Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dr. K's Summer Fun Time

From Superman Family 173: Name the seven artists who drew Jimmy Olsen. First one to get them all correct wins a prize.*

*Prize limited to the extraordinary sense of pride and satisfaction one should feel as the result of this accomplishment. Monetary value: $0.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lois Lane in "Calling Dr. Freud!"

In thinking about the Lois Lane stories from the last two posts, I've come to realize that Lois Lane tends to get a bad rap. Sure, she spent decades trying to find ways to trick Superman into marrying her, and her non-Superman romantic relationships have been disastrous, but a lot of blame should be targeted at Superman himself, who, as we've seen, can be a bit overprotective and suffocating.

And stalkery in a way that really raises ethical questions about his abuse of his powers.

Speaking of which, I was reminded of this Lois Lane story, also written by the great Cary Bates (who returns to comics this week in Marvel's True Believers!).
(I'm aware that devoting three posts in a row to Lois Lane stories is going to remind many veterans of the comic blogosphere of 2005. All I ask is that you bear with me: I wasn't blogging back then, and I need to work the ubiquitous Lois Lane phase out of my system.)

The story begins with the type of shocking scene common in Lois Lane comics: Lois kills Superman and reveals his secret identity.

And, to top the deed off, she drops him down a long elevator shaft.

The initiated know that the most likely scenario is that this is a dream: the culmination of all of Lois's anxieties about discovering Superman's secret and inadvertantly causing his death.

And such a prediction would be accurate, as, on the next page, we see Lois confiding her dream with a pretty stereotypical, bearded and bespectacled psychiatrist named "Dr. Thadius Thadwick": a therapist, it turns out, who was recommended to Lois by Superman himself.

Just to be clear here: Lois has a dream where she shoots Clark Kent with a gun, revealing that he's Superman, and then she drops his lifeless body down a long shaft. Holy crap! It doesn't take a Ph.D. in Psychiatry to decode that symbolism. However, Dr. Thadwick totally misses the boat on this:

The rest of the story involves Boss-Lady Larue, the "female crime czar of Metropolis" attempting to drive Lois crazy in order to extract Superman's secret from her dream. But in the end, Boss-Lady has to resort to kidnapping Lois and her therapist.

In an eerily familiar scene, Boss-Lady Larue disposes of the doctor by shooting him and then dropping his body down the elevator shaft.

If, in fact, you weren't paying attention at all to the comic you were reading, the caption on this panel makes sure you know exactly what's going on.

And then we get what is a pretty stunning revelation: Superman was disguised as Dr. Thadius Thadwick all along.
His motive: to protect his secret identity.

Lingering on this point a moment, Lois Lane went to Superman asking for help because she was suffering from traumatic nightmares about killing Clark Kent. Superman, worried more about protecting his secret identity, recommends a nonexistant therapist and proceeds to disguise himself as said doctor and rent out an entire office in that doctor's name. Rather than actually treating her or helping her arrive at an understanding of what this dream and all its obvious symbolism might mean (and one might question Superman's credentials as a therapist in the first place), he mainly quizzes Lois on her suspicions of his dual identity. Then, he allows Lois to think that her therapist was, indeed, killed by Boss-Lady Larue, thus furthering her trauma and sense of guilt.

WOW! This is one effed-up relationship.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lois Lane in "The Case of the Cockblocking Ghost!"

When last we left Lois in Superman Family 166, she was once again rescued from certain death by Superman, but this time, a new wrinkle was added: Superman was led to the rescue by a message written in plants by the ghost of secret agent Simon Cross. In Superman Family 169, we pick up the story six months later, and Lois is now a full-fledged agent for the SIA, and she's come to rely on the assistance of Simon's ghost to get her out of tough situations. Superman, however, does not take kindly to being replaced as Lois's trusty rescuer, and a story ensues that can only be called, "The Case of the Cockblocking Ghost!" (Actually, it's called "Target of the Tarantula," but, whatever.)

Lois's current assignment involves staking out the docks and watching out for a drug shipment for "The Masher Mob." Despite the fact that she's undercover, she doesn't do much to make herself conspicuous, and she's immediately caught. However, this doesn't phase her. As the thugs pull out their guns, she calls on Simon the Friendly Ghost to save the day, which he does.

Lois also appears to be developing a romantic attachment to Simon, which makes sense due to her pathetic attraction to unavailable men. Lois even starts to behave distantly toward Superman, which makes him upset. He then decides to stalk her to see what is going on. Seriously, these two deserve each other.

However, when she leaves the building, Superman loses her:

I love these moments in Superman stories where he conveniently forgets that he has certain powers, like x-ray vision. Of course, we know, from the previous story, that Lois is inside the secret garbage truck.

Forgoing the fact that emergencies are probably occurring around the world that require his attention, Superman continues to investigate Lois's behavior, mainly by illegally tracing her phone calls. He ultimately finds his way inside said garbage truck and confronts the head of the SIA.

Meanwhile, Lois and Simon continue to track down the Masher Mob and a mysterious vigilante called "The Tarantula," who has been killing off the mobsters. Superman, having figured out that Simon is a ghost, pulls out one of the many machines he had in the Silver Age, which turned out to be perfect for moving the plot forward yet were also never seen again. This time, it's the "ectoplasmic exorciser":

This is not to be confused with the "ectoplasmic exerciser," which is a device I use to lose weight. Basically, it functions by having a ghost literally scare the shit out of me.

Superman uses the machine to cockblock the ghost, which is a phrase I'm going to take credit for inventing. I also predict that I will become the number 1 Google hit for it.

Simon doesn't hesitate to call him on his cockblockery, and the danger in which it puts Lois:

Superman convinces Simon that, despite the fact that he can adequately protect her (though, importantly, no one is protecting her while these two argue), Simon and Lois have no future together. They then team up to save Lois from the Tarantula:

I think what Simon really saw is what an effed-up relationship Lois and Superman really have, and he decided to cut bait rather than get involved.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Lois Lane in "The Murdering Arm of Metropolis!"

Despite the fact that school is out and I've been on a "staycation" for the past two weeks, blogging has been pretty light here at the Spec. I even missed my 1-year blogiversary last week, which is a real blogging travesty. I really have no excuse for it, though I did spend much of the time taking over the world as the Russian Empire in a massive Civilization IV campaign. It's nice, at the end of the campaign, that Civilization IV lets me know how long I've been playing, as I wipe off the Doritos dust and check out my three-day beard growth that wasn't there when the game started.

But after that successful accomplishment, it's back to business. As has been a tradition on this blog, I like to celebrate special events by going to my collection of comics from which this site takes it's name: DC's 100-Page Super-Spectaculars. As a form of penance, then, I'm going to cover not one, but two 100-pagers in the next few posts.

Specifically, the Lois Lane features in Superman Family 166 and 169 form two parts of a single story, written by Cary Bates and drawn by John Rosenberger. In this story, my personal hero, Cary Bates, seems to be establishing a new status quo for Lois Lane as a secret agent for the SIA, or Secret Intelligence Agency, which is the single most boring acronym in the DC Universe. And yet Lois still maintains her position as a journalist, oblivious to the ethical problems these two roles create.

As the story opens, Lois is covering the Metropolis Botanists' Convention, hoping for an interview with renowned scientist, Dr. Foxley, who is surprisingly not a female character in a James Bond film. Before Lois can get any closer to the famous botanist, however, she is molested by the worst upskirt photographer in the business:

There are three things wrong with his form on that tackle. And that camera position is totally wrong.

The bad tackler turns out to be Simon Cross, agent of the SIA assigned to protect Dr. Foxley. But while Lois and Simon are arguing, a cyborgian assassin uses a silent air gun to fire a tamerid seed into Dr. Foxley's ear in a plot point that could only have been written by Cary Bates. The seed immediately sprouted inside the botanists head, destroying his brain and preventing him from revealing the secret of the mysterious wonder plant he had discovered.

Lois then talks Simon into allowing her to partner with him in the investigation. But first, Simon has to take care of some business:

Man, if I had a dime for every time I was asked those two questions.

And then:

Did anyone ever doubt that Lois Lane would ultimately end up dead, stuffed in a bag, and thrown in the back of a garbage truck?

The garbage truck, however, is secretly the mobile headquarters of the SIA--I guess all the good barber shops and phone booths were taken. Lois then lays out her CV to show why she should be allowed to join the SIA, and the director buys her pitch. Seriously, which missions are those? The ones where she tries to trick Superman into marrying her, or the ones where she ends up in life-threatening peril while Superman has to rescue her, and thus neglect some other emergency?

In order to complete the mission, Lois has to undergo some training, which apparently involves laying Agent Cross flat on his back repeatedly:Here, Lois demonstrates to Agent Cross why she loves The Dukes of Hazzard.

The mission involves capturing "Spangle," the leader of a "poppy-growing gang." But as Lois and Simon track Spangle, they're attacked by the mechanically armed assassin. He throws Lois off the roof of a parking garage, and while Superman swoops in to rescue her, he does not have time to stop the assassin from breaking Simon Cross's neck. I think we all know how Batman would have handled that choice.

Lois and another agent of the SIA trail Spangle into his secret lair: an underground garden filled with poppy plants.

However, these aren't ordinary poppies--they're "anti-poppies" created by Spangle and Dr. Foxley that will make people immune to drug addiction. This is yet again one of those scientific discoveries in Superman stories that should have a profound effect on society yet never get mentioned again.

Spangle, apparently, is not the leader of the poppy-growing gang; instead, the SIA agent has that secret role, and he kills Spangle to keep the discovery a secret. He tries to do the same to Lois, but she has other plans:
And now I know where Georgia O'Keefe got all her ideas.

The agent also reveals himself to be the mechanically armed assassin, and he's about to use his metal arm on Lois, when Superman, as expected, saves the day. This time, however, Superman had some help:
Who left the mysterious message? And why doesn't he understand basic sentence structure and subject-verb agreement?

That answer comes in the second part of the story, featured in Superman Family 169. More on that tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Two Minutes in Heaven Is Better than One Minute in Heaven

Over at his Poptown blog, Phil Looney makes what I can only describe as a flattering comparison.

Since that picture was taken, I bought new, full-frame glasses and grew some boss sideburns, plus I have not been shaving frequently, so there may be even more to the comparison now.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"Kill Me with Wagner!"

According to Amazon, DC is going to publish a hardcover collection of Jack Kirby's 1974-75 run on The Losers from Our Fighting Forces 151-162.

This, of course, makes me extremely happy, and it leaves just a few things from Kirby's fantastic 70s output for DC to reprint (including all the great stuff from First Issue Special, Kobra 1, and a few issues of Sandman--though I wonder if DC can reprint the two issues of Justice, Inc. Kirby did, since that is a licensed property. There are also the two magazines he did for National: In the Days of the Mob and The Spirit World.).

Of Kirby's 70s DC work, The Losers probably gets the least attention. Kirby did this series while he was doing Kamandi and OMAC, his most famous post-Fourth World work. But the war stories that Kirby did in this year-long run are real gems.

As with his other work from the period, Kirby uses a text page in the first issue as a mission statement for his run. I think "varmints of the vicarious" should be the new name for this blog.

Kirby claims he will be showing the war from the experience of the normal soldier, or "everyman," and he uses his own authority as a WWII vet to back it up. And he says something about my Aunt Jenny that I don't quite understand. And I love this part:
"Follow me, dum-dums, and you'll have a whale of a time, not getting hurt. If you think this is the old sarge bit, forget it. I never made it past PFC. I merely like a good war book, too,--and, something in it which goes beyond paper mache bravado."

I know I always have a whale of a time not getting hurt.

So, what does Kirby give us in this foray into realistic war comics?:

"Kill Me with Wagner"!

In Kirby's story, the Losers are sent into France to work with the French Underground--or Maquis, as Kirby so educationally informs us--to rescue famed pianist Emma Klein. The only catch: no one knows what she looks like.

Meanwhile, Gunner of the Losers is captured by the Germans, and he is taken to a Wagner-loving Nazi major (which is a bit redundant, I guess), who also happens to be looking for Miss Klein. In order to expedite his search, the major has Gunner pick the pianist out of a line-up, or he will start executing hostages:
Unfortunately for the major, the Losers arrive before any executions start, and the hostages join in by kicking some Nazi ass:
Sarge's critique is hard to dispute.

In the end, Emma Klein turns out to be the major's silent maid, who was under his nose the whole time:

She decides to send him to heaven before sending him to hell by playing "Ride of the Valkyries" as the Allies bomb the crap out of the Nazis in awesome Kirby style: That's right--I got yer dammerung right here!


Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Movies of My Childhood: Captain Sindbad

Earlier this week, Turner Classic Movies showed a handful of Sinbad movies, including the 1963 King Brothers production, Captain Sindbad (This German production for some reason adds an extra "d" to the title character's name). I have strong memories of my mother taking me to see this movie as a matinee at a local theater that showed older kids-fare like this during the summer. And it was a movie that freaked me out at the age of 5 or 6, and in watching it again for the first time in 30+ years, I was still freaked out. The movie gets a bad rap for its special effects, but I still find them charming, and they certainly did a lot to spark my imagination as a kid.

The film stars Guy Williams, an actor who was ubiquitous in my childhood, through reruns of Zorro and Lost in Space. As he was in Zorro, Williams is incredibly charismatic as Sindbad, and he contributes to the overall sense of fun in the film.

Here's a link to the trailer on TCM's website. This trailer really does the film justice, highlighting the most crazy and imaginative stuff that happens in this movie, including the wizard Galgo being tortured by having his head spun around, the fist of danger, the invisible monster, the giant crocodiles, and the hydra-like ogre monster. Also, you can find nice image collections from the film here and here.

One of the craziest ideas in the movie involves the villain, El Karim. At one point in the film, El Karim captures Sindbad and goads the hero into taking a shot at him with his sword. When Sindbad stabs El Karim, the sword goes right through his chest, and El Karim just laughs it off. It turns out that El Karim cannot be killed conventionally, as his heart is sealed in a crystal and stored at the top of a tower surrounded by many dangers. (The heart actually looks like a beating, glowing stuffed valentine.) Also, the crystal is guarded by a giant hand that Sindbad has to fight, which is pretty much the greatest part of this movie. As Sindbad approaches, the hand gets up on its wrist, raises its index finger, and shakes back and forth. As you can imagine, these things like the giant hand and El Karim's disembodied heart contributed to the freaking out of young Dr. K.

This is an awesome movie that never lets up, with one crazy idea after another, as you can see in the trailer. I also have in my comics collection the Gold Key Movie Comics adaptation. The comic, however, takes a lot of liberties with the film's plot, though it does capture the film's spirit. The main changes come with the types of creatures Sindbad fights. Artist Russ Manning includes more mythologically based creatures, like minotaurs and chimaerae, that aren't included in the film.

The movie also does not feature any giant ants:
Or an elephant stampede when Sindbad defeats the invisible monster in the arena:

While I'm pointing out these differences, they do not necessarily make the comic version weaker than the film (though the comic does not feature the giant hand, and it leaves out the climactic battle between Sindbad and El Karim). I would argue that both the film and the comic create fairly equally awesome versions of the same story. The giant ants and minotaurs in the comic are certainly cool, but so are the giant crocodiles and the hydra-like creature in the film.

Here's a whole page of stuff that is absolutely not in the film, but it shows off Russ Manning's great art. Fans of the comic Nexus may notice the strong influence that Manning had on artist Steve Rude.

Captain Sindbad is a movie that is purely designed for kids, but it's a load of fun, and it never lets up. It's not available on DVD right now, which is a crime. I'd love to see a nice, restored version of this movie.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Nearly Infamous Zango: The Best $7 I Spent at HeroesCon

At HeroesCon, I made an effort to step out of my comfort zone and spend some money on independent comics and other stuff I might not normally try (Of course, it should be noted that Scott Pilgrim falls out of my rather narrow comics comfort zone, which, I think, lets you know where I'm coming from). This proved to be a successful strategy, as I got some really good stuff from Jim Rugg, Josh Elder, Rob Ullman, and others.

One of the best comics that I picked up was Rob Osborne's The Nearly Infamous Zango, a very funny series about an incredibly lazy and inept supervillain.

I've read over the three issues of this series a few times now, and it is funny as heck. The first two issues establish the basic concepts of the series: Zango is a second generation supervillain in Metrotown, and his reputation has declined due to the fact that he spends all his time now in his jammies on the couch, eating junk food and watching daytime television. When the local news reports on the activities of the new most fearsome villain in Metrotown--the Iron Ox--Zango becomes angry about his lost status, but he does little more than bloviate in response.

In his "Castle of Cruel and Unusual Occurences," Zango is assisted by his daughter, Nebula; the scientific genius Deacon Dread; and Dread's brutish creation, Von Freako. Deacon Dread is inexplicably sycophantic and works in a laboratory beneath the castle, making creations that he hopes will please Zango, including Z-Gore, a killer gorilla assassin, and killer fruit creatures.
Rob: you had me at "killer gorilla assassin."

One of the things I admire about Osborne's humor is that, while some of the gags are familiar, the book is so good-natured and fun that the familiarity is actually a benefit in making the characters work. Also, Osborne builds running gags throughout the series, as we see in Zango's frequent outbursts demanding food. Perhaps the funniest gag, which I hope continues in future issues, occurs whenever Deacon Dread comes up with a new creation. Control seems to be a problem for Dread, and his creations always turn against him in rather violent ways.

While the first two issues are straight-up funny and do a great job establishing the unique world of the series, Osborne's book really starts to shine in the third issue, which just came out recently.
Here, the world of Zango gets fleshed out more, and Osborne is on the path of creating a series that is much more complex than one would expect from its surface humor. We see that Zango's laziness may be a product of a kind of existential paralysis resulting from his fears of inadequacy in the face of his father's success as a supervillain. The original Lord Zango was a Dr. Doom-style villain who managed to defeat Metrotown's prime superhero--Metro-Man--and subsequently manipulated the media to perpetuate his reign of terror.

We also get to see the Atomic Pilgrim, which is a pretty awesome concept for a superhero: Just so we're clear: The Atomic Pilgrim is the one in the hat.

Rob Osborne's talent lies in drawing humor from these characters in a way that is genuinely and consistently funny. I'm looking forward to seeing where this series goes. In the letter page for issue 3, Osborne mentions that Zango is moving to another publisher with the next issue, which comes out in October. I hope this switch works for the series' benefit, cuz I'm in for the long haul. If you want to find out more about The Nearly Infamous Zango, including how to order the first three issues, check out the Absolute Tyrant website.