Thursday, 29 May 2014

Great Comic Book Movies That Weren't Based On Comics: The Warriors

I f***in' love The Warriors, and have seen it more times than...well, let's put it this way. In the time it took you to read this, I just watched it again.
I can't believe anyone who reads this site and puts up with my drivel hasn't seen this flick at least a couple of times ( except maybe my old pal David Holman, so here you go, Dave, specially for you! )

The Warriors was directed by Walter Hill, king of the tough guy movie makers, and concerns a meeting of all the street gangs in New York, set up by Cyrus, the leader of top gang The Gramercy Riffs. Cyrus is a would be messiah who has a dream to unite them all together and take over the city.

Unfortunately, calling a bunch of psychotic juvenile delinquents together is never a good idea, and Cyrus is shot by Luther, unhinged weasel faced leader of The Rogues. Luther pins the murder on our heroes, Coney Island gang The Warriors, and from that moment on, they have to run and fight their way the length of New York, with every cop and every other gang in the city out to get them. As simple and elegant as that.

From the first frame, it's obvious we're not in anything approaching the real world. Hill's plan at the time was to film the movie as a literal comic book, with freeze frames and panel borders, but couldn't fund it completely. But anyone with eyes to see will recognize a comic book when they're looking at this movie.

 As The Warriors race through the neon lit night, they're also playing a weird version of baseball, with each subway station being a 'safe zone ' until they eventually reach Coney, and win the game by staying alive.
An analogy pointed out even more by Lynn Thigpen as the mysterious radio announcer who regularly updates the other gangs as to how The Warriors are doing and where they are.
Along the way they encounter, and battle, a myriad of comic book street gangs, like:
Roller-skating dungaree wearers The Punks:

Lizzies The Lizzies:

And the most comic ( and KISS ) inspired gang The Baseball Furies:

To make it even clearer that we're in fantasy land, The Warriors only ever encounter cops and gangs on their night flight. Real people are rarely glimpsed, and are only ever bystanders in the action.
The only exception is this scene, where the gang's tight lipped leader Swan, and his new love ( picked up along the way ) Mercy, sit exhausted on the subway. I won't spoil it if you've somehow yet to see the movie, but it's a tiny, beautiful moment that defines both characters absolutely.

Years later, Hill did get a chance to rejig the movie and do it with all the panel borders and stylistic comic book flourishes he wanted, in The Warriors: The Ultimate Directors Cut:

And it's bloody awful. Like putting cream on top of a cream cake, it's a pointless exercise. The only reason to get it is the documentary that comes with it, which includes a really sweet interview with Deborah Van Valkenburgh who played Mercy, perennial movie bad guy James Remar recounting how he got the part of Ajax, the gang's loose cannon, and marveling that he's still talking about it all these years later, and David Patrick Kelly ( Luther ) talking about how his Mum saw the film, and commented: ' You were very good, David, you ALMOST looked tough... ' 
Far better to watch the original, which is on youtube at the moment, so go do it already. Can you dig it?

Monday, 26 May 2014

El Cid

Warren magazines only ever came to our local newsagents' by an arcane distribution system that never made any kind of sense but basically went: The month you've spent all your cash on Marvel or DC, then a ton of Warren would appear.
Like Eerie #66, which everybody bought at least two copies of. It's a collection of strips about Spain's legendary hero El Cid, with art by Gonzalo Mayo and scripts from Jim Warren's protege Bill Dubay.

Mayo's artwork is genuinely incredible in this book; Hyper detailed and ornate to the point where you can spend up to 15 minutes looking at a panel, trying to figure out just what the hell it is you're looking at.
When people these days moan about how great Warren was in the beginning, and how the Spanish artists ruined the books, Gonzalo Mayo is exactly the kind of thing they're talking about.

But what those people forget is that, as wonderful as those early EC-like Archie Goodwin issues are ( and they are ), we were too late for that. That wasn't OUR Warren. Our Warren was Alex Nino and Jose Ortiz and Esteban Maroto and Jose Bea and Leo Duranona. And Gonzalo Mayo.
I'll be the first to admit that Mayo's anatomy and human expression is a bit off at this point in his career. I don't really care though, I'm getting something better. In a similar but completely stylistically different way to Druillet or Nino, I'm entering a whole other universe. I'm in Mayo's mind.

And something else: El Cid genuinely makes me feel slightly queasy whenever I look at it. Artwork that elicits a physical reaction in the reader? Hell yeah. Here's a selection from the book.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Phantom

The Phantom was always on the periphery of my consciousness in the Bronze Age. I was aware of him, sure, and knew that he lived in the jungle, and was one the first ever superhero's ( if not THE first ), but there was no real opportunity to read any of his adventures. 
Charlton came into our town once in a blue moon, and although I did once get a paperback collection of Phantom creator Lee Falk's other hero Mandrake The Magician from Cambridge's legendary remaindered bookshop, they never stocked any Phantom books.

My first actual exposure to The Ghost Who Walks was the 1996 Billy Zane movie ( which I heartily recommend by the way, it's great fun )

So it's only as an alleged grown-up that I've actually read any Phantom, mainly the Charlton run, and mainly because Jim Aparo drew it. And I'd read the Conservative party manifesto if Jim Aparo drew it.
Luckily, of course, The Phantom is a great character even without Aparo, basically everyone's best superpowered pal, just as a hero of his vintage should be. Zane at the time called him 'Super humane, not super human' which is a pretty good description.
Y'know, he lives in a Skull Cave, owns a wolf called Devil, pretends to be a 400 year old ghost, and when he punches out bad guys they're left with an imprint of his Phantom ring on their faces. What's not to love?
Here, for those who came in late, is The Ghost Who Walks' origin:

And here's Jim slamming some evil himself.

So here's one of my favourite 'new' Phantom stories, where he visits Shangri-La to help out a buddy, and comes across just about the most unfeasible and least cost effective scheme any gang of crooks ever put together.