Friday, November 23, 2012

Random Comic Book Splash Page: Tim Trench

Tim Trench is an obscure footnote in the legacy of DC Comics. Denny O’Neil, best known for his groundbreaking work as a writer on GREEN LANTERN and a writer and editor on BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS, introduced Trench in a 1968 issue of WONDER WOMAN--#179, to be exact, which also premiered the book’s new logo.

Trench was just a shadowy figure in #179, but took a major supporting role in #180, when the St. Louis private eye teamed up with Wonder Woman and her elderly Chinese companion I Ching to battle the sinister Doctor Cyber. The four-part series, which was penciled by Mike Sekowsky and inked by Dick Giordano, ended in #182 with Cyber making a slick getaway and Trench revealed as a traitor. He was last seen flying off in a helicopter (on page 1!) with a booty of gems, leaving Wonder Woman and I Ching to face Cyber’s wrath.

Undoubtedly, this was the decision of Sekowsky, who took over WONDER WOMAN’s editing duties on #182 and installed himself as the book’s writer too. Either he had a different concept of the storyline’s conclusion or just hated the Trench character, but Sekowsky ditched Trench as quickly as he could.

Leap ahead seven years to DETECTIVE COMICS #460, cover-dated June 1976. With the main story—Batman taking on Captain Stingaree—taking up a mere eleven (!) pages, editor Julius Schwartz turned to O’Neil for a six-page backup. Reaching into his memory bank, O’Neil penned “The Cold-Fire Caper!” as Tim Trench’s first solo story.

“Cold-Fire Caper” makes no mention of Trench’s betrayal of Wonder Woman or the stolen gems, and readers could be forgiven for assuming he was a new character. Working out of an office above a repertory theater in St. Louis that runs old Bogart movies, Trench tumbles into a succinct mystery involving a ruby, a femme fatale, a mobster named Lippy Louie, and a couple of punchups and gun battles.

O’Neil brought back Trench one issue later. In DETECTIVE COMICS #461’s “The Moneybag Caper!”, Trench found more or less the same type of trouble, this time agreeing to bodyguard a mobster named Big Willy Cline. As with “Cold-Fire Caper,” the art was handled by penciler Pablo Marcos and inker Al Milgrom, neither of which turn in their best work.

Maybe Schwartz or the readers didn’t like Tim Trench, because when DETECTIVE COMICS #462 came out, the private eye was gone, and the Elongated Man was solving mysteries in his place (the Batman lead story was still only eleven pages). It could also have been that DETECTIVE COMICS already had a private detective, Jason Bard, appearing occasionally, and why did it need another one? 

And that, to date, has pretty much been it for Tim Trench. Two six-page adventures and a four-issue (really three) supporting role in WONDER WOMAN. He did get his own entry in WHO’S WHO: THE DEFINITIVE DIRECTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE #24, where he was nicely drawn by Sandy Plunkett and P. Craig Russell (of Marvel’s amazing Killraven series in AMAZING ADVENTURES). He showed up as something of a joke in a 1996 SWAMP THING and was killed off in Week 18’s issue of 52 in 2006.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


If you enjoyed Ed Naha's 1980 science fiction mystery THE PARADISE PLOT, you will probably also like the sequel, which Bantam published in 1982. In the first book, shambling reporter Harry Porter went into space to investigate a murder and a cover-up aboard Island One, a mining colony on a space station orbiting the Earth.

In THE SUICIDE PLAGUE, Porter, a perpetually broke and hungover individualist quick with a wisecrack but slow to cultivate close relationships, is back home in futuristic New York City, a dirty, crowded, cynical, and expensive place. Life doesn't seem to be worth a lot in this time period (seemingly the early 21st century, but never quite pinned down by Naha), but a series of teenage suicides are still unusual enough to catch Porter's interest.

The star reporter of the city's lone newspaper (Naha was prescient in predicting the death of print and news--or what passes for it--being force-fed to the populace electronically) becomes involved when he tries to stop one of the teens from leaping off a rooftop and nearly takes a fatal tumble himself.

With the help of a doctor friend, Andrew Cade, and a seedy "peeper" (someone with psychic powers, which are not uncommon in the future) named Marion Saint-Crispen, Porter finds himself getting drawn deeper into the mystery, which expands to involve a charismatic cult leader, a revolutionary new plastic skin that allows its wearer to seamlessly assume another identity, the kidnapping of Harry's attractive neighbor, and even a plot to kill the President of the United States (a thinly veiled slap of Ronald Reagan).

For more on Ed Naha, a name familiar to many fans of science fiction and horror, see my review of THE PARADISE PLOT. He does a nice job with THE SUICIDE PLAGUE, which he apparently penned while moonlighting from his day job writing and editing FANGORIA and STARLOG magazines--essential publications in every genre fan's library of the 1970s and 1980s. At 279 pages, it's just the right length, and Naha excels at spinning several intriguing plotlines, which left me wondering how he could possibly bring them together in an exciting and logical fashion. He does.

Surprisingly (I think this of a lot of really cool old novels I've read), no one has made either Harry Porter adventure into a movie, even though both THE PARADISE PLOT and THE SUICIDE PLAGUE read as though Naha had films in mind. SUICIDE's third act takes place in a tried-and-true villainous stronghold, where--in Bondian fashion--the charming heavy escorts Porter to show off his magnificent and malevolent plan. Strangely, it doesn't blow up at the end.

Another reason to like Naha. He dedicates the novel to one David Harold Meyer, which fans of classic television will recognize as the birth name of the great actor David Janssen.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Great TV Episodes: The Day The Sky Fell In

“The Day the Sky Fell In”
September 30, 1966
Writer: Ellis St. Joseph
Director: William Hale

THE TIME TUNNEL was the third of four science fiction series Irwin Allen produced for network television in the 1960s. After exploring beneath the ocean’s surface in VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA and beyond the Earth’s solar system in LOST IN SPACE, Allen decided his next show should traverse the flow of time. Allen, who became a household name in the 1970s as the “Master of Disaster” producer of blockbuster “disaster movies” like THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, THE TOWERING INFERNO, and THE SWARM, was never accused of thinking small.

James Darren, a handsome young actor and pop singer who had been seen on the big screen in THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and GIDGET, and former Warner Brothers contract player Robert Colbert, who briefly replaced James Garner on MAVERICK, were signed to play the leading roles in Allen’s THE TIME TUNNEL. Scientists Tony Newman (Darren) and Doug Phillips (Colbert) were the two men in charge of Operation Tic-Toc, a major government experiment in time travel taking place at a top-secret underground facility.

Rushed to show results by an impatient senator or have their funds cut off, Tony jumped into the untested Time Tunnel in the pilot episode and became trapped aboard the U.S.S. Titanic on its fateful voyage. Donning period clothing and carrying a newspaper with the next day’s headline, Doug leaped into the tunnel to save his friend’s life, just as the massive ship smashed into the iceberg that would sink it later that evening.

Working feverishly back at the laboratory, Time Tunnel technicians Ann MacGregor (Lee Meriwether), Ray Swain (John Zaremba), and General Haywood Kirk (Whit Bissell) managed to tune in to Doug and Tony, but instead of pulling them back to the present of 1968, only sent them spinning through time to land in a different place and period every week. It could be Little Big Horn during the time of General Custer or a rocketship on a mission to Mars. Neither the time travelers nor the harried staff back at the Time Tunnel knew where Tony and Doug would end up next.

The fourth episode telecast, “The Day the Sky Fell In,” was certainly one of the series’ finest, if not the best. It certainly offered more dramatic chops than Allen’s shows were known for, as VOYAGE and LOST IN SPACE were generally more concerned with colorful monsters, blinking lights, and over-the-top spectacle than characterization. Tony and Doug drop into Honolulu on the evening of December 6, 1941, where an eight-year-old Tony lived with his father, Tony Sr. (Linden Chiles), a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy. Lt. Comm. Newman was declared missing in action and assumed killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and Tony and Doug rush to warn his father of the attack in hopes of saving his life.

Primarily an action show, Ellis St. Joseph’s script gives equal weight to the pursuit of Tony and Doug by Japanese spies, who are flummoxed by their knowledge of the sneak attack and try to kill them before they can make anyone believe their warnings. But the best parts of the episode are Tony’s scenes with his father, who, of course, refuses to believe the strangers’ paranoid warnings of an attack that could never happen on American soil without the Navy knowing about it.

The first time they meet, it’s at a dinner party Tony remembers attending with his father. As the time travelers attempt to convince Tony Sr. of their story, the young Tony Jr. enters the room, and the tickled look on Colbert’s face as he watches his friend confront himself as a boy may be the most human moment in the entire TIME TUNNEL series.

After being captured and interrogated by Japanese spies, culminating in an exciting fistfight and escape deftly staged by director William Hale, Tony and Doug fail to prevent the attack, of course, but they do manage to get to Tony’s dad on the base and help him use the radio to warn the U.S.S. Enterprise away from Pearl. Chiles and particularly Darren turn in stellar work, as Tony Sr. dies in his son’s arms, content that his son will survive to become an adult.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

I Think It's The Girl From Ipanema

DEEP RISING is one of the best monster movies you've never seen. Mill Creek Entertainment just released it on Blu-ray along with THE PUPPET MASTERS, a decent but flawed film adaptation of the Robert A. Heinlein novel. Currently available at Amazon for less than nine bucks, this disc would be worth it for DEEP RISING alone. Consider the Heinlein film a glorified extra. Both films look sharp in 1080p, though PUPPET MASTERS' audio is lacking.

But let's talk more about DEEP RISING, an exciting and often hilarious man-against-monster flick set on the high seas. Made with energy, wit, and tongue-in-cheek style, Hollywood Pictures and distributor Buena Vista did it a real disservice, saddling it with a confusing title (what’s a Deep Rising?) and giving it a post-Christmas January 1998 release with the rest of the flotsam studios don’t think they can sell. Stephen Sommers, DEEP RISING’s writer and director, who went on to A-list action features like VAN HELSING and G.I. JOE, effectively mixes humor and horror, and leading man Treat Williams, who hammed up the villain role in THE PHANTOM, portrays his devil-may-care hero with tongue pushed deftly into cheek.

John Finnegan (Williams) is an adventurer who rents his boat to anyone willing to pay cash—“If the cash is there, we do not care.” He and his crew, including sexy spitfire Leila (Una Damon) and bumbling mechanic Pantucci (Sommers regular Kevin J. O’Connor), transport sinister Hanover (Wes Studi) and his gang of terrorists to the middle of nowhere, where the bad guys plan to hijack a luxurious floating casino. However, when they arrive, the cruise ship has been trashed, blood is splashed everywhere, but no bodies are found.

A few survivors finally appear, including a gorgeous jewel thief named Trillian St. James (Famke Janssen, who had just starred as Bond girl Xenia Onatopp in GOLDENEYE). It quickly becomes clear that the passengers and crew were consumed by slithering sea monsters (designed by THE THING’s Rob Bottin) with long tentacles with mouths and big teeth at the end of them that “drink their victims alive and excrete the skeletal remains.”

Sommers takes time to set up the geography of the cruise ship and the relationships among the characters (maybe a little too much time), and then jumps into the action with guns literally a-blazing. The obligatory scientific explanation of the monsters’ origin is quickly dispensed with in a winking tone (‘cause who really cares), and the CGI creature effects manage to be genuinely unsettling and gory. The cast is careful not to go over the top, and the deft comic moments never overwhelm the scares nor dilute the monsters’ sense of menace.

DEEP RISING was no hit, opening at number eight while TITANIC was still topping the box office charts, so we never got the sequel promised by the clever final shot. Jerry Goldsmith’s energetic score adds heft to the action and thrills, and Williams and Janssen look as though they’re having a ball. Anthony Heald (BOSTON PUBLIC), Trevor Goddard (MORTAL KOMBAT), Jason Flemyng (X-MEN: FIRST CLASS), Cliff Curtis (COLOMBIANA), Djimon Hounsou (BLOOD DIAMOND), and Derrick O’Connor (DAREDEVIL) co-star.