Tuesday, March 31, 2015

It Can Happen Here!

The mushroom cloud is the horrific symbol of the atomic age, a time we still live in despite a lack of concern which once dominated the culture.  Always it is a symbol of power, and sometimes horror. Like many others in the early 80's I fretted about this stuff quite a bit, even subscribed to The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists for a time. (By the way it's currently three minutes to midnight if you want to know.) But then I learned to compartmentalize this stuff and got on with my life. It's a threat that hangs over all of us, but like so many such things (asteroids, taxes and twitter being examples) there's little we can do about it on our own.

The comic book covers below track the appearance of mushroom clouds over the course of the decades from the earliest to some of the most recent and some very limited extent document the shifting attitudes about atomic power.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Hold On To Your Pants!

1952's Invasion U.S.A. is a relic. It's like a cinematic time capsule which takes the watcher back to the early days of the "Cold War" when the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its satellites were braced off against each other, both with the nuclear capacity to utterly eliminate the other. With the fall of the Axis powers in last "good war", Americans were taught to hate the new enemy, the cruel butchers who ran the Communist state which held in its greasy paw nearly all of Eastern Europe. The Soviets were not only a military threat, but a threat to the nature of the culture itself. In the face of that, a war-weary nation needed to be stoked from time to time to keep vigilant. This movie is an informal and rousing part of that stoking.

We encounter an array of characters gathered in a bar who meet a strange and compelling man named Ohman (Dan O'Herlihy). Then news of a mysterious invasion begin to fire across the television. Increasingly reports suggest an air attack is underway and then word of an atomic blast sends panic throughout as folks try, mostly in vain, to get home. The people we meet face off against the threat with a variety of attitudes and results.

An industrialist who is annoyed with the U.S. military for wanting him to convert some of his capacity to making tanks for the army. A rancher is bothered that taxes keep going up to pay for the defenses the politicians say we need. A politician wants peace in his time. These folks slowly come to realize, often too late that the sacrifices asked of them were perhaps necessary.

The romantic leads of this endeavor are a dapper news broadcaster Vince Potter (Gerald Mohr) who I always think of first as Mr.Fantastic in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon show of the 60's) and the beautiful Carla Sanford (Peggy Castle). They fall in love, but their romance is interrupted by the threat which spreads across the country, including New York and Washington.

One noteworthy curiosity about this movie is that cast in relatively minor roles are both Noel Neill and Phyllis Coates the women who would portray Lois Lane in the Superman TV show which was already underway. 

This is a movie it's best not to discuss much, or its few surprises will be demolished, but suffice it to say it's a fascinating glimpse back to a time when such fears were palpable. Also it's worth noting that this movie was a co-production of the folks at Conelrad, a website dedicated to all things atomic. On the dvd they have included some really nifty chestnuts from the era. One is a half-hour propaganda film called Red Nightmare which shows what life in the U.S. might be like if those nasty commies took over. Hosted by Dragnet's Jack Webb this one is a hoot.

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Paper Tyger!

Well that took long enough.

I've been wanting to read Lord Tyger for several years. I scooped it up when Titan Books published a few years back as part of their Philip Jose Farmer Grandmaster series. I kept putting off getting into it until the time was ripe to plow though it with the gusto a Farmer book deserves. Finally the time came, and I began, but within a few chapters I detected trouble on the horizon.

Sadly I have to say that this story of a young and vital and brutal "Ras Tyger" is overwrought. By that I mean despite is great skills Farmer has created a book here which becomes its own worst enemy with scenes and sequences which lumber on and on long after any vital effect is disappeared. The early parts of the story which show Ras learning about some inconsistencies in the jungle environment in which he is being raised are intriguing but the mystery is not sufficient to support the rambling and repetitive nature of the investigation.

Also Ras often takes time (as does Farmer) to diddle with the local natives. I'm not insulted by that, it's part of a Farmer novel and I know that going in, but it seems in this instance to be gratuitous after a while and bogs down the forward progression of the narrative.

I trust most stories by Farmer to clutch me by the throat and never let go. This one lets me loose repeatedly. Because of that it's taken me many months to finally finish this book which eventually dawdles to a reveal which is almost too obvious from the get-go.

Maybe I'm not in on the joke here, but the pay off is far too little after a much too long wait. Cut this book in half and you have a spirited yarn, but please cut it down.

For the first time I have to say I cannot recommend a Farmer novel, a unique experience.

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mainlining Four - Bulls Eye!

Bulls Eye, a raucous western comic was the fourth and final offering from Joe Simon's and Jack Kirby's Mainline Comics. Ostensibly the flagship title for the little company, Bulls Eye Western Scout lasted a whopping five whole issues. To read a few stories check this out.

The fifth and final Mainline issue of Bulls Eye was published in early 1955.

Charlton Comics took over the title and much of the unpublished material with the sixth issue later in 1955 and published two more issues.

With the eighth issue the title was changed to Cody of the Pony Express. Like the other Mainline books, the series would continue inside the original genre for many years.

The last issue of Cody of the Pony Express was the tenth.

Then the with the eleventh issue of the run the title was changed again to Outlaws of the West in 1957 which proved to be a very successful alteration.

Outlaws of the West, which went on to feature such notorious Charlton anti-heroes such as Kid Montana and Captain Doom lasted until 1970 when the eighty-first issue hit the stands.

The title was revived again with its numbering intact in 1979.

It lasted until the summer of 1980 when the last issue of the venerable run, the eighty-eighth and final issue landed with little fanfare.

Bulls Eye (sometimes spelled Bullseye in its Charlton listings) was a typical Simon and Kirby offering, full of energy and punch. The western as a genre was powerful during the 50's and early 60's but lost its footing as the Bronze Age appoached. By the time of the final issues of Outlaws of the West only a few western comic titles were being published, a few by Charlton and several by DC.

I first ran across Bulls Eye in an issue of AC Comic's Bill Black's Fun Comics. The character appears to be in the public domain these days, though I see very little of him. A good set of trades reprinting the Mainline Comics are certainly in order.

Mainline Comics was sadly at once atypical and all too typical of comic book companies in the waning days of the Golden Age and the onset of the Atomic Age of Comics. Public pressure on the form had been gearing up for some time and the onslaught brought by Dr.Frederick Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent and the public hearings which followed remain a blight on the industry even after all these decades since.

Comics thrived during the early days of World War II because they offered man, woman, and child alike an escape from the tribulations of the day. Brightly clad heroes battled grim-faced villains and good won, a dandy distraction from a more complicated reality. But the advent of the 50's brought a new dynamic with attempts to bring other kinds of stories to the masses. Simon and Kirby had produced hits for other publishers such as Timely, DC, Harvey, and Crestwood, among others and now they wanted to create something better for themselves.

With some of the profits they made from Crestwood Publishing (which they knew was holding out on them in spite of the huge success of the romance comics) they began their own company called "Mainline" in 1953 or thereabouts, the goal to create comics for a broader range of readers. But they had to keep a lot of that quiet from Crestwood who was still their major client. They rented space from Harvey Comics and began their little start up. But the timing was awful.

The debut of Bulls Eye was just a few weeks after the Senate started looking into what the upright considered the grimy world of comic books. EC Comics was a top target for those looking for comic book boogey men and the collapse of EC in the face of wide criticism, took down Leader News, their distributor. Leader News was also the distributor for Mainline. Sadly a proposed title from the company called Night Fighter never saw the light of day. (See the ad above.)

Without a means to get comics to the stands, Mainline Comics Inc. fell apart and the team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, arguably the most successful duo in the history of comics to that time, went their separate ways. Joe Simon went into advertising, though it wouldn't be long before he returned to comics when things cooled off. Jack Kirby went to work for DC, taking with him a concept which some say was originally intended for Mainline, the Challengers of the Unknown. After a few years at DC, he found his way across town to Marvel and the rest (as they say) is history.

For more details on Mainline check out this article which appeared in The Jack Kirby Collector many years ago.

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