Friday, March 26, 2010

The White Mountains (Boy's Life, May 1981 - July 1982)

I never was a Boy Scout, and can count the number of times I went camping or fishing on one hand, but as a child, I still read Boy's Life magazine semi-regularly. After all, Boy's Life isn't just for scouts, but for all boys. So says the "O"!

Among the useful tidbits I gleaned from its pages were how to care for and repair audio cassettes (wouldn't want my collection of open-air recorded TV theme songs to get ruined through careless handling and storage, would I?) and how to build a hot-plate from two coffee cans, a rolled up piece of cardboard, and some melted candle wax (and yes, I actually built such a hot-plate, and fried a few burgers on it in the backyard, letting the grease drain right into the lawn. Good times.)

But my favorite part of Boy's Life was the comic book serial adaptation of John Christopher's Tripods trilogy, a series of science fiction books for children, consisting of The White Mountains (1967), The City of Gold and Lead (1968) and The Pool of Fire (1968) (a prequel, When the Tripods Came, was released in 1988).

The table of contents entry for the first installment of the Tripods adaptation. And a story by Robert Newton Peck in the same issue? Score!

Set in a ruined England, in which technology and culture has regressed to something resembling the 18th century after an invasion by aliens, piloting towering, three-legged crafts (not unlike those from H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds) has turned the people of earth into compliant serfs via brainwashing "caps" attached to the scalp, the Tripods trilogy follows the adventures of several boys who join a resistance group hidden in the Swiss Alps, to infiltrate and eventually repel the invaders.

The stories were adapted as a series of single page chapters (artist is Frank Bolle), appearing in Boy's Life from May 1981 to August 1986, but never made available or collected in any other format.

Here's the entire* first book, The White Mountains, originally appearing in issues May 1981 through July 1982 (*I'm missing the final chapter UPDATE: July '82 chapter added, thanks to reader Robbio!), where we're introduced to a trio of teenagers, John, Will, and "Beanpole", who must traverse the wilderness and the wreckage of the modern world in search of the legendary white mountains, all the while pursued by ominous tripods.

Click any page to embiggen, or browse complete issues at Google books, here.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

B-17 (Heavy Metal, 1981)

I was too young to be allowed to see Heavy Metal (produced by Ivan Reitman) in theaters when it first opened in 1981, but I remember being intrigued by the trailer and one-sheet art.... an R-rated animated fantasy anthology, that combined elements of the future (spaceships, robots) and past (swords, castles, dinosaur-like monsters). And I wondered what the (then) contemporary rock music of Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult and Journey, etc., had to do with any of it.

My favorite episode of the film (having finally seen it years later as a teenager, once it hit the midnight movie circuit) is B-17, a chilling segment based on an original story by sci-fi screenwriter Dan O'Bannon (Dark Star, Alien, etc.) that could have come right out of an E.C. comic.

B-17 opens with several of the WWII-era bombers receiving and returning fire from an unseen enemy in a starry night sky. The animation of the planes (which appears rotoscoped) is striking and surreal.

Only one plane, the Pacific Pearl, survives the attack, and co-pilot Holden leaves the cockpit to check the damage.

All is quiet except for an eerie, howling wind. The entire crew has been killed, and the audience is not spared the gruesome horrors of war.

But an alien force that has stowed away on the craft transforms their corpses into lumbering zombies. They kill Holden, then force their way into the cockpit to take out the pilot, Skip.

Skip is able to eject, and parachutes safely to the jungle below.

But he appears to have set down in an airplane graveyard, littered with the wreckage of planes from various eras.

Skip soon finds himself surrounded by the ravenous pilots of the various ruined aircraft, who close in for the kill.

Apparently an earlier concept for B-17 had the plane being terrorized by monstrous versions of the legendary plane-sabotaging gremlins instead of undead zombies.

Disney had previously planned to do a cartoon on these same mythic creatures, using a story by Roald Dahl (of course, their version of the gremlins leaned toward the cute side).

When I said that B-17 was my favorite segment of the film, I should have qualified that by confiding that Heavy Metal, overall, really isn't my thing. While I thought the animation style was unique and sometimes quite beautiful, I found its shallow attempts at being "adult" (gratuitous nudity, sophomoric sex jokes, fetishistic costumes and violence) to be about as edgy as a pair of stripper-silhouetted mudflaps, and I just never went in for the whole macho strand of pulp fantasy that the bulk of the stories wallow in.

Stephen King, once commenting on low-brow sword and sorcery fiction, put it perfectly:
Mediocre fantasy fiction generally appeals to people who feel a decided shortage of power in their own lives and obtain a vicarious shot of it by reading stories of strong-thewed barbarians whose extraordinary prowess at fighting is only excelled by their extraordinary prowess at f---ing; in these stories we are apt to encounter a seven-foot-tall hero fighting his way up the alabaster stairs of some ruined temple, a flashing sword in one hand and a scantily clad beauty lolling over his free arm.

-Danse Macabre, pg.345

Still, B-17 got to me, and I'd recommend checking the film out for that segment alone.