Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Only a Few Clicks Away

When I was a kid, there were times when I found myself thinking about some odd topic or other and would stop and say to myself, "Now where did that come from?" And I'd work the logical chain backwards. Okay, I was thinking about W, and that led to X, which led to Y and then to Z.

Surfing the internet can be like that at times. I surfed over to Comics Should Be Good, which is having a poll on next month's features. One of the features was "When We First Met" and so I read about the first time Lois suspected Clark was Superman. A very cool post, I think you'll agree.

In the comments, someone pointed to a comic strip take on the Superman/Lois relationship. Cool and funny stuff.

And at the bottom of that post, was a link to this pitch for a Lois Lane, Girl Reporter series of young adult novels. Nice art, interesting idea.

Elsewhere, Commander Benson has a very challenging trivia quiz for Silver Age Marvel zombies. How challenging? Well, I couldn't get any of them off the top of my head, although I did know where to look for a couple of the answers. BTW, don't scroll down to the comments on that post, as most of the answers are there. When you give up, here's Commander Benson's answer sheet.

With the release of the Green Lantern movie, Jacque Nodell posts a picture of herself with her grandpa, GL co-creator Martin Nodell.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gene Colan, RIP

Another Silver Age legend falls by the wayside. Colan was best known for his long, terrific runs on Daredevil, Iron Man and Batman. I'm reposting here some of my favorite panels from various issues:

From the brief Black Widow series in Amazing Adventures. As you can see, he could draw some exceptionally beautiful women.

From My Greatest Adventure #74. Note the almost photographic quality of her face.

Note the action, and again the photographic realism of the man's face. It looks easy.

Colan created the Falcon, the first actual African-American superhero (the Black Panther doesn't count, as he was not American). Here he is in an early appearance:

His run on Iron Man was legendary:

As was his long tenure on Daredevil:

Friday, June 24, 2011

Darwin of the Guardians

I confess I had not read this story in decades and it didn't make much of an impression on me back as a teen. But re-reading it last night, I have to confess I was flabbergasted.

The story starts with the Golden Age Green Lantern protecting Gotham City from a falling meteor. As it happens, the meteor hits a tree, which is about to fall on Doiby Dickles' taxi, Goitrude. GL is shocked when his protective beam deflects the tree, as his power ring has never worked on wood. He has an idea:

But when he reaches Hal Jordan, it turns out that his beam still doesn't work on wood. Hal suggests that he get the ring to tell him what really happened. It turns out the meteor wasn't a meteor, but a disembodied mind inside a packet of pure energy that was ten billion years old. The ring contacted the mind and learned it was from the planet Oa. The Oans were immortal and used their time to learn things:

But there was one forbidden subject:

And right there I came to a screeching halt. The pursuit of knowledge about the Oans had led to the invention of evil? That doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and the "reasoning" behind it is the classic fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this). Krona insisted on continuing his pursuit of the origin of the Oans, and so they:

Since one of their fellows had unleashed evil on the universe, they started the Green Lantern Corps to battle the malignant forces.

When the GA Green Lantern's power beam contacted the mind of Krona, he used it to free himself and followed Alan Scott into our universe. The Oans, alerted to the danger, warn the two GLs that they cannot locate Krona by normal means, but to expect an outbreak of evil nearby. Sure enough:

After handling the various crises, the Oans summon the two GLs to their home planet, where the cover scene takes place. Hal does not accept his demotion gracefully:

And yet, a moment later he seems surprised that Alan's not laying down for him:

Via a flashback, we learn that Alan's body has secretly been taken over by Krona, and that the Guardians are being controlled by the GA Green Lantern's ring. But (and this is a key point) Hal doesn't know this yet. So his revolt against the Guardians and his battle with Alan are not excused by this knowledge.

Krona erects a yellow shield to protect himself and then kayos Hal, after which:

We can see that Krona is rather reckless with other people's lives but not his own.

But Alan's disembodied mind contacts Hal, wakes him up, and the two combine their willpower to defeat Krona, with the aid of some trickery; Hal uses the GA power ring rather than his own so that yellow won't work against it. Krona is sent back on his endless journey, but this time the Guardians make sure his orbit will never intersect any planet or star.

Comments: The story can be taken as an allegory to the book of Genesis, with Oa before Krona as the Garden of Eden, and Krona as Adam releasing evil by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. According to the letters column in GL #43, that was the way writer John Broome intended it:

But you can also read it as anti-science, and anti-Darwinian. That the Oans turn out to be correct in their ancient superstition against studying the origin of their species is hardly surprising. It's a basic principle in fiction that the Cassandras of doom are always proven right (as was the original Cassandra, who warned the Trojans against bringing the wooden horse into their walls). But I have a hard time believing that the Oans were justified in their original banishment of Krona. Given what happens in this story you can argue that the subsequent exile was merited, but you can also argue that ten billion years as a disembodied mind might be the cause of his callous disregard.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Amazing Spiderman #3

Anybody who read only the Steve Ditko issues of Amazing Spiderman would know exactly who was Spidey's arch-enemy, and it wasn't the Green Goblin. It was Dr Octopus, who was the first villain to appear in a two-part story (ASM #11-12,) the first to appear in a three-parter (#31-33), and who also headlined the first Spiderman Annual.

His initial appearance here also features the debut of the Spider-Signal:

It's a neat reversal of the Bat-Signal, indicating that trouble is here for the crooks who see it. I don't recall it getting much use in the Romita era, other than on the cover to ASM #72.

We get our first glimpse of the good doctor here:

The apparatus he uses is vaguely similar to a "Waldo":

Incidentally, the name "Waldo" for that device, which allows scientists to handle dangerous chemicals and elements from behind a protective barrier, comes from a Robert Heinlein short story.

But Doc Ock gets a little careless and:

With the result that the arms are grafted to his body and he's just a mite touched in the head. He takes over the hospital where he's been recovering. Peter gets involved when JJJ demands that he obtain some pictures. As with Clark Kent's job at the Daily Planet, Parker's employment at the Bugle guarantees he'll know where he's most needed.

As Spidey climbs up the outside wall of the hospital, he muses that it's all too easy; he almost wants a villain worthy of his talents. In fiction as in real life, that's just begging for trouble and sure enough, Spiderman discovers that Doctor Octopus is a handful and more:

Spidey is thrown unceremoniously out a window. Doc Ock returns to the atomic research center where he worked, and makes it into his own fortress. Meanwhile, Peter mopes about, having never been defeated before. Fortunately the Human Torch comes by his high school to give a demonstration and a pep talk:

Once inside the atomic research center, Spiderman puts his science background to work:

He creates an acid that fuses Doc Ock arms together. But he's still hard pressed until:

Comments: Solid, entertaining story with the usual terrific Ditko art. I particularly liked the bit with Peter sulking about after being beaten; that's a common teenaged reaction.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Superboy Legal Case

Covered adeptly by Bill Jourdain. The post contains lots of information that I was not aware of previously, including the fact that DC Comics had formally passed on the Superboy concept, and then published the first stories (starting in More Fun #101) while Siegel was in the army and without his consent.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Sinestro Story

With the release of the Green Lantern movie, I thought I would talk about GL's main enemy, Sinestro. Sinestro first appeared in GL #7 as the renegage Green Lantern. This was during the brief period when GL was not aware that he worked for the Guardians, and so they summoned his "energy duplicate" to fill him in on Sinestro's origin. He was originally another member of the Green Lantern corps, until the power infected him:

The Guardians stripped him of his ring and power and banished him to the evil anti-matter universe of Qward (which Green Lantern had battled previously in GL#2-4).

Sinestro comes up with a plan that basically involves him saying evil a lot:

But as it happens GL misses his appointment in Valdale, and thus, unlike the 100,000 citizens of that fair metropolis, is not teleported to Qward. At the end of this back story, the Guardians decide to allow him to know that he works for them.

Hal makes it to Qward, but Sinestro plays his trump card; unless GL surrenders, he will kill the Valdale residents. GL agrees and is imprisoned in a yellow globe. Sinestro has an eeeeevil plan:

But GL manages to fool him by pushing the clock ahead a few minutes. He escapes from Qward, leaving Sinestro imprisoned in a green bubble. But when Sinestro returns in GL #9, we learn that he must have been a Boy Scout, for he believes in the motto, Be Prepared:

This time around he comes up with a scheme to siphon off the power from Green Lantern's ring to enhance his own. Once he succeeds in doing so, he imprisons GL inside a cage and goes off to a meeting of the other GLs where he again steals their power. He then zips to Oa to attack the Guardians, but Hal has gotten free by now and hits on a Silver Age cliched way to defeat him:

The Guardians put Sinestro in a capsule and launch him on an 18,000-year orbit of the universe.

In GL #11, Sinestro returns. It seems the Guardians forgot to check his heel, where he stored a backup power ring. He returns to Qward, where he uses a mind-control device to cause Green Lantern to screw up several times on the job. Then, at a trial held by the other Green Lanterns, Hal pleads guilty and requests to be sent to Qward (again by the force of Sinestro's mind control). Fortunately the other Green Lanterns were only agreeing to find out who was behind the plot, and after a brief subplot where Hal uses some high school chemistry to escape from a death trap, they use Sinestro's mind control machine on him:

But in GL #15, Sinestro escapes. Once again, thinking a step ahead of the Green Lanterns, he had set the mind control device so it would not work on him. He's back on Qward, competing in the annual "Most Evil Citizen Contest", with a sidekick that should be familiar to Golden Age fans:

Yep, that's Doiby Dickles (although Sinestro calls him Magot in this story and the next). Sinestro has a plan to win the contest; he'll trap GL on a world where everything's yellow, and that's not all:

It's all terrifically eeeeevil, but Sinestro makes one mistake; he decides to televise GL's death, and the beam he uses to do it turns out to be purple, giving Hal his one chance at escape. He fixes the mind control machine so it will work on Sinestro, and locks the villain away.

Except that Sinestro again had planned ahead for this eventuality. We learn in Green Lantern #18 that he placed a hypnotic suggestion in GL's mind, instructing him to turn the mind control device off at a point in the future. Sinestro's again in the contest for "Most Evil" and after getting Hal to Qward without his power ring, he reveals his diabolical plan:

Well, it turns out that GL had anticipated all this (two can think ahead!) and only faked not having his power ring. He uses Sinestro's own plot against him:

Having made five appearances in less than a year and a half, Sinestro now went into hibernation for over four years. In his next appearance he came back as a car (Doiby Dickles taxi, Gertrude). This of course is a nod to the insane 1960s TV show, My Mother the Car:

This time his plot is to steal the giant power lantern on Oa, but Green Lantern foils the plot with the assistance of the Golden Age GL and Doiby Dickles.
Sinestro returned one final time in the Silver Age, in GL #74, in which he teams up with Star Sapphire.

Overall, the qualities that I would associate with Sinestro and hope will appear in the movie, are his preparedness, and his desire for revenge against GL and the Guardians.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Least Heroic Hero

A long time ago, I talked about Tin, the Metal Man who was arguably the bravest character in the Silver Age, because he always showed great valor despite obviously lacking an iota of self-confidence.

At the opposite end of the spectrum was Volstagg the Voluminous, a Marvel hero who first appeared in the Tales of Asgard backup feature in Journey into Mystery #119:

It is somewhat remarkable that Volstagg is shown fighting in his initial appearance, as he generally avoided combat whenever possible:

All the while blustering about what a mighty warrior he was.

The Tales of Asgard feature, which had started as a way for Stan to work in some background on the Norse gods, rapidly evolved into the adventures of the Warriors Three: Volstagg, Hogun the Grim and Fandral the Dashing (with Thor often joining in):

Hogun looks a bit like Attila the Hun, and Fandral was inspired by Errol Flynn's version of Robin Hood (and would later inspire Green Arrow's extreme makeover).

Volstagg himself was based on the character of Falstaff, who appeared in three Shakespeare plays, most notably the two parts of Henry IV. In the first part, Falstaff is the drinking and debauching companion of Prince Hal (the future Henry V). Like Volstagg, he's portly and given much to braggadocio, and is the frequent subject of the jests of his companions. Thor himself can be seen as similar to Hal; the son of the King who sorely tests his father's patience yet shows great heroism. Falstaff is repudiated by Hal in the final scene of the second part of Henry IV, as a sign that the young prince has renounced his former dissolute lifestyle and is ready to assume his duties as king. As far as I know, Thor never similarly abandoned Volstagg.

One aspect of Volstagg's characterization must be commented on, and that is his steed. While Hogun and Fandral had sterling and mighty chargers, Volstagg was given a mount that would not seem capable of supporting his girth:

This further emphasizes the comical nature of the character.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Plastic Man #1

Plastic Man had a long and storied history in the Golden Age of comics with over 100 appearances in Police Comics, most of which had him as the cover feature and 64 issues of his own magazine. He outlasted all of the GA superheroes with the exception of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

Part of this was due to the artistic genius of his creator, Jack Cole. Cole was a master cartoonist and he made full use of his talents to make his pliable character as amusing as possible. When Plas laughed, Cole contorted his features so that he resembled a braying donkey. A recurring theme had him changing himself into an inanimate object, such as a couch or a rug or a lamp in the crooks' hideout, only to reveal himself at the critical moment.

Plastic Man's adventures were published by Quality Comics, which sold out to DC in late 1956. DC continued several Quality titles, including Blackhawk, GI Combat and Heart Throbs, but Plastic Man did not make the jump. If this seems puzzling, remember that superheroes were at their all-time low in publication around this time; Showcase #4 had been issued a few months earlier, but several publishers had tried and failed with superhero revivals of Captain America, the Human Torch, the Blue Beetle and a new hero called Captain Flash.

And so Plastic Man slumbered for a full decade. Meanwhile, several other characters were introduced who ahem, borrowed his stretching abilities, including Reed Richards aka Mr Fantastic, the Elongated Man, and Elastic Lad. In House of Mystery #160 (July 1966), Robby Reed used his Dial H for Hero skills to transform himself into Plastic Man.

Shortly before that, however, Jules Feiffer published his landmark book, The Great Comic Book Heroes. This was one of the very first books to take comic books seriously, and reprinted many classic Golden Age stories, including the origin of Plastic Man from Police Comics #1.

DC evidently felt confident enough in Plastic Man to launch him directly into his own title, something of a rarity for the company in the Silver Age. I would attribute this to a confluence of several factors, including the runaway success of the campy Batman TV series, the increasing influence of Golden Age fans who remembered Plas from their youth and the success of Feiffer's book.

Unfortunately, those are also probably the reasons the series failed. First, the Batman fad imploded like all fads do, and superheroes who were anything less than super-serious were no longer cool. And the new Plastic Man was not faithful to the Golden Age character, doubtless turning off the older fans.

For starters, Cole was not available, having committed suicide in 1958. This first issue was illustrated by Gil Kane, and while I admire Kane's amazing body of work on features like Green Lantern, the Atom and Spiderman, the plain fact is that he was not cut out for cartoonish characters like Plastic Man. You definitely had the feeling that he was trying hard here:

But I suspect that's one of the secrets of great cartooning; it has to look effortless, with very simple lines.

For some reason, Plastic Man's old sidekick, Woozy Winks was not brought back for this series. Instead, Plas picked up an earnest young man with a crewcut named Gordon K. Trueblood:

The chemistry wasn't there between them. In the Golden Age, the goofy sidekick was a staple of superhero comics, from the Flash's Winky, Blinky and Noddy to Green Lantern's Doiby Dickles and Wonder Woman's Etta Candy. Indeed, Alfred, Bruce Wayne's butler was initially played for laughs. But for the most part they were not reincarnated in the Silver Age. Gordie mostly comes off as Bud Abbott to Plastic Man's Costello; a straight man or foil.

The villain is Dr Dome, shown wearing the chromium headgear on the cover. He's a standard mad scientist with the inevitable curvaceous daughter (wearing the Emma Peel jumpsuit). Plas has also picked up a girlfriend, Micheline DeLute 3rd; as you can probably guess, she's wealthier than Richie Rich. A significant subplot of this issue concerns her family's dislike for her goofy and playful boyfriend:

That bit with the cops calls to mind that the Golden Age Plastic Man was originally a crook named Eel O'Brian, but after being left for dead by his gang (and gaining his powers), he turned into a crimebuster.

Dr Dome sends the second greatest villain, Professor X (no, not that Professor X) to attack Plastic Man, but our hero manages to defeat him. At one point the curvaceous daughter (named Lynx) seduces him and slips a mickey in his lemonade, then dumps him into the ocean, but he gets away from that death trap as well.

The series meandered on for ten issues, with Win Mortimer taking over the art duties starting with #2, and Jack Sparling sitting in for the final three installments.

Although the series was mostly forgettable, it did have the salutary effect of introducing Silver Age readers to Plastic Man. In the early to mid-1970s DC reprinted quite a few of Cole's Golden Age classics.

Update: Marc Burkhardt makes a terrific point about the GA Plastic Man in the comments:
Plas was essentially the straight man in an insane world (kind of like Pogo); a key ingredient that doesn't work in shared universes all that well.

Yes, I think that nails it. In Cole's world, everybody was about 90 degrees off kilter. Plastic Man, while he had a sense of humor, was relatively sane. The Silver Age Plas became a prankster in a world that was stuffy and serious which can be amusing but is not terribly original.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Marvel's Son of God

Of course, this is a paraphrase of one of the sayings attributed to Jesus on the cross. It is interesting to look at some of the similarities of the Odin/Thor relationship with that of Jesus and God the Father.

If you look at the God of the Old Testament, he's very much like Odin: regal, imperious and somewhat haughty and capricious. Jesus is like Thor in some ways: came to Earth to help the humans, long-haired, etc. Of course, Thor relishes battle while Jesus was the Prince of Peace. And Odin does not judge mortals, but rather his fellow gods.

Of course, DC has also occasionally hinted that Superman is similar to Jesus, most explicitly in the trailer for Superman Returns.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Silly Panel Saturday

Realistically, I could pick almost any panel from the first seven pages of this story from Adventure #304, which is jaw-droppingly zany. Consider this:

Yes, I could fix your car but that would make the mechanic suspicious. Instead I'll let you drive it off a bridge:

Or this scene where he peeks into his parents' dreams:

Wacky stuff.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Trivia Quiz #42: Answers

1. Who caused the crack in the Liberty Bell?

Superboy himself caused the crack in the Liberty Bell:

It's part of one of the nuttiest Superboy stories ever, from Adventure #296. Superboy goes back in time and helps Paul Revere, John Hancock and Ben Franklin complete their most famous actions.

2. I was a teenage hoodlum on Krypton before reforming and becoming a member of the Counter Intelligence Corps in the 30th Century. Who am I?
Dev-Em, who came to Earth in a modified bomb shelter and bedeviled Superboy before going to the future and turning over a new leaf.

3. What civic function did Pa Kent perform?

Pa Kent was a member of the parole board at the state reformatory.

4. Who saved Superboy from certain death at the hands of the Kryptonite Kid?
In an oddball twist, Master Mxyzptlk saved Superboy on that occasion, explaining that he did so because he didn't want to lose his favorite opponent.

5. To stop girls from mooning over him, who did Superboy claim was his ideal girlfriend?
In Adventure #291 (and in Adventure #183), Superboy confessed to having a crush on Cleopatra:

Of course, it is never explained how this doesn't qualify as lying, something that we are assured Superboy would never do.

Michael Rebain was the first to get #2. Anonymous got that question right and was the first to answer #3. And don't try to stump Commander Benson, as he got all five questions right, including being the first to answer #s 1, 4 and 5. Great job! Update: Kate also got #2 right.