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!

All original content
© by Mark Alfred