Sunday, April 20, 2014

And Men Shall Call Him "Merciless"! For He is...

...for decades, the single greatest menace in movies.
There have been cinema villians who threatened cites, threatened countries, even threatened whole planets!
But only one has ever proclaimed that not only did he rule the Universe, that he was the Universe!
Ming!
Conceived in 1934 as the antagonist of the brand-new Flash Gordon newspaper comic strip, Emperor Ming of Mongo was a futuristic version of the "Yellow Peril" menace popularized by Sax Rohmer's insidious Fu Manchu and the Han, conquerors of Buck Rogers' 25th Century America!
When Universal Studios adapted Flash Gordon into a 13-chapter movie serial in 1936, they defied movie convention by keeping Ming as the villain and faithfully adapting the strip's plotline.
(Studios usually made radical changes to comic strip and pulp characters they used, most frequently replacing the original pulp and comic villains with the studios' own creations.)
With handsome Olympic athlete-turned-actor Buster Crabbe as the embodiment of an all-American hero, who could portray the ultimate villain to oppose him?
How about a guy who also tried to kill Dick Tracy and Jack Armstrong: All-American Boy in other serials, as well playing opposite Laurel & Hardy and the Marx Brothers (and even sang a song with Groucho and his brothers in Duck Soup*)?
Charles Middleton, who could not only chew the scenery, but spit it out like toothpicks, got the role, and certainly made the most of it...

...making Ming the most hissable foe any movie hero ever faced!
When not plotting to destroy and/or conquer Earth, and lusting after Dale Arden, Ming also had to keep an eye on his own daughter, Princess Aura, who lusted after Flash Gordon, and kept saving him!
By the end of the serial Ming had been fried to death in a creamatorium, Earth and Dale were safe, Aura fell in love with Prince Barin, the true ruler of Mongo!
And that was the end of the man called "Merciless", right?
Be back here...tomorrow...for the answer to that, and many other questions!
And for more villains than you can boo and hiss at, see the other contributors to...
by clicking HERE!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Captain's Library GREEN HORNET "Kingpin of Crime"

For St Patrick's Day, we're featuring our favorite Son of the Old Sod...
...Michael Aloysious Axford, in a never-reprinted comic book tale adapted from an episode of the long-running radio show, The Green Hornet!
Most people don't know that the character of Mike Axford actually pre-dates the The Green Hornet, appearing on an earlier, but now forgotten, radio series, Warner Lester: Manhunter, by the same writer/producer team, Fran Striker and George Trendle!
Axford was a police chief suspected, then cleared, of corruption who resigned from the force and joined Lester in a detective agency.
BTW, It's mentioned on The Green Hornet that Axford is a retired policeman, but his rank was never specified.
It would make sense that Dan Reid would hire as presitigous a retired cop as possible to be his son, Britt's bodyguard, and who better than an ex-police chief?
There's more about Axford's long run on radio HERE.
Though the scripter of the adaptation from Harvey's Green Hornet Fights Crime #35 (1947) is unknown, the art is by long-time pro Al Avison.
And don't forget to visit...
The Classic Green Hornet Store

Sunday, January 12, 2014

WINKY DINK "at the Arctic!"

Kids interacted with their TVs long before video games...
...thanks to Winky Dink, as we join him in a Polar Vortex of his own...
Praised by Microsoft's Bill Gates as "the first interactive TV show", the 1953-57 Winky Dink series' gimmick was the use of a "magic drawing screen" (a large piece of vinyl plastic that stuck to a television screen via static electricity) plus a set of crayons.
At the climactic scene in every short, Winky would end up in a scene that contained a "connect the dots" picture. He would then urge the children at home to complete the picture, and the finished result would help him continue the story.
Another use of the interactive screen was to decode messages. An image would be displayed, showing only the vertical lines of the letters of the secret message, which viewers at home would quickly trace onto their magic screen. The next image would then display only the horizontal lines, completing the text with the vertical lines the kids already drew!
A final use of the screen was to create the outline of a character with whom Jack Barry would have a conversation. It would seem meaningless to viewers without the stick-on screen and crayons, further encouraging the audience to buy the kit, made easy by the fact that commercials during the show incessantly reminded the audience that the kit could be purchased by mail for 50 cents!
Even then, many kids didn't want to wait for snail mail and simply improvised and used the crayons they already had to draw directly on the TV's cathode ray tube! Needless to say, many parents weren't happy with the results since wax crayons were difficult to remove from the specially-treated glass of the cathode ray tube!
BTW, you can watch a complete episode HERE!
This Arctic-themed story is from Dell's Four Color #663 (1955), one of only two comic books the Winky appeared in!
Both writer and artist are unknown, but it seems to be adapted from one of the episodes, since there are several points where it looks like kids would be requested to draw (or erase) things to advance the tale!
You'll also note the use of tv screen-shaped panels to give the story a TV watching-style experience!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The clock striking "12" signals the appearance of both Santa and...

Created for radio in 1938, the patriotic aviator ran the Secret Squadron, what we today would call a "black ops" team, supported by the government, but functioning outside of cumbersome legalities in dealing with spies, saboteurs, and (after the war) criminals and interplanetary aliens!
Trivia note: the Secret Squadron originally used the code "SS" on their messages, decoders, and uniform patches, but changed it to "SQ" after World War II began to avoid reference to the notorious Nazi SS stormtroopers!
Captain Midnight replaced Little Orphan Annie as the flagship radio show for Ovaltine, carrying on the tradition of issuing mail-in collectible premiums in return for Ovaltine labels and jar seals, taking it to far greater levels than any other radio series in history! (The phrase "Captain Midnight Decoder" became synonymous with mail-in premiums.)
The show ran Monday thru Friday in 15-minute segments, with ongoing storylines running for several months at a time, ending each episode with a cliffhanger and a coded message which required a Captain Midnight Decoder to translate.
A series of Big Little Books, a newspaper comic strip, and two different comic book series quickly followed, as well as a 15-chapter movie serial.
The radio show ended with a bang in 1949, as Cap's archenemy Ivan Shark (an evil aviator) was killed in the final episode! Talk about "closure"!

Ovaltine revived Cap (but not Ivan Shark) in 1954 as a weekly tv series with a heavier science fiction emphasis.
The Captain was now a civilian adventurer operating out of a mountaintop base in the SouthWest US, battling criminals and the occasional Communist spy.
Though only 39 episodes were produced, the show reran continuously in syndication until the mid 1960s.
Trivia note: the syndicated version was retitled Jet Jackson: Flying Commando because Ovaltine owned the "Captain Midnight" trademark and didn't sponsor the reruns!
It became notorious for the fact that every time anyone (male, female or child) spoke the name "Captain Midnight", the new name "Jet Jackson" was dubbed over it by one middle-aged male actor! (Apparently, none of the original cast were available!)

Ovaltine continued to use "Captain Midnight" on advertising and occasional tie-in premiums until the late 1990s, when they finally abandoned the trademark.
Since then, he's only been around as part of old radio show collections on cd or mp3...until now!

Recently, both Moonstone Books and Dark Horse Comics revived Captain Midnight in NEW comics and prose stories!
Besides his own series, he's also part of a team of other Golden Age aviator-heroes called the Air Fighters!

Captain Midnight's already been part of our collection with six different vintage designs including five classic covers and his stylish logo on a variety of items including t-shirts, hoodies, mugs, messenger bags, and other tchochkes, for almost two years!
In addition, we now have both a Captain Midnight 2014 12-Month Calendar with a dozen dynamic classic comic covers, including the first issue of his 1940s title (featuring the Golden Age Captain Marvel welcoming him), AND an Aviators of the Golden Age of Comics 2014 12-Month Calendar which features Cap AND a number of other Air Fighters characters!
As unique Xmas gifts for collectors of pop culture kitch, you can't go wrong with one of these klassy and kool kollectibles as a stocking stuffer!
For something REALLY special, why not combine one of our Captain Midnight collectibles with one of Moonstone or Dark Horse's new Captain Midnight books (available at your local comic shop) as a gift set?

Our FREE Early Christmas Present to you: downloadable mp3s of the Captain Midnight radio show!
BONUS FREE Early Christmas Present: downloadable episode of the Captain Midnight tv show!