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Sunday, December 16, 2007

More Suspended Animation "Classics"

Gen 13 (Nov. 1998)
"Meet Gen 13! These gen-active teenagers...were recruited into...a project secretly intended to develop superhumans. Upon discovering that the program was nothing more than a breeding ground for gen-actives, they escaped the compound...and to this day remain fugitives."

Translation: This is another superhero team.

Last issue: Gen 13 is trapped on an alien spaceship. Having befriended a captured alien, they learn they are specimens. Experimentation on a Gen teammate causes a violent change and destructive rage. The damage to the vessel's instruments causes an accident with another huge ship, and "the outlook is not good..."

Well, it's not bad either. This comics title has a number of exceptional things that actually bode well for its future.

For instance, the edited introduction and last-issue summary in this issue of Gen 13 (topping this Suspended Animation column) are concise and needed for new readers. These are often missing from other comic books.

For instance, this issue's story is tightly plotted and well-written, although not particularly original. It is also self-contained, albeit certainly part of a serial adventure. That is also often missing from other comic book titles.

Best of all, there is a light-hearted feeling of adventure here that ignores the angst of too many other comic books today.

Thanks for that, Gen 13. You're too gen-erous.

I couldn't resist.

However, the irritating Yoda dialog of one alien ("System severely damaged by collision, the captain says.") could easily be dumped.

Hurray! It is on the last page! !

Well boding also is the art.

Oops, now I'm Yoda.

Artist Al Rio is an ombudsman with a psuedo-realistic style that is visually easy to read, and dynamic. His uncluttered art is masterfully enhanced by its coloring, and by the unobtrusive placement of dialog balloons.

Say, not only is Gen's outlook not "not good," it's downright fun!

Gen 13 is recommended for young readers and as light entertainment for adults.

-- Review by Michael Vance

Gen 13, #21/$1.95 & 22 pgs. from Image Comics/Brandon Choi: story/available where ever comics are sold.

Comics In The Movies (Nov. 1998)

The summer of 1997 saw four movies based upon comic books: Batman and Robin, Spawn, Steel, and Kull the Conqueror. I said a great deal several weeks ago about the Batman film, and have little to add except a note about its rapid demise at the box office after a strong opening.

This does not bode well for the future.

Todd McFarlane's Spawn is an even grimmer concept than Batman, and did not seem to get off to a good start, at least locally. Word of mouth seems to have helped and the film has run for several weeks. I have a strong feeling that the Spawn audience is somewhat younger than that of Batman, and older adults simply may not be as familiar with the newer comic book characters, particularly those coming from the newer firms. Spawn is well-done and even the uninitiated will find it accessible. The visual settings are strongly reminiscent of McFarlane's expressionistic art. (The most discussed character seems not to be the tormented hero, but the demonic clown.)

DC Comics seems to have done little to create awareness of the film version of Steel and the result was predictable. It only played for two weeks in Houston. Poor casting and less publicity probably doomed this from the beginning. There is supposedly a special comic book adaptation of the film, but I have not seen it. The character has the potential for a strong film.

Kull the Conqueror is based on the early pulp stories by Robert E. Howard who recycled the character into Conan the Barbarian. This is one of the better sword-and-sorcery films and compares favorably with the two Conan films. The special effects help greatly and this script catches much of what the short-lived Howard (1906-1936) had in mind. The Kull character has appeared in several Marvel comics, but never achieved the broad appeal of Conan. Of the Marvel versions, I remember best the early work of artists Berni Wrightson and John Severin. The cinematic quality of Severin's work was never more apparent. Perhaps this film will generate interest in reprints of some neglected gems.

-- Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter

Buck Rogers (Nov. 1998)

Buck Rogers inspired young men and women to believe that the possibilities of their futures were limitless, and that science and education can make life better. And that ray guns are cool. That's not bad for a man who began his own career hibernating in a mine for five hundred years. Buck also sold lots of toys, newspapers, Big Little Books and comics.

And that's impressive for a man who lived in the "funnies".

Dick Calkins began his career beginning Bucks career. He started with the Detroit Free Press newspaper. With the exception of work on the comic strip Sky Roads ('29) and one comic book, Calkins' legacy remains the adventures of twentieth-century man who awoke, as did the real world, to a new world of science, rocket ships and ray guns.

And that's not bad for cartoonist whose scratchy art sold Buck Rogers to a world hungry for the startling new promises of science.

Based on an sf short story by Phil Nowlan, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was the first science fiction comic strip. Plotted by Nowlan, it was drawn by Calkins until 1947 when new writers and artists inherited the strip.

Buck Rogers was syndicated until 1967; he never saw the 25th century.

Calkins' comic book work included Buck Rogers: Kelloggs Corn Flakes Giveaway, '33; Famous Funnies;'40-'43; Toby Press,'S1; [Adventure Book] Cocomalt '33; and as a feature in Famous Funnies, various issues; Pure Oil Comics, late '30s; Salerno Carnival of Comics, late '30s; 24 Pages of Comics, late '30s; Vicks Comics, circa 1938 and Red Ryder (Western, '47). A magnificent hardcover edition was published in 1969 by Chelsea House as The Collected Works of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

The work of cartoonist Dick Calkins is recommended.

Published over many years, some titles may be difficult to locate. A price guide or comics dealer will help. Comic book shops, mail order companies, trade journals and comics conventions are best sources. Prices very widely; shop around.

-- Michael Vance