Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Month: September 2005 (Page 1 of 3)

Bodyslam The Director!

Last Saturday night, I had a wonderful time screening the film “In The Ringer” at the South Charleston Museum, located in the LaBelle Theater on D Street. As part of the “New Films from West Virginia” series, the Museum presented the debut feature documentary by Amy Trent, starring none other than noted WV filmmaker Daniel Boyd, and telling the story of his career……. as a professional wrestler.

I’m not making that up. Danny (who I’ve known forever) got involved in the Nitro-based XMCW wrestling promotion, and found himself in the ring. Just exactly how that happened is the story of this film. The short version is that Mister X, one of the XMCW wrestlers, was scarred for life when, as a child, he was passed over for a role in one of Danny’s movies. When the esteemed Professor Boyd showed up to watch an evening of wrestling, he found himself involved in a life-changing confrontation with some surprising outcomes.

In-ring action

First-time director Amy Trent does a wonderful job of presenting this storyline, using in-depth interviews with the involved parties, along with some in-ring action to illustrate the key points. In professional wrestling circles, this sort of storyline is called an “angle,” and this is as fine a delineation of an angle that I’ve seen. It helps that this is a credible, realistic story, unlike much of what you see on WWE television shows these days.

There’s a surreal quality to watching somebody you know in real life, up on the big screen doing bizarre things, especially when he’s sitting right behind you in the theater. But it’s sort of fitting, since I usually get that feeling watching the movies that Danny directs anyway. You have to find an extra layer of the suspension of disbelief because you know so many of the actors.

Dan’s films have been so entertaining that it hasn’t been hard to remove myself enough from knowing everyone in them to enjoy them. Still, I can’t quite wrap my mind around the idea of watching my tiny, old friend and college film instructor doing suplexes and taking chair shots to head.

Not to be missed

“In The Ringer” is not something to be missed. It was a wonderful, fun evening, and the air was thick with kayfabe. If you get a chance to see the film, don’t pass it up. I’ll keep you up to date on any further showings. I’ll also keep you up to date on any further wrestling activities from “Stone Cold Danny Boyd” because I got the distinct impression that “In The Ringer” is only the beginning of the story.

And I also want to comment on how nice the restored LaBelle Theater is. They really have a nice thing going on over at the South Charleston Museum, and it’d be nice to see more people come out and support it. Steve Fesenmaier has been programming a terrific slate of West Virginia films for a year now, and it’s a great thing to have in the area. This Saturday they’re treating us to an evening of films devoted to Appalachian music featuring Jack Wright and the Carter Family.

You can read more about the films that Daniel Boyd has produced and directed here.

Non-comic book scoop

So, the same day I get my first link from a cool comics blog (Heidi MacDonald’s Beat), I find out that my scoop wasn’t such a big scoop, after all.

I’m talking about the item below on the Marvel Comics Digests at Family Dollar. It seems that a version of these was announced last April, and those were offered to regular comics retailers first. This was covered by quite a few of the comic news sites at the time. They shipped in July. Googling seems to indicate that hardly anybody mentioned these after they were announced. That they were sold by Family Dollar was news. The versions on sale at Family Dollar have specially-printed covers, so they were probably just an extra printing done at the same time. Thanks to Brian Hibbs for setting me straight on that in the comments.

For the record, Marvel announced that there will be six digests, total, with the second batch of three including another Spider-man volume, one starring the Hulk, and one starring the X Men. I have no idea if the additional three volumes will also turn up at Family Dollar (or if they already have), but I plan to check regularly.

These are still a very good deal for classic comics. Might make great Halloween treats.

Brian, by the way, is a long-time comic book retailer who writes “Tilting At Windmills” for Newsarama, one of the best sources for comic book news on the web. Highly recommended.

UPDATED SEPTEMBER 20th: It’s even less of a scoop than I thought. These are turning up at Wal Mart, for 97 cents. And they have all six of the titles. They’re in the toy department. At least I discovered the rare Family Dollar variation.

A long wait for EVIL!

When I was a kid, there was one toy that I wanted more than anything—the Dr. Evil Gift Set! It was really called the “Dr. Evil Lab Set”, but “gift set” sounds so much funnier when matched with “Dr. Evil.” Anyway, this set filled me with an early instance of what I have come to call “toy lust.” I haven’t managed to lose that affliction as an adult, either. I wouldn’t write so much about toy collecting if I weren’t so heavily under the influence of it.

This is not the lame Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies. I’m talking about the REAL Dr. Evil–the blue-skinned guy with the bug eyes and exposed brain who came from Alpha Centuari to fight Captain Action. (The guy in the movie is just a bald parody of Lorne Michaels.)

The blue Dr. Evil was Captain Action’s worst enemy! Super-intelligent and capable of destroying the world, he could kick the movie Dr. Evil’s butt.


Recalling Captain Action

As a reminder, since not many people remember him, Captain Action was a GI Joe-sized action figure made by Ideal Toys. His gimmick was that you could buy costumes (with cool, head-covering rubber masks) that allowed you to dress Captain Action as an impressive variety of other superheroes. A quick change of clothes and the Captain could turn into Superman, Batman, Spider-man, The Phantom, The Green Hornet, and other larger-than-life icons. He was one of the coolest toys every made.

But I digress.

refCADrEvelLabSetSmallFor Christmas 1968 I really wanted the Dr. Evil Gift Set. It came with Dr. Evil, two disguises, a lab coat, and the evil hypnotic eye. In 1968, I already had Captain Action and I really wanted a bad guy for him to fight. Santa (in the form of my parents) had the not-so-good Doctor on lay-away at Arlan’s Department Store (now the site of Sport Mart on the South side of the Patrick Street Bridge. But before they could pick him up, Arlan’s burned to the ground. Nobody else in town had Dr. Evil, so for Christmas, and I wound up with a Marx Chief Cherokee. Talk about a letdown.

Evil Reappears

Fifteen years ago, a mint-in-box Dr. Evil Lab Set would set you back more than two grand. I haven’t checked the price lately, but I think that if you want one now, you have to sweeten the pot with your firstborn or a kidney or something. So I went without Dr. Evil in my collection… until 30 years had passed.

In 1998, a company called “Playing Mantis” was making a name for themselves by bringing back some of the beloved toys from the ’60s and ’70s. They’d already revived Johnny Lightning cars and the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, when word leaked out they were thinking about bringing back Captain Action.

I was jazzed. After tracking down and pestering their PR person, Suzi Klimek, I got the story in TOY TRADER Magazine and scooped the toy press in trumpeting the return of one of the most collectible toys from the ’60s superhero boom.

And because I was writing a monthly column about action figures, I was sent complimentary copies of Captain Action and Dr. Evil to review.

I waited 30 years to get my hands on Dr. Evil, and of course I gave it a glowing review. You don’t want to cross Dr. Evil!

Even without the goodies from the Lab Set (just to get the Hypnotic Eye on eBay will cost you more than a Kia), this was a very satisfying moment. As I type this, Dr. Evil is watching over me from his spot of honor in my office.

And that’s why I collect toys. It’s either the warm, fuzzy feeling of recapturing my childhood, or the trauma caused by not getting Dr. Evil when I wanted him. One of these days I’ll tell you about how it took me 25 years to get a DEVO “Duty Now For The Future” T-shirt.

Evil is as Evil does

Since I never did get my hands on the Dr. Evil Gift Set, I had to swipe the photo for my other post from an excellent book by Michael Eury, “Captain Action, The Original Super-Hero Action Figure”.

This is an exhaustive history of the brief life of Captain Action and his even briefer revival in the late 90s. I know Mike from the Captain Action email group at Yahoo, and would love to plug his book and send folks to buy it, but a quick check of his publisher’s website shows that it is sold out. You can still track down a copy from Amazon, or perhaps a local bookstore might still have some in their warehouse.

However, since I owe Michael a plug, I’ll take this opportunity to recommend Back Issue Magazine–edited by Michael, which is devoted the comic books of the ’70s and ’80s. I also want to tell you about a couple of other great books that Michael has written , “Dick Giordano: Changing Comics One Day At A Time“, about the legendary artist and editor, and his most recent, “Justice League Companion“, about the famed super-hero team. Great reads, one and all.

You can find all those and much more comic book history at TwoMorrows Publishing, the folks who are preserving the history of America’s native art form.

Music Blogging

A couple of years ago, I started playing around writing music on the computer. As part of this blog, I plan to inflict…, share some of it with you. I would have to say that the best thing about my music is that it’s usually mercifully short.

This first musical burst is a jumpy little thing I call “STOMPY“:

If you have a high-speed connection, you can just click on it, and listen. Or you can right-click on the link, and hit “Save Target As”, to download.

Comic Book Scoop

Since we recently mentioned Jack Kirby and Marvel comics, it’s a good time to menion a cool thing I recently found at Family Dollar: Digest-sized black-and-white reprints of classic Marvel Comics from the early ’60s, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and the Avengers. They’re 68 pages, and each reprints the first three stories from the first, early 60’s issues of these classic comics. And they only cost a buck each!

What I can’t understand is how these managed to slip under the radar of the comic book internet community, where any attempt to create a low-priced entry-level comic book is hailed as a major step towards saving the industry. You see, despite all the big success in Hollywood with comic-book-based movies like Spider-man, Batman Begins, The Hulk, X Men, and the like, comic book sales are just a tiny fraction of what they used to be back in the 60s and 70s. For some reason, the success of those movies didn’t bring any new readers to the comics.

The main reason for this seems to be that comic books are no longer considered a disposable treat aimed at kids. They’re fairly expensive, and the average age of a comic book reader is well past twenty–and rising! And with no comic books aimed at kids (at a price they can afford), you don’t get any new readers. Some younger readers, raised on Pokemon, are drifting towards Manga (Japanese comic books, usually sold in bookstore collections), but not too many kids are getting hooked on traditional American comic books. Comic books have gone from being a universal element of childhood to being a red flag, warning of giant geekdom. Which is a shame, because, at their best, comic books can be just as good as any other medium.

So these little Marvel Digests at Family Dollar (they must be an exclusive to the chain–the Family Dollar price tag is printed on the cover) are a sign that, just maybe, the folks in charge are going to try to market comics to kids again. Still, regardless of the audience, these are classic Marvel Comics for a buck! Who can beat that?

And with nobody else noticing this, I get to scoop the entire internet comic book press.

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