Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Widow-Maker; Why God Permits Evil!

During "Widow-Maker Week", you've probably been asking yourself what any decent person would: How could such a story be allowed to happen?

To examine this, let us first agree to set aside the larger question of which it is part, "Why does God permit evil?" That done, there are a few good reasons.

As previously mentioned, this comic book was written at the same time the Wacky Races cartoon was spectacularly popular. I remember; I was one of the kids watching it at the time. I had all the relevant toys, including the models. I loved the Wacky Races; most kids did. For DC not to capitalize on it for at least one issue would have been foolish.

Willi Van Dort's traps are straight out of Dick Dastardly's playbook: spikes come out of his wheels to slash Batman's tires, obstacles are dropped in Batman's path, Willi blinds Batman with a bright light, a banner is rigged to fall on the Wayne Special, and (my personal favorite) Willi actually takes a short cut to get ahead of Batman so he can emit an oil slick in his path:

Gosh, Batman's voice carries. Must be all those deep breathing exercises he and Robin do.

It doesn't get more "Dick Dastardly" than that.

It all backfires, of course; the banner falls on Willi's car instead, and he dies horribly in an exploding fireball of twisted steel, melting rubber, crushed bones, and burning flesh.

I assume Willi's final words were "Drat!"
Never have I found a comic book word balloon
that contained a more useful phrase than,
"Aah, a flamer! What joy that will give Willi!"
I used it three times last Saturday alone.

The second reason is the writer/artist of the issue, Mike Sekowsky of Justice League of America fame. In the lettercolumn for this issue (B&B #87), the editor explains that former Brave & Bold scribbler Neal Adams was "preoccupied with other choice DC chores" and scribe Bob "Zany" Haney was busy writing the Filmation cartoons of Aquaman et al. So they gave the book to Sekowsky.

There is a general predjudice in comics: "drawing is hard; writing is easy." That's why artists are repeatedly given things to write that they probably shouldn't. Editors think nothing of asking Phil Jimenez to write a comic book although they'd never ask Grant Morrison to draw one.

Anyway, the lettercolumn also mentions that "Big Mike is a sports car and skiing enthusiast". Reason two.

And reason three? Well, after reading this comic for the ninth time, I finally noticed the ads...

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Widow-Maker: Handicapping the Race!

In principle, pairing a depowered Wonder Woman with a blind guy was a clever idea (not subtle, but still clever). Without her powers, Diana was, from her own perspective, handicapped. So Ching, an inscrutable blind Chinese old man of the kind so prevalent in popular entertainment, hangs out with her every waking moment, teaching her to handle her "handicap". Because it's not like he has anything else to do; blind people's only literary function is to enlighten others, you know.

In theory, the Diana/Ching team should give us more understanding and empathy for the handicapped. We identify with the "superhandicapped" Diana and she, in turn, is taught how to cope with her new limitations by a person whom we would consider handicapped. Everyone gains a new perspective.

I say, in theory. That falters a bit in practice, mostly because Diana and Ching clearly hate each other with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.

"Ching, are you enjoying the fashion show I've dragged you to?Oh, that's right, you can't; you're blind!"

"Shut up, Diana, you bhiny witch!"

"Jeez, you're both stupid and immoral, Diana."

"You took the wrong car? What's the matter, Diana;
are you blind or something?"TWO Pikachumobiles? What are the odds? About the same, I'd say,
as being able to start a Pikachumobile without having the keys...

"Yes, I heard that, Diana;
I'm blind, not deaf!"

"Gods of Olympus, old man...
are you sure you aren't deaf, too?"

By the way, did you wonder how Diana find out about the planned sabotage of the Wayne Special? Through some more "fun with the handicapped"! She eavesdropped on a conversation between Willi Van Dort and his evil German mechanics -- who communicate only through "finger spelling" because the mechanics are deaf and mute.

There really aren't enough comics with evil German deaf-mute mechanics, in my opinion.

Anyway, when Willi talks with his mechanics, he S-P-E-L-L-S O-U-T E-A-C-H W-O-R-D. Efficient; convenient. Particularly in a leisurely sport like racing; must make for interesting pitstops. But it gets better; Diana needs Ching to translate because Willi is spelling in German, which Ching knows but she doesn't. Well, why should she? I mean, it's not like she fought Nazis in World War II or anything.

"Say, Ching, can you make out what they--oh, of course not; you're blind!"

Ching's revenge comes later:
"Let me help you, Diana, I -- oh, that's right,
I can't... because I'm blind!"

Nothing quite so gripping in an action adventure as watching the hero spell out-loud in German. Not enough of that in modern comics, I say.

So at the end of Sesamestrasse (brought to you by the Evil Deutsche Nummer Sieben), Diana finally realizes that Willi intends to kill Batman when Willi does this:

"Um, blowfish? Butterfly? Bow-tie?Bow-tie; Jimmy Olsen? Is it Jimmy Olsen?"

Diana is clearly better at charades than I am. Probably plays all the time at the dress shop with her supergalpals. "Oh, this is so much fun playing nude charades with Kara and Babs! Ching, don't just watch; come join us in a game! Oh, I'm sorry, Ching; I forgot... ."

Batman is not so easy to kill, by the way. Later, during the race, Willi temporary blinds Batman by flashing a light in his eyes in a dark tunnel. But the B-man grabs a telescope and uses it as blind man's cane along the tunnel wall to keep from crashing.

While. Driving. Hey, who wrote this Batman--Grant Morrison?

Curse you, Ching, you meddlesome chaperone;I'm a better blind man than you'll ever be!

But that's okay. Ching outdoes Batman later, in one of the greatest panels you (but not Ching) will ever see:

"Here, Ching; you drive!Oh, I'm sorry, Ching; I forgot..."

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Widow-Maker: Batman stuff!

Where were we? Oh, yes...

With her Chinese Vivian Vance in tow, Diana goes to stop to the evil German mechanics, only to find Bruce Wayne kicking their butts. Upon their arrival, Bruce decides to turn down the butt-kicking in order to protect his secret identity. From Wonder Woman and an old blind guy. Sigh.
Batman ... stuff? Batman stuff? BATMAN STUFF?!
Under no circumstances should Batman ever say "Batman stuff".
Not even, "Hey, Alfred, have you seen my Batman stuff?"

Stupid Bronze Age Batman.

Diana and Ching kick some tail, and the evil German mechanics run off, but not before...

Hal? Is that you?

they klok Bruce in the noggin.

Diana and Ching rush Bruce to hospital, where doctors pronounce him unfit to drive because he's received a major Jordan upside the head, which they wrap up so excessively it makes Negative Man look like he's wearing a Snoopy band-aid. So naturally Bruce (pick one):

(A) Withdraws his car from the race;
(B) Arranges for forsenic tests to identify the assailants, thus disqualifying Willi;
(C) Taps a professional driver to race his car, which he should have done in the first place;
(D) Allows Wonder Woman to drive his car in the race, because Princess Grace has arranged for her to get an emergency racing license (royals stick together, apparently).

Ready? It's (E) none of the above. Gosh, you're good at this! What Bruce actually does ... well, I'll let you just see it for yourself:

Yes. Well. Naturally.

At your next geek-party, pose this question for debate:
Which is worse, Jimmy Olsen calling Superman to rid his apartment of cockroaches or Bruce Wayne calling Commissioner Gordon to have Batman fly to Monaco and drive his car in a cross-country autorace the very next day?
Then move the breakables, stand back, and enjoy the fun. It's almost as much fun as nude supergal charades; more on that later.

Miraculously, Batman does show up lickety-split to drive the Wayne Special in the race. Because it's not like he has anything better to do or took a severe blow to the head recently. Diana tries to convince Batman that Willi is dangerous and intends to kill him, but Batman dismisses her concerns like the jackass he is (and needs to be, for the plot to proceed).

"Shut up, Diana, you hysterical're a mere superpowerless woman
and I'm the goddam Batman!"

I wonder whether Batman would be so dismissive of Wonder Woman if she were still wearing her tiara and able to snap him like a twig?

But our girl is determined to help Batman whether he wants it or not (besides, she really wants to be in the race), so she and Ching dash to the Pikachumobile to follow Batman and protect him from Willi.

By the way, do you think a car like the Pikachumobile requires keys to start or does it just start automatically when you jump in and shout "I choose you!"? You think about that question; we'll come back to it later. Less importantly but more interestingly, does the horn go "beep" like a normal car or "Pikachu! Pikachu!" ? The latter, I should hope.

You may ask, why does Willi want to kill Batman? It is just because that's what evil German autoracers who drive cars named "Widow-Macher" do?

No. This time, it's personal. By an entirely unnecessary coincidence, it just so happens that Willi's father was a would-be world dictator whom Batman defeated.

"Hello; my name is Inigo Montoya..."

Of course, Batman defeats would-be world dictators on a weekly basis, so he doesn't remember. Still there's no reason to be so darned rude about it, Bruce...

Nice hat, Bruce.Aren't you glad you remembered to pack it, just in case?

Never before or since has Batman exceeded this particular combination of looking like a total goober while acting like a total jackass. This panel needs to be on a tee shirt. Why do they not sell tee shirts with this kind of Batman stuff on it? Oops; I said "Batman stuff"; sorry.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Widow-Maker: Start Your Engines!

Our story begins one fine day at a race track in Monaco, where we find our heroine:

Fran Drescher"Oh-oo, Niles, I wish Mistuh Sheffield were here fuh this!"

Okay, actually that's Diana Prince, the new original Wonder Woman, during the era when she had no superpowers and ran a dress shop in the Village, which makes it particularly ironic that she's running around in nothing but her slip and some rainboots, but would seem normal, I suppose, to some who's spent the last 30-odd years in a majorette's costume.

Her companion is "I Ching" (yes, really), yer basic inscrutable old Chinese blind master of wisdom and the martial arts. Diana and Ching have stopped off in Monaco on the way back from, um, somewhere unspecified. Why? Because there's a fashion show at the race track's garage, silly. And what fashions they are!

When assaulted by a rampaging model with sharp creases,
do a body-roll to absorb the impact, then remain in a posture of submission.

This outfit actually comes with red silk underwear.
But "the Watermelon Warrior Look" never caught on.

The Count's sister, Laverne Vertigo, was slated to have become
a new Green Arrow villain, the Polka Dot Squirrel,
but instead she was moved to Swing With Scooter.

No, really; if you stand like that for a while,
you'll turn blue, too.

Oh. My. Suddenly wearing nothing but a slip seems like the least of all evils. I think the only spectator who survived this fashion show was I Ching.

Anyway, Bruce Wayne is there preparing to race his auto, the Wayne Special. I mean, it's not like he has anything else to do. So Brucie (who knows Diana is Wonder Woman ) starts hitting on Diana (who does not know Bruce is Batman) because, after all, she's "very very pretty"... and can no longer snap him like a twig if he gets fresh.

Bruce is a player. Diana is a player-hater. If this were Marvel, "Bruce Wayne: Playboy ... No More!",
would have been the epic saga of a guilt-ridden Bruce's impotence problem
after the death of Aunt Harriet at the hands of the Outsider.

Slightly later, Diana is snooping around unnoticed (perhaps it's an Invisible Slip?) and uncovers a plot by that Dastardly Dick, Willi Von Dort, to send his mechanics to sabotage Bruce's car later that evening. So naturally she (pick one):
(A) confronts Willi;
(B) tells Bruce;
(C) alerts the racetrack authorities;
(D) goes to the police.
If you've ever read a comic book, you probably guessed correctly that the answer is (E) none of the above. You see, this is her powerless era; and when you subtract the "Wonder" from "Wonder Woman", you are left with merely "woman", which means that the writer assumes she now has the proportionate logic of a Lucy Ricardo.

Oh, the Comic Book Irony.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Widow-Maker: Meet our racers!

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! It's 1969, and the Wacky Races is one of the most popular cartoons on television. Let meet the stars of this episode...

In the role of Dick DastardlyWilli Van Dort, driving the story's eponymous "Widow-Maker"!

There are several subtle clues that Willi is the villain of the piece.
1. His outfit is black.
2. To match his car.
3. Which is called "the Widow-Macher".
4. "Macher"? Yup, because Willi's German; you know that before he even speaks, because his helmet's got one of those evil German sevens with the slanty line through it.
5. Upon which is superimposed a skull.
6. He is astonishingly ugly in the hatchet-faced way that only villains -- and all villains -- in the Sekowskyverse are.

In the role of Peter PerfectOur damsel in distress, Batman, driving the Wayne Special. Yes, really. Way to keep the ID secret, B-man. I bet next week he's gonna let Batgirl ride Waynebow in the Bruce Wayne Handicap.

Holy cow! Is Batman ... a goner?!

And our heroine, in the role of Penelope PitstopWonder Woman, in her depowered era, dashing to the rescue of the goner-to-be, before she had time to fix her hair that morning. Now you know why she used to wear the tiara. Plus pounds and pounds of salon-quality haircare products. WW is driving, not the Compact Pussycat, but her own suped-up...


to be continued....

Friday, May 26, 2006

House Ad for .... The Widow-Maker!

You've seen...
A helpless Wonder Woman tied down suggestively, ruining her nice white pantsuit!

You've witnessed...The incompetent Bronze Age Batman driving dramatically!

Are you ready for...

The incompetent Bronze Age Batman dramatically driving suggestively into a helpless tied down Wonder Woman, ruining her nice white pantsuit?!?!?!?!*

Widow-Maker Week Is Coming!!!!

*This scene does not appear in this comic book.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Hal Jordan, Professional

People like to talk to me about Hal Jordan a lot (the reason why I cannot tell). But when Hal's personal life comes up, I keep embarrassing myself because I have trouble remembering what all his jobs were. If only I had mnemonic devices to help me out.

Oh, wait! I know; Hal Jordan was a ....

Test Pilot

Insurance Investigator

Toy Salesman

If only I had one thing that could tie those all together for me. But how could any one panel--

Oh, wait.

Of course!

Air Force Pilot