Friday, April 30, 2010

Racism in the North Woods

Green Lantern #79 (September 1970)
"Ulysses Star is Still Alive!"
Denny O'Neil-Neal Adams/Dan Adkins

Doug: We're back for our fourth and (for now) final look at the highly regarded run in Green Lantern by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams. It's our intent to return to this title at some point in the summer. It's been an enlightening look, yet a curious experience to be sure.

Karen: In retrospect, I may have been too harsh on this series in previous posts. There's no denying that what O'Neil and Adams were doing at the time was a huge step for DC. Although I still think that last story was a very lazy effort!

Doug: I'll have to agree with you, friend. I think I have been guilty of looking through my Marvel Age lens at these stories. I have to accept that editorial at DC was different from what Stan and Roy were allowing their creators to do at the House of Ideas. Instead of incessantly panning Denny O'Neil's writing, I should instead be embracing his envelope-pushing.

Doug: Our hard-traveling heroes remain in the Pacific Northwest, where their last adventure had brought them. As the story opens, Hal, Ollie, and the Guardian (can you believe it's been four issues and they haven't named this guy?) sit around a campfire. Footsteps running through the adjacent forest alert the trio, and snap GL and GA to action. What they find is shocking: a Native American fallen and at the mercy of a lumberjack and a businessman. All bear weapons, and all spout racist epithets. It's really quite unnerving to this reader, O'Neil's penchant for in-your-face language. I'll be quite frank, and I've said this previously -- I would really like to know how these stories were received 40 years ago. A little bit of his far-left (don't read into that, as I tend to vote Democrat) moralizing in an issue, and then a multi-issue exploration of a given topic of social injustice would have been welcome compared to this tour de force of poverty, economic oppression, and racism. I understand that America has its problems, and perhaps it was better that the heroes did not solve those problems but instead felt beat down by them as well. But this series has left me weary.

Karen: I really wish the TPB collections had the letter pages from these issues. It would be fascinating to see what the reader reaction was. I wonder if readers back then would be as appalled as we are by terms like "redskin" and the other epithets. I tend to think not. What was really unbelievable was when the heroes first encounter corporate bad guy Theodore Pudd (how did they get away with that name?) he asks them to help wipe out the "filthy savages" - even though they just prevented him from shooting a Native American man! How does that make any sense? Lazy writing again?

Doug: At issue in this book are logging rights. This is certainly a "ripped from the headlines" story, as the early 1970's were rife with Native American issues of fishing rights, etc. In fact, the so-called Second Wounded Knee, involving a stand-off between the Lakota of Pine Ridge, SD and FBI agents would be only two years from this time. The Native Americans state that their claim to the land was lost with a former tribe member who left 20 years ago; the loggers claim rests on the fact that the government copy of the deed has been lost. So, with no paperwork, the logging company intends to squat on the land. O'Neil uses extremely racist language in this segment, employing the terms "redskin", "paleface", "animals", and "creature".

Doug: Of course, Hal thinks there's nothing to be done (Hal's becoming a bit tough to take in the role of socially unaware stiff), while Ollie counters with his emotion-on-his-sleeve kneejerk reaction. But Hal surprises the reader by taking the only lead they have -- the tribe member who'd left two decades ago -- and investigating. As fate would have it, Hal arrives at the only address he could find, to find the building ablaze. Even here O'Neil gives us racist vocabulary. Anyway, Hal finds the man he's looking for, rescues him, and then learns that the paper he was after was indeed real... until it burned with the building. Adams art and storytelling is particularly strong in this scene. Hal then flies off to Washington to seek aid from a Congressman friend. For Hal, it is paramount that any solution be within the bounds of the law.

Karen: At least Hal speaks up for himself in this issue! "I'm getting a bit tired of your lording it over me with your moral superiority routine..." It was good to see some backbone from him. Hal's initiative in finding a solution-within the law -was refreshing.

Doug: Back on the reservation, Ollie and Black Canary minister to the children. They discuss what the people need, and determine that all the medicine, books, and financial aid in the world won't be enough. What these people truly need is a return to their spirit. So, in a scene right out of Scooby-Doo (seriously... that is all I could think of when I got to this part), Ollie "disguises" himself as Ulysses Star, the tribal forefather who'd made the original treaty for the land. He keeps popping up, "haunting" the loggers and tribe members alike. Hal eventually shows up to break up a skirmish, and engages the "ghost". As they battle, Ollie's true identity is revealed, and he and Hal take out their liberal/conservative issues on each other.

Karen: Oh man...Scooby Doo is right! Things were going so well until that old trick was dragged into this plot. Why? It just seems so pointless. Why do we have to have these guys fighting each other practically every story?

Doug: The story ends with arrests made for the arson of the building that burned earlier in the story and a pledge from Hal's congressman friend to remedy the situation through the legislative and judicial processes. Hal and Ollie make up, and listen to a short sermon from the Guardian. And we're left to our own beliefs/devices to decide how the story turns out.

Karen: I suppose it makes sense that there's no resolution, because these types of problems are not easily resolved. But rather than fighting each other I'd like to have seen our two men in green actually work together.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

BAB Two-In-One: Simians in White Sheets and Dead Guys Fighting

Doug: Marvel Magazine time, kids. Today we're looking at the first issue of Planet of the Apes, the black and white extravaganza that celebrated all things Ape in the early 1970's.
There are numerous articles about the films, and the magazine kicks off with a long explanation from Roy Thomas concerning Marvel's acquistion of the license. I'll examine the first comic story (which is actually the first part of a multi-part serial), with a fine creative team of Doug Moench and Mike Ploog. There is a second comic story that adapts Planet of the Apes, with art by George Tuska. This beauty was on the shelves at the supermarket in August, 1974.

The protagonists of this story are two teens -- a young human named Jason and a chimp named Alexander. They are just out of class and on their way to the village square to hear a message from the Lawgiver. This story, we find, takes place after the events of the fifth film in the Apes series, Battle for the Planet of the Apes. The Lawgiver, as you might suspect, preaches a message of peace and harmony among the "races". He then drops a bomb by informing the gathered public that he is leaving for an undisclosed amount of time. His place as magistrate is handed on an interim basis to Xavier; the lads are less than thrilled. This is a society dominated by apes, despite the former message, and it shows in the dialogue between our two leads -- there is much tension. The boys attempt to follow the Lawgiver to see which direction he heads, but they quickly lose him. They part ways, and Alexander heads to his house.

But when he get there, he's alarmed to find his father prone on the floor, beaten, and his mother cradling his head. She exclaims that gorillas in white hoods were there and carried out the violence, calling him a human lover and a traitor to the ape cause. Alexander's mother said that their parting words were that all humans were to be subjugated, or killed. She implores Alexander to run and warn his friend Jason. However, as Jason will soon learn, his parents received the latter sentence in a deadly inferno. Jason pursues as the villains ride away, but he is unable to keep up with the horses. He is exhausted, and filled with hatred for those "beasts".

With tensions between Jason and Alexander now higher, the two nevertheless strike a pact to ally and bring the hooded murderers to justice. Cut now to the encampment of the ape "klan", where the perpetrators return and we discover that they were on an initiation mission designed specifically to kill Jason's parents. We also find that the leader is none other than Brutus, the Lawgiver's peace officer. Brutus, the prejudiced, hateful peace officer. As Jason and Alexander have stumbled upon the camp, along with Brutus' wife, they are engaged by hooded miscreants and captured. Jason is eventually framed for the murder of Brutus' wife, a murder which Brutus himself commits when his wife rejects his offer to rule at his side over an ape-dominated society.

The remainder of the story shows Jason on trial for the murder charges. Xavier presides, and his ineptitude shines through as all that he learned of peace and harmony from the Lawgiver is brushed aside by Brutus' strongarm tactics. Jason is sentenced to prison ahead of his impending hanging. However, he is broken out by Alexander, and the two decide that they must trail the Lawgiver... into the Forbidden Zone.

Wow -- what a great story! Moench really nails the tensions between the apes and humans, playing directly off the tone from Battle. And Ploog's art is perfect. He really nails the look of the apes, and his backgrounds and landscapes evoke the best of the Apes films. This was a true winner from Marvel as the company expanded into the arena of black and white magazines -- seek it out, effendi!

Karen: I dug deep into the long boxes for this one. It's Frankenstein Monster #9 (March 1974), with the battle everyone's been waiting for: The Frankenstein Monster vs. Dracula, lord of Darkness! Brought to you by Gary Friedrich and John Buscema.

This issue is the second (and concluding) part of a two part story. While I don't have all the details, it's not too hard to comprehend. Frankie is in Transylvania, where he's
apparently gotten into trouble with both Dracula and the angry villagers (aren't they always angry?). As we begin this story, the big old lug is being burned at the stake! He's not even fighting back, as the Monster wants to die. But then a cream breaks the night and the villagers realize that while they were setting Frank on fire, Drac has taken advantage of the situation and attacked a woman. The villagers then turn their anger towards Dracula.

Although the Monster wants to end his life, he can't stand by while someone's in trouble -and he also wants to rid the w
orld of Dracula. So he busts loose and heads off to find Drac, only to have the villagers accost him again. He shakes them off and tells them, "I want nothing more than to end my wretched existence...but if you allow me...I will do one good turn for mankind before my death - though I am not at all certain you deserve it!"
Frank heads for a cave that is Dracula's lair. Inside is a beautiful gypsy girl that he met in the previous issue. She had been kind to the Monster when no one else was. Unfortunately, she has been turned into a vampire by Dracula, and attacks the Monster. Although it pains him to do so, the Monster ends her unlife with a stake to the heart.

Who should arrive then but Dracula? He wants to bite the Monster and convert him into a slave. Although Dracula is far more powerful than the Monster, it seems the Monster's hatred for Dracula is so great it gives him a tremendous burst of strength. He tosses Dracula to the entrance of the cave, where the sun is now conveniently rising. As the terrified vampire tries to crawl back into the cave, the Monster grabs two pieces of wood, making the sign of the cross. Dracula recoils, and as his flesh begins to be consumed by the rays of the sun, the Monster forcefully stakes him through the heart, leaving nothing but a skeleton. It is at this moment that we get a surprise visitor -a man who says his name is Vincent Frankenstein!

This was a fun read, a book I haven't seen in many years. It was also a short one, as the book also contains a 4 page horror reprint (the source is not identified). I felt that Buscema's art seemed rushed in places - particularly towards the end, with the fight between the Monster and Dracula. We got a couple of pages with just three panels on them, which looked very odd. Also, a lot of close-ups with no background detail. It's not terrible work by Buscema but far from his best. The inker was John Verpoorten, and it's a decent if workmanlike job. The cover is pretty eye-catching, or at least was to me as a 9 year old! I'm not sure who did it; the Grand Comic Book Database guesses possibly Ron Wilson, but I doubt that. It may be Buscema layouts. The heavy inks remind me of Tom Palmer, but I really don't know who it was.

I do wish Marvel had kept the Monster in the past (as he is here, sometime in the late 1800s). They had a number of characters that started out in other time periods (alternate future characters like Deathlok or Killraven) that wound up making appearances in the regular Marvel universe, and I never really thought that was a good idea. For
the Monster, seeing him running around with Spider-Man never felt right. He is ideally suited to "the old world" -I mean, how else are you going to get the angry villagers?

I do like the characterization of the Monster: he's hardly a brute or unfeeling. He's a sympathetic character, with a good heart and heroic qualities. Actually, the Monster was the prototype for many a Marvel hero -the misunderstood monster! How would the Thing have fared if he'd been in 19th century Europe, rather than metropolitan New York of the 1960s?

Monday, April 26, 2010

...and Black Canary Makes Three

Green Lantern #78 (July 1970)
"A Kind of Loving, a Way of Death!"
Denny O'Neil-Neal Adams/Frank Giacoia

Doug: We're back for another look in this, the third installment in the O'Neil/Adams series of Green Lantern/Green Arrow adventures. This issue picks up in the Pacific northwest, which I suppose serves to answer my question raised in issue #77 -- where the heck were our heroes when they had the battle with the miners? I'll guess, given their locale here, that they must have been in the American southwest.

Doug: Black Canary debuts in this run, and right on the splash page. She's cycling in Washington and is encountered by some thugs who could be refugees from Deliverance. They want to steal her motorcycle... they have no idea who she is, even though she's in costume. So that's weird. Even weirder is scribe O'Neil's authoring of the following line, written during the skirmish: "She mastered the ancient arts of Judo and Jui-Jitsu -- mastered them as perhaps no other mortal ever has!" Excuse me, but didn't O'Neil write Batman before this?? Anyway, Canary makes pretty short work of the thugs, until one of them mounts a bike and runs her down. She's left in the road for dead. As the Demons gang speeds away, however, a mysterious figure clad in a buckskin jacket lifts the battered heroine...

Karen: Those bikers reminded me of those old American International biker flicks that came out in the late 60s/early 70s. I could just see Big Bill Smith as one of the bikers! I too was taken aback by the idea that Canary was such a martial arts master -I thought she was merely good until many years later, around the time of Birds of Prey. But a little hyperbole is to be expected I suppose.

Doug: We cut away to find Hal, Ollie, and their Guardian pal as they clunk along in their pick-up, two weeks after the events that began this tale. They pull into an Indian reservation in search of some food and are treated to a lovely plate of... beans. Their dining is disturbed by the entrance of the same group of thugs who'd beaten Black Canary. They start making trouble, Hal and Ollie slip out the back only to return in butt-kicking garb, and wipe up the place. They notice that one of the punks is riding Dinah's bike, so Ollie interrogates him, his way.

Karen: I thought it was really goofy that the guys step outside to change into their costumes, while the poor dude running the cafe is getting hammered by those bikers! I also thought the scene where Ollie lays into the thug, and then is restrained by Hal, was reminiscent of the work Adams did on Avengers 96, when the Vision goes bananas beating on a Skrull who had kidnapped Wanda, and was held back by his team-mates.

Doug: And then, and then... Denny O'Neil slaps us upside the head with another sermon, this time on the way the white man ripped off the Indians over the years. Now, I'd be the first to agree -- seriously, not a single argument coming from me on the basic premise. But man -- I don't know how readers back in the day could take this sudden turn of writing style. I'm gonna wager that ol' John Broome wasn't penning any of this in-your-face social injustice.

Karen: Well, this particular sermon didn't go on too long, at least. But hey -wasn't that the whole point of this series?

Doug: GL and GA track Black Canary as best they can, and as fate would have it they find her right away. Trouble is, seems she's fallen in with some cat named Joshua, who heads a messianic cult! Ollie attempts to reason with Dinah (still in costume, by the way), to no avail. So he plants a big smooch on her, but she pulls back. Hal encourages Ollie to leave for now, but as they exit, Dinah seems to battle memories apparently repressed through Joshua's brainwashing. Later, Hal and Ollie discuss what's happened, argue, and Ollie stalks off. He hears gunshots in the forest and tears off to find Dinah and the rest of the cult at target practice. Joshua urges them on, exclaiming that since the different races cannot get along, it will be the cult's responsibility to bring peace to the land -- starting with an attack on the Indians.

Karen: I thought the page where we see Canary's memories presented as scenes over a sort of outline of her face was one of Adams' weaker attempts in this method. I think he had done similar work in both Avengers and X-men, if I'm not mistaken. This one just looks sort of weird.
Doug: As GA shoots a flare arrow to alert GL, the light in the sky draws the attention of Joshua, who implores his charges to fire at GA's silhouette. Ollie is grazed, and the mob descends upon him. GL arrives in the proverbial nick of time to push back the mob. Joshua and Dinah flee into the forest and come across the unconscious Green Arrow. Dinah still carries a gun, and Joshua commands her to fire it at GA. Green Lantern arrives (again), but chooses to watch, in effect wagering Oliver's life against Dinah's ability to resist Joshua. His gamble pays off, as Dinah drops the gun. Joshua picks it up, and GL takes him down. As he falls, though, the gun goes off, fatally wounding Joshua. As Black Canary comes out of her funk, she and Ollie rationalize what happened. The conclusion is that although hypnotized, there must have been some latent hatred in her mental weakness that allowed Joshua an "in" to her soul.

Karen: Oh brother. Seriously, this is a weak story. Who is Joshua? Where does he come from? How does he control people? All we know is he's a nut who hates anyone who isn't white. This isn't a complete story, it's an excuse to go off on racism and "white man's guilt". All that would've been fine if it felt like there was a solid story behind it, but without that, it's just a bunch of speeches tossed at us with pretty art. I don't know about you Doug, but I'm beginning to really question the reputation that has built up around these stories over the years.
I know they were ground-breaking for the time, but it's less the subject matter than the actual stories themselves that I'm questioning.

Doug: You don't know about me? And here I thought my disdain was shining like a beacon! Yeah, I know -- is it perhaps the fact that this is a DC? Even though there's the thread of "searching for the good in America" running through this series, the done-in-one format isn't lending itself to believable storytelling. Marvel's penchant for longer stories with developing subplots (granted, more of a 1970's vehicle than the late 1960's) seemed much better-suited for telling stories with subject matter like this.

Friday, April 23, 2010

BAB Two-In-One: Masters of Kung Fu and C-List Baddies!

Karen: As I said in my Wonder Con report, I picked up a few Master of Kung Fu books, so let's start at the beginning, with Shang Chi's first appearance, Special Marvel Edition #15 (Dec 1973). First off, it was produced by two of my favorite comic pros, Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin. These two guys did so many amazing and creative books in the 70s, I really don't know how I never got in on Master of Kung Fu! The two of them wouldn't stay on the title very long however. But this first issue is pretty fun. Oh, and besides writing the thing, Englehart also colored it! But the guy did apprentice under Neal Adams before he started writing comics.

Karen: There's a long story about how Marvel had the rights to the Fu Manchu cha
racter created by Sax Rohmer, and how that concept was married to Shang Chi, but I don't want to get into it here. You can check out the letter page of this book for that. Suffice to say, Shang Chi, the living weapon, master of Kung Fu, is the son of the notorious Fu Manchu. However, Shang has no knowledge of his father's evil ways; in fact, he believes Pops is trying to help the world! So when Dad sends him off on a mission to assassinate an old foe, Shang goes unquestioningly. However, once he finds his target and discovers that he is a decrepit old man, he begins to doubt the virtue of his mission.

Karen: Regardless of these feelings, Shang actually does kill the man! This was a bit shocking. He encounters Sir Denis
Nayland Smith, a former British agent, now confined to a wheelchair due to Fu's villainy. He tells Shang the truth about his father. This info disturbs Shang, who returns to his American mother, to find out the truth. She confirms Shang's worst nightmare -that his father is a power-hungry, amoral man.

Karen: Shang Chi then makes his way through a deadly maze towards Fu.
Starlin's art is just fantastic throughout the book, but the combat sequences here are outstanding. When father and son come face to face, Fu makes no apologies, merely states his goal of world domination. Shang says he is mad, and that from now on, they are enemies. He leaves, disillusioned, yet now more free than he had ever been.

Karen: This w
as an outstanding origin issue. Everything works in this story; it's a perfect combo of word and art. While wordy by today's standards, I relished it. It was like reading a novel - only with pictures. This book really demonstrates what a talented writer can do using those now-extinct comic book tools, captions and thought balloons. We get into Shang's head, but it never feels forced. I highly recommend this book!

Doug: Our fare today is my first issue of The Secret Society of Super-Villains, #7 from May-June 1977. The creators were Bob Rozakis on the words and Rich Buckler and Bob Layton on the pictures. As we begin, apparently Lex Luthor has just infiltrated a meeting of the Secret Society, and the story is entitled, "Luthor's League of Super-Villains".

When I was a lad, I didn't know anything about the problems between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, so the whole Funky Flashman bit went right by me. However, upon re-reading some of this stuff knowing all the backstory -- whoo-boy!! What a dig! Here's what's going on -- as I said, Luthor's busted in and is seeking to exert his authority on the Secret Society. He's just broken Copperhead out of jail, and has come to the "Secret Citadel" to get help in his never-ending war on Superman.
The Wizard had been proclaimed leader of the sinister cartel by Flashman; ol' Funk doesn't make much of a move, however, to assist Wiz when Luthor kicks his butt. I was never a reader of Silver or Bronze Age Superman books (followed Superboy in the Legion, though), but loved Luthor's outfit here. Not the battlesuit from Super Powers fame, but the more utility-equipped outfit. I also don't recall Luthor being as physical as he is here.

Luthor requests Flashman to find Felix Faust and the Matter Master, two other magicians. Combined with the Wizard, it's Luthor's intent that these three bozos, er, purveyors of mystical energy, will finally defeat the Man of Steel. So Luthor orders Flashman to get his new assistants over to Japan, where the Superman movie is being filmed. They arrive, but like the dopes they are, attack the guy doing the main acting; seems the real Superman was only going to do the stunts. The scene cuts to the JLA satellite, where Batman arrives to relieve Hawkman of monitor duty. The Hawks and our star, Captain Comet, head to the Hawks' orbiting rocket to enjoy a little Thanagarian ghoulash. But, while Comet and Hawkgirl watch the news on a very ordinary looking telly, they notice the Wizard making havoc at the Superman set. As Comet has it on for the Wizard, he leaps up; Hawkgirl says she'll join him, as Katar is doing the cooking this day.

Cut back to Japan... what a bunch of morons.
The three mystics create landslides and other trouble, but the "Superman" in front of them does nothing to stop it. Matter Master cooks up a two-headed dragon, and it's at that point that Comet and Hawkgirl arrive. They quickly deduce that the Wizard isn't the only enemy; meanwhile Lex, watching on a monitor (much slicker than the Hawks' tech -- Flashman must be lightyears ahead of Thanagar!). The dragons are defeated and Hawkgirl rescues "Superman" from a tiny volcano the Wizard created. Assuming Superman to be powerless, the three magicians attempt to rally. They don't anticipate that the actor in the suit will fight back, yet he does -- and quite successfully. I thought a funny line in this sequence was Hawkgirl telling Felix Faust to "stuff it"!

Everything ends well. Back at the Secret Citadel, Luthor and Flashman part ways with each intending to call the cops on the other.
Funny thing is, Flashman turns the trick on Luthor first, who is arrested as soon as he sets foot outside the HQ. Meanwhile, on the Thanagarian rocket, Captain Comet and Hawkgirl arrive back just in time for Katar's ghoulash.

This was a fun story, not diminished over time as some stories can be (see our recent reviews of Marvel Team-Up). The lens of the adult reader is different than that of the pre-adolescent and some of these stories don't hold up. While this was in no way great literature, it was a fun story with a decent beginning, middle, and end -- a done-in-one as was typical of DC's in the Bronze Age. Rich Buckler's pencils were aided by Layton's inks and the overall art was pretty good -- one quibble I'd have is a litte inconsistency in faces from page to page. The panel lay-outs evoked Adams or Colan, but weren't distracting -- in fact, it probably enhanced the art. But overall, and I don't know anything about Buckler using panel swipes at DC, this was a good-looking book! Rozakis' script was good, too, and I've not always been able to say that about his work. If ever a guy epitomized the contrast between Marvel and DC, it would be "The Answer Man". This is a series I hope to revisit in future Two-In-Ones.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Iron Man -- Because Everyone Dirty Dances...

Back again with another quick-hitter -- saw this today on and had a good laugh. Since pre-release publicity for Iron Man 2 is reaching a fever pitch, and also since Dirty Dancing was out right after the Bronze Age, I figured this was a good place to post this. Enjoy the soundtrack, too!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hard-Traveling Heroes -- the Beginning

Green Lantern #77 (June 1970)
"Journey to Desolation"
Denny O'Neil-Neal Adams/Frank Giacoia

Doug: When last we left Green Lantern and Green Arrow, they'd been joined by one of the Guardians of Oa, who had taken the guise of an Earthman and pledged to travel with our heroes in the name of seeing the plight of downtrodden Americans. These were the days of Vietnam angst, still in the turbulence from the late 1960's and almost on the steps of Watergate. It was an unstable time in the States, to be sure.

Doug: Hmmm... Where to start on this one? I guess my first impression is to say that Denny O'Neil had some sort of fixation with Nazis. Last issue he referenced the Nuremberg Trials, and in this issue we see a bunch of Ratzis who have been busted out of "war criminal prison". Sorry to say, Denny, that by 1970 there probably weren't any war criminals still in prison; in fact, most served no time at all for their deeds. But that's a story for another day. Anyway, this was an OK yarn -- the best thing about it was the twist ending.

Karen: I didn't see the point of making the henchmen ex-Nazis. Was there a point? All we needed was for the villain to twirl his mustache. Geez.

Doug: I could never decide on the setting of this story. Even though we began last issue in "Star City" (Marvel sure had the better notion, in setting their tales in real cities), which I would assume is along the eastern seaboard's megalopolis, this town of "Desolation" didn't fit into the Adirondacks nor the Appalachians site-wise. It seemed to be more of a southwestern motif. Any thoughts, Karen?

Karen: You got me. I was assuming it was the Appalachians, maybe Kentucky? But what do I know, I lived in California almost my entire life!

Doug: The boys, along with their Guardian tagalong (dude hasn't been named yet, although he gets a larger role in this, his first full-time gig) open the tale in a green pick-up truck under fire. The would-be assassins are quickly revealed to be some locals who don't exactly speak the king's English. I started out thinking O'Neil was reaching for some sort of mountain dialect, then southern, and then I just gave up trying to figure it out.

Karen: The bad guy here seems to be a southerner, and I got the impression in the previous issue that the nasty landlord was a southerner. So maybe O'Neill disliked not only Nazis but southerners too?

Doug: O'Neil plants an interesting subplot right off the bat, as our heroes engage the shooters. In the course of handling the bad guys, Green Lantern discovers that his ring is malfunctioning -- a projection doesn't reach its intended target. No matter -- his bacon is saved by Green Arrow. And a note here on the Emerald Archer: as O'Neil and Adams had taken the Batman back to his Golden Age roots a few years earlier, here Ollie often uses regular arrows instead of those of the trick variety. Sure, there are some explosive arrows, etc. employed when needed but more often than not it's just a plain old shaft/arrowhead to get the job done. We really won't see that again until Mike Grell's The Longbow Hunters in the mid-'80's. Adams' art really moves through these pages and O'Neil lets it -- we know exactly what's going on without any words.

Karen: That's another reason I love Adams' art: not only does he have that fantastic, photorealistic style, but the man is a story-teller. He's like a film director, meticulously setting up each shot.

Doug: This story carries a growing-familiar theme in this run of the evil magnate who has made his money off the less-fortunate. In this issue it is not renters writhing under the bootheel, but miners forced to slave away for one Slapper Soames. Soames lives in a fortified mansion on the top of a mountain, and the workers have been plotting to attack and kill him. As their hatred reaches a boiling point (due in large part to the kidnapping and impending execution of a young minstrel), they act. However, inside the fortress, Slapper consults his assistants, Nazi war criminals he's managed to release from jail, and tells them to begin defense. Land mines go off, machine gun fire is unleashed, and snipers roam the mountainside. The miners didn't have much of a chance.

Karen: I have to say, the whole land mine thing seemed ludicrous. We also have the young folk singer here, for no obvious reason. I mean, it's like they threw in everything they could think of: Nazi henchmen -check; evil southern landowner - check; destitute but morally superior town folk - check; young rebellious folk singer -check....

Doug: In the midst of the battle, GL is disciplined by the Guardians for taking on unauthorized missions, and his power ring is, well, depowered. Not good, as it usually casts a forcefield around him and he's under imminent gunfire when the telepathic message ceases. So, he decides to go about his defense the old-fashioned way -- chop-bustin'. It's at this time, too, that he realizes why his power ring had failed him earlier... he had lost his concentration, and his belief in right and wrong. His epiphany that what Ollie is after is what is right and just restores the bravery that had made him Earth's Green Lantern in the first place.

Karen: I'm assuming O'Neill and Adams felt they had to de-power Lantern, or else these stories would all end pretty quickly. But given what a bunch of jerks the Guardians usually are, it works to say that they decided to limit Lantern as a form of punishment.

Doug: As in any good superhero tale, the good guys eventually win out. I guess for spoiler's sake, I won't reveal the twist-ending, but it's not bad. Nice touch by O'Neil. Overall, this was a decent story, although I still find Ollie's moralizing over the top. It's like GL says one thing or has one iota of doubt in direction and Oliver just jumps right down his throat. I thought it was just a bit too much. And again, the fixation on Nazis... So help me, if they show up in the third issue, I think I'll just scream. You'd think it was a Bendis book with ninjas all over the place...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Invaders

Say, there --

I saw this image on the web yesterday. I couldn't find any other information about it -- I assume the artist is Alex Ross, although I couldn't verify that from Alex's website. But what the hey -- it sure is COOL!!!!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Star Trek Versus Star Wars

Karen: The age -old super-geek question has finally arrived at Bronze Age Babies: Star Trek or Star Wars?

Both are long-lived, highly successful, and beloved by millions. They have been extremely profitable for their respective owners as well. But although they share a few similarities, such as both having spaceships and aliens in them, they are very different beasts.

Star Trek -at least the initial TV series - gave us hour-long morality plays. Creator Gene Roddenberry and his colleagues used the framework of science fiction to make statements about modern man. Yes, there was action and thrills, but at it's heart the show was about how human beings deal with problems.

Star Wars on the other hand was the recasting of ancient archetypes -the young knight, the wizard - in a space fantasy guise. Star Wars excelled at presenting a story on an epic scale.

When you come right down to it, there's very few similarities between the two, which is why I've always thought this was an unfair comparison. I also happen to love them bot
h, for very different reasons, so I am loathe to pit the two against each other. But this is Versus, so we must throw them in the ring and make them fight to the death (insert Star Trek fight music theme here).

So let's look at some important aspects of the two and see who fares better. Our pal Doug is sitting this one out, as he hasn't seen much Star Trek -shocking, I know, but he's still a good person (Yeah, but I'm all in when we get to discussing I Dream of Jeannie versus Bewitched... -- Doug).

Characters: Star Trek's characters, particularly the holy trinity of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, seem far better realized than those of Star Wars. While I have a great fondness for Luke Skywalker and the story of his growth from callow lad to stalwart hero, he and the other Star Wars characters are primarily archetypes with little real personality. The crew of the Enterprise are far more human, with admirable qualities and flaws alike. The second Star Trek film, Wrath of Khan, does a wonderful job in showing us how our heroic Capt. Kirk is as human as anyone when dealing with aging. Spock's character development has been phenomenal; he went from a conflicted man who tried to deny and even eliminate the emotional aspect of his self, to a man who eventually would integrate his two parts and be the better for it. So this round goes to Trek.

Special Effects: This one is a no-brainer: Star Wars has always had the better effects. Even the Trek movies can't compare to the Star Wars fi
lms. I still get tingles when I watch Star Wars and see the opening scene with Princess Leia's blockade runner, pursued by the gigantic Imperial Star destroyer, passing overhead, seemingly taking forever for its huge bulk to go by. The starships, planets, aliens -they all look better in Star Wars.

Impact: Now here's an interesting one. How much have these two universes infiltrated our real world? Quite a bit. With Trek, you've got the phrase "Beam me up, Scotty" becoming ubiquitous some time in the 70s. And there's no denying the influence Trek has had on technology. How many engineers and scientists credit Star Trek with getting them interested in science? But perhaps the best example of Trek's thorough infiltration into our culture is that little item I bet you have on you right now: the cell phone. Without the Star Trek communicator, would we even have cell phones now? Is it any coincidence that so many seem to resemble Capt. Kirk's palm-sized device? With smart phones, we are also seeing something more like the Trek tricorder come into existence too.

Although we don't see folks running around with working light sabers, Star Wars has had its influence on our world too. Interestingly, it seems that its impact is more in the area of providing comments for behavior. The idea of "turning to the Dark Side" when someone is about to do something morally questionable is now a common phrase. Indeed, the title of Jane Meyer's successful book about the Bush administration was "The Dark Si
de". Former vice-president Dick Cheney referred to himself as the 'Darth Vader' of the administration on at least one occasion. On the other side of the equation, the phrase "he's using the jedi mind trick" is often overheard when someone is attempting to manipulate someone else. And how many times have any of us heard, "May the Force be with you?"

This one's a toss-up. They've both had a huge impact on us culturally.

So where does this leave us? Pretty much where we started, at least as far as I'm concerned. I can't decide between the two, because they are both huge parts of my childhood. There's something about these concepts and characters that continue to resonate with people even today, as the continuation of both of these franchises s
how. So what do you think? Can you choose one over the other? Light saber or phaser? Enterprise or Millenium Falcon? May the Force be with you, and live long and prosper.

Friday, April 16, 2010

"No Evil Shall Escape My Sight"

Green Lantern #76 (April 1970)
"No Evil Shall Escape My Sight"
Denny O'Neil-Neal Adams/Frank Giacoia

Doug: Long time comin' on this one, kiddies! Karen and I, along with our former colleague Sharon, had discussed taking a look at the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow series way back on the Two Girls, a Guy, and Some Comics blog. Here on the BAB, Karen and I identified this as one that we knew we had to get to. So, without further ado, we begin a multi-issue inspection at this iconic series.

Karen: Part of the problem was, I had trouble locating the TPB collections of these stories. They seem to sell out quickly. But I now have volumes one and two in hand. On with the show!

Doug: Boy, if this one doesn't start out like a Silver Age DC. Green Lantern flying through the city, spots some toughs roughing up a middle-aged businessman, and intervenes. Typical Justice League Boy Scout, right? Until Green Arrow shows up and says that if GL doesn't knock it off, he'll have to go through Ollie. Say what? Wow -- and this isn't a Marvel Comic?

Karen: You know, it may be 40 years old, but Neal Adams' artwork still looks phenomenal to my eyes! That man could draw a story about the Care Bears and I'd look at it!

Doug: On the very next page, we the reader are almost-literally slapped in the face with Denny O'Neil's new "social relevance". Green Arrow takes Green Lantern into the apartment building where the skirmish had taken place and introduces him to a grandmother... the young man who had roughed up the suit (Slade) actually did it to the guy because he owns the building and was about to evict all of the tenants in the name of building a parking lot that would make him more money. I have to protest at the last few lines of dialogue on the page, however -- when GL states that Ollie should get off his back, that he was only doing his job, GA rebukes him with a comparison to the pleas of Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials. That was a little over the top in my opinion.

Karen: Well, pretty much all of GA's dialogue is over the top - and I'm guessing that back then, we hadn't heard that Nazi comparison made as frequently as we would in later decades. But in any case, O'Neil makes darn sure we know exactly where the two heroes stand!

Doug: GL seems pretty easily convinced that he needs to pursue social justice. There's an oft-reprinted scene where a grizzled old black man approaches Hal and asks him what exactly he's done for the black man? That spurs GL to fly to the penthouse apartment of the land-(slum)lord and plead with him to not bulldoze the apartment complex. Of course the fat cat scoffs at the notion and asks his bodyguards to show GL the door. Hal uses his fists to end the potential escort, but is stopped in the middle of his own assault on the landlord by one of the Guardians -- and is immediately summoned to Oa where he is chastised for his actions. Hal apologizes, and declares that it won't be a problem again.

Karen: It's pretty clear from the writing that O'Neil thinks GL is a pawn of the Guardians, the Establishment, and an all-around square! That's probably the biggest problem with these stories -the view is decidedly lop-sided towards Arrow's liberal philosophy. It doesn't seem like there's a real effort to show a balance between the two - Lantern is just a law and order stooge who doesn't see the real picture.

Doug: You're right about the "square" part -- and one could have said this about any of DC's main heroes during the Silver Age.

Doug: After GL is sent on a "time-out" by the Guardians, we cut back to Earth to see Ollie also attempting to get Slade to ease up on the poor folks. Slade smarts off to him, so GA pins him to the wall with four arrows. GA threatens Slade -- tries to extort $25K out of him for "protection money". They make a deal to drop the cash at an abandoned warehouse. Of course Slade sends his thugs to off GA; GA has it set up with a dummy and a tape recorder, but the box is shot up in the fracas. So, instead of a taped confession that would put Slade in jail, Ollie ends up with only a couple of heavies to turn in to the cops.

Doug: Cut back to Slade's offices. After a little plotting, GA and GL come up with a plan to dupe Slade into a confession. Accompanied by the district attorney, Hal disguises himself as one of Slade's thugs. All they have to do is get Slade to mention the hit on GA, which he promptly obliges. It's almost too easy. This scene has a great visual of Slade caught in a power ring rat trap. A box at the bottom of the page promises a not-so-happy epilogue, however...

Doug: But in reality, it's not so bad. GA climbs back up on his soapbox... He rips the Guardians, rips Hal, invokes the names of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, and unbelievably (to me, at least) convinces one of the Guardians to journey to Earth and walk as a man, to experience the social injustice that is America in the Vietnam era. This should be interesting...

Karen: You know, God help me, I actually liked Arrow's little speech. Maybe it's because I grew up with the moralizing on TV shows like Star Trek, but I thought it was very affecting when GA said, "Something is wrong! Something is killing us all! Some hideous moral cancer is rotting our very souls!" I mean, that statement is just as relevant today as it was 40 years ago. Maybe the level of social upheaval is not the same, but it sure feels like things are very wrong right now. Well, to me at least.

Doug: Neal Adams' art is stellar as usual. In its own way it's familiar and comfortable; not in the same way that Sal Buscema's is, but a warm greeting all its own. Denny O'Neil's words, on the other hand, are very good when he's trying to just tell the story. In the scenes where he preaches the script is quite over the top. I think, because this is such a departure from anything that had come before it comes off really forced. Had we been able to ease into this, to have some sort of awakening over time rather than a snap to alertness, Oliver Queen might have come off better. But then again, maybe that was the point.

Karen: Not having been a DC reader at the time, I don't have a solid comparison. From the few DC books I've read from the 60s, this does seem like a big departure from the rather bland, cookie-cutter personalities the heroes seemed to have. It feels much more like a Marvel comic!
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