Tuesday, July 28, 2015

WILD WORLD OF WONDER WOMAN : VILLAINY INCORPORATED

Why do they even keep giant dirt clods on top of their Greek temple in the first place?

There's a chance that you've been told that Wonder Woman has no good villains and has never had a good story. There's a chance that you might believe it, even a little, having had shown to you "proof" in the form of Diana Prince's Seventies' boutique, aimless Silver Age adventures and her shouting something about "vegetative injustice" at Swamp Thing on scans_daily that one time. There's a very slim chance that you believe it with every fiber of your being and, if that's the case, congratulations on having been appointed Warner Bros. vice-president in charge of film and television development.

Tell me about it, cousin.
However, it's simply not true, and by way of proof I bring you Villainy, Incorporated from Wonder Woman vol.1 No.28, March-April 1948. Like all the great Wonder Woman tales, it begins with light bondage and ends with gorillas sporting human heads.

Capitalizing on a previous adventure wherein Wonder Woman had apprehended an invading fleet from Saturn, this villain-laden sequel starts off with the lady invaders peeling off for a cushy gig at Transformation Island, the Amazonian retreat for inveterate criminals. Locked in "Venus Girdles" which make them compliant and submissive, the Saturnian women are ... well, man, they're basically slaves. It's not cool, but there it is, let's tuck our shirt tails in and keep wading forward.

Not falling for the ol' Venus Girdle trick is Eviless, a female villain whose name sounds like a brand of Diet Evil. Stealing a page from Redd Foxx's playbook and faking a heart attack, she manages to sneak off with Wonder Woman's golden lasso and jam the lock on her Venus Girdle while everyone else is running around like idiots because they're scared of what the ACLU's gonna do if they find out prisoners died in their custody.

As it's a trick, Eviless is able to break her bonds - albeit reluctantly, as the Venus Girdle is a hell of a drug - and overcome her captors. Next on her honeydew list is to release all the unrepentant villains currently housed in the surprisingly spartan Amazon jail. For a place where everyone is subjected to loving authority, there's sure a lot more cold concrete floors than there are comfy beds.

Freed from bondage - in fact, possibly the first characters in one of these early Wonder Woman stories to be freed from bondage - Eviless assembles her sneering criminal horde into her vengeance-seeking sinister limited liability company, Villainy Inc! These sneering nogoodniks include:

"Formerly a Female Gorilla" is going on my CV.

Giganta, formerly a giant gorilla turned into a gorgeous seven foot-tall redhead in a leopard skin hoochie girl outfit. The last time we saw her, she was corrupting an innocent world where evil was unknown, which is a lot hotter shit than when she just grew real tall on Super Friends.

Speaking of Super Friends, there's also The Cheetah, similarly decked out in animal print fleece and a little too eager to throw her real name out there like anyone cares.

Queen Clea of sunken Atlantis, a woman wearing one of those aluminum foil takeout containers shaped like a swan as a headdress, and "Crimson Flame" cultist Zara make up a pair of lady crooks wearing Cinnabons as breastplates. There's gonna be hell to pay when they realize they showed up wearing the same skirt, too.

The other three members comprise the crossdressing component of the class, from the mustache-twirling Hypnota, the grimly grinning Dr.Poison, and the Blue Snowman who wears an outfit you might assume was the mascot for a football team called "The Fat Guys." GO ARLINGTON FAT GUYS, WE'RE NUMBER ONE!

There's never a not-bondage moment happening.
It doesn't take long for Eviless and her gal pals of crime to turn the tables on their Amazon captors, gathering loads of them in an auditorium and dousing them with knockout gas. The same thing happened to me and my classmates during a sophomore year assembly on abstinence, led by an evangelical juggling troupe.

What follows that is a fast-paced adventure which sees pretty much everyone bound head-to-foot at one point of the story or another. Sometimes more than once, actually. Wonder Woman and her mother are both individually bound by the golden lasso and then later bound together in burning chains, the Amazons are bound by Venus girdles and thick ropes, then most of the baddies are tied up with chains and then Wonder Woman gets tied up with a flaming chain again. Steve Trevor even gets tied up in a shirtless subterranean scene, the Holliday Girls are thrown into a net, Wonder Woman is bound by her lasso again and then chained to the front of a submarine, and then all the girls are tied with thick ropes to a rowboat. Oh well, it was bound to happen! ::finds largest rock, picks it up, walks into ocean never to be seen alive again::

What the story also chooses to do is backtrack along some of its previous story gimmicks, such as the cult of the Crimson Flame and Professor Zool's troublesome evolution machine which, for some reason, he's still allowed to operate even though every time he tries it just ends up rebooting the whole planet to a state of immaculate grace. This time he just gives himself and all of the Holliday girls the bodies of gorillas, so we'll call that one an even break for once.

Naturally, at the end, Wonder Woman manages to free her Amazon sisters, save her mother, re-imprison Villainy Inc and transform her friends back into regular-bodied humans. This leaves her plenty of time to rub soothing ointment on all those spots where the ropes rubbed her ankles and wrists raw. It's a hard lifestyle, but a rewarding lifestyle, or so I learned from Fifty Shades of Grey.


Monday, July 27, 2015

MAD AD MONDAY : LEARN TO DRAW (SEXY LADIES)

If comics encourage its young readers to emulate anything, it's to try their hand at drawing. I can promise you that at least every third kid who ever read a comic tried making one of their ownat some point.

The problem is: drawing is free! How can you encourage young adults to spend actual cash money on learning how to draw? By making it sexy of course!

An actual glimpse into Dave Stevens' life

The allure of art for centuries has almost certainly been the belief that an artists' life is primarily spent drawing sexy women in bohemian studios. Whatever the reality, and even if the dreamer's imagination doesn't quite go so far as to add the suffix of the thought "...and have SEX with them," at the very least it assures would-be artists that you'd at least get to see a naked boob!


Even the lady in the back might show you her naked boob!

How real is the sex appeal of the amateur artist? Well, a famous Washington artist was paid $60 for that drawing on the left. Woo. It pays to be famous - and even letterers get to look at naked ladies evidently - sign me up!


For those aspiring artists who don't have the temperament for correspondence courses, there are alternatives to the world of mail-order education. You can, of course, just learn to trace...

And you can even get nearly naked girls to pose for this, too!
(Hey, here's a fun game: Which popular 90s artist was rumored to use this very device to illustrate his cheesecake covers and pinups? The answer is not Greg Land.)

Still there's no alternative to education - let this resentment-riddled day laborer fill you in!

Yeah, just look at his model!

Are you ready to enter the amazing world of art? Here's your test - draw the sexiest thing known to mankind!

For extra credit, draw Jobs and Cash.
There you go, I'm sure naked boobs are on their way to your door as we speak! Excelsior!

Friday, July 24, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : DR.STRANGEGLOVE AND THE BRAINCHILDREN


The Metal Men are one of those seeming Silver Age paradoxes which managed to remain endlessly inventive while sticking to a pretty solid formula; the Metal Men was a team of heroic robots, and they fought teams of villainous robots. Nice and neat, wrapped up sweet, and it worked seamlessly as a routine for a significant part of their run.

Jump ahead a couple of decades and the effort to situate the Metal Men comfortably into a Bronze Age groove led to the creation of some genuinely off-beat and off-theme enemies, including Dr.Strangeglove and the Brain Children, debuting in Metal Men vol.1 No.52 (July 1977).

No wonder they suspected nothing, that machine is very subtle!
While the Metal Men's Will Magnus is busily confronting a military conspiracy which threatens the existence of his creations, he stumbles across evidence of a secret project called "Babylab," which sounds like the new sound taking the rave scene by storm. What Babylab turns out to be is the deeply unsettling experiment of Dr.Norman Techno (see, I told you it sounded like the next big trend in music!) and a small army of telepathic tots with a lust for murder and mind control.

Techno, it turns out, had been using the resources of the U.S. Military to fire Baby Genius rays (and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 rays, just to be sure) at young pregnant women, turning their unborn children into infant super-intellects who "possessed the stored knowledge of PhDs and the physical development of toddlers."

The plan is to employ the babies' brilliant minds to solve the problems of pollution and overpopulation, which is the last thing I'd make new babies to solve but that's just me. First rule when trapped in a hole - stop digging. Second rule is not to make telepathic murder babies.

Yep, although the babies are subservient to the Doc, they also have something of a kill-crazed thing going on. The very first time we meet the Brainchildren, they're using their combined mental might to give one of their fellow toddlers a heartattack. For the record, this is played for laughs in the actual comic. Someone call the authorities.

I dunno man, this seems like rough chuckles.

Although Dr.Techno has a perfectly good villain name on his own, he gets the additional sobriquet after an accidental nuclear explosion fuses Techno's typewriter and part of the "brain-stimulator" used to create the babies to his hand. He ends up with something that looks like a Hellboy cosplay made out of aluminum cans and tinfoil - but loaded with power! Power! Power like the ability to freeze people in place with the use of what he calls his ... Shift-Lock!

Dr.Will Magnus, Manic-Depressive Nanny.
I like to imagine he also has the powers to send people into Space, immobilize them for an undetermined Period, disrupt their Colons and get them a Tab.

Obviously neither Dr.Strangeglove nor the Brainchildren were created without tongue planted at least lightly in the cheek, but then again the whole story starts with babymurder and the violation of the bodies of young pregnant women. So, you know, rough chuckles...

In the end, the Brainchildren turn on Dr.Strangeglove and render him a drooling idiot, and are then taken into custody of the U.S.Army which I'm sure will, you know, end super-well for everyone involved. Whatever the case, it means that the Brainchildren are, at the very least, still floating around out there in case anyone ever wants to bring back a menace which wets itself.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : CAPTAIN COMBAT

The "horrible weapon" is a bubble pipe, just so you know.
What makes a superhero? Well, it helps to have a secret identity, a good motive for fighting crime, and if you don’t possess any actual super powers then it’s at least helpful to have some thematic abilities of some sort. Or, on the other hand, you can be a paid actor on a parade float who’s got a mad-on for murderous department store Santas and a something-else-on for a fellow parade performer in a Bo Peep frock.

That's gonna be a short war.
This is Captain Combat, a one-shot superhero debuting in Star-Studded Comics No.1 (published by Cambridge House, 1945). A nameless actor and professional acrobat (“And a good one at that,” he adds, while trying to score with a woman hired to play the part of Mother Goose), Combat debuts during a generic but fanciful urban parade as “one of those comic heroes the kids are so crazy about,” adding his nom de guerre as though it means something.

Sealing the deal with Mother Goose, Combat rushes to change clothes only to stumble across a clandestine meeting of would-be criminals decked out in Santa Claus costumes. Their leader – also unnamed, but let’s call him Santus Horribilis – explains a breaking-and-entering scheme predicated on a bizarre secret weapon – gas-filled bubbles, blown from a pipe doused in a soporific serum!

Lemme just recap all of that: A nameless actor hired to play a superhero stumbles across an army of larcenous Santa Clauses armed with deadly bubble pipes and it gets in the way of him trying to plow Mother Goose. Are we all together? Okay.

Combat doesn’t show much bottle in his initial outing, as he’s promptly knocked out by poisoned bubbles and hucked into a freezing river by Santus Horribilis. Freeing himself, he rededicates himself to his mission with these stirring words: “I never did like crime or criminals … but after this, I’m going to declare a one man war on crime…!” Probably this is an oath I’d make if I hadn’t just gotten my ass handed to me by Santa Claus, but perhaps I lack Captain Combat’s vision.

Combat manages to rally a little, although his primary act of derring-do is to bring the cops along when he kicks a table into Santa Horribilis’ gut, forcing him to suck a bowlful of his own poisoned soapwater. What a way to go. And for the record, we never find out if Captain Combat ever managed to get up on Mother Goose. I hope he finds satisfaction in his one man war on crime.

This is some top-notch dialogue.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

CHAOS COMICS : CHYNA

"If it's to the store where they sell leather bikinis with gloves and boots, they're all sold out."

Professional wrestlers are often referred to as "comic book characters," which is a comparison that does a disservice to both the wrestlers and the medium. At the very least, it implies that a professional wrestler's physical feats are fairly effortless - that Adrian Neville's high-flying leaps are no more complicated than Superman's gentle arcs over tall buildings, made in a single bound. It also does a disservice to comics, implying the simplicity of the contents of any given comic, but mostly it sells wrestlers short. It's a performance art which claims years of people's lives, and pays out in blood, sweat, tears, broken bones and tragically short lives - it's anything but effortless.

Wrestlers are, however, larger than life, and that makes them pretty good subjects for comic books, which they have been repeatedly over the years. That bombastic profile is apparently what inspired Chaos Comics to partner with the then-WWF to produce a series of heavy-violence, bloodbaths and beatdowns comics series starring some of the federation's then-most popular stars.

Murders and girders.
Resembling the current slate of WWE-produced action movies more than any in-ring storyline, the oddest pick out of the books was probably the statuesque Chyna, Ninth Wonder of the World and, at the very least, probably the most high-profile female wrestler on the roster.

A striking figure in the ring, Chyna wasnt all-that-frequently given a shot on the mic. Part of that had to do with her persona - she was an enforcer, an intimidating giant whose role was to stand in the back and stare daggers at the crowd while someone with more refined mic skills - or, for that matter, Triple H - handled the script.

Her comic book equivalent makes up for it in the two issues produced in 2000 and 2001, wherein Chyna quips kill lines and snide asides like a champ. "This is a social event, boys," she says, beating the tar out of gun-wielding goons at a fancy ball, "Now would you call guns social?" I mean, I didn't say they were winners, but at least she finally gets some lines.

The books posit a world where Chyna is a professional bodyguard-for-hire, decked out in her in-ring attire of a leather sports bra and two vinyl squares sewn over her bathing suit area with shoelaces. Dress for the job you want, I guess. On casual Friday she wears the same outfit, but in denim.

The first book is probably the more interesting of the two, if only because it's slightly more insane. Chyna is hired to play bodyguard to the only daughter of a successful - but shady - businessman who's been targeted by a sinister cultist named Kassandra and her all-male and largely incompetent Death Cult. "More like WIMP cult" quips Chyna as she makes short work of three of its husky members during a daylight kidnapping attempt. I'm sure that burned for weeks.

Yeah, because a cop might beat the shit out of you.
Her client, Elliot Banks, is only so concerned with the danger to his daughter, seeing as he's a super-sneery Nineties-style businessman and he's got to make money to pay for his expensive goatee. Plus he's saving up for a ponytail.

Oblivious to the threat to his own life, he fails to notice that his daughter has actually been brainwashed by the cult to straight-up stab him when he isn't looking. He might be distracted because he's busy trying to get inside whatever that is covering Chyna's nethers, although that only gets him hucked around the room a little.

The second volume has Chyna protecting the life of a mobster's wife, discovering only at the last second that the beleaguered bride and her felonious fella are actually working together to get a shot at the state's attorney. I swear there must be easier ways than trying to pull a fast one on a giant wrestler who can crush your skull with one hand, but it's their plan and they didn't ask me.

The plot in both issues is only a bit of service, though, as the appeal of the stories resides in Chyna performing improbable feats of strength and endurance. In the course of two issues, she disarms and beats the living hey-ho out of endless musclemen with guns, flies a glider onto a motorcycle, beats a helicopter to death, literally slugs a hill of heavily-armed bodybuilders into unconsciousness with a single shrug, rips a revolver in half, and shoulders about fifty steel girders into a hole with as much effort as a college freshman might use to shove a futon into a dorm room.

What's most rewarding about the books - at least for longtime wresting fans - is seeing the first storyline in Chyna's history where she had an opportunity to stand on her own. As a television character, she had always been paired with another more mic-savvy performer. Even if these comic book adventures starred only a representation of Chyna rather than the actual person, it was refreshing to see her have a chance to star in her own story instead of merely being an appendage to someone else's.

She's super-good at murdering dudes.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

BATMAN LEADS AN INTERESTING LIFE : THE BLUE BAT

Shoot 'em both, I bet one of''em will turn out to be your man.
Can you imagine a world without a Batman? DC Entertainment's licensing division sure can't, and neither could the writers of this Batman story which originally appeared in Batman vol.1 No.127 (October 1959), "The Second Life of Batman." To be fair, Batman's name was on the title of the book, it's not like they could send the guy on vacation for a month.

One of the many stories released over the character's existence which postulates what young Bruce Wayne would have done if his early life had not been marred by tragedy, this story was released during the height of the Comics Code Authority, which is why the answer wasn't "heroin" and "plowing Princess Grace." In fact, when Bruce Wayne and his ward Dick Grayson visit their friend, irresponsible scientist Dr.Nichols, Batman's alter-ego is treated to a vision of "what path your life might have taken if you were not affected by something that happened to you when you were younger," according to Nichols' sales pitch.

All of this is prelude to Nichols' sales pitch for what appears to be a salad bowl made from a hollowed-out Sputnik. Donning the high-tech cap, Bruce is treated to a vision of his life had his parents not been gunned down in Crime Alley when he was but a boy. It turns out they would have died in a car crash a little bit later. That's the first shocking revelation - that the elder Waynes are fucked no matter how you look at it.

Yeah,and then they're gonna beat you to death.
The idle playboy billionaire which Wayne becomes is a disgrace to all the other idle billionaires of his acquaintance. Apparently, since his parents' sudden death, he's spent all his time hanging out in nightclubs instead of, I dunno, oppressing workers or spitting on doormen. What do his friends expect, he's going to dress up as a seatbelt and swear vengeance on cars? That trick only works once.

Attending a masquerade ball dressed as Superman, Bruce and his pals are robbed by the BLUE BAT, a daring criminal who happens to wear a costume identical to Batman's! In fact, the caption accompanying his debut declares "This then might have been the origin of the bat-costume - a disguise to hide the secret identity of a criminal!" Hold it, I wasn't aware we were signing on for the origin of the bat-costume. This story is all over the place.

The partygoers are rescued by the real Superman, whom Bruce assists by startling the Blue Bat's henchmen long enough for the Man of Steel to let the leader of the gang get away. I don't know, they're not a well-oiled machine, folks, they just met.

All it needs is a vulnerable boy to stand in front of it!
The intervention sparks in Bruce a sudden hunger for heroism, so when he later has his ass handed to him by the Blue Bat and a few of his gang on the street, he chooses to follow he assaulters to their secret headquarters.

Finding the HQ empty except for a spare costume and plans for the gang's next target, Bruce decides to dress up as the Blue Bat and drive around honking his horn and stuff until the police start  chasing him. The plan is to lead the cops to the criminal Bat's current heist, but probably I imagine they'd just shoot him dead. Oh well, the power of imagination!

Bruce, dressed as the Blue Bat, returns the beating he'd received earlier and hands the Blue Bat off to the cops. Neglecting that he'd just provided the guy with an amazing alibi, he decides nonetheless to continue dressing up as a crook to beat up other crooks. I assume he won't get shot dead by cops? Well, it's all in Batman's mind anyway, which is why I call this feature Batman Has An Active Imagination.

Friday, July 17, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : THE MADMAN CLOWN

Look how sick of his shit that tiger is.

America's favorite teenager has survived so many weird and off-model incarnations that the brief turn he and his pals spent as superheroes barely registers on the mark. Still, lurking in the pages of Archie as Pureheart the Powerful vol.1 No.3 (February 1967, "Terror in the Center Ring") was one of the most disturbing menaces ever faced by the regulars from Riverdale - the murderous, misogynistic Madman Clown!

But doctor, I AM Pagliacci
Archie's transition into his alternative identity of Pureheart the Powerful was spurred by his part-time paramour, slinky and stinking-rich brunette half of the "Betty and..." crew, Veronica Lodge. Tapping into mysterious powers, Archie would suddenly transform into the teal-and-orange terror, and by way of complicating his freckled life, his rival Reggie would undergo a similar transformation into the vexing Evilheart.

In this case, Archue's transformation never had a more serious trigger. Innocently passing through a traveling circus, Archie and his pals are scattered by an unexpected stampede of circus animals. In the resulting hubbub, Veronica is abducted by the hulking, leering Madman Clown. Whether the broad-shouldered Pagliacci loomed over everyone naturally or packed lifts into his ridiculous shoes, the ape-armed entertainer makes for an intimidating figure. With his jaw jutting out over his polka-dotted bowtie, he resembles as much a murderous mascot for an ice cream cone company as merely an injurious jester.

But murder IS on his mind. With Veronica held against her will in his trailer, the Madman Clown outlines his plan - he's going to kill her! Why, asks Ronnie? Well, "Because you remind me of my wife!" he explains, "The wife who ran off with the tattooed man! The wife I swore to kill!" Archie comics get grim sometimes.

"Get these dry cleaned for me"
Pureheart rescues Veronica from the killer clown's lethal advances, but is himself overwhelmed by the Madman Clown's assorted Plans B; he's got a steamer trunk full of helpful dwarves handy, plus a playful pet tiger, and turns out to be a deft hand at hypnosis. In fact, the circus svengali sends Archie and Veronica to their seeming doom in what amounts to a sabotaged aerialist routine - and their child will grow up to be Robin, if they manage to conceive, gestate and birth one between the trapeze and the floor.

Reggie unwittingly saves Ronnie and the day, while Archie mostly accidentally upends the greasepainted nogoodnik's schemes. As superheroes go, Pureheart's a little underpowered; not only can he not fly, he's afraid of heights.

Still ,the story ends with the Madman Clown falling into a cannon, which he subordinates promptly fire into the sun, pretty much, killing him dead no matter where he ended up. Pureheart is allowed to count that in the W column, so hooray Archie! Boo Madman Clown! And sorry that you'll probably have to go to therapy Veronica! At least you'll have some vivid nightmares of murderous clowns to share with your doctor.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : DEVILINA

THIS they teach a girl at Radcliffe?
In addition to its color line of comic books - primarily composed of super-hero adventures, with a little war and barbarism thrown in for pizzazz - Atlas-Seaboard produced a pair of black-and-white magazines to cover that particular acreage on the average newsstand.

One of them was Devilina, which was both the name of the magazine and also the name of the scantily-clad character who occupied the much-coveted first-story slot of the book's two-issue run. Created, written and drawn by Ric Estrada, Devilina's adventures were part cod-Satanism, part soap opera, part Kolchak and partly dressed.

"But also, yes, you're a freak."
Let me tell you the story from the beginning -- all the way in the beginning, in fact, as Devilina's tale begins with Lucifer's rebellion against God. 'Round about the time he gets the place looking just gthe way he likes it - dripping in sinners - Satan's mother shows up on her son's doorstep. "I was too ashamed to stay in heaven" she tells her horn-spouting son, seated upon his thrones of babes and snakes, and then indicates the baby in her arms. "My child ... your sister! Born while you fought the hosts of Heaven!"

There are a lot of questions raised by this encounter which are not covered by conventional theology. I'm also unsure of why Satan's angelic mother runs around in a bikini and a cloak, but then again I dropped out of Sunday School. The short version is that Satan prohibits his mother from moving in with him in Hell, and isn't that just like an ungrateful child? That woman raised you, mister, or however it works with angels and stuff.

Specifically, Satan doesn't want the corruption and evil of Hell to influence his mother and infant sister. Sent to a spooky ol' mansion in New England in the future (aka The Seventies), Satan's mom chooses to raise her daughter free of Satan's influence. Also she names her Devilina. Make up your mind, lady.

A nice normal major like "Occult reporting"
Devilina leads a mostly normal childhood, only occasionally accidentally turning physical objects to lifeless ash at a glancing touch. Yeah yeah, everyone's childhood is rough.

As she turns eighteen, Devilina wakes and muses to herself "Mother has promised me a surprise this day, something mark my becoming a woman! I wonder what it could be?" Well, it's horns, lady, and also you're Satan's sister. Plus, to mark the occasion, your mom has tricked you out like an evil hooker in a special "sorceress' costume" which is basically a leather bikini and motorcycle boots. Mazel tov!

This life of horns and being Satan's sister doesn't fit in with Devilina's plans - she got accepted to Radcliffe! She just wants to date normal boys, practice magic, and be a reporter on occult issues for a free weekly culture and arts magazine. You know, normal girl stuff!

That's all well and good, but Satan has apparently changed his mind about seeing Devilina corrupted, and starts sending agents after her soul. Fickle family, the Satansons.

Devilina moves to Greenwich Village, manages to turn a journalism degree "specializing in occult reporting" (!!) into a career with a thinly veiled version of the Village Voice (and which has an "Occult Beat" section, of all things), and seems all set to put her life in order. Unfortunately, big brother Satan keeps popping u and messing with her stuff. this leaves Devilina no choice but to shout her confusing catchphrase and leap into underdressed action:

"Sword of Egypt. Let the light of darkness cloak my body and soul! DEATH TO SATAN!'

It'll never get on American Bandstand.

Devilina was in fine company with the other features of her magazine. Effectively a horror book peppered with pulchritudinous babes and labeled "Illustrated stories of female-filled fantasy," Devilina-the-book left little doubt about what exactly it was selling (At least one other character, Sybil, seemed poised to make repeat appearances as a story host). Evidently intended to be Atlas-Seaboard's satanic panic answer to Vampirella, more or less, Devilina didn't share the long life of her predecessor, vanishing along with the rest of the line upon Atlas-Seaboard's collapse.

PS Ric Estrada is great.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

THE SPLIT SUPERMAN SAGA


It's my birthday today, so I'm hoping you'll indulge me if I discuss a comic that, strictly speaking, isn't really all that weird. Sure, it involves time travel, magic, a superhero being cut into two distinct living beings, an underworld super-crime auction and a villain with vibrators on his fists but, you know, comparatively speaking it's a comfy ride down a country lane.

It was, however, my younger self's absolute favorite comic of all time. I read my copies of these issues until they were liquid and had to be stored in an old pickle jar.

The book does fit the general criteria of this site, in that it's both gone and forgotten - the story was permanently put to bed as soon as it was wrapped up and passively wiped from canon. In fact, I may be the only person in the world who's ever given it so much as a second thought - or who's even ever read it in the first place. Good lord, maybe this comic only exists in my mind! Let's find out!

It's a salad bowl, I think.
It's the Split Superman Saga, and if that name fails to ring a bell, it's only because I'm pretty sure I'm the sole person on Earth who refers to as such. This is despite the fact that the series ran seven straight months from Action Comics vol.1 No.534 through No.541 (August 1982 through March 1983), longer than any of the Superman-helmed miniseries up to that point (or most miniseries in general)!

Superman finds himself summoned to an ambiguous period in the Middle Ages (14th century Britain according to the dialogue, but it sort-of looks like the cleanup crew at Altamont). The Man of Steel has been abducted across time by his magical opponents Lord Satanis and his satanic majesty's contentious bride Syrene. This pair are basically the Bickersons of the sword-and-sorcery set, and this time they're throwing the dishes at one another over The Runestone, a gem of unimaginable might which can transform its wielder into a god!

The downside of the gem - it's too powerful for any mortal frame to process, magic or no. That's why they need Superman to act as an invulnerable Brita filter through which the power of the Runestone can be moderated. Sure, it'll kill him, but you don't make an omelette without breaking a few iconic superheroes.

One of, like, ten times Superman dies in this book.
Syrene and Satanis engage in a magical tug-of-war with Superman's body - this is at the tail-end of a lengthy battle where they throw everything else at him and each other, including mud golems and dragons and animated trees and all kindsa shit you wouldn't expect to see Superman fighting this far outside of the Silver Age. The end result is ... dividing. Superman is literally split in two - two distinct, separate, seemingly identical Supermen, but each one only possessing half the powers of the original!

The breakdown of the powers goes like this: One Superman keeps the invulnerability, the heat vision, and presumably the x-ray vision and other sensory powers. The other Superman keeps flight, super-speed, super-strength and super-breath. Also, he gets the kids on alternate weekends and keeps the Summer home in Montauk.

Satanis and Syrene only need invulnerable-Superman, so they send the other one back to the modern era. Despite keeping the lion's share of the flashy powers, strong-Superman quickly learns that, bereft of invulnerability, those remaining strange powers and abilities are a mixed blessing at best. Lifting a building may still be a simple matter, as is dashing about faster than a speeding bullet, but it leaves him bruised and sore - not to mention what a speeding bullet can actually do to him now (Hint: kill him).

In fact, bullets are almost the least of his problems. Over the course of the story, Superman is pounded insensate by debris, kidnapped by the supervillainous sneak thief The Mole, abducted to an underworld auction (bidding is for the right to murder the Man of Steel), is savagely beaten by a villain named Jackhammer whose power is literally "fist-pumping," ends up on the operating table TWICE and straight-up actually DIES at one point. He also gets to walk around Lois Lane's apartment semi-shirtless, so ... it's sexy too...

If there are other concrete reasons why this story thrilled my pre-pubescent self so much - in addition to the high stakes established in the dense action - the multitude of cameos is in no small way responsible. Superman ends up rubbing shoulders with The Omega Men, the Teen Titans, old-timers Cave Carson and Rip Hunter (in advance of the much better-remembered Forgotten Heroes arc) and, via flashback, Green Lantern.

He also makes abortive attempts to travel back in time using other DC Heroes' portable time-holes, only to find that Satanis has sabotaged the timeline with time-tacks on the time-road or something. Whatever the case, it's a chance to have Superman call on the Atom to borrow the Time Pool, the Flash to give the Cosmic Treadmill a shot, a spare Legion of Super-Heroes' Time Bubble in his Fortress of Solitude, and to hang out in a darkened apartment listening to Bruce Springsteen's Glory Days on repeat to see if plain ol' rueful nostalgia can do the trick (I made the last one up).

In the end, of course, Superman manages to break through the time barrier through some backdoor loophole and unite with his distaff self. The subsequent battle is beautifully drawn by Gil Kane, involves an enormous blue Superman and tons of Kirby dots, sees Satanis and Syrene defeated and just generally resolves everything neatly so that the status quo of the Superman books is back by suppertime.
You're a brand.

And it's that last point which cements this story in my memory as one of my all-time favorites. The action, the cameos, and the dense drama all still hold up to this day, in my opinion, but the genuinely timeless, personal value of this story resides in the fact that this was the comic which killed my credulity and, in doing so, made me a keener comics reader.

Up to this point, like most children, I believed that the stakes established in any superhero's adventures were dire stakes. I was ignorant of corporate fiat and the tyranny of the bottom line, and believed that even Superman could be killed off in the pages of his own book by any sufficiently powerful villain. Which is what I believed might actually happen in this very story! I was a child and I read these comics as a child reads them; fearing for the safety of imaginary people.

The length of the story, the depth of the roster and the reverence afforded Gil Kane as a legendary artist led me to believe that this might actually be the tale where Superman literally dies, and dies for good. At the very least, I wondered if the invulnerable Superman, trapped in the past with the powers of x-ray vision and heat vision, might be murdered by his foes - leaving our modern-day Superman with half his strength; a storyline which promised both death and the permanent humbling of a great hero. Heady stuff, indeed.

(The best case scenario, to my tiny mind, was that we'd have two Supermen - one in the present-day, one in the past, split between what was then the only two books to feature the solo adventures of the Man of Tomorrow on a regular basis. I still occasionally daydream about this batshit, impractical idea)

But, of course, none of this would happen. My hopes had been raised so high that the failure of any of this became the breaking point at which I realized that it was in no company's best interest to interfere too deeply with the status quo. Superman-as-he-is was a brand, an identity, and a property, and it didn't behoove the bottom line to change it too much.

With that realization, but still possessed of an abiding love for the medium, that's when I stopped reading these books for "what might happen" and instead read them for "what they are." I started paying attention to the execution of the story and art, and by doing that I started paying attention to the creators. Acknowledging the creators meant I took to paying attention to entire arcs as bodies of work, which led me to begin contextualizing them in greater schemes of cultural and philosophical movements, which also led me outside of superhero comics.

I say this with no exaggeration: there is a direct line in my comics experience from The Split-Superman Saga to Love&Rockets. If I'd never had an epiphany with the former, I never would have engaged with the latter (and a thousand other comics outside of the cape-and-cowl genre).

This storyline also gave me a healthy suspicion of the publicity machine. While this story came out to no particular fanfare, it was only a few years later that DC would "erase" its fifty-year history. Thanks I strongly suspected at the time that the old elements would sneak their way back into the books and, of course, they did. Just as they did after Superman died, was replaced, grew a mullet, became electric, split in two, and will return after whatever the hell is going on in the comics these days. Being inured to publicity is a life-skill these days, it spares you a lot of headaches and saves you from the embarrassment of getting your hopes up over something some middle management jerks cooked up in an all-beige meeting room...
For instance, this was the scene at the Batman vs Superman screening at Comicon last weekend.
In the grand scheme of superhero comics - or even in Superman comics specifically - the Split-Superman saga is a blip. Remembered by few, celebrated by none, it holds a singular place in my heart for giving me the gift of cynicism. That's not usually what Superman's around for, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

90 FROM THE 90S : PART THIRTEEN

Cable
If any character can be said to have midwifed the Nineties, it’s almost certainly Cable – who debuted at the tail end of the Eighties, but surely rose and fall entirely in the following decade. Loaded with pouches and guns, screaming and swinging around a seemingly unearned authority, decorated with more lights and tinsel than the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center, the chief mutant of the Nineties began as a far-flung future version of New Mutant Cannonball. Editorial changed horses midstream and a very complicated backstory – and present story – was developed.

As goes the way of all techno-flesh, the fetish for Cable vanished and the adolescent enthusiasm used to create him began to wither as audiences turned their attention to newly- and more-edgy superhero created in his wake. It’s rewarding that there appears to be a nostalgia for the character, even if he’s no longer anywhere to be found in Marvel’s modern-day roster of top-rung characters.


Knightfall Batman
One thing you certainly say for the character of Azrael - who, in the nineties, briefly took over the identity of Batman during the events of Knightfall – is that they at least never tried to hide the fact that he was a fucking terrible choice for the job. Pretty much from page one, panel one, “Az-Bats” was ruining the fine lines of one of the most iconic superhero costumes in comics and also everyone else with his forearm blades. 

Before long, the Knightfall version of Batman had altered his costume so frequently and so haphazardly that he basically resembled a golem made of globe-shaped Christmas tree ornaments, with a Bavarian cuckoo clock for a chest plate. In a way, it almost sounds whimsical...

Armageddon 2001
Pop culture increasingly dreaded the oncoming new millennium over the course of the Nineties, but DC Comics got the jump on them all by releasing this crossover event in its Summer Annuals in 1991. Following the investigations of future scientist superhero Waverider, readers were treated to sneak peeks of the world of the future some ten years hence. Naturally, as these things go, it was pretty much universally grim for everybody involved (excepting a light-hearted and continuity-spanning Justice League Europe adventure).

In case one grim ending wasn’t enough, Superman and Batman received a few apiece, owing to their multiple titles. The entire endeavor was undertaken to identify the identity of the mysterious Monarch, super-powered dictator of the future world, and whose modern-day identity of Captain Atom was leaked before the inks were dry on the final issue of the series bookends. That’s why it was arbitrarily changed to Hawk of Hawk and Dove, despite clues to the contrary, much to fans’ displeasure and the company’s chagrin. Aw well, everybody goes evil eventually, if Hawk wasn’t gonna do it now he was gonna do it before long …

Sonic Super Special 7
So, here’s the thing: Several characters from the surprisingly rich and fanatically-embraced Sonic the Hedgehog universe manage to score an interdimensional team-up with assorted characters from the Image Universe. Also there were obvious X-Files ripoffs in there and the book was dedicated to Chris Carter, so in a lot of ways it’s actually an X-Files parody more than anything, so maybe I should start writing this one over from the beginning.

In any case, creators at Image loaned Spawn, Savage Dragon, Shadowhawk, someone I think called Velocity, another guy maybe called Union or Unity or something, and Maxx to the crossover. On the other side, of course, were all the famous Sonic characters – Sonic the Hedgehog, Knuckles the other Headgehog, Smuckles the Platypus, Speed Morphine the Cat, Dong Ratsy the half rat man, Tits the Wankbird and the Poison Twins, Righty and Lefty. And then the book went down in history as the greatest comic ever made.


Holografix
The 1990s were the future - for all cases where the present equaled what we now know as the past – and what could be more futuristic than holograms? Well, how about holo-FOIL, and more specifically Holografix holofoil, a metallic reflective surface which created vivid repeating patters on the comic covers – you could have Spider-Man webs, X-Men Xes, circles and diamonds, squares and radiating beams, rectangles, octogons … listen, you’re not dumb, you know what shapes are. You could have shapes on them.

What made holografix holofoil a bit of a bummer was that covers really couldn’t be printed ON it, you had to have it surrounding a traditionally colored image, and so it was basically used to fill in space around posing characters, making some of the most boring covers out of the entire field of variant covers, which is saying a lot because it’s not like the embossed ones were singing and dancing up there or nothing …  


Monday, July 13, 2015

P-S-Eh? : HEALTH MYTHS DEBUNKED!

Shaving is not a medical matter, doc, keep it to yourself. 
Apparently in the past, if you injured yourself, a roving doctor would suddenly show up and berate you for a whole buncha shit you never even said you believed in anyway. It was a program called "Shame Based Health Awareness," and it saved millions of lives every year by making people so petrified of potential embarrassment that they never left the house. Doctors would just swing by every ten years to see if the resident died yet, and if so they'd wrap the corpse up in a bedsheet and roll it into a creek, river or other tributary. Saved billions in medical fees every year, and nobody had weird ideas like doing loads of jazzercise when you have a cold.

Friday, July 10, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : BUTCH MATSON


He's one of Superman's earliest opponents and is featured on the Man of Steel's single most iconic image, and yet most folks only know him as "The guy freaking out in the corner." Well, the guy freaking out in the corner of Action Comics vol.1 No.1 (cover date June 1938) has a name, and that name is Butch Matson.

Debuting in the breathlessly paced first appearance of Superman, Matson is only one of a half-dozen characters whom an early, roughly-sketched Superman flings around with general impunity. He's certainly not the first. Before the Man of Tomorrow can start hucking Butch Matson around like a bag of fertilizer, he has to work his way through a lynch mob, a wife-beater and an intransigent butler. And in case you're worried that Superman failed to heft any of these people above his head and fling them around like stuffed animals, be at ease - he chucked 'em all over the place. Early days Superman sure loved to literally throw people around.

So what was Butch Matson - a gangster, a super-villain, a mad scientist? Well, no, not really - at first, he's merely a masher.

Having wheedled his way into a date with Lois Lane, Clark Kent's romantic delight is interrupted mid-number when hulking, slope-browed Matson - enchanted by Lois Lane's wriggling tuchus - tries to step in on the young couple. Clark puts up token resistance, but has to draw the line at physically stepping to Matson, for the sake of his secret identity. Lois is under no such compunctions, though, and answers Matson's offer with a slap across the mush.

This sends Matson into a fury, so in short order he's assembled his entourage. The coterie of hulking man-apes roughly collect Lois Lane and make off with her in Matson's understated green sedan, raising the stakes from "emphatically friendzoned" to "straight-up kidnapping."

Matson's ultimate plan for Lois is unspoken but, presumably, pretty dire. He's not abducted her just to bring her to his favorite waffle house, is my guess. Luckily, Superman is hot on the tail of Matson, his crew, and their doomed avocado-colored hooptie.

The end result is that Matson's crew of neckless thugs ends up scattered to the four winds, the resale value of their ride is diminished to sub-scrap levels, and Matson himself ends up hanging from a telephone pole.

Lois' kidnappers are all but forgotten by the very next panel (which is the famous image of Superman looming over Lois Lane, telling her that she needn't be afraid and that he won't hurt her ... despite what he did to that car), and the fast-paced story moves on to Superman's next daring deed without extrapolating on Matson's fate. I assume he either died on that telephone pole or developed a pathological fear of dance floors.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : IMPOSSIBLE MAN

No relation to Marvel Comics’ greens-skinned Fantastic Four baddie, but rather a depressed and unremarkable everday human named – what else – Hugh Mann. Overshadowed and overwhelmed by everything else in the world, the buck-toothed and slightly-built man muses to himself as he wanders the city streets, hands in pockets “I’m a failure … afraid of my own shadow! I’ve never done anything worthwhile … I wish I was dead!”

Crossing a bridge, he continues to reflect on his sorry state of affairs “No girl … no job … no nothin’!” Peering over a bridge at a tugboat passing far below, he complains “There’s nobody that’d even miss me if I jump off right now!”

Well, Hugh decides not to jump, but instead decides to apply himself for the first time in his life. Does he pursue love, success, physical might, or wealth? No, he decides to build a rocketship so he can live on Mars instead. It’s that combination of desperate self-loathing combined with running away from your problems that really makes this country great.

Anyway, this is how he died.
Launching successfully, the trip quickly goes awry and Hugh finds himself not on Mars but rather “The lost planet of Brutus!” Complicating matters for his already-miserable self-esteem, Brutus is the one planet in the solar system inhabited solely by superheroes! Everyone can fly, everyone is a physical marvel, and a surprising number of people go around in bathing suits and capes.

Just as Hugh is apprehended by “Flatfoot Fogarty, the Super-Cop” (what does it matter if he has flat feet? He can fly!) and faces a lifetime of public display as a “weak freak” worthy only of mockery, the police station is assaulted by Super Phony, a bad guy who mixes up the Brutus ensemble by wearing a bathing suit, cape and newsboy cap AND who possess the power of super-hypnotism.

Hugh ekes out a couple more adventures as a “cripple” on a world of superhumans, but somehow manages to do better at making a name for himself than he did on plain ol’ Earth. By the end, he’s a decorated hero on Brutus, despite his low self-esteem and inability to do something as simple as flying between worlds. Pff. Amateur.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

THE MIRACLE IN YOUR GAS TANK

By Frank Capra.

Say what you will about the promotional comic produced by the Sinclair Oil Corporation, but you can't deny that they possess an inordinate amount of confidence. In advance of promoting a chemical additive used to prevent the build-up of rust in cars and pipelines, the foreword of the comic promised to relate this exciting tale ...

"What you are about to read may seem fantastic. Even we at Sinclair Research Laboratories were amazed at the annual toll of rust and corrosion and the almost magical protective power of the RD-119 chemical as a rust inhibitor. But we would like to remind you that every fact, every statistic in the pages which follow is scientifically substantiated. In fact, a United States Patent has been granted based on the demonstrable difference of Sinclair Fuels containing RD-119. It is indeed a case where truth is stranger - and more exciting - than fiction."

What were they doing before that guy showed up?
Here's hoping no one at Sinclair had any money riding on that last sentence. Still, what they intended to be stranger and more exciting than fiction was this particular work of fiction featuring the RD-119 Miracle Man (not to be confused with Neil Gaiman's RD-119 Miracle Man), a superhero who will cram you inside a gas tank if you don't open your heart to chemical whimsy.

The excitement launches from the comfy living room of the Thomas family, heirs to the English Muffin fortune, where long-visiting Uncle Alonzo is filling young Bobby Thomas ("Smooth" feat. Carlos Santana) with utter fucking fibs about his past accomplishments.

While Pop Thomas can endure Alonzo's tall tales about having played a pivotal role at Kitty Hawk or having split the atom years prior to Oppenheimer, he absolutely draws the fucking line at filling the boy's head with technical information about rust-repelling chemical additives to carbon fuels. "Rust and corrosion cost motorists well over $100,000,000 a year ... or $212 per minute in damage to carburetors, fuel lines and fuel pumps" Alonzo eagerly explains to the wide-smiling boy, starving for knowledge and human contact. "That does it" replies Pop, blowing up, "Now he's fouling up his schoolwork! I'm sending a wire right now!"

For those of you who don't know, "I'm sending a wire" is mid-century slang for "I'ma buck wild on a fool." Poor Alonzo, he'll bear the scars forever.

I'm sure this is safe.
Pop's car throws a shitfit while he is literally driving Alonzo to the train station, literally riding him out of town on a rail rather than allow the old fibber to misrepresent America's problem with engine rust. Ironically suffering extensive rust corrosion, the car breaks down ... or was it intentional? Maybe Alonzo is dangerous, is what I'm suggesting.

This summons the RD-119 Miracle Man, a man whose parents were killed by fuel line corrosion and who has subsequently devoted his life to alerting motorists to the dangers of moisture. I believe he decided on his identity when  a carburetor flew through his library window.

RD-119 Miracle Man (I'll call him "Artie" for short) possess a brand-specific magic word, and shouting SINC-LAIR! allows him an array of amazing abilities, not the least of which is to shrink everyone in the party down to snack size - that's Pop, Uncle Alonzo, Bobby and Bobby's dog - and shove them into the gas tank for a look around. It's only a quarter full, don't worry, that's plenty safe - and remember, it's the fumes that are flammable, so no smoking. Also you're all going to die, sorry.

Artie also possess a Batmobile of sorts, being a magic carpet with the front end of a red sedan appended to it. Stylish wheels, or lack thereof, my good man.

This proves nothing, swinger.
The ride terminates at the research labs of Sinclair where the cast - and the audience - are treated to a genuinely soporific tour of the pipes which had once NOT been treated with RD-119 but now HAVE been, and we don't go inside so we just see a drawing of them from the outside and we have to just believe that it works. You know what they always say, you just need to have faith in the rust-fighting properties of fuel additives, that's what really counts.

The kicker on the fume-induced hallucinations of their educational journey is that dad is awakened the next day under an icepack with mom bringing him a Bromo Seltzer, while dad rants angrily about how a magic man with a flying carpet shrunk him and put him inside a gas tank, and THAT'S why he's hungover! I wish I'd thought of that excuse.

It's also worth noting that the final chapter is entitled "Mr/Thomas Has Trouble Convincing the Mrs." Haven't we all, Pop, haven't we all ...



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