Saturday, January 9, 2016

Comics That Could Have Been

Bob Denver was born on January 9th, 1935. It's been eleven years since he passed away. He is best remembered as Maynard G. Krebs from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis; He was "Dud" Wash, Charlene Darling's husband on The Andy Griffith Show; cab driver Rufus Butterworth on the short-lived The Good Guys; Dusty on the equally short-lived series Dusty's Trail; and Junior, a NASA maintenance man lost in space on the Sid & Marty Kroft series Far Out Space Nuts. His greatest and most-identifiable role is as the title character on Gilligan's Island. After three seasons, he joined the original cast, except for Tina Louise for two cartoon series - The New Adventures of Gilligan and Gilligan's Planet - three live action reunion films - Rescue From Gilligan's Island, The Castaways of Gilligan's Island and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island - as well as a behind the scenes documentary about the series Surviving Gilligan's Island.

So, here's what I'm thinkin': legend has it that Sherwood Schwartz, Gilligan's Island creator took a roll of butcher paper and filled it with story ideas for the series. Pause, if you're not familiar with what "butcher paper" is, it's the white paper that meat is wrapped in at the meat counter at the store. Take as long as you need to figure out how a television comedy writer got his hands on a roll of butcher paper. Schwartz did, filled it with story ideas. The show lasted only three seasons. There still had to be more ideas on that butcher paper, 'cos there were 24 cartoon episodes of The New Adventures of Gilligan from 1974 to 1975 and 12 episodes of Gilligan's Planet from 1982 to 1983. The concept was recycled on Dusty's Trail for another 26 episodes.

So, here's my question: Sherwood Schwartz wrote jokes for Bob Hope.

The Adventures of Bob Hope #109
Final Issue
Cover by Neal Adams

The Adventures of Bob Hope ran from 1950 to 1968 and produced 109 issues at DC Comics

Schwartz also wrote for The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was another DC Comic that produced five issues from 1949 to 1950.

Schwartz was also a writer for My Favorite Martian.

Gold Key produced nine issues for My Favorite Martian between 1964 and 1966.

Okay, here's my actual question: why wasn't there ever a Gilligan's Island comic book? Sherwood Schwartz worked with at least three television properties that were developed for comic books. Bob Hope led the pack. DC Comics produced a very successful Jerry Lewis comic book that started out as Martin and Lewis before the comedy team broke up. Red Skelton was another comedian that Schwartz wrote for. Skelton was featured in a comic book started in 1936 called Hullaballo; later it was called 1000 Jokes. In all, there were 109 issues between 1936 and 1969. Schwartz seems to be literally surrounded by comic books. With a property that would definitely have benefited from a comic book audience. If we're looking at it from a modern perspective.

While it would have been awesome to have a Gilligan's Island comic book, or a tie-in comic book to either of the cartoons, I would hazard a few guesses why. As entrenched in pop culture as Gilligan's Island is now, the show itself was a laughing stock while it aired. It struggled in the rating for three seasons. Network executives didn't want it on the air. Critics panned it. Modern audiences don't so much laugh at the jokes, but laugh at the concept. And yet, audiences are treated to homages to the show. The series Lost is basically a re-working of the concept.

Who knows what kind of audience the comic book would have drawn. Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis and the comedians of 1000 Jokes were lucky to hit over a hundred issues. Most sitcom comic book tie-in comic books didn't last very long. Most television series comic books don't last very long. There were a number in the 1960's. Not very many in the '70's. The concept of a TV series tie-in didn't come back around until the 1990's and the 2000's with CSI and 24.

Science fiction seems to work better in comic books than comedy. Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica have all fared well over the years in the super-hero market. Espionage and action adventure does equally well; like James Bond.

The old saying goes, Comedy is not easy

I would imagine that Mr. Schwartz spent so much effort working to keep the series on the air, that he might never have thought of a tie-in comic book. Which is a shame. It's also a missed opportunity. 

Word is Josh Gad is writing and starring in a new Gilligan's Island movie. Hopefully, it won't be terrible, like other updated properties have been. Maybe with renewed interest there might be a comic book tie-in. I'm not sure I would read a comic book for an all-new, all-different Gilligan's Island. Unless, Gad proved that he had the concept of seven stranded castaways that represented the seven deadly virtues the way Schwartz did. And he had the comedy down.

I'm thinkin' that Gilligan's Island would have been, and probably still could be, a pretty decent comic book. There have been a lot worse ideas for a comic book. Most comic book publishers sometimes just throw books on the stands and see how well they do.

Batman '66 lasted 30 issues. Ralph Garman, Kevin Smith, Ty Templeton and Alex Ross teamed up for a sequel to second season The Green Hornet guest appearance. Batman '66 Meets The Man From UNCLE by Jeff Parker is currently on the stands.

DC is also publishing comics based on the '70's Wonder Woman television series.

Bob Gale, who was involved in the original Back to the Future is actually going back to fill in some blanks with an ongoing comic book series.

Marvel has reclaimed the license for Star Wars. Star Wars and Darth Vader comics are among the top selling titles. Marvel has also published comics for Princess Leia, Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca - among other characters - with comics for Obi-Wan and Anakin and C-3PO coming.

So, why not a Gilligan's Island comic book?

I'd read a Gilligan's Island comic book. Would you?


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Six Degrees of Wade Wilson

Deadpool is in theaters Friday, February 12th, 2016. So, maybe it's Valentine's Day with Ryan Reynolds. Something tells me that his Deadpool is going to be much more successful than his Green Lantern was.

There were a number of things wrong with Green Lantern. Very few of them were Ryan Reynolds' fault. I think he did his best to make lemonade. I have not seen him in Blade III yet, but I do believe that he delivers. I've enjoyed every movie I've seen him in.

Deadpool was created by Teen Titans fan Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza. When Nicieza saw the character design, his reaction was, This is Deathstroke from The New Teen Titans

"Slade" Joseph Wilson made his debut in The New Teen Titans #2. Created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. His full name and title was Deathstroke, The Terminator. He was contracted by The H.I.V.E. to eliminate The New Teen Titans. He took the contract when his son, Grant, who took on the identity of The Ravager could not complete the task. Grant attempted to enhance himself in the same way his father had, but the affects burnt - or ravaged him - and he died prematurely. 

Deathstroke was behind Tara Markov infiltrating The New Teen Titans as the elemental "hero" Terra. Tara is the somewhat estranged sister of Markovian monarch Brian Markov, also known as Geo-Force from Batman and The Outsiders. The legendary "The Judas Contract" had Terra take down the Titans and together they delivered them to The H.I.V.E. During The Judas Contract story line, Dick Grayson outgrew his Robin identity and became Nightwing - an homage to Superman's Kandor identity, which was a one-off of Batman. Wilson had another son, Joseph, who had the meta-human ability to "leap" into others; kind of like Deadman. When possessing others, Joseph took control of their motor skills as the hero Jericho.

Before relaunching The New Teen Titans with Wolfman, Perez worked with writer David Michelinie to create a villain in the pages of The Avengers.

The Taskmaster was a consummate athlete, hand-to-hand combatant and weapons master. He had photographic abilities. Any move he saw, he could copy without practice. He was like an updating of the classic Avengers adversary, The Super-Adaptoid. The Super Adaptoid was like the android created by T. O. Morrow, Amazo. Morrow had also created The Red Tornado; much like Hank Pym had created Ulton, who in turn created The Vision and Jocasta. In some ways, The Taskmaster was also like the ill-fated X-Man, Mimic.

The Taskmaster has been both an adversary and an unwilling ally of - wait for it - Deadpool.

Comics are full of one-off characters,

Superman is easily the most copied character. Captain (Shazam!) Marvel is a one-off.

Ultraman, part of Earth-3's Crime Syndicate is a one-off. So is Hyperion of Marvel's Squadron Supreme.

Even Bizarro is kind of a one-off, being that he's a mirror cracked, evil opposite version of Superman.

We'll get into more Six Degrees of Wade Wilson in the days between now and February 12th. Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments below.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Making 2016 Super!

First, there was Christopher Reeve.

From 1966 to 1978, Adam West defined the super-hero genre. Three seasons in Prime Time on ABC, and as here and there on Saturday morning cartoons, his version of Batman was how super-heroes were seen. Then Christopher Reeve came along as a then modern day Man of Steel and there was a burst of super-hero activity. Wonder Woman had been tried. Spider-Man mad an attempt. So did Captain America and Dr. Strange. Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno came along with The Incredible Hulk. That did pretty well for awhile.

Christopher Reeve's Superman redefined the super-hero genre.

After the failure of Superman III and Superman IV, the franchise went in another direction. Bringing Superboy to the small screen. This wasn't easy. Following the 1985 DC Comics line-wide event Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Man of Steel returned to his roots as The Last Son of Krypton. He didn't have adventures as a Boy of Steel. There was no Superboy, Krypto or Supergirl. There was no Bottle City of Kandor, either. The world of Krypton was left behind, and Kal-El was the lone survivor of a dead and forgotten world. His tie to the Legion of Super-Heroes was severed.

This is where Superboy came in. The television series was the first weekly series produced outside of Hollywood, at Disney/MGM Studios, and later Universal Studios, in Florida. It was also a comic book television series written by comic book writers, which was pretty unique.

Most television series tie-in comic books had a certain style about them. Alex Toth, Ric Estrada and Ramona Fradon kept the look of the Super Friends cartoon in the tie-in comic book. That wasn't the case with the first issue of Superboy: The Comic Book. Clark Kent didn't look like either John Haymes Newton, who played him in the First Season, or Gerard Christopher, who played him from Season Two on. Lana resembled Stacy Haiduk... a little. The characters didn't look like the Superboy comics that had come before, either. 

The story is interesting.

The night before leaving for Florida and Shuster University - named for co-creator Joe Shuster - Clark and Lana are at a going away bonfire where Pete Ross and a girl named Becky argue over who's the better driver. They agree to a drag race on the dangerous Lakeshore Road. Pete loses control of his car and Clark rescues him. Lana points out that almost everyone has had a mysterious Guardian Angel save them. Huh, imagine that! Next she's creeped out by the motor oil on Clark's hand.

Heading back home, Clark finds Pa waiting up for him. Jonathan gives Clark a rousing "with great power comes great responsibility" talk. It's pretty similar to the "destined for great things" talk Glenn Ford's Jonathan gave a Young Clark in Superman: The Movie.

The next morning Ma and Pa Kent see Clark and Lana off at the bus station.

Shuster becomes the Great Wide Open World for Clark and Lana. To mark the occasion, she lets down her hair. They have an unfortunate first meeting with TJ White. He's the son of Daily Planet editor Perry White. His father wants him to become a photo-journalist, but his heart, Rock music and stand-up comedy. In case you were wondering, TJ White is the series' comic relief. Ironically, he's Clark roommate.

On their way to the bonfire at the start of the issue, Clark and Lana saw a meteor shower. One of the meteors is now being tested at Shuster University. The tests go awry and there's a blackout, spreading from the university into town. Clark races to help over at the local hospital. When things get serious at the University Research building, he soars into action as Superboy.

What is interesting about this meteor is it's just a meteor. It's not Kryptonite. An alien life form has attached itself to the meteor. The alien recognizes Clark as a fellow alien, too. Maybe that's the whole point. A way to establish Superboy as otherworldly. But wouldn't he already know if Pa kept the remains of the rocket? Unless that little detail is not part Superboy's background. Superboy promotes that instead of Pa Kent dying from a heart attack, and Clark heading to the North Pole to build the Fortress of Solitude and getting his education there, Kal-El became the Boy of Steel and had college adventures. Oh, and Pa's still alive.

It's an interesting direction to go in pre-Smallville. It's a pretty solid comic book story by writer John Moore, pencilled by Jim Mooney, inked by Ty Templeton - who would go on to make a huge name for himself - edited by Jonathan Peterson and Mike Carlin. Carlin, incidentally, would later be immortalized as the villain Mastermind in The Batman Adventures.

It's an interesting direction to go in for "Superman's adventures when he was a boy". Superboy filled a lot of comic book pages in Smallville; maybe they were thinking to go where no one had gone before. There's an Afterward that explains the premise of the companion comic as continuing the adventures from the syndicated television series. Filling in the blanks and missing pieces that are not shown in live action. It should be interesting to see where this series goes.