Friday, April 24, 2015

From RAGs to bitches

Ah, Ras Al-Ghul. The comic book Fu Manchu with the light shellacking of 'environmental concern' to make him shiny enough for the 1970s when he was created.


"Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, ... one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present ... Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man."
The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu


I have little love for RAGs.  Batman's rogues gallery of deformed and idiosyncratic gangsters may stink of the Depression-era Dick Tracy, but at least, like Batman, they are firmly rooted in urban cops and robbers. RAGs, however, is based on Edwardian-era British terror of the alien 'yellow peril' of Asian villains with inscrutable values and goals, bent only on the destruction of Western civilization.


Who would put a Fu Manchu knockoff in Detective Comics?!
Those '70s writers had no respect for tradition, I tell ya.

Decent criminals, of course, want to just steal some crap and maybe kill a few people along the way.

Fu Munchu, on the other hand, wants to kill everyone in what you would call 'civilization'. Just like Ras Al Ghul!

RAGs kind of fits on "Arrow" because, well, Green Arrow is SUPPOSED to be dumber than Batman is (his rogues gallery certainly is). Arrow is, after all, the guy who brings an arrow to a gunfight; pitting him against asian/assassin/ninja/sword people makes some thematic and tactical sense. And he has the same ridiculous sense of honor/drama that the GA crew do.  Batman does not have time to waste on your schoolyard swordfights, RAGs.  Librarians are being shot and pre-Incan moth idols are being stolen, even as we speak.

Even Liam "Darkman" Neeson couldn't make Ras Al Ghul cool.  Admit it; you barely remember him from the Bale-Batman trilogy, certainly when compared to the likes of the Joker, Two-Face, and the insidious Coleman Reese.


"You were supposed to UNDERSTAND. ... I'll MAKE you understand."


Characters like the Joker and Two-Face earned their street cred.  They showed up a long time ago and worked for it, for decades.  And doing some grubby **** too, like robbing chewing gum shipments and flower shops. DC just lazily 'ported in Ras Al Ghul and declared him a Big Bad-Ass through exposition, "OMG he knows who Batman is, and he has unlimited resources and a numberless army of faceless killers and lives in a mountain with a hot-to-trot daughter and is ancient and justified and can come back from the dead and wants to destroy the world!"  Yawn. Call me when he's stolen the Van Landorph emerald or fought somebody on a giant prop.  Because so far his major accomplishments have been...not destroying the world, and dying.  There are a lot of people who've done that.

Oh, and he spends a lot time on his retirement plan; marry off his daughter and find someone to take over his business.  He's Tevye the Supervillain.  On Arrow he's gone so far as to frame Ollie for murder because he wants him to take his place as head of the league of pointlessly evil Asians.  Fortunately, that's a idea so ridiculous that RAGs never tried it on Batman!

Except that time where he DID.



By disguising himself as a circus midget.


Oh, look; it is the head of a demon on a banner. 
What a strange but surely entirely coincidental thing.


WORDS!  Sure, I'm a fan of words...in moderation.  And this ain't moderation.  Comics books used to read as if they were written for a radio play.  Maybe it was because they thought readers were stupid and wouldn't understand the pictures. Maybe writers were paid by the word or were all frustrated novelists.  In the High Bronze Age, every Batman story started this way: with pretentious Vincent-Price-like palaver.  No matter! It is almost fitting.

Batman, at this point in the arc, is wanted and on the run from the GCPD, having been framed for the murder of Ra's Al Ghul and his daughter, Talia. You know, the only two people on earth with free and easy access to a magical mud bath that brings the dead back to life.  Naturally, we know he's not guilty, not because of Batman's code against killing, but because the incompetent Bronze Age Batman couldn't kill a butterfly with a bazooka.

In fact, the comic opens with a disguised Batman getting help from Jack Ryder.  Apparently the World's Greatest Detective needs a hack reporter to tell him that a lion's hair probably came from a visiting circus.


You get three guesses who the snake charmer really is.

This story checks all the 'circus setting' boxes. Suspicious sideshow? Check.  Wild chase through the Hall of Mirror? Check.  Acrobat attack? Check.



Bronze Age Batman NEVER shut up and what he said was always soul-crushingly stupid.
Goons fell over themselves to get knocked out first,
because the sooner they were unconscious the less they  had to listen to.




At some point Batman disguises himself as Ra's, which is stupid.  Which gets pointed out.


Clowns are Batman's kryptonite.

Some times Bronze Age Batman just seems like a giant kid playing at being Batman.  "Ah ha! But... I MYSELF am disguised as Ra's!  And then.... and then I jump at you!"  Stupid Bronze Age Batman.

Just like in Arrow, RAGS has framed Batman for murder so that Batman will give up Batmanning and become Ras Junior.  Batman tells him, "Take This Job and Shove It!"


Literally.

Batman is then attacked by a sharpshooter and a flaming knife-thrower. Um, it's the knives that are flaming, not the thrower. Batman hurls an arrow in the sharpshooter's gun barrel and catches the knife and throws it away.  Bronze Age Batman may be an idiot, but he's a savant at catching crap and throwing it back at you.  Just as Batman is about to be overwhelmed by a second acrobat attack, the Creeper saves his butt.  

The Creeper, by the way, was the "Captain Atom" of the 1970s. DC owned him and was damned determined to force him down your throat and make you love him.  Which is why the Creeper is such a beloved figure to kids and adults today!  With his own comic book, the cartoon, and of course the forthcoming feature film.  I can't wait till his live-action show crosses over with Captain Atom's!


This is so stupid I'm at a loss for words.
And I've written about evil Kryptonian space-cats in the Phantom Zone.

Batman is observant enough to see through RAG's midget-disguise...


Stupid Bronze Age Batman.
I think RAGs used to just show to keep him from accidentally killing himself.

...but not enough to notice that he threw a flaming dagger into a circus tent and set it on fire.  Which lets RAGs get away (again), but somehow gives Batman the evidence he needs to exonerate himself.  I guess he couldn't have just asked Gordon to dig up the 'corpses' before, could he?  Then there'd be no reason for a circus (either figurative or literal).  



Add "flipped my cork" and "oh, yeah" to the list of Things Batman Should Never Say.


So, that's how Ra's Al-Ghul seems to me still.  Wastes all his time like Sally Brown following around Linus Van Pelt, trying to make Batman (or, on tv, Green Arrow) love him. Lurking around circuses atndthe like, playing little "How to Host a Murder Mystery" parlor games.  Not destroying civilization, or anything bigger than a circus tent.

He's the enemy Green Arrow deserves.





Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Under the Dome


"Went to post something about a new comic this afternoon.  But of course... there weren't any.  I had forgotten.  Again.


DomesDay 42.  Still trapped. Trapped in a world where no new real comics come out.  Comixology, uselesss.  My blogging powers-- and everyone else's-- gone.  


We've all had to adapt, but with no new information or entertainment coming in from the outside-- if there IS an outside -- we've had to make do with old comics. Old stories, recycled.  Some have tried telling new stories with old abandoned characters but it's all so...hollow. Like the dome of the universal crossover that has converged on us all.


As bad as the isolation is, it's not the worst thing. The worst thing is the not knowing. Not knowing whats's on the other side of the dome.  Will our familiar world be restored to us? Or a whole new one? Will it have a place for us?


Somewhere I used to have a picture of me. A happy me, ready to spend his money on the week's new comics, enjoying the present, eager for the future.  But, sometime over the last 42 days, I lost it. I've searched and searched... in vain.  


And now it's even fading from my memory.  


Maybe I -- all of us -- will adapt.  Or maybe we'll just be replaced...."





Monday, April 20, 2015

Brainaic is a crappy anthropolgist

I don't have the time and patience to read over 50 "Convergence", whose plots are all "hey our powers are back,  let's you and him fight."




But it does give me a lot of questions that maybe you, my readers, can answer:

Obviously, Brainiac/Telos maintains the basics (somehow) of water and power and waste.  But...

  1. Where does the food come from? Is it human food or space-zoo food?
  2. How do they re-purpose the airports?
  3. Is there telecommunication?  Because that doesn't really work with the national network, and satellites, 'n' stuff.
  4. Is there still TV and radio, and it's all local?  Gosh that must be not all that exciting. Except, what a great opportunity for local entertainers to become STARS!
  5. Do all the hotels shut down? Because without tourists, you don't need hotels.
  6. Do museums become really popular because there is nothing else to do, or really boring because the exhibits don't get refreshed?
  7. Do people still bother to go to work if all their needs are being taken care of?
  8. How are migratory birds affected?
  9. Do police (et al.) run out of ammo?
  10. Did Brainaic actually study any of what was going on in these cities? If so, what did he study and how?
  11. There are a lot of cities.  Just on Earth.  Did Brainaic really only choose ones with high-selling superheroes living/extremely-conveniently-visiting them?
  12. So, there's no....weather?  No rain?




Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I am impressed

The cleverness of Jeff Parker and the rest of the team on Batman '66 continues to impress me every month.




And I do not think I am easy to impress.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Strange Powder...

You know, Silver Age comics really get a bad rep for being goofy and improbable. It's not fair, it's not right, and it's perpetuated by people who simply haven't read them and just deride them safely from a far.

Here, just take a look at this panel from a 1963 Batman story:

Batman really is kind of scary, isn't he?

Adjusting for the style of the time, that's a dark and dramatic panel, people!  It could be Batman saying he's found Joe Chill, or that the Commissioner's daughter has been shot, or that "you won't have to worry about the Joker ever again; I've taken care of it."  Brrrr.

What is Batman saying in the panel...?

Just try and read that panel in your Batman voice and see what happens.

Strange powder? Larko lamp legend?  Oh, fer #$*(&@#*(....

It's from Detective #322....


That's almost the third or fourth dumbest hat Batman has ever sported.

a.k.a. "The Bizarre Batman Genie!"

Sigh. So much for my thesis about the Silver Age, which was in fact just as stupid and absurd as you think it was.  You know those stories where the cover/splash page promises a certain fantastical scene, but it turns out it was just a metaphor or some grand ruse of the hero's to ensnare some cowardly and superstitious criminals?

Yeah, well, this isn't one of them.  That scene is in the story and that's because Batman actually does get turned into a magical genie.  An extremely jovial genie, I might add.

Admit it; you'd LOVE to see Ben Affleck do this scene in the movie.
  
Naturally, when Batman becomes a genie, his masters are a group of Gotham criminals.   And just as naturally, these criminals -- instead of just asking him to make them unimaginably wealthy -- ask him to help them with their crimes.  Because if these were Gotham criminals of any imagination whatsoever they'd be wearing thematic costumes instead of Rod Serling's old wardrobe.  

I like to think of The Bizarre Batman Genie as one of the stories that finally broke the back of the Silver Age; within six months of this issue, the "new look" Batman (with the yellow oval) was introduced and his adventures became much more grounded.  No less stupid, perhaps, but much more realistically so.

However, the really impressive thing here is the Gotham cops acting as Exposition Officers in the first panel:  

Our bullets, bouncing

off his skin! Nothing can stop

The Batman Genie!

I don't know what you or I might say when confronted with a giant Batman-Genie ripping the roof off a building, but I know darned well we wouldn't have the presence of mind to put it in a haiku!

But now is your chance!  What haiku can you compose to honor the Batman-Genie and the Silver Age madness that created him?


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Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Phantom Stranger says...



Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Bridwell Migraine

I have a headache.

It's not just any headache. It's a very rare and particular kind of headache.  The kind that you can get only from reading certain comics. I have a Bridwell Migraine.

Most of you, I assume, have no idea who E. Nelson Bridwell was. He was, by all accounts, a nice man. And he worked for Mort Weisinger and anyone who worked for Mort Weisinger -- the J.Jonah Jameson of Earth-Prime-- deserves your love and understanding.

He did some pretty neat things. He worked on the Batman Anthology and those wonderful DC 100 Page Super Spectaculars that gathered up lots of classic old stories. and exposed an entire generation of readers like me to the glories and terror of Golden Age comics. He created the Inferior Five, one of the earliest superhero parodies and wrote for Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew, a later parody.  He co-created Angel & The Ape and the Secret Six.  Biggest contemporary keeper of the Superman mythos, he's the guy who sat down and actually made the Kryptonian language follow some sort of pattern rather than just being randomized squiggles.  For you fans of the Justice League International, he's the co-creator of Fire and Ice (or, as they were originally known, Green Flame and Ice Maiden).   Heck, he wrote the initial run of the Super-Friends comic book, which reintroduced the Awesome Human Flying Fish; that ALONE qualifies you for comic book sainthood.


Even if you look like a Bond villain.


And yet....

these great accomplishments are rooted in the same Bridwellian ability that also makes him a name of dread and terror: E. Nelson Bridwell was the original Continuity Cop.  He loved comics, cared enormously about ironing out apparently inconsistencies in stories, and was obsessed with having disparate and distinct DC own IPs interact with one another.  Also, he couldn't write his way out of paper bag.

The ancients, you know, didn't really think in terms of people being 'good' or 'evil'.  Rather, they thought of people as 'ordinary' and 'great', with great people being capable of both great good and great evil. In this sense, E. Nelson Bridwell was clearly a great person, for, while he responsible for some wonderful DC products, he was a guilty of great 'artistic evils'.  Here's a small example:


The person responsible for this perverted doggerel should be deprived by civilization of access to
fire, word, and any writing implements for life.


You'd almost have to be a serial killer to have written these.

When Bridwell writes a story, it's like someone emptied a box of Heroclix on the table and said, "Use all of these." In this case, they include Flash and Jay Garrick, Blockbuster, Batman, Earth-2 Robin, Bulletman and Bulletgirl, Superman, The Shade, Mr. Scarlet & Pinky, ibac, Green Lantern and Alan Scott, Ibis the Invincible.Wonder Woman, Dr. Light, The Penguin, Hawkman and Hawkgirl , Johnny Thunder, The Weeper, Green Arrow, Spy-Smasher, the Joker,  King Kull, King of the Beast-Men, Queen Clea, Mr. Atom, Brainiac, the God Mercury, the Wizard Shazam and Captain Marvel.


Yes, that's Blockbuster, Queen Clea, The Penguin, and Ibac, palling around like the cast of "Friends".
Only E. Nelson Bridwell would do such a thing.


Yes, Mercury in swimming trunks, riding the Batmobile through space, with Jay Garrick in the backseat.
Or,as Bridwell called it, "Tuesday".

I remember reading this story when it came out in 1971.  Even as a little kid I knew it was disturbed  and way too full of STUFF (although I got a kick of meeting characters new to me, like The Weeper). As kid you are used to things not making a lot of sense to you, but trying to read this multi-issue as an adult gives me a Bridwell Migraine. 

 It's one of those stories typical of giant crossover-casts, where there is a Big Bad who secretly arranges for subsets of mix heroes to sequentially fight subsets of mixed villains in various locations.  The heroes keep beating the villains at these seemingly random encounters and say 'yay, we have won!", then you cut away to the Big Bad going, "Ha, they think they have won, but little do they realize this is but one part of MY plan to win!"  This then happen 8 to 80 times in a row.  You know the drill.


That's Pinky beside Inappropriately Condescending Robin.
You may not recognize him because his hair has been turned into diamond. It's hard to explain.
I would ask Batman to explain, but he can't talk, because his jaw has been turned into steel.
 

Let's put Bridwell aside for a moment, because I could pick on him and this story all day. Bridwell is an early and bright red example of a  phenomenon that would come to take over comics: the continuity-obsessed fanboy author.  

Such authors aren't as interested in telling new stories as they are connecting or reaffirming old ones.  They aren't trying to expand the literary universe, they are trying to fill in what they perceive as gaps. They are less creators than they are repairmen of continuity cracks, apologists for the dumb aspects of the stories they treasured as children, colorists intent on re-tinting the candy-color characters of our youth into an adult-friendly sepia-verse.  They idolize their heroes too much; they revere them too much to handle them directly, and prefer to leave them in the original packaging.  

You know their names as well as I do.  They are more to be pitied then censured; most of us placed in the same position would naturally do that same thing.  But it's helped contribute to polarization in writing styles at DC. You have the Fanboys, who are too afraid to play with the toys and can't write for anyone who doesn't already know and love the characters, and the Man-Boys, who don't know how to play with the toys without breaking them, can't put them back in the box and can't write for anyone who does already know and love the characters.  But they are a subject for another day.

The point is DC editorial is CAUGHT between these, the Scylla and Charybdis of Continuity, and Convergence is the result.  And just like Scylla and Charybdis... we'll have to see what survives and comes out on the other side. 


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