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!"
All original content
© by Mark Alfred