mike sterling's progressive ruin

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Pa Kent isn't the most observant person in the world. 

(Alternate title: "Pa Kent is as dumb as a load of bricks.")

from Adventure Comics #311 (August 1963) by Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan and George Klein

Okay, so Pa Kent looks up at the flying baby, the one that looks pretty much like baby Clark, wearing the same blue and red clothes that Superbaby is always wearing, the very same clothes made out of the Kryptonian cloth that Ma Kent had to get baby Clark to use his heat vision to cut, and he's not 100% sure that the flying baby is really his son or not...presumably because of the green cake frosting. Because, you know, the sky above Smallville was so filled with flying babies that you never knew whose kid was whose.

On the other hand, Pa Kent not being able to recognize his son through the frosting does establish the precedent that people in the Superman universe are easily bamboozled by really stupid disguises - like, oh, say, a pair of glasses or something.

While we're sorta on the subject, now that the Smallville TV series has established in its most recent episode that time travel is theoretically possible in its particular milieu, we are now one step closer to getting this on a future show:

from Adventure Comics #321 (June 1964) by Edmond Hamilton, John Forte, and Sheldon Moldoff

Friday, March 05, 2004

Here's a brief note from cartoonist Steve Purcell regarding Lucasart's recent cancellation of a new Sam and Max computer game. (via pal Andy)

2. According to this site, September 25th is National Comic Book Day. Um, did I miss something?

Thursday, March 04, 2004


I never want to type the words "Batman" or "Joker" ever again.

Thinking too much about The Killing Joke 

Am I the only person who reads the end of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's Batman: The Killing Joke as the death of the Joker?

Why do I think this?

1. The constant assertions by Batman during the story that either he and the Joker will most likely die by the other's hands.

2. The focus of the story is the Joker believing "all it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy," and his unsuccessful attempts to prove this with Commissioner Gordon. "Maybe ordinary people don't always crack" asserts Batman to the Joker - "maybe it was just you all this time." Despite Batman's attempt to differentiate himself from the Joker, constantly stating that he wants to do things the right way, he very obviously did crack...otherwise he wouldn't be, as the Joker says, "dress[ing] up like a flying rat."

3. When Batman releases Gordon prior to going after the Joker, Gordon insists to Batman that Joker be "brought in by the book" - showing that Gordon has not cracked under the pressure applied to him. Batman's response? A mostly noncommittal "I'll do my best" - not exactly an ironclad promise.

4. Batman tells the Joker at the end of the story that "maybe this is our last chance to sort this bloody mess out...if you don't take it, then we're locked onto a suicide course." The Joker doesn't take the chance...he resigns himself to the fact he can't escape the "suicide course" the two men find themselves on, that "it's far too late for that."

5. The last page of actual story, where the two characters are sharing their laugh over Joker's "two lunatics in an asylum" joke (the joke obviously referring to Batman and the Joker themselves, thus reinforcing their similarities)...between panels six and seven, the loud laughter that had been present in the previous panels suddenly stops, though we can still hear the siren from the approaching police car (which doesn't appear to be any louder, or enough to drown out the laughter, given this page's sound effects convention that "bigger = louder").

It's at that point, between panels 6 and 7, that I believe Batman kills the Joker. It's even possible, given the "suicide course" talk, that they kill each other. We don't see them in the final panels, leaving their fates vague.

Or I could just be reading too much into the story. Besides, the point is completely moot since we've obviously had more Batman and Joker stories than we can stand since this was published...Good Lord, 16 years ago? Oy. Also, given events in the most recent issue of Batman: Gotham Knights, the Joker's family backstory from The Killing Joke (heavily implied to be the actual "origin" though Moore gives the possible out of the Joker remembering multiple pasts) is now officially part of DC Universe continuity. So there you go.

Another observation made by pal Dorian, flipping through The Killing Joke..."how many of these Joker panels have since been...'borrowed' by other artists?"

Wednesday, March 03, 2004


1. I hope you all enjoyed
International Read A Comic Book Naked Day today. Alas, I tried to celebrate my own variation, Manage A Comic Book Store Naked Day, but you can probably imagine how the customers felt about that.

2. In case you haven't seen it before: the legendary "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" essay by Larry Niven.

3. (SPOILER for Superman: Birthright #8) - so, what, Lex Luthor has Dr. Doom's origin now?

Mark Evanier has
a short article about those Marvel Mini-Books that were published in the mid-60s. I actually had my hands on a couple of those not too long ago...they were in very nice condition, which meant that they'd never been read, because to actually try to read one of these things meant certain death for the mini-book's spine. I did peek inside the Nick Fury one (being very careful not to break the darn thing) and noticed that there was a character named "Roy Thomas" in the story.

No real point to this post...just thought it was worth mentioning.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

"NOW do you believe I'm Clark Kent?" 

Superman #330 (Dec. 1978) by Martin Pasko, Curt Swan & Frank Chiaramonte
cover by Ross Andru & Dick Giordano

The story begins with Superman waking from a dream where his Daily Pla...excuse me, WGBS coworkers apparently know he and Clark are one and the same. This leads to a rare occurrence from 1970s Superman comics...Superman acting like a rational adult:

Well, then there's some nonsense about a super-villain with hypnotic powers which really doesn't matter, except it leads to revelations about the true nature of Superman's dual identity. Superman is forced to use his own power of "super-hypnosis" (God bless the Silver Age) to protect the good citizens of Metropolis from the villain's powers...specifically, he commands them to "resist all hypnotic influences!"

Later, Supes begins to get a clue that something's up when Lana Lang catches him in the act of changing:

When Superman tells Lana that he's disguising himself as Clark Kent, Lana dismisses the notion, saying that Superman looks nothing like Clark.

Later, after the villain has been dispatched, Clark gets some sketches made of himself in both his identities...only to find that while the Superman sketch is dead-on...

Clark determines that it is his own power of super-hypnosis that is convincing everyone that Clark looks so much different from Superman...and that the pieces of glass from the Kryptonian rocket ship that brought him to earth that were used to create his glasses* enhance that effect:

His eyes are always apparently emitting some low level hypnotic power, but when passing through the Kryptonian glass, his subconscious desire to separate his Clark and Superman identities is made manifest. A comment is made about camera's reproducing the effect perfectly, which is why photos of Clark don't seem to reveal his true appearance to anyone.

So, when Superman commanded everyone to resist hypnotic suggestions, he unwittingly undid his own hypnotic hoodoo, which is why Lana didn't see Superman as Clark, even when wearing Clark's get-up.

Anyway, there are holes in this story you can fly Krypto through, but the upshot is that Superman used super-hypnosis to make himself look different as Clark Kent, the idea was suggested by a reader of the comic (a then-prolific letterhack), and after this issue was published, it was very wisely ignored. Except by me.

* You see, the Kryptonian glass is as indestructible as Superman is, so Supes can use his heat vision while wearing the glasses without melting them. Yeah, I know....

Monday, March 01, 2004

Pal JP's Gary Panter illustration has been
posted over at Flat Earth. Image not safe for work, maybe, so don't let your boss see.

I've posted about it before, but it's worth repeating...get your own Gary Panter illo at his official website. Act quickly...the price goes up $25 for every 100 drawings that are commissioned.

I was recently sent copies of the first two volumes of a new children's book series that might be of interest to comic book fans...the series is called Sidekicks (published by Little, Brown), and it's written by Marvel and Malibu writers/editors Dan Danko and Tom Mason. Yes, the same Tom Mason that brought us the naughty fun of Dinosaurs for Hire.

The first volume (of a projected six), called simply Sidekicks, introduces us to 13-year-old Speedy (the world's fastest kid) and his fellow sidekicks to the Justice League-a-like League of Big Justice. His private life, like all good superheroes (and sidekicks) in this post-Marvel era, is rife with personal problems, as he is competing with fellow sidekick and schoolmate Charisma Kid for the attentions of the beautiful Prudence Cane. The plot details an attack by several supervillains upon the League of Big Justice's headquarters, and it's up to Speedy to save the day. Along the way several funny potshots are taken at the cliches that make up superhero adventures (including the sidekicks voting on what their battlecry should be, and a wise warning against pushing Big Red Buttons). It's very silly and good fun, and even if the kids reading the books are only familiar with superheroes in the context of Cartoon Network's Teen Titans and Justice League shows, there's enough context given for all the jokes to keep up. You don't have to be a comics fan to enjoy the books...but if you are a comics fan, you'll find plenty of self-aware comics humor to keep you entertained.

As you might be able to infer from the name "Charisma Kid," the superheroes are all played pretty much for laughs, with super-abilities and costumed identities included more their ability to generate gags than for any kind of practicality. There's the sidekick "Boy-in-the-Plastic-Bubble-Boy," who's stuck inside a giant hamster ball. Speedy's own patron, Pumpkin Pete, appears to have the super-abilities of having a pumpkin for a head, and...well, that's pretty much it, aside from licensing and running away at the first sign of danger. But, you know, that's fine...this isn't intended as a Watchmen-esque deconstruction of the modern superhero. It's a spoof, a farce...it's designed to make kids laugh, and on that level it certainly succeeds.

The second book - Operation Squish! - pits Speedy against the menace of Dr. Robot (called by everyone else "Dada Robah" since they all misheard his name)...and adds a little more depth to Speedy with his own growing disillusionment with the League of Big Justice's apparent focus on merchandising and self-aggrandizement. There's a nice moment of self-referential humor when a chapter in this book appears only to establish subplots for a future book...and the title of that chapter essentially says as such. We also begin to get the impression that Speedy may be the one member of the League of Big Justice and associated sidekicks that takes his job seriously.

Other nice moments from these books:

  • quite possibly the greatest superhero/sidekick name I've ever heard, almost painfully obvious once you see it: Spelling Beatrice.
  • the moments of surprisingly adult humor that pop up now and again (the appearance of Latchkey Kid, for example, or that Speedy was able to join the elite team of sidekicks not due to ability, but due to his parents' check clearing).
  • the charming illustrations by Barry Gott that head each chapter.
  • each book includes perforated full-color trading cards inserted inside the front cover...Speedy and, probably the one true superhero to appear in the books, King Justice are in the first volume, Pumpkin Pete and Spelling Beatrice are in the second.

I've said in the past that the best children's entertainment can be equally enjoyed by adults...Looney Tunes cartoons, for instance, or Carl Barks' Disney duck comics. I'm three times the age of the recommended age group for these novels (and you have no idea how much it hurt to type that), but I got a kick out them, and I would recommend them to young comic fans, adult comic fans, and adult comic fans' children, nephews, and nieces.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

1. I hereby call for a moratorium on jokes based on the 70s Marvel Comics title Giant-Size Man-Thing. Yes, we all can't believe that Marvel actually published it either. But, after nearly 30 years, we've all heard just about every variation on the joke there is, and, really, it needs to stop. I know,
what with the movie opening soon on an airplane near you, that the temptation is there to drag the joke back out again, but you need to resist. Besides, once J.M. DeMatteis used the joke in an actual issue of the 90s Man-Thing series (out of the beak of Howard the Duck, no less), it's come full circle, and there's nothing more to add.

1a. But if you have to wrap your hands around a Giant-Size Man-Thing (har har), make it issue #4, with the absolutely heartbreaking "The Kid's Night Out" by Steve Gerber, Ed Hannigan, Ron Wilson, and Frank Springer...it's one of the few comic books to make use of extended text pieces in such a way that it doesn't drive you crazy. Plus, there's a great Howard the Duck back-up.

2. I read a post on a message board (you can probably guess which one) where the person claims that you could read three consecutive pages of any comic that Grant Morrison has written and "correctly extrapolate" (that person's words) every other comic Morrison has written. Um, there must be some other "Grant Morrison" writing comics, because that doesn't describe the one I'm thinking of. You can look at St. Swithin's Day and extrapolate The Filth? You can read Animal Man and extrapolate Kill Your Boyfriend? You can read G.I. Joe European Missions #3 and extrapolate The New Adventures of Hitler? Okay, in all fairness this message board poster was probably exaggerating to make a point, that Morrison does like to repeatedly explore certain themes, but, you know, that's what writers sometimes do. Deal.

2a. A Grant Morrison bibliography.

3. Speaking of Morrison, there was a letter in the most recent issue of New X-Men in which the letter writer complains that the issue with a solo adventure of Xorn appears to contradict the later revelation about that character. All I can say is that this letter writer has apparently never heard of the concept of "the unreliable narrator."

4. Non-comics-related Mac OSX joke: it's a shame that Apple Computers didn't advertise their new GarageBand software with the very obvious tagline "Rock out with your Dock out."

5. I was going to post more on Rich Tommaso's 8 1/2 Ghosts, but Bill Sherman beat me to it. Go read his review, and mentally insert my voice saying "yup, he's right" after every sentence.

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