Halloween spotlight on Charlton Comics horror anthologies

In the last ten years or so, I have really gotten into the old Charlton Comics of the 1970s.  Although these books were printed very cheaply, and the creators on these titles received very low page rates, it was a rather popular company to work at.  Aspiring professionals such as John Byrne, Joe Staton, Mike Zeck, Bob Layton, Don Newton and Dan Reed found Charlton an ideal place to hone their talents.  Charlton also attracted more established creators, particularly Steve Ditko, who was drawn there by the prospect of very little corporate oversight, allowing him much greater creative freedom.

I recently wrote about E-Man by Nicola Cuti & Joe Staton, which originated at Charlton in 1973.  Today, to celebrate Halloween, I’m going to take a brief look at some of Charlton’s other books, namely their horror anthology titles.

The horror comics that Charlton published in the 1970s featured some extraordinary creepy, chilling, atmospheric artwork.  They also possessed clever & intelligent writing.  Nicola Cuti contributed a number of great stories.  One of the other prolific writers at Charlton was Joe Gill, who Ditko especially enjoyed collaborating with.  Steve Ditko’s 160-Page Package is a collection of many of the artist’s great Charlton horror tales collected together by Robin Snyder in 1999.  In his introduction, Ditko writes “The comic book story/script writer? It doesn’t matter who follows the first. That first choice is Joe Gill.”

I’ve really enjoyed searching out copies of those classic Charlton books.  Here are a handful of my favorite horror covers from that period: Ghostly Haunts 23

One of the first Charlton back issues I ever read was Ghostly Haunts #23.  The cover art is by Ditko.  That is series hostess Winnie the Witch on the right side of the cover.  Within this issue was some absolutely amazing artwork by Ditko wherein he utilized some extremely dramatic, effective layouts & storytelling to create a genuinely eerie mood.  This was the point at which I began to reappraise my opinion of Ditko and became a fan of his work.

Haunted 17

Here is the really intense, horrifying painted cover to Haunted #17 by Tom Sutton.  He was an artist who had a real ability to draw tortured, anguished souls, which served him extremely well over the years working as one of the top horror artists in the comic book biz at several different companies. Haunted 18

The cover to Haunted #18 is a dramatic sci-fi/horror mash-up by Joe Staton, with a gruesome, unearthly monstrosity on the attack. Staton’s layout of this image is just so incredibly dramatic and effective.

Scary Tales 12

This extremely striking cover to Scary Tales #12 prominently features series host Countess Von Blood.  I believe that Staton designed that character, but I’m not sure if this particular cover is his work.  Can anyone out there ID the artist for certain?

The next time you’re at a comic con, it is well worth taking a dive into the back issue bins to search out treasures such as these.  You can find quite a number of the Charlton issues from the 1970s for pretty reasonable prices, especially if you don’t mind picking up slightly dog-eared copies.  They’re a real bargain, with superb artwork and imaginative writing.

A big thank you to the Grand Comics Database, which is where I obtained these cover scans from.  That website contains a huge wealth of information.

Hope that everyone enjoyed viewing these covers. Have a happy Halloween!

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Comic book reviews: Necronomicon

Halloween is right around the corner, so once again I am going to take a look at a horror comic book series that I really enjoyed.  A few years back, BOOM! Studios published a number of series inspired by the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft.  For the uninformed, Lovecraft (1890 – 1937) was one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th Century.  He was very effectively melded aspects of the supernatural with science fiction, creating eerie, unsettling tales of “cosmic horror” and alien-spawned entities from the dawn of time exerting influence upon the present day.  Among the Lovecraftian titles released by BOOM! was the Necronomicon miniseries, written by William Messner-Loebs, with artwork by Andrew Ritchie and covers by J.K. Woodward.  Originally serialized in 2008, the four issues were collected into a trade paperback in 2009.

The eponymous Necronomicon is, within the fictional universe devised by Lovecraft, a tome of ancient, dark, powerful knowledge compiled over a thousand years ago by the “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred.  Throughout Lovecraft’s stories, characters often foolishly sought out the Necronomicon, either to uncover the secrets of Earth’s pre-history, or in the hopes of discovering methods to revive the now-banished god-like beings which once inhabited the planet.

Necronomicon TPB cover

Set in 1924, Messner-Loebs’ story focuses on Henry Said, the son of an Arabian merchant who is studying engineering at Miskatonic University.  Henry, although struggling with his major, is a polyglot who possesses an incredible aptitude for quickly comprehending new languages.  His remarkable abilities come to the attention of the Miskatonic’s theosophist society, composed of both faculty & students and headed up by Randolph Carter (who happens to bear a more than passing resemblance to H.P. himself).  The society is hoping that Henry can translate the Necronomicon, providing them a copy of the text in English.  At the urgings of his friends Jeremiah “Maxey” Maxwell and Rachel Schiff, Henry agrees to take on the task.  Soon, however, as he begins to experience strange dreams & unearthly sensations, Henry realizes the Necronomicon is no ordinary book.  This is confirmed when strange creatures masquerading as human beings attempt to steal the Necronomicon from the university.

As much as I am a fan of Lovecraft’s stories, I do have to admit that there were certain formulaic elements to his writing.  One of these is that his protagonists were typically middle aged white male academics.  When non-Caucasian or female characters did appear, they were usually depicted in an unflattering light, as servants of the various “Old Ones” who were threatening to once again encroach upon the Earth.  Unfortunately, it’s likely that Lovecraft’s own xenophobia and racism played a major part in this.  One of his primary themes is fear of displacement by some degenerate group of “others” or, worse, the discovery by his characters that they were connected by tainted bloodlines to those outsiders.

Therefore, it was very interesting to read Messner-Loebs’ story, which seems to have deliberately subverted this.  Henry is a foreign-born Muslim, and Rachel is a Jew possessing fervent Zionist ideologies.  Of the three protagonists, Maxey is the only WASP, and he is actually a rather dim fellow who is having an affair behind Rachel’s back, sleeping with a blonde-haired girl who makes anti-Semitic remarks.

Necronomicon 1 pg 7

Writing from the perspective of Henry, the outsider to American society, enables Messner-Loebs to look at the bizarre, disturbing events with an alternate point of view.  Indeed, it is Henry’s awareness that he is a stranger in a strange land, and his empathy for others who are in similar situations, who are looked upon as different, feared & scorned, that ultimately leads to his salvation.

Messner-Loebs also provides a glimpse into the possible history of the infamous Abdul Alhazred himself.  A number of commentators on Lovecraft’s writings over the years have noted that this is not a genuine Arab name, but rather something the author devised which sounded foreign & mysterious.  I believe, though, that Messner-Loebs is the first individual to expand on Lovecraft’s mythos who actually addresses this fact in-story.  Henry, originating from the Middle East, immediately realizes that “Abdul Alhazred” cannot be a genuine name.  But if so, then what was the true identity of the author of the Necronomicon?  Messner-Loebs offers up an interesting theory within his story.

When I was in high school and college, I enjoyed Messner-Loebs’ writing on Flash, Wonder Woman, and various other titles.  Regrettably he has not been employed as frequently within the last decade or so.  I was certainly happy to see him writing this miniseries for BOOM! and, indeed, it was on the strength of his past work that I purchased it.  Necronomicon is a very effective synthesis of the themes found in Lovecraft’s original writings and Messner-Loebs’ own sensibilities as an author.

Necronomicon 1 pg 20

I am not familiar with Andrew Ritchie, who illustrates and colors the miniseries.  I did a Google search to see what else he’s worked on and located his Tumblr site, which contains some really nice artwork.  It reminds me a bit of Charlie Adlard’s work.  Ritchie’s style is certainly well-suited to this miniseries.  He definitely imbues a macabre sensibility and atmosphere to the story.  Richie’s depictions of the Mi-Go and the Elder Ones have a genuine quality of the alien and unearthly to them.  And his renderings of Henry’s Necronomicon-spawned visions into other times and other worlds have the unsettling, sickly feel of a fever dream.

The cover work by J.K. Woodward is quite good.  These were done by him several years ago, earlier in his career, and consequently perhaps not nearly as polished as his recent amazing work on the Star Trek / Doctor Who crossover published by IDW.  That said, even back then it was obvious that Woodward had real talent & potential.  His cover for the first issue, a depiction of Lovecraft’s cosmic entity Cthulhu, is very striking.

If you are in the mood for an interesting, somewhat different interpretation on Lovecraft’s now-iconic legacy, the Necronomicon series is well worth a read, especially right around this time of year.  Happy Halloween!

Happy birthday to June Brigman

Here’s wishing a happy (belated) birthday to the super-talented artist June Brigman, who was born on October 25, 1960 in Atlanta, GA.  Early in her career, Brigman worked as a portrait artist at Six Flags Over Georgia.  Her talent at illustrating children would prove to be a valuable asset when in 1984, with husband Roy Richardson, she relocated to NYC and came to the offices of Marvel Comics seeking out work.  There she met editor Louise Simonson, who was in the process of pitching her first series, which was about a group of pre-teen superheroes.  Simonson was introduced to Brigman and, learning that she could draw children, the two soon began working together, developing Power Pack.

Last month, when I blogged about Louise Simonson’s work, I talked about how much I enjoyed Power Pack when I was young.  I really believe that June Brigman, working with veteran inker Bob Wiacek, was crucial to the appeal of the series.  Brigman designed the four Power siblings, the visual manifestations of their abilities, as well as the looks of the kindly alien Kymellians, the Smartship Friday, and the malevolent invading Snarks.  What she came up with was such a departure from the traditional Marvel sensibilities that it really stood out.  Paired with Simonson’s imaginative plots and wonderful talent for scripting young characters, this ensured that Power Pack was a unique title.

Power Pack Classic vol 1

Brigman worked on Power Pack for a year and a half, departing the series with #17.  Subsequently, her art appeared in a number of series at Marvel such as Alpha Flight, Barbie, She-Hulk, New Mutants, and Strange Tales.  In that last title, she penciled an unusual two-part team-up between Cloak & Dagger, the Punisher, and the Power Pack kids!

Power Pack was cancelled in late 1990.  The last several issues had, unfortunately, seen the title go in an unpleasant, dysfunctional direction.  As a reader, I wasn’t too happy with that.  “Dark Power Pack” just seemed wrong.  Now obviously, as I’ve written before, I am a huge fan of graphic novels such as Watchmen and Faust.  But I also enjoy “lighter” fare, to be sure.  Diversity is great; not everything needs to be grim & gritty.  And, honestly, Power Pack had been a rather serious title under both Simonson’s helm.  I mean, at one point it even crossed over with the “Mutant Massacre” storyline, which was a bloodbath!  But throughout her run, despite the upheavals in Alex, Julie, Jack, and Katie’s lives, Simonson had always maintained a real sense of fun and wonder.

Fortunately, Simonson and Brigman were able to reunite for the Power Pack Holiday Special, released in December 1991.  They more or less hit the big old reset button, and restored the Power family to (relative) normality, in the process telling a really awesome adventure.  Brigman, paired with her husband Roy Richardson on inks, turned in superb artwork.

In the 1990s June and Roy lived in White Plains NY, pretty close to where I grew up.  So I used to see the two of them regularly at local comic conventions.  They were always both very friendly.  When I began collecting original comic book artwork in high school, one of first pieces I ever bought was one of their pages from the Holiday Special.  Two decades later I still have it, framed.  I really ought to take a photo and post it on Comic Art Fans.

Supergilr 4 pg 13

In 1993 Brigman did some work for DC Comics, penciling the Supergirl/Team Luthor special, which was followed shortly thereafter by a four issue Supergirl miniseries.  I really enjoyed these stories by Roger Stern, which spun out of his ongoing plotlines from Action Comics involving the Supergirl (aka Matrix) from the Pocket Universe and her relationship with Lex Luthor who, at the time, was masquerading as his own son via a brain transplant into a cloned body… long story!!!  Brigman was inked on these issues by Jackson “Butch” Guice.  It was an interesting collaboration, since the two artists have very different styles.  But I felt that it worked well and suited the mood of the stories.

Shortly thereafter, Brigman re-teamed with Simonson and Richardson over at Dark Horse for the Star Wars: River of Chaos miniseries.  Other than Princess Leia, all of the characters featured were brand new, which allowed Simonson & Brigman the opportunity to design & develop some interesting additions to the Star Wars mythos.  I think this is one of the few Star Wars titles that Dark Horse did not subsequently collect into a trade paperback, or if they did it’s now out of print.  Whatever the case, River of Chaos was a great read with wonderful art, and I recommend searching out the back issues.

SW River of Chaos 1 cover signed

Brigman took over the Brenda Starr newspaper strip in 1995, and stayed on it until its cancellation in 2011.  During this time, she also penciled several issues of Meridian and Sojourn for CrossGen.  These comic featured some really beautiful artwork.  Brigman’s style is very well suited to the fantasy genre, and I wish she had the opportunity to work in it more often.

More recently, Brigman has been working with Teshkeel, a comic book company based in Kuwait that publishes The 99.  In addition to her work on the comics, Brigman’s art has appeared prominently in a theme park based on the series.  Some of her art from The 99 can be viewed on Teshkeel’s website.

Brigman once again briefly returned to Power Pack in 2010, penciling a seven page story in Girl Comics #3 written by Simonson, with inking by Rebecca Buchman.  In 2011, Brigman and Richardson drew two issues of Herc that tied in with Marvel’s big “Spider-Island” crossover, and also contributed the variant cover for FF #15.  I was happy to see her work in these books, and I really hope that at some point she has the opportunity to illustrate some other projects.  As I’ve said before, it would be great if she and Simonson could do a new Power Pack miniseries or special.  Even better, I would love to see them collaborate on a creator-owned project.  They are each immensely talented, and I imagine they would conceive something really spectacular.

Girl Comics 3 pg 14

June and Roy moved back to Atlanta a number of years ago.  Fortunately there is the Internet, and I get to chat with them regularly on Facebook.  As I said, in addition to being accomplished artists, they are both really nice people.

I hope you had a very happy birthday, June.  Thanks for all they wonderful artwork over the years.

They blinded me with science fiction: E-Man by Nicola Cuti & Joe Staton

I was really happy to finally pick up a copy of the trade paperback E-Man: The Early Years from Joe Staton at this year’s New York Comic Con.  Crash course for the uninitiated: E-Man is the creation of writer Nicola “Nick” Cuti and artist Joe Staton.  Cuti has described the character of E-Man as a cross between Plastic Man and the theories of Albert Einstein.

The being who would become E-Man began life thousands of years ago when a packet of sentient energy erupted from an alien star.  For millennia this energy wandered the universe, searching for other intelligent life.  Eventually it came across the spaceship of the Brain from Sirius.  Boarding the craft, the unexpected extra weight caused the Brain’s ship to crash on Earth.  Exploring the planet, the sentient energy eventually got caught up in power lines which led him to the dressing room of Nova Kane, who was working as a burlesque performer to pay her grad school bills.  Taking on human form, the energy being adopted the identity of E-Man, and Nova gave him the civilian alias of Alec Tronn.  With Nova as his guide, introducing him to the customs of Earth, E-Man became the planet’s protector against the vengeful Brain and a variety of other bizarre foes.

EMan Early Years cover

The E-Man series first debuted in 1973, published by Charlton Comics.  It lasted ten issues there before being canceled due to low sales, but garnered a cult following.  A decade later, when Charlton went out of business, the rights to the series were purchased by First Comics.  In addition to reprinting the original Charlton stories, First published 25 issues of brand new material between 1983 and 1985, drawn by Staton.  At the time, Cuti was on staff at DC Comics and wasn’t readily available to return to his baby, so other writers such as Martin Pasko and Paul Kupperberg penned the series, as well as Staton himself.  Cuti was finally able to return to E-Man for the last few issues of the First run.

In the years since First ceased regular publication, the situation, as Staton explained it to me once, eventually resolved itself as such: First still retains ownership of all the E-Man stories published under their banner and by Charlton.  Staton has the rights to create brand-new E-Man material, which he has done so with Cuti on several occasions.  Cuti & Staton have created new E-Man stories at Comico, Alpha Productions and, most recently, a trio of one-shots published by Digital Webbing between 2006 and 2008.

EMan Curse of the Idol cover

Since I was born in 1976 and begin reading comics regularly in the mid-1980s, I obviously missed the Charlton and First stories when they originally appeared.  I actually discovered Joe Staton primarily via his work on Green Lantern in the early 1990s (which was actually his third time drawing that series).  His style was really appealing to me.  A lot of people describe it as “cartoony,” which makes sense, yet at the same time oversimplifies things.  Really, what I think that means is that Staton’s work is not-hyper detailed like, say, Perez or Maguire or a lot of the artists who became popular in the 1990s.  Staton’s illustrations have a charming quality, but at the same time he is able to draw extremely serious material.  He can easily transition from the goofy misadventures of Guy Gardner or Scooby Doo to the cosmic space opera of Green Lantern to the noir tales featured in The Huntress and Femme Noir.

E-Man was definitely a really great fit for Staton’s talents.  Cuti wrote stories that were fun and humorous without being silly or excessively mocking the characters.  Alec and Nova often faced life & death situations, but Cuti scripting was never overly grim, and there were plenty of silly jokes to liven things up.  Staton got to draw Alec Tronn transforming into a variety of weird & wonderful forms, as well as throw in lots of great visual gags.

The cast of characters in E-Man is a really nice group.  Alec, as a stranger in a strange land, is at times charming naïve, which leads to a lot of comedy.  At the same time, though, Cuti doesn’t write Alec as an idiot, but rather as a genuinely nice guy who just happens to have a lot to learn about his new home.  His companion / love-interest is Katrinka Kolcnzski, aka Nova Kane.  She is a thoroughly modern woman, independent & smart, as well as drop-dead gorgeous.  I like that Cuti writes her as a confident, self-assured individual without resorting to having her act catty (although she does occasionally get jealous when Alec is seemingly eyeing other ladies). Later on, when Nova gains super powers similar to Alec, they really do have an equal partnership.  Also hanging around is sloppy but clever private investigator Michael Mauser (think Sam Spade meets Oscar Madison) who loves a good game of cards and a liverwurst sandwich with raw onions.  And then there’s the adorable Teddy-Q, a koala bear who comes to live with Alec & Nova.

EMan 7 pg 1 Charlton

Oh, yes, Nova’s career as a burlesque dancer provides Staton with the opportunity to draw some incredibly sexy sequences.  I know that Staton’s name typically doesn’t come up when thinking of artists who draw cheesecake and good girl art.  But I have always thought that Staton rendered very beautiful women.  And his depictions of Nova Kane are definitely stunning.

It’s really interesting to look at the original ten issues from the Charlton run, which are reprinted in The Early Years trade paperback.  In 1973, Staton had only been a professional artist for a couple of years.  Yet already he was doing some amazing work.  Staton even illustrated painted covers for the last four issues of the series.  So right from the start, it was clear that he was a talented individual.  Of course, a nice aspect of the TPB is that it also includes his covers from The Original E-Man miniseries published by First in the mid-1980s that reprinted the Charlton stories.  Viewing these, you can clearly see how much Staton had developed as an artist, and how his style was evolving.

EMan 9 cover Charlton signed

I really hope that First is able to publish additional E-Man trade paperbacks.  I only have one issue from the 1980s series, so it would be great if those could be collected.  Even better, I would love to see new stories from Cuti & Staton.  Those three specials released by Digital Webbing a few years back were fantastic.  They had all of the fun and excitement and humor of the original Charlton issues.  It really felt like there hadn’t been a lapse of decades, and that Cuti & Staton had just picked up right where they had left off all those years before.

By the way, for additional information on E-Man, plus an interesting, detailed look at Charlton Comics in the 1970s, it is worth tracking down Comic Book Artist #12, which was released by TwoMorrows Publishing in 2001.  The magazine is topped off by a brand new cover drawn by Staton, featuring E-Man, Nova Kane, Teddy-Q, and the many colorful, macabre hosts of Charlton’s horror anthologies.  TwoMorrows still has copies for sale at their website.

Tomorrow is today: X-Men “Days of Future Past”

It’s 2013.  Do you know where your X-Men are?

Sure, here in the real world, if you want to locate the X-Men, just head on over to the local comic book shop, where you’ll find your favorite mutants in numerous ongoing series published by Marvel Comics.  But back in the early 1980s, within the fictional world they inhabited, the X-Men had every reason to be fearful of the 21st Century.  In the now-classic two part story “Days of Future Past,” readers were given a glimpse of a horrifying dystopian future where humanity no longer ruled, and mutant-kind were hunted like animals by soulless mechanical tyrants.

Uncanny XMen 141 cover

Originally appearing in Uncanny X-Men #141-142, published in late 1980, “Days of Future Past” was co-plotted by John Byrne & Chris Claremont, penciled by Byrne, scripted by Claremont, and inked by Terry Austin, under the editorship of Louise Simonson.  This two issue tale showed us the remnants of the X-Men in the year 2013 attempting to alter history.  With the aid of the telepath Rachel, the now-adult Kate Pryde’s consciousness is projected back in time into her teenage body.  She tells the skeptical present-day X-Men of 1980 of the dire future waiting on the horizon.

Kate informs the X-Men that the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants is planning to murder U.S. Senator Robert Kelly, who is advocating for the regulation of mutants.  Kate states that the Brotherhood’s actions backfire horribly; rather than serving as a warning for humanity to stay out of mutant affairs, the assassination causes a virulent wave of anti-mutant hysteria to sweep across the nation.  The “Mutant Control Act” is passed in 1984, but is struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.  This merely further emboldens the paranoid elements of the federal government, and they reactivate the giant anti-mutant Sentinel robots.  The Sentinels are given “fatally broad parameters” to deal with mutants and, to humanity’s horror, decide the most logical manner in which to do so is to seize control of the country.

Over the next quarter century, nearly all superhumans in North America are exterminated by the Sentinels, with the survivors imprisoned in “internment centers.”  In 2013, the Sentinels are now preparing to spread out across the globe to fulfill their mandate to eliminate mutants.  The rest of the world, much more fearful of being conquered by the Sentinels than they are of the dangers posed by mutants, is prepared to retaliate with a full-scale nuclear strike against the former United States.

Uncanny XMen 141 pg 14

The present-day X-Men race to Washington DC, hoping to thwart the assassination attempt on Senator Kelly by the shape-shifting Mystique and her new Mutant Brotherhood.  Meanwhile, in 2013, the remnants of the future X-Men escape from the South Bronx Mutant Internment Center.  This ragtag band heads into Manhattan and the Baxter Building, which is now the headquarters of the Sentinels, in a desperate attempt to destroy it and avert nuclear holocaust.  The X-Men of 1980 narrowly succeed in saving Kelly, and Kate’s consciousness departs back for her own time.  Unfortunately in 2013 events take a much worse turn, with the future X-Men being brutally slaughtered by the Sentinels, leaving only Rachel and Kate alive.

Back in the present, the X-Men ponder whether or not they have averted the dark future of mutant genocide.  Professor Xavier observes “Only time will tell.”  And in an ominous epilogue, Kelly, more convinced than ever that mutants are a danger, is introduced by the President to Henry Peter Gyrich.  To safeguard humanity from mutant-kind, Kelly & Gyrich are to put into place the top-secret “Project Wideawake,” and a key aspect of this program will be the reactivation of the Sentinels.

As I did not get into comic books on a semi-regular basis until the mid-1980s, I obviously did not have the opportunity to read “Days of Future Past” when it was first published.  I think the first time I ever found out about the events of the story was one summer, when I was at day camp, and a fellow comic book fan had brought along several issues of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.  One of these contained the entry for Rachel Summers aka Phoenix II, the telepath from “Days of Future Past.”  Her biography in that issue was, in part, a summation of Claremont & Byrne’s story arc, a description of the nightmarish Sentinel-controlled future.  It seriously unnerved me.  As a Jew, it really struck a chord.  Having grown up learning all about the Holocaust, to read about a fictional scenario where a minority group right here in the United States was rounded up and imprisoned in concentration camps, marked for extermination, was very disturbing.

I finally had the opportunity to read “Days of Future Past” itself in the early 1990s, when Marvel reprinted the story in a one-shot, and then several years later when it was included in Essential X-Men Vol. 2.  I found it a very powerful story.  Claremont & Byrne definitely crafted an unsettling vision of the future.  The artwork by Byrne & Austin was stunning, really driving home the impact of this dark tomorrow.  (And I am a HUGE fan of Austin’s inking on pretty much anything.  He’s an amazing artist.)  The covers for these two issues have become extremely iconic.  That image of Wolverine & Kate backed against the wall of wanted posters, drawn by Byrne & Austin, has been the subject of numerous homages over the decades, and #142, which was both penciled & inked by Austin, showcases the gruesome death of Wolverine at the hands of the Sentinels.

Uncanny XMen 142 cover

It is interesting that “Days of Future Past” was only a two part story.  Nowadays, if anything like it was attempted by Marvel (or DC, for that matter) it would probably be a huge event, at least ten chapters long, and cross over with numerous other titles.  I really do not think what Claremont & Byrne achieved in those two issues, not to mention within the rest of their groundbreaking run on Uncanny X-Men, could be replicated today.  Well, not at the Big Two, at any rate.  Perhaps it could be in the arena of independent and creator-owned books?

That “Days of Future Past” reprint special ended with a brief afterword by Simonson, who noted that Claremont & Byrne’s “dual vision, their future history remains. Its seeds are in the past. Its reality flavors the present. And its future is almost upon us.”

It has often been observed that the X-Men can serve as metaphors for nearly any minority or group that has faced discrimination: African-Americans, Jews, homosexuals, etc.  I think that is true.  I also think that the themes of “Days of Future Past” are more relevant than ever.  Despite the important strides many minorities have made in gaining recognition under the law, there is still a tremendous amount of bigotry & intolerance in this country.

Uncanny XMen 141 pg 1

Politics have become increasingly polarized, allowing the most extreme elements of society a greater voice & influence.  In the post September 11th era, there are some who advocate surveillance upon the entire Muslim community as a necessity to insure national security.  There are calls to “secure the borders” in order to prevent illegal immigrants from Latin America entering the country to steal jobs from “real Americans.”  Many still regard homosexuality as an “abomination” against God, with some even wanting to imprison gays to prevent the further spread of AIDS.  To secure votes, unscrupulous politicians pander to the racist elements of their constituents, cementing the belief that President Obama is some sort of foreign-born Muslim Socialist with a sinister agenda.

Even in a supposedly progressive city like NYC, we have seen a resurgence of gay-bashing, and many people genuinely believe that if the police do not stop & frisk every single dark-skinned teenage male in sight that crime will skyrocket.

My point is that we must remain ever vigilant in safeguarding our liberties & freedoms.  When one group is oppressed, it creates a slippery slope that could lead to others also being denied their rights, until eventually we are all under the heel of oppression.  The Sentinels are a potent symbol for intolerance.  Via their actions in “Days of Future Past,” we can see that hatred & intolerance is blind, and embracing it can lead to the destruction of all that we were claiming to be protecting in the first place.

New York Comic Con 2013: a convention report

I really had not planned to go to the New York Comic Con this year.  But at literally the last minute, i.e. Wednesday afternoon, Michele surprised me with a ticket for Thursday.  I knew that once again I was going to be on a really limited budget.  So I decided to just pick up a handful of comics and maybe a couple of sketches.  Mostly I brought along comic books I already owned to get autographed.  And I took a few photos.  My digital camera went bust a while ago, so I had to rely on my crappy cell phone camera.

The first person I went to see in Artist Alley was Joe Staton.  I actually did the exact same thing last year.  What can I say?  I’m a huge fan of his work.  This time around, I really wanted to pick up a copy of the E-Man trade paperback that reprinted the Charlton Comics stories from the 1970s.  This collected edition actually came out in 2011, but the last couple of years when Staton had it for sale at the show, I just didn’t have the money to get it.  So I decided that this year it would be the very first thing I’d purchase.  I ended up breezing through the book, it was such a fun, entertaining read.  I’ll probably do a post about E-Man sometime in the near future.

Joe Staton

Joe Staton

Scott Hanna was also at the show.  I think he does really great work.  He is one of those embellishers who usually attempt to stay faithful to the style of whatever penciller he is working with.  As such, I think that his contributions to the finished art are not as readily identifiably to the casual eye.  Nevertheless, as I’ve mentioned in my Thinking About Inking post, there have been instances where his impact is demonstrable, and always in a positive way.  At NYCC I purchased a page that he did for the miniseries Avengers: Celestial Quest, inking Jorge Santamaria’s pencils, which features one of my favorite characters, Mantis.

Two other people who had a table in Artist Alley were Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani, the creative team behind Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures, as well as their self-published Aw Yeah Comics.  I think their work is so cute and funny and adorable.  Yeah, I know, I also like very dark and serious stuff, as well.  But the thing is, I’m into a wide range of material.  If everything in the comic book biz was grim & gritty, it would be extremely boring.  Diversity is the spice of life.  I got several comic books signed by Art & Franco, as well as sketches from both of them.  Art drew a cartoony version of the Teen Titans’ demonic foe Trigon.  Franco sketched a funny Darkseid vs Streaky the Supercat piece.

Franco

Franco

The one other piece of art I got at NYCC this year was a really nice sketch in my Beautiful Dreamer theme book.  It was drawn by Derek Fridolfs, whose work has appeared in Justice League Beyond and Batman: Li’l Gotham.  You can view it, and the rest of the art I picked up, in my galley at Comic Art Fans.

While I was at the show, I also had the chance to see several other creators, among them Bob Layton, Steve Ellis, Alex Saviuk, Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare, Tim Vigil, ChrisCross, Jim Salicrup, Vito Delsante, and John “Roc” Upchurch.

Before I knew that I was going to be at NYCC, I had decided to get a ticket for a related event on Friday night which was being organized by Barnaby Edwards of the Doctor Who New York fan club.  Colin Baker, who portrayed the Sixth Doctor on Doctor Who, was doing a question & answer session and signing at the Stone Creek Bar on East 27th Street.  Also present was writer & actor Nicholas Briggs.  In addition to being heavily involved in the Big Finish audio plays, directing many of them, Briggs has famously voiced the Daleks, Cybermen, and various other aliens, both for Big Finish and on the television series itself.  I was really looking forward to meeting both gentlemen.  There was a third, surprise guest, as well: director & producer Jason Haigh-Ellery of Big Finish.  For someone such as me, a huge fan of the Doctor Who audio adventures, this event was a real treat.  I think that Baker has done extraordinary work reprising his Doctor at Big Finish, and both Briggs & Haigh-Ellery have really brought extraordinary levels of professionalism to these productions.   It was also a great opportunity to meet in person several of the people I know online from Facebook and WordPress.

Nicholas Briggs and Colin Baker

Nicholas Briggs and Colin Baker

Of course there were some amazing examples of cosplay at NYCC.  This is where I wish I had a proper camera, so I could have taken more pictures.  I even saw someone dressed as Walter White from Breaking Bad.  I was wondering if anyone was going to do that!  Anyway, here are a few photos of fans in costume that really stood out for me.

It’s always interesting when you see somebody cosplaying as a somewhat more obscure character.  This guy was dressed up as the supervillain Clock King.  In addition to a super-authentic costume, he actually had a working clock on his mask.  Now that is what I call attention to detail!

NYCC 2013 Clock King

Clock King

Here is a lovely lady who was turning heads on the main convention floor, dressed up as a steampunk version of G.I. Joe villainess the Baroness.

NYCC 2013 Steampunk Baroness

Steampunk Baroness

And for this one I really wish I had been able to take a much better picture.  Here were three gals cosplaying as the most famous female agents of SHIELD, namely the Black Widow, Sharon Carter, and Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine.  Jim Steranko was at NYCC, and I wonder if he had a chance to see his creation, sexy spy Val Fontaine, brought to life.  Sorry for the blurry quality.  Trust me, this trio looked fantastic in person.

NYCC 2013 Agents of SHIELD

Black Widow, Sharon Carter, and Val Fontaine

I had a good time at this year’s New York Comic Con.  After she got out from work, Michele joined me at the show and we hung out there for a few hours.  But, at the end of the day, I was exhausted and kind of broke, so I’m glad that I was only there for one day.  Anyway, thanks again, Michele, for the surprise ticket.  I really appreciate it.

Doctor Who: The Missing Episodes UPDATED

As I’ve blogged before, I started watching Doctor Who around 1983 or so.  Back then, being a fan of the show could be frustrating.  This was in the days before the BBC began releasing the show on videotape.  The only episodes one could see here in the States were those showing on the local PBS channels.  In my case, that was WLIW Channel 21, which was airing the Tom Baker and Peter Davison stories.

As far as obtaining information on older Doctor Who, sources in the 1980s were limited.  I had to rely on the Target novelisations, the occasional issue of Doctor Who Magazine that showed up in the comic shops, and the odd sci-fi reference book containing a few black & white photos offering tantalizing glimpses of 1960s and early 70s stories.  Oh, yes, a couple of years later I got my hands on the two-volume Doctor Who Programme Guide by J.M. Lofficier.  That was an invaluable wealth of information in those pre-Internet days.  I read those two books so many times that my copies are totally dog-eared!

In 1985, another PBS channel began airing the Jon Pertwee stories on Sunday mornings.  I was thrilled to be able watch those early 1970s serials, many of which had been alluded to in the Peter Davison stories.  But the material from the 1960s still remained beyond my grasp.

Adding to my frustration was word-of-mouth from older fans who had seen those stories when they first aired.  Those fans had such nostalgic memories of the material, and many held the opinion that then-current Doctor Who stories of the 1980s could not hold a candle to the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton stories from two decades earlier.

(I’ve mentioned before the phenomenon of “the memory cheats” cited by John Nathan-Turner, which of course turned out rather truthful.  But back in the mid-1980s I had no choice but to rely on the opinions of people who had actually grown up watching the series in the 1960s).

The difficulty with being able to view many of those early stories was that throughout the 1970s the BBC systematically erased or destroyed the majority of their master tapes for the early Doctor Who episodes, along with numerous other television programs.  There were a few reasons for this.  The BBC wanted to save on storage space.  Also, contracts with unions typically prevented shows from being broadcast more than once or twice, as the feeling by organized labor was that reruns would rob actors of new jobs and income.  Finally, no one had any idea that DVDs and Internet downloads would one day exist, providing the BBC with completely new distribution outlets, not to mention a huge source of revenue.

So, back in the mid-1980s, it was commonly believed that the majority of the Sixties stories no longer existed.  I resigned myself to the fact that I would never be able to watch “The Daleks’ Master Plan” or “The Evil of the Daleks” or “Tomb of the Cybermen,” serials which older fans decreed were The Greatest Doctor Who Stories Ever.

What I didn’t realize was that, behind the scenes, both the BBC and fans of the show had begun searching for copies of the many missing episodes.  By the 1990s, quite a few had been recovered, either from various foreign countries (many of the shows had been sold overseas by the BBC) or from really unlike locations such as church basements and the trunks of old cars.

Hmmm, missing episodes, missing episodes.... I was sure I wrote down where I put them somewhere in my diary!

Hmmm, missing episodes, missing episodes…. I was certain that I wrote down where I put them somewhere in my 500 Year Diary!

In my blog post Unearthing the Tomb of the Cybermen, I related how huge a deal it was when all four episodes of that story were discovered in 1992 in the archives of a Hong Kong television station.  And by that time, I’d also had the opportunity to see a number of the other complete Sixties serials, which finally started airing on PBS around 1990.  And I realized something: some of them truly were classics, but others were of variable quality, with a few being very mediocre, padded-out efforts.  Which, really, is something you can say about most periods in the show’s history.  Yes, even present day Doctor Who, which can range between the brilliant and the underwhelming.  That said, it is a shame that such a significant number of early Doctor Who episodes are lost.  I would like to be able to view them, and make up my own mind.

When I wrote an earlier version of this post, back in January 2010, of the 253 episodes filmed in the Sixties, 108 were still missing from the BBC archives.  The odds seemed slim that any more would surface.  But the most recent discovery of a lost episode before that was only six years earlier, in 2004.  So I observed it was conceivable that a few more episodes might be floating around somewhere in the world.  And I was much relieved when, in December 2011, it was announced that two more episodes had been found, “Galaxy Four” part three and “The Underwater Menace” part two.  At least now my earlier forecast didn’t seem quite so foolish!

Fast forward to 2013.  For months now, rumors have been circulating that a number of missing episodes had been unearthed.  I really did not give these much credence because, let’s face it, the Internet is full of unverifiable “information.”  But the gossip really gathered steam in the past month’s time, claims that the BBC had located a significant number of episodes and was sitting on the news in order to make a huge announcement.  I totally dismissed out of hand the claim by UK tabloid The Mirror that “over 100 episodes” had been recovered.  Not only was that number really unrealistic, the supposed source of this information was someone who heard it from a friend… who, in turn, probably heard it from another friend, and so on.  And, y’know, The Mirror isn’t exactly known for its journalist excellence!

Then, on Monday of this week, it was announced by the BBC themselves that, yes, an unspecified number of episodes had been recovered.  However, the details would not be revealed until Wednesday.  No, make that Thursday!  At this point in time, I wanted to bang my head against a wall in frustration, and I started referring to this whole sequence of events as “The Great Doctor Who Missing Episodes Cock-Tease of 2013.”

Last night I arrived home from the New York Comic Con and immediately went online to see if the BBC had finally spilled the goods.  Yes, at last they had.  Eleven episodes had been located, lying forgotten in the storeroom of a Nigerian television station, and of these, nine were previously missing from the BBC’s archives.  What was recovered was the entire six episode serial “The Enemy of the World” and five of the six episodes comprising “The Web of Fear.”  Both of these starred Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, and Deborah Watling, and were originally broadcast during 1967-68, the show’s fifth season.

I have got to say, this is really great news.  Due to the manner in which the BBC sold Doctor Who abroad, there were far fewer copies of the stories from the third, fourth, and fifth years made and distributed.  There is an excellent two-part article in Doctor Who Magazine #444 to 445 (March & April 2012) written by Richard Molesworth that explains the whys and wherefores of this situation in great detail.  Suffice it to say, the end result of this was that much of William Hartnell’s third year on the series, and nearly all of Patrick Troughton’s first two years, have been lost for several decades now.  So to locate two of Troughton’s stories, one totally intact, the other nearly so, is a huge discovery.

Many older fans (as in, even older than me!) have long regarded Season Five, featuring Troughton, Hines, and Watling, to be one of the all time greatest years in the series’ history.  Of course, always hearing this would drive me nuts, because I could never actually watch the majority of it!  But now, of the seven serials from 1967-68, two are known to exist in full, namely “Tomb of the Cybermen” and “Enemy of the World,” and two more are nearly complete, specifically “The Ice Warriors” and “The Web of Fear.”  The two missing episodes from “The Ice Warriors” were recreated via animation and the story was just released on DVD.  Hopefully the BBC can provide the same treatment for that one still-lost installment of “The Web of Fear.”

Optimism aside, I honestly thought it was unlikely that the missing episode count would ever dip below the 100 mark.  But now it actually stands at 97.

Look, Victoria, I'm telling you, I spotted some missing episodes over there. Or would you rather ask the Yeti that's chasing us for directions?

Look, Victoria, I’m telling you, I spotted some missing episodes over there. Or would you rather ask the Yeti that’s chasing us for directions?

In any case, there are now even more opportunities to view the existing material from the Sixties.  All of the complete stories have been digitally restored and released on DVD.  Many of the episodes from incomplete serials are collected on the three-disk set Lost in Time, released in 2004.  The nine newly found episodes are already available for digital download on iTunes, and apparently are racking up very impressive sales figures.  Complete audio tracks exist for every episode due to fans copying them off their televisions with tape recorders during the original broadcasts.   Several have been animated.  And the majority of the episodes have various still pictures called “telesnaps” taken by John Cura in the 1960s.  So it is possible to reconstruct the lost stories in one way or another.

By the way, the online piece Snapshots in History is a very informative profile on Cura and his important work.  Definitely take a look.  And I must offer a big “thank you” to Vivian Fleming, who writes the excellent, entertaining WordPress blog The Mind Robber, for having posted a link to it.

Anyway, in a dream world, what missing episodes would I like to see resurface?  At the top of my list of Hartnell material would be the last episode of “The Tenth Planet,” which has the Doctor’s very first regeneration.  That episode has been reconstructed via animation, but one day it would be nice to see the original.  It would also be great if at least one of the seven episodes from the lavish historical serial “Marco Polo” from the show’s first season was discovered.  It is very odd that none are currently known to exist, when practically the rest of the entire first year of Doctor Who is intact, except for two episodes from “The Reign of Terror.”  I would also like to be able to see another completely missing historical story, “The Massacre,” which gave the spotlight to companion Steven Taylor, portrayed by Peter Purves.  It also features an amazingly moving monologue by the Doctor in the last episode.  And the final apocalyptic episode of “The Daleks’ Master Plan” sounds like it was amazing.

Concerning the Troughton era of the show, I’d certainly be happy if any episodes surfaced from his debut adventure, “The Power of the Daleks,” as well as his second run-in with the fascist mutants from Skaro, “The Evil of the Daleks.”  Also topping my wish list is “Fury from the Deep,” another story from season five.  It is the only serial from that year of which no complete episodes are known to exist.  Based on the very creepy, atmospheric novelization written by the original writer, Victor Pemberton, plus looking at a handful of very brief surviving clips & behind-the-scenes footage, it was probably a heck of a story.  Finally, “The Highlanders,” which introduces long-time companion Jamie McCrimmon, played by Frazer Hines, would be a nice find.

It is extremely unlikely that we will see the recovery of every single missing episode.  I am sure that there are many that have been irrevocably lost.  For instance, several different sources all agree that “The Daleks’ Master Plan” part seven is gone for good.  Because it was a one-off Christmas interlude set in the middle of that mammoth twelve-part epic, the BBC considered it a throw-away episode.  Consequently it was never offered up for sale anywhere in the world and it was wiped soon after it was broadcast in 1965.

So, no, it really would be absolutely impossible to find every one of those 97 remaining missing Doctor Who episodes.  That said, I still hope that a few more are out there, waiting to be discovered.  But, in the meantime, let’s enjoy the ones we do have.