A small number of hero-crossovers appear in the Italian "muscleman adventure" subgenre of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Until recently I'd considered choosing, as the best representative of these, 1963's HERCULES, SAMSON, AND ULYSSES. Like most of these mini-epics, the storyline of H,S & U is so conventional as to stifle one's imagination, though there is at least a decent fight-scene between the two strongmen of the title.
Happily, thanks to a contributor to Youtube, I came across a far superior nominee: a broad comedy entitled SAMSON AND THE MIGHTY CHALLENGE. I go into more detail in my review, but suffice to say that Hercules falls in love with a young woman who doesn't want him-- a development that probably never occurred in any other Italian Hercules film. The lady's parents try to stave Hercules with a challenge-- and from a plot-standpoint, the film really is a challenge given to Hercules, not to Samson. They tell Hercules that the gods will not give permission for the marriage unless Hercules can defeat the Jewish strongman Samson.
In addition to once again bringing together Samson and Hercules-- this time in a humorous context-- two other heroes also jump into the mix. One is "Maciste," who began his career in the 1914 Italian historical epic CABIRIA, and who then starred as the hero of various silent films, as well as a horde of muscleman-adventures of the fifties and sixties, many of which were re-titled as Hercules films for the American market. The other is "Ursus," whose name was taken from the novel/film QUO VADIS for a handful of "Ursus" films. The Ursus of MIGHTY CHALLENGE is more like a comic brute rather than a hero in his own right, so he's not really a continuation of the noble fellow who had his own series. Then again, I must admit that almost none of these muscleman films maintain any consistency from one episode to the next. So the Hercules, Samson and Maciste of MIGHTY CHALLENGE are similarly not in line with any of the previous adventures of those cinema-characters, much less any mythic or literary forbears.
The highest compliment I can pay the film is to say that while most Italian knockabout comedies aren't nearly as funny as their makers think they are, this one actually brings the goods.
Monday, June 15, 2015
Thursday, June 11, 2015
It's a slam dunk that Jack Kirby, co-creator of both Thor and the Hulk, should be the one to render the best (thus far) face-off between the two Marvel titans, covered in my previous post.
Nevertheless, the Hulk-Thor battle in DEFENDERS #10, scripted by Steve Englehart and pencilled by Sal Buscema, comes a close second. The scene represented on the cover, in which the two super-strong guys, after lots of pounding and throwing things, presents the argument that the two are fundamentally equals, in that they struggle against each other, arm against arm, for something like a solid hour.
This was the high point-- though not the only good moment-- of the seven-issue crossover called "The Avengers-Defenders War." This took place in the AVENGERS (issues #115-118) and DEFENDERS (issues #8-10) titles, both at the time being written by Englehart. In later interviews Englehart would assert that other Marvel employees doubted that he and his artists could pull off a crossover that had to be timed so that each segment came out precisely on the heels of the last installment. Later, this sort of multi-issue crossover would become standard practice at both Marvel and DC, often criticized for weak storylines and a transparent attempt to boost sales in an artificial manner. But Englehart's story carries the same innocent thrill of the "heroes-meet-and-fight-cute" trope that Marvel perfected in its Silver Age heyday.
The plot, dealing with a conspiracy by villains Loki and Dormammu to reshape the Earth into one of Dormammu's realms, serves adequately to bring the two teams into a conflict in which each believes the other to be villains. The only downside of this generally enjoyable outing is that although Sal Buscema is perfectly fine in his DEFENDERS segments, penciller Bob Brown, given mediocre inks by Mike Esposito, gives the AVENGERS segments a sloppy and unfocused look. The one exception to this generalization is a chapter devoted to a battle between Captain America and the Sub-Mariner, but only because this section is crisply inked by an uncredited Frank McLaughlin.