Thursday, December 2, 2021

Batmania - An Evening With Batman And Robin!

Comic book lore is filled with delightful myths. One of the more famous is the supposed meeting on the golf course between the publishers of DC and Marvel which gave birth to the Fantastic Four after the latter heard about the success of the Justice League of America. Great story, likely untrue. My favorite bits of lore is that Hugh Hefner saved comics when he showed a vintage Batman serial at the Playboy Club (or mansion) which got great laughs and so inspired the producers of the Batman TV show that a rich market was out there for a camp take on superheroes. The success of the show lifted many boats allowing comics to hang on for a few more years. Apparently, it's not true either and the confusion perhaps comes in that the serial was shown at a place called the "Playboy Theatre". The creators of the show say they weren't influenced by the serial and only the comics, and there's no denying they read the comics since many of the plots for the first season are from actual published Batman stories.  But still I have to suggest that they at the very least saw the serial Batman and/or its sequel Batman and Robin. 

There's no denying that there is marked similarity between the tones of the movie serial and the television show, with the use of humor to hide the inherent weaknesses in the concepts. Also, the TV show from the outset used cliffhanger endings which tells me the producers were indeed trying to emulate the vintage serials even if they had not been inspired by them but rather the comic books which gave birth to both. The real truth is that Batman the TV show was a smash hit (for a short time) and as we all know success has many fathers who want to grab a share of that glamour. 

1943's Batman is a Columbia serial and the truth is those don't age well. The budgets were relatively tiny and they had squeeze out fifteen chapters with fourteen death-defying endings. The aspect of this show which can startle a modern viewer is the raw racism which marks the portrayal of the Japanese villain. J. Carroll Nash as he lisps his way through a thankless role which does showcase his utter evil but does it in a a pretty ham-fisted way. But such is the stuff of serials of the era -- mighty entertainments which will make a modern sensibility flinch more than a little bit. The hideout which is a haunted ride detailing the horrors of the war in the Pacific and beyond is a nifty touch about the times and points to the war to come in the Pacific. 

The serial is entertaining in its way and so Columbia not only produced a sequel in 1949 but years later found it a ripe vehicle to send out to the arthouse theaters which often thrive on college campuses and in larger cities. The serial gained a rep as a four-hour blast of feckless fun and proved a useful respite from the incessant worry about crime, war, and impending nuclear devastation. And so they slapped the title An Evening with Batman and Robin on the vintage show and sent out across the nation where is was met with no small success. There is little reason to doubt that this successful burst of camp fun didn't trigger the TV show as well. 

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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Bygone Heroes-A-Go-Go!

Let's lighten the mood. It's a season to look to the light and to the light-hearted for entertainment. And one place one can find all sorts of upbeat comics fun is the shiny silvery age of the 1960's. Superheroes were all the rage for a few white-hot years and many of those heroes had smiles on their faces most of the time. Their missions were to save our world from the despair of our daily lives filled with threats of contentious foreign conflicts, tempestuous race relations, and nuclear annihilation even. 

Perhaps the zaniest "hero" of the era was ACG's Herbie Popnecker. I've had the first two volumes of Herbie's misadventures in my collection for some time waiting for a propitious moment to crack them open. Now's the time to savor some truly offbeat and strange adventures by creators Richard Hughes and Odgen Whitney featuring America's favorite lollipop sucking protagonist. (Take that Kojak!)

Herbie was not alone at American Comics Group (ACG). He was soon joined by Magicman and Nemesis, two heroes who hailed from the supernatural but who appear to want to have fun fighting crime and whatnot. I've never read any of these before, so I'm much looking forward to diving into this silvery pond. 

The Batman TV show was a major driving force in how the public came to understand superheroes and for good and ill shackled the public mind about long underwear types for decades. The movies of the 21st Century have done much to undo that perception but it certainly was rock solid during the swinging 60's. I want to take another look at the Batman TV show and some of the bizarre progeny which erupted from its enormous if momentary popularity. Since the show originally appeared on Wednesday and Thursday nights, I'll be using those two days (and maybe more) for the "Batmania" posts. 

Another DC comic that epitomized the 60's was the sometimes painfully "hip" Teen Titans. The title in which the sidekicks gathered together to fight crime, save the world, and bicker about the older generation. Written by Bob Haney and drawn for much of its illustrious run by Nick Cardy the Teen Titans are of their time. DC lost its hold on the audience because they misjudged the audience and the creators were too old to really catch on. No comic showcases that more effectively than Teen Titans

Among the many wacky superheroes of the era were the many splendid and peculiar defenders of all that is good and right in Riverdale such as Captain Hero, Superteen, Evilheart and Pureheart the Powerful from the folks at Archie Comics. The Archie folks also were unique in that the MLJ outfit had two different sets of superheroes. The firm chose to revive their Golden Age heroes for a Silver Age stab at success with the Mighty Crusaders. Alas they fell somewhat flat in a ferocious attempt to ape the then exceedingly popular Marvel style. 

"Showcase Corner" will also focus on a comic I unfortunately didn't get around to finishing a few months ago -- DC's stunningly strange and bizarre "Dial H for Hero" from the pages of House of Mystery. Robby Reed's many queer ramblings by creators Dave Wood and Jim Mooney are perhaps as peculiar (almost) as ACG's Herbie.  

And for something a bit different I'm beginning a brand-new feature called "Sunday of Stone" which will focus on the surprisingly successful and durable adventures of Dell's and later Gold Key's Turok Son of Stone. Turok and his ally Andar are two Pre-Columbian Indian braves try to escape from a seemingly endless "Lost Valley" teeming with primitive tribes and prehistoric creatures of all varieties. I have long loved the Turok stories and thanks to Dark Horse's archive series I have a good chance to read their earliest adventures by artists such as Rex Maxon, Bob Correa, among others, and writers Gaylord Dubois and Paul S. Newman. 

I'll be consulting as a guide the delightful Twomorrow's tome by Michael Eury entitled Heroes-A-Go-Go which features most of the heroes above among many many others as well. 

And look for a surprise or perhaps two along the way as December rolls on relentlessly towards its festive finale. If I have the time that is, as these months are never quite as long as I imagine them to be when I start.  Looks like we're pushing 2021 out the door with a bang at the Dojo! Wish me luck!

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Finally At witzend!

I'm wrapping up my month-long focus on Wally Wood with arguably his most significant contribution to comics, the prozine witzend. Wood was an artist constantly on the prowl for opportunities and in retrospect his career has a real gypsy aspect to it as he bounced from one project and company to yet another and yet another. He was in many ways like others of his generation of artists such as Steve Ditko and Gil Kane who were not necessarily content with the corporate approach to comics and the limitations on expression that imposed. 

So he decided to create witzend (at one time called et cetera) and gave a space for his fellow pros to see their work published for no fee but also no pay, the difference being they kept the rights. witzend was black and white version of what Image Comics would do decades later but on a much, much larger scale and with a keener interest in profit. In these pages readers found stories unlike what the "Big Two" were producing but they were stories written and drawn by that same talent. Wood introduced such features as Animan, the Pipsqueak Papers, Bucky Ruckus, The Rejects and perhaps most importantly the early installments of his unfinished fantasy epic The World of the Wizard King. 

After the first four issues, all of which sported Wally Wood covers, the control and ownership was shifted over to Bill Pearson for a buck and the publication carried on for a total of thirteen issues before folding in 1985. Wood remained a contributor. He generated one more cover, a delightful color wraparound illustration. See it below with the rest of the covers for the run. 

witzend was a notable milestone in the changing of the way comics were made. Famously or perhaps infamously comic book shops were factories with talented and competent craftsmen producing product owned by the company in all respects with the "creator" getting paid merely for his time and effort and not able really in most cases to realized any share specifically of the profits his work generated. That of course has changed over the decades for a host of reasons. But artists like Wally Wood waking up to the notion that he was an artist and not just a field hand and taking steps to find outlets for his expression was not a small marker along the road of that change. 

I have had a blast taking a closer look at Wally Wood and I have learned a bunch I didn't know. There are several things I anticipated getting to that I didn't and that means that it might be time again some time in the future to take yet another close look at one of the finest comic book artists of any time.

Note: This post originally appeared at Rip Jagger's Other Dojo. I have been transferring some of those posts over here as the month went on. 

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Monday, November 29, 2021

His Word!

Big Apple Comix #1 and only was the brainchild of Flo Steinberg, the longtime staffer at Marvel Comics in its heyday. It's a ground-level comic book sporting a dynamic Wally Wood cover, with work by a number of folks including Herb Trimpe, Mike Ploog, Neal Adams, Marie Severin, Alan Weiss, and others. Wood contributed greatly not least of which was his revisiting the EC classic story "My World" from Weird Science #22 (see yesterday's post) and offered up this raunchier updated sardonic variation dubbed merely "My Word".

It's a far different world envisioned here, the implacable optimism of mankind's eventual conquest of the universe replaced by the humbled desire to get through day-to-day modern life.  "My World" looked outward towards possibilities while "My Word" looks inward at limitations.

In addition to the cover and the three page reflection Wally Wood also inked a piece in the little comic anthology. "Lots Yox" was drawn by Herb Trimpe and featured some particularly crafted biplanes taking on a rather familiar  target. There's a second page to this story which reveals that all is not as it seems. It's a good reason to scout up a copy of Big Apple #1 if you can.

"My Word" has been reprinted a few times. Most recently I picked it up in The Erotic Art of Wally Wood.

Note: This post originally appeared at Rip Jagger's Other Dojo. I will be transferring some of those posts over here as the month goes on. 

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Sunday, November 28, 2021

His World!

Cap'n's Comics: Weird Science #22 Cover by Wally Wood

In the pages of EC's Weird Science #22 there's a story titled simply "My World". It was written by Al Feldstein and drawn by Wally Wood. Here is that story in its original art form. That first page in particular is magnificent in the depth of image one can see, reminding me of the misty backgrounds of Skull Island in the original  King Kong of all places.

It's almost like a visit inside the imagination of the creators themselves, or perhaps more particularly Wood himself as his artwork drives this vignette more than most EC offerings. The sprawling capacities of science fiction have rarely been better portrayed.

This story has been often reprinted, but I read it most recently in Comics About Cartoonists - Stories about the World's Oddest Profession from Craig Yoe. 

Note: This post originally appeared at Rip Jagger's Other Dojo. I will be transferring some of those posts over here as the month goes on. 

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