Saturday, January 28, 2017

365 Days of Defiance, Day 28: I am Superman and I can do anything

When I first thought up "365 Days of Defiance," this is the story I thought of first, the tale of a man in a future dystopian Metropolis, who discovers the suit of Superman.

Panels from "Part 4" in Superman #400 (October 1984), script by Elliot S! Maggin, pencils by Marshall Rogers, inks by Terry Austin, colors by Anthony Tollin, letters by Ben Oda

We can all be Superman.

A Month of... Celebrities in Comics, Day 28: Supertruth or Superconsequences

I've been featuring a lot of stories in which real-life celebrities make cameo appearances in comic book stories, but I kinda miss the days when entire stories were built around guest appearances. If that celeb was popular enough, he or she could appear again and again until they finally deserved an entire full-page entry in Who's Who in the DC Universe or Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Remember that extended period in the 1970s when Cher was a member of the Defenders?

With this concept, though, you frequently get a fluffy and inconsequential story that merely consists of the celeb and the protagonist playing silly tricks on each other one after another. It's all fun and games, yes, until somebody loses an eye due to horsing around with a giant doorknob. Or to choose another example: the real-life game show host Ralph Edwards bedeviling the Man of Steel, who surely must have better things to do, on Edwards' popular radio (and later TV) show Truth or Consequences!

Cover of Action Comics (1938 series) #127 (December 1948), pencils and inks by Al Plastino

Yes, Truth or Consequences, the only entertainment show that inspired an entire American town to change its name (aside from the borough of Charlie's Angels, Arizona). Sounds exciting after that intriguing cover, huh? Let's see what follow-up splash page image will be compelling us to read the rest of the story and FOR PETE'S SAKE COMICS YOU JUST RE-USED THE SAME IMAGE.

Splash page of "Superman Takes the Consequences" in Action Comics (1938 series) #127 (December 1948), pencils and inks by Al Plastino

Man, Superman is really fond of that sexy French feather duster from Beauty and the Beast.

Truth or Consequences is a show in which contestants are asked questions, often with a ridiculous hook so they can't be answered. Getting the question wrong means you had to perform an embarrassing or ridiculous stunt. Oh, like Meet the Press, then. Here's a YouTube of the TV version to let you get a taste of the fun. Sorry, I couldn't find a video of the episode with Superman, and the rare episode with guest-star Lobo has been completely censored for language and extreme violence.

Here's Ralph Edwards, invoking his Satanic power to trick hapless contestant Jones, using pedantic semantics. Then he sentences Jones to be smothered beneath live sheep. It's utter hilarity for the audience — "Ralph Edwards has a great sense of humor!" declares one — but total terror for a flock of squirming, bleating, pooping sheep crowded onto a radio show stage. It was considered the most heinous animal-related abuse on a network radio show until that episode of CBS Radio Mystery Theater titled "The Death of One Thousand Hogs."

Yes, you may find today's Alex Trebek or Drew Carey cold and uncaring to their hapless contestants, but they are nothing like Ralph Edwards, who regularly sentences his guests into life-threatening situations.

All of which is just a preface for the radio appearance of The Most Interesting Man in the World™, Superman! And Edwards regally commands that Superman doth bring him some water, then confides to the studio audience that he's lying about the premise of the request. Good thing that Superman don't have no super-hearing then, right? And luckily he's able to make computations in his head with his amazing-for-its-time brainpower of 5K RAM!

Hey, Ralph Edwards, Imma let you finish, but you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask off a park ranger at a fancy-dress party, and you don't try to trick Superman with a geometry problem. Sucker!

Then, Lois Lane gets in on the fun, no doubt to get back at Superman for all those nasty tricks learning experiences the Man of Steel subjected her to throughout the year. Superman gets out of the conundrum by being a big cheaty-pants. Yes, along with Kryptonite and magic, Superman's weaknesses include that he cannot literally tell a lie. No wonder he did so poorly when he appeared on another game show, To Tell the Truth. And just to let you know, it was Clark's lawyer who later dealt with the hundreds of lawsuits against Superman for deafening them.

YOU JERK SUPERMAN YOU RUINED AN ENTIRELY GOOD CHALKBOARD. Really wasteful, especially considering that in those post-War years chalkboards were still heavily rationed. Despite fulfilling the challenge and filling the studio with noxious melting chalkboard fumes, the tyranny of Ralph Edwards knows no boundaries. He sentences Superman to the horrific task of having to clean Lois Lane's apartment! That would soon be the cleanest lingerie closet in the world.

Please note how willfully Superman agrees with the crowd shouting unison. Jeepers, Kal, that's not majority rules, that's mob rules. Why doncha just go move to Springfield USA, huh?

If there is any doubt that Ralph Edwards is Lex Luthor in disguise, it's made even clearer when Edwards hires some professional thugs to "rough up" Lois's apartment. Wow, now who's the big cheaty-pants, Ralph Edwards?

Boo-yah! The tables are turned and Superman sentences Ralph Edwards to the life of an orphan bootblack! Wait, when did this stop being Truth or Consequences and become The People's Kangaroo Court?

Then Ralph Edwards gets roughed up by some Jack Kirby-style tough kid bootblacks. You know, during all this, Brainiac has destroyed Washington and has drained the Atlantic Ocean, but it's all okay because Superman's busy trading japes and tricks with a game show host!

So yadda yadda yadda, Superman helps out Ralph Edwards in the usual manner these puzzle-box stories are played out, with a bending of the literal definitions of "shoe." The moment you remember that Superman could just say "I was only kidding, get back to your show, Mr. Edwards," is the time you say to yourself "Why am I reading this? Why isn't Superman punching anything? JUST PUNCH RALPH EDWARDS ALREADY, SUPERMAN!"

More to the point, Superman's doing all the work for Ralph Edwards. What a wonderful lesson to the youth of America, Supes! Hey, c'mon over and do my homework, Superman! And whitewash this fence! Meanwhile, Lex Luthor destroys the moon.

And so another crazy Kryptonite-infused episode of Truth or Consequences and one of those crazy nutty vintage Superman stories both draw to an end, and the moral of the story is...well, don't put sheep in your bed, I guess.

N ♪ B ♪ C ♪

Today in Comics History, January 28, 1999: Funeral Shervish for Shean Connery

from The Invisibles (1999 series) #12 (DC/Vertigo, April 1999), script by Grant Morrison, pencils and inks by Philip Bond, colors by Daniel Vozzo, letters by Todd Klein

(See also.)

Today in Comics History, January 28, 1988: Wait, this is altogether too uncomfortably close to 2017

text page from The Draft one-shot (Marvel/New Universe, July 1988), text by Mark Gruenwald and Fabian Nicieza

Friday, January 27, 2017

My Friend Irma Looks Askance at You

Panels from My Friend Irma #13, 16, 25, 29, 30, 31, and 36 (Marvel/Timely, 1951-1953), pencils and inks by Dan DeCarlo

365 Days of Defiance, Day 27: Drain the Swamp

Panels from Marvel Team-Up (1972 series) #68 (April 1978), script by Chris Claremont, pencils by John Byrne, inks by Bob Wiacek, colors by Phil Rachelson, letters by Bruce Patterson

Today in Comics History, January 27, 1989: Rich men meet in an office that's what regular people think rich men live like

from Psi-Force #31 (Marvel/New Universe, May 1989), script by Fabian Nicieza, pencils by Rodney Ramos, inks by Chris Ivy, colors by Nel Yomtov, letters by Rick Parker

Today in Comics History Future, January 27, 2611: Oh geez, I don't even have a joke for this one

from "The Rulers of Earth" in Astonishing #30 (Marvel/Atlas, February 1954), pencils and inks by Joe Sinnott

A Month of... Celebrities in Comics, Day 27: Nick feels like he's fixin' to die

Yesterday we saw what happened when the Howling Commandos were in the audience for the Big Show of '44, which featured real-life celebrities that Nick Fury liked, goldarnit it, and not these modern kids with their underpants showing and their cone bras and their dancing with cartoon cats. Why, back in Nick's day when he was young and white, he and his gal pals jitterbugged to the smooth rhythms of Glenn Miller and Gene Autry and Spike Jones and the Fabulous Stains and Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes! That was just the way music was, and Nick liked it that way!

Which is why Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.* would rather be dead than at a concert for today's Celebs in Comics, Country Joe McDonald and the Fish!

Panels from Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD (1968 series) #15 (November 1969); co-plot by Gary Friedrich, Herb Trimpe, and Dick Ayers; script by Gary Friedrich; pencils by Herb Trimpe and Dick Ayers; inks by Sam Grainger; letters by Jean Izzo

Yes indeed, those verses about the FF and Doc Strangely are not an invention of the Mighty Marvel Bullpen, but the actual song lyrics from C.J.&F.'s classic song "Superbird!" (There are lyrics referencing Superman and Kryptonite too, but I don't see any sign of the band appearing in that month's comics from Distinguished Competition.

Why, it's such a short song even Nick should be able to stand it, but no! As soon as the band rocks into the freaky riffs of "Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine" Nick's head totally expands, man! I mean, like literally! He's completely blown away by this song!

Is Nick dead, Nick's generic date? Why, he's not only rockapelic dead, he's also psychedelic dead.

Is Nick really dead? Who knows? Who cares? Because this is the last original issue of his comic book and we don't get to find out! In fact, the next three issues are completely filled with reprints. Way to duck the press asking the probing questions about Nick Fury's death, Dum-Dum Dugan!

And nobody ever saw Nick Fury, ever again.

...until two months later.

Panels from Avengers #72 (January 1970), script by Roy Thomas, pencils by Sal Buscema, inks and colors (?) by Sam Grainger, letters by Sam Rosen

Turns out Nick had gone undercover as his evil identical twin brother to infiltrate Z.O.D.I.A.C.**, leaving a Life Model Decoy in his place mid-concert, presumably when he left Laura and went to get a hot dog or warn somebody about the brown acid. An L.M.D. instead of a dead body in a Marvel Universe story?!? By golly, we never saw that twist coming!

* Some How I'd Envy Literal Death
** Oh sorry, that shouldn't have been acronymed. Those letters don't actually spell anything.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Today in Comics History, January 26, 1988: President declares we need mysterious aggressors like we need a hole in Pennsylvania

text page from Psi-Force #19 (Marvel/New Universe, May 1988)

365 Days of Defiance, Day 26: Don't tick off Iron Man

Panels from Iron Man (1968 series) #126 (September 1979), script by David Michelinie with conceptual assist by Bob Layton; breakdowns by John Romita, Jr.; finishes by Bob Layton; colors by Ben Sean; letters by John Costanza

A Month of... Celebrities in Comics, Day 26: Project: U.S.O.

Whoa, Sgt. Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos are at the most star-studded U.S.O. show ever! From my vantage point sitting up in one of those palm trees in the distance, I can spot expy celebrity Dino Manelli in panel one. Dino is a Marvel Universe generic version in both looks and mannerisms of Dean Martin, who had his own comic book over at DC. No wonder Dino had to go under an assumed name at Mighty Marvel!

Panels from Sgt. Fury [and His Howling Commandos] #43 (June 1967), script by Dick Ayers and Gary Friedrich, pencils by Dick Ayers, inks by John Tartaglione, letters by Sam Rosen

But the real celebs step on stage and the show begins in panel two. We've got Western warbler and cowboy star Gene Autry, accompanied by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra! (Only Dick Ayers knows why Glenn himself is holding what looks liek a bugle or trumpet while conducting rather than his usual instrument, the trombone.) Mister USO himself, Bob Hope brings along the laffs, if not his comedy partner Bing Crosby. And if you don't get the "Marjorie Main in a bikini" joke: Ms. Main was prominently known for playing "Ma" in the Ma and Pa Kettle movie series, and she looks like this:

Panel four features crazy comedian (and frequent Hope sidekick) Jerry Collona, accompanied by the glamorous and no doubt wolf-whistled Betty Grable, Dorothy Lamour, and Lana Turner! My little buttons eyes bug out to eight times their size, my heart thumbs through my chest, and steam comes out my ears as I make the AW-OOOOOOO-GAH sound!

And even though that's the end of the show, it's not the end of the real-life cameo appearances in this comic, because Nick and the H.C.s are about to meet the Desert Fox himself, Erwin Rommel! (Disclaimer: Rommel does not actually meet Nick Fury or the Howling Commandos.)

Rommel! I read your comic book, you magnificent guest star!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

365 Days of Defiance, Day 25: Nobody beats the Thing

If'n I could own just one page of original Jack Kirby'd prob'bly be this one.

Panels from Fantastic Four (1961 series) #40 (July 1965), script by Stan Lee, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Vince Colletta, colors by Stan Goldberg (?), letters by Artie Simek

A Month of... Celebrities in Comics, Day 25: What's Errol Flynn got that Porky hasn't?

The very early days of Looney Tunes comics, like the cartoon films contemporary to the period, played on the idea that the stars actually had regular lives that we were sometimes privy to observing. (SEE: The Jack Benny Program, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, etc.) That's definitely true of this early Looney Tunes comic book (excuse the rough reproduction; it's from a microfiche) in which Porky isn't just a ________ (fill in the blank of whatever Warner Bros. cartoon you've most recently watched: farmer, legionnaire, race horse owner, gob), but he's a genuine big-time Hollywood star! Complete with fans!

Panels from the Porky Pig story in Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Comics (1941 series) #2 (November 1941), pencils and inks by Chase Craig

Oh course, where Porky's a celebrity at a celebrity restaurant, you have other celebrities rubbing his pork shoulders! First panel: James Cagney, Groucho and Harpo Marx! Second panel: Dorothy Lamour! Fourth panel! Jimmy Stewart!

But, at least as far as the Warner Bros. cartoon department is concerned, the biggest celebrity cameo appearance is by Leon Schlesinger, producer of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, therefore making him Porky's boss! In a relationship that will surprise no one, Schlesinger was also nepotistically related to the actual Warner Bros. As Raul Julia would sing: "Harry, Sammy, Irving, and Jack!"

Here's an actual, I mean real-life, son, appearance by Leon Schlesinger in the May 1940 Looney Tunes short "You Ought to Be in Pictures." The timing of this followed by the comic book about a year later tells me the cartoon likely inspired Leon's appearance in this comic story.

Looney Tunes "You Ought to Be in Pictures" (1940), story by Jack Miller, voices by Mel Blanc, music by Carl W. Stalling, produced by Leon Schlesinger, directed by Friz Freleng

Leon Schlesinger is also boss of Warners' stars Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. And probably even that %!#@^ing Buddy.

Later, Elmer tries to convince Leon that Porky should go west, and Schlesinger thinks he means "rest," and oh boy, hilarity ensues.