Thursday, March 21, 2019

Batman Returns to Television

Holy show-ups! Batman is making a return to prime time television!

The villainous Bane complete with costume.
In 2013, producer Bruno Heller, along with Danny Cannon, created a weekly detective series based on the DC Comics run of Batman. The premise, summed up briefly, is a weekly prime-time soap opera (with each episode picking up where the last left off) populated by a cast of characters who, each with various reasons, slowly progress into the villains that are common stance of Batman comics. Here, Bruce Wayne is a young man and many years away from the crime-fighting exploits that we would come to know. Therefore, the events that unfold happen years before Bruce Wayne decides to become Batman. Hence why the program is titled Gotham. It is gritty, violent and loaded with enough mystery for Detective Gordon to investigate the weird motives that he eventually writes off numerous times as "That doesn't surprise me. This is Gotham."

On the program we watch as Oswald Cobblepot develops political ambitions, Edward Nygma losing his job as a forensics scientist at the Gotham City Police Department and becoming a wanted criminal, and Selena Kyle applying cat burglar skills as she slowly develops feelings for young Bruce. Along the way there is a triangle love with Detective Gordon, who eventually gets promoted to Commissioner Gordon, and who happens to be the investigative lead on the program.

Jeremiah Valeska, a.k.a. The Joker 

Gotham premiered in September of 2014 with a few legal stipulations: the words "Batman," "The Joker" and "Harley Quinn" could not be used on the program, along with The Joker's trademarked green hair. Fox Entertainment President David Madden said that the show's production team "have masterfully honored the mythology of Gotham and brought it to life with depth, emotion and memorable high drama."

The Mad Hatter and his close associates. 
To be honest, I was not impressed with the first season, but I understood the concept and what the producers were shooting for. With each passing season, as the characters became more villainous, the program in my opinion got better and better... proving that in the Batman universe, it is the villains that we cheer on -- not the Caped Crusader. There was a smile on my face when Mad Hatter hypnotized an innocent couple and then smashed them flat with a wrecking ball. Crystal Reed was eye candy as Sofia Falcone. The actor playing Zsasz hits the mark without having to take off his jacket to reveal the scars we know all too well. It is rare that a television program gets better with each season and Gotham succeeded. But after four years it seems the ratings are less than half of what they were when the program premiered and Fox would not renew for a fifth season.

Producer Heller quickly begged the network for one final season. Everything leading to Bruce Wayne's decision to dress in cape and cowl was leading to the fifth and final season. Executives at Fox eventually relented and a partial half-season was commissioned. Twelve episodes instead of the usual 22. And this season we have seen the birth of Bane, Arthur Penn (a.k.a. The Ventriloquist), Ivy Pepper's acceptance of the power to control plants as Poison Ivy, and the origin of Magpie, Jane Doe and other lesser-known Batman villains. But here lies the big surprise that leaked a few weeks ago: the five-year on-going story arc will finish with episode 11, to be televised April 18. The final episode of the program, on the evening of April 25, will be a one-episode stand-alone adventure that takes place ten years later. Complete with cape and cowl, we will see the first live-action Batman on prime-time television since Adam West in 1966. Yep, The Joker, The Riddler, Scarecrow, Cat Woman, The Penguin and the entire gang will be facing off against the Caped Crusader.

So even if you have not watched Gotham over the past five years, set your DVRs to record Gotham on the evening of April 25 on Fox. To quote Harley Quinn, "This is gonna be fun, Puddin'..."

Thursday, March 14, 2019

RENO RIDES THE RANGE (1949)

Reno Rides the Range was a short-lived radio western during the summer of 1949, starring Reno Browne, an equestrian who also had a brief career in Hollywood alongside Whip Wilson and Johnny Mack Brown. One of only two cowgirls to have her own comic book series (the other was Dale Evans), Browne produced this short-lived radio program with her own money in an attempt to replicate the success of such screen cowboys as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.

The program lasted 13 half-hour episodes and was syndicated across the country starting in 1949, shortly before the premiere of Haunted Trails, starring Whip Wilson and Reno Browne. One transcription disc was recently found and collector Randy Riddle transferred the recordings (the second half of episodes three and four). They may not be complete episodes but something is better than nothing. This also offers us a tease of what we now know exists.

It seems every year a vintage children's western radio program momentarily receives a spotlight... not for being found, but because it was relatively unknown with very little documentation in reference books. Reno Rides the Range is not listed in any of the books in my vast reference library. So you can understand my personal fascination with this one.  

You can click to listen to the recordings here:



Friday, March 8, 2019

The Great 78 Project

For those who enjoy those vintage performances of Bing Crosby, Paul Whiteman, Lena Horne, Roy Rogers, Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra and Rudy Vallee, among others, The Great 78 Project is one of the small handful of resources available on the Internet to provide those audio recordings to the masses. Those old 78 rpm record labels that you come across at flea markets and eBay auctions are being transferred to digital for your enjoyment. The goal of the initiative is not to remaster or enhance the original recordings, but to present them as "historical artifacts." The majority of the 78 rpm records being digitized have never existed in any other form except for their one-time original 78 releases.

The digitization of the archive is being done by audio engineer George Blood and his team, at a rate of 5,000 to 6,000 sides per month, or 100 sides (50 singles) per engineer per day. If you subscribe to their Twitter feed, you will receive a notification of which recordings were transferred and uploaded to the site every ten minutes. Blood was responsible for the digitization of 10,000 singles for the National Jukebox, a similar project organized by the Library of Congress. For The Great 78 Project, every song is recorded in 16 different versions (using four different styluses, recording both sides of the groove wall, and with/out equalization.) Why? Because so many collectors debate exactly how 78 rpm records are to be played to get the best sound and technical aside, the appeal to the human ear is subjective. This method allows the best of all worlds.

This enormous effort requires the skillset and technical expertise of about 18 people, not counting the donors and partners of the project. At the ARSC Conference in San Antonio, Texas, in 2017, a slide show presentation detailed the efforts and multiple renditions of audio transfer with custom-made turntables. At the conference, it was noted that, regardless of the chore there is joy from discovering the titles that would have been dismissed by today’s collectors for either monetary or musical preferences. Besides music, 78 rpm records were sold in the stores as comedy records, poetry readings, political speeches, holiday music for all religions, and even sound effects discs. There are discs containing politically incorrect material and those are included among the offerings for historical purposes, revealing the progress we reached since then.

A scan of the disc labels are also included for historical
purposes and cataloging.

The bulk of the project's singles are sourced from private collections, some which had previously been donated to libraries or even abandoned. These include: The Joe Terino Collection, a collection of 70,000 78 rpm singles stored in a warehouse for 40 years. The Barrie H. Thorpe Collection, which had been deposited at the Batavia Public Library in Batavia, Illinois, in 2007 by Barrie H. Thorpe (1925–2012). It contains 48,000 singles. The Daniel McNeil Collection, with 22,359 singles. The Charles Stratton Collection, containing over 8,000 singles, previously donated to Kansas State University by Charles William Stratton's (1906-1966) estate in 1968. The David Chomowicz and Esther Ready Collection, with 4,000 LPs and singles, focused on Latin American and Caribbean music. Among the more intriguing (for me, anyway) are the recordings from the Richard Thayer Skidmore Collection, which includes 1,400 78s and over a hundred LPs of jazz music (Yeah, I have a fondness for jazz) and the KUSF Collection, donated by the University of San Francisco’s online radio station, including all of its 78 rpm singles.

Fully funded to digitize 250,000 78 rpm singles (totaling 500,000 songs), from the period between 1880 and 1960, fans of Rudy Vallee for example can use the search engine to find his commercial releases and download them to their computer for later playback. Whether you love Swing Big Band music, long-forgotten vaudeville, ragtime or other retro classics, you will find them on this website. All you have to do is click a button and listen. (Sadly, there is no playlist that I could find but you have the option to download the songs you want to hear to create a playlist on your computer, iPad or iPhone device.)

You can visit the website at  https://great78.archive.org
From the home page of that website you can also find an easy link to the National Jukebox I mentioned above. 


Friday, March 1, 2019

Check Out Retro Fan Magazine

In an era where digital newsletters and Internet websites have dominated the newsfeeds, there is cause to cheer with the report of a new print magazine available for fans of vintage pop culture. In June of 2018, TwoMorrows Publishing released the first issue of a new quarterly magazine titled Retro Fan. Its tagline — “The Crazy, Cool Stuff We Grew Up With” — defines its subject matter, but to fine-tune that into a more specific demographic, with primary focus to pop culture of the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties.

“I am also the editor-in-chief of TwoMorrows' long-running, award-nominated Back Issue magazine,” editor Michael Eury informed me, “which examines Bronze Age (1970s-1990s) comic-book history, and have written numerous books on comics and pop-culture history, the most recent being Hero-A-Go-Go: Campy Comic Books, Crimefighters, and Culture of the Swinging Sixties. Previously, I’ve been an editor at DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and the long-defunct Comico the Comic Company, and have written for a variety of publishers and clients including Marvel Comics, Nike, and Toys R Us.”

Retro Fan almost started back in 2012. Publisher John Morrow of TwoMorrows and Michael Eury were weighing options for a new project for in addition to Back Issue. “With Back IssueI was so enjoying exploring the behind-the-scenes aspects of the comic books from my youth that I realized another magazine that did the same type of thing for the other stuff I grew up with -- the cartoons, sitcoms, toys, fads, fashions, bubble gum pop music, monsters, trading cards, etc. -- would be a fun read that’s also historically significant.”

For the next few years, the "Retro Magazine" gnawed at the back of Eury’s head, especially when he was working on his Hero-A-Go-Go book and revisiting the camp craze of the Sixties (his elementary school years): Batmania, Bond, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.Captain Niceand Mr. Terrific, Metamorpho the Element Man, the Cowsills, The Monkees, Dell Comics' superhero Frankensteinand Dracula, and so on. The book designer, Scott Saavedra, who also grew up with the same and Eury developed a working relationship.

Soon after Hero-A-Go-Gowas published in 2017, Michael Eury proposed to John Morrow that they dust off the "Retro Magazine" concept and he agreed.

One of the toughest challenges we had was settling on a title. “Retro” websites, conventions, T-shirt companies, video game magazines, you name it, had locked in “Retro Magazine” and other similar names. “Then one day John suggested to me, with a ‘You’re not going to like this’ disclaimer, the name Retro Fan. I loved it! And it nailed the tone of the magazine.”

Having read the first three issues of Retro Fan magazine I have to say the contents contain well-researched, professionally written and smartly designed articles. But at its heart is fandom — a passion for a TV show, action figure, junk food, or singing group that made our childhoods special.

Much of the content is provided by regular columnists who have a reader following and keen knowledge about their subjects, starting with Martin Pasko, no stranger to DC Comics fans and genre-TV viewers. “Marty was actually part of this magazine before it was even officially launched,” Eury explained to me. “A few years back at a comic-con he mentioned to John Morrow his interest in writing about superhero cinema and related pop culture. John never forgot and I invited Marty to the mag. John and I talked about a number of other possibilities for columnists, and cartoonist/comics historian Scott Shaw and Hollywood-hero expert Andy Mangels were both on our lists. John was interested in Pete Von Sholly as a monster-column contributor. When I reached out to Pete, he was unavailable… but recommended Ernest Farino. And I’m glad he did. Ernie has an impressive background Hollywood visual effects—and like the other columnists started as a fan, most notably of monster and sci-fi cinema. We brought in Hero-A-Go-Go’s Scott Saavedra as designer, and off we went. Soon I brought in our designer Saavedra, a really funny writer, as a columnist, as well as pulp master Will Murray as a columnist.”

Retro Fan magazine is being distributed to comic shops and sold through the company website (either www.twomorrows.com or www.retrofan.org) as you’d expect of a TwoMorrows publication, but it is also available at Barnes & Noble. This is a risky venture, but a valuable one in an effort to attract a broader commercial audience than currently exists within TwoMorrows’ World. Articles include the 1960s TV series The Green Hornet, interviews with Lou Ferrigno and Mark Hamill, and much more.

For those who insist on digital PDF issues, you can buy back issues for a discount price in digital format through the TwoMorrows website, so the print magazine has evolved into both markets – including one saturated by instant demand as a result of Kindle and other eBook readers.