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The spice must flow – Marvel Super Special #36, “Dune”

June 2, 2011

I like Dune. The David Lynch movie, that is. I’ve read all but the last of Frank Herbert’s classic books in that series, and, while I admire the breadth and variety of the universe he imagined, I found reading them to be a bit of a chore. They plod along, and the philosophy propounded therein was forgettably obvious. But they have their legions of fans, and no one can deny them that. And I can’t deny that I’ve read five out of six of Herbert’s entries, and I’ll likely someday read the sixth, so there has to be something compelling about them that’s bringing me back to the trough. No one could call me a devotee, though.

But the movie…

I’ll grant that Lynch’s film has many, many faults. It’s confusing to a novitiate, (they actually handed out programs in theaters — can’t tell the players without a program), it too is too languid for stretches (it’s certainly faithful to the source material in that regard), and the effects are at times laughable (it must be remembered that The Return of the Jedi — which Lynch reportedly turned down directing in favor of Dune — came out the year before). The editing is odd, largely thanks to Lynch not having that all-important director’s weapon, the final cut. Baron Harkonnen, with his bubbly lesions, perhaps goes too far with his “disgusting fat guy” act. And there are scenes so dark a viewer will be excused if he doesn’t know whether he’s looking at the side of a fish or a concrete wall.

Perhaps a dutiful, exciting adaptation of Herbert’s book is impossible. The attractive but soulless 2000 miniseries and the bloated and abandoned 1970s try that was to have Salvador Dali(!) play the Padashah Emperor would certainly support that apparent difficulty.

But…

This one has Lynch. It seems preposterous that a man who forged Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and (perhaps my fave TV show of all) Twin Peaks would make a big budget sci-fi spectacular, but he did. I always think of Dune and Lynch as being akin to Stanley Kubrick and Spartacus for this reason: both films are like unmatched socks in their respective director’s oeuvre. These directors shoehorned themselves into big studio films where they didn’t have the final word, and that was a mistake both regretted and neither repeated. Each also tried to grasp that broad scope that makes something truly epic, though Spartacus was the only one to get hold of it.

The weirdest thing about Lynch’s Dune? It may be his most conventional film. It’s hard to believe that could be true about a motion picture with stillsuits, sandworms, stained-lip Mentats and gom jabbars, but the case can definitely be made.

What do I like about it? How about the at times bombastic, at times haunting score from Toto (! again) and Brian Eno? How about the eclectic supporting cast, featuring, among others, Max von Sydow, a pre-Picard Patrick Stewart and a crazy-looking Sting (who at one point gets all greased up and wears what looks to be a metal diaper)? How about that cool ominous back and forth at the beginning, in the gold throne-room of the Emperor, between that uniformed tyrant and the mutated freak Third-Stage Guild Navigator that, as a friend of mine once amusingly observed, “looks like it’s talking through a cooter!”?:

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This is one of those movies that I look at objectively and know that I should hate. But I don’t. As I said, I like the damn thing. Quite a bit, actually. There’s an element of the “splendid failure” at play (though detractors would quibble with the “splendid,” while I’d take issue with the “failure”).

And now we come to the comic.

This is that most dangerous of things, an adaptation of an adaptation. Like a photocopy of a photocopy, the risk is run of blurring the edges of whatever it was that made the original worthy of transference. But this mag (it was also reprinted as a three-issue regular comic), while closely attuned to the Lynch film, does some things better than its source. Make that both sources, book and movie.

Most of the credit for that would have to go artist Bill Sienkiewicz. Writer Ralph Macchio would seem to have just taken dialogue from scenes in the film and plugged them into balloons — no crime, but no great feat either. And, to be fair, it’s possible that he took part in planning the layouts. But it’s Sienkiewicz that really runs wild in here, and it’s a joy to behold, especially for a fan of the film. I got off on the wrong foot with Sienkiewicz years ago. I recall hating his covers as a kid. They looked odd and ugly to my youthful eyes, but I’ve come full circle around when it comes to his work. As an adult I now gladly eat my vegetables, and I now enjoy his stylish, angular art. That’s progress, I suppose.

He does a marvelous job of recreating the looks of the characters and the overall aesthetic of the film without being too beholden to what showed up on screen. That’s Step 1 in any successful adaptation, but it’s in the broad sweeping panoramas of the Arrakis landscape where his work takes off. Take for instance this spread as Paul Atreides (the underrated and underused Kyle MacLachlin in the film) and his father head out with Liet Kynes to inspect the harvesting of the spice melange:

There’s a quality in a static image that conveys the swallowing immensity of a desert planet like its moving cousin never could.

Sienkiewicz also handles some of the more should-be-awesome moments of the story better than the film. The first appearance of a sandworm as it destroys a spice extractor is a major milestone in the movie. It’s when we finally meet one of the great monsters of the universe, but the effect falls a bit flat. There’s lightning and a sandstorm, but the maw of the worm remains mostly submerged as it slowly gobbles this mechanical interloper:

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It falls to Sienkiewicz to invest this top-down shot with the savage majesty it so richly deserves:

There isn’t the same discrepancy for the scene in which Paul, now Muad’Dib, tames Shai-Hulud, but Sienkiewicz once again gets the scale just right:

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I’ve always liked the loving look Paul and Stilgar exchange while they’re on the back of the sandworm. Hey! You two! Get a room!

Lest we think that only vast open-air scenes work here, we have this nicely arranged final battle between Paul and Sting’s Feyd Rautha:

For comparison’s sake:

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Just an aside, but I get a kick out of how a manic, shrilly shouted “I WILL kill him!” became a running gag amongst the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang. Thank you for that, Gordon Sumner.
And that about wraps it up. Bravo, Bill.
I had been looking for this book for a while now, and I was glad I spotted it the other day (even if there is a little crease in the lower left of the cover — d’oh!). I was even happier when I flipped through it. This is a worthy companion to the film, even if many find that bit of celluloid to be horrifically unworthy of the original book. And I had way too much fun throwing together this post.
“Arrakis. Desert planet…”

Back, men! Back! – Wonder Woman (Vol. 2) #128

June 1, 2011

This was from that month at DC (December 1997) when most titles had a honkin’ life-sized face on the cover. I’d wager that this one put all the others to shame. Here’s the question: What’s the over/under on how many geeks made out with this cover? 1? 10? 1,000?

This José Luis Garcia-Lopez crafted portrait may be the most fetching Wonder Woman image ever forged. Could it be the champ? The come-hither look is none too shabby, right? I’m tempted to break it down to talk about what components really make it work, but I think I’ll just keep quiet on this one. It speaks well enough for itself without me chiming in more than I already have.

It certainly graphically illustrates what a daunting challenge it is to cast a suitable actress to carry the mantle of Diana. All due respect to Linda Carter, but it may be impossible.

And then there was the delightful surprise I got when I cracked this puppy open to see what was happening on the John Byrne everything-but-the-colors insides (you know, “beauty is only skin deep” and all that jazz):

Ahhhhh. That goes down so nice. Beauty and the Egg.

Sadly, this first post-Crisis appearance of Egg Fu had that hideous racial caricature reduced to an inanimate machine from Apokolips masquerading as a 19th century super-computer. So no prehensile whiskers or Charlie Chan-talk. Waah.

Why have I never taken a hard-boiled egg and drawn Egg Fu features on it? Add that to the bucket list. Do they make a Paas kit for that?

Howard the Pitchman

May 31, 2011

Yes. There was once a time (1977) when Howard the Duck had enough cachet to flog Marvel’s subscription service. He’s lost a bit of that luster, to say the least (if he ever even had it). I think having featured in the Ishtar/Freddy Got Fingered/Gigli of comic book movies might have something to do with that.

Thank heavens the Nazis kept him in cigars – Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #57

May 30, 2011

It’s Memorial Day, and when you want to commemorate things in a comic booky sort of way there’s no substitute for the Howling Commandos. An ethnically and geographically diverse assemblage of manhood headed up by a dude whose machismo is strong enough to melt steel — how can one go wrong?

“The Informer!,” brought to us by Gary Friedrich, Tom Sutton and John Severin (with Dick Ayers penciling the cover), opens with Fury and the gang sweltering in unseasonable British heat. After a morning of marching around and having Fury tear them new assholes with his verbal barrage, the Commandos take a break while the boss heads in to the quartermaster’s and asks ever so nicely for some lighter shirts for his men:

After getting an armful of “the last 18 1/2 necks in Europe,” Fury leaves the poor quaking whelp alone and returns to his unit. But not for long, because the Captain has a job that only Fury and his Commandos can handle. He tells Fury that they have to go into Nazi-controlled territory, get themselves captured and thrown into the Reich’s top prison-camp and rescue their old pal Jim Morita.

Does Fury accept? You betcha:

After getting themselves spotted outside the camp and putting on a hell of a show of resistance, Fury and his boys are thrown in with Morita and others (including a large contingent of Nisei soldiers):

The greetings don’t last long and neither does Fury’s escape planning. The highest-ranking Yank (Captain Corbett) barges in and he and Fury immediately start raising the other’s hackles:

The escape attempt that the Captain is referring to fails, confirming that there’s a rat in their ranks. When another of the captive Yanks, a German-American soldier named Bodenschatz, blames Morita, a brawl breaks out. The Germans throw Captain Corbett and Fury in the sweat-box as examples, but not for long for half of that pair:

Yes. That must be the Corbett sipping wine with der Kommandant, yah?

At about the same time, word reaches Berlin that those pesky Commandos have finally been captured, which prompts Hitler to almost do that famous jig of his:

  

Back at the camp, the Commandos and the other captives have tunneled in to rescue Fury Great Escape-style, and then they bust loose using nothing but their bare fists:

After grabbing weapons, blowing up a supply of ammunition, stealing a truck and doing everything but steal the Germans’ wallets, Fury, Commandos and friends tear on out of there. Once they reach the safety of the woods, Fury and trumpet-tooting Gabe Jones devise a clever little way of exposing the real Nazi spy:

What? It wasn’t Captain Corbett? Gasp! Oh, and speaking of Corbett:

And Hitler jigs no more:

This one was a good read. While the diversity of the Commandos can seem a bit forced and artificial, when you just roll with it (It’s comics, people!) it’s just fine. And the ease with which Fury and Co. infiltrate the Nazis, get caught without getting shot, bust out, and apparently escape Nazi-occupied Europe is vexing, but it goes down okay. The dialogue that spews out of Fury’s stubble-edged mouth is delightfully salty in a rated-G way, and Sutton’s detailed art makes the whole affair rocket right along.

Finally, one of the most striking things here is the use of the word “negro” when the Nazi spy is exposed. I realize that the term was still in (diminishing) use when this comic was published (1968), and most definitely during the 1940s, but reading it in a modern context makes the Nazi-sympathizer all the more loathsome. That’s especially true with the malice your inner ear imagines him infusing it with.

Like I said, a pretty good read.

Man, I can’t wait for later this summer when the Captain America movie comes out and Dum Dum Dugan, complete with bowler hat and giant moustache, gets the full big screen treatment.

My thanks to all who have sacrificed. And if Nick Fury were real, I’m sure he’d be raising his hand in a salute today. And raising a beer. And smoking a cigar. And cussing.

This is for the ladies – Booster Gold #6

May 28, 2011

I was yakking with a comic store owner the other day, and somehow we got onto the subject of Booster Gold. I’m not sure what brought him up, but I was struck by a little factoid that was relayed to me. At this store, a normal friendly neighborhood comic shop, 60% of the subscribers/purchasers of the current Booster Gold title are women. Also at this particular establishment, about 15% of all subscribers/regulars are women. There’s an obvious gap there, even if the second figure is a looser estimate.

Hmm.

I realize that the numbers may not be indicative of the title’s readership as a whole and that the sample size may be insufficient for any generalizations, but still… It raises the question: What in hell do chicks see in this guy? I must uncover the answer. Could it be his effortless, blond movie star hair? Could it be his skin-tight attire? His taut glutes? What?

To find the answer, I’ll turn to the font that solves all of life’s mysteries.

A comic book.

For this puzzler, I really can’t think of any better place to make a start than a book that boasts the first telling of Booster’s origin, written and pencilled by character-creator Dan Jurgens (with inks from Mike DeCarlo). It comes in the early days of the title and the character, as the Booster Gold mythos (commercialism fused with attention-seeking heroism) was still being fleshed out. But maybe it can give us some clues. Let’s put on our Sherlock Holmes hats, stick a meerschaum pipe in our mouths, pull out our magnifying glasses and get down into the marrow of this conundrum.

In “To Cross the Rubicon,” the catalyst for the story’s action is the crash-landing of a teeny-weeny alien dude, one who rapidly befriends a kid (Jason Redfern) E.T.-style:

When the alien is brought home he flashes a Superman symbol on a wall, like R2-D2 relaying the “you’re our only hope” message. Young Jason sees a Booster Gold ad on the tube and gets the idea that Booster could be the guy to help him get in touch with Supes. He heads to the Booster offices and manages (quite easily) to get in and see Mr. Gold, who’s also eager to meet Supes, still being new in town (Metropolis) and all. After whipping up a costume for Jason (somebody call Child Protective Services…), Booster (wearing his “dress-up” cape) , Jason, hovering secretary/conscience/Gal Friday Skeets and mini-dude all head out to rendezvous with the Man of Steel and get to the bottom of things.

Superman is, however, not all that thrilled with Booster and his fame-whore ways. His harsh words hit Booster hard, and a “What’s his deal?” aside to Skeets opens up the little future-machine’s revelation flood-gates — remind me to never confide any dark secrets to hovering robots:

So begineth the flashback (or is it a flashforward?).

Booster’s history is known to most of us, but here it is as presented for the first time. There is, of course, the athletic success:

What? Football helmets with weird facemasks and visors? Surely this must be THE FUTURE!

A betting scandal ruins Booster’s nascent football career, and with his friends and family turning their backs on him, he takes a job as a night watchman in the Space Museum (yes, that Space Museum) to make ends meet:

It’s not long before Booster gets the bright idea to travel back in time and make a new, heroic life for himself. To that end he disables Skeets (a fellow museum guard) and gathers up the tools of his new trade:

And here we are. Superman still isn’t all that impressed:

No one can wag a finger quite like Kal-El.

Then another mini-dude shows up, shocks everyone into unconsciousness and beams them aboard its ship. End of issue.

Before I delve dangerously into pop-psychology — is this one of (if not the) first times that Juregens drew Superman? For a man who’s had a long association with the character (including killing him), that’s a bit of a milestone (if it indeed is the first).

Now, what can we distill from all this? Why might there be a preponderance of X-chromosomes reading Booster’s book?

If I had to guess, and I’m really trying to not sound like a chauvinist pig here, it’d be that origin of his. He’s a bit of a bad boy. A “good” one, but a bad boy nonetheless. From what I hear about women out in nature, they dig the bad boy. The dark elements in his jock past (scandal/thief) add an element of the rogue to him, and combined with his mild outsider/cocky playboy status and pretty-boy looks perhaps make him irresistible to that 60% female subscriber base. I know there are tons of other things that go into his character: his saving the universe, the fun nature of his time travel hijinks, even the grand old JLI “Bwahaha!” days. And more. But if I had to make a wager, I’d bet on that bad/pretty boy stuff. Just a hunch. I’d ask an actual woman about all this, but the ladies I’m friendly with wouldn’t know Booster Gold from a booster seat or Solid Gold.

That, my friends, is my amateur psycho-analysis for the day. I feel like Lucy in Peanuts. Where’s my 5 cents?

And you know what? Maybe the gender discrepancy I cited above is just a minor, statistically insignificant aberration. In that case, please disregard this entire post. Move along. Nothing to see here.

Finally, something Aquaman can take the lead on

May 27, 2011

My parents and I made the trip down the Atlantic to Florida back in 1986, with Disney World and Sea World as two prime destinations on our itinerary. I remember a good deal about the Disney half, but Sea World (apart from Shamu and sharks) is largely a blur. I know one thing, though. If I had seem a DC-themed water ski show, that would have been tattooed onto my cerebellum.

This ad got my curiosity going, so I decided to do a little bit of web-surfing to see what I could dig up about this water-spectacular. The only video evidence I could uncover for this tomfoolery is this, which claims to have been shot at Cypress Gardens, but comments on the video’s page would indicate that it was indeed filmed at Sea World:

My favorite part is at the :37 mark or thereabouts, when Batman has to interrupt his waving to quickly cut the motor on the Batboat. That and the guy holding up live “BAM!” and “POW!” signs behind grappling characters.

For a magnificent gallery of images from the attraction, click here. Here’s one to whet your appetite:

Incidentally, that site (PlaidStallions.com) has a magnificent gallery of ’70s and ’80s personal appearances by characters from comics, TV and movies. Check it out — you won’t be disappointed.

Anyone out there see this live? And remember it?

Okay, you can’t say that Infantino ran this one into the ground. I hope. – Daredevil #149

May 25, 2011
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Not long ago I put up a post about an issue from Carmine Infrantino’s run on Nova, a stint which (coincidentally?) presaged the cancellation of that title. While I could find no fault with the man’s work through my rose-colored glasses, everyone else hog-piled on to say how dreadful his time at Marvel was in general. It was a hell of a beating for poor Carmine. A pummeling. It was ugly. I felt bad.

So here we are. I present you with this Infantino-pencilled issue of Daredevil in the hopes that people won’t throw rotten fruit and vegetables at it. Be gentle.

It falls in the midst of Frank Miller’s serendipitous turn on the character (see below), and Klaus Janson continued in this installment with his usual inking tasks. Janson’s work is forever linked to Miller’s, but I have a great deal of affection for other things he did in the ’80s, including his time working on The Flash with — yes — Infantino. Their styles meld quite nicely, and some of the covers that they generated during the final original run of the Barry Allen Flash were striking (I smell a future post). Janson is one of those artists whose inks can consume the original pencils, and there are times when I look at Miller/Janson art and wonder who really should have the top billing in the duo. Applied here, that heavy presence makes the transition from Miller to Infantino less jarring. Apart from characteristic poses and distinctive panel constructions, there’s nothing to make this particular issue stick out like a sore thumb from the Miller routine.

Anyway, perhaps with Infantino and Janson teaming on a red-garbed hero, a preview of their later Flash output, things will turn out better than they did with Nova. My fingers are crossed:

In the Jim Shooter-scripted “Catspaw,” Daredevil battles a villain while his personal life is, as usual, less than ideal. Par for the course. Here he is having a depressing heart-to-heart with his lady-friend of the day (Heather Glenn):

Infantino’s trademark close-cropped panels would seem to add to the angst. I think. Or maybe they look like dog shit. I have a feeling that might be the verdict of some folks out there. Then again, I could just be a bit skittish from that last Infantino clubbing.

Unfortunately for poor Matt Murdock, there’s also a villain named the Smasher on the lookout for DD, one created for the task by the Death-Stalker. It doesn’t take long for this menace to find his quarry:

Their first dustup ends in a draw, and after a brief interlude (in which Matt has a chance to get all snippy with poor, fat Foggy Nelson) they resume hostilities:

Hey, it’s the Fl- Oh. Wait. It’s just Daredevil skidding to a halt. My mistake. And somehow Daredevil being trapped in a “blind alley” wouldn’t seem to be that threatening for him.

Though the Smasher gets the upper hand as he overpowers DD, when he picks up a dumpster to finish off our hero he gets his final comeuppance:

And that’s that.

I love Infantino. That’s clear. The things that others hate about his art, I love. The poses. The noses. The big honkin’ tiles covering the ground. Even here, where his pencils are drowned out by Janson’s bold overlays, there are things with his layouts and use of perspective that really grab me. And Daredevil went on to have a long, fruitful run, so no one can say that Infantino killed it.

Then again, maybe Miller was just lucky that he didn’t get back to the Daredevil desk to start work on issue #150 and find the place barren and deserted, an eviction noticed nailed to the door and boards covering the windows.

“What the hell happened?”

“Infantino, Frank. Infantino happened.”

Edit: As the comments below have indicated, I AM A COMPLETE FUCKING MORON. I got so into the Infantino bit (maybe I was a tad skittish), my head just assumed after seeing the Janson inks that this issue fell in the midst of the Miller run. You know, without doing the simplest of mental or archival or online double-checks. Thanks to the helpful know-it-alls who pointed out my (GLARING) error. I’m tempted to delete this whole fucking post. Maybe I will in the future, but for now I’ll let it stand as a monument to my own stupidity. How embarassing. Never again will I draft anything late at night.

Stan “Macho Man” Lee

May 23, 2011

I see this Pizzazz ad every now and again, and I’m always struck by how robust it makes Stan Lee seem. A reedy guy in real life, here he looks like he stepped right off a pack of Brawny paper towels. It’s mainly the shirt, right?

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Hulu – Saturday Night Live: Big Brawn, posted with vodpod

Lawsuit from Terminator rights-holders to follow – Guardians of the Galaxy #39

May 22, 2011

I’ve never been able to get into the Legion of Super-Heroes, so it follows that I’ve never been able to muster much enthusiasm for their rough Marvel far-future (alternative far-future, at that) counterparts, the Guardians of the Galaxy. Apologies to whatever fan base they may have, it’s just that I cannot possibly care less about Vance Astro and his cohorts.

But a large-breasted descendant of Wolverine and a Terminatorified Doctor Doom? That’ll at least get me in the door.

In “Skeletal Remains,” Rancor, Logan’s distant relative, certainly proves that his bad hair and bad attitude genes were dominant. She’s royally pissed here because Doom has blasphemed her ancestor by purloining his adamantium skeleton and using it as his indestructible chassis. Reasonable. Most of this issue focuses on the resultant dustup between these two, while the Guardians are off fighting something that I don’t really care about. A 31st century Loki even makes an appearance along the way.

There’s a lot of this, and by “this” I mean “growling and bombast”:

Rancor manages to get the upper hand:

She’s finally able to electrically shock Doom to his apparent death, but it’s clear that she’s never seen a 20th century horror film:

I’m a bit surprised that Doom didn’t break out a “Bah! Richards!” just out of ancient habit, but “Insolent cow!” is a hell of a substitute. I’ll have to remember that one for any future sour romances.

The Guardians then bust in to save her life and one-eyed Doom beats metallic cheeks out of there. Then there’s some nonsense about Vance Astro or Major Victory or whatever his name was at the time presenting Captain America’s shield to the new president of the universe or whatever. I really don’t care.

Michael Gallagher wrote this one, with Kevin West and Steve Montano providing the artwork. Bless them for trying, but there’s really nothing on this Earth that could get me to care about this title. I can remember seeing these on the rack during my early teenage years, and I think the phrase “not with a ten-foot cattle prod” adequately summed up my apathy back then.

Come to think of it, it applies now, and probably will until the 31st century finally rolls around.

Is this funny? Insulting? Neither?

May 21, 2011
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I was sucked into this 1970s DC questionnaire by its tin ear hip-talk. Seriously, every time comics tried to break out the groovy speak back in the day, they sounded like poorly-briefed narcs.

The craziest thing (or maybe it isn’t) comes in question five. I like how “Black People” are listed right between “Pollution” and “Space Flights” as topics of interest. I realize that no offense was meant, but I find that sequence rather, um, odd. Perhaps this fits in all too well with the “Black Savage” bit from yesterday’s FOOM post.

C’mon, Spidey. Sit like a lady. – FOOM #3

May 20, 2011

It’s always nice to have Spider-Man’s batch right in your face. Excelsior!

Marvel’s in-house fanzine for the Friends Of Ol’ Marvel, FOOM was a thin, eclectic little mix with features of varying quality. This Spider-Man themed edition (published in 1973) is a typical blending of the interesting and irrelevant. There’s dullsville material like a checklist of Amazing Spider-Man comics, superficial “news” about goings on in the Marvel world, and a look at the history of the web-slinger’s title.

But oh, there’s some good stuff.

The winners of a character design contest were announced in this issue (other entries had been shown in #2), and the grand champion looks like he could have leapt right off Kirby’s easel:

Now, the prize for winning this contest was to have your character appear in a Marvel comic book and interact with that stable of icons. Sounds pretty great, right? A kid’s dream. And here’s where this gets a little bit interesting, in an episode that merits its own Wikipedia page. Humus Sapiens, the winning character, wasn’t used. Can you imagine being little Michael A. Barreiro (who grew up to be a part-time artist) and opening each and every comic that came out to see if your creation, the fruit of your youthful toil, would finally get his moment in the sun? You know, the prize that you were promised right there in black and white? And not finding him there among your favorite comic book stars? How hard would it have been to stick this guy in one of the (many) books from that era that nobody cared a lick about?

Ridiculous.

I’m not saying that this is a great crime against humanity, or one that requires a DeNiro in Cape Fear level of retribution, but it is douchebaggery to the nth power to leave this kid hanging like that. Fuck you, 1970s Marvel! Fuck you, I say!

There is, thankfully, a semi-happy ending to this. Humus Sapien (minus the “s” at the end of his name) eventually appeared in a 2001 issue of Thunderbolts, and his powers, which were generated by all of humanity but claimed human life whenever they were used, were a rather creative add-on. Grownup Barreiro even got the chance to ink a bit of his character’s appearance. Better late than never, I guess, like a lost love letter delivered fifty years after it was written. (For some further reading about this sordid affair, click here.)

Anyway, there were some other interesting honorable mention entrants in this contest that got shown on a smaller scale (including one from noted artist Steve Rude in issue #2). Here’s this issue’s two-page spread displaying them:

If had to make a pick of which one of these I like the best, I’d probably choose Sulfuros (second row from the top, first one). Like Humus, he has a nice Kirby feel. And for a dishonorable mention, there’s “Black Savage.” Really? All I see are bell bottoms and an afro, so I’m assuming it’s the “black” that makes him “savage.” Oy.

Enough of that. There are also plenty of games here for young and old alike, including these, which contain a half-finished effort from (I imagine) this mag’s original owner:

There’s also this whimsical little John Romita self-portrait accompanying one of the Spidey articles (I want to say that I’ve seen this before someplace else, but I’m not sure where) — the magazine image itself is a little blurry, so don’t blame my scanner or your eyes for any fuzziness:

I don’t mean to break the whimsy, but it looks to me that Spidey is straining to drop a deuce on Romita’s head. And on that note…

I’ve always had a deeper connection with the DC stable of characters, but there’s little doubt that it was more fun to be a Marvel guy (or gal) back in this ’60s/early ’70s timeframe. Things like FOOM, Marvelmania and, of course, the Merry Marvel Marching Society must have made people feel like they were part of an experience, not just a consumer base. Good marketing, and good times all around.

Unless you’re little Mikey Barreiro.

I’ll leave you with this FOOM parody strip from some rather big names — have a good one:

Who among us has the stones to say “No” to this guy? – The Phantom Stranger #9

May 18, 2011

 

The Phantom Stranger is an odd character, but one that I like quite a bit. Really, how can anyone not appreciate a nigh-omnipotent (maybe?) being that displays such concern for his haberdashery?

Omniscience? Check. Omnipresence? Check. Fedora? Check.

Though he spent his earlier years as a more terrestrial character, battling occult forces and uncovering frauds, his latter days have seen him become a watchful minder of the DC Universe, mostly refraining from direct interference in events but always ready to lend guidance to the forces of good. Perhaps the best thing about him is his origin — or lack thereof. It’s been kept purposefully murky, though the general consensus seems to be that he’s some manner of cursed fallen angel, as seen in that delightful Secret Origins issue that offered four different scenarios for his beginnings, including one from Alan Moore himself. Here’s hoping that his earliest days will remain forever shrouded.

The Stranger has had little success as a solo flag-bearer. This comic came from his longest (by far) run (41 issues), and since its cancellation he’s been relegated to guest spots and the occasional mini-series. I always like to see him, though. There’s a certain feeling of danger that comes from a mysterious character that sides with good, but one whose invincible air leaves no doubt that he doesn’t give a fig what others think about it. He’s a cosmic, magical Man With No Name. He’s perfect for a Sergio Leone film.

Jim Aparo handled the art chores in this installment, and next to Batman I can think of no character better suited to his style than the Phantom Stranger. They, after all, share some features in common: solid white eyes, blue colored attire and grim taciturnity. I’ve made no secret of my admiration for the Aparo Batman, and this comic gives full vent to his talents with a whole different breed of hero.

Come with me…for I am…about to look at The Phantom Stranger #9.

Scripted by Mike Sekowsky, this one is set in an unnamed Caribbean nation, and the president of the Republic of Anonymous calls in some professional help after getting a nasty surprise in his office:

Doctor Thirteen, the gentleman in the glasses and a foil of the Phantom Stranger, is DC’s professional skeptic and debunker. Think of James Randi without the flair (and Randi usually wears a cape, now that I think of it — hmm…). Called in while conveniently vacationing nearby, Thirteen finds the scene reminiscent of another case he had dealt with and debunked. He relays its details while he and the Pres take a limo ride to the hotbed of the Obeah Man (“Obeah” is just another word for voodoo and the like, FYI). It seems that some wealthy guy was menaced by a voodoo witch-doctor, but the reality was far different:

I don’t want to cast any aspersions of the good Doctor’s credentials, but he seems the sort of person who’d go up to a guy who claims to have been abducted by aliens and say “Aliens? You weren’t abducted by aliens, you fool. You were abducted by leprechauns!” Hidden speakers? That didn’t wake the guy up? Sleep hypnosis? Really?

Anyway.

Since this was the ’70s, the Phantom Stranger had a youthful in-story association, a group of kids that he would (inexplicably) bail out of jams. I’m not certain of the wisdom of having this potentially awesome character reduced to little more than a hippie bodyguard, but I guess we can chalk this up to another bumbling attempt to make heroes “happening.” Whatever the reasons for their inclusion in the mythos, Thirteen spots these harbingers of his nemisis while riding with the Pres:

After Thirteen hops out, harangues the kids and hauls them back to the limo, everybody gets a bit of a shock:

So the Phantom Stranger is a master of showing up unannounced — add that to his and the Caped Crusader’s shared traits.

It turns out that the Stranger doesn’t think this Obeah Man is a fraud, but that he’s instead a much more malevolent force:

Everybody — PS, Thirteen, kids and President — heads to the center of Obeah activity, and it’s revealed that an evil sorceress and Phantom Stranger foe, Tala, is behind it all the wicked witchcraft. A brief smackdown ensues, and a Aparo’s talents run wild in a brief series of silent panels:

The Stranger seals up the evil spirit in a jar and throws it into the sea, and Tala, after briefly trying to tempt him to the side of evil, disappears. While Thirteen remains unconvinced of the reality of what everyone just witnessed, the President is appreciative:

The Phantom Stranger vanishes in a puff of smoke, and the Doc is left to shake his fist and look all mad and stuff:

I’m a bit conflicted about this one. Having come of comics-reading age in a time when the Phantom Stranger had become an intimidating, distant force, seeing him fighting some two-bit Elvira knockoff seems a bit beneath his stature. He should be barging in unannounced on Darkseid, you know?

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the art (including the Neal Adams cover, with the corpse delightfully aligned with the doll). I can remember reading the first issue of “The Many Deaths of the Batman” storyline in that character’s eponymous title and being quite taken with Aparo’s art in the (mostly) silent John Byrne-“scripted” first issue. There are many times when I wish that comics would just shut their big fat gobs, turn off the word balloons and let the pencils and inks speak for themselves, and Aparo seemed to have a knack for exploiting those rare opportunities. Granted, the fight here wasn’t long enough to really show that off, but I think what Aparo was able to do in that brief snippet is exemplary. The exaggerated poses and dynamism would make Jack Kirby proud, and definitely made opening this book up worthwhile.

One final note… I skimmed the Phantom Stranger’s Wikipedia entry before throwing together this post, and I was a bit surprised to learn that he doesn’t wear a Green Lantern-style mask, and that it’s just the shadow from that glorious hat that shades his white eyes. I’m not sure whether or not that’s correct, but if it is that would be my Johnny Carson “I did not know that” moment for the day. Hiyooooo!

Putting your best foot forward?

May 16, 2011

 

At first I thought both halves of this pitch for the marvelous old digests were odd. Then I saw the “December” and the Santa hands and realized that the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer side was kosher (can I use that?). But I’m not about the wisdom of having Jonah Hex as the other character leading the marketing charge. I guess it breaks up the Superman/Batman monotony, but still…

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a Persian carpet! – DC Comics Presents #18

May 14, 2011

Zatanna seems to have her share of looks that are tough for regular women to pull off. The fishnets and top hat attire is hard enough, but this clinging white leotard with exposed décolletage simply cries out for an impossible physique and giant bazongas. I tip my cap to any real-life babe that can get this one done.

One of the delights of DC Comics Presents was the odd pairings it would produce on a monthly basis. It was a great forum to showcase lesser characters with the biggest of big guns, and folks could step back and have fun with it all, or at least a little more fun than normal. That goofiness made the book one of my favorites as a kid, though I didn’t have long to enjoy it before it was cancelled. But this entry, pairing Superman with DC’s mistress of magic, is a sterling exemplar of what this series was all about.

“The Night It Rained Magic!” (Gerry Conway, Dick Dillin & Frank Chiaramonte) opens with Superman preventing a generic version of the Scooby-Doo gang’s Mystery Machine from careening over a bridge:

Unbeknownst to Supes, Zatanna, sitting nearby in a car with her pops Zatara, lent a helping hand in the rescue:

“Like, duhhhh, daddy…”

Also nearby and watching the heroics is a rundown actual illusionist (Caligro the Great), one that isn’t too happy to live in a world with real magicians and superpowered aliens:

More on him later. Superman heads to the Fortress of Solitude to coincidentally contemplate his one weakness — magic:

He pulls a copy of the Necronomicon off his shelves and puts it under a magic-o-meter, one that registers different kinds of energy on a scale that looks suspiciously like a child’s watercolor palette:

So magic is energy? If midichlorians come into play, I’m bolting.

Zatanna and her father are pursuing a parallel inquiry at a magic-savvy friend’s house in Upstate New York. After recounting her own origins (her mother was of the magically-endowed race homo magus, which sounds like a slur) and doing her own book learnin’ (ah, doing research in books — characters after my own heart), Zatanna comes to her own conclusions:

Magic is energy and genetic — we’re all learning so much here!

She decides to get in touch with those homo magus folks on a parallel Earth to further explore all this, and to do so opens up a dimensional portal. But things go awry as they always do when a dimensional portal is opened (when will they ever learn?), and everyone who doesn’t have magical powers suddenly gets them and vice versa.

This brings us back to that downtrodden illusionist, who now suddenly has honest to God magical powers. He uses them to summon Zatanna and Superman so that he might gloat and have his revenge, and when Zatanna is menaced by giant birds, Supes gets a bit of a surprise:

Superman is (unsurprisingly) not all that adept a magician, so Zatanna has to give him some intense coaching to help him out, relaying her trademark backwards spells like an offensive coordinator to a quarterback:

With this poor pissant defeated, Superman closes the dimensional rift (sesolc eht lanoisnemid tfir?) and all returns to normal.

I enjoyed this one. Though I’m not nuts about the art (it looks a bit like weak, early Jim Aparo), it’s serviceable and the story is a good, light, fluffy read. I realize this answer to “why Superman is vulnerable to magic” question has been ignored, contradicted and forgotten over the tears, but it’s still nice to get at least one solution to that riddle. And the bits with Superman riding a flying carpet and conjuring with backwards-talk are unique. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any other instances of him doing either (and I don’t know that I want to — once is enough), though there could very well be some. Feel free to edify me if any spring to mind.

Litnu txen emit, Eurt Sreveileb…

Eat resultant baked goods at your own risk

May 13, 2011

Has anyone out there actually eaten and fully digested something prepared in an Easy-Bake Oven? And lived to tell the tale?