Monday, April 27, 2015

TUMBLR MUNDY : GOOD BOY, PAUL!

Enjoy Gone&Forgotten every day on Tumblr

Friday, April 24, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : THE JESTER


Quality Comics long-defunct and only occasionally revived line-up includes an improbable street level crimefighter named The Jester - secretly police officer Chuck Lane, latest in a long line of men descended from medieval court jesters, the crime-fightingest profession of them all. Donning an absurd, checkered, green, red and yellow suit, complete with dangly bells and both checks and stripes, "The Man Who Laughs At Crime" made for an unlikely superhero.

However, he's also something of a johnny-come-lately, bearing the name and costume of a villain who'd debuted against an even unlikelier Quality Comics character - Madam Fatal!

Fatal was famously comics' first (and still one of its very few) cross-dressing superheroes. A vigilante seeking out his long-lost daughter and the man who abducted her, Fatal - by way of cleverly disguising himself as he sought out his abducted darling - lived a convincing false life as a doddering old broad living in a crummy apartment building. And whose last name was "Fatal" (Probably she told everyone "it was Fatalovitch in the old country, but we change it here in America!").

Madam Fatal was shy on recurring villains and nemeses - it might've blown her cover to have a regular rogues gallery, as it would only take two villains telling the story of getting beaten down by the same blue-haired old dowager before things got weird - but The Jester makes for a colorful exception.

"Just a little trick I picked  up from Donkey Kong"

Billed as "The Man Who Laughs at Death" (all jesters gotta laugh at something, I guess), the Jester embarks on a crime wave across the city, leaving unconscious bodies lying around willy-nilly, despite being pictured repeatedly with a smoking gun.

The Jester is obviously being set up for a spin-off, or possibly as a partner for Madam Fatal, whose gimmick was getting a little long in the tooth. Despite being a crook and a thief, the Jester also proves to have something of a conscience, which spurs him to protecting a scientist named Mason from a gang working under the much less considerate crook Ratney.

While a member of Ratney's mob impersonates the Jester in order to pin the theft of a secret formula on the costumed criminal, Jester and Madam Fatal combine forces to retrieve the important chemical concoction and rout Ratney's rotters. In something of an afterthought, we're also informed that the real Jester is Robert Mason, the long-lost son of the beleaguered scientist mentioned above.

Where the Jester spent his missing years, why he embarked on a life of crime, and where he went following his single appearance in Crack Comics No.10, that's all a mystery. A few months later, the nearly-identical and less ambiguously heroic Jester took over the name and costume. I like to imagine they met at a gathering for men who've traced their genealogy back to medieval court jesters, and therefore dress up like clowns and either become career criminals or colorful vigilantes. They sound like a fun bunch.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

TRULY GONE AND FORGOTTEN : THE BRUTE

This thing got REAL Prog-Rock outta nowhere.
It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to figure out which Marvel character was being directly aped by Atlas-Seaboard’s cerulean bad boy The Brute. With ol’ Jade Jaws being groomed for an upcoming debut on the smallscreen, Atlas was more than happy to try to pre-empt the success of the green goliath with their own blue behemoth.

The Brute stars in a trio of self-titled issues beginning in February of 1975, and even among Atlas’ coterie of two-fisted, morally ambiguous anti-heroes, he’s genuinely unique. Produced by the team of Fleisher and Sekowsky, the Brute makes one of comics’ most inglorious debuts. A titanic Neanderthal awakened from a frozen sleep in the modern day by ambient nuclear radiation emanating from the neighborhood nuclear power plant, the periwinkle prehistoric wakes up to the great taste of adolescent hikers. Discovered by the pint-sized spelunkers, the Brute subsequently smashes one against a cave wall and smooshes the other under a rock, leaving one alive to prove the axiom about how you don’t have to be faster than the bear …

Ah, that graceful sylph of the air, the Songbird SHIT. 

An outraged community bands together to drive the tyke-consuming titan out of his protective cave and into the custody of cold fish anthropologist Dr.Ann Turner. Serving as the creature’s sole advocate, Turner also seems to reserve her affection solely for the murdering beast, reacting coolly to every other male advance in her life. Please to keep in mind that Mike Fleisher is writing this, so you’re lucky this is as far as it goes.

Naturally, the Brute escapes, despite Doctor Turner’s kind ministrations and teaching him to play with a beachball, in case he ever winds up at an outdoor concert. Where he does end up, however, is deep in the Minnesota woods, where a mad scientist abducts him, plants some sort of controlling device in his ear and uses him to murder rival scientists. I mention this only because one of the Brute’s victims is “Dr.Frederic Berthram.”

What is this, a Wally Wood comic?
By the third and final issue, The Brute mostly escapes the trend of Atlas-Seaboard’s characters wherein he is wholly changed, cosmetically and thematically – he walks away from the usual third-issue switch with nothing more than a slightly altered origin (rather than being a skin-damaged Neanderthal, it’s revealed that The Brute comes from a blue-skinned, more bestial subset of prehistoric humanity. Big diff). As a consolation prize, he also picks up a bonafide supervillain, DOOMSTALKER, the cybernetic conqueror who wears his lucky Misfits t-shirt into battle.

Doomstalker actually knocks the Brute out for a loop, but how the battle winds up – and where exactly Doomstalker’s seemingly limitless aspirations end – are up in the air. No fourth issue puts an end to one of Atlas’ more surprisingly violent comics (keeping in mind that The Brute was in good company when it came to cannibalism in the Atlas title  -the Tarantule and Morlock 2001 ate their foes, and the Son of Dracula was at least willing to hollow them out slick).

More intriguing than the violence, however, were the antics which some combination of the book’s assorted creative talents got up to when no one was apparently looking. Owing to an oft-repeated sight of a small plane’s call letters, Sekowsky managed to get the word “shit” (“5HI7,” for your information) repeated on a half-dozen pages of the series, while the latter team of Friedrich and Alan Lee Weiss had the Brue running around shouting “BALL! BALL!” like some kind of cross between a Carry On film and Conan the Barbarian. And that’s not even to mention the scene wherein Dr.Turner is clearly whackin’ the monster off while he’s strapped to a hospital bed. You can’t spell “Atlas-Seabord” without “subtext.”

"This is my platform as a candidate for the GOP nomination in 2016!"


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

BRUTE FORCE

"...because we forced them to!"

Bless the hearts of major corporate entities in their efforts to monetize the act of teaching children about ecological awareness and conservation. Without such naked cash-grabs masquerading as noble sentiment, we never would have had classic comics such as ... BRUTE FORCE!

Published by Marvel Comics (middle name: "We'll License Anything") in a four-issue limited series between August and November of 1990, Brute Force was a team of cybernetically enhanced wild animals billed as "Protectors of the Environment" and all of them had missiles or guns or something. It's wild that mainstream culture will demonize something like Greenpeace or Earth First but, when given the opportunity to show their audience an idealized ecological fighting force, they pick fucked-up animals armed with uzis.

Which is a shame.
Brute Force ends up being the invention of Doctor Randall Pierce, one of those interminable 90s scientists sporting a ponytail and besaddled with "ideals" and "dreams" and other things ruined by corporate culture, like he invented it. We all got jobs, Randall, don't make a production out of your midlife crisis.

Unusually, for a heroic scientist and inventor of the protagonists of the book, Doc Pierce is also super-into animal experimentation, and we're introduced to him right in the middle of surgically affixing armor and a pair of fully-stocked bandoleers to an ailing gorilla. One time my lhasa apso got really sick and the doctor gave it tank treads and a back-mounted bazooka, so I can attest that Doc Pierce really knows his stuff.

As is the wont of these things, the local corporation is the bad guy. Fronting a terrorist gang based off the mascot of a massive fast food chain - which Doctor Pierce nonetheless fails to recognize until his burger-scarfing offspring throws garbage around his nice, clean laboratory - is Multicorp, led by the insidious Mr.Frost. Now, in books like this, the bad guy's plan almost always involves profiting from the despoiling of natural resources, so you'd be forgiven for assuming that Frost was aiming to pour oil into an orphanage or turn Niagara Falls into a toilet for paying CEOs or something like that.

Multicorp's actual plan, however, is to breed plant life which feeds on pollution. This is ... not an evil plan, even remotely. This is a GOOD plan. This is something people actually do, there are all sorts of lab-engineered bacteria which eat oil and biological contaminants and produce relatively-to-totally harmless waste products as a result. But Mr.Frost sneers a lot when the cameras are off, so he's got to be fought with armored animals.

That lion is straight-up doing a "Der Schrei" face. The things he's seen ...

Brute Force is assembled from the actual endangered species which Dr.Pierce keeps in his lab. You know, he experiments on these endangered species. In order to stop the pollution-eating plants. Good guy, Doctor Pierce, certainly deserves his leading role, which is what he gets when he suits up his animal "pals" and amps up their intelligence with some sort of mind-control helmet, which is another thing a good guy wouldn't do.

Brute Force is:

  • Wreckless, a nitwitted grizzly bear who talks like Andy Kaufman in Taxi and whose armor shows off his tummy. He's got midriff-baring armor, and carries (no joke) "a bearzooka." Which Must be just like a t-shirt cannon, but for bears.
  • Soar, an armored eagle which means - if I know my aerodynamics - an eagle who plummets out of trees. Nonetheless, he can actually fly, and also comes armed with missiles, and between him and Wreckless I expect that the local salmon are fucked.
  • Lionheart is a lion, and also presumably has a heart, in case you were wondering as to the origin of his name.
  • Hip Hop is an armored kangaroo who's also addicted to his walkman and its crazy beat. The Brute Force all have some sort of thematic weapon apiece, even if they generally break down to "guns" and "large guns." Along those lines, Hip Hop has basically a Mister Microphone. He'll be back to pick you up later.
  • And lastly, Surfstream, a dolphin in man-shaped armor whom I left for last because his name is the most humiliating.
Brute Force faces off against an opposite number comprised of armored, intelligent evil animals - you know, all the bad animals you're not supposed to like, even though half of them are just as endangered as Brute Force. Moutain gorillas and white rhinos don't got it any easier than bald eagles, man, give 'em a break.

So the bad mechanical animals are Armory (an octopus), Uproar (a gorilla), Ramrod (a rhino), Bloodbath (a shark) and Tailgunner (a buzzard or something), and they hang out under the name "Heavy Metal," because I guess those are all the most metal animals. 

Brute Force ends up defeating Heavy Metal and putting an end to Multicorp, which means the world was denied pollution-eating plants, so thanks for that. I don't imagine there's a negligible carbon footprint involved with that fifteen-foot tall tank they let the bear drive around, is there? We could've used a fern with a hankering for carbon monoxide more than we needed a copper kangaroo and four even dumber ideas...

Literally the end.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

WEIRD WHAT IF? - WHAT IF CONAN THE BARBARIAN WALKED THE EARTH TODAY?

"What If ... Conan was your dad?"
The premise of Marvel's original What If? series was almost always about how a minor change to the established continuity could have major ramifications to the rest of the shared Marvel Universe. The best stories, though, were almost always the ones which shot far and wide of that goal, and almost nothing better exemplifies the immense potential of those rarer tales than two issues separated by years - What If? vol.1 Nos 13 and 43, released respectively in Februaries of 1978 and 1984, entitled "What If Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth Today?" and its sequel "What If Conan the Barbarian Were Stranded In The 20th Century?"

"Are you comfortable in the bucket, Conan?"
For the sake of full disclosure, let it be known that there is no ongoing comic I more wish were currently being produced than "21st Century Conan," to the point that I am currently sitting on a proposal for said story. Conan joins a biker gang. Conan gets into heavy metal. Conan gets a van, possibly with himself painted on the side. Call me, whoever has Conan's rights - that's how getting published works, right? You just say you have an ideas on your blog or on Twitter or something and then you go "Call me -" whatever company and they call you and you're hired, right? I ask because that's literally how every third would-be comics pro I've ever met online does it.

Okay! Anyway!

The first half of this unusual pair of speculative adventures comes with the pedigree of Roy Thomas, John Buscema and Ernie Chan at the helm, making it effectively as legit a Conan story as any set in the Hyperborean Age. Spinning off from a Savage Sword tale, Conan is at the mercy of time-plundering wizard and former Babylonian CFO Shamash Shum-Ukin (Huh, I went to school with a Charlotte Shum-Ukin, I wonder if there's any relation). Hucked in a bucket and dropped through a time well, the timelines diverge when it turns out that Shambash Clay-Aiken or whatever his name was bought really shitty rope - in mainstream reality, Conan was able to climb out of the time well. In What If World, though, the rope snaps and he f-a-a-al-l-ls ...

Spider-Man, you useless prole.
...into late-1970s Greenwich Village, a world of tank tops, berets and dookie chains. The New York of Conan's experience is a grittier than the New York of almost any other Marvel Comic of the era - shadowy figures loiter on every corner, figures duck in and out of doorways, it's crowded with dogs, rats and cats, ladled with garbage, groping figures decorate the backgrounds - and that's not even to mention the "punk rockers" he meets. It's frankly as true a picture of the Big Apple as painted in that era, even taking into account the bare-chested, sword-wielding steroid case walking around and assaulting its citizens. I mean, especially taking that into account.

Being New York in the late Seventies, there's naturally a blackout. Having taken up residence with a hard-boiled lady cab driver named Danette, Conan ends up leaving her company briefly to deal with looting in the streets below before ending up killing a few hoodlums inside the Guggenheim. I'm sad that he didn't try to fight the '78 Yankees or anything, but it's only a 48 page comic.

Being unexpectedly struck by lightning on top of the museum roof signals Conan's exit, just as it does for many golfers every year during the rainy season. In the barbarian's case, however, the lightning strike merely executes his return to ancient times, taking with him as a memento only the denim beret of his time-lost lover. Weirder words I've never before written ...

Somehow the acoustic guitar just makes them more punk.

When the story is revisited in 1984, it takes the uncommon tactic of spinning off a What If from a previous What If scenario - this time, Conan ISN'T struck by lightning on the roof of the Guggenheim, and is instead jumped by like forty cops and shoved in lockup. This sequel is helmed by Peter Gillis and Bob Hall, and lacks some of the gravitas and authenticity which the Thomas/Buscema/Chan endeavor had by default.

Life goal.
Likewise, it's been six years and the city of New York is changing as well, here deep in the era of Reaganomics. Greenwich Village is out of style, so when Conan literally escapes from police custody in the middle of being tried for the straight-up murder of like six dudes, he ends up in squalid, glittery Times Square. The image of Conan shaking down a Wall Street fatcat for his wallet and then throwing away everything but the quarters - what does he know of paper money, right? - is an image that has remained with me since childhood, and why my savings account sucks.

It doesn't take long for Conan to figure out the mechanics of the modern day, particularly - and again, this is the Eighties, so this is inevitably how it goes - cocaine and hookers. Dressing in a white pimp suit and sporting a PET LEOPARD, Conan calls on his former future flame Danette, only to be rebuffed because I guess her building only allows service leopards.

Heartbroken but huge, Conan forms a street gang comprised entirely of African-American bodybuilders. This is a twist which begs to be the subject of some academic paper on severely literal cultural acquisition, but let's not lose focus on the ultimate climax of the story. Robbing the Natural History Museum of Hyperborean treasures, Conan's gang draws the attention of Captain America, leading to a battle which ends in stalemate only because Conan declines to skewer Cap completely, having already cut him up a damn treat. Show that fight footage to Batroc the Leaper and watch him cry.

If that mug was a gift, then 
he's got cheap friends.
The tantalizing end of the story involves Captain America legit offering Conan a place on the Avengers, which is ANOTHER ongoing comic I'd slap an orphan right in the face to see published. Wonderfully, the audience is left to their own devices to decide if Conan takes the offer, and even moreso are delighted to witness Conan staring at a rotary dial phone with his fist clenched, as though he were swearing vengeance at it.

The Watcher shows up in the last panel to tease a further sequel to this chain of stories, which unfortunately never materializes. To that end, I encourage everyone to envision their own sequel to Conan visiting the 20th Century and joining the Avengers, possibly becoming elected governor of California and then making some disappointing Terminator sequels. We might just make it happen through the power of dreams!

Monday, April 20, 2015

P-S-Eh? : LEARN JUDO WITH THE BLACK CAT

In the Forties, there probably wasn't a better-drawn or less-advisable series of informational interstitial features than the judo lessons as taught by Hollywood's Glamorous Detective Star, The Black Cat!


The quality of the instruction is up in the air, but then again, what better way to learn a martial art than from a series of still pictures? I'm sure that's how Jackie Chan got started.

Kids have the unfortunate habit to imitate, which in this case may very well have resulted in a lot of younger siblings receiving bone bruises and dislocated shoulders. Observe this exercise, which asks of the practicer to stuff their foot into the gut of the practicee, and probably hurl them headlong into the staircase. Dad's gonna be furious when he gets home and finds the blood everywhere!



The Black Cat's judo lessons were also equal opportunity, so there's no reason that the sisters couldn't get into the act, providing they had a handy chair.

Also a handy way to take care of your least-favorite schoolteacher.
The following lessons also double as An Introduction To Fetish Culture



Just in case you weren't quite convinced that these judo lessons would probably end up having sent a lot of kids to the hospital - and the smaller ones to a tiny morgue - please note the following lesson which no kid will resist using as an excuse to slap their friends in the fucking neck. Please note the Black Cat giving some dude a karate chop in the larynx. 

"This should make him behave" indeed.

Still, in the plus column of these lovingly-drawn features, it's an almost alien experience to see a female character in a comic comfortably and almost casually deal with threats to her safety, without it becoming gruesome or overtly male gaze-y. Just the Black Cat, quietly and calmly dispensing with lunkheads and jerkwads, although she never gets around to teaching the reader how to pull this one off:

"The ol' number twenty-two!"

Friday, April 17, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : PHANTASMON

This cover is optimistic.
He's easily one of the most powerful super-villains to ever trod the boards of the four-color format and yet, for some reason, they put him up against Fly-Man and Fly-Girl. Spoiler warning: He's too much for them and they have to call for help.

To learn all about Phantasmon, listen to the introductory text from the opening page of "Phantasmon the Terrible versus Fly Man and Fly Girl" (Fly-Man No.35, January 1966): "Sophisticated New Yorkers are flabbergasted ... to put it mildly ... as a fearsome invader whisks down from outer space astride a horrendous steed! Fly-Man and Fly Girl hurtle in to confront the menace! But if you think this is a routine "invasion" yarn, how wrong you are! The sizzling, whirlwind action and especially the "triple take" off-beat conclusion of this wondrous tale is something you'll yakety-yak about for many a moon!"

If that all seemed to descend into nonsense, then you've been given a pretty good taste of the story introducing "The mighty warlord of the planet Diablor"into comicdom's roles of villainy.

Phantasmon shows up on the aforementioned flying steed, bellowing to anyone who'll listen about how he's gonna all hell of conquer the Earth for not much in the way of reason. Luckily, he's confronted by Fly-Man and Fly Girl (I guess only one of them gets a hyphen?) who disable the steed, and then are shocked when it turns out Phantasmon can fly without it. I guess, in retrospect, that's not really so weird - we ride horses all the time, even though human beings can walk, run, trot and canter if we feel like it.

Among his seemingly limitless powers, Phantasmon can harmlessly engulf himself in flame (recharging his dyna-cells, evidently), transform and command matter, LITERALLY SHOOT LIGHTNING OUT OF HIS NOSE, stretch his arms and, most importantly, produce his evil servants - the "Alieog-Laboids" - out of thin air.

HOLY SHIIIIIIIIII-

Despite sounding like an often-overlooked part of the female anatomy nonetheless vital to pleasurable lovemaking, the Alieog-Laboids  are Sorro ("I have a genius for spreading misery!"), Disastro ("Where I roam, disaster is bound to rear its ugly head") and The Crumbler ("Nothing says lovin' like something from the oven"). With his secondaries handling all the heavy lifting, Phantasmon is free to torture Fly-Man and Fly Girl with visions of the world succumbing to his power, which he accomplishes by turning a boulder into a television, which I guess is how the Flintstones do it too.

Unable to best Phantasmon, the Fly ends up telepathically summoning his terrible enemy BEE-MAN, who agrees to a truce in the face of the overwhelming menace of the alien warlord, and assembles the whole ding-dang Monsters, Incorporated to push back the intergalactic baddie.

See, we can all do math, so it seems pretty simple to figure out that Phantasmon > Fly-Man and Fly Girl, while Monsters Inc > Phantasmon, and by the transitive property Fly-Man and Fly Girl are dead meat basically. It was a good run while it lasted, and we all got a kick out of the Alieog-Laboids, I'm sure.

And then Fly-Man was murdered.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

TRULY GONE AND FORGOTTEN : TOMBOY

She's really cleaning up on those tiny crooks.
Not for the first time, there's troubling parental oversight at work in the Jackson household. 

Demure, feminine Janie Jackson is the platonic model of the perfect little lady, from the pink bow in her hair to the shine on her mary janes. Unbeknownst to even her police lieutenant father, however, is that Janie leads a double-life as the fist-swinging, crimebusting Tomboy! Unassisted by any particular super-powers, Janie - in her binary-defying alter ego - nonetheless manages to clean up the criminal element in her town with admirable gusto.

Dude, that is your sister!
Janie's secret ID even has fans around the Jackson family dinner table; her cop dad admires and respects the preteen tornado, her brother Bill openly derides his sister for not being as dynamic as Tomboy, and Mom Jackson doesn't say anything because women aren't allowed to speak unless spoken to in this hyper-masculine suburb of Atom Age America.

You'd think Janie wouldn't be held to this weird double-standard, since brother and father are such fans of small women beating up full-grown men, but on the other hand Tomboy is living up to a long-standing tradition of the milksop secret identity; Batman pretends to be idle playboy Bruce Wayne, Superman pretends to be mild-mannered Clark Kent, and Tomboy pretends to be how the Fifties were for girls.

Her dual identity might actually be sibling self-preservation at work. Janie's brother Bill is ... how to put this ... straight up horny for Tomboy?  His ardor for the culotted crimefighter overwhelms all reason. In one story, he even abandons his adoring date upon glimpsing a figure he believes might be Tomboy. To be honest, Bill needs to do some soul-searching - Tomboy isn't the only one straddling genderfluidity in this book. The worst thing about Bill is that he's all talk. He wildly admires Tomboy, but is he dressing up as Tomgirl and fighting crime? No, because he's a buster.

Tomboy serves as the backup in all four issues of Captain Flash, handily facing villains like the paw-handed Claw, acoustics expert Soundwave, and a guy named Lard Vinson which I'm sure is some kind of rubric. 

I'm always fascinated by these golden age characters who defy the gender binary in some fashion, a taboo topic even in today's media. There aren't many, of course; cross-dressing Madam Fatal and non-gender-normative Tomboy here make up the lion's share of the roster, but they're also characters I think would be well-served by a contemporary revival. We'd have to figure out what to do with Bill, though, that guy's just pure trouble.

Let's not speak. Talking just ruins it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

ROADS TO REGRETTABILITY : THIS MACHINE ACCEPTS ONLY TOKENS


Roads to Regrettability : Legacy Heroes of Color
The League of Regrettable Heroes – soon to be published by Quirk Books and written by yours truly – features write-ups on 100 of comicdom’s weirdest, most unfortunate, most misunderstood and flat-out strangest  superheroes. The book debuts June 2, 2015, so in the meantime let’s discuss the many paths a character can take on the road to regrettability. 

As I write this, the color- and gender-landcape at the Big Two mainstream comics publishers is changing in a fashion best described as both "radical" and "long overdue." Long-standing flagship characters are being updated to reflect modern diversity, largely to the overwhelming approval of the comic-buying public. Traditionally male superhero Thor has been replaced by a woman bearing the same name and powers, Steve Rogers has stepped down as Captain America and passed the mantle on to his African-American partner Sam Wilson, and Spider-Man has long-since welcomed an alternate universe analog of mixed descent, and who looks to be replacing him in the immediate future.

And why wouldn't little girls be inspired by this?
The above describe only the most high-profile cases, all of which remain surprising for long-time readers who may recall that this particular brand of passing the torch used to better resemble getting thrown a bone. Even as recently as within the last decade, the trend of traditionally white, male superheroes passing their legacy on to non-white, non-male successors ended in one fashion: With the successor dead and the white male hero resuming his own legacy.

As a for-example, the second Dr.Mid-Nite was an African-American woman, the second Wildcat was an Hispanic woman, and both of them were murdered unceremoniously in the pages of a lesser-read comic so that the (respectively) original white male hero and a nearly indistinguishable white male successor could take back the names and costumes.

Others merely vanished - the Asian female Judomaster, the African-American (Manhattan) Guardian, the African-American Aqualad, Jakeem Thunder, Crispus Allen as the Spectre, Renee Montoya's The Question, Connor Hawke, Shilo Norman, the heroic Dr.Light, Cassandra Cain's Batgirl, and more ... although, wow, these all seem to be from the same company, huh?

I shoulda mentioned this guy. Whoo.
Among the most recent, highest-profile scenarios involves Ryan Choi, the Asian-American successor to the Atom. Popular enough to warrant a series of his own, written by a fan-favorite author, it wasn't enough to stave off his own murder the second the Atom who's on all the merchandise showed back up.

Conversely, Steel may be the first non-white legacy hero to survive long enough to create a legacy of his own (complete with a non-male successor at one point), gaining his own nom de guerre, distinctive look and supporting cast (I'll make a notation here for James Rhodes, the second Iron Man, who did survive AND spin-off into his own identity, but which is still exclusively modeled on his predecessor, Iron Man, so ... it's a push). Appearing alongside three other claimants to the Superman mantle, all of whom spun off into their own books or stories, Steel might've partially benefited from getting somewhat lost in the crowd.

Still, it's long-overdue that the superhero universe - ideally an environment for children seeking role models - should better represent the world surrounding that very impressionable audience, and provide a broad and welcoming variety of characters for them. Hopefully this current raft of characters will survive the transition...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

90 FROM THE 90s : PART TEN

Topps Comics
Has there ever been a company which captured the zeitgeist of the 1990s comics landscape better than Topps? Other companies may have produced content which better mirrored our culture’s most Smashmouthy era, but only one company boasted sixty years’ experience in producing useless trinkets that consumers were encouraged to buy blindly in hopes of Powerball-like levels of beneficial speculation and whatever was left over got dumped in the ocean.

The ocean of polybags that comprised the Topps line was primarily licensed material – there were wildly popular X-Files, Xena Warrior Princess, Mars Attacks and Jurassic Park comics, obscure 90s-era arcana like Duckman and Dragonheart, and of course the ambitious Kirbyverse line – although it produced one legitimate original breakout star among the Bad Girl set in the form of the nearly-bare rumped Lady Rawhide. Primarily, though, the draw seemed to be that practically every issue came packed with a collectible, which was – whoa, hold the phones here – a Topps trading card! Wow, how’d they swing that?

Babewatch
At some point in its abbreviated publishing history, Rob Liefeld's Extreme line of comics (distinct but running simultaneously with his Maximum Press endeavor) indulged in a line-wide event wherein all of its male characters were transformed into hot female versions of themselves. That's ... that's almost literally all there is to say about this storyline, except for its taglines, which were "Strange things are abreast at Extreme Studios" and "Extreme is busting loose." Boobs, you see.

If there was any irony in the experiment, it was surely that the company was staffed by artists who'd been repeatedly criticized for their inability to render the female form with anything remotely resembling accuracy, and then they decided to draw nothing but women in every title for a whole month. 

Swimsuit Issues
Speaking of the "Babe-ification" of comics, the 90s was the breeding ground for the swimsuit issue, sparked by the eternally top-selling media-magnet annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Marvel produced a line of these books for five consecutive years, and famously - unlike most of its imitators - thought to include beefcake poses of some of its male characters. Hope you paid the money to see Captain America's butt, because that's what you're gonna see. 

It probably also helped that pinups are a lot easier to draw than actual comic books, plus that many of these books had always been thin excuses to market a barely-clad avenging superheroine to the most lucrative market of all: horny people. Later incarnations of swimsuit issues in assorted hands would also come to include real-life models performing the roles of the title character, including an Avengylene book wherein Avengylene is apparently the kind of person who wanders around the desert in her underwear without her trademark costume and weapons, as we all do on occasion.

Prime
If Malibu's pre-sale superhero universe had a flagship character, it was almost certainly Prime. Created by a murderer's row of Eighties-honed but otherwise generally-underrated talent (Gerard Jones, Norm Breyfogle, Bret Blevins on costume design among a couple others) , the character was a Nineties' riff on the Captain Marvel premise. 

Young Kevin Greene could summon a super-powered adult self - magic words, however, were a little clean for the end of the Twentieth Century - Prime materialized out of suffocating green gunk ejected from its juvenile host's chest. Majorly gross, but cool, which is pretty much the state motto of 90's comics.

Marvel still owns the Malibu characters, although they haven't seen the light of day in a while, even though the entire catalog of Marvel Universes are getting a chance to stretch their legs with a current company-wide shakeup (I swear I saw Teen Hulk in one of the promo images), so there's every chance to see a pretty innovative character from that era return, even in a new form.

Glow In The Dark Covers
Glow in the dark touches may make sense on any kind of media you look at in the dark – posters and wall art, those decorative stars and moons you sometimes see on ceilings – but comic books have an immediate shortcoming: They’re meant to be read. This is pretty difficult to do in the dark, and if you can it means you have the braille edition and the glow-in –the-dark feature is all but useless for you.

Complicating matters is that the ink used for these covers never was exactly the brightest light in the night, no matter how much you lamp-blasted them beforehand. Dave McKean’s abstract illustration of a face across the cover of the Sandman Special, for instance, risked looking like phosphorescent accident in the best-case scenario, but just seemed like an indistinct shape out of the corner of the eye in practicality, while the Spectre cover boasting the same enhancement didn’t really look like a pale figure as much as it did a scattering of drinking straws in spilled milk. Probably could read ‘em by blacklight, but then you don’t have to enhance anything for that to work …


Monday, April 13, 2015

TUMBLR MUNDY : AR-RGH!

Enjoy Gone&Forgotten every day on Tumblr

Friday, April 10, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : THE PINK EYEBROW

That's how diseases get spread, you know.

The Pink Eyebrow - is he friend or foe? It's a tough call, because judging entirely by his sole appearance in the pages of little-remembered comedy anthology All-Funny Comics No.16 (Mar-Apr 1947), he's a little bit of both.

Appearing as an antagonist in the pages of "Penniless Palmer," a feature about a trio of well-meaning and rarely-paid troubleshooters (Besides Penniless, the other members of his troupe include Omnivorous Oxie and Beauteous Bunny), the Pink Eyebrow leads two lives.

So you buy and sell people but
somehow HE'S the bad guy, huh?
For the most part, he's a comic book superhero - one of the most popular heroes published by O.Howe Tragic of the surprisingly eponymous O.Howe Tragic Comics, as a matter of fact. More surprisingly, he's in the company of O.Howe Tragic's coterie of similar celebrity super-heroes, including the Green Arrow, Superman, Batman, Robin and cowboy crooner The Vigilante. This is a puzzling conundrum best resolved to the continuity nerds, I'll leave it to you and your Multiversity Map to figure out on what Earth this story takes place.

On the other hand, in the meganta-bedecked flesh, the Pink Eyebrow and his pals harass our heroes and the imperiled publisher Tragic. While their Vigilante proves less-than-adept with a lariat and their Superman gets his clock punched by taking a heavy book to the back of the head, the Pink Eyebrow is in full swing with his superpowers - he blasts his enemies with burning tears and fastens their mitts with fake eyelash handcuffs (eyecuffs, maybe?).

The whole thing is a scheme of rival publisher Mr.Taymer to force Tragic to sell the popular Pink Eyebrow to Taymer Comics, but Penniless Palmer and his pals put an end to those shenanigans. The Eyebrow hasn't been seen since, and you'd know if he had because he;s kind of hard to miss in that outfit.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : ECHO

A disease cured by medical science and ventriloquism. I bet that isn't covered under Obamacare.
When you choose to fight evil in all of its forms, you have to make do with whatever resources you’ve got available. This is how professional ventriloquist Jim Carson managed to launch his crime-fighting career using only his ability to throw his voice. Thus was born Echo, the man who is not standing exactly where you thought you heard his voice coming from!
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, sis."

Carson actually packs a little more punch than merely being able to sing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” while drinking s glass of water. Early in his career, he also dons an invisibility belt (referred to erroneously on more than one occasion as his “invincibility belt,” possibly as a tangible example of wishful thinking on the protagonist’s part), which actually seems to just be doubling down on ventriloquism now that I think about it. Surely throwing your voice so that it appears to be coming from somewhere else is the same thing as just speaking normally while invisible, right? Aw, what do I know, I ain’t in show business.

Having reached the apotheosis of making sure the audience never saw his lips move, Carson also wore a flashy cape in his super-hero identity, even though he was usually invisible. Maybe he just likes capes, I know I do.

Later on, he added a “radioactive ring” which allowed him to paralyze his opponents, possibly by causing tumors to quickly grow along their spinal cord. Lord knows it probably wasn’t doing him any favors.

The gadgets were secondary to Echo’s war against crime, however. Primarily aiding his cause was his sister (or, in some stories, his wife and/or girlfriend) Cora and his/their older brother, a brilliant but elderly chemist named Dr.Doom. Hold on. I guess mom remarried. Doom (Of the Connecticut Dooms, I believe) actually ends up playing a slightly greater role in the stories than Echo himself, since many of their adventures rely on someone coming to Doom for help – and why wouldn’t you, a trustworthy guy like Dr.Doom – or Doom introducing his siblings to one of his questionably accredited scientific colleagues.

Oh yeah, and one time? He fought an
EVIL ventriloquist.
While not a typical excursion, but used for an example, one of Doom’s colleagues in the Mad Science community believes that women are not only a separate species from men, but were also descended from cats. Naturally, to prove this, he invents a ray which turns women into cats. See, they’re cats now! How could they be turned INTO cats if they’d never BEEN cats in the first place? QED, case closed! PS also the ray kills them, which is probably what kept this guy from getting the Nobel nod.

Like a few other characters from Harry “A-for-Anything” Chesler’s stable, Echo received a second life in repackaging as “Ventrilo,” his adventures being recycled with the names changed (Dr.Doom evolved into Dr.Fate, just as it happens in nature). He never did get that invincibility belt he always wanted, though.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

THE ATTACK OF THE MUMMY INSECTS

Put it to music and you've got a guaranteed hit, believe you me.


I've previously pitched the above cover, for Blackhawk No.199 (August 1964, advertising a story dubbed "The Attack of the Mummy Insects") as being my favorite gloriously weird cover of the entirety of comicdom. It's so much of a perfect storm - the multi-tiered cavalcade of weirdness, the miniature story as told in a succession of comic panels, and the taxonomy of the mummy insects - surely ALL mummy insects are "weird," aren't they? Does it even bear saying?

I mean, I understand that not all weird insects are necessarily mummies, nor that all weird mummies will necessarily be insects, but surely "mummy insects" are just weird across the board, no modifier needed.

A-a-a-anyway, this story takes place during the Blackhawks' uncomfortable Silver Age weirdness era but before they got the dumb costumes, dumber codenames and possibly even stupider super-powers. Still, this was a period where they were facing off against cavemen on rocket sleds and meeting Blackhawks from five hundred years in the future who flew on rainbows instead of inside airplanes, so in a way weird mummy insects are just par for the course. Whatever the case, though, it's still a real step down from blasting Ratzis out of the sky.

Glalloping Ladybugs are NEXT issue.
The story begins when mysterious clouds of gas erupt from a seemingly peaceful field, which seems bad but I believe that it's just DuPont Chemical's equivalent of a Bat-Signal. "Look, a green cloud choking the life out of a field," cries the chairman of DuPont's board, "We're needed!" And they slide down a bat-pole to rush to the scene of unspoiled wilderness in need of poison.

What it turns out to actually be is a gas released by the Anteos, a highly unimaginatively-named race of super-smart ants from another dimension. The gas theoretically is meant to make all the local insect life straight-up suicidal. Frankly, this is a billion-dollar idea I'd never even considered before, making all the insects so depressed they just jump in ocean, make little nooses out of sewing thread or lock themselves in the garage with the car running. Someone call DuPont.

The Anteos have a multi-faceted eye towards conquering the planet, but they're concerned that the local vegetation can't handle both the native life and the voracious Anteos, so they decide to off the competition. Plus they shrink the Blackhawks down to tiny size the tell them about this plan. All in all it reads like a story from another comic crashed into a Blackhawks comic, and it all turns out okay and even gives them a chance to use the phrase "weird mummy insects" in the story, too, jut like I did in my wedding vows.

They're armed with fuuristic hair dryers the likes of which our imaginations cannot even conceive.

To get a good idea of how weird the Blackhawks comics were around this period, the second story in this issue is titled "The Fabulous Blackhawk Freaks" and tells the tale of benevolent, highly-advanced aliens imbuing members of the Blackhawks with crazy powers so they can take care of a planet-destroying bomb.

Love what you do.
Elderly Blackhawk Hendrickson develops the ability to inflate himself to ridiculous size and adopts the name The Human Dirigible, French lothario Andre can stretch like the prophylactics he refuses to use and becomes The Living Rubber Band,while Chinese compatriot Chop-Chop - who, by this point, has at least shunned the offensively rendered caricature which he'd been carrying around in the Forties and Fifties - develops insane upper body strength and is dubbed by his teammates "The Chinese Superman." He should release an album.

The trio work together to get rid of the bomb, although Chop-Chop's primary contribution was to beat the holy hell out of a spaceship they otherwise could've used to ferry the explosive device off-planet. The other members of the team put him up to it, but they also blamed him when it went awry, so I think you get a pretty good idea of the team mechanics at work there. Everyone's equal in the eyes of the weird mummy insects, though, they oughtta bring those guys back.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

BATMAN LEADS AN INTERESTING LIFE : THE BATTLE OF THE SUPER-HEROES

Luckily, this fight will only last forever in every comic book ever printed til the end of time.
Plots involving Superman and Batman engaging in knock-down, drag-out, bare knuckle super-slapfights has become so common in comics that they're met with boredom and disdain by a fair number of comic books fans. It's practically become tedious to watch the Caped Crusader slug it out with the Man of Steel, and fans are quick to blame Frank Miller for starting the trend with the highest-ever profile throwdown between the World's Finest Team in the pages of The Dark Knight Returns.

The hell is a "Fued"?
As fashionable as it is to blame Miller for the trend - and easy, too, since Miller has become almost unflinchingly blame-able for everything on account of him spending the last fifteen years growing increasingly full-fledged donkey-puck wackadoo - Superman and Batman have actually been pitted against each other repeatedly well before Miller or any of his devotees ever first put pen to paper.

One of these early conflicts was in the pages of World's Finest Comics vol.1 No.95 (Jul-Aug 1958, "The Battle of the Super-Heroes") wherein Batman mysteriously gains a full complement of super-powers even as both he and Superman suddenly develop a heated rivalry with one another.

The story begins with Batman and Robin busying themselves with a cozy nighttime patrol in their tricked-out Bat-Flivver with Batman idly reminiscing on the fact that he'd recently had a blackout while puttering about the Batcave, but deciding not to worry Robin with that particularly troubling news. Sure, Batman, why bother telling Robin that you've been having blackouts, your only his senior partner in frequent battles against angry men with guns. It's not like he counts on you being conscious. Sometimes I wonder if Robin isn't the mature one in this pairing.

WHEN TITANS CLASP!
Anyway, it's only a few panels later that Batman discovers that he's got super-powers, handily leaping over and then smashing up a crooks' car, He's even borrowing some tricks from his pal Superman's repertoire, cramming a junkyard full of scrap metal into a buzzsaw and using it to "sheer" away a burning  building from its nearby neighbors (typos and misspellings, by the way, run rampant in this story. Someone's editor was caught nappin').

Eventually Superman notices his pal's new powers, because no one can avoid the eternally spying eye of Superman. The problem is - he's peeved about it! And Batman's peeved too! In fact, it's mutual peeve, and the World's Finest Team is now the World's Most Peevish Team, they'll have to rename the books.

Neither hero ends up proving to be much use to the world, despite their massive powers, owing to their mutual feud occupying the entirety of their attention. This is about when Robin tries to help and, in doing so, makes things significantly worse. Straight Wesley Crushering the whole scene, Robin tries to ramp up the individual hero's jealousy with a whisper campaign intended to direct them towards fighting natural disasters and nearby crime, but the end result is BATMAN AND SUPERMAN FIGHT OHHHHHHHHH SHIIII



Briefly combining efforts to stop a hurricane, the collaboration turns into a mighty battle. Superman tosses Batman through a brick wall, so Batman batters Superman with a lamppost. Superman hucks boulders at Batman, Batman swats them back with an uprooted tree. Superman puts his rough hands on Batman's chest, Batman bites passionately at Superman's neck, ears and mouth. The pair greedily consume each other's lips. Their steely bodies grind. You know, the usual stuff that happens when superheroes fight.

"We want to wrap this up before Game of Thrones starts!"
While Batman and Superman get a room, Robin discovers the true cause of the problem, and wouldn't you just know it - it's fat alien nerds! A pair of balloon-bodied, bare-legged elf-eared Trivia Night champions from the planet Xlym have decided to resolve their long-standing debate about whether Batman could beat Superman in a fight by engineering that very thing.

Using an Abduction ray to bring them to Xylm, they turn a Super-power-ray on Batman and a Hate Ray on the pair of them, then use an Amnesia Ray on 'em to make sure they don't remember the event and then send them back to Earth with another Transportation Ray. Xylm's primary export is "rays."

The ending rushes along from that point, as Robin is shunted back to Earth to find his super-pals winding down their mutual antagonism and shaking hands like chums. It turns out the fat alien nerds had a BOSS fat alien nerd who HATES IT when they mess around with super-beings on other planets, so he flipped the switch that cancelled the Hate and Super-Power Rays and all in all this ending feels a little like one of those Grant Morrison-y meta stories where it turns out that we're the real higher-dimensional aliens, you know?

Crazy, man, real mind-bending stuff.

Oh, FEUD!

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