Thursday, December 25, 2008

My City Screams ... for its money back!

The Spirit of Christmas Don't

Years ago, I decided at one point to count the number of movies I had seen. I grabbed the most recent Leonard Maltin Film Guide and went through the book alphabetically, numbering as I went along.

I never finished the project, but I stopped counting somewhere past 1,000. The reason I bring this up is because it not without some authority and considerable experience when I say that The Spirit may be the worst movie I have ever seen, which would put it in the running for worst movie of all time.

I'm not saying this because I have some kind of emotional investment in the character, the way a Star Wars fan complains about The Phantom Menace. I like Will Eisner's comic series a lot, but I went in to the movie expecting it to have more to do with Frank Miller than Will Eisner. But I could not have expected what I got.

I also say this as someone who really, really likes Miller's All-Star Batman and Robin. If I had any hopes going in, it was that The Spirit would be the equivalent to an ASBAR movie. And there are moments when it is clear that the two works are made by the same person, and I don't just mean the moments of self-plagiarism where lines appear straight out of ASBAR. I'm talking about moments where the tough-guy, faux noir dialogue goes so far over the top that it passes parody into something more sublime. Or moments like when the Spirit tries to track down Sand Serif by showing a photocopy of her ass to various bellmen at Central City hotels.

The Spirit is 103 minutes of pure, undiluted WTF.

The experience one feels when watching this is the exact opposite of that emotional epiphany that one experiences in the presence of great art, and yet, the feelings are remarkably similar. It's the moment of ecstasy that lies at the heart of the Dionysian, which Nietzche describes in The Birth of Tragedy--the loss of self experienced at the moment when reason fails. Nothing can explain what would allow for the existence of a movie that is this bad in every conceivable way a movie could be bad: acting, writing, cinematography, editing, music. I wasn't on the set when the movie was made, but I can guess that the donuts at craft services were probably stale, too. Or shit-filled. In fact, a shit-filled donut may be the best metaphor for describing this movie.

When the movie begins, some glimmer of possible quality shines through. The Spirit runs across the rooftops of the city on his way to the docks in order to intercept his nemesis, the Octopus. He stops a mugging in a scene that's both stylish and clever, then moves on to meet up with a police officer, played by Frank Miller himself. Miller is dispatched by the Octopus, who then proceeds to fight the Spirit in a scene that was widely distributed on the internet. This scene is actually quite funny, with a tone similar to a Warner Bros. cartoon. If the film had managed to sustain this tone, it may have been a decent movie, but it didn't, and it isn't.

Also, Gabriel Macht surprisingly pulls off the Spirit. I say "surprisingly" not because I think that Macht is a bad actor, but that Miller's dialogue sounds nothing like words and sentences that any human being would ever utter. Nonetheless, Macht manages to deliver his dialogue, especially the voice-over narration and other odd moments where he addresses the camera directly, with sincerity and conviction. In one scene, the Spirit wakes from unconsciousness tied to a dentist's chair. As he opens his eyes, he says, "Something smells dental." He then looks around to see a variety of Nazi paraphernalia around the room. "Dental ... and Nazis," he grunts through gritted teeth. I think this specific line was meant to cause viewers to think of the movie Marathon Man, which would then cause them to think of Laurence Olivier and finally realize that even a great actor such as he would not be able to pull off dialogue like this. Or something like that.

Most of the other actors don't fare well at all. Scarlett Johansson delivers her lines like an actor in a high school drama production, and Samuel L. Jackson seems barely able to muster the energy to do that Samuel Jackson thing. There seems to be a running gag about the Octopus's obsessive feelings for eggs, but I have no idea how it was supposed to be funny.

The plot has something to do with a quest for the blood of Heracles and the Golden Fleece (really--I'm not making that up). Miller also gives The Spirit some kind of Wolverine-style healing powers, and though they are intricate to the film's plot, they also indicate just how far away the film is from Eisner's original material.

The movie is wall-to-wall bad, and describing the plot or even the smallest moment in the film can be an exercise in frustration. There was a moment, though--a tipping point, if you will--where I had the epiphanic realization that revealed just how bad this movie was. The Octopus's henchmen are all clones, all played by Louis Lombardi. All of them are also considerably intellectually challenged, so the Octopus tries to grow a smart one. Instead, he gets a tiny head on a foot that hops around the lab table. The Octopus then spends much of the scene marvelling at how crazy this looks.

Once that scene passed, my mind entered a state of virtual numbness, as if I had been beaten into submission by torturers and was now ready to accept whatever they had to offer, like Winston Smith in Room 101 at the end of 1984. So, when Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson appear in Nazi officer uniforms, while Paz Vega, in a belly dancer outfit, dances around with a sword, I was no longer in any condition to be shocked or repulsed. And when the Octopus tells the Spirit that he's "as dead as Star Trek," I just sat back and nodded.

Interestingly enough, Miller leaves out one significant member of The Spirit's supporting cast: the hero's sidekick and offensive racial stereotype, Ebony White. However, after having watched the movie, I'm at a loss as to why Miller left the character out. It can't be due to a sense of restraint on the filmmaker's part, because nothing in this movie indicates that any kind of restraint was was applied, internally or externally. Seriously, in a movie that features Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson in Nazi officer uniforms, one would be hard pressed to find this any more offensive.

Instead, I have to think that Miller just forgot to use the character.

And Valkyrie can rest easy--it is not the worst movie featuring Nazis to come out this week.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Nothing says "Merry Christmas" quite like a Jim Aparo cover featuring Batman punching Blockbuster right in the sternum:

In the story, Batman stops by Gotham PD to offer the officers on duty some special holiday cheer:

Also, it's important to note:

Batman knows exactly what you want for Christmas.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

(From Batman 309, story by Len Wein, art by John Calnan and Frank McLaughlin)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dr. K's Top Ten Superhero Comics of 2008, Part 2!

Tonight, we continue my top 10 list with my top 5 superhero comics of 2008. As an added bonus, I'm typing tonight's post with a cute snuggle kitty named Zoe on my lap!

5. Final Crisis

Like Batman: RIP, Final Crisis has been another Grant Morrison series that many readers have complained is too confusing. However, with the last couple of issues, the pieces have started to fall into place, and Morrison's plan has become evident. If Batman and Final Crisis teach us anything, it's that Morrison does have a plan, and persistence and attention will be rewarded.

In this case, the series started off slow, with DC's superheroes following small clues that point to something going on with the New Gods. However, What Morrison has done is launch us, and the heroes as well, into a scenario where, no matter how quickly they put the clues together, it is already too late. The sense that the heroes have failed before they have begun gives this universe-spanning crossover its weight.

Plus, there are moments, like when one of the Guardians tells Hal Jordan that he has "24 hours to save the universe," that genuinely give me goosebumps and remind me why I still get a kick out of superhero stories.

Nonetheless, this series will ultimately be a flawed masterpiece for Morrison due to the inconsistent art and publishing schedule (though the latter won't matter when the collected edition comes out). I wish J. G. Jones had been able to finish the series himself because he has already proven with the Marvel Boy series that he gets Morrison. Alternately, Carlos Pacheco's pages in issue 5 are fantastic, and he would have made a fine artist for the entire series.

4. Action Comics

It's been a very long time since I was excited about Superman comics. But the work of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank on this series have been consistently good from the "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" arc to the "Brainiac" story. In each case, Johns has taken some convoluted continuity and made sense out of it, which is basically his stock in trade. But he's also telling great stories, with entertaining twists on some old concepts. Johns's script and Frank's art combine to give us Superman in his purest form: noble, heroic, but also human. And that "humanity" gets further explored in the "New Krypton" crossover, where Superman has to deal with the presence of 100,000 Kryptonians on Earth.

Also, the latest issue saw the return of the Creature Commandos and G. I. Robot, and we all know how I feel about those characters.

3. Catwoman

This year saw several good series get cancelled by DC, including Manhunter, Birds of Prey, and Blue Beetle. But no cancellation was more regretable for me than Catwoman. For 2 1/2 years, since DC's "One Year Later" bump, this has been one of the most consistently well written and drawn series from DC. Even when it was saddled with unfortunate crossovers, like this year's for Salvation Run, the Catwoman issues proved superior to the main series. And it was one of only two monthly series for which I had a real sense of anticipation every month. The reason for that anticipation is two-fold. First, writer Will Pfeifer made Catwoman a morally complex character genuinely worth caring about, making scenes like the one where Selina gives up her baby a real emotional shot to the gut. No other comic this year gave me the same emotional reaction. Second, Pfeifer knows how to write action, and almost every issue ended with a real cliffhanger that I couldn't wait to see resolve.

And, I would add that Pfeifer writes the hell out of Batman. Every cameo Batman made was a gem, especially because the situation with Selina and her baby brought out a side of Batman that does not get explored in his own books.

Will Pfeifer and David Lopez did manage to end the series on a classy note, including cameos of themselves in the last issue. DC is continuing to collect this series in trade paperback, so anyone who missed out on it can still check it out.

Also, this was Zoe's favorite series this year as well, and she threatened to jump off my lap if I didn't place it higher on the list.

2. Captain America

2008 was the year that comics made me care about characters for which I had little past interest. This was especially true for Marvel Comics. I have long been primarily a DC reader, but this year I read more Marvel series than I ever have. Hercules, Sentry, Iron Fist, Iron Man--thanks to writers like Jeff Parker, Matt Fraction, Paul Tobin, Greg Pak, and Fred Van Lente, I'm enjoying the heck out of a lot of Marvel comics. But no series this year kept me more excited from month-to-month than Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting's Captain America, which spent most of the year working through the latter 2/3 of the epic 18-part "Death of Captain America" story. Brubaker has made Bucky an interesting character as the new Cap, and he has also filled the series with a great supporting cast and a collection of formidable villains.

In addition, Brubaker was extraordinarily prescient to come up with a story where the Red Skull manages to attack America by creating a banking and mortgage crisis. Cap has always been best when he's relevant to the current state of American culture, but this plot was nothing short of uncanny in its currency.

I've also especially appreciated that this book has kept outside of the larger Secret Invasion crossover that has dominated Marvel this year. Brubaker got to take his time with a long story, and yet it managed to stay well-paced and exciting throughout the year.

1. All-Star Superman

With this list, it's going to look like I'm in the tank for Grant Morrison. But All-Star Superman is a true masterpiece, and it will go down in comics history as one of the great works of the superhero genre. It doesn't necessarily transcend the genre, but that is not a bad thing because Morrison is clearly trying to create the definitive Superman story here. And unlike Batman: RIP and Final Crisis, this series hit with a clarity of purpose from issue 1. The premise was simple: Superman was dying, and he had to complete 12 labors before his life came to an end. But within that simple framework, Morrison created some mind-expanding superhero stories.

And also unlike Morrison's other work this year, he was working with an artist in Frank Quitely whose imagination and talent can keep pace with the writer's wild ideas (Quitely is on a short list of artists, along with Cameron Stewart, J. G. Jones, Doug Mahnke, Chris Weston, Richard Pace, and Charles Truog, who seem to "get" Morrison's scripts in a way that a lot of other artists seem to struggle with). Quitely's art is just stunning on this series. Though I like Gary Frank's realistically muscular Superman in Action Comics, I also enjoy the sheer hugeness and solidity of Quitely's Superman. This is a book that just gets better with each reading.

Like I said in the previous post, 2008 was a great year for superhero comics, and there were a lot of series that would have made the list in any other year, including The Immortal Iron Fist, Invincible Iron Man, Green Lantern, Booster Gold, and Secret Six. I expect the latter three series will be strong in 2009, especially Booster Gold, which would have made the list if not for some pretty mediocre fill-in stories. True Believers was another series that almost made the cut, but the later issues didn't quite live up to the promise of the first, though I still enjoyed it.

As always, suggestions for series I may have missed this year will be greatly appreciated. I'll be back soon with my thoughts on some graphic novels and indy comics from 2008.

Dr. K's Top 10 Superhero Comics of 2008, Part 1!

I normally shy away from doing end-of-the-year top 10 lists for a variety of reasons, the primary one being that, once the end of the year rolls around, I have difficulty remembering all that I did in the previous year. But 2008 was a great year for superhero comics, and so I thought I would put together a list of my favorites. So, below is a list of my favorite regular series and miniseries that I followed in 2008. Please feel free to make recommendations in the comments for things I should have listed or should have been reading.

10. Omega the Unknown

When Marvel announced that novelist Jonathan Lethem was going to revive this obscure 70s title, I immediately went to my collection to re-read the original Steve Gerber series. That series was one of the more bizarre of Gerber's many bizarre ideas at the time. I have to admit, I didn't always understand what was going on in Lethem's series from month to month, but when I read the entire series as a whole, it came together as an innovative riff on Steve Gerber's original 70s concept. I'm glad I stuck with it. And the final "silent" issue showcased artist Farel Dalrymple's talents. Congratulations to Marvel for putting out this unconventional series.

9. Madame Xanadu

Though DC's Vertigo books would not normally be counted as "superhero" series, Madame Xanadu is the closest thing to a DC Universe title published by Vertigo. Writer Matt Wagner incorporates many aspects of the DCU in this series, including references to Jack Kirby's Demon mythology and frequent appearances by the Phantom Stranger (though his name is never actually mentioned). A recent appearance by Death from Neil Gaiman's Sandman series also shows Wagner's desire to tie the series into that corner of the Vertigo universe as well. Wagner appears to be quietly making this series the centerpiece of the Vertigo universe in a way that hearkens back to Vertigo's beginnings, when its books made the transition from the DCU proper. In that sense, it's clearly an attempt to return to Vertigo's roots and attract readers who may have been turned off by Vertigo's lack of a clear brand identity.

The development of the main character and the series's historical scope--moving from Arthurian England through the French Revolution--has continued to be surprising and engaging from month to month. But the real revelation here is Amy Reeder Hadley's art, which is just gorgeous and sumptuous in its detail. It would be wonderful if this series became the breakthrough hit that Vertigo has not had for a while outside of the Fables universe.

8. The Incredible Hercules

I followed this series during World War Hulk, but I dropped it soon after. However, I heard such good things about it that I went back and picked up the collections and issues from this year. And now I'm hooked. Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente weave in mythology to reimagine the way gods and humans interact in the Marvel Universe. Their characterization of Hercules as a god doomed to repeat the same mistakes while still being haunted by them adds depth to a character who has generally been depicted as a blowhard, albeit an entertaining one. But, most of all, this is a fun book, and the writers have made me interested in a character that I had only previously cared about as the strong guy in the Avengers.

7. The Age of Sentry

Speaking of characters I cared little about in the past...I liked Paul Jenkins's original miniseries about the Silver Age hero who had been forgotten by the rest of the Marvel Universe, but later appearances of the character in the New Avengers and elsewhere had made me wish that Sentry's first story had been his last. Now Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin have written a miniseries that presents Sentry's goofy Silver Age stories, recreating that milieu perfectly. Every issue has been more entertaining than the last, and I'm glad to see that Marvel has gotten smart by giving two of its best writers more work in 2009.

6. Batman

Lots of readers have complained online that this book was difficult to follow, especially during Grant Morrison's epic Batman: RIP story. But recent issues have shown that Morrison, like Batman, has had a plan all along, and subtleties that have been building for the last two years have all led to this story, which establishes exactly what a bad-ass Batman is. Unfortunately, DC has chosen one of this book's creative peaks to remove the main character from the title completely, leading in to something called "The Battle for the Cowl," for which I have no interest.

While Batman: RIP was an entertaining and complex read, it was nearly sunk by the art of Tony Daniel, who, while a dynamic artist, was inappropriate for this book. It often seemed like Daniel had difficulty understanding Morrison's script, and his storytelling often did not flow well. This, more than Morrison's script itself, may have caused the confusion that many readers felt, and it often seems to be a problem that plagues Morrison's books with other artists as well.

That's the bottom 5 of my top 10. Tomorrow, I'll return with the top 5 series of 2008, along with some honorable mentions that didn't quite make the list.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Return of Ask Dr. K!

Back in October, I received an email from a concerned parent who was hoping that, with my extensive expertise in the subject of superheroes, that I could help answer some of her 4-year-old's questions about the diets and basic personalities of Spider-Man and Superman. That email turned into this post, which has proven to be this blog's most popular post that doesn't deal with Chop-Chop or the Creature Commandos.

Several follow-up questions ensued to help clarify some of my answers. For one, I had to correct my own error when I left out Spider-Man's love of wheatcakes, a mistake upon which dozens of readers rightfully pounced and to whom I will be endlessly grateful.

I also had to support some claims that the 4-year-old met with skepticism. For one, the youngster did not believe that Superman would eat rocks, though he seemed to have no problem with Superman eating nuclear waste, hot lava, solid steel, or the sun (now that I think of it, perhaps his objection was to Superman eating rocks raw, rather than in their heated, liquid form). So, in order to prove the child wrong, I sent him this particular image:

That taught him never to doubt me again. Pwned!

With Christmas just around the corner, I received another timely message from the same concerned parent, hoping that I can answer some more questions that her inquisitive child has.

Dear Dr. K,

Some weeks ago, I wrote in with some questions my four-year-old had about superheroes whose personalities and preferences I know little. Your responses were, overall, very helpful, and I read all of them to my son and showed him the strip you provided of Superman eating rocks as an illustration of the food preferences you so helpfully provided. Were Superman, rather than Santa Claus, coming in just ten short days, we'd be ready with his treeside snack.

But as is often the case, questions lead to more questions, and some of them I cannot answer without your help, so I am, again, imposing on your expertise. First, while scrolling through your blog with said son, he asked me repeatedly, "Zat Batman?" and when I had to reply honestly with a "no," he asked, "Why?" So I guess the question is, "Why isn't ________man Batman when he definitely isn't Batman?"

The question "Why isn't ____________ Batman?" is probably the single most important question your young child will ever ask. And it shouldn't be limited to just superheroes. "Why isn't Barack Obama Batman?" or "Why isn't my teacher Batman?" or "Why isn't Lou Dobbs Batman?" or "Why isn't daddy Batman?" are all legitimate questions that all children should ask as they make their way in this world. Heck, I still ask this question several times a day, often self-reflectively.

But to answer the question, no one is as awesome as Batman. And to be even more succinct, use this question as a test: "Could _________ beat up a flaming bear and then ride it off a cliff?"

The answer, more than likely, would be "No." You may be tempted to lie and say that Daddy could also do this, but that lie might ultimately bite you in the ass when you're family is attacked by a flaming bear.

Next, I have a new set of explanatory challenges thanks to some comic books I brought home from Nashville a month ago. The books were recommended by someone who knows Dr. K's work well, and so I was eager to return home and share them with my preschooler. Lo and behold, with every frame, the boy asked, "He a bad guy?" or "Zat a bad guy?" At first, I thought he was having trouble telling the good guys and bad guys apart, but I think the confusion goes beyond that: I think he's also asking whether everyone is a bad guy or not, which probes philosophical issues I'm unprepared to address without consulting you first. Is everyone a bad guy in general? I could answer that in different circumstances, but I'm not at all confident about the matter within the cosmology of the superhero world, especially after all those ugly things you reported about Spider-Man and the devil. Please advise.

If your child is going to develop a life-long comics reading habit--which I hope he does--then the question about who is and is not a bad guy will become more and more pertinent though simultaneously confusing, because at one point or another, every superhero becomes a villain (and often vice versa, too).

For example, say your child takes great enjoyment in Jeff Smith's fantastic, all-ages graphic novel Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil (which makes a great holiday gift) and in Mike Kunkel's fantastic Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! comic series. And say your child takes a special liking to Captain Marvel's spunky kid sister, Mary Marvel. So, you decide to head off to the local comic store to find that character's most current appearance in order to keep your child up-to-date with the constantly changing world of his favorite comics, and this is what you find:

Then, you will have to explain that Mary Marvel is now a villain, and not the cute, spunky, heroic character that your child loved. So, the youngster will learn another valuable lesson: that every hero he likes, fictional or otherwise, will eventually become evil. Take this from a childhood fan of Marvel's Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver--it's important that he learns this lesson now.

Finally, I want to report that Parents Magazine, which is the most terrifying publication on earth (the Real Death industry has nothing on them), carried an article in the November issue "explaining" why four and five year olds are interested in superheroes. Just to give you a feel for their journalistic prowess, the premise is that superhero appeal is utterly mystifying to a parent (and "parent" means "careless, obese mother" in the Real Death speak of Parents) and needs explaining by actual Ph.D.s who offer comments like "[P]laying a superhero can provide a release for a kid's frustration as well as a chance to try out a leadership role."

You can see why I'm upset.

So please, could you and your superhero blog friends please make sure that Parents magazine is stripped of its privileges to talk about any topic that matters? Please?

I understand your distress about this article, even though I didn't read it and couldn't find it on the Parents Magazine website in a timely manner before the urge to stab out my eyeballs almost overcame me.

But on the matter of dressing up like a superhero, nothing can give a child more self-esteem than dressing like Batman, as this picture of an 8-year-old Dr. K proves:

However, dressing up like and playing Superman may be another matter entirely. As a youth, Dr. K enjoyed safety-pinning a towel to the back of his shirt and pretending to be Superman. This enjoyment, however, stopped when his mother explained to him that TV's Superman, George Reeves, committed suicide because he felt so guilty about kids dying when they dressed up like Superman and jumped out of windows. (This, like most things my mother told me, proved not to be true, as I later found out from the film Hollywoodland.)

I know this is all a lot to ask, but it is the Christmas season, and I thank you in advance for your Christian charity.

A Flummoxed and Irate Parent

As always, I'm glad to be of service, and I welcome the opportunity to answer any further questions in the future. Good luck raising your son.

Best regards,

Dr. K

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Brown Bomber!

The following scene appeared in last month's Justice League of America 26, written by Dwayne McDuffie and drawn by Ed Benes:

This scene made me laugh, especially the line about "CPT" and Vixen's delayed reaction. In just one page, McDuffie throws in to this comic a gutsy satire of race in superhero comics--something he's done very well elsewhere and something I wish he'd do more in this series (perhaps the return of the Milestone characters in the latest issue will provide such an opportunity).

It also serves as a nice little easter egg for readers with some knowledge of DC Comics' problematic history with multicultural superheroes. Brian Hughes at Again with the Comics has a detailed explanation of how the Brown Bomber fits into that particular history, which makes McDuffie's inclusion (and editorial's approval) of the character even more amazing.

The Brown Bomber doesn't do much else in the comic, and his appearance in an alternate universe created only to test Vixen probably means that we won't be seeing him again in the future. That may be for the best. But there is also an edge here that McDuffie hasn't shown in this series before, and now that most of the loose plot threads left over by other writers are resolved, I hope that we'll see McDuffie cut loose some more.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Waimea Debuts!

I just want to throw a plug in here for a new webcomic called Waimea, written by the Internet's Kevin Church and drawn by newcomer Mike Dake. As the website describes, "Waimea is a serialized-biweekly graphic novel that tells the story of three people who find themselves living under unusual circumstances in Hawaii."

The first episode is already an impressive effort. Mike Dake's art has an animated style that works well with this material, and Kevin Church has created characters and a situation that had me immediately hooked in the first seven pages. Church's characterization is humorous and surprisingly heartfelt. I say "surprisingly" because I'm surprised that such emotional authenticity could come from the biggest douchebag on the Internet.

Seriously, check out Waimea. It's free, so it can't hurt, and there's some real talent at work here.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Frank Miller on TCM!

Comic creator and now filmmaker Frank Miller will be the guest programmer on Turner Classic Movies next Wednesday night (Dec. 10). He's definitely chosen a respectable line-up:

The Naked City (1948)
I love this movie, and it's the type of noir film you'd expect Miller to pick.

High Noon (1952)
I'm curious to see what Frank Miller has to say about this movie. Is the villain's name the primary attraction for him?

The Bishop's Wife (1947)
Miller is just screwing with our expectations here.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
Oh yeah! This is a great choice and another for which Miller's attraction is completely understandable.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Jim Aparo's James Bond!

A reader named Ed, who came to my blog doing a search on Cary Bates, recently sent me an email asking me if I knew anything about a proposed James Bond comic series that Bates had pitched to DC in the late 70s, with Jim Aparo on art.

I had to admit that I never heard of this project, but I was immediately intrigued. Such a comic, had it existed, would surely be the single greatest comic series of all time (though its existence may just have been too awesome for this world to handle). At this time, both Bates and Aparo were at their creative peaks. In the mid-70s, Cary Bates had been hired by Cubby Broccoli to write an early script for the Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, though that script was rejected, along with many others in that film's chaotic pre-production history. Clearly, Bates was well-situated to write this series.

Also, as detailed by Marty Pasko in a recent Word Balloon interview (which is great, by the way), DC long owned the license to James Bond, though they did nothing with it other than the weak Dr. No adaptation that appeared in Showcase. It's interesting to note, then, that at least someone was trying to do something with that license at DC.

Ed mentioned that his source for this story was an article in the 70s and 80s fanzine, The Comic Reader, which had been created by Paul Levitz and Paul Kupperberg. After I sent out some queries to my fellow comic bloggers, the amazing Mike Sterling was able to get a scan of Aparo's cover image that accompanied the original proposal. This image originally appeared in The Comic Reader 180 (June 1980), though Mike informs me that the image is the only item in the issue related to the Bates/Aparo Bond series. Perhaps the article appears in an earlier issue.

Aparo's Bond looks like a cross between Aparo's Bruce Wayne and Sean Connery, which is exactly as it should be.

I'm now curious to find out more about this series, especially why DC didn't move forward with it. Anybody out there with more information on this, please let me know.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Village of the Damned!

The original 1960 version of Village of the Damned still manages to scare the crap out of me, and at 77 minutes, it offers the kind of tight, efficient filmmaking that is rarely seen today.

I returned to this movie recently after covering The Earth Dies Screaming for the Halloween Countdown. Earth Dies Screaming opens with a scene that's very similar to the opening of Village of the Damned. In Village, some mysterious force causes everyone in the British village of Midwich to drop unconscious simultaneously. We see the villagers caught in the midst of their daily activities, like ironing clothes, cleaning, and listening to music. Anyone who comes within a certain radius from the town succumbs to this sudden unconsciousness. After about three hours, however, the townspeople awaken as if they had all just taken a sudden afternoon nap.

A short time later, all the women of childbearing age in the town find themselves to be pregnant. The movie then effeciently covers the various reactions to this phenomenon, from happy couples to jealous husbands and frightened single women. The women all give birth to similar blond-haired, intense-eyed babies who begin to develop rapidly and exhibit strange behavior.

While most of the townspeople fear these developments, local scientist Professor Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders) looks for an explanation, especially since his own wife birthed one of these children, named David. Zellaby discovers that the children share a hive-mind, so that if one is taught a skill, the others will know it as well. Zellaby then convinces the government that he should be allowed to teach and study the children. This doesn't work out so well, however.

This movie still offers genuine shocks after nearly 50 years. For one, I'm surprised how frankly the movie deals with the subject of immaculate conception as a potential cause for the mass pregnancies. The local vicar, rather than becoming judgmental toward the unmarried women and teenage girls who become pregnant, instead offers his conviction that these women are telling the truth about their chastity.

But the most effective moment, and one that still surprises me even though I know it's coming, occurs when the children force one of the local townspeople to blow his own head off while others are paralyzed into watching. At this point, Professor Zellaby realizes that he cannot control or train these children, and his efforts to do so have only resulted in the loss of life.

Viewers have often tried to read this film as an allegory. Some see it as commenting on the Cold War fear of infiltration from within, and this interpretation is fed by the collective nature of the children's behavior. Viewers also interpret the blond haired children to represent the ideal of genetic perfection advocated by the Nazis. Still more read it as a reaction against the permissive parenting practices advocated by Dr. Benjamin Spock. Others see it as a warning on the dangers of intellect or scientific discovery unrestrained by morality and emotion. I, however, find a different warning in the film, and one that is also shared by such films as The Bad Seed, The Innocents, and the Omen series: kids are evil, and people should really stop having them.

It is often stated that horror movies featuring evil children are particularly effective because they reverse our expectations about childhood innocence. However, I would argue that the truth of the matter is that they expose our naive belief in that innocence. Children can be real jerks, and it doesn't take some kind of alien infestation or demonic possession to prove that: just spend a few minutes in a school yard at recess.

David, the lead child, is played by Martin Stephens, who wins the lifetime achievement award for playing creepy kids after this and The Innocents, which I covered in a previous entry.

One of the things I love about this movie, and probably what makes it prone to allegorical readings, is that we never find out where the children come from or what their real purpose is on Earth. Scientists bandy about theories in the film, including alien invasion and evolutionary progress, but these speculations are soon put aside when it becomes clear that these kids are deadly. One of the hallmarks of true horror is that such mysteries are left intact--that the safety and order that knowledge provides are never achieved.