What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? January – April 2017


If you’re here to follow the most recent storylines in Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man, the newspaper-syndicated comic strip version of the character, thanks! This link should bring you to whatever the most recent post is, at the top of its page.

The Amazing Spider-Man, 23 January – 23 April 2017

I last reviewed Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man at what felt like the one-third mark in the current story. Ronan The Accuser had crashed his spaceship in the Arizona desert and slurped up the contents of a diner. Peter Parker and Mary Jane Parker, on a road trip, couldn’t do anything about that, but they do witness Rocket Raccoon’s arrival. Rocket and Spider-Man complete the Ritual Battle of Superheros Meeting, and they pretended to be a costuming family for a motel owner. So what’s the story since then?

Rocket: 'Thar she blows!' Spider-Man: 'But at least there's no lava coming out!' Rocket: 'Yeah, but look what did!' Ronan: 'Hail - Sentry 714!'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 15th of February, 2017. I’m not on my own here about thinking there’s something Stooge-ish about The Sentry, am I? Also, am I alone in being disappointed Rocket doesn’t explain that he’s thinking of space-whales in the first panel? Maybe say something like “Thar She Space-Blows”? … No, wait, that sounds really, really bad. Never mind.

Rocket warns that Ronan The Accuser is looking around for The Sentry, an 80,000-year-old alien-built contraption that looks faintly like a robotic Moe Howard. Ronan figures he can use this to unleash all sorts of accusations on the whole galaxy. Peter, Mary Jane, and Rocket deduce The Sentry must be somewhere in Petrogylph National Monument, as the road sign for it is clear and fills up nearly half a panel. Ronan The Accuser follows similar clues and he and Spidey punch each other until The Sentry wakes up. It goes off to blow up Albuquerque. Rocket remembers that Ronan (“please, my dad is Mister The Accuser”) is extremely vulnerable to Earth air. So he and Spidey try to knock his helmet off, which goes great.

Ronan: 'If I can't reach you at least I can HURL you off my back!' Spider-Man: 'Not with my WEBBING binding me to you!' Ronan: 'Then I'll SQUASH you!' and falls over backwards on Spider-Man. Rocket, to Mary Jane: 'Y-you think your significant other coulda SURVIVED that, Red? Red ... ?'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the for the 3rd of March, 2017. The scene shows off just how new Rocket Raccoon is to all this; if he’d been around he’d know that Spider-Man is very good at scenes that involve someone lying down.

Luckily Newspaper Spider-Man is extraordinarily good at taking blunt force traumas. He uses this to do a “why are you hitting yourself?”, using Ronan T A’s own large hammer to smack his helmet off. Spider-Man tries to put the unconscious Ronan’s helmet back on, on the grounds that he can’t just suffocate the guy even if he is trying to blow up the world or galaxy or whatnot. And I admire this idealistic bit from Peter Parker, who’s not going to be more cruel than he must be, however much trouble it makes. The resolve to be kind even when it’s hard, or worse, inconvenient is something we should take from superheroes. Anyway, Spidey accepts Rocket’s promise that Ronan isn’t dead, he’s just sleeping, and they go off to fight The Sentry.

Spider-Man: 'We'll race to town in the car so that we can stop that ROBOT from trashing the place!' Mary Jane: 'I'll drive.' Spider-Man: 'No, honey --- you've got to stay here and give us a call if Ronan shows any signs of life.' Mary Jane: 'You know, I really wish that didn't make so much sense.' Rocket: 'That's quite a mate you've got there, web-face.' Spider-Man: 'Yeah! I never could understand why so many superheroes stay single. I just hope we reach the city's downtown while it still has a downtown!'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the for the 19th of March, 2017. I didn’t get the chance to highlight this, but Rocket and Spidey spend a lot of time telling Mary Jane to hang back and not do stuff. When they’re talking about who’s going to punch Ronan or The Sentry this makes sense, since Mary Jane is last I looked still a very squishable human. But they also toss off some casual “huh, you know, dames lines that make the sexism of the “you stay where it’s safe” that extra little bit less subtexty.
Also, regarding the line about superheroes getting married: a couple years back Comic Book Spider-Man made a literal deal with the devil to undo his marriage to Mary Jane in order that his 2000-year-old Aunt May would not die a little while longer. This was reflected in the newspaper comic for one story before it gave that up as too stupid a Spider-Man story to respect. And if you don’t know how stupid that must be, search for “stupidest Spider-Man story idea” and be awed.

Rocket and Spider-Man leave Mary Jane to watch Ronan just in case he wakes long enough to gasp out something plot-relevant. And hey! So she flags down a truck and buys it and a bunch of day laborers to bring Ronan to the big Albuquerque fight, because she always travels with that kind of cash. Using the unconscious Ronan — whom The Sentry can’t harm — as body shield Spider-Man teases The Sentry mercilessly. Meanwhile Rocket climbs inside and punches stuff until it breaks.

Spider-Man: You're programmed not to hurt a Kree - but you're so eager to blast ME into atoms - you're darn near short-circuiting yourself, aren't you, Robot? Well, maybe it's time I gave you a HAND at that!'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 12th of April, 2017. Now, gotta say, teasing the robot with the one thing on Earth it must not destroy? Good idea. Giving the one thing on Earth the robot must not destroy so it can go off and put it somewhere safe? Kinda dumb. It works out, because the story was near the end, but sheesh.

Mary Jane: 'There's Peter - but it looks like that robot's getting the BETTER of him! And - where's ROCKET?' [ Deep within the sentry: ] Rocket: 'Got to DISABLE this thing from the INSIDE! But HOW? It's got more parts than STARLORD has pop TUNES!'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 18th of April, 2017. Don’t fear, True Believers. Back in February Rocket Raccoon also name-dropped Groot in a way that was no less awkward or inorganic. I love this sort of thing. Also I love that while comic books have grown many different styles, the comic strip still draws “heaping piles of alien technology” the same way they did in Like 1980. Sincerely. I like those webs of lines drawn against a solid blue background. It gives me nostalgic enough vibes to not worry what’s going on with Rocket’s face there.

So that looks like it’s ended the Ronan and The Sentry menace: this Sunday’s comic teases that coming next is “Farewell to a furry comrade!” A shame, since I’ve loved Rocket’s time on the strip. I mean, all his guest stars insult newspaper Spider-Man relentlessly. And Rocket’s depiction has varied from “pretty raccoony” to “maybe a small, bug-eyed werewolf” to “EEK! wasn’t that the deer-kangaroo-fox-nightmare Tommie brought home to Apartment 3-G that one year?”. (Here’s the Apartment 3-G deer-kangaroo-fox-nightmare for comparison. Warning: deer-kangaroo-fox-nightmare content.) But they really click as the effective and the put-upon members of a team. It can’t last, of course, and I’m sure Rocket is about to deploy some suspiciously vague explanation of how he needs to be … elsewhere, with … other people, soon enough.

Also, yes, Spider-Man did pretty near nothing to drive the story. Rocket did most of the heavy lifting and Mary Jane overcame plot-related sexism to do something too. Peter Parker was mostly there to, I dunno, get hit with stuff. This is healthy.

Peter and Mary Jane Parker were in Arizona to start with as they were taking a driving trip to Los Angeles. I don’t have any guesses who’s going to be the Hollywood antagonist. And I hope it’s not long before they bring Rocket around for another session.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index continued its downward slide as investor confidence was shaken by the realization that after so much hype about the testing of the state’s tornado warning system nobody actually heard any sirens. That’s even more suspicious than the earlier things we were suspecting.

118

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)?


So The Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks, is a bit of an overachiever. It’s understandable. He’s the 21st in the line. Consider how many family businesses fall apart when the fourth generation would have taken over if anyone could be found to run things. He must’ve been raised barely able to imagine anything else in life. So while Mark Trail might take Sundays off and Alley Oop might just reiterate his adventures and Spider-Man might get a bit of work done, The Phantom gives us a whole separate story. It’s the only story strip doing that. So it gets a second round of story-recapping from me. Last week I covered the dailies and stuff hasn’t changed much since then.

The Phantom (Sundays).

The Phantom is sworn to defend the people of Bangalla. But it’s a complicated, global world. It always has been. The first Phantom was an English sailor caught in the spice trades. The Phantoms who’ve been on-panel since the comic strip began haven’t been less worldly. This serves some good purposes. For one, it defuses the strip’s built-in concept of the White Savior To These Helpless Black People. That’s also defused by the development and ongoing presentation of Bangalla as a functional liberal democracy. But it helps if The Phantom uses his time and suspiciously great wealth to fight crime wherever it leads, anywhere in the world. And it means the strip can leave the jungle behind without straining its premise.

The current Sundays storyline began the 26th of June, 2016, with a plane crash, always the start to a good jungle adventure if you’re not on it. The plane carries Mikey D’Moda, teenaged idiot scion of the Chicago Mob who’s being traded to the Chinese crime syndicates in exchange for not having him around until he’s eighteen. That and a shipment of authority-attracting guns are supposed to bring a truce to the underworld, because that plan always works out.

Mikey D'Moda tells his great-great-great grandpa of his plane crash in 'Nowhere, Africa', and that his mob boss's Chinese friends have gone missing. The Phantom snarks on how Mikey talks. But Mikey offers to help The Phantom get a better suit if he's ever in Chicago.
Tony Depaul and Terry Beatty’s The Phantom for the 14th of August, 2016. I appreciate The Phantom for its action and adventure, but I really like moments like this where the characters get to kick back and consider how silly everything is. Also I appreciate how completely you know who Mikey is by the end of this one installment.

Mikey escapes to a freedom lasting whole minutes before The Phantom catches him. Meanwhile the grownups in the Chicago and China Mobs get arrested and interrogated, there to scatter some plot seeds that haven’t yet blossomed. Incidentally along the way the Jungle Patrol gives one of the prisoners the private phone call to his lawyers he’s entitled to, but “accidentally” records it on a phone. I mention this because it’s something true about The Phantom universe.

The good guys are, basically, good guys. But they fall way short of the superhero ideal. They’re not scrupulous about civil rights or the law or ethical behavior. See, for example, The Phantom’s vast wealth, said to be acquired from among other things pirate treasures. That’s fine for a pulp adventure hero; but, in the real world, stuff doesn’t stop having a legitimate owner just because someone else stole it. The Phantom could probably make a claim on stuff that has no recoverable provenance, but he’s not going to that effort.

The good guys typically get away with their cheating because the writers are on their side. But it does come back to bite them sometimes. One of the lingering human rights abuses has been The Phantom keeping the terrorist Chatu in a private, secret prison. This is understandable. Chatu arranged the kidnapping and faked-murder of The Phantom’s wife from his actual professionally-built prison cell. But, still. Is keeping him in a wood hut in the jungle really better? I believe that’s being left around to generate future stories.

Mikey advises his great-grandfather that his being kept hostage in China would never have brokered peace in the Chicago mob, which I agree with but don't understand fully anyway. Then Bruno calls and warns that 'our Chinese friends ain't too happy you come home, Mikey', even though that really does seem to be the fault of a plane crash of unexplained cause.
Tony Depaul and Terry Beatty’s The Phantom for the 25th of September, 2016. And, again, I like how Mikey seems to have learned everything about his crime syndicate from watching the Saturday Night Live parodies of mob movies. He’s probably a little young to have picked up anything from the “Goodfeathers” segments on Animaniacs but he would have too.

After spending minutes listening to Mikey, The Phantom decided the thing to do was punch the crime out of both Chicago and China. He heads first to Chicago and then, conveniently, China follows along. Or someone does, anyway. In a long sequence The Phantom’s chased around the D’Moda Crime Estate by mysterious shadowy figures who look to be ninjas. Yes, I associate ninjas more with Japan and turtles than I do with China, but c’mon. It’s the Chinese Mob. They can hire out. My supposition is that the Chinese Mob is offended that the truce fell apart when Mikey’s plane crashed. This seems to me unfair. But I suppose if you aren’t sure about the good faith of another party then it’s not worth your time to work out the difference between accidents and betrayal.

The aged D'Moda warns The Phantom that in his prime he'd have mopped the floor with the Ghost Who Walks. Phantom warns 'there's a dangerous man on the estate tonight. Other than me.' Cue the ninja throwing stars!
Tony Depaul and Terry Beatty’s The Phantom for the 1st of January, 2017. Honestly a little surprised that D’Moda here hadn’t been punched by one of The Phantom’s ancestors, possibly repeatedly. He does often turn up people who’d encountered his ancestors. Comics Kingdom’s vintage strips reveal he always has. It’s one of the little things that gives heft to a continuity.

So, now, The Phantom is in the dying elder D’Moda’s bedroom, as at least one ninja closes in. The Phantom’s getting to some Peter Parker-y levels of snark against his opponent. It’s a good way of keeping the panels from being too much just guys hitting each other and grunting.

Phantom getting inside his ninja attacker's head: 'You've come a long way to put in a day's work, friend. Do you get expenses on a job like this? Travel? Meals? I'm sure you must. Only an amateur would work for a flat fee and end up flat on the floor for his trouble!'
Tony Depaul and Terry Beatty’s The Phantom for the 5th of February, 2017. The Phantom does raise some fair questions about working as a ninja for hire. I suppose they’re all the sorts of thing you learn to charge for as any kind of consultant, but you do still have to learn that. This implies there’s someone who trains people to be ninjas for hire. Might be someone who got out of the ninja game directly. Might be someone who’s just a standard consultant and realized a lot of ninjas handled their freelance business badly. Never know.

The Sunday Phantom is written by Tony DePaul, just as the weekday ones are. The Sunday strips are drawn by Terry Beatty, who also writes and draws Rex Morgan, M.D..

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

And now the index rose back above the psychologically important 100 barrier. Likely this reflects people’s relief at having that whole index-rises unpleasantness behind them and how we’re just going crazy eating the Valentine’s Day candy while it’s in style.

101

What’s Going On In The Phantom?


Today’s, and next week’s if all goes well, What’s Going On segments are about the same strip. That’s because it solves the problem of Sunday and weekday readerships being different in decisive form. The weekday and the Sunday strips carry on different stories. Neither sequence has to wait for the other. Surely these can be fit into some order so as to preserve the all-important continuity of The Phantom‘s universe. I admit I’ve never tried.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

I snarked about the importance of continuity to The Phantom. It’s reflexive. The comic strip, started in February of 1936 by Lee Falk, has a continuity. An important one, even.

The Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks, is the 21st of that line, descendant of a chain of superheroes defending the African nation of Bangalla from, in the 16th century, pirates. In the 21st century, it’s … pirates and terrorists. Sometimes stranger stuff. The comic strip shared a universe with Mandrake the Magician and some of Mandrake’s weirdness would leak over. Some of the Mandrake characters have made appearances in The Phantom since that comic ended.

The rough premise of The Phantom may seem overly familiar. Costumed superhero who lives in a secret cave watches for menaces to his homeland. When he finds them he’ll punch them hard enough to leave a mark for decades. (A specially-constructed ring helps with this.) He hasn’t got any superpowers per se. But he deploys intelligence and great physical shape and training plus stunning private wealth to get as close as practical. If it sounds like every costumed superhero comic ever, then remember it got started a couple years before Batman did. I figure to talk about The Phantom‘s universe more next week.

The comic strip, weekday and Sunday threads, are written by Tony DePaul and have been since 1999. The weekday comics have been drawn by Mike Manley since May of 2016. Manley also draws Judge Parker. The Sunday strips have been drawn by Terry Beatty, the artist and now writer for Rex Morgan, M.D..

Lee Falk, strolling through town. 'THREE PATHS intersect here in the minutes ahead. None of the parties know they've entered the realm of The Ghost Who Walks!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 7th of November, 2016. The start of the story. The third path for all this is the Jungle Patrol, the Phantom’s self-raised auxiliary army, although it isn’t clear at this point what’s supposed to be life-changing about their story just now.

So here’s the current Phantom weekday storyline. Its essentials were laid out in a week of strips starting the 7th of November and hosted by “Lee Falk”. That’s one of the charming conventions of the comic: a representation of the strip’s originator gives the dramatis personae and necessary backstory for the adventure ahead. If the story’s run long he might pop in again to recap for new or simply lost readers. Or to advance the story to a new point. It’s common enough for cartoonists to be characters in their own strips, but it’s almost always humor strips. Story strips usually leave narration as done by some anonymous source. “Lee Falk” doesn’t really say anything that couldn’t be done by unattached narrative box. But it adds a neat personal touch to the starts of stories that he does.

So the first element is Orson Burley, big, bearded tycoon in the enormous-wealth industry. He’s heard this legend of The Phantom and figures it’d be a good subject for a postage stamp. I have to say I’m on Burley’s side on this. It seems odd that the Republic of Bangalla wouldn’t have already used a semi-mythic protector-legend as subject for a stamp. Local mythical figures on stamps seems like elementary nation-building. Issuing cultural stamps are the first thing you do after gaining independence from the British. Well, the first thing after renaming the street Government House is on to the native word for “Freedom”. But President Lamanda Luaga is cold to the idea, and warns The Phantom of Burley’s investigation. I understand a secretive superhero trying to keep his secrets. But the legend’s been going for four centuries now; this can’t be the first serious scholarly investigation of the thing. Well, so it goes.

Burley’s insisted on learning as much as possible about The Phantom and going ahead with his postage stamp. This despite the warnings of the President and of his limo driver. And Burley’s startled that anyone could see The Phantom as a legend dangerous to investigate. I confess I’d be, too.

President of Bangalla: 'Orson Burley hired the best! Top people at the University! Experts! I was certain he would [ drop his investigation of The Phantom ], out of respect for the highest office in the land! He turned me down flat!' The Phantom: 'I could always have a word with him.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 2nd of December, 2016. I know what you’re all wondering: how did The Phantom get broadband Internet into the depths of his Skull Cave secret lair? I don’t know either. The fellow lurking behind The Phantom’s chair is Guran, his childhood friend and faithful assistant. Don’t worry about him. He regards the clothing outfits of everyone in that first panel to be normal.

Second piece is Akini Ogutu, “CEO of a multinational giant headquartered in Mawitaan”. While Bangalla’s a basically functional democracy it still has problems, even in its capital city. She got targeted and kidnapped, for ransom, by one of those gangs you hear about that hold executives for ransom. The Phantom’s not-at-all-worrisome private army, the Jungle Patrol, finds the hideout. The Phantom goes in alone and rescues her in a daring, exciting raid that full of the sort of superheroics you’d expect. Also that make you wonder, well, why does he have his Jungle Patrol if they aren’t at least doing support on this sort of thing?

(OK, it’s because The Phantom tries to keep his Phantom life and his Jungle Patrol life separate. The Jungle Patrol doesn’t even actually know their leader is The Phantom. They know him only as The Unknown Commander, who issues orders over the phone, and that’s not a potential danger pit at all, is it? But that does shift the question to why not have his army move against the criminal gang, which would seem safer all around?)

Anyway, it must all have been brilliant because he rescued Ogutu. Burley can’t believe Ogutu’s claim that she was rescued by The Phantom, and figures to go on with his research and stamp production. And this week The Phantom has gone to Burley, presumably to explain why not being on a stamp is such a freaking big deal for him. Maybe the 16th Phantom was betrayed by someone selling a fake Penny Red or something.

The Phantom hustling Akini Oguto away from her kidnappers. 'I'll be back for you. Keep your head down.' 'Please don't leave me! I - I'm Frightened!' 'So are they,' says the Phantom, shooting one without looking.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 6th of January, 2017. Oh, yeah, The Phantom doesn’t have that old-fashioned superhero thing about not using guns. I admit I’m still surprised to see it happen, though. He does punching pretty well, though.

I mean, the best I can figure is The Phantom figures he’s most effective if he’s surrounded in clouds of mystery and legend. And getting a commemorative postage stamp is the start of a process that leaves him as exotic and remote as Santa Claus. But part of The Phantom’s schtick is that he’s surrounded by a lot of legends and I don’t get how a postage stamp depiction is going to make that greater or lesser. And it isn’t like he hasn’t got, and encouraged, a lot of “old jungle sayings” about his legacy. Is he worried they’ll paint him from an unflattering angle? It seems like a misplaced reaction and I hope something in the coming weeks clarifies matters.

Next week I’ll try to explain the Sunday storyline.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell nine points today, inspiring people to point out where we were at this time a week ago. This time a week ago we were at 124. Hoo boy but it’s been a long week.

110

What’s Going On In Alley Oop?


I know, I bet you all thought I was going to go from The Amazing Spider-Man over to The Phantom, as that’s the other newspaper-syndicated superhero comic strip. I admit I’m not sure when’s the last time I saw Alley Oop in a newspaper. It might have been decades ago at my grandparent’s house, when I also saw The Amazing Spider-Man there on the cover of the New York Daily News comics section and nowhere else. (People with records of the Daily News comics page offerings, please write in to let me know if that’s possible!) Big deal. It certainly used to run in newspapers, and for all I know it still does. It looks like one. Plus it’s easier to explain than The Phantom and I had a week far to distracted to deal with complicated strips.

Alley Oop.

So, Alley Oop started in 1932 by V T Hamlin as essentially a sitcom/adventure strip. It was about Alley Oop and his prehistoric land of Moo. He’d do caveman-type stuff, like adopting a pet dinosaur Dinny and being alternately indispensable to or on the run from Moo’s King Guz. Sometimes they’d be in the sort of low-scale war with Tunk’s neighboring kingdom of Lem that you got in those days when the world had maybe twenty people in it. Hey, caveman comics and cartoons were a viable thing back then, and if the whole genre’s been taken over by The Flintstones that’s not the fault of the properties working a generation before them.

And surely Alley Oop would have gone wherever rambling story comics go if not for a 1939 tale (recently reprinted by Dark Horse, so you can read it in book form). In that, the brilliant 20th-century scientist Dr Elbert Wonmug, testing out his time machine, plucked Alley Oop into the present day and suddenly the strip had that touch of madness that allows for greatness. A mildly humorous adventure strip about cavemen is fine enough. But a mildly humorous adventure strip about time-travelling cavemen? That’s brilliant. I don’t know how the thing has resisted adaptation into a goofy 70s live-action show or a modern movie.

So it’ll say something about the strip that the 20th, now 21st, century scientist is Dr Elbert Wonmug. Do you get it? Because I had been reading the strip reasonably faithfully for like six years before someone, I think an essay at the front of a collection, explained it to me. How would you translate won (one) mug into German?

I mention that not for it being the record-holder in me only belatedly getting the joke, as it’s not. There’s a Far Side cartoon that holds that record at something like 15 years before I got it. I mention it to calibrate the sort of humor the strip has. It’s never a thoroughly serious comic, and a lot of silly business does go on, especially slapstick. But it’s not primarily a joke strip. If something’s funny it’s because there’s an absurd situation, such as (last year) Guz deciding that the fantastically unqualified Alley Oop should be the kingdom’s doctor. Alley Oop didn’t do very well. But I think that’s because the whole storyline was (in-universe) done in a couple of days, and nobody’s at their best their first week on the job. He’s pretty good at picking up stuff; anyone who can go from primitive Moo to 1939 Long Island with only a few missteps has got solid resources.

'How do you fit in that little [spaceship]?' 'The compartment is simply a product of transdimensional engineering! In other words, the interior exists in a different dimension than the exterior. (Sigh) It's bigger on the inside than the outside!' 'Oh! Why didn't you say that in the first place?'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 28th of November, 2016. What tickles me about this is there’s a good shot Alley Oop isn’t bluffing here. I mean, the guy went to the Moon in the 1940s. Transdimensional engineering probably doesn’t throw him that much.

The current storyline started around October of 2016. (There wasn’t a clean break from the previous story, a common feature of Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s writing.) And it’s built on a premise designed to shake seven-year-old me out of watching In Search Of and reading the paranormal-events section of The People’s Almanac 2. Aliens have come to invade Moo.

Oh, they didn’t talk about invading at first. Volzon, of the planet Jantulle, spent some time showing off his superior technology and negging on Alley Oop’s sensor readings. Volzon then declared ancient Earth to be just about perfect for their needs: the Jantulle population’s exploding and their plant-frog-men need colonies. Earth will do nicely. Alley Oop pointed out that their superior technology was no match for his big stick. And it must be said, he’s quite good with sticks. And punching. Alley Oop does pretty well satisfying the gap left by Popeye not really being a comic strip anymore. And then Volzon went and spoiled things by whipping out his mind-control device. That’s about where things stand just now.

'These tendrils absorb sunlight, which is a food source, but they can also give me instant readings on anything with which I come in contact! You, for instance! Interesting! I see you are primarily made of water! There is also protein, fat ... ' 'HEY! This isn't fat! It's all muscle!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of December, 2016. I admit the strip surprised me since I really would have bet the first newspaper-syndicated comic strip to feature alien tentacle probes would have been Bill Holbrook’s Safe Havens or maybe Brooke McEldowney’s 9 Chickweed Lane.

Of course the Jantulle invasion is going to be foiled. For one, comic strips like this just don’t end in aliens conquering Earth. Not permanently, anyway. For another, we know that since Earth isn’t a colony world of alien plant-frog-men the invasion does come to nought. And it’ll be up to Alley Oop and his team to do something about that. The comic strip, as best I can determine, doesn’t try to pull any nonsense about time travel resulting in alterante timelines or histories or anything like that. There’s the history of how things worked out, and it works out that way because the protagonists of our stories did something about it.

For a premise that’s got time travel baked into it there’s refreshingly little talk about paradoxes, or fixing up a solution by planting the stuff you needed to escape it afterwards. It’s rather like (most of) the old-school Doctor Who serials that way. The time travel is a way of getting to interesting settings. Mostly, of late, they’ve been ancient Moo, or the present day. There was recently a curious story where Alley Oop and his partner Oola travelled to 1941 and left a message with then-contemporary Dr Wonmug. This didn’t threaten the stability of the spacetime continuum or threaten paradoxes or anything; it’s just, history worked out like that.

And yeah, somehow, 1941 Wonmug wasn’t impossibly young nor 2016 Wonmug impossibly old. All the characters are holding at about the same age and if you don’t want to accept that maybe you should read some other comic strip about time-travelling cavemen and their dinosaurs.

'Once you view the situation with a clear head you will see that mine is a superior race and more deserving of this land. When I look at your homeland all I see are abundant natural resources, none of which have been developed! I can promise you'll always have a place in Moo with my people here ... your function will just be different! With all the building going on, the demand for laborers would mean you'd never be expelled!' 'It's starting to sound like slavery!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of January, 2017. I didn’t get the chance to talk about it in the main essay, but I do like the design of Volzon here. It’s got a bit of a frog look, a bit of a plant look, a bit of a Zeta Reticulan Ninja Turtle look. And all wearing a leftover jacket from the Original Series Star Trek movies. It comes together pretty convincingly. Meanwhile, note the gentle social spoofing going on the first two-thirds of this strip.

Oh yeah, the dinosaurs. Dinosaurs and cavemen never lived together, never even got close to together. To my delight the comic strip acknowledged this back in 1939 or 1940, when Hamlin was discovering he had a new premise taking over his comic. They explained how there could possibly be dinosaurs in Moo: they don’t know. Obviously things are more complicated than they realize. So far as I’m aware Hamlin and his successors writing the strip haven’t gone back and filled in some explanation for how this impossibility came about. It’s just part of how this fictional world works. I’m honestly impressed that they resist filling in some explanation. You could come up with any number of explanations that work as long as nobody thinks through their implications. “We don’t know; the world is more complicated than we realize,” though? That’s irrefutable. And it’s even what an actual scientist would say to an unanswerable mystery like that. (Oh, they’d work up hypotheses and start testing, yes, but it would start from an acknowledged ignorance.)

A last note. I’d mentioned with The Amazing Spider-Man the problem story strips have with Sundays. All the soap opera comics adopted a Sundays-as-recap-days policy. The Sunday strip would repeat the action of the Monday through Saturday preceding, a mercy for people who get only the Sunday comics but killing the pacing. Amazing Spider-Man just barrels through Sundays as though nothing weird were going on and trusts people to fill in the blanks. Alley Oop works closer to the soap opera model. Sunday strips largely recapitulate what happened the previous week, but in a clipped, notes-for-class version. The daily strips have more texture, more of the fun little asides filling in plot points. If you were to adapt Alley Oop to another medium, you’d use the Sunday strips to guide the plot and the daily strips to write the scenes.

Volzon zaps Alley Oop with some kind of Apple iRaygun. 'How do you feel, Alley Oop?' 'Great! How are you? Who are you?' 'Great, how are you?' 'Would you mind if I brought my friends here to settle in your land?' 'Not at all! The more, the merrier!' 'Excellent! the mind-control device worked!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 15th of January, 2017. Oh, yeah, the storyline started out with everybody going off foraging for food, which is the sort of thing they need to do and can never finish because there’s extraterrestrials invading or other hassles like that going on. It’s hard living as the protagonist to something.

And the Sunday strips don’t recap the previous Monday-to-Saturday. They recap, roughly, the previous Tuesday to the coming Tuesday. That is, the Sunday strip tells you what’s going to happen the coming Monday and Tuesday. (More or less.) Of course a comic strip about time travelling cavemen would be a little out of synch with the weeks. That just makes sense, surely.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped five points overnight. No one really knows why but the leading hypothesis is that it’s related to the neap tides because everybody agrees “neap tides” are the best tides. Neap.

124

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man?


[Edit: Added the 23rd of April, 2017 ] If you’re here to follow the most recent storylines in Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man, the newspaper-syndicated comic strip version of the character, thanks! This link should bring you to whatever the most recent post is, at the top of its page.


Sunday has always been a problem for story comics. Sunday newspapers reliably sell more copies, and to a slightly different audience, than the Monday-to-Saturday papers. So how to tell a story when part of the audience gets one strip a week, another part misses one strip a week, and another part gets all seven strips a week? All the soap opera strips make Sundays a recapping of the previous week’s activities. It’s death to pacing; not much can happen on the weekdays so that it can all happen again on Sunday. Gil Thorp doesn’t run Sundays at all. Mark Trail runs a story-unrelated, informational, piece on Sundays. The other adventure strips … have other approaches. Here’s one.

The Amazing Spider-Man

I came to know The Amazing Spider-Man like many in my age cohort did, through the kids’ educational show The Electric Company. In segments on this Spidey battled delightfully absurd villains while staying mute. The show was about teaching reading skills; Spidey’s dialogue was sentences written in word balloons superimposed on the action. In keeping with the show’s tone the villains would be things like an ambulatory chunk of the Shea Stadium wall. Who beat Spidey, soundly. I’ve liked comic books, but somehow never got the bug to collect any normal books like Spider-Man or Superman or anything like that. (But I was the guy to collect the Marvel New Universe line, which, trust me, is a very funny sad thing of me to do.) So that formed my main impression of Spider-Man: a genial sort of superhero who nevertheless can’t outwit a wall.

(Yes yes yes the Wall was a little more complicated than a piece of baseball park wall just do we really need to argue this one? I put up a link to a YouTube copy of the sketch that I’m sure is perfectly legitimate.)

Spider-Man, having stopped a car from crashing full-speed into a wall, fails to notice a cracked brick coming loose. It THONNKs him on the head, which *that* he notices.
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 14th of March, 2007. One of the iconic moments in modern online comic strip snark-reading. Far, far, far from the only time Peter Parker would get clobbered in the head by stuff.

The newspaper Amazing Spider-Man comic strip started the 3rd of January, 1977. It’s credited to Stan Lee for the writing, with the daily strips pencilled by Larry Lieber and inked by Alex Saviuk. The Sunday strips are pencilled by Alex Saviuk and inked by Joe Sinnott, a division of labor that I trust makes sense to someone. The strip is its own little side continuity. It’s separate from, but influenced by, the mainstream Marvel universe. The result is some strange stuff because, even over the course of four decades, they haven’t had a lot of time to have stuff happen. Last year saw Spider-Man meeting Doctor Strange and the current Ant-Man for the first time. I don’t regularly follow Marvel Comics. But I imagine in them Spider-Man and Doctor Strange and Ant-Man spend so much time hanging out with each other they’re a bit sick of the company.

Story strips have a challenge in that the first panel has to give some hint where the story is. Amazing Spider-Man handles that like you’d expect. A lot of captions, which fits the 60s-comics origins of the character, and characters explaining the situation to each other. The problem of Sunday strips? Amazing Spider-Man just lets Sundays happen. The story progresses on Sunday at about the same speed it does the rest of the week. Monday strips often include a little more narrative incluing than, oh, Thursday’s would. But the comic trusts that if you miss the Sunday, fine, you can catch up. Or if you only see the Sundays, you can work out what probably went on during the week.

However much that is. A superhero-action comic has some advantages over, say, a soap opera strip. The soap has to clue in who’s who and why they’re tense about each other. A superhero comic can get away with tagging who’s the villain and letting characters punch each other. Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t do quite as much punching as you’d think. Well, all-action is boring too.

And a lot of what’s appealing about Spider-Man as a character is not the action. It’s that life keeps piddling on him. There’s something wonderful and noble in Peter Parker’s insistence on carrying on trying to save a city that doesn’t like him. So every story invites putting him through petty indignities of life. Another lot of what’s appealing about Spider-Man is that he’s not fully sure he wants to do this. He’d like to just skip it all, if he could. Or at least take a break. Who wouldn’t?

Thing is, the newspaper strip overdoes these. Maybe it’s hard to balance the comedy and self-doubts with the action. Maybe the strip has given in, at least partly, to its ironic or snarky readership. The occasional time I read a Marvel Universe comic book with Spider-Man he’s a bit of a sad sack, but not so much more than anyone with an exciting but underpaying job is. In the newspaper comic … well, it’s funny to have Spidey call up the Fantastic Four or the Avengers or Iron-Man for help on a problem that really does rate their assistance only to be told, ah, no, sorry, we’re helping someone move that day. It’s a good joke that he happened to pick the day that Iron-Man has to be out of the country. But there’s also something pathetic about it, especially when that isn’t the first time other superheroes ditch him on suspiciously vague pretexts.

It’s understandable that Peter Parker, freelance news photographer, would feel insecure about his job especially when Mary Jane Parker is a successful Broadway and minor movie actor. But with two or three panels a day to spend on character he can’t get into much depth. He comes across as whiny instead.

Clown-9's Nose Siren has Spidey down on the ground! 'Guess I should have warned you, web-head ... when I blow my nose I really blow!' He runs off with his money sack and leaves Spider-Man with a 'KICK ME' sign on his back.
Stan Lee, Alex Saviuk, and Joe Sinnott’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 5th of August, 2012, part of a memorable yet weird storyline with a villain that I assume is original to the comic strip. I admit he makes me think of those panels I’ve seen of Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster’s Funnyman, an attempted wacky-clown superhero-we-guess that gets mentioned as an example of how low their fortunes sank after the Superman thing.

It’s reasonable that Peter Parker would get tired of what is, objectively, a pastime that’s physically and mentally brutal. Or that would be if the strip didn’t pull out a figure named Clown-9 who wants to be the … most hilarious … clown … that ever broke into a … Broadway show? It was a little weird. I liked that one more than many commenters I noticed did. But when I do read superhero comics, I like them broad and goofy in that Silver Age style. But how much emotional recuperation do you need from a guy whose menace is a more-powerful-than-usual water pistol, a duck-headed car, and a loud siren attached to his nose? You come out looking dopey.

Also, Spider-Man gets hit on the head. A lot. There’ve been multiple storylines in which he gets clonked by a brick. If it’s not a misplaced love of Krazy Kat then maybe it’s a riff on the attacking wall of Shea Stadium. It’s easier to understand Spidey’s tendency to nod off if you remember how many blunt head traumas he endures.

It’s all strangely loveable and ridiculous. Some of the characters are new. Some are minor villains of the real Marvel Universe. Some are curiously-poorly-synchronized references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe; last year they did a Doctor Strange storyline months ahead of that movie’s release. And an Ant Man storyline just after we all kind of forgot about his movie.

After losing a battle with space alien Ronan Peter Parker calls for help. 'Hello, this is Fantastic Four headquarters in New York City. We're currently in the Negative Zone, but your message is Very Important to us. At the sound of the tone, please leave a --- ' Peter doesn't try calling the Avengers.
Stan Lee, Alex Saviuk, and Joe Sinnott’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 18th of December, 2016. One of many, many times that Spider-Man has tried correctly to call for help from mightier Marvel superheroes only to get the vague, unconvincing brush-off.

And that gets me to the current storyline. Remember Guardians of the Galaxy? Really wildly popular movie about three years ago? That’s finally drifted over to the comic strip, with Ronan the Accuser landing in the middle of Arizona Or Some Other Desert State just as Peter Parker and Mary Jane happen to be driving through. Fine enough. Ronan went harassing the patrons of a diner and tossed Peter Parker out the window. Just after that another spaceship, bearing Rocket Raccoon, landed.

I was delighted by that. A lot of the fun in the Spider-Man comic strip is people ragging on Spidey. And Rocket is just the kind of person to deliver no end of cracks about him. I wasn’t disappointed. They met in the traditional way of superheroes meeting one another for the first time, by fighting until they remembered they have no idea why they do that. Then they engaged in the tradition of teaming up to try finding the villain, who’s gone a couple weeks without appearing and might have escaped the comic altogether. We’ll see.

Peter Parker and Mary Jane sleep at the motel. Meanwhile, 'ROCKET has a late-night face-to-face with a scavenging coyote.' He fights with a coyote for the contents of a trash can, the way you expect from space raccoons here to help save the galaxy.
Stan Lee, Alex Saviuk, and Joe Sinnott’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 22nd of January, 2017. I don’t presume to speak for the space-raccoon community but I gotta say, Rocket fighting off a coyote for the contents of the trash can? That’s sounding a little profile-y. Not sure why Rocket’s stripped naked for this performance.

Overall, the strip is a bit goofy. I like goofy, especially in superhero stories. The newspaper Spider-Man has a couple motifs which are perhaps overdone: Peter Parker’s whininess, his strong desire to just go back to bed, everyone in the world insulting him every chance they get. The number of storylines in which Spider-Man’s participation isn’t really needed as the guest villain and guest hero keep everything under control. The oddly excessive white space between panels of the Sunday strips. I don’t care. The stories generally move at a fair pace. The villains are colorful or at least ridiculous. The heroics come around eventually. There’s a lot of silly little business along the way. I have fun reading it. I am so looking forward to when they get an appearance from Squirrel Girl.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index starts the week up six sharp points owing to how surprisingly good the one-year-old Big Wheel cheese from the farmer’s market on the west side of town is. “Seriously,” one of the traders said under conditions of anonymity, “if we could eat nothing but this cheese we’d have lived our lives correctly”. It was Lisa.

102

The Unmaking


A friend was amused by something I said that alluded to The Kinks’ album Arthur. I went on to explain the album to him, something he consented to by not chewing his own tail off to make good his escape. I was kind. I just wanted to explain how the definitely best song in it was “Some Mother’s Son”, unless the best song was “Shangri-La”. In any case the most cheerily catchy song on it is clearly “Victoria” unless it’s “She’s Bought A Hat like Princess Marina”. Look, just listen to it, all right?

I started to explain whether it’s a rock opera before my friend tore my leg off and whacked me over the head with it. It’s a contentious issue. If you ask Ray Davies about it, he’ll explain that it was totally the first rock opera except for the ones that snuck out between when he had the idea and when he finished it. Also that of course it wasn’t an rock opera and he doesn’t know why critics call it that. Also that people only say it’s a rock opera to stir up trouble. Also that Dave Davies should get over here so he can punch him. Also that who cares about writing rock operas. I’m happy to let Ray Davies have whatever view on Arthur he wishes, in accord with my life goal of getting through it without being punched by him. So far, successful for 16,089 days running!

Thing is I’ll go along with saying Arthur wasn’t the first rock opera, or even a rock opera at all, especially if Ray Davies is looking for someone to punch. Unless he really wants it to be a rock opera because, again, 16,089 days and counting. It was created to be the soundtrack for an unmade TV movie. And that’s what’s caught my imagination. Not calling it a TV movie. I’m used to that idea.

What’s got me is the phrase “unmade movie”. They want to express it was a never-made movie. But it’s got me thinking of what it would take to un-make a movie. You’d have to start with a made movie, sure. Let’s say something like 2006’s My Super Ex-Girlfriend, which was as slightly made a movie as has been the least mediocre choice of in-flight entertainment since the Disney Radio channel was still doing the Hamster Dance song somehow. I should be clear, I didn’t hate the movie or anything, it was just on and a little annoying up to the point that the in-flight entertainment system crashed and couldn’t be brought back up. Could be any movie.

You’d start, I guess, by taking any prints of the film and rinsing them clean, bringing them back to a faint silver-tinged cloud of colloidal particulate matter. And I don’t care if that isn’t what unexposed film is like. It’s too much fun to write “faint silver-tinged cloud of colloidal particulate matter”. Go ahead. Try coming up with a better phrase that seems like it ought to have something to do with film stock.

I don’t know if it existed in digital form any, but I suppose we can write new stuff, I’m thinking saved games of Civilization II, onto whatever they came from. I’m thinking USB Flash drives. Very large ones, to be able to hold films. Like, they’re on keychains, but for those novelty-size Keys to the City. Really big ones. Have to play a lot of Civ II to fill those up, but I can do that.

Unmaking the movie would go farther, sure. I suppose you’d bring all the cast and crew back together so everyone could go through the scenes backwards, undoing it all. I’m not sure if you’d have to undo the alternate takes or unused scenes. I guess it depends how busy the people are. Unmaking the movie can’t be their whole job. Probably it’s not necessary to unbuild the sets, since they do that anyway.

There might be some outfits that could be unstitched and turned back to pieces of cloth. I don’t imagine that we’d take, like, any bits of wool and restore them to the original sheep, as most film companies don’t keep records in sufficient detail for this. Similarly there’s no sense at all restoring any cotton used in the outfits to the original sheep, because sheep only produce cotton if they’re looking for a little extra income as poorly-paid farm workers. There’s limits to how much you’d have to do to fully un-make a film, is all I’m saying.

Again, I don’t want the people whose lives brought them to the point of making My Super Ex-Girlfriend to think I’m picking on them. It’s just a movie I’m holding up as an example of something we could unmake if we really tried. If we needed some different unmade movie I’ll take suggestions. Thank you for your time considering the problem.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Um. All right. Traders aren’t looking to panic or anything here but what the flipping heck, guys? Fourteen points in one flipping day? Where did that come from? Where did they go? When are they coming back? Analysts disagree about why the sudden drop happened except for that one who’s being all smug about how she knew this was inevitable. We don’t need that stuff just now.

131

Statistics Saturday: Aquaman Enemies That Sound Like The Jokes You’d Make About Aquaman Enemies


Excerpted from Wikipedia’s list of Aquaman enemies.

Character First Appearance Wikipedia’s Description
Captain Rader World’s Finest Comics #127 (August 1962) Undersea pirate, used submarine disguised as giant fish.
Electric Man Adventure Comics Vol. 1 #254
(November 1958)
Roy Pinto was an escaped prison convict who decided to keep a low profile. His specialty was electric eels. Constantly handling them mutated him, granting him immumity to electric shocks. Later escaped from prison with five other villains in JLA No.5 to battle the JLA, but was captured by Green Arrow.
The Fisherman Aquaman vol. 2 #21
(May 1965)
A villain who uses fishing gimmicks to commit crimes, member of the Terrible Trio
Gustave the Great Adventure Comics #261 (June 1959) AKA the Animal-Master; an expert animal trainer, Gustave would perform daring crimes on the side. Since Aquaman stopped him while in action, Gustave swore revenge.
The Human Flying Fish Adventure Comics Vol. 1 #272 (May 1960) Vic Bragg was a swimming champion before turning to crime, before he fell in with Dr. Krill, the brilliant medical doctor and marine biologist who had also turned to a life of crime. After several months of recovery and training, Bragg began his career as the Human Flying Fish. One of the few Aquaman villains to appear in the Super Friends comic book.
Iceberg Head DC Special Series #6 (November 1977) Ice creature, caused worldwide cold wave so world would be frozen like himself, convinced by Aquaman, Aqualad and Mera to desist, “melted” and became water creature. [ Editorial note: ahem. ]
The Malignant Amoeba Adventure Comics #135 (December 1948) Giant artificial life-form created by scientists, eats everything in its path; the scientists spent ten years containing it until it escaped and encountered Aquaman.
The Octopus Man Adventure Comics #259 (April 1959) Roland Peters, conducted illegal experiments on marine life to transfer minds between species, transferred Aquaman’s mind into different fish.
“Shark” Wilson Adventure Comics #203 (August 1954) Criminal who was magically transformed into a shark.
Taggert Aquaman #19 (January 1965) Unethical showman who enslaved Atlanteans.
Tom Lariar Adventure Comics #170 (November 1951) Used telepathic machine to command fish to commit crimes.
V’lana Action Comics vol. 1 No.539 (January 1983) Current Queen of Xebel a kingdom located in Dimension Aqua, and enemy of Queen Mera.

So, wait, there are laws about developing fish-mind-swap technology? I guess I’m glad there’s some regulatory oversight. I’m just wondering which is the governing body. And are the fish-mind-swap and fish-mind-control technologies independent lines of fish-mind science or do they blend together? Like, what’s the difference between two fish swapping minds and two fish controlling each other’s body? Anyway it’s really just “Dimension Aqua” that gets V’lana on this list.

What Aquaman Says To Me


When I was a kid I placed Aquaman as one of my favorite Superfriends because shut up he is too cool. That maybe sounds a little defensive. You understand where I get that. It would be wherever I learned to be so off in my own strange little world I couldn’t just say “Green Lantern” like all the normal people who wanted out of the Superman-Batman rut but weren’t hipster enough to say “Plastic-Man”. Or who just felt they needed to be shunned that much more.

Aquaman’s not an easy Superfriend to stand behind. I’ll do it, though, not just because he could stay underwater forever and he would often get turned into a giant quasi-prehistoric sea monster and go rampaging through coastal cities. I’m not saying that I would turn down those powers. I’d be up for staying underwater as long as I liked, as long as the computers still worked. And I don’t want to say I have a list of 22 minor Pacific Rim municipalities I’d crush under my mighty webbed clawfoot. I just ask, if we’re being honest, what does Des Moines, Washington offer that isn’t satisfied by other, less coastal Des Moineses?

And then there’s the talking to fish thing. That’s the point that’s supposed to shut down every Aquaman fan. Because that’s just not respectable. Oh, talking to land animals, that’s fine. Tarzan can communicate with any of the primates and that’s a cool part. Because, yeah, a howler monkey has so many useful things to say that a blue whale doesn’t. Being in telepathic contact with a jaguar is supposed to impress us. Being able to summon all the Great White Sharks in a ten-mile radius? Eh.

I’ll have none of that attitude. Besides, arguing over that overlooks Aquaman’s real superpower. I bet anybody could talk with dolphins or whatever given the chance. In a superhero universe it’s hard not to talk with them. There’s always magnetic meteorites falling into the seas and unleashing strange side-effects and whatnot. But Aquaman can ask the creatures of the sea to do any fool thing that pops into his head, and they do it. And, as you may remember from every Superfriend cartoon ever, they had an endless supply of fool things to do. Remember, it once took three Superfriends to outsmart a roller coaster. And not a cursed or enchanted roller coaster either, just a regular old one in a defunct amusement park. Granted two of the Superfriends were Zan and Jayna. There’s still a thick block of foolishness around their projects.

I mean, imagine this. You’re a porpoise. You’re busy going about your business, swimming, eating things, arguing with people who mistake you for a dolphin. The same things you do now, only you don’t have to get dressed for work. Then comes a telepathic summons from Aquaman. He asks you to swim over from half a mile away and whack your body against this motorboat that’s stuck between two rocks. Would you do it? Before you say sure, remember the last time someone asked you to help them move a fold-away sofa-bed to their fourth-floor walk-up apartment. Now answer honestly.

The sofa-bed mover promised pizza and The Wrath of Khan on the new TV and to return the favor. You still “thought that was Sunday, I’m sorry. Oh and my phone was dead and turned off and lost.” Aquaman offers none of that. Oh, there’s some rewards. There’s always the satisfaction of a job well done. And you could imagine yourself to be punching a motorboat with your whole body. Who wouldn’t want to do that? But those are rewards we make for ourselves. Aquaman isn’t giving anything except the chance to do him a favor.

The stuck-boat thing isn’t much of a favor to ask, yeah. But what about the big ones? “Drop all your porpoise work! I need you and whatever eats porpoises to form a giant fleshy dam that can hold up to this army of robots shooting ice rays at Coast City!” How could someone ever say that in a way that made you even consider it, much less do it? I can’t imagine selling a porpoise on that deal. Even imagine being coaxed in with the promise that it was going to be a giddy little prank to warm the alien’s floating starship full of heat rays. It would figure what was going on and go somewhere else. But Aquaman coaxes sea creatures into carrying on. How?

I know what excuse you’re making. “It’s just mind control, the fish don’t have a choice.” Oh yeah? If that’s so then why do I have a clear vague memory of an episode where some dolphins or something give up on Aquaman’s project because they’re exhausted and he lets them go? Why worry about their exhaustion, besides his not being a complete jerk? Huh? How about that? Remember, that’s from the era where superheroes were jerks only by accident or by their privilege. It’s before writers discovered they could look good if we felt bad for liking superheroes.

So I stand behind my interpretation. It isn’t just amazing that Aquaman can talk to fish. It’s that he can get them to commit to doing whatever he thinks needs doing. But getting people to change their minds has gone out of fashion. Punching people out, that’s the new persuasion. The last time we’ve got on record of reason changing someone’s mind was in 2008. And that was just over whether William Shatner was actually a decent director for his Star Trek movie. If we’re not interested in persuading people anymore, we’re certainly not going to be interested in persuading fish, even if we need to do something about Waldport, Oregon. I know. Just ask anyone who asked me about my favorite superhero. I’m sure that’s why they didn’t ever talk to me a third time.

Ian Shoales: The Perfect City


In the overnight hours of the 1990s there was a news broadcast called World News Now. There still is. Back then, they had regular appearances from a commenter, Ian Shoales. He was, as one of the anchors put it, an “amphetamined prince of darkness”, reading wordy comic essays at rapid-fire speed and signing off with, “I gotta go.” And so I encountered his writing at just the right moment for it to hit me, deeply. For a while I tried imitating his voice in my own comic writing, which resulted in my learning that whatever my natural comic voice was, it wasn’t very much like Ian Shoales’s.

Ian Shoales was, and I suppose still is, a character created by Merle Kessler, one of the Duck’s Breath Mystery Theater troupe, a comedy band you maybe remember from either Nickelodeon’s mock-talk-show Out Of Control or MTV’s Randee of the Redwoods, or possibly from the Ask Doctor Science radio/web feature. Obviously, I’m a fan; I also realize I’m learning still from his writing.

I’d like more people to be aware of his writing, though, and I’m somehow feeling a little too lazy just to look up what YouTube videos there must be of his World News Now appearances. So I’m making this a little Ian Shoales week, with essays from I Gotta Go, his 1985 collection. My copy is signed by Merle Kessler. I got it from the library’s used-book-store section.

For the first piece, let me offer “The Perfect City”, which I think gives a fine idea of his character’s cranky yet appealing personality.

Later in the decade Kessler would publish Ian Shoales’s Perfect World, a novel, which is only loosely connected to what’s described in this piece. It’s also kind of a weird book, although I haven’t had a copy to read in long enough that I can’t swear that reading it is necessarily a good idea.


The Perfect City

If this were a perfect world we’d have at least one perfect city. The perfect city would look a bit like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, without the worker problems and without the electronic music. In the perfect city, big-band jazz would be broadcast nightly on the streets, which would be paved with bricks and lined with elm and maple trees.

The only dogs allowed would be African basenjis, which cannot bark and would be trained to curb themselves. All cars would float on silent cushions of air. All the cops would ride horses. There are no pigeons and no statues.

In the perfect city, automatic tellers would spew cash at random every half hour or so, the concerts would all be free, all be reggae music, and never be crowded. Drinks are half price, and it is always early autumn in the perfect city.

In the perfect city, Woody Allen would be funny again, Steven Spielberg would take a vacation, and there would be a Kurosawa festival once a month. Westerns would make a comeback, and theater seats would be six bucks tops. Critics would be wise, enthusiastic, and fair, and so with the artists of the city. No art after 1900 would be displayed in the museums. Admission to museums would be free, and large groups of children would stay well away until I had left the building.

I would never be put on hold in the perfect city.

In the perfect city, all parties would be “by invitation only”, and guests would receive cash prizes when they went through the door. I would be invited to all these parties, and no matter how rude I became, I would never be asked to leave.

In the perfect city there would be a twenty-four-hour French restaurant but all the entreés would be under five bucks. The waiters would be named Mac and the waitresses would all call you Honey.

In the perfect city, clothing would be well cut, sharp, swell, and inexpensive. People would roam the streets in formal evening wear. In the perfect city, I would have a nickname like “Spats” or “Captain Danger”. Every newsboy, flower seller, and cabbie would know my name; even the muggers would know my name. The mayor would call me for advice, my quips would be legendary in the society columns, the library would be well stocked, and super heroes and heroines would drift lazily among the skyscraper peaks, seeking out wrongdoers everywhere.

The shower in my apartment would be hot and powerful, and all my neighbors would work nights. Women would laugh at my jokes, and men wouldn’t tell them. Guitars would stay in tune. I would have many friends, and they would not ask me for money. They would all have jobs, and their jobs would be good. I would have my own news program, in which I would bring bad news to the perfect city, but nobody would mind, because everybody would know I had a bad attitude anyway.

Women would stay with me longer than two months, or if they left they’d at least leave their record collections, which would include all recordings by the Ramones. And they’d leave me a record player. And some money.

All transportation is free, including tickets out of town. And down those mean streets a man would go, who was not himself afraid, and that would be me, the oldest pro on the block. Ian “Captain Danger” Shoales. In the perfect city.

        — Watching the pigeons, 10/15/84.

Spider-Man Disappoints


For reasons that make sense to someone I got a copy of Friday’s USA Today, the front-page Snapshot of which asked, “Will Fifth `Spider’ Be A Superhero?” Its observation was:

No “Spider-Man” movie is among the 18 films that have grossed over $1 billion globally.

I find myself strangely affected by USA Today‘s decision to be disappointed in the Spider-Man movie theme franchise. Without really trying I could probably list five movies which haven’t made a billion dollars in worldwide box office [1], so why pick on these particularly?

Or if they’re just looking for things to be disappointed by in the Spider-Man movies, why not, say, be disappointed they haven’t done a movie where Spidey battles the Headmen, a group of loser-ish superheroes led by a mad scientist who was planning to mad science the world with gorillas, only the gorillas mad scientisted him and now he’s got the body of a gorilla and the head of a mad scientist, and his sidekick is a junior mad scientist from the comic strip Herman, and I swear this isn’t my stupid dream?

I should probably explain that I mostly know Spider-Man through his newspaper comic strip appearances, and that his newspaper comic strip is still a thing that exists, even though Spider-Man in it is regularly foiled by inanimate objects, including bricks and alarm clocks, and I’m not sure he’s saved a day in the past eighteen months without another, better, hero doing the actual work.

[1] Let’s see if I can. Um. Tod Browning’s Freaks, obviously. Tom Schiller’s Nothing Lasts Forever. Robert Altman’s Popeye. Tony Richardson’s The Loved One. James Cameron’s Avatar. Dang, this is hard. Maybe I shouldn’t be mocking the Snapshot editor of USA Today.

The Thing About Medusa


So, if Ben “The Thing” Grimm were to fight Medusa, would he have to avoid seeing her? I mean, what’s the worst that could happen, he’d be turned into even more stone? I feel like there’s probably an implicit answer in that The Thing is still around in comics, I think, and surely the Fantastic Four battled Medusa at some time in the 60s because if it was the 60s and you were a superhero you just did that sort of thing, battling ancient Greek mythological figures, possibly in space. So The Thing is still around, and you don’t see Medusa’s face slapped all over comic books, but that’s surely just because she’s waiting to be rebooted into a new movie series of her own, right? And that means he probably handled things just fine.

Anyway, I feel like there’s probably someone well-versed in the details of the Marvel comic books universe who could tell me with certainty about their fight and whether he had to do anything special, but, I dunno. I feel vaguely bad when I can effortlessly explain subtler points of 1980s G.I.Joe episodes to people, and I don’t want to make the Marvel comics expert have to feel like that too.

Forgotten Superheroes: Modulo the Modular Man


Superhero: Modulo the Modular Man

First Appearance: Modulo the Modular Man issue number 6, cover date March 1968 (sales date November 1967).

Final Appearance: Modulo the Modular Man issue number 4, cover date July 1975 (sales date March 1975).

This comic attempted to catch the excitement of the early space race by having its hero, Walter Canton, be an astronaut who gained the superpower of his hands popping off at will (his) as the result of an encounter with space witches. As Modulo the Modular Man he served as a competent entrant in the list of slapping-based superheroes. The attempt to draw young readers’ interest by each issue featuring faithfully rendered depictions of Project Mercury control rooms, testing laboratories, and space capsules was undercut by publisher Canton Instant Classics’ bad luck in timing, as the first issues of the series hit the shelves almost exactly four years after the final Project Mercury flight.

Continue reading “Forgotten Superheroes: Modulo the Modular Man”

Some Ineffective Ways of Treating Colds


  1. Listen to everyone around you tell you have to take a lot more zinc, while wearing zinc-lined clothes, eating raw ingots of zinc, in a zinc-plated room, while thinking of zinc-related thoughts such as “fluidized-bed roaster smelting technology”.
  2. Singing George of the Jungle‘s theme while your voice is briefly in the correct register.
  3. Wrapping your pillows in a blanket, your blanket in a comforter, and your comforter under that bed canopy stuff, and sneaking out to a movie.
  4. Start arguments in online forums with your innocent question about why searching for a file in Windows never, ever finds anything.
  5. Bring your cold out with you to the lake to buy an ice cream, and while it’s busy ordering, drive away.
  6. Enjoying that thing where you can just stare at a point in the wall and it feels like the universe is tumbling around and you’re twisting up into a spiral and if this carries on you’ll never get your shirt un-knotted from your stomach.
  7. Going out in your superhero guise with the face-covering mask, on the theory that it would be so horrible to sneeze or even have a runny nose while covered up that way that your body would sensibly refrain from doing so. Sorry.
  8. Get into a screaming match with the spell-check about how to correctly spell “gesundheit”. There is no way to correctly spell “gesundheit”.