Saturday, February 26, 2011

Great Day of Comics Shopping!

As some of you know, I no longer hit the comic shop every week anymore. A number of factors are responsible – but, chief among them has been my general lack of interest in the product as a whole.

DC Comics, with their constantly shifting incomprehensible continuity, and the use of writers and artists that simply do not stand up to the extremely high quality of the DC Comics line of the ‘80s and ‘90s, leads my disenchantment.

So, now I go every few weeks, and pick up fewer titles – but those I do pick up, I enjoy immensely.

But TODAY, was just one great big ball of enjoyment overload!!!

From Boom! Studios:
MICKEY MOUSE # 305: Reprinting the Paul Murry Mickey serial “The Lens Hunters”. Paul Murry cover!

DARKWING DUCK # 9: Featuring Steelbeak (One of my favorite DW villains) and an outstanding tribute to the TV series MAD MEN on its first three pages! Especially PAGE THREE!

DONALD DUCK # 363: Offers a Geoffrey Blum story ABOUT Carl Barks, the final story hatched from Barks’ brain illustrated by Daan Jippes, and a Barks 10-page mini adventure to close it out. Don Rosa cover!

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS (AND STORIES) # 716: Leads with the Carl Barks written “A Day in a Duck’s Life” (the final story Barks wrote for the DONALD DUCK title in the early 1970s) redrawn in superior style by Daan Jippes and a classic Barks 10-pager to follow. Don Rosa cover!

…AND, biggest surprise.
SPONGEBOB COMICS # 1!!! Was I ever wrong in my speculation that SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg seemed to have no interest in comic books. He’s the PUBLISHER, and he’s working with Matt Groening’s Bongo Entertainment – so it seems off to a good start.

So, finally SpongeBob… and several magnificent issues from Boom!

Boom!’s Disney line is now BETTER THAN EVER! Get on board!

Here’s my Big Day illustrated below! Gosh, I feel like a fanboy again!

Maybe They Meant Little Cheeser?

I LOVE! Since Best Buy reduced the number of different DVD titles they carry, Amazon has become my primary source.

The latest (and final) volumes of such TV series as VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA and THE FUGITIVE, for instance, were not stocked in-store at Best Buy, though all of my previous volumes came from there. Needless to say, my more recent interest in old, classic gangster movies (see several reviews on this Blog) is never satisfied by BB. Now, they all come from Amazon!

So, it adds they would send me promotional e-mails like this one… but look closely at the text!

Does Edward G. Robinson’s Tommy-gun toting “Little Caesar”, and his friends Cagney and Bogie, really belong in the “Kids and Family DVD” department?

Aw, for all the great work they do, and super service they provide, they’re entitled to a little gaffe like this, wouldn’t you agree!

Little Cheeser does!


Are you looking for something in our Kids & Family DVD department? If so, you might be interested in these items.

Below this were links for such gangster epics as "Little Caesar", "The Roaring Twenties", "The Petrified Forest", "Warner Gangsters Collection -- Volume Three".

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DVD Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940)

(Released: 2004 by Warner Home Video)
Another (Not so long, this time!) DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

I don’t know the ins and outs of your crackpot peace movement, and I don’t know what’s wrong with Europe, but I do know a story when I see one – and I’ll keep after it until either I get it, or it gets me!” -- Joel McCrea, as reporter “Johnny Jones” in “Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent”.

Johnny Jones is a brash crime reporter for the “New York Globe”. His unorthodox methods get often get him in trouble, reflecting badly on both the paper and his editor.

It is the eve of World War II in Europe. Something is clearly afoot, but only the same dull, warmed over pap is dispatched to the Globe by its European correspondent. In a stroke of editorial inspiration, the Globe appoints the unconventional Jones to the Euro-beat.

“Over there”, Jones adopts the name “Huntley Haverstock” for greater credibility, is met by the previous correspondent – Robert Benchley in a semi-humorous role, and covers a “peace movement conference” only to witness the assassination of the Dutch high official “Van Meer”. Shot rather graphically in the face, for the times, I might add.

The gunman gets away in the rainy, atmospheric Amsterdam crowd scene, but not before Jones is off in pursuit, assisted by the daughter of the peace movement’s leader (Larrane Day) and a rival reporter played by the great George Sanders.

The chase appears to have reached a dead-end, until Jones notes that a single Dutch windmill, in a field of many, is turning COUNTER to the wind direction!

From there, it’s plot and counterplot, death-defying chases and plunges, and a fast paced thrill-ride through a world where nothing is as it seems – and even saintly old Edmund Gwenn (“34th Street’s own Santa Claus”) can become a deadly assassin before your unbelieving eyes!

…And then, there’s that amazingly frightening passenger plane crash at sea.

But what did you EXPECT from Alfred Hitchcock?

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


If there were a “CON” to list, it would have to be that, while the Extra Features are adequate, ANYTHING Hitchcock should offer more.

Most notably, there is NO COMMENTARY TRACK to accompany this film! Surely, there are film historians and Hitchcock scholars capable of providing such a track. “Foreign Correspondent” may not be Hitchcock’s most famous film, but it is more than worthy of a DVD commentary.


The Film: Story and (needless to say) direction are first rate. Print quality is just fine for a film of its age.

The Cast: Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, George Sanders, Herbert Marshall. Robert Benchley, Eduardo Ciannelli (familiar ‘60s TV guest star – usually a sophisticated continental villain, agent, or aristocrat), Ian Wolfe (slight, older, British actor very familiar to STAR TREK fans for appearances in “Bread and Circuses” and “All Our Yesterdays”), and Edmund Gwenn unthinkably cast as an assassin.

Extra Features:

Theatrical Trailer for “Foreign Correspondent”

Let’s let loose with the promotional bluster and hyperbole:



The latter, of course, refers to the plane crash at sea, with its explosive impact, and scramble for survival. I’m no film historian – and I don’t even play one on this Blog – but, for all I know, this MIGHT have been the first such SFX scene filmed, or one of the first, or certainly one of the most effective!

“Personal History: Foreign Hitchcock” (Runs 33:32).

Doesn’t exactly make up for the lack of a commentary track but, at a length of over 30 minutes – longer than usual for such a feature, this documentary provides its share of interesting information.

Alfred Hitchcock came to America in 1939, and made “Rebecca” as his first film in the States. He was deeply concerned over the threat of war in Europe, and that concern led to “Foreign Correspondent”.

His collaborator/screenwriter at the time, both here and in his native England was Charles Bennett – who later had a long association with producer Irwin Allen and particularly with VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, from the original 1961 feature film through all four seasons of the (“sub”)sequent television series.

Indeed, knowing this, I can’t help but wonder if Bennett “ported” the spectacular ocean plane crash sequence over to VOYAGE, where FOX TV SFX masters Howard Lydecker and L.B. Abbott recreated it as the great scene (used at different points throughout the series) where the Flying Sub power-dives from the air and hits the water hard.

Bennett’s VOYAGE episode “Escape from Venice” certainly seems influenced by the plot of “Foreign Correspondent”.

Producer Joan Harrison, the most significant creative presence behind the ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS television series was also a screenwriter for “Foreign Correspondent”.

Other topics include: Hitchcock’s proposal to his wife (and creative partner) Alma, detail on the crash sequence, and parallels to the later “North by Northwest”.

Participants include: Patricia Hitchcock (Alfred’s daughter), film historians Robert Osborne, Rudy Behlmer, and Richard Schickel, actress Laraine Day, directors Peter Bogdonovich and Richard Franklin, Peter Benchley and Nat Benchley authors and grandsons of Robert Benchley, Stuart Birnbaum (“Friend and collaborator of Charles Bennett”) and Mary Stone granddaughter of Hitchcock.


“I came 4,000 miles to get a story! I get shot at like a duck in a shooting gallery! I get pushed off buildings! I get the story and then I gotta shut up!” Sounds kinda like KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER… without the monster! Oh, and Jones slyly manages to achieve the results Carl Kolchak never did – leading to one heck of an inspiring final scene.

By this time, need I even say “This is a great film!” or should I just say “This is a HITCHCOCK film!” and be done with it. The selection of Extra Features is good, not great. It is recommended for Hitchcock, foreign intrigue and suspense fans, and enthusiasts of the immediate pre-war period.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dare I Disagree with Carl Barks?

After thanking Carl Barks for so much – up to and including how to spell the word “February” – in my last post (ungrateful wretch that I am), I’m going to disagree with him in this post!

Though my disagreement is a mild one, and Mr. Barks is not actually “wrong” in his assertion. However, I can speak with some authority, having been a member of the group Mr. Barks speaks of in his quote.

In the book “Carl Barks and the Disney Comic Book” by Thomas Andre, published 2006 by University Press of Mississippi, Carl Barks offered his reasons for the decline in popularity of the “funny animal” comic book – the genre in which Barks made his living – in a 1962 interview with Malcom Willets:

There’s too much of it on television. You know, the kids can sit for hours and watch these cartoons – POPEYE and YOGI BEAR and even old Disney characters. They’re seeing so much of them that there’s no point in going to the newsstand and paying 12 cents to see more of it. The day of the animal characters, I believe, is past. The human characters are the coming thing.

First, I will emphasize that I do not feel that Unca Carl is entirely incorrect in his thinking. There WAS indeed a notable decline in the sales and popularity of the “funny animal” comic book circa 1962, that has not truly reversed itself to this day.

But, as a member of the “single-digit-set” in 1962, I have an alternate view…

Quite the opposite of Barks’ opinion, I feel that television PROLONGED the life of many such characters in comic books. With theatre attendance in decline (admittedly due to the growth of television), and the production of the theatrical short in sharper decline still, it was the FAMILIARITY with those characters from television that drove “us” to choose their licensed comic magazines at the newsstand!

In support of this, consider that, in the 1940s and ‘50s, there were many generic funny animal comic books competing with Dell’s licensed theatrical properties. In the 60s and beyond, there were not.

Why? Because our familiarity with Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, Yogi Bear, and Mr. Barks’ “own” Donald Duck caused us to select them over their more generic imitators, whose magazines faded away. The 1960s Gold Key comics featuring these licensed studio stars may not have thrived as robustly as did their Dell counterparts of the ‘50s, but they would continue to entertain us for some time to come. And, in every case, these comic books outlasted the production of the animated shorts they were based upon – often by decades!

Beyond popularity and longevity, another point on which my personal experiences cause me to take exception is where Carl Barks begins to question the NEED for such for such comic magazines in the new age of television.

In the days of which he speaks, there was certainly a PRESENCE of these characters on television – but it was not an “omnipresence”! YOGI BEAR, or THE FLINTSTONES, or WOODY WOODPECKER, or TOM AND JERRY would be on TV for their half-hour per week – and then they would be GONE for the next seven days!

Seven days, let me remind you, is a LONG TIME for someone in their single-digits!

When a particular show was over… it was OVER, and it would not return for a week! The only way one of my generation could continue, prolong, or otherwise augment the experience was by purchasing and reading these very comic books! …AND I DID… QUITE AVIDLY!

If you enjoyed this stuff as much as “Li’l Joe” did in the early to mid-sixties, the very comic magazines that Carl Barks began to view as superfluous, became more important than ever – and created in me that life-long interest that remains to this day!

Since those days, we’ve seen the coming of daily syndicated reruns, VHS home tapings of our favorite shows, commercially available VHS product, cable networks largely or fully devoted to animation, the DVD revolution, You Tube, and digital downloads.

We can now see ANYTHING, anytime we wish – and pretty much have been able to do so for about a generation. The palpable “need” I described for the funny animal comic book no longer exists, and one might argue that Carl Barks was correct after all – just a decade or two ahead of his time!

One happy exception to Barks’ position remains the Disney comic book. Though it’s gone through many publishers since the days of Dell and Gold Key, it remains a constant in our lives since the days of Carl Barks. And, I daresay, it remains BECAUSE the innovations, “ground rules”, conventions, and basic structure that Carl Barks set up between the early ‘40s and the mid/late ‘60s were SO STRONG, and SO SOLID in their craftsmanship that they remain sustainable to the present day – and surely beyond!

…Say, that’s just another thing to thank Carl Barks for!
Your thoughts?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Just One More Thing to Thank Carl Barks For!

There are SO MANY THINGS we should thank Carl Barks for! Here’s one that’s uniquely personal.

Quick, what month is this?
Why, it’s “FEB-YEW-WERRY”, of course! The month after “JAN-YEW-WERRY”!

At least, that’s how I used to pronounce ‘em, as a young-un, having been born in good old Brooklyn, NY! Even today, with Brooklyn way back in my “reah-view mirrah”, I might still lapse into that pronunciation of the second month of the calendar year.

Given this, my early grade-school mind figured, if the first month was spelled “JANUARY”, the following month should be spelled “FEBUARY”. Clearly, I was incorrect, and needed to somehow memorize the correct spelling of “FEBRUARY”. But how?

Enter Carl Barks, and his amazing Donald Duck adventure tale “Secret of Hondorica” – originally published in DONALD DUCK # 46 (1956), but first discovered by me in its reprint DONALD DUCK # 98, released in September, 1964.

Let’s pick up the words of one of Donald’s nephews, as he interprets some stone markings of a native culture that has captured their (momentarily unlucky) cousin Gladstone Gander:

Their picture writing says that he is BRU, their Spirit of Deeds! He flew down with those strange wings long ago and captured CHU, their God of Good Eating”!

Let’s set aside any thoughts of political correctness for the moment, as we’re discussing a work of mid-fifties fiction, and consider that often the key to correct spelling, recitation, or the like is in having a good mnemonic.

In a revelation you’ll find only here, folks, Carl Barks’ spirit “BRU” was my key to the correct spelling of “FeBRUary”… and remains so to this day, as I found myself employing that very device as I typed out the word “February” during the course of my workday!

Yes, as a longtime reader and fan – and now as a part-time freelance comics professional – I have much to thank Carl Barks for. Correctly spelling the word “February” is just one more thing!

PS: I’ve just turned in a dialogue script to a lengthy sequel / tribute to one of Carl Barks’ most famous Donald Duck adventures. (More on this as it becomes official.) The fact that I can even write this sentence is “just one more thing I can thank Carl Barks for”. I hope I’ve done him proud.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

DVD Review: The Petrified Forest (1936)

The Petrified Forest (1936)

(Released: 2005 by Warner Home Video)
Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

This is Duke Mantee, the world famous killer, an’ he’s hungry!” – and, with this line, a new screen icon was introduced: The great Humphrey Bogart!

Adapted from a successful Broadway play by Robert Sherwood, “The Petrified Forest” makes one heck of a wonderful and suspenseful film as well.

Bette Davis is “Gabrielle Maple” forlorn, frustrated waitress at a “Last Chance Café and Gas Station” in the middle of a desert nowhere. She dutifully toils for her father and grandfather – and fends off the advances of gas pump-jockey and former football star “Boze Hertzlinger” (Dick Foran). Dad is a would-be vigilante, and gramps was quite possibly the template for the “whopper-storytelling gregarious old man” character type.

One-by-one, visitors find their way to the café: Disaffected author and intellectual “Alan Squier” memorably played by Leslie Howard, the wealthy travelers Mr. and Mrs. Chisolm and their chauffeur, and the killer Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart in his breakout role!) and his gang.

A fierce sandstorm hits, trapping all inside the little café, providing the tension that unfolds for the rest of the film. The romantic tensions for Davis, Howard, and Foran aside, the film plays not unlike Bogart’s later “Key Largo(See that review HERE!), except there Bogie was the hero. Howard and Bogart reprise their Broadway roles.

No further spoilers, but this is THE film that launched Humphrey Bogart’s career – and it is a great, melodramatic tension-packed drama.

Three unusual items of note:
The film begins with the Warner Bros. Shield catapulting to the forefront of the screen, just as it does at the start of Warner’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. The subsequent “Bullets or Ballots” (starring Edward G, Robinson and Bogart) opens in similar fashion. This would indicate that Warner FILMS opened similarly to their cartoons – at least during this period of the 1930s.

Fans of the modern television series HEROES, will note that Young Bogart, as Duke Mantee, bears a remarkable resemblance to Zachary Quinto’s character of “SYLAR”, the series’ main villain. Quinto, who is also known for his reimagining of the character of SPOCK in the J.J. Abrams film version of STAR TREK, might be concerned that he may, one day, end up looking like “Captain Queeg” of “The Caine Mutiny”!

The actual “Petrified Forest” is not seen in the film, outside of an early stock shot.

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


Can’t really find any “CONs” to list. So, let’s move on to…

The Film: Magnificent drama! Howard, Davis, and Bogart are outstanding!

The Cast:
Bette Davis as “Gabrielle Maple”.
Leslie Howard as “Alan Squier”.
Humphrey Bogart as “Duke Mantee”.
Dick Foran as “Boze Hertzlinger”.
Charley Grapewin as the great “Gramp Maple”.

Extra Features:

Theatrical Trailer for “The Petrified Forest”

By now, you all know how much I love theatrical trailers of this vintage! Especially when foot-high hyperbole like THIS explodes across the screen:





(…What they fail to say is that “Duke Mantee” probably supplied the “hits”!)
Oddly, Leslie Howard and Bette Davis are seen initially in “negative (reverse) image”, reverting to normal image once their hype is displayed on the screen!

Commentary Track by Bogart biographer Eric Lax. Nobody does a Bogart commentary like Eric Lax. His work should be a REQUIRED feature for every Humphrey Bogart film. Lax supplies a wealth of information on the actors, the genesis of the film, studio politics, etc. A Lax-listening is always time well spent.

Warner Night at the Movies. Not so long ago, when Warner was the BEST DVD PRODUCER of them all, it offered the outstanding “Warner Night at the Movies” with select DVD packages. I couldn’t be more pleased, when I uncover one of these gems!

Warner expertly reconstructs the movie-going experience of the day as a viewing option for “The Petrified Forest”. The film may be viewed as part of the entire program, on its own, or the viewer may pick and choose among the included items. There is also an optional introduction to the program by film historian Leonard Maltin, offering welcome background and perspective to those (like me) who have never experienced such a grand entertainment experience. The program consists of:

· A theatrical trailer for the Edward G. Robinson /Humphrey Bogart film “Bullets or Ballots”.

· A Newsreel, reporting the abdication of the Duke of Windsor, and election of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

· “Vitaphone Presents: Rhythmitis” (Runs 19:34), a musical comedy short – starring the ever-popular Hal LeRoy and Toby Wing. A doctor invents “tap-dancing pills” and a producer applies them to a Vaudeville show. Typical of this short’s sensibilities of humor is the following:

Our heroine reads a telegram:

Have great news for you (Stop).” She pauses.

Well, why don’t you go on?”

Oh, no… It said STOP!”

There’s also a big cheat-ending, but who cares! It’s all in 1930s fun!

· “The Coo-Coo Nut Grove”, a cartoon directed by I. (Friz) Freleng. This is the only COLOR element in the whole set, and is one of those “celebrity caricature” cartoons that Warner Bros. specialized in. The issue being that, while certain persons being satirized are “evergreen icons”, too many others have been lost to entertainment history. Those I could identify were W.C. Fields, Katherine Hepburn, Johnny Weismuller, Groucho and Harpo Marx, Mae West, Laurel and Hardy, Clark Gable, Edward G. Robinson, and George Raft.

Indeed, if any cartoon needed it’s own commentary track, it would be one of these. Oddly, some of the celebrity caricatures are depicted as “humans”, while others are depicted as “funny animals and birds”.

· The film itself. One hour and 22 minutes of gripping entertainment! What an experience a 1930s “night at the movies” must have been!

“The Petrified Forest: Menace in the Desert” (Runs 15:47).

An informative “Making Of” documentary, that rightly describes the film as “The turning point in Humphrey Bogart’s career”. Other informational highlights include:

· Bogart drew on real-life gangster John Dillinger as inspiration.

· Warner Bros. wanted Edward G. Robinson for the part of “Duke Mantee”, but Leslie Howard insisted on his Broadway co-star Humphrey Bogart, thus changing the course of Bogart’s career – and a good chunk of film history!

· Warner Bros. filmed an “alternate happy ending” for this film, which tested badly, and was not used. Though, in keeping with the production codes, Duke Mantee is brought to justice off camera.

Bogart biographer Eric Lax and film historian Dr. Drew Casper (both veterans of other commentaries and features) are among the participants.

Radio broadcast adaptation: January 07, 1940: An audio adaptation of “The Petrified Forest”, with Humphrey Bogart reprising his role.

“The Petrified Forest” as noted earlier, is the breakout film for the legendary Humphrey Bogart. (…Have we said that enough?) It is also a great film in its own right.

The DVD Extra Features are extraordinary, with “Warner Night at the Movies” really making the package an experience to remember!

It is recommended for fans of Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, and enthusiasts of the period in general!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Thanks… I Think!

Friends, I’m here to tell you that being a freelance writer of comic-book dialogue isn’t all fame, fortune, and fun.

You don’t get invited to the best parties… or, even the worst. No groupies… though, considering it's comic books and not sports or music, that COULD be a good thing!

And, no matter how much you may contribute to the success of a story, recognition by the masses is never assured.

Here’s a review of UNCLE SCROOGE # 397 (page-down to find it) that credits the original writers of the story for the specifics that I added to the dialogue. …At least the reviewer liked the stuff I added.

Such is dialoguing life!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Realizations: The (Relative) Importance of Kids’ Comics!

As our last two posts dealt with FAMILY GUY and SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, let’s combine the two by asking the question…

Name an item of merchandise not bearing SpongeBob’s image?

Hmmm… It’s not Band-Aids. It’s not canned pasta. It’s not snack crackers. It’s not shampoo. It’s not a whole lotta things!

But a good answer might be COMIC BOOKS!

While not nearly as relentlessly merchandised as SpongeBob, one could say the same about FAMILY GUY.

By my unofficial count, FAMILY GUY had a three-issue mini series, and SpongeBob never had an officially licensed comic book bearing his name at all.

Contrast this with THE SIMPSONS, for whom an entire comic book publishing ENTITY was created!

The only conclusion I can draw – and it is nothing more than that… a CONCLUSION on my part – is that SIMPSONS creator Matt Groening (like myself) grew up in (…and had his sensibilities affected by) a time during which kids’ comic books were a significant form of mass entertainment. And, perhaps FAMILY GUY creator Seth MacFarlane and SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS creator Stephen Hillenburg did not.

MacFarlane freely confesses to love the Eighties; in the same way I love the Sixties. Presumably, he was of “that magical age when all is wonder” during the Eighties, as I was in the Sixties.

Not so coincidently, the Eighties was the decade where most “kids’ comics” died. Marvel and DC reinvigorated themselves from the doldrums of the Seventies with “Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars” and “DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths” respectively – and this spread throughout their entire lines, buoying them through the onset of the 21st Century.

An explosion of “Independent Comics” also occurs at the time but, alas (save for the classic Disney revivals of Gladstone Series I in 1986), kids’ comics as a whole were dead.

Therefore, again my opinion, comic books were not important enough for Seth MacFarlane to “fall in love with” – and become important enough to become a standard merchandising operation for FAMILY GUY. I know nothing about Stephen Hillenburg, but it would not surprise me to find a similar situation in his case as well.

Matt Groening, like me, DID “fall in love with” the comic book. I’ve been side-to-side with him at San Diego, as he dug through long boxes like a regular fan. And that’s why I believe there are plenty of SIMPSONS COMICS – and none for FAMILY GUY and SPONGEBOB.

What say you?