Friday, August 29, 2008

Extra! Extra! Joe gets LOST!

…Or, how a “blind buy” at Best Buy opened Joe’s eyes!

Admit it. You’ve wanted me to “get LOST” for years. Now, with the help of two motivating factors, I’ve finally done it!

The first of those factors is my mother, Mary. My mother, when she wants to, can show a very “cool” streak! Not “cool” as in cold and unfeeling… but “cool” as in “Way Cool!”, for a lady of 81. It was she, in my younger days, who introduced me to the original TV series THE OUTER LIMITS, and was always there for things like TIME TUNNEL, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER and the like.

Last summer (2007) she was staying with us while her house was being repaired (Don’t ask!) and enjoyed that year’s DVD release of LAND OF THE GIANTS very much! Even asking to see more!

So, back in 2004, when she told me of a show she enjoyed called LOST, I took notice.

I watch no modern TV, save sports, news, and a few animated favorites like THE SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY. My preferences will always remain with the prime time series of the 1960s. And DVD sets scratch that particular itch, whenever it strikes!

Modern TV, particularly drama, requires you to watch it every week, and plays off episode-to-episode continuity, obsessively. My life does not allow for that sort of rigid adherence to a television schedule. There’s no way to be a casual viewer of any such series. Plus, there are the constant repeats slipped in throughout the season, very annoying pop-up ads, and end credits that are no longer designed for reading.

Still, I thought this COULD be a show that would interest me… certainly if my mother thought so. Yet, I never watched LOST, or knew very much about it.

This past week saw a 25 % off “TV-on-DVD” sale on all such product at Best Buy – my leading source for DVDs. I decided to try what DVD collectors call a “blind buy”. That is, a purchase (…Not an inconsiderable purchase, when speaking of a TV series season set! What if it sucks?) of something you’ve never seen before – and are trying strictly on impulse or word-of-mouth. That blind buy was LOST!

Well, Mom was right! LOST, for the first eight episodes I’ve watched on DVD, is utterly amazing! For me, it conjures up feelings of the earliest episodes of LOST IN SPACE and LAND OF THE GIANTS (when each was more concerned with basic survival) not to mention GILLIGAN’S ISLAND (though almost completely straight), and the general creepy weirdness of TWILIGHT ZONE, OUTER LIMITS and KOLCHAK.

A plane crashes on an unknown island. The living struggle for survival. We get to know them and their backstories via well-crafted flashbacks. There’s a monster out there in the dark forbidding jungle – and we still don’t know what it is eight shows in. VOYAGE or KOLCHAK would have dealt with that in 40 minutes or less.

There are the expected (and quite unexpected) conflicts between the principal cast members. There’s a mysterious stranger out there – or is it one of our party(?) – who may not want them to get off the island. And lots of other stuff that make the show addicting.

Hey, we even had the star character trapped in a cave-in! (…Shades of more than one LOST IN SPACE episode! The difference is his rescuer “kicked his own drug habit” during the rescue process. And he’s one of the “comedy-relief” characters, to boot! That’s modern TV, for you!)

There seems to be at least one gut-wrenching, surprise kicker in each episode – and anticipating those is half the fun. My mother was right yet again!

Oh, and Paul Dini from all the wonderful Warner Bros. animated series I love – BATMAN, SUPERMAN, FREAKAZOID!, etc. is both the story editor and a writer for LOST. That automatically gives the show “points” with me!

Anyone reading this, PLEASE DO NOT DISCUSS ANY PLOT DEVELOPMENTS FOR LOST. The shows I’m currently watching are from 2004! That’s four years ago this month for “The Outside World” – but it's all new and exciting for me. I’ve even MUTED sections of the episode commentary tracks that look as if they’re heading toward Spoiler-ville!


It’s clear, at least to my way of thinking, that DVD is the absolute best way to watch ANY TV series – old or new. You watch it when YOU are able. You never miss an episode. You can choose when (or IF) repeats occur. No cuts. No ads. No pop-ups. YOU can “put the show on hiatus” and bring it back! And, you can finally read those damned end-credits! I could never have enjoyed LOST, as I now do, had I tried it on broadcast television.

Thanks, Best Buy, for the sale-nudge… and most of all, thanks Mom… for still knowing my tastes as well as you do!

Completing the ANT-Trifecta!

For no reason at all, or maybe just because “it’s there”, I’m posting the third American printing of the “Mickey Mouse and Pluto Battle the Giant Ants” comic book cover.

So, we now have the original Dell version (1950) HERE, the Gold Key version (1965) HERE, and the Gladstone version (1989) below. Where else but at TIAHblog, folks?

And, just for the record, there were TWO OTHER Mickey vs. Giant Ants stories over the years – both unrelated to this one. “Strange Happenings” from MICKEY MOUSE # 69 (1960) and “Mickey Mouse on Monster Island” in MICKEY MOUSE # 149 (1974).

If only there had been one more such encounter… it would have resulted in an “ANT-tastic Four!”

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Questions You’ve Never Asked: “Why the White Gloves?”

Every now and then at this Blog, we’ll answer an age old question you’ve probably never asked…

Recall the Mickey Mouse / Giant Ants comic book cover that illustrated my last post concerning our “home invasion” by hoards of ants? If not, go visit it HERE.

Back already? Okay, so Mickey’s ALWAYS worn the white gloves, ever since Uncle Walt and Uncle Ub Iwerks originally designed him. But, in one of those loveably absurd things (…or would that be absurdly loveable things?) that abound in comics and animation, the ANT is wearing those danged white gloves too!

Here are my thoughts on the matter of “Animated Characters and the White Gloves They Love”, along with a theory on their origins from comic book writer Dwight Decker, that I published in my APA / Fanzine column The Issue At Hand # 76, back in 2006.

Picture an animated cartoon character created anywhere from the late 1920s to early 1940s. That would be Mickey Mouse and Dippy Dawg (…who eventually evolves into Goofy) on one end of the spectrum and Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker on the other end. Heck, you could even throw in classic comic strip characters like “Mutt and Jeff”. Name something that they have in common. Think hard… I’ll wait.

Didn’t wanna think, eh? Skipped right to the next paragraph and the answer? Immediate gratification over all, huh? That’s the Internet for ya! Okay, the answer is WHITE GLOVES!

I hardly noticed the gloves in my younger days. They were just part of a character’s design. As I became older, and looked at some of the “classic” comics with sharper and more cynical eyes, I began to notice some of their more absurd (…whether intentionally, or otherwise) applications, particularly in the various Mickey Mouse comic books.

In a lair of giant, mutant, upright-walking ANTS (!), neither Mickey as prisoner, nor I as reader, batted an eye over the fact that the ants wore those omnipresent, four-fingered white gloves.

(Here’s the Original 1950 Cover to that story… Oddly the Ant is wearing YELLOW GLOVES here! This, of course, was corrected for the later reprint in 1965! …And aren’t we glad of that!)

When a villain awarded Mick his freedom if he could run a gauntlet of axe-wielding ROBOTS, can you guess what the otherwise unclad automatons were wearing?

Most recently, we readers were treated to a spectacular “Mickey Mouse version” of Dante’s Inferno. And I’ll be (pun intended) “damned” if the demons of this particular Hell weren’t equipped with BLACK VERSIONS of those (duplicate pun intended) “damned” white gloves! Such a wonderful parody of this basic design element! .

My letter of comment to this issue was forwarded to Dwight Decker, one of the writers involved with the script. He responded to me with a reason for the use of the white gloves. So, now it can be told. Here’s Dwight Decker:

You mentioned the business of those gloves Disney characters always wear. I never quite understood that until I saw a photograph that must have been taken about 1925, showing Charlie Chaplin with Martin and Osa Johnson (wildlife documentary filmers of that era) -- and Osa was wearing white gloves with three lines on the back!

"The only thing I can figure is that such gloves were stylish and commonly worn in the '20s just when animated cartoons were coming into their own, and it was only natural for characters in the cartoons to wear what real people wore. (I've heard white gloves made Mickey's hands stand out better in the old black and white cartoons.) Somehow the gloves became a standard convention for animated cartoon characters and persisted after they fell out of fashion for real people, the reason for gloves was forgotten, and cartoon characters wear them to this day.”

Just for this Blog post, Dwight added:

“I'm not sure if the three lines on the backs of the gloves are really a black decorative element or are just built-in folds so the gloves can expand when the hand is clenched. I suspect the latter, though there may have been styles where the folds were colored in.

"One funny thing I saw a few years ago was a cartoon of the Marvel super-heroes drawn in the old rubber-hose animation style, and of course all wore gloves like that. The crowning touch was that the Hulk's hands were bursting out of his gloves.

"The glove thing is an odd convention, though. It was satirized in the splash panel of Kurtzman & Elder's "Mickey Rodent" parody in Mad #19 (a character obviously Horace Horsecollar is hauled away by the cops for appearing in public without gloves), so the absurdity was realized as early as the '50s. In Disney comics, I've seen characters go swimming wearing bathing suits *and* gloves, and there have been surreal bits like a Beagle Boy filing his nails with his gloves on. It's one of those oddities that make you wonder who decides these things.”

Thanks, Dwight for a great contribution!

…So, how ‘bout that! The things you can learn by reading this Blog!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Better Living Through Comics and Animation: The Great Suburban Ant Invasion!

On the first warm Saturday of 2006, also the first such day after moving into our house, I attempted the rather basic operation of opening all the windows. Easy, right? Not quite…

It seems that an upstairs window had no screen. But, there were several screens left to us in a backyard shed. I brought one into the house to see it if would fit. Placing it down on the kitchen floor, I was horrified to see a literal ARMY OF ANTS come streaming out of the tracks of this seemingly useful remnant of homeowners past, that was, in reality, an insects’ “Trojan Horse”.

This was not just a bunch of ants… but an actual, moving, writhing, undulating BLACK CARPET of ants that had begun to spread in all directions! There were far too many to kill by the usual means of stomping or spraying, so what’s a beleaguered guy to do?

For reasons still unknown, my mind flashed to a comic book story I read back in 1965 -- “Mickey Mouse and Pluto Battle the Giant Ants” (originally from 1950 and reprinted for my generation in MICKEY MOUSE # 102 -August, 1965), in which the titular “Giant Ants” met their fate by being sucked to their digestive doom by an equally giant anteater!.

With that bizarre image in mind, I grabbed the VACUUM CLEANER and sucked all the little BUG-gers up into the vac’s dust bag before they could reach our cabinets of food, living room, and bedroom – and quickly disposed of the bag! …Sure enough, that “comic-book solution” worked!

After the vacuuming, I liberally doused the area with Raid Ant Spray, and saw no further signs of our ant invasion. If only I’d had the presence of mind at the time, I would have loved to have delivered the following bit of “Bad Action Movie Dialogue”.

Hey, ants! See this giant vacuum cleaner! I call it LIFE!” (Joe switches on the vacuum and cleans the house of ants) “And, as you all know, LIFE SUCKS AND THEN YOU DIE!”

…And, so they did! And another suburban peril was averted.

The moral? In times of trouble, consult your comics and DVD collections! The answer’s bound to be in there SOMEWHERE!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Comic Book Letter of Comment (SPOOF): Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Friends # 1.

You’ve seen examples of my Comic Book Letters of Comment in the previous post BELOW and also HERE. (Feel free to link and return.)

Now, I’ll let you in on a joke I shared with Gemstone editor David Gerstein (a huge fan of Oswald!) and a few other friends.

In 2006, Disney reacquired the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a creation of Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks that predated even Mickey Mouse. To commemorate the occasion, as a gag, I created a fictional Letter of Comment to a non-existent Gemstone comic book title: OSWALD THE LUCKY RABBIT AND FRIENDS # 1.

At the time, Gemstone was publishing such titles as DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS and MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS, and similar Letters of Comment were regular fixtures therein. Of course, a companion Oswald title didn’t happen – but this is what you MIGHT have found in the letter column, if it did.

For this bogus LOC, I pulled out every stop to SPOOF my usual LOC writing style. Those of you have who have read my comments in the various Gemstone titles will recognize every beat in this self parody.

I probably don’t need to tell most of you that the satiric-stories that I attribute to Oswald are in actuality some of Carl Barks’ best known UNCLE SCROOGE stories like “Back to the Klondike”, “The Twenty-Four Carat Moon”, and “Micro-Ducks from Outer Space”… but I’ll sleep better if I do.

Here’s Oswald himself, in a 1944 Dell Comic Book, and the LOC. Enjoy...

Dear Gemstoners:

Golly, I feel like I’ve been transported to a completely different universe!” -- Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, feeling like he’s been…um, transported to a completely different universe, from OSWALD THE LUCKY RABBIT AND FRIENDS # 1.

I’ll second that “Golly!” and add that there is no better way to celebrate Oswald’s migration from Universal and Walter Lantz Productions to Disney than with this fine publication from Gemstone!

When it comes to writing for Oswald, David Gerstein was “to the manor (…or, would that be to the ‘Rabbit Hutch’) born”. Further, could anyone recreate that classic Oswald adventure comics style circa 1953 better than the ever-reliable Vicar.

And what an adventure it was! Oswald goes “back to the Klondike” (…Haven’t I heard that somewhere before?) and reunites with his old flame “Sourdough Sally Snowbunny”. After such a long absence, I’d imagine that, off panel, they went at it like a “couple of rabbits”, thus accounting for his well-deserved “Lucky Rabbit” nickname.

That’s not all, as Ozzie plums the depths of Lost Atlantis in search of a ten-skyrillion buck “Susan Bunny Anthony Dollar” coin, takes one small hop for Rabbit-kind upon the Twenty-Four Carat (Carrot) Moon, and is cast in a myriad of other story situations already owned by Disney – so as to reduce writing expenses and maximize profitability. All I can say is: Bring on the “Micro-Bunnies from Outer Space”!

I also liked Ozzie’s new supporting cast: Chilly Charlie the Cold Little Penguin, Woody Walrus, and Wally Woodpecker… though they, too, seem vaguely familiar.

Particularly entertaining was our Friends Feature “Great Big Honkin’ Woody”… in which the Walrus is transformed into a GIANT GOOSE! What? You were thinking of something else? Shame on you!

If the quality of OSWALD THE LUCKY RABBIT AND FRIENDS is any indication, I can’t wait until Disney conducts future raids on Universal and we see new Gemstone Comics based on Columbo, Mc Cloud, Ironside, and Kolchak the Night Stalker!

Joe Torcivia

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Comic Book Letter of Comment: Mickey Mouse “The Return of the Phantom Blot”.

It happens to every true comic book fan. A moment and a book come together in a way you never forget. It is the time you become a fan of the comic book – for years, if not for life

It’s different for everyone. Here’s mine. Mickey Mouse in “The Return of the Phantom Blot, a four part serial beginning in 1964’s WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES # 284. Author (still) unknown. Art by the great Mickey Mouse artist Paul Murry.

In January 2006, this story was reprinted for the first time in the United States in Gemstone Publications’ MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS # 285. My Letter of Comment to this issue expresses sentiments I’ve waited almost 42 years to share. Enjoy…

To the readers of this blog, I ask: What’s YOURS? Your moment? Your book? Your story? You know you have one… share it with us!

Here’s a look at the original cover of WDC&S # 284. Then, on to the LOC…

“[The Phantom Blot] was about the meanest criminal I ever faced!”Mickey Mouse, speaking some of his truest words, from 1964’s “The Return of the Phantom Blot”, reprinted in MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS # 285.

Oddly, it was the first issue of WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES since the early 1950s to not offer a lead feature by Carl Barks that made me a fan of the Disney comic book genre for life!

Issue # 284 opened with a non-Barks Donald Duck lead titled “The What-Zit Bird”. Not bad, but I’d read better duck leads in the past. There were also entertaining middle-stories starring Li’l Bad Wolf, Daisy, and Mad Madam Mim. But, the “back-ender”, Chapter One of this wonderful Mouse mystery tale, grabbed this wide-eyed nine year old as no other story from any publisher had to that point.

A bold and intriguing villain was this “Phantom Blot”. In my scant few years of comics reading, I’d seen Mickey square off against Pete often enough, as well as dog-faced felons of every size, shape, and temperament… but there was no one quite like this. Despite his limited panel time, there was clearly something special about this black-cloaked blackguard. He immediately seemed like a foe for the ages.

The title, “The Return of the Phantom Blot”, was also something to ponder. I had a reasonably complete collection of Mickey’s comic book exploits dating back to 1959, but there was no sign of any Phantom Blot. Who was he, and where did he return from?

The answer to that question would wait fourteen years, until 1978 and the release of a hardcover coffee table-sized book from Abbeville Press titled simply “MICKEY MOUSE”. In it, I discovered the extraordinary combination of Mickey and Floyd Gottfredson – and, in an interior text piece, learned that the Phantom Blot was a product of that historic run -- in 1939! Apparently, the Blot was INDEED a foe for the ages… Gold and Silver Ages, that is.

The four month unfolding of “The Return of the Phantom Blot” fully captivated me and moved me from “young casual reader” into “never-miss-an-issue” mode – a condition that prevails four decades hence. During that blissful time, I saw foreboding black shapes in dark corners I never knew my house had! Today’s conventional wisdom notwithstanding, it can be fun to have the willies as a kid, as long as you know it’s ultimately make-believe. The spring of 1964 may be long gone, but I’ve been an unabashed Blot booster ever since!

It would seem that the Blot’s return impacted far more than just this solitary reader. From this tale, the Phantom Blot moved directly to a fondly-remembered series of his own that presented a then-unique melding of the “Duck and Mouse worlds” and, to my knowledge, was the first comic book series to feature a villain as its title character!

This event began a period of creativity for Western Publishing’s Disney line not seen since its formation, and never seen again. The debuts of Super Goof, Emil Eagle, Dangerous Dan Mc Boo and Idjit the Midget, Moby Duck and Dimwitty, studio creation “Cousin Fethry” visiting in the DONALD DUCK title, revivals of Shamrock Bones and Neighbor Jones (…rhyming unintentional), the “Mickey Mouse Super Secret Agent” series, and titles for The Beagle Boys, and Junior Woodchucks all came about in the years immediately following the Blot’s reappearance.

Add to this the final years of work by Carl Barks, and it was quite a time to experience… and, to think, it all started with a Blot! An interesting question for the readership would be “What story or issue affected you as ‘The Return of the Phantom Blot’ did me?”

Joe Torcivia

Monday, August 18, 2008

We Almost had Lobo! …FRAG!

Those who know me well know how much I love the two-part appearance of LOBO, writer Paul Dini’s “The Main Man”, from Kids WB’s SUPERMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES.

I followed it from its original 1996 TV broadcast (…and its many subsequent repeats), through home-recorded VHS tapes, and onto DVD in Warner Home Video’s SUPERMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES Volume One (2005), which had an episode commentary for Part Two! Yes! Producers, writers, directors, and animators… ALL TALKING LOBO!

Lobo would make an all too brief cameo in the later SUPERMAN TAS episode “Warrior Queen”, and a more significant contribution to the JUSTICE LEAGUE episodes “HereafterParts 1 and 2.

But, alas, that’s all there seemed to be for “The Last Czarnian”. There were always intriguing rumors about a LOBO ANIMATED SERIES (…including one that cast him as a late night talk show host – a la “Space Ghost Coast to Coast”), however nothing came to pass!

All these years later, the real story is finally uncovered courtesy of John P. McCann – the co-creator of FREAKAZOID! (DVD reviewed here).
FREAKAZOID! and his other WB animation credits would be enough for a lifetime’s worth of gratitude from yours truly… but get a load of just how close Mr. McCann and Company got us to an actual LOBO series.

The additional voice casting McCann recalls indicates that AL and DARLENE from the LOBO comic book series might have been regulars in the cast! Wouldn't that have been wonderful!

Beyond that, there is a great, ironic kicker to the end of Mr. McCann’s story that’s enough to make you run screaming from the room! So, go bask in the LOBO that almost was, and recoil in horror at the revelation of the exact moment that began “The End” for Kids WB’s Saturday morning, as I loved it in the nineties.

…Also, please enjoy John P. McCann’s blog, “Write Enough”, in general. He’s an interesting source of information… and he uses that same nifty “white-on-black” Google Blogger Template that I do! (…Freakazoid would have liked that last line! Or, maybe he wouldn’t because I was ripping off the writing style of his show! We’ll never know because Freakazoid isn’t real – no matter how much some of his fans on the Internet would like him to be! Aw, nut-bunnies!) …Did I pass the audition, Mr. McCann?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Is My House Famous?

It doesn’t matter how long you live in a neighborhood, there’s always something new to learn! I’ve lived in my town (off and on) since 1969, in five different houses over the years… but things unknown still lurk among the suburban tracts.

In casual conversation with a long-time resident of the block, on which we’ve lived for nearly the last three years, my wife Esther, learned that our house was once the home of noted science fiction and fantasy pulp illustrator Virgil Finlay! In fact, given the timeframe Finlay is said to have lived here – and that our house was part of a large postwar development – he was most likely its original owner.

Click the link above for more on Virgil Finlay.

At the time, the upstairs of our house was an unfinished attic and, it seems that Mr. Finlay created many of his illustrations and paintings up there! Today, that very same space houses my vast collection of comics! Something about that just makes me feel good!

Royal Pain – Barely Averted!

Esther and I just returned from Yankee Stadium, where we saw the Yankees defeat the Kansas City Royals 3-2… in thirteen innings!!!

Rookie center fielder Brett Gardner’s two-out single won it for the Yanks. I have two questions.

(1): Why must it take thirteen innings for the New York Yankees to beat the Kansas City Royals? This is especially question-worthy after having lost to those same no-name Royals in the ninth inning last night (…off the great Mariano Rivera, no less!)

(2): With a team consisting of Derek Jeter, Alex (A-Rod) Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu, Robinson Cano, Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez, and Xavier Nady, why does it take a kid named Brett Gardner (who had three hits and a walk today) to drive in “run number three” to finally beat those darned Royals?

What with all the hoopla over future Hall of Fame Quarterback Brett Favre coming to the Jets, and Brett Gardner showing all those high paid veterans how to hit the ball, I was happy to remark to Esther that “New York is no longer a One-Brett Town!”

One final “Brett Irony”… It took so long for Brett Gardner to deliver a Yankee victory that, by the time we got home from The Bronx, we MISSED Brett Favre’s debut with the Jets. He had already successfully played his downs and was removed from the pre-season game!

…So, ya win one Brett, ya lose one Brett!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Up, Up, and Almost Away – The New Adventures of Superman (1966) DVD Review

In 1966, I was 11 years old. When you’re 11, EVERYTHING is pure magic. Alas, not everything that is magic remains ever so. But, enough of the comics and TV shows of the time retain a sufficient degree of that magic, at least for me. Aided and abetted by the considerable forces of nostalgia and the often questionable and uneven quality of their modern-day successors, such wonders of the past are always worth revisiting. …And, yes, that applies to the product the now-legendary Filmation Studios.

I’m posting this 2007 review now because I will probably review the “DC Comics Superheroes the Filmation Adventures” DVD collection of August 2008 in the near future, and this review is something of a pre-requisite to that one. Enjoy…

The New Adventures of Superman
(Released June 26, 2007 by Warner Home Video) Another long DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

This, of course, is Filmation's trend setting version from 1966.

Up front, I must express an almost lifelong affection for the DC Comics Super Heroes, and a 15-plus year long love affair with the DC Animated Series BATMAN, SUPERMAN, BATMAN BEYOND, JUSTICE LEAGUE and JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED, produced by Bruce Timm for Warner Bros. I also enjoyed the 1960s DC cartoons from Filmation Studios.

This DVD set should have been a “lock” for me but, instead, it is a very mixed bag. Oh, there’s plenty of great stuff -- especially when viewed through nostalgia-colored glasses, where Filmation’s legendary shortcomings are minimized by the good feelings these shows originally created.

We know and accept Filmation’s faults for what they were – and are! The source of my uncharacteristic displeasure is the dispensing with the usually high standards practiced by Warner Home Video, in the assembling of this package.

There are far too many “CONS” to allow me to enjoy this DVD collection to the extent that I had hoped. Yet, the “PROS”, in many ways, still manage to make the package a worthwhile entertainment experience.


The series is NOT COMPLETE! I'm very disappointed in that! The Superboy segments (originally part of each half-hour episode) are omitted. Somehow, I can understand that, as SB remains in some sort of legal limbo between DC/WB and the heirs of Jerry Siegel. BUT, all the Superman episodes are not there either.

The box claims 36 episodes. What they don't tell you is that there were TWO Superman cartoons per show -- plus one Superboy -- and that those are counted as SEPARATE episodes... even though each "pair" of Superman shorts are framed by the show's original opening and closing credits -- indicating it to be ONE SHOW. So, in actuality you get 18 original shows – really TWO THIRDS of 18 shows – despite the box’s claim of 36 “episodes”. Not exactly trickery, but the feeling of it is there, nonetheless.

Later, there were a handful of TWO-PART SUPERMAN EPISODES that are also not in this set. Granted, these were made for the BATMAN/SUPERMAN HOUR show of 1968 -- but they were also shown as part of the SUPERMAN show after Batman split off into his own show. Perhaps they will be part of a possible BATMAN/SUPERMAN HOUR release -- though there were not nearly enough of them to give Supes a fair representation on such a set, as many of the earlier Superman shorts were mixed into that show as “extender”.

Either way, I expected to see the two-parters here. Further research reveals that there are about 16 short Superman cartoons also absent from this set and, hopefully, all this missing material is being hoarded for a second volume. After all, this was never billed as “The Complete Series”, so maybe I was expecting too much, having been accustomed to the general quality of other WHV releases… the also-incomplete NEW SCOOBY-DOO MOVIES set, notwithstanding.

The transfers to DVD have got to be the worst I've ever seen from a major studio – with the possible exception of certain elements of WHV’s “THE MAGILLA GORILLA SHOW” set! Yes, I know it's Filmation, and it's SUPPOSED TO look bad. But, it appears that little effort was made to clean these cartoons up. The Mr. Mxyzptlk episode, "The Imp-Practical Joker" (Which I remembered sort of fondly, and especially wanted to see and contrast with Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's 1997 masterpiece "Mxyzpixilated" from SUPERMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES) is unbelievably bad with lines, streaking, and visual debris across the image! SHAME ON YOU WARNER HOME VIDEO!

In six minutes, the stories are often too brief and many of them are hokey, even by Silver Age comic book standards, but others are good. Besides, some very good Superman stories were done in eight pages or so, in the Silver Age comic books of legendary editor Mort Weisinger.

In addition to being incomplete, badly transferred, and sometimes hokey (though I can't really blame the "hokey" on WHV, can I?), there seems to be NO PROPER ORDER to the presentation! We DVD enthusiasts like things organized, complete, uncut, and IN ORDER! None of that here!

"Superman Meets Brainiac" is on DISC TWO, while "The Return of Brainiac" is on DISC ONE! Um... all you have to do is READ THE TITLES to know this is the wrong thing to do, folks!

The PACKAGING is that slimmer, cheaper packaging that Warner Home Video has used since the latter part of 2005, where one disc rests upon another. You cannot handle or remove DISC TWO without first removing or handling DISC ONE. There is always potential, however slight, for damage with packaging of this sort.


It's Superman!

It's Superman in as close to an accurate Mort Weisinger / Silver Age comic book interpretation as we could ever have hoped to get!

Bud Collyer and Joan Alexander, from the Max Fleschier theatrical days and radio series, are reunited as Superman/Clark, and Lois!

The character designs are as closely based on classic Silver Age Superman artist Curt Swan as was possible to do in such limited animation.

It is the first animated use of Jimmy Olsen. Though sans freckles, he looks just as he did in his own comic -- that is when he wasn't being transformed into a turtle, werewolf, or other monster.

DC Comics editor Mort Weisinger was a consultant to the series, and his name is in the end credits of every show.

Actual DC writers of the time did scripts: George Kashdan, William Woolfolk, Arnold Drake, Bill Finger (Considered by many to be the uncredited co-creator of Batman!), and someone who -- to my knowledge -- was never involved with DC, Oscar Bensol. As all the other writers were actual DC writers, I wonder if "Bensol" wasn't a pen name for someone else. (Jerry Siegel, perhaps?)

Bob Hastings (Lt. Carpenter on sixties sit-com MC HALE'S NAVY) begins an over 30-year association with DC Comics characters by voicing the absent-due to-being-in court Superboy and occasional incidental characters. Later, Hastings essentially recreated Carpenter for a cameo in the Adam West BATMAN series (in a scene with Alan "Fred Flintstone" Reed, no less!), and became best known as the voice of Commissioner Gordon in the '90s BATMAN ANIMATED SERIES!

The late gravely voiced Jackson Beck (...I can still hear him voicing commercials for Little Caesar's Pizza, and Thompson's Water Seal) is the Narrator and Perry White.

The first use (I believe), outside of comics, of Luthor, Brainiac, Mxyzptlk, Toyman, Prankster, Titano the Giant Ape, and a vastly different Parasite – who meets a bit of a shocking end for a mid-sixties Sat AM cartoon. Ditto for the ending of the second Brainiac episode. No spoilers here!

And THIS justifies the price of admission... The extra feature: "Superman in '66"! Featured commentators include comic book writer Mark Waid, actor Mark Hamill, DC Publisher Paul Levitz, and Filmation's Lou Scheimer, among others. Waid is so vocal, he practically hosts the thing!

They discuss Superman, the times socially and politically, Curt Swan, Mort Weisinger, and many, many Silver Age Superman comic book panels and pages are shown throughout. Scheimer discusses the early days of Filmation, how they got the contract from DC to do Superman (...with more than a bit of bluffing and trickery -- that I'm surprised that he admits to here!), and how important Superman was to putting Filmation on the map, and its impact on Sat-AM TV for years to follow.

For any fan of TV animation, comic books, DC heroes, or the Silver Age in general, this is ONE GREAT FEATURE!

So, despite some serious flaws, I’d say buy The New Adventures of Superman DVD set… if you are a fan of any of the above categories. Sit back and enjoy the “title opening” to each classic cartoon, where Superman flies THROUGH a brick wall that (as drawn) he could just as easily have flown around!

…Sometimes it’s great to just accept stuff like this for its own sake!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Comic Book Letter of Comment: Donald Duck by Carl Barks “Lost in the Andes”.

I can’t institute a Blog without discussing comic books, and I might as well begin with one of the very best…

An almost lost part of the comic book reading experience is the Letters Page! There, readers would offer their impressions of a particular comic book, make suggestions to the editors, and generally communicate with the editor and publisher in the only way then known to mankind. Such a missive sent to a comic book or other periodical is known as a Letter of Comment.

Over the years, I’ve amassed 337 published Letters of Comment (…and I know some folks who have more!), in the comic books of various publishers. My long-running joke is for me to, one day, have more letters printed than MLB pitcher Roger Clemens has wins. Suddenly, with Clemens seemingly halted at 354, this goal is possibly within reach… provided comic book letter columns don’t disappear completely.

Today, the precious few comic books that still run Letters Pages allow readers to send their comments via e-mail. Below is such an “e-LOC” sent to Gemstone Publications’ DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS # 325 in 2005, concerning their reprinting of Carl Barks’ Donald Duck epic: “Lost in the Andes”.

A basic familiarity with the tale of the lost, square-obsessed land of "Plain Awful" is assumed for the readers of this blog entry. My apologies to those who lack that familiarity. Please seek the story out. It's one of the all-time classics of comicdom, and well worth your time!

Here's a look at the original issue's cover. Then, on to the LOC...

“It is morning of a day destined to live long in history!” – Opening Caption of Carl Barks’ 1949 masterpiece “Lost in the Andes”, reprinted in DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS # 325. Unca Carl couldn’t possibly have known how right he was when he began to compose what has become one of the greatest comic book works of all time!

The famous “Square Egg Story” is probably (…or certainly SHOULD BE) a part of every well-rounded fan, comic book devotee, or historian’s “Top Ten List”. Thankfully, I wasn’t around to experience its original printing in DELL FOUR COLOR # 223, but it did first fall into my eager little hands in the form of Gold Key’s aptly titled BEST OF DONALD DUCK # 1 from 1965.

Have comedy and adventure ever been so expertly combined in the comic book medium, as in this tale? I think not! Almost every page is a “chapter” unto itself, constructed to end on a gag, significant revelation, or other noteworthy beat. The art remains among both Barks’ best and the best to appear in a Disney comic period.

Indeed, it is quite the tribute to Carl Barks’ storytelling abilities that it wasn’t until this, my “thirty-something-th” reading of the story, that I realized the following: The Professor from Birmingham was lucky to escape Plain Awful when he did… because the COMPASS, that revered museum artifact that he left for the grateful “square pants-ed populace”, was just as ROUND as the Nephews’ accursed gum bubbles! Oh well, maybe the Plain-Awfultonians amended their constitution after the Prof’s departure in 1868!

Lastly, mucho kudos to Gemstone for devoting all 32 pages of the issue to this classic among classics! It’s just another thing that sets you apart from the rest.

Joe Torcivia


Enough toe-dipping and wading… It’s time to jump into this new Blog-thing with both feet! And what better way to do this than with FREAKAZOID!

Clearly, this wonderful Saturday morning animated series from Steven Spielberg and Kids WB (aired 1995-1997), is a huge influence on my script writing for comic books like UNCLE SCROOGE, but even I hadn’t realized the extent to which this is true until viewing these episodes on DVD again in one glorious lump! Check it out and see…

If only the show’s announcer, Joe Leahy, were here to say: “And now, let’s enjoy the following DVD review of FREAKAZOID!” …Bum! Bum! BUM!

FREAKAZOID! Season One: Released July 29, 2008 by Warner Home Video.

A Typically Long DVD Review by Joe Torcivia.

Watching this set brings back pleasant memories of Saturday mornings with the now-defunct Kids WB and weekday evenings with the might-as-well-be-defunct Cartoon Network.

FREAKAZOID! is a wacky, manic superhero who protects, saves, and works for the betterment of mankind, unless (as his theme song goes) “…something better’s on TV”.

FREAKAZOID! is also the most underappreciated, flat-out funniest animated series ever produced for Saturday morning TV.

If you enjoy WB’s better known ‘90s hits ANIMANIACS and BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES, FREAKAZOID! is the perfect bridge between the two – with its expert melding of off-the-wall humor with superheroes and villains... If you enjoy the abrupt, now-expected digressions and “callbacks’ to earlier bits that is a hallmark of FAMILY GUY… You will love FREAKAZOID!

You will also love his cast of characters: Good Guys include Police Sgt. Cosgrove (preformed in marvelous deadpan by the great Ed Asner), the prissy, “John Cleese-like” Lord Bravery, the ultra-intense Huntsman- who combines Charlton Heston with DC Comics’ Green Arrow, Toby Danger – a dead-on parody of Hanna-Barbera’s adventure cartoon JONNY QUEST, and the “all-too-familiar-to-some-of-us” Fanboy, appropriately voiced by “Animal House’s” Stephen Furst.

And, oh those bad guys… The witty, urbane, loin cloth-clad brute Cave Guy, Candle Jack (a Jack Palance-like masked phantom that brings terror to the night), the half-man / half-steer Longhorn – more like half-Johnny Cash and half Mister Ed. And special props for Ricardo Montalban as Armando Guitierrez, a portrayal so over the top that it would justly earn “The Wrath (and admiration) of Khan”!

…And Best for Last: David Warner (the starkly serious Ra’s Al Ghul on BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES) as The Lobe. The Lobe, whose head consists of a big, squishy brain with facial features, is Freakazoid’s most enduring enemy.

The key to defeating The Lobe lies as much in undermining his dignity as in thwarting his plans, as you will see when Freakazoid expertly toys with him in such mini-classics as “Handman” and “The Lobe”. Freakazoid and The Lobe may have the strangest hero/villain relationship in history of super-heroic fiction. They find an odd sort of validation in each other. They exchange Christmas gifts. The Lobe abandons an evil plan just because Freakazoid rants about how stupid it is! And, in the second season, we learn that there is little satisfaction in “doing bad” for The Lobe, unless he can get Freakazoid to chase him – and Freakazoid abandons a date rather than let his baddie-buddy down! This is wonderful stuff, people!

Beyond the characters created for the show, there is an almost endless parade of guest players from reality and pop culture. One short episode alone (“Freakazoid is History”) features President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Barbara Streisand, Rush Limbaugh, Joan Rivers, Kate Smith, Sharon Stone, and Pinky and The Brain!

Other such luminaries range from late night talk show host Tom Snyder, to Princess Diana, and Pope John Paul II… yes, really!

The stories are first rate comedy and satire. There’s a wicked piece of work by famed writer Paul Dini on “nerds”. And you will NEVER AGAIN hear the old “Theme from a Summer Place” (If you don’t recognize the name, you’ll know it when you hear it!) without thinking of “Relax-O-Vision” – an anti-violence innovation foisted upon Freakazoid by a “know-better” Kids WB TV executive played by Ben Stein!.

Needless to say, this stuff sailed over the heads of the Sat AM kiddie crowd, and FREAKAZOID! left the air after two seasons. But, if we’re all good little Freak-A-Fans and buy this set, WHV might reward us with the Second Season. There we’ll see a regular role for Jonathan Harris of LOST IN SPACE (tributing his “Doctor Smith” character), an absolutely hysterical sequence where The Lobe performs a musical number from Hello Dolly, and witness Freakazoid, and fellow WB animated stars Wacko Warner, and The Brain argue with Executive Producer Steven Spielberg over who is Spielberg’s favorite!

To the DVD set itself, yes it should have been “The Complete Series” as there were only 11 episodes in the Second Season!

But, in Warner’s favor, they’ve improved the packaging over the type I’ve complained about in other reviews, where one disc of a two-disc set rests upon another. With such packaging, you cannot handle or remove DISC TWO without first removing and handling DISC ONE. There is always potential, however slight, for damage with packaging of this sort. Here, they’ve put DISC ONE on a hinged holder and DISC TWO rests on the back, inside wall of the package. An improvement, I’d say.

There is a “phantom episode” on DISC ONE, consisting of “The Cloud” and “Candle Jack”, that must have been originally shown as such on Kids WB in 1995. Both cartoons are elsewhere on the set… BUT, there is an alternate end credits sequence (that you may not even notice, unless you watch closely) with different gags hidden therein. One of those gags relates specifically to “Candle Jack” – and is seen nowhere else in the series! So, this is less of a “cheat” than it appears.

For a two-disc set, WHV is overly generous with the Extra Features. Three episode commentaries with creators Paul Rugg, John P. Mc Cann, and Tom Ruegger, a number of original promos that predate the series to the point that there was still NO FOOTAGE OF FREAKAZOID! TO USE in these promos (!), and a very informative documentary on the genesis of FREAKAZOID! Hint: It didn’t start out, as it ended up!

Anyone who has never seen FREAKAZOID!, or has not seen it recently, owes it to themselves to get this set! Despite lacking the handful of second season shows, it receives my highest recommendation.


Welcome to The Issue At Hand Blog!

Here, you'll find various things I've written -- or that might occur to me on the spur of the moment -- on my interests: Comic Books, Classic Television (mostly 1960s), Animation, DVDs, and my occasional freelance script writing for Gemstone's Disney comics. Maybe we'll occasionally veer off into other things like sports, current events and such, but not very often. And I promise to keep the "Boring Personal Stuff" (That's BPS for short!) to a minimum.

I'd like this to be a non-controversial place to visit. None of the derision and mean-spiritedness that is found in so much of the blog-o-sphere! Just read comic book and animation message boards for examples of what I'm talking about. Disagreement, corrections, and alternate viewpoints are always welcome... but, please, express it in a respectful manner, and I'll do my very best to do the same.

The title "The Issue At Hand" (or TIAH) is from an APA and fanzine column that I've done since 1994. It is presently up to 87 installments (as of the August, 2008 launching of this blog) printed on good old PAPER. Add a fair number of "Non-Numbered Specials" and they total over 100! Mostly all on the subjects above that are near and dear to my heart.

Now, TIAH takes another step into a new world and I hope all my friends -- both old and new -- will join us!