Friday, January 07, 2011

Let's Read Superman 180

Superman 180 is cover-dated October, 1965.  We're going to read through it together, but not at a page-a-day.  A little faster this time.

First off, feast your eyes on that gorgeous artwork by Mr Swanderful.  Just look at these (Caucasuian?!?!?) island beauties.

It simply astounds me that the women's faces drawn by Curt Swan were not considered beautiful enough, sometimes, by the DC powers-that-be.  For certain "presigious"-type tales, Lois Lane main artist Kurt Schaffenberger was drafted to provide faces for Swan-drawn figures of Lois and Lana.  For a prime example of this, scope out the classic tale of Superman Red/Superman Blue in Superman 162.

As you can see on this cover, Mr Swan was perfectly capable of drawing beautiful women "all the way up."  Va-va-VOOM! as they used to say.

Here we see our luscious unadorned (except by clothing, darn it! -- just kidding) island girls looking fresh from San Francisco, complete with flowers in their hair.

Let's read the cover text box.  It really seems to be a lot of words, huh?  But I think all that verbiage is consciously used for dramatic effect to lead up to the boffo title, "The Girl Who Was Mightier Than Superman!"

The dialogue tells us the name of this mere slip of a girl who has knocked Our Hero cattywampus, and that, due to this single judo throw, the Mighty Stranger is now obligated to marry Orella.

But read Superman's comment.  Is he concerned that he is now engaged?  Is he worried that Lois Lane's lock on his affections has been snipped with bolt-cutters?

No.  It's the SHAME of it all.  He's been beaten by a girl.  Man, don't you know -- that's when the FUN begins!

All seriousness aside, take a look at the staging of this dynamic cover.  Our cover girl Orella is swinging Superman around like a shot-put.  She's got an appropriate stance, with has feet planted, her hip turned one way and her shoulders slanted like a Louisville Slugger.

But look at Superman.  It's a dramatic pose, but in your mind's eye, try to "rewind" from his current supine position.Was Superman standing next to her when Orella grabbed his arm?  If so, then her grip would be reversed as she reached down to grab his wrist.  About the only way she could grab ahold of him with this grip is if she were standing on a ladder above him, or if  he were already flat-out on the ground, simililar to the sequence in the Superman II film when Crhsitopher Reeve spins Terence Stamp (Zod) into the Coke sign.

To quote Yul Brenner, "Tis a puzzlement."

Still, just from the cover alone, it's no wonder that this is an issue of the "World's Best-Selling Comics Magazine!"

On the inside front cover we have this great GI Joe ad.  Who among us remembers the GI Joe TV commercial jingle?  To the tune of "The Caissons Go Rolling Along," a mighty male chorus sang, "GI Joe, GI Joe, Fighting man from head to toe!" and I forgot the rest.

Yes, the original "Action Figure" was a big draw for boys who wanted to play army.  Also, he was way more rough-and-tumble than those girly Barbies.  I mean, GI Joe had ball-and-socket wrist-elbow-shoulder assemblies.  Not for him those wimpy, plastic-covered "Ken joints."

I never had a GI Joe myself, my army men were always the three-inch-high injection-mold plastic kind.

However, I DID somehow acquire a GI Joe footlocker.  I still have it.  I use it to keep my model-building stuff in:  my Testor's paint and brushes, model glue, and old Aurora instruction sheets.  Some of those little paint bottles are forty years old.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Dead Travel Fast

This book is something like a pop culture history of the vampire.

It’s light and breezy, readable and engaging, but definitely not a “history.” Don’t read this book if you want trustworthy information. Read it for something like your goofy brother’s tale of a vacation. It’s lots of fun, but not really trustworthy.

Nuzum decided to investigate the proliferation of the vampire image in our modern world. He met with lots of “pretend” and “pretender” vampires, who come across as mostly either pathetic fanboy wannabes, or creepy (possibly sociopathic) intendees.

He talks about his Dracula tour of Eastern Europe, and it is loads of fun to read. The emphasis throughout the book is on fun and wry commentary, which is the intent of the book I suppose.

Here are three things that stuck out like bloody necks to me – mistakes of a sort. (Or mis-STAKES, bwah-ha-ha!)

1) In Nuzum’s quest to understand vampires, he decides to watch every vampire movie he can. In his comments, he says that although Dracula’s Daughter (1936) is a sequel to Universal’s 1931 Dracula, it doesn’t say what happened to the King Vampire. I guess Mr Nuzum must have missed the five-minute-long sequence where Gloria Holden burns her father’s body, hoping to give his soul peace.

2) Mr Nuzum says that there’s no evidence that the Countess Elizabeth Bathory bathed in blood trying to stay young. Umm, yes, those little things called court documents, they do say that, along with other descriptions and testimony contemporaneous with her trial and conviction on murder charges.

3) In his discussion of the long, sad decline of Bela Lugosi’s personal and professional life, Mr Nuzum mentions “During Lugosi’s lifetime, only one other actor attempted to portray Dracula in a film (John Carradine in 1945’s House of Dracula).” Mr Nuzum has evidently missed the 1944 House of Frankenstein, where Carradine FIRST played Dracula; as well as the 1943 film Son of Dracula, in which Lon Chaney, Jr played the King Vampire (reversing the name to present himself as Count Alucard).

So, as I said, this is a breezy and fun-to-read book, but read it for its atmosphere. Don’t use it as a fact-check reference. The $5 price I paid at Half-Price Books was about right.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

World’s Finest 115 – The Mighty Arrow Army!

The third story of three in this February, 1961 issue of World’s Finest Comics features Green Arrow and his sidekick Speedy. According to the DC Wiki, a staff writer named Ed Herron came up with this tale of intrigue in South America.

Yes, Oliver Queen and Roy Harper are flying Queen’s private jet on an impulsive round-the-world air tour when their plane develops trouble somewhere south of the border.

It’s my suspicion that the “SPUT-SPUTTER” we see in the lower left panel is supposed to be a sound effect, and not the name for the plane.

I don’t quite follow the logic of protecting their secret identities by PUTTING ON their costumes, but what do I know?

At any rate, as soon as Queen has effected their emergency landing, the pair comes under attack from some native bowmen. Native as in, South American Indians of mixed Indian-Hispanic descent. These fine fellows are in a terrible predicament. An evil dictator named Bracato is attempting to invade “our peaceful kingdom” (later named Luania) with his array of modern weaponry. The unnamed Freedom Fighter had mistaken Speedy and Green Arrow for minions of Bracato, but that misunderstanding is soon cleared up. The Luanians can’t defend themselves without anything but bows, arrows, and spears, because “Modern weapons have long since been banned by our friendly people!”

Green Arrow and Speedy quickly vow to help the unnamed leader against the evil, high-tech incursions of Bracato. Their fancy arrows make sound and smoke enough to convince Bracato’s tank crew that the opposition is a strong one.

Round One to the Freedom Fighters.

But when Bracato finds out that his hand-picked crew of strong men have been outflanked by a bunch of “primitive” bows and arrows, he vows to stomp those two American Archers flat.

Why, he’ll sail his destroyer downstream to destroy the Luanian capital. Little does he reckon with Green Arrow’s ability to use a grappling arrow as a zipline and bring himself, Speedy, and the defenders aboard.

Now that the oppressive dictator, shown all dressed up in an official European-style pompous military uniform, has been thwarted, Speedy and Green Arrow have only one request of their brave hosts: to fix his plane so they can get out of there! Since this is easily enough done, we’re treated in the last panel to the comic-book equivalent of “Who was that masked man?”

Now for a bit of an observation, comparing this 1961 comic-book story with some of the real-world events of the same era…

Liberal darling Fidel Castro led his successful revolt to take over Cuba in 1959. He’d been glamorized by some American educated types who had a high regard for their own education. And it cannot be denied that the Batista regime in Cuba was corrupt through-and-through, being propped up by American companies, the rich US entertainment industry, and the Mafia. When Castro’s “people’s revolution” threw the fat pig out of power, it was viewed by many as a victory for the overburdened, oppressed people of that country, especially since Castro had proclaimed himself an anti-Communist.

As we all know now, that anti-Red orientation lasted only a brief time. Just as bad news for the Cuban people was the evidence that Castro and his cronies weren’t any more interested in helping them in the “individual freedoms” department.

Now, this comic came out in the fall-winter of 1960, after the beginnings of disillusionment with Castro’s “people’s” government, and a few months before the USA’s failed invasion called the “Bay of Pigs.”

Am I crazy to see a resonance between this comic-book story and the actual events of those days?

Just think about it. You could align the unnamed Freedom Fighters with the Cubans who the US was assisting to overthrow Castro at the Bay of Pigs. Or you could see in the Luanians a reflection of the Castro forces whose self-proclaimed task was to throw the corrupt foreign influences out of Cuba.

Roy and Speedy just “happened along” in their world travels, and got “sucked into” a tribal conflict, which they were able to solve with their modern American inventions.

True to the style of the comic-book tale, the Luanians are assumed to be telling the truth to Queen and Harper, and Bracato is really-truly the bad guy of the story.

Just imagine how this kind of beginning scenario might have played out – for example – on an episode of The Unit a couple of years ago! Members of The Unit crash-land in a small South American country and are asked to help some jungle fighters. 

 As today's story might tell it, maybe the freedom fighters were lying, and trying to get foreign aid for their own revolution against their country’s lawful rulers.

Our maybe Snake Doctor Jonas Blane’s men would agree to support the Luanians and successfully overthrow the dictator Bracato, only to find out that Bracato had been put into power by the CIA!?!

Regardless, the impression I take away from this tale from World’s Finest 115 is that while Americans don’t go around looking for trouble, they are willing to step in and help the downtrodden who may be unfairly oppressed.

Boy, if only real life were that simple!
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© by Mark Alfred