Saturday, March 01, 2008

Ten of a Kind: Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny

On this date in 1954, the US tests a massive hydrogen bomb, one thousand times the power of that dropped on Hiroshima, on the small Pacific archipelago of Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Although it wasn't the only weapons test in the area (more than 20 nuclear bombs were detonated there), it was the largest weapon ever tested by the US and its effects are still felt in the radiation-poisoned Bikini.

However, since I've already done a Ten of a Kind on deadly atomic explosions, here's a salute to the suit named after the blast:






















(More Ten of a Kind here.)


Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday Night Fights: Happy Birthday, Superman!

Superman #207Check your calendars, note that it's the day that only happens once in every four years, and then break out the party hats and streamers. Why? I'm telling you why: it's Superman's birthday!

February 29th is traditionally known as the birthday of the Man of Steel and, coincidentally, his alter ego Clark "Mild-Mannered" Kent, which when you put together the skimpy-glasses-disguise and the fact that neither of them ever appears at the other's birthday party, really means that Lois Lane is indeed dumb as a bag of hammers. Could the fact that Mister El only celebrates his birthday once every four years account for his youthful, in fact boyish appearance? Or is that Oil of Olay? Only Clark's spa knows for sure.

Anyway, pull up a plate and enjoy some super-cake. Hey, why is the frosting green? Oh, I'm sure it's okay. We ordered it from Thurol Bakers and they've never steered us wrong yet. (nom nom nom nom)

Superman Annual #11Superman's Birthday is as generous as the man himself, because you get the present: a recounting of one of the finest Superman tales ever told, the story of the birthday gift that, no matter how polite he is when he accepts that birthday ice scraper from Steve Lombard, Superman really oughtn't to have opened. Let's set the Superman Way-Back machine for the summer of 1985—a mere sliver of time before the multiverse got squeezed into one universe in Crisis on Infinite Earths...and pick up Superman Annual #11 by Alan "Watchmen" Moore and Dave "Also Watchmen" Gibbons, an issue that's not only a fine classic Superman tale but like Moore's slightly-later "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?," is a fabulous farewell to the mythos and grandeur of the pre-Crisis DC Universe.

On February 29th, the Invisible Jet and the Batplane land at the North Pole, not in search of the vacationing Santa, but for Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin to surprise Superman on his birthday. This is not only a gentler, looser Batman—he's a consummate professional, of course, but he has a close and dear friendship with Kal and Diana, and takes the opportunity to introduce Jason Todd, the new Robin, to Wondy:
Superman Annual #11 panel
All panels are from Superman Annual #11 (1985), written by Alan Moore, art and lettering by Dave Gibbons, colors by Tom Ziuko



...which leads to one of the finest, and funniest, Jason Todd-era Batman/Robin exchanges, ever:
Superman Annual #11 panel



What do you get for the man who has everything? Batman and Wonder Woman discuss that problem as they enter the wide-open Fortress, trying to sneak up on a man who can hear a pin drop on the other side of the world (if that's your idea of fun):
Superman Annual #11 panel



...but it looks like the festivities have already begun! Hey, Superman...surprise?
Superman Annual #11 panel



That big pink plant that looks like a Kryptonian fly-trap sticking out of Supes's barrel chest is actually the Black Mercy, a leech-like psionic plant that attaches itself to a victim and implants visions of your happiest dreams and your heart's desire in your head, rendering you insensate. Golly, I bet my Black Mercy would be full of Oreos and chocolate milk. Still, a rather rude gift on your birthday, huh? The gift-giver is not, as you might think, a careless Jimmy Olsen who clicked the wrong button on Teleflora.com, but Superman's big bad yellow nemesis, Mongul. Batman, who has left his copy of DC's Who's Who in his other utility belt, stalls for time:
Superman Annual #11 panel



Mongul, whose intergalactic despotism doesn't mean he can't be polite, kneels down to keep himself inside the panel...
Superman Annual #11 panel



...and delivers the sort of ultimatum that makes you, when you read it, sing aloud: "DA DA DUMMMMMM!":
Superman Annual #11 panel
Superman Annual #11 panel



Here's where the (Friday Night) Fight portion begins. Wonder Woman's action—and Mongul's response—is so good I gotta show you the entire page:
Superman Annual #11 panel



Wonder Woman and Mongul battle throughout the Fortress of Solitude, pretty much wrecking a lot of Superman's special exhibits, including the Lois Lane Gift Shop and the Steve Lombard Rest Rooms, while Batman applies his little bat-brain-cells to the problem at hand. If only Superman can defeat Mongul, they must save Superman. But Superman's deep within a fantasy life—the "heart's desire" the Black Mercy grants him—of living on Krypton with a wife and son, and cranky old Jor-El going off the rails every now and then. Yes, Clark has dreamed himself into an episode of Everybody Loves Kal-El. But back in the real world, Batman tugs the Black Mercy off Superman's chest, only to have it attach itself to him. Cue Thomas Wayne kick-assing Joe Chill in a dark corner of Crime Alley, but with Superman awake again, there shall come a reckoning, Mongul...oh yes, there certainly shall:
Superman Annual #11 panel



Needless to say, Mongul is upset: that's not the way you treat a guest at your birthday party, Man of Steel!:
Superman Annual #11 panel



Those of you who complain that Jason Todd was a whiny brat and gleefully kicked in your 99 cents to off 'im should be forced to sit down and re-read this story. Stuck in a Fortress tumbling down around him as Mongul and Superman fight, with Wonder Woman out of the count and Batman lost in a fantasy world of the Black Mercy, Rob grabs Mongul's power gloves, yanks the parasitical flower off Batman's chest, climbs up to the next level on the bat-rope, and drops it on Mongul. Sure, there are some good Jason Todd stories in that era, especially in Detective, but this, ladies and gentlemen...this is Jason Todd's finest hour:
Superman Annual #11 panel



With Mongul lost in his own fantasy world of ruling the Earth and universe, a villain-stopping trick so clever J'onn J'onnz used it later on against Despero, it's time to party down for the Superfriends, as Wonder Woman gives Superman the best birthday present of all:
Superman Annual #11 panel



Clark Kent: birthday playa.

Happy birthday, Clark. Happy birthday, Kal. Happy Birthday, Superman. And many, many more to come.

(Longin' to experience "For the Man Who Had Everything" but don't have Superman Annual #11? Click below and watch, in three fast-movin' parts, a fairly faithful but slightly changed (no Robin, boo hiss) adaptation of Moore's story from Justice League Unlimited. Watch it quickly, before the WB lawyers spot it and take it down! For that matter, Superman wouldn't want you to celebrate his birthday by stealing intellectual rights, so it's best if you just not look at it anyway.)





The cosmic funk of Bahlactus is the gift that keeps on giving.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Because sometimes, you just gotta post a Kirby splash page of Skrulls disguised as 1930s gangsters awaiting a gladiator battle inside a movie house.

FF #92 panel
Full-page panel from Fantastic Four #92 (November 1969), written by Stan Lee, pencilled by Jack kirby, inked by Joe Sinnott, lettered by Sam Rosen



Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Wodehouse a Week #44: A Gentleman of Leisure

A Wodehouse a Week banner

The Intrusion of JimmyMuch like a prize-winning poodle, A Gentleman of Leisure (1910) has a rich, complicated, and compact pedigree: an early, shorter, novella-length version of the story was originally serialized in the December 1909 edition of the magazine Ainslie's under the title "The Gem Collector," and then was revised and expanded into the American novel The Intrusion of Jimmy. Then, it zipped back across the pond to the UK, where it was serialized yet again (as The Intrusion of Jimmy) in the magazine Tit-Bits (which ain't what it sounds like, trust me), and then finally mildly revised and published as a British novel in November 1910 as A Gentleman of Leisure. Four versions of the same story in less than a year? Why, that makes modern comic books look like pikers! And that's not even counting the two movie adaptations: a 1915 silent version and a 1923 talkie.

Gentleman is one of Wodehouse's early romances, predating his more complicated and twisting plots: it's got an elegant charm and a lyrical love story, but not as many tricksy circling schemes as his middle and later period. It reminded me a lot of 1917's Uneasy Money. Except, no dead monkey.

The plot? Well, rich and bored playboy Jimmy Pitt, after witnessing the shooting death of his parents, learning that criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot, vows to fight back...oh wait, I got confused a little. Actually, Jimmy is doing a little bit of nocturnal skulking himself: he accepts a dare bet from his club friends to break into a house—not for any criminal deeds, but just to prove that, like in the movies, it can be done. Of course Jimmy's going to run face-first into real burglar, red-headed Bowery boy (with a Yancy Streetesque dese-and-dose dialect to match) Spike Mullins (not to be confused with The Two Ronnies scriptwriter Spike Mullins. And, of course the house he and Spike choose to break into is that of New York police captain John McEachern. And...you guessed it...of course McEachern's daughter Molly is the same Molly that Jimmy fell in love with earlier on a transatlantic crossing. What's a gentleman of leisure to do?

From here the novel takes a proto-Blandings turn: the action moves to Dreever Castle, where Jimmy, accompanied by larcenous Spike posing as his valet, attempts to woo Molly, while private detectives circle the manor and prize jewels are lusted after by all, especially sticky-handed Spike. Wodehouse is definitely trying out some of the elements that will become vital in his later work: imposters at a castle, fake jewels, and shrewish manor matrons in the style of Lady Constance:
The point under discussion was one of etiquette, and in matters of etiquette Sir Thomas felt himself at a disadvantage.

"I tell you, my dear," he said to the window, "I am not easy in my mind."

"Nonsense," snapped Lady Julia; "absurd—ridiculous!"

Lady Julia Blunt, when conversing, resembled a Maxim gun more than anything else.
There's the usual sparkling Wodehouse metaphors...
He widened the space between his feet. He intensified his glare. He might have been posing to an illustrator of The Pilgrim's Progress for a picture of "Apollyon straddling right across the way."
...and a hero ever-ready with a light quip at even the tensest of moments:
The knight stood in the doorway, his face expressing the most lively astonishment. His bulging eyes were fixed upon the necklace in Jimmy's hand. Jimmy could see him struggling to find words to cope with so special a situation, and felt rather sorry for him. Excitement of this kind was bad for a short-necked man of Sir Thomas's type.

With kindly tact, he endeavored to help his host out.

"Good evening," he said, pleasantly.

Sir Thomas stammered. He was gradually nearing speech.

"What—what—what—" he said.

"Out with it," said Jimmy.

"What—"

"I knew a man once in South Dakota who stammered," said Jimmy. "He used to chew dog-biscuit while he was speaking. It cured him, besides being nutritious."
He doesn't ignore the small touches, either. Wodehouse brings on a pair of cab drivers in a shelter simply to paint a funny and topical portrait of the social struggle of the 1910 masses:
A dispute seemed to be in progress as they entered.

"You don't wish you was in Russher," said a voice.

"Yus, I do wish I wos in Russher," retorted a shriveled mummy of a cabman, who was blowing patiently at a saucerful of coffee.

"Why do you wish you was in Russher?" asked the interlocutor, introducing a Massa Bones and Massa Johnsing touch into the dialogue.

"Because yer can wade over yer knees in bla-a-a-ad there," said the mummy.

"In wot?"

"In bla-a-ad—ruddy bla-a-ad! That's why I wish I wos in Russher."
Still, this isn't prime Wodehouse as we best know him. Wit and whimsy sometimes take a back seat to the romance, which gets a bit maudlin at time. One short chapter, "On the Lake," is practically a melodrama on its own with Jimmy and Molly in a rowboat practically Nelson Eddy- and Jeannette MacDonald-ing around the estate waters:
"Molly!"

She looked up with wet eyes.

"Molly, dear, what is it?"

"I mustn't. It isn't right."

"I don't understand."

"I mustn't, Jimmy."

He moved cautiously forward, holding the rail, till he was at her side, and took her in his arms.

"What is it, dear? Tell me."

She clung to him without speaking.
A little of this goes a long way, and there's more than a little of this here. A few years on in Uneasy Money Wodehouse would have a better reign on the mawkish sentiment, mostly restrained to the final chapter, but there's a lot of it spread about in A Gentleman of Leisure. Best to read it in smaller doses, or at least bring your toothbrush.



Oddly, for a book that has a different US name, I don't have a single American-titled version of this book, so you won't find The Intrusion of Jimmy on this little stuffed bull's bookshelf. I do have three editions of A Gentleman of Leisure: the Everyman Wodehouse hardcover reissue (available in the US as published by Overlook), a Penguin paperback, and a lovely Herbert Jenkins UK dust-jacketless hardcover. This specific edition proudly proclaims that it's the "Ninth printing completing 95,815 copies." That's mighty precise, Mister Jenkins, and some darned good bookselling as well. You can add to the total by pickin' up your own copy by clicking on the usual Amazon.com link to the above right. You don't have to be as rich a playboy as Jimmy Pitt to get one, nor do you have to be as deft a burglar as Spike Mullins. But, ya know, it couldn't hurt.

A Wodehouse a Week Index.


Mystery Science Monday: Progress Island U.S.A.


Part 1 of "Progress Island U.S.A." (1973), this MSTed version from Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode #621, featuring Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Trace Beaulieu



Part 2



Star Wars according to a three-year-old.



Via the ever-delightful Lucy Anne, queen of my li'l stuffed heart.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ten of a Kind: Hooray for Hollywood!





















(More Ten of a Kind here.)