Friday, May 09, 2014

Today's Best Picture Ever: Elvis!

Pop Culture Roundup: Adam West! Al Feldstein! Steve Ditko! Dick Ayers! Bill Finger! Brian Eno! Monty Python! Weird LPs!

The original TV Batman, Adam West, pens a column for the Hollywood Reporter about his days on the cult series. His "3 Bs" could very well be the theme of this blog most days...
As a kid on a farm near Walla Walla, Wash., I played Batman. You may have done the same. Little did I know that, 30 years later, I would be labeled the "Billion Dollar Batman" -- the one who kicked off the entire modern franchise. And that, in the '60s, there would be the three Bs: Bond, Batman and The Beatles.
Diversions of the Groovy Kind digs some 1970s Hulk splash pages illustrated by Happy Herb Trimpe!


Not only did he edit Mad for decades, the late Al Feldstein also served as a model for many of the magazine's parody ads.


See all 20 pages of Steve Ditko's original art for Amazing Spider-Man #20!


Comics artists and inker Dick Ayer, vital to putting the finishing touch on countless Marvel Comics of the 1960s and 70s, passed away earlier this week at age 90. Comics historians Craig Yoe and Steve Thompson provide a nice remembrance here.


Athena Finger, granddaughter of Batman co-creator (with artist Bob Kane) Bill Finger, said DC Comics still isn't giving her grandfather the credit he deserves.
75 years of Batman! No one could have predicted the longevity and the continued relevance of this comic book hero that has become a cultural icon when my grandfather, Bill Finger, collaborated with Bob Kane back in 1939.  
My grandfather has never been properly credited as the co-creator of Batman although was an open secret in the comic book industry and is widely known now.  It is now my time to come out of the shadows and speak up and end 75 years of exploitation of my grandfather, whose biggest flaw was his inability to defend his extraordinary talent.  Due to what I feel is continued mistreatment of a true artist, I am currently exploring our rights and considering how best to establish the recognition that my grandfather deserves.”
In his autobiography, Bob Kane acknowledged, “Now that my long-time friend and collaborator is gone, I must admit that Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved. He was an unsung hero.” Regarding the issue of giving Finger official credit, Kane specifically said, “I often tell my wife, if I could go back fifteen years, before he died, I’d like to say, ‘I’ll put your name on it now. You deserve it.’
This fall, the Warner Bros. television series GOTHAM will feature many Bill Finger creations, including the city itself. Will the series that carries the name he gave to Batman’s city credit him in any way?

Hear Brian Eno and Karl Hyde peform music from their new LP on BBC Radio 6.


Monty Python is releasing the previously unheard "The Lousy Song," featuring the troupe's late member Graham Chapman. The tune will appear on a reissue of the Monty Python Sings compilation.  Monty Python's Total Rubbish, a box set of the group's complete audio recordings, is due out on CD and vinyl this summer as a tie-in to the reunited Pythons' upcoming live stage gigs in London.


Mojo mag counts down its 50 Weirdest Albums Ever. I only own 15 of them!

Fab Friday: Vintage Beatles concert poster

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Pop Artifacts: Vintage comic strip character rings!

Today's Best Picture Ever: Donovan!

Upcoming comics for July 2015: Captain America Society of Serpents Epic Collection! Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks 8! Ms. Marvel Masterworks 1! Flash Omnibus! Graveyard Book graphic novel! More!

Here's a look at notable collected editions for July. Click the links to order discounted items from Amazon.

Volume #12 in the Captain America Epic Collections


Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes? Prepare for an ophidian infestation as the sinister Sidewinder assembles a slithering squadron of super villains for sale, under the sensational sobriquet of the Serpent Society! But the Sentinel of Liberty must face this new threat alone, after his partner Nomad's very sense of self is called into question during a life-changing encounter with the maniacal Madcap! The identity crisis continues when Hawkeye wields Cap's shield, the Beyonder takes his face, and Steve Rogers dons the red, white and blue of...Captain Britain?! The armored Armadillo, the Batroc Brigade and the fundamentalist Flag-Smasher all await, while Steve's personal life suffers its own share of turmoil. But he's about to find his true artistic calling -- in the hallowed halls of Marvel Comics!

Collecting CAPTAIN AMERICA (1968) #302-317 and material from MARVEL FANFARE (1982) #18. 432 PGS

Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 8

It's time for another round of web-slinging wonderment from two of the men who put the "master" in Masterworks -- Stan Lee and John Romita Sr.! Their classic "Saga of the Stone Tablet" kicks off with the Kingpin's quest to decipher an ancient clay tablet whose secrets promise great power. But Spidey soon gets caught in the mix and finds himself branded Public Enemy No. 1! With the Kingpin on one side and J. Jonah Jameson on the other, turning up the heat in the Daily Bugle, things go from bad to horrible when the mob gets involved. It's a Peter Parker pressure cooker! Also featuring battles with Quicksilver, the Shocker and the Lizard, along with a rare Stan Lee/Ross Andru Spidey story from MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #14!

Collecting AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1963) #68-77 and MARVEL SUPER-HEROES (1967) #14. 248 PGS.

Marvel Masterworks: Ms. Marvel Volume 1

The year was 1977, and Marvel was set to debut its latest and greatest new super heroine. NASA Security Chief Carol Danvers' life had long been intertwined with the alien Kree's interventions on Earth. But now it was time for this new woman in a new era to take on a new persona all her own: Ms. Marvel! As editor of Woman magazine, Danvers must contend with the Marvel Universe's biggest blowhard, J. Jonah Jameson, while discovering her identity and origins as a super hero. Chris Claremont, continuing the series begun by Gerry Conway, brings to bear all the craft and character development of his renowned X-MEN run -- while Jim Mooney, John Buscema and Joe Sinnott supply some of the most stunning art of the era!

sCollecting MS. MARVEL (1977) #1-14. 272 PGS

The Flash Omnibus Vol. 1

On sale SEPTEMBER 24 * 864 pg.

This massive title collects the earliest Silver Age adventures of The Flash, including the origin of the Scarlet Speedster, the first appearances of his sidekick, Kid Flash, fellow detective The Elongated Man, plus his battles against the Trickster, the Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, Mr. Element, Reverse Flash, Captain Boomerang, Captain Cold and Gorilla Grodd.

Collects SHOWCASE #4, 8, 13 and 14 and THE FLASH #105-132.

Showcase Presents: Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew

On sale AUGUST 27 * 672 pg,

At last, these pun-filled tails - sorry, tales - from NEW TEEN TITANS #16, CAPTAIN CARROT AND HIS AMAZING ZOO CREW #1-20 and THE OZ-WONDERLAND #1-3 are collected in one overstuffed volume!

Alley Oop: The Complete Sundays Volume 2
V. T. Hamlin (W/A/Cover)

On sale Sept 3, 128 pages

Presenting the second in a series that collects, in chronological order, all the full color Sunday pages of the classic newspaper strip! Go back in time to the prehistoric kingdom of Moo, and follow the strange, hilarious and outlandish Stone Age antics of V. T. Hamlin's intrepid caveman, Alley Oop! This oversized volume collects every Alley Oop Sunday strip from 1936 through 1938!

Ripley's Believe It or Not!: The Original Classic Cartoons Volume 1
Robert Ripley (w & a & c)

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditoriums are among the most popular attractions worldwide, yet most people don't know that it all started with a daily cartoon drawn by one man-Robert Ripley. Originally a sports cartoonist, Ripley developed Believe It or Not! in the 1920s. By the end of the decade, the series had become a phenomenal hit. In an era when few people traveled outside their own hometown, let alone out of the country, Ripley became a globetrotter, seeking stories of bizarre and unusual proportion to put in his internationally known feature. The cartoons were adapted into radio and television programs, and helped make Ripley the highest paid cartoonist in the world. This series begins a chronological reprinting of Ripley's famous daily cartoons in hardcover collections, reminding us that first and foremost Robert Ripley-explorer, radio, movie and television personality, entrepreneur, and museum impresario-was an astounding artist-cartoonist. This first volume reprises cartoons from 1929 and 1930, when Ripley's fame raised him from relative obscurity to international celebrity. Includes bonus and background material from Ripley's impressive archives.

328 pages

Rocky & Bullwinkle Classics Volume 2: Vacational Therapy
Al Kilgore (w & a & c)

The earliest comic book adventures of America's favorite moose and squirrel are collected here in Rocky & Bullwinkle Classics. Presenting re-mastered stories from Gold Key comics #5-8, enjoy classic moose-adventures like "Underwater Moose," "Petty Piracy," "Vacational Therapy," "Muscle Bound Moose," "Roll Call," "Dud Ringer," and many more.

Barnaby Volume Two
(W/A) Crockett Johnson

The second in a five-volume series collecting Crockett Johnson's (Harold And The Purple Crayon) comic strip masterpiece features the years 1944-1945. In this volume, Barnaby and his Fairy Godfather, J.J. O'Malley, take a trip to D.C. to serve in Congress, and Launcelot McSnoyd, the invisible leprechaun is introduced. Also, O'Malley enlists Barnaby on seaside treasure hunt. Plus Ermine hunters, soap salesmen and more!

Foreword by Jules Feiffer and designed by Dan Clowes.

Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: "The Son of the Sun" - Don Rosa Library
(W/A) Don Rosa

We're proud to present our first complete, chronological book of Duck adventures by contemporary fan favorite Don Rosa. Famed for his prize-winning "Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck," Rosa wrote and drew a whopping two decades' worth of ripping Scrooge and Donald yarns! Presented with sparkling color and "extras," these Duckburg epics are getting a definitive North American edition for the very first time -- at a price even Scrooge would consider a bargain! 

The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel: Volume 1
(W) Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell (A) P. Craig Russell & Various (CA) P. Craig Russell

"There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." Nobody Owens, known as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a graveyard, being raised by ghosts, with a guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead. There are adventures in the graveyard for a boy -- an ancient Indigo Man, a gateway to the abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible Sleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, he will be in danger from the man Jack -- who has already killed Bod's family. Neil Gaiman's Newbery Medal-winning The Graveyard Book reaches new heights in this glorious adaptation by P. Craig Russell.

Each chapter is illustrated by a different luminary from the comic book world, including Kevin Nowlan, P. Craig Russell, Tony Harris, Scott Hampton, Galen Showman, Jill Thompson, and Stephen B. Scott, to create an imaginatively diverse and yet cohesive interpretation of Neil Gaiman's luminous novel.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Pop Artifacts: Vintage comic character buttons!

Today's Best Picture Ever: Sammy Davis Jr. and Muhammad Ali!

Pop Stuff: "Amazing Spider-Man 2" and "20 Feet from Stardom" reviewed!

What I'm reading, watching, hearing, etc.

Amazing Spider-Man 2

I doubt anyone here needs them but, SPOILERS.

Ok, then. As anyone with a passing knowledge of Spider-Man comic book continuity over the past 40 years knows, the story of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy doesn't end well, and in this movie, we witness Gwen's tragic death at the hands of the Green Goblin.

Things, of course, don't transpire exactly as they did in Gerry Conway's groundbreaking comic book script all those years ago, but the gist is the same. Gwen dies -- in this telling, quite heroically -- and it's a huge downer. Not to mention a risky way to end a film. I credit the filmmakers for daring not the change things and give us a happy ending.

It's the chemistry and superb acting of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone that makes Gwen's death so gripping and touching. Stone, especially, is such a likeable and vibrant screen presence that it makes you genuinely sad we won't be seeing her as Gwen again.

It occurred to me that this is one of the few, and probably most significant, times we've seen human-level loss in a superhero genre film. The closest equivalent is probably the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents in the Batman films, or the death of Phoenix in the X-Men movies -- but she never stays dead, so that doesn't really count.

All of us have experienced the loss of a loved one, and the pain and sadness Peter Parker feels here is very real considering it occurs in a genre that still, for the most part, traffics in cardboard characters and fantastical situations. Although, there's plenty of all that, here, too.

While the Peter-Gwen story is transfixing and full of heart, the villains of the piece all get short shrift. The story of Jamie Foxx as Electro, a Spidey-obsessed nerd who accidentally gains super powers, is dealt with in a campy, supposed-to-be funny fashion that doesn't really resonate. It comes across like a throwback, in a bad way, to one of the 1980s Batman films. Besides which, Electro is too grade B to be a big screen super-villain.

Meanwhile, Dane DaHaan as Harry Osborn doesn't get enough character development and screen time for us to really get to know and hate him.

The scenes in which we're supposed to gain an understanding of Peter and Harry's friendship are barely scripted, leaving the two talented actors stranded -- all they can do to convey a history and warmth between these two characters is slap one another on the back and chuckle while giving one another crap like a couple of frat bros. It's all very undercooked.

So, an uneven, though moving,  second entry in the current Spider saga that sets things up for what is likely to be an epic Spidey-Goblin showdown in number 3. The Vulture and Doc Ock may turn up, too.


20 Feet from Stardom

Now playing on Netflix, pop and soul fans will enjoy this examination of the overlooked, but vital, backline: the background singers who helped sweeten and bolster the vocals of countless chart hits.

As is pointed out in the film, many of us, when singing along to a familiar hit, tend to sing the backup parts, which shows how memorable and important these singers are. Yet, not many of us could attach faces and names to these voices.

It's an anonymous and generally thankless job, we learn. And for many of these singers, it's even worse than that. Darlene Love, voice of the Phil Spector-produced classic "He's a Rebel," which was credited to the Crystals, is offered up as a prime example.

Her vocal trio, the Blossoms, sang backup on countless hits by Elvis, Sam Cooke, Sonny and Cher, and a whole Top 100 more. Yet, Spector didn't credit her for much of her lead vocal work, while also keeping her under contract and preventing her from branching out. A singer who could've, should've been a solo star, was kept under wraps for years.

David Letterman should be commended for helping to redress some of the injustice, having invited Love on his show to sing her hit "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" each holiday season since 1986.

We also hear much from Merry Clayton, who sang the unforgettable vocal opposite Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," and who also should've had great solo success, as well as Lisa Fisher, a more recent case of the same story: great singer, troubled solo career.

There's not a ton of analysis of why backup vocals are so important, and what makes the most successful examples so memorable -- that would've been nice. But the documentary humanizes these folks and lets us see their faces and hear their stories, as well as hear their voices and see them in action in a wealth of vintage clips.  Maybe watching this film and remembering these singers the next time their voices turn up of the radio is the best way we can provide them with at least some of the recognition they deserve.