Saturday, October 31, 2009

Special Super Halloween Bonus!

Yes, that's right. Once again, I have taken up The World's Cheapest Microphone to bring you another episode of They Stole Frazier's Brain! Since I'm no longer on, there's no embedded player, but you can download the MP3 here.

And yes, there are clues to the theme of this episode in today's Out of the Vault.

Theme music is by Partners in Rhyme.

Additional music: "Destination Venus" by Man or Astroman?

Out of the Vault- Batman/Superman Halloween Special

Okay, since I missed the Vault a couple of times this month, this here will be a special Halloween double-feature with the two biggest heroes in comics history--Batman and Superman--squaring off against scary monsters.

First up, a spooky two-parter from 1939, originally published in Detective Comics #31, reprinted in the Batman Super Spectacular in February 1973. The story has no actual title beyond Batman, interestingly enough. Gardner Fox is credited with the story. If you're familiar with Batman, you know that no one except Bob Kane received credit on any Batman story for the first twenty years of his existence. But the credit was added to the story in the reprint.

The story opens with this bit of narrative description:

The Batman--weird menace to all crime--at last meets an opponent worthy of his mettle. A strange creature, cowled like a monk, but possessing the powers of a Satan! A man whose powers are uncanny, whose brain is the product of years of intense study and seclusion!

No idea if that last sentence refers to the Batman or to the Monk. And that level of clarity will hold true throughout the story, sadly.

Batman rescues a man from a strange woman claiming to have been sent by the Master Monk. Batman pulls the guy up onto a telephone pole to keep him safe and says, "Remain until I give you leave to go."

Then he goes down to discover that the woman is his own fiancee, Julie Madison (Julie was his recurring love interest in those early pre-Robin days)! She awakes as if from a dream, and Batman takes her home (the guy up on the phone pole is forgotten and never heard from again--he may still be up there).

The next day, Bruce Wayne takes Julie to her doctor, who gets a strange intense look in his eye as he recommends Julie take an ocean voyage for her health "to Paris..and perhaps later, to Hungary-the land of history and werewolves." Ominous. Bruce buys Julie a ticket on a Lunar Lines steamship, but doesn't offer to go along.

Instead the Batman goes to his secret hangar (the Batcave not having been invented yet, but you'll have to read Movie Monday for that story) where he unveils two new weapons for use in his fight against crime--the Batgyro (precursor to the Batplane) and the Batarang!

Bruce jumps in the Batgyro and chases after Julie's ship, causing widespread panic among the people of Gotham as he flies overhead.

He looks like he's enjoying the panic below, doesn't he? Robin may have had the name, but Batman was the real dick.

Batman pays Julie a visit on the deck of the ocean liner, but the Monk suddenly appears and tries to hypnotize him. So Batman throws his Batarang at the Monk's head, breaking his concentration, and Batman leaps for the ladder to the Batgyro and gets away.

In Paris, Batman terrorizes the populace, searching for Julie, until he stumbles upon her bedroom one night. As he enters, though, he is attacked by a gorilla! Leaping out of the ape's way, Batman falls through a secret door into a net hanging over a huge dungeon! The Monk gloats and pulls a lever, lowering Batman into a pit of poison snakes!

Batarang to the rescue! Batman throws the Batarang, which not only turns off the lever, but also breaks the glass light fixture before returning to the Batman's hand. The Batman also catches a piece of falling glass. The Monk flips the switch again and Batman continues his descent, but is able to use the glass to cut through the ropes and escape the snakes.

Batman chases the Monk, but a cage drops over him and the gorilla is lowered into it by a rope. Batman, who 33 years later would kill a great white shark with his bare hands, bravely runs away.

He races to the waiting Batgyro and follows a car speeding "towards Hungary." He manages to stop the car and save Julie, the car's only occupant. "Poor kid!" says Batman.

In part 2, published in Detective #32, Batman is in Hungary and a stops a horse-drawn carriage which contains a female passenger named Dala. He takes her to his hotel and leaves her in Julie's room for the night. Later in the night, Dala exits the room, seemingly in a trance, with blood on her lips. Then she knocks Batman senseless and runs away.

Batman discovers Julie with bite marks on her neck, then chases through the woods after Dala. Batman catches her and accuses her of being an accomplice of the Monk, as well as a vampire. Dala offers to help Batman catch the Monk, but only if he promises to kill the mad hypnotist. "I'll be the judge of that," Batman says.

He takes off with Dala in the Batgyro toward the Lost Mountains of Cathala, but suddenly, a silver net drags the Batgyro down! The Monk appears, and Batman is hypnotized. Help! The Monk decides to take Batman back to his castle and toss him into the werewolf den (and what is it with the Monk's lack of imagination? Snake pit, ape cage, werewolf den: is there an animal he won't use for a death trap?) Dala insists that Julie witness the execution as well, so the Monk hynotically summons her, and we get a flash of nightgown cheesecake.

The Monk transforms into a wolf and summons a pack of seemingly normal wolves, then throws Batman into a pit with them. But as he's falling, the trance is broken and Batman can act freely once again. He gasses the wolves with a pellet from his utility belt, then tries to escape by lassoing something above the pit. He fails until he ties the rope to the batarang, which allows him to climb out easily. The Monk, having inexplicably decided not to watch the execution, is sleeping off the daylight in his coffin. So Batman melts down a silver statue into bullets and...

Well, that was a little anti-climactic. And you know, we never did find out what was up with that guy at the very beginning, or why some vampire in Hungary would be so obsessed with some random American chick anyway. Wow, Golden Age comics made absolutely no sense at all. Let's see if Superman's monster battle goes any better.

"Meet the Metropolis Monster" was published in Action Comics #415 in August 1972, written by Cary Bates and drawn by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. The story opens with a strange green-skinned man climbing up the side of the WGBS building, where Clark Kent is preparing for his nightly newscast.

The monster enters through the window and attacks Clark, ripping open his shirt to reveal his Superman costume and slamming him down onto his desk. So Superman responds in an appropriately heroic way: he kicks the monster out the window.

Fortunately, neither monster nor bystanders are hurt, and the monster takes off. Superman lets him go, so as not to cause greater destruction in a super-battle. Soon the monster is the subject of headlines, as well as visual comparisons to a certain famous movie monster with green skin and a flat head. The monster is spotted later with a blonde hostage. When Superman hunts for the monster, he finds instead a man in a futuristic jumpsuit who claims to be the scientist who created the monster. He's dying of a mysterious disease, and implores Superman to revive him after he is dead, so that he may stop his creation. Then he dies.

So Superman takes him to the Fortress of Solitude, where he builds a Kryptonian Revitalizer and, with much zapping, reanimates the corpse! When the hell did Superman learn to do that? Suddenly the monster bursts in and calls Superman a gullible idiot (that's not actually what he says, but he should). It can talk!

The monster is actually from another dimension, "the last survivor of a dying race of giants..." He discovers the chemical secret of life and decides to try it out by making a couple of people, a man and a woman. But because they apparently have neither the Twilight Zone nor ABC Afterschool Specials in his dimension...

Didn't anyone ever pull him aside and tell him such self-loathing is unbecoming of such an advanced race?

Anyway, it turns out the "scientist" Superman revived is actually one of the synthetic beings the alien created. And he's infected with the Protoplasmic Plague, a side-effect of the cell-creating chemical the alien used to make him. He sloughs off millions of giant cells a second, which all respond to his mental commands. Superman tries to stop him...

In the end, Superman wins easily by burying the humanoid under snow that he then freezes solid with his freeze breath. The alien scientist then takes off through the dimensional window with his blonde babe to make a new boyfriend for her before he dies.

So in the end, there was a real monster, even scarier than the seven-foot-tall, green-skinned red herring that created him. But I must say, that was anticlimactic as well. I mean, a monster story that turns into a science-fiction story about aliens! How Halloweeny is that?

Well, stay tuned, and I hope I have an answer for you later.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

GIMPing Again

Sorry for the missed Big Video Wednesday. The new job has me exhausted and without the free time I had to pursue the old shows like I had. In the meantime, while I was off-line, I played with GIMP some more and came up with this holiday greeting.

The original model was from Met-Art (Nina B, NSFW!) which does some incredible nude photography. I'm using a (slightly) more explicit version for my desktop wallpaper (1024x768) and will send it it upon request.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Movie Monday - Batman, 1943 Chapters 3-6

Well, I'm finally back.

So here's the spoileriffic continuation of "Batman," the 1943 Columbia serial that marks Batman's first screen appearance. This may seem overboard, but you don't see a lot of information about this serial. When it is mentioned, it is usually dismissed as racist nonsense and no time is spent actually discussing it on its own terms. Yes, it is propagandistic, but not nearly as bad as the comics of the time, and no worse than your average Michael Moore film, except that Batman doesn't pretend to be a documentary. We're going to cover several chapters at a time here, so buckle up, because we'll be at this a while. But I hope it'll be entertaining.

At the end of Chapter 2, Batman was tightrope-walking a cable with Linda Page over his shoulder while an electrical current chased him like a slow-burning fuse. He fell from the cable. At the beginning of Chapter 3, "Mark of the Zombies," Batman catches his bat-rope and descends safely. The crooks speculate that Prince-Doctor Daka will be angry, but head thug Forster declares, "I'm not afraid of any squint-eye."

When the thugs report their failure to Daka, he is furious. "Batman is a rank amateur," he declares, not like the members of his League of the New Order (which sounds like a superhero boy band). He then decides to give Warren the zombie treatment. In one of his best lines of the entire serial, Daka says, "Resistance is useless, Warren. I suggest that you adopt an attitude of fatalistic resignation."

Then he lowers a scary-looking diving helmet thing over Warren's head and activates his equipment. There is much smoking and zapping and Warren is zombified.

Forster enters the hideout past the caveman guard and shows Daka a newspaper ad that basically says, "Found: one ray gun." Daka realizes its a trap set by Batman, but tells his men to show up an hour early to catch Batman by surprise. Daka orders them to use the newly-retrieved ray gun to then destroy a railroad bridge before a supply train crosses. He also gives them a bomb to use as backup.

At 9:00, the thugs arrive. They send one man to scout the area. Robin follows him and gets conked on the head. It should be noted here that Robin has some muscular legs. They're also kind of stumpy.

Robin chases the guy who hit him up to the roof while the other thugs go to claim the ray gun. There, Forster confronts Alfred in disguise, while Batman lurks unobtrusively outside the window.

Robin and his guy crash in through a skylight, and the fight is on. The Dynamic Duo are getting the worst of it, but Alfred picks up a dropped pistol, closes his eyes and fires blindly all around the room. The crooks flee, but not before Batman strips Forster's coat off with the map showing where they're to blow the train bridge.

After the crooks have fled, we get a pretty amusing dialogue exchange:

Alfred: How many did I kill?

Batman: Seven.

Alfred: But there were only four.

Robin: You killed three of them twice.

Batman and Robin examine the map and race to the train bridge, where they fight the thugs again. Batman suffers much cape trouble (a recurring feature of the fight scenes in this serial). Forster doesn't finish setting the charge before Batman interrupts him, and has to flee as the train is bearing down on them. One of the thugs throws a wrench that hits Batman in the head, and he falls on the tracks as the train approaches. Oh no!

Chapter 4, "Slaves of the Rising Sun," opens with Robin saving Batman and jumping into the water just before the train passes. The thugs believe that the duo have drowned. They're wrong, of course.

Daka happily feeds his pet alligators, Ojonojo (I swear the first time I watched this, I thought he said, "Mojo Jojo") and Sakosako, who live in a secret pit beneath his meeting room. He is about to throw Warren in as well when he is interrupted by the arrival of the boy band. Forster arrives and proudly announces the death of Batman. Daka is not pleased however. The train got through unscathed, and he still has no ray gun. He castigates Forster, who replies that he's sick of working for a Jap anyway. He knows who's going to win the war, and it's not going to be the New Order. Daka calls in a couple of really paunchy zombies...

But Forster shoots one, so Daka calls Warren off. Forster holds his gun on Daka and says he's leaving. Daka says that of course he can leave. "That's the kind of answer that fits the color of your skin!" Forster says and heads for the door. Then he falls into the alligator pit. Bye bye, Forster.

Linda Page calls Bruce Wayne and tells him that there's a new radium shipment coming in to the Gotham Foundation, and asks Bruce if he wants to come along with her to pick it up. Only she has to stop off along the way to see a mystic swami at 1120 Front Street who claims to have information about Warren. Bruce is suspicious and heads to see the swami first.

And what do you know? The Front Street swami is actually a front for Daka's gang. Ironic! Bruce knocks out the swami and takes his place. When Linda arrives, he tells her to leave quickly. Unfortunately, there's a thug waiting in the lobby who grabs her and knocks her out. Bruce, Dick and Alfred find Linda moments later, giving Alfred a chance to feel up Bruce's girlfriend.

The thugs take off in an armored car and Batman and Robin give chase. Batman jumps onto the roof of the armored car and uses the radium gun to blow a hole in the roof. Then he attacks the driver, who comes from the "saw the steering wheel back and forth like you're playing the tympani" school of driving. The armored car goes off a cliff. Yow!

In Chapter 5, "The Living Corpse," we see that Batman jumped out of the armored car just before it rolled off the cliff.

Meanwhile, Daka gets a call from a Japanese submarine, and we learn that his first name is Tito. Man, that boy band thing just won't go away, will it? The sub has a package for him that it will deliver at Smuggler's Rocks.

Back at stately Wayne Manor, Bruce gets a special coded letter. In his lab, he demonstrates for Alfred, Dick and Dick's crazy hair how to make the invisible message show up. It's a special assignment from Washington to guard an experimental plane (yes, another reminder that Batman is actually a government agent, not some crazed vigilante).

At Daka's place, the special package turns out to be a coffin. Inside is the body of a Japanese soldier. In his lab (which is much cooler than Batman's, cause even in the 40's, the Japanese apparently made cooler tech), Daka explains that the soldier is not dead. "This brave Son of Heaven is under hypnotic influence, or what is commonly known as a state of Animated Suspension." I can't tell if that line is ridiculously inept technobabble or insanely marvelous satire. It makes me happy either way.

Daka reanimates the soldier, who tells him to steal the experimental plane and fly it to Pelican Island. He pulls a button off his uniform and says that details are in there. Then he dies.

That's it? They had to ship a coffin via submarine from Japan for that? They couldn't send a letter?

So anyway, Bruce and Dick go undercover as airplane factory workers, communicating by radios hidden in their pockets (worst wartime plant security ever), while Daka zombifies two mechanics from the plant and tells them to steal the plane. The mechanics beat up the pilots and Robin (who seems to grow six inches taller during his fight scenes, BTW--apparently there were no stuntment the size of Douglas Croft) and take the plane, with Batman riding along. He tells Robin via radio that he's just going to ride along to see where they take the plane, then he promptly gets into a fight with the zombies as the Army shoots the plane down. Crash!

In Chapter 6, "Poison Peril," Batman survives the plane crash without a scratch. Lucky! He grabs the zombie headpiece off one of the mechanics (this is never followed up, BTW) and runs away before the soldiers arrive. Daka reports the failure to the submarine, and says they'll try to steal the plans to the plane instead, but then the Navy destroys the sub, so oh well. Daka orders one of his men to plant a secret microphone at Linda Page's place. Linda seems to have some connection to Batman, so maybe they'll learn his secret identity. When one of the henchmen speculates that maybe Linda's boyfriend, Bruce Wayne, is Batman, Daka says, "Don't be absurd."

Meanwhile, Linda calls Bruce to say that an old friend of theirs, Ken Colton, is in town looking for Martin Warren. Bruce visits Colton at Linda's place, and Colton pulls a chunk of pitchblende out of his pocket. You see, Colton has discovered a radium mine (is it safe to just walk around with radium ore in your pocket?). Colton, by the way, is played by Charles Middleton, better known as Ming the Merciless.

Daka needs to know the location to the radium mine, so he sends thugs to Colton's hotel room, but Batman and Robin appear and fight them off. The thugs flee, and Batman and Robin give chase down the fire escape, where Batman's cigarettes accidentally fall out of a secret pocket in his cape.

But the thugs escape. Bruce calls Colton the next day to see how he is, and Colton mentions he has gotten a call from Martin Warren, asking to meet him. Bruce, knowing Warren has disappeared, tells Colton he will investigate to make sure it's not a trap. Poor Alfred gets pressed into service again, disguised as Colton this time. The thugs threaten to drop him in a vat of acid if he doesn't tell them where the mine is, and when that doesn't work, they try the age-old torture method of yanking his beard, which comes off. He's a phony! Batman and Robin attack (again) and get their asses pounded (again), though at one point, one of the thugs attempts the curious move of putting a chair in Batman's way, as if that will block his punches or something.

Stray bullets pierce the acid tank, and wires are ripped off the wall, and when the electricity gets into the acid, there's one huge Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of an explosion!

Whew! Let's take a break, shall we? See you next week with Chapter 7, "The Phoney Doctor."

(You can read the summary of the first two chapters here)

(Read the summary of chapters 7-10 here)

Friday, October 16, 2009


I'm going to be off-line for a few days at least, so no Vault this week, and probably no Movie Monday either.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Disconcerting Image of the Day

via Lileks here:

The kiss is okay, but the eyes in the background creep me out.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Big Video Wednesday - The Zanti Misfits

I got a little burned out on low-budget, poorly written live 50's sci-fi, so decided to move on to an acclaimed series from the early 60's, The Outer Limits.

"The Zanti Misfits" was broadcast in 1963 and is mainly notable for some rare stop-motion effects by future animation wizard Jim Danforth, along with his Project Unlimited colleagues.

The episode opens with aliens telling a general over the radio that they are ready to land their ship, and will kill anyone who intrudes on their landing area. Then we see a black sedan crash through a gate, killing a military guard, and drive along a desert road as the alien spaceship descends above it.

Title sequence. "Do not adjust your set...." One of the most inspired title sequences of all time, I think, in concept if not in execution.

When the program resumes, we see the black sedan drive through a ghost town (ironically named Morgue) and pull to a stop in front of a building with a curiously modern door. A man gets out carrying a typewriter case, along with a soldier (okay, technically, he's not a soldier, he's an airman). What the?

As the program continues, the man, a historian named Grave, meets the Air Force general and they talk about the historic alien landing. Apparently, the aliens want to use Earth as Australia, a place to dump their criminals and undesirables, and the U.S. has gone along with the scheme to avoid pissing the aliens off and starting a war we would lose. But no mention is made of the dead guard, and by the end of the first act, we find out why. That's a different black sedan, and the sequence before the credits had been a scene from later in the show. Confusing.

So the car stops with steam billowing out of the hood. Inside are Olive Deering as some slutty chick who has ditched her husband, taking along her fur coat and a bunch of cash, to run away with this guy.

Bruce Dern, who only gives hints of the crazy that will be his hallmark later in his career, although he does do the bunny face a bit.

He spots the alien ship sitting among some very familiar rocks.

Unfortunately, he does not run into either Captain Kirk or a Gorn.

This formation, by the way, is known as the Vasquez Rocks, and you've seen it a lot, I'm sure.

So he climbs up to take a closer look, splitting his pants along the way. On a TV schedule and budget, there was no chance to reshoot.

As he examines the ship, a door pops open and out crawls a six-inch-long ant with a humanoid face.

These are the Zanti. They are a little creepy in close-up, because of the stop-motion and because they're just out of focus, but they never really do much. Bruce Dern jumps back, slides down some rocks, and then the Zanti crawls on him and he screams.

Meanwhile, the military folks are trying to assure the Zanti that the human intruders are there by accident, not a double-cross. They send Grave the historian out to negotiate.

As Grave is on his way, Ms. Slutty McFloozy climbs up the rocks to see what's taking Bruce Dern so long, taking off her high heels to help her with the climb. When she sees the Zanti, she freaks out and runs away, down the slope to ground level, where she's so tired, she has to lie down.

She hides in the car, but the Zanti leers at her through the windshield, so she runs away again, mincing along on her bare feet. She finally encounters Grave, who shouts at her to come to him, but she acts like she can't see him, even though he's only like 30 feet away in broad daylight. She runs the other way, then stops for another quick lie down.

Grave catches up to her, but she refuses to come along with him, giving some dopey melodramatic monologue about how she's wasted her life and just wants to die (which is why she's been running away from this thing for half the episode, natch). The Zanti appears, and Grave is the only guy in the whole show who acts like he's got a pair (including all the military men). He doesn't freak out at how big the ant is, he just grabs a rock and squishes it.

Then he grabs Slutty and drags her back to his jeep.

Meanwhile, we learn from a radio broadcast that the Zanti who has just been killed was like the prison guard on the ship and the bugs are making a break for it. They take off in the spaceship.

Grave takes Slutty to the ghost town HQ, where she has miraculously regenerated her high heels. The general is freaking out, because he's sure the Zanti will go to war over this affront. The escaped Zanti prisoners demonstrate that they're not too bright at this point, because instead of going to Vegas, they just land on the HQ's roof and attack the soldiers.

Hmmm, six-inch ants versus men armed with rifles and hand grenades. Who will win? I mean seriously, you don't really need rifles so much, just shoes.

Anyway, the soldiers kill the ants, and then they get a call from the Zanti homeworld stating there will be no war. The Zanti wanted the prisoners executed, turns out. They just didn't have the stomach to do it themselves and they knew we wouldn't be able to resist doing it, as long as we didn't know we were expected to. Humans are dumb and violent, you see.

Anyway, it's a decent enough episode, I guess, but far from the kind of brilliant jewel most old-school fans proclaim it to be. I've seen several episodes over the years, but the one I liked most and most want to see again is not available on Hulu. It's the episode "Demon With a Glass Hand," written by Harlan Ellison and starring Robert Culp.

Meanwhile, if you want to see the entire Zanti Misfits episode, here it is.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Quick Note

Have a job, at least tentatively. Unless the background check turns up something weird, which it shouldn't. It's seasonal help at a department store, minimum wage and temporary. Not a solution to my problem, more a stopgap, but I'll take it. And it shouldn't interfere with either my Monday night gaming or my Tuesday nights with The Girl (except for next Tuesday, when I have orientation).

Corinne Bohrer is relieved.

I may still throw up a Big Video Wednesday later. We'll see.

Metalord 2 Retires - Metalord 3 May Follow

Who is Metalord, you ask? Therein lies a story...

I used to play City of Heroes/City of Villains. My original City of Heroes character was Metatronic, an energy blaster. When I started playing City of Villains, I decided to make an evil version of Metatronic named Dark Meta.

But at some point, I decided to play a Mastermind character. In City of Villains, a Mastermind summoned henchmen to do his fighting for him. I decided to be a Robot Mastermind, and the name came to me: he was a Lord of Metal. A Metalord (which had the added bonus of being able to be read as Meta-Lord, thus continuing the Meta theme of my other characters).

Fast forward to last year. I can no longer afford to play City of Villains, but a friend of mine has asked me to join n honest-to-goodness roleplaying group, which I have not played in for years. So we start playing this game, based loosely on Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu rules (which means tangentially related to Chaosium's old Superworld game, but not so much). My character has some kind of electrical powers, as well as magnetic powers. He can manipulate metal with his mind, and can even levitate himself and fly as long as he is wearing metal. So I decide I should wear some sort of metal armor as my costume.

But what kind of name should I use? Well, I'm the master of metal, and I wear armor like a noble knight, or lord... So yeah, why not bust out Metalord again?

So for a little over a year, I played this crazy Californian of Chinese descent, a computer programmer with delusions of grandeur who ended up developing an attraction to women who were very bad for him. I battled aliens and clones and volcano men (against whom I killed their king, thereby becoming in my own mind the new king of the volcano men, although I never actually claimed the throne). I died and came back as a robot that could transform into an airplane and a submarine, then had my mind transferred into a new, genetically engineered body in the far future, before coming back (at the controls of a rather phallic spaceship) with my teammates to save the world from a demented brain on the dark side of the moon.

And in what was probably my favorite adventure, when we were thrown back into the Old West, I stood atop a flying submarine (it was my own magnetic powers flying it, natch) like freaking Captain Harlock, zapping laser-shooting pterodactyls out of the sky as we assaulted a mad scientist's secret base inside an invisible mountain. When the scientist tried to shoot his death ray from the side of the mountain, I magnetically wrenched it off its moorings and yanked it out, then said, "You know what? I've changed my mind. You can have it back," and flung the giant weapon back into his control room.

It made a big mess. Heh.

You hadda be there, right? The point is that last night, we played our last game with those characters, at least for a while. Cole Chen, Metalord, King of the Volcano Men, Transforming Robot, Ace Pilot and Space Chauffeur, Consort to the Red Queen, is retired for the nonce. We'll be starting up a new game with new characters soon, where I'll be playing a Scottish engineer with absolutely NO resemblance to a certain other Scottish engineer.

That is, if I play at all. I'm interviewing for another job today, and there's always the chance that they'll want me to work on Monday evenings. And given the fact that I haven't worked in months, I'm not in a position to be picky about shifts right now.

But we'll worry about that if and when it happens. In the meantime, you're looking up at the title of this post and saying, "Okay, I understand Metalord and Metalord 2, but who the hell is Metalord 3?"

Short answer: I joined Facebook a while back, and started playing a Facebook game called Superhero City. And showing extreme lack of imagination, when I built my character for that game, I ended up giving him silver skin and calling him Metalord as well. The game was fun at first, but has recently become ridiculously difficult. Recently, I just spent days fighting a fucking door over and over, trying to get through.

And not just any door, no. This door had agility, you see, so that it could dodge my attacks. And I mean, some fights it dodged every attack I attempted. That's one ridiculously agile door! And I understand that you could interpret it in a meta-game-rule sense that the door is not actually dodging the attacks, but that the dodged attacks represent attacks that just bounce off the armor without damaging it at all or something.

Which I could accept, if it weren't for the fact that the game presents the battles as little animated vignettes, with you and your opponent squaring off atop a moving train, or on a rooftop, or in a subway station, with my character throwing lightning blasts at a door that leaps nimbly out of the way! Seriously stupid, and even stupider for the fact that the battle was so ridiculously hard that I had to fight the damn door like ten or fifteen times before I killed it.

So even though I finally won the Great Door War, I think I'm pretty much done with Superhero City. I was already losing interest, and the door thing has really left a bad taste in my mouth.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Movie Monday - Batman, 1943

So I finally decided to take the plunge here and start documenting all the movie Batman versions. First up, the Columbia serial Batman, which came out in 1943, just 4 years after Batman's first appearance in Detective Comics. Batman and Robin were played in this first serial by Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft.

The serial consists of 15 chapters. Chapter 1, "The Electric Brain," opens with a shot of Batman sitting by himself in the Batcave, looking as lonely as the Maytag Repairman. Is a clean desk a sign of a well-ordered mind, or just a guy with nothing to do?

We see a montage of Batman and Robin fighting various bad guys before we see a car pull up to a police call box. Batman and Robin get out and use the box to call, not Commissioner Gordon, but "Captain Ah-nold." Apparently slavish dedication to the comic was not an issue. They leave two thugs handcuffed to a light pole with a very special calling card...

but not before receiving an ominous warning about Dr. Daka. Later, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson go to meet Bruce's girlfriend Linda Page. Bruce plays up the lazy playboy angle a little too much for Linda's liking, leading Dick to ask Bruce why he doesn't confide in her. Bruce says, "On account of our special assignment from Uncle Sam, our success depends on our keeping our identity a secret." Which seems to imply that Bruce has become the Batman at the behest of the government, not in reaction to the death of his parents. Apparently even casual fidelity to the comic was not an issue.

Linda asks Bruce to take her to meet her uncle the next day. Her uncle, Martin Warren, has been in prison on what may have been a trumped-up charge, and he is being released after completing his sentence. However, before Linda arrives, Warren's old cellmate meets him and takes him away. Linda and Bruce give chase in Bruce's car, but the bad guys get away, thanks to a special gas that changes the color of their car.

The bad guys take Warren to a House of Horrors in Little Tokyo, which the narrator tells us is now practically a ghost town "since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs." Oh yeah, this wasn't just released a few years after the comic debuted, but also during the height of World War II. Did I forget to mention?

The bad guys take a ride through the House of Horrors, which features wax figures of Japanese soldiers torturing white men and menacing demure white women. Their car stops halfway through and they enter a secret door, which takes them into the secret headquarters of Dr. Daka (played by J. Carroll Naish). Daka is a spy for Hirohito, and introduces Warren to a group of fellow ex-cons/traitors to their country. Daka needs an industrialist, so he has recruited Warren.

However, Warren replies, "I'm an American, first and always, and no amount of torture conceived by your twisted Oriental brain will make me change my mind."

Daka, however, does not believe in torture and instead says he will turn Warren into an electro-zombie. But first he uses truth serum to determine the location of radium used by the Gotham City Foundation.

He needs the radium to power a ray gun. With the large amount of radium from the Foundation, he can construct a large enough ray gun to bring the U.S. to its knees. But first, his thugs must use the small ray gun to blow open the safe holding the radium.

Before they can make their escape, however, they are intercepted by Batman and Robin. There is a huge fight, and Batman is thrown off the roof of the building. Bad!

In Chapter 2, "The Bat's Cave," Batman lands on a handy painters' scaffold and climbs back up to the roof, just in time to capture one of the thugs as he is leaving with the ray gun. Batman and Robin bring him back to the Batcave. They threaten to leave him alone with the bats unless he talks, which he instantly does (cowardliest crook EVERRRR!).

Then they head up to the mansion, where they use the ray gun to scare the crap out of Alfred.

Because you know what radium-powered disintegrator beams are good for? Pranks!

Meanwhile, Dr. Daka (identified as Prince Daka in the previouslies) dismisses the Batman as a "bungling amateur" and is furious that the radium gun has been lost. It doesn't occur to him for a second, though, that Batman might have laid hands on it. Instead, he sends his thugs to capture Linda Page (who works at the Foundation) to see if she knows where the radium gun is. Bruce and Dick try to keep an eye on Linda, but she is captured as Dick is looking the other way.

So they follow up their only other lead, a boarding house named by their prisoner as a place where one of Daka's other thugs hangs out. Luckily, this is where Linda is being held. They attempt a rescue, but during the scuffle, a jar of acid is broken, and they must walk a tightwire to escape the fumes. Daka's thugs swing down a live electrical wire, causng the tightwire to burst into sparks as Batman is walking it. He falls.

See you next week with Chapter 3, "The Mark of the Zombies!"

(Read a summary of chapters 3-6 here)

(Read the summary of chapter 7-10 here)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Out of the Vault- Adventures Into the Unknown #117

Since Halloween is coming up, I figured I might do some horror comics. But since, as I've said before, there was no horror in horror comics back in the Code days, I figure I'll just expand the definition to show you comics featuring ghosts and monsters in decidedly unscary contexts.

First up, Adventures Into the Unknown #117, from 1960.

When I was a young teenager, there was a big recycling dumpster near my dad's house. And very occasionally, my stepbrother and I would dive in there to see if there was anything good. I think he might have been more interested in finding porn or something, but I came late to that particular pastime. I was more interested in finding comics.

And one day, we actually hit a pretty good stash. There was a Classics Illustrated, a Fantastic Four #55 (the return of the Silver Surfer!), and this comic, Adventures Into the Unknown #117, published by American Comics Group over two years before I was born. It was not in the greatest shape, having been rescued from a dumpster; I worried while scanning the few pics you see here that the worn cover would tear apart completely.

The banner at the top reads "Gripping Tales of Suspense!" right next to a freaking HUGE Comics Code Authority seal, which should tell you all you need to know about this book. The CCA--adopted in 1954 in the wake of Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent and the subsequent Kefauver hearings (yes, there were Senate hearings on comic books back in the day)--did not allow the use of the words "horror" or "terror" in titles, nor did it allow horror content. The code relaxed a bit in the early 70's, which was why you could have books like Swamp Thing and the Marvel monster heroes (including the Son of Satan!).

But in 1960, the closest you could get was "Suspense!" (cue the Suspense theme from the 40's radio show).

Two other quick notes about the cover before we dive inside: one, the artist is Ogden Whitney, who is lampooned here for frequently drawing covers featuring giant feet. And second, right next to the word "Unknown" on the cover is a small box that says "IND." I have no idea what this means, and I don't know if I have any other comics in my collection which bear it.

So what constitutes a gripping tale of "suspense" in a 1960 Code comic? Let's have a look.

The cover story is titled "The Spencer Special," and as you can see on the cover, it appears to feature a ghost (although the word "ghost" is never mentioned, of course). Let's see.

The story, illustrated by Ogden Whitney, is about champion racer Greg Morrison, who is drawn to a cardboard standee while visiting a racing museum. It depicts a beautiful woman standing next to an antique car. The museum curator says the car is the Spencer Special, which managed to hit 204 miles per hour. Greg is skeptical, so the curator tells him the story.

Dale Spencer, daughter of the car's builder, took the car out on country back roads to see just fast it would go. And so...

You get that? The curator had said the car "was clocked at 204 miles per hour," but now we see that Dale was alone in the car when it hit that speed, then immediately crashed and was "killed instantly." So how does anyone know how fast the car went?

Anyway, Greg is fascinated by the story and wants to see the original car. The curator then mentions that by incredible coincidence, the last member of the Spencer family has just died and they are auctioning off the estate that very day! What are the odds?

Morrison heads to the estate, thinking to buy the remains of the Special, but changes his mind when he learns that the estate is being sold in one big lot. He starts to leave but is lured back by a beautiful voice and the scent of patchouli (Miss Dale's favorite perfume).

So he buys the estate and wakes up one morning to find the plans detailing the construction of the Special on the floor. He rebuilds the car and takes it out to see what it can do, ignoring the butler's ominous warnings, and...

(you'll notice how these panels echo the ones above--not only that, but they even appear on the same parts of the page--nice structural touch that unfortunately required a bit of story padding to work). He crashes into the supermarket built on the site of the general store where the first Special crashed and awakes in 1902, where Dale has just had her own crash. Miraculously, she has survived, and they share a passionate kiss...

As they're zipping Greg into a body bag back in the real world (okay, they didn't use body bags then, apparently, but that's the way the scene would play today, like this--skip to the very end if you don't want to watch a 10 minute musical number). A heartwarming example of the "Death is actually a happy ending" genre of supernatural stories.

The second story is more typical of Code-era "horror" stories. The story is about a con man named Archer Prott, who seduces rich old ladies and swindles them out of their money, then leaves them cold. Archer contacts a woman named Ferenda through a lonely hearts ad, and soon begins receiving gifts from her in the mail (mail with stamps that glow mysteriously). He receives a ring that, once donned, won't come off. When he mentions he needs money to pay off some debts, he learns she has a big chest.

Yeah, that's right, uranium coins. Nothing strange about that. With the money in hand, Archer decides to give Ferenda the heave-ho, but then she shows up at his door. And wouldn't you know it? She's a green-skinned alien with Medusa hair who takes Archer back to her planet. What good is the money now, huh? Irony!

The only really interesting thing about this story is that it was illustrated by C.C. Beck and Pete Costanza, who had previously worked together on the Golden Age Captain Marvel.

The third story in the issue is another tale of ironic love, in which a boy named Bobby Foster was born under a bad star--actually a wandering star named Vera, which first appeared on the night he was born. Vera passes close to the Earth every year on Bobby's birthday, and every birthday, he has bad luck. Bobby consults an astrologer, who tells him that his astrological charts say Vera will continue to influence his life even after its destruction.

Next birthday, Vera is struck by a huge meteor and blown to pieces. Bobby rejoices, thinking his curse is over. He throws a party to celebrate on his next birthday, one year later, and as the guests are singing "For he's a jolly good fellow," a small chunk of rock crashes through the window and hits him in the head. The astrologer has the rock analyzed, and sure enough, it's a chunk of Vera. He visits Bobby in the hospital, to tell him how this vindicated his prediction, and Bobby introduces him to his fiancee, a nurse he met in the hospital--a nurse named Vera! GULP!

The final story is a throwaway about your typical rich old miser, bitter and mean to everyone, who decides to find the fountain of youth so he can be young and strong and enjoy his riches. Tired and thirsty after hours of trekking through a swamp, he finds a pool of water. A deer drinking from the pool turns young before his eyes, and when his cane gets wet, it sprouts leaves like a sapling. Triumphant, the old man drinks greedily, but overshoots his mark. He regresses back to infancy. This being a 1960's Code comic, he doesn't starve to death or get eaten by wolves; he is simply adopted by a passing farmer and spends his youth toiling in the fields while his mansion sits empty and forgotten. Irony again!

The comic isn't horrible, especially given what other publishers were putting out at the same time. After all, in 1960, Batman was still a fat guy being pestered by Bat-Mite and Bat-Woman, having imaginary stories about going off to fight aliens on other worlds. The Marvel revolution which would start with Fantastic Four #1 was still a year and a half away, which meant the entire Marvel line was given over to monster books, featuring creatures like Gomdulla, the Living Pharaoh!

But strangely enough for a suspense comic, nobody has a truly bad ending. Greg dies, but "lives" happily ever after with Dale in heaven or wherever. The worst fate is that of Archer Prott, and the worst thing he goes through is getting an ugly wife. And you never know, maybe she ended up being a great cook and the bomb in bed and he learned to love her eventually. Stranger things have happened.