Saturday, May 05, 2007

Hey big spender

Free Comic Book Day

Don't forget: today is Free Comic Book Day!! Click on the logo below to learn more...
Free Comic Book Day

...and stop by your local comic book shop to pick up all assortment of fun free stuff! But do me a favor, okay? Actually, make that three favors:

1. Take a kid with you, okay? Take a son or a daughter, a niece or a nephew, a friend or a bully (tee hee!) with you and get some of the great all-ages comics available for them as well. (Hey, take a flip through 'em to make certain they're age appropriate, willya?)
2. While you're in the store, don't just grab free stuff and run. Buy some stuff as well, cheapskate! Help support the store so they can be around for FCBD '08. Buy some stuff for the kid too.
3. Head off, and take the kid, to see Spider-Man 3: The Spider-Mannining. Buy some nachos and ice cream too.

Have a great day! And enjoy your free comic books!

Separated at Birth: The problems of two cans of beans don't amount to a hill in this crazy world

Spirit Section 12/30/45 & Spirit #5

L: The Spirit Section (December 30, 1945), art by Will Eisner
R: The Spirit #5 (June 2007), art by Darwyn Cooke, J. Bone and Dave Stewart
(Click picture to Dolan-size)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Friday Night Fights: My Guy Can Beat Your Guy

I think I've got the hang of Friday Night Fights as hosted by Bahlactus (he's bringin' da funk to your puny world!): post some kickass fight scenes. Everybody gets a punch or three. Everyone goes home happy with a "Participant" trophy and an ice pack over the eye. Well, enough pussyfootin' around, sez I! No more just hoppin' in the squared circle this Friday night. This Friday night, Bully is in it to win! This one is for all the marbles! The big kahuna! The whole nine yards! Final Jeopardy!

So to win, I'm putting in a new fighter under my management, and I challenge you to last out a single freakin' round with her. You can't beat her! Why, let her say it in her own words:
What If? #27 panel
All panels in this post (except for the final one) come from What If? #27 (July 1981), written by Mary Jo Duffy, art by Jerry Bingham, John Stuart, and Carl Garford

Ladies and gentlemen, in this corner, wearing scarlet and gold and a crazed expression, Mean Jean Green Grey herself, Dark Phoenix! Yah boo! Throw up your O.M.A.C.s, your M.O.D.O.K.s, your Devil Dinosaurs, your Robins the Boys Wonders, it ain't no contest! Why, let's move straight away to the first round, Phoenix versus the Deerfield Darling, Shadowcat Ariel Sprite herself, Kitty Pryde! This ought to be an interesting match...
What If? #27 panel
What If? #27 panel

WHOA! A TKO right out of the gate! Not every member of the audience is that thrilled with that swift and decisive victory, however. Bet with your head and not with your heart next time, pal!:
What If? #27 panel

Let's welcome fighter #2: Charles "Wheels" Xavier! "Chuck"'s brother is perennial ring favorite the Juggernaut, so let's see if heavy muscled brawling runs in his side of the family too:
What If? #27 panel

And he is outta there! Defeated and disqualified for bringing a folding chair in the ring! Is there no honor to this sport in this day and age? Now, standing six-foot-one and weighing seventy-three pounds, hollow-boned Warren "Warbucks" Worthington soars into the ring to take on our champ. In the immortal words of Torrance Shipman, bring it on!:
What If? #27 panel

Down goes Angel! Down goes Angel! Down goes Angel! Never has this sports reporter witnessed a more pugnacious display of pugilism! Dark Phoenix is burying every challenger! Literally!:
What If? #27 panel

Let's give a big hand for our next challenger, Bobby "Stone Cold" Drake! Bobby's hobbies are hanging around lobbies in Abu Dhabi...oh wait, he's out for the count!:
What If? #27 panel

Can you smell what the Ph'ix is cookin'? Why, it's Kurt "No Relation to Richard" Wagner!:
What If? #27 panel

Why, this is a travesty, ladies and gentlemen! Two challengers at once climb into the ring to face off against the champ! Have they no decency? Have their no honor? Have they no brains?:
What If? #27 panel

And the crowd goes wild!! Yowsa! Our boy certainly got the point!:
What If? #27 panel

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Wolverine is Burning.:
What If? #27 panel

Next up: The Legion of Substitute X-Men, the ones nobody really cares about, Polaris and Havok:
What If? #27 panel
What If? #27 panel

Any more challengers? Oh yes, there's Scott "Slim Chance" Summers, who dies as he lived: pretty boring:
What If? #27 panel

Ha! Take that, challengers! Who are you gonna put up against my champion now? Spider-Man? Daredevil? Luke Cage? Dark Phoenix is way ahead of you!:
What If? #27 panel

Bwah-ha-ha-ha! So you say you'll pit one of the global heroes against my champion? Maybe Captain Britain? Defensor? Shamrock? Sabra? That Indian Spider-Man nobody ever read? Well, think again:
What If? #27 panel

Yeah! Yeah! Now I s'pose you think you can send the Silver Surfer or Thanos or some of those Stone Men from Saturn against her! Ya think?:
What If? #27 panel

Oh...oh wait a minute. Oh crap. the universe just got destroyed. Bugger. That's where I keep all my stuff.

Okay. On second thought I may have overreacted and missed the point of Friday Night Fights. I have learned my lesson, Bahlactus! I have learned my lesson: that it's not who wins, it's that everybody has a good time! Please let me have another chance at Friday Night Fights!...

Oh! Oh! Oh! The universe is still here! It is not all burned down! Hooray! Hooray! I am as light as a feather! I am as happy as an angel! I am as merry as a schoolboy! I am as giddy as a drunken man! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo! What night is it, boy? What night is it?

"Why, 'tis Friday night, of course, little stuffed bull!"

It's Friday night! I haven't missed it! Bahlactus has done it all in one night! He can do anything he likes. Of course he can! Of course he can!: he's the grand funkmeister of the galaxy!

And that comic, What If? #27, "What If Phoenix Had Not Died," was not only just a bad dream, it also will never be listed as one of "the most fun comics ever!" Not only is the ending grim and grisly, not only does it attempt to cash in on the popularity of the X-Men in the early 1980s but without featuring a single one of that book's creators, but it also has the most dreadful moral of any What If?: Uatu sneering at us to say "Don't complain about the way X-Men #137 turned out! Things could be worse!"

But now that I have seen the true spirit of Friday Night Fights, I can change the future...I can make it all right this time! Let me try that again:
What If? #34 panel
Panel from What If? #34 (August 1982), script and art by Al Milgrom

Whew! That's the kind of ending we all should have: a happy one.

Bully was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Wolverine, who did not die, he was the bestest pal in the world, and the two of them went out on the road together in a souped-up van and traveled from town to town solving mysteries. Some people laughed to see the alteration in Bully, and some laughed at his fuzzy fuzzy tail, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on Earth-616 at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset, except maybe when Bill Foster got zapped through the chest and had to be buried in chains, oh, and when Captain America got blown away by a freakin' sniper after surviving approximately one zillion other assassination attempts, but aside from that, and oh, yes, aside from maybe making Mary Jane Watson into a superhero named Jackpot, he was pretty happy. It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Friday Night Fights well, if any little stuffed bull alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Bahlactus observed, are you ready to rummmmmmmmmmmmble?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Unsettling Slang of Mister Clint Barton, Part Four

Avengers #102 panel
Both panels in this post are from Avengers #102 (August 1973), script by Roy Thomas, art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

Bonus "Sometimes you can teach an old archer a new trick" panel!:
Avengers #102 panel

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

What do Hank Pym and Peter Rasputin have in common?

Tales of Suspense #44 panel
All panels in this post are from Tales to Astonish #44 (June 1963),
script by H. E. Huntley, art by Jack Kirby and Don Heck, lettering by Artie Simek

Tales of Suspense #44 panel
Tales of Suspense #44 panel
Tales of Suspense #44 panel
Tales of Suspense #44 panel
Tales of Suspense #44 panel
Tales of Suspense #44 panel
Tales of Suspense #44 panel

Think about it, won't you?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

This is clearly what Al Gore had in mind.

"Hey Bully! What Google search engine terms are surfers using to reach your site?"

Google search term

Need to read that a little more closely? No, you don't. But here 'tis:
Google search term know...ah...I...well, the mind boggles. Is it too pedantic of me to think that if you are looking for that sort of thing on the Internet, you might have more success if you left off the last six words?

Today in Comics History: May 1, May Day: Stop eating donuts, start eating beans / You look more like a communist if you're lean

Happy May Day, folks!

Whether you celebrate the day by joyously raising the flag of the workers and saluting the mighty and glorious five-year plan for heavy-iron tractor production:

Uncanny X-Men #124
cover of [Uncanny] X-Men (1963 series) #124 (Marvel, August 1979), pencils by Dave Cockrum, inks by Terry Austin, letters by Danny Crespi

...or by smashing the Godless Commies and giving Uncle Josef a belt of all-American might and right between his beady red eyes:

Captain America #78
cover of Captain America (1954 series) #78 (Marvel/Atlas, September 1954), pencils and inks by John Romita, Sr., colors by Stan Goldberg

...well, either way, have a happy May Day, Comrade!

Oh! And while I don't intend to turn this blog into "all Wodehouse, all the time," here's an especially apt passage from The Inimitable Jeeves that might help you choose what side you're on:
'Where did you meet her?'

'On top of a bus. Her name is Charlotte Corday Rowbotham.'

'My God!'

'It's not her fault, poor child. Her father had her christened that because he's all for the Revolution, and it seems that the original Charlotte Corday used to go about stabbing oppressors in their baths, which entitles her to consideration and respect. You must meet old Rowbotham, Bertie. A delightful chap. Wants to massacre the bourgeoisie, sack Park Lane, and disembowel the hereditary aristocracy. Well, nothing could be fairer than that, what?'

What, indeed! Sign me up and hand me my Junior Bolshevist card so I can at last be a card-carrying communist, please!

Monday, April 30, 2007

A Wodehouse a Week #1: The Inimitable Jeeves

"It is my practice, on retiring, to read a few pages of some instructive book."—Jeeves, in The Inimitable Jeeves
A Wodehouse a Week banner

Here's something new I've been wanting to do for a long time. This isn't comics (although it is comic), but, as Homer Simpson says, "Let's see where this goes.": I'm going to read and review every P. G. Wodehouse book, once a week, over the next couple years or so. (Don't forget to mock my ambition thoroughly around week six when I start forgetting or ignoring it!)

Wodehouse collectionTwo years, you say? Well, yeah, kinda. Wodehouse wrote around 93 books—that's not including the collections or anthologies made up of his stories or published posthumously in themed collections. As you can see from my PGW bookcase in the photo to the left, I've got most (not all) of them. Why do I love him so much to collect all these many books in various editions? Now, this is jus' a little stuffed bull's opinion, but I believe that Wodehouse was almost certainly the top humorists of all time—and not just in English, but around the world. I've said on occasion and I'll say it again that he's the finest writer of English light prose in the twentieth century. That might be a little bit of hyperbole but please excuse me when I state that, because I feel that no one can turn a phrase quite like Wodehouse; no one can bring such joy and light to a swiftly-turning page, and—and for me, this is a very important one—no one captures the lyricism of the English music hall in prose form like him. In fact, Wodehouse wrote the book and lyrics for many popular musical comedies and contributed to dozens of others including Show Boat and Anything Goes.

But it's in his books (mostly fiction, a handful of non-fiction memoirs and essays) that Wodehouse really shines. Even to kick off this supposedly weekly series, I'm not going to offer a massive biography of the man (isn't that what Wikipedia is for?), although I'll fill in a few blanks here and there along the way. No, this is strictly to capture the joy and the heart of his stories and characters, one week at a time. I will tell you a little about my Wodehouse collection and my experience with the various books as I go along—some personal Bully anecdotes about hunting down old ragged editions of my favorite novels and collections even though I might have a different version at home in the tall bookcase. Unlike my comics reviews there's no need to grade these week after week, because I have never read a P. G. Wodehouse book I have not thought was immense fun.

Reading The Inimitable JeevesFirst up: The Inimitable Jeeves, originally published in 1923, is a series of short stories by Wodehouse collected from their magazine publication (most of them first appeared in The Strand magazine), featuring Wodehouse's most famous creation: the ultimate gentleman's gentleman, Jeeves. Wodehouse wrote two main series of books, the Jeeves and Bertie Wooster adventures and the Blandings Castle sagas, plus dozens and dozens of other novels and short stories, most of them romantic comedies feature a hapless hero's love for his lady fair...or maybe for golf. If we want to apply comic book terminology to Wodehouse's work, when you read carefully you can see it all exists in one single universe (call it "Earth-PGW"). Characters cross over from one story to the next: a character in a Blandings novel may belong to the Drones Club, Bertie Wooster's haven; a background character in a romance might have a major role in a golf story, and many, many members of the Mulliner family cross over between stories and sagas with the ease of The Flash zooming over to Earth-2. In short, although he probably didn't intend it from the beginning in these early stories, Wodehouse was setting the stage for his vast and gleefully complicated world in The Inimitable Jeeves.

The Inimitable Jeeves consists of 18 chapters—it's not quite a novel and it's not quite short stories. "Whoa, there, Bully!" you declare, "Explain that!" And of course I shall! Modern day publishers might try to spin this as "a novel in stories," but I doubt Wodehouse was quite so modern-thinking. The origins of these stories as originally published in magazines, but even though they were published separately, one leads into the next with swift grace, a gradual increase in hilarity and an eventual pay-off of a marriage (not for our heroes!) in the final story. In my editions of this book, one printed in 1954 and one in 1980, most of the stories consist of a single short story spread out among two different chapters, which leads to the "novel" effect. (Later editions of The Inimitable Jeeves combines every two-part story into one section, rather arrogantly ignoring the careful pace Wodehouse set up to build to a tense upswing at the beginning of part one and a complicated but happy conclusion at the end of part two.) As such, you can dip into this book like a bowl of peanuts—flip open and sample one chapter for flavor, and then skip about: there's a building sense of continuity but it's less important than the internal structure of the stories themselves. To prove this point, at least one of these stories ("The Great Sermon Handicap") is often anthologized by itself and rightfully so; it's one of the finest comic short stories ever and a jewel in Wodehouse's already sparkling crown. But when you do read The Inimitable Jeeves from start to finish you begin to understand why even early Wodehouse is so compelling. Plots zip in and intertwine and build on one another from story to story. The first story introduces yet another love of Bingo Little, Bertie Wooster's close friend, and throughout the book we're introduced to a bewilderingly swift series of Bingo's love interests, each of which he intends to marry. It's only at the end in the pay-off to an earlier plot line comes around full circle. Bingo winds up marrying a romance novelist whom Bertie was earlier impersonating under a pen name in order to get Bingo's uncle to support the marriage financially. (Trust me, it makes more sense and for much more hilarity in the book itself.) Wodehouse has an impeccable sense of timing and rhythm and as subplots spiral in and out of Jeeves and Bertie's life it's like one wild music-hall juggling act, but by the end Wodehouse catches every ball.

And his writing! If you want to laugh out loud, well, dear reader, pick up a Wodehouse. I will probably wind up gushing far too much and quoting far too many excerpts through the months of the "Wodehouse a Week" project. It's true that comedy is often less funny taken out of context. But turns of phrases that might come out clunky and leaden from other writers positively soar from the typewriter of Wodehouse. He took great care in rewriting and revising his books (his final novel is reprinted in progress in Sunset at Blandings and gives an amazing look at how closely he worked in revisions and editing his original first versions, polishing plots and dialogue until they were pitch perfect.) Seriously, how can you not love Bertie Wooster when he opines about a reluctant breakfast:
A roll and butter and a small coffee seemed to be the only things on the list that hadn't been specially prepared by the nastier-minded members of the Borgia family for people they had a particular grudge against, so I chose them.
or, upon meeting Bingo's pudgy uncle:
The motto of the Little family was evidently 'variety.' Young Bingo is long and thin and hasn't had a superfluous ounce on him since we first met; but his uncle restored the average and a bit over. The hand which grasped mine wrapped it round and enfolded it till I began to wonder if I'd ever get it out without excavating machinery.
This is one of the first Jeeves and Bertie books, and I believe it may have been the first Wodehouse I ever read, which is why I chose it to kick off this series of posts (Future books may be chosen at similar purpose, or at random, or even just capricious whim). It's an ideal "starter" Wodehouse not merely because it features his two greatest characters in early, accessible stories, but because from page one he tells you everything you need to know about Bertie and Jeeves' relationship in a few short paras. Not merely everything you need to know for this book, but—as it would turn out, basically everything you need to know about their relationship for reading every future Bertie and Jeeves book:
'How's the weather, Jeeves?'

'Exceptionally clement, sir.'

'Anything in the papers?'

'Some slight friction threatening in the Balkans, sir. Otherwise, nothing.'

'I say, Jeeves, a man I met at the club last night told me to put my shirt on Privateer for the two o'clock race this afternoon. How about it?'

'I should not advocate it, sir. The stable is not sanguine.'

That was enough for me. Jeeves knows. How, I couldn't say, but he knows. There was a time when I would laugh lightly, and go ahead, and lose my little all against his advice, but not now.

'Talking of shirts,' I said, 'have those mauve ones I ordered arrived yet?'

'Yes sir. I sent them back.'

'Sent them back?'

'Yes, sir. They would not have become you.'

Well, I must say I'd thought fairly highly of those shirtings, but I bowed to superior knowledge. Weak? I don't know. Most fellows, no doubt, are all for having their valets confine their activities to creasing trousers and what not without trying to run the home; but it's different with Jeeves. right from the first day he came to me, I have looked upon him as a sort of guide, philosopher, and friend.
There you have it: Jeeves 101 in a dozen or so dialogue lines. Most everything you need to know to reach 1923's The Inimitable Jeeves. And, as it turns out, most everything you need to know to read every single Jeeves story from then until the final ones in the late 1970s: Jeeves is whip-smart, has impeccable taste, and intentions that his master display that taste as well. Many Bertie Wooster tales—including no fewer than three in this book—hinge on Jeeves withholding the solution to a particularly tangled mess of affairs until Bertie gets rid of a pair of outrageous purple socks, or colored spats, or a garish necktie. Boring? No. Consistent. Critics of Wodehouse declare he wrote the same story ninety-three times. I say, all the better for it. It's a very familiar and friendly world each book dips us into, like having a cup of tea every day. And to pointedly argue back, Wodehouse's structure and flow of action is generally repeated from novel to novel, but not his plots. Like a good Columbo episode, it's not finding out whodunit in the end: it's the joyride along the way.

Penguin edition of The Inimitable JeevesThis 1923 collection of Jeeves stories doesn't yet include one of Wodehouse's greatest creations, Bertie's boisterous Aunt Dahlia (the early Bertie stories usually faced him off against his Aunt Agatha, often described as eating broken glass for breakfast). It's got an unfortunate Stepin Fetchit moment when Bertie converses with a black lift operator (or, as Bertie refers to him, "the coloured chappie"), who speaks in a dialogue pattern that would even make Will Eisner's Ebony cringe. Some segments of stories drag slightly and the dénouement of others seem slightly rushed or repetitive (less a crime in their original magazine publication). But it's still vintage Wodehouse, and I'll forgive any minor clunkiness because, as mentioned above, it features one of the finest and funniest short comic stories in English, "The Great Sermon Handicap," in which Bertie and associates scheme to make a betting book on the Sunday sermon length of several rural hamlet's church pastors. Like the best Wodehouse stories, there's twists and turns and it spirals in on itself, and it all works out best for everyone in the end, even though they're all poorer in the pocket—except, of course, for Jeeves.

It all works out well in the end. That's the catchphrase for any Wodehouse story. He did not write on matters of seriousness or gloom, and no book ends on a down or sad note. One week ago today I was writing of Shakespearean tragedy and how you could point to a modern equivalent of it in a Doctor Doom comic book story. Well, every novel of Wodehouse's is a prime example of Shakespearean comedy, almost always quite literally as Shakespeare intended by ending with a wedding for the protagonist. (Or at least our hero and our heroine, arm in arm, swooning together). Bertie Wooster is the exception. Others may get married around him (Bingo takes the plunge, finally and deeply, at the end of this book), but thanks to the clever machinations of Jeeves, he remains in his happy single bachelorhood through every single story, despite being engaged more often than Elizabeth Taylor. It helps to maintain the timelessness of these stories that the basic universe is reset at the end of every book: Bertie and Jeeves together. The final chapter of The Inimitable Jeeves is titled "All's Well," in the grandest Shakespearean tradition. And it would remain well through every single Bertie and Jeeves story and novel from beginning to end, most of them finishing with Jeeves getting the last approving word of "Very good, sir."

Picturing Wodehouse: A brief aside on the cover of my 1980 edition, published by Penguin Books. For many, many years Wodehouse books in their familiar orange Penguin editions were published with cover illustrations by former Punch cartoonist Ionicus (Joshua Armitage). There have been many, many other illustrators of Wodehouse books both before and after Ionicus, but his work holds a special place in my little red satin heart as my first visual introduction to Wodehouse's world, especially Jeeves in his striped trousers. For a publisher, it can be risky to try and portray a beloved fictional character. Geoff Hunt, for example, has never painted Jack Aubrey—except maybe in tiny, tiny pinprick scale—on any of the covers of the Patrick O'Brian books. Many of us take our internal vision of Jack Aubrey as being that of Russell Crowe in the movie version of Master and Commander. (O'Brian purists will argue that you really shouldn't.) Likewise, you may very well have in your head a vision of Jeeves as Stephen Fry and Bertie as Hugh Laurie from the popular and very faithful Jeeves and Wooster BBC-TV series. I liked those a lot, but my favorite dramatic Jeeves and Bertie are merely voices: Michael Hordern and Richard Briers played Jeeves and Bertie on a series of BBC radio comedies in the 1980s and 1990. (You can order the tapes featuring the dramatizations of these stories using the Amazon link to the right.) Both actors have pitch-perfect voices and still allow me to picture the characters as designed by Ionicus, as in the cover of my copy of The Inimitable Jeeves:
The Inimitable Jeeves

This scene is from a story in which Bertie hosts a luncheon for Bingo's new circle of friends, a fervent club of Bolshevists (as usual, Bingo's only interested in the Communist movement because he's in love with the girl in blue at the far end of the table, the aptly named Charlotte Corday Rowbotham). There's Jeeves, of course, but I'm not entirely certain Bertie is in this cover at all: the only possible figure he might be is the monocled gentleman in the back. Ionicus often drew Bertie with a monocle, but usually with much darker hair and looking less severe and rather more...well, gormless, to put it kindly. But Bertie offstage or no, the characters, expressions, and poses are pitch perfect, even if Bingo Little comes off a wee bit like Jimmy Carter, Junior:
The Inimitable Jeeves

At the end of each of these reviews (many of which will be much, much, shorter than this one), I'll give you the usual Amazon link—ah, there it is right over on the side!—to pick up that book in case your interest is piqued and like Jeeves, you desire an instructive book before bedtime. But to be fair, many libraries carry a good selection of Wodehouse books, and while it'd be fun to have some of you read the one I'm discussing and add your own comments, really—pick a Wodehouse, pick any Wodehouse. They're all joyous and delightful. You may not want to read one every week for two years, but you'll want to read more. When all around you is grey and rainy and sad, I can think of no better pick-me-up than curling in a big soft armchair with a piled of buttered toast, a cup of hot tea, some Eric Coates on the wireless, and burying your nose in a book by P. G. Wodehouse.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ten of a Kind: Down In Uncle Stan's Basement

(More Ten of a Kind here.)