Saturday, January 23, 2021

Giant Labors Of Love!

Fanzines of any era are "labors of love" produced by fans who want desperately to express themselves about a hobby they love or in some measure to participate in the production of the works that make up that hobby. In the case of comics, there were scores of low-print fanzines manufactured cheaply  which were distributed to only a few hundred fellow fans at most. Fanzines of this type were well served by the antique production process of ditto or spirit duplication. 

"Ditto" copying was a standard technique for cheap duplication of documents in many smaller outfits like churches and schools and such since its invention in the 1920's. It was once standard practice to see purple-tipped fingers on many folks who made use of the process. When I first started my teaching career Ditto was still a regular way to make sufficient copies of teaching materials for distribution to students in a classroom. I've administered more than a few tests committed to the spirit duplication format. And as it turns out I used the process  when I briefly took part in comic fanzine publication in the late 70's long after most publications had switched to offset printing. I had access to that too, but much of the work developed by members of my APA (Amateur Press Association) came to me via Ditto masters. Learning to use Ditto and even to draw on it took practice and there were even some slight advantages at the time because of certain shading effects common to the technique. The smells of Spirit Duplication were distinctive and not necessarily unpleasant.  

That's the method used by all of the stories collected in Bill Schelly's Giant Labors of Love. I'm taking a look at the "Revised and Expanded Edition" released in 2000. It's the smallest of the collections Schelly published under his Hamster Press brand both in page count (112 pages) and overall dimensions (7 inches by just under 10 inches). There are ten stories and many examples of small spot art work. 

The collection leads off with not one but two stories starring the most visually iconic of the fanzine heroes -- Bijo White's The Eye. White was adept at using the Ditto process to get effective art and it shows her with two stories that first introduce the enigmatic underworld  hitman and then a second which reveals his true heroic nature. This is followed by Richard "Grass" Green's Speed Marvel a light hearted funny strip that has a hero who gets the job done and has a laugh at the same time. The art here evoked those fantastic Terrytoons character styles. 

Next up is Dimension Man by Ronn Foss and of particular note in this story is the lovely dame rendered by Foss, a fetching chick from Venus where women rule and men serve. Foss seems to be okay with that idea, forward thinking for the 60's when "feminism" was just aborning. 

The Demon by Buddy Saunders (one of the "Texas Trio") a strip in which this magical powered hero is assisted by another superhero who doesn't survive the adventure. Death and dying are all too commonplace in comics today, but to kill any character in the 60's was a huge deal. Doc Darkness by Rick  Buckler is next and this is a complete story with this Doctor Mid-Nite knockoff battling some particularly nasty villains who want to use religion to shield themselves from justice. The O'Brian Gang is by Bill Schelly himself from 1972 and in his into he indicates there is some Fourth World influence on this story. That influence is mostly seen in the face and manners of the matriarch of the gang who looks more than bit like Granny Goodness. This is a wild fracas that actually draws you in quite effectively. 

Now we turn to the "Expanded" part of the book and we kick off with The Black Scorpion, a female hero by Larry Herndon. This is followed by The Defender by Herndon and Green with inks by Howard Keltner. Both Herndon and Keltner were the other two members of the "Texas Trio" alongside Saunders. 

The Viper by Ronn Foss is almost certainly the best drawn piece in the book featuring another heroine who this time uses a great costume and a whip made from snake skin to enforce her will on a devious criminal. The book wraps up with yet another Biljo White item starring The Lion, a hero who comes into being to help save a lowly pressman's job after he conjures up the hero out of nothing. The Lion's debut is novel for certain. 

These are not the most refined examples of comic art, even among the fanzine variety but they are filled with that furious enthusiasm which makes these kinds of collections so much fun to explore. 

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Friday, January 22, 2021

Classic Crisis #7 - The Super-Team Supreme!

After the success of Justice League and Justice Society crossovers, there was an attempt to break some of the JSofA stars out on their own. But still leary of their ability to draw an audience I assume, it was decided to bring them out in pairs. So Gardner Fox was tapped again, this time partnered with Murphy Anderson, to team up Dr.Fate and Hourman in the pages of Showcase.

"Solomon Grundy Goes on a Rampage" begins with an introduction to DC's Golden Age swamp monster. When last seen he was in a green bubble created by Green Lantern and whisked to another planet. As this story opens a green meteor crashes into the Earth in a swamp next to the Tyler Chemical Company, and out of the rubble strides Solomon Grundy eager for revenge on Green Lantern. Almost at once Dr.Fate (in his tower in Salem with his wife Inza) is alerted magically and darts off to face the menace. Hourman too is alert since his company is alongside the returned menace and he downs his Miraclo pill and his costume and heads out. Both heroes face off against Grundy but are ulitmately defeated when their team work goes awry ending the first chapter. Grundy having become also somewhat radioactive due to wastes dumped from the Tyler company starts to drag along wooden objects in his wake. He eventually comes across Green Lantern who tries to imprison him, but the assault of the wooden material defeats him. By this time Dr.Fate and Hourman have recovered and again face off against Grundy, but the radiation seems to affect them too and they end up fighting one another as the second chapter closes. They battle briefly and knock each other out as Grundy takes Green Lantern and tosses him over his shoulder and lumbers off. He immediately runs into some thugs who once were members of his gang and he tells them out he used his might and will to get off the planet he was trapped on and how he'd returned to Earth. They plot a robbery, but the recovered Dr.Fate and Hourman intervene defeating the thugs. Meanwhile Grundy has taken Green Lantern to Slaughter Swamp and is pursued by the Super-Team Supreme. Dr.Fate confronts a Green Lantern who has been transformed into a creature similar to Grundy and they battle using their respective magics. Dr.Fate wins and then he and Hourman team up to defeat Grundy after which the recovered GL and Fate work together to forge an even stronger prison for Solomon Grundy and put him in orbit around the Earth. Also included in the issue is a text page with the origin stories of both Dr.Fate and Hourman.

"Perils of the Psycho-Pirate!" is the second adventure for the Super-Team Supreme.The tale begins at an archeological dig in Asia Minor where Kent (Dr.Fate) Nelson and his wife Inza find the Medusa Masks, twelve gold masks which gave rise to the myth of Medusa. The dig was funded by Tyler Chemical and so at a grand party to introduce this great find we discover Rex(Hourman)Tyler and his fiance Wendi Harris. Harris is overcome by the emotion of greed and steals the masks and gives them to a bum in the street while the crowd is overcome with the emotion of humor. It's soon revealed that Roger Hayden is the culprit, a man who spent time in jail with the original Psycho Pirate and learned his tricks. Now armed with the Medusa masks which generate intense emotions in others he plots a life of crime. A bank robbery by the Pyscho Pirate's gang brings Dr.Fate but he is overcome by the emotion of frustration and begins to see mirages of his old foes who he sets about fighting while the gang escapes. In Part Two Hourman powers up in his secret vault and pursues the bank robbers, but after a vigorous fight is overcome by the emotion of charity and releases the gang. Part Three has the team of Dr.Fate and Hourman actually team up and compare notes. They realize what has happened to each of them and then Fate using the "magical scent" of robbers traces them to their hideout. The team battles the villains but have overcome waves of emotions of fear, specifically different phobias unleashed by the Pirate. Despite the fear they overcome the villains, but Hourman's powers fade. Then the Psycho Pirate attacks the team with jealousy and they attack each other. The Pirate assured they now helpless strikes first Hourman then Dr.Fate. But Fate responding with pure reflex knocks out the Psycho Pirate then covers his face with a mask to stop him using his powers. With the villains captured, the Medusa Masks are returned. Wendi Harris is cleared of all charges and the couple announces their engagement. Dr. Fate looks on wit approval. Also included is a one-page text piece with the history of the Pyscho-Pirate from the Golden Age.

This is clear attempt to find out if the modern readers will respond to these Golden Age characters. Dr.Fate and Hourman are chosen likely because they don't have Earth-1 counterparts and won't confuse the readers, a concern the editors seemed to have out of all proportion to the problem. The artwork in these two issues is magnificent, Murphy Anderson at his best. Gardner Fox's stories are spirited and energetic and make great use of classic Golden Age villains, in the case of the Psycho-Pirate giving him a great modern upgrade. Dr.Fate and Hourman are not a natural team though in my mind. Fate is extremely powerful and Hourman is a low-grade hero at best. I guess it might be argued this team up is similar to the classic Superman-Batman teamings in World's Finest and a hint of what is to come when Green Arrow finds himself allied with Green Lantern. But while the two heroes are colorful, I have to say the story seems overwrought a bit. Fox is sometimes guilty in my opinion of adding one too many twists in a story, and that happens here, especially in the Solomon Grundy story. It was kind of neat though to see Grundy often referred to as a "Man-Thing", a "macabre" at one time. Actually it occurs to me that in both of these stories the villains are extremely interesting and outshine the heroes. Next time we go to Earth-A.

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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Classic Crisis #6 - Invader From The Dark Dimension!

After the second annual crossover of the Justice League and Justice Society, there seems to have been a small push to promote some of the Earth-2 characters. I'll get to the first major instance of that in the next installment. Returning to where is all began, this time we're looking at the next chapter in the saga of the two Flashes. The Flash #151 features the villainy of The Shade. "Invader from the Dark Dimension" was written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella, with a cover inked by Murphy Anderson. 

The story begins with Barry Allen and his fiancee Iris West in a jewelry shop picking out an engagement ring. But a black shadow appears and envelops the ring along with the entire shop eventually. Barry changes to the Flash but is unable to stop the effect but when the shadow leaves the store is stripped bare of jewels. Soon thereafter a series of beastly black shadows appear in Central City, each committing a robbery. Flash chases them down but to little effect. He then identifies the shadows as the work of The Shade, an Earth-2 villain he battle alongside Jay Garrick, the Flash of that world. He vibrates himself to Earth-2 and finds the Garricks at home. Ironically enough the one-of-a-kind engagement ring he also hopes to find on Earth-2 belong to Jay's wife Joan. Barry and Jay talk and discover that The Shade, who has been released from jail, has been living the high life, but hasn't been committing his usual crimes to fund it. They gather he's been using his shadow powers to rob Earth-1 and enjoy the spoils on Earth-2. They confront The Shade and he confirms their surmises telling them of a Dark Dimension he discovered between the Earths that allows him to prey on both, and he also promptly takes Jay Garrick prisoner. Unable to penetrate The Shade's shadowy shield, he escapes to continue his crime spree on Earth-1. Barry follows, leaving Jay a prisoner on Earth-2. Unable to stop him, Barry decides to cover himself with gold and pretends to be a statue in a museum which Shade eventually robs. Disguised as booty, Flash is able to penetrate the Dark Dimension and defeat The Shade by taking away his walking stick which seems to control the power of the Dimension. Quickly then he takes The Shade to jail, returns the stolen property, and frees Jay Garrick, before returning to Earth-1 and to his lovely Iris where he at long last gives her the engagement ring she covets.

This is a fairly standard Flash story with a good villain in The Shade. The sense though of a crossover story is undermined a bit by Jay Garrick's minimal role in the story despite his being featured on the cover. There's no attempt in this tale unlike previous ones to give Jay some featured action. 

 There will be much more exploration of Earth-2 though in the next installment. See you then. 

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Day In The After-Life - The Real America!

Will the real America please stand up! That old TV show What's My Line ? always revealed the true identity of their peculiar contestant with these words. Now today the real America can reveal itself, a nation built on comity and civility. "Liberty" which is much bandied about is crucial, but it is not the sole virtue in America. Rather we are a nation not only built on individual freedom, but on common cause and civil discourse. Without these latter virtues the "liberty" the "Yahoos" bellow about becomes a yoke around another's neck as they live in fear of expressing themselves and making their wishes known on that most important of days - election day. The results of a fair election must be honored by all the citizens or no citizen's liberty is protected. Losers can always cry foul, but they are required to prove their case and not just assert the charge or just cry. This past presidential election has been arguably the most broadly and repeatedly adjudicated in American history with court after court and state after state affirming and reaffirming the results. But some choose not to believe the simple facts, rather they choose to live in a fantasy world where only their desires are always paramount and other Americans (particularly those of other ethnicities) ought to put up with that "separate but equal" environment. 

To celebrate the day I have been saving my all-time favorite Captain America story to read. It's written by Steve Englehart and penciled by Sal Buscema with inkers Jim Mooney, John Verpoorten and Judomaster's own Frank McLaughlin on the inks. It's the story of another "Captain America" who lived in a time when paranoia was rampant and dread of the foreign commonplace. This throwback Cap comes back to make this fictional America great again, but finds standing in his way the one true Captain America, the hero who fought for freedom and always sought to find a better way to do just that. First those vintage Stan Lee (actual writer is unrecorded but surely Stan had something to do with them) and Johnny Romita stories about that other Captain America and then the real Cap. Alongside his partner the Falcon, Cap fends off this threat from a misbegotten  past seeking to find purchase in the now.  

By the end of the important day the real America will have reasserted itself. And hopefully this rueful period will descend into the maw of history as just another hideous moment in a greater and nobler saga. 

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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

A Day In The Anti-Life - Nice Work Cap!

All this talk about Captain America and his creators Jack Kirby and Joe Simon lit my fire to once again savor those classic Golden Age tales of the raucous Steve Rogers and his sidekick Bucky Barnes kicking the crap out of Nazis and other assorted hate-mongers across the World War II globe. For any fool to conflate the patriotic colors which adorn Cap's costume with the vile slagheap words and murderous actions of Adolph Hitler is the height of absurdity. These comics are not without philosophical flaw, but loving the race-baiting Jew-hating rhetoric of the Third Reich was not among them. Many will find fault with some ethnic presentations, typical in the heat of the day but egregious now for sure. But even so no one can say that these two men -- Kirby and Simon -- had anything good to suggest about history's most famous mass murderer. To suggest otherwise, either by direct comment or implication when manufacturing symbols, is the kind of thing which must be called out and rejected out of hand. 

This is some fine reading from a time not as long ago as we sometimes think. As these days fall from living memory we need to more than ever make certain that the ideas of madmen like Hitler and his cronies find no purchase in a country dedicated to the equality of all men and women. There's no space for saying otherwise and anyone who does properly deserves a clock on the chin, as Cap so eloquently demonstrated on his very first comic book cover appearance. As Bucky says in just the second of two word balloons to appear on these ten covers by the Simon and Kirby team -- "Nice Work Cap!"

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Monday, January 18, 2021

A Day In The After-Life - Righteous Indignation!

On this most propitious of weeks we look forward to the day when at long last the United States will once again be led by people of character. It has been a dark four years under the heel of the worst President in American history, a man of questionable sanity who saw in these United States not a nation of the people, but a land of peasants meant to do his bidding and a territory to be washed of those unfortunates who did not by happenchance of birth to fit his idea of what an American should look like. The damage done will take time (years and perhaps decades) to fix, and I can only hope that it can be repaired. The new President has a might challenge before him, to deal with a pandemic which has to this point only been given limited focus by an administration that challenged its very existence. But I feel better now than I have in many moons about the state of the nation. 

The message below from Neal Kirby has been making the rounds on this here internet since that terrible day two weeks ago. I felt his response to those seditious acts would make a nice installment for the "A Day In The Anti-Life" posts here at the Dojo. The very title of these messages were inspired by Jack Kirby's Fourth World and formula for slavery sought by Darkseid so he could rule a world of lackeys, so it seem fitting indeed that his son get a word or two in. Take a look. 

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 “My father, Jack Kirby, along with his partner Joe Simon, created Captain America in 1941. Perhaps the most iconic symbol of patriotism since the ‘Spirit of 1776,’ Captain America has stood as a symbol and protector of our democracy and the rule of law for the past 79 years. he was created by two Jewish guys from New York who hated Nazis and hated bullies. Captain America stood up for the underdog, and, as the story was written, even before he gained his strength and prowess from Army Scientists, always stood for what was righteous, and never backed down.”

“At 72, I have a fairly visit personal memory of every political and cultural upheaval since Castro’s revolution in the mid – 1950’s. Add to that my father’s stories, and I could probably paint a picture of the battlefields of northern France surrounding the city of Metz in WWII as well. However, the events that transpired at our nations’ Capitol on Jan. 6, an insurrection inspired and fomented by our own president, will be the event that haunts me forever.”

“While watching one of the horrific videos of the storming of the Capitol, I thought I noticed someone in a Trump/Capt. America t-shirt! I was appalled and mortified. I believe I even caught a quick glance of someone with a Captain America shield. A quick Google search turned up Trump as Captain America on T-shirts, posters, even a flag! These images are disgusting and disgraceful. Captain America is the absolute antithesis of Donald Trump. Where Captain America is selfless, Trump is self-serving. Where Captain America fights for our country and democracy, Trump fights for personal power and autocracy. Where Captain America stands with the common man, Trump stands with the powerful and privileged. Where Captain America is courageous, Trump is a coward. Captain America and Trump couldn’t be more different.”

“My father, Jack Kirby, and Joe Simon, the creators of Captain America and WWII veterans, would be absolutely sickened by these images. These images are an insult to both their memories.

"If Donald Trump had the qualities and character of Captain America, the White House would be a shining symbol of truth and integrity, not a festering cesspool of lies and hypocrisy. Several of our presidents held the same values as Captain America. Donald Trump is not one of them.”

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Sunday Funnies - Well Blow Me Down!

 It's in this second hearty volume of Fantatagraphic's Popeye series that we really start to get the true-blue Sailor Man. As revealed in the last book, Thimble Theater was once home to the antics of the Oil brood and featured Castor and Olive's boyfriend Ham Gravy. The accidental addition of a minor character dubbed Popeye changed all that. The gruff two-fisted salt of the sea was popular and was brought back again and again and slowly first Ham left and in this tome we see that Castor too has departed the pages save for rare instances. This is the Popeye show now. 

The Popeye of E.C. Segar is an American original, a violent-minded tender soul who takes no guff and expresses himself equally with his "fisks" as with is distinctive voice and speech pattern. Popeye is pretty much consistently in love with Olive here save when she makes him crazy or vice versa and sometimes when he has ready cash they plan wedlock and at others she's trying to make him understand his salt-sea manner is not conducive to effective lovemaking. He sort of understands some of the time. This is also when Popeye's affinity for spinach begins to make itself known as he begins to make that lowly green a super tonic of the imagination. 

In the dailies Popeye spends time fighting a western outlaw named "Clint Gore" with some eventual success, and with the money he gets as a consequence opens the "One-Way Bank", a odd institution which gives out money to the needy but doesn't expect any back. Popeye's generous nature is revealed but his gullible side is also on display when pretty brunettes of all kinds take advantage and soon the bank is out of cash. Popeye as always is unfazed and he and Castor accept the odd job of becoming soliders of fortune in a war between "Nazila" and "Tonsylvania" on the side of the former. Castor quickly fades from view and a frequent character is "King Blozo", a anxiety-ridden coward. Popeye is quickly disillusioned with the war as he discovers no one is actually fighting on either side and neither can they remember what the fight is about. After he's done with this offbeat fracas he and Olive head out West again to tend a ranch Olive's dad bought near the town of  "Skullyville", a town full of owlhoots and shifty types. The story ends when Popeye rescues Olive from a life as a barroom dancer and scullery maid and they head back home somewhat richer but perhaps marginally wiser. 

In the Sunday pages Popeye stays pretty much at home around the Oyl residence dating Olive and fending off other potentential suitors, and fighting in the ring against opponents arranged by fight producer "Mr. Kilph". These fights are furious affairs and could and did last several weeks. When he wasn't fighting or wooing Popeye was often at Roughhouse's cafe eating hamburgers alongside the eternally broke Wimpy. Wimpy also was the fight referee and was easily corrupted to boot. In these colorful outings we see more of Popeye's philanthropy as he is as wont to spend his fight winnings on gambling as taking care of the poor and down and out he comes across. He buys one displaced woman and her family a house and takes in another little girl to reunite her with her real family after a time. Beneath the color Popeye strips are the misadventures of Sappo and his wife who welcome in a bearded inventor like Sappo himself -- O.G. Wotasnozzle has appeared and will be around for a while. 

These are actively funny comics and I laughed out loud on many occasions reading them, a real accomplishment when I'm reading alone. It's easy to see why Popeye the Sailor Man was such a hit. 

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