Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Golden Age of Bronze Age Subtext

From Nightmare #1 (1952)


So, Brenda, we meet again

A commenter just let me know that a vandalized comic that I found while browsing through the always helpful Grand Comic Book Database and once posted some funny about was currently for sale on ebay.

I wonder if the seller knows Brenda? I'd ask him but I don't feel like registering with ebay. With this bit of welcome news Brenda is one step closer to receiving the long-overdue scathing ire of comic fandom that she so rightly deserves.

Brenda, Brenda, Brenda! You thought I forgot all about you, huh? Oh, yes. I'll find you one day, you defacer of Silver Age goodness! Now all that remains is to connect the dots, step through that looking glass and head off to the local grocery store, because they have a 2-for-1 sale on internet blogger forum-comment whup-ass this week and I'm buying a cart full.

12-9-06: Update on the ebay sale. No bids.


Opus Day

I didn't participate in National Novel Writing Month this year even though I had planned to do so. I really, really did.

I felt it was time to get published again and I had planned to use NaNoWriMo as the thingus, like some others did it, to do some writing because of the commitment to the structure (for a certain time everyday) where I would force myself to do some typing stuff. So I could start and finish what I started.

I'd go into excruciating, heart-rending detail about why I didn't participate this year but when I started this blog I made a pledge that I would not use it as a forum diary about sad, pathetic personal tales like so many others do.

Suffice it to say that "things" happened with my employer's ridiculously dysfunctional payroll department over the last several months that left me a little too stressed to focus on writing a novel. Anything I attempted to write would have just veered away from the plot and consisted of angry rants about the lousy modern American work ethic, people that are promoted above their level of competency and not, as I intended, about the besieged Southern California community invaded by 175 pound mutant tarantulas controlled by brain-infesting alien parasites. Hey, there is always next year.

Kudos to those who participated!


Check out the Kirby Love!

Yes! Arnim Zola returns in Captain America #24. Can Doughboy be far behind?


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Stan Lee says: STFU, True Believers!

Back before Stan's Soapbox was filled with content that resembled the script from a used car salesman's television commercial, The Man sometimes had something important to say.

This editorial from Spider-Man #96 (May 1971) has (allegedly) Stan Lee bemoaning that Marvel can't please everyone all the time. While his rebuttal has a point I do find exception that he asserts that Marvel did not editorialize as much as some claimed they did.

Nearly every issue of early Marvel featured the hero battling Communism in some form or another. Often the villains were either direct assaults by Russia or "Red agents" were sabotaging the defense effort. While it may be a stretch of the imagination to extend the commie agenda to the alien races the heroes defended the earth against, many of them were from conformist races where the over-all goal of conquest sublimated the rights, desires and identities of the individuals.

The alien Skrull were of course the most obvious allegory to Communism. Spouting memorized rhetoric by rote the Skrull could change their shape and hide among the peoples of America, a secret army that would strike when the nation was at it's most vulnerable. Ironically, in their first appearance in Fantastic Four #2 (January 1962) they were defeated by clever American propaganda.

Every good comic book story needs a villain and since Mom and Dad controlled the money with a totalitarian iron fist the content of the comics had to be palatable. Mom knew that Dad wouldn't mind Junior reading a comic book if it featured those Dirty Reds getting a good what for.

The 1970's were a good time for comics as far as the writing goes. Stan, a man politically from another generation, must have been mystified by the new guys and gals in the industry then, but that didn't mean he didn't know what they could do for the cash flow. While they were definitely professionals, they also clearly had a bias that would be called liberal today. Much of the stories had an underlying theme of The Little Guy vs Big Evil Business/Government and were usually very pro-environment and anti-exploitation. The villains were often some lone inventor screwed by a giant, heartless industrial machine. Even Tony Stark changed from being the Merchant Exporter of Death to Peacenik, building homes for the poor as began manufacturing printed circuits in favor of bullets.

These themes attracted a certain demographic very nicely and Marvel swiftly trounced the more status quo-oriented DC in sales. This lasted until the early 80's and the advent of Reaganism, when it became cool to once more exploit people, rape the land and drain resources with no thought to the consequences or a plan for prudent management. The only holdover of the last decades' activism in comics was in the form of the reboot Lex Luthor, an evil tycoon that people loved to hate for his use and abuse of people and the environment. Mother Nature eventually fought back though and Lex Luthor "died" after he contracted radiation poisoning from a piece of a very world he sought to exploit.

While some people downplay the effect of comic book activism has had on people I feel that it is not as minuscule a force as has been asserted. Like many things, comic books would be only a small part of a person's life education. My childhood was shaped by many different experiences. Parents, daily adventures and of course books and television to some degree. I saw graphic scenes from Vietnam on the news and I read comics that in some clumsy way denounced war and our involvement (Newer fans of comics may recall the Anti-Drug and Anti-Apartheid titles featuring the characters from the Teen Titans). Comic books did not shape me into who I am today but they were a small part of the overall growth of a person. Comic books are a part of an accumulative experience, which may be what concerned the Wertham crowd in the previous decades.

So Stan Lee, in a period of widespread activism in comics made a plea to readers to just enjoy the product as they are just trying their best. The comics Marvel produced at the time were attempting to be topical and greatly appealed to their market audience of college students and young adults with disposable income. Publishers were slowly and carefully edging away from the constraints of the Comic Code Authority and pushing the envelope with their content (This backfired in the late 1980's and early 1990's as comics appealed to the wrong demographic by catering to the horny fanboy and quality and the industry suffered as a result). The issue of Spider-Man that Stan's editorial appeared in was published, without fanfare of any kind, without the CCA seal of approval. It is also possible the company may have been coming to the attention of certain groups or under attack by organized campaigns disguised as honest concerns or opinions from individuals, a tactic that is very common now as special interest groups hijack a process meant for a legitimate voice.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Thanks, Dave

1943 - 2006

To many comic book fans the artist Dave Cockrum will be remembered for his contribution to re-launching the X-Men franchise. His work created a huge amount of fan interest in what was a C-grade effort of old reprints and carried Marvel and the X-Men title back to the top long before that other artist took over the book.

But for me Dave will always be remembered for his definitive run on the Legion of Super-Heroes. The image of the Legionaires vainly attempting to hog-tie an ornery Cayuseasaurus for the cover of Amazing World of DC Comics #9 was always a favorite of mine due to the subtle mix of genres in the art, that of Science Fiction, Western and Pulp.

Another fav image is the wedding scene of Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy from Superboy #200 (which also sports an awesome Nick Cardy cover). Back in the day this must have been a time-consuming carpal tunnel-inducing layout. Mike Grell later used the wedding scene as inspiration when he depicted the wedding of two other Legionaires.

And since no mention of Dave's work would be complete without a representation of something from Marvel, his homage to Star Trek from X-Men #105.

Tags: , Mark Evanier on Dave , Dave Cockrum credits via the GCD

What if...Electro was a UCLA security guard?

UCLA would save a fortune on tasers.

Tags: UCLA Taser Incident

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The secret of Avengers Mansion

No super team can successfully function without having access to a state of the art facility to have their meetings, do research and experiments, plan attacks against the baddies and hone their combat skills. It is also a good device used to gather unsuspecting heroes in one place so they can be ambushed by villains again and again and again.

When one thinks of super hero team facilities (and I often do) what comes to mind are the Authority's inter-dimensional ship, the JLA Watchtower on the moon, the FF's Baxter Building, the Bat Cave, Superman's Fortress of Solitude and Doc Savage's retreat of the same name. The X-Men receive a mention only because of the Danger Room, the oft-copied training gymnasium used to fill pages in a script.

And then there is the Avenger's Mansion. Formerly one of the many homes of the Stark Family, Tony (Iron Man) Stark extensively modified the mansion to host the Marvel super team known as the Avengers. The mansion has over the years been variously destroyed, rebuilt, moved and sunk in the ocean. It was last demolished in the Avengers Disassembled story line and left as a shell of it's former glory as a memorial to times past. It will undoubtedly be eventually rebuilt once Marvel "returns to it's roots" again whenever Bendis leaves the Avengers characters to another writer.

Rebuilding the place should not be too difficult as much of the infrastructure was just for show anyways, a shiny facade meant to impress the rubes, the gullible and Hawkeye.

To the casual observer the mansion appears to be filled to the rafters with arcane, super scientific gizmos that can allow one to traverse dimensions and create anti-Ultron weaponry from scratch in mere minutes. Yet much of the impressive mansion was a fake, a con perpetrated by Tony Stark on his teammates and the world. This is made evident whenever a wall in the mansion is demolished by either a hero or villain (which was just about every issue). Whenever a wall gets holed anyone can see that all that impressive machinery is just a thin veneer of molded plastic or formed metal glued onto concrete.

No wonder Tony could afford to rebuild the manse every few months. He saved a ton of money in overhead. All that stuff sure looked good, but it was in fact non-operational.

But why the scam? Easy, Tony Stark is a salesman and a bit of a jerk and he always has been. You don't become a billionaire many times over by promoting a product half-heartedly. Tony Stark hypes what he sells as the greatest thing ever since the invention of fire.

To that end is the shiny, sparkly high-tech world of the Avengers. The manse is the public front of the team and a symbol of Stark technology. One could say the Avengers and their facilities are one big live-action infomercial. The mansion is designed to impress politicians, intrigue the public, cause envy among the other sponsors of super teams and worry the crap out of the bad guys.

Tony engages in a public relations Cold War because he always has to be the top dog. Like any good strategist he knows half the battle is won by using psychology on your opponents. By constantly revising the tech of the Avengers he forces other teams to try to keep up. Like the Reagan-era build-up of questionable strategic defense using junk science, Tony Stark makes sure he is preeminent among the super groups by bankrupting other governments and super teams by conspicuously upgrading their offensive and defensive capabilities. I imagine that Kyle (Nighthawk) Richmond was always freaking out over the latest large delivery to the Avengers Mansion loading dock. "Tony just got a Framistat Mark XII! Why can't I have a Framistat Mark XII? It costs how much? It's proprietary? Then why does Stark produce it? Screw it, I'll just hang at Doc Strange's place. We have a magician, nyahhhhh! What? The Scarlet Witch? And she's really hot? Damn you, Stark!"

As the mansion gets attacked or infiltrated about every month the con often does not hold up to scrutiny. But after the dust settles Tony just "upgrades" the facility again, publicly declaring that this version of the mansion is the best and most secure ever. But how did he fool his teammates? That's actually easy and that can be broken down thusly:

  • Hawkeye: Dumbass.
  • Thor: Doesn't care. As a god, is used to shiny useless items held in high esteem that actually do nothing.
  • Scarlet Witch: Self-involved bitch queen.
  • Wonder Man: Self-involved drama queen.
  • Beast: Knows a little showmanship is needed, easily distracted by the Stark International Ball-O-String Dispenser-matic.
  • Captain America: From the 1940's. Is lucky he can operate a microwave.
  • Vision: Brain secretly re-programmed by Tony Stark not to notice faux machinery as he phases through walls.
  • Jarvis: Highly paid to keep his mouth shut.
  • Quicksilver: Self-centered and half-crazy.
  • Tigra: Self-centered pleasure addict.
  • Starfox: Self-centered pleasure addict.
  • Black Panther: Does much the same thing as Tony does but in Wakanda.
  • She-Hulk: Too busy slutting around to notice.
  • Hulk: Stupid. When not stupid, amused by puny humans and their antics.
  • Ant-Man: Delusional, obsessed with success. Ignores anything that might threaten his sense of self-worth, like reality.
  • Wasp: Too busy designing new costumes and slutting around.
  • Gyrich: Government agent, in on the scam. Recognizes need to attack an enemy on multiple fronts.
  • Teen Tony: Too busy downloading porn on the armor's wireless internet to care what his adult counter-part is doing.
And the list can go on, but there are some common themes to be found in the choice of who gets to be on the team, they usually have to be corrupt, oblivious in some way or just plain stupid.

The New Avengers Tower is a very good example of the psychological warfare used by Tony Stark. The tower is on prime real estate and is imposing in itself. Not only does Avengers Tower symbolize the success of Tony Stark and his business empire but it also hosts the scary, other-worldly, parasitic base of operations for the uber-powerful doesn't exist/does exist character of the Sentry. Any villain would have to be seriously impaired in judgement to assault the Tower with all that going on. Yet the Tower is even less of a top-flight facility than the Mansion was. So far pretty much all anyone has seen of the place is a sitting room with a conference table. But that's the power of the image Stark puts out about the Avengers. The Tower could be 25 floors of empty space but as long as all the media sees is a group of heroes discussing battle plans around a table that is enough of a deterrent.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Guaranteed to deliver psycho-delicious thrills

Chill it! Dig?

This heart-warming scene from Amazing Spider-Man #123 (August 1973) between Mary Jane (Party-Woman) Watson and Peter (Spider-Man) Parker occurs about a day after Peter buried his murdered fiance, Gwen Stacey.
Nice. He married MJ, why?


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Love and Affection, Comic Book Style!

Manic, misogynistic, obsessive and depressive random panels from romance and Silver Age comic books.


Well, she wears glasses after all.

It's like my teen years in comic book panel form!
Right down to the humiliating costumes.

So how many kids avoided a hobby for fear of losing their pet?

Father of the Year

That'll shut her up. She just needed some lovin'.

Maybe not, if that love-tap is any indication.

Mom looks like she's talking a stroll down "memory lane" there, and the name of that particular throughway is Dirty Nasty Hose-Monster Freak Avenue.

I think women lie, sometimes.

If her ex's name is Jimmy Olsen, he probably is.

Little Hellcat deserves her own title.

Never kiss a girl who carries a machete. Unless you are both in South America.
And even then, watch it.

You could scrub yourself for a week with raw pumice and gasoline, honey, but you can't cleanse your soul of what you did to get into that rock concert last night.

What women want.

Stupid girls are the best! You can get away with so much stuff.

Hey, now! Looks like boyfriend Allen is going to get some Hot Mommy action!

That's actually kinda hot.

I bet she already finished off that gallon of wine.

The screaming multitude of voices in her head told her to love him.
Soon, they will clamor for her to quench her deep, precious feeling of hunger.

If these tips don't work, try slutting it up a bit. Guys respond to that.
(And somehow I doubt a good place for a woman to meet men is the local YMCA)

Yeah, she is positively glowing with joy and bliss.

A letter's page giving out innapropriate advice.

"The End"
Get it? Nice caption placement.


It isn't Thanksgiving without kimchi!

Like most people, one of the things I look forwards to during Thanksgiving is the food. I don't mean turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, either. In my family, while we do get plenty of the traditional meal associated with the holiday the table is also set with lots of Korean food. I actually prefer the Korean elements of the meal over the American one, in fact.

In my house all the American holiday meals share equal space with Korean foods like Bulgogi and Kimchi. I even routinely put kimchi on pizzas, hot dogs and hamburgers. It's kimchi-licious! My wife thinks it odd that I use kimchi on everything as a condiment, but what does she know? Anyone who eats Tofu (aka cement-flavored Jell-O) is not allowed to have an opinion on the food preferences of another person.

When I first went to Korea I initially avoided eating kimchi because it was strange and new (and I fear things that are strange and new) and all the racists on the military base (which is pretty much everyone) told me how awful it was. But being my own man I ate some kimchi because I had the "Osan Crud", a non-specific flu-like respiratory and intestinal illness that many people seem to contract shortly after arriving in the country and moving into the barracks. No one ever investigated the cause of the illness as far as I know, but it is probably the norvirus or something. I tried out the kimchi, hearing that it could really clear up the sinuses and make you feel better if you were sick. Kimchi is spicy, so it did open up some passages (At both ends) and eventually I acclimated to the environment just like everyone else did.

So Thanksgiving in my house is usually a frenzy of cooking. Unlike the American portions of the meal which require some attention of only a few hours (if even that, these days), some of the Korean dishes require much more time in the way of preparation. It is not unusual for my wife, her mother and all her sisters to get together and spend 2 days cooking before a holiday meal. Back in Korea it would actually be a neighborhood affair. When everyone set about at my house making fresh kimchi in 60-gallon bins I would go overnight to a hotel with my son because the amount of red pepper powder and spices in the air was upsetting to the baby's eyes and respiration. With my wife's family, everything is made from scratch in the traditional way that has not changed very much in about 600 years. Now that's tradition.

And now, a Public Awareness Advertisement promoting Korean kimchi! It is a cute animated promo typical of the ad culture in the region. Beware the throbbing kimchi scene at 15 seconds. It is a little disturbing.

Mr. Kimchi is so popular!

Tags: Korean Kimchi tradition site Validus Gallery of Fine Arts

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I understand Joe Q a little more now

Let me make it clear that the title Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane does not exist. Peter Parker did not meet Gwen in high school. Peter Parker did not meet every, single, freaking person no matter how fleetingly, who would later become a feature, significant other, hero, villain or aquantaince in his life in high school. Reading that title is like suffering through Flintstone Kids Syndrome, where characters that were clearly introduced initially in their adult personas nonetheless show up in their incarnations as children, and as old established friends. The same thing happened in those awful A Pup Named Scooby-Doo cartoons.

That said, after reading a bunch of my old Spider-Man comics I understand a little more why Joe Q wants to make Peter Parker single again, through one means or another.

One of my favorite Spider-Man eras is the one all about College Freshman Peter Parker. This is the kid who was now a young adult, hung out at the Coffee Bean and tried to figure out where his life was going. This Peter Parker was interesting and sales on the book showed that kids and college students agreed.

In this era Gwen Stacey was a new girlfriend and Mary Jane was a predatory party-girl. Norman Osborne was a pal and not yet a pill-popping psychotic. Peter tried to do the right thing but was often his own worst enemy. His other life as Spider-Man sapped resources and time away from his social life, making him appear to friends and family at times to be careless, frivolous or selfish. What money he made by choreographing crime photos was usually re-directed to other ends. If his half of the rent was due, Peter would often spend it on some expensive web-fluid additive that allowed him to capture the Lizard by putting it to sleep.

A miserable, stressed-out Peter Parker makes for good stories. Many writers forgot this and made the error in turning him into a depressive whiner that actually made me want to strangle a fictional character and put him out of my misery. I'm not a fan of the Get-Along-Guy Bendis-era Spider-Man. I much prefer the Spider-Man who worries about how he is going to afford to eat dinner even as he is punching out the bank-robbing villain the Kangaroo. You can still do that with a married Peter Parker. While I liked the single Peter Parker that was then and this is now. So maybe I understand what Quesada is going for in his proposal to change Peter's marital status. I don't agree with it but I get it.


That's Cool McCool!

Mark Evanier let me know that the mid-1960's cartoon Cool McCool is being prepared for DVD release.

IT'S ABOUT DARN TIME! I've been waiting since 1966 to see that show again.

Mark opined that like many other things which he enjoyed in his youth, he may not enjoy the cartoon now that he is older and wiser. Me, I don't care. Cool McCool was enjoyed and popular enough that when I was young all the neighborhood kids used the character's name as a catchphrase.

When you showed the gang your dad's Korean war era bayonet it was praise to hear "That's so cool. It's Cool McCool." When your pesky little sister fell out of the tree-house and ran home crying the gang would knod wisely and say "That was Cool McCool." When Alfalfa and Darla got caught kissing behind the fence you would all shout "That was not Cool McCool!" and then we kicked him out of the He-Men Wimmin-Haters Klub.

So the cartoon may not measure up to my memories of how neat-o it was, but that is okay. 1966 was a pretty good year for me so I enjoy the nostalgia. The pond full of frogs when wet and a crackling mat of fallen cat-tails when dry. Those half-wild horses down the road that would come up to the fence for an apple but wouldn't let you touch them. The crazy old man with false teeth fashioned of red glass who collected dragonfly husks and lived in the white boarding house managed by the Widow Smithson. The gang knew he was really an alien gathering information on us so when he disappeared after being confronted that one bright Tuesday morning by Stinky Joe, Utter Farley and the rest of us we felt pretty good about it all Summer long and far into the Winter.

Good times, good times.


Comic Book Prose: Aside from the Zombies, you've got a gas problem

Comic books of the Golden Age and early Silver Age often featured self-contained text stories. Usually uncredited, they filled space in a comic book, presumably being less expensive to produce than a page of art. The text story (accompanied by a small illustration or two) was utilized quite often in the romance lines of DC and Charlton all the way up to the 1970's. DC, as part of their usual PSA features also gave the reader not only a genre-related story but several text pages of educational informational on subjects such as whaling, cloud formations and the solar system.

Some stories would be seen as creepy by today's snarky, too-aware comic book readers. The prose stories in many of the romance comics in particular portray women as needy, suicidal, crazed stalkers. One story about a teen-aged girl looking for a dress to model for her Father is a little disturbing.

I admit that when I was a young comic book reader I usually skipped the text pages. I bought comic to look at pictures, not to study the history of lightning. But Steve Gerber changed my mind about that when he used prose to great effect in several issues of his Man-Thing run as in-story narration.

Read The Walking Dead, from Adventures Into Darkness #10 (June 1953)


Comic Book Ad: Bonomo's Mini-Gym for Girls

From Love Romances #13 (October 1953)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Civil War #5: Minor Fanboy Stuff

I notice a welcome retcon of a retcon and incidents of lazy writing, art and editorialship.

I have been waiting years for this. Yes, comic fans, Gwen Stacey died when she came to a abrupt stop at the end of a hastily cast webline. Yes, she would have died anyways when she hit the water. Gwen was probably already dying from abuse at the hands of the the Green Goblin. She was struck by the goblin-glider hard enough to throw her up and out over the edge of the bridge tower (the same glider flying at a slower speed killed the Goblin when he was hit by it in a later issue, the Norman around today is a clone). But it was the sudden stop that finished her.

Many have commented on how creepy the relationship is for the undercover identities of Sue Storm and her brother Johnny to be that of a married couple. That didn't bug me as much as how the dialog description of their identities did not match their physical appearance. Sue resembles the Grandmother of Johnny's last date?

I guess the artist doesn't use geriatric porn for his photo-references and only gets mags with hot women in them. Or that is one hot grandma.

The Skrull half-breed Hulkling volunteers to sneak into the Baxter Building, HQ of the Fantastic Four, stating that with his ability to change his shape, he would be able to easily gain entrance to the labs.

Right. Because Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four would not possibly be prepared against a infiltration attempt by a Skrull.

This is interesting. Tigra appears to be using a phone that is certainly retro by Marvel tech standards. What is going on here? Is she a traitor reporting to her handlers? Or more interestingly, could she be taking notes on the phone's built-in digital recorder and taking pics with the phone cam because she needs the material for her Civil War tell-all book contract? Civil Wars: Superheroes, Villains, Sex, Violence and the Inside Story of One Woman's Determination to Succeed in a (Super) Man's World - My Heroic Story by Greer (Tigra) Garson.