Saturday, January 14, 2017

At the End of the Jungle Trail with B'wana Beast

Within the boom-and-bust cycles of the comic book industry, you can in retrospect spot those moments when the superhero idea has exhausted itself and been played out.
One such milestone was marked by B’wana Beast (Showcase 66-67, Jan.-Feb. 1967).
The superhero fever accelerated by the surprise success of the Batman TV show in January 1966 was already starting to break, but delirium had apparently set in. Ads in the Showcase issues featuring the “Jungle Master” promoted the new feature Dial H for Hero (featuring a superhero who becomes everybody) and Mattel’s Captain Action doll (featuring a superhero who becomes everybody).
And then there was B’wana Beast, a new character concept created by Bob Haney and Mike Sekowsky that had late-night coffee stains and cigarette ashes all over it.
Take Tarzan, slap a gaudy superhero helmet on him and give him the power to telepathically command animals and — to make it all just a little weirder — to COMBINE animals into OTHER, LARGER animals.
Give him a secret hideout on top of Mount Kilimanjaro and a purple gorilla pal, Djuba. Shrug off any uncomfortable feelings you may have about yet another white jungle god, and ignore the fact that “B’wana” is an East African term meaning “master, or boss.”
For good measure, wrap things up with a James Bond clinch in which a beautiful girl moans, “Beast … you beast!”
“B’wana Beast started out as game warden Mike Maxwell, who got stuck in a cave on Mount Kilimanjaro,” comics historian Don Markstein noted. “First, he drank water that had reached the cave by being filtered through rock, which made him suddenly bulk up like Bruce Banner turning into The Hulk, ruining the clothes he’d been wearing. Then his pal Djuba, a gorilla, gave him a helmet that enabled him to order beasts around like The Jaguar, or like The Fly could command insects. He's frequently been compared to Aquaman, who did that with underwater fauna.”
“B’wana Beast was apparently scheduled for the usual three (tryout issues). But reportedly Sekowsky quit after two, citing racism in the concept as his reason for wanting no more to do with it. He suggested another artist be found to continue it, but DC failed to do so.”
But let’s not be too quick to label B’wana Beast as a failure. Sure, he may have vanished from embarrassment, and it took him 20 years to get the nerve to reemerge. But he’s since acquired a more palatable successor, Freedom Beast, and been featured in toys and three animated series.
There’s a comic book Valhalla for even the spectacularly, stylishly bad characters, though not for the forgettable ones. No one’s going to rescue The Maniaks, Binky or Top Gun, the features that debuted in Showcase right after B’wana Beast.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Grade Yourself on This Ethical Test

This is a variation on the theme of a basic ethical test. It’s how you treat the stranger that matters, not how you treat your friends or family or members of your tribe. It’s the Good Samaritan test.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

American Press: How Whores Become Virgins

Remember, the American corporate news media had no problem trumpeting Judith Miller’s Iraq war intelligence lies in the New York Times, or the nonexistent “intelligence chatter” that conveniently raised terrorism alarms whenever Bush and Cheney required some fresh political distraction, or the FBI director’s last-minute email intelligence nonsense about Clinton. But now watch them become gravely circumspect and sagely concerned about the veracity of the intelligence reports in Pissgate.
It is to laugh, my friends.
For the record, if the whorish corporate news media intend to pose as blushing ethical virgins again, I'd just as soon they wait until AFTER Pissgate.

What If Cary Grant Were a Private Eye?

Names like Superman, Batman, Iron Man and Spider-Man may sound silly, but there’s something sillier still.
At least those heroes chose their melodramatic noms de guerre. How much sillier is it when a hero just coincidentally happens to have a melodramatic name that advertises his profession? You know, like Doc Savage, Mike Hammer and Peter Gunn. The name of a later TV private eye, Remington Steele, was conceived as a parody of the name “Peter Gunn.”
Freudian implications aside, Gunn was the polished and poised protagonist in a stylish private eye TV series created by Blake Edwards that aired from 1958 to 1961. He was played by Craig Stevens, an actor who might be better remembered today if his looks, sartorial splendor and savoir faire had not so closely resembled Cary Grant’s.
One cool cat, Pete operated out of a jazz club called Mother’s in some waterfront city. His girl — the equally obviously named Edie Hart — was the lead singer at the club. Her smooth elegance mirrored Gunn’s, only slightly smudged at moments by hints of her frustration at Gunn’s matrimonial elusiveness.
Gunn was cool enough to make it into a comic book, Dell’s Four Color 1087 (April-June 1960), giving artist Mike Sekowsky a rest from the superhero-packed panels of DC’s Justice League of America. Sekowsky got a chance to show what he might have done with a realistically illustrated Rip Kirby-style newspaper strip.
The television series is remembered today largely for the permanent link it forged between action-adventure and jazz, thanks to composer Henry Mancini, who filled the episodes with original music. His Peter Gunn Theme remains iconic, and was the direct ancestor of The James Bond Theme. David Anthony Kraft and I had the privilege of seeing Mancini’s orchestra perform the piece at a university concert in 1973.
Few people know, however, that the famous theme has lyrics. Here they are, in part (and they sound like Edie Hart being heartfelt):

Every night your line is busy
All that buzzin’ makes me dizzy
Couldn’t count on all my fingers
All the dates you had with swingers
Bye bye
Bye, baby
I'm gonna kiss you goodbye
And walk right through that doorway
So long
I'm leaving
This is the last time we’ll meet
On the street going your way…

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Steve Hagen on the Dilemma of Desire

“Our senses numb when we overload them,” wrote Steve Hagen in his book Buddhism: Plain and Simple. “But once they’re numb, it’s tempting to overload them even more until we’re too numb to feel much at all. This is precisely the vicious cycle of an addictive drug. The overall effect we experience is the opposite of what we desired.”
“(I)t’s not merely drugs that are addictive and have the power to take us over the edge. For example … we’ve become jaded about great art and music simply because, with our technology, we’ve made it all too commonplace. When we can see reproductions of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers regularly, we no longer see their incredible, screaming vitality. And how much power is left in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony after the hundredth hearing? (It might help to remember that for the people of Beethoven’s day, just hearing it all would be a rare event).
“How can we deal with this situation? Should we attempt to snuff out our desires? Should we think of our desires as nasty, or wrong, or evil? Of course not. Those approaches simply add more fuel to the same fire.
“So what can we do? First we see. Then we turn around and go back.
“There’s no pressure we need to put on ourselves. Simply by seeing how things actually are — what leads to confusion and what leads to clarity — we begin to turn around.”

Monday, January 9, 2017

Here There Be Super-Dragons

You might think that a winged, fire-breathing dragon from the planet Krypton would give even Superman pause.
You’d be wrong.
The last surviving snagriff arrived to menace Metropolis in Superman 78 (Sept.-Oct. 1952), having been injected with what amounted to an experimental immortality serum by Superman’s father, Jor-El.
Although more powerful than Superman, the super-beast posed no direct threat to him because it was distracted by its insatiable appetite for metal, a side effect of the serum.
That appetite proved fatal when the creature swallowed six atomic bombs and was vaporized.
Or was it?
In Superman 142 ( Jan. 1961), an identical Kryptonian monster — now called a flame dragon, not a snagriff — attacks Earth, but is disempowered by Superman’s red kryptonite, frozen by his super-breath and hurled into eternal orbit somewhere beyond Pluto.
Enter the son of the flame dragon.
When an egg left by the frozen creature hatches in Superman 151 (Feb. 1962), the Man of Steel is able to carry the young beast into the prehistoric past, where it will be at home and won’t menace humanity. In the process, fangs strong than steel injured his hand.
And there’s a good illustration of how frustrating Superman stories sometimes were for readers in the 1960s.
Instead of a battle between Superman and a truly formidable monster (which is what we wanted to see), this story turned out to be yet another secret identity puzzle, with Lois Lane determined to prove that Clark Kent’s hand was visibly injured, just like Superman’s.
As for the flame dragon, he ended up starring with Titano the Super-Ape in a knock-off of King Kong Vs. Godzilla in Jimmy Olsen’s Monster Movie (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen 84, April 1965)
How the mighty were fallen. 

Trump: Don't Believe Your Lying Eyes

Trump’s claim that he did not mock a disabled reporter is a kind of ultimate test of his fascist aspirations. If fascists can force you to pretend that you did not see what you did see with your own eyes, then they’ve won. You are their slave.