Thursday, February 24, 2011

Slam Evil!

I really didn’t want to start off my first post in about two weeks with sadness but the news of Dwayne McDuffie’s passing really has me down. I don’t want to pretend that I knew the man or that he was something special in my life. That would be a lie. But he did make some damn fine cartoons and was, by all accounts, a hell of a fine man to know. I’ve read several interviews with him and he impressed me as an intelligent, thoughtful and talented guy. I find myself wishing that I had had the opportunity to meet him and tell him how much I enjoyed his work. That reminds me an awful lot of the sentiments I heard after Mike died. It seems to me that the comics industry has been losing a lot of really talented, really nice folks the last few years and losing them young. Mr. McDuffie was only 49 years old. The unfairness of that is staggering. And it’s a loss the comics industry can ill afford. There are some really nice remembrances on Newsarama (Tom Breevort’s almost made me cry) and Peter David said some really nice things about him on his blog. I can imagine what his family is going through right now and my thoughts and good wishes go out to them.

We’ve moved into our new space at work. It’s...not horrible. I can’t lie and say I wouldn’t prefer my old spot with three walls and a window. But the current situation is workable. Though there’s zero privacy, folks are seeming to be respectful of each other’s space and that includes keeping their voices down. It’s like study-time at the library. Oh, well. As I’ve said, they can put me wherever they want, as long as the checks find me.

I’d tried to rush out a drawing before I moved out and, as a result, it came out pretty disappointing. It was a full-color marker drawing of my latest obsession, The Phantom. For someone with such a simple costume, it’s nearly impossible for me to get a feel for him. I was torn between trying for the classic Sy Barry look and going with something more...”me.” The result was about 40 sheets of balled up paper in the recycling bin. I finally finished the full-color drawing after stinking up the agency with marker fumes and shook my head. Then, once we moved, I stopped worrying about it and started drawing and you can see the result above. I kind of like it.

Recently, the 1996 Billy Zane film came out on Blu-ray and I snatched it up. Suzanne and I were probably the only two people who loved the movie when it was released. I was disappointed that the marketing department at Paramount at the time had pumped up the magenta in stills of the suit for some reason. That’s probably what kept people out of the seats. Because it’s a hell of a fun movie. It was written by the late Jeffery Boam, one of my favorite screenwriters and, though the film has it’s problems, it’s so much fun that I find myself smiling every time I watch it.

The reason for that is Billy Zane. I’m not sure why people have such a problem with the guy. He’s been good in everything I’ve seen him in and in this film especially. He famously pumped iron for a solid year to win the part without the help of a padded suit (Lookin’ at you Michael Keaton!) and completely inhabits the role. No brooding dark knights here. Zane’s Ghost Who Walks is a grinning, unselfconscious boy scout having the time of his life. His aw shucks attitude is completely without irony and he’s a joy to watch. The film has built a cult following over the years and I suspect in this case “cult” is code for “gay.” Because, I’m straight as an arrow but lets face it, Billy Zane makes the purple tights work. The costume designer did a great job translating the suit into the “real” world, really only sacrificing the blue-and-black striped trunks. Those trunks look great in the comics but I imagine they’re rather inexplicable if you think about them too hard. The result was still a little shocking but Zane really looks great in the suit and never once behaves as if he’s not doing a serious movie. In fact, everyone in the film seems to be taking the material seriously. Well, almost everyone. I don’t think Treat Williams got the memo. He camps it up like he’s in the ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW.

I remember at the time Suze and I had been picking up the cheap Phantom skull rings at the 7-Elevens (I think) and I was just skinny enough that they fit. Suze would wait until a quiet moment when I least expected it and then stick her fist inches from my face and exclaim, “SLAM EVIL!” It was a ridiculous tagline that appears nowhere in the film but she would crack me up every time she did it. We had so much fun with those rings. Ah, back when we were so easily amused.

Before the movie came out, my only exposure to The Phantom was Mike’s collection of Charlton PHANTOM comics when we were kids. They were drawn by Jim Aparo and, after that, the great Don Newton. (Newton’s painted covers were SPECTACULAR.) The character has such an appealing, iconic look that the more outlandish aspects of his costume are easily overlooked. And his story and concept are so...neat. I can’t believe there hasn’t been more done with him outside the comic strip. No offense to Moonstone, but The Ghost Who Walks is an A-list character that deserves much broader exposure.

Since re-watching the film on Blu-ray, David Newman’s beautiful, underrated original score has been on heavy rotation on my iTunes. Like I said, it’s my latest obsession. If you’ve never seen the film, give it a try. And, if you don’t like it, I fear we may be cross.


Christian D. Leaf said...

My old man and I went to see The Phantom in the theaters — on his request. He enjoyed the hell outta it. I remember thinking it much better than The Shadow. May have tomorrow it from you one of these days.

Next time I see you I'm busting out my Phantom ring, too. So when I'm throwing at the old hanging brain — slamming evil — you'll know why...

Christian D. Leaf said...

Oops. I forgot to add "punch" to that last sentence.

Josh said...

Even if Michael Keaton wasn't in peak physical condition, it wouldn't have mattered since he was wearing a rubber suit. Christian Bale has been really buff in the Nolan Batman films, but you don't see it through the armored suit. Anyway, I was another one of the people besides you two who liked The Phantom. I think my dad liked it two. Billy Zane's a good actor. I don't think he really needed to shave his head (just for the scenes where he's wearing The Phantom hood) because the hood was made of some thick material. It looked sort of like rubber or something like that. He was dedicated to that role though.

Warren said...

My and my kids (and wife) really liked the Phantom. It was action-packed and entertaining. You can't ask for more than that from a swash-buckling superhero movie. I'd love to see a double feature of the Phantom and the Rocketeer one Saturday afternoon.

Your Phantom drawing is really good. I had the Phantom costume for Captain Action when I was a kid and it's been one of my favorite costumes ever since, easily as iconic and perfectly designed as Batman's and Captain America's. A worthy subject for your talents! :)

Brian said...

I too had a Captain Action back in my much younger days and, after Captain America, my favorite costume for him was The Phantom.

Warren said...

I had Captain America too! And Superman! And Flash Gordon! And Aquaman! I never got Batman because that one stayed sold out due to the TV show with Adam West.

Did your Captain Actions' arms always break at the elbow joint like mine did?

Heywood Jablomie said...

Nice piece on the ole Phantom Matt.

I saw the movie when it first came out but sadly don't remember much. I remember saying it was better than the Shadow tho. Now you're making me wanna watch it again.

todd said...

i got sad all over again when you mentioned dwayne mcduffie. i didn't know him either--traded a couple emails once, years ago--but i loved what he did in comics and certainly his career in hollywood brought us some truly wonderful stuff!
but then i laughed at the image of squeeze holding you in petrified terror at the symbol of the phantom on her ring and shouting "SLAM EVIL!" at you! ha! that's fun! i need to do that!
we all do.

David H. said...

when this came out the whole "Slam Evil" ad campaign stopped me in my tracks on any possible road leading to a theater playing this movie.
Matt, there's a new ROM Spaceknight blog that may be of some interest to you. i'm gonna probably post some Nova related stuff pretty soon.