In which I wonder how exactly poison works in the Superman universe


So I was reading this collection of 1950s issues of the Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen comic books, apparently. For the most part these are stories about Jimmy Olsen being up to some nonsense for extremely complicated yet ridiculous reasons Superman dare not explain until the last page. Or that Jimmy Olsen can’t explain to Superman, again until the last page. It’s a lot of strange behavior from what are presented as people.

Here we get to a story that’s about this Ruritanian country that figures Jimmy Olsen is the Crown Prince. And he figures, fine, he’ll be king for a couple days while the wicked prime minister tries to kill him. Wouldn’t you? That develops about like you’d figure.

Black-and-white reprints of a couple comic book panels. In the first the evil minister dominates the panel, thinking, 'He doesn't know my henchmen have taken care of that drink', while in the background Jimmy Olsen, dressed as king, readies to drink a large fountain soda. In the second panel Clark Kent peers, using his X-ray vision, at Jimmy and the drink. Clark thinks: 'That soda ... X-Ray Vision shows it's poisoned!' The next panel is barely visible on the edge of the image.
Panels from “King For A Day”, a story running in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #4, March-April 1955. Story by Otto Binder, art by Curt Swan and Ray Burnley. I do like the position of that insert circle, and the way Clark Kent’s X-Ray Vision can be pointing right at the soda in the other panel. It’s the sort of small touch that makes for a good reading experience. Anyway when Superman drinks the poison without suffering any, the evil minister figures his underlings have screwed up the poison. So that’ll be a mark against them on the next employee review, which is a bit of a mean thing for Superman to do to them. On the other hand, they were poisoning the king, so they have to have expected someone would mark something on their records.

And … so … what was it in the soda that looked like poison? Little axe blades? A miniature version of that woman who’s sometimes in Spy Vs Spy and kills Spy and Vs Spy? A tiny magnet to pull a bunch of lead dust together into a bullet once it’s swallowed? What did Superman’s X-Ray vision X-see?

Anyway you’ll be glad to know Clark Kent is able to stop Jimmy from drinking the poisoned soda without revealing his secret identity of Batman. He thinks to ask “Hey, can I have that exact soda you’re drinking right now before you have it?” and Jimmy figures, yeah, why not? In the end, Jimmy Olsen stops being the fake king of this Ruritanian country.

Still no new Island Adventures so here’s Popeye facing Biker Non-Mice From Mars


Popeye’s Island Adventures seems to be on hiatus, if it hasn’t shut down altogether. I figure I’ll close out the quartet of cartoons in the “Classic Popeye” video I’ve been going over. And then maybe do another Popeye cartoon bit for the couple weeks after that, since it would really help my life right now to have some writing ready a couple weeks ahead of time.

So. “Classic Popeye Episode 1”, the fourth cartoon. It’s another King Features Syndicate cartoon, From Way Out.

As a kid I knew what it meant if a cartoon was directed by Gene Deitch. It was one of those weird Tom and Jerrys. You know the ones I mean. Where the characters were on a different model, and the storyline moved in fits and starts, and the audio was recorded in the Perth Amboy YMCA men’s locker room. I know a lot of animation fans hate them. I didn’t, or at least I didn’t for long. I appreciated strange, off-beat takes on familiar things. I still do.

So when I saw this was among the Gene Deitch-directed Popeye cartoons I was happy. The cartoon might not be good in the way, like, Cartoons Ain’t Human is good. But it would be weird. It would have personality.

Popeye has encountered aliens before. I think this is the first time Popeye’s precipitated an alien invasion, though. A small invasion, granted. The animation’s too limited for it to be a full-scale invasion. And it isn’t exactly his fault. But, still. Taking the Martian Mauler for a kid and trying to play patty-cake with him? That’s pretty dumb stuff on Popeye’s part.

If I have one stereotype of the King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons it’s that every shot is three characters standing in a row on a flat background, with cutaways to one character having an emotion. This cartoon … has an amount of that, yes. But it hides it well. The characters move a lot, and they move in funny ways. They move even when there isn’t a particular joke to what they’re doing. There are little animated jokes, such as the Martian Mauler’s pants slowly dropping as Popeye and the group examine his stolen belt buckle. But there’s nice silly bits that don’t need to be there, like the way Popeye’s hat swirls around in the air after he’s fallen through the hole.

And characters move in big, expressive ways. Look at the scene of Popeye spanking the Martian Mauler at about 20:30. I would not be surprised if there’s only two or four frames, repeated, in this scene. But they’re good frames, each funny pictures. Look at Olive Oyl dodging the Martian Mauler’s reinforcements at about 21:20, including a neatly-posed scene about 21:24 where she’s looking away from the camera and still moving. Heck, look at the Martian Mauler’s joy in terrorizing the terribly square Popeye and Olive Oyl, at 19:47. Seriously, freeze the playback there. Even in that still picture there’s life.

You might reasonably complain that the characters float off-model. I mostly wouldn’t. Yes, Popeye looks just weird at, like, 18:30 where he’s collecting stuff that fell from the Space Magnet. Olive Oyl doesn’t look much better shortly after that. Or look at Popeye’s poses at about 20:26, right before he spanks the Martian. I don’t mind the characters drifting off their canonical model, though. They look off-model in that way you get when someone draws the character in a quick, energetic rush, and that’s usually a good look. I do not like both Popeye’s eyes being opened, though. I get the comic value in, like, once in a decade something being so shocking that both Popeye’s eyes open. Having that for a low-stakes thing like spanking an alien biker is just … nah, not for me.

I do like, though, the animation of Popeye rolling the Martians up into a giant ball, and particularly his spinning throw from about 22:16. It’s not smooth and graceful like you’d see if this were a Fleischer cartoon. But it’s a much better line of reasonably complicated action than you see in most of these 60s cartoons.

The cartoon ends at about 22:28, with the characters all lined up listening to the Martians crash off-camera into something. And then we get a wonderfully odd, awkward ten seconds of the characters looking at each other. I don’t know if the cartoon ran short or if they had thought there’d be time for another gag or what. It plays like Popeye needs time to think of a decent closing couplet to sing. I am irrationally pleased with this strange quiet, though.

For some reason the Professor who invented the magnetic telescope was not Professor O G Wotasnozzle. It’s not even the same voice characterization being used. (I don’t know if it’s the same actor; Wotasnozzle was yet another voice by Jack Mercer.) I don’t know why not. Wotasnozzle got a fair bit of screen time in the King Features Syndicate cartoons. But this is one of the earlier batch of the cartoons. Possibly they weren’t sure whether they could use Wotasnozzle. Wotasnozzle never appeared in the Fleischer or Famous studio cartoons. But he was introduced by Segar in the Sappo comic strip, which you’ll note is not Popeye. Wotasnozzle did join the Popeye comic strip, but I don’t know when.

The magnetic-telescope thing seemed oddly familiar and I was able to place it. I don’t know that this is the source, but one of the Fleischer Superman cartoons of the 1940s was The Magnetic Telescope. It looked … well, like a much classier, Art Deco version of the giant-horseshoe-on-a-stand that you get here. The 1940s mad scientist didn’t attract any biker Martians, of course, because juvenile delinquents weren’t invented until much farther into World War II.

I grant I may be a soft touch for Gene Deitch’s style. But I think this cartoon is better than the script for it would imply, and that’s thanks to strong animation.

The World We Need


I did some more comic strip review stuff on my mathematics blog and I figure to do more of that on Sunday, but that isn’t what’s got my focus right now. I got a mildly ironic purchase of the Superman Showcase #3, a collection of early-60s Superman comic books. What can I say, I like the Silver Age of superheroes doing goofy things for peculiar reasons. (No color, but that does mean they can include more stories to sit on your head and make you beg for logic, which works for me.) I was sold on the book, even though it might not be very good for me, when I ran across “The Babe of Steel” story, originally from Action Comics number 284.

In it, Superman receives a message from an invisible hand on what I had thought was the Super-Chalkboard but which on careful review is just an ordinary grade chalkboard. It warns him of peril, which he figures he can best cure by turning himself into an infant for 24 hours. Fortunately he has the stuff on hand to do this, because that’s the world Silver Age Superman lived in. If I had to choose a superhero world to live in, it would be the one where Superman has the ability and willingness to spend 24 hours as an infant in response to cryptic messages on chalkboards. If you don’t agree, I don’t know that we can truly understand one another. Anyway, while waiting for the big problem to show itself this happens:

Baby Superman comes across a guy with a homemade rocket. 'My laboratory experiements lead me to the conclusion that the Earth will soon explode as did the planet Krypton years ago! But before the Earth blows up, I will do as Superman's father, Jor-El, did on Krypton with *his* infant son ... fire my son into space in a rocket!' And Supermanbaby thinks: 'This fellow is cracked! Too many years of lonely scientific work on this island must have affected his mind!'
Not to spoil the comic for you, if such a thing is possible, but as I make it out Superman didn’t really need to be an infant for the problem he got the message about, and there’s not really anything in the message saying he had to be an infant to resolve it. It’s hard to escape the idea Superman was looking for an excuse to spend a day as a toddler, which, you know, takes all types and whatnot. It just looks like he was using the message as pretext rather than necessity is all.

And I gotta say, Supes, of all the living beings on planet Silver Age Earth, how are you the one to leap to this particular conclusion? I mean, you have travelled back in time on like a half-dozen different occasions to see how the Kryptonian Jerk Council dismissed your own father’s conclusions about Krypton exploding as the ravings of a madman, right? Don’t go telling me you were right. That’s only moral luck, and you should be above that. Just saying.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped eight points as fallout from that zinc warehousing scandal continued to — hang on. No, it rose eight points. Maybe it turns out the zinc thing isn’t all that much to worry about. That’s going to be a relief to everyone who worries about New Orleans zinc warehousing.

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