Thursday, September 29, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : LITTLE GIANT

I don't usually like to cover any character if I don't have access to their full catalog of original appearances. But, with Little Giant from O.K.Comics, I'd like to make an exception. This is in part because there are only two appearances, and I've at least got half of the full catalog. Also, because it's disturbing, delightful and a little bit insane.

To begin with, the story begins in media res, and in complete disarray. The opening panel of the series introduces the Little Giant -- a "little orphan newsboy" who's not entitled to a real name ("Rusty") until he's proven his value in a fight, evidently -- tearing the fuck out of the in-home laboratory of the kiddie-luring scientist Professor Abner Rednow. Seems that Professor Rednow, after checking his driver's license in a mirror just to make sure the name thing worked, enticed the apparently shirtless child into his house in order to experiment on him. Many episodes of Law and Order;SVU start the same way, dongk dongk.


He's gonna start poppin' and lockin'
Bellowing in pain, Little Giant wrecks shit like he gets paid for it. Luckily, this is the one trait most desirable in a golden age superhero.

Having been the recipient of the Professor's "Liquid Impurvogen" -- which is a secret superpower formula and not a euphemism for bodily emissions which would send any sane individual leaping in front of a train -- "Giant" now possess the strength of twelve strong men! Likewise, he probably possesses the strength of twenty-four moderately strong men, and as many as four dozen weaklings. He's like the Charmin toilet rolls of superherodom -- you need a slide rule to figure out how many "Regular Rolls" go into a "Giant Roll," you know?

Giant also gets a liberal brushing of the boss' liquid Impurvogen (Consult with your doctor before taking Impurvogen. Ask your pharmacist for more information before asking about Impurvogen. Impurvogen is a sedative. Do not lift two-hundred pounds tanks over your head with one arm while using Impurvogen. If your erection lasts more than four hours, call the newspaper and tell them "I've had a boner for one-sixth of the day, whoopee!" They will put your photo on the front page of the Lifestyles section and declare you "King For The Day." Impurvogen may cause diarrhea, loggorhea, Rhea Perlman, Ron Perlman and sleep gambling. Do not take Impurvogen). What a quick dousing with a housepainting brush accomplishes is to make Little Giant as invulnerable as he is strong! Therefore, he's as invulnerable as twelve invulnerable men!

Having run out of good names for his inventions, Professor Rednow gives Little Giant a suit of anti-gravity fabric. His array of scientific improvements allow the tyke to leap around like a little maniac, lifting full grown men above his head and getting knocked in the in the back of his coconut with whole literal chairs.

::slowly tips over and falls flat on floor::


The whole "child superhero" gimmick is an intriguing one, to me, because it's simultaneously ecstatic and odious. The idea of sending a child into a battle with gun-toting criminals ought to turn any responsible human being's stomach. Luckily, these are comic books we're talking about and there are no responsible human beings around to wreck things for the rest of us.

But, on the other hand, the comic superhero genre is one where ideas trump execution. And the idea of a kid superhero is one which resonates with deep-seated and long-forgotten feelings of juvenile helplessness and pre-adolescent energy and enthusiasm, for most folks.

"But first, turn your bodycams off..."
Little Giant captures that last sentiment dramatically (even if it begins with the former -- after all, having been lured into a stranger's house and experimented upon -- and it hurt! -- without his foreknowledge is pretty much the definition of the dynamic between child and adult power). With the Professor having adopted his guinea pig, the Little Giant finds himself thrown into action when "notorious gangster" Butch uses him for a human shield in a subway shootout with the fuzz.

Rusty's bona fides are proven even more dramatically when he and his pop visit an old friend, the local Police Commissioner. In order to prove his value as a potential special deputy to the gendarmes, Rusty beats the tar out of a bunch of cops and shames them by showing off his superior physical prowess. I guess Rusty's been watching the news.

Whatever happens in the second issue is anyone's guess ... well, some people own O.K.Comics No.2 so I guess they know. What I DO know is that I appreciate Rusty's zeal and his blase reaction to things like having furniture smashed directly in his face. With his and his adoptive pop's newly minted status as special deputies to the police department, I expect we'll see a lot more grown men carried like dinner trays being hefted by cartoon waiters.

"...and kind of looks like an idiot while doing it."

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

P-S-Eh? : YOUR UNITED NATIONS

Look, next-to-last caption, we just spent a whole page explaining that it wasn't magic ...

I think it's a peculiar indication of my youth that I grew up in a time when the United Nations was still at least somewhat revered as a worthwhile body. Of course, we had John Birchers and tinfoil-hat types who predicted UN tomfoolery and conquest at every beat, but it really wasn't until the late Eighties that I started noticing a culture-wide dread of imminent UN occupation of the United States.

Hey, anyone else remember the rumor that stickers on the back of traffic signs secretly indicated to UN troops the best places to quarter their armies after the invasion? That might only have ever been a Southern Arizona thing ...

"For The International Tool of Diplomacy That Has Everything"
Actually, growing up in New York (outside of the city but only a train line away) might help explain why I came of age with a respect for the UN as an institution and facilitator of diplomatic relations. While the rest of the country was being terrorized with the image of out-of-control delegates running mad with the power of their diplomatic immunity, my community was still holding on to the vibrant image of the UN and the good of which it had already exhibited it was capable ...

At the same time, I was affixed to my town's local TV station as well, which was dripping with reruns of black-and-white shows from the Fifties. If you've caught any reference to the UN on What's My Line or You Bet Your Life - especially in an era when Eleanor Roosevelt was still alive and hyping the institution - you picked up a reverence for the august body... whatever the realities of the place happens to be.

I mean, their hearts were in the right place.

It's difficult to imagine comics carrying one-page features like this in the first place, never mind for something as unremittingly celebratory for an organization it seems that many - if not most - Americans disdain, distrust and dislike. Not that we have a lot of alternatives -- I don't see the Kiwanis stepping up to mediate for Qatar ...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : FUNNYMAN

Oh, he loves to laugh.


He’s got the name of a Siegel and Shuster creation (but he’s not theirs)  and the look of a Steve Ditko drawing (but he’s not his, either), and the morals of a water rat. He’s Funnyman, the chief torturer of the Nazi regime and the star of a gruesome story from the thematically misaligned Cisco Kid Comics. This is supposed to be a Western comic, guys. Let’s leave off the mutilated Nazi sadists, may we?

Well, they're only human.
The leering figure of Funnyman has his origins in Nazi Germany where he was not only chief torturer for the Axis regime but also a man obsessed with making his victims larf. “There is one spot on the ribs where a whip will bring on paroxysms of laughter” he insists in one panel. Later, he gasses an entire town with his own fatal brand of laughing gas. He also tickles one dude’s feet … and then puts rats on him. That last one is conceptual.

The grisly good looks which define Funnyman are the result of a civilian uprising and a quick application of a Glasgow smile. See, you might think this guy was a ripoff of The Joker but, in actuality, he anticipated Heath Ledger’s interpretation several decades earlier! (PS Please ignore The Man Who Laughs for the purposes of the aforementioned statement).

This is one weird Career Day.
Funnyman’s reign of terror seems to be centered primarily on one small town, the social hub of which is the barber shop off of main street. If there’s any particular cause for this, it’s because the local law enforcement has basically abandoned their responsibilities and handed it off to the town barber, “Deadpan.” I think, under the Patriot Act, this is how we fight crime now.

I mean, as an aside, but the instructions the Feds give Deadpan when they tell him to keep on the lookout for Funnyman is, literally, “keep an eye out for a man you never see.” I…sure, I’ll do that. Is this a Voight-Kampff test?

Funnyman and Deadpan end up in a climactic battle over raging rapids which, again, seems like we should call the cops instead of leaving it to a barber. The end result is the apparent death of Funnyman but, it’s learned by the end of the story, the mad torturer survived and took Deadpan’s place. This explains the unprompted downturn in haircut quality on the block, and the subsequent rise in deaths-by-torture at the shampoo station.

Funnyman’s return is promised in the final panel, but a second adventure never materializes. Maybe he already worked through his best material …

"We do the work ... so you don't haaaave tooooo...."

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

SHE WAS ONLY A FARMER'S DAUGHTER ...

"...she endured the abuse and shame with admirable grace."


I don't know what it is that fascinates me so much about the modest genre of humor comics produced in the 1950s and which rely so heavily on sexual harassment as a punchline. And a raison d'etre. And a modus operandi. And an avadra kedavra, for all I know.

I see guys doing this on escalators all the time.
But it was a big hit, for a time. DC's The Adventures of Bob Hope, prior to its later-run delightful absurdity and to name a high-profile example, has already been characterized as a living document of practically criminal levels of groping and subway hollering. It's practically a paean to candid upskirt photography. It was probably big in Georgia.

ACG also boasted (or is that BUST-ed hahaha now I'm doing it) its Dizzy Dames title, previously written about in agog tones on this blog. Then there was also always Torchy and her many imitators, to name a couple. But for Stanhall Publications, this model was their bread-and-butter (or do I mean bread-and-BUST-er again goddamnit I'm doing it again), with ditzy-sex-object titles like G.I.Jane, Broadway-Hollywood Blackouts and The Farmer's Daughter...

"She was only the farmer's daughter, but she..." was the format of a series of salacious jokes back in the olden tymes, before people knew that jokes had to have a funny part somewhere. You can find examples of the form on the internet, and they range from the dad-joke ("...was outstanding in her field") to evidence in an assault trial ("...sure liked to get plowed!").

Whoa, buddy, come on, that's your daughter!
Also, one time, just for me: "She was only a farmer's daughter, but she ... AWWWW SUFFRAGETTE!"

The comic book version of The Farmer's Daughter reiterates these and other spicy jokes in thin narrative frameworks with a stunted cast of characters, although the star of every episode remains slut-shaming and adolescent gawking. Supporting these are the titular ... or do I mean TI- no I mean eponymous, really ... daughter, Amy Dingle, her cockblocking old man Farmer Dingle, and Orville, Amy 's persistent suitor and a walking mountain with an IQ equivalent to the cost of a Forever Stamp.

The gags are effectively stationary - a travelling salesman comes by, attracts the attention of the hump-happy Amy, is pursued by the rockheaded Orville, or is threatened with the business end of a shotgun by Farmer Dingle's overfascination with his daughter's sex life.

Whoa, lady, come on, that's your father!
There's no actual credits in the book, so the otherwise appealing art style goes uncredited -- my admittedly-casual internet research didn't turn up much that made me hopeful for solving the mystery, either. Interior pages are occasionally stamped with the copyright symbol for Hal Seeger Productions, although that only nails down the copyright and ownership to the creator of Fearless Fly. The art style is wrong, however, although it looks a little like it might have been Kin Platt, who'd also drawn the Bob Hope comic mentioned above. If so, it's a hell of a career.

Every Farmer's Daughter story requires the presence of a male suitor of one form or another, in order to inflame Amy's passions and get her father to pry 'em apart with a shotgun. Fictional or not, there's the uncomfortable feeling of watching a dysfunctional family fighting that permeates the title. It's one thing to have a slightly sexy humor comic, but it's another thing altogether to watch a woman desperately cling to every passing stranger before her father comes running into the room, shouting, swinging a gun around. You wouldn't see shit that dark in a Cassavetes film.

At a handful of issues, The Farmer's Daughter -- and, really, the Stanhall line as a whole -- wasn't long for the world. This is probably for the best, because I'm not sure where a book is gonna go when it's got punchlines like this:

Whoa whoa whoa mister ...


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

IF YOU SEE SWAMP THING, SAY SWAMP THING: THE WATCHER

With superhero television programs blowing up in the last few years, recaps of superhero television shows have become all the internet rage. Other sites, however, are hobbled by the need to cover shows which have been "recently broadcast" or which are "any good at all." But who covers the uncoverable? That's why Gone&Forgotten chooses to cover the 1991-1993 USA Network live-action Swamp Thing television series in a feature I like to call "Swamp Thing For The Boys" or...

If You See Swamp Thing, Say Swamp Thing
Dried flattened banana fights evil, film at eleven
Season Two / Episode Five : The Watcher

Robo-hillbillies on the march!


I’ve written seventeen of these things now, can I just take a mulligan? Is there any way to just pass one? Is there a Get Out Of Jail Free card for tv show recaps? I ask because this episode is a masterpiece of contradictions.

In its second season, USA’s Swamp Thing clearly took some notes from the comics which had preceded it. The addition of General Sunderland, Woodrue and Abigail to the roster veered the show away from the moribund legacy of the two films which preceded it – the second of which poisoned the Wes Craven well – and its new material recalled the wild potential of a comic book starring a swamp man fighting aliens and monsters.

Apropos of nothing, that briefcase in the upper left hand corner is there for no reason and isn't mentioned ever.

In this way, The Watcher comes pretty close to capturing the vertiginous and grimy horror of the Pasko Swamp Thing era, combined with the absurd establishment critique of Veitch, while hitting wrong notes along the way.

Tressa opens up her boating business to two of the most stage-hillbilly motherfuckers that this show – set in a swamp as it is – has yet had the temerity to introduce. “A morning like this makes you want to bear hug good news” mutters one in a Gomer Pyle voice, adding “The muffins are good enough to make you want to go to the church and marry up.” This is a hate crime. It’s also not helped by the fact that the microphone is picking up everyone’s labored breathing as they descend the stairs into the boat.

Tressa’s clients turn out to be some sort of hillbilly cyborgs … I say “some sort,” but that is literally what they’re called halfway through the episode. Don’t praise me for the brilliance of the term, is all that I’m asking. Her discovery of their robotic nature is that one of them cuts right through his finger while cutting bait for the fishing trip, which means they may be two of the most poorly-built cyborgs in history. He’s using a paring knife, for crying out loud, and it cuts his finger clean off.

The cyborgs, naturally, are products of Anton Arcane’s science and are wandering around the swamp looking for survivors from Dr.Woodrue’s exploding tugboat (see season 2, episode 1, The Death of Popeye). After Swamp Thing destroys them in the midst of trying to drown Tressa – as if being on this show wasn’t punishment enough, now she has to get shoved under swamp water too – we get one of the few entertaining scenes of the episode; Arcane and the disembodied cyborg hillbilly head sass one another for a few frames. It’s a charmer and Chapman’s tired disgust is … well, it mirrors my own, I suppose.

"Bring back life form. Priority One. All other priorities rescinded."

Am I supposed to be rating these episode, a la the AV Club? Can I start? And do they make grades lower than ::checks old report card:: “Jon could benefit from some time with a therapist, and threats of that nature are not acceptable in Home Ec class or anywhere else.” That’s good, right?

As Tressa recovers from her near-drowning, surrounded by the terrible actors whom she loves, we learn that test tube fruitcake Abigail never had a birthday party. This is the worst idea for an episode of a show of this type. It’s a horror/action show, and we’re going to have to watch Swamp Thing in a party hat try to hit a piƱata (I take it back, that is a GREAT idea).

I, uh ... I'm coming around on Abigail's character, tbh

Elsewhere, the hillbilly cyborgs stab a cop for no real reason. Actually, the “no real reason” business is why the cop stopped the robobillies in the first place – they’re just walking down the road and the cop starts givin’ ‘em shine, so they desiccated him. This is a metaphor for America’s institutionalized racism.

The scene is probably intended just to show how the robohicks have a stick which turns people into beef jerky, which is very terrifying and everything but they already cut a finger off and tried to drown someone, so let’s not gild the lily here. As they break into Tressa’s house, after all, they bust through walls, survive getting smacked in the face with all sorts of pots and pans, jump off of roofs --- the thing where they dry dudes out for no reason, it doesn’t really pay off in this scenario, you know?

She held this face for a solid thirty seconds.

A special mention should go out to Arcane’s assistant Graham, an actor who apparently can only remember eight words at a go. If you’d like to imitate Graham’s delivery, try saying anything for between four and eight words, take a breath, and go for the next half a dozen words. Announce your engagement to your family that way. Order at a restaurant. Recite the pledge of allegiance. It’ll make you sound like an asthmatic muppet, and you’ll have captured the flavor.

Technorednecks chase Abigail into the swamp – seeing as how she’s one of Woodrue’s lost experiments which they’re meant to be recovering – where she finally makes the acquaintance of Swamp Thing. This also leads to the following exchange, which betrays the writers’ persistent fascination with characters who are clearly psychopaths but they get treated like harmless eccentrics:

Swamp Thing: “I know it’s hard to believe, a voice on the wind.”
Abigail: “I hear voices all the time.”

THAT’S NOT A GOOD ANSWER TO THAT FIRST SENTENCE.

The inside of one of the cyborg hillbillies, apparently having been constructed of Silly String and Taco Bell wrappers.

Swampy takes Abigail to his sexy love cave in a forgotten part of the everglades, and which is also loaded with Indonesian stone carvings. I shit you not. It looks like a wet Pier One Imports. Big carvings of elephants and buddhas. You ever been to the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland? Looks like that one part outside the Indiana Jones ride.

But, speaking of wet imports, that appears to be the larger part of the reasoning behind this scene, as Kari Wuhrer wanders around in soaking wet short-shorts and JC Penney summer collection top. Just in case you thought she might be off-brand, though, she does mutter unforgivable nonsense the whole time.

Why are there elephants carved on that back wall? What ancient Floridian civilization knew of elephants?

Flushing Abigail to safety, Swamp Thing takes on the sauce-sucking trucker-cap-droids in an exchange which seems frankly pornographic in isolation. “I can’t pull it out, it’s like he’s holding it in!” “Where’s he getting all this fluid, he should be dry by now!” “It’s quality, not quantity” “We’re only built for human fluid!” Then they start ejecting thick white liquid from their mouths. I swear to god, you guys.

These are the kinds of PornHub videos that I can't bring myself to watch.

Everything resolves with the destroyed cyborgs having falsely reported that they killed Abigail (I dunno why they reported that or what I wouldn’t root for ‘em if they did), and the heroes of the show having a big swamp birthday party for Abby. They didn’t invite Swamp Thing, but then again he wanders off into the swamp muttering “Birthdays never meant anything to me before, but now it’s the things I can’t have anymore that seem so important,” so it sounds like he’d be a real downer.


"What do you think ... of my giant face? I ... just had it ... installed."


Thursday, September 15, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : SUPER BABY

Well we better change him, then.

The rush to capitalize on Superman’s success encouraged a few other Super-imitators. Naturally, there were all the simply superlative men – Wonder Man, Amazing Man, Impossible Man, Strong Man, and so on – but occasionally an unwary independent publisher would risk the ire of the heavily litigious National Periodical juggernaut. This was the case when short-lived Cisco Kid Comics debuted and bowed with Super Baby in 1944, although whether they had to face soon-to-be-DC’s ire, I couldn’t say.

The five page origin and inaugural adventure of Super Baby is performed entirely in severely forced doggerel, depicting the comical happenstance when a beleaguered cosmetics chemist also has to contend with single parenthood. Lord knows what happened to his wife but, judging from pop’s easy frustration and repeated failure at chemical endeavors, she might have been an unfortunate test subject.

Good lord.


While Super Baby’s dad struggles with devising a cure for baldness, he fails to notice when hungry baby knocks an unknown chemical into his formula bottle. God, I hope it’s formula. I’d hate to think the one thing Doc managed to invent was a means to make men reliably lactate.

Following a startling transformation sequence, Baby develops powers of invulnerability, super-strength and flight, although all of it takes a backseat to the ghastly rhymes which constitute both speech and narrative. Some examples:

  •  Superwomen, Wondermen, Captains, Colonels, then again / Privates, Looies, Corporals too … Cheer out loud … and so will you / Because Super Baby has SUPER DO! (I bet he does)
  •  Listen to that baby chirp / When suddenly out comes a … BURP!
  •  No more at laws this thug will scoff / When this burglar bell goes off
  •  Daddy’s happy / All is quiet / He’s put an end to baby’s riot
  •  Oogle Oogle / Google Schmoogle
  •  Uggle uggle / Guggle muggle
  •  AWWW SUFFRAGETTE!

Super Baby’s career lasts all of one five page story, which is fine since it was already testing the limits of endurance with its forced rhyme schemes. Plus, it’s a career with a timer on it … after all, that kid’s gonna hit toddler-hood pretty soon, and that’ll call for a whole new rhyming dictionary. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

SUPERMAN V BATMAN : SUPERMAN'S CRIME OF THE AGES

This is actually a really clever splash page idea, much respect...
Hey, remember that time that Luthor and Brainiac tried to turn Superman and Batman against one another because they were lonely and they wanted Superman to be their friend? And they dressed like apes to do it? Future apes? Remember that? Remember it? It was the story which inspired Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as a matter of fact (there were heavy re-writes prior to production). Remember? Huh? Do ya?

The story in question takes place in World's Finest Comics vol.1 No.183 (March, 1969), fully one year after the release of the original film adaptation of Planet of the Apes -- which inspired, if only tangentially, the plot to this Leo Dorfman-scripted issue. Dorfman is a terrific writer mostly because, if you don't like his work, you can always raise your first to the heavens and cry "DORF-MAAAAAAAAAAN!" It sounds great, try it, it's therapeutic. It'll lower your blood pressure.

Good thing they brought along a photo, in case
Batman didn't recognize him.
Behind a false newspaper splash panel, the story unfolds with Batman returning from a trip to the future, in the company of two jumpsuited, metal-masked alien time cops. It turns out that Batman has been made witness to the grim future of the world of 4069, an era reverted to ape-like barbarism because Superman went soft in the head and threw a giant, radioactive mannequin of himself through the time barrier to fuck up somebody's random future. Bad luck on losing the "Superman Hates You" lottery, year of 4069!

The timecops' story is so compelling that Batman not only helps to incapacitate his trusted comrade and close ally, but he hauls his prisoner's sorry Super-ass before the world court of the United Nations so that he can be tried for future crimes. This is dystopian as hell and, as I understand it, also the plot of Marvel Comics' 2016 major event storyline Civil War II. Stay tuned to get a glimpse of how that might turn out (except completely differently, I hope. Well, you hope. I don't actually care).

In the background, Superman and Batman being
all "How did they get served before us, we got
here first!"
The crimes Superman is said to have committed in the future, and which Batman witnessed during his unsupervised timejaunt with two masked strangers -- what do we always say about accepting timerides from shady characters, Batman -- are scheduled to begin two days into the future. Superman will be experimenting with red kryptonite, explain the metal-masked futuremen, and will fall victim to an unexpected explosion. The radiations, it's additionally explained, will permanently twist the Man of Steel's psyche into terrible evil.

Among the crimes he's subsequently shown to be committing are the destruction of passenger liners at sea (intentionally drowning the passengers and crew), wrecking the Taj Mahal, and burning the New York Public Library. He also smashes all the statues of his friends which he keeps in the Fortress of Solitude, but you have to occasionally expect that out of a major celebrity. They have moods.

His chief sin involves building "the Superman Satellite," a giant likeness of himself which fires "devolution rays" from its eyes. With a mighty throw, he flings it into an unexpected point in the future, where it seemingly turns all of humanity into members of the Nairobi Trio. If you got that joke, then let me be the first to wish you a happy 70th Birthday.

"But our mothers think we're very handsome young men, as a matter of fact!"

The United Nations cannot help but accept Superman's guilt, which seems like a great argument against the United Nations. They also accept the timecops' recommended punishment -- a lobotomy ray that'll wipe out Superman's soon-to-be-evil tendencies. Also maybe he shouldn't experiment with that Red K and everything will be fine. Either way, forewarned or lobotomized, either one works as well as the other, I guess.

But, as it turns out, it's all a scheme! The future city of Cinopolis, seemingly ape-ified by Superman's far-flung parade float, is only the Hollywood of the future! And the ape-man which Batman saw were only actors in ape masks! And the Superman satellite is a "twist" that the future studio included in their remake of Planet of the Apes ("the 1968 movie classic," explains Superman, suddenly becoming the Robert Osborne of comic book superheroes). And the lobotomy ray is really a ray that would turn Superman evil! And and and!

"Can we still be pals?"
And the timecops are actually Luthor and Brainiac in ape masks, having hatched the scheme after stumbling upon the Cinopolis movie shoot while joyriding through time. This, by the way, is how I choose to think of Superman's greatest enemies -- the time-tossed Thelma and Louise of supervillainy, Riding in Cars with Superboys. Roadtripping from the past to the future, visiting strange worlds, taking selfies by dinosaur-themed roadside stands, and maybe -- just maybe -- learning a little something about life along the way.

One thing which they apparently learned is that they're lonely and want Superman to be their pal, only they had to hatch this scheme to make him evil, first. They didn't want him to bring down their shenanigans.

It's touching, really. There had been a Superboy-slash-man/Luthor connection since 1960, but it was only in the 1970s that Superman's writers really began to bang hard on the "they grew up together" drum. Prior to that, Luthor's motivation in bedeviling Superman could be whatever the story required -- for instance, framing him for time malarkies so that they could be pals. It's actually kind of sweet.

Oh, and how did Superman see through their disguise? Why, by observing their slip-up in the cafeteria, the way all master criminals are caught. Despite being from the future, you see, and subsisting entirely on capsule-shaped future vitamin tablets, the timecop ape-men nonetheless knew well enough to put salt and pepper on their lunch. BUT HOW?! They must be the greatest villains of the modern day, of course.

It's also how we knew Hitler was bad, when he was observed dipping his fish sticks in tartar sauce. How did he know?! And yes, I know, that last line is predicated on Hitler being from the future which, since I learned about history through comic books, I declare to be very likely.

As for Batman, the guy who actually went to the future, bought the fake timecops' story hook-line-and-sinker, gassed his longtime pal and dragged him before the world court, and who is also supposedly the World's Greatest Detective ... he had to be told after the fact. Hey man, Batman's got a lot of balls in the air, sometimes he slips up.

"Then I'll go pound drinks and maybe plow Billy Connelly's wife!"

Thursday, September 8, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : CAPTAIN WIZARD

It takes a certain mindset to see a wall of plummeting housepets and immediately blame it on fascism.

I was musing on how ridiculous the name “Captain Wizard” is when I got to realizing that Marvel Comics had made some hay with a long-running character called “Doctor Druid,” and that maybe I was missing the boat on the “Profession + Dungeons and Dragons Player Class” school of character creation. Why not “Foreman Ranger,” “Engineer Barbarian,” or “Beautician Warlock?” Hold on, save me those last two …

"In Maude's dress!"
In any case, Captain Wizard debuted as the star of his own self-titled book and the fanciful tale within. Apparently already a household name and notable figure in the world of crimefighting by the time the audience is introduced to him, the Captain (or is he, colloquially, the Wizard?) boasts an ambiguous set of superpowers. Uttering what is literally “the magic word” (well, not “please,” the other magic word) Abracadabra, the Captain can make roughly anything happen as necessary. He seems to use it to power his ability to fly, at least on some occasions. On others, he can change his costume and appearance from mighty superhero to meek civilian, and all the while he possesses some sort of super-strength. In fact, his magic word is so randomly applied to his adventures that I suspect “Abracadabra” might actually be his version of an expletive. “Abracadabra, I just stubbed my abracadabrin’ toe again, motherabracadrer!”

In his sole adventure, the Captain gets involved with Professor Phineas Bopplegush and high-flying adventurer Don Derring, both of whom seem to have slipped into this strip from someone else’s. The trio are investigating the sudden appearance of Fortrean phenomenon on Earth – cats, dog, frogs and red rain pouring from the sky. The cause appears to be an upside down layer of Earth floating in lieu in the Heaviside layer, which is going to make it tough to get to the moon in 1969. Just warning NASA now…

On the floating land, Cap and his pals find a reversed world of good and evil – Derring’s alter-ego is a proto-Elizabethan sissy, the Professor’s alter ego is a world-conquering dictator, and Captain Wizard doesn’t have a doppelganger because he’s special.

Also included in the opposite land is Adolf Schickelgruber, a happy painter who’s tormented by dreams of his alternate self on Earth. In fact, a kindly scientist of “Cloudland” explains it thus: “When we go to sleep up here, our minds go down and occupy your bodies, and vice versa!” Captain Wizard lacks a duplicate because he never sleeps, which is how you make yourself schizophrenic so, you know, Don and the Prof better watch themselves on the flight home. Captain Wizard may snap at any moment. 

There's really no reason for them to be standing on their hands.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

QUARTER-BIN HEROES : TAKIN' IT TO THE STREETS

Sounds deliciously post-pubescent.

NIGHT STREETS (Arrow Comics)
7 issues, 1986-1987

There was definitely a time in American comics where a staggering number of comics creators had recently read and had their minds blown by Matt Wagner's Grendel -- particularly the Christine Spar arc (and my apologies to anyone reading this who has no history with the book. Hella worth picking up for Pander Brothers art. Anyway. Where'd I wander off to?).

Oh? What makes you say that?
What I mean by that has, unfortunately, less to do with Wagner's illustrative chops and those of the artists he picked to follow him, and more to do with cherry picking parts of his cast and structure.

The Eighties also seemed surprisingly 'into' the idea of crime stories involving anthropomorphic animal characters. Perhaps it was the instinctive, obvious metaphor of crime portraying, in its decadence and scheming, the base animal urges which drive human beings. Or maybe it's an anime thing. Whatever the case, as Grendel had its, ah, Grendel and its Silverback, so too did Night Streets have its Black Dahlia and its Felonious Katt.

It also had the urban city and its put-upon cops, but those have to be there -- the word "streets" is right in the title! Cities are where streets are, and cops walk them!

Katt is a seven-foot cat-man who also happens to run the largest crime cartel in the region, and is facing off against a rival ganglord pushing in. Black Dahlia is a mysterious, super-powered woman who has her own personal agenda. And also there are several police officers involved in the situation, as well as reporters, gangmembers, punks, molls, strippers and children. And they all get their own story arcs, both independent and intertwined.

If this seems incomprehensible, try reading the whole book.
This gives the book two qualities; slowly-paced and very talky. It's not that the is dialogue is dull or poorly-written, but the scant 22 page interior left little room to move a half-dozen stories more forward than a few inches at a time.

It's also worth mentioning that they received a very positive and encouraging letter from Harlan Ellison, which they ran in their letter column with no thanks, fanfare, or response of any kind. That's bad karma, man, your fate was sealed.

(Night Streets was originally published by Arrow Comics. If you're trying to find copies, you'll be better off looking for the Comico version which collected the original series and added a conclusion to the arc)




STREET WOLF (Blackthorne Publishing/Caliber Comics)
5 issues, 1987 / 2 issues, 1990

Another Blackthorne production, and this one promises "It's HOT, it's FRESH, and it's MATURE." Sounds like a really sexy Cinnabons. Some kind of pornographic bakery. Very smart decision of this erotic Panera Bread to take its advertising business to Wieden+Kennedy.

While Night Streets was heavy on the intersecting plotlines and mixing of genres, Street Wolf kept its title character at its core and built the supporting cast around him. A street-level vigilante book surrounding the police-sanctioned vigilante efforts of Nathan Blackhorse -- a.k.a. Street Wolf -- the book plays out like a television drama. There's continuity between episodes, but each one is effectively self-contained.

Blackhorse leads a fairly diverse cast, although its female characters are a little limited (a pleasant if smothering granny and two attractive younger women whose typical conversation is about Street Wolf, and whose principal actions are trying to get with Street Wolf). There's also an exchange which is absolutely grueling, in which one character announces, apropos of nothing, "And before anyone asks -- yes, I am half black and half Korean." Then another character tells her that she has really exotic-looking eyes and she thanks them gracefully. The back-patting and cultural deafness combine to turn that whole page pretty toxic.

The Mickey Mouse Club has really changed.
Still, it's a dense but linear street-level drama, and stars a hero whose thoughts are turned more to his community and supporting cast than they are his own troubles and angst - . Dropping the "Hot, Fresh and Mature" tagline would probably go a long way towards updating the book for a modern audience. Unless they make it twice as hot, fresh and mature in which case it'd be impossible to deny its hotness, freshness and maturity.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

IF YOU SEE SWAMP THING, SAY SWAMP THING: WALK A MILE IN MY SHOOTS

With superhero television programs blowing up in the last few years, recaps of superhero television shows have become all the internet rage. Other sites, however, are hobbled by the need to cover shows which have been "recently broadcast" or which are "any good at all." But who covers the uncoverable? That's why Gone&Forgotten chooses to cover the 1991-1993 USA Network live-action Swamp Thing television series in a feature I like to call "Thirtyswampthing" or...

If You See Swamp Thing, Say Swamp Thing
A green bean casserole at the potluck of swamp justice
Season Two / Episode Four : Walk a Mile in My Shoots

We’re seventeen episodes into this series and they’ve finally gotten around to giving one of the episodes a pun-based title. Mazel Tov, USA Network’s late night Swamp Thing television series, today you are a man!


The episode opens with Will Kipp tied to a bomb and abandoned in the middle of the swamp. This is what I like to call “A good start.” What this show really needs is another two hundred feet of rope and a whole bunch more bombs.

The light bondage scenario which opens the show is, naturally, a scheme of Arcane’s. Specifically, it’s intended to lure the Swamp Thing … into the swamp. Well-done, Anton! You nailed it!

"Haha, you weren't expecting to see me being fellated by an old-school Doctor Who robot, were you!" 

Confronting Swamp Thing over a hedge, Arcane whips back a bush to reveal that he’s holding one of those electricity balls they used to sell at Spencer’s Gifts right over his groin. If that weren’t shocking enough, it’s also one of those phony-baloney science fiction machines which switch people’s brains! It’s usually the hallmark of a groaner plot – and, to be fair, this won’t be a particularly interesting or exciting episode – but the one thing this has going for it is that it relies on the consistently-entertaining chops of series stars Mark Lindsay Chapman and Dick Durock, playing one another for the duration of the episode.

Durock launches the fun by showing the audience that he’s got a really good “evil British” accent holstered for just such an occasion as this, even if he’s mostly using it to prank call subordinates on the phone or recreate that one Simpsons episode where Homer gets too fat to dial a phone. Retreating to “his” lair, Arcane-in-Swamp-Thing’s body walks us through the exposition for the episode.

For being new to humanity, Swamp Thing masters Level 3 Mark Lindsay Chapman eyebrows pretty quickly.

General Sutherland has been funding this experiment to create body-switching technologies, so as to transfer his effed-up corpus into the hunky husk of a hollowed-out he-man. Arcane has stolen the tech in order to self-dissect his Swamp Thing body. This’ll give him unprecedented access to the bio-restorative formula in Swamp Thing’s blood and might also help him rescue his frozen wife Tatiana, whom we hadn’t seen since the first episode of the season.

Back in the swamp, Mark Lindsay Chapman busts out an hilarious American accent which has all the flat affect of a Minnesota expatriate who’s lived undersea for a year. He gets to practice this on Will (who punches him out) and Tressa (who cleans a grimy fish tank), so it’s not a roaring success. Chapman exhibiting Alec Holland’s indulging in the physical treats of the mortal world is another scene of great delight, though, as it starts with him sniffing wax fruit and ends with him eating fish tank algae. Maybe it’s delicious, what do I know?

Desperate for a high, anything to abolish the tedium.

The one downside of the episode is that Swampy-in-Arcane’s-body goes all giddy with physical stimulation, rendering his dialogue roughly on par with that of the show’s most recent addition. And just as he hits “peak hippie,” baffled ninny Abigail comes floating into the front yard with a magical flower in her hands and a song in her heart. Now they’re a couple. I could die, I could just die.

This ends up being a very talky episode, which makes for a pretty anemic recap, to be honest. Swamp-Thing-in-Arcane’s-body (Let’s call him Swampcane) spends a lot of time connecting with Abigail unfortunately, while Arcane-in-Swamp-Thing’s-body (let’s call him Arthing) spends most of his time fussing around a darkened laboratory. The closest thing to action comes when Will interrupts Arthing in his ministrations and shoots him through the gut with a shotgun. Salad fixin’s everywhere!

Whitesnake video

I’ve said before that Chapman and Durock are the best thing about the show, but that almost exclusively applies to the pair of them interacting in some fashion or another. Separate, they’re forced to deal with lesser (or, at least, less fun) actors. At least Durock gets to hiss British abuse at underlings and Chapman gets to distill Arcane’s theatrical badness to childlike petulance.

By the end of the episode, the crotch-level lightning ball is finally put back into play, returning everything to the status quo. If the show had any of the flair of the comic book, Arcane would’ve noticed a new tattoo in the mirror when he got out of the shower the following morning, but instead he just has to face the music for Swampcane sassing General Sunderland earlier in the episode. I woulda preferred the tattoo ending.

"The end"


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