Sunday, June 24, 2012

Loftly Ambitions by the Dutch

Sometimes the smallest finds can generate the most enthusiasm.  One such item, a 2 disc VCD copy of Beverly Hills Cop, arrived from EBay two weeks ago and subsequently sparked my interest about all things CD-i.  For the uninformed, the Philips CD-i was a fourth generation video game console released by Dutch electronics giant Philips in 1991.  Although manufactured by multiple vendors over a period of five years, the system’s initial high cost, somewhat crippled hardware, poor analog control and lackluster software support ultimately doomed it to a niche market.  Originally positioned as an edutainment device designed to rival the personal computer (which by then was sporting CD-ROM playback, digital audio and hardware-accelerated 2D/3D video acceleration), Philips promised a multimedia experience families could use to learn, work and play without the added equipment or expense of a PC.  Although a novel idea when it was publicly announced five year earlier, consumers were apathetic by the time the console hit US shores.  Philips' reluctance to brand it a ‘video game machine’ hurt its chances further; while Nintendo and Sega battled it out over a burgeoning billion dollar industry, consumers who would have considered the CD-i as a viable...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Best At What He Does...

Iconic Cover Reprinted
It's funny how the genesis of a pop culture icon is often not what you'd expect.  Although sometimes met with appropriate pomp and circumstance, it's far more common for the individual (whether real or imagined) to show up on the scene unannounced with little fanfare. If they happen to be fictional, their creators often consider them unimportant or ancillary characters, simple archetypes designed to introduce or help resolve short-term conflict.  Only after readers or audiences respond to their personality do these characters grow beyond the boundaries of the original story and into their own adventures.  If popular enough, they can even transcend the medium to other forms of artistic expression (be it music, movies, etc.), firmly supplanting themselves into our collective consciousness. 

Marvel comics superhero Wolverine is a prime example.  One of several characters developed by the braintrust of art director John Romita, Sr. and writer Len Wein, Wolverine was first brought to life by artist Herb Trimpe during his silver age run on The Incredible Hulk during the early 1970s. Although the costume, claws and Canadian heritage were all there, however, his appearance over three issues (#180-182) did little to capture reader interest.  Fortunately, Len Wein saved a roster spot for him on the new X-men team, where he 'debuted' roughly a year later with along with X-men mainstays Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Banshee.

Future X-men contributors Chris Claremont, John Byrne and even Frank Miller would expand on Wolverine's character, developing an elaborate backstory to match his gruff, sardonic personality.   Popularity would come in the form of his own storylines and eventually his own books. Similar to characters like Venom, Wolverine became the embodiment of the antihero spirit very much en vogue in comic books during the middle to late 1980s. When Marvel saw its fortunes take off at the start of the early nineties, Wolverine became one of its hottest properties. He was featured prominently in Saturday morning cartoons, video games, collectible cards and toys. Even when the comic book market collapsed and Marvel was forced to fight bankruptcy to stay alive, a stellar performance by Hugh Jackman gave the character new life in a successful X-Men live-action movie adaptation.  After two sequels and a film of his own, Wolverine is a now a super celebrity rubbing elbows with the likes of Spider-man, Batman and Superman. 

While I was yard-saling this weekend, I came across a lasermatic cover printing of the issue in which he first appeared*, The Incredible Hulk #181. Given the comic's insane collectability, it's unlikely I will ever be fortunate enough to own a copy.  That said, the framed print is pretty sharp looking, all the more special because it's sign by artist Herb Trimpe himself.  Unfamiliar with a lot of Trimpe's work**, it was interesting to read how influential he was developing the Silver Age Hulk. Remembering Wolverine, he was quick to point out the character was never intended to be a series regular.  That said, Herb was the first artist to draw the character publication, and that distinction alone deserves special attention.

*Technically, Wolverine first appeared in the last panel of Incredible Hulk issue #180, known in the comic book world as a cameo.

**Check out this blog for a breakdown of Herb's work on the Hulk.