Monday, March 30, 2009

The Poll: Francesco Francavilla's Max Malone Vs Black Beetle

Over at the cool that is Francesco Francavilla is thinking of producing a web comic based on two original ideas. He has two sa-weet teasers for the impending awesomeness:

Now, you can pretty much guess which way I'm voting, but I leave it to you wonderful folks to pander, promote, cheer and cherish FF's work, as he is an inestimable talent of true Pulp from bone to blood.

Go to vote!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES 194: "The Survival Syndrome"

Continuing our look at the 1970s 20-issue run of Unknown Soldier stories by David Michelinie and Gerry Talaoc...

This story begins in occupied France, at night, as a Nazi courier on a motorcycle spots a trap on a lonely road. A line of wire has been drawn taught across the roadway, at just the height to decapitate the soldier. Having easily spotted the wire, Conrad Vorst goes to cut the wire and is electrocuted. From the shadows, the Unknown Soldier steps out, his trap successful. The Soldier opens his make-up kit and assembles a mask from dead Vorst's face.

The Soldier reflects on his orders, provided him by a superior, in which he is to find a vital Nazi communications center in the French town of Beaulieux. This communications center is providing information about Allied troop movements, and the Soldier must destroy it. While putting on the dead courier's uniform and face, the Soldier wonders why Conrad Vorst had no identification papers. With no time to ponder, Vorst makes his way to the French town and is meeting with the Mayor, to find out the communications location. Nazi soldiers burst in and knock Vorst unconscious. When awakened, Vorst discovers he is a deserter, and is placed under arrest.

Meanwhile, the Mayor is chastized by his daughter for being spineless in the face of the Nazis. The Mayor follows the Law, and the Nazis are the Law in their world now. He asks his daughter to accept their predicament, for her own sake.

Vorst is put into a cell, to await execution the next day. The Major's daughter Yvette visits Vorst with his last meal, the next morning, and reveals to Vorst that she is a rebel. She distracts the guard, enabling Vorst an upper hand. The two make their escape, and Vorst retrieves his equipment from the motorcycle. The Mayor's daughter, head of the Underground, knows the exact location of the communications center, in the basement of a building heavily guarded by Nazis. Needing to wait for night, Yvette takes Vorst to her home, the Mayor's house. The Nazis would not, she reasons, seek rebels in the home of a collaborator. However, she has been seen by the Mayor, who promptly alerts the Nazis.

When the soldiers arrive, Vorst is showing Yvette the "K-6 Disruptor," a device which "has the same effect on radio equipment as a hand grenade in a bowl of pudding." However, this espionage device is a back-up to the vast amount of explosives on hand. The K-6 Disruptor can only work at extremely close range, unlike the explosives. But before any action can be taken, Vorst and Yvette are caught by the Nazis, with her father leading them. The Mayor is a "good citizen" and, though condemning his own daughter, he must follow his principals. Vorst and Yvette are led away to be killed. Vorst quickly overpowers two captors and escapes, leaving behind Yvette to fulfill his mission. He intends to return for her once the communications center is put out of commission.

However, after killing a guard and obtaining two German grenades, Vorst stumbles upon Yvette before a firing squad. She is executed a moment later.

Enraged, Vorst leaves behind the grenades, and the next scene cuts to the following day. The Mayor has been invited to the Nazi General's quarters, and the General rewards the Mayor with a box of cigars and special privileges. The General even leads the Mayor to the communications center in the house basement, a room full of sophisticated equipment. The moment the Mayor enters the room, the equipment explodes in a shower of sparks. The General has disappeared, but a moment later charges into the communications room, demanding to know why the Mayor is there. After a quick search, the Nazis discover the K-6 Disruptor inside the Mayor's cigar box. The Mayor pleads that the General himself had given him the box, but the General knows the truth: while the Mayor set up others for espionage, he himself was the master spy. While the Mayor screams that he only obeyed the Law, the General shows him the Law, ending in a gunshot.

While escaping the village, the Soldier removes his "General" mask, "...mission accomplished...and debt paid."

A swift, sharp little tale, in which one man's desire for conformity has twisted him into a fearful coward. I really like the more calculating decision on the Soldier's part, to gain revenge on the Mayor for Yvette's death in the most ironic way possible. Generally, the Soldier is slightly damaged on his missions, as the War gains its attrition of innocents killed. However, in this case, it is the Soldier who coldly determines the fates of the story's characters. Again we are privvy to the Soldier's rage, but it is the War which gives personal satisfaction to the dead in Its boot heels.

Four and a Half out of Five 3D Men

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Night Fights! O.P.P.! Bisected by a Primate!

Yeh, needless to say, what with ape on human violence on the uprise these days, this is an apt representation of a 1970's fear still to be realized: Ape Revolt!
This particular bit of carnage courtesy of the inimitable Beau Smith and artist Kevin Bernhardt, from a comic called PRIMATE back in 2001, concerning a gorilla with two gigantic knives taking it to some poacher types in the best possible way. thinks often about training his own private primate army...when the zombies come. Man, where is ZOMBIES VS APES comic or movie?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Characters I Want to Write: HAWKMAN!

Here's the "other" convoluted character whom no one can seem to sustain over a long period of time, at least in the eyes of the public.

Hawkman's had just as many variations as Aquaman, or nearly, and in collating those histories and various "looks," the character has become schizoid. Writers James Robinson and Geoff Johns took all the different Hawkman conceits (at one time Hawkman's real identity was Carter Hall, archaeologist and reincarnated Eygptian Prince...then he was Katar Hol, an alien called a Thanagarian, a policeman studying our crime-prevention methods, and later refined as a policeman pursuing a deadly criminal to Earth, and so on) and smashed the ideas together, which is perhaps the last time the character has been rebooted for a modern audience.

Hawkman's persona has ranged from stoic leader to barbarian warrior. He's been intelligent, he's been salt-of-the-earth, he's been conflicted. He's been benign, he's been malignant. His costume has ranged all over the place, with the primary difficulty in presenting a man with big (fake) wings being less visually clumsy and more workable.

I think the thing with superhero comics, and superheroes in general, is a combination of persona externally represented by the costume...meaning, the best superheroes act like they look.

Most writers will give you the Bad. "Bad" is how us 1970s kids would describe something that today is "cool." Cool used to mean how somebody acted...the Fonz was cool, nothing rattled him. "Bad" was usually said as "He is Baaaaaaad." Meaning, usually, tough. Especially in a fight. If you were "baaaaaaad," you didn't have to worry about anything.

Comic book writers in general will give you plenty of "baaaaaaad" but surrender the common sense and internal logic of the characters to do it. Batman has suffered mightily because of this preoccupation. And a psycho-anal world of soft-guts says that to be "bad" one also has to be "disturbed." Batman becomes a bit of a loon to justify kicking criminals in the face. This characterization becomes rote, eclipsing the more structured and balanced notion of the "Dark Detective" which the character fostered post-1950s until the 1980s. Basically, Batman lost his "cool" and kept up the "bad."

Hawkman flies using "Nth Metal," a Thanagarian alloy which allows anyone wearing it to defy gravity. This also provides somewhat superhuman strength. The Carter Hall archaeologist version is conversant with ancient styles of warfare and weaponry. He enjoys hitting people with a big spiked mace. Who wouldn't?

That's Hawkman's "bad" right there. He's a reincarnated man from all different eras of history. He's fought in every conceivable war, he's experienced every unconceivable heartbreak. He's also got a woman, his Hawkgirl, usually reincarnated with him in whatever era Carter Hall is in. At some point, the two of them are murdered and will once again be reincarnated, this cycle to occur over and over as the two lovers are forever cursed.

It's a bit heavy, especially for your "new" reader...various writers over the years have sought to remove the unwieldy aspects. Like Aquaman, Hawkman suffers from audiences who really shouldn't have that much of an influence on his comic book. I'm speaking of adults who have clung to the various Hawkman versions and refuse to acknowledge any Hawkman that doesn't represent, in some way, their Hawkman.

Way to murder the future of comic books, fellows.

I never really thought much about Hawkman when I was a kid, but I wasn't that smart as a kid. From the viewpoint of new readership for comics, and my current affection for the character, I'd probably get rid of a couple aspects of the overall character, like the curse thing (which may have already been solved.) Also, I'm not a big fan of the Hawkgirl dynamic. I can't help it, but knock-off versions of male characters grate on me...they're rarely able to step out of the shadow, and since there's so few really good original female characters...well, Hawkman wouldn't have Hawkgirl.

The other point: Hawkman's environment is off. Currently, or at least as of the last of his solo series a couple years ago, Hawkman lived in the DC Comics version of New Orleans, a place called St. Roch. Fine and good, except when you look at Hawkman, or when I look at Hawkman rather, what you see is a character who makes much more sense in exotic locales. He's been in a Science Fiction setting, he's been in the big city, he's been stationed on a satellite in space...where Hawkman works would be a kind of Indiana Jones world of international intrigue. Carter Hall should be a fairly nondescript dude, like Indy Jones in his civilian life, but once he's Hawkman, he's in the deserts of Cairo punching Nazis into airplane propellers.

Unlike Tarzan, who actually works better outside of the Jungle, Hawkman would be perfectly suited to life in a unpredictable Savage Land, preferably packed with hyena-men and wicked monsters. But yet intricately connected to "our" dimension and reality...Hawkman would rule Monster Island while having no idea of what was around the corner. A Hawkman who has never seen this landscape has to survive in it.

To me, that's the core of Hawkman according to his external motif: he's a survivor, a fierce predatory survivor in point of fact. He should be one of the most savage, and adaptable, superheroes in comics.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Over at Christopher Mills is proudly showing off the cover of the new Moonstone Comics series, CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT, written by hisself and art by Richard Clark. Frankly, I'm more than all over the new character design.

Man, I do love goggles, folks.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Night Fights! O.P.P.! Savage Reconstruction!

This rhinoplasty courtesy of Gil Kane, from his short-lived Parker-inspired crime comic, SAVAGE, starring Savage, a man with six bullets, two fists, and one huge sack. knows that it's all relative, but a good solid pistol-whipping never counts against you.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Facebook Comic Con

If you're a member, get on over there for the official weekend celebration. After all, what with the crummy weather and all, what can be better than a virtual comic book Con?

If you're not a member, join up just to take part in Michael Netzer's foundation for a comic book tomorrow!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Night Fights! O.P.P! Superboy's Passion!

The dangers of getting too "into" a girl, courtesy of Bob Brown and Wally Wood, in SUPERBOY. never gets too close to love. It just ain't done.

Monday, March 9, 2009

WATCHMANIA: Forget the Giant Squid Vagina (Philip Jose Farmer and the Spoiler of WATCHMEN)

I'm remiss for not having mentioned the death of Wold Newton theorist and all-around great story-teller Philip Jose Farmer a week or so back. I should have put up a post on a blog calling itself "Pulp Hero"...particularly when you consider my first exposures to Tarzan (albeit in "alternate" form, via "The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod" short story) and Doc Savage (Doc Caliban) in print derived from the mind of this man. And in honor of Farmer being the only writer I can imagine with the guts to show Alternate World Tarzan (Lord Grandrith) unknowingly killing a horsefly with the power of his ejaculate, the title of this entry is appropriate to include my PJF death acknowledgement. It's not that I wasn't aware, I just felt a little like there's a ton more folks who know Farmer's work intimately and more thoroughly...then I realized that the connective tissue of Farmer's imaginative infusion into this world of Pulps demanded I make some record of his influence. It's like trying to figure out what to say about Jack Kirby. You have to start from your own experience. For me, without A FEAST UNKNOWN or RIVERWORLD AND OTHER STORIES (where I first encountered the Jungle Rot Kid and the Dawn Patrol and Sore Bridge,) I don't know if I ever understand the literary (stress) quality of the Pulps. Hope I'm not too late to say RIP to a great man.

Everyone's talking WATCHMEN and as mentioned by the Groovy Agent at , Dick Giordano's Action Heroes line at Charlton in the 1960s led directly to "the greatest comic book story of all time" in many minds. While that's hyperbole, the characters are Pulp Archetypes of one form or another, particularly Rorschach/Question and Nite Owl/Blue Beetle, the respective night and day of Pulp Action in comics. I like being reminded of a great man like Giordano anchoring the talent behind those characters (genius Steve Ditko for the most part.)

THE BOOK: I don't think WATCHMEN clobbered me at age 16 the way DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and even CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS had, only because I was playing catch-up with DC Comics at this time (having read very little DC stuff outside of Gene Colan's Batman work and Perez on the Teen Titans.) SWAMP THING and MIRACLEMAN was also blowing me away at that time. What WATCHMEN did was support the notion of "comics aren't for kids anymore" which DC was promoting heavily. I think we're suffering for that mentality now, but that's another discussion entirely. For better or worse, I was glad comics were challenging me, rocking my conceptions, and so on. Alan Moore was at the forefront of that wave. Luckily for me, I was too old at that point to really do more than admire Moore's work, not emulate it. I was heavy into Ernest Hemingway at that time, too, and in fact the idea of "literature" would soon chase comics, adult or not, out of my life for a while. I read a lot of books in those years. But I came back to comics, to the sensibilities instilled in me long before Alan Moore, in Kirby and Lee.

All this to say, I wasn't immune to the sway of Rorschach. Like thousands of others, I felt Rorschach was the star of WATCHMEN and an identifier of sorts, the hero who saw Things the Way I Saw Them. It's a teenage affinity, to accept the dark core of reality even if you have no idea what it truly looks like. I admired Rorschach's viewpoint and how he came to it. He broke mentally so I did not have to, if you understand. He was and has remained an integral character in my lexicon. If I had to have a poor outlook on the world, at least it wasn't Goth, right?

THE MOVIE: I admired everything about it, even while seeing the faults. I didn't do this with BATMAN BEGINS or SPIDER-MAN or HULK or HELLBOY, even. I walked out of all those movies thinking something was wrong. It wasn't fidelity, it was just a basic understanding between what I know and what the filmmakers know. The factors behind making a movie are beyond most of us, the pleasing of so many crying bird mouths waiting to be fed. How any good movies get made in this atmosphere of lapdog slavering is incredible, but it does happen.

You'll find many people loving the movie and the performances. I agree. See it for Rorschach, of course. I was shocked to fing myself drawn and even identifying with the Comedian most of all. I love a cruel disposition in a character without boundaries, and the Comedian is that, for sure.

There's an ending to this movie that, while not perfect, is actually better than the original book.

The warlock, Alan Moore, will never see that, but I'd like to point out here and now: in the book, the world drops their atomic countdown and unifies in the face of an alien invasion of Earth. My problem with this, in the context of the world of WATCHMEN, is that there's no indicator that aliens even exist. Dr. Manhattan is the only hero with actual powers, and he's not viewed as an alien from another world. None of the Watchmen have, in their histories, fought aliens or Skrulls or anything not of terra firma. Even the literature of this world eschews science fiction genres for comics about the horrific pirate ship, the Black Freighter. Nowhere is there aliens in this alternate world, so why should humanity believe, even in the moment of "invasion" that such malignant creatures exist, when they have no pretext culturally to accept them?

So, the ending is better. Theoretically. And the movie overall is well worth seeing. I'm going again soon.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I Missed Friday Night Fights: Which Calls for a Sunday Name-Calling

That's better, courtesy of the Human Fly as rendered by the inimitable Frank Robbins and the 1970s.

Don't forget, has the full compliment of titanic tosses, and expects you fine folks to vote for The Best!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Characters I Want to Write: AQUAMAN!

Me, your mother, your great uncle, we all want to write Aquaman.

I think the character survives on Saturday Morning Cartoon nostalgia, for the 30 going on 40 generation who caught "Super Friends" on the television. That Aquaman had the cool sound effect when his little sonar concentric circles commanded the creatures of the sea to battle evil with (for) him. Thus was Aquaman coined as a passive character for all the generations to come, a character who needed to be in the ocean, who could only operate in that realm.

Aquaman in the comics when originally conceived wasn't an Atlantean, of half-Atlantean, but a regular kid whose scientist father acclimated him to the ocean. Arthur Curry could survive in the Deeps, and like Tarzan, developed the strength and stamina one would associate with a man able to operate under the ocean's crushing fathoms.

Soon this iteration gave way to the updated version, who had been the product of an Atlantean and a human. Unlike the other Atlanteans, Arthur didn't have blue skin. He had his water-bourne powers and his WASP features to get by on. The orange shirt and green fin pants are righteous, but worn by a generic bohunk. Not that there's anything wrong with a bohunk, at all, but Aquaman is too nonspecific in appearance.

Peter David, writer of the Aquaman comics of the 1990s, decided to "Namor-up" the character. Make him brutal and savage and gruff and dangerous, pretty much the formula for established character "revisions" across the board during the era. Aquaman had his hand eaten off by pirhana and arbitrarily rammed a vicious harpoon hook onto the stump, as his emblematic weapon. Arthur grew a beard and long hair, and turned into an undersea Conan the Barbarian. Aquaman wasn't boring, that was for sure, but something was lost in the translation. Arthur had been turned into an a**hole.

There's been more variations on Aquaman as a character than I've read, so I can't comment on them all. Tons of writers and artists in comics have failed to reenergize the character for the modern audience. Some say it cannot be done. And I think most people who are drawn to Aquaman sense the futility of the attempt. This is why they are so eager to try. Aquaman seems ripe to become an icon, and yet is sneered upon in the next breath by the fans who still welcome his presence as a guest star in some higher-profile mag.

There's several ideas I think would work, because I'm superficially drawn to the character...I don't like anything about Atlantis. The fabled city works better as ruins, and Arthur is no more a King than I am. Or, the connection is tenuous at best, as was first the case during the 1940s. Arthur discovered Atlantis as a dead city, seeming to perceive the possibility of a unique rapport with the underwater metropolis and its ancient artifacts.

An entire generation of stories has concerned themselves with Arthur's political problems, his King Arthur equivalency, but I reject them. Arthur is much better seeking out the answers to the secrets of Atlantis. So yes, Atlantis is not populated in this "new" Aquaman universe...or rather, it may be, but by isolated beings or outright monsters who aren't so friendly about their territory being invaded.

The other factors concern Arthur's personality, but good character writing in this case isn't really a problem. That is, Arthur is a survivalist of the ocean depths...he's not brutal because he's angry, he is violent as a response to death. If Arthur encounters a beast in the waters who wishes him ill, he will kill it and, depending, probably eat it. I mean, why waste the food?

In appearance, Arthur should look as if he's lived in the ocean all his life. That being the case, his skin is going to be tougher than leather, craggy and probably a sharkish gray. I think his costume would have more fin-like stuff on the arms and legs, made by Arthur to propel him more easily. His belt will hold stuff like squid ink to release into the ocean around him, throwing enemies into a darkness they may never emerge from.

I think, if you've noted large fish and sharks and manta rays and whatever else in aquariums, you'll note how curious they are. Always probing, moving and probing. I think Arthur does that too, he's inquisitive about a human world and the beings in it. He's not stupid, when on land, but he's about as comfortable there as a whore in church. He can live easily out of water, but psychologically he's attuned to the waves. His lungs grow tight on land from the same panic we experience when drowning. Arthur's adventures on land are driven by a need to conquer his fear. Meanwhile, being human requires more from him than he has ever learned. And on and on.

Also, forget calling the comic AQUAMAN. Seriously, it's a death-knell, and it doesn't even make much sense. He's not a man made of water. Still, the name is a "brand" and should remain with him. The comic itself should be called something else, but not Aquaman.

The best case? Revive the old SEA DEVILS comic with the "new" Aquaman and the team operating out of an island base in the Pacific. In fact, the Sea Devils probably are the first humans to actually encounter and communicate with Arthur. And after Arthur inadvertantly wounds one of them in the confusion of their first encounter, he has a lot of make up for. Something like that, you know?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES 193: "Save the Children!"

David Michelinie gets an issue off here, as Gerry Conway fills in with Gerry Talaoc keeping on with the art duties. Conway had been writing for DC for several years by this point, and in several years would be at Marvel Comics creating a future money-machine (far-future admittedly) character called The Punisher.

This story begins with the Unknown Soldier parachuting into the German countryside, five miles from the Swiss border. He immediately kills a patrolling Nazi soldier and jogs to the nearest town, called Berghoff. He arrives at the train station, where he finds a Nazi officer to kill and impersonate.

While preparing his mask, the Soldier recalls his orders from a blustering General, who berates the Soldier and refuses to share information about the Soldier's objective. Which, as it turns out, is to destroy a German transport train carrying a Nazi Field Marshall named Helmholt. The Soldier is instructed to kill anyone and everyone in pursuit of the train's destruction.

Stealing the face and uniform of the dead officer, the Soldier carries a packet of plastic explosive in his tunic. He boards the train and is immediately confronted by his family, a wife and two children. As Ernest Heidak, the Soldier bluffs his family while discovering that the train is rolling into Berlin, and that Ernest's family will be aboard the entire way. Thus, when he destroys the train and the Nazis officers, he kills the innocent families as well.

Unable to bring himself to perform such as act, Colonel Heidak determines he will accompany the officers to their quarters in Berlin, wait until they seperate from their families, and kill them there.

Colonel Heidak is taken into a private meeting of the officers on the train, where he learns the men there are taking over the stradegems for the war on the Russian Front. This clears up part of the Soldier's question about his mission. Once in Berlin, Colonel Heidak is shown to his own chauffeured car, as all ten of the officers and their families are being driven by different routes. The Gestapo suspects a mass assassination and has acted to avoid it. Colonel Heidak can only follow along, until entering Berlin, and nightfall.

The Soldier emerges to find out where the secret staff meeting is taking place. He breaks into the German High Command executive offices, sure to find the information he seeks. While probing, the Soldier comes across a discussion between two officers. One of them, "Frederick," is incredulous that Field Marshall Helmholt is about to take command of the Russian Campaign. Helmholt sneers at Frederick's desire to have destroyed his career in the "Balkan assignment." From childhood, these two men have despised one another. Now, Helmholt is in a position of power, with the means to win the War. Helmholt also reveals the location of the meeting: Hitler's bunker.

The Soldier is nearly discovered, and shoots his way out of the offices. The next day, Colonel Heidak is driven to the bunker, and he and the other offices convene. Ernest sets a timer on his satchel, containing his plastic explosive. He is stopped by Field Marshall Helmholt, who wishes to gloat over their coming achievement. Ernest knocks him aside and flees the bunker as his bomb explodes. However, he is recognized as Colonel Heidak while escaping, and upon reaching the hotel where "his" family has been staying, discovers the Gestapo there. Heidak's family is removed, to be placed in the concentration camps, and the Soldier realizes his action to save Heidak's family, the children in particular, has failed. He bitterly swallows the ugly truth of their impending deaths. And he leaves them to their fate.

A more-than-solid work which thematically falls in line with Joe Orlando's editing on this series so far. Gerry Talaoc's art is fabulous here, perhaps the apex of the series in quality. The script really doesn't miss a beat in the formula established by Michelinie, and the twist of the Soldier's complications to save innocent lives which nevertheless ends up resulting in their deaths is well-done. A solid issue which doesn't flag in the face of Micheline's absence.

Out of Five 3D Men.