Posts tagged: aliens
Last February, Todd Stadtman and Tars Tarkas invited me on the Infernal Brains podcast to discuss space ladies with them. We covered a lot of films, but I didn’t get to one film Todd suggested we watch, Darna Vs. The Planet Women (1975). I finally did recently and he was so right—Darna Vs. The Planet Women was a movie I needed to see. Since then, I’ve watched Darna And The Giants (1973) and Darna At Ding/Darna And Ding (1980). And these movies bring together so many fine things: a costumed comic book superhero, space ladies, supernatural creatures, black magic robots, disco fabulousness and the sassiness of Vilma Santos’ Darna.
Mars Ravelo created Darna in 1949. (He had created, written and drawn an earlier incarnation,”Varga,” in 1947). Ravelo’s a central figure in Filipino comics, creating not only Darna, but Captain Barbell and Lastikman. Darna appeared in several Tagalog comic magazines including Pilipino Komiks, Kenkoy, Liwayway and Kampeon Comics and her own title. In the origin story, a girl named Narda receives a mysterious stone with the word “Darna” on it. She is instructed to swallow the stone and thereafter whenever she exclaims, “Darna!” she gains superpowers and a pretty swank outfit blending American superhero and traditional Filipino elements. Darna can fly. She is super strong. And she knows kung fu. As a female hero who sometimes wears a red, starred bikini top with blue bikini bottoms and stops bullets with her bracelets, Darna is often compared to Wonder Woman. But in her longevity and widespread popularity, her protection of the world from intergalactic threats and even her later retconned alien origin, Darna has more in common with Superman. And, yeah, there is the Captain Marvel/Shazaam thing. Ravelo created a superhero who he hoped would inspire the Filipino people and was based in part on his mother. And if the people happily waving at Darna as she flies by in the films are anything to go by, he succeeded. Darna often fights space ladies and becomes a sort of space lady herself in later stories. In fact, she fights cool ladies of all kinds: Hawk-Woman; the snake-haired Valentina; robot space queen X3X; the mad scientist Dr. Vontisberg; an evil sorceress; a giant; and the multi-colored space ladies of Arko Eris. Darna faces all perils, whether aliens, supernatural creatures or more mundane escaped convicts.
In 1950, Ravelo teamed up with Nestor Redondo and thus came forth some pretty sweet comics. Redondo is probably most famous among readers of American comics for his work on Swamp Thing. A wave of Filipino comic creators including Redondo, Frank Redondo, Alex Niño, Gerry Talaoc and Alfredo Alcala moved into American comics in the 1970s and they are responsible for some of the most distinctive art of the time in weird, war and adventure comics. In 1972, Redondo contacted his old Liwayway colleague Tony De Zuñiga about working in the US comics industry. By the time of the Santos Darna movies, Redondo was working on Swamp Thing, House of Mystery, House of Secrets and Weird War Tales. While Redondo could easily find work in the Filipino comics industry, even after the collapse of his own company CRAF Publications, it’s not entirely surprising that he would look for work elsewhere. In September 1972, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. He had been elected to a second term, but justified suspending his country’s democracy by claiming that rebels threatened the nation. Darna And The Giants, Darna Vs. The Planet Women and Darna And Ding were all made in the ten years between Marcos seizing power and when he began to reluctantly let it go. This is the same era in which the Philippines became a desirable shooting location for movies documented in Machete Maidens Unleashed (2012), a look at American exploitation films shot in the Philippines, and Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991), about the making and Kurzian madness of Francis Ford Coppolas’ Apocalypse Now. As is pointed out in Machete Maidens Unleashed, Filipino directors, writers and actors who were living in a climate of fear and suspicion, could work on American films—even ones depicting resistance to authoritarian military states—with relatively little trouble. If you’ve seen some of the women in prison movies shot in the Philippines, you might have noticed that there were a lot of rebels, unjustly imprisoned people and maniacal authoritarian military officers. The Marcos regime either didn’t watch these movies, didn’t recognize themselves in them, or didn’t care. American filmmakers benefitted from low costs, access to insane stunt performers and military helicopters in the Philippines and DC and Marvel benefitted from Filipino comic artists taking work outside the Philippines. But Darna was wholly a Filipino creation. The films were made for a local audience. Where Coppola could afford to complain about the helicopters he’d been promised being late and actor Sid Haig was troubled by helicopters switching from live to blank rounds, Darna’s filmmakers had a lot more complexity to navigate.
The first Darna movie played in 1951 and starred Rosa del Rosario. Since then, there have been fourteen films, two Captain Barbell films, in which Darna appeared, and three tv series with many actresses and a few actors playing Darna (including Nino Muhlach in Darna And Ding). But a huge part of Darna’s appeal for me is Vilma Santos. Her Darna has moxie. I might not have researched the character or looked for the comics if not for her. Santos starred in four Darna movies, but her first, Fly, Darna, Fly! / Lipad, Darna, Lipad! (1973), appears to be lost.
In Darna And The Giants, Narda is a young woman and her seemingly much younger brother Ding holds the magic stone for her, which she has to swallow and spit up every time. (In earlier comics and films, once swallowed that stone was swallowed for good). Large-eared, wrestling-singleted aliens are kidnapping the people of Narda’s village. Giants stomp any remaining villagers. Narda and Ding allow themselves to be captured and brought to X3X, an evil robotic space lady with a Doberman and boots so fabulous they receive their own credit. (As do Darna’s). They discover X3X is transforming villagers into giants, providing them with caveperson clothes—one lucky giantess gets a swank, horned helmet—and turning them loose to stomp people. The print I watched was unsubtitled, but X3X does expound some fine, evil in English. Those who won’t cooperate are crushed in a spiky contraption that is both shiny, futuristic and spiky, middle ages torture device. When X3X refuses to listen, Darna frees the prisoners, battles the giants and ultimately defeats X3X by destroying X3X’s supercomputer.
Darna gets a new origin story and a groovy new brown, red and gold costume in Darna Vs. The Planet Women (1973). This time, Narda is young, disabled woman hassled by village jerks. When her boyfriend, Ramon, attempts to defend her, the jerks attack him. Meanwhile, the Planet Women of Arko Eris have landed on earth. They kidnap Ramon’s mind and question it regarding scientists and a minister for cultural affairs they could kidnap to help with their terrible plan to steal the earth and park it by their planet to relieve their burgeoning population growth. However, they have left Ramone’s body frozen in mid-flight in the woods, where Narda and Ding discover it. Narda prays for help and a mysterious voice and light reveals a rock, with the word “Darna” painted on it, and instructs Narda to swallow it and say, “Darna!” Meanwhile, despite being brightly and disparately colored, the space ladies successfully infiltrate society, kidnapping each target in turn. Ultimately, bright colors and groovy power can’t stand up to Darna’s moxie and she wins a kung fu duel with their leader, Electra. As space ladies of their word, the Planet Women leave earth presumably to find another planet to hijack.
Darna And Ding is more lighthearted, with child star Nino Muhlach getting a lot of screen time as Ding and his own chance at swallowing the stone and becoming Darna. Darna And Ding is almost an anthology film.. We follow Darna on a series of adventures. She gets her powers, battles Hawk-Woman and one of those stompy giants very quickly, before we move into a longer segment in which she investigates a recent outbreak of risen dead. The excellently suited Dr. Vontisberg raises the recently deceased to hassle those who wronged her, as is the way of mad scientists. Some of the risen dead provide comic relief and I even laughed sometimes. And I enjoyed a scene of competitive mourning between funeral processions. Narda spends much of this segment chained to a wall in Dr. Vontisberg’s laboratory, allowing Ding to swallow the stone and fly around punching zombies. But once Narda becomes Darna, she talks Dr. Vontisberg into restoring the dead to life. Then Darna confronts a truckful of escaped prisoners. Two prisoners do comic relief Defiant Ones before the meanest shoots an old woman in the stomach and Darna snaps his neck. This was surprising after Darna reasoned with Dr. Vontisberg, but shooting an old lady in the stomach does take things pretty far. In the final segment, Darna faces an evil sorceress who’s kidnapping children, tormenting Ding with black magic and keeping creepy dolls in Malate’s amazing Taoist Temple. I was a little concerned when I realized Narda and Ding were headed to Chinatown. And it wasn’t that bad. Sure, Celia Rodriguez plays a Dragon Lady pretty close to Dragon Lady from Terry & The Pirates, but there was no yellow face or yellow peril. The sorceress was just a woman who’d gotten into black magic too deep. And, did I mention that she creates a robot using black magic? Sure, she also creates an evil Darna to fight Darna, but we’re all accustomed to that now. There is just something so great about using the mystic arts to create a clunky robot so slow moving and with such terrible peripheral vision that a small boy can hide from the robot by hiding behind the robot. It makes me feel that mad scientists and sorcerors are letting us down. Sure, mad scientists raise the dead or aliens implement Plan 9, but it’s just so rare to see science and magic work together on a robot*. Do not necromancers and Dr. Frankenstein want the same thing? And what is a robot if not some kind of metal, sparking golem, zombie or creepy doll?
Of the three films, Darna Vs. The Planet Women is my favorite. But even my least favorite, Darna and Ding has charming and enjoyable elements, such as a clunky robot. There are so many things I like about these films. I like the female villains with their crazy plans and excellent outfits. It doesn’t feel like so many stories in which there has to be a girl for the girl to fight. And I don’t even really think of the gender of the heroes and villains while watching, I just watch. Santos has a lot of presence. I like that she doesn’t look like what we’ve come to expect a western superhero to look like, though I had some worries about the structural integrity of her top in Darna At Ding. She’s small, tough and she has moxie. Attitude and magic stones are great equalizers. I’m not familiar enough with Filipino film to be certain that there aren’t any subversive elements in Santos’ Darna films, but sometimes a hero righting wrongs and offering hope, fun and distraction is enough in a tough world. And Darna definitely offers heroics, hope, and fun.
*not perhaps since El Robot Humano.
Taking Darna as a positive role model has made Carol Borden briefly reconsider becoming an evil space lady or sorceress.
And friend of the Gutter Todd Stadtman has written extensively about Darna movies at Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill!
Video 48 has a scans of 1950 Darna comic storylines.Fly, Darna, Fly! Last February, Todd Stadtman and Tars Tarkas invited me on the Infernal Brains podcast to discuss space ladies with them…
Summer is almost here, and I can’t tell you how glad I am. So smear yourself up with sunscreen and bug repellent, find your kickiest sandals, put the finishing touches on your Wicker Man and don’t forget to wear a hat because I have some comics to make your summer just a little more fun whether it’s by the pool, on your porch, holed up in your bedroom with a box fan set on high or dancing and singing “Sumer is Icumen In” as you sacrifice a virgin representative of a king to the Old Gods to ensure a good harvest in the fall.
I like to think I’ve provided a Variety Pak so no matter what your flavor of comics is you might find something you like: Pop superheroics; dark fantasy; horror; clever short stories set in Edo; Fifties pulp; Mod secret agents; Weird Westerns; comic but still graphic fantasy; graphic novel mystery; YA science fiction fun!
Batman ’66 / Batman ’66: Vol. 1 (DC) Jeff Parker, writer; Jonathan Case, Ty Templeton, Joe Quinones, Sandy Jarrell, Reuben Procopio and Colleen Coover art; Mike Allred, covers.
Batman’ 66 recounts the continuing adventures of 1960s tv show Batman. The stories are short doses of fun, using Jeff Parker’s fine blend of fun and action. The art is perfect, popping with color and halftone. And it features three of my favorite creators, Mike Allred, Jonathan Case and Colleen Coover. In the digital issues, Case and Coover in particular make great use of the medium—layering dialog and sound effects. I particularly enjoyed Coover’s take on Batgirl and Catwoman as played by Eartha Kitt. And it turns out that recommending Jonathan Case’s work is now a Summer Fun Time Reading tradition. Last year, I recommended The Green River Killer (Dark Horse, 2011) and the year before, Dear Creature (Tor, 2011). Batman ’66 was originally only published in digital format, but DC has wised up and brought one of the best, most innovative comics they’re doing into the print world. Charming! Fun! Pop-art-tacular!
Becky Cloonan is another of my favorite artists and now she is one of my favorite writers. In this comic trilogy, she shares stories about tragic love and curses. They are connected not by plot, but by tone and style. They are fairytales in the darkest form. Blood debts, werewolves, the haunting deep and just a little of 1960s and 1970s horror comics like Creepy and Eerie. And, if The Twilight Zone were set in the Middle Ages, some of that, too. In Wolves, a man hunts a beast and in killing it, curses himself. In The Mire, a squire travels through a swamp to deliver a letter to a seemingly abandoned castle. And in Demeter, a woman’s beloved is returned to her, but she is consumed with dread. I want Cloonan to do all the barbarian, viking and fantasy stories now. I read these comics as individual issues, but they have just been released in the collection, By Chance Or Providence (Lounak Books, 2014)
Dark Shadows: The Complete Series, Vol. 3 (Hermes, 2009) Donald Arneson and Arnold Drake, writers; Joe Certa, artist.
There’s something about summer that makes me turn to classic, or if not classic, older horror. Maybe it’s balancing out the light with some darkness. I don’t know. However it works, these Dark Shadows comics published between August, 1972 and August, 1973 expand on the world of one of the most intriguing soap operas ever aired. Vampire Barnabas Collins has adventures in other realms, becomes (once again) unmoored from time, meets a mummy–completing Dark Shadows’ set of classic monsters–encounters gangsters, salty Seventeenth Century sea dogs and even an evil carnival. The art tends towards Romance comic or newspaper melodramas, which makes me happy. And I was happy to see Arnold Drake, who wrote one of my favorite all-time comics, Doom Patrol, after getting his start in Romance comics—a fantastic pedigree for Dark Shadows.
Fallen Words (Drawn & Quarterly, 2012) by Tatsumi Yoshihiro
I am far more familiar with Tatsumi’s dark, naturalistic short stories, but it is refreshing to see him work in comedy. Fallen Words is a collection of stories of urban cons and cleverness in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Edo (now Tokyo). Tatsumi uses the traditional comic storytelling tradition of rakugo and combines it with gekiga, a darker, harder edged school of manga he founded with creators like Takao Saito (Golgo 13) and Sanpei Shirato (Kamui-den). The results are fascinating and fantastic and in a short afterward Tatsumi himself seems pleased with the parallels between building tension in humorous stories and the harsher, realistic short stories he told in The Pushman (2005), Abandon The Old In Tokyo (2006) and Good-Bye (2008). As an admirer of Tatsumi’s work, it’s exciting to see him continuing to innovate within the form.
The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books The Government Didn’t Want You To Read (Harry N. Abrams, 2010) by Jim Trombetta with an introduction by R. L. Stine
Bringing a Cold War vibe to cool you off, The Horror! The Horror! is a thick, well-bound book mixing comics history and comic reprints. The history is slight with frequent guest appearances by literary critic Northrop Frye, but it’s hard to mind when the book reprints amazing comics in a variety of genres that have bee out of print since the Fifties. (My current favorite sub-genre: space Western with Army guys). For those of you who like a multimedia summer, and preferably one that is indoors, the book also comes with a DVD.
The Mysterious Strangers: Vol 1: Strange Ways (Oni Press, 2014) Chris Roberson, writer; Scott Kowalchuk, art.
More groovy and even sometimes ginchy fun. In a way, The Mysterious Strangers is an Ur-comic for me. Sure, it’s new, but it’s brightly colored, Mod and very Pop Art. Absolom Quince and his Strangers, Verity, Sandoval, and Michael, agents of a super secret organization, use their mysterious powers to battle global threats, whether interstellar terrors, ancient cults or a man known only as “Capricorn.” Part Man From U.N.C.L.E, part Doom Patrol, if you like your comics as Pop as possible, you’ll like The Mysterious Strangers.
Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1: The Shrike (Image, 2014) Kelly Sue DeConnick, writer; Emma Rios, art; Jordie Bellaire, colors.
I recommended Pretty Deadly in January based on one issue. Now there’s a whole collection and I’m recommending it as the finest Weird Western on the shelves. Death has a daughter named Ginny, who’s filled with the desire for vengeance. If you call her and ask for her help, she will avenge you. But Death’s also raised Ginny to kill the Beast from the river of blood. And the Beast might not be a beast after all. The book’s a a wonderfully drawn and and colored Weird Western fairytale of the grimmest sort. The delicate lines and gorgeous colors work well both atmospherically and in conveying in some of the best action scenes out there.
Rat Queens (Image, 2014–ongoing) Kurtis J Wiebe, writers; Roc Upchurch, art; Fiona Staples, cover.
This is, hands down, the comic I’d most like to see adapted as an animated series, preferably for Adult Swim. Rat Queens reminds me of the old Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, but if it were more subversive, mundane and followed the exploits of women who swore a lot and talked about food and their sex lives. Rat Queens is a fantasy comic about a trouble-making all-female, multi-race, multi-species band of adventurers. I suspect it is very much how people who play table top role-playing games like to think of their own adventures and characters. I suspect there is a whole slew of readers thinking, “Hey, they’re writing down our adventures and illustrating them!” Come for the fantasy adventure and stay for the sassy, Elder God talk.
Sailor Twain or The Mermaid in the Hudson (First Second, 2012) by Mark Siegel
It’s nice to sit by the pool, on the patio or porch with lemonade (or Pimm’s Cup, whatever your poison might be is fine with me) and read a nice long book. Sailor Twain is a nice long book thick with mystery. Captain Twain, no relation to Mark Twain, is the captain of the Lorelei, the tightest run steam boat on the Hudson River. But there is madness and a mysterious death on board, perhaps to due to an overindulgence of absinthe or opium, perhaps due to something else. The engineers are keeping secrets. And two boys inspired by Huckleberry Finn keep stowing away. A fine sense of story and history wrought with lovely graphite strokes. Sailor Twain is a love letter to the Hudson, which deserves many.
The final volume of the Zita The Spacegirl trilogy, Return of Zita The Spacegirl, just came out and it is more fun that thirty space cats driving space bumper cars. (Always bet on the one-eyed space cat, she’s mean enough to win). There’s adventure, cute alien creatures, robots and a swell costume design for Zita the Spacegirl herself. The whole series is available and great fun for readers of all ages. Zita’s best friend Charles is pulled into another universe when Zita pushes a red button she really shouldn’t have. Zita follows, hoping to rescue Charles, but arrives on an alien planet. Zita befriends a giant mouse who communicates using a baroque printer, a giant creature named Strong-Strong, a grumpy robot, a piper and a mysterious woman. Zita adventures across worlds, braves a dungeon planet and saves the day again and again in this charming series with swell and expressive art.
Carol Borden received review copies of Sailor Twain; Zita The Spacegirl; The Legend Of Zita The Spacegirl; The Return Of Zita The Spacegirl and a review copy of Dark Shadows: The Complete Series: Vol. 3 .
Now if you’ll excuse her, she must practice her Solstice capering and find where she left her Helmet of Bees.Summer Fun Time Reading ’14 Summer is almost here, and I can’t tell you how glad I am. So smear yourself up with sunscreen and bug repellent, find your kickiest sandals, put the finishing touches on your Wicker Man and don’t forget to wear a hat because I have some comics to make your summer just a little more fun whether it’s by the pool, on your porch, holed up in your bedroom with a box fan set on high or dancing and singing…
10 Comics I Liked In 2013
It’s an amazing time in comics right now. There are too many good ones for me to even read them…
Kirk and Spock, Tristan and Iseult
At Teach Me Tonight, Kate Laity writes about Joanna Russ’ 1985 essay, “Pornography by Women for…
Screen Editor alex looks at contagion and epidemiologically-driven narratives from 28 Days Later and Alien 3 to Resident Evil and Newsflesh.
It’s inside you.If you’re talking about blood or cookies, that’s a good thing. You definitely want those inside you. If you’re talking about aliens or zombie viruses, not so much, right? Well, 99% of the time the answer is probably ‘Hell, no!’ but the other 1% makes it a much more interesting question than it appears at first glance.
Xenomorph facehugger anatomical drawing by Dave McGinty.
Happy Mother’s Day! Here’s one of our favorite movie moms—The Queen of Blood!
Klingons! This week’s Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness #4 cover by David Messina. Colors by Claudia Scarletgothica.
Gutter Science Fiction/Fantasy Editor James considers AC Crispin and communication:
It’s a classic set-up: humans are exploring space and receive a mysterious signal. Time for first contact! A.C. Crispin takes this familiar idea and runs with it in StarBridge, a smart and fast-paced novel from a few years ago, now released as an ebook for the first time.