Monday, 25 June 2018

Marvel Years 03.09 - Sep 1963

September 1963 was one of the most exciting months for Marvel. Not one but two super-teams were introduced in new comics. The X-Men were a typical team of newly created heroes. The Avengers were a team of existing heroes, all of whom had their own comics (except for the Hulk, whose comic had been cancelled after six issues). It's generally accepted that Fantastic Four #1 ushered in the Marvel Age, but The Avengers #1 – the Avengers were a more significant group than the X-Men in the 1960's – lifted the Marvel Age to the next level.

The Avengers #1

Title: The Coming of the Avengers

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Avengers: Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, Hulk

Villain: Loki

Regulars: Rick Jones

Guests: Odin, Jane Foster, Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Johnny Storm, Susan Storm

Even though I enjoy the comics published from November 1961 until now, I consider The Avengers #1 to be the best comic so far. It's brilliant. I don't just mean the story. Look at the artwork of the first page. That's Jack Kirby at his best.

This story starts with Loki trying to provoke a fight between Thor and the Hulk. Rick Jones suspects that someone is interfering with the Hulk and sends a radio message to the Fantastic Four asking for help. They receive the message too late, but Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp answer the call. At the end of the comic they form a team, together with the Hulk. Please note that in contrast to the recent films, Captain America isn't the first Avenger. He wasn't one of the five founding members. If anyone, Ant-Man has the right to be considered the first Avenger as the one who suggested the team.

I've added a line in the monthly statistics with the names of the group members. This is important, because the Avengers changed their lineup frequently. I'll also do this with the X-Men, because there were a few membership changes as well.

X-Men #1

Title: X-Men

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

X-Men: Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman, Marvel Girl

Villain: Magneto

Regulars: Professor X

This is the second new comic with a new team this month. It's a slightly new concept to Marvel's previous heroes. The team members haven't acquired their powers though freak accidents like gamma rays or radioactive spiders; they were born with powers. They are called mutants, a new genetic development in human evolution, kick-started by atomic power. In the early days of Marvel the arrival of mutants is always connected with atomic power, so no mutants were born before 1945. This is in contrast to the X-Men films, which show Magneto as a young boy with powers in the Warsaw Ghetto.

The comic begins with the X-Men consisting of four members: Cyclops, Angel, Beast and Iceman. After a few pages the fifth member arrives, Marvel Girl. I've decided to follow comic tradition and not consider Professor X a member of the X-Men, even though he frequently takes part in their battles. He's their mentor, not a costumed crime fighter.

There are two things that were different in the first few issues of X-Men.

Iceman looks like a snowman, not a block of ice.

Cyclops' name is Slim Summers. Slim is obviously a nickname, and we don't find out his real name for a few months.

There's no mention of Magneto's past history with Professor X. As the comics progress there are occasional hints.

Fantastic Four #18

Title: A Skrull walks among us

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Super-Skrull

We last saw the Skrulls in Fantastic Four #2. Now they return, although only one Skrull actually fights against the Fantastic Four. This is a warrior called the Super-Skrull. In addition to the usual Skrull ability of shape-changing he has all the powers of the Fantastic Four.

Like Fantastic Four #17, this story begins by referencing the previous issue's story in the first panel. Stan Lee is slowly building up momentum on his path to creating continued stories.

Amazing Spider-Man #3

Title: Spider-Man versus Doctor Octopus

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Doctor Octopus

Regulars: Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Flash Thompson, Liz Allan

This comic introduces Sandman, who goes on to become one of Spider-Man's most frequent adversaries. This is also the comic in which we first find out the name of the blonde girl in Peter Parker's class: Liz Allan.

Tales to Astonish #47

Title: Music to scream by

Writer: Stan Lee, Ernie Hart
Artist: Don Heck

Villain: Trago

A trumpet player called Trago learns how to play musical notes that hypnotise his listeners. While they are disabled he robs them.

This issue also contains three short anthology stories.

Journey into Mystery #96

Title: Defying the Magic of Mad Merlin

Writer: Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein
Artist: Joe Sinnott

Regulars: Jane Foster, Loki

Villain: Merlin

The sarcophagus of Merlin, the legendary wizard in King Arthur's court, is sent to New York to be put on display. Merlin isn't dead. He's been lying asleep for the last 1000 years, waiting for the right time to return and conquer the world. We find out that he's not a magician at all, he's a "mutant" who was born with the powers of telekinesis and teleportation.

This villain, who Stan Lee claims is the original Merlin, isn't to be confused with later versions of Merlin invented in the post-canon years.

It's not a mistake that I've listed Loki as a regular character, not a villain. In this issue he doesn't threaten Thor. On the contrary, he offers assistance.

This issue also contains three short anthology stories.

Tales of Suspense #45

Title: The Icy Fingers of Jack Frost

Writer: Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein
Artist: Don Heck

Villain: Jack Frost

Regulars: Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan

Jack Frost is Professor Shapanka, a disgruntled ex-employee of Tony Stark. He invents a suit with which he can freeze himself in a protective cocoon and freeze others around him in ice blocks.

More significantly, this issue marks the first appearance of Tony Stark's employees and friends, Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts. Happy is an ex-boxer that he hires as his chauffeur. Pepper has been working as Tony's private secretary for a while, but this is the first time we see her.

A typical Stan Lee love triangle develops. Happy immediately falls in love with Pepper, who isn't interested in him because she's in love with Tony Stark. She thinks Tony doesn't want her because he prefers beautiful debutantes to a plain girl like her, but Tony is only pretending to be a playboy Casanova to hide his secret identity; he doesn't want a serious relationship with anybody.

This issue also contains a short anthology story.

Strange Tales #112

Title: The Wizard and Paste-Pot Pete

Writer: Stan Lee, Joe Carter
Artist: Dick Ayers

Villains: Eel

Regulars: Susan Storm, Reed Richards, Ben Grimm

Guests: Wizard

The Human Torch battles a villain called the Eel who gets his powers from a suit he wears. As well as being slippery and unable to hold, he can discharge electricity like an electric eel.

We see the Wizard briefly in a prison cell.

This issue also contains two short anthology stories.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #3

Title: Midnight on Massacre Mountain

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Nazis

Guests: Reed Richards

The story begins with Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos on a beach in southern England waiting to ambush a group of Nazi saboteurs. After this they're sent to Italy to help break a Nazi blockade. On the way they meet Major Reed Richards, an American intelligence officer.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Busty Cops (3 Stars)

I bought my first DVD player in 2003, but I didn't start writing my blog until September 2010. I bought quite a lot of films in that seven year gap. I've re-watched the best films since 2010, but recently I looked through my DVD collection and I noticed quite a lot of DVD cases that have been gathering dust for more than eight years. "Busty Cops" is one of them, so I took it off the shelf to watch again. I bought it on 25th May 2008 from Amazon for the whopping price of £2.97 along with a few other films directed by Jim Wynorski. I must have watched it immediately after buying it, but I couldn't remember it at all. Why should I have forgotten about a film featuring the beautiful girls on the DVD cover, apart from which I'm a big fan of Jim Wynorski?

Within ten minutes of watching the film it all came back to me. This is an erotic film which was made so poorly that I don't understand how it could ever have found its way to disc.

The film opens with a man and two women being killed in a hot tub by someone throwing in an electric toothbrush. Holy short circuits, Batman! If electric toothbrushes are that dangerous when they get wet I'll never put one in my mouth again. The three people were porn stars who worked for a director called Roman Fields. Three policewomen from the Busty Cop Division are sent as undercover agents posing as porn stars to replace the three women who had been killed. Wait! Didn't I say it was two women and a man? Yes, I did, but the policewomen haven't been briefed properly. They spend the rest of the film talking about the three dead women.

Their investigation skills are awe-inspiring. One by one they approach members of the film crew, flash their badges and say, "I'm an undercover busty cop. I want to ask you about the three dead women". Is that the right way to do undercover police work?

The breakthrough comes when they interview a talking llama who saw the murder being committed. It's not clear why a llama is needed in the house of a pornography director, and it's even less obvious why the llama was in the hot tub room with the three porn stars. Maybe I'm too innocent to understand things like that.

In the final shootout with the killer it looks like one of the busty cops has forgotten her gun. Never mind, she can still hold her hands out and pretend.

"Busty Cops" is supposed to be a comedy, but apart from the plot inconsistencies it's let down by the poor acting. The women in the film – not just the cops – frequently look at the camera. That might work as an alienation technique in a good film, but in this film it just looks like they don't know how to act.

If I were judging this film on the plot and acting alone I'd have to give it a rock bottom one star rating. However, I have to praise the girls for their good looks. They might not be able to act, but they look sexy when they take their clothes off. That earns the film a three star rating, but I can't go any higher. I don't know what went wrong with Jim Wynorski. He's made a lot of erotic films with sexy actresses, but in the other films the sexy actresses could at least act.

Jim doesn't make many erotic films nowadays. He's moved on to making low budget monster movies, mostly giant sharks. In a recent interview he said that people today would rather watch giant sharks than giant breasts.

What??? Who told him that? He never asked me for my opinion.

If you're interested in this film it's out of print now, and rightfully so. You might be able to find a pirate copy on the web, but don't tell anyone I suggested it. I don't approve.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

The Clapper (3 Stars)

This film has two interwoven plots. It's a love story and a social commentary on the emptiness of television.

Eddie Krumble works in Los Angeles as a contract actor for infomercials. He's paid to sit in the audience and applaud when products are described. He gets a bonus payment if he stands up and asks a question about the product. A scripted question, of course. The whole infomercial industry is built around lies and false promises. In the film's first infomercial the presenter promises that people can buy luxurious homes with an acre of land without a down payment, and Eddie asks his question. Later Eddie sees the presenter outside the studio and asks him if he could really buy a house like that for himself. The presenter gets angry and tells Eddie he's only doing his job, and if Eddie doesn't leave him alone he'll hit him.

The audiences are all hired actors, but Eddie is over-used. A talk show host recognises Eddie's frequent appearances and starts a city-wide hunt to find the mysterious Clapper.

Billboards are posted all over the city calling on people to identify the Clapper so he can be invited on the show. Eddie goes underground. His job as an infomercial audience member is all he has, and he has to remain anonymous. The whole point of his job is to look like a random man off the street.

The love interest in his life is Judy, a girl who works a gas station, saving money so she can move to Mexico and get a job looking after sick animals. I thought people wanted to move in the opposite direction. I hope Donald Trump's wall won't keep her out.

Eddie is a simple man who enjoys simple pleasures. When he takes Judy out on a date they eat a hamburger. Does he really eat that many fries?

The film has some good ideas, but I don't consider it to be well made. The back story about Eddie's wife having died of cancer is unnecessary. It's intended to show that he has suffering in his life that means he's not as shallow as the person he portrays in the audience, but it's an unwelcome distraction.

The film's best feature is the opening credits sequence, in which Eddie is shown walking to work against a cartoon background. He's a real man in a shallow, two-dimensional world. This is very effective. Even before the film itself started I knew what the film's message would be.

Those are beautiful images, aren't they? Unfortunately, the film doesn't live up to its promise. I wasn't able to sympathise with Eddie and his plight. Usually I enjoy Amanda Seyfried as an actress, but her awkwardness as Judy was over-played and unrealistic. Most of all, the film wasn't funny enough. I think it would have been better if the humour had been cut altogether, making it a serious social commentary.

Marvel Years 03.08: Aug 1963

One of my readers has complained that I've omitted the name of the inker in the list of comics in my Marvel Years posts to date. This was a deliberate omission, because I consider the person who draws the lines more important than the person who paints over the lines with ink or fills in the colours. Some artists, such as Steve Ditko and Dick Ayers, always inked their own drawings. Jack Kirby almost never did his own inking. It was usual for Marvel comics to name the inker and the letterer, but I don't want to give the full credits here in my blog. The writer and the artist are all that most people are interested in. If you want the full details, refer to the Marvel Database.

Fantastic Four #17

Title: Defeated by Doctor Doom

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Doctor Doom

Regulars: Alicia Masters

Guests: Ant-Man

First, I'd like to point out an innovation in this story. It begins immediately after the end of Fantastic Four #16 with Ant-Man leaving the Baxter Building. This makes it the closest to a continuing story that Marvel has published so far.

There are a few details in this issue that show that Stan Lee intended his stories to take place in our world, i.e. the real world, not in a fictional Marvel Universe or Earth-616.

After Ant-Man departs the Thing reads an Ant-Man comic to find out more about him.

America's president is John F. Kennedy. His face isn't revealed, maybe out of respect, but he's still recognisable. He refers to his daughter Caroline.

The Russian leader is Nikita Khrushchev, but his face is shown clearly, probably because he didn't deserve any respect in the eyes of Jack Kirby. He isn't named, except as Comrade K.

Here's yet another power developed by the Human Torch. Stan is getting carried away. Before now we saw him creating duplicates of himself as flaming images. Now he says he can paint exact pictures of anyone or anything with his flames. That sounds highly infeasible.

Susan Storm claims that Reed Richards is one of the world's greatest experts in Judo. If that's really true he doesn't need his stretching powers to defeat most opponents. It's possible that Susan just had an exaggerated opinion of him because she loved him.

This comic once more shows Reed Richards turning Ben Grimm back to his human self, but this time he deliberately takes advantage of the cure only being temporary. He does it to get him past Doctor Doom's sensors without being recognised as the Thing.

In case you're interested, Dick Ayers was the inker for this comic. For all the other comics the artists (Don Heck, Joe Sinnott, Dick Ayers and Steve Ditko) did their own inking.

Tales to Astonish #46

Title: When Cyclops walks the Earth

Writer: Stan Lee, Ernie Hart
Artist: Don Heck

Villain: Aliens from A-Chiltar III

Ant-Man and the Wasp take a vacation in Greece. There they encounter a giant robot from another planet disguised as Cyclops, the creature from Greek myths.

This issue also contains two short anthology stories.

Journey into Mystery #95

Title: The Demon Duplicators

Writer: Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein
Artist: Joe Sinnott

Regulars: Jane Foster, Odin, Heimdall

Villain: Professor Zaxton

Professor Zaxton is a scientist who has invented a duplicating ray. He creates an evil copy of Thor.

This issue also contains three short anthology stories.

Tales of Suspense #44

Title: The Mad Pharaoh

Writer: Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein
Artist: Don Heck

Villain: Pharaoh Hatap

A pharaoh awakes who has been in a deep sleep for 2000 years. Using a magical artefact he travels back in time to conquer Egypt, taking Tony Stark with him as a scientific adviser. Tony changes into Iron Man and defeats him.

This issue also contains two short anthology stories.

Strange Tales #111

Title: Fighting to the Death with the Asbestos Man

Writer: Stan Lee, Ernie Hart
Artist: Dick Ayers

Villains: Asbestos Man

Regulars: Susan Storm, Reed Richards, Ben Grimm

Asbestos Man is a flashy name for a villain who only appeared once. He's impervious to flames, but he could be defeated by indirect attacks, such as melting the floor beneath his feet.

Title: Face-to-face with the Magic of Baron Mordo

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Baron Mordo

Regulars: Ancient One (unnamed)

This is the second story about Doctor Strange, still in a five page anthology format. The Ancient One is once more only referred to as the Master.

This issue contains a further short anthology story.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Enemy Gold (4½ Stars)

"This is the greatest movie this year that features enormous breasted undercover federal agents firing off automatic weapons and riding dirt bikes through the East Texas piney woods in search of buried Confederate gold while being hunted down by a Bolivian topless bar owner and cocaine dealer with terrible dictions" (Joe Bob Briggs).

After a summary like that from the supremely eloquent film critic Joe Bob Briggs I can hardly say anything else about "Enemy Gold", but I'll try my best.

This is the ninth film in the Andy Sidaris collection, made in 1993. After the first eight films formed a more-or-less consistent series, this is a new start. The film is still about the Agency, but none of the characters from the previous eight films are featured. There's no mention of Molokai Cargo, Radio KSXY or the Abilene family. It's a new start. That doesn't mean the actors are new. Julie Strain was killed as Blu Steele in "Fit To Kill", so now she returns as Jewel Panther. Rodrigo Obregon has been killed in almost every film, so now he can return as the drug lord Santiago, only to die again. (Oops! Was that a spoiler?) Bruce Penhall played Bruce Christian in the last few films, but now he's Chris Cannon. That's strange. Usually actors have to be killed to get a new identity, but Bruce was very much alive at the end of the last film. Maybe he overdosed on spare ribs at an all-you-can-eat restaurant.

There's a reason for the change. This is the first film in the Andy Sidaris collection that wasn't directed by Andy himself; his son Drew Sidaris took over. According to an interview Andy wanted to step down and let his son take over the family business, but after a trial run of two films it didn't work out. Drew should have been directing, but in actual fact Andy was running around the whole time telling him what to do.

It's natural that self-employed parents should want their children to follow in their footsteps, whether they're butchers, bakers or film directors, but the children might not have the interest or the aptitude. There's no shame in it. Drew just wasn't cut out to be a film director. As I mentioned in my review of "Fit To Kill", Roger Moore's son quit acting after appearing in only three films. The film business isn't for everyone.

This film features the Agency operatives Mark Austin, Becky Midnite and Chris Cannon. After a successful drugs bust they're suspended by their boss for not following protocol. In actual fact the boss is angry because the drug lord Santiago has been paying him to spare his business. The three agents go camping in the woods near Dallas while they're off duty. (It was actually filmed in Shreveport, Louisiana. Is the terrain so similar?) They have good luck and bad luck in the woods. They find a map to the burial place of gold that Confederate soldiers stole during the Civil War. They can't hunt in peace because Santiago wants to kill them with the assistance of the deadly assassin Jewel Panther.

Rodrigo Obregon is one of the coolest bad guys ever. I'm disappointed when he plays a good guy.

There's nothing cool about Julie Strain. She's pure evil in every role she plays. She can out-fight and out-shoot any man.

Julie enjoys her job. She needs a boat, so she goes to talk with two fishermen. She flirts with them...

then she shoots them.

Isn't that the most evil face imaginable? Everything about her gaze says "You're next". If you're lucky she might give you a few minutes of pleasure before she kills you, but it's doubtful.

At least she didn't kill Andy Sidaris. She loved him too much. Her meanness was restricted to distracting him while he was recording his film introductions for the DVD release. His wife Arlene was in the room when the introductions were filmed, so he had to try hard to remain professional. The other two girls in this picture are Zen and Zero, better known as the Porcelain Twins. Judging by the outfits they're wearing, this must have been filmed in 2002 when they were in California to make "13 Erotic Ghosts".

Andy, behave! Your wife is watching! You'll be sleeping on the couch tonight!

But seriously, I have to ask: why didn't Drew want a life like this?

At least Drew adheres to his father's tradition of ending the film with the agents enjoying a glass of champagne. Andy probably insisted on it!

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