Saturday, May 30, 2020

Starzl, or, The Importance of Looking Things Up

There was a time before the internet. In fact, that time is almost all of time.  And things were very different then...

But some were very much the same.


Information was a rare commodity, and access to it was a privilege with a price.  Lots of it wasn't available at all, and what was trapped on a piece of paper or film, in books or the like, stored away on shelf or in a box in a building. Information was PHYSICAL.  And finding it was akin to archaeology.

And NOTHING in the DCU is more dangerous than archaeology.


This is the world in which Golden Age comic book writers lived.  To write their stories, they became information hoarders.  They consumed books and newspapers voraciously, writing down little facts on index cards that they could work into a story at some point.

Heroes did it, too.

And it shows. If you read stories from those eras, you'll notice that one of the big differences is how didactic they are. Batman is always stopping to explain science or criminology to you.

Or even just how gas storage tanks works.

It's not coincidence that one of characteristics of the Heroclix figure for "Super Friends" Batman is:



Silver Age writers did the same thing but they didn't content themselves with actual science.  They were mostly sci-fi geeks, so they didn't hesitate to make up science for their stories if they thought actual science was too boring.

The Flash is responsible for perpetuating more false science than every flat-earther on the globe.

So when I was doing research -- on line, of course, god forbid I should ever go to a Building and touch a Book -- on Atom foes, I wasn't surprised to find an early Justice League story where the authors had dreamt up a subatomic world to challenge the Leaguers.


SM: "Crotches first, everyone!"
WW: "I command the particles to help us!"
FL: "Wanna at least LOOK like I'm running."
GA: "Heh; no target too small."
MM: "Would it help at all if I spun? Or blew something?"
GL: "I do this every daaaaaay....
god, my hand is so beautiful...."

The DCU is, as you know, lousy with subatomic worlds.


Horton the elephant would have a conniption in the DCU.

This one, like so many DCU alien places, has yer typical obvious fake name; you know, just put an X, Y, or Z in it and it sounds "alien".


For once, can't we encounter a planet named "Betty" or "Myrtle"?
Oh, wait, those have Ys in them...

This particular subatomic world is named "Starzl"; again, a laughably fake bit of alien sounding gibberish the authors obviously slurred out of their gin-laden mouths at lunch time.

Or is it?

In the process of looking up more about the antagonists in Starzl (Terrane, Ocana, and Etheran, by name) something else turned up in my search:



Roman Frederick Starzl, a science fiction writer.  Writer, in fact, of "Out of the Sub-Universe" in Amazing Stories Quarterly (Summer 1928).

"Well, of course, I'll send my daughter and her fiance; whom else could I trust?"
They die almost immediately after, by the way.

I'm an uncultured clod and had never heard of Starzl.  

Pictured: Me in 1928, not reading Starzl.


Silver Age writers, on the other hand, were well-read and when the time came to name a sub-atomic world they just naturally named it after one of the pioneers of sub-atomic lit, R.F. Starzl.  They didn't expect their 10 year old readers to know his name; they didn't care.  This wasn't an "Easter Egg"; easter eggs are inserted with the explicit expectation that someone will notice (and then share that information with everyone interested, thanks to the internet).  

These writers didn't use "Starzl" because they thought someone would notice; they did it because it mattered to them.  In the same way that modern comic book writers will name a street or a building after a former creator relevant to the main character, past writers would name things after the creators who inspired them, sci-fi and pulp writers like Roman Starzl.

And now because they did, I know a little bit more than I did before. Who knows I might even read Starzl's "Out of the Sub-World".  If it's online, I mean; god forbid I should touch a physical book.  

As for you; be smarter than I. 



Don't assume that everything you see or read comes out of nothing or has no meaning or no connections to something else.  Search for context, no matter what information or entertainment you are consuming, and you'll find it a much richer experience.



Wednesday, May 27, 2020

I hate "Stargirl"


Only one or two episodes in, and I'm already sick of Stargirl.

Perhaps that's not entirely fair, since I was sick of Stargirl the character LONG before the show started. Nevertheless, it is true, and watching the pilot certainly didn't help.

First, she's the most painful and obvious Mary Sue in comics.  Well... in DC comics, any way.  I'm sure Marvel has someone worse, simply as a matter of principle.  And, yes, I know why she is, and, frankly, I do not care.  It's not an excuse for continuing to INSIST that we love her and that she's the Sensational Character Find of 1999. DC editorial -- some people more than others, mind you -- have been forcing her down our throats for 21 years now. 

Amazon.com: Stargirl by Geoff Johns (9781401297121): Johns, Geoff ...
Since Jack Knight Starman. THAT's how long this has been going on.

And, as far as I can tell, to no avail. I have never hear anyone call themselves a Stargirl fan; I've never even heard of the existence of any Stargirl fans.  I mean, STEPHANIE BROWN has fans. But not Stargirl; what does that say?  



Spoiler - Stephanie Brown - Home | Facebook


No one was crying out for Justice For Stargirl, let alone for her to have a show, and yet, here it is.  And it's painfully trite in ways I couldn't have even imagined.  Some of it is intrinsic to the characters.  Goofy "Frankenstein Junior" robot-suit god-awfully named "S.T.R.I.P.E."  (do NOT look up what the acronym stands for, it will not help, I guarantee it).  The 'step-parent' conflict dynamic.  Courtney's "born heroism" and her 90's-era midriff and biker shorts.  


Breaking News: Say Hello to Stargirl | DC
How is this ALREADY more dated than a 1940s boy circus aerialist?

But some of it is NOT intrinsic to the characters: it's special sitcom hackery brought to us just by the showrunners.

A high school with preposterously stereotypical jocks, and Movie Bullying, and The Losers Table.  Oh, and the Chief Bully is the Chief Villain's son; how terribly convenient it all is.  Note that that is in the same town the show goes out its way to show is So Much Nicer and Friendlier Than The Big City.  


Jake Austin Walker, Jasun Jabbar Wardlaw Jr., Yvette Monreal, and Sam Brooks in Stargirl (2020)
Nickelodeon called and wants its show back.

Oh, naturally, the Cosmic Staff is kept in a crate in the basement (where Courtney can literally stumble upon it) rather than somewhere safe and secure (heck, Pat's SUIT is under lock and key). A basement where, by the way, Lily Munster must go down EVERY DAY to refresh the cobwebs.  

Tim Burton's Creations. — The cobwebs in my house just became ...


How is removing cobwebs not THE FIRST THING YOU DO in every part of your house once you move in?  Who sold them this house FULL OF COBWEBS?! It's more cheap cinematic short-hand.  Cobwebs = disused area for old things, logic be darned.

That terrifying homunculus who plays Courtney's off-the-rack precocious annoying stepbrother?  I fear staring at him for too long, lest he steal my soul.  


The Boy III: Brahms' Revenge

Pat "couldn't find any trace of the Injustice Society" in Blue Valley, population 42?  How about the local brain surgeon who is obviously Brainwave or the total jerk-wad who runs the local gym and is clearly the Sportsmaster?  The one who's training you? I see why Pat was just a sidekick, he's as dumb as a rock.  A rock who can build a flying mecha-suit out of old car parts, of course.  And who, as his stepdaughter is facing off against Brainwave (who killed his previous and much more experienced partner), has the sang-frois to laugh about being called her sidekick?  Will that be funny once Brainwave has crushed HER with a schoolbus, Pat?


Speaking of Brainwave; he has a son who is Courtney's age (or a year or two older). Meaning Brainwave had a wife and a sevenish year-old when he killed the Justice Society.  How did THAT work?  "I'll be late for dinner, honey; gotta kill the JSA after work!" And having accomplished this masterwork of villain decides to... hang in Blue Effing Valley for ten  years?

Gambler - Injustice Society - DC comics - Character Profile ...
Guess they never got around to carving up the U.S.; "Eh; Blue Valley's nice enough."


Also, why is the son of one of the DCU's brainiest villains (it's... in the name) a meathead jock? Not because it makes any sense, but simply because it's Hollywood rules: high-school bad guys are meathead jocks. Never smart guys. Why? Because nerdy kids who resent meathead jocks are the ones who write this stuff.  Where I went to school, all the meathead jocks were danged nice, in fact. Big sweet quiet guys; the intellectuals in AP classes were the vicious domineering ones.


Stargirl, S.T.R.I.P.E. & Brainwave costumes sneak peek at DC ...
And they dressed just like that. 
Drama Club, you know.

And the cosmic staff.  Well, it LOOKS perfect, I'll give them that.  But now it's a feisty anthropomorphic sidekick.  It's the Magic Carpet from "Aladdin"; I can't tell you how annoying I find that.  All the reviews keep calling it her 'magic staff' and, although the inaccuracy of that bothered me at first, I can't blame them.  Because there is zero about it that says 'science' (not even COMIC BOOK science); even if you treat it as MAGIC it's hard to swallow.  

Oh, yes; the Tire Factory. The 'backbone of this community'.  And Pat's auto-shop. And the mecha-suit built from car parts. And the classic car visual motif to all the promos. Oh, that's right; Geoff Johns is from Detroit, so "Stargirl" is also a memorial to a bygone city and era, not merely a tragically killed relative.

Look, I'm all for revivifying public awareness of and interest in the Justice Society.  I'm just saying: Stargirl seems like a high price to pay.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Ceci n'est pas Wizardo

Okay, I simply cannot STAND it any longer, and if no one else cares, I STILL DO:

THIS




IS NOT WIZARDO.


I understand, deeply, the wish for the Atom to have a more robust Rogues Gallery.  But continuing to perpetuate the falsehood that this figure is Wizardo and that Wizardo is a foe of the Atom is simply shoddy scholarship and must be stopped.  

Let us look at the story where Wizardo -- the real Wizardo -- appears (as well as this guy in the astronaut suit): "The Riddle of the Two-Faced Astronaut" (The Atom #6, May 1963).


Just to prove I didn't make that title up.

That  "two-faced astronaut"? THAT is the guy in the astronaut suit.  His name is Peter Venner...


OR IS IT...?!?!?

See the guy with the characteristic ugly drawn-by-Gil-Kane mug, in the bowtie? THAT, people, that is Wizardo.  He is a stage magician.  

Peter Venner is his assistant; he's not a real astronaut.  It's just the theme of the magic trick.  Remember, this is 1963 and space exploration and astronauts are delightfully new for the public. 

Venner is just there for an astronaut-themed version of the old disappearing act by Wizardo, who is not a foe of the Atom but an old friend of Ray Palmer.


Jean Loring's "How EASY it can be to make someone disappear!" face.

Silver Age heroes were a lot like Jessica Fletcher; they had hordes of unmentioned Old Friends who would pop up at a moment's notice to spark a plot, never to be heard from again. Except unlike Jessica's friends, they didn't die.  I cannot imagine the circumstance under which a young physics student became friends with an older stage magician, but I'm sure there's slash fic about it somewhere.

The plot thickens when magician's assistant Peter Venner is accused of robbing a nearby bank.  It's actually a company with a cash payroll, but that's gibberish to any modern reader, so I'll just call it a bank for ease of comprehension.


That's Chief Baxter of Ivy Town. He's a moron.
It must be MAGIC, Chief Baxter. Moron.

Chief Baxter manages to use his words enough to explain what appeared to have happened.


If "in a glen plaid suit" didn't make you laugh, why are you even reading this blog?


So, painfully obviously, nobody actually saw Peter Venner do anything. They saw a guy in an astronaut suit, and, as I can tell you from my days hanging out at space bars, all guys in astronaut suits tend to look alike.


Except for Val Kilmer, because BATMAN LIPS.

Wizardo  (who is Ray's FRIEND not his ENEMY, I reiterate) explains how the "disappearing act" works to show that suspecting Venner is moronic, CHIEF BAXTER.


So, what do you imagine Wizardo DID during that deadtime on stage?
Ten minutes is a LONG time for the audience to just stare in silence at a big globe.
  

If Venner IS the bank robber, then he's a moron, because he's wearing the most identifiable outfit imaginable: an astronaut suit and a fake ray gun. This is the Atom's Ivy Town, not Martian Manhunter's Apex City (which actually is a center for space exploration on the Florida coast, where one might reasonably see an occasional man in an astronaut suit).  If you REALLY wanted to go about unnoticed in Silver Age Ivy Town, you should probably wear something common that would blend in with everyone else.  Like an orange glen plaid suit.

Regardless of whether Venner is a moron, Chief Baxter IS a moron, and so:


Criminal attorney Jean Loring knows: gloves leave no fingerprints. 
Especially on flamethrowers.

Always desperate for attention, Jean Loring never met a case so stupid she wouldn't take it (like the time she defended a swan in court as her client). And so, the show must go on:


Wha-hat?! ANOTHER man in an astronaut suit?!
To quote Tom Kalmaku, "What goes on? What goes on?"

So there is the real robber, who, you might notice, is ALSO a moron.  If he'd simply taken the night off from astro-robbery, there would be no evidence to suspect anybody BUT Venner and our fake fake-astronaut would be in the clear.  Moron; he's the perfect nemesis for Chief Baxter.

Naturally, Ray shows up and atomizes this guy.


This is just like that Twilight Zone episode with Agnes Moorhead. Except in reverse.

Sigh. Cuz you need nature's most awesome source of energy and the power of The Atom to defeat a guy lumbering around in a fake astronaut suit.  You're six foot, 180 lbs, Ray; just walk up and punch him in his moronic astroface.  This story, by the way, perfectly illustrates why the Atom never really took off as a character: too many of his stories don't really require him to be the Atom at all. This is a "Roy Raymond, TV Detective" story, and not a very good one at that.

As it turns out, when they pull his mask off it's Old Man Withers, the caretaker at the amusement park.  


Or Howard Crane, the Stage Manager.
Something like that.

The guy does have a super-power, though: FASHION.


Not enough super-seamsters in comics, nowadays, that's what wrong with 'em.

So, I'm going to skip the part where Stage Manager and Super-Seamster Howard Crane manages to escape the Atom and tries to rob the post office, where he mailed the loot to himself, because it's just too painful. Instead, let's skip right to the gratuitously sexist wrap-up, where Jean Loring decides to change out of her circus aerialist costume into something less ridiculous.


JEAN LORING KNOWS YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT HER AND IS NOT OKAY WITH IT.

Note again: that's Wizardo (no real name given).  He's not an enemy of the Atom, he's a friend of Ray's.  His assistant, Peter Venner, the guy in the normal fake astronaut suit, is not an enemy of the Atom.  His stage manager, Howard Crane, the guy in the reversible orange glen plain astronaut suit, isn't really an enemy of the Atom, either; he's just a moronic super-seamster who made the mistake of working for an old friend of Ray Palmer.  The Atom has (nearly) nothing to do with it.

So, Comic Vine and Fandom database, et al., stop blindly parroting one another without actually doing the most basic original research.