Monday, November 12, 2012

Comic Book Turkey #1: Gale Leary: The Will O' The Wisp

 Phew! Never let it be said that Out of the Quicksand is a blog that doesn’t get into the season! I should give Grundy the boot and pattern the blog after Calendar Man instead!! Nah, just kidding that would be stupid. After knocking myself out for Halloween, it’s time to talk Turkey.
 No, none of those turkeys! (Although I certainly could write a long, angry article about the brain-meltingly ridiculous Batman-related lawsuit filed by Turkish fruit loop Huseyin Kalkan back in 2008).
 Instead, this being national Turkey month, I’ll be looking at metaphorical turkeys, as in failures. The term “turkey” is typically used to describe failed movies, but I think I can be afforded enough leeway to use it to described failed comics as well. Each comic will be given a point if it features something amusing (Even unintentionally), and it will be given a bad point for every time it does something unforgivably stupid. Good points will be represented with this monster from the movie The Giant Claw, which is supposed to be scary but which is instead hilarious.
 The bad points will be represented with this image of Seinfeld’s Kramer, which is meant to be hilarious but will instead make you want to gouge your eyes out with a fingernail file:
 So get ready folks, because the first Turkey we’re going to be pulling the innards out of and feeding to the cat is quite possibly the single worst superheroine strip of all time! It’s like a weird precursor to Kick Ass by way of Nancy Drew and Batman.
 Meet The Gale Leary Will O’ the Wisp.
 Or is that Gale Leary, the Will O’ the Wisp? I’m confused.
 Still, Will O’ the Wisps are fairly under-used creatures from Irish folklore, so a superheroine based off one could potentially be very cool. How does this pan out? Oh God…
 Gale Leary was featured in every issue (Five in total) of Key Comics, a title published by Consolidated Magazines (Who doesn’t want their company name to bring milk and refined gravel to mind?), a small-time publisher that was in all likelihood created by people who knew nothing about comics but wanted to get in on the craze, or by bootleggers, or by both. Consolidated only put out three titles during its short-lived career, and if Key is any indication to the publisher’s overall quality, I’m probably passing up quite a few turkeys by not reading all of them, as Gale Leary is far from the only turkey featured within Key’s pages.
 The introductory splash page doesn’t look so bad; a frightened gangster confronted by what he assumes is a ghost, a figure in the background who could either be a symbolic representation of justice, or it could be our heroine in costume. I like it, and I hope you do too, because it’s about as good as this strip gets.

 It starts out in 1925, when DA Greg Leary returns home to his wife Martha and newborn daughter Gale (Take note of how baby Gale is blonde) after putting away the notorious mobster Bob Evans.
 Just then, he gets a visit from the judge who helped put away Evans. Apparently the mobster has escaped, and sworn revenge against the two men. Although there’s apparently a “statewide alarm” out, the judge still thought he was safe enough to go over to the house of the man he’s being targeted along with, with no indication of police escort. Idiot. Apparently, Greg doesn’t take the judge seriously either, as he doesn’t tell Martha about any of this (Presumably to keep her from panicking), even denying that there was anyone at the door despite her being around to see him go answer it (And I presume it was an urgent call with lots of ringing, considering it involves a vengeful mobster). He stupidly decides to go to sleep, with the bedroom windows open.

 Anyway, the mobsters turn out to be hiding outside the house, they break in through the window, and the Leary’s pay dearly for it:
 Greg’s fate is particularly brutal:
 As Evans and his henchman Brandois leave, they accidentally wake up Gale, who they decide to keep quiet by giving her a willow branch to play with:
Aww, how considerate.

 So yeah, that weird branch Gale is holding in the splash wasn’t just a fig leaf in order to go along with the whole “justice” motif, it actually plays a role in the story.
That's some good detective work on their part then.

 Now permanently disabled, Greg wakes up and is horrified by what’s happened, you see, not only is his wife dead, his career over, and his legs broken, but on top of that, the mobsters gave his daughter a willow branch to play with!!!

  Murder and crippling injuries he can live with, but a willow branch? Couldn’t those vicious murderers have been more considerate and given her an oak branch? All bets are off now!

 So the years pass, and Gale grows up to be Judy Garland, while Greg grows up to be Dr. Strangelove:
 Gale is ready to avenge Mommy’s death now, and mentions that the willow branch (Good God, how has that thing not rotted by now?) endows her with more than just courage. I assume two of those things that are more than just courage include the ability to change hair color and to grow linebacker shoulders:
Sofia Falcone's debut?

 You see it, makes her feel just like a…Will O’ The Wisp!
 Will O’ The Wisps are mysterious little flying specks of light in Irish folklore that are presumably either ghosts or fairies that fly around leading travelers onto the wrong path. Kind of a weird thing to just “feel like”. Then again, I’m hardly one to point the finger, whenever someone asks me how I’m feeling, I always say “Oh I feel great Steve, I feel relaxed, refreshed, full of energy, ready to take on the whole world, just like a Dullahan, a headless Irish ghost on horseback that goes around using it’s spine as a whip”.
 What? Don’t you compare yourself to obscure Irish folk creatures whenever people ask you how you’re doing? You don’t? Well you can go to hell!
 Anyway Gale then alerts Greg to some good news; Red Brandois, the gunman who shot Martha, has been captured.
"Dey captured him? Vhy didn't you tell ze vorld, eh?"

 That’s pretty cool, but Gale forgets to tell Greg the bad news, that there’s apparently a spider clinging to his newspaper:
There's a J. Jonah Jameson joke in here somewhere...

 Greg is afraid that Brandois will never confess, but Gale decides to make sure he will. Meanwhile in the county jail, Brandois (Who now looks like Clarence from It’s A Wonderful Life) chortles to himself about how they’ll never make him talk:
"No Mr. Brandois, we expect you to die!"

 Just then, Gale dramatically makes her entrance! throwing the willow branch into the cell with him.

 Brandois freaks out, thinking he’s seeing Martha’s ghost, and has a heart attack.

 Gale then puts on an innocent act, even though she really has nothing to worry about legally.
 Also, now the branch is glowing for some reason. Uh, why? Is this supposed to represent Martha’s spirit passing on?
 So all’s well that ends well, and mommy is avenged for the time being, at least until Boss Evans is found in the exciting conclusion next issue.
 Wait a minute. “The Will O’ Wisp will find him out”? So now she’s thinking of herself as a superhero?
 That doesn’t make any sense, all she did was scare an elderly crook who was already in jail to death, and the way the comic is written, it’s never indicated whether this was intended on Gale (and possibly her father)’s part or not. Yes, she asks Brandois if he remembers her, but the use of the willow branch seems to indicate she was asking him if he remembered her, not Martha. Also, even though she’s dressed identically to how Martha was dressed earlier the day of the shooting, that’s not how Martha was dressed when she was killed, and there’s no indication that Brandois had seen Martha earlier that day. And anyway, if Gale meant to be mistaken for Martha, then why not go the full ‘ghost’ route and wear similar clothes to the ones Martha was shot in? Surely Greg would have known that if he had indeed planned this whole scheme.
 On second thought, forget that. The thought of a man dressing his daughter up as his dead wife to scare a man to death is creepier than all get-out; it would explain the change in Gale’s hair color though.
 But anyway, so now Gale thinks she’s ready for the superhero business, even though she has no costume, and her entire gimmick is that she carries around an old willow branch like a security blanket (something everyone apparently knows about, so goodbye secret identity), one that played no actual role whatsoever in her defeat of Brandois (even if there is something supernatural about it), and one that the police didn’t even look at as a “calling card”, they just seemed to have assumed it blew into the cell from a tree and ignored it.
 And why even call herself “Will O’ The Wisp”? Because of the willow branch? I’d like to think she chose the name because the branch glowed, but the glowing seems to be artistic license more than anything else, as the other characters don’t mention it when they’re in the same room. That’s like if Bruce Wayne decided to call himself 'Chowderman' because his mom was mugged for her pearl necklace, and pearls come from clams, which are sometimes used to make chowder. Same logic. Or maybe the “Leary” name is an Anglicized version of “O’ Leary”, and Gale grew up hearing stories about Will O’ Wisps when Greg would reminisce about the old country. I think I just put more thought into this than the writers did.
 Oh yeah, this is a big, big turkey, although at least this initial installment has some good unintended laughs. Despite the (incredibly downplayed) supernatural elements involving the branch, this is without question the most low-key, banal, clumsily plotted and ridiculous premise for a superhero series I’ve ever read. It reads like a parody, but without any jokes, and the brutal torture scene and serialized format (Which means we’re supposed to care about Gale and Greg avenging Martha in some later story) suggests this was meant to be taken seriously. Oh man.
 And I’ve still got four more to go, including one story that features perhaps the most offensively named comic book villain of all time, and Gale showing off her “powers”.
 So give Thanks this Giving that you aren’t me.



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