Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Little Left for Lulu

A quarter a week left one little money for anything but superhero and science fiction comics. But you could find used comics for a nickel at some stores in central Illinois, and you could read them for free at the barber shop. And I had to admit, even as a little kid, that John Stanley's Little Lulu stories were pretty darned good. My favorites involved Witch Hazel. This one's from 1955.

Drinking with James Bond at a Sidewalk Cafe

James Bond had his first drink of the evening at Fouquet’s. It was not a solid drink. One cannot drink seriously in French cafés. Out of doors on a pavement in the sun is no place for vodka or whisky or gin. A  fine a l’eau is fairly serious, but it intoxicates without tasting very good. A quart de champagne or a champagne a l’orange is all right before luncheon, but in the evening one quart leads to another quart, and a bottle of indifferent champagne is a bad foundation for the night. Pernod is possible, but it should be drunk in company, and anyway Bond had never liked the stuff because its licorice taste reminded him of his childhood. No, in cafés you have to drink the least offensive of the musical-comedy drinks that go with them, and Bond always had the same thing, an Americano — bitter Campari, Cinzano, a large slice of lemon peel, and soda. For the soda he always stipulated Perrier, for in his opinion expensive soda water was the cheapest way to improve a poor drink.”
— Ian Fleming, From a View to a Kill

Keeping Up in the Age of Kleptocapitalism

A decade or so ago, I coined the term "kleptocapitalism" is describe the 21st century America economic scheme pushed by Bush, Cheney and their co-conspirator cronies.
More and more people seem to be waking up to the concept, if not the word. This remark of mine recently got 242 “likes” on a Robert Reich thread: "This is pure kleptocapitalism — an economic system in which thieves are permitted to become so obscenely wealthy that they can bribe their government puppets into legalizing their larceny." Of course, there’s a terrific irony in the fact that a system that values property above people should devolve into embracing the systematic theft of property, but there it is. It is in the nature of corporations to place profit above all, including law and morality, so such piracy is inevitable unless governments prevent it.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Battle of Britain, Plus Superheroes

By the dawn of the 1940s, Americans were so hot for superheroics that they even had to go to England to show the British how it’s done. England was, of course, being bombed by the Nazis at the time, so a superhero could find plenty to keep him busy there.
One such was Captain X of the RAF, a Captain Midnight-like mystery man who was really Richard “Buck” Dare, an American foreign correspondent for the “Tribune.”
In his uranium-powered experimental plastic airplane, rather sweetly named “Jenny,” he could whip along at a brisk 700 miles per hour, thwarting German superweapons like anti-metal rays and tank-boats and preventing the blocking of the English Channel and the strychnine gassing of London’s population.
Captain X appeared in Star-Spangled Comics 1-7 (Oct. 41 through April 42), penned by Gardner Fox.
Dare was retconned into being the grandfather of Ronnie Raymond, the younger half of the DC superhero Firestorm.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Discarding the Glasses and the Cheap Suits

“The truth may be that Kent existed not for the purposes of the story but for the reader. He is Superman’s opinion of the rest of us, a pointed caricature of what we, the noncriminal element, were really like. His fake identity was our real one. That’s why we loved him so. For if that wasn’t really us, if there were no Clark Kents, only lots of glasses and cheap suits which, when removed, revealed all of us in our true identities — what a hell of an improved world it would have been!”

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My, How Times Change

This is an object lesson in kleptocapitalism — an economic system in which thieves are permitted to become so obscenely wealthy that they can bribe their puppets in government into legalizing their larceny. This is the 21st century blight.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Uncanny Origin of the Other Batman

At Midgard Comics one Saturday afternoon, I picked up something I’d long wanted to see — the reprinted pulp adventures of the Black Bat, a black-caped, hooded crime-fighter who was coincidentally almost identical to Batman.
These Sanctum Books trade editions — like those they reprint for the Shadow, Doc Savage, the Avenger, the Whisperer, the Phantom Detective and others — are smart and glossy, handsomer than the original pulp magazines.
The Black Bat’s origin — a DA who’s had acid thrown in his face by a criminal — inspired the Batman villain Two-Face’s. And the Black Bat also anticipated Marvel’s Daredevil. Tony Quinn is thought to be blind. No one knows that a secret operation has restored his sight, or that a weird side effect of the procedure has given him the ability to see in the dark. Super senses.
The adventures of a “Bat-Man” created for the pulps play a little differently than those of one created for comics. The Black Bat relies on the lethal support of his guns. You find less emphasis on spectacular physical derring-do, a slightly cagier protagonist who, because you are now aware of his thoughts, seems more anxious and less perfectly self-assured.
Seeing someone as a superman always requires an outside vantage point, a certain distance from their watchful perch on that Chrysler Building Art Deco gargoyle.
The Black Bat’s first appearance in Black Book Detective 1 was cover-dated July 1939, while Batman’s debut in Detective Comics 27 was May 1939. That means the characters were being created simultaneously and independently. Naturally, they eyed each other warily, but editor Whitney Ellsworth, who had worked for both publishers, worked out a deal — Batman would stay out of the pulps if Black Bat would stay out of the comics.
Batman lived up to his end of the agreement, but the sneakier character, the Black Bat, managed to get into comic books after all. “Tony Quinn” became “Tony Colby,” and the Black Bat became an owlish superhero called the Mask, for the first 20 issues of Exciting Comics.
I always regard the appearance of the characters as synchronicity. The fates decreed that, one way or another, we were going to have a Batman.

You Can Get a Little Too Focused on the Mission

The Bizarro comic strip is written and drawn by cartoonist Dan Piraro.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Back to Crab Key, a Half-Century Later

Watching 1962's Dr. No, which I haven't really seen in years. The quality of the James Bond series was baked in from Day One, despite an occasional too-quick line reading from the young Sean Connery. The pace and wit are there, and the lush location shooting in Jamaica puts it well over the top.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Why the American Right Hates Higher Education

California philosophy professor Troy Jollimore wrote, “These abilities are associated with the humanities and the arts: the ability to think critically; the ability to transcend local loyalties and to approach world problems as ‘a citizen of the world;’ and, finally, the ability to imagine sympathetically the predicament of another person.”
And that makes it easy to see why the contemporary American right wing loathes higher education almost instinctively.
The GOP base is frightened of any unfamiliar ideas that might threaten their world view, and their leaders prefer them ignorant and therefore easily manipulable. The right herds its angry base through jingoism and tribalism, by making sure they continue to fear “the Other.” They must never permit tribal loyalties to be transcended. Empathy must be crushed, because it would undermine the public’s willingness to wage unjustified wars and indifference to crushing economic inequality.
Empathy, by the way, is the actual basis of ethics and morality. One of the most elemental tests of ethics is how you and your society treat the stranger. The American right, hostile to empathy, must instead base its morality on unquestioned and contradictory Daddy-in-the-Sky rules that, after sufficient cherry-picking, finally reflect nothing but their own petty prejudices and power-lust. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Return of Captain America, 1964

I’ve loved the panel at left— which appears in The Avengers 4 (March 1964), the issue that introduced me to Captain America — for more than a half-century.
Depicting the icebound superhero’s return to New York after two decades when he was thought to be dead, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee gave the character gravitas, suggested his heroic stature and modesty and underlined it all with a note of humor. The panel also positioned the character in history for a generation that was unfamiliar with him.
A lot to do in a single panel.
There seemed to be something about fourth issues, by the way. Green Arrow joined The Justice League of America in the fourth issue (April-May 1961), and the Sub-Mariner reemerged from the sea to start terrorizing Manhattan in the fourth issue of The Fantastic Four (May 1962).
Maybe it’s simply that by the fourth issue, the creators’ original conception has been pretty well explored and they think, “Okay, what else we got?”

Monday, September 7, 2015

How Dark Is Too Dark in Superhero Stories?

What I object to is the kind of contemporary superhero writer who says, “Let’s make Captain America a child molester, and that will be ‘edgy.’” No, that will merely violate the long-established essence of the character. Superhero stories are at least as much as about moral heroism as they are about super powers or any of the rest of it. And doesn’t mean the stories can’t be “dark” (though they should not be universally and relentlessly so). For example, the Netflix “Daredevil” is quite dark, but uses that menacing darkness to put a contrasting spotlight on Matt Murdock’s unswerving moral commitment.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Repeat After Me — 3X2(9YZ)4A

DC’s semi-notorious editor Mort Weisinger had a tendency toward creating fairly obvious knock-offs of other characters — Green Arrow for Batman, Aquaman for Submariner and the strobe-effect superhero Johnny Quick for the Flash.
That said, I always liked Johnny Quick, in part because he could eventually fly, which seemed to make sense for a speedy character. Odd to realize that, as a backup feature, Johnny outlasted his more famous inspiration the Flash by several years into the 1950s.

What Happens When a Superhero Fails...

What if the superhero can't stop the destruction of New York City? That's what happens in the last chapter of Republic's movie serial King of the Rocket Men (1949). 
Republic had access to special effects footage from the 1933 disaster picture Deluge and apparently couldn't resist using it, even if it meant that the superhero actually failed in his mission. Despite his dubious record of success, the character went on to inspire Commando Cody and the Rocketeer. 

The destruction of New York City by tidal wave doesn't bother the serial characters much, oddly.