Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pulp Hero Guide to Good Comics 3: Death Be Proud!

I was pontificating on the state of culture, as is my wont, and mainly because I don't have the financial resources to ignore it/create my own, and it occurred to me that the critical loss of subtlety in death within comic book stories is a problem.

Now, for the uninitiated, comic books and the death of characters is nothing new. Some of the pinnacal moments of comic book history revolves around major character deaths, such as Captain Marvel dying of cancer, the Dark Phoenix suicide in UNCANNY X-MEN, the accidental neck-snapping of Gwen Stacy in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, the brutal death of Elektra in DAREDEVIL. These were watershed moments in which readers were given the possibility of death and then had it paid off. Of course, being comics, the characters all returned from the dead, diluting the power of the original story in which they met their fate. This is because the American culture is creatively bankrupt.

However, death in comic books had only begun to get cranked up. As rare as death was in comics prior to the 1980s, all of that went out the window with the adultification of comics. As the older readers stayed on, reading and more importantly influencing the content, comics grew darker, grimmer, more violent and sexualized. Seeing Conan the Barbarian hack some dude's head off in the black and white magazine SAVAGE TALES was a special treat in the 1970s; by 1985, entire worlds were being swallowed in mass extinction by anti-matter in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, by DC Comics.

And the specific character deaths, in that series, of the Flash (Barry Allen) and Supergirl (who cares) were the sobering identifiers for the readers that "comics aren't just for kids!"

I was about 16 when this mentality took hold of comics, and I for one was glad: Now, I reasoned, the rest of the world would read comic books and take them as seriously as I did. Because comic books were important, they were unique, and no one knew it. I didn't know, of course, that "comics aren't just for kids!" meant no one would ever read comic books again except adults. Who knew that was coming? Maybe the talented people working on the comics, like John Byrne, who was a superstar of the 1980s and pretty much saw exactly where superhero comics were heading. I'm sure those that respected and loved the medium were horrified.

Death exists in comic books, but the poignancy of death, like the poignancy of love, is lost beneath the imagery of violence and sex. Two aspects of human existence, by the way, which I have no problem with contextually. Superhero comic books starring Batman and Superman contextually do not need overt violence and sex, and yet their books are rife with it. To an adult, it's just another dumbing down of the overall quality of comic books. To someone looking for a new experience by reading comics, they see nothing but the violence and sex. Who does that draw to comics? Yes, the adult, longtime reader expecting to find violence and sex.

My issue is that violence is not death, in fictional terms...violence in superhero comics should be scaled to the genre...meaning, a hero punches a villain through a wall, but there's no ordinary guy sitting on the other side of that wall who is instantly killed. That is a long-standing "understanding" between the reader and the comic book. Collateral damage in superhero comics is just not done, generally. It isn't necessary to show the shocking loss of life that would occur "in the real world," since the superhero comic is not the real world.

Superhero violence has become more gory and grotesque as the readers have aged...after all, comics are in competition with other media. And death, the natural byproduct of "real" violence, has become cheap as well. The convention of the superhero story no longer has room for "shorthand" of the superhumanly strong superhero "pulling his punches" to keep from killing his weaker opponent. Only by skill and the grace of the gods does the weaker character escape, and yet lost is the drama of survival beneath an avalanche of horror. Bleeding mouths, gored lips, tattered flesh have replaced the old artist shorthand of crosshatches to indicate bruising and the ripped cape.

Comics taught me valuable lessons when I was growing up in the 1970s, one of which involved death. Death was not alien to comic book superheroes, they lost girlfriends and friends and family. It did happen. They lost loved ones because death is a part of living in this world, as immutable and inescapable as the oxygen in our lungs. I was prepared for death by witnessing death in comic books. I believe the power of the Universal Horror Monsters, Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolf Man and Dracula, touched on the bizarre character flaw of having died and still...life continuing on. It was a kind of subtle hope to all of us kids who watched those movies, who read the comics. Survival was not impossible, defying death had drawbacks like becoming a blood-thirsty beast or ghoul, and death was never the answer as justice. The hero did not kill because it was the natural thing to do. Humanity is about rising above inherent savagery, at least in superhero fiction, which has always been about the ideals of humanity, the testing of the will of the hero a lesson for all of us. Especially as read and perceived by punk kids like we all were. Death in comics prepared us for death in life, because it was an approximation of death, a lesson about how to behave in the face of the unknown.

So, for my money, comic books are too busy with their preoccupation with violence and sexuality to worry much about death, except to understand death as a byproduct easily solved by the conventions of the comic book...no one ever truly dies in comics. But this is an attitude which has unfortunately colored the ultra-violent acts as well, making them byproducts of an ignorance of ethical behavior. Within the superhero comic book, the questions of the unknown have been replaced by the unethical, which means no one has to "feel" the death, only the gruesome pain of disfigurement and the titillation of the exposed female mammary. Death as byproduct, and an increasingly jaded readership, stands in for the ethics of the audience, and it's a very poor replacement.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Night Fights! O.P.P.! Right Turn, Ted Grant!

This is a Don Kramer-rendered, Pete Tomasi-scripted, solid right cross from our favorite Wildcat to our favorite Flash-cat, from JSA CLASSIFIED ish 9.

http://www.spacebooger.com/ has had Pabst Blue Ribbons with Ted Wildcat Grant. Red Cliff, Nebraska will never be the same.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Get Ready to Get Your Parker On

Preview of the most anticipated comic book adaption ever, at least for me. Darwyn Cooke's PARKER.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


The Soldier, as Klaus Oster: Nazi assassin, doesn't know which of the dignitaries is about to kill General Volochisk (see part one http://pulphero.blogspot.com/2009/04/star-spangled-war-stories-195.html ). He's already in mid-karate kick and decides to slam that boot into the Russian General, displacing him just as a shot is fired.

The General is saved, and the assassin Gherner, disguised, breaks for his freedom through Russian troops. For his trouble, Oster gets beaned by a Russian rifle butt (he is still in a Nazi uniform, after all) and can only shout out at Gherner. The shout causes Gherner to hesitate, and the Russian soliders kill him. The soldiers are about to kill Oster too when he manages to say, "Mazeltov." This is a recognized codeword for the Soldier to the Russians, saving his life.

Later, the General reveals to the Soldier that the Russians have leaked that the assassination of the General was successful, and that Gherner escaped. The head of the School of Assassins, the Count Witschenbach, has returned to his villa in Germany to continue plotting for Nazi supremacy. The Soldier creates a mask of Gherner's face and is dropped into Germany, using a cane and pretending to be wounded. He's spirited to the Count's villa, where he's congratulated. Wishing to know the Count's "next project" for him, Gherner is stonewalled by the Count, who doesn't trust Gherner's short disappearance and keeps the new plot secret.

Irked, Gherner activates a trigger on his cane, which leaks a line of phosphorus on the floor as he walks. The phosphorus reacts with the air and billows smoke, signaling a fire. Gherner slips away to investigate the villa for possible hints of the Count's new mission, when he runs into a young woman with a pistol. He's about to kill her when the woman runs into his arms, revealing herself to be Anna Gherner, his sister. Six months had passed since their mother died, but Anna has been held prisoner in the villa, writing letters to Gherner to convince him their mother was yet still ill, and still in need of medicines. This, to keep Gherner's top-flight abilities in line with the Count's wishes. Anna has come with pistol in hand, after hearing of Gherner being "lost" in the Odessa mission, to kill the Count herself for the evils against their family.

At that moment, the Count and some soldiers arrive, and Anna attempts to shoot him but her aim is thrown off by Gherner. This convinces the Count that Gherner is loyal beyond doubt and can be trusted. The Count brings Gherner to the South Wing of the villa, where Gherner runs smack into General Volochisk, who can now reveal Gherner is a spy. However, it turns out the General and the other Russian commanders are disguised surviving members of the assassin school, and their mission will be to kill and replace the officers they represent.

Gherner realizes his mission has taken another turn. He decides on a course of action, reporting to the other assassins that a change in plans has occurred and the Count expects them in his office in twenty minutes. This gives Gherner time to reach the Count, who has just finished torturing Anna Gherner. Knocking out the Count, Gherner ties him to a chair, plants a German grenade on him, pulls the pin and shouts an alarm to the arriving assassins. Leaping free with the girl, the room, the Count, and the assassins are destroyed.

Gherner carries Anna to a secluded spot, where she swoons in pain and expresses gratitude for at least still having her brother, after all their family has perished in the War. The Soldier tries to be reassuring, but he is about to tell her her brother is dead, as the story closes.

Again, more superb economy from Micheline and Talaoc, who nail the evergreen beats of their offbeat War story and offer up another painful episode. The emotional turmoil is never entirely forgotten with the introduction of Anna Gherner, who again reminds the Soldier of war's true face, and the costs.

Out of Five 3D Men

Saturday, April 18, 2009

STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES 195: "The Deathmasters"

This story begins with a Kommando named Oster breaking into the Nazi HQ of a "School of Assassins" located on a remote Rumanian island. Oster has come to kill the head of the school, Count Witschenbach. However, Oster is captured, having been tracked since stealing his way onto the island. The Count demands Oster's orders, while Oster reflects back to his briefing at Allied HQ, as he is the Unknown Soldier in disguise as Klaus Oster.

The School of Assassins is preparing a counter-offensive against the Russians in Moldavia, and so the Soldier has been sent to stop it. As new "trainee" Oster, the Soldier has infiltrated the School, and the Count prepares him as he does all new recruits. Oster is trained vigorously in the days following, but he learns nothing of the School's plans.

Finally he encounters a fellow recruit named Gherner, who is said to be the Count's "number one man." Oster decides to sabotage a routine training session involving the planting of wired dynamite; Oster insures the dynamite is real, not fake, and that his name will correspond with Gherner's on the duty list. During the training, Oster waits for Gherner to plant the bomb, before taking action and saving both men's lives. Oster relates that the live explosives must have been a mix-up, as "...luckily, I recognized the code numbers on the charges just in time!"

The Count, though, isn't convinced of the accident, and decides to keep a closer watch on Oster. Meanwhile, Gherner brings Oster to his cabin for drinks, and to relate a bit of backstory. Gherner's family is Communist, yet obviously this is an unpopular position in Germany. Gherner's mother is very sick, and Gherner has become a Nazi assassin to afford her medications. The friendship continues, until the evening when Gherner is ordered to report personally to the Count. Oster follows, taking up a position on the roof to listen in to the plan: Gherner is to kill an important Russian General at a ceremony in Odessa.

Oster is then nearly captured, as the Count's spy has discovered Oster's ruse. Oster kills the spy but is too late to stop Gherner from starting off on his mission. Oster can only race to Odessa and hope he is not too late.

Oster, on his way, blows up the entire School compound. At Odessa, Oster reaches the presentation honors for the Russian General, and realizes Gherner is in disguise as one of the dignitaries. Knowing it could be any one of them, Oster concludes the issue by racing forward toward the dignitaries and launching into a karate kick.

Another solid issue, replaying some themes writer Micheline uses often in these stories. Talaoc's art is settled into a grimy groove perfect for the work. Another two-parter here as well, as Michelinie continues to evolve the War Comic format. Though the War Comic would eventually return to its former creaky execution, this comic displays yet more evidence of what could be done with the formula.

Out of Five 3D Men.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Fack! I Missed Friday Night Fight Deadline! Again!

Boy that burns me up. I hate missing out on the Fights http://www.spacebooger.com/ as it's akin to forgetting a wicker man burning or other wondrous heathen celebration positively bloated with human sacrifice and wanton sexual acts in grassy fields while the ash singes naked flesh.

To that end, as a "filler," I want to provide a proper panel of punishment, in lieu of FNF participation, just as I did before when I didn't unleash the dogs of war:

Yah, that's right...smacked in the kisser with a turkey leg, from Steve Gerber's Man-Thing analogue called "Sludge" in his own comic back in the 1990s...instead of a monster and man fused with the muck of the Florida Everglades, Sludge is a monster and man fused with New York sewage. It was the 1990s after all.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pulp Hero Guide to Good Comics 2: The Batman says, "What Have You Done?"

First of all, the best Batman story I've read since sometime in the early 1990s has run its course. I'm speaking of BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL issues 26-28, with the beautiful art of Jose Garcia-Lopez (pure dee old school, folks) and inking by Kevin Nowlan. The story is three parts and was written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir.

Not only have I never heard of DeFillipis and Weir, I hadn't known this title existed. It's ancillary, a Batman book that seems fairly unrelated to whatever f*cked up weirdness is going on with Grant Morrison's work on the regular Batman books. Which I guess are cancelled now or something. Maybe my ass cares, but I don't.

However, any time Garcia-Lopez is working is a good damn thing, as he's one of the premier anatomists (along with John Buscema) of comics. So somebody handed me these Batman comics explaining how good the story was. I'd read how good it was. I generally find myself incredulous in the face of a concensus. But I tried it and found the story pretty much had everything a Batman story needs, and a "flagship" characters deserves: good art, fine characterization on both Batman and the Riddler (whom he's reluctantly partnered with,) and a villain with a stupid name (King Tut, but not the great Victor Buono) yet has plenty of threat and gravitas. Color me shocked, but this book could have come out back in the 1980s heyday of Gerry Conway and Gene Colan (you know, back in the day when Batman didn't sell very well? Remember that?) It's that well-done.

Of course, nothing lasts forever, but you should mark down to follow DeFillipis and Weir, whoever they are, and always support Garcia-Lopez whose art will make you bust out crying for its radness.

This story started me on a new/old rant...the flagship titles of DC Comics (and Marvel Comics) absolutely working James Brown hard overtime to alienate future readership.

I haven't seen anything like it in my whole life: a comic book company like DC, with the greatest, firmly iconic, most recognizable characters on Earth this side of Spider-Man, has warped their comics into completely inaccessible religous tracts. Unless you are a longtime convert to DC, you are not only not going to understand their stories, you're probably unaware of "which version" of the iconic character(s) you're supposed to be following.

DC in the last couple of years has been attempting to "return" to recognizable identities for such characters as Green Lantern and the Flash (while managing to ostracize Superman and Batman from their own titles-- no small feat, friends and neighbors.) The editorial mandate is for the original versions of these characters be returned to the forefront of the reading public's consciousness. However, instead of creating comic book stories to reflect a "generalized" approach to the characters, DC has decided to parlay their moneymakers into vehicles for their "star" creative talent, namely Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison. This leads to the unfortunate problem of the iconic characters being unrecognizable to a general audience.

These two writers, Johns and Morrison, are spearheading DC Comics these days. They've both written decent stories, even great stories, at times. They also both suffer from a myopic view of comic books. Their work and its "themes" suggest they are embarrassed by superhero comic books, to a degree, and like most of the adults who read them, they want the superhero comic to be Something Else. "Graphic Novels" is the preferred nomenclature. I must emphasize, again, superhero comic books should be designed with the most wide, most general audience they can attract. You know, like back in the 1960s when they were never more popular. They eschewed adult language and extreme violence, as such things were regulated by the Comics Code Authority, a watchdog of "censorship." The thing is, comic books could do anything they wanted, it just took a little imagination and skill not to do it blatantly.

These days, the secret is out: censorship wasn't the problem being kept under control by the Code. It was actually the creative talent's over-indulgence and selfishness that the Code apparently kept in check. It's clear now that the Code made comic books about superheroes better than they ever have been. Why is that? You'd think the opposite would be true. And everyone will point toward the Spider-Man issues by Stan Lee and Gil Kane, in which Harry Osborn is popping pills and hallucinating, which Marvel released in the late 1960s without the Code approval.

Fine and dandy, except Marvel didn't kick the Code in the nads and spit on it--Stan Lee was instrumental in putting the Code together, he respected it. He knew what the Code was supposed to do, and why it had to exist.

The comic book is a very special art form. I won't overstate it: comic books aren't going to supplant Ernest Hemingway, or Johann S. Bach, or Ingmar Bergman. But the guys working on superhero comic books think that their work should somehow be elevated, just because they believe it should be so. They don't want to accept that telling adventure stories about men in long underwear, mainly for a general audience and primarily for kids and teens but enjoyed by consenting adults (meaning, adults who understand who comic books about superheroes are originally intended for,) is not going to win them the Pulitzer. It is never going to happen. Stop justifying the superhero to everyone who will listen, while also making it impossible for a general audience to read about them.

What has DC Comics done? Well, for one thing, they removed the excitement of younger, newer readers from reading their comics. People in the "Industry" don't understand what they are doing, and it's a fact. They've isolated the adult reader as the only viable reader for their brand of comics. They've shut off all other avenues to find future readership, and talent. That talent, the future of comics, is going off to design video games and Disney cartoon movies. They don't care about the corporate shills, Superman and Batman. At this point, they never cared, because Superman and Batman have never appealed to them. Which is to say, they weren't given the option to find out there's more to Superman and Batman than the f*ckbags at DC Comics are telling them.

DC Comics has hired talented people who are telling you, and you, and you, and me, that their version of Superman or Batman or the Flash is the "best" version. Not only will you have to like their bizarre takes on the icons, you'll have to wait longer than the usual month to read about those heroes. Because, unlike the grindhouse days of the 1960s and 1970s, comic books are art, and they take time. This is shorthand for, "You're lucky we're working on these lousy superhero comics at all. And oh, we're in a recession so you're gonna pay $3.99 per comic and you're going to like it, fanboy..."

Batman, in the comics, is always the character least likely to buy into a concensus. He's always going to have questions about anything everyone else agrees upon. He's careful and precise, generally. I think he'd be the first to speculate that DC Comics and the people running it have no idea what they are doing. None. The people who run the company are way too busy suckling at the teat of "stardom" within their ranks, the few "name" talents DC has who draws attention to their comics. It's a humilating experience for me, personally, to watch. Superhero comic books were meant to be an experience for younger people, a way to link them to avenues of imagination unlike any other medium, be it television or books or movies or especially video games. The comic book can outshine them all, as a medium. Superheroes in general must be designed to support the medium, not the other way around. Superheroes bring the kids to comics, and the genre comics, the stuff branching off from the superhero, the War comics and Westerns and Horror and Science Fiction comics, the surreal adult themes of Charles Burns, the poignancy of MAUS, these are examples of what the adult reader will have available to them after they have "moved on" from the superhero.

The superhero doesn't have to "grow up." The adult audience needs to accept that the superhero doesn't need to explain itself to them. As inexplicable as the "science" of the superhero is, it is that much more inexplicable how the adult audiences continue to cling and mutate comics to suit their desires.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Something's Coming

A man among boys (the rest of us,) Dave Flora (of burgeoning Ghost Zero fame) has released the teaser for another sa-weet creation on his website, http://www.ghostzero.com/, and it looks positively intriguing, you must admit.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Night Fights! O.P.P.! Demon Rock!

Jack Kirby's DEMON issue 4 displays Etrigan's rock skills. None of the Guitar Hero dorks can possibly match the Demon's wicked licks he hits.
http://www.spacebooger.com/ provides lyrics to this impossibly righteous melody.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Characters I Want to Write: THE BEETLE!

I've been meaning to put down a post on one of my favorite characters, Abner Jenkins, the bombastic Beetle!

Now this character has been around for a long time, since 1964 in fact, which is a looooong time ago, folks. He's had different iterations since then, as Jenkins has upgraded his Beetle armor over the years. He's gone from loser thug to just loser-joke to giving up the criminal life to become part of a superhero team called the Thunderbolts, under his new identity as Mach IV (at this point; I guess he will continue to become Mach V, Mach VI, and so on as long as anybody interested in another version of Jenkins' character's look.)

The Beetle is a pro heist-man kind of character, who carries out robberies with planned precision. He's fought a bunch of Marvel Comics' superhero types, usually on the receiving end of a trouncing by Daredevil or Spider-Man or Iron Man, or whatever new character might need some instant street cred. The Beetle deserves better...hell, he was at Reed and Sue Richards' chaotic wedding in 1965! He's a definitive part of the Marvel U.

(Origin sequence for the original version of the Beetle!)

This gives me a chance to bemoan one series Abner Jenkins starred in, from the early 1990s sometime around the time I was damn near crying when my beloved Houston Oilers blew the biggest lead in NFL Playoff history against the Buffalo Bills...man, I need to let that go. The series was called THE DEADLY FOES OF SPIDER-MAN, and it was a four issue mini-series written by Danny Fingeroth, with pencils by Kerry Gammill and old pro Al Milgrom.

This series is pretty damn frustrating, with good stuff submarined by overwriting, and then the retarded ending, at least in character assassination. The premise is that the Beetle leads a heist team made up of Spider-Villains working for the Kingpin of Crime. Jenkins owes the Kingpin for his new Beetle armor. The Rhino, Boomerang, Speed Demon and Hydro-Man make up the heist "string." The Beetle gets to pulling off those jobs, and doing a good job of it, even taking out Spider-Man with his team. As the story progresses, Boomerang is captured and Jenkins and the others think he might turn over on them. The Beetle is torn about either springing Boomerang, killing him, or setting him up for a long prison term. This is when I thought Jenkins was written well...Fingeroth touches on the idea of Jenkins being a professional criminal...as such, Jenkins knows something has to be done to prevent his team from getting apprehended. But there's also an unspoken loyalty, the idea that Boomerang has an integrity that won't allow him to turn State's Evidence. Fingeroth's story goes friggin' nuts, though, and the Beetle seems hardcore but screws up enough that one-half of the team, including Rhino, Boomerang and a chick using the Ringer's ring-weapons take on Hydro-Man, Speed Demon and the Beetle in a revenge melee.

Now, up until this time, the Beetle was played fairly straight as a professional, albeit one with a heart. Suddenly in the last act he turns into a complete snieveling coward; he spends most of the melee crying not to be killed by the Ringer chick. Spider-Man saves Jenkins from his fate as a corpus, but not from being a whining coward. This is the all-time low for Jenkins, at least that I've read. Fingeroth bunged up a neat SUICIDE SQUAD/SECRET SIX type dynamic by making Jenkins interesting and then deciding that, yes, villains really do blink their eyes. That gets a big double middle finger from me to Fingeroth.

So, as is usually the case, a character no matter what their "level" can be awesome (see Gail Simone's Catman over the last half-decade, for instance) if written well. They can also become a joke, if not. The Rhino and Boomerang and the Beetle certainly had their share. At least Speed Demon recently got to be part of the NEW THUNDERBOLTS, assuring him of a high point in his fictional existence.

The Beetle as we understood him is still "a joke." Even when Jenkins donned the old Beetle armor again in recent years, for a couple of issues of THUNDERBOLTS, he was pretty much mocked for it.

The problem is, ever since Jenkins became "Mach I" in THUNDERBOLTS, he's been a rehabilitated criminal trying to do the right thing. Which is fine, but I'm not crazy about "Mach I" or whatever since Marvel already has Iron Man and half a dozen knock-offs related to Stark Industries besides. In another case of a character being "deuniqued" by the shills, Abner dumped the Beetle moniker, color scheme, and theme for a basic generalized armor look that frankly isn't very exciting.

Personally, as much as I like Abner Jenkins, I'd give a stab at having the Beetle become someone else. Not a new character necessarily, but someone recognizably non-superpowered. And someone with a Parker mentality, the mentality of the hardcore heister. A man with his own moral code who you don't want to mess with or get in the way of, but not a psycho or whatever passes for "criminal" in most comics. Just because someone is a "bad guy" doesn't mean they can't be respected. The reader will follow the character of the Beetle because, frankly, he's riveting. He's not going to fold under pressure. He's a man using an armor who will do whatever he has to to pull off the "job."

The primary thing about the Beetle is the thematic motif, the Beetle. There's a surprising number of beetle/insectoid characters out there, but this Beetle uses the basic natural characteristics of the beetle to augment his skills. He's tough, he's strong, he's fearless, and in a lot of ways, the Beetle is necessary.


Well...if nothing else, the Beetle should be a fierce individual. He's not going to fall in line with some stupid crapfest Event cooked up by the comics companies. He might take advantage of the chaos and confusion, but he won't be a joiner. In fact, "joining" means being made vulnerable to superheroes or other villains or the Authorities, and a "real" professional like the Beetle who's whole modus operendi is stealth and efficiency won't take that chance. I could see this Beetle killing anyone who tried to "subvert" his individuality. This Beetle, in particular, is no joke.

You have been warned, by the Beetle!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Pulp Hero Guide to Good Comics 1

Two things happened to me in/around January of 1977: on a Friday night, while watching Channel 20's "Creature Feature" out of Washington DC, with host Count Gore De Vol, the horror movie NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD burned itself into my seven year-old brain, causing a sleepless night and terrors for decades (even to this day, though I love them zombies!)

The next day, excrutiatingly freaked out by George Romero's movie and after Saturday cartoons I'm sure, I went to do my usual bike-riding around the front lot of my mechanic grandfather's business, Carter's Garage. At some point during the early afternoon, he drove me to a local 7-11. There, amid the wonderful smell of old coffee unique to 7-11 stores, I bought this comic:

This is the first comic in which I am mind-blown by Jack Kirby. I think it's pretty much the first time "Jack Kirby" becomes a brand I will follow through the rest of the decade, and well into this adulthood.

On the second and third page, as was Kirby's want at that time, he draws a spectacularly cool two-page splash of Captain America in a jungle, suddenly being attacked by an amphibious monster known as the "Man-Fish."

Unfortunately, I don't own my own scanner. Half of the page I found online, showing the creature.

Now, this is a typical example of Jack Kirby brilliance, and the entire splash remains my all-time favorite. It treated me to a desperate moment within mere seconds of opening the comic. The adrenalin pumped as my already sleep-deprived and terror-stricken zombie-plagued brain sought to handle the pressure.

Essentially, what Jack Kirby did was introduce me to Pulp Writing 101: ramp up the action and craziness and then keep topping it. By the time this creepy dude, Arnim Zola, shows up on the last page of the comic, I'm a mess.

This comic would begin the formulation of what should be called "taste." As in, I began at seven years to grasp what exciting experience through story-telling was. It wasn't just reading the comic, it was living in the moment of reading the comic. Much as the case with watching NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD...I believed, after about an hour of Romero's skillful increasing of the zombie threat against those poor people in the barricaded farmhouse, and the "news reports" informing people to seek emergency shelters, that what I was watching was actually happening. I was in the moment of the intense excitement perpetrated by a master story-teller. Suddenly, you couldn't tell me the zombies weren't coming. Hell, I still believe they're coming. While reading this CAP comic, I feared for Cap and the chick he's protecting in the story, Bella Donna. I perceived as a child as I'm incapable of perceiving now, swayed by the imagery and the excellence of George Romero and Jack Kirby.

The problem today is folks my age want to feel the same way they did then, only in order to do that, they have to change the superhero to become adults, like them, and have adult problems, like them.

But here is the beginning of my education in the Pulp pop culture, of which we'll continue to track. Jack Kirby was only getting started with me.

The Pulp Hero Guide to Good Comics

The thing about Pulp Hero, I hope, is that folks realize the point of the blog is to discover the "new" Pulp thematically in what we term comic books. The connection between the two goes far deeper than merely Doc Savage = Superman, The Shadow = Batman...comics emerged from the Pulp magazines, a natural successor derived from the illustrations adorning the lurid, surreal stories, not to mention the brilliant covers. Contextually, the Pulp adventurers could make hay in the superhero's universe(s.) The icons of Pulp not only inspired most of the iconic superhero archetypes, but they informed the stories' general commercial appeal as well. The characters were designed to entertain and thrill as general an audience as possible, while still straddling lines of good taste. Basically, what most people wanted to read in the 1930s or the 1950s had the resonance of bad taste with the skill of professional writers/artists who knew what to include and what to allude to, in order to both avoid the censors and manipulate the old imagination.

Meaning, a lost art, essentially.

Anyway, my bend is toward Pulp as I understand it, and it all comes back to Pulp at some point. Comic books, the ones I really like, have elements of the long-standing traditions of Pulp and its derivatives, Drive-In movies and "macho" fiction ala "The Destroyer" "The Penetrator" and even Surf Music! There's a concussive reverberation from Pulp which continues to evolve and encompass Popular Culture.

Anyway, let the Guide commence hereforth.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday Night Fights! O.P.P.! Cap in a Chippy Mood!

Getting cracked on the teeth with something hard and metallic is bad. It's bad in a holy crap I just broke my tooth and will be mistaken for a hillbilly way. No offense to hillbillies. This painful panel courtesy of John Byrne from CAPTAIN AMERICA 254, a legit classic of my childhood!
http://www.spacebooger.com/ is still wondering when the real Cap is coming back.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Read'm And Weep: Comic Books of Our Time

Comic books about superheroes are for kids. No, really, they are. Comic books as a medium for talented people to tell stories, that's for everyone. For one, comic books aren't restricted to long-underwear heroes. There's all kinds of genres to operate in. Superhero comic books, specifically, should be designed for a general reading audience. Adults can read them, but the superheroes we all know? Those guys/gals belong to the kids. Superheroes teach kids about stuff without being an allegory. By following these heroes, kids learn what it is to do the right thing and help the helpless and so on. Adults don't need any lessons like that. They're already screwed up, and now they've taken the comic book superhero with them.

That said, I love comic books. I love comic books by people who love comic books, and novels, and movies, and old television shows, just like me. They collate the information above and funnel it through the medium of comic books. Whether those comic books are about superheroes, or Western gunfighters, or criminals, or supernatural detectives, is part of the beauty of the comic book. Which also happens to be one of the most unique, purely American art forms, in case the intellects can't grasp the point of comic books as having import in our rapidly digitizing world.

Unfortunately, most of you will never experience the full potential of comic books. Before the corporations are through, "comic books" will cease to exist. The character icons will continue to exist, and rake in hordes of money for these companies while the original character creators live in practical poverty, but those creators signed their work-for-hire contracts and them's the breaks.

So, what's all this getting to? I'm going to remind you to support http://www.heroinitiative.org/ which is a fine organization to help aging talented people who don't have all that heaping helping of corporate money from their creations. And if I ever get the chance, I'll help revitalize the dying comic book industry. Because somebody has to do it.

Tomorrow I'll get into some comic books worth reading today. And yeh, they are out there.