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

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The double-edged sword

A comic book made me throw up today.

I was going to share with you all the happy happy things in the many comics I bought this week, which bought me hours and hours of joy today.

But it's more important that a comic book made me throw up today.

Not because it was bad. It wasn't. But rather, because it affected me so much emotionally, like watching someone you've known for over 30 years and care about, who is standing on railroad tracks staring at an oncoming train and realizing that you cannot possibly save him. Because that's where he wants to be.

Surprise had no part to play in my reaction. It was no surprise at all. In fact, I'd been waiting for it to happen for two years or so. But that didn't make it any better when it happened. It just made it that much worse.

Comics can be a powerful and passionate medium, and deserve to be. Like any good literature they can be fun and entertaining. But the flip side of the coin is that they can disturb and upset us as well. Someone once said that all people have the capacity to do good or evil; it's in their capacity for greatness of any kind that they differ. The same applies, I think, to literature.

So I'm very happy that most of my comics overjoyed me today. But I'm much happier that one of them made me throw up.

The Myth of the Mad Hatter

Let's take a look at DC's Mad Hatter, one of its best examples of how comic myths grow.

It was very first obvious in his first story that the Mad Hatter was intended as a one-time, throwaway character; he's not even the central figure of the plot! The first Mad Hatter story is, in fact, Vicki Vale's story (Batman #49, Oct/Nov 1948). It introduces her as a Lois Lane manque for Batman, always snooping around trying to deduce Batman's identity. Vicki never caught on with readers; the secret identity games Superman played with Lois were needed to give him a challenge, but Batman readers were more interested in watching their hero catch crooks than evade reporters. Superman is essentially French farce; Batman, pulp fiction.

The Mad Hatter is merely a plot device in that story (although he is quite a pitcher). Not wanting Vicki's introduction to be overshadowed by the presence of a real member of Batman's rogues gallery, the writer, I'm sure, simply plucked a familar culture image out of a hat (um, no joke intended) and made a villain of it. At the end of the story the Hatter does have some thugs disguised as Wonderland characters infiltrate a costume affair, but mostly the Hatter's "theme" is pretty light. No interest in hats per se, either; he was after a yachting club trophy.

A yachting club trophy. Yes, I'd risk my life and freedom for such a prize. Ever wondered why crooks hang out in Gotham, despite the Batman's threatening presence? The answer is simple: the best darned fences of stolen goods in the world. No matter what obscure ridiculous crap you steal, the Insuperable Fences of Gotham will have it sold and converted into cash for you in under three business days.

"Whaddaya got? Priceless collection of Etruscan snoods? That'll be ready Friday by close of business. A trainload of chewing gum for the black market? Depends; if it's sugarless, I can get you top dollar." Name it: Batagonian Cat's Eye Opals, industrial size vats of caviar, pinched cruise ships. You can get anything fenced in Gotham City.

Since the Mad Hatter was a throwaway, it's no surprise he never appeared again in the Golden Age. But in the Silver Age, all characters were grist for the mill of reinvention (just ask Alan Scott and Jay Garrick!). And, thanks to googly-eyed foaming-at-the-mouth trendsetters like Joe Coyne, all you needed was a "crime symbol", a sort of theme around which to base all your crimes, and you could be a supervillain. I mean, this is the era of Signalman, Calendarman, and the Spinner.

Thus, the Mad Hatter, now drawn with dramatic red hair and moustache with unmatching black eyebrows, was reimagined as a sort of big game hunter of hats. He stole hats, using hat weapons. And, um, hat-related stuff. Thanks to the Insuperable Fences of Gotham, there's a living in that sort of thing.

Anyway, his two main stories involving getting revenge on the jurors who had sent him to prison and stealing Batman's cowl. Sure enough, these became the very plots of the Mad Hatter episodes on the Batman live action series in the late 1960s. The Mad Hatter was portrayed brilliantly by the underappreciated David Wayne. So deadly earnest was his acting that the Hatter was actually disturbing, threatening. Well, by the standards of the Batman show, anyway.

Here's where it gets interesting. Writers must have thought the comic version of the Mad Hatter too colorless or his various hat tricks to reminiscent of the Penguin's umbrellas. So they came with

"the super instant mesmerizer concealed in my top hat."

GODS, how I love saying that--daily. The top of his hat would pop open and little tiny glowing eyes would zap people in their eyes and, well, super-instant mesmize them. Ridiculous. Extremely cool. I remember trying to make one as a kid. I got the top to pop. I'm still working on the super instant mesmerizer part.

As is often the case in the evolution of a myth, there were variant versions of the Mad Hatter, waiting for a synchretic attempt to pull them into a unified whole. That happened in Detective 510 in 1981.

It was a high time for villains; the Joker, Two-Face, Dr. Death, Catman, the Scarecow, the Mannequin, the Pharoah. Everyone was making the scene. Cue the "new" Mad Hatter. Actually he was the original one, now portrayed as a genius in electronics and neuroscience who had invented "mindcontrol hats". Though the hats stifled individual thought they also unleashed hidden brain potential (an excuse for making the Hatter's slave extra strong and dangerous).

He also had a creepy attachment to his pet monkey. Where is that monkey? DC; bring back the Hatter's monkey, please. Monkeys and comic books are a natural together.

Who did write that story? I don't remember it as being very good, but it did pull together the appearance of the Wonderland character (from the Golden Age version), using hats as gimmick weapons (from the Silver Age version), and mindcontrol (from the TV version).

Those were all the elements needed for the folks at Batman the Animated Series to craft the perfect Mad Hatter. Just as they had done with Mr. Freeze, they gave the character a backstory based in a love gone wrong that explained their descent into crime and madness. That, along with giving him an obsession with the Wonderland books, completed the picture. This powerful mythic amalgam, backed by Roddy McDowall's inspired voicing of the disturbed Jervis Tetch, finally pulled the Mad Hatter of their mists of the Third Tier of Batman villains and placed him solidly in the Second Tier.

Further portrayals have enriched the Mad Hatter myth. An unhealthy attachment with little girls (aped from the rumors about the author of the original Wonderland stories, Lewis Carroll) has been implicated (at least in Robin Year One and Arkham Asylum). And in case you're wondering why no one else uses his mind control technology it's because the feedback poisons the mind of the controller, contributing to the madness of the Hatter. Now all he needs is his monkey back.

Writers have on the whole done a good job combining the Hatter's various themes and elements in different ways to form stories (for example, when he gains control of the police department through a coffee service, a sort of modern twist on the Mad Hatter's Tea Party).

I wonder when we'll see him again!

P.S. Hi, Gail! Will you marry me?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Crusade to Vindicate Vibe

Help! A horrible injustice has been done and I need YOUR help to fix it!

Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict
is a fine and respectable site ... but it has committed a Grave Sin against one of the saints of the DCU.

"Lame Character Lists"
are a staple of any comic book discussion form; we understand that. We also understand that, since not all intellectual palates are of such strength and distinction as to savor the special spice that is Vibe, the poor, departed Saint Paco Ramone will often find himself on such lists.

Greatness is often misunderstood and underappreciated. Alas.

We accept that. But what we cannot, will not, must not accept is this:

It should be no surprise that Vibe was also killed, and never brought back and actually has no cult following at all. Everybody just kind of likes to forget about him. Vibe is thought of today as the stain on the legacy of the Justice League.

This must not stand. Call him lame all you like; but to claim that Vibe has "no cult following", that everyone wants to forget about him, and that he is thought of as a "stain on the legacy of the Justice League"...! Inappropriate; unwarranted; unacceptable!

Say what you will about his relative charms. But many think of him fondly, enough to consider his a "cult" following. My spies, in fact, inform me that some of the Pop Culture Addict staff are closet Vibe fans, cowed into silence by fear of public opprobium. Do not claim Vibe is forgotten or not missed. The Yazz is forgotten and not missed. Vibe is more popular now than he ever was when he was alive, as is so often the case with saints.

Vibe died a hero
, trying to protect an innocent child and himself. That's not "a stain on the legacy of the JLA" in my book.

So, I charge you now, speak out! I have warned PCA to expect your messages and they await your feedback; contact them and let them know that the Cult of Vibe does exist, and ask them to recant.

Vibe may be "lame"; but he is no less loved for it.

Blah blah blah

Here, courtesy everyone's favorite recently cancelled title, Manhunter, is the kind of heroic haiku moment that only the teamwork of the JSA could provide:"Blah blah blah; if you
wanna grab a beer, I'll be
in the gym." "Noted."

You can't exceed the JSA's coolness with your own haiku; but you can try.

P.S. Would you like a weekly e-mail that tells you what comics are coming out? Big Monkey Comics provides such a free service. Just go to our website and enter your e-mail in this box:

Don't worry. It's an automatic listserv thingie, so we can't use it to spam you, even if we wanted to. We just thought we might as well extend the service to everyone, whether they're our local customers or not!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Visiting the Neighbors

The reason I seldom link-blog are :
(1) It seems lazy and sycophantic, even when it's useful;
(2) I spend more time writing on this blog than I do reading others;
(3) I figure you know how to surf the internet as well as I do.

That said, I will now link-blog anyway.

Joncormier at Hypnoray has one of the best posts I've ever read anywhere, about anything, ever. In it, he helped me vastly to understand: Identity Crisis, Countdown, and Infinite Crisis; how and why decompressed storytelling works; and why I like DC more than Marvel.

Devon at Seven Hells has posted one of the most, well, ballsy analyses on how to deal with women in a comic book store I've ever read. I hope the owner of his store appreciates him!

Ragnell at Written World has managed to make me confused about my sexuality. That's impressive. Fortunately, I have Dorian at Postmodernbarney to set me straight again. So to speak.

I'm not even looking at Blockade Boy's site today before refering you to it, because I know it's funny. Blockade Boy always make me laugh; he's the blogger I want to be when I grow up.

Huh; so that's what Batman looks like in fishnets. Dinah makes it look so easy.

I used to think Mallet was weak and girly. But now I idolize him for the ironman he is; HE is reading Infinity, Inc, the series that could make a strong man cry. Mallet, I salute you!

Harvey Jerkwater's efforts at Filing Cabinet of the Damned to pin down the elements need for iconification of characters are very enlightening and you deserve to read them.

Mister Fish tackles Stan Lee so you don't have to.

My two pennies' worth

Frank Miller invented Alfred.

I think it's fair to say I'm not Frank Miller's biggest fan. Far from it, in fact. But one must give the devil his due.

Alfred began unspectactularly as just another Fat Funny Friend. He was well-meaning bungler, a wanna detective, and an intruder on the Wayne household.

How things change! Alfred skinnied up and grew a mustache to resemble his first movie counterpart, retconned his name from the comic "Beagle" to the dignified "Pennyworth", stopped speaking in dialect, and acquired responsibility for upkeep of the Batcave. That evolution saved Alfred from the fate of other comic relief characters of Golden Age. At some point (help me out on this one), he was retconned in as the family butler when Bruce was a boy, becoming a surrogate parent after the Waynes died.

But Alfred was still, on the whole, a colorless faithful retainer type for decades.


The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller is credited with revitalizing, darkening, and solidifying the Batman. Pfah. What Miller really did was revitalize, darken, and soldify Alfred. In not too many scenes, Miller created the image of acerbic, painfully dry and understated retainer that is now Alfred. So right was Miller's characterization, so desperately needed to give Alfred the larger and deeper role readers have always wanted him to have. So successful was he in doing so, that not only did every writer afterwards follow his lead, but readers began to think that Alfred was always that way.

He wasn't.
Thank you, Frank Miller, for re-inventing Alfred as someone who could both "fight" Batman to a standstill and make Batman part of one of comics' greatest comedy duos.