Friday, June 23, 2017

When Spider-Man Almost Dated Tom Ripley

What did the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train really want to write? Wonder Woman.
In the mid- to late 1940s, the aspiring novelist Patricia Highsmith penned the comic book adventures of The Human Torch, The Destroyer, The Black Terror, Fighting Yank, Captain Midnight, Spy Smasher and other superheroes, but she never landed the gig she really wanted.
 “Always keen on advancement, Pat tried to write for the high-paying, widely distributed Wonder Woman comic book, but was shut out of the job,” noted biographer Joan Schenkar in her book The Talented Miss Highsmith. “This was in 1947, just one year before she began to imagine her lesbian novel The Price of Salt (filmed in 2015 as Carol). Wonder Woman, daughter of Amazon Queen Hippolyta and still the heroine of her own comic book, has a favorite exclamation: ‘Suffering Sappho!’ She lives on the forbidden-to-males Paradise Island with a happy coepheroi of lithe young Amazons, and she arrived in America in 1942, in the form of her alter ego, Lieutenant Diana Prince, to help the Allies fight World War II. The thought of what Patricia Highsmith, in her most sexually active period (the 1940s were feverish for Pat) and in the right mood, might have made of Wonder Woman’s bondage-obsessed plots and nubile young Amazons can only be inscribed on the short list of popular culture’s lingering regrets.”
Although Highsmith later tried to efface her comic book work, superhero-ish themes like alter egos and dopplegangers emerged to play a significant role in her most famous novels.
Highsmith had gotten into the superhero business by answering an ad from comic book editor Richard Hughes, but her favorite company was Timely (now Marvel). Timely editor Vince Fago reportedly tried to arrange a date between Highsmith and young Stan Lee, but neither was interested.
“So Spider-Man (the superhero Stan Lee co-created) misses his opportunity to date Tom Ripley (the antihero Pat Highsmith created),” Schenkar quipped. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

How to Handle an Asshole

Wisdom pointed out by my old friend Jim Jenkins: “Oh, there are a lot of lousy people in the world. Also, a lot of terrific people. You've gotta remember that, and you've got to move in the right circles. I have days where I just want everyone to go fuck themselves or walk off a cliff, but I only say that to myself, and I smile and I walk home and I have some tea, I talk to Garson [Kanin, her husband], I might take a nap. Then I wake up and I write, and in writing, I wipe away all the unpleasantness of the day, of the people, of the city, whatever. We have it in our power to overcome assholes, and I think we have them thrown into our path to see if we have the chops to handle them. Handle them.”

— Ruth Gordon

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Universal American Tornado Arrives

America is all one prairie, swept by a universal tornado. Although it has always thought itself in an eminent sense the land of freedom, even when it was covered with slaves, there is no country in which people live under more overpowering compulsions.
— George Santayana

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Fox News Can't Save Trump with a Fire Hose

The problem for Fox News is, their lying propaganda only really works on offense. They need a Democrat in the White House. Their defensive game often rings false even to their own trained zombies.
Fox News is largely just a fire hose spewing rage. You can turn that against minorities, but you can't really use it to defend your blundering stooge in the White House.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Loser in Chief in the Land of the Losers

Someday, after he has inflicted untold suffering and disaster on Americans, Trump will be reduced to an object lesson in stupidity and failure — as irrelevant, meaningless and pointless as Bush and Cheney are now. In the eyes of history, they’re all one of Trump’s favorite words — “losers.”

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Wonder Woman: Finally, a DC Hero with Heart

Gal Gadot as the amazon princess Diana, a/k/a Wonder Woman
The 2017 film Wonder Woman shares a strong thematic vibe with Johnny Weissmuller’s first Tarzan movie in 1932 and Christopher Reeve’s first Superman movie in 1978. Once again, heroic innocence is pitted against the “civilized” forces of cynicism and murderous corruption, with the contrasts played effectively for both comedy and melodramatic pathos.
Wonder Woman’s origin story was contemporary when she was created in 1941, sending her off the amazons’ Paradise Island to fight for peace during World War II. This film does not update but backdates her origin to World War I, which in some ways works even better.
This independent, courageous superwoman is juxtaposed against the fight for women’s suffrage, and is determined to make good on the promise that this will be “the War to End All Wars.” We know what she doesn’t — that despite her impressive super powers, her mission is impossible, and that gives the film its poignancy.  Wonder Woman’s naiveté — her inability to understand why human beings would willingly slaughter children in a war, for example — stings because we also recognize it as the profoundest wisdom.
Wonder Woman’s tearing through the enemy trenches is reminiscent of Philip Wylie’s 1930 novel Gladiator, which was an inspiration for Superman.
Chris Pine’s low-key charm works perfectly for Capt. Steve Trevor. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (a name never used in the film, btw) radiates the same shining, un-ironic goodness that Reeve projected as Superman (no easy feat for an actor, btw).
You know, it doesn’t really matter how “dark” a superhero film is, as long as the hero has heart. And that’s a lesson that the DC Comics movies finally seem to have learned after several misfires. Wonder Woman is as good as a Disney-Marvel superhero movie, and that's high praise indeed. This film is probably the best thing ever done with this iconic character, and a worthy successor Lynda Carter’s campy-but-earnest 1970s’ TV series. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

DC Anthology Titles: Three Thrills for a Dime

As a small boy, I loved the comics devoted to the adventures of a single DC hero, titles like Superman, Batman and Superboy. But I loved the anthology titles they headlined even more.
Action Comics, Detective Comics, Adventure Comics and World’s Finest offered three features in each title, and among them were the handful of obscure superheroes who’d survived the Great Superhero Extinction of the early 1950s.
For example, take Detective Comics 279 (May 1960). While the Dynamic Duo tackled the alien Creatures That Stalked Batman, the Martian Manhunter was bedeviled by zany genius Hiram Horner in The Impossible Inventions. With art by Joe Certa and a script by Jack Miller, J’onn J’onzz spun himself like a whirlybird to lower a flying building back to the ground.
Even as a 5-year-old, I couldn’t conceive how that would work.
But the Martian Manhunter sported those eye-catching colors — green skin, blue cape — and an array of powers that rivaled Superman’s, so I was an immediate fan. I loved it when police detective John Jones would emit a concentric rainbow of light to change form.
Of almost equal interest was the seemingly pedestrian feature Roy Raymond, TV Detective, which had begun in 1949. Initially, the brainy Raymond would debunk supernatural hoaxes, but by the time I met him, he was up to more interesting stuff like tricking an actual giant monster conjured by a sorcerer back into the stone it came from. The creature looked like some, slate gray sinister variation on the monster Gossamer that menaced Bugs Bunny in the Warner Bros. cartoons.
Fun stuff, particularly when presented in the richly illustrative art of Ruben Moreira.
Or let’s take as an example World’s Finest 110, with Superman, Batman and Robin backed up by Tommy Tomorrow as well as Green Arrow and Speedy. An embarrassment of riches.
Like Roy Raymond, Tommy Tomorrow was a character who began as something else — in this case in 1947 as an example in a one-off “future facts” feature.
“(I)n fact, Tommy was obviously designed simply as a stereotyped hero to represent the sort of man who might pilot the first rocket to Mars,” noted comics historian Don Markstein. “Even his name was chosen to project the ‘generic future man’ image.”
But by 1960, he had evolved into a near-future “Planeteer” space cop whose purple uniform included curious short pants.  Illustrated by the capable, workmanlike art of Jim Mooney and written by Jim Miller, the tale The Robot Raiders featured this 21st century “future man” tackling space pirates armed by giant robot lobsters and hovering eyes — the kind of intriguing mechanical menaces that Blackhawk had specialized in combating.
“A wealthy playboy, guardian to a young boy … they fight crime together, hiding their identities behind outlandish costumes … Except for the archery motif, the ‘Green Arrow & Speedy’ series sounds like a direct swipe of Batman and Robin,” Markstein noted. “They took the archery motif from Fawcett's Golden Arrow, but more directly from a minor hero from a minor company, called simply The Arrow. But the prior hero he most precisely resembled was Tom Hallaway, alias The Spider.
“Green Arrow was created, if that’s not too strong a word, by Mort Weisinger, editor of DC’s More Fun Comics, who introduced the crime-fighting archer in the 73rd issue of that title (Nov. 1941) — the same one that first featured Aquaman.”
“Green Arrow was never as strong a character as the one he was modeled after. Whereas Batman appears intensely motivated — driven, even — Oliver Queen, the man who masqueraded as Green Arrow (Roy Harper, his ward, was Speedy), seemed merely to dabble in crime-fighting.”
Nevertheless, a character created in 1941 who has his own long-running TV shoe in 2017 must be said to have hit some mark.
In this issue of World’s Finest, the distinctive art of Lee Elias and the writing of Ed Herron introduced us to The Sinister Spectrum Man — a super villain, something we rarely got to see in a feature where the heavies were often just criminal thugs.
With his plane, gimmicks and color motif, Spectrum Man was a distorted mirror image of the hero. That’s a theme that gets played again and again in superhero comics, in various variations.