Featured Columns

January 21, 2011

From Friendly Ghosts To Gamma Rays: Dark Shadows, Smurfs and Plastic Man!

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Written by: Drew
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This week I decided to take yoga for the first time ever. I was in a hot room that was 105 degrees for 90 minutes. Surely as Viz used to pitch for the Fatal Fury anime OAV and Movie, “The Human Body Is Still Man’s Greatest Machine.” I question if people should bend that way. Somehow I did. I stuck the whole thing out and didn’t have to sit down once (although I was soaked in more water by the end than a girl trying to impersonate Flash Dance). And yes, this introduction has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that you are reading From Friendly Ghosts To Gamma Rays! If you’re new, welcome, and if you are a dedicated reader, welcome back. Let’s get down to it, shall we?

Collection of Awesomeness: Dark Shadows: The Complete Original Series Vol. 1
Publisher: Hermes Press

There are three vampires that have changed the history of the vampire in popular culture. The first is the undisputed Daddy of them all, Count Dracula. The second would be most recently, love it or hate it, Twilight‘s Edward Cullen. The third, would be the odd bridge between these two, Barnabus Collins, from television’s Dark Shadows (yes, I know some of you may want to shout out Count Chocula or Blackula, but neither comes close to how these three vampires shaped the history of that breed of monster in popular culture). No surprise during the height of Dark Shadows‘ growing success here in the United States, that Gold Key Comics, the now defunct company behind the original Dr. Solar, Mighty Samson, Magnus, etc., would produce a long running Dark Shadows comic book to much success. In fact it was so successful, it was still published five years after the TV show itself aired its final episode! Hermes Press is reprinting the entire 27 issue series in five volumes, with the first volume out now, collecting issues #1-7.

These first seven issues are just fantastic. The story telling is classic Gold Key fun! Although the comics themselves are a little out of cannon at times with the Dark Shadows television series, individually each one is a lot of fun, as we see mysteries play out as Barnabus tries to hide his secret and find a cure for his vampirism, all while being bothered by specters, werewolves, and more! The writing, although at times a little out of cannon, is solid and in certain ways better than the TV show itself. Artwork wise the characters do look like their counterparts on the show, and it is standard for the comic industry at its time. The covers to these first few issues are photos covers, which add a campy-goodness factor that I adore. Hermes Press has done a great job giving us top quality reprints, bright colors on glossy pages. It runs for $49.99, which is the same price as other publishers running hard-cover full reprint collections, so no complaint there, right price for a quality investment. Buy it and love it today!

Collection of Awesomeness: Smurfs: The Purple Smurfs and Smurfs: The Smurfs and the Magic Flute
Publisher: Papercutz
Story and Art By: Peyo and Yvan Delporte

Most of us here in the States recognize The Smurfs as a fantastic animated series that invaded our airwaves starting in 1981, animated by Hanna-Barbera (studio behind The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, Jonny Quest, and a zillion other shows). However, The Smurfs have had a much, much longer history. In fact, they started as side characters in 1958, in a story arc of a comic called Johan et Pirlouit, in Belgian comics magazine Spirou, written and drawn by cartoonist Peyo. The characters would prove so popular that in 1959, Peyo began to draw them in their own comic story (also published in Spirou), which as history has told, eventually spun into toys, graphic novels, the famous animated series, and much more. Although these comics would find their way into English translations, they were still pretty hard to find here in States. That all just changed, folks. Starting a few months ago, Papercutz (who also does the new Tales From The Crypt comics) began publishing these story collections in English for us!

The first collection is The Purple Smurfs. You know how in Night of the Living Dead or The Crazies, people just start turning and run amok? This is the Smurf equivalent of that and a mighty fun tale indeed! After one Smurf is bitten by a  rare bug, he turns purple and begins to destroy. However, it turns out that as that Smurf bites other Smurfs, he spreads the madness. Before we know it, Papa Smurf is the last man standing in Smurf-village against an army of Smurfs gone bad. Awesome: plain and simple. Originally this tale was called The Black Smurfs, however Papercutz was afraid someone might view this as racially offensive (although that was never artist Peyo’s intention), and so, like Hanna-Barbera did when they adapted this tale into animated form, they have turned the Smurfs gone wrong purple. This volume also includes a fun tale about a Smurf trying to fly, and a third about one who just wants to get some sleep and is not having any luck.

The second collection is The Smurfs and the Magic Flute. This is actually the reprint of the first story they appeared in from 1958. Being that our little blue friends don’t appear until the second half of the story (but don’t let that put you off), this is a great tale that fills the whole book. It tells the story of  little Peewit, who hangs out with the heroic Johan. One day, Peewit gets an unusual flute that cannot stop making people dance when played. Needless to say, this magic flute is being sought after and when trouble brews, an adventure unravels for Johan and Peewit (and of course in this tale the Smurfs appear and play a very key part to the story, saving the day). This tale is just super cool, giving us not only a great story, but a rare chance to see the very first version of the Smurfs, and also glimpse at Peyo’s pre-Smurfs comic book work.

Papercutz has given us a Grade-A product here. The colors are beautiful, jumping right off the glossy pages, and the English translation of this work feels spot on. Also pretty cool is that Papercutz offers each volume in two different editions, your choice of soft cover for $5.99, or hard cover for $10.99. Between these books, the DVDs of the cartoon flying off shelves still since last year, and the new live-action film coming out this summer, this could be the year of the Smurfs!

Something To Watch: Plastic Man

From 1979 to 1981, Ruby-Spears Productions (animation studio behind Thundarr The Barbarian, Marmaduke, and more) produced one of DC Comics’ cult heroes into an animated series, titled The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show. Always has Plastic Man intrigued readers, however the animated series had a little different feeling than the books. The cartoon followed Plastic Man as he works for the government, and along with his hot blond girlfriend Penny and bad-luck-cursed sidekick Hula-Hula, Plastic Man trots the globe on his Plastic-Jet, fighting an array of bizarre villains, from giant clams, to the Toy Master, to my personal favorite: Disco-Mummy (yes, she’s a Mummy who likes to dance…I know, right). The stories in these episodes are over-all good. As it was an hour long block it originally filled, the episodes were made up of one long Plastic Man adventure and one short one. Needless to say, a handful of the long episodes are just way too long and could easily be shorts. That complaint aside, the writing was never terrible and is fairly good, with one or two gems along the way. The animation was standard Ruby-Spears animation, which is close to 80s Hanna-Barbera style (Ruby-Spears was actually created by ex-Hanna-Barbera workers), and does a great job creating a superhero animated series. The biggest problem with Plastic Man is it doesn’t really touch the Jack Cole comics. Jack Cole had a way of making Plastic Man practically bounce all over the page with action and color, and that didn’t translate well into the 80s cartoon (although it is still a great superhero cartoon for the time period and a lot of fun). My recommendation for your something to watch this weekend is Plastic Man! Pick it up on DVD. (Note: This review is based off the Plastic Man: The Complete Series DVD, which collects only all the animated Plastic Man segments from The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show. The DVD did not collect the other animated segments that make up the show’s later seasons: Baby Plas, Plastic Family, Mighty Man and Yukk, Fangface and Fangpuss, and Rickety Rocket, nor the live action segments hosted by Taylor Marks as Plastic Man. Warner Brothers/DC Comics have made no announcement about if these segments will ever see the light of day on DVD, but one can hope with the Warner Archive collection releasing a ton of little seen animated cartoons, these will see the light of day.)

That’s it for this week, see you next! And remember, Barugon loves you!

Drew McCabe



  1. Billy

    I used to watch all of these shows, and PLastic Man was horrible, the smurfs was tolerable, and Dark Shadows was…OK (oh, and Blacula would soooo tear Barnabas a new one). 😀

  2. […] are always entertaining and always certain to put a smile on the reader’s face. Originally reviewed here, and here, and also […]

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