Category: TV

Brainiac On Banjo: Streaming Ahoy!

Brainiac On Banjo: Streaming Ahoy!

The reading today is from the book of Punter, Chapter 9, Verse 17: “All we have to fear, is me.” – Firesign Theater

Presuming climate change doesn’t do us in first, Americans are about a decade way from abandoning the concept of the continuous media vehicle. In English, that means the idea of television (and radio before 1962) had lengthy “seasons” and, if successful, would return for a following season.

Of course, this was well before streaming became a thing.

Unlike the rest of magazine publishing, the comic book medium also was a continuous media vehicle: numbering was consecutive and rarely split into “volumes” of, say, twelve monthly numbers per year. Nobody cares what consecutive issue numbers were applied to Time Magazine in August 1975, but if you ask the issue number for the X-Men cover-dated that same month there are enough comic book enthusiasts who know the answer to that – #94, for those who came in late – to fill Yankee Stadium. At least the #94 that was in use in August, 1975. Around that time, the late, legendary comics retailer Joe Sarno pointed out in an interview if you put consecutive numbering on something, some people are going to collect it. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: Streaming Ahoy!”

With Further Ado #231: Don’t Refuse This Offer

With Further Ado #231: Don’t Refuse This Offer

I didn’t realize that Hogan’s Heroes, The Longest Yard (with Burt Reynolds) and The Godfather were all connected, but The Offer, a fantastic series on Paramount+, helped me understand the big picture behind it all.

I still like the original Star Trek series (TOS) quite a bit. So, when Paramount+ announced they were producing a series about the crew of the Enterprise before Kirk, Spock and the old gang, I was all in. I initially thought that’s the only show I’d use my Paramount+ subscription for.

Now, one of the podcasts I listen to is The Inglorious Treksperts. It’s a celebration of classic Star Trek, hosted by industry professionals who grew up loving Star Trek. These professionals talked about how much they enjoy this series, The Offer, but made point to say that many of the facts got stretched in the making of this show. That’s ok by me, and good to keep in mind. (And after watching Babylon on the big screen last month, this seems like a tame documentary!). Continue reading “With Further Ado #231: Don’t Refuse This Offer”

With Further Ado #220: More Chasing After Zorro

With Further Ado #220: More Chasing After Zorro

Every fan or collector is always hoping to stumble across some treasure that everyone else has overlooked.  Why-oh-why can I never find a mint copy of Fantastic Four #1 at the local garage sales?

It wasn’t Fantastic Four #1, but when I found Chasing After Zorro by Britt Lomond at a local church’s local book sale last month, I did find something special.  This is an actor’s recollections of his time on the 1950s Disney TV Show Zorro. Lomond played the bad guy in the first couple of seasons of this show.  (Although I learned that Walt Disney had wanted to cast him as the hero originally.)

Disney+ just put this Zorro show up on their streaming service, and you know what? It’s pretty good!  To celebrate this, I excerpted a few chapters of the book in last week’s columns.  And as it turns out – it’s very difficult to find a copy of this book.  Collectors have seemingly paid several hundred dollars to get their hands on a copy.

So in response to fan requests (I think from fans who have been looking for this book for a while), I wanted to excerpt a little more of  Chasing After Zorro. Here’s Lomond’s thoughts on episode #2, entitled “Zorro’s Secret Passage”. It’s kind of the story about how Zorro sets up his version of the Batcave: Continue reading “With Further Ado #220: More Chasing After Zorro”

With Further Ado #217: Chasing after Zorro 65 years later

With Further Ado #217: Chasing after Zorro 65 years later

Disney+ gets so much attention from comic and geek culture fans for all the Star Wars and Marvel shows. Sometimes it gets a little too much attention, like the kind of attention from the misguided fans who are righteously indignant about Eiza Gonzalez being supposedly cast as Elektra.

But the Disney+ news that really excites me is their plans to re-release the old Zorro series. It debuted sixty-five years ago this month.

Their official release reads:

“Zorro” is an American action-adventure western series produced by Walt Disney Productions and starring Guy Williams. Based on the Zorro character created by Johnston McCulley, the series premiered on October 10, 1957, on ABC. The final network broadcast was July 2, 1959. Seventy-eight episodes were produced, and four hour-long specials were aired on the Walt Disney anthology series between October 30, 1960, and April 2, 1961.

Anthony Tollin, whom you might associate more closely with another crusading avenger dressed in black, The Shadow, recently posted on social media, “65 years ago today, Walt Disney’s ZORRO (starring Guy Williams) premieres on ABC-TV on October 10th, 1957. My favorite TV series as a child, it remains the ONLY one that fully lives up to my childhood memories of it! Great scripts and direction, incredible cast and superb music composed by William Lava. The second unit director during the first season was the legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt.” Continue reading “With Further Ado #217: Chasing after Zorro 65 years later”

With Further Ado #199: I Like Pike

With Further Ado #199: I Like Pike

Maybe cinema isn’t the way to go. Maybe big screen movies aren’t <always> the end all be all.

Sure, I just enjoyed the latest Dr. Strange movie. We made it a family outing– with my wife, my dad, my aunt, and my cousin. And I really enjoyed taking my college students to see the latest Batman movie at the local theater.  There’s something wonderful about the shared experience. And something even more wonderful about that theater buttered popcorn.

But maybe…just maybe…some beloved franchises are meant to thrive on the small screen.

I’m saying this because I’m just loving the new Star Trek series, Strange New Worlds. It’s all about the crew of the Enterprise, focusing on untold past stories, that are all set in the far future, of course.

Captain Pike was supposed to be the star of the first Star Trek TV show. That didn’t quite click with the powers-that-be, during the Golden Age of Television, so there was a redo.  The new version, with Kirk and Spock and the gang, found a foothold on NBC for a time and in the hearts of fans for … forever.  But instead of just dismissing the original concepts and characters as a “nice try”, they became part of the mythology. Ravenous fans have wanted long wanted to enjoy the early adventures Enterprise. Continue reading “With Further Ado #199: I Like Pike”

With Further Ado #186: Green Hornet Buzz

With Further Ado #186: Green Hornet Buzz

For comics fans, it’s always a balancing act between wallowing in nostalgia and finding something fresh or different.  Amazingly, author Jim Beard pulls this trick off with the new book The Green Hornet: How Sweet the Sting, published by Moonstone. It’s a clever adventure that, on one hand, is 100% true to the source material, and the other, reinvents the franchise as a crime novel.

This thriller has the feel of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s Criminal series, but mixed in with a liberal dose of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City.  It’s grittier than I expected. But like a rollercoaster, it’s fun, exhilarating, and frightening – all at the same time.

Kato and his boss Britt Reid, who is secretly the Green Hornet, come across as just a smidge more badass than I expected. And then I was surprised to find the protagonist isn’t the Green Hornet, but an ex-Special Forces soldier who gets dragged into a life of crime.

Beard also brings one of the unsung heroes of The Green Hornet to center stage. Lenore Case, often called Casey, is given a realistic depth and warmth that she seldom exhibits in Hornet stories. Now that I think about it, the last time Lenore Case was this interesting was in Mark Waid’s clever Green Hornet series, published by Dynamite about ten years ago. (Tempus Fugit!)

In The Green Hornet TV show, she was played by Wende Wagner. Billy Wilder, while filming Some Like it Hot, discovered her when he saw her swimming.  She started as an underwater stunt double in TV shows like Sea Hunt, but soon moved on to movies including Rosemary’s Baby and Rio Conchos.

Like a magician who doesn’t show you all his tricks, Beard’s Casey is struggling on many levels, and readers, who are all in on the Green Hornet’s secret identity, are left to piece together exactly what’s going on.

Beard cleverly deals with several aspects of the Green Hornet mythology that don’t make sense, like Kato’s lack of a super-hero codename. As an author, he not only ponders the questions but also provides credible solutions.

Beard’s respect of and love for the source material is palpable. This story is built around several episodes of the TV show. For hard core fans that’s great, but for casual fans it doesn’t detract in the least.

Jim Beard has also been busy in the William Dozier-verse. His latest book, with Rich Handley, is OOOFF! BOFF! SPLATT! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66 – Season Three. It’s the third in a trilogy, as authors take deep dives into each episode of the old Batman TV program. Rumors are swirling that there may be another entry to this series, although it’s not clear how he’d pull that off. *

Moonstone’s been experimenting with slimmer books and shorter stories. It’s such a pleasant change from the long books I usually read. I motored through this one in just three days. And like visiting a high-end restaurant with small, delicious portions – I felt totally satisfied.

I’m a member of the Men’s Adventure Paperback group, and we all agree that strong cover art is an important part of the total experience. Joel Naprstek provides an engaging painting.  One thing I’m not clear on is why Moonstone didn’t the use that classic Green Hornet logo for the cover, but did use it on the inside pages.  Maybe a trademark or licensor issue? But that is a minor quibble at best.

This story exceeds the original series – but it’s almost impossible to not imagine Al Hirt’s trumpet playing the classic theme song as you read it.

The Green Hornet: How Sweet the Sting
by Jim Beard Author, Joel Naprstek Cover Artist
Moonstone
130 pages
ISBN-13‏: ‎9781944017262

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Full disclosure: I’m a contributing author to this series.

 

With Further Ado #181: Harlan Coben’s Stay Close Is on Netflix

With Further Ado #181: Harlan Coben’s Stay Close Is on Netflix

I’ve been a big fan of Harlan Coben’s thrillers for a long time. His clever, complicated stories always challenge the reader to “keep up”. And simultaneously, lull readers into a sense of false comfort because each tale is authentic and “real world”.

I lived in the metro NYC area for years. I can tell you that Harlen Coben was always able to channel the hopes, fears, and the anxious dread that, for so many, goes hand in hand with that kind of suburban living.  His protagonists seem like people next door who get caught up in situations far beyond anything they could imagine. And then Coben ratchets the tension up. It always gets worse for the characters.

This visionary writer struck a deal with Netflix to produce short series based up on his books.  And you know what? I think that an 8-episode story is just about the perfect length to adapt his books.  In the old days, back when we’d all go to movie theaters to watch movies, the “big win” for an author was seemingly to have her or his work adapted into a 90-minute movie.  Anyone who had read the book would, of course, be either disappointed that so much was cut, or constantly comparing and contrasting the merits of the prose version vs. the cinematic version.  But today’s streaming shows are the perfect way to enjoy a filmed version of a book, without sacrificing huge chunks of the narrative or cutting back the cast of characters

Harlan Coben’s Stay Close is his latest book to be adapted by Netflix.  It’s the story of a woman named Cassie (love that name – it’s big in my family) who’s been trying to put her sordid past behind her, and things just got more complicated. But caveat emptor (or should I say caveat lector, “Let the reader beware”?): Stay Close has a complicated, decades spanning plot with a large cast of characters.  A storyteller like Coben can both confuse viewers and help them solve the puzzle – piece by piece- at the same time.

Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd

Of note: there’s a psychotic pair of killers in this series. They are creepy, wacky and they scared the bejeezus outta me.  I don’t know where or when exactly these types of characters started, but I would venture to say that it may have begun with Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd from the 007 movie, Diamonds Are Forever (1971).  In Ian Flemings book, these two eccentric killers weren’t nearly as memorable as their cinematic counterparts.  Kudos to Coben for finding a way to improve upon this trope and deliver something fresh and memorable. And creeeeeeeepy.

For longtime Coben readers, there’s a lot of Easter eggs, including mentions of Ridgewood, Waldwick and Baumgarts Café.  But the coolest part of Stay Close is the way this author keeps pushing it – and continues to deliver a clever mystery, keeping even a long-time mystery lover on the edge of his seat.


Note: The Innocent, from 2018, is another Coben book recently adapted into an 8-episode Netflix series, and I’d highly recommend that one too.

Brainiac On Banjo: Truth, Justice, and All That Jazz

“Faster than an airplane, more powerful than a locomotive, impervious to bullets. ‘Up in the sky – look!’ ‘It’s a giant bird.’ ‘It’s a plane.’ ‘It’s Superman!’ And now, Superman – a being no larger than an ordinary man but possessed of powers and abilities never before realized on Earth: Able to leap into the air an eighth of a mile at a single bound, hurtle a 20-story building with ease, race a high-powered bullet to its target, lift tremendous weights and rend solid steel in his bare hands as though it were paper. Superman – a strange visitor from a distant planet: champion of the oppressed, physical marvel extraordinary who has sworn to devote his existence on Earth to helping those in need.” – written by Allen Ducovny and Robert Joffe Maxwell for the original Superman radio pilot, 1939.

The above proclamation was not original to the Superman comic books or the newspaper comic strip. It was streamlined, and the phrase “Truth, Justice and the American Way” was dramatically appended to the opening as President Roosevelt had started making his plans to dive head-first into World War II. It was also used in the opening to the Fleisher/Paramount Superman cartoons, and later the syndicated 1950s Superman television series.

“Truth, Justice and the American Way” is not in the U.S. constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, or as far as I can tell, the bible of any “major” religion. It is and always has been a marketing slogan, not unlike Fisk Tires’ “Time To Re-Tire.”

Why should he? Superman, long acknowledged to be a world citizen, is not a native born American and never had been. He has acknowledged that being an alien he could not lawfully become president. If he wanted to cheat, he probably could have pulled off running as “Clark Kent” (not his real name), as long as nobody demanded to see his birth certificate. With a raised seal, of course.

Superman is an illegal alien. A dreamer who landed without government permission or knowledge in Kansas U.S.A. without any parents and was seized by a then-elderly heterosexual white married couple. We assume somewhere along the line “Clark Kent” probably forged those credentials he would need to go to school, get a driver’s license and a passport, get married, and so on.

So, of course, this native Kryptonian dropping the “American Way” tagline drove the Rabid Right completely around the bend. Because, you know, he’s posed with the American flag and stuff.

The new phrase, “Truth, Justice and A Better Tomorrow,” would sound great opening a network newscast, unless that network isn’t Fox, Newsmax, OAN or their fellow reality-challenged microcephalic internet rackets. The Rabid Right lost their collective mind. Again.

As I said in this space last week, I enjoy watching the Rabid Right lose its shit. They’re almost as fantastic at that as they are lying through their teeth and causing widespread death. First Superman Son of Superman is revealed to be bisexual, and now, about a week later, he’s an optimistic citizen of the multiverse who is absolutely not working to further any American interests per se. So if the entire idea is to keep the Right reflexively flinching, then right on, DC Comics!

(Mike Gold and Bob Harrison will be representing Pop Culture Squad at this weekend’s the Baltimore Comic-Con, October 22 through 24, at — of all places — the Baltimore Convention Center, the one in Maryland. Evidently, Mister Gold will be on separate panels about First Comics and Hawkman, both hosted by Mister Harrison. We smell a fix…)

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #076: “I’m Back.”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #076: “I’m Back.”

“August 13, 2005, I left professional wrestling. August 20th, 2021… I’M BACK.”

Buckle up. I’m not holding back the words this week, kiddos.

When the rumor mill said Phil Brooks, known as CM Punk, was coming to All Elite Wrestling… I snickered. You see, 7 years ago, Punk went to his best friend’s apartment and recorded a scathing indictment of sports entertainment. Over the course of his tenure at WWE, under Vince McMahon, Punk was ground into a nub of a human. His body? Broken down. By several infections treated by a blitzkrieg of Z-packs (Azithromycin) which shredded his insides. His mind? Mush. Fighting the powers that be for everything he earned as one of the top performers of the company. Never given anything without heavy-handed control by the writers’ room and ineffective bookers. His spirit? On life-support. Forced to endure idiocy like being literally fired on his wedding day, needing to sue the WWE and lose a best friend over it, as well watching part-timers be brought in to spike ratings and take championships needlessly. This was CM Punk 7 years ago. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #076: “I’m Back.””

With Further Ado #159: Summer Beach Reading …with the Saint

With Further Ado #159: Summer Beach Reading …with the Saint

Oftentimes when we think about characters like Batman, James Bond or Harry Potter, we imagine they will go on and on ad infinitum. Despite the overwhelming merchandising juggernauts that these properties have become, that’s not really the case.

Take Leslie Charteris’ The Saint. This character, a devil-may-care adventurer, debuted in a story called Meet the Tiger in 1928. He then went on to a long career of battling bad guys in more novels, magazines, radio shows, TV shows, movies and even comics.

But I feel if I offered $100 to the first of my college students who could tell me (without looking it up on the web) who the character the Saint is – I’d still have that C-note!

I was introduced to The Saint through the long-running  60sTV show. This was, in some ways, a multi-season audition for the star, Roger Moore, for his subsequent role as James Bond.  Moore was charming, focused and fun – just right for the part.

The series focused on light mysteries and adventures  in glamorous cities all around the world.  The Saint would usually romance a different co-star each week. And one of the cleverest bits of the show was a recurring gag right before the opening theme song. Invariably, some random character would recognize the ‘famous Simon Templar, aka The Saint” and call him out.  (Simon Templar was kind of famous in the world he inhabited.) An animated halo would magically appear over  Moore’s head and then he’d notice the animation, look up at it and shrug in resignation. He was definitely in on the joke. It was all very meta before meta was a thing.

And I have another thought for this week.  I think it’s always great to read a mystery or two during the summertime. On the beach, if possible. And I want to make it easy for you all to do just that.

So, this week I’m featuring the Saint + a mystery story. The following pages are from an old issue of Life Magazine* that present a comic (but with photos instead of illustrations) of a Saint mystery adventure.

For this drama, The Saint is played by the author Leslie Charteris. It’s set in the glamorous setting of Palm Springs. And it’s a “fair play mystery”, so see if you can figure out who the villain is before The Saint does!

*thanks to Professor Laurence Maslon for the heads up!