Friday, February 29, 2008

Sadie Hawkins Day

To celebrate the rare occasion of dawn on February 29th, today we'll take a little visit to Dogpatch, for a visit with some of Al Capp's well-known creations.

Of course, Sadie Hawkins Day in Dogpatch means its race day. Run fast, guys...and don't look back!!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Impulse #1

Today I'll feature this gem, found in another of those three discovered boxes of random titles: Impulse #1, from April 1995.

Here we have Bart Allen, grandson of Barry Allen, the Silver-Age Flash, who's come from the era of the Legion of Super-Heroes to the end of the 20th Century. Recently instrumental in Wally West/Flash's success in the "Terminal Velocity" storyline, Bart spins into his own title.

It's a great issue, using Bart's first day in high school as the framing sequence for a recap of his origin. Having been raised by machines in the future and possessing the attention span of a flea, it's a riot to watch Bart try to figure out 20th Century technology, like when the class is assigned to write an autobiography, and he can't find the ON switch for his pencil.

Bart's living in Birmingham, Alabama, with perfect slow and easy backdrop for a kid from the future who's learning to control his super-speed. Because Wally's got so much going on in his own life, he's sent Bart off to live with Max Mercury, one of the Golden Age speedsters, whose known as the "Zen Master of Speed."

You can feel Bart's frustrations, when he has finally figured out how to use the pencil and told his origin tale, and Max rips it up, launching into a lecture about protecting one's secret identity. There's also a great set-up for future storylines, when Bart races some kind of secret guided missile and begins to uncover a mystery.

Ah, Bart, what a short time you were with us (is a spoiler warning really necessary to tell you that Bart died at the hands of the Rogues Gallery last spring, after taking up the red costume of his Flash forebears?). As fitting for a speedster, it went by all too quickly.

But there's been teases of a possible return, so we'll have to wait and see. Hey, nothing improves your chances of a return from the grave than dying in a comic book!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Spoiler's Return, 1995

Lately in issues of Robin, there's a mystery playing out about a possible return from the dead for Spoiler, aka, Stephanie Brown.

Who knows if it'll really be her or not? Certainly enough others have returned from the grave in recent years that if Spoiler is indeed alive, it won't be that much of a shock.

Meanwhile...I thought I'd share this DC Comics house ad from 1995, featuring the last Return of Spoiler!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Super Friends

Another must-see YouTube discovery:

Diana even looks a little like Courtney Cox, eh?

Serious kudos to Dylan(aka, wearactualsize).

Monday, February 25, 2008

The "Last" Batgirl Story

Oops. I completely forgot this issue existed, but suddenly, near the bottom of the recently-mentioned errant box of comics, was this dynamic Mike Mignola cover on the Batgirl Special #1 from 1988.

Inside is a tale entitled, "The Last Batgirl Story" written by Barbara Randall, with art by Barry Kitson and Bruce D. Patterson. This was DC's opportunity to tie up some loose character ends with Barbara Gordon, who was scheduled to be shot and paralyzed by the Joker only a few short months later. And just in case you've forgotten that, there's a full page house ad for The Killing Joke at the end of the story.

We find Barbara at the Gotham Public Library, where she and her staff have just discovered a man brutally murdered in the stacks. And there's a clue with the body that leads her to believe that the murderer is Cormorant, a man whom she faced off against and lost to several years earlier.

Babs remembers the shaking her career took in her confrontation with Cormorant, who shot her and left her to die when she tried to rescue a little girl he'd kidnapped. The experience has shattered her confidence and she's a little hesitant to track him down, though simultaneously pleased to have the opportunity to regain something of herself. I enjoyed seeing that she is already portrayed here as the proficient computer hacker we will know later as Oracle, when Barbara subverts the library computers to support her crime-fighting efforts.

Meanwhile, a childhood friend, Marcy, appears on her doorstep and begins berating her about being Batgirl. It's a concept that Babs and Marcy created when they were little girls (according to a Secret Origins tale of the time) wherein they design ragdolls based on two big heroes in the news, thereby creating the concepts for Batgirl and Supergirl. Marcy has easily figured out who the Batgirl in the news was and is there to talk Barbara out of her crime-fighting career.

Of course, the timing couldn't be worse, and Babs has to deal with Marcy's anger when she insists on following up on Cormorant. To complicate things, there's a costumed serial killer in Gotham called Slash, who's been leaving the bodies of men who've escaped prosecution for crimes against women.

Marcy's unsuccessful at first, now that Barbara is building her confidence to go face Cormorant...and then surprises Batgirl while she's staking out the guy's house. Cormorant, meanwhile, has received a phone call from someone and he accepts a contract to kill Slash. Meanwhile, Slash has received a folder about Cormorant's past, and she's planning to hit him.

Barbara agrees that its time to retire as Batgirl, she insists to herself on wrapping up this last case and sneaks off back to Cormorant's house, where she confronts him. It looks for a moment like it will end poorly for Babs, as he has her at the wrong end of his shotgun and is laying a case for self-defense. He backs her outside to stage the scene properly, but his long-suffering wife locks the door behind him. When Slash shows up a moment later, Cormorant can't escape and the two villians of the piece begin to battle, with Batgirl caught in the crossfire.

Cormorant injures Slash and then turns his attention to Barbara. It looks like tough times again for Babs, but some distraction is gained when she saves Cormorant from another Slash attack and the two go at each other once again. Once more Slash is knocked down and C turns back to Batgirl...but Mrs. Cormorant sneaks out of the house and places one of her husband's guns in Slash's hand: "Here, it's his," she says, "Finish your work."

And the tale is essentially complete. In a short coda, we see some happy time between Barbara and Marcy, during which Barbara makes a gift of the Batgirl costume to her costumer friend and we get a nice upbeat ending.

And the page opposite is full of omen and foreshadowing (though only now, with the benefit of hindsight), as the house ad with Brian Bolland's mad-looking Joker fills the last page of the book.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Swimming With the Fishes

Today's featured issue comes from 1989, the Legend of Aquaman Special. Here we have Keith Giffen on plot and breakdowns, with Robert Loren Fleming on script, with art by long-time Superman artist Curt Swan with Eric Shanower inking.

The issue is essentially a re-telling of Aquaman's origin story, which had changed slightly in the wake of the Crisis (1985). To be honest, it hadn't changed all that much, but I'm not sure the tale was ever told with as much love and care.

The story begins with the nameless child, who's been abandoned on Mercy Reef by the Atlanteans, who consider his blond hair anomoly enough to leave him to die of exposure to the sun. Of course, he doesn't, and his childhood consists of his exploring the seven seas and honing his ability to communicate with sea creatures.

Eventually, the young man comes to the shore and finds a lonely lighthouse keeper. At first, they are not friends, especially since the only surface speech the young man knows is the CAW of the seagulls. Aquaman (still unnamed) begins filling the keeper's traps with crabs and laying fish on his doorstep, which annoys the lighthouse keeper no end. But when the young man begins to absorb amusing bits of the English language (the terrific scene appears below, and should "embiggen" nicely for your reading pleasure), a friendship blossoms.

They become like father and son, teacher and student, friends. The lighthouse keeper teaches the strong ocean dweller English and the ways of the surface world. And then, "because happy years pass like weeks", the young man has grown and the keeper is old and knows that his end is near. When Aquaman returns the next time, the man has died, but left a letter, bequeathing his name to the younger man: Arthur Curry.

Eventually, Arthur returns to Atlantis, but is quickly captured by the government in power, who imprison him with other "freaks" and revolutionaries...and we see the classic green and orange costume for the first time, as it is the one issued to all prisoners.

Arthur sees his mother, recognizes her face amongst the female prisoners, but she dies before he is able to make contact, and in frustration, he breaks free of the prison and escapes...inspiring those he's left behind to rise up against the powers that be. Meanwhile, he goes off to the surface world and becomes a charter member of the Justice League of America and gains reknown for his heroic exploits.

When finally he returns to Atlantis, he discovers that his friend and fellow prisoner, Vulko, has led the toppling of the regime who'd imprisoned them, and Aquaman is welcomed as a hero. He learns that his mother had been the queen of the underwater society...and eventually, Arthur is convinced to ascend to the throne as Atlantis' King.

It's a great story, and a terrific retelling. There's a little coda that covers his marriage to Mera and the death of their son...which is where the story was to pick up in the Aquaman series that shortly followed this special. But more about the rest of Aquaman's story another day.

It's a shame that Aquaman gets so much flack as a hero, although much of the snark written about him can be amusing. Sure, the water thing definitely limits him, but there've been many times over the years when being able to talk to sea creatures was pretty convenient, and two-thirds of the world is ocean, right?

I suppose, though, that the lack of respect may be what's caused his character to be re-written and re-vamped and changed so much in more recent years. I really haven't been exposed to the newest version of the character yet, except in snips here and there found online.

I just read an account of a panel at this weekend's WonderCon in San Francisco that Dan Didio announced they'll be bringing Aquaman back, once they've determined which version of the character people want. So I'll go on record and say we ought to see the original's return. And find Fleming, or someone equally caring, who can capture the details of Aquaman the way this special did.

My first exposure to Aquaman was the Saturday morning cartoons of the late sixties. Here's a teaser commercial for the "Superman-Aquaman Hour", which featured these two heroes, with occasional guest stars from the rest of the JLA.

I was only two-going-on-three in 1967, but I was probably watching these just the same. I remember them better from later viewing, after the show was re-named the "Superman-Batman Hour", which featured cartoons of Superman, Batman and Aquaman (with Aqualad!)

To be honest, I didn't remember that other members of the JLA had been featured on television prior to the much-later "Super Friends" until I found this clip on YouTube, so perhaps I hadn't seen those earlier cartoons...but odds are good I saw them in reruns and was simply too young then to be remembering that now.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Detroit Duldrums

Well, you should never rely too heavily on what you think is the truth. For example, I thought that I had thoroughly sorted through all of the comic collection and gotten then sorted into long boxes, well-before our recent move was to begin.

And yet, to my (sort is a big collection)surprise, on one of the last days of Moving, I discovered three smaller boxes containing an assortment of titles which I had overlooked during the earlier project. So, as I sort through these, to place them with their proper titles, I thought I'd share a few here.

The first box I opened seems to be an assortment of titles from different years, but in a range that seems to stay within 1986 to 1989. These two consecutive issues are from that first year, October's JLA #255 and November's JLA #256.

These were interesting times in the DC Universe. The Crisis on Infinite Earths had just drawn to a close, and in its wake, things were briefly a little dull, before reboots and other interesting things began to happen.

Mostly we fans were catching our breath and reviewing just what all happened in that series. The letter columns are full of people asking questions of clarification: which Wonder Woman no longer existed, and which one was ascended to Olympus with her husband Steve Trevor (it was the E2 version who was brought to Olympus, tho Diana on E1 had also married her Steve [thrice incarnated at that point]in the Crisis' final days.)? Wasn't the JLA satellite destroyed? And so on...

Since actual comic shops were only just beginning to appear here and there on the horizon, one of the most exciting things was actually finding places where you could buy comics. Excitement certainly doesn't describe how I felt as I re-read these two issues, despite two of my favorite characters--Zatanna and the Martian Manhunter--being featured on the covers.

Prior to the Crisis, the League had sort of spun apart. I can't recall the actual circumstances that caused most of the traditional members to opt out (*I promise when I file these two, I'll revisit that particular part of the run and share what I find...), but suddenly we had a version of the Justice League led by Aquaman...who's first move, oddly enough, was to move the JLA headquarters away from the coastline to the lakeshore of Detroit.

By these issues, the new League was a blend of new and old characters, with Aquaman, Batman, J'onn J'onzz, Elongated Man (and Sue!)and Zatanna providing the Experience, while newbies Vixen, Vibe, Gypsy and Steel (late of the All-Star Squadron, but thrown through time by the Crisis, if I recall correctly...)made up the Next Generation.

These two issues comprise the center of an apparently-four-issue story, so perhaps not having re-read from the beginning or reaching some satisfying conclusion colored my enjoyment. Also, I note that Gerry Conway and Michael Ellis are credited for plot and script respectively for #255, while J.M. DeMatteis (who would soon be having way more fun with a fresher version of the League) gets the writing credits for #256.

As we find our heroes, Zatanna is in bondage and has recently been operated on by a whack-job named Adam, who has stolen some of her homo magi genes to graft onto his own...which then essentially transforms him into a sort of mad god. Although she sends out an emergency alert to the rest of the Leaguers, Adam creates an illusion of Zee to send them away, claiming a false alarm.

The image of Zatanna (even a fake one) convincing Batman that there's no need for the rest of the League there took on an interesting turn in the re-read, with the more recent context of Identity Crisis: by the Detroit era, the "mind-wipe" was already a thing of the past...and you kind of get the idea of Batman as Zatanna's puppet on a string.

But meanwhile, Adam has overpowered the Manhunter and Gypsy as well, who've stumbled into Zee's situation while trying to learn who framed John Jones for murder, and that's where this bit of the story wraps with a cliffhanger.

It's sort of tepid stuff, though being the JLA, still fun. But without this dim period in League history, we wouldn't appreciate the other teams and eras properly!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Chalk Drawings

I've always been a fan of the scene from Mary Poppins where she takes the children into Bert's sidewalk chalk drawings for a Jolly Holiday in the pastel countryside.

So, when I receive an email forward from some e-pal or other featuring the work of Brit artist Julian Beever, it's always a good time. I bet you've probably seen his work--such emails seem to appear in my box with some regularity--once, maybe twice a year.

Beever does his chalk work with a skewed perspective that allows the images, when viewed from one particular angle, to appear to be three-dimensional objects in the world, to great effect.

Recently, my email netted me some fresh photos of Beever's work (at least some I hadn't seen...), including this two super-hero pieces.

So...I thought, just in case you don't have cool e-pals like me who keep you in the loop, that I would share them here, and encourage you to visit the website of Julian Beever, where you can check out some more and terribly cool examples of his work.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Ralph Dibny VS. The Buffet Nazi

As I start getting myself organized for a return to regular blogging here, I came across this cover of Flash 112, from May 1960. In this issue, we meet for the first time Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man.

Naturally, Flash and EM are initially at odds (there's that universal requirement about heroes battling when they first meet, before realizing their on the same side and teaming up together), but eventually, they solve the case and a great feast is thrown in the heroes' honor.

We see Ralph's powers give him the ability to make the most of the buffet. My question is this: where are the waitstaff in this picture?! I'm a catering director in my secret identity. On my staff we have a great waitress who is known fondly as the "Buffet Nazi"...and I just can't imagine Kathy being okay with Ralph's "boarding house reach."

In other news, you'll find a few new links added to the list, a few recent discoveries you may enjoy.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Flash Seen In Harwich

Just wanted to report a possible sighting of Wally West, AKA, The Flash, on Route 39 in Harwich, MA, around 5:40 p.m. this evening. I'll have to scan the police reports later and see if anything unusual was going on.