Saturday, September 01, 2007

Separated at Birth: I'm on the hunt, I'm after you

Adventure Comics #352 and Legion of Super-heroes v. 4  #78

L: Adventure Comics #352 (January 1967), art by Curt Swan and George Klein
R: Legion of Super-Heroes v. 4 #78 (March 1996), art by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer
(Click picture to Validus-size)

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Remind Me

"Remind Me" by Röyksopp (2002), directed by H5. If there's any justice in this world, this video oughta cleanse your palate of the song's use in those Geico caveman commercials.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday Night Fights: Good Clean Fun, or "How to Increase Your Blog Hits The Harley Quinn Way"

Harley & Ivy #1 panel
Harley & Ivy #1 panel
Harley & Ivy #1 panel
Panels from Batman: Harley and Ivy #1 (June 2004), written by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, art by Bruce Timm, Shane Glines and Lee Loughridge, letters by Tom Orzechowski. Golly, Miss Quinzel and Miss Isley are jus' about the best friends you ever saw, huh?

Bahlactus is manly, yes, but I like him too.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Unsettling Slang of Mister Clint Barton, Part 6

Avengers/JLA #4 panels
Panel segments from Avengers/JLA #4 (March 2004),
written by Kurt Busiek, art by George Perez and Tom Smith, letters by Comiccraft

Ol' Hawkeye's words are fading out not because of poor scanner skills, but rather because he's being pulled back to his own comfy universe following the defeat of Krona. Just in time, too...I think there was a spatula reference coming up.

It only goes to any universe, Hawkeye's gonna say something that'll make you feel uncomfortable.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Invincible Iron Fan

And now it's time for another thrilling installment of

Things You Don't See Iron Man Do Anymore:

No, I'm not talking 'bout standing around in his golden iron undies (although he doesn't do that much anymore)...
Tales of Suspense #43 panel
All panels in this post from Tales of Suspense #43 (July 1963), plot by Stan Lee, script by Robert Bernstein, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Don Heck, letters by Artie Simek

...but rather defeating an enemy by performing cheerleader cartwheels:
Tales of Suspense #43 panel
Tales of Suspense #43 panel
Tales of Suspense #43 panel
Tales of Suspense #43 panel

Of course, the very last panel of the story does show Tony Stark doing something we still see him doing: mackin' on the fine, fine, ladies:
Tales of Suspense #43 panel

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Let's Read Amazing Spider-Man #12!

CGC ASM crack open that plastic CGC case on your copy and let's get to it! Ahhh, don't you love that whoosh as you pop open the plastic seal? It's like opening a brand-new can of nuts. Fisherrrrrrr. And as we pull that glossy slick comic out of its shell, take a gander at that glorious Ditko cover! It's another in a series of comics where Peter is doing a dandy job protecting his secret I.D., ain't he? Oh, Peter Peter Peter Peter. It's a wonder Aunt May hasn't been mowed down by mob bullets before now. What's that? Oh. Sorry. Never mind.

What's that? You're reaching for your Essential Spider-Man Volume 1 or your Marvel Masterworks: Spider-Man volumes to read along with the reprints? Well, you're S.O.L., buster (sorrily out of luck)! Because we're not looking at the comic story itself, we're gonna look at some of the ads and text pages! Since those aren't reprinted in, reprints, why don't you follow along as I fold back the pages of my ASM #12 and take you back to the world of 1964. Too late to save Jack Kennedy, too early to save John Lennon—so just enjoy the trip!

Click image to embiggen
Up to half off! Why, you can't pass up a bargain like that on one of America's finest accordions! Legend has it this ad is what got Art Van Damme started. That legend is, of course, one I just made up. I just like saying the words "Van Damme."

Can't afford an accordion, even with little money down and low monthly payments? Well, I think we all have twenty-four cents in our pockets, so it's fine used dresses for everyone! Me, I'm partial to a lovely used party frock. I'll have to save up for those thirty-nine cent used shoes, though.

Click picture to embiggen
Now that he's such an icon, isn't it fun to see how Pac-Man got his start...repairing electrical appliances.

What's more profitable than selling seeds? Selling Grit! Note: please sell the actual periodical Grit and not the substance grit. Incidentally, didja know Grit is still around? "America's Rural Lifestyle Magazine for Over 125 Years," it brings you bimonthly articles on canning, mulching, self-sufficiency, farming, nature and country life...and "Down Home Ringtones" of pigs squealing, tractor idling, geese, chicken coop, and many more for your cell phone? Me, I'm gettin' the 'cattle moo' ring tone for the BullyPhone!

"Are you facing difficult problems? Poor health? Money or job troubles? Unhappiness? Drink? Love or family troubles?"

Well, stop reading freakin' Spider-Man comic books and go out into the world and do something about it. Notice how the instructions say "clip this coupon now?" Oh, yeah, that'll help your money problems when you try to sell your copy of Amazing Spider-Man #12 and it's missing a chunk out of one of the pages.

Incidentally, the Life Study Fellowship is also still around. I ain't linking to them.

Click image to embiggen
Sure, you've heard of Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel and Marvel Girl and Professor Marvel...but who in these fast-paced modern technological times remembers the poor man's Charles Atlas, Mike Marvel? I won't say more, since Mark Engblom has a wonderful and funny look at Mike Marvel over at his beautifully-designed and entertaining blog Comic Coverage, and you oughta check that out. I will however mention that Mike Marvel promises to reveal to you his patented Secrets of Being Attractive:

Secret #1: Stand around with your shirt off and your beefy he-man arms crossed.

Here's a full-page lovely house ad for Tales of Suspense #53 and Fantastic Four #26! The landscape oblong layout didn't fit on the comic page? No problem: just flip it on its side! I'm flipping my comic book sideways; feel free to do the same with your computer monitor. (Please make sure you haven't been eating buttered toast first!)

Long before the Internet was even a twinkle in the bespectacled eye of J.C.R. Licklider, comics fanboys and fangirls had to rely on a startlingly-retro and old-fashioned method of blogging about comics: writing letters into the magazine. Most comics had one or two pages of LoCs (letters of comments) and in these early days of Marvel Stan and Co. set the standard for an easy-going, friendly, enthusiastic give-and-take between Marvel and the fans, contributing to the cementing of Marvel as a fan-favorite to overtake the then-perceived slightly-stodgier National Periodicals (DC). Stan's (or whoever was writing for Stan) responses to fan letters were jokey, self-effacing, friendly and chipper, cheerful hucksterism that suggested more involvement and participation in the process by the fans. Let's look at a few of the letters, huh?

Here's a letter that's very telling as to the strong sales of the Marvel books and Spidey in particular: a fan who confesses "I have the same problem so I feel akin to Spider-Man." Such audience empathy and identification with the "everyday problems" of Peter Parker was surely one of the secrets of Spidey's success—even though we weren't fighting guys who could shoot electricity or robotic octopus arms at us, we the readers could still identify with the feeling of feeling alone, being picked on, or bearing a terrible secret. Then again, Jodene expresses the wish that poor Pete can't get a break, and that Spider-Man shouldn't have a girlfriend. Hey Jodene! If you're still readin' Marvel Comics, have we got a book for you!:

Speaking of girlfriends for Webhead, here's a letter that suggests maybe Spidey and the Invisible Girl oughta be smoochin' the night away! Stan poo-poos the idea (even though he was the one who put the idea in our impressionable heads back in Amazing Spider-Man #8) and suggests that maybe a better love match-up would be Sue Storm and J. Jonah Jameson. Hmmm. Hmmm.


Reader Doug Garlinger declares the cover of ASM #8 "good" and that of ASM #9 "crummy." Hmmm, let's take a look:

Reader Doug Garlinger: you have no taste at all.

That said, here's Doug today, and I bet with the wisdom of a few more years, he'd admit now that Electro cover is pretty great. Wouldn't you, Doug? Honestly, I'm not making fun of Doug at all, because during the same period he wrote this letter, he was putting together a pretty freakin' amazing collection of QSL radio cards. Check 'em out!

Here, Stan patiently explains Steve's trademark "half-Spider-mask" artistic shorthand to a puzzled reader...

...and here he gives the real reason behind founding Marvel Comics in the first place: so he can buy a snazzy new luxury car. And we all know what happened to that car.

But by far my favorite fan letter in Amazing Spider-Man #12 is from the late great Dave Cockrum, expressing his love of the characters and the book. This is one of the things I miss most about the letter columns disappearing from comic books: the chance to, years later, discover that the writers and artists of comic books were die-hard fans themselves. Although he's best known for his work on X-Men and Legion of Super-Heroes, in the next decade after writing this letter Dave would be actually drawing the character he praised:

You're missed, Dave.

At the end of that action-packed two-page letters column there's some space devoted to the precursor of Marvel's famous "Bullpen Bulletins," the "Special Announcements Section." This friendly, chipper and gossipy column covers a wide range of subjects from Betty Brant's new hairstyle to the imminent return of Doc Ock. There's some Stan-ish hucksterism to promote upcoming issues of Daredevil (the premiere ish) and Fantastic Four... a teasing blurb for the next Spider-Man, featuring "the most rootin'-tootin' swingin' wing-dingin'est arch-foe you ever did see!" With Stan's usual hyperbole you'd expect there's no way the introduction of that villain could live up to the hype, right? It's gotta be a minor villain that Stan's over-promoting, and we'll never see this bad guy again; he'll never make a significant impression on the Spider-Man universe after Amazing #13...:

Say what you will about Stan...but when he promised us a classic, he often would knock one right out of the park.

Today in Comics History, August 28: Happy birthday, Jack Kirby! (2007)

Thor #127 panel
from Thor (1966 series) #127 (Marvel, April 1966), written by Stan Lee, inked by Vince Colletta, lettered by Artie Simek, and pencilled by Jack Kirby, who would have been ninety years old today. You are missed, big guy.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Wodehouse a Week #18: Something Fishy

I was beginning to wonder how long it would take me into "A Wodehouse a Week" before I began experiencing that remarkable sensation of dèjà vu, that almost indescribable feeling that...wait, have I done this before? Hmmm. Well, anyway, here I am, eighteen weeks in, and this week I peeled open the cover of Something Fishy (1957), published in the US under the title The Butler Did It (which actually ain't a bad alternate title, unlike some of the other re-titlings of Wodehouse's work in the USA. It starts off in the boom days of September 1929, with Mortimer Bayliss declaring 'There's a crash coming, my hearties, a crash that'll shake the fillings out of your back teeth and dislocate your spinal cords.' Hmmm, thinks I. Wasn't there another Wodehouse book I read recently that took place around the Great Crash of '29 and was concerned with money? Ah well, read on. Bayliss's multimillionaire dinner companions form a tontine, pooling fifty thousand dollars each to go to the last of their heirs to marry. I love books about tontines, especially sprawling generational sagas, and since I knew I hadn't re-read a Wodehouse book recently that featured a tontine, I figgered I was on safe ground—no dèjà vu, thank you, just a lovely cup of hot cocoa will suit me a treat!

Turn the page and flash-forward to the year 1955. The first paragraph of chapter two begins:
The sunshine of a fine summer morning was doing its best for the London suburb of Valley Fields, beaming benevolently on its tree-lined roads, its neat little gardens, its rustic front gates and its soaring television antennae.
Of course! Valley Fields! 'Tis the same London suburb Wodehouse set his 1931 novel Big Money, which I read in Week Eight, and discussed the importance of the immediately-post-Wall Street crash era and the suburban London setting. It's one of the wonderful aspects of Wodehouse's cohesive universe that the same setting populated by Berry and Ann in '31 becomes the tableau for a new love story in this stage of 1955. There's no sign of an older Berry and Ann in this novel, so it's not a direct sequel, but the loving descriptions of Valley Field certainly make it part of the same Wodehouse universe, and when later Percy Pilbeam, a shady private detective, shows up, he's a character who appears in several other Wodehouse titles, including Blandings novel Heavy Weather (1933), which I discussed back in Week 6. You think keeping track of Earth-2 history is complicated? Try tracking all the connections and nexuses of Wodehouse's canon—now that's gonna be a big complicated Venn diagram, I'll tell you that.

The feeling of dèjà vu is heightened even one more step with Something Fishy's hero, Bill Hollister, a carefree, chipper, casual young artist who's ever-quick with the quips and offhand humorous observations: he reminded me very much of one of my favorite Wodehouse heroes so far, artist Joss Weatherby from Quick Service, review back in Week Seven. Is it any wonder I glanced back at the title page more than once to see if maybe I have re-read Something Fishy more recently than I expected?

But the plot is new and original (in as much as any Wodehouse plot is), and includes a number of elements not present in the books it reminds me of: the tontine, of course (which is down to its last two, unknowing participants), Keggs the clever and resourceful butler (reminiscent of Jeeves, if Jeeves had a streak of blackmail and a somewhat avaricious nature), and a oversized hideous monstrosity of a statue which looks like it will become this books "Silver Cow Creamer" MacGuffin but instead serves as a light digressive subplot for the uncle of the heroine to paint the offending statuary with a black goatee. Now that I haven't read in any other Wodehouse books! (Yet!)

Once you untangle the tontine business, the story's relatively simple: penniless artist Bill Hollister falls in love with Jane Benedick—not at first sight, but at first hearing in a phone conversation. He later zeroes in on her voice at Barribault's Restaurant in London without even having seen her before:
Jane was puzzled.

'But how,' she asked, 'did you know who I was?'

'I recognized your voice.'

'Recognized my voice?' Jane stared. 'After half a dozen words on the telephone?'

'One would have been ample,' said Bill. He had now gotten over his initial nervousness and was feeling his affable self once more. 'It is a lovely, unique voice, in a class of its own and once heard never forgotten, limpid as a woodland brook and vibrant with all the music of the spheres. When you asked that child in the apron with the gravy spots on it to send the head-waiter along, one could fancy one was listening to silver bells tinkling across the foam of perilous seas in faery lands forlorn.'

'Seas where?'

'In faery lands forlorn. Not my own. Keats.'

'Oh. Well, that's good, isn't it?'

'Couldn't be better,' agreed Bill cordially.
Too bad Jane's engaged to priggish sop Stanhope Twine (a bit of a weed and the sculptor of that ivory eyesore that gets rightfully vandalized). At the periphery circles fatcat bachelor Roscoe Bunyan, the only other surviving heir to the tontine fortune. Informed by retired family butler Keggs of the tontine's existence, Bunyan plots to bribe his sole competitor for the fortune into getting married before he does. But Keggs has his own agenda: fattening his own wallet.

It's a very light and whimsical romance, and even if you push the tontine business to the back of your mind as a complicated distraction, the dialogue is sparkling and witty and the protagonists utterly loveable, especially Jane's absent-minded but fiercely supportive uncle Lord Uffenham. Houses are burgled, butlers are knocked out, letters of intent are stolen, engagements are broken, and everyone, even the baddies, are happy in the end. There are a pair of references to World War II that surprised me; Wodehouse usually doesn't let the dark history of the real world intrude on his fictional Albion. The first is brief but especially grim: a character mentions casually that several of the sons who were eligible for the tontine died in the war. Bill briefly mentions he was in the military ('When you were fourteen, I must have been slogging through Normandy on my way to Paris with the army of liberation.'), and together they're a curious but distinctive pair of references that, unlike many of Wodehouse's topical references, date the action squarely in the post-war world. But the shadow of the war is never allowed to intrude too heavily on the fun and the frolics of this novel.

I was especially delighted by the finish of this book: it appears to wrap up in Chapter 18 with the engagement of Bill and Jane and the arrival of a steaming hot cheese omelette, but turn the leaf and discover there's fifty more pages left to come. I haven't yet discovered many instance in which Wodehouse uses such a "false ending," but this one's very likely to go down as one of my favorites, because he pulls the same trick twice: all appears well at the end of Chapter 22 with Bill and Jane happy to get married despite losing the tontine money, and a lesser author would have typed "THE END" and pushed back in his chair, calling it a day and heading off for a brisk whisky and soda. But Wodehouse continues on for another couple dozen pages and trumps his first two endings with a final twist worthy of O. Henry. I shan't ruin it for you here if you want to read the book yourself, but it's a delightful turn of events in which everyone thinks he's gotten the better of everyone else but only Keggs and Mortimer Bayliss know the whole story. What's more, Wodehouse plays absolutely "fair" with this twist ending: once you read it, you nod in amazed and impressed agreement that you had all the clues before you but you didn't put it together. Like a good mystery, truly the butler did it.

On one of my grand trips to London I picked up the Vintage UK paperback edition of Something Fishy (with a vibrant and warm color illustration of Lord Uffenham painting that black beard on the statue). As you are no doubt fired up by my review and recommendation, here's where I usually show you where to pick up a copy of the book yourself. But alas! Can't quite do that this week: Something Fishy/The Butler Did It is out of print in the US, and though there are older editions listed on Amazon, you'd need to win a tontine to afford 'em. But I have well learned from the example of resourceful and tricky Keggs the butler to make a sneaky suggestion: pick up a copy of P. G. Wodehouse: Five Complete Novels, a remainder house repackaging of a quintet of his classics. I've got an old copy of this omnibus sitting on the Wodehouse Collection shelf and I pulled it down to peek at it to see, yes indeed, it contains The Butler Did It....and there's plenty of relatively inexpensive used copies available on Amazon. That's five books for the price of one, and believe me, it's a bargain a little stuffed bull would be proud to make. That big omnibus will serve you well if you're stuck on a desert island too, and I'll be returning to it in future weeks when I tackle the other four books contained within, including 1951's The Old Reliable, which I don't own in any other edition. See? Pick it up now, start reading, and you'll be way ahead of me! And you can't say that about any other little stuffed animal on line, I bet.

Sunday, August 26, 2007