Friday, July 29, 2011

The Boys from Derby: "If You Love Me, Beep Twice!" by Gill and Boyette

Hey, hey, hey, Groove-ophiles! Way back in Space Adventures #7 (February 1969), writer Joe Gill and artist Pat Boyette created a sci-fi shocker called "If You Love Me, Beep Twice!" It's reminiscent of the Henry (Goliath) Pym/Ultron school of nice guy builds a robot (or computer, as they're wont to call it in this story) that can think on its own--so naturally it turns out to be a stinker! Nothing groundbreaking, but it is a fun li'l diversion--and that's what it's all about today, right?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Groove's Countdown: The Top 5 Marvel/DC Should-Have-Beens of the Groovy Age

Let's kick off our fourth year with something new, Groove-ophiles! We all love countdowns, don't we? Ol' Groove has loved 'em ever since he discovered Casey Kasem counting down the pop-rock hits on his weekly Top 40 radio show. Now, I ain't planning to count down 40 of anything (yet), but for today, I do plan a top five countdown of Marvel and DC characters who should have gone on to be long-running superstars instead of one-shot duds.

So welcome to this week's countdown, Groove-ophiles as we count down...The Top Five Marvel/DC Should-Have-Beens of the Groovy Age!

5. Seeker 3000 made its one and only Groovy Age appearance in Marvel Premiere #41 (January 1978). Created by writer Doug Moench with art by Tom Sutton (do I remember reading cover artist Dave Cockrum designed the costumes and ship?) as Marvel's answer to Star Trek, this "hard" sci-fi strip could have been a contender. A multi-cultural cast of astronauts who are "...forced to depart a doomed earth and find new salvation for humankind in the stars" sounds kinda like Star Trek on steroids, but with Moench at the writing helm, I'm betting this series could have been an excellent vehicle for him to tackle the humanistic issues and adult characterization he was famous for on Master of Kung Fu. The concept was revived in a mini-series a few years ago, but it, too, was doomed to oblivion.

4. Starman was a "grand old name" at DC even back in 1975, so it was a no-brainer for creators Gerry Conway and Mike Vosburg to infuse new life in it. And with cosmic comics like Captain Marvel, Warlock, and Guardians of the Galaxy doing fairly well at Marvel, it was high-time DC got into the space-born super-hero game. Blue-skinned Mikaal Tomas had a unique look, a cool weapon (the pendent always reminded me of Prince Planet), and an intriguing back-story. The one-and-only Starman saga in 1st Issue Special #12 (December 1976) ended with a cliff-hanger and had Young Groove hankerin' for more--but alas, t'was not to be. It's a shame, because it seemed like Conway was using the Captain Marvel template (alien from warrior world trying to save earth from annihilation) and mixing in the down-and-dirty street vibe of Omega the Unknown to create something that could have been special. The character was tweaked and revived in the 90s Starman mag.

3. Woodgod from Marvel Premiere #31 (May 1976) is one of the wildest concepts to have come out of the 1970s (or any decade for that matter). A Frankenstein-style creature who looked like a mythical being but created in a sci-fi setting was enough to garner interest, but add in the child-like (okay, Hulk-like) temperament and power? Woodgod could have taken the misunderstood-monster-on-the-run schtick  into places the more conventional Jade Jaws could never have gone. Heck, most of us FOOMers would have bought a Woodgod mag for the Keith Giffen/Klaus Janson art alone, with creator/writer Bill Mantlo's mondo-freaky concepts being the icing on the cake. Mantlo would revive Woodgod in the pages of (where else?) Incredible Hulk in the early 1980s, but by then he had a very different vision for the character.

2. Atlas the Great was one of the last koncepts kreated by Jack "King" Kirby for his tenure at DC. Appearing in the first issue of 1st Issue Special (yeah, only in the Groovy Age, baby!), Atlas combined a lot of Kirby's Fourth World ideas with his future worlds of Kamandi and Omac and added a dose of (can you believe it?) Conan the Barbarian. Atlas could have been a truly mind-blowing series but for a few factors stacked with the weight of a dozen elephants against it: 
  • It was Kirby getting yet another of his gazillion creations out of his system.
  • Kirby was playing out the string on his soon-to-end DC contract, so his energies were being stored up for his move to Marvel.
  • Though the inherent concepts were pretty far-out, they seemed kinda watered down compared to the Fourth World stuff we'd been accustomed to.
  • DC didn't seem to have any real interest in it. 
Can you imagine, though, what David Michelenie and an artist like Keith Giffen (him again?) or Marshall Rogers could have done with Atlas? DC did finally revive Atlas the Great a few scant years ago--with the obligatory concept-tweaking--as a villain for Superman. Yeah, Superman

1. Monark Starstalker should have become a superstar just based on the name alone. Created by Howard Chaykin for Marvel Premiere #32 (June 1976), Monark Starstalker was the bridge built from Chaykin's Iron Wolf  for DC and his  "ground-level" hero (for Star*Reach, natch) Cody Starbuck that lead to his most successful creation, American Flagg. With each character, Chaykin was slowly jettisoning any fantasy elements, bringing his vision of the future a more traditional sci-fi edge. He was also toning things down a bit, conceptually, from galaxy-spanning to planet hopping. He kept the things that made his stories edgy--especially the politics and the sexiness--and grounded MS with touches of the Old West and the hedonistic society he saw in our world's future. Monark himself was a bit of a departure from Chaykin's other heroes in his ethnicity and maturity, being the most businesslike and serious of Chaykin's usually devil-may-care heroes. So with all of Chaykin's talent and careful planning behind crafting Monark Starstalker and his world, why did he and Marvel so quickly abandon such an original and potentially successful hero? Ol' Groove believes it might have had something to do with a dude named George Lucas wanting Chaykin to draw the adaptation of his upcoming flick... 

Marvel finally brought Monark Starstalker back recently in an issue of Nova, but Chaykin wasn't involved in it. Maybe now that Chaykin is at Marvel MS could get another chance? Hmmmm...
 That's Ol' Groove's Top 5, Groove-ophiles! Agree? Disagree? Who would you put in your Top 5?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Third Anniversary! Black and White Wednesday: "Terror on the Planet of the Apes Part 1" by Conway, Moench, and Ploog

What it is, Groove-ophiles! I'll tell ya what it is--it's DotGK's THIRD ANNIVERSARY! Man, does time ever fly when you're having fun! And let Ol' Groove tell ya, fun is what it's been! It all started with a kooky title and a whim, and now we're well past 1,000 (nearly) daily posts, sitting on the back side of 1.7 million (!) hits, and starting the day for over 1,700 subscribers/followers! Sounds like bragging, I know, but really, Ol' Groove is nothing but humbled by the thought of all'a you Groove-ophiles who read and respond to what we do here in Groove City! Thanks everyone! Ol' Groove loves ya, baby!

To celebrate this momentous occasion (well, it's momentous to somebody!), Ol' Groove thought he'd share a post about one of the most requested topics in our three year history--Planet of the Apes!

Anyone who has cable or satellite knows that the 1968 Michael Wilson/Rod Serling film adaptation of Pierre Boulle's 1963 novel is one of the all-time sci-fi classics. It led to a series of flicks that became extremely popular once they began running on CBS-TV circa 1973. By 1974, monkey-mania was hitting hard, with tons of PotA merchandise hitting the stores, a live-action TV series (on CBS, natch) and cartoon (in 1975 on NBC), and of course mighty Marvel's magnificent b&w mag, and that's what we're gonna focus on right now!

Like many of the highlights of the Groovy Age, PotA came to Marvel through the efforts of visionary editor Roy Thomas. Before PotA-mania hit, Roy had a discussion with his pal (and comicbook creator, and Wally Wood disciple, and TOPPS trading cards genius, and namesake of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents' Dynamo) Len Brown about how Marvel should get the rights to do APES comics. Roy thought it was a great idea and took it to publish Stan Lee (who?). Stan dug the idea, but wasn't sure it would really be a hit, but told Roy to pursue the idea if he liked. Roy actually put it on the backburner, but got the ball rolling so the mag would be out before the TV show hit the airwaves. Being too busy to write it himself, Roy enlisted his pal (comicbook and sci-fi writer at the time, now TV writer) Gerry Conway to develop a brand new APES series that would serve as a sequel to the movies to lead off the mag. For the rest of the mag, they'd fill it with tons of photo-articles (by guys like Tony Isabella and Chris Claremont) and back it all up with adaptations of all the APES movies, beginning with PLANET. Cool idea, huh?

As it worked out, Conway didn't have time to write TERROR ON THE PLANET OF THE APES, so those chores fell to Doug Moench, freshly arriving at Marvel after wowing us over in Warren's b&w mags. The art would be supplied by none other than Mike Ploog, ensuring that TERROR would be one of the best-written and best-drawn b&w strips since Thomas teamed with Barry (Windsor-) Smith on Savage Tales' Conan! Moench would also write the adaptations, with the art on PLANET coming from Marvel mainstays George Tuska and Mike Esposito.

The path to ape-magdom wasn't primrose. Marvel had to scrap it's first PotA #1 print-run because the folks at Fox felt George Tuska's depiction of Taylor was too close to looking like Charlton Heston (gotta keep the lawyers off yer back!), even though Tuska had purposefully tried to stay away from Heston's likeness. Tuska had to re-draw all of Taylor's figures, Fox's suits were satisfied, and the mag went to the printers one more time.

When PotA #1 hit the magazine racks in June 1974, it was a sensation, of course! It looked great and it certainly gave us our money's worth at 84 pages for a buck. Now, Ol' Groove doesn't wanna fire all his guns at once, so I ain't gonna run the entire mag here today, but I do wanna give you a glimpse of the sheer, flat-out awesomeness of Moench and Ploog's TERROR. (Don't shed a tear! I'll get to the PLANET adaptation eventually, honest!)

Marvel's PotA mag outlasted ape-mania, both the TV shows, and most of the merchandising, running a whopping twenty-nine issues (in a time when most mags never made it to ten!) ending in December 1976--just a few months shy of the next big sci-fi event--the biggest of all--Star Wars, which Roy, again, nabbed the rights to for Marvel (but more on that another day). Moench stayed on for the entire series, Ploog eventually left comics and was replaced with Tom Sutton, while the adaptations/back-ups enjoyed a merry-go-round of artists.

Marvel also published a color comic, Adventures on the Planet of the Apes, reprinting and coloring their adaptations of PLANET and BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, that ran for 14 issues. And somehow, they managed a staggering 123 weekly issues of PotA in the UK. I suppose that they chopped the strips up into shorter chapters--and I read they actually transformed their Killraven/War of the Worlds strips into an APES series called Apeslayer. (Thanks for that info, Pete Doree--and come back to bloggin' buddy--we miss ya!)

Whew! Ol' Groove's getting long-winded again, ain't he? I'm gonna go now, but come back tomorrow as we say hello to YEAR FOUR! Pax!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bring on the Back-ups: "Peal of the Devil-Bell!" and "Scream of the Gargoyle!" by Pasko and Marcos

What it is, Groove-ophiles! Has Ol' Groove got a Tuesday two-fer for you! I know there are a bunch of Man-Bat fans here in Groove City, right? Well, just for you, here's the rare, two-part Man-Bat back-up tale from Detective Comics #'s 458-459 (January-February 1976). Martin Pasko's story takes place right after Man-Bat #2 (which Ol' Groove already posted for ya here), and was probably intended for the never-realized third ish of M-B. Artist Pablo Marcos is still on board (with cartoonist Tex Blaisdell handling the inks on part one), cramming a lot of action and drama in the short number of pages he's given. Don'tcha just dig his splash pages? This is a fun one, pitting that 1970s staple, the monster-hero, against a mad mystic. I mean, how're ya gonna go wrong when our hero is battling a dude with a name like..."Dr. Thanatogenos"? Wild!


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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!