Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Brit, Vol.1: Old Soldier (2007)

I'm sure folks get sick of my reviews of Robert Kirkman books, because I always talk about how whatever it is isn't as good as The Walking Dead, even off volumes of The Walking Dead. Did I also bitch that every Frank Miller project wasn't The Dark Knight Returns or every Alan Moore project Watchmen? No, because Miller also gave us Born Again and Year One, while Alan Moore did Miracleman and Swamp Thing. I keep reading Kirkman books, and the drop-off isn't just steep from The Walking Dead, but too often from other random shit I pull off the shelf. I don't have to love every project, but can't I at least like one?

Well, I like Brit okay. Of Kirkman's various projects, it reminds me the most of The Irredeemable Ant-Man, an intentionally funny action comic with an amusingly skeevy lead. Brit qualifies for Social Security, but invulnerability keeps him on the government payroll, and there's always his side job as owner of a strip club. Kirkman owes a clear debt to Erik Larsen's combination of blue collar ethos and outrageous gross-out scenarios, but he just as clearly does the influence one better. The title does a nice job balancing domestic hassles, giant monsters, and the occasional melodrama. This trade collects three extra length specials, providing three complete stories for your entertainment dollar. The first book has rough early art by Tony Moore, the second a smoother look, but Cliff Rathburn's third installment plays the trump card. A satisfying and attractive package, so it's a shame the follow-up ongoing series was three years late and by a different writer...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

1991 Miller Lite "Then, Now, and Forever" Commercial

I'm finally going through a batch of VHS to DVD transfers I did years ago of material dating back to the early '90s. Since I was poor, video quality is usually lacking, and the YouTube library makes a lot of my stuff redundant. Still, as I go through it and check to see if there's cause to upload any of it, I figured I'd share here. This commercial spans decades of pop cultural fashion/music history through the then cutting edge morphing technology (now most the domain of Syfy original movies.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

1980 S W Studios Masquerade Make-Up Kits ad


Having grown up on Mammy Two Shoes and Jolson references in animation, I shouldn't be too surprised that you could still advertise a "Black Face" make-up kit in 1980. What's interesting is that it appears to be an African-American boy lad wearing the make-up, and I tend to think the wonders of latex applications hadn't quite trickled down to the suburbs yet. Perhaps "Zulu Warrior" would have been more appealing to the racially insensitive youth of America, but I suppose a sigh of relief could be uttered for the absence of "Darkie Savage" or "Spearchucker." Never mind the "Indian," which was probably a trademark dodge for "Tonto" rather than a nod towards A.I.M. Just scope the KISS make-up, or rather "Black & White (Disco.)" Between "Black Face" and "Indian," "Kabuki" was clearly expecting too much. Ads like this remind me that whatever the faults of political correctness, I'll take it over grody crap like this.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Frank Review of "Madmen of Mandoras" (1963)

The Short Version?They Saved Hitler's Brain!
What Is It? Thriller
Who Is In It? Hitler!
Should I See It? Maybe.

For an early '60s black and white public domain bomb, Madmen of Mandoras is decent. The plot is a total hash of disparate elements that only go together because of the assumptions of the genre, rather than a sense whoever wrote the screenplay ever read it again afterward. People keep getting kidnapped or shot in service to a gobbledygook conspiracy of super-villainous impracticality involving Nazis and Latin American strongholds. The important thing is stuff keeps happening, so at least it isn't completely boring. Everybody do a shot when somebody gets shot, and it'll do wonders. The main reason to watch of course is the same as it was when some UCLA students tacked on twenty minutes of new footage in 1968 to turn it into a "head" film: there's motherfucking Hitler's head in a motherfucking glass jar. Dated technique be damned, it looks really cool and wrong, plus, y'know they do things-- with the head. Not Barbara Crampton things, but still, wicked.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Death's Head Resolicitation (August, 1991)

Literally on the back of the torn out page of Advance Comics with the Mutant Genesis Ad was this solicit for what ended up being the first Death's Head II mini-series. I believe the same little sketch, presumably by Liam Sharpe, was in the original solicit. Because the image was so small and the lines so fragile, I decided to take the scan as is. The yellow highlight was for books I was interested in ordering, and the green for those that got purchased. I was so anal in those days, I read the goddamned thing cover to cover. I'd been a fan of Death's Head since he appeared in a comic strip on the back of Dragon's Claws, the first Marvel UK series I followed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Frank Review of "Night Court: The Complete First Season" (2005)

The Short Version? Crazy city court with a zany staff.
What Is It? Sitcom with regular doses of human drama.
Who Is In It? The sorts you'd expect.
Should I See It? Yes.

Growing up, Night Court was one of my favorite sitcoms, and I followed it both in first run and syndication. I'm always wary of revisiting shows like this, especially after years distance without exposure, because they rarely live up to those misty watercolor memories of the way they were. While not exactly an exception, Night Court still holds up as an amusing, entertaining program with standout performances and strong episodes. Others, well, we'll take a look at that. This disc covers the show's debut 1984 season as a midseason replacement, and it's fun to see both how much was in place from the very beginning, and how many changes were made. Harry Anderson often says he was essentially playing himself as Judge Harry T. Stone, so the consistency over nine seasons isn't shocking. The only character written expressly for the actor cast was Selma Diamond, who does not deviate from the very start. Karen Austin is a treat as Lana Wagner, who was built up as Harry's primary support and love interest all season. I expect that would come as a shock to viewers who missed this half-season, since the character vanishes three-quarters of the way through. Richard Moll's take on Bull solidified very quickly, and the actor has understandably been most associated with the character ever since. Paula Kelly was terrific all season, so it was a shame that she received so little attention, especially give the two Bull episodes and an awful lot of time devoted to Lana. John Larroquette grew the most organically, reasonably prominent but not quite a featured player yet, with the seeds of the future "crème de scum" planted over a series of episodes only just beginning to hatch by the end of the season.

  1. "All You Need Is Love": This one was all about introducing viewers to the wacky, improper, youthful Judge Stone, with a fair amount of time bouncing off his first court clerk, Lana Wagner. Assistant D.A. Dan Fielding is uptight and pretentious, Bull is brusque, and Bailiff Selma Hacker is dry as a bone. The very basics of the supporting character are there, but only to play off Harry. Actress Gail Strickland breezes in for a single episode as P.D. Sheila Corinth, while Rita Taggart makes the first of several appearances as hooker with a heart of gold Carla B. Not bad for a start, even if things go a bit overboard in portraying Harry as a loose cannon.

  2. "Santa Goes Downtown": An after Christmas comedown, with wonderful character actor Jeff Corey as a mentally ill St. Nick. Michael J. Fox as a runaway is a nice surprise, but he overplays the disaffected youth angle to the point that you kind of want to brain him. Paula Kelly makes her debut as Public Defender Liz Williams, and helps play this one for heart more than laughs.

  3. "The Former Harry Stone": Terry Kiser joins the cast as muck-raking journalist Al Craven. I enjoyed the character, but the cases coming through the court didn't warrant press, and many of Craven's smarmy characteristics would later be adopted by Dan Fielding. '80s sexpot Judy Landers gives Dan his first opportunity to show signs of lechery. Seinfeld's dad Barney Martin has a cameo as a bum.

  4. "Welcome Back, Momma": The disgusting, manipulative, womanizing Dan Fielding we all know and love really starts to blossom here, amidst a parade of beauty pageant contestants charged with assault. For the second episode in a row, an element of Harry's past comes back to haunt him, bringing either the humanity the series was known for or the wet blanket over the humor the show was also known for. Bull's sweet naivete is developing. Martin Garner debuts as newsstand operator Bernie.

  5. "The Eye of the Beholder": The first Bull-centric episode, showing the big guy for the teddy bear he is. Character actors Al Ruscio and Stanley Brock turn up, for the first of several appearances in a variety of roles.

  6. "Death Threat": Character actor Phil Leeds offers the first of several appearances, this time memorably as "God." George Murdock is also great as Womack of Homicide. Jack Murdock (relation?) as a twitchy member of the bomb squad is a kick, contributing to an already strong episode. For once, even the shoeshine boy with a sob story (Gabriel Gonzalez) injects humor, instead of the usual soap opera.

  7. "Once in Love with Harry": Carla B.'s third episode is a spotlight that wrings drama out of her situation, leaving it up to John Larroquette's Dan Fielding to keep things from getting depressing. Howard Honig's cameo is a bit much. Bull is about as hairy as he gets. The sexual tension between Harry and Lana gets ratcheted up. Jason Bernard makes his first appearance as the adversarial Judge Robert T. Willard, though his run is limited.

  8. "Quadrangle of Love": What the title says. Harry, Dan and Bull competing for the same woman. Not as funny as it sounds, unfortunately. Too much Mel Torme, as well. Like, way.

  9. "Wonder Drugs": A Lana Wagner spotlight, even more so than usual. I liked this character, and it still surprises me that someone so important disappeared before the second season. I'm glad she got this showcase. Jack Riley is great as usual in a cameo. Lionel Mark Smith makes a good straight man.

  10. "Some Like It Hot": Mike Finneran debuts as maintenance man Art Fensterman, who would appear sporadically for the rest of the series. Combined with the first of repeat performer Yakov Smirnoff, this one was pretty painful sitcomedy. Larroquette and Kelly have some rich moments in handcuffs, at least. Still, a rotten episode to serve as Karen Austin's last, as she departed the series without notice, and only really had a cameo here.

  11. "Harry and the Rock Star": Pandering to a younger audience with Kristine DeBell. Fairly grating, but Alice Drummond is fun in a cameo. Paula Kelly was especially good this time, as well. The one good thing about the loss of Lana is that there's no repeat cattiness against another Harry love interest.

  12. "Bull's Baby": A strong episode, aside from a painfully out of place Murphy Cross as a substitute court clerk.

  13. "Hi Honey, I'm Home": Murphy Cross remains stiff in an expanded role, likely written for the Lana character. A good story to end the season with, enhanced by the always awesome Charles Napier in a guest appearance. Bernie and Selma have a sweet subplot, as well. Shame Paula Kelly didn't see much action in her last episode.


  • Commentary on All You Need Is Love by Creator/Executive Producer Reinhold Weege Discussing pre-production and the difficulty of getting all the necessary information about the show across in a pilot. Really though, this is a tight overview of the series, well worth a listen.
  • Night Court: Comedy's Swing Shift Eighteen minutes of a fantastic hour long documentary. What's here is swell, but they only got Reinhold Weege and Harry Anderson.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Luke Cage Noir (2010)

Once DC Comics set into a comfortable, family friendly rut in the 1950s, they had to start telling "Imaginary Stories" that allowed changes to occur with their characters, even though they were all done-in-ones with no impact on "reality." Marvel did something similar with "What If...?" except those were tales spun off a set point in continuity, typically a worst possible case scenario where heroes failed instead of triumphed. Meanwhile, DC started rebooting its official continuity every five years, so when they started doing "Elseworlds" one-shots, they were more like quaint throwbacks than daring flight of fancy. Marvel never really bought into reboots, but once they broke the cardinal rule of "nobody stays dead but Bucky and Uncle Ben," nothing seems to matter or feel irreversible in their universe anymore. They have whole sublines of "Elseworlds" type stuff, rather cheesy "imaginary stories" like "what if a given Marvel hero and their supporting cast operated out of a Depression era crime setting?" Some characters lend themselves to that sort of thing, and some characters are Deadpool.

Luke Cage was supposed to be a very hip cat when he was created in the 1970s, but his whole reheated Shaft shtick was heavily indebted to gumshoes from decades prior. Telling a legitimate 1930s noir story with the character, along the lines of the work of authors like Chester Himes or Walter Mosley, is actually pretty inspired. The solicited covers for the four issue mini-series were fucking gorgeous, and Shawn Martinborough drew the hell out of the interiors. The colors by Nick Filardi complemented well, and Dennis Calero offered a potent cover for the trade collection.

Things fall apart from there, though. The trade is in a dinky digest format, which at three-quarters standard dimensions is too big to fit in a pocket but too small to serve the art well. The pages are a slightly heavy but flat stock, so that regardless of the colors used, everything looks brown or gray. Ten buck for four issues sounds fair in a standard format trade with decent quality printing, so Marvel charges $14.99 and cuts every corner they can. It would have been deeply offensive if the story had lived up to the efforts of all the other creators.

Adam Glass and Mike Benson are probably best known (as much as they are) for writing Deadpool comics, and while the story is much better than that resume would indicate, competency doesn't warrant applause. Aside from featuring a lot of black people, the story is strictly post-Chinatown boilerplate. Luke Cage as presented here is a generic amateur dick without any personality or swagger. Willis Stryker and Billy Bob Rackham are so far removed from who they were in old Hero for Hire comics, it seems like the script came first and determining analogues happened on the assistant editor's office. The Spider-Man villain Tombstone, a perfect potential foil for Cage, gets his resemblance in this story from the colorist leaving him white rather than anything out of the script. There are two major "twists" in the story, one of which relies upon prior knowledge of the character. This negates the argument that the story was meant to stand on its own, but more importantly, the entire plot is built around teasing the twists and ladling out cliche in every other aspect of the story.

I read this book months ago, and kept putting off reviewing it. The story isn't outright bad, just pedestrian, failing to live up to the potential the concept suggests. It didn't have to be great, but it did need more than just being "there." The old "Elseworlds" were fun because they kept the basics of the characters with a simple but effective shift in perspective, while "Imaginary Stories" tended to be bizarre and "What Ifs" were often pure schadenfreude. This was simply a faceless screenplay for a late '70s b-movie with some Marvel trademarks grafted on.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mutant Genesis Ad (August, 1991)

I've been digging through my boxes of loose crap lately, and figured it was time to revive Smelly Brown Paper (Scans of Yore) as a more regular feature. This piece seems especially appropriate, since my original is literally smelly, brown, and, um, yorey. Good thing there's digital contrasting to clean it up. This ad was torn out of an issue of Advance Comics after I realized that I didn't want to keep hauling ten years worth of two different retailer catalogs from place to place and recycled that shit. It was used to promote the launch of Chris Claremont, Jim Lee and Scott William's X-Men #1, as well as the new art team of Whilce Portacio and Art Thibert on Uncanny X-Men. For some reason, I clipped out the part of the ad with the X-Men credits, so I trimmed out the Uncanny ones from the scan. Claremont of course was drummed off both books, and I don't think that either of these line-ups ever came into being. I ran a check for this art online, and couldn't find it, but please drop a comment if you can direct me to better scans (re: any.)


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