Saturday, October 08, 2005

Lois's Mittens

Yes, I'll admit there's all manner of great Silver Age goodness in this panel. I mean, villians who shout "Fool!" alone are worth the price of admission.

Let alone villains who can easily disguise themselves as Superman.

Villians who, despite being almost close enough to grab Lois, choose instead the ironic and needlessly elaborate use of superpowers, ostentatiously decapitating a nearby statue of Superman whose hurtling head konks Lois's into stupor. Further stupor, I should say.

You know, Superman is my idol, and, like the kids of the DCU, I always try to ask myself in any situation, "What would Superman do?" That's why in every room of my house, I have a lifesize statue of myself in a heroic pose. On a pedestal. My dog really likes them. I also have statues of all my friends, my boss, my dead parents, and a giant model of my birth planet, Earth. It's a little cramped, but I find it inspiring. But I digress.

The previously elucidated wackiness in this panel, though severe, is still utterly eclipsed by Lois's absurd "Golden Glider" outfit. I guess when you're as worldly as Lois Lane, Girl Reporter, a trip to Antarctica to the Fortress of Solitude doesn't rate anything other than your "iceskating photo op in Centennial Park" ensemble.

I bet she's got a huge poofy white Dr. Zhivago hat to go with it, just like the one Joanne Woodward wore in "The Great Race". And the belt? Tell the truth, Lois, who do you go shopping with ... Kathy Kane, right?

See now, this is where the Showcase black and white format teases as much as it satisfies: what color IS that outfit? Pink; I'm betting pink. Anyone know for sure? The only other Lois-like possibility is purple.

But the key is, of course, the mittens.

Little girl mittens, built in to her Figureskating Barbie dress. Do they hang lifeless from her wrists like fashion albatrosses, damning Lois's taste and passivity? Of course not; she's Lois Lane, you fool. Her mittens are action accents, fluttering and pawing the air with a life all their own, rhythmically accenting Lois's every oh-so-significant move. See them help her take notes in the first panel and express surprise at the return of "Superman", then, in the second panel how they compare & contrast the transmission from the real Superman with the smirking impostor. Great guns, Lois's mittens are smarter than Jimmy Olsen!

On you, such mittens would look stupid. If you entered the Fortress of Solitude with such mittens, statues would decapitate themselves out of sheer embarassment for you, konking you fatally on the head, with nothing but glassy-eyed statues of your friends and colleagues to watch as your frozen corpse congeals into a decay-proof mannequin, a hideous and ironic addition to the lifeless tableau, like the end of some really freaky EC story.

But you are not Lois Lane.

Friday, October 07, 2005

A Comic Book Story

When I was a lad, I served a term as office boy to an attorney's firm. I had a double major in Latin and Greek from an Ivy League college, so, really, what other choice did I have?

Anyway, as a studious youth (a.k.a. socially-backward tool), I regularly brought some reading materials with me to enjoy during lunch in the firm cafeteria. Then, as now, my reading consisted mostly of Classical literature and comic books.

One day, I was relaxing at lunch with a copy of the Aeneid (yes--in the original) and the latest issue of Wonder Woman. The head of the firm sauntered over to my table, shoved his thumbs in his vest pockets (it was the '80s, you know), and sniffed,

"I fail to understand how someone who can casually read Latin literature in the original
can also spend his time reading comic books."

I thought about explaining the classical grounding of Wonder Woman, my search for parallels between Diana's mission in 'Patriarchs' World' and Aeneas's nation-founding mission, or the more general equivalence between the iconic characters of comic books and the archtypes of ancient myth.

But I didn't. He didn't really seem to be asking for an explanation, more like ... an apology.

Perhaps I should have answered differently than I did, given that this was the guy whose name was plastered in gold letters on the cafeteria wall and the source of my salary. But one can only push a comic book fan so far, and, besides, where I'm from you don't let people push you around -- and certainly not a Princeton man, like this guy. I mean, really.

So I waited the proper comedic beat and a half, and replied, dead-pan:

"That's simple.
When the comic book gets too complicated for me,
I go back to the Latin."

Needless to say, I didn't exactly make partner, but the satisfaction I got from that moment will last the rest of my life.

I for one

Speaking of monkeys...

yes, it's true, the once-proudly independent Absorbascon has -- *gasp!* -- gone corporate.
More on that a couple of weeks from now, but first things first, ahem:

"The Absorbascon is brought to you by
the fun-loving folks at Big Monkey Comics;
remember, nothing says 'comics' like a Big Monkey!"

And I, for one, welcome our new monkey overlords. I'd like to remind them that as a trusted internet personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their E-Bay storerooms.

Touch My Monkey

Okay, I'll admit it. While Golden Age Starman is incomparable, it really can't give you the sort of stuff you get regularly from the Silver Age Superman:

Oh, the Comic Book Irony! Lying face-down in the dung-strewn grass in a filthy, hidden corner of the Metropolis Zoo (because apparently Metropolis, despite having eternally sunny and sparkling clean alleyways, has a children's zoo with dark recesses where a man in a nice blue suit and red tie can lie unnoticed dying of radiation poisoning without attracting the attention of any passersby, and whose administrators think nothing of putting in their petting zoo a glowing green monkey they found on the street), Superman is being killed by the proximity of an innocent but deadly Kryptonite Monkey, an abandoned test animal of his arch-enemy, Lex Luthor.

Starman may have invented Comic Book DRAMA, but Superman is the ultimate source of Comic Book Irony (which in his last moments amazes even him --"It's ironic!"-- you'd think he'd be used to that sort of thing).

By the way, don't worry--

Superman was saved by a passing child whose banana fell down a nearby lead drainpipe.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Where's the REAL Penguin?

[I'm re-posting this because I'd like to see fallout from Villains United & Rann/Thanagar that gives arms-dealer Penguin access to some serious off-world tech ... most of it small enough to build into, say, an umbrella. Think about the Penguin with a Mother Box umbrella...]

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the REAL Penguin, in his first appearance.

Why do I care? Because I am sick to death of watching the Penguin get beaten up every month.

Batman beating up the Penguin. Robin beating up the Penguin. Batgirl beating up the Penguin. Drunken reprobate Harvey freaking Bullock beating up the Penguin. Does someone at DC have a sexual fetish for seeing formally-dressed fat men with big noses get the snot beat out of them?

It's become a cheap writer's shorthand for "our hero's getting tough now", and it's been beaten to death (as has, by now, the Penguin). As much as I love Robin, when he start beating up the Penguin in his title this month, I was rooting for Oswald to silence the upstart with a whiff of finely filtered Penguin gas and deliver him right into the arms of an exploding octopus. Or a giant clam. Yes, a big hideous man-eating clam.

The real, original Penguin (who I'd like to see returned to us now, DC, thank you) is the one above. He appeared VERY frequently in Golden Age Batman stories and his personality was very consistent, as follows.

He's always very polite and refined.
He's also a completely amoral cold-blooded killer.
He does not get flustered and is well aware that, even if you foil his plans, he's going to escape.
He is well aware that he appears non-threatening, even silly, and uses that to his advantage.
If you are rude to him, he will slit your throat with a razor sharp ferrule, and, as you lie on the floor choking on your own blood, the last thing you'll hear is him calling the florist to send condolence flowers to your widow -- more expensive ones than you ever bought her in your life.

He is not "your stoolie".
He does not get beaten up.
He does not have flippers.
He is not gullible, stupid, crude, uneducated, foul-mouthed, or even ill-tempered.

Even in the '60s show, they understood this. Remember the movie? Who was in charge of the United Underworld? Why, the Penguin, of course. It went without saying.

DC, treat your villains with respect and they'll earn their keep; just ask the Riddler and Catman. Start treating the Penguin with the respect that his over 60 years in the business deserves, and you'll have a much more interesting, viable, popular character.

Just like the original Penguin. The real one.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Supermanifesto

Superman is, and always has been, about his supporting cast.

Batman has a supporting cast, sure, but it's basically composed of colleagues in his fight against crime: Alfred, Ace, Dick Grayson, Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock, Helena Bertinelli, Barbara Gordon, Tim Drake. Those who aren't crimefighters don't get a lot of air time and/or fade away. All the Julie Madison types come and go; Lucius Fox has been seen only once, I think, since No Man's Land (he needs a role in the fight, as he got in "Batman Begins"!); even Police Commissioner Akins has virtually vanished because he doesn't "partner" with Batman.

But Superman? It's all about Clark Kent's friends and family: Ma, Pa, Lana, Pete, Lois, Jimmy, Perry, even Jor-El and Lara. Superman's "colleagues" (Supergirl, Krypto, Steel, Superboy) just seem to be, well, in the way (see illustration).

Tonight for fun, try to write 12 consecutive stories where, say, Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, and Krypto all show up to take on the same menace; then you'll understand why the "super-allies" are kept at a distance: Superboy, banished to the Kents' farm; Supergirl, shipped off to Jim Lee's Glamazonia; Krypto, exiled to the Fortress; Steel, crippled.

Some people claim this difference between Superman and Batman as part of the proof that "Batman is the real identity and Bruce Wayne is a persona, whereas as Clark Kent is the real identity as Superman is a persona." To which, I say, "Piffel."

Like many straight people, Bruce and Clark make most of their friends through work. Bruce's only job is as Batman, so all his friends are bat-allies. Clark has a job as a reporter, and so his social life revolves around that. Even when the writers tried to give him a super-pal, the retroactively hiLARious Vartox, what does Clark do? Gets him a security job at the Daily Planet and names him "Vernon O'Valeron". By the way, changing my name to "Vernon O'Valeron" is now one of my Life Goals, so if you run into someone by that name, say hello nicely, because it will be me. You'll recognize me by the outfit.

Any way, there are some unpleasant consequences of Superman's supporting cast being so overwhelming important.

1. In order to keep Superman's cast interesting, writers are drawn to make them suffer bizarre experiences. We could talk all year about the wacky adventures of Superman's various buds, but instead we'll simply let one "Jimmy Olsen" cover serve as a symbol of this obvious and ridiculous truth.

2. If writers do not wacky-fy Clark's human entourage they become ... boring. No one's known what to do with Jimmy Olsen since the Byrne reboot, they gave up on Lois and just slapped a "Loyal Wife" label on her, and the less said about President Pete "Hush, oops I mean, Ruin" Ross and his wife, Lana "Manhunter cum Insect Queen" Lang, the better.

3. Superman's rogues gallery is wan and uninteresting because the focus of stories isn't Superman versus his enemies -- conflicts with villains are used mostly to highlight Clark's relationship with his buddies. Lex Luthor only survived because he was retconned in a "former friend gone bad"; c'mon, how many heroes call their archenemies by their FIRST NAMES?

4. Superman stories tend toward petty interpersonal melodrama. This why it could so easily be turned into Smallville's painful hybrid of the X-Files and Dawson's Creek. In a Batman story, you'll get Batman versus any one of about 400 freaky villains who could credibly kill him. In a Superman story, you'll get pages of sob & choke as the supporting cast fusses over the ups and downs of their relationship with the Big S.

The Superman mythos is a fetid, inbred, Peyton Place.
In fact, if I had any guts, I would publically admit that secretly I think Superman, DC's heroic archtype, is for the most part a weepy whiny Marvel comic and that Superman should be my next "Character Donation" to the Marvel Universe.

But, of course, I don't have the guts to admit that.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Haiku: the Universal S.O.S.

You think Haikuesday is silly, eh? You think it's all my head, huh? All I know is, when the DC Universe itself cries out for aid, it does so

in haiku (JSA 77) ...

"We need help before
the universe dies before
reality ends."

Well, THAT's creepy.

So Airwave and Donna Troy zip off to help the Universe in Its Entirety, I guess. The issue was billed as a Day of Vengeance tie-in, but it felt more like a Rann-Thanagar thing. Regardless, when the Universe cries for help in haiku, you know it's serious.

What haiku can you compose to sympathize with the plight of the DC Universe, comment on the stupidity of Hal's idea of slicing New Chronus in half, or wonder at the concept of "Airwave to the rescue"?

When I was graduated from High School...

DC was still publishing Arak, and this is what they had him doing:

Who knew Tom of Finland had done work for DC?!

So ... is there still room in the world for comics like Arak? What do you think?