Friday, January 30, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : VAPORA


Daredevil versus Vapora – Rumble in the Jungle with the Fume of Doom!

Going all the way back to the practically prehistoric year of 1996, we join scipter Mindy Newell, artists Mike Harris and Don Judson, super-hero Daredevil and football fields worth of burning children for a PSA comic brought to us by the caring individuals at the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association feat.the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is a collaboration on par with Sadistik feat. Tech-N9ne and Sticky Fingas. Possibly it also heavily samples “Think About It” for all I know or care.

"Oh shit, we got Smurfs!"
Investigating an apparent arson case on behalf of a sympathetic landlord – in New York, he is very likely THE sympathetic landlord, what with all the other being mild color-and-accessory variations on Donald Trump – Daredevil’s alter-ego of attorney Matt Murdock annoys firefighters in the deadly aftermath of a devastating fire and screams at empty pockets of air like a maniac.

It turns out that Murdock’s super-senses allow him to perceive a fast-talking, fang-toothed wispy ne-er-do-well, dubbed in a moment of tongue-tied verbal ejaculation by the legal eagle as “some sort of … Vapora.”  You know what he means, something like a Vapora, but not exactly a Vapora. Vapora-ish. Did the radioactive canister which blinded him also make him incredibly bad at creating super-villain names?

Vapora – a.k.a. The Fume of Doom, which isn’t a nickname anyone should be particularly proud of – turns out to be one of those “embodiment of evil” types of creatures who tends to pop up in PSA comics. However, she’s not the personification of anything like fear, bigotry, depression or teen smoking – she embodies “insufficient ventilation.” Yes, Vapora is the evil spirit who hangs around when safety-unconscious individuals do things like use gasoline to pull up kitchen tiles, clean off dirtbikes, or rub chewing gum off the carpet right next to the baby’s crib with a gas-soaked rag and then light a cigarette. As I think about it, maybe she’s actually the physical embodiment of the Darwin Awards.

"I have a name, Daredevil. It's Henry."
To clarify, before we go any further, the Gas Appliance Manufacturer's Association produced a book about the dangers of gas. This is like AIM producing a book about the dangers of MODOK.

An unintended side effect of this book is that I actually learned a lot about the many useful ways gasoline can make your life better. Why, I have gum on MY carpet! I have a rad but filthy dirtbike! I have children for whose welfare I don’t particular care! Can I buy this stuff by the barrel? Consider me gasoline’s number one fan.

The majority of Daredevil’s time is actually spent defending his landlord client from the charges of Third Degree Negligent Burnination. He actually only gets one shot at the motormouthed, be-muumuued spirit of sudden immolation, and that ends in what I think we can fairly call a draw. Saving a little girl from being completely immolated by a gasoline fire, Daredevil still doesn’t get there in time to save the girl’s hand, now a blackened, charred stump. Frankly, this particular nemesis should've probably gone to a hero with more ventilation-based powers, like Storm, or Torpedo, or Wolverine with a box fan.

On the back cover of the book, along with an illustration of Daredevil playing “Keep-Away” from Vapora with a urinal cake, the Fume of Doom herself spouts off official trivia from her upcoming autobiography. “I can travel from room to room, finding an ignition source,” she says, “I'm heavier than air and travel along the ground. I love to leak out into a closed room.” Hey, lady, so do I, but you don't see me bragging about it.

"My first is in 'windmill' but not in 'mirror' ... "


Thursday, January 29, 2015

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : JOHN TARGITT – MANSTALKER

You can't spell "Man-Stalker" without "Multitasker"

Like a lot of the characters published by Atlas-Seaboard during its abbreviated run, John Targitt lived at least two lives. Thanks to the constant editorial rejiggering of the character in the background while the series was still running, the police detective ultimately turned costumed super-vigilante was in fine company among all of the other characters whose modus operandi and environment was turned upside in a last-ditch effort to find an audience.

Unusually for an Atlas-Seaboad type, though, Targitt ended up with three incarnations, each one at least somewhat subtly draped over the character – and trust me, subtle was not something Targitt normally did well.

Before retelling Targitt’s complicated origin, it’s worth remembering that Atlas-Seaboard was happy to borrow liberally from the popular cinema of the day, mashing up two or three movies to get a comic concept launched. Heck, line editor Larry Lieber went and admitted so much in an in-book editorial. So it wasn’t much of a surprise that Targitt was clearly inspired not only by Death Wish and Dirty Harry (A lettercol hack nails the book on the similarity to the former and the book itself admits to the latter), but pretty much every guns-and-get-the-baddies film playing the cineplex that month.

FBI Agent John Targitt is seeing his wife Kyle and daughter Maureen off on a trip to see the in-laws when their plane surprisingly blows up! Retrieving a charred newspaper from the faming remains, Targitt susses out a Bostonian drug connection behind the blast and goes shooting his way up through the Beantown mob.

Why it sometimes rains fish.
It’s about halfway through the book that the creative team – counting among them personal idol Jeff Rovin and accomplished illustrator Howard Nostrand – get their tongues irretrievably stuck in their collective cheeks, and the book takes on a cartoonish level of violence (reminiscent, it’s worth saying, of Eisner’s The Spirit as much as anything, intentionally I’m sure). There’s certainly something to a grenade blowing up two gunsels in a fishmongers shop accompanied by a haddock-strewn BLOOEY!

As the wry asides increase, so too do the stakes. Over the next three issues, Targitt is fired from the FBI only to find himself inducted into a secret underground branch of the same institution, dedicated to a colorful war on crime which requires our hero to don his superhero disguise. Starting from issue two, Targitt wears one of comicdom’s least-likely superhero uniforms, a luck-pushing garment adorned with a bulls’eye over the chest.

By the third issue, he’s adopted his superheroic sobriquet, even though all the crooks already know his masked mug as John Targitt, former FBI. He’s also moved up in adversaries, having started off with drug-dealers and the Boston mob, up to industrial saboteurs funded by the OPEC nations, and ending up with a bona fide supervillain in the form of grim-visaged Dr.Death, a mad victim of a chemical spill who’s fond of hucking around skull-shaped grenades filled with the toxic superchemical DEXTH-13 (they’re performing tonight at local hardcore joint The Skull Bucket).

In any other comic, this would be the bad guy.

In fact, a whiff of DEXTH-13 – or is it his powerful new servo-motor-powered, bulletproof (at last!) costume – gives Targitt sudden super-strength and invulnerability, just in time to renew his war on crime – which never happens, because the line folded.

Still, if Targitt has anything consistently going for him, it’s his tendency to use guns to solve every problem. While my personal favorite is a scene in the second issue where, after pushing a baddie into an open vat of boiling oil, he seals the deal by making sure to shoot the guy a couple times anyway, Targitt is not shy of finding ways to blast a solution. Assembling an uzi under crossfire, he seems to take particular glee in cutting store mannequins in half, while in an earlier scene he responds to a clumsy attempt at a garroting by shooting the portly offender up through the nose (a strong push would’ve accomplished as much), and later prefers to shoot his drivers license out of the hands of an opponent just so he can get a good kill line before shooting him dead. Well all right.

The highlight of John Targitt – MAN-STALKER’s career, thought, might be his unique approach to avoiding the common cold. Do you have any idea how many germs you come into contact with just turning a door handle? Here’s a solution!

Have you tried turning the knob?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

CAPTAIN BIO

"Would you like to be?"
I’m generally at least a little skeptical of educational comics which situate major real-world problems on the shoulders of super-heroes. Typically, after all, the ethical implications of anonymous vigilantism alone make the voice of authority suspect, don’t you think? If a man in a mask and a cape and whose primary contribution to society is that he laser-beams monsters in the stomach tells me that I should limit my soda intake and watch out for landmines, I’m left with a lot of questions about his rationale.

This isn’t even mentioning the problem of anthropomorphizing and othering abstract issues, like how making “literacy” or “gambling addiction” into a punchable dude actually diffuses the threat rather than underlines it.

Enter Captain BIO, the hero who solves that problem by not actually doing anything and not having anyone to fight!

Released in 1994 and sponsored by pharmaceutical giant Merck as an aid in the battle to raise awareness of the risk of Hepatitis B, Captain BIO also introduces its eponymous hero … er, protagonist, maybe? No, wait, the story isn’t even about him. I guess the best you can do is to call him the eponymous person named in the self-title of the story.

"Gotta run, I need to grind my hand in more pools of broken glass and spilled blood!" 
The story actually centers around Julie, a nurse and clumsy idiot who opens the tale by colliding with some guy evidently hired to haul a cafeteria tray full of blood and broken glass around blind corners. Julie promptly thereafter manages to get some Hepatitis B-infected blood into an open wound which she otherwise has forgotten about. Fast-forward a few months and whoops, Julie’s looking jaundiced and fatigued. None of her coworkers notice all too much because this is an American hospital.


No one, that is, but Dr.Mark Phillips, inventor of the wondrous BIO-Meter and secretly the costumed blood-invader Captain BIO. Why not Doctor BIO? Too on the nose, I suppose.

The OKCupid questionnaire
is getting weirder.
A one-page origin provides Doc’s backstory: Following the untimely death of his wife, Dr.Phillips is driven to design the amazing BIO-Meter, a pair of ridiculous goggles which can almost instantly diagnose any disease. Why it took the death of his wife to drive him to inventing something I’m sure he could have used any day of his professional life is up in the air. Perhaps she nagged. Maybe she was just really demanding, and this was the first time he could put aside the “me-time” he needed to finish his BIO-Meter and maybe start working on that H/O train set he’d always wanted to do.

The already-remarkable BIO-Meter is amped up when struck by coincidental lightning, now allowing Dr.Phillips the power to not only see inside people’s bodies, but to get inside them as well! I mean all-ll-ll the way inside, right up into the bloodstream! Exciting developments! Oh, and then also Surge.

Surge is Doc’s/Cap’s sidekick, and he literally just shows up at the end of the origin like an afterthought. “Oh, and Surge basically” more or less. This is fine because Surge also doesn’t do anything, have any backstory or contribute anything. “What am I,” he complains at one point, “Chopped liver?” Yes you are, Surge, you are hella chopped liver.

Outside of the one-page origin (where it’s too dark to read) Dr.Phillips happens to be the only local medical professional who notices Julie’s increasing illness. Alone in a locked room, he dons the BIO-Meter which allows him to peer all the way into Julie’s bloodstream, like a super-powered pair of X-Ray glasses, right through the wall and her clothes and her tits and everything. This is a potential HR nightmare.

A glimpse at a typical pornographic film of the near-future.

 The BIO-Meter also allows Dr.Phillips to transform himself into his tiny alter ego and swim Julie’s bloodstream as Captain BIO, joined by Surge outta nowhere like maybe Surge was already there? Maybe Surge had been there all along? Maybe Surge is the REAL reason Julie is sick, basically. KILL SURGE, CAP!

But he can’t, because Captain BIO does not possess one single offensive or curative ability besides “extensive schooling.” Having witnessed the Hepatitis-B at work in Julie’s bloodstream, he takes the opportunity to pull her aside and give her the bad news about her illness. My guess is that even if Julie heeds all of his advice, she’s just gonna collide with the blood wallah again later. This is some low-stakes superheroing, I wouldn’t even bother getting into a costume for something like this.

One last note regarding Captain BIO has to do with the cover indicia, the corner box which – on old Marvel Comics – was typically where the book’s heroes were represented by headshots. The cast of Captain BIO is also in position on their box – there’s Cap, Surge, Julie, the hospital’s blood mule, and winning the award for the least relevant character role to earn a spot on the cover, Julie’s co-worker who literally did nothing else in the book except ask her how her weekend was. In many ways, she did more than Captain BIO ever did.

What even are you, you wretched luminescent homonculus?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

WILD WORLD OF WONDER WOMAN : ANDY GORILLA - PRIZE PUPIL!

"Most sensational" is pretty big talk, partner.
By 1955, William Moulton Marston – a.k.a. Charles Moulton, co-creator of Wonder Woman – had long since passed away and the series’ vertiginous parade of bondage fantasies and paeans to inherent feminine superiority vanished with him. That’s why, by November 1955 (Wonder Woman vol.1 No7) we’re left with Wonder Woman teaching a gorilla how to play baseball. From Myra Breckenridge to Mighty Joe Young, just like that.

Written by Robert Kanigher – the man solely responsible for Wonder Woman’s weirdest adventures, and that’s taking into account everything from the book’s earliest Amazon spanking parties to its bell-bottoms and lazy Eastern mysticism years – the story starts off at the trustees’ meeting of Miss Gates’ beleaguered private school.

I feel like "teaching a gorilla about Julius Caesar"
must be a metaphor for something.
With the school shuttered because of a surprise measles outbreak, Miss Gates cannot meet the challenge offered by the leering, wicked, rival schoolmaster Mr.Scragg, whose father stipulated in his will that the two schools must meet in a winner-take-all baseball game wherein the loser must close their doors forever. Hm. Sounds legit, it’s a little-known fact that whatever somebody writes in their will becomes law, no matter if it’s completely insane or they have any legal right to shut down someone else’s property or whatever. Besides, it hinges on a baseball game, and what could be more American? That’s why the Supreme Court has nine players, after all!

Miss Gates proposes that her bosom buddy Wonder Woman – they’re in the same WalkFit class, I believe – aid her in keeping the school open and competing in the baseball game. To keep things … uh, “fair” … Mr.Scraggs is allowed to set all other terms, and that’s why Wonder Woman ends up trying to educate a legit gorilla.

To be fair, Andy seems to have a jump on things – he already answers to his own name and wears shoes, which is a real head-start on me when I was in college. In a series of panels which must have insulted the intelligence of even the youngest reader of this story, Wonder Woman successfully teaches Andy about the life of Julius Caesar (Don’t give the ape any ideas, Princess, ain’t you ever seen them movies?), successfully engages him as a crossing guard (I didn’t know you needed to go to college for that, but then again I was in the Humanities, and surely “Crossing Guard” is a hard science), and ultimately teaches him to play baseball.

Well I'll be damned, there's nothing in the rulebook that says a gorilla can't play baseball! 
Andy turns out to be a natural, which is why Scragg starts heaping additional conditions on the game; Wonder Woman and Andy have to play against a full nine-man team, Wonder Woman must hold the bat in her teeth, must pitch against all nine batters at once. Still, even with all of those handicaps, Wonder Woman and Andy manage to pull ahead by miles, so I assume they were hitting against Detroit.

In the end, Wonder Woman and Andy manage to save Miss Gates’ school from the rapacious Mr.Scragg (whose own school must now close, owing to the terms of the all-powerful will). Still, if Scragg was allowed to call all the conditions of the game, surely he could’ve just declared it Reverse Day and whoever got the most points loses, right? Maybe Andy killed him off panel, is what I’m choosing to believe. Good game, Andy, good game!

Monday, January 26, 2015

P-S-Eh? : SCIENCE SAYS YOU'RE WRONG!

Right, wrong ... Honestly, I didn't bear any strong convictions about any of this in the first place.

Perhaps it was a bid to justify the absurd sci-fi bent of Strange Adventures, or possibly good-heartedness and a love of science on behalf of its editors (or a means by which to score some sweet postal discounts) but DC’s long-running anthology book made it a point to balance its fiction with a little fact. Its venue – “Science Says You’re Wrong!”

This is genuinely fascinating. I wrote it down.

The actual full title was a scolding “Science Says You’re Wrong If You Believe That …” which would lead into a lancing of popular factual misconceptions about science and the world around us. Among all the other public service comics which populated DC during these days, I’m not sure there was any which matched Science Says You’re Wrong for sheer brashness of confrontation.

Stupid fisherman! Why must you be so stupid?!


I’ve never really held a strong opinion on most of these topics – comets don’t always have tails? Sounds good to me, boss, you’re the scientist maybe! – but this one drives me a little nuts.

Bear with me, I'm a little high.

Surely nobody ever sees exactly the same anything from two different perspectives, technically speaking, since all we ever see is reflected light from an object, right? This isn’t a zen koan, man, but that’s kind of a bum fact, ain’t it?

I’m not even a hundred percent sure if any of this is genuine fact any more, or for that matter if anyone believed otherwise on some of that stuff. Science changes fast, man, it’ll bury you if it catches you napping.

I learned this from The Metal Men! Also it's not true. Which I also learned from the Metal Men.

Outdated facts are to be expected, although I’m honestly not the guy to tell you if any of these are no longer accepted as true – I learned my science from comic books, which is basically the same as not learning any science at all.

Possibly the only embarrassing downside of Science Says You’re Wrong, though, is that for a few issues the header ran like this:

You should see how it uses the apostrophe.

Just once, though, I would've loved for the header to exclaim "Science says you're wrong if you believe that ... bitch, Janet! She's always had it in for me!" Ah well, some dreams are beyond science, I suppose.

Friday, January 23, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : DR.CESSPOOLE

"For instance, my self-esteem is through the roof!"
I guess I never expected that Harvey Comics’ Stumbo the Friendly Giant would have an arch-nemesis, but then I guess the joke is on me. Haranguing the peaceful titan during his otherwise uneventful naps is Doctor Cesspoole, a twisted, gaunt-faced figure who appears repeatedly in the pages of Hot Stuff the Little Devil and its subsequent magazine Devil Kids (which is, I believe, the predecessor to Suicide Girls) seems to have it in for the plus-sized pacifist for reasons of personal vanity.

“How I loathe giants” he explains in one particularly disturbing assault, “They're physucally so powerful while I'm so puny!” What he’s leaving out of the explanation is that he also has a face like a shrink-wrapped, porcelain snake turd, not to mention his shitty posture. Yoga might do wonders for Doctor Cesspoole.

He looks like a butt's skull.
Besides being possessed of some considerable disguise skills (at the very least, he’s able to pass himself off as a resident of Tinytown on more than one occasion), the Doctor also seems to sport some considerable cash resources and malevolent intelligence. He has a helicopter he uses exclusively to get to eye-level with giants so he can hypnotize them, that’s the sign of a class act.

Most of his antics end up fizzling, such as a “Bashful Potion” which gives Stumbo adolescent titters whenever he sees so much as a cloud in the shape of a pretty lady. That one actually works out because I’m sure Stumbo’s sudden erections provide vital shade for his beloved Tinytown during the Summer months.

Certainly one of his most successful – and downright horrific – attempts to destroy Stumbo comes at the wrong end of a shape-changing-ray machine (Devil Kids starring Hot Stuff vol.1 No.30, May 1967). While he ultimately proves that the beam can shrink Stumbo to human-size and turn him into a dog, respectively, Cesspoole begins with some straight-up Cronenbergian body horror bullshit. I will let the images speak for themselves:


Stumbo's having a straight-up Naked Lunch.

Possibly the genuine highlight of this stomach-churning escapade is the people of Tinytown rushing out to reassure Stumbo that looks don’t really matter. “We don't know what's happened to you but, don't worry ... we love you no matter how you look!” they cry, reflexively, like they’ve had that kind of support holstered for years. It’s almost like they just knew that, some day, Stumbo would realize that he was a big fat idiot and would need SOME kind of kind reassurance. All the shape-changing ray did was strip away the veneer of their blithe acceptance, revealing before Stumbo’s searching eyes the dread sense of revulsion they’ve been battling back for years. And in that way, hasn’t Doctor Cesspoole truly won this battle, where it counts?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : STARFIRE

The windblown warrior look.
Say what you will about DC’s first attempt to launch a sultry space warrior under the moniker of Starfire, at the very least it looked like nothing else in their catalog.

This Starfire fell between two other heroes bearing the same name – a Soviet super-teen and a solar-powered alien princess in a barely-there molybdenum bikini, both of whom found their homes in the pages of Teen Titans. Sharing more in common with her immediate successor, the Starfire of 1976 was introduced to the readers in a daring cutaway costume, sword against the throat of a fallen foe, her boot on his chest, a brutish army gathered behind her and spaceships launching amidst the lurid purple smoke of a magenta sky. Subtle, in other words.

Taking place on one of those phony-baloney worlds where science and magic intermingled (i.e. everyone uses swords, wears dumb medieval hats, and there are spaceships), Starfire was also possibly the first hero of Asian descent to receive her own DC comic – ambiguously (We can argue about Karate Kid some other time). With her adventures taking place on an alien world (bereft, one imagines, of an “Asia” per se), she is described in the text as “half-white and half-yellow” and the implication is clear enough, one supposes.

Starfire has difficulty understanding the sample table at Costco. "Just take a cracker, ma'am, there's a line forming."

This “exotic” (their word, not mine) quality makes her desirable to Sookaroth, lord of the Mygorgs, a race of gross alien barbarians from another dimension originally summoned to tip the tide of war in a battle between priests and scientists, but whose race eventually usurps the world for their own purposes. Those purposes are, in order, (a) fighting their ancient interdimensional enemies the Yorg, also brought over from another dimension to tip the tide of the battle, and (b) nonconsensual sex.

Created by David Michelinie and Mike Vosburg, Starfire’s word is a problematic one on a lot of levels, not the least of which is that it seems to exist in some sort of rape-based economy. Starfire is raised from infancy and educated under Sookaroth’s care, in advance of being handed off to him as a concubine on her 18th birthday (I guess it was nice of him to wait until she hit the age of consent at least?). Grossed out by her super-gross graduation present, Starfire ends up escaping with liberated slave Dagan, a guy who dresses like a cookie mascot and flies a sweet spaceship, and who completes her education – in sword-fighting and in hella human love.

After Dagan is snuffed by Mygorg torturers, Starfire becomes her world’s premiere freedom fighter, ultimately assembling something not unlike Robin Hood’s merry men. This collection of outcasts and misfits is equally dedicated to freeing their planet from slavery, plus also their internal dialogue is mostly about grinding up on Starfire whether she likes it or not. Entrepreneurs in the rape-based economy, these guys are, small business owners in the vibrant “groping” and “male gaze” sectors of the economy.

A slightly rapier-than-usual Merrie Men.

Still, despite those problems – and the appearance of a forced doggerel balladeering issue at the hands of Eliot S! Maggin, the man for whom no story was complete until the reader was left wanting to punch a medieval space-bard straight in the biscuit tin – there’s a lot to Starfire’s credit.

If nothing else, the premise of a former slave leading a ragtag group of freedom fighters to liberate a world caught in the crossfire of an interdimensional war has no limit of possibility, and comics are still noticeably shy in the space opera heroine department (not to mention space heroes of anything-but-Caucasian descent). It’s worth mentioning, too, that Starfire – despite having had her book handed off to new writers every couple of issues – was consistently an all-business character, unsullied by the “fainting damsel” routine and schoolgirl shenanigans. She does end up with the space-bard, I’m sorry to say, but “freedom fighting” remained on top of her to-do list - at least until the DC Implosion caught her book short.

If there’s a case of a character being let down by the execution of her stories, it’s definitely true of Starfire, a character whose return could fill a number of voids.

Next issue actually not on sale anywhere during any week of September or any other month.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

ROADS TO REGRETTABILITY : SUPERHEROES ON THE SHILL



Roads to Regrettability: Corporate Spokes-Heroes
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. With their bright costumes, catchy names and flamboyant, attention-attracting powers, superheroes make obvious advertising mascots. Let's look at a few heroes who felt the call of corporate crimefighting ...

Superheroes were still fresh out of the oven when advertisers latched onto their inherent sale-ability. As much as crusading against evil and injustice, superheroes – with their bright colors, flashy powers and memorable sobriquets – were practically walking, talking billboards even without a product to shill.

The multi-panel comic format also lent itself to the construction of flimsy narratives which promoted products ranging from shoes to gum to cough drops and hair cream – everything the kid of yesteryear could desire! Plus, with the seemingly seamless transition between a full page of comic adventure and a full-page comic adventure ad, advertisers were just as likely to engage their young audience in the narrative of their pre-packaged hero as they were in the feature stars.

Captain Tootsie, of course, may be one of the more famous of the original comic page spokesheroes. Powered by Tootsie Rolls and aided by his “Secret Legion” of tagalong children – and more importantly drawn by Pete Costanza and C.C.Beck of Captain Marvel fame – the Captain even graduated to his own comic eventually,  mixing space exploration with sweet treats.

"As does my abrasive personality."
Less successful was the dual-utility Volto from Mars, a red-and-blue, fin-capped super-alien whose magnetic powers were replenished with hearty spoon fulls of his favorite cereal, Grape Nuts Flakes. His left hand repelled, his right hand attracted, and his bowels were cleaner than a freshly buffed marble floor.

Kid heroes also got in on the act, with Thom McAn sporting around with an elf pal and a pair of bazooka-shoes, while Bazooka the Atomic Bubble boy aided the infirm and needy with his awe-inspiring giant gravity-defying bubble-blowing. I wonder if they had the same agent. Fun fact: Bazooka gum actually used to make you fly, it was twenty percent Cavorite. Then they decided it was cheaper to just put comics in it, which is why the present-day sucks.

In the Seventies, contemporary and mainstream heroes started getting in on the act – even Red Tornado crammed Hostess cup cakes down somebody’s throat. However, the epitome of the Seventies’ comic adventure page superhero was certainly AAU Shuperstar, a shoe-pun obsessed comic which ran confrontations between the Sinister Sole and the Dirty Sneaker. Neither one possessed the power of the Jizz-Crusted Sock, though.

Advertising superheroes continue to be de rigeur, as are crossovers with the same – the Avengers recently palled around with Captain Citrus, a lackey for Big Orange Juice,  while the JLA hung out with the Craftsman Bolt-On System superhero The Technician, just to name a pair of ‘em.

There’s very likely going to continue to be a trend for the conceit, although if they ever run out of ideas, I don’t think Captain Clueless ever got close to finding those ding-danged Ugly Balls.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

BATMAN LEADS AN INTERESTING LIFE : SON OF BATMAN


If  you were to ask me what Batman’s greatest superpower is, I’d have to suggest that it’s his ability to outright lie to little kids – or, at the very least, that’s the skill which serves him best in Batman vol.1 No.88, “The Son of Batman” (December 1954).

In a scene which I’ve decided for no good reason is reminiscent of the opening to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the story begins with common crooks shooting Batman in the back when he’s not looking. Good heavens, why did those other guys ever bother with all their lures, tricks, deathtraps and clues? Hadn’t anyone ever tried shooting the guy before now?

Naturally, the victim turns out to not be the real Batman, who shows up at police headquarters with Robin in tow to take a look at the still-warm corpse. The ersatz Batman (“Ersatzman”) turns out to be Ed Wilson, a possibly-framed ex-con recently released from prison. To pass the time while he was in the pokey, Ed’s wife explained his absence to their young son Tommy by claiming that the boy’s jailbird pop was, in fact, Batman!

Sadly, the mom snuffed it (somehow, the story don’t bother to explain) just before Ed is released from prison and, fearing that the double whammy of “dead mom” and “dad was never actually Batman” would shatter the little tyke’s pre-adolescent brain in two, Ed was yutzing around in a rubber ferret costume with the intent of pretending to retire his cape-and-cowl. Well, he retired all right – the hard way.

Batman is touched by the tale, and who wouldn’t be? Is there anything quite as sweet as a mother’s blatant fabrication to her young child?

How's the plan working out, Batman?
With Ed slipping off this mortal coil, Batman promises to disguise himself as Tommy’s father and pretend to be Ed for a while. Until … what, exactly? What is the fucking endgame here? Batman says he’ll pretend to be Tommy’s father until he feels the boy is old enough to accept the truth – you know, that his recently deceased mom lied about his Bat-Papa, in fact he was actually cooling his heels in the big house, oh and by the way dad’s also dead, okay thanks I’m the real Batman bye bye.

It’s an amazingly short-sighted plan which only really serves to put a child immediately in mortal and emotional danger on every level. Naturally, Tommy follows Batman one night as the caped crusader answers an emergency call on his Bat-Belt Loudspeaker Phone, coincidentally off to catch the crooks who shot Tommy’s dad. Tommy tags along and ends up a hostage in short order. Hey, this guy’s really racking up a collection! Maybe he shot mom, too, and that’s why she’s dead. This is a cheery story.

Anyway, it all kind of resolves, if you can forgive what a bright blue fuckup it was from the git-go. Tommy is saved, the guy who shot his dad is arrested, Ed actually pulls through (it was only a light case of death) and he and the dynamic duo explain to Tommy the extent of the lies which made his life up to that point, which Tommy takes surprisingly well. Mom is still dead, though.

When his father explains that, despite being a jailbird, he’d always been innocent of the crime for which he was convicted, he asks Tommy if he can count on his son’s faith. “Gosh dad – ‘course I believe you” he replies, “A guy’s gotta believe his own father!” Is Tommy just being really sarcastic here? Very likely.

I wonder who Tommy thought Robin was all this time, his dad’s other kid? That musta kept him up at night.

Just staring out the window, wishing for a better dad.

Friday, January 16, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : THE SEA HORROR

Weird, a knife-wielding maniac riding an octopus is exactly what I wanted for my tattoo.

When your chief opponent parades about under the scintillating sobriquet of something like “Dynamic Man,” you probably feel the pressure to bring your A-game. Such is the case with The Sea Horror (or, as one caption referred to him and which I much prefer, The WEIRD Sea Horror), a sub-aqueous hunchback who harassed the Allied war effort for a single appearance back in Dynamic Comics No.9 (May 1944).

Sung to the tune of "Miss Otis Regrets"
Sporting the ultimate in wet looks, the Sea Horror was a gaunt-visaged subsea ghoul sporting moist green locks and a terrifying rictus of a leer. Alleging to be the vengeful spirit of a man drowned at sea, the Horror’s primary raison d’etre on dry land was allegedly to protect his resting place from the ministrations of salvage workers. More specifically, though, the amphibious ghoul has gold on his mind – ten million dollars’ worth of gold bars, sunken in the derelict vessel! He recruits local mobster Moxie Murdock and Moxie’s right-hand man to retrieve the gold, outfitting the duo with scuba suits while traipsing across the ocean floor himself seemingly unaided.

Besides breathing underwater, the Sea Horror boasts tremendous strength – he slaughters a few sailors off-handedly and hucks an anchor at a meddling Dynamic Man without much more effort than flicking a walnut across a table. He also seems to fall into the Aquaman school of commanding aquatic life with some sort of mental command, inasmuch as he’s able to sic both an octopus and a giant clam on our hero during a furious battle beneath the waves, and – displaying a peculiar form of panache – wield a swordfish like a stiletto in an effort to lance Moxie Murdock through the face. I bet he could also throw starfish like shurikens and bludgeon a dude to death with a haddock.

Ultimately, with Moxie and his pal having successfully hauled the gold bars to the Sea Horror’s hideout, the avenging ghost of the deep reveals himself to be nothing more than a disguised Nazi agent – why, those rats! “This gold is mine,” he explains to his doomed hirelings, “I am Baron von Zeil, Nazi Agent! I posed as the Sea Horror merely to get the gold to shore! Now I will go back to Germany! Ha, Ha!” It’s the last “Ha” that really twists the knife.

Baron von Zeil gets away with nothing, as Dynamic Man promptly shows up, knocks him unconscious with a speedy blow, and then underlines the technical specs of the Sea Horror’s powers. “Pretty clever” admits Dynamic Man, ripping a wide hole in the back of the Sea Horror’s shirt, “He had an air-tank strapped to his back which circulated air through his plastic face mask!” I guess that explains everything … um, except where he got his tremendous strength and how he commanded fish to kill for him. Well, what’s life without a little mystery? Let’s just allow Baron von Zeil to die in jail and move on with our lives.

The swordfish also seems uneasy about all this.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : ROYAL ROY

Just out of shot is a buncha riot cops smashing up the Occupy Cashelot tent village.

Harvey Comics had briefly ceased publication when Marvel Comics launched their kid-friendly line Star Comics, a branded imprint which focused primarily on licensed characters such as Strawberry Shortcake, Heathcliff and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (that deal fell through).

Marvel had previously never been shy of licensed properties, what with ROM, Godzilla and Micronauts, in particular, happily sharing space in the primary Marvel universe. Star Comics set aside an otherwise uninterrupted continuity, though, where the main Marvel universe wouldn’t interrupt such far-flung properties as the Muppet Babies and Ewoks which, you know, doesn’t seem so important now.

Oh, they got one'a those murder valets.
Also originally in Star’s sights were the aforementioned Harvey characters – Hot Stuff, Wendy the Good Little Witch, and most importantly Richie Rich. The attempts to license fell through, but Star still found a way to almost-embrace the Poor Little Rich Boy – hire his creator to make a knock-off!

Warren Kremer came on board Marvel to create or manage a quartet of Harvey-ready concepts, not the least of which was Royal Roy, A Prince of a Boy. Cheerful, do-gooding and dripping with filthy lucre, Roy’s palatial home of Cashelot resembled the Rich Estate on which his stumpier predecessor had enjoyed the bulk of his adventures (its first-ever appearance on the cover of Royal Roy No.1 employs the golden dollar sign which was an architectural element of the Richie Rich books and also probably all over the Trump apartments).

Royal Roy abounded with Richie Rich-esque supporting characters. His parents were King and Queen Regalia, his aunt was the Duchess Muchess, and he was attended by a creepy super-efficient butler named Ascott. Roy was also the descendent of a bombastic, manly, Nick Offerman-esque king named William the Warhorse who, as a disembodied spirit only he could see, aided and encouraged young Roy on his journey to manhood, which is why I think of this book as Richie Rich meets Hamlet.

In place of Dollar the Dollarmation, Roy owned a toothless crocodile named Gummy, as one does. Roy even ended up with a pair of potential love interests, in the Gloria/Mayda Munny (or as I like to think of it, the Jennifer Aniston/Angelina Jolie) vein: good-hearted Crystal Clear, conniving Lorna Loot. And yet he spent most of his time with Henrietta Handjob, go figure.

Roy managed to eke out an impoverished six issues, which was nonetheless just enough to raise Harvey’s ire to lawsuit levels. The cancellation of the series appeared to put an end to the possible litigation, and Royal Roy disappeared for a good long while Harvey – and Richie Rich – eventually resumed publication.

Act III, Sc.IV "Do not forget. This visitation is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose."



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

SKATEMAN

What's got eight wheels and kicks you in the face? Give up?

What is there left to say about the comic book that’s roundly considered the worst example of the medium ever produced? Well, clearly there’s a lot left to be said, because the internet never tires of talking about Skateman – and then again, I’m not sure everything’s been said about it full stop. Did you know, for instance, that it’s kind of racist? Oh, you did. Okay, well we’re done.

Actually, I’m not sure that Skateman really is the worst comic in the industry’s history – to its credit, you can at the very least say that it lacks the cynicism that’s abundant at any forty dozen mainstream corporate crossover events from the big two industrial intellectual property factories. I mean, it’s batshit, racist, dumb, violent and confusing, but at least it’s earnest.

It's a fair question.
The art’s a bit of all right, too, coming as it does by way of Neal Adams and his Continuity Studios. Adams continues to be a tricky customer to nail down in comics history – besides having literally redefined the visual language of comics in the 1960s and 1970s, fostered a multitude of important young talent, lobbied tirelessly for creator rights and provided a high-profile window into comics via the world of advertising and marketing, he’s also famously helmed some of the most breathlessly abstract, confusing and vulgar comics in history by way of the Continuity Comics titles, Batman: Odyssey and the like. I mean, he also believes the Earth is inflating but, whatever, I wish more comics pros’ biggest issue was that they believed in junk science. Imagine if that was the worst thing you could say about Julie Schwartz or Brian Wood, you know?

Skateman, however, is a particular nadir for Adams’ portfolio. Allegedly created as a product tie-in to some roller skating company who had the inclination to have their product associated with mob hits and hot pants – and who wouldn’t – the single issue opens with a face kick and closes on an explosion. Just like Hamlet.

Billy Moon, Vietnam Vet and martial arts enthusiast, finds himself at loose ends when he returns from his tour of duty. His best pal Jack gives Billy a new lease on life – via the world of roller derby! A tale as old as time!

It turns out that Billy’s a whiz at smashing into dudes on skates - so much so that he gains the unwanted attention of the mob. Billy’s refusal to kowtow to the Goodfella types results in an in-rink injury which leaves Jack dead – and it looks like Billy’s the culprit! Cries of “MURDERER!” echo throughout the roller derby rink, America’s most revered tribunal.

Billy’s escape into the loving arms of his dutiful girlfriend Angel is short-lived, inasmuch as she’s promptly killed by gangsters. I don’t even … Billy’s a jinx, man.

It's poetry, of a kind.
As we all know from personal experience, frame me for the murder of my best friend and force me out of the sport at which I was a superstar, shame on you – arrange to have my girlfriend killed by bikers and expect me not to dress up like a ninja carhop in order to extract vengeance, shame on me.

Well, shame on Billy, because it’s not until his NEW girlfriend Jill is abducted by bikers on behalf of “shit”-trafficking foreign drug lords that Billy things to put on the form-hugging white denim short-shorts of justice.

Billy adopts the most terrifying vigilante garb in the history of the genre – an orange bandana covering his face, red shirts, white booty shorts and roller skates. Combining the deadly skills he developed while serving in Vietnam with his own martial arts prowess AND roller-skating, the most versatile and devastating of all the types of skating (ice-skating can cut you, sure, but it’s not much good for a high-speed chase through Los Angeles), AND assisted by local amateur skater street kid and (ahem, Billy’s word, not mine) “Beaner” Paco, Billy becomes SKATEMAN. Which is a terrible secret identity, someone call Daredevil, this guy’s an idiot.

One of the highlights of Skateman is Billy’s dialogue, a violent sort of beat poetry loaded with ham-fisted mixed metaphors and tone-deaf tough guy prosody. “Hands off jerkhole” he yells to a man into whose face he’s forcibly pressed his skates, “We’re forming a union! My foot and your face!” Loading his young sidekick Paco with a box full of hand grenades,  he directs his charge to assault the crooks’ headquarters by telling him “You make the difference” and adding, solemnly, “Haul ass.”

Your hero, ladies and gentlemen.

Skateman ends in the execution of a climax, the explosion of a warehouse headquarters for the drug-running street gang in question. There was clearly meant to be more to the Skateman story – by which I mean “another page,” but it ends on that explosion and we settle for some backup material which never gets any particular love.

The first backup is "Futureworld," featuring art from a young Andy Kubert. The story focuses on a post-apocalyptic future where a single courageous youth - Korlak - must brave the wastelands and terrible dangers of two panels worth of flying a big zeppelin to get to "The Great Machine."

The "Great Machine" turns out to be an old Nuclear Power Plant, which we know because Korlak exclaims, upon seeing it, "Th-the Great Machine! It lives! A WORKING ATOMIC REACTOR!" Of course, in his very next word balloon, he muses "I have never seen such contrivances." Then how did you know it was a nuclear power plant, you dope?

The next story is "The Rock Warrior," which is what I intend to name my first born. Here’s the plot, as best as I could determine: Edgar is a boxer, Om is an inventor. They used to be partners in adventure until Edgar settled down and had a daughter, Angie. Om accidentally drops his newest invention – a handheld personal teleporter – right into Angie’s infantile mitts, which sends ‘em on a tour of the universe’s most dangerous spots.

Luckily, Om’s twin brother THE ROCK WARRIOR is floating around out there too, so they destroy a missile with lasers and come home. Enh, sure, it sounds like nonsense, but if we put it on the CW, we could power at least a half dozen dedicated Tumblr accounts.

...And then there's this densely-packed printed toilet paper of pure nonsense.
Angie’s last words in this book are “WOK WAH WAH” which, legitimately, I didn’t realize was baby talk for “Rock Warrior” until YEARS after I’d read this story. Haul ass, I guess, I make the difference.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

90 FROM THE 90S : PART SEVEN

ZERO HOUR
DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths – love it or hate it – was at least undertaken with a pretty specific goal in mind, even if the individual end points for a lot of its characters hadn’t yet been determined. At the very least, it did what was advertised on the tin, which was namely to erase the company’s complicated, overlapping and often contradictory continuity so that a new foundation could be laid, liberated from the boundaries of the past.

When Zero Hour came along, it was expressly to clean up continuity messes that had happened in the scant decade since Crisis, and started DC’s unfortunate trend of wiping out its universe every time a letterer dropped an unscripted semicolon. Well, that was the stated goal of the miniseries/crossover event, anyway, although surely a hopeful consequence of this newest “Crisis In Time” was another top-selling, press-generating hit – something the company seemed to giddily pursue ever since 92’s Death of Superman found itself reported on in every Podunk local newscast from here to Booborowie.

Mostly, Zero Hour seemed to instigate a trend which has found its apotheosis in the New 52: Changes made to continuity which are only referenced in passing, never told in any tale, and accepted as canon. Wading in Zero Hour’s wake, DC’s future is a world where they don’t even make comics, but rather just release index cards every month highlighting all the most recent changes to established continuity.


ARCHIE MEETS THE PUNISHER
Speaking of the apotheoses of 90s comic book tropes, Marvel Comics and Archie Comics united to put a bow on the inter-company crossover trend early on in the 90s, when the cacophonous DC vs Marvel/Marvel vs DC series was still a few years off and the much-delayed JLA/Avengers was still a tardy gleam in comicdom’s collective eye. It didn’t stop the crossovers, oh no, but how exactly do you top slapping Riverdale’s daffy, chaste teen antics with the Punisher’s grisly body count?

Produced under two covers – one from each publisher, just so as to at least nod towards taking advantage of the collector’s market – the single-issue crossover boasted a script from indy creator Batton Lash and art from the unlikely pairing of John Buscema and Stan Goldberg. Packed with in-jokes, it was also kept the characters surprisingly true to their personalities in their source material (The Punisher does, contrary to his typical nature, let the baddie go at the end of the book. Not even often-progressive Archie Comics was ready to let a character be shot full of bloody holes and left to die on the street as a warning to others), so points all around! Now where’s that Wolverine vs Jughead they promised us?


FUNERAL/GRAVESTONE COVERS
Back in the Silver Age of the 1950s and 1960s, the death of the title’s hero wasn’t ever heralded by much more than an often-deceitful blurb emblazoned across the cover – “Not a hoax! Not an imaginary story!” By the ever-serious 90s, though, bold declarations like that simply weren’t serious enough (and superheroes are, by this point, VERY serious business, don’t you know?).

So, enter the specialty death covers. Amazing Spider-Man #400 – wherein Aunt May briefly kicks the bucket – took dual awards for ominousness and illegibility; its gravestone-styled cover included an embossed granite-patterned version which was basically unreadable at a glance. Superman, of course, celebrated his death with a famously polybagged version of the issue which included a black armband for the particularly morbid comic fan. By comparison, Green Arrow’s stark black and reflective-green send-off was practically understated.


BIG ON BLOOD
Here’s a list of characters, teams and books which debuted in the 1990s and which included BLOOD as part of the title:

Youngblood, Bloodshot, Blood Syndicate, BloodStrike, BloodPool, Bloodpack, Bloodwynd, BloodStorm, BloodStain, Blood Path, Blood Bath, Blood Legion, Bad Blood, Blood S.C.R.E.A.M. (what?), BloodStrike, Bloodshed, Blood Moon, Blood Axe, Blood Sword, Blood Bow, BloodWulf, Blood Wolf, Blood Hawk, Blood Skull, Blood Claw, Bad Blood, Blood Legion, Bloodshed, BloodThirst, Bloodstorm, Blood Moon, Blood Thirst, Blood Seed, Blood Sell and Bloodfire, just to name a few.

Not all characters named “Blood-“something were created in the Nineties, but mostly the exercise here was to slyly force you to start reading “blood” as “blue-ed” in your head, which I’m sure you were doing by the end there. Ha-ha.


THUNDERSTRIKE
As one of a wave of second-generation Marvel heroes who’d step out from their predecessors’ mantle into their own identities (ex-Iron Man turned War Machine and former Captain America turned U.S.Agent being the other two), Eric Masterson had begun his career as a stand-in Thor. Graduating to his own title in the Nineties, from creators Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz, Thunderstrike ultimately was something of the antidote to the grim and gritty nineties. Despite digging up baddies with names like “BloodAxe” (see above), the comic seemed to intentionally recall the Silver Age brashness of Marvel’s debut, complete with cover emblazoned bombast. Inside, Thunderstrike himself was as much concerned with finding non-violent solutions to problems, with possibly the sole nod to Nineties-era cynicism being a cover which portrays ‘Strike extoling the virtues of suburban teenage nihilism. Close enough, I guess.

Still, despite the apparent old-schoolery of the title, it managed to eke out a full 24 issues, which is a pretty impressive run for anything not packed in a silver foil cover with embedded holographic trading cards.

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