Saturday, June 16, 2007

Separated at Birth: It's a Guy Thing

JLI #18 and #19

L: Justice League International #18 (October 1988), art by Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubinstein
R: Justice League International #19 (Nov. 1988), art by Kevin Magure and Joe Rubinstein
(Click picture to Guy-size)

Dedicated to SallyP...Happy birthday, Sally!

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Dancing on the Moon

"Dancing on the Moon" (1935), directed by Dave Fleischer

This is the cartoon Mama Bull would show me when I asked where babies came from. From the moon, apparently!
Here's a great blog post all about this cartoon.

Friday, June 15, 2007

An open letter to the London Eye

Dear London Eye,

Hi hi hi! It's me, your mate, Bully. How are you? I am fine. Well, here's why I'm writing. You know, I am fully aware a lot of people don't like you...they argue you're a blot on the city skyline of one of the greatest metropolises in the world. But even though I'm not personally a big fan of waiting ninety minutes or so for the privilege of paying thirteen to twenty-three quid for a ticket to ride slowly above the capital of London, I've still defended you (most recently here). You're a pleasant and harmless tourist attraction and a well-needed boost to the economy of the South Bank of London, where in addition to you there are some great museums, decent restaurants, shopping, and a very pleasant way to spend a London day. You're a more wholesome and worthwhile tourist trap than, say, The London Dungeon or Winston Churchill's World at War. And unlike the Millennium Dome, the O2 Centre, people actually seem to know what your purpose is. I don't begrudge you your popularity.

And then you have to do this:
London Eye transformed into Fantastic Four advert

The hub of the London Eye was transformed this week with the addition of a two-ton PVC representation of the Silver Surfer from the new Fantastic Four movie. The London Eye features in the film Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer which opens at cinemas this Friday as the Silver Surfer saves the wheel and its passengers from disaster.


It took six days to assemble and install the figure which is secured to 32 steel brackets.

The PVC Silver Surfer turns his back on the South Bank. From Jubilee Gardens the figure is just a silhouette; for the full effect it is necessary to view the Eye from north of the river.
Eye, Eye, Eye. I know you're a working Londoner. Like everybody else in my favorite city, you have to pull in extra jobs to make ends meet. Everyone's proud of that neo-Churchillian "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" philosophy. But honestly, Miss Eye...renting yourself out as a billboard to promote a superhero movie? Oh, my, Eye. Oh my.

It's not even''re turning your back on the South Bank? Dear Lady Eye, the South Bank is your bread and butter. It's like the Empire State Building shaking hands with New Jersey!

Eye, really. When the O2 Centre Millennium Dome was prominently featured in a James Bond movie, did a giant Pierce Brosnan get plastered on the side of her curvy roof to promote a big-budget Hollywood movie? No, it did not. And that's the Millennium Dome, Eye. The Millennium Dome! Do you want people to think you are easier than the Millennium Dome?

In short, London Eye, I'm not mad at you. Just...a little disappointed. Please think twice next time you have to take a part time job, won't you?

And besides...everybody knows there's only one entertainment franchise classy enough for you to be associated with:

Love, Bully

A tip o' the nose ring to Heidi.

You're hooked, you're cooked, you're caught in the tender trap

You see a pair of laughing eyes

Secret Wars #3 panel
These panels are from Secret Wars #3 (July 1984),
written by Jim Shooter, art by Mike Zeck, John Beatty, and Christie Scheele

And suddenly you're sighing sighs

Secret Wars #3 panel
You're thinking nothing's wrong

Secret Wars #3 panel
You string along, boy, then snap!

Secret Wars #3 panel
Those eyes, those sighs,

Secret Wars #3 panel
They're part of the tender trap.

Secret Wars #3 panel
You're hand-in-hand beneath the trees

Secret Wars #3 panel
And soon there's music in the breeze

Secret Wars #3 panel
You're acting kind of smart,
Secret Wars #3 panel
Until your heart just goes wap!

Secret Wars #3 panel
Those trees, that breeze,

Secret Wars #3 panel
They're part of the tender trap.

Secret Wars #3 panel
Some starry night, when her kisses make you tingle

Secret Wars #4 panel
These panels are from Secret Wars #4 (August 1984),
written by Jim Shooter, art by Bob Layton, John Beatty, and Christie Scheele

She'll hold you tight, and you'lll hate yourself for being single

Secret Wars #4 panel
And all at once it seems so nice

Secret Wars #4 panel
The folks are throwing shoes and rice

Secret Wars #4 panel
You hurry to a spot, that's just a dot on the map

Secret Wars #4 panel
You're hooked, you're cooked,

Secret Wars #4 panel
You're caught in the tender trap.

Secret Wars #4 panel

Song: "(Love is) The Tender Trap," music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Sammy Cahn. The best version of this boppin' ditty is sung by Old Blue Eyes himself, Benjamin J., wait, by the other Old Blue Eyes, the Chairman of the Board: Mister Frank Sinatra. But since there's not a Sinatra version on YouTube, start up this jazzy cover by Sandra Reemer and re-read the post to get the full multimedia effect!:

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Today in Comics History, June 14, Flag Day: Ben Franklin...Plagiarist!

On this patriotic holiday, so you think you know the origin and history of our proud American star-spangled banner? Well, think again, bub! All that the teachers taught you weren't cool! That story about Betsy Ross being bitten by a radioactive starfish and thirteen snakes? Bullhockey propaganda implanted in your puny mind by Commies! Or, maybe the Red Skull. Come to think of it, how can you be sure your kindly history teacher wasn't a Skrull, pallie?!?

No, on this special day, you deserve to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the true origins of our American flag. And who better to depict that amazing day in American history than the King himself, Jack Kirby? Let's call it: Old Glory: Who She Is and How She Came to Be!

Okay, first, Captain America travelled back in time...wait, wait, work me me on this one:

Jack Kirby's Captain America
from Marvel Treasury Special Featuring Captain America's Bicentennial Battles one-shot (Marvel, September 1976), script and pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Herb Trimpe, colors by Phil Rachelson, letters by John Costanza

...meets Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross, upon whom he makes quite an impression...

Jack Kirby's Captain America

Now you an' I can see this coming a mile away...

Jack Kirby's Captain America

...but poor Cap is acting like he's never seen an episode of The Twilight Zone. Don't freak out,'s only temporal causality!

Jack Kirby's Captain America

Hmmm, d'you think Jack was having a little joke at Marvel's expense about the nature of work for hire here? Anyway, run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes, Ben...she's a grand old flag!

What If...Captain America Had a Baby?

Jack Kirby's Captain America

Why, I think it would go something like this:

Jack Kirby's Captain America

Jack Kirby's Captain America

Jack Kirby's Captain America

Jack Kirby's Captain America

Jack Kirby's Captain America

Jack Kirby's Captain America

Jack Kirby's Captain America

Thankfully, Captain America does not have a baby.

All panels in this post have been taken from the trade paperback collection
Captain America's Bicentennial Battles
written and drawn by Jack Kirby

PS: Happy Flag Day from me 'n' Cap!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Happy Birthday, Bahlactus!

Drop by his rockin' party and wish him a happy one! Oh, and save me a slice, big guy!:
Happy Birthday Bahlactus!

Nobody doesn't like Gwen Stacy...

...but I Gwen Stacy.
John Romita's Gwen Stacy

How much does this little stuffed bull ♥ Go-Go Gwendy? Find out in the Gwen-salutin' essay I've written for Blog@Newsarama, posted today as part of their totally affectionate "I ♥ Comics" series. Tell 'em Bully sent ya. But no stealing my Gwen kisses! Get yer own. And don't you dare make Gwen cry:
Gil Kane's Gwen Stacy

The House of Ideas Excuses (Furious Backpedaling Department)

A Skrull Ate My Homework

Oh, I s'pose I shoulda put a SPOILER WARNING on that. Oh well.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Jack Kirby's "The Eyes of Captain America"

Jack Kirby's Captain America

Jack Kirby's Captain America

Jack Kirby's Captain America

Jack Kirby's Captain America

Jack Kirby's Captain America

Of course, once in a while Jack liked to mix it up:
Jack Kirby's Captain America

But which do you prefer, Cap?:
Jack Kirby's Captain America

Darn straight.

All panels in this post have been taken from the trade paperback collection
Captain America's Bicentennial Battles
written and drawn by Jack Kirby

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Wodehouse a Week #7: Quick Service

A Wodehouse a Week banner

'If you want to know what's the matter with you, my girl, you read too many of these trashy detective stories.'

'Better than reading silly novelettes.'

'May I ask why you call novelettes silly?'

'Because they are.'

'Mere abuse is no criticism.'

'Well, they're full of things happening that don't happen.'

'Such as?'

'Well, what were we talking about the other day. Whoever heard of a young fellow being buzzed out of his home because his father wanted him to marry somebody and he wouldn't?'

—from Quick Service by P. G. Wodehouse

A lot of great novels hinge on improbable things, but I think this week as I have read Quick Service (1940), I have hit upon the only book in the English language in which the events are spurred on by bad ham. I think much more of literature could be improved if the impetus for their action were bad ham, doncha think? For example:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a good ham.
It was the best of times; it was the worst of hams.
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded ham that has gone off.
I could go on all day like this, but let's talk about Quick Service.

And let's be fair to the ham in question: it's not actually gone off; it's merely fatty and cut wrong. That's enough, however, to spur Mrs. Beatrice Chavender to head for London and lodge a complaint with ham merchant James Duff of the Duff and Trotter Paramount Ham Company. And that, as they say, is where the fun begins! Mrs. Chavender was once engaged to Duff, who ducks her visit, leaving her to deal with Duff and Trotter artist Joss Weatherby, who once painted a portrait of Mrs. Chavender that hangs in Claines Hall, the Sussex estate home of her sister-in-law, Mabel Steptoe; but instead Joss meets up with Sally Fairmile (Sally! One of Wodehouse's favorite names for a heroine), Mrs. Steptoe's young niece. Sally's been sent by her fiancé George, Lord Holbeton, to secure the release of George's inheritance, which has been placed in the trust of James Duff. Whew! That's only the first few pages, and already Wodehouse has knitted a tight and elegant scarf out of a tangle of characters most authors would still be shuffling into place several chapters down the line.

By page 40 the plot is roaring ahead at full speed: Duff has fired Joss, Joss has fallen in love (natch!) with Sally, and Mabel Steptoe's husband Howard (ex-boxer and Hollywood star wannabe) has unwittingly hired Joss as his new valet after each of the previous gentlemen's gentlemen has quit in a huff over their difficult-to-manage master. Did I mention that Duff wants to steal that portrait of Mrs. Chavender from the hall in order to use the image in a advertising campaign for ham? How about Chibnall the no-nonsense, bare-fist boxing butler, engaged to pub maid Vera Pym, who's perhaps a little too obsessed with detective thrillers? Well, there you go. Throw in a false mustache and you've got a Wodehouse country house adventure that's much in the spirit of every one of his other country house adventures with mistaken and duplicitous identities and multiple attempts to steal an item—but it's done with his usual charm and panache that all is forgiven.

I've said before that it's possible to argue Wodehouse pretty much wrote the same book again and again over his 93 years. Certainly Quick Service has many of the same elements as the Blandings books and many of his Jeeves books when Bertie heads off to a country estate. I believe I'm going to find this aspect more and more obvious reading the books the way I am: one a week for two years will bring the similarities very much to the forefront in ways his original audience, reading 'em one a year, probably didn't find as obvious. I'm not blaming or pointing my hoof at Wodehouse: heck, I'm delighted at how so many of his books are similar and yet uniquely entertaining. Even when you spot a joke he used before—and will use again, several times—he tends to phrase it quite differently each time, so it almost becomes a little treasure for you to spot, as in this exchange about the uneatable ham:
'You bought it, Sally," said Mrs Steptoe accusingly.

Sally was unable to deny the charge.

'I thought it was bound to be all right," she pleaded in defence. 'It came from the best people in London.'

'The question of their morals,' said Mrs Chavender, 'does not arise. They may, as you say, be the best people in London, though that isn't saying much. My point is that they sell inferior ham.'
Morals CounterWodehouse fans or careful readers of this blog will have immediately spotted that as another version of the 'I've nothing against his morals, but he can't do hair' line in Pearls, Girls, and Monty Bodkin, and Wodehouse will return to the same joke again and again. And it still tickles me pink every time. In fact, since I've spotted the second occurrence of this joke in my Wodehouse a Week project, let's start tallying it through use of the handy 'I've nothing against his morals' counter I'll place in these reviews every time I spot it. Current number: 2. It'll go up in the coming weeks, trust me.

Silver Cow CreamerAnother frequent plot device in the Wodehouse books is the object-that-must-be-stolen, around which much of the action revolves. In Quick Service it's Joss's portrait of Mrs. Chavender: once word gets out that Jimmy Duff is willing to pay through his false-mustache to obtain it, virtually everybody in Claines Hall (except Mrs. Steptoe and Chibnall the butler) are trying to steal it...nobody really wants the thing around except as ready cash to pay off gambling debts (Mr. Steptoe) or ensure that George's legacy will be released (Sally) or to get back his job at Duff and Trotter (Joss) or to make enough money to make good on an ill-timed philanthropic promise (Mrs. Chavender). This of course leads to a series of midnight rambles around the country house where competing thieves, all guests of the house, try to lay their hands on the portrait first, yet in the end, like the ham, it's not a vital element: it's only important to the story as an impetus to put the players in certain positions performing certain shady deeds. Alfred Hitchcock had a name for a prop like this: MacGuffin. But since I'm immersing myself in Wodehouse for a bountiful biennial, I'm going to give it my own name when I refer to it now and in the future, named after one of the greatest and most infamous objects of theft in the Wodehousean world: Sir Watkyn Bassett's famous Silver Cow Creamer from The Code of the Woosters. Therefore, we might say that Quick Service's Silver Cow Creamer is the portrait of Mrs. Chavender...oh, to keep it simple, let's call it the S.C.C., as Bertie Wooster might be wont to abbreviate.

Despite similarities of plot, characters, jokes, and thefts of S.C.C.s,, Quick Service has a remarkable distinctiveness to it primarily through one of Wodehouse's most appealing of his appealing young male heroes: Joss Weatherby. To the best of my knowledge he only appears in this one book, but he's become one of my favorite Wodehouse non-series heroes to date in the baker's half-dozen books I've just re-read. He's bright, cheerful, romantic, and always, always ready with a quick quip. He's sort of the Spider-Man of the Wodehouse world. He addresses the problem of being a valet to the fussy and moody Mr. Steptoe by taking utter command of the situation: through a firm word and a bribe of ten pounds to wear the starched shirt Steptoe wants to avoid. Our boy Joss is a problem-solver, not a moper, and it's men of action who are the best and most likeable Wodehouse heroes. He easily outshines Sally's fiancé George (who is dull, unfocused, and a bit of a cross between Lord Emsworth and Bertie Wooster with little of their natural charm), so it's no surprise when Joss of course wins the heart of fair Sally. And oh my, can the man pitch woo:
A cheery 'Hoy!' broke the stillness, and she turned to see the very person she had been thinking about. Valets did not as a rule saunter about the gardens of Claines Hall in the quiet evenfall, but nobody had told Joss Weatherby that.

'So there you are!' he said. 'Do you know, in this uncertain light I mistook you for a wood nymph.'

'Do you always shout "Hoy!" at wood nymphs?'

'Nearly always.'

'I suppose you know that valets aren't supposed to shout "Hoy!" at people?'

'You must open a conversation somehow.'

'Well, if you want to attract, for instance, Mrs Steptoe's attention, it would be more suitable to say "Hoy, madam."'

'Or "Hoy, dear lady!'"

'Yes, that would be friendlier.'

'Thanks. I'll remember it.' He joined her at the wall, and stood scrutinizing the fish for a moment in silence. The evening was very still. Somewhere in the distance, sheep bells were tingling, and from one of the windows of the house there came the sound of a raucous voice rendering the Lambeth Walk. Despite the shirt, Joss had left Mr Steptoe happy, even gay. 'This is a lovely place,' he said.

'I'm glad you like it.'

'An earthly Paradise, absolutely. Though mark you,' said Joss, who believed in coming to the point, 'a gas works in jersey City would be all right with me, so long as you were there. A book of verses underneath the bough—'

The quotation was familiar to Sally, and she felt it might be better to change the subject.
Of course, Joss isn't immediately knowledgeable of the fact that Sally's engaged, which is likely to throw a spanner in his comparing her to a summer's day. There's a lovely device Wodehouse uses usually at least once a book: he ends a chapter on an absolute cliffhanger of a startling revelation through dialogue, followed by complete small talk, with no immediate depiction of how devastating or surprising this revelation must be to the party of the second part. It's a wonderful Wodehouse quirky touch, and he puts it to great use at the very end of Chapter 12 where dog-walking Mrs. Chavender unwillingly lets loose the truth and then digresses while we're left to imagine Joss's jaw hanging to his shoes:
'By the way,' said Mrs Chavender, pausing at the door, 'did I understand you to say you loved Sally?'

'That's right.'

'Well, I don't know if it's going to affect your plans, but she told me this morning, when we were driving to Lewes, that she was engaged to this Lord Holbeton you may have seen pottering around the place. All right, all right ,all right,' said Mrs Chavender, as the imperious summons sounded once more from above, 'I'm coming, I tell you. The way these darned Pekes keep you on the jump, you'd think they thought you went around in spiked shoes and running shorts.'
And...end of chapter. How can you not flip the page quick as a flash after a cliffhanger like that?

Of course, is it any surprise that there's happy endings all 'round for absolutely everyone from Lord to butler, but not before Wodehouse spins the wheel a few more times: the novel seems to be dancing to a lovely end towards the bottom of Chapter 16—Joss has the portrait in hand, Sally's broken her engagement to George, all is well in Sussex. Surely this must be the happy ending, and the fact that there's still fifty or so pages left in my right hoof only suggests maybe the entire tail end of the book will be hints on how to keep your ham in fine mettle. Oh no, no, no—suddenly at the end of Chapter 16 James Duff doesn't want the portrait anymore and won't pay one thin pound for it, and the couples are penniless and...oh, it's too sad for words, but there's fifty more pages to turn everything around again and tie it up in lovely neat rewarding packages. I usually dislike movies or novels that seem to have false endings and milk another subplot out of the story (I'm lookin' at you, Pirates of the Caribbean), but for Wodehouse it's just one last dip in the roller coaster before he sends our hero and heroine off into the Sussex sunset with a laugh in their hearts and a kiss on their lips. Quick service, indeed. And there is, of course, a fine moral to be learned:
'My God!' said Joss, struck by an unnerving thought. 'Do you realize that if I hadn't overslept that morning, we should never have met?'

'Shouldn't we?'

'No. I was supposed to be at the office at ten. If I had got there on time, I should have been gone long before you arrived. But owing to having stayed up late, shooting craps, I didn't clock in until eleven. What a lesson this should teach to all of us.'

'To shoot craps?'

'That, of course. But what u was really thinking of was how one ought never to be punctual. From now on, I shall make a point of always being at least an hour late for everything.'

'Including the wedding?'
Need another lesson? Why, of course. Apply yourself, dear friends, to the lesson of Howard Steptoe, former boxer:
'Mr Steptoe was a boxer?'

'Preliminary bouts on the Pacific coast. The first time I ever saw him was at the American Legion stadium in Hollywood. He was getting the tar whaled out of him by a fellow called Wildcat Wix.'
The lesson? It's simple, of course, and Dorian will back me up on this: when you're facing off against a boxer named Wildcat, you will get the tar whaled out of you.

Quick Service was published in 1940. While not the final pre-WWII book he wrote, Wodehouse would not publish another book in the UK until 1946, following his incarceration and release from a German prison camp...and his jocular, extremely controversial radio broadcasts for the Germans, which turned many of the British people against him. I'll read and discuss his German talks later in "A Wodehouse a Week," but for the moment this is in many ways Wodehouse's last novel of his innocent British life. The criticism from the British press and many of his peers (including venomous attacks by A. A. Milne) led Wodehouse to move to Long Island after his release and the end of the war. The very epitome of British cheer, Wodehouse would never again set foot on British soil. His final book written in England (Money in the Bank) was eventually published in the UK in 1946 (four years after it had been released in the US—so strong had the anti-Wodehouse national sentiment been). The next book he would write originated from his New York home, and is one of his finest: the Jeeves and Bertie novel Joy in the Morning. Long Island clearly agreed with Wodehouse, but in retrospect, it's difficult today to read Quick Service and Money in the Bank without realizing they Wodehouse's British swan songs.

Pocket-sized paperbacks are easy to carry around over the past seven days while I read it and prepare for "A Wodehouse a Week," so I've been reading Quick Service in the Penguin paperback edition, featuring another one of those lovely Ionicus illustrations, this one of Joss strong-arming James Duff in his office while surprised Sally looks on. The cover of this paperback is so sun-faded the browns and oranges have turned yellow, but Sally's hat, purse, and shoes are still a wonderful shade of blue—exactly as I pictured them. I've actually got several editions of Quick Service on the big Wodehouse bookshelf here in Brooklyn, gathered from several corners of the globe: a bright orange Collier US hardcover reprint I picked up ten years ago this summer at "New York is Book Country," a slightly worn but still lovely British edition from Herbert Jenkins (missing dust jacket but still much beloved), a 2004 Everyman Library edition...the book is even contained in full in The Most of P. G. Wodehouse a wonderful paperback omnibus that is sort of a buffet of stories about the Drones Club, Mr. Mulliner, Ukridge, Blandings, Jeeves, and various golf stories plus this full novel. If you've never read Wodehouse a collection like this is a fantastic way to dip into his work and sample something from column A, something from column B, and an egg roll of Lord Emsworth and the Empress of Blandings. Of course, Quick Service is available in the US in the Overlook Press uniform hardcover edition: click on the Amazon link to the right to purchase it, or scout about Amazon to find a number of used paperback editions of the novel that starts with ham and ends with a kiss. All the things I like best between two covers.