Tuesday, September 1, 2015

BATMAN LEADS AN INTERESTING LIFE : BATMAN'S ARABIAN NIGHTS

The Arabian Knight Returns

If I have one goal with this series of articles covering Batman's interesting life, it's that the idea of the ideal, iconic Batman is slightly revisited. We all know of Batman as a dark avenger of the night, a brilliant tactician, scientist and engineer, the world's greatest detective, a tireless defender of the defenseless, and possessed of near-infinite resources in his battle against crime. To that I'd like to add "He uses time travel in a very irresponsible fashion."

It's true, on practically every opportunity during his first fifty years of existence wherein Batman had access to time travel, he used it for what was essentially a frivolous purpose. Takes, for example, the reasoning behind his crosstime trip in "Batman's Arabian Nights" (Batman vol. No.49 Oct-Nov 1948), in which he uses time travel to verify the antiquity of a rug which Bruce Wayne bought at auction. Come on, Bats, you're a bazillionaire, you can afford to take a soaking.

Technically, it comes from a lamp,
Actually, Batman and Robin are intrigued as to the rug's origin inasmuch as it has a likeness of the Joker's pasty mug sewn into it - a fact which every previous owner of the rug and every official at the auction house appeared to have been completely unaware. In retrospect, I wonder if Batman didn't actually buy this thing out of some guy's van in an abandoned grocery store parking lot.

Solving this puzzle necessitates a trip to see their science pal Dr.Nichols, who has invented a machine which can hypnotize a person into traveling through time. This is a scientific process called "deluding," as in "Professor Nichol's machine deludes Batman and Robin into thinking that they're in the past, while he rifles through their wallets."

The hypnosis sends Batman and Robin back to ancient Bagdad, where they discover that the city is under siege by a strange, white-faced, green-haired criminal mastermind. If he seems familiar, then ... you're wrong! It's not The Joker, in fact, it's the polar opposite of the Joker - the Polar Joker! Wait, I mean, it's The Crier! Star of Two and a Half Men!

The Batman books at this point had a yen for establishing that the Joker was actually part of a long lineage - going both back in time and far into the future - of similarly pasty-faced human harlequins with green hair and a deformed jawline. Every generation, there's another opportunity to coo over the crib "Aw, he's got grandpa's eyes" just before you get murderer by an exploding pacifier.

It's an untenable and ludicrous idea, but here it is in all its four-color glory! The Joker has an ancestor in ancient Bagdad, it's canon now, let's just keep moving.

The Crier utilizes a wide array of crying-related gags, including a smoky lit torch and freshly cut onions. It's not the most high-tech thing ever, but it works.

This is disturbing.
His most daring escapade involves pouring oil into the river so as to light the Tigris on fire and terrify the locals - so that the Crier can commit a mass robbery in the confusion. In the interim, Robin had been captured in the Crier's lair and Batman was wandering around the lonely hills looking for him. When the Crier launches his scheme, all the Dynamic Duo can think to do to cross the great distance between them and the crook and save the city from panic is to use stolen silk to make a two-man glider with which they can coast down the hill. I am a hundred percent sure the manufacturing time is far in excess of walking.

Since the silk is so thin, they toughen it up by laying a handy carpet on top of it, creating the myth of the flying carpet right there and then! What would the world be like if it weren't for time-travelling Batman and Robin? Be sure to ask this question in your Humanities class.

Anyway, long story short, they discover that the rug they stole actually had the Crier's face on it, not the Joker's, and I guess THAT explains everything. Also, the way they defeated the Crier's scheme involved furious tickling, which I'd also like to add to the Batman canon if at all possible. Bat-tickles.

Friday, August 28, 2015

GONE AND FORGOTTEN FOES : THE LIVING ERASER

According to Marvel Comics, this is also what happened to several hundred pages of original art.

I miss the days when comic book writers would come up with new foes just based on whatever happened to be on their desk at the moment. The Calculator! Paste-Pot Pete! Clock King! Calendar Man! Staple Hands! Photo Of My Wife And Kids Man! Captain Desktop Golf Game! And, of course, The Living Eraser!

Originally debuting in Tales to Astonish vol.1 No.49 ("The Birth of Giant-Man" November 1963), the Living Eraser is an agent for an other-dimensional plane, set here to abduct our atomic scientists so as to steal the secret of the atom for his own warlike world. Among the scientists he abducts are a pair of notable nuclear physicists, inventor and superhero Hank Pym, and a hot dog vendor. I assume that's because scientists get hungry.

Why don'tcha try going through the wall vagina?
More precisely, the Eraser informs the reader that he'd been sent to Earth by The Supremor of Dimension Z, which is a thing I can't believe anyone would say with a straight face, even in the Silver Age. The people he represents seem to be lacking a little by the way of abstract thinking, though. Having maintained visual surveillance on Earth for centuries by way of enormous wall-clogging screens, no one in Dimension Z thought to just look over any atomic scientist's shoulder and make a note of what he was writing down. Instead, they just abduct scientists and nag them out of atomic secrets. 

The charm of the Living Eraser lies in the fact that he employs the comic book medium for his signature super-power. What "erasing" a human being might look like in real life - or even represented on a movie screen - is up for special effects artists to figure out, but a partially wiped out figure on a comic page is practically what the medium begs to happen. 

The effect was consistent between the Living Eraser's first appearance and his return in the pages of Marvel Two-In-One No.15 ("Return of the Living Eraser" May 1976), a story in which the living vampire and occasional Spider-Man opponent Morbius spent a whole issue literally just trying to drink blood from every single character who appeared onscreen. This is literally the entirety of the plot; Morbius starts by trying to drink the blood of Ben Grimm's girlfriend Alicia Masters, then gets kicked out of her apartment and tries to drink blood from some hobos, then goes to Dimension Z and drinks blood there. It's like the Zagat's Guide to Blood Drinking Locales. 

It's in the hobo-strewn alley that the Living Eraser makes the scene, apparently working his way up the chain of atomic scientists by erasing a few homeless people first. Start with the homeless people, work your way up to the atomic scientists, maybe grab a couple sandwich artists along the way in case you get hungry.

The Living Eraser is a fascinating villain simply because so few villains use the medium of comics themselves to define the scope of their powers. He'd be a great character to bring back, possibly teamed up with someone who shot zip-a-tone out of a cannon and a living asterisk whose mere presence had to be cited in a little yellow caption box in the bottom of the panel.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : CLAWFANG


While he dresses like a mutt, there's no arguing with his pedigree.

Clawfang the Barbarian is the product of Wally Wood on story and Al Williamson on art, and a lovelier post-apocalyptic society-returns-to-barbarism but-there-are-still-super-scientific-lab-parts-floating-around stories there possibly never has before been ...

Although he only ever appeared once, in Unearthly Spectaculars No.2 (December 1966), Clawfang packs a lot of detail into his single outing. The result of a barbarian society which emerges after a devastating nuclear war --- which itself was the product of society rebuilding itself after a devastating nuclear war, which itself was also the product of a society rebuilding itself after a devastating nuclear war, and so on and so on as though it were turtles all the way down -- Clawfang leads a desperate band of raiders against the all-consuming empire of the cat-like Felina (well, they say she's cat-like, she just looks like a Sixties glamour girl for some reason).

Uh, he HAS a name ... 
It's Felina 1 and Clawfang 0, though, as his men are defeated and - after some tense negotiation - he ends up becoming her slave, or warrior, or sidekick, or patient, or something. The story goes by pretty quickly and it's hard to say. They barely agree to the terms of the debate procedure when they're attacked by blind subterranean "norns" who drop them into a weird underground chamber.

Further interrupting their attempts at codifying their relationship is that they stumble onto a hidden laboratory, the owner of which sleeps in frozen slumber on a slab smack dab in the middle of it. All the advances of the future world, and he can't afford a sleep number bed. This is what happens when you defund science programs.

The scientist turns out to be a violent dick and Clawfang has to dispatch him through the back of an enormous futuristic whack-a-mole machine, leaving him to ponder what truly this world has become. I couldn't say, I never saw what it was before this.

The artwork in the story is gorgeous, naturally, although Wood's writing was never his particular strong point - it's all brooding men and constant violence, and while that has a certain appeal it still manages to wear out its welcome a bit after five pages. Still, Clawfang makes for an interesting footnote in the careers of both men, as the intersection of Wood and Williamson had the potential to be as revered a congregation as Simon and Kirby, if it had only found the venue ...

Heavy thoughts, Clawfang ...


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

HEALTHY HEROES!

My greatest fear, spiders leaping out of my bananas.

I'm disinclined to take health advice from Wal*Mart, a chain of stores which I'm fairly confident would be absolutely comfortable selling beef jerky made out of up to eighty percent styrofoam. With that being said, however, I guess I trust superheroes, despite the fact that so many of them gain their powers by sticking their heads into radioactive isotopes and drinking whatever serum happens to be closest under the lab hood.

Fuck apples.
So I guess that resolves my conflicts with Healthy Heroes, a comic and activity book distributed by Wal*Mart and starring a host of Marvel superheroes in their 90s outfits for the most part, even though the book was released in 2004. I guess they were waiting for the latest insights from the Food and Drug Administration.

The story involves Spider-Man swinging around downtown, where he's joined by Storm, and they start arguing about where to get lunch which is why those two don't hang out anymore. Spider-Man ends up suggesting that they go to "a friend's aunt's" place (can't the aunt also be your friend, Spidey?) to engage in some arcane endeavor called the "5 A Day The Color Way Lunch," which is basically a means of getting your roughage and nutrients via the color spectrum as understood by the ancient Greeks. "Bronze cherries, bronze blueberries and bronze bananas sound good to me" say Euripides, wondering what exactly he has to pay for.

Ultimately, they're joined by Captain America, Wolverine and the Hulk, which is always what happens when you make workplace lunch plans - some nerds overhear you and now you're stuck eating with Marcie from Accounting. Ugh, Marcie and her cat stories! Someone, please!

If the comic has particular charms, it's two-fold; First, the heroes simply cannot stop saying "5 a Day the Color Way Lunch" in every circumstance, no matter how irrelevant. Everything is related somehow to the central theme. "Thanks to our 5 A Day Cool Fuel, that truck won't have a chance against your powers, Hulk" says Storm, while elsewhere Wolverine coos "After that healthy lunch the 5 A Day Way, my mutant senses are even sharper than usual." It's all they're talking about, the kids love it!

The other charming bit is that, when the five heroes confront a truck driving, out of breath Sabretooth (he's either weak from lack of a 5-A-Day Color Lunch Style Eating Theory Philosophy or he's rolling coal and sucked in a lungful), they choose to berate him about his diet instead of beating him up. "B-but I'm not used to eating 5 to 9 servings a day!" Sabretooth cries before Wolverine severs his jugular. Now he'll learn.

This is more or less all Storm accomplished in this story.



Tuesday, August 25, 2015

WILD WORLD OF WONDER WOMAN : WONDER WOMAN, AMAZON BABY SITTER

Three Men and a Babysaurus

I'll say this again: If you can look at a picture like the one above and still honestly tell me that you don't think there's any kinds of stories worth telling about Wonder Woman, then I'm going to have to ask you to leave this invisible plane, please.

Having read dozens upon dozen of these older Wonder Woman tales, I've been a little confused as to the modern interpretation of the character. According to the stories of the last two decades, Wonder Woman is the ultimate warrior, a character bathed in blood and trained in every deadly art known to mankind and then some. Her Lasso of Truth and her magic bracelets have become her least important armaments, she's now do-goodering behind a shield and a sword for the most part. Her contribution to almost every conflict is to grimace about the difficult choices of life and death inherent to violent conflict.

Pay up, Mortimer.
But here's the thing - Amazons have been living on a Utopian island for more than three thousand years, undisturbed by mankind and perfecting their own society. They have not experienced anything like war in millennia. They have a physical culture, of course, they run and joust and have fights, but these to celebrate competition and the physical self, not to wage war - the fields of Paradise Island aren't scattered with kanga corpses.

Likewise, Wonder Woman came to Man's World initially out of curiosity, and then to promote the Amazon utopian way of life to the rest of the planet. Amount of warfare involved with this: zero. She didn't even kill her Nazi enemies or what-have-you, she just sent them to late-night cable softcore women's prison.

So stories like this, where Wonder Woman is offered a ridiculous challenge and jumps at it despite its utter ludicrousness, seem so much truer to the character to my mind than the ones where she's snapping necks and then yelling at Superman for being a pussy about snapped necks (at the time, anyway).

The story begins, as all stories do, with two wealthy white men making deals inside a gentlemen's club. In some sort of Amazonian Trading Places, millionaires Scragg and Merriweather are debating the general merits of Wonder Woman. Merriweather is a big booster of the amazing Amazon, so Scragg decides to trick him into some sort of apparently super-clever bet; if Wonder Woman can perform a seemingly impossible task as set by Scragg, then Scragg gives a million to charity. If she doesn't, then he WON'T! The scales are ... the scales are minimal at best, but here we go!

Scragg and Merriweather agree to test Wonder Woman's suitability as a babysitter, but not any old babysitter! Her first charge is a beached baby whale resting on a nearby sandbar, while the second is a baby Dumbo Drop evidently.

I think he's tasting you.
According to the baffling headline, "All efforts to reach baby elephant dropped by chute from crashed circus plane fail!" is one of those headlines which raises so many more questions than it answers. Was the baby elephant piloting the plane? Did he bail? Is the baby elephant bored with his humdrum life and so decided to try skydiving? Do all the circus animals skydive? The answers to these mysteries could fill their own book.

The final baby to be sat by Wonder Woman is a bright red T-Rex frozen in ice, and who subsequently escapes. Listen, I know I'm crossing a lot of streams here, but Wonder Woman obviously babysits Devil Dinosaur, which works out really well because of the dual initials things. Wonder Woman and Devil Dinosaur! Say it soft and it sounds like praying.

As conflicts and violence goes in this story, there's absolutely none - Wonder Woman pulls a swordfish beak out of the whale's tail (I didn't know they could just lose their beaks like that, but y'learn a new fundamentally wrong thing every day), she makes a little rescue slide out of her lasso for the elephant, and she basically just rides the T-Rex around for a while until they become friends, and then a charity gets a million dollars.

And if you still think that's not enough for a story and you gotta bring in some necks to break, then I do not know what to do with you.

Final accomplishment: Friends with baby T-Rex.


Monday, August 24, 2015

MAD AD MONDAY : IT BUGS ME!


The takeaway here is : Destroy valuable things if they offend you. I expect to see you all in the streets tomorrow, bring your own baseball bats.

Friday, August 21, 2015

GONE AND FORGOTTEN FOES : BONZO, THE APE ARCHER

Twang your magic twanger, chimpie.
It's my contention that every superhero should have an ape opponent or two. It's worked out just fine for Superman, Batman and the Flash, after all, and I'm very happy to say that it works out for Green Arrow, too!

Confronting for the second time Bonzo the Ape Archer in the pages of World's Finest Comics vol.1 No.116 ("The Ape Archer," March 1961), Green Arrow and his young sidekick Speedy find themselves pitted against a simian crime spree committed by a naughty little monkey in a purple archer suit.

It's because of your boring anecdotes, Bart!
Apparently all archers in the DC universe just wear what amounts to outfits which are identical to the early Green Arrow costume. I've seen red, white, blue and yellow variants on the costume, alien archers from outer space wearing the same dealie-bob, archers from around the world wearing identical costumes with regional additions. They make one archer outfit and it's that one, it's like flipping through a particularly unsatisfying customization feature on a video game from fifteen years ago.

Bonzo's own costume is purple and adorable. Whoever had the idea of putting a chimp in a purple Green Arrow suit, my hat is off to you, sir or madam.

Bonzo's crime career started under the tutelage of his trainer, evil circus employee (aren't they all?) Bart Rockland. Training Bonzo to become an expert archer on par with Green Arrow and Speedy, Rockland then executed the second part of his ingenious plan - namely, running around in broad daylight with a gaily costumed chimp, ripping off jewelers' stores. How they say through his plots, I couldn't imagine.

Chimp soap operas.
With Rockland in jail, Bonzo was rehabilitated and sent to the circus with a new trainer, which just seems to be asking to get your face ripped off. Unfortunately, his criminal behavior appears to have started back up, as a violet vine-swinger is seen holding up fancy dinner parties and making off with society dames' comically large jeweled brooches.

It doesn't take Green Arrow or Speedy very long to figure out that Bonzo is innocent of the charges and that it is in fact his new trainer, Lance, dressed in a Bonzo costume, doing crimes! Unusually for a story of the nature at this time in comics history, Bonzo has absolutely nothing to do with the capture of his crooked trainer, nor does he actually play much of a role in the story except as a red herring. With that being said, I feel that only leaves the character of Bonzo the Ape Archer open to being brought back - he's basically a blank check! Whether he's a man in a monkey suit or a monkey in a man suit, he's got potential as a master criminal - let's get Bonzo on Arrow! 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : COMMANDETTE

Rocking's her vocation, she's a very Comandette
There's not much call for single-use superheroes these days, given that the anticipation is that any costumed do-gooder will sprout a franchise, complete with multi-content crossover and spinoff media. Those are words I heard once and I'm sure have something to do with business. Back in the Golden Age, though, it was really just about filling pages and stuffing the newsstand rack, with a genuinely laissez-faire attitude towards marketing and a hope that something would stick to the wall.

Well, Commandette ("The Female Commando," in case you had a head injury) is definitely a one-and-done superheroine. Debuting and bowing in Star-Studded Comics No.1 way back in 1945, Commandette restricted her crimefighting a very specific crime which happened right under her nose, and didn't have any particular reason thereafter to keep fighting the baddies.

Literally hitting him with her shoe. Hilarious.
Stuntwoman-turned-actress Betty Babble is starring in the title role of a soapy romantic thriller actually called "Comandette," in which she wears the very costume she'll later use in her sleuthing and slugfests. As far as protecting one's secret identity goes, I'm afraid allowing yourself to be captured on film in your costume and using your superhero name and then being credited under your actual name is about as rookie as mistake as they come. The criminal underworld wonders - who is Commendette? Well, we have her W-2's right here.

But, like I say, Commandette doesn't have a particularly long career. In the middle of a scene, one of her co-stars is surreptitiously murdered, literally under her nose! Her good friend and other co-star finds himself framed for the dastardly deed, and there begins Betty's pursuit of crime.

When she and her accused pal are cornered by a phony cop ("Get in here!" he orders them, at gunpoint, "The DA wants to see you two!" leaving Betty to wonder "The DA? Since when have the cops been cooperating with him?" Since the establishment of the legal system, Betty, not much further back than that), Betty has to jump into high gear - crashing a car, making with the ol' jiu-sitsu, and engaging in a dangerous battle high up in the rafters above the studio floor. And all the time, she wears her Commandette costume, complete with kicky little Robin Hood hat.

Possibly unique among superheroes, Commandette manages to defeat her enemy by running away; cornered by the actual murderer - the film's writer, in fact - Betty chooses to safely dive into a pool below rather than fight him, and then just screams bloody murder for the cops. And it works! Who needs superpowers when you have the ability to run away and shout?


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

THE UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE OF "I ❤ NEW YORK"

I'll admit this right out of the gate - I don't feel comfortable criticizing someone's 9/11 memorial and benefit comic. All I can really say in my defense is that Joe Michael Linsner's 2002 reminiscence of the events of the year previous is an experience which deserves to be documented and commented upon, and also that at least I'm not so tacky as to wait for September to talk about it.

The book, for the most part, catalogs Linsner's experiences and perspectives in the days following, and flashes back to the day of the attacks itself. Like many of us, he was asleep when the World Trade Center was first hit, and received the news secondhand. Then there came the difficult job of processing the loss and the sense of invasion, the gathering with friends, and acclimating one's self to the different ways in which others dealt with the news.

And then there's the all-important sixth stage of grief, throwing in an unnecessarily bolded and accentuated aside about a GAY dude's ASS ...


Why those words are bolded and called out so strongly is particularly odd, but it's the sort of construction which, for many people, happens unconsciously. You have certain attitudes and predilections which lend you to add undue importance to the other-ness of people not like yourself. It's something done by many creators who find themselves asleep at the wheel...



So as to contextualize the shock and sorrow at the sight of the Twin Towers on fire, it's phrased in a way that we can all find ourselves familiar; when a girl breaks a man's heart. That's certainly what I walked away feeling at the time, that this was exactly like the time a girl I liked didn't like me. But lest you think that's a frivolous comparison, please keep in mind that he never felt that way over no woman.



And then, of course, there's the use of poetry - metaphor and turn of phrase - to deal with complicated emotions. I bring you, then, this:

"...like human cold cuts in a concrete sandwich of death" is what they used to call me when I sang the blues.


The book then swerves into a dream sequence apocalypse which, you know, isn't terribly out of place in the Dawn books. I'll also admit that I absolutely lost the plot at this point.



Still, to give credit where credit was due, the book apparently raised a significant amount of money for the American Red Cross, which is frankly where these sorts of literal memoirs do the most good and is more than this blog ever did for charity, really. You could also buy prints of the cover of this book to hang on your wall, proceeds of which I assume also went to the Red Cross, because who wouldn't want to look at the burning Twin Towers every day of their goddamn lives?


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

COSTUME DRAMA : HOT STUFF THE LITTLE DEVIL'S DEMON DIAPERS

Yeah, I'm a little turned on too.
Hot Stuff the Little Devil was more or less my jam when I was a wee'yin back in the old days, when comics were whittled from whole pieces of cherrywood trees and posted like flags above the trading post. We'd ride in from the territories to hear them read to us by the man from the Western Union office, since he was the only living soul for a radius of fifty miles who owned a spyglass. The whole trip would take four days and sometimes we'd lose four, maybe five men on the trip. Hard times.

That being said, though, I can't really recall all that much about him. I'm sure I remember as many of the basics as anyone with a passing interest in the character or in old Harvey Comics may recall - he was a short-tempered little devil, armed with a fire-shooting pitchfork. His uncles and some of his aunts were devils, some of his other aunts were witches, which is either how devil biology works or he was the union of a witch and a devil, which means he has the same origin as Hellboy pretty much.

Oh, and he wears a diaper.

Kink-Y! Oh, wait, you mean on his shirt.
Even as a child, the diaper was really alarming to me, because Hot Stuff appeared to be roughly equivalent to a child of seven or eight, assuming you accepted that he was a kid in the sense we understand it. And then again, sometimes he appeared to be an adult. He lived on his own, he provided for himself, he had a girlfriend, the hallmarks of adulthood in what appeared physically to be a kindergartner with a terrible case of roseacea and who also walked around pissing and shitting himself relentlessly, one supposes.

I could recall that all of the little kid devils wore diapers, and that the aunts all wore the same formless cloaks you'd see on witches over in Wendy and Casper (if you're really into the "shared universe" dealieo, feel free to consider those to be "Easter Eggs"), and that probably the off-panel portionss of Hot Stuff's home were simply caked and reeking with expunged befoulment.

Recently, I had the opportunity to check out some old Hot Stuff comics again, and this is where I learned to my cost: ALL THE DEVILS WEAR DIAPERS.

YOUNG



OLD



FAT



DIAPERS, EVERY ONE OF THEM.

This doesn't seem super-professional.


No wonder that forest's so lush and green. This is a more startling depiction of devilkind than ever found in any Hieronymous Bosch painting. I'd take being consumed by a fish-faced pope and pooped out into a translucent bubble any day over thousands of free-shitting, wildly-pissing devils tromping around.

In one adventure, (Devil Kids vol.1 No.27, 196, "Devil Boy") Hot Stuff doffs his doodie-pants and tries on an ersatz superhero costume, after having been inspired by a drive-in movie presentation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase 8 films. Although the experiment ends up in mild disaster - he gets burrs on his costume, gets overstarched, is attacked by moths and generally has to keep his flame powers on the downlow so as to not destroy his neat new playsuit - it yields knowledge. Terrible, unfortunate knowledge.

Switching back into his regular togs, he flies off into the distance, leaving a nearby pair of frightened fauna to give voice to their terror and give a name to Hot Stuff's butt-hugging glad rags:



DEMON. DIAPER. Have there ever been two worse words in the English language? I genuinely hate that they have a name, it somehow makes it much worse.

Friday, August 14, 2015

GONE AND FORGOTTEN FOES : THE MINSTREL



On a couple of different occasions, Doll Man had the opportunity to fight a banjo-bearing baddie by the name of The Minstrel, whose criminal career is defined by what appears to be some sort of severe budget issue in the wardrobe department.

Debuting in Doll Man vol.1 No.23 (July 1949), The Minstrel was originally outfitted like some sort of bootleg Joker action figure from a Taiwanese flea market; white top hat, lime-green lapels and striped pants jutting out from a merlot-color waistcoat. This is how the Spin Doctors would have dressed if they'd become unstuck in time and Quantum Leapt into 1949.

Try fuckin' it to death.
As bad as the costume is, it could have been worse (and was- stay tuned!), and at least it was dynamic as all get out. Also aiding the Minstrel in his music-themed robberies and mayhem was his gimmick banjo, hiding in the neck both a double-barrel shotgun and a device to shoot magnesium flares at unsuspecting pursuers.

The gimmicks worked superbly in his first outing against Doll Man, although what made the genuine difference was the thing which usually unseated Doll Man - some sort of equally small menace! The Minstrel makes use of a parade of small robot replicas of himself, which as I think about it sounds a little familiar. Whatever the case, I leave that argument up to the fine folks at the patent office and focus on the results; Doll Man is ultimately laid sufficiently low that the Minstrel can murder him in the most efficient way possible; tying him to the clanger in the town bell and letting him get rung to death.

Well, naturally our hero escapes that death trap and puts the malicious Minstrel behind bars. For a minute anyway. He's back only a few months later in Feature Comics No.138 (September 1949) bearing a distinctly different look. Gone is the high hat, the sweet spats and the Fruit Stripes-colored ensemble and in its place is ... Woody Guthrie?

This Machine Kills Doll Men
Yeah, he kind of looks like Woody Guthrie now. Dressing down in a loose-fitting chamois-cloth shirt and hard-worn fedora, the once-snazzy Minstrel has suffered sufficiently reduced circumstances to go about looking a bit like a railway bum, and a lot like the author of This Land Is My Land.

His motive has changed somewhat, as well. Pride appears to be the encouraging factor in his later crime crusade: "I'll prove that I'm the world's greatest minstrel!" he tells a roomful of cronies, "And at the same time I'll help myself to a fortune! This is a perfect opportunity to display my twin talents for music -- and crime." He shoulda just stuck around and let the residuals for that Wilco/Billy Bragg album come in.

The dramatic change in appearance may have merely been the result of a little miscommunication within the busy studio - it happened elsewhere and on larger scales than Doll Man, no pun intended. It also might have been the result of a little pressure from often-litigious DC Comics, as The Minstrel more than a little resembled the clown prince of crime (and, for that matter, stole that accolade for himself).

Whatever the case, at the very least a character named "The Minstrel" could have been a lot worse. At least he didn't avail himself of blackfa --



Oh.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : BUNNY

Meet the hip boss, same as the mod boss.

Like Gilgamesh of ancient myth, Bunny Ball - star of her self-titled teen humor and fashion comic from Harvey Comics in the 1960s - sprung from the loins of three parents, more or less.

Her most obvious and only direct progenitor was Archie Comics, the 500-pound gorilla of teen humor comics since its debut way back in 1940. However, where Archie and his gang took enormous pains to stay relatively agnostic to their era -- a perfect Archie story was no more explicitly set in any one decade than another, a few adjustments for fashion nor technology notwithstanding -- Bunny and her pals were almost painfully contemporary. Or, at the very least, they pretended to be.

The faux psychedelia of Bunny's world came as fast and without apology as it came under-researched and spontaneous. Ostensibly capturing the vibe of hippie culture, it bore the mark of middle-aged men doing their damnedest to replicate slang, music, fashion and fads which only impressed itself upon their minds in passing, and with the often-contemptuous distance of the generation gap.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Bunny's other 1/3 mee-maw and/or pee-paw, in that sense, was Joe Simon. Editing the Harvey "Thrill" line around the same time as Bunny's debut, the veteran creator's own later Brother Power the Geek bore the same claims of exposing the "real-life scene" or "Hippieland," even if Bunny's world was a little lighter on biker yippies in castoff Nazi regalia.

The names of Bunny's creators weren't particularly well-recorded, but it's not impossible that Simon, directly or otherwise, had some influence on the voice and style of Bunny's world. He'd always exhibited some fascination - and a little sympathy - with the then-youthful Baby Boomer community, so even though he'd never directly worked on Bunny as far as we know, there's a good chance he midwifed some of its conceits.

And "conceits" is a perfect word. Bunny began life as indistinctly defined among the herd of unfortunate teen comedy stars as anyone else, with a leaning towards fan-designed fashion as Katy Keene or Betty and Veronica. The affectations of flower power culture defined the book for the most part, though, with increasingly trippy cover designs and hip doggerel introducing the stories in lieu of splash pages. The dialogue inside concentrated on "happenings" and "scenes," everything was "go-go" and a "turn-on" and what I'm trying to avoid saying outright is that this is the way your grandparents spoke when they were fucking.

This kind of constant pursuit of the zeitgeist puts a real strain on the middle-aged men who are asked to produce it, which is probably why Bunny started to falter and sputtered out with a staggered final two issues which would make Alan Moore's last 1963 and next Big Numbers look like a weekly by comparison.

If the book started to dip in energy and enthusiasm, though, it's possibly because its last living precedent also sputtered out. Much like ROM, Team America, US1, Crystar and other toy-inspired comics, Bunny is believed to have been originally intended as a tie-in to a hip, swinging new fashion doll -- of the Barbie variety -- but which petered out after a short shelf life (In Bunny's case, that shelf-life was ... non-existant). Producing a lot more story than the toy ever produced happy children, at least Bunny was a relative success, even if it was a weird artifact of a bygone era.

I forgot to mention that the fashion pages, for some reason, included an airplane banana.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

DECODING THE AVENGYLENE SWIMSUIT ISSUE

It's swimsuit season! So let's celebrate in the most comic booky way possible - with a swimsuit special! And to celebrate the lazy days of Summer, let's celebrate in the laziest way possible - with a swimsuit issue that actually only has basically like a dozen actual drawings in it and the rest of it is chaff from a model's portfolio!

She looks so unhappy with that sword sticking out of her ear.

Cathy Christian is part of a short-lived phenomenon in comics where the model for the character preceded the character herself. Credited with co-creation of Avengylene - a typical sword-swinging 90s bad girl of the extrapolated Judeo-Christian "spiritual warfare at its finest" model - Christian was the face upon which the series was hung.

Starting her career as the first official Vampirella model (which earned her a trading card series, among other speculator accolades), a couple of decades after Vampirella's debut, she was the cart before the horse in the case of Avengylene. Portraying the superhero in live appearances and promotional photos, she was arguably the visual inspiration for the character (you know, as far as you could tell).

Despite having done a fair amount of in-costume photos during her run, the swimsuit special (August 1995) was split between illustrations of Avengylene and photos of Christian in no way whatsoever dressed as nor behaving like Avengylene. Eight full-page photos depicted her without Avengylene's distinctive-if-impractical costume, her sword, nor her signature back problems. You almost might come to the conclusion that, gee, maybe these were unrelated photos from her portfolio, jammed into the swimsuit special just to save a little money and fill out the pagecount? Gee. Golly. Sweet googleymoogly.

With that in mind, here's my best guess as to what appears to be running through "Avengylene's" mind during her swimsuit photo shoot ...

"Ah, it sure is refreshing to take a break from serving as Heaven's chief warrior in its endless battle with the forces of Hell to dry my hair out here in Yuma. You say you can Photoshop boots and giant sword onto me later? It's 1995, what's Photoshop? Oh, you meant Microsoft Paint. I get it."


"Ah, stretching my back on this hot rock is exactly what I need to limber up my lumbar after striking those spine-shredding poses in all the OTHER Avengylene pinup specials. I should be able to stand up pain-free by the time Al Gore is elected president of the United States."


"There, I've completely hidden my feet, just like you asked for Mister Liefeld."

"Oh, okay ... Rob."


"Ugh, what is this suffocating outfit they've got on me? I feel like I'm wearing four parkas! How do you expect a girl to find the demonic forces of the underworld all wrapped up in yards of fabric like this?"


"..."

(She has just had the plot of Avengylene explained to her)


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