Thursday, July 28, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : FULLER SPUNK AND COMPANY

If this isn't everything you ever wanted from an adventure comic then this is the wrong place for you.

It's comics' greatest porno OR, alternatively, it's an appealing comedy series which managed to eke out a single appearance (sort of) in the pages of Hyper-Mystery comics in 1940.

Listen, I'll be blunt: I like puns, I like adventure-comedy, I like crimefighting circus troupes and and love love love H.G.Peter, the artist best known for illustrating Wonder Woman but whose credits as an all-around cartoonist/writer are criminally overlooked in comics history. Give me all of that and I'm a happy camper, except for the existential malaise which overrides all human endeavor and will see us all turned to meaningless dirt in the centuries after out inevitable deaths. Besides that, that is.

No, no, don't worry, this is all going to plan!
Peter's art and writing lend itself to comedy, which is probably part of the appeal of his Wonder Woman stories -- the lightness and vibrancy of his often woodcut-like lines give the characters a bounce, energy and deceptive lightness which makes their improbable adventures seem additionally dream-like. Plus, could he draw the dames! Yow! Male gaze! How-lll!

Fuller Spunk is a retired actor and inventor turned detective. Known for having portrayed "Herlock Olmes" in stage productions, he assembles the rest of his vaudeville crew to pick up the case of a bank robbery which has netted the tidy sum of $50,000 in 1940 money. Today, that would be the entire value of all the money on Earth multiplied by a thousand, accounting for inflation and lottery tickets.

Among Spunk's team are Zig and Zag, identical twin contortionists, a titanic strongman named Snap and a juggling strongman dwarf named Snip, and then Marcel Nightingale -- who almost became an important footnote in comicdom!

While the first full adventure of Fuller Spunk and his Detective Agency didn't occur until the second issue of Hyper-Mystery, a full-page preview introducing all of the characters was printed in the first issue of the series, dated May 1940. In it, Marcel had a notably distinct profession; if the company's sole adventure, Marcel is a "hypnotist, magician and dramatic actor," portrayed with shirt sleeves rolled up and masculine arms showing, holding a sledgehammer in one hand and handing his jacket to his dainty assistant Fifi Eclair with the other. Pure machismo drips from his Arrow Shirt Ad good looks.

HOWEVER, Marcel is originally billed as a female impersonator with no other qualifying skills. "Marcel has played a girl parts in many prominent cases" explains the text, accompanying a more androgynous, pillow-lipped and smoky-eyed illustration of Marcel's features. "Marcel is hansom (sic) but no sissy in a fight ... watch him work sometime!" explains the text further.

Had Marcel been allowed to stick to his original CV, he would've tied Madam Fatal as comics' first crossdressing superhero (of a sort, anyway). At the very least, he would've been the first cross-dressing crimefighter in comics, but that particular accolade -- and the decades of derision which have plagued Madam Fatal -- could have been Marcel's.

Fuller Spunk and Company was only one of a handful of adventure-comedy strips which Peter put out prior to his Wonder Woman fame, and concurrent more-or-less with his delightful Man O'Metal feature over in Reg'lar Fellas. His flair for this sort of matter and the craftsmanship with which he executed it owed a great deal to his level of experience -- other comic creators were babies compared to Peters, a newspaper illustration veteran in his late fifties when he started doing comics. His passion for the medium and the opportunity to try his hand at full-length stories of his own devising are evident.

Another character from Fuller Spunk worth mentioning on the way out was Spunk's landlady, a former burlesque dancer named Ms.Peregrination who seems like a prototype for Etta Candy and was fond of an occasional tipple. This led to some terrific comedy-drunk business such as in the full page exchange below ...



Wednesday, July 27, 2016

(RICHIE RICH &) WENDY & THE NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK

The Awakening of Wendy W.


Pop culture and comic books have a long history -- licensing a distinctive celebrity or group for a series of comic book misadventures (whether thematically appropriate or not) is practically as old a standard in comics as the superhero and the funny animal.

Musical groups have some history with this brand of comics, so it's not much of a surprise -- as much as it is a touch of cognitive dissonance -- that Harvey Comics would license the likenesses of the New Kids on the Block in the early Nineties.
They have come for your uncool niece.
The five members of NKOTB -- that's Randy, Tom-Tom, Butcher Pete, Five Mile Andy and the living engine of destruction known only as Hurricane, according to me not knowing who was in the New Kids on the Block -- starred in a half-dozen individual licensed books in which they may as well have been the Monkees, the Jackson 5 or GWAR for all the effort put forward in capturing the personalities and (am I using this word correctly) attitude of the bouncy, bad-boy boy band. It was all "puns" and "walking into obvious danger" written for a pack of ciphers on the edge of generic adventure stories. I mean, I didn't expect this to be Heart of Darkness or anything, I'm just saying -- it's disposable.

In addition to their assorted self-titled books at Harvey (including one sponsored by/featuring Hi-C kids' drink, of all things), the New Kids (Wee Troy, Kevin "Driller" Drilburg, Satch Davis, "Otter" Bulwark and their wisecracking pet mastodon "Tiny") managed to pair up with a couple of Harvey's more popular kiddie-wink characters, Richie Rich and Wendy. (They could've teamed up with Casper, too, but first ... they'd have to die-e-e-e-e!)

Both books ran three issues in 1991 and shared the essential format -- the New Kids (Wallace, Preemo, Alice the Thug, and the Wassenbecker Triplets Minus One) shared a single adventure in the front of the book with their co-star, and the remaining stories were a brazen bait-and-switch featuring general stories of the Harvey crew. Goddamnit Harvey, what are you trying to pull here? We paid for the New Kids (Stoneface, Jump-Up Jimmy, the Extinguisher, Fireball Lane and Justin Timberlake), not Wendy the Good Little Witch's idiot forest friends here or nothing.

The Richie Rich issues are boilerplate kids' adventure stuff in the Richie Rich vein; the New Kids (1, 2, 3, 4 and the third surviving 5) get lost in the Rich mansion, stumble across crooks trying to rob the Rich fortune, generally gad about with Rich inventions, all with a blase sense of bonhomme that wouldn't be misplaced in a lobotomy patient.
Tone it down, you psycho, this is a kids comic.
The Wendy titles, however, are a whole different affair.

Wendy fans will have to enlighten me as to whether the character "Grinder" -- a magical shape-changing cat who appears in this series and has all the hallmarks of a Poochie-type "the kids'll love this guy!" character added just to give the hero someone to talk to and all the worst jokes a font from which to pour -- preceded its appearances in this comic. He definitely felt spontaneously made up as part of a cartoon pitch.

Whatever the case, Grinder, Wendy and her three gruesome aunts are thrust out of their light comic-adventures and into a high-action CBS drama from the late 1960s. It turns out that the lightly-evil aunts -- who, as longtime readers of Wendy might recall, they are adults now and should not be reading Wendy the Good Little Witch comics and also the aunts themselves are always pestering Wendy to be more evil herself -- are terrified of Atrocia, "the cruelest and most vicious witch that ever lived." The fiend had been imprisoned for 6,500 years but escaped, causing no end of danger for the Wendy clan, as Atrocia and Wendy's Aunt Zelma had once battled for the affections of the same man. A sore loser, Atrocia swears bloody vengeance on Zelma and her clan. This is from Game of Thrones, right? I've never seen it.

The threat of Atrocia sends Wendy and her aunts running in terror -- which is good, because Atrocia reaches out and destroys their home in a fiery burst of savage lightning. Jesus Christ. This got all "last half of Harry Potter" all of a sudden.

Which one is the guy who beat an old dude half-blind?

Running for their lives, Wendy and her aunts flee for the suburbs, adopting human disguises (Wendy removes her hood, revealing her hair and infuriating at least one of her aunts who's got some real Ol' Holy Book issues when it comes to young ladies uncovering their heads. Well, President Trump will deal with her kind). 

Along with a new look, Wendy picks up a gal pal (Mo, wielder of such kid-appropriate slang as "are you jivin' me?" and "wotta riot") and a small cast of characters at her new grammar school, all of which puts Atrocia on the backburner ... for a while. As the New Kids (Lassie, Patches, Pockets, Socks and Rover) enjoy a ghost train ride at a local fun fair, Atrocia chooses the opportunity to attack. This leads to a straight up sorcery battle above the heads of America's teen heartthrobs, presuming that by that I mean the New Kids (Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus) and not, like, if MTV's the New Monkees were hanging around somewhere.

Wendy barely survives her encounter with her aunt's nemesis -- and I'm not kidding, here, she barely makes it out alive. The stakes got real high in Harvey Comics alla sudden -- but manages to banish Atrocia "billions of light years away," saving herself and everyone involved. Not that she and her aunts pack up and return to the Enchanted Forest, as you might expect! No, not when more adventures await her and the New Kids (Actually several old kids, made into new kids by computer trickery)...

Except they didn't. The series wrapped up after the third issue, leaving this tantalizing teaser as a promise of trans adventures as of yet explored ...

Joe, I may not fully understand, but I want you to know that you have my love and my support.



Tuesday, July 26, 2016

IF YOU SEE SWAMP THING, SAY SWAMP THING: BIRTHMARKS

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 Happened On The Way To Heaven" or...

If You See Swamp Thing, Say Swamp Thing
A wheelbarrow full of dried apple slices comes to life and battles evil in a trash pit.
Season Two / Episode One : Birthmarks

In which we find ourselves longing for the singular stupidity of Jim, given some radical new casting.



With the exit of Jim, it seemed that Swamp Thing Season Two was ready to launch with the burden of the show’s junior contingent cut loose, complete with all of its twee predictability.

BUT WAIT NO SORRY we don’t get to have that. Instead we get Abigail.

The episode opens with a tugboat getting blown tae fuck all – Sorry Popeye! In fact, with a baby
sailing away from the danger in a box, this almost feels exactly like Roger Altman’s adaptation. Now for the singing!

"I'm Popeye the sailor man, I live in a gar-*BWAFWOOOOOOM!*


Running away from the boat is Abigail (Kari Wuhrer), apparently a psychic nitwit who had been grown from artificial cells in a questionably legal laboratory. She ends up in the arms of Will (Scott Garrison), whose shirtlessness will only increase as the series goes on. It’s in Will’s company that Abigail spills all of her secrets, which is odd because the lack of chemistry between the two of them is practically weaponized.

Anyway, here’s Abigail, she’s got ESP, and she talks nonsense, fuck this. Much of the next few episodes at least will be given over to Abigail describing her dreams and making pained analogies as she Mork-from-Orks her way through non-government-lab social niceties and cultural customs. Just when we’d been liberated from Jim, we get saddled with this flightless sea fowl.

I promise you, she's in the middle of a story that you don't so much listen to as endure.


Abigail’s ESP takes the form of interrupting people’s sentences and invading their personal space – psychically and literally. Having the same “ramble on about nothing” disease which afflicted Jim, Abigail admits that she wanders into people’s dreams (possibly to use their dream bathrooms) and goes on a long rambling story about pomegranates which actually turns out to be important later in the episode! Chekhov’s Pomegranate!

While Will is listening to this and, I assume, exhibiting patience beyond reason, Swamp Thing finds the widdo baby. Now he’s Swamp Mom! Only on alternate weekends, anyway, Patrick gets the baby on the first and third.

Backstreet's back all right!

Arcane pops up at six minutes in and has brought roughly eight suitcases full of new backstory and context. It’s turns out that Arcane is working for a major secret organization, trading his scientific brilliance (we learn, for instance, that he developed the first yet imperfect concoction of the biorestorative formula) for the resources to revive his bride Tatiana (a nod there, I’d guess) who currently resides in suspended animation, Yup, they Mr.Freeze’d him!

Arcane also briefly mentions his rivalry with Dr.Jason Woodrue and is shown to be in the employ of General Sunderland (Jacob Whitkin, who has a Dr.Klaw voice in this), plus we discover that the whole thing is officially taking place in Houma, LA, which means someone in production finally read some of the comics! I bet they were surprised!

Dammit Tressa, can't you do anything right? Post a sign, keep a child from being sold into slavery ...


Back at the Kipp household, Tressa is alleviating her feelings of grief and loss over the apparent death of her youngest son by opening a swamp tour and boat rental business. You can tell that it will all work out great because the first thing Tressa does is put her sign up facing away from the road. Someone’s gonna drown during a field trip, you can tell.

Will and Swamp Thing are now crimefighting pals, as apparently happened between seasons. Not only does Will have the partnership Jim never did, he also gets to call his boss “Swampy” and answers to an emergency call that I believe you can describe as “Swamp Thing’s asthma.”

Swamp Mom drops the baby off with the Kipps, fearing for its life. Everyone fears for its life, in fact, because we’re told that the chubby little burrito is in the throes of death. This is information which flies in the face of evidence. That baby is fat, fine and happy. The director shoulda brought in a shaved chimp or something.

OH GOD LOOK AT THE POOR THING SOMEONE QUICK GET A PRIEST


The highlight of any episode of the show is inevitably Anton Arcane and Swamp Thing sassin’ each other savagely. After Arcane bemoans that “Evolution takes as long as the French Opera,” for instance, Swamp Thing snaps back with “You’re not God. You’re a garbage man!” Uh, I heard God don’t make no trash, Swamp Thing.

Swamp Thing ends up helping the baby by producing a pomegranate from his palm. Will is understandably reluctant to feed Swamp Thing’s mitt-melon to a dying infant, but is swayed when Swamp Thing promises him “My fingers pulse with life and power!” Reassuring words, these.

Ultimately, the baby is saved and then promptly fucks off somewhere because we do not need a baby in this cast, thank you. Abigail sticks around, unfortunately, babbling more gooey nonsense that you can’t imagine was intended to have been filmed. A sensitive reveal at the end of the episode has Abigail basically talk-sing a song from Annie, the end.

"Do I love you, small woman who sleeps in our fluorescent lighting? Did I not shrink to the size of a mouse for you?"


Okay, we endured that one, but next week it’s SWAMP THING VS SWAMP THING, THE WOMP-A-BOMP IN THE SWAMP! I can do better.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : EL DIABLO

I can't stop looking at those condiment bottles.


DC blazed a peculiar trail with El Diablo, the first Hispanic superhero to helm his own title at either of the big two publishers, as well as the first superheroic city council member, to my awareness. This was big news to a pal of mine back in Tucson who boasted an hispanic heritage and entered politics almost immediately after college. Role models work!
Pee?

El Diablo -- secretly Rafael Sandoval -- was also the first superhero, as far as I'm aware, to wear a vest and bolo tie with a black shirt. Which, again, if you know anything about Tucson politics makes him even more of a role model. Too bad he didn't grow an enormous mustache, he could've been the crime-fighting Raul Grijalva.

A street-level hero with tight ties to his small-town Texas community of Dos Rios, El Diablo boasted no super-powers BUT he did claim a compelling relationship with his supporting cast. In a general sense, he bore a resemblance to Eisner's The Spirit. Co-creator Gerard Jones' writing captured that same tongue-in-cheek flair, even if Mike Parobeck's enjoyably straightforward cartooning lacked the inventiveness of the Spirit, excepting a heavy use of shadows.

The code-switching was
a little patronizing, I'll
say that much
Like other street-level heroes before him, Diablo's primary concerns were the drug trade and corrupt local developers, the twin threats facing anyone in a domino mask who can't fly. And sometimes those who can. A four-part child trafficking ring storyline takes over a little too early on in the character's career -- if your fifth issue is the second part of a four part story, how's your casual pickups gonna fare? Well, I suppose this was back in the days when DC stuck by an idea long enough to give it a fighting chance -- there's a pair of gang storylines that Jones (lilywhite by his own admission) manages to avoid making too terribly cliched for the most part, a race-war storyline that was almost mandatory given the environment, and a lot of the action takes place in town halls, activist churches and courts of law.

Given the shortcomings of only knowing about American Hispanic culture from source material rather than experience, Jones and Parobeck (with John Nyberg on stylish inks) still manage to craft humane stories about a realistic cast. If you're looking for something to laugh at, though, there is always his terrible vest and the time they brought back the Vigilante as a pot-bellied gunfighter/hamburger chain tycoon.

Whither El Diablo now? Well, he was passed over for a namesake with more panache. Prior to Sandoval, the name El Diablo at DC had belonged to a western hero and, after Sandoval, it went to some snarling demon monster thing running around Suicide Squad and about whom I don't recall much else about.

So what holds Rafael Sandoval from coming back? Nothing, really, except the environment at his parent company. It would also be refreshing to see a creative team with personal experience in the small-town Hispanic-American community run with the baton from this point going forward, if even just for long enough to ground El Diablo's world in that vital sense of community. It doesn't necessarily have to be a superheroic Hoppers but, then again, why shouldn't it be?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

SUPERMAN V BATMAN : HOW DO YOU KILL A SUPERMAN?

Practice!


In the occasional combat exchanged between the World's Finest superhero team, there are rarely winners. Even more rare is a victory so decisive as in the Bob Haney-scripted story from World's Finest vol.1 No.240 (Sept. 1976), "How Do You Kill A Superman?", in which Batman just literally murders Superman outta nowhere, the end.

I did not correctly parse that
image at first glance.
The story's just a smidge more complicated than that: Superman, the Man of Steel, champion of the planet Earth and all its populated exurbs, starts exhibiting some downright sassy attitude during the commission of his superly duties. It starts with excessive force and ends with no-giving-of-the-fucks (he takes out a sniper by knocking a whole radio tower on top of him, ignites a Middle East conflict and idly watches a building full of people just burn to the ground, presaging either a Zack Snyder film or just the slightly more-watchable parts of Superman III).

Batman, naturally, is concerned about his pal's bizarre behavior. Following Superman's pint-size twin cousin Van-Zee across the entire world leads Batman to the Fortress of Solitude and a mystery within the Bottle City of Kandor. Not one of the mysteries I wonder about like "Where do Kandorian farts go if they're all in a bottle" and "Do the people living close to the glass ever press hams towards Superman?" but serious mysteries!

It turns out that Kandor is in revolt, overcome with riots, on the brink of starvation and civil war. The solution to all of this was to appoint Superman the King of Kandor, I can see problems with this, particularly that surely Superman would agree to a consulting position rather than establishing a monarchy. I mean, he's got other priorities.

"We even got a Burger King!"
The real problem is that some factor -- possibly the pressure of the role -- splits Superman into a good Superman who hangs out all day being a cheerful king to the Kandorian people, and a bad Superman who has sex with Billy Connely's wife, presumably. Since this tends to make life pretty passable in Kandor but a real goddamn bear on Earth, the world governments order Batman to do the only reasonable thing: Kill Superman!

Which he does! Taking advantage of Superman's powerlessness within the confines of the Bottle City, Batman does the old hand-buzzer gag on his old pal, same as the Joker spent a few decades doing to the Caped Crusader -- and with the same intent. "A poison-soaked thorn built into my gauntlet" says Batman, describing a method of instantaneous murder which is mounted on the hand he often uses to help Robin swing away from danger. Those two play some wicked games.

Superman dies. Dead! He's actually dead dead! They arrange a state funeral and everything -- except then Superman starts to get big! So big that he breaks out of the top of the bottle city before being scooped up by a passing robot prior to smashing the whole city (he must've smooshed at least a little of it, is my feeling), and then shows up again ALIVE!

"My dead body cells couldn't hold the microwave beamer's reducing effects and expanded back to normal size!" he explains, unconvincingly, adding "But bursting free of Kandor made them invulnerable again, and since anything invulnerable can't die, I returned to life! Nature doesn't allow contradictions!" I'm not sure, but I think Superman just mansplained mortality.

Whatever the case, he's alive again, the jekyll-and-hyde bit turned out to have been caused by a malevolent pink cat previously incarcerated in the Intergalactic Zoo, and Batman scores a psychological point over his friend that I'm sure won't be easily erased.

This just in: Batman does not understand how keys work.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : ABSLOM DAAK, DALEK KILLER

"...anyway, happy birthday Petey, daddy tol' you he woona forget.."

I grew up as a (cough, ahem) Whovian, devoting an inordinate amount of my adolescent energies towards following the adventures of the UK's most stalwart science-fiction export, Doctor Who. This included collecting the official Doctor Who Magazine, specially ordered at my local comic shop, a document containing interviews, pointless recollections ("Remember this bullshit monster? How great was its greasy rubber face and stupid feet?" The answer was always, both from the magazine and from me, "Tremendously great") and, most importantly, comics!

Aw shit, this is the BIZ!
Primarily, the comics focused on the Doctor and his companions, both drawn from the series (Hi K-9!) and created for the comics (Hi, um, Frobisher the shape-shifting penguin alien!), with very few exceptions.

One of those exceptions, though -- possibly the most exciting of them all -- was Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer!

Created by Steve Moore and Steve Dillon, and featuring art by Dillon, David Lloyd and a few others, Abslom was a 26th century human with a rap sheet of brutal crimes a mile long. Facing a robot tribunal (and a final big Hi! to England's consistent robots-as-metaphor-for-the-absurdity-of-archaic-institutions motif), Abslom faces two punishments for his terrible crimes ... Vaporis(z)ation, or ... EXILE D-K!

It's either a Christian rock band or an Urban Decay palette, or so you'd think upon first hearing of it, but Exile D-K is a one-way trip to a Dalek-infested planet, armed with awe-inspiring weapons and the mandate to kill as many of the traditional enemies of the long-running show as possible.

"Practice!"
Abslom's adventures take him into the company of Taiyin, barely-clad princess of a world dominated by the Daleks, an alien Draconian (another familiar alien to Doctor Who die-hards) named Salander, an Ice Warrior (also etc etc from the show) and suicide provider named Harma, a sleazy warlord named Vol Mercurius  -- and also into a million Dalek-infested worlds where they get chopped up by Abslom's bad-ass-as-a-motherfucker chainsaw sword.

The strip only starts to exhibit a downturn when someone noticed the name on the front of the magazine, and decided to insert The Doctor into Abslom's adventures. This cuts the series off at the knees, because the punk-style ultra-violence of Abslom Daak, up to that point, had provided a sort-of mashup between the dystopian future world of British comics like Judge Dredd, Rogue Warrior and Strontium Dog and the familiar settings of the popular children's show.

When the Doctor shows up -- in his seventh incarnation, if I have my math correct -- the violence and self-loathing which made the strip such a grim, grimy pleasure had to be watered down. As dark as the Doctor had become when the character was portrayed by Sylvester McCoy -- represented here in the team-up with Daak -- the formula of the long-running cliffhanger serial overwhelmed all other concerns.

There are always threats and promises that Absolm Daak will come back in some fashion, frequently posited as a new companion on the show, star of an audiobook series, or returning to the comics. His explosive, self-sacrificing finale in the pages of his own adventure seem to imply no such thing was possible. As of yet, he's made -- in one fashion or another -- passing appearances in the Doctor Who series of novels and one cameo on the show, but the full inclusion of Daak in the Whoniverse hasn't happened yet -- and, frankly, maybe it doesn't need to. A wall built between the gleeful nihilism of the original series and the often-forced optimism of the show seems to benefit all involved.

Oh no, he's facing the deadliest Daleks of all, the Cuddle Daleks!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

QUARTER-BIN HEROES : FAILED UNIVERSE / MIDNITE SKULKER

Even one black-and-white parody comic focused on taking shots at Marvel's then-fledgling New Universe seems like more than the oeuvre ever needed, but the year of 1986 saw to it that we'd get at least two of them.

THE MIDNITE SKULKER (Target Comics)
7 issues, 1986-1987

Not to be confused with Johnny Hart's Midnite Skulker -- a cloaked, graffiti-happy figure who marred the pristine walls of the comic strip landscape of the artist's prehistoric B.C. Also, not that you could. This Midnite Skulker relied almost exclusively on parody, putting most of its weight on revisiting Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns for its primary example, and generally populating the rest of its lineup with obvious caricatures of Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and so on.

Here's Marvel's editorial crew. They are gnus. Commence laughing
The Skulker himself had been gathering mystical objects which turned him into a sort-of Fred-Hembeck-meets-Dr.Strange type figure. Adventure elements in the book never elevated much above a gentle hum and the parodies were more of a hindrance than a help -- interrupting the primary arc to introduce another thinly-veiled doppelganger slowed up what was basically a functional story (underneath unremarkable art, it's worth mentioning). Basically, the Midnite Skulker was its own worst enemy.

But that's the overview of the book. In specifics, it's the book's third issue (October 1986) which introduces the hero to the world of the Gnu Universe. It is ... and brace yourself, here ... the New Universe, but with gnus. I know, you didn't see that one coming, it took you by surprise. Please take a moment and gather your wits, you'll need them for the fast-paced journey awaiting you now.

Both of the books in this article will follow the same pattern; introducing the parodies of New Universe characters and taking some obvious lobs against the creative crew at Marvel Comics. With Skulker's creator E.Larry Dobias, though, the potshots seem impersonal. All young creators are encouraged to kill their idols, and the voodoo doll versions of the Marvel office editors seem to come complete with drumrolls and rimshots. An office of horned versions of Ann Nocenti, Eliot R.Brown, Archie Goodwin and Stan Lee shooting spitballs at each other doesn't have much in the way of satiric bite.

As for the inhabitants of the Gnu Universe, there's the on-the-nose Star Lantern (Starbrand), Troubleshooter and the Spitballs (In reality, Jim Shooter in "robot-armor made out of printing-press parts" teamed up with his editorial crew),  Narc (Merc), Just-Nice (Justice) and a few others, including a version of Nightmask which I don't believe got a name, but I would have gone with Gnu-tmask, I guess. If I had a deathwish.

By the time the Midnite Skulker is done introducing all of the New Universe hot-takes, the story is over without much in the way of conflict or combat. This is the danger of parody books, you never know when the rush to fit in all the snide asides is going to completely extricate the core from your story.



Failed Universe (Blackthorne Publishing) 
1 issue, 1986

Where Midnite Skulker's attack on the New Universe felt almost obligatory, Failed Universe (from writer Cliff MacGillivray and artists David Cody Weiss and Michael Kelley) practically seethes with personal injury.

Blackthorne was an interesting company, and either belongs in the "Quarter Bin Heroes" category more than any single other publisher ever or ... doesn't. Surviving primarily on licensed properties, reprint volumes, 3-D comics and parody books, Blackthorne managed to eke out a consistent top-five position among American comic book publishers and open up previously closed markets ... for about four years. That the quality among the books was wildly inconsistent never helped their case and, while a big and fateful licensing deal is theoretically what ended the company's lifespan, probably they weren't long for the racks anyway.

This is, like, a third of the jokes in this thing.
Still, that doesn't prevent Failed Universe from repeatedly making the claim that black-and-white indy comics were destined to go up-Up-UP in popularity while the dull, cynical machinations of the mainstream publishers were destined to go down in flames. I mean, sure, the New Universe fizzled after a few years, enjoying periodic rebirths, but I don't recall seeing Marvel subsumed beneath a tide of wildly popular black-and-white publishers. Also, it's big talk coming from the publisher which brought us California Raisins ... 3-D!

Points go to Failed Universe for keeping its parodies largely on the point of litigation, profit and opportunism: Sue-Force is a team of psychic lawyers who can summon a near-omnipotent being called "F.Lee Belly" (because he's fat, you see, and a lawyer, making it a double-layered joke), their version of Starbrand's power-granting tattoo is a big dollar sign, their Mark Hazzard is merely a Jerk and not a Merc (although pains are taken to mention his by-the-books big-screen paramilitary cynicism) and so on. On the other hand, there's a lot of pissing-your-pants gags and a few tepid broadsides involving ethnic stereotypes. The future of the industry, folks!

Many points for prescience go to Failed Universe, however, for making a silhouetted Mickey Mouse the mysterious figure which launches everything by giving their Starbrand his magic tattoo. How they saw that one coming is beyond me.

The thing about these targeted satires is the question, as it frequently is, of "who was this for?" The varying levels of smugness -- minor in the case of Midnite Skulker, weaponized in the case of Failed Universe -- seem to suggest it's an audience in an echo chamber, a group of dissatisfied cynics whose efforts to make their own stories are sidelined by an apparent need to howl at the gates of the empire they're meant to surpass in excellence and originality.

Or maybe everyone loves a piss-pants joke, that's also a possible motive.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

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

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 Changed" or...

If You See Swamp Thing, Say Swamp Thing
Turnip jerky, out for revenge!
Season One / Episode Thirteen : The Shipment

In which we finally cut Jim loose! Hooray!


USA's Swamp Thing was never precisely prestige television, and suffered a few shortcomings. The budget, not the least of which, was never the highest (even though they made some pretty impressive leaps with the makeup and costuming). The storylines were also shaky, plots were picked up and dropped unceremoniously, the sets were few and repetitive, consistency wasn't of the highest concern, and the show felt like a series of unconnected events into which a hobo made of artichokes would occasionally stumble.

And then there was Jim (Jessie Ziegler), a budding psychopath who befriends Swamp Thing to their mutual detriment, and not really to the benefit of anyone else in the cast either. It's not really Jim's fault -- he's an unremarkable kid actor shouldering the heavy burden of keeping the plot moving on a show whose greatest menace is smoke bombs and sock puppets. His ludicrous backstory -- a pathological liar in short-pants who haunts the streets of Philadelphia at midnight, sowing discord when man and reason slept, moved to the swamp to live with his soon-to-kick-it grandmother and his rabbity mom so as to pull himself together - was insane. Was this kid in 'Nam? I think you'll find that moving a psychopath to the swamps is just asking for the water level to rise from all the sunken bum corpses.

With that being said, though, at least he's out as of this episode! Yup, Jim is gone – or will be soon -- and Swamp Thing experiences a sea change at the end of his first season or, more thematically, a swamp change.

Hey, are those Bugle Boy jeans?

The episode opens by wandering into risqué territory of the highest degree: A muscular young hitchhiker getting cuffed and roughed around by a balding cop … while a human tomatillo watches from the bushes. The scuffle between Arcane’s pet lawman and an unnamed hitchhiker takes the show briefly into some tawny, homoerotic male wrestling, as lean tan limbs are forced by rough hands into cuffs in extreme closeup. Did any other episode involve this much lovingly photographed fades of a pouty young man’s powerful back?  Have I been missing a whole subtext since episode one? All I remember in that one is a dwarf mutant hanging from a stick in the swamp.

After the credits, the unnamed hitchhiker is deposited in a bank of cells containing Arcane’s assorted failed mutations. Frankly, it looks like a cutaway from The Muppets. In reality, it’s Arcane’s experimental pool, the rejects from which are shipped off to third world locations for use in manual labor. Seriously. This is, like, the third disposal method for past-the-warranty Un-Men which this season has suggested so far. It’s this town’s most vibrant economy.

This current batch of bunged-up mutations is freed by Swamp Thing, which I only mention because one of the fat weirdos looks like Homer Simpson. With his other liberated compatriots, the freed weirdo runs into the swamp, which is Swamp Thing’s version of “saving someone.”

"D'oh!"


Meanwhile, it turns out that Jim had been hiding in a cupboard in Arcane’s secret lab and saw the whole thing! This puts Jim’s life in danger more than the other eight thousand dumb or self-harming things he’s done on this show so far.  Arcane thinks so, anyway, as he orders his bought-and-sold law enforcement officer to put an end to Jim *skrrrrth* permanently. Pretend that sound effect back there was me running my finger across my throat in a knife-like motion. Now you get it. Okay, moving on.

Now, here is what happened to Jim. Pay very close attention, because you will have questions; Sherriff Pay-Me puts Jim on a slave shipment to South America. That’s Jim, out of the picture – now he needs to fake Jim’s death. This is accomplished with a bike, one of Arcane’s mutants which happens to about Jim’s size, and a driverless Chevy Impala … which they set on fire. Then it explodes. It must have been one of those fiery bike accidents I’ve heard so much about.

Seems like it could happen, sure.


Before his abduction, Jim had managed to make phone contact with his half-brother Will. Arriving with a mane of hair that simply couldn’t be tamed, inoffensive basic cable good looks and a previously-unspoken history with his step-mother Tressa, it’s pretty clear that Will is here to completely erase the memory of Jim from the viewing public … whom I’d assume were more than happy to assist.

Will is the first character in the show so far to react to Swamp Thing as though he were some HORRIFYING GIANT MONSTER! This might warm you to Will, but then there are these exchanges which seem to imply that the series might become some sort of buddy action piece.

Swamp Thing: “I don’t like being followed”
Will: “I don’t like getting shut out”
Swamp Thing: “Get used to it”

As though welcoming in the next season’s new era, Swamp Thing season one ratchets up the violence for its first really spectacular fight scene that doesn't involve carnies. Breaking into Arcane’s lab, the Swamp Thing must contend with an actually pretty tubby guy doing super-good jumping kicks and stuff. Health is holistic, I guess! In any case, it’s a cool scene which ends with the bad guy getting shoved through a shelf full of chemicals and knocked into an electrical explosion. I know my rules, that guy’s gonna get super-speed!

Will's hair looks like someone cut a kickball in half.


Ultimately, all the badassery comes to naught, as Jim is nowhere to be found in Arcane’s lab and the burned body of Toad Boy creates what I can only call completely underwhelming if apparently convincing argument for the kid’s current occupation of a pine box.

Of course, Jim is alive and trapped on that truck heading for South America – forever, presumably. The way the camera lingers on Jim’s terrified eyes, you’d think season two would occupy itself with a multi-part rescue effort storyline. Nope. Nope, it does not. Jim’s misery among the mutates bound for prison camp labor remains our final image of the little psycho, his tiny pink hands clutching rusty iron bars. The loving length of the shot probably says as much about the production staff’s feelings about Jim as anything.

Jesus Christ, there wasn't anything this harrowing in Schindler's List.


That’s the end of season one! Next up, season two, with more comic book references, better fight scenes mostly, and a befuddling amount of backstory!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : HYPER THE PHENOMENAL

Hyper? He's downright manic.


Celebrating your superhero's superlatives was a losing battle in the early days of comics. We already had a Superman, a Wonder Woman, an Ultra-Man, an Amazing Man, a Captain Marvel, a Captain Wonder, a Wonderman, and more, taking up all the good adjectives. And we hadn't even, as a culture, really learned to fully appreciate "Fucking Awesome" as the ultimate "big-ups."

So when you're cut down to the few remaining synonyms for "Watch this," AND you want to stand out on the racks, what else can you do but go full-on double-barrel, such as with Hyper the Phenomenal!

Whatever it is, it's getting a big steamy
gawk at Hyper the Phenomenal fucking a wall.
Hyper (a.k.a. The Hyper, which makes him sound like he's just a big booster of something) is scientist Don-Vin, creator of such marvelous nonsense words as the "Mento-Meto" and "Neo-Gas" and "Magno-Hydro Gauntlets," all of which combine with his tremendous strength and intellect to make him the most powerful force for doing good in the world!

And none of which prevents him from spending most of his heroic career holding a door open. Only appearing in two issues of the apparently eponymous Hyper-Mystery Comics (both volumes published in 1940), Hyper's primary concern becomes the secret agent Winifred, trapped in evil enemy agent Dolores' terrible dungeon in one of those tricky rooms with the walls that smoosh together. Using the ability of his magno-hydro to keep the walls apart takes up almost all of Hyper's screentime during his debut -- time that isn't spent discussing how fucking hopeless Winifred's situation is, anyway. The two talk death through the bars of her cell in something approaching an actual human exchange relating to terrible impending danger, unlike anything that's ever happened in all other comics ever anywhere (I know this isn't true, you don't have to "actually" me in comments).

The exciting, edge-of-your-seat wall-holding continues in Hyper's second -- and final -- appearance, occupying a good third or half of the subsequent story. Hyper ends up fending off physical attacks of all varieties while pinning the walls apart using only the power of magno-hydroism, whatever the hell that's supposed to be. A barrage of bullets seems to tax his mighty powers, except that he's wearing a bullet proof conch shell on his chest and his helmet, like Fawcett's Bulletman and Bulletgirl, has bullet-deflecting qualities. That's good to hear, I don't know why you'd wear a helmet otherwise.

A stray shot short-circuits the wall mechanism, allowing Hyper to finally show his stuff -- cleaning up on a crowd of gun-toting nogoodniks and outflying a plane in a somewhat one-sided aerial dogfight.

Hyper and Winifred have a good rapport -- preventing someone from becoming a human panini can really bring two people together -- but that chemistry and a curiously refreshing, lacksadaiscal pace couldn't guarantee Hyper a third appearance. He goes down with some of his stalwart comic book companions, including Disco, Boy Detective and Fuller Spunk and Company, Detective Agency ... more about both of which presently ...

One of my favorite parts of the series is how Winifred keeps sassin' Hyper.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

MAD AD : AUTOMATIC MIND COMMAND!


I provide this advertisement largely sans comment, because it's a document which deserves to be read. Future generations should make the effort to preserve things like this in light, and possibly to record it on gold discs to launch into space, so that distant empires may know of the wonders of Automatic Mind Command.

Highlights, if you can't bother your ass to fully indulge in the greatest collaboration of word and idea since Ulysses:

  • "How to get started in just 3 minutes: Minute #1 - Fill out the No-Risk coupon..."
  • "Minute #2 - When you receive a package in the mail from us, open it..."
  • "Minute #3 - Lift the front cover ..."
  • "Larry S wanted to see his girlfriend - although he had no idea of where she was -- and no way of contacting her by letter or phone ..."
  • "John C reports that his hearing now seems normal again!" 
  • "Think what this power can mean in your life. You need money ..."
  • "The credit man smiles ..."

Like some sort of enthusiastic tone poem, the power of Automatic Mind Control will change your life -- or it already has! Garner apologies after someone yells at you! End weakness and dizziness! Get your money from Billy! The world is your Automatic Mind Oyster!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : BLUDD THE ULTIMATE BARBARIAN

I don't know how you pronounce that second "D"
Comics have a real love affair with the beedly-bogus mashup of science fiction and fantasy into a single world. There's really no end of stories involving sword-wielding paladins in Renaissance Faire gear hopping on skycycles and fighting ogres in the antechamber of a massive supercomputer hurtling through spacewarps.

These are stories which raise more questions than they answer, but that's what makes it so appealing that Bludd (The Ultimate Barbarian) handles it with some aplomb. Keeping its swords and sorceries well away from its spaceships and laser battle, with the title character acting as a sort of goodwill ambassador from the Dark Ages to the far future, works out pretty well in the long run. Well, the short run, anyway. This is a one-shot, after all.

I know a girl who has a little tape deck right in the middle of her
forehead and when she's beguiling she's very very obedient but when she's
savage, she's deadly. 
Bludd begins his career as the most axe-swingin'est warrior that the Danish armies of the Ninth Century have on tap. Fighting for a local warlord, Bludd also encourages his own :schliiitttt: (imagine that I just dragged my thumb across my neck when you read that sound) by overdoing it with the local wenches. Turns out that Bludd's boss Gunulfr (gesundheit) maintains a personal stock in local lady flesh and Bludd's repeated dipping into the inventory puts the whole market in disarray.

Despite being a hella good warrior, Bludd takes it on the run, disappearing in time and space when a time-displacement bomb is set off in the 31st century. Actually, I'm not sure that "when" is the right word, there. He gets shunted through time somewhat randomly, whatever the case.

(The means by which a time travel bomb brings Bludd to the future involves that most evil of early 1980s comics villains -- the radical student activist. In this case, this one has been living in devastated ruins for fifty years and nonetheless still planning the assassination of the Dean, but drops his time-travel bomb at the last second. Butterfingers! Bludderfingers!)

In the tyrannical future a thousand years from now, society is patrolled by robots under the command of a man whose skin resembles the color and texture of an old tomato -- Armageddon! The absolute ruler of the future was once a respected general, but a whole lot of radiation gave him super-strength and a mad pash for ruling the universe.

Oh for god's sake, you big baby, you're just getting your tonsils out.

Opposing him is his former second in command, Dreamseeker, also affected by radiation to the degree that he has telepathy and is basically just a head inside an egg-shaped toaster. Dreamseeker is assisted by the lovely Syren, a sort of computerized Real Doll and unfortunately the only female character in the book. I guess one of the benefits of a robotic love interest is that they don't talk and when they die dramatically so that the hero can avenge her, they just plug her back in afterwards and she sticks around. I wonder if that's what happened to all the actual women in the future, just callously snuffed one after the other to inspire their lovers to acts of great self-sacrifice. Seems right.

How Dreamseeker and Syren find out about the time-tossed barbarian is anyone's guess, but they quickly recruit him to their cause -- adding a laser beam to his helmet, so as to make him futuristic.

The sole issue of Bludd - a labor of love midwifed by Gene Day and Peter Hsu, among others - ends on a stalemate between the forces of good and evil, leaving much undiscussed. Primarily, I still don't get the whole thing with the student activist, but hey, pick a deus ex machina you love and run with it, I guess.

Because of how his tiny little arms can't reach all the way to his head. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

COUNTDOWN: ARENA

First draft of the script he was all "SEX! Now that I have your attention ..."

DC Comics is undergoing another line-wide revamp of the relaunch of its most recent reboot, and I think we can all agree it's about time! I think it's been almost six months since the last line-wide revamp of the relaunch of a reboot, and the whole company was starting to grow whiskers. Ideally, in order to keep it all wiggity-wiggity-fresh, they'll relaunch everything again before I finish typing this sentence.

What's so exciting about DC's "Rebirth" event is that it's helmed by exactly the same people who were in charge of all the other most recent company-wide do-over-ing, so there's no doubt that great things can be expected. There are, of course, one or two exciting new names and titles announced alongside all the usual mulligans but, if the past continues to be prologue, then you can expect them to be cancelled early, left unpromoted, nitpicked to apoplexy by editorial and possibly groped on their way past the Superman offices.

The grand panjandrums currently in charge of DC's industrial comic-extruding division have, historically, seemed to have a shaky grasp on the "toybox" metaphor of the shared-character concept which lies at the core of corporate comic book superhero universes. The idea, exercised consistently and largely successfully for the last half-century of superheroes' increasing ascendance in popular culture, is that creators are to remove a toy from the box, play with it, and then carefully place it back in the box for the next set of creators to come along.

Quoted directly from editorial.
Under the current regime of DC Comics, though, the philosophy seems to have been "Wreck your toys, buy new ones, and then wreck them too."

Looking back at the "event" comics which have come out under Dan Didio's lengthy career at DC Comics, it's hard to pick one book which best embodies this idea. Just when you think Identity Crisis or Infinite Crisis or Blackest Night or, really, the New 52 might be its apotheosis, you remember Flashpoint or Convergence or Future's End ... or Countdown: Arena.

Countdown was the infamous followup to the weekly series 52, and was a book which enjoyed none of the critical or commercial success of its predecessor. Despite this, it was celebrated by its publisher, and spun off a multitude of related miniseries -- most of which traded on the currency of new characters killed unceremoniously.

Countdown: Arena, in its scant four issues, managed to simultaneously rack up a body count both of newly created characters and freshly killed characters which made all of the other books -- even the baffling and unnecessary Countdown: Lord Havok and the Extremists -- look like an even more innocuous version of the Teletubbies by comparison.

The premise of the book capitalized on the recently-relaunched DC Multiverse, 52 shiny new universes introduced as a playground for readers and creators alike to explore to their hearts content. The Countdown series became the first playground on which the possibilities of the new multitude of heroes and villains could be explored, but it turned out to be a playground from Shiroiwa Junior High School. That's a Battle Royale joke. I had to look it up, to be honest.

Arena, to be more specific, was the unwelcome wheat thresher advancing on that playground. The plot involved inter-dimensional super-baddie Monarch (actually a bloodthirsty Captain Atom) gathering superheroes and villains from each of the fifty-two dimensions in order to amass an army to battle the seemingly all-powerful Monitors, for some damn reason. This seems like a boilerplate plot but, for some reason, military man Captain Atom is an absolute strategic nitwit and decides not only to assemble a team of only the toughest, mightiest heroes in the multiverse (that makes sense), but to only pick one of each type (that seems limiting) and only after they've proven themselves by killing their other-dimensional duplicates (which seems moronic).

The culling manifests itself as a series of three-person battles between similar characters, leaving two dead and one to advance. There are also random killings along the way -- in fact, that's how Monarch "grabs someone's attention," by just slaughtering dudes left and right.

So, what was the cost of Countdown: Arena? In the pages of four issues, the series introduced and destroyed a Steve Trevor, a pair of Robins, at least one Batgirl and one Ultraa, at least three Teen Titans, four Justice Society members, six characters reminiscent of the late-Eighties/early-Nineties book L.E.G.I.O.N., a Martian Manhunter, an Aquaman, a Ray, an Apollo, a Starman (and a Star-Gorilla), two each of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Blue Beetle, Flash and Green Lantern, three Nightshades, around fifty incarnations of Captain Atom, and a few other character so hastily drawn into the background of meaningless obliteration that I couldn't make them out clearly.
This seems like a weird time to focus on his crotch.

And to what end? Just as a multiverse of infinite possibilities had been introduced, Countdown: Arena showed up to depopulate it.

It's not impossible to tell a compelling or, at the very least, an interesting story based around mass murder. The Hunger Games became a wildly popular franchise built on the premise of teenagers snuffing it under a dome, Attack on Titan is a phenomenon as a story about humanity's persistence among moments of mortal terror, and even the Saw franchise survives on the ingenuity of its violence and degradation. Also, you might have heard of Game of Thrones.

Arena has none of this, it's like a Play-Doh factory of superhero death; you push out a little model of a Superman and squish him under a book, you roll out a little Wonder Woman and smoosh her back in the can. Explosions replace ingenuity, shouting stands in for meaning, and in the end ...

It's easy to destroy a thing, and almost easier to create a thing -- particularly if it's only been created to be destroyed. The difficult part is nurturing a thing, keeping it around long enough to grow, or gel, or to find its footing. To no small degree, Countdown:Arena is still happening and has been happening in DC Comics almost non-stop for fifteen years, an endless parade of new ideas set up to be knocked down, and only kept around long enough to bleed ... or disappear into another revamp.

I hear these exact words at least once a week.


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