Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Age of Sex Crime

In this 1987 book, author Jane Caputi blames men for everything bad.

Not only is this her philosophy in a nutshell, it is a summation with which she would probably agree.

The book caught my eye in a used bookstore because of my “whodunit” interest in Jack the Ripper’s crimes, and indeed Caputi takes Saucy Jack as a template for “the Patriarchy” – i.e. the world today, “The Age of Sex Crime,” which self-evidently victimizes all women and intentionally denigrates, murders, rapes, and objectifies women, who are thereby exonerated from any and all sin or guilt for any evil, ever.

That’s Caputi’s viewpoint.
When talking about black people, the author always (except in a quotation) capitalizes the “B.” She does NOT capitalize the word “white” when it is used as a race-descriptive word. I assume this is done to somehow retroactively bestow power or honor to the millions of black people who, in the past, have been put-upon and victimized partly or totally because of their race. In my opinion, this selective “naming” doesn’t honor – it simply trivializes the troubles of black people by implying that merely the capitalization of the letter “B” makes up for everything black people have suffered.

Caputi makes a capital error (pun INTENDED) by stating several times that “There are no known serial killers that are female” (p 203). Not only is this a specious argument (arguing a positive point from a lack of evidence), it is downright wrong. Simply Google “female serial killer” and you will find articles, and books, on the subject. Serial murder as a classification of human beings, knows no gender on either end of the killing.

However, her INCORRECT identification (serial sex murderer = MALE) is important to Caputi’s central thesis (that men are by definition evil). For that matter, it is implied throughout the book that sex = crime. In other words, there can be no heterosexual intercourse devoid of intended violence.

While this book is a valuable catalog of the popularity of male violence towards women and its lamentable place as a centerpiece of popular culture and media marketability, it fails because of its basic worldview: that ALL women are voiceless victims, and that ALL men are, because of their maleness, oppressors and would-be violators.

If all women are victims, who did the Patriarchy happen to give this book the chance to be published? If men are by definition potential serial murderers and racists and rapists, how does Caputi justify using the words and research of such MEN in her book alongside the it-goes-without-saying righteousness of female researchers and writers?

My response to such a characterization is similar to my reaction to being accused of being a racist, simply because I am white (note the lack of a capital “W”): If this is true – if all men are part of an oppressive Patriarchy which intentionally oppresses women – then why do most men (me included) fail to show the benefits of such a supposed oppressive regime? I mean, if “white men” are running everything to their benefit, where’s my harem? Why am I still looking for a job?

It is a sad truth that judging people by their skin color or sex or what-have-you IS NOT a terrible attribute of ONLY white males. Now, my observation of this sad truth (which should be common sense!) NEVER excuses such behavior. MOST of the myriads of examples of male oppression and violence against women are, as Caputi says, a sad reflection on a society which spends money on them and makes these products popular enough to be emulated by valueless people eager to make a buck.

BUT, every man who has sex with his wife IS NOT harboring a secret desire to gut her like Jack the Ripper did to “Long Liz” Stride in 1888. Every teenage boy who feels frustration after a petting session with his date IS NOT in imminent danger of becoming a sexual murderer.

Similarly, capitalizing the letter “B” when talking about a black person is no more helpful to actual victims of racial prejudice than buying a pink jacket for your daughter is a meaningful statement of your support for women’s rights.

Please understand that I am not in any way trivializing actual injustices. I don’t sympathize with the creeps who enjoy “snuff films” or other nasty things. But I believe that labeling anybody as “bad” or as a victim (either way) by something as simple and basic – and potentially divisive – as gender or race or ANYTHING BUT BEHAVIOR – is really not helpful.

I accept it as a truism when the Bible states that every individual is a sinner who needs an individual encounter with the person God provided to pay for that sin – Jesus Christ.

The problem of human sin is not something that can be believably blamed on gender, or race, or society, or any of the other convenient whipping-boys of the world. This book makes a basic error in its denigrating of all women as victims. It justifies this error by its balancing-act of “naming” all men as would-be rapists and sex-murderers.

Such finger-pointing, especially about such a serious issue as showing the depressing salability of violence against women in modern society, only lessens the validity of this main point. The problem isn’t MEN, it’s MAN.

And I mean that in an entirely gender-neutral way. Evil and wrongdoing and sin know no gender boundaries. Or any other boundaries.

This is an interesting book, containing an extensive listing of many ways that “sex sells” and “violent sex sells more.” But the problem isn’t in the crotch. The problem is in the heart – male and female.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas to One and All

In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Dr McCoy says that, by scuttling the Enterprise, Kirk has turned death into a fighting chance for life.

In the case of man's confrontation with the spectre of nuclear annihilation, many songwriters and performers turned possible death into a fighting chance for art -- or, or least, record sales.

My Christmas gift to you, my friends, is an anthology I've put together called The A-Bomb B-List.  None of these songs is on the soundtrack to The Atomic Cafe film, or in the wonderful 4-disc-and-book set Atomic Platters.

Most of these songs, in fact, are from the 1970s and later.  Here is a track list:

1 - Atomic Bomb Blues - Homer Harris 1946

2 - Atomic Baby - Amos Wilburn 1950
3 - Fujiyama Mama - Wanda Jackson 1957
4 - God's Gonna Turn Us To Dust - Johnny Tyler 1960
5 - A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall - Bob Dylan 1962
6 - Eve of Destruction - BarryMcGuire 1965
7 - So Long, Mom (A Song for World War III) - Tom Lehrer 1965
8 - Electric Funeral - Black Sabbath 1970
9 - Damnation Alley - Hawkwind 1977
10 - Your Love Is Like Nuclear Waste - Tuff Darts 1978
11 - Nuclear Attack - Gary Moore 1980
12 - Fylingdale Flyer - Jethro Tull 1980
13 - Einstein A Go-Go - Landscape 1981
14 - Manhattan Project - Rush 1985
15 - If the Bombs Fall - Larry Norman 1986
16 - Christmas at Ground Zero - Weird Al Yankovic 1986
17 - Watchin' Joey Glow - Steve Goodman 1989
18 - Workin' at the Nuclear Power Plant - Penny File 2002
19 - Radiation Song - The Aquabats 2002
20 - Santa Came On A Nuclear Missile - Heather Noel 2003

In a line from Emerson, Lake & Palmer's live 3-LP set, Greg Lake quotes an earlier King Crimson song "Epitaph":  "If we make it, we can all sit back and laugh."

My hopes for you and me is that, despite the last bit of nuclear sabre-rattlings by North Korea and Iran, eventually we too can look back and laugh.  Not at the worries of folks who really thought a nuclear winter was on the way, but in relief that it didn't happen!

Included are disc art and front & back CD liners.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Hunter and The Hunted, Part II !

So here we are with the conclusion to "The Hunter and the Hunted!" by Cary Bates and Andru/Esposito, from World's Finest 181.

In this post, I will prevent ample evidence that young Mister Bates (he was 20 when this story saw print) was a keen student of pop culture when he crafted his tale.

Having escaped from their captor Kralc, who has kidnaped them and brought them to this egg-shapped world called "Orr," Batman and a powerless Superman are trying to find a place to hide.  Even though the citizens are merely standing around and watching them run past, they figure that Kralc, having caught them, probably wants to keep them.

So they duck into the house shown above, which seems like the most Earthlike place they've seen.  Umm, Mr World's Best Detective, why aren't you suspicious that this place is a trap BECAUSE it looks like home?

And, wouldn't you know it.  As soon as they get inside, all of a sudden a bunch of menaces pop in by the same transporter-type technology that brought them here as captives.  The first is the weird robot-guy seem at the bottom of the above page.  As soon as Batman dispatches it, then another threat appears, one only Superman can foil -- which he does, of course.

Then Kralc reappears, with a couple of new faces and a few cracks about how these menaces were "a little test" for our heroes.  The girl's name is Yllas, and she continues the walking tour of the city Azib that was begun by Kralc.

As they wander the streets, Yllas mentions that the heroes are legends to her people.  But why are they considered legendary beings, creatures of myth, when they are real and walking down the streets of Azib?

Well, here's the answer.  In a circus-arena-type setting, the world's finest heroes are introduced to the citizens of Azib (and, presumably the rest of the planet, by video maybe), as "the founders of our race."  Whose citizens promptly don;t believe their eyes, and Supes and Bats have to put up with more tests of their mettle, which they pass with their usual aplomb.

Then comes the award ceremony, where the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel are given awards as the Founders of the Orrian race.  Hmm, think the heroes.  They don't remember having done such a thing.  So, they do a little investigating into "the Sacred Excavation," where the Orrians have just "discovered their roots," and -- PUNCH LINE -- the oldest objects show clearly that they are remnants of the Bizarro World!

(For some reason, the planet's name, Htrae, is not mentioned.)

OK, now that they have at least some crazy idea of where they are -- some strangely mutated Htrae -- then WHEN are they?  Evidently these wild-n-wacky galaxy hoppers brought Orr to the present (1968) by swapping places with Htrae, which is evidently in the future, in Orr's Orr-bit (sorry, I couldn't resist the chance for the pun!).

So, as the proverbial WWII prison camp Allies would say, "Listen closely.  I HAVE A PLAN ..."

The plan makes perfect sense, in a refreshing way.  Both Superman and Batman woo Yllas, but in a bass-ackwards sort of way.  With a bouquet of weeds.  By starting a fight to the death over this girl they've only just met.

Whew!  Thank heaven that Kralc shows up to send these embarrassing Neanderthal-type creatures home!  And also, by the way, he takes Orr home, replacing it with the Htrae, whose inhabitants kindly tell Superman and Batman to vacate the galactic premises.

Now, as to the topic of author Cary Bates' close observation of the current entertainment scene.

Who could read the story's mention of "sacred excavations," and the twist-ending revelation of the artifacts, without thinking of the same kind of revelation in the movie Planet of the Apes, which was released in February, 1968.  Given the "lead time" of comics production, Bates might well have seen the movie a few weeks before weaving that plot point into this tale.

Likewise, in November 1967 Star Trek had aired the second-season episode "I, Mudd."  In it, the ever-resourceful members of the Enterprise crew escape their super-logical android captors by behaving anti-logically.  That's exactly the kind of behavior exhibited by Superman and Batman to get themselves thrown off the planet Orr.

And who could forget Spock's declamation that "Logic is a beautiful flower . . . that smells BAD."  Of course, the space-hopping Kralc's "space hops" are reminiscent of the Star Trek transporter.

See you at the end of the week with an atomic Christmas present.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Hunter and the Hunted!

According to the DC Wiki, the cover for World’s Finest 181, cover-dated December 1968, was by Irv Norvick. Cary Bates was the writer, and Adru-Esposito were the artists.

MAN – Superman looks downright haggard, doesn’t he? I mean, what in the world could make him look THAT scared? Maybe it’s all cover-art hype. Maybe not.

Our story begins as Clark Kent is being feted for a Reporter of the Year award. Isn’t it interesting that every award we ever encounter, seems to be won by one of our character cluster? I mean, nobody ever consoles Perry White for coming in SECOND in the North American Cigar-Chomping Competition.

Anyway, we learn that Clark (Superman) Kent has a strange device secretly built into his glasses. When his super-computer at the Fortress of Solitude detects an emergency situation, the glasses emit an ultra-sonic signal.

Another interesting thing about these glasses, if you’ll look at the art, is that while emitting this sub-audible signal, they also flash bright yellow! Right, -- WHAT?

At any rate, the big emergency detected by the Super-Computer can be avoided if Superman leaves Earth for 24 hours. Which he does, but not before leaving a warning note for Batman in the Bat-Cave – because the danger, whatever it is, is to BOTH of the World’s Finest Heroes.

And that note left by Superman (which is also drawn as emitting an eyeglass-like glow) is the reason why Robin, in the Batcopter, sees from the air a red-headed STRANGER driving the Batmobile. Yes, it’s Batman. He is on his way to the time-travel equipment of good ol’ Professor Nichols. Since he can’t fly away like Superman to avoid this threat – whatever it is – then he will escape into a randomly chosen time.

The Caped Crusader’s rationale for wearing a disguise is, according to Batman: “I can’t tell him who I am! If Robin has the slightest clue to my whereabouts, that mystery hunter Superman’s computer warned about might force him to talk.”

Umm, Batman, if you really wanted to sneak away – the disguise is just fine. But why not drive a 1965 Dodge if you want to be inconspicuous? If you’re driving the Batmobile, aren’t you kind of announcing to the world, “Hey! I’m Batman!”

And Batman’s escape is a good idea, for the next morning, a strange guy dressed like a Mod, but coiffed like Richard Harris in Camelot, shows up at both the Daily Planet and in the Bat-Cave, looking for them. He’s got a strange jackal-seeming dog in zebra pajamas, that he calls “Zyr-2.”

QUESTION: If this is “the next morning” after the evacuation of our two heroes – THEN 24 HOURS ARE OVER! Isn’t this oddball a little late? Why didn’t the Super-Computer tell Superman, “You don’t need to leave until tomorrow morning”?

And dig how the otherworldly search team simply “beams in” and out. Definitely sensing a bit of STAR TREK bleedover here.

Turns out that the otherworldly pup Zyr-2 is also a cosmic bloodhound. He makes short work of finding both Superman and Batman.

Somehow, he also exerts a kind of hypno-eyed compulsion.  When he says, "You are coming with me," people believe him!

Even if he's hidden out on the Planet Toron . . .

Or in Earth's own past, like Batman.

Now, is it just me, or does it look weird to anybody else how Batman is shown removing a full-head red-haired face mask . . . WITH THE BAT-MASK UNDERNEATH!?!?!   Sweaty much?

Meanwhile, take a look at those psychedelic backgrounds in the two panels depicting dimensional/time travel.  I just think they are pretty neat.  Well-drawn and way out.

So, here we are on what we now know to be the planet Orr.  The stranger's "mind-domination" has forced the World's Finest Team here, to the planet's capital names Azib, where they are sentenced to live . . . FOR THE REST OF THEIR NATURAL LIVES.

What will happen next in this weird tale?  Is their captor a stalker?  A hero worshipper, an enemy?

In the last page of Part I of this tale, Batman Kayoes their captor and Superman grabs him, to learn . . . his powers don't work on Orr!  So the heroes are forced to hoof it on shank's-mare, fleeing through an alien city for shelter.

See you next time for the conclusion! And just like those depctions of our hero's transworld travel, it will BLOW ... YOUR ... MIND.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Book Review: Vampires, Burial, and Death

The subtitle of this fine book by Paul Barber, "Folklore and Reality," explains the contrast which is the subject of his research.

With admirable storytelling skill and a dry sense of humor, Mr Barber sets out to look at the folkloric depictions of vampires and other returnees-from-the-dead, and then compare those images with the realities of what happens to a body after death.

It turns out that, many times, the attributes of a dug-up, suspected vampiric body are the kinds of things familiar to fans of CSI -- in other words, these things are usually what SHOULD be happening to a body that's been buried for a month, or whenever.

Usually, in the cases from 500 years ago, which undoubtably were influenced by folkloric expectations -- as well as to influence folklore in the future -- the descriptions of the body included things like this: 
--body swollen;
-- body flexible and not stiff;
--hair and teeth seen as having grown since death;
--old nails shed and "fresh new ones" seen;
--blood around the nose and mouth;
--a sigh or gasp of protestation if the body is staked or otherwise violated.

Well, nowadays we know that putrefaction causes bodies to swell; that rigor mortis is a temporary state; that the skin shrinks around the teeth and hair, causing them to look longer; that the nailbeds of finger- and toenails look like "fresh new" nails if left untouched; that the gases of decay force blood from orifices like the nose and mouth; that these same gases will escape audibly if a new path for their release is made; and so on!

As told in these historic accounts, often in a village one member will die unexpectedly.  Soon afterwards, several other citizens will also die.  Eventually the people will decide that something unnatural is causing this perceived "rash" of deaths.  so the first person in this "string" is exhumed, at which time, three months later, the body is found NOT rotted away, but in a condition summarized above.

So, obviously to the horrified town members, the body has prolonged an unnatural life by causing the deaths of the others!

In several of the cases, Barber quotes lists where several bodies are dug up at once.  It is heart-rending to read how many of these bodies were of young women and their babies only days old.  Nowadays, when "everybody" expects to live a long life, it's sobering and bathetic to be reminded of the low life expectancies and lack of basic medicine and hygiene that were so common only a century or so ago.

This book is fascinating, if you have ANY interest in the "real" topic of vampires -- as opposed to the tarted-up version inspired by Interview with the Vampire and carried on by Underworld, Twilight, and such tripe.

Call me a purist or a traditionalist, but this sort of book is a much more worthwhile investment of a thinking person's time than gobbling down a dozen of those --uggh -- "romance vampire" books.

Barber does a really fine job of lining up folkloric expectations of vampires, with the findings of the digger-uppers.  Finally he comes to the conclusion that the vampire tradition is a part of the living's fear of the dead.  The RECENTLY dead.  Until we see final proof that the body has decayed -- bones are all that's left -- then, it is possible that the body may be reanimated.  Reanimation shows that not only might a "demon" be walking around in Uncle Joe's body.  Even worse, it's possible that Uncle Joe himself might be ambulating.  Even more so than what "he" might do to us, that means that UNCLE JOE IS NOT AT REST.  We have not done our familial/societal duty by ensuring that, as part of the process of things, Uncle Joe's body decays.  Once his body has decayed to bones, then his spirit is at rest.

All kinds of post-death natural processes are covered here, and the influence of burial environments, time buried, and all these things are discussed.  There's a lot of stuff in here!

Two comments:  In his discussion of a murderer's attempts to discard a dead body (through burial, disposal in water, or what-have-you), Barber discusses the perceived heavy weight of a corpse.  I am amazed that he did not mention the common phrase "dead weight," since this situation is the origin of the phrase!

Secondly, on page 187 and later, Barber discusses the concept of a person's shadow as a representation of their soul.  If you catch their shadow, they might be forced to return as a ghost.  This time, I'm surprised it did not seem to appear to Barber to mention the common parlance of referring to a ghost as somebody's "shade"!

If you have an interest in "true" vampires and not pretty-boy angst-ridden eye-shadow types, then this book will raise your eyebrows, broaden your perspective, (maybe) touch your heart, and elevate your knowledge level.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Talking to the Author of Kennedy Must Be Killed

Well, I've chatted a bit online with Chuck Helppie, author of the book just reviewd in the previous post.  Here are my notes, then his, then mine, then his reply.  As you can tell, he seems like a fine, insightful guy.  You should read the book for yourselves!

I wrote,
On Wed, Dec 8, 2010 at 5:51 PM, Mark Alfred wrote:

Dear Mr Helppie,

I just finished your book, and enjoyed it. If you would like to see my review, please check out my blog entry that I just posted,

You did a good job of making the story believable as having happened in one guy’s life story. Darn it, in my review I forgot to mention that I liked the surprise revelation of who the Preacher was!

Anyway, I just wanted to share with you that I enjoyed the read. My copy came in the mail Monday afternoon, and I just wrapped up the last pages.

So, how many assassinations books do YOU have? Probably a lot more than my 81.

Thanks again for the thought-provoking read,

Mark Alfred

He replied,
Hi Mark,

I am more than a little embarrassed that you were able to read my entire book AND write a terrific review in forty-eight hours and yet it took me almost sixteen hours to respond to your very kind note! (I didn't get home until late last night.)

I'm glad you enjoyed my novel so much. Your review was outstanding in terms of delving into some of the themes I wanted readers to recognize and ponder. There was not only a power struggle between the Yankees and the Cowboys but also between the Kennedys and the Eastern 'Old Money' power establishment. (When you peruse the roster of the CFR over the decades you are struck by how few Kennedy insiders are represented.)

I'm also extremely pleased that nothing in the novel "rang false" for you. I tried to be painstaking in my approach for that very reason. I wanted my readers to finish my story and then decide (as you did) whether or not this explains many of the assassination's mysteries and contradictions.

I don't know if you've been to my website ( but my complete bibliography can be found there. I haven't counted my assassination books recently but I would guess the number to be 250+. You can compare my list to yours and if I'm missing something you recommend, please let me know.

As far as your "pet peeve," I wanted to say that although I'm disappointed I didn't get a perfect 100, I'll happily take a 98. (That's still an 'A+' in my opinion.) That "pouring" mistake on page 421 vexes us as do a few others. My publisher told me no book is perfect, and as hard as we worked in proof-reading it prior to publication, we still found a few errors that slipped through. My wife is a retired AP English teacher and with the assistance of a former colleague, they "pored" over the novel in the editing and copyediting process. I gave them a manuscript with 326,000 words and they did a phenomenal job as they managed to whittle it down to only 258,000. (My wife said that if there is a Hell and she ends up there, the Devil will undoubtedly give her an un-ending pile of manuscripts to copyedit for eternity.)

I plan to spend time this evening going back over your previous blogs to see your other reviews. Once again, Mark, thank you very much for what you've done. My best hope for other readers to discover and enjoy my story is through readers like you.

Best wishes,


P.S. - Patrick's story spans the period from 1947 to 1978 (not 1976 to 1978). However, I'll still give you a 100 out of 100! CH

My reply,
Thank you for your friendly and fun reply. I graduated with an English Bachelor’s, spent two years as a proofreader/copy editor for an educational publisher, and DID proofread my review before hitting “publish post” -– and as you can see, was shown up by human frailty! (mine that is, on the dates covered in the book)

Yep, any kind of possible explanation for the murder has to cover the bases you did: organized crime; doubles of Oswald; military/CIA displeasure with a certain “reckless youth;” and, KEY in my opinion, the fact that insiders in several government agencies did so much, AFTER the crime, to push the covers over the heads of America (vide Horne’s books).

An example of that would be the (probable) disassembly of the “murder rifle” and taking part of the barrel assembly (I think it was) into the funeral home to place Oswald’s dead palm print on a part of the gun that is covered up when assembled.

Anyway, although there is no justification for the murder (or any flat-out murder), you did a bang-up job (pun intended—JFK “banging” lots of gals) of depicting a pretty creepy personal life for the guy in the limo, and his ilk.

And I seethe that smug, self-justifying folks (in any generation) think they have the right to decide facets of other folks’ lives because the Upper Crust Knows Best. Or the Dirty Neck, if you want to use the Cowboy-Yankee allegory.

Although (as you can tell from my blog) I am more of a DC Comics guy than a Marvel guy, Stan Lee summed it up well in an early issue of Spider-Man when he said the now-clich├ęd words, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The moral choices that for you or me might involve cutting somebody off in traffic versus letting them in front of you, to another might mean pulling a trigger or dropping a bomb. Or cheating on your wife, or giving up drinking (to characterize two recent presidents).

I could rant for hours, but let me just say that I liked your book and was disturbed by it too (some of the thoughts or ideas) –- as you intended! (smile) Thanks for the kind reply.

In the long run, we must have faith in God’s eternal justice, while we do our best to do what is right in our own lives.

Thanks again for your time,

Mark Alfred

And Mr Helppie's final note,
I LOVED this response from you! Your passion really comes through in a very engaging way and I can see why your blogs are so popular with your readers.

I grew up a DC Comics guy 100%. My favorites were Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and the Flash. (Though I also did enjoy Justice League of America.) Add in Mad Magazine and I was a pretty happy kid. That's undoubtedly where my strong sense of justice and fair play were formed. I always root for the good guys to win.

Patrick's story has a strong sense of justice and morality in it. I drew upon many elements of Shakespeare and Greek tragedy to craft the plot and the characters. Iago certainly can be seen in Grant.

I meant the story to be disturbing for the reader on many levels so the reader could question what they thought they knew versus what really happened. Lyndon Johnson's background was profoundly disturbing in many ways, but JFK's callous treatment of Jackie was almost too much to deal with. That's why I wanted to juxtapose Pam and Patrick's loving marriage with the contrast of JFK and Jackie.

Stay in touch - I enjoy your insights.


So, whatdo you think about the JFK murder, friends?  It still DOES make a difference.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Book Review: Kennedy Must Be Killed

Boy howdy, this is an interesting book.

In 1976, a book by Carl Oglesby, The Yankee and Cowboy War, posited that the "old money" fellows of the snooty Eastern Seaboard were, and had been, engaged in a power struggle with the rough-and-tumble "new money" exemplified by the Texas Oil barons and their ilk.  Cowboys and Yankees.

A view of the Kennedy assassination similar to Oglesby's viewpoint is expressed in this novel by Chuck Helppie.

It varies between a third-person "framing" narrative set in the 1978 world of the HSCA -- The House Select Committee on Assassinations -- and the first-person narrative of Patrick McCarthy, a man who dedicates his life to serving his country.

It's up to the reader to decide if McCarthy succeeds.

First off, let's get my pet peeve out of the way, proofreading.  I would give this book a 98 out of 100.  There are only a couple of typoes, along with the sadly typical use of "pouring" (which you do with a pitcher of water) when the author meant to say "poring" (which is examining or studying something).

This is a novel that uses the character of Patrick McCarthy to cover a period from 1976 to 1978 and the American scene.  Without spoiling the particulars of the book, let's just say that McCarthy meets most of the people involved, or suspected of being involved, when the JFK assassination is discussed.

I must say that the story is told in such a way that yep, it makes sense for this person to have been here at this time.  It makes sense at this time for McCarthy to have been at so-and-so location, and to have met a certain person.  To me, at least, the person of McCarthy as a guy trying to do what's asked of him, for his country's sake, makes sense.

I too have had some self-examining moments when I realize how much the things I have intended, have gone wrong.  Not to this extent, of course.

As to historicity:
In my database of 1900+ books I have in my "Fortress of Markitude" here, this Kennedy Must Be Killed makes 81 that I have categorized under "assassinations."  And, yes, I have read them. 

I actually can't come up with anything in my little ol' memory that conflicts with something presented historically in Kennedy Must Be Killed.  Now, I didn't sit down and check anything off a checklist, but nothing "rang false" to me as I read the book.  A heck of a lot of exposition is handled pretty well as discussions between McCarthy and his two college buddies, who take on other rolse in life as time passes.

Now, even this book at 600 pages must necessarily pass over a LOT of the things entailed in the JFK murder.  For some in-depth creepiness, read the five volumes of  Inside the Assassinations Records Review Board, by Douglas P Horne.  Horne was the Chief Analyst for Military Records for the Assassinations Records Review Board.  He has read the records that prove such things as the Zapruder film alterations and the falsified autopsy results, and such -- all things that could be accomplished by the folks described in Kennedy Must Be Killed

So, it's a pretty interesting book, and covers a lot of possible rationales behind the folks who, beyond reasonable doubts, were involved in the murder of a duly elected President.  Mr Helppie does a really good job of presenting WHY these people were able to rationalize such a coup d'etat as service to their country.

One depressing observation I'd like to make is that both the cowboys and the yankees are elitists and fascists.  They feel that we poor plebians exist only to serve the "greater good" of whatever our country requires of us. 

Saddest of all, they think that they have the right to decide what that greater good is.

So, if I've piqued your interest, check out the book!

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Demon Under the Red Sun! (Part Two)

When last we left our hero, he was having trouble lifting a fellow who weighed "only" 500 pounds.

On this world zig-zagging through space populated by troglodytic descendants of its creators, the local sun is red and therefore Supes is S.O.L.  He has been declared an evil magic demon by the leader of the tribe whose runaway teenage lovers were returned to the fold by the Man of Steel.

As we begin Part Two, "The Test of the Talisman," we see a refreshing bounce-back by Superman.  True, he has no super-powers as he faces this mob of cave-man types.  But on the bright side, he doesn't have to pull his punches.  To praphrase Larry Niven, this Man of Steel is longer surrounded by Enemies of Kleenex!  And, indeed, he cuts loose with some of the voodoo-kung-fu moves he learned from his pal Batman.
And when he winds up for a pitch that will clock one of the guys chasing him, suddenly his hand is stuck to a pile of rocks.  The hand wearing Jimmy's signal watch.  This is where we learn that the famous Jimmy Olsen Signal Watch has a stainless-steel casing, for it has zoom-bang stuck to these rocks, which logically means that they are natural lodestones, magnetically attractive minerals.

I do wonder at the science expressed in the idea that supersonic vibrations can overcome magnetic attraction.  But again, this Kal-El is a scientist and the son of a scientist.  Anyway, it makes for a good introduction of magnetic rocks into the storyline, which is what is necessary here.

Overpowered, Superman is locked up in a pen once used to keep large beasts and now filled with their bones.  The two teens he befriended and saved wish they could help, but they dare not violate the tribal taboos.

Here we have the perfect exemplary of a group's reactionary identification and expulsion of "The Other."

Told he must pass three challenges to prove his virtue, the Man of Tomorrow surveys his enclosure.  It's filled with nothing but dirt, and the huge bones of these long-dead animals.  From this, our ever-inventive hero HATCHES A PLAN.

As you can see from this page, the plan to handle the first trial  involves a marksman who could put William Tell to shame.  However, Superman has learned a thing or three from his pal Batman, besides kung-fu-fighting.  What do you think of this shoulder-blade Batarang!

Next up -- the crawling spaghetti monster!  Well, Superman has got it covered.  Notice the horn Supes is evaluating in the last panel of the above page.  An empty horn.  Its hollow properties are like a megaphone.  Hmm.
 Sure enough, the savoir faire of the Man from Krypton is up to the job.  After calling this monstrosity a plate of spaghetti, he was going to shout "Yer mommy wears Army boots!" but that would have required a lot of army boots.  What drove off the beast was the hollow horn held under his arm, which amplified the "zee-zee-zee" emitted by the Signal Watch, which was on the so-casually crossed arm holding the horn.

But now comes the worst trial of all, the Dorito Challenge.

Actually, although the gleaming yellow triangles LOOK like Frito-Lay snacks, in fact they are radium or some other radioactive substance.  Evidently they are ineffective on the natives, but to Superman they are MURDER.

Note that, as with "The Two Ghosts of Superman," the Curt Swan cover art has been appropriated right into the comic story illustrated elsewhere by Al Plastino.

However, Superman has put together another Rube-Goldberg-type of plan.  First off, he remembers that he has well-wishers outside the stockade, the teenagers he saved.  He has them use the round slices taken from trees by the Purple Spaghetti Monster, and mount them as wheels underneath the platform on which he is to be tortured.  Then Jimmy's MAGNETIC watch is fastened underneath.  At a signal, friend Jaymarr holds up a lodestone, whoseattractive force rolls Superman right away from the clearing thus enabling him to "magically" escape.

(Unshown by the art is the seatbelt that tied Jaymarr to a ten-ton log, and which kept Jaymarr from being dragged toward the platform.)

Well, with that, Superman is released, and just-in-time,the zig-zagging planetoid curves back toward a yellow sun.  With his powers restored, our hero shakes the dust of this wacky place from his feet, confident that his demonstration of the principle of the wheel will guide these people back towards science.

One last thing remains for Superman, and that is vindicating the astronaut whose tale of a careening planet started this adventure.  And giving Jimmy back his watch, of course.

Come to think of it ... Recall that Part Two of this tale is, "The Test of the Talisman."  Now that you think about it, that phrase, though intended to refer to the yellow radium triangles, also is applicable to Jimmy's good ol' Signal Watch.  It played a big part in this adventure, and in every trial, its properties proved it a big help to Superman.  I'd say that this talisman (the watch) passed the test!

Well, do you agree with me that this story had its silly moments?  See you sometime next week!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Demon Under the Red Sun! (Part One)

Wow!  Check out the cool cover of Superman 184.  Not only are these people downright murderous, they have bad dental hygiene!  At least, the guy talking on the left side forgot to put in his uppers this morning.

Cover-dated February 1966, the tale inside is "a complete, full-length novel!"  It's written by Otto Binder -- probably after the cover was conceived.  At least, such was a common occurrence in the Silver Age.

I think it fair to say that hardly ANY story could live up to the awesomeness of this cover, by Super-Great Curt Swan.  But, in my opinion, the story is almost the goofiest-ever version of the possibilities hinted here.  And the interior art by Al Plastino is by turn pretty good, and downright silly.

To begin with, an astronaut coming back from space tells NASA of the oddest thing ever:  a planet is zig-zagging through space!  Even the spaceman knows how wacky this sounds.

(By the way, the reason Superman is wearing a watch is because it's Jimmy Olsen's signal-watch which has been given back to Superman for repair.)

Still, Superman has no doubts that our serviceman saw SOMETHING.  And, sure enough, after a game of cosmic tag, the Man of Steel touches down on this odd celestial body.  Given the splash page we saw just inside the cover, we just KNOW that nothing good can come of this.  "Look out, Superman!" we want to yell.

But does he listen to the whispers of caution?  Of course not.  Not only would this be a very short story, but what kind of hero would turn down the chance to explore a new world?

Once he carries out a super-vision survey, Superman discovers that the orb is hollow.  It is in fact a construct, created by an alien humanoid race to rescue their people from the vagaries of a sun grown toxic.  This space wanderer is like one of Heinlein's "Generation Ships."

Only problem is, the people dwelling on the surface have descended into barbarism.  The scientist-caretakers of this great space ark have all died out.  However, by means of a "last will and exposition" left behind by the last scientist standing, our hero learns all of this, just before he stucks a paperclip into an electrical socket to see what will happen.  I mean that almost literally, as you can see from the art.

Wow!  Isn't that an almost psychedelic depiction of Superman's super-shock?!?  I think it looks pretty neat.  And note that captioned arrow in the last panel of the page above.  Accidentally flipping that switch CANNOT be good news.  (Boy, if only we had an Infantino arrow-hand, that panel would be PERFECT!)

Now that he has learned the secret of the wandering world, our hero decides to survey it.  He conveniently swoops along over a teenage couple that is not only marooned at sea, but threatened by a couple of marine rejects from Pepperland.  He rescues the young people and returns them to their tribe.

That's when he is immediately challenged by the tribe's head mugwump as a an evil demon.

And that's where Part One of this novel ends, with Superman no longer feeling super.  Not only can he not lift this "only" 500-pound guy, but his hands don't even sink into the guy's gut!

I hope to continue sharing this tale with you on Friday.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Persistence of a Folk Song

There's a folk song from the British Isles, called "Lord Randall."  Here are the words of one version:

Lord Randall

"O where ha you been, Lord Randal, my son?
And where ha you been, my handsome young man?"
"I ha been at the greenwood; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I'm wearied wi hunting, and fain wad lie down."

"An wha met ye there, Lord Randal, my son?
And wha met ye there, my handsome young man?"
"O I met wi my true-love; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I'm wearied wi huntin, and fain wad lie down."

"And what did she give you, Lord Randal, My son?
And wha did she give you, my handsome young man?"
"Eels fried in a pan; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I'm wearied wi huntin, and fein wad lie down."

"And what gat your leavins, Lord Randal my son?
And wha gat your leavins, my handsome young man?"
"My hawks and my hounds; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I'm wearied wi huntin, and fein wad lie down."

"And what becam of them, Lord Randal, my son?
And what becam of them, my handsome young man?
"They stretched their legs out and died; mother mak my bed soon,
For I'm wearied wi huntin, and fain wad lie down."

"O I fear you are poisoned, Lord Randal, my son!
I fear you are poisoned, my handsome young man!"
"O yes, I am poisoned; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I'm sick at the heart, and fain wad lie down."

"What d'ye leave to your mother, Lord Randal, my son?
What d'ye leave to your mother, my handsome young man?"
"Four and twenty milk kye; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I'm sick at the heart, and I fain wad lie down."

"What d'ye leave to your sister, Lord Randal, my son?
What d'ye leave to your sister, my handsome young man?"
"My gold and my silver; mother mak my bed soon,
For I'm sick at the heart, an I fain wad lie down."

"What d'ye leave to your brother, Lord Randal, my son?
What d'ye leave to your brother, my handsome young man?"
"My houses and my lands; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I'm sick at the heart, and I fain wad lie down."

"What d'ye leave to your true-love, Lord Randal, my son?
What d'ye leave to your true-love, my handsome young man?"
"I leave her hell and fire; mother mak my bed soon,
For I'm sick at the heart, and I fain wad lie down."

Basically, it's a dialogue between Lord Randall and his mama.  He went out and met a wonderful gal (he thought), but she was an evil gal who poisoned him with "eels boiled in brew" and he has come home to die.
In college, in Speech class, I wrote music to one version of the words and performed it.
Well, this morning I was listening to some music by The Buchanan Brothers -- you should be familiar with them through the Atomic Cafe soundtrack -- and one of their songs is called "Mama I'm Sick."
Mama I'm  sick, I went away...
Mama, I nearly die when I think of that pie,
Oh mama I'm sick ...
Oh why did I roam?
Oh mama I'm sick ...
Mama I'm sick from my head to my feet ...
I went away, like a fool went astray,
I've rued that day --
Oh Mama, I'm sick.
Now, do you think that the Buchanan Brothers knew anything about the old English ballad?
See you in a few days with "The Demon Under the Red Sun!"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Who Can Save Us Now?

This is an anthology of stories about varying aspects of the superhero life.  Some stories are silly, some are serious, some are more "realistic" than others.  Here are a few of the ones I liked the best:

"The Quick Stop 5" by Sam Weller -- can you say "industrial accident"?
"Remains of the Night" by John McNally -- mash "creepy" and "depressing" and you get the idea
"The Meerkat" by Owen King -- I love the origin of the giant Russian Robot
"Man Oh Man -- It's Manna Man" by George Singleton -- what a great superpower!
"My Interview with the Avenger" by Tom Bissell -- if they had interviewed Big Daddy from Kick-Ass (the movie I mean), it might go like this
"Mr Big Deal" by Sean Doolittle -- to catch one, send one
"The Somewhat Super" by David Yoo -- check your local VFW chapter
"Bad Karma Girl Wins at Bingo" by Kelly Braffet -- and also meets her Dad

Some of the tales are OK, some are more "literary" or "serious" -- I confess that they weren't as rewarding to me, though.

All in all, this was a fun read.  With twenty-some stories, this book can probably entertain you.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Review: The Supergirls

The complete title of this fun book is The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines.
With chapter titles like "The Queen & the Princess" (Sheena & Wonder Woman that is), "Girls Together (Outrageously)," and "SUPERGIRL & The Ballad of American Youth," you can tell that the author has considered things, and gone farther than an organized list.

One of author Mike Madrid's many interesting observations seems obvious, but it is insightful.  It's simply the observation that male heroes are often *something*MAN, while most adult heroines are still GIRLS, like The Invisible Girl, or Power Girl.

While some might interpret such things as intentional oppression by a demonic patriarchy, Madrid makes the more commonsense observation that, considering who ran the industry -- mostly guys who were in their 40s or 50s -- and their target audience -- boys six to fourteen years old -- then, it's not surprising that this naming "phenomenon" worked out that way.

Personally, having bought and read both of the recent Fletcher Hanks anthologies, I was hoping for more than a mere mention of Fantomah, the autocratic avenger of the Jungle-Born.  But that's just me.

There are fine chapter-head illos by Madrid, who is also an accomplished illustrator and modelmaker.  But you'll want to SEE some of the comics scenes described in the book, so for that, go to the Supergirls Visual Guide, online at .

This is an interesting read, and part of the reason I liked it is that although Madrid makes many points both positive and negative, he isn't snarky about it.  I learned a lot about comic-book gals from the 1930s and 1940s that I didn't know before, and enjoyed myself.

You should buy it, you'll like it!

PS If, on the Supergirls Visual Guide page, you click on the HOME tab at the top, you can see a lot more of Mr Madrid's artwork!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Two Ghosts of Superman!

This was the cover story of Superman 186, cover-dated May, 1966.  The art was by Al Plastino (with touches by others), and the story was penned by Otto Binder. 

Interestingly enough, both the cover art and the splash-page art represent actual scenes in the story, unlike lots of stories from this era.

As you can guess from this brief glimpse of subject matter, the readers were expected to be familiar with the trappings of seances and crystal balls.

Indeed, the mid60s was a hotbed ofwonder when it came to consideration of the supernatural.  Psychic Jeanne Dixon was in her heyday, having made much "hey" (pardon the pun) over the coming-true of her very hazy "prediction" of JFK's 1963 death in a reading given before the 1960 election.

Space brothers, recently come down from on high to set our atomic policies aright, were all the rage, too, with George King founding the Aetherius society, the Unarians in California, and lots more wackiness.

So eight-to-ten-year-olds were familiar with the whole table-tipping concept when this story opened up with mug Flashy Fisher telling the Daily Planet staff the location of Cap'n Kidd's treasure, just waiting for Superman to dredge it up, "straight from the spirit's mouth, you might say!"

Sure enough, when a skeptical Superman "gets the message" from Clark Kent, he investigates and -- sure enough -- there the loot is!  Supes does the right thing and turns the treasure trove in, to the US Mint, which gives him a share as a finder's fee.  In turn, Supes give most of that dough to charity, with a small percentage going to Flashy for the original tip.

Clark's interest is piqued when  the hood "drops" a business card when leaving with his cut of the dough.  "Sir Seer," eh?  Maybe Superman should pay this guy a little visit.

Actually, it's a subterranean visit!  Aftger digging underground to the psychic's digs (get it?), the Man of Tomorrow super-spies on a seance, whose target spirit this time is Jesse James.

Boy, is Superman puzzled when he can't find a trace of trickery!  That's right -- no confederate dressed up in luminous paint -- no dummy on a wire.  As Cecil the Seasick Sea-Serpent would say, "What the HECK!?!?!"

Next, the nonplussed Man of Steel goes to the location indicated by the ghost, and finds gold!  He quickly melts the gold dust into bars and ferries it to a government vault, again cutting in the shady character from the seance with a share.

Well sir, Superman doesn't know up from down after that.  He calls a news conference and endorses Sir Seer's 100-per-cent track record.

Soon after, Sir Seer holds a seance for the press, attended by Lois, Clark, and Lana Lang for her job at WGBS-TV.  The guy takes requests!  So, in a trice, Queen Isabella of Spain appears, to tell the gathered folks that some of Columbus's treasure is hidden -- gusss where?

By now, we're thinking, "Give me a break!  How could there be loot in the Batcave?"

Read it and weep!

Ths bottom panels of this page let us in on what we susupected -- that somehow this whole psychic gig was a fraud.  But why?  What kind of crooks would give away most of a treasure to the government?  And don't forget that Superman himself was stumped.

But keep reading.  These guys are saying that SOME of the phenomena were faked, but NOT Queen Isabella!  Ol' Sir Seer must REALLY have some pull with the ghostly crowd, after all!  "I had genuine pychic powers all along, and didn;t know it!" -- Sheesh, bragging much?

So, it's back to the psychic we go with Lana and Lois, but his time with Superman, not Clark, playing the quizzical role.

And that's when the scene depicted in the tale's splash page comes true.  The spirit of Superman's father Jor-El appears, and warns Superman that he is doomed, doomed, DOOMED!  It turns out that Supes and Supergirl are scheduled to scheduled to test some nuclear weapons at his Fortress of Solitude.  Jor-El says nix on that, or else there will be a couple of more Kryptonians in The Great Beyond!

Nevertheless, our hero resolves to go on with the task, and -- as you can see above -- at the appointed time, either a huge explosion rocks the Earth, -- or -- Lois and Lana are rehearsing a new version of the Frug.

To make sure, the gals visit Sir Seer, who reaches into the etheric hat and pulls out TWO ghosts, not one!

Now, let's refer back to the beginning of this review, when I mentioned that the art was by Al Plastino, "with touches."  Look at the first panel on this page for an example of what I mean.  Do Lois and Lana's faces look like Plastino girls?  NO!  Do they look like Kurt Schaffenberger girls?  YES!

I have no proof of this speculation, but if DC would require Schaffenberger to supply "pretty girl" heads in Curt Swan art (viz. "Superman Red & Blue"), which we know DID happen -- then isn't it possible that the same thing happened here?

One thing we DO know is that the LAST panel on this page isn't from our pal Al; it is the same Curt Swan art as the cover.  Yes, they shrank down the same drawing!  While this DID happen in some other Superman tales, it by no means was a common occurrence.

Not only do the ghosts appear, they both confess that Clark and Superman were the same, then merge together!  The cat of the secret identity is out of the bag now, ladies!

Well, with the Man of Steel gone, crooks whoop it up in Metropolis.  We read several panels of "Crooks Gone Wild," until -- finally, as we knew he would -- Superman reappears and starts snapping up crooks left and right.

In the denouement, we learn the rest of the story ...

While he was originally bumfuzzled by the whole spiritual thing, eventually Superman tumbled to the trick.  I can tell you, a plot involving 3D projections bounced off of space satellites and then appearing in a darkened room, without a receiver for the image, is a little beyond even the theoretical pale for me.

Neveertheless, when our hero got wise, he himself came up with ways to fake Queen Isabella and Jor-El's appearances.  Super-magnified thumbnail tattoo, anyone?  The  Kidd and James treasures had been planted by crooks to "salt the mine," so to speak -- a fancy way of money-laundering, by forging old treasure through melting down recently stolen valuables.

Jor-El's message of doom laid the groundwork for the "disappearance" of Superman and the free rein of crime in Metropolis.  Superman had hijacked the gold-laundering plot to bring tons of crooks out of hiding and freshly incriminate themselves with this crime spree.

And the ground-twitching? what was the coust of that?  The good ol' SUPER-HEAD-BONK!

What good is a Silver Age comics tale without a good ol' Super-Head-Bonk once in a while?

Now, all that's left is a final panel where Clark explains to Lois how he and Superman cooked up the "Clark's-Ghost-Is-Superman's-Ghost" scene just to tease her and Lana about their Secret Identity suspicions.

Read that last line from Clark.  That's not the Superman I know and love, kids!  That's a sociopath!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

CBS's "Psycho" Trend

Has anybody noticed CBS's penchant last week for referring to Alfred Hitchock's Psycho film?

On Wednesday night's Criminal Minds, that was the whole plot twist of the episode.  Robert Knepper is kidnaping, mutilating, and murdering girls to try and recaptured the beauty of his mother, faded film star May, played by Sally Kirkland.  There is a lot of give-and-take dialogue between Knepper's character, named "Rhett," and May.

When the police show up, Rhett and May surrender to the FBI and squad cars outside.  The sequence is shot from many alternating points-of-view.  One of these POVs is Rhett and May descending the front steps of their brownstone, like Gloria Swanson ready for her close-up.

It's only in one of these POVs that we get the clue that Mummy is -- er, a mummy.  Yep, May has been a silent partner all along while Rhett committed the murders.

Shrieking violins, anyone?

Now, on Friday, November 12, we saw a CSI:New York epsiode called "Scared Stiff."  A death in Central Park leads the investigators on a merrie chase which leads them to a closed-down funeral parlor.  As they wander through the basement where the processing rooms are, Detective Don Flack (Eddie Cahill) makes a comment like, "If we find a little-old-lady body in a black dress in a rocking chair, it's every man for himself."

Do you suppose this is a simple coincidence?   If, on  Sunday night's CSI:Miami, Horatio visits "Norman's Baits Shop," it's every man for himself!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Awkward Phrasing 101

Here we have a book by Michel Flynn, In the Country of the Blind, about conspiracy theories and secret societies and attempts to influence history by identifying key events and giving them a little nudge to provide the desired outcome.

Unfortunately, this interesting idea is handled competently, and no more.  At least in my opinion.

There are a few instances when the style of writing simply reaches out of the book and slaps you in the chops, really ruining the story experience.  A novel like this wants to involve you in its tale and characters.  It's a real detriment when something criminally clumsy reminds you that this is all a book that you can put down at any time.

Here is a very laughable, and truly pathetic example.  Here we have the situation of a creepy fellow who is being held at gunpoint by an equally creepy lady.  She is his superior in one of the several secret string-pulling conspiracies featured in this book.  She is also (like the guy) twisted in a sexual manner, too.  Having caught the guy betraying the company, she holds him at gunpoint and orders him to sexually service her.

Here is the deathless prose in its context on page 330:

Just when you figure out that Kennison has an erection, and that his female boss desires to avail herself of it, we find out that he "stiffened" when she points a gun at him.  I thought he was already stiff  ?!?

And the next sentence takes you from humor to sheer disgusted mourning for the sheer dopiness.  "She UNCOCKED the gun."

Well, now that I have given you a reason not to buy this book on Amazon for a penny, I'll leave you until Monday, when we will meet "The Two Ghosts of Superman!"
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© by Mark Alfred