Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Why Republicans Demonize Antifascists

For almost 20 years now, I have identified my politics as “antifascist.” Given the enormity of historic evil that has resulted from fascism, that ought to be a noncontroversial position. Any sane, decent human being should be antifascist.
But the Republicans have decided to do to the term “antifascist” what they previously did to the terms “liberal,” “entitlement,” “social justice warrior” and “politically correct.” Republican propagandists like Frank Luntz and Karl Rove successfully demonized those terms through their minions at Fox News and elsewhere. Their intent was to discredit the very concepts of compassionate politics, earned government benefits, people who fight for the rights of others and politeness.
The GOP is on a constant propaganda mission to redefine language and make the better appear the worse. As Jeffrey Martini observed, science and education are now described as “liberal scams.”
The Republican Party has decided to demonize the term “antifascist” for the obvious reason. The GOP is the American fascist party, thriving in a dung heap of its own propaganda, screaming in fury whenever it’s scalded by the cleansing touch of factual truth.
Batman's got the right idea.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Guide to the Good Should Be Within

Developmental psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development.

“In the esoteric traditions, codes of morality are less important for the simple reason that the ultimate purpose of the spiritual effort if to attain a level of personal development at which morality is natural,” Walt Anderson wrote in Open Secrets: A Western Guide to Tibetan Buddhism. 
“It is discovered within oneself, and external authority is no longer necessary or meaningful. This principle is not foreign to western psychology. Lawrence Kohlberg theorized that the most highly developed human beings operate out of inner moral principle. The same point is made by Abraham Maslow in his studies of healthy, ‘self-actualizing’ people who, he says, have relatively little respect for the formal rules and regulations of the society but at the same time a strong sense of concern for others.”

Saturday, August 12, 2017

And What Rough Beast, Its Hour Come Round at Last...

My friend Dan said, “A racist in a sports car runs over a crowd of counter-protesters. His act was instigated by his anger over state officials having removed a statue of Robert E. Lee, a symbol of oppression and bigotry that was erroneously sanctioned by the State of Virginia. The state’s decision to remove it addresses one simple question: Why should African Americans pay taxes to support erecting a statue of a man whom had he won, would have kept them in bondage? They shouldn’t, thus the removal was the right thing to do, so don’t give me that bullshit Lee is just part of their history or heritage. For in this case, as James Joyce put it, ‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.’”
Matt Mattingly, Joseph Bryan Judd and I were just in Joe’s book store wondering when the Virginia racists would start killing people. But we were behind the times. They already had.
This was fascist murder, coldly planned and executed, to protect the symbol of a state that fought for human slavery.
Let’s remember, there’s only one side that's wrong here. Utterly, historically wrong. And — for anyone who can’t add two and two, and lacks all moral sense — that would be the side fighting to protect a memorial celebrating a rebel slave state. Don’t let anyone try to “both sides” their way out of this horror.
I'm looking forward to the holidays this year. I want to greet the people who tried to lecture me last year on what a great president Trump would make. Always presuming we survive to the holidays, of course.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Just Don't Pretend to Be Surprised

If we survive the current North Korean situation without nuclear war, it will be in spite of Trump, not because of him. Not a terribly encouraging fact to ponder.
But I kind of ran through all my emotional reactions to this nine months ago, when Trump was elected. That’s when the American nuclear nightmare became inevitable, and haunted me. After all, Trump had already repeatedly expressed his puerile, criminally irresponsible desire to use nuclear weapons in war.
How bizarre it must be to be someone who cannot foresee simple, inevitable, logical consequences.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Finally, a Film Worthy of Godzilla's Stature

The 2016 Toho film Shin Godzilla is about an inept bureaucratic response to the monster's arrival in Tokyo. That alone makes it one of the rare Godzilla movies that offers an actual interesting story in which humans play a real role in the drama.
Shin Godzilla is excellent, a social and political satire wrapped neatly and adroitly in a giant monster movie. It’s wryly observant about the way bureaucratic confusion, ego-stroking and timidity generally fk things up. The politicians matter-of-factly regard the disaster as secondary to their political ambitions. Boy, is that true to life.
The film is really quite smart, and holds together thematically in a way most Godzilla movies don’t.
The appearance of Godzilla’s nuclear breath is deliberately delayed, and incredibly dramatic and formidable when it’s finally used.
For my money, this is the best Godzilla movie since the first, and my friend Nicholas Swaim may have answered the question of why that is. “It’s a comment on the 2011 tsunami/meltdown in Japan, much like how the first film is on the atomic bombings and Lucky Dragon irradiation,” he observed.

Friday, August 4, 2017

At Dawn With the Dog on Democratic Streets

Every morning at dawn, George Hilton Beagle and I take a dawn walk through a public park and on open, connected streets past beautiful old houses, the kind built before the cowering, furtive cul-de-sacs and ruling-class “gated communities” became fashionable. You know, back before all the Republicans started sneering at the very word “democracy.”
This is one of the houses George and I pass every day, the historic Thomas Marshall house at 218 Jackson St., Charleston, IL.  Abraham Lincoln stayed there when practicing here as a lawyer and during the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Beware the Grammar Rouge

Being clear and accurate in 21st century America gets you branded as an “elitist.”
 Cory Thomas Blake said: “You are considered politically correct if you know proper syntax, tense, grammar & spelling.
Eric Severson replied: “It’s funny how that is considered p.c. but one can also be called a Grammar Nazi for following these conventions. You’d think modern-day Nazis would be more fastidious about grammar than they are.”
Blake said, “Maybe we can give them a new title — Grammar Rouge instead of Khymer Rouge, or something. They were anti-education, illiterate idiots, too.”

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Day Britain Never Surrendered

Christopher Nolan's 2017 film "Dunkirk"

While I was watching Dunkirk with Anthony, Paul, Matt, Bart and Jeff, the word that kept coming to mind was “tight.”
Director Christopher Nolan focuses tightly on the common-man Brits trapped and struggling in this World War II drama, putting you right INTO the cockpit of the Spitty, below decks on the sinking ship and aboard the small civilian craft crossing the English Channel to save the trapped troops. The storytelling is also tight, beginning at almost the end of the story with the despairing, defeated soldiers being machine-gunned and bombed, moving with unrelenting suspense for a brisk 107 minutes.
By the end of the eighth day, 338,226 soldiers had been rescued by a quickly assembled fleet of over 800 boats, many of them Thames vessels, car ferries, pleasure craft, speedboats and other small civilian boats. This film’s tight focus puts that extraordinary historic effort into personal, human terms while never stinting on the adventure.

Friday, July 21, 2017

'Angels in America' and Perfection in London

Russell Tovey (Joseph) and James McArdle (Louis)
Paul, Matt, Cameron, Bart, Jeff and I went to Champaign to see the live cinemacast of Tony Kushner’s epic play Angels in America from London, and I found it breathtaking.
Russell Tovey, Nathan Lane and particularly Andrew Garfield gave bravura performances that were in turns funny, searing and simply thrilling.
Garfield was almost hypnotic in his brave and angry dance with death. “One wants to move through life with elegance and grace, blossoming infrequently but with exquisite taste, and perfect timing, like a rare bloom, a zebra orchid,” he says. “One wants... But one so seldom gets what one wants, does one?”
In the close-up shots, you could see the vulnerability and fear hidden behind Tovey’s eyes, and the grinning, hellish rage that shines out of Lane’s. Lane plays Donald Trump’s monstrous mentor, Roy Cohn.
“Yeah, you heard of Ethel Rosenberg,” Lane says, “Maybe even read about her in the history books. Well, if it wasn't for me, Joe, Ethel Rosenberg would be alive today, writing some personal-advice column for Ms. Magazine. She isn’t. Because, during the trial, Joe, I was on the phone every day talking with the judge. Every day, doing what I do best — talking on the telephone. Making sure that that timid Yid nebbish on the bench did his duty to America, to history. That sweet, unprepossessing woman, two kids, boo-hoo-hoo, reminded us all of our little Jewish mamas. She came this close to getting life. I pleaded till I wept to put her in the chair. Me, I did that. I’d have fucking pulled the switch if they let me. Why? Because I fucking hate traitors. Because I fucking hate communists. Was it legal? Fuck legal! Am I a nice man? Fuck nice! They say terrible things about me in The Nation? Fuck The Nation! You want to be nice or you want to be effective?! You want to make the law, or be subject to it? Choose!”
What an experience.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Life in America's Fact-Free Bubble

The fact-immune digital information echo chamber, a bubble manipulated by malign forces and inflated by intellectual cowardice, is the source of our current political disaster.
And no, it’s not “both sides.” The fact-free propaganda echo chamber of lies is on the RIGHT — that place where global climate change doesn’t exist, where tax cuts magically increase revenue, where Obama was born in Kenya, where women don’t get pregnant from rape because the body “has ways of shutting that that thing down.”
Fox News reporters and pundits lie about facts all the time. They are fascist propagandists. That’s WHY they pose as journalists, so you’ll believe the lies they peddle.
It is the RIGHT that expresses this epistemological philosophy for you: “On one hand I hear half the media saying that these are lies, but on the other half there are many people that go, no, it’s true,” said Trump spokesperson Scottie Nell Hughes. “And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch is that people that say facts are facts, they’re not really facts. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, any more of facts.”
In fact, facts remain facts. That’s what keeps Trump's supporters screaming so loudly and constantly — their futile attempt to drown out the facts.
Nor are facts “biased.” They’re simply facts. The people who toss the term “bias” around constantly are always out-and-out liars. Yet it’s those who confront lies with documented facts who are branded as liars themselves by the corrupt, the know-nothings and the moral cowards who foolishly claim that truth is only a yellow line down the middle of the road.
Unmoored from factual reality, we’re adrift in a sea of madness, just waiting to strike another iceberg in the darkness.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Saved by Small Wonders

This child was reportedly lost at a convention, and knew where to turn for help.

Two barely articulate toddlers sat in the cart ahead of mine at the store.
The little girl proudly showed me her arm sticker. “Wonder Woman,” I said.
Her brother showed me his. “Oh, that’s the Flash,” I said.
He agreed by pantomiming running very, very fast.
Maybe there’s hope for the future after all.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Spider-Man: A Friendly, Neighborhood Reboot

Tom Holland as a perfect teenage Spider-Man.
I just saw Spider-Man Homecoming with Jordan and Jake, and loved it.
This is a high school sophomore Spidey, largely too immature to handle the great responsibilities inherent in great power but with a lot of a heart. That reminds me pleasantly of the earliest Stan Lee/Steve Ditko comic books while also managing to refresh the somewhat overworked superhero genre by marrying it to another popular movie genre: the teenage comedy.
And Tom Holland is perfect for that, an actor whose every earnest gesture both charms and rings true.
The villains in these superhero films have been becoming progressively more relatable, building up to Michael Keaton as the Vulture, a working-class antagonist who has what is finally a largely legitimate point of view. He’s right when he tells Peter Parker that, good lad though he is, there are things about adult existence that he does not yet understand.
The film is perfectly integrated into the larger Marvel universe, another aspect that reflects the earliest comics. Iron Man, Captain America, Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts all show up. The dialogue is also peppered with understated references to familiar Marvel characters and events. The Vulture’s high-tech flying equipment springs logically from the alien and robot invasions that we’ve already seen the Avengers fight off, and that makes good sense.
Although the comedic aspects of some of the hero’s early fights were overly belabored — Spider-Man is not that inept — I found the film to be genuinely suspenseful in a way that none of the lame Andrew Garfield vehicles were. Because young Peter Parker is really out of his depth, the sense of danger is heightened.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Night Falls After The Longest Day

Henry Fonda as Theodore Roosevelt Jr. in 'The Longest Day."
I just finished watching The Longest Day, in which Henry Fonda, playing Teddy Roosevelt’s son, insists on going into combat to prove that no favoritism will be shown to him.
Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was in fact the only general on D-Day to land by sea with the first wave of troops and was, at 56, the oldest man there. He was also the only man whose son also landed that day at Omaha Beach.
How quaint.
America’s rulers in Washington and Wall Street no longer fight and die in any wars. Nor do their children. They leave that sort of thing to the cannon fodder.
Reinstate the draft? I don’t actually think that will work. Warmongers like Trump, Bush and Cheney all managed to evade the draft and combat, and the rich and connected always will.
The only thing that will work is an actual UNDERSTANDING of the rights and responsibilities of a citizen in a democratic republic. But unless they start teaching that on the Kardashians’ show. I don’t see it happening.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Wall Street Journal on EIU's Crisis

The Wall Street Journal on the EIU crisis: “Less than a decade ago, (Eastern Illinois University) enrollment was at its peak of 12,000. Then it began slipping by a few hundred ayear. The decline picked up speed after the state’s budget troubles began in 2015. Since then, enrollment has dropped by about 1,500 to 7,400 last fall. ...Administrators say it is doubtful that they will have even 7,000 students this fall.”
“In Charleston, where the university is based, empty storefronts litter Lincoln Avenue, the main thoroughfare running by campus. Jerry’s Pizza, a staple for professors and students since 1978, closed last October, citing the university’s shrinking population. ‘For Rent’ signs are posted outside rows of apartments that cater to students, with one ad offering free iPad minis to students who sign a lease.
“ ‘Had we had 12,000 students here, the businesses would probably all still be here,’ says John Inyart, a former Charleston mayor who owns an auto-repair shop across from the university’s main hall. He has had to cast his net wider for customers as faculty and students dwindle, he says.
“ ‘Any community that had a university was kind of like Teflon. You had that stability in your community, with stable good paying jobs,’ says Cindy White, chairwoman of the local chamber of commerce. ‘Well, now, that’s not so much anymore.’ ”

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.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Refusing to See What We Foresaw

Even with the evidence now before their eyes, Trump voters are still refusing to see what we foresaw last year. America is a deteriorating, shell-shocked battleground between the armed camps of the willfully ignorant and the horrified prescient.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Monday, May 22, 2017

Woman and Superman, Ego and Super-Ego

One of the dramatic advantages of the TV show Mad Men was its timing.
Aired almost 50 years after the events it portrayed, Mad Men dramatized an era that was still within living memory. But that era was also sufficiently remote in time for significant social change to have occurred since then. The result was a drama that felt both familiar and, at times, strikingly alien. The attitudes of the times were remembered as real, yet now recognized as shocking.
And old comic books can, accidentally, serve the same function.
For example, take the "imaginary" tale The Wife of Superman! in Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane 26 (July 1961).
In Jerry Siegel’s story, TV reporter Lana Lang accidentally discovers Superman’s secret identity, but tells him she will forego the scoop and keep his secret to protect his work against crime and injustice. Impressed by Lana’s compassion and maturity, Superman finally falls for her and proposes.
“Her lips … they’re THRILLING!” thinks Superman. “Great Scott! I love the girl! Despite all my mighty powers of mind and body … I … I never knew it till NOW!”
With Lois Lane as a heartbroken bridesmaid, Superman marries Lana and, as a wedding present, provides her with a test tube full of experimental serum. The treatment grants Lana super powers identical to his own. And because she’s a human being, not a Kryptonian, Lana will also remain immune to kryptonite.
Yet in the context of 1961 sexual politics, that happy outcome turns out to be tragic.
As Super-Lana repeatedly rescues her husband from kryptonite traps, his attitude shifts from gratitude to depression.
“His pride’s hurt, due to my invulnerability to kryptonite!” Super-Lana thinks. “Before HE was the world’s mightiest person … But now they’re saying I’m GREATER than he is, and that he NEEDS me desperately!”
After saving Superman from the effects of his own rampage when he’s rendered evil by red kryptonite, Super-Lana does what is obviously the only thing left for her to do, and packs her suitcase to leave Earth forever.
Wait, what?
“My invulnerability to kryptonite has proven a CURSE! So – I’m going to give you back your self-respect by going out of your life forever!” she tells Superman. “I’ll live in another galaxy! If you love me … HELP me … By looking the other way with your telescopic vision, so you won’t see where I go! Don’t … follow! Goodbye … darling…”
Of course, Superman talks her out of this self-sacrificing but obviously bad decision, right?
Wrong. He agrees with her.
Turning away heartbroken, Superman thinks, “She’s … right! In time, our love for each other would’ve been destroyed by her pity for me! How can I be her hero when she’s mightier than I am? … (Choke!!)”
Neither Superman nor Lana seem to care or consider that more than the “destruction of their love” is at issue here — that robbing the Earth of another hero like Superman will result in the loss of thousands of lives in tragedies that could have been prevented.
I’m still touched by the soap operatic grandeur artist Kurt Schaffenberger invested in that last panel of a tearful Super-Lana flying off into space, thinking that she’ll “never, never stop loving him … (Sob!)”
Very noble, Lana. But the fact remains that you are exiling yourself from humanity forever merely in order to spare Superman’s fragile ego from having to confront the fact that a mere woman might be more powerful than he is.
Clark Kent and Don Draper turn out to have a lot in common.
Goes to show you how the unconscious attitudes of one generation can, soon enough, become the sick jokes of another.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Super-Lad Strains the Suspension of Disbelief

Even in 1959, at the age of 5, a guy knew when he was being had.
So Jimmy Olsen just coincidentally happens to be wearing a Superman costume for a fan club meeting when he coincidentally gets stuck on a missile that coincidentally lands on the planet Zolium, where conditions coincidentally grant Earth people super powers — coincidentally, the exact same powers as Superman?
And why couldn’t the cub reporter use his Superman signal watch to summon the Man of Steel to rescue him? Because, coincidentally, those little “zee-zee-zee” signals can’t travel through outer space.
Aw, come on.
Such was the scenario provided for our amusement by writer Robert Bernstein in The Super-Lad of Space!, the cover story in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen 39 (Sept. 1959).
Actually, all those coincidences weren’t the annoying part of the story. We were accustomed to those. What was irritating was the Jimmy Olsen, instead being amazed at suddenly being granted the powers of his hero and glorying in his ability to fly and bop monsters on the nose, spends all his time fretting that the Zoliumians (Zoliumites? Zolians? Whatever) can see through the various secret identities he tries to establish.
Bigger picture, Jimmy! This is ultimate wish fulfillment. Enjoy it! Generally, stories suggesting that you might not have to be born on Krypton to acquire super powers stirred fantasies that plunked those dimes down on newsstand counters.
Nevertheless, this was still a favorite story of mine. Why? Two words: Curt Swan.
The famed Superman artist was then approaching the peak of his powers, and flexing the muscles of his creative ingenuity. The detailed verisimilitude of Swan’s style made you believe in the actual existence of impossible things, and this alien setting provided an opportunity for him to go to town drawing giant flying metal-eating monsters, giant twelve-legged borrowing monsters, massive spiraling death rays, a wide variety of exotic alien dress, etc. etc.
More than a half-century later, I can vividly recall those gigantic yellow melons grown underground to feed the population of Zolium.
That, my friends, is called talent.

Amazing Spider-Man 3: Live and Learn

In a convention charged with psychological significance, superheroes frequently fight distorted mirror images of themselves.
Spider-Man battled other “animal men” from the start, defeating the Chameleon in Amazing Spider-Man 1 and the Vulture in ASM 2. But Dr. Octopus, in the third issue, was the most clearly mirrored of the villains (spiders and octopi both being multi-limbed, somewhat creepy creatures). And Otto Octavius also provided an opportunity for dramatic development unique in superhero comics at the time.
For The Amazing Spider-Man was not just a series but a serial, a soap opera, and at first its teenage protagonist was really too immature to handle the dangerous responsibilities thrust upon him by his guilt over his uncle’s death.
Peter Parker got a lesson in life’s unfairness in the first issue, when after rescuing J. Jonah Jameson’s son from certain death, the Daily Bugle publisher still trashed Spider-Man.
In the second issue, Spider-Man’s challenges escalated from a master of disguise to the Vulture, his first fully super-powered foe. Acquitting himself well in that showdown, Spidey regarded his victory the way many inexperienced young men would.
He became overconfident.
“It’s almost TOO easy,” Spidey mused. “I’ve run out of enemies who can give me any real opposition. I’m too powerful for ANY foe. I almost WISH for an opponent who’d give me a run for my money.”
In ASM 3 (July 1963), Lee and Ditko fulfill Spidey’s wish by confronting him with Dr. Octopus, who gives him a beat-down that shakes his confidence to the core. However, inspired by the Human Torch, a sadder but wiser Spider-Man returns to fight another day…
Comics historian Don Alsafi noted that Dr. Octopus, too, is characterized with subtle sophistication.
“When we first meet Dr. Otto Octavius, he seems a genial sort of man: well-liked, respected by his colleagues, and miraculously unscarred from the trauma of having been named Otto,’” Alasfi wrote. “However, an explosive accident during his atomic research causes the metal arms he uses in his experiments to fuse to his body — and Doctor Octopus is born!
“Although we only get to see Octavius for about a page before his mind becomes deranged, what’s interesting is just how abrupt this change is, and the idea of a man suddenly enslaved by his madness. In an era where most villains were evil just because, the astute reader quickly realizes that this isn’t the way Otto has always been, and the tragedy of that original mind trapped within the broken one is poignant.”

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mac Raboy: From Fawcett to Flash

Mention the name Flash Gordon to me and you conjure images of the lithe, clean-lined figures drawn by Mac Raboy, and not those of Alex Raymond, the newspaper strip’s celebrated creator.
That’s because in 1959 or 1960, when I first saw the strip in the Sunday color funny pages, Raboy drew it. I’d never heard of Raymond, the artist who’d inspired Raboy and who’d also created another strip I liked, Rip Kirby (then drawn by John Prentice).
Born in New York City in 1914, Emanuel “Mac” Raboy began his career with government-funded art classes and in President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration during the Depression. Several of his federally funded wood engravings remain in the permanent collection of NYC’s Metropolitan Museum.
“Heavily influenced by the outstanding Flash Gordon work of Alex Raymond, Raboy created Captain Marvel Jr. in its image,” noted comics historian David Brancatelli. “His figures were lithe and majestic, tightly rendered and classically composed … The anatomy and draftsmanship were always perfect.”
Comics historian Benito Cereno wrote, “Raboy’s work on Captain Marvel Jr. manages to strike a perfect balance between the drama and dynamism necessary for the superhero genre and a realistic-looking, though idealized, vision of a teenage boy who punches Nazis all the time (whose overall look and design famously inspired the caped jumpsuits worn by latter era Elvis Presley).”
Raboy left Fawcett to draw the Green Lama in 1944. “The strip became a minor classic, but it never sold enough,” Brancatelli observed.
In 1948, King Features assigned Raboy to take over his hero’s strip, a step up for him in the popular mind because newspaper comic strips were respected while comic books were often despised. Raboy, who kept a portfolio of Raymond’s Flash Gordon art by his side for inspiration, drew the strip until his death in December 1967.
Comics historian Graham Exton observed that Raboy’s life ended on an odd note of synchronicity. In the summer of 1967, Raboy stayed in a quiet cottage near the village of Flash, Staffordshire, and produced his last comic strips there.
“Flash Gordon was actually produced in Flash. Some coincidence!” Exton noted. “Mac was clearly very ill at the time, and died shortly afterwards, presumably as a result of heavy smoking.”