Ron Ely returns to talk Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze

Doc Savage

One of the most iconic characters in popular literature, Doc Savage is the perfection of the human ideal, an adventurer and humanitarian who seeks to guide the world into a new age. A brilliant inventor, master of hand-to-hand combat and leader of that band of experts the Fabulous Five, Doc enjoyed a series of amazing adventures through over 180 pulp novels, comic books from both Marvel and DC Comics and more.

Here’s an excellent guide to Doc Savage for those interested…

Doc Savage is finally headed to DVD as part of the Warner Bros. Archive Collection.

Actor Ron Ely had the rare opportunity to star as two of the pulps most renowned heroes, Tarzan and Doc Savage. Legendary director of War of the Worlds, George Pal helmed the Man of Bronze in what promised to be an thrilling action drama. Sadly, the movie performed badly and contained more than its share of camp moments. Nevertheless, even the most disappointed fan of the character has to admit that Ely perfectly embodied the role.

DocSavage

RON ELY DISCUSSES TARZAN, DOC SAVAGE FOR WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION RELEASES

 In the late 1960s and early 70s, few actors stood as tall in their heroic roles as Ron Ely.

From television’s Tarzan to the big screen’s Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, Ely’s 6-foot-4-inch muscular frame made the scenery cower when he stepped before a camera.

The 74-year-old actor stands just as tall today, commanding audiences with his tales of those golden days of pulp fiction on film. Warner Archive Collection has brought Ely’s best-loved roles back into the spotlight, making the classic titles available on DVD and through its new live-streaming service, Warner Archive Instant.

Premiering on NBC in 1966, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ immortal creation, Tarzan, took to the nation’s TV screens for the first time. Still in the capable hands of producer Sy Weintraub, the TV Tarzan (the aforementioned Mr. Ely) continued the more recent (and more authentic) interpretation of Lord Greystoke as a sophisticated, articulate jungle adventurer as seen in the Tarzan films of Gordon Scott, Jock Mahoney and Mike Henry. Also carried over from the big screen was young actor Manuel Padilla (Tarzan and the Valley of Gold, Tarzan and the Great River), now playing the jungle lord’s kid sidekick alongside Cheetah, the simian one.

Based on the first of Kenneth Robeson’s 181 adventure packed books, Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze hit the screen with all its gee-whiz, gung-ho spirit intact. And its bold protagonist, who along with having a herculean body is also a surgeon, linguist and inventor, remains determined to do right to all and wrong to no one. Ely plays the strapping Savage in this high-camp, big-heroics tale of his trek into the Valley of the Vanished to confront the power-hungry Captain Seas (Paul Wexler). And behind the camera are pros who know how to get the most out of this entertainment bronze mine: veteran fantasy film producer George Pal (The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine) and director Michael Anderson (Around the World in 80 Days, Logan’s Run).

Once reluctant to embrace his cult hero status, Ely has joined Warner Archive Collection at two major events over the past six months – at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles, and WonderCon in Anaheim – to celebrate those cherished productions of 40-plus years ago.

In addition to Ely’s starring roles, Warner Archive Collection is now offering a number of classic films and television series representative of the pulp heroes of yesteryear. Included amongst those productions are the Tarzan Collections (the most recent featuring films of the 1960s: Tarzan Goes to India, Tarzan’s Three Challenges, Tarzan and The Valley of Gold, Tarzan and the Great River, Tarzan and the Jungle Boy) and Bomba The Jungle Boy, Volume One.

The Bomba release includes six of these rare films, which were released from 1949-51. Monogram pictures made an inspired choice when it opted to adapt the Stratemeyer Syndicate’s (Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift) series of books with Bomba the Jungle Boy and paired it up with Tarzan’s own now grown “Boy,” Johnny Sheffield. Under the leadership of newbie producer Walter Mirisch, the series skillfully blends stock photography, imaginative scripts and teen romance to deliver A-list fun on a B-list budget (and proving to be a smash hit for the studio). Fellow former child-star Peggy Ann Garner provides for Bomba’s jungle distraction in the inaugural installment, while other guests of note to be found in the first six films in the series include Allene Roberts, Donald Woods, Paul Guilfoyle, Sue England, Woody Strode, and Donna Martell. Silent-to-TV-era journeyman Ford Beebe directs all six.

But back to Mr. Ely, who took some time in conjunction with his appearance at WonderCon over Easter weekend to answer a few questions. Heed the words of Tarzan …

QUESTION:

What are you impressions of pulp heroes?

RON ELY:

When I was a kid, we had radio, we had Saturday morning serials, and we had comic books. It wasn’t like today – we had a limited array of things, but those things especially appealed to kids. I loved comic books, and I read a lot of them. Archie, Superman, Captain Marvel – those types.

Part and parcel of being a kid back then was to latch onto larger than life heroes. It wasn’t until we became adults that our hero image became more adult and humanized with flaws. Back then, they had no flaws – our heroes were the biggest, the baddest, and the most honorable. All those principles set in motion everything that followed suit for me.

Doc Savage was one of the most successful series of books – the character was one of the triumvirate of great action heroes, along with Tarzan and Superman. Those three really set the standard for pulp heroes. It’s interesting that Warner Archive has all three of them – they’re like a superhero factory. I can’t think of anybody that can compare.

QUESTION:

As a kid, who were your heroes?

RON ELY:

I grew up in Amarillo, Texas, so my heroes were cut from the same cloth that I saw all around me. Cowboys like John Wayne and Bob Mitchum. One of the joys of getting into this business was that I actually got to know some of my heroes. Those western, heroic characters occupied my interests in film more than any others. I loved the comic book and pulp heroes, but for me, you couldn’t beat John Wayne.

QUESTION:

What does it mean to you to be a hero?

RON ELY:

It’s sort of a funny thing being called a hero, because it’s not something I wanted to do. But it just kept coming for me. I don’t really understand why, but I appreciate it because I think it might have grown out of my sticking to the solid, basic principles I learned growing up. Those important characteristics tend to exist more in the superhero characters than other flawed adult characters. I always enjoyed playing the flawless characters because, whereas some folks find them corny, I appreciate the morals, the lessons, and all those things that superheroes are designed to be and represent.

QUESTION:

What has prompted you to come out of your shell a bit and embrace the fans and the fan conventions?

RON ELY:

I used to hate being around the fans – I avoided it like the plague. I enjoyed the anonymity. That’s why I pretty well dropped off the face of the Earth for quite a long time. But getting back out into the public again has been one of the most rewarding experiences that I can imagine. Those fans are diehard. They hang on, they don’t let go. They believe in Doc and Tarzan – they believe in them in a way that makes you want to know more about them.

It was surprising to me to find out the fans are still there, to discover the fan base is so enormous. It surprised to see younger people in that mix who weren’t around when I made Tarzan. It’s a kick for me. I enjoy seeing those people and hearing what they have to say. They embrace these characters for the right reasons. It’s not a character like in Die Hard – characters like Doc Savage, Tarzan and Superman are more pure superheroes. There’s a special group of characters, and a special group of people that remain true to those characters as fans.

For more information on Warner Archive Collection new and current releases, go to http://shop.warnerarchive.com/

Doc Savage: Death’s Dark Domain

Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze

The Man of Bronze / The Land of Terror

Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze

Showcase Presents: Doc Savage

Writings in Bronze

Advertisements

The Shadow Knows…

One of the most iconic characters in American fiction, the Shadow has influenced many subsequent heroes such as Batman. For eighteen years since 1931, the Shadow was printed twice monthly and fought crime through for over 325 issues and additional comic strips and young reader installments through the 40’s. The cover art of each installment by Jerome Rosen still has impact today. Walter Gibson wrote close to a million and a half words documenting the adventures of his creation which also ruled the airwaves, voiced at one time by the great Orson Welles.

shadow_wall1

The Shadow has a somewhat muddied origin due to being adapted into various mediums, including movie serials, several comic book revivals and the feature film in 1994. Personally, I knew of the character from his radio reputation and am one of the few people who enjoyed the the DC Comics series by Andrew Helfer and Kyle Baker which ended with the decapitated Shadow obtaining a robot body. Much like the Frankencaste series by Rick Remender and Tony Moore, I loved the joke, but classic fans were rightly outraged. But the Shadow is such a long-lasting creation that investigating his origins and influences is a herculean task that grants the interested parties greater insight into the popular crime fighter idiom and pulp entertainment.

An expansive documentary, ‘The Shadow Knows,’ explores the rich history of the Shadow and is available from Amazon.

Here’s a clip:

In 1994, the Shadow almost joined Batman in animated form as seen in this brief clip from Savage Broadcast (who also uploaded an excellent documentary on the character). Not much is known about this series and even the video is hazy, much like the elusive Shadow himself!

(sadly the video has been taken down)

The Shadow is still in print today from Dynamite (the same publisher behind the popular Lone Ranger, Black Beetle and Masks which unites all of the pulp heroes including the Green Hornet and Zorro). There have been rumors of a Shadow feature film directed by Sam Raimi for years (which is odd since his Darkman film pretty well serves as an homage to the Shadow), but nothing has come of it yet.
the_shadow_01_cover_francavilla_low

Interested in finding out more? I can recommend the following resources:

The Shadow, 1941: Hitler’s Astrologer

The Shadow Volume 1: The Fires Of Creation

The Shadow Double-Novel Pulp Reprints #47: “The Living Shadow” & “The Black Hush”

The Great Pulp Heroes

Pulp Culture: The Art of Fiction Magazines

Hi-ho Silver Screen!

The Lone Ranger is one of the most enduring creations of the Western world. A morally upstanding heroic icon of Americana, the Lone Ranger is a western character with both a code of honor and a brave heart.

One of six Texas rangers ambushed by “Butch” Cavendish and his gang, John Reid is revived by Tonto, a native American whom he had shown kindness to earlier. He and Tonto agreed to make it appear that all six men were dead and to use the element of surprise to hunt the outlaws down. Creating a make-shift mask from his dead brother’s clothes, he became known as the Lone Ranger and fought injustice wherever he found it.

The Lone Ranger has appeared in almost every form of entertainment starting in radio and continuing to video games and even the modern comic book. However, he will always be most closely associated with the radio drama that coined the catch phrase ‘hi-ho, Silver!’ along with many other notable lines of dialog. There have been attempts to bridge the character to the modern audience, but only the long-lasting TV series starring Clayton Moore has made a mark. A film released in the early 80’s was a bust for many reasons.

Most recently, news of a feature film started to crop up but talk of supernatural beings, werewolves and more made many wish they had never heard of it. Apparently those notions are as dead as the other 5 Texas rangers and a new movie directed by Gore Verbinski (of the Pirates of the Caribbean films).

Johnny Depp (Tonto) and Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger)

… uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer introduced fans to the latest incarnation of the iconic Western characters.

That’s Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer (J. Edgar, The Social Network) who have saddled up for The Lone Ranger, which will be directed by Depp’s Rango and Pirates of the Caribbean collaborator Gore Verbinski. Bruckheimer has been tweeting from the set of Disney’s anticipated Ranger reboot, promising “something big” and an image “that will show you why this isn’t going to be your grandfather’s Lone Ranger and Tonto.”

So far, it looks like Verbinski and his crew are embracing the roots of the classic law enforcer, while also cutting Depp a little slack to make Tonto a white-faced weirdo. (That is a bird resting on his head, after all.)

Months ago, the thought of a Lone Ranger promotional image seemed impossible, as Disney and Bruckheimer appeared at odds over the budget of a Ranger movie and the pictured stalled in pre-production. Eventually, though, cooler heads prevailed and the Lone Ranger was allowed to move forward as planned. Verbinski’s Western has been penned by Pirates scribes Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. It co-stars Helena Bonham-Carter, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson and Barry Pepper. As of right now, it’s due in theaters on May 31, 2013.

Via Fandango.

Like many other long standing creations from the 1930’s, the Lone Ranger is more than a comic strip or pulp character, he is a piece of Americana, one of the few remaining segments of nobility that our nation has. When I read that a new comic book series from Dynamite Comics was worth reading I was in full support, but a feature film from Disney involving Bruckheimer and Verbinkski with Johnny Depp as Tonto does not strike me as the way to do the concept honor.

I’m not a nationalist or a drum-beating patriot, I just respect the hard work and conviction that went in to crafting such a timeless character and hope that these massive corporations put the same amount of thought into their summer blockbuster.

Actor Clayton Moore remains the iconic masked man in many people’s minds… and maybe it should stay that way.

Clayton Moore, the Lone Ranger, at his home in Las Angeles, CA, in 1992.

The current release date is May 31, 2013.

The Lone Ranger - The Original Series, Vol. 1

The Lone Ranger trade paperback

The Lone Ranger Chronicles Limited Hardcover Edition

The Lone Ranger Definitive Edition

I Was That Masked Man

John Carter trailer premier

Based on the writings of Edgar Rice Burrough (of Tarzan fame), John Carter, Warlord of Mars is the first live action effort from Pixar director Andrew Stanton, more commonly recognized for their animated films such as Finding Nemo and Wall-E. The feature film is hoped to be the first in a series of adaptations based on Burrough’s novels.

A big screen adaptation of John Carter has been in the works as far back as the 1930’s when Bob Clampett (of Looney Tunes and Beany and Cecil) approached the author regarding the project. The film would have involved the ground-breaking technique of roto-scoping over live actors that Ralph Bakshi later employed in his Lord of the Rings film. Unfortunately the project was abandoned only to be brought back several times since. It’s clear that John Carter is a beloved creation with the potential to grab the imagination of movie-goers in a new way. A thrilling adventure series featuring expansive visuals and exciting situations, this could be the beginning of something big.

John Carter of Mars Animation (Rare) Bob Clampett

The trailer sticks quite closely to the source material concerning a soldier of the Civil War transported to Mars after being shot on the battlefield. A strange and bizarre world populated by massive multi-armed creatures, Carter discovers that he is the only hope that Princess Dejah Thoris has of saving her people.

The John Carter movie stars Taylor Kitsch, Bryan Cranston and Lynn Collins and the vocal talents of Mark Strong (Sinestro in Green Lantern), Thomas Haden Church and Willem Dafoe. The trailer uses what sounds like
Peter Gabriel covering the Arcade Fire’s ‘My Body is a Cage’ which is very weird to me as I adore the song but was taken aback by hearing it in this new way.

To read up on John Carter, I highly recommend the following products and this fine website: http://www.johncarterofmars.ca/mars/

John Carter of Mars: The Collection

”]

John Carter of Mars: Warlord of Mars

Green Hornet (2011) Movie News

A fondly remembered pulp hero, the Green Hornet was born on the radio in 1936 before making the move to Columbia serials and more. Direct descendant to the Lone Ranger, Britt Reid combated the forces of evil with unique weaponry from a stun gun to darts. Along with his manservant Kato, the pair patrolled the streets in the rolling arsenal known as the Black Beauty.

A remarkable twist in the series involved the Green Hornet being hunted down as a vigilante by the police. Reid cannily decided to use this to his advantage and let it be known that not only was wanted by the cops for taking the law into his own hand but he was in fact a crime boss of the most ruthless variety. This allowed him to play both side of the same coin and operate in the criminal underworld as one of their own and thereby take them down fro within.

In 1966, William Dozer had a hit on his hands with the Adam West Batman series. Seeking to extend the range to include another costumed hero, he developed the Green Hornet. Starring the dashing Van Williams as playboy Britt Reid and international star Bruce Lee as Kato, the TV program had difficulty finding an audience but remains a cult program. Part of the problem may have stemmed from the fact that whereas the Batman series was comedic and absurd, Green Hornet was an action/adventure drama played straight. It is actually a remarkably good series and I recommend viewing it if you can find it.

Green Hornet (Van Williams) and Kato (Bruce Lee)

More recently, a modern film version of the Green Hornet started to build momentum. Directed by Michael Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and starring Seth Rogen as Britt Reid/Green Hornet and Chinese singer/entertainer Jay Chou (in his feature film debut) as manservant Kato, the movie has been in development limbo for about three years (witness the June 25, 2010 release date in the film logo).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Normally associated with comedic films, Rogen has adamantly defended the assumption that his Green Hornet would be a spoof, confusing many. He’s hardly a dashing action hero and he’s certainly no Van Williams. The actor has faced plenty of criticism before the first images of production work were released, so I’m not about to add to the negativity. I have to admit that it’s a bold move for Rogen to sign onto such an unusual movie as his foray into the comic book genre. Nevertheless, the film has slowly but surely progressed, signing Cameron Diaz as the romantic interest and Edward James Olmos as the forthright reporter determined to reveal the Green Hornet’s identity and Christoph Waltz (replacing Nic Cage) as a new villain.

Last Summer, fans were treated to the real Black Beauty to be used in the film but news has otherwise been scant. The first trailer will accompany Rogen’s appearance tonight on Jimmy Kimmel live.

The script was co-written by Rogen as well. What I find very interesting is that Gondry was as replacement director for Gondry replaced Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle) who would also have starred as Kato. The studio was apparently adamant about their Green Hornet being a serious action film and not a comedy. Now that the trailer has been released, I wonder what changed at Columbia Pictures as this looks very much like an action/comedy/spoof.

TRAILER UPDATE:

Green Hornet will premiere in 3-D, IMAX 3-D, and regular old cinemas on January 14, 2011.

I don’t want to jump to conclusions or anything, but the trailer for the Michael Gondry/Seth Rogen film looks predictably goofy and written down to the audience (witness Rogen mugging to the camera and actually explaining the premise behind his character and even defining Kato’s character in the trailer… as if we could not figure any of this out for ourselves). In short, the trailer is flashy but it’s not doing the movie any favors. Maybe ‘the kids’ that studios are always trying to reach will like it.

Coincidentally, an excellent Green Hornet short movie was released this year by Reservoir Films. It’s interesting to see what can be done when a filmmaker is not self-conscious about the material and simply produces a great action flick that is faithful to the source material yet modern enough to attract attention from the uninitiated.

Related:

THE GREEN HORNET: A History of Radio, Motion Pictures, Comics and Television

Green Hornet 4-DVD Ultimate Collection Digipak

Green Hornet Strikes Again, The

Green Hornet Strikes Again, The

Green Hornet, The

Green Hornet: Year One Volume 1 TP

The Green Hornet Chronicles

Is the Shadow headed back to the big screen?

The star of radio, page and screen, the Shadow is quintessential pulp. A major influence on several vigilante-style heroes, including Batman, the Shadow has also been voiced by several actors during his time on radio including 22 year-old Orson Welles.

A grim detective who operated with a network of underworld personalities, the Shadow was also a socialite by day when he was not stalking his prey as a brutal force of vengeance. In addition to a pair of .45 Cal. Browning pistols and a bone-chilling laugh, the Shadow was also able to read the minds of the guilty, lending to the phrase, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”

The Shadow radio show on youtube

A thriller for the airwaves, the Shadow was fleshed out by Walter B. Gibson in a series of cheap violent and tension-filled novels replete with beautifully lurid covers known as pulps.

In the mid-1970’s, DC Comics expanded their line of genre books with several new titles including the Shadow. Translated into comic book form by Michael William Kaluta and Batman scribe Denny O’Neil, the series was astounding but failed to secure an audience. Years later, Howard Chaykin, Andy Helfer, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Kyle Baker brought the character into the modern era with a nod to the grim style of Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Helfer and Baker stayed on after a four-issue mini-series for one of the most attractive and mind-bogglingly weird comic books to not be collected in trade paperback form. It’s really criminal.

A touchstone of a by-gone era, the Shadow was revived in the 1990’s after the success of Tim Burton’s Batman movie for Warner Bros. The movie was a period affair starring Alec Baldwin as the split-personality lead Shadow/Lamont Cranston. While the 90’s Shadow had been lambasted as a flop today, I remember being very impressed with it at the time.

Rumors have been circulating (at ScreenrantCinemablend, ComicBookMovieDen of Geek, and iFilm) for a few days now that Sam Raimi (formerly the director of the Spider-Man films) may be attached to a feature length Shadow film. The project started bubbling in 2007, but the director was far too involved with Spider-Man to give it his full attention. Comic book authority Michael Uslan (the man we can thank for getting Hollywood to believe a serious Batman movie was possible) is attached and the word on the street is that the script is amazing.

Anyone familiar with his previous work can see that it’s a natural fit. Just look at Darkman (the movie Raimi directed after he failed to obtain the rights to the Shadow in the 1980’s). Of course, anyone who saw Spider-Man 3 can see that the magic touch that he once had may be gone now. But I’m certainly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and blame the third Spider movie’s dip in quality on the studio.

Currently, Raimi is circulating a script with plans to produce but after the fourth Spider-Man movie fell through, he is eager to announce his next film as director. This would really be a good fit and a chance to rub salt in Sony’s wounds that they are bound to suffer with Raimi removed from their popular arachnid property.

Buck Rogers- National Icon and Pulp Hero

Buck Rogers

buck_rogers_francesco

Buck Rogers by Francesco Francavilla

The creation of 1920’s pulp novelist Philip Francis Nowlan, Buck Rogers is a mixture of the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Rip Van Winkle and a little of John Carter Warlord of Mars. In other words, he is the perfect modern hero.

A World War One veteran, Anthony Rogers is exposed to radioactive gases that cause him to become frozen in time for over four hundred years. Discovered by the young Wilma Deering (whom Rogers mistakes to be a boy), Rogers realizes that he has survived into the 25th Century. However, the future version of the America he had fought for is a war-torn country desperately attempting to escape defeat at the hands of foreign invaders referred to as the Hans (probably a derivation of Huns or Mongols). Through the use of Rogers’ fighting skills, the uncoordinated gangs of rebellion become effective in routing the Hans. Elevated to leader of the gangs, Rogers also gains the hand of the young Wilma.

The initial novel (originally serialized in Amazing Stories) was later adapted by John F. Dille convinced Nowlan to introduce Rogers as a comic strip character and reach a wider audience (as well as sell lots of newspapers). Renamed Buck Rogers, the freedom fighting man out of time quickly became a national icon and hero of the sci-fi comic strip genre.

Continuing the literary tradition of outer space adventure, Buck Rogers was a pioneer and swashbuckler in a strange setting yet he retained qualities and mannerisms that the readers would recognize and relate to.

From one medium to another, the brave Buck Rogers seemed to excel. Making the leap from the printed page to radio, Buck made his explosive debut at the 1934 World’s Fair in a short film (starring John F. Dille himself as the lead hero). Watching it today you can practically hear the roar of children urging Buck to attack Killer Kane in the heated outer space battle… and if I don’t miss my guess one of those kids was more likely than not a starry eyed George Lucas hopped up on ice cream and soda pop.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: An Interplanetary Battle with the Tiger Men of Mars

After such an exciting adventure, it was only a matter of time before a Universal Pictures serial was filmed with Buster Crabbe donning the trademark blond locks and deadly raygun. Liberties were taken with the initial plot, causing Buck to be caught in a dirigible accident along with his friend Wade. Fighting the forces of Killer Kane instead of the Hans, Buck and Wade struggled to release humanity from his tyrannical grip. The serial has often been criticized for its lack of budget, evident by the fact that the Buck Rogers serial saved some cash by simply re-using the sets from Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars. But if you are going to re-use any serial’s sets, you can do worse than those used in Flash Gordon. Casting Crabbe as both Flash and Buck is also confusing.

Nevertheless the influence of Buck Rogers is so great that for decades it was synonymous with any outlandish science fiction concept from space travel to space suits (usually named ‘Buck Rogers outfits’ by the layman). The Looney Tunes Duck Dodgers character, as much an homage as a spoof, held the flame high for Buck Rogers and why not? A fresh mixture of high adventure and suspense and dazzling special effects (for the time), it was the Star Wars of its time.

Planet Outlaws (renamed compilation of the Buck Rogers serial)

After a 1950’s TV series, Buck Rogers disappeared from the limelight for almost 30 years. It was in 1979 that Buck Rogers soared into space once more, this time played by the sexy Gil Gerard in trousers so tight you could see if he had remembered bus fair. The series also starred Erin Grey as the slim and lovely Wilma (this time a skilled fighter pilot) and the wise cracking Twiki (who annoyingly said beedie-beedie-beedie in each sentence). Twiki wore a much more brilliant and lucid computer named Dr. Theopolis around his neck like the biggest disco medallion you have ever seen. Buck became part of an Earth defense force against the evil Killer Kaine, but in this new version Kaine was actually the lapdog of the Princess Ardala (who looked more like an exotic dancer than the leader of a people, but what do I know). Buck’s unconventional fighting techniques took a back seat to his bold behavior and constant desire to expose his chest and bed women.

The series was an almost instant hit and spelled certain doom for the BBC’s Doctor Who when it went into overseas syndication. So threatened by the superior special effects and sexy leading man that a younger actor was cast as the Fifth Doctor (along with a teenage supporting cast) and a revamped opening sequence and logo developed to bring the series up to date.

buckrogers80s

Buck Rogers in the 1980's

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1980’s)

Since the 1980’s series, the Buck Rogers franchise has been decidedly quiet until a new comic book series emerged from Dynamite Entertainment (the same people behind Zorro, the Lone Ranger and many more classic pulp comics). The latest comic book series is on its sixth issue this week and features spellbinding designs by Alex Ross and covers by John Cassaday that stand out even in today’s market. Using the current American can-do attitude as our nation crawls out from under a near-depression, the new comic book series has much in common with the original concept from 1928.

Rumor has it that Frank Miller (300, Sin City, The Spirit) is in talks regarding a modernization of the Buck Rogers character as a feature film… but after the disappointing results from his latest project (the aforementioned Spirit), this may be a very old rumor indeed.

A national icon embodying the spirit of defiance and determination against impossible odds, Buck Rogers is as much a hero of American culture as later creations such as Captain America. From a contemporary viewpoint, Buck Rogers can be seen as xenophobic and jingoistic in its simplicity, but taken in parts it makes a bold statement about our culture. One of the grandfathers of the modern adventurer, Buck Rogers remains an important and powerful symbol of the freedom fighter driven by his beliefs to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

buck_rogers

Dynamite Entertainment Buck Rogers #4

On Amazon:
Buck Rogers by Philip Nowlan
Wings Over Tomorrow: The Collected Science Fiction of Philip Francis Nowlan
Buck Rogers: The Comic Strips
Buck Rogers: The 1939 Serial
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1980s series)
Buck Rogers (Dynamite Entertainment) Volume 1

Matt Wagner’s Zorro

wagner_zorro

Zorro by Matt Wagner

Building on their recent success with Lone Ranger, Dynamite Comics has expanded their list of recognized legacy characters to include Zorro. Comic book creator Matt Wagner has taken on the writing chores of the series while artist Francesco Francavella delivered some of the most beautiful art in monthly comics today. Known for his successes in the independent world for Grendel and Mage and more recently for his take on Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in Trinity, Wagner brings with him a certain kind of sophistication without losing that unique timelessness that makes a property like Zorro so attractive.

Zorro for Guy Williams Jr_4

Guy Williams Zorro by Francavella

Currently in its second year, Dynamite’s Zorro has met with critical acclaim for its stripped down storytelling and cinematic action sequences. For the uninitiated, Zorro is the 19th Century creation of pulp writer Johnston McCulley in his novel, The Curse of Capistrano. A masked vigilante of another era, Zorro fights for the freedom of the oppressed against the forces of tyranny. Made popular in the 1925 silent film by Douglas Fairbank’s depiction of the swashbuckling marvel, the character has gone on to become a cult hero and an heroic icon of the superhero idiom.

Using the standard secret identity concept that is popular today, Zorro is a foppish nobleman by day but rights wrongs as the bold and daring Zorro from under the cover of a black mask, cape and brimmed cap. The subject of numerous film and TV productions with the likes of Tyrone Power, Lost in Space’s Guy Williams, Antonio Banderas and even Anthony Hopkins, the character has remarkable staying power and the kind of appeal that many producers dream about.

A popular comic strip by Alex Toth and later one by Thom Yeates garnered attention, yet in the comic book medium, the character has been less of a success save the current series.

The inspiration for taking on a character like Zorro comes in part from Matt Wagner’s appreciation for what artist John Cassady achieved with the Lone Ranger revival. “I really liked ‘Lone Ranger’ and the track John [Cassaday] took on it, so when I saw that Dynamite had ‘Zorro,’ I called them and said, ‘Hey, let me do what John did for you. Let me do the covers and be the art director on the book,’ and that’s when they came back to me and said, ‘What about writing it?’ I hadn’t really planned on it, but it was too good an offer to pass up.”

An admirer of swashbuckling adventure, it should come as no surprise that Wagner has had such success with this series. Many may not realize that he was signed on to draw and write the adaptation of Alexander Dumas’ Three Musketeers for the Classics Illustrated line.

For more of Francesco Francavella, please visit his blog, Pulp Sunday.

Last month Dynamite announced that they will also be publishing a Year One series for the character Green Hornet with Matt Wagner as writer and designer.

In collected editions:
Zorro Volume 1
Zorro Year One: Trail of the Fox
Zorro by Alex Toth
Guy Williams: The Man Behind the Mask

Rogen’s Green Hornet a go… really

Green Hornet (2010)

Green Hornet and actor Seth Rogen

Green Hornet and actor Seth Rogen

Columbia Pictures has officially announced that the adaptation of the former radio adventure star the Green Hornet is about to start filming. The cast includes Seth Rogen as the crime fighter Green Hornet, Jay Chou as Kato (the part made famous by Bruce Lee), Edward James Olmos (probably as DA Scanlon in league with the Green Hornet), Cameron Diaz (as secretary Lenore Case), Tom Wilkinson and David Harbour. Nic Cage is in talks about playing a newly created super villain to battle the emerald-clad hero.

Green Hornet (Van Williams) and Kato (Bruce Lee)

Green Hornet (Van Williams) and Kato (Bruce Lee)

I had written about the history of Green Hornet and the film as being in production over two years ago here, as well as my reluctance to accept that Rogen was the right guy to make a film based on this pulp hero. I’ve read that the movie has been in production for 10 years… which makes me very worried about how this character will be treated in the upcoming movie adaptation.

A Green Hornet Primer

His origins in the age of radio adventure in 1936, the Green Hornet exploded on the small screen in the William Dozier TV series in 1966. Released in conjunction with the campy Batman series, many viewers were no doubt confused by the serious nature of the Green Hornet causing it to be canceled after only one year on the air.

A straight-forward pulp only slightly modernized for the swinging 60’s, the program followed the adventures of the scourge of the underworld and public enemy number one of the police, the Green Hornet. Secretly newspaper publisher and socialite Britt Reid, the Green Hornet fought crime with the assistance of his manservant and martial artist Kato along with the assistance of District Attorney Scanlon. Prowling the streets of San Francisco in the rollinf arsenal called the Black Beauty (this thing was a TANK, the Batmobile had nothing on this car), his Hornet’s sting capable of stun rays and emmitting knock-out gas, the Green Hornet often played both sides of villain and hero in order to keep the criminal element in check.

Dashing and handsome Van Williams caused many a female viewer to swoon while Bruce Lee’s dynamic kung fu mesmerized absolutely everyone. The signature tune and fight sequences kept viewers comong back for more but not enough to keep the program on the air. An overseas sensation, the Green Hornet was aired in Bruce Lees’s home of Hong Kong as ‘The Kato Show.’ An enduring program, the Green Hornet may not have been a smash when it was on the air but it is responsible for making enough of an impact that it is still remembered to this day.

Green Hornet Tribute

New film not a comedy… really

With director Michael Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) on board, I honestly cannot say that I know where this film is headed. Rogen has gone on record as stating that his Green Hornet will not be a comedy despite the fact that the chubby comedic actor cuts an unlikely action hero. I’m reminded of the rumors of a Batman movie starring Bill Murray… but at least that is an actor with some range. Rogen… I’m not so sure. The new version of the Black Beauty was on display at this year’s San Diego Comic Con (which confused me to no end since it looks exactly like the old one), revealed by Rogen as a publicity stunt to promote the upcoming film.

Developments are still far too early to make any serious judgements on this movie. In fact it has only just been firmly established that it is definitely going to happen. The film is set for release December 17, 2010.

The Phantom- the Ghost Who Walks

thephantom
The longest running comic adventure strip, the Phantom was created as a tool to bring in new readers. At the time of his creation, comic strips were like honey to newspaper readers. The right comic character was viewed as a golden idol, possibly causing a tremendous spike in a paper’s readership. Lee Falk, also creator of Mandrake the Magician, was searching for a new hero to take the helm in 1936 and found him in the mysterious ‘ghost who walks.’

Combining a healthy dose of iconic righter of wrongs from Zorro and a near-mythic legend from King Arthur, Falk’s Phantom was a unique addition to the growing ranks of comic strip heroes. Despite the skin tight costume and pupil-less domino mask, it is the legacy of the character that continues to impress readers. After an adventure in the deepest jungles of Africa, Falk revealed that this Phantom was the 21st such bearer of the title, a tradition passed down since the 1500’s.

A defender of the innocent and punisher of the wicked, the Phantom marks his prey with his skull ring, making their true nature known. Since a near endless family line has taken up the charge of the Phantom, he appears to be immortal, adding power to his image as a tireless adventurer. The mythic feel of a vigilante prowling the night was much later incorporated into many comic book characters, chiefly with Batman.

frank_shannon-phantom_group

One of the most popular and successful comic strip characters, there have been a few attempts to adapt the Phantom into other mediums. A 15-part Republic Serial was made in 1943 and is still praised as one of the great serials of its time.

mandrak_phantom


(featuring also the most intense cartoon theme by far)

A member of the King Features power group Defenders of the Earth (also featuring Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician and Lothar), the Phantom was no stranger to the word of animation and even received his own series, Phantom 2040.

phantom2040

Comic book adaptations aplenty have been released by both Marvel Comics and Moonstone (the modern king of pulp comics). In 1996, Billy Zane starred in a feature film adaptation that performed very poorly despite the fact that it was praised by some critics. Perhaps a victim of poor timing, the period piece was seen by few yet sold well in the home market, making a sequel a strong possibility.

More recently a reboot to the franchise has taken form in a film referred to as The Phantom Legacy. A movie that would build on the very nature of the Phantom’s title handed down from father to son, this new Phantom movie could succeed where its predecessor failed simply because there is an audience hungry for more sophisticated comic book fare.

No matter what his future, the Phantom has earned his place as one of the founding fathers of the super hero idiom that has kept going strong to this day.

Recommended:
The Phantom – Serial
The Phantom
Biography – The Phantom: Comic Strip Crusader
The Story of The Phantom: The Ghost Who Walks