Archive for the 'Comics Nonsense' Category



01
Mar
12

Saturday Gaming in NYC for Dwimmermount and the Marvel RPG

Yes, it is clobbering time! I googled it.

I often wait too long to post about upcoming events for anyone to do anything about it (or for those who do not live in travel distance of NYC to feel bad for what they’re missing, like crazy high rents and getting gum stuck on their shoes in the subway). However, given the awesomeness of this Saturday’s events, I hope this will be enough lead time for at least some of y’all!

First up, nerdNYC is organizing a Marvel RPG launch party at the Compleat Strategist on 11 E. 33rd St. Anytime from 11 am until 4 pm, you can learn to play the new Marvel RPG from Margaret Weis Productions. I cannot confirm that James will be there to field-strip its reward systems or demonstrate his hot and weird abilities to open his brain to the Marvel maelstrom and barf forth continuity, but I know for sure that my son and I will be there with bells on. This should provide an interesting experiment in player skill, as my son has been reading himself to sleep with the Marvel Encyclopedia ever since he got it at his last (9th) birthday, whereas I wanted to put “It’s Clobbering Time” as the caption for that photo but then was unsure whether that was a Marvel or DC thing.

Then later that very same day at 7pm, I will be kicking off a series of explorations of the legendary Dwimmermount mega-dungeon at the Brooklyn Strategist‘s sweet new location on 333 Court St.

Geek Chic's hypographer says that the Sultan gets more press than Giles Corey. I love that they hire nerds so advanced that I need to Google this caption too.

If you can’t make it to this one, fear not! The Dwimmermount events will be at the B-Strat every Saturday throughout the campaign by Autarch and Grognardia Games to crowdfund the process of turning the notes and experience from James’ home campaign into a location other referees to use as the tent-pole location for their own campaigns, as an inspiration for designing their own dungeons, or as the source for many unique creatures and weird magical items that can be dropped into any fantasy game.

However, if you can’t make it I am not above making you feel bad. We will be playing on the B-Strat’s Sultan gaming table, and recording our progress by building the dungeon as we go with Master Maze pieces from Dwarven Forge sculptor Stefan Pokorny’s personal collection. Eventually we will also be using miniatures sculpted for the project by Sandra Garrity based on backer’s descriptions of their rival adventurers, which will also be illustrated by Jeff Dee.

If I can convince Jon Freeman to let me hang stuff on the walls of his beautiful new place, visitors to the B-Strat can also admire the original of the painting Jeff is doing for Dwimmermount’s back cover. Up in Toronto, players in James’ campaign will be basking in the glory of Mark Allen’s painting for the front cover, which shows their adventuring party in a characteristic moment of mystery and wonder. I am no less proud that my PbP adventurer Locfir the Astrologer was among the group seen on the back cover, especially since this let me earmark that one for display in my home town.

To continue this goal to make the published work reflect what really happened in play in as many ways as possible, one of  the seats at the Sultan each evening will be reserved for an artist in residence. Their sketches and maps and doodles during the game will be donated to the Play-Generated Maps and Documents Archive for the enjoyment of all. We also hope that each session of play will inspire at least one illustration, so that a moment from our adventures together will be published in the final Dwimmermount book and PDF bundle.

If the Kickstarter hits the right bonus goal level, a copy will be etched into gold, attached to a space probe, and sent beyond our solar system to make aliens feel bad about missing these Saturday events even there is no way they could possibly have attended.

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23
Feb
12

kirbsday: the closing jaws of death

Last time: super-escape artist Mister Miracle literally stepped into Doctor Bedlam’s latest trap–a fifty-story building filled with ordinary humans driven to murderous rage by the doctor’s paranoid pill–and was bound in chains, locked into a trunk, and thrown off the 45th floor!

Mister Miracle #4 takes up split seconds later.  Short version: Mister Miracle escapes.  But that’s not the memorable part of this story.

big bonus! big surprise! big barda!

A woman!  A woman in a Jack Kirby Fourth World title!  Who’s not “simple but worried secretary Claudia Shane!”  Who’s not a wallflower like Beautiful Dreamer, whom readers didn’t think could talk because she was so passive!  Who’s not a villainess like Granny Goodness!  Mister Miracle #4 debuts Barda, a friend of Scott Free’s and an officer in the Female Furies of Apokolips.

Barda’s here partially for sex appeal.  Kirby based her look off actress and singer Lainie Kazan, who had done a nude spread for Playboy in late 1970 (not pictured because I value your continued employment).  Later this issue we see Barda in a bikini, and it’s an unusual amount of skin for a Kirby book, though she has no belly-button…

Barda’s also here to provide backstory. In the Mister Miracle series so far, every month something eerie and threatening happens, but Scott Free does not lose his cool: he expects it, and he’s pretty tight-lipped about explaining things to the poor, mystified Oberon.  Clearly there’s an origin story here, but Scott apparently is keeping it bottled up inside.  Barda’s less circumspect: she tells Oberon (and the readers) that she grew up with Scott in Granny’s orphanage and eventually helped him escape to Earth.  They’ve got a shared history, and at least one of them is willing to blab about it.

Barda is also here to add some chaos to Oberon’s somewhat-frayed domesticity.  It’s interesting to contrast the home life scenes in Mister Miracle with those in Forever People and New Gods.  The Forever People hang out with Donnie and Uncle Willie for a little while in issue #2, but the humans are weird hosts and the gods are strange guests, and they can’t wait to tell Donnie, “Have a nice life!” and leave in issue #3.  (The typical super hero doesn’t make such a formal goodbye unless he doesn’t expect or intend to return.)  The “O’Ryan Gang” is somewhat more ordinary than a crippled child living alone in a slum with his senile, gun-toting uncle, but they can’t take a break from formally introducing themselves long enough to have normal interactions.  Yet Scott and Oberon have a convincing foolhardy-child/worrywart-parent relationship, and Barda helps bring this characterization to the fore.  I’m trying to think of the last time I saw a male super hero cook dinner in a Silver Age comic…

And of course, Barda is also here to punish fools.

Yes, butch Barda’s version of Mother Box is called her “Mega-Rod.”  Don’t joke about it to her face.

It’s hard to talk about Barda without also talking about female characters in super hero comics.  DC’s major heroines at this point were Wonder Woman and Supergirl, both of whom were strong and effective, but weren’t directly at war with traditional gender expectations.  Over at Marvel, the most prominent female characters at that time were probably the Invisible Girl, who was so stupid she couldn’t even pick a name for her baby:

And the Wasp, whose reaction when told that an innocent man is dying of a rare blood poisoning is that her boyfriend should stop working on a cure and take her out dancing:

By the late 60’s and early 70’s, the Women’s Lib movement was hitting its stride, sometimes depicted rather clumsily in comics.  So it’s kind of cool that Kirby presents this Barda character as someone who is physically powerful, assertive as hell, totally indifferent to gender expectations–and yet very friendly and cool all the same.

the day of the multi-cube!

So anyway, what happens in this issue, plot-wise?  How does Mister Miracle escape the falling trunk?  Well, he just does!  But later he explains the trick to Oberon:

He then gets throw into an iron maiden, on the set of some kind of Dungeons & Dragons style medieval TV show–because why wouldn’t there be a medieval TV show filming inside a modern office building?

Again, the multi-cube dissolves the back of the iron maiden, allowing Scott to escape.  Though Barda frequently offers to help, Mister Miracle refuses as it would compromise the warrior-code of this duel with Doctor Bedlam.  Eventually Bedlam himself manifests…

…and threatens them with a human stampede, except the multi-cube casts a sleep spell and the heroes are spared.  Mister Miracle wins again!

This issue closes with Mister Miracle giving Oberon a hypothetical account of how he pulled off these tricks, which is kind of a nice structure–maybe encouraging children to imagine how Mister Miracle could have done the impossible, and then revealing the secret.

16
Feb
12

kirbsday: will the REAL don rickles panic?!?

Last time in Jimmy Olsen 139: to secure a contract with Don Rickles, malicious media mogul Morgan Edge sends an eccentric employee, Rickles look-alike name-alike act-alike Goody Rickles, into a deathtrap managed by Inter-Gang underboss Ugly Mannheim.

“don’t ask! just buy it!”

Boy, you said it, Kirby!  Whew.  Okay, so basically, Clark’s trapped in space, zooming toward Apokolips…

…But is rescued by Lightray, a supporting character in The New Gods.  I guess this is nice, but given Clark’s secret identity it’s hard to imagine he was ever truly in danger.

Note that the collage is in color, unlike some of the previous efforts from a few months ago.  I’m not sure if this represents Kirby and the publisher discovering some new production technique, or just throwing a bit more care into the usual process, but by this point in late ’71 the photo-collages are starting to look a bit more vivid.

The Golden Guardian charges off after Ugly Mannheim and his Inter-Gang hoods, and beats an antidote to the pyro-granulate poison out of them…

And Jimmy and Goody Rickles make their way via the subway to Morgan Edge for medical help.

Meanwhile the real Don Rickles has shown up at Morgan Edge’s office, to the surprisingly demonstrative delight of the staff:

As Don and Edge sit down to iron out a contract, we get the inevitable collision…

The sudden onset of echolalia and echopraxia unnerves Don so much he’s got to sit down, even as Goody and Jimmy plead for their lives:

Morgan Edge calls the bomb squad, but is more concerned about his office furniture.  The Guardian saves them with the antidote, but Clark opens a boom tube right behind Don’s chair…

Finally, Don Rickles realizes that the only way he can escape the madhouse that is Galaxy Broadcasting is via the bomb squad:

and here we are again

So, although last issue was kind of inexplicable, Kirby manages to wrap the storyline up pretty well.  It works as a madcap action-comedy, and it’s a nice change of pace in a story about Black Racers, concentration camps at Disneyland, and mass hysteria.  There’s no denying it’s bizarre, and maybe the jokes could have been a little sharper, but hey: writing and drawing two issues a month.

These plots involving Morgan Edge remind me a little bit of some classic J. Jonah Jameson gags in the early days of the Spider-Man comic.  Way back when, Jameson wasn’t simply content to denounce Spidey: he wanted to defeat him by proxy, so he paid mad scientists to create killer robots, scorpion-men, and fishbowl-headed vigilantes to take the kid out.  Naturally, not only does Spider-Man win, but Jameson suffers a humiliating comeuppance.  (I can never get enough of the Scorpion-comes-after-Jameson storyline.)  Yet Kirby doesn’t humanize Edge with Jameson’s preening buffoonery: Edge is all coldblooded psychopathy.  I wonder whether any of these portrayals owe anything to longtime Marvel publisher (and Stan’s uncle) Martin Goodman–as a family member, Stan could have afforded a humorous wink at Goodman’s sharp business practices that would have been livelihood-threatening to employees like Kirby.

In the letters column this issue, readers grapple with the DNA Project.

The trouble with people like Randy Hiteshaw is that they aren’t privy to the classified documents that would explain how keeping hundreds of microscopic naked Jimmy Olsens in little white underpants is vital to winning the Cold War.

i am going to rationalize you, goody rickles, if it’s the last thing I do

One of the things I love to hate about comics fandom is the seemingly irresistible compulsion to rationalize everything.  Any loose plot thread or inexplicable occurrence must be harmonized with established continuity.  You see this with DC Comics all the time: in the mid-80’s they thought their setting’s history had gotten too complex, so they junked most of it with the Crisis on Infinite Earths.  But ever since then, they’ve had to revise stuff left dangling in the aftermath in Zero Hour and 52 and Final Crisis and the New 52 relaunch.
I generally think these efforts are unnecessary and quixotic. but dang it, even I give into temptation sometimes.
Weird things about Goody Rickles:
  • Named after Don Rickles
  • Looks exactly like Don Rickles
  • Acts like Don Rickles would if Rickles were written by Jack Kirby
  • Dresses in a super hero / New Genesis style costume with a big zero on the chest
  • When he meets Don Rickles, Don ends up reflexively repeating Goody’s words and body language

This leads to one and only one conclusion: Don Rickles is a robotic “follower” unit as seen in Mister Miracle 2.  Goody is a native of New Genesis, High-Father’s court fool, dispatched to Earth and toiling away at the nerve center of a major metropolitan newspaper to keep an ear open in the aftermath of “The Pact!” (see New Gods #7, coming in like… 12 weeks) or maybe “Himon!” (again, weeks away).

Being a show-off entertainer, Rickles builds himself a follower and sends it off to Hollywood, where it becomes famous.  He names it “Don” as a mock-lordly title.  Due to signal interference from Doctor Bedlam (who employs a similar animate-technology) or perhaps the Overlord device used by Granny Goodness (one of Goody’s relatives?), Don Rickles starts operating independently and forgets its true nature.

Goody, meanwhile, stays in character like Edgar in King Lear.  The minute he suspects Inter-Gang involvement at Galaxy, he bursts in on Morgan Edge and harasses him for an investigatory assignment.  He tries to steer Kent and Jimmy away from the dimension-trap, and is heartbroken when Kent disregards his warning and seemingly dies.  Once he’s been booby-trapped with pyro-granulate, Goody makes a beeline to Morgan Edge, hoping the crisis will blow Edge’s cover and force Darkseid’s network to reveal itself.  Goody Rickles: unsung champion of the Life Equation. 

Well, I’ve wasted my morning!  Jeez, comics….

27
Jan
12

kirbsday: the paranoid pill!

It’s still Thursday somewhere, right?

Mister Miracle #3 is a bit like last time: an eerie challenger from Apokolips dares Scott Free to face an inescapable trap.  Doctor Bedlam isn’t as frightfully archetypal as Granny Goodness, but he ain’t bad.

Here’s the deal with Doctor Bedlam:

He takes interior decoration very seriously…


He can project his consciousness into those silver furniture-mover robots…

And he has the super power to know Scott Free’s phone number without dialing directory assistance.

“And now to my task!–To subjugate and break the spirit of that young rebel who dared to reject the powers that rule his world–and the master I serve!  The great Darkseid himself!”

That “and” makes it sound like the powers that rule Scott’s world also rule Darkseid.  I don’t know if that’s the intention.  Reading too much into Kirby’s grammar–is probably a mistake!!

radio bedlam animates the anti-life follower

Let me blither for a quick second about the Doctor Bedlam concept.

I love it that this super villain is basically a state of mind: anybody can become Doctor Bedlam if they’re thinking the wrong thoughts.  (Doctor Doom has a similar power.)

Check out the themes going on with Apokolips, though.  In Forever People #3, “Life vs. Anti-Life,” Glorious Godfrey is using a supersonic pipe organ to obliterate critical thinking skills and lull people into becoming perfectly obedient Justifiers.  We’ve seen in New Gods #2 and Forever People #2 that Darkseid hopes to discover the Anti-Life Equation, the infallible method of destroying free will, by terrorizing the citizenry.  It’s your standard Rise-of-Totalitarian-Dictatorship-by-First-Inducing-Societal-Breakdown stuff, and as we’ve seen repeatedly Kirby endorses that theory in very strong terms.

And now as a direct progression along that axis, you’ve got Doctor Bedlam projecting his brainwaves into the mindless, robotic “animates,” who only exist as extensions of his bodiless will.  For my money, the Doctor Bedlam/animate relationship is the perfect demonstration of what the Anti-Life Equation would actually look like, except starting with a regular human instead of an empty robotic shell.

So here’s a little clue about Scott Free’s origin, too.  He’s been tight-lipped about where he comes from so far, though of course long-time Kirby fans know the deal.  But a hint is that last issue, Scott was messing around with a robot, “my people refer to it as a follower,” which appears to operate on the same principles as the animate-robot here, blindly obeying his psychic impressions.  If this was a deliberate hint, it’s delivered with uncharacteristic subtlety, but I dig it all the same.

(By the way, that expression on Bedlam’s face during the possession sequence reminds me of a similar Kirby character, Psycho-Man.)

shut up and summarize

So dig that.  First, there are formal dueling rules on Apokolips.  When Mister Miracle first sees the paranoid pill, he thinks that Doctor Bedlam is going to sedate him, and is outraged.  “You know the code of combat!  You cannot tranquilize an adversary!  He must be equally aware, to take full advantage of what weapons he possesses!”

While I’m a bit puzzled that a dog-eat-dog world like Apokolips has governing rules for bloodsports, it’s nevertheless a good touch for Mister Miracle as a series.  The deal with Mister Miracle is that he’s a super escape artist.  But that gig requires him to constantly subject himself to super-traps.  Which sort of obliges him to let himself get captured all the time, just like he did with Steel Hand in Mister Miracle #1 by making a bet.  I found it a little strange that a Earthly mobster like Steel Hand would consent to a gentleman’s agreement rather than just hauling him out into the woods and shooting him, but at least with super villains from Apokolips there’s apparently a formal process for these sorts of battles which helps to justify Mister Miracle’s affectations.

Second, it’s simply a cool idea for a trap.  As Doctor Bedlam says, “no metal, no gimmickry, no medieval chan or link for you, my boy!  My world is of the mind!”  The super hero has to fight his way past an army of ordinary people driven berserk.  It kind of reminds me of the whole “we want Barrabas!” bit, where the common people torment and destroy their would-be savior.

Yet even though Doctor Bedlam has forsworn any crude physical restraints, somehow Mister Miracle winds up inside a trunk…

Wrapped up in chains and ropes…

And then thrown down a stairwell straight out of Vertigo.  Cool shot, though–you don’t often get a sense of depth in comic books.  TO BE CONTINUED NEXT ISSUE!!!

what else is there to say?

Not  whole lot more about this particular issue.  But let’s take small step backward.

The Fourth World Saga lasted about two years of bi-monthly publication–11 issues in each of the three main series.  A couple more of the monthly Jimmy Olsen title, and a few haphazard Mister Miracles once the other titles had been cancelled.  So we’re now about a quarter of the way into the aborted epic.

What we’ve got, basically, is a trio of titles with extremely strong thematic links, and some looser links via some shared setting elements like Darkseid, Mother Box, and Inter-Gang.  The Jimmy Olsen issues don’t feel quite as strongly connected thematically, but then it’s an on-going series with Kirby jumping on late in the game.  Main themes so far revolve around non-conformity, mass craziness, totalitarianism, and (very lightly so far) parenthood.

We’re also deep enough in that the series are beginning to look and feel different.  A Mister Miracle story begins with a stunt rehearsal, interrupted by the arrival of a super villain out of Scott’s past who challenges him to a match; Mister Miracle cheats death, sometimes literally, with the aid of Mother Box.  New Gods opens with cosmic portents, before downshifting to Orion seething for battle before he launches the Astro-Force to protect his simpering Earthlings.  The Forever People features the title characters reacting to quaint Earth customs, sometimes oblivious to our resentment, heartbreak, or danger, but when they deduce that Darkseid’s around they tag in the Infinity Man.  And Jimmy Olsen these days seems to involve Superman showing Jimmy yet another gee-willikers unsettling aspect of the DNA Project, when Simyan and Mokkari try to wreck everything via rampaging mutants.

I’m being very reductionist here, which isn’t fair to the broader ambitions of Kirby’s project, but I’m highlighting these plot formulas for a reason: things will change up pretty soon.  I don’t know whether that’s due to editorial insistence, reader reaction, Kirby’s long-time intent, or just his restlessness taking the series into new directions.  But we’re at the end of the first act, and all of the major characters and their agendas are known to us.

19
Jan
12

kirbsday: the guardian fights again!

Well, somehow I got through the Black Racer; I can get through Jimmy Olsen #139 too.

Plot: Jimmy Olsen, Superman, and the Guardian finally leave the DNA Project.  (The Newsboy Legion is quarantined for medical reasons, but slink out anyway.)  Olsen and Clark Kent confront media magnate Morgan Edge, but are diverted into an Inter-Gang trap: Clark gets shanghaied into outer space, while Jimmy and the Guardian only have 24 hours to live!

But you will forgive me if that is not the chief interest in this, the debut of . . . Goody Rickles!

Yes.  It is Don Rickles.  As a super hero.  But with a different first name.  The past is a foreign country!

tell me there is a world where this makes perfect sense

According to Kirby’s then-assistant, Mark Evanier, he and his fellow assistant Steve Sherman were kicking around ideas for subplots and incidental gags in the Fourth World books, and somebody suggested, “Hey, what if Don Rickles met Superman?” as a brief throw-away incident.  Apparently someone at DC marketing loved the idea and insisted that it become the focus of the story, for media tie-in’s.  (Rickles’s star in Hollywood had been rising throughout the late 60’s with numerous appearances on Johnny Carson, and about six months after this story was published had his own sit-com.)  Except DC didn’t do any cross-promotion and neither did Rickles’s people.  So you’ve just got this comic book sitting out there, all alone, like its creator was some kind of crazy person…

So it turns out that Goody Rickles is a Don Rickles look-a-like working at the Daily Planet‘s parent company who is apparently insane.

Morgan Edge, who was hoping to sign the real Don Rickles to some contracts, decides there’s no other option but to murder Goody so that he won’t muck up the contractual negotiations: “The solution is obvious!  This man must be killed!”  (Murder appears to be Morgan Edge’s answer to everything.)  So he sends Goody on a suicide mission to investigate an Inter-Gang UFO.  He sends Jimmy and Clark along too.

Except they get jumped by goons, and the UFO instead vanishes with Clark inside, to Goody’s total befuddlement…

And the others are taken prisoners by Inter-Gang underboss Ugly Mannheim…

Who feeds them a meal laced with “pyro-granulate,” a poison which will cause people to spontaneously combust in 24 hours.  (This is not meant to give Eric ideas about new poisons in the Glantri campaign.)

they do things differently there

Last issue, Superman saved Metropolis from nuclear annihilation by incinerating a litter of tragically mutated Four-Armed Terrors.  This issue, Goody Rickles.

There’s always been absurdity in Kirby’s work.  Sometimes it’s the crazy pulp adventure absurdity of the Savage Land in the midst of Antarctica.  Or the “it must have made sense in his mind, and I’ll go along with it” absurdity of the Black Racer or Flipper-Dipper.  But Kirby doesn’t usually try for slapstick guffaws.  I’m not sure it works 100%, but it’s funnier than most of the Newsboy Legion stuff, and it’s also nice to see some room for silliness in the middle of Kirby’s sturm und drang about the Twilight of the Gods.  Goody Rickles is the Tom Bombadil of the Fourth World Saga.

What’s interesting about Goody, of course, is that he’s a super hero parody by the guy who will be forever linked with grandiloquent super heroics.  Not the first parody either: Kirby and Simon had created a parody comic in the 1950’s, The Fighting American, which didn’t take off, and arguably the Fantastic Four and the Hulk in their earliest incarnations were, if not parodies, then pretty serious deconstructions of the super hero concept.

Anyway, here we’ve got Goody, a put-upon news reporter who is so bullied and misled that he’s evidently become deranged, and puts on a crazy costume not to fight injustice but to star in a movie that will never get made.  He’s a clueless, obsequious, abrasive schlemiel.  It’s not Watchmen, but it’s also not 1986, either.

jimmy, what happened to you?  you used to be cool (briefly)

Ha ha!  My teenage friends have been infected by microorganisms at the secret government biological warfare lab!  Also, they won’t be reporting this scandalous story!  And I stole their super-car!

The boys escape quarantine with the aid of one of the miniaturized “Scrapper troopers” from issue #136.

Darn right!  I don’t know enough DC continuity, but it would be awesome if the post-Crisis Flippa-Dippa became Black Manta.

12
Jan
12

kirbsday: death is the black racer

W
T
F

Okay, look, here’s the plot of this one, just to get it out of the way:

Orion gets a new pair of clothes from his friends who keep formally introducing themselves all the time, but he feels sad because he’s all ugly and stuff.  He and his pet, Dave “Dave Lincoln” Lincoln, find the members of Inter-Gang who had abducted people to Apokolips.  With the help of Mother Box, Orion and Dave stop their plot to destroy all communication devices in the city.  The End.

Along the way, the Black Racer shows up.  And God almighty, what to say?

Well.

So.

In his afterword to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus vol. 1, Kirby’s apprentice Mark Evanier notes that the Black Racer was originally a character who had nothing to do with the Fourth World.  Just some doodle sitting in the pile, maybe to feature in his own series someday.  DC’s then-publisher Carmine Infantino (who illustrated plenty of formative Flash stories) asked Kirby to throw in some brand-new characters in each issue of the Fourth World stuff, thinking it would be good for sales.  So, Kirby re-wrote New Gods #3 to debut the Black Racer.

Therefore running throughout the Orion plot of this issue there’s also a Black Racer plot, which doesn’t intersect especially well.

Just as the Black Racer is about to kill Orion’s friend Lightray, the science-god Metron diverts him to Earth, where he encounters a blaxploitation gunfight between members of Inter-Gang.  Moved by the death-wish of Willie Walker, a totally paralyzed and bedridden Vietnam vet, the Black Racer’s spirit possesses him, and Willie becomes a marauding spirit of doom who chases down and torments one of the gunmen.  The End (Again).

There are at least two things going on here.  One thing is, “This visual makes no sense.”

Many years prior I had learned about the Black Racer from Rovin’s Encyclopedia of Superheroes, which had a text description of the guy but no pictures.  I’m like, “Okay, cool: a guy in an all-black lycra wet-suit type of thing that professional skiers wear, with a big red ski helmet, and some red trim.”  And then I finally picked up a copy of this issue and I’m like, “Armor?!  Cape?!”

Obviously the Silver Surfer is another crazy cosmic dude flying around on something that doesn’t normally fly.  But the Silver Surfer is an extremely elegant design: basically a naked, hairless guy standing on an oval, and all of it sleek and shiny.  The Black Racer is a lot more complex visually–the skis, the ski poles, the cape, the high collar, the kooky helmet, the jarring mix of primary colors.  It kind of reminds me of the early design for the Black Panther.

The other thing is, “This concept makes no sense.”

The idea seems to be that since Walker is trapped in a kind of living prison, he is granted limitless power as an undead grim reaper . . . on skis.

And then it turns out that the Black Racer is some sort of composite entity with many different hosts–sort of like bi-location or something–and is a hit-man, excuse me “messenger,” for the Source, which is usually linked to the benevolent society of New Genesis.  We never see the Source itself, only the weird “moving hand” that writes letters of flame on High-Father’s wall.  The Black Racer, although a proxy, appears to be the Source at its most active.

For a messenger of the all-important Source, the Black Racer doesn’t do a great job of articulating his mandate.  He shows up out of the blue picking on Lightray for reasons we’re never told.  When he arrives on Earth, he does nothing to save the life of a helpless snitch when Sugar-Man, an Inter-Gang hitman, takes him out.  But when Sugar-Man threatens the helpless Willie Walker…

…the Black Racer saves Walker’s life, disfigures Sugar-Man, and then does his whole “take my hand” thing.  Once Willie becomes the Black Racer, he hunts down the half-blind Sugar-Man, activates the bomb Sugar-Man’s carrying with his mystic ski pole, and then sends both Sugar-Man and the bomb careening into the sky to explode.  Why?  As vengeance for killing the snitch, and if so then why not protect the snitch in the first place?  Or is it for attempting to kill Willie, but if so then why wait to kill Sugar-Man?  Or is it for being involved with Inter-Gang in the first place, but if so then why not go after his accomplices?  And if Willie wanted to die in the first place, why did the Black Racer get involved?

At some point you just gotta throw up your hands and say, “Dude, fuck it.  Death is the Black Racer.”  Near as I can figure, there’s something that sets this dude off about fearing death: he will find you and reunite you with the Source.  If you’re at peace with death, or even yearn for it after great suffering, you’ll be recompensed.

should I feel uneasy when a black character is referred to as “Black _______”?

Probably.  Sugar-Man is a pretty bad stereotype.  And when the Black Racer first appears over the city, and observes Sugar-Man’s gunfight in the ghetto, he remarks, “There, below–a place of black men!  Those who fight to live–others who risk my presence!”  That sure sounds pretty racist.  It’s not like any other mainstream comics were any better (“Sweet Christmas!”), but come on.

I will say one thing for the Black Racer, though: for better or worse this is one of the most unique visuals, and most unique concepts, in all of super comics.

what about orion?

yeah, so in this scene Orion is getting dressed in the nice clothes the Earthmen bought for him, and decides to have a soliloquy:

and he’s like, let me sneak a peek at my real face for a second:

Back in New Gods #1 we are told that Orion is the son of Darkseid of Apokolips, but Orion himself doesn’t know that.  In fact, Orion seems to think he’s some hideous, inexplicable New Genesis mutant freak.  That self-loathing is why he’s pissed off all the time, and what makes him their society’s most powerful warrior.  Thanks for not explaining the guy’s origin to himself, High-Father!  I mean sure the guy’s been tormented all his life by questions he cannot answer, but at least your secrecy gives you a berserker warrior to do all of your society’s dirty work.

No wait–God damn it, they just bought you those clothes!  Don’t go vaporizing them the minute someone asks a stupid question!

 

 

05
Jan
12

kirbsday: the big boom!!

Last time: a Four-Armed Terror hellbent on devouring the DNA Project’s atomic power plant trapped Jimmy Olsen, the Newsboy Legion, and Superman in some weird energy-egg thing, and now continues its march toward meltdown.

I confess that the Jimmy Olsen series has entertained me less and less after an incredible start, but this is a great issue.  Kirby piles on the tension, partially by showing the supporting cast’s panicky reactions to the news about the impending meltdown.

From this headlong, desperate charge (which, by the way, is yet another five pages of splash panels–but because it’s a typical action comic sequence it’s less noticeable than last issue’s psychedelic concert), Kirby cuts to the kids trapped inside the egg…

(eh, no great pictures of this: they’re trapped in an egg, believe me)

And then a terrific shot of the Four-Armed Terror.

Now, the Four-Armed Terror as a concept doesn’t do a whole lot for me.  He’s a prototype mutant bred to survive the aftermath of a nuclear war, which is cool.  And he eats radiation, which is cool.  But he’s basically just an ugly dude with four arms who’s really hungry.  He’s no Granny Goodness, let alone a Darkseid.  But he looks totally boss, and all he says is “Arruk!” over and over, which I guess is what I want in a monster, even if he doesn’t really seem like a worthy foe of Superman.

The Terror digs toward the nuclear plant, while Jimmy and Superman escape the egg via comic book science:

The logic here is pretty impeccable.

  1. The Four-Armed Terror created the egg via electrical discharges
  2. The egg’s density must be controlled by static electricity
  3. Rubbing your hands together creates static electricity rather than blisters (contradicting an experiment I performed when I was 8 years old)
  4. If Superman does something, it is like magic

I really wish there was a super hero game that worked like this.  “Aquaman, those guys just robbed a bank, and all you can do is talk to fish!  We hate you!”  “Bah!  Behold the power of Aquaman!  I can mentally control fish!  All humans, including bank robbers, evolved from fish!  I will psionically dominate the primitive Fish Cortex of their brains, causing the robbers to flop helplessly on the ground, gasping for water.”  The more logical fallacies involved in your proposal, the more tokens it costs to pull off.

Anyway, Superman escapes and goes chasing after the monster.  Meanwhile…

Holy hell, the Daily Planet!  In a Jimmy Olsen comic no less!  We haven’t seen the Daily Planet since issue 134, four months ago in publishing time, but probably only a couple of days in fiction.  Here, Terry Dean, a character from before Kirby took over, stops by to get news about Jimmy from his boss, Perry White.  White remarks that his own boss, Morgan Edge, is a “‘smiling cobra‘ . . . [who] assigned Jimmy to drop out of sight . . .  Edge is ruthless!  And he’s not above gambling with human life!”

It’s really nice to get a breather from the DNA Project and see regular people again, even if, as 365 Days of Kirby theorizes, this page was simply an editorial mandate to include more familiar elements from the series.

The art fixes here strike me as totally unwarranted.  For Superman and Jimmy, I can almost understand: Kirby’s faces aren’t in the style of long-running Superman artists Curt Swan and Wayne Boring, and maybe don’t match how DC wanted to market the book.  But who’s buying the book for Perry White?  Or for Terry Dean, who showed up only in issue #127?

Cut to the soldiers and former Newsboys closing in…

Cut to Simyan and Mokkari sending in more Four-Armed Terrors from their hatchery…

Cut to Morgan Edge, alerted that all of Metropolis will detonate in a nuclear holocaust in less than five minutes, now flees via the helipad while assuring his employees that everything’s fine…

Cut to a hug firefight as Superman, the soldiers, and the Terrors all converges at the nuclear reactor.  The soldiers and the Golden Guardian try to hold back the monsters, while Superman throws the reactor into a tunnel the Project had been drilling toward the center of the Earth.

These are, presumably, heavily genetically modified human beings–quite possibly clones of Jimmy Olsen–committing mass suicide because Superman threw away their only food supply.  But hey, nothing else was working.

The reactor explodes far underground, Metropolis is saved, and everybody is happy except for Jimmy and the Newsboys, who got left behind in the egg yolk and missed the whole fight, and are grumpy about it in classic sit-com fashion.

a few comments

With this issue, we’re six months into Jack Kirby’s run on Jimmy Olsen.  Kirby got off to a jaw-dropping start by recasting Jimmy Olsen as bullheaded hellraiser determined to get a story at all costs–more like a pulp adventure hero than a sidekick.  And there was one heck of a story to get: the Whiz Wagon, Wild Area, the Mountain of Judgment, the DNA Project, and an invasion from Apokolips.  And with each issue the supporting cast expanded.

Yet over the last few issues I felt this series slowing down a bit.  It’s like when the Whiz Wagon landed at the Project, Jimmy Olsen lost his narrative momentum.

The supporting cast now includes the young Newsboys, the original Newsboys, the Golden Guardian, Dubbilex, Yango and the Outsiders, Jude and the Hairies, a cluster of clones, Simyan and Mokkari, Morgan Edge, and the monster of the month.  This issue also folds in some old-timers like Perry White and Terry Dean.  It’s a huge cast, but few of the characters are mutually antagonistic and none of them seem to have internal conflicts.  So you’ve got a setting under siege, populated with characters who make a strong first impression but then have little to say.  Sometimes literally: Tommy has barely said a word in six months.

(Sometimes you want a static character.  But if you want a character who’s in an uneasy spot, give her goals which are irreconcilable, or desires that run contrary to her best interests.)

All of which is to say that this issue, which is almost nothing but a race-against-time action thriller, really helps to juice up the series a bit, and it’s interesting to check out Kirby’s pacing techniques here.

  1. The first page splash recaps the situation.
  2. The next four splash pages work to impart a sense of urgency and enormous scale.  It’s interesting: last issue, I felt that 5 pages for a drug trip felt a little over-long, like Kirby was padding things out a bit.  That may have been entirely due to the quality of the reproduction: in smudgy black & white, the trip doesn’t look exciting or fun.  Maybe in color it would have had an otherworldly aspect to it.  Anyway: here the extra space helps to emphasize the emergency mobilization of a military base.
  3. Right as we’re rushing along with the soldiers, smash cut to the gooey, inescapble egg.  This sudden shift from reckless headlong movement to what’s basically a tarpit helps to sell the kids’ frustration, interspersed with images as the Four-Armed Terror wreaks destruction on the base.
  4. All throughout this issue, Kirby’s narrator captions keep chanting out: “Eleven minutes to doomsday… Nine minutes to doomsday… ” etc. etc.  This refrain, coupled with images of all these characters racing around frantically, helps to sell that we’re on the cusp of disaster.
  5. The sudden cuts to the Daily Planet–first with Perry and Terry, and then with Morgan Edge–theoretically halt the flow, but sort of work as palate cleansers and reminding us exactly what’s at stake if Metropolis explodes.  The bit with Morgan Edge is particularly well done: we’re reminded of the countdown clock (5 minutes), plus we get some excellently loathsome characterization of Edge.  It’s not enough he’d send six children to their deaths to blow up the Hairies, but he’s casually lying, in an especially smarmy way, to people just moments from death.
  6. After each of the Daily Planet interludes, the stakes escalate as more soldiers and monsters show up.
  7. There’s finally a big ol’ scene where practically everybody is on stage panicking at once, which is a stage play technique but effective here too.
  8. Superman saves the day not by force, but by desperately outwitting his enemies as the clock reaches zero-hour.  Admittedly, the previously unmentioned tunnels down to the center of the earth are a kind of annoying deus ex machina, but apparently they featured in another Superman story appearing that month, so it’s not totally out of the blue.

at last his identity is revealed!

I am obsessed with whoever answers the phone at Inter-Gang.  People are always like, “Hello, is this Inter-Gang?  Put me through to your Insidious Scheme division” or, “Operator, I want to talk to Joey Exit-Wounds in Wetwork & Removals.  Can you give me his extension?”  Who is this operator?  Is the Evil Factory’s cloned version of Gabby, as I theorized a few weeks ago?  Have I gone completely insane?

No . . . it’s some weird dude with sunglasses and a cigar who looks like he’s never smiled in his whole life.  He looks sort of worried, in fact.  (Probably because the whole city is about to explode.)  I guess working for a super-villain is, in the end, just a job like everything else.




Past Adventures of the Mule

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