Saturday, January 05, 2008

Separated at Birth: Look what you gain when you travel by train (Sherlock Holmes Weekend Continues!)

Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget/Ruse #7
L: "Holmes Gave Me a Sketch of the Events" from "Silver Blaze" by Arthur Conan Doyle, published in The Strand (December 1892), art by Sidney Paget
R: Ruse #7 (May 2002), art by Butch Guice, Mike Perkins, and Laura DePuy
(Click picture to gigantic hound-size)

Saturday Morning Cartoon: The Pink Panther in "Sherlock Pink" (Sherlock Holmes Weekend Continues!)

The Pink Panther in "Sherlock Pink" (1976), directed by Robert McKimson

Friday, January 04, 2008

Friday Night Fights: The Adventure of the Stone-Fisted Sleuth (Sherlock Holmes Weekend Begins!)

Mister Sherlock Holmes. You know him, I bet. Hawk nose, deerstalker cap, nasty cocaine habit. The world's greatest detective (until Batman, Elongated Man, and Columbo came along, at least). Your image of Holmes is probably shaped by the Basil Rathbone films, or the Jeremy Brett TV series, or perhaps by the wonderful original Sidney Paget illustrations:
Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget

Lookin' at these you might say to yourself "That Holmes is a slacker! Always kicking back, relaxing, smoking his meerschaum pipe or three and thinking about murders." Well, that's where you're wrong, Lestrade! Sure, Holmes is a deep thinker. But don't forget he put in a solid kickassing on Professor Moriarty on the cliffs of the Reichenbach Falls:
Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget

Holmes is no frail, wasted, intellectual. He's a keen student of fighting and boxing, and casually shows off his strength in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band":
Holmes chuckled heartily. "Your conversation is most entertaining," said he. "When you go out close the door, for there is a decided draught."

"I will go when I have said my say. Don't you dare to meddle with my affairs. I know that Miss Stoner has been here. I traced her! I am a dangerous man to fall foul of! See here." He stepped swiftly forward, seized the poker, and bent it into a curve with his huge brown hands.

"See that you keep yourself out of my grip," he snarled, and hurling the twisted poker into the fireplace he strode out of the room

"He seems a very amiable person," said Holmes, laughing. "I am not quite so bulky, but if he had remained I might have shown him that my grip was not much more feeble than his own." As he spoke he picked up the steel poker and, with a sudden effort, straightened it out again.
How much of an all-out action guy is he? How tough is Sherlock Holmes? So tough he beats up cadavers:
"Holmes is a little too scientific for my tastes—it approaches to cold-bloodedness. I could imagine his giving a friend a little pinch of the latest vegetable alkaloid, not out of malevolence, you understand, but simply out of a spirit of inquiry in order to have an accurate idea of the effects. To do him justice, I think that he would take it himself with the same readiness. He appears to have a passion for definite and exact knowledge."

"Very right too."

"Yes, but it may be pushed to excess. When it comes to beating the subjects in the dissecting-rooms with a stick, it is certainly taking rather a bizarre shape."

"Beating the subjects!"

"Yes, to verify how far bruises may be produced after death. I saw him at it with my own eyes."
Man, even Batman ain't that crazy.

But I can hear you now. Sure, Bully, you scoff. Mister Sheer-Luck Holmes is soooooo tough. But all you've shown us is words, little stuffed bull, paltry feeble words. We're comic book fans from the Show-Me State. Show us that Holmes could hold his own against the other two-fisted heroes of the four-color world. Hah!

Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you?

Sherlock Holmes comic
Sherlock Holmes comic
Sherlock Holmes comic
Sherlock Holmes comic
Sherlock Holmes comic

For best results, read that last panel and then immediately click here.

All these panels are from DC's rather spiffing Sherlock Holmes #1 (cover-dated October 1975), written by Denny O'Neil with art by E. R. Cruz. Despite the "Next issue on sale during the last week in August" blurb at the bottom of the final panel, it's the only Holmes issue published by DC, so it's likely the issue didn't sell well enough to warrant a series. That's kind of a pity. It was obviously published to capitalize on the massive increase in Holmes fandom thanks to the publication of Nicholas Meyers's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution only the previous year, which inspired dozens if not hundreds of imitation novels and new Holmes pastiches. This little stuffed Holmes fan declares that the DC comic version ain't half bad: bold and dynamic art, an abridged but skillful retelling of two Conan Doyle stories ("The Final Problem" and "The Adventure of the Empty House"), and, aside from portraying Holmes in deerstalker throughout (Holmes would have only worn such wear when traveling to the country, Holmes scholars tell us), does a pretty solid job of fitting the general visual image of Holmes, Watson, and Victorian London. There's also a be-yoo-tiful Walt Simonson cover:
Sherlock Holmes comic cover

Maybe it's for the best. Not every Holmes story might have lent itself so well to the action-packed, visually-oriented medium of comic books. But for one issue at least, Holmes totally scores a knockout:
Sherlock Holmes comic
Sherlock Holmes comic
Sherlock Holmes comic

"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of Bahlactus in the night-time."
"Bahlactus did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Un Más Día

Y'know, in many ways Spider-Man's "One More Day" storyline is a Faust play...the story of one man struggling against damnation after being entangled in a sinister deal with the Devil. And like the unhappy ending of that certain Spidey-saga, a Faustian bargain usually ends in tears. Spidey would have been smart to pay attention to the lyrics of the classic Big Daddy Kane song:
What we need is peace and love and more love
But I don't see none of the above
So one for the bass and two for the treble
C'mon y'all, don't dance with the devil!
Words to live by.

But in another way, "One More Day" reminded me of another, equally popular form of theatrical entertainment, one with costumes reminiscent of superheroes, featuring heroes, villains, and epic battles for right and justice: lucha libre, Mexican free fighting wrestling. The colorful masks and muscular physiques of the great Mexican wrestlers is virtually straight out of superhero comics, and frequently the ring battles pit a hero against "El Diablo"—a devil-masked villain. It's like a passion play, except with more body grease.

Which got me thinkin'...

What If™..."One More Day" Had Been a Mexican Wrestling Grudge Match?

Well for one thing, it woulda been hecka cooler. And I think it woulda gone something like this....
un Mas Dia cover

There would be sweaty battles a-plenty:

And strange, dramatic, reversals of fortune...

But in the end, the day would be saved the way it always should: with good old-fashioned supermodel smarts:

(Cuadro del tecleo para hacerlo más grande)

Puedo apenas ser un pequeño toro relleno que no habla español, pero compraría eso.

Con las gracias por el estímulo de Chris Sims

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Wodehouse a Week #36: The Pothunters

A Wodehouse a Week banner

It's a Happy New Year here at A Wodehouse a Week, so let's celebrate with A Month of Firsts—an entire double-fortnight of famous premieres in the Panoply of Plum. Stay tuned this month for first appearances of Wodehouse's most famous characters! And what better place to start than with his first published book, The Pothunters, which was originally released in (take a deep breath) nineteen-oh-two. Golly. That's (does some quick calculations on my hooves; takes off my socks to count a little higher) over twenty years ago! And y'know, it's as fresh as today, a reference to jellygraphing or two aside.

The Pothunters is a school story, like Wodehouse's other early books, populated with quick and clever young lads attending St. Austin's public school—many of the same cast of characters Wodehouse later used in Tales of St. Austin's, which I reviewed back in September. Unlike that collection of school short stories, The Pothunters is a novel—although the individual chapters can be read separately (and in fact were first published in British boys' magazine The Captain that way), there's a continuing plot here of the theft of two sporting prize trophies (the 'pots' that are hunted) from the school, plus the disappearance of two pounds. Consternation uproar! Such an event would, in a different author's work, set Boy Wizard™ and his pair O'Pals® snooping about Chambers of Secret and the like, but the boys of St. Austin's are happy to sit around their rooms, making toast and tea and chatting wittily:
'Now we're complete,' said Charteris, as Jackson presented himself. 'Gentlemen—your seats. There are only four chairs, and we, as Wordsworth might have said, but didn't, are five. All right, I'll sit on the table. Welch, you worm, away with melancholy. Take away his book, somebody. That's right. Who says what? Tea already made. Coffee published shortly. If anybody wants cocoa, I've got some, only you'll have to boil more water. I regret the absence of menu-cards, but as the entire feast is visible to the naked eye, our loss is immaterial. The offertory will be for the Church expenses fund. Biscuits, please.'

'I wish you'd given this tea after next Saturday, Alderman,' said Jim. Charteris was called the Alderman on account of his figure, which was inclined to stoutness, and his general capacity for consuming food.

'Never put off till tomorrow—Why?'

'I simply must keep fit for the mile. How's Welch to run, too, if he eats this sort of thing?' He pointed to the well-spread board.

'Yes, there's something in that,' said Tony. 'Thank goodness, my little entertainment's over. I think I will try one of those chocolate things. Thanks.'

'Welch is all right,' said Jackson. 'He could win the hundred and the quarter on sausage-rolls. But think of the times.'
Gosh. My tummy is rumbling just reading that, which shows how well Wodehouse knew his audience: schoolboys obsessed with rich, filling tuck. Not to mention sport, of course, and the mystery comes into it later, but quite by accident: one boy sneaks into the scene of the crime to retrieve his schoolbook; another accidentally discovers the pots in a hollow tree in the off-limit woods, and poor Thomson is falsely accused of the theft—but while a the forefront of the goings-on, the mystery is almost always secondary to other activities: running races, sneaking out of bounds, publishing a clandestine school literary journal. And betting, betting, betting.
'Shouldn't wonder, you know,' said Dimsdale, one of the two School House fags, judicially, 'if the kid wasn't telling the truth for once in his life. Those pots must be worth something. Don't you think so, Scott?'

Scott admitted that there might be something in the idea, and that, however foreign to his usual habits, Robinson might on this occasion be confining himself more or less to strict fact.

'There you are, then,' said Robinson, vengefully. 'Shows what a fat lot you know what you're talking about, Morrison.'

'Morrison's a fool,' said Scott. 'Ever since he got off the bottom bench in form there's been no holding him.'

'All the same,' said Morrison, feeling that matters were going against him, 'I shan't believe it till I see it.'

'What'll you bet?' said Robinson.

'I never bet,' replied Morrison with scorn.

'You daren't. You know you'd lose.'

'All right, then, I'll bet a penny I'm right.' He drew a deep breath, as who should say, 'It's a lot of money, but it's worth risking it.'

'You'll lose that penny, old chap,' said Robinson. 'That's to say,' he added thoughtfully, 'if you ever pay up.'
I'm only a schoolbull and not a schoolboy, but gosh by golly, I think I'd love to go to St. Austin's (or Wrykyn, Wodehouse's other series school) even more than Hogwart's. More sausages, less chance of being zapped clean through by a Death Eater.

It's very early in Wodehouse's career and while the prose is clever and polished, it's by no means as lyrical and elegant as his later works, of course. It's very fast-paced and the dénouement comes a bit abruptly (the theft is solved off-screen, committed by a character we've never heard of before and never will again)—the later Wodehouse would have tied this all more neatly together to make as elegant a mystery adventure as his later romantic comedies are. But it's still bright and witty, and there's a few good chuckles in his early prose:
'We had a burglary at my place once,' began Reade, of Philpott's House. 'The man—'

'That rotter, Reade,' said Barrett, also of Philpott's, 'has been telling us that burglary chestnut of his all the morning. I wish you chaps wouldn't encourage him.'

'Why, what was it? First I've heard of it, at any rate.' Dallas and Vaughan, of Ward's, added themselves to the group. 'Out with it, Reade,' said Vaughan.

'It's only a beastly reminiscence of Reade's childhood,' said Barrett. 'A burglar got into the wine-cellar and collared all the coals.'

'He didn't. He was in the hall, and my pater got his revolver—'

'While you hid under the bed.'

'—and potted at him over the banisters.'

'The last time but three you told the story, your pater fired through the keyhole of the dining-room.'
I'm especially fond of droll, wisecracking student Charteris, who had some of the best lines in Tales of St. Austin's and provides a corker here during the search for a lost boy:
...after inviting them to step in, the servant disappeared, and the Babe came on the scene, wearing a singularly prosperous expression, as if he had dined well.

'Hullo, you chaps,' he said.

'Sir to you,' said Charteris. 'Look here, Babe, we want to know what you have done with Jim. He was seen by competent witnesses to go off with you, and he's not come back. If you've murdered him, you might let us have the body.'
And there's a touch of the later Wodehouse whimsy in this scene where the Headmaster confronts a troublesome student:
'Plunkett,' he said, suddenly, 'you are a School-prefect.'

'Yes, sir,' murmured Plunkett. The fact was undeniable.

'You know the duties of a School-prefect?'

'Yes, sir.'

'And yet you deliberately break one of the most important rules of the School. How long have you been in the habit of smoking?'

Plunkett evaded the question.

'My father lets me smoke, sir, when I'm at home.'

(A hasty word in the reader's ear. If ever you are accused of smoking, please—for my sake, if not for your own—try to refrain from saying that your father lets you do it at home. It is a fatal mistake.)
Like the best of school stories, it's educational too! There's an extensive section in which the boys are creating their secret school journal to sell and raise money for one of the other lads, and they work diligently throughout the night by candlelight inscribing the journal onto "jellygraph." Mmmmm, said I when I first read that, jelly! A quick trip to the not-around-in-1902 internet taught me, however, that a jellygraph is " is a printing process which involves transfer of an original, prepared with special inks, to a pan of gelatin or a gelatin pad pulled tight on a metal frame." I picture one of those ditto machines in my head, but I guess even messier, smellier, and more manual and complicated. I would have liked to go to school at St. Austin's, but I guess it would be difficult to blog on a jellygraph.

In the end, however, there's no real lesson or moral to be learned from The Pothunters except for the very simple one of stand by your mates. I can imagine that this made Wodehouse a very popular author indeed among the schoolboys of his time: no preaching, no parables, no moral lesson to be learned: just some Ripping Yarn-type adventure and brawling sport, followed up with a warm cup of tea and toasted sandwiches. There's a lovely bit about half-way through featuring two of the boys curling up with books:
'Half the staff have gone. Good opportunity for a chap to go for a stroll if he wanted to. Shall we, by the way?'

'Not for me, thanks. I'm in the middle of a rather special book. Ever read Great Expectations? Dickens, you know.'

'I know. Haven't read it, though. Always rather funk starting on a classic, somehow. Good?'

'My dear chap! Good's not the word.'

'Well, after you. Exit Livy, then. And a good job, too. You might pass us the great Sherlock. Thanks.'

He plunged with the great detective into the mystery of the speckled band, while Vaughan opened Great Expectations at the place where he had left off the night before. And a silence fell upon the study.
I think it's fair to say that many, many a schoolboy would rate a Wodehouse as just as much a rather special book—mere "good" was not the word to describe it. As an Old Boy himself, he knew his audience well.

All that reading by schoolboys in candlelight might account for how hard it is to find a mint copy of the first edition of this, Wodehouse's first book. I'm sure many of them were well-read and re-read and loved to pieces. Used first editions of this are of course not cheap. (Check it out!) No, I'll never own a first edition of this book, but I'm pleased to have picked it a remainder, no a 1985 Penguin paperback omnibus collecting this, A Prefect's Uncle, and Tales of St. Austin's in one handy volume. While you may not be able to buy it at the amazing low-low price of $1.98 that I got mine, a paperback edition is still incredibly affordable by clicking the handy Amazon link to the upper right. Or, if the Yule-tide credit card bills are landing on your doormat with a whack and a bang, why not opt for the free online text edition of The Pothunters and save your silver for a jam butty at the tuck shop instead? See, just like a public school boy, I'm very thrifty and wise with my pounds and pence.

A Wodehouse a Week Index.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Monday, December 31, 2007

Because I promised you I'd do some comics reviews in 2007.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS #7: This comic is fun. Not only that, it's been consistently one of my favorite fun comics of the year, and this issue (the second part of the "Catalyst" storyline) is no exception. The original X-Teens have lost their powers, and they're facing off against a squadron of 99 Sentinels (count 'em; they're all in a scary and impressive splash page). Jeff Parker's script is as always witty and well-dialogued, and the Roger Cruz artwork is vibrant and energetic in action and quiet scenes. It's got a great action-pacing with a real sense of urgency against the clock as they rush to save Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. First Class continues to tickle my little stuffed stuff fancy, even when there's no Colleen Coover back-up (but there is a funny one-page Chris Giarrusso "Mighty Marvels" strip with a delightful Professor X as Jean-Luc Picard design. Speaking of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I've praised this book before for its frequent themes that a supposed antagonist is not always a true enemy, and the Catalyst is no exception. That said, I do wish sometimes there would be more straight-out black-and-white villainy—bring on Magneto!—rather than a misunderstood villain in almost every issue. Just once in a while.

BATMAN #672: This comic is sorta fun. Grant Morrison's Batman is another perpetual favorite of mine. How favorite? I bought and read, and more important, really enjoyed Morrison's two "Hey, I'm Ra's al Ghul and I'm Back, Baby!" crossover issues of Batman without picking up the other comics in the series. I think the "Club of Heroes" trilogy is one of the most entertaining Batman stories in several years (and one of my favorite stories of 2007). So why doesn't this issue get top marks? I guess it's simply because I really just don't get what's going on. I know it's related to events earlier in Morrison's run but I need to get those issues out again to reacquaint myself with the Three Batmen situation. Or maybe I just need to wait for the trade instead and read 'em all in one swell foop so I can slap my little fuzzy forehead and go "Oh, so that's who that is!" In the meantime, tho', I just don't feel smart enough for Batman. Then again, is that Bat-Mite on the final page? Cool.

SPECIAL FORCES #2: This comic is fun. Okay, this is a more adult comic with story, dialogue, art and themes that really isn't appropriate for a six-year-old stuffed bull, but my pal John (who helps me pick out and buy comics) really, really is enjoying this. Up above I mentioned a great breakneck pace to X-Men...well, compared to this, X-Men is a turtle crawl. Kyle Baker is always an amazing, colorful, dramatic artist, one of my favorites in anything he does, and this over-the-top comic with a social and political point. You can probably make the argument that this is simply the same sort of dark comedy, outrageous violence and sexual suggestion (Felony's fatigues get shredded more and more) that Miller and Lee are doing in All Star Batman, but perhaps because of the original story and characters or Baker's unparalleled design sense I'm enjoying this a heck of a lot more than the gosh-darn Batman. Beautifully-produced and no ads!—heck of a bargain.

JACK OF FABLES #18: This comic is fun. Like Special Forces, Jack of Fables is definitely for mature readers, but John lets me read this (and big sister publication Fables) and both have delighted me. My good friend the well-read Miss Jenn raved about these series so much while we were at San Diego Comic-Con this past year that I actually bought a stack of Fables trades and Jack comics in San Diego to read on the plane home, and I've been hooked ever since. Jack continues to be a great romp and one of the few genuinely funny comic books out there: witty, sarcastic, and, despite a tearful moment in here, unsentimental. At first I thought Bill Willingham and Lilah Sturges might have written themselves into a corner when they first told us Jack would never return to Fabletown, but this series has been a dandy way to explore the other mythological aspects of the world outside the Fable community. Plus, sexy librarians, the cracked Humpty Dumpty, very genteel zombies, and yet another page-long fantasy adventure of the Sensational Character Find of 2006, Babe the Tiny Blue Ox! (Really, how can I not love the only comic on the market with a small bull in it?) Plus, Jack #18 features The Best Line of the Week: "They are throwing the book at us! It is ironic!" Say, remember when DC Direct did Sandman action figures? Well, I want a Jack action figure, and a Gary the Pathetic Fallacy figure, and a Hillary figure with removable ska-check glasses, and especially Paul Bunyan with miniature Babe the Tiny Blue Ox figures. Until then, I'm content to name JACK OF FABLES #18 the most fun comic of the week!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ten of a Kind: Last Dance with Mary Jane

Mr. and Mrs. Peter and Mary Jane Parker

(More Ten of a Kind here.)