Thursday, August 21, 2014

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN FOES : SUPER-GORILLAS PART TWO



Super-Gorillas Part Two
The second of DC’s super-gorilla-centric anthology titles, Super-Heroes Battle Super-Gorillas No.1 (Winter, 1976), suffers from the absence of a Wonder Woman story, in my opinion. The Flash, Superman and Batman all return with monkey nemeses all their own, but it’s like a gorilla sausage party in here! You ever been to a gorilla sausage party? It’s the latest in foodie get-togethers. ANYWAY. Gorillas, GO!

Haha, his little hands!
The Super-Gorilla from Krypton
The story opens with Daily Planet cub reporter Jimmy Olsen receiving a chauffeured trip around modern-day Africa and having it described to him “rapidly yielding to civilization” and the whole time it’s really hard not to notice that there are no black people anywhere on the whole page. His white tour guide and their white driver tell Jimmy “Darkest Africa isn’t what it used to be” and you can’t help but get what they’re saying, you know? Like, a super-gross “nudge nudge,” it’s getting really civilized around here, you get what I mean, civilized” and it’s messed up. Also in the background of one scene there’s a diner called “Noogas” and I am not having it. ::storms out of room::

Naturally, Jimmy can’t travel ten feet without stumbling across some remnant of Krypton. In this case, it’s a giant golden gorilla hanging out in the middle of the jungle, and the damned thing’s got super-powers! “MotherFUCKER,” thinks Jimmy, “I’d better use my motherfucking signal watch to motherfucking summon Superman.” Those are quotes so you know it’s transliterated precisely.

Racing to combat the super-gorilla – nicknamed King Krypton because Jimmy Olsen is where wit goes to die – Superman discovers a nearby rocketship and assumes that the beast must have been rocketed from Krypton as a test animal and therefore survived the destruction of the planet. Well, Superman, what do they say about assuming things?
Oh, this is odd.

Yes, the simple version of the story would be that the gorilla had been rocketed into space, but that ain’t it! After Jimmy, his guide and driver, Superman AND the gorilla have been captured by a lost tribe of Kryptonite-wielding Roman warriors – descendants of Roman soldiers once stationed in Africa, although I’m curious how they procreated – it’s revealed that the gorilla isn’t a gorilla at all! In fact, he’s a human being who was transformed into a gorilla. Oh, okay, case closed, next story.

It’s revealed that the fella in question was a Kryptonian scientist who, with his colleagues, invented an evolution ray. The dumb thing backfired and turned him into a gorilla, but luckily his partners knew exactly what to do – shoot him into space! Unprotected against the ravages of radiation, he’d eventually turn back into a human. The kryptonite has the same effect, and also it kills him dead which is sort of what I assumed his pals were trying to accomplish by sending him into space in the first place.

We never learn the Kryptonian scientist’s name, by the way, and also no one ever follows up on the lost Roman tribe in the middle of the African jungle. Next time they should send a couple reporters.

Now he'll be able to just
disappear into the crowd!
Grodd Puts the Squeeze on Flash
The Flash’s home town of Central City is overcome by some sort of ray which makes everybody move at super-speed, but at the cost of their normal human lifespan. Oh well, that’ll lower the rent anyway.

Simian supervillain Grodd claims responsibility for the phenomenon and blackmails Flash into freeing him from the monkey prison they put him in back in Gorillaville. Also Grodd appears to be the only gorilla in prison in South Gorillasburg, which makes me wonder if they have any other sort of gorilla crime. Maybe they’ve got a Scandinavian model of work-release and rehabilitation, or maybe most of the gorilla criminals do white collar crime. Probably they got pals in monkey government, get reduced sentences, end up at country club prisons. The ony evil gorilla they ever incarcerate is the one who makes attacks on the human world. I mean, follow the money you guys…

It actually turns out that Grodd didn’t cause the super-speed effect and it is, in fact, something that sometimes just happens because of the sun? Sometimes the sun makes it so everyone in a single city speeds up until they die? What kind of SPF do you use to block that? Also, the sun sounds really dangerous.

Anyway, turns out Grodd was just monkey-bluffing, which is a phrase I choose to keep close to my heart for all time. In return for his tomfoolery, the Flash basically just drowns him for the most part, problem solved!

The Gorilla Boss of Gotham City
Batman and Robin are pretty excited about the state-sanctioned execution of the criminal named Boss Dyke, a tough character who never bothered stealing anything less than a thousand dollars. That was the guy’s MO, that he didn’t ever steal like five bucks. Always big numbers, this guy, never stole anything less than the cost of a modest mid-range couch.

"He's broken. Fix it, daddy."
The Dynamic Duo would be less excited about the whole affair if they knew that Boss Dyke had arranged to have his corpse retrieved and his brain put in the body of a fifteen-foot tall gorilla. Then again, if they’re anything like me, they didn’t even know that was an option. They never mention it at the funeral home. I’ve buried both of my parents, and the only options they ever gave me was internment or cremation. “Have their brains placed in the body of a fifteen-foot gorilla” might not necessarily have topped my list, but it would have been nice to have the option. How better to remember them?

Transferring his consciousness to a titanic ape is only the first half of Boss Dyke’s insidious plan, all of which he is forced to spell out in frankly lovely handwriting for the benefit of his villainous crew. Yes, after he manages to steal a million bucks, Boss Dyke wants to have his brain transferred out of the gorilla head and into – Batman’s body! And he’s going to put Batman’s brain in the gorilla body, which seems like merely asking for trouble. It’s a tantalizing mental image though, not merely the idea of a costumed, caped and cowled giant gorilla fighting crime in the guise of a bat, but the idea of him trying to maintain his dual identity regardless of his situation. “Bruce,” says Kathy Kane, “I know you enjoy wearing that oversized gorilla costume to emulate your hero Batman, but enough is enough!”

At some point, Batman and Robin notice that the crimes committed by the giant gorilla focus on rewards worth more than a thousand dollars, and manage to put together that it’s Boss Dyke having done some sort of Freaky Friday thing with a huge ape. Somehow THAT becomes the method by which Batman undoes Boss Dyke’s criminal gorilla (or “goriminal”) career, plus at the very end the guy who performed these surgeries goes nuts off-panel and Robin tells us he’ll never operate again. Sad news for the post-mortem giant gorilla internment industry.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

SPIDER-MAN AND THE HULK IN THE GAMMA GAMBIT

"An original story" is right. 
If you’re running a blog about weird and messed up comics, then something like the first – and only? One almost prays it’s the only – comic book story printed entirely on a single roll of toilet paper kind of writes itself.

To be fair though, judging solely by this very experience, you get stopped at the gate wondering just how many poop-related puns to launch with. Would starting with “In the annals of comicdom” be too much of a stretch, is it fair to call it the “first undeniably-crappy comic” in history, is it wrong to suggest the heroes ply their trade to wipe evil from the whole world? PS poop poop poop.

Because someone's about to wipe their ass with your face, probably.
The Gamma Gambit, a comic story told entirely via the medium of toilet paper (and thank goodness this was in the days before Baxter printing. Imagine if this thing were prestige-bound), was a genuinely odd bit of promotional merchandise produced by something called “Oh!Dawn Inc” operating out of New York, because where else would they be?

Novelty printed toilet paper rolls isn’t only a disappointing tongue-twister, it was also a niche product not uncommon in the tackiness-obsessed late Seventies and early Eighties. This was the era in which Spencer’s Gifts became the world’s third-largest economy solely on the sales of blacklight posters and pens where the girls got naked if you turned them upside down.  To my recollection, they sold toilet paper rolls with dirty jokes printed on them, to give you something to do in the bathroom besides voiding your bowels. This was the world before Smartphones, guys, it was like caveman times, I don’t know how we survived.

Gamma Gambit – featuring Spider-Man and the Hulk – is comics’ thankfully sole entry into the medium, although I suppose there may have been comics on toilet paper rolls before this. Ideally they would have been drawn on the rolls, but … um, maybe one time a comic strip ended up on a sheet of toilet paper by, um, accident, you know? Maybe by remarkable happenstance, or unprecedented amounts of muscular precision, someone was able to make a comic on toilet tissue? Surely that would constitute a miracle; they’d wall off the place where it happened and charge admission.

That Mechanoid is adorable.
No such mysterious wonders were at work on this product, a six page comic scripted by Marvel editor Jim Salicrup and drawn by Michael Higgins, and unfortunately not labeled “FIRST TISSUE SPECIAL” which is what I would have done. Printed in inoffensive blue ink on what I assume was a sturdy yet traditional toilet paper tissue – and not cardstock, one hopes – the short story documents a chance encounter between Peter Parker and Bruce Banner at a scientific exhibition, where a powerful new engine is debuted which attracts the attention of The Leader and his titanic “Mechanoid” battle armor. Then you wipe your butt with it.

The brevity of the story is something of a relief; I was a wee’yin when tis product was on the shelves, and I remember being inordinately stressed about the idea of the roll being one long story. Imagine if someone used the bathroom in between your own visits, you’d miss whole pages of the story! What if they were a paper hog? What if it had been Manwich night? You might miss a whole chapter! Thankfully, toilet roll comics are digital now.

Since it’s a six-page story on a toilet paper sheet, it’s almost hilariously brief. I mean, this was the age of the oversized Marvel Treasury Edition, would it have killed them to make this thing tabloid sized? (No, but it would have demolished your plumbing) Still, absolutely only the essential plot points can be touched on – the two heroes meet, the engine is described, the Leader shows up, fights the Hulk, fights Spidey, is defeated, and then you flush.

Despite being such a brief story, though, I do hope it’s in canon. I’d love to see the “Gamma Generator” or the “Mechanoid” referenced in a modern comic, with a little asterisk and a “*See Gamma Gambit” credit in a little yellow box in the panel corner - or possibly one of those Marvel “AR” enhanced reality things. It could lead to a little video with blue-lined faces of the characters slowly floating by as an intern reads the dialogue – for the first time ever, it’ll explain why it sounds like they record those things in a bathroom!

Despite not making much of a splash beyond the initial bugfuckery of its mere existence, The Gamma Gambit does seem to promise a world of comics printed on every paper surface imaginable.  Hospital gowns, marriage licenses, the Google Maps results you print out for your parents because they still don’t know how the GPS works on their phones, Kleenex … “I gotta sneeze, but not before I find out if The Defenders can beat Annihilu – aaaaaaah aaaaHHH CHOO! Shit, now I have to wait for the trade tissueback.”

Frankly, that seems like the least of your problems right now.



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

90 FROM THE 90s - PART THREE


Face-Shaped Covers
Die-cutting technology was one of the earliest gimmicks employed on comic covers in the 90s, although it seemed early on to focus primarily on providing interesting flaps for gatefold covers on event issues. Along with embossing and foil, die-cutting made up probably what was the original triumvirate of gimmick covers – and yet, only two comics to my knowledge ever thought of not only die-cutting the entire comic, from stem to stern, but decided to do it in the shape of the hero’s face!

The sensitively-titled Crazyman vol 2 no.1 from Continuity Comics cut the entire book in the shape if its hero’s manhandled face, topping it off with an open ‘homage’ to The Prisoner television series with an off-panel (or off-head, in this case) voice reminding Crazyman that he was not only not a person, but not even a number! Wow, how terribly rude. Meanwhile, Malibu’s The Ferret – the superhero who lives in a cage under your dorm-mate’s desk and rolls around like an idiot when you blow pot smoke in its face – duplicated the effect with the snarling maw of its hero play-doughed into the relatively square-cut format of a comic book cover. Well, at least no one ever used die-cutting to blast a bullet hole right through the middle of a comic, imagine how tacky that would have been…



Milestone Comics
Milestone launched in 1993 under a landmark licensing deal with what was effectively its parent publishing company, DC Comics, which allowed the founders of Milestone Media to retain copyright and licensing control of the character, despite using DC’s publishing services. It was a marvel of a compromise in the era which saw creator-owned publishing make a tremendous leap forward, wherein dynamic new publishers could take enviable risks while the elder company footed the bill and reaped a bit of the cred. Of course, the new bosses these days apparently don’t see a lot of potential in publishing anything they don’t own lock, stock and barrel, so goodbye Milestone pretty much.

The mission of Milestone was, in no small part, to redress the imbalance of minority representation in mainstream comics, and to do that, you know, what with the predominance of big white Aryan-looking muscle-builders and pin-up models making up the vast majority of mainstream superheroes, you have to have a LOT of underrepresented minorities, and all kinds, too; women , African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, non-English speakers, Muslims, Jews, the non-traditionally gendered, all of which Milestone had in abundance, and which they showcased routinely.

And yet, when I was working at a comic shop in the 90s and customers would ask “What’s good this week?”, I would reply “I’m really enjoying Static, Blood Syndicate and Icon, have you read any of the Milestone books” and they’d sneer and go “Uh, that RACIST company?” So I guess what I’m saying is I wasn’t really all that shocked when people sent Donald Glover hate mail about being a black Spider-Man, basically.



Lobo
While Cable is undoubtedly the godfather of the 90s superhero – all cyborg parts, big guns, tiny feet and convoluted backstory – Lobo was certainly the, er, midwife maybe? The dog-sitter? He was something relatively important, anyway.

Although he began as a lightly annoying and decidedly melodramatic figure in DC’s problematic Omega Men comic (guess how many female characters in Omega Men were former prostitutes, had rape-based origins, or both?), Lobo evolved into a “rude dude with attitude”, a smart-ass unkillable biker, loaded with chains and cigars and crazy hair, out-toughing Wolverine and overdoing the ultra-violence to a degree which made the knives, blood and cross-hatching of your average Image imitator comic look like a Golden Book about a toy horse that lacked confidence.

In fact, Lobo’s over-the-top personality and cartoonish-level of violence evolved to a point where he transcended the original intent of the character and became self-parody. Usually that’s a sign of trouble, but it was Lobo’s strength to make a mockery of the entire state of the medium. He may not have been a character who laughed at himself, but he was the distillation of the absurd excesses of the decade, to say the least. I don’t quite get the dolphins, though.



Kevin Smith 
The question as to whether Smith makes a better raconteur than a screenwriter is a matter best left to the ancient masters, although one time I heard him get interviewed on NPR and the guy went a real long way to not flat-out say “Now, no one likes any of your movies any more, why is that?” Even as a comic writer, most of his … influence … on the medium was relegated to the 2000s and retroactively establishing in canon that Batman sharted himself (this is why Flashpoint happened, by the way, to get rid of that story from continuity). His Daredevil run – marred by the usual late releases and blow-up ending – was played for a bit more of a publicity angle than a story or character angle. It was “Kevin Smith writes Daredevil” with “Kevin Smith” in big letters and “Daredevil” in wet Alpha-Bits, as it were.

Smith’s influence on the comics of the Nineties, though, came as the filmmaker somehow managed to legitimize an obsession with the errata and arcana of comics, despite the fact that none of the characters in his movies who were obsessed with comics were particularly likable, noble or aspirational. Perhaps they made fans feel better about low expectations, which is certainly what I imagine his wardrobe is intended to do. “Jean shorts that brush the asphalt! I guess I’m not doing too bad” says a man wearing an empty Bud Light 24-pack box as underwear, one might imagine.



Everyone versus Predator, Alien and Terminator
It’s tricky to establish where Dark Horse Comics’ first legitimate hit came from, but it has rarely tapped into the zeitgeist more powerfully than by pitting Aliens versus Predators, a match-up none of us knew we needed and now is considered part of a necessary part of a balanced breakfast by several professional medical organizations.

Naturally, after the pairing had been thrown together a few times in a few different environments, the temptation to fold another vital 1980s sc-fi/horror franchise into the mix, resulting naturally in Aliens vs Predator vs Terminator, and from there Terminator vs Robocop, Superman vs Aliens, Batman versus Predator, Aliens vs Predator vs Witchblade and Darkness, Superman and Batman versus Aliens and Predator, Predator vs Magnus Robot Fighter (which seems like a wasted opportunity for bringing Robocop back into the mix), Predator vs Judge Dredd, and then Tarzan, the JLA and Dark Horse’s entire “Comics Greatest World” line versus assorted Predators.

Surely you could tie all of that up into one coherent story, but on the other hand did you realize that you’re pitiably mortal and life is a flicker and then it’s gone? Perhaps you should spend some more time with your loved ones.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

TRULY GONE AND FORGOTTEN : JACKIE LAW AND THE BOY RANGERS


The Kid Gang has a long and storied history in comics, dating back to the days when The Boy Commandos were literally the THIRD most popular feature at National behind Superman and Batman. Still how many of these axis-smashing assemblages of grubby street urchins can claim to have not only busted crime, but picked up a giant robot along the way AND THEN JUST FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE GIANT ROBOT like, whatever, we go through giant robots like candy, we poop giant robots before breakfast, giant robots, pfffft? Not many!

Jackie Law and the Boy Rangers debuted in the pages of Hillman’s Clue Comics, and no other comic title has ever sounded so much like a made-for-the-movies band of teen rebel musicians – you can picture it if you try, the lead singer has a pompadour and someone dies by driving a cherry classic car through the guard rail into the ocean. “This one’s for Froggy!” someone yells at the triumphant reunion concert at the end of the film. You know.

Comprised of five neighborhood boys, the Rangers were :

  • Jackie, team leader, the avenging son of a father murdered by loan sharks
  • Buck, the mandatory fat kid, although they surprisingly avoided all the usual “fat kid” gimmicks like having him drool openly when shown pie 
  • Corny, some sort of hayseed who hardly ever got any lines
  • Froggy, who had New Wave hair even though it was 1942
  • Gorilla, a legitimate psychopath. He shouldn’t have been  in a comic book, he should’ve been in a home for the criminally insane

You wouldn't see stuff this gruesome on Hannibal...
When Jackie’s father is brutally murdered right in front of the kids, Jackie Law clearly snaps and makes a pledge to dedicate his life to fighting crime. We’ve seen where this usually ends up, but I guess if Bruce Wayne had only had some friends, things might’ve worked out a little differently for Batman.

As it is, the kids sew “R”s to their football uniforms and take to the streets as The Boy Rangers, literally busting through doors and beating criminals with bats and shit. No joke, they are just savagely assaulting crooks with hand-held weapons, the diminutive Gorilla more than most. When the team decides that everyone gets a rank in accordance with their age, Gorilla is enthused to be the team sole Private. “Oh boy,” he declares, visions of split skulls floating in oceans of gore rising before his eager imagination, “I’ll have to do all the fightin’! I’m the whole ranger army!” he continued, visibly erect.

Although the Boy Rangers kept their brutal ministrations to crooks, thugs, saboteurs and the occasional Natzee, and despite the fact that they seemed to do just fine trying to murder society’s outcasts with their own two hands, they nonetheless get a MAJOR upgrade in firepower when they find themselves in possession of a giant robot named “Loco”.

Although Gorilla recognizes it as a beautiful murder machine,
he already misses how it feels to kill a man with his bare hands.
Preceding Voltron and his ilk by generations, Loco is an anthropomorphic robot some several stories tall whose individual limbs are operated by pilots in each of his extremities – by pure coincidence, the giant android requires five pilots, and there happen to be five Rangers – six if you count Gorilla’s undiagnosed homicidal inclinations.

Jackie Law and his pals take Loco out for a couple of trial runs before ultimately deciding that giant robotness is just not their cup of tea – not when it’s still so satisfying to tear the ears off of errant criminals. In the scant few appearances preceding their cancellation, the Boy Rangers left Loco on the shelf (probably donated as war scrap, actually) and returned to their tried, true and two-fisted approach to justice.

As they warned in an ominous letter left for police to find over the beaten, broken bodies of his father’s murderers in their first appearance:

“This is the FIRST of our rat cleaning jobs! Let this be a warning to all criminals … you cannot escape the justice of the BOY RANGERS! We will seek you out and deal with you and one by one, big or small, when you break a LAW you will run into the anger of … Jackie Law and the Boy Rangers”

Yow!


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

GONE&FORGOTTEN REVISITED - SECRET WARS II


The original Secret Wars effectively created the template for the now-inevitable “Big Event” comics – once restricted to limited series and Summertime crossovers, now a sub-genre of its own in the superhero firmament and an almost perpetual ringer on the schedules of both companies. The first volume of Secret Wars was basically the first new milestone in the “teams and team-ups” motif of superhero storytelling since the Justice Society was assembled and the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner duked it out in the Golden Age, or the JSA and JLA inaugurated their annual crossovers in the Silver Age. For the first time, thanks to Secret Wars, you could just arbitrarily throw all of your currently most popular heroes and villains into a blender and Jackson Pollack the whole mess into a fan-pleasing mélange.

Weirdly, though, the actual sequel to Secret Wars resembled in no way the format of the original, even though it seems in retrospect like the most obvious plot in the world to simply throw some new heroes and villains into a mix with a different reward at stake. Instead, you got something a vague critique of materialism and ambition amidst a backdrop of bright, pop cultural artifacts.

Brought to life by then-editor-in-chief Jim Shooter - the man famous for being able to say "The last thing this industry needs is another superhero comic" and "I'm writing a new superhero comic" in the same breath, and heavy-handed illustrator Al Milgrom (with inks by a seemingly often-confused and hesitant Steve Leialoha, and you can’t blame him), Secret Wars 2 picks up on what no man can call an "unresolved plot thread" without breaking into riotous laughter or bawling in horror. 

And what comes out is this story.
The Beyonder - an omnipotent being peering into our universe by means of a spontaneously generated cosmic peephole - kicks off the original Secret Wars series abducting Earth's greatest heroes and villains and having them act out the plateau of their eternal morality play for him. In this sequel, his curiosity about humanity left unsated, he ventures to Earth in a human disguise, hoping to learn about us by living among us. Call CBS, I think I smell a sitcom!

Abstractly speaking, it's an interesting enough premise for a story - a being of virtually limitless power and no moral barometer to speak of is driven to Earth by his one human characteristic, curiosity, to learn by walking among mortals what it is precisely that makes humanity so unique. It's a very Seventies story, very Green Lantern/Green Arrow, except that if Denny O'Neil had been writing it, it would've wrapped up in twenty-five pages, and the kicker would've been that the alien ends up finding happiness and contentment being a hobo.

By contrast to Secret Wars I, where the mightiest heroes and villains on Earth fought a cataclysmic war of mythic proportions, Shooter brings us in the sequel such riveting scenes as: A television cartoon writer gaining tremendous destructive powers and blowing up a McDonald's, the Beyonder destroying the earth and it gets fixed immediately (that happens like FIFTEEN times or something), and the Beyonder looking at all the STUFF he has. Over and over again.

I'm not one of those guys who thinks every book needs to have a fight scene, but I do consider myself something of a fight scene snob in that I want any fight scene I DO see to at least be ... any good at all. Whereas this book did have three battles per issue, or thereabouts, they all went like this: (A) group of super heroes leaps out from behind a billboard, parked car, toaster oven, etc (B) they whup on Beyonder for about two or three panels and then (C) Beyonder basically yawns and walks away.

Boom, three times an issue! Four times if there’s a matinee. Theoretically, all the heroes of Earth had been alerted to the Beyonder's presence and to the terrible destruction he could cause, but rather than, say, make a plan or come up with some inexplicable scientific gadget to defeat him (you know, the stuff they do every issue of their own comics and have done since the beginning of time) they just like to leap out from behind the bushes and try to jump on his head. It's about as effective as putting a flaming bag of poop on his doorstep, except that this way the Beyonder doesn't even get poop on his shoes.

To illustrate this point, allow me to recreate a particular scene for you: The Beyonder hooks up with Boom-Boom*, a character who debuts in this series though eventually ends up with X-Force and Nextwave. Boom Boom separates from him at some point and rats him out to the Avengers. The Avengers gather their whole roster, Dr.Strange, and the Fantastic Four. They jump out of the bushes and stumble over each other for four panels. Then the Beyonder walks away, and they LET HIM GO despite being there to defeat him in the first place.

"I understand! This story
is an abortion and should
never have been printed!"
But wait, there's more. Noticing that the Beyonder seems a little depressed, the heroes decide to ask Boom-Boom if she knows why, only she's slipped away in the confusion. So they write her off.

So, somehow, using the secondary mutation of her own two legs, Boom Boom left the scene of the battle which only lasted about a minute and a half, meaning she is clearly lost for good. Having traveled a full hundred yards, there’s simply no way these superheroes – including the all-seeing Dr.Strange, at least one hero with animal-like tracking senses, Iron Man who surely must have some sort of radar-device in his armor and Mister Fantastic who might have something handy that does the same thing, plus three different actual gods – could track a girl walking away presently.

It’s worth remembering that Shooter, as editor-in-chief, sank the original Avengers vs JLA project because he felt the DC writers had the Marvel heroes using their powers in a completely nonsensical fashion. Just worth remembering that, really.

This is only one of dozens of scenes that actually had me yelling at this comic book. Not just shouting in frustration or incredulousness, but also trying to force it out of existence using only my voice, like that one groovy black Legionnaire. I used persuasion where I could. "Staples! How can you stand to hold together a book this awful? Fall apart! Now!" and "Paper, you dishonor your noble tree ancestors by holding onto this image. I demand that you reject the ink that created it, NOW!"

Also weighing the book down like a pork-stuffed redwood log were the endless FLASHBACKS and RECAPS. Readers really didn't have to worry about missing the original Secret Wars story, because it was recapped for them ... in almost every issue. When Secret Wars 2 eventually stopped recapping its source material, itinstead offered recaps of the previous issues of its own previous issues. Heck, sometimes they went for the threepeat and would recap the first series, the previous issues of this series, AND any important events from any of the eight hundred CROSSOVER books they did. If you buy one Marvel comic in 1985, make it Secret Wars ... because it blows the plot of every other book they produced that year.

The thing also failed to follow the "show, don't tell" rule of good comics - "failed" in the same sense as when you say something like "The pilot failed to adjust his trajectory and crashed his missile-laden jet first into the children's hospital and then smack dab into the main gasline for the town." The average panel in this book is anywhere from one-third to THREE-FOURTHS dialogue, and at one point there becomes such a critical struggle between allowable text space and cramped art that the hand-letterer gives up and they have a typography machine add in text in a smaller typeface to several panels.

Not that every word was pure gold ... far from it. Most of it was sort of endless, over-obvious mewling about the varied state of the human condition, a plodding brickhouse of existential blubbering. Other parts would be the heroes or narrator taking a moment to describe what was happening before their very eyes. No kidding. Lots of "Look out, he's shooting energy beams" and "those shards of glass are coming right for us!" ... stuff that the artist should've been able to represent without the writer feeling he had to mention it. To wit: Captain America explains, as the Beyonder vanishes in a flash of yellow light, "He disappeared!" Oh Cap, you idiot.

"We're terrible at our jobs."

There's more to loathe, but to document every failing in the book would be to reprint this book. Suffice it to say, the heroes unveil their boots of clay as they make a resolution to actually go kill the Beyonder (!!)and then end up changing their mind, because he turns himself into a baby. That the heroes, all of whom abide by that hoary old comic standard of the Code Against Killing (worth fifteen points in Champions), decided to snuff the super-being but then change their minds when it's a super-being baby being puts the lie to their ethics. If the intention was to ice the Beyonder not for the things he’d done but for the things he might do, well, babies might do even more things than grown-ups, mostly because they’ve got more time to do ‘em but also because of the liberating freedom of wearing a diaper.

Lest it not be underlined, it was the awakening maternal instinct of the female heroes who kept the good guys from killing the Beyonder baby. This is the cap on a book which featured a walking clone of Captain America dressed like Kurtis Blow and walking around in the company of a con man I can pretty much guarantee you was meant to be yet another of mainstream comics’ endless satires of Stan Lee. 

As a sequel, it doesn’t leave you wanting more, but you can’t say it wasn’t ambitious, even if it was wrong-headed.

*Boom Boom makes her first appearance in Secret Wars 2 #5. I called Bob Rozakis night and day at his home number, trying to figure out how much a mint edition copy would get me. He would just say stuff like "Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash, is Eobard Thawne" and "Man-Bat #1 is worth thirty cents in good condition" and "Leave me alone or I'll have you arrested."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

BATMAN LEADS AN INTERESTING LIFE - THE MAN WHO FEARED METAL

Cue the Charlie Brown music.

If you were ever wondering what it would take to get Batman to wear one of those veterinary cones they give to injured dogs to keep ‘em from biting at their stitches, I’ve got your answer for you – but I’m afraid it’s gonna take a lot of preparation.

In Detective Comics vol.1 No.163 (September 1950), Batman and Robin find themselves on the trail of “Slippery Jim” Elgin, the so-called “Man of 1,000 Faces” and winner of Gotham City’s “Worst Criminal Pseudonym” awards for 1946, 1948 and honorable mention 1949. Chasing the appearance-changing crook past what appears to be a suburban experimental laboratory inside a gated community, both the dynamic duo and Slippery Jim’s entire gang are caught when the front of the lab explodes, showering all involved with debris. Enh, it happens.  

Batman and Robin check out their "Sexy Slippery Jim
Disguise Of The Month" calendar.

Don't look at July 15, Robin.
Slippery Jim comes out of it the worst – for one thing, he’s no longer slippery! Blew the slippery right off him, poor guy. More problematic, though, is that a sliver of highly magnetized metal has lodged itself in Jim’s brain, and will kill him if it’s moved so much as half an inch. Getting closer than then feet to any sizable piece of metal will do the crook in, including but not limited to handsaws, dental fillings (which aren’t magnetic, I don’t think, or I hope not anyway, except in cases of hilarity) or collapsible top hats (spoiler: He dies after donning a collapsible top hat. Let that be his epitaph).

Slippery Jim creates an anti-magnetic helmet, some sort of completely non-metal piece of electronics which creates a field wherein magnetism stops working. I’ve already looked up a few scientific things for this article, so I didn’t feel like checking if there was some sort of plastic machine that cancels magnetism, but if there is color me impressed that a crook whose primary gimmick was makeup and fake beards invented it. It doesn’t matter anyway, because he loses the helmet almost immediately and has to fall back on plan B: Make Batman wear a nitroglycerine dinner plate as a bow tie.

Capturing Batman and Robin, Slippery Jim’s men force the Caped Crusader to don a plastic ring, packed with explosives, around his neck. Rigging the collar with the same metal-sensitive trigger which threatens Slippery Jim’s life, the dang thing will BLOW UP if Batman tries to remove it, gets too close to metal, or tries to approach Robin in his cage of iron bars. Little known fact: Same rules were in effect in the frilled ruffs of the Elizabethan era. Shakespeare actually died from getting his neck too close to a lead pitcher.

In the end, Batman is able to switch out the high explosive collar for a duplicate which he apparently happened to have handy, and which is filled with knockout gas. This allows him to effect possibly my favorite panel in the history of Batman, which is the panel where his head explodes. Let that stand as my epitaph.

"For the kicks, Robin!"

The Dark Knight Detective managed to remove his booby-trapped necktie by slipping wax paper between his neck and the inside of the collar, and then using hydrofluoric acid to eat away at the metal clasps. Apparently hydrofluoric acid doesn’t eat through wax – I even Googled it, and they’re right, it doesn’t eat through mineral wax! Congrats old school Batman writers! You got one thing not completely berserkly wrong about science. For once.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

TRULY GONE AND FORGOTTEN : THE DESTRUCTOR

For instance, this is New Jersey.

It’s Your Humble Editor’s position that more superheroes need to come out of New Jersey. Obviously, New York gets all the love, but what about their nearest neighbor – if superheroes are like a solid percentage of professionals, they don’t live in the city, they just commute. They must at least drive through Jersey. I know folks who live in New Jersey, so I know they have people there, despite what their reputation might suggest actually lives there (Mole people, radioactive wasteland survivors, minor devils) – I’ve been to their houses! They’ve got a new township every three blocks, they must have enough people in Jersey to get a few original superheroes … and besides the place is a toxic waste dump, what better place to gain powers?

Well, striking out for the Garden State is The Destructor, the superhero who proves all the good names are taken! One of Seaboard-Atlas Comics’ longest-running titles – at a whopping four issues! – The Destructor was the product of the veritable dream team of Archie Goodwin, Steve Ditko, Wally Wood and paint fumes, and is one of the few Atlas heroes to get through their run without a dramatic third-issue switch to his premise, look and powers (sort of).

Yeah. JUST like a cat.
The Destructor is secretly Jay Hunter, formerly a low-ranking assistant mobster (to be fair, he worked his way up from mafia stockboy through the cosa nostra mailroom) whose father is a scientist who hovers somewhere between Jonas Salk and Timothy Leary on the “Scientific Endeavors” scale of the twentieth century. When head mobster Max “That’s So” Raven gives orders to have young Jay iced – he was ambitious, but TOO ambitious, so keep that in mind if you have any job interviews lined up, that’s an important job-hunting tip – the over-zealous gunman pounds both Jay and his scientist father with sufficient lead to sink a battleship.

In their mutual last moments of life, Jay’s father crams a thermos full of his secret experiment down Jay’s throat – it’s a serum which gives a human being “full freedom of his senses” and allows  “all body system able to function as MAXIMUM!” I’ve heard it also “gives you wings.” The result is that Jay gains super-powers and, after the suitable mourning period, decks himself out in a costume to avenge his father and bring down the criminal empire of Max Raven.

Of course, destroying one measly mobster isn’t a big task for a fella with Destructor’s powers, so the subsequent four issues involve him taking his war all the way up to the head of the Syndicate, which itself starts getting him involved with his own cadre of supervillains the deadly Slaymaster, the deadly Deathgrip, the deadly Huntress, her assistant the deadly Lobo, and the deadly scientist behind all of these deadly villains, the deadly Dr.Shroud – deadly, every one of ‘em!

In his final issue, the Destructor falls into an underground city full of The Outcasts – essentially bog-standard comic book mutants who were spawned by errant beta and gamma radiation emanating from the damaged power plant around which they make their home. With a behind-the-scenes decision apparently realizing, this far in, that The Destructor’s powers were basically identical to Atlas’ other Ditko co-creation, Tiger-Man, a sudden radiation leak amps up Destructor’s power set by giving him explosive bursts of energy from his hands! Yay, now he really is a Destructor! I mean, I’ve known a lot of Destructors in my time, and you’re just not actually a Destructor if you can’t fire deadly bolts from your hands.

With Atlas crashing and burning soon thereafter, Destructor is left with his explosive hands at the mercy of the duplicitous Outcasts with the Syndicate still in full operation and a war about to break out in the underground community where he has signed on as a soldier. I’m sure it all worked out for the best, though.

"Nothing will mean beans ever again!"


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

THE BLASTERS

A whole two bits!

Bemoan the existence of the big annual crossover “Event Comics” as much as you’d like – seriously, go for it, I won’t stop you – but DC’s Invasion (or is that “Invasion!”) is mostly one of the good ones. Besides keeping the main story confined to three dense but otherwise coherent giant-sized issues, it came up with a pretty reasonable excuse to collect all the Earth’s superheroes for a singular mission, introduced a concept (The “metagene”) which persisted in its titles for a good twenty years, and kept the crossover issues relatively unjammed with content you’d have to read the main series to understand. After all, “aliens are invading the Earth” is a plot which would have happened in most superheroes’ comics four times a year anyway.

Of the direct spin-offs from Invasion!, there was the fairly long-running L.E.G.I.O.N. series, an then of course there were The Blasters.

Originally prisoners of the Invasion! Fleet’s scientific wing, the Blasters were a group of human beings whose possession of the “metagene” – a component of human DNA which allowed otherwise normal human beings to gain superpowers from situations which probably should have left them smoldering masses of protoplasm – allowed them to survive brutal testing at the hands of the extraterrestrial Dominators. Returning to Earth after their incarceration on the alien prison, the yet-unnamed and not-yet-united group of individuals struggled to come to grips with their newfound super-powers.

There's also this great scene where the German
robot beats a Jewish child.
In between Invasion! and the few appearances which followed, the Blasters received an oversized special which seemed poised to launch the group as a new title, although it never materialized, If I had to pick a reason, I’d suggest that it was too much fun. Specifically, that the creative team seemed to be having too much fun, some of it seemingly at the expense of the premise.

Blasters had its tongue firmly planted in cheek from the git-go, opening on a splash panel featuring the adventures of Ben Steel and his Bear Hans (say it out loud), and loaded with nods and references to other comics and media. Snapper Carr - former sidekick to the Justice League of America and now the Blasters’ resident teleporter and probably team leader – makes reference to his counterpart Rick Jones (also famously scripted by Blasters scribe Peter David) over in the competitors’ mags, for instance, before running afoul of the work of a Vogon Contructor Fleet (which I’m not explaining because I know you know what it is), and so on.

It’s hard to say if the light tone being taken with the book was a reaction to what might arguably be a bit of a bum assignment, or if the Blasters was meant as a response to overly serious, similar products, like the equally space-faring Omega Men or the even-spawned and so-serious-it-hurts New Guardians. The comic elements serve it well, though, since the emotional crux of the book involves the human Blasters coming to terms with powers which makes their lives difficult and even unlivable.

The Blasters are:

  • Snapper Carr, the aforementioned former “mascot” of the JLA (before human rights organization intervened) and now a teleporter. Carr had previously been notorious for his characters’ obnoxious tendency to snap his fingers obsessively. Granted super-powers, he uses them … by snapping his fingers obsessively. No joke, later on? Later on someone cut his hands off. Hooray!
  • Churlijenkins, a sexy cat alien lady with an attitude, because I guess she was a strong female character? I gathered as much from how she didn’t wear a lot of clothes and made sarcastic observations in lieu of having motivation.
  • Carlotta Rivera (aka Jolt, the superheroine with twice the caffeine) whose power to wibbly-wobbly the joobly-poobly seems very scientific at first. Her powers go wild unless she’s exhibiting immense concentration, and while it’s great that the book has one female character who isn’t an unrelenting scold, pretty much her only scene has her confront a bunch of potential rapists. Check that one off on your Bingo cards, if you got ‘em.
  • Moshe Levy is Dust Devil, an Israeli kid who could generate tornadoes, and unfortunately for my juvenile sense of humor is not called “The Kosher Tornado.” His real super-power is his overbearing mother, which is true for a lot of Jewish kids, really. I kid, I kid …
  • The Blasters was evidently meant to be one of those mutli-ethnic superteams which upends stereotypes and breaks the white hegemony, but the only black guy on the roster was nonetheless a career criminal. Amos Monroe, aka Crackpot is a professional con man with the power to make people believe anything, and yet he lets people call him that.
  • There’s an Austrian guy who becomes an exploding mass of jagged metal and goes by the name of “Frag”, which is pretty hilarious to imagine being said in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s accent. Try it, hours of fun, I guarantee you.
  • And lastly a British storybook writer who can turn into a full-length mirror, which just seems pervy.


Plus an alien with a rubber light bulb for a head and I don’t remember his name or care.

In all, the Blasters wasn’t at all a bad or unenjoyable book, focusing as it did on how normal people might react to abnormal situations, and in its way providing something of a metaphor for how unexpected crisis can both open new vistas and render normal life impossible, while never completely abandoning a deliberate silliness. Mind you, put all of these people on a spaceship and having them go fight space crime is dumb bunk, and yet that’s what they ended up doing.  Oh well, it was a fun forty-whatever pages while it lasted…

Peter David invented Krumping.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

COSTUME DRAMA - SPIDER-MAN, SPIDER-MAN, WEARING PANTS HE GOT FROM A CAN



The storyline in which Spider-Man’s pants turn out to be a malevolent alien intelligence hellbent on world domination is a fundamental component of the wall-crawler’s storyline to such a point that it literally makes for one of three events noteworthy enough in the character’s history to warrant inclusion in a motion picture. Alongside his origin and the death of Gwen Stacy, the only other comics storyline which graduates to the silver screen – albeit in an abbreviated and not exactly Oscar-worthy fashion --  is the time Spider-Man found a ball of black mucus and decided to spread it all over his body pretending that it was “clothes.”

(As I think about it, it’s also made it to Spider-Man’s animated incarnations, which is something I don’t think “Kraven’s Last Hunt” will ever do. I can’t quite picture a CGI Disney Channel incarnation of Spider-Man erupting buck naked from a casket full of spiders – or, at least, not without the “Sports Goofy” yell being involved).

The subsequent storyline involving the “costume” turning out to be an alien symbiote, then later attaching itself to Peter Parker’s competitor Eddie Brock, and then spawing a whole buncha other dumb symbiote monster-spider-man-things (as depicted in Giant-Size Monster-Spider-Man-Thing #1) is pretty well-covered, but I’ve noticed that whenever the acquisition of the symbiote costume is referenced, it’s sort of a throwaway “He got it during Secret Wars” thing, ignoring the fact that the whole story is much dumber than that.

Secret Wars was, of course, a groundbreaking toy catalog which was published back before most of us knew any better, and as a vehicle for selling action figures was a terrific artistic success. At the time, Secret Wars – featuring Marvel’s top roster of heroes and villains and having them fight like idiots for no reason – seemed to predicate the existence of super-hero MMOs and video games; canned characterization bookending a ton of side quests, repetitive missions populated with gigantic fight scenes, and when you’d collected enough Energon Cubes or whatever you could give your favorite character a new costume.

In the abstract, it seemed like a formula that simply could not fail. Once a year, or every other year possibly, grab a handful of then-popular superheroes and supervillains, huck ‘em on a slab of dangerous neutral ground, and have ‘em fight for a half-dozen issues until the publisher can afford a new boat. What happened instead was Secret Wars II (although, to be fair, the model inaugurated by Secret Wars has become the template of the now-perennial Event Comic, so while its immediate sequel was a true barker, its legacy has some real staying power).

In any case, the story of Spider-Man’s new pajamas begins in issue No.8 of Secret Wars (December 1984), a comic which rocketed in value on the collector’s market despite not having much of interest going or doing much to initiate the actual plot of Spider-Man’s Costume’s story arc. Well, wait, it did have that scene where Hawkeye tries to murder a guy, which has always been pretty funny.

For such a portentious event in the history of the Marvel Universe, you might think that Spider-Man’s wardrobe change would be foreshadowed menacingly early into the series. It wasn’t, not at all, and in fact Spider-Man’s costume seems to hold up just fine and be in no need of replacement (maybe a wash, though) until a big good vs bad clusterfuck in the villains’ headquarters. The Absorbing Man takes a shot at Spider-Man using a special type of breakaway wall which is hell on tailors.

That's the spirit, Absorbing Man!

Walking around in his messed-up spider-danskins apparently weighs heavily on Spidey’s fashion-conscious conscience, which is why he’s lucky to meet Thor and Hulk coming out of a locked room in the hero’s headquarters, presumably because they’d just connected on Grindr.

Thor has managed to find a machine which repairs and replaces clothing – or textiles in general, I think, since Hawkeye later uses it to make new arrows – and I would have dearly loved to have seen the scene where Thor tries to figure out how to use an alien piece of advanced technology. “Verily shalt thou makest me ein helmet most glorious, silvery device of unknown origins, or forthwith the party of the first part shall smite thee with mine hammer’st most bawitdaba!” and then Hulk goes “No, you just push this button here, see” and Thor goes “Must mine hammer strike thunder and lightning upon thine jojos, furnace of shoes?!!” and Hulk goes “No, look, I’ll just do it for you.”


“My spider-sense is warning me of danger, I better put this down – too late!” It’s worth mentioning that, earlier in this same issue, Spider-Man makes a big point of showing off how his reflexes are so uncannily fast that they defy human comprehension, and that his spider-sense warns him of danger in sufficient advance that it’s practically impossible to touch him if he’s on the ball. “Gosh, my spider-sense is really going off about this thing in my hand, might be a grenade, boy, just look at this thing, woo, what an ominous black ball of slime, neat, I should get rid of it, wow, really feeling threatened now, okay, guess I’ll get rid of – OH NO IT’S ON ME TOO FAST!” Fuckin’ kids.

The real question is “what exactly was that machine?” It was supposed to be some sort of machine that made Zubaz pants out of nowhere but instead it’s a machine that if you approach and ask “Hey, may I have some socks and underwear please?” it replies “Sure, here is a parasitic lifeform, wear it in good health.” Or, wait, I guess the real question is why the Hulk didn’t get himself any new pants.

Weirdly, Spider-Man subsequently takes a back seat to the story for the remainder of Secret Wars. For reasons best known only to Jim Shooter, the miniseries largely focused on Doctor Doom, Captain America, the Wasp and Magneto, and Colossus. Frankly, for the comic which was meant to launch the big dynamic change in a character, it didn’t have much going for it in terms of actual story – which, in this age of media-made announcements of big comic book “news”, you might consider to be a cautionary tale.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

TRULY GONE AND FORGOTTEN : THE RED BLAZER


I don’t like to repeat a prefix when it comes to the superheroes I hold most near and dear to my heart, so a showdown is pending between my current favorite Red-preceded Golden Age do-gooder – Red Bee, the man who fights crime with the power of a bee, which lives in his belt, his belt bee – and Harvey Comics’ Red Blazer, the man named after a sportscaster’s wardrobe.

It’s tough to define irony, but it’s possibly highly ironic that a man named “Red Blazer” actually wears a costume which is much tackier than an actual red blazer. Decked out in castoffs from a Cirque du Soleil performance, Red Blazer resembles something like what you might get if a road map and a constellation had a baby in the middle of a small town Fourth of July parade.

"Lovely place you have - HUAAARRRGH"
Establishing a reasonable explanation for why an otherwise normal human being would dress up in ribbed short-shorts and burst into flame requires an extraordinary origin story, and Blazer’s is just that – this is extraordinary. The cops probably think so, too.

As told in Pocket Comics #1, the story begins in the wide open plains of Wyoming where Doctor Morgan and his enormous interplanetary minivan returns from a forty-year jaunt to Mars, accompanied by his Martian assistant Kagah who embraces the beauty of the vast, awe-inspiring prairie by choking to death on our atmosphere.

Doctor Morgan takes it upon himself to bury his beloved assistant, which is when random cowpoke Jack Dawson stumbles upon the scene. The cowboy code – and I know this, you may not know this, this is something I know – clearly states that anytime you find a stranger in the middle of the plains burying a dude, you just take him at his word that it was an accident. If you're trying for your “No Body, No Evidence" merit badge, you be an extra good scout and help the guy with his burying. According to the license plates, Wyoming is the “Thousands of Dudes Buried In Unmarked Graves" state.

Morgan rewards Dawson’s body-burying assistance by slipping him a space roofie, hucking him in the trunk of his interstellar Escalade, and firing him off into the Heaviside layer - which, when spellcheck didn’t light up about, I looked up and it turns out to be a REAL SCIENTIFIC THING. Well, consider me told, Red Blazer! What IS fake, though, are the “Astro-Pyro Rays” which bombard the sleeping Dawson, who awakes later with heightened intelligence, space powers, and wearing Liberace’s swimsuit.

His greatest enemy is his tailor.

Guided by Doctor Morgan via videophone, Red Blazer engages a crusade to rid the world of all crime. This theoretically should extend to guys who bury anonymous bodies in the desert and slip drugs to unsuspecting cowpokes, for instance, but instead it’s mostly a couple of regular crooks and a megacephalic weirdo named Dr.Skull who bothers Red through most of his adventures. He also spends some time saving Doctor Morgan’s beautiful young daughter from danger, although if Doctor Morgan was on a solo scientific expedition on Mars for forty years, where’d he get a young daughter? Kidnapped her in the desert is my guess.

When Pocket Comics folds, so too does Red Blazer. Over in All-New Comics, however – also a Harvey Comics publication -  the hero CAPTAIN Red Blazer debuts, sort of, accompanied by a kid sidekick Sparky and decked out in a whole new outfit, according to the covers. These adventures only ever took place in text pieces – boo, if I wanted to read would I buy comics? Other than that, while Captain Red Blazer shared a lot in common with civilian Red Blazer – same last name, mountaintop fortress, powers given to him by Doctor Morgan – he’s possibly evidence that Doctor Morgan is some sort of serial madman who goes around kidnapping folks and turning them into short-lived superheroes. Sounds like there’s potential for an FX Original Series there, folks, someone call my agent!


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

THE LITTLE STOOGES

Waitaminute, those guys aren't little at all! 

Was this a cartoon? You can tell me if it was a cartoon I’d just never heard of before. I won’t be embarrassed, honestly. I mean, I already knew about the Robonic Stooges, so I’m sure I’ve already got cred.

I only ask because The Little Stooges – billed on the cover of their debut 1972 issue as “The Wild, Wacky Sons of the Three Stooges in their First Adventure!” – had all the hallmarks of a Saturday morning cartoon. Besides the three titular stars of the story (their names will be easy to remember. Despite being a whole new generation of “Stooges” and the offspring of the original three, the Little Stooges not only appear to be effectively identical to their assorted faddas but also share their names – Mo, Larry and Curly Joe), the cast is also made up of a trio of perfectly matched female equivalents to the boy Stooges, plus a wisecracking dog, and an antagonistic kid about their own age – Benedict Bogus, the “con-kid,” whose old man is also some kind of evil schemer who presumably bedevils the elder Stooges  - whose role is to set up schemes which complicate the Little Stooges’ lives. Wait, did I just coin the phrase “The Elder Stooges?” I’d like to see a terrifying novel written under that title immediately, please.

I hated that dog, but luckily so did the writer, because it just
basically vanishes after page five.
The Little Stooges also cast-off their collective poppas’ proclivity for swatting each other in the face with open palms, or at least they avoid doing it while the camera’s on them. Tooling around in the colorful threads of the young generation, in a flower-painted jeep adorned with “LOVE” graffiti, these kinder and gentler Stooges saved their nose-pulling and eye-gouging for off-camera antics. Even their pops had seemingly renounced their formerly violent ways – when we meet the old-school Stooges, they’re gently encouraging a swarm of tomato-eating caterpillars to relocate to a second tomato patch they’ve planted just for them. Boy, that’s some … that’s some fine slapstick comedy, there.

It’s weird, because the original Three Stooges didn’t build their reputations on the strength of their narrative craft. No one ever watched a Three Stooges short for the story, they didn‘t have Faulkner cranking out a script for three bumbling movers who knock down a chandelier, you know. In its way, the Three Stooges are like porn – if you had any say in it, you’d skip all the talking and fast-forward to the part where the clam squirts the one guy right in the face*.

Speaking of porn, one of the more unsettling components of the Little Stooges is that it confronts you with the idea that the original Stooges must have procreated at some point. Once you have that mental image in your brain, it basically will be with you until you die. Welcome to the last thing you will see before the semi jumps the divider and smashes your Escalade flatter’n hammered shit: Larry Fine doing it doggy style.

The sound of adult Stooges having sex.
Story is what the Little Stooges choose to offer, though. Rather than the short, self-contained comedy set piece loaded with physical comedy and implicit inversions of class hierarchy in which their predecessors specialized, the Little Stooges comics are adventures dripping with exterior menace. In this, their debut issue, the trio takes it upon themselves to foil a ring of house burglars who are menacing their pleasant, Southern California town, ultimately exposing a massive criminal conspiracy on behalf of a wealthy local citizen. This was also the plot of Terriers.

The weirdest part of this arc is how much attention is deliberately drawn to the cheap television owned by the Little Stooges, which possesses a screwed-up vertical hold and picks up “strange foreign broadcasts.” Ultimately – SPOILERS – the weird reception on the television makes for an important plot point, as Curly verifies that a showroom television in the store owned by a local businessman is indeed the same one owned by the Stooges, and which had previously been stolen. What’s never clarified is the “strange foreign broadcasts,” which SEEMS like it’s implying another plot point, but is instead either some sort of red herring or just thoughtless addition to the story.

 The Little Stooges, despite everything, managed to pull out a healthy seven-issue run, which is pretty significant considering that they never had a direct tie-in material except the loose association with the source material and also because of that implied mental image of Larry Fine plowing some broad from the back. Enjoy!

*So, so very ashamed of myself right now.

Meanwhile here's the lost three panels from Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

BATMAN LEADS AN INTERESTING LIFE - THE INFINITE EVOLUTIONS OF SUPERMAN AND BATMAN

I feel like that tiny caveman in the lower right has a story all his own.

The dynamic between Batman and Superman is always an interesting one, although it’s been the vogue since the Eighties to have an at-least-slightly antagonistic relationship between the two characters (In case you feel like blaming that on Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, I should point out that a schism was forming between the heroes as far back as Mike Barr’s Batman and the Outsiders and Joey Cavalieri’s World’s Finest arc. See? This blog’s educational).

Generally, however chummy or antagonistic their relationship, the pair is portrayed as the mutual godfathers of all superheroes; titanic figures overseeing complementary aspects of duality, light and dark, justice and vengeance, elevation and punishment. For my part, I like to imagine them as a pair of ridiculous bro-hams who spend their free time pulling dumb stunts on each other to blow off steam, such as in World’s Finest Comics vol.1 No.151 (August 1965) in which Superman makes Batman stick his head in a Kryptonian microwave and so Batman turns him into Fred Flintstone.

Wow, it really DID make him super-smart!
When the Man of Steel spies an ancient Kryptonian scientific device plunging towards Earth, he chooses to have his pal Batman approach it. Having been transformed to kryptonite, like all other surviving debris of Krypton, the machine is deadly to him, and besides which Superman doesn’t know what it might do, so it’s best to let his best non-invulnerable friend handle it. Hey, how come only scientific devices, building and monuments ever survived the destruction of Krypton? What about, like, furniture? Is there a kryptonite recliner speeding towards Earth this minute?

Anyway, it turns out that the device is an evolutionary ray, with which Batman immediately decides to shoot himself in the face. BAZARMP! The ray works as advertised on the radioactive tin and launches Batman a full 800,000 years up the evolutionary chart, giving him a head like an infected thumb and a bad attitude. Wanting to preserve his unparalleled, futuristic intellect, Batman turns the device on Superman, but pushes the little lever the other way so that Superman becomes a dumb caveman. Also he immediately grows a beard. Like, I can see why Batman might’ve gone bald, maybe future men evolved out of hair follicles, but Superman could already grow a beard … I dunno, it’s like this isn’t even a real textbook on evolutionary biology!

Reduced to primitive barbarism and looking like Captain Lou Albano, Superman is banished to the distant past by the future-clever Batman, who himself escapes to the year of 801,965 AD (which, for those of you doing the math, is only 3300 years shy of DC One Million’s destination of the 853rd Century. You sort of wish Morrison had somehow incorporated this story into that one). Superman, fired up by hurt caveman feelings, pursues Batman to the future where he embarrasses him in front of all of Batman’s new future-friends by hauling him back to the prehistoric past where dinosaurs might chew him up and shit him out. By the way, I assume all this traipsing around and slapfighting in mankind’s dawning must have had some sort of Ray Bradbury effect on the present, and now dinosaurs are running for president.


Eventually, the former best buds and evolutionary peers hash out their differences, primarily because Superman threatened to have his dog murder Batman unless he put an end to all of this shimmying up and down the ladder of human progress. Honestly, it worked so well, you might be surprised that Superman doesn’t play the “murdered by Superdog” card a little more often! 

The new morality at work.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

TRULY GONE AND FORGOTTEN FOES : SUPER-GORILLAS Part One


Super-Gorillas Part One
Together, DC Super Special No.16 (Spring issue, 1976) and the descriptively titled Super-Heroes Battle Super-Gorillas No.1 (Winter, 1976) comprise the Bible of spandex halfwits slugging it out with conquer-crazy monkeys from space. I say that never having read the Bible, maybe it’s already all about that very thing, maybe the Bible is already about super-apes fighting super-people, how should I know, I never stay in hotels.

Although the books cover a sizable contingent of DC’s simian super-villains, it’s only the hairy tip of a poop-flinging iceberg, leaving out as it does the Doom Patrol’s French-speaking foe Monsieur Mallah, and then probably like four-hundred more. I’d name them all, but I was hoping you’d be impressed enough by my mentioning Monsieur Mallah.

Starting with DC Super Special No.16 …

The ape makes a great case.

Batman Battles the Living Beast Bomb
Scrawny scientist Walter Hewitt creates a device which gives him animal powers, continuing the severe misconception which comics have foisted upon the young, information-hungry future scientists of the world that animals have powers. Surely this has made an absolute hash out of the zoological sciences. I’m shocked that I’ve yet to visit an animal park and have a comics-reared docent explain all the animals’ amazing super-powers. “You’ll notice that the giraffes possess elastic necks, possibly from a diet of rare gingold leaves. Furthermore, this rhino was once a meek science student when a strange meteorite from space landed near his home, transforming him into the mighty armored superman – or ‘cyborg’ – you see before you today!”

Anyway. Hewitt’s attempt to swipe the gorilla’s amazing super-powers go wrong when the gorilla which he is shooting with radiation ends up getting Hewitt’s intelligence instead. Not that Hewitt’s intelligence in necessarily any great shakes, but the gorilla also gets a criminal instinct and tremendous mental powers! Telepathically commanded by the gorilla, Hewitt is forced to steal things, like whatever a gorilla would want to steal, I guess. Bugs. Bananas… Tricycles.

Inventing a bomb which is capable of destroying Gotham City while leaving its simian inventor alive (I assume it blows up that-a-ways), the gorilla dons the explosives like a particularly ominous Cosby sweater and proceeds to fight Batman, as required by Gotham City statutes. Discovering that the timer on the bomb slows down as it’s moved further from the ground, Batman military presses the big gorilla until the timer … wears off? I don’t know. I’m not the world’s greatest detective-slash-gorilla lifting bomb expert.

It’s a close call, made even moreso by the fact that Batman and Robin struggle to keep the gorilla airborne using only their terrific muscles, forgetting that they have a belt full of unbreakable ropes, a nearby car and a convenient tree which is pretty much in the shot in every panel over which they could hang the beast if they wanted. Maybe that’s just not cricket when fighting an evil gorilla scientist telepathic genius bomb beast, what do I know of super-etiquette?

It's still a better redesign than Mike Deodato's.

Wonder Woman – Gorilla
Interesting fact, the title of this story is also what I assume the liberated amazon's name would be if she married Mr.Martin Gorilla.

Space Gorillas land on the Amazon’s home of Paradise Isle, seeking mates. Now, you’d think they’d be looking for gorilla mates, but no! They want human mates, human LADY mates, human AMAZON lady mates in fact! Wonder Woman, to be even more precise, they want Wonder Woman, the monkeys from space want to fuck Wonder Woman, I guess is the takeaway here.

Because human women are apparently “more unique” than gorilla women, the space-gorilla leader decides to seek a trophy wife among Earth’s female population. If you didn’t blink at that sentence, please seek professionalhelp.

Armed with an amazing weapon of their homeworld, the space-gorillas prove the futility of resisting them by shooting Wonder Woman with a monkey beam, transforming her into a lady Wonder Gorilla. That’s what their guns do, these space-gorillas, their guns turn human beings into gorillas. Number of annual gun deaths on space gorilla world, zero. Number of accidentally turning human beings into gorillas, 12,000 in 2013 alone.

The space gorilla turns Wonder Woman into a gorilla, then regrets that he ruined her “uniqueness” so turns her back, then turns himself into a human being so he can be unique too, then Wonder Woman just murders them all when they’re not looking. Why the human-horny gorilla leader didn’t just turn some gorilla women into human women with his weird gun is beyond me, maybe it’s a cultural thing.


Haha, Grodd's got GAS.

Reign of the Super-Gorilla
This Flash story features probably the most successful gorilla super-villain in DC Comics’ history, which shouldn’t be a thing you could keep a record of but here we are. Super-Gorilla Grodd is an evil, intelligent, mind-controlling gorilla from a city of hidden gorillas and apparently his actual super-villain name really is “Super-Gorilla Grodd.” Imagine how screwed the Man of Steel's secret identity would be if he was required to call himself Super-Man Clark Kent.

This story hinges on the fact that Grodd escapes from jail (and the human body he was stuck in - don't ask), returns to Gorilla City (a super advanced scientific community of hyper-intelligent gorillas hidden in the depths of Africa), where he sees a beautiful young gorilla girl and falls instantly in love. Learning that she's engaged to his arch-enemy Solovar, KING of the hyper intelligent gorillas, he creates a ray that makes himself incredibly likable, thereby stealing Solovar's throne of power, his fiancee, and eventually, the wills of the people in Flash's hometown of Central City where he intends to run for Mayor in a bid to control the world.

Look at that, not one intentional joke in the above paragraph, and see how it still ends up sounding?

Well, let's not start pretending that we're
investing in scientific legitimacy this
late in the game, pal.

Titano, the Super-Ape
Superman, being the most powerful force for good in the entire universe and also sometimes an absolute nitwit, accidentally retrieves from some distant time period of the past his former giant ape sparring partner TITANO, the ape with Kryptonite eyes!

It’s not the Man of Steel’s finest moment, and it’s not made any better by the fact that Titano goes on a huge rampage, wrecking most of Metropolis, while Superman has to fly around in a lead suit with a tv camera sticking up from the crotch like a toaster’s erection. The who-hit-who of the story isn’t of particular interest, given the immensity of the catalog of comics that are just two weird things that shouldn’t exist hitting each other until one of them goes to jail, but there’s a big question this story raises: How did Titano get to be a gorilla?

The origin of Titano is that he was a famous chimpanzee named Toto who did stage shows. This was the Fifties, mind you, of course chimps could be famous. It's perfectly reasonable that a successful, well-to-do businessman could come sweeping into his gentleman's club with a pair of tickets in his hand, just beaming with glee, and when one of his fellows puts down his brandy to ask what the tickets were for, the lucky man could reply happily "I got two tickets to see the famous Toto the performing Chimpanzee. Then all his wealthy society friends would congratulate him on his good luck, and quietly form a seething ball of jealousy and resentment that they'd drown in cheap alcohol and mistresses. Like I say, the Fifties...

For some reason, the government decides to rocket little Toto into space, possibly so as to test the effects of weightlessness on celebrities, paving the way for James Garner, Clint Eastwood and Donald Sutherland to return to space in 2000's smash hit, Space Cowboys, now available on DVD and Blu-Ray, check your local retailers. Space Cowboys - Boys will be boys! A Warner Brothers film, directed by Clint Eastwood.

In his hapless orbit, Toto witnesses a meteor of PURE URANIUM crash into a meteor of PURE KRYPTONITE, causing a STARTLING change in him when his capsule safely returns to Earth – he’s a giant ape with kryptonite laser beam eyes. By the way, isn't it weird that Superman's father had so much trouble with his test animals flying off into space, but we humans were able to get this monkey back from orbit, no sweat? USA! USA!

So Toto's a gorilla now, but HOW did Toto become a gorilla? Gorillas are not just bigger versions of chimpanzees, they're a whole different species! It's like, you know Colossal Boy of the Legion of Super-Heroes? Or Black Goliath? When they grow big, they become big humans, NOT giant marmosets, or koalas, or some dopey shit.

How'd Toto's transformation hop the species barrier? Questions abound, readers, questions abound ...

Continued in four weeks!

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