Friday, May 29, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : SADLY SADLY

Plastic Man, these days, is typically depicted as a living Looney Toons cartoon sharing more in common with Jim Carrey's rubberfaced performance in The Mask than the straight-faced, rubberized G-Man he was in his debut. For all his bizarre shapes, weird extrapolations, and enthusiastically comedic tales, the original Plastic Man himself was all-business and few larfs.

Chuckle-related responsibilities fell to his sidekick, Woozy Winks, and the colorful cast of crooks,criminals and super-weirdos populating his books. In fact, Plastic Man had one of the most entertaining roster of one-shot nemeses and ne'er-do-wells in the entirety of the Golden Age, although none of them really turned into an ongoing menace they the Joker did for Batman, Luthor did for Superman or a guy with a brick who dressed like a bat and called himself Brickbat did for prisoner superhero 711. Remind me to write that guy up, as a matter of fact.

That's the same way I manage to get dates.
Anyway, one of Plas' early enemies was Sadly Sadly, a mope-faced career criminal who plagues him in the pages of Plastic Man vol.1 No.20 (November 1949) and who isn't even the only Charles Dickens-related pun I've seen in a Plastic Man book. An erudite lot over there at Quality Comics.

Phil Sanders, wanted by the Feds and guilty of more crimes than you could cram on the back of a cereal box, manages to elude the authorities and Plastic Man for two solid years, despite an active manhunt going on 24 hours a day. His successful laying-low and his highly desirable status with law enforcement notwithstanding, Sanders decides to try his hand at picking up an acting gig advertising for a "sad character" with a face which "must break [the] hearts of [the] audience!"

Knowing that acting gigs pay pretty well and figuring that theatrical makeup may disguise him from his pursuers, Sanders aces the gig easily. When his director gives him tips to weaponize his hangdog expression, however, Sanders - now dubbed Sadly-Sadly - uses his unconscionably woeful face to deprive sympathetic citizens of their wealth.

Cry, and you cry alone. Laugh and you get arrested.
"All I have to do is remember what Camden taught me about the tone of my voice and the expression on my face" thinks Sadly-Sadly as he bounces out of the audition with the lunch money of his fellow performers tucked into his pockets. "I'll be able to pull anything and maybe even win Plastic Man's sympathy!"

He sure does! In short order, Sadly empties out an armored car, steals a luxury sedan, and not only gets away with rare gems but encourages a crowd to beat Plastic Man to death as he makes his escape. And yet this is still less grim than almost anything on the racks today.

Plastic Man plays dead just long enough to delight Sadly, attending the open-casket funeral and breaking character so as to indulge in happy celebration. Which is when Plastic man slugs him in the fucking face so hard that it paralyzes his face muscles and makes it impossible to "play sad" any longer. I SAID Plastic Man didn't have a sense of humor, and this is what I meant.

Still, looking back, it's amazing to imagine that there was a time when superheroes were so simple and whimsical that a really sad person could make an effective villainous foil. I guess if they can come up with a cosmic entity who's so sad that he breaks the multiverse and kills countless trillions, then they'll have something they consider worthy of hanging their hat on.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : THE PRANKSTER

"I was actually just swearing, Lieutenant."
Not the gap-toothed Superman villain, but rather the one-shot superhero appearing the back of Peter Cannon Thunderbolt vol.1 No.60 back in November of 1967, this hero’s tactics actually bore a lot in common with the baddie who preceded him under a shared name. Facing off against a totalitarian regime in the futuristic world of Ultrapolis, this Prankster also used the art of deliberate annoyance to frustrate his foes into committing fatal mistakes, only in this case it was on behalf of human dignity.

Decked out in one of comics’ most singular outfits – a mish-mash of polka dots and stripes, in five or six different colors with a sly jester’s hat motif worked into the mask – the Prankster counted among his weapons such diverse and daffy tools as laughing gas, a cartoonishly large magnet (for swiping enemy armaments) and a rocket-powered hot air balloon capable of outrunning even the fastest pursuit ships owned by the enemy.

Sexy.
And who is the enemy? Well, the future world Ultrapolis is ruled by the tyrannical Bane, an obese nitwit crammed into a Jetsons costume and ruling his city with both a feeble mind and an iron fist. Serving Bane directly is the officious, monocle-sporting, Dirk Dastardly-lookin’ Captain Wratt, and Bane’s personal computer – a clanking, sputtering robot with child-bearing hips which the tyrant treats like a wilting hothouse flower.

On his side, the Prankster is aided by scientist Hiram Grave, the inventor of his many amazing gadgets, including a “magic flute” which we never get to see in action, owing to the Prankster’s abbreviated run. Also possibly joining the Prankster was an innocent, red-headed citizen whom the Prankster rescues at the last minute from the harassment of Wratt’s guards, because that’s usually how it works in these older comics.

Created by Denny O’Neil and Jim Aparo, the Prankster is a damn fine looking story with some damn fine scripting and it is a damn shame that it’s completely disappeared. Apparently not picked up with the Charlton Action Heroes, Prankster didn’t make the crossover to new owners DC Comics, which is likely for the best if just to avoid confusion between the Prankster they already had…

"He also said 'Up yours, Hiram."


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

SUPER FRIENDS ... AFTER DARK

I’d mentioned previously that E.Nelson Bridwell, while taking on writing chores for the Super Friends comic (and doing a surprisingly decent job for what was essentially a tie-in to a Saturday Morning Cartoon – Bridwell certainly knew he had here the opportunity to work not only on the Justice League but to do so against a practically clean slate ) indulged in the opportunity to develop a backstory for Zan and Jayna, the shape-shifting alien Wonder Twins.

The Twins took on secret identities in order to attend school and learn about their adopted world, and in doing so piqued the curiosity of some of their classmates. In Super Friends vol.1 No.29 (February 1980), some of the disguised Twins’ classmates took it upon themselves to discreetly follow the pair after school, on order tp sneakily uncover what appeared to be an aura of strangeness about the two of them. Of course, the Wonder Twins were trained in surveillance and evasion by Batman, and trained in killing dudes by Amazon soldiers, so they just slaughter their classmates and bathe in their blood.

OH NO WAIT, I got distracted. Knowing that they’re being followed (by a different classmate every day), the Twins come upon a plan -a weird plan, I admit – to baffle their fellow students. Each day, they lead the pursuing classmate to an alley into which they duck, and by the time the classmate turns the corner, they’ve used their transformative powers to become something weird to blow their minds.

Like, one time Jayna becomes an elephant with butterfly wings and Zan becomes, I don’t know, a spittoon which sings opera. Something useless. Or Jayna becomes a pterodactyl and Zan becomes novelty ice cubes made of blood, I don’t recall, Zan is boring.

And then, the last time, they become the following:

The last time I saw anything like this, it cost $14.99 on a hotel pay-per-view channel.

Super Friends. The comic where Jayna showed her tits to some chick while sitting with her butt in her brother. Subscribe now!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

THE WILD WORLD OF WONDER WOMAN : THE PLANETARY CONQUEROR

Space Angelina Jolie versus Space Jennifer Aniston

Wonder Woman was right on the cusp of hanging up her star-spangled spanks and eagle-emblazoned bustiere when this intergalactic romcom-slash-disaster film rolled off the presses in July-Aug of 1968 (Wonder Woman vol.1 No.177, "Wonder Woman and Supergirl vs The Planetary Conqueror"). As this story went to press, Denny O'Neil had been handed the keys to the Amazing Amazon and had stripped her down for parts, eschewing her supernatural origins and colorful costume for some down-to-Earth jiu-jitsu skills, a dab of greeting card Eastern mysticism, and a boutique full of tight white bodysuits. To this day, it's Wonder Woman's most controversial narrative among the fans, but if we're to judge entirely based even on this one story alone, it was worth the experiment.

The interplanetary conqueror of the of the title is the impressive Klamos, a purple-clad and visor-masked alien overlord bearing tremendous power and an indomitable will. Also, it's worth mentioning that he started his career under the name "John Klamos" on the show "Space Full House," but that's beside the point.

Wonder Woman, where is your head even at?

Assisting Klamos is his second-in-command Grok, and together the two horny girl-watchers are basically the Van Wilder and Raj of the cosmos. Klamos conquers start systems like they're going out of style, but what he's really doing is space-cruising on a space-Saturday night looking for space babes. "There remains one thing missing to make me completely happy," he explains to a crowd of military advisors, collected under threat of his all-destroying visor ray laser, "A queen fit to rule with me! But she must be the most beautiful and powerful female in any world!"

With these words, the story becomes the cosmic equivalent of The Bachelor, with Klamos' soldiers finding the most powerful female beauties of a dozen worlds, and also a few very delicate-looking males, I can only assume. Aliens, man, who can tell what gender is which under all those scales and jelly-arms.

Naturally, Klamos' quest takes him to Earth, where he becomes infatuated with Supergirl and Wonder Woman, much like me when I was nine. Capturing Supergirl is a matter of turning the Earth's son yellow, which is a pretty impressive feat and speaks well to the Maid of Might's canniness and power. As for Wonder Woman, she gets nabbed by a con man with a crate of costume jewelry, because she's apparently a nitwit.

Klamos does not have a type.
Specifically, Wonder Woman saves an old deaf peddler from being crushed by a train. In gratitude, he rewards her with a cheap-ass string of pearls made of toothpaste and whiteout. "They're not my style," she thinks, "But I can't refuse...might hurt his feelings." You see what women have to put up with, being considered the caretakers of men's feelings?

Anyway, it turns out the pearls are actually space handcuffs and that's the end of that. Next time around, they could probably catch Wonder Woman with a box on a stick with a string on it, and like a can of Amazon Chow underneath it, I dunno. It just feels like capturing Wonder Woman ought to be more difficult.

Supergirl and Wonder Woman end up in Klamos' Lingerie Bowl of Space, and in short order make corpses of the other lovely contenders for title of TV Champ, Mid-Galactic Division. Reducing the pool to just the two of them, and with the safety of Earth at stake, the two heroines are forced to battle one another in what you can only imagine is probably a pretty erotic clash of titans. Let's check DeviantArt out later to see how that might turn out...

"Also one of you needs to give us a ride home!"

In the end, the heroines figure out that Klamos is just a hollow machine directed by alien hands, although I could have told you that just by watching him on ER. In fact, the "dwarfish and ugly" Grok is the actual guiding hand of the intimidating Klamos, only his looks and small stature kept him from being a convincing ruler, evidently. Just like our own political system, if you think about it ::cue rainbow, "One To Grow On" logo::

Supergirl and Wonder Woman return to Earth relatively unbothered by their mutual time in captivity and forced battle, while the book promises a "real end" on the final page of the book, advertising Wonder Woman's upcoming dramatic, thematic shift. The next few years would be a little weird, but at least they weren't more all-girl intergalactic pillow fights for horny robots...

Friday, May 22, 2015

GONE AND FORGOTTEN FOES : RAINBOW MAN

He's much less flamboyant than the name suggests, but he's possibly the most persistent enemy of the prairie troubadour cowboy superhero The Vigilante (second only to the western hero's most famous foe, The Dummy). He's the Rainbow Man, and he's got as many gimmicks as there are colors of the rainbow (seven, evidently).

Big money, no Whammies
Debuting in Action Comics vol.1 No.46, the Rainbow Man was merely a clever criminal who used a real-life color wheel - a roulette wheel divided into wedges of color, complete with colored lightbulbs on each wedge as though he swiped it from a county fair (which he might have!) - to plot his crimes. True to old school criminal motif, he also themed his crimes around color, although to be fair sometimes that meant "The wheel landed on yellow, we go steal gold!" or "The wheel landed on green, so let's steal some green money!" and so on. I mean, everything's a color, right? His gimmick is "steal everything," basically, which is a pretty good gimmick.

If the Rainbow Man's career had a particular highlight, it was the time he managed to abduct the Vigilante's kid sidekick - Stuff, the Chinatown Kid, an appellation which doubles as a difficult but not impossible instruction - on the way to Stuff's own surprise birthday party. Party foul!

They used this "black and blue" gag pretty
much every time they fought this guy.
Not to disparage Stuff's reputation, but let it be known that the method by which the Rainbow Man carried off his abduction was the position a cigar store indian in the path of Stuff's commute, hang a sign reading "wet paint" on it, and then run a thousand volts through it when Stuff inevitably touched it. He could have also just put a dog crate on the sidewalk with a sign on it reading "Do not get into this dog crate and lock the door behind you and then take five or six of the sleeping pills which are in the back of the dog crate" because I suspect that would have worked, too. Maybe even just a sign reading "Whatever you do, don't stand still on this spot while the Rainbow Man abducts you on the way to your birthday party" because I suspect Stuff might just be contrary. Might have something to do with his shitty nickname.

After a dozen appearances, the Rainbow Man closed down operations and put his spinning wheel back to its original intended use: allowing contestants to assign dollar values to the letters they pick in their attempt to solve word puzzles. At least he keeps busy.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : THE SCORPION



If any character deserved to survive the collapse of Atlas Comics, it was The Scorpion -- and he did! And also he didn't! And also he was immortal so he's around forever anyway, whatever the case!

The Scorpion was a period piece throwback to the pulp era of adventure storytelling, created and initially both written and drawn by Howard Chaykin, and embarked on his second adventure with the assistance of Berni Wrightson, Mike Kaluta and Walter Simonson. So, whatever else the Scorpion had going for him, his pedigree was impeccable.

Uh, that's clearly just a doll, Scorpion.

A seemingly immortal - or, at the very least, exceptionally youthful and long-lived - adventurer, the Scorpion had served the Union Army during the American Civil War as "J.C.Clellan Lowe," advised Teddy Roosevelt as "Virgil Torrent," flew in the Spanish Civil War and World War I as "Ben Turck" and "Michael Christy" respectively, and then decided to throw caution to the wind with the least inconspicuous alias in history, "Moro Frost," also known as the Scorpion!

An amoral adventurer-for-hire ("Altruism is for Albert Schweizer," he explains to one reporter who mentions his steep "consulting" fee), aided by his gorgeous and typically Chaykinesque assistant Miss Bishop, The Scorpion apparently boasted no other amazing powers besides his otherwise unexplained immortality. Not that he needed it, being an expert pilot and driver of pretty much every contrivance on wheels or wings, and a two-fisted tough guy of the classic variety.

If the whole book was nothing more than this panel, it would've still been worth the two bits.
The Scorpion also spanned the gamut of pulp-style adventure, taking on a gang of saboteurs in his first issue and following up with a pop-eyed witch and a small army of magical lions and straight-up voodoo. Whatever its shortcomings, it was easiest the classiest looking book of Atlas' sporadic and often baffling line-up of books.

"These savings!"
Like many of those books, of course, The Scoprion suffered a Third-Issue Switch - possibly the most dramatic of them all. With a complete change of setting, timeframe, creative team, costume and even identity, the Scorpion's third issue opens with Moro Frost straight-up dying in a plane crash, for convenience's sake. The mantle of the Scorpion passes - for no discernible reason - to crusading newspaper publisher David Harper. Clad in a teal-and-tangerine ensemble, Harper leaps around the city seeking out evil which no newspaper can touch, and ends up battling a Neo-Nazi throwback with a distinctly Red Skull-like flair who calls himself The Golden Fuehrer.

The Golden Fuehrer avails himself of the unwilling service of an elderly survivor of the putsches of Prague. Naturally, the only reason old Jewish men ever show up in mainstream superhero comics is so they can create a golem, so the old Jewish man ends up creating a golem who the Scorpion slaps around for a while in a generally uninspired slugfest of the typical Bronze Age comic variety. Then the series ends and the world isn't particularly any the worse for it.

What's most interesting about the second interpretation of the Atlas-Seaboard Scorpion has little to do with the character itself, though. The letters page - filled, almost undoubtedly, by fake letters hand-crafted in the Atlas offices for utmost convenience - is working overtime to bury Chaykin and the original Scorpion.

His sole super-power: A sound-sensitive butt.
"The story wasn't really so fantastic, and the art wasn't so magnificent either" claims John Tomanio of Annapolis, while Warren Czerniawki of Charlotte dubs the original Scorpion "a loser" equal to "any jerk with a bag over his head," adding that the Scorpion was Atlas' "First Catastrophe" (oh my, not even close) and spells out his take on the character: "F-A-I-L-U-R-E!!"

Lastly, Ann Carrier from Montreal predicates contemporary fandom by complaining that the 1930s setting of the Scorpion (and other time-tossed Atlas heroes) presents a problem, as they can "never team-up, or battle each other." Even back then, goddamn nerds just wanted to see super-heroes punching each other. When will we learn?

As for the original Scorpion, Chaykin schleps him a few blocks over and reintroduces him at Marvel Comics, bearing pretty much the same outfit but bereft of his immortality and now bearing the name Dominic Fortune, who still occasionally pops up in contemporary Marvel books. He doesn't always have Chaykin on art and scripting duties, but he certainly found a more appreciative audience at one publisher than the other.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

THE MIRACLE OF THIRSTY THURSDAY

In Superman's defense, no one should be drinking from a fire hydrant in the first place.

This past Monday was something called "Miracle Monday," a sort-of "May The Fourth" for Superman nerds but it's infinitely better because we leave the rest of you out of it and it never trends on Twitter.

Originally a holiday proposed in the book of the same name by frequent Superman scribe Eliot S! Maggin (of the Connecticut S! Maggins, I believe), it's also not the only holiday spurred by a Superman story or invented by Maggin. There is also the mainstay of the dullest sports bars and college students who've been gifted with a light Friday schedule - it's Thirsty Thursday!

Debuting in the pages of Superman vol.1 No.293 (November 1975), Thirsty Thursday begins, as do a lot of Bronze Age DC stories, with the inept and absent-minded scientists at STAR Labs. Where would we be without these vial-dropping, radiation-causing, virus-creating nitwits in white coats? Probably gifted with another ten to fifteen years of health and vitality, most likely.

Superman straight going HAM on income disparity.
The origins of Thirsty Thursday begin with hirsute, hapless STAR Labs scientist Dr.Ishmael (What should we call him, do you think?) who, in the midst of developing a "volatile" liquid food substitute (Monster brand Energy Drink, I reckon) just straight-up drops a vial full of the stuff on the ground, spilling its contents everywhere. Turns out that the food substitute is crazy deadly, so Ishmael promptly quaffs an antidote, but apparently accidentally grabbed the formula that turns you into a caveman with super-strength and so becomes a crazy super-powered idiot who promptly runs outside to beat up Superman.

Additionally, the food substitute formula, exposed to air, disperses promptly around the entire city and gives everybody who breathes it a pathological fear of water. Again, this is a terrific food substitute formula, I can't wait until it's on the market. Gonna be a big hit with its audience of hulking freakazoids who got a thing about puddles.

Even Superman can't handle two crises of this scale simultaneously, having also just saved a baby from dying in a fire in what I have to confess is one of the most legitimately touching scenes from a Superman comic ever, no joke - these Bronze Age Superman books, cousins, they knew what they were doing.

In any case, so as to keep the citizens of Metropolis safe from overexertion until the formula wears off and they can drink water again AND to give himself some free time to finish beating the shit out of Dr.Ishmael,  Superman roofies the entire city. Using his heat vision, he pops open a STAR Labs sub-basement full of sleep gas, dropping everyone in town where they stand and neatly solving the problem of a laboratory maintaining a secret chamber full of chemical weapons under a highly-populated city. A problem-solver, that's our Superman!

"...in much the same way that no future historian has ever solved the mystery of the so-called 'Taco', nor known where to look for them..."

It all works out in the end, but apparently Superman never bothers to tell anyone in Metropolis why they all fell asleep at once, in their cars and at their desks or on the subway and street, curled up like a baby amidst the rats and the human filth. I'm not confident that the elevated train would gently come to a stop if the conductor fell asleep - I mean, I've seen The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3.

The absence of an explanation is evidenced by the story's bookends, wherein historians from the far future have repeatedly traveled back in time to unravel the reason behind "Thirsty Thursday," originally know as "No One Likes Water And Everyone Got Sleepy Day" before the special interest groups got to it. It's still a mystery, of course, because all the time-traveling historians choose to stay in the same hotel in midtown, and they all fall asleep too, like morons.

Besides Miracle Monday and Thirsty Thursday, the Superman books also logged Superman-related holidays for every other day of the week, like T-Shirt Tuesday, Beef-On-Weck Wednesday, Two-For-One Friday, Singles Saturday and Spinach Quiche Sunday, all of which I just made up and now I kind of want a beef-on-weck. Damn you Superman, why can't you be MY hero and bring me a sandwich from Buffalo?

"Oh no, and I knocked over this medical waste container. Whoops, I stepped in radioactive waste. Darn it, I released the kraken!"

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

BATMAN LEADS AN INTERESTING LIFE : THE BATMAN BEGINS ACTIVITY BOOK

This coloring book will break your fucking jaw, you filthy animal.

Christopher Nolan's BatMan Begins was, on the tail of a quartet of live-action films and amidst of sea of cartoons and direct-to-dvd releases, pretty much the first Batman film which was expressly not for children. Violent, dense, dark - tonally and visually - and telling its superhero tale amidst an occult, claustrophobic tale of a man driven to grisly extremes to come to terms with his drive for revenge, the film had little in the way of fun, enthusiastic scenes with which to inspire pre-adolescent imagination.

Specifically, there was little inspire the kiddie-winks to go straight to the toy aisle.

It's pretty clear from the marketing which surrounded the movie that the merchandising licensees who are the natural accompaniment to any superhero movie simply had no idea had to react to this news. You may recall the lackluster action figures which popped up at this time, a few off-model tee-shirts and licensed products with soft drinks and tortilla chip companies, and then a raft of high-end merchandise aimed at adults.

Nothing quite captures the inappropriateness of marketing Batman Begins for a grade school audience than the Batman Begins Official Movie Color & Activity Fun Book (with 64 Stickers!) which was released in 2005 and evidently illustrated exclusively by a chimp.

"Hey Alfred, I need help with my pants again." 

Lacking much in the way of scenes from the film to translate to paper for a children's coloring book, there were few opportunities to render Batman fighting, driving around in cool cars, swinging from rooftops. What you could have, though, is his butler wrecking Batman's stuff.

"This helmet owes me $400 and I'm gonna get my money's worth one way or another!"

Take, for instance, this scene. Who is this child? Young Bruce Wayne? The child from the tenement scene? Robin? A random child? A beardless dwarf? Anything is possible.

This is a very exciting page to color.

Additionally, the activity pages leave much to the imagination.

"Draw Batman Looking Sad."

And the few action scenes it can translate to the page lack a little artistic oomph:

"Plate A-15: Batman Startles A Pirate"

In the following page, you're asked to draw what's in Batman's Batcave. Well, if I remember that movie, it was "Nothing much, except mostly bats." So, have fun drawing your bats.

"Batman looks cold. Draw a space heater for Batman."

Then there's the simply incomprehensible. Finish the picture below: Is it a picture of Bruce Wayne? Alfred? Commissioner Gordon? You? Me? God? It could be anyone, just finish it, because the artist was distracted by a fresh banana and left it undone.

Is it ... my real father??!
So lastly, I will leave you with the best the book has to offer in terms of Batman in a dynamic action pose the kids might like:

Batman slips on a batmanana peel.

Monday, May 18, 2015

P-S-Eh? : PETER PORKCHOPS

"Also, picnics are fun, but don't Hannibal your guests by turning them into sandwiches."
Eighties' artifacts Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew are getting a surprising amount of attention in the pages of DC Comics lately, appearing in both of the high-profile Multiversity and Convergence events. Certainly, Guardians of the Galaxy becoming a surprise box-office hit and Rocket Raccoon being something of the breakout star of the film - behind Groot, of course, because comics fans genuinely love inarticulate, slow-witted giants. I'm sure there's a metaphor in there, if only to describe this blog's own recent surge in popularity, but MOVING ON...

Whatever the case, it's always entertaining to remember that the Zoo Crew's resident tank, PIG-IRON, has a publishing history which precedes his fellow super-funny-animals by several decades. Starting his career as the ominously named Peter Porkchops (Personally, I'd be uncomfortable to find myself named after my most delicious parts, but Peter takes it in stride), the future Pig Iron starred in his own title AND hosted a number of in-house PSAs running inside DC Comics. In addition to the probably unnecessary guide on how to enjoy one's leisure time during comfortable, inviting weather (go outside, do things, thanks Peter!), he also chimed in on Depression ...

"You're on your fucking own, Wolfie."

...being a vehicle for the fickle will of brutal chaos ...

By the end of the day, everybody's butts were radiating red stars.

And, of course, the most ominous description of democracy I've ever heard, "We can keep each other in line - that's REAL democracy!"


In addition to being a comic comedy star and a super-hero, I'm pleased to note that while Peter may be a dictator, at least he's a benevolent dictator.

Friday, May 15, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : THE WIND

Look out Green Arrow, it's The Guff!
Nobody gets the wind, baby ... except for Green Arrow and Speedy, though, in the pages of World's Finest vol.1 No.38 (Jnuary 1949).

"Because I had LENTILS!"
It takes no small amount of confidence to go into battle wearing a cloak with a weathervane stuck to the head, bearing the name of a condition generally brought about by beans. Still, confidence was apparently not a trait found lacking in the character of the weather-manipulating baddie named The Wind. When Green Arrow and Speedy ambush The Wind in his attempted hold-up of a dime store (the humble makings of a great criminal mastermind, I assure you), he launches into a clearly prepared spiel.

"You wonder why I'm called the Wind," he asks, although neither archer gave him any indication they'd ever spent an iota of thought on the matter, "Perhaps it's because I come and go like the wind! Or maybe it's because I can COMMAND WINDS to BLOW!"

He goes about proving the matter immediately, setting up such a gale force that even Green Arrow's heaviest shaft is knocked aside harmlessly, never meeting its target. Perhaps it can take out a "missed connections" ad on Craiglist.

Stranger still is that the dime store crime - in fact, every crime with The Wind attempts to undertake - is left unfinished, despite the relative helplessness of Green Arrow and Speedy.

What shitty crimefighters.
This may be because the Wind's crime spree is a ruse to hide the avaricious actions of inveterate arrow collector A.Wynd. Using a high-power fan hidden in the back of a van (driven by a man holding a can and a naan), The Wind's simulated the crimes AND his uncanny power to control the weather as a means to steal the Green Arrow's gimmicked arrows for his collection.

Now, at that stage in the story, if I were Green Arrow, I might just be like "Okay pal, since you're rich and unbalanced, I'll let you keep the arrows if you'll make a donation to the charity of my choosing, like something that teaches archery to inner city kids." But instead what happens is Green Arrow and Speedy are invited in to see A.Wynd's collection of their arrows and Green Arrow goes "QUICK SPEEDY STEAL BACK ALL OUR ARROWS" and so the Wind tries to kill them with what he calls a "suction machine." We should all be so lucky.

In the end, Green Arrow captures the Wind, much to Speedy's confusion as he says "You know, Wynd only attempted crimes! He didn't commit any," having forgotten how attempted murder is a crime. Perhaps he was just either feeling generous or that his life had no value. Aw, poor Speedy. It's thoughts like that which lead to substance abuse.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : THE JUST'A LOTTA ANIMALS

This cover always made me hate that my name was super-ordinary and had no good animal puns associated with it.
Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew have received more attention in the last few years than they had during the full two decades following their cancellation. Not necessarily following the Captain and his Crew into the spotlight again are most of their villains - Armordillo, Frogzilla, Bow-Zar the Barkbarian, Cold Turkey, to name only a pun-ful few - and, except for a brief cameo I'll mention below, the superheroes of the Just'a Lotta Animals!

Riffing on the classic crossovers between the Justice League of Earth-1 and the Justice Society of Earth-2, the Zoo Crew met with a fuzzy-tailed version of the JLA to foil a crisis of interdimensional proportions. Further exploiting the old crossover gimmick, in fact, the adventures of the Just'a Lotta Animals tuned out to be drawn by the Captain's alter-ego Rodney Rabbit, just as the comic book adventures of DC heroes are meant to be real, illustrated by psychically connected creators here on Earth-Prime,

So, a neat idea, complete with headshots featuring the assorted players and even some of the creators of the book, turned animal-esque. The otherworldly JLA, though, sometimes scrimped on the funny animal versions, seemingly assigning random animals to some of the characters. In order of best puns to worst, here's the whole lineup:


  • Elongator, the alligator Elongated Man, five stars, nice pun with a twist
  • The Martian Anteater, alternate version of the Martian Manhunter, well played
  • Firestork, superb, excellent execution
  • Zappanda, panda version of Zatanna, pretty good, nothing to write home about
  • Green Sparrow, has nothing to do with arrows but a good joke
  • Rat Tornado, enh
  • Green Lambkin, okay, I get it, but does that mean every member of the Green Lambkin Corps is a lambkin? Also, isn't a lambkin a little lamb, and a lamb is a baby ram anyway? I have questions.
  • Super Squirrel, feels dashed off, why not Super Pup, like the failed TV show pilot? DC Comics of thirty years ago, call me, I got good ideas
  • The BatMouse, enh
  • Hawkmoose, but why?
  • Wonder Wabbit, they just made her a rabbit to have a sexy rabbit to grind up on Captain Carrot, 'coz I guess it'd be unusual if he were attracted to a non-rabbit, which makes it seem like the animals of Earth-C are kind of racist
  • Aquaduck, let's not repeat animals from one team to another, that's should've been agreed upon, no extra ducks, and moreso 
  • The Crash, a speedster turtle, which is also what Fastback was, and the name is awful
  • The Item, which is not an animal pun, although it's pretty rewarding that he's an elephant
  • and lastly, Stacked Canary, which is actually a little insulting.

This JLA hasn't had a lot of airtime since their single crossover, although they did recently make an appearance in the pages of the Multiverse-spanning Multiversity, battling the Zoo Crew on their recently reinvigorated Earth. It's worth keeping in mind, tho, that one of the principles of Multiversity is that many Earths have evil opposite Earths, and that apparently the Just'a Lotta Animals are the evil alternate earth to Captain Carrot's reality. Gosh, what are they, Nazi gangster cannibal super-animals? Let's see that book.

After this, they were replaced by Just'a Lotta Detroit: Hipsy (a hippo), Flybe (a fly), Steelhead (a trout) and just Vixen I guess. 

Okay, I take it back, this is hard.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

ROADS TO REGRETTABILITY : BEHIND BARS



Roads to Regrettability : Heroes Behind Bars

The League of Regrettable Heroes – soon to be published by Quirk Books and written by yours truly – features write-ups on 100 of comicdom’s weirdest, most unfortunate, most misunderstood and flat-out strangest superheroes. The book debuts June 2, 2015, so in the meantime let’s discuss the many paths a character can take on the road to regrettability.

There's no shortage of superheroes who started out their careers on the wrong side of the track - heck, you don't have to limit yourselves to superheroes to find fictional characters who saw the light and changed ponies midstream, keeping in mind outlaws like Robin Hood and The Saint. 

But in the spandex set, there's a whole generation of superheroes who began by boosting banks and occasionally murdering a couple dudes if the mood struck them. Looking at the roster of the Avengers who populate the cast of the latest movie, keep in mind that all of them except Thor, Iron Man and Captain America started as bank robbers, enemy spies, mutant terrorists and death-machines on a mission. Even the Hulk, it can be fairly said, was at best only ever a really destructive chaotic neutral dude.

This is where he belongs.
Comedic character Ambush Bug - who has been numbered among the memberships of the Doom Patrol and a sort-of Justice League, at different times - began his career, amazingly enough, as a straight-up murderer. Heck, he was a political assassin right from the git-go! Somehow, though, his green bodysuit and dangling orange antennae didn't seem to cut a sufficiently sinister profile, so he was wisely tuned up for comedy.

The Harvey Thrillers line was heavy on baddies turned good at the last moment, with apian-centric Bee-Man starting off as the agent of an evil alien bee empire, while Tiger-Boy originally intended to wipe out all of humanity with his amazing powers. 

But the Golden Age manages to have everyone beat with not one, but TWO superheroes who waged their war on crime from BEHIND BARS. Sporting strikingly similar origins - they both temporarily stood in for pals who were being sent to the big house, and then were trapped there when the pals unfortunately snuffed it without clearing up the confusion - both the cloaked figure 7-11 (named for his prison number, but the convenient all-night junk food market) and the stripe-bedecked Zebra (so named for the prison uniform he actually wore while fighting crime) battled baddies while serving sentences. 

That may be the apex of the form, unless there's a superhero out there who fought crime following his state-sponsored execution.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

90 FROM THE 90S : PART ELEVEN



Valiant / Acclaim / Defiant / Broadway

There is a quartet of comic book companies whose assorted rises and falls can be tracked alongside the career path of one man, former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief and former Mort Weisinger punching bag Jim Shooter.

When the indy comic book boom truly picked up, Shooter and fellow former Marvel editor Bob Layton had already been in place, establishing Valiant in 1989 after attempting – and failing - to outright purchase Marvel’s entire brand with the aid of the Allman Brothers former manager and some other monied ne’er-do-wells. The result was, instead, Voyager Communications which launched Valiant with a mix of old licensed Gold Key and new characters.

Shooter’s famously difficult personality saw him asked to leave Valiant, immediately prior to the company’s purchase by a video game company and rebranding as Acclaim. Subtly, Shooter put his efforts behind “Defiant” Comics, which featured all-original characters which I’m also sure no one can name except the ludicrous title “WARRIORS OF PLASM.” When Defiant collapsed, Shooter found himself producing books for Broadway Video, which has gone down in history as the most famous comic book company ever.

And where did Shooter end up? Overseeing the line of Gold Key characters acquired by Dark Horse comics. The legend continues…


Polybagged
What can a comic book company stick in a polybag? Usually it was trading cards bouncing around the landfill-generating, non-biodegradable, “casual flip through” blocking see-thru bodybag which gathered no shortage of Nineties titles in its indiscriminate embrace. Oddly, the less reputable, more fly-by-night and just generally less worth reading a company was, the more often they broke out the polybags, preventing their horrible comics from being read. There seems to be a glimmer of brilliance in that.

Besides trading cards, polybags also held scratch-off tickets, mini-posters, cassette tapes, in one case a black armband for those of you mourning Superman, certificates of authenticity and sometimes nothing at all. Sometimes it was just a polybag.
Of course, the Nineties polybag had nothing on the original polybags, in which overstock comics were often sold by secondary-market distributors in packs of three to five. That was back in the Seventies and Eighties though, when we as a nation were morally stronger and just generally better.



BloodlinesIn the Nineties, with the wild rand rampant success across the field by upstart young publishers flooding the market with fresh young superheroes, DC became desperate to infuse a little young blood into their own line. A little TOO desperate, as a matter of fact.

A line-wide “event” taking place across the year’s annuals saw normal human beings fed upon by huge, Art Adams-designed alien “parasites” (They’re awful big for parasites), and some of them gaining powers as a result. Unsubtly dubbed New Blood, here’s a list of the resulting superheroes: Homeless grunge rocker magic-user Anima, Geist and Argus who shared the powers of being invisible in the dark LIKE WE ALL ARE, space-shaman Pax, the unfortunate Gunfire who transformed everything he touched into a gun, Hulk ripoff Loose Cannon, the hook-handed Hook, sword-handed Razorsharp, the blade-bodied Edge, radical mind-controlling skater dude Jamm, a half-Vietnamese half-black hero named Mongrel WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT, and like forty others with tough-guy Nineties names like Nightblade, Myriad, Terrorsmith, Ballistic and Krag.

The one highlight of Bloodlines was Hitman, helmed by Garth Ennis and John McCrea and a refreshing bit of genuine over-the-top violence and vulgarity in a sea of mediocre attempts at same. Most of the New Bloods vanished without fanfare, and probably don’t even exist anymore. Good.



HIVWhat had been the plague of the Eighties became the character arc of the Nineties, as characters – primarily supporting characters – infected with HIV/AIDS became somewhat common on the ground. Well, relatively speaking – there were more characters with HIV than there were characters with bovine tuberculosis, anyway.

Two members of DC’s inclusive and absurd New Guardians – Jet and Extrano – were infected by their battle with a blood-tainted vampire named the Hemogoblin, while supporting characters Amy Beitermann in The Spectre and Jim Wilson in The Hulk not only had the disease, but also were depicted being seriously, bloodily injured and subsequently avoided by HIV-phobic pals.
No one tops Jim Valentino’s Shadowhawk, however, a District Attorney deliberately injected with HIV-infected blood by a vengeful gang of crack dealers. I’m not sure how much more early 90s you can make an origin like that, unless he’s drowning in hypercolor tee-shirts while it happens.



Bike Shorts Wonder WomanAs the Nineties toughened up heroes and tried to make everyone a little more grim and a little more serious, Wonder Woman presented something of a problem – she’s got a star-spangled onesie, how do you update that for the black leather and sneers crowd? Taking into account that she started off as an undeniably feminist hero and was a princess from an island of amazon warriors, you’re juggling a lot that you’ll need to communicate with the character’s costume.

This is probably why they settled for “Cartoon lesbian biker.” Of course, the costume was a disaster and was loathed universally, which is probably why they tried it again fifteen years later. At least then they got rid of the bike shorts.

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