Monday, February 20, 2017

Secret Origins: The Comic That Made Me Cry

I never wanted a comic book more than the 25-cent DC giant Secret Origins, which was on newsstands in June 1961, the month I turned 7.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t alone. The comic sold out instantly at my newsstand in Effingham, IL, and I was so disappointed I burst into tears on the spot. Then I was ashamed at having cried.
But we almost never got to read characters’ origins in those halcyon days, and to acquire a bunch of those in one comic would have been a thrill.
I wouldn’t learn until years later than DC’s apparent discomfort with reprinting 1940s material would lead them to cheat a bit on the Secret Origins title, meaning that the real origins of the Superman-Batman team, Wonder Woman and Green Arrow would remain secret.
In fact, the only “Golden Age material” to be found in all 80 pages was an old copy of Flash being chuckled over by police scientist Barry Allen while he ate lunch in one panel.
The earliest story reprinted was the origin of the Martian Manhunter from Detective Comics 225 (November, 1955). The Silver Age characters Flash, Green Lantern, Adam Strange and the Challengers of the Unknown had all debuted in 1956 or later, and their actual first stories were included as well.
But instead of Wonder Woman’s real 1941 origin, we got a reconned version by Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito reprinted from Wonder Woman 105 (April, 1959).
Green Arrow and Speedy got even shorter shrift, merely a text page that summarized their origins from Adventure Comics 256 (January, 1959) and Adventure Comics 262 (July, 1959). In fact, of course, they had debuted 18 years earlier in More Fun Comics 73 (November 1941).
Even May of 1952 was apparently too “Golden Age” for the editors. That’s when Superman and Batman actually met in the pages of Superman 76 (although they’d teamed up even earlier on Superman’s radio series). Instead, DC reprinted the retconned Origin of the Superman-Batman Team by Edmond Hamilton, Dick Sprang and Stan Kay that had appeared in World’s Finest Comics 94 (May-June, 1958).
So that dark, sunny June day I had to content myself with the origin of a new superhero in Archie Comics’ Adventures of the Jaguar 1, Detective, the second issue of Charlton’s  Gorgo, the battle between Batman and the super-powered Villain of 1,000 Elements in Detective Comics 294, learning The Secret of Tigerman from World’s Finest 119, seeing the debut of The Legion of Super-Villains in Superman 147 and the exciting third Superman Annual, featuring The Strange Lives of Superman.
That one was almost as good as Secret Origins.
Almost.
Despite its deficiencies, Secret Origins remained The One That Got Away. I hadn’t learned, at 7, that desire often makes the unattainable seem more wonderful than reality can ever be.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

GOP Elephant Always Forgets Its Own Racism

So here's a handy remember for them.

Never Trust an Invisible Man

He was almost the first superhero of the Marvel Age of Comics. But, appropriately enough, he took a wrong turn and vanished.
I first encountered Jack Kirby’s fascinating Invisible Man in the second and final Strange Tales Annual (Sept. 1963), but that was a reprint from Strange Tales 67 (Feb. 1959).
I Was the Invisible Man! is the first-person narrative of scientist Adam Clayton, who creates a device that will accelerate his atomic structure and permit him to move at invisible super speed.
Operating (credibly for once) through a secret identity, Clayton at first does good deeds, thwarting a bank robbery and saving a pedestrian from a falling safe. But his actions as what the headlines call “the Invisible Man” become more arrogant and erratic. He interferes with a prize fight and strips the tires from a “hot rodder’s” speeding car for fun.
Building up the Invisible Man’s reputation, Clayton intends to cash in on his powers and become rich and powerful — but never gets the chance. A glance in his bathroom mirror reveals, to his horror, that his super speed has aged him 40 years. He is nearly finished.
“It was too late to regret my foolish desires for riches,” he thinks. “It was too late to reach back and use the valuable time I’d wasted to perfect my formula for mankind’s benefit. Yes, that’s a job for a young man — a much wiser young man than I was.”
The morose old man is nearly run over by a truck because he’s distracted and slow.
“It was an ironic and somehow fitting end to my career as the Invisible Man — who could have weaved in front of a dozen speeding trucks!” he thinks. “A selfish man is a careless man who has lost sight of the values that count — and in turn, loses everything.”
In the 1940s or the 1960s, Adam Clayton might easily have become a superhero. But DC’s Golden Age Flash had vanished almost a decade before and the Silver Age Flash wouldn’t get his own title until that very month.
During the more conventional 1950s, several concepts that had once been used to springboard superheroes were recycled for use as horror or science fiction plots — winged aliens who recalled Hawkman, flaming monsters that resembled the Human Torch, invisible SOBs who were like the Whizzer.
The tale echoed, perhaps unconsciously, the myth of the Ring of Gyges recounted in Plato’s Republic.
Like Tolkien’s One Ring, this magical device permitted the wearer to become invisible at will. The point of the myth is that by freeing the wearer from the fear of punishment or disgrace, the ring would necessarily corrupt anyone who wore it, morality being merely a social construct. Superhumans could not be trusted.
But Socrates argued that justice is more than a social construct, and that the wearer who abused such a power would end up a miserable slave to his appetites. A wise person would refuse such a ring and, by remaining rationally in control of himself, be happier, Socrates said.
In other words, with great power comes great danger. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Oh, the Lack of Humanity...

Benito Trumpolini’s ego is just a dirigible filled with hydrogen.
So it’s out like Flynn, eh? Our job now is to compound Trump’s humiliation at his treasonous, disgraced administration, barely a month old. Let’s crank up the volume.
Trump’s ego is his Hindenburg. Let’s light it up.

Whatever Happened to the Dog of Tomorrow?

By the time I started reading Superman comics in 1958 or 1959, Krypto was already a well-established and well-behaved member of Superman’s expanding “family.”
But he didn’t begin that way.
 Introduced in Adventure Comics 210 (March 1955), Krypto was revealed to be baby Kal-El’s pet puppy, sent into space in a test ship by Jor-El shortly before the planet Krypton’s explosion.
I don’t think anyone here has ever considered naming a puppy “Eartho” or “Terra,” but I won’t quibble about Kryptonian customs in this area.
Superboy is joyful when his pet arrives on Earth, but quickly understands the headaches involved when Krypto playfully rips the wing off a passenger airliner. Finding his dog has fled into space at the end of that first story, Superboy pretends to be glad.
But isn’t.
Krypto would, of course, return soon and for good, playing a role in many Superboy and Superman adventures. In fact, the Dog of Steel would become a member of two distinguished organizations of super-animals — the 30th century Legion of Super-Pets and the Space Canine Patrol Agents.
Krypto would also be the ancestor of a surprisingly large number of superhero dogs that would include Ace the Bathound, Underdog, Dynomutt, Hong Kong Phooey, Marvel’s Lockjaw and (arguably) Disney’s Super-Goof. Radar, Alan Moore’s version of Krypto, could talk thanks to a super-translator installed by Supreme in his dog collar, and is a particular favorite.
Krypto was created by artist Curt Swan and writer Otto Binder, and that seems appropriate. Swan was one of the most iconic artists ever associated with Superman, and Binder, a long-time writer for Captain Marvel, used Krypto to bring a little of that famous Fawcett feature’s heartwarming whimsy to Superman’s “serious” universe. The Big Red Cheese had vanished with Marvel Family 89 (Jan. 1954), just a year before the Dog of Steel arrived on Earth.
Look, I know Krypto’s presence makes Superman even sillier than he already is, but I really don’t care. Given the volumes of anecdotal evidence that attest to canine loyalty and bravery, the idea of a superhero dog has a kind of deep psychological resonance for us.
And Krypto brings a quality of heart to the Superman feature than underlines and counterpoints the recurring theme of the superhero’s loneliness — something Moore understood implicitly.
I defy anyone to read Krypto’s part in Moore’s 1986 story Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? without finding that the room has suddenly become unaccountably dusty.