Monday, January 30, 2012

7 characters I DARE you to cosplay as:

Ah, now that my two Archive reviews are out of the way, time to return to this month’s “list” theme one last time. You know, cosplay can either be one of the coolest things about being a comics fan, or one of the most embarrassing. Here are some characters who I would just love to see some schmuck brave soul out there attempt at comic con.
 1) Golden Age Luthor:
 This is fairly easy to pull off actually, get a red robe, a red wig (or hair dye maybe), and you’re in business. The fun of this costume though, would be explaining who you are to members of the general public who showed up for whatever reason. “So who are you supposed to be, Torquemada or something? The Renaissance fair is that way, bub”. Hell, even hardcore comics fans would be at a loss to get the joke. GA Luthor also wore a business suit a lot, so extra points if you just wear that and not the robe, you’ll just look like some guy in a suit with red hair. Even funnier, if you have natural red hair, all you’ll look like is a guy in a suit, period.
 Such a simple cosplay, but the reactions would be so worth it.
 2) Stilt-Man:
 This has to be done or I will never rest in peace. No bullshit like only wearing the costume but no stilts, or only wearing stilts but no costume; it only counts if you wear actual stilts AND the metallic costume.
 3) Mogo the Green Lantern Planet:
 At comic con, who says Mogo doesn’t have to socialize? Good luck finding the materials to make this though.
4) The Mist:
 Whoever thinks they can pull this off convincingly, good luck.
5) Shadow Thief/Ian Karkull:
 How can you pull either of these two characters off without just looking like some guy dressed as a ninja? That’s your problem, not mine. Also, Shadow-Thief has a pointy chin due to the goatee he has in human form, so be sure to reflect that.
 While Ian Karkull cosplay may never come to pass, Fish-Men of Nyarl Amen cosplay has become popular in recent years:
6) Armless Tiger Man:
 Like Luthor, this is fairly easy to pull off. The reactions of others are what will make it so much fun. Bonus points for trying to eat a full meal while in character.
7) Ebony White:
 Whoever does this, and makes it through the con in one piece, I will award every single one of my earthly possessions, including my home, on the condition that I get to keep the picture for proof. I will then become a hermit in the distant woods, and will forever entertain passerby with the fact that I got someone to do this.
"Racist suicidal cosplay dare--NO GOOD! Rarrghh!"

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Golden Age Doctor Fate Archives Vol.1 review:

By Gardner Fox & Howard Sherman. Collects More Fun Comics #55-98.
 It is safe to say that, of all the Archives, Doctor Fate embodies the Golden Age at its two extremes: One extreme is groundbreaking, experimental, progressive in some ways, and fascinating to read even today. The other extreme is tiresome, plodding, and really not worth reading for pleasure.
 For the first 135 pages, Doctor Fate Archives features some of the wildest, eeriest and most entertaining stuff the era has to offer as far as mainstream comics go. People who heap praise on Fletcher Hanks might want to reconsider his status as a god of weird comics, because as far as surrealism goes, it’s hard to find a true equal coming out at the same time, although some of the better Plastic Man and Spectre stories come close (and of course, Plastic Man would eventually surpass both in terms of surreal craziness).
 It’s also worth pointing out that artist Howard Sherman is a far superior draftsman to Hanks; some of the art is truly jaw-dropping in its elegant simplicity. Sherman puts an amazing amount of detail into the architecture and backgrounds, and his use of shadows suggests that if given a few years, he could have evolved into the Golden Age equivalent of Gene Colan. Some of the figures are a bit stiff, but it all helps to add to the mood of the stories, as if they were drawn by a medieval monk after discovering art deco and pulp magazines. This is one of the few Archives I would have liked to have seen in black and white, although I shouldn’t complain too much, as this is probably the single best Archive DC has put out in terms of getting the coloring and art reproduction right (although there is one major goof; a villain with green skin is later depicted with Caucasian skin in a sequel story).

 Doctor Fate himself is fairly simple as a character, but that’s part of the appeal, he isn’t simple merely because writer Gardner Fox isn’t interested in giving him characterization, but because Fate clearly works best as a character whom we don’t know much about. Fate’s entire face is obscured by his helmet, he kills his enemies without the slightest remorse (often preferring to burn them to death), dwells in an eerie tower in Salem, is specifically stated in more than one story to be thousands of years old, and often seems to pop up out of nowhere just in time, as if he’s always watching and waiting. Fate is an eerie, often frightening figure, sometimes implied to be little better than the evil sorcerers and mad scientists he encounters.
When it comes to mysterious characters that function more as a presence, Fate is up there with the best of them.
 As with the works of Fletcher Hanks, Fate is virtually omnipotent, and often functions as a wrathful, old-testament god, from whom no sins can be kept secret. Part of the appeal of these stories, I must admit, comes from seeing what Wertham called “The Superman Complex” in action, wherein the reader experiences “Sadistic joy in seeing other people punished over and over again while you yourself remain immune”. Okay, maybe I wouldn’t go that far, but fans of Dirty Harry movies would find themselves right at home here. What keeps all of this from becoming boring and/or morbid is that all of Fate's foes are super-powered villains whose power is equal or superior to his, several of them even manage to return. Four of them; Wotan, Nergal, The Fish-Men of Nyarl Amen, and Ian Karkull have gone on to become little used but recognizable villains in the DCU.
 Also, in stark contrast to how Shiera is treated in his Hawkman stories, Gardner Fox portrays Inza, Doctor Fate’s love interest, as an intelligent and sometimes fierce woman. Inza is fascinated by the occult, enjoys travel, and occasionally getting to take part in combat. She doesn’t do much beyond function as a damsel-in-distress and alert Fate to some new menace, but it’s made clear that Fate respects her as an equal, and sometimes pines to be a normal man so that he can have a full relationship with her. It’s not much, but at least she isn’t characterized as a “meddling little idiot” or a nag. Also, with her arched eyebrows and curly hair, it’s pretty clear that Howard Sherman had a huge crush on Bette Davis when designing her.
 Speaking of popular culture of the time that went into inspiring many of these tales, it goes without saying that these stories owe a great debt to H.P. Lovecraft. While Doctor Fate is generally characterized as a sorcerer hero in modern comics, he’s actually presented here as a scientist who has discovered a way to manipulate his atomic structure and the atomic structure of other things as well, thus making it appear that he can do magic. The man who gives Fate his powers is not a sorcerer, but an alien who was worshipped as a god (just like Lovecraft’s great old ones). Fate even denies the existence of vampires and werewolves in one story, just as how Lovecraft often showed contempt for such “traditional” horrors and hardly ever used them. We also have a “witch haunted Salem”, characters who speak in odd, stilted dialogue with truly bizarre tense, hidden races, abandoned megaliths built by aliens, as well as half man and half fish creatures that clearly were inspired by Lovecraft’s Deep Ones. Doctor Fate may well be the first Lovecraft pastiche in mainstream entertainment.
 While the stories are all very much the same, and often confined to only six pages, the sheer weirdness of the plots and villains, furious pacing, and a clear attempt to make sure that every page is densely packed with art and dialogue, makes it all palatable. The rigid 8-panel a page structure gives everything a creepy, claustrophobic feel. If I’d have to choose favorites, mine would be

 -The Fire Murders (wherein Fate battles a sorcerer who starts a spontaneous combustion racket, has a legion of zombie slaves and is, no joke, named Mango. It all ends with a weirdly fitting punishment).

 -The Sorcerer (a fun haunted house story with hidden treasure, demons and a nice coastal cliff mansion setting).

The Menace of Mayoor; which beats Erich Von Danniken to the punch by several decades in its depiction of an otherworldly being that was viewed as a god by the Mayans and built the pyramids).

-The Shadow Killers; which not only gives it’s villain a surprisingly sympathetic motivation (and has some parallels with Fate’s own origin) but  uses the concept of a “living shadow” far more inventively than the “Shadow-Thief” stories from Silver Age Hawkman comics. The later team-up between Wotan and Ian Karkull (this story's villain) is also fun; it may just be the first time two super-villains collaborated in the same story.
 However, it is a bit disappointing when Fate’s origin is revealed (his archaeologist father was accidentally killed by an alien named Nabu, whom the Egyptians worshipped as a god; Nabu taught a young Fate all his secrets to make it up to him) and he reveals himself to be a handsome young man beneath the helmet. He also stops outright killing villains, showing mercy in several stories to henchmen. This doesn't affect things too much, because the stories still have the same eerie tone, and in fact some of my favorite stories happen after the origin is revealed, but it’s clear that Gardner Fox is trying to lighten things up. It also directly contradicts the moments when Fate claims to be an immortal. Another plus is that the page count is expanded, and Sherman begins to experiment with different layouts, creating some of his best work during this period. Clearly, Doctor Fate was becoming popular.
 Unfortunately, that is one of the things that caused the character’s downfall.
The reasons for why are lost to time, some attribute it to the stories being seen as too frightening for children and drawing in complaints, but more than likely it was because the character’s popularity had a detrimental effect on his creators. Whatever the reason, in issue #72, Doctor Fate’s helmet is sawed off, exposing his chin and mouth, and he fights not weird menaces, but ordinary criminals. This results in a truly amazing drop-off in quality from the previous stories; merely altering the helmet affects the mood of the stories more than you’d guess. To be fair, the first story to do this isn’t too bad in itself, with some nice art and the villains actually putting up a fair fight, but it just doesn’t compare to what has come before. Also, now Doctor Fate is reduced to wisecracks. The next two stories introduce the mad scientist Mr. Who, who makes a surprising number of appearances in this volume, even making cameos in jail in stories that don’t feature him. Who’s shape-changing powers that allow him to do pretty much anything make him a formidable foe (at least in the first story), and he has a somewhat sympathetic backstory, but with his weird bow-tie and silly name, it’s hard to truly take him seriously. By the second Mr. Who story, it has become painfully apparent that Doctor Fate has been reduced to a generic superhero. The days of the moody, Lovecraftian Doctor Fate are gone for good (Well, okay, maybe the Lovecraftian feel isn’t doffed off entirely; in one story, Doctor Fate battles a frog-like man who disguises himself as a "Mr. Marsh").
 Once again, I chalk this up to the character’s own popularity poisoning the writers. Knowing they had a hit on their hands, Fox & Sherman must have concluded that Doctor Fate would be even more popular if he was less menacing and bizarre. They apparently never realized that it was those very qualities which made him so popular. Sherman’s art also changes. While he now is more experimental with panel layouts and draws more fluid figures, the art also becomes cartoonier, more pedestrian, just less interesting all around. He still occasionally hits one out of the park, like a beautifully drawn splash page with an oriental theme (for a story about a cursed Chinese painting), but otherwise, it mostly looks like generic, serviceable comic art, lacking even the surreal banality of Bernard Baily.

 Fox also occasionally hits one out of the park as well; a story involving a human chess game is particularly fun, and there are some amusing mystery plots which manage to be fairly baffling, although usually for all the wrong reasons. Oddly enough, the stories start to improve when Fox has Kent Nelson become an actual doctor in his Kent Nelson persona; though this is more because it gives it gives the character a feeling of identity. Fox also gives Fate a Dick Tracy-style rogues gallery. These stories aren’t great, but are much more entertaining than the earlier half-helmet stories. Still, it’s a problem; Doctor Fate shouldn’t be making stupid wisecracks, battling ordinary gangsters who run carnival rackets, and then getting yelled at in his secret identity for being late to work. Wasting Doctor Fate’s potential on those kinds of stories just feels wrong. I once had a paleontologist girlfriend who wanted to see Disney’s Dinosaur, and from the previews she thought it would be similar to one of those faux-nature documentaries you see on Discovery channel, filled with beauty and a sense of wonder. Instead, the film was filled with wisecracking lemurs and pop-culture references. Reading these half-helmet era Doctor Fate stories gives me much of the same feeling she must have had; seeing something wild and beautiful turned shitty and mundane.
 So, is the book worth getting for the early stories at least? I would say yes, as my glowing review of the earlier stories demonstrates, but those stories only take up 135 pages. The crappy stories take up 253, which is more than half of the book. It really, really isn’t worth it if you can’t get this book for less than $20.00, but it’s actually the most expensive of the archives, going for $75.00!!!! My guess as to why is because DC knew they probably couldn’t find a market for the half-helmet stories if they printed those in a second volume, so they thought they’d cram it all in here. I don’t want to say this volume is for completists only, because there’s some really good stuff in it, but you’ll have to be really curious and have lots of money to waste if you want to find out for yourself.
 I give the “full-helmet” stories a solid 5/5.
 I give the “half-helmet” stories 2/5.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Green Lantern Archives Vol. 1 review:

 Green Lantern Archives Vol. 1 (reprinting Showcase #22-24 and Green Lantern #1-5).
 Note about the scans: I originally wrote most of this review a few months ago when I actually had my Archive with me and intended to post this review shortly after the film came out, but stuff happened, and in the interim, I sold my Archive on Amazon. Thus, these scans are from my black and white Showcase edition. I’ve also included a few thoughts about stuff that happened since then, like the movie. Sorry for the crappy scans, but the book is huge.
 After singing my praises of the Silver Age Flash some time ago, I felt I may as well revisit the Silver Age Green Lantern. Now that I’ve finished, I...uh…really don’t know what to say.
On one hand, this should be the superior series when compared to The Flash, because it has so much more going on. Here we have an actual supporting cast, developing plot threads, genuine sexual tension between the hero and his love interest, adventures which can span across the entire galaxy rather than being stuck in one area (for the fastest man alive, Barry Allen never left Keystone city much), the villains are a little easier to take seriously than some of the Flash’s goofy adversaries (even though that’s what makes the Flash rogues so much fun) and most of all, the main character actually has something of a personality (Hal Jordan angsts even more than Peter Parker at times). I’m also a big fan of stories in older superhero comics where the hero would have to think his way out of a situation by turning the villain’s weird logic against them, often with some presumably educational pseudo-science thrown in. I was really impressed by some of those kinds of stories from Flash and even more so from Adam Strange, and I’d heard that the Silver Age Green Lantern was a real showcase for those kinds of stories.
 On the other hand, few of these elements really come together in a satisfying way.
 We have a really great set-up for the series with the introductory issue (Showcase #22), wherein Hal gains his powers, appropriates them the way he sees fit, explores the ups and downs of becoming a celebrity overnight (Green Lantern’s sudden fame is handled in a surprisingly natural manner), tries to solve the mystery behind the alien Abin Sur, and fails, despite his newfound powers, to win the thing he wants the most; his boss Carol Ferris. It’s truly amazing how much emphasis is put upon Hal’s love life, and the tone of the series is much more Marvel-esque than a lot of what DC would later be doing.
 The next few issues of GL’s Showcase try-outs are typical superhero stuff, but that’s more than made up for with the amazingly realistic progression of Carol’s infatuation with both Hal and Green Lantern; Carol is way too smart to be fooled by a simple domino mask, and in issue #24 she’s genuinely on the verge of discovering his secret identity on her own, but alas, she ends up getting knocked out in a car accident caused by a monster and forgets everything. It’s really disappointing. I mean, I shouldn’t have expected much more from a Silver Age comic, but it was progressing so well that I expected something more. By the time the first issue of GL’s solo series comes out, things aren’t really much different than any other superhero comic.
A smart heroine!!!?? In a comic book!!? *GASP*

One thing that struck me about these stories is how minor the role of the guardians and the other members of the Lantern “Corps” are. I actually like this, because it creates a real aura of mystery about just what the hell is the source for Hal’s powers. In the first story it’s clear that Abin Sur the alien is part of some kind of interplanetary police force, but he never actually says he’s part of one called “The Green Lantern Corps”, and since he doesn’t wear a mask the way Hal does, it suggests that Hal is unique in the ways that he appropriates the costume and powers Abin Sur gives him. As early as the second issue, Hal is being contacted by some higher power and going off assisting needy planets, but the fact that we never see who is contacting him is what makes it all work. Frankly, I’d have preferred seeing Hal fool around with his powers without any real intervention from aliens.
 Nowadays, all of the emphasis in Green Lantern comics is on the aliens and the fact that the various human Green Lanterns are just a cog in a huge machine (Some fans hold contests on GL Message Boards where they pride themselves on listing as many non-human or minor members of the corps as their favorites). While we would get to see more of the other Green Lanterns during the Silver Age, it didn’t really take off as a concept that dominated the GL series until around when Star Wars came out, and then the fans begged for more appearances of the other GLs and for limited series etc. Not that this was the wrong way to go, but this has always smacked to me as less of a natural progression and more as a bunch of nerds trying to turn the Green Lantern series into something it really wasn’t, which was a Star Wars/Trek kind of thing. I mean, although the stories are terribly dated, I think it should be pointed out that the most well-regarded (among “serious” comics fans) GL stories ever written remain the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams stories that took place on earth. When was the last time a Green Lantern storyline was as acclaimed since the Corps became the #1 emphasis? (And I don’t count those stupid company crossovers.)
 Just sayin’.
 Anyway, around the time GL enters his own title, there’s a drop-off in quality, and, well, the people who bash Stan Lee for being overly descriptive and expository need to read these comics. In almost every damn story, we are reminded that Hal has to recharge his ring every 24 hours and that his powers can’t affect the color yellow. I mean, I could see it being necessary to do this once an issue for new readers, but why do it once a story? I should point out that almost all of these issues feature two stories, thus, repeating this information again is pointless. This is far more frustrating than you’d think, and the way the writers constantly play with the rules of how GL’s ring affects yellow is hilariously bad.
 Also, while I appreciate Gil Kane’s fine lined art, it’s so thin that eventually it just starts to look bland, and an increasing reliance on negative space doesn’t help. His designs for aliens are also pretty banal (all of them have large heads and staring eyes but look human otherwise), almost on the same level as how Bernard Baily draws ghosts. I’ll take Kane’s later Spider-Man work over this any day.
 I do have to give props to the writers for their unabashed love of sci-fi and horror that shines through, though. The very titles of these stories could easily adorn a 50’s B-movie poster or a pulp magazine cover: “Secret of the Flaming Spear”, “Summons from Space”, “The Invisible Destroyer”, “Secret of the Black Museum”, “The Creature That Couldn’t Die”. You get the picture.
 As for the stories themselves, well, most of them are battles with commies and aliens like the Weaponers of Qward (Hal’s only recurring foes in this volume). There isn’t really much emphasis on the kinds of “strategy and bizarre logic” stories I mentioned earlier, but there are some standout stories besides the origin. “Summons from Space” is good, with its Joe Kubert-inked artwork. “Secret of Green Lantern’s Mask” is a charmingly humorous romp at a costume ball that milks the tired “villain dresses as the hero” trope for some well-timed laughs. My personal favorites include:
 The Invisible Destroyer: This features a pleasingly surreal menace (obviously based off of The Gentleman Ghost) with a fascinating explanation for why he appears the way he does; he’s the projection of the evil side of a good scientist’s personality, but since the professor is so good and couldn’t see himself doing the acts the Destroyer commits, the Destroyer himself is invisible. It’s a fascinating variation on Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. It is never explained why the professor has such subconsciously evil thoughts, or why the Destroyer even exists (or why he wears the costume he does), but that adds to the effectiveness of the story. The scene where GL probes the scientist’s brain for the Destroyer is wonderfully surreal. It’s easy to see why so many fans remember the villain so fondly (every group picture of Green Lantern villains I've ever seen includes him), even though this story, his first appearance, was also his last (although he has appeared extensively in flashbacks, as illusions created by other villains, and in a time-travel story).
The Creature That Couldn’t Die: I mainly like the subplot about Carol catching on to Hal’s secret, but the main story itself, with a rampaging microbe grown to giant size, is quite fun. The microbe generates some Frankenstein-like pathos, and Hal’s means of disposing of the creature is nicely ironic.
 The Power Ring that Vanished: Easily the best story in the book, mainly because it’s the first full-length one. This features the debut of Hector Hammond, who would be second only to Sinestro for the rest of the 60’s as Green Lantern’s ultimate villain, although he’s sadly come to be neglected since. Hammond here is as far a cry as possible from the creepy, immobile, large-headed boogeyman he has become, and even more so from Peter Sarsgaard’s portrayal of him in the film as a creepy nerd (although I found him far more likeable than any other character in the film). Hammond here is a suave and handsome industrialist; clearly modeled after a young Howard Hughes. Hector could give Tony Stark a run for his money when it comes to being a smug snake that shows off his inventions and makes time with the ladies. He sweeps Carol Ferris off her feet, and soon has her contemplating marriage.
  Hammond’s surface charm though conceals a dark secret, first, he isn’t really named Hector Hammond, it’s an alias he uses because he’s really a gangster on the run. Second, in an amusing sci-fi variation on “The Elves and the Shoemaker”, Hammond himself is not really responsible for his fantastic inventions, but a group of scientists he has kidnapped are. Hammond has exposed them to a meteor he discovered in the woods while hiding out. This meteor can control evolution, and has evolved the scientists into large-headed dwarves (it also apparently evolves their clothing into futuristic jumpsuits). Hammond has forced them to use their genius to build weapons for him. Naturally, Green Lantern brings Hammond's scheme crumbling down.

 There are plot holes galore, like how Hammond managed to get his hands on the meteor without being exposed to it himself, or how he has used it to sap the scientists’ will, or why the scientists just don’t rebel against him. That said, there’s some real suspense, there’s some of that goofy pseudo-science I love, and the expanded page count adds room for the story to be developed more. You also gotta love the creepy subtext of how Carol falls for Hammond, who looks almost exactly like a younger, thinner version of her father (the resemblance increases when you read these in the black and white reprints). Keep in mind that Carol’s entire reason for ignoring Hal is because she wants to prove to her father that she’s as smart as any man and has no need for romance. Remember what psychologists said about women who basically end up marrying their fathers? Considering how screwed up Carol would later turn out to be, partly because of her desire to prove herself to her father, a retelling of this story that explores those themes could have potential. Too bad modern writers mainly use Hector these days solely as a boogeyman, because he’s far more interesting in this story than he has been ever since.
Enjoy it while you can, buddy.

 Ultimately, Green Lantern doesn’t have much over The Flash in entertainment value despite being a more well-rounded series in many ways, and none of the elements really mesh together very well. Still, these stories are a must-read for all comics fans interested in the building blocks of the Silver Age. I give it a solid 3.5/5.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Top 13 Spectre punishments:

 When I read The Golden Age Spectre Archives a few months ago, I was surprised that one of the things it was lacking in was the kind of gruesome, creative punishments that The Spectre would become (in) famous for. Oh, he kills the villains now and then, sometimes in ways that are pretty cringe-worthy even today, but these really come off more as isolated instances. Even more distressing, most of the deaths really aren’t creative at all, he mostly just stares at the villains and they drop dead. It always feels quick and impersonal, without the sadism prevalent in later incarnations of the character. In fact, some of my favorite “punishments” in the original 40’s series aren’t even actual deaths at all. Batman (in the pre-Robin stories), Hawkman and Doctor Fate all trump Spec in terms of not letting the villains survive, and none of them during that period had anything on a guy named The Hangman over at Archie Comics (how ironic).
 Still, I thought it would be fun to list the creepiest punishments that Spectre has ever meted out. You’ll never mock a half-naked man in pixie boots again.
13) Jim Corrigan ages Gat Benson’s henchman to death:

 Right from the two-parter that introduced him, The Spectre made it clear how brutal he could be, here he ages a guy so much that before long he is literally a walking, talking (and sweating) skeleton before just dropping dead. Weirdly enough, Spectre lets Benson himself live.
12) You’ll never toss comets around in this galaxy again!
 The Spectre’s comet-tossing archenemy Zor returns and kidnaps Clarice Winston. Being thoroughly beat at this point, our hero calls on God for help, who suggests he use, well:
 Spectre goes to a country called Lugania (which has Ectobane trees) and breaks the wood down into a coffin.
 Ladies and gentlemen, this just proves you don’t need to kill to provide a bizarre punishment.
 One wonders what the Lugania forest committee would think of Spectre cutting down their trees, but in a land with trees that ward off all evil, I imagine they don’t have hippies there. If Lugania was real, I think that’s where I’d retire.
11) Giant Spectre crushes a car with his bare hands:

 Probably the most often-cited scene in the original run, I didn’t even have to scan my Archive, I just googled for it and up it came. Damn that’s brutal.
10) Spectre is a gigantic hypocrite:
 In this story, a state’s witness named Elmer Watson is brutally murdered by some mobsters.
Note the "Dead End" sign. Some nice black humor by Baily.

However, Watson’s shadow still lives and (occasionally materializing as a green-skinned, stereotypical looking hooded ghost) hunts down the mobsters.
 The Spectre sets out to stop Watson’s vendetta. I mean, killing criminals? Spec would never do that! Oh wait… I should point out that Watson specifically states that he is unable to rest in peace because his soul is trapped on earth, and tells this to Spec.
 While pursuing the head gangster, who is fleeing on a train, Watson grows to giant size, and, clearly out of ignorance and not out of genuine malice, poses a threat to the train as a whole (clearly, Jerry Siegel must have realized that at this point, Watson wasn’t doing anything Spectre himself wouldn’t, so he made this up to make us lose empathy for Watson).

 So, rather than simply elevating the train out of harm’s way or showing Watson that he has become as bad as his murderers, what does our hero do? He uses the Ring of Life which God gave him (a deus ex machine that would get Spectre out of anything in these stories) to completely obliterate Watson out of existence. Never at any time does the Spectre attempt to truly reason with Watson, or to guide him up to heaven and reassure him that his killers would pay, he just spouts off a bunch of crap about how revenge is pointless and that the courts and the almighty are the only ones who should be allowed to decide the fate of criminals (HAHAHAHAHA).
 Jim Corrigan would later be retconned into being a religious fanatic, and this supports it, as he clearly believes in the maxim that “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the lord”, although here it comes off more like “Hey buddy, this whole vengeful-ghost-who-slaughters-murderers-without-a-fair-trial business is MY racket.”
9) The Spectre turns oil paint monsters into oil:
 In one of the best stories of the original run, a group of (oddly cute) monsters begin rampaging throughout the city. Spec tracks them down to a “prehistoric” oil painting from the city museum, which is a portal to another dimension ruled by a hunchbacked maniac. The monsters’ goal is to destroy the human world because the human who painted them made them ugly, or something, it’s never quite clear. One doesn’t read Golden Age Spectre stories for the writing, but for Jerry Siegel’s surreal ‘anything-goes” plots and Bernard Baily’s delightfully awkward artwork, although the art is not without its occasional truly stunning moments.
This is one such moment: The monsters attack our hero, who promptly turns them into what they originally were; globs of oil.
 Surrealism rarely gets better than this in mainstream superhero comics.
8) Spectre melts a guy to death:
When Jim Aparo and Michael Fleischer were handed The Spectre in Adventure Comics, boy did they let loose, this one comes from their very first story. Ick.
7) Spectre cuts a guy up with a giant pair of scissors:
 This is probably the most well-remembered moment in the Aparo run. I think the reason why is because this doesn’t have the distinction of being something relatively silly like Spectre turning a guy into an inanimate object like glass or sand or goo and dying a relatively painless death, but is plainly and simply a guy being straight up murdered in a truly gruesome manner. This is less the territory of fantasy, or even traditional EC comic book horror, but of slasher films before they were even a genre. It hurts just looking at it.
6) Spectre turns a guy into a mannikin and lets him get roasted alive:
While the previous entry may be the most well-remembered moment from this run, this is probably the best remembered story, and it’s my personal favorite Spectre story of all time. This one actually has a plot other than “Spectre kills crooks and pines for Gwendolyn Sterling” (My my Spectre, combine the first name of your original love interest Clarice Winston with the last name of your current one, and you have yourself the protagonist for a certain series of novels and films…). Even this guy seems to like it.
 The plot is especially creepy because so much goes unexplained; department store mannikins start inexplicably coming to life and killing people, and not much is ever answered as to why. There are a lot of twists and turns, but the ending is what sticks out: The fiendish mannikin maker is turned into one himself (fully conscious but frozen), and then gets thrown in a heap with his own dummies and roasted alive while two janitors make small talk.
 It’s droll, ironic, and absolutely horrifying. It gave young me a long-lasting childhood fear of dummies and mannikins, and even more so of becoming one, that Twilight Zone episode with Cliff Robertson didn’t help.
4) Spectre feeds a guy to a giant squid:
 Even Spectre has a weakness for HP Lovecraft and random bullshit.
3) Spectre feeds a guy to a giant rubber ducky:
 In this story, a two-parter that was the conclusion of the Aparo run, God grants Jim Corrigan’s request that he become human again and can give up being The Spectre. Jim and Gwendolyne decide to get married, and this turns largely into a 70s updating of More Fun #52-53.
 Jim runs afoul of a mob boss named “Ducky”. He has a rubber duck. Yeah….
 Jim gets gunned down, buried, comes back as The Spectre again, and causes the duck to come alive, grow to giant size, and swallow the mobster whole. Somewhere, Bert is ruing the day he let Ernie read this comic, as his roommate hasn’t taken a bath in ages because of it.
 2) Spectre turns heroin junkies into his fingertips and then injects them with liquid fire:

 The 1990’s Spectre series, for all of Ostrander’s desire to deconstruct the Spectre mythos, nevertheless came up with “punishment” scenarios that put even Fleischer and Aparo to shame. This one from the first issue is gold. Every junkie is like the setting sun indeed.
1) Spectre burns down an entire fucking country:
                                                HOLY FUCKBALLS JUST READ THIS
 So there you have it. That said, I think I’ll quit these character-centric lists for now, especially about undead supernatural beings in the DC Universe with chalk-white skin and lousy fashion sense. Think I’ll go make myself some cocoa and watch some W.C. Fields movies.
 Say, did I leave the window open? I just felt a cold breeze--OHFUCK!KGKGLL;FD;SLKU7471111111111111111111111111

Monday, January 9, 2012

Top 9 Solomon Grundy moments:

 I can’t have a list month without giving this blog’s mascot his due. So here are the top 9 most memorable Grundy moments, I say memorable instead of good, because some of these are just plain silly, but they’ve helped to define the monster from Slaughter Swamp just the same.
 I’m also aware that I’m neglecting a huge portion of Grundy’s history by not including his appearances in Infinity Inc., for the simple fact that I haven’t read them since they came out and can’t find any relevant scans online. Someday I’ll remedy that. So for now, in no particular order, here we go:
1) Grundy is unable to tell the difference between life and death:
 I’ve posted Grundy’s debut story on here for Halloween, but was surprised to discover that it’s been posted on the internet previously, several times. Oh well. I’m glad to see that a lot of people like it as much as I do, and all go out of their way to praise this scene in particular:
Brrrr. Sometimes they really do get it right the first time. This panel perfectly sums up Grundy; brutal, alien, titanically powerful, and yet in spite of it all, somewhat innocent at the same time, but no less creepy.

2) Grundy Smash!
 It’s been a long-running joke about how Grundy is basically the DCU’s Hulk, but what many comic fans don’t know is that there was actually a time when Grundy became green. In his second appearance (In Comic Cavalcade #13), the man-brute is revived by a mad scientist through an injection of Chlorophyll. To be fair, Grundy was still being drawn to look like the Fredric March Mr. Hyde at this point, not the more Frankensteinian appearance he would later take on. Either way, all he needs is some purple pants and he’s in business.
 Note: While I’ve read this story, courtesy of a friend who has a huge collection, I don’t actually own a copy and he refuses to let me scan it. These scenes are from a fan-site, likewise for the next entry.
3) Grundy surfs on light waves:
 After his defeat at the hands of the JSA, Grundy returned for his final Golden Age appearance. How he returned, and what he did is what puts this entry on the list. You see, in the JSA story, Grundy ended up being imprisoned….on the moon. Here’s how he returned:
 But that’s not all; Grundy also has the ability to shapeshift (unfortunately, I can find no relevant scans). Crazy man, crazy. Of the GA Grundy stories, I wish I could post this one in its entirety.
4) Enemy mine: Alan Scott becomes a Grundy:
 When the heroes of the Golden Age were re-introduced via all the Earth 2 weirdness in the 1960s, could Grundy be far behind? Nope, by 1965 he was back to ravage the world in Showcase #55, where the unlikely pairing of Doctor Fate and Hourman squared off against him when Alan Scott failed. In order to make Grundy get past the comics code restrictions, he was drawn as more muscular, less corpse-like, and with the explanation that he became what he is through radioactive swamp water, which led to this moment when Alan Scott is exposed to the same water:
 The only thing more terrifying than Grundy is Alan Scott turned into Grundy. I guess it could be seen as kind of funny looking, like Grundy all dressed up for Halloween, but it’s still a tough image to forget. Kill it with fire!
5) Grundy and Blockbuster become BFFs:
 Comics code restrictions aside, Grundy still managed to be a rather intimidating foe in his Showcase appearance, still retaining the horrible teeth he had in his earliest stories, and still being portrayed as a deadly menace whom multiple heroes were needed to defeat, with the art conveying a Halloween-ish mood. Grundy hadn’t been reduced to just another bad guy or a comical figure yet.
 Then this happened:
 In one of the many “Crisis” stories that appeared in 1960’s Justice League stories, Grundy runs afoul of Earth 1 Batman villain Blockbuster, and an epic battle ensues, that is until both villains punch each other so severely that the hate is knocked out of each of them. The story ends with Grundy hugging the entire JLA.
 Grundy’s days as the hideous, corpse-like plague-demon and walking embodiment of poverty and death were long gone.
 6) Grundy avenges Cyrus Gold’s murder:
 In Shadow of the Bat #39, Alan Grant established that he was one of the few who remembered Grundy’s sinister roots with a tale featuring multiple references to the original, but with a new twist to the origin. Here, we see that Cyrus Gold was a wealthy, middle-aged cad who was murdered by a pregnant prostitute named Rachael Rykel and her pimp for his money.
 Grundy, having recently been defeated and killed yet again, reforms in Slaughter Swamp with no memory (or pants). This Grundy is distinctively corpse-like compared to previous ones. Grundy goes on a rampage and ends up coming across a little boy and a tour guide named Karin. While they both try to help him, and both succeed in helping him regain his memories, Grundy’s savagery is still uncontrollable, and poor Karin dies for her troubles. Only a timely intervention by Batman saves the kid.

 However, the story ends with a twist, you see, Karin was none other than a descendant of Rachael Rykel!

 Personally, I can’t really say this story works as a “poetic justice” story since Karin is a total innocent and her descendant’s pimp was the one who actually murdered Cyrus Gold. Also, does this mean that Karin was technically a descendant of Gold? This story is no great shakes as a story, but has far more going on than it gets credit for. It’s definitely essential reading though, for fans of Grundy. It’s also far superior, at least in concept, to the recent Grundy mini-series which also had Grundy/Gold having to track down his murderer.
7) Grundy enjoys a Thanksgiving dinner, and Two-Face is an asshole:
 Although Batman had had some encounters with Grundy, the first person to really exploit that was Jeph Loeb in The Long Halloween. Personally, I have several problems with his portrayal of Grundy; Grundy can only repeat the nursery rhyme, and despite this easily being the most massive he’s ever been drawn, Grundy goes down fairly easily against a relatively inexperienced Batman. Loeb also missed a great opportunity to explore Grundy’s roots as an embodiment of poverty when he teamed him up with Two-Face, since Two-Face started his career as a twisted Robin Hood figure and sort of functions as one here.
 That said, this little moment makes it all worthwhile:

 In the sequel Dark Victory, Loeb gets in some good, touching scenes emphasizing the monster’s loyalty to Two-Face.
Unfortunately, since Loeb was hell-bent on making the reader lose any empathy for Two-Face, we get this scene. Two-Face and his gang come across an escape route that is protected by an electric fence. Two-Face coldly orders Grundy to touch it:
 This could have been a heartbreaking moment reminiscent of Of Mice & Men, where Two-Face did this to spare Grundy from the police or the Falcone mob, but it all comes to naught. Goodnight sweet Grundy, may flights of Drumsticks and potatoes sing thee to thy rest.
8) Grundy befriends Jack Knight:
 Part of the appeal of James Robinson’s Starman run was that he took the tired cliché of a novice hero and made it work by having Jack Knight learn and discover new things throughout the series. Exploring characters, especially villains, was part of the fun. The Shade went from a two-bit villain to one of the most intriguing anti-heroes in the DC universe, the Ragdoll went from a joke to a creepy Manson-like figure, and the idea of Solomon Grundy as a misunderstood, childish creature took flight. There was a lot of pathos and comedy generated by “Solly”, and his sacrifice provided one of the series’ most touching moments.
 Incidentally, this series introduced the idea that each time Grundy is reborn he is different. An intriguing idea to be sure, as well as one that plays into the Mr. Hyde-subtext of the original story, I just don’t know if it’s really necessary or not.
9) Grundy dies on the Justice League cartoon:
 Another sacrifice! That said, this is far from a hackneyed moment, it’s one of the most touching moments from the entire show. Why can’t mainstream comics be as good as this? Just watch it for yourself.