Saturday, June 30, 2007

Separated at Birth: Biceps like an iron girder/Fit for doing of a murder

Iron Man #100 and She-Hulk v. 4 #3

L: Iron Man #100 (July 1977), art by Jim Starlin
R: She-Hulk v. 4 #3 ("#100") (February 2006), art by Greg Horn
(Click picture to hundred-size)

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Molly Moo-Cow and the Butterflies

"Molly Moo-Cow and the Butterflies" (1935)
Directed by Burt Gillette and Tom Palmer

Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Night Fights: Dogfight Tonight!

Long before these guys
Snoopy's Family

or these guys

...there was another all-the-rage clan of domesticated pets who caught the nation's fancy and became beloved icons of man's best friend in the funny papers: Daisy (faithful dog of Dagwood and Blondie Bumstead) and her pups. What, you say you don't even remember seeing Daisy have pups in the Blondie comic strip? Well, Daisy's still in residence, but the pups haven't been around for many years. I like to assume they all went to fine homes like Herb and Tootsie Woodley, Elmo Tuttle, Mr. Beasley (one of my Top Ten Fictional Mailmen)...but not, we hope, to slave-driver Julius Dithers, who would no doubt work those hounds to death. Boo, Mister Dithers!

How popular were the pups? So popular that a lengthy sequence of the strip was based around their birth (you kids today with your worrying over who Elizabeth Patterson will ultimately choose would do well to check it out), toys were created of them, they got their own movie, and oh yeah, their own comic book from Harvey. (Beat that, Andy, Olaf, and Marbles!)

But what's this got to do with Friday Night Fights? Why, open your eyes wide and behold the sheer spectacle and splendor that is dogs fighting in a boxing ring:
Daisy and Her Pups #7

POW! * Why, that's almost a punch of Kirbyian proportions there! Does Elmer triumph? Are the orphans saved? Is there a happy ending to Daisy and Her Pups #7? Well, I don't have the comic book in question in my collection, but knowin' comics, at least of that time, I'm gonna venture: yes, there's a happy ending. Do you really need to ask? Because when dogs put on boxing gloves, we are all winners.

Who let the dogs out? Bahlactus let the dogs out! (And I hope he got his iPhone, too!)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Unsettling Slang of Mister Clint Barton, Part 5

One definition of a Clint Bartonism: words strung together that have never been spoken in that order before or since:

Secret Wars #8 scan
Panel from Secret Wars #8, (December 1984), written by Jim Shooter, art by Mike Zeck, John Beatty, and Christie Scheele

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Feel-Good Comic of the Summer!

As the final issue (#12) of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars opens, our heroes are in a bit of a tough spot...

Secret Wars #12 panel
All panels are from Secret Wars #12 (April 1985), written by Jim Shooter, art by Mike Zeck, John Beatty, and Christie Scheele

Can't quite read those small caption boxes? Never fear, Secret Wars fans, I shall...not unlike the Marvel superheroes...blow them up:
Secret Wars #12 panel

Secret Wars #12 panel

Whoa, Jim Shooter sure loved these characters a lot to kill them off so completely, didn't he? Well, surely it can't have been a total massacre, can it...?:
Secret Wars #12 panel

Secret Wars #12 panel

Oh, the superhumanity! But what about the can't kill him off! Surely the Hulk musta survived! Spider-Man? They wouldn't kill off Spider-Man, would they? And even if Shooter did, he surely leave the Sensational New Character Find of 1985, Spider-Woman alive to tell the tale, wouldn't he...?
Secret Wars #12 panel

Secret Wars #12 panel

Well, at least they died with dignity and respect, right? I'm sure Shooter has some lyrical words of peaceful repose to salute our fallen heroes...
Secret Wars #12 panel

Sheesh, Jimbo. Got macabre? And you thought Marvel Zombies was grim!

PS: They got better.
PPS: "Twenty-one lie dead here"? Count again.

Well, of course.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bits of Bully Business

Please excuse a mildly truncated post tonight: your little stuffed host's bean-filled back is straining under the weight of the triple-threat of the Real World—no, not Judd Winick, Pamela Ling, and Puck, but the three-pronged timesucker that is travel (generally fun, but it can get tedious when you can hardly lay your own head on your own pillow for more than a couple nights in a row), a summer cold (I'm trying to suck it up, but it's not as much fun as sucking up a chocolate malt...ah-choo!), and work (running about a publishing company stacking books in tidy attractive piles by size, color, and sometimes ISBN can really wear you down!). I hope to be up to full running speed again by this weekend, but I'll have posts for you all week long.

In the meantime, how about a couple links for you P. G. Wodehouse fans? First, BBC7 has finished its rebroadcast of the radio dramatization of Joy in the Morning, one of the finest Jeeves books, but shed no tears in your hot sweet milky tea: beginning this week BBC7 starts the serialization of the radio version of The Inimitable Jeeves, also starring Michael Hordern (Gandalf in the radio version of The Lord of the Rings) as Jeeves, and as Bertie, Richard Briers (the lucky, lucky man who got to share a bed with the lovely, lovely Felicity Kendal in The Good Life/Good Neighbors, depending on which side of the pond you're on). You may remember The Inimitable Jeeves as the very first entry in A Wodehouse a Week, and trust me, this is wonderful Wodehouse and jovial Jeeves. But Bully (you may be saying), I do not live in the UK and therefore do not have access to all the wonderful wireless programmes on Auntie Beeb that you recommend! Never fear, chums, because if you're reading this blog, you've got a way to listen to BBC7! Simply skip on over to the BBC7 website "Listen Again" page, click on "Monday" at the top of the page, and scroll down until you find The Inimitable Jeeves. The Monday page and hence the show is available starting every Tuesday for the next six days, so you'll find episode 1 there now, and episode 2 will pop up like clockwork next Tuesday. While you're there, stroll about the other days of the week to find some more excellent BBC comedy and drama programming. I highly recommend the final episode of The Harpoon (running on Mondays), a witty and outrageous "Boy's Own" sketch comedy show in the vein of Ripping Yarns, and Giles Wemmbley-Hogg Goes Off (Fridays).

But what if, like boisterous Bully backer Eric notes in a comment on my most recent "A Wodehouse a Week," ("If I had to choose between comic books and Wooster and Jeeves, I would be sorely tempted to choose the latter."), you have to make the Solomon-like decision of picking either Wodehouse or comics? But, as I often decide when trying to choose between apple pie and ice cream for dessert, why not choose both, by checking out "Summer Moonshine," what may be the world's only Wodehouse comic! It's brilliantly realized in comic strip form by John Lustig (you know and love him as the creator of "Last Kiss"). Beautiful stuff, and you can be sure this li'l stuffed bull is gonna order a signed print of the strip and hang it proudly on my apartment wall next to all the photos of Felicity Kendal! (A tip o' the nose ring to Bookseller Chick for pointing me to the strip, and to Jaunty Jonathan Miller for alerting me of it in the comments!)

And finally, because, after all, this is Comics Oughta Be Fun, we proudly bashfully present:

The Unsettling Slang of Mister Steve Rogers

Captain America #201 panel
Panel from Captain America and the Falcon #201 (September 1976), written and pencilled by Jack Kirby, inked by Frank Giacoia, colored by Phil Rache

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Wodehouse a Week #9: Thank You, Jeeves

A Wodehouse a Week banner

Those who know Bully the L.S.B. have often been heard to comment "That Bully is such a polite little bull...always with the pleases and thank yous." For one as civil as I, is it any wonder that this week's Wodehouse is the very politely-titled Thank You, Jeeves (1934)? No, it's no wonder at all.

And really, isn't it time for another Jeeves book? We're nine weeks into the grand Wodehouse a Week project of which week #1 was The Inimitable Jeeves, so let's dig deeper into the canon of the world's cleverest gentleman's gentleman. Thank You, Jeeves is the first Jeeves novel (the previous four books, including The Inimitable Jeeves, were collections of short stories), and if you're carrying any worry that Wodehouse will have a problem stretching his most famous characters from 24 to 240 pages, dismiss it from your mind post-haste: brilliant as Wodehouse's short stories are, his favored playground is the full-length novel, and this is a delicious large helping.

I have only one edition of Thank You, Jeeves...up until recently it has been completely out of print. (Why? My best guess, a little later.) It's the Harper Perennial edition back when HarperCollins used to be called Harper & Row (and wouldn't you be mad if you were Mister Row and got your name shoved off the colophon in favor of that upstart Collins?), and has a delightful "new" introduction from Wodehouse for the 1975 reprinting, in which he discusses his difficulty in trying to move away from the typewriter for this book:
...It is the only book of mine which I tried to produce without sitting down at a typewriter and getting a crick in the back.

Not that I ever thought of dictating it to a stenographer. How anybody can compose a story by word of mouth, face to face with a bored-looking secretary with a notebook is more than I can imagine. Yet many authors think nothing of saying 'Ready, Miss Spelvin? Take dictation. Quote No comma Lord jasper Murgatroyd comma close quote said no better make it hissed Evangeline comma quote I would not marry you if you were the last man on earth close quote period Quote Well comma, I'm not the last man on earth comma so the point does not arise comma close quote replied Lord Jasper command twirling his moustache cynically period And so the long day wore on.'

If I started to do that sort of thing I should be feeling all the time that the girl was saying to herself as she took it down, 'Well comma this beats me period How comma with homes for the feeble-minded touting for customers on every side comma has a fathead like this Wodehouse succeeded in remaining at larger all these years mark of interrogation.'
Yes, it's a mark of genius that Wodehouse can have you laughing even before you get out of the Preface.

Peer closely at that photo above, of little stuffed me engrossed in Thank You, Jeeves (you can click it to get a larger view) and you'll spy Steven Guarnaccia's wonderful cover illustration—wonderful use of patterns, don't you think? And tho' I'm not certain I saw Bertie in my head as a ginger, that's a wonderful spot-on portrayal of how Bertie and Jeeves look in my head. Note that Bertie is playing the banjo (or, as it's called throughout the book, the banjolele) while Jeeves winces in pain and is carrying his suitcase. [EDIT on 6/26/07: Commenters more musically inclined than I have correctly pointed out that the banjolele is not identical to a banjo but is a different instrument. Erich notes that this is what music hall comedian George Formby is famed for playing, (here's a list from a Formby estate sale that includes dozens of ukeleles and banjoleles) and Philip even directs me to a wonderful discussion of the banjolele in this book, complete with photos!] Could this be the end of the Jeeves and Wooster partnership?

Well, yes, frightfully so! (Don't be afraid, it's only temporary.) The first chapter is entitled "Jeeves Gives Notice" and that is not a cheap tease: as he does in so many of the books, Jeeves takes issue most strongly to a new possession or garment or trait of Bertie's, and much of the action of the book cycles around Bertie trying to deal with a problem without the immeasurable help of Jeeves until he is forced to part with the offending object. In this case it's Bertie's banjolele-playing (curiously left-handed on the cover; I never thought of Bertie Wooster as literally sinister). He's forced out of their London home until he stops this musical practice, and Jeeves will not accompany him to his new home, a honeysuckled cottage in the Dorset for much of the novel, Jeeves is actually in the employ either of Bertie's old school chum Lord "Chuffy" Chuffnell or J. Washburn Stoker, American millionaire (with his own convenient yacht). Of course, there's the usual tangled love story to unfold, and unlike Wodehouse's other romances but as with all the Jeeves books, Bertie the protagonist is not the man who will get married at the end. Toss in Sir Roderick Glossop, psychologist, who has in the previous stories seen enough evidence (most of it masterminded by Jeeves to extricate his master from sticky engagements or situations) to consider Bertie a complete feeble-minded idiot. Will good triumph? Will Jeeves return to Bertie's employ? Will there be a happy ending? Silly reader, of course there will: it's a Wodehouse novel.

As one of his earlier novels and the first one featuring Jeeves and Bertie, it's fairly straightforward without a lot of the twisting tangles of coincidence and the cast of dozens that populate some later Wodehouse novels, but this clean and simple treatment allows Bertie to deliver some of the trademark offhand narration we love these books for, as in this segment where we find what type of woman really makes Bertie's eyes fly open: one that's a little less outdoorsy and a little more Hollywood:
Analysing this, if analysing is the word I want, I came to the conclusion that this changed outlook was due to the fact that she was so dashed dynamic. Unquestionably an eyeful, Pauline Stoker had the grave defect of being one of those girls who want you to come and swim a mile before breakfast and rout you out when you are trying to snatch a wink of sleep after lunch for a merry five sets of tennis. And now that the scales had fallen from my eyes, I could see that what I required for the role of Mrs Bertram Wooster was something rather more on the lines of Janet Gaynor.
Pauline Stoker, is, of course, a chummy ex-fianceé of Bertie's, which means plenty of opportunity for Chuffy, her new boyfriend, to be greedily jealous of Bertie. The wedding has got to take place, too...not merely for true love, but in order to seal the deal where Chuffy will unload his crumbling ruin of a Devon mansion on Pauline's millionaire dad in order to make it into a health sanatorium for Roderick Glossop. Or, as Bertie puts it (wonderfully):
'And unless old Stoker buys the Hall, Chuffy will continue to be Kid Lazarus, the man without a bean. One spots the drama of the situation. And yet, why, Jeeves? Why all this fuss about money? After all, plenty of bust blokes have married oofy girls before now.'
This wedding thing: Sounds simple enough, right? Not when Bertie finds this in his cottage, in one of the truly finest and most melodic single sentences in the entire English language:
Reading from left to right, the contents of the bed consisted of Pauline Stoker in my heliotrope pyjamas with the old gold stripe.
Definition time: Heliotrope: a vivid shade of purple. Sure, Wodehouse could have gone for "purple" or "mauve" or "violet' here, but isn't heliotrope the most magnificent word you could find in a book? It scans wonderfully when you read that sentence, doesn't it?:

My heliotrope pyjamas with the old gold stripe

That's almost a Cole Porter song, inn't it? I declare that heliotrope is one of the finest and most criminally underused words in the English language and hereby vow to use it more frequently in my day-to-day life.

In a novel that has such a lovely and mellifluous word as heliotrope, it's therefore startling to turn the page a few chapters later and come across an altogether more startling word when Bertie begins to describe a troupe of black minstrel entertainers: yes, Wodehouse uses the n-word here, several times, in a friendly and unloaded manner, but yes, that's very definitely the n-word. And that may very well be why the book has been out of print for a while. You may remember that I commented on a very small but historically unfortunate couple lines of minstrel-show type dialogue in The Inimitable Jeeves featuring a Stepin Fetchit-type character (an elevator operator to whom Jeeves gave Bertie's garish socks). While no black characters actually speak or appear on stage in Thank You, Jeeves, they're a vital part of the plot: Bertie uses their appearance at a birthday party to (oh, dear) blacken his face with burnt cork and mingle with them to escape Pop Stoker's yacht, and he (and Roderick Glossop) spend most of the second half of the book in blackface, startling the other characters and being referred to as (oh, double dear) "black devils." The phrase "n-word minstrels" is casually batted around, and because of it, Thank You, Jeeves becomes something of a problem book to express full admiration for. Like Will Eisner's dialect for Ebony, you can take a couple paths to dealing with this sort of approach: you can dismiss the book and work as unworthy of praise or study, or you can argue that it's very much a usage of the time and that neither Wodehouse nor Eisner intended racism or offense. I agree with this point of view, but I am a very politically correct little stuffed bull and I realize the loaded gun this language and usage is, especially today. I don't fault anyone for disliking or avoiding the book because of it. Neither Wodehouse nor Bertie (indeed, nobody in the book) is a racist. But it does make it a problematic book for our modern times and the best defense I can offer is...look, it was common entertainment parlance at the time. That does not excuse the word, but we can't judge Wodehouse's usage of it by our modern standards. Be your own judge and decide if it affects your enjoyment of the book. I do believe Wodehouse would have been aghast if he understood how offensive the word is by modern standards and would have changed it.

Thank You Jeeves movie For what it's worth, there's also a 1936 movie entitled Thank You, Jeeves starring David Niven as Bertie and Arthur Treacher (well before the fish and chip days; what inspired casting!) as Jeeves. It bears little or no resemblance to the Wodehouse books, most of all this one, although Treacher's a delight to watch and listen to. But again, as a product of its time, there's some characterization that is politically incorrect by today's standards: Willie Best, one of the standout talented song and dance men of the era, a black man often relegated to Stepin Fetchit-type roles and dialogue, plays a horribly caricatured black horn player in this movie. It's hard to watch this film these days without cringing a bit—harder even to defend this movie as a whole—when Best shrieks in horror and hides at a supposed ghost. Wodehouse wasn't well served by film or television until the John Alderton/Pauline Collins Wodehouse Playhouse TV series; it would take a couple decades after that for the Jeeves and Bertie stories to be turned into excellent BBC TV programmes starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. I'd watch the 1936 Thank You, Jeeves for nothing more than a curiosity of how sometimes the film industry just "doesn't get it." (It pops up occasionally on Turner Classic Movies, along with its 1937 sequel Step Lively, Jeeves.)

In any case, the book's now back in print for you to read and make up your own mind. There's the usual very fine Overlook Collector's Wodehouse hardcover edition (click on the link to the right to order it through Hmm, Bertie's a right-hander on this one! Of course, search around and you'll find Thank You, Jeeves in other out-of-print used paperback editions. Some of them may even have heliotrope covers.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ten of a Kind: Face to face, my lovely foe/Mouth to mouth, raining heaven's blows

And, if you've ever wondered what these covers would look like in motion, all you need to do is watch the final few seconds of this:

(More Ten of a Kind here.)