Tuesday, March 31, 2015

COSTUME DRAMA : THE DAY SUPERMAN BECAME THE FLASH

None of those other guys mean anything.


The folks in charge of the action figures have always complained that Superman is tough to market, because he lacks alternate costumes and accessories. Well, that’s not exactly true, thanks to “The Day Superman Became the Flash” (Action Comics vol.1 No 314, July 1964), wherein the Man of Steel lives five exciting lives as different superheroes. Sounds like fun? It is not, genuinely not fun in any way, just a real snoozer. Let’s begin!

The story begins with Superman on his regular patrol of the ocean, which I assume he does just in case he comes across a gang of teenaged sharks shaking down a shopkeeper, or a Kraken smoking weed. Clean up that ocean, Superman!

Another reason I hate this story is that this panel
literally just reiterates the two panels that came before it.
In the middle of his mid-Atlantic mission, Green Arrow takes a potshot at the Man of Steel from a nearby deserted island. If you ever wanted to know why Superman cut off Green Arrow’s arm in Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, now you fuckin’ know.

Turns out that Green Arrow was merely trying to get Superman’s attention, which must’ve been difficult because a patrol of the oceans requires every ounce of super-concentration that even a man from Krypton can muster. Oh shit, did that breaking wave just mug an old lady? Better make sure the starfish aren’t driving 60 in a school zone, Superman, you idiot.

Anyway, five members of the Justice League are there to show Superman a film which Aquaman had discovered at the bottom of the ocean – a film recorded by Superman’s father, Jor-El, and which all of Superman’s friends watched when he wasn’t around. This is something only the best of friends will do for you. Perhaps they couldn’t reach him because he was out patrolling the goddamn ocean.

The tape, narrated by Jor-El in a tight shot from the chest up like a guy ranking his ten favorite bishoujo figures on YouTube, reveals the process which Superman’s pop had used to decide which planet would receive his infant son. He also goes on to describe to the viewer what would have happened to Superman on each of five potential destinations. Hm, a tedious over-explanation of a process no one but the narrator cares about, courtesy of a middle-aged white man who ought to have better things to do? It IS a YouTube video!

That look.
I’ll spare you the suspense and tell you that, on each of the five worlds, baby Superman grows up to be a superhero distinctly reminiscent of his super-powered pals in the JLA.  I think we can all agree being any other superhero is a real let-down for Superman.

The first candidate world is Xann, where everyone is at least ten times larger than the people of Krypton. That should’ve been enough for Jor-El to pass on the planet, but maybe it was one of the slow “last days of the planet Krypton.” Kal-El, obviously, grows up as a pygmy, pitied by his friends for his diminutive size, although every girl on this planet wears a miniskirt so congratulations tiny Superman.

When crooks take a bunch of hostages, Kal-El decks himself out in an Atom-like costume and defeats the baddies, and the Xannians don’t recognize him as their pal Kal-El because, and I quote here, “It can’t be Kal-El, for this one has terrific powers!” Maybe Jor-El was checking of Xann because of the legendary credulity of its people.

Next up is Valair, either a planet entirely submerged by water or a cheap Central American airline. There, Kal-El grows up to be a super-powered Aquaman, and actually gets along pretty well except he gets lonely for the open air and sometimes builds giant la-z-boy recliners out of coral reefs and stares at the sun. Since Jor-El can’t stand ennui, he moves on to world three.

Ntann-Goats are the Earth-worms of Ntann.
This is Ntann, a world where Superman would grow up without powers amidst a technologically backwards people. He does end up becoming a great archer, and inventor of gimmick arrows, including a lasso arrow with which he captures a “Ntann-Goat” and WHY IS IT CALLED A NTANN GOAT? It’s on Ntann, they don’t have to distinguish it from Earth goats,  and even if they did they’d just call ours “Earth-Goats,” goddamn it. Because they’re so stupid, Jor-El vetoes Ntann.

Saruun is a another world under a red sun, and also an artificial satellite positioned in such a way as to plunge the whole world into eternal darkness, which the Saruunians arranged for some reason. Whatever their logic, I bet it was dumb as hell.

It’s on this world that Kal-El, raised by a criminologist father, is trained to become a dark avenger of the night and also the day which is frankly indistinguishable from the night. Taking his name from a winged mammal, he becomes a dead ringer for Batman except the ears on his mask are all floppy like an old teddy bear’s and he calls himself “The Diro.” He sounds like an avenging muppet.

Lastly, Jor-El checks out Gangor, a world which is basically identical to Earth, except it’s another one of those pesky red sun planets. Turns out Kal-El doesn’t remain powerless for long, tho, as his adoptive dad is also a scientist and, even more coincidentally, just like Jor-El is a really terrible scientist who doesn’t think things through.

"Or, eh, what the heck, this is good enough."
Bathing Kal-El in science rays renders the guy SUPER-FAST, and he decks out in a combination Superman/Flash costume (“The S I put on my costume stands for SPEED” he says, as though that explains everything. Also apparently they speak English on this alien planet). Unfortunately, his speed works out too well, and he runs completely up and out of the atmosphere, dying in space. Jor-El spends a lot of time watching his adult son die and be miserable on his big screen TV, is what I’ve learned from this story.

Anyway, the conclusion is that Jor-El checks out Earth and it’s ju-u-u-u-ust right, hooray! I bet the readers were on the edge of their seats wondering to which of these worlds Superman would be sent by his maniac weirdo of a dad. Does Earth stand a chance? Ooh, I can’t wait to find out.

The story ends with Superman’s pals delighted to have been completely overshadowed by their super-buddy in every aspect of their careers, particularly the Atom who hadda watch Superman be him but with awesome powers. I’m sure it was a great bonding experience but I hope nothing untoward happened to the ocean while Superman was distracted.

Friday, March 27, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : MISTER NEBULA


Say what you will about Keith Giffen’s and J.M.DeMatteis’ landmark run on the assorted Justice League books of the 1980s, but it’s almost undeniable that the strength of the books was threefold; they invested heavily in character, they were genuinely funny (in a medium which sometimes struggles with humor, to understate the issue), and most importantly, they knew when to stop being funny. Amidst the “BWA-HA-HA”s and KooeyKooeyKooeys, there was Despero, Max Lord’s brush with death, Guy and Ice’s romance … it was a good balance.

An example of when the balance wasn’t maintained, though, might reside in Mister Nebula, one of the League’s daffier baddies and a series of jokes relentlessly pounded into the audience, like it or not.

Sass-mouth at work.
The book had a fascination with bringing characters modeled after Marvel heroes and villains over to the DC Universe, from reviving the thinly veiled Avengers copies The Champions of Angor to introducing the Extremists, based on Marvel’s top villains, to the ill-conceived General Glory and a Silver Surfer parody coyly dubbed The Scarlet Skier.

The Skier turned out to be the herald of a Galactus-alike, Mister Nebula, a titanic being of limitless power who journeyed from world to world and redecorated the place … poorly. Using garish colors and clashing patterns, Nebula left entire worlds looking like the opening scene to Terminator but with Liberace’s wardrobe instead of killer robots.

Born Kirtain-Rodd (woooo) on an alien world many millennia ago, the eventual Mister Nebula was a designer of religious temples. When two Lords of Order, St’nn and Jakk (woooo-ooooo), stopped by to appreciate the tribute to their glory, Kirtain-Rod ruined it by sass-mouthing them mercilessly. One eye-blast later, Rodd finds himself imprisoned in a notably Ditko-esque universe of mad colors and shapes.

The time in the alternate dimension changes Rodd, so that when he emerges after limitless ages through a tear in the dimensional boundaries, he emerges with the immense power of a god. Fast-forward a few pages into his origin and he’s adding tassles and chintz to every planet south of Saturn.

The big problem with Mister Nebula is up for debate. To start with, the gag isn’t really that funny, and it becomes less funny with every page on which he appears.

Another problem might be the less-than-sensitive portrayal of the character as, if I may, a mincing queen. Nebula/Kirtain-Rodd is definitely intended to be sassy and effeminate, prissy, and just generally modeled after a whole raft of gay stereotypes. This leads to a familiar problem is you happen to be a wrestling fan and remember Golddust’s original run – was he the bad guy because he did bad things, or was he a bad guy because first and foremost he teased non-hetero characteristics?

You can ask the same question about Mister Nebula, and the answer is happily “He’s gone and we never have to deal with him ever again.” Hopefully.

I challenge you to imagine the New52 version of this.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : THE COUGAR

Flipping upwards into a triple somersault with a knife in one hand to kick a vampire in the face so as to save a ballerina? Ah yes, the ol' Number 22!

Spin the big interlocking wheels of the Atlas-Seaboard Character Generator and feed the results into a Venn Diagram, and if you take “Kolchak – the Nightstalker” on one hand and Burt Reynolds’ stuntman magnum opus “Hooper” on the other, you’ll find the intersection reads THE COUGAR!

Nope, not a sexually aggressive middle aged superheroine, but rather a lightly broken-spirited stuntman turned ghostbuster is what lurks between the pages of the abbreviated two-issue run of Atlas’ Cougar (darn it). While the series never made it to its third issue, the story packed in a lot on those newsprint pages.

Tree-swinging will really get you far in this world.
Bayou-born stuntman Jeff Rand has a knack for running across supernatural trouble and, additionally, a lot of free closet space, I assume. Forever decked out in the spandex superhero suit he wore in his sole starring silver screen endeavor – an action film which tanked at the box office, leaving Rand with little more than the character’s trademark bodysuit and sobriquet to call his own – Rand continues to work stuntman gigs on major motion pictures. Naturally, this unerringly puts him in the path of rampaging monsters.

His first issue pits the Cougar against a thirsty rando vampire named Krolok, which sounds like a cross between a security system and some sort of kale. While the Cougar doesn’t have any powers of his own, he still manages to come out ahead of the fang-toothed freak.

Why is that? Well, it turns out that Jeff has monsters in his immediate family. While only a pair of wee tykes, Jeff’s brother Rick is rude to a local witch named Black Hattie. In return for his insolence, Hattie transforms the boy into a werewolf, and he subsequently kills his own parents right before his young brother’s eyes. You know what? Sounds fair.

Jeff never accepts his brother’s lycanthropy, which is frankly just intolerant of him. He does get a chance to reunite with his snarling sibling, as his second issue pits him against the very werewolf with whom he once gamboled amidst the fields of youth. For his trouble, the Cougar receives possibly the most decisive finale in the history of superhero comics – his spine is shattered and he’ll never walk again! Sort of doubling down on that issue’s “the end,” weren’t we?

The Cougar managed to avoid receiving the third-issue rejiggering which saw so many of his fellow Atlas-Seaboard characters completely reinvented on a seeming editorial whim. That being said, it’s pretty obvious where the book was going to go from there. It’s almost a shame we never got to see cougar-lycanthrope-by-night, wheelchair-guy-by-day Jeff pick up the pieces in issue three, assuming they weren’t gonna throw us a curve and put the whole thing in a medieval castle in space or something instead.

The Decisive End.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

DIZZY DAMES

Weirdly, I resent that chicken on the bottom bunk more than anyone else on this cover.
When I’m putting together these articles, I very often am selecting books and characters which I’d like to see re-tried in a modern venue. Perhaps nine out of every ten articles is something with at least a kernel of potential which I’d love to see fostered by a contemporary hand, while the remaining outlier is usually such a terrible idea that I feel it can only be allowed to exist if someone reconstructs it from the foundation up.

Dizzy Dames, a 1952-1953 series of laffs and gags produced by American Comics Group over a measly six issues, lays right across the meridian of those inclinations. Containing, as the masthead boasted, “Screwballs In Skirts” embroiled in assorted absurd slapstick and arguably comical situations, the premise of the anthological Dizzy Dames was that broads was stupid. Well, to be fair, the premise was that broads MAY be stupid, but they’re almost certainly vain and vapid, which is like stupidity.

So I’m stuck in this middle space where I’m pretty happy that the book has faded into well-earned obscurity. On the other hand there were some recurring features which had at least some potential, particularly if the female leads were written as heroes rather than brainless bimbos.

 Let’s meet the gals, shall we!

Well, she's blind now.


Broadway Babes is one of those series with potential. Charting the adventures of Denise and Dotty, show-business hopefuls forever condemned to the hat check desk and the cigarette counter. Unlike a lot of the protagonists in the book, Dottie and Denise had wit, and wielded it with sharp tongues. Meeting their more successful nemeses at the theatre entrance, Denise sneers “Check your brooms, girls?” while Dottie adds “Cigars? Cigarettes? Cyanide?”

The feature focuses on Dottie’s and Denise’s increasingly unlikely plots to get noticed by a theatrical producer – any theatrical producer – and the results are predictable to anyone who’s ever watched I Love Lucy or just about any Technicolor musical. A couple of high-aiming sassmouths who won’t take no for an answer seem to be pretty good fodder for a revival, so let’s rate Broadway Babes as the least dizzy of all the dames.

Her credentials check out.
Moronica (“Miss Nit-Wit of 1952/3” and so on), by contrast, was the series’ top star and sort-of a stacked Amedlia Bedelia. Illustrated by Owen Fitzgerald (as was Broadway Babes), it’s full of appealing cartooning and also possibly the least offensive take on the “girls are dumb” trope, with Moronica being not stupid precisely but, rather, earnest and eager to a fault.

Moronica has the habit of causing utter chaos in the process of merely trying to follow the rules in defiance of common sense, so there’s also a lot of potential to revive a character like this – or you could, of course, it her name weren’t Moronica. You may as well launch Retarchie and Idiothello.

The remainder of the book was packed full of a parade of beautiful but dim-witted gals who caused consternation to the male counterparts with their unreasonable and ridiculous behavior, which is hella dumb bullshit. Surely all that MRA, PUA and Gamergate has proven is that men are ten times as likely as women to act like red-hot flaming brain donors. Still, among the fetching fools of Dizzy Dames were Doris, Pepper, Buttons, Dee Licious, Goofie Gertie, Looney Lucy, Screwball Sal, Daffy Dotty, Batty Beatrice, Knothead Nancy, Head Injury Hattie, Trepanned Tallulah, Lobotomy Margaret, and Early-Onset Alzheimers Zelda, the last four of which I made up.

Two other feature characters were of the man-hunting harridan and ugly-but-ignorant-of-the-fact clichés. Man-Hunting Minnie of Delta Pu (I assume that’s pronounced “P-U”) was a campus crusader for companionship, hoisting her unfortunate features on any boy who happened to look her way. Knothead Nellie (no relation to Knothead Nancy), in her sole outing, possessed a pan so alarming that it kept her from getting a job, got her confused with a monkey at the zoo, and generally made her the target of snide aside from her attractive roommate. Y’kinda want to root for Nellie, she just doesn’t have genetics.

By and large, Dizzy Dames could disappear into a hole and not do much to damage the overall legacy of comics, although it’s the kind of book that could be redeemed with a conscientious remake – and the jettisoning of ninety percent of its characters.

The thesis of the series, in a nutshell.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

THE WILD WORLD OF WONDER WOMAN - THE IMPOSSIBLE DAY!

This is also an editorial cartoon depicting the modern woman trying to "have it all."
It’s hard to know where exactly to start with this particular Wonder Woman adventure, because there are three facts competing for attention. To start with, it’s worth reflecting on Metal Men co-creator Robert Kanigher’s long-running, often-controversial and generally berserk-ass run as writer on the main Wonder Woman title, a period which introduced the amazing Amazon’s weirdest conceits and was frequently the subject of fandom-spewed ire.

Then there’s the history of the “Wonder Family,” an invention of Kanigher’s which, frankly, allowed him to tell the same stories through three iterations of the same character – the adult Wonder Woman, her teenage incarnation of Wonder Girl, and her turn as a loathsome preschool homunculus by name of Wonder Tot.

The panel before this, they literally
explain that the Wonder Woman Family
can't fly. 
But more than anything, it’d be totally burying the lede to neglect to mention that there’s a scene in this story where a torpedo is bearing down on an upturned giant clam and it’s clearly rendered in such a way as to be an overtly pornographic depiction of an imminently coital cock and twat. Hi, welcome to Gone&Forgotten, I like to swear.

Before we get that far, though, let’s get back to the Wonder Woman Family. At a time when the Batman and Superman books were full of similarly-costumed sidekicks and partners, Wonder Woman only had a shallow supporting cast bereft of fellow super-types. The solution became to tell tales from the Amazon’s past, teamed up in each instance with their mother Hippolyta – now blonde, and often going by the name “Wonder Queen” – and sometimes having basically the same adventures recycled through different Wonder-protagonists. An amoeba from space falls in love with Wonder Woman, an amoeba from space falls in love with Wonder Girl, it’s almost like a new story!

This particular adventure – the first in which the WW Family paradoxically united (Wonder Woman vol.1 No.124 “The Impossible Day,” August 1961) – opens with Diana Prince and Steve Trevor discovering cave paintings depicting Wonder Queen and Wonder Woman’s various youthful incarnations fighting a dinosaur. The earliest known Tijuana Bible? No, it’s a mystery which sends Wonder Woman dashing back to Paradise Island like an idiot (she HAS a phone)!

Choosing to tackle her mailbox rather than pursue the Neolithic mystery, a well-meaning Wonder Woman then lies about how much mail they’ve received from her readers demanding an adventure featuring all three incarnations of Wonder Woman teamed up. Oh, so much mail, everyone wanted to see that! Gosh! Huge fibs, major major fibbing going on there.

I mean, honestly.
Hippolyta is a good sport and plays along, showing how Amazonian camera tricks can make it appear as though Wonder Tot, Girl and Woman can be marching down the same set of stairs, like a pan-generational Odessa Steps sequence. Putting together assorted family film clips of Princess Diana and her ageless mom at different time periods into a single film, and then shooting the whole thing through a finger-mounted hologram projector, results in a life-like adventure starring the whole blamed Wonder Woman family. Now you know the secrets of the high school A/V Club and why they were the coolest guys on campus.

The Wonder Family idles around doing nothing in particular until they happen to float past a nuclear test being conducted on a nearby island. While they whisk the radioactive fallout away from Paradise Island, they fail to notice a green-skinned, beanie-capped monolith of a man pop out of the explosion - a shape-changing Multiple Man who visits destruction on the world while chanting his mantra “What I want … I take! Whatever stands in my way … perishes! Nothing can stop --- me!”

In reverse order, the Multiple Man battles the Wonder Family in the shapes of a dinosaur, a burning giant, an evil bracelet, and a torpedo. It’s that first shape which leads to the clam-slamming sequence, which I honestly cannot believe made it past the editors. They musta had a bet riding on anyone noticing.

It’s while Multiple Man is in his dinosaur form that the Wonder Clan (no relation to Wonder Clam, recently plowed by a radioactive torpedo) pursues him through the time barrier, ending up amidst a society of stone age cave men. When Multiple Man is destroyed (by channeling lightning bolts through Wonder Woman’s magic lasso, just like all the science textbooks say will work), the cave people honor the moment by rendering the event on their cave walls, the prehistoric equivalent of commemorative plates.

And THAT, explains Diana Prince, is why the entire Wonder Woman Family is depicted on a cave wall fighting a dinosaur … except hold on a second. The battle against Multple Man was imaginary, a product of edited film. The sequence where Steve and Diana find the cave painting happens before the imaginary sequence, so it must be real. So how did an imaginary event cause a real-life circumstance in the far past? I dunno, but did I mention the scene where a dick-torpedo rams a clam-vagina? Fun times going on in the pages of Wonder Woman is what’s going on, man.

THIS EXPLAINS NOTHING!


Monday, March 23, 2015

P-S-Eh? : DENY IT IF YOU CAN!

Back in the 1940s, Lev A.Gleason comics ran their own confrontational version of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” entitled “Deny It If You Can,” challenging readers to develop on-the-spot arguments against the existence of weirdos, hearsay and cultural errata. Why, in many ways, it was the comic book equivalent of getting into an argument on Facebook with that high school friend of yours you haven’t seen in twenty years and who homeschools their kid using a Klingon-English dictionary as a primary textbook.


Whereas Ripley only asked readers to either embrace credulity or, failing that, not to embrace credulity, Claude Moore's recurring feature seemed hell-bent on making its audience form a stance on useless trivia. I can't deny that there was a girl who blushed blue in France! I can't deny that a worker in a London tool factory successfully drilled a hole lengthwise through an ordinary sewing needle! You got me, Claude Moore, I surrender!


Like a great deal of trivia, no small amount of it is almost undeniably utter bullshit. As an example, I'll happily deny that King Arthur, "Chief Knight of the Round Table" (and thanks for clarifying that, Claude, I wasn't sure which King Arthur you meant) was seven feet tall, that anybody lived to be 169 years old, and additionally I don't think shipping cargo and carrying shipments by car is all that mind-blowing. Save it for Seventies-era Carlin, man.

A surprising number of Deny It If You Can features were ear-centric, by which I mean "these two of them."

Reed Delicola oughtta get together with that lady from Guy's Hospital, they'd just about even out.

Trivia and factual features like these used to be commonly found in just about every comic, newspaper and magazine for a couple of solid decades, spreading useless but fantastical information and outright lies in equal measure. It's a shame to see them go since the nearest equivalent we have in the modern day is British panel quiz shows and Snopes.com

That Tree Shrew line sounds like a burn.

Friday, March 20, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : LITTLE MISS MURDER

Doll Man is quite the little detective, isn't he?

Doll Man wasn’t the most dynamic of the characters taking up residence at Quality Comics, but he was one of the few to pick up an eponymous title in addition to starring in a regular anthology book (alongside Plastic Man, Kid Eternity, the Blackhawks and Uncle Sam, specifically). While other characters boasted better and bigger powers, from the explosive Human Bomb to the luminescent Ray and even the merely two-fisted Firebrand, Doll Man must have had something special going for him to earn the promotion.

To be fair, it's a little messy.
One characteristic he definitely had in his favor was a seemingly endless rogues gallery of colorful characters, many of whom debuted and bowed in the same issue. Among Doll Man’s many one-time would-be nemeses was Little Miss Murder (Doll Man Quarterly No.13, Summer 1947), the most demure damsel to ever stab a guy through the eye with a hatpin.

The widow of recently-assassinated mobster Mike Mara, Little Miss Murder turns up at her husband’s old hangout and promptly positions herself at the head of the disorganized criminal syndicate. In fact, she does it with such ruthless efficiency that you can’t shake the feeling she’d be quietly running the whole sordid business from day one, from a chaise-lounge in her sitting room.

At the very least, the former Missus Mara must have killed before, as she surely takes to it with cool-headed efficiency. After dispatching the sole dissident in her husband’s former crew, she’s up and running with no further complications – excepting Doll Man, of course.

She named her killer tarantula "Archibald." That is adorable.
One of my pet peeves with superhero comics has always been the trend towards requiring lady superheroes to disguise their weapons as heavily-gendered girl-friendly accoutrement (or vice-versa). You may recall Miss Arrowette unleashing a “sewing needle and thread arrow” which was effectively no different than any dozen of Green Arrow’s grappling line arrows, or Batgirl using a weaponized compact full of powder in the same way Batman uses a smoke bomb.

Well, I like it when Little Miss Murder does it, because her weapons aren’t arbitrarily feminine – they’re camouflaged. Inside her dainty, gay Nineties parasol? A machine gun. Inside her own compact? Frickin’ poison. And then there’s that hatpin, wielded with deadly efficiency.

When the bait-and-switch cosmetics and accessories outlive their necessity, Little Miss Murder can rely on more traditional murder methods – like a handgun, or a tarantula. Hey, it’s Doll Man, you have to try to kill him with bugs and stuff or else the book doesn’t have a hook!

Doll Man defeats Miss Murder and she’s off to jail, where I can only hope she resourcefully sets up a criminal empire run from inside the pen. You can’t keep down a villain with a goal!

"I'll have you know, I'm curd-intolerant."


Thursday, March 19, 2015

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : DYNAMO JOE

Cat asses and giant toy soldiers ... surely this is somebody's dream.
When Earth came under attack by an alien, unknowable enemy – originating from incalculable depths outside our very universe and seemingly limitless in number - it took the effort and sacrifice of brave, bonded pilots to turn the tide of devastation using amazing weapons embedded in the machinery of their titanic, humanoid battle-machines. And that, my friends, is the story of Pacific Rim.

It’s also the story, though, of Dynamo Joe! A product of FIRST Comics, Joe managed to eke out a fifteen-issue run (plus a few appearances as a back-up feature) during an abbreviated run in the mid-Eighties. While other First titles – such as American Flagg, Badger and Nexus, to name a few – were attracting most of the attention, Dynamo Joe was nonetheless somewhat unique in being an American extrapolation of Japanese anime.

Joe’s series is definitely a mishmash of assorted series then in syndication in the US – elements of Robotech, Mazinger and Star Blazers make their way into the book in different forms. It also definitely presages some of the elements of Pacific Rim, which itself drew heavily from anime and kaiju films.

Besides having two pilots per “mecha,” facing off against an unknowable alien threat, and frankly not making much sense when you take a step back from it, Dynamo Joe shares with Pacific Rim the colorful nomenclature of its war machines. Joining Dynamo Joe in his interstellar battlefield were fellow giant robots with such colorful sobriquets as Hawkeye, Red Ryder, Hopeless Romantic, Sureshot Sam and Sweetums. Not included were some of my personal Jaeger names such as Bottle Rocket, Ass Cannon, Hobbit Fucker, Hope-Jobs-&-Cash and But-Doctor-I-AM-Pagliacci…

Joe, for his part, was piloted by a tiger-like alien named Pomru and an Imperial officer named Elanian Daro, who managed the machine through the bulk of the series. When the book was cancelled after a year-and-a-half, the story basically wrapped up as neatly as something of that particular scope could, considering the contrivances necessary to make it work in the first place. In a post-Pacific Rim (or “between” Pacific Rims, I suppose) world, Dynamo Joe seems poised to make a comeback, if only anyone’s there to open the toy chest where he was last seen… 

Oh yeah, there was lots of outer space cusses, which I schnabscrabbin' hate like a motherfucker.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

ROADS TO REGRETTABILITY : DEADLY DO-GOODERS


Roads to Regrettability : Homegrown International Heroes
The League of Regrettable Heroes – soon to be published by Quirk Books and written by yours truly – features write-ups on 100 of comicdom’s weirdest, most unfortunate, most misunderstood and flat-out strangest  superheroes. The book debuts June 2, 2015, so in the meantime let’s discuss the many paths a character can take on the road to regrettability. 

America loves an anti-hero – up to a point. Superheroes who skirted the edge, like Wolverine or the Punisher, have proven more than capable of capturing the comic-reading public’s attention, but there’s almost a built-in timer for heroes whose penchant for fatality and cruelty exceed that of their foes. Eventually, a character like the Punisher, who may have begun his career as an edgy new take on the superhero genre better reflecting the sifting morality of the modern day, eventually becomes a problem that has to be addressed.

Here's THIS terrifying old murderer.
After all, what’s the distinction between a hero who threatens, maims, tortures and kills his enemies, his enemies’ henchpersons, their contacts, their messengers, their backers and their allies, and a bad guy? Besides, what happens when you have a hero who kills his villains? Well, realistically, you run out of villains. Some fun.

Of course, the hero who kills isn’t native to the modern day. Possibly the most famous straight-up murderer in the ranks of herodom was always The Shadow, a pulp hero who leapt into battle with both guns blazing. His later entries into comics kept the Shadow’s madcap thrill for high body counts, but his brief run as a character published by – of all things – Archie Comics put a different twist on the character. Now a spy fighting America’s enemies with clever gadgets, the Shadow even lost his unnerving laugh along with his daisy-pushing penchant.

A few homicidal heroes who didn’t enjoy such long careers, though, include:

The short-lived and short-statured Golden Age hero The Black Dwarf (later rechristened The Blue Monk) not only planted his foes six feet under, he did it gruesomely and gleefully. Backed by a squad of crooks-turned-crimefighters, the Dwarf made his point by masquerading as a crimelord and then dispatching his supposed rivals with everything from a hangman’s noose to a sharp stiletto (and, of course, faithful ol’ lead). Even more off-putting may have been Mother Hubbard, a genuine witch who fought the typical Nazi baddies of the day, but also supernatural menaces and weirdos whose forays into crime involved – and no joke here – stealing children’s eyes and eating babies. Gruesome goes two ways, I guess.

The "H" in "SHAZAM" stands for "Huckin' guys off
of the roof of a parking garage."
The Conqueror, a patriotic super-hero from the 1940s, was frequently portrayed choking the life out of Nazi soldiers with his bare hands, assuming he wasn’t tearing into them with machine gun fire. This was a brand of fatality which wasn’t uncommon back in the Forties, and for the Conqueror it was a distraction on his main mission: to kill Hitler at any costs!

Alternatively, some heroes have walked away from the blood on their hands. Possibly the best example of a hero who kills and then gives it up is Captain Marvel, famously the most kid-friendly long-running superhero of all time (if you ignore all the racism in those old comics and, oh boy, was there a lot to ignore). When his adventures were translated to film, Cap took no guff from baddies of any stripe. Despite having powers which made him the world’s mightiest mortal, he was pretty happy to mow down a rampaging group  of desert nomads with a machine gun and, later on, fling a gangster off a roof. Holy Moley indeed!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

BATMAN LEADS AN INTERESTING LIFE : BATMAN THE GIANT


It’s not for nothing that Batman is the world’s biggest superhero, but … literally? Well, yes, in Detective Comics No.243 (May 1957, “Batman the Giant”) the Caped Crusader is inadvertently struck by a “Maximizer Ray,” part of a pair of inventions created by the philanthropist scientist Dr.Greggson.

When Greggson calls a number of top lawmen and scientists together – including Batman and Robin, who are a little of both – to exhibit his Maximizer and Minimizer devices, Gotham’s boldest and arguably most successful crook Jay Vanney interrupts the whole shmear so as to make off with the giant-making gadgets. It’s pretty ballsy to steal something right out from under Batman’s nose, but it all works out to Vanney’s benefit. He makes off with the Minimizer, but drops the Maximizer, bathing Batman in its size-changing rays.

Being really big is no excuse
for being inconsiderate, Batman.
In short order, Batman grows to thirty feet and becomes more of a menace to his hometown than anything else. To my way of thinking, fighting crime at five times your normal size can go one of two ways; either it’s a terrible hindrance due to your lumbering  frame and oversized presence, or it’s a terrific boon because you can just pick up crooks in your bare hands and fling them outside of the city limits from central downtown.

For Batman, it’s the former, and he spends the story at family-size while seeking Vanney and the missing Minimizer which can restore his modest profile. In the meantime, he shows little interest in curtailing his crimefighting activities, so attaches a siren to his belt in order to warn traffic that he’s approaching. He also sets up the world’s most intimidating roadblock checkpoint-slash-tourist attraction, as he straddles Gotham Bridge and peers into every passing vehicle, searching for Vanney. The drivers of Gotham City are either a brave or understandably curious lot, being willing to drive right between Batman’s big legs like that without so much as a paralyzing panic attack.

Batman ultimately must leave Gotham, but – still possessing the Maximizer which Vanney desires, and without which he can only make things smaller – he sets himself up outside of the city limits, leering at the town for hours until Vanney takes the bait. Using the Maximizer to enlarge Vanney, the Dark Knight Detective engages in enormous fisticuffs, overcoming the career criminal and turning the Minimizer on the pair of them, reducing them to normal size.


Once that’s accomplished, though, the “rare element” which powers both devices are burned out, and off the now-useless gadgets go to the Batcave Trophy Room. Personally, considering the potential benefits of both devices, I’d probably just go find more rare elements, but that’s just me. It’s also worth noting that Vanney’s hat was knocked off during his gigantic struggle with Batman, and he wasn’t wearing it when he was shrunk, so sitting somewhere outside of Gotham City there’s a white fedora in which you can park a tractor trailer.
"You know he's been wanting to for years!"


Friday, March 13, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : BULL'SEYE!


From the git-go, Green Arrow was riding Batman’s hog pretty hard. An Arrowcar, an Arrowcave, an Arrowplane and a kid sidekick, not to mention a bunch of gadgets and more than a few colorful crooks, it only made sense that the Battling Bowman would also have his very own clown-themed criminal nemesis. Thus was born BULL’S EYE!

Not to be mistaken for Daredevil’s girlfriend-stabbing baddie, this Bull’s Eye began his career as an incarcerated crook improbably named Leapo! Leading an escape through the sewers running underneath the prison – shades of Shawshank! – Leapo escapes justice by picking up a gig at a nearby carnival as a clown at whom people pay to throw things.

I dunno, TRY the bullet.
This is a legit thing people used to pay for the privilege of doing, back in the days before video games and hard drugs. Mom and Dad would bring the kiddies out to the carnival with a sack of quarters and an attaché case full of razor-sharp darts, to while away the afternoon trying to poke holes in some yokel’s paint-daubed pan. Everyone gets ice cream if you stab him in the balls, kids! Throw harder!

Impressed with his own ability to dodge dangerous darts flung by the blood-hungry nuclear family of the modern day, Leapo also realizes that his signature slipperiness is a total giveaway to the cops. With this in mind, he drops his Christian name of Leapo – his mother will weep salt tears, she named him after a granduncle who fought in the Civil War! – and becomes Bull’s Eye, dressing up from head to toe like a leering Pagliacci or possibly a mascot for a circus-themed laundry detergent.

Bull’s Eye was in and out of the Green Arrow mythos (Green Arrow’s got a mythos??) with less than a half dozen appearances, and his supreme dodging ability played at least a small role in every one. When not actively encouraging Green Arrow and his kid sidekick Speedy to try plugging every hole on his body with a well-placed boxing glove arrow or three, Bull’s Eye would keep his body limber and well-trained by having his own henchmen huck knives and shit at him and hopefully he wouldn’t die.

I guess it paid off, although ultimately Bull’s Eye succumbed to the one thing he couldn’t dodge. Only ever a County Fair version of the Joker, Bull’s Eye was eventually struck by obsolescence, and hasn’t been back since.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : THE BRONZE MAN

Riding on the shoulders of a bronze man, there's no greater way to travel.
Major Randy Ronald, American Ace, endures more misfortune than a man with a name like the world’s most hilarious porn star deserves. Shot down over Germany during World War II and presumed dead, the Major was actually captured by those nasty Nazis and made the victim of disfiguring torture! Oooohhhh, those rotten Krauts! ::shakes fist::

Well, up yours too, kid.
Returning to America incognito, Randy Ronald surreptitiously checks in on the surviving members of his squadron, trusting that they’d not recognize his recently mutilated features or the fact that his name sounds like a character in a particularly salty Match Game question. Naturally, his former compatriots – staunch bastions of American values, the lot of them – are under assault by fifth columnists and homegrown criminals. Luckily for his former bunkmates, Major Randy Ronald also dons a lifelike bronze mask, jodhpurs and a red Henley shirt to become The Bronze Man, the only hero whose face is the heaviest part of his costume.

Although not boasting any particular superpowers at first, the Bronze Man is nonetheless capable of astounding feats of physicality, including struggling up the edge of a raging waterfall, leaping from second-story windows and brushing off a high-speed impact from an onrushing sedan. In order to save his former wingman from a hidden bomb, the Bronze Man easily tucks a lifesize bronze likeness of his alter ego –Randy Ronald is a popular guy, evidently – under one arm and leaps with it into a nearby river. In his second appearance, he apparently picks up the power of flight and enough super-human strength to lift the Liberty Bell with one hand, although it almost seems unnecessary at this point. I mean, the guy swam up a waterfall, now he’s gotta top that?

The Bronze Man never quite catches up with the entirety of his old gang, since he only manages to eke out a pair of appearances before he fades away. More impressively, though, is that he manages to keep his true features hidden from the reader through the clever techniques of keeping his back to the audience and only turning around when something blocked the view at face height.

"...obscured by a windowframe!"



Wednesday, March 11, 2015

THE LAWLESS LOIS LANE AND THE MUSICAL MURDER OF SUPERMAN

I dunno, maybe he doesn't suspect anything.

The vast majority of the stories in Lois Lane’s original solo title generally centered on Metropolis’ top newspaper reporter attempting to use all sorts of schemes and deception to capture Superman in reluctant marriage, expose his dual identity, sabotage her perceived rivals and just generally act in a manner which did little to celebrate the character and did more than a little to condemn the writers of the story as a buncha chauvinist twerps. With that in mind, very possibly the most rewarding – and simultaneously batshit – story in Lois Lane’s personal catalog (her very own Transilvane, if you will) happens in the pages of issues 64 and 65 of Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane (April/May 1966), a two-issue “Imaginary Novel” wherein Lois turns evil, Luthor plays the piano, and Superman becomes erect at a peculiar piece of music.

Brace yourself for this brand of half-witted beatnik gab.
As an aside, what exactly constitutes an “imaginary novel?” Is it something like a childrens’ book called “Moby Dick Fucks the Moon” written by Haruki Murakami? Or is it more like “Imagine a book made out of hydrogen, and it’s typeset in dreams?”

Or, for that matter, is it a story where Lex Luthor is a daring Robin Hood-type villain by night and Liberace by day? In this world (which, if it doesn’t exist in Multiversity, I’m gonna personally punch Grant Morrison in the nose) Lex Luthor has retained his boyhood hatred of the Man of Steel for very much the same reason he maintained it in the mainstream Silver Age books. With a childhood accident robbing Lex of his curly locks, he blames the incident on Superboy, but rather than turning to a life of crime and shaming his family for generations, he just really commits himself to the piano.

In time, Luthor is “The Incomparable Luthor,” a popular six-foot pianist renowned as much for his sensitive renditions of ivory-tickling classics as he is for his sequined gold tuxedos and other colorful get-ups. While a dedicated performer, Lex maintains a secret alter-ego – the cleverly pseudonymous “LEXO,” a masked super-scientific criminal whose daring robberies and clever chest-mounted gadgets have captured the public imagination.

No less than Superman’s paramour Lois Lane, in fact, counts herself among Lexo’s admirers, as much for his flair and elan and for his tendency to give his ill-gotten gains exclusively to charity. Yes, the Luthor of this world “gets off” of giving away the money he steals, although he gets a kick out of embarrassing Superman in the interim.

Don't you know anything?
The story truly picks up when Lois, driven by curiosity, follows up on her suspicions as to Lexo’s true identity and stumbles into his lair. Little does she know that Lexo has a gargoyle-faced raybeam which turns people evil, possibly procured from Crate&Barrel.

Luckily, Lois is already running around dressed in a duplicate Lexo outfit, so it doesn’t take long for her to convince the crook to take her on as a sidekick – and, since she knows his dual identity, a wife!

Lexo already boasts a trio of assistants – Merko, Randozzi and Klavan (of the Connecticut Merkos, Randozzis and Klavans, I believe), but Lois doesn’t have what they have: radiation poisoning. Infected with green radiation during a heist which Superman had interrupted, the trio are a tragic lot whose bodies are slowly succumbing to the effects of the damage. “We’d been exposed to a virulent new type of radiations that turned our hands green” explains Marko, or maybe Randozzi, while Klavan (or possibly Marko) goes on to finish painting the picture. “Some day soon, our entire bodies will be green,” he explains, “Then we’ll die.” Won’t we all, buddy, won’t we all.

Now that Lois is evil and a sidekick to Luthor, the story can kick into high gear and the couple can start to use beatnik slang for no apparent reason. Apparently only villains ever call people “squares.”

Debuting in her secret villain identity of Lola (which is, I’m sure you figured out, just the first two letters of her first and maiden names, which combined with Lexo makes the worst costumed identities ever),  Lois proves to be a malicious type. As a married woman, she viciously cockteases the Man of Steel into a wretched torpor and finds the opportunity to go on a crime spree of her very own – stealing the Mona Lisa and repainting it to wear her distinctive mask, defacing the Statue of Liberty, kicking off a hurricane. Frankly, she’s really good at this.

How do you even test an hypothesis like that?




It all culminates in Luthor composing “The Superman Sonata,” a piece of music which – when accompanied by a specific piece of Kryptonian musical instruments known as a Lythre (it’s a xylophone with ramp jets), played expertly somehow by Lois – is meant to drive Superman insane. Instead it paralyzes the Man of Tomorrow, or possibly he’s trying to remember if he left the gas on in the Fortress of Solitude.

It’s a triumph for Lexo and Lola, which makes it a damn shame that the evil ray wears off right in the middle of their celebration and Lois ends up going monkey-fuck looney toons in a major way.

"And ... waitaminnit, did they inter me in a
frickin' museum?"
The story takes a grim turn at this point, with a heartbroken Luthor trying to accommodate his remorseful bride by curing Superman of his paralysis (They keep his frozen corpse on display at the Superman Museum, because buying real exhibits is expensive and this helps the curator save a few bucks). Superman eventually revives himself (the theme of this story may be “rays wearing off”) and takes Lois into custody. Luthor subsequently up-and-dies nobly while attempting to break his larcenous Lois out of the pen. It's all very Shakespearean.

Lois, meanwhile is freed, although – despite now being sane again – she cannot return Superman’s still-burning love. “Of course I’m deeply shocked by my villainous deeds” she confesses, “And very sorry! But there’s one thing I’ll never regret! My love for Lexo! He was a criminal, but he was my man! And I loved him! I still love him … I always will…”  Oh, and also Merko, Randozzi and Klavan all died of radiation poisoning off-panel.

The strange, forced structure of this story makes me imagine that it’s based on a then-popular movie, book or play of the era, however loosely – this would be a real good time for one of my readers to straight-up “actually” me in comments, if they’re so inclined. For my part, I think of it as the one time that Lois Lane got to genuinely be the star of her own story and put even Superman to shame, and it’s therefore the best Lois Lane story of all time.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

90 FROM THE 90S PART NINE

Deathmate
Imagine the checkmate, the ultimate move in any chess game – but deadly! Well, that’s how you get DEATHMATE, unless I’ve misunderstood terribly and it’s actually just the opposite of “lifemate,” or a really grim version of a roommate for budget conscious corpses who want to split the cost of a casket.

The actual Deathmate in question, however, was the singular company-wide crossover between Image and Valiant Comics, the enfants terrible and potential heirs apparent of the 1990s comic boom. Although not the only company-wide crossover initiated by the literal crossing over of one character from each publisher into the other’s universe, it’s possibly the only one in which the core conceit was that both universes would be destroyed if their characters ever fucked. Thank goodness no one crossed over with Penthouse Comix, I guess.

Deathmate was simultaneously innovative – issues were designated by color rather than number and could be read in any order, for instance – it was also a nightmare. Image dropped the ball on their issues, leaving Valiant with half a series and retailers with a tremendous amount of cash invested in books which seemed like it would never come out, which might be a metaphor for the Nineties all across the board.


Colorforms Covers
As far as I’m aware, only two comics ever went to press with the Colorforms covers – “blank” glossy cardstock covers which bore only a cityscape background, polybagged with sheets of vinyl kiss-cut figures, sound effects and props, which readers could then peel from the sheet and apply to the cover to make their own dynamic action scene. These books were Worlds Collide #1 and Superman: Man of Steel #30, both from DC Comics, and this was the best cover gimmick in the world bar none. Shut up if you disagree, you’re a horrible person and you should go to jail.

The logistics of these covers must have been a nightmare – imagine being the poor artist and having to draw the equivalent of a crowd scene involving two dozen iterations of the same character, plus all the errata and onomatopoeia, and then identify the lines for kiss-cutting the sheet. But still, of all the cover gimmicks of the 90s, it’s the only interactive one and the only one which didn’t seem to say “This book is IMPORTANT and VALUABLE,” but instead invited the reader to play …


Two things in life are inevitable…
Here’s list of some of the characters, teams and books which debuted in the 1990s and which had Death-, -Dead or Die- in the title: Deadpool, Die Cut, Deathmate, Lady Death, Deathblow, Death Dealer, Death Jr, The Deadly Duo, Death, Deathwing, Death Angel, Death Doll, Death Masque, Deadzone, DeadEye, Deadfall, and Deathcry.Would’ve loved to have put Deathstroke on this list, because I still consistently fail to interpret his name as “A killing stroke” and rather “having a stroke, which kills you.”


Electric Superman
As the 90s progressed, DC Comics had to grapple with the realization that they may have prematurely played their biggest promotional card. The Death of Superman had resulted in a media blitz then-unprecedented in comics – news outlets all over the world were reporting the impending snuffing of the Man of Steel as thought they’d just been handed a “Save the Date” card for a presidential assassination. The result was a tremendous uptick in sales, a stunt repeated less dynamically with the next big Superman event, the time he became a barbershop quartet. By the time they announced “Superman’s getting a new costume and new powers,” the opportunity for even the most content-deprived news channel to make something of that particular hay was worn out. Luckily, it meant more than a decade would pass before DC would try to gin the news cycles again with retractable non-events, and that was kind of a nice, quiet period.


Comics Greatest World
With the industry booming in a way it never had before, Dark Horse – always an unlikely victor in the marketplace, from its licensed books to its considerable market share, not to mention a successful venture into film and (natch) launching Sin City, Hellboy and the like – inexplicably decided to try its hand at superheroes. Every other company did – and still does – respond to a boom in the marketplace by trying their hand at a shared universe, which is why we’re all awash in such famous Dark Horse superheroes as the Pit Bulls, Monster, Division 13, Hero Zero, Rebel and whoever was the lead guy in Out Of The Vortex. Barb Wire, Ghost and X admittedly enjoyed some success, but for the most part Comics’ Greatest World pooped out without much fanfare.


Popular Posts