Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Meaning of Supergirl

We all know that Superman teaches that one man can make a difference and the importance of humility, Batman reminds us of our power to turn tragedy into triumph, and Wonder Woman shows us that the way to men's hearts is through manacles, chains, and bondage ropes.

But what do we learn from ...

Here, Supergirl contents herself by snuggling up with some Cartesian auto-rationalism.

Well, kiddies, perky-peppy-chipper-cheery Supergirl teaches us something very important:

Our lives are meaningless.

Nothing we do matters. Even she, with her penidivine powers is, in any objective way, utterly powerless. We cannot change the past; we cannot change the future:

While attempting to grasp the platonic ideal of "tableness" through its instantiation,
Supergirl experiences an unrelated philosophical epiphany.

There is no free will. We are little more than wind-up toys, painted with pretty illusions of sentience and self-determination.

Like many people,
Linda learned about lack of free will through her HMO.

Supergirl lives in a Newtonian clockwork universe whose initial conditions have already determined for all eternity the worldpaths of every passing ion (yep-- even Kyle).

Only a total lack of free will could explain those shorts.

Oh, Linda/Kara/Supergirl, what a sick little sense of humor your bleak view of existence has left you with. Obviously, when she makes her coquettish inquiry in the above panel, she's merely indulging in ironic Dick-teasing:

"I was wondering if you're free tonight... ."

Of course not, Linda. We all know Dick's not free. Not tonight. Not ever. No one is free. Dick is just a wheel rolling in a rut to a predestined end on a predetermined path, like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind.

It's so sad; when she was young and naive, Supergirl was bound and determined to made a difference in the world:
But then she realize that she was simply ... bound. Already ... determined. Then her inner monologue outlined her personal truth:

"I am Superman's female cousin. Nothing more. Nothing less. No matter what I do.

Whether I (or Edmond Hamilton) try to make me into a Satan Girl or I (or Peter David) try to make me into an angel, it is for naught. I cannot be "Matrix", symbol of the power of self-change, who was so crippled by the existential dread of freedom and burdened by a sense of self, that she actually turned herself into Superman, as anxious to be rid of choice and self as Eric Hoffer could ever imagine.

I am Superman's female cousin. Nothing more. Nothing less. No matter what I do. "

Eventually, in the 31st Century,
in an attempt to reconcile her rationalism and determinism,
Supergirl will embrace solipsism; it's already been decided.

All those costume and career changes? Merely cruel mechanisms of deceit used by the universe to keep her from a deeper understanding of her inability to change. Her apparent "self-sacrifice" to save her cousin and the universe? Rendered meaningless by later Crises, and further instantiations of the idea that is "Supergirl".

Numbed now by her eventual realization of the automatonic nature of her existence, Supergirl is perfectly suited to her role as a cipher with no apparent internal organs, as the "secret weapon" prop in someone else's story (even in Superman 650).
So, remember on those cold and cheerless nights when reality blows hard upon you ... you're at least as powerful as Supergirl.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Super Duper!

Like Dorian, I've been reading the "Superman Family Showcase", which is pretty much all Jimmy Olsen.

Jimmy Olsen lore is like absinthe or cognac; it's meant to be sipped, not downed in gulps. I've been reading no more than one story a day, sometimes letting a story take me two days while I savor the insanity. I think poor Dorian's been chugging Olsen straight up, resulting in Jimmy Brain Jam. Take two delicious Hostess Fruit Pies with Real Fruit Filling, Dorian, and call Dr. Scott in the morning... .

Anyway, like Dorian, I'm annoyed by the fact that Jimmy Olsen has a stupid catchphrase he says two to three times each story: "super duper". But, ah, I remind myself: there's a reason for it.

While Jimmy Olsen was created in the comic books, he really only became popular because of the 1950s television show, "The Adventures of Superman". Jimmy Olsen was portrayed by the absolutely marvelous Jack Larson.

TV loves catchphrases ("Dyn-o-mite!"), and the TV Jimmy Olsen's was -- you guessed it -- "super duper". Larson, a superb actor, played Jimmy so low-key that he could get away with that sort of thing, without it becoming obnoxious.

The use of "super duper" in the Olsen stories in the Show is an attempt to echo the teevee show. But, since nothing in comics in ever "low-key", it's like a punch in the eye every time Jimmy says, "Super duper!"

Another Olsen gimmick the comics "caught" from the show was the whole "Don't call me 'chief'!" routine, which is clearly a vaudeville-style running joke that works well on the telly, but can seem forced and stilted in print.

Sadly, he who lives by the Olsen dies by the Olsen, and Larson was so badly typecast as Jimmy that he mostly left acting entirely after the show. Happily, the deeply talented Larson became and accomplished writer and producer instead, and was groovy enough to be buds with Montgomery Cliff, James Dean, Christopher Isherwood, John Houseman, and Virgil Thompson.

His groovyness was helped by being just about as "out" as gay men got in the 1950s; if only they had let Jack do some of those "Jimmy Olsen in drag" stories from the comics!

Monkey Business

The Big Monkey interviews Frank Bettor of "Hatter M".

The Big Monkey salutes a creator unsung for his comic book feminism.

The Big Monkey kvetches about the lack of comic book coverage in local news.

The Big Monkey supplies you with Body Bags.

Big Monkey also provides you with Big Monkey Comics Radio, the on-line streaming audio station with nothing but comic book related music. There's more of it than you might think! In addition to having many fans stateside, BMCR is listened to in Greece, Ecuador, Germany, Australia, Norway, Spain, Korea, Israel, Brazil, Mexico, Sweden, Finland, Italy.

Even in Canada!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Original Beast Boy

Does anyone remember Beast Boy? No, not that green kid; the real Beast Boy!

By the "real" Beast Boy, I mean the 30th century one who was part of the original Heroes of Lallor. Everyone remembers Gas Girl, Life Lass, Evolvo Lad, and Duplicate Boy (well, okay-- not everyone), but nobody remembers Beast Boy.

Like the rest of Heroes of Lallor, Ilshu Nor got his powers from one those wacky nuclear accidents so common on backward planets like Lallor. He could transform himself into any animal -- and he didn't need any color correction. The HOLs, by the way, were all part of the experiment in fan interactivity that was the Legion: the characters were all ones that had been suggested by fans in the Legion's letter columns. Beast Boy, in case you were wondering, was the brainchild of one Thomas Raimondo of Brooklyn NY (who I believe is now a doctor in Rhode Island) in a letter that appears in Adventure #309.

The Heroes of Lallor were all as dumb as rocks (including Evolvo Lad, despite his intermittently giantic cranium), starting their careers as the dupes of (of all people) Jungle King's brother, who used them as tools of revenge against the Legion.

They continued to pop up every once in a while (like Legion ancillary characters do), but mostly after Beast Boy left their team (which is why he is so largely unremembered).

You see, long before Grant Morrison did it with Animal Man, Legion writer Edmond Hamilton realized that being able to become other animals might alienate you from humanity... so that's exactly what happened to Beast Boy.

When the Legionnaires learn that Beast Boy had become a brooding loner, leaving Lallor to live with the animals on Vorn, they go to see him because, well, the Legionnaires are nosy busybodies (oh, there's some business about animals developing intelligence on Vorn, but the Legion always finds some excuse to butt in when they want to). Beast Boy threatens the Legion to get them to leave him alone, but when they refuse, he allows himself to be caught in animal form by a trapper collecting specimens for the Metropolis Zoo.

Later, Beast Boy escapes from the zoo by changing into a dog, in which form he befriends a little girl and he sacrifices himself defending her from a beast that he himself accidently released from the zoo during his own escape. Despite his emotional difficulties straddling the human-animal divide, he died appropriately enough as a dog, the creature that straddles both worlds most successfully, and the Legionnaires honored his heroism.

Legion story were goofy, yes. But the Legion brought a level of fan interactivity and psychological sophistication that hadn't been seen in DC comics books before, and we shouldn't let the "Plantetary Chance Machines" and "Traquiliz-Globes" obscure that for us.

So.... remember the original Beast Boy.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Man of Tin, Brain of Steel

I tell ya, gang, if you're not buying these "Showcase" volumes, you're missing a World of Pain and Pleasure.

Yes, there's the usual over the top Silver Age lunacy like using telescopic vision to see what's happening on other planets (right now) and Jimmy Olsen in drag, living with a chimpanzee. But it's the tiny things, the little moments that really do it for me. Take, for example:

Wait, wait-- the BRAIN of STEEL? Now, there's a flattering epithet. Reminds me of Darmouth's Alma Mater, which sings that the school's graduates have the granite of New Hampshire in the brains; uh... thanks? Oh, and before someone says, "well, that's just like having a mind like a steel trap" .... no. No, it is not. Maybe the writer is talking about the computer, but even so, it sounds really bad for the Big S.

Or this tidbit, where Perry White is informed about some unemployed newsies. Note the "I'm going to use your head for a spittoon" look and the "talk to the hand" dismissal:

Ladies and gentlemen, Perry White, Humanitarian. "Are there no poorhouses?" Perry thinks. "If they're going to die, then they should get on with it, and reduce the surplus population." I love you, Perry. I strive always to model myself as an employer on your example, like the time you forced your best reporters to do push-ups in your office.

Later in the same story, for reasons too ridiculous on the macroscopic level to go into, Superman decides to build a stadium out of loaves and fishes, whereupon we discover just how powerful he really is:

Yes, Superman can turn TIN into STEEL simply by hitting it hard enough. That, as my grandfather would say, is decidedly off the chain. Who needs those sissies, Firestorm and Element Lad?


A special shout out goes today to Absorbascommando Sharif Youssef, who reminds us:

When you're Hal Jordan...

"thud" isn't just a sound effect, it's a verb, baby.

That time, he hit so hard, it knocked the yellow out of his boot! Note that, in Coast City, the sight of Hal Jordan bouncing off the walls in a semiconscious state is so common that it goes entirely unnoticed by the average masked bank robber: "Hm? Oh, that's probably just Green Lantern, suffering head trauma in a crumpled heap; why do you ask?"

Regular Coast Citizens, however, still thrill to the sight of HJ in action (or, for perhaps more appropriately, "inaction"), and will often recite The Green Lantern Prelude to Inaction:

Look, down on the ground!
It's a wino!
It's a sac of meal!

It's... HAL JORDAN!!!!!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Drugs? We're from the 30th century; we don't need no stinkin' drugs!

Yes, folks, "Tranquiliz-Globes"(tm) will bring you relaxation and serenity ... by microwaving your brain.

Screw primitive 20th century voodoo like aromatherapy; in the 30th century, we attack the problem at its source: your brain. So effective are Tranquiliz-Globes that the salesdude can't even be bothered to change out of his bathrobe. Now that's tranquil.

Tranquiliz-Globes are not merely functional, but decorative! They come in a variety of designer colors sure to match any primary-hued home: Relaxo-Red, Glassy-Eyed Gold, and Lobotomy Lime. So, cast aside those tight plastiform cinchbelts and constricting metallene neo-tribal armbands and soak up the serenity of Tranquiliz-Globes.

While boiz and grrlz all enjoy Tranquiliz-Globes, some people are more susceptible to their charms:
Globe-girl's into it; like, "who needs a boyfriend when I've got Tranquiliz-Globes" kind of into it. She used to tell her man, "I have a headache" -- but not so with Tranquiliz-Globes! I'm guessing the effect is cumulative and this isn't her first Friday night with the globes; bet she's even got some in her walk-in closet.

In fact, use them often enough, and the haiku just .... flow naturally:

"How... soothing! I had
a headache before but now,
I feel -- wonderful!"

What haiku do Tranquiliz-Globes inspire ... in YOU?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Sure-sells, revealed!

Do you have "sure-sells"?

I think that most comic book buyers do and that it's not just me. Sure-sells are features of comic book story (usually just a single character) that instantly make you buy the issue.

Everyone will buy a comic with a crying gorilla riding a bicycle through a fire against a backround of purple. But each of us has his or her own weak points, features that make you buy a comic.

It's only a sure-sell if, once you know it's in the comic, you immediately say "put in my sub" without needing to know anything else.

I'm going to admit my sure-sells, but I expect you to admit yours in return!

1. Vibe. Hey, meng; wha' chu espect?

2. Orca the Whalewoman. She sells sure-sells by the seashore.

3. The Crime Doctor. Even if he weren't so darned colorful, the concept is instrinsically interesting.

4. Dr. Psycho. The ultimate personal violator; very creepy. Always has been. William Moulton Marston created a lot of sick stuff; nothing sicker than Dr. Psycho, though.

5. People forced into playing life-and-death games of chess (or the like). I pretend it's a "Seventh Seal" thing, but we all know it's really a Despero-versus-Barry thing.

6. Black Manta. He's cool.

7. Phantom Lady. If I were a drag queen, I'd be Phantom Lady.

8. Amazo. You say you won't buy it, but you will.

9. Anything with Krypto kicking supervillain ass because he couldn't care less what your name is or what your powers are and is happy to shake you by the neck until it snaps, as if you were some squeaky toy or a pesky squirrel.

10. Killer Moth. Not "Charaxes"; Killer Moth.

Okay; your turn!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Legionspeak 101

I've always admired the Legion so much! Especially their turns of phrase. Legionnaires have a way of speaking that I'm going to try to emulate in my personal life.

To that end, I've begun to memorize some phrases from Legion stories, in hope that I'll be able to work them into casual conversation. To wit...

Sunboy: "Outright mutiny! I'll have you all punished for this attempt! The robots will handle you!"

Perfect for Big Monkey staff meetings.

Starboy: "This world is completely uninhabited except for these giant insects!"

Well, I'll have to visit Baltimore some time.

Light Lass: "Please don the expansible costume in the next room."

Friday nights.

Triplicate Girl: "You're so cute and clever! May I kiss you? You're just my type, even if you are from 1964!"

Actually, I'm hoping someone will say that to me.

Saturn Girl: "You're rubbing noses with the creature, causing it to calm down and become ... friendly! Oh, how brilliant of you!"

I have always admired how Devon handles the customers at the store.

Chameleon Boy: "Well, I'll be a cock-eyed robot reject!"

A statement of nearly universal utility.

Light Lass: "Become weightless, you hussies ... and float away!"

All I know is, when I finally say it, it'll be one of my greatest moments.

Proty II: "Your assignment is to do something super!"

That'll keep the assistant manager busy!

Comet: "You, a super-pet? Why, you're just a blob!"

Well, the dog doesn't really know what I'm saying anyway... .

Saturn Girl: "Only scant rations to eat, no comforts... this is a depressing place!"

I can't imagine when I'd go there, but at least I'll be ready if I do.

Caution: Mad Blogger at Work!

As those who know me would attest, I'd don't get mad that much. I'm a pretty affable guy ... until I reach a certain point at which I skip "mad" and go straight to "I shall destroy you all for deriding my scientific genius and the world will rue the day it laughed at.... PROFESSOR GARLING!"

I am currently at that point with Marvel ... AND DC. Why?

Marvel and DC are asserting trademark rights on the word "superhero"
. Thus, no other company or writer can called any of their characters a 'superhero'. The case in point involves the stunningly innocuous "Superhero Happy Hour", a cute little series I've read on occasion.

This infuriates me for several reasons.

  • My sense of fair play is offended when people use frivolous trademark assertions as threats to intimidate their competition rather than offering superior products and services.

  • If I have to see TM after every use by DC of the term "superhero"(oh, EXCUSE ME, I meant "super-hero"TM; can I say "superhero" here? Is DC going to sue me?), I think I'll simply stop reading comics and focus on Latin & Greek Literature, instead. Not a lot of trademark fights between Aeschylus and Euripides over who owns the term "deus ex machina" (of course, I suppose DC owns that now, too).

  • What's next? "Invulnerable"tm? "Amazon"tm? "Mutant"tm? "Villain"tm? Aren't those words that make most people think of comic books? Will DC and Marvel go after "super-ego"? Maybe only DC and Marvel's egos will be allowed to be called "super-egos"... .

  • Do you use adhesive strips, pain relievers, and facial tissue? No; you use band-aids, aspirin, and kleenex, regardless of the brand. Still, those are pretty clearly "brand names"; but "super-hero", the combination of a basic Greek root and a simple Latin prefix, the kind of word our language produces naturally, couldn't be farther from a "brand name" if it tried.

  • Even if successful, DC and Marvel will have accomplished nothing whatsoever except the proliferation of embarrassing linguistic folderol like "megaheroes" and "ultraheroes", and the media and 'oi polloi will STILL call them all superheroes. So will I; aggressively.

  • It seems quite sufficient to me that DC and Marvel dominate an entire genre of literature. Trying to trademark a genre through ownership of its keywords is greedy, overkill, and smacks of insecurity.

I would be happy -- oh, so happy -- to be proven wrong in reporting this to you. I would delighted to be mistaken, or to have to eat my words when DC (at least) says, "oh no, we aren't doing that, our bad."

Make me happy, DC. Because right now, I am mad.