Sunday, February 7, 2016

Cosmic Man and Underestimated Girl

Either main story in Action Comics 258 (Nov. 1959) might have been cover-featured.
In The Menace of the Cosmic Man, writer Bill Finger and artist Wayne Boring confronted Superman with another of those mirror images that appear constantly in Silver Age superhero stories. This time it’s Cosmic Man, who was really a robot designed for an assassination plot. Lois Lane even gets the rare treat of kissing the big guy, but only because he had to feign jealousy to protect his secret identity.
But the cover spot went to the Supergirl story, Supergirl's Farewell to Earth!, and it showed the Maid of Might being hurled into space because she’s displeased Superman. Seems strange to us now, in this post-feminist era, that she’d so meekly accept banishment as the price of violating Superman’s arbitrary rules. Writer Otto Binder and artist Jim Mooney turn the tables in the tale, however. It’s all been one of Superman’s many elaborate hoaxes, this one designed to see if Supergirl can be trusted with the secret of his identity. The fact that Supergirl had already discovered he was Clark Kent left Superman red-faced in the final panel.
The issue’s third feature starred Congo Bill, DC’s answer to Alex Raymond’s Jungle Jim and a character who’d been kicking around since 1940. In January of 1959, in a nod to the renewed popularity of superheroes, a witch doctor granted Congo Bill the power to switch minds with a giant golden gorilla and fight as Congorilla. That became the strip’s new title, with art and story by Henry Boltinoff.
The issue also offered Metropolis Mailbag, a letter column then only a year old. Reader John McGeehan of Santa Ana, CA, wrote in to say that he was sorry that our world has nobody like Superman to make it a better place, but that he was glad we have no Lex Luthor.
Editor Mort Weisinger replied, “Amen!”

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sometimes It's the Comics You Don't See...

Sometimes it was the comic books you didn’t see that seemed most intriguing.
For example, I spotted Detective Comics 287, cover-dated January 1961, in DC’s house ads, but probably spent that week’s quarter on the second (and best) of the Superman annuals, the all-menace issue.
By the next week, 287 must have been vanished from the newsstand, because I remember my disappointment at not finding it. Colorfully costumed figures were still thin on the ground then, just ahead of the Marvel Age, and the bright cover of 287 offered four of them — two bird-themed, one insect-themed and the familiar flying mammal — plus ray guns.
Irresistible. 
I found the comic a few months later in a used magazine shop, and learned that it also included a story that provided the Martian Manhunter with his own “Superboy,” J’onn J’onzz's young brother T’omm. Never was a nickel better spent.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Another Look at the Monster at My Window

There’s something about the thing that’s inexorably approaching that can send a particularly keen frisson of fear straight up our spines.
I remember being impressed by this dramatic technique as a boy watching the otherwise undistinguished science fiction horror 1958 film Monster on the Campus. A woman walking home alone in the evening looks behind her and sees a shadowy, stalking figure moving furtively from tree to tree. Yikes!
The classic 1963 Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, based on a short story by Richard Matheson, frightened a generation. Passenger William Shatner — frightened by some thing, some creature he sees out there on the wing of the airliner — draws the window curtains. Overcome by curiosity, he yanks them open again to find the monster with its face pressed to the window, staring straight at him.
In a 3rd Rock from the Sun sitcom episode from 1999, Shatner, making his first appearance on the series, tells John Lithgow he saw something horrifying on the wing of the plane he just departed. Lithgow replies, “The same thing happened to me!” Lithgow had played the Shatner role in 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie.
The trick works well in literature, too, as in Fritz Leiber’s 1941 short story Smoke Ghost. A man traveling home on the elevated train spots a vaguely menacing black thing on the rooftops that grows closer each day, as he passes. “Leiber very deftly captures that particular experience of riding home at night along suburban train lines, looking out over the roofs and seeing a peculiar high-rise world that is invisible from street level,” critic Maureen Kincaid Speller observed.
But my favorite example of this technique is Jack Kirby’s 1962 cover to Tales to Astonish 34, illustrating Monster at My Window. A hulking alien is crawling across the high ledge of an apartment building toward a frightened man at his window. The cover was memorable enough to earn a 2008 cartoon contest homage from New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss. By the way, the winning caption by Patrick House read, “O.K. I’m at the window. To the right? Your right or my right?”
Actually, the technique goes at least as far back as 1797, when by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

Like one, that on a lonely road        
     Doth walk in fear and dread,        
And having once turn'd round, walks on        
     And turns no more his head:        
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
     Doth close behind him tread.


The Secret Origin of Superman


Fascinated though I was by Superman when I was a small boy in the late 1950s, I had no idea where he came from.
My grandmother helped me out with that, recounting Superman’s origin for me — the doomed planet, that poor vulnerable infant in the rocket, the kindly Kents and their adopted son who could haul wagons like a team of horses and find lost objects by peering through hay stacks. She’d seen the story only once, a dozen years before in the 1948 movie serial Superman, but remembered it all vividly.
Interesting to note that in the 1948 serial, young Clark Kent saves his foster father from a tornado. But in the 2013 film Man of Steel, he deliberately lets him die in one. Times, as they say, have changed.
Superman (as an adult or as Superboy) was featured in seven DC titles at the time — Action Comics, Superman, World’s Finest, Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, Superboy and Adventure Comics — yet information on his early years remained oddly hard to come by.
Even when DC began reprinting Superman’s adventures in the first giant 25-cent annual in 1960, the 1930s and 1940s stories were ignored. Superman editor Mort Weisinger said that was because the art was “crude,” but I suspect it was in fact because the legendarily unfair and nasty Weisinger was trying to erase Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, from history.
So I didn’t start seeing Superman’s earliest adventures until about 1965, when cartoonist Jules Feiffer published his hardcover revelation, The Great Comic Book Heroes. There, among other wonders, was the complete account of how Superman saved the Valleyho Dam from a flood in Action Comics 5 (Oct. 1938).
And yes, the art may have been crude, but it was vital and dynamic in a way that the polished, static Silver Age Superman stories were not (as some wag once said, Superman stories had started to look as if they were being drawn in a bank).
Red cape streaming like a banner, Superman sprang, sped, soared, smashed, in constant exciting motion like the Marvel heroes who were about to overtake DC in popularity. He was not the omnipotent, blandly benign figure he’d evolved into by the 1950s. He couldn’t fly, he could be hurt, but you’d better get the hell out of his way.
Clearly an FDR-inspired socialist crusader spawned by the Great Depression, Superman was impatient with injustice and contemptuous of the compromised police. He dramatically deposed dictators, occasionally killing criminals without apparent regret, hurling wife beaters into walls and the owners of dangerous mines straight down into them. He dealt brusquely with Lois Lane and she loved him for it, just as she perversely (but typically) despised Clark Kent for adoring her.
The early Superman lived up to his name, a character of such emphatic momentum that walls, guns, tanks, planes, decades and even centuries could not stop him. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Who Has Seen Anything Cleaner?

…I wish we could be friends,
  but when he sees me
    daring to look at him
      he opens his strong arms

that are dressed, always, in the darkest ribbons,
  and floats off —
    but only a little way
      and he’s down again on the sandy track.

and who has seen yet anything cleaner,
  bolder,
    more gleaming, more certain of its philosophy
      than the eye he turns back?


From ‘Crow’ by Mary Oliver

The Fox News Idea of a "Real Journalist"

In other words, Megyn Kelly is a lying fascist propagandist, not a professional journalist
What Megyn Kelly represents is at least as dangerous as Donald Trump. What Kelly represents CREATED Trump and Ted Cruz. 
Kelly is a lying propagandist who, in the first Fox News debate, was under orders from Roger Ailes to knife Trump. Nothing that happens at Fox News happens spontaneously or — the very notion is laughable — because of journalistic integrity. Fox News is the Fourth Estate's fifth column. Fox News exists to DESTROY professional journalism.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The First Time I Saw Wonder Woman

I was the first-born child of the Lone Ranger and Wonder Woman. Well, in a way, anyway. They were my parents’ childhood dream selves, just as Superman was mine.
Isolated in a farmhouse miles from town, my dad lived for the 1930s radio adventures of the Lone Ranger, wending their way across the Illinois prairie from Detroit.  He listened so intently that he could virtually recite them decades later. My mother, not quite so isolated, was able to feed her proto-feminist fantasies on the 1940s comic book exploits of the first female superman.
 But the first time I saw Wonder Woman, she was slugging it out with a futuristic giant robot, along with four other members of the Justice League, in the second of the team’s tryout appearance in Brave and the Bold in May 1960. By July, I was ready to give her own comic book a try. I picked up issue 115, coincidentally the first one to follow the reader-friendly trend of offering a letter column.
So here was Wonder Girl — Wonder Woman’s younger self, just as Superboy was Superman — and Wonder Woman, who had her own Lois Lane in the form of Steve Trevor. Making goo-goo eyes at the heroine at every opportunity, Trevor didn’t cut too impressive a figure. What can you say about a guy who actually accepts the explanation, “I’ll marry you, but only after I’ve eradicated crime from the face of the Earth?” Talk about a brush-off.
I appreciated the Amazing Amazon’s strength and speed and her transparent, telepathically controlled jet, but her “gliding on air currents” power gave me pause. Even to 6-year-old, that seemed shaky at best. The flatly inexplicable power of flight somehow seemed a better bet.
Wonder Woman was drawn by the capable Ross Andru, but penned by Robert Kanigher, who wrote spare, moody combat stories for DC’s war line but bizarrely erratic and unsatisfying Wonder Woman adventures. The plots didn’t make any sense, even by comic book standards. Dinosaurs and gigantic clams and electric eels and nuclear missiles seemed to show up and disappear for no reason, and Wonder Girl displayed an unsettling taste for dating teenage males who were half-fish or half-bird.
Take this issue’s tale cover story, Graveyard of Monster Ships, for example. Wonder Woman’s enemy Angle Man — dressed strangely even by his standards in a high silk hat and purple suit, sporting a red cape decorated with astrological symbols — decided to destroy her using a “mechanical brain” (what we called computers then).
While Wonder Woman and Trevor are investigating an underwater area full of lost wooden ships, Angle Man uses his computer to animate the ships’ figureheads — including, weirdly, a Wonder Woman figurehead from a sunken Amazon ship (?). That “mirror image” theme was pursued obsessively in superhero comics, emerging from some unconscious source and repeated so relentlessly that it must have been selling comics.
Wonder Woman is able to defeat the fearsome figureheads by typing on the computer keyboard at super speed, transforming all the hostile carvings into guided missiles that launched themselves into space (?).
Even as a child, I sensed that Kanigher actively disliked Wonder Woman and just kind of threw her adventures at the wall to see what might stick there. Puzzled me