Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Project Pegasus Saga

Last summer, as I sat through the interminably long and overdone Spider-Man 3, I couldn't help but think that these Marvel blockbusters had gone horribly far afield from what made Marvel Comics great. I'm primarily a DC guy, but I did read quite a few Marvel titles in the late 70s and early 80s, and I read plenty of back issues to familiarize myself with the Marvel Universe. I couldn't understand why the movies placed so much emphasis on the name brand of a single character rather than delving into the mythology of old Marvel story arcs. After all, the second Fantastic Four movie based its story line on the original Silver Surfer story arc, leading to what I thought was a fun, action-packed film in keeping with the Fantastic Four style.

As my wife and I were driving home from the theater after Spider-Man 3, I related my feelings to her. "These sequels all fall flat because, after they've told the origin in the first movie, they don't seem to have anywhere to go. Why don't they use some of the old stories like Project Pegasus?"

Since my wife read a lot of Marvel comics in her youth, I assumed I could speak in such short-hand and she would immediately know what I was talking about. I forgot she didn't get int
o comics until the 80s and missed The Project Pegasus Saga by a couple of years. When she questioned me about it, I had to admit I didn't remember too much about it myself. I only recalled that it took place in Marvel Two-In-One, which was The Thing's version of Batman's The Brave and the Bold, and that it had to do with a top secret, underground project to investigate alternative fuel sources. The premise alone could be timely once again.

Fast forward one year and I suddenly find myself giddy over the terrific Iron Man movie and the big plans Marvel Studios have to get their movie projects on track again. With the tantalizing prospects of having Iron Man and the Hulk come together in an Avengers movie, I started thinking about the old Project Pegasus story again and sought to find the old comics on eBay (Marvel Two-In-One issues #53-58). As luck would have it, Marvel put out the whole story in a trade paperback about 20 years ago and I found a slightly beat up copy on eBay for cheap, so I snagged it.

In a nutshell, Pegasus stands for Potential Energy
Group/Alternate Sources/United States. It was a "mammoth research facility of the U.S. Department of Energy located in Mount Athena in upstate New York." The Thing is called in to help with security in the facility, which is headed by an eager young superhero named Quasar. Turns out, Pegasus is investigating every possible new source of energy including the energy produced by strange supervillains and aliens. One of the beings under study is Thing's old friend, Wundarr. Wundarr has some kind of energy-absorbing abilities, but a recent experiment has put him into a coma. Meanwhile, one of the scientists on staff, Dr. Lightner, is up to no good, and the cyborg villain Deathlok shows up to do some sabotage.

More super people show up, including Thundarr and Giant Man, and the radioactive villain Nuklo is unleashed from his cage to wreak havoc. In usual Marvel fashion, there's lots of fighting and destruction over the six-issue story line, but it basically comes down to Dr. Lightner getting hold of a device called the Nth Projector which turns him into a human black hole, sucking in everything around him. Along the way, Wundarr comes out of his coma as a much stronger being known as Aquarian. Fortunately, he arrives just in time to help confront the mutated Dr. Lightner, who is now calling himself the Nth Man. Giant Man is the first to confront the human black hole and gets sucked into another dimension. Aquarian decides he's the only one powerful enough to take on the creature, so he allows himself to be sucked in. Once he finds Giant Man, Aquarian expands his entropy enducing field, causing Nth Man to collapse in on himself like a dying star. Once destroyed, Aquarian and Giant Man are returned to reality.

Of course, I'm condensing this story a great deal. There's a whole lot more that goes on, but I wanted to give you a sense of the action. When I read this series in 1978, I was completely overwhelmed by the suspense and excitement this story generated. I became a regular reader of Marvel Two-In-One after that, but none of the stories lived up to the scope of Project Pegasus.

I think Marvel Studios should seriously consider doing an updated, live action version of this story. Get Michael Chiklis back as The Thing and bring in an ensemble cast of not-so-well-known actors to play the various third-string superheroes and villains. What you lack in big name superhero recognition you make up for in number and variety. Also, the focus should be on the story rather than the character. As the Batman movies from the 90s proved, having a recognizable superhero in the film doesn't mean much if you don't have anything meaningful for him to do. With Project Pegasus, there's enough action for a team of superheroes, and the mystery of Dr. Lightner's mission is pretty intriguing.

Using memorable stories from Marvel's mythology is the only way I can see Marvel Studios succeeding with a new generation who love the characters but aren't much into reading comic books. I mean, we're already down to the second-stringers with Iron Man and Captain America, and there were even plans to do a movie based on Ant-Man, for God's sake! Stick with what you do best, Marvel, and go with team ups!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Then Voyager

During my trip to Red Bank, NJ, a few weeks ago, I managed to find the new Voyager model kit from Moebius Models. Not to be confused with the Star Trek series, this Voyager is the vehicle used in the animated version of Fantastic Voyage. As you may recall, the Fantastic Voyage motion picture used a miniaturized submarine called the Proteus to travel through the veins and arteries of the human body. For the animated spin-off, the crew needed a more versatile means of transport which could take them anywhere their tiny hearts desired, hence the snazzy aircraft. You can watch a full episode from the series here.

As a kid, I loved both the movie and the TV series and always wanted model versions of both the Proteus and the Voyager. Unfortunately, unless I'm mistaken, no one ever made any. I did find a resin model of the Proteus online a few years ago, but when it arrived at my house, some of the brittle resin parts had already broken and it just seemed to heavy and fragile for me to build without some major cursing. It's still unassembled. Recently, however, this new plastic kit of the Voyager was released, and I'm thrilled to report that the kit is a wonderful rendering of the flying machine.

Immediately, I was excited to discover that the ship's interior is recreated in exact detail including all four crew members: Commander Johnathan Kidd, Pilot Busby Birdwell, Indian Mystic Dr. Guru, and resident hot babe Erica Lane. I had a lot of fun painting those tiny figures, right down to Kidd's eye patch and Birdwell's spectacles. I was worried that all my painstaking efforts would disappear once the kit was assembled, but the front windshield and overhead dome provide ample portholes through which to see the interior.

The outer body is relatively paint free since the ship on the series was plain white. I decided to paint the motor intakes a bronze color to make them appear more realistic and provide a pop of color to the front. For the back, I painted an orange glow effect inside each of the exhaust ports. Otherwise, I stayed true to the basic white look from the animated series.

In keeping with Moebius's attempt to mimic the Aurora model kits of old, the air craft comes with a stand which holds the Voyager aloft in a flying position. The stand even has the obligatory decal of the vehicle's logo. Every time I built one of these Aurora-esque models, I get a twinge of excitement like I'm 8 years old all over again. Moebius provides assembly instructions that look just like the old Aurora instruction sheets. The box art, while still trying to look Aurora, is a bit low rent with a spray painted styrofoam ball with nails stuck in it hanging in the background like some crude atomic particle or something. Oh well, the kit is still nice.

I've enjoyed just staring at this new model. I keep dreaming of how much fun it would've been to have this kit when I was young. What adventures we would've had... until I accidentally smashed it against a wall or dropped it down a stairwell.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Things That Went Clunk in the Night

If you were a kid during the period between the late 50s and the early 80s, you probably spent at least a few Saturday nights staying up late to watch horror movies. Every television market had a local horror movie show and in Baltimore, that show was Ghost Host on WBFF Channel 45. The Ghost Host himself was played by George Lewis, whose day job was showing cartoons and Three Stooges shorts to kids after school as Captain Chesapeake. But whereas Captain Chesapeake was a live show, the Ghost Host segments were pre-taped and reused every week for years. Let me explain:

The introduction would start with a blurry graphic of an old house over which the words "Ghost Host" would appear in a typical horror-movie-style font. The graphic would dissolve to George Lewis, the Ghost Host, dressed in some Gothic mad scientist get-up in a cheesy laboratory set. He would bob around and move his lips. That was the standard prerecorded segment which ran every week. Over top of that, they would dub in a new audio track which started with, "Good evening, this is your Ghost Host, inviting you to watch...if you daa-aare..." and then he would say whatever that night's movie would be. Here's an example:

About mid-way through the film, the Ghost Host would return in another stock sequence, this time walking around a graveyard set, complete with cardboard headstones and some straw tossed around on the floor. This is where they would dub in a new audio track each week announcing next week's film. This is how that looked:

When the movie finally ended around 1:30 a.m. and you could barely keep your eyes open, the creepy Ghost Host would return with the stock closing sequence. This one never changed. He would always utter the same words that have stuck with me for decades. He would say...well, let the man do it himself:


I don't know what scared me more: the grainy black-and-white Universal monster movie or the Ghost Host's Tai-Chi movements and out-of-sync lips. Somehow, we felt rebellious staying up and watching Ghost Host. It seems absurd now, but you got to do two things you didn't normally get to do during the week. One, you got to stay up late and two, you got to watch something that might be a tad more grown up and disturbing than The Brady Bunch. Parents usually played along, having already seen these movies as kids and knowing that there wasn't anything all that bad about them. We could feel out of control in a safe, restrained sort of way. Plus, the movies were just plain fun.

Shows like Ghost Host disappeared in the 1980s as home video became the preferred method of watching horror films. Who needs commercials to take you out of the movie just as they got to the really juicy part? Unfortunately, we also lost those wonderful local hosts who tried so hard to add a little extra fright on such a teeny budget. They are missed.