Wednesday, July 1, 2015

DAREDEVIL #311 : SOUL SEARCH

It's been a banner week for progressive legislation in the US, so please accept my apologies for starting this one off with an image of Daredevil in full-on white bodypaint lynching a black man all up in your face.



The objectionable image ran without much concern or cataclysm on the cover of Daredevil vol.1 No.311 (December 1992) as the second part of a two-part adventure in which Daredevil battles a Haitian voodoo queen and part-time slaver, Calypso. That no one seemed particularly irked by the cover may be the benefit of the fact that it debuted in the dawning days of the heavily cross-hatched 1990s where it was difficult to tell the genuinely offensive from the merely incompetent.

It's a good look.
In fact, the subsequent letter columns celebrated the issue unconditionally, so I guess that ought to be the next bold new direction.

In any case, the story, in a nutshell - just to gauge if it justifies that cover image: Calypso is a patois-slinging Haitian hounganette (I'm sorry, I legit don't know if there are gender variants for Houngan or not. Maybe she's a Hounganienne. Maybe Houngans are default female and male houngans are just Hougs or something. I'm sorry, I'm rambling. I got a lot of space to fill on this one). Her primary goals appear to be (A) turning peeps into zombies and (B) using them to get more peeps to turn into zombies.

The zombies are then shipped around as slave labor, which is also a very good topic for a book which has a cover featuring the lead character strangling a black man. In the meantime, Marvel's one Afro-Caribbean superhero, Brother Voodoo, makes an appearance which is about 90% making fun of him and then 10% of him just yelling at Daredevil and offering no help whatsoever. Another mighty Marvel team-up!

Well, at least he's being treated with dignity.
Anyway, Daredevil breaks the zombie spell by force-of-will and by drenching his panels in faux noir shadows, which is the antidote to zombies. It attracts ninjas, though.

Shorter summary: The Daredevil title was going through one of its regular post-Miller/"This guy is the NEW Miller" slumps which plagued the book since Miller wrapped up his original run and Born Again. Rank this two-parter as better than Micah Synn but worse than the one where Stilt-Man tries to steal a bunch of bacon grease.

So, in conclusion --- no, this comic should not have had a white guy strangling a black man with a rope on it, thank you.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

WEIRD WHAT IF? : WHAT IF SGT.FURY HAD FOUGHT WORLD WAR II IN OUTER SPACE?

That guy in the bottom-right corner evidently thinks you're ugly.
When I was a wee'yin, one of the comics with which I was most fascinated was Marvel's original What If--? series, wherein events of Marvel history were slightly reimagined, usually to disastrous effect. I've written elsewhere about what I feel the appeal of these kinds of stories were to adolescents in the throes of a post-pubescent emotional development, but also part of their appeal on a personal level was that they served as something of a Cliff's Notes for the non-obsessive Marvel Comics fan.

I only read a handful of Marvel comics when I was a youngster, so I was woefully ignorant of the histories of even Marvel's prominently exposed flagship characters like Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America and the Hulk. What If--? provided a handy, short-form method of immediate absorption of decades of Marvel history across hundreds of books. Every issue began with Uatu the Watcher explaining what the actual events had been, and how one small event could change the outcome completely.

So imagine what kind of straight-up bullshit this issue was, wherein the Howling Commandos of World War II fought evil alien forces on the edge of space thanks not to some hiccup in Marvel continuity, but because pyramid-shaped parachutes wouldn't have killed you.

What If--? vol.1 No.14 boasted on its cover "First Star Wars -- then Battlestar Galactica -- AND NOW!" leaving to one's imagination the concluding thought "This largely disappointing attempt to capitalize on the success of those two things." Marvel clearly hoped there would be some life in this idea for a sci-fi happy audience, much in the same way there had been for its adoption of blaxploitation and kung-fu theater. Licensing top-selling franchises was nice, but it paled before owning one.

In this story, Nick Fury and his companions from his earlier series of European-theater war stories find themselves launched into space, although not forward in time. Technology, explained the Watcher, developed more quickly on this alternate Earth not because of some momentous milestone in Marvel history going awry, but simply because Leonardo DaVinci's speculative inventions - his early tank which wouldn't work, his early helicopter which wouldn't work, and his pyramid-shaped parachute which seriously would not have worked - were actually developed instead of residing only on paper.

"So, in conclusion, your world sucks, this world rules, GO SPACE WORLD WAR TWO EARTH WOOOO!"

This is, to repeat myself, bullshit. The appeal of What If was documenting the numerous ways Uncle Ben not being murdered would mess up Spider-Man's life, or how Iron Man could have become Galactus' wife or whatever. Show me "What If Leonardo daVinci became the Punisher?" and we've got a deal, but let's leave this weak stuff at home.

In any case, such technological advancements moves the nations of the 1940s to space, and our heroes specifically to the space-carrier "Station Pearl," a seemingly peaceful outpost possessed by a world which is keeping its nose out of the intergalactic conflict plaguing the rest of the galaxy. Naturally, the station is attacked by surprise suicide bombers, and that takes us to the second problem with this story.

In this space-sited analogy, the attacking aliens are taking the place of the Japanese, reintroducing to comics after a several-decades rest the "ghastly caricature of Asian people as sneering, fang-toothed lizard men" caricature.

You may argue that the lizard men may only be filling the role played by the Japanese military in World War II and, being fictional, their portrayal isn't intended to be representative and the Japanese are clearly part of the Earth armies attacked by these creatures, but ... well, maybe we shoulda seen some Japanese soldiers fighting for Earth, because all we got was the Howling Space Commandos versus sneering space-Japanese lizard people.

I mean, it's subtle, but you can almost see it...

The rest of the book is a series of battles involving the cast of Sgt.Fury and his Howling Commandos, a book which I believe had been out of print at least a decade when this issue of What If debuted. Comic audiences being what they are, this meant that some of the kids reading this hadn't even been alive when the source material was on the comic racks, and back issue shops were still a rarity.

One thing which underlines the definite tongue-in-cheek quality the comic was intended to have was the constant presence of characters smoking inside their spaceman bubble helmets (and one member playing a trumpet through the mouthpiece of his). Clearly, when man moves to space, he'll have to find new oral fixations.

The story wraps up with Admiral Baron Strucker revealing a ship full of alien-allied Nazi soldiers on one of the vessels, which Fury and his men invade and beat up, and hold on a second there are Nazis in space? That's a helluva thing to introduce five pages before the end of the book. Anyway, Fury and his men beat the Nazis, destroy the alien fleet, and I guess win the war which is good news because it means there's nothing else for these characters to do and we don't need to see any more of them.

"...With you at all titties?"


Monday, June 29, 2015

MAD AD MONDAY : THE TIE SO FLY IT'LL MAKE YOU DIE


It's unlikely that the glow-in-the-dark elements of this tie - advertised in several early 1940s Lev A.Gleason comics, among others - is necessarily radium, but the highly radioactive chemical was used abundantly for other luminescent products such as, famously, watch parts, and all sorts of ill-advised medical devices (Enjoy your radium face cream and your vigor-restoring radium-infused athletic strap, folks!). It's doubly unlikely that it would be radium, given wartime shortages of everything excepting, apparently, novelty.


"The doctor says the weird thing about my cancer is how it's manifested
itself as a series of v-shaped tumors along my chest and abdomen."

The glow-in-the-dark tie has the additional benefit of behaving like some sort of general up-riler for otherwise un-riled women, driving them to fits of frantic passion merely by being given glowing instructions in the dark. Imagine wearing this tie on a New York subway in the year of our Lord 2015 AD. You'd have to get NASA to identify who and what exactly followed your kiss-a-torial commands.

Whatever the case, it's the tie that causes delirium tremens in the form of tiny, excitable women clinging to your shirt front, clawing at your apparent good taste.

Bodiless imps are all about the novelty tie. 

Failing that, if you'd like to guarantee that you're getting a good product with a minimum daily recommend amount of straight-up fuckin-kill-you radium involved, how about buying your little one something that'll fire actual honest-to-goodness radium directly into his eyes?

"It glows with a weird light in a dark room." 

I'm embarrassed to say that I wish more products were advertised to me with the promise of watching worlds destroyed before my eyes. I'd buy and use on a daily basis a Jetta packed to the roof with used syringes if they promised me I could watch worlds destroyed before my eyes.

Friday, June 26, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : SUPER-MENACE

"Whatcha thinkin' about?"

Superman has never faced a shortage of "evil duplicates" in his never-ending battle for truth and justice. Naturally, there's Bizarro, the Cyborg Superman, Ultraman of Earth-3, the Superman of Earth-A, Negative Superman, assorted evil Superman robots and clones and shapeshifters, the Super-Sandman, Neil Gaiman's Super-Sandman, the Punk Rock Superman of Earth-(Anarchy Symbol), Evil Puppet Superman, the Reverse Superman, the Inverse Superman, the Converse Superman (aka AAU Shuperstar), Super-Evil Man, Evil Superman, the Superman from Superman III who gets drunk and hangs around in junkyards and dozens more, at least the last half of which I basically made up right now.

They really should stop and trade information.
Also appearing only once among his roster of malevolent doppelgangers is his closest-ever lookalike, Super-Menace, a villain whose very presence is simultaneously the most absurd thing in Superman's convoluted history and also the most reasonable explanation for all the absurd things in Superman's convoluted history.

Debuting in Superman vol.1 No.137 (May 1960, "Superman vs Super-Menace"), Super-Menace is the product of Kryptonian doomsday scientist Jor-El's abominably shitty skills at celestial navigation. Having plotted a course for his infant son's rocket which should take him safely to Earth, what happens instead is that baby Kal-El's ship careens off the hull of a mysterious, lime-green vessel emerging from "another universe, a ship which is equipped with a multitude of weird scientific devices." Like an autoclave maybe, possibly a Nintendo.

Naturally, the collision results in Superbaby's spaceship crumpling like a Dixie cup and he dies in space, the end. Or, wait, no, what actually happens is that the alien vessel fires an incomprehensible raybeam at the tiny ship, creating a perfect duplicate of it - and its soon-to-be-superpowered inhabitant, right down to the swaddling clothes provided by his parents.

Super-Brat's been watching the news lately.
While Kal-El lands safely in Kansas in the loving arms of Pa and Ma Kent, the duplicate baby lands in the mountain hideaway of perennially unshaven gangster "Wolf" Derek and his sneering bride Bonnie. Initially fearing that the rocket was an attack from one of his many enemies, "Wolf" figures out the potential of the kid and hatches a plan. "We'll adopt this super-baby and pretend to love him" he tells his murder-happy bride, "We'll teach him to hate the law, like we do!"

The plan works out well, although it's laden with off coincidences. The Dereks, for instance, despite their merely-feigned love, manage to stitch together a super-suit for their titanically-powerful toddler which is identical to the same one worn by the law-abiding Superbaby (although they hide his identity by having him don a domino mask. No one else is around, so I guess they're just getting the kid used to it).

As "Super-Brat" grows up into a teenage "Super-Bully," he learns about the existence of - and learns to loathe - Superboy. Such is his hatred that, despite having been ordered to keep his existence a secret, he routinely harasses Superboy's home of Smallville in order to mess with Superboy's head. These efforts sometimes backfire - a swarm of meteors dropped on Smallville does keep Superboy busy, but an attempt to creep up on Lana Lang just reinforces the illusion of Superboy's dual identity, thanks to Super-Bully's immunity to kryptonite and the fact that Lana Lang likes to go around springing Kryptonite on Clark Kent for no reason. Nice girl, she'll go far.

A benefit to keeping Super-Menace around is Superman
could blame stuff like this on him.
As time passes, Super-Bully grows up in Super-Menace, a duplicate of Superman's in every way, except he's still wearing a domino mask like an idiot. Given the blessing by his aging father in a bid to take over the criminal gangs of the world, Super-Menace finally reveals himself to the Man of Steel in a battle which circles the planet. The force of their battle is so great that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is toppled and a uranium deposit is set off by a super-stomp of Super-Menace's foot. Those actually are the only two casualties - a nuclear explosion and a landmark fell over, but you get the idea.

Superman reveals to Super-Menace the lie that is his life by hitting him with x-ray vision and revealing that the villainous dupe possesses no bones or organs - just wriggly gross energy! His super-memory suddenly spurred to recall how his parents are actually dumb criminal assholes, Super-Menace punishes them for their false love by "abandon(ing) this human form, and return(ing) to ... pure force!" The Dereks are killed in the process, which is pretty gruesome for a Silver Age Superman story.

As Superman muses, "So vanishes the most dangerous menace to law-and-order the world has ever known," but he doesn't know the half of it. As unlikely a character as Super-Menace may have been, his existence answered a problematic issue in the Superman universe - namely, why was rural, out-of-the-way, unimportant Smallville always the target of alien attacks, destructive weather, roving crooks and assorted unfortunate happenstance? And for that matter, why couldn't Metropolis go a week without a tidal wave or an earthquake? Well, according to this story, it's because Super-Menace was farting around with Superman's free time, just trying to make life difficult for the Man of Tomorrow by throwing every threat he could find at him, for giggles.

Frankly, for such an unlikely character, it's a pretty good solution to the problem. Which is why I say - bring back Super-Menace!

This is a little dark.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : CAPTAIN MILKSOP

Out of all the superheroes who could change from mild-mannered schlub to atomic-powered alter ego, there’s only one who owes his magically-acquired tremendous might to corporate fiat.

Captain Milksop was, in his fumbling mortal guise, the much-put-upon Mortimer X.Mortimer. Employed as a lowly clerk at a pottery store despite his innate clumsiness – or perhaps because of it, since his boss kept a running tally of Mortimer’s dropped vases and their retail value which he could subtract from the poor fella’s wages – Mortimer one day finds himself abducted by vase-thieves! And they’re the worst kind of vase thieves, they’re the kind who uses a fake baby to help them steal things! I’m sure you’ve read about such criminal masterminds in the Time-Life book, Legends of the Fake Baby Vase Thieves.

"Why did we even invite this guy?"
Trapped in the bad guys’ hideout, Mortimer muses on his predicament and finds himself wishing for the powers of the famous Red Band Comics lineup, like … hold on, I have to look this up. “Why can’t I be like Bogey Man,” he mutters with his head clasped firmly in his hands, “or Sgt.Strong … Or the Sorcerer!” While Mortimer struggles to think of any other character ever published by Red Band, he fails to notice that a Red Band Comic has fluttered in through the window, and moreso that tiny characters are stepping out of it! Except Sgt.Strong, I guess he had somewhere else to be.

Having been granted “special permission of our copyright owners” explains Red Band’s tiny incarnation of its Sorcerer character to equally tiny versions of its Bogey Man and villainous Satanas, the characters are allowed to grant a fraction of their own powers to Mortimer providing he merely say the magic words “Red Band Comics”  … while rubbing a copy of Red Band Comics on his head. Product placement is everything in superheroics, I suppose.

It lacks the dignity of “SHAZAM,” to be sure, but it’s still slightly better than yelling “SPLIT” and having your limbs fall off. Dignity isn’t Milksop’s forte, of course, not with a name like that and a costume reminiscent of a sleepy elf. Still, he manages to provide well for himself, smashing up the vase thieves and later putting down a revolt of zoo animals led by a hypnosis-adept chimp.

Captain Milksop was routinely given cash rewards for his hard work, which was immediately spent at the vase shop to make up for his civilian identity’s clumsiness. The more things change …

No one gave him the power of dignity.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

THE BARNEY BEAR FAMILY MURDERS

I'm not wrong; this looks terrifying, right?

None of the Spire Christian Comics – all but entirely the handiwork of the almost-universally underrated Al Hartley – are particularly aimed at adults, not Archie or The Brothers or any of the line’s adaptations of inspirational books and films, for that matter. With all of that said, the content of the line’s specifically-for-the-kiddie-winks title Barney Bear simplifies its message to such a degree that it’s practically intended only for the well-read zygote, AND YET as the message gets simpler, it somehow gets … slightly more menacing. There’s apparently a genuinely narrow boundary dividing evangelical faith from predatory faith, and Barney Bear and the rest of his ursine Manson Family sit firmly on the slightly alarming side of that division.

Take for example Barney Bear: Sunday School Picnic (The colon is my insertion, and it makes it seem much more like a Law&Order spinoff) originally published in 1981, which features the seemingly innocent tale of Barney and the rest of the bear clan (his father Ripperclaw and his mother ThunderSlayer) packing up a picnic lunch so as to join the rest of their congregation for a day of haranguing agnostics.

Along the way, the Bears happen across the battered and broken-down car containing another animal family whose species is never mentioned, but from their appearance I can only guess are bucktoothed socks with whiskers. Papa Bear (known as “Skullsplitter” among his former prison pals) manages to fix the car all right, and even extends an invitation to their picnic, which all sounds well and fun until this exchange of dialogue occurs: “I knew their car would start” suggests Pop, his hands still wet from engine grease and stinking of copper, “I prayed about it!” Mother replies, as all three stare forward blank-faced, “I knew they’d come to the picnic – I prayed for them!!”

You've signed your family's death warrant, kid.
This does not sound good. When she says she prayed FOR them, does she mean “on their behalf” or “That God would send us someone to murder on a country road far away from prying eyes”? From this page alone, it’s hard to judge, but it’s clearly the latter.

From there, the book breaks down into some of the usual patter of the evangelical comics. It turns out, for instance, than no agnostic has ever heard anyone describe to them even the general themes of the Bible, and so all you have to say is something like “But Jesus says love is good” and they respond like “ARE YOU FUCKING SHITTING ME? I HAVE GOT TO GET IN ON THIS!! HOLY CRAP! BOB! COME HERE! DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THIS OUTLANDISH NEW IDEA? WHERE DO I SIGN??” Somehow this world is populated entirely either by the leering, relentlessly cheered faithful and people who’d never even heard of … Grod, was it? Glod? Something like that.

There’s also the explanatory segments appended with an asterisk which direct you to specific passages from the Bible, one of which cites Isaiah 55:10 to explain evaporation and how to make bread. Technically speaking, you can find that information on Wikipedia. I learned the first part from a bubblegum wrapper, it’s not really exclusive to the Bible.

Good lord.
Anyway, amidst all of this, the last thing you want to have happen happens, as Papa Bear (served a nickel for aggravated assault, has a tattoo of a dagger inside his right eyelid so he can “observe the sacred knife” while he sleeps) grabs the young sock-creature-thing (“Charlie,” we’re informed) and takes off with him in a conveniently-prepared hot air balloon hidden behind a ring of trees and shrubs. You can’t drive a balloon, folks, so that kid is not coming back to his parents any time soon. He does learn a lot about evaporation while he’s up there, though.

By the end of the book, Charlie’s family is so jumpy that they’re leaping in the air, shocked at a mass of people “Having FUN!” (“And it’s NICE fun,” adds Charlie, implying a terrible subtext). I’d be on edge too, folks, you’ve been invited to the murderbear church, and it’s time to give up something for the Blood Lent. A recently-converted “Swamp Gang” descends on the party, and the next time we hear about Charlie’s family, it’s because their broken-down car is discovered empty and unattended in a field, which is how a lot of news reports start.


Anyway, it’s one of those comics with the best intentions, but even Hartley’s typically gorgeous linework starts to vibrate with the relentless, gaping mouth smiles and dinner-plate eyes of the faithful, staring with Stepford delight at every misstep of the uninitiated. Next time you need a genuinely disturbing horror comic to send a shiver down your spine, may I suggest reaching for a Barney Bear title …

The expression on the faces of Mom and Dad Whisker Sock seem to indicate that they now know fear. 



Tuesday, June 23, 2015

THE WILD WORLD OF WONDER WOMAN : THEM!

I'm not sure, but I think those are just full-size Trollkins and you can probably just melt them with a Bic lighter.

The newly-updated and liberated Wonder Woman - so liberated, in fact, that she's powerless, devoid of a signature costume and now shares her masthead with her Jiu-Jitsu instructor and watered-down Eastern mystic "The Incredible I-Ching," which is exactly what feminism was trying to accomplish, thanks - starts her series of all-new, all-different adventures with some out-of-the-ordinary tales. So far, she's gone full hippie, fought a robot Frankenstein and remote-controlled red baron planes, opened a boutique, watched Steve Trevor go full-on bazonkers, and now she's protecting teenaged runaways from ... THEM!

A lot of my dreams start out this way.
Returning from her one-time home on Paradise Island, Diana Prince opens the door to her boutique only to find a cowering teenager named Cathy Perkins hiding among the hip-wader and bellbottoms, which sounds pastoral if you say it slowly enough. Cathy is on the run from -- THEM! And if you like third-person articles, then this is the book for you!

THEM is a gang of street-level thugs and hooligans dressed like the Golden Ticket winners at Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory let loose in the radioactive wasteland of Mad Max until adulthood. The gang - numbering anywhere from three to a million, depending on how densely packed Mike Sekowsky's often-wordless panels chooses to stack the antagonists - is led by Top Hat, a secondary-colored steampunk ne'er-do-well  who keeps her runaway victims on dog leashes, cuts up their clothes and feeds 'em drugs to keep 'em compliant. Yeah, I went to camp, too.

Some egg and melon stew would go down pretty good right now.
THEY cause no end of harassment to Diana Prince and her uninsured boutique ("I forgot to take out insurance" she chirps shortly after the store is burned down by THEM, like an idiot), not the last of which being constant threats shouted from the streets at night and assaults on Diana Prince's groceries.

Typical for these somewhat-underambitiously plotted late-Sixties Wonder Woman adventures, Diana is sometimes capable of handling herself in a fight and sometimes utterly intimidated by her foes into passivity. It's not even a case of THEM having superior numbers on THEIR side as THEY continue to harass Wonder Woman and her charge, maybe she's just afraid of all-caps.

What THEM is actually afraid of is Diana Prince's neighbor across the street, Tony Petrucci, and that's bullpuckey is what that is. Surely, what the revamped, new-for-the-ERA-era Wonder Woman should have had going for her was utter self-sufficiency, but she ends up relying on men - men with less experience, training and drive that she possessed herself - more than ever. In fact, what Tony has in his arsenal that Diana doesn't have in hers is a mother who's willing to cook big meals for strangers. No wonder the yippies are running scared!

Wonder Woman does eventually stand up for herself, long after her stock had been deliberately torn up, her store burned down, and she'd passively walked away from literally THREE occasions when THEY and THEIR pals violently harassed her on the street. Considering that her enemies were literally filthy street people armed only with dog collars, this isn't exactly Wonder Woman's finest hour, powers or no powers.

TFW a Cirque de Soleil street gang makes eye contact with you on your way back from Costco.


Friday, June 19, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : JUMPIN’ JACK AND THE GASSER

"Quack"

From the name alone, you can make the educated guess that Jack Kirby, King of Comics, listened to the Rolling Stones. Still, the two-man team which terrorized the eponymous avenue in First Issue Special vol.1 No.6’s Dingbats of Danger Street (September 1975) were never depicted drowned, washed-up, nor left for dead, never mind raised by a toothless, bearded hag.

What they did do was kidnap some folks, steal an important microfiche, and lend a little super-villainous color to what appeared to be another likably daffy and eccentric team of rough-and-tumble street kids in much the oeuvre of other Kirby (co-)created teams like the Newsboy Legion and the Boy Commandos.

Unlike those other heroes of Kirby’s often-ignored and underrated boys’ own tales, the Dingbats were a group united solely by location – they didn’t particularly seem to get along, but they disliked everyone else even more. So while the team experienced internal discord, they proved to be at least an effective stumbling block in the path of the pair of criminals who descended on their neighborhood.

Predictably, Jumpin’ Jack – decked out in a scarlet suit and bearing a notably Stan Lee-esque mustache – possessed the power of super-jumping. It didn’t keep him out of the seemingly abusive custody of ace policeman Lieutenant Mullins, however. After tripping over the Dingbats, Jack found himself tied to a chair in police headquarters downtown, so I’m almost glad he managed to escape quickly. You know, for his sake.

Meanwhile, the Gasser – decked out in an impressive armored breather array and something resembling a Tyvek “clean suit” – gets a full-fledged introduction by way of the King’s weirdly harmonious but slightly addling copy:

“Crime has many faces!! But there’s little doubt that this one is a winner in the “fright-stakes”! Beneath that ugly mask is a kidnapper and killer --- in short, he’s the type who puts the “danger” in Danger Street! Although the mystery deepens, it takes courage to turn him down! He’s got a gun and he means business! --- Meet The Gasser”

The confrontation between an escaping jack, his partner the Gasser, and the entire police department – complete with snipers – ends up with a chase through the city and a final confrontation on a burning pier. Now, while the Dingbats themselves didn’t carry on in the pages of DC Comics, it’s worth mentioning that both of the crooks only ever ended up arrested. Apparently if their parent company were ever interested in taking home the gold in the “Fright-Stakes,” they’ve still got the Gasser and Jumpin’ Jack hanging around somewhere in a flophouse on Danger Street…

Super-Archie Bunker


Thursday, June 18, 2015

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : DEMON HUNTER

Whatever else you can say about Demon Hunter, it promised a lot.

Debuting in September 1975 within the pages of his self-titled magazine, Demon Hunter is kind enough to start by asking and answering the following question: “What does a demon hunter do?” Well, just a guess, but I reckon that he hunts demons. According to the splash page definition, a demon hunter (n.) does “everything he can to prevent Xenogenesis, the rebirth of a demon race here on Earth!” It’s good to have a hobby.

Demon Hunter is Gideon Cross, a former Army infantryman in Vietnam who returned to find that his life had fallen to pieces during his absence. With his wife having run off with another man, the distraught Cross signed up with some ambiguous crime family, knocking over bookie joints and drinking himself to sleep every night. Well, it beats working with tar.

Just unwinding with a flask full of blood and a bright red bodysuit.

Lacking any real direction, Cross ends up associating himself with a fancy supernatural cult which calls itself “The Harvesters of Night.” The hooded figures of the cult enhance Cross’ inherent powers of ESP (he calls it both his “Sixth Sense” and “telepathy,” but I like to call it by its more mellifluous name, “Mind Ray Beam Juice Power”) and teach him how to mask his outlandish costume from prying eyes, which he could also do by putting on a t-shirt.

The famous airplane scene from
The Opening of Misty Beethoven.
The cult sets him up with a dimension-crossing cloak and gets him grabbing blood samples from his clients, assassinating dudes willy-nilly under the appealing job title of “Harvester of Eyes,” and only after he’s attacked by the demon Hamremmiz  (who’s disguised as the demon Ballberith and WHO CARES because we don’t know who either of those made up demons are and they disappear right after that), does DemonHunter begin to suspect that maybe the Cult is evil. They literally inducted him kneeling buck-naked inside a ring of tombstones in front of a giant fireplace built inside a monster’s face after trying to kill him with a six-armed monster and then sent him out to kill people, but only after his eleventh murder does he begin to suspect that maybe the Harvesters of Night aren’t the Girl Scouts.

Turning his back on the Harvesters of Night, which is increasingly sounding like a terrible metal band or an underwhelming Dungeons and Dragons campaign, Cross decides to pit himself against their apparently evil plans to fill Earth with demons. Ah, those finks, that’s the OPPOSITE of what they said they were gonna do!


Atlas-Seaboard supported exactly one issue of Demon Hunter, but writer David Anthony Kraft revived him at Marvel in a color-switched uniform and with a slightly different sobriquet (Devil Slayer) and wedging him into his run on The Defenders. To be fair, his career has exactly been on an unending upward trajectory at Marvel Comics, either, but at least we haven’t had Xenogenesis yet. That I’ve read about in USA Today, anyway.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

BUFF MEN DOING BUFF THINGS IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE (AND MOTORCYCLES)

Comics don't feature enough screaming beefcake on motorcycles these days.

No man has ever missed a meal in a Mike Zeck comic. It’s all broad shoulders, powerful arms, chests as wide and expansive as untilled fields of wheat – just an endless parade of titanic American bara with backs like grizzly bears, decked out in short-sleeve polo shirts. Any book illustrated by Zeck looks like if the Joe Wieder Invitational crashed through a J.C.Penney’s in the middle of Summer 1986. I don’t think there’s a single male character in any Zeck book who doesn’t own a long-sleeve rugby shirt with the fabric stretched out around the cuffs, where they keep rolling them up their ham-sized forearms.

Which makes Zeck pretty much the perfect artist for a character like Captain America, easily the most corn-fed farmstock superhero on the planet. Captain America is the one costumed crimefighter most likely to grab a cup of joe at the office coffee machine and say “Damn fine brew today, Janet.” He’s the guy I expect to be most excited that someone brought in danishes, but he’ll only have half a one because he had seventeen eggs for breakfast. At the gym.

Large men in comfortable clothes eating themselves silly. The American Dream.
All of which also makes him the perfect fit for a story which teams Captain America with a trio of all-American, rough-and-tumble motorcycle stunt riders in their debut appearance. In Captain  America vol.1 No.269 (May 1982, “A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste”), Cap finds himself joined by two-wheeled daredevils Team America – no, not the marionette movie by the South Park guys, but rather stars-and-stripes bedangled stunt riders Honcho, Reddy (First name, “R.U.”) and Wolf, whom you can tell is Mexican because he keeps code-switching the last word of every sentence just like all ethnic types do in comic books.

What brings the quartet together involves a performance at a benefit motorcycle stunt show attended by Nobel Prize winner and dirt track stuntcycle enthusiast Alfred Knopfler, This ends as most of these shows do, with a wormhole opening in time and space and a giant naked putty-yellow man-monster abducting the respected scientist, and then Undertaker jumps like twelve school buses. They’ll sell you the whole seat, but you’ll only need the edge!

¡OlĂ©!
Cap and his hard-driving buddies follow the kidnap-happy cross between Homer Simpson and the Hulk through his wormhole (which sounds very intimate) and find themselves in what appears to be the Main Street USA section of Disneyland. At which point they’re suddenly confronted by the friendly visages of Albert Einstein and Mark Twain, thereby putting to rest forever the rumors that the two men were one and the same.

Actually, it turns out that the entire town is inhabited by the great men of history – and do I mean MEN, (wolf-whistle sound), including Shakespeare, Plato, Abraham Lincoln, Confuciius, Maciavelli, Socrates and Nietzsche. Gosh, can I get a little mustard to go with all this sausage?

Yep, we’ve come pretty far from an arena full of two-wheeled mudfuckers. In fact, I think you can argue that this would be the polar opposite of the community center arena on the night they book Truckasaurus. What it turns out to actually be, however, is the haven of notoriously cranky Marvel baddie and big-brained nuisance The Mad Thinker, a guy who’s happy to work under that sobriquet and that says a lot about him. The famous figures populating his personal burg are androids, replicating the greatest men in history, but it’s not enough for the Thinker – it’s never enough. Now he wants to steal living minds to full his androids’ empty heads, including Knopfler and even Captain America, because he can’t be picky apparently.

If you’re under the impression that this is really coming down hard on smart people and celebrating guys who drive around fast on mud, then boy have you unlocked the weird message of this particular story. Moreso, Team America – a trio of guys who so far have shown as much ingenuity and intelligence as an engine block – manage to save the day by wrecking everything, including literally the world’s most advanced androids. I guess it’s worth mentioning that this is accomplished thanks to The Marauder, a black-clad motorcyclist who rushes in an saves the day, then disappears when the individual members of Team America show up, but mostly I’m taken aback by the image of Wolf holding Abraham Lincoln above his head so as to smash him violently to the ground. Listen mister, the last time someone tried something like that, it ruined a perfectly good play.

Take that, nerds!


The end of the story returns Knopfler and his fellow Nobel Prize winners to their beloved extreme arena sports and Team America to its relatively obscure and brief existence. The entire experience was weirdly hog-heavy – by which I mean to refer both to the motorcycles and all the swinging dicks – but the one thing you can say about this weird adventure of America’s Star-Spangled Avenger … at least everyone looked fuckin’ swole while they did it.

Yeah, but you didn't count on MOTORCYCLES!


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

COSTUME DRAMA : THE KILLER, FORBIDDEN COSTUME

We've all wondered which article of clothing is lying to us, haven't we? 

For a brief period in 1969, Superman abandoned his regular red-and-blue togs for a pair of possessed space-pajamas which were themselves caught in an eternal struggle for dominance, life, and death. I’ve personally had the same problem buying underwear online, but it doesn’t compare to the struggles faced by the Man of Steel in the two-part tale “The Killer Costume” and “The Forbidden Costume” (Action Comics vol.1 Nos 383 and 384, Dec 196-Jan 1970).

Nowadays, if Superman adopted a new set of glad rags – never mind TWO sets in the same issues – it would be call for a special hologram-emblazoned variant cover edition comic, a full-page costume retrospective in a USA Today color supplement and maybe an appearance on the TODAY Show but, back in the early parts of the Bronze Age, it was just another excuse for Superman to shout at a pantsuit.

"Also, I've always wondered how I'd look in one of
those European-style bathing suits, so try this on ..."
The costumes in question where formerly worn by an insanely evil space criminal – Aabur-Z, sporting a colorful purple-and-orange ensemble with black flared shoulders that simply scream “Summer Fun” – and a dedicated space cop named ENFORCER NS-2 (or, sometimes, “NZ-2”), whose Sunday go-to-meeting suit was a sensible avocado-and-cherrywood number with padded pouches on the shoulders. Shades of the Nineties! These guys WERE from a super-advanced alien race!

While hauling convicted space criminal Aabur to space prison, space-police officer Enforcer NS-II (also spelled that way on one occasion) is forced to pilot his ship into the tail of a radioactive comet. The resulting energies disintegrate the crook’s and cop’s bodies, but leaves behind their boiling hate – and barely concealed forbidden lust! Aabur’s evil spirit inhabits his uniform, while NS-2’s dogged determination to see Aabur put behind bars drenches his costume with sentience, and then they crash-land on Earth without Superman noticing even though “stopping things from crashing on Earth” is literally the thing he does most often.

Aabur’s sentient costume flies around in an attempt to find the most evil human being on Earth and, rather than settling on a Koch Brother, picks phony philanthropist and secret mafia chief Jackson Randell, president of the Metropolis International Bank and duplicitous fink. With the costume partially controlling his mind and gifting him with the power to destroy anything he touches (having a piss is going to be a genuine challenge, someone hand him the salad tongs), Randell adopts the identity of “The Destroyer” before the suit abandons him sleeping in a toolshed somewhere. Weird arc for “The Destroyer,” you know?

The animated uniforms of Aabur and NS-2 confront Superman at his Fortress, demanding that he wear each of them. I’ve had an uncomfortably sexy dream about almost the exact same thing but, unlike Superman, I didn’t resolve the issue by having my identical duplicate robot pals wear the costume and then fight each other to spare parts and broken casings. Do you think Superman gave his robots fake robot genitals identical to his own? I know, I’m asking the wrong questions here.

Perry White having one of his "Nature Poops"
Aabur manages to exploit the typical “Superman must do any idiotic thing asked of him if you approach him in his secret identity” clause, and tricks Clark Kent into donning … him. Naturally, Aabur is aware of Clark’s dual identity, so now he’s flying around with super-powers, committing crimes, and helping bad guys escape from the cops. It looks like all is lost for the Man of Tomorrow, helpless before the might of a pair of evil long underwear, but here comes Perry White dressed in NS-2’s costume!

Aabur correctly susses out the situation thusly, confronting his old foe wrapped around the tubby mass of the Planet’s elderly chief: “You don’t have a prayer, NZ-2 (sic)! Just look at youeself – your host-body belongs to a fat, middle-aged editor! Mine is Superman! I’ll tear you apart with his super-strength!”

Aabur is right, and that’s the end of the story. Sweet dreams!

Actually, Superman doubles-down on triple costumes, stripping Perry at super-speed and putting NS-2’s haunted costume on over his own super-suit, which it itself being worn over Aabur’s terrifying overalls. It’s like that internet video of the guy wearing a hundred t-shirts.

In the end, Superman does what you or I would do in the same situation and flings the uniforms into a distant sun, where they can continue their hate-filled feud as they’re burned to ashes and their spirits are forever denied eternal reward. Thanks Superman, thanks for burning the ghost-space-cop forever with his hated rival for eternity, even though he expressly said he just wanted to see the bad guy behind bars in space prison and you know of, like, twenty space-prisons within an hour or so from Earth. Putting a onesie in space prison wouldn’t have been any weirder than anything else in this story.

Superman's been watching the news lately.

Monday, June 15, 2015

P-S-Eh? : CALLING ALL SLEUTHS

How well do you know the law? Well, let's check out the answer chart:

(1) D, the name of an exciting new crime drama starring Jereny Piven as a private investigator named Shaw who has a psychic connection with his pet hawk, this Fall on NBC.

(2) D. Trick answer, all of those answers refer to the minimum number of people required to constitute a gangbang in different countries.

(3) D. He died on the interstate.

(4) D. Being cool, you want to be cool, don't you?

(5) D. "...Never having to say you're sorry."

How'd you do? If you answered "D" to every question, you did great and are now the police commissioner of your city. If you answered with any other option,I'm sorry, you're going to jail.

Friday, June 12, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : THE DRESS SUIT


You know what they always say - "Dog Bites Man" isn't news, "Tiny Man Fights Evil Empty Suit of Clothes" is news - and that's what makes one-time Doll Man foe "The Dress Suit" a banner headline!

Despite Doll Man's diminutive size, he packed an impressively large (and colorful) rogues gallery. Still, few possessed the decapitated elan of The Dress Suit, a seemingly self-motivated collection of dapper togs with murder on its mind!

Debuting in Doll Man vol.1 no.8 (Summer 1946), the Dress Suit is first spied through an upper-story window by Doll Man's apparenly super-nosy fiancee Martha while she makes her way back to the apartment she apparently shares with her father and Doll Man's civilian identity Darrel Dane, at least to judge by the number of stories which take place exclusively in the residence. Weird set up, but who am I to judge the living arrangements of the Golden Age's own Jack, Chrissy and Janet.

I was thinking he looked quite dapper, actually.

Rushing to alert her paramour and papa, arms laden with groceries, Martha tells an unbelievable tale of an elegant dinner dress murdering a man. Surely we all know that most murders are committed by overalls and peaked caps, but it turns out Martha's right after all - a tuxedo is straight-up murdering dudes!

It doesn't take long for Doll Man and the police (coming this Thursday to the Buffalo Conention Center, call Ticketmaster for tickets) to suss out the animated glad-rags' intended victims, if nothing else - the surviving partners of the law firm of Dagnam, Tate, Weamer and Sordin, recently broken off from Dewey, Cheatem and Howe and Sterling Cooper Price.

"The last three times I tried this, I just nailed the
guy right in the balls."
In fact, it seems that The Dress Suit himself may be the vengeful ghost of Weamer himself, seeking revenge om his partners for sending him up the river! Naturally, that's not the case - a ghost come to life and murdering people, ridiculous! No, much more realistically, the Dress Suit is a remote control android operated by one of the partnrs, Sordin, intent on killing his remaining partners in order to obliterate the rare chance that they might let some secret of the crime slip to the authorities. Sure, a byzantine murder plan seems like the best way around this.

Despite the impressive visual of a tiny man fighting a suit, the most memorable exchange in the book occurs when Doll Man shows up at Sordin's front door, and is promptly invited in. An entire book of etiquette could be written about how to be a proper host when your guest is a six-inch man in leotards and a cape. I'm assuming it's polite to offer a drink of rainwater from the bell of a tulip and tiny sandwiches. I mean, really tiny sandwiches...

Thursday, June 11, 2015

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : THE BUTCHER


Subtlety was not the Bucher's oeuvre.

Then again, there's clearly very little stock placed in subtlety with a character called The Butcher in the first place, particularly when he makes his debut on the cover of his self-titled book (The Butcher no.1, May, 1990) with a knife clenched between his teeth and wielding a semi-automatic weapon.

The Butcher was John Butcher, military man, martial artist and possessor of one of the least well-hidden secret identities in the history of comic book vigilantism. When his parents are murdered by the evil Namdorph Corporation in an attempt to steal the couple's valuable, undeveloped real estate, John Butcher abandons his responsibilities to arm himself for bear and start stabbing dudes in the face and neck with a huge knife ... until he gets justice!

I'm not super-crazy about the scalping, either.
As part of the book's aversion to gentle nuance, it's worth mentioning that Namdorph had set its sights on the aforementioned stretch of land not because it was simply some tedious corporate landgrab, the likes of which happen every day in abundance in the real world. Rather than merely being valuable for the inherent value of land, THIS land was home to "special crystals" which Namdorph intended to use to create a highly destructive particle beam weapon with which they could conquer the world. No small goals here.

Likewise, Namdorph ends up being - in the way of these stories - staffed entirely by mustache-twirling, rape-happy corporate execs with titanic Asian bodyguards, and inkily evil board members portrayed half-hidden in shadow whenever they do appear. I guess if they weren't so egregiously evil, we might've felt bad when John Butcher stabbed them in their faces.

It's odd that Namdorph is portrayed as a company so influential and so powerful that it can cover up its executives' collective murders, rapes, drug use and general criminal mayhem, but they couldn't just force a Native American mom and pop donut shop off of its land. That is LITERALLY what evil corporations have been doing since Europeans first settled this continent, I'm not sure you even have to fill out any paperwork to drive Native Americans off their land these days. Probably you just fill out an online form. There might even be an app for it.

Created by Mike Baron - co-creator of The Badger and Nexus, and fresh off the relaunch of the post-Crisis Flash title which saw Wally West graduated to his former mentor's mantle - and artist Shea Anton Pensa, the Butcher debuted in his own five-issue series, moved on to a five issue team-up book with Green Arrow and the Question, and then disappeared from DC's lineup, for one reason or another. My guess is that there's only so far you can go with a character bearing a sobriquet like that, and DC wasn't yet hooked up to the post-Image-boom tip...

For all his cunning Lakota ways and extensive martial arts and military training, the Butcher didn't act alone; he encircled himself with a small nuclear family, complete with tow-headed toddler, his former sensei (conceptual multimedia artist Tsunami, a "hip sensei" of the Baron variety) and, in both his series, archer vigilante Green Arrow. At one point it's revealed that the family's wife and mother enjoys baking and that "Tsunami" works in wax, and they just stand there in a room with Butcher and force that joke to land by just straight-up telling the reader that we've got ourselves a Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker situation going on here.

So, again, subtlety.

The Butcher had its flaws, but there wasn't a lot of time to smooth them out to find the salvageable character underneath . Proving to be a weird fit in the DC Universe, even at this increasingly grim-and-gritty time, the Butcher nonetheless didn't exactly have Justice League membership in his future...

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

EVERYTHING IS AWESOME

DC Comics, by way of their most-recent crossover event (as of this writing, anyway; by the time you've finished reading this entry I'm sure they'll have had two more crossover events from start to finish) has declared that continuity and canon no longer rule the roost among their respective intellectual properties.

Of course, this liberation from precedence was announced by way of an in-continuity story which established the absence of continuity and marked the dissolution of canon ... as canon. The new continuity is no continuity, according to their continuity, and the only canon is a canon-shaped hole in their canon, according to recently-established canon. I ... This is utter nonsense, am I wrong? I can't be the crazy one here, right?

In any case - with every story they've ever published now officially part of the canon-less continuity and every universe now part of the continuous non-canon, that means absolutely everything DC ever published, intimated, hinted at or even edited out of existence is once again part of their active universe, and that includes ...


SWAMP THING MEETS JESUS
Writer/artist Rick Veitch was assigned the seemingly unenviable task of following Alan Moore's groundbreaking run on Swamp Thing, and yet managed to turn in a work which was - at the very least - comparable to Moore's while maintaining an utterly unique storyline, look, feel and vibrancy. Besides really diving into Moore's (and previous creator Martin Pasko's) Swamp Thing supporting cast, expanding the mythology established in the series preceding him, he also launched both wrenching and grotesque salvos against corporate pop culture in much the vein one becomes used to with Rick Veitch.

What put an end to Veitch's run was disagreement at the highest levels of Warner Bros. entertainment with Veitch's plan to have a then-time-travelling Swamp Thing not only make it all the way to the living days of Jesus Christ, but to have the long-running hero's plant-based body be the cross on which Jesus was crucified. I don't see what the drama was all about, that's exactly what I learned in Sunday School, according to my enormously faulty memory.

The crucifix-tastic conclusion was scrapped, but now it's canon again, even if it only existed in rough form. I genuinely expect to see Swamp Thing and Jesus Christ having buddy adventures from here on out, and if not I'm gonna need someone to explain why not.


BATMAN STRAIGHT-UP MURDERING DUDES
Batman fans love to pull the "Batman hates guns" routine even though the Caped Crusader has used all kindsa guns throughout his 75+ year career, from the non-lethal variety to the Frank Miller variety (not to mention how pretty much every Batman movie has the Dark Knight Detective either machine-gunning stuff or just blowing up whole factories).

Well, unfortunately for them, Batman now uses guns again, and he legit uses them to shoot dudes full on in the motherfucking faces. Vampires, crooks, um ... everyone? Everyone. Batman can now shoot everyone and how're you going to stop him, he's non-canonical Batman, the baddest Batman of them all!



SUPERMAN SLAPS A (REDACTED)
Way back in Superman vol.1 no.216 (May 1969), Superman starred in a story which recalled his heyday in World War II. Deciding that our boys "over there" needed his support, he bumrushed a draft board and got himself appointed as a medic in Vietnam, facing off against an American soldier turned a rampaging giant who'd been dubbed "King Cong" and been brainwashed into fighting for the enemy. The Viet Cong which Superman fought sure resembled the enemy battalions of World War II, although their tank regiments were piloted by Vietnamese soldiers dressed in rags and peaked hats. A Good Depiction, and more or less the last time Superman faced off against an aggressively offensive depiction of another ethnicity (I saw "more or less," but I'm not forgetting the nearly-purple Quracis of the late Eighties).

That was a pretty mellow excursion into Asia, however, considering that Superman's antics during the Forties involved a lot of buck-toothed, squint-eyed Japanese enemies, an express endorsement of American internment camps for citizens of Japanese descent and, for that matter, the famous cover represented above... now back in canon! Superman's gonna become your dad's brother's Facebook account, just wait for it!

He seems reasonable.

CAPTAIN MARVEL'S PROBLEMATIC FRIEND STEAMBOAT
Everybody loves the original Captain Marvel, and his innocent, beaming, eyes-wide-open sensawunda adventures just perfect for a kid-friendly market. Well, except for the loads and loads of racism which defined his original run.

The long-running multi-issue story arc, Captain Marvel vs The Monster Society of Evil, for instance, was a ground-breaking series of adventures which predicted the serialized event comic something like four decades in advance of the formula's debut. It's also one of the most stereotype-packed stories in comics history. I had the reprint edition when I was in college and it was the first material I'd ever encountered that was racist against the Scottish. I didn't even know you could do that!

Chief among Captain Marvel's ethnic excesses, however, was Billy's personal assistant and howling caricature Steamboat, a Stepin Fetchit type who was pretty quick with a knife and burdened under a confusing patois. The best thing about it is, though, he's gotta be back, right? Uncle Dudley, the Lieutenants, Tawky Tawny - the next time the Marvel Family reunites, make sure to include room for Steamboat!


ALL THE STORIES WHERE THE MULTIVERSE WAS DESTROYED AND ALL THE STORIES WHERE THE MULTIVERSE WAS RECREATED
This one seems tricky. I mean, I understand that the canonical story which de-established canon also established that no multiverse-destroying events ever happened, but then again if there is no continuity and every story happened, then every story which destroyed the multiverse happened. Also, every story that undid the destruction of the Multiverse happened too. All the times the multiverse was destroyed and all the times the multiverse wasn't destroyed all happened in this new, exciting and inevitably reversible and completely meaningless Schrodinger's Continuity in which DC is now encased. That's ... complicated. And in canon! Hooray!


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