Thursday, June 23, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : LIVING ASSAULT WEAPONS

These don't line up all that well.
The Charlton line of Action Heroes were added to the DC properties in a fashion which seemed almost an oversight. With the Crisis on Infinite Earths bearing down on all of DC's multitude of realities (sorry, Planet of the Capes, you're only a memory now), the alternate Earth containing the Charlton heroes debuted and bowed in a single issue of the story. The next time any of these characters showed their faces, it was in the newly-integrated DC universe.

Nothing about this is acceptable.
Their inclusion in the recently-revamped continuity naturally had much to do with DC's then-executive editor Dick Giordano, who'd cut his teeth at Charlton as an artist and editor. His affection for these suddenly-available character brought them over to DC where, for the most part, they flourished. Keith Giffen's take on The Blue Beetle overshadowed the character's incarnation in his own ongoing series, while Nightshade enjoyed a pivotal supporting role in Ostrander's Suicide Squad, and the Question enjoyed both a three-year run scripted by also-Charlton vet Denny O'Neil and, later, a trippy miniseries helmed by Rick Veitch and Tommy Lee Edwards. Other characters, like Peacemaker, Son of Vulcan and Thunderbolt (subsequently removed from DC's roster as it turned out that the rights weren't precisely locked down) had a tough time finding a niche, while Captain Atom has been able to maintain a top-tier kind of exposure while mostly being relegated to "showing up and blowing up."

But only one of these incarnations sank everyone with equal aplomb: The Living Assault Weapons, a.k.a THE LAW!

"It's a really special day for me!"
Arguably a book intended for longtime fans who wanted to see the Charlton heroes all in one place, it also completely changed the looks, personalities and motivations of all of these characters, as though they were being groomed for a new readership ignorant of the characters' pasts. Which was it? I honestly fucking don't know.

Produced by Bob Layton and Dick Giordano himself, the "revamped and updated" Charlton Action Heroes was largely an unwanted  and unnecessary update. No one was asking for a new and different Blue Beetle or Question, who'd done perfectly well on their own.

Of the heroes who did receive major updates, it's tough to call much of them "improvements." Peacemaker, a hero most famous for wearing a toilet seat as a helmet, traded in his outhouse couture for a structurally anonymous red-and-yellow affair which made him look like a man armored in condiments. Nightshade, following an encounter with DC's interim 90's-era mystic Jared Stevens - the knife-laden, overcoat-bedecked "Fate"- ended up looking like a television with a broken vertical hold (alternately: A busty zebra, a dumped-over salt cellar on an asphalt street, a full-body prison suit, etc).

Our villain.
To prove its bonafides as an in-universe spectacle, the LAW encountered some stalwart DC regulars - Besides Fate, Deadman's Rama Kushna and Nanda Parbat play a role in the story, Captain Atom's Kingdom Come costume made its mainstream debut and the adventure begins with the JLA getting sucker-punched by the book's big baddie, Avatar, the world's first big-budget motion capture supervillain.

The all-powerful Avatar, of course, turned out to be an old Charlton hero, because any book with Captain Atom runs a real chance of repeating the errors of Armageddon 2001. Rip "Judomaster" Jagger's old sidekick Tiger taps into otherworldly demonic forces and becomes the flame-headed hater out on a mission of vengeance against war and its wagers, which is neat but you have to again ask the question "who is this book for?"

The LAW was missing a few key ingredients to bring back old fans -- the characters weren't only decked out in new and often-unflattering outfits, but they lacked the character and qualities they'd possessed both in previous DC appearances and in their old Charlton days. Also missing was any appeal to new readers, confounded with just enough nod-and-knowing-wink references to voluminous backstory to baffle any baby-faced newcomers.

Probably the problem with LAW -- and the reason that it fizzled after this appearance -- was that it was trying to revamp and update almost a dozen characters all at once in the same story. With only six issues with which to work its magic, LAW short-shrifted almost everyone involved, including the creative team. The next time most of these characters showed up, they'd either be wildly different or back to where they were beforehand, making the entire series a bit of a bad memory ...

Ah-ahhh, he'll save every one of us.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

SUPERMAN V BATMAN : THE GALACTIC GAMBLERS

That one dude is tucked up like crazy against Superman's taint.
In the history of Superman battling Batman in the pages of their assorted comic books, few stories seemed to feel quite so much like an episode of the original series of Star Trek than World's Finest Comics vol.1 No.185, June 1969, "The Galactic Gamblers" ...

When both Superman and Batman suffer a case of shaky leg syndrome, they meet up in Metropolis to wile away their insomniac hours by beating the living shit out of robots decked out to look like medieval knights. This is easy-pickin's for the World's Finest Team, so it's a big surprise when they suddenly find themselves teleported away into a giant bingo cage or something, rolling helplessly for a quintet of immortal and seemingly-omnipotent alien space gamblers.

"Planet of Chance" even sounds like a Star Trek episode.

Seeking to end their eternal boredom by waging increasingly granular bets with one another ("Superman landed first - you lose! A thousand Krumen at 7 to 5 is ..." ... "I can count! I have been losing to you for the past 6,789 years!"), the five gamblers -- Rika, Zada, Rafello, Nicko and one who didn't get a name, so I call him "Noo-Noo" -- have brought heroes from all corners of the galaxy to their homeworld of Garenvol* for life-or-death challenges for centuries.

*Stop taking Garenvol and get medical help right away if you develop any of the following symptoms of lactic acidosis: unusual tiredness, dizziness, severe drowsiness, chills, blue/cold skin, muscle pain, fast/difficult breathing, slow/irregular heartbeat, stomach pain with nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Naturally, Superman ought to be able to slap these doofs back to the Stone Age, but the planet orbits a red sun! Bummer! This means that the duo are tested in an array of games of deadly chance.

Game of Thrones has gone really off-script this season.
To begin with, they're dumped out of the dice cage over a plus-sized checkboard. Half the squares are black, the other are red, and one color is laced with explosives! Superman solves the problem by alighting gently on the corners of two colors. That seems to me to spell "BOOM" but, regardless, he stands there on tiptoes unharmed. Batman follows, and it takes some batarangery to ensure that he lands -- narrowly -- on a non-explosive square. The tension already begins to increase between the competitors, just like it does on American Ninja Warrior. Neither of these guys is here to make friends!

A second contest has the heroes pinned to the inside of giant slot machines, risking instant dissolution if two similar death symbols line up. If they get two Uncle Festers, though, that's a 2x payout, I'm pretty sure.

Right about now is where Batman -- still in charge of his utility belt -- should probably start whoopin' bat-ass. Unfortunately, while the heroes have been getting their notes in order, the aliens kidnap Jimmy and Robin, and threaten them with death if Superman and Batman don't fight to the same in a hedgemaze of terror!

It's what happens when you let your guard down.
I don't know if World's Finest Comics was on a budget, but the maze of death is a little understocked. Batman and Superman find rifles hanging from strings, and a single bullet each hanging from strings also, and then a pair of grenades hanging from strings and that's it. No killer buzzsaws, deadly lasers, or robot assassins. Just army surplus on yarn.

Excuse or justification?
Batman takes to the guns like a fish to water, putting the lie (as always) to the idea that Batman hates guns because guns killed his parents. Batman always appears to LOVE guns. If only his parents had been murdered with a length of steel pipe, Batman would probably have fifty guns on him. Aw well, a better world ...

Ultimately, the games fall apart when Superman reveals that he and Batman had been working together the whole time, until they could find where Jimmy and Robin were hidden and free them. The red sun radiation which robbed Superman of his powers was, all along, only ... SCIENCE BULLSHIT! It turns out, in fact, that the solar system in question surrounded a yellow sun, but peculiarities in the atmosphere made the sun LOOK red. I'm not sure what the actual difference is in the phony baloney science world of Superman and Batman, but whatever the case, it all worked out in the end.

Of course, the aliens didn't even kidnap Robin and Jimmy until halfway through the story, so why Batman and Superman played along up to that point is genuinely up in the air. Perhaps they really were bored...

Thursday, June 16, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : TRENCHER

This is beautiful.
Keith Giffen made great hay of the Silver Age silliness which persisted into DC's Bronze Age, with his satirical sort-of superhero Ambush Bug. When the Crisis erased every Super-Turtle and Egg-Fu from continuity, Giffen made up for the loss by creating a Mylar Age parody of gun-toting superkillers with his over-the-top Lobo.

What, then, does he do when the characters Lobo was parodying began to out-Lobo Lobo? Why, join 'em, of course, and out-out-Lobo them all. Ta-da, here's Trencher!

You say that now ...
While Image Comics had prided itself on giving vibrant young creators a voice in the industry -- allowing them to test the limits of mainstream comicking with their own, often-underripe but nonetheless enthusiastically told ideas -- one of their best decisions was to extend that same offer to some industry vets. Giffen was among the crew of long-time Big Two creators who were given an opportunity to Do Their Own Thing under the Image brand. Naturally, fitting in with the high body counts and voluminously expended ammo of Image's core titles, Giffen went for ultra-violence on a level which made his past efforts seem like Bazooka Joe comics.

Ironically, Trencher -- a rehashed Lobo, to be blunt about it -- was an otherworldly agent sent to recover undeserving souls which had been wrongfully reincarnated. That Trencher carried at least some of Lobo's DNA was undeniable, particularly if you trace his lineage through Giffen's Lunatik as well.

Luckily for the intent of the comic -- endless fight scenes and gritty wisecracks -- most of these wrongfully reincarnated souls also possessed superpowers worthy of a knock-down, dragout battle with the title character. The nuclear-powered Cher Noble, a one-time hero named The Nasal Python armed with prehensile nose hairs, a vomiting super-villain called The Hurler and so on peppered Trencher's rogues gallery. As did a few equally (if intentionally, in some cases) absurd heroes.

The book was also pleasingly agnostic
about shadows and negative space.
Originally set in what passed for Image's shared superhero universe, Trencher made explicit reference to an inevitable crossover with Spawn (which never happened), battled Supreme and crossed over with Shadowhawk. When later issues saw the character resettled at British publisher Blackball, it was other indy superheroes -- Doc Stearn, Mister Monster, to name a high-profile example -- who filled the roles of Trencher's opponents.

Trencher came out at a time when Giffen's style resembled what it might have looked like if Mondrian's principle medium had been scrambled eggs. Any given page -- laden with explosions, gunfire and bloody teeth -- resembled what I imagine it might look like if a whale's large intestine could chew bubblegum. Everything looked like an excised tumor covered with scrubbing bubbles attending a rave. If the ocean were made of skinned grapes, you got yourself there a visual metaphor for Trencher.

And I loved it. It's not a style in which every comic on the racks should be drawn, but it was a vibrant alternative to much of the other, more-ill-informed illustration styles to be had out there. That being said, it's annoying that whoever lettered the book neglected to outline the fonts before sending the files to the printer, so everything in the first issue reverted to Myriad Pro and the leading was totally fucked. I won't name names, but it made for a wretched read.

Whither the future of Trencher? None, according to Giffen, which seems fine. Whatever Trencher was a reaction to -- a reaction to a reaction to a reaction, in fact -- its time has passed, and also I can't imagine selling a new audience on that drawing style.

Lookit this glorious nonsense.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

REDDY KILOWATT : IMP OF SCIENCE



I was already familiar with Reddy Kilowatt as the living representation of the fundamental universal force of electromagnetism and as an iconic Walter Lantz cartoon creation, but I hadn't previously been made aware that he was also an infernal, immortal imp dedicated to driving men of science and industry to a tortured existence of mockery and shame. You learn something new every day!

We all go into the amber, in the end.
In fact, it took a trio of promotional comics originally produced in the late Fifties and early Sixties to awaken me to the reality of Reddy Kilowatt, Breaker of Men, Incubus of Derision, Unshrivener of Dignity.

The primary text for this religion of pointing and laughing is REDDY-MADE MAGIC, a comic which traces Reddy's origin story from the dawn of time to the modern day, an image represented in the comic by the transition from dinosaurs to the Broadway theater district. That's how modern science defines the timeline of humanity as well.

REDDY-MADE MAGIC charts Reddy's often-unhappy associations with powerful men of science throughout the ages,and how he chooses to lay them low by revealing to them his awful majesty. The ancient Greek philosopher Thales is his first victim. Discovering that you could suck the feathers off a bird's ass with a piece of amber you'd earlier stroked on your shirt sleeve, Thales is unfairly mocked for a discovery which, on the granular level, I think we can all admit is pretty useless. "Oh hey nice plucking the feathers off this bird's ass with your hot amber, Thales. Here's a statue!" That's not going to happen.

"Say my name three times and I'll be there!"
The mockery of the populace manifests itself in Reddy's buck-toothed, slack-jawed associate, a guffawing imbecile who's unfortunately inserted at every important advancement in human history. There's one in every office. The yokel's bitter dismissal of science causes each advancement in the discovery of electricity to stall, which maybe just goes to show why electricity should be reserved for a moneyed elite at the highest echelons of society. The rest of you can render pig fat for firelight and turn your millstones with the raw power of fettered Conans.

Thales' discouragement sees Reddy trapped in a block of amber for two thousand years, just like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. I kid, dinosaurs didn't exist. Their bones were just put here by the devil to trick us.

Still, it takes scientist Dr.William Gilbert to come along and replicate Thales' experiments. You can see why it took so long, since a society has to invent (a) amber and (b) sleeves to make it happen, and only three times in human history have those things co-existed.

This is a scene from a Hellboy comic.
Gilbert used the amazing power of static electricity to turn pages in a book. This is ten times harder than turning pages by hand, so I have to agree with the yokel when it came time to scoff Gilbert off the stage. Imagine if electrified amber was the only means by which we ever turned book pages. Society would fall off the hinges. William Gilbert would have made rubes of us all, I'm glad he's been consigned to the trash heap of history.

Otto von Guericke, Stephen Grey and Pieter van Musschenbroek continue the litany of mockery and pointlessness, finding new ways to put electricity into wet cotton and then getting a bunch of negative reviews on Yelp for their trouble. No wonder we don't have electricity these days, and everything gets powered from underneath Bartertown! At least Musschenbroek tried to drown Reddy in Leyden jars, and end the cycle of abuse.

Like some sort of eternal curse, though, Reddy continues to help the most intelligent minds in history get treated like dicks by jackasses, until Edison unleashes Kilowatt's Ultimate Form into the homes of America's unwitting citizens. This encourages "The Reddy Polka," a theme song sung by the character himself, making Reddy seem like Etrigan the rhyming Demon.

"Seriously, I will destroy you."
By the next book, WIZARD OF LIGHT, Reddy is merely acting as narrator to the life of Thomas Edison, although he skips right over the part where a whole elephant got electrocuted for fun. It's in this way that I learned that Edison once intentionally sat on a nest full of chicken eggs (in order to see why the chickens were doing it) and also burned down both a barn and a whole train before he was like eleven or something. And Reddy Kilowatt was there to torment him with derision and disappointment every step of the way!

The catalog of Edison's achievements is boilerplate stuff delivered in a wan fashion, but the best part about it is that it makes no mention whatsoever of Nikola Tesla, and therefore could be used as a tool to drive internet nerds apoplectic with vexation. "Uh gee @Greedo418 I don't know where you get your information but this comic book says Edison invented all this stuff I don't even see any mention of a Nicholas Telstar or whatever sorry man lol" and then they explode.

On the other hand, according to this book, Edison may have unleashed an army of imps upon the world whether they wanted them or not. We'll call that fifteen-love.

After two volumes extolling the virtue of electricity and mockery, Reddy's last entry in the trilogy - THE SPACE KITE - is a single story about how electricity wants to kill you all the time. Two moronic kids (one of whom is the aforementioned yokel, in a repeat engagement) want to build a kite out of wire and tinsel and then fly it into telephone poles, while an exhausted Reddy slowly explains to them how lightning imps want their souls and will do anything to see their mortal shells crisped into blackened human asterisks. Well, at least he stopped making fun of them all the time!

"I want to kill you myself!"


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

IF YOU SEE SWAMP THING, SAY SWAMP THING: DEATH OF DR.ARCANE

With superhero television programs blowing up in the last few years, recaps of superhero television shows have become all the internet rage. Other sites, however, are hobbled by the need to cover shows which have been "recently broadcast" or which are "any good at all." But who covers the uncoverable? That's why Gone&Forgotten chooses to cover the 1991-1993 USA Network live-action Swamp Thing television series in a feature I like to call "Is There Swamp Thing I Should Know" or...

If You See Swamp Thing, Say Swamp Thing
An avenging iceberg lettuce brings justice to the swamps.
Season One / Episode Eleven : Death of Dr.Arcane

In which Dr.Arcane suffers a toxic shock reaction to all that mousse and the carcinogenic fibers contained in his shoulderpads.



Arcane has grown increasingly tired of his enemies amassing against him, so he arranges for black-suited ne'er-do-wells to do the only honorable thing and abduct the worst of them -- Jim! This is a fine tactic, I support it a hundredfold.

While riding his bike along the alkali salt flats like all the normally-adjusted kids do, Jim is knocked off the road and thrown into the back of a van by a couple of Arcane's hired thugs (Kevin Quigley and Andrew B Clark), one of whom looks like Brian Baumgartener from The Office. They aren't all that good at putting a flour sack over a child's head, but they at least manage to get him the van and drive off before the next scene comes along.

All that remains of Jim.


Arcane, in the meanwhile, is depositing his latest creation into the swamp; a meatloaf that looks like one of the Muppets on that episode of the Muppet Show that Vincent Price hosted. The creature consumes and kills everything it sees, which is pretty smart on Arcane's part considering that he likes to hang around the swamp, kibbitzing with Swamp Thing. It certainly will not come back and literally bite him on the ass or anything later on.

So while Swamp Thing pursues Evil MeatLoaf Muppet and Jim wanders around the cave where he's been deposited (with a Yankee Candle, thanks conscientious kidnappers!), Tressa blithely calls all of Jim's friends -- i.e. Obo -- looking for her missing son. This is a wasted effort, and I only really say that because I've already seen the entirety of season one and I know what happens to Jim in the long run. No spoilers, but probably they should have left him to eat it when he got bit by the lip-smacking fly.

Inspirational, muppetational ...

Arcane does indeed get bit by his ravenous sock puppet, so badly that he just up and diieesss. This is a problem on account of Arcane being the only person who knows where Jim is hidden -- and if Jim isn't rescued, he'll run out of air and die! Unless he also has a library book of mine which will rack up abominable late fees if it's not returned in time, I have a hard time caring about this.

A search party is ultimately organized, possibly by people who didn't know Jim personally I presume. What they end up finding is Arcane's corpse in the swamp, Any one corpse is as good as the other, I suppose, so they collect Arcane and fuck off, leaving Jim to eat dirt in a hole.

"Mm-hm, my son's been abudcted. Mm-hm, probably dead. Anyway, can I get double cheese on one half and olives on the other?"

Swamp Thing puts aside his differences with Arcane and heads into town to revive the dead lunatic in the coroner's office. Remember how leaving the swamp was supposed to weaken and eventually kill Swamp Thing? That doesn't happen here, again. Swamp Thing has such an ability to move freely in his world that he ought to maybe pick up tickets to Amsterdam or something.

Streets of Swamp Francisco


Anyway, Swampy revives Arcane using his bio-restorative power (we know from Alan Moore comics that this should have resulted in Arcane bringing something back from Hell with him, but we're on a budget here). Saving the scene is Mark David Chapman playing casual, insincere evil with some aplomb, despite having been sent on-camera with a hairstyle like a bird's nest.

This is probably a good point to make mention of the fact that Dick Durock, as Swamp Thing, and Mark David Chapman as Arcane do a pretty damn good job in their scenes together, and I could probably live with a show that was just the two of them sparring in a poorly lit room, a la Frost/Nixon. "Did you ... fornicate ..." asks Swamp Thing, rampaging around the intimately darkened studio.

This will be the last time he tries to chug pomegranate juice while lying on his back.


To give additional credit where credit is due, Jim does a pretty decent job in extricating himself from his grave -- except the sock monster is waiting for him at the other side. Timely as fuck, Swamp Thing shows up to reach his hand into the filthy hole and choke the spitting tube before it can cause any damage. I have no idea what I'm trying to imply, but it's gross.

Jim goes home, Tressa has a creepy-peepy moment with Arcane -- whose throat is wrapped in bandages, giving him a sort-of very-cautious Isadore Duncan look -- and the doctor then goes on to burn the other five sock-monsters he'd been keeping in reserve alive in their tanks. It's all business back to normal by the end of the episode,and we've at least gained a couple episode break before Jim gets abducted for real. Oh wait, spoilers, sorry. But Jim gets abducted forever, sorry.

"And now ... a pickled egg!"

Thursday, June 9, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : POOR LITTLE AMBROSE

That's blood.
Filling a howling need which I'm not sure anyone was experiencing, America's Favorite Teenager Archie famously made the switch to short-pants in a series of Little Archie books which launched in the mid-Fifties and ran through the better part of the Eighties. Reducing Riverdale's cast of characters to pint-size brought us pocket-monster versions of Jughead, Veronica, Betty, Reggie, Moose, Samhain, Busternut, Thunderbutter, Cash Back, Slow Clap, Ace Bonghit and all the other classic Pep Comics characters we'd come to know and love. Plus one more -- Little Ambrose.

The sound of Ambrose being murdered. For larfs.
Little Ambrose Pipps was one of a handful of characters created specifically for the Little Archie series, and the only one who spun off into his own short-lived comic. While other roles had been filled among the newly-created cast -- the Little Archie gang acquired a class bully, a rival street gang, a fat girl, a poor girl, a slightly mentally disturbed girl, a couple of aliens and a pair of psychopaths -- Ambrose had the misfortune of being the scapegoat.

Little Archie is already famous for the -- let's call it "rough" -- sense of humor of creator Bob Bolling, for whom the height of comedy involved a chubby-cheeked Archie bashing the living fuck out of girls whenever his anger overtook him. I can clearly recall Little Archie straight-up pulling Veronica's hair and slugging Betty right in the face, and I would not be surprised to find there was also a scene of Ronnie being hucked through a fourth-floor picture window and Betty losing a finger to Little Archie's bespoke Yakuza.

"...let them beat you within an inch of your life!"
But however bad the girls had it, Ambrose had it worse. Diminutive and weak, Ambrose made a too-tempting target for the tyrannical triumvirate of Archie, Jughead and Reggie (and Moose, sometimes, so I guess they're actually a cruel quartet, but I hadn't established the alliteration for that in advance). Desperate to be included in "the big kids gang," Ambrose was frequently taken advantage of by the hard-hearted boychiks -- ditched, abandoned, tortured, abused, robbed, lied to and ignored.

In the first issue of his eponymous series, Ambrose has his life savings ripped offa him, is thrown into a haunted house, robbed a second time, strongarmed into surrendering a pretty amazing soapbox bus he's built himself, left to die in aforementioned now-runaway bus, and generally mocked and despised.

Ambrose gets his own back, but the kid without a mean bone in his body only ever uses his reverse fortune to cozy up to his abusers. There's something kind of sick about Little Ambrose.

Possibly the saddest part of Little Ambrose's unfortunate career is that he got Funky Winkerbean'd when no one was looking. After decades of obscurity and an unmarked grave out behind the Little Archie clubhouse, Ambrose was brought back in one of the company's recent speculative futures for their characters. This time around, however, Ambrose was portrayed as an orphaned child of divorce, suffering from delusional memories and mocked and degraded by those around him. Chee. Some fun, comic books, I can see why sales are higher than ever.

Normal healthy boys spend a night in the box.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

P-S-Eh? : MIND YOUR Ps AND Qs

Whoa whoa whoa, buddy -- my mother was an alligator.
Here's a pair of vital questionnaires, the first of which covers your attitudes towards your fellow men, and also music, cabbages and genre fiction. In some ways, it certainly seems like all of those things are tied up together. It's a little galling that the first question doesn't affect your score one way or the other -- I genuinely aced it on "Spiders" and "Long-hair music..."

Those kids in the middle panel seem to be having a fucking blast.
If equality between the races and creeds isn't your cup of tea, how about checking your awareness of how not to poke your eye out? It's worth pointing out that all the depictions of kids doing idiotic things that may ultimately lead to permanent blindness and facial scarring are little dudes. I'd suggest that this strip fails the above Brotherhood Quotient test except I recall that ladies put eyeliner on with tiny sharp pencils every day of their lives but if you leave a guy alone in a room with a homemade rocket for even, like, two minutes, you'll have to go shopping for a guide dog and a white stick.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : THE BROWN BOTTLE

Many thanks to reader Count Otto Black for putting me in touch with this absurd and obscure British superhero who bears more than a passing resemblance to a popular Garth Ennis-scripted supporting character (and recent star of a his own bittersweet limited series). It's either a direct line of inspiration, or a superhero who damn near drinks hisself to death is a theme worth revisiting in modern comics.

Six-Pack was the pants-pissing, stumbling, slurring superhero barfly from Garth Ennis and John McCrea's popular and fondly-remembered series for DC Comics, Hitman. Responsible for forming one of the most absurd teams of satirical superheroes -- Section 8, whose incarnations include such wild characters as Dogwelder and Bueno Excellente, the man who fights crime with the power of perversion -- Six-Pack was popular enough to recently be revived in a surprisingly heartwrenching six-issue miniseries which put something of a sour end to the troubled, comedic figure's life.

HOWEVER! The real question is whether Six-Pack was inspired by another hard-drinking British super-type -- specifically, Viz Comics' law-enforcing lush The Brown Bottle!


Mild-mannered reporter Barry Brown keeps an eye open for trouble, and when it pops up -- he's off to the telephone booth! Not to phone in a story, but to quaff as many Newcastle Brown Ales as humanly possible (or inhumanly possible) and emerge in his stained, vomit-caked superhero uniform as The Brown Bottle!

Pants around ankles and slurring violently, the inebriated avenger causes much more damage to his city than he prevents. The one exception comes when he enters into conflict with his arch nemesis, Cider Woman -- his equal in inebriation!



Despite his tendency to stumble, slur and emete in abundance, the Brown Bottle finds himself held in high esteem by the citizens he strives (sort of) to protect. But of course he can, of course -- everyone he meets is his "bess frien'"

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

QUARTER-BIN HEROES : L.I.F.E. BRIGADE

As difficult as it may be to accept in the era of the digital marketplace and online commerce, there was a time when merely publishing even a single comic book could cost a person their life savings. That doesn't even take into account distribution, shipping, advertising and promotion -- in the days before the internet and the modern 21st century comic publishing boom, getting a single black-and-white book made, bound and delivered could - and did - bankrupt struggling publishers left and right.

Back in the 80s and early 90s, the options for even printing a book were few and far between. Only two or three publishers in North America were even set up for comic books, and small orders were not a possibility. A thousand copies of a comic was the minimum and, no matter the corner-cutting and belt-tightening, printing was wildly expensive even without figuring in the cost of shipping.

Then there was the matter of contacting up to a dozen different distributors, each taking a different cut and each of them requiring a publisher to act as their own shipping center. Ads were expensive and had limited exposure in the pages of The Comics Buyers Guide or other, less-well-circulated trade magazines, and those didn't reach the actual customer. Then there was promoting the book at the retail level, convincing direct market shops to even carry your title -- which usually carried a premium price tag on top of everything else. And let's not mention trying to get set up at Cons.

Micro-publishing before the modern era -- that's self-publishing, vanity and other indie-type presses -- was no arena for the faint-of-heart. The worst part of the almost-inevitably disappointing circle of life for the vast majority of these publishers was that they -- very often being the sole writer and artist of the book themselves -- would end up in the possession of hundreds if not thousands of copies of unsold stock, and the remainder of what had been picked up at stores would end up in the quarter bins.

I'd been thinking about the remit of this blog -- the gone and forgotten stories and characters of comicdom -- and realizing that there's a tremendous black hole of coverage for these folks that I'm arbitrarily and aggrandizingly choosing to call "quarter-bin heroes." I think there's no small level of respect due to these folks, regardless of the quality, consistency or even the content of their creations, which is why I've plundered my own local quarter-bins for a few hundred of these seriously forgotten endeavors, to which I'll do my best to give some degree of exposure ... starting with possibly the most-deserving example of the oeuvre I've yet found ...



L.I.F.E. BRIGADE (Blue Comet Press)
2 issues, 1986 (followed by a single issue sequel, The New LIFE Brigade)

Comics are experiencing something of an Art Brut renaissance -- not in the term of outsider art, particularly, inasmuch as comics is about as inclusive a community as "drawing a comic" will define. But non-mainstream creators like Benjamin Marra and Johnny Ryan, to name a couple, have reintroduced the aesthetic of rough-hewn and spontaneous content to comics at a degree that hadn't really been the norm in the industry excepting in its incipience.

This frank exchange of tele-blasts has changed minds.
L.I.F.E. Brigade -- That's "Last Individuals Fighting Evil" ... Brigade -- might be the apotheosis of the form. The illustrations have the stolid, elucidated and explicit shapes you'd find doodled on the back of high school notebooks, coupled with earnest and unembarrassed enthusiasm. The story is simple, the art is unmistakable -- whatever is being rendered on the page looks like what it's intended to be without much in the way of individual interpretation, even if it doesn't strictly resemble the object in a technical sense. Yet L.I.F.E. Brigade is so much more than the sum of its parts.

With Earth having fallen into a near-apocalyptic state, a quartet of special human operatives were sent into space to discover relief -- a new home, new sources of food and other necessary resources. What they found instead was a strange blue comet which imparted on them tremendous and unusual powers and a universe of vicious alien enemies.

Tim Buck of the exploratory space vessel "Revenge" (humans took their relief missions seriously, it appears) is outside making repairs when a "mass of boiling energy" embraces him, revealing a Kirbyesque stellar form granting him amazing powers. "I must be seein' things or I'm dead!" he cries as he's granted the awesome might for which he eventually dubs himself The Blue Comet.

You can't really hyphenate "launch"
Inside the ship, his crewmates also pick up new skills. The already ESP-sensitive Rochel - who previously boasted telepathy and teleportation - picks up new and magnified abilities, calling herself Windraven. Long John Lazer, team leader, is in possession of a destructive "lazer" eye and a scarred face which betrays his half-human/half-Raydonian origin (I don't know what Raydonians are, bu this book extemporizes on the run). A fourth crewmember, The Ray Gun Kid, picks up no new abilities but is a perfect shot and possesses a hair trigger temper. Lastly, an immortal robot from an advanced civilization, Atomic Oracle, signs on to assist the crew after they rescue him from an alien race of conquering Vandanese pirates.

The action comes fast, furious, confusingly and thrilling in L.I.F.E. Brigade, with creator Craig A.Stormon putting his pen to work on everything from pencils and inks to letters and, I assume, cover colors. After saving Oracle from the Vandanese pirates and sharing their origins, the L.I.F.E. Brigade returns to Earth to find that their homeworld "has reversed evolution," by example of dinosaurs ravaging the Hollywood sign. Landing only puts them in the clutches of "Rad Mutants" (not to be confused with "Bitchin' Freaks") who "have turned to cannibalism with blood-lust and total insanity!"

This allies the L.I.F.E. Brigade with an underground resistance army, where much of the remainder of the story is given over to Long John Lazer's tortured dreams, reprinted here in their manic-depressive glory.



There were backup stories in both issues - - "Rollercoasters," human roller skating enthusiasts turned interstellar warriors, and Stormon's funny animal "Blazing Tales"-- but L.I.F.E. Brigade is the genuine star.

One last thing to mention about the book; endemic to the self-published comic was almost always the self-aggrandizing publishorial -- comments from the editor, writer or sole creator (whichever the case may be) which was almost universally an attempted tone-poem recreation of Stan's Soapbox OR a list of all of the minor grudges and imagined enemies which the creator in question believed were stacked against him (The Protectors, a comic I long ago reviewed for this site, was so enamored of its publishorial that it ran in the bottom-page gutter of every single page of the book, complaining constantly about how the world just wasn't ready for the creator's brilliance).

The publishorial in L.I.F.E. Brigade is a welcome alternative, inasmuch as it's infused with Stormon's apparently boundless energy and enthusiasm. His was one of the few articles of this type I'd ever seen which spent more time promoting his backup artist than he did promoting himself.

Stormon, I was gutted to learn, passed away in 2010 at the ridiculously early age of 59. That there hadn't before been a resurgence of popularity of L.I.F.E. Brigade is absolutely unforgivable ... even as a curiosity piece, it's something to have been experienced, enjoyed and celebrated.

"It is ... balloom!"

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

IF YOU SEE SWAMP THING, SAY SWAMP THING: LEGEND OF THE SWAMP MAIDEN

With superhero television programs blowing up in the last few years, recaps of superhero television shows have become all the internet rage. Other sites, however, are hobbled by the need to cover shows which have been "recently broadcast" or which are "any good at all." But who covers the uncoverable? That's why Gone&Forgotten chooses to cover the 1991-1993 USA Network live-action Swamp Thing television series in a feature I like to call "I Know There's Swamp Thing Going On" or...

If You See Swamp Thing, Say Swamp Thing
Beware the Aubergine of the night ...
Season One / Episode Ten : Legend of The Swamp Maiden

In which the eager USA Network audience comes this close to seeing actual boobs.



Perennially shirtless boatnik Obo takes burgeoning boy sociopath Jim on an ill-advised camping trip out to the swamp, in order to catch a glimpse of the elusive and beautiful Swamp Maiden (Heidi Paine) - a supernatural figure who only appears when certain cosmological forces are in alignment and then swims around with mostly her naked butt sometimes bouncing out of the water.

Obo and Jim got glamping.


There's an interesting phenomenon with late-night basic cable *wink-wink* "for adults (but really for mildly bright adolescents) programming, where the complexity and raw quantity of the plot shrinks in proportion to the likelihood that you might get to see a pretty girl's jugs. Compare and contrast this with a premium-cable show like, for instance, Deadwood where the quality of the craft is inarguable but there's just tits and snatch everywhere, plus also Nick Offerman's dick in one episode. I may be off-base, but it always seems like if they gotta tease, there's a problem with the story.

Because of that, it's worth mentioning that the plot can be summarized in pretty short order: Jim and Obo go to the swamp to see boobs the swamp maiden is evil, there's a reporter (Tom Nowicki) of the basic cable variety whose beat is "weird supernatural phenomenon" like all the best newspapers have and Swamp Thing has to save them all. From here on out, if you'd rather just skim past to look at the pictures, I'll understand.

"It's weird, but our ratings go up every time the tide goes out."


Jim and alleged adult influence Obo settle up for some coffee and dude-times in a pleasant corner of the Universal Studios backlot, but ol' uncle Swamp Thing is concerned for their safety. He's so concerned, in fact, that he creates a sinkhole under their mid-swamp kaffeeklatsch and sinks all of their food, water and survival gear into the water. Thanks Uncle Swamp Thing, we've all learned a valuable lesson.

What Jim, Obo and bargain-basement Kolchak Greg Dunbar fail to take into account about the Swamp Maiden is that she's evil ... magically evil! When Obo acts on his opportunity for longing, adolescent, lantern-lit gawks at a naked lady, he's turned into a monster for his trouble. Ah, what a metaphor for puberty! I bet we find him on a MRA subreddit in the next three months, complaining about the Friendzone.

It actually seems like an improvement.

To give credit where credit is due, despite having some of the most ghastly lines in Swamp Thing history ("when the moon aligns with Neptune" being a particular belly-laugher, and "You must deal with the boy I turned into a creature of destruction" as well), Heidi Paine actually does a pretty tremendous job as a menacing supernatural figure out to unseat the Swamp Thing's position of utter dominance over the manufactured biome behind the cafeteria at Universal Studios. Swamp Maiden would have been a decent recurring villain, and also it was rewarding to discover that "Swamp" is a unisex name. It'll make a good handle for my newborn daughter!

Swamp Thing has to curtail Frog/Obo's assaults on the reporter's trailer, leading to this tantalizing exchange:

Reporter: What are you?
Swamp Thing: Whatever you think I am.

Oh my god, he's Christmas!

Swamp Thing takes one last opportunity to talk sense with Swamp Maiden, which devolves into a West Side Story battle by the site of an unconscious Frog/Obo. With the Swamp Maiden having adopted her "true" form of a weird lizard-faced moss-beast, the subsequent wrassling on the marsh-top looks very much like a nature documentary you'd probably turn off if your parents walked into the room.

Oh god, you two, not in front of the frog boy!

Swamp Thing wins the ... uh ... "fight" with the Swamp Maiden so, exhausted and satiated, she transforms Obo into an even more horrible form -- his original one. She then fucks off into the swamp water, doesn't even leave a fifty on the Swamp Thing's dresser. That's just heartless.

That's it for Swamp Thing and his girl sidekick Swamp Maiden for this week, come back next time when someone important gets murdered! No, it's not Jim, don't get excited.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : FLY-MAN

Science, death and stickum, this one has it all!


Grim from the git-go, Sam Glanzman's first comics work -- Fly-Man from Spitfire Comics No.1 -- is one of the grittier characters in the history of comics. Even the panels drip with ink, grime, gore and implements of murder -- which is fine because Fly-Man doesn't pull any punches.

Why do so many people plan for small superheroes?
It'd be bad for his career, for one thing. Kentucky-born Clip Foster makes it all the way to Madison Square Garden for heavyweight championship bout. Shrugging off his manager's offer to throw the fight, Clip walks out the winner ... and heads straight for his scientist father's secret laboratory. What's in store for Clip? "The ray will effect (sic) your pituitary glands. They control the growing of the skeleton - the ray will cause them to shrink and you will become smaller" explains old dad.

Well, it sounds great, exactly what the top boxer in the world could use. But what else, pop? "The experiment isn't dangerous" he continues, "But I haven't found an antidote which will make you regain your normal size." That sounds plenty dangerous to me, but I'm a layman.

Clip gave his word, though, so world championship and threat of imminent smallhood aside, he allows his father to make him his guinea pig - or as big as one, anyway.

His morning routine
The experiment works, although Billy's tiny, comatose body needs time to relax. This is when his manager shows up with two thugs in tow, demanding that they too be made quite small. How word got around about the small-man-making machine, I dunno, but that's the power of advertising.

While his men are shrinkified for criminal purposes, Clip's manager takes out his frustrations on his former client, hurling his tiny body into a bunch of vials of acid which burn his skin and face and stuff. This necessitates Clip disguising his horrifying scars, which is a good idea because I imagine it probably made his tiny head look like a wet thumb. Luckily, dad left Clip a tiny orange uniform. Why? "Dad wanted me to fight crime in this costume" he says, raising a lot more questions than are answered.

Clip, as Fly-Man, catches up with his former manager and his diminutive pals and makes short -- and gruesome -- work of them. The killer final panel of his first appearance has Clip flinging a knife through the body of one of his opponents, with the blade cutting him stem to stern. It's gross.

As an artifact of Glanzman's storied and fascinating career, Fly-Man deserves a little better treatment than to be a forgotten figure. With only two adventures, there's nothing much to collect, but his public domain status and legitimately harrowing adventures should appeal to any current creator looking for an interesting -- if blood-soaked -- character to revive.

Whoops, somebody left their George Bellows book open.

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