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Match to Flame 2

posted on August 12, 2015

Phantom Empire

During my time in elementary school, I also encountered the movie serial that would spin my head around. Every Friday afternoon, my elementary school in Akron would show old movie serials as a reward, I suppose, for having put up with another week of the drudgery and horrors of second grade. Whatever, it worked for me. For a mere dime, we were exposed to wonders that made going to school totally worth it. On one rainy Friday afternoon, we were treated to the first chapter of a serial that was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. It was The Phantom Empire, starring Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy, a serial so unique that it almost defies description. So I’m not even going to try. Instead, I’m going to quote from the blurb on the back of the DVD collection (yes, I now own a copy of this classic on DVD and VHS . . . still waiting on the Blu-ray):

Hidden deep beneath the earth is the lost civilization of Murania, ruled by the ruthless Queen Tika. When Gene Autry stumbles across the hidden city, the Muranians are determined to silence him and destroy his ranch to protect their secret world. The Queen’s masked army of thunder riders hunts down the singing cowboy and brings him to their subterranean city. Teeming with futuristic weaponry and machinery, the unfamiliar land resembles an alien planet. It looks like the last round-up for Gene when deadly robots attack him with flamethrowers. Autry’s daring and the Queen’s bloodlust escalates to a final confrontation which threatens the entire populace of Murania with total war.

Cowboys, thunder riders dressed in quasi medieval armor shooting futuristic weapons, robots with flamethrowers— The Phantom Empire viewed genre boundaries as mere inconveniences rather than limits. And here’s the kicker: Scattered throughout the story, the singing cowboy would periodically have to have to show up at Radio Ranch to sing on his radio broadcast or the evil bankers were going to foreclose on his ranch. It was this dose of realism (defined by me at the time as anything that wasn’t fun) juxtaposed with the over-the-top fantasy elements that really caught my attention. I became fascinated with the idea of taking what was considered to be a low art form and creating something of substance within those confines, of trying to take what others considered junk and turning it into something more. That thought continued to inform my cartooning choices for the next fifty years. It’s hard to overestimate the impact that The Phantom Empire has had on my developing brain.

* From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume One

Flash Fridays – The Flash #108

posted on August 7, 2015

The Flash no.108

The Flash #108 continues the Grodd the Gorilla hat trick with his third appearance in a row. As I wrote previously, that just didn’t happen back then. And, once again, he’s not on the cover and is instead the back-up feature. The caption box in the first panel of “ The Super-Gorilla’s Secret Identity” kicks things off with the following:

In deepest Africa, shielded from human senses, lies Gorilla City, stronghold of a super-scientific civilization…

What can I say? The writer, John Broome, had me back at “deepest Africa”. The story starts with Grodd’s escape from his cell in Gorilla City and oddly presages the first Grodd story I actually did read wherein he attains a human form (bald human form, natch) following his escape. This story would have blown me away just as much had it actually been my first. Infantino’s art is beginning to round into fine Flash form at this point and both stories in the book are beginning to take on the stylish and handsome look that would be the hallmark of his initial run on this book. The battle with the Flash in Grodd’s lab is a twelve year old’s dream come true. Once again I’m baffled that this story didn’t make the cover. Nevertheless, it’s apparent that John Broome was having fun writing one of the Flash’s strangest and most powerful foes… not to mention visually interesting.

The cover story “The Speed of Doom” is notable mainly for the fact that it visually foreshadows the cosmic treadmill that Flash will eventually use to travel back and forth in time. Other than that, it’s a fairly routine parallel dimension story where the aliens are bald and whose dimension the Flash is able to zip in and out of with skepticism inducing ease. The saving grace is the beautiful Infantino/Giacoia art which is a pleasure to look at. And, as with most Julie Schwartz edited books, there was a scientific fact to be learned. The story taught me what a fulgurite was. Your homework assignment before the next Flash Friday will be to look that up and learn what it is for yourself.

County Fair 2015

posted on August 6, 2015

County Fair 2015

Went to the county fair last night. Didn’t take my phone. Which of course meant that I thought of a wonderful idea for which I wanted to get some visual reference along with commemorating it in my notes. Looks like I’ve only got one choice. I’ve got to go back to the fair tonight… and maybe have one of those sausage sandwiches with everything on it as long as I’m there.