“Of Star-Gods And Sales Figures”: The Short-Lived Comic Books That Live Long In The Memory

Another Frenetic Excursion Through Bronze Age Awesomeness. 

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“Easy with that pig-sticker! You and your buddy ought to be more discreet about where you have spats…” – E. Hammond Preiss.

“Not quite a year ago, I composed a brief text feature on the letters page as an introduction and I’m writing what amounts to an epilogue.”

So wrote David Kraft, in an Editorial, snazzily titled: “Of Star-Gods And Sales Figures,” effectively announcing that this: Creatures On The Loose Featuring Man-Wolf #37 (June 1975), would be the final ish.

He explained how: “Sales, of course, are generally the deciding factor. But not totally.”

Apparently, despite “doing well on the newsstands,” it hadn’t been doing well enough. Kraft explained that granting J. Jonah Jameson’s hairy star-cursed son his own book was given “very serious consideration,” but at that time, Marvel had already laid extensive plans to launch a variety of new series.

Wonder if any of them reached the heights of Man-Wolf?

With Kraft‘s script and George Perez’s art, the final ish of Creatures On The Loose is a rip-roaring yarn.

It’s only fault?

Who knows if the savage progeny of the moon managed to land the spacecraft and save his friends on the last page…?

And now, we take a rare venture into DC territory – from Man-Wolf to Ironwolf – hey, get that symmetry!

“You’re no better than the Empress – you’re worse! At least she doesn’t hide her evil behind fine words and gracious hospitality!” – Ironwolf.

The tenth and final ish of DC’s Weird Worlds: Ironwolf #10 (November 1974), features an Editorial called: “Weird Words.” It states that despite being both a critical and commercial success, this title has to close – why?

“In a word: Ecology.

“For years, we’ve been publishing stories in the comics, warning of impending shortages of vital materials… The problem is real. One proof is that there will me no more Weird Worlds. We can’t get enough paper to publish it. Simple as that.”

Hmm… your correspondent is NOT convinced.

This “serious paper shortage” does not appear to have affected all the poor and underwhelming titles churned out – by both DC and Marvel, not to mention other indie publishing houses – during the intervening four decades (thus justifying my love and belief in Bronze Age books).

This particular ish – featuring Ironwolf: a sword-wielding adventurer in the John Carter of Mars mould – has lots to commend it, especially lively art by Howard Chaykin. The story is pleasing galactic fun, enticing enough to make me hunt down further ishs – there are only nine of them, so it shouldn’t be an extensve hunt…

“Fool! My defensive screens can easily neutralize your pathetic attack. Can you do as well against my ionic sword?” – Salia Petrie.

“She’s forcing me into a corner and if her sword punctures the copper foil skinsuit under my costume, I’ll age a thousand years in a second!” – Vance Astro.

The third selection in this eclectic mix also happens to be the final ish of a classic title unfairly terminated much too soon.

Three reasons drew me to Ms. Marvel: a woman as the central character; news of her own forthcoming movie; and perhaps the most obvious excuse: it was written by Chris Claremont – the same auteur responsible for making The Uncanny X-Men such a stupendous – and enduring – series.

After acquiring both impressive and disappointing mags in this series, this ish: #23 (April 1979) is one of the best in the series. Abducted by The Faceless One and taken to the space station known as Drydock, she finds Salia Petrie – a fellow NASA colleague whose mind is being controlled by the cosmic villain.

And there is a cameo appearance by Vance Astro, leader of the Guardians of the Galaxywho will be all the rage in cinemas again next month!

Actually, it is not that difficult to see why the fate of this particular series was sealed: apart from the constant change of artist – always not a good sign Carol Danvers’ drastic change in costume appears to have been a desperate misjudgment. Moreover, being terminated in 1979, alas, meant that female-led series still had a long way to go before achieving mainstream acceptance…

“You people kidnapped me, you seek to destroy our planet… Do you expect me to show you mercy? If so, forget it, fiends. There’s nothing I won’t do to stop you. Nothing!” – Dejah Thoris.

“I have never been one write letters to the editor. However, something has come up that I cannot let pass. Simply put, the termination of John Carter of Mars, Warlord of Mars is an injustice,” stated one disgruntled reader, printed in #26 (August 1979) – the penultimate ish.

On the strength of this exciting – and yet moving – mag, other copies have been sought this past few months. It was truly a great expedition when #7 (Decemper 1977) came into my possession, and at a reduced sale price too. A keen John Carter fan for most of my life, Marvel did a fine job on this series.

This particular ish just happens to be blessed with the pulsating pencils of Gil Kane. And its title: Dejah Thoris Lives promises a suitably feisty appearance by one of science-fantasy’s most iconic princesses. In the hands of that other exceptional Wolf: Marv Wolfman, this ish does not disappoint!

Again, it is such a shame that this brand of awesomeness was ultimately defeated by the crass excuse of “poor sales.”

1979 was one of my favourite years; and yet it seems to have been less than favourable as far as comic books are concerned…

“Awwright, ya flap-eared yahoos! Everybody git your tails inside an’ git them fishbowls off!” – Nick Fury.

Know you this: Nick Fury is one of my all-time fave Marvel characters. It has been an absolute pleasure tracking down the work of the legendary Jim Steranko, arguably the greatest artist to bring this deadly Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. to bold and wise-crackin’ life. You’d think that he would have no trouble saving an experimental title like What If? from the dreaded sales figures curse, but no…

Stan Lee presents: A Stunning Saga Of An Alternate Reality, indeed!

#14 (April 1979) boasts the incredible question: What If Sgt. Fury Had Fought WWII In Outer Space? On the morning of 7 December 1941, the Pearl space station is attacked by a squadron of “crummy Betan lizards.” Such a bizarre premise proved too irresistible; plotted by Gary Friedrich, drawn by Herb Trimpe – and narrated by The Watcher of course! – this special bumper-sized edition is certainly unputdownable stuff!

All the ishs featured here hold reserved places in my ever-expanding Bronze Age collection, although it is a shame that that it is their ephemeral nature that link them together. Ironically, the discontinuation of these titles has bolstered their value – not to mention made them more difficult to come by.

At the end of the day, sales figures proved to be far more effective at crushing heroes than any nefarious plan concocted by the most devious costumed supervillains.

Thankfully, David Kraft and George Perez were allowed to produce the two concluding episodes of the Star-God Saga in a couple of ishs of Marvel Premiere four years later.

Kraft ended that editorial in 1975 by stating: “Doing this series has been a lot of fun for all of us here, especially George and myself, and we hope that you’ve gotten some entertainment out of it along the way.

“We’re only sorry it had to end so soon.”

“I knew one of you super-creeps was responsible for this! Good or bad – you’re all the same…! You’ve got to be stamped out – no matter what the cost! And if J. Jonah Jameson has anything to say about it, you will be!” – J. Jonah Jameson.

 

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Rantin’ And Killraven: What’s HOT On The Bronze Age Comics IN Pile

Madre De Dios! More Mighty Marvel Mayhem!

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“A quest… You humans love quests and epics… romantic notions… absurdities which clutter your lives and distort your base realities!” – The High Overlord.  

NIX OLYMPIA VOLCANO, MARS – DECEMBER 2019

“He had touched the blade of grass… and it turned to red Martian dust beneath his hands. The sand shifts through his fingers now, and Killraven knows for a certainty that the desert he kneels upon is located on the planet Mars. 

“He is alone with that truth – and the truth is staggering!”

But what is truly staggering is that how a comic entitled: War Of The Worlds featuring Wellsian Martians (on giant tortoiseback, by gad!), alien vistas and high adventure on the Fourth Rock From The Sun with a Terran hero bestriding the russet landscape sportin’ thigh-high boots could turn (on?!) out to be so…

disappointing. 

Killraven: ha! Now there’s a name ta die for!

Isn’t it…?

With the right creative team, this should have developed into a hit – at least a cult classic, but no… 

As a fan of all things Martian, hopes that #36 (May 1976) would be a joy to behold were running high, until the reaction was so low. No prizes for guessing that this title was cancelled after only 30+ ishs…

Anyway! Welcome back to the weird wonderful world of Bradscribe – apologies for the delay since the last Post, but things have been hectic around here.

Once more unto the back issue boxes, dear friends!

Undoubtedly the highlight of Summer ’16 involved delving into the treasures of Bronze Age comics – that exceedingly special time from c. 1970 (curiously estimated with the debut ish of Conan The Barbarian of all things) up until the mid-’80s (and the death of Jean Grey?) when some exceptional titles were produced. At the most, taking advantage of the opportunity to catch up with some truly remarkable writers and artists; pleasantly acquire previously unknown titles; and dip nostalgically into editions that used to belong in my bedroom but for whatever outlandish reason got lost in the mists of time has transmogrified into an enjoyable and worthwhile venture. 

For me, the Bronze Age happened to be the best period for comic books. Killraven – for all its faults – demonstrates how experimental and innovative Marvel Comics could be during the 1970s.

Here then are some of the special ishs that have accumulated in my specially-reserved box this past few months:

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“The brute still lives! Such ineffable strength and longevity are almost beyond my experience and bear further study at The Project!” – The Hate-Monger.  

“The first rays of the crescent moon found the blood-red pendant grafted to John Jameson’s throat and he becomes a beast: Man-Wolf!”

Yes, yes, we covered that lupine moonbeast here: but that was too long ago, and quite frankly, he deserves more blogspace – for he is an extraordinary character simply never available on the Southern English newsstands of my youth. And it is a pleasure to finally catch up with his stunning series.

From ish #30, Man-Wolf became the sole principal star of Creatures On The Loose, until being cancelled (with ish #37 back in 1975). Ish #35: Wolfquest (May 1975) is – rip-roaring sci-fi action/adventure at its 70s best.

“David Kraft wrote it; George Perez drew it; you get to read it!” says the text on the groovy front page. There is also an ace cameo from Colonel Nick Fury (one of my all-time fave comic book characters) – “Sonuvagun if it ain’t!” – and Dum Dum Dugan! 

As penultimate pages go, this – the death of the Hate-Monger is as awesome and intense as Bronze Age comic art gets – proudly loaded up here (above).

Can’t help thinking what Perez would have done with Killraven…

And there was no way that Col. Fury’s dramatic entrance could not be included here:

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Nick Fury: “Dum Dum, ya big walrus, quit flounderin’ and folla me!”

Dum Dum Dugan: “Fergit it, Nick – I ain’t goin’ nowhere without my blamed Derby!” 

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Thanos: “Would you believe I’m doing all this out of the goodness of my heart?” 

Adam Warlock: “No, for I perceive that you have no heart!”

Like the BA gem listed above, (The Power Of) Warlock was also cancelled in its prime, but Adam, the golden-hued character himself made such an indelible impression on my infant mind.

More tragically, the original series lasted no more than just 15 ishs. Ironically, Warlock – “By Orion!” – has attained hallowed cult status and is extremely difficult to come by; when my sensors did detect odd editions, the going rate seemed ridiculously high. So finding that immortal classic: Warlock #10: How Strange My Destiny (December 1975) (for a thankfully ridiculously low price!) proved to be an exceptional find.

The first part of the acclaimed Magus Saga in which Adam makes an uneasy alliance with notorious bad seed: Thanos in his showdown with the Magus. It also features Gamora (of Guardians of the Galaxy fame!) and Pip The Troll (who – judging from the letters pages – became a sensation among Marvelites far and wide!)

Thanos – and (let’s be honest) even Pip The Troll – would have swept the floor with Killraven…

As Adam realizes with horror: “My mind is a cesspool of corruption that will someday spawn the Magus” – the Magus is Adam Warlock’s future self!

Blimey Charley, what a humdinger! 

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“25,000 armed Black Knights just to kill four unarmed intruders?! The Magus must be cracking up! Wish I had 50,000 instead of a mere 25,000…” – General Egeus. 

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Captain Marvel: “There’s Titan, Drax – it won’t be long now. But why so silent? What are you thinking about?”

Drax The Destroyer: “About how difficult it may be, once our alliance is ended… to kill you!”

Hankering for more galactic thrills, it seemed inevitable that Marvel’s spaceborn “most cosmic superhero of all” – the original Kree warrior: Mar-Vell – would get snapped up.

Eager to find out more, an excellent additional feature of Warlock #10 – an insert in which Captain Marvel explains the background (and threat!) of his arch-enemy: Thanos. Usefully, it noted #s 25-33 as the classic ishs in which the two legendary characters went head-to-head.

Initially, Marvel Spotlight #2 (featuring Captain Marvel) came into my hands fairly early on during this hunting season. However, Pat Broderick’s art style failed to alight the Bradmonitor. Not to be outdone, a chance was taken with Captain Marvel #59 (November 1978). Despite retaining Broderick’s pencils, The Trouble With Titan actually offered a more satisfying look, mainly because of the special guest star appearance by Drax The Destroyer. 

“By the Lost Horns of Hala!”

The outlandish contents involve Mar-Vell and Drax having to rescue Eros and Mentor from being “menaced by what manner of monsters, only the the Great Pama knows!” And trespassing in the domain of Lord Gaea – and having to fight their way through his hordes of Earth-Demons to escape! Written by Doug Moench – always a reliable choice (so why couldn’t he have worked on Killraven…?)

Have already picked up further ishs, but so far, #s 25-33 are proving to be elusive… 

In conclusion, me lovelies, it should be pointed out that – in a sale, just to be on the safe side! – another ish of  Killraven WAS acquired. And lo, Brad The Merciful steps in to grant the underachievers a second chance, but…

Ha! Guess what?

Despite having a fascinating splash page, #35 (March 1976) is bogged down with an even more confusing plot; moreover, he grumbles, the addition of an insipid Martian character and a deranged, scantily-clad woman spouting interminable gibberish does NOT guarantee rewarding reading! 

So, it’s official then: Killraven is PANTS….

Not gonna let this absurdity distort my base realities!

But heck! Let’s not end on a bum-note.

As Confucius used to say: “If you’ve got time for one more cake, you’ve bally well got time for one more comic!”

Hey! Looks like yours truly has got just the right thing: 

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“Alas, Iron Fist, you have my sympathy. No man should be spurned by a beautiful woman and fall in battle on the same day!” – El Aguila.

Last and – well, really! Is anyone nuts enough to say: “least” to Luke Cage’s face?! – we have Marvel’s very own dynamic duo: Power Man and Iron Fist. 

This is such a nifty break from my usual cosmic cravings, and besides, back in the day, one ish did pass through me grubby infant mitts, but Brad‘ll be damned if he can recall the exact one! Never fear, random back ishs have been selected, and are turning out to be an unexpected fab treat!

#65: “An Eagle In The Aerie” (Oct 1980) is great fun. En route to the Aerie (HQ of Heroes For Hire), Luke and Danny are followed by old adversary: El Aguila and – “Santa Maria!” – half the staff of all-female guards have revolted and all three costumed heroes have to defend the Aerie from all-out assault.

El Aguila leaps and bounds suavely through battle, firing bursts of his biologically-generated electricity through his sword while exclaiming: “Believe me, senoritas, doing this hurts my heart as much as it does your lovely bodies.”

Before Luke and Danny can get a word in, the Eagle escapes in a helicopter, but not before smooching the secretary.

Ah, they don’t make masked men of mystery like that any more…

If only Killraven oozed just half the charm of El Aguila…

Been searching for ish #58 (El Aguila’s initial appearance) but – not surprisingly – it is rare and expensive.

Finally, could not resist including this intriguing lil cameo from another Marvel stalwart:

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Iron Fist: “You’re up early, Luke. How did you sleep?” 

Power Man: “Kept dreamin’ ’bout floods an’ tidal waves.”

Iron Fist: “Sorry about the waterbed.”

Originally, this Post began back in September(!), revised in November, but it has taken the last few gruelling days just to finally launch this draft – well, anything really! – into the blogosphere.

Relieved, rather than pleased, to have accomplished some writing again.

Meanwhile, quite a considerable comics collection has amassed here over the past few months – therefore CANNOT WAIT to discuss, in a flurry of forthcoming Posts, the juiciest finds with you!

So, while the world falls apart, this:

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…is where you’ll find me: the “Leisure Hive” @ Brad Manor. 

Happy hunting, True Believers!

You would NOT BELIEVE what you can get for 60 Portions these days…   

“A Princess Of Mars,” And Other Classic Comics From The Red Planet.

Visions Of A Red Planet That Has Seen A Thousand Fictional Civilizations Rise And Fall.

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“If it entertains and is clean, it is good literature. If it forms the habit of reading, in people who might not read otherwise, it is the best literature” – Edgar Rice Burroughs. 

Like Mark Watney, the unfortunate astronaut stranded on Mars in this month’s sure-fire box-office hit, it is impossible for me to depart the Red Planet – at least, not yet. 

Having explored other movies to be set on our nearest celestial neighbour, this would be a good opportunity to explore a rich assortment of Martian visions that have adorned comic pages over the past few decades. 

It’s amazing how a red planet always teems with green aliens… 

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“That’s how The League Volume II begins, with the Martian landscape and Edwin Lester Arnold’s Gullivar Jones and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter, and though it’s not completely wordless, the word balloons are mostly in a Martian dialect that’s not translated on the page for us. Kevin O’Neill draws the heck out of it…” – tor.com 

The artist: Kevin O’Neill (best known for his stunning work on 2000AD’s Nemesis The Warlock), collaborated with writing legend: Alan Moore on an ambitious project in 1999 entitled: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, focussing on a band of famous characters from Victorian literature. 

Unbeknownst to me, a second volume of League adventures was published in 2002. It used H. G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds as the basis for a unique slant on the familiar Martian invasion of Earth theme. The opening few pages in which the dialogue is in Martian has just piqued my curiosity even further.

So be it: yet another tome to look out for this Christmas, methinks. 

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“There was one slight, desperate chance, [to] take… for Dejah Thoris; no man has lived who would not risk a thousand deaths for such as she” – John Carter.   

Resistance is futile.

Here is arguably the most popular fictional character associated with the Red Planet, or Barsoom as she calls it. Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, becomes the wife of  John Carter, a Virginian cavalry officer “mystically transported” to Mars.

From her introduction in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel: “A Princess Of Mars” in 1912 to her most recent appearance in Dynamite Comics, she has hardly worn anything more than a tiara, breast ornaments and some strategically-placed jewellery. Traditionally, the typical damsel who lies at the feet of the Earthman, the late ’70s Marvel Comics run portrayed her in a more feisty and fearsome light, showing her deft capabilities with both swords and blasters.

Thou shalt not underestimate a lass who has thwarted the Comics Code Authority as well as disposable alien adversaries for so long… 

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“Nonsense! I like Chocos, certainly. What is not to like?” – Martian Manhunter.

And then there is Martian Manhunter, a stalwart of DC Comics’ The Justice League. J’onn J’onzz hailed from what he called: “Ma’aleca’andra.” Created by writer Joseph Samachson and artist Joe Certa, this heavily-built and bald-headed green-skinned hero – the last surviving member of his race – made his debut in Detective Comics #225 “The Manhunter from Mars” in November 1955. 

My main introduction to this mighty emerald fella was in my all-time fave DC series – a  positively mind-blowing four-parter series from 1988 entitled: The Weird (this will receive its own forthcoming Post!) where the titular alien – newly arrived on Earth – proceeds to shove Martian Manhunter out of one comic panel and into the next. Not a wise move!

These days, he appears to have had a radical makeover; his humanoid physicality ditched for a suitably more imposing “Martian” look. Although now he runs the risk of being mistaken for Tars Tarkas: John Carter’s main Thark comrade.

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“Watchmen wasn’t about a bunch of slightly dark superheroes in a slightly dark version of our modern world. It was about the storytelling techniques, and… the range of what it was possible to do in comics” – Alan Moore. 

How can anyone discuss comic art in relation to Mars and not mention Watchmen? Written by the legendary Alan Moore, with art by the iconic Dave Gibbons, this superhero classic graces TIME magazine’s 100 Greatest Novels Of All Tine and rightly so. 

Dr. Manhattan, the Superman of the Alternate Earth of 1985, exiles himself on Mars after the (ultimately false) accusation that the “accident” in 1959 – vapourised inside the intrinsic field test chamber of his lab – is the direct cause of the cancer diagnosed in his closest work colleagues. He brings companion, Laurie Juspeczyk – the second Silk Spectre – to Mars to help him decide whether to continue intervening in Earthly matters. 

So, where else in this galaxy can a “posthuman god” go to contemplate his commitment to saving the human race?

…Or a superheroine to receive the revelation of who her real father is? 

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“A world grows up around me. Am I shaping it, or do its predetermined contours guide my hand? …Who makes the world?” – Dr. Manhattan.

Here are a few more examples of Martian comic art. The range of quality and quantity of comics connected to the fourth planet is staggering.

The mere handful selected for this Post alone demonstrates what an overwhelming inspiration the endless mysteries of Mars have been to generations of comic book creators.

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“Growing up, I think I went to Mars more often than Manhattan… a land of strange and savage beasts (Thoats! Tharks! Sandmice!), whispering winds, towering mountains… and crumbling porcelain cities where mystery and adventure lurked around every corner” – George RR Martin. 

Finally, rather than end this Post with a shameful gallery celebrating the form of Dejah Thoris, here, instead, are excerpts from a rather splendid classic strip from the September 1958 issue (no. 3) of Race For The Moon.  

This particular story was drawn – and most likely written – by another great comics legend: Jack Kirby. Interestingly, this “Face On Mars” predates the notorious oft-published photograph of the Face of Cydonia by 18 years. 

It’s best to let the sheer awesomeness of the following pages speak for themselves…

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“Get your ass to Mars!” 

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Cheers!

“In Your Face, Neil Armstrong!”: The Martian: A Review.

Help Is Only 140 Million Miles Away…

THE LONE RANGER:
THE LONE RANGER: “I wonder how the Cubs are doing?”

“Log Entry: Sol 6. I’m pretty much fucked – that’s my considered opinion. Fucked” – Mark Watney. 

There are three important facts you need to know about Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi opus, based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir.

The Martian offers a rollickingly good yarn on how to survive on our nearest neighbour in the solar system; also, the curse of woefully-underwhelming movies set on Mars as featured in a previous Post has – for the time being at any rate – been expunged; and thirdly – and perhaps most vital of all – this blogger would NOT be watching the movie alone! In a last-minute dramatic twist, Mrs. B noticed the seat next to me on the big-city-bound-bus was vacant. She bungled in and paid the extra fare. We were off to Mars together after all, and this blogger was already over the moon.    

Mrs. B loves Matt Damon; Mrs. B loves Matt Damon topless; Mrs. B loves botany. Yes, folks, my beloved has found THE PERFECT MOVIE. Watching Matt Damon – sorry, Mark Watney – fiddle with his seeds, Mrs. B pursed her lips in admiration. She leaned over, nudged me in the ribs and whispered: “I wanna go help him!” 

Should have known she was going to say that. Don’t mind Brad: he’ll be Terra-bound, blogging away, looking after the cat…

THE SEEDS OF DOOM:
THE SEEDS OF DOOM: “Hell yeah I’m a botanist! Fear my botany powers!”

“The Martian atmosphere is only 1% as thick as Earth’s, so a Mars wind of 100mph… would only have the dynamic force as a 10mph wind on Earth. You could fly a kite in it, but it wouldn’t knock you down” – Dr. Robert Zubrin. 

So, when Watney determines to “science the shit out of this, how accurate is The Martian’s science?

Or is it just shit?

The most glaring gaffe is the “fierce storm” – the integral plot device that causes Watney to be stranded on Mars in the first place. As the atmosphere of Mars is less dense than Earth’s, such a storm would be extremely unlikely – even Weir was quick – albeit reluctantly – to admit that.

One glowing review commended The Martian for being “one of the best thrillers of the year.” 

Thriller?

What makes this movie so enjoyable to watch is the natural charm and effervescence of its leading man. After the hilarious moment when he admits to being a botanist, and (too) confidently vlogs about how he will grow his own food, there is no reason for us to get anxious. No suspense, no dramatic tension, certainly no  “edge-of-the-seat” stuff here – in fact, his fight for survival becomes quite entertaining viewing. Amusingly, Watney’s concern seems mostly preoccupied with trying to cope with Commander Lewis’ deplorable taste in disco music!

“No, I absolutely will not turn the beat around!”

The biggest laugh of the movie comes when he experiments with making water by extracting hydrazine from the rocket fuel and burning hydrogen. He is – to use the hip parlance of our time – “pretty smokin'”; literally, the smoke is rising off poor Watney as he vlogs: “So… I blew myself up…”  

No prizes for guessing that my little lady gave out the biggest laugh when that accident blasted him across the auditorium in full glorious Dolby Stereo.   

THE SECRET GARDEN:
THE SECRET GARDEN: “My asshole is proving to be just as useful as my brain”

“Just so we’re clear, Mark Watney is who I want to be. He has all the qualities I like about myself…  Mark Watney isn’t afraid to fly” – Andy Weir. 

Having enjoyed the audiobook, certain classic lines have been omitted, but Drew Goddard has managed to take one engrossing book and write a rather special screenplay.

It should be mentioned that the second-best feature of this movie is the stunning location photography. Wadi Rum in Jordan makes for a superb Martian landscape. We watched in 3D format, which helped enhance our viewing pleasure immensely.

Personally, we could easily have done without any of the scenes back on Earth; none of the (underwritten as usual) NASA personnel had a fraction of Watney’s charisma anyway. At least one of us would have been satisfied with just Damon monologuing nonchalantly into his videocam for the entire 141 minutes.    

Apart from the incredible storm, please spare me the young socially awkward mathematician who has (successfully!) plotted the best gravity-assist trajectory to bring back Watney et al within agreeable parameters. 

The only other major gripe about this movie concerns the climax. Besides the uncertainties of getting Watney into orbit (in a coneless module?!), there is the highly improbable task of Ares III selecting the right course and velocity to catch him. The movie’s running time is fast running out, so the script simply cannot afford any more screw-ups, miraculously.  A typically treacly Hollywood ending spoils it a tad, but nevertheless, its place on the Top 10 of 2015 list is assured. 

Naturally, there are numerous nods to other movies: being stranded (Cast Away), trying to deal with the return to Earth (Apollo 13), struggling to grow food millions of miles from Earth (Silent Running) and even being separated millions of miles from Jessica Chastain (Interstellar).

Fortunately for Damon, it is a more wholesome slice of sci-fi than the bleak and foul-mouthed Elysium (not even Mrs. B fancied the idea of watching her fave star as a bald-headed cyborg); and for Scott, it is a (much) welcome return-to-form after the flawed Prometheus and misjudged Exodus. 

To sum up then, The Martian is one helluva one-guy-against-the-odds movie – an exhilarating cinematic experience which can – and certainly will in this household – be watched time and time again. 

And yes, it was fantastic to have nachos with the Special Cheezy Dip again.

Mr. and Mrs. B’s Verdict: 

The-Martian

“Way to go, Iron Man!”

Return To Mars: Why The Red Planet Fascinates Us So Much

No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own…

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“We can never anticipate the unseen good or evil that may come upon us suddenly out of space” – H G Wells.

Allegedly straight lines on the equator of Mars were first termed: “canali” (canals) by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli who observed and illustrated them in 1877. Even Percival Lowell – the esteemed astronomer who discovered Pluto – weighed into the controversy, claiming that the canals could only be “the work of some sort of intelligent beings.” 

For any canal to be visible from the Earth, the notion of engineering involving extremely implausible Amazonion proportions only fuelled the Martian-believers hopes even more. Such a gargantuan feat of engineering could only be the work of a highly sophisticated race.

By the time the far-fetched canals of Mars theory could be scotched, it was far too late. An enthusiastic and optimistic Victorian society had accepted the prospect of galactic neighbours, albeit with some considerable trepidation. From this age of astronomic madness emerged one of the enduring classics of science fiction. The War of the Worlds was first published in Pearson’s magazine in the Spring of 1897.

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“I had a dream aboutman. He is not from our world. He came down from the sky and spoke to me. He said we are from the third planet… We come from Earth” – Ylla.  

“They live in a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars, by the edge of an empty sea. In the evenings, when the Fossil Sea’s warm and motionless, Mr. K sits in his room, listening to his book.” 

So says the narrator over the 1980 TV adaptation of The Martian Chronicles: my introduction to the impressive work of Ray Bradbury; also, it marked the first time that Mars made an impression on me.

It was memorable for being so downright creepy. The theme music was unforgettable. Reviewing it thirty years later, the poor special effects look more dire than ever. However, the screenplay by Richard Matheson is still quite affecting even now. Perhaps the most outstanding scene ever to take place on Mars can be seen here. It is a brief, yet magical, moment – one of my all-time faves.

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“There’s what they call the ‘Mars curse’ in the movie industry. I think the last time there was a significant commercial success that took place on Mars was Total Recall” – Andy Weir.   

Ever since, though, it has been difficult to find that many films relating to Mars that are actually worth sitting through. Oddly enough, the first two Mars-related movies that spring to mind are the eerie Invaders From Mars (1953) and the hilarious Mars Attacks! (1996) but these two classics deal with the Martians on Earth. 

One of the earliest film forays onto the red planet was the distinctly baffling Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), which featured Adam (Batman) West. It is one of those obscure 60s oddballs that – let’s face ithasn’t been mentioned anywhere else in the blogosphere all this month. Here is the trailer in case you were wondering whether such a bizarro movie exists!

Total Recall (1990) was based on a 1966 short story: “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick. This Paul Verhoeven-directed sci-fi action adventure pic starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as a construction worker who learns that his life is merely an implanted memory, and must travel to Mars to learn the truth. The movie became intriguing once it revealed subterranean engineering works constructed by a long-since-vanished alien civilization.

2000 was a diabolical year for movies set on Mars. Both Mission To Mars and Red Planet proved to be critical and commercial flops. For the purposes of this Post, the former was selected for a viewing mainly because Gary Sinise and Tim Robbins seemed like a less sufferable option than Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore. 

It all started so well: we get acquainted with the mission’s personnel at a back garden barbecue while Zydaco music plays over the opening credits. Poor Don Cheadle: while investigating an abnormal feature in Cydonia, his crew are wiped out and he has to fend for himself on the red planet for a whole year before the aforementioned pair can come and rescue him. Hmm, he did well cultivating plants and a formidable beard; he could teach Matt Damon a thing or two. Rather than create a gripping adventure, the film sinks into a botched and far-fetched denouement. Surprisingly, the score was composed by the one and only Ennio Morricone, but for once, his sweeping strings do not fit, or lift, these insipid images.

Then, of course, 2011 brought the most disastrous animated movie ever: Mars Needs Moms. There is absolutely no reason to sully this finely cultivated blog by analyzing this crap, but you can’t help wondering who pitched this disturbing premise: mother abduction as family entertainment. And how did it get accepted?!  

In view of this appalling track record, by the time John Carter of Mars (my particular favourite Mars movie) was brought to the big screen in 2012, the “of Mars” segment of the title was dropped, most likely to avert the dire repurcussions of the Mars curse. Nobody knew who John Carter was – it bombed anyway. 

So, next week we will know if Ridley Scott has redeemed his career and successfully banished the curse of those movies to be set on Mars. 

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A “map” of Mars created by Eugene Antoniadi in 1894.

Cheers!