Saturday, March 30, 2013

Crazy like A Fox: Gardner Fox's goofiest moments

Oh, Gardner Fox. I think I’ve reviewed/posted more comics by him than any other writer. Thus, I thought I’d look at some of the most prolific writer in comics history’s oddest, silliest and creatively questionable moments.
 7) Fiddler picks up good vibrations:
 In the famous Crisis on Earth-One story from Justice League #21, 1940’s villains Icicle, Wizard and Fiddler arrive on Earth One and team up with Felix Faust, Doctor Alchemy and Chronos. How did they get there? Well see, during a prison break, Fiddler decided to twang one of the strings on his violin and…
 Take note of the “Special string I made” line. That means this wasn’t his usual magic violin, this was something he either made himself (In prison!) or that it was an ordinary violin, and he managed to transcend time and space just by playing the shit out of it. This means that either 1940’s jails had the most cutting edge technology available in their workshops, or that a whole lot of kids in band class attempting Ave Maria on their violins suddenly found themselves in for a big surprise when they hit the C note…
6) Time Travel can do anything:
 In Justice League #37, Johnny Thunder’s magic thunderbolt falls into the hands of his evil Earth One counterpart, who uses it for crime. Nothing wrong with that premise, but then Evil!Johnny gets it into his head to have the thunderbolt take some of his henchmen into the past to the point where each of the Justice League members gained their superpowers, so that the henchmen will receive their powers instead. Sounds like a good plan! Look at how well it works for two thugs who gain the powers of Flash and The Atom.
 Of course, this is the part where the scheme has to stop of course, because after all, Barry Allen and Ray Palmer were ordinary people who gained their superpowers in accidents that could have transformed anyone had they been in the right place at the right time, so surely there’s no way that travelling back in time could turn the thugs into Superman or Martian Manhunter, who were born with their powers on distant planets, or Batman, who has no powers and had no single point where he “became’ Batman…
 Yes, surely there’s no way, right?
 Well, apparently there is, but we never find out about it. Why? Because Gardner Fox, that’s why:
 And the funniest thing? It’s not like Fox was unfamiliar with these character’s origins or powers, in fact, those origins are shown to us earlier in the story, in detail so accurate that entire panels were copied from the original stories! It even becomes a bragging point in the editor’s note!
 Also, although she appears at the JLA HQ at the conclusion of this storyline, Wonder Woman (wisely) sat the entirety of this story out. Thank God, imagine what it would be like if one of the thugs was somehow transformed into her! The thought of one of those hardboiled, unshaven mooks walking around in her costume is a mental image I don't need.
5) And the 1961 award for Most Gullible Son Of A Bitch Ever goes to…
 In Brave and The Bold #34 (first appearance of the Silver Age Hawks) intergalactic space police Katar Hol & Shayera decide they need to make contact with one of Earth’s law officials, and arrive at the home of Midway City’s police commissioner George Emmett. Naturally, he finds the sight of two people dressed like Hawks odd.
 Ooh, seems like Emmett’s a tough man! I wonder what our heroes will have to do to convince him that they’re aliens….
 Not much apparently.
 Who wants to bet this guy believed it when the papers said “Dewey defeats Truman”? Also, trust me; we’re not finished with Hawkman yet.
4) Collateral damage? Isn’t that what you get if you don’t eat enough cheerios?
 In Flash Comics #9, a race of deep-sea creatures called Kogats (Creatures that resemble cavemen and satyrs instead of anything approximating ocean life) begin coming ashore and abducting people. Hawkman foils their scheme with the help of Poseidon, who among other things, imparts our hero with the ability to breathe underwater (Now there’s an ability that I bet you didn’t know the Golden Age Hawkman had!). It’s a fairly straightforward action story until Poseidon tells Hawkman that the best way to defeat the Kogats is to smash a pillar over which their kingdom is built:
 It works.
 Except then, we get this disturbing little tidbit:
3) Breaking and Entering For The Win!
 In the very next issue after his little Kogat debacle, Hawkman, in his Carter Hall identity, tries to buy an old Spanish blunderbuss at an auction, but one guy outbids him.
 Well, normally when you get outbid for something, you just say “Oh well” and decide to look for some other way of acquiring what you want. In the pre-internet days, it must have been tougher if you wanted a rare item, but I don’t think anyone would resort to this.
 ‘yep. Carter breaks into the guy’s house, and prepares to do so by getting out a knife that belonged to the Borgias:
 Of course, the guy who outbid Carter turns out to be a criminal who wanted the gun because it contained a treasure map wadded up inside, but think just for a moment what would have happened if this guy just happened to be an ordinary (if zealous) antique collector, and walking in on Hawkman, and understandably being shocked by the sight of a half-naked masked man stealing his stuff, had tried to shoot him, only to end up on the receiving end of that knife…
  Since I think everyone can agree that all of this alien/reincarnation bullshit has done Hawkman more harm than good over the years, I really wish that someone would return to this original characterization of him as a snotty, self-absorbed, collateral damage-causing rich asshole. They could make him a Jersey Shore-type and….actually forget everything I just said. Horrible idea. Horrible idea.
2) Grundy becomes the Pied-Piper of Wood:
 Part of me didn’t want to include this one because of the nostalgia factor Showcase #55 has for me, but there’s no denying both how goofy and downright surreal this moment is:
 There’s a joke here, but nothing comes to mind. A big ugly undead swamp monster being followed around by radioactive wood, with no explanation to tie it into Grundy being partially made of plant matter/wood (Though I don’t think the Comics Code would have allowed mention of that). It just doesn’t get any sillier for Grundy than this.
 Heh. Actually, it does:
 Fox may be the single writer most responsible for turning Grundy from a fearsome monster into a comedic figure, sort of a villainous version of Steve Gerber’s Hulk. It would take Infinity Inc. and Starman to restore the character’s dignity and give him lots of intentionally funny moments.
1) The craziest take on Wesley Dodds ever.
 Justice League #46-47 are among my very favorite Silver Age DC issues, namely because the two-parter within remains the most batshit insane JLA story I’ve ever read. I can’t even summarize it, honestly. It’s just that crazy. Gardner Fox’s attempt to imitate Stan Lee’s “hip” lingo is compellingly awful enough in of itself, but Mike Sekowsky’s embarrassing attempts at surrealism, the number of times the premise of the storyline completely and utterly changes itself, the increasing desire with which the reader wants to see Atom-supporting character Enrichetta Negrini punched in the face, and of course, Blockbuster and Grundy’s hug fest at the end, all combine to create perhaps the oddest storyline in a “team” book of the entire decade; rivaling even Doom Patrol and Metal Men (which were both supposed to be weird).
 But the one thing that sticks out the most to me in this sea of lunacy is how The Sandman is portrayed. As I noted, even in the original 1940’s stories (Which were also by Fox) everything was inconsistent, but despite the number of radically different takes on Wesley Dodds that would appear in the 40’s, none of them were quite like this.
 Remember how Dodds would leave specks of sand as his calling card? Now, he actually goes around spraying sand at people (or just throwing it), with nary a mention of his sleeping gas! But that in itself is not as crazy as what he does once the sand hits the air:
 Yes, he carries around a flame-thrower so hot, that the heat turns the sand he throws (in mid-air) into glass.
  He can even create entire barriers and create cement blocks out of it:
 Morpheus of The Endless and Flint Marko will always be the most well-known Sandmen in comics, but it’s safe to say none of them have ever done anything quite as crazy as this.

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