08 December 2011

The Batmobile's Grandfather: Jerry Robinson

The sky ripped asunder and Gotham shook to it's foundation, as we learned of the passing of artist Jerry Robinson.

Jerry Robinson was the real deal.  I attend his lecture at the New York Big Apple Con a decade ago.  He was a precise and literate man and clearly articulated both his and Bill Finger's contributions to the Batman mythos of which artist Bob Kane staunchly maintained sole credit until his death.

We here at the Flying Batmobile Ranch salute Jerry Robinson.

Jerry created The Best Parts of Batman: as a teenager, Jerry contributed to the Batman mythos by creating Robin the Boy Wonder, The Joker, Bruce Wayne's faithful butler, Alfred, and Two-Face.  Many of these creations were made in an uncredited partnership with author Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane.  As my super-cool friends at Batmobile History learned when they interviewed Mr. Robinson last year, Jerry was the pivotal influence on Batmobile design.  Author Bill Finger decided that Batman should stop driving anonymous sedans and coined the term "Batmobile".  To wit:

The 1939 Batmobile, in it's first appearance, as envisioned by Bob Kane 
The 1939 Batmobile, as it next appeared in BATMAN #5, as drawn by Jerry Robinson.
Big difference!

Jerry Robinson the Humanitarian.   Mr. Robinson played a pivotal role in getting pensions for Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, creators of SUPERMAN.  Further, he engineered the release of cartoonist/ satirist Francisco Laurenzo Pons who had languished as a political prisoner in Uruguay for six years.  Mr. Robinson wrote volumes on the history of comics and donated his personal collection of Golden Age comic art for a traveling museum exhibit on the subject.  Importantly, Mr. Robinson created a San Diego Comic-con International award for under-recognized comic writers, named after his unsung BATMAN collaborator, Bill Finger.
Bill Finger, as illustrated by Jerry Robinson

Thus, in many ways, Mr. Robinson brought credit to people who had been overlooked by a multi-million-dollar industry by giving them The Finger.

09 November 2011

I'm thankful for *new* BRAVE AND BOLD Figures!

Hands down, BATMAN BRAVE AND BOLD is my favorite Batman comic and the show is at the top of my list, too!

Sadly, the show is at it's end, with only a few new episodes left to air in the States.  Sadder still, the final BRAVE AND BOLD figures of The Flash, Captain Marvel, and others, never saw distribution.  The curtain is closing on a wonderful era of Bat-creativity...

... or is it?

The batphone here at the Flying B Ranch was off the hook with calls that two new figures were hitting the shelves:

Riddler and Bruce Wayne Batman Figures (2011)
Yes! A wonderful, Dick Sprang-inspired Riddler and Batman, with removable cowl.  Sure enough, Batmaniacs, we can now see the grim avenger underneath those pointy ears...

Bruce Wayne, with cowl, along side custom Robin!
... hurmm, perhaps it's best if that mask went back on.  Kidding aside, Bruce looks wonderful but needed   pupils.  I drool at the potential future figures that Bruce head will beget...

Riddle me this: What's up with the holes in my arms and legs?  
  ... and of course, that Riddler head is great.  It's nice to see a belt sculpt that can be so versatile.  I look at E. Nygma and see a million options, including Zebra Man!

Zebra Batman, baby!
... wrong Zebra Man!  How can anyone resist such spectacularly silly nonsense?  Eventually, the plan is to fill in the holes on all of these villains.  Eventually.

Hallowe'en went horribly wrong, when a rogue ice storm devastated the Flying Batmobile Ranch.  Repairs are still on-going, but at least the Atomic Turbines are back on line.  Sadly, the party is likely cancelled for safety reasons, but I had worked so hard on my Brave & Bold "costume" that I had to reveal it here:

Some of the best B&B team-ups were with Deadman!

Sir Neal of Adams (him again) did the best Deadman stuff, including his team-ups with Batman.  My figure was a modified Plastic Man, with sculpted head.  I painted Deadman in greys and white and then gave the figure a light coat of Italian Red to give the contrasting shades of red.  I did the head with a grey wash, which brought out the details of the sculpt, but I wonder if it's "toy line accurate".  A matte coat finished him off. 

The completed Brave & Bold line so far!
 Next up: a crazy guest appearance, two classic comic friends, two show friends that *should* have been in the comic, and then...

... the big surprise.

Keeping the Batusi on "GO"

26 October 2011

Hooray for Jordi Bernet!

Well, all the owlhoots here at the The Flying B Ranch got out of the dust to celebrate DC Comic's latest ALL STAR WESTERN issue 2.  The main attraction of this month's missive?

Jordi Bernet drawing the legendary lethal phantasm of the west: El Diablo!

Making this even better is the fact that story telling bushwackers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have rolled out zombies into the frontier!

You get eight pages of masterfully-coloured terror by Rob Schwager, all for 399 pesetas (299 if you know the barkeep).

A great first chapter.

Oh yeah, and a Jonah Hex story, too...

Gracias por todos, El Mejor!

26 September 2011

Happy 70th BIrthday, Green Arrow!

What kid didn't grab a bow and arrow and pretend to be Robin Hood?  
That's the hook to the best Batman knock-off ever: Green Arrow!
A Silver Age MEGO Party for the big 7-0!

70 years ago today, Mort Weisinger needed more Batman success.  Rich Playboy Bruce Wayne Oliver Queen and his ward Dick Grayson Roy Harper fought crime with the scientific marvels in the Batcave Arrowcave, with his high-powered Batmobile Arrowcar and a utility belt quiver filled with gadgets, most notably the batarang boxing glove arrow!  It was the Batman Green Arrow and Robin Speedy Adventure hour!

Ed Hannigan channeled classic ARROW artist
Lee Elias for this 2006 commission!

Sadly, Mort failed to capture the true zest of Bat-mania, as Green Arrow really had no meaningful rogues gallery, or raison d'etre for that matter.  His costume was simple and could have been taken from any ROBIN HOOD book cover.  

My first Green Arrow comic?  In the big SUPER FRIENDS Treasury comic, Alex Toth illustrated beats in between Justice League reprints, including one in which every League member dressed up as Green Arrow, including Wonder Woman!  That sort of thing scars leaves an impression, and I was hooked.  It also helped that he made a guest appearance on SUPER FRIENDS, even if he had another costume by then.

In another Treasury volume, Green Arrow magically lost his arms and had to fire his bow using his feet and teeth!  Yup, I tried that in the backyard a couple of times with the Suction Cup bow and arrow set...

Mike Grell has to be the best GA artist of all time!
Green Arrow made his most significant mark in my most favorite comic, BRAVE AND THE BOLD.  Creator team Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams had Oliver Queen losing his fortune, chucking the sidekick, getting new fighting togs, and growing a beard!  Green Arrow than went on to befriend Green Lantern, court Black Canary, and argue with Hawkman.  He became the first member to quit the Justice League over political differences.

My favorite Green Arrow comics were by Mike Grell, who took the Emerald Archer to Seattle, kicked off the goofy trick arrows and flashy super buddies and became a force of social justice.  In the late Eighties, when comics were supposed to be focused on "dark realism", Mike Grell's work focused on a middle-aged man coming to grips with idealism, mortality, and justice.  The term "Green Arrow" was never used in the book. 

Happy Birthday, Green Arrow! 


07 September 2011

Brave & Blog Team Up: We Review Barbara Gordon and BATGIRL #1

Pop Vivant GCM of Firefrorefiddle and the lads here at When Batmobiles Fly decided to celebrate this week's relaunch of DC COMICS' Batgirl character by a brief trans-continental pub chat and look at the strange lives of Barbara Gordon.

WBF: I don’t think we’d have Batgirl today without Yvonne Craig.

Boy Wonder who?  The delightful Ms. Craig sold a
generation on girl power and lace motorcycles

In 1967, the tail wagged the dog and the Producers of the BATMAN TV show asked for a female companion to add to their mix of Adam West and Burt Ward.  DC COMICS sent Carmine Infantino off to his room et viola: The Million Dollar Debut of the Batman Family.

GCM: Though the tail wagged the dog, Batgirl had a unreleased pilot film, which also starred Tim Herbert (he occasionally played criminal ‘stooges’ in other episodes of Batman) as Killer Moth, which ties in with (The Million Dollar) Debut in the comics, where we see Batgirl take down the Killer Moth himself (and his many larvae and pupae.)

WBF: Man, I'd love to see that.  I thought Infantino's costume was great for comics.  Lots of black!
With apologies to Mr. Bruckner, Karen Palinko's
BATGIRL captures the essence of the comic art! 

It’s funny, with all the teeth gnashing and ironic pundits who characterize contemporary DC Comics and their beholden relationship to Hollywood, but I think it did them well in Batgirl’s case.  In the comics, Batman and Robin suck their teeth and rattle on about “ass kicking is no place for a girl” whilst in the show, the boys can’t scrape their chins off the pavement watching the purple-spandex high kicks.  Yvonne Craig and the show Producers made Batgirl a mystery to the Dynamic Duo and it worked: Clearly, the best moment of Season 3.

GCM: Yvonne Craig was a symbol to girls worldwide; she was cool and kept pace with Batman and Robin while involved in something that was really looked upon predominantly as a ‘boys’ game in the playground. Batman had the Batmobile, but Batgirl had her own answer with the Batcycle, which added that extra dash of dare and finess. One difference we did see: Barbara Gordon, the well-known redhead in the comix was actually dark haired in the show, and she would use a wig for the red locks when she was Batgirl.

WBF: After the fall of the show, did DC COMICS know what to do with the Dominoed Dare-Doll?  Isn’t that statement self evident enough?  Bronze Age writer Frank Robbins had Batgirl all but retire in the early Seventies, as she confronted her father with her identity and won a seat in the US Congress. 

With the exception of these Super-Fun Seventies
MEGO dolls, we prefer our Batgirls in black
GCM: Elliot S! Maggin and Bob Rozakis than spun some fun yarns with Barbara resuming her Bat career and flustering Robin The Teen Wonder.  Barbara Gordon in congress was all about social revelence; and it did put her in Washington for the battle with the spirit of Benedict Arnold in Batman Family #1 in 1975, which was a strike for the feminist movement (even though she was far too young to be a Congresswoman).

WBF:  I never liked the Bat Family out of Gotham, but the best moments of these stories are the interplay between Batgirl and Robin in a dozen issues of BATMAN FAMILY.  Barbara tolerated Robin's sexism with an appropriate degree of rolled eyes.  Vietnam Veteran-turned-Private Investigator Jason Bard was equally likely as a partner for her than the boy in a bright yellow cape.

GCM: BATMAN FAMILY is where she also got her own rogues gallery; even though most are forgettable, we do see the Earth-One Huntress and Sportsmaster.   As far as the bad guys go, The Power-Sower and Madame Zodiac weren’t too bad I suppose.  The best villain is certainly not Captain Aero,  although the story featuring that particular foe was narrated by Babs’ long-lost brother, the shadowy Tony Gordon. 

WBF: I liked that one!  Recently DETECTIVE COMICS had the return of Barbara's half-brother, in a super-creepy nod to THE KILLING JOKE.

And because of that AEROSMITH video, we shall never
speak of this again, Miss Silverstone...

WBF: The Eighties were unkind to Barbara Gordon, to say the least.  THE KILLING JOKE is treated like the end-all moment for Batgirl.  More and more, I see it as the story that Brian Bolland really wanted Alan Moore to write for him.  In retrospect, it has nothing to do with Barbara Gordon- she’s a prop.

GCM: For what KILLING JOKE was, it has some good touches; where the idea was that the sanest man possible is but one bad day away from being a lunatic, so the Clown Prince of Crime set out to give Commissioner James Gordon that bad day.

WBFJohn Higgins did a nice job on the colours, though.  So it wasn't that bad a day.

GCM: Things didn't start looking up for my girl until Kim Yale.

Bruce Timm et al made a brilliant
BAT FAMILY in a post-Alan Moore world
WBF: Right!  Kim Yale was really the second coming of Barbara Gordon.  DC COMICS had taken THE KILLING JOKE as the final say for the character and suddenly there’s this ubiquitous computer presence in the DC Universe.  It’s all knowing, like it’s Oracle Grecian namesake.  It’s street smart, taking on the Black Ops world of the SUICIDE SQUAD.  Of course, it’s Barbara Gordon.  Suddenly, the cripple in the wheelchair is now the smartest thing on the block, who just happens to be in a wheelchair.  And I think that’s even what it said on her new membership card to the Justice League of America, an auspicious event that never happened to Batgirl, to be sure.

GCM: We see Grant Morrison bring Barbara Gordon into the JLA, as Oracle; she was a positive role model to handicapped comic fans.  Within Birds Of Prey she became the brains behind the battlers, a la Professor X or the Doom Patrol’s the Chief.  First lady to do that.

Second time was the charm for an amazing
array of character designs
WBF: As for the all-new BATGIRL#1?  In a sentence, it appears Miss Gordon just “got better”.  She’s dialed back to post-college grad, a few years post-THE KILLING JOKE and just starting back out on the Batcycle.  

GCM: In this new book, we are introduced to new villain, The Mirror; and a new supporting cast as we see Barbara move out of her dad’s and get a new apartment. 

WBF: Smartly, Gail Simone is hard at work developing her own coterie of rogues.  Clearly Chapter One of a bigger story, so much for self-contained books.  

GCM: THE KILLING JOKE still plays a role in this story, which for a so-called “reboot” is a little confusing, as we take off touching upon the lasting effects of the shooting which paralysed her; which are obviously going to play a significant role within the storyline.

WBF: Right.  There's a moment where the trauma of what the Joker did to her has a huge impact.  Gail Simone is trying her best to make a lot out of this moment from 20 years ago, perhaps to appease die-hard fans entering this strange new world.  The book certainly looks pretty, even if the costume is a tad Bryan Hitch of 10 years ago.  I think Bruce Timm's redesign of her costume is still the best.

GCM: That's because yellow is one of the few colours you can see. 

WBF: I always admire your candor, Mrs. Peel.

GCM: And I adore your blower Bentley, Mr. Steed. 


Barbara Gordon: A Girl of TRUE GRIT

20 August 2011

The Great Batmobile Blog Build Off WEEK 3!

This week, all the boys here at the Flying Batmobile Ranch were put to work to get a major milestone accomplished: Getting the main body built with the windscreen cut out.

Try this, Cooper!
Last week, we started shaping the rear end of the body, using a larger-sized plastic egg.  After the second try, the best fit was actually from the top, leading half of the egg shape.

Having the chassis built allow us to realize that one egg would not be sufficient to cover the length of the car.  The next step was to find an intermediary piece of plastic for the mid-body.


Turns out, the base of the egg was actually the best idea.  As you can see, the base (in orange) allowed for a perfect replication of the over shape of the mid body.  The tapered half of a third egg then was used to create the front end of the body.

After connecting the pieces with tape, the bat shape was drawn onto the plastic and cut out with industrial sheers.  The edges will need finishing and cleaning.

Stage I body work

The completion of the body shape made me focus on how the chassis and body integrated, which led me to conclude that the chassis needed modification before moving on.  The rear axle needs to be widened slightly.  Significantly, the front axle should be as wide as the rear, and the fat rear tires need to be replicated for the front end.

Obviously, the body requires the front axle slots to be cut.  My thought was to get the chassis set first and then figure out where to cut the body.

Remember old chum:

  Measure twice,
  Batusi once.

14 August 2011

The Great Batmobile Blog Build Off WEEK 2!

Revell's Dune Buggy chassis
It's our second week of the Frank Quitely Batmobile Blog Build off with The History of the Batmobile website and we're starting with the chassis assembly.

Again, my idea is to start with a platform and build up, fabricating most if not all of the body.

I had ordered full moon hubcaps, but when they arrived I found out that they are too large to sit into the wheel.  I will have to trim them down so that they go into the wheel base.

Engine canopy Phase I
The week was a great deal of trial and error, using a variety of plaster easter eggs to get the general shape of the body.  I finally found one that made me happy.  Ironically, it's the top half of a plastic egg!

I will create a scaffolding for it out of styrene tubing and tenax.  I need to go digging for several nozzles to make the jet engines.

Rear view phase I
At this point, I'm not sure if I will use the original floor pan.  Based on the diameter of the egg, it will need to be extended.  Certainly, I would extend the axle as well.  I will wait until I fabricate the rear fenders and dorsal fins to make that decision.

The nicest surprise of the week was an email from a reader from the UK.  The Eaglemoss company has made a small replica of this Batmobile and James S. sent me a picture of the blueprint!  I think I know what I want for Christmas!

 The blueprint and photos are supercool and super helpful.  Thanks, James!

Eaglemoss Batmobile blueprint
Tune in next week,

Same Bat Time,

Same Bat Blog!

04 August 2011

The Great Batmobile Blog Build Off!

My 'net buddy Spencer1984 hosts the amazing Batmobile History website, THE definitive reference for all of the Dark Knight's many cars. We share the passion of fabricating the many Batmobiles that never made it in 1/25 model scale.  Would decided to have a celebration of all things Batmobile with a blog build off!

The decision was to build the Batmobile from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's amazing BATMAN AND ROBIN!  Sure, it helps that it flies, but it's a very fresh approach to the design.

Batman & Robin vol 1 (2010)
Frank tossed out most conventions and showed us a grey and red car.  It works:

Sketchbook of Frank Quitely (2010)
Plus, this baby flies!

Sketchbook of Frank Quitely (2010)
I think it's a wonderful look and makes me think of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman.  It also makes me think California and the Meyers Manx:

I grabbed the Revell dune buggy kit off the net and started with the chassis and interior.  I like the wheel base and plan on keeping it.

I'm using the fenders as an approximate for the Quitely sculpt.  If at all possible, I would like to keep some of the original styrene as the under structure for the new fenders.  The dorsal fins will be fabricated from sheet styrene.  Ahh, that damn bubble canopy?  That's a whole 'nother story...

Full moon headers on ordered and on their way so that we can build up the basics.  

It's time to break out the curves!

Same Bat Time,

Same Bat Blog!

24 July 2011

Captain America Month Continues!

 Face Front, True Believers!  It's Captain America Month and we salute our red, white, and blue avenger with more cool stuff!  Excelsior!

5. CAPTAIN AMERICA Theme Song (1966):
I grew up on MARVEL cartoons, and this was the best one outta the bunch:

4. The MARVELS Project (2009):  
It's the comicbook that flew under the radar- the secret origin of the Marvel Universe.  Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting tell you how the Super Soldier Formula came to be and set it into the context of the Marvel-era World War II.

Chris Burnham (The Angel)
You get the building of the Human Torch, you see the early life of Namor, and you see the two-fisted crime fighting of the one and only Super Hero, The Angel.

Cap's origin has been told many times, but MARVELS Project is a new look.  Ed Brubaker mines the earliest issues of MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS to re-create the world that gives birth to Captain America.  It's an intriguing story of MARVEL-style war politics, mixed with a crazy amount of accuracy from TIMELY publications.

I don't think this project got the credit it deserved.  It's the perfect read before you go slap down $15 for the new movie.

3. Captain America and The Falcon Mego Figures:  For collectors of over forty years of little action men figures, (Marvel Select, Hasbro, Toy Biz, et al), there's one alone that stands head and shoulders above the rest: The Mego.

Captain America and The Falcon (Mego, 1975)

Sure, Cap Mego doesn't have the right costume, a sidekick, or an arch nemesis, but he had a bitchin' set of wheels and an amazingly well-done portrayal of his best bud The Falcon.

2. Captain America Captain Action:
The Original Captain Action suits (IDEAL, 1966)
  The-Sixties-Toy-That-I-Missed was Captain Action, a 12" action man who had the super ability to wear other men's clothes.  Mom was to buy Captain Action and then purchase any number of costumes to dress him in, including Superman, Batman, Green Hornet, Spider-Man and... Captain America.

The IDEAL Toy Company, bless 'em, tried hard, but often missed details, like the fact that Captain America never fired a gun let alone a laser rifle.  These toys are very rare and rather expensive in the collector world. 


Captain Action Captain America (2011)

There was a brief Captain Action revival twenty years ago, but without the DC and MARVEL characters.  Action apparently strikes again, as MARVEL has now agreed to a new series of costumes for our Man of Action to don.  First up is the First Avenger!

The Captain Action people specifically requested a Jack Kirby-based face sculpt, so you can appreciate their enthusiasm.  I am told that the costume, set to debut Fall 2011, will come with a Steve Rogers face and the original Issue #1 triangular shield variant.

The buzz is that extra goodies have been inserted into each character, such that IF you purchase Cap, Spider-Man, Thor, and Iron Man costumes, you get all the pieces for Hawkeye.

I can't wait.

1. Meet and Greet with Captain America:  

Coming face to face with childhood hero? 'Nuff Said!

19 July 2011

Comic Art Tuesday: Brevoort is Right (Dorkin, Sale, and Jones)!

Recently, Tom Brevoort, Senior Vice President of Publishing of Marvel Comics, stated an opinion regarding the differences between DC and MARVEL Comics:

"I don't think I really have the space to do this topic justice here. But to try to make a start of it: there's a fundamental difference in the way the Marvel Universe and the DC Universe are oriented. By its nature, the DCU has a more optimistic outlook on the world, and the Marvel U has a more pessimistic outlook. Now, that doesn't mean that bad things don't happen in the DCU and good things don't happen in the Marvel U. But it does mean that the DCU is a place where people look up in the sky and admire Superman, whereas people look up and shake their fists in anger at Spider-Man. But in a world of rampant cynicism, it's easy to scoff at an optimistic outlook, and harder to make "sexy", so DC seems to constantly try to make their world more pessimistic. But this clashes with the natures of most of their central characters--it's an ill fit in the world of the Justice League. So it feels artificial, in the same way that you can only have an optimistic Heroic Age in the Marvel Universe for so long before things need to start coming apart again in some ways. To put it in other terms, the DCU is Aaron Sorkin's "The West Wing"--it's not how government actually works, but it's the way you wish that it worked, the way you'd like it to be--idealistic, passionate, energetic, spirited. And so I wish that the DC hierarchy would spend more energy and effort embracing those qualities in their characters. Some of their key creators certainly do--Grant Morrison's ALL-STAR SUPERMAN is a very optimistic work, for example, and that's one of the reasons why it functions so well. And even something like DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, which is gritty as hell, is at its heart about a heroic ideal, a larger-than-life figure who rises up to champion the city in its time of need. But too often, DC seems to try to turn away from their core viewpoint, to make their characters darker or more dystopic or more downtrodden. And it just doesn't play in the long run."

I agree with statement, especially with respects to the BATMAN FAMILY and this week's Comic Art features.

Evan Dorkin (World's Funniest, 2010)
EVAN DORKIN writes the hell out of stuff, be it SPACE GHOST COAST TO COAST, MILK AND CHEESE, or the SUPERMAN ANIMATED SERIES.  For my money, Evan embodies the optimism of DC Comics is my two favs of his work, BIZARRO COMICS and SUPERMAN AND BATMAN: WORLD'S FUNNIEST.  His comics take the absurdities of Silver Age characters (and Modern Age sensibilities that dictate animosity between Superman and Batman) and spoofs them with perfect pitch.  Do yourself a favor and grab these books for some summer fun reading!  I was pretty banged up when I got a text in the hospital with this image and it did the trick!

Tim Sale (Catwoman, 2011)
There is no better October Batman reading than a Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale Batman story.  THE LONG HALLOWEEN is a wonderful example of a tragedy, which would suggest the Marvel-oriented pessimism at first glance, but is a testament to Batman's strength of character and perseverance.

Tim Sale's Catwoman is the best design of the purple-jumpsuit era of the character, and Jeph Loeb maintained a great friction between The Dark Knight and the Cat of Crime.  I love the Sale Gotham, with varied examples of watercolour texture to the gothic architecture.  There are only a handful of artists who created an entire visual world of villains, supporting cast, and scenery and Tim is one of the best.

Steven Jones (Huntress, 2011)
I love the idea of Batman and Catwoman having a daughter who might be a little... strong-willed and I adore the BATMAN BRAVE AND BOLD ANIMATED SERIES.  Artist Steve Jones is responsible for the designs of several characters, including the Bat-Bot and Huntress for the show.

Simply put, the show is possibly the single greatest embodiment of fun and adventure in the Batman mythos.  Huntress is not Batman's daughter in the show (the character's origin has been changed innumerable times.  I think she might be the daughter of a mob hitman these days...), but rather possesses a crush on the Dark Knight Detective. 

I bought an iTunes subscription for the show and it's been great fun watching them with the kids.

Take a close look at the picture because you'll be seeing it pop up again soon...

Same Bat Time,

Same Bat Channel!

13 July 2011

Cei-U love Rod Keith as much as I do? He's so cool!

In the amazing world of digital media, the concept of penpals has exploded into a social relationship of it's own.  I've made great comix art friends, great car fabrication friends, and one heck of a superhero toy box friend- The Man, The Myth, The Rod Keith.

Rod is a bona fide fanatic of comic eras gone by.  My *sense* is that his passion is old National and DC Comics, ranging from the heyday of the Golden Age to right around the DC Explosion/Implosion of the Seventies.

That would describe a lot of people, but Rod is in a category of his own when it comes to creating the toys on his own shelf.

Rod has an uncanny ability to translate comic pop art into three-dimension media, while completely maintaining the original aesthetic, such as his devotion to the DC Comics' dabbling into Strange Adventiure heroes with Ultraa the Multi-Alien:

Rod Keith (Ultraa)
Jor-El, father of Superman:

Rod Keith (Jor-El)

Or his Magnum Opus (in my opinion), The Black Orchid:

Rod Keith (Black Orchid)

Together, Rod and I have built a whole bunch of super hero figures that have never made it to the toy stores, including The Sandman, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl.  He shows me great pictures of his artwork and I drool.  We tweak each other's stuff.  We kick one another to get stuff done.

The truth is, I may well have never started making figures and focused solely on Batmobiles if it wasn't for Rod's enthusiasm.  One of our shared pet peeves was Toy Collection Interruptus- when a toy company begins making members of a super team but stops production before they complete the entire roster, thus ruining the collection.
Originally, when we began working together, I held off on making Golden Age figures from the DC Universe because MATTEL had just acquired the license with a 6" collectors line.  Flash forward several years and it has become clear that MATTEL is likely too busy focusing on all the new characters  and new looks for current characters to delve deep into the WWII-era Justice Society.

Sure enough, the email starts coming in.  It's Rod and he wants to finish the Justice Society.  

"C'mon", he whispers into my ear, "It's only three figures.  We'll bang this out."

He was like Rasputin.  I couldn't resist.

Sure, Mr. Terrific and The Star Spangled Kid are easy enough, but what about Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt?  

Cei-U don't know about Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt?  Ahhh, the answer rests in one beautiful cover:

Justice League of America 37
Johnny Thunder was a charter member of the WWII-era Justice Society, a team of popular and not-so popular characters from DC and National Comics.  When DC revived it's superhero comics in the late Fifties, the writers revamped many of it's characters to the times (The Atom, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman) while leaving some others to rest.  Johnny Thunder was one of the latter.

Fred Hembeck (Johnny Thunder)
Johnny Thunder would never sell in today's market because he was a goof.  Johnny was bequeathed a magic genie- a pink thunderbolt that would respond to his wishes if he said the magic word "Cei-U" (pronounced "Say You").  The gag was that Johnny didn't realize he had a thunderbolt nor did he know the magic word.  He blundered about, getting by on luck.

It was funny the first time.

DC put Johnny in the JSA as a sidekick, and quickly earned a spot on the team because his heart was in the right place.  He eventually figured out the pink lightning bolt that was around him quite a bit wasn't happenstance and he even became aware of the magic word, although his personality prevented him from becoming a powerful character in the DC Universe.  He was phased out of the JSA mid series for a attractive young woman, The Black Canary.  Cei-U think that's it for Johnny?  You'd be right for twenty plus years.

Until JLoA 37, when suddenly an evil Thunderbolt is beating up the semi-retired JSA (as depicted on the cover).  It's a ripping Gardner Fox tale of an alternate universe Johnny Thunder (Holy Goatee Evil Spock!) taking command of the T-Bolt and kicking ass.  It's one of my favorite Silver Age comics of my childhood love of the JSA and it also inspired Fred Hembeck when he drew this wonderful commission for me.

Additionally, the IDEAL toy company was making tons of BATMAN toys in 1966 and decided to branch out to some of Batman's friends in the Justice League.  Friends need enemies, and so the executives grabbed some comicbooks and looked for cool covers with neat-o villains.


Esoteric Super hero genie cum villain cum rare action figure:

The Thunderbolt vs the JLoA

Johnny Thunder, with the wrong bowtie
So, my good friend Rod now wants to finish up the Justice Society on his shelf.  Mr. Terrific and the Star Spangled Kid are forthcoming (more on those in another blog entry), and Johnny was a dunker.  What about this pink Thunderbolt?

The Thunderbolt is an interesting challenge.  I'm not sure if characters in the Golden and Silver Age stories can see the Thunderbolt.  I don't recall any of the other JSA members speaking to or with the Thunderbolt.  I'm really certain that the T-bolt has never been drawn with legs, standing around with all the other fellas.

So how do you add a T-Bolt action figure?

For me, the pink plastic IDEAL figure has the general shape down, with the possible exception of the raised clenched fist grasping a lightning bolt.  That's pretty darn good.  Alternatively, Alex Ross did a jim-dandy rendering of Johnny riding the T-Bolt in mid flight in a lithograph.  That's probably my perfect (dare I say IDEAL) pose, but it probably wouldn't fit well with a group of standing figures.  Plus,  my Johnny figure has limited pose-ability due to his suit coat.  I could create a pair of straddled legs to snap onto the T-Bolt base, but that gets complicated.

There's also the consideration of the resin.  In my mind's eye, the T-Bolt is translucent pink resin, with a frosting of white metal flake.  However, clear resin is a huge pain to cast without bubbles.  Not impossible, just not cheap.  Plus, those lightning bolts on the head are likely gonna have to be separate parts, which means mold lines.

Ach.  Listen to me.  Just look at those beautiful figures Rod has done.

Time to dig out the clear resin.

Cei-U will have to tune in to a later installment to see the END OF THE JSA TOYS!!

05 July 2011

It's Captain America Month!

Let's Rap With Cap!

Can't buy a decent 1/12 Cap figure?  We decided to make our own!
All the Owlhoots here at the Flying Batmobile Ranch were displaying the red, white, and blue in celebration of the American Independence Day.  Who better to carry that flag than Captain America himself in a Big 5 list of the very best of the First Avenger?

5. Digital Cap: Several years ago, MARVEL experimented with digital comics by SCANNING EVERY ISSUE OF CAPTAIN AMERICA into .pdf file format.  You get it all- the interior cover pages, ads, letter pages- from his very first MARVEL solo appearance in TALES OF SUSPENSE #58 to his assassination in CAPTAIN AMERICA vol 5 #25.

It's this or 1,000 lbs of comicbooks
Plus Annuals.

Face Front, True Believer, you want this:  Fifty years of comic books on one CD.

4. The Aurora Model Company meets The Terry Beatty Experience:  

Aurora ad (1967)
In 1966, capitalizing on marketing the resurgence in popularity of comicbook superheroes, MARVEL joined forces with plastic model kit maker AURORA to release kits based on three of their titles: SPIDER-MAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, and CAPTAIN AMERICA. A fourth kit based on the FANTASTIC FOUR was designed but never released.  

For the price of $0.98 you could slather model airplane cement and hobby paint all over a faithful reproduction of your favorite MARVEL hero.

Aurora model from the collection of JB Weeks
The Captain America model faithfully depicted Cap jumping over a bombed-out wall and into a muddy war zone.  While many of the AURORA comic models maintained production for decades, the CAPTAIN AMERICA kit is rather scare, making it a collector’s item in the hobby market. 

POLAR LIGHTS, a hobby/retro-toy company, bought the license for the Aurora MARVEL models.  Each kit was re-mastered into a larger size, now in scale with the AURORA DC COMICS models, plus “improvements” of the original kits.  For CAPTAIN AMERICA, the original head sculpt would be featured alongside two new options.  Unfortunately, neither the original model nor the new options looked like Jack Kirby’s classic comic art.

Comic artist TERRY BEATTY solved this problem with a limited release of a head sculpt based on his interpretation of “King” Kirby’s artwork.  The faithfulness to the original art is impressive and significantly improves the model.  Thank you Terry!

The Polar Lights kit included a name plate!
Plus a giant "splash" effect made of clear plastic!

Terry's work makes this kit.  Hear that, MARVEL?

3. The Mini Marvel Marching Society! There are a lot of Captain America action figures, but Diamond Toys and Art Asylum Studios created a monster of an industry with the Mini Mate action figure.  Tiny box-like figures with paint and applications of a multitude of MARVEL heroes, the Mini-Mates are insanely popular.  In order to keep enthusiasm for the line going, they often release variants of the big characters and Old Winghead is no exception:

(From L to R): First Issue Cap, WWII Cap, Beat-up Cap(?) with Mark Waid laser shield, Modern Cap with switchblade and heater, WWII Ultimates Cap, I'm-sleeping-with-the-Wasp Ultimates Cap, Bondage Cinema Cap
Plus, scores of faithfully recreated colleagues of Cap have been made, including his war-time allies and his modern day associates.

I'm still waiting on The Falcon...

2. Seventies Statues!  Again, there have been many Captain America toys, but this one takes the cake, for no small part because of the mystery.

The Mysterious Marvel Figures (Ideal, 1967)
The lads here at Flying Batmobile are pretty sure these statues were first released in 1967, at the height of Marvel pop fandom.  We *think* they were made by IDEAL, in a variety of solid colours.  We *guess* they were re-released in the seventies (and maybe eighties)?  We have no idea how they were ever packaged or sold.

We just know they are the most badass MARVEL toys ever made.  Spider-man is complete with Ditko web-pits and eyeballs and each sculpt is surprisingly accurate to the Kirby/ Ditko artwork of the times.  Paint doesn't want to adhere to the oily plastic, but darn it all- we made it happen!

No true MARVEL collection is complete without a set of these.

1.  The Timely Trio
Sal Buscema (WWII Captain America)

To their credit, DC Comics and National Comics (who eventually folded into one giant DC Comics) had a ton of great characters: Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Sandman, Hawkman, Dr. Fate, Green Arrow, Spectre, Aquaman .... They sold a ton of comics.

In contrast, Timely had three characters. And outsold LIFE magazine.

Al Milgrom (Namor)

Three personalities that wrote themselves: Prince Namor had a bipolar love/hate with the surface world, illustrated with elegant fervor by Bill Everett.  Carl Burgos' Human Torch was anything but, an android of an adult man with the innocence of a boy and a sense of fiery justice to match his namesake.  And the biggest patriotic symbol ever to be put to four-color paper: Simon and Kirby's Captain America.

Keith Pollard & Daryl Banks (Torch)
Unlike their Distinguished Competition, TIMELY heroes took on real villains.  The Torch melted Japanese Zeroes in mid flight, Namor sank Nazi U-boats, and Captain America punched Chancellor Hitler square in the mouth on the cover of his first issue.

All of this before America had entered the War.

Captain America survived in no small part because he was one of three big fish well positioned in a modest pond.  The only "patriotic" WWII-era hero to not only survive eighty years, but star in two publications and lead the World's Mightiest Heroes.