Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Many Foes of Luke Cage, Power Man (Part 3)

"Fruitboots", eh? Discus: His superpowers include living in glass houses, throwing stones.

#11: Ding dong, ding dong …
Big Ben Donovan (Birth name: Bigworth Benjamin Dovetonsils) is actually a high-priced attorney who ends up as Luke Cage’s lawyer some time after their initial imbroglio. However – prior to that – he starts off as a blue-balled berserker who busts into Cage’s office at three in the ay-em, hot on the (and forgive me for this) tail of one of Cage’s foxy but hotheaded former clients.

I ... Oh dear.
After having met with Donovan to settle her late husband’s affairs, she ends up being wined and dined by the big oaf until the wee small hours of the morning, at which point it dawns on her that the meeting is anything but business and she bolts to the relative safety of Luke Cage’s apartment. After getting an earful from our hapless hero – whom she calls an “ego-tripping bear”, which is honestly an act I’d love to see at the circus – the would-be victim finds her spurned date at the door with a line I’m going to pretend is from Tyler Perry’s remake of The Shining.

That Big Ben was – however briefly – envisioned as a black urban Kingpin for Luke Cage to test his mettle against is fairly self-evident, particularly as the captions actually make it a point to draw comparisons between the two. To Ben’s advantage, where the Kingpin has a taser or something crammed in his walking stick, Donovan came quipped with steel-toe boots and six-inch iron heels. SIX INCHES. IRON SOLED SHOES. He cut quite a figure in the courtroom, I’m sure.

Keep talking, jive turkeys.
#12 – After you, Alphonse …
Comanche and Shades were former prison-mates of Cage’s and, having escaped with revenge on former prison guard Rackham foremost in their minds, knockoff heroes for hire muscling in on Cage’s territory.

Outfitting themselves with outlandish costumes (which makes them look “a coupla cats outta the Village”, and no one in the Village would be caught dead looking like that, thank you very much) and occupying themselves with a complicated plan of high-profile petty larceny to set themselves up as Kings of Harlem, not to mention making their presence known not only to their former cellmate Cage but also their former prison guard, I think it’s sufficient to suggest that these two strategic geniuses have really nailed down the best way to behave after an escape from prison. Next up: Skywriting their home addresses over police headquarters, pressing hams on the district attorney’s windshield, actually turning themselves in.

Comanche and Shades - while theoretically out to get Rackham and happy to mention it every other panel – spend a lot of time blowing hot balloon juice and dragging their feet on actually arranging the revenge. Story-wise, I tend to think of Comanche and Shades as the over-polite gophers from the old Looney Tunes cartoons, except at one point they both probably shivved a guy in the joint. The gophers, I mean, them cats look tough.

Ahh-ah! He'll save
every one of us!
#13 We have much to discus
Stiletto debuts a few issues before his equally buff, blow-dried playmate Discus, hot on the tail of Cage and interrupting the culmination of the aforementioned Comanche and Shades’ revenge plan against prison guard Rackham (Short version: They fell through his roof and shot at him). Stiletto’s one of those villains with a single weapon that’s been converted to function as fifteen or twenty different weapons, so all he has on him are stilettos but he’s got stilettos that shoot lightning and cryogenic stilettos that shoot cold gas and a stiletto that I think shoots sonic beams and another that shoots gas and a wrist-shooter that shoots tiny stilettos and someone ought to tell him that if you’re so into shooting, buy a gun.

By the time Discus shows up, the pair are pursuing Cage again and inadvertently and somewhat hilariously making it sound like they’re secret homosexual lovers with every third line. They’re actually brothers, so that’s just creepy, but it does underline what dopey goofs these two are. Incidentally, while Stiletto had all those awesome shooting stilettos, Discus only had the one steel discus, so sometimes he’d throw it and then have nothing else to do so he’d just stand over his brother’s shoulder and grimace. Those two ought to take this act on the road.

By the end, it’s revealed that the pair are the malicious, revenge-bent sons of former Seagate prison warden Tyler Stuart, and the news so depresses Cage that he has to go to California to beat up Black Goliath.

#14 A Guy In A Jiffy Pop Popcorn Suit
A Guy in the Jiffy Pop Popcorn Suit deserves a mention simply because his was the adventure where Luke Cage decided to change his sobriquet to Power Man. So now he’s been mentioned. Well done, me!

I can't tell if he's saying "common" or if he's one of those dumbasses
who spells "c'mon" like that alla damn time.

It's always about race with these guys ...
#15 High On The Roof Is A Lonely Goatherd …
Len Wein gets his hands on the villain I bet every New York-based comics writer wanted to create – the evil construction worker!

Steeplejack was a shirtless, hairy hulk of a man armed with a gun which shot hot rivets (so much better than a gun that shoots bullets, because … you know, hot rivets are so much less portable and you have to carry around a big heater strapped to your back to get them red-hot, and that’s very very safe). Steeplejack was also the only super-villain I’ve ever seen who was smart enough to wear a construction helmet while working, in case of falling debris or – if it’s a Mark Millar story – superheroes falling from the sky.

Other things Steeplejack was capable of doing: Shouting dishearteningly vulgar things at women, criminally not working on anything, menacingly sitting on a very high girder and eating a sandwich out of a tin pail, and exploding when he falls to his death at the end of this issue.

In closing, enjoy this scene of Luke Cage actually deciding that something is 'too ethnic' for his book. HIS book! Too ethnic! Wow!

Okay, maybe that IS too ethnic.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

They Came From The Public Domain ...

Former Golden Age superheroes who’ve recently fallen into the public domain have been showing their faces all around comics lately. Excepting the few who popped up in mildly copyright-defying form in Bill Black’s Americomics or Malbiu’s old Protectors series, among others, there’s Alan Moore’s cast of Terra Obscura characters, while Alex Ross and Jim Krueger have been spinning a complicated (and some might rightly suggest “incomprehensible”) superhero soap opera with a cast of bazillions in Project: Super-Powers and the original boomerang-slinging Daredevil has made a series of appearances in Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon.

More than a few (hundred) of the Golden Age’s lesser lights, however, have failed to make an appearance in the big new era of combing other people’s long-dead ideas for cash money. Here’s a list of a few I’m dying to see make a reappearance in modern comics:

That’s “Minimidget” as in “Smaller than your average midget”. As far as midgets go, he makes ‘em look like giants, that should be your take-away from this. Is being smaller than a midget a super-power? Well, if not, let’s see you try it.

This seems condescending as all hell.
Minimidget – a.k.a. The Super-Midget (except that he is not super in any capacity) or The Miniature Man (okay, I can accept that) – has one of the weirdest character arcs in comicdom. Minimidget first debuted as Jack Rhodes, adventurer, in the pages of Amazing Man #5 and – later that same issue – appears again in a story which takes place some time after Rhodes and his girlfriend Rinny (wait what?) have been abducted, shrunk and turned into poison-needle-bearing nighttime assassins by some mad scientist of the other.

Just to make sure you catch this: The part of the story where Jack Rhodes is captured and transformed and enslaved by a mad scientist and turned into a pint-size murderer-by-command? They didn’t show that part.

By his next appearance, Minimidget is back on the side of the angels, and is so small that maybe he can answer that question for us about how many of ‘em can dance on a pin. He and Rinny make themselves useful to the rest of the regular-sized world by flying around in their toy plane passing on messages, getting attacked by wildlife and having difficulty doing everything.

Everyone they meet or help is so enthusiastic about supporting them that the stories take on this air that everyone feels really bad for Rhodes and Rinny, so they want to support them for every little thing they do. “You didn’t get killed by a bird,” they may say, “Good for you! Good for you!”

Aah-aah. He'll save every one of us.
Dash Dartwell, the Human Meteor
As a run-of-the-mill comic book speedster, Dash Dartwell is missing the flashy costume worn by your average Whizzer or Flash. He makes up for it by sprinting everywhere in his double-breasted blue suit, which after even a few sprints across town probably smells like the underside of a brisket’s armpit.

I don’t actually like Dash Dartwell or anything about his origin or narrative, but I am perpetually amused at the manner in which they draw him running: Legs fully extended both directions, as far as they can go, like a jointed wooden toy being tossed carelessly through the air. I could read a whole book of that.

Now THAT'S using your head! PS I hate myself.
The Iron Skull
Golden Age comics had more than their share of robotic super-humans, from Bozo the Robot to Robotman to one or two others who – and I stress this as being practically key to their popularity – made sure to put the word “robot” somewhere in their name. This is handy when you’re a reader trying to figure out exactly why some cross-eyed goon is cramming his pumpkin through brick walls.

The Iron Skull was apparently a robot – or possibly, like Robotman, a robot body with a human brain attached – but within the actual pages of his stories they sort of neglected to mention that. So what you end up with is the comic book adventures of a very smartly-dressed grim-looking guy with a Jack-O-Lantern nose suddenly bashing his noggin violently against flat surfaces. This is not a super-power, necessarily, this is a symptom deserving of medication.

I’ll be honest with you, though - as super-powers go, it’s not a barker. In the story cited in these panels – Amazing Man #22 – Iron Skull bashes through no fewer than three walls with his head and then punches through the top of a sedan feet-first. He’s got panache, you can’t deny that.

Settle down, nerd.
The Moth
I am being deadly serious when I say that, of all the characters in this list, The Moth is the one I most want to see brought back in some capacity.

Not to be confused with Steve Rude’s stuntman superhero, the Moth is apparently a grim figure of justice, appearing in the night to redress terrible wrongs and visit horrible vengeance on the cruel and criminal. You know, LIKE MOTHS DO. It also helps that he wears fluffy orange wings and a swimming cap and little velour shorts. And a cape. Like moths do.

In the story from Mystery Men #11 (1940), The Moth – “Like an avenging shadow” – flutters awkwardly above the mansion of the widow Nancy Torrence, whose nephew and girlfriend plan to murder her in order to swipe some old magazines she keeps under her recliner or something. This part is vague.

What also is vague is how the Moth knows any of this is happening or what’s going on – at one point, choosing to actually foil the attempted murder rather than continually flutter past the mansion’s massive picture windows (which he spent valuable time beforehand endlessly doing), The Moth collects the intended victim and has to grill her as to the misdeeds planned this evening. That’s right – EVEN THE INTENDED VICTIM KNEW MORE THAN THE CRIME FIGHTER.

Better than that, The Moth then leaves the elderly old woman in a tree for AN HOUR (no joke, that’s what the caption said) while he drags her nefarious nephew and his cold-hearted better half down to the police station, then returns only to inform her that, um, well … he can’t have them arrested. She’ll need to go downtown and do that. But AVENGING JUSTICE or something, he’s useless, it actually would have been better if he’d walked to the mansion and called the cops.

Thanks, Moth.

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