Sunday, August 31, 2008
It's worrisome to think that several generations of girls and yes, even boys, grew up learning that male and female relationships and gender roles were even remotely like how they appeared in the comic books. The famous Lois Lane/Clark Kent/Superman dynamic were a poor enough example for any young person to emulate. But the average romance comic book typically portrayed women as overwrought, distraught, needy, obsessive, unhinged creatures who were only happy if they cooked dinner and became pregnant.
As for the men, well, perhaps they didn't get it so bad. One could grow up with worse attitudes towards the opposite gender as believing one should protect and provide for the women. At best though, in most of these stories the men were portrayed as little more than incredibly condescending father-replacements complete with smoldering pipe.
A Promise Of Heartbreak! from Falling In Love #48 (February 1962) is as unsettling in the depiction of the nervous breakdown of a jilted woman as it is unintentionally hilarious. This tale has everything! Obsessiveness, feelings of worthlessness, panicked, manic behavior, stalking of the former boyfriend and even a panel of woman getting slapped around to knock her back to her senses after an hysterical episode. This is an even worse portrayal of a woman on the edge than the one from Young Love #80, and I didn't think those panels would be beat.
So, here you go. Eight pages of early 1960s pre-feminist drama written by and edited by old men craziness guaranteed to make the gangs at Girl-Wonder and WFA grind their teeth! Enjoy!
Of course, if I had written this story the ending would have turned out a bit different.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Friday, August 29, 2008
I've been pretty pleased about the current team of Robinson, Guedes, Magalhaes and the others on the current Superman title. They are doing a bang-up job with the Atlas story line. It's interesting and has me excited about seeing the following issue. In Superman #679 (Oct 2008) the creative team gave Superman a foe who could conceivably beat him to death without there being much of a stretch (though if it's an iteration of a Doomsday clone I'll be annoyed). They also did a good job of removing another, stronger player in the form of Supergirl from the immediate fight. Atlas would be no match for the cousins if they teamed up against him. Supergirl is still probably stronger than her cousin and should be able to take out Atlas, so removing her from the scene by having her fight on another front allows the drama required for Superman to rise to the occasion and defeat Atlas, the stronger and more vicious opponent.
One of the subplots that has me excited about the next issue is the involvement of Krypto. I love Krypto.
For those who were not paying attention, last month in Superman #678 (Sept 2008) Lois Lane and Clark (Superman) Kent are at home discussing among other domestic issues, the family pet. In what appears to be a simple flashback scene Lois is letting her feelings for the dog be known. She doesn't care for the super-dog, considering him dangerous and uncontrollable. During their conversation Clark is fully aware that Krypto is keeping an eye and ear on the humans he considers part of his pack, the Kent family. This is where Robinson shows some cleverness without being expository and respects the reader enough to catch on.
What looks like an artistic device of a flashback is really a dog's eye view of the Kent apartment from who knows how distant. Krypto is watching and is probably getting concerned about Lois' attitude. Since the dog uses steel girders for chew toys it is probably not a good idea to appear to be a threat. Robinson shows the reader that by Clark's emphasis on certain words he is not really speaking to Lois, but actually to the eavesdropping dog. Lois is obviously not catching on to her husband's odd turns of phrases. By reinforcing that Krypto is a good dog and that the dog should also love Lois, Clark is making sure that his pet doesn't do anything to harm his fragile, human wife while he is occupied elsewhere and is also ensuring that the dog would come to Lois' aid if she required it by protecting a member of his pack. Clark knows Lois would freak out if he had to tell her this because Krypto is dangerous, so he doesn't bother explaining it in depth to her or us, the readers.
This reinforcement of training for Krypto comes in handy later after Atlas knocks Superman out during a battle in the center of the city.
That's right! That "Grrr" can mean only one thing!
No, not really. You wish, fanboy.
What it really heralds is the promise of a great next issue featuring KRYPTO! Yay! DC better not kill him.
I can't wait.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
The Black Cat is a Golden Age comic book heroine that was targeted, perhaps unfairly, by watchdog groups for excessive violence and as being unsuitable for children. While I agree the latter issues of Black Cat were a product of an out of control industry desperate for market share and were not suitable for young readers, the earlier pre-Comics Code issues of Black Cat were pretty mild, standard superhero detective fare. Not that it was easy to keep up as the book went through several format changes in order to attract readers. Compared to the infamous Radium Cigarette issue there really wasn't much in the earlier issues worth gathering the pitchforks and torches over.
What made some people concerned were not frank depictions of adult relationships and extreme violence but the occasional back-up feature depicting the Black Cat showing readers how to practice martial arts moves. All the martial arts features were purely defensive in nature but groups complained that children could use the information in the title inappropriately and possibly hurt themselves, others or if the illustrations are any judge, the occasional wandering Italian. Most of the time the wink-and-nudge was ignored or missed in the Golden Age. This shows parent groups and other advocates did not read, or if they did read the content, did not understand the medium and they focused only on the obvious.
Black Cat #11 (May 1948) is noteworthy for another reason other than the self-defense courses for women and it has all to do with the often over-looked subtext.
Sexy fetishes aside the two-page back up tale A Day With the Black Cat is an early depiction featuring a clear and disturbing schism between the civilian and superhero identities. I would be hard-pressed to find an earlier example so dramatic. This is a theme that would later become the foundation for superheroes for several decades as characterization and continuity would be introduced by creative teams expanding the genre. The Hulk, Doctor Fate and Batman are just a few examples of characters that expressed extreme differences in their personalities, in some cases completely different psyches that displayed they were not fully in control.
In the two-page story Linda Turner is a famous, wealthy and gorgeous (though probably repressed) actress. After a hard day at work she falls asleep in her dressing room only to be awakened by her other self, the sexy, sexy Black Cat. As the Black Cat explains, now that Linda is asleep she can behave in ways that Linda never would or could. In the dream, Linda wakes up as her other personality begins to rifle through a closet for sexy, sexy clothes to wear on a date with her long-time and probably equally repressed boyfriend. One could easily claim that every single item in the dream setting is full of meaning, from the closet to the items within it to the room itself. It is clear that Linda is at war with herself.
A fight ensues with both sides of Linda's personality struggling for supremacy in her dressing room, a place which obviously represents Linda's mind. Inevitably the sexy, sexy exhibitionist in fetish gear wins the fight and Linda Turner is bound, gagged and left on the floor. The triumphant Black Cat departs via the door, obviously in this scene taking control of the body and leaving the Linda personality, which was first seen in this feature wearing head-to-toe Elizabethan clothing, to be suppressed and forgotten in favor of a woman wears fishnet and leather.
When the Black Cat awakes she dons the same sexy, sexy dress she previously picked out in the mental "closet" and proceeds to replace Linda in her life. I think the boyfriend is in for a surprise or two.
Wow. To think Congress got all upset about the Judo.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Like many comic book bloggers I receive about once a week or so an offer to review a book, comic or DVD in return for a free copy of the product. I usually decline the offer since until recently, I just did not have time to read or devote the energy to doing a review. One offer a few months back made my ethics-sense tingle. In return for a link and write-up (presumably favorable) the blogger would receive a free copy of the item from the promotional company. Even though I was gagging for what they offered, I politely declined since it seemed sleazy. I wouldn't promote something I haven't seen beforehand (unless I was getting paid for it). Even though I later purchased my own copy and can heartily recommend it now, I replied then that I couldn't in good conscience do as they asked. I didn't receive a response thanking me, which would have been professional, but I knew it was too much to expect from marketing shills. Other sites, I noticed, in their eagerness to receive some free goodies before it hit the stores did not hesitate in promoting their goods. To each their own.
I mention this because from reading a number of reviews of the new superhero anthology book Who Can Save Us Now? attention seems to be focused only on the first story in the book, Girl Reporter by Stephanie Harrell. From the various sources I'm reading I speculate that a few of the many amateur reviewers (And I consider myself a complete amateur) are taking advantage of the offer of a free book by giving a perfunctory read of the first story and pounding out a paragraph of why they liked or disliked the collection as a whole. I understand the business model behind it, and the promise of a little free booty gets a lot of people all drool-y but it would be nice if the company chose their recipients a little more carefully. If a little publicity is all that the publisher expects or wants for handing out a promotional copy then, fine. Most of us are not journalists or professionals and our readership is low enough that I seriously wonder about the cost-effectiveness of handing out umpteen copies of a book or DVD.
The most obvious comparison to Who Can Save Us Now? is to an older anthology collection, Superheroes. Some comic books fans are familiar with the 1991 re-issue of this 80s collection. I first read this collection of short stories deconstructing the world of superheroes in the early 1980s. It had a great amalgam superhero cover and contained short stories printed in various magazines from as far back as the 1960s. In Superheroes there is a story similar in theme to Girl Reporter, as both stories feature a Lois Lane and Superman archetype. The former story is about an obsessed woman who tracks down the hero in his secret identity to fulfill her fantasies only to discover he really is a "strange visitor", who only looks human and has nothing in common with humanity. Girl Reporter diverges from this idea in which the character doesn't discover a monster but instead creates one. One of the amusing ideas about this story is that I think Stephanie Harrell completely and accurately nails Lois Lane's character as a selfish, sex-addicted manipulator.
Who Can Save Us Now? is not Mayhem In Manhattan. Much of the anthology will appeal not to comic book fans looking for text adventures of their favorite heroes but rather those readers that enjoy the work of Chabon, Lapham and Grossman. These authors have found a niche in the neo-geek market and this book ably fills it. Several of the stories are not so much about heroics as they are about hope and even delusion. They carry the theme that there is a little hero in everyone. The emo Oversoul and Nate Pickney-Anderson, Super-Hero are two examples.
The Pentecostal Home for Flying Children is like Peyton Place on a dose of Marvel 616. One of the things that is difficult to do in these stories is get away from the mythology of Marvel or DC. Both of those companies have been around forever and there are very few original ideas left for creators to mine. Still, there are plenty of evil geniuses and superheroes to read about and several of the stories are fun, creepy and even scary.
One common theme in any modern story about superheroes is the new habit of creators making the characters act just like real people. Not in the sense of hopes and dreams and drama but in the style of such fare as The Boys by Garth Ennis. Kevin Smith penned a funny bit in Mallrats where a character was obsessed about the details of superhero anatomy and the physics of sex and the toilet, but that's all it was, a comedy bit. Sooner or later all the fanboys wonder about it and even, in some cases, probably fantasize about it. I know there are entire websites devoted to the idea and featuring superheroes like the Fantastic Four having sex. Again, to each their own. I'm just not interested in Kitty porn.
Many modern writers have run with the idea and made it seem to be a central theme of their work. Okay, yes, we get it. Superman gets erections and Wonder Woman has a menstrual cycle. Unless it is an Harlan Ellison story or Wild Cards character please let the tawdry biological descriptions rest. It makes the eyes roll when every single story you read has a passage devoted to Ultra-Defecation, Hyper-Sex or the Super-Penis. Once upon a time it was edgy, new and humanized a character but now it seems trite, like the amateur fiction of a stereotypical fanboy.
Still, other than the occasional melancholy ending there is much to like in this collection. My Interview With the Avenger and the League of Justice (Philadelphia Division) tweaks some of the conceits of the Batman and the unfairly dismissed Detroit Justice League of America era.
If you enjoyed Fortress of Solitude and Soon I Will be Invincible then don't hesitate to get this book. If you don't care for those entries then it is still worthwhile as several of the stories are a modern take of the Silver and Modern Age of comic books. Basically, if I didn't receive this book free I'd still buy it. I enjoyed most of the stories as they added a bit not only to the continuing legitimacy of the superhero as an art form but also to the canonical, what one writer, Devon Sanders at Second Printing!!, is calling the "New Mythology".
You can order the book here.
Planet Comics #49 (July 1947) features a very nice cover credited to Joe Doolin. A Fiction House regular, Doolin did a lot of very nice work for that company. Modern readers could favorably compare the cover art and the fine line work to Bolland or McGuire.
The comic books of the Golden Age often get short-shrift from readers for several reasons. One factor as to why they are often dismissed is due to the quality of writing and art. While lack of interest by many in the works of an earlier era is a factor, honestly, many of the old comics are a chore to read even in the context of the times. It is often only my own fanatic love of the pulps that get me through many of the old magazines and comic books, not because of the silly science or impossible plots but because lots of times the story is just simply awful.
There are several instances where the other Planet Comics features are are superior in concept and execution to Futura. The Nazi-allegory setting of the Lost World aside there are many enjoyable chapters in that series. Mysta of the Moon contains some very high-concept ideas I have not noticed before their appearence in that series, but have noticed cropping up over the years in different science fiction media afterwards. The quality of the art in the lead stories rarely dipped below a certain point in execution, even when it was clear the magazine was in its final days.
Other than the printing process, publishing deadlines were probably the main reason that many of the pulps and comic books suffered in percieved quality. Overworked and notoriously underpaid creators of the time had to work fast. Often one artist or writer would work on several features at once over various titles, using different pen names or laboring under one house name. Even strips a creator has a fondness for and invested interest could suffer under less than ideal working conditions.
The next several chapters of the Futura Saga seems to be affected by such creative problems. If the letters pages were any true indication Futura was appreciated by fans over several of the other regular features, yet the strip received little cover space and perhaps less editorial attention. Chapter 6 of Futura's story in Planet Comics #49 still retains some great concepts and a few panels reveal some fine line work not entirely wiped out by the inking and printing process, but something was happening behind the scenes creatively and it appears as if short cuts were being applied that was then reflected in the quality of the strip.
Monday, August 25, 2008
In What If v2 #30 (October 1991) Ron Marz* scripted an alternate universe tale of nationwide social change brought about by the activist child of Sue and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four.
I've always enjoyed this particular page for featuring some look-alike Bush Sr. and Cheney characters when they realize that the orgy of unchecked feeding at the public trough and abuse of a nation for personal gain is over. I think the sequence could easily apply to 2008. Ha ha! That's right guys, you better worry!
Power to the people!
Man, I hope the next guys are better than the last bunch.
* I am so very thankful for all those wonderful, subversive, hippies that worked at Marvel.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Item! The family and I went out to celebrate my son going to college by eating at one of those silly family theme restaurants the other night. I thought this coaster from the restaurant featuring some kangaroos apparently hopping away in terror from one of their zombie, cannibalistic mates wielding a fork and knife amusing.
The restaurant, as you know, offers authentic Australian cuisine. My meal consisted of: Large white grubs found under a rock, snake, frog and a heady beverage of fermented saliva served in an ostrich egg.
Item! On the drive home it was rush hour and I was paused at the on-ramp to I-805 from I-8. Being used to the area at this time frame I kept glancing up at my rear-view mirror. It paid off. A car was approaching from behind at high speed. Obviously the driver was inattentive and not at all prepared for all the cars on the highway to have gone from 65 to zero in the span of a few hundred feet. The driver slammed on his brakes and with tires squealing, went into a skid aimed right at the back of my car.
After a quick visual check of the car in front of me revealed no signs of containing babies or children (I'm that kind of guy), I calmly turned the wheel and gently rolled off onto the paved shoulder by the on-ramp and forwards a few feet. The car behind me came to a shuddering halt with the front bumper even with my rear passenger door. If I had remained in place on the highway I would have been struck pretty hard by the other vehicle. After a few moments traffic started moving again and I pulled back onto the road, the formerly inattentive driver now alert and keeping a good distance from other cars.
This is the second time I have had to perform a similar maneuver at that particular ramp. The last incident was a few years ago in nearly the same location. Makes me question how many accidents occur regularly in this area.
Item! I'm not one of those people who name their cars. The most of a moniker any vehicle I own gets is New Car or Old Car or something similar. Much of the terseness comes from communicating with the wife via sign language. Just signing using simple gestures saves wear and tear on the fingers, not to mention time. The last two cars we owned were just called Red Car and Blue Car. Those I sold when leaving for California and the car I have now we just call Free Car.
It isn't pretty but it costs nearly nothing to drive. I did however recently notice a little while ago that the car I've been driving for a year has a promotional Too Fast Too Furious 2 cover on the steering-wheel. When people talk of bad sequels they usually mention something from the Matrix Trilogy, Electric Boogaloo 2 or Elektra. But I nominate 2F2F2 as the worst sequel of all time. I can only think the family member didn't care what they used to grip the wheel and that the cover was free or under a dollar but maybe I should rethink my relationship with that one person. Hopefully he wasn't a fan of the film. More proof that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Item! I haven't thanked Bully's pal, John DiBello enough but he helped pull me through a crappy year by his gifts of books and graphic novels. While he never asked for anything in return I know I've been remiss in reviewing them because to do so would require I give careful attention and thought to them. Since my head was mainly focused on getting to the end of the day, this would do a disservice to John and his kindness. As anyone who cares to check my archives is aware, I don't really apply any careful thought to what I post. I'm in a position now that I can give the materials he sent the consideration they deserve.
Thanks again, John and Bully!
Item! Because you can't get enough SCHATZI!
Saturday, August 23, 2008
The Whispering Gorilla is another example of where the storytelling of the the pulps influenced the several decades of the comic books that replaced them.
The Whispering Gorilla is a story of a crime-victim who had his brain transplanted into the body of a gorilla. Wasting no time, the protagonist quickly escapes to exact horrible revenge on those that preyed upon the innocents of the city and created his horrible condition. Over the course of the story the character says goodbye (after a fashion) to the wife he lost when his body was destroyed and accomplishes his mission, though a severe beating he receives at the clubs of frightened police reduces his human brain to that of a simple, instinctual animal.
While this is a pretty standard revenge plot that has a few touches of the Shadow thrown in an interesting aside to the story is that "W.G.", as he is known to be popularly called, is a public figure, albeit with a "secret identity." Most noteworthy is the idea that since people can not truly determine if the intelligent, talking gorilla attending their social gatherings is human or not, the populace at large treats him as if he is anyways, so as not to offend. Whether this respect is out of a healthy dose of fear or politeness is not clear.
This basic story of a person changed through circumstance to return in a more powerful and less helpless form would proliferate in the Golden Age of comics and absolutely saturate the Silver Age, particularly that of DC Comics, the comic book industry being where pulp veterans Otto Binder, Julius Schwartz and others moved to after the decline of the pulp market. You could barely pick up a Silver Age title without finding at least one brain transplant story in it. The Silver Age character of the Congorilla is a direct descendant of this type of story. Transformation is the primary theme of the comic book, carried over from the pulp heroes with their ritualistic costume and uniform changes. Modern comics still follow the old pulp formula and one of the greatest modern booms in comic book creativity, that of Marvel of the 1960s, is founded on the very same idea.
From Fantastic Adventures (May 1940). Story by Don Wilcox. Cover painted by Stockton Mulford. Interior illustrations by Robert Fuqua.