Godzilla in Marvel Comics (1977-1979)

In my youth, Marvel Comics shoehorned Godzilla, King of the Monsters into the Marvel Universe.  I’m not kidding.  Godzilla was, for a brief time, a character in the Marvel Universe.  Written by Doug Moench and penciled by Herb Trimpe, the comic lasted two years.  Two years of awesome.

How the hell did this happen, you might ask.  Apparently someone at Marvel noticed the popularity of the Showa Era Godzilla movies.  This same someone convinced Marvel to buy the U.S. rights for Godzilla.  Somewhere along the line, the same entities incorporated Godzilla into the Marvel Universe.  I can only assume these entities were taking controlled substances.

Godzilla fought SHIELD, The Fantastic Four, Avengers and The Champions (now defunct,) while rampaging across America.  If that sounds bizarre and cool at the same time, the Big G also duked it out with Devil Dinosaur in an alternate prehistoric past.  (Having Jack Kirby pencil those comics is the only way to make that cooler.)

Don’t think that Godzilla contained only Marvel character cameos.  The comics crafted a few unique characters and monsters which manage to survive in the Marvel Universe to this day.  Doctor Demonicus (you have to love that name) and Red Ronin.  Demonicus is a loony scientist who specializes in mutating creatures and making giant monsters (who could have guessed?)  Red Ronin is a giant samurai robot built to fight Godzilla.  Red Ronin has since shown up in a couple of comics, including one in which the Avengers had to take it down before it started a nuclear war.

If all of this sounds like some kind of fanboy fiction mash-up, well, it kinda is.  I assume Marvel wanted to cash in on Godzilla popularity while incorporating their own characters.  In a bizarre, 70s way, it actually works.  70s Marvel comics got very weird and this isn’t even close to the strangest comics of that decade.

Technically, Godzilla is still part of the Marvel Universe, but they lost the rights to the character and had him ‘mutated’ by Demonicus.  I think the unofficial name now is “Don’tSueUsTohoasaurus” or something.  They changed him enough to avoid legal action but still milk a few old fanboy bucks.

This series is cheesy.  It’s crazy.  I still love it.  Amidst the strangeness are a few scenes that rise above the common cheese.  There’s the Devil Dinosaur versus Godzilla fight, of course.  However, the scene Trimpe did with Hercules (yes, that Hercules) and Godzilla sticks with me to this day.  Angel (of the X-Men, although with the Champions at the time) is unconscious and Godzilla is about to step on him.  Hercules runs beneath G’s foot, lifts, and throws Godzilla on his back!  As a kid, that one scene alone probably sped up puberty by a few months.

There are also the conventions one expects from Godzilla.  He fights other monsters, aliens, alien monsters and a giant Sasquatch.  Yes, a giant Sasquatch.  Suck that, D.C.!  There are also the issues where Godzilla is shrunk by Pym Particles down to the size of a rat and runs around in the New York sewers.  Told you it’s weird.

Marvel has a collected edition of all 24 issues.  Go check them out.  Preferably after taking controlled substances.

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Battleship: A Good B Movie

Battleship came out in 2012 and I ignored it.  I thought: “This is a movie based on a friggin’ board game.  No thank you.”  I didn’t get a chance to watch it until 2014.  Surprise!  It’s pretty good.

Don’t misunderstand me, it’s a B movie.  There is no danger of an Academy Award in Battleship’s future.  Taken for all that, it’s genuinely entertaining and not nearly as mind-numbing as Michael Bay’s tripe.  The fact that the writers and director are able to make a decent movie out of the board game Battleship ought to be an award unto itself.  More than that, they somehow shoehorned elements of the board game into the plot without making it seem completely ludicrous.  If someone never played the game and knew nothing of it, they would probably never realize it within the movie.

The gist of the plot is that mankind sends a signal to a nearby star system where an Earth-like planet is discovered.  The aliens respond with an invasion (naturally.)  Five ships are ‘warping’ (or whatever FTL hand wave you want to use) towards Earth when their communications ship collides with a satellite.  That ship crashes into Hong Kong while the other four land in the Pacific.  Three destroyers on a joint training mission investigate the ships.

Onboard the destroyers are two main characters–Lt. Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) and Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano).  Alex is every cliche of the ‘wild maverick’.  He only joined the Navy because his brother, Stone (Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd) got him a deal to stay out of jail.  The offending incident occurred when Alex tried a stupid stunt to impress Sam Shane (Brooklyn Decker) and destroyed a convenience store.  Sam is the daughter of U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Terrance Shane (Liam Neeson).  Liam,  by the way, is completely wasted in this movie.  He phoned in this role and kept checking to make sure his check cleared.

A force field is projected from the mothership, keeping out the rest of the Pacific Fleet.  The destroyers engage the alien ships and two of them are destroyed.  Stone is killed and Alex fulfills the Young Action Hero stereotype by acting stupidly.  Despite that, the lone destroyer escapes annihilation and plays a cat and mouse game with the aliens after sundown.  Unable to find them on radar, they use NOAA tsunami buoys to track them.  This is where they shoehorn the game elements, as the destroyer must fire its missiles blind, hoping for a hit.  It’s actually not as stupid as it sounds.

Meanwhile, Sam is (coincidentally) accompanying a veteran double amputee named Mick Canales (Gregory D. Gadson) into the Hawaiian mountains.  Where (coincidentally) they run into a communications station invaded by aliens.  Coincidentally (nod, nod, wink, wink.)  They discover that they have to take out the aliens before they use the communications station to call for reinforcements.

The last destroyer sinks while destroying the final alien ship, only leaving the mothership.  Without a vessel, the survivors commandeer the USS Missouri (‘Mighty Mo’) battleship at Pearl Harbor.  The ship is essentially a tourist attraction and the destroyer crew isn’t familiar enough with the old ship to pilot it.  Fortunately, several WW2 veterans of the Missouri are onboard for a celebration and help them pilot the Mo.  What follows is easily the best part of the movie, when they fire up the Missouri and engage the mothership.

This all sounds cheesy.  It is cheesy–but in a good way.  The movie uses real veterans like Gregory D. Gadson and the Mighty Mo vets.  Any movie that shows the level of love towards vets that this one does has a warm spot in my heart.

I won’t reveal much more, since I want you to watch this movie and give it a chance.  It’s got heart, even if the brains are a little haphazard.

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Dragonslayer: A Forgotten Fantasy Movie

Disney released Dragonslayer in the year 1981.  The movie came out only a couple of years after the less-than-stellar The Black Hole in 1979.  It is Disney’s next attempt at a more adult-themed movie.  For the most part, it succeeded.

Coming out of the dismal decade of the 70s, Disney tried everything to remain relevant.  This meant putting out less G-rated kids’ films and expanding their repertoire, and then along comes Dragonslayer.  At a superficial glance, it looks like a standard wizard’s apprentice fantasy tale, however it’s a lot darker.  A general sense of futility and grim finality obscure the few heroic deeds.  This is to accompany the Dark Ages setting.

The story begins with a wizard named Ulrich (Ralph Richardson) and his apprentice, Galen (Peter MacNicol) being visited by a group from the kingdom Urland.  The envoys wish to employ a wizard to destroy a dragon named Vermithrax.  The dragon holds the kingdom in bondage to its hunger and they regularly sacrifice young women with a lottery system.

The delightfully thuggish soldier Tyrian (John Hallam) and another young man named Valerian (Caitlin Clarke) test Ulrich’s magical power.  They stab him through the heart at his urging, only to have him die instantly.  Afterward, Ulrich’s magical amulet constantly materializes in front of Galen, urging him to take up Ulrich’s mission.

Galen follows the group back to Urland, during which Galen discovers Valerian is a ‘she’ after he joins her for a bath in a pond.  Valerian masquerades as a ‘he’ to escape the lottery. 

Shortly after arriving, Galen wields the amulet to bring down then entire mountain on top of Vermithrax’s lair.  Believing the dragon slain, the kingdom celebrates and Valerian ‘comes out’ as a woman.  The news of the dragon’s death is premature, however.  Havoc and swordplay ensue.

I don’t want to give it all away, so let me simply say that the producers spent a full quarter of the film’s entire budge on special effects.  Vermithrax is, quite simply, the most amazing and terrifying dragon ever put on film to this day.  The audience doesn’t get a good look at it until at least three quarters of the film’s length.  The build-up is worth it.  Vermithrax is everything a fantasy geek expects of a dragon villain: impressive and dreadful.  Nothing is cutesy or humanistic about Vermithrax–it’s a force of death and destruction. Bilbo is never having a conversation or riddle contest with this thing.  It’s obviously intelligent, but completely inhuman and malignant.

The special effects by ILM veteran Phil Tippet are extraordinary.  In fact, if you’re a young viewer who has never seen it, dig it up and watch it merely to see how a true master handled special effects before CGI.  Tippet created the monster through puppetry, practical effects and a type of stop-motion animation called Go Motion.  The combined techniques make you believe this winged nightmare might be real.

Lots of other good stuff is in this movie but the bleak tone and cryptic ending subtract somewhat.  It’s not perfect, but definitely worth watching for any fantasy fan.  Check it out.

Footnote: Ian McDiarmid (of Emperor Palpatine fame) has a brief cameo in the movie as a village priest who is burned to a crisp by Vermithrax after the priest tries to banish the dragon with his faith.

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Television that Needs More Love: Mighty Orbots

In the primeval year 1984, I ran across a keen animated show called Mighty Orbots on ABC.  It only ran for a single season before disappearing without a trace.  Years later when describing it to others, skepticism arose.  No one else acknowledged its existence.  At times I wondered whether or not I had hallucinated the entire series. 

Then came the wonder of the internet and–voila!–it turns out to have existed after all.  Although I didn’t know why it disappeared.  It was vastly superior to the other animated shows at the time, especially the shows it derived from–namely Voltron and Transformers.  With superior animation, better characters and decent writing, the show should have been renewed for several seasons.

Unfortunately not.  My suspicions leaned towards poor marketing, but a lawsuit by Tonka was the real culprit.  Tonka accused the show owners of ripping off their GoBots franchise.  For those of you unfamiliar with GoBots, those were a toy line that basically ripped off Transformers and had its own animated series Challenge of the Gobots (the animation was weak, however the writing wasn’t terrible.)  GoBots has since faded into obscurity and I wouldn’t expect to see a big screen adaptation anytime soon.  Anyway, Tonka torpedoes Mighty Orbots and we only get a single season.  Pity.

The basis for the show is familiar.  Six robots with individual powers merge to form a more powerful robot.  Nothing new there.  However, the robots all have unique powers.  Tor is a super-strong brute.  Bort is a skinny ‘geek’ that can shape shift.  Bo is a ‘female’ Orbot with the ability to control the four elements (earth, air, fire and water.)  Boo is another ‘female’ Orbot with light and illusion powers.  Crunch is a ‘fat’ robot that can eat anything and transform it into energy for the rest.  Ohno is the last Orbot, and she’s a tiny ‘child’ robot who is necessary for the other Orbots to merge into “Mighty Orbot”. 

The leader and leader of the Orbots is Rob Simmons, who is your standard Nerdy Scientist Hero archetype.  He actually has a secret identity when he isn’t working with the Galactic Patrol (which is exactly what they sound like.)  They fight the obligatory evil organization SHADOW in the far future.

The tone of the series was light-hearted and much closer to an American superhero team than either Voltron or Transformers.  The Orbots have ‘superpowers’ instead of a bunch of guns and unlike Voltron, are actually pretty competent and interesting individually.  Also unlike Voltron, this wasn’t a simple Japanese import.  They produced this show specifically for American audiences and it feels like it.  The animation is first rate, especially for a television series.

I watched a couple of episodes recently and, yes, it’s a kid’s show and a bit dated, but still not bad.  Despite having only a single 13-episode season, it also does what few other franchised animated shows do: has an ending.  At the end of the only season, Mighty Orbots fight and defeat the ‘big bad’ leader of SHADOW, a supercomputer critter called Umbra.  So you can watch the only season and still get a satisfying conclusion.

Go check it out. 

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Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds Computer Game

The Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds is an oddball offshoot of the RTS genre.  I am a bit of a real-time strategy freak.  I’ve played a lot of RTS games.  The Dune II game from 1993 became my first encounter with the genre and hooked me from the outset.  For a while I played them all.  Good, bad, and mediocre–it didn’t matter.  Must . . . play . . . all!

Along came the Jeff Wayne’s WOTW game in 1998.  Adoring the novel as well as the RTS genre, I jumped on it.

This game came out an an uncomfortable time in the RTS game advances.  It couldn’t be played online during a time when that was the growing rage.  It looked–and sounded!–nifty, but its formula varied from the established formula.

In a nutshell, it is neither fish nor fowl.  It’s a duckbilled platypus.

First, a little background.  The music on this game comes from Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds techno-music, art rock album from 1978.  If you have never listened to this album, do yourself a favor and check it out.  Anyway, I don’t need to elaborate since it is a kind of cult classic album.  The music gives a nice sense of eeriness to the proceedings in the game.

In the game, the player can play as either the humans or the Martians.  Unlike in the 1898 novel, the Martians are destroyed in England and divert their landings to Scotland.  (Picture the amusing thought of a Martian in a kilt, with a blue-painted face, screaming “Freedom!”.)  I assume they did this to give the war a definite front, rather than scattered Martian battles. 

Instead of merely a RTS, the game also has turns.  Sort of.  You have a strategic/production map where you look at all your sectors.  Time is halted on this screen until you advance it, usually by days.  The feature allows you to pick your research and production.  Like many RTS, each side has multiple resources they must use.  Humans have steel, coal and oil, while the Martians have copper, heavy elements and human blood! (The most ghoulishly amusing resource I’ve seen in any RTS game.)

British war technology in this is quite a bit more advanced than in the novel, despite being set in the same year of 1898.  A necessary change if you want the humans to have a prayer.  A steampunk vibe appears to be what they were going for and, for the most part, it works.  The game had sufficient entertainment value that I played it through once both as the humans and Martians. 

The graphics and gameplay are adequate, if uninspired.  Fighting as the humans is rough at the beginning, with no vehicles capable of defeating anything.  Your only chance is to build artillery–a lot of it.  You must simply endure Martian attacks until your technology is advanced enough to go on the offensive.  Try an early offensive will see your vehicles evaporate like a fart in the wind.  Playing as the Martians is more active, as you have an advantage right off the bat.  If you wade into a bunch of gun emplacements, you definitely can lose, though.

What I suspect truly doomed this game to obscurity was its lack of online options.  Honestly, I’m not sure it could have worked with the turn options.

JWWOTW isn’t great, nor is it terrible.  The highlight is (unsurprisingly) the soundtrack.  Production turns are an interesting idea, but clunky.  Multiple scenarios would have greatly expanded the playability as well.

Any fan of either H.G. Wells War of the Worlds or Jeff Wayne’s musical album ought to check it out.  There are multiple sites online where one can download it for free.

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Micronauts: The Coolest Toy Line Ever

In the dim, misty recesses of my youth, I encountered a toy line from Mego called “The Micronauts”.  Technically, the full title was: “The Interchangeable World of The Micronauts”.   “They Came From Inner Space” tagline accompanied it.  Simply put, these were the greatest toys of all time.  Even to the point that Marvel Comics had a successful comic book tie-in that outlived the toy line by several years.

Naturally, this line of toys originated–as most cool toys do–in Japan.  The original toy line came from the Japanese toy company Takara and was called “Microman”.  Mego distributed the bulk of these products under the Micronauts label in America.

I knew none of this as a kid.  All that mattered to me was the supreme coolness.  These toys rocked.  When it boasted ‘interchangeable’ it wasn’t kidding.  You could mix and match parts from pretty much every one of the figures and vehicles.  Plus, they looked rad.  Space Glider, Galactic Warrior, Pharoid, Time Traveler,  Acroyear, and Baron Karza were just a few of the neatest. 

Several of the figures were also vehicles as well.  Biotron turned into a big friggin’ tank and such.  Giant Acroyear turned into ships or other Acroyears. 

Baron Karza was probably the most unique figure, since most of his joints were magnetic ball joints.  You could move and pose the living shit out of him, as well as recombine him however you wanted.  The Baron had a horse he could combine with in a centaur-like fashion (named Andromeda, although I was too young to get the Greek Myth reference.)

The pride of my collection was the Battle Cruiser.  Never before had I seen something like this.  It was a massive ship that could separate into like a dozen ships or recombine into different ships.  (squeals in geekish delight)  Hornetroid closely followed in coolness–a giant, cybernetic mutant hornet you could put a pilot in.  How sweet is that?

While collecting the toys, I also read the comic.  I won’t get into too much detail, other than to say that the tragic genius Bill Mantlo wrote the series and it started off with Michael Golden doing the art chores.  Surprisingly, the story was quite a bit more adult than most comics at the time.  Yes, a toy tie-in was pretty advanced–and kinda dark (I won’t get started with Mantlo’s Rom.)

You may also be surprised that one of the characters from the comic is actually in the comic version of the Guardians of the Galaxy.  These toys have legs!

The bizarre thing is how few people outside of my age bracket have ever heard of the toys.  Sure, Transformers, GI Joe, Thundercats, etc.  But Micronauts languish in obscurity.

Ain’t right.  Go check out the internet for Micronauts pictures and go dig up some of the comics.  Breathe some life back into them.

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Television that Needs More Love: The Middleman

You may be asking yourself: “What the hell is The Middleman and why should I care?”  A fair question.  Obliviousness to the series is forgivable.  The series appeared in 2008 and disappeared after a mere 12 episodes.  Until a friend showed up one evening wearing a “Jolly Fats Wehawkin Temp Agency” T-Shirt, I was equally in the dark.  Intrigued by the premise, I found copies of the series and watched them. 

The story goes thusly:  A secret agency trains and equips a Middleman to defend the planet against unknown threats. The present Middleman (Matt Keeslar) recruits a struggling artist named Wendy Watson (known alternatively as “Dub-Dub” and “Dubbie”).  Her calm behavior during a tentacle beast attack tells him that she has the right mindset.  Following a few tests, she starts her training.

The series follows her rise as a Middleman-in-training.  Wendy (Natalie Morales) incorporates her weird adventures into her artwork.  She lives with Lacy Thornfield (the incredibly sexy Brit Morgan) and the lyric-spouting Noser (Jake Smollett.)   Wendy and The Middleman are assisted by the caustic robot assistant Ida (Mary Pat Gleason.)

Recurring themes consist of comic-book threats with amusing twists.  Intergalactic despots disguised as a boy band (“The Boyband Superfan Interrogation”.)  Zombies which crave trout (“The Flying Fish Zombification”.)  A cursed tuba from the band of The Titanic (“The Cursed Tuba Contingency”.)  And so forth.  The names in each episode have pop-culture themes and names, such as the cover names of Dr. Stantz and Dr. Zeddemore (from Ghostbusters) in “The Ectoplasmic Panhellenic Investigation”.

To put it plainly, this series is a fanboy’s dream.  It never gets too serious, but doesn’t fall into slapstick, either.  Just amusing enough to get a chuckle, but no more.  The acting is good and the actors aim to please–in on the joke, but always in a nod-and-a-wink fashion. 

Also, even though ABC Family produced this series, it has enough edge that it doesn’t feel like a kid’s show in any way.  It approaches adult themes with enough seriousness that some reality intrudes, but blunts them with wry humor.  There are many running jokes such as Lacy calling The Middle man “Sexy Boss Man” or “Pillow Lips” or the villains always saying “My plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity”.  Or Noser always greeting visitors to Wendy’s loft with random questions in the form of song lyrics.

Conceived as a comic book series for Viper Comics by Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Les McClaine, it was later adapted to television after some urging by Paul Dini.  Sadly, it suffered the ignoble death of a television series given insufficient chance to succeed, perishing after 12 episodes.  It has since developed a mild cult status and the cast did a reading of the unproduced 13th episode at the 2009 San Diego Comic Con.

It appears that all 12 episodes are available online on dailymotion.  I recommend you watch them.

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Quag Keep: The First D&D Novel

Lo, those many years ago (1981) when I read Andre Norton’s novel Quag Keep.  A copy presented itself in my Middle School library. A dragon appeared on the cover and fantasy had just fastened into my pubescent consciousness, leading to a reading.

Quag Keep is a queer duck of a novel.  Neither fish nor fowl, it slumbers in obscurity.  Set in the Greyhawk campaign world created by Gary Gygax, it is extremely referential to Dungeons & Dragons as a hobby, rather than game mechanics.  Literally.  Magic transforms a bunch of RPG nerds into their characters in Greyhawk via ‘cursed miniatures’.  No, really.

I know what you’re thinking.  This must be a stupid concept that breaks the fourth wall or just comes across as pretentious.  Surprisingly, it’s not.  Is it great?  No, but it’s not bad.  It moves quick, has enjoyable scenes and the characters (especially the main caracter, Milo Jagon) are interesting.  Moreover, because there is little to no attempt to shoehorn game mechanics, Andre manages to describe the world and situations without worrying about such trivia.  The game mechanics, ironically, are actually far less visible because they are literally part of the story.

Later books placed modern people into fantasy settings via games (such as the enjoyable Guardians of the Flame books) but this is the first.  Greyhawk wouldn’t be published for another two years.   This version of Greyhawk is misty and incomplete.  Andre takes that incompleteness and fills in the gaps with her own writing skills–not without success.  Unfazed by whether or not wizards are allowed to wear armor or wearboars cast spells, she does her level best to tell an interesting fantasy tale.  Quite honestly, I’d prefer the authors who presently crank out gaming novels to take a page from her playbook and do the same.

While researching this I noted that a sequel to Quag Keep, unimaginatively titled Return to Quag Keep, came out a couple of years after Andre Norton died.  I have zero desire to read this, since it smacks of pillaging a dead author’s stories for ideas.  I suspect Andre had little to nothing to do with this ‘sequel’.  I’ll pass.

If you like your gaming books bereft of gaming mechanics, would like to delve into the history of the hobby, or just read a fast, enjoyable fantasy romp, you could do far worse than Quag Keep.

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Television That Needs More Love: Brimstone

brimstone-01Brimstone came out in 1998, roughly the time another hellish series called GvsE (Good versus Evil) appeared.  Both series were similar in plot, and I don’t know if one copied another.  I do know I enjoyed Brimstone, whereas I found GvsE forgettable.

Basic plot goes like this: Ezekial “Zeke” Stone (played by Peter Horton) is a NYC cop whose wife is raped.  Zeke tracks down the rapist and murders him.  Shortly thereafter, Zeke is murdered and goes to Hell for the sin of murder.  Jump forward fifteen years and Zeke is sprung from hell by The Devil (played by a bombastic John Glover.)  Turns out there was a jailbreak from Hell.  113 damned souls are free and loose on Earth.  If Zeke uses his detective skills to find and return all of them to Hell, he gets a second chance at life.

brimstone-02Great hook.  Grabbed my interest from the start.

Any catches, you ask?  Several.  The damned souls are impossible to kill unless you destroy their eyes.  Also, it turns out the longer you’re in Hell, the more of Hell comes with you.  This translates into the longer souls are in Hell, the stronger they are on Earth.  Nearly all of the souls are older than Zeke, and some are hundreds or even thousands of years old.  Even worse, not only are they stronger, but many of them have hellish ‘magic tricks’.  Some can turn invisible, spread hellish diseases or cast magic brimstone-04spells.  Zeke relies on old-fashioned police work and his own immortality.

The sole reason I even know this series exists is because the Sci-fi Channel (before they called it “SyFy”,) had a marathon one Saturday afternoon.  Lasting a grand total of 13 episodes, it was a mid-season replacement that fizzled.  A pity, since it had great promise.

brimstone-03Lori Petty fills out an enjoyable minor role as a hotel clerk.  (Usually people either love or hate Lori–I am one of the former.)  John Glover as The Devil chews scenery like a teething beaver.  No joke, he’s a pleasure to watch.  My favorite episode (“It’s a Helluva Life”) has John playing both The Devil and an angel.  The two of them take Zeke through is life, alternately showing him every bad brimstone-05thing he ever did and the good he’s accomplished.  It’s surprisingly moving.

Is Brimstone great?  No.  Plot stumbles and misfires are in evidence.  The special effects are dated and clunky.  I will say that there was enough there that I wanted more.  It picked up steam as it went, and the writers and actors were hitting their strides–just in time to be cancelled. 

Should someone with a modicum of power in television get a chance, resurrecting this brimstone-06series wouldn’t be the worst idea. 

Go dig up the 13 episodes or watch them online somewhere.  You won’t regret it.

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Adam Warlock and the Magus (Forgotten Gems)

adam-warlock-01Adam Warlock was a Marvel Comics character who first turned up in the pages of Fantastic Four in 1967.  Cobbled together by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and originally called ‘Him’, Warlock appeared sporadically for several years.  Roy Thomas later turned him into a kind of superhero messiah, inspired by (I’m not kidding) Jesus Christ Superstar.  Several goofy religious elements were used, including a death and resurrection. 

Jim Starlin entered the scene in 1975 as both writer and artist.  Warlock turned from a Christ figure into a paranoid schizophrenic.  To add insult to injury, Warlock battles a cosmic Universal Church of Truth (a thinly-veiled jab at Catholicism.)

(Side note: Jim later took another jab at Catholicism with his “Church of the Instrumentality” in Dreadstar.)

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It’s at this point that Adam Warlock gets interesting.  Jim’s take on Warlock struck me as a superhero version of Elric.  Starlin admits he was reading the Elric books at the time, but claims he read them after Warlock (I have my doubts.)  Parallels with Elric were obvious to me long before I read his claims.  Instead of a soul-drinking sword (Elric’s infamous Stormbringer,) Warlock has a soul-drinking gem on his forehead.  More than that, the existential angst of the two characters is nearly identical. 

adam-warlock-07Battling the Universal Church of Truth and its sinister leader, The Magus, Warlock engages the help of several characters familiar to younger readers–Gamora and Thanos.  Following several battles where Warlock devours enemies souls, he begins to go insane from the experience.  Finally encountering The Magus in person (complete with an Afro inspired by Angela Davis) he discovers that The Magus is his future self.  The Magus is what he will become after a thousand years of cosmic torture.

Cheery stuff, eh?

Thanos enters into the story when his protege, Gamora, fails to keep The Magus from adam-warlock-02‘marking’ Warlock to summon the being that will torture him: The In-Betweener (No, I didn’t make that up.)  Battling to save Warlock from his fate, it turns out that Thanos is only doing it because The Magus is the ‘champion of life’ and Thanos is ‘the champion of death’.  Even though The Magus is evil, he still aids life and civilization, whereas Thanos wants universal genocide.

To prevent becoming The Magus, Warlock commits ‘cosmic suicide’ by erasing his timeline in which he becomes The Magus.  Doomed to die in the near future, Warlock flies adam-warlock-06off after The Magus disappears from existence.  Thanos later kills Adam while in battle with The Avengers, only to have Warlock’s soul briefly return from the Soul Gem and turn Thanos to stone.

While melodramatic, the artwork and writing (especially at the time) are pretty damn good. Overly-melodramatic and angst-ridden, but good.

Much later, Starlin retconned the Soul Gem as just one of the six Infinity Stones in the adam-warlock-08Infinity Gauntlet storyline.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe is right on the cusp of introducing the last of the ‘Infinity Stones’–the Soul Stone.  Figured now was a good time to recap its origins.

Go dig the original or reprints up and take

You thought I made it up, didn't you?

You thought I made it up, didn’t you?

a look.  Well worth a second glance.

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