Thursday, November 26, 2015


Kiung-Fu grip of DEATH

In The League of Regrettable Superheroes (a great present for your loved ones this holiday season, you know!), I wrote about a seemingly omnipotent and omnipresent yet disembodied crimefighter named The Eye, a giant flaming ocular orb which directed human agents towards battling evil on its behalf. At the time, I did get to wondering if there were additional floating, sentient, villainy-smashing face parts out there like The Nose, The Lips and The Septum.

Well, color me surprised to have learned of the existence of the Eye's slightly most dexterous cousin, The Hand!

For only a few issues of Harvey's Speed Comics, the Hand waged a one --- mitt --- war on crime, hovering above evildoers and intimidating them with his disturbing antics.

Is the hand really big or just really close to the viewer?
Predictably enough, no origin is ever given for The Hand, nor would one probably truly suffice. The special effects in his first appearance, however, seem to imply that the hand in question belongs to a body, albeit one that's functionally invisible (Which doesn't explain the Hand's tremendous powers, its apparent power of flight, or the fact that it squeezes in through little tiny spaces a body could never follows).

What can The Hand do? Well, it's primary power is pointing, which it does as a sort-of scent -hound for the FBI. Appearing out of nowhere in public arenas and jabbing an accusing digit at secretive wrong-doers is how The Hand alerts his tagalong pals from the FBI to the presence of nefarious nogoodniks. This raises the question of how exactly The Hand passed the FBI's strict background check, but I digress.

In addition to pointing, The Hand readily appears and disappears as needed, can fly, can change size and - naturally - beat the holy living hell out of anyone it wants. An even more remarkable power is his mid-air penmanship - with a pointed finger, the hand can write in midair,  leaving burning messages for friend or foe alike. Sometimes, though, he just writes down what it wants on a card and hands it to the person in question. Probably because the "flaming airborne letters" tricks really scares the hell out of the guy at Circle K when all The Hand wanted was a pack of cigarettes (I assume he smokes Senor Wences style).

The Hand's last outstanding attribute is his brand - and hey, it's all about brands these days! By some arbitrary criteria not explained in the book, some criminals receive a bright-red mark of a hand across their foreheads, marking them forever as criminals under the threat of the hand. Yes, The Hand's final power is a savage bitchslap that leaves a welt. I'm sure the underworld trembled with fear.

"I'm tired of these jokes about my giant hand. the first such incident occurred in 1956 when..."

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


You got ugly elves, Miss Santa Claus

It’s a shame that there are so few Wonder Woman Christmas stories, if just because I’ve so enjoyed every one I’ve come across  - at least in the Golden  Age incarnation of the character. Then again, it makes sense. Amazons had their own holiday traditions and weren’t part of the Santa Claus scene. They didn’t even have chimneys for Santa to slide down, unless they built one from cheerily bound-together women assembled in a tunnel of leather straps and skin pulsing under tight ropes. Some fun for Santa!

This Christmas story, for instance, is pretty light on the whimsy but loaded with dramatic costume changes and a lot of people getting smacked on the head. In “Racketeers Kidnap Miss Santa Claus” (Sensation Comics No.38 February 1944), to begin with, the story launches under the premise that “Miss Santa Claus” is a character we all just already know about. Sure, Miss Santa Claus, Santa Claus MD, Werewolf Hunter Santa Claus, all the great Santa Claus Family.

SOME lucky kid's getting a possum!
While Christmas shopping, Diana Prince runs into skeptical street kid Pete Allen, traveling spokesman for the powerful Poor Kids Against Christmas lobby. Pete doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, much to Diana’s dismay. This leads the amazing Amazon to deck herself out in an ADORABLE winter version of her traditional costume. The fur trim is adorable, and it’s charming that she apparently just had a winter wonderland version of her costume lying around for just this eventuality. Now why she has the flight helmet, I can only guess.

Using her invisible plane to deliver toys to poor kids, Wonder Woman gets conked on the bongo when sneaking through little Pete’s darkened house. Frankly, she was asking for it.

The conker turns out to be Pete’s mom, armed with a chair leg and deadly afraid that her horrible brother-in-law might be skulking around in the dark, preparing to murder her or steal Christmas or something equally Grinch-y/John Wayne Gacy-y.

That'll show her!
Her sister’s hubby is a quick-to-anger gangster-type named Joe Blamko (Oh, those Summers we spent with ol Uncle Joe Blamko), a guy who routinely slaps around Pete, his sister, his mom and his aunt. Joe also makes a habit of breaking the kids’ toys or stealing money, and runs a private card game in the back room with other local thugs and crooks. Plus that leads into a secret tunnel where they hide to make big crook plans, and with all of this in mind I think it’s fair to suggest that Pete’s got bigger troubles than not believing in Santa Claus.

Joe Blamko isn’t much of a challenge for WW, strictly speaking, but the presence of the children makes her vulnerable to demands for her tight binding. Yes, it wouldn’t be a Golden Age Wonder Woman story without a little bondage. Bound from shoulder-to-foot with her hands tied behind her back, Diana has to hop around to perform little feats like enduring a dynamite blast or letting hundreds of gold bricks slam into her back. Just a little light holiday kinbaku.

Naturally, Wonder Woman sets everything to rights, jails the creeps, provides Christmas for the impoverished family and underlines her home truth: “Santa Claus is the Spirit of Love” she explains to disinterested children, distracted with the first new toys they’ve seen in their entire, short lives.  Really what I took away from this is women should feel free to brain their abusers with chair legs in the dark, and THAT’S the TRUE spirit of Christmas! 

Misandry is real.

Monday, November 23, 2015


When Strange Adventures was done telling you that you were wrong if you believed whatever, they were also bringing the point home with Science Snaps! Mm-hm, you just got science-served!
Science isn't about there being a bunch of babies born in August. Science is using that information to figure out that a lot of people musta been fucking in December, THAT'S science!
The Science Snaps might have been a little better for the young audience of the book, as it was neither as text-heavy as other science-related pieces nor as densely-illustrated.

I cry when I cut onions because I love onions so goddamn much.

So what happened to that fat lady's skirt, did she use a round iron?

There's actually two things which prevent the manufacture of 100% efficient machines, and that's friction and American manufacturing standards.

Every bit of this will be on the test.

Friday, November 20, 2015


He was such a lame villain that he not only never got a cover appearance, he never even
got a full splash-page appearance. He's lucky they let him in the comic in the first place. 

You can't help but enjoy a good villain, particularly because they're so hard to come by. There are literally at least a half dozen components which turn a regular bad-guy into a class-a nemesis of good. You need a little sympathy, a little sadism, some colorful antics and exaggerated tics, a signature or some sort, a good bit of classical analogy, something to tie them into great literary or mythological archetypes ... or, on the other hand, you can have a thick-headed nitwit in a hardhat who accidentally kills like forty old women because he keeps forgetting he has a magic hand.

Original flavor King Samson, singing his
favorite Genesis song in the dark.
King Samson isn't even a headlining super-villain, but rather the thick-headed and broad-shouldered sidekick to the Silver Ghost, an alchemical baddie who faced off against The Freedom Fighters in their own book way back in the mid-1970s. The Silver Ghost was a bargain basement world-conqueror with his sights set on ruling Manhattan Island as his own personal fiefdom (and was revived in subsequent years as some sort of bathtub-grade Nazi, fitting in with the Freedom Fighters' mandate). As for King Samson, he was an idiot.

In terms of competence and style alone, King Samson might be the world's worst supervillain, and it's for that reason that I kind of love him. He goes through two costumes in his short arc, popping up sporadically in the first five issues of the debut Freedom Fighters title before he kicks the damn bucket. His first was a bog-standard superhero set of tights topped with a hardhat for some reason, making him look like the mascot for a construction company. His second was a more thematically sound sword-and-sandals type invention which fit his name better but did make him look like a bottom tier wrestler. Both costumes raised the question - Why "King Samson"? Well, like the biblical Samson, he was inhumanly strong and, like Martin Luther King Jr, he had a dream.

The transition between costumes happens suddenly between issues, and apparently among Samson's strange abilities is the power to suddenly grow a beard.

The problem was he started to like it.
Outside of his costumes, Samson's track record is kind of on the low side. He has the honor of being beaten up by every member of the Freedom Fighters at different points. Now, there's no shame in being beaten by the Human Bomb, a superhero who literally creates powerful explosions from his fingertips, or Uncle Sam, the living embodiment of the nation whose strength is equal to the might of his representative nation. He also got beaten up by the Black Condor, a flying man who boasts the strength of "a person," and also Phantom Lady and Doll Man. Then he was murdered by his own boss. This is a dude who does not have a career highlight reel.

Still, the best part of King Samson is that he was a functioning nitwit and had some of the comically least-impressive tough guy lines in villain history, to wit:

"Eat knuckles, hero. Haw haw"
"King Samson must hurt you. King Samson must hurt you bad!"
and, repeatedly:

Samson does become a more compelling villain as his story progresses, and as he becomes increasingly stupid. Having resced one of his temporarily-deceased boss' Midas-like gloves - capable of turning anything to silver at a single touch - the simple-minded and now somewhat-childlike bad guy wanders around the streets of New York haphazardly turning old women into shiny puddles. No, he's not a serial killer with a granny fetishist but, rather, is tormented with memories of his lost mother. His repeated embracing of unsuspecting septuagenarian ladies keeps resulting in their silvery liquidation, which is a prime example of the old "insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly bu expecting different results" business. Put that on a poster ...  a hairy moron embracing silvery puddles of grandmothers, under that motto. We'll all learn something.

Someone who didn't learn anything was King Samson, though, murdered by his own suddenly revived criminal boss with the very silver glove that he probably should have taken off at some point. Of course, victims of the glove were brought back in te pages of Freedom Fighters, so there's every possibility that King Samson could make a return, if the need ever arises for a super-strong bad guy with the brains of a turnip and who desperately needs maternal affection.

This is pretty great tho.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


"Have you all seen my muff? Then we can proceed."
I believe I have found my new favorite superhero origin of all time, and I would like to go ahead and present it to you exactly as it was written in the opening caption of the character's second appearance in Clue Comics vol.2 No.1 (March 1947):

"Because a little Swiss watchmaker grew tired of having big brutes crush his tiny, feminine hands with each handshake ...and because of the amazingly powerful tiny motor-operated gloves that he created as a vicious defense joke, we now have with us here in New York City a stunning gal who doesn't look as though she could crush a grape!!"

This is the capsule origin of The Iron Lady, an avenging femme fatale who gads about the criminal underworld in a daring scarlet evening gown, high heels and powerful metal gloves capable of crushing steel beams into powder. Jesus, that tiny Swiss watchmaker really had it in for anyone who shook his hand. I guess he was an introvert.

Debuting in Airboy vol.4 No.1 (February 1947), the Iron Lady's origin - and the origin of her deadly metal mittens - is fleshed out a bit. Rather than merely trying to avert enthusiastic greetings, the watchmaker is revealed to have created the gloves specifically to cripple a titanic nobleman who routinely abused the small man in his shop. That's how many great inventions were created. I understand that the toaster was only invented so as to have something to throw in a bathtub.

Here she is murdering a child. 
From the inventor's possession, the gloves make their way through the years to another diminutive man, this time in Hungary. There, he applies to be the local executioner, but he's turned down because the death penalty there is applied by strangulation. I guess that's efficient. Rebuffed for his tiny frame and hands, instead he crushed a few support beams and happily gets the job of strangling men to death, just like he was voted "most likely to" do in high school.

The gloves go through a number of collectors before ending up in the hands (har har) of an American
subsequently murdered. Receiving her father's new acquisitions, Doris Parker also receives her father's corpse in a trunk. With the deadly gloves in her possession, this encourages her to seek vengeance on the men who murdered her father, either for murdering him or because she hates trunks, I'm not sure.

Since her only real super power is crushing things, a lot of things get crushed in these stories. Hands, lamps, tables, a few guns, some throats - all the stuff you can comfortably fit in someone's hands, really. The body count is pretty terrific too, although why the Iron Lady is allowed to wander the streets murdering criminals - including juvenile delinquents! - is never genuinely answered, except that I guess dressing well really does open doors for you.

The finest component of the Iron Lady construction, though, is that she's only known formally as the Iron Lady. Since she deftly obscures her Mandalorian Crushgaunts inside a fur muff when not actively strangling or crushing things, she picks up - as I'm sure you saw in the image above - the informal moniker of The Muff.

I can't even ... this is the best superhero of all time, let's see more of her. The Dark Muff Returns. Whatever Happened to the Muff of Tomorrow? For the Muff Who Has Everything. Before Muffmen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Once I had a love and it was a gas ...
It's frequently argued that Batman possesses the single greatest rogues gallery in comicdom, and while there are a few close rivals -Spider-Man and The Flash both stand out as valid competitors for the title - it's generally true that the Bat-villains occupy a space in pop culture unmatched by any other group of collected baddies.

Of course, for every Joker, Penguin and Two-Face, there's a half-dozen near-misses and also-rans. In fact, for every Two-Face I think there are twelve lesser, forgotten villains. Because of the two faces, you see. Doubles. Anyway.

The guy's gimmick is he fishes for compliments.
Among Batman's weirdest but lesser-known foes is Glass Man, a fractured-faced criminal with a mug like a "Before" picture at a cosmetic surgery clinic for disco balls. Debuting in World's Finest vol.1 No.28 ("Crime Under Glass" May-June 1947) the semi-translucent scoundrel starts his career by sending deadly, delicate tokens of pure - and poisonous - glass to several prominent Gotham City businessmen. A tiny glass observatory for a prominent astronomer, a little glass skyscraper for an architect, and a wee widdo glass electric dynamo for a local power magnate - all with a deadly kiss of poison on their sharp edges! Sort of like those little metal model kits you can buy at Hobby Lobby, but at least ten percent more likely to kill you. Maybe eight.

Thanks to a tip from a local lawyer who's hep to Gotham's booming vengeance scene, Batman and Robin are tipped off to one final attempt on a local life - a tiny glass unicorn sent to one Laura Wingfield by one of her gentlemen callers. NO WAIT I mean a local auto manufacturer, which is the truly chilling revelation - Gotham City has an auto industry. No wonder the place is overrun by crime, its local industry probably collapsed back in '88. You've seen the Michael Moore documentary "Bruce and Me," right?

To make a long story short, I'll let you know that the auto manufacturer guy is actually the murderer, and he framed a local glass manufacturer for the crimes. Why, then, he's obsessed with using glass as a weapon - glass marbles to trip up the Dynamic Duo, molten glass to burn them, and hurriedly blowing glass globes to entrap them which I DON'T THINK THAT'S HOW THAT WORKS - is left up to the imagination. We certainly can't ask him, because Batman straight-up blinds the dude and then lets him walk into an open furnace.

This is a wasted opportunity, since the Bat-crew left a lot of terrible puns on the table, not the least of which was Batman exploiting his enemy's glass jaw. Ho ho, see how great a joke that would've been? It certainly wouldn't have diminished the whole comic and everyone working on it, no ...

Revell's least-successful motto.

Friday, November 13, 2015


A few months back, when I wrote about What If--? Nos 13 and 43, a conversation popped up about a very well-rendered pair of faces in a crowed scene in the panel below.

Given the obvious photo reference of the image, some speculation popped up in comments (and on Twitter) about who the subjects might’ve been. I believe the most reasonable conclusion anyone reached was that the pair might’ve been penciler John Buscema’s brother Sal Buscema and his wife. Most unreasonable conclusion was that it was John Travolta and Sandy Duncan’s little brother.

 Well, according to Damian Eckstein, it’s neither. Damian was alerted to the site by regular reader Derek M, and sent me the following story:

 “I love the time spent on trying to figure this out. My buddy Derek told me about this site--good stuff here by-the-way! The first revelation is it was the inker and not the artist who put us in the panel. My father was Ernie Chan's Stock Broker and I'm guessing my pops made some good trades for Mr. Chan. I actually got to meet him once at a comic con in the seventies and he signed my copy of What-If #13. So, the second revelation is, the two weirdly photorealistic faces are are not John Travolta and Sandy Duncan's lil' bro or Sal Buscema and his wife but from a photo booth picture of me (age 9...I think) and my dad. Once again proving the truth is always way less interesting than the speculation. “

 To help sell the story, Damian included the photobooth photo which he says comes closest to matching the poses:

Barring definitive word from the late Ernie Chan, this seems to be the closest to an answer from the source as we'll be able to get. What's your take, gone-and-forgotteneers?

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Talk your kids about potions.

On the cover of his first appearance, Wally the Wizard is pictured summoning a pink devil from an unidentified bottle, stumbling back in shock and knocking over the contents of a wizard's workshop in apparent terror, as nearby concoctions bubble and fizz. If that scene had appeared in any one of about 85% of the other comics also appearing on the racks in 1985, Wally would be well on his way to becoming a demonically powered super-villain, but instead he's more of a feckless dupe. Let's learn about Wally the Wizard or, as he's known after his transformation, Wally the White!

Of the original quartet of Star's in-house creations, Wally is the only one who appeared on the scene devoid of the craftsmanship of Harvey veteran Warren Kremer, springing instead from the pen of Little Archie's Bob Bolling. Moreso than any of the other three books, Wally featured a packed cast of characters amidst copious amounts of action...

Is this a euphemism?
There was, for instance, his boss, the wizard Marlin (agitated brother to the more famous Merlin, of course) and the kingdom ruled by King Kodger, defended by Lord Flauntaroy, and harassed by the evil usurper Vastar, his wizard Erasmo and allergy-prone crone of a sister Sybilious.

Meanwhile, Wally also had kid pals - he had a crush on Princess Penelope, attended to by the kind and patient Alaina, and hung around with a couple of other local kids; Conrad the squire to Lord Flauntaroy and their rotund pal Jay, that worst of all comic book characters - a bard.

Jay is - judging by his clothes - apparently a novitiate in some regional order, but besides his girth and monastic dedication (I guess), he's got a harp with him and he breaks out in musical doggerel at the drop of a hat. There's no excuse for this kind of character. It's Towbee the space minstrel all over again.

Rounding out the cast is Gorg, the book's wisecracking deus ex machina in the form of a pink demon who shows up at the last minute to save the day. I used to see the same thing back when I drank.

The end result was that Wally the Wizard was as densely-packed a cast of characters as Lord of the Rings, only with significantly lower stakes.

Wally's world was packed with mythological type monsters, evil wizards and knights, a handful of invented monsters and a series of quests which the young apprentice took every issue on his path to becoming a great wizard in his own right.

What the book lacked, however, was a consistent creative team. Once everything had been set in place, the writers and artists of Wally switched every few issues, making the books action-packed but a little meaningless. Near the end, Wally's actually fighting an all-consuming grape, which seems to be a pretty good indicator of a book losing its direction.

B-dumm SKSH

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


DC vs Marvel
It was a crossover of such scale that fans could hardly have believed it would happen in their lifetimes, but what if we told them that it would involve a bullshit character no one cared about and inane cosmic entities too alien and distant to relate to with a cosmic threat so vaguely defined as to be nothing but smoke and mirrors? Ah, now it sounds more feasible.

The Marvel vs DC/DC vs Marvel crossover slammed together the two universes for a prolonged series of fight vignettes, like a montage of those we lost at a comicon masquerade on a night when someone slipped bath salts into the Mountain Dew bottles. With each fight lasting a page or two and decided by fan votes, there wasn’t much story to be had. What little there was involved Access, a dimension-hopping superhero whose power was that he could facilitate crossovers – a superhero who generates short-term income from the speculator market, the greatest superpower of all! – and interdimensional deities representing the Marvel and DC universes and who couldn’t decide if they wanted to fuck or fight. For the former, see also the Amalgam Universe.

If there’s anything particularly interesting about any of this, it’s that DC and Marvel jointly own Access, making him both the most unique character in the companies’ histories and also a character who’s too unwieldy to employ in stories for the most part, so, well done there folks.

Tundra Publishing
Tundra was born out of the highest ideals of the business of independent comics; creative freedom, artistic aspiration, financial reward, creator ownership, experimentation and expansion of the storytelling potential of comics. Unfortunately, it was midwifed by combination of business and friendship, the killer of all endeavors.

Owned, operated and founded by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle co-creator Kevin Eastman, the line went on to host talents like Jim Woodring, Mike Allred, Steve Bissette, Al Columbia, Scott McCloud and dozens more, producing high-end collectible editions which more resembled art books than comic books. Unfortunately, this also meant that Tundra blew threw $14 million in three years, and despite what you may think, that movie money only goes so far. They'd need another six or seven Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies to finish Doghead. 

It may seem impossible, but the 1990s simply would not have happened without Image Comics, and Image Comics would not have happened without Todd McFarlane, and Todd McFarlane would not have happened without Spawn. Trust me, it's a "for want of a nail" kind of scenario, if Todd had never put fluorescent green pen to paper, we would've gone right from 1989 to 2000, screwing up the Oscars and the Olympics and all kinds of things.

One of the accolades rarely heaped upon the head of one of the highest-profile heroes of the 1990s was that Spawn was, arguably, the highest-profile black superhero in comics, television and film - you know, when he was actually drawn as black. Most of the time he wore a mask, and under that mask he had a messed-up hamburger meat face, and then when he did use his powers to become human, he because a white surfer dude-lookin' motherfucker. Irony, I guess?

Possibly the best quality possessed by Spawn was "confusion," as the dense and impenetrable artwork was buried beneath mounds of word balloons, and even if you could follow what was going on there ended up being like ten different Spawn books and a whole run produced by other creators, and that led to a WHOLE different can of worms. 

Bart SearsThe hypermuscled male figures and hypersexualized female figures of the 1990s found their apotheosis in one man, Bart Sears, master of the super-inflated pec and the beachball-sized calf muscle. Merging seamlessly with the glossy, gradiated coloring technologies of the era, Sears produced a limitless parade of shiny, hairless, squeaking living beachballs arranged in human shape, as bold and bombastic as the era in which he flourished.

His series of "Brutes and Babes" lessons in the pages of Wizard magazine undoubtedly taught an entire generation of kids how to fit ten pounds of muscle fiber into a three-pound skinbag, and also gave the stragglers something masturbate about.   

If you're grittiying your superheroes by ten-to-twenty percent, one of the aspects you'll have to be sure to include is the jacket, the one mandatory piece of costuming for any superhero taking to the comic pages in the 1990s. From Gambit to Grifter to Wonder Woman to Nomad, it was far less important to sport body armor, emergency weapons, communication gear and shielding as it was to, you know, look cool man. I mean, just look like a total badass. Plus I guess it's a place to keep your car keys.

Monday, November 9, 2015


A cross-promotional product courtesy of Dash dog food and the Rignling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Learn the actual dog-training secrets of a major 1940s era circus, by which they mean they sure hopw you're okay with beating and starving your pets. Let's give it a closer look ... 

The impetus which will drive the consumer to engage with this material must certainly be the tantalizing encouragement to "be the first in your neighborhood to put on real dog shows!" It's true, I wouldn't want to be a johnny-come-lately to the real dog show market, especially not with a buck-toothed simpleton in face paint putting the spurs to me. What am I gonna do, put on one of those FAKE dog shows? I'd be laughed out of town.

The copy only lists two tricks you can teach your dog, but here's a comprehensive list of all thirty-one tricks I'm sure are actually included in the manual:

  1. Somersaulting in the air
  2. Walking on front legs
  3. Jumping over hurdles
  4. Somersaulting over legs
  5. Walking on front hurdles
  6. Hurdling over somersaults
  7. Unaided flight (stage one: hovering)
  8. Unaided flight (starge two: propulsive lateral movement)
  9. Unaided flight (stage three: orbital escape velocity)
  10. Smoking
  11. Complete knowledge of hobo signs
  12. All the tools included in Microsoft Office Suite 2010
  13. Stunt driving
  14. Knowing the names of all the Smurfs and their special reasons for having those names.
  15. Making a perfect creme brulee with caramelized pine nuts
  16. Ninja skills
  17. Radio broadcasting
  18. Doing sweet ollies off the rails at the library
  19. Mixing a not-to-sweet Cosmo
  20. The songs of Don Ho
  21. Doing a spot-on Christopher Walken impression. "Bow. Ah-Wow."
  22. Scratching that spot on your back that can't reach
  23. Folding your socks
  24. Mastering Dim Mak - THE FABLED DEATH TOUCH!
  25. Air conditioner repair
  26. Refrigeration repair
  27. The location of Blackbeard's Gold
  28. Archery
  29. Humanities 101
  30. How to file your taxes
  31. Where the secret dog meetings are being held.
Seems like a fair deal, plus I hear that Dash is DELICIOUS.

Friday, November 6, 2015


"I'll call this ... Earth-Bullshit."

I've never quite so much wanted to be privy to a pitch meeting as I am for whatever inspired the introduction of Goliath-Hercules into the world of Superman. Trying to imagine Leo Dorfman sitting in Mort Weisinger's office throwing out "So Superman goes into another dimension and meets Goliath, who's actually Hercules, and he's a giant, an also maybe Kryptonian, or a reverse-Kryptonian, but anyway he's apparently a true son of the South because he's wearing a confederate flag loincloth." Then Weisinger goes "And what, Superman does his twelve labors? This is a twelve-page story, Leo" and Dorfman replies "Six, we can do six, and one of them is an alien spider and another on is a muppet."

Then again, it's conceivable that this was all the product of Weisinger having had a pastrami sandwich-fueled nightmare that caused him to confront his relationship with his academic and religious upbringing. Like Alan Moore suggested, the Silver Age may very well have been Weisinger's therapy ...

On top of everything else, now you're hungry!
Whatever the case, in Action Comics vol.1 no.308 (January 10964, "Superman Meets the Goliath-Hercules"), Superman does indeed travel to an alternate universe where many of our preconceptions about myth and religion have collided - literally - into a mishmosh which would leave Joseph Campbell scratching his head.

Clark Kent joins childhood pal Lana Lang and her archaeologist father on an expedition to the Middle East to discover the birthplace of the Philistine giant Goliath. I mention "Philistine giant" specifically so you don't think it's the birthplace of the monster truck of the same name. Another interesting attraction of Goliath's home is an an amolous water feature, a whirlpool spinning in the middle of the desert sands. The whirlpool seems to have some powers which require a pretty specific set of circumstances to activate, as it requires Lana Lang to almost be incinerated by lightning in order to kick in its special feature - soothing jets!

No, wait, I mean teleportation into another reality. Superman saves Lana from electrocution only to find himself transported to an identical desert scene, seemingly in the past. There he witnesses what he believes to be David felling Goliath with a stone - only it turns out to be young Jason smiting Hercules! And then Ben Hur drives by! And Superman notices that everyone's speaking English, but he doesn't really follow up on that. How could he - he's too busy saving Goliath-Hercules from a red kryptonite meteor, which it turns out affects Ol' Gol-Herc the same way green kryptonite does Superman.

Goliath-Hercules is sweaty and has bad skin.
This is clearly a fever dream set to a script, but Superman at least makes the best of a bad situation. While pondering the mechanics of how exactly he's gonna get home, the Man of Steel ends up helping the mixed-up mythological hero complete a shorn-for-the-sake-of-expediency Six Labors - now that Herc's sidelined by red kryptonite fever, he's settled down and has stopped trying to smash Superman with a club. Why, they're practically pals now!

Superman discovers that the King of Thebes, arbiter of the Six Labors, has been playin elaborate and deadly jokes on Goliath-Herc. The Nemean lion is a regular lion wearing chain mail and a fur dickey to hide it, the stymphalian bird doesn't exist (so Superman makes one out of wicker and makes some bird calls to give it the simulation of life, which is a skill I wish Superman employed more often, thrilling Metropolis with the song of the blue-crested warbler while he bats meteorites out of the sky), and then there's a "cavern caterpillar" which couldn't sound less menacing but which spits metal strands that imprison and kill the heroes who've sought to kill it.

The Man of Tomorrow seems happy to provide all the super-feats for Herc, but none of this helps him get any closer to getting home. What that requires is to wait for someone else to almost be killed by lightning near the whirlpool. Luckily, that's Jason, now a boy shepherd practicing his slingshotting with a metallic rock. Superman absorbs the electricity and pops back to his own time, which is lucky because otherwise he probably would have had to shove foil-wrapped idiots in front of oncoming storms in hopes of getting back home. What if he'd landed in a place where Thor was also Moses and everyone spoke Mandarin? What if Robin Hood was also Joe Magarac and then Tangaroa came riding through? Frankly, Superman got lucky.

"It's better that he thinks I'm only strong enough to hurl a boulder ten yards away with one arm"

Thursday, November 5, 2015


“Come,” entices the opening caption to The Microbots no.1 (December 1971), “Journey with us to the world of the distant future - - to the aftermath of man’s ultimate depredation - - a world mis-used and mistreated, that had swept the bulk of mankind off her face like so much unwanted dust - - and left the surviving few struggling desperately to find a new beginning.”

“This,” it concludes, “Is the world of the Microbots!” Or Detroit. Either way, The Microbots represents a single-issue oddity from Gold Key Comics. Everything about the book screams “licensed product,” although searching for the toys presumably in question yields few results, all of which are contemporary. A book ahead of its time, apparently.

I’d also like to point out that the cover introduces them as “The BRAND NEW Microbots,” and while I couldn’t find evidence of any prior Microbots, at least we know these ones have that “new Microbot smell.”

The Microbots are the creation of Dr.Norman Micron (of the Connecitcut Microns, I presume), a scientist living in the dire times of a world succumbing to man’s pollution.  “Mankind had ample warning that he was destroying the world around him” he muses, standing by a window with a highly-desirable garbage view, “Filling the sea and the sky with filth and poisons … and now it’s too late.”

While the other remaining survivors of the ruined Earth are running off to a sanctum in the mountains, Dr.Micron chooses to stay behind with his son Jeff, never giving up in their efforts to fix the Earth.

Joining the Micron boys in their quest for cleaner everything are The Microbots, a group of mute, four-foot tall helper robots of the doctor’s invention. These would be the toys the book was presumably written about, or were trying to market.

They certainly bear the names and traits of toys. There’s KRUSHOR “the powerful piledriver,” LIFTOR “the elongated automaton,” FLIPTOR “the mechanical catapult” and, my personal favorite, “multi-handed” KLAWBOR. See, it’s a double pun, because he has claws and he beats the living tar out of things. My favorite Microbot!

There’s also HOOKTOR “the dependable derrick,” KRANKTOR “the mechanized cable-catcher,” bulldozing BULLZOR and GRIPTOR, the robot who engages in uncomfortably long handshakes. All sold separately, batteries not included.

Also they all have lasers but they keep forgetting to use them until the last minute.

Dr.Micron and young Jeff do a pretty poor job of fixing the Earth, and so opt to lock themselves in suspended animation chambers in the hopes that some distant descendant of man will survive, fix the problem, and come get them. As for the Microbots, they’re simply left on the patio under a barbecue tarp.

Whoa whoa whoa, that's kinda racist, Vik!
It’s impossible to say how long the Microns and their metal Muppets remain immobile, but by the time they’re discovered by a savage but inquisitive young forest honkey named Vik, all of civilization has retreated to tribal barbarism. Superstitious, parochial, and frequently eaten alive by mutated elephants, the people of the future world have turned their backs on technology. When Dr.Micron is killed in a common but tragic post-mutated elephant attack-related mishap, Jeff and the untamed (yet still speaking English) Vik find themselves and the Microns ejected from what little civilization remains.

This is where the single issue leaves us. Clever, ambitious Jeff pairs with the courageous Vik and the solar-powered Microbots to begin rebuilding the world – but correctly this time, without poison and spoilage and maybe even slightly less populated by killer mutant elephants.

Discovering prefabricated metal sheets at an abandoned Army base, they and the Microbots begin constructing a building, which “will tower to the sky” explains Jeff, adding “Anyone for miles in all directions will see it!”

It’s actually unfortunate that this particular post-apocalyptic future out of all of Gold Key’s post-apocalyptic futures didn’t continue, as it had at its core two likable, compelling characters operating under a clear focus to make the world a better place.

Among the last lines of the book involve Vic lecturing a pair of would-be world conquerors that “You have to save the world before you can think to rule it,” while Jeff adds “Go back and tell your people that a new day is coming!” Unfortunately, this particular new day been on hiatus for forty-four years…

This is super-grim.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


"I was going to take the crooks to jail on a magic chariot!"

Batman's biggest fan in the Fifth Dimension has always been Bat-Mite, but the fact is that the mischievous, all-powerful imp has always been a bit fickle. Having failed on a number of occasions to earn Batman's appreciation for all of his assistance, Bat-Mite has thrown his magical weight behind other heroes in order to show the Caped Crusader just what he's missing.

Typically, these have been other Bat-Allies like Bat-Girl, Batwoman and Ace the Bat-Hound (a choice which I think we can fairly call a genuine Hail Mary Pass). However, as of Batman vol.1 No.161 (February 1964, "The Bat-Mite Hero"), Batman's unwanted otherworldly sidekick throws his weight behind an all-new hero branded with his name and face.

His boredom is an ominous thing.
With imagination clearly being at a premium, the hero in question is dubbed The Bat-Mite Hero and gets to run around in a crimson costume emblazoned with Bat-Mite's face across the front, or possible Patton Oswalt's, I never could tell those two apart. Well, it's memorable, whatever the case.

Three different contenders end up putting on the red suit and enjoying the magical whims of Bat-Mite, a character who is basically a baby dressed like a leather ferret. I never understood what the insignia on Bat-Mite's chest was meant to be, but I assumed it was some sort of electric fart. Basically, what I'm saying here is that the costume could be worse.

The first character is a passer-by named Jerome Withers - scrawny, gawking and awkward, he caps off his debut by stepping off of a magical flying carpet and promptly falling off a building. What we've just managed to explain here is why the rooftops of every major comic book city aren't crowded with amateur super-heroes - they're all on the streets, mashed into a fine jam.

Bat-Mite's second sucker ends up being "The Blond Bombshell," the so-called "King of the Ring" of professional wrestling, and probably sued out of existence by Vince McMahon for copyright infringement. Doing it for the publicity, Bombshell captures a trio of crooks thanks to Bat-Mite magically transforming their car into a stationary horse-drawn chariot, which then takes flight towards the nearest police station. I feel like there must have been a more efficient way to handle that.

Aw, whillikers.
Bombshell is forcibly retired in favor of a new, fully-trained crimefighting whiz named Bill Strong. Strong, however, turns out to be a phony crimefighter who cuddled up to Bat-Mite in order to trick the imp into allowing him to aid criminals rather than capture him. How did he slip up and let his secret agenda show? Well, okay, brace yourself.

Strong was supposed to be a college athlete turned private detective. Upon appearing to have defeated a couple of gunsels, he says the following to Bat-Mite: "How did you like that shot? Ha ha. It was just like the one I made to win the decathlon medal in basketball ..."

Possibly the weirdest part of this story is that Batman had to explain the decathlon blunder to Bat-Mite and, by the transitive property, to the reader. I hate to imagine the kid so bereft of contact with the outside world that he'd find this story gripping and also think basketball was a decathlon event ...

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