Saturday, May 30, 2009

Neat Stuff

I've mentioned in the past my biggest criticism of Wayne Boring; the man simply could not put eyeglasses on the nose of Clark Kent to save his life. But Boring was a terrific artist in many other respects, and this is one of them. Boring realized that if Superman wasn't flying simply by jumping from place to place, then there was no earthly reason for his feet to be trailing behind him. So he often made Superman look like he was out for a leisurely stroll in the park, which I always thought was pretty cool.

Neat Stuff elsewhere:

I keep recommending Sequential Crush, because Jacque keeps coming up with interesting posts. I was particularly interested in her post on men's belted sweaters, an apparent fashion trend of the early 1970s that I completely missed. But she's got the evidence!

Of course my idea for Neat Stuff is a ripoff of Mark Engblom's Random Coolness, and as it happens he's got a post up on that topic covering the Cosmic Treadmill, Kirby Krackle and Peter Parker's Pessimism.

Ol' Groove's got a tribute to the covers of John Buscema. And a Batman fan like me can't resist his coverage of Marshall Rogers' all-too-brief stint on Batman in Detective Comics.

Bill Jourdain covers Jules Feiffer's groundbreaking reprint book, the Great Comic Book Superheroes. I remember reading that book in the late 1960s at the Ridgewood Library; I was most impressed with the Plastic Man story from Police Comics #1 and was disappointed in the Spirit story (a 1941 tale, while most of Eisner's legendary stuff was after the war. But as he notes, it was definitely the first exposure for many young comics fans to a significant number of Golden Age stories.

Dave Olbrich has a long post up about the proposed casting for the Johnny Quest movie. I remember being completely jazzed by the show back in the 1960s, with kids having great adventures with frequent sci-fi themes. Remember the lizardmen?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Mails of Suspense

Just for the heck of it, I thought I'd take a quick look at the letters columns in Tales of Suspense #s 70-79 to see if there are any interesting patterns I can discern. There were 47 letters in all, so that's a little under five per issue.

1. Only one writer had more than one letter published in TOS in those issues: Kenny Chance of Brooklyn who had letters in TOS #75 and #76.

2. Maybe it should be called Males of Suspense? Only one of the letters was written by a female. Linda Crowe of Greenwood, Indiana, wrote in to complain about the apparent death of Happy Hogan in TOS #70.

3. The letters were all terse; I don't recall any of them being longer than about 5-6 sentences and never two paragraphs. Partly this may have been because TOS only had a one-page letter column, but also Stan obviously had his hands full with so many scripts to pop out in a month and around this time was begging his fans to keep their letters to under a page in length. A little while afterward he even tried publishing the letters without any editorial reply, although this proved so unpopular that he returned to commenting a few months later.

4. The states that had the most letter writers were New York (9), Illinois (6) and New Jersey (4). Five letters were mailed from outside the USA; three from Canada and one each from Puerto Rico and Trinidad. Actually I guess Puerto Rico is still part of the US, but it's not a state.

5. The first names were very much "white bread": Lots of Joes and Bobs and Dons and Williams. The ethnic flavor was more in the last names: Khan, Della Fiore, Zimmerman, Iacopelli, Ahokas, Martinez, etc. It was an era where people tried to blend in, rather than emphasize their heritage, and I actually disliked my name of Patrick back them because it was so uncommon. (According to Social Security, fewer than one boy out of every 200 born in the US in 1955 was given that name).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

You Learn Something New Every Day...

At least, you did when you read DC's Silver Age comics. In addition to the regular features, several of the mags had informative features about science and history. Here's a sample from Green Lantern #2:

Consider these Amazing Speeds, appropriately enough from Flash #119:

In Wonder Woman we found out about quaint romance and marriage customs throughout the world:

Was DC doing its civic duty, or just abiding by postal regulations? Actually, a little of both, according to a response to a letter in Green Lantern #5:

Now the funny thing is that DC did have an irregular "fact" feature in Batman called "Strange Old Laws", but it didn't appear in every issue by any means. In fact, the fillers in Batman were much more likely to be Henry Boltinoff cartoons like Warden Willis, Casey the Cop and Jail Jests:

Although they did have a Public Service Announcement in virtually every issue, so that may be how they got by:

That kid in the blue shirt is DC's version of Goofus, although he generally learns a lesson by the end of every PSA.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Giant Green Ring Things Part III

Picking up with issue #4, we encounter our first repeat Green Ring Thing, a Giant Net:

As with the first net it's marginal to call it giant, and given that it doesn't work, it only gets one Star Sapphire out of five possible.

The next Green Ring Thing is a stethoscope:

The text describes it as huge, but does it qualify as giant? Ah, well, I can't resist the opportunity to add a Giant Green Stethoscope to the list. Two Star Sapphires.

Green Ring Thing #18 is a giant hand:

Pretty dull, though, so we'll only give it the minimum one Star Sapphire.

Next up is a Green Ring Thing Shield:

Not giant.

A Green Tidal Wave is GRT #20:

Tempting, very tempting, but that does not look like an oversized tidal wave to me.

Giant Green Hands for #21:

What to call Green Ring Thing #22?

It's kind of like a net, kind of like one of those old-fashioned shopping bags that ladies used to bring to the supermarket with them. And so that's what we'll call it, and as it is giant and retro, we'll give it three Star Sapphires.

GL #5 features the first Green Ring Thing not created by Green Lantern:

A spear, but not a giant spear.

GL responds with GRT #24:

A shield, but not a giant shield. And in the next panel:

Giant Green Hands arm-wrestling? Four Star Sapphires.

Green Ring Thing #26 is a dam:

But not a giant dam.

The Giant Broom sweeps clean:

Three Star Sapphires.

Green Ring Thing #28 is rather unusual:

I'm not sure why GL would only be able to do this on a planet with a "super-magnetic field"; presumably Schwartz was looking to make sure his writers didn't overdo this particular trick.

Running Tally:

Giant Green Net: 2
Giant Green Bird: 1
Giant Green Springs: 1
Giant Green Test Tube: 1
Giant Green Ice Tongs: 1
Giant Green Hand(s): 4
Giant Lock Wrench: 1
Giant Green Umbrella: 1
Giant Green Chiller Diller Menace: 1
Giant Green Stethoscope: 1
Giant Green Old-Fashioned Shopping Bag: 1
Giant Green Broom: 1

The hands move out into the lead, but still no sign of the Giant Green Boxing Glove!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Single-Issue Review: All-American Men of War #73

Hmmm, given that the Amerikaner has a better grip on the rope, with his right hand instead of his left hand, I'd guess that he can hang on longer than the German. And I don't get what's going on with the GI's helmet strap. Unless it has just now come loose, wouldn't it be hanging down, and wouldn't the helmet be falling from his head?

The cover story, No Detour, opens the issue and is a real page turner. Two soldiers named Mac and Lee find themselves facing detours every where they go, both literal detours that take them longer to get to the action, and figurative detours, where they are being shot at by an German 88 tank, and duck into a nearby house, only to find it occupied by a machine gunner. Later they make it to the roof of one building only to find it being blasted by a mortar crew across the way.

Through it all they survive by their wits and courage, as here:

In the climax, the soldiers are climbing a mountain to reconnoiter the area, when a German fighter plane blasts at them. Check out this picture-in-picture:

But even after defeating the pilot, there's still one roadblock up ahead, and no detour:

But Mac saves Lee by tugging on the rope, a pre-arranged signal for Lee to come down. The German is unprepared for the sudden movement and falls to his death.

Comments: Excellent story by Robert Kanigher and superb art by Joe Kubert. Look at the menace in that smile by the German; that's really quite perfect. I particularly like the detours theme being used to frame the story.

The second story, Tanks Don't Cry, is about three brothers. One is a pilot, and he swears that his plane is human and that he heard it cry when it was almost shot down, but it got him home safely. The second is in the Navy, and recalls the time that his aircraft carrier was almost sunk, but though it cried it refused to sink.

Of course the third brother, a junior tank officer, thinks this is silly. His tank is just a bucket of bolts, a mechanical marvel to be sure, but not human. But in a tough situation, caught in a tank trap, the tank somehow escapes and crashes into a German pillbox, rescuing the men but destroying itself in the process. And in the end:

I was pleased to recognize Mort Drucker's style in the artwork; I am getting a little better at identifying artists without looking them up these days. Of course, this panel was a pretty big hint:

Comments: Very neat and tight little story. Humans do tend to anthropomorphize pieces of equipment, like cars, so it's not surprising that a tank man would get emotional over his "bucket of bolts". I did think it was a little bit of a stretch to say that the plane and the aircraft carrier were crying, but obviously that was needed to give the ending some punch.

The finale is Nobody Owns a Medal. A green soldier eyes with some envy the Bronze Star of his corporal, but the non-com insists that he's just holding the medal temporarily until somebody comes along who deserves it more. Sure enough, the kid proves his resourcefulness and courage in the next skirmish, knocking out a machine gun nest, and the corporal hands over his Bronze Star.

But sure enough, when he goes out on patrol with a rookie and things look grim:

And at the end of the action, he gives the rookie his Bronze Star, with the title admonition.

Comments: Another terrific short form tale from Bob Haney (who also wrote the second story), with fine art by Jack Abel. It strikes me reading this entire book how terrific the writing was, and yet it was done by two writers who are probably more remembered for the cringe-worthy work they did on Wonder Woman and Brave & Bold/Teen Titans. Yet another reminder that not every person is suited for every genre.

Have a healthy and safe Memorial Day, everyone!

Update: Other Memorial Day posts:

Easily Mused has the first appearance of the Ice-Cream Soldier in Sgt. Rock. Not to be missed!

Mark Engblom reflects on the reality of the soldiers as compared to the comics versions and recommends a book of letters from servicemen.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Iron Man Run Part 4

I'll pick back up with Tales of Suspense #72, which is a one-off story featuring the Mad Thinker (a whiz at predicting the future) and his giant android. Senator Byrd is demanding that Stark reveal Shellhead's true identity, because Iron Man's armor is valuable to the government as a weapon.

This gives the Countess, whose advances Stark spurned, an idea of how to get back at him. She approaches the Mad Thinker, who agrees to solve the riddle of Iron Man's true identity. His android kidnaps Stark, who only gets away because the Thinker mistakenly opens Tony's briefcase:

Thus allowing Tony to switch into Iron Man's uniform and defeat the android.

The next issue returns to the subplot of Happy's near-death at the hands of the Crimson Dynamo in #71. Happy's been kidnapped from the hospital, and the only clue is a hoofprint on the windowsill (three stories up). Iron Man naturally comes to the conclusion that the Black Knight must be to blame (especially since he kidnapped Happy in an earlier story as well). He tracks the BK down and defeats him. BTW, here's a classic Stan Lee cliche`:

I only intended for you to die, not me! Incidentally, this issue introduces a longtime artist on the feature, Adam Austin. Say what? Adam Austin? I assume that Gene Colan was using a pseudonym for some reason because you can see this is his work:

I'll see if there's an explanation in the Bullpen Bulletins in the next few months, but it's so obviously Colan's style that I don't have any hesitation making the call. Update: Here is the announcement from the Bullpen Bulletin for TOS #78:

After calling for an ambulance for Happy, Iron Man collapses. He manages to contact Pepper, who drives to the Black Knight's castle and recharges him from the car battery. We see that at this point Pepper's in love with Iron Man (and despises Tony Stark). Poor Happy, he's always the backup!

Speaking of Happy, he's doomed if he doesn't undergo experimental treatment with Stark's Enervator Ray. Unfortunately, it's experimental:

When Iron Man gets to the hospital, he learns that Happy has indeed been changed into a freak, a mindless but powerful opponent. And unfortunately, IM didn't fully charge, so he's weak. He tries to lure the Freak back to Stark's plant, but runs out of power at the gate. The Freak continues on, searching for Pepper, who's in a meeting with Senator Byrd. Although the Senator has been portrayed as something of a weasel in the past, he shows courage here:

The Freak carries Pepper to the window, where he appears ready to jump. The police reason that if they shoot him, he might fall backward into the building, but he doesn't; instead he drops Pepper. Fortunately Iron Man has just enough charge left to save her with his repulser ray. He manages to convert Happy back into a normal human being, but his buddy has suffered the convenient memory loss that afflicted almost anybody in the Silver Age who learned the secret identity of a hero.

Senator Byrd demands that Stark come back to Washington with him immediately. But as they are being driven towards the capital, the Mandarin teleports Stark into his castle. This infuriates the senator who orders Stark's plants shut down. Meanwhile, the Mandarin is showing Stark his latest evil genius creation, a giant android called Ultimo who shoots laser beams from his eyes. But Stark angers the Mandarin, who blasts him from his sight, assuming he has killed Tony. Due to his chest plate, he survives and is able to recover his briefcase and change into Iron Man. He manages to defeat Ultimo by conning the android into shooting at a critical place, unleashing the force of a volcano.

But when he returns to the US, Tony's got nowhere to turn to with his factories closed and a warrant out for his arrest. Which seems like a good breaking point.

Comments: By this point, Iron Man was hitting on all cylinders. Lots of subplots, lots of interesting characterization, excellent villains and oh, that Colan artwork! If the series has a significant negative, it's that Stan falls back a little too often on the "undercharged transistors" excuse. This is very similar to the "Odin reduces Thor's powers as punishment" theme that was common in Journey into Mystery at the time. Having created these incredibly powered superheroes, Stan found it tough to put them into serious danger.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Crime As Crack

I was just reading Mark Engblom's latest post on Flash #126's Doom of the Mirror Flash, when this part of the post popped off the screen at me:

In "The Doom of the Mirror Flash", the Mirror Master escaped from prison and into Orinocas, a dimension populated entirely by attractive women. By all rights, the story should have ended right there, but Mirror Master soon grew bored and yearned to commit crimes on Earth once again.

No, not the part about the attractive women, that was bolded in Mark's original. It's that bit about "yearned to commit crimes". This was actually a fairly common theme in the DC Silver Age, especially in the adventures of the Flash, that criminals were not criminals because they sought an easy way to the good life. Rather, they were compelled to steal, almost as if it were an addiction. Here's how the Mirror Master describes it in that story:

But he finds that the women are so cooperative that there's no thrill in it for him:

Beautiful women at your beck and call and unlimited wealth are not enough. What would explain this compulsion not only to commit crimes, but to face a challenge in doing so? Isn't it obvious that this is like an addiction?

Obviously the Mirror Master, like many crackheads, enjoys his drug of choice. But what about the criminal who wants to break free? Just like a junkie, he does not find it easy:

And of course, any sensible 12-step program recommends complete abstinence; if you fall off the wagon, you may not be able to get back on:

If anybody has some other examples of criminals acting as if crime were a drug, please put them in the comments. I plan to add to this post over time as it's an interesting topic. For the most part, criminals do have normal motives for the crimes they commit: to obtain wealth and power.

Update: Here's a very specific instance from Detective #76:

Update: When the Crime Doctor returned in 1980, Michael Fleisher remembered that aspect of the character.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Single Issue Review: Batman #217

Or, farewell to all that. Most of the time, these covers turned out to be just teases, and you knew by the end of the story that all will be back to normal. Just two issues earlier the cover had depicted Batman blowing Wayne Manor to smithereens; needless to say, that didn't actually happen. But this really was the end of the Batcave for all intents and purposes, and thus this is a significant story.

And that's not the most important ending in this issue. Dick (Robin) Grayson had been around as Bruce (Batman) Wayne's crime-fighting partner since 1940, when he appeared to be a lad of about 10. But if the clock ticks a little slower in the comic universe than in our world, it ticks remorselessly:

His fashion sense leaves a little to be desired, but obviously he loves his new university (Hudson U, to be specific), and is thrilled at the thought of beginning this new phase of his life (which would include solo adventures as Robin in Detective Comics), while Bruce and Alfred contemplate life without him. This was effectively the end of the Bruce/Dick partnership; although they have worked together on many occasions since, it was always on an ad hoc basis. As I presume most of you know, Dick grew into adulthood and became Nightwing, and there have been two (or more) new Robins since, and at this point Dick is the most likely candidate to become Batman in the Battle for the Cowl while Bruce is thought dead although he's really alive back in the caveman era.

But all that was in the unknown future at the time. One rather jarring note that the story is indeed set in 1969:

I don't even know if they have draft cards these days; you still have to register even though the last draft was held in 1972. Dick tears up a bit as the cab drives him away, and suddenly Batman is on his own again as he was in 1939. Bruce decides that it's time to close up old Wayne Manor, and move into new digs:

The first time that building was shown, I believe. Quick trivia: What was the original name of the Wayne Foundation? Answer at end. By the way, the building was remodeled later to house an atrium with an enormous tree, which featured in innumerable "establishing shots" later. It looked neat, but the commercial real estate analyst in me has to question the amount of rentable area lost.

Bruce decides to become a victims' rights advocate:

This is not what the Wayne Foundation became, but it's an interesting start as it gives Bruce Wayne an excuse to look into crime from his real identity. Bruce starts, not terribly coincidentally, with the shooting death of a doctor (like his own father's murder). Jonah Fielding was killed after treating a hoodlum who had been shot. Unfortunately, his wife did not see the crook, but she knows that he had been wounded in an extremity, and yet he wasn't limping so they know to look for a man with his arm in a sling.

So Batman baits a trap for the killer, letting it be known in his "Matches Malone" identity that the doctor's wife was going to tell all to the police. Unfortunately, his deductions turn out to be wrong, as the real killer was the man who originally shot the victim the doctor was treating. Batman manages to save the wife of the doctor by taking a bullet intended for her. Oddly, the story ends with Batman deducing who the real killer was, but the police end up picking him up.

Comments: Some poignant moments at the beginning, with excellent characterization for Bruce, Alfred and Dick. It was cool to see more of the personal side of their lives for a change. Bruce muses about how messy Dick is (apparently messy means leaving a shoe visible underneath a well-made bed). It was very cool to read this back then as I was approaching college age myself. The story is good, although even as I read it I wondered if Batman wasn't assuming too quickly that the killer was the guy the doctor treated. Excellent art by Irv Novick.

Quick Trivia answer: The Wayne Foundation was originally named the Alfred Foundation. As I discussed last year, Alfred was apparently killed in Detective #328, giving Bruce the inspiration to create a foundation in his honor. After Alfred returned from the dead in the Outsider series, Bruce renamed the charity for his parents.

BTW, sorry for the lack of posts in the last week or so. I have been battling a back injury that made it uncomfortable to sit at my desk, although things seem to be returning to normal.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Single Issue Review: Showcase #41

DC had good success relaunching some of their Golden Age superhero characters in the early 1960s, so it was only natural that they'd try the same treatment with some of their sci-fi heroes as well.

Tommy Tomorrow debuted in 1947 in the pages of Real Fact Comics #6, which at least puts in doubt the trustworthiness of the title, because of course his adventures were completely fictional. After a few appearances in that magazine, Tommy got a big break, being promoted to Action Comics with #127. I'd have to look around to be sure, but I believe that he replaced Hayfoot Henry.

At any rate, TT held down the fort at Action for a long time indeed, finally being bumped to make room for Supergirl in Action #252. Ironically, for most of his run, Tommy Tomorrow was drawn by the man who would go on to fame as Supergirl's first major artist, Jim Mooney.

Tommy moved over to World's Finest with issue #102 and lasted for another 23 adventures ending in #124; Aquaman coming over from Detective bumped him, and for the first time in 15 years TT had no home in the DC Universe.

The story begins as Tommy is a lowly cadet at Planeteer Academy, the West Point of the Solar System. In an early test, Tommy apparently pulls out the wrong gun by accident when facing the dragonlike creature shown on the cover. But he later discovers that he was "accidentally" issued two of the same gun, and none of the one he needed. Tommy also meets Lon Vurian, the spoiled son of the commander of the Venusian forces.

In another test, Tommy mistakenly takes water rather than forasic acid into a test chamber. Or did he?

One night, Tommy observes Vurian fiddling with Tommy's controller for a test the following day. But when he accuses the young Venusian, he's embarrassed as the techs test the controls and discover them to have been recently repaired but working fine.

Despite those errors, Tommy is tied with Vurian at the end of the semester for best student. It will all come down to a war game, with the two young men in charge of their respective teams. But there is a revolt in the ranks:

After they land on an asteroid tasked to locate a powerful gem, Tomorrow's men mutter sarcastically that he has probably already sabotaged the other team. Sure enough Vurian's directional finder isn't working. Meanwhile Tommy's team has encountered another problem:

But the young cadet figures out that he can use the local version of giraffes to cross the stream. Meanwhile the Blue team has prepared an obstacle for Tommy's men. They broadcast them about the directional finder, which is the last straw for the Red team, who now refuse to help TT. But Tommy is determined to succeed and eventually he breaks into the chamber where the gem was being held, only to discover Vurian entering from the other side, and the gem missing.

It turns out that Lo Duey, a Martian cadet had been sabotaging both teams, with his goal to steal the powerful gem. He blasts off before the cadets can get back to the ship, but he does cause Tommy and Lon Vurian to join forces:

The gem grants its owner invulnerability when the gem is exposed to the sun. They track down Lo Duey and almost catch him when the sun goes down on a planet where he's stealing something from a hydrogen generator plant. Unfortunately, it looks like Lon Vurian gets killed:

Lo Duey's plan is to create two miniature suns orbiting around Venus so that his powers will work permanently. But Tommy Tomorrow has figured out a plan to get rid of the suns:

And Lon survived the collapse of the lighthouse, so it's a happy ending all around.

Comments: I really like the story in this one, particularly the part where they stop to check the viscosity of the stream. I guessed that Lo Duey was the real villain early on, although mostly it was the usual "Okay, they introduce this guy early on and then don't do anything with him for the next 11 pages, so he must secretly be the baddie." Lee Elias provides the art, in a style very reminiscent of Milt Caniff. About the only major negative to the story is that there are no women; the Planeteers apppears to be a males-only bastion.