Thursday, May 5, 2016

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : THE MANY FOES OF BLACK GOLIATH

"...For the next five issues anyway!"

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Black Goliath, a character who was given something only vaguely resembling a fair chance with his own title and who I thought made for a compelling hero. You have here a self-made man, a heartbroken and hard-working genius with a gruesome stint in Vietnam dogging his memories, whose scientific abilities improved on the work of one of Marvel's consistently-billed "greatest minds in the world," and who ended up kind of murdered by two of Marvel's top-billed superheroes with effectively no repercussions. That ... that last part should have been addressed at some point.

For five issues between February 1975 and November 1976, however, Black Goliath was given a chance to helm his own title. The end result was ... mixed. The giant-sized scientist's alter-ego of Bill Foster was given a wan supporting cast, a sort-of vague super-scientific job, and some relatively well-trod nail-biting and clothes-rending about the Black Power movement, which every black superhero in the Seventies needed to be seen denouncing in some form of the other, at least once, if they had their own title. When Chris Claremont took over, Goliath's cultural concerns took a backseat to some star-spanning superheroics, none of which was particularly memorable. On the other hand, at least it was ramping him up to first-level heroics.

Along with all the other trappings of his spandex peers, Goliath picked up a small roster of superfoes in the pages of his book --- most of whom are pretty much dead now, so that's worked out well. Let's take a look at Bill Foster's ironically diminutive rogues gallery ...

"We do take pre-orders, though."
THESE IDIOTS
In Goliath's first issue, he was accosted in the streets by a trio of switchblade-wielding smartasses, Decked out in what I suppose passes for urban gear -- a turtleneck and a fedora? A porkpie and a cigarette? I think these might be Mingus' band -- these incorrigible kids assault Bill Foster as he indulges in misty nostalgia on the site of his former stamping grounds in Watts. For their troubles, two of them end up getting knocked about fifteen feet parallel to the street by a flung garbage can, and the other one gets tied in a steel knot at the top of a streetlight. At least they made it out alive, which you can't say for everyone.

"Oh my god, he called me HIS gigantic fool.
He must truly love me after all!"
ATOM-SMASHER
For instance, there's Atom-Smasher -- a radioactive rogue whose scalp is consistently orbited by little intersecting lines -- the classic cartoon shorthand for "dizzy, drunk or dazed." He may as well have had little singing birdies flapping around his noggin.

Breaking into Foster's super-secret lab for a shipment of radium, the energy-emitting evildoer leads a squad of tangerine-colored compadres straight into a confrontation with Black Goliath. Despite possessing the power to convert his body into pure, destructive energy, his initial outing ends in spectacular failure -- he inadvertently ignites "ten million gallons of gasoline" under his very feet. Well, baby steps, man, baby steps ...

If that failure weren't enough, Atom-Smasher not only ends up defeated but dead -- shot through the brainpan by a sniper presumably hired by his employer to tie up loose ends. I think those little head-things made for a good target.

By Krom!
VULCAN
Following Atom-Smasher's attempt to steal things from Bill Foster's lab, Vulcan came around to steal things from Bill Foster's lab. Popular lab.

Bearing the deformity of his namesake, Vulcan also possessed the almost-mandatory tremendous size required of Black Goliath's enemies, as well as superhuman strength and a set of highly-destructive wrist blasters which we never really see in action (he blows up a wall in silhouette, but it's not the clearest indicator of a superpower). In spite of his considerable power, he nonetheless relies on a bunch of hopped-up motorcycle weirdos to carry out his basic thieving and such. He manages to make it out of his encounter with Goliath intact, if you don't count how he was a messed-up lookin' giant freako in the first place.

"By which I mean ... tall!"
STILT-MAN
It's mandatory to borrow a villain from another hero when you're starting out, and it's always worthwhile to plump Daredevil's rogues gallery. After all, half of those guys he borrowed from Spider-Man and Thor in the first place.

If you're going to go for tall bad guys, then, you'll want to go with Stilt-Man, a villain who possesses the proportionate power of stilts! Bitten by radioactive stilts as a child, Stilt-Man grows up with the ability to be pretty unbalanced when standing still, and to play one of those rabbity lookin' things in The Dark Crystal.

The greatest shame of Stilt-Man is that he manages to beat Black Goliath. That's gonna look bad on the ol' CV.

MORTAG
When Goliath's adventures go intergalactic, it's Mortag - conveniently a fifteen foot tall alien villain - who's there to meet him. Guarding the super-scientific redoubt of Kirgar, Mortag's mission is to kill any who wander through its threshhold. Which Goliath and his pals do, including a soon-to-be-heroically-sacrificed alien buddy who looks like a squid crossed with a goldfish crossed with a Ren Faire.

Dude, look at your eyes. You are super-high.

And that's it, not counting two established white superheroes who apparently are allowed by law to sic cyborg clones of Norwegian death metal album covers on unsuspecting superheroes -- his most dangerous foes of all!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

PLANET OF THE CAPES!

This is either stupid or insensitive, if not both.

Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, is always a good go-to title if you're looking for broad, inventive, some-might-say "careless" Silver Age oddness. Even the repeating themes of the book -- Jimmy's turns as Elastic Lad, his weird transformations, his occasional junior-grade replacement of Superman, his romance (of sorts) with Lucy Lane -- still managed to find strange twists, turns and unexpected weirdness to seem fresh with every issue. 

And then there's also the weakest pun in the book's history -- The Planet of the Capes.

Caped Perry White has an admirable
lack of fucks to give.
Arriving in the middle of the barren desert in the company of the Superman Family's resident archaeologist and tomb raider, Professor Lewis Lang, Jimmy and his guide encounter a giant magenta honeycomb-riddled monolith. The prologue informs us that the device was dropped on Earth back in the age of the dinosaurs, which means that the multiverse is now packed with dinosaurs -- since we learn that the artifact is a dimensional doorway! MULTIVERSE OF THE DINOSAURS. Tell me you wouldn't buy that book in a heartbeat, and I will call you a stone-cold liar or a reader with little interest in dinosaurs. One of the two.

Jimmy, naturally, dives straight into one of the honeycombs -- chasing his pith helmet. As do many young men of his age. Unfortunately for Jimmy, the honeycomb in question leads him to a partially-identical world with a strict caste system based on outerwear; capes! 

Yes, citizens with capes are the masters, citizens without capes are slaves. Shocked, Jimmy reflects on the misfortune his capelessness has caused him. "My Earth was nothing like this" he ponders as he's hauled off in the paddy wagon, "These parallel-world people are either caped lords or uncaped slaves!" Jimmy, I don't know how to tell you this, but your world is actually a little like that.

That's as good an explanation as any.


The differences between the worlds of Jimmy's past and present experience differ in subtle ways. There is, for instance, no Daily Planet but rather a rooftop dining experience called The Daily Palate. That is, of course, a joke that only works if it's a pun on Daily Planet, which does not exist on this world. Layers within layers, the planet of the capes.

Additionally, most animals on the world have horns, Clark Kent is a swinger playboy-slash-secret agent with face full of chameleon powers, diamonds are worthless, and then there are other things I don't really give a shit about. 

Most of Jimmy's old friends fail to recognize him -- because that world's Jimmy Olsen is a famous movie star, which makes them not recognizing him actually much more confusing. What Jimmy does have on his side is the slightest glimmer of intelligence, as he simply restitches his jacket to look like a cape and gains his freedom. No one else on this whole planet ever thought of that. 

National Lampoon's Interdimensional Vacation.


The origin of the caped world turns out to be that Krypton's eminent scientist Jor-El survived his planet's destruction, came to Earth, set himself up in a modest hut and sat around waiting for an opportunity to murder people with his ray gun. When heroes from the mainstream Earth accidentally land on this alternate Earth, Jor-El shoots them -- with the wrong gun! Womp womp! Since he shoots them in their collective backs, the gun he'd grabbed -- his duplicator ray -- creates duplicates of the heroes; cloaks. "I'll make a limited number of duplicates and sell them to the people at sky-high prices!" he thinks to himself. An entrepreneur, that's our Jor-El.

Paranoid and quick to shoot people with weird rays, Jor-El zaps Jimmy with his a ray that sends the boy reporter to "The Dimension Zone," although that turns out to be the Earth from which he originally came. Or so he presumes. Whatever the case, thankfully Jimmy returned from having idiotic adventures in another universe so that he could continue to have idiotic adventures in his own universe. The end.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

IF YOU SEE SWAMP THING, SAY SWAMP THING: NATURAL ENEMY

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 Wild" or...

If You See Swamp Thing, Say Swamp Thing
A show about a steroidal kiwi fruit smashing evil wherever he finds it...
Season One / Episode Eight : Natural Enemy

In which Jim gets caught with his fly down.



Someone on the design team engineered a fuckin' horrible animatronic fly face, and watching it writhe in sensuous delight is what we get this time around instead of any sort of story-related prologue. "The pest is prologue" as they say, I suppose.

Swamp Thing takes Jim on a walking tour of all the places in the swamp that Jim should never go, in a scene slightly reminiscent of Tim taking Lassie on a romp through the tall grass. Is the pairing of Jim and Swamp Thing some sort of Calvin and Hobbes thing? Is Jim just traipsing through the rotting vegetation and mildewed logs with a potted fern he insists on talking to? I guess there's something magical about their relationship after all...

Swamp Thing steers Jim directly into a smoky alcove, which any kid with the common sense to detect even the most basic danger would've noticed and steered clear'a. Earlier, Jim had been sniffing carnivorous pitcher plants, so I don't know what the kid's got going on in his head.

The smoky alcove holds some sort of hypnotic appeal to Jim, apparently. After having been dropped off at his dead grandma's place, Jim muses for a while -- staring out the kitchen window -- and then bolts back for the forbidden place with the determined step of a man deciding to confront death face-to-face. He balks at the last second, but not soon enough to avoid being bitten by ... the fly.

God, I hope that's the fly's mouth they keep showing us.


Jim gets dropped off at the ICU, which prompts lots of blue-lit closeups of the fly's orgasmic head-sphincter and dizzying, hand-held camera manipulations. Maybe that's why the kid got sick. Attending to the tortured tyke is handsome Dr.Bloom (Bill Cordell), a hefty, shiny bohunk with news anchor hair whom Jim's mom Tressa seems to get the horny giggles from. Just because her kid's dying doesn't mean mom doesn't have needs.

Arcane shows up for a mousse-off with Dr.Bloom, who'd earlier detected the twin bitemarks on Jim's scalp -- each one about the size of a dime, so I don't understand how you could have missed them. Arcane, of course, knows exactly what bit Jim and is eager to see the results. Luckily, as far as television is concerned, anyone wearing a white coat can pass as a doctor, so he swipes someone's jacket and goes to sneak dirty peeps at the delirious, comatose Jim's wounds. It's his biz.

This would be one well-moussed three-way.


Back in the bog, Swamp Thing is beating himself up over letting Jim get bit by the writhing fly of poisonous delight. Naturally, this leaves him only one option -- to sneak into the hospital. If you were ever keen to see a five-hundred pound bag of tobacco shavings climb through the air ducts like some sort of vegetarian Die Hard, then have I ever got the show for you!

Ho ho ho, now I have a machine gun.
Tressa finds herself trapped in an otherwise-empty room with the jiggle-fly, which has already given her a bite and mostly just hovers around so that the cameraman can break out the fly-eye lens. It's also a real chance for Tressa to bust out her acting chops, as she needs to fling herself around a room swatting at an invisible fly. Julliard pays off!

They get a lot of use out of this filter.


Even for a scant 22-minute runtime, this episode has a lot of dead air to fill, so Fly Vs Tressa goes on for several minutes, as does Swamp Thing's John McClane impression. There's even a lovingly lacksadaisical scene wherein Tressa receives a band-aid. I'm surprised that we didn't get an extended sequence of the ambulance driver making a K-turn to back into a parking space.

Like a lithe spirit, the living potato sack that is Swamp Thing drops cat-like into Jim's room, and gives him the swamp business. Tressa's going to have to wait for the doctors to fabricate an antidote, but Jim just gets pure carrot juice when Mr.Thing plugs the boy's IV tube into his own forearm. This is wildly unsafe. Also, will he now become Jim Thing? One can hope. Also, wait, doesn't Swamp Thing die if he's away from the swamp? Well, at least he's in a hospital.

"Oh yeah, that's an STD all right. You're gonna want to make some phone calls."


Jim recovers, Tressa survives, and Swamp Thing gives Arcane an imaginary talking-to back in the swamp, which rapidly fades into credits. It's amazing that they couldn't find time to do an appropriate coda but we got a cumulative five minutes of Jim sleeping and Tressa freaking out. But then again ... it's Swamp Thing!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : THE BARKER



Back in the Golden Age, the formula was still being figured out. Superman had created a baseline for superheroics, pulp heroes had created the model for tough guy crimefighters, and guys like Doctor Occult and Zatara had covered the magician market, and so on. There was still plenty of room for experimentation, however, and that's where Jack Cole's inventiveness - with writer Joe Millard - comes in handy. This is how we get Carnie Callahan, a.k.a. The Barker -- he fights circus crime!

Starting in National Comics vol.1 No.42 (May 1948) and spinning off into a few issues of his own title, the Barker was -- as the name implied -- a professional carnival barker who makes his living shilling for the acts at Colonel Lane's Mammoth Circus, a ragtag travelling outfit which frequently found itself in trouble with cads and crooks of all varieties.

Callahan boasted no powers except for a bombastic tough-as-nails nature and a ready right hook, but he had pals. Accompanying him on most of his adventures, along with occasional assistance from Colonel Lane, included Lena the Fat Lady, Tiny Tim the strongman, and Major Midge -- a cigar-smoking little person who was more rough-and-ready than the Barker. There was also a whole midway full of freaks and performers in the tent: Peaches the bearded lady, Spudo the Spider Man (and former pickpocket), Bombo the Human Cannonball, Jojo the Missing Link, and a multitude of others.

As for baddies, they primarily ran across pickpockets, confidence rackets, gangsters, rival circus owners and a general dearth of super-villain types (with occasional outliers, like the bird-suited Hawk). The appeal of the strip, however, was the snappy writing and lively cartooning, partly the work of Cole and later the work of the underrated Klaus Nordling, whose Pen Miller strip is owed a spot on this blog before long. (The occasional primer into circus slang was also probably pretty appealing to its youthful audience at the time)

The Barker is part of the Quality comics group and is, presumably, part of the DC Comics catalog. So far, they've exercised their franchise on the character precisely once, as a backup in a quartet of Batman comics back in 2000 or so. It obviously didn't set the world on fire, possibly because it only ever haunted the back pages without someone to loudly evangelize for its virtues and entertainment value. Gee, who could've helped them out with that ... ?

We've all had this dream, right?


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

SUPERMAN V BATMAN : THE BAT WITCH / THE DEMON SUPERMAN



The catalog of Superman and Batman's more-than-occasional sparring matches contains multiple chapters, many of which find the pair battling in the streets of their hometowns, in the future, on alien planets, inside the bottle city of Kandor, at Hank's Highway Honkytonk offa I-10 just outside Yuma after a string of half-price pitchers while arguing over the jukebox, and once in divorce court right in front of the kids. On occasion, additionally, they brought their bickering to long-gone eras of the past. Most notably of these excursions involves Batman's pursuit of his ancestor, "Mad" Anthony Wayne, in the pages of World's Finest Comics vol.1 No.186 and 187 (August/September 1969).

Reclining in his luxurious mansion, Bruce "Batman" Wayne ponders the mystery of his colonial ancestor "Mad" Anthony Wayne,  a figure who charged "redcoats like a maddened bull." This leaves the world's greatest detective to ponder "I wonder why he was called 'mad' though?" Good lord, man, did Sherlock Holmes teach you nothing.

World's Greatest Detective.

In one of those lucky/interminable coincidences of comicdom, the Gotham Museum takes that opportunity to contact Batman in hopes that the city's greatest crimefighter might spare some time to play bodyguard to a recently-donated, mysterious bust. Either crime was at a particularly low ebb in Gotham that day or most of the crime those days involved stealing busts from museums. Either way, it's difficult to imagine young Bruce Wayne falling to his knees at the site of his parents' gruesome murder pleading to an uncaring god "I will protect sculpture, so that no one should suffer the way I have suffered! I shall become a bat!" Talk like that will get you committed.

Batman's bust-bodyguarding comes to naught since the museum went and entrusted the thing to Eustace P.Butterfingers, the museum curator best known for never using a napkin when eating greasy pizza and for obsessively moisturizing his hands with vaseline. He drops the bust, and it shatters in slow-mo like an Eighties music video.

Crime is either also at a low in Metropolis or the lesson Superman's foster parents inculcated in him was to "use your tremendous power to protect knick-knacks," because a quick phone call results in the Man of Steel arriving at the museum to reassemble the bust at super-speed.

"Snuffles, you can talk!"
To jump ahead a little bit, the crux of this story is that Superman -- after he and Batman travel to the past to uncover the so-called mystery of this statuary -- will be possessed by an evil demon and become Batman's enemy. Before that happens, though, Superman reassembles the bust in sight of an amazed museum crowd, revealing it to be Batman's identical ancestor, Mad Anthony Wayne. Then, he continues to modify it until it looks like Batman, pointing out the resemblance between the two ... in front of everybody. This is where the trouble starts.

In order to figure out the mystery of why Mad Anthony Wayne looks like Bruce Wayne (hint: genetics, this is not really a mystery), Superman sews cute little colonial outfits for himself and Batman and then flies back through time to the days of the American Revolution (Batman's contribution to the expository dialogue of this adventure: "Uhhhh." I feel the same way).

Landing in olde tymeses, Batman and Superman pretty quickly wreck their playclothes in a fight with Mad Anthony Wayne (who does indeed look just like his descendant, job done, go back to the present guys), so decide to wander into nearby Gothamtown in their super-suits. They pretend to be actors -- the "S" on his chest, explains Superman, stands for Shakespeare. That doesn't seem any less stupid than it standing for "Hope," actually, so let's run with that ...

The World's Finest team hits town just in time to watch a local lady, Sylvia Ward, get relentlessly dunked by leering townies. It's all good fun on a Friday afternoon, but more to the point she's suspected of being a witch and they're trying to drown her.

She's easily saved by Superman, who dives in and chews his way through the heavy plank holding her underwater, He has his reasons, but it's still one of the most striking examples of Superman having to find new, interesting and/or profoundly dumb ways to use his powers.

Despite having done the heavy chewing, Superman is snubbed by Ward, which leads to all sorts of super-powered pranks intended to convince the townsfolks that Batman is, himself, a man-witch. Planting diamonds and making a cat speak in Satan-dude terms is pretty good stuff, but Superman riding a broomstick with colored mud all over his costume to implicate Batman in nogoodery is probably the peak of overdoing it. He can always throw Batman into space. Always.

Dir. Zack Snyder
Batman ends up in the pillory, where Ben Franklin attempts a rescue using a kite to channel electricity into the device's padlock. Superman repeatedly kite-blocks him at invisible super-speed, which sort of implies to me that this would have discouraged Franklin from discovering electricity and Thomas Edison would have had to find some other method of executing rogue elephants. Maybe gladiatorial combat, maybe stomping them flat, I dunno. I'm no scientist.

Batman is put to the stake but manages to escape, largely by reviving the whole "The S stands for..." thing, claiming it stands for "Satan" while Superman stands by the "Shakespeare" bit, and really it's sort-of the whole "Who's On First" of its day.

At this point, to cut a long story short, Superman sides with the redcoats and leads an assault on the revolutionaries - people with whom we're supposed to feel some sort of affection for as our underdogs of precedent, but who also tried to drown a woman and burn Batman and believe in witches. So I side with the British.

Mad Anthony Wayne joins the fight, as does his kid sidekick Robbie who looks just like Robin because that's how this works. Giving Robbie a kryptonite stone from his belt -- which he should have probably thought of earlier -- Batman encourages the kid to recreate David and Goliath with the stone, the subsequent knocking-upon-the-head of which releases Superman from the control of an evil spirit. This is the end of Robbie's story, even though he did all the heavy lifting. Some justice.

"Allow me to keep this memento of you
getting your ass totally handed to you."
With their mysteries (?) solved, Superman and Batman brutally rout the English, another indefensible travesty of historical meddling on behalf of the World's Finest team, two characters without whom history would have never happened. Their time travel cards need revoking.

The last mystery is apparently "why the statue of the Wayne ancestor who looks exactly like Bruce Wayne looks like Bruce Wayne," which is -- I say again -- not a mystery to anyone who's ever known their parents. I guess that's the problem with Batman and Superman, plus most of their exact duplicates tend to be drifters and petty crooks.

In any case, the casting, it turns out, was made by Sylvia from the impression Batman made when his ancestor was fighting him and kicked him face-first into the mud. So the bust of Mad Anthony Wayne is actually a historical artifact of Batman's most humiliating defeat, a true treasure for the ages!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : SPITFIRE



The publishers of Spitfire Comics must have felt a bit of pressure to justify the title of their book. That's most likely why a diving Spitfire fighter plane is depicted on its cover, involved in fierce aerial combat with a Nazi bomber over an imperiled bridge.

The thing is -- Spitfire Comics was a superhero book, while its cover promised dogfighting war adventures. So the burden ends up falling on 17th century English swordsman "Black" Douglas, an English adventurer who turns a mishap on the high seas into a brief mid-20th-century superheroing career - and doubles down on the book's masthead.

Overtaken by pirates during one of their adventures, Douglas' ship is captured and his crew shanghaied into serving the thieving rogues. Only Douglas resists and, for his trouble, is dropped overboard in a lifeboat, somewhere in the middle of the ocean. After several hot, thirsty days of drifting, he stumbles across a desolate island -- from this point, pay close attention, because it's going to come fast and furiously.

Who could think of anything else?
Douglas slakes his thirst as a peculiar-tasting spring, unaware that he'd just drunk from the "Spring of Eternal Life," which the text tells us was Ponce DeLeon's ultimate goal. Maybe it goes under different branding in Douglas' part of the world. Likewise, the tiny island is dotted with plumes of fiery gasses which pop periodically around Douglas' landing site, like the land itself is trying to fart him off of it.

The gasses turn out to be some sort of sedative, but also preserve fabric in perfect condition, so that when an underground earthquake closes the vents, Douglas awakens after a 200 year-long nap with his undies still bunched just the way he left them.

We're not done yet! Taking to the sea, the sleepy beauty is intercepted by a "Natzi" U-Boat, whose commander entertains the English dandy in order to "show this dog that we Natzis are a superior race!" How does he do this? Well, he lets Douglas slap him into unconsciousness. Further Natzi soldiers are repelled by Douglas' breath -- and who wouldn't recoil at two centuries' worth of morning mouth?

It turns out that the gasses he'd been breathing for centuries have now settled in his very cells or something, and he can breathe them out at will -- causing his targets to fall asleep. Also, when he breathes them over a flame -- POOF -- he can ... spit hot fire! Supa hot fire!

And he's not even a rapper!

So that's why he's called Spitfire, but that's apparently not good enough. Escaping his Natzi tormentors, Douglas wanders into (well, under) an aerial dogfight between British and German planes. A fatally shot pilot lands his Spitfire before dying, and willing Douglas trades places with him, launching into the sky with relative ease ("Once in the plane, Black turns every gadget and the plane takes to the air" explains the caption, unexplainingly). Ta-daa, now he's the Spitfire! Maybe even Double Spitfire! And it only took two centuries and a lot of coincidence to get there!

The best thing about Spitfire is his absolute absence of period dialect. He shouts things like, when he takes control of the U-Boat, "Wow! I'd better beach this baby!" And with smoke shooting from his nose, he declares "Boy! This is great!" They didn't even talk this modern on Upstairs, Downstairs, and that took place in the same century!

Spitfire was a product of Malcolm Kildale, whose best-known work (to me, anyway) was Sgt.Spook. As it is, Spitfire didn't take off, although he did manage to fit in quite a lot of spitting fire during his brief run, and that's what really counts.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

BEYOND THE BLACK HOLE



What's beyond a black hole? Nothing, if it holds on to its dreams!

It's been five or six years -- maybe more -- since Disney announced its plans to revive its simultaneously dull and horrifying 1979 sci-fi blockbuster (sort-of), The Black Hole. Chances are even that the planned remake/extrapolation/merchandise-generator has fallen by the wayside, or that it's been supplanted by as many as a dozen additional plans to reboot and revitalize what many consider to be one of the worst sci-fi movies ever made (the last five minutes notwithstanding, as those are merely "puzzling"), but whatever the case -- we don't need it, we already know what happens next!

"And then I met a robot with no feet."
Back in 1980, Whitman (slash Gold Key, slash Western, slash whatever you want to call it) produced four issues of a Black Hole series. The first two issues adapted the film in loose form; Astronauts in the space vessel Palomino come across an enormous ship, the Cygnus, believed lost but discovered orbiting a black hole upon its event horizon. Somehow. The captain of the ship is insane, all the former crew are robots, there's a mean robot and a dumb old robot and the guys from the Palomino bring a supremely annoying robot of their own, then everyone falls into the black hole and they go to Hell for a little while. Plus ESP and a dead dad, the end.

The next two issues, however, promised the adventure BEYOND THE BLACK HOLE. I've asked this many times, can't we just get beyond the black hole already? This black hole is tearing us apart (or condensing us mercilessly, one of the two).

The one thing which the comic book adaptation left out was the explicit journey through heaven and hell made by the assorted space travelers as they pierced the veil of the black hole itself. Remembered with awestruck trepidation by an entire generation of young moviegoers, the conclusion to the film was the one moment that may have validated the rest of the production, even as it terrified the kiddiewinks. Much like the cyborg lady in Superman III, now that I think about it.

"Sleep tight!"
That it was excised from the comic meant that the first two issues were a drag, but also that the first Beyond The Black Hole issue didn't have much to draw from. The surviving good guy crewmembers - Command pilot Dan Holland, First Officer Charlie Pizer, Dr.Kate McRae and their giant anal bead of a robot helper VINCENT (I'm not putting the periods in there, they were all scattered around in crazy ways for a forced acronym in the first place) - move through the Black Hole into a new universe, only to discover that it's basically the same universe.

They end up meeting the same villains from the first two books as well as the same allies, except with some foreknowledge which speeds up their escape from the villain's clutches. This is a simultaneous plus and a minus -- the first two issues weren't so riveting that they demanded a repeat, but at least it's over in half the time.

It's in the second and final issue of Beyond the Black Hole where things get spicy. Lacking direction from Disney and left to their own devices, the story abandons all pretense of aligning with the film and simply creates a whole new reality. While all the astronauts had originally been from Earth, the film's villain, Dr.Reinhardt, is now a conquering warlord, setting his sights on the peaceful planet Tyr. How peaceful a planet named after a god of war can be, I dunno, but it does its best.

More to the point, Reinhardt and his robot army are breaking the law. "War had been outlawed in our universe" explains the other-dimensional BOB, a countrified version of VINCENT who doesn't improve on the theme.

In the course of that issue, in an attempt to find the planet of the "Virlights" - virtuous alien beings whose impenetrable force fields drive Reinhardt mad with frustration, as they do all of us - the heroes of the book, in order: confront a woogedy comet, land on a prehistoric planet of wild dinosaurs and mammoths, find another planet, discover a lost child in the forest, are frozen in place, get a bath and have their hooptie stoled.

By contrast to the first three issues, issue four moves along at a breakneck pace. And yet it still finds time to pack in bathtub time, so I don't think printing costs must have been at a premium.

Most of the scenes are basically as exciting as this.

Beyond the Black Hole ends up enjoying all the hallmarks of a Star Trek episode ... Next Generation, anyway, and not one of the good ones. A wan philosophical point, aliens with ethics built into their genetics, wandering around to planets in assorted stages of Earth-like development, the works. It even ends up with all of the main characters wearing embarrassingly short togas, which is an image I'll always associate with Jonathan Frakes, one way or the other.

The final issue of the series is apparently a much sought-after collectible, given its rarity. That's a pretty good quality on which to base its value, because you certainly shouldn't be buying it for the story (the Dan Spiegle art is a-ok, mind you)... but whatever the case, it's poetically ironic that the series ends midway through at a cliffhanger, with many questions unanswered, after a long series of boring interludes. After all, that puts it basically on par with the original film, making a nice neat little wrap up ... until they eventually launch the remake, of course.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

IF YOU SEE SWAMP THING, SAY SWAMP THING: NEW ACQUAINTANCE

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 "There's Swamp Thing About Mary" or...

If You See Swamp Thing, Say Swamp Thing

The story of a four-hundred pounds of potatoes well past their sell-by date, and how a plucky, dancing, singing evil won its heart.
Season One / Episode Six : New Acquaintance


In which the difficult-to-befriend Jim picks up a playmate who's right up his alley, providing that the alley in question abuts a psychiatric hospital.

The last we'll see of Jim.


Six episodes in, Swamp Thing finally has the all-too-difficult "We need some space" conversation with Jim, sending the short-pants sociopath into the terrifying urban jungle of the Universal Studios Backlot main street set. Coiffed human nimbus cloud Obo's too busy scoring with a girl who's dressed like if Saved By The Bell was set in a nunnery, so that sends Jim to the local arcade and the clutches of the town's "mean kids gang." It's one of those multi-ethnic groups of obnoxious made-for-tv children, invariably led by the shortest, fattest of them, and whose acts of violence and intimidation are primarily "being visibly not very nice."

Hatching a plan to steal Pee-Wee's bike.

However, this social shunning introduces Jim to Lilly (Summer Phoenix, being the only cast member to grow up and get married to Casey Aflleck -- as far as I'm aware) an awkward but free-spirited young gal who carries around a plastic shopping bag full of wet dead rabbit. Either it was a craze I missed back in the Nineties, or it's coming to a pay off later in the episode. Let's watch!

Jim invites Lilly back to his place, during the journey for which he discovers a kindred spirit even more lost and messed up than he. It must have been like looking into the sun, for Jim to even glance at the beautiful madness of Lilly, the blood-soaked rabbit girl. It was like the world had carved a Lilly-shaped niche in the very air in front of him, and he'd never realized she'd been missing until he first saw her standing there. They're gonna murder a lot of neighborhood pets together.

"Gosh, it's been so long since I ran a pasty child through with a kitchen knife, I can barely remember how it feels."

Lilly does have a habit of lying and swiping shit that ain't hers, but let's not pretend Jim is any kind of saint. For Jim's mom Tressa, however, she's just excited that Jim has a friend, and that his friend is slowly and longily polishing a chef's knife behind Jim's back for what seems like minutes on end. The sweet bouquet that Tressa detects upon Lilly's breath is the scent of freedom.

Or is it? Because Lilly won't leave. Tressa finds her on the rocking chair on the patio in the middle of the night, which turns out to be a surprisingly unwholesome sight all things being equal.

Listen, this is taking forever. Let's suffice it to say that Lilly has an unhappy home life, it was the dirtwad kids from town who killed her rabbit, and there's a surprising lack of Swamp Thing in this episode, especially for a show with his name on the masthead but even considering how little Swamp Thing there is in most episodes. Even when Lilly pulls a pocketknife on an over-inquisitive Jim and chases the freckled wart through the bogs, Swamp Thing is nowhere to be found. He's taking his "me-time" very seriously.

Which episode of The Muppet Show is this one?

Even local law enforcement is willing to kind of leave Jim to his just desserts, and Lilly to the tender mercies of the hole-in-the-wall gang. They've moved operations to the swamps in order to more directly harass Lilly, but Swampy puts an end to that by yelling and sort of spinning around on one foot, which is how he makes hurricanes. That's how God does it too, according to a bible.

Swamp Thing's other big contribution to this episode of his own television show is to use his magic swamp powers' bio-restorative touch to heal Lilly's dead rabbit all the way back to life. This encourages the episode to fade to black on Lilly, in some apparent state of shock, petting her once-dead rabbit. It certainly implies that her mind has been broken from the shock.

"And after I worked so hard to murder him the first time around, too."

Hope she sticks around til next week (she won't) to see Jim mind-controlled by an evil fly. "Oh, a callback to the first Moore-scripted issue of Saga of the Swamp Thing" you might be finding yourself saying. It isn't, trust me. See you in two weeks!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : DREAMBOY

That dog is the closest he's ever gotten to affection.


You might think that comics reached their apex of bleak nihilism in the Eighties and Nineties, an often-stark period of clenched teeth, blood-splattered capes and interminable navel-gazing -- but think again. The utter futility of human existence -- its dread anticipation, its unhappy self-delusion, the impossibility of even the simplest dignity -- was never captured with such harrowing detail as with the adventures of Dreamboy!

Created by Jerry Fasano for Eastern's line of teen comedy books (Club 16, specifically), Dreamboy was Jerry Judson, a high school student fairly described by his sneering peers as "fat and funny-looking" (They weren't kidding -- whatever was going on with his weight never explained why Jerry's arms hovered only inches from the floor and his legs had the precise proportions of honey-glazed hams). Unaccomplished, unloved and disregarded -- if not cruelly mocked by his classmates ("If you win the Junior Olympics" caws a long-legged cheerleader who looms over Jerry like a diseased palm tree, "I'll be your sweetheart for life!") Jerry has only one recourse from his unfortunate reality : Vivid hallucinations.

The multitude of defects which have made Jerry lazy, slow-witted, obese, stump-legged, ape-limbed, pug-nosed, unpopular, unloved, derided and despised have also made him the perfect host for meddling parasites. Particularly, these come in the form of Posh and Bosh, a pair of rhyming "gnomes" who live in, respectively, brain and heart. Cartoon gremlins with clown pants and noses like dicks, the primary responsibility of Posh and Bosh is to rescue Judson from any sort of devastating epiphany about his shortcomings.

The gnomes next door are fighting again, dear.

When Bosh receives one of Jerry's longings for impossible ambitions -- being loved, being respected, not having seniors put out cigarettes on his neck -- he hits a little black ball up Jerry nervous system to the brain, where it invariably slugs Posh on the back of the head. Either this next part takes place in Posh's comatose brain - Inception! - or is merely the next step in the process, the brain-gnome fires up his "Dream Machine" to create a vivid fantasy for Jerry. "The kid's a drip" says Posh "But the dreams I've got make Jerry feels he's lived a lot!"Is this a metaphor for a brain clot?

In any case, this triggers Jerry's transformation into Dreamboy, which manifests itself as his intensely realistic fantasies wherein he has heart, life, hope and potential. He fights the bad guys, he gets the girl, but low self-esteem wins out every time -- there's still always someone giving Jerry the business, even in his fantasies.

The end of every adventure involves Jerry awakening from his dream to humiliation and public derision. Since that's exactly how his adventures consistently begin, we cant even call that a zero-sum outcome. That's not even breaking even, that kid's just broken.

It's really worth keeping in mind that Jerry completely fantasizes his adventures -- this isn't one of those strips where he thinks he's a hero in his imagination and so he unconsciously performs heroic actions in real life ... everything happens in his head, and the audience is given clear line-of-sight to the embarrassing revelations of Jerry's most deep-seated fantasies and self-doubts, before it evaporates into greater vulnerability.

I have legitimately never seen a comic book story which seemed so predicated on misery and the inescapable nature of human shortcomings. Vertigo wishes it had published something this grim. Dreamboy's world is one of sneering hectors and bawling harpies, each of them an unkind mirror turned on a creature which even God himself would slap in the side of the mouth just for having the audacity to draw breath. Existentialism never had a better friend than Jerry Judson, Dreamboy, and Jerry Judson, Dreamboy, never had any friends except the gnomes who lived in his hollowed out organs...

The bizness! Even in his dreams!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

P-S-Eh? : FAMOUS ECCENTRICS

Judge Hallick is the weirdest courtroom program currently in syndication.

Among the many entertaining interstitial features in old Lev A.Gleason comics was Famous Eccentrics, a recurring one-pager which documented the weirdest weirdos in history, although it somehow left out comic book publishers. Probably because the feature wasn't called "Fucking Lunatics In Charge Of These Books."

It seems thematically unusual to call a cannibal with a body count in the multiple-thousands "eccentric"... 
What constituted "eccentric," particularly in a medium which consistently dealt with costumed creeps and masked nutcases of all varieties? Everything from wealthy weirdos to horrible murderers. Gwenddoleu, described in the strip above as a Scottish cannibal, was very likely referring to a Welsh king with an incidental connection to the myth of King Arthur, but it worked out better to make him a crazy Scot in some kind of vaudeville Italian immigrant costume. So what I'm suggesting is these may not have been very well-researched.


Cleopatra is a real rich vein of material for this strip ...

Thursday, April 7, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : SUPERMAN 2020

Can YOU find him? He's wearing a red-striped shirt and a knit cap.

2016 is an exciting year to be a Superman fan, and not only because the Man of Steel's parent company has invested so heavily in ... the character, should I say? ... for a series of high-profile yet low-visibility films apparently shot underground, to judge from the lighting. No, it's because -- providing we don't all mutually stress-stroke from the recurrence of the phrase "Visionary Director Zack Snyder" -- there's less than four years to go until we're living in the future of Superman 2020!

Thanks for clearing that up, Julie.
Running as a backup in assorted issues of Superman (vol.1, Nos. 354, 355, 357, 361, 364 and 368 if you care), Superman 2020 detailed the adventures of the third generation of the Superman clan in the far-flung future of basically right now. This was during a period where the main Superman title was trying a rotation of backup stories, including some tried-and-true asides like The Private Life of Clark Kent and The Fabulous World of Krypton, and some newly-trod ground like The In-Between Years and Bruce (Superman) Wayne which, you know, stick around for that article in the immediate future.

Anyway, speaking of the immediate future, let's get back to Superman 2020: Launched by Cary Bates and Curt Swan in some sort of faux-futuristic clusterfuck, the series predicated the expansion of Metropolis into an all-consuming urban sprawl called Megalopolis. Boston, Baltimore, Metropolis and Gotham were all integrated into the DC sort-of equivalent to Mega City One. Nonetheless, the city in question racked up three Supermen and no Batmen (2020 or otherwise) as far as we can tell, so take that Gotham. You snooze, you lose.

This is still more subtle than The Force Awakens.
Clark's direct descendant Kalel Kent (his father was Jorel Kent, because secret identities continued to be both paramount and poorly thought-out in the world of 2020) prepares to assume the role of Superman III (starring Richard Pryor) by intentionally crashing his car and dying. Of course, it's only the civilian identity of Kalel Kent who perishes, while the soon-to-be-christened Superman III (starring Robert Vaughn) announces to himself that he'll be assuming a new secret identity - a bunch of them, in fact!

Why he'd do that isn't sufficiently explained, and why he couldn't do that without killing his original identity is equally under-acknowledged, but then again CaryBates never explained Towbee the space-minstrel to my satisfaction either. By the time Bob Rozakis takes over the feature, Superman III (starring Unshaven Binge Drinking Superman) has adopted two identities: Tennis pro Lewis Parker (he can't lose!) and traffic controller Jon Hudson. Rozakis also introduces the slang term "Krazbit," which is how you know it's the future.

"...into continuity"
Much of the series deals with Superman III (starring a skeevy sexual liaison involving the Man of Steel which undoubtedly confused an entire audience of pre-adolescents) opposing a race of violent racists whose leader boasts a terrible haircut, which is much the same as America's voting public has to contend with in 2016.

A short run means that Superman 2020 didn't have much to offer in the way of intrigue or innovation, although it's worth mentioning that the inheritor of the Big Red "S" somehow regained his grandfather's long-discarded power of disguise to manipulate his facial features and that "Dad's pulsations are steady" will enter the lexicon to mean "yes."

The last episode of Superman 2020 ended with the promise of an upcoming Superman 2021 adventure, of which exactly one was had and mostly starred the fat and old version of Jimmy Olsen. This is probably fine since we'd otherwise be up to Superman 2056 by now and another three future Supermans would be gadding up the place. As it is, we can only hold out hope for the return of the inter-company crossover for an Iron Man 2020/Superman 2020 crossover, or we can spend more time with our families instead, whichever is better for the human spirit.

Oh, come on, it's not THAT far in the fucking future ...

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