Category Archives: Pop Culture

Here’s A Few Things About Comic Books

This is going to be one of those round-up blogs, in which I comment on a number of comic book related topics. I have a few things to comment on, but not enough on each topic for a full write up, so…

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It’s real. It’s an actual comic book cover. The February 1966 issue of Lois Lane would finally address the issue of Clark Kent’s flimsy disguise. A nice suit and Buddy Holly glasses? Really? If I removed my glasses and donned a Superman costume, people would still know it was me. So, how did this disguise work in the comic books, TV shows, and movies?

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That’s me, holding the comic book in question. Geez! My toupee needs adjusting.

I read this issue (which you can buy at NostalgiaZone.com – $10 cheap!) and I’m going to spoil it for you. DC Comics doesn’t really explain how Superman keeps fooling the world.

The story in a nutshell: Editor Perry White has to leave the Daily Planet while he serves, temporarily, in the US Senate. His replacement is awfully handsome, a “dreamboat” according to Lois, but he also acts suspiciously. Lois goes on a date with him that first day after work and thinks there’s something up with the guy.

She learns he is the leader of S.K.U.L. (Superman Killers’ Underground League) and she gets roped into a plot to kill Supes. She gets Lana Lang to help her decode the instructions she had been given by this secret underground league. When the message is decoded, Superman bursts in on Lois and Lana and makes that declaration we see on the cover. Lana does admit they’ve had their suspicions.

Superman then removes his mask and he turns out to be the leader of the kill Superman club. But, he’s really an FBI agent trying to smoke out that League and he enlists Lois and Lana to help him. Continued next issue.

They don’t exactly explain how Superman/Clark Kent can fool the world with a suit and glasses.

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The sexism just oozes from the narration paragraph at the top. “The Daily Planet’s pretty reporter,” “cute nose.” Yuck!

While reading this comic book from 52 years ago, I was struck by how blatantly sexist it is in its treatment of women and Lois Lane in particular. Lane is an investigative reporter, yet she’s described as stumbling onto stories. Her immediate reaction upon meeting the new editor is to think of him as a dreamboat. And neither Lane nor Lang bring up the topic of marriage, yet that’s what “Superman” deems the best way to berate these women for their stupidity. Marriage must have been a major theme in the Lois Lane series, after all it was a “girl’s” comic.

Switching gears, a couple months back, on a Facebook comic book fan group page, there was a discussion of whether the cover of Marvel’s Fantastic Four #1 was an homage to or a rip-off of the cover illustration of DC’s The Brave and The Bold #28 (the first appearance of the Justice League Of America). Look below for a comparison.

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Compostionally the two cover are very much alike. I prefer the Fantastic Four cover, because I prefer Jack Kirby’s drawing to Mike Sekowsky’s. Although, Sekowsky’s anatomy drawing is better and FF #1 isn’t Kirby’s best cover. It’s good, just not his best.

(OK, I’m a Marvel kid. I’m required by the MMMS to always prefer Marvel covers. Even if drawn by Rob Liefe… NO! There’s no way I can do that! I must draw the line somewhere!)

At first, I thought it was coincidence. Then I learned that the Fantastic Four was the result of a mandate from Atlas Comics publisher, Martin Goodman, to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to create a superhero group to compete with the Justice League of America, DC’s super team that debuted just about a year earlier. Learning that bit of history has me leaning toward rip-off.

What do you think?

Finally, as part of that JLA/FF discussion, someone brought up the practice of artists copying other artists in the creation of comic books. They provided an image (see below) that certainly is evidence of copying.

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Top frame: Jack Kirby • Middle frame: Gil Kane • Bottom frame: Rich Buckler

There’s no denying the second two frames were copied from work done by Kirby in the first frame, assuming that image is the original use of that punch. You will note that Gil Kane (second frame) made a couple changes to the pose: Captain America’s left arm is held differently and his hips are turned to the right. Kane’s variation, in my opinion, makes the pose a little on the awkward side, especially the lower part of his left leg.

Gil! If you’re going to copy the master, copy the master.

Someone in the group discussion claimed that Stan Lee, himself, would hand artists frames of comic art, usually drawn by Kirby, and instruct them to copy that frame. This revelation was offered without any source citation, so it may be untrue. And it may be a case of artists just copying other artists, in this case Kirby, because the other artists may have solved a difficult problem. When you consider how quickly artists had to get the work done with looming deadlines and the need to do as many pages as possible in a day to get decent pay, copying is understandable.

Artists were paid lousy. If you could only manage one page a day, you’d starve.

Packing Peanuts!

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Johnny Comelately Sees Star Wars: The Last Jedi

It was Sunday night. As I watched it unfold, I found myself rising from my seat, clenching my fists, in disbelief of what I was witnessing. It was impossible. It was astounding. It was a miracle.

The Minnesota Vikings finally caught a break in a playoff game and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat

I know, that’s not Star Wars. I just wanted to share.

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Lucasfilm Ltd/Walt Disney Studios

The night before the “Minneapolis Miracle,” my wife, my son, and I ventured out into the cold winter weather to the theater to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Sure, it took a while. We’re busy people. It reminds me of when I was a kid and first saw the original Star Wars film. It had taken quite a while before I finally got a chance to see it. It was released in May of 1977 and I didn’t see it until late that summer. I did see Return of the Jedi the day it was released, though.

Well, to cut to the chase, I liked The Last Jedi. I really liked it. And, of course, I want to see it again. I’ll dive in a bit more, though, to give you my impressions. I will do my best to avoid spoilers.

I’ll start with what I found wanting.

For me, it got off to a rocky start. Perhaps I was just trying to get up to speed and was a little disoriented, but I felt the beginning was a bit uneven and at times tried a little too hard to add humor. That was a problem throughout the film. The humor didn’t always land so well. Some jokes worked, most were a little off.

I thought Finn (John Boyega), former storm trooper turned rebel we met in Episode VII, was underused. His main sequence in the gambling town, whatever it was called – French Morocco? – seemed a little tacked on. But it did bring up the interesting aspect of the duplicitousness of the arms dealers, who were getting quite wealthy off both the First Order and the Resistance.

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The aspect that bothered me most about the beginning of the film (and throughout The Force Awakens, as well) was Domhnall Gleeson’s performance as the First Order’s General Hux. Gleeson is a good actor. He’s terrific in Frank and Ex Machina. But, it seems he’s being directed in these films to make absolutely certain the audience knows his character is EEEEEEEEEvil. He really hams it up. I swear the only thing missing was a mustache for him to twirl. However, when he dials it back, as he does later in the film, he’s much better.

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The porgs (the little bird/hamster creatures) didn’t bother me. They could have easily been overused, but they weren’t. It’s been pointed out that they were in the film purely for merchandising. Probably, but what in a Star Wars film isn’t used for merchandising?

There’s lots to like about this movie. The special effects are terrific. There is a use of a ship going to hyperspace that is stunning! There’s a chase involving the Millennium Falcon that is a thrill ride comparable to the asteroid field chase in The Empire Strikes Back. The settings look great. Some are opulent, while others are primitive, but the details get plenty of attention.

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Supreme Leader Snoke is deliciously evil and his portrayal of evil is right on. Gleeson could learn a thing or two from Andy Serkis, who is brilliant as Snoke. Adam Driver, again, does a terrific job as Kylo Ren. Just as  in The Force Awakens, Ren is conflicted, being pulled by both the light and dark sides of the Force. Or is he?

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Daisy Ridley puts in another fine performance as Rey, the young woman with a murky past who is steeped in the power of the Force. She, too, feels conflicted. She feels the pull of the Dark Side, while she attempts to complete her mission of bringing Jedi Master Luke Skywalker out of hiding to help the rebels defeat the First Order. But it’s not going to be easy. Skywalker (and it’s so great to see a grizzled Mark Hamill playing his most legendary character again) is reluctant to resume his role as the hero. His reasons are complicated and have to do with his young apprentice, Ben Solo (Kylo Ren), turning to the Dark Side, mirroring his own father’s turn to the Dark Side (Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader) while training with Obi Wan Kenobi.

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At one point, Skywalker says to his old friend R2-D2 that there is nothing he could be told that would change his mind and have him return to the fight. R2-D2’s response brought tears to my eyes. I’ll say no more than that.

Another aspect of these new Star Wars films that I find pleasing is the light saber battles. In the prequels, the light saber battles, although thrilling, appeared more like dancing than battling. Every move seemed (and was) choreographed. Yes, in the original films and in these new ones the duels are also choreographed, but they don’t look that way. On film they come across as actual battles. Spontaneous. And that’s how they should be.

And, by the way, is turning your back on your opponent in a duel a good idea? It was done a lot in the prequels and I’ve seen it done in these new films. I never understood what advantage it was to spin around while having a sword fight. It seems to me that exposing your back to you foe is a bad idea. Now, if you’re fighting more than one person, then you probably would have to turn your back to at least one opponent at some point. Still.

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It was bittersweet to see the late Carrie Fisher in her best known role as Leia Organa. She has a steady calmness in her role as leader of the ever-dwindling Resistance. But she has faith in their cause and in her brother. The film dedication to her was another moment that brought a tear to my eye.

Some fans have criticized the dialog. Well, had they seen the original Star Wars? It wasn’t exactly Shakespeare. I understand the knock, but I didn’t have a problem with the dialog.

However, I don’t understand the very negative reactions I’ve been seeing from some fans. Perhaps, some are disappointed that they didn’t feel exactly the same way they felt when they first saw the original. If so, I have a news flash for them: No follow up film can ever match the initial thrill of the original. Empire didn’t. Sure, it’s a better movie, but it didn’t have that same WOW impact as seeing that Star Destroyer looming over head at the beginning of Episode IV. The same goes for the Indiana Jones franchise. Raiders of the Lost Ark caused a reaction by the fans that none of the other films could touch. So, stop complaining that you didn’t feel the same way you did when you were 12.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a fun, touching, and very entertaining movie. And it has me wanting to see it again and excited for Episode IX.

Packing Peanuts!

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It’s The Man’s 95th Birthday!

Stan-Lee.jpgThere is a podcast that my friend Douglas hosts, it’s called the Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules. It’s a pop culture podcast examining music, television, movies, and all sorts of things from a Baby Boomer and a whatever that generation after the Baby Boomers is called perspective. From time to time, Douglas will gather a few contributing opinion-holders to have round table discussions on a given topic. He calls this group the “Gang Of Occasional Guest Hosts” or the GOOCH Squad. I count myself honored to be a member.

Earlier today, the GOOCH Squad, which for the purposes of this blog will include Douglas even though he’s the host and not a guest host, was chatting through Facebook, when I discovered today is the 95th birthday of a giant.

The Man.

Stan Lee.

I asked the fellows if they had any thoughts about the man who had such an influence on all of us. Each member of the squad is a life-long fan of comic books. And all of us were Marvel kids. I asked for their help in capturing just how important Stan Lee was to each of us and to several generations of comic book creators and fans.

Superhero comic books weren’t much of a thing in 1961. DC Comics pretty well had the market cornered. Their characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and others) were selling well, but other comic book publishers just weren’t making much headway. Until, as he tells it, Stan Lee, a frustrated writer working for Atlas (formerly Timely) Comics, decided to quit. But, as a last hurrah and at the suggestion of his wife, he decided to take a chance and write something he wanted to write. Not some romance, jungle, western, crime, monster, etc. story, but a superhero story.

Atlas hadn’t done superheroes since the cancellations of Captain America, Sub-Mariner, Marvel Boy, and Human Torch in the early 1950s, closely coinciding Timely’s transformation to Atlas.

Stan’s last hurrah produced The Fantastic Four, created with more than a little assistance from artist Jack Kirby. With that publication came the birth of Marvel Comics. And the world was changed forever.

Now, that’s Stan’s version. But we’ve heard that Atlas publisher Martin Goodman had assigned Lee and Kirby to create a superhero group to compete with DC’s Justice League of America, which debuted a year before the FF. Curious how that detail doesn’t make it into Stan’s version of history.

We should also note that The Man is a man and that there are some less seemly aspects to the history of Marvel Comics. Lee gets the lion’s share of the credit for the creation of the FF, the Hulk, Iron Man, and, or course, Spider-Man. But the talents of Don Heck, Steve Ditko, and the aforementioned Kirby in the visual creation of those and so many other characters cannot be understated. Especially, Kirby and Ditko. At times, it feels as though Stan wants the world to just remember him as the creator.

Maybe that’s not very fair. Stan would say that much of the mistreatment of artists, rampant in the industry, was out of his control. But, as Douglas points out, he needed the talents of Kirby, Ditko, Heck, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Bill Everett, John Buscema, and many others to reach the creative heights together that couldn’t be achieved each on their own. Lee needed their drawing skills and they needed his words. (Although, as some comic historians have pointed out, it seems that Jack Kirby had a much, much greater hand in the development of storylines than Stan would like to admit.)

And to give Stan a little more credit, it was Marvel Comics that made certain readers saw the names of the writers, artists, inkers, colorists, and letterers in each issue. The other publishers would follow his lead and the creators would at least get some credit.

I think Stan Lee’s genius breaks in three directions: Creation, relate-ability, and promotion.

Of course there was his prolific ability to come up with so many fascinating and exciting characters, both heroes and villains. Seriously! Is there a better comic book bad guy than Doctor Doom? And he created a fantastic universe for his characters to inhabit. Yes, he used real locations, such as New York City, but he also gave us his version of Asgard and Hades. And completely new worlds such as the Negative Zone and the Dark Dimension, where lived the dread Dormammu. (Or, maybe not. It’s also been suggested that that universe creation was more the work of Kirby and Ditko.)

Stan also knew how to turn a phrase. “It’s clobberin’ time!” “Avengers Assemble!” “The Hoary Host of Hoggoth!” Whatever that was. And there was his sign off for his Stan’s Soapbox columns: “Excelsior!” (Which had a direct influence on how I sign off my blog. Look up the meaning of excelsior and Packing Peanuts will make sense.) It was also Stan’s practice to use words that might have been just a bit over the heads of us kids, so out would come the dictionaries. In fact, Douglas credits Stan’s use of such words as “ersatz” and “quixotic” with helping him pass his SATs.

The second branch of his genius was his desire to make his characters relate-able. DC’s readers might have enjoyed Superman and Batman, but they just weren’t quite like us when not out supering. Stan’s characters were human, even when being super. The FF was essentially a family with a special dynamic due to that relationship. Spider-Man had troubles at home, girlfriend problems, and homework. As GOOCH Squad member Michael so eloquently put it, “[Stan Lee’s] signature brand of realism and foibles infused into the lives of The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and others set precedents and added a heretofore untapped dimension of reader identification that raised the industry bar.” Indeed!

The third bit of his genius is something obvious, but still overlooked or underestimated by most folks. Stan Lee was the greatest promoter and cheerleader the comic books industry ever had. Fellow GOOCHer, Brian, called Stan the “comic book ambassador for the masses.”

This cheer-leading is something all of us noted, but I will take it just a little bit further. Think of DC, Dell, Harvey, Charlton. What creative genius comes to mind? Comic book folks might come up with the name of an artist or writer, but not that one name. Think Marvel. You think of Stan Lee.

I will go still further. It may be different today, but not long ago if you were to ask someone who wasn’t a fan of baseball to name a player the answer you were likely to get is Babe Ruth. He was such a giant of the game that his name became synonymous with it. Inseparable. Babe Ruth is baseball.

In the world of comic books, Stan Lee occupies that same exalted ground. Ask a non-fan to name a comic book creator. The answer is Stan Lee.

Happy 95th to the Man.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

And a special thanks to the GOOCH Squad for their assistance.

Update 1-19-18: I recently watched the excellent documentary series Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics, the first episode of which examines the beginning of Marvel Comics. After watching that episode, I feel I may have been a little unfair toward Stan by suggesting he wanted all the credit. He lauds praise on Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and he’s more nuanced about the creation of the Marvel Universe. He also acknowledges his editor assigning him to create a super-hero group to compete with the Justice League of America.

It’s a very good series. I highly recommend it.

 

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The Start of My Greatest Love of 35 Years

Writer’s note: Pulled from the archives of my personal blog at dimland.com, comes this story of my discovering my favorite band. Look. It’s been since July since I’ve written anything Who related. I was having withdrawal symptoms. OK? The following has been revised and updated, but the song remains the same. Song remains the same? That’s Led Zeppelin. We’re not talking about them.

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Press photo from thewho.info

This was a life changing concert for me. I know that sounds dramatic, but it is true. Seeing this show got me big into The Who and that led me to punk rock which led me to even more interesting and varied styles of music. In those days, I was listening to mostly crap. Journey, Styx, Foreigner, Boston, yuck! (Although, I must admit I have a soft spot for a lot of that crap today.) The Who changed that.

I wasn’t much of a Who fan at the time. I knew the band existed. I knew a few of their songs. (It turns out I knew quite a few, actually.) I knew Pete Townshend had some solo stuff out. I liked their new single Athena which was getting some radio play. At best, I thought they were OK and not much else.

I think I was aware the band would be in town that October weekend 35 years ago. I was even in downtown St. Paul the afternoon of the day of the first show of a two day stop in Minnesota. In fact, I had been right there by the St. Paul Civic Center where the concerts were going to be held. I had been downtown to pick up my comic books from a little comic shop that was less than a block away from where rock greatness would be experienced by fans that night and the next.

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Of course, I had no plans to attend either of the concerts. I had only been to one concert before and hadn’t yet been bitten by any kind of music bug.

My bus stop was located directly in front of the Civic Center (now the site of the Xcel Center, home of the Minnesota Wild). I have a vague recollection of seeing The Who’s name listed on the marquee.

My bus arrived to take me home. I took my seat, not giving the world’s greatest rock band a second thought. A couple stops later and on hopped a young pothead and a few of his friends, also potheads. I knew that young pothead, he and I worked together back then.

He spotted me.

“Hey, man! Are you going to The Who concert tonight?”

“Uh, no. I’ll be reading my comic books when I get home.”

“Dude! Really?! Aw, man!”

“Sorry.”

When I got home, my mom had an urgent message from my friend John. I was to call him right away!

John had bought three tickets to that night’s show. He had no one to go with. Why he bought three John doesn’t even know. He was able to get a mutual friend on board, but he needed a third. Luckily, he didn’t find anyone else before I was able to call him back.

I made a quick call to work to let them know I might be a little late. I worked the graveyard shift on the weekends and it was always very slow the first hour or so of the shift. The boss said it would be no problem. After all, this was The Who’s North American Farewell Tour, I was willing to risk being a little late, because they would never tour again. Right?

It was on this tour that The Clash opened for The Who at Shea Stadium in New York City. We didn’t get The Clash. We got T-Bone Burnett. We had no idea who he was. He was kinda weird. He did a guitar solo consisting of him plucking one note at one part of the stage, then walking to another part of the stage to pluck another note. He did several notes that way. We weren’t really digging this guy and his band. John and I have talked about being disappointed that we didn’t get The Clash at our show. Burnett would go on to be better know as a record producer and for his work in film scores and soundtracks. At the time, though, it was, “Who is this guy?”

I did learn in doing research for this blog that it is very likely Mick Ronson was part of Burnett’s band. Ronson played guitar for David Bowie in the Ziggy Stardust era. So it turns out the headliners weren’t the only legends we saw that night. We just didn’t know it.

Speaking of legends, there was that headlining act: The greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world – The Who. This was supposed to be their last tour. Despite the band’s impending retirement, they did have a new album to promote. The album was It’s Hard. Not a perfect album. It’s no Quadrophenia or Who’s Next. And it lacks the maniacal spontaneity of the late Keith Moon on drums, but it’s not as bad as it is said to be.

The show was loud. Very loud! Possibly the loudest concert I have ever attended. At least, one of the loudest. It certainly was the loudest then, but it was also only the second concert I had been to. It was a sold out show packed with boisterous Who fans. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the euphoria of the event. I found myself cheering and whistling as loud as I could. And I was cheering for Pete Townshend in particular. I can’t explain (wink) why, but I felt a connection to Townshend form that night and it has never broken.

They played most of their biggest hits (all of which I knew – much to my surprise) and a few songs from their new album. They didn’t play Athena or any of Pete’s solo stuff. I had wondered if they might. They did close the with a cover of Twist & Shout, which most people remember as a Beatles song, but their version was a cover as well. Also, this tour had Roger Daltrey playing guitar on a few numbers, most notable was Eminence Front. He hadn’t played guitar with the band since before he took over as lead singer way back when they were called The Detours.

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Their light show featured three sets of spotlights. One set on either side of the stage and one at the back of the main floor. Aimed straight up, each set of three spotlights would twirl around and open and close, casting bright white beams of light to the heavens… Well, the ceiling anyway.

Another fun feature of the show was the glow sticks that were sold to fans. People starting tossing the green glowing objects high over the crowd. They looked pretty cool as they sailed overhead. Then someone had the brilliant idea to take a lighter (a must fan item at concerts) and melt a hole in the plastic, then hurl the now leaking tube into the air. Cascading down were all these green glowing droplets. So fun!

The whole event was the talk of the school on Monday and my life had changed. I became obsessed with The Who and Pete Townshend. I bought all their albums and bought and read books about them and their history. I was all about The Who from then on.

And it all began on October 2, 1982, because a friend had an extra ticket.

Packing Peanuts!

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Who Knows The Shadow?

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“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.”

I knew that phrase before I ever heard a single episode of that very popular crime show from the Golden Age of radio. My dad liked to use the phrase and he would tell me of those old, old days when families would gather around the radio to listen to shows like The Jack Benny Program, The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, and The Shadow. People would sit transfixed looking at their radios as though they were television sets. Seems odd, but it does make sense if you think of the radio as a storyteller. Where else would you look? You don’t want to be rude, do you?

In the early 1970s, radio technology had advanced some due to the transistor. Radios could be smaller and more affordable. And they could be placed under you pillow, so you could listen as you went to sleep. Each Sunday night, after Casey Kasem signed off his American Top 40 countdown, the local station would play some old radio shows from that bygone era. Oh, how I dug listening to them, especially The Shadow.

Radio was theater of the mind and in your mind could be found the most spectacular special effects, effects that are just now being approached by the best FX departments of Hollywood. But, through radio (and books, I suppose) when cued by the dialog as to what is going on, each listener’s view in their mind’s eye would be unique to them. That’s something the visual medium is only able to do by not showing something to the audience.

Suspenseful moments were all the more suspenseful because you couldn’t see what was happening. It was the “less is more” concept and it couldn’t be any other way on radio. Jack Benny’s pauses were funnier, Fibber McGee’s closet had so much more junk in it than could ever be shown, and The Shadow’s laugh was so much creepier and more menacing simply because the visuals were all in our heads. In film, the viewer can be shown everything, but good filmmakers know that to build suspense or the feelings of dread and terror not seeing something can be much more effective.

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That’s why The Shadow was so perfect for radio. Trained in the mystical arts of the Far East, Lamont Cranston had the ability to cloud men’s mind so that he could not be seen. He became a shadow whose sinister laugh would alert the bad guys of his presence. Like Batman (whose creators were greatly influenced by Cranston’s alter ego), the Shadow knew criminals to be a fearful and superstitious lot and his abilities made him an excellent crime fighter.

He was assisted by his “friend and companion” Margo Lane. She was the only other person to know Lamont’s secret identity. I have to wonder, since this was the late 1930s and Margo and Lamont were not married, were any of the more conservative listeners concerned about the nature of their relationship? I don’t recall there being any indication of romance between them. Hey! Men and women can work together without any hanky panky.

In 1935 the character of the Shadow started out as the voice that introduced the CBS radio program the Detective Story Hour, on which he would open each show saying, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” and then he’d laugh that terrifying laugh. Later, in 1937, CBS developed a crime drama with The Shadow as its lead character and it was a very young Orson Welles who provided the voice. Listening to Welles as Cranston and the Shadow it’s hard to believe he was only in his early 20s.

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A very young Orson Welles as the Shadow.

Those old radio shows were aired live and with very little rehearsal. Actors had to be able to act from the page after only gaining a very cursory view of the script before going to air. They didn’t have much to go on, but most shows went just fine. On one particular Shadow episode (Death From The Deep) there were a couple moments when Welles seems to step on his fellow actors’ lines, but he may have been going for dramatic effect.

There’s an entertaining conversation between Welles and Johnny Carson about the old days of live radio dramas and comedies. (You can check that out here.) In that conversation Carson mentions what a great medium for storytelling radio was and he’s so right. I suggest you go to YouTube and find and listen to a few of those old radio shows. Let your mind’s eye have a little fun.

And remember:

“The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay. The Shadows knows!”

Packing Peanuts!

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Some Nitpicks Of ‘To Serve Man’

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Warning! There will be spoilers!

Of course, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone was groundbreaking television. And, of course, it is universally loved and respected. As it should be! The show cleverly addressed sensitive social issues without much of the audience even realizing it. Science fiction is sneaky and very useful that way. And it was also pretty darned entertaining. Most of the shows still hold up today.

There were plenty of memorable episodes that commonly get rated among the best of the series. There was the one with William Shatner being the sole passenger to see the creature damaging the wing of the plane. There was that episode in which a misanthrope and book-lover, played by Burgess Meredith, survived a nuclear attack and was left alone with all those books. Finally, able to read as much as he wanted and not be disturbed by the nuisance of people, he stumbled and broke his glasses, rendering him unable to read with no one around to fix them. And the show with the beautiful Donna Douglas playing a woman who didn’t match society’s view of physical attractiveness. Oh! And who can forget that nasty kid (Billy Mumy) who wished people into the cornfield?

Classics all.

I think what is probably the most memorable show, however, is To Serve Man, written by Serling, originally airing March 2, 1962. It is the story of the arrival of a super-intelligent and seemingly benevolent extraterrestrial race. These rather large aliens, played by the rather large Richard Kiel and voiced by Joseph Ruskin, have come to Earth to end disease and famine. And to save us from ourselves by making it possible to end war. They bring us peace, safety, and prosperity. They also offer the wonderful opportunity to visit their home world.

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When their representative addressed the United Nations, the alien was told that delegates from “most of the important countries” were present. Really? I wonder how that made the “unimportant countries” feel. And just which ones are unimportant? Canada? Belize? France?

Well, yeah, France. But still!

(Incidentally, the UN Secretary General, in his address to the assembly, mentions that the first alien spacecraft to land on Earth landed outside of Newark, New Jersey. I’m certain that was Serling’s nod to Orson Wells’ infamous 1938 radio broadcast, War of the Worlds. In that show, the first spaceship landed in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. A small, rural town near Princeton University, not far from Newark. Eh? See what he did there?)

At that meeting with the UN, the alien left behind a book. A book written in their language, which was turned over to code-breaker named Michael Chambers (Lloyd Bochner), and his team to see if it could be translated to English. Midway through the episode, after the world had become peaceful and relaxed, we learn that the title of the book had been translated as “To Serve Man.”

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Um. Hang on. How did they translate it? As was pointed out in the book The Twilight Zone Companion, they weren’t breaking a code. This was a completely alien language. Without any kind of a guide, a Rosetta Stone, there would be no way anyone could translate that book, let alone its title. It simply would be impossible.

Well, never mind. Translate the title they did. And the title just reinforced the good feelings everyone had about these nice, accommodating beings from another planet. Still the challenge of finishing the translation was too hard to resist for the code-breaker’s assistant, played by Susan Cummings. Just as Chambers was to board the alien spacecraft for his trip to another world, she came to warn him not to go.

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She desperately called out to him that the book was… a cookbook! Dun dun duuuhhhh!

Classic Rod Serling twist!

Here’s where I scratch my head, though. Why would these super-intelligent beings come here with the intention of surreptitiously wrangling people to take back to their planet as food, give us a book detailing how they would cook (or serve) us? That don’t make no sense.

Packing Peanuts!

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You never forget your first James Bond

Writer’s note: I realize the world lost Roger Moore back in May, so I’m a little late in writing this, but I had to write about something this week.

Roger Moore is my James Bond. When I was a kid his Bond was the first I saw in the theater. Because of that, I’ve always considered him to be my James Bond. I think a lot of folks my age (I’m 52) feel the same way.

I’m not saying he was the best. Just that when I think of James Bond, I see Moore in my mind’s eye. Of course, I have seen the other Bonds and they all brought something of interest to the character. But still Moore is my Bond.

It can be said that all the worst Bond films featured Roger Moore. Moonraker, Octopussy, and A View To A Kill were all dreadful. That’s probably due, in part, to the fact the actor had gotten so old that the notion that old fart could do all that super-spy stuff was too hard to accept. Moore was about 46 years old when he assumed the legendary role. Sean Connery was 41 when he gave it up! So, it’s hardly surprising that the spy really got to be so damn old, so damn fast. He had quite a head start, after all.

Be that as it may, Moore is my Bond.

Let me discuss my two favorite James Bond films, both from the Moore era: Live And Let Die (1973) and The Man With The Golden Gun (1974).

First off, both films are terribly tone deaf when it comes to their treatment of women. It’s more understandable that the Bond films of the 1960s would have a more limited view of women. However, the Moore era wasn’t much better. Even with Women’s Lib taking a prominent role, in the 1970s, in the movement toward equal human and civil rights for all, the Bond films were slow to change.

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In The Man With The Golden Gun, Bond walked, unannounced, into a strange woman’s (played by Maud Adams) bathroom while she showered. When she realized he was there, she confronted him with the gun she had with her in the shower. Bond asked if she always showers with a gun. She should have replied, “Do you always just walk into strangers’ hotel rooms and watch them shower?”

Later, when he was ready to bed a young, inexperienced agent (Britt Ekland), they were interrupted by the appearance of the shower woman. Bond decided to hide his younger conquest in the closet, telling her not to worry, she’ll get her chance to break off a bit the Bond soon, and then proceeded to have sex with the other woman.

In Live And Let Die, he convinces a Tarot card reader (Jane Seymour) to sleep with him because it was foretold she would in the cards. “You do believe in the cards, don’t you?” Well, she did and they did. The audience is let in on the “joke” when we see the deck was “slightly stacked” in Bond’s favor. It was played for a sly laugh in 1973, but as I watched it just recently with two males friend who are close to my age, one noted that “seduction” was pretty much rape. We all agreed. We also agreed that Bond was probably riddled with STDs.

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When I watch these movies with my son I always pause them at those moments to explain that is not how to treat women. Some of you are probably saying I shouldn’t tout these two as my favorites. It’s a fair cop. I still like them and I find much to be entertained by, but I remind myself each time I watch either of them, to heed the same lesson I give my son.

The movie does make one advancement in race relations. It is the first Bond film to feature the super spy having sexual relations with an African-American woman played by Gloria Hendry. He still treats her as worthy of his penis, but not his respect. One step forward, several steps back.

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Live And Let Die has James Bond looking rather trim, fit, yet slender as opposed to Connery’s more muscular version (Connery was a former body builder before he started his acting career). Moore looks good. He wears clothes well and he appears younger than 46. And it was a pretty good idea to make certain to get Golden Gun produced and released the next year to take advantage of Moore still looking fairly youthful.

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The villain played by Yaphet Kotto isn’t bad. He plays a dual role. One as a Harlem gangster, Mr. Big, complete with the ’70’s blaxloitation patter and look so popular in cinema in those days. The other as a small time dictator of a fictional Caribbean island. This character was more refined and educated. But, like all Bond villains, he doesn’t just kill Bond when he has the chance.

Just shoot him! Don’t tell him your plan. Don’t have your henchmen do it. Don’t come up with some elaborate method to off the man. Just shoot him! Oh, they’ll never learn.

Live And Let Die also has a really good secondary villain. Not Tee Hee (Julius Harris), the villain with the mechanical arm, although he is good. I mean Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder). You might remember him from the 7-Up ads in which he touted the “uncola… hahahahaaaa.” He was great, if underused, in the movie. He was good and creepy and made quite an impression on me when I was a kid. However, Bond dispatched with him a little too easily though. Or did he?

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Possibly the best part of this movie is its theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings. Say what you want about any of the other theme songs, none comes close to as great a theme song as this one. There are a few that aren’t bad, but this one is the best.

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The Man With The Golden Gun is probably my favorite of all the Bond films. This is mainly due to its villain, Francisco Scaramanga. The best Bond films all have one vital thing in common: A good villain. This villain is wonderfully portrayed by Christopher Lee and you can tell he was really enjoying the part. Scaramanga is a high-priced hitman who gets a million dollars a hit. And in 1974, a million dollars wasn’t chump change.

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Golden Gun also has its excellent, if creepy, henchman. The polar opposite of Live And Let Die’s Baron Samedi, Nick Nack, played by Herve Villechaize, delights when his boss dispatches of his target during the cold open. He also delights when he thinks he’s stymied his boss in the funhouse maze Scaramanga uses for his special hits. In fact, there is a likeness of Bond on display in the funhouse, because Scaramanga knows it’s inevitable he and Bond will face off against each other. He keeps the likeness as a reminder and as inspiration.

That sets up why I really like this one. As I stated earlier, the problem with Bond villains is they never just kill Bond. However, in Scaramanga’s case it makes sense. He believes himself to be the finest marksman and hitman in all the world, but he wants to test himself against the one man in the world who could give him a true challenge – James Bond. So, the one on one ending works, even with the talking about his evil plans and not just killing Bond when he had the chance. Where’s the sport in that?

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Both films feature the comic relief character Sheriff JW Pepper played by Clifton James. That character gets so dangerously close to being straight up racist. Oh, hell. What am I saying? He’s probably the Grand Poobah of his local KKK chapter. I cringe every time he calls a black man “boy” in Live And Let Die. It is softened slightly by the fact he calls every adult male in the film “boy.”

These films are flawed. No doubt about it. They are of their time and are good examples of how far we’ve come as a society. No Bond film made in the last twenty years would come close to the chauvinism and racial insensitivity as seen in these two films. And that’s progress.

My social justice side urges me to shun and hate these films. The kid in me still wants to like them. Warts and all.

I guess I choose to follow the kid in me.

Packing Peanuts!

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