Wednesday, March 31, 2010

R.I.P. Dick Giordano.

A great and influential figure in comics left us this week, with the passing of Dick Giordano at the age of 77.

Mr. Giordano was born in Manhattan in 1932. He worked for Charlton Comics from 1952 to 1967. In that time he rose from artist to editor-in-chief.

From there he went to DC Comics, and was the editor of some high profile, if less than commercially successful, titles. He revitalized Aquaman and produced some of the very best issues of that title with writer Steve Skeates and artist Jim Aparo, who he brought over with him from Charlton. And most people may not realize or remember this, but Dick Giordano actually rescued The Blackhawks from their woeful miscasting as superheroes – for two issues before the title was cancelled. As an artist and inker Dick Giordano worked with Neal Adams on his legendary runs on BATMAN and GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW.

He departed DC in 1971, only to return in 1980. This stint would last until his retirement in 1993. During this period he rose from editing BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS to the position of Vice President/Executive Editor. No mere coincidence that his tenure as an executive was an EXTRAORDINARY PERIOD for DC Comics!

Crisis on Infinite Earths, Alan Moore’s Superman and Swamp Thing, The New Teen Titans, Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League International, “Batman: Death in the Family”, Frank Miller's Batman The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, John Byrne's Superman the Man of Steel, Batman Legends of the Dark Knight, weekly rotation of the Superman titles, “Doomsday: The Death of Superman”, “Batman: Knight-Fall”, and so much more.

At the end of his editorial pages, Mr. Giordano would always say: “Thank you and good afternoon.”

It is we, who should say: Thank YOU, Dick Giordano.

Friday, March 26, 2010

R.I.P. Robert Culp.

We lost another of the greats this week, with the passing of Robert Culp at the age of 79.

Mr. Culp was an accomplished actor, writer, and director, best known for his role as Kelly Robinson, opposite Bill Cosby on the 1960s TV series I SPY.
In a DVD commentary, Culp noted that I SPY never really got the attention it deserved. I’d have to say that is true, as it often seemed to be “that other spy show” to the more popular THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Imported spy-craze era shows, such as THE AVENGERS and SECRET AGENT, probably also helped dilute I SPY’s impact on our collective cultural memory.

On a personal level, I SPY aired on NBC at 10 PM (my mid-sixties bed-time, preventing me from seeing its original run) and it didn’t have much play in later syndication that I recall – so, I’m pretty much enjoying it now, bit-by-bit on DVD. As with most sixties-era series, it is time well spent.

In other roles of note, ironically, Mr. Culp played a villain on THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., in “The Shark Affair”, the season before the debut of I SPY.
Culp starred in THREE (count ‘em THREE) episodes of the classic 1960s version of THE OUTER LIMITS. Two of which, “The Architects of Fear” and “Demon with a Glass Hand”, were among the very best of the series – and the other, “Corpus Earthling”, while not in the same class as the other two, was considerably lifted by Culp’s performance.

Culp also had a long-running role in the series THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO.

And, by certain accounts I’ve read, Robert Culp was a huge comic book fan and collector. That may have helped made his numerous sci-fi and fantasy roles all the more memorable.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Interviewee? That’s ME!

Yes, I’ve been interviewed!

Fellow APA-mate from Grassroot Reflections APA “Nobuis Black” (…No relation to Jimmy Olsen at left – and hopefully no relation to “Manchester Black” from early-2000s Superman comics) published a nicely done interview on his Blog “Calliope Nerve”.

Link to it HERE, if you dare – and learn all my secrets of comics and life!

And please check out the rest of his eclectic output – poetry and interviews with REAL authors of books, and plays, and all-sorts-o-stuff-like-that-there!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

DVD Review The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition

The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition

(Released January 12, 2010 by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)

Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia


When last we left The Simpsons on DVD, the “Complete 12th Season” had been released as a Standard Definition set on August 18, 2009.

For that set, and every other since the beginning, my review comments below for the “Complete 11th Season(SEE REVIEW HERE) had been applicable:

If there were a single DVD product that consistently stands above the rest, it would be each and every release of THE SIMPSONS!

Indeed, every review I could write would sound the same. The episodes are always great, and no series offers more in the way of extra features and general quality!

That was then. This is now…

As you may know from THIS POST, I’ve recently joined the HD TV / Blu-ray ranks. “Joined” is hardly the word! More like I’ve drunk the “HD Kool-Aid” and would storm the Gates of Hell on the merest word from Blu-ray! Kinda like Homer Simpson and donuts. Mmmm… Donuts! Mmmm… HD and Blu-ray!

The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition marked my first Blu-ray DVD purchase. I knew going in that about only HALF the 20th Season was produced for HD broadcast and, thus, only half the set would be fully Blu-ray capable. To view this any other way would be unfairly critical. However, many unexpectedly unpleasant surprises were to be found therein. Which takes us to…

…Our customary list of CONS and PROS. Between the CONS and PROS, we’ll add a neutral catch-all category we’ll call OTHER.

The CONS:

Only Half a Season of HD: But, again, this is known to any fan of the show. The HD episodes, which began on February 15, 2009, are easily identified to all by the NEW OPENING TITLE SEQUENCE that, even if in a blur, shows just about every member of the extensive cast. See THIS POST for details on what and whom you may have missed during the quick camera pan.

The Special Features: NO ONE… and I mean NO ONE did DVD Special Features like THE SIMPSONS! Consider that each previous set offered most if not all of the following:

Commentaries with writers, directors, producers, and actors on EVERY EPISODE.

Creator Matt Groening’s Introductory Feature for each Season Set – discussing the high points and guest stars.

Animated menus that reflected the contents of each disc.

A detailed and lavishly illustrated BOOKLET, listing the contents of the set, original airdates, and other notable aspects of each episode.

Deleted scenes. Offered as “Stand Alone” (with optional commentary) or, with a touch of your remote, integrated into their intended spots as part of the episodes.


Selected storyboards and animatics.

Easter Eggs, offering hidden surprises.

None of this is included with The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition!

There is a bare-bones listing of episode titles, listed by disc, and a PROMO for FOX TV’s Simpsons 20th anniversary special. Not the special, mind you. That might have been welcome. Nope! We get only the promo FOR the special, which is billed as a “Special Feature”. Nothing else!

One can only hope that the reason for this is that The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition was a “rush-job” intended to capitalize on the unprecedented occasion of an animated series running for twenty seasons and beyond. Hopefully, when FOX Video resumes the series with Season 13, the usual list of goodies will return.

Still, this leaves me very dissatisfied… especially if there is a fully-loaded release of Season 20 in the future!


OTHER:

The Menus:
Unlike the more elaborately animated menus of sets past, The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition menus present simple graphics of the heads of various characters being slowly drawn in outline. Disc One’s menu plays a “hauntingly slow” version of The Simpsons theme, while Disc Two’s menu offers a more lively and jazzy version.

HD Distribution: The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition is a Two Disc Set, with all 9 Standard Definition episodes on Disc One and all 12 High Definition episodes on Disc Two. I understand the SD version’s discs are distributed differently.

Lots of Lisa: This is only apparent when watching Season 20 in order, without interruptions and older repeats thrown into the mix. 10 out of 21 total Season 20 episodes are “Lisa-centric” in either their main plot, or their sub-plot. That’s okay with me, as I like the character of Lisa, but here she seems to rival Homer for the most screen time.


The PROS:

The Half Season of HD:
The Standard Definition episodes of The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition look great!

Sharp colors, but not presented in wide-screen. This results in the far right and the far left of the flat screen displaying “horizontal black space”, while the image (…though vastly improved over that played on a SD DVD player) occupies the basic center of the screen only.

The High Definition episodes, however, fill the entire screen with bright, sharp, and vivid colors! It is like no Simpsons I’ve ever seen before!

The Packaging: After all the CONS of this set, here’s an unexpected PRO. The Season 11 and Season 12 sets were simply awful in their packaging. Details are found in THIS POST!

The packaging for The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition has reversed that unfortunate trend and provided more conventional and sturdy protective packaging.

And, of course, the biggest PRO of any Simpsons set…

The Episodes: Over and over the Internet continues to drone on about how The Simpsons is no longer funny. Not so, as this current batch proves.

Here are some of the highlights (without airdates, because they’re not included):

“HD” denotes the episode is in High Definition.

Sex, Pies and Idiot Scrapes Marge unknowingly works for an erotic bakery, while Homer and Flanders become bounty hunters! What a way to start a season!

Treehouse of Horror XIX Voting machines with minds of their own, transforming lethal household objects, dead celebrity product endorsements, an unbelievable send-up of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”, and even a cleverly constructed parody of the opening of MAD MEN are among the delights of our annual Halloween episode.

“Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words” Lisa finds a new passion – The New York Times Crossword Puzzle. Times Crossword editor Will Shortz appears as himself. Perhaps “Hard Luck Gil’s” only great moment!


Mypods and Broomsticks Two great stories in one episode. Lisa overindulges in her new “myPod”, receives a massive bill for music downloads, and pleads with “Steve Mobs” (at his idyllic, underwater compound) to forgive the debt. Bart befriends an Arabic boy, and Homer immediately suspects his father of being a terrorist. Unfortunately for all, he sets out to prove it… as only he can! Great climax!

The Burns and the BeesLisa establishes a bee colony and Mr. Burns plans to build a mega-arena for his new professional basketball team on that very site. Opens with a special Christmas / Holiday / Winter variation of the usual opening title sequence. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and sportscaster Marv Albert play themselves.

Take My Life, Please” (HD) Homer blames his failure to be elected High School Class President as the reason he is not included in Springfield’s “Wall of Fame” – an all-inclusive monument to the town’s achievers that includes even Poochie! This is the first HD episode.

How the Test was Won” (HD) Lisa frets over a standardized test. Skinner and his school’s underachievers have an adventure in Capital City. Homer forgets to mail his property insurance payment. This bit culminates in a hilarious climax that injures a passing Mr. Burns… just in the nick of time for the insurance to pay the damages.

Gone Maggie Gone” (HD) With Marge temporarily blinded, Homer accidentally allows Maggie to be claimed by an ancient order of nuns. Lisa infiltrates the order to reclaim her sister, leading to a “Di Vinci Code-like” adventure concerning one of Springfield’s landmarks. Hysterical ending, confirming everything we’ve ever suspected about Bart.

In the Name of the Grandfather” (HD) Homer and Grandpa Simpson end up owning an old Irish Pub, and try to make it work in modern day Ireland. Lots of great “Irish parody” names of well known chain stores, businesses, and products.

Four Great Women and a Manicure” (HD) Marge takes Lisa for her first nail salon manicure. This serves as a backdrop for the pair to tell female-centric stories. Highlight: The story of Lisa as “Snow White, with Homer, Moe, Barney, Lenny, Kearney, Dr. Hibbard, and Mr. Burns as the dwarfs – with a great “Hi-Ho” parody song and the expected jabs at Disney lawyers.

Coming to Homerica” (HD) The Swedes of neighboring Ogdenville invade Springfield when O-ville’s barley-based economy tanks. At first, they are welcome. But soon, Springfield is gripped by anti “Barley Jack” hysteria. A great commentary on the nation’s immigration controversy.

OVERALL: The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition delivers a remarkable amount of entertainment and laughs for a series that’s been around, non-stop for two decades. And the half season’s worth of HD episodes are magnificent!

However, given all the CONS vs. the high standards that the series DVD sets have previously maintained, I cannot give it a high recommendation.

Enjoy it for what it is, but never lose sight of what it could have been. D’OH!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

These Are a Few of My Fav-o-rite Wings!


In his must-read book “1000 Comic Books You Must Read”, author and comics maven Tony Isabella’s entry for WINGS COMICS # 1 (September, 1940) reads as follows:

Fiction House published several pulp magazines devoted to air adventure / war stories, duplicating that success in this title with such features as The Skull Squad, The Parachute Patrol, Jane Martin, Clipper Kirk, Suicide Smith, Greasemonkey Griffin, and Powder Burns.”

Oh, how I wish I’d thought of the name Powder Burns”! If I ever “borrow it” someday, please don’t tell anyone!

Think these stalwart stewards of the skies have no relevance today? Guess again?

Consider their connections to well known fictional pop culture icons of the future!

“Clipper Kirk” could very well be an ancestor of Captain James T. Kirk of STAR TREK. Boldly going… etc. etc.



Conversely, I’d suspect “Suicide Smith” is decidedly not related to Doctor Zachary Smith of LOST IN SPACE. “Suicide mission, did you say? Clearly, my Robotic Friend, here, is better suited to the task than I! Speak up, you Bubbleheaded Booby! Tell them my delicate back will simply not stand the strain!”

“Greasemonkey Griffin” sounds as if he could be a grand-uncle-or-something to Peter Griffin of FAMILY GUY. Indeed, if he’s anything like Peter, his bumbling may have been responsible for every disaster attributed to Gremlins.

And, given his age, “Powder Burns” PROBABLY IS IN ACTUALITY Mr. Montgomery Burns of THE SIMPSONS. “Excellent!”

Sure makes me want to go out and buy a copy of WINGS COMICS # 1… if only I had the 240.00 for “Good” or the 3,000.00 for “Mear Mint Minus” that Overstreet says it would have cost me in 2003 – the latest year I have a guide for.

Oh, well… At least Mr. Burns can buy one!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Best Chalkboard Gag Ever!

The clouds part, to an almost-religious sounding chorus, revealing a golden logo. The camera’s POV pans over a town, finally focusing on a nondescript elementary school building.

Inside, an anything-but-nondescript young boy repeats the act of writing a sentence upon a chalkboard, a punishment for misdeeds unseen.

This, of course, is the opening of THE SIMPSONS! And, by now, there have been well over 400 such “Chalkboard Gags” – but, while enjoying “The Simpsons: The Complete Twelfth Season” DVD set, I might just have seen the BEST ONE OF THEM ALL!

To open the episode “Simpsons Tall Tales” (original air date May 20, 2001), Bart, who has been “ten years old” since the series’ inception, writes:

“I SHOULD NOT BE TWENTY-ONE BY NOW.”

…Over and over again, to an unexpected outburst of laughter by yours truly!



Best Chalkboard Gag Ever!

By now, in 2010, should he not be THIRTY?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Not Since 1966!

Not since 1966 have I regularly watched as much Prime Time Network Television as I find myself doing in 2010!

Yes, it’s as much of a surprise to ME as it is to you! Just sorta quietly snuck up on me!

1966 was full of imaginative shows and animation. There would never be another year like it. Or, so I thought…

In 2010 I find myself regularly watching: The Simpsons, Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, Lost, Heroes, Fringe, Batman the Brave and the Bold (Yes, it counts as a prime time series!), Mad Men (thanks to Esther) and now I intend to add Flash Forward to the list, as detailed in the last post.

Imagination, adventure, animation, and clever humor have somehow taken hold of prime time again – after years (even decades) of things that, at their very best, interested me only marginally! It’s 1966 again… only I’m not 11!

I don’t know how it happened, but I’m glad it did!
Gotta go... It's time for LOST!