Happy Whoniversary

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Happy Who-niversary

I first saw Tom Baker as Doctor Who in the early 1980s on my local PBS station. The character and concept struck such a chord that I’ve been a fan ever since that very moment. Although the current series, under the guidance of Stephen Moffat, has frustratingly transformed the character from an eccentric scientist into a cosmic Peter Pan, I do appreciate the great performance of Matt Smith as No. 11 and couldn’t be happier that The Doctor is still going strong in the 21st Century. Geronimo!

Rock Bottom?

Sometimes I worry the comics posted on this blog are in bad taste and add little that’s interesting or entertaining to the Internet. Then I ran into this on Twitter …

I’d feel somewhat vindicated if I didn’t feel so ill …

Enter Batgirl

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Here’s the original, unaired TV episode that would have introduced Barbara Gordon and the All-New Batgirl to the numerous denizens of TV Land circa the late ’60s.

In my book, Yvonne Craig’s portrayal of Barbara Gordon remains definitive to this day. Her embodiment of a fun-loving, alluring and – most important of all – competent super-heroine is the reason why I never liked The Killing Joke.

In fact, the best comic-book representation of this Batgirl – outside of the original story by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino – is the classic Batgirl: Year One mini-series by Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon, Marcos Martin and Alvaro Lopez.

Maybe that Barbara Gordon will reappear one day in a modern DC comic …

Seductress Of The Innocent

Meet Corliss Archer, began life as a radio program devoted to the misadventures of a typical, All-American teenage girl not unlike Betty Cooper or Patsy Walker. Unlike the other two, however, Corliss has the unique distinction of being labeled a menace by none other than Dr. Frederic Wertham himself.

Corliss’ inclusion in the good doctor’s infamous Seduction Of The Innocent didn’t stem from the character’s involvement in radio, movies and televison, but rather a short-lived comic-book published in 1948 by Fox Feature Syndicate that Wertham cited as an example of a “headlight comic.”

Based upon the covers that adorned the book’s second and third issues, I can’t imagine where in the world Wertham got that idea …

Like many of the comics published by Victor Fox in the late 1940s, the seemingly wholesome adventures of Corliss Archer snuck in as many swimsuit or bra-and-panty shots as the story would allow. Despite the characters’ popularity in other media – a fact trumpeted on the comic’s very cover, by the way – Fox knew what his audience wanted.

In a weird coincidence, the issues that so offended Wertham were mostly written and drawn by Al Feldstein, who would later cause even greater consternation among “right-thinking people” as an editor, writer and artist for William M. Gaines’ legendary EC Comics line.

The Golden Age of Comics truly existed in a small, and very strange, world.

“The Homework Hoax” originally appeared in Meet Corliss Archer #2 (Fox Feature Syndicate, May 1948). The story is signed by “EKR,” but the Grand Comics Database guesses that Feldstein provided the script.

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Although the Corliss Archer comic only lasted three issues, the radio show ran from 1943 to 1953 and inspired a syndicated television show that existed for a single season in 1954.

Demonstrating a bit of quirkiness one wouldn’t expect from such a show, the program often featured comic-book styled art to illustrate the sit-com’s predicament of the week. Since the series has fallen into the public domain, here’s a link to an episode of Meet Corliss Archer that features a quick appearance from pro wrestler Tor Johnson of Plan 9 From Outer Space fame!

Enjoy!

Hard Sell

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As early ‘50s TV space operas go, Rocky Jones, Space Ranger was a fairly ambitious program for its era. The program was recorded on film rather than broadcast live, which resulted in higher production standards than such competitors as Captain Video and Tom Corbett Space Cadet.

The show was also accompanied by a strong merchandising campaign, which included a short-lived comic-book series produced by our good friends at Charlton.

Despite such advantages, however, the Rocky Jones program was hindered by off-screen issues and only lasted two seasons. (Scotty Beckett who portrayed Rocky’s sidekick “Winky ,” was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon after being linked to an armed robbery.)

Nowadays, Rocky Jones is primarily remembered for serving as the punchline for a few memorable episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Still, both the show and its spin-off comic are well-done for the time.

The following story, “The Forbidden Frequency,” is especially interesting as it deals with an attempt to force people to purchase unneeded objects through subliminal messages. Not only is the topic sophisticated for a mid-50s comic book, but it is also ironic given the massive merchandising push the TV program received when it debuted.

(At least I hope it’s ironic. After the ‘90s, I’m not sure what that word means anymore …)

Of course, being a space-opera tale the menace quickly veers from malicious advertising to an alien invasion helmed by a buxom alien princess. What would a genre be without its conventions, right?

“The Forbidden Frequency” originally appeared in Space Adventures #16 (Charlton, May 1955). The art is by Ted Galindo and Ray Osrin.

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Tear Your Dollhouse Down

Dollhouse

News of Dollhouse’s cancellation will undoubtedly prompt the Whedon-friendly Internet to grouse about the show’s failure to capture a significant audience.

Some will blame Fox for burying the series in the Friday night graveyard and under-promoting the project to boot, others will say Eliza Dushku wasn’t a good enough actress to pull off the “Doll” concept while still others will blame the audience for not giving the show enough of a chance to unveil its pleasures.

Some will simply re-open old wounds concerning Firefly and Angel.

None will point out that the central concept – people selling off their identities to become robotic prostitutes – simply wasn’t strong enough to carry a series indefinitely. I’m not saying that Whedon and company didn’t make an interesting point or two, but there’s only so many ways to say “HEY LOOK GUYS, THIS IS SOME REALLY BAD $H!T!” before the message becomes repetitive.

(And just how many times did Topher’s supposedly brilliant programming skills prove unequal to the task, exactly?)

Perhaps the show would have worked better as a limited series, a la the original V or The Prisoner. Although I don’t think Whedon could equal The Prisoner, he’s a skilled enough storyteller to put together a cohesive message with a tightly structured beginning, middle and end.

Better yet, the Dollhouse concept would have been great fodder for an sci-fi exploitation film like Looker. Just tell Eliza Dushku to study Susan Dey’s robotic performance in that Michael Crichton movie and off you go …

Sadly, none of those options played out and Dollhouse became another example of how “high concept” is mistaken for creativity these days. Just because something sounds great on paper doesn’t mean it will work on screen.

Of course, Whedon isn’t the only creator guilty of falling into this trap. (Flash Forward, anyone? How about Point Pleasant?)  Storytelling has been overwhelmed by the “Art of the Pitch,” which condenses everything Twitter-like into a few well-chosen buzz-words.

Inevitably, the weight of one failed concept after another will prove too heavy to support. Producers will move on in search of the next big thing (i.e. whatever passes for “reality” at that point) and fans of genre entertainment will be stuck with a trash heap full of kick-@$$ sex-bots, heartbroken vampires and time-traveling islands.

Amazing Slayer-Girl

Buffy In Simpler Times

Thanks to my Virtual Friends™ I recently learned of Geoff Klock’s Remarkable blog, an interesting pop/geek-culture site hosted by the author of How To Read Superhero Comics And Why.

What I find interesting about the site, other than the subject matter of course, is the wide range of guest writers Klock recruits to write about such myriad topics as Chris Claremont’s X-Men, Twin Peaks, Harold And The Purple Crayon and even the finale to Will & Grace.

(Natch, there’s plenty of Grant Morrison references as well. This is the Internet, you know!)

Taken as a whole, the blog makes for interesting and varied reading. While I strongly disagree with some (actually many) of the writers’ assertions, I admire Klock’s crew for providing ample food for thought.

Which brings me to today’s topic: Season One of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Reading through a generally positive review of the beloved series’ fourth season (not my personal favorite, but there were some great moments …), I was more than a bit surprised to see several commentators refer to Buffy‘s first year as the worst of the lot.

I can understand their position; the characters were fairly simplistic and there weren’t any epic musicals or creepy, silent demons in those early episodes. To be quite frank, though, the first season is just about the only era of Buffy I find palatable these days.

I watched the series faithfully for seven years and even felt a bit of remorse when Ms. Summers and the Scooby Gang signed off forever, but as the years passed I found many of the episodes haven’t worn all that well over time. Much like Claremont’s X-Men circa “The Siege Perilous,” the characters grew too dark and the plot lines too labyrinthian to appeal to those outside of creator Joss Whedon’s devoted fan base.

The character of Buffy, in particular, was so full of angst, anger and misplaced arrogance by the seventh season that it’s surprising anyone found her remotely likable let alone relatable.

It wasn’t always that way, however.

Although Whedon has stated more than once that Buffy’s character was strongly influenced by Kitty Pryde – both were conceived as average girls coping with extraordinary circumstances – the Slayer’s portrayal from the first season is more reminiscent of another Marvel Comics icon: Peter Parker.

Specifically, Peter Parker as conceived by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

You’ll never hear this from Joe Quesada, but Mr. Parker wasn’t always a free-swinging bachelor who broke supermodels’ hearts and struck deals with Mephisto. Back in the Lee/Ditko era, Peter was a social outcast who found his “great power and responsibility” a burden that brought him little satisfaction.

Sound familiar, Buffy fans? Remember when our heroine longed for her days as a popular cheerleader? The reluctant sacrifices made in the name of duty?

Like Peter, Buffy always did the right thing … but there was a personal cost. She was misunderstood by her mother, tormented by the school’s principal and scorned by the omnipresent clique of “Mean Girls,” yet the Slayer persisted because – and there’s no other way to put it – with great power comes great responsibility.

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We’ve all felt like misunderstood misfits at one point or another. Yet, just like our fictional heroes hoped, there is always the possibility that acceptance can be achieved with enough persistence.

Coupled with Whedon’s ever-present theme of “high school as horror show,” the first season of Buffy had enough conceptual kick to stand out from a television landscape that … well … had never really seen anything quite like the show before.

(Perhaps the multitude of kick-@ss women who’ve invaded our screens since Buffy and, yes, Xena were introduced has made viewers forget just how novel the characters seemed at the time.*)

Of course, we can’t stay in high school forever. Peter received a make-over from John Romita and found himself the object of two beautiful women’s affections. Not bad for a self-described loser, but the lovable schlub routine never quite rang as true again.

Similarly, Buffy’s angst grew as the seasons progressed to the point where it became easier to root for reformed rogue Faith instead of the show’s supposed heroine. In the final season, the adult Buffy wept over a photo of her high school days, a reminder to this viewer at least of what had been lost over the years.

Those early adventures definitely represented simpler times, but perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to toss those episodes into the dustbin. The crushing weight of adult cynicism and self-absorption can’t be so all-encompassing that we’ve lost the capacity to appreciate the eternal hope of youth.

* No, I haven’t forgotten such proto kick-butt characters as Mrs. Peel, Wonder Woman and Leela from old-school Doctor Who, but such strong women were very few and far between.