Monday, December 31, 2007

Book Review: Mickey Spillane's Dead Street

When I was a teenager, I wasn't very rebellious in comparison to my contemporaries, but the one way I did express rebellion was through my selection of reading material (which is to say, again, that I wasn't very rebellious). With comics, 14-year-old Dr. K found that mature fare like Howard Chaykin's American Flagg! and Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland's Camelot 3000 could easily fly under the parental radar when mixed with Batman and The Legion of Super-Heroes. And with books, I tended to read novels that had been banned or were otherwise controversial (at least for a 14 year old), and such interests often led me toward adventure and pulp fiction. At 14 or 15, I had read every James Bond novel, and by 15 I had moved from those to the works of Mickey Spillane.

I had moved to Mickey Spillane for several reasons. First, the Mike Hammer TV series, starring Stacy Keach, was getting started, and I saw a certain appeal in that sort of private detective. At the same time, Spillane's own Miller Lite commercials had made the author a household name. This, in particular, made me even more interested in Spillane, as his appearances on television brought out an interesting bit of our family history: my grandfather had gone to high school with Mickey Spillane, and they both grew up in the same neighborhood in Elizabeth, New Jersey. My father even remembered seeing Mickey on occasion, when the writer came back to Elizabeth to visit old friends.

During my sophomore year of high school, my English teacher required us to read for 15 minutes at the beginning of class and to keep a reading log that he would check over regularly. We were free, the teacher said, to read whatever we wanted. This, then, inspired one miniscule act of rebellion, where I decided that all I would read was Mickey Spillane novels.

Now, while it was pretty easy to hide more adult-oriented comics from my parents and other authorities, as they could easily be mixed with more innocuous comics, hiding Mickey Spillane books was much more difficult. The primary problem was the covers: all of Spillane's novels published in the 70s (and the ones I could most easily find in used bookstores for around 50 cents) had naked women on the covers, whose nudity was only partially obscured by the book's title or by a banner proclaiming the number of Spillane novels currently in print.

The cover for The Erection Set was particularly controversial because it featured Spillane's second wife, Sherri Malinou, as the model. This was also one of the books I chose for quiet reading time, and, to my English teacher's credit, he just laughed it off and said, "Well, I did tell you you could read anything you wanted to read."

(Now that I look back on that time from the perspective of being an English teacher, I would totally be happy if I had a student who was attempting to challenge authority through reading, so I understand why my mini-rebellion met with such an anticlimactic reaction.)

My memories of The Erection Set, like my memories of most Spillane novels, are sketchy at best. I remember that the novel's hero, Dog Kelly, returns to his neighborhood after decades away. There, he is met by a young woman who, as a child, was saved by Dog and has "saved herself" for the possibility of her hero's return. The novel teases out some sexual tension between the two, as Dog (or is it the woman?) refuses to consummate the relationship until his job (which I think involves eliminating some local gangsters) is done. I distinctly remember one scene in which Dog brings the woman to orgasm with a hairbrush--an act that truly challenged my 15-year-old imagination. And, if I remember right, Spillane brings the two plot elements together in the final chapter, with Dog killing the bad guys, who happen to invade his home, while he is having sex.

And that, I think, summarizes Mickey Spillane in a nutshell. My sensibilities and gender politics have since advanced well beyond that point in my life (and even at 15, I found the characterization of the woman in the novel, waiting decades for the off-chance that one man would return to her small town, as preposterous), and Spillane's work now appeals to me more for its ridiculousness and excesses, though I haven't read much of his writing since those teenage years.

I bring up my memories of The Erection Set here because I was reminded of that book frequently while reading the recent, posthumously published Spillane novel, Dead Street.
When the mystery publisher Hard Case Crime announced that they would be publishing Spillane's final novel, completed (or "prepared for publication," as the cover states) by mystery writer and Spillane pal Max Allen Collins, I was interested out of a combination of nostalgia and curiosity.

Though Spillane's terse, economical prose and quick pacing are in evidence here, the novel lacks the visceral impact of his earlier work, with surprisingly little sex or violence. The plot, which involves the mob, nuclear material, and the Saudis, is both preposterous and threadbare. Jack Stang, a recently retired New York police officer known affectionately on the force as "The Shooter" for his frequent use of deadly force, discovers that his long lost love, Bettie, is actually alive--though blind and amnesiac--and living a safe and protected life inside a Florida retirement community for cops and firemen (the heavily armed, cop retirement community is a clever idea that deserves life beyond this novel). Twenty years earlier, fortyish Jack had been dating 20-year-old Bettie, until Bettie was abducted by the mob because of some secret she knew, but before the secret could be revealed, the van containing her and her abductors was run into the river during a botched police chase. Everyone was presumed dead.

Bettie, however, survived and was rescued by a wealthy veterinarian (this, I think, requires some suspension of disbelief), who set her up in this retirement community as a means to protect her from the mob, who was still after her secret. Once the veterinarian dies, his son reveals to Jack that Bettie survived, though without her memory, and the father had set up a sizeable bank account for the detective along with a home next door to Bettie. He had hoped that Jack would both protect her and help jog her lost memory.

It is the Jack/Bettie relationship that reminded me the most of The Erection Set. Both novels involve May/December relationships, and both involve characters whose lives seem to be put on hold for decades while waiting for someone. Jack describes Bettie as unchanged over twenty years, and she has made absolutely no progress on recovering her memory during that time. Jack, also, never emotionally recovered from the loss of Bettie. This is an interesting, though somewhat unrealistic, conception of loss and paralyzing nostalgia that Spillane presents in these characters.

Meanwhile, Jack's old neighborhood back in Manhattan--the "Dead Street" of the title--is in the process of being leveled for some kind of civic improvement, and all of the residents have been moved out. Jack, therefore, has lost his home, so there is little to dissuade him from taking the veterinarian's offer.

In the process of helping Bettie bring her memory back, Jack discovers that his old neighborhood still holds one secret: 20 years ago, a group of mobsters stole some nuclear material from a military convoy, and it was hidden somewhere on Dead Street. Whoever stole it was now offering it for sale to the Saudis for use in a nuclear bomb that would destroy NYC.

And it is here that the novel is its most preposterous. In the most successful film adaptation of a Spillane novel, Robert Aldrich's "Kiss Me Deadly" (1955), the filmmakers added a plot involving the recovery of nuclear material, which was contained in a lead box that glowed and burned as characters opened it to see what was inside. Though the film's depiction of such material was naive, the overall plot was effective: detective Mike Hammer discovers that, as a small-time PI used to handling infidelity cases, he is in way over his head when he realizes the international impact of his case. It's curious, then, that Spillane would take a plot element added to an adaptation of his own book and use it here. Stang seems little affected by the potential consequences of his case, and, despite being a retired police officer, he is still allowed to continue investigating it even when government authorities are made aware of the situation.

Spillane never hid his conservative politics in his writing, and that makes some of his stuff written during the Cold War seem quaint today, though his racial politics are still disturbingly problematic. Here, Spillane's politics appear evident especially when dealing with the Saudis who are interested in the nuclear material. For example, when Stang learns that his old neighborhood has been bought by a "Saudi investment group," who plans on replacing the tenements with luxury apartments, he responds, "They took down two buildings, didn't they? Ought to put up a few." That Spillane would have his hero, one who is frequently commended for his strong detective skills and keen mind, make such a gross generalization is problematic on many levels, both within the story and without, in the novel's place in post-9/11 American culture.

That being said, Max Allen Collins's work in completing the novel for publication is remarkable. In an afterword, Collins notes that Spillane had finished the first eight chapters, and the last three were written by Collins, following Spillane's notes. However, if I hadn't read the afterword, I wouldn't know where one writer ends and the other begins, as Collins does a masterful job of duplicating Spillane's style. And the climactic fight is as violent and bloody as one would expect from Spillane. To Collins's credit, the novel doesn't end with Bettie suddenly getting both her sight and memory back--a plot development that Spillane probably would have included. However, the wrap up of the nuclear plot takes place "off-screen," which may be an indication that Collins was aware of the plot's credibility problems.

The afterword also states that Spillane was working on four novels to varying degrees of completion at the end of his life: in addition to Dead Street, there are two Mike Hammer mysteries and an adventure novel called The Last Stand, which was completed. Despite my disappointment in Dead Street, I do hope that these final novels see the light of day and that Max Allen Collins will complete the unfinished work with the same care and skill that he brought to this novel. In addition, it would be nice if Hard Case Crime were to publish these last novels as well: the trade dress and lurid, painted covers seem especially suited for Spillane's work, and I've been very impressed with what I've seen from this publisher so far.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Haul Part 2: The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen

Another Xmas gift I received this year is the trade paperback of The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen, which is a veritable gold mine of blogging material that may keep me in business for some time to come.

One of the best stories in the book is "Jimmy Olsen, the Bizarro Boy" (written by Jerry Siegel, with art by John Forte and George Klein), a story where yet another scientific mishap causes Jimmy to turn into "Bizarro-Jimmy." Since the Bizarros do everything the opposite of their normal counterparts, Bizarro-Jimmy writes news stories about normal events, like people depositing money into banks; he uses his Superman signal watch when he's not in danger; and he's happy to see his erstwhile girlfriend, Lucy Lane, in the company of another man. When Bizarro-Jimmy's actions become dangerous, he's sent by Superman to live on Bizarro World.

While on Bizarro World, Bizarro-Jimmy goes to a dance, with music by the Bizarro World's version of the Beatles, "The Bizarro Beetle Bugs."

There's a nice touch to this depiction of the band: three of the Bizarro Beatles are playing their guitars left-handed, and one is playing right-handed. That must mean that Bizarro Paul McCartney is the right-handed one, as the real Macca is left-handed. I don't know which one would be Bizarro Ringo, though he's probably the one that wrote all of the Bizarro Beatles' songs.

Bonus Content: Bizarro World Politics

I thought the Bizarros were supposed to do the opposite of their Earth counterparts. Zing!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Haul Part 1: The Marvel Vault

While in Wisconsin last week, my inlaws gave me, not as a Christmas present but as an early birthday present, The Marvel Vault.
This giant book, written by Roy Thomas and Peter Sanderson, is impressively designed and includes many clear plastic sleeves containing replicas of Marvel memorabilia, including facsimiles of early sketches of Golden Age Marvel characters, Merry Marvel Marching Society (M.M.M.S.) membership materials, replicas of Marvel Value Stamps from the 70s, and a duplicate of Roy Thomas's own stock certificate when Marvel went public. While these items are the big draw, the book itself is well-written and surprisingly honest. For example, the authors admit to several mistakes on Marvel's part, including the proliferation of variant covers that led to the late 90s bust in the comic market and the poorly conceived Clone Saga in the Spider-Man titles.

My favorite item in the book, however, has to be the menu for the short-lived Marvel Mania restaurant at Universal Studios Hollywood, which only lasted from 1998-2000.

I may be wrong, but the art in this menu looks to me like it was done by Ron Lim.

As you can imagine, most of the menu items are named after Marvel characters, like "Gambit's Sugar Cane Shrimp," "Howard the Duck's Chicken Fingers," and "Shang-Chi Chinese Tacos." Others are just given hyperbolic Marvel-sounding names, like "Dastardly Dip," "Power-Packed Potato Soup," "Linguine Team-Up, Featuring Mighty Meat Sauce," and "Riotous Roasted Roll-Up of the Vegetable Variety." Also, if an item is spicy, then it has a picture of the Human Torch next to it. However, in some instances, it seems that the copywriters got a little lazy, with "Crispy Onion Straws" and "Baked Potato Salad" given no exciting adjectives or connection to a Marvel character (seriously, who could resist "Dr. Doom's Outrageous Onion Straws" or "Juggernaut's Baked Potato Salad"?).

The true gold mine here, though, is the drink menu. Clearly, it is here that the copywriters had the most fun.

This gives me a great idea for a Marvel-themed New Year's Eve party!

Under the heading "Curious Concoctions," we have several drinks named after Marvel titles, all of which seem to promise either brain-numbing inebriation or wild sex. With that being the case, they really needed to include a drink called "Marvel Two-in-One," though "Marvel Triple Action" may have the same result.

The "Web-Shooters" list contains the most obvious choice for a drink name" "Clobberin' Time." And, unlike some of the other drinks, the title isn't arbitrary--the orange color of the drink would fit The Thing's hue. However, I don't know if Ben Grimm would actually approve of such a fruity drink named after his famous catch phrase.

Finally, we have the martinis (which could have easily been called "Marveltinis"), all named after locations in the Marvel universe, with the exception of the "Mangotini," again showing the copywriters falling asleep at the wheel. I like the idea of the "Negative Zone," with a dark chocolate rim surrounding a white drink. On the other hand, I don't see what the ingredients of the "Asgard" have to do with Thor's homeland, and the "Savage Land" sounds just awful.

Here are my suggestions for Marvel-themed drink names that really should have been used:

  • Mjolnir
  • Black Bolt, King of the Inhumans
  • Annihilus
  • The Vision
  • The Beyonder
  • The Blue Area of the Moon
  • Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up
  • The Adamantium Claw
  • The Abomination
  • Angar the Screamer
  • Crimson Dynamo
  • Bullseye
  • Ulysses Bloodstone
  • Ego, The Living Planet
  • Deadpool
  • Iron Fist
  • Thunderbird (on the wine list, of course)
  • Dum Dum Dugan
  • The Berzerker Rage
  • The Wrecking Crew
  • Grandmaster
  • High Evolutionary
  • Killraven
  • Brother Voodoo
  • The Howling Commando
  • Werewolf by Night
  • Justin Hammer
  • Lady Deathstrike
  • The Hatemonger
  • Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu
  • Night Nurse
  • The Eye of Amaretto
  • The Punisher
  • It, the Living Colossus
  • The Life Model Decoy
  • The Man Without Fear
  • Kraven the Hunter
  • N'Kantu, the Living Mummy
  • Mad Thinker's Awesome Android
  • Maximus the Mad
  • Quicksilver
  • Thunderbolt Ross
  • The Red Skull
  • Unus the Untouchable
  • M.O.D.O.K.
  • The Hulkbuster
  • The Badoon
  • The Dire Wraith
  • Lockjaw
  • Terrigen Mist
  • Juggernaut
  • The Ringmaster's Circus of Crime
  • Blastaar
  • Batroc the Leaper
  • The Warriors Three
  • Stan's Soapbox
  • The No-Prize

and, of course,

  • The Ultimate Nullifier

Any I missed?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas: Santa Is Dead

First off, I want to apologize for the lack of posts over the past week. The Other Dr. K and I traveled to Wisconsin to visit her family, and I took the laptop and a bunch of comics fully prepared to update the blog while I was gone. However, that proved to be an overly ambitious plan, as family events took up most of the time there. The trip, however, did provide a lot of content for future posts.

While in the greater Milwaukee area, we got to stop by the wonderful Neptune Comics in Waukesha and meet the owners, Lisa and Craig. Lisa writes the highly enjoyable "Sequentially Speaking" blog. The store was one of the nicest, cleanest, and most well-organized comic shops I've ever seen. It was fun to talk to them for a while, plus I managed to find a very nice copy of a comic I've long looked for in decent condition, and one that provides a perfect subject for the Christmas edition of the 100-Page Super Spectactular:

When 5-year-old Dr. K originally saw this comic, it was a bit traumatic, as the existence of Santa Claus was still plausible to me. However, the splash page managed to alleviate my anxiety by having Superman point out that this wasn't "Santa Claus" but "Santa Simpson," and I could have given a shit less if Santa Simpson got his ass blown up.
Now if only Fred Claus could be taken care of in the same way.

The murder of Santa Claus prompts Batman and Superman to hit their JLA emergency signals, though this really doesn't seem to be an emergency that the two of them can't handle. In fact, this choice seems to be purely and arbitrarily based on the fact that this murder occurred in the Justice League comic, and not World's Finest.

It's especially confusing that these heroes need help, as the poem and accompanying clue make it pretty obvious that the murderer here is the old JLA villain, The Key. Even at 5-years old, I pretty much got that one on my own.

Anyway, the signal goes out on Christmas Eve, and many of the Leaguers are preoccupied. Flash is in the future visiting his inlaws (This seems to be a weak excuse to miss the JLA signal. With time travel, couldn't he just return a few moments after he left?). Atom is exploring "a submicroscopic universe" (no wonder his wife divorced him and became a supervillain). Also, Elongated Man and his wife, Sue, are scuba diving, and therefore cannot be reached by the signal, apparently because they are under water, which seems to be a serious design flaw. For the same reason, Aquaman cannot be reached, while he is presiding over the Atlantean "Festival of Lights," which would indicate that Atlantis celebrates Hanukkah.

Green Lantern's absence from the story, however, is a bit more complicated, as has been well documented by other bloggers.

With Hal Jordan down for the count, the power ring goes off and finds the nearest substitute, John Stewart, making this story the first time that Stewart teams with the Justice League.
As Batman and Superman explain the mystery at hand, the android Red Tornado expresses confusion about the specialness of this particular day:
Apparently, Red Tornado has neither been watching a television nor set foot in a retail establishment between November and December. Green Arrow, however, comes to the sudden realization that he cannot logically justify the spiritual and commercial elements of Christmas.

Also, I think it's cute that writer Len Wein used red and green heroes to discuss the meaning of Christmas.

So, the heroes deduce from the rhyme that they need to go to St. Louis to find a lock to fit the key. Again, the clues "gate" and "arch" made that a no-brainer, even for a 5 year old.

Once they locate the proper building, the heroes enter, and The Key springs several traps. The first is a trap door, which causes the heroes to plummet into a pit despite the fact that three of the six can fly. As we'll see throughout this story, it seems pretty clear that Len Wein really wasn't making an effort to inject this story with such elements as logic or consistency, nor was editor Julius Schwartz interested in such matters (was he ever?).

For every trap, one or two Leaguers is apparently killed off, with Superman and Black Canary going first. By the third trap, the dangers begin to conform to the spirit of the season:

In the end, it appears that all the Justice Leaguers are defeated, but in a typical move from a Julius Schwartz-edited story, a big deus ex machina is dropped, in the form of The Phantom Stranger, who has conveniently shown up to rescue all the heroes.
In the end, The Key escapes, but the heroes rescue all the residents of the neighborhood threatened by the villain before the bomb goes off, and Green Lantern performs one last Christmas miracle by rebuilding all the homes damaged by the explosion.

Then, the heroes regroup to give Red Tornado a new uniform and discuss the true meaning of Christmas.
And with that, a Happy Holidays to all the readers of the 100-Page Super Spectacular. Look for more posts coming soon. But for now, I'm going to enjoy some of the cheese, Usinger's sausage, and Sprecher root beer that we brought back from Wisconsin.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My Christmas Wish: More Comics Like This

I've been spending some of my free time lately re-reading much of Gerry Conway's run on Justice League of America, especially the period where George Perez and Rich Buckler were the primary artists, and I've decided that these issues could function as textbook examples of how superhero team books should be written.

In particular, Justice League of America 195-197, which contain the annual JLA/JSA team-up for 1981, written by Gerry Conway, with art by George Perez (and an assist by Keith Pollard in the final issue).

I appreciate that each row of heroes is presented in alphabetical order. However, I do wish that the villains had invested in Microsoft Paint or a similar program for x-ing out the heroes faces. It seems a waste to have Killer Frost do it with ice.

Ultra-Humanite, having played a little too much Halo, is about to rub in his victory over Superman with some celebratory teabagging.

This is one of the best of all these team-ups, and it's the second to last time that they would turn out to be any good. In 1982, the JLA and JSA would team up for a massive 5-part crossover with All-Star Squadron, which was, all in all, an awesome story (despite some dicey Don Heck art in the JLA issues). Following that, the quality of these crossovers declined precipitously, with the 83 crossover doing a hatchet job on revamping Black Canary's origin, and the last two being entirely unmemorable (though the final one took place during the Crisis and crossed over with Infinity Inc.).

On the surface, this story presents a fairly common plot, one that can even be seen in the current issues of Justice League of America: a team of supervillains manages to capture a group of heroes, who must then find a way to escape and defeat the villains. Here, the new version of The Secret Society of Super-Villains is formed by the Ultra-Humanite, an Earth-2 super-genius who regularly transplants his brain from one body to another. In this iteration, he has transplanted his brain into a giant, mutated white gorilla, which pretty much makes him the greatest super-villain of all time.

As for the Humanite's plan, one should not think about it too carefully: he wants to exile 10 heroes--5 from Earth-1 and 5 from Earth-2--to limbo. The absence of these particular heroes--from Earth-1, Atom, Batman, Black Canary, Firestorm, and Wonder Woman; and from Earth-2, Flash, Hawkman, Hourman, Johnny Thunder, and Superman--from their respective universes will cause some kind of cosmic re-alignment that will remove all heroes from Earth-2. In order to get the help of Earth-1 villains in this plan, UH lies to them by claiming that there is a 50-50 chance that all heroes will disappear from either Earth-1 or Earth-2.

In fact, it's to Conway's credit that he doesn't linger too long on this plan--it's merely a kind of Macguffin to move the plot forward. As it's constructed, however, Conway's plot is virtually perfect, dividing neatly into three acts (though the three acts don't directly conform to the three issues). First, we get the formation of the Secret Society, with each of the 10 villains getting a 1-2 page story just before they are recruited. Next, the villains enact their plan and successfully exile the heroes to limbo, with a couple of pages devoted to each villain's surprise attack (Some of these are quite clever. One that has long stood out in my memory: Brainwave ambushes Johnny Thunder by luring him in to a fake haberdashery with the promise of a free suit.). Finally, the heroes escape and defeat the villains. Such a basic plot structure could be used in virtually infinite combinations, and it's difficult to screw up (though the current JLA story does manage to accomplish that). The plot is, in fact, quite episodic before it arrives at its climax, but the final result is that the heroes succeed as a team where they failed as individuals, which also makes for a strong message.

Also a strong message: the fuck-yeah moment at the end when Batman says to the assembled villains, "Please--don't come quietly!"

What this story also provides is a strong sense of nostalgia that was often well-handled in these JLA/JSA team-ups. The Society itself contains an eclectic range of villains, including The Mist, Signalman, the Monocle, Rag Doll, Killer Frost, the Cheetah, Brainwave, Psycho-Pirate, and Plant Master (aka the Floronic Man) in addition to the Ultra-Humanite, each chosen as the adversary of a corresponding hero. Several of the Earth-2 villains--The Mist, Monocle, Rag Doll, and Brainwave--had made very few appearances since the Golden Age, and they piqued my 12-year-old curiosity. (Astute readers will note that there are actually 6 villains from Earth-2 and 4 from Earth-1. The Mist was picked as the enemy of Black Canary, who had teamed up with Starman to fight the bad buy while she was still a member of the Justice Society.). I also liked the inclusion of Hourman and Johnny Thunder, two Justice Society members who did not regularly appear in these team-ups.

On a side note: I had a big jones for these team-ups when I was a kid, and the main attraction was seeing heroes and villains from the Golden Age that would be entirely new to me. In fact, I would actually feel let down if the annual team-up had too many heroes repeated from previous years (Power Girl, for example, was one that I felt was overused). This particular concern inspired me to write my first letter to a comic following the 1982 JLA/JSA team-up, and the letter was subsequently published in Justice League of America 214. That, however, is the subject of another blog entry.

Overall, this story is pure entertainment, and I hope the collections of JLA/JSA team-ups get around to reprinting this one. Aside from writer Gerry Conway's ability to use a fairly conventional plot to his advantage, the art by George Perez is also fantastic. He's inked in the first part by John Beatty, and in the final two parts by Romeo Tanghal, who was also his inker on The New Teen Titans. This story also appears at the time when DC kicked their prices up to 60 cents an issue, but then also raised their page limits from 22 to 27. As the editorial page in 195 points out, that gives DC 6 more pages per issue than Marvel, even though Marvel had not raised their prices. Since Perez was drawing Justice League and Teen Titans at the same time, that meant he was cranking out 54 pages per month, a pace he was not able to keep up for long.

Final note: the cover scans for these issues come from my own collection, and, unfortunately, these issues are severely water damaged. While in grad school, my studio apartment had a leaky roof, which I discovered when I found the J-box in my comic collection completely soaked. I had, at the time, a near-complete run of Justice League. but issues following 100 were not kept in protective bags, and thus were seriously damaged. I've worked on replacing some of the issues over the years, but I haven't gotten around to replacing these.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday Night Fights: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Wildcat

When I was a kid, I was a sucker for team books, and one of my favorites was the revamp of All-Star Comics in the late 70s, starring the Justice Society of America. However, the series had one drawback for me: it focused too often on Wildcat, a character I didn't care about at the time.

Now, the reasons I didn't like Wildcat were pretty clear: his costume was boring, he was powerless, and he was constantly written with this punch-drunk dialogue, with lost of "dems" and "ders."

But then I read All-Star 68 (1977). In this story, the Psycho-Pirate has used his emotion-influencing power to control the Golden Age Flash and Green Lantern. The rest of the Justice Society tracks Psycho-Pirate down, but the heroes are quickly dispatched by the villain and his two slaves.

Psycho-Pirate prematurely declares victory, however, when he discovers that one JSAer is still standing: Wildcat. As the bad guy says, "It appears least has been saved for last!"

Wildcat then calls Psycho-Pirate out by laying down the smack.

At this point, 8-year-old Dr. K was weeping in the face of the sheer awesomeness of this scene.
The mind-controlled heroes then collapse once the Pirate is out.
From that scene on, I was totally on board with Wildcat, and since then, Wildcat has always been a part of the Justice Society through several revamps, and even through several cullings of Golden Age heroes. Ever since then, too, I've been a sucker for the comic plots where the weakest member of a team is left standing, and the villain dismisses him or her to his regret.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

DC Comics Trades and Collections May-June 2008

DC recently announced its upcoming trades and collections for the beginning of the summer, and the list is up here. As in previous lists, I found some things worth commenting on.

DC is really pushing out the Batman stuff to coincide with the upcoming film. Joker: The Last Laugh is really best forgotten, but I guess it makes sense to put this out from a business standpoint, since the Joker will be all over the place this summer. Paul Jenkins's Two-Face story, Batman: Jekyll and Hyde, is an interesting choice: despite good art, the series was just okay, and it's pretty easy to get in cheap back issues. However, that book, combined with the Batman vs. Two-Face trade, seems to indicate a spoiler about the movie: Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent will probably turn in to Two-Face by the end of the movie. The Two-Face collection, which features random appearances from throughout the character's history, looks good. It contains the Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams story, which is one of my all-time favorite Batman comics.

I also want to mention that I'm glad I'm not buying the current Ra's al Ghul crossover in single issues, as the collection is being pushed out pretty quickly. In fact, I'm surprised how many collections are announced for storylines or miniseries that aren't even over yet. DC seems to be showing its support for the new Infinity Inc. series by issuing a quick trade, though that comic got off to a pretty boring start.

While the number of Batman books on this list is understandable, I'm not sure why DC is putting out so much Superman stuff, especially collections of stories from John Byrne's revamp, like the World of Krypton collection. Also, if DC is going to do a collection like this, that mixes pre- and post-Crisis Krypton stories, why not include the first World of Krypton series from 1979, which has the added importance of being DC's first real miniseries (plus, it has some nice art by Howard Chaykin and Murphy Anderson)?

It's also interesting to see what DC added to the Bizarro World hardcover to get a collection out of the recent 3-issue story.

The Showcase Presents volumes are an interesting lot, in that all are continuations of series that already have volumes, like Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, and The Haunted Tank. I'll be curious to see what other series get the Showcase treatment later this summer.

On the flipside of the Showcase books are the Archive collections. Rumor has it that the two listed here--for Seven Soldiers of Victory and The Doom Patrol--are the last of this format, and DC is going to move more series into the Omnibus format, like the nice Starman collection. Speaking of that book, I probably won't be getting it because I have all the single issues, but I can't recommend it highly enough. It's one of my all-time favorite series, and I'm glad it's being released in this format.

The real exciting news in this list, however, is the announcement of the harcover collection of Jack Kirby's OMAC series in a format similar to the Fourth World Omnibi. At last summer's HeroesCon, I asked DC Executive Editor Dan DiDio at one of the DC panels if they would release OMAC in a format similar to Kirby's Fourth World. Clearly, I have some pull, as this collection will be out in less than a year from the time I asked the question. At the next opportunity I have to talk to Dan DiDio, I will use that influence more ambitiously.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Facts Are These ...

The new episode of Pushing Daisies that aired tonight may be the last episode for a while, as there was no preview at the end of the show. I hope that ABC decides to re-run the series during the remainder of the writer's strike, as they seem to be doing for Dirty Sexy Money.

One of the things I've been noticing with Pushing Daisies--as well as with Chuck, another new show that is getting a lot of praise--is that the main plot is moving quite rapidly. At the very least, each episode moves the plot (or plots, if you also count the Darling Mermaid Darlings and their return to the water) forward in a measurable way. This puts it into sharp contrast with shows like Lost and Heroes, which have a frustrating tendency toward wheel-spinning. It's also especially remarkable when you consider the fact that each episode of Pushing Daisies also features a satisfying done-in-one mystery plot.

Other highlights:
  • I want a Christmas sweatshirt just like Sy Richardson's.

  • I know it's wrong, but I enjoyed the fact that the terminally ill kid was a real dick.

  • It was nice to see Grant Shaud. I can't remember if I've seen him in anything since Murphy Brown.

  • Paul Reubens should be made in to a regular cast member.

  • Emerson's and Lily's revelations, in an episode that involves Chuck's renewed grief over her father's death, seem to crystalize an emerging theme of "parenthood" in the series.

  • The monkey did it! Man, I love monkeys.

  • Could anyone figure out what movies the sick kid was watching? I was hoping they might be more Hitchcock references, but I don't think that was the case.

This episode, once again, reinforces that this is my favorite show on TV right now, at least until The Wire starts up again in a month or so. But, as The Wire is the greatest series in the history of television, it's hardly fair to make a comparison.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Henry Kissinger: Action Hero

Despite the fact that it features a giant dinosaur, the cover of Super-Team Family 8 (1976), starring the Challengers of the Unknown, doesn't even begin to highlight the awesomeness on the inside. For, "The Devil's Paradise," written by Steve Skeates and drawn by Jim Sherman and Jack Abel, contains what may be the greatest plot in comic book history: President Gerald Ford calls on the Challengers of the Unknown to rescue Secretary of State, Nobel Prize winner, and war criminal Dr. Henry Kissinger from an island in the Bermuda Triangle inhabited by dinosaurs, cavemen, and samurai.

I'm just going to stop writing now, forever, because I don't think I'll ever write a sentence as awesome as that.

But seriously, the story lives up to that description. Two unnamed nations go to war and threaten to drag the US and USSR out of the Cold War and into a nuclear confrontation. Sent to negotiate the peace is Dr. Kissinger (who does not, by the way, go by "Dr. K"). Before he can arrive at the peace talks, however, his plane travels through the Bermuda Triangle and is bombarded by unknown forces which push it into another dimension (and cause the doctor to resort to his native German).

The next morning (clearly, this isn't considered much of an emergency), President Ford puts out the fateful call:

After a quick recap of the Challengers' origin (thanks new-reader-friendly editorial policies of the 1970s!), the team finds themselves caught in the same vortex and brought to the island, where they unsuccessfully attempt to defend themselves against cavemen riding dinosaurs.

Once captured, the Challengers meet up with Dr. Kissinger in prison, and the peace negotiator gives them the score.

Say what you want about Kissinger, he knows his shit! He figured out a scientific explanation for everything before alleged genius Prof Haley could.

The Challengers rig an escape, which leads to an all-out battle with the island's denizens. The Secretary of State, however, seems hardly in need of rescue:

"Pinochet taught me this move, bitch!"

As the team flies off into the sunset, Kissinger manages to find a moral to the whole story.

"Yes, let's get rid of war. Now excuse me while I go offer American support to South American military leaders and encourage them to continue their human rights abuses."

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Are You a Gary?

Continuing the awesomeness from Date with Debbi 17 (1971), some helpful advice for young women:

First up is a new rating system for boys, from "Blah" to "Gary":

I wonder why that never caught on. I also wonder who the original Gary was that set these girls off. Perhaps it was this one:

That's sultry-voiced Gary Owens, announcer for Laugh-In and the original voice of Space Ghost, Blue Falcon, Powdered Toast Man, and many others. I know he's at the top of my Gary list.

Then there's this piece of advice, which I have a strong suspicion is a plant:

You've just got to believe that "Ellen Antonion" was some guy named "Anthony Allen" in Jamaica, New York, who brainstormed with his Chess Club buddies on ways to get girls to join up. Writing a fake letter to "Debbi Makes the Teen Scene" won out over such ideas as hypnotism, chloroform, and buying a Chess Club van with a valkyrie airbrushed on the side.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Part Fire, Part Rain ...

From Date with Debbi 17 (1971), a reminder that, despite the fact that he's seen fire, rain, sunny days that he thought would never end, and lonely times when he could not find a friend, James Taylor is, indeed, all man.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Super-Sons in "The Town of Timeless Killers!"

Continuing with more of the wacky Bob Haney stories featuring the sons of Superman and Batman, here's "The Town of Timeless Killers" from World's Finest 242.

I bought this comic on the newstand in 1976, mainly because I found the cover fascinating. And with that, you can draw a straight line from 7-year-old Dr. K to today's Dr. K.

Back in World's Finest 233, the Super-Sons were driving a Mystery Machine-style van through the American South. Now, they're dunebuggying in the Southwest. Bruce Jr., having been raised in a world where he can rely on his own wealth or the superpowers of his friend to get him out of trouble, shows reckless disregard for property and life by attempting to "thread the needle." He ends up wrecking the buggy, and Clark Jr. escapes from the wreckage but discovers that his powers are gone.

With no means of transportation, they make their way on foot to a nearby ghost town, called Dry Gulch, where they find a strange cemetery.

I love the epitaphs on these gravestones. I wonder, though, to what Mary "objected" that got her killed by "Lever" Monroe.

Also, this panel contains a clue to the story's eventual outcome, but there is no possible way anyone would actually get it.

Before the boys can investigate the cemetery further, they are immediately attacked by "Kid Bowie," who announces himself with a tagline.

Quick lesson in tagline writing: if you have to repeat your name twice in the tagline, it's not working.

Also, Clark Jr. turns out to be a real wuss here. One little cut on the shoulder and he faints dead away. Not such a big tough guy without daddy's powers, huh?

Bruce Jr. then has to carry the useless son of Superman to safety, but his escape is blocked by another of Dry Gulch's residents: Jack Slade.

Just as Kid Bowie threw a knife to Clark Jr. before slicing him, Jack Slade offers Bruce Jr. a sporting chance of defending himself by tossing a gun in his general direction.

Instead of taking him up on the offer, Bruce Jr. ducks down an alley, where he comes under fire from the third gunfighter in Dry Gulch: "Lever" Monroe, who rocks both the poncho and the handlebar mustache.

Bruce manages, somehow, to escape and climb up into a water tower, all while carrying the prostrate half-Kryptonian.

During the night, Bruce leaves Clark behind and searches for information. He first discovers that the town is covered in a force field that keeps them from escaping while also eliminating Clark's powers. Bruce's search also uncovers the true nature of the town's denizens: over 100 years ago, the three killers slaughtered everyone in the town after a mine cave-in released the force field. This plot qualifies as relatively sane for a Bob Haney comic.

While they make their plans, a scream is heard from outside the water tower, and Bruce descends to rescue a young hiker named Suzie Wells, who claims to be threatened by the deadly trio.

Suzie convinces the boys that they need to face their attackers, so they hatch a plan. This plan involves the pair donning their superhero costumes, though where they've been keeping these costumes is unclear.

What follows is a series of plot developments that lead to the defeat of the killers but make very little sense, and they reveal to us today just how little DC thought of its readers' intelligence in the 70s.

1) Batman Jr. stuffs "an old miner's blasting vest" under his costume to protect himself from Kid Bowie's knife. For some reason, this vest appears to be either invisible or in the shape of a well-defined, muscular torso.

2) Superman Jr. challenges Jack Slade to a showdown, but tricks the gunfighter by replacing himself with a mirror. Slade, somehow, does not manage to see his own reflection in the mirror, nor does he see the outline or shadow of the mirror.

Superman Jr. then guns down Slade, but uses bullets made from candle wax to do so. This is bullshit.

3) Finally, Batman Jr. challenges "Lever" Monroe to a sharpshooting contest, where the rifleman has to shoot out a spade from all thirteen cards in the suit. "Lever" does this, but fails to realize that he's emptied his gun. For this, he gets a kick in the face, which makes this the best plan of the three.

Little did we know, however, that Haney had a twist in store for us (albeit one that is telegraphed by the cover, much like in World's Finest 233): Susie Wells is not all that she seems.

Superman Jr. manages to defeat The Bullwhip Queen when his powers suddenly return. Even when I was 7 years old, I called bullshit on this explanation.

Once the bad guys are rounded up, the duo load them into a wagon and take them out through the needle eye that led to Dry Gulch. However, Haney has another twist in store when the villains are brought to the authorities.

Man, I love DC Comics from the 70s, but a story like this really shows how much nostalgia can often mask the sheer crappiness of these comics. I'm curious to see how fans react to the reprints of these stories in the new collection, The Saga of the Super-Sons, which came out yesterday.