Thursday, August 25, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : GALE (O')LEARY, WILL O'THE WISP

They drop the "O'Leary" pretty early on, because we don't want the Irish!

Key Comics (Consolidated Magazines Inc, early 1944 through 1946) seemed obsessed with justifying its title. Not only did it boast the adventures of its eponymous hero, The Key, but also contained features titled Key Corn, Keylines, Tommy’s Time Key, its Musical Key Series of famous operas, and, if I’m not pushing my luck, EsKEY & Mo and Mascot MonKEYshines.

One of Key’s heroes who defied that theme was Gale Leary/O'Leary, a.k.a. The Will O’ The Wisp, a woman who clutched a willow branch for justice! Few other characters in comics could ever be described as wielding “the avenging swish” of justice but, then again, none of them are Gale!

Well here's a gruesome panel!
Keeping in line with the traditionally grim origins of golden age comic book superheroes, Gale’s tale of tragedy begins in the cradle. Disgraced politico “Boss” Bob Evans and his underling Red Brandois break into the home of District Attorney Greg Leary in the middle of the night, intent on avenging themselves against the DA for his recent conviction of the corrupt public figure on fraud and money-laundering. Leary's wife Martha is murdered in the middle of hollering for help (what is it with comic books and their mothers named Martha?), but Greg is kept alive long enough to be tied between two chairs and to have Boss Evans put his considerable weight down upon the D.A.’s legs, shattering them into uselessness.

What about baby Gale, however? Well, Boss Evans isn’t all bad. Instead of hucking her out a window or engaging her in direct fisticuffs, he chooses to keep the kid from caterwauling into the night by breaking a branch off a nearby willow tree and leaving it for her to play with. This is a great idea – babies love branches!

Fast-forward eighteen years, and the surviving Learys (Learies?) are still stewing about Martha’s untimely getting-shot-in-the-back. I can see why they’re bitter; She should’ve led a long, fruitful life and then been shot in the back.  

What can he say? He hates snitches but loves kids!
Even more than her father, Gale harbors deep and abiding … and weird … drive for justice. “Sometimes, “ she explains to her wheelchair-bound father, “When I hold that willow branch they gave me that night, I feel endowed with more than just courage … I feel as though nothing … no-one could stop me! Just like – Like a Will O’The Wisp!”

It’s no bat crashing through a window, but Gale and her souvenir willow branch make for an effective if very focused outlet of vigilante justice. Relying on her uncanny resemblance to her mother and the unlikely bet that an incarcerated Red would recognize the same willow branch that his partner provided the baby almost two decades earlier, Gale terrifies her mother’s killer into a heart attack. Problem solved!

In the next issue, Gale catches up with Boss Evans (living under the very clever pseudonym of “Snave”) and terrifies him into a hasty suicide. She seems so sweet, and such a lovely girl, and yet she keeps driving men to an early grave. I wonder if it’s her perfume…

 (The plot of the second issue is hard to follow, only because a key player is a character called – and please do forgive me, I’m only the messenger -- “Mr.Faggot,” which sounds like he comes from the all-slur version of Clue. It’s distracting that, every few panels, someone shouts “This’ll take care of you, Faggot!” or “I’ve caught you red-handed, Faggot!” What is this, Continuity Comics?)

And who are these two supposed to be?
With the men who murdered her mother and crippled her father dispatched, you’d think Gale might have hung up her bough. Nope, in fact, with the gruesome past finally put to bed, Gale does what anyone might do when entering a new stage of their life – she gets a makeover!

Now boasting long, flowing blonde hair, Gale’s memorial willow branch also picks up incontrovertible magic powers – it’s not just about spooking a crook any more. She glows, she’s impervious to bullets, can fire bolts from her hands and either the second round artist on the title screwed up or she can grow to twice her normal size. Gale even gets a whole new dad! Once a dynamic district attorney confined to a wheelchair, her “ailing father” is promptly transformed to a pudgy guy in a lumberjack shirt. It’s as if the handoff between creators (original series artist, creator of The Green Turtle and one of the few artists of Asian descent working in American comics Chu F.Hing, and second issue-onward’s Gerald Altman) only ever discussed the character while sharing a bus ride on a short hop. “She’s got a branch, it’s magical, she was a baby, dad sucks, this is my stop, see ya!”

By her final appearance, she doesn’t even fight crime or so anything except get roofied by a hermit. It’s an inglorious end to a character who brought inglorious ends to others before fizzling out unceremoniously … like a will o’the wisp

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

IS THIS TOMORROW?

Communists know how to make an entrance, anyway.

Having grown up through the tail end of the Cold War, I honestly thought I'd get through the rest of my life without ever hearing another theory about secret Russian operatives undermining democracy in these here United States. What I clearly hadn't counted on was the "obvious Russian front" narrative which emerged from the scandal surrounding the DNC email leaks in July of this year. The suspicion, involving spirited Russian hackers acting under direct orders of a cartoon-dictator version of Vladimir Putin, bore so much resemblance to the Red Panic of my youth that I instinctively checked my legs to make sure I was wearing long pants.

"Yay us. I think this calls for Cold Stone Creamery..."
If America is once again going to embrace the "Russia wants the death of the West!" narrative, it'll benefit from having a guideline. Luckily, way back in 1947, the Cathetical Guild Educational Society of St.Paul Minnesota put together a little booklet entitled "IS THIS TOMORROW," documenting the deep-seated schemes which the international association of Communists were planning in order to overthrow the stability of the United States. I mean, I know today's Russians aren't Communists, but ... but they're Russians!

Oh, and to answer the question - no, this is not tomorrow. Because that would be our yesterday and, according to today, it's not.

How will the Commies conquer America? Let's go step-by-step, as the book exhibits for our approval:


STEP ONE: WAIT FOR A (double checks notes) DROUTH
An unfortunate combination of unseasonably dry weather and plagues of locust signal a seemingly-apocalyptic fate for America's breadbasket, in the opening pages of this comic. Communist leaders in New York City (as the city is pointed out specifically, there's almost certainly a dog whistle being blown in relation to its location) act quickly to take action upon the subsequent "drouth."

"It's fuckin' RAD!"
No one involved with this book can spell "drought" to save their lives, and I feel like I know how it happened. I'm sure the writer or the letterer or the editor or someone (Maybe it was Russian hackers) tried to spell "drought" as it sounds -- "drout" -- and then thought to themselves "Now hold on, I know there's an 'h' in there somewhere." Unable to otherwise suss it out, they slapped it on the end and called it a day. No wonder we're such a soft target for foreign insurrection.

In any case, the Commies' propaganda peeps have done the groundwork of setting up other dog whistles all over the country. The media has been taught to parrot socialist ideals, liberal politicians have been coaxed into surrendering their authority to Party leaders, doctors start doing things like "caring for the quality of life" and all anti-semitism and racism turns out to be an insurgent plot. I feel like a lot of this might be baloney juice -- but it's step one!

STEP TWO: UNIONS!
It's tired to the point of exhaustion to equate Unions with blood-soaked rebellion -- it wasn't Andrew Carnegie's head that the Pinkertons were busting, you know -- but Is This Tomorrow certainly ties them together with violent Reds. Although Union forces (or, according to the book, evil Commie plants in the Unions) are depicted stringing up capitalists and smashing mansions (a good start!), the most insidious act depicted in the pages is gaming Roberts' Rules of Order! The fiends! They filibuster a Union meeting for so long that all but the Communist members go home, and then the Commies vote the way they want! OH THE FIENDLY FIENDS!

New orders from the Ministry of Irony
STEP THREE: APPOINT A FINK TO BE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE
It wouldn't be the first time, right? With the Speaker in the pocket of the Reds, all it takes is a grenade (and you know what they say -- when life gives you grens, make grenades) and the president and vice-president both riding in the same motorcade (and you know what they say -- when life gives you motors, make motorcades) and you've got a Commie president!

What does a Commie president do? Well ...

STEPS FOUR THROUGH: EVERYTHING ELSE
First thing Commie president does is to nationalize food distribution in the wake of the (ahem) drouth, and get the populace to work on packaging, storing and distributing food. This doesn't sound like a bad thing to me, but I sometimes vote Green so I may be the enemy.

Whatever the case, the Commie brain trust in New York City start burning the food stores which they'd worked so hard to set up in the first place. We're all our own worst enemy, isn't it true? Not only does this raise the desperation of the people, but the brain trust blames it on anti-Communist forces, and go about arresting judges and schoolteachers and (gasp) especially Catholics. If only a comic book produced by a Cathetical Society had warned us about this!

Professor Bellows teaches Internet Arguments 101
Then the president's cabinet are gunned down, about two-thirds of the population are forced to starve in the streets, telephones are nationalized (I assume we're all on the same ... PARTY LINE! Thank you, everyone, I'll leave now), schools are overtaken by very loud atheists like some sort of live-action YouTube, and there's events where people come to football stadiums to watch books being burned. It's better than going to a stadium to see U2 perform, I tell you what.

By the end of the year (!!), starving bums are killing cops just to use their horses for food, money is shredded to dust and kids are ratting out their parents. In a chilling scene of dudes in suits being loaded on boats, a caption reads "concentration camps come to America" which is pretty smart talk consider it's 1947 and the last Japanese-American Internment Camp had been closed in 1945.

STEP FIVE: PROFIT

Yeah, "became..."
Apparently -- if this comic book is to be believed, and why wouldn't it? --  if you remove all of the Communist influences in America, it turns out that we have no problems whatsoever and we're all sitting pretty (except the farmers, suffering their drouth). The premise of the book is ludicrous, but the exhibition between its covers is so aggressively awful that it's granted the patina of grim likelihood. This would be a good way to sell books, and yet they waste it on a screaming-mimi giveaway comic for children nursed on paranoia and swaddled in incoherent dread of foreign systems. They oughtta crank up the price; you can charge whatever you want to terrified people.

The one scene from the comic which sticks in my memory is the one where racial strife is fomented exclusively by agents of Communism. Without the marching proletariat, apparently, blacks and whites would wander hand-in-hand in perpetual peace. Please keep in mind that this book was released in 1947 and it was not unlikely that there were people yet living at that time who had been owned as property in their youth. Even if you're one of those "It was actually about state's rights" types in regard to the Civil War, I think we can all agree it wasn't Communism that powered America's slave trade.

BOY THIS ONE GOT GRIM
Blame it on election season. As an outro, though, enjoy the back cover to the book, which lists the assorted means by which to resist becoming a stinking Commie yourself --- but which, in my experience, is also kind of a blueprint for turning a shocking shade of Pink before college is over. Oh my gosh, what if the Cathetical Guild Educational Society of St.Paul Minnesota were the actual Communist fifth columnists! We're through the looking glass here, people. We're gonna need someone to write a whole new Is This Tomorrow ...

Worth printing out and hanging on your  mirror.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

IF YOU SEE SWAMP THING, SAY SWAMP THING: SILENT SCREAMS

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 "Swamp Thing's Gotta Give" or...

If You See Swamp Thing, Say Swamp Thing
A moldy tupperware container who walks like a man!
Season One / Episode Three : Silent Screams

In which the whole show enjoys a massive blowjob.


Losing her youngest child to white slavers -- although believing that he’d been killed in a fiery explosion which simply must have left the child writhing in dragged-out agony for long minutes -- doesn’t seem to weigh much on Tressa’s mind. Instead, she’s in the midst of arranging a sleepover for one of her bestest friends from college or high school or something, Eileen, and her daughter Melissa.

The location for their sleepover? The middle of a filthy wasteland, of course! Where would you have it? They don’t even bring a tent, they just sleep in sleeping bags with their faces pressed against the mud of the swamp. Maybe they got drunk there and passed out. Anyway, Tressa gets bitten by a snake.

Lookit these idiots.

Your comical mental image of the day is that Tressa bolts at top speed for home, so as to call the hospital, but bounces off an invisible force field and goes down like a Muppet.

Yep, Arcane is testing something crazy in the swamps – this time, it’s a force field from which no sound or even air can get through. It’s even mime-resistant, making Tressa’s efforts to intimate the location of the field with her outstretched hands fail tragically.

Mime is a craft, not an action.

Now, this is a not a “story” episode. They’re not expanding on anyone’s relationships, attacking Swamp Thing with memories from his past, or doing a Kodak Carousel slideshow while Don Draper narrates about our true desires. This is a gimmick episode, which means there’s, um, not a lot of story to discuss?

The clock ticks on Tressa’s snakebite, her friends are running out of air in their part of the forcefield, and tremendous storms erupt all over town owing to the durned thing. These are a lot of threats and danger but, of course, they’re all … there. They’ll be resolved, I promise.

Mark David Chapman is so good that they just film him eating lunch and edit it back in later.

Arcane gets a few moments to crow about the success of new doo-dad, but the real news is that Crown Prince is back! Except his eyes are normal and he’s called Alexander now. Still, let’s pretend that it’s continuity! Old creepy-peep Arcane is back in the saddle again, too, observing the mother-daughter pair in distress on his hidden viewscreen. “Not bad for a mother and daughter – quite attractive actually” he says. Ew and goddamn Arcane. Save it for PornHub.

The one good thing about the episode is that Abigail doesn’t have time to fairy-fart up the scene with some story about how back in the government lab they thought shoeboxes were hungry and you could feed them shoes.

I almost forgot to mention that there was a long scene where Tressa argued with her doctor. Where's that Emmy?

Everyone gets a chance to pound on the force field, including Swamp Thing. Something charming happens when you hear Swamp Thing say “It feels like some sort of force field” and then he gets struck by lightning. This, it turns out, is how you destroy a force field, leading to my favorite Swamp Thing quote to date

Will: “What are you going to do?”
Swamp Thing: “Fly a kite”

Anyway, it works, and then they all get together to laugh off the whole thing like idiots. It’s worth mentioning that Arcane is the most evil guy on this show and I root for him most weeks. ROOT! Haha, okay.

"I shouldn'ta made that left turn at Al-bu-koikey!"


Thursday, August 18, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : DISCO, BOY DETECTIVE

Well, that was a short mystery.

Rarely has a comic book character been so dependent on the placement of commas in order to maintain an almost infuriating degree of ordinariness. Move that comma over one space, and you’ve got “Disco Boy, Detective,” a comic I’d been reading from issue one until the grave. Take out all of the commas and you’ve got “Disco Boy Detective” which is a title that not only raises more questions than it answers, it’s guaranteed to sell a million while it does it.

It's poison, you nitwit.
For that matter, put in some more commas and you’ve got the answer to the multipart question “Hey, what’s your favorite place to go dance to popular music, and also what’s the funniest word when pronounced by Foghorn Leghorn and, since I have your attention, what was the rank which you thought Lieutenant Columbo held in the Los Angeles Police Department before you started watching the shows more carefully?” It would be with certainty and pride that I’d be able to answer “Disco, boy, detective.”

On top of everything else, are we even a hundred percent sure what being a “Boy Detective” entails? Is it a detective who is a boy, or a detective who investigates boys? Or, banning commas altogether, is “Disco Boy Detective” a whole branch of investigative discipline which has been criminally under-acknowledged in our contemporary society?

He's gonna do a ventriloquist bit with that thing. "Hi, I'm
Hosey, the Short Length of Rubber Hose! Won't you
tell these nice cops everything you know?"
But more to the point, Disco (the) Boy Detective was a sleuth in short-pants in the vein of Encyclopedia Brown (originally I’d written that sentence to say “In the Encyclopedia Brown vein,” but decided against putting the word “brown” and “vein” next to one another). Using his preternaturally well-developed detective skills to solve mysteries which adults are either too distracted or too dimwitted to figure out for themselves, Disco makes his debut and bow in a two-part adventure with a high body count and an incomprehensible story-telling style.

Disco’s father is an unnamed scientist (one suspects, if the lineage of popular music is any indication, that he’s named “Glam Rock”) who’s developed a secret formula for depth charges. A trio of creeps named Harkaway, Beaumont and Morlin ingratiate themselves to the father in order to swipe his chemical formula, but first run afoul of Disco’s pet pup Nicodemus. “Nick” gets a bellyful of poisoned hamburger for his trouble.

When one of the treacherous trio is found murdered at Disco’s house during a squall-enforced sleepover, the cops come up short of solutions except to pummel their one suspect with a length of rubber hose (no jokin’, kids). Disco ends up solving the case for them by boating out to the accused’s yacht and uncovering all the tools of the murder – including the raw hamburger meat, sitting right next to a bottle of poison, which was pretty much left out at least for two days.

That dog is blown away.

The revelation is difficult to comprehend, largely because the writing style is so disjointed. For one thing, quote marks seem to indicate everything except quotation – it’s used to indicate parenthetical asides and emphasis in different balloons, and seemingly makes no difference at all in other uses. For example, here are a few sample sentences shouted at ear-splitting stupidity:
  •  You and your men many thanks, chief!
  •  YOUR! Dog poisoning methods!
  •  This isolated point, you see Nick!
  •  I’ll get the veterinary right away!
  •  He’ll be o-k-“just” POISONED!
  •  Dad, is bewildered Nick!
  •  “Daddy he should, now is my golden opportunity!
  •  O’K’ Dr.Berne
  •  AWWW SUFFRAGETTE!

The pivotal discovery on the yacht appears to be the murder weapon, an incriminating note and the clothes the murderer was wearing on the night of the shooting, none of which the cops identified as evidence. There’s a chance they knew all this just fine and were only giving Disco a little thrill. Maybe Disco’s in the Make-A-Wish Foundation pool. Maybe he’s the Bat-Kid of his day.

At the end of the adventure, the cops are sufficiently impressed with Disco’s detective skills that they invite him to consult on another case. “Oh, you know about it” says the cop, presuming that Disco keeps up on the latest crimes, “That case involving Joe Knott in a payroll stickup!” Or maybe the cops are just lazy and they like having this eight year-old kid do all of their legwork. Well, I guess it’s up to Disco, Nicodemus, and another few obvious clues to see justice done.

"...because I am too lazy and stupid to do it myself."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

SUPERMAN V BATMAN : SUPERMAN'S SECRET KINGDOM

"I do ... SEIZE THEM!"


"Superman's Secret Kingdom" sounds like the first in a series of erotic novels featuring the Man of Steel and his supporting cast, but it looks like cultural appropriation at Coachella. Why can't it be both? Many reasons, is the answer, there are many reasons why it can't be both.

What it is, however, is yet another installment in the adventures of Batman and Superman waling the living tar out of each other for spurious reasons. In this one, the mighty Man of Tomorrow gets his bell thoroughly rung by an exploding volcano, sending the world into a tizzy fit of speculation and worry. It's also a strangely map-and-dissection intensive issue of the series -- World's Finest vol.1 No.111, August 1960 -- as shown in the reproduced page below:

This is all we had before Google Maps.

While Batman and Robin take the initiative to find their absent friend, they're unaware of the trials which have bedeviled him. The powerful explosion of the volcano has given Superman super-amnesia. Rather than wandering the jungles of South America in a total fog, he's adopted by a friendly if hidden tribe of aboriginal South Americans. Naturally, he becomes their king. You adopt a Superman, you're gonna make that guy a king.

"Sorry Superman love you byeee!"
Devoid of his memory, Superman is initially friendly to Batman and Robin, despite the fact that they went and started beef with the lost Aztec (or whatever) tribe on sight, just like racists would do. Oh Batman and Robin, we all thought better of you than that.

Complicating this, however, is that career criminal Floyd Frisby (inventor of the "Flying Floyd Disc," I believe) has inveigled himself into Superman's confidence and convinced the mind-muddled Super-dude that his former friends are in fact evil weirdos.

This leaves it up to Batman to convince his old pal that he and Robin are actually good-hearted weirdos, an explanation primarily accomplished by Batman judo-throwing Superman into a pillar so hard that it breaks a giant ceremonial plinth. Like a good guy would do!

The subsequent chase scene is straight out of a Thirties' comedy or a Scooby-Doo routine, complete with secret passageways and Batman wearing a monster costume literally made out of a blanket and a potted plant. There's also a surprising subplot about graffiti, by which method a wall-ruining Robin engineers the return of Superman's memory -- by painting a picture of the Metropolis Marvel in mid-costume change right on the sacred walls of the tribe's sacred temple. They'll understand, I'm sure.

In the end, everything works out all right -- Superman regains his memory, Batman and Robin wreck a few ancient artifacts for their own purposes, the crook is caught and everybody gets a free ride out of town on a giant piece of sponge cake. One for the good guys!

"I'm keeping this hat!"




Thursday, August 11, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : KISMET

This caption kills fascists.

You can more or less credit Kismet – a bare-chested, Nazi-smashing superhero from the little-known title Bomber Comics – as being the first four-color crimefighting Muslim in the medium. In fact, you’d be able to do so easily, because it’s not like the field was so awash with other Islamic do-gooders that his position at the front of the queue could be easily debated. I think he might have been the only Muslim superhero for at least the next thirty years, as a matter of fact…

Dude's a coke fiend.
That’s the “concrete certainty” part. The “more-or-less” part comes from Kismet’s only-Claremontesque nods towards his apparent faith and heritage, rather than any sort of substantial background which contextualized his upbringing. Much like Crossen’s and Raboy’s The Green Lama (whose status as “the first Buddhist superhero” was largely cemented by using “Om Mani Padme Hum” as a magic word and having their clearly Western hero use occasional Eastern-sounding aphorisms in his adventures), Kismet bears some of the cosmetic memorabilia of the Urdu-speaking people from whence comes his handle, while physically resembling Fred MacMurray or some other cinematic leading man.

His costume alone is an interesting mish-mosh – He’s got jodhpurs, riding boots (very “colonial military”), an attractive sash (which seems Moroccan to me, but it’s not like I’m Mister Middle Eastern Fabrics over here) and a yellow fez which sits so low on his head that it more resembles an upturned chicken dinner bucket.

"It's BYOB. We'll have chips and guac!"
But Kismet – “MAN OF FATE” – also drops little pearls of wisdom which, while not seeming particularly Quranic, have at least the tinge of meaningful shibboleth. “None are so blind as those who look too intensely,” he says at point, needlessly unpacking that whole “forest for the trees” bit. “Necessity seems to teach men many things” he says later, again unwrapping a good ol’ bit of Cracker Barrel wisdom. On another occasion, he opines “When the brain is soaked with wine, the fist is not obedient to its master.” Tell that to my father, Kismet, tell that to *sob* daddy.

He’s also given to excoriations and exclamations of an Islamic bent, such as:
  • Allah be with me!
  •  Praise Allah!
  •  It is Allah’s will!
  •  By the beard of the Prophet!
  •  May the prophet guide my inexperienced hands!
  •  By the star and crescent of Islam!
  •  AWWWW SUFFRAGETTE!

As for what powers Kismet may possess, they’re open to interpretation. Some folks have taken his name literally, and extrapolated from a few of Kismet’s greatest hits that he literally possessed the powers of a “man of fate,” and was capable of seeing into the future. He does predict where a Nazi torture expert’s car will be at a certain time on the following day, and seems to anticipate his opponents’ punches now and then. On the other hand, he gets taken by surprise by everyday plot points and surprise attacks far in excess of the number of times he’s able to anticipate danger. Let’s call it a draw.

Leaving before the shooting starts.
What’s for sure is that he is, as the captions describe him, a man with “The mind of a prophet and fists of steel,” which is some exceptional praise. He also, at one point, refers to an airplane as a “sky bird” so I don’t know where they’re going with this character some times.

Much to Kismet’s credit as an axis-buster, he’s situated in the middle of the action. Between adventures, he manages to travel between Czechloslovakia, Berlin and the South of France, busting Nazi chops at every opportunity (as well as getting knocked around by Satanic nogoodniks Flame and Bruta, who hand Kismet his ass and then wander off without repercussions of any sort).

One other thing of note about Kismet is that he begins his career averse to delivering the killing blow to any of his enemies. He’s happy to hand them off to the mercies of those they’ve oppressed, mind you, but he’s disinclined to ever pull the trigger himself. This changes by his fourth appearance, at the end which he detonates a mine full of explosives, killing all the Nazis within. It seems Fate can get totally fed up with playing it cool, is what I learned from this. Awww suffragette!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

QUARTER-BIN HEROES : MYTHOS


A miscommunication involving an eBay order put two completely different comics from two distinct eras of comic storytelling in my hands. It also, by doing so, created a pretty much perfect dissection of where the ponderous, navel-gazing, post-Sandman comics of the pre-millennial comics boom betrayed the promise of the Eighties black-and-white cornucopia of independent publishers.

The books in question were "Mythos: The Final Tour" released by DC/Vertigo in 1996 and 1997, and "Mythos," a proposed ten-issue science-fiction series which pooped out after three dense and intriguing issues, ten years earlier.

If I never see 90's-era cover layouts
ever again it'll be too soon ...
Mythos: The Final Tour, obviously, doesn't count as a Quarter-Bin Hero. It was published by Vertigo, enjoying the backing of the second-largest comics publisher in the US (and the world? I think it depends on how you define your criteria, but they're a big player, whatever your specifics), and had all the trappings of a high-end prestige book. It was, in fact, prestige-bound, with glossy interior pages, and an impressive -- if erratic -- team. And also it was boring as fuck-all.

Mythos: The Final Tour is a perfect time capsule of that interminable era of smug, snail-paced, post-Sandman navel-gazing which was so roundly celebrated in comics fandom at the time, and holds onto its legacy now for no knowable reason. For others than I, the scourge of the Nineties was the big guns, spit-filled snarls, tiny feet and tits-in-your-face extremism of the post-Image boom. For me, and all other right-thinking and well-hung people like me, the villain of comics was Sandman and its offspring. It was the flood of ponderous books starring a shirtless, long-haired white guy who was, like, really into obscure jazz and, like, didn't ask to be at the center of a war between ancient gods, you know?

Comics like Sandman were literate, self-aware, generally bereft of the pre-pubescent antics of spandex slugfests (although rife with all sorts of other adolescent self-indulgence), and inclined to name its story arcs after one of the two or three phrases which they remembered from French class or from the songs of Leonard Cohen. This was a period where "maturity" was the imprimatur of worthwhile comics reading, as though "maturity" were the end-all, be-all of storytelling. As though "maturity" was an appeal to anything but the vanity of the reader and the author ...

The thing about the two primary themes of the Nineties is that the Eighties take the blame for one and not the other -- the grim-and-gritty era is supposed to lead like a straight line to books with titles like "BLOODFORCE VS KILLZONERS." Meanwhile, comics like Sandman just, *poof*, appeared out of whole cloth one day, apparently.

But the fact is that black and white comics of the Eighties were a wildly experimental field, a thriving arena funded by the life savings of would-be comic stars. This ended up serving as research-and-development for the big industries who could watch, from a distance, the risks and successes of publishers who counted their heartbeats in individual sales. And the industries, of course, fumbled it. The black and whites were always more exciting, more experimental, and more interesting. To wit ...

MYTHOS: THE FINAL TOUR (Vertigo Comics)
3 really expensive issues for the time (SIX BUCKS A POP!), 1996-1997

In brief: A shaggy-haired shirtless guy in jeans is also a rock star but he, like, just wants to be loved, man. And ancient gods are battling over him because of spiritual warfare. But really he just wants to be, like, left alone, and also for a girl to like him. I may have to revisit this one here.

As opposed to ...

MYTHOS (Wonder Comix)
3 issues, 1987

A labor of love from creator, writer and artist Nils Osmar and Wonder Comix, a Seattle-based publisher which managed to squeak out ten individual issues over seven years. Three of these were for Mythos (although ten were planned).

The series takes the form of a science-fiction anthology which wears its inspirations -- Bradbury and Heinlein -- on its sleeve. Self-contained stories make up small glimpses of a larger universe, with Osmar at the helm for pretty much every aspect of it. Except the lettering, that appears to have been done by Charlton's veteran letterer "A.Machine," or possibly his cousin "This Selectric."

Another thing you'll find that distinguishes Mythos from its later namealike: It passes the Bechdel Test like a motherfucker. Almost all of the main human characters are women...

No one would accuse Osmar's mid-Eighties work as being too professional, but the appeal of Mythos isn't its craft -- it's inspiration. The series embraces a wide scope of fantastical settings across the near-future of human space exploration. The introductory story in the first issue, "Zakaya!" pulls no punches with a splash panel featuring a floating stone cyclopean head with gritted teeth, looming over a mountain plain around which the sinewy forms of snakelike alien birds flutter. I TOLD YOU THIS WAS GOOD.

Osmar's writing is dense -- his characters, like they often would in the science-fiction paperbacks which influenced his writing style, recorded their stories for documents or related them to friends and loved ones, or dragged them from ambiguous alien narrators. But the result is a worthwhile read. Nothing is entered into the narrative frivolously or irrationally, it all either serves the narrative or adds to the emotional resonance of the characters.

It's not without its ponderous, reflective moments -- again, much like the prose which inspired it. But these moments aren't the raison d'etre of the books, they don't serve as the lead character's primary trait. Moments of reflection in Mythos serve to allow both the reader and the character a moment to take in the enormity of the ideas presented to them, and to rationalize the moral and tactical questions which will inevitably soon follow.

And the characters need those breaks. On a multitude of worlds (where characters are frequently stranded, or at least left to their own devices considering the distance between Earth and the other worlds of the civilized universe), there are wild alien races, customs, classes, and environments to be taken in. Osmar does tend towards the "sparse desert with some weird stuff in it" school of fictional terraforming, but it leaves more room to focus on the characters and their conflicts.

The book is steeped in the conflict between human mores and expectations versus the unexplored and the unknown, and it's a shame that it never made it to ten issues. More to the point, though, it's a pretty good explanation of where the wild experimentation of the Eighties gave way to Nineties' intransigent wrongheadedness; In Mythos, the fantastic and the unbelievable are there to be explored, exploited, interacted with, understood, abandoned or embraced. The point of the stories is to put human beings in the center of impossible realms and chart the experiences which arise from it.

My morning affirmations.


By the Nineties, fantastical events were something to be avoided and escaped from. Mythos: The Final Tour is a prime example of the motif -- the book's hero Adam Case (yuk) is doing everything in his power to get the forces of pagan magic to leave him alone. It's not the only Vertigo, DC or even Marvel book wherein magic and wonder were annoyances at best and unwanted burdens in general. Even the line's most bombastic title -- Preacher -- involved Jesse Custer doing everything possible to let God, Heaven, Hell, the Papacy and an assortment of weird, often supernatural dipshits to leave him and Tulip alone so they can ride off into the sunset and fuck.

The strength of Mythos is that it wanted to explore its world, and did so unapologetically. The failing of Mythos: The Final Tour and books like it is that it seemed embarrassed by its world and the fantastic elements therein ... so why even put them in there? Well, possibly, because devoid of supernatural elements, none of the characters in these Nineties navel-gazers were interesting enough to carry a story unless there were ancient-gods-in-suits-and-ponytails (where did that trend start, and how can we end it) hanging around to move what passes for the plot along.

This reminds me, I'm long past due to pick another Sandman story to pillory for my own amusement. I wonder if I can find one that moves at a glacial pace and one of the characters has a quirky hobby. Maybe one where someone's wearing blue jeans and a black t-shirt...

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

IF YOU SEE SWAMP THING, SAY SWAMP THING: DARK SIDE OF THE MIRROR

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 "Swamp Thing For Nothing" or...

If You See Swamp Thing, Say Swamp Thing
A man-shaped heap of pencil shavings and coffee grounds does the hard work you're too delicate to handle. 
Season One / Episode Two : Dark Side of the Mirror

In which it's like The Parent Trap but for ninja squashes.



It took a surprising amount of time to finally have Swamp Thing fight another Swamp Thing. I guess they needed second season money to make that happen.

Long before we get to the goods, however, we have to endure an A-Plot which involves a crusading DA hounding Anton Arcane’s business, Arcane Industries, which I guess is a separate concern from his working for Sunderland. I dunno. Not a lot really gets explained on the show, not beforehand anyway. That being said, it’s never really explained why the DA is targeting Arcane in the first place. I suppose he violated the state’s strict no-mutant policy.

The DA’s path crosses with that of Tressa’s boat-rental business leading to some flirtatious back-and-forth between the two, plus Tressa slaps the town’s doctor with a bouquet of fish. Abigail drops a shitload of yogurt and horse apples onto the hood of Will’s truck, which is some sort of mating signal for Will’s people because he gets his shirt off right away. Things are getting sexy in the swamp. Houma After Dark.

Oh yeah, you know just how to swing those fish. Uh huh, slap that doctor, mama. 


Swamp Thing extricates Will from Abigail’s whimsical bullshit and their astonishing lack of chemistry by sucking and blowing real hard. Will answers that call like there’s gonna be candy at the end of that trip, but I can promise you it won’t probably be candy. I don’t know how Swamp Thing causes those enormous winds, but I have to assume that it’s digestive.

Tressa and the DA have a saucy dinner which the town’s doctor attends as well and is clearly trying to wrangle his way into a threesome. Ruining his chances is his goofy sitcom-neighbor persona and that Swamp Thing leaps out from under a boardwalk and murders the DA! Savagely cock-blocked!

"Hey, I got props on the phone, they want to know what rich people eat ... Okay, they say 'whole fish and fire.'"

Naturally, that’s not really Swamp Thing, it’s a mutated Swamp Thing man who ends up battling the real Swamp Thing in the swamp! Ninja Swamp Bitches! This is someone’s dream come true.

It’s a pretty good fight but, before it’s resolved, an entire subplot is built around the fact that Abigail doesn’t like to look at herself in mirrors. She reveals this while bringing a crazy fruit salad to Will for his lunch. These free-spirited asides are gonna drive me to bath salts, I swear to god. Where’s a burning bicycle accident and a small mutant when you need them?

The Swamp Thing versus Swamp Thing battle is a good ‘un, but the phony plant monster can’t go the distance. As Arcane’s genetic dabbling begins to destroy his manufactured biology, he is gently nursed by the original Swamp Thing in a touching example of the mother-child bond.

In this scene, he is literally suckling Swamp Thing's muck juice from his proferred finger.

The episode ends with fake Swamp Thing revealing himself to an angry mob and on the precipice of revealing Arcane’s role in all the town’s evil … but kind of milking it, because Arcane shoots him right through the head. Brevity, man. You’re not a Republic serial villain, you gotta do that shit thirty-five minutes earlier…

Then they resolve the subplot where Abigail doesn’t like mirrors, good night!

Here's a bonus shot of Will and Abigail rubbing fruit salad onto the TARDIS.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : FIRE-EATER

For the longest time,  I thought this picture showed Fire-Eater spitting flames at cops.

Say what you will about combustible crimefighter Fire-Eater, but he does exactly what’s advertised on the tin. Who eats fire? Fire-Eater eats fire! Thank you for attending my TED Talk, show’s over, go home.
A good capsule? That shit is GREAT!

The bare-chested, bare-legged Fire-Eater – secretly Mike O’Malley, “a lusty Yankee whose amazing conquest of flames keeps audiences gasping … and criminals cringing at his name” – is part of a proud legacy of sideshow and theatre performers who take their specialized skills on the road in order to battle bad guys. For O’Malley’s part, his “record-breaking” antics can only be extrapolated by the readers from how he uses his powers in his battle against crime. Otherwise, all we ever see him do on a stage is leave it.

In action, however, Fire-Eater appears to be in possession of special capsules – either his own invention or someone else’s, it’s left unexplained – which grant him the ability to expulse fire from his mouth at sufficient temperatures to melt steel, burn wood, and disintegrate bullets in mid-air. In the course of his two adventures in Choice Comics, O’Malley’s butane breath burns through a lock, detonates a can of naphtha from a distance of forty feet, turns an axe handle to cinders, slags a periscope, and puts an end to a mess of Nazi saboteurs by igniting the grenades they carry in their hands. At no point does he simply burn a foe to death, but he sure makes it a point to blow on things that will kill them in the long run.
"His work will look great on the
walls of my 1980s nail salon!"

The secret of O’Malley’s capsules are briefly touched upon in a single caption – they’re sodium! This welcomes Fire-Eater into another crimefighter fraternity – the masked heroes whose science-based powers would surely kill them in agony on first use.

Whether through familiarity or some other, unspoken scientific advancement, Fire-Eater is also practically immune to flame and great heat. There’s no explanation given as to how he keeps his shirtless collar affixed to his neck at all times, but that was the number one question plaguing my mind.

Fire-Eater doesn’t fight crime alone, assisted by his best girl Louise Peters, self-described “head nurse at state hospital.” Which is a job title that certainly doesn’t sound made up. I mean, if she weren’t actually head nurse at “state hospital,” why would she always be running around in a nurse’s uniform? QED, gentlemen, QED.


The creative team on Fire-Eater is largely unknown (although pencils are generally attributed to Art Saaf), but that’s beside the point.  The final group to which Fire-Eater belongs is that of superheroes whose creators had tongues firmly planted in cheek when choosing their pen names; Fire-Eater was the product of “Wood Byrns.” I hope Wood hangs out with the Red Bee’s “B.H.Apiary” some time, I bet they’d get on like a house afire.

"And also we're dying from the incredible heat but it seemed rude to mention that!"

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

P-S-Eh? : AMAZING RATIOS

Lookit how excited that guy is at the top, playing with his open jars of ether and pine pitch.

Along with the other scientific features made available in the pages of DC's sci-fi showcase Strange Adventures was Amazing Ratios, a one-pager which combined a curiosity of the universe with some of the weirdest analogies ever to grace comics.

The word "if" carries a lot of water in this one.
Just a handful of the Amazing Ratios postulated a world where a single atom was enlarged to the size of a football stadium, human lifespans doubled every two centuries for the next 2400 years, the Earth was charged (a measly two cents per kilowatt) for the sun's energy, gold was distributed from the oceans to every living being on the planet, hot dogs were cooked by the body heat of an arena full of boxing fans, paramecium multiplied at a rate sufficient to drown the universe in single-celled lifeforms, and much more. Frankly, it all sounds like a living hell.

Check out how many dudes it took to kill Marie Curie.
On occasion, the efforts to explain the amazing ratios which make up our scientific world had a sort of mortal, terrifying quality to them, like all the best science does...

I remember dad before we turned him into pencils.
It's hard to say if any of these factoids did much more than fill kids' heads with scientific trivia. It's all very well and good to know that there was sufficient sunlight reaching the planet Uranus for a spaceman to check the Help Wanted ads in his local Penny Saver, but imagine if that were all the scientific knowledge some guy had when he wandered into Dow Chemical's HR department. "Resume? I don't have a resume, but I can tell you how big a dog would be if he grew proportionately so that the iron in his blood was equal to all the iron on planet Earth. Here's a little hint -- it would be very big."


So, wait, I need a telescope to see another planet's moons? Run me through that again.

Factual inserts like the above have fallen out of favor in contemporary comics, being as they are perceived to be "for kids." Unlike comics which haven't expressly been for kids in decades, despite the fact that they are explicitly at least for wildly immature adults. Personally, I like these kinds of featurettes now that I'm old and no longer have to worry about things like "making something of my life" and "choosing a career path." It's really low-pressure to learn about sugar yield in beets now, when during my childhood expressing that fact would've gotten me locked into a food chemistry pallet at college. Phew, bullet dodged!

And that's what Jesus really meant.

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