Sunday, August 20, 2017

Eclipse means Eclipso!

With the eclipse, it seemed a good time to look at one of a couple silver-age DC comics I picked up. One thing the comics showed was that if you think that the Silver-Age Doom Patrol was weird, you probably need to read more DC comics from that era. House of Secrets during this time had two features much like their competition's Strange Tales and Tales of Suspense. In this case, the two were Eclipso and Prince Ra-man. One of the things that attracted me with this comic was it promised a merging of the two features into one story pitting the hero against the star villain.

Eclipso was sort of DC's version the Hulk, playing on the Jekyll and Hyde motif: good guy scientist who turns into a menace. In Eclipso's case all it takes is an eclipse to turn scientist Bruce Gordon into the villain Eclipso. Unlike the Hulk, Eclipso got to wear a costume, had incredible intellect and was an out and out villain. Gordon spent most of his time trying, and failing, to prevent coming into eclipses and then helping to set things up that would force him to become Gordon again. In this he is aided by his girlfriend Mona and her father Professor Bennet. A strong sudden light is enough to banish Eclipso.

Prince Ra-Man is a bit tougher to explain. He has his roots in an earlier strip featuring Mark Merlin who was an occult detective. He got himself stuck in another dimension and the only way to get back to our reality was to be cast into a recently deceased body. In this new body, he has various mental powers (telekinesis, illusion casting) and a powerful artifact, the six-sided sun. Sort of like the cinema version of Doctor Strange, it has the all of the earmarks of being a mystical hero but explaining it in pseudo science fiction terms while hedging their bets by also sprinkling in Egyptian references. Upon arriving back in this reality he tells Mark's fiance Elsa that Mark is dead. But, she travels with Prince Ra-man in his crusade against crime. Prince Ra-Man may be DC's first superhero to actually sport a beard. With that, plus a white streak in his black hair and his eyes being all white and black ringed, he is looking almost more like a villain than a hero at the time.

This story starts with Bruce, Mona and Professor Bennet preparing for the next eclipse and a plan to instantly banish Eclipso. As usual Eclipso uses his intellect to outwit them and embark on his next plan of world conquest. In this instance, Eclipso emerges from Bruce Gordon as opposed to Bruce transforming into Eclipso. Eclipso's plan involves him to create Helio, a being made from sun and various chemicals. He even designed a costume for Helio. Of course, it means Eclipso has to shield himself from his own being in order to avoid getting banished. With Helio's power, they steal a space platform so that they can attack anywhere on earth from the safety of space. Eclipso is eventually defeated and returns to Gordon's body. However, Helio is still out there.

In the part two, Prince Ra-man sets out to end the ongoing threat of Helio. In their first encounter Helio almost manages to kill Ra-man and Elsa in a cave in. Helio travels to the lab complex of Buce Gordon in Solar City. He creates an artificial eclipse which transforms Bruce into Eclipso this time. When Prince Ra-man arrives, he quickly reasons that Eclipso is Gordon's other self which Professor Bennet admits. The professor tells him this transformation is only temporary but if there is a real eclipse, Eclipso will split off permanently and if Eclipso and Helio are able to get the stolen space platform into space, they will be nearly unstoppable. Ra-man grows his disc to giant size and flies it like a flying carpet after the platform where he has to battle the two villains.

GCD lists both parts of the story to be by Bob Haney while Jack Sparling did the art for the first half and Bernard Bailey on the second. It's not quite the book length battle promised on the cover, it is still a fun read of a couple of off-beat characters. The stories don't give much background on the characters and so the handling of Eclipso seems a bit inconsistent, with him emerging from Bruce in the front half and a transformed Bruce Gordon in the second. Eclipso's appearances after his run were sporadic in the 1970s. Some reprints, a battle against Batman, the Metal Men, an appearance in Crisis. It would be in the 1990s that Eclipso would get upgraded into a major villainous threat as he was portrayed as a dark villain that was able to use his black diamonds to create dark-sides of the various heroes. In one issue of his own comic he would be responsible for the deaths of various characters including the original Steel, the lady Dr. Midnight and Wildcat, Peacemaker, Mark Shaw Manhunter, the Creeper and another or two. The Creeper would get better and the Manhunter killed was retconned to have been someone else in his costume. In these stories, Eclipso doesn't display the scientific expertise and cunning that he does in these Silver-Age stories where he seems more of a Doctor Doom or Lex Luthor style villain. Prince Ra-Man would cross swords again with Eclipso a few issues later. He would eventually come clean with Elsa over his identity. Not much later he was killed in the final issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Since then, there have apparently been sporadic inconsistent appearances of him and/or Mark Merlin.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Pete Francisco redux

Back in February I shared the story of Revolutionary War hero Pete Francisco who loomed like a mythological hero come to life. Today on Comicbookplus.com I was reading a newly uploaded book Soldiers of Fortune. I've not read a lot of ACG and was mainly going through this for curiosity's sake. However, it has a two page story devoted to Peter Francisco. The story even mentions the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in Greensboro, NC and the commemorative monument remembering him. From Soldiers of Fortune #3, ACG, July-August, 1951, retrieved from comicbookplus.com.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Terror


Continuing my foray into the lobby cards I had recently obtained from an antique mall. This one is from the 1928 film The Terror. The first two things that attracted me to this one is the artwork on the front & back, plus the image of a hooded, robed menacing villain. Then, I noticed it was adapted from the work of Edgar Wallace. Wallace may be one of the more influential writers on popular culture that few have read or very much aware of.

Edgar Wallace was a popular English writer of thrillers and detective stories. His work appeared as novels and reprinted in pulps on both sides of the ocean. Many have been filmed, some several times. Wallace also worked as a scriptwriter and his most famous work was the initial draft for King Kong. He died before completion of the script and filming but his name remained attached to the project.

The story goes that when the publishers created the house name of "Robert Wallace" as writer for the Phantom Detective pulps, it was because of the association the last name would bring.

The Green Archer by Wallace is an interesting novel that has been filmed several times. Its second outing was as a movie serial starring Victor Jory. Like all adaptations, characters are changed quite a bit from the source material. Still, it is hard to miss the color and initials of the mysterious title character and not wonder about the possible influence of the comic book superhero and villain archers that would follow: the Arrow, Green Arrow, Golden Arrow, Green Knight, etc. Most rightly point to the popularity of Robin Hood, both stories and swashbuckling films as direct and indirect inspirations of the whole costumed superhero genre. But, I like to think that there is room for the Green Archer still: the secret identity behind the costume and archaic weapon, the colorful name.

In The Four Just Men, Wallace wrote one of his few series of books centering around continuing characters. In these novels, he would write of a small group of men from different backgrounds coming together as an organization of vigilantes to punish criminals beyond the reach of the law. In an early science fiction story, Wallace would pioneer the idea of a parallel Earth, one that exists on the opposite orbit around the sun.

The Terror was first written and developed as a play in 1927. It was then adapted into this film version in 1928. This is an early talking movie, reportedly, Warner Bros. second. In 1929, Wallace would write a novelization of the story. It differs markedly from this movie in various character names and occupations. I do not know how closely the novel follows the play though. The 1938 film follows the novelized story more closely and is almost universally considered the better of the films. The latter film definitely had the better cast: Alistair Sim (A Christmas Carol), Bernard Lee (M of the James Bond films), and Alfred Wotner (Sherlock Holmes in several films).

Joe Connor and "Soapy Marks"are two crooks in the employ of the mysterious super criminal known only as O'Shea whose features no one has seen. With him they rob an armored truck full of foreign gold coins. Even though the two are responsible for hiding the truck and are to meet up with O'Shea later to split the loot, they find themselves captured by the police at the rendezvous and the gold gone.

Ten  years later as they near their release, the crime is still unsolved. Each vows their own separate revenge against O'Shea and intimate they may have an idea on the man's identity. The only thing they reveal to the police is that he is only sane 22 of 24 hours a day.

The action shifts to the mansion and grounds owned by the eccentric Colonel Redmayne whose military title and money seem a bit questionable. One of his eccentricities is that he sort of runs it as an inn but by invite only. The longer term residents include a middle aged businessman, a widow with a knowledge and interest in fantastic crimes, her daughter, and the colonel's own daughter newly arrived from school. Added to the mix are a youngish drunkard ne'er-do-well who is steadily trying to worm his way into an invitation, a roaming tinkerer, and a visiting scholarly pastor. Stories circulate of mysterious organ music played in the late hours of the night, and a spectral, robed figure that wanders the grounds. Such reports tend to set the colonel on edge. And when a murder happens on their doorstep, the links of the events from ten years before and rumors of hidden treasure come to the fore.

The novelization takes advantage of being a novel and fleshing out details of the story that cannot readily be captured on film. In man ways the story is similar The Green Archer. A master criminal, a mansion with hidden passageways, a mysterious spectral figure haunting the grounds. It is also similar to another story by Wallace, The Black Abbott, where a mysterious robed figure is haunting an old abbey where there is reportedly hidden treasure and those that might know too much meet death.

Unfortunately, the novelization is unable to expand much beyond its original stage play format. So, while the characterization and motivation is expanded upon some and given more flourishes, much of the plot is sadly simple. It does not get a lot out of the gothic touches inherent in the story. The idea of the robed figure being the ghost of a monk attached to a ruined abbey and underground chapel don't get the build-up it richly deserves (as compared to the Archer being the ghost of a hanged archer with a corpse-like countenance in TGA). The cast is small because of its origins as a play and film which limits severely the choices of who "the Terror" is and there is no doubts about the Terror being the mysterious O'Shea. The cast feels even smaller once an absent detective whose specialty is O'She is brought up. There can be no doubt that one of the characters will stand revealed as the detective. Then add the two ex-cons, there are more characters in the story with second identities than there are those who are who they seem.

This gives the whole story a feeling of a distilled down plot of a Scooby-Doo episode. It brought to mind the many outlandish detective stories that P.G. Wodehouse would often allude to in his stories and would make fun of. Characters with hidden identities and motivations, apt to knock someone off just for the heck of it. Mansions always have hidden doors, passageways, and access to subterranean lairs. And, a decent mansion must come with hidden treasure and a ghost-story or two. And the mysterious criminal is always after the pretty young girl who is to be rescued by some fumbling bumbling guy who will stand revealed as being the great heroic detective all along.

The Terror at Project Guttenberg.