29 October 2007

The Big Sleep '78

The Big Sleep (1978)
Directed by Michael Winner. Starring Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Richard Boone, Candy Clark, Joan Collins, Edward Fox, John Mills, James Stewart, Oliver Reed.

I finally watched the 1978 film of The Big Sleep, the second adaptation of Raymond Chandler's premiere novel. The first movie version is the well-known 1946 (completed in 1944 but kept on the shelf) star vehicle for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, directed by Howard Hawks. The 1978 re-make of the novel stars Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe, who had played the character three years earlier in Farewell, My Lovely, and is directed by Michael Winner, best known for Deathwish, one of the touchstone flicks of the 1970s.

Although I am a Chandler fanatic, I have avoided the Big Sleep '78 for years, mostly because of the horrible reviews I had read of it, and because of my low opinion of most of Mr. Winner's films. But now that I've actually seen the movie, I'm surprised to say that it's not that bad. Certainly it's the best thing of Winner's I've seen. It still suffers from a tremendous conceptual flaw, one I always knew it had, but it does occasionally overcome it. More about that in a moment.

To put my viewing of Big Sleep '78 in context, you have to know that I am not fond of the 1946 version, considered a "classic" of film noir. It is too slick and clean-scrubbed, bowing to the puritanical Hayes Code, and the script waters-down Chandler's plot so that ending doesn't make much sense. (Plenty of people have griped that the whole film doesn't make much sense, but the novel has a similar confused plotting.) The changes that keep Bogart and Bacall in a constant flirtatious relationship go against the grain of the characters from the book and lightens the demented tone of the novel. Bogart also plays Marlowe as too hard and too much like Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. The score by Max Steiner is superb, however.

I was surprised to find that Winner's version is incredibly faithful to the novel, duplicating most of the dialogue and the scenes. It keeps the downbeat, negative ending (and consequently makes much more sense than the more positive wrap-up in Big Sleep '46 that pawns off Carmen's killings on Eddie Mars, and then makes him pay for his crimes with a few bullets from his own men) and avoids making a romance between Mitchum's Marlowe and Sara Miles's Charlotte Sternwood (changed from "Vivian" Sternwood in the book, I have no idea why). Whole chunks of Chandler's exposition appear in a voiceover by Mitchum, which he also did in Farewell, My Lovely. Some of the casting is quite ingenious. Mitchum is a much mellower Marlowe, and consequently a more faithful to the character than Bogart. Jimmy Stewart as the lonely, dying General Sternwood, and Richard Boone as the sadistic killer Lash Canino, are right on target. Candy Clark has a good time as the demented and childish girl-toy Camilla Sternwood (changed from "Carmen" Sternwood in the book, I have no idea why). And Oliver Reed and Joan Collins…

Wait a second, you're thinking…Oliver Reed and Joan Collins? What if I also told you that Harry Andrews, Edward Fox, John Mills, and Colin Blakely are also in the movie? Hey, isn't that a huge amount of English actors for a classic Los Angeles detective story?

Yes, it is. And that's the film's big problem. Somebody, and I'll wager it was English native Michael Winner, decided to move the film's backdrop from 1939 Los Angeles to 1978 London. This is like moving Sherlock Holmes from Victorian London to 1930s Los Angeles—an essential element of the character is lost. I have no problem with updating Marlowe into the modern day—Robert Altman did it superbly in 1973 with The Long Goodbye—but ripping Marlowe and Chandler from the seedy 'n' sunny world of Los Angeles robs them of their reason for existence. The old, aristocratic, proper, and overcast setting of London doesn't make any sense for Philip Marlowe. Sure, it means you can cast Oliver Reed as Eddie Mars and Joan Collins as the manipulative bookshop lady, but it still means the rest of the film just feels "off." It's Chandler's words and actions, but it's not his world. This is the reason the public has mostly forgotten the film, despite some of its qualities.

28 October 2007

Yet more Jirel of Joiry!

Tired of hearing about Jirel of Joiry, C. L. Moore's classic fantasy heroine? I've done plenty of work with her, and since she had a tremendous effect on me as a writer—my heroine Kristel from Z-Dancer owes Jirel a heavy debt of inspiration—I've find myself coming back to the topic of the fierce and beautiful noblewoman of the medieval fiefdom of Joiry. I wrote an in-depth article on the the Jirel stories which is currently available on Black Gate. And now along comes another article about Jirel: a book review of a recent release of all the stories, Black God's Kiss. This volume (which at last includes the elusive "Quest of the Starstone") comes to us from Planet Stories, a division of Paizo Publications. I have a few more of Paizo nifty reprint volumes to review, so keep watching this spot for updates on when they will appear.

At this point, what else can I say about Jirel? If you haven't read her exploits, well... you know how I feel about her.

26 October 2007

The Justice League at a Halloween Party

The big Halloween Bash at Lindy Groove last night came with a pleasant surprise: a gathering of The Justice League!

I wore my Batman costume, seen at the bottom of this entry (and in the previous entry in video), which gets a lot of compliments, principally for the full latex cowl that I purchased separately from the rest of the outfit. Upon walking into the party, I immediately ran into a guy wearing a Nightwing costume. Nightwing, for those of you who don't follow the Batman Universe, is the current hero identity of the original Robin, Dick Grayson. The guy (who's real name is Chris, and who I've seen at numerous dance events) was thrilled that somebody could identify the outfit. We then immediately noticed two people in Flash and Green Lantern. I realized that if we could only find a Superman and a Wonder Woman, we would have a full Justice League roster, and we could enter the costume contest as a group. There was already a contingent of people dressed up as the characters from "Clue," so why not?

And, indeed, a Superman and a Wonder Woman showed up later.

So, without any planning, six people who came to the party separately formed into the invincible Justice League!

Admission: Nightwing isn't commonly thought of a JL member; he's usually associated with the Teen Titans and the Outsiders. But he's a Batman character and a major DC Universe player, so nobody will raise a fuss. Certainly nobody there cared.

Yes, we got in the finalists, and formed a JL conga line! Then we danced in a circle and showed off our superpowers of weird dance moves.

Just another good example of the wonderful power of Halloween to bring people together through collectively dressing bizzarely.

(No, we didn't win the contest. The winner was a man in an Optimus Prime outfit from Transformers, and I won't begrudge him the prize. It was a stellar piece of work that he must have invested a significant amount of time on.)

25 October 2007

Re-Cap, Part 4: A One-Shot Captain America Glut

Further along in my Captain America DVD-ROM and my effort to eventually read every single issue of Cap’s comics. . . .

After issue #109 (an even longer re-telling of our hero’s origin, with Jack Kirby going for gold in the artwork, and also creating continuity issues for many later writers), a lot of creative re-shuffling took place. Kirby moved with his family to Southern California and took on fewer projects at Marvel, putting his energies mostly into The Fantastic Four and The Mighty Thor—and eventually left the company entirely to work for a spell at DC. A round-robin of artists started on Captain America, most notably Jim Steranko. His trademark surreal style was a complete blast for the few issues he did, which covered Rick Jones trying to take on the mantle of Cap’s old partner Bucky and the appearance of Madame Hydra (later to rename herself Viper) as one of the principle villains.

This would lead immediately into a great arc in issues #110–#113 where Cap seems to die, but then arranges his dramatic return (in a stunning two-page spread in a graveyard fight) in such a way that people think that Steve Rogers was never Captain America. This undoes the revelation of Cap’s secret identity made earlier on, and returns to the superhero status quo of having a hidden life. Other events will further eradicate the “secret identity” problem in the pages of The Avengers, where the Space Phantom wipes away everybody’s memories of the connection between Rogers and Captain America. Not only do they not believe that Rogers is Cap, they don’t remember ever having believed it. Whoa. Weird.

After this, a Red Skull epic starts, and after single issues drawn each by John Romita Sr. (currently in the middle of his famous stint on The Amazing Spider-Man) and John Buscema (currently in the middle of his famous stint on The Avengers), the magazine finally gets a new regular artist, Gene Colan. Colan was drawing the Iron Man feature in Tales of Suspense when Captain America was sharing the magazine, and he must have seemed a natural to take on Cap. Colan’s artwork is more realistic and shaded than most of Marvel artists, which is ideal for Tomb of Dracula, his signature series. I find him a bit too gloomy for Captain America, but I can’t deny his considerable talents. The huge arc with the Skull is a kick, involving the return of the cosmic cube and the Skull forcing a body switch on poor Cap. This leads to a hilarious sequence in #116 of Cap—in the Red Skull's body—participating in a car chase with the police. Hey, it’s different.

However, Stan Lee seems to have forgotten that the Red Skull's face is only a mask in this issue. Cap runs around in a panic because he looks like the Red Skull and authorities will attack him the moment they see him, but he doesn’t think to just take off the stupid mask! In #117, he suddenly “remembers” that the face is merely a mask and rips it off. He immediately alters his features with some clay so the Skull’s true face won’t be revealed to readers. That’s a stretch; I don’t think Stan had carefully thought this part out yet and was trying to patch up a potential problem.

Issue #117, “The Coming of . . . The Falcon!” is one of the crucial points in Captain America’s history: the introduction of the Falcon, a hero who will become Cap’s closest ally and his partner in crime-fighting (and in the comic’s title) for many years. He followed in the wave of African-American heroes who were emerging in comics, but unlike the exotic Black Panther, an African ruler, the Falcon comes from the streets of Harlem, U.S.A.

The character immediately grabbed readers’ attention (as the praise in the letter columns shows), and breathed new life into Cap’s personal story, which was growing a bit stale with the “I-love-Sharon-but-we-can't-share-our-life” business. Not that those issues will stop either. At least Rick Jones leaves the equation, since he got a major supporting role over in the Captain Marvel title, and had no time to worry about if he’ll succeed as Bucky or not. It will be a long time before Rick Jones shows up in Captain America again.

However, with the end of the Red Skull epic—AIM conveniently de-powers the Cosmic Cube in time for Cap and Falcon to beat the obdurate Nazi nutcase—the magazine enters into a dull holding pattern of one-shots. From evidence in later letter columns, it seems that readers were complaining about too many multi-issue tales, so Stan responded with the order of doing one-issue stories. This didn’t last long, since the fickle readers soon started complaining the other direction, and the writers and artists increasingly found themselves pushing into longer stories anyway. But for the time being Captain America tried to fit the “one issue/one story” pattern.

And the first one-shot in #120 isn’t too bad. “Crack-Up on Campus” is one of the most realistic stories to yet appear in the magazine, and it brings Captain America into contact with the protest counterculture of 1970, something that hadn’t come up much before. How do Cap’s old-fashioned attitudes and credentials as of a member of “The Establishment” contrast with the progressive attitudes of the youth of the day? Specifically, the youth who were reading the comic book? Stan Lee’s scripting is purposely trying to make Cap look less stuffy here, while also making him more dramatic and conflicted. Here our hero stops a student protest that gets out of hand when AIM tries to manipulate it for its own ends. The student radical painted at first as the villain ends up aiding Cap. We’re going to see more of this kind of story in the near future.

In the next three four issues, Cap faces Man-Brute, Scorpion, Suprema, and a cyborg in forgettable one-offs. Both Man-Brute and Suprema are utterly disposable menaces; Scorpion is a major foe from Spider-Man’s rogues gallery, but nothing too interesting happens here and he and Cap only get in a lesser scuffle.

In #125 our hero flies out to Vietnam! Another political turning point has come in the Captain America comic books, where Cap sees the conflict as deeper and more ambiguous than the silly “Red Menace” tone that Marvel took toward the country in the mid-‘60s; just compare it to Tales of Suspense #61 to see the enormous difference in attitude. Stan Lee mentions in one of the letter columns that the company decided no longer to use foreign nationals as convenient villainous scapegoats, and here Cap intervenes in the Vietnam conflict not to overtly aid one side or another. It should have been an epic; this one-issue tale can't do the idea justice, and the villain the Mandarin shows up only long enough to blast a few things and end the story. A shame.

The Falcon returns in issue #126, and it’s another excellent idea chopped off at the knees by the need to wrap everything up in twenty pages. Captain America and the Falcon battle a hate group called the Diamond Heads in Harlem, and eventually discover that the leader of the group is actually a white member of the Maggia (Marvel's equivalent of the Mafia) who has manipulated racial tension in order for the Maggia to take over crime in the neighborhood. Seen today, some of the racial attitudes sound a touch paternalistic (constant talk of “your people”), but nevertheless comics were moving into serious social issues in a way they never had before. And again, the Falcon really breathes life into the comic. The mask the leader of the Diamond Heads wears is also groovy—too bad nobody ever found a running use for the concept.

In #127, Nick Fury and SHIELD purposely frame Cap in order to draw him into a battle with a cyborg so they can ferret out an actual traitor. This outlandish plot gets Cap pretty steamed at SHIELD and further puts a barrier between him and Sharon; it’s also just a bit contrived. Cap gets out of town in #128, buying a motorcycle (and having yet another flashback to Bucky’s death, because he was riding a motocycle the day Bucky bought it) and heading for parts unknown. True to evolving form, he saves some kids at a peace-lovin’ rock concert from some nasty bikers! Stan Lee’s hilarious admission that they had mis-drawn an entire scene, but had to let it slide, is a nice view of how chaotic things could get at Marvel.

Okay, the Skull returns in the next issue, and we’ll soon climb out of this one-plot-per month rut. And, off on the horizon, the amazing tenure of Steve Englehart as Cap’s author.

Last episode: Captain America #1(00)

Next episode: Captain America vs. Captain America

16 October 2007

Gothic Book of the Year: The Castle Otranto

‘Tis the season of my favorite holiday. Halloween. All other holidays are complete rotters compared to it.

And also 'tis the season for that perennial question, "What gothic/horror/dark fantasy work geared specifically for this luscious day of ghoulish delights and costumed parties should I read this year?"

This years, I have decided to go way back… way, way, way back… to what literature scholars consider the first English language Gothic novel: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, Fourth Earl of Oxford, first published in 1764.

And, I get to read it for free, through the magic of public domain and Project Gutenberg.

I don't exactly have high literary expectations for this work; by all reports, it's melodramatic and hammy as can be. But it did give birth to a great tradition of novel writing that continues to this day, and the Dark Lord knows I’ve made my own stab at Gothicism.

Walpole tried to hoodwink his original audience by pretending that his novel was actually a translation of an older Italian document. It wasn't until the second edition that he owned up to his authorship (and, strangely, the positive reviews suddenly turned negative) and added a new preface to explain. Writers today still use this device of framing their work as translations or lost manuscripts, but today they place their own names on the front cover and don't intend any deception, only the rationale for a particular “voice”" Edgar Rice Burroughs loved this tactic.

How did ol’ Horace frame his novel? Here's what he has to say:
The following work was found in the library of an ancient Catholic family in the north of England. It was printed at Naples, in the black letter [a typeface we usually think of today as "gothic"], in the year 1529. How much sooner it was written does not appear. The principal incidents are such as were believed in the darkest ages of Christianity; but the language and conduct have nothing that savours of barbarism. The style is the purest Italian.

If the story was written near the time when it is supposed to have happened, it must have been between 1095, the era of the first Crusade, and 1243, the date of the last, or not long afterwards. There is no other circumstance in the work that can lead us to guess at the period in which the scene is laid: the names of the actors are evidently fictitious, and probably disguised on purpose: yet the Spanish names of the domestics seem to indicate that this work was not composed until the establishment of the Arragonian Kings in Naples had made Spanish appellations familiar in that country. The beauty of the diction, and the zeal of the author (moderated, however, by singular judgment) concur to make me think that the date of the composition was little antecedent to that of the impression.
“Or maybe it was written last year and I made this all up.” Anyway, nice set-up Horace.

12 October 2007

My Captain America cast

Marvel has announced that after next year's release of the Iron Man movie, they will tackle a project they should have done long ago (and before Iron Man): a Captain America movie. There was a Captain America film in the early 1990s, but it skipped theatrical release and went straight to video. It's so awful that I have a feeling the Red Skull produced it just to smear Cap's honor. In fact, maybe director Albert Pyun actually is the Red Skull, trying to undermine the American film industry. It makes sense considerng his track record.

Anyway, a big budget, epic Captain America movie is long overdue.

If I made a Captain America movie, or at least wrote the script, I would set it during the Golden Age and have Cap battle the Red Skull during World War II. It could be a great re-imagining of WWII propaganda and pulp adventure with a dose of gritty modern realism. I think it could be astonishing, and it would duck the problem of getting Cap into the modern day and having to explain his origin in two timelines—and it would avoid havng to deal with weighty issues of patriotism vs. jingoism in our society that would get in the way of comic book action and just polarize viewers.

It would be possible for Marvel to give Cap an origin in contemporary time and ignore the World War II basis for the character entirely, but I think that would cheat Captain America of much of his appeal: he's an old-fashioned individual, forged in the "Good War," and thrown unexpectedly into the contemporary world, haunted by the death of his sidekick.

Regardless, I think Marvel will take a standard Silver Age approach: show Captain America's creation through Project: Rebirth during the War, and then move forward to today, where Cap is somehow revived from suspended animation.

I don't know (nor does Marvel at this time, I would wager) what other characters will appear in the movie. I think it's safe to say that the Red Skull will be the enemy. He's too great a villain to pass up, too iconic. Sharon Carter will probably also appear as the love interest.

Now, given this hypothetical movie, and two other characters whom I would love to see appear in the movie, I offer you this… (Click for the big version)

You might notice a character missing from the cast: Captain America himself. This is because I really haven't been able to visualize a current actor to play him. Every time I think of an actor who might be able to play him, warning bells go off in my head. Nobody seems "right." I think a newcomer should play the Star-Spangled Avenger, someone about whom the audience would have zero preconceptions. The filmmakers need to find a fresh face who fits the part as well as Christopher Reeve fit Superman.

Yes, I could have also cast someone as the Falcon, Cap's longtime crimefighting partner in the silver age. However, I think that adding the Falcon into the mix in a first movie would overload the film—I don't want a Spider-Man 3 overstuffed Chicago-style pizza. Falcon would be great for a second film, however.

Anyway… Marvel, if you're watching, I think this is an awesome cast. Kretschmann and Biel are simply perfect.

Re-Cap, Part 3: Captain America #1(00)

I have stayed silent on the “Re-Cap” series of Captain America reviews for a spell, as I finished up Cap’s run on Tales of Suspense, which he shared with Iron Man. However, in 1968 the restrictions that publisher Martin Goodman had placed on the number of titles that Marvel Comics could release were eased, and there was now room to move Iron Man to his own comic book and change Tales of Suspense into Captain America, starting with the hundredth issue.

Which means that the first issue of Captain America in his own Silver Age magazine is #100, which has caused some confusion among later readers. Adding to the confusion, the storyline of the inaugural issue carries over from the cliffhanger conclusion of the last issue of Tales of Suspense. This issue can therefore hardly be considered a “fresh start,” but nonetheless writer Stan Lee and co-plotter/artist Jack Kirby pull out all the stops to make Cap’s first full solo issue since the 1950s a major deal. The cover not only has Cap, it also includes the Black Panther, Sub-Mariner, Agent 13 (Sharon Carter), and the original Avengers. Never mind that Subby and the Avengers only briefly feature in a flashback . . . Jack and Stan want you to know that Captain America is a mega-player in the Marvel Universe, and here’s his own mag and back-up crew to prove it! (Oh, and please buy it. That’s the real message of any cover.)

Immediately we plunge into not one but two summaries of “what has gone before . . .”

Fitting an issue #1(00), the first few pages re-tell how Captain America arrived in the modern era. This originally appeared in The Avengers #4, the first appearance of the Silver Age Cap, but Kirby re-draws the story to get new readers up to speed—and it looks better than it did in Avengers #4. Steve Rogers lays in suspended animation in an ice slab in the North, where natives worship him. Then the generally ticked-off Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, shows up and tosses the human popsicle into the water. That’ll show ‘em, huh? The Avengers, patrolling in a sub to track down Namor after an encounter in Avengers #3, find the floating Captain America and revive him. Welcome to the ‘60s Cap. Grab some go-go boots.

End of re-cap #1. Also the last we see of the Avengers or the Sub-Mariner in this issue. They had to earn their cover spot, right?

Now, re-cap #2. It turns out that all the above was a flashback Cap experienced while lying semi-conscious in Wakanda, where he and the Black Panther are prisoners of the supposedly revived Baron Zemo. Quickly, Cap recalls how he got here in the last two issues of Tales of Suspense: a summons from T’Challa, the ruler of Wakanda who also adventures as the way-cool superhero the Black Panther, to aid his fight against Baron Zemo and his space super-laser. But now a young woman, an agent of Zemo, holds a gun on Captain America, under orders from the Baron to shoot the Star-Spangled Avenger. Cap thinks the girl looks familiar, and she should: she is actually Sharon Carter, Agent 13 of SHIELD, undercover trying to destroy Zemo's organization. She can’t blow her cover . . . she has to shoot Captain America, the man she loves.

Yep, we’re five pages into this and Stan has already had to toss a billion dialogue balloons and narrator boxes at us to get us up to speed. He even has to explain re-doing Cap’s intro from Avengers #4 as a hook for new readers. Hey, they gotta set this up somehow.

A couple of things to point out:
  • This obviously isn’t the real Zemo, who died in The Avengers #15. Cap even buried the body with his own hands. Marvel has already revived supposedly dead villains—the Red Skull has come back twice and will do so a third time in the next issue—but Zemo really perished in a rock slide caused by one of his own weapons and has astonishingly remained dead over the ensuing forty years. He’s made plenty of appearances in retro-World War II comics, like The Invaders, but in present continuity, his body lies a-molding in its grave. (His son, however, marches on with the Baronial title.) Any reader of the last issue of Tales of Suspense would know this Zemo is a fake because Cap even noticed that Zemo seemed to act differently. Bingo! Got an impostor here. And when Cap at last tears off the mask and finds the villain is nobody more important than Zemo’s pilot, it causes just a touch of disappointment and disbelief.
  • Sharon Carter doesn’t have a name yet. She appeared thirty issues ago, and Stan and Jack still haven’t given her a name—even though she’s Cap’s love interest, fer cryin’ out loud. This will be solved in issue #103, but why did it take so long? This “Agent 13” business gets pretty annoying. Can’t Cap just flat-out ask her what her name is? I’ve heard about shy, but sheesh! You two are in love—get her name!
  • Dig the close-up of the gun Sharon carries in the full-page panel on pg. 5! Nobody could draw nutty technology like Jack Kirby.
  • The Black Panther rocks.
The action epic now begins as Sharon (uh, Agent 13) purposely fires over Captain America’s head, and Cap and Black Panther leap into battle-mode to dish out damage to the pseudo-Zemo’s flunkies. Cap learns the Zemo’s female agent is actually the girl with whom he is madly in love (even though he doesn’t know her name). Then a completely far-out Jack Kirby robot called the Destructor dukes it out with our three heroes, and Cap triumphantly reveals that Zemo is just some dopey pilot who got lucky. The forces of the fake Zemo surrender, and the merciful T’Challa offers them a fair trial in Wakanda.

The issue comes to a close with the promise that, of course, the Red Skull will return to life in the next issue. Also, Cap offers his spot in the Avengers to the Black Panther, who apparently can take time off from running a major country to hang with a superhero group in New York. Not that I’m complaining, because as I said above, the Black Panther rocks.

Last episode: Captain America DVD-ROM Fights On!

Next episode: A One-Shot Captain America Glut

09 October 2007

A 007 farewell to Lois Maxwell and John Gardner

The World of James Bond recently lost two of its important inhabitants, one cinematic and one literary.

Canadian actress Lois Maxwell (1927–2007) played Miss Moneypenny, M's secretary with the unrequited yearning for 007, in every official EON James Bond film from 1962's Dr. No to 1985's A View to a Kill. She departed the series along with Roger Moore to make way for a newer Moneypenny/Bond combo. Maxwell did a number of other films, and aside from the Bond series she is best remembered for play Dr. Markaway's wife in The Haunting, one the greatest horror films ever made. Moneypenny was only a small part in the novels, so it was Maxwell who gave us the charming character who we all know today. She left an indelible imprint on the movie series, and like the deceased Demond Llewellyn (who played Q) and Bernard Lee (who played M), has never truly been replaced in fan's hearts.

British author John Gardner (1926–2007) was the second writer after Ian Fleming's death to officially continue Bond's adventures. (The first was Kingsley Amis, who wrote only one novel, Colonel Sun.) Starting in 1981 with License Renewed and ending in 1996 with COLD, he wrote fourteen Bond novels. His books leaned closer to the style of the movies than Fleming's books, and some were enjoyable (For Special Services, Nobody Lives Forever) and some were not (Brokenclaw, The Man from Barbarossa). Nonetheless, he got Bond back on the bookshelves, and provided some light entertainment for fans such as myself. Gardner also wrote a number of other popular thrillers and was active up until his death with his "Suzie Mountford" series.

04 October 2007

The 50th Birthday of The Final Frontier

On this day, fifty years ago, humanity took its first small step off this little planet.
Sputnik 1 was launched on October 4th, 1957, becoming the first artificial satellite put into orbit. Suddenly, the heavens seemed not so far away, and the dreams of thousands of years came closer to reality.

In those fifty years, the human race has made great advances in space technology, putting humans on the moon and sending vessels to the edge of our solar system.

Far greater lies ahead, if our world governments could stop finding easier ways to kill and impoverish each other, and more time listening to the muse of science and the cosmic reaches that beckon to us.

Although the Earth is our home, our birthplace, and our creator, the destiny of the human race is to move out among the stars. Every child must leave its beloved home at some point. It's been fifty years, and we are still infants.

02 October 2007

I see Moon Knight rising

Some of this blog entry comes from an older one on my "Mach 1" blog that I no longer update (and keep hidden). But, as the Halloween season is upon us, and with a new volume of Essential Moon Knight Vol. 2, coming up, I thought I should return to one of my all-time favorite comic book characters, the Macabre Moon Knight.

If you aren’t much of a comic book reader, you probably have never heard of Moon Knight. However, I’ve known about old Crescent Head since I first started reading comics as a little kid, and he’s always remained a favorite of mine. Last year, along with the release of the first big hunk of reprints in Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1, a new original monthly series started, and rumors are knocking around about a possible TV series. I would much rather Marvel do a theatrical movie (hell, if Blade can get three movies, Moon Knight at least deserves a shot), but if the TV shows happens, I'll be a happy Lunaphile. (That’s right, don't you dare call us Moon Knight fans “Moonies”!)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usMoon Knight has often been called a Marvel comics version of Batman; the two have much in common. Both are normal humans with no powers except their physical training, skill with weapons and specialized equipment, and the use of theatrical intimidation techniques. Both have immense independent wealth and “playboy” identities. They fight criminals in the dark underworld as avengers, and they have ideal “Halloween” personalities. However, Moon Knight has some crucial distinguishing characteristics that come more from the pulp character The Shadow (who had a huge influence on Batman as well). Moon Knight has a team of agents who work for him indirectly, and he also balances different alter egos he uses aside from Moon Knight. He is also Marc Spector, mercenary and adventurer (his original identity); Steven Grant, millionaire playboy; and Jake Locksley, gritty New York cab driver. Like The Shadow, and unlike Batman, the millionaire identity is a charade, a fictional persona invented as a cover. Furthermore, Spector doesn’t pretend to play these people; he truly becomes them and starts to manifest split personality disorder. This mental divide into four people makes Moon Knight one of modern comics most psychologically intriguing characters. Most interestingly, Marc Spector seems to really dislike Marc Spector, the original mercernary—and Moon Knight and the other two personas seem like his attempt to cleanse away the Spector personality and his sins as military man for sale. The stress of the multiple personalities would eventually cause Spector to have a breakdown.

The character has an Egyptian-themed background. Supposedly the Egyptian god of the moon, Khonshu, rescued Spector from the brink of death after he was betrayed on a merc mission in Egypt by ruthless villain Raoul Bushman. During the first run of the Moon Knight title in the early 1980s, neither the comics nor Spector were ever certain if the rescue from Khonshu had actually happened or if Spector had hallucinated it. Nonetheless, the experience caused him to take on the mantle of Moon Knight as Khonshu's avenger.

The dark avenger, spilt personality, and Egyptian tinge give Moon Knight enormous appeal, but I believe that the strongest reason most of us fans love him is because he just looks so darn cool with his silver outfit, hood, and crescent cape. He embodies mystery and action, a perfect superhero of the night.

Moon Knight first appeared in one of Marvel’s horror comics of the 1970s, Werewolf by Night. Writer Doug Moench created him as an adversary for the title character. He got enough positive reaction to get two issues of Marvel Spotlight, a “try-out title” where the company auditioned characters who might get their own series. (Red Sonja appeared in a run of Spotlight issues and got her own title eventually.) Moon Knight was promoted to the supporting feature in Hulk! Magazine, a magazine-format non-Comics Code title that was part of Marvel’s expansion into more adult markets. Here writer Doug Moench teamed with artist Bill Sienkiewicz, who remains the quintessential Moon Knight illustrator to this day. Moon Knight got his own title at last in November 1980, which is when I first encountered him. It lasted thirty-eight issues—a pretty good run for a secondary character—and ran parallel to the thrilling noirish developments of Frank Miller in Daredevil at the time.

Moon Knight has come back several times in other titles, like the mini-series Moon Knight: Fist of Khonshu, which gave him super abilities that waxed and waned with the moon, and Marc Spector: Moon Knight, which lasted longer than any other of the character’s titles.

I can see on the horizon of dusk the possibility that Moon Knight might start making a larger impact on the general public. A new comic book series…maybe a TV show…

And if Marvel does decide to make a movie, they need to contact me right away. I have a treatment already worked out, and I know I’m the perfect scribe for the big screen adventures of the Servant of the Moon.

(Shameless plug. Thank You.)