Saturday, September 29, 2007

Separated at Birth: Ya running and ya running/And ya running away/But ya can't run away from yourself

Uncanny X-Men #173, X-Men Classic #77, Rogue #9

L: Uncanny X-Men #173 (September 1983), art by Paul Smith
M: X-Men Classic #77 (November 1992), art by Adam Hughes
R: Rogue #9 (May 2005), art by Scott Eaton and Dan Hillsman
(Click picture to honey-and-magnolia-size)

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Bimbo's Initiation

"Bimbo's Initiation" (1931), directed by Dave Fleischer,
animation by Myron "Grim" Natwick,
and featuring the early "French poodle" Betty Boop design

Say, why did Bimbo disappear from the Betty Boop cartoons? The startling answer here. And say...wanna be a member?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday Night Fights: Time waits for no man, and it won't wait for Reed

I love time travel stories.

No, no, I really love time travel stories. If time travel stories were a girl, I'd marry them. (Also, if they were Keira Knightley.) I loves me some era-hoppin', clock-turnin', calendar-flippin', grandfather-killin' stories with the fierce passion of John Wilkes Booth as he tripped over me shouting "Sic Semper Tyrannus," and firing his handgun wildly, upset about his copy of Incredible Hulk #5, apparently.

Star Trek TNG: Time SquaredI like historical time travel stories, where you get to meet Jesse James or Teddy Roosevelt or Clara Bow. I really like self-looping and -referential ones: where the traveler overlaps his own life and we see the effects of his own past actions on himself rather than just Julius Caesar or Fatty Arbuckle or Duke Kahanamoku. Think Back to the Future, Part Two (where two Marty McFlys stretch the special effects budget and double Michael J. Fox's rich-as-Croesus salary), or Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Time Squared," which pits Picard versus Picard for the Enterprise's annual "Make-It-So-Off" competition.

But what I really love are time travel stories where events appear chronologically out of sequence to the general observer but in fact have a logical forward-moving storyline from the POV of the time travelers. F'r instance: where the heck did that Data-head come from at the beginning of Star Trek TNG's Time's Arrow? (Data would lose his head in his own future but back in the past). How come The Doctor and Martha don't recognize either Queen Elizabeth I or Sally Sparrow? (Because those meetings occur in the Doctor's own future, which is the past for those two who have met him). When I first flipped open 52 Week 19, I was all thrilled and excited, because (as I declared loudly to the world) "Booster's back, Baby!" And with the time-hopping assistance of Rip Hunter, Booster's story no longer needed to continue chronologically...for us, that is. I wanted to see Skeets chasing Booster and Rip throughout time...more specifically, throughout the 52 weeks...which means we would have seen them pop up through out the series, out of sequence, every few issues. A Skeets/Booster/Rip appearance in, say, issue #32 might be followed by one in issue #37...that occurred before the one in #32. Only when you have the whole series could you follow along and put all the pieces together in logical time-traveler POV chronological order. When I realized, however, that this wasn't gonna happen (Booster didn't pop out of time until quite close to the end of the series), I was a little disappointed. I love Easter eggs like that, which reward careful reading, re-reading, and flipping around to link the segments together. I do think DC dropped the ball by not giving us short snippets of Booster leaping around the fifty-two weeks, but as the new Booster Gold series is pretty fun and seems like it might pull out that old but irresistible trick at some point, all is forgiven, Johnny DC.

FF #352 And anyway, as I suddenly remembered with a tiny light bulb going on over my fuzzy little head, somebody did a story like that already. And that somebody was the totally freakin' awesome Walt Simonson. And that story was the senses-shattering time-twisting Fantastic Four #352. And that this FF is one of the most fun comics, ever, and maybe I oughta tell you a little bit about it.

"But what," you ask, "has that got to do with the triumphant, fast-smashin', sucka-punchin' return of Bahlactus's Friday Night Fights, Bully?" you query me, and I shake my head and smile at your naive question. It's because, quite simply, dear readers, FF #352 features the mind-blowing spectacle of Reed Richards and Victor von Doom slugging it out mano a mano as they leap around in time. Or, as Unca Walt tells us, without a sliver of hyperbole:
FF #352 panel

Let's peer in on our kooky kwartet, shall we?

FF 352 double-page spread
Artwork on this and further panels are from Fantastic Four #352 (May 1991), written and drawn by Walt Simonson, coloring by Marie Javins, lettering by Bill Oakley
(Click this picture to Big Ben-size)

It is exactly 1:04 AM. Long past my bedtime, but both Reed and Doom get to stay up late and watch Conan 'coz they're wearing Doom's "personal time sequencers" that allow them to skip back and forth in time anywhere within one half-hour of your origin point. Much like those pesky aliens who gifted Ralph Hinkley Hanley with the super-suit, Doom doesn't provide Reed with any instruction on how to use the time sequencer. But there's a reason why no VCRs in the Baxter Building ever flash "12:00"...Reed can figger out any machine in a split-second! By zipping back in time two seconds, Reed's able to land the first punch of this powerhouse fight, popping out of the space-time continuum just, time to clock Doom a big rubbery sucka punch with Doom's collectible Mjolnir replica. Booyah, Doctor Doom!
FF #352 panel

But Reed is not all rubber and no silicon chip: he's got a plan, Stan, and he puts it in action by flicking ahead from 1:05 AM (see the green time box in the lower left-hand corner for the "real universe" time) to 1:08 AM (the white circular time balloon shows where Reed and Doom are heading to).
FF #352 panel

Turn the page and for bashful Benjy Grimm the clock ticks along placidly to 1:06 AM so you can read his emotional subplot with ex-She-Thing Sharon Ventura, and there! On the right side of the page pop Doom and Reed...but golly, what they're saying and doing doesn't following logically from the previous page, does it?
FF #352 panel

In fact, try to read this like a normal comic book and you'll quickly be confused. The Thing storyline progresses normally at a forward-clock movement per page pace, but the Doom/Reed panels seem to be disjointed and out of order! The dialogue doesn't seem to make sense and Reed is suddenly clad in some sort of armor he wasn't wearing on the previous page...oh wait, that's right! They're time-traveling! Don't read the Doom/Reed pages in comic book order; instead, follow their time travels using the minutes at the bottom right corner of the page!

Armed with this knowledge, flip back a page and note that Doom and Reed set out from 1:05 heading to 1:08. Flip through the comic until you spot the "real world" 1:08 (a few pages forward, in the bottom left green box), and there's where Doctor Doom has landed:
FF #352 panel

But Reed's not here? Tricky, tricky, Doc Richards! Doom heads off for 1:25 AM, and so should we, flipping forward into the future where he catches Reed unstable-moleculed-handed, arming himself (and armoring himself up!) in Doom's weaponry room of the not-too-distant future! But Doom catches up with him and off they head for 1:33 AM:
FF #352 panel

Plaang! Pound! Fzzzip! Foom! Here's the throwdown that Bahlactus has charged me with presenting to you good folks. It's not a good idea to have fistfights at 1:33 in the morning (some people are tryin' to sleep, you know!), they're not there long, heading back in the flash of an eye to 1:06 AM.

FF #352 panel

To follow them, you and I flip back a handful of pages until you find the green real world time of 1:06, and the story continues there. Now that panel from 1:06 AM makes sense, don't it? And am I not telling the truth when I opine with every bean in my body that this is one of the most fun comics, ever?

Of course, if you're following Doom and Reed, the Thing storyline will seem out of sequence. That's why this comic utterly rewards careful reading and re-reading: you need to read it at least twice (once following Reed and Doom, the other time to follow the rest of the FF), and then you'll be so gap-mouth slack-jawed freakin' blown away by teh ZOMG awesum that is the wild and wacky mind of Walt Simonson that you'll wanna read it again and again and again...not for nothing is this cover-blurbed as
FF #352 panel

Oh, and my second favorite part?

FF #352 panel

Reed lures Doom to 1:13 AM, just in time for him to pop out of thin air and be blasted by a robot that's fighting The Thing. Now that's thinking fourth-dimensionally, Reed!

But what's my favorite part?

FF #352 panel

At 1:34 AM, Reed goads Doom into blasting him point blank, but our Elastic Exemplar deflects the power of the blast using his time sequencer, sending the blast to 12:33 AM and himself to 1:20 AM. But wait a ever-luvin' minute...the story started at 1:00 AM...just where the Sam Scratch did Reed send the energy blast?

The ultra-cool answer: he sent it so far back that it went into a totally different comic book:
FF #352 panel

Reed Richards deflected an energy blast through time in Fantastic Four #352 and it wound up in Fantastic Four #350 (neatly skimming over FF #351, which was a fill-in issue).


(my head explodes)

(tucking the fluff back into my head)

Okay. Let's pull FF #350 out of the longbox and take a look at that. Doom has captured the Fantastic Four and placed each one in an impossible-to-escape trap. Sue's in a room filled with gas that keeps her unconscious, Johnny's apparently in a hotel suite with free adult movies, and Reed? Reed's in a dungeon cell so impregnable that there is not a single hole for Reed to stretch and slither out of. In short, Reed is trapped and we'll never see him again:
FF #352 panel
Artwork on this and the next panel are from Fantastic Four #350 (March 1991),
written and drawn by Walt Simonson, inks by Al Milgrom, coloring by Brad Vancatta, lettering by Bill Oakley

Oh, until he appears a few pages later telling Doom that he dug his way out with a belt buckle.
FF #352 panel

Cheat! shouted the amassed internet, or whatever CompuServe forums and AOL chat rooms existed in 1991, back when everyone's favorite comic blogs were just a twinkle in the eye. That seems like a careless excuse for an escape, hardly worthy of either Reed (not clever enough) or Doom (too sloppy a deathtrap). But now that we've read, out of page sequence, FF #352, we know the rest of the story: Reed was lying about the belt buckle. His real escape was facilitated by the deflected energy future-Reed sent back to 12:33 AM blasting down the walls of his prison. In short, like Bill and Ted, Reed escaped certain death by reminding himself later to save himself from certain death.

Right now, you're a Grinch or a communist if you're complaining in any way, shape or form about this story. If you still retain your senses and can hold in your drool instinct, however, you might ponder aloud: "Well, why didn't Walt show us Reed escaping from his trap?"

And the answer to that one is: he did...right on the cover of FF #352 (note the real-time counter "12:33 AM" in the corner):
FF #352 panel

(head goes 'splodey again)

Reed Richards: game, set, and match. But Walt Simonson for the win.

One hundred ten seconds ago, you clicked on a link from the Mighty Bahlactus that sent you here to my blog. Thirty-three seconds from now, I will be finishing writing this blog entry up and sending the link to Bahlactus. Yesterday, he replied with a thank-you note.

And for a dandy look at FF #350 ("The One Where The Energy Bolt Wound Up"), well, hop feet first into the joy that is Dave's Long Box!


Not every sound effect in mid-seventies FFs was "FOOM!", however. Here's one of the other...more unusual...sound effects in Fantastic Four #137:
Panel from Fantastic Four #137 (August 1973), written by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, art by John Buscema, Joe Sinnott and Glynis Wein, lettering by Artie Simek

Only a few months before this issue, actor, tough guy, and shag rug Burt Reynolds appeared nude in Cosmopolitan magazine. So let's put that Artie Simek-designed sound effect to good use, shall we?:


Artie Simek: saving us from Burt Reynolds since 1973.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

















To sum up: FOOM!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The 5,000 Hats of Jack Kirby (one of a series)

Much like Raymond, everybody loves Jack. His dynamism and power is legendary in the world of comics. His innovative and explosive artwork has influenced hundreds of professionals and inspired thousands of fans. He draws the best superhero fights in the business. He's renowned for his far-out architecture, wild spaceship design, and his machinery, weaponry, and electronics are so powerfully distinctive that they have their own name: Kirbytech.

But the man who gave us Kirby Krackle also gave us a lasting legacy in his work of something much more mundane—his ability to create a lot of lids, a tribe of toppers, a conglomeration of chapeaux. To be precise: the man knew his hats. Visit with me the Amazing Haberdashery of Jack "King" Kirby as we view only some of The 5,000 Hats of Jack Kirby:

Just one of the 5000 hats of Jack Kirby

Just one of the 5000 hats of Jack Kirby

Just one of the 5000 hats of Jack Kirby
#1,118; 1,119; 1,120

Just one of the 5000 hats of Jack Kirby

Just one of the 5000 hats of Jack Kirby

Just one of the 5000 hats of Jack Kirby

Just one of the 5000 hats of Jack Kirby
#448; 449; 450

Just one of the 5000 hats of Jack Kirby

Just one of the 5000 hats of Jack Kirby
#2,715; 2,716

Just one of the 5000 hats of Jack Kirby

Just one of the 5000 hats of Jack Kirby

Just one of the 5000 hats of Jack Kirby

Just one of the 5000 hats of Jack Kirby

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Wodehouse a Week #22: Barmy in Wonderland

A Wodehouse a Week banner

My home town: let me tell you about it. Syracuse, New York. Is that a surprise to you, dear readers? Add it to your extensive knowledge of "Bully: Who He is and Where he Came From": yours little stuffed truly was raised in the Salt City in Central New York—to be precise, Mama Bull's farm up at Clay, New York, a small hamlet to the north of Syracuse, but for all intents 'n' purposes I'm a Syracuse-bull bred and born. And hey, while Syracuse isn't the social center of the world, there are plenty of cool things there. We invented the coney (a yummy crispy white hot dog) and the famed and scrumptious salt potato, both part of this delicious and nutritious breakfast. Speakin' o' food, check out Syracuse's world-famous Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. Good luck finding the website on Google 'coz of the weird spelling, however. (Seriously, the domain names and and have them redirect to your site!). If you do make your way to the Dinosaur in downtown Syracuse, check out the weathered barn wood used as paneling: that wood is from my family's old farm barn. Cool, huh?

If you're looking for literature or pop culture about Syracuse, though...uh, well, that's tougher to find than the Dinosaur's URL. Mmm, let's see...part of Slap Shot was filmed here...the film Snow Day was set (but not filmed) here...well, there's not that many others. Oh wait...there's always this:

Nick Fury panel
Full-page panel from Strange Tales #161 (October 1967), written and drawn by Jim Steranko

Whoa mama! That's a whole lotta action goin' on for quiet li'l Central New York. Why, that almost puts the Fat Hog competition at the New York State Fair to shame! Well, I tell a lie and cheat a wee bit, 'coz that scene featuring Captain America and Nick Fury kicking all sorts of henchman ass does not take place in the Salt City. What's it got to do with Syracuse, then? Why, click on this link to blow up the caption at the bottom of the page, and you'll see it's the only place in the story that mentions the background events of The Thing and Mister Fantastic shutting down the East Coast's power at the Clay Substation, a mere stone's throw down Route 31 from my old Central New York home, thwarting Hydra's the Yellow Claw's plan (Thank you to courageous commenter El Maxo for his ultra-polite email pointing out that Cap 'n' Nick are slammin' not Hydra's agents but rather the minions of the Yellow Claw! Gracias, El M.!), but inadvertently plunging the Northeast into darkness in the Great Blackout of November 1965. Gosh! If I'da known my two fave members of the FF were a mere Schwinn ride away, I woulda pedaled my little stuffed legs off to go shake hooves with Mister Grimm and Doc Richards instead of huddling in my tree fort with my flashlight reading monster comics. Anyway, that's what caused the big blackout. And now you Paul Harvey says...the rest of the story.

Wait, what the Sam Scratch has this got to do with P. G. Wodehouse?

I'm glad you asked that question.

This week I'm reading Barmy in Wonderland (1952, published in the US as Angel Cake for reasons of which I haven't the slightest). It's one of Wodehouse's non-series light romances—although it stars Cyrill "Barmy" Fotheringay-Phipps (pronounced "Fungay-Fipps"), another member of Bertie Wooster's Drones Club. Barmy's mentioned in passing in other Wodehouse novels as well as being featured in a handful of short stories, but Wonderland is his spotlight, his chance to shine.

Let's look at the plot, shall we? There's a wonderful circular coincidence to the plot and characters that will hurt your brain if you try to think about it too long (I know it did mine, and while I am Very Small, I have an Exceedingly Sharp Brain for being stuffed with beans and fluff). Handsome, suave, smooth and hard-partying Hollywood leading man Mervyn Potter (sort of a Wodehouse version of George Clooney, but no relation to this guy) befriends Barmy, who's just come into a cool twenty thousand dollar inheritance, not enough to buy a hotel from lodging magnate J. G. Anderson, so J. G. fires him. While for you and me the next plot point would be a trip to the unemployment office followed by a long involved lawsuit over wrongful termination, Barmy instead accompanies Mervyn to Manhattan, where Mervyn is starring in Sacrifice, an upcoming Broadway play. While on the streets of Manhattan, Barmy inadvertently meets Eileen "Dinty" Moore (talk about delightful heroine names!), in one of the most wonderful introductory love scenes in Wodehouseania (and one that certainly wouldn't work as well on screen as it does on the page). Barmy speaks:
'I say, you aren't shirty because I spoke to you?'

'A little displeased.'

'Oh, my aunt. I'm frightfully sorry. I wouldn't have done it, but a rather serious situation has arisen and I thought I ought to clarify it.'

'Start clarifying.'

Barmy marshaled his thoughts, as well as his emotion would let him.

'Well, it's this way—I'm staying at a hotel round the corner—'

'Nice place?'

'Oh, rather.'

'Comfortable there?'

'Oh, rather.'

'Good. It makes me very happy to know that. Yes? You were saying?'

'Well, I was coming out for a stroll, and I bought a cigar at the hotel counter—'

'Good cigar?'

'Oh, very.'

'Fine. Proceed. When do we get the big situation?'

'I'm just coming to it. You see, I was smoking this cigar, and I chucked it away with a careless gesture—'

'Like the fellow who shot the arrow into the air. Did you ever meet him? It feel to earth, he knew not where.'

'It did, eh? Yes, one can see how that might be so. But between that arrow and my cigar there is a substantial difference, because my cigar didn't fall to earth, not by a jugful. It fell on your hat.'

He had arrested her attention. His story had gripped her.

'My hat!'

'That's right. And I have a growing suspicion that it's on fire.'

'You mean that at any moment I may be going up in flames?'

'I wouldn't be surprised.'

'Why couldn't you have told me that at once?'

'I was sort of leading up to it.'

'You needn't have tried to break it gently. Girls like to know these things. Have a look,' said Dinty, bending down.

Barmy removed the cigar, flung it aside, hit a passing pedestrian, said 'Oh, sorry' and issued his bulletin.

'Well, you seem to have stopped smouldering—'
It's love at first sight for Barmy. (Takes a few more glances later on from Dinty for her to feel the same twinge of Cupid's burning panatella). As often happens in these cases, the two part without exchanging license information, so Barmy hasn't a clue where to find the girl of his dreams again or even what her name is. Dinty heads off to her job as secretary for blustering Broadway producer Joe Lehman, who cries for Dinty when she returns:
'Hey, you!'

'Yes, Admiral?"

'Where you been?'

'Lunch, Admiral.'

'You've taken your time about it. And don't call me Admiral. Think I pay you to sit and stuff all day?'

'You don't pay me at all. You owe me two weeks' salary. And listen,' said Dinty, feeling that this sort of thing must be checked at the outset. 'The contract calls for an hour for the midday repast, and an hour's what I've had, no more, no less. So lay off, Simon Legree, and drop that cowhide whip. Don't you know that Lincoln has freed us slaves? Don't you ever read the papers?'
Wow. How could you not fall in love with a sassy girl like that?

Anderson's tearing out his hair over the rehearsals of Sacrifice. The last straw? One of the investors of the play has pulled out and taken his cool twenty thousand dollars with him after Mervyn Potter gave him a fiery matchstick hotfoot as a practical joke (gee, he is like George Clooney!). No worries, yawns Mervyn. I know just the chap to invest twenty thousand dollars. And enter Barmy into the office where Dinty works, reunited again. Happy ending!

Except that's not the ending. That only takes us up to page 68. Your reaction on reading so far thus might be the same as Barmy's when Anderson retells a truncated plot summary of Sacrifice:
Barmy blinked. The story, as outlined, seemed to him to lack dramatic complications. A bit on the short side, too. Raise the curtain at eight-forty, Eastern Standard time, and it would fall, he estimated, at about eight-fifty-three.

'Is that the end of the play?' he asked.

'End of the play? Wait!' said Mr Lehman. 'You ain't heard nothin' yet.'
Neither have we, because as you might have all been expecting, the scene of Barmy in Wonderland soon changes from bustling Manhattan to opening road show preview night in...can you guess? Syracuse, New York. Now, I'm too young a little bull to remember the great days of Syracuse's importance on the Broadway theatrical trial circuit, but Wodehouse certainly knew it or at least of it: he'd been on the road with companies performing his own plays in preview in upstate New York. We do know Wodehouse was in Schenectady, at least, for the road previews of Oh, Boy!, which also played Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo in the great Golden Age of stage shows along the former Erie Canal. Most of what could be called "Act II" of Barmy takes place in his room (#726) at the (fictional) Syracuse hotel the Mayflower following opening preview night, which has been a disaster all around after Mervyn Potter refused to appear owing to a broken heart at a failed love affair. Now, Wodehouse doesn't tell us what the name of the Syracuse theater Sacrifice played at, and I'm sure there were many of them, but for no particular reason at all I like to imagine it ran at what was then the Loew's State on South Salina Street, built in 1928 (barely a year before the stock market crash) and, in words from the history of the Loew's State on the official website:
Audiences were ushered into Lamb's exotic world through the main lobby, which boasted a chandelier designed by Louis Tiffany for Cornelius Vanderbilt's mansion, and the grandest of the theatre's several huge murals. The Musician's Gallery, located over the front doors, featured quartet serenades as intermission entertainment during the '30s. Patrons who ascended the grand staircase reached the promenade lobby, where they delighted in finding a fishpond with a Japanese pagoda fountain. The main auditorium, which houses 1,832 of the theatre's 3,300 seats, was decorated in rich reds and golds and accented with wall ornaments throughout. The 1,400-pipe Wurlitzer organ offered its own exotic flavor, treating patrons to such sounds as a glockenspiel, marimba, bird whistles, hoof beats and surf sounds.
Now, if that don't sound like a place that Wodehouse woulda liked, I don't know what is.

The Loew's State is the sole remaining grand stage theater/movie house from that era in Syracuse, and in the late 1970s it was extensively renovated and renamed The Landmark Theatre. I'm exceptionally fond of the Landmark, which is why I picture it as the setting of Sacrifice, even though we never see the play performed. Yours truly saw (ahem) Chuck Mangione there, and that William Shatner stage show in which they were supposed to show "The Cage" but couldn't get the rights so Shatner acted out parts of Cyrano de Bergerac, and my Uncle Fred took me to Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes revivals there, and Mama Bull took me to see a famous older movie being re-run on the big screen. I looked up at her as the lights came up and the curtains rolled back, following Maria leaving the Captain and the von Trapps at what surely looked like the end of The Sound of Music, and I tearfully declared "But that's a terrible ending!" Mama Bull assured me that was not the end of the movie, and that there was a good Nazi-kickassing coming up in the second half, and I sniffled and munched on the popcorn she bought me while she explained for the first time what an "intermission" was.

A personal aside to Miss Mary Delay: if you're Googling your own name and ever come across this, my pal John wants to apologize for being such a rotten and awkward first date at that concert at the Landmark in 1979. He's gotten much better at it, he says, and he owes you one. Tori Amos is playing at the Landmark on October 13 and he'd love to take you if you're not married. This time he actually will hold your hand and phone you back later.

Anyway, Wodehouse! The play's a sheer disaster, and Lehman wants to drop that hot salt potato as quickly as possible. Barmy buys the rights to ownership off him for the rest of his inheritance, hires Mayflower Hotel assistant manager-with-dreams-of-Broadway Oscar Fritchie as his aide, and smooches Dinty as Mervyn comes back to triumphantly announce he's better off without his frustrating ex-lady love and he's ready to star in the play.

Of course, the play's a tremendous hit by the time it finishes its try-outs on the road and returns to Manhattan for its glistening Broadway premier. Barmy, Dinty and Oscar stand to make a cartload of cash, and true love reigns o'er all. Happy Ending!

Wait, not so fast. We're only into the beginning of Act III. Enter a lawyer with proof that Sacrifice has been plagiarized (in fact, although it's not mentioned in the novel itself, it bears a startling resemblance to a plot of Rosie M. Banks, Bingo Little's romance-writin' wife), and the owners of the play are being sued for sixty-six percent of the profits. Oh no! Like those two masks hanging alongside so many stages, it's tragedy tonight. it? Re-enter Lehman, desperate to regain the rights to the play's ownership, and in a frantically humorous climatic scene, Barmy sells it back to him...for a hundred thousand dollars. And retires from show business. And goes and buys that hotel that J. G. Anderson was trying to sell him in Chapter 1. And puts Oscar Fritchie in charge of it. And folds Dinty in his arms for a last long loving kiss as the final page turns and this really is the happy ending.

Barmy in Wonderland is a very fast and, especially compared to other Wodehouse novels of the fifties, fairly straightforward plot with a minimum of active characters. That, and the lengthy sequences which are mainly delegated to one setting for lengthy periods of time, led me to believe, as other Wodehouse novels like The Small Bachelor or Doctor Sally, that Barmy might be a "novelization" of an earlier Wodehouse stage play. Curiously, it isn't, at least as far as I can tell with minimum research (i.e., Googling it extensively). P'raps when I read one of the Wodehouse bios on my shelf I might find out s'more info, but in the meantime the closest I've come to any mention of the staginess of Barmy is here, which casually hints Wodehouse may been "inspired" by George S. Kaufman's 1925 play The Butter and Egg Man. Goo goo goo jube! This review of The Butter and Egg Man certainly suggests that may be the case: there's characters by the same names as well as a general similar plot structure. I'd love to know the true story behind this and will have to look more into it. (Any of you Wodehouse scholars out there who know, let me in on it and I'll edit and update this listing for internetal posterity.)

But in the end, for the moment, take the joy of Barmy on its own measures as a lovely and whimsical little romp through the world of the theater. A lot of later works owe—if not to Barmy itself but to the grand traditional of tales about theater plays gone awry: fun-filled frolics like The Producers and Noises Off are its modern descendants. The story's nothing new: "All the world's a stage," said this guy sometime way back when, and it certainly continues to be. But only Wodehouse had a heroine named Dinty, and to him I tip my Syracuse Chiefs cap and raise my salt potato in salute.

I've only got one edition of Barmy in Wonderland in my collection: a worn but intact Coronet UK mass market paperback. My Wodehouse scrapbook and collecting list tells me I bought it in 1992 at the Embankment Book fair for a bargain price of £1.20. Here's a photo of me at that same fair last Christmastime:

You'll have to attend a similar fair to read Barmy for yourself, I guess: I'm afraid there's no Amazon link this week, as the book's out of print (as both Barmy and Angel Cake) on both sides of the pond and unavailable except in pricey collectible editions. But although it's not top-tier Wodehouse, it's well worth picking up if you spot it. If there were any independent bookstores left in Syracuse—you're missed, Economy Books—I'd tell you to check there. But there's not. So I won't.