Tuesday, November 10, 2015

BRIT TV Day One schedule: Thursday, November 12, 2015

I've long wished that there was a TV station airing classic (and some recent) British TV programmes -- a station dedicated only to that theme, airing round-the-clock, and preferably one that was aired free over-the-air.  (This latter aspect would likely force it to run commercial interruptions, which would mess up some of the running times listed below, but let's ignore that for now.)

To be somewhat more do-able, this prospective TV channel wouldn't air well-known series like Doctor Who (which currently airs on Retro TV and BBC America, among other places), The Avengers (which currently airs on COZI TV) or those currently airing on PBS (like Doc Martin and Downton Abbey).

But there's a wealth of vintage programming that could be aired instead, some of which may not have aired in the U.S. before (where I'm based), or even released on DVD.

To get started, here's what a lineup for the first day of the channel's (which I'm calling "Brit TV" for short) debut, could look like, accompanied by YouTube links to the episodes where available.

Thursday, November 12, 2015:

6:00am: Classic BLUE PETER
Two vintage episodes of the BBC children's program.


7:00am: TIMESLIP
First episode of series: "Wrong End of Time" part 1 (orig. aired Sept. 28, 1970)




7:30am: WORZEL GUMMIDGE
First episode of series: "Worzel's Washing Day" (orig. aired Feb. 25, 1979)




8:00am: FOLLYFOOT
First episode: "Dora" (orig. aired June 28, 1971)



8:30am: THE BLACK ARROW
First episode: "The Prophecy" (orig. aired Dec. 4, 1972)



9:00am: COUNTRY DIARY OF AN EDWARDIAN LADY
Episode 1 (of 12): "January" (orig. aired Feb. 22, 1984)



9:30am: THE DISTRICT NURSE
First episode of series.  Orig. aired Jan. 10, 1984.



 
10:00am: THE RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
First episode: "A Message from the Deep Sea" (orig. aired Sept. 20, 1971)


11:00am: LILLIE 
Episode 1 (of 13): "Emillie" (orig. aired Sept. 24, 1978)


12:00pm (noon): UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS
First episode of series: "On Trial" (orig. aired Oct. 10, 1971)




1:00pm: Classic CORONATION STREET

1:30pm: Classic EASTENDERS
First episode of series (orig. aired Feb. 19, 1985)

2:00pm: Classic EMMERDALE


2:30pm: EMMERDALE (new episode)

3:00pm: EASTENDERS (new episode)

3:30pm: CORONATION STREET (new episode)

4:00pm: HEARTBEAT
First episode: "Changing Places" (orig. aired April 10, 1992)



5:00pm: ME AND MY GIRL
Sitcom.  First episode of series (orig. aired Aug. 31, 1984)

5:30pm: FREDDIE & MAX
Sitcom.  Episode 1 (of 6).  Orig. aired Nov. 12, 1990.

6:00pm: AGATHA CHRISTIE HOUR
Episode 1 (of 10): "The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife" (orig. aired Sept. 7, 1982)


7:00pm: ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Jeremy Brett series)
First episode of series: "A Scandal in Bohemia" (orig. aired April 24, 1984)


8:00pm: HOUSE OF ELIOTT
First episode of series.  Orig. aired August 31, 1991.




9:00pm: IN SEARCH OF THE TROJAN WAR
Documentary, hosted by Michael Wood.  Episode 1 (of 6): "The Age of Heroes" (orig. aired Feb. 24, 1985)






10:00pm: BLAKE'S 7 
First episode: "The Way Back" (orig. aired Jan. 2, 1978)




11:00pm: THRILLER
First episode: "Lady Killer" (orig. aired April 14, 1973)
(Episode runs 1 hour, 8 minutes.  With commercials, it would fit a 90-minute time slot.)



12:30am: DANGER MAN
First episode: "View from the Villa" (orig. aired Sept. 11, 1960)



1:00am: UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS (repeat of 12pm episode)

2:00am: LILLIE (repeat of 11:00am episode)

3:00am: CORONATION STREET (repeat of 3:30pm episode)

3:30am: EASTENDERS (repeat of 3:00pm episode)

4:00am: EMMERDALE (repeat of 2:30pm episode)

4:30am: Classic EMMERDALE (repeat of 2:00pm episode)

5:00am: Classic CORONATION STREET (repeat of 1:00pm episode)

5:30am: Classic EASTENDERS (repeat of 1:30pm episode)
First episode of series (orig. aired Feb. 19, 1985)



Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Video History of DOCTOR WHO


     DOCTOR WHO has long been my 2nd favorite TV series (after The Twilight Zone, from 1959-64) and lately has been vying for first place.  Of the classic Doctor Who series that ran from 1963 to 1989, I've watched several of the 1960s stories and all of the ones from 1970 (when it began airing in color) to 1989 (when it was cancelled).  Hulu has many (though not all) of the stories available to watch, as does the over-the-air TV network Retro TV, in addition to the officially-released DVDs that can be purchased from various sources.  (One piece of advice when buying Doctor Who DVDs is to make sure you purchase those which are compatible with your player.  For example, viewers in the U.S. should buy Region 1 DVDs.)  Complete episodes can also be found on some video sites such as Dailymotion.

     When I first started watching Doctor Who regularly in 1989, it took me awhile to figure out how many Doctors there were -- how many actors had played the role.  There was no Google or Wikipedia back then to learn the answer; I had to find out by reading books which explained the series, and program guides which listed the episodes (including air dates).  Now much of this info is just a click away -- not something that you have to spend days or weeks wondering about, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

     There were seven Doctors from 1963 to 1989 (not including Peter Cushing, who played the part in two 1960s motion pictures).  The video below shows the opening sequences to every Doctor from its debut in 1963 to its 50th anniversary year, 2013 -- as well as a look (at the end of the video) at every actor who played the Doctor.



     The first Doctor was William Hartnell, who played the part from 1963 to 1966.  The first episode of Doctor Who, titled "An Unearthly Child," was broadcast on November 23, 1963.  The "unearthly child" of the title was the Doctor's granddaughter Susan.  Two teachers from her school, named Ian and Barbara, decided to visit her at home, only to find that she lived inside a police box located in a junk yard.  The police box was larger on the inside than on the outside, and was actually a ship that could travel through time and space.  This ship was called the TARDIS.  Susan lived on this ship with her grandfather, a white-haired old man known simply as The Doctor.  Susan and the Doctor claimed to be travelers from another time, from another planet, and took Ian and Barbara on trips through both time and space in episodes that aired for the rest of the year or more.  You can view a scene from the beginning of the first Doctor Who episode below:



     The broadcast version was actually the second version to be recorded.  A pilot was filmed of the episode (not aired), but it was deemed unsatisfactory and was re-done.  You can watch a sample comparison between the two versions below:

  
     At the time that Doctor Who debuted, police boxes were a familiar sight in the U.K., but had begun to disappear by the end of the 1960s.  The short video below (narrated by the Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker) shows the history of police boxes, and begins with a scene from the 1960s Peter Cushing movie and contains vintage footage of actual police boxes in use:



     In 2013, as part of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, a docudrama titled "An Adventure in Space and Time" aired on BBC television, about the program's early days, specifically about actor William Hartnell and the show's producer Verity Lambert.  You can watch a scene from this drama below, where Hartnell (played by David Bradley) meets his replacement, Patrick Troughton (played by Reece Shearsmith) as well as glimpsing a vision of his future "self," the then-current Doctor, Matt Smith.



     Each episode of Doctor Who was around 25 minutes long.  In the beginning, each episode had its own title, even if it was part of a larger story (or serial).  For example, "An Unearthly Child" was simply the first episode in a larger (unnamed) four-part story.  The story as a whole is sometimes referred to as "An Unearthly Child," but is also referred to by most Doctor Who historians as "100,000 B.C." (or, more rarely, by some older fans as "The Tribe of Gum"). It wasn't until 1966 (during William Hartnell's last four stories) that each episode would reference the larger story title (e.g., "The War Machines," episode one, episode two, etc.) instead of having an individual title.

     The popularity of Doctor Who was fueled by the series' first "monster" -- The Daleks, which debuted in the second Doctor Who serial in late 1963.  These robot menaces which resembled salt-and-pepper shakers inspired a "Dalek mania" in the U.K. in the mid-1960s, nearly overshadowing the Doctor himself.  Originally intended to be a one-off foe, the Daleks have returned again and again, becoming the Doctor's most persistent and longest-lasting enemy.   You can view a fan-made trailer for that very first Dalek serial below:



     In 1966, William Hartnell left the series and was replaced in the lead role by Patrick Troughton.   In the newspapers at the time, this change was referred to as a rejuvenation of the character (from an older man to a younger one), but eventually it would be established that the Doctor was a Time Lord who had a finite number of lives.  Each time that an actor decided to leave the role, the Doctor would suffer a kind of death that would cause his body to regenerate into another form (i.e., another actor).   Between 1963 and 1989 (which is often called "classic Doctor Who" to distinguish it from the modern revival) seven actors played the role of the Doctor on TV.   But it was that first transition, from Hartnell to Troughton, which showed that the concept of regeneration would be accepted by the audience.   Below is that first regeneration scene, from episode 4 of "The Tenth Planet," William Hartnell's final episode, which originally aired on October 29, 1966.

 
     This short regeneration scene is all that remains of episode 4 of "The Tenth Planet" (a 4-part story that also introduced Doctor Who's second most famous foe, The Cybermen).  Until the late 1970s, the BBC routinely "wiped" (i.e., erased) the original tapes of their transmitted programs after a few years since the material on them was seen as having no future value.   As a result, there are 97 half-hour episodes of Doctor Who from the 1960s that no longer exist to be watched.  Fortunately, audio recordings exist for every missing episode, which were recorded at home by fans at the time.  In addition, "telesnaps" are available of many missing episodes; these were professionally-made photographs of the screen during the original broadcasts that acted as a permanent record of the program for those involved in it.  There have been efforts to try and restore lost episodes by combining these still photos with the audio soundtracks.

     Unfortunately, the destruction of old episodes especially affects Patrick Troughton's run as the Doctor, with his very first story, "Power of the Daleks," being among the missing episodes.  The first story to feature his longest-running companion Jamie McCrimmon ("The Highlanders"), played by Frazer Hines, is also missing.  It was during the Troughton era that U.N.I.T. was introduced, a science/military force based in the U.K. that dealt with extraterrestial invasions, headed by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (played by Nicholas Courtney).  Shown below is a scene from the 1968 story "The Invasion" which features U.N.I.T. in action.


     The purely historical stories that alternated with the science fiction ones during the Hartnell era had been phased out, and the Troughton run has been called "the monster era" due to its focus on such menaces as the Cybermen, the Yeti, and the Ice Warriors.  In 1969, Patrick Troughton left the series and had his own regeneration scene at the end of his final story, "The War Games," wherein his own race, The Time Lords, exiled him to Earth as punishment and changed his features.  You can watch this scene below.

     
     The Third Doctor was Jon Pertwee, who played the part from 1970 to 1974.  Pertwee was the first to have his series filmed in color, with his very first story ("Spearhead from Space") being the first Doctor Who to ever be broadcast in color.  Pertwee had actually appeared in a motion picture with William Hartnell, titled "Will Any Gentlemen?" (1953) which you can see a sample from below, with both Doctors on screen long before they were cast as Doctor Who: 



     In the TV series, the Doctor had been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords, but the real reason this happened was financial: the series was now in color and earthbound episodes would be cheaper to produce to offset the added expense that color filming had cost.  The Doctor became U.N.I.T.'s scientific advisor, helping them fend off the never-ending tide of alien invasions of England.  The regular appearances of U.N.I.T. members like the Brigadier, Sgt. Benton and Captain Yates helped to create a familiar family atmosphere to the program.  Most of Jon Pertwee's episodes were produced by Barry Letts, with Terrance Dicks as script editor.  (Dicks would later write numerous novelizations of Doctor Who stories for the growing Doctor Who book market.)

     The first alien that the earthbound Third Doctor fought was The Nestene Consciousness, the force behind The Autons, in "Spearhead from Space" (1970), a memorable scene from which can be seen here:


     The Doctor's arch-enemy The Master, an evil Time Lord, was introduced in the 1971 story "Terror of the Autons," which was a sequel to "Spearhead from Space."  In the U.K., both stories were released together on DVD and you can view a trailer for that below:



     The relationship between the Doctor and the Master can be seen in this ten-minute clip below from the 1972 story "The Time Monster."  (This story is not well-regarded by most Whovians, however I find it highly enjoyable!)  The Doctor's companion in this story is Jo Grant (played by Katy Manning) who first appeared in "Terror of the Autons," and was in all of Pertwee's seasons except his first and last season.  The Master was played by Roger Delgado, who tragically passed away in 1973.  Because of this, the Master was written out of the show for the next several years, until the role was revived by actor Anthony Ainley in 1981. 


     Although all of Jon Pertwee's Doctor Who episodes still survive, the original color broadcasts were not always saved.  As a result, several episodes existed only in B&W copies.  The Doctor Who Restoration Team has worked to restore the episodes to their original color form by combining the BBC's high-quality B&W film copies with the color videotape copies that were recorded off-the-air by fans at the time.  You can watch a video about this process below:


     Jon Pertwee left the series in 1974, to be replaced by a younger actor named Tom Baker.  Some of the finest Doctor Who stories ever made appeared during Tom Baker's first three seasons (Seasons 12 through 14 of the series, from 1975 to 1977), mostly during producer Philip Hinchcliffe's and script editor Robert Holmes' reign.  One of the best of these stories was "Genesis of the Daleks," written by the Daleks' creator Terry Nation.  The story introduced an evil scientist called Davros (played by Michael Wisher) that was responsible for the creation of the Daleks; the Time Lords sent the Doctor back in time to prevent their creation.  Davros would go on to appear in many subsequent Dalek stories.  A scene from "Genesis" can be viewed below:


     The Fourth Doctor's first companion (inherited from the Third Doctor's final season) was journalist Sarah Jane Smith, played by actress Elisabeth Sladen.  In most fan surveys, Sarah Jane ranks as the most popular companion of all, who even spawned her own spin-off series (The Sarah Jane Adventures, which ran from 2007 to 2011).  Perhaps the most moving parting scene between the Doctor and one of his companions was this one from the end of "The Hand of Fear" (October 1976) where Sarah Jane left the TARDIS for the final time:


     One of the Fourth Doctor's later companions was a Time Lord (or rather, a Time Lady) named Romana, originally played by actress Mary Tamm.  When Tamm decided to leave the show after one season, Romana regenerated into a new form at the beginning of the next season, played by actress Lalla Ward.  (Ward would eventually marry Tom Baker shortly after both left the series, although the marriage was short-lived, lasting only 16 months.)  The writer Douglas Adams, who would later gain worldwide fame as author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, was script editor on Tom Baker's penultimate season, which tended to play up the humorous aspects, as can be seen in this scene showing Romana's regeneration in "Destiny of the Daleks" (first aired in September 1979):



     One of the most popular and enduring of the Doctor's companions was a robot dog named K9, who was introduced in the story "The Invisible Enemy" (October 1977) in the wake of the popularity of the movie Star Wars and its amusing robots.  A profile of K9, and the problems that he presented to the show, can be seen below:


     Tom Baker (the 4th Doctor), with his curly dark hair, long scarf, and unpredictable and humorous approach, brought an unprecedented popularity to the show, especially in the United States where the series finally began to make an impact.  Doctor Who first aired in the U.S. in 1972, but didn't pick up steam until Baker's episodes began to be aired there in 1978.  The first Doctor Who convention in America was held in 1979 and for the next few years there was a peak of interest in the show, as can be seen by this appearance by Baker at a 1980s U.S. convention:


      Tom Baker was the longest-serving Doctor, playing the role from 1974 to 1981.  His final season had been produced by John Nathan-Turner, who was determined to keep the show going despite the departure of the most popular Doctor yet.  Baker was replaced by a very different actor, the young, blond Peter Davison, whose Doctor displayed an affection for the game of cricket (as shown in the below scene from the 1982 historical story "Black Orchid") and was accompanied during his first season (Season 19 of the series) by a trio of younger companions: Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan.


     My favorite Davison story is "Kinda," which is also one of my all-time favorite Doctor Who stories, well-directed by Peter Grimwade (who also directed Tom Baker's final story, "Logopolis").  You can view a scene from "Kinda" below:



     In 1983, the series celebrated its 20th anniversary with a 90-minute episode titled "The Five Doctors", written by Terrance Dicks, which featured appearances by several former companions and the previous four Doctors.  In the case of the First Doctor, William Hartnell (who passed away in 1975), this meant that another actor, Richard Hurndall (who himself passed away five months after this episode aired), took on the role.  In the case of the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, who declined to appear (claiming it was "too soon" since his departure), he was shown through unseen footage from a Douglas Adams-scripted episode that had not been finished and never aired, titled "Shada".   You can view two scenes from "The Five Doctors" below.  The first shows the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) with the Brigadier being captured by the "time scoop," followed by the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) suffering the same fate:



     In this scene from "The Five Doctors," the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison), accompanied by his companion Tegan Jovanka and the First Doctor's original companion Susan, encounters The Master (played by Anthony Ainley) and a group of Cybermen:


      Peter Davison was eventually replaced by the Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, in 1984 during a period of uncertainty about the program's future due to lack of support by BBC leadership.  The show's ratings were in decline and there was dissension in the ranks, as script editor Eric Saward later publicly complained about producer John Nathan-Turner's approach to the program.  The show's budget had always been poor and this became more evident in comparison to slickly-produced American science fiction programs.  An American companion was introduced: Peri, played by Nicola Bryant, who was actually British.  The Doctor's clothing took on more of a "costumey" look, with Colin Baker wearing (at Nathan-Turner's insistence) a multi-colored outfit deliberately designed to look tasteless (but which has since become a staple of cosplaying fans of the show).  Baker's Doctor adopted a prickly personality, one that delighted in using uncommon words, and occasionally bickered with his irritated companion.

     Despite this contentious backdrop, Doctor Who continued to entertain, and during the Sixth Doctor's run, viewers saw the introduction of an evil Time Lady called The Rani (played by Kate O'Mara), the return of the second Doctor and Jamie in "The Two Doctors," and a season-length storyline titled "The Trial of a Time Lord" featuring a mysterious new foe called the Valeyard.  Shown here is a montage of clips from the Sixth Doctor's tenure on TV:


     While Colin Baker may have been ill-served by some of his Doctor's stories, a few of which rank among the least-favorites in fan surveys, his portrayal has been redeemed in more recent years in his work for Big Finish's audio stories.  Here is a snippet of one such audio drama, "Jubilee," that a YouTube user has computer-animated:



     Colin Baker was unceremoniously dropped from the role of the Doctor in 1986 and declined to appear for a regeneration scene.  His replacement, Sylvester McCoy, began his first episode briefly (seen from behind) wearing a blond wig and Colin's multi-colored outfit, and abruptly regenerating into his new form, that of the Seventh Doctor.  McCoy's Doctor had more of a laid-back approach, with touches of a Chaplinesque silent comedian.  Initially paired with his predecessor's companion, Mel (played by Bonnie Langford), McCoy's Doctor found its own unique style with the arrival of the young, rebellious Ace (played by Sophie Aldred) in the final story of his first season.  For two more seasons, the Seventh Doctor and Ace (who often called the Doctor by the name "Professor") encountered Cybermen, Daleks, the Master; and the return of U.N.I.T. and the Brigadier (for one story, "Battlefield," in 1989).  Nicholas Courtney reprised his role as the Brigadier for the final time in "Battlefield," a scene from which can be seen below:



     Sylvester McCoy's final story was "Survival," which aired in 1989.  After this, the program went "on hiatus" for the next several years, with rumors always floating about its future.  Here's a scene with Ace in action from that final TV adventure:



     The 1990s is often referred to as "the wilderness years," referring to the fact that Doctor Who was no longer on television and therefore fans occupied themselves with alternatives, such as audio dramas, novels, comic strips, fan-fiction, fanzines, and so on.  In 1996, Paul McGann starred as the Doctor in a TV movie that was co-produced by an American studio, which began with Sylvester McCoy reprising his role as the Seventh Doctor so that continuity could be maintained between the old series and the new version.  While the TV movie did well in the ratings when shown on the BBC in the U.K., the ratings for its American airing on Fox TV were lower than expected and the film failed to spawn a series as had been hoped.  In 2003, during Doctor Who's 40th anniversary, the BBC announced that writer Russell T Davies would be producing a new Doctor Who series, although at that time it was uncertain who would be cast in the role or whether McGann would return.  A TV documentary from 2003 gives a sense of that time of transition:


     In 2013, during the program's 50th anniversary, McGann returned as the Doctor for a "mini-episode" titled "The Night of the Doctor" (which can be viewed in its entirety below) that finally revealed how his incarnation met an end, regenerating into a hitherto-unmentioned "War Doctor" (played by John Hurt), who fits in the timeline between the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann, 1996) and the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston, 2005).


     Christopher Eccleston was the new Doctor of the new revival of Doctor Who that began in 2005, produced by writer Russell T Davies.   Eccleston's Doctor had a harder edge than his predecessors, wearing a leather jacket and short hair; it was a fresh break from the cliché of a Victorian-garbed Doctor.  In the new series, there was more of an emphasis on characterization, with the role of the companion becoming more significant.  Indeed, the title of the first Eccleston story was "Rose," the name of his new female companion, brilliantly played by former pop singer Billie Piper.  This first new story featured the Autons as the enemy, the first time that they had been seen in Doctor Who since 1971.

     The second episode, "The End of the World" (which originally aired on April 2, 2005), showed the Doctor taking Rose in his TARDIS to the final moment of existence for the planet Earth, which was to be engulfed by the sun.  The emotional impact of time travel was finally dealt with seriously in the program, as well as the ethical question of the Doctor's bringing along companions into potentially dangerous situations.  You can watch a scene from the ending of this terrific episode below:



     To the surprise of nearly everyone, Christopher Eccleston announced that he was leaving the show shortly after his first episode aired.   The new series was airing now in hourlong episodes (instead of the traditional half-hour slot of the classic series) and Eccleston would appear in a total of only 13 episodes.  At the end of his first season (which was being called "Series One," instead of using the word "season," which helps to distinguish the new series from the old one), Eccleston was replaced by the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant.  Eccleston was invited to appear in the 50th anniversary story, "The Day of the Doctor," in 2013, but declined.  In a radio interview in 2015, Eccleston was asked about why he left the show, and you can listen to his response below:



     The Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, played the role from 2005 to 2010, and became the most popular Doctor since Tom Baker in the 1970s.  I wasn't originally sold on this new Doctor, until seeing the two-part story "Human Nature / Family of Blood" (2007).  In this story, the Doctor takes on human form to hide from an alien force that is chasing him, and becomes a teacher at a boys school on the eve of World War One.  The Doctor confronts his enemies in this scene near the end of the story, which shows Tennant's range from lovably quirky to coldly meting out justice:


     The most popular episode of Tennant's tenure, and perhaps of all modern Doctor Who stories, is "Blink," which originally aired on June 9, 2007 (only a week after the aforementioned "Family of Blood").  The story was written by Steven Moffat, who would take over from Russell T Davies as the series' showrunner in 2010.  "Blink" introduced the "weeping angels" -- statues that can only move when they aren't being watched by a person.  The statues are never seen moving in the episode, but whenever a person has looked away (or blinked), the statues are then shown to be in a different position, sometimes with a menacing expression as they get closer to their victim.  When the angels make contact with a person, the person is thrown backwards into time, and this is what has happened to the Doctor, who is trying to contact the present from the past through an old film.  You can watch a scene from this amazing episode below (and then, by all means, watch the entire episode somewhere!):



     Tennant met his successor, Matt Smith, the Eleventh Doctor, in the 50th anniversary story "The Day of the Doctor," which also featured John Hurt as "The War Doctor" and archival footage of previous Doctors in the climactic scene where the combined powers of their TARDISes help to save Gallifrey, the home world of the Time Lords.  Matt Smith played the part of the Doctor from 2010 to 2013 and equalled (or surpassed) Tennant in popularity.  During the Smith era, the series' profile in the United States reached its peak, landing on the cover of TV Guide for the first time.

     For most of his run, Matt Smith's Doctor was paired with a young couple called Amy and Rory (played by Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill respectively).  You can watch an entire mini-episode from 2012 titled "Pond Life" at the link below, which shows how the Doctor's unique presence contrasts with the mundane existence of ordinary Earthlings.


     The Eleventh Doctor's final companion was Clara Oswald (played by Jenna Coleman), perhaps the most significant companion to date since she entered the timestream to meet and influence past incarnations of the Doctor, as shown in the clip below from the 2013 episode "The Name of the Doctor." 




     In late 2013, Peter Capaldi was announced as the Twelfth Doctor, replacing the departing Matt Smith.  Unusually, Capaldi's first appearance as the Doctor took place prior to the regeneration, in a brief cameo during the aforementioned climactic scene in "The Day of the Doctor."  You can watch that scene below:


     Another Doctor had a cameo at the end of "The Day of the Doctor," in a surprise scene where Tom Baker appeared as a character known as the Curator to give advice to the Eleventh Doctor.  It was left deliberately ambiguous as to whether the Curator is the Doctor himself (well, of course he is -- he's Tom Baker!) or not.  You can watch the scene below and judge for yourself:


     Like all the previous Doctors, Tom Baker has kept playing the Doctor in audio dramas produced by Big Finish.  Tom recently talked about the audios in the video below:



     Like David Tennant, the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi was a longtime fan of Doctor Who before being cast to play the part.  In the video below, Capaldi talked recently about his favorite Doctor Who stories:


     Peter Capaldi's second season as the Doctor (which is Series Nine of the modern series that began in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston) debuts on September 19, 2015.  You can watch an official trailer for the new season below:



     Finally, here is an animated video showing highlights of all the Doctors from William Hartnell to the then-current Doctor, Matt Smith:



     There's more, much more, that could be written and shown here about Doctor Who, particularly of the modern series (which I'm less well-versed in than the classic series), but this should suffice as an introduction to the program.  For the record, my "top 10" favorite Doctor Who stories are as follows (in chronological order):

1.)  "Spearhead from Space" (1970)
2.)  "Terror of the Autons" (1971)
3.)  "Robot" (1974-75)
4.)  "Genesis of the Daleks" (1975)
5.)  "The Seeds of Doom" (1976)
6.)  "Kinda" (1982)
7.)  "The End of the World" (2005)
8.)  "Human Nature / Family of Blood" (2007)
9.)  "Blink" (2007)
10.) "The Day of the Doctor" (2013)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

COZI TV now airing Tara King era

I just noticed last night that COZI TV has been airing the Tara King (played by Linda Thorson) episodes of the 1960s British TV series The Avengers -- at the ungodly hour of 1am (Eastern time) weekdays.  The Tara King era is my all-time favorite era of the program, and one that is unjustly overlooked.  (You can read another blogger's appreciation of the era here.)

COZI's TV schedule on their website only lists episodes up to June 17th, so assuming that "Split!" (on June 2nd) was the first of the Tara King episodes that they have aired in this current round of reruns, then that means they will be airing "You'll Catch Your Death," "Whoever Shot Poor George Oblique Stroke XR40?", "Legacy of Death," "They Keep Killing Steed," "The Interrogators," "The Rotters," "Invasion of the Earthmen," "The Morning After," "The Curious Case of the Countless Clues," "Love All," "Stay Tuned," "Take Me to Your Leader," "Fog," Who Was That Man I Saw You With?", "Homicide and Old Lace," "Thingumajig," Requiem," Take-Over" (my all-time favorite Avengers episode!), and "Pandora" in late June / early July.  And then that will be it for the Tara King era... presumably COZI will go back to the beginning with the Honor Blackman episodes after that.

(UPDATE, 6/25/2015):  I've updated the below broadcast schedule to reflect the recent additions found on COZI's site.)

Unfortunately, COZI edits the episodes down to fit in more commercials.  I thought that the editing of the episodes on A&E (circa 1990, when I first started taping the show off TV) was bad, but this is worse, where even the writer-director credits at the beginning have been cut as well as the entire end-credits sequence!  It's better than nothing, I suppose, though.  The DVDs of the Tara King era aren't cheap, even in the secondary market like eBay, and Hulu doesn't have any of the Tara King episodes on their site (aside from the final Diana Rigg story, "The Forget-Me-Knot," which introduced Tara King). 


Here are the Tara King episodes they have on their schedule so far:

Tuesday, 6/2/2015:
Split!

Wednesday, 6/3/2015:
Get-a-Way: Three Russian spies escape from a seemingly escape-proof Monastery, each by ingesting a Lizard vodka that makes the agents seem invisible.

Thursday, 6/4/2015:
Have Guns - Will Haggle: Steed believes a Colonel from Africa may be responsible for the disappearance of three thousand stolen army rifles, as the Colonel is planning a revolution.

Friday, 6/5/2015:
Look- (Stop Me If You've Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers... : Directors of the Capitol land and Development Company are being killed; the clues left behind at the scene lead the Avengers to believe that a clown.

Saturday, 6/6/2015:
My Wildest Dream: When a member of the Acme Precision Combine is murdered by a supposed sleepwalker, John Steed and Tara King venture to a clinic who may be programming killers.

Tuesday, 6/9/2015:
All Done with Mirrors: Suspected of leaking secrets from Carmadoc Research Establishment and under house arrest, Steed must watch helplessly as Tara goes in with a new partner.

Wednesday, 6/10/2015:
Super Secret Cypher Snatch: A secret leakage from Cypher HQ and an agent's disappearance are investigated by Mother's group, but everybody at Cypher HQ claims nothing has happened.

Thursday, 6/11/2015:
Game: When several of Steed's former army colleagues die suddenly Steed discovers a complex plot devised by a man they all court-martialled.

Friday, 6/12/2015:
False Witness: A trusted agent's loss of three partners in quick succession is cause for worry when he's partnered next with Steed in an attempt to convict a blackmailer.

Saturday, 6/13/2015:
Noon Doomsday: Gerald Kafka, ex-head of Murder International, hatches a high-noon revenge plot against Steed for sending him to prison exactly seven years previously.

Tuesday, 6/16/2015:
Wish You Were Here: Miss Tara King checks into a Country hotel to investigate their odd practices, including not permitting many of their guests to check out.

Wednesday, 6/17/2015:
Killer: The department is desperate to find Remak, but a succe
ssion of agents on his trail have turned up dead, and Steed must work with a new partner.

Thursday, 6/18/2015:
The Rotters: Members of the Institute of Timber Technology are killed by assassins for standing in the way of a deadly plot hatched by WormDoom; a chemical is threatened.

Friday, 6/19/2015:
The Interrogators: A foreign agent goes in disguise of Colonel Mannering discovers and puts to use an ingenious method of obtaining secret information from various British agents.


Saturday, 6/20/2015:
The Morning After: A sedated Steed, who's after super-spy Merlin, wakes to martial law, firing squads at large and a nuclear bomb holding the government ransom.


Tuesday, 6/23/2015:
Stay Tuned: Steed suffers a serious case of deja vu when he loses weeks from his life and evidence of things he has done but couldn't not possibly remember.


Wednesday, 6/24/2015:
Fog: A modern day "Jack the Ripper" is on the loose, targeting members of an international disarmament conference by stabbing them with a sword stick.

Thursday, 6/25/2015:
Who Was That Man I Saw You With?: A sinister mastermind is looking to start World War III, and does so by following around Tara, who is tasked with testing the security of a top-secret computer.

Friday, 6/26/2015:
Pandora: While shopping for antiques, Miss King is abducted, and wakes up in a room decorated in furniture from decades before; Kidnapper won't let go of the past.


Saturday, 6/27/2015:
Thingumajig: A little black box is responsible for the deaths of a team of archaeologists excavating a site underneath a church; the vicar, an old friend of Steed's.


Tuesday, 6/30/2015:
Take-Over A married couple, friends of Steed, are visited by a sinister organization who plants explosives in the couple's throats and force them to a peace conference.  


Wednesday, 7/1/2015:
Bizarre: Steed is sent to investigate strange happenings that supposedly happened in a snowy field; Helen Pritchard claims to have seen a man who was presumed dead.


After this episode, the channel will begin running the early 1960s episodes of The Avengers, many of which featured Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale.  Those broadcast dates are listed as follows:


Thursday, 7/2/2015:
The White Dwarf: A famous astronomer begins having threats on his life after he predicts a small star could be responsible to the certain destruction of Earth.
(Season 2, ep. 21; orig. airdate: Feb. 16, 1963)


Friday, 7/3/2015:
Bizarre is listed on site (see above, 7/1/15)


Saturday, 7/4/15:
Mission to Montreal: Steed and Doctor King take a trip to North America on an ocean liner to track down a stolen piece of American microfilm containing important information.
(Season 2, ep. 5; orig. airdate: Oct. 27, 1962)


Tuesday, 7/7/15:
Man in the Mirror: After her camera and film are stolen at the fair, Venus recovers one rolls of film and makes an unusual discovery in one of her photographs.
(Season 2, ep. 22; orig. airdate: Feb. 23, 1963) [with Venus Smith]


Wednesday, 7/8/15:
Dead on Course: While investigation a plane crash in Ireland, Steed is lead into the Shamrock airport and a convent; Doctor King performs autopsies on the passengers killed.
(Season 2, ep. 14; orig. airdate: Dec. 29, 1962)

    


(Note: Images shown on this page taken from off the web.  If this is your image, let me know and I will either remove it or add a credit line to the image, per your preference.  Thanks!)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Honesty is such a Lonely Word

I've never seen Lena Dunham's TV series "Girls," and probably wouldn't care for it if I did see it (which isn't saying much, since I don't care for most contemporary TV shows), but I'm appalled at how she is being treated on the internet in the wake of her comments in her new autobiography

     I haven't read the book, but I have read the excerpts that are being objected to, and they appear to be nothing more than examples of childhood curiosity. 

     And yet it is being characterized as "molestation" and even "rape," even though the incidents described occurred solely among small children, not an adult or teen toward a much younger child.  (The distinction may be difficult to grasp for those who equate an embryo with the Gerber baby.)

     Some have objected to Lena revealing these incidents at all.  But in my view that is a problem with the readers, not the author.  When a writer shares common human experiences that are not normally discussed, they ought to be commended for their openness and honesty, not have it thrown back in their face or their words twisted into a sinister shape.  If the readers were similarly honest, they would be sympathetic and appreciative of the writer's bravery. 

     Instead of reciprocating with similar honesty about their own lives, the reaction that I've seen online has been to cast Lena as some kind of dangerous freak.  I think that Lena's intention with her book was to relate to others like herself in a transparent way.  It's a shame that those who have criticized her are not similarly honest in their response. 

     To my mind, the negative reaction all boils down to partisan bashing.  Since Lena is an outspoken feminist, everything that she does becomes fodder for attacks by those who disagree with her political views.  Her words are being treated in the same way as a "political gaffe."  And just as a politician's words will be twisted and harshly used against them by their opponents, so Lena's words are being used against her by those who oppose her political opinions. 

     This latest controversy is in fact a perfect example of "manufactured outrage."  Those who are objecting to Lena's recollection of childhood thoughts about sexual matters are likely not objecting to the content of the incidents but the person involved.  My advice for anyone wanting to know what to think about this issue is to change the name of the person(s) involved and then make your judgement. 


Monday, October 27, 2014

Update on the free TV channels in my area

Back in March, I posted on my blog about free, over-the-air TV channels in my area.

Since that time, there have been a couple changes.  For one thing, the channels that came in better back then sometimes don't come in at all now, whilst channels that came in poorly back then come in better now.  This partly may be due to having changed where I've placed my antenna (however in recent months when I moved the antenna around to get those other channels again, they didn't come in).  I currently have my antenna in a particular position to get the channels that I most want to receive, particularly TVO (Ch. 32) and Channels 20.2 (COZI TV) and 38.2 (Antenna TV). 

The channels on my previous list that I've since "lost" are: 11.1 (WTOL, Toledo CBS), 11.2 (ME-TV), 24.1 (WNWO, Toledo NBC), and 24.2 (Retro TV).  No big loss with not getting 11.1 and 24.1 (since I get the Detroit CBS and NBC affiliates), but I'm bummed at not getting 11.2 and 24.2 anymore since they play old TV shows.  However, I'd rather get a clear 18.3, 32, 38.1, 38.2, and if I try to tune in the Toledo stations those other ones I prefer will not come in as well.

A month of two ago, I bought a flat multi-directional antenna to see if it would solve the problem, bringing in everything at once, but it gave me the same reception as my current antenna, so I took it back to the store where I bought it.

Over the weekend, I did an auto channel search (which I do around once a week) just to see if any new channels would come up, and to my surprise a few did.  For the past few weeks, the TCT religious channels (18.1, 18.2, and 18.3) hadn't been coming in, but this time they did, as well as a fourth channel, 18.4, which is called ABN (Aramaic Broadcast Network) and is also a religious network.  Oddly, this channel seems to have an anti-Islam focus to some of their shows -- even moreso than one would expect to find on a Christian channel.  

Another "new" channel that popped up was WHNE which has 5 channels in the 14 range (14.1 through 14.5).  All but two of those five channels are infomercial type shows, however.  14.1 is an SSN (Soul of the South Network) channel which is considered similar to the Bounce network.  More interesting to me is 14.2, which is the Retro TV Network -- the same network that I had "lost" on 24.2. 

Unfortunately, all of the WHNE channels come in fairly poorly, sometimes giving no signal at all.  Other times, however, the channels are watchable.  I learned to my surprise this evening that 14.2 (RTN) has been airing individual episodes of the 1970s Jon Pertwee DOCTOR WHO series at 8pm each weekday.  I watched a bit of "The Daemons" episode tonight, and although there was occasional signal break-up throughout, it was still watchable.  However, I was unable to watch the program which came on after that, because of the constant and annoying signal breaking up.

Still, it's nice to have a couple new channels to check out for variety's sake. 







Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Best Comic Books of 1989 (The 1989 R.A.C. Awards Poll)

     I didn't get home access to the internet until early 1997, and hadn't posted on the internet until the year before. But some folks have been posting online since the 1980s, and many of those posts can still be found online. Back in the late 1990s, you could find old newsgroup posts on DejaNews, but these days the place to find them is on Google Groups

     It can be a bit tricky to navigate, however, and there's more there than an initial search might reveal.  With patience, however, you can scroll back in time to see what folks were talking about way back when. In some ways, it doesn't seem long ago at all. In other ways, it does seem like a long time ago.  

     Below is a post by Ryan D. Mathews that was posted on the newsgroup rec.arts.comics on February 14, 1990, presenting the results of his fellow posters' choices for the best comics (and creators) of the previous year, 1989. (Around 50 people voted.) Reading something like this makes me wish that I had been online myself back in those early days.  

     This 1989 poll, and other newsgroup polls from both before and after 1989, can be found here. That website posts just the results, while I have retained the complete text of the original post below. This poll also contains (at the end) a survey for fan choices for the best comics of the entire decade of the 1980s. 

     Who knows, I may decide to unearth more old internet postings and share them here on this blog.
______________________________________________________________________________


 
Results of the 1989 R.A.C Comics Awards Poll


 
Path: gmdzi! unido!mcsun! uunet!cs.utexas.edu!usc!zaphod.mps.ohio-state.edu! 
sunybcs!kitalpha.cs.buffalo.edu!mathews
From: mat...@kitalpha.cs.buffalo.edu (Ryan D Mathews)
Newsgroups: rec.arts.comics
Subject: Results of the 1989 R.A.C Comics Awards Poll
Message-ID: <17709@eerie.acsu.Buffalo.EDU>
Date: 14 Feb 90 05:41:07 GMT
Sender: nob...@acsu.Buffalo.EDU
Reply-To: mat...@kitalpha.cs.buffalo.edu (Ryan D Mathews)
Organization: State University of New York at Buffalo/Comp Sci
Lines: 474
Posted: Wed Feb 14 06:41:07 1990

THE POLLS ARE CLOSED...

Well, it's been almost two months, but here it is. The official word
on what us r.a.c'ers liked the most about comics in 1989. I've had fun
compiling this poll, but I've also found out why some people called me
a masochist when I announced that I was doing the poll this year.

There are some surprises to be found in this year's results:

- For the first time, a single entry was a contender for both Favorite
Character and Favorite R.A.C'er 
- Possibly the biggest blowout ever in poll history occurred, due to
the addition of a new catagory.  
- The two gods of the R.A.C Poll both faced stiff competition, and one
of them had to settle for a tie.

Since it could in some way have altered the accuarcy of the poll, I
feel you deserve to know the biggest problems I had in running this
thing. Those of you who would rather read the results than listen to
me whine, feel free to page ahead.

** When the poll is run next year (assuming I'm still doing it, and,
unless something weird happens, that will be the case) I will
explicitly state NO TIE VOTES! I got a few this time. I thought about
various courses of action, including writing these people and telling
them to redo what was in some cases the entire poll, but eventually I
caved in, based mostly on the fact that I had never actually said "no
ties", and gave multiple votes. Now, this shouldn't affect the
accuracy too much, since such votes were only about 5 of the about 50
people who voted, and also since the tie votes tended to consist of
votes for obscure creators, characters, or books that weren't going to
get more than one vote anyway. (BTW, fractional votes are out of the
question. I HATE fractions.)

** There's a hole in the catagories that I hadn't seen. I guess I
figured, the catagories had been used before, the bugs must have been
worked out, right? [BUZZ!] Wrong! Look at the following catagories.

Favorite limited series, 12 or fewer issues
Favorite book, more than 12 issues
Favorite new continuing series

I was sure that this covered everything. Then I realized that some
comics don't put out 12 issues a year. All comics that did not have
their #1 issue published in 1989, yet still hadn't made it to #12 fell
through this hole. This in no way affects accuracy, it just means that
certain comics (usually independents) didn't get a catagory. I will
fix this next year by replacing "more than 12 issues" with
"established" simply meaning that the title is more than a year old.

I believe the cancelled Stinz was one of these comics. Some voters got
around this by voting for it as a limited series. Which brings me to
my next gripe.

** This was an honor poll. By that I meant that I hoped everyone would
hold themselves to the restrictions on what qualified and what didn't.
As far as I know, everyone did so, but there were a few mistakes. I
have a long way to go before I am a certified expert on comics. Still,
I did catch some (I hope most) of the mistakes. When multiple people
made the same "mistake", however, I had to assume that they knew what
they were talking about. So if you see some things in the results that
you know didn't qualify, please don't flame me. I did my best.

** By a strange quirk, Sandman qualified for both new series and
series with more than 12 issues, since I didn't explicitly say
anything about when those 12 issues had to be published. Oh, well,
another one for experience.

Despite those few minor problems, I still think this is an accurate
view of the tastes of r.a.c'ers, due mainly to the size of the
sampling. This poll was successful beyond my wildest dreams, netting
nearly 50 voters (I had initially hoped for 20, based on the response
to a trivia contest last year). This should drown out any anomalies.

The make-your-own-catagory bit was successful as well. I've compiled
those and am sending them out as a separate post.

Anyway, here they are...
The results of The Official 1989 R.A.C Comic Awards Poll!

---------------
Favorite artist:
This was a tossup between McFarlane and Sienkiewicz for most of the
two-month polling period, with McKean coming from behind. 

Dave McKean.............9
Todd McFarlane..........5
Bill Sienkiewicz........5
Alan Davis..............3
Gerhard.................3
Norm Breyfogle..........2
Paul Chadwick...........2
Adam Hughes.............2
Scott McCloud...........2
Angel Medina............2
Walter Simonson.........2
Reed Waller.............2
Tied with one: Art Adams, Kyle Baker, Donna Barr, Brian Bolland, John
Byrne, Keith Giffen, Jaime Hernandez, Jamie Hewlett, Brendan McCarthy,
John J. Muth, Tim Sale, Mark Schultz, Matashume Shiro, Dave Sim, Bryan
Talbot, John Totleben, Michael Zulli

---------------
Favorite writer:
Well, the result is what we expected, but look at the margin of
victory! Moore needed some late votes to put Morrison away; Gaiman
came on late.

Alan Moore..............9
Neil Gaiman.............8
Grant Morrison..........8
Dave Sim................7
Peter David.............3
Ben Edlund..............3
Keith Giffen............3
Chester Brown...........2
Scott McCloud...........2
Tied with one: Donna Barr, Jim Bricker, Paul Chadwick, Alan Grant,
Gilbert Hernandez, Larry Marder, Hiyado Miyazaki, Ann Nocenti, Mark
Schultz, Dave Sim, Roy Thomas, Mark Verheiden, Kate Worley

----------------------
Favorite creative team:
Another stiff competition. The only reason CC and team one is because
they got the last vote.

Chris Claremont/Alan Davis/Paul Neary......12
Dave Sim/Gerhard...........................11
Neil Gaiman/Sam Keith.......................3
Neil Gaiman/Dave McKean.....................2
Keith Giffen/Tom and Mary Bierbaum..........2
Ann Nocenti/John Romita, Jr/Al Williamson...2
Tied with one: Donna Barr/Hughes/Magyar, Mike Baron/Steve Rude, Jaime
Delano/Richard Piers Rayner, Steve Gerber/ Bryan Hitch, Alan
Grant/Norm Breyfogle, Mark Gruenwald/Paul Ryan, The Brothers
Hernandez, Pat Mills/Kevin O'Neill, Todd McFarlane/Rick Parker, Alan
Moore/David Lloyd, Alan Moore/John Totleben, Grant Morrison/Richard
Case, Grant Morrison/Dave McKean, Roy Thomas/Jackson Guice, Matt
Wagner/Tim Sale/Bernie Mirault, Reed Waller/Kate Worley

-------------------------------------------
Favorite limited series, 12 or fewer issues:
Well, this doesn't really need saying, does it? V would have won by
more, but I think some people didn't realize it qualified.

V for Vendetta.........13
Stinz...................5
Aliens..................3
Nausicaa................3
Black Orchid............3
Black Kiss..............2
Electric Undertow.......2
Hawkworld...............2
Kings in Disguise.......2
Skreemer................2
Stray Toasters..........2
Tied with one: Adv. of Luther Arkwright, Grey, Justice Inc., Plastic
Man, Predator, Relentless Pursuit, Marshall Law, Meltdown, Moonshadow

----------------------------------
Favorite book, more than 12 issues:
Another predictable result. The aardvark had a lead by the end of
January, and he never let go.

Cerebus................13
Sandman.................6
Zot!....................6
Excalibur...............5
Love and Rockets........3
Grendel.................2
Tied with one: Animal Man, Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers West Coast,
Concrete, Daredevil, Deadline, Doom Patrol, Dr. Fate, Dreamery,
Elementals, Hellblazer, Incredible Hulk, Question, Justice League
America, Legion of Super-Heroes, Miracleman, Nexus, The Spirit,
Starman, Suicide Squad, Usagi Yojimbo, Xenozoic Tales

------------------------------
Favorite new continuing series:
Nooooo doubt about it!

Sandman................14
L.E.G.I.O.N. '89........5
Animal Man..............3
Appleseed...............2
El Diablo...............2
Legion of Super-Heroes..2
MAZE Agency.............2
The Tick................2
Tied with one: Baker Street, Blackhawks, Crying Freeman, Fission
Chicken, Hepcats, Hero Alliance, The Jam, Legends of the Dark Knight,
Mr. Miracle, Moon Knight, Quasar, Star Trek, Taboo, Unsupervised
Existence

-----------------------------------
Favorite single issue of any series:
People wondered why Ellen Eades didn't hold this catagory last year.
Now I know why. Look at this! Can't you guys agree on anything? One
thing seems certain: Sandman is one damn good comic!

Animal Man #5...........2
Animal Man #19..........2
Excalibur #14...........2
Excalibur #16...........2
Grendel #24.............2
Sandman #3..............2
Sandman #4..............2
Sandman #6..............2
Sandman #8..............2
Sandman #9..............2
Sandman #13.............2
V for Vendetta #6.......2
Zot #27.................2
Tied with one: A1 #1, Action Comics Annual #2, Animal Man #15,
Avengers West Coast # , Daredevil #273, Desert Peach #2, Dr.Fate #13,
Doom Patrol #22, Love and Rockets #31, Maze Agency #8, Power Pack #48,
Sam & Max Special, Sandman #2, Silver Surfer #33, Stick Boy #2, V for
Vendetta #7, X-Men #257, Yummy Fur #18

-------------------------------------
Comeback Award for most improved book:
Another category that was decided early. The most exciting thing about
this race was the number two spot. Grendel went from no votes to tied
for second in two days near the beginning of February! It has since
taken over the spot entirely. I guess you Grendel fans are
procrastinators, huh?

Doom Patrol............14
Grendel.................5
Fantastic Four..........4
X-Men...................4
Action Comics...........2
Elementals..............2
Tied with one: Avengers West Coast, Alpha Flight, Animal Man, Cerebus,
Dr. Strange, Dragonlance, Dreadstar, Flash, Hup, Legion of
Super-Heroes, New Titans, Silver Surfer

------------------
Favorite character:
Well, well, well! It seems The Cat Who Walks Through Walls has become
a lot more popular since joining Excalibur. Her appearances on the net
haven't hurt, either! But beat Morpheus? Who'da thunk it?

Kitty Pryde.............6
Sandman.................5
Animal Man..............4
Jenny (from Zot!).......4
Batman..................2
Concrete................2
John Constantine........2
Hulk....................2
Josie
 ("Ed the Happy Clown").2
Nightcrawler............2
Spider-Man..............2
Stinz...................2
Tied with one: Beanish, Cerebus, Pellon Cross, Daigoro (Lone Wolf &
Cub), Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Vanth Dreadstar, Vril Dox, Eppy
(Grendel), Firestorm, G'nort, Hopey (Love and Rockets), Jaka, Joker,
Luba (Love and Rockets), Mr. Fantastic, Oscar (Cerebus), Rachel
Summers, The Tick, V, Wimpy (Popeye), Wolverine, Woody (Zot!), Zot

-------------------
Favorite comic team:
Fairly tight race between the top 2, with Excalibur pulling away late.

Excalibur..............12
Doom Patrol.............8
Legion of Super-Heroes..4
Avengers................3
Elementals..............3
Fantastic Four..........3
JL(A|E|I)...............3
X-Men...................2
Tied with one: The Bradleys, Brotherhood of Dada (Doom Patrol), Danny
and Suzy (Unsupervised Existence), Gregory and Herman Vermin
(Gregory), Griffy and Zippy, Groo & Rufferto, "Jesus and disciples"
(Yummy Fur), L.E.G.I.O.N, MAZE Agency, "Mezz and the Band" (Nexus),
Power Pack, Sam & Max

----------------------
Favorite graphic novel:
Well, there wasn't much worth voting on in this catagory, so this race
was over almost before it began.

Arkham Asylum..........13
Epicurus the Sage.......3
Return to Big Nothing...2
Squadron Supreme........2
Tied with one: Beauty and the Beast : Portrait of Love, Brought to
Light, Daredevil: Love and War, Demon Knight, Dr. Strange/Dr. Doom,
Gregory, Neuromancer, The Shadow Strikes, Wolverine (the Jungle
Adventure)

-------------------------------
Favorite comic strip or cartoon
Was there the slightest question in anyone's mind who would win this
one? Hell, no! The margin was the only mystery, and BOY, what a
margin!

Calvin and Hobbes......34
Doonebury...............4
Far Side................3
Ernie Pook's Comeek.....2
Tied with one: BC, Cathy, If... (from UK Guardian), For Better or For
Worse, Krazy Kat, Life in Hell, Mr.  Boffo, Mother Goose and Grimm, On
the Fasttrack, Tom Toles (Buffalo News' editorial cartoonist)

-----------------
Favorite R.A.C'er:
Read it and weep, guys. Moriarty, the man they considered naming this
award after, has to share it. Jayembee had a one vote lead, with the
champ tying it up on the 11th. I'd also like to point out the proud
co-winner of the favorite character catagory, Kitty Pryde, keeping
Peter and Milo company at number 5, making her the first Marvel
character ever to make it to the top 10 in the r.a.c'er poll. You
know, to look at the results, it seems the key to popularity is a
nickname. So from now on, don't call me Ryan Mathews, call me Megaguy!
Naaaaaah!

Jayembee...............14
Moriarity..............14
The Rev. Mom............6
Jim Drew................5
Peter David.............4
Kitty Pryde.............4
Tim Maroney.............4
Milo....................4
Tom Galloway............3
Connie "Fuzzy" Hirsch...3
Chris Jarocha-Ernst.....2
Dan'l Daheny-Oakes......2
Tied with one: Ellen Eades, Eric Sadoyama, Col. G.L. Sicherman, Jim
Van Verth


-------------------------------------------------------------------

The Rec.arts.comics Eighties Awards!!
...were quite interesting. A lot of recent characters and creators
did well, which I didn't expect. Some people simply re-iterated their
choices from the annual poll. 

---------------
Favorite writer:
Well, what do you expect? The voting was merely a formality here.

Alan Moore.............22
Frank Miller............8
Dave Sim................7
Chris Claremont.........4
Gilbert Hernandez.......2
Tied with one: Mark Gruenwald, Phil Foglio, Scott McCloud, Walt
Simonson, Roy Thomas, Matt Wagner

---------------
Favorite artist:
For the longest time, Sienkiewicz was the *only* artist with more than
one vote. Then Perez started to heat up, but it was too little, too
late.

Bill Sienkiewicz.......12
George Perez............4
Dave McKean.............3
John Byrne..............2
Alan Davis..............2
Jaime Hernandez.........2
Kevin Maguire...........2
Steve Rude..............2
John Totleben...........2
Tied with one: Sergio Aragones, Stephen Bissette, Brian Bolland,
Gerhard, Steve Lightle, Scott McCloud, Todd McFarlane, Frank Miller,
Kevin O'Neill, Dave Sim, Walter Simonson, Jim Starlin, Bryan Talbot

------------------------------
Favorite new character or team:
This surprised me, but maybe it shouldn't have. After all, there were
a lot of characters to choose from.

Excalibur...............4
Sandman.................4
Concrete................3
Elementals..............3
Jenny (from Zot!).......3
Nexus...................3
Miracleman..............3
Kitty Pryde.............3
Rorschach...............2
Tied with one: Animal Man, John Constantine, Maggie Chascarillo,
Cutey Bunney, Damage Control, Dreadstar & Co., Dynamo Joe, Elektra,
Grendel (Hunter Rose), The Judge (Cerebus), Justice League
International, Marshall Law, Kevin Matchstick, Chester Monroe, Billy
Nguyen, Omaha, Torquemada, Stinz, The Tick, Venom, Watchmen, Zot

--------------------------
Favorite continuing series:
This was predictable as well. The order as you see it was pretty much
the way it was from a few weeks into the race.

Cerebus................11
Swamp Thing.............4
Love and Rockets........3
X-Men...................3
Daredevil...............2
Zot!....................2
Tied with one: Amazing Spider-Man, Akira, Avengers, Concrete,
Detective Comics, Dreadstar, Excalibur, Grimjack, Hulk, Legion of
Super-Heroes, Lone Wolf and Cub, Miracleman, (Claremont's) New
Mutants, Nexus, Omaha the Cat Dancer, Sandman, (Simonson's) Thor, The
Tick

-----------------------
Favorite limited series:
This was another predictable result, though I expected the margin to
be a little closer. For awhile, it looked like it would be an even
bigger blowout, but DK came on late.

Watchmen....................20
Dark Knight..................7
V for Vendetta...............5
Crisis on Infinite Earths....4
Tied with one: The Adv. of Luther Arkwright, Black Orchid, Dr. Fate,
Elektra: Assassin, Elfquest, Fantastic Four vs. X-Men, Kings in
Disguise, Kitty Pryde and Wolverine, The Longbow Hunters, Mage : The
Hero Discovered, Nausicaa, Stinz, X-Men vs.  Avengers, Villains and
Vigilantes

--------------------------------
Favorite storyline of any series:
Another catagory no-one could agree on. It wasn't until late January
that any storyline other than American Gothic received more than a
single vote.

American Gothic, from Swamp Thing....4
Born Again, from Daredevil...........4
Church and State, from Cerebus.......4
The Elektra Saga, from Daredevil.....3
High Society, from Cerebus...........3
The Asgardian Wars,
   from X-Men and New Mutants........2
Crisis on Infinite Earths............2
Quest for the Key, from Zot!.........2
Tied with one:
 The Armor Wars, from Iron Man
 Batman: Year One, from Batman
 The first Brood story, from X-Men
 Devil's Legacy, from Grendel
 A Dream of Flying, from Miracleman
 Gothic Empire, from Nemesis the Warlock
 The Fear, from Detective Comics
 The Great Darkness Saga, from Legion of Super-Heroes
 Kings in Disguise
 Nightcrawler limited series
 Miracleman Book 3
 Planet Earth, from Zot!
 The Sin-Eater, from Spectacular Spider-Man
 The Spider War, from Omega Men
 Spider-Woman vs. the Viper, from Spider-Woman
 The Surtur Saga, from Thor
 The Trial of Henry Pym, from Avengers
 The second Trigon story, from the New Teen Titans
 Vida Loca, from Love and Rockets
 Watchmen

Well there you have it! The Official R.A.C "Favorites" of 1989. Until
next year, this is your pollster saying:

THANK GOD IT'S OVER! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA!

   ---------- Ryan Mathews

Internet : mat...@cs.buffalo.edu
Bitnet   : mathews%cs.buffalo.edu@ubvm
UUCP     :{apple,cornell,decwrl,harvard,rutgers,talcott,ucbvax,uunet}!
          cs.buffalo.edu!mathews

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Confessions of a Ditkomaniac (Part One)

(In DITKOMANIA #33, Oct. 1992, I wrote a short essay titled "Confessions of a Ditkomaniac" that detailed how I became a fan of comics creator Steve Ditko. What follows is the first part of a new essay series where I'll discuss in more detail my transition from a faithful Marvelite, who didn't think much about Ditko's work, to a devoted reader of Charlton comics, to a fan and supporter of Steve Ditko's self-published and self-copyrighted works. The following essay will take us up to the end of 1983, when I turned 13 years old. Part Two, when it is written, will pick up from 1984 to however long it takes to get me to the present day. And now, without further ado, Part One... )

I was born in November 1970 and began reading comicbooks in the late 1970s. Back then, one could find new comics on the spinner rack at the local drugstores, as well as new comics featuring reprints of old comics there. Thus, I recall buying Avengers #170 (April 1978) and Marvel Triple Action #44 (Oct. 1978) -- which reprinted Avengers #52 from 1968 -- when they were both newly released, when I was only 7 years old. My copies of the hardcover books Superman from the 1930s to the 1970s and Batman from the 1930s to the 1970s are inscribed “March 1978” on the inside covers. My copy of Shazam! from the 1940s to the 1970s has “Feb. 9, 1979” written in pen on the inside cover. At right you can see my 4th Grade school photo, from late 1979 -- only a month or two before my 9th birthday, and already exhibiting signs of fannishness.

      The fact that comicbooks have publication dates printed on them (even if the cover-dates are usually four months ahead) makes it easier to discover how old you were when you bought them, if you recall buying them when new, and sometimes it can be surprising how young you were. The dates and reprints also helped propel my interest in history, providing me a timeline in my mind of when things happened (the aforementioned "from the 1930s to the 1970s," for example), and I eventually learned that what I knew about decades in comics' past could be related to other areas of history. But that would be years later.  Prior to the age of 13, I had virtually no interest in history -- only comic books and their history.

      I started out as a DC reader (especially JLA), given the prominence of that company's superheroes (Superfriends was one of my favorite TV shows as a child), but by 1979 I became mainly a Marvel reader. Since a friend of mine decided that he would collect the Avengers series (with the goal of obtaining every back issue, via our discovery of a local comics shop), I decided that the title I would collect would be Captain America. (#255 of that series contained my first printed letter to the editor. It was cover-dated March 1981, meaning that it appeared on the stands in December 1980, shortly after my 10th birthday. The letter contained references to the depiction of Cap's origin in previous issues, showing that I already had acquired a lot of them, despite my youth.)

      But this post is about Steve Ditko, and how I became a Ditko fan. As I said earlier, old comics were being reprinted back then, often in paperback format. My first exposure to Ditko was probably in Volumes 1 and 3 of the late 1970s Pocket Book series reprinting early issues of the Lee-Ditko Amazing Spider-Man run. I had the first volume at some point, but may have traded it away early on. I did get the third book (reprinting ASM #14-20) and read it with interest, and have my worn copy to this day. (Or at least I thought I did. When I went to make a scan of the cover for this blog entry, I couldn't find it on my bookshelf, so the image at left was taken from eBay.) I also acquired a few of Stan Lee's trade paperback volumes of that era, including Origins of Marvel Comics (which reprinted the first Spider-Man story and two early Doctor Strange tales) and Marvel's Greatest Superhero Battles (a 1978 book which included a 3-part Ditko-drawn Doctor Strange storyline). I also saw some of Ditko's old Hulk work in paperback reprint form. I liked Ditko's work in some of these comics, though not all. I remember at the time thinking that some of the characters looked too “wimpy.” As a newly-born Marvelite, my preferences ran more toward Sal Buscema. John Byrne, George Perez and Jim Steranko (as well as some of Jack Kirby) rather than Steve Ditko.
 

     I was aware of the importance of Ditko, however, because of those reprints.  Also, my older brother had pointed out to me that one of my new comics, Incredible Hulk #249 (July 1980), contained new Ditko art (filling in for Hulk's regular artist Sal Buscema) and told me that Ditko had drawn comics for Marvel back when he was my age.  So, Ditko drawing for Marvel again was evidently important because of the work he'd done there in the past.
     
     This was actually the second new Ditko comic that I'd read. The first was Daredevil #162 (Jan. 1980), another fill-in issue, written by Michael Fleisher and pencilled and inked by Ditko. The thing that I recall most about this story was how, as a reader, I got sucked into the story. Daredevil only appears in costume at the beginning and end of the book, and as a young reader I usually found long sequences of non-action and talking heads, accompanied by yellow caption boxes of text, to be boring. But here I found myself becoming engrossed in reading the story. Ditko's art wasn't drawing attention to itself in a flashy way; it was drawing the reader into the story. I remember noticing this during one of the locker room scenes; in the one shown below, we (the reader) are actually in the locker looking out in one panel. The thought balloons create an intimacy between the reader and the character, too (a technique that many of today's creators have unfortunately abandoned in their attempts at a more cinematic approach to comics storytelling).

 
      The third new Ditko comic I read as a kid was Machine Man #18 (Dec. 1980), the penultimate issue of the series. I was unfamiliar with its Alpha Flight guest-stars, but the look of the two silver-haired twins somehow seemed very much in keeping with the artist's style, although I was unaware of Ditko's recurring theme of duality at the time. (Years later when I saw the smiling "twins" of Ditko's self-copyrighted heroes Masquerade, I was reminded of his Northstar and Aurora for this reason.)

     The issue's villains, too, seemed strangely familiar. I assume that I must have seen some of the late 1970s Modern Comics reprints of Captain Atom and E-Man by this point (the latter of which contained Ditko's Killjoy strip in the back-up slot). I gradually began to associate Ditko's artwork with a particularly strong personal style, one that could be recognized across titles, across publishers, even across the years. I was still not particularly a fan of that style yet, though.


(Above: The Modern Comics reprints of Captain Atom #83, cover by Ditko 
and Rocke Mastroserio, and E-Man #4, cover by Joe Staton. 
 Note that they still have the yellow K-Mart price-tag stickers on them!)


(Above: The opening panels on page two of MACHINE MAN #18, Dec. 1980.
 Masked henchmen working for a mysterious villainess named 
Madam Menace are interrupted by Machine Man.)


(Above: Although there would still be one more issue published, the story
ends on a somber note with no "next issue" blurb at the bottom, 
in a scene reminiscent of the brooding Avenger called The Vision.)
 

     I bought Marvel Tales #138 (April 1982) when it came out, which reprinted the first issue of Amazing Spider-Man by Lee and Ditko. I very much enjoyed the issue, especially the scene where Spider-Man is unable to cash a check written out to him, but for some reason did not keep buying the comic. I wouldn't buy another issue of Marvel Tales until a year later, when #150 (April 1983) reprinted the first ASM annual. Perhaps I stayed away from the Marvel Tales reprints because I figured that they were reprinting material that had already been reprinted in the Pocket Book paperbacks and I'd wait to get that instead. Whatever the reason, this failure of mine to buy the Lee-Ditko ASM run as it was being reprinted every month, easily available at the local 7-11s and other convenience stores, reveals my general lack of interest in Steve Ditko's work -- even his most celebrated comics -- during this early period in my comics collecting.

     By the time I was 10 years old, in mid-1981, I had subscriptions to four Marvel titles: Amazing Spider-Man (beginning with #219), Avengers (#209), Captain America (#260), and The Incredible Hulk (#261, I think). A fifth Marvel title, Team America, was added to my subscriptions in 1982. I was getting to be a bit of a Marvel zombie at this point, rarely even looking at comics published by other companies (I made an exception for JLA #200; March 1982).

     By 1983, however, I was burning out on Marvel. Even the format was beginning to get tiresome: usually 22 pages of continuing story with a “Next Issue” caption at the end, followed by a page of letters. My exposure to the older Marvel comics made me wish that today's comics were more like them. Two pages of letters, not just one. (I began buying a couple DC titles like New Teen Titans and All-Star Squadron by this time.  At least they had two pages for the letters!) Or perhaps a text story instead of letters, as some of my oldest Marvel comics had. My earliest issue of Tales of Suspense (#54) had a lead Iron Man story, a 5-page fantasy tale, a 5-page “Tale of the Watcher” and a text story. What happened to those days? I wondered. And could they happen again?

     I recall looking at an Overstreet Price Guide in a bookstore at the time and seeing an ad for the new Red Circle line of comics, presenting a whole new group of superheroes called The Mighty Crusaders. And the names of the artists involved with this new project included that of Jim Steranko. I wondered where he had gone. So I made a note to keep an eye out for Red Circle.  I didn't know it then, but 1983 would become the year that Everything Changed.

     To start with, as noted above, I was getting tired with buying the same old Marvel comics every month.  I was now 12 years old, and writing and drawing my own home-made comics.  I knew that Marvel owned the copyrights and trademarks to their characters, so I would have to come up with my own characters.  I began to think seriously for the first time that my goal in life would be to try and become a comic book artist -- or rather, a comic book creator: someone like John Byrne, who was both writing and drawing The Fantastic Four.  Byrne had written a wonderfully nostalgic article for FantaCo's The Fantastic Four Chronicles about his desire to take the comic back to its roots.  "I began doing every thing I could to recapture what I remembered," he wrote.  "I find that I can read it again with something of the same feeling I had 20 years ago."

     My collecting of old Marvel comics, and reading of reprints, had led me to want to explore comics of the past more.  Since I never had much money to spend on comics, I had amassed most of my collection from the cheap bins of local comics shops.  But now bored with Spider-Man and the like, I wanted to see what came before.  Flipping through the "5 for $1.00" boxes at a short-lived shop called Comics Galore, I found 1970s issues of Marvel titles that had reprinted 1950s and early 1960s fantasy, horror, and monster stories -- some of them by creators whose names I was familiar with, such as Kirby and Ditko.  And since it was still a Marvel comic, it made the transition to reading such fare a little easier.  The first one that I bought was Weird Wonder Tales #8 (Feb. 1975), and the first "pre-Marvel" non-superhero story that I read was the first story inside: "The Last Laugh."  It had no credits for who wrote or drew it, but to me the art looked vaguely like Jack Kirby's.  (The Grand Comics Database says that Mort Meskin pencilled it and George Roussos inked it.)

     The last story in the issue was written by a familiar name (Stan Lee) and drawn by an unfamiliar one (Joe Maneely).  It was written in the second person, like its title ("You're Gonna Live Forever"), which was a novelty to me.  I began writing my own little horror stories like this, with twist endings, and occasionally using the second person, too.  I had heard of old-time radio shows in the pulp chapter of Steranko's History of Comics Vol. One (which I had acquired a year or two earlier) and began buying audio tape cassettes of shows like The Shadow and Suspense.  I was already a fan of the 1960s B&W Twilight Zone series, which some of these twist-ending tales reminded me of.   Stephen King's horror novels were very popular at this time; the first one that I bought was the paperback of Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas.  I bought it at the local drugstore and brought it into the house in a paper bag, taking it straight to my room without mentioning it to anyone, like it was forbidden knowledge.  Steranko's pulp chapter had also mentioned H. P. Lovecraft, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Nick Carter.  I was soon buying back issues of EQMM (and had a subscription by May 1984), Nick Carter Killmaster paperback novels (beginning in Dec. 1983, at age 13), and a couple paperback book collections of Lovecraft.  An adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" on the 1940s radio show The Weird Circle (which was broadcast on a local radio station) caused me to seek out Poe's work, and then earlier writers.  Although I still wanted to be a comics creator when I grew up, I now added a new goal: prose writer, specifically one like Lovecraft and Poe.

     So what does all this have to do with Steve Ditko?  Well, it sets the stage to show how a 12-to-13 year old kid in 1983 could suddenly become a major Ditko fan, and eventually going from being a faithful Marvelite to a faithful reader of (you knew we were getting there eventually) Charlton Comics.  I continued to buy back issues of Weird Wonder Tales and related titles like Chamber of Chills.  Some of these comics reprinted 5-page fantasy tales by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.  These were slight fantasies whose sole purpose almost seemed to be for the surprise at the end.  And yet they always were charmingly done, and their simplicity and open panels were a welcome relief from the claustrophobic, detailed art of the 1950s horror stuff.  One of my favorites was "Beware of the Giants," reprinted in Weird Wonder Tales #21 (March 1977; one of the last of Marvel's 1970s "pre-Marvel" reprint comics), which had originally appeared in Amazing Adult Fantasy #14 (July 1962; yes, the issue right before the debut of Spider-Man).  I won't spoil the ending here, but it was typical of the altered sense of reality that these tales dealt in -- an expectation of innocence in the reader, that magic really exists just around the corner.

     I don't know how, but I already had in my possession two 1970s Charlton ghost comics, and both of them had Ditko covers.  Shown below on the left is my tattered, read-to-death copy of Ghostly Haunts #24 (April 1972) and an upgraded copy (not the same copy I had back then, which is in worse shape) of The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves #32 (June 1972).  How I acquired these is a mystery, but I had them and so eventually I read them.  And you know what?  I liked them.


      I recognized Ditko's art, of course, and it seemed to me that he was more of a force in these Charlton comics than he had been at Marvel where he was doing fill-ins and lesser-known characters.  Even back in the 1960s, he had taken a back seat to Kirby, doing mostly 5-pagers while Kirby was doing the 13-page lead stories.  For Charlton, he not only drew the covers of their main titles, but he did the lead stories in many of them.  Of course I didn't realize all that immediately.  In fact, with these two issues, which were my first exposure to Charlton ghost comics, I was just as impressed by Pat Boyette and Pete Morisi (PAM), who drew the other stories in these two issues, as I was by Ditko.  "No Smoking Allowed," drawn by Boyette in the Dr. Graves issue, was a particular favorite of mine -- just a great story well-told.  The individual personalities of the artists was allowed to shine at Charlton in these ghost comics, unlike under the assembly-line approach at Marvel (aside from writer-artists like John Byrne and Walt Simonson).

     So, I decided to buy some more 1970s Charlton ghost comics out of the "5 for $1.00" bins at Comics Galore.  I liked those ones as well, so then I took a big chance for a cheapskate like me.  I noticed that there were a LOT of those Charlton comics in the bins, so one fine day in 1983, I bought nine dollars worth of them -- a large sum for me at the time.  (I was only 12, soon to be 13 years old.)  Unfortunately, as I flipped through the issues, I found that most of the issues I'd bought were from the late 1970s/early 1980s and instead of Ditko, PAM and Boyette, there was a lot of foreign-looking art that didn't give me that same old-fashioned thrill.  I was disappointed and set the stack to one dusty side of my room, thinking that I had wasted nine bucks.  (I'll return to that stack shortly, though.  See below.)

     Now that my interests had expanded beyond learning the histories of my favorite superheroes, I began to take more of an interest in the history of the medium as a whole.  Thinking that my future lay in comics, I had also begun buying some of the prozines that were around to learn more about the behind-the-scenes of making comics.  One of the first I bought was The Comics Journal #83 (Aug. 1983) which contained the second part of a huge Dave Sim interview.  I recall being disturbed by the adult content of the issue, such as the use of a profanity in the title of Harlan Ellison's column, and ended up throwing the issue away a few months later.  I was looking to recapture the feeling of a more innocent time, not to move in the other direction, toward premature adulthood.  More preferable was Comics Scene #11 (Sept. 1983) which contained an article by Frank Lovece about old-time artist Dick Ayers, and a preview of the splash page of The Shield story that he drew for Mighty Crusaders #3 -- one of those Red Circle Comics that I'd heard of.  I bought #3 at Comics Galore when it came out and showed it to a friend.  He pointed out that the heroes looked like rip-offs of Marvel's -- that the Fly and Fly-Girl were stand-ins for Yellowjacket and the Wasp, that Comet looked like Cyclops, that The Jaguar looked like the new Avenger named Starfox, and most obviously The Shield was inspired by Captain America.  I eventually learned that in each of these cases, however, it was the Red Circle hero who had come first.

     I liked this Red Circle line, finding the format of no ads, "new" heroes, and multiple stories per issue to be a refreshing change from the sameness of the 22-page Marvels.  They were a smaller company, one that you could root for.  When I saw that Alex Toth had drawn the covers of The Black Hood #2 (Aug. 1983), whose name I'd seen in the Overstreet Price Guide, I bought it hoping that maybe the comic would be worth something someday.  Instead, it was worth something to me immediately because of the overpowering style of The Fox back-up story within that Toth wrote, drew and even lettered.  He had a unique voice and style, and was even more of a "complete" creator than those I had admired and aspired to be like.  Toth instantly became one of my favorites, and for the past couple decades I've usually listed him as my third all-time favorite comics creator (after Kirby and Ditko).

     The issue also contained a Black Hood story drawn by a familiar hand, Pat Boyette.  Had it been a Marvel or DC comic, I might have been critical, thinking that the title character didn't look "right" (i.e., conform to a house style), but as with Charlton, it looked right for this circumstance since there was nothing else to judge it by -- this was, after all, the first Black Hood solo story I'd ever read.  The issue was preceded by a fine editorial by Bill DuBay titled "A Whisper of Fairy Dust," where DuBay reminisced about reading comics as a child.  "Comic books were designed to brush young lives with a few enchanted granules of fairy dust!" he wrote. "From their very inception, they were meant to be a momentary friend in an isolated moment of loneliness, hurt or need."  If ever I were to compile a collection of my favorite essays about reading comics, this essay (along with the previously-mentioned Byrne essay) would be in it.

     DuBay's essay helped clarify in my mind another aspect of these comics that I had been discovering that made me like them: they seemingly weren't aimed at fandom.  They were aimed at readers, perhaps (as in the case of Charlton) the general reader -- the person who doesn't "collect" comics, but reads them and then goes on with his or her life.  The type of person who will read a novel, but doesn't feel the need to buy everything by a particular publishing house (or bad-mouth the products of a rival publisher).  The kind of readers that comic books had before comic shops, before conventions, before fandom took hold of the industry and brought with it overly hyped "events" pandering to its own kind.  I decided that I was not a "superhero fan," as I had been for the previous five years.  I was a fan of the medium, and I would read all types of comics.  And I began to do just that.  

     Comics Scene #11, like the other prozines of the time, contained numerous ads for intriguing direct-sale comics -- most of which I'd never see at my local shop: Judge Dredd, American Flagg, Jon Sable, and so on.  However, the issue did have a short item on the news page about a comic I could find at my local convenience store, but never would have dreamed about buying.  The item reported that Bob Bolling was taking over Archie & Me beginning with #141.  They made it sound respectable to buy an Archie comic, something that I had never done before.  (At the time, I didn't realize that Red Circle and Archie were in fact one and the same company -- Red Circle being Archie's direct-sale-only superhero imprint.)  I'd read some back issues that my little sister had -- during a time when I was trying to get her to start collecting comics, too -- but I had never bought an Archie comic myself.  So, I decided that if I saw a copy of Archie & Me #141 on the spinner rack, I would buy it, to see what all the fuss was about.   I didn't see #141, but I did see #142 (Dec. 1983), and I recall being a bit nervous as I approached the cashier, wondering if he would make a comment about me being "too old" for such material.  I made it home safely with the comic, however, and was amazed at how different Bolling's Archie stories were from others I'd read.  Two of the stories took place at night, or rather one in the breaking dawn, and one could almost feel the morning dew on the grass as the rays of the sun broke through in the distance.  Bolling -- like Toth, like Kirby, like Byrne -- was a creator, writing and drawing these stories himself, putting pieces of himself into them.  I soon decided to start buying Archie & Me regularly, and in fact to try all of the Archie titles, even the digests. 

     And now, here's where Ditko comes in again.  One of the other Red Circle comics that I bought early on was The Fly #3 (Oct. 1983).  Ditko pencilled all three of the Fly stories in the issue (one of them was a short-short of 2 pages) and it looked great!  The comic's editor was Robin Snyder, who also edited Shield (soon-to-be Shield/Steel Sterling, thereafter simply Steel Sterling) and some of the issues of Blue Ribbon Comics.  In the letters page (titled "Under the Gun") Robin mentioned that "beginning with issue 5 Steve Ditko will be plotting the Fly series and I'll be adding the dialogue."  (More on that in Part Two of this essay series.)  I also bought #4 when it came out, but didn't like it as much.  However, changes were in store for Red Circle as the direct-sale-only line was discontinued and replaced by the Archie Adventure Series line, available on newsstands (and one of my local source of comics, the neighborhood 7-11).  The change eliminated the two titles that DuBay edited (Black Hood and Comet), and Alex Toth was gone with him.  But I didn't know all that just yet.

     One of the other prozines that I had bought in late 1983 -- in fact, my favorite one -- was called Comics Collector and was edited by Don & Maggie Thompson of The Comics Buyer's Guide.  The second issue was the first one I bought; cover-dated Winter 1984, it was released in late 1983 and contained several articles about old comics, including one by Ron Goulart about the 1940s incarnations of the Red Circle superheroes.  An article by Ed Gorman on the then-new indie comic Ms. Tree made it seem like a profile of comic-strip creators, or an early profile of Siegel & Shuster, in the way that creators Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty controlled every aspect of the series, much different than the way things were done at the Big Two nowadays.  It made it seem like the independents were a way of starting the history of comics over from scratch, and this time giving the creators (instead of the companies) the reins.  Also of interest was an article by Lawrence Watt-Evans about EC Comics of the 1950s, a subject on which I had previously read and knew nothing.

     Even better was the third issue of the magazine, dated Spring 1984, which I also bought when released.  This contained another article by Watt-Evans on 1950s horror comics, including the non-EC ones, and an article by Will Murray titled "I Remember... Vandoom, Master of Marvel Monsters."  Murray's article, of course, was all about those "pre-Marvel" fantasy stories, but written from the perspective of one who had lived through that era.  He concluded his article by writing the words shown at right.  As when Steranko in his pulp chapter had expressed regret that today's youth would never hear The Shadow every week on the radio as he had (prompting me to seek out the show), I felt regret while reading Murray's words that Marvel had gotten so big and that there weren't any fantasy anthologies like in the old days.

     And yet, that wasn't quite the case, was it?  In fact, Charlton Comics was still publishing their ghost comics (as well as war comics) in 1983-84, albeit almost entirely consisting of reprints.  I must have seen them on the spinner rack, but if I had, I ignored them, even though I had liked most of the ones I'd bought in the back issue bins.  Speaking of which, there was still that stack of Charlton ghost comics that I had bought for nine bucks and never really gotten around to reading.  One day as I was getting ready for school, I noticed that the comic at the top of the stack dealt with time travel, a subject of great interest to me.  I reminded myself to read that story when I got home from school.  When I finally did so, hours later, I discovered that the entire issue consisted of reprints of Mysterious Traveler stories from the late 1950s (though ones not drawn by Ditko). The stories reminded me of The Twilight Zone; the last story in the issue ("Man Alone!") seemed like a prototype for the X-Men, where a college student who is able to move objects with his mind is invited by a telepath to join with others like himself.  "There you will learn to use your powers to benefit mankind!" he is told.

     I began to read more of the $9.00 stack and found that I enjoyed them after all, even some of the ones with the scratchy-looking "foreign" art.  Murray had said that back in 1962 "there were monsters lurking at the drugstore."  Yes, there was no longer a Tales to Astonish or Strange Tales, but Charlton was still publishing the all-reprint titles of Ghost Manor and Scary Tales and the like, and finally I decided that the next time I saw them in the spinner rack, I would plunk down my sixty cents (more than what I was used to paying for a Charlton, remember) and give their latest issues a try.  My subscriptions to the Marvel titles were going to expire in 1984 and I was probably not going to renew them, given my boredom with current Marvel.  Instead, I would spend 1984 time-travelling into the past, buying Charlton and Archie Comics at the local drugstores and pretending it was 1962.

     I'll pick up the narrative to this story in Part Two, which will begin with comics cover-dated January 1984, the first month that I began buying Charlton comics new off the stands -- and which marks my first exposure to Steve Ditko's 1950s Charlton art!