Wednesday, October 26, 2016

America: The Wreckage and the Reckoning

The American government, run by corporations whose sole motivation is greed, has ignored the needs of ordinary Americans for decades.
From the world economic wreckage caused by the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act to the Iraq war based entirely on lies to the disintegration of middle-class wages to an epidemic of armed toddlers to the police shootings of unarmed citizens in the streets, Americans’ quiet desperation has been growing steadily louder and louder and louder.
No, everything is not “just fine.”

Societies in which things are “fine” do not create demagogues, people who use misdirection to peddle ugly, racist, violent solutions to the enraged and fearful. Demagogues do not arise by happenstance, out of nowhere. They arise only because you have ignored the festering conditions that create them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Solving the Mystery of Lew Harper

Something about Paul Newman puzzled me.
More than once, I’d heard the anecdote about how Newman changed the name of Ross MacDonald’s private eye character Lew Archer to “Lew Harper” for the 1966 film Harper. The story went that Newman had had two hits in Hud and The Hustler, and wanted to extend his lucky strike with a third alliterative title.
But that would have made Newman kind of stupid, and the keenly compassionate liberal Newman didn’t strike me as being stupid. Hence my puzzlement.
The mystery was solved by Tom Nolan, the biographer of Ross MacDonald (who was really Kenneth Millar). Eyeing United Artists’ immensely popular James Bond films while considering turning McDonald’s first Archer novel, The Moving Target, in to a movie, Warner Brothers decided to acquire all the film rights to Lew Archer and make a series. But Millar wasn’t willing to part with those rights for less than $50,000.
“I’d much rather see the deal fall through than risk having Archer lost in the clutches of the Warner octopus … I say nuts,” Millar said. But the studio didn’t want to pay Millar’s price. Their solution: change the character’s name and make a series anyway.
Newman’s wife, actress Joanne Woodward, later told the anecdote about her husband’s H superstition on the Tonight Show, and a myth was born. Presumably that sounded better than saying that the studio wanted to cheat the writer out of his fee.
Screenwriter William Goldman knew the true story, because he was the guy whom the studio asked to think up a new name for Lew Archer. Goldman picked the two-syllable “Harper” because it sounded like “Archer.”
 “If you know anything about the movie business, you know it’s all bullshit,” Goldman said. 

The God of Thunder Clouts a Kind of Castro

A weak, vulnerable person is transformed by magic lightning into a caped, Herculean hero who can fly.
Um, could you narrow that down a little more? That could be anybody.
In his second adventure (Journey Into Mystery 84, Sept. 1962), the Mighty Thor exploited his built-in Captain Marvel motif by having Dr. Don Blake trapped before a firing squad, unable to reach the walking stick that would change him into the thunder god. This echoed the many times in which Billy Batson, Mary Batson or Freddy Freeman ended up bound and gagged and unable to utter the villain-vanquishing word “Shazam!”
Having fought off an alien invasion in his first outing, the thunder god flexes his considerable muscles against a modern army this time out. The story is full of those multi-panel feats of staggering strength that Jack Kirby was so good at delivering.
The tale continues the commie-bashing featured in Marvel’s brief superhero revival in 1954, but this time the heavy has a heavy resemblance to Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, who’d only been in power three years. Because DC’s superhero titles usually backed away from real-world politics, Stan Lee instinctively went in the other direction, toward giving Marvel’s characters additional verisimilitude by grounding them in a more recognizable world.

How the GOP Fell Into Its Own Fox News Trap

Fox News is the cutting edge of conning the American public. They road test the propaganda at top speed, then get CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Lara Logan to buy the used sedan.
Propaganda posing as journalism is great for your side, right up until you fall off the cliff in the dark. By creating the Fox News fog machine, the GOP has blinded itself.
“For a sense of just how misinformed Republican voters have become, consider a few of the provably wrong things many believe. “Seven in 10 Republicans either doubt or completely disbelieve that President Obama was born in the United States. Six in 10 think he’s a secret Muslim. Half believe global warming is possibly or definitely a myth concocted by scientists.”

Saturday, October 22, 2016

And Who Will Get the Blame?

And when the electoral dust settles, who’ll be blamed for the Republican Party’s enthusiastic selection and embrace of the most xenophobic, greedy, racist, demagogic, sexist, duplicitous and ignorance-cheerleading GOP candidate in history? Why, “Both Sides,” of course.
This will happen so fast our proverbial heads will spin. Then Trump will be made to vanish as if he’d never existed, just as George W. Bush did.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Jimmy Olsen as Elastic Lad? That's a Stretch

After the great superhero extinction of the early-to-mid 1950s, any number of perfectly serviceable character concepts were going begging, and ended up recycled into non-superhero titles.
So it was that Jimmy Olsen ended up with Flash-like speed in September 1956, Hawkman-like wings in February 1958 and finally the flexible form of Plastic Man (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen 31, Sept. 1958).
While other superheroes were vanishing, Superman — thanks to his popularity on radio and movies and then on television — actually gained titles. By Sept.-Oct 1954, when the Jimmy Olsen comic was added, Clark Kent’s alter ego was already headlining Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Superman, Superboy and World’s Finest.
Plastic Man had only been out of business four years when exposure to an alien chemical gave Jimmy his stretchy powers. Later, Prof. Phineas Potter’s stretching formula would enable Jimmy to become Elastic Lad for short periods.
Elastic Lad’s adventures became almost a backup feature for Jimmy, appearing repeatedly and even earning him an honorary membership in the Legion of Super Heroes.
Even Lois Lane got in on the act as Elastic Lass (Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane 23, Feb. 1961). The unstoppable Composite Superman used Jimmy’s Elastic Lad powers to defeat both Superman and Batman.
The quirky, oddball nature of the Plastic Man powers made them perfect for Jimmy’s adventures. They enabled him to maintain an occasional superhero persona while never threatening to steal the spotlight from the real hero, Superman.
Ironically, while in the semi-comedic form of Elastic Lad, Jimmy had his most tragic and finest moment. In Alan Moore’s 1986 swan song to the Silver Age Superman, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, Elastic Lad, Krypto and a super-powered Lana Lang willingly gave up their lives to defend Superman.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Flash: The Four-Color Hermes of the 1940s

The comparative religion scholar Joseph Campbell famously said, “The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stand this afternoon on the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change.”
That being the case, I suppose no one should have been surprised to find the latest incarnation of Hermes zipping around a comic book in January 1940, complete with winged petasos.
Created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Harry Lampert, the Flash was among the first of the shtick superheroes.
In just two years, Superman, Captain Marvel and their various copycats had already covered the ground of the all-purpose superhero who wielded an array of powers. By 1940, to get ahead, a super being had to have a gimmick. So The Human Torch burned and the Submariner swam, Hawkman could fly, Doll Man could shrink, Wonder Woman could be female and the Flash could run really, really fast.
College student Jay Garrick was one of only three characters who became a superhero by smoking, by the way. In a chem lab, while breaking football training with a cigarette, Jay accidentally knocked over some beakers and further polluted his lungs by breathing in the fumes that turned him into the Flash.
As wish fulfillment, speed rated high with kids. Speed, fueled by their boundless energy, was after all the one area where children could outdistance the somewhat worn-out adults who talked down to them, punished them and generally looked after them. But just think what you might do with some real speed…
Artistic restriction can often be the parent of creativity, and the decade of the Flash’s initial run gave the writers plenty of time to come up with satisfying variations on the theme of speed. The Flash could run up the sides of buildings and across water. He could catch bullets, vibrate through walls, create multiple images of himself and become invisible. His one power turned out to make him nearly as omnipotent as Superman’s many. The popular character raced around in Flash Comics, All-Flash (a title devoted to his adventures), Comic Cavalcade and All-Star Comics with his fellow members of the Justice Society of America.
The feature was initially marred by crude art, and the early adventures of this seminal superhero are difficult to enjoy for that reason. But by All-Flash 31 (Oct.-Nov. 1947), an artist named Carmine Infantino had arrived to make the Scarlet Speedster’s adventures a pure pleasure. Infantino would carry the character, in his second and even more successful incarnation, right through the 1950s and 1960s.
I’m sure, dear reader, that you already recall the other two characters who got their super powers from smoking. But at the risk of appearing pedantic, I will remind you of them. In 1963, the Japanese robot superhero 8 Man restored his powers with “energy cigarettes” carried in a cigarette case on his belt. And in June 1974, Daily Planet editor Perry White acquired Superman-like powers from some cigars given to him by grateful alien mutants.