Saturday, December 22, 2007

Separated at Birth: Downhill Racer

Charles Addams cartoon/ALF #16
L: Charles Addams cartoon from The New Yorker (January 13, 1940)
R: ALF #16 (June 1989), art by Dave Manak
(Click picture to Piz Gloria-size)

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Dokken's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

"Santa Claus is Coming To Town" performed by Dokken, directed by Serge Volsky

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Not Fights: Merry Christmas Batman (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight) (Today in Comics History, December 24)

Batman #27Jingle Bells
Batman smells
Robin laid an egg...

Whoops! Sorry, you caught me Christmas caroling here. What's that? Caroling instead of brawling on Friday night? It's true! While most weeks of the year, Friday nights are devoted to Bahlactus's Friday Night Fights, every once in a while the Grand Funkster of Worlds takes a short break from overseeing the week-ending cosmic battles and brawls. He's on hiatus now, visiting Ma B. in the Black Galaxy for the Galactic Solstice Holiday, so no fighting tonight.

And that's appropriate, 'coz we're getting' on close to Christmas. You don't wanna be fighting only a few days before Christmas, no sirree, lemme tell you. Not only because you may be being watched by the big guy in red from his headquarters at the North Pole, but because, hey, it's the time of Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards All. Despite what Chris Sims would tell you, 'tis not the season for punching people in the face. (Tune in on January 4 for that.) Why, once in a while even the toughest of fighters knows it's time to unclench the fists and toast the season instead of toasting your enemies. F'r instance, witness the classic story from Batman #219 entitled "The Silent Night of the Batman"—the quintessential not-fighting story:

Batman #219 panel
from "The Silent Night of the Batman" in Batman #219 (DC, February 1970, reprinted in Christmas with the Superheroes #1, 1988), written by Mike Friedrich, art by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, coloring by Jerry Serpe

What's that sound up on the rooftop? It's not the hooves of eight tiny reindeer, but the bat-treaded boots of the Dark Knight, arriving in the twinkling of an eye following Commissioner Gordon's Bat-Signal summons. But the call is not to battle the Joker or stop the Riddler: Gordon has something all together much more peaceful in mind for this Gotham City Christmas Eve night:

Batman #219 panel

Gordon's brought Batman to the police headquarters to party! Well, more accurately, to join the boys in blue in an enthusiastic and heart-felt Christmas caroling session. Chalk this up on the toteboard of "things you never see Batman do anymore."

Batman #219 panel

Has Commissioner Gordon been dipping in too much of the eggnog? Well, possibly. Can crime actually stop on a Christmas Eve in Gotham City? How many dark deeds will be committed while the Batman joins the choir?

Batman #219 panel

Well, what do you know!...

Batman #219 panel

Again and again in pantomime sequences crimes begin to play out across the city...

Batman #219 panel

Only to be resolved or put right by the spirit of the Batman:

Batman #219 panel

Even a despairing and potentially tragic Christmas heartbreak is paused by the Batman's spirit, in this beautiful and silent Neal Adams page...

Batman #219 panel

Until at last morning dawns, with not one single crime committed and reported in the city of Gotham:

Batman #219 panel

It's the sort of tale that probably couldn't be told today with the modern, ultra-realistic, gritty and never-shaken Batman, but it still holds up in my book as one of the finest Batman short stories ever. If a tortured and driven Batman can experience Christmas peace for one night, then there is hope for us all.

Batman #219 panel

We may not have a Batman in our cities to help protect the innocent and weak, to strike fear in the hearts of the evil, cowardly, and superstitious, but we do have the spirit of humanity in our hearts to stand against the darkness. In this holiday season, like Bruce Wayne, remember the lesson of "The Silent Night of the Batman" and keep the Spirit of Christmas, and joy and understanding all year long. Tonight is not a night for fighting. Merry Christmas...and peace on Earth, good will to all.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Wodehouse a Week #34: Meet Mr Mulliner

A Wodehouse a Week banner

Christmas CookiesIt's the most wonderful time of the year...for Christmas cookies! Don't you just love it when they're piping hot and fresh out of the oven so that...ow ow ow ow ow! That's too hot! (blowing on my little tender hooves) Okay, maybe we'd better wait until they cool down a little. Still, you can't beat a delicious tray of yummy Christmas sugar cookies, in all shapes ad colors and sizes, frosted merrily and delightful to crunch between your teeth. M-m-m, I can hardly wait. Speaking of M-M-M, that's sort of the treat that Mister Wodehouse has in store for us this week with Meet Mr Mulliner (1927), a delightful china plate full of nine assorted delicious cookies stories featuring his teller-of-tall-family-tales, Mr Mulliner himself. These go down best with a big tall glass of ice cold milk...let's pour one now...oo! Oooh! Ooooh! That's too c-c-c-c-cold! Well, let me set those both aside for the moment and let's look at Meet Mr Mulliner, shall we?

This is the first of the Mulliner collections but there's no more introduction to the character and the placid setting of the rest: simply, here's Mulliner sitting in the bar of the Anglers' Rest, and these is no conversation he cannot turn to the subject of one of his many varied relatives. Just like a plate of varied delicious Christmas cookies (see above...runs off to test to make certain they're cool enough...returns sucking on my hoof), the basic set-up is usual the same (Mulliner relative is in unrequited love) but the plots spin in as many different directions as those little candy silver beaded nonpareils skitter across the floor when you're decorating cookies. (Looks wistfully at the steaming cookies).

Mulliner Family ArmsThere's George Mulliner, the stutterer, who must learn to overcome his verbal handicap fast or lose the lass he loves (say that three times, not you, George)...Albert Mulliner, the founder of the vast Mulliner Cosmetics fortune...his hapless nephew Augustine, who uses his uncle's patented Mulliner's Buck-U-Uppo to gain the love of his life as well as a promotion...poet Lancelot Mulliner, who can't keep a job...William Mulliner, who discovers the joys of drowning his sorrows over a woman in American alcohol...there's Frederick (with the nanny) and Clarence (with the camera) and James (with the close call with ghosts)...Mulliners all, through and through, and don't even bother trying to draw a family tree: you'll wear down your crayon long before you're finished. (Trust me.) I happen to know at least one real-life guy named Mulliner, (hi, Rob!) and I certainly would like Wodehouse to tell his story someday. But I doubt Mr Mulliner will ever run out of relatives to spin his tales.

And just like biting into the soft creamy Hershey's kiss at the center of a peanut blossom, or the gooey jam in the middle of a Jammy Dodger, there's sweet delights of prose to be found in the adventures of the relatives in love, every man Mulliner of them:
The conversation in the bar-parlour of the Anglers' Rest had drifted round to the subject of the Arts: and somebody asked if that film-serial, The Vicissitudes of Vera, which they were showing down at the Bijou Dream, was worth seeing.

'It's very good,' said Miss Postlethwaite, our courteous and efficient barmaid, who is a prominent first-nighter. 'It's about this mad professor who gets this girl into his toils and tries to turn her into a lobster.'

'Tries to turn her into a lobster?' echoed we, surprised.

'Yes, sir. Into a lobster. It seems he collected thousands and thousands of lobsters and mashed them up and boiled down the juice from their glands and was just going to inject it into this Vera Dalrymple's spinal column when Jack Frobisher broke into the house and stopped him.'

'Why did he do that?'

'Because he didn't want the girl he loved to be turned into a lobster.'

'What we mean,' said we, 'is why did the professor want to turn the girl into a lobster?'

'He had a grudge against her.'

This seemed plausible, and we thought it over for a while.
There's a wonderful literary accounting of exclamations in this bit, in which headmasters and bishops try to nail down who vandalized a school statue:
...'Run away, my boy, run away, run away. Can't you see we're busy?'

'But, sir, please, sir, it's about the statue.'

'What about the statue? What about it? What about it?'

'Sir, please, sir, it was me.'

'What! What! What! What! What!'

The bishop, the general, and the headmaster had spoken simultaneously: and the 'Whats' has been distributed as follows:

The Bishop 1
The General 3
The Headmaster 1

making five in all. Having uttered these ejaculations, they sat staring at the boy, who turned a brighter vermillion.
What makes it funny? That in truth the bishop and the general are the paint-happy culprits, having been riled up the previous night with a liberal dose of "Mulliner's Buck-U-Uppo," that miracle patented medicine which gives you the bravery and nerve for difficult deeds. What makes it funnier? That the boy confessing is young Mulliner, nephew of the bishop's curate, who put the boy up to the confession to save his job. What makes it funniest? Mulliner's Buck-U-Uppo is actually an elephant tonic, with enough strength to keep those mighty pachyderms from shying and startling while on hunts in the Indian jungle.

I love this grey description of a spooky estate Wilfred Mulliner is dispatched to:
Externally, ffinch Hall was one of those gloomy, somber country-houses which seem to exist only for the purpose of having horrid crimes committed in them. Even in his brief visit to the grounds, Wilfred has noticed fully half a dozen places which seemed incomplete without a cross indicating spot where body was found by the police. It was the sort of house where ravens croak in the front garden just before the death of the heir, and shrieks ring out from behind barred windows in the night.
In truth, the only fiend there is the suspicious guardian of his love Angela:
'Sir Jasper Finch-Farrowmere?' said Wilfred.

'ffinch-ffarrowmere,' corrected the visitor, his sensitive ear detecting the capital letters.

'Ah, yes. You spell it with two small f's.'

'Four small f's.'
ffinch-ffarrowmere is trying to steal Angela away for himself, which gives Wilfred cause to rant:
'Pooh to you!" said Wilfred. 'And, if you want to know what I think, you poor ffish, I believe your name is spelled with a capital F, like anybody else's.'

Stung to the quick, the baronet turned on his heel and left the room without another word.
But the ffinishing stroke is this:
He shook a menacing finger at the baronet. 'You little thought, Sir Jasper ffinch-ffarrowmere, when you embarked on this dastardly scheme, that Wilfred Mulliner was watching your every move. I guessed your plans from the start. And now is the moment when I checkmate them. Give me that key, you Fiend.'

'ffiend,' corrected Sir Jasper, automatically.
But in between the moments of chuckling comedy, Wodehouse is as always skilled at turning a lyric and sentimental scene that touches the heart:
It was as he was passing the Houses of Parliament that the realization came to him that strange bubbly sensation that seemed to start from just above the lower left side-pocket of his waistcoat was not, as he had first supposed, dyspepsia, but love. Yes, love had come at long last to Clarence Mulliner; and for all the good it might just as well have been the dyspepsia for which he had mistaken it. He loved a girl whom he would probably never see again. He did not know her name or where she lived or anything about her. All he knew was that he would cherish her image in his heart for ever, and that the thought of going on with the old dreary round of photographing lovely women with coy yet roguish smiles was almost more than he could bear.
After reading that bit, you may think that Wodehouse has no bearing on our everyday lives, that he has nothing to tell the youth of today, that the sentiments he writes about aren't popular today. You think so, huh?:
Hey Mister Blunt, Mister Wodehouse called, and he wants his share of the royalties.

I've got three different editions of Meet Mr Mulliner (which is almost as good as having three different plates of cookies!): a mass market paperback edition from Pennyfarthing Press (a nice man named Mister Six gave it to me and told me he'd be seeing me), an old but well-loved sixth printing of the Herbert Jenkins UK hardcover, and the recent Everyman/Overlook Complete Wodehouse edition.

And as I mentioned before when reviewing Mr Mulliner Speaking, Mulliner media is marketed by the multitude! You can pick up the excellent BBC full-cast audio plays of the Mulliner series, and I especially recommend the 1970s TV adaptations on Wodehouse Playhouse starring the amazing John Alderton and the cute-as-a-cookie Pauline Collins. Oh, say, that reminds me! Those cookies and milk ought to be ready just about now, so here I go!

(happily trots out to the kitchen)

(startled and disappointed exclamation)

(slowly trudges back out to the living room)

The cat's eaten it. Sigh.

A Wodehouse a Week Index.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

In James Kirk's universe, every star is a mistletoe

It's a busy pre-Christmas work day here at Bully's House of Elves (and Bulls), so here's a lazy but lovey post to get you in the mood for kissing your special green-skinned sweetie under the holiday mistletoe: let Captain James T. Kirk show you how it's done, Kirk-style!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Late last night I heard the screen door slam/And a big yellow taxi took away my Ben Grimm

Wodehouse on Thursday this week, True Bullievers! And tonight? Well, why not hail down The Cabbies of the Marvel Universe?:

A cabbie of the Marvel Universe
Panels from Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961), written by Stan Lee, art by Jack Kirby and George Klein (?)

A cabbie of the Marvel Universe
Panels from Fantastic Four #111 (June 1971), written by Stan Lee, art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

A cabbie of the Marvel Universe
Panels from Fantastic Four #176 (November 1976), written by Roy Thomas, art by George Perez, Joe Sinnott, and Michele Wolfman

A cabbie of the Marvel Universe
Panels from Fantastic Four #239 (February 1982), written by John Byrne, art by John Byrne and Glynis Wein

A cabbie of the Marvel Universe
A cabbie of the Marvel Universe
Panels from Fantastic Four #181 (April 1977), written by Roy Thomas, art Ron Wilson, Joe Sinnott, and George Roussos

A cabbie of the Marvel Universe
Panels from Fantastic Four #17 (August 1963), written by Stan Lee, art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers

And let us not forget...the Cabbie who drives Thinking Yellow Taxi from Clor #1:
A cabbie of the Marvel Universe

Every man jack of them white as cabbie Jack Lockley's superhero uniform.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The World's Greatest Pin-Up Magazine!

I was quite pleased that several of my trusty commenters (thanks, guys!) picked up on the unspoken "moral of the story" I was trying to get across in yesterday's "Ten of a Kind"—that you can have a comic book cover sans dialogues, blurbs, and captions, but which is still dynamic, compelling, and which gives you a tease of the story within. In other words, a comic book that inspires the reaction "I gotta read that!" instead of "Have I read this one already?":
Pin-Up Covers

Or, to quote my friend Snuckles, the poetry-writing pig:

Pretty to look at
Delightful to hold
If I can't 'member I bought it
That's one more copy sold.

What's interestin' to me is that the trend at Marvel seemed to start with the Ultimate line, but those books have now moved to more representational covers. While the first couple years more often than not featured generic pin-up covers, the recent runs give us a taste of the contents right up front. Here's the first issue next to the latest issue of Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate Fantastic Four:
Ultimate Covers
I fully admit the generic pin-up covers are often lovely and impressive, but I've always felt they should be the exception, not the rule. While I realize that comics are now a self-selling medium and no longer rely on catching kids' eyes on the news rack in order to make a sale, I'd certainly love to see more Marvels moving to memorable imagery tying into the story rather than just some dramatic posing. Save the dramatic stances for anniversary issues or variant covers, why doncha?

But Bully, you ask, is there any place where pin-up imagery is appropriate all the time? Why, of course there is! In the contents of the book itself. I say bring back the Mighty Marvel Pin-Up Pages of old, like this treasury of, Fantastic Four mini-posters that I handily clipped out of my mint copies of early Kirby comics and taped on my wall. Let's all take a big wondrous gaze at 'em, shall we?
FF Pin-Up
FF Pin-Up
FF Pin-Up
FF Pin-Up
FF Pin-Up
FF Pin-Up
FF Pin-Up
FF Pin-Up

All of the above examples are from the great FF age of Lee and Kirby, and the pin-up pages mostly fell into disuse after that era, but John Byrne resurrected them for his "Back to the Basics" FF run:
FF Pin-Up
FF Pin-Up

Some may complain that pin-up pages take one page of the story away, but I say, bring 'em back! They're interesting, colorful, inventive and best of all, fun.

Also, with all my pin-up pages, I totally don't have to buy wallpaper now.

I wish I was going to be in London on Christmas Day

(Caution: Doctor Who Christmas Special spoilers)

Watch it before it disappears from YouTube!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ten of a Kind: Actions Speak Louder

(More Ten of a Kind here.)