Comic Books, Cartoons, Comic Strips



THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS. NBC, made for TV movie, 22 May 1988. Bill Bixby (David Banner), Lou Ferrigno (The Hulk), Jack Colvin, Lee Purcell, Charles Napier, Tim Thomerson, Eric Kramer (Thor). Written & directed by Nicholas Corea, based on the character created by Stan Lee (for Marvel Comics).

   A 1988 made-for-television movie that originally aired on NBC, The Incredible Hulk Returns also found a home on VHS. Released two years later by R&G Video and distributed by Starmaker, the final entry into the “Hulk” TV series found a more permanent home on video store shelves. The cover art work suggests perhaps a more dramatic Hulk story than what the feature actually is; namely, an ultimately non-successful backdoor pilot for a “Thor” spinoff.

   Before we get to that, however, here’s the basic plot. It’s been a few years since scientist Bruce Banner (Bill Bixby) was visited by his Hyde-like friend, the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno). He’s now working as a scientist again under an assumed name and has a lady friend in fellow scientist Dr. Margaret Shaw (Lee Purcell). His main project is a transponder that he hopes can reverse his “curse.” But all doesn’t go according to plan. First, Banner finds an uninvited guest in a former student of his who just happens to be supernaturally connected with Thor (Eric Kramer).

   Then there are the Cajun heavies, Jack LeBeau (Tim Thomerson) and Mike Fouche (Charles Napier) who want the transponder for their own purposes. Finally, there’s intrepid reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) who is determined to out Banner as the Hulk.

   In a way, it’s all fun and nostalgic. Apparently it was a success for NBC. And it’s hard not to see why. Fans got a chance to reunite with their favorite characters and you can tell there’s some real love and dedication in the film. Bixby could have phoned it in, but he obviously did not. Thomerson — who I loved in Trancers (1984) – and Napier make great villains.

   What makes The Incredible Hulk Returns ultimately a lesser superhero television production was the writers and producers’ decision to use this reunion as a way of introducing Thor to viewers. Kramer is surely a physical presence to behold, but his Thor was way too – how should I put this? – goofy for anything sustainable. Not only does he talk like a simpleton; he also has a craving for beer that is funny one time, but grating the next. And the scenes with him dancing with girls at a motorcycle bar were amusing, but they don’t do much to establish a character that viewers will want to return to week after week. Simply put, Thor is no Hulk.

PS. Of course, when The Hulk and Thor first meet, they misunderstand each others’ intentions and fight. See it here!

DONALD CLOUGH CAMERON – Death at Her Elbow. Henry Holt & Co., hardcover, 1940. Green Dragon #20, digest paperback, circa 1945-46, abridged.

   After the suicide death of her New York City roommate, Ann Porter fled to the West Coast to get away from the memories. Returning after a year’s absence, she thinks the memories have faded, but not only is she wrong about that, but the body of the man who at the root of Jenny’s death is found murdered in Ann’s bedroom, hit over the head by a heavy statue in the shape of a cat.

   Investigating the murder is homicide detective Peter Gore, whose only appearance in print this seems to be. The story does not follow Gore’s footsteps through the case, but Ann’s, who fears that her former boy friend, who has waited faithfully for her, committed the crime, whereas – you guessed – he thinks she did it.

   This complicates matters, of course, at least as far as Ann and Alec are concerned. Gore – and this is rather surprising – looks kindly upon the pair of lovers and does his best not to suspect either one. But what this means is that are two major themes to Death at Her Elbow. One, the romance, and secondly, the mystery.

   Luckily the mystery does not take a total second shrift. The problem is, as far as solving the murder is concerned, is that there are just a few too many suspects (although at least one is an out-and-out ringer) and not quite enough clues. As for me, I could have done with less romance, but Cameron was a decent writer, describing the characters and capturing the setting well, and I enjoyed this one.

   Cameron wrote a total of six mysteries between 1939 and 1947, three of them starring a chap named Abelard Voss, about whom Wikipedia says was a “young criminologist and detective … who liked to take philosophical reflections during his investigations.” He also wrote extensively for the comic books. I found this interesting enough that I’m going to quote liberally from his Wikipedia page:

   â€œCameron made several notable contributions to the Batman mythos. The story “Here Comes Alfred!” in Batman #16 (April–May 1943) by Cameron and Bob Kane introduced Alfred as Bruce Wayne’s butler. Cameron co-created Tweedledum and Tweedledee in Detective Comics #74 (April 1943) and the Cavalier in Detective Comics #81 (Nov. 1943). His story “Brothers in Crime!” in Batman #12 (Aug.–Sept. 1942) featured “Batman’s Hall of Trophies” a precursor to the Batcave, which debuted in Detective Comics #83 (Jan. 1944). Cameron and Win Mortimer created Batman’s Batboat in Detective Comics #110 (April 1946). In addition, Cameron was one of the writers of the Batman comic strip for the McClure Newspaper Syndicate.

   â€œHis work on Superman includes creating the Toyman in Action Comics #64 (Sept. 1943) and writing the earliest Superboy stories in More Fun Comics.

   â€œCameron created Liberty Belle in Boy Commandos #1 (Winter 1942) and Pow Wow Smith in Detective Comics #151 (Sept. 1949). He was one of the writers of DC’s Hopalong Cassidy licensed series based on the film and TV Western hero. Other comic book work by Cameron includes Aquaman, Congo Bill, and the Western character Nighthawk.”



MARTIN H. GREENBERG, Editor – The Further Adventures of Batman. Bantam, paperback original, 1989.

   In connection with all the recent Batman hype, someone had the bright (and, I think, interesting) idea of having various writers of genre fiction try their hands at writing a Batman adventure. For the most part, alas, the Batman comes across as little more than a Comic Book character.

   This collection of fourteen stories by fifteen authors opens with Robert Sheckley’ s “Death of a Dreammaster,” which peters out after a promising premise. It’s followed by the two best stories in the book: Henry Slesar’s “Bats,” in which Batman has seemingly gone crazy, and Joe R. Lansdale’s “Subway Jack,” about a serial killer murdering bag ladies on the subway.

   Unfortunately, the rest of the stories, except for occasional high spots in Mike Resnick’s “Neutral Ground” and Edward Wellen’s Riddler story “Wise Men of Gotham” are pretty much ho-hum at best.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #42, November 1989.


1 • Death of the Dreammaster • novella by Robert Sheckley
69 • Bats • novelette by Henry Slesar
101 • Subway Jack • novelette by Joe R. Lansdale
139 • The Sound of One Hand Clapping • short story by Max Allan Collins
159 • Neutral Ground • short story by Mike Resnick
165 • Batman in Nighttown • novelette by Karen Haber and Robert Silverberg
191 • The Batman Memos • short story by Stuart M. Kaminsky
207 • Wise Men of Gotham • • novelette by Edward Wellen
247 • Northwestward • [Black Widowers] short story by Isaac Asimov
267 • Daddy’s Girl • short story by William F. Nolan
285 • Command Performance • novella by Howard Goldsmith
343 • The Pirate of Millionaires’ Cove • short story by Edward D. Hoch
363 • The Origin of the Polarizer • novelette by George Alec Effinger
393 • Idol • short story by Ed Gorman

   I’ve been meaning to do this for quite a while. I don’t go to the comic pages in my daily newspaper first everyday, but they come close. The ratings below, on a scale from 0 to 100, are totally subjective, and if I were to do this again a few months from now, they’d probably change, but not by too much, I hope. I won’t describe any of them. If there are any you’re not familiar with, well, that’s what they invented Google for. Feel free to comment, however, and if you have any favorites that the Courant doesn’t carry, I’d like to know about them.

PEANUTS Charles Schulz. 98
CLASSIC DOONESBURY Garry Trudeau. Not read.
GARFIELD Jim Davis. 90
SHOE Gary Brookins & Susie MacNelly. 90
DUSTIN Steve Kelley & Jeff Parker 90
MUTTS Patrick MacDonnell 92
ARCTIC CIRCLE Alex Hallett 40
JUMP START Robb Armstrong 30
GET FUZZY Darby Conley 10
BLONDIE Dean Young & John Marshall 95
DILBERT Scott Adams 98
GIL THORPE Neal Rubin & Frank McLaughlin Not read.
MARY WORTH Karen Moy & June Brigham Not read.
REX MORGAN, M. D. Terry Beatty Not read.
JUDGE PARKER Woody Wilson & Mike Manley Not read.
BALDO Canu & Castellanos 88
LIO Mark Tatulli 20
WIZARD OF ID Johnny Hart & Brant Parker 80
MONTY Jim Meddick 25
B.C. Hart 85
BEETLE BAILEY Mort, Greg & Brian Walker 92
HI & LOIS Greg & Brian Walker and Chance Browne 92
NON SEQUITUR Wiley Miller 10
CURTIS Ray Billingsley 85
PICKLES Brian Crane 99
ZITS Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman 92
ROSE IS ROSE Pat Brady & Don Wimmer 40
ZIPPY Bill Griffith Not read.

   Ha! Not as easy as I thought. I’ve changed some of these numbers several times already.

   I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to see both of these:


   Marvel Comics’ Ghost Rider (2007) was a box office success, and it’s not difficult to see why. It’s fun, energetic, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Plus, at that time, Nicholas Cage was still a major box office draw and not doing the types of indies and direct to streaming features he is doing now.

   The trailer pretty much gives away the whole story, although not some of the more convoluted parts of the often confusing plot. A guy makes a deal with the devil, becomes a successful stunt motorcycle rider, then has to face a group of bad demons and save the world. Got it? Good. I can’t say it’s a good film because it isn’t. The dialogue is pretty atrocious and the special effects look more silly than they do frightening. But seeing the recently departed Peter Fonda portray The Devil incarnate in a motorcycle movie was still worth the ride.

RICHARD LUPOFF – The Comic Book Killer. Bantam, paperback; 1st printing, February 1989. Previously published in hardcover by Offspring Press, 1988. This earlier edition also contains bound-in black & white comic pages and a separate full color comic book “Gangsters at War” in a slip case. (This specially created comic book has a crucial role in the story.) Also published by Borgo Press, paperback, 2012.

   I’m of two minds about this one. As the title indicates, this first real mystery that insurance adjuster Hobart Lindsey has ever had to deal with has to do with comic books, and comic book collecting in particular.

   Right up my alley! I’ve been collecting comics in one way or another since I was five — but not necessarily as “collectibles,” if you see what I mean, not hardly. This one begins when a comic book shop insured by Lindsey’s company reports the theft of $250,000 worth of comics.

   Lindsey is so unknowledgeable about comic books that he thinks the thief must have needed a truck to haul them away. The proprietor of the shop quickly disabuses of that idea. Only 35 books were stolen, and all of them could have fit in a single briefcase.

   Trying to make a good impression with his superiors, Lindsey decides to take an active role in the investigation. This puts him in close contact with Marvia Plum, the black (and definitely female) detective assigned to the case. An immediate attraction develops, which leads to more.

   Of two minds, I said. Making this one more difficult than I expected to enjoy is that I did not find Hobart Lindsey a very engaging protagonist. In the first few chapters especially I found him both callow and not particularly likeable.

   And we learn even less about Marvia Plum. An unanswered question I kept asking myself is what does she see in him. Worse, the only character I really related to is the first murder victim. There is also one huge coincidence that needs to be swallowed as well. For me, it didn’t spoil the book, but it didn’t go down all that easily either.

   A mixed bag, then, but there is no doubt that author Richard Lupoff knows his comic book history, and that was a big plus. If that’s a subject matter you’re interested in, I think you’ll find as much to like in that regard as I did.

      The Hobart Lindsey / Marvia Plum series —

The Comic Book Killer (1989)
The Classic Car Killer (1991)
The Bessie Blue Killer (1994)
The Sepia Siren Killer (1994)
The Cover Girl Killer (1995)
The Silver Chariot Killer (1997)
The Radio Red Killer (1997, Marvia Plum alone)
One Murder at a Time: The Casebook of Lindsey & Plum (2001; story collection)
The Emerald Cat Killer (2010)


JUANJO GUARNIDO & JUAN DIAZ CANALES – Blacksad. Dark Horse Comics. hardcover, 2010. Contains the first three stories: “Somewhere Within the Shadows,” “Arctic Nation” and “Red Soul.” Other albums are “Blacksad: A Silent Hell” and “Blacksad: Amarillo.” Originally published in Spanish.

   There are mornings when you have trouble digesting your breakfast, especially when you find yourself in front of the dead body of an old flame, the remains of a beautiful dream.

   So opens the first adventure of John Blacksad, private eye in 1950’s New York and America. John Blacksad, the best new eye of this millennium for my money, a tough but compassionate man with the soul and voice of Philip Marlowe, the vengeful spirit of Mike Hammer, and the sheer cool of Peter Gunn, all wrapped up in the most fascinating private eye in decades. He is one cool cat, John Blacksad.

   A cool black cat. Literally. John Blacksad is an anthropromorphic cat in a world of anthropromorhic animals; racist polar bears, tough police dog cops named Smirnov, sadistic millionaire frogs (Ivo Statoc), a wisecracking fox newsman named Weekly (for how often he changes his underwear), serpent and rat assassins, you name it. It will probably come as no surprise that Blacksad’s creator Juanjo Guarnido is a Spanish Disney animator who worked on Zootopia, but this is no Disney cartoon.

   John Blacksad operates in Mean Streets as tough as any Raymond Chandler ever portrayed and in a world as corrupt. He would be at home in Black Mask if the pulp paper could have supported the lush drawings and beautiful coloring that marks the graphic novels. Frankly, in story terms, he wouldn’t suffer all that much as a prose hero, though those handsome graphics are impossible to underestimate in terms of impact.

   â€œSomewhere Within the Shadows” is the defining adventure, the origin of a sorts, Guarnido and Canales’ I, The Jury, John Blacksad’s mission statement. It opens with Blacksad summoned to the home of star dancer Natalia, an old flame, who has been found brutally murdered. Police dog cop Smirnov warns him off, but knows Blacksad won’t be stopped, and as Blacksad, who once protected Natalia from a stalker and was briefly her lover learns her love life was complicated. Complicated, and dangerous as a pair of killers, a knife wielding snake and a rat soon prove.

   Wounded, worked over, Blacksad isn’t about to stop, and when Smirnov comes to tell him the department has been ordered to lay off the case he surprises the private eye. A brutal and sadistic killer is trying to buy his way out of two murders, Natalia and another lover, a writer. Smirnov may be a cop but he won’t stand by and watch that happen. It’s an open invitation, find the killer and stop him and the Department will look the other way.

   Shades of Pat Chambers and Mike Hammer.

   Blacksad does find the killer and also his purpose in life. To avenge the helpless and take on the powerful and corrupt, but not before brief snapshots of various characters in the city (a walrus talent agent is memorable as is a literal gorilla bodyguard), and a surprising moment with a dying assassin in his office.

   The violence, when it comes, is cathartic, but there is far more to this, including rich humor and good storytelling. Blacksad owes something to Will Eisner and his famed Spirit, to whom Blacksad is a spiritual cousin visually and story wise.

   And so it begins.

   In “Arctic Nation” a missing little girl puts Blacksad in the middle of a series of brutal murders of black animals and against a Klan/Nazi like group of white animals called Arctic Nation. This is the one where he meets Weekly, his sidekick and eventually pal. “Red Soul” introduces a new female interest who will also become a regular.

   Private eyes have been around for a while in comics, before Superman, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel had Slam Bradley. Dan Turner had a long comic book run, and at various times tough PI’s like Ken Shannon and Sam Hill had runs in their own titles, Black Canary was even a private eye in her secret identity at one point. Most famously Mickey Spillane debuted Mike Hammer as the failed comic book hero Mike Danger.

   For the most part the two haven’t been as compatible as you might expect, even though there is a Golden Age adaptation of The Maltese Falcon. Some have done more with the genre than others, and likely the best was DC Comics Nathaniel Dusk by writer Don MacGreggor (who earlier created the independent Detectives Inc.) and artist Gene Golan, a visual and literary high mark for the private eye in comic book form. More recently there was a well done adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister done in black and white.

   But Blacksad is far and away the most successful of these attempts in terms of success with his audience. Somehow the anthropromorphic animals capture an aspect of the film noir universe that mere humans missed in this format. It’s as if Carl Barks of the brilliant Disney comics many of us grew up on had collaborated with Herge of the Tintin albums and added Robert B. Parker on the script. Shadows of Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Clifton Webb, George Sanders, Bogie, and Bacall appear in these pages transformed into their animal archtypes. The Blacksad saga turns everything you think you know about comics on its head, you have to see it to believe it, but don’t just look at the stunning visuals, Juan Diego Canales’ scripts and lyrical narrative are just as important.

   I’ll be surprised at anyone who loves private eyes, femme fatales, noir streets, or hard boiled tales isn’t taken by this no matter how much they may dislike or disdain comic books. Blacksad manages the neat trick of being both a paean to something nostalgic and itself entirely original and unique. No one is going to match this for a long time.

THAT’S MY BABY. Republic Pictures, 1944. Richard Arlen, Ellen Drew, Leonid Kinskey, Minor Watson, Richard Bailey. Director: William Berke.

   The setting for this definitively minor comedy effort from 1944 is supposed to be that of a comic book publisher’s office, which is why I rescued the DVD it’s available on from the $3 bin at a local record store. In truth, however — and the truth always comes out — Moody Productions looks more like an animated cartoon production facility, a supposition heavily reinforced by, well, the animated cartoon they produce on the quick that ends the movie.

   It turns out that the head of the firm (Minor Watson) is suffering from a bad case of the blues, and to cheer him up, his daughter (Ellen Drew) and her beau (Richar Arlen) bring into his home a whole host of vaudeville acts, with no success. Not until they discover what it was in his past that has not allowed him to even smile in some twenty years.

   This is a small time capsule of the kinds of acts that made people in small town America laugh. I don’t believe too many of these acts were ever preserved on film in many other ways. Many of these are pure corn, others are mildly amusing, and one, Gene Rodgers, the astoundingly good piano player, makes you wonder why you never heard of him before.

Mike Riley and His Musical Maniacs

Freddie Fisher and His Schnikelfritz Orchestra

Lita Baron, as Isabelita

The Guadalajara Trio

Gene Rodgers (boogie-woogie piano player)

Peppy and Peanuts

Mitchell & Lytell (office worker comedy routine)

Alphonse Bergé

Doris Duane

Adia Kuznetzoff (Russian singer)

Chuy Reyes and His Orchestra

Al Mardo and His Dog

Dewey ‘Pigmeat’ Markham

   Personally, if you were to ask me, it is a wonder that both Richard Arlen and Ellen Drew, both consigned to B-movie stardom at the time, ever had careers after making a movie such at this, with one of the weakest storylines of any comedy musical I’ve ever seen.

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