exception of Cyclops, had disappeared on a mission so Cyclops and Professor X recruited a new team to save them. Wolverine was one of the recruits.

He didn't have much personality in the early X-Men. Usually he attacked using the "fastball special" - Colossus would hurl him, claws first (this made it into the 3rd X-Men movie). That was about it for characterization. In the second issue of the new X-Men, a character named Thunderbird was killed. It was felt that his powers were redundant. Co-writer, Len Wein could have as easily chosen Wolverine to die instead and no one would have noticed.

Things got a little more interesting when the X-Men were captured by Sentinels (big, anti-mutant robots) in issues 98-100. A scan said that he wasn't exactly a mutant. Shortly after that it was revealed that his claws were part of him, not part of his costume. Even his fellow team-mates didn't know that. After that the character got a lot more interesting.

We finally learned his name was Logan in an issue of Iron Fist. We also found out that he was stalking Jean Grey. While Chris Claremont had been writing the X-Men since the second issue. this was the first time that teamed up with John Byrne on the X-Men.

Not long after that Byrne became the X-Men artist. Like Wolverine, Byrne was Canadian so he decided to make Logan his own personal project. Wolverine's profile jumped as did his acceptance.

In the next year Wolverine's two big secrets were revealed. First a dinosaur bit his arm up to the elbow. You heard the "snict" of his claws popping out and the dinosaur fell. Wolverine's arm wasn't scratched. "I heal fast," he explained.

A few issues later a character who possessed bodies but had an aversion to metal attacked Wolverine and was repelled by his metal skeleton.

At that point it was understood that Wolverine's entire skeleton had been replaced with adamantium. In interviews, Byrne described the horrific process of replacing Wolverine's skeleton, one bone at a time. A couple of alternate timelines showed Wolverine's skeleton as man-made.

Later Claremont revised this, referring to his bones as "laced with adamantium" instead of being replaced.

Slowly it was revealed that Wolverine's healing ability also slowed his aging and that he was at least a generation older than he looked.

The Canadian government decided that they wanted Weapon X back. First they sent Weapon Alpha (later renamed Vindicator) to retrieve him. Later the X-Men fought a Canadian team of superheroes, Alpha Flight. Their goal was to retrieve Wolverine. Along the way we learned that Wolverine had anger issues.

In 1982, Frank Miller and Chris Claremont did a Wolverine mini-series that was the defining version of the character including the line, "I'm the best there is at what I do but what I do isn't very nice."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Marvel 1965

My last post left Reed and Sue escaping from the Frightful Four, towing a brainwashed Thing who had an anti-gravity disk glued to him. The Wizard and a brainwashed Human Torch tried to stop their escape. The rest of the EFF (Evil FF) team also had anti-gravity disks glued to them and were hanging on to the ground for their lives.

Reed and Sue made good their escape and Sue revealed that she had disabled the Wizard's ID machine so the Torch was only playing at being brainwashed. They managed to get the Thing to the Baxter Building and gave him a dose of sleeping gas.

The Wizard rescued his team-mates, figured out that the Torch was faking and captured him. Reed improvised an anti-brainwashing devise which half-killed the Thing before they shut off the main power.

The EFF broke into the Baxter Building and confronted Reed and Sue. The Wizard showed them the Torch, stuck to a large anti-gravity disk the Wizard controlled. The only way to save the Torch was for the three of them to submit to the Wizard's ID machine.

Just then the Thing woke up long enough to crush the Wizard's chest piece. This freed the Torch. Reed took advantage of the confusion and disarmed the Trapster. Medusa fled and the other three surrendered.

In a bit of 1960s humor, Reed called the police to collect the EFF but the desk sergeant thought it was a crank call. The Torch had to escort the three personally.

The Thing woke up again, back to normal and over his hard feelings from two issues earlier. The story ended with a promo for the FF annual featuring Reed and Sue's wedding.

This ended the FF's first three-issue continued story and a six-issue story arc on the Frightful Four. It marked a new style of story-telling. Single-issue plots would be the exception instead of the rule and the comic would never return to the formulaic stories of just a few months earlier. (It was also the last time the Frightful Four were a credible threat).

The same thing was happening across the Marvel line-up. The other Lee/Kirby comic, Thor, was into a lengthy plot arc that included a two-part fight with the Absorbing Man, the Trial of the Gods, a side-trip to Viet Nam, a two-part fight with the Destroyer, and another two-part fight with the Absorbing Man.

Several other titles had been revamped. The Sub-Mariner replaced Giant Man and the Wasp in Tales to Astonish and starting with a multi-issue quest. The Hulk in the backup-strip stopped changing into Banner for the next few years. Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD replaced the Torch and the Thing as the lead in Strange Tales with an epic fight against Hydra. Doctor Strange in the backup strip had a multi-part fight with Baren Mordo and the Dread Dormammu.

The X-Men graduated from high school and finally defeated Magneto (with the help of the Stranger).

The original Avengers quit and Captain America led a new team made up of reformed villains - Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

Spider-Man also graduated from high school. In the next year or so his book would have major changes as he switched girl friends and artists.

This was an exciting time at Marvel but the fantastic Four continued to be ground zero. The next year would see a major expansion of the Marvel Universe as the FF met the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer, Galactus, and the Black Panther. Lee and Kirby also introduced Ka-Zar and the Savage Land in the X-Men and the High Evolutionary in Thor. The 1965 Thor annual featured a Thor/Hercules fight that intruduced other pantheons besides the Norse. With the introduction of the Kree Empire in the FF in 1967, the Marvel Universe as we know it was pretty much established.

Along with scope, the depth of the stories changed. The single-issue format only left enough room for a page or two of characterization. Continued stories meant that most of an issue could be spent on a single character as long as it led to the promise of action in the next issue.

1965 was the big dividing point for all of this. a sea change like this could never happen today. Back then the Marvel bullpen was a myth. The office consisted of Stan, the editor and main writer, a small office staff, and a bunch of free-lancers who only came by once or twice a month. Now each comic book has its own staff of assistant editors and major changes come from the board room.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fantastic Four - 1965

I happened to start looking at issues of the FF in 1965 a few weeks. I chose an issue (#36, the Frightful Four's first appearance) which someone swiped from me not long after I bought it. I've been reading issues forward and back from there and it turns out that this year was a watershed for Marvel. I realized at the time that the comics seemed to be getting better but I was only ten at the time. With lots more years or perspective I can see how this year changed comic books.

Several elements of Marvel were in place from the beginning. Stan Lee placed the characters in real cities and had them interact with the real world in ways that other superheros didn't do. For example, in issue #35, the Yancy Street Gang sent the Thing a Beatles wig. After brawling with the Torch over it, he admitted that he liked it and tried it on. The plot involved a billionaire who bet his rivals that he could destroy the Fantastic Four. His plot fell apart because his son was a fan (at one point he showed his father his Fantastic Four "magazines") and got caught in the trap that was supposed to eliminate the FF. The Billionaire repented while the Thing wondered how he would look in the Thing's Beatles wig. Between being self-referential and pop-culture references, it was the sort of story that gave Marvel its initial splash.

On the other hand, issues had a certain sameness. A typical FF comic started with a couple of pages of the FF then introduced (or reintroduced) the villain and set up for the fight. The fight itself was rather fast with a quick resolution in the last page or two.

This wasn't a formula as much as a convention. The assumption was that each issue should stand on its own in order to attract new readers. Accordingly, the heroes and villains were reintroduced every issue and plots seldom took more than a single comic.

I recently wrote about the Return of the Frightful Four. This is when things changed. This issue itself was typical enough except it ended on a cliffhanger - the FF were caught in a Q-bomb explosion and left floating in the open ocean.

The next issue picked up from there. A US navy sub rescued the FF. after a couple of pages of dancing around it, the four admitted that they had lost their powers (radiation giveth, radiation taketh away). Worried that they would be unable to defend themselves, Reed started trying to duplicate their powers with special suits. He also consulted with their attorney to be sure that his will was in order.

In the Marvel universe, every one's attorney is Matt Murdock who is also Daredevil.

In the meantime, Doctor Doom realized that he had been tricked in his last encounter with the FF and attacked the Baxter Building. It was empty but he took over Richards' equipment and located the FF in a warehouse. He then used Richards' own weapons to attack the powerless FF. They were aided by Daredevil.

This story took two issues with the FF finally reaching the Baxter Building in the second issue. While Daredevil distracted Doom, Richards retrieved an energy gun that he had used three issues earlier and used it to restore their powers (he explained that he had been letting it recharge and the suits were a stop-gap).

This is where it gets interesting. It is a cliche that the cursed hero will become normal then heroically become cursed again. This was in the Fantastic Four movie. It was in last night's season finale of Chuck. But that wasn't how it happened here. Beg Grimm was normal and didn't want to change back but Reed changed him anyway. They the rest let the Thing take on Doom alone.

This was an epic battle. Doom was pulling powers out of a hat and the Thing took everything that Doom threw at him and smashed up his suit, forcing him to flee.

Then the Thing quit the group. He had been normal and he was a monster again. He didn't like it one bit.

Cut to the next issue. The battle with Doom hurt the Thing more than he admitted. He snuck onto a pickup truck and fell asleep. Even falling out of the truck on a rough road didn't wake him.

The Wizard located him there and brought him to the Frightful Four's headquarters. He had a new device that would brainwash the Thing and put him under the Wizard's control. In the meantime we got a look at the team dynamic. Medusa was really in charge, using a combination of flirting and power to keep the others in line. The Wizard was too busy to notice. Sandman liked women who played rough, and the Trapster whined but tended to do whatever Medusa said.

The rest of the FF eventually tried to track down the Thing after his girlfriend, Alicia, shamed them into it. With the Thing's help, the other three were quickly overpowered and captured. The Torch and Sue were secured. Reed was glued to a board. Then the Wizard reminded the Thing that Reed had made him ugly and ordered him to kill Reed. End of issue.

The next issue took up directly from there. It was almost all fight. Reed got free of the board he was glued to but the Thing stuffed him into a metal bottle. Sue escaped with the bottle while the Wizard used him mind-control machine on the Torch. During a lull, Medusa flirted with the Thing and Sandman got jealous. Sue freed Reed and they counter-attacked using the Trapster's paste and the Wizard's flying disks to throw the EFF off balance. Reed and Sue fled, taking a floating Thing while the Torch and the Wizard tried to stop them.

It was an adrenaline rush of an issue. No introduction, no introducing the characters, just cover to cover action. Without the usual 3-6 pages of set-up there was a lot more room for action and characterization. The continued story was now the preferred way of telling a story.

My next post will discuss how other Marvel comics were changing at the same time and cover the wrap-up to the Frightful Four.