Thursday, April 04, 2013

Carmine Infantino Passes

Carmine Infantino died today at the age of 87.  He has been a part of my cultural life since I first became a comic book collector, and I rank him alongside Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Curt Swan, and Gil Kane as one of the five artists who hooked me on comics and demonstrated to me just how exciting and captivating the comics medium could be.

One of the first comics advertisements that motivated me to hunt down the comic book itself was a DC house ad for Mystery in Space #65. The alien assault vehicles, reminiscent of images I had seen of Martian war vehicles from War of the Worlds, was unforgettable; as soon as I saw this comic, I had to have it. That was the strength of Carmine Infantino's artwork; he created a world that, while distinctly comic-book in nature, was close enough to our own world that it seemed real enough to draw the reader in.

Shortly after that, his cover for Flash #123 made this a book I had to own. Of course, I already recognized Infantino's art from The Flash--it was one of my favorite comics because he conveyed the essence of speed in a way that no other artist did. But who was this second Flash? What about these two worlds? Infantino's image of understated heroism, complete with little touches like Jay Garrick's jauntily tilted helmet, transformed this story in an essential bit of comics reading.

And when Infantino's art showed up on the cover of Detective #327, offering a very different vision of my favorite hero, Batman--well, at that point, I was enthralled! Batman had never looked so real; as much as I loved the Jack Schiff era with its giant props and strange aliens, this was a Batman I could truly appreciate and admire.

I was sad when Infantino left his drawing board to take a position as editorial director at DC; while I'm sure he deserved the promotion, it seemed almost cruel to take their best artist out of service as an illustrator! Even worse, they brought in a wholly inappropriate art team to replace him on his signature series,  Flash. This meant that every issue reminded us of what a wondrous illustrator we once had on that series... and how we didn't fully appreciate him until he stepped away.

I've had several chances to speak with Carmine Infantino over the years. Some had warned me that he might seem brusque, but I never go that feeling; he was witty, personable, at times gregarious, and always generous with his time and his memories. He seemed to appreciate the fact that I had genuinely loved his art, and he was willing to humor me by talking about some of his memories of those years at DC.

So few of comics' greats are left now--and today, we lost one of the finest.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

She's a Rainbow

If you've been a Beatles fan long enough to remember the original Capitol Records US releases, then you recognize that familiar rainbow label. That was the Capitol label for the American releases of all the Beatles albums until Apple Records was formed; at that point, the familiar green apple label took its place on all new releases and, for a while, on original reissues as well (I have copies of the first several Beatles albums, from Meet the Beatles through Yesterday and Today, on Apple label records from the 1970s).

Recently, I ran across a very affordably priced set of the first few Beatles albums (Meet the Beatles through Sgt. Pepper's) in mono on the old rainbow Capitol label. I have a nostalgic affection for this label; this is what my original Beatles albums looked like in 1964. Furthermore, all of my early Beatles purchases were in mono. Mono albums cost $2.88 at Redford's in the West End Shopping Center; stereo albums cost $1 more. My budget was too heavily leveraged in comics and ice cream to waste that extra $1 (it was a waste because my record player in my room was a mono player, the old box-style record player with a tone arm whose weight was measured in pounds, not ounces), so I grew up hearing those American remasters in mono.

Once I got those albums in mono, though, a cursory glance online revealed that every Beatles album was available on the Capitol rainbow label. The company had briefly returned to that label in the 1980s, so Beatles reissues from that time period were offered with the retro swirl. Of course, that meant that I had to track down affordable copies of Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine, The Beatles (aka The White Album), Abbey Road, The Beatles Again (aka Hey Jude), and Let It Be on that familiar rainbow label to complete my set.

(By the way, a set of American Beatles albums contains more records than a set of UK Beatles albums--the configuration now used worldwide--because American albums tended to feature some songs from the UK albums, along with singles that were not on the UK albums. So that collection I picked up that started all of this included Meet the Beatles, The Beatles Second Album, Something New, The Early Beatles, Beatles 65, Beatles VI, Yesterday and Today, Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It also included a copy of the Vee Jay Records album Introducing the Beatles, which was reissued for a while in the 1960s with a very derivative rainbow label as well, just because they wanted to confuse young Beatles fans like me...)

So now I have a collection that not only sounds right to me,  but it looks right to me as well...

Monday, April 01, 2013

Who's Clara

"The Bells of St. John" kicked off the second half of the new Doctor Who season, and being a Matt Smith fan (he remains my favorite Doctor, although my good friend Charles is partial to David Tennant), I watched it first thing this morning.

There are things about it that I liked a good bit. For one thing, the moody Doctor of the first half of the season is gone; the manic, confident, impulsive Doctor is back, and I'm glad to see his return. Not only did the moody, brooding byronic hero of a Doctor seem out of character within the fictional world of the television series, but Matt Smith didn't do a particularly good job with that sort of characterization. There were times when he almost came off as unlikeable, which should never be the case.

The story, while filled with foreshadowing plot bits (and a clever callback to the Amy Pond run), was pretty much self-contained and upbeat, with the Doctor resolving the major problem in 45 minutes of air time. And the character of Clara Oswald was pleasantly adequate; that's the best I can say for her so far. While I agreed that it was time for Amy Pond's tenure as a companion to end, I also see that she has set a very high standard for future companions; they have to be both as independent and as personably engaging as Amy was. So far, Clara hasn't had a chance to shine in that regard; she's done a fine job of moving the plot forward, but I have yet to develop any attachment to the character. Hopefully that will change as things move forward.

(I also have to get past my instant reaction of thinking "cute Christina Ricci" every time she makes a screen appearance...)

Good enough for a second half start, though, and I was pleased to see that she didn't die in the end. That gimmick was getting old fast...