Author Archives: fantesinferno

Southern Comfort (1981)

Release Date: September 25, 1981
Starring: Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Fred Ward, T.K. Carter, Franklyn Seales, Lewis Smith, Alan Autry (credited as Carlos Brown), Les Lannom, Brion James, Peter Coyote
Written by: Michael Kane, Walter Hill, David Giler
Directed by: Walter Hill

I love rediscovering an obscure film from the 80’s that still hits on all cylinders decades later.  When my family first got cable TV in 1981 it gave me exposure to quality (and some not so quality) films that I normally would not have been introduced to at our local cinemas.  Southern Comfort, directed by Walter Hill, is one of those great films that was easy to find on cable TV back then but became harder to find over the years.  With the film’s recent availability on Amazon Prime, it was time to revisit it.

Walter Hill is best known for The Warriors and 48 Hours, but his impressive list of films includes hard hitting dramas (Hard Times, The Driver), a beloved comedy (Brewster’s Millions), an action film (Red Heat) and less conventional dramas like the neo-noir Streets of Fire and blues themed Faustian tale Crossroads.  But the 1981 drama/thriller Southern Comfort is a solid film that inexplicably slipped through the cracks over time despite an engaging story and great cast.

The film begins in 1973 Louisiana.  Army National Guardsmen are on maneuvers in the bayou.  Captain Poole (played by Peter Coyote) assembles a squad of eight men for a standard recon mission.  Their morale is apathetic at best and it doesn’t get any better with arrival of Hardin (played by Powers Boothe), a transfer from Texas who wants to put in his time and get home to his wife.  Stuckey (played by Lewis Smith) tries to lighten the mood by firing blank rounds from his machine gun at Poole’s second-in-command Sergeant Casper (played by Les Lannom), which shows the amount of respect they have for him (and also makes a viewer wonder why the surrounding troops didn’t respond to it as a threat – my one caveat with the film).  Spencer (Keith Carradine) boosts the men’s motivation when he tells them he has hired several prostitutes to wait for them at a rendezvous point at the end of their recon mission.

Several hours into the recon mission Captain Poole realizes their course has been blocked by a river that rose with the winter rains.  Their choice is to continue forward to find their rendezvous point or backtrack to base and start the recon all over again.  At a trapping post, faced with a river they are unable to cross and the entertainment waiting for them at their eventual rendezvous point, they “requisition” three canoes from local trappers who aren’t around to give permission.  At the suggestion of straight laced high school coach Bowden (played by Alan Autry but credited as Carlos Brown), the squad leaves one canoe behind with a note explaining where they will find the other canoes.  But despite the soldiers’ best intentions the trappers are not happy with a group of outsiders interfering with their property.

The group is halfway across the river when the French speaking Cajun trappers angrily make their presence known.  Reece (played by Fred Ward) manages to get a few rude words out in French.  Poole attempts to explain they’ll get their canoes back, but the situation spirals out of control when joker Stuckey fires a couple of dozen blank rounds at them.  The trappers, unaware they are blanks, return fire and shoot Poole in the head, killing him.  Leaderless and lost, the guardsmen now need to survive in unfamiliar territory without live ammunition.

Fear and infighting within the group set in.  Spencer reveals that Reese has his own box of live ammunition.  Casper orders him to turn it over to distribute among the squad but Reese is more than willing to give Casper a bullet to the head to keep his stash.  Hardin sneaks up behind Reese with a knife to his throat and the bullets are turned over.  Casper does his best to keep order and lead the squad, but despite his experience and knowledge of military procedure, he’s unable to command the respect of the men.

The next day they find the trappers cabin and capture the only inhabitant, a one-armed trapper (Brion James).  But the group has different ideas as to how their new prisoner should be treated.  After Simms (played by Franklyn Seales) cracks him across the jaw he’s unwilling to talk.  Bowden’s composure erodes and he’s hellbent on payback.  Oblivious to the supplies they could have collected, he sets the trapper’s cabin on fire and nearly kills all of them when a storage of dynamite goes off.  With even less live ammunition they continue through the bayou dragging both a prisoner and Poole’s lifeless body.  They can’t find the highway and they take it as a morbid sign when they encounter eight dead rabbits (one for each of them) hanging in their path.

Without a compass, Spencer and Casper disagree over which direction to go.  As they attempt to get their bearings, a group of hunting dogs attack them with Stuckey and Cribbs (played by T.K. Carter) getting the worst of it.  The squad is now the hunted, descending into fear, despair and paranoia with each deadly trap they encounter.  When they’re not feeling the presence of their hunters, the squad begins to turn on itself.  Bowden cracks and is tied up so as not to become a danger to himself and the squad.  Reese tries his own methods of interrogation on their prisoner which leads to a knife-wielding showdown with Hardin.  With no end to their ordeal in sight, Casper’s quoting of the manual finally turns the men against him and they follow Spencer.

No spoilers here.  Walter Hill’s direction and cinematographer Andrew Laszlo’s photography of the bayou puts the audience right in the middle of the squad’s nightmare.  It’s the portrayal of the “local’s” desire to protect their land and way of life that effectively brings out the growing fear and desperation of the guardsmen (a few shots are not for the squeamish).  It’s too easy to compare Southern Comfort to the critically acclaimed Deliverance (unfortunately even the film’s poster is guilty of this), but Southern Comfort stands on its own as a powerful psychological drama that keeps the audience engaged to the very end.

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Moon Knight #1 (1980)

Moon Knight #1 (November 1980) – Copyright Marvel Comics

One of my simple pleasures has always been reaching into the old box o’ comics to revisit the classic comic stories of my youth.  I was fortunate to live in an era when the classic Marvel runs of Daredevil, X-Men, Fantastic Four and Thor were in full swing, but waiting another month for the next issue was a combination of excitement and torture.  Even though I’m now able to buy the trades or even pull out several of my own back issues from a classic run, I have to admit that being able to reread three or four consecutive issues in one sitting is a little less satisfying to me.  And more than once I found myself reading one issue in a trade only to put it down and let a little time pass before reading the next issue in the book.

By 1980 we were several years into our comic book collecting.  Looking back at the early 80s it was great to buy eventual classic issues of Daredevil #181 and Thor #337 right off the rack.  But we were always envious of any comic book collectors that had a first issue of any Marvel title from the Silver Age, especially X-Men #1 which to this day is still my grail comic.

So when Moon Knight #1 hit the stands in 1980, we jumped at the opportunity to add a first issue to our collection.  Bill Sienkiewicz’s cover depicting Moon Knight’s white costume popped on the spinner rack, as did “Premiere Issue!” and the “1” in that beautiful corner box.  That sealed the deal and this issue quickly became a favorite in our collection.  But that cherished #1 did not lead to more careful treatment, and like many other comics in our collection it can now be classified as “well read.”  The character of Moon Knight was created by writer Doug Moench and artist Don Perlin and debuted in Werewolf By Night #32 in 1975.  He’s made several appearances in other comic titles through the late 70’s before getting his own book, which officially delivered on August 19, 1980.  But it was Moench and Sienkiewicz’s Moon Knight #1 that was my personal introduction to the character and my favorite of all of Moon Knight’s volumes.

Moon Knight #1 (November 1980) – Copyright Marvel Comics

Moon Knight #1 begins with a splash page by Sienkiewicz that takes no prisoners.  A squad of mercenaries led by Bushman rides into a rebel camp in Sudan at dawn, shooting every rebel in sight.  Bushman’s second in command is Marc Spector, who disapproves of Bushman’s blood thirsty methods.  Helicopter pilot Frenchy drops in and lets Marc in on his feelings that working for Bushman may not be in their best interests.  Bushman plans an attack on Selina, a village that poses no threat but has a recently excavated pharaoh’s tomb for him to loot.  Marc and Frenchy make the decision to desert that night.

During the raid on Selina, an old archeologist attempts to kill Bushman, but is stopped by Marc.  Rather than taking the old man prisoner, Bushman kills him on sight.  With his dying breath, the archaeologist tells Marc to find and protect his daughter.  Despite her fear and anger towards the mercenaries, she heeds Marc’s threat and escapes.  Bushman witnesses Spector’s “indescretion” but lets it slide and orders Marc to collect the gold artifacts and round up the remaining men in the town square.  Frenchy arrives to helicopter Marc out, but Marc breaks away to unsuccessfully stop the firing squad from killing the prisoners.  Marc tries to kill Bushman but is knocked out and left to die a slow death in the desert.

He wakes up and barely musters the energy to wander through the desert for the next day and night.  The following night his near lifeless body is found by the locals.  They pull him in to the tomb of Pharaoh Seti as they and the slain archaeologist’s daughter Missy attempt to pack up the remaining artifacts.  Her initial anger gives way to mercy, as she refuses to give in to anger and hate.  Under the statue of Khonshu the moon god Marc’s body shoots back to life.  He inexplicably recognizes Khonshu as “the taker of vengeance” and takes the white cloak off the statue before taking off in a jeep for his revenge on Bushman.

Moon Knight #1 (November 1980) – Copyright Marvel Comics

Back at Selina, Marc takes out two of Bushman’s guards and sets a decoy to draw out Bushman and his men.  After knocking the men out with an ammo dump blast, it’s just Marc and Bushman.  Missy (her real name Marlene) shows up behind him, held back by a mysterious figure in the shadows.  Marc turns to help her only to find that it’s Frenchy keeping her at a safe distance.  Bushman escapes and Marc’s opportunity for revenge is lost.

Moon Knight #1 (November 1980) – Copyright Marvel Comics

Marc returns to New York with Frenchy and Marlene and establishes a new life in Long Island with two additional identities: Wall Street mogul Steven Grant and cab driver Jake Lockley.  But Marc’s triple personality in addition to Moon Knight begins to take a toll on Marlene.  “Lockley” tracks down Bushman to a club in Harlem, and once he’s in full Moon Knight costume, Frenchy rides in on their crescent shaped aircraft to drop him into Bushman’s club for a showdown.

No spoilers here.  Moon Knight #1 is a great read and sets the tone for a great run on the title by Moench and Sienkiewicz.  Moench’s script and Sienkiewicz’s dynamic art pack a lot of action and drama (with a higher than normal body count for a comic book of that era) into 24 pages.  You definitely got your money’s worth with the 50 cent cover price back then, just as you would if you paid $3.99 for the issue today.  Comixology is currently offering the digital version of Moon Knight #1 for free.  It’s a great introduction to Moon Knight’s initial 80’s run that still holds up almost 40 years later.

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An Eisner Afternoon At The Society of Illustrators

Will Eisner: The Centennial Celebration 1917-2017 at the Society of Illustrators in New York

My first introduction to Will Eisner’s work was sometime in the mid-80s with reprints of his later Spirit stories, but my true appreciation for his art and stories developed late in my comic book reading years.  I had been out of reading and collecting comics for about ten years when I began to seek out his work in the mid 2000s, first with his 1940s Spirit strips, then his graphic novels A Contract with God, The Dreamer and Last Day In Vietnam.  Eisner quickly became one of my favorite comic artists, primarily for his groundbreaking splash pages, film noir inspired use of light and dark, and beautifully inked lines.  By that point I wanted to learn as much as I could about his art and career and quickly began to catch up with his books Comics and Sequential Art, Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative, and Shop Talk.  Just as I was making up for lost time, looking forward to his next graphic novel and hoping to one day meet him at a local comic con, he passed away in January 2005.

This year would have been Eisner’s 100th, and the Society of Illustrators in New York marked the occasion with their latest exhibit Will Eisner: The Centennial Celebration 1917-2017, an exhibition of Eisner’s original artwork that spans from his Eisner & Iger Studio stories, 1940s Spirit strips, and his later graphic novels to his final work The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

I had seen several of Eisner’s original pages at The Jewish Museum’s Masters of American Comics exhibition in 2006, and while it was an incredible exhibit of comic book art, I remember thinking (in my humble opinion) that Eisner was under represented in that show.  So when the Society of Illustrators announced they would be honoring Will Eisner with this exhibition, I knew this would be one of the best opportunities for me to see a wider range of his work including some original 1940s Spirit pages.  It didn’t disappoint.

Will Eisner: The Centennial Celebration at the Society of Illustrators in New York

The exhibition takes up two floors of the Society’s building, with the main floor showcasing Spirit pages from the 40’s to the 70’s.  The boldly colored print of Spirit character P’Gell grabbed my attention as soon as I walked in (pictured above), but it was the original art I was there to see and I quickly made my way to the April 27, 1941 Spirit strip drawn by Eisner.  It’s amazing to see the progression from his early drawing style to the classic The Spirit art of the late 40s as you work your way across the first wall of the exhibit.  Eisner’s line work is bolder and more fluid in the 1947 original Spirit pages on display, which include several splash pages that showcase The Spirit’s logo.

The Spirit Original Art from 4/27/41

The Spirit Original Art from 8/3/47

It’s one thing to appreciate the final colored and lettered art of The Spirit comic strips, but seeing Eisner’s original hand drawn artwork (even the early pages browned from the paper’s acidity and splashed with white correction fluid) takes it to another level of appreciation.  The Spirit pages on display tell a deeper story with the unerased pencil lines, blueline notes and white opaque paint that show elements of Eisner’s artistic process.  I was so drawn to the original art on display when I first walked into the exhibit that I completely missed several of Eisner’s personal items that were displayed in the room.  Eisner’s drawing board, as it was left at the time of his 2005 passing, as well as several of his used brushes, inking nibs and pages of a Jules Feiffer unpublished script for The Spirit.

Will Eisner’s artist tools and a Spirit script by Jules Feiffer at the Society of Illustrators in New York.

The exhibit continues in the basement with original art, including rough layouts, mostly of his later works.  But two Smash Comics pages from the Eisner and Iger Studio (#6 from 1939 and #8 from 1940) and a 1936 oil painting from his teenage years were a nice surprise.  The layouts of the Smash Comics pages were straightforward and simple compared to Eisner’s later works, but each page had one panel that was drawn with a more dramatic angle than the others that foreshadowed the cinematic style that he would be known for with The Spirit.  His later works on display include pages from A Contract With God, Dropsie Avenue and Last Day in Vietnam.

Will Eisner exhibit at the Society of Illustrators in New York.

From beginning to end, the Society of Illustrator’s Will Eisner: The Centennial Celebration 1917-2017 is a strong representation of Eisner’s work.  But my afternoon at the Society of Illustrators didn’t end there.  Other works of art by the greats (a Steve Canyon strip by Milton Caniff and paintings by Leyendecker) lead to the second floor exhibit Heroes of the Comics by Drew Friedman.

Will Eisner: The Centennial Celebration 1917-2017 ends on Saturday June 3rd and I highly recommend it for fans of Eisner’s work and anyone who appreciates the medium of graphic novels.  This exhibition will be followed by The Art of Spider-Man beginning on June 6th.

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Off the Spinner Rack: June 1985

This month I take a look back at my prime years of comic book collecting via the Newsstand Time Machine at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics to revisit the comics I bought off the spinner rack in June 1985.  By 1985 our monthly comic book purchases were still steady at around 8 to 10 books a month, but started to decline toward the end of that year.  Several superhero books on our pull list would be replaced by independent titles, with Dave Sim’s Cerebus and Mike Grell’s Jon Sable Freelance among the titles we looked forward to the most each month.

Alpha Flight #26

Alpha Flight #26
If at First You Don’t Succeed…
Written and penciled by John Byrne; Inked by Bob Wiacek

Cerebus #75

Cerebus #75
Terrible Analogies
Written and drawn by Dave Sim; Backgrounds by Gerhard

Daredevil #223

Daredevil #223
The Price
Writers: Dennis O’Neil and Jim Shooter; Penciled by David Mazzuchelli; Inked by Kim DeMulder

Dreadstar and Company #4

Dreadstar and Company #4
The Hand of Darkness
Written and Drawn by Jim Starlin

Fantastic Four #282

Fantastic Four #282
Inwards to Infinity
Written and penciled by John Byrne; Inked by Jerry Ordway

Groo the Wanderer #7

Groo the Wanderer #7
The Ivory Graveyard
The Sage
Written by Mark Evanier; Drawn by Sergio Aragones; Lettered by Stan Sakai

Jon Sable Freelance #29

Jon Sable #29
Murder…In Spades
Written and Drawn by Mike Grell

Longshot #1

Longshot #1
A Man Without a Past
Written by Annie Nocenti, Penciled by Arthur Adams, Inked by Brent Anderson

Thor #359

Thor #359
The Grand Alliance
Written and Drawn by Walter Simonson; Lettered by John Workman

Uncanny X-Men #197

Uncanny X-Men #197
To Save Arcade?
Written by Chris Claremont; Penciled by John Romita Jr.; Inked by Dan Green

Ten comic books purchased at a total cost of $8.05 ($17.97 in 2016 dollars).  We’d been purchasing Alpha Flight, Fantastic Four and Thor since Byrne and Simonson began their respective runs on those titles in the early 80s, and we hadn’t missed an issue of Uncanny X-Men since Days of Future Past.  The next longest purchase streak was Dave Sim’s Cerebus, which we would continue to buy consistently until the early 90’s.  Not one DC title purchased that month, but a couple from Marvel’s Epic line, with Groo the Wanderer a favorite over the next several years.

Missed Opportunities:

Black Dragon #3

Black Dragon #3
Written by Chris Claremont; Art by John Bolton

Conan the Barbarian #174

Conan #174
Children of the Night
Written by Jim Owsley; Penciled by John Buscema; Inked by Bob Camp

Crossfire #12

Crossfire #12
Written by Mark Evanier; Art by Dan Spiegle

Star Wars #99

Star Wars #99
Touch of the Goddess
Written by Jo Duffy; Penciled by Ron Frenz; Inked by Sam DeLaRosa

Swamp Thing #40

Swamp Thing #40
The Curse
Written by Alan Moore; Penciled by Steve Bissette; Inked by John Totleben

Black Dragon #1 was a favorite of ours when it hit the spinner rack, but our local comic shop didn’t stock any subsequent issues.  Recently I was able to track down issues #2-6.  I have a few issues of Evanier and Spiegel’s Crossfire, but #12 is an issue I’m still on the lookout for, particularly for Dave Stevens’ amazing cover.  By 1985 Star Wars wasn’t part of our monthly pickups (another title I’ll need to track down missing back issues for) and we completely missed out on Moore’s Swamp Thing.  Conan the Barbarian was a sporadic purchase, which I regret because I missed out on an incredible amount of art by the great John Buscema.  It’s now high on my list of back issue purchases at the next convention I attend.

 

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The Hand (1981)

The Hand Movie Poster

Release Date: April 24, 1981
Starring: Michael Caine, Andrea Marcovicci, Annie McEnroe, Bruce McGill, Rosemary Murphy, Mara Hobel
Written and Directed by Oliver Stone based on the novel The Lizard’s Tail by Marc Brandel

The horror genre is one that I seem to have under-represented in my film reviews and retrospectives over the years.  Nothing against the genre itself, I’ve just never felt the need to revisit any of the classics later in life, particularly slasher films.  Sure they were fun to watch the first time around, but for every Halloween and Friday the 13th, I preferred more psychological/supernatural films like Poltergeist.  But there was something about Oliver Stone’s 1981 film The Hand starring Michael Caine that grabbed me (no pun intended, I swear!) when I saw it was available for rent on Amazon this past weekend.  I vaguely remember watching it on cable in he early 80s, and over time I’ve associated The Hand with one of Michael Caine’s more questionable films.  But this time around I was interested to see if the overall film matched the level of talent associated with the production, namely Michael Caine’s acting, Oliver Stone’s direction and James Horner’s score.

Jonathan Lansdale (played by Michael Caine) is a successful cartoonist of the daily newspaper comic strip Mandro, a Conan the Barbarian style character.  He lives a quiet life in Vermont with his wife Anne (Andrea Marcovicci) and daughter Lizzie (Mara Hobel), but their life is too tranquil for Anne, who pushes Jonathan for a move to New York City.  He suspect she has other motives for the move, and when she drives him to the post office to mail the week’s Mandro comic strips to the syndicate she admits to him that her preference is that he stays in Vermont while she pursues her interests in New York.  An argument ensues and in the heat of emotion Anne makes an ill-timed attempt to pass a slow moving truck on a blind curve.  A car speeds towards them in the oncoming lane, but they are unable to merge back behind the truck due to an impatient driver behind them.  Jonathan sticks his arm out the passenger side window to get the driver to slow down and let them merge back behind the truck, but their car sideswipes the truck, severing Jonathan’s drawing hand.

Their attempt to find the severed hand in a field proves fruitless and Jonathan must make due with a prosthetic, his drawing career over.  Despite his inability to draw, Jonathan takes the change better than expected.  Late one night, unable to sleep, Jonathan sits at his drawing desk trying to draw Mandro with his left hand.  His concentration is broken when his cat goes berserk and jumps through a pane of glass.  Jonathan sees something busting in a pile of wood but takes it as something harmless.  In an act of closure, Jonathan visits the scene of the accident and walks through the field where his severed hand would have landed.  He finds his gold signet ring but not the remains of his hand, which is alive and hiding in the tall grass watching Jonathan.

For the moment Anne seems recommitted to him and they move to a SoHo loft in Manhattan.  When Jonathan meets with his agent Karen (Rosemary Murphy) to discuss the future of Mandro, she suggests taking on another artist to draw the strip while Jonathan continues to plot and write it.  He resists the idea at first, and tells her about an offer he received to teach at a community college in California.  Karen is skeptical, not only because she wants the strip to continue but because she knows once he is back on his feet Anne will leave him.  She’s become more involved in a New Age type group, and her yoga instructor/counselor Bill (Nicholas Hormann) takes up more time in her life to Jonathan’s suspicion.  With every moment of anger or emotional pain, he begins to have hallucinations and dreams of his severed hand.

The sample strips by the new artist don’t meet Jonathan’s standards for Mandro.  When he complains to Anne that his plot and script for the samples were completely ignored by the new artist, she encourages him to give up some of the creative control in order to have income so they can survive past the end of the year.  When Jonathan meets with Karen and new artist  David Maddow (Charles Fleischer) to voice his disapproval, he’s surprised to hear that Karen actually agrees with David’s ideas to make Mandro more accessible to a contemporary audience.  When she opens the portfolio to edit the sample strips, they find them splashed with black ink supposedly in an act of sabotage.  They accuse Jonathan but he suspects his daughter ruined the panels.  Returning home, Jonathan is accosted by a belligerent homeless man (played by the film’s writer/director Oliver Stone), but while he encounter is over as quickly as it started, Jonathan’s severed hand follows the homeless man into an alley and strangles him to death.

He tells Anne that he is canceling Mandro rather than have his creation changed.  It’s unlikely Karen will work with him again so he decides to take the teaching position to Anne’s disappointment.  He makes the move to California with the belief that Anne will follow him there with Lizzie soon after.  Jonathan moves into a run down cabin owned by the college and quickly strikes up a friendship with philosophy teacher Brian Ferguson (played by Bruce McGill).  When Jonathan begins to question Anne’s intention to reunite, his slow descent begins.  In the middle of one night as he gets up to investigate a strange sound, he finds his signet ring, lost after their move to Manhattan, placed in the center of his pillow.

On his first day of classes he realizes that most of his students are simply there for an easy grade rather than an interest in cartooning.  One student, townie Stella Roche (played by Annie McEnroe) catches his eye.  One night, she stops by his cabin to drop off her sketch book which quickly leads to a sexual encounter.  After she leaves, he looks through Stella’s sketchbook of amateurish drawings and finds a highly detailed sketch of her nude with a severed hand that was clearly not drawn by her.  The drawing is in his style and the signature at the bottom of the page is his own, but he has no recollection of drawing it when grading her work.  Over beers at the local bar, Brian tells Jonathan that the unconscious is capable of anything, and it’s possible he’s blacking out and his prosthetic hand  is receiving impulses to draw from his brain.  As Jonathan’s emotional state spirals downward, he becomes more suspicious of his blackouts, even sequestering himself one night to protect Stella.  But despite his efforts, his severed hand has followed him to California and continues to strike the people around him.

No spoilers here.  Oliver Stone’s The Hand is an entertaining film that I would recommend, though it is classified as a horror film almost in spite of itself.  It falls short as a horror film (slasher film fans will be disappointed at the lack of gore and sparse action), but makes up for it by hitting the right notes with drama, character development and a strong cast.   It’s also brought down by the lack of quality special effects (even by early 80’s standards the special effects for the severed hand and the bloody accident sequence are relatively crude, though masked effectively by Richard Marks’ editing) and the distracting choice to film several sequences involving the severed hand in black and white.  While Jonathan’s severed hand is supposed to be the focal point of the film, Stone’s screenplay short changes the audience by keeping its screen time a minimum, making its role in the story ambiguous and it’s “payoff” moments in the film lacking weight.  But overall The Hand is still a solid film as a psychological thriller, elevated even more by Caine’s performance.

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Movies For Memorial Day 2016

With Memorial Day coming up on Monday May 30th, I would like to thank all military veterans and active members of the armed forces for their service and sacrifice.

Some of my earliest movie memories are of watching old combat films from the 40’s and 50’s on a black and white TV on Saturday afternoons at my grandparents house.  They were mostly lower budget films and I’ve forgotten many of their titles, but those Saturday afternoon films on TV made the combat movie one of my favorite film genres.

Every year I check the TV listings and streaming services for the best military themed films to watch over Memorial Day Weekend.  Turner Classics always has a solid lineup of feature films, but Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu have a great selection of feature films and documentaries as well.  Here are some highlights:

On Turner Classic Movies (All Times Eastern):

Saturday May 28th:

11:15 AM: The Flying Leathernecks (1951)
1:00 PM: They Were Expendable (1945)
8:00 PM: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
11:00 PM: A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Sunday May 29th:

3:00 PM: Mister Roberts (1955)
8:00 PM: Glory (1989)
10:15 PM: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Monday May 30:

3:30 AM: The Big Parade (1925)
9:00 AM: Sergeant York (1941)
2:15 PM: The Great Escape (1963)

Netflix:

Restrepo (2010)
We Were Soldiers (2002)
The Longest Day (1962)
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
The Enemy Below (1957)
Brothers In War (2014)
Unsung Heroes: The Story of America’s Female Patriots (2014)
Honor Flight (2012)
World War II In Colour (2009)
Ken Burns: The War (2007)
Ken Burns: The Civil War (1990)
Twelve O’Clock High (1949)
Von Ryan’s Express (1965)

Amazon Prime:

Band of Brothers (2001)
Ken Burns: The Civil War (1990)
The World At War (1973)
Taking Chance (2009)
The Longest Day (1962)
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
Twelve O’Clock High (1949)
The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)
Rescue Dawn (2006)
When Trumpets Fade (1998)
The Man Left Behind (2012)
The Enemy Below (1957)
Von Ryan’s Express (1965)

Hulu:

Medal of Honor: The History (2014)
War Stories with Oliver North (2001)
A Time for Honor (2002)

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Off the Spinner Rack: May 1983

This month I take another trip back to my prime comic book collecting years via the Newsstand Time Machine at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics to revisit the comics that were on the spinner rack in May 1983.  I’ve decided to make this a monthly feature on Fante’s Inferno, but instead of covering 12 months of a particular year, I’ll be choosing the years at random.  1983 was my peak collecting year as this month’s list will show.  But as with previous month’s purchases I’ve featured on my site, there were still a few misses that I’ll need to hunt for at my next comic convention.

Alpha Flight #1

Alpha Flight #1
Tundra
Written and drawn by John Byrne

Amazing Spider-Man #243

Amazing Spider-Man 243
Options
Written by Roger Stern, pencilled by John Romita Jr, inked by Dave Simons

Avengers #234

Avengers 234
The Witch’s Tale
Written by Roger Stern, pencilled by Al Milgrom, inked by Joe Sinnott

Doctor Strange #60

Doctor Strange #60
Assault On Avengers Mansion
Written by Roger Stern, penciled by Dan Green, inked by Terry Austin

Fantastic Four #257

Fantastic Four 257
Fragments
Written and drawn by John Byrne

Fantastic Four Annual #17

Fantastic Four Annual 17
Legacy
Written and drawn by John Byrne

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #8 & #9

Indiana Jones 8Indiana Jones 9
The Crystal Death (#8)
Written By David Michelinie, penciled by Kerry Gammil and Sam De La Rosa

The Gold Goddess (#9)
Written by David Michelinie, penciled by Dan Reed, inked by Danny Bulandi

Jon Sable Freelance #4

Jon Sable Freelance 4
The Origin Part 2: Battlemask
Written and drawn by Mike Grell

The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #8

Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe 8

Rom #45

Rom 45
Cry, the Mother Country
Written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Ian Akin and Brian Garvey

Thor #334

Thor 334
Runequest
Written by Alan Zelenetz, penciled by Mark Bright, inked by Vince Colletta

Uncanny X-Men #172

Uncanny X-Men 172
Scarlet In Glory
Written by Chris Claremont, penciled by Paul Smith, inked by Bob Wiacek

What If #40

What If 40
What If Doctor Strange Had Not Become Master of the Mystic Arts?
Written by Peter Gillis, penciled by Jackson Guice, inked by Sam Grainger

Fourteen comics bought in May 1983 for $10.40 ($24.98 in 2016 dollars).  Mike Grell’s Jon Sable Freelance wasn’t as easy to find as the others as our local comic shop didn’t carry it.  That book warranted a monthly trip to Heroes World in White Plains, but it was worth it.  Issue #4 was a powerful story and I continued to read Jon Sable Freelance for the next several years.  Alpha Flight quickly became a favorite title of mine, and along with Fantastic Four and Uncanny X-Men were the three titles that I looked forward to the most each month.  I started reading X-Men after Alpha Flight had been introduced in issue #120 and hadn’t picked up that back issue yet, so Alpha Flight #1 was my introduction to the team.  That issue is still a favorite of mine and even today when I find a copy of Alpha Flight #1 at a comic convention, I’m still tempted to buy it even though I already own three copies.

Missed Opportunities:

Black Hood #2

Black Hood #2
The Dark Destroyer
Written by Gary Cohn, drawn by Pat Boyette

Candle In the Wind
Written by Rich Margopolous, drawn by Dan Spiegle

The Fox
Written and drawn by Alex Toth

The New Mutants #7

New Mutants 7
Flying Down to Rio
Written by Chris Claremont, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Bob McLeod

Star Wars #74

Star Wars 74
The Iskalon Effect
Written by Mary Jo Duffy, penciled by Ron Frenz, inked by Tom Palmer

Marvel Super Special #27

Marvel Super Special 27
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Written by Archie Goodwin, art by Al Williamson, Carlos Garzon and Tom Palmer

Groo the Wanderer #4 (Pacific Comics)

Groo The Wanderer 4
The Turn of the Wheel
Written by Mark Evanier, drawn by Sergio Aragones

Black Hood #2 and the Red Circle titles weren’t on my radar back then, but I’m looking forward to finding a copy at a con one day just for Alex Toth’s story.  New Mutants was another consistent purchase for us, but I’m not sure why I never picked up #7.  By 1983 Star Wars had taken over my life and it was also rare to miss that title.  Our introduction to Evanier and Aragones’ Groo the Wanderer started with issue #7 of their Pacific Comics run, but once it was published by Marvel I didn’t miss an issue in the first three years.  This month’s review of the comics of May 1983 reminded me to stay on the lookout for the seven issues I’m missing from Pacific’s Groo run.

 

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The Last Chase (1981)

The Last Chase Poster

Release Date: April 1981
Starring: Lee Majors, Chris Makepeace, Burgess Meredith, Diane D’Aquila, George Touliatos, Ben Gordon, Alexandra Stewart
Directed by Martyn Burke; Written by C.R. O’Christopher, Roy Moore and Martyn Burke

I’ve always been a fan of dystopian films with classics like Blade Runner, Red Dawn, 12 Monkeys, Escape From New York, The Road Warrior and Children of Men topping my list of favorites.  I’ve enjoyed many other examples of the genre over the years, but when Martyn Burke’s The Last Chase fell on to my cinematic radar recently, my faint memories of this 1981 film may have pre-qualified it for the “guilty pleasure” category.  I’d been a fan of Lee Majors since The Six Million Dollar Man aired on TV in the 70’s, and I remember enjoying The Last Chase enough to watch it repeatedly back when it was in heavy rotation on cable TV, but I knew going into this latest screening that my memory of the film may not live up to the reality of how it would hold up 35 years later.  So I went into The Last Chase for a fun ride and a little nostalgia but surprisingly, despite the film’s age and several dated elements, I found the film very engaging today.

The film begins with a Porsche race car pulling up to a racetrack, out of gas. Former racer Frank Hart (Lee Majors) tries to fill up his car, but the pumps are locked. The track is abandoned save for Fetch, an old track employee, who tells Hart there’s no more gas to be had and other basic supplies are starting to run low. Hart breaks open the pump, siphons out what little gas he can get for his station wagon and tows his racer home, the only driver on the empty highway.  All cars have been made illegal and had to be turned into the government a week earlier. But Hart is in no hurry to obey any orders.

Harts career ended in the 80’s after losing control in a race that led to a fatal accident between two fellow drivers. An epidemic from an unknown source struck the U.S. and Hart’s wife and son succumbed. Field hospitals are overcrowded, oil supplies have been cut off, and Martial Law is in effect to control a population still suffering from the epidemic. But as Hart says in his opening monologue, “those of us that survived learned to cope with changes.”

Twenty years later Hart works as a spokesman pushing propaganda for the mass transit authority of now auto-less Boston, living a quiet life among the obedient workers in a totalitarian system that runs counter to his personal nature and the America he knew. He’s been surveilled by the government for his difficulty adjusting to the new system and is brought in for questioning by local authorities. His non-conformist attitude doesn’t earn him any points with high level bureaucrat Santana (played by Diane D’Aquila) who doesn’t have patience for a free spirit stuck in the old days. His scavenging car parts from confiscation yards and several accrued offenses makes him automatically scheduled for a hearing and possible sentence to a rehabilitation center, the system’s new name for prison. When faced with this threat, Hart coolly replies, “Lady, you’ve too goddamn many laws.”

Adding to Santana’s frustrations, her department’s computer system is hacked by prep school student Ring (played by Chris Makepeace). Ring is also an outsider that has trouble conforming to the social hierarchy of his school. He is ostracized and bullied by his fellow students but gets even by using his expertise in chemistry to set off homemade explosives on campus. When he’s not causing mayhem on campus, he sneaks away to a computer he has hidden in the attic of his dorm to hack into the government grid.

Back home, as Hart replays the video of his racing accident just to see a clip of his late wife, a broadcast from Radio Free California (an independent “free” territory) breaks into the TV feed, telling citizens that the residents of California have “returned to the land” and to their machines to escape from the oppressive regime that now controls America. This inspires Hart to break out the race car that’s been buried in pieces under his garage, working at the transportation authority by day and assembling it at night with one week to go before his trial.

Fed up with the propaganda he’s been forced to feed young audiences (“like a reformed sinner preaching to the congregation”) and the system that put him there, Hart turns tide during a speech to a group of prep school students and extols the virtues of cars, freedom and private ownership. His impromptu speech catches the attention of Ring, who sends Hart a direct message to his home that he is not alone. Hart is subsequently suspended from his position at the transportation authority with jail time very likely for his offense.

That night, as Hart looks over an old road atlas in his home, he catches Ring breaking in. When the police show up moments later, Hart assumes it’s to arrest him for his imminent trial, but they’re actually trying to track down the runaway Ring, who’s third attempt at hacking Santana’s department computer was traced back to his boarding school.  Hart covers for Ring and the police leave, but he makes a critical error when he benignly tells the officers he was waiting for his family to come home. When Santana reviews the police report moments later, she catches this irregularity and orders the police back to Hart’s home to arrest him.

With the police pounding on his door, Hart fires up the racer to hit the road to Free California, but Ring jammed the garage door opener to strong arm Hart into taking him along. Desperate to get out before the police can stop him, Hart agrees to let Ring join him on the escape. The police set up a barricade blocking Hart’s route on the outskirts of Boston, but he outflanks them by taking a long unused hidden tunnel out of the city and the police golf carts can’t catch him.

Word of Hart’s escape in an illegal race car quickly reaches Washington, and Hawkins (played by George Touliatos) is dispatched to oversee how Santana’s bureau handles his capture. Calm and collected with an eerie confidence, Hawkins draws on his old school experience and quickly begins calling the shots over the unprepared Santana. She naively believes that they will easily capture Hart once the car runs out of gas. But Hawkins politely explains that the car will not run out of gas because all old gas stations have underground tanks in which there are two to three inches of gasoline the internal pumps could not reach. With a special pump (which was established in the opening scene of the film) Hart would be able to siphon enough gas for the 3000 mile race to California.

Hawkins tasks Santana’s assistant Morely (played by Ben Gordon) with tracking down former Korean and Vietnam War jet pilot J.G. Williams to convince him to fly again in an attempt at neutralizing Hart.  Morely finds Williams (played by Burgess Meredith) in a modest apartment divorced, depressed and drinking.  A former highly decorated Air Force pilot still stinging from the abuse he received upon his return from Vietnam, Williams’ skepticism is heightened with the words “Your government needs you.” But Morely’s offer to have him fly a jet fighter again makes him put down his whiskey bottle and return to active duty for the first time in over forty years. After restoring an old F-86 jet fighter, Williams takes to the skies and the chase is on.

No spoilers here. I revisited The Last Chase as a result of the faint memory of watching it several times on cable TV around 1982-1983. There was nothing specific to the film or its message that drew me to it recently, just simple curiosity.  The film’s message of “eco-totalitarianism” and the loss of individual freedom was lost on me back then, it was simply a chase film to me.  While some might judge the film today as ham-fisted propaganda (its message would resonate loudly today with a Libertarian audience), as a dystopian film it works to solid effect.  The computers were crude by today’s standards, but they were used to good enough effect in the film because the idea behind what they were capable of (local police camera surveillance, satellite surveillance) are more believable today vs. 1981 because of the extent to which we now have surveillance technology in use. Ironically, even with the dated representation of Santana’s surveillance system, today’s audience would be more accepting of this story element.

Lee Majors vs. Burgess Meredith.  Race car vs. jet fighter.  Liberty vs. totalitarianism.  I’m glad I rediscovered The Last Chase.  The film’s opening scenes are a little clunky, especially with the unnecessary voice over, and there are a couple of scenes where a fair amount of suspension of disbelief is necessary.  But 35 years later I still enjoyed the film and have a greater appreciation for the story and the cast (Diane D’Aquila and George Touliatos are particularly good).  It’s easy to unfairly judge the film on some of the more dated elements, but overall The Last Chase is a fun ride.

 

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Off the Spinner Rack: March 1982

This month I’m taking another trip back to my prime comic collecting years thanks to The Newsstand Time Machine at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics.  I’m hoping to make this a monthly trip on Fante’s Inferno because it allows me to look back on some of the issues and storylines that I enjoyed way back when and to give me a new “want list” of missed issues to pick up at this year’s local comic cons.

Daredevil #184

Daredevil 184
“Good Guys Wear Red”
Written and penciled by Frank Miller, inked and colored by Klaus Janson

Dazzler #17

Dazzler 17
“The Angel and the Octopus”
Written by Danny Fingeroth, penciled by Frank Springer, inked by Vince Colletta

Fantastic Four #243

Fantastic Four 243
“Shall Earth Endure?”
Written and drawn by John Byrne

G.I. Joe #1

GI Joe 1
“Operation:Lady Doomsday”
Written by Larry Hama, penciled by Herbe Trimpe, inked by Bob McLeod
“…Hot Potato”
Written by Larry Hama, penciled by Don Perlin, inked by Jack Abel

Iron Man #159

Iron Man 159
“When Strikes Diablo”
Written by Roger McKenzie, penciled by Paul Smith, inked by Terry Austin

Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions #1

Contest of Champions 1
“A Gathering of Heroes”
Written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by John Romita Jr., inked by Pablo Marcos

Power Man & Iron Fist #82

Power Man and Iron Fist 82
“Secret of the Black Tiger”
Written by Mary Jo Duffy, penciled by Denys Cowan, inked by Carl Potts

Star Wars #60

Star Wars 60
“Shira’s Story”
Written by David Michelinie, penciled by Walt Simonson, inked by Tom Palmer

The Uncanny X-Men #158

Uncanny X-Men 158
“The Life That Late I Led…”
Written by Chris Claremont, penciled by Dave Cockrum, inked by Bob Wiacek

What If? #33

What If 33
“What If the Dazzler Had Become the Herald of Galactus”
Written by Danny Fingeroth, penciled by Mike Vosburg, inked by Jon D’Agostino
“What If Iron Man Had Been Trapped in King Arthur’s Time”
Written by Steven Grant, penciled by Don Perlin, inked by Bob Layton

Ten comic books bought in March 1982 for a whopping $7.30 ($17.94 today adjusted for inflation).  I can’t remember a single month in which we bought ten new issues, and I couldn’t imagine buying that many current books today considering how cost prohibitive it would be.  Many of those titles were consistent purchases for us, namely Uncanny X-Men, Star Wars, Fantastic Four (the cover for FF #243 is still one of my favorites), Daredevil and Iron Man (IM #159 was my introduction to the art of the amazing Paul Smith).  Dazzler was most likely purchased because the X-Men’s Angel was on the cover, and there’s no doubt we picked up What If? #33 for the Iron Man trapped in King Arthur’s time story (the storyline originally told in issues #149 and #150 was simply amazing).  G.I. Joe was a chance for me to own a #1 (my first speculative purchase) though I did continue to buy that title for the next year.  Power Man and Iron Fist was new on our monthly buy list, and the back issues of Mary Jo Duffy’s run on that title are now on my “must buy” list at the next comic con I attend.  Contest of Champions #1 was also a favorite of mine that month, though our local comic shop didn’t have the subsequent two issues.  After 34 years I finally have a chance to read them now that I bought the hardcover collection.

Missed Opportunities:

Moon Knight #20 & #21

Moon Knight 20 Moon Knight 21

Doctor Strange #53

Doctor Strange 53

To miss an issue of Moon Knight back then was a rarity for us, but to miss two in one month?  That’s unbelievable.  The covers alone would have been enough for me to plunk down $1.20 for Moon Knight #20 and #21.  It wasn’t until many years after their initial publication that I discovered Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin’s run on Doctor Strange with Roger Stern, and issue #53 is still missing from my collection.  Three more issues I’ll have to pick up at my next convention!

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From My Collection: Finding A Bargain Box Copy of Fantastic Four #51

Fifty years ago today Fantastic Four #51, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s classic “This Man…This Monster” hit the spinner rack and quickly became one of the most memorable and beloved stories of their incredible run.

I’ve seen many references to “This Man…This Monster” over the years, each with a scan of Kirby and Sinnott’s splash page of the Thing walking the streets of Manhattan in the rain. But regardless of how many times I’ve seen a blurb or article praising FF #51’s story, art, and its place in comic book history, I never actually read the story.

I’ve recently started collecting Marvel Masterworks, including the first volume of the Fantastic Four covering issues #1-10. As much as I enjoy reading the classic Silver Age stories in that format, I find the new coloring a bit “off” and I still very much prefer reading original comic books in their four color glory, which is part of the reason I hadn’t read “This Man…This Monster” until recently. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back in June of 2015 I had attended Special Edition NYC, Reed Expo’s offshoot of the New York Comic Con, which was a smaller convention that is more focused comic books and the creators than NYCC. In spite of the mile long line to get into Pier 94, the crowd was very manageable for that venue. Normally at comic conventions I tend to stay in Artist Alley and spend most of my money on sketches, but his time around I was looking to buy some Bronze Age Marvel and DC Comics. One vendor in particular caught my eye with several tables of long boxes with comics priced from $2 to $7. I was expecting to find books from the 70s and 80s (and there were plenty of those) but as I worked through the boxes, I started to find more than a few Marvel books from the 60s!

And there it was: Fantastic Four #51.

Priced at $2.00

Fantastic Four #51 Cover

Fantastic Four #51 (Copyright Marvel Comics)

It had to be a reprint, I thought. But a quick glance of the cover made it clear that I was holding a well read original copy of “This Man…This Monster.” How it was still in the box was a mystery to me considering the crowd gathered at this booth and the low price. Granted it was in very bad shape (it would probably have been graded as a 0.5), the cover was still barely attached by one staple and there was an old Marvel Comics sticker affixed to the back. Coincidentally the sticker was the Kirby/Sinnott drawing of The Thing from the cover of this particular issue. In spite of the condition, I had to have it even if it was falling apart and destined to be a reading copy.

Fantastic Four #51 Splash Page

Fantastic Four #51 (Copyright Marvel Comics)

The story begins with a dejected Ben Grimm (The Thing) standing in the rain in the streets of Manhattan, feeling sorry for himself and his present physical appearance. A mysterious stranger invites him into his home, offering Ben a cup of coffee and a sympathetic ear. But all isn’t as it seems. The mysterious host is a frustrated scientist jealous of Reed Richards and has drawn Ben into his home to drug him and test his “duplication apparatus.” He hooks the machine up to Ben and himself, taking on the physical appearance of The Thing while Ben reverts back to his human form.

Fantastic Four #51 page

Fantastic Four #51 (Copyright Marvel Comics)

Several days later in the Baxter Building as Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) works on a weapon that would take on Galactus, the impostor Thing enters and begins to help Reed with the heavy lifting. But no sooner than he arrives, the real Ben Grimm storms in warning Reed and Sue (the Invisible Girl) that the orange monster in front of them is a fake. Despite the real Ben’s pleas to believe him, Reed and Sue can’t believe that Ben would have reverted back to his human form. Ben storms out leaving the impostor in his place, which could be fatal to Reed.

Fantastic Four #51 panels

Fantastic Four #51 (Copyright Marvel Comics)

No spoilers here. This is a great story with all of the elements of classic 60’s Lee and Kirby and emotional impact on every page. And it wouldn’t be a Kirby FF without a splash page or three that truly showcases his genius. Reading this original copy of Fantastic Four #51 inspired me to find and collect other original issues from Lee and Kirby’s run. I bought my first Lee/Kirby FF a couple of years back during an impromptu visit to the Astro-Zombies comic shop in Albuquerque, NM thinking that would be the the only pre-FF #100 issue I would own. And while I won’t be able to afford a copy of Fantastic Four #1 any time soon, I’ve begun a collection of pre-FF #100 issues (ranging from issues #33 to #93) that numbers twelve and counting for less than $10 each. They may be reading copies, but they’re mine and I still treasure them.

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