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.

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© by Mark Alfred