Thursday, February 23, 2017

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : FLYBOY

Well, he's dead.

Revisiting the "Approved Comics' line of adjectivial Boys on the march for freedom and prosperity brings us to Larry Jett, a.k.a. "Flyboy," ace of the skies!

Flyboy and Happy are not cut out for war.
Larry and his pudgy sidekick Happy Holiday (I'm not sure which of those is the affectionate nickname part of the guy's handle, if not both, so I'm assuming it's his Christian name) are air cadets in the American military, learning to protect America's skies but also to use the power of military air power to foil kidnapping and sexual harassment. I'm okay with this.

The only downside is that Flyboy is something of a feckless fuck-up, although his intentions are good. Except for those occasions when his intentions fly in direct opposition to the orders he was given. I mean, those are also good, but sometimes he doesn't do it for much of a good reason.

The most interesting thing about Flyboy is that none of his adventures really happen in the sky, for the most part. He's not in aerial dogfights, he's not racing across country or narrowly escaping big storms. What he DOES do, however, is find a bunch of crooks at their hideout because some Lenny-from-Mice-And-Men type thug manages to idly shoot Flyboy's plane out of the air from a sitting position on the ground. Seems to me the comic should be about the man-child who is depicted literally shooting the heads off of nails at thirty feet. Gunboy!

They never did.
He and Happy manage to pick up some sort of aerial Amber Alert, then buzz a car they believe contains a kidnapped child. They proceed to harass the car, even threatening it with their props, before driving it off the road. The kid actually got out earlier so he isn't dead, but I still think that's kind of a bum way to stop kidnappers.

AND, lastly, Larry gets in dutch with a civilian roughneck working on the camp's laundry detail, on account of Larry kept the knucklehead from groping a female co-worker. I'm on Larry's side, but then I worry about the guy because he didn't seem to notice that the big idiot sewed a bunch of mothballs into Larry's jacket, causing him to have blackouts and dizzy spells during his training flights. Larry's a fucking menace.

What's worse is that he doesn't have a lot to look forward to. If the final story in the issue -- not a Flyboy tale, but a traditional war comic -- we're given a story about a guy who gets into war but doesn't really get off on killing people, then later is a prisoner for a while and ends up being way too enthusiastic about killing people. That's the happy ending in question, that the guy is excited to turn a lot of military wives into widows. Those are even his words. Flyboy would be better served getting washed out of the military and picking up a hack license, I gotta be honest.

Sounds .... great.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

DUCK AND COVER



Given the current political climate, you'd be forgiven for finding yourself thrown back in your imagination to the days of the Cold War -- providing you'd lived through any significant component of it.

I did, and I remember the persistent, inherited dread of nuclear annihilation which infiltrated the fabric of everyday conversation. If you think today's doomsday preppers are a strange and nihilistic bunch, then you have got to hop back a few decades and check in on moms talking about how scared they'd be of radioactive fallout raising red-and-blue rings under their children's skin, and having their hair fall out in clumps as they vainly tried to take in water through loose teeth and cracked lips. "Billy is such a vibrant boy, and I definitely don't want to bury his limp and sore-festooned corpse in the dry, unforgiving earth, my strength failing me from hunger and radiation poisoning" they'd say, or something not dissimilar.




I exaggerate for something resembling comic effect, but the fact was that my church held occasional atomic war preparedness seminars, and we still had to have a day at school where the teachers showed us where the fallout shelters were.

What we didn't have was "duck and cover" drills, a form of desperate survivalism taught alongside Social Studies and Home Ec a generation or two before my own. The specter of nuclear annihilation had begun, by my younger years, to carry with it such a spontaneous and immediate implication of total destruction that, I think, the idea of jumping under a desk was patently absurd to my peers, and even our parents, across the board. We'd come to accept that humankind had, as a whole, agreed to adopt into our world a means of self-destruction so thorough and absolute that the only defense against it was hoping that you'd be one of the ones who died immediately and without suffering or, worse yet, awareness of the bomb.




Death is inevitably sudden, even when it's drawn out. A loved one dying in pieces in a hospital bed will still leave you gobsmacked by the suddenness and even the unpredictability that death brings. What the threat of nuclear annihilation did was make death not only sudden, but immediate. It was a fait accompli. We were living like it had already happened. A real fucking mindbender for a whole raft of generations, the pathology of which we're still suffering under.

With all of that in mind, I'd occasionally catch a Duck and Cover film or pamphlet. That its directions were worse than useless in the face of an increasing destructive capabilities of an expanding worldwide arsenal was plain to see. What I used to wonder about, though, was ... Sure, you've hidden behind a desk, or a bookshelf, or a low wall. But what if the bomb exploded on the other side?

Another gift of the constant nuclear-era paranoia infused on us by the mutually assured destruction and bouncing rubble of the anticipated apocalypse was gallows humor like a motherfucker. I've never been able to view any media of anyone protecting themselves against an atomic explosion without thinking "Bad news, the second nuke's landing to the South of that wall. Sorry Sally, you're a poignant shadow now!"


That dread of nuclear devastation has popped up again, as it will do in a culture that is persistently technologized towards conflict and destruction. Strangely, the fear of nuclear war and the international aggression which presages it was a motivating factor among the voting public, and they voted for it. (If you consider that a partisan jab, I will violate a personal rule and admit that, at least in this instance, "both sides are equally bad." It's not as though there hasn't been a foreign nuclear boogeyman for every administration since Kennedy).  That we continue to reinforce the structural environment of nuclear dread seems to speak contrarily to our disinterest in having our entire civilization atomized into a future paleontologist's particularly interesting sediment layer.

But it does mean that, culturally, we're having a guilty awakening. Nuclear dread and zombie-based entertainment -- also a big player in the present-day mindset -- tend to come from the same emotional reservoir; the feeling that someone took us out of the driver's seat when we weren't paying attention, and now we have to face the music for the path we took. Someone else is in control, and it's not someone with our best interests at heart. It's the feeling that all of our good times came at a cost, and the cost is catastrophic and has to be paid in a big burst of terror and panic. Its the conviction that all we can do is duck, cover, and hope the worst of it gets blocked by the couch.




Play us out, Bert.



Monday, February 20, 2017

MICRONAUTS MONDAY : 07 - ADVENTURE INTO FEAR



Micronauts vol.1 No.7 (Jul 1979)
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artist: Michael Golden / Josef Rubinstein
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Al Milgrom
EIC: Jim Shooter

Steve Coffin and the Micronauts (See them at the Santa Clara County Fair on the Third Stage with Mudhoney and the comedy of Bill Engvall, this weekend!) are taking a break from the hectic past few issues, hiding out at the Coffin Family bog-shack somewhere in the Houses-Made-Of-Found-Objects part of the Everglades.  No end of authorities are currently on the lookout for them -- NASA security, the county police, Phil Prometheus' cyborg H.E.L.L. security force, and so on. In fact, the one entity which has basically tabled their search for our heroes is Baron Karza, currently occupied by a rebellion, an escape and a curious cosmic phenomenon.

There is no greater compliment.
During the downtime, Biotron and Arcturus Rann take center stage as the foundations of the Micronauts' universe is established in flashback. We meet, for the first time, Rann's parents and Homeworld's demigods Dallan and Sepsis, along with their slimy Chief Scientist Karza, still-human at this point.

From there, the mechanics of Rann's millennium-long tour of the Microverse is expanded upon, with the "telepathic exploration" having been kind of a vague idea up to this point. While he 'sleeps' in suspended animation, Rann's mind directs and communicates through Biotron as they bring a message of peace and diplomacy to "countless far-flung worlds."

The telepathic connection between Man and Roboid (the tenderest of all affections) changes Biotron, and gives him what no Roboid has had before. A dick. No, wait, I'm being facetious -- he gets feelings! Real human emotion, not just programmed call-and-response! And it's this deep emotion that allows him to recall with bitterness the futility and mockery of his mission, as Karza's science allows a military force to move at superluminal speeds and conquer every one of the worlds which The Endeavor visited in peace.

In a transcendental passage, Biotron goes on to explain the tortured nightmares of Arturus Rann, hijacked both physically and mentally by the unknowable Time Travelers and the Enigma Force of which they are only agents. The emotional bond between Rann and Biotron was forever forged that day, as fear of the unknown filled their mutual minds with revulsion and fear. That's neat. I like this. I like this part of the comic. It's good.

Transcendentally good.

Meanwhile, over in the Microverse, Karza has a flotilla of ships analyzing and studying the titanic form of Phil Prometheus, who has lost his mind and much of his artificial skin. He's floating around spouting gibberish with a face like a Wurlitzer. He's basically Dion MacGregor but made of pennies. Whatever the case, his research is bound to pay off, as the final panel of the story promises the audience that Karza's gonna come climbing outta that damn Prometheus Pit. They need to put a door on that thing.

Ray Coffin is also still floating around, being harangued by a Time Traveler into becoming a "champion" to battle Karza. This is a brief scene, as is the one wherein Slug and Argon learn that at least one branch of Karza's ominous Shadow Priests is on the rebellion's side. These are short because of MAN-THING!

MICRO-SIZED MAN-THING hits the scene, drawn from his swampy enclosure by Steve's fear for his father's safety. It's a relatively by-the-book kind of battle between the Micronauts and Marvel's man-muck monster-guy, since Man-Thing isn't exactly a quipper. In fact, it's a fun fight scene with tons of toy spaceships given feature space and Steve getting to chop Man-Thing to a billion pieces with a convenient airboat. But the actual excitement is that this places the Micronauts' adventures smack in the Marvel Universe, meaning more intriguing crossovers are pending.

Letters page fun! Well, there's not much, except for a relatively disturbing  profile of Bill Mantlo (left). There's also a passing reference made to Doug Moench's work on Shogun Warriors, which brings up something I'd been meaning to mention about Mantlo's and Moench's styles when it came to the licensed material. Moench, both with Shogun Warriors, Godzilla and, to a degree, with his work on Shang-Chi and assorted monster titles, was fantastic at creating homages. His work was very much an ode to the oeuvre and genre which he had inherited (This is probably what made him such a good choice to script several of Marvel's literary adaptations).

By contrast, Mantlo built worlds inspired by some unspoken element inherent in the toy being merchandised. It's neither better nor worse than Moench's approach, but having Rom and Micronauts in the same universe as Shogun Warriors and Godzilla -- and, for that matter, being more closely united than any other Marvel title by dint of being licensed works -- makes for a genuinely interesting narrative topography when taken as a whole.

Next issue! A character debuts that made me have to pay collector's prices for the fuckin' issue! I'm still bitter!

Friday, February 17, 2017

THE LEGION OF REGRETTABLE SUPERVILLAINS - FORGOTTEN FOES : TYRANNICAL TEAMS



Last year, I had the pleasure of having my first book, The League of Regrettable Superheroes, published by the fine folks over at Quirk Books in Philadelphia, PA. Although the cat has been out of the bag for a little while, I'm nonetheless proud to announce that the logical sequel -- The Legion of Regrettable Super-Villains -- is slated to debut on March 28th! You can now pre-order the book over on AmazonBarnes&Noble, and probably on the weird superhero book black market. It does thriving business!

To whet your appetite for the new book, every Friday leading up to the release date, I'll be providing brief snapshots of just some of the 108 (!) historically effed-up bad guys covered in the book (and that's not even counting the sidebars).

Everything's better with friends, and that includes villainy! Plus, since the heroes have had the temerity to form their Leagues and Squadrons and Societies, it's only fair that the bad guys get their Legions, Gangs and Syndicates. Here's a collection of sinister societies and the dopes who populate them ...

DEATH-THROWS
Created by: Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary
Debuted in: Hawkeye vol. 1 No.3 (Marvel Comics, November 1983), Captain America vol. 1 No.317 (Marvel Comics, May 1986)

A team of evil mercenary jugglers may be a redundant phrase, but it's also the least-threatening-sounding theme for a group of bad guys outside of "The cast of Hamilton goes spree-killing." And yet, in the wild and wonderful world of Mark Gruenwald's Captain America, they was for REAL!

The 'Throws consisted of Bombshell, Oddball, Knick-Knack, Ten-Pin and Ringleader, all of which sound like what you might blurt out in panic if someone asked you to name the Seven Dwarves. Originally, the 'Throws started off as a duo who fought Hawkeye and Mockingbird, heroes with arrows and a large stick respectively, and against whom maybe they had a chance. Then they fought Captain America, a super-strong man whose shield can literally stop whole tanks and, therefore, fuck a juggling club is what. Let's see how Lin-Manuel Miranda does with his weaponized jabot.


DESERT DWELLERS
Created by Steve Engelhart and Al Milgrom
Debuted in: West Coast Avengers vol. 2 No.17 (Marvel Comics, February 1987)

I spent most of my life in Tucson, Arizona, and your inevitable condolences are appreciated. It's a beautiful land with a complicated ecosphere, home to dozens of cultures with rich heritages, a vibrant art community, and race crimes. Still, although I never truly appreciated its beauty until I became an adult, I nonetheless thought as a kid and continue to think now that the Desert Dwellers, villains based on the flora, fauna and climate of the Sonoran Desert, sucked yucca.

There was Sunstroke, the villain who primarily kills senior citizens on their way to the mailbox, and the adroitly-eponymous Cactus and Gila. Protip: They had the powers of cacti and gila monsters. Rounding out the group was a powerful rock-woman named Butte. Ironically, she was more top-heavy than butt-y.

When it came time to magnify the threat of the Desert Dwellers, they decided to ... clone a bunch of them. IT IS A RICH ECOSPHERE. There's even more than one kind of cactus, goddamnit. I burn for a villainous javalina-person.



THE BIG GANG
Created by Gardner Fox and Gil Kane
Debuted in: The Atom vol.1 No.34 (DC Comics, December 1967)

If you're facing the world's tiniest superhero, you'll want to go as big as possible. On the other hand, you might want to literally go big and not just have a bunch of inane, nearly-pointless "big" themed powers.

Among its roster, some of the members sounded like a good place to start: Big Ben was their strategist and kept his eye on the scheduling of their antics. Big Bertha possessed the power of her namesake, and Big Shot had a bunch of trick guns ("shooting someone dead" is the number one trick gun trick, but maybe he gets bored easily).

Those are the good ones. Then there's Big Wig (who has exploding hairpieces, which you'll want to watch out for), Big Deal (who has exploding and steel-tipped playing cards) and, uh Big Cheese, who is armed with trick cheeses. Actually, I love this idea. Give 'em a movie.


THE 99
Created by Kevin Maguire
Debuted in: Trinity Angels #1 (Acclaim Comics, July 1997)

For Kevin Maguire's Hong Kong cinema-inspired jiggles-and-giggles supernatural superhero action-comedy Trinity Angels (and that was a lot of adjectives used to try to get a grip on this thing), it was only natural that the sexy, scantily-clad super-ladies whose names were on the masthead would have equally unsexy enemies. 

Thus, the Ninety-Nine, a group of otherworldly weirdos who seemed to have fallen fully-formed off of a joke scribbled on a bathroom stall. Meet The Prick, who shoots pricks (as in, fires needles from his body, not "shoots and murders people who are pricks"), a gaseous villain Blowhard, and something called the Mad Cow who could shoot milks of different offensive capabilities from his udders. Yes, "his." Gender is a spectrum, folks.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : INVISIBLE BOY

Nah, but it's cool.


"Invisible Boy" Danny Blake gets something resembling a title of his own, with a bold logo and the legend "Death stalks the night ... TERROR IN THE STREETS. Invisible BOY!" emblazoned across the masthead situated like a halo above a painting of a murky, juvenile figure kicking the shit out of fake bedsheet ghosts sporting guns.

In fact, he's actually the star of something called "Approved Comics." In an ocean of "action" and "adventure" and "spine-tingling chills," "approved" is very much the Parental Permission Slip of comic book antics. "We'll sell you the whole seat, but you'll only need the approval!"

Ether is fantastic. 
The timidity of the title aside,  Invisible Boy relates the adventures of Danny Blake, young son of sometimes-effective police commissioner (poet, painter and printmaker) William Blake and a good friend of Professor Willard Crown, a scientist who has literally unlocked the secrets of the alchemists and cold fusion, for that matter, all of which he keeps in a coffee cup. Also he turned Danny invisible accidentally while getting his ass kicked. ALL IN DUE TIME

Professor Crown is frequently visited by Danny, during which times the Prof amazes the youngster with chemical antics which he describes as the result of "My good luck to stumble upon some of the ancient formulas of the past." He can literally change lead into gold, which he exhibits by turning a common lead sinker into a two-hundred dollar hunk of precious metal. Later, he accidentally turns his coffee spoon into gold, which implies that he uses lead utensils for eating and drinking and maybe he's actually afflicted in the brainpan.

It's while hanging out with the Prof and learning all sorts of new chemical secrets of the distant past -- turning lead to gold, turning fire to gold, doubling gold and reversing it, giving names to frogs, creating everlasting gobstoppers, flight, magic missile, detect undead and so on, most of which I just made up -- that Danny accidentally gains his amazing powers.

"I'm helping!"
Scars Mason, a crook for whom Danny's father has been fruitlessly searching, shows up at the Prof's house and takes the duo hostage. At some point -- and that point can be identified as "the moment the Prof accidentally shows the murderer that he can make gold out of anything and the murderer got kind of excited about that" -- a scuffle emerges. Danny gets knocked against a shelf which contains a chemical formula so dangerous, so deadly, so incontrovertibly bad that Danny was warned never to touch it, much less smash into the tall, shallow shelf which supported it.

The formula is, of course, invisibility formula, and it doesn't seem all that bad. Danny and his clothes go peek-a-boo, and a different chemical reverses the effect. I'm not seeing the downside, but maybe the Prof is over-concerned in general.

Danny's adventures as an invisible crimefighter span a pretty wide arc of intensity. In his third adventure, for instance, he uses his invisibility power to humiliate a dude who's been cockblocking him at a tea party. Just before that, he turned a machine gun on the cops and tried to crush a buunch of commie agents under a newspaper printing press. Invisible Boy is hardcore. I/b/h/c

It's true, Invisible Boy spends three of four adventures beating criminal adults on the heads with dangerous implements. He hucks wrenches and other tools straight at the faces of a bunch of bad guys who're hanging out at an allegedly haunted mansion, using bedsheets to scare away intruders. He knocks a home invader in the mush with a vase. He sends printing press paper rolls on Commie agents, objects of such weight that they can easily kill a man, and only stops because he can't get the last one to shift. He's all tuckered out from the brutal murders.

He also enjoys kicking them in the butt.

With those three adventures in place, it's no surprise that he considers it fair play to use his invisibility powers to scare away the other potential suitors of his young girlfriend. My guess is that the dangerous side effect of Professor Crown's invisibility formula is that it creates tremendous mood swings and violent behavior in test subjects. Only you can't tell Danny about the potential side effects, because he;ll just go invisible and smack you in the head with a crowbar.

That's because you've been destroyed by chemicals. RIP Invisible Boy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

IF YOU SEE SWAMP THING, SAY SWAMP THING : DEAD AND MARRIED

With superhero television programs blowing up in the last few years, recaps of superhero television shows have become all the internet rage. Other sites, however, are hobbled by the need to cover shows which have been "recently broadcast" or which are "any good at all." But who covers the uncoverable? That's why Gone&Forgotten chooses to cover the 1991-1993 USA Network live-action Swamp Thing television series in a feature I used to like to call a dumb pun kind of title, but I've run out of those, so I just call it ...

If You See Swamp Thing, Say Swamp Thing
Season Two / Episode Fourteen : Dead and Married

Every now and again, the Swamp Thing television show acknowledges the character's horror comic roots (and, for that matter, how Alan Moore transitioned the character into his expanded consciousness plant god by way of apprenticing him to John Constantine, who was sort of a sexy version of the Crypt Keeper, unless you already thought the Crypt Keeper was sexy). This isn't a guarantee of taste and glory. After all, it gave us the moralistic (and, for that, wonderful) "Smoke and Mirrors," an episode I enjoy solely because of its runaway awfulness. On the other hand, it gives us "Dead and Married," a pretty good horror story in which Swamp Thing exists primarily to move the action along.

Guest-star Phillip Michael Thomas and Sheila Wills play Barry and Daphne Scott, a bickering married couple who are introduced to the audience with their car buried halfway in the swamp. Apparently stranded, they're stumbled across by Will Kipp, leading some sort of Swamp Scout tour of the Universal Studios backlot (maybe that's how he makes his spending cash, since I can't imagine that the USA Network paid very well. Golbert Gottfried was paid for Up All Night in meal vouchers. True fact, you can Ask Jeeves).

Google Maps is probably to blame.
The mixed blessing of being apparently rescued from being bogged down in the swamp (yay) and having to deal with Will Kipp (boo) becomes a total non-mixed non-blessing, i.e. a plastic bummer. Turns out, you see, that the Scotts are actually a married couple who were deliberately run off the road after attending a high school reunion, and whose spirits have hung around their demolished car all these years! SEE? A GOOD PREMISE!

Will finds the corpses inside the car and calls the cops, giving Swamp Thing enough time to interview the Scotts like some sort of vegetarian Katie Couric. From them we learn their backstory, that Barry Scott is an awful jerk and probably someone murdered them because they hated him a whole bunch. If that was a good enough reason for murder, Will Kipp would not be wandering around and stealing dead peoples' cars.

Still waiting for the seat warmers to kick in. 
Yep, that's Will's big role in this story -- he drags the car out of the swamp and cleans it up, it's his now, dead people funk or no dead people funk!

Actually, this is the first time wherein I found Will Kipp to be valuable in a story-telling sense. Swamp Thing has filled Will in on the Scott's condition, and instructed him to rebuild the car as part of a Scooby-Doo-esque plot to solve their murders. Will also acts as liaison between the Scotts -- whom he can see and talk to via the rear view mirror of the restored vehicle -- and Swamp Thing, a guy who stays away from cars even though he could easily pay for a ride with copious amounts of grass, if not the ass or gas.

I never noticed it before, but Will has kind of a Dean Cain vibe going on.
As an aside, there's some effort made this season to establish Will as some sort of local lothario, possibly to make up for the absence of Abigail in these episodes. In this case, the sexual energy manifests itself in the form of one of Will's girlfriends getting all horned up because Will restored a Buick Skylark that had dead people in it. I won't kink shame.

By chance, the NEXT school reunion happens to be taking place just as Will finishes fixing up the car, which leads to the daffiest part of the plan: Will takes a job as a bartender at the reunion, brings the car, sets it up as a raffle prize, and then tells everyone that it used to have dead people in it just to see if anyone freaks out in a telling fashion. Will? EVERYONE WILL FREAK OUT, you freak. It's a freaky thing to tell people.

Wanna feel old? This is the cover to Parallel Lines today.
It sort-of does and sort-of doesn't work, this plan. A quintet of characters -- Barry and Daphne's former classmates and people who are incredibly bad at acting drunk on camera -- have no measurable response worth mentioning, but that's probably just the acting. As it is, they're all suspects, if just because they don't introduce any other characters.

(The worst of the fake drunks get a scare put into them by Swamp Thing, and they decide not to drive drunk. The shadow of Smoke and Mirrors looms large, polluting everything with public service announcements).

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH"


It does turn out that two of the former classmates did indeed murder Barry and Daphne -- but not because of Barry. They were out to get Daphne! AWWW SON IT'S AN IRONIC TWIST, way to go USA Network's late-night syndicated Swamp Thing television show! Today, you are a man.

Turns out that the Scott's lawyer murdered them to claim some stock that Daphne had been buying on the downlow for years. How he gets it, I dunno, but he needs it to offset his wife's expensive buying habits, and the two collaborated on the murder. What that gets them is -- and please, prepare your chef kiss fingers to properly celebrate this primo grade-A classic horror ironic twist ending -- they also crash their car in the swamp and their ghosts hang around and think they're still alive, just like Barry and Daphne in the beginning of the episode! Bad-ass! Someone wrote something like an actual story for this show for once! I love you once again, USA Network's Swamp Thing television series! Never let me down again.

"I can't get a signal."


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

TUMBLR TUESDAY: SMACK!

Broadway Hollywood Blackouts vol.1 No.2 - Stanhall Publications, 1954




Monday, February 13, 2017

MICRONAUTS MONDAY : 06 - THE GREAT ESCAPES



Micronauts vol.1 No.6 (Jun 1979)
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artist: Michael Golden / Bob McLeod
Letterer: Diana Albers
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Al Milgrom
EIC: Jim Shooter

Miserable astronaut dad Ray Coffin and evil robot jerk Dr.Phil Prometheus have fallen down the Prometheus Pit into the Microverse -- a journey which has been fatal to everyone who's ever attempted it before! Steve, the Micronauts and Muffin have rescued Bug and are now running for their lives through the halls of H.E.L.L. to escape Prometheus' cyborg security force! And Biotron is back in the Coffin's garage, trying to repair the Endeavor and not get killed by the Coffin's pet cat! It's action-packed!

Super-ominous
Biotron had stayed behind to effect repairs on the Micronauts' ship, the Endeavor, but piqued the interest of the Coffin's hungry pet cat. Steve didn't feed the little furball before rushing off the NASA two issues ago and, having read ahead, that cat ain't getting fed anytime soon. There's also something ominous about a scene where Biotron circles around a box to out-maneuver the cat, but the box bears the label of its ownder -- COFFIN -- and, well, be safe Biotron.

Prometheus and Coffin -- comedy darlings of Vaudeville -- tumble through the corridor to the Microverse, shrinking and passing through increasingly weirder environments. The strain of it is too much for Phil Prometheus, who promptly loses his mind, while Ray vanishes in a blink of light. Where does he reappear? Well, it's somewhere in the middle of Microspace and there's a Time Traveller leering over his shoulder, and it frankly looked like a scene from an intergalactic episode of OZ.

"A MA-YUNN!!
Prometheus -- reduced in scale by his trip through dimensions but still a giant compared to any denizen of the Microverse --  causes a real shake-up in Baron Karza's citadel. While he and his army respond to the incursion of a giant, unknown entity, rebelllion leader Slug effects an escape from the Body Bank prisons for herself and the recently centaured Prince Argon.

This issue feels mostly like a place setting episode, with the heroes being suddenly reunited, the villains receiving their ultimate weapon, and the deus ex machina being set up in the background.

Having stolen his father's truck (or, borrowed, to be generous), Steve and the team make it back to the Coffin house, from which Biotron has just violently flung Steve's cat. He's got those Super Powers arms that spin when you squeeze his legs, I think. Slug and Argon get to the Resistance, Duchess Belladonna still sits around waiting for a new body, and everything is basically placed in a nice, quiet place so that, next issue, we can start bringing in mainstream Marvel characters! Hoorah!

I'm including a two-page spread from this issue because something which I think might be fairly obvious had never occurred to me before seeing these two pages: There are a lot of similarities between Michael Golden's and British artist Alan Davis' styles. I've been following Davis' work since I was a kid, and was lucky enough to stumble on some ex-pat's enormous collection of British comics at the local used bookstore for a quarter-each. Pretty much the only kid in America with a complete Marvel Super Heroes Weekly collection, I presume. The two of them are relatively contemporaries, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Golden was some influence on Davis.

Is it just me or ...

Anyway, next issue, whoever knows fear knows what comes next!

Letters page bonus! Kurt Busiek (Age 18 at the time of this issue's release) writes a largely glowing review of the second issue, with his only complaints being admirably concise criticisms of lettering and coloring specifics. Below that, it's thanks to Danny M.Davids of Colorado Springs, CO, that we know "Acroyear" is pronounced "Ak-ROY-er," LIKE I LONG SUSPECTED!

Bonus scan - the language of Homeworld!

Friday, February 10, 2017

THE LEGION OF REGRETTABLE SUPERVILLAINS - FORGOTTEN FOES : PERNICIOUS PROFESSIONALS



Last year, I had the pleasure of having my first book, The League of Regrettable Superheroes, published by the fine folks over at Quirk Books in Philadelphia, PA. Although the cat has been out of the bag for a little while, I'm nonetheless proud to announce that the logical sequel -- The Legion of Regrettable Super-Villains -- is slated to debut on March 28th! You can now pre-order the book over on AmazonBarnes&Noble, and probably on the weird superhero book black market. It does thriving business!

To whet your appetite for the new book, every Friday leading up to the release date, I'll be providing brief snapshots of just some of the 108 (!) historically effed-up bad guys covered in the book (and that's not even counting the sidebars).

Sometimes there's only so far you can go in your career of choice. There are glass ceilings, office politics, and the changing face of the American workplace. As for options, you can try rebranding yourself, changing careers, launching a startup of your own or, failing that, do what you've always done but evil ...



THE MAD ARCHITECT
Created by Unknown
Debuted in: Yellowjacket No.8 (E. Levy Publishing, February 1946)

Strangely, the Mad Architect who bedeviled the golden age superhero Yellowjacket isn't the only golden age mad architect in comics! Heaven knows, there may be many more, but Superman once fought a height-challenged empire-happy nogoodnik named Emil Loring, an architect who captured slave laborers in order to create a monument to his own genius.

The other Mad Architect doesn't have anything nearly as colorful a scheme as Loring. In fact, all he really wants to do is murder all the members of The Architects League, an entity which denied him membership because his house designs all sucked. It happens, man, that's why Betty Crocker kicked me out of America's Test Kitchen. PS I don't know if Betty Crocker has anything to do with America's Test Kitchen, don't @ me.


THE JINGLER
Created by Bill Woolfolk and Paul Reinman
Debuted in: Top-Notch Comics No.26 (MLJ Comics, April 1942)

"You're never fully dead without a smile!" Ah yes, a pleasant little jingle makes murder all the more palatable. When a failed poet is driven by desperation to steal bread to survive -- and murders the shopowner from whom he's stealing, in a fit of pique -- he accidentally drops one of his totally-shit poems and starts a sensation. Pretty soon, the front-page prestige of the would-be Byron goes right to his head, and the Jingles of Death begin pouring from his poison pen. PS Jingles of Death sounds like Santa's most bad-ass elf.

Eventually, the Jingler's increasingly high-profile murders catch the attention of The Wizard and his sidekick Roy, The Super-Boy. That last one is a real boon for the Jingler, since Roy and Boy already rhyme and that makes his job so much easier. What do you do with Wizard, though? "I'll slit your gizzard" or "You look like a lizard" or, you know, "How about the comedy of Eddie Izzard, in a blizzard, once these sheets of fabric gets scissored?" You wander out of the menacing metaphors pretty quick.


EL VAQUERO
Created by Maurice del Bourgo and an unknown writer
Debuted in: Prize Comics vol.4 No.6 (Prize Comics, June 1944)

The King of the Cattle Rustlers, south of the border (and parts of Texas, it's worth mentioning), the Vaquero takes his cow-crazy crime spree up north to the big city, crossing the paths of The Black Owl and his sometimes sidekicks Yank and Doodle, the super-powered teen twin jerk-offs. Remind me to get into this some day. Those kids suck.

A couple of interesting accolades hang off the sarape-clad shoulders of the Vaquero. First off, he wins. In his first fight with The Black Owl and those stupid jerk kids, the Vaquero straight up wins and gets away. Yay Vaquero! I was on his side all along!

The second great accomplishment is that he manages to smuggle a semi-truck full of dairy cows onto a ferry without anyone noticing. "They're just moving some moo-ing furniture," I'm sure many of the other commuters were thinking. Oh, shit, I should have called it "A moo-ving van!" I quit, you can write the rest of these.


THE JAILER
Created by Dick Dillin and an uncredited writer
Debuted in: Blackhawk No.113 (DC Comics, June 1957)

Listen, I kind of hate The Blackhawks too, but you don't see me spending the promising years of my youth building elaborate jails for them just to prove how good I am at my job. Also, I don't build jails, so probably they'd suck and prove that I wasn't very good at my job. I got ahead of myself, hold on.

Gilbert Gaol (whatever happened to him?), latest in a long line of prison architects, mistakenly believes that his ground-breaking design for a super-secure prison was rejected by a big gang of civic leaders. In response, he decides to try to kill the Blackhawks. This salves his wounded ego until he finds out that actually the people in charge liked his prison designs -- so much so that they'll be incarcerating Gilbert there! That seems likely to cause a million breakouts, but at least the Blackhawks got a couple months' reprieve from Gilbert trying to kill them.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : THE BROTHERS

Mondays, am I right?

There's no excuse for having stumbled across this fact only recently, but I did: Al Hartley, the virtuoso artist, writer and letterer whose career in comics passed through assorted romance titles, all the way up to the softcore men's comic character Pussycat and then, after a road to Damascus moment, ended up as practically the sole creator of the Spire Comics line of Christian comics? That Al Hartley?

Well, his dad was Congressman Fred Hartley, sponsor of the disastrous anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act and a pal of Joe McCarthy. A fine fella, all the way around.

I feel like this is relevant only because of the anti-revolutionary rhetoric which is a component of Adventures With The Brothers, one of the few original, non-licensed titles to come out of Spire.

"Let's just take a moment to appreciate it."
Strapping young blonde ... twins, maybe? Or just regular brothers, I honestly couldn't tell. Anyway, strapping young blondes with an eye for adventure, the Brothers are hallmarked by their good cheer, enthusiasm and inventive solutions to the problems of almost being murdered by psycho cult leaders and barely-concealed stand-ins for Idi Amin. This is a helluva resume they're putting together. Their college applications are going to be fit to bursting with after-school activities. Too bad they'll probably go to Trinity. You can get in there with an Arby's receipt or half a movie ticket.

The three separate issues of Adventures With The Brothers (with evocative titles such as "Hang In There," "The Cult Escape," and "Smashing the Smuggler's Ring," the last of which sounds like a really rough porno) follow Pete and Tom Brothers, the Brothers brothers, who accompany their missionary parents into all sorts of missionary positions in underprivileged areas of the globe. Hey, who am I to judge, it's the most searched-for genre on PornHub.

While the stories are highly simplified morality tales aimed at the kiddie-wink crowd -- or so the CONSTANTLY SHOUTED AND BRIEF SENTENCES INDICATE!!!! -- they also fall prey to the kind of casual paternalism which is natively inherent in the propaganda of any majority culture. Hey, how y'all liking my college education? Still fits just like it did when I was twenty. You know, pretentiously.


Prior to this panel, they kicked a
fat dude off a cliff.
The Brothers brothers (oh, brother) manage to fit some well-expected evangelizing in-between messing up a revolution in an African nation and busting up a cult on an otherwise-pleasant tropical isle. They also manage to really give the business to that one smuggler's poor ring. I don't have that issue, so I am just assuming it's all butt stuff and god bothering, and I won't be swayed otherwise until I find a copy somewhere. And maybe not even then.

The differences between The Brothers and every other comic in the Spire line is primarily cosmetic, using as it does roughly the same type of script, in spirit if not in letter, as all the other books across the line. What they bring to the table on their own merits is treating other races and cultures like helpless infants just desperately eager for the white man's hand to lift them out of poverty and influence. I say that dismissively now, but I'll be singing a different tune when I get out of the re-education camps later in 2017, I'm sure.

(PS If God is real, then I pray that the above sentence isn't rendered cruelly ironic by the current executive power at some point in the immediate future, amen)

With the rest of the original Spire Comics characters, the Brothers disappeared when the line ended. There hasn't been much of a call for the revival of these characters, but that doesn't mean someone somewhere couldn't arrange for a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but made up of the Brothers, Barney Bear, Archie's Car and Tom Landry.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

QUARTER-BIN HEROES : SEADRAGON



Seadragon (Elite Comics) 6 issues, 1986-1987 

There are comics which, had I discovered them when I was ten or eleven years old, I think I might've flipped for ... but only at those ages. Any younger, and I was already fascinated by polish (the first comic I ever bought with my own money was a Frank Miller Daredevil, at age 7, so I knew my moody noir-inspired shots from the cradle evidently). Any older, and I wanted my superhero comics to have something more than quips and crisis.

But Seadragon fits in a nice, sweet spot. A product of Elite Comics, Seadragon was part of a small superhero universe including a team book, Epsilon Wave, a pulpy hero called the Twilight Avenger, the obligatory Wolverine-type (Night Wolf, sworn enemy of Day Wolf, I suppose) and an Elite Presents title which I now recall I'd seen at a quarter-bin and skipped. Damn it.

Whatever the case, Elite was clearly a company with some capital and vision, even if it was a vision that was shared by about a hundred or more other small publishers who were trying to effectively walk in DC and Marvel's shoes. "We could be the next Charlton," I dread them having said.

Seadragon is Walter Koch, a researcher who becomes trapped in an experimental deep-sea "gill suit" developed at a place called "The Dragon's Lair." How did they manage to get funding for that? Also, the reason he got fused to it was a "nuclear accident," so more questions have been raised than answered.

The suit grants him the ability to breathe underwater, and a little enhanced strength and endurance t'boot. He also picks up a magic shrinking trident which can be worn as a necklace. I say "magic shrinking" assuming that the trident's natural state is a trident and not a necklace. I dunno. I should call someone.

 This is all somewhat academic, if only because it's boilerplate superhero stuff. He becomes involved in the politics of the undersea kingdom of Mu, fights an undersea tyrant, gets involved with a magic gem, knocks some terrorists around, gets involved with a hooded mastermind. The usual.

The set-up aaaaand the pitch ...

On the other hand, the book boasts some qualified personnel. R.A.Jones, writer and critic for Amazing Heroes and CBG, handles the editorship of the entire line. Meanwhile, Dennis Yee -- whom I mentioned previously for the character The Canton Kid, which he'd created for DC's New Talent Showcase and which I'd really liked -- moved on from artist to artist-writer of the series. The guy didn't do enough, is my feeling.

But the star of Seadragon is its look. Seadragon himself has a pretty interesting appearance, but it's the coloring inside the books that would have excited my tweener self; it looks like it was done with Pentel markers. That sounds like it would be awful -- and it would be, in most cases -- but the effect was to give the interior art on Seadragon this art brut effect, some sort of compelling near-incompetence which made it feel comfortably intimate. It felt like a comic you and your friends might have put together, high hopes abounding.

I'm shy a couple of issues of Seadragon, so for all I know issues one and five were professionally hand-painted by Renaissance apprentices. Still, it's a good entry into Dennis Yee's abbreviated career and a nice addition to the community of forgotten superheroes in general ...

The Visible Seadragon

Monday, February 6, 2017

MICRONAUTS MONDAY : 05 - THE PROMETHEUS PIT



Micronauts vol.1 No.5 (May 1979)
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artist: Michael Golden / Josef Rubinstein
Letterer: Jim Novak
Colorist: D.R.Martin
Editor: Al Milgrom
EIC: Jim Shooter

Picking up from last issue, former astronaut Ray Coffin and his son Steve have arrived at Human Engineering Life Laboratory with their bounty of wreckage from the recent battle in their backyard. Their shoebox full of broken warships and dead Microverse-ian Dog Soldiers has won them access to the center of H.E.L.L.'s core project, the Prometheus Pit, eponymously named for its creator, Phil Prometheus. Of the Connecticut Prometheuses.

While Bug has tagged along with the Coffins, the remaining Micronauts -- minus Biotron, who has stayed behind to effect repairs on The Endeavor -- stage a rescue mission. This is a good opportunity to show off what is clearly the Hot Micronaut Accessory of 1978 -- The Astrostation, a symphony in cheap plastic which looks like a bathtub and contains all sorts of transparent fold-out features like an "Ejector Tube" used to launch action figures directly into the carpet of your parent's rec room.


Before they zero in on their friend Steve, their ally Bug or Steve's perpetually hangdog daddy Ray, the breakaway squad finds Muffin, and rescue her from Ray's hot car that has the window rolled up, in Florida. I am now rooting for whichever villain puts Ray in front of a cannon that shoots deadly suction darts, or whatever.

The Micronauts are getting to show off in this issue. While Biotron does neat limb-extending robot tricks and sings his own praises back at the workshop, Marionette exhibits an uncanny skill with animal handling, Acroyear shows off his tremendous strength by tearing a chain-link fence into ribbons -- keeping in mind that he's the size of an action figure, so this is the equivalent of ripping pylons in half. I suddenly wish we'd seen Acroyear, full size, facing off against characters like Thor or The Thing. Or maybe he will! I dunno! I've only read five issues!

You're never too old to watch a tiny lady open a car door.
It's good that they've all showed up, though, because the ominous similarity between the allegedly technical appellation "Human Engineering Life Laboratory" and Baron Karza's "Body Banks" is effectively explained: Dr.Prometheus already knows about the Microverse! He's been collecting dead soldiers and wrecked artifacts for years! And he's trying to steal its secrets via the Prometheus Pit, so that he can make himself a GAW-AW-AW-AWWDDDD!

More to the point, an accident aboard a space station has basically wrecked Phil's human shell, requiring him to have replaced almost his entire physical form with advanced cybernetics, and to surround himself with unquestioningly loyal robot guard/slaves. The obvious parallels between Prometheus and Karza -- scholars whose fascination with immortality and power led them to create a personal army and seek to conquer worlds with it -- are undoubtedly intentional. Absolute micro-power corrupts and everything.

Speaking of Karza, he entertains the ancient Duchess Belladonna with an explanation of the Body Banks which relies on economic models, and so we can finally get a grasp on the nature of what kind of banal, typical evil it represents: The rich get immortality, the middle class slave away or gamble their way towards immortality, and the poor get turned into dog food. And yet we keep electing these people.

The Duchess' wait for a new body -- she had planned on having Prince Argon's, but he'll be a horse soon -- is almost over, as Karza has picked for her the rebel leader Slug! She almost appears to be saved by the sudden appearance of Prince Argon, now a centaur thanks to Karza's weird sense of humor. Dog Soldiers manning a weapon which looks like a cake of soap with Truck Nutz on the front manage to knock out both rebel leaders, returning us to the finale at HELL.

Half coffee machine, half man.


Phil has been trying to strangle additional information about the Microverse out of Steve, to which perpetually sluggish former astronaut Ray Coffin objects to in reasoned but firm tones. It's Bug who saves the boy, but reveals himself to Prometheus -- the first living Micronaut Phil has ever laid his robot eyes on! It's enough of a distraction that ol' Ray takes the opportunity to tackle Prometheus into his own pit, where they begin to fall towards the deadly wall of astral energies which separate the universes! A cliff-hanger!

Letters start coming in, from this issue on, and the first two are worth mentioning. Dennis Beiting of Farmington, MI, notices that Prince Argon's horse, Oberon, shares a name with the steed of the superheroic "Force Commander." He mentions this like it was a mistake, though -- "Uh, Oberon is the name of Force Commander's horse/centaur legs, not Prince Argon, you dumb idiots, you stupid stupid dumb stupid moron idiots, that's not Argon's horse, you dumb dumb moron stupid dumb morons!" I paraphrase.

The reply "No mistake, Dennis, Prince Argon will become Force Commander" is a pretty good burn but also kind of a spoiler? I mean, I know we say that he's a man-horse now, but still.

Meanwhile, Rogue Conn of Eugene, OR, straight-up asks why the hero of the comic couldn't be a woman or a person of color. Not even asks, actually, just confronts them on it. And then just destroys their own authority by being super-snide about the similarities between Micronauts and some famous movies. Motivated by larger principle but undermined by trivia, Rogue would've been a comfortable addition to political Twitter...

Next week, more of the same shit, but louder!

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