Category: Reviews

REVIEW: Genesis II/Planet Earth

REVIEW: Genesis II/Planet Earth

Gene Roddenberry left Star Trek’s third season to write a Tarzan film that never got produced, setting a tone for the next decade of his career. He produced the wretched Pretty Maids all in a Row and slunk back to television, first with the animated Trek and then a deal with Warner Bros that would see him produce the underrated Questor and Spectre along with a new science fiction film, seemingly designed to distance himself from the optimistic SF albatross around his neck.

He cut a deal with CBS in 1972 to produce a 90-minute film, Genesis II designed to be a pilot for a potential series. He quickly reunited with many of the behind-the-scenes Trek team and got to work, creating a dystopia that began in 1979. We open in 2133 as Earth is recovering from nuclear war and mankind has been dramatically reduced in number. Apparently, the survivors didn’t learn any lessons as the two sides battle, with dollops of slavery, racism, and gender inequality still on display.

“My name is Dylan Hunt. My story begins the day on which I died.”  A NASA scientist, Hunt (Alex Cord) slept through the worst and is awoken to find a world out of control. Using his perspective, he finds like-minded allies forming a rebellious group determined to repair and ultimately save mankind.

As a concept, it’s not bad. The execution, from Samuel A. Peebles’ script on down, is where the pilot film gets into trouble. Peebles’ writing was stiff, and whatever rewriting Roddenberry did, didn’t help. The characters are types, never fully fleshed out, and Cord’s heroic role is blunted by his cold, aloof performance (making him better suited as Airwolf’s Archangel a few years later).

The most interesting performer here is actually Mariette Hartley, who isn’t wearing much (thank you, William Ware Theiss), allowing us to see her two navels (long story), but she has charisma and presence, unlike just about everyone else surrounding her.

Set against an America that was still arguing over Vietnam, a public just waking up to the corruption in the White House, and where a generation gap made communication nearly impossible, the themes are bluntly handled and where Trek offered people hope, this showed that nothing was going to change. Despite reasonable ratings during two airings, the network dithered over greenlighting the series. Ultimately, they gave the one SF slot on the schedule (talk about your quota systems) to a weekly version of Planet of the Apes.

ABC was waiting in the wings, wanting the show, but like Trek got a second pilot order with the new network insisting on major casting revisions. Gone was Cord, and in came journeyman action actor John Saxon, who had an appeal of his own and was a popular name thanks to Enter the Dragon. Also gone was Hartley in favor of Diana Muldaur, who was game but unconvincing in her part. The sole holdover was Ted Cassidy, but he didn’t have enough to do.

Rather than use the current events of the day as a springboard, Roddenberry stuck to themes that didn’t translate well nor were they well-handled in the rewrite, this time from Roddenberry and relatively new to TV writing Juanita Bartlett (who acquitted herself later on series like The Rockford Files and The Greatest American Hero.)

Joining the reimagined show was producer Robert Justman, fresh off the beleaguered Search, and he wrangled the production into a 90-minute production that never quite gelled. Years later, he admitted it wasn’t a very good pilot, which explains why ABC didn’t go to series.

Warner Archive remastered these two telefilms and they look pretty darn good. They are certainly a cultural curiosity, worth watching if you are a devotee of Roddenberry. They’re not very good as stories or pilots, the lofty ideas never properly translating to the screen. (It should be noted that after Roddenberry left, the studio tried one more time with Strange New World which isn’t here and that’s fine.) There are no extras but having these two on one-disc is a nice keepsake for collectors.

Berlin, Book Three: City of Light by Jason Lutes

I keep hitting reading roadblocks, no matter what I do. I used to have a life with a lot of dedicated time for reading and eyes that could stare at pages of text for hours on end, but the past decade has repeatedly broken all of my reading mechanisms, culminating in the minor apocalypse of the past two years. I went from reading 433 books in the Book-A-Day year of 2018 to, um, 43 the year afterward. And 2020 could possibly be even worse.

On top of that, I keep finding new things to stymie me. For example, who would predict that a graphic novel about Berlin sliding into fascism, intolerance, and sectarian violence in the early ’30s would be so resonant, and unpleasant, in 2020?

I’m sure Jason Lutes, planning out this giant project back in 1996, would have expected and wanted modern history to go differently, but, as it is, Berlin Book Three: City of Light  is immediately relevant to 2020 in ways that are deeply dispiriting and depressing.

Worse for me, the fact that this is the third of three books collecting a story that has been running for over twenty years — and the fact that Lutes uses a naturalistic style and doesn’t go out of his way to introduce characters that I last saw in a book I read in 2008 (see my review on ComicMix) — means that I only have a vague sense of who these people are and what they’re doing. It’s a couple of years later in their own lives as well, since Light is set in 1933 and Smoke was mostly set in 1930.

So I respected City of Light and I appreciated City of Light but I had the damndest time getting myself to read City of Light. I don’t want to see characters I like struggling as their society plunges into a totalitarian hellhole. (If I want that, I can just read Twitter.)

And let me say explicitly what I alluded to in my review of City of Smoke and what Lutes never says, but hangs ominously over the whole enterprise: every character we like in Berlin is probably doomed. They will all be killed by the Nazis, one way or another, sooner or later.

That’s what Berlin is about. How fascism smashes norms, destroys lives, agitates its followers and gets them to do the unspeakable in the name of blood and country. It’s a powerful message, especially in 2020, but I don’t want to read about it right now.

The way to read Berlin  now is to get the big single-volume edition and run right through it — that will solve my problems of character identification. The other problems, I hope, will start to be solved on November 3rd, and not by a book.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Manfried Saves the Day by Caitlin Major & Kelly Bastow

OK, first of all I probably should say that I’m not a “cat person.” There is one in my house, and I guess I tolerate cats more than I would dogs (slobbery little monsters), but I’m not all that fond of dumb animals in general.

So I am in retrospect not the right reader for Manfried Saves the Day , a graphic novel by Caitlin Major (writer and colorist, copyright owner) and Kelly Bastow (artist) about a world where…(breathless) Get this! Anthropomorphic cats have a whole society just like our own! And they keep cute little naked “men” as pets! “Men” are just like cats! (Except they only come in one gender, and that’s the gender that the creators are not, curiously.)

This is a sequel to Manfried the Man, which I have not read. The general rule is that the first book is better, and I have no reason to doubt that would be the case here, too. Maybe that book was more random-gag focused, or had a less cliched story. Anyway, if you like the idea of talking cats keeping tiny nonverbal humans as pets, try the first book.

Saves the Day has a plot so cliched that I kept expecting it to be subverted — literally, every page I was thinking up other ways for it to go, and anticipating which of the twists Major would decide to take — but I’m here to tell you that it ends up going exactly the way it looks like it will, roaring straight through all of the signposted events like a movie for particularly dull children before ending in a way Scooby-Doo would have sent back to the drawing board for a touch more nuance.

You see, there is a man shelter. And there is a mean landlord who wants to get rid of the man shelter to do mean-landlord things to it. And there is our hero, Steve, who has a demanding job and a girlfriend who is somehow even more demanding in ways that the creators don’t seem to realize are not fair at all to Steve. That girlfriend, Henrietta, runs the man shelter, and is Ahab-level obsessive about it, though again Major is on Henrietta’s side. And, inevitably, the only way to save the man shelter will be to win the annual Man Show, against (obviously) the highly-trained men of the mean landlord, who additionally will cheat in really obvious ways.

Can the scruffy underdogs beat the privileged jerks? [1] What do you think?

Since the actual plot of Saves the Day is annoying, predictable in its every straightforward second, and relies on Henrietta putting pressure on Steve in ways no one should tolerate, any pleasures of this book will rely on how much the reader enjoys seeing a little man-creature doing “adorable” cat behaviors.

See my first paragraph for context.

I did not enjoy this book. I think I only finished it because I did think Major couldn’t possibly be writing the completely straight version of this story (and was wrong about that) and because it’s short with lots of bright pretty pictures on every page. I do not recommend it for anyone with reading tastes anywhere near mine.

[1] ObMeatballsReference: It Just Doesn’t Matter! It Just Doesn’t Matter!

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW: Superman: Man of Tomorrow

REVIEW: Superman: Man of Tomorrow

Every reboot of Superman tries something different, striving to find a fresh approach to the material, and Superman: Man of Tomorrow is no different. This direct-to-video release, out now from Warner Home Entertainment, is intended as the opening chapter in a new continuity, a Rebirth, as it were, of the DC Animated Universe.

Other than the destruction of Krypton, baby Kal-El being raised by the Kents, and Clark (Darren Criss) arriving gin Metropolis as an adult, everything else is a modern take. Clark arrives as an intern with Lois Lane (Alexandra Daddario) just a grad student making her bones at the paper. Perry White (Piotr Michael) is there in all his bluster with Ron Troupe (Eugene Byrd) there for diversity and not a sign of Jimmy Olsen, Steve Lombard, or Cat Grant.

The story suggests Earth is aware of alien life and S.T.A.R. Labs, now owned by Lex Luthor (Zachary Quinto), is shown as being designed to hold and analyze extraterrestrials but it’s a mere breadcrumb for the future and is never addressed here. Instead, the focus is on Clark’s debut as the aviator-goggled flying man, doing good deeds, and starting to get noticed.

When a rocket prototype fails, he exposes himself to save humanity, and now everyone wants to know who he is. But, before much can be done about this, Lobo arrives. Now, the entire story grinds to halt as he announces he’s been hired to kill Kal-El, the sole survivor of Krypton. They fight, they talk, they battle, they partner. And at no point does anyone ask, “Who hired you? Why did they hire you? How’d you know he was on Earth?” The lack of curiosity, especially when major members of the cast are journalists is appalling.

Superman is aided by the Martian Manhunter (Ike Amadi), who has been badly shadowing our hero and finally reveals himself and has to deal with the consequences.

But, Lobo’s (Ryan Hurst) arrival accidentally turns Rudy Jones (Brett Dalton) into the Parasite, an entirely new origin for the villain., and making him a far more tragic, and deadly, figure. His threat prompts Superman to turn to Lex Luthor for help, which reveals Lex’s sinister side. But, it’s Superman’s humanity that shines through in the climax, showing why he is a hero and worth looking up to.

The story moves along briskly, with the action and destruction doled out every few minutes, with pauses to visit Smallville, including a touching scene with Martha (Bellamy Young) handing the familiar red and blue suit to her son. The budding relationships between Lois and Clark and Lois and Superman also are nicely handled.

Less well handled is the J’Onn J’Onzz and Kal-El scenes, which go for pathos but feels flat. That the story features three supposedly sole survivors of their races is a nice touch.

Visually, there’s a simplicity to the designs of the characters, set against a futuristic city that can be envisioned as city of tomorrow, a fitting home for our hero. Some of the Krypton designs owes much to the Richard Donner films while Lobo is clearly inspired by Simon Bisley interpretation of the character.

The new voice cast is fine, if unexceptional, a freshening without being radical with Darren Criss carrying much of the load.

Overall, as reboots go, this isn’t a bad one, with plenty of room to explore, especially with Batman already operating in Gotham, and alien life visiting Earth with increasing regularity. We’ll see what happens in the next installment, coming no doubt in 2021.

The movie is available in all the usual formats including the 4K Digital HD, Blu-ray, and Digital HD Code combo pack. In both 2160 and 1080 scans, the visuals are crisp and strong, retaining all the colors. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is serviceable if unspectacular, which it doesn’t really need to be.

The Special Features are the standard assortment starting with Lobo: Natural Force of Chaos (10:23) where Screenwriter Tim Sheridan, artists Jon Bogdanove and Bernard Chang, DC Daily host Hector Navarro, and voice actor Ryan Hurst very briefly trace Lobo’s humble origins from a bounty hunter in 1983’s Omega Men to star of his own series and ubiquitous appearances through the 1990s and 2000s.

Martian Manhunter: Lost and Found (8:47) presents a similar assortment of talent talking about the themes of the Martian’s role in comparison with humanity. Lacking is the context of his comic book history.

A Sneak Peek at DC Universe’s Next Animated Movie (11:56) is a stylistically cheesy introduction to   Batman: Soul of the Dragon, an animated homage the era’s kung-fu craze, featuring the Dark Knight along with Richard Dragon, Ben Turner (Bronze Tiger), Lady Shiva, and O-Sensei, who all stared in the Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter title written by the late, great Denny O’Neil.

From the DC Vault offers up Two episodes from Superman: The Animated Series – “The Main Man”, parts 1 and 2, which, of course, guest star Lobo.

Glenn Ganges in: The River at Night by Kevin Huizenga

I always feel compelled to begin by stating for the record that Glenn Ganges is not Kevin Huizenga. Of course, he’s not Ganges the same way Sal Paradise is not Jack Kerouac — the old fictional yes-but-no-but-yes two-step.

Ganges has been a main character in most of Huizenga’s books I’m aware of: Gloriana and The Wild Kingdom  and Curses . No wait. I don’t mean “main.” I mean “viewpoint.”

That may sound like a nitpick. Describing the stories of Kevin Huizenga will lead to a lot of nitpicks, and descriptions of nitpicks, though — it’s inherent in the territory. Glenn Ganges is a man living in a secondary American city (maybe St. Louis, where Huizenga used to live, or Minneapolis, where he does live now), married to Wendy (I can’t find any references online to Huizenga’s personal life, and won’t speculate), and working some kind of tech-adjacent office job (again, I don’t know what Huizenga does to pay his mortgage and put food on the table, though a graphic novel every few years probably isn’t it).

But the reader gets the sense that Ganges is mentally an avatar for Huizenga. Huizenga’s comics are about thoughts more than actions, ruminations more than activity, knowledge more than thrills. It’s not quite true that his comics all take place in Ganges’ head, but that’s not a bad simplification.

The River at Night , similarly, is not the story of one night when Glenn just couldn’t fall asleep. That’s a framework for much of the book, true, but it ranges more widely than that — even leaving out the geological time and personal history and pure formalist cartooning that comes up during that one long, restless night.

A book like this relies heavily on two things: its creator’s visual inventiveness and intellectual curiosity. Huizenga has both in industrial quantities, seemingly inexhaustible supplies of startling imagery and complex thoughts, and he rolls them out in waves throughout River at Night, interspersing formalist comics experiments of two muating forms fighting (or whatever) in a video-game space with flashbacks to mundane life and long scenes of Ganges lying in bed thinking or wandering his house ruminating.

Huizenga’s art is on the cartoony side, with dot eyes and simplified limbs for his people, and he uses a cool night-blue palette for most of this book, with only a few sunset- or sunrise-desaturated pinks at appropriate moments. That visual simplification — or concentration, perhaps — lets him focus on the ideas and their visual representations; he doesn’t need to draw every line in Ganges’s hair when a calendar is exploding into deep time.

There is no real story to The River at Night. I’m not going to tell you “what happens” — that’s not the kind of book this is. It’s a dizzying, mesmerizing, deeply specific meditation on life and time and purpose and meaning. It’s both accessible in a way I didn’t always find Huizenga’s earlier work — leading into the deep thoughts in measured steps, looping in and out of obsessions to illuminate them from multiple angles — and thrilling in its audacious energy. I can’t guarantee it will make you think about things differently…but if a book like River at Night can’t make you think, I don’t know what can.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

DC Fandome Adds Second Day in September

DC Fandome Adds Second Day in September

This just in: DC FanDome — the first-of-its-kind virtual experience for DC superfans globally — became too massive to contain in the four dimensions of only a single day on Earth-Prime! And we realized that not even The Flash could get through the entire 100+ hours of programming in 24 hours. With hours upon hours of content and choices of what to watch and explore, DC fans (including DC’s Jim Lee himself!) clamored for a way to access more of what DC FanDome has to offer. So, in order to super-serve the world’s finest fans, DC FanDome has been transformed into a two-part event: the eight-hour DC FanDome: Hall of Heroes show on Saturday, August 22, followed three weeks later by DC FanDome: Explore the Multiverse, a 24-hour, on-demand experience accessed via the DCFanDome.com program scheduler on Saturday, September 12.

“This is an incredible way to deliver for our fans and offer them twice the DC FanDome experience,” said Jim Lee. “Seeing all the feedback in real-time on social media, we realized that the only way to do ‘Justice’ to DC FanDome was to allow it to evolve and expand into two unique events.”

Completely free to fans worldwide, all DC FanDome content at both events will be presented in nine Earth languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese
and Spanish.

In addition, the DC FanDome creators (no, not Perpetua) have set their fans free to explore both events on mobile devices. Now fully accessible on your phone or tablet as well as laptop or desktop, the DC FanDome experience can teleport with you to whichever dimension you choose to travel! Get ready to vibe!

Here’s the scoop on both events:

On August 22, fans will be transported into the DC FanDome: Hall of Heroes, the epic world designed personally by Jim Lee and featuring special programming, panels, and exclusive reveals
from DC films, TV series, games, comics and more. The supercharged eight-hour show will air three times during a 24-hour period, allowing fans all across the world the chance to experience
DC FanDome: Hall of Heroes in their own universe. The superpowered event will begin at 10:00 am PDT at DCFanDome.com.

On September 12, DC FanDome: Explore the Multiverse will offer DC fans the experience of a lifetime, with full access to more than 100 hours of on-demand content, beginning at 10:00 am
PDT. This is the time for fans to suit up and determine their own adventure, selecting from exclusive panel sessions, screenings, and never-before-seen content from the DC Multiverse of
films, television, comics and games. Fans, your timeline awaits — at your own pace and on your own schedule. Choose your path wisely with the help of the official DC FanDome: Explore the
Multiverse program scheduler found at DCFanDome.com. It doesn’t have the 12th-level intellect of Brainiac, but it will certainly be a great guide to help you explore the Multiverse on September
12!

And it’s not just the adults who get to have all the fun, the adventure is also heating up for young DC Super Hero fans. Launching Saturday, September 12, DC Kids FanDome will offer kids
(and their parents) a break from the seemingly endless “at home” summer with a kid-friendly companion event to DC FanDome, accessed separately at DCKidsFanDome.com. The one-day-only festivities kick off at 10:00 am PDT, and young Super Heroes in training around the world will not want to miss it!

DC FanDome: Hall of Heroes opens its doors on Saturday, August 22, at 10:00 am PDT, with an eight-hour show that will air three times during a 24-hour period.

DC FanDome: Explore the Multiverse will be unleashed on Saturday, September 12, at 10:00 am PDT, with 100+ hours of content available on-demand, to watch on your own schedule, for 24
hours.

DC Kids FanDome also launches on Saturday, September 12, at 10:00, am PDT, with its own kid-friendly companion site at DCKidsFanDome.com, accessible on-demand for 24 hours.

REVIEW: Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons

REVIEW: Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons

REVIEW: Deathstroke: Knights & DragonsIt seems every decade, DC and Marvel each introduce a major threat that captures the readership’s imagination. In the 1980s, for DC that was Deathstroke, a wonderfully complex opponent to the New Teen Titans, reaching a high point with the much-lauded “The Judas Contract” storyline in 1985. In the hands of writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Pérez, he rose head and shoulders above most other super-villains of the day.

Since then, he has been used by virtually every writer, pitting him against most every mask and cape in the DC Universe. He’s successfully crossed over to animation and even live-action television and film. As a result, depending on the creators involved, he remains a fascinating, deadly threat or a run of the mill villain used to merely show up the hero.

The most recent such example is the CW Seed animated miniseries, Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons, which is now out as a feature film from Warner Home Entertainment. Produced by Warner Bros. Animation and Blue Ribbon Content, the story features yet another take on Slade Wilson and the choices he made from soldier to husband to mercenary to contract killer. Thankfully, it is in the hands of J.M. DeMatteis who understands characterization, comics, and has proven rather adept at bringing comics characters to other media.

DeMatteis focused on one of the most interesting aspects of Wilson (Michael Chiklis), that of a married man with a child. Whereas the comics had Wilson as the father of two with Adeline “Addie” Kane Wilson (Sasha Alexander) (and a daughter, Rose, with another woman, alluded to here), here, the focus is just on Joseph (Griffin Puatu) and Wilson keeps his alter ego a secret from his wife, who in the comics knew all about it. Their domestic tranquility, already tense from his frequent business trips, is shattered when the Jackal (Chris Jai Alex) leads a horde of H.I.V.E. agents to kidnap Joseph to force Wilson to do their Queen’s (Faye Mata) bidding.

Along the way, we find many other familiar DC faces such as Bronze Tiger (Delbert Hunt), Jade (Faye Mata), and of course, Lady Shiva (Panta Mosleh). None of whom figured in the original source material so it’s with relief that Wilson’s brother in arms, Wintergreen (Colin Salmon) is present.

The 87-minute compilation is smoothly edited and works better as a whole. Note that this is violent and earns its R rating repeatedly throughout the tale thanks to director Sung Jin Ahn (Niko and the Sword of Light) taking full advantage of his medium.

The single disc comes in a perfectly fine 1080p transfer, supported with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix. This makes for a good viewing experience. The sole special feature is Deathstroke: One-Man Death Machine (13:44), which nicely spotlights his evolution with commentary from Wolfman, Pérez, Chiklis, and Arrow’s Manu Bennett.

REVIEW: His Dark Materials: The Complete First Season

REVIEW: His Dark Materials: The Complete First Season

REVIEW: His Dark Materials: The Complete First SeasonI will admit that I have read only the first volume of Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, The Golden Compass, and I saws New Line’s feature film adaptation. It was an interesting take on the tropes as well as being an allegory about religion in our world. But one book was enough for me.

I thought one adaptation would be enough, too, but the HBO series based on the same material changed my mind. The eight episodes aired earlier this year and the season has been collected on Blu-ray from Warner Home Entertainment.

In this world, everyone’s soul is housed in an animal avatar known as daemons. There exists a faction that wants to separate the human from the soul as part of the Magisterium’s ability to control the population. They like their secrets and politics (as does any totalitarian regime) and the most intriguing notion may be that there exist parallel worlds.

Our focal point into this fascinating world is young Lyra (Dafne Keen, who you may remember from Logan)), who, accompanied by her daemon Pantalaimon (voiced by Kit Connor), goes searching for her best friend, who has been taken. Adventure awaits her, along with becoming an irritant to the Big Bad a.k.a. Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson). Her friend isn’t the only one taken and as she uncovers this secret, she becomes fascinated with something called Dust.

The worldbuilding slowly unfolds, affecting some of the pacing, but once things take off, we race along as the threats and dangers grow. So, too, does Lyra’s posse, including the aeronaut Lee Scorsby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and the gloriously large polar bear king Iofur Raknison (voiced by Peter Serafinowicz).

And while the first season ends, sort of, it does set us up for the approved second season, which has been trimmed to a mere seven episodes. The show is sumptuous to look at and after taking a moment to forget the film incarnations (played by Nicole Kidman and Sam Elliot among others), we grow to like the new interpretations.

The 1080p transfer in 1.78:1 sparkles, capturing the full range of colors and blacks remain deep. It is well accompanied by the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track so viewers are in for a treat. The discs come complete with all the HBO-generated special features including Adapting His Dark Materials (4:00): Building His Dark Materials (6:00), Dressing His Dark Materials (3:00); The Daemons of His Dark Materials (4:00); James McAvoy – Bringing Lord Asriel To Life (3:00); Lin-Manuel Miranda – Bringing Lee Scoresby To Life (2:00); Ruth Wilson – Bringing Mrs. Coulter To Life (3:00);  Dafne Keen – Bringing Lyra Belacqua To Life (4:00); Making His Dark Materials (33:00),   narrated by Clarke Peters.

REVIEW: Wonder Woman The Complete Collection

REVIEW: Wonder Woman The Complete Collection

REVIEW: Wonder Woman The Complete CollectionIn 1974, I was 16 and curious to see ABC try once again with super-heroes. One fine Tuesday night, I sat at and watched Wonder Woman, horrified at the liberties taken in the backdoor pilot. Cathy Lee Crosby didn’t have the looks or the costume and the most interesting thing about this was Ricardo Montalban as the heavy.

The network somehow still saw the potential in the character and commissioned a more faithful pilot, this time with a comics-accurate costume and perfect casting in Lynda Carter. In the hands of former Batman scribe Stanley Ralph Ross, the show felt right. ABC agreed and a series of Wonder Woman shows were filmed, set in World War II.

This was the beginning of the jiggle era of television, as prime time was filled with busty, often braless actors and they pandered to the women’s movement with female-led shows that didn’t fulfill their promise. Led by Charlie’s Angels and Wonder Woman, ABC favored lip-service to genuine characterization and action over good storytelling. As a result, we have a Wonder Woman series that is fondly recalled more for a catchy theme song and pitch-perfect lead than a good show.

I’m reminded by all this through the Wonder Woman The Complete Collection being released tomorrow for the first time on Blu-ray. Across ten discs, we get all sixty episodes along with special features ported over from the previous DVD release. These include pilot commentary from Carter and Executive Producer Douglas S. Cramer, Season Three commentary from Carter and three featurettes: “Revolutionizing a Classic: From Comic Book to Television”, “Wonder Woman: The Ultimate Feminist Icon”; and “Wonder Woman: The Ultimate Feminist Icon”.

Let’s start with the good news. The remastering makes everything bright and shiny. A series that is colorful in terms of look and performance sparkles. If you haven’t watched the show before or want an upgrade, this affordably priced set is a good investment.

Although the series looked more like the comics, and the pilot, set on Paradise Island, looks very much like Harry G. Peter envisioned. Ross should have brought in more of the villains. One of the joys of the Batman show was, of course, the recurring foes. Other than Baroness Paula Von Gunther (Banacek’s Christine Belford), her rogues are absent. Dr. Poison, Dr. Psycho, and others should have been considered.

On the rare instances that the show revisited Paradise Island, it’s interesting to see the variety of actresses to portray Queen Hippolyta (Cloris Leachman, Carolyn Jones, and Beatrice Straight). We also get a very young Debra Winger as Wonder Girl, oddly named Drusilla, and having zero connection to the Teen Titan.

Instead, we remain in Man’s World as Diana Prince and Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner), and company battled the Axis menace wherever it reared its ugly head. They were accompanied by General Blankenship (Richard Eastham) and Corporal Etta Candy WAAC (Beatrice Colen), no longer an overweight sorority girl, because back then, all women had be more average in appearance.

When the series shifted to CBS after one season and set in modern day, it was played far straighter with Waggoner now playing Trevor’s son and no one thought it icky both men romanced the Amazon Princess. Blankenship and Etta were gone, replaced with the colorless Joe Atkinson (Norman Burton).  He was gone after nine episodes and Trevor and Diana got promoted, with Atkinson replaced by Eve (Saundra Sharp) as Steve’s assistant. The international espionage angle made it closer to network’s other dramas, reducing its uniqueness.

Like Batman, the final season was the nadir, with a disco beat added to the theme and the stories getting weaker. It proved to be an anomaly on a network schedule that was heavy with cops and family dramas, no other CBS show was led solely by a woman (apparently only the purview of sitcoms). For comic fans on a lonely Friday night, 1978-79 was terrific with Wonder Woman followed by The Incredible Hulk.

Pay attention to the final three episodes, which was an attempted reboot of sorts, but not good enough, airing months after the season officially ended. The overall tone and approach are a marked improvement.

The series rewatch is fun just to catch the guest stars, young and old, some of whom I haven’t seen on anything in ages. There’s Roy Rogers, Gary Burghoff, Red Buttons, Ed Begley Jr., Ron Ely, Dick Gautier, Batman alum Frank Gorshin and Roddy McDowall, Russell Johnson, Gavin MacLeod, and Eve Plumb and her Brady dad Robert Reed. There’s even Martin Mull as the Pied Piper, although this isn’t the Flash’s opponent.

All three seasons ran at a time when all television was vilified for its glorifying of violence, which meant the super-heroics had to be toned down. Fewer punches and more bending of steel. Coupled with the surface female-empowerment, the show did what it could but failed to rise above its competition.

Still, at a time when no one was trying live-action heroes, this was diverting enough. It unfortunately was also the template for the shows that followed, picking up the title character and ignoring the four-color elements that made them so successful (see CBS’ concurrent Spider-Man).

The show is loved for its unique place in pop culture and this collection is a loving tribute. I just wish it featured the strong hero her creator, William Moulton Marston, envisioned, and the times allowed for far better writing.

Review: The Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta

Review: The Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta

The Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta
By J. David Spurlock
Vanguard Press

Trade HC ISBN13: 9781934331811 Retail $39.95 • 120 pgs
DX LE ISBN13: 9781934331828 Retail $69.95 • 138 pgs plus slipcase

When we were kids in the 70s, my pals and I hung around a great comic shop, Kim’s Collectible Comics & Records.  Owner Kim Draheim loved comics, but he helped expand the horizons of our small worlds – letting us discover wonders beyond the standard Marvel and DC comics that defined our comfort zones. In his shop, we stumbled upon older comics, vinyl records and comic-adjacent artists…like Frank Frazetta. It was all pretty mind-blowing.

We quickly realized there was a time and place for each creator’s talents and gifts.  When one of my gang was searching for a Fantastic Four issue illustrated by Frank Frazetta, we all chuckled. Even back then we knew that Frazetta was beyond all that.

When I took a college-level painting class while still in high school, there came that point to choose one artist for the term paper.  I chose Frank Frazetta. My professor kind of frowned and suggested I instead research and write about Salvador Dali.  I told my professor that Dali was a fine artist…but in my mind, Dali was no Frazetta.

If Spurlock was in my class, maybe he would have said the same thing.

Even back then I would have been excited by the new book, The Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta. This is another gem from J. David Spurlock’s Vanguard Publishing. It’s a thoughtful, loving celebration of a genre master that is both a first-class introduction to Frazetta and a long-awaited treat to every reader/fan/collector that has already has an appreciation for Frazetta.

From the first page, Spurlock takes the reader on a journey that includes “greatest hits” and “lost treasures”.

Well-loved paintings fill the pages – but often with a twist. Either there’s additional materials or alternate versions included. Spurlock includes great stories that pull back the curtain for us, illuminating the process behind Frazetta’s artistry.

I really enjoyed the many surprises. There’s Frazetta barbarian art from before Conan. There is a 60s spy movie poster.  I was especially surprised to learn that in one case, when Frazetta got an original painting back, he made some changes.  And although I’d seen the Luana piece many times, but I didn’t realize that there was more to it.It’s no secret that Frazetta inspired so many other creators. But I didn’t realize the extent of the George Lucas connections until reading this book.  When I watch Star Wars movies,  I’ll never look at Chewbacca or the Death Star the same way again.

Many of the paintings reproduced here are larger than they’ve been printed before. This allows us to really see the nuances – brush strokes, paint etc. on these beauties.

Here’s the official description:

Discover, or return to, the world’s greatest heroic fantasy artist, Frank Frazetta, in this landmark art collection entitled, Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta. The New York Times said, “Frazetta helped define fantasy heroes like Conan, Tarzan and John Carter of Mars with signature images of strikingly fierce, hard-bodied heroes and bosomy, callipygian damsels” Frazetta took the sex and violence of the pulp fiction of his youth and added even more action, fantasy and potency, but rendered with a panache seldom seen outside of major works of Fine Art. Despite his fantastic subject matter, the quality of Frazetta’s work has not only drawn comparisons to the most brilliant of illustrators, Maxfield Parrish, Frederic Remington, Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth but, even to the most brilliant of fine artists including Rembrandt and Michelangelo and, major Frazetta works sell for millions of dollars, breaking numerous records.

 

And Spurlock has pulled out all the stops with this one. This book has definitely crossed the line to be a full-fledged celebration. Here’s the bells & whistles:

  • PAPER: Thicker, quality art-book paper than ever used in any prior Frazetta collection. This firmer paper helps achieve the highest quality of reproduction.
  • PROTECTIVE LAMINATION: Lavish combination of both matte & gloss cover laminations to dazzle the senses. While many top publishers scrimp by not providing ANY lamination, the new Frazetta collection doubles down to protect every cover smartly and with panache.
  • SIZE: 10.5 x 14.6 with spreads as wide as 21 inches: Larger pages and images than any previous Frazetta art book.
  • INDIVIDUALLY SIGNED: Even deluxe books rarely come signed but, this has not one, but TWO signatures; author J. David Spurlock and Frank Frazetta Jr, Director of The Frazetta Art Museum in East Stroudsburg PA.
  • VELUM PAGE “TIPPED-IN” BY HAND: When Vanguard does produce signed books, it is regularly on the front endpapers which is mounted to the inside front cover. But for Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta, the signature page was printed separately on a translucent velum parchment and bound, one at a time, into each book, by hand.
  • NEW LIGHTWEIGHT SLIPCASE: Vanguard’s new lighter-weight laminated slipcase keeps the deluxe book protected in style while conserving shelf space and minimizing shipping costs to retailers and Frazetta aficionados.
  • BONUS FOLIO: Sixteen extra pages of art including some very rare images, a newly discovered previously unknown and unpublished 1960s Frazetta movie poster run at a whopping 21 inches wide and, rare mid-1960s Creepy magazine art as never seen before, perfectly reproduced at full, Original Art Size!

Every year at San Diego Comic-Con, I tend to buy at least one book from the Vanguard booth. The at-the-booth conversations with J. David Spurlock are part of the fun.  And if I miss him, I always get my pal Steve Rotterdam to do his Spurlock imitation.  This year, of course, none of us will be stopping by San Diego Comic-Con. But there’s plenty of ways to buy this – and I always suggest going through your local comic shop or local indy book store.  I was surprised to see that a book of this quality doesn’t have a $100+ price tag, and is reasonably priced at $39.95 The deluxe version, with extra pages and a slipcase, is $69.95.

The Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta would make any coffee table proud. And if your coffee table is too full, maybe it’s time to get another coffee table.