Saturday, February 28, 2009

Science Fiction Theatre: The Man from Atlantis #1

Question: what was the first American TV series to be shown in the People's Republic of China? Hint: it's the same show that made a star out of Patrick Duffy. The Bold and the Beautiful? Go stand in the corner. No, not Step by Step! Dallas? Aw, you're guessing. Look at the title of the post, ya turkey! Yeah, NBC-TV's Man from Atlantis. To be truthful, I watched Man from Atlantis, but I don't remember a whole lot about it. I do remember having to miss Sonny and Cher to watch some of the TV movies. Mark (the Man from Atlantis, duh!) Harris' webbed hands were kinda cool. Belinda Montgomery, who played Dr. Elizabeth Merrill was a cutie. Oh, and Victor Buono, who'd cracked me up as King Tut on the 1966 Batman TV series played the main villain, Dr. Schubert--he wasn't as funny, here. The folks behind MfA were going for science fiction more than laughs with this series. It was kinda cool, but it didn't last long. Several TV movies in early 1977, then a short-lived series in the 1977-78 season was all we got. Duffy made the jump to playing Bobby Ewing on Dallas and the rest, as they say, is history. Or is it...?

There is a little footnote in the saga of Mark Harris. A nearly-forgotten comicbook series produced by Marvel Comics called, oddly enough, Man from Atlantis! Marvel's MfA comic ran a staggering seven issues (November, 1977-May, 1978). Written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by Frank Robbins (except for the first story in the first issue), MfA the comic didn't exactly set the world on fire, either. I think the main thing that bugged me (and a whole lot of other Marvelites) was the fact that Marvel was doing a licensed comic about a man from Atlantis, while letting their very own, original Man from Atlantis, the Sub-Mariner languish in guest-appearances. Yeah, he was appearing regularly in the Invaders, but he didn't have a series of his own. And here's this Mark Harris-come-lately taking his place.

Except for the first issue, the series was pretty dull and forgettable, except for the covers. Now those were pretty sweet! We got John Buscema/Joe Sinnott on #1, Ernie Chan on #s 2 and 6, Alan Weiss on #3, Gil Kane/Tony DeZuniga on #4, Pablo Marcos on #5, and Carmine Infantino/Rudy Nebres on #7. Besides the covers, as I was saying, the best thing about the series was the debut issue. 80 pages (inspired by DC's Dollar Comics?) featuring two full-length stories and so many photos and so much behind-the-scenes info about the show, I don't even know why I'm writing this long-winded intro! I'm gonna step aside and let you have a look at the first issue (sans the second story, which my pal, Mighty Joe Bloke beat me to). Here's Ol' Groove's favorite story in the whole series, "Birthright" written by Bill Mantlo with art by Tom Sutton and Sonny Trinidad.

One more thing, Groove-ophiles! Today's the last day to vote for what you want my second blog to be about, so if you haven't voted, vote! You've got 'til midnight. I'll announce the winner on Monday!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Famous First Fridays: Red Sonja's Metal Bikini

Red Sonja, She Devil With a Sword! Ya gotta love a groovy chick who carries a sword and can beat up barbarians, right? Back in 1972, Roy Thomas took an obscure Robert E. Howard character, Red Sonya of Rogatino from "The Shadow of the Vulture" (Magic Carpet, January, 1934), changed the spelling of her name, placed her in Conan's time, and created what would soon become one of the hottest characters of the Groovy Age! While "Big Red" hasn't set the world on fire with her comicbook sales, she's had series and mini-series galore from 1975 right up to today's excellent Red Sonja comics by Dynamite Entertainment. She's starred in a feature film (with another--hopefully better--one on the way), co-starred in Conan's short-lived TV show, and even enjoyed a series of paperback novels back in the 1980s. Big Red has also been a regular attraction at comicbook conventions for over 30 years, with hundreds of lovely ladies appearing in her famous "metal bikini". Oh, that metal bikini...

Sonja didn't wear that controversial costume in her earliest, Barry (Windsor-) Smith drawn appearances in Conan the Barbarian #'s 23-24 (November-December, 1972). She wore a much more practical and less revealing costume consisting of a chain mail shirt and red satin shorts.

The origin of the metal bikini was one of those twists of fate that so often lead to comicbook history being made. According to the intro Thomas wrote for Dynamite's Adventures of Red Sonja Vol. 1 tpb, Spanish artiste Esteban Maroto surprised him with a pin-up piece featuring Sonja in the now famous costume. Thomas dug it, commissioned a new piece from Maroto with Sonja in the same outfit and ran it in Savage Tales #3.
Never one to waste, Thomas wrote a Red Sonja script for Maroto to draw and ran both the new story and the original Sonja-in-the-metal-bikini piece in Savage Sword of Conan #1 (hey, you're getting two "famous firsts" in one here, Groove-ophiles!). To top it off, Thomas' story for SSoC's debut ish teamed Conan with Big Red, this time drawn by John Buscema and inked by Pablo Marcos. Oh, and some cat by the name of Boris Vallejo got to paint Sonja in her armored undies on the cover, as well. Hey, the first issue of Savage Sword of Conan could just as easily have been called Savage Sword of Sonja, couldn't it?

Sonja in her shiny new duds was a certified hit, and she was soon awarded her own comic, first starring in all seven issues of the second version of Marvel Feature (August, 1975-August, 1976), then in 15 issues of Red Sonja (October, 1976-February, 1979). Marvel Feature #1 was cool, with a new Big Red story drawn by Dick Giordano plus a color reprinting of the Sonja story from SSoC #1, but Sonja-mania burst wide open when the magnificent Frank Thorne took over the art with MF #2 (October, 1975). Thorne and Red Sonja became inseperable super-stars almost overnight, and Marvel came up with some pretty cool merchandise to cash in on the craze, like this magnificent button from 1976!

Thorne was a smart guy, too. He helped promote Sonja at various comicbook conventions by dressing up as a wizard and posing with the beauties who'd come to the cons dressed as Big Red. Fangirls, models, and even ElfQuest co-creator Wendy Pini made that metal bikini look good, man!

Thorne drew the remainder of the MF issues, as well as the first 11 issues of Sonja's self-titled comic. After Thorne left, the mag was canceled four short issues later. Despite having top-notch writers like Thomas, Bruce Jones, and Clara Noto, Sonja and Thorne had become so linked in fan's minds that we just couldn't imaging Big Red without him.

As I said in the intro, though, Red Sonja is just too great a character to languish in literary limbo. Marvel kept her going through the 80s and 90s in guest spots, mini-series, and short-lived series. Novels and a movie starring Brigitte Nielsen kept her in the public eye. Since 2005, Dynamite Entertainment has kept Big Red alive and well--and in her metal bikini--for a new generation of fans. Here's hoping Rose McGowan gets put in the right costume in next year's flick!


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Special thanks to Mike's Amazing World of Comics and Grand Comics Database for being such fantastic resources for covers, dates, creator info, etc. Thou art treasures true!

Note to "The Man": All images are presumed copyright by the respective copyright holders and are presented here as fair use under applicable laws, man! If you hold the copyright to a work I've posted and would like me to remove it, just drop me an e-mail and it's gone, baby, gone.

All other commentary and insanity copyright GroovyAge, Ltd.

As for the rest of ya, the purpose of this blog is to (re)introduce you to the great comics of the 1970s. If you like what you see, do what I do--go to a comics shop, bookstore, e-Bay or whatever and BUY YOUR OWN!