Tag Archives: Terminator

Throwback Thursday: early 1990’s “Aliens” and “Predator” comics.

I was chatting here with a friend last week about the “Aliens,” “Predator” and “Aliens vs. Predator” comics produced by Dark Horse Comics in the 1990’s.  While Marvel, DC and Image Comics all specialized in their superhero universes, Dark Horse tended to corner the market on hot properties in science fiction and horror.  (The company actually did try to compete by launching its own superhero line, but its unsuccessful “Comics’ Greatest World” universe lasted a mere three years.)

Dark Horse acquired the rights to the biggest science fiction movie characters of the first half of the decade, including “Aliens,” “Predator,” “Terminator,” “Robocop,” and “The Thing.”  It also produced great books in other genres too, like Frank Miller’s legendary “Sin City” series, Matt Wagner’s brilliant “Grendel,” and “Indiana Jones” comics.   (I never actually saw “Indiana Jones” on the shelves; the two retailers in my smallish Virginia college town never carried it.)

Perhaps strangely, I don’t remember any regular ongoing series for “Aliens,” “Predator” or “Aliens vs. Predator.”  Instead, the company published limited series on an ongoing basis.

Dark Horse had been a young company back then — it had started only four years earlier, in 1986.  But I’ll be damned if the people running the company didn’t know their stuff.  Not only did they snatch up big-name properties, they did a great job in producing consistently high-quality “Alien” and “Predator” books.  (Maybe “Aliens: Genocide” wasn’t as good as the other series, but it was really more average than flat-out bad.)  I honestly don’t know how they managed to publish such uniformly excellent comics that drew from a variety of creative teams.  The “Big Two,” Marvel and DC, produced their share of mediocre comics — even for tentpole characters or major storylines.  (See the “Batman” chapters of DC’s “Knightfall,” for example, or Marvel’s “Maximum Carnage” storyline for Spider-Man.)

Was Dark Horse’s track record better because their target audience was adults?  Did they just have really good editorial oversight?  Or did they maybe share such oversight with 20th Century Fox, which had a vested interest in its characters being capably handled?  I’m only guessing here.

I’ve already blathered on at this blog about how I loved “Aliens: Hive,” so I won’t bend your ear yet again.  An example of another terrific limited series was “Predator: Race War,” which saw the title baddie hunting the inmates of a maximum security prison.  And yet another that I tried to collect was “Aliens vs. Predator: the Deadliest of the Species.”  The series had a slightly annoying title because of it was a lengthy tongue twister, but, God, was it fantastic.  I think I only managed to lay hands on four or five issues, but the art and writing were just incredibly good.

Take a gander at the covers below — all except the first are from “The Deadliest of the Species.”  I think they are some of the most gorgeous comic covers I’ve ever seen, due in no small part to their composition and their contrasting images.  And I’ve seen a lot of comic covers.  I think the very last cover you see here, for Issue 3, is my favorite.

I would have loved to collect all 12 issues … I still don’t know how the story ended.  (It was partly a mystery, too.)  But at age 19, I absolutely did not have the organizational skills to seek out any given limited series over the course of a full year.

In fact, this title may well have taken longer than that to be released … Dark Horse did have an Achilles’ heel as a company, and that was its unreliable production schedule.  Books were frequently delayed.  To make matters worse, these were a little harder to find in the back issues bins.  (I don’t know if retailers purchased them in fewer numbers or if fans were just buying them out more quickly.)

I suppose I could easily hunt down all 12 issues of “The Deadliest of the Species” with this newfangled Internet thingy.  But part of being an adult is not spending a lot of money on comic books.  Maybe I’ll give myself a congratulatory present if I ever manage to get a book of poetry published.  Yeah … I can totally rationalize it like that.

 

 

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A review of “Damnation Alley” (1977)

I’m not sure how to review “Damnation Alley” (1977).  I can’t call it a classic.  Portions of it are just too poorly made for that — even to the point where it deserves the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” treatment.  But it is an extremely enjoyable 1970’s end-of-the-world flick, it has some notably successful key scenes and it’s nothing less than venerated by people who love 70’s science fiction.

The movie’s story sounds as though it were conceived by scientifically illiterate teenagers who were passing a joint around … and the joint was laced with hallucinogens, and it was the crazy 70’s.  A nuclear war with Russia has actually tilted the earth on its axis, so it’s spinning askew.  This (and apparently not radiation or nuclear winter) has caused all sorts of cataclysms, and mankind’s best hope is that, through an act of God or something, the correct axis just sort of … reasserts itself.  In the meantime, the same threats you’d usually expect are inhabiting 70’s cinema’s postapocalyptic America: sick hillbillies and mutant fauna.

A trio of United States Air Force servicemen are forced to leave a protected California missile silo that has allowed them to survive the holocaust.  (It burns down after a drunk commanding officer passes out and drops a lit cigarette.  Seriously.)  Our heroes embark across America in the desperate hope to reach the one city that has apparently survived the nuclear fire.  And that’s Albany, for some reason.

I’m pretty sure Roger Zelazny’s 1967 novel, upon which this is ostensibly based, has little to do with this simplistic and head-scratching screenplay.  The book sounds much smarter and more interesting.

The movie gets off to a rocky start, in an ineptly blocked scene in which the director can’t even manage to get the three principal actors to make their faces visible during their conversation with one another.  (These would be a pre-“The A-Team” George Peppard, a pre-“Airwolf” Jan Michael Vincent, and a pre-“Terminator” Paul Winfield.”)  Just after this is an action sequence with “giant” scorpions that are composited onto the action via blue-screen.  The special effects here are embarrassingly bad; for a frame of reference, consider that this is the same year that the studio, 20th Century Fox, also released “Star Wars.”

Still, this ridiculous movie rises above its failings with some elements that were damn good.  For starters, I inexplicably found myself liking Peppard’s stern, laconic, Southern-drawled leader, and Winfield’s likable sidekick.  Even Vincent’s mimbo antics weren’t too grating.  He must have been a fan-favorite heartthrob back in the 70’s; the writer and director keep him front and center — saving girls, cracking jokes and riding a dirtbike.  (His character, “Hell Tanner,” was actually the main protagonist of Zelazny’s book.)

Here is where “Damnation Alley” actually reminded me of some of the better George A. Romero films.  Despite thin and slightly offbeat characterizations, the protagonists still managed to turn out cool and likable.  I identified with them.  (Is it just because this and the “Dead” movies seem to portray real, regular people instead common tropes?)

Second, certain scenes worked beautifully.  A no-budget scene depicting the inside of a casino was perfectly atmospheric and haunting.  The abandoned-town-with-a-secret scene was perfect, horrifying and unforgettable.  (And it had some nicely conceived antagonists.)  What should have been a by-the-numbers, cliched, post-apocalyptic hillbilly gang turned out to be genuinely frightening.  (The actors in these minor roles were quite competent.)  Don’t these prosaically characterized evildoers menace us more effectively than the clownish supervillains of the “Mad Max” films?

And, crappy scorpions notwithstanding, some of the period special effects actually worked.  The centerpiece of “Damnation Alley,” for a lot of fans, is the “Landmaster” — the  quite genuine 12-wheel, seven-ton, futuristic amphibious armored personnel carrier constructed specifically for the movie.  (That’s it in the second photo below.)  Seeing the actual (badass) vehicle instead of a model for the film should appeal to the kid in a lot of filmgoers, even today.  (I’m not even a gearhead, and I had fun with it.)  The custom vehicle cost $350,000 to build in 1976, and it’s still a legend in the 70’s science fiction fan community.

Another “special effect” that strangely holds up over time is the movie’s depiction of “radioactive skies.”  It’s a gaudy visual effect that would be cheap and low-tech by today’s standards, and it absolutely screams “1970’s cheese.”  Yet, as a modern movie fan, I loved it.  It’s perfect for setting the film’s unintentional clumsy-yet-creepy mood; it sets the tone for a beloved vintage B-movie classic, and it’s just neat to look at.  Wikipedia has some interesting information on the back ground for “Damnation Alley” — the radioactive skies effect actually took up 10 months of post-production, despite a final result that paled in comparison to “Star Wars.”  It was a troubled production, and its story is interesting reading.

Seriously, I had fun with “Damnation Alley.”  If it isn’t quite a “classic,” then it’s at least a really fun movie to which I’m sure I’ll return.  I’d give it an 8 out of 10, and I’m going to label it a Triple F — it’s a Forgivably Flawed Favorite.

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Throwback Thursday: the Atari 2600

Adam Sandler’s “Pixels” was a heavy-handed attempt to invoke nostalgia for the video arcade games of the early 1980’s.  For me, it actually recalled the second wave of the video game invasion — the home video game consoles.

Not every kid in the 1980’s had easy access to arcades.  When I tell people I grew up in New York, I think they often assume I mean the city — where virtually any adolescent could catch a bus or a train.  But Suffolk County was a ruralish suburbia — home game systems were really how the kids in my neighborhood got swept into the craze.

Which brings us to the Atari 2600.  Just look at that relic.  To a kid today, that probably looks like a gigantic Underwood typewriter or a crank telephone.

Yes … those are indeed metal levers that were used to activate game functions.  And that is indeed faux-wood plastic siding.  They … actually designed a video game console to look as though it were made of wood.  They did the same thing with televisions back then.  It was a questionable stylistic choice even for the time, I think.  Did we really want technological products plied by a carpenter?

And check out the screenshots for “Combat,” which came standard with a console purchase.  It actually was a really fun two-player game.  (I can’t remember if players could play against the computer.)

Everyone’s favorite game, of course, was “Pac-Man.”  “Space Invaders” was the other Big Thing.  My family never got its hands on those, however, so I grew to love “Frogger.”  (Lord knows I still went nuts amassing the collectible “Pac-Man” stickers to trade with the kid next door.)  “Berzerk” was a close second favorite of mine; I was into killing robots before 1984’s “Terminator” made it cool.

Honestly, I think it would be a real kick to get a hold of an old 2600, and set it up and play it, just for old time’s sake.  It would be a pretty kitsch excuse to throw a party.

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