DVD Review The Six Million Dollar Man Volume 1

Yeah, I know, everything probably thinks it was a campy little show, but The Six Million Dollar Man was actually a pretty good sci-fi/action program. Back in the day, at least in the seventies when I was growing up,  we didn’t have a lot of TV super-heroes, and Steve Austin was the closest around until Spider-Man and the Hulk got their own shows.

sixmilliondollarman01I think everyone knows the story: Steve Austin, “a man barely alive” after a test piloting accident, is rebuilt to be the world’s first bionic man. He helps out Oscar Goldman at the OSI, with various secret missions that border from James Bond to Allan Quartermain. Lee Majors starred as Steve, in a role that normally would’ve typecast someone forever, but he managed to avoid it in the same way Bill Shatner did with TJ Hooker. As with a lot of seventies TV stars, I think you pretty much get Lee Majors as Lee Majors, which isn’t a bad thing.

The six discs of this DVD set contain the three pilot movies-of-the-week that spawned the production, as well as the entire first season of thirteen episodes. Guest stars include William Shatner, John Saxon, Gary Lockwood, Henry Jones, George Takei, George Montgomery,Noah Beery (right before The Rockford Files), Farrah Fawcett (right before becoming Mrs. Lee Majors), Don Porter, and many more.

The stories are actually pretty good, given the limitations of TV and the need for the special effects. One thing you’ll immediately notice is that the familiar hollow da-da-da-da-da sound effect for Steve’s bionics is missing from these shows; I had not realized that it wasn’t added to the aural repertoire until second season. It shows up a few times being used by other characters, like John Saxon’s robot double, but it’s really the only annoying thing about the shows themselves. The episodes are all solid adventure tales. I do have to say that the second TV movie veers a bit too far into James Bond territory, at least in my opinion, making Steve Austin too much of a cardboard cut-out. Also, the final episode of the season, “Run, Steve, Run” is, for the most part,  a cost-cutting flashback episode, but still has a decent half-hour of original story.

The sixth disc is a bonus with several interviews, including a nice one with the late Harv Bennett, and a segment on the creation of the main title and opening of the show, which rivals nearly any show out there for “most memorable”.

If you want the Steve Austin you remember as a kid, you’ll probably want to start with the Season 2 set (which I start watching tomorrow). If you simply love the Six Million Dollar Man as a series, then by all means start with this set!

Blu ray Review #1: King Kong Escapes (1967)

I thought I drop a review on some of the blu-ray DVDs I’ve picked up lately, and I figured I’d start things up with this fun little number. King Kong Escapes was not, as you might expect, based on the original King Kong (1933) or the popular King Kong vs. Godzilla, which I think still ranks, adjusted for inflation, as the most profitable Godzilla movie in the franchise.

KKEscapesNo, this movie was based on the cartoon series The King Kong Show, which hit American small screens between 1966-1969. It, like the movie, was produced by Rankin/Bass, which is perhaps better remembered for the many stop-motion animated holiday TV specials they produced, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReindeerThe Year Without a Santa Claus, and the movie Mad Monster Party.  This was a co-production between the company and Toho Studios, much like The Green Slime and The Last Dinosaur. 

Most people look at King Kong Escapes as probably the worst Kong movie every made. And mainly they’re looking at that atrocious gorilla suit. Much like the aforementioned KK vs. G, there wasn’t a lot of money spent on the primate star of the movie. Even Bob Burns’ legendary and somewhat ratty suit would’ve looked better on screen then the plasticine-faced monstrosity we were shown. You can see seams a-plenty, flaccid lower arm extensions that often make it look like Kong has two elbow joints, and a flap on the back of the head that has a tendency to flutter when the hero gets tossed around too much.

But if you discount that suit, this is actually not a bad movie. The special effects are really top notch for a G-rated movie, the sort directed at kids – it’s head-over-heels better then most of Daiei’s Gamera output of the same era. The miniatures, for the most part, are as good in any of the good Godzilla movies, and even the green screen work is exemplary.

This film was the first appearance of the monster that would later become known as Gorosaurus. He’s pretty much just a dinosaur, though with a kangaroo-like predilection for jumping and kicking opponents. The suit is one of the best dinosaur presentations of the pre-CGI era, and looks really good.

The acting is hammy and on a kids’ level. Dr. Who, played by Eisei Anamoto, is dubbed by the inimitable Paul Frees, star of many dubbed kaiju flicks over the century. Rhodes Reason stars as UN Commander Carl Nelson,  and does a good job as the square-chinned male lead. He appeared in an episode of Star Trek and in a barn full of action oaters. He was the younger, nearly identical brother of Rex Reason, perhaps best remembered for This Island Earth.  Linda Miller was a model who worked in Japan, and this was one of only two movies she appeared in (the other was The Green Slime). She’s pretty, but really dull as a performer. Akira Takarada portrays the other male lead, who appeared in loads of kaiju flicks for Toho. The sultry Madame X was Mie Hama, who appeared in numerous Japanese films and hit international shores in the James Bond vehicle You Only Live Twice and the dubbed Woody Allen film What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

I know the film kept me rapt when I saw it on the CBS Late Night Movie back in the seventies.  It’s just a fun little monster flick. The highlight of the movie was the Robot Kong that Who created from Nelson’s plans. When I first saw the movie, I was amazed at how cool the robot looked, and the opening sequence where Robot Kong attempts to uncover the Element X deposit was spellbinding on a 9-inch black-and-white set. Yeah, I was easy to please back then. Oh, and while every source seems to note this, the robot was never called MechaniKong, no matter how cool that name might sound.

The Blu ray DVD of King Kong Escapes was put out by Universal Studios in 2014. The print they use of the film is pretty good – at least I didn’t notice a lot of film scratches, and I didn’t see any pixelation or any problems with the playback. The disc is barebones, having only a commercial for Ultraviolet (which, naturally, doesn’t cover THIS movie), and nothing else. No trailers, no behind-the-scenes…not even a menu. But with Amazon Prime, it only case me $8.99, so it wasn’t a big loss or expenditure either way.

I love monster movies, and this one is no exception. Many people will grind it down for the Kong outfit, but any viewing that chooses to go beyond that will see a fun, kinda goofy movie, with some otherwise pretty good production values. Definitely something every kaiju fan should see.

Book review: The Action Heroes Archives Volume 2

Action_Heroes_Archives,_Volume_2While a good portion of my hardcover reprint collection consists of Marvel Masterworks volumes, there are a few DC Comics Archives that I also take the time to grab when they’re cheap on Amazon: The Doom Patrol, All-Star Comics, some o the non-Superman and Batman golden age stuff, and the Action Heroes.

Now many folks who aren’t into comics are probably saying “Action Heroes”? Who the hell are they? Well, to put it simply, they are a bunch of characters that were published by Charlton Comics in the late sixties. The three big names were the Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and the Question. All three of those were created, co-created, or revamped by Steve Ditko, the comic legend behind Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and most of the really good aspects of the first Marvel Age of Comics. After leaving Marvel, he sauntered over to Charlton, where Dick Giordano was trying something new with their heroes, which hadn’t really caught on with the public. (It was hard to really make any headway into super-hero comics when DC and Marvel monopolized the field for, well, nearly ever.)

Captain Atom was an entirely new, atomic-age super-hero, with a healthy dose of the jingoism-of-the-day. Blue Beetle was the latest in a long line of characters to assume that name, beginning back in late 1939. Charlton Comics had just ceased publishing their last versions of both characters a few years earlier.

The Question was a brand new creation by Steve Ditko, and was one of his first creations to really espouse his Randian view of the world. He was the immediate predecessor of Mr. A and numerous other stories that Ditko has created since taking the self-publication route for his more, shall we say “political”, works.

Now if you’re wondering why DC Comics put out an archive (well, two) of these characters, they purchased most of the Charlton heroes (and villains) back in the early eighties and incorporated them into their own comic book multiverse in the classic Crisis on Infinite Earths limited series.

A side note: The Action Heroes almost ended up being deconstructed in their first major story for DC, as Alan Moore had wanted to use them for his epic tale Watchmen. DC didn’t like that idea, but they were used as inspirations (The Question = Rorschach, Captain Atom = Dr. Manhattan, Blue Beetle = Nite Owl, Nightshade = Silk Spectre, etc.).

The Action Heroes Archives Volume 2 reprints every Ditko-scripted or drawn adventure of the Question and Blue Beetle, and the revived run of Captain Atom. The issues in this volume are:

  • Captain Atom #83-89 (featuring Nightshade as his partner in many)
  • Blue Beetle #1-5, along with a black-and-white story intended for #6 (the Question was the back-up feature)
  • Mysterious Suspense #1 (featuring the Question)
  • Charlton Bullseye #1, 2, 5
  • And a Question story by Alex Toth.

Fan writer David Kaler contributed a couple of scripts, but nearly everything else in this book is Steve Ditko (he wrote under the alias of “D.C. Glanzman” among others). And it’s very good Steve Ditko was well. He doesn’t really have the opportunity to stretch his artistic vision as he did in Doctor Strange but he manages to work in a lot of space adventures for Captain Atom that are very reminiscent of this long run of work on Charlton and Marvel science fiction and monster comics in the fifties. His Blue Beetle is effervescent and nearly as action-filled as his Spider-man and later Creeper stories.

And the Question is … well, the Question is perhaps the most realistic hero Steve Ditko created for mainstream comics. And when I say “realistic”, I mean he was the most real as a part of Steve Ditko himself. The Question’s stories will seem, to the average comic reader today, very verbose. I would say that almost half of a page of a Question story was filled with captions or word balloons. And he did his best to make his Objectivist points, though with not nearly the uncompromising edge of the later Mr. A, who believed in good and evil and nothing in between the two. If this hadn’t been Charlton, with considerably lax publisher interference in the editorial department, I doubt that Mysterious Suspense would’ve ever been published. It is very good that it was, of course, since it is often called one of the highlights of Charlton’s entire publishing history, and one of the best single issues of ANY comic book series.

I read a good number of these stories when I was a little todger, when Woolworth was selling the Charlton books under the “Modern Comics” imprint. Both volumes of the Action Heroes Archives make it so nice to read these again, as the reproduction values are parsecs away from the originals. That was pretty much standard for Charlton Comics thought, and part of the nigh-perverse reason that many folks remember the company and its comics with such fondness today. They may have been a bit clunky (hell, I actually got a Charlton comic book a few years ago that had five sides), but the tales within were good examples of solid storytelling. The fact that this volume is nearly all Ditko is merely an added benefit.

One of the Charlton Bullseye reprints features an interesting story that finished off the Captain Atom series, and has artwork by Ditko but inked by a young John Byrne, before he came to fame at Marvel. Alex Toth’s Question story is exemplary.

I can’t really find any reason NOT to recommend this book. It’s really one of those books that should be required reading for any comic book artist, given the mastery of storytelling that Steve Ditko exudes. I think even the casual reader will enjoy it, especially if they’re old enough to remember any of these characters, or just the days when comics were printed on newsprint and sold in grocery stores. You can usually score it fairly cheap on Amazon or eBay (in the $20-40 range), which is a small price for revisiting a chunk of a happy childhood.

So on the new scale:

review-charltonheroesv2

Review: Justice League – War

ImageThis is somewhere around the third direct-to-video DC movie to use the themes of the “New 52”, and it’s just as big a train wreck as the comic books themselves. I almost hesitate giving it a review, since the fewer people that waste their time with it, the better. But I guess it’s better to let folks know of this travesty so they don’t waste their Redbox coupons on it. Or worse yet, buy the DVD.The movie is basically an adaptation of the first story arc in Justice League (reprinted in the trade paperback Origin). With two changes: No Aquaman. And Captain Marvel Shazam replaces the Sea King. It’s a really pointless change that does nothing but lessen the whole, and means the animators didn’t have to draw a lot of fish.All the cliches of that hackneyed opening story are there: Superman is a jerk. Green Lantern is a jerk. Batman once again pickpockets GL’s power ring like he did in All-Star Batman and Robin the original story. Wonder Woman is dull. Shazam is a spoiled brat who needs a few months on Apokolips. The Flash is dull. Cyborg is okay, but his armored form looks very clunky by comparison to his original body.  Cyborg and Batman are the only ones who even remotely act like the heroes they used to be. Darkseid and the forces of Apokolips are pretty ineffective when confronted by actual metahumans. The scripting and dialogue is atrocious, reading just like the overblown crap spewed by the heroes in Geoff Johns’ original story. Well, nearly original. I think they did this story better back when it was Jack Kirby’s Super Powers.

This is certainly the weakest DC animation effort I’ve watched so far. It really has nothing going for it, and as an old school comic book fan, I wouldn’t even give it a star if I was rating it.  It seems like they want to make sure that the heroes as they envision them are jerks and near-homicidal. Considering Man of Steel, the cancellation of Young Justice and the Teen Titans Go dreck that replaced it, I can’t say that I’m looking forward to any new DC animation or movie releases. Just like DC itself, they’ve forgotten what matters: The history and the fans.