Jim Steinman: 1947 to 2021

“I’ve been called over the top. How silly. If you don’t go over the top, you can’t see what’s on the other side.” – Jim Steinman

Acclaimed composer, lyricist, record producer, and playwright Jim Steinman passed away on April 19th. He was 73 years old.

Steinman was known for his epic musical compositions. Some might call them operatic, while others would probably prefer to describe them as melodramatic. Myself, being someone with a fondness for the epic, grand soundscapes, really enjoyed his work.

Steinman’s career began in the late 1960s, but he first gained widespread recognition when he composed Bat Out of Hell, the 1977 debut album of Meat Loaf. Bat Out of Hell became one of the best-selling albums of all time. I have to confess, Bat Out of Hell initially escaped my attention for one very good reason: I was all of one year old when it came out, so I was obviously a bit too young to be able to appreciate Steinman’s lyrics & compositions and Meat Loaf’s vocals.

However, by the time their long-awaited follow-up, Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell was released in September 1993, I was absolutely the perfect age to listen. This was right at the beginning of my senior year in high school, and “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” was being blasted across the airwaves. Meat Loaf belted out these incredible, soulful vocals. The duet at the end between Meat Loaf and Lorraine Crosby aka “Mrs. Loud” topped off the dramatic, atmospheric ballad.

The epic music video for “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” directed by Michael Bay, with its eerie, Gothic romance imagery, was in heavy rotation on MTV in late 1993. Yes, kids, this was back in the bygone days when MTV actually played music videos!

I bought Bat Out of Hell II soon after it came out, and I totally played that album to death! Seriously, it was one of those albums I would listen to from start to finish, not skipping any tracks. Steinman and Meat Loaf really seemed to catch lightning in a bottle with this one, with nary a dud on the track list. Even track 7, “Wasted Youth,” a bizarre monologue spoken by Steinman himself, was weirdly entertaining.

Steinman also worked with Air Supply, Barry Manilow, Bonnie Tyler, Celine Dion, and The Sisters of Mercy, writing some incredibly stirring songs for those artists. Many of those songs became huge hits.

Growing up in the 1980s, the Bonnie Tyler song “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (1983) was a regular presence on “light FM” radio stations. I always liked it, although it wasn’t until a decade later that I learned Steinman had written & produced it. Of course, as soon as I found out, I could immediately see his lyrical and acoustical signatures all over it. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was later covered as an electronic dance track by Nicki French in 1995, again becoming a hit.

The power ballad “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” was written by Steinman in 1986. Inspired by the Gothic romance novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” was first recorded in 1989 by Pandora’s Box, a female group assembled by Steinman in the late 1980s. Elaine Caswell provided the lead vocals.

The video for “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Ken Russell.  Steinman wrote the script for the video, and he drew inspiration from Russell’s own recent work on the “Nessun Dorma” segment from the 1987 compilation opera movie Aria. Russell’s video for “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” could be described as an apocalyptic S&M orgy, with leather-clad demons and angels fighting over the soul of a woman (portrayed by Caswell) who hovers between life and death after a fiery motorcycle crash in a graveyard.

“It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” was covered by Celine Dion on her 1996 album Falling Into You, with Steinman once again producing the track. Dion’s version became a worldwide hit. Andrew Lloyd Weber reportedly told Steinman that he thought it was “the greatest love song ever written.”

The video for Dion’s cover of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” was directed by Nigel Dick. It was much more in the line of traditional Gothic romance than the Pandora’s Box version had been, but it was certainly no less grandiose. Set in a sprawling mansion, the music video was shot on location in the 200 year old Ploskovice summer palace of the Austrian Emperors, and at Barandov Studios in Prague, Czech Republic.

“It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” was later covered again in 2006. This time it was performed as a duet by Meat Loaf and Marion Raven. The producer on this version was Desmond Child rather than Steinman.

Steinman later wrote Bat Out of Hell: The Musical, which featured a number of his iconic compositions. The show opened in February 2017 at the Manchester Opera House. It subsequently was staged in London, Toronto and New York City. Tours in the United States, Australia and the UK were planned, but postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jim Steinman career has been described as “wholly unique” by Rolling Stone. He leaves behind a rich musical legacy of incredibly dramatic, iconic songs.

Remembering Elisabeth Sladen

It’s a bit difficult to believe that it’s been a decade since English actress Elisabeth Sladen passed away on April 19, 2011 at the age of 65. Sladen was well-known for playing the beloved character of Sarah Jane Smith on the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who.

Sladen was cast as Sarah Jane Smith in 1973 by Doctor Who producer Barry Letts and made her debut in the four-episode serial “The Time Warrior” which opened Season 11 of the series. At the time the Doctor was being played by Jon Pertwee, in his fifth and final season in the role.

Initially written as an investigative journalist & feminist, Sarah was intended to be a bit of contrast to Pertwee’s take on the Doctor, who could definitely come across as arrogant, headstrong and chauvinistic. For better or worse, the rough edges in the relationship between the Doctor and Sarah were quickly smoothed down. Sladen and Pertwee did seem to have a good rapport, although Pertwee choose to depart at the end of the season in order to avoid being typecast and to work on other projects.

Tom Baker was cast as the next incarnation of Doctor in 1974. As effective as the bond between Pertwee and Sladen had been, the chemistry between Baker and Sladen was absolutely amazing.  The two actors played off each other incredibly well. The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith are regarded as one of the all-time greatest Doctor-companion teams in the entire history of the series. And, yeah, I am definitely one of those fans who agrees with that assssment.

Sladen remained on Doctor Who for three and a half years. She left the show in the middle of Season 14, and Sarah’s departure from the TARDIS was seen in the final episode of the four-part serial “The Hand of Fear” broadcast 23 October 1976. It was a very effective, moving scene. Sladen and Baker apparently worked out most of the dialogue between themselves.

Sarah Jane Smith was well-loved by fandom, and Sladen found herself returning to the world of Doctor Who on several occasions over the next three decades, beginning with K-9 and Company, a pilot for a proposed spin-off that would have paired Sarah with the Doctor’s beloved robot dog that aired in 1981. K-9 and Company was not picked up, but Sarah would soon return again along with a number of other past actors from Doctor Who, in the 1983 anniversary special “The Five Doctors.” Sladen then reprised the role of Sarah in the 1993 charity special “Dimensions in Time” and the 1995 direct-to-video story Downtime.

Sladen was reunited with Jon Pertwee for a pair of radio plays featuring the Third Doctor and Sarah, “The Paradise of Death” in 1993 and “The Ghosts of N-Space” in 1996, both of which were written by Barry Letts.  In 1999 Big Finish Productions obtained the license to produce Doctor Who audio dramas, and they released several stories featuring Sarah Jane Smith, with Sladen once again playing the role.

After a decade and a half long cancellation, Doctor Who finally returned to television in 2005. Series Two episode “School Reunion” by Toby Whithouse, broadcast 29 April 2006, saw the Doctor, now in his Tenth incarnation and played by David Tennant, reunited with Sarah Jane Smith. One aspect of the story examined the difficulty Sarah had experienced in adjusting back to a normal existence after her fantastic adventures with the Doctor across time & space, and her ambivalence about him once again entering her life. Sladen really did a great job with the material, and clearly enjoyed the opportunity to play Sarah as a more complex, rounded character.

“School Reunion” was very well received and quickly led to the spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures which was broadcast from 2007 to 2011 on BBC, as well as further guest appearances on Doctor Who itself.

In addition to her work on Doctor Who, Sladen acted in a wide variety of British television productions, among them the soap opera Coronation Street (1970), police procedurals Z-Cars (1972) and The Bill (1989), sitcom Take My Wife… (1979), medical drama Peak Practice (1996), and the BBC Classics production of Gulliver in Lilliput (1982), the last of which she was cast in by former Doctor Who producer Barry Letts. Sladen also did extensive stage work, appearing on several occasions alongside her husband Brian Miller.

I was fortunate to have met Sladen once. I visited in London for several months in 1999. Sladen was doing a signing at The Who Shop in East Ham, London. At the time she was promoting the Big Finish audio play Walking To Babylon which was adapted from the Bernice Summerfield novel written by Kate Orman. (Bernice Summerfield is a time traveling archeologist who made her debut in the Doctor Who novels published in the early 1990s.) Sladen played Ninan-ashtammu, a priestess in ancient Babylon.

Even though Doctor Who had been canceled for a decade by this point, there was quite a crowd at The Who Shop for the signing, which really demonstrated how beloved Elisabeth Sladen was to fans of the show. I think Sladen was more than a bit surprised that this American fan in his early 20s (i.e. myself) was there to meet her, since at the time Doctor Who had basically just a fringe cult following in the States (it would not become really well-known here in America until several years after the BBC revived it).

I was really struck by how little Sladen appeared to have changed in the two decades since she had left the show. I said something to her along the lines of “You must have been very young when you appeared on Doctor Who.” She smiled and replied “I know what you’re trying to say. Thank you.”

I grew up watching reruns of Doctor Who on the local PBS station in the early 1980s, so it was definitely a huge thrill meeting Elizabeth Sladen. I’m glad I had the opportunity.

Recurring themes of the Legion of Super-Heroes part 3: Yeah, that’s gonna be a “No” from me, dawg!

This is the third installment of my look at recurring plots, imagery and character-types in the Legion of Super-Heroes stories published by DC Comics during the Silver Age… and beyond.

This time we are looking at homages to one of the most iconic Legion images, the cover to the team’s first appearance in Adventure Comics #247.

Initially these homages were quite infrequent. By the 1990s, though, fandom had, for better or for worse, become a decades-spawning passion with a significant awareness of the medium’s past. This has resulted in the proliferation of homages to and parodies of Golden and Silver Age imagery, among these the cover to Adventure Comics #247.

The first Legion of Super-Heroes story in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) was written by Otto Binder, drawn by Al Plastino and edited by Mort Weisinger. The now-legendary cover was drawn by penciler Curt Swan & inker Stan Kaye, who regularly contributed the cover artwork to the Superman family of comics in the late 1950s.

“The Legion of Super-Heroes” saw a group of super-powered teens from 1000 years in the future offer Superboy the chance to join their club. Originally intended as a one-off tale, within a few years it would become a beloved, long-running series. Likewise, the cover image to Adventure Comics #247, with a shocked Superboy being rejected for membership in the team, would go on to be  a recurring motif over the series’ history, as well as inspiring numerous parodies throughout the medium.

The earliest homage to the Adventure Comics #247 cover that I’ve located is Superman #147 (August 1961) also drawn by Curt Swan & Stan Kaye. Here we see the now-adult Man of Steel being threatened not with rejection but with death by the Legion of Super-Villains.

It’s interesting to note that this issue was published just a little over three years later, in an era when overt nods to past were rare in the comic book biz. Audience turnover was fairly rapid in the 1950s and 60s, and it would normally not be expected that current readers would be familiar with material published several years earlier. The fact that Swan & Kaye drew this cover, presumably at the direction of editor Weisinger, appears to confirm awareness by DC that the Legion was already developing an avid, long-term readership.

The cover to Adventure Comics #322 (July 1964) is again penciled by Curt Swan, now paired with inker George Klein. Although not a straight-up homage of #247, it nevertheless evokes the former’s audition format, but with the Legion of Super-Pets taking the place of Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad & Saturn Girl, and the shape-changing Proty II standing in for Superboy.

L.E.G.I.O.N. was a semi-prequel to Legion of Super-Heroes. It featured an interplanetary law-enforcement team organized by the original Brainiac’s son, the Machiavellian genius Vril Dox, in the present day. The tone of L.E.G.I.O.N. was often bleakly humorous (as any series co-starring the ultra-violent Lobo would inevitably be) but the comedic tone reached ridiculous proportions in L.E.G.I.O.N. ’94 Annual #5 (September 1994). This “Elseworlds” tie-in had the team appearing in various pop culture parodies, including this segment lampooning the Silver Age Legion.

One can only guess what Curt Swan was thinking when he was asked to draw this bizarre send-up of his earlier work! He is paired here with inker Josef Rubinstein. The script is by Tom Peyer, with letters by John Costanza and colors by Gene D’Angelo.

The cover to Legion of Super-Heroes #88 (January 1997) has Impulse, the super-fast grandson of the Flash / Barry Allen and Iris West Allen auditioning to join the Legion. Of course the hyperactive, mischievous Impulse tries to rig things in his favor! Cover pencils are by Alan Davis, inks by Mark Farmer, letters by Todd Klein and colors by Patrick Martin.

Acclaimed painter Alex Ross has done numerous reimaginings of classic comic book covers. Here is his take on Adventure Comics #247. This painting was used for one of the two covers for the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, 29th Edition (May 1999) from Gemstone Publishing. This is actually a scan of the original artwork, courtesy of Heritage Auctions. The painting was unfortunately too dark & blurry when published.

Legion of Super Heroes was an animated series that ran on WB for two seasons from September 2006 to April 2008. DC published a comic book that tied in with the animated series’ continuity. Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century lasted for 20 issues. The cover to issue #16 (September 2008) has infamous Legion reject Arm-Fall-Off-Boy attempting to join the animated incarnation of the team, with equally unsuccessful results. Cover artwork is by Alexander Serra.

When DC briefly revived Adventure Comics starring the Legion of Super-Heroes in 2009, they published a zero issue that reprinted the team’s first story. The brand new cover to issue #0 (April 2009) is drawn by Aaron Lopresti and colored by Brian Miller.

Looks like somebody took one heck of a wrong turn at Albuquerque! The very much tongue-in-cheek Legion of Super-Heroes / Bugs Bunny Special (August 2017) was part of a series of crossovers between DC Comics and Looney Tunes. “The Imposter Superboy” sees Bugs accidentally transported to the 31st Century, where he finds himself in the cross hairs (or should that be cross hares?) of the very angst-ridden Legion. Cover pencils are by Tom Grimmett, inks by Karl Kesel, and colors by Steve Buccellato.

The cover of Adventure Comics #247 is such an iconic part of Legion lore that comic con cosplayers have even taken to recreating it! I have no idea when or where this was taken, or who this clever quartet are in real life, but they definitely deserve a round of applause.