Friday, August 25, 2006

Part 2 of "The Colors Out of Space"

Red Kryptonite. The wild card of the bunch. Red K is nothing but Green K that has passed through a strange red cosmic cloud (Superman #174). It has strange, wild, unpredictable effects that are sometimes bad and sometimes fortunately timed.

The ground rules: Every piece of Red K has a different effect, but each piece will have the same effect on any Kryptonian, as in Superman #144, when a cloud of Red K dust gives Superman, Supergirl, and Krypto all the same nightmare -- that Earth has been destroyed due to Superman's carelessness. Another example is in Action #286, when the members of Wexr II's Superman Revenge Squad try out pieces of Red K on Krypto to see how Superman will be affected. Boy, talk about unethical experimentation on animals!

A distinctive tingling sensation -- perhaps the inspiration for Marvel's creation of Spider-Man's "spidey-sense"? -- gives an after-the-fact notice that a Kryptonian has been exposed to Red K. But its duration is only temporary, from 24 to 72 hours. And, happily, each piece of Red K can affect an individual only once -- unless a good script demands otherwise!

Superman has stockpiled some Red K samples with known properties in his Fortress of Solitude (Action #284). At the end of 1963, a reader calculated that more than 56 varieties had been featured (Action 307). Look out, Mr. Heinz, we're gaining on you!

Red K effects can range from the dramatic -- turning Superman into a Kryptonian Drang (Action #303) or giving humans super-powers via Supergirl's kiss (Action #290) -- to the subtle, such as giving Superboy an extra finger on each hand (Superboy #105).

Here is a brief chronicle of Red K madness:
Action #293 splits Superman into a human Clark Kent and an amoral Superman. In Action #311-312, pouring acid on the same Red K reinstates its effect, but making the change permanent! Thus, a heroic but all-to-human Kent soon finds himself leading a guerilla war against a tyrant Superman who has conquered the planet. A very well-written two-parter with a twist at the end.

Action #317 describes "The Rainbow Faces of Superman," wherein he turns green with envy, purple with rage, and so on.

Superboy #101 chronicles Krypton's transformation into a collie bitch who even gives birth to super-powered puppies! When you combine Red K with time travel, anything can happen. Red K has turned Superboy into the inspiration for Egypt's Sphinx; a human magnet who helps Arthur draw Excalibur from the stone; and Jesse James's double (Superboy #103). Soon after, in Superboy #111, Krypto's Red K time travels change the Dog of Steel into the Roc of Sinbad's tale; a South American llama; and Mrs. O'Leary's cow, in which guise he starts the great Chicago fire!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Riding on 2-Wheelers with Boxes

My friend Jon Powell, who has recently moved with his lovely wife and two precocious kids back to her home country of South Korea, recently regaled us with the story of their experience packing to move. This made me want to share OUR family’s story of packing and moving – although we’ve live in the same house for 28 years!

In 1978, when we moved in, it was a typical house in our neighborhood – a wood frame house about 972 square feet. But we’ve built on, twice now, for kids’ and grandkid’s sakes. In 1990, we added onto the back of the house so that the 3-bedroom, 1-bath home was now 4-bedroom, a dining room, and 2 baths.

In 2003, we added on a second time. This time we added two 16 x 24 (approx.) rooms – a study and a guest/sewing room, and a ¾ bath.

Well, we were all set to move things into the new area after construction when we found termites in the “old” part of the house. The original 1930s house had a crawlspace, but the 1990 add-on was on a slab. Without a crawlspace, the exterminators had to work “from the top.” This meant that we had to get EVERYTHING out of the 1990 addition. So we packed and stacked and moved everything into the newest (2003) part of the house.

Then, after the termite treatment, we had to unpack everything and replace it into the 1990 part of the house (leaving some stuff still boxed, natch, since it was destined to end up back in the newest part).

Then after the 2003 add-on was empty, we could concentrate on putting furniture, etc into it as we had originally planned.

So our glorious move-in was delayed by $3000 and a month of back-and-forth shuttling.

However, these present tribulations are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come! Or even with the glory of having all the books out of the attic and on honest-to-gosh bookshelves!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Colors Out of Space, Part 1

Thomas Wolfe called one of his novels You Can’t Go Home Again. Well, Superman has gone Wolfe one better. Not only can Superman not go home again, pieces of home keep following him around, trying to kill him!
As Superman tells us in 1959's "The Curse of Kryptonite" (Superman #130), "Kryptonite is my Achilles Heel … the only substance in the universe that can harm me! It was originally formed years ago when the planet Krypton, the world on which I was born, blew up! A nuclear chain reaction converted every chunk of the exploding world into Green Kryptonite!"
As we will later see, different swarms of Green K meteors passed through different-colored space clouds, creating other forms of Kryptonite, although the lettercol of Superman #243 assures us that "they are all isotopes of the same element."
But before getting down to those specific types of Kryptonite, here's a general rundown of the element, as gathered by yours truly from a few hundred issues of Superman, Action, Superboy, and a few other titles.
Kryptonite was drawn to Earth in the wake of the space-warp drive created by Jor-El for baby Kal-El's rocket (Action #500). It has strong radioactive characteristics, and this fact has from time to time inspired scientists to attempts Green K-powered engines, as in Action #224, Superboy #65, and World's Finest #76 -- not to mention the Green K-powered atomic heart of John Corben, Metallo (Action #252). However, oddly enough, Kryptonite radiation only bodes harm for Kryptonian creatures (except for White K and Blue K, as described below). Luckily for Superman and other Kryptonians, just about any intervening amount of lead -- even as thin as tinfoil -- can completely block all Kryptonite radiation; in Action #278 Superman builds a lead suit that he continued to use on occasion through the years.
When passing into our atmosphere, Kryptonite "didn't burn up in Earth's air like ordinary meteors because Kryptonite can’t combine chemically with oxygen, which cause combustion" (Superman #130). However, as told in Action #283, Action #412, and other texts, Kryptonite can be chipped, melted, and otherwise manipulated. Thus, it is clear that Kryptonite is the one remnant of Krypton that does not become invulnerable in Earth's environment. "As we have shown in various stories throughout the years, Kryptonite can be broken, melted, pulverized into dust, and dissolved by acid" (Action #296 lettercol). Lois Lane #28's lettercol -- from the year 1961 -- informs us that "Kryptonite fragments lost their invulnerability when they passed through the green cosmic cloud which made them harmful to people born on the planet Krypton." Notice how that statement, danger-caused-by-cloud, contradicts the text from Superman #130, two years earlier. As time went by, the settled DC doctrine became that the basic, damaging effects of Kryptonite on Kryptonians was caused by the nuclear explosion making the stuff radioactive. As time went on, and other varieties of Kryptonite were introduced, the idea was promulgated that the difference in colors and effects were caused by different colored space clouds, which changed an already dangerously radioactive element into various forms with different effects on their hapless Kryptonian victims.
Now -- down to specifics, where we may find as many exceptions as there are rules!

Green Kryptonite. The grandpappy of 'em all. This is the variety first encountered by Superman when he was eight or nine years old, "in the very first year of my career," as told in a tale reprinted in Superboy #165. Found by Pa Kent near where Kal-El's rocket had crashed, it was put in Clark's room with his mineral collection. Soon the Kents were watching in horror as their supposedly invulnerable son weakened and sank into the delirium now known as Kryptonite Fever. Only the accidental interposition of Clark's first Superboy robot, whose inner workings contained lead, saved the Boy of Steel.
From time to time, criminals have used Green K's lack of harmful effects on humans to cruel advantage. (Yes, before the reboot in 1986 of Superman, Kryponite's radiation had no effect at all on anybody except Kryptonians! -- except Blue and White K, as listed below.) In Action #249, Lex Luthor swallows a serum derived from a dissolved Green K meteor to become "The Kryptonite Man." In Action #349, a Dr. Kane takes a Green K transfusion, enabling him to also exude deadly Kryptonite rays.
Many "older" fans may fondly recall the Kryptonite Kid, who with his pet dog passed through a Green K cloud in space that gave them Midas-like transmutation powers. In his first encounter with Superboy in Superboy #83, he first turns Smallville High into Green K, then Clark's entire block! Only the intervention of young Master Mxyptlk saves Superboy and Krypton. The Kid and his green mutt return in Superboy #99, but Superboy tricks them into flying through a Red K cloud that turns them temporarily good (!). Next, the Kid appears in an extended dream sequence in Superboy #128 and is not seen again until, as a grown-up Kryptonite Man, he expires in a mutual death struggle with Krypto in Action #583's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?"
In 1971, Superman #244-242 told a long tale that was intended by editor Julie Schwartz to strip away some of Superman's more godlike powers. One of the plot factors involves an experiment gone awry that somehow turns all Green K on Earth into harmless iron. However -- as later tales illustrated -- there was still plenty of Green K in outer space. For instance, World's Finest #196 tells how "a gigantic meteor shower covers the entire country" with enough Green K to fill a boxcar.
More Green K factoids: Many texts have established that Kryptonians cannot build up an immunity to Green K (Action #262), but on occasion Superman has hypnotized himself to feel and show no pain during brief exposures (Action #278 and 377).
The boy Lex Luthor created a successful Green K antidote that now is lost (Superman #173 and 292); and by 1959, Superman calculated that he had tried 855,019 different formulae for a Kryptonite antidote -- without success.
A 1961 H-bomb test sent Kryptonite into many time eras in the past (Action # 274).
"Just as there is 18-karat gold and 14-karat gold, Kryptonite comes in various 'proofs,' ranging from 100 percent to 30 percent" (Action #310 lettercol). Jimmy Olsen #81 tells how aliens imprison Superman in a force field, demanding Green K as ransom. But Jimmy outsmarts them by collecting "at least 50 tons of the deadly stuff! … I figured that just as a small amount of electricity can kill someone, but a colossal charge can't … a super-abundant amount of Kryptonite might not kill Superman!" And, jeepers, he's right!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Buddy's All Better Now

We had a bad scare the first of the week with Buddy, the dog Julie bought for Jazra. He was born on April 3rd, which makes him 4 ½ months old, and he had had no shots.
He was fine Friday & Saturday…but on Sunday night he looked like a scarecrow of himself. So I took the poor guy to Awesome Pet Care, about two stops east of Americrest/Coppermark bank. Come to find out he had Parvo, a virus which is often deadly. Out of the 3 alternatives the vet lady gave us, I chose the 2nd (not the $600 or the $150 choice, but the $400 choice). This means they kept him overnight and put him on IVs and meds.
When I left Buddy there, he was basically a ragdoll. He was weighed at 27.6 pounds. No tail wags, nothing. When I picked him up the next evening, he came walking, and wagging his tail. The doc gave us some meds (antibiotic pills and paregoric drops) and some “bland” dog food. When we got him home he was happy to be home but pretty rickety. He wasn’t interested in eating anything.
When Matthew & I pulled into the driveway in BlueBelle with Buddy, Jazra came flying out the front door. It did my old heart good to see how happy she was, and how Buddy perked up a bit when he saw/sniffed her.
We put him in the bathroom upstairs overnight. We covered the vinyl floor with newspapers and left a blanket and toys in there with him.
In the morning we found that Buddy had had "problems." Poor pup! So we put him outside for a little bit as I, even I, old Mark, cleaned it all up.
By later on that day, Buddy was so much his old self that we decided to let him sleep outside from now on! By the next day Buddy had got his appetite back some, and Thursday he was eating some of the dry dog food, along with his “gourmet” canned stuff.
Now, a week later, the ol' Bud is back to roly-poly rambunctiousness! And definitely grown since the picture above was taken a couple of months ago!

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Little Filk Music

I confess, I'm guilty too!

“Cave at Wayne Manor”
(by Mark Alfred)
(to the tune of “House at Pooh Corner”)

Commissioner Gordon and I walked alone,
While the Bat-Signal shone like the moon.
He came to me asking how we could chase
All those wackos from town very soon.
But the traffic was backed up in Gotham Town Square,
’Cause the Penguin was fighting the Catwoman there --

So help me if you can, I’ve got to get
Back to the Cave at Wayne Manor by dark,
So I can chase costumed goons from the park:
Sheathe all the Catwoman’s claws,
Put Riddler’s riddles on pause,
Back to the Cave with Alfred and Robin, that’s who.

Alfred is ill, needs a Mr. Freeze pill;
Poison Ivy’s got Bane on a leash.
Robin’s been conned by a Batsuited blonde --
She can fight, though she looks quite the dish.
And while diamonds are Freeze’s best friends, Ivy’s cute --
Though I can’t stand her friend in the pro-wrestler’s suit!

So help me if you can, I’ve got to get
Up to the telescope ’fore the flick’s done;
Meanwhile, keep dodging that icicle gun.
Bring down some sunshine from space --
Next comes a Bathound named Ace?
Oh for the days of just Batman and Robin,
Fighting mere crimelords of Gotham with Robin,
Cut down the cast list to “Batman and Robin,” that’s who!

Copyright © 1997 by Mark Alfred

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A song called "Without" from earlier this year

I really don't know how to justify the serious tone of the words with the rolling, almost Jamaican sound of the music I wrote to go with the words. But that won't bother you, since you can't hear the music! La la, good night.

April 30, 2005
music 7:30 AM
words 8:30-8:45 AM

I lay in prison but you sought for me
You burst my manacles with your life's breath
And sent me sunward into liberty
Although what I deserved was worse than death

Just like a plowhorse with his blinders on
I plodded deeper in a barren row
You raised my eyes past my poor horizon
Led me to freedom I would never know

without you

Without your touch to give me form
I am a vapor dissipating in the storm
Without your sacrifice to give me worth
I'm left a lonely shade to roam the earth

My heart was failing in intensive care
My hollow breaths were fading, one by one
Until you stripped the tubes that held me there
And brought me blinking to the healing Son

I am lost without you

Without your word to life my heart
My burdens would pull my mind apart
Without the free touch of your love's breeze
My burning trouble would drive me to my knees

Without your firm hand to guide my feet
I'd stumble and perish in sin's heat
Without you to answer my heart's cries
My worries would ring in empty skies

Without you
I'd be without me
All original content
© by Mark Alfred