Thursday, May 5, 2016

How the News Media Will Play the Trump Card

The U.S. corporate news media spent months convincing America that George W. Bush was not the authoritarian, entitled, warmongering alcoholic cretin he appeared to be, then it declared him the winner in Florida when he wasn't, creating the presumption he should be appointed president. And he was.
And now, the American corporate news media will spend months convincing America that Trump is not the narcissistic, mentally ill Nazi he appears to be, and the Republican politicians who now allegedly repudiate him will be bought off — because they are all greedy, power-sucking whores — and we'll hear an AWFUL lot more about the pearl-clutching scandal of the emails and the shocking betrayal in Benghazi. 
In this nation, what was “unthinkable” yesterday is merely accepted, with an indifferent shrug, tomorrow. That's what propaganda can do for — and perhaps to — you.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Back in the Day That Needed Saving

My first exposure to a seminal Superman story came in cartoonist and author Jules Feiffer’s wonderful 1965 book, The Great Comic Book Heroes. Feiffer was apparently the first to realize that superheroes were an American cultural phenomenon significant enough to belong between hard covers.
Interestingly, the story Feiffer chose to reprint as representative of the early Superman has no villain. The emphasis is on Superman as rescuer, always his central role and the essence of the character (a fact that has somehow escaped Zack Snyder’s attention).
From Action Comics 5 (Oct. 1938), the tale features the Man of Tomorrow’s desperate race to save a town and Lois Lane from the deluge caused by the collapsed Valley-Ho Dam. Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman film nods directly at this story. In both cases, Superman hurls mountaintops into the path of the flood, changing the course of a mighty river.
Written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Joe Shuster, the story features art that’s crude but elemental and dynamic. Some of the excitement of the feature would be polished away by better art in later years. Here, what it most evident is the sheer joy of Superman’s bounding into the sky, outracing trains and hurtling past the moon with Lois safe in his arms.
That romance with Lois was steamier in those halcyon days, too — contrasted, of course, with her contempt for the cowardly Clark Kent. The secret smirk inherent in that setup was the revenge of every nerd.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Secret Agent Matt Helm in "The Blowhards"

Donald Hamilton’s brisk, distinctively voiced Matt Helm spy novels, which I read when I was a teenager, had titles like The Silencers and The Ambushers. I’m starting to think the titles should have been more like The Sexists and The Blowhards. Helm takes murder and treachery in stride, but he draws the line at pants suits.

A Timely Warning from the Twilight Zone

Thanks for the warning, Rod Serling. Too bad we didn't heed it

Monday, April 25, 2016

Burl Ives: That Powerful Yearning

My newspaper interview with actor and folk muscian Burl Ives, which appeared in the Mattoon, IL, Journal Gazette on May 10, 1985. Ives was one of the most famous alumni of Eastern Illinois University.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Alien Invasion at the 18th Hole

Having always had somewhat less than no interest in spectator sports, I shouldn’t have been expected to embrace a 1963 comic book called Strange Sports Stories.
That I had any interest in it at all was entirely due to the talents of writers Gardner Fox and John Broome, artist Carmine Infantino and editor Julius Schwartz, who had refined the optimistic, sunlit, linear-landscaped science fiction stories they created for Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space into a distinctly odd sub-genre.
Where else might you find intangible prizefighters, invisible baseball teams or rocket-sledding golfers who had to overcome alien spaceships instead of water hazards?
“Some of the ideas are ingenious, and could be put into place with today’s electronic technology,” noted comics historian Mike Grost. “Broome always had a flair for new technological devices. Others involve non-violent hunting and evading of alien animals; these recall the similar tracking of alien animals in Fox’s Star Rovers tales. Broome was quite insistent in his tales about the reality of social change. Several of his stories suggest that today’s conventional ideas will change drastically in the future.”
“The expert athletes in Broome future sport stories remind one of all the magician characters in his other works,” Grost wrote. “All of these men are highly skilled, and they can bring this repertory of skills to bear on unexpected science fiction situations in which they find themselves. They are also men who perform in public, and who get fame and public acclaim for their work.”
In the story The Man Who Drove Through Time, Fox anticipated Back to the Future, transporting an auto inventor from 1896 to the 1964 Indianapolis 500.
Many of the stories provide the cozy reassurance of what Grost called “the futuristic Art Deco cities and gracious living of Infantino’s futures.”
But the concept never progressed beyond five tryout issues in The Brave and the Bold, so general interest in it was apparently as tepid as my own.
Presumably the kids who wanted to play baseball were out doing it, while the ones who wanted to read comics were sprawled on the living room carpet doing that. Strange Sports Stories explicitly tried to bridge that gap by providing more than one story (Goliath of the Gridiron, The Hot-Shot Hoopsters) about young intellectuals who become literally fantastic athletes. 
But after all, why be a mere star athlete when, with the same mental leap, you could be a superhero? That left Strange Sports Stories falling short, an idea whose time never came.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Superman: Back to Futuro

Stan Lee once observed that comic book readers do not want change, they want the illusion of change. Certainly that was true when I was growing up, in the case of popular stories like the one in Superman 132.
The tale had Superman, Batman and Robin watching an alternate history in which Krypton never exploded and Kal-El was permitted to grow up there. Logically, that would seem to suggest a superhero story with no superhero, and while that might fly these days in the Gotham TV show, it would never do in October 1959.
In fact, of course, children — by far the primary audience for Superman then — like reassurance. They like to be told the same stories in exactly the same way, again and again. So even though Krypton didn’t blow up, a caped “superman” appeared anyway in the form of Kal-El’s professor, who called himself Futuro after an accident gave him (and Krypto) super powers identical to Superman’s.
“Jimmy Olsen” appeared in the form of Futuro’s pal Kal-El. Kal-El acquired a “spaceman costume” duplicating his familiar super suit, and also dressed in the weird earthly clothes of Clark Kent for a costume party. Lois Lane showed up on Krypton and immediately fell for the super guy. And because Futuro intended to marry Lois and return to Earth with her, he decided to empower Kal-El with that “one last charge” and leave him to guard Krypton as Superman.
Perfectly absurd. Perfectly satisfying.
Wayne Boring was the Superman artist of my childhood, and although his figures tended to be stiff, he had a wonderful way with those perfectly round, brightly colored planets and asteroids that Superman juggled, those massive transparent globular ray guns and those graceful minarets that soared above the cities of advanced civilizations. His drawings drew me into his universe. I remember being particularly entranced by the white-and-violet color combination of Futuro’s costume as he soared to the rescue.
Futuro’s secret identity, by the way, was “Dr. Xan-Du.” Writer Otto Binder was signaling, as clearly as possible, that this was all wish fulfillment.