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“World of Doomed Spacemen”

Part three in a four-part series on From Beyond the Unknown #23! Previous installments include “Language-Master of Space!” and “Secret of the Man-Ape!” Today, “World of Doomed Spacemen!” Story by Gardner Fox, art by Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs. (Part four will be the letters column, which is pretty interesting in itself.)

A deserted Earth spaceship with no sign of its crew—a fantastic giant who was the only living thing on a far distant planet—! Had the giant destroyed the Earthmen? Or was there a stranger menace waiting to doom the rescue ships from Earth?

[Rescue ship crewman:] “The giant snapped us up like a pair of toy spaceships! What’s he going to do to us?”

This is an episode in an ongoing Space Museum series, the premise of which is that a son and his father go to the Space Museum and discover some odd and intriguing artifact on display. “Behind every object in the Space Museum there’s a story of heroism, daring, self-sacrifice…” a story which little Tommy Parker’s father tells him. This episode, Tommy and his dad find a pair of contact lenses. And let me tell you, these are some huge contacts. They’re like the size of an entire eyeball! Why are people in the 25th century still wearing contacts, anyway? They also drive flying cars that have wheels. Why do they have wheels if they fly? I guess for landing, but come on, how about vertical landing/take-off? The people of the future are slackers if this is the best technological advancement they can come up with.

But back to contact lenses. What is the story of heroism, daring, and self-sacrifice behind a pair of contact lenses? Glad you asked! The contacts belonged to Tom Miller of the Star-Gazer, the first manned spaceship to travel to the stars! During its maiden voyage, the Star-Gazer is lost somewhere between the Sirius and Procyon systems… Earth sends out two rescue ships! As the commander of one ship explains, “If the lead ship runs into the same disaster, the follow-up one will try to save it—or at least determine the menace!” Astute readers will do doubt catch the logical problem here—it’s sort of a “Who watches the watchmen?” for spaceships… who rescues the rescue ship? Who rescues the rescue-rescue ship? And so on. Sending two rescue ships is only a partial solution, but the problem is that a partial solution is the best you can manage. Sending a backup rescue ship to rescue the rescue ship wouldn’t really significantly increase the probability of a successful rescue mission. You just have to hope the rescue crew are smart and don’t get into trouble themselves. As the story continues, the futility of a backup rescue ship is effectively demonstrated. The rescuers track the Star-Gazer to the planet Procyon, but as soon as they arrive on Procyon a giant shows up and grabs both rescue ships. The backup ship was totally useless!

Luckily for the rescuers, the giant is a friendly giant. In fact, when the giant uses a machine to reduce himself, it turns out it’s Commander Tom Miller! How did Commander Miller find himself giant-sized? Well, after the Star-Gazer landed on Procyon, its crew began disappearing one by one, until none but Commander Miller was left. As Commander Miller searched the barren landscape for his crewmates, a voice spoke to him inside his head! “Follow my thoughts, man of Earth! Your friends are with me, waiting for you…”

[Commander Miller:] “The voice in my mind explained that it belonged to a mighty robot of inestructible metal! It had been created on a far-distant planet called Strykor… Not content with life on Strykor, Extar the Robot decided to journey to other worlds…”

[Extar the Robot:] “All I need to teleport myself across space is mind-energy—which I’ll absorb from the people on this planet…”

There’s an important lesson here. If you build a robot, do not give it the ability to eat minds. If you insist on giving it the ability to eat minds, do not give it the ability to decide to eat your mind. People always get this wrong—they make a killer robot and the robot goes crazy and kills them. Obviously the people of Strykor were not Isaac Asimov fans.

Extar absorbed the mind energy of the Strykorians, teleported to Procyon, and got stuck there because Procyonian civilization is long dead—no mind-energy to absorb! Luckily, Commander Miller and Co. arrived. But wait—Extar was able to mind-control the Star-Gazer crew, but when he tried to mind-control Commander Miller he failed miserably! (Can you guess why?) The Commander narrowly escaped, discovered the enlarging/shrinking machine, and enlarged himself in preparation for battle with Extar the Robot.

Now, did you guess why Extar was unable to mind-control Commander Miller? If you guessed that the mind-control rays were distorted due to the refractive index of the glass, and thus failed to strike the control centers of the commander’s brain… you are correct!

Commander Miller and the rescue crew form a battle plan:

  1. Bust into the robot’s lair
  2. Throw the enlarging/shrinking machine at the robot (distraction, see?)
  3. Put glass space helmets on the mind-controlled Star-Gazer crew

Brilliant plan, right? But there’s one problem: the mind-controlled crewmembers are still even after they get space helments! Commander Miller, Space Sleuth, deduces that “The robot must have changed the frequency of its mental rays to allow for the distortion of the glass, figuring to capture me this way!” Commander Miller leaps into action and operates the englarging/shrinking machine to shrink Extar to subatomic size! Another crew member, now free of the robotic mind control, marvels, “The robot’s so small now that it is on one of the uncounted trillions of sub-atomic worlds! It’ll never find its way back! Our universe is now safe!” Wow, uncounted trillions of sub-atomic worlds… Commander Miller replies, “The machine used up all its power in shrinking Extar! It’s useless to us now because we don’t know on what fuel it operates!” Alas!

If you’re wondering how Commander Miller avoided being mind-controlled after the robot altered the frequency of its mind-control ray, you’re not alone:

[Tommy:] “But, Dad, how did Commander Miller prevent the robot from overcoming him as it did the others?”

[Dad:] “When he realized that the robot had altered its mental waves to compensate for glass, Miller removed his contact lenses—an thus Extar’s mental waves couldn’t overcome him!”

Luckily, Commander Miller’s eyesight wasn’t too bad without his contacts in. It’d be pretty embarrassing to be fighting an evil robot and trip on a chair or something because you’re too blind to see it.

Captain America, apathetic voter?

I know the burning question in your heart: What is new Captain America writer Robert Kirkman going to do with the book? Prepare to find out: [via Fanboy Rampage]

“Focus on him beating up people? I’m not touching on the higher themes of Cap and patriotism. It’s been done before and been done better than I could ever do it. My story is about a guy that dresses up in an American flag and does his part in defending this country from crazy people that dress up in Halloween costumes. I’m trying to keep it simple. In light of where the books been for the last couple years, I’m hoping that will seem like a fresh take.”

Awesome! Who wants patriotism in a book about a guy dressed up in an American flag anyway… Wait. Wait.

Remember a few months ago, Bill Jemas’s proposal for a Thor series with Thor as a political allegory of American foreign policy? The problem with that sort of political allegory is, it doesn’t strengthen the political arguments at all—in fact, it obfuscates them. If you disguise a political argument as a Thor comic, you’re just adding an unnecessary extra comprehension step as readers will have to decode your allegory before they can even consider your argument. If you want to convince people the war in Iraq is a bad idea, just tell them and don’t screw around with allegory! Now does that mean fiction can’t address political topics? Not at all! See David Fiore:

This doesn’t mean that you can’t feature political issues as story elements—Morrison’s Animal Man demonstrates pretty clearly that you can; as do the works of Charles Dickens and Frank Capra (anyone know who Frank Capra voted for back in the thirties? anyone care? I hope not, because his films, even the ones that take place in Washington, don’t really have anything to do with politics)—you just can’t make them the point of the story, otherwise your work will suck.

As anyone who has read this blog at all knows, I’m a psycho when it comes to defending liberal values and the question of animal rights—but even I know enough never to write a novel about these things… If I have something to say about a specific issue, I’ll just say it… When I write fiction, I deal with the kind of stuff that nobody conducts polls on—like epistemological conundrums and the magic of inter-subjectivity.

So let’s just be clear up front: a Captain America story whose sole purpose is to explore what Captain America would think of President Bush or a Captain America story which is a straightforward political allegory of the war in Iraq is bound to suck a lot. Nobody cares what Captain America thinks of American foreign foreign policy. (Or anybody who does care is a weirdo—come on, he’s a fictional character! His political beliefs have no bearing on real-world politics.) A story that uses Cap’s political experiences metaphorically to deal with more interesting things, well, that has more promise.

Back to Kirkman. Kirkman, according to his Newsarama interview, is wisely not going to use Captain America as a platform for expressing his political beliefs. But he is also not going to address “higher themes” like “patriotism.” Nuh uh, hold on there, Kirkman! Cap dresses in an American flag. He’s a walking, talking, fighting symbol of the USA! The USA is a political entity—you can’t take a character who’s a symbol of a political entity and make him apolitical!

But Steven, we’ll just say he’s beyond politics, that he’s a symbol of the American Ideal. No problem.

But the notion that there’s such a thing as an “American Ideal” or an “American Dream” is a matter of nationalistic politics. “American” has no inherent moral value separate from its sociopolitical meaning.

Well, look, he’s just a symbol of a moral ideal. It’s not especially nationalistic. We’re just ignoring patriotism, all right?

No no no, Hypothetical Debater! He’s dressed in a flag, anything he represents is necessarily associated with America.

Look, damn it, we’ll just have him beat up the Serpent Society or something, no political stuff there!

Nope. The political stuff is there. The American flag, as a symbol of America, carries with it tons of political baggage. Kirkman can tell people to ignore it, and some readers will play along (just look at the comments below the Newsarama article), but critical readers will not play along. Kirkman can refuse to address the political themes inherent in a superhero who wears an American flag costume, but that doesn’t mean the political themes go away. It means Kirkman is willfully ignorant of the political themes in his text, which means he can’t control them. Allowing a large chunk of unconscious thematic material to lurk around in your text is generally a dangerous idea. A critical reading will unearth those lurking themes. If the story is something like, “Captain America beats up the Serpent Society,” the most obvious reading would be that Captain America is a simplistic metaphor for the American tradition of heroic violence, or something like that. And because Captain America is the Good Guy and the association of Captain America’s violent heroism with America goes unquestioned, we’re pretty much back at the level of banal political allegory where the Serpent Society represents America’s enemies by implication. It’s even worse than the Thor thing because the allegory isn’t even intentional. And wait, before you reply, remember that we’re talking about unintentional and unconscious elements in the text, so “But Kirkman didn’t intend it to be a political allegory, the Serpent Society isn’t supposed to represent anything” is not much of a counterargument.

And wait, one more thing! The fact that Captain America may not be fit to address political issues is irrelevent. Sure, maybe a superhero dressed as a flag who beats up mental patients in weird drag isn’t much good for commenting on patriotism and nationalism, but that doesn’t make it possible not to address patriotism and nationalism with such a character!

Language-Master of Space!

Second in a series of, oh, four posts, I suppose, about the excellent comic book From Beyond the Unknown #23. The first concerned the “Secret of the Man-Ape!” This post, as you have no doubt deduced from its title, concerns the “Language-Master of Space!” Story by Gardner Fox, art by Sid Greene. I know the mystery of the literatus gorilla has been the primary topic of interest w/r/t From Beyond the Unknown, but stick around for more sf comics craziness of yesteryear!

Gideon Karr had mastered a hundred different planet-languages—but he wouldn’t be satisfied till he had increased that number ten times as much! Then one day on the planet Klyara he was forced to do some “straight talking” with the strangest weapon in the galaxy—to save his own life!

“The name is Gideon Karr, folks—star wanderer, planetary adventurer, and master linguist! A man with an itch to roam the spaceways—ready to tell my story in any of a hundred languages, if you “savvy” them…

“Maybe you’ve never stopped to realize how many different ways intelligent beings communicate with one another! For instance, on Gran they use radiant light beams—on Proganus, they vibrate their four antennae…

“The Sporrans of Arcturus-4 talk with colored bubbles of vocal energy…

“On Dellagro, the four-armed natives use a sign language…

“The green beings of Slistilyssa communicate by making clicking sounds with their long fingernails…” [In the panel, a smooth green ladies man clicks away, as an editor’s note helpfully translates: “How about a date tonight, honey?”]

Gideon Karr, Peripatetic Space Linguist, finds his “fiddlefoot” itching again, which he takes to mean that it’s time for him to continue his endless wandering in quest of learning 1,000 languages (Gideon is nothing if not ambitious). As he heads for the spaceport, however, he’s caught in the crossfire as two Sfarrans and a Callistan battle it out with blast-guns! Gideon, a lifelong advocate of the underdog, leaps into the fray and soundly trounces the Sfarrans—too late to save the life of the Callistan! Nevertheless, the friendly Callistan offers Gideon a reward of information: the location of some fire gems! Fire gems, “a legend in the stars! Fantastically beautiful, they are absolutely priceless! The only fire gem ever known to exist had been destroyed in the catastrophe which destroyed Solonar…” But there’s a whole stash of them in the Lake of White Water on the planet Klyara. If Gideon can get his paws on a fire gem, he’ll never have to work again—he’ll have the rest of his life free to study study study those languages! Now he knows just how he can scratch his “fiddlefoot.”

Arriving on Klyara, Gideon finds it inhabited entirely by life-like statues. A normal man would certainly, upon such a discovery, say, “Why is this planet covered with cities inhabited by statues? That’s really weird.” But Gideon is a man of singular purpose! He cares about only two things in the universe:

  1. languages and
  2. fire gems.

Gideon dives to the bottom of the Lake of White Water and finds a fire gem inside a mollusk (just as pearls are found inside oysters on Earth, Gideon educationally points out). After cutting and polishing the gem on his spaceship (he’s also an amateur jeweler!), he strolls over the library to read about Klyara’s language. (Why does a city of inanimate statues have a library stocked with books? Who’s supposed to read them? Gideon has no time for such insignificant questions!) He sees another spaceship land, and it soons comes to light that Klyara is under invasion! The Klyarans are not inanimate statues, but living people slowed almost to the point of absolute stillness by a delayogas bomb released by the invading Skrann aliens (that’s “delay-o-gas,” by the way, it took me several seconds to figure out how to parse that word). At first Gideon, unarmed and unable to make use of the Klyaran’s sophisticated arsenal (which seems rather insecure, or maybe Gideon is also a master of infiltration), decides that discretion is the better part of valor. He changes his mind, though, after a bolt of energy zaps from the fire gem (which he made into a ring) and melts his spaceship.

“Hardly believing my eyes, I tested the ring again! In some mysterious manner the fire gem had transformed the noonday sunlight into a deadly disintigrating ray…

“For ages, man has made light from electricity! The fire gem—like a photo-electric cell—reverses the process, turning light into electricity! Actually, the fire gem turns light into a discharge of raw, destructive fury!”

Got it? It’s the opposite of a light bulb!

Gideon boldy threatens to melt the Skranns’ spaceship, but then the sun goes down and the ring stops working! He waits till next sunrise, melts the spaceship, and then the Skranns apparently stand around discussing the possible ramifications on their invasion plan of having their spaceship melted, and they take so long deciding what to do about this that the sun goes down again. (Gideon, courteous to the end, kindly doesn’t take the opportunity to just get on with it and melt the Skranns.) Luckily for Gideon, they decide to surrender. After the effect of the delayogas wears off, the Klyarans are happy to reward Gideon by teaching him their ear-wiggling language. Seriously, Klyarans have mouths and everything (maybe they don’t have vocal cords?), but they communicate by wiggling their huge donkey-like ears.

You’ll note that the “master linguist of space” concept exists mostly to give Gideon a motivation and to set up the “straight talking” joke on the opening splash page of the story. Too bad! Just imagine the possibilities of linguistics-centered pulp sf… “Gideon Karr and the Language Virus from Space!”

New X-Men love

Marc Singer has a good summary analysis of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men.

New X-Men moves in three distinct phases, roughly one for each year Morrison spent on the title. The first year is one of resuscitation, as Morrison rethinks old X-Men concepts and selectively introduces new ones, including a threat that will force drastic changes to Magneto, to the Sentinels, and ultimately to Xavier himself.

Marc’s reading organizes the entire epic story into three parts: X-Men renaissance (catalyzed, appropriately, by Charles Xavier’s evil twin Cassandra Nova whom ey tried to kill in the womb), the X-Men’s exploration of their new role as public advocates for mutant rights, and finally the collapse of Xavier’s dream—and of Magneto’s dream. “Planet X” ends with apocalypse, and the “Here Comes Tomorrow” epilogue apparently further explodes the narrative so there is no status quo established at all, not the pre-Morrison nor Morrison’s own nor an entirely new one. Wonderful! That’s just what I hoped would happen. Not a continuity reset button so much as a marker, a sunset and a sunrise. “This is where the X-Men end… and where they begin again. What next, X-Men?” The fact that Chris Claremont and Chuck Austen decide what they do next is, as Marc notes, a problem only if you keep reading the books after Morrison leaves. I personally think that a new beginning is a lovely way to end a story.

Marc does seem a little disappointed with “Planet X,” which is too bad. I noted some of the “lingering questions,” but by the time I was reading about how Logan chooses to end his life (and Jean’s life), I was practically physically incapable of caring why Logan never smelled Magneto hiding in the school.

Ooh, can’t wait for the “Here Comes Tomorrow” trade to be published! It sounds excellent.

“I said exactly what I wanted to say, exactly the way I wanted to say it.”

Dave Sim was actually interviewed by The Onion (not a permalink), and this is the quote that sticks with me most:

“There was no “storm of misinterpretation” following Cerebus’ “marriage” to Astoria. I’m not sure the quotes belong on there. That was part of my point. If Cerebus is the Pope and he declares himself married to Astoria and has sex with her, is that rape? There were a number of levels to that one, but that was the joke as far as I was concerned.”

I’ve never read Cerebus, mostly because I didn’t really see the point in giving money to someone who doesn’t think I deserve to be able to make such weighty decisions. Then as the end drew near and other comics bloggers talked about all the interesting things going on in Cerebus I got more and more convinced that I should give it a chance. But I haven’t yet, and it’s partly what’s contained in that quote that holds me back. I realize I may sound like the sort of “hysterical” feminist Sim so despises on this one (and, let’s be honest, that’s basically my normal state) but I’m utterly put off by a writer who can’t think of a better way to deal with an abstract concept like “what level of power makes you able to make something true/real/existent just by saying it?” without throwing in a “joke” sequence in which his main character rapes the character based on the author’s by-then-ex-wife?

And I hope I can be emotional without proving Sim right about the nature of women, but this all hits me far too close to home and I really don’t understand how it gets to be such a laughing matter. So an established, nuanced character gets raped (or maybe not, since apparently in Simworld there’s no such thing as marital rape) to lend gravitas to some adolescent musings on language and meaning and that’s supposed to just make the point stronger or something. Perhaps it does, but not in the way Sim intended. I realize that the tragedy is that people who weren’t themselves adolescent fanboys were reading and were betrayed by writing like this, not to mention Astoria’s human counterpart. And I just don’t know whether I could read and enjoy this, even without the question of what my money supports. I know other people read and I trust their judgment, but I don’t know how to make this decision.

Not really switching gears, my interpretational fixation just before we began this version of the blog was how people can do wicked, hurtful things and be utterly convinced they’re doing something right. Dave Sim seems to be one of those people, sure of himself and utterly remorseless, although it’s unfair of me to say that when he’s perhaps repented in his way for the things he did before his vow of chastity and so on. What he’s done, though, is build a world in which he doesn’t even seem to have the “number of levels” he put in Cerebus. He knows what’s right and what’s real and what’s best, and never seems to question whether things he says are so. At least he realizes his own thoughts are out of step with many other people’s. They are with mine, and I think because of who I am this may be a fatal disconnect. I don’t know whether or not that’s a good thing.

Secret of the Man-Ape!

“Secret of the Man-Ape!” Published in From Beyond the Unknown. Story by Otto Binder, art by Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella.

Who knows what past civilizations dominated ancient Earth—and vanished without a trace? Who knows what other intelligent creatures may have reigned over our world?

By a twist of evolutionary fate, an alien from outer space finds he has chosen the wrong disguise to spy on Earth!

[Scientist:] If my machine works, I’ll be able to transform this gorilla into a human!

[Gorilla (thinking):] It better work—or my plan to conquer the Earth will fail!

You see, 100,000 years ago, Earth was ruled by a civilization of intelligent gorillas. And, as we all know, if some aliens on a planet 100,000 light years from our solar system viewed Earth through a telescope, they would see the Earth of 100,000 years ago, ruled by gorillas. If said aliens then, operating on this 100,000-year-old intelligence, decided to send a spy to Earth in preparation for a full-scale invasion (as aliens are wont to do), they would naturally send an alien spy transformed by a ray into a gorilla. The tragedy of the situation, you will note, is that Earth is no longer ruled by a civilization of intelligent gorillas, but by humans. (It doesn’t matter, if you’re wondering, who will be ruling Earth in the distant future, because the aliens, despite having light-speed-only telescopes, do have faster-than-light space travel. One might wonder why they don’t simply send an invisible spy camera or something, if one were a hard-hearted curmudgeon with no appreciation for the lovely absurdity of 1950s comics featuring gorillas.) Luckily, our gorilla protagonist finds himself captured by a scientist with a ray which transforms gorillas into human form:

When the mind-reading gorilla is delivered to the scientist’s laboratory in America—

[Scientist:] I’ve been waiting for this specimen, to try out my evolving ray!

[Gorilla (thinking):] I hope it works! My whole mission depends on it!

As the rays bathe the alien gorilla…

[Scientist (thinking):] Gorilla to human in ten minutes! According to my calculations, only the body has changed, not the brain!

[Gorilla (thinking):] Now if I can escape this cage…

But the next moment, the ray is turned on the alien again…

[Scientist:] This experiment is too dangerous for me to continue on my own! I’ll change him back…

[Gorilla (thinking):] No—no!

[Scientist:] As soon as I dismantle the machine, I’ll turn my plans over to the science society for further study!

[Gorilla (thinking):] Trapped in gorilla form again! I must get those plans for myself, somehow!

Meanwhile, Professor Scott finds another “spy” lurking outside his window…

[Scientist (thinking):] That face in the window again! It’s Hal Todd, my former assistant! I never trusted him, and fired him! I wonder if he’s scheming to steal my plans for evil purposes?

Now we begin to understand that mysterious cover, as Prof. Scott decides to smuggle his secret notes past Hal by hiding them in his nephew’s library books: Moby Dick, Robinson Crusoe, and Treasure Island! As Prof. Scott takes his notes to the science society, he is so worried about this stalker Hal, he walks right in front of a truck! Hal kneels to examine the professor’s cane, hat, and books, scattered in the street (the corpose is nowhere to be seen, perhaps stuck under the truck), his thoughts are ironic: “Professor Scott—dead! I wonder if he planned to use his discovery for evil purposes, as I half suspected at times?”

(Philosophical question: To what evil purposes do you suppose somebody might put a ray which makes gorillas look like humans, but doesn’t make them smarter?)

A passer-by returns the prof’s books to the library (this is apparently minutes after the prof was run over by a truck, and there’s been no indication that anybody called an ambulance or anything…), where our alien gorilla, having escaped his cage, checks them out. (As she hands over the books, the librarian thinks, “At first I imagined that gorilla was talking to me—but it’s his thoughts I hear! How is such a fantastic thing possible?” In a display of flagrant negligence, she fails to ask the gorilla for his library card.)

The gorilla steals a car and speeds out of town—trailed by Hal, who made to the library only after the gorilla got the books, despite having been standing in front of the library a couple pages ago when the prof was hit by the truck. The gorilla, who does not have a driver’s license, drives right off a cliff. Hal muses that “The world will never know” just what the gorilla’s nefarious plans were. The end.

And so “Secret of the Man-Ape!” is a tragedy, a cautionary tale of the peril of acting on insufficient information. It is happy that the aliens are willing to jump to conclusions based on suspect intelligence, since we certainly don’t want Earth falling to the aliens. If only, though, Hal and the prof had not allowed themselves to be ruled by suspicion! They give in to paranoia, and the sad result is the prof’s violent death and Hal’s looking like an idiot for losing some library books to a gorilla.

Stay tuned for “Language-Master of Space!” and “World of Doomed Spacemen!”

Stories to Stagger the Imagination!

When Graeme McMillan introduced to the comics blogosphere the wondrous comic book cover pictured below, Rose and I leapt into action and purchased a copy of From Beyond the Unknown #23 from eBay. (We also got Eddie Campbell’s The Eyeball Kid #1, a bunch of the Doom Patrol runs of Grant Morrison and Rachel Pollack [mostly Rachel Pollack], and special extra surprise freebies Foxfire #1 and The Phoenix Resurrection Genesis #1 [both of which are Ultra Gold Limited Edition! awesome!]. Both of the extra special freebies are apparently X-Men comics, despite having been published by Malibu Comics. What is Malibu?)

From Beyond the Unknown #23

I’ve not had a chance to read “World of Doomed Spacemen!” or “Language-Master of Space!” yet, but “Secret of the Man-Ape” alone is worth whatever we spent. Expect a full review very very soon. Maybe even a full transcript, because everybody should read this story! I am disappointed to say that the ape’s reason for checking out those three particular books (he apparently actually checks them out in the story, rather than holding up the library with a gun) is disappointing. The rest of the story more than makes up for it, though!

Superman announces his plans for dealing with little lost girls and guys with guns

This is the year were we get a more proactive Superman that you don’t want to mess with. If you’re a little lost girl, he’ll be there to save you, but if you’re a guy with a gun or an alien armada attacking Earth, then look out because he’s not going to go easy on you. This is not like Batman’s revenge scenario, but more of an empowering fantasy. We all want to have the power to make a difference. Superman does, so he should. This year, he will.

No word yet on how Superman plans to deal with girls with guns or little lost boys. Perhaps he will give them rides on Comet the super-pony. Sad little lost lads and poor little lasses turned to a life of crime just need a super-pony!

Oh, wait, DC removed Comet the super-pony from continuity. No wonder lonely Superman is so unhappy nowadays:

Mad Superman

What was so wrong about Superman’s best friends, Comet the super-pony, Krypto the Kryptonian’s best friend, and Beppo the lovable simian super-rascal? Fuck you, DC!

[Quote from an interview with Superman editor Eddie Berganza, thanks ever so much to Graeme McMillan. Image also stolen from Comic Book Resources.]

Continuity Criticism!

Rose and I bought Geoff Klock’s How to Read Superhero Comics and Why this weekend, and I’ve just read the introduction and Chapter 0. I think this is going to be a fun book, and looks like it will have a lot to say about the concept of “continuity,” which I’ve been getting very interested in lately.

Few superhero narratives enjoy uncomplicated relationships with prior parent-narratives, which are (all too) present in the narrative. (p. 2) […] The path that gets the superhero from the reduction of chaotic continuity in a single fictional universe through the burden of continuity and tradition in Planetary’s Snowflake is the focus of this book. (p. 24)

Sounds like fun to me! I’m especially taken with Klock’s description of Crisis on Infinite Earths (which is not discussed at length in How to Read Superhero Comics):

The metaphor of this biblically styled story is unavoidable: by looking into origins, existence is splintered into a variety of mutually exclusive interpretations that have no center. The current state of the DC universe—all of the continuity problems and confusions and paradoxes, Umberto Eco’s oneiric climate—is the retroactive result of looking too closely for a guiding and originating principle. (p. 20)

I’m going to have to get Crisis tomorrow so I can read this for myself!

Also, as Rose noted, we’ve been reading The Invisibles, and I’m planning to get The Invisbles: Entropy in the UK as well tomorrow, which I believe goes to the end of The Invisbles volume one, so hopefully I’ll soon have read enough to share some coherent thoughts.

Creative Freedom

Creative freedom. (See also Dave Intermittent’s thoughts on creative freedom.) Well, I’ve never in all my years of reading found that the creative freedom with which a piece of art is created is an accurate predictor of quality. Uh, that’s about it, I guess.

As for there being too many superhero comics on the market, and their prominence choking out everything else… See, I was in a comics shop in Bloomington this weekend, and I’d say maybe half the books in the store weren’t superhero comics. Maybe it was less than half, I didn’t do an exact count. (And yeah, there are tons of stores that stock 100% superhero comics, too bad for those fanboy loser stores.) Of course, I was also in a Borders and they had maybe half American superheroes and half manga, which is too bad. The thing is, as far as I can tell there’s lots of totally superhero-free comics out there. The thing is, moreover, if there were fewer superhero comics then there wouldn’t necessarily be fewer bad comics. The thing is, really, if you ignore Marvel and sort of squint at DC so you can’t see the superhero books they publish, I think the corporate comics publishing industry looks pretty diverse. If you look also at small-press publishers, even more diverse. That Borders I went to that stocked almost no American comics that weren’t superhero comics could easily build a strong inventory of American comics with no superheroes. Why don’t they? I don’t know, but my guess is that a lack of available published material is only one of several reasons, maybe even a smallish reason among larger reasons. Another obvious reason I can think of is that there has historically been a lack of available published material other than superhero comics, creating the perception that there’s a lack of available material. If you look at most of the comics resources on the Web, it sort of looks like superheroes dominate the industry—but that is maybe getting a little better, especially thanks to the growing community of comics bloggers. If you look at resources outside the comics community, it seems that, say, there are ever fewer newspapers and magazines at which clever headline writers feel it necessary to preface each comics-related article with “Bam! Pow! Comics aren’t for kids anymore!” So, from my perspective anyway, the notion that superheroes dominate comics is largely a matter of perception, and I see many signs that that perception, in popular culture, has been been changing and continues to change.