Friday, March 06, 2015

You Only Live Twice by Ian Fleming

As I've been rereading the Bond series, I've had On Her Majesty's Secret Service in my head as the pinnacle of Bond's character development. My memory of You Only Live Twice and The Man With the Golden Gun was that they're both very dark books and represent a descent for Bond into the narcissistic selfishness that marked him in the early novels. That's not true though. At least not for You Only Live Twice.

The novel opens understandably with Bond completely shattered and depressed after the murder of his wife by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. He's bungled his last couple of assignments and M is at a loss for what to do with him. Even Moneypenny is openly hostile to him and has apparently forgotten the out of character crush Fleming tried to foist on her back in Thunderball. Not to be overly harsh on Bond, but good for her.

M is actually to the point of wanting to fire Bond when he has a conversation with Sir James Molony, the same neurologist who diagnosed Bond back in Dr. No. As Molony justifies Bond's shock to M, it struck me that Bond's always been prone to depression. That's especially clear in the first couple of novels and his anxiety attack in the airplane during Live and Let Die leaps to mind. Tracy's death has sent the already unstable agent spiraling.

But as often as Bond has succumbed to dark thoughts, he's always been able to fight his way through them and Molony believes that's still the case. What Bond needs is a really tough, impossible assignment. Something that will either leave no room for his current depression, or at least will put it into perspective. After giving it some thought, M comes up with the perfect mission. As he describes it to Bond, it's "totally improbable of success" and will be very different from what he's used to. "There won't be any of the strong-arm stuff," he says, "None of the gun-play you pride yourself on so much. It'll just be a question of your wits and nothing else."

The assignment gives Fleming a chance to explore a couple of things he had on his mind. One is the decline of Britain as a major world power after WWII. Bond's mission is to get information about the Soviet Union from the Japanese secret service. Japan apparently has a strong source of Soviet intelligence, but only shares it with the United States. Britain's feeling a bit left out, so Bond's job is to meet with Tiger Tanaka, the head of the Japanese service, and convince him that Britain can be good friends too.

Which leads us to Fleming's other major interest in the book: Japan itself. Fleming had briefly visited the country in 1959 on his Thrilling Cities tour, but returned for a longer stay in '62. That trip became the basis of You Only Live Twice with the other journalists he was traveling with inspiring characters in the novel. Tiger Saito became Tanaka while Richard Hughes was the inspiration for Australian spy Dikko Henderson. (Incidentally, Dikko has way more in common with Joe Don Baker's Jack Wade in the Pierce Brosnan Bond films than he does with Charles Gray's stuffy Henderson in the movie version of You Only Live Twice.)

Long sections of the novel are devoted to Bond's introduction and acclimation to Japanese culture. At first, he's judgmental and racist and I suspected he was just imitating Fleming's own feelings about the country. Bond and Fleming both seem curious about Japan without seriously considering the country on its own terms. That made me impatient with the book and for a while I felt the same way about it as I did about From Russia With Love, which seemed less interested in telling a spy story than in scratching other itches of Fleming's.

As the novel progresses though, it becomes clear that Fleming's doing more than just writing a travelogue. Bond becomes less and less snarky about Japanese life and by the end of the book he's completely relaxed and embracing it. He's self-confident and cheerful. M's scheme has worked, though the credit goes less to the mission itself and more to Japan.

Things take a dark turn though when Tanaka conditionally agrees to give Bond the information he wants. The condition is that Bond needs to do a personal favor for Tanaka and assassinate a wealthy European named Shatterhand who's causing problems for the Japanese government. Shatterhand has bought a castle in one of the southern islands and surrounded it with a garden of the most poisonous flora and venomous fauna imaginable. Visiting the garden has become a popular way to commit suicide, which is somehow so embarrassing to the Japanese government that they want Shatterhand murdered.

I never quite understood why Tanaka decided that assassination was the best solution to what seems more like a social problem than a criminal act. It's the weakest part of the book, but after that glitch things get back on track when Bond discovers that Shatterhand is actually Blofeld. However weak Tanaka's reasons are for wanting him killed, Bond's are completely understandable.

The final chapters of the book are strong for a couple of reasons. One is Bond's infiltration of the garden and castle. Both are horrifying places, made even more weird and terrible by Blofeld's striding around them in samurai armor, accompanied by his awful wife, Irma Bunt. As evocative as that is though, my favorite bits of the novel's end are Bond's time on a fishing island with Kissy Suzuki.

Bond goes to the island because it's close to Blofeld's and can be used as a base from which to strike, but once he gets there, his transformation is profound. Not his physical transformation, which reads as unconvincing as Sean Connery's looks in the movie version, but his spiritual transformation. Away from the cynical, irony-loving Tanaka and surrounded by people who just genuinely love their way of life, Bond finds peace. He never considers not killing Blofeld, but by the time he sets out to do it, the sense is that he's doing it out of duty. It's no longer about revenge for him. Those thoughts have vanished and as a reader I'm just hoping that he can survive and maybe get back to Kissy. She has a ridiculous name, but I like her more than any of Bond's romances since Domino. She's Bond's equal and brings out goodness in him.

I wish the book ended with Bond's going back to her and settling down on his own. I mean, without his having amnesia and Kissy's taking advantage of it to deceive him and keep him there. That's a crappy thing for her to do and it makes me like her less. Part of me appreciates the pulpiness of it and how it leads into a cliffhanger for the next book to resolve, but more than that I want a happy ending for Bond. Sadly for me, You Only Live Twice gives just a little taste of one before snatching it away.

Some final comments on things I've been tracking through this project. One is that Blofeld calls Bond a "blunt instrument" in the novel. I don't remember if that's the first time Fleming has used the term (M uses it in Die Another Day, which is where I first noticed it), but it's significant and it does more or less describe Bond's approach to assassination, even though he's pretty sneaky about getting into the castle.

Another thing I've been tracking is how Fleming reveals Bond's status as an orphan. You Only Live Twice is where that happens, in an obituary M writes for Bond when the agent is presumed dead. Bond's parents died in a climbing accident when he was 11 and he went to live with an aunt. That explains some of Fleming's other statements about Bond's teen years, which didn't seem to be particularly dark in From Russia With Love, though he did need a surrogate father in "Octopussy".

Finally, Fleming does something weird with Bond's obituary and turns Bond into a public figure. It's not just strange that M runs the obit in the newspaper with lots of details about Bond and his service to the government. He also mentions a series of popular novels that have been written by a friend of Bond. With his typical, self-deprecating humor, Fleming has M dismiss the books as exaggerated and not very good, but it's still an odd thing for Fleming to write himself into the series. It also means that everyone knows all about Bond and his adventures, however inaccurate the details. Fleming will deal with some of the consequences of that in The Man With the Golden Gun, which we'll talk about in a couple of weeks. It's interesting to me though that as the literary You Only Live Twice closes by thrusting Bond into the public eye, the movie version opens with an attempt to take him out of it again.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Office Acropolis



I'm building a fort out of books and DVDs.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Star Wars: The Questionnaire



The blog is going to be heavily Bond-focused this year leading up to SPECTRE, but there's no way I'm ignoring the other, even bigger year-end movie. I've got thoughts about a series of Star Wars posts, but while those are percolating how about we kick things off with another giant questionnaire? I did one of these a few years ago and also recently talked about many of my Star Wars feelings on Nerd Lunch, but there are some different questions in this one, so let's go again.

Thanks to Kelly Sedinger for finding this and posting his answers. Like Kelly, I find some of the questions inappropriate for various reasons. The ones that are inappropriate for practical reasons (the questionnaire was created before the announcement of Episode 7, which makes some questions moot), I'll figure out a way to answer anyway. The one that's just disgusting, I'm gonna skip.

1. Which film is your favorite of the Original Trilogy?

Star Wars. I know that Empire Strikes Back is the technically superior film, but it has two major problems. One is that Joss Whedon is right and it's not a complete movie. The other is that Vader being Luke's dad - while an okay idea in itself - is clearly pulled from someone's butt and not at all supported by anything in the first film. Star Wars, on the other hand, is a satisfying movie all on its own. It introduces and opens up a galaxy that absolutely I want to come back to and explore, but I want more because Star Wars fires my imagination; not because it promises to resolve plot points.

2. If you enjoy the prequels, which one is your favorite?

I do enjoy the prequels; at least parts of them. Their issues get bigger as the trilogy progresses, but I like more about Phantom Menace than I don't and it's my favorite of them. Qui-Gon, Darth Maul, the podracing scene, the final lightsaber duel, and John Williams' "Battle of the Fates" all make it worth watching.



3. How old were you when Episode 1 came out?

32

4. Which of the movies have you seen in the theater?

All of them.

5. Did you go to any of them on opening night?

All of the prequels. Maybe Return of the Jedi? Jedi would have been the first one where I was old enough to drive myself to the theater, but I don't have a specific memory of seeing it on opening night.

6. Who is your favorite character from the Original Trilogy?

Chewbacca. Sometimes I want it to be Han, but I don't especially like his character arc and Chewie is consistently awesome. I love the monster-with-a-big-heart archetype and Chewie is one of the best of those. I also love the dichotomy between his fearsome appearance and his inherent cowardice, and how his fierce loyalty to his friends always leads him to overcome the latter.

7. Who is your favorite character from the prequels, if you have one?

Qui-Gon. He's gone too soon, but that might be to his advantage. If Revenge of the Sith didn't exist, my favorite would be Padme, but the trilogy loses her by the end. Qui-Gon on the other hand impresses me and then gets out of the story. He pushes a lot of buttons in my psyche, starting with the conflict between his faithfulness to the Jedi way and his questioning of its leadership.

8. Have you read any of the books or comics?



Lots; especially early on. Publishers eventually got to a point where they were producing them faster than I could read them, so I gave up. But for quite a while I kept up and loved it.

9. Favorite book or series? Favorite SW author?

Very hard to choose, but I think I'm going to have to go with AC Crispin’s Han Solo Trilogy (The Paradise Snare, The Hutt Gambit, and Rebel Dawn). It not only fills in more details of Han’s early life (how he became an outlaw, how he met Chewie, etc.), but also includes as part of its backstory some of my nostalgic favorites: Brian Daley’s Han Solo Adventures (Han Solo at Stars’ End, Han Solo’s Revenge, and Han Solo and the Lost Legacy) and the weird, but entertaining Lando Calrissian Adventures by L Neil Smith.

So Crispin might be my favorite of the EU writers, but I have to acknowledge Timothy Zahn of course for writing the excellent Thrawn trilogy and single-handedly reviving everyone's interest in Star Wars.

10. Favorite comic?

As goofy as it was - and maybe because it was so goofy - Marvel's run. Especially the issues between Star Wars and Empire. I also have a lot of fondness for the newspaper strips written by Archie Goodwin. They covered that same time period between Star Wars and Empire, which is apparently my favorite.

11. Favorite character from the Expanded Universe (EU)?



I so want to say Jaxxon. Okay, I'm saying Jaxxon.

12. Favorite villain from the EU?

Mosep Binneed, Jabba's accountant, though at the time of his introduction he was introduced as Jabba himself. When Jabba first appeared in the Marvel series, he hadn't yet appeared on film and no one knew what he looked like, so Carmine Infantino made up his own version. Later on, that was retconned and Infantino's version became an entirely different character, but I actually prefer the slimmer, more active take on the character.

13. If you had your own ship from the Star Wars Universe (SWU), what would it be? It could be a mash-up/ugly.

A YT-1300 light freighter, naturally.

14. Would you rather be Sith or Jedi?

Jedi. They're not my favorite aspect of the Star Wars universe, but I do find their philosophy interesting. There's a lot of it I disagree with (and that's the direction I'm thinking about for a series of posts), but it's vastly better than Sith philosophy.

15. Would you rather be a Rebel or a member of the Imperial Navy? What would your role be?



Rebel. Preferably of the Han/Chewie/Lando variety: an independent agent working to further the cause rather than a cog in the military machine.

16. If you could be any species from the SWU which would you be?

Wookiee. Cool tree houses with technological perks. The Nautolans are cool too, though.

17. If you could date any species from the SWU which would you pick?

This is where the questions start getting weird and inappropriate for me. If I wasn't an old, married dude, I wouldn't have a problem with it, but I am old and married and I don't really think about fiction that way anymore. Younger, single me would have picked humans though.

18. If you could date/marry any character from the SWU who would you pick?

Same disclaimer, but Younger Single Me would have gone for Padme.

19. If you were going to bone just one Star Wars character and you never had to see them again, who would you pick?

There's no way for me to answer this question without feeling totally gross about myself, so on to the next one.

20. If you could BE one SW character, EU or not, who would you be?



As much as I love Han, I'm going with Lando on this one.

21. What would your SWU name be?

According to the Star Wars Name Generator, it's Smorphi Cheleb, a troublemaker from The Hypori Sector.

22. What color would your lightsaber be, what kind would it be (double-bladed, single blade), would you dual-wield, and what kind of grip would it have?

I'm a man of simple tastes. Gimme a blue lightsaber with the old-fashioned, Luke Skywalker grip.

23. Do you own SW merchandise?



24. How much, to date, do you think you’ve spent on SW merchandise?

No idea. Maybe a couple of hundred bucks?

25. What is your favorite SW possession?

The Millenium Falcon that fits the action figures and makes all the cool noises. That's probably half my lifetime Star Wars budget right there.

26. Do you have a favorite SW artist? If so, who?

Grant Gould.

27. Are there items you do not own but covet? What are they?

Not really. If I did, they'd be actual props from the movies and not replicas. Like Vader's helmet from Empire or the chess board from the Falcon.

28. Are there items that are not made but that you wish were made? What are they?

A working Millenium Falcon?

29. Did Han shoot first?



30. Did Boba Fett, in your opinion, ever leave the Sarlacc or did he die there?

He totally left.

31. Are there things about the movies you wish you could change? If so, name three.

The prequels are too easy targets for this question, so I'll stick to the original trilogy.

1) Boba Fett's death. I really don't mind that he died; it's how he died that's so underwhelming.

2) The Ewok battle. Again, I don't mind that they were able to defeat the Imperial forces, but a lot of the way they did it was ridiculous. Giant smashy logs are awesome, but slingshots with rocks are totally lame.

3) Luke and Leia as siblings. That should've been my first answer. Stupidest plot twist ever.

32. Which era would you want to live in?

The Rebellion. In many ways it's the toughest era, but it's also the most exciting to me. That could be nostalgia talking though.

33. What SW games have you played?



Not many video games except for some early Atari ones, but I ran a long campaign of the West End Games RPG. The players were all interested in playing bad guys and I fought against that for a while, but finally gave in. I let them go back in time and change the universe so that the Empire defeated the Rebellion, Luke Skywalker was killed, and Leia became Vader's apprentice. They really enjoyed it and it was an interesting way to play in that universe.

34. Do you play/own Star Wars Miniatures?

Nope.

35. Favorite SW costume for men?

Darth Vader.

36. Favorite SW costume for women?

Padme.

37. Have you ever dressed up as a SW character? Who/When/Why?



Halloween 1977.

38. Do you ever have SW sex fantasies? If so, have you ever acted them out?

Nope and nope.

39. Do you Ship any SW characters who aren’t together? Who/why?

I do, actually. Qui-Gon and Shmi.

40. Have you ever written SW fan fiction? Can we read it?

I have, actually. In 5th grade, we had to write a short story and I worked Threepio and Artoo into mine. I think I still have it somewhere, so maybe one day I'll transcribe it for the blog.

41. Have you been to a Celebration or plan on going to one?

Nah. I'm not hardcore enough anymore.

42. Have you ever been to Star Wars Weekends at Walt Disney World?



Nope. I love Disney World, but not when it's that crowded.

43. Do you wish they had Star Wars Weekends at Disneyland?

Sure. I've never been to Disneyland, but I'm sure there are many fans on that coast who would like that.

44. Best section you’ve experienced on Star Tours?

I've only ridden Star Tours a couple of times and don't remember much about the sections. What I do remember though is that the last time we went Diane was identified as the Rebel who kicked the whole chase into motion, which was pretty awesome.

45. What initially brought you to the SW fandom?

My dad. My brothers and I had a passing interest in Star Trek and Dad had heard that Star Wars was even better, so he took the whole family to see it. It was in the theaters for over a year and I lost track of how many times I went back after the thirty-somethingth re-watch.

46. Do you consider yourself a SW Fanboy or Fangirl?



I've never described myself as a fanboy or fangirl of anything.

47. Have you seen Fanboys? Favorite character and/or quote?

Haven't seen it.

48. Do you wish they would make 7, 8, and 9 or do you think they should be done with it?

I've always wanted it. Even when Lucas announced the prequels, I saw those as something we had to get through in order to have what I really wanted: the continuation of the story.

49. If they ever made 7, 8, and 9, do you think it should continue the Skywalker Legacy or use entirely new characters? Or something different?

Like Kelly said in his answers, it's not Star Wars without Skywalkers.

50. Do you watch The Clone Wars?

We just finished Season 2 as part of a re-watch of all the Star Wars movies and TV shows. The plan is to get through everything before Force Awakens. I wish the Jedi in it wouldn't conveniently forget to use their powers just to keep the plot moving, but it's mostly a great show so far. It helps a lot with Anakin's transition to the Dark Side and I'm curious to see if it'll actually make Revenge of the Sith more watchable. If nothing else though, The Clone Wars stands on its own as an excellent adventure series that understands what makes Star Wars great.



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Battle of Five Armies: Of Orcs and Epics [Guest Post]



By GW Thomas

As I sat watching the last of The Hobbit trilogy of films I realized something. We take so much for granted in the 21st Century. Imagine if I had a time machine and could go back to 1936. I'd step out (fighting the desire to find a newsstand and buy copies of Weird Tales in pristine condition) and meet some fan of Fantasy (after a very long search) and we'd talk. We could discuss Lord Dunsany, perhaps the recently deceased Robert E Howard, or ER Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros. Then I'd mention something about vast orc armies and I'd get a strange stare. Of course, Tolkien's The Hobbit hasn't been published yet. My mistake.

But it isn't the word "orc" that is the problem. It's the entire concept of vast, epic battles between men and orcs that is the stumbling block. The Battle of Five Armies is the first of these. My 1936 companion may be ready for the idea, but he hasn't got it yet. I jump back into my time machine, whispering one beautiful word in his ear, "Hobbit," and disappear. (Unfortunately the experience of seeing me disappear in my time machine drives him to read Amazing Stories or Astounding instead and we lose him from the Fantasy pool. What can you do?)

Eighteen years later my machine takes me to see Tolkien give us more with The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's vast ideas are starting to light new fires like Carroll Kendall's The Gammage Cup in 1959, with its army of mushroom warriors. I jump another ten years to see the campuses of America (along with an unauthorized paperback edition) drive Tolkien's popularity to the point where Led Zeppelin is singing of Gollum and Ringwraiths. We are approaching critical mass...

In 1972, Gary Gygax is about to sit down with a bunch of buddies and Dungeons & Dragons is on. Those stats-driven warriors need something to fight. Of course, it has to be a goblin. After Tolkien's estate and Gygax hash out the copyright of certain terms, the deal is done. Pairing this with the success in 1977 of the Tolkien clone, The Sword of Shannara, epic fantasy is now set to boil. The creation of Derivative Fantasy! Anybody can write of such creatures! The world of Fantasy now has its generic monster, the Orc. In any video game, any book, any RPG, the orc is the opponent in armor that warriors face everywhere.

But it wasn't always so. That is my point. The idea took a long time to get here. As scholars such as Michael Drout point out, it began in 1872 with a children's book by a Scottish minister. The book was The Princess and the Goblin by George Macdonald. Scholars and fans make a lot of noise about William Morris starting off the Modern Fantasy genre with his pseudo-Medieval novels like The Wood Beyond the World (1894), and he was vital in insuring that Fantasy would become a genre dominated by novels. But it is Macdonald that gave us the goblin foe; who gave Tolkien the leg up to write The Hobbit; who gave CS Lewis the inspiration to write of animal and monster armies in Narnia. Macdonald's tale of Curdie and the princess Irene seems quaint by today's epic, grand scale. A common boy and a restless princess discover a plot by the goblins to attack the castle, which eventually leads to an armed conflict. Despite the fight being appropriate for children, it did open the door to Fantasy tales in which humans are versed against an inhuman army. Eddison would use it to create two human armies in The Worm Ouroboros (calling them Demons and Witches), but it was Tolkien's The Hobbit that cemented the idea for all time.

And one hundred years later that, resulted in the genrification of the orc as common military assailant. World of Warcraft; Orcs Must Die!; the latest hack Tolkien-esque bestseller. It's everywhere and its not going away any time soon. For better or worse, Fantasy has an epic scale today. The quaint, personal-sized Fantasy tale, be it the glorious works of Thomas Burnett Swann or even the Howardian tale of the lone barbarian, is awash in a sea of orcs and battle. There's not much you can do...

For example, back around 1988, I met L Sprague de Camp at a convention in Calgary. I spoke with him about a project I had abandoned, that of converting his Novaria novels to an RPG setting. He thought I should keep at it, but I knew ultimately it wouldn't work. Why? No orcs. No elves. Novaria is a Fantasy world filled with humans. There are demons and magic, but all the armies are men. You can't fight the tide with your bare hands.

So there I sat this Christmas, watching what I felt was the best of the three Hobbit films, thinking: all Fantasy writers today have to make their peace with Tolkien and his orc armies. Either you accept them as part of what you are writing or you have to reject them and write something that is inherently anti-Tolkien. There is no middle ground any more. A book I read over the holiday made this even more evident to me. It was Conan the Invincible (1980) by Robert Jordan. In that rather pedestrian tale, Conan's enemy wizard has a race of scaly-skin henchmen called the S'Tarra. They are hidden in his castle fortress, breeding and preparing for the taking over of the world. Is it any surprise Jordan gave up writing Conans for pseudo-Tolkien in The Wheel of Time series?

Another author of note, one who shares Tolkien's double middle initials (Raymond Richard, not Ronald Reuel), is George RR Martin. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice shows a new ingenuity with this Tolkien dilemma. Martin has combined the two most commercially successful Science Fiction (Dune) and Fantasy (Lord of the Rings) franchises to create the Game of Thrones books. This sounds like I am disparaging him but this is far from the truth. I have the highest respect for GRRM. First off, for his amazing story writing before Game of Thrones with classics like "Way of Cross and Dragon" and "Sandkings," but secondly for his masterful control of character, which allows us to watch or read a story with dozens of distinct characters, each worthy of a tale of their own. So I glibly say "combined the political essence Dune and the fantastic world of LOTR," but go ahead; try it.

Really what George was doing was that thing we must all do as modern Fantasy writers. Dealing with Tolkien. I believe GRRM has chosen to accept Tolkien, and though we haven't seen much of it yet, "Winter is Coming." What does that mean? Orc (or White Walkers and Wildings) armies. Tolkien is coming and George has the cajones to make us wait through six fat books for it. Long live the orc! He's going to be with for some time yet.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Graveyard Rats: Kuttner Komiks [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

"The Graveyard Rats" (Weird Tales, March 1936) by Henry Kuttner was a spectacular debut for a writer of horror. Though in later years Kuttner seemed embarrassed by the tale, it remains one of the creepiest stories to come out of the pulps. (One blogster claims it has been reprinted thirty-five times. I don't doubt it.) The plot follows Masson, a corrupt undertaker, who wars with the rats in the graveyard where he robs the dead of their plunder. When a particularly rich corpse is taken, Masson follows the culprits into their twisting tunnels. The battle is on. Masson, using his revolver, fights off the cat-sized rodents. The only problem is the rats are not alone, but under the control of ghoulish inhabitants. Masson flees back to the coffin from which he entered, only to find he got lost in the dark, and has gone to a different coffin! The rats close in and finish him off. The ending, claustrophobic and unrelenting as the rest of the story, seems to be the part readers remember best. Joe R Lansdale called it "a classic little booger tale" and certainly it was the inspiration for Stephen King's "Graveyard Shift" (along with Bram Stoker and HG Wells).

Now you'd expect such a pulp classic to have been adapted many times in the horror comics and you'd not be disappointed. The comics have given us four variations on Kuttner, sadly none giving the author credit.

"Rats Have Sharp Teeth" in The Vault of Horror #14 (EC Comics, August-September 1950), featuring art by Graham Ingels, has a made a number of changes. Masson is now Abner Tucker, an historian turned gravekeeper. Instead of digging from above, Tucker takes over the mansion next to the cemetery and uses tunnels to dig from below. The ghoulish ratmaster has been dropped and the ending made less gruesome, with the rats chewing away support beams and burying Tucker alive. This lack of grue is surprising for a pre-Comics Code EC Comic.

Adventures in Terror #9 (Marvel, April 1952) saw Dick Ayers draw "Ghouls Rush In." Masson has become body snatcher John Magnus. He proceeds to follow the rats who are stealing a rich corpse, but gets captured by the evil rodents. Instead of eating him, they make him one of them, and a rat-like Magnus continues his profession of robbing graves as a monster. The writer has blended his rats and ghouls into one creature.

Horrific #10 (Comic Media, March 1954) featured "Beneath the Grave," drawn by Rudy Palais. This time Masson is named Lars Swenson (Scandinavian again!) and he follows the tunnels and finds a large underground chamber where the bloated, bipedal rats are performing an evil rite around the body of a recently deceased woman. The rats see Swenson and their leader tells them to capture him. (The rats talk in this version.) The rest is pretty much as Kuttner wrote it except the ending. As Swenson finds himself trapped in the grave, the rats do not eat him. He cries, "Satan has come to collect my soul!" The master rat answers: "No? Just who do you think I am, Lars Swenson?"

"Rats" in Death Rattle v1 #3 (Kitchen Sink, 1975) was adapted and drawn by Mike Roberts in black and white. Again no credit is given to Kuttner but the adaptation is very faithful. The only change is from Masson to Mason. Roberts tells the story in rigid squares that perfectly mimic the tight feel of Kuttner's story. It was great to see the undead ghoul for a change. Death Rattle was an underground comic and there is a little gratuitous nudity, but in other regards the story is restrained and subtle, rather than in-your-face brash as many alternative press comics are.

Henry Kuttner lived until 1958. That means he could have seen three of these four comic adaptations. Whether he saw them or not, we don't know. Kuttner himself had written Green Lantern comics between 1944-1946. Despite this he never showed much interest in the comics format. It would be fascinating to know what he thought of these strange variations of his work.

Two other adaptations that I should mention are the TV movie Trilogy of Terror II (1996) by William F Nolan and Dan Curtis that twists the tale into a saga of a ruthless gold-digger (the only female version of Masson); and a very faithful radio version from the 2012 Suspense revival for Siriius XM Radio. Both of these are embedded below.



Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Kill All Monsters... in COLOR!



I don't remember if I've mentioned it before, but the next Kill All Monsters story to see print will be in color! Bill Crabtree (The 6th Gun) is a perfect fit for Jason's lines, as you can see in this sample.

It's still a bit early to give all the details yet, but this will be a one-off story that's connected to the main, bigger story of the graphic novel while taking place at a different time. We've got a new publisher, so the shorter story is intended to introduce the world of KAM to a whole new audience before we continue what we started in Ruins of Paris.

Stay tuned for more info. I'm not sure exactly when the big announcement will be made, but by my math it shouldn't be much longer. 2015 promises to be a big year for KAM.

Friday, January 30, 2015

From Russia With Love (1963) | Music



In talking about the title sequence of Dr. No, I mistakenly said that Dr. No's title designer, Maurice Binder, also designed the titles in From Russia With Love. That was actually Robert Brownjohn though. Binder did most of the Bond films up to License to Kill, but he skipped two: From Russia With Love and Goldfinger.

In a 1983 interview with Starlog, Binder said that he didn't come back for Russia because he was "having a bit of a... ruckus at the time with the producers." But his assistant Trevor Bond came back and worked with Brownjohn, so there was some continuity. And Binder also said in the interview that he actually printed the titles, so he was involved, but the designs are all Brownjohn's.

According to Steven Jay Rubin's The James Bond Films, the inspiration for the title sequence came when Brownjohn's wife walked in front of a slideshow he was projecting. He decided to shoot the Russia titles on the body of a belly dancer and created film history. The rest of the Bond credits sequences, even the ones by Binder when he came back, owe everything to From Russia With Love. (Incidentally, Brownjohn and Trevor Bond were also both cinematographers and couldn't resist a jab at the guy who got that job for Russia. They project Ted Moore's credit directly onto the dancer's shimmying butt.)

As part of the movie, the Russia titles nicely support the setting of the film. Most of the story takes place in Turkey, so the belly dancer teases that, and the music works well too. I'm not greatly familiar with Turkish music and certainly don't have the vocabulary to talk about it, but the instrumental version of the theme song that plays over the opening credits has a flowing, string-led sound that feels vaguely Eastern.

Monty Norman was the composer for Dr. No, but Saltzman and Broccoli weren't thrilled with his work there and brought in John Barry to punch up the main theme on that movie. In Russia, Barry is back and in control of most of the score. The main theme though was written by Lionel Bart who was super popular at the time thanks to his hit musical Oliver!, which gave us perennial songs like "Food, Glorious Food" and "Consider Yourself." Barry punches this song way up too for the opening credits, leading into it with an exciting musical stinger, laying down some Alan Haven jazz organ over the theme itself, and finally segueing into his own "James Bond Theme" from Dr. No.

Bart's version of the song, sung by Matt Monro (who would go on to record another classic movie theme in 1966 for Born Free), plays over the end credits and on the radio when James Bond and Sylvia Trench are making out. I like it more than most Bond fans seem to, but it is very subdued and loungey. It's easy to see why Barry and the producers wanted a more thrilling version to start the film. And there's also the fact that Bart's lyrics had nothing to do with the movie, but were a standard love song that simply incorporated the film's title. It's probably telling that Goldfinger, where Barry had complete creative control of the soundtrack, features a song that's about the movie and also (I don't think coincidentally) gets sung over the opening credits.

The James Bond Theme itself is still used pretty liberally in From Russia With Love like it was in Dr. No. It plays at all sorts of mundane times: when Bond enters or leaves buildings, for instance. It's function isn't to spice up action scenes, it's to build excitement. It reminds viewers that the guy checking into the hotel isn't just some guy, but a thrilling, romantic figure. That'll change over the course of the series and the Bond Theme will be used more sparingly and mostly over action sequences, but in From Russia With Love Barry created a different piece of music for that.



The Russia soundtrack album calls it "007 Theme" and it was apparently inspired by Elmer Bernstein's theme to The Magnificent Seven. In Russia, it's introduced during the battle at the Romani camp and it gets used in most of the Connery movies whenever there are big, actiony set pieces. The James Bond Theme was for cool, smaller moments. The 007 Theme was for the big stuff.

And when it came time to score the mushy stuff, Barry was able to adapt Lionel Bart's romantic tune into a soft arrangement with strings. We'll see more of that kind of thing as we go through the series, too. I always enjoy hearing how the film composers use the theme songs in their scores.

In ranking the theme songs, I'm giving a slight edge to From Russia With Love over Dr. No. Nothing beats the prominence of the James Bond Theme in the Dr. No theme, but it's diluted and confused by weird transitions into two other tunes (the third of which even has a clunky, false start when it tries to come in too early and then cuts out for a few more seconds before trying again). From Russia With Love, especially Barry's instrumental version, is not only a whole piece of music, but also works in the Bond Theme smoothly and naturally. If we're also ranking the Matt Monro version (and why not?) I'll put it just slightly beneath Dr. No because while I do love to sing along to it, it really doesn't have anything to do with the movie and Dr. No's theme does.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. From Russia With Love (John Barry instrumental version)
2. Dr No
3. From Russia With Love (Matt Monro vocal version)
4. TBD
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

For the title sequences, I'm letting Dr. No keep the top spot. From Russia With Love's titles may be trend-setting for the series, but they're also uneven in how well they integrate the dancer with the words. Sometimes the words are cleverly projected onto parts of her body, but other times she's just waving her hands over them. Plus, I just love the flashing dots and dancing silhouettes in Dr. No.

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. Dr No
2. From Russia With Love
3. TBD
4. TBD
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

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