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Bronx Opera returns with HANSEL & GRETEL
Written by Scott Katz   
Wednesday, 16 May 2012 12:44

The Bronx Opera returns for its Spring performances with something of a departure from its norm.  To be sure, it adheres to its customary template of presenting a well-known opera in the Spring, yet by choosing Hansel and Gretel as its focus, the Bronx Opera makes an inspired decision to perform a piece that could serve to introduce the world of opera to the younger generation.

One of the best known and most beloved fairy tales, Hansel and Gretel was published by the Grimm Brothers in 1812 in a volume containing scores of other legendary short stories such as Snow White and Cinderella.  By 1893, Engelbert Humperdinck – no, not the Las Vegas schmaltz-meister, the original German composer – turned the beloved story into a full-blown three-act opera to largely rave reviews.  It is this version that the Bronx Opera adapts for its May session.

The Bronx Opera's rendition of Humperdink's Hansel and Gretel is brilliantly brought to life by the Bronx Opera's founder, Michael Spierman who draws lush, room-filling sound from his full orchestra of almost three dozen extremely talented musicians.  Spierman's son Benjamin serves as Stage Director and translated the opera so that it could be fully performed in English while maintaining the integrity and wit of the original.

As is usual for a Bronx Opera production, there are standout and noteworthy performances aplenty.  In the cast we saw, Allison Pohl was charming and charismatic as Gretel and Bronx Opera vet Hannah Rosenbaum makes a memorable impression in a brief but pivotal role as the Sandman.  It should be noted that this rendition of the opera continues the tradition of the original in that the role of Hansel is performed by a female – a so-called "pants" role – and Jennifer Caruana does a fine job as the mischievous Hansel.  On the technical side, the many projections used to suggest the forest, the witches flying across the sky, and the gingerbread house are clever, colorful, and inventive and were quite effective tools in the school of doing more with less.


IMG_0129-resize HG-sand-resize
Image credit: The Bronx Opera Company


If we have one critique of Hansel and Gretel, it is with the third act, which follows the intermission.  At this point, the children are awakened by the Dew Fairy and soon find themselves at the mercy of the evil Gingerbread Witch.  This is where the story should kick into high gear and the action should rise toward a satisfying climax, but in spite of the fact that the children are captured and Hansel is being fattened in preparation for his eventual fate as a tasty morsel, no sense of underlying tension is ever achieved.  Therefore, when the children find the courage and resourcefulness to outsmart the witch and push her into her own oven, the thrill of giddy catharsis that shoud be felt by the audience is somewhat diminished.

Much of the problem is with the underlying source material.  Humperdinck, in trying to lift Hansel and Gretel from its childhood folk tale origins to an opera worthy of serious consideration by adults may have succeeded all too well.  The composer's Wagnerian influences are apparent, but are structurally too rigid, serving to deflate much of the playfulness and imaginative spark inherent in the concept.  In the past, we've seen fantastic results where the Bronx Opera stayed extremely close to the source material they adapted and did not take too many liberties, but in this case with such kid-friendly material, why not?

The staging of this production was perhaps too well-mannered where a little cutting loose would have worked wonders.  The production design was fun and colorful, and we would have liked to have seen things taken even further.  Having the witch's entrance moved off-stage and directly into the audience where she could pop up unexpectedly, for example, might have provoked shrieks of laughter from the many children that were in attendance.  Or use the many video screens adorning the stage to have the witch's ugly mug projected in large size on four screens simultaneously as she sings her entrance number.  On a similar note, the witch's performance could have been made more broadly campy as her presence comprises the money shots of this oft-told tale and therefore needed to make much more of an impact than they do here.  Everything about the witch, from the costume to the entrance to the performance should have been bigger, grander, and just plain more fun. 


HG-Ginger-resize HG-witch-resize
Image credit: The Bronx Opera Company


While remaining faithful to the original, it might have been a canny idea for Spierman to have another story in the back of his mind that uses much the same template: lost child trying to get back home, but running afoul of an evil witch and singing songs along the way – The Wizard of Oz – to try to attain the same larger-than-life tone particularly in the witch's performance.

Humperdinck's opera ends up being a creation that is neither fish nor fowl – not weighty enough to engage a fully adult audience, yet not cartoonishly preposterous enough to have the kids leaping out of their seats in excitement.  Still, the Bronx Opera does a commendable job in bringing this flawed gem to the stage and it is a largely effective gateway to the world of opera for the little ones – a nice night out for the entire family.

There are still two more performances left to the Bronx Opera's Hansel and Gretel, and tickets should still be available for their Long Island shows at Hofstra University.  Please visit the Bronx Opera's website for more information and to keep up with future projects and their ongoing mission to make classical opera affordable and accessible to everyone.

To listen to our previous interviews with the Bronx Opera Company's Ben Spierman, click here.


2011-2012 TV Season Cancellations
Written by USTownhall staff   
Saturday, 12 May 2012 14:07

Now that the 2011-2012 television season will be coming to an end in a couple of weeks, we thought it would be a good time to summarize the announcements that the five broadcast networks have made regarding the fates of their television schedules.  Some shows are still undecided, but the fates of most of their lineups are now known:




• Charlie's Angels

• Cougar Town (but new episodes will air on TBS)  

• Desperate Housewives

• Extreme Makeover: Home Edition


• Man Up!

• Missing

• Pan Am

• The River

• Work It

• CSI: Miami

• A Gifted Man

• How to Be a Gentleman

• NYC 22

• Rob

• Unforgettable

• Alcatraz

• Allen Gregory

• Breaking In

• The Finder

• House

• I Hate My Teenage Daughter

• Napoleon Dynamite

• Terra Nova

• Are You There, Chelsea?

• Awake

• Bent

• Best Friends Forever

• Chuck

• The Firm

• Free Agents

• Harry's Law

• The Playboy Club

• Prime Suspect

• H8R

• One Tree Hill

• Remodled

• Ringer

• The Secret Circle


• The Bachelor

• The Bachelorette

• Body of Proof

• Castle

• Dancing with the Stars

• Don't Trust the B- in Apt. 23

• Grey's Anatomy

• Happy Endings

• Last Man Standing

• The Middle

• Modern Family

• Once Upon a Time

• Private Practice

• Revenge

• Scandal

• Shark Tank

• Suburgatory

• 2 Broke Girls

• The Amazing Race

• The Big Bang Theory

• Blue Bloods

• Criminal Minds



• The Good Wife

• Hawaii Five-O

• How I Met Your Mother

• The Mentalist

• Mike & Molly


• NCIS: Los Angeles

• Person of Interest

• Rules of Engagement

• Survivor

• Two and a Half Men

• Undercover Boss

• American Dad

• American Idol

• Bob's Burgers

• Bones

• The Cleveland Show

• The Family Guy

• Fringe

• Glee

• Kitchen Nightmares

• New Girl

• Raising Hope

• The Simpsons

• Touch

• The X Factor

• 30 Rock

• Betty White's Off Their Rockers (midseason)

• The Biggest Loser (midseason)

• Celebrity Apprentice (midseason)

• Community

• Fashion Star

• Grimm

• Law & Order: SVU

• The Office

• Parenthood

• Parks & Recreation

• Smash

• Up All Night

• The Voice

• Whitney

• 90210

• America's Next Top Model

• Gossip Girl

• Hart of Dixie

• Nikita

• Supernatural

• The Vampire Diaries



Written by Scott Katz   
Monday, 26 December 2011 00:00
ChuckJones-DreamNeverWas-resizeThroughout his life, Chuck Jones was a dreamer.  He was always able to tap into the child within himself as part of his creative process, and children and dreams are both ever-present themes and inspirations to Jones during his long career.  That much is evident to anyone who had ever met the man or even those of us who were only fortunate enough to be entertained by his deep catalog of animated cartoon classics.  In addition to creating the Roadrunner and Pepe Le Pew series, Jones is responsible for some of the most famous Warner Bros. cartoons in their canon: "What's Opera, Doc?," "One Froggy Evening," the Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck/Elmer Fudd Hunting Trilogy, and literally scores more.  Of course, children and dreams are perfectly encapsulated in Jones' two Ralph Phillips cartoons.  But from a mind as active and creative as Jones' was, not all dreams could be realized.  In Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was, we are taken on a remarkable journey through a twenty-year period in Jones' life that was a mere footnote in most texts about the man – if it got a mention at all. 

Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was weighs in at about 280 pages, and there's not a wasted paragraph among them.  The book is neatly divided into six sections that chronicle the full story of Crawford in all its various iterations over two decades – but this project's ambitions don't stop there.

The book opens with a massive 43 page essay by Kurtis Findlay that not only outlines Chuck Jones' various attempts to get Crawford before the public – both successful and not – but also covers his entire career with a particular emphasis on his post-Warner Bros. accomplishments.  That makes this book especially valuable as this period is less well-documented than his salad days as one of the guiding forces behind Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies.  Findlay's prose is at once thorough, enlightening, and entertaining, and he guides us expertly through the highlights of Jones' tenure at MGM and beyond.  Chuck Jones is justifiably one of the premier figures of the Golden Age of Animation, and his career at Warners has been discussed in great depth in any number of tomes, but his post-Warner career remains scarcely-mined territory so there are many stories just waiting to be told of this period.  Truthfully, Jones had such a long and prolific creative life that every day was likely a new adventure and each phase of Jones' career could without a doubt support a book of its own.  Even Jones' supposed misfires and failures are more interesting than the highlights of many other animators and warrant an in-depth study. 

Chuck Jones passed away in 2002, and while his immense body of work does speak for itself, it is always interesting and instructive to hear the stories behind the story – the story of the gestation process of a project and how it finally saw completion – or not.  That's what makes well-written text pieces like Findlay's such crucial reading.  Findlay doesn't give us a dry recitation of the facts; he successfully captures the essence of who Jones was as a person and as a creator.  Through the anecdotes chronicling his time as head of MGM animation and his later stint at ABC children's programming (where's that book?), we are shown a Chuck Jones who wants more than anything to push the boundaries of what is possible in the television animation format.  Jones never gives up this goal even in the face of continued ambivalence our outright apathy from the studio and network executives.

Upon being dismissed from Warner Bros. due to his moonlighting as writer of the screenplay for UPA's Gay Purr-ee, Jones was quickly snatched up by MGM where he created a series of Tom and Jerry shorts that played throughout the 60s. 

To his credit, Findlay doesn't try to whitewash the past; he gives full details about how much of Jones' post-Warner work was not unanimously well-received – both his Tom and Jerry series and the other projects he created for MGM.  For instance, although Jones won an Oscar for his classic short, "The Dot and The Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics," the author of the book it was


Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was



MSRP: $49.99

ISBN: 978-1613770306

reprints full Sundays and dailies run

of Crawford 1978 newspaper strip

280 pp, Available now


based upon, Norton Juster, reportedly hated the result.  Juster had a similar reaction to Jones' feature-length treatment of one of his other books, The Phantom Tollbooth.  To one degree or another, Jones met with dissatisfaction from the authors of other works he interpreted while at MGM including Dr. Seuss on the adaptations of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Horton Hears a Who, Frank Tashlin (the director whose animation unit Jones took over upon Tashlin's exit from Warner) on "The Bear That Wasn't,"  and the great Walt Kelly whose signature creation was brought to television by Jones in 1969's Pogo's Special Birthday Special.  Perhaps the heart of the problem was that Jones was adapting other people's material and in fleshing them out for the very different media of television and film, imprinted too much of his own voice and sensibilities on stories that were very personal to their authors.  This is in marked contrast to the Looney Tunes stars who were really committee characters and thus malleable enough to withstand the differing interpretations of multiple directors.

Findlay weaves a fascinating tapestry delineating how Jones began developing the character and world of Crawford in 1967 for a proposed television animated series, and how he worked on it with his wife through various refinements until it was ready to pitch to MGM in 1969.  However, nothing came of it as Jones' busy schedule coupled with the closing of MGM's animation unit after the completion of The Phantom Tollbooth scuttled any plans to bring Crawford to television.

However, in 1977, another opportunity arose to bring Crawford to life albeit not on television, but in the pages of the daily newspaper comic strips.  In 1977, Robert Reed (no, not the Brady Bunch dad) of the Tribune Company approached Jones with the idea of creating his own comic strip for his group of newspapers that would feature a set of kids to compete with Peanuts, the hugely successful strip that was part of the United Features Syndicate stable.  To that end, Jones dusted off his Crawford proposal and reworked it and the characters for the daily newspaper strip format.  The strip premiered in January 1978 in the New York  Daily News and a handful of smaller papers.  It is unknown why the Chuck Jones name did not have enough star power to get his strip picked up by more papers, but our own analysis of the results show a lack of cohesion and continuity in the seven months the strip was in existence.  Jones had a lot of ideas, but failed to take the time to create distinctive and convincing characters to execute those ideas.  Jones' trademark witticisms and wordplay are in full effect, make no mistake.  But with few exceptions, the dialogue could be exchanged between characters with little to no effect on the outcome.  The biggest obstacle to the public's being able to embrace the strip is that the titular character is actually the least interesting in the bunch.  In the first few weeks of the strip, Crawford serves merely as straight man to his buddy Morgan, who initiates much of the action.  On the whole, the Crawford cast is less interesting than their Peanuts counterparts: Crawford, Morgan, and Libby never engage, provoke, or touch us the way Charlie Brown, Linus, and Lucy do.

Also, during the course of the strip's life, its stars Crawford and Morgan undergo radical shifts in character traits and even physical appearance.  The gang seems to age several years overnight again proving that the concept needed more thought and development time before seeing print.

Still, as a collected work, this book is a marvelous achievement by all involved.  The Library of American Comics – spearheaded by Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell – already have such a deep catalog of hit books to be proud of that, from an editorial perspective, it must be a daunting task to keep coming up with projects to top themselves.  We're glad to report that with Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was, they really have upped the ante on what has come before. 



Image from Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was

[Image credit: The Library of American Comics]


This book is a must-have for any fan of comic strips, animation, or Chuck Jones himself.  Chuck's strips, storyboards, and sketches – and there are heaping gobs of it published here to drool over – occupy the lion's share of the book.  That signature angular style Jones developed in the 1950s is here on display in all its charm.  Chuck Jones, the artist, ranks up there with the best cartoonists that the newspaper or animation media ever produced.  He had a mastery of body language – including the iconic sideways glance to the audience – which few artists could match and it was always effectively employed to convey character, mood, and subtext.  With the precision of a surgeon, Jones always knew how big or small he needed the action to go in order to get the reaction from the audience that he wanted.

The Library of American Comics is no stranger to accolades for their works, which have won Eisner Awards in the Best Archival Collection category three times already.  While the recent Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim volume 1 (reviewed elsewhere on this site) is the more obvious Eisner-bait for this year's awards, we think Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was is the more deserving and hope it at least gets a nomination.  Chuck Jones is the kind of book that needs to see print because it gives full detail and context to a period in the artist's life that had heretofore been a footnote at best.  Just when you thought you knew all you could about Jones, this book comes along and provides an exciting opportunity for discovery that adds a thrilling undercurrent to each turn of the page and makes the reading experience that much more rewarding.  Yes, the stories on the page are fun, whimsical, and charming, but the story behind the story is the bigger prize and one that will make The Dream That Never Was a go-to reference for both animation and Chuck Jones aficionados now and for decades into the future.


Written by Scott Katz   
Sunday, 15 January 2012 22:51

Anime fans are in for a treat as two signficant new films make their debut on Tuesday, January 17.  From Manga Entertainment comes Redline and First Squad: The Moment of Truth.  Both films are exciting, fun, eye-popping spectacles, but each could not be more different from the other.

Redline comes to us from Madhouse, the animation studio whose crazed, over-the-top style has won accolades from fans all over the world.  Some of Madhouse's previous efforts include television series and feature films such as Black Lagoon, Death Note, Demon City Shinjuku, Paprika, Record of Lodoss War, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and literally scores more.  American audiences have seen their work in The Animatrix, Batman: Gotham Knight, Hulk Vs., and the new Marvel Anime series currently airing on G4.  If you're an anime fan, the name Madhouse on a project automatically makes it must-see viewing.

Set in the far future, Redline tells the story of the biggest, baddest, most cutthroat racing event in the galaxy.  Only adrenaline junkies with a death wish even consider trying to qualify for the competition, which is held once every five years.  At the center of the swirling chaos, we find JP, our lanky, leather-jacketed young hero with a pompadour that is akin to Elvis' cranked up to 100.  One of his main rivals is the sweet-natured, but headstrong female racer Sonoshee.  Romance blossoms on the track, but the murderous cyborg rulers of Roboworld, where the Redline event is being held without their permission, threatens to crash this coupling before it can cross the finish line.

In a way, Redline is a throwback to the old ways of animation.  It's completely and gorgeously hand drawn – over 100,000 individual drawings make up this film, which runs a generous 1 hour and 42 minutes – about a half hour longer than most anime films.  The result of this seven year effort is immensely pleasing and the racing sequences provoke genuine giddy thrills.  This is not a film which takes itself seriously at all, so don't you dare try to.  It's admittedly barely there story has about the depth of a Fast and the Furious flick so the mandate is "look, don't think."  But since this is Madhouse, there is more than plenty to look at and admire.  The studio, whcih has a drool-worthy back catalog of influential hit movies and television series is at the top of its game here.  Its long, arduous effort to get this film done has paid off handsomely.  Redline is a triumph of traditional animation techniques (albiet supplemented by some computer effects and enhancements), and is what Speed Racer wishes it could have been.



102 minutes, Blu-Ray $29.99, DVD $24.98


75 minutes, Blu-Ray $29.99, DVD $24.98

Redline_cr First_Squad_The_Moment_of_Truth_cr
Click images above to watch the TRAILERS!


Studio 4°C, which animated the other film under review, First Squad: The Moment of Truth, also has an impressive catalog of projects, and, in fact, contributed sequences to The Animatrix and Batman: Gotham Knight just as Madhouse did.  Anime fans have also seen their work in feature films such as Steamboy, Spriggan, and Tekkon Kinkreet.  Among their current work is the popular ThunderCats revival series currently airing on Cartoon Network.  With a pedigree of this high quality, it comes as no surprise that their latest feature effort, First Squad: The Moment of Truth is a legitimate triumph of animation and solid storytelling with neither getting the short shrift.  Because Redline is a balls-to-the-wall gonzo roller coaster ride full of sound and fury, it does keep you at an emotional arms' length.  In contrast, the often quieter, more contemplative tone of First Squad successfully draws you in and forces you to pay attention to the characters and to care about what they care about.

First Squad: The Moment of Truth centers around Nadia, a girl who cannot remember her past, but who can foretell the future.  The story takes place in 1942 as the Nazi forces, who have already conquered much of Europe, have their sights set on Russia.  General Wolf, an SS officer, uses supernatural forces to raise from the dead an army of 12th century Teutonic Knights to aid him in his conquest against the Red Army.  In Russia, Nadia is taken to a secret facility in order to make contact with other teenagers who had special gifts and were part of an elite unit killed by the Nazis.  Nadia enters the land of the dead to convince her former comrades to come back with her to continue the fight against General Wolf and his supernatural army.

The battle scenes are equisitely staged and the snow-filled environment of the Russian front is convincingly rendered.  As is common among anime aimed at an older audience, the story is non-linear in its progression, and its action moves without warning back and forth through time in order to set things up and then fill in the backstory.  An additional element that is rather unique to animated films is the inclusion of live action actors playing war veterans, historians, and psychologists being intercut into the flow of the narrative at various points and commenting on the story as if it were historical fact.  This gives the film a faux-documentary style, which has proven polarizing to the audiences that have seen it.  For our part, we really enjoyed it and felt it added a sense of depth and importance to the film.  One caveat, however, is that it seems the necessary subtitles for the live action sequences only show up when the Russian soundtrack with English subtitles is selected.  However, all the animated sequences, which make up the lion's share of the film, are dubbed nicely into English.  We would have appreciated having English subtitles burned into the live action bits so that the audience wouldn't have to choose between English and Russian dialogue.

Each of these wonderful films could easily be spun off into an ongoing television anime series or at least a series of movies.  In fact, First Squad ends so abruptly and with such a sense that there is more story to be told, that we hope there are sequels waiting for us down the line to pick up where things left off.  For different reasons, we've been won over by each of these films and would like to visit their worlds again.

As far as the transfer quality is concerned, each boasts crystal clear video and powerful Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio in their Blu-Ray versions (DVD audio is Dolby Digital 5.1).  Video quality is outstanding given that there are many difficult and intricate animated sequences in both films.  There are no special features on First Squad, while Redline boasts over 90 minutes worth including a Perfect Guide to Redline, a Quick Guide to Redline (both featuring behind-the-scenes interviews with the actors, writer, and director), and the Redline 2006 trailer.  Each of these movies is priced to own, and we can wholeheartedly recommend both.


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Written by Scott Katz   
Monday, 26 December 2011 19:59

Flash-Gordon-01-thumb2With his meticulous sense of design, sweeping alien vistas, bold heroes, vile villains, and scantily-clad females, it is quite possible that artist Alex Raymond invented the concept of eye-candy for his seminal newspaper comic strip Flash Gordon

The 1930s were a golden period for the newspaper adventure comic strips, and 1934 in particular was a signifcant year as it saw the debuts of two of the most celebrated comics strips of all: Terry and the Pirates, which bowed in October, and Flash Gordon, which premiered several months earlier on January 7.

Flash Gordon was created for King Features Syndicate as a direct response to the success of Buck Rogers, which began publication exactly five years earlier on January 7, 1929 by a rival outfit.  However, the talent of Flash's creator Alex Raymond quickly brought the character to heights of popularity far surpassing its charming albiet relatively primative progenitor.  No mere knockoff, Flash Gordon upped the ante for what a science fiction comic strip could achieve in both story and art.  It helped solidify the template to which all ensuing space fantasy sagas owe a debt.  Flash's arrival and battle with Emperor Ming on the planet Mongo, while ostensibly broken up into discrete story arcs, actually comprise a continuous seven-and-a-half year grand narrative the likes of which were not seen before and rarely since.

We can't say with full conviction that Flash Gordon was the most lavishly illustrated strip of all time – that honor would likely go to Hal Foster's breathtaking Prince Valiant – but both Alex Raymond and Flash Gordon are at the pinnacle of comic strip achievement and this masterwork is finally being collected in a format that showcases its full impact.

What makes these collections so mandatory for any serious fan of comic books or comic strips is that these books afford one an opportunity to watch a master storyteller take a strip from its embryonic


Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim vol. 1



MSRP: $75.00

ISBN: 978-1613770153

reprints Sundays 1/7/34 to 5/31/36

176 pp, Available now


stages to its full potential.  As the series begins, Alex Raymond keeps things neat and orderly sticking to a four-tiered, twelve-panel grid.  As the weeks go by, the strip begins to find itself, and its underlying themes and concepts begin to coalesce.  It takes a bit longer for the growth in art style to emerge, but by July 22, 1934, Raymond eschewed the old twelve-panel layout for good and began to open up his art by using fewer and larger panels of varying shapes and sizes.  At this point, there was no stopping Raymond, and fans will be in for a treat as they can now bear witness with each turn of the page to the blossoming talent of a legend growing into his full creative powers.  Soon, he was experimenting with camera angles and perspectives, and by mid-1935, Raymond's pencils develop the more intensely detailed feathered texture for which he became justly renowned. 

In this first volume of six, the Sunday strips from January 1934 to May 1936 are reprinted – more than enough to be introduced to Flash and his friends and enemies whose names have seeped into the national pop culture consciousness: Dale Arden, Dr. Zarkov, and Ming the Merciless.  In these initial strips, we also meet other key figures of the alien planet Mongo as Flash careens from one gloriously preposterous escapade to another: from fighting the Red Monkey Men for Ming's amusement to befriending Prince Thun of the Lion Men to battling for his life underwater against King Kala of the Shark Men to escaping from the City Above the Clouds led by King Vultan of the Hawkmen.  All this while dodging the unwanted attractions and amorous attentions of every nubile femme fatale on Mongo: Ming's daughter Princess Aura, Azura the Witch Queen of the Blue Mountain Men, and Queen Undina of the underwater Coral City. 

Flash Gordon, the character, is the typical heroic male that existed in fantasy before the 1960s: strong, confident, square-jawed, and uncomplicated.  He sees a wrong that needs to be righted and just dives in and goes for it.  His mission always takes precedence over his own personal wants or needs.  His relationship and ever-impending, but never realized, marriage to Dale Arden always takes a back seat to whatever crisis is at hand.  Flash is largely a cipher, personality-wise – his adventures are more interesting than he, himself is – but that's what gives characters like these their aspirational allure and allows their readers to project themselves into their places more easily than it would be with a character who is full of specific quirks and idiosyncracies.  Our hero fights tirelessly against Ming and the evil hordes of Mongo for almost a decade without reservation, without asking for reward – without even so much as a bathroom break – just because that's who he is.  No nihilistic pessimism here.  The tone of the strip is empowering because it proudly embodies the American ideal that one good man can make a difference and that you could be that man.

Being one of the most popular comic strips of all time, Flash Gordon has been released numerous times before in a variety of formats.  However, it's never been released like this.  The folks at The Library of American Comics are releasing this series in their celebrated Champagne format.  The book measures a large 16"x12.5" and presents the Sunday strips at pretty much their original full size.  Better still, the book contains the Jungle Jim topper strips that debuted with Flash Gordon and were also drawn by Raymond.  When each strip was given a full page to itself for several months, they are each presented in this book in their full page formats.  Some of these pages are iconic classics of the series such as the full page splash of the horde of Hawkmen warriors bearing down on Queen Azura's forces, and it's a treat to see them presented in all their pulpy glory.



Alex Raymond's classic Flash Gordon Sunday page

(from June 16, 1935)


As for the presentation of the art, although it appears syndicate proofs are not available for use and so the results cannot be as sharp as if they were, we were still generally pleased with what we saw considering these were scans of old newspapers and fine lines – a tip of nose here, a partial jawline there – disappeared in both the original printing process and the aging of the materials over the last 75 years.  We would make special note of the coloring job, which we found to be more subtle and readable than the highly-saturated colors in, say, the Checker Books editions of a few years ago.  Everything is printed on heavy, crisp white matte paper making for a sumptuous end product.

Once again, LoAC goes out of its way to present wonderfully detailed supplemental essays to place Flash Gordon, and his creator Alex Raymond into historical context.  Beyond the de rigueur Raymond biography, it was also much appreciated that they attempted to give Flash Gordon's writer, Donald W. Moore, his just and due credit in spite of the fact that no clear records exist on what the extent of his contribution was during the twenty-odd years he worked on the strip.  Different expert suppositions are presented and all appear to have validity, but for us, it seems clear that Alex Raymond was always in the driver's seat and created the characters and the broad strokes of the story for Moore to script.  We say this because the layout of the strip changed over time as Raymond began using fewer and fewer panels to showcase his growing artistic ambitions, and it would seem to be a case of the tail wagging the dog to suggest that Raymond began drawing larger panels simply to accommodate shorter scripts from Moore.  In our estimation, the relationship between Raymond and Moore likely followed a template similar to the way daytime television serials are written using a tiered approach that starts with a head writer who comes up with all of the plot machinations and story beats followed by breakdown writers and script writers who structure the specific episode scenes and lay in the dialogue.  Whatever the case, the Raymond-Moore combo made for some memorable and thrilling all-ages fun.

Today, we are truly fortunate to be in a time where printing techniques and publisher resolve have combined to present the classics of the American comic strip to a new audience in the formats that they deserve.  Through the efforts of the Library of American Comics and other publishers, new readers can be exposed to classic writers and  illustrators such as Hal Foster, Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, Roy Crane, Frank Robbins, Harold Gray, Lee Falk, Chester Gould, and so many others.

Creators like these are to be admired for their devotion to their craft and for their perfectionistic work habits because they could not possibly have known at the time that their efforts would be seen, discussed, collected, and admired 70 to 80 years after they wrote and drew it – that dedicated book editors would scour the countryside looking for the best possible samples of the strips and doing painstaking digital restoration and remastering of them in order to keep their work alive for a new generation of readers.  All Alex Raymond, for example, could count on is that each Sunday strip would be seen for a single day and then it was highly likely that it would disappear forever after that.

Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim volume 1 by Alex Raymond is an important record of the artist's versatility as an illustrator as he moves deftly from the jungles of Southeast Asia to the outermost reaches of space without missing a step.  And the stories are just plain fun reading to boot.



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cast of The Apprentice 10


Sherri Shepherd

Vanessa Minnillo

All My Children creator AGNES NIXON

Bronx Opera's BEN SPIERMAN

cast of Big Brother 12 BOBBY FLAY & STEVE ELLS of America's Next Great Restaurant Cast of the play Bridgeboy
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part 1: Guiding Light

part 2: Days of Our Lives

soapcentral.com founder DAN KROLL DAN PARENT of Archie Comics DAVID LYONS of The Cape DEBBIE GIBSON & TIFFANY Author DEDE EMERSON of A Different Kind of Streetwalker
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BOB DOWLING of the 3D Entertainment Summit Indie filmmaker ELIANA UJUETA of Beneath the Rock comic book artist JAMAL IGLE Genesis Repertory's JAY MICHAELS, MARY MiCARI, & actors Oscar-winning actor JEREMY IRONS

Animation historian JERRY BECK

1st interview

2nd interview

singer-songwriter JOSH GROBAN

web series producer KAI SOREMEKUN of Chick

1st interview

2nd interview

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Oscar-winning actress KATHY BATES of Harry's Law Television producer KENNETH JOHNSON of V, Bionic Woman, Incredible Hulk KYLE BORNHEIMER & HAYES MacARTHUR of Perfect Couples

Terrence Howard, René Balcer

Dick Wolf, Alfred Molina, Alana de la Garza

publisher DAN HERMAN of Hermes Press COUNTESS LuANN de LESSEPS of The Real Housewives of New York City author MAX ALLAN COLLINS of Road to Perdition WWE Champion Mike "The MIz" Mizanin
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JEFF HAYNE of Mill Creek Entertainment

1st interview

2nd interview

singer-actor NICK LACHEY supermodel NIKI TAYLOR talks The Celebrity Apprentice actor PAUL REISER of The Paul Reiser Show actor-producer RICKY GERVAIS of The Office actress-television host ROSIE O'DONNELL comic book writer STEVE NILES

Ian Anthony Dale, Nick Wauters

Jason Ritter, Sarah Roemer, Blair Underwood, Željko Ivanek

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THORE SCHÖLERMANN & JO WEIL of Verbotene Liebe Peabody & Emmy award winning journalist TOM BROKAW Emmy award winning actor TOM PELPHREY of Guiding Light actors from The Apothecary Theatre Company TORI SPELLING & DEAN McDERMOTT of sTORIbook Weddings





Reviews & Previews:

Summer 2011 Movie Preview

Fall 2010 Television season

Fra Diavolo

Die Drei Pintos

Romeo and Juliet in Brooklyn

MPI Home Video

Timless Media Group

Boris Karloff's Thriller

Hunter: The Complete Series

Polly and Her Pals

Icons: The DC Comics and Wildstorm Art of Jim Lee

Adrianne Palicki as Wonder Woman

Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern

Spider-Man musical delayed again


Dead Space: Aftermath






New York Comic Con

Apprentice 10 kickoff

Farewell to Guiding Light

Farewell to As the World Turns

The Broadway Directory


Award Show winners:

Academy Awards

Emmy Awards

Grammy Awards

Tony Awards

American Music Awards

Golden Globe Awards

Screen Actors Guild Awards

American Country Awards



Television blogs:

American Idol 10

American Idol 9

American Idol 8

Big Brother 12

Big Brother 11

ABC Cancels Both All My Children and One Life to Live

Guiding Light: A Look Back


Editorials & Issues:

Scam Alert: Have You Received This E-Mail Job Offer?

Meet the 112th Congress

Brooklyn politicians Kevin Peter Carroll vs. Ralph Perfetto

Before Rosa Parks There Was Lizzie Jennings

Understanding New York State Government

USTownhall RoundTable podcast: The Worlds of Entertainment and Current Events