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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Super Blog Team-Up: Beast on the Planet of the Apes - a Review

Planet of the Apes #21 (June 1976)
"Beast on the Planet of the Apes"
Doug Moench-Herb Trimpe/Dan Adkins

Doug: Welcome back - it's been awhile! And you're in for a treat today, as my longtime writing partner from Bronze Age Babies is along for the ride. Karen is known to many from several sources, including her work for Back Issue magazine and her recent stint as 1/3 of the crew on Planet 8 Podcast. This is certainly nostalgic for me, but an honor to team with her again! And what a team-up today is. Not only are we a small part of this summer's Super Blog Team-Up, but you'll find us in three spaces: here (of course), the BAB, and at Karen's new blog, Echoes from the Satellite.

Karen: Doug! Always a pleasure to be able to team-up with you and review some comics. Of course, I just love the fact that when the idea to do this was broached, we both thought of doing something with Planet of the Apes! It's so near and dear to both our little hearts. So let's get to it!

Doug: The topic of the day is "expanded universe", and we thought a dive into Marvel's Bronze Age Planet of the Apes magazine seemed like a solid idea in response. If you've partaken of those wonderful B&W comics, you know that the modus operandi was often sprawling epics: "Terror on the Planet of the Apes", and adaptations of the various 20th-Century Fox films. But today it's a 20-page "kind of" done-in-one, and featuring an original character in Derek Zane. From the Planet of the Apes wiki, The Sacred Scrolls (links to the source material have been left in for your convenience):
Derek Zane is a technological genius in 1970's New York who is convinced that Col. Taylor and his crew hit a time disturbance. Determined to prove his theory, Derek sets his time machine for 3975 and is thrown forward in time, destroying his machine in the process. He finds mute humans controlled by talking apes and is accused by gorilla General Gorodon of the murder of orangutan Xirinius. Fleeing across the sea, Derek discovers the island of Avedon where apes and talking humans live in equality but in the style of medieval times. He is accepted as a hero by the community and finds love with Lady Andréa. When Gorodon invades the island Derek leads the defence and kills Gorodon. Later, Derek again sets out to search for the astronauts.
Doug: And it's that "sets out again" adventure that brings us, and you, to today's review. Zane was the creation of scribe Doug Moench, and as editor Rich Handley tells us in his essay closing Boom Studios' Planet of the Apes Archives, volume 2, Moench intended to make Zane the star of the show moving forward. As there were no plans to adapt the then-completed television show and all five films had already been covered, Moench saw Zane further exploring the Apes world. Alas, the magazine was canceled a few months after this story was published.

Karen: I had a few of the Marvel POTA mags when they came out -they didn't creep me out like some of the monster mags did! - but those are all long gone. Those Boom Studio collections are just terrific. I only have the first two, but they're really high quality and I appreciate the Rich Handley essays that provide some context to the comics. 

Doug: I never owned a single copy of the Planet of the Apes magazine when I was a kid. As I read these Archives, though, I was surprised at some of the directions Moench and his collaborators took the franchise. We got mountain man Apes, weird talking brain-like organisms, Ape-supremacists in white sheets, and more! It seemed almost Kirbyesque, the places and ideas Moench explored. As we pick up the Derek Zane narrative, Zane is on Avedon - an isolated island where Apes and men live together in a medieval setting. There is a Camelot, a Robin Hood, fair maidens, dragons... the whole nine yards! Hey, if Edgar Rice Burroughs could stick Pellucidar beneath our surface, why not? Although married to the lovely Lady Andrea after winning a tournament, Zane feels the pull of his original mission: to find and aid the four ANSA astronauts who were lost in space. Solution? Leave Avedon and plunge back into the chaos on the mainland.

Karen: I have to say, I'm blown away by Doug Moench's workload with the POTA magazine. He not only wrote all the film adaptations, but to also produce his own, original series - it's impressive. Like you say, a lot of his work has a real Kirby, Kamandi-style flavor. Much of it is whimsical. I read the Zane stories before this one and they are really out there. 

Doug: Let's face it - Planet of the Apes requires a suspension of disbelief fundamentally. I was only a few pages into "Terror on the Planet of the Apes" when I threw all reservations out the door. To say Moench took us on his own version of "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" would be an understatement!

Doug: Reaching the shoreline, Zane found the raft he'd used earlier when he stumbled upon Avedon. However, there's a challenger for its use and even ownership - a chimpanzee calling himself Robin Hood. Picture Errol Flynn in Roddy McDowell's make-up... Zane and Robin joust, and in the tussle they find that they've unmoored the raft and have begun to float to sea. Along the journey, Zane explains his intentions, but also what awaits Robin on the mainland. Avedon, as I said, was isolated so Robin had no idea of mute humans and militaristic apes. Once ashore, Zane and Robin ambush a chimp traveler and take his clothes and horse. And as fate would have it, before the chimp was knocked senseless he'd revealed that there were indeed rumors of talking humans in the area. So it's off to find the nearest city.

Karen: I couldn't help but wonder, what island was Avedon? But I guess after the nuclear armageddon, land probably shifted, so it could be almost anywhere. I know, I really shouldn't waste my time on things like that. Anyway, the Robin Hood character was a hoot. I'd love to see somebody cosplay that!

Doug: You bring up a point that I've actually dwelt on in watching the newest trilogy of films, and that's geography. We know that Taylor and crew landed somewhere near what used to be New York City, yet in the current series it is set near the Pacific coast. How did the apes conquer the entire continent, and indeed the world? And how long did it take? Two thousand years seems barely long enough to get to the point of an Earth as we see it in Planet of the Apes. And to say "uncharted territory" in our context of Earth's geography would now most likely be untrue given our near-complete survey of our planet, yet in the Apes world of 3978 the Earth seems a blank slate for prospective authors to explore. Sentient brains, though? Is that goofier than coonskin cap-wearing Apes?

Karen: Oh boy, I've long wondered where everything took place! And how the land was distorted by the nuclear war. I mean, some of it just doesn't make a lot of sense, but I bet someone (more than one someone) has a long and detailed essay and map that explains the whole thing.

Doug: I keep telling myself, "they're all make-believe stories", but you know how it goes...

Doug: One of our heroes' first encounters would be quite unsettling as General Zaynor gruffly introduced himself. What follows are pretty standard Apes-tropes. Zaynor is a stereotype of Ursus/Urko/Aldo, and the Dr. Cassius the boys seek is a stand-in for any of the chimp veterinarians we've met previously. The vivisection threat, talking humans scare, orangutans as defenders of the faith, and fugitives on the run all come into play. I don't want to say that from this point forward the story was not enjoyable - it was. And maybe this is how Moench felt he needed to reestablish Derek Zane in the thick of his search for Taylor & crew. But it became very predictable.

Karen: I totally agree. Unfortunately, the story lapses into formula, essentially taking us beat for beat on Taylor's journey in the original film. It's a disappointment, considering how delightfully odd and inventive Moench had been before.

Doug: It's not unlike what we found in Brent's journey in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. That movie doesn't get its legs until Brent heads down the cave and reaches the subway tunnel.

Karen: Well, Brent had to be the Taylor stand-in since Charlton Heston refused to do more than a glorified cameo. So there's duplication of the original's story line for sure. But you know, I love Beneath! I know we have slightly different opinions on this film! I'm sure all the strangeness with the mutants had to inspire Moench.

Doug: Moench included a damsel in distress. I was unclear of his intention, as she exists seemingly only to die. A male character could easily have carried out the plot points that "Hope" did, and I was left to ponder if she had a place - or was supposed to have a place - in Zane's heart. There obviously wasn't time to generate any romantic feelings or even tension, and her demise was quick and seemingly without lasting consequence.

Karen: I'm guessing Moench used a female character as she might elicit a more sympathetic reaction from the mostly male readers? Perhaps it makes Zane look more heroic? And let's face it, it's another chance to draw a scantily-clad woman, something comics have always taken advantage of. I did think she would be a continuing character, so I was quite surprised to see her killed. I figured she'd lead Zane to more speaking humans. I don't know what role she served -- or to be honest, how this story set up much of anything.

Doug: As long as you brought up the art, I'd like to pay tribute to Herb Trimpe and Dan Adkins. While we certainly get some signature Trimpe poses and facial expressions, I felt Adkins rounded out Herb's pencils and gave them some weight and texture. There were some panels throughout the story that were stunning - I am particularly thinking of the intro. of Zaynor atop his steed. Solid!

Karen: Typically, I am not a big Trimpe fan, except when it comes to Hulk comics. But you're right, the combo of Trimpe and Adkins is a very solid one.

Doug: I did like the Robin Hood character, as his swashbuckling nature was a departure from the usually scientifically-oriented chimps. Robin saved the day, and although he and Zane chose to part, I was left wanting a "Road to"-sort of buddy movie with these two. Alas, this was Derek Zane's swansong, so we'll never know. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever picked up the story and run with it. Seems like it would be a no-brainer for a mini-series or novella.

Karen: I kind of wonder if Moench was just feeling his way with this? I think I would have enjoyed a more fantastic take rather than revisiting the films. But maybe Moench felt he'd already done some pretty far out stuff. Of course, I could have stayed on Avedon! An orangutan King Arthur. Yes please.

Doug: Overall, I enjoyed "Beast on the Planet of the Apes", and found Moench's title thought-provoking. Was the beast Derek and the humans? Or was it the Apes? Was it specifically General Zaynor? Or was it the notion of incompatibility between Apes and Man? Could it have been evolution gone awry - that the very existence of the upside down relationships were the untamed wildness? But I wax philosophically...

Karen: Ah, my friend the philosopher. Well, I noticed that Moench referenced King Kong in this (and also in the other Zane story). Kong too was a beast, but you could say that our society was beastly to him. I enjoyed the story, but I think the earlier Zane story, "Kingdom on an Island of the Apes", was a little more fun. Still, I'd encourage any Apes fan to get these Archives. 

Now it's time for you to jump all over the blogosphere and enjoy some cool content from our #SuperBlogTeamUp partners. Leave 'em a comment!

Super-Hero Satellite: M.A.S.K.: The Road To Revolution

Between The Pages Blog: The Star Wars Expanded Universe

Comic Reviews By Walt: The Aliens vs Predator Universe 

Dave’s Comic Heroes Blog: Logan’s Run Marvel Movie Adaptation

The Telltale Mind: Archie Andrews - Superstar

Radulich In Broadcasting: Flash Gordon Universe

The Source Material Comics Podcast: TMNT/Ghostbusters

Unspoken Issues: Mad-Dog 

The Daily Rios: Little Shop of Horrors

Pop Culture Retrorama: The Phantom Universe

Cavalcade of Awesome: Jumper Universe

MichaelMay.Online: Treasure Island Universe   

DC In The 80s: The TSR Universe (DC comics)

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Stay Tuned to This Space!

Newsflash, friends - coming your way on June 24, 2020, this blog will once again come to life for participation in summer's Super Blog Team-Up. And a treat is in store, as I team with my former partner, Karen, to launch three posts that day. We'll be reviewing the short story "Beast on the Planet of the Apes" here at the BWBC. We'll also check in with tons of Apes memorabilia from our childhoods on into the present at Bronze Age Babies. If all that doesn't fill you up, Karen is about set to launch a new blog - at that location you'll find our thoughts on one of the prose stories from the anthology Tales from the Forbidden Zone.

Mark your calendars, as you won't want to miss our content, and certainly not that of the many, many other blogs and podcasts who will participate that day.

Looking forward to it!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Super Blog Team-Up: Shades of Gray - a Review of Spectacular Spider-Man 1

Spectacular Spider-Man #1 (July 1968)
"Lo, This Monster!"
Stan Lee-John Romita/Jim Mooney

Welcome back, friends, to this space as well as to another round of Super Blog Team-Up! This time around we're looking at gimmicks and excess in a theme called "Chromium". While that might seem to have a 90s or 00s vibe, you know this blog hearkens back to the Bronze and sometimes Silver Ages. And that's what I have for you today - a review of a book that lands squarely in that transition from the Marvel Comics of the 1960s heading into the 1970s.

The Spectacular Spider-Man was the brainchild of Marvel's Editor-in-Chief, Stan Lee. Always seeking new ways of keeping Marvel fresh, and narrowing the gap with the Distinguished Competition, Stan could be daring when twisting publisher Martin Goodman's arm. Warren Publishing, MAD Magazine, et al. had already created a market for more adult-themed comics, so Stan wasn't exactly inventing the wheel. Despite its timing, Spectacular Spider-Man was a beautiful book and truly a shame to have been a one-and-done in the black-and-white format. The second issue, in full color and featuring the Green Goblin, stands as one of the great Spidey stories of the Lee-Romita era.

Take a peek at the Bullpen Bulletins at left, and enlarge it. You'll see some typical Stan Lee huckstering, both in the third "Item!" as well as in The Mighty Marvel Checklist. Nearly sold out? Stan even remarks that Jazzy Johnny couldn't find it in his own neighborhood! Know what? I think he was right. Sales figures (I've looked for some exact numbers, but can't locate them) were presumably swell for the first issue, yet Goodman elected to print the second ish in color. We all know that the third issue never saw the light of day. So what happened? My guess is, from everything I've read across numerous histories of Marvel Comics, that Martin Goodman's impatience and general skittishness at potentially losing a nickel most likely ruled the day. It would be another three years before Marvel took the magazine plunge again, with 1971's Savage Tales. And even then, that mag would see a start-stop-start genesis.

NOTE: This book would have landed at the drug stores and supermarkets in between Amazing Spider-Man's 62 (featuring Medusa) and 63 (with the Vulture).

But enough backstory... let's get on with my thoughts on today's selection.

100-Word Review:
Richard Raleigh is a mayoral candidate who has charmed the populace of New York City. But a man-mountain of an assassin apparently wants him dead. Encountering our favorite Webhead, the mystery deepens as Spidey is unable to defeat the monster. Later, various underworld factions take shots at Raleigh. Behind-the-scenes, we find that Raleigh’s not the good guy who’s endorsed by J. Jonah Jameson’s newspaper. Rather, he’s scheming for power by creating plots that seem to run against himself. Can our hero protect his loved ones and the city, and defeat the 10-foot giant bent on killing Captain George Stacy?
The Good: Do you mind if I go on about the art for the next three hours or so? Yeah, that would be excessive. Let's see if I can be a bit more concise. I loved it! Since we're talking gimmicks and marketing today, some of our time should be spent on the black & white art. MAD Magazine was selling a little less than two million copies monthly; we know Warren was well-established by 1968. But no Marvel title had pursued this style yet - Stan's decision to dip his toe into this water could have been a disaster on many fronts: sales, fan response, execution, etc. But wow - did Jazzy Johnny and Jim "Madman" Mooney nail it. This book is beautiful. I read/scanned from the The Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection, volume 4 - admittedly remastered. I think this would have played well on regular ol' newsprint, too. I used to own a copy of Spectacular Spider-Man #2, and I can tell you that it was printed on standard comic book paper of Silver Age vintage. I'm pretty sure the Marvel magazines of a few years hence would be printed on slightly different paper quality. Anyway, I hope you'll agree with me (based on the samples I've provided) that the pictures are simply stunning.

I've remarked in previous reviews that when I see John Romita's Spider-Man and his cast of characters, it just feels like a comfortable pair of jeans or a warm blanket. This is the way these characters are supposed to look. Yes, Spidey's been blessed with a wonderful stable of artists through the years. But for me, everyone's compared to Romita. I'll get to Stan's script shortly... had it been the most gawd-awful piece of trash (which it wasn't), I'd still have had the pretty pictures to look at. Case in point: The three pages below serve as microcosms of my joy. On the left, the second panel with Spidey's mask sort of washed out is a solid effect. In the middle page, the large panel at bottom showcases four of our main characters and shows why Romita is my gold standard. And finally, the third selection seems a preview of pages we'll see in a few years from the likes of Ploog, Wrightson, Buscema, Mayerik, and some of the other B&W and horror masters.

Regarding the supporting cast, I really think their voices lived in Stan's head. Each one is distinctly presented throughout Stan's tenure as writer. Romita helped by giving each a unique look that remained consistent throughout his years on the book and became the template for Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Keith Pollard, and so on.

Richard Raleigh and his man-monster were effective villains in a story that sought original content. Both characters were bombastically over-the-top and effective as psychological and physical menaces to our wall-crawling hero. I liked JJJ's blind allegiance to the cult of personality Raleigh had crafted, and the opposition of Captain George Stacy. Stacy's skepticism and subsequent investigation of Raleigh proved a nice antagonism to both the candidate and to Jonah. Side Note: After writing this review, I started reading at the beginning of the Epic Collection that was my source. George Stacy had only been introduced within the preceding year to this story's publication, and his star had risen quickly. By the time Stacy would meet his demise in ASM #90, he'd only been around for 40 issues or so - a quite short "lifespan" as a somewhat-major supporting character.

The Bad: I was a bit worried as this story was beginning that Stan's script was going to whither beyond the pedestrian effort that limped out of the gate. Through the first three pages, this felt like one of the newspaper strips that would be published a decade later. I understand that, given the format and price increase (35c, when Annuals sold for a quarter) there may have been new readers who needed to be brought up to speed. But I was having a tough time getting past all the cliches. Fortunately, after the initial too-long battle, the story settled in and became what we'd call "regular Spidey fare". 

It seemed to me that Spider-Man might have drawn on Peter Parker's science knowledge in a bit more of a detailed manner when deducing how to defeat the big ugly. The climax felt more the result of luck than of Spidey actually using that genius mind that dwelt beneath the mask.

And speaking of a too-long battle, whenever I get about halfway through one of these 52-page monsters I begin to question my stamina. This was a lengthy piece of literature!

The Ugly: I got nuthin'. Fun read, fun format, easy on the eyes - it's what comics and comics magazines should be.

Before we get to some more good stuff, I wanted to show an art sample of the 10-page retelling of Spider-Man's origin, the back-up to our main feature. Stan wrote it, and art was provided (quite solidly, I might add) by Stan's brother Larry Lieber with inks by the ever-stellar Bill Everett. It's a collaboration that paid some serious dividends.

Please patronize my partners in blogging and podcasting today and in the coming days. You will find it's time well-spent!  

Super-Hero Satellite: 70s-80s Photo Covers. A snapshot of pre-90s era of gimmicks, the evolution of a trend through the years.

Chris is on Infinite Earths (Blog): Adventures of Superman #500 (White Bag/Lenticular Cover/etc.)

Chris is on Infinite Earths (Podcast): Episode 33: Team Titans #1 (1992) -Five Variant Covers… and five variant stories! - Daredevil 319-325: Fall from Grace (Gimmick covers and a new costume)

Between The Pages - Guerilla Marketing

DC In the 80s - Justin’s 5 most memorable DC “gimmicks” (1990 - 1995): Robin II hologram covers, Spectre glow-in-the-dark covers, Justice League Task Force #1 with JLA membership card, Batman Shadow of the Bat #1 collector’s issue, #5 undecided. Mark’s most memorable DC comic cover “gimmicks” (1980 - 1989)  

Comics In The Golden Age -Fawcett’s Mighty Midget comics.

Unspoken Issues - Darkhawk #25

Dave's Comic Heroes Blog - Connected Covers gimmicks: New Teen Titans 37/Batman and the Outsiders 5

When It Was Cool - Polybags!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year!... and "Watch This Space"

Happy New Year, friends. I hope the holidays have been kind to you and yours. It has been relaxing for the most part on this end, and I am looking forward to what 2020 has in store for me and my family.

I am also announcing that you should 

As 2019 was ending, I was contacted by the good folks who administer Super Blog Team-Up and asked if I'd like to participate in the next consortium of awesomeness. Heck yes, I would! The title of the event is "Chromium" and will focus on marketing gimmicks through the years. Being a Black & White focused blog, my mind immediately went to Stan Lee's foray into magazine-sized comics. This landed in 1968 with the publication of the first issue of Spectacular Spider-Man. On January 22 2020, I'll post a review of the lead story from that book, with the usual scintillating commentary you're used to (at least I think it's scintillating). Below is a detail from the back-up feature, a retelling of Spidey's origin by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Bill Everett. You're in for a treat when more art from this tome graces this blog.

So stay tuned. I'll tweet some pre-post publicity - tell your friends! And be well 'til we meet again.

- Doug

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Hello, I Must Be Going

So it has come to this...

What's this, you say? This, my friends, is where Black & White and Bronze Age Comics goes on hiatus. Yesterday's closing review of Maus was not only the realization of a long held goal (and labor of love) to review that classic tale, but somewhat coincidentally it marked exactly one year since publication began in this little corner of the Internet.

I'd mentioned back in June that I thought posting had the potential to become sporadic. Although the first month of my summer vacation, June was particularly busy for me family-wise. But I caught a second wind and was able to spend several days through the end of the summer getting ahead. In fact, by Labor Day I'd scheduled all the way to the end of October! That was a good feeling, since I knew this school year was going to present many new challenges for me. I've been appointed to a new position, largely administrative, and it has greatly restructured my life with numerous meetings and classroom observations each day - and consequently made the nights challenging for writing from an energy and focus standpoint. So it's best to lay this thing to rest, at least for the time being, while its pulse is still strong.

Here's what I said as this blog began:
" initial ambition is to highlight Bronze Age artists who excelled in the black and white format. In the future, you might see reviews of full stories or of pages or even panels. I'll identify the penciler and inker, and sometimes we may just discuss that pairing  - was it a good fit? On other days you may see sketches, or pages of original art. And we won't necessarily be limited to just the Bronze Age - watch for anything from Golden Age Batman newspaper strips to Jeff Smith's Bone to pencil art from Batman comics of the last decade. While my personal comics wheelhouse of 1973-1980 may receive the bulk of attention, hopefully there will be at least a little something for everyone!

Just to give an idea of where this may go, here's an incomplete inventory from my comics library:
  • Planet of the Apes Archives, volumes 1-4
  • Savage Sword of Conan, volumes 1-4
  • Doc Savage Archives, volume 1: The Curtis Magazine Era
  • Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume
  • Batman: The Dailies, 1943-1944, 1944-1945, 1945-1946 
  • Spider-Man Newspaper Strips, volumes 1-2
...and several Marvel Essentials collections, numerous Artist Editions, etc."
If I self-assess, I'd say I met those goals and then some. Throughout the year I received some nice recommendations here and on Twitter. I read some Vampirella stories for the first time, as well as Solomon Kane. I stumbled across a hardcover reprinting of the Blazing Combat series while in Washington, DC last July and purchased it. What a Wow!-factor that book had! I love the diversity of the black & white format, and the roll call of spectacular artists fluent in the genre never ceases to amaze.

But it's been a nice run. Here's a tale of the tape, current the night before this posts.
Posts: 111
Pageviews: 58,500+
Comments: 680

Most viewed post: Claws vs. Talons, in the Savage Land Sky!
Post with most comments: John Byrne's Star-Lord
Number of reviews: 50
Number of creators mentioned: 118
Thanks for putting up with me, and for your interest in the material I've covered. My love of this material has grown over the past several years, but definitely during the past 12 months. I appreciate those who made recommendations to me, and pledge to enjoy those resources moving forward. My "tolerance" for non-superhero comics continues to improve, and I've experienced real joy in some of the new genres or books I've tried. As my friend Karen long ago said, we live in a Golden Age of reprints, and I am so very thankful that much of the black & white material from the Silver and Bronze Ages is readily available to fans.

Be sure to use the navigation features on the sidebar to get at old reviews and artist appreciations. And leave a comment - I'll see it and will interact.

Be well - and whenever I decide to scratch a new itch, I will certainly publicize it on Twitter so that you might come back and enjoy some pretty pictures and perhaps a bit of conversation. Thanks.

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