Thursday, July 31, 2014

TRULY GONE AND FORGOTTEN : THE RED BLAZER


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

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

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

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

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

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

His greatest enemy is his tailor.

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

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


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

THE LITTLE STOOGES

Waitaminute, those guys aren't little at all! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*So, so very ashamed of myself right now.

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


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The new morality at work.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

TRULY GONE AND FORGOTTEN FOES : SUPER-GORILLAS Part One


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

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

Starting with DC Super Special No.16 …

The ape makes a great case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Haha, Grodd's got GAS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continued in four weeks!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

GONE & FORGOTTEN REVISITED PSA COMICS

The cookie elves have asked the circus freak to tell you to stay off drugs

I think I'm speaking without exaggeration when I say that the ONLY reason anyone in my generation stayed off drugs, in school, away from cigarettes, well-fed and unmolested was thanks to the tireless efforts of the Teen Titans. Barred their intervention, I would have been left to the woefully inadequate admonitions of “Bad Dudes,” most likely ending up neither a winner nor bad enough to rescue President Ronnie.

Believe it or not, this book is about
minorities in the engineering field.
Who are building enormous,
terrifying Tyrranosaurotons, or
something. I agree that this issue
needs more awareness.
Thank you, trend towards major publishers issuing special edition Public Service Announcement comic books to little kids! You kept me out of prison and off the streets, off drugs and high on life! In fact, I don't even live above ground anymore, I have a sub-basement hovel filled to the ceiling with stacks of newpapers and jars of my own urine. I'd throw the stuff out, but Spider-Man once told me that bad men were trying to touch my swimsuit area, and I'm afraid to walk outside to the garbage can on the curb.

DC and Marvel (among other publishers) have always been eager to lend their character to comics with charitable aims. The Teen Titans starred in a trio of anti-drug comics, Spider-Man (with Power Pack and - holy fifth-string characters! - Skids and Rusty from X-Factor) and the Hulk have both warned kids about assorted stranger danger, and Superman, Batman and the X-Men have all made their stand against famine in Africa (bravely opposing the intimidating pro-famine-in-Africa lobby). Even the Radio Shack Whiz Kids got in on the act, turning the tremendous processing power of the TRS-80 to the problem of inner-city drug use. I think they solved it, too, I should double-check that issue. I believe the resulting equation recommended hugs, rather than drugs...

So now that we're on the same page (and that page probably includes a pudgy white kid in a striped shirt crying while Spider-Man holds his shoulders and says “Tommy, you have to understand that it's not your fault!”) I'm sure you got your hands on some of these books yourself, somehow. Either you were gifted them via a well-meaning adult authority figure who likes to say “I think these kids consider me to be pretty 'cool'” and make air quotes when he says it, OR you swiped a copy from the library and read 'em with your delinquent friends while you lit up.

Originally, this article was going to try and be a comprehensive overview of ALL the major PSA comics, but I ran into two problems. First off, if you think I'm going to make fun of a comic book about molested kids, you're nuts. What the hell kind of captions am I supposed to slap together for THAT? “Hey moron, did your daddy touch you? Haha, EPIC FAIL!”

For a South American anti-landmine comic,
Wonder Woman was re-costumed in a more
modest fashion. I'm amused by the idea that
kids couldn't learn about landmine safety
if they were otherwise confronted
with Wonder Woman's Amazon rack.
The second problem is that there are about a million of these things. I honestly thought there weren't more than half-a-dozen. As I hunted down copies after copies and documentation of these books, I began to wonder how so many kids could still be sniffing glue and starving in Africa. I mean, fuck, how many times do you have to be TOLD, junkies? The Living Legend of World War II is not used to repeating himself!

Even Storm and Luke Cage got to do one, although they take a back-seat to Spider-Man in their PSA comic about the dangers of smoking (Hell, they barely even got on the cover, first time around). Actually, looking at it a little more objectively, I believe the comic is less about smoking hazards and more about how Marvel doesn't have any prominent black characters who can stand on their own merits. Unlike DC, who has that guy who's the fourth or fifth most popular Green Lantern.

(Fun fact: Spider-Man stars in more of these things than anyone else. Which is why he tackles such bullshit topics as "Literacy," a topic no comic book has any damn right addressing)

Although their hearts are largely in the right place, I never felt these comics were a good idea. Beside the fact that half-naked vigilantes who routinely beat the tar out of mental patients in fetish gear are probably not the IDEAL spokespersons for a sane, safe, law-abiding existence – although, I could be wrong. Perhaps those anti-drug seminars they used to hold in our high school auditorium would have packed more of an impact if the attending officers had been decked out in Mardi Gras beads and bike shorts, and hauled in a wino to pummel – superhero comics are notorious for reducing even the most complex problems into artificial black-and-white distinctions.

Super-heroes thrive on the morality play, which makes super-hero comics particularly well-suited to warning kids against the hazards of trying to conquer the world. As far as pinning drug abuse or worldwide famine on an individual super-villain or monster goes, it seems to require a little more nuance.

It's already a pretty spurious premise that any PSA comic is going to spark a turnaround in any of the serious issues they address, which is why the stated purpose of these books is to inform and raise awareness. Problem is, are we really raising awareness of an issue by blaming its cause solely on some mythical villain?

Here to teach you about bicycle safety, it's
Spider-Man and Ghost Rider. You know, Ghost
Rider. The guy with no skin whose motorcycle
is on fire. That guy. He's here to teach
you about wearing kneepads.
Both the X-Men and the Superman-Batman team appeared in comics benefiting African famine relief charities. One was titled “Heroes Against Hunger” and the other was called “Heroes For Hope,” and no matter how often I remind myself, I keep switching those up to make “Heroes for Hunger” and “Heroes Against Hope.” Anyway.

In the X-Men:Heroes Against Hope book, the mutant heroes ultimately discover that the famine in drought-struck Ethiopia was being caused (or at least exacerbated) by this alien monster who fed on human suffering. OH, SO HE'S THE GUY! Gut him out hollow, would you Wolverine, and let's get back to punching the Toad in the phiz.

Take also, for instance, the well-intentioned Captain Awareness comic, which is certainly trying its hardest for a very worthwhile cause. However, as the tale within the pages unfolds, it turns out that incidents of rape are actually caused by a big smoky monster which possesses men's bodies and makes them do bad things. Whereas I appreciate the sentiment that my gender as a whole is so inherently pure of heart and free of ill will that it takes an all-powerful ethereal being of gross malevolence to turn even the most sociopathic brute into a rapist, I DON'T THINK THAT'S REALLY THE PROBLEM!

This trend is sort of endemic to the super-hero genre as a whole, which often makes villains out of 'embodiments' of emotional or metaphysical states, as well as the occasional elemental and whatever the heck it was Speedball was supposed to be in relation to kinetic energy. OH WAIT, why the hell didn't SPEEDBALL DO AN ANTI-DRUG COMIC? That's automatic GOLD, Marvel! “Don't do me, kids, I'll ruin your life. Say no to me! Hugs, not me!”

So let’s say these PSA comics are right, that there are living, human embodiments of nicotine addiction and domestic violence. Let’s say that the super-hero universe does indeed abound with what appear to be normal people in fright masks and aerobics gear, but who are secretly the singular source of all the world's sorrow, hate, apathy, anger, bigotry, poverty, what have you. Now me, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool, bleeding heart tree-hugging Leftist, but even I support executing THESE assholes. “So, this is the universal embodiment of all hate in the universe? There'd be no hate without him, am I getting this right? Okay, pardon me, Punisher, may I borrow this?” Boom, problem solved. And here I thought it took a deep understanding of the nature of man in the wide and unresponsive universe to salve the wounds of the human condition, when all you really have to do is beat the guy in the Danskins to death with a crowbar.

The PSA comic trend has died down, even as the number of licensed tie-in comics featuring the same characters seems to have skyrocketed. I guess there’s only so many hours in the day, or maybe we’ve run out of living metaphors for tragedy we can have Wolverine murder.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

90 FROM THE 90s Part Two


Tekno Comix
It spelled “Comics” with an “X” so you KNOW it came from the future!

Tekno Comix was a short-lived, high-concept press which, unlike most companies, chose to focus its titles thematically rather than diversify. Their oeuvre was science fiction, which admittedly was a pretty underserved genre in the contemporary comic book scene, but it still left the company vulnerable to quirks of changing taste and a single-handed oversaturation of the market. Tekno’s other gimmick was signing celebrities as the headlining authors of their books – a neat trick considering that two of their authors had been dead for years.

Although the books were scripted by other creators, Tekno published titles ostensibly “by” Isaac Asimov, Gene Roddenberry and Leonard Nimoy, plus authors Tad Williams and John Jakes, and managed to get Mickey Spillane’s name on a science fiction story, so that’s a real “get.” Sandman author Neil Gaiman created concepts for Lady Justice and the steampunk world occupied by Teknophage and Mr.Hero (aka The Newmatic Man), which made him Tekno’s hardest working creator. You know, not counting all the folks who actually wrote the books despite not having their name on the masthead, that is.



Rob Liefeld
Born Robrutus Leander Donenfeld in the Republic of Weimar, the man who became Rob Liefeld ultimately became synonymous with the 1990s. Which is weird because he hardly ever wrote or drew anything, and tended to abandon projects about five minutes after they were announced in Previews.

One of the founding members of Image Comics, Liefeld also possess the rare claim to fame of having been ejected from the group, then having the decision reversed allowing him to remain, then quitting even as the rest of the company was sitting down to vote him out again. Ah, the ol’ wacka-spinna-badonk-a-roo number 5, it works every time!

Liefeld’s alleged offenses involved siphoning company funds, poaching inter-company talent and messing up the publishing schedule, but mostly he’s derided in the fan community for his inability to draw for shit. Of course, if drawing like a grade-schooler were a hanging offense, the streets would be lined with the bodies of comic book artists. On the other hand, he’s managing to emerge as pretty much the only creator who worked in the 2000s and never sexually harassed anyone, so I guess I only care so much that he can’t draw feet.



Birthquake
You have to give Valiant Comics’ new bosses (as of 1995) at Acclaim credit for figuring out how to mask linewide cuts as an “event.” Props must also be given for marketing the event with camping equipment – you could get a Birthquake canteen and flashlight! They’re the perfect way to recall Birthquake when out camping with friends or family.

Valiant’s new owners were eager to revamp the line in such a way that it became easier to turn the properties into successful video game franchises, which is just as good a reason to make superhero comics as anything else, right? I mean, “turn ‘em into video games” or “because you have a traumatic head injury”, both reasons are fully valid. So they used the event to cancel underperforming titles and give new origins and background to the characters they thought could make useful properties, like Turok and Shadowman. Then they did “After Birthquake” and the company folded, which is just as well.



Amalgam Comics
If there’s any evidence that ideas trump execution in mainstream comics, Amalgam may be exhibit A. While some of the books which came out of this Marvel/DC mashup of existing characters were pretty solid – Super-Soldier and Spider-Boy, in particular, Thorion earning points for its intense Kirby homage and Dr.Strangefate for the epic pairing of Garcia-Lopez and Nowlan on art chores – most of the others were a little desperate. Particular problems arose when mashing up the two most popular characters at either company – Batman and Wolverine – resulted in something called Dark Claw, which was probably the most 90s-style amalgam, only sort of a third-tier kind of 90s.

Otherwise, smashing Marvel and DC characters together gave up some great ideas for combinations which fell apart in their books, like Lobo and Howard the Duck combined in the unimaginative Lobo the Duck, or Ghost Rider getting slapped together with The Flash, or random DC characters jammed up with assorted Marvel mutants and calling it an X-Men/Doom Patrol mashup despite evidence to the contrary.

Part of the problem with Amalgam was that the books existed gimmick-first, it was all about mashing up two familiar characters, therefore every line of dialogue and every character was a constant nod-and-wink from the creative team. “It’s Bruce … Parker, a photojournalist…millionaire from the Gotham … Bugle! And his cousin Mary Jane … Starfire!” just over and over, endless “get it?”s from a pre-established formula lacking all surprise. Still love the Ladronn Spider-Boy issue, though.



X-Man
With the granddaddy of 1990s comics – Cable, the time-travelling telekinetic cyborg munitions expert mutant freedom fighter that eats like a meal – proving to be Marvel’s one definitive breakout character of the decade AND being the inspiration for an entire generation of post-Liefeld spittle-blasting super-types, it was only natural for the company to want to expand the franchise.

What better way to get more Cable into everyone’s life than by grabbing a Cable from an alternate timeline! Many ways! There were many better ways!

Emerging from the Age of Apocalypse crossover event, Nate “X-Man” Grey was cloned from the genetic material of Cyclops and Jean Grey, producing an offspring which was identical to Cable although that is flat out not how genetics work – but then again, why start complaining about that now? Young, shirtless, and unmarred by Cable’s techno-organic garbage, X-Man was conceivably a sexy and hip update of the already-ancient-at-five-years-old elder mutant, which is I guess what Marvel thought they needed because he was brought over into mainstream continuity. For a while. Considering Marvel hardly ever uses Cable any more these days, it’s not unsurprising that Nate Grey – his non-starter of a carbon copy – is basically ignored as well.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

TRULY GONE AND FORGOTTEN : TIMMY TIME

Technically, pretty much everybody comes out of yesterday into today.

It’s only just occurred to me, and I have no idea how to check, but I wonder if any other comic book character has been the starring figure in as many distinct comic volumes as Richie Rich has. The long-running, exceptionally popular Harvey kids’ character has, of course, starred in his own eponymous title, plus a shelf-full of additional titles where the “S” is always replaced with a dollar sign and the “C” is always a cents – Million$, Gem$, $u¢¢e$$ $torie$, Dollar$ and ¢ent$, ¢a$h, ¢a$h Money, Big Bu¢k$, Billion$, Zillion$, Fortune$, Ja¢kpot$, Bit¢oins, ¢rypto¢urren¢y , Paid In $to¢k and ¢ompany-Mat¢hed 401K ¢ontribution$, just to name a few and make up a few others.

This doesn’t count all the (shall we say) lightly off-genre Richie Rich comics, like Vault of Mystery and SuperRichie, or the multitude of team-ups, from those with his own staff  - Richie Rich and Irona, Richie Rich and Cadbury, …and Dollar, …and Professor Keenbean, etc – and other Harvey comics denizens from Casper to Little Dot to Billy Bellhops and Jackie Jokerz.

And then there’s Timmy Time! A weird combination of straight – if a little simple – science fiction adventure with Richie Rich’s big-headed, fat-footed comic nonsense, the end product of which came out as a single issue in 1977, “Richie Rich Meets Timmy Time”. Even if the issue’s art were uncredited, you can tell it’s Ernie Colon from a mile away, as the then-Harvey regular was obviously stretching his wings a little in anticipation of his highly regarded adventure titles to come from other publishers down the line (Damage Control, Amethyst and Arak coming to mind in particular).

Whoa, that is NOT appropriate, green penis bot!
The time-travelling Timmy is the product of the far, far, distant, so-far-away, incredibly remote, can’t-even-fathom-it, good-lord-will-man-even-survive future of 2019, which I think makes him a Millennial. Timmy Time grew up in a post-9/11 world. He also grew up in a world where space travel between the planets of the solar system is common and mankind is apparently under assault from the alien menace of floating green time-travelling robots who kind of look like grinning penises.

While the ship carrying his family to Mars comes under attack, Timmy “heroically” absconds in a liferaft (Okay, I’ll be fair, he’s doing it as part of a desperate bid to save his ship) and subsequently befriends a brain-damaged alien invader who’s now hella stupid and altruistic. Whatever Harvey’s message is, I don’t want to know.

The robot’s time-travelling powers take Timmy to the prehistoric origins of mankind, and to a beach where Richie Rich is getting hectored by Gloria because he’s too rich sometimes, you know? I get yelled at for the exact same thing. The Poor Little Rich Boy of the title doesn’t do much to help Timmy along on his adventure, and the crossover really was for the sake of justifying the title of the book (since the rest of the issue is dedicated to sort-of sci-fi stories featuring the regular Harvey Comics crew).

Timmy saves his family and their ship, but they may as well have died in the vacuum of eternal nothingness because he never showed up again, the end.

Is that a promise or a threat, do you think?


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

THE SUPER DC 1976 CALENDAR


It’s July 16th, but I actually want to talk about yesterday (I would’ve brought this up for yesterday’s update, but those Batman Leads An Interesting Life things are good for the Google rankings); July 15th, the saddest day of the calendar year at least as far as goes the DC Universe – the day Dick (Robin) Grayson’s parents, the Flying Graysons, were assassinated by the insidious League To Destroy All Circus Aerialists.

By happenstance, it also happens to be your humble editor’s birthday, a pair of facts which have been inextricable in his mind since a copy of the Super DC 1976 calendar first fell into his fat little pre-adolescent mitts back when he was a wee’yin and phones still had cords.

Worth jotting down, apparently.
Comic book companies have been producing calendars for decades, and the chances are good that you can wander into the bombed-out ruins of your local Barnes and Noble and find a deeply discounted 2014 calendar featuring the same twelve “classic comic book covers” you always see reprinted across any licensed media which has bought the rights. There was a brief period in the burgeoning days of the comic-book-related material marketplace, however, where nerd-centric branding was really beginning to stretch its feelers, and there was a brief burst when EVERYTHING had familiar comic book superheroes on it (if you were transported back to that era, of course, it would resemble THIS era, except with less shit to buy) – rubber erasers, pencil sharpeners, pillowcases, socks, t-shirts, record players, giant cardboard cutouts, flashlights, um, flower pots, uh … kites. Probably I don’t need to list every known type of thing you can buy, I’m sure you get the idea.

During this period, in the late Seventies, the novelty calendar craze itself was beginning to take off, and DC and Marvel Comics both jumped on the bandwagon. DC in particular invested in a trio of calendars which contained original art and content, between the years 1976 and 1978 – the latter was a sort-of year-long numbers puzzle tied into a massive world-shattering event which slowly built in captions throughout the months of the year and was resolved in the December slot, involving a veritable army of DC’s super-heroes and villains – the first-ever “event comic”, perhaps? I’m going to say “yes” so that I can be the guy to whom future generations will build their monuments. “He posited that a calendar was the origin of a trend in mainstream comic book publishing” they will say futuristically, using telepathic pheromones or something, gesturing with six-fingered hands at a statue of pure gold. “We hate him so.”

The 1977 calendar focused on a hero each month, pointing out important character and event debuts from the character’s history which had happened that month, but 1976 – that year did something somewhat unprecedented; Practically every day of the year was assigned a birthday for a DC super-hero, villain or supporting character, with a few other days set aside for notable deaths and other events. This is an odd enough idea for a calendar – hey, Mick (Heat Wave) Rory was born on March 13! Perry White hired Clark Kent on June 30! Gosh, it’s gonna be a full year, I better buy greeting cards by the box – but what was stranger still was that some of the dates made it into canon.

Krypton was a big planet, took two whole days to blow up.

July 11, for instance, is listed in the book as Superman Day, which roughly coincides with the Superman Celebration held annually in Metropolis, Illinois, since 1978! Likewise, both Superman and Captain Marvel have their birthdays listed as being February 29, which has leaked into canon - or preceded it, to be fair I’m not sure. Either way, it seems to imply that some of the other vital dates on the calendar – Ted Grant first becomes Wildcat on July 19, Supergirl adopts Streaky on August 14, the first Bizarro was destroyed on October 8 – must also be in canon, and that weirdly almost no two heroes and/or villains ever share a birthday. Weird.

Now, some dates currently in canon – or even fan-canon – aren’t on the calendar; the third Monday of May, for instance, is surprisingly absent of any event whatsoever, which is fortunate because that is – as revealed five years later in Eliot S.Maggin’s Superman novel Miracle Monday, the day we’re to celebrate the anniversary of the day Superman beat Satan. Could it be – eerily prescient, on top of everything else? Sure, why not?

And some days the superheroes didn't
do nuthin', so you gotta use a dumb ol'
real holiday.
Still, I can recall the delight with which I studied every day of the calendar in order, leading up to the mid-year event of my birthday, excited to see which hero or villain had been born the same day as I was, or what important comic book event – more vital to my tiny brain than all of world history combined, of course – coincided with the event of my entry into the universe, and lo and behold it’s when Robin’s parents started eating dirt forever. I won’t say that my subsequent immediately dampened enthusiasm fostered a persistent cynicism which has all but defined my adulthood, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a new Super DC calendar in the future which declared July 15 “The day the guy who writes Gone&Forgotten got really bummed out about a dumb comic book thing”.

Well, no, wait, that would be pretty surprising.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

BATMAN LEADS AN INTERESTING LIFE : TAFFY BATMAN


The Mirror Batman / The Power That Transformed Batman
It wasn’t unusual for comics in the Silver Age to recycle stories – after all, no one expected that these books would be read and re-read for decades after their initial publication, or that they would be collected into coherent volumes, and ultimately preserved in light for all eternity so that future generations could benefit from Cap’s Hobby Hints until the universe goes dark. What IS unusual is that the same plot would be recycled in the same title within the same twelve-month period.

I understand that superhero comics, behind the scenes, can be something of a cynical operation, but surely they didn’t expect their readership to turn over in ten months, right? Was there a war I didn’t know about in the Spring of 1962, for which only eight year-olds were drafted? Still, DC Comics was at the very least counting on short memories when they produced “The Mirror Batman” in World’s Finest Comics vol.1 No.121 (November 1961) and “The Power That Transformed Batman” in World’s Finest Comics vol.1 No.128 (September 1962), both stories in which Batman gets stretched like taffy and becomes a super-powerful mega-jerk.

With this image, a lifetime of reading comics has truly paid off.
Of the two, the latter is the more quotidian - by superheroic standards anyway. A strange comet threatens Earth, but luckily the one thing Superman loves to do is smash celestial objects into the sun. He can never erase the pain of Krypton’s loss, but he can create new disasters which he can control, the traumatized little sociopath.

Something in the comet’s makeup sticks to Superman, and infects Batman with crazy taffyman powers! Elongating like a funhouse mirror, Batman becomes non-communicative and seemingly terrified of his former partners, as well as blindly destructive. He also develops ridiculous powers, including some sort of green foam vision which dissolves anything it strikes, just like real green foam.

This crook has associates named "Sparkles" and
"Silky." I'm assuming that they're ponies.
It’s not a far cry from the earlier version of the story, where Batman stumbles through a magical mirror and comes back out as an easily startled stick of vengeful chewing gum. Batman is off on a destructive rampage this time as well, firing weird and brittle rays of glass out of his body, just like we all did in puberty. Although the later transformation is owed to some sort of comet-fueled Red Kryptonite switcheroo, this time around the weirdo transformation is the fault of the citizens of Xanu, tiny beings which look like jaundiced Smurfs and sound like something out of a Scientology pamphlet.

Apparently travelling to the Xanu homeworld is (A) accomplished by magic mirrors and (B) turns you into a really lazy drawing. Luckily, make the trip enough times and you’re back to normal, except very possibly I bet your intestines get flipped left-to-right and you might not ever know it.

The one thing that remains consistent about both stories – well, wait, there were several consistent things, but here’s another one – is that Batman Hates Bridges. In both stories, the inaugural target for his weirdo super-wrath is the nearest bridge, necessitating Superman and Robin to make a hasty repair and rescue of all endangered motorists. Haha, that last bit was a joke, Robin is fucking useless in a situation like that, Superman did it all.

The secret origin of Hipster Batman.
Still, Batman really has it in for bridges, to the point I’m wondering if we’ve gotten his story wrong all these years. Was it a bridge which killed his parents in Crime Alley? Maybe they were actually on Crime Bridge. Maybe their toothless killer was robbing the Waynes so he could afford a new bridge. There, I’ve just provided the next three shocking revelations about Batman’s origin.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

TRULY GONE AND FORGOTTEN : THE VANGUARDS


In the early 1980s, Charlton comics – on its way out, unfortunately – rejiggered the fanzine it had been earlier endorsing as a showcase for amateur contributions. The early issues cast a spotlight on young creators, including a very early Neil the Horse story and some barbarian fare by Chas Truog, plus – of course – Martin Greim’s Thunderbunny in a pair of issues (I always liked the blue tights better).

Also on display in Bullseye was The Vanguards, a sci-fi blast-em-up which features one of the few all-female teams in superherodom – which you’d be hard-pressed to miss, trust me, the book is boob-and butt-shot central.

Decked out like some sort of Charlie’s Angels in space and tricked out like moon hookers, the Vanguards are their leader Celestra, secondary members Cerebra and Corona, and as the all-important fourth member, their fabulous Seventies hair.

Vanguards begins explosively, smack at the tail end of a galactic war – the three-world star system Alpha is shaking off the shackles of oppression, and the AlphaForce is their means to do it. As the AlphaForce’s pre-eminent assault group, the Vanguards are caught in a life-and-death struggle with Android 12, a golden metal homonculus in red short-shorts.

Just LIKE a woman, am I right fellas?
Dispatching that excruciatingly butch C-3PO doesn’t spare the Vanguards any particular hassles, though, as Celestra’s asshole brother Killstar shows up with the former leaders of the tyrannical triumvirate, The Overlords – the terror-manifesting Nightmare and power-duplicating Arcturus – in tow.

THEN the Vanguards also have to face off against “Spectra-spores” which look like Silly Putty with rainbow sprinkles and lastly a titanic Animate – a rock monster, more simply put – and THAT is only HALFWAY through their first episode.

The Vanguards is a boilerplate superheroic space opera laden with indulgent fight poses and doubled down on the utter nonsense, dripping with sneers and sideboob, and yet – it was enjoyable as all get out. Despite the frantic, adolescent pace of the storytelling and heavy hand on the art till, the story isn’t without some sense of craft. Moreover, though, a story like The Vanguards, it’s hard to treat it like the enemy – this isn’t the stuff that killed mainstream comics, you know? It’s enthusiastic, ambitious, and most importantly it’s utterly earnest – lacking what seems to be the relentless cynicism of modern industrial comics.

At the end of the story, having defeated the Overlords and their assorted space monsters, the Vanguards return triumphantly to their newly-freed home where Celestra – freshly crowned queen of the liberated worlds (well, we’ll have to have a talk about that) – celebrates by proposing marriage to the dashing pilot of the resistance squadron, Captain Ral. I’m not ashamed to say that I found it honestly touching.

T&A Voltron: "You form the boobs, I'll form the butt"

I’m not sure The Vanguards is a book of which I could read more than an issue, and it’s certainly not a high point in the artform, but it’s a straightforward adventure book done with an earnestness that is, at the very least, refreshing. It’s a palette-cleanser of a comic, which is a virtue all its own.

I did a little internet research and was delighted to see that the book’s creator, Larry Houston, still lists The Vanguards on his LinkedIn profile, as well as another comic I’d not encountered before called The Enforcers. He describes it like this:

A team of superheroes, originally assembled by the demon Helicon, to destroy Omegon, the lover of his beautiful daughter Marylyn. After Helicon is defeated, they remained together to battle against super-foes the police could not handle.

Well, all right! I’m also pleased to report, if the name wasn’t familiar to you, that Larry’s storytelling career didn’t end with the Vanguards; he’s been an animation storyboard artist on shows like Batman:TAS, X-Men, the recent “G.I.Jeff” episode of Community and – most importantly – he was the storyboard director for Pryde of the X-Men, which is amazing. I love Pryde of the X-Men, I love Australian Wolverine, I love everything about it.

Anyway, just so you don’t go away without having at least one genuine what-the-hell moment, here’s one of the two backups in Charlton Bullseye, the nigh-incomprehensible “Tale of a Guardian”:

This is like Fletcher Hanks directing a radio play.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

IT'S CAPTAIN NICE!


ABC wasn’t the only network to bring a campy, action-adventure-comedy superhero series to the airwaves in the mid-1960s – although they obviously brought the most high-profile example to air with BATMAN. NBC and CBS also tried their hands with competing series. The latter network brought the almost criminally unfunny Mister Terrific to airwaves, a plodding mess which made a waste of Dick Gautier and all it had going for it - almost exclusively- was the voice of Paul Frees in the rhyming introduction.

By contrast, NBC had Captain Nice, a half-hour sitcom format show borrowing heavily from Get Smart – which made sense because it shared a similar pedigree, with Buck Henry at the helm. The show starred William Daniels as a bright police chemist and unremitting mama’s boy named Carter Nash who invented a super-serum which gave him tremendous super-powers. Decked out in a costume sewn up by his mother, he takes to the skies of crime-ridden Big Town as the surprisingly competent hero of the show.

Dripping with promise, the industry ad for
the show was a Jack Kirby illustration which ...
well, it doesn't really capture the show, I guess.
The program itself isn’t on DVD or streaming services, and apparently only had a series of re-runs many moons ago on the old HA! cable network – which is a shame, because I found it terrific. Besides Henry  at the helm, some of the Get Smart writing team was brought over, the terrific and underrated Alice Ghostley appeared in a recurring role as Mother Nash, and even Liam Dunn (you might  remember him as the preacher in Blazing Saddles. “Son? You’re on your own…”) is in it, not to mention the lovely Ann Prentiss WHOM I LATER LEARNED died in prison for trying to arrange a hit on her brother-in-law, Richard Benjamin. How did I miss that? Richard Benjamin was once the target of an assassination plot. I feel like they should’ve mentioned that in my civics classes.

Of course, the show starred William Daniels, whom you’ll know as (depending on what decade you were born in) Dr.Craig on St.Elsewhere, the voice of KITT, or Mister Feeny. Or, I guess, Captain Nice. Or John Adams. I dunno folks, he’s been around.

You can find the episodes on YouTube if you’re willing to try, and you should because they’re pretty solid with a lot of potential (keep an eye out for Bob Newhart playing a philosophical Hugh Hefner-type in one episode), and some genuinely good gags abounding. Less than that, however, can be said of the sole issue of Captain Nice in comics.

Who exactly is responsible for the single issue from Gold Key (numbered, in that exciting way that all the Gold Key licensed comics was, “issue #10211-711” or, to put it more simply, “No.1”) is up in the air. The art is very likely the product of Joe Certa, the artist who co-crated the Martian Manhunter with Joe Samachson and who frequently provided art duties on assorted Gold Key titles. The writer – he’s a mystery. Let’s say it was possibly Neil Gaiman, just for the sake of having someone to blame.

"Luring people into this alley!"
I’m personally pretty delighted to have gotten my hands on a copy of this comic, as goofy as it may be, simply because I’ve turned out to enjoy the show so much -- but the comic is a disappointment. The three stories in this issue manage to miss the target on the characterizations within the series. Mrs.Nash is depicted as hyper-critical and disapproving, Captain Nice is portrayed as bumbling, and most of the other characters aren’t portrayed at all.

But hey, it’s a mid-60s licensed Gold Key comic, I’m lucky I found the right interior behind the cover. Coulda be The Little Stooges if I hadn’t played my cards right.

Unlike the TV show which rarely featured super-villains and tended to stick to thugs and crooks -- like the old Adventures of Superman show and, really, most superhero TV shows  before Smallville or thereabouts – the comics gives Captain Nice a couple of super-crooks (unpowered, though they may be).The first is The Rooster, a brazen red-headed crook who’s suffering the compulsion to crow about his crimes as the sun rises. The second is a fur-thieving femme – who manages to escape the Captain’s clutches – named Slymme Fatale. In between the two, the main enemy is water, so thrills abound.

I feel like I’m admitting a genuine personal failing in that there isn’t even enough material in this book for me to really mock – I mean, I’m struggling to make a dick joke, and I’m inclined to blame the source material but what kind of craftsman blames his tools, right? A craftsman who’s got a licensed Gold Key comic to work with, is who.

Listen, I feel bad, lemme link you to that Bob Newhart appearance so you got something to laugh at. It’s got Joanne Worley in it, it’s a real Sixties bonanza.

He looks stunned because that explosion was his ratings hitting rock bottom.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

COSTUME DRAMA - THE WORLD OF EARTH-SUPERGIRL

I am not at all embarrassed to say I wish more superhero comics involved the main characters going clothes shopping.

I like to imagine that somewhere amidst all of DC Comics’ alternate Earths – somewhere on the periphery of Earth-1 and Earth-2, beyond the Planet of the Capes and Cary Bates’ effed-up Wild World (by the way, remind to write about the Planet of the Capes and Cary Bates’ effed-up Wild World) there lies an idyllic and super-groovy Earth. Draped in flared cuffs and fringed vests, ascots and student demonstrations, macramé and casual sex – an Earth-1970, if you will, and at the center of that world there’s Supergirl.

Mike Sekowsky took over Supergirl’s slot in Adventure Comics with issue 397, the cover of which famously depicts the Girl of Steel (not to be confused with the Lady of Iron or the Broad of Molybdenum) reclining before a wall which is plastered with potential new costume designs. With this issue, Supergirl began to cycle in new uniforms which had been designed and sent in by her readers, many of which were, admittedly, bonkers. It also launched a completely new direction for a character who’d previously had difficulty emerging from the template established by her more famous (and more franchised) cousin.

Misandry is real!
If you’ve seen this cover online, there’s a good chance it was appended to an article that went on to sneer about the content, with a hand-to-cheek amazement at its presupposed daffiness – fan-designed costumes, good heavens, what is this, Katy Keene? Fetch my smelling salts.

Don’t get me wrong, this era of Supergirl is packed with utter insanity (see “L.Finn” below), but surely letting the readers – many of whom were young women and whose individual voices weren’t accommodated much in comics back in those days (by which I mean “including up til now”) – have a say was just making the character more accessible, unique and interesting. Even on the off-chance that the “contributors” of Supergirl’s many new costumes were manufactured wholesale by the editors (which is, you know, a possibility, sometimes the letters pages were completely fabricated), the mere fact that a female readership was acknowledged in the title at all, in 1970, is worth admiring.

Not that this era wasn’t otherwise absolutely bugnuts. Sekowsky had been, after all, one-half of the team which had created B’wana Beast, a character I think we can all roundly agree was among DC’s most thoroughly wackadoo executions (much thanks to his co-creator, of course, Bob Haney). From his first issue, in fact, Sekowsky’s Supergirl seems like a mostly-new character – not only was she wearing a whole new outfit (or series of outfits), but she was facing a newly-crafted rogues gallery and exhibiting full-fledged telepathic powers (an outgrowth of, ahem, super-feminine intuition).

Yup, that girl's gonna be hell on steel balls.

Even Supergirl’s Kryptonian super-powers weren’t up to their previous standards – she struggled against merely strong foes, and proves vulnerable not just to magic and kryptonite but also to poisons and other toxic concoctions. In fact, the alternate costumes take on a sense of purpose when a male mata hari doses Supergirl with a power-sapping serum in the middle of a passionate clinch. Now with her powers turning off and on erratically, Kara Zor-El relies on a set of high-tech charm bracelets and Kandorian Grranimals provided to her by the scientists of the shrunken city to leap tall buildings and all the rest.

The intermittent powerlessness experienced by Supergirl comes at the hands of Starfire, a one-eyed female crimelord who commands an army of henchwomen decked out as Carnivale clowns. As you drink that in, I’ll run by you some of Sekowsky’s other new or revamped villains – the evil Kandorian scientist Black Flame returns, having invented a microbus which can drive into the Phantom Zone. There, she’s collected three very non-Kryptonian villains – The Toymaster (indistinguishable from the Toyman, for the most part), the insidious Inventor, and a magical leprechaun named “L.Finn” (I had to say it out loud), three apparently earth-born villains whose presence in the Zone might have benefitted from a tetch of backstory.

Who are you people and how did you rate the Phantom Zone?
Supergirl also faces the supernatural, fang-toothed Zond in her new debut duds (purchased, by the way, from Wonder Woman’s fashion boutique, another intriguing oddity of that era), but Sekowsky’s best invention is Nasthalthia Luthor – evil niece of Lex Luthor!

“Nasty” is a top-notch villain – she figures out Supergirl’s dual identity and manages to actually best her in a direct confrontation! The thing is, Nasthalthia is part of that continuity-baffling puzzle which makes me think that there’s a 1970s-specific Earth in the DC multiverse, and that we’d been reading stories from that world during that era. Do this math: Nasthalthia is the same age as Linda Danvers, but her uncle is Lex Luthor, who was in Clark Kent’s grade in high school and whose only sibling is his sister Lena. Lena, we know, is younger than Lex by a factor of at least ten years. If we accept the chronology as established in previous issues, then either both Superman and Luthor are about fifty or we’re dealing with an alterna-a-a-ate universe.

"All I had to do was take a painful dump behind this tree!"
It’s not the only complication. After Sekowsky leaves the Adventure strip, Supergirl ends up in her own title – the final issue of which notoriously established that America’s commander-in-chief was Prez Rickard (America’s first teen president!), even though that book was assumed to be taking place in its own continuity.

Which I hope it is, and I hope it’s a continuity which embraces all of DC’s best creations from the years surrounding 1970; a super-telepathic clothes-horse Girl of Steel with on-again/off-again powers, America’s first teen president, possibly Brother Power (finally a senator, perhaps!), the Super-Sons of Batman and Superman, the swinging teens of Titans West, Diana Prince running a boutique (maybe financed by the Green Team) and then slugging it out with Farfhd and Gray Mouser or The Shadow … Isis, Earth-2ers like Wildcat and Vigilante running around on Bob Haney’s instructions in defiance of all continuity, maybe even Welcome Back Kotter - and Superboy with sideburns! Ah, the possibilities ...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

TRULY GONE AND FORGOTTEN : JIGSAW

Have you ever read a story of a stretching superhero and imagined – really committed to imagining it, with all your senses engaged – what the skin on their arms must look like? It’s not necessarily an issue with guys like Plastic Man, whose entire body seems to be smooth elastic, or someone not particularly human like Metamorpho or the Metal Men, but I always imagine Mister Fantastic’s arm hair sticking out sporadically across his stretched out pores, a mile-long pink boa constrictor that smells of Irish Spring, sweat and coffee.

As bad as that is, imagine JIGSAW, the 1960’s hero from the Harvey Thriller line, created by Joe Simon and crafted by a collaborative effort between Play-Doh and David Cronenberg.



Colonel Gary Jason of the U.S.Space Force leads a doomed mission to the moon to investigate an alien presence on Earth’s satellite. The aliens are friendly, but the meteors are not, and Col.Jason gets hella effed up. His condition is so bad that the (friendly) aliens on the moon have to rebuild him, despite not having the best understanding of human anatomy.

"More specifically, you should not look like that,
Jigsaw. We did a terrible job fixing you and I admit that."
The end result of their ham-handed tinkering is Colonel Jason (which, no matter how many times I write it, sounds like the host of a paramilitary children’s show) coming out of it looking like a highway map of the United States wrapped around a garden hose on Easter Sunday. His skin has been replaced with shifting multicolored plates covering “a moon mile” of rubbery tendons, with the exception of his still-human head and, just for giggles, I like to suggest his genitals too. Just ol’ “Normal Head and Nuts Gary” they call him, not looking at him if they can avoid it.

The rubber and candy-coating concoction does give Col.Jason the spectacular power of stre-e-e-e-tching his torso and limbs, albeit in such a horrifying way that his friends and colleagues on Earth assume he’s actually a crazy space monster. And well they should, because he is spending most of his time in space now – he’s made a friend among the aliens who reassembled him (Si-Krell, who looks like a trashcan mated with a muppet) and hangs out in their space station for the most part, planning the defense of Earth with sinister aliens and defending the honor of America in the Space Olympics.

Jigsaw was created by Joe Simon (although his adventures were probably written by Otto Binder), which might explain why Jigsaw’s origin was recycled further down the road for Simon’s 70s stint with DC and his “Doc Scary” character in First Issue Special’s The Outsiders, except that guy just got the freaky appearance and none of the powers. Or maybe he did, he only ever appeared in one issue, he might’ve had a rocket butt for all I know.

Oh-h-h-h no, no no no, no no no no no ...

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