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.