Saturday, May 30, 2009

Out of the Vault - Barbi Twins #1

Hot on the heels of last week's translation of real-life Playboy centerfold Susie Owens into the superhero Flaxen, I give you Playboy cover girls Shane and Sia Barbi, the Barbi Twins, in The Barbi Twins Adventures #1! The book was published in 1995 by Topps Comics, a spin-off of the trading card company that launched in 1993, during the height of the early 90's comics speculation boom.

The early to mid-90's saw a sudden boom in comics featuring hot girls with big boobs, such as Cry for Dawn, Lady Death and Witchblade. And since Topps Comics mainly published licensed properties such as X-Files and Ray Bradbury Comics, it was natural for them to jump on this particular bandwagon by licensing some big-boobed hot women rather than developing a new character from scratch.

And so we ended up with The Barbi Twins Adventures, a comic which combines all the worst features of the early 90's in one volume. You want a first issue collector's item (or as the cover incoherently states "All-New First Collector's Item Issue!")? You got it. You want variant covers? You got 'em (the issue is in flip book format, with two front covers). You want fan favorite artists? You got 'em (four pages and a cover from Matt Haley, plus a cover and four pages from poster artists Fastner and Larson). You want crossovers? You got it (Everett Hartsoe's Razor). You want elaborately rendered and colored art that glosses over a lack of plot, characterization and even basic visual storytelling? Oh baby, you got that in spades.

The basic concept is that the Twins are fashion models by day, secret agents by night. In the first adventure (with the first cover shown above), Shane and Sia are on their way to a fashion show when their helicopter is shanghaied by their arch-nemesis, Betty Blodryed (which I'm guessing is pronounced "blow-dried," but man, that spelling hurts my eyes). Betty (whose face has been scarred Phantom of the Opera/Two-Face style) threatens to crash the helicopter into a giant vat of acid at a nearby acid factory in order to destroy the Twins' good looks forever. The Twins pull out Barbi-Blasters and shoot their way free, but end up falling from the exploding chopper directly toward the vat of acid.

Just before they hit, though, they end up in a futuristic world populated by mutant demons ruled over by a talking dragon. They call their boss, DJ, who tells them they are actually trapped in a virtual-reality simulation programmed by the world's greatest hacker. The talking dragon orders the Barbi Twins to fight to the death, or else they will be punished severely.

How severely?

But the girls outwit the master hacker and wake up back in their own apartment again.

In the other (and mercifully, much shorter) adventure, the twins head to an Italian restaurant to capture a mob boss named Fellini. Before they can make a move, however, Razor shows up and begins chopping the bad guys to pieces in a sequence that is strikingly gory, since the rest of the comic seems to be a goofy spoof. Not to be outdone, Shane and Sia blow away a few bad guys of their own, but fail to nab the mob boss. It's all good, though, since "thanks to our vigilante friend, Fellini won't be dealing drugs or anything else."

The story is pretty basic crap, but it is notable if only for the fact that Fastner and Larson, well known for their air-brushed posters and cover illustrations, actually did four pages of full-on comics. Also interesting (at least to me) is the fact that they seem to be consciously imitating Ron Embleton, who illustrated the long-running Sweet Chastity comic in Penthouse Magazine. Below, compare the Barbi Twins illustration on top with the Sweet Chastity panel just below.

This is followed by a text feature by comic scripter Robert Conte describing the origins of the comic and future plans.

Soon to follow is THE BARBI TWINS ADVENTURES #2, which yours truly is working on right now.

'There are all sorts of cool villains in future issues,' states Sia. 'Silverfoot, Dr. Mindwash, Clubhead...'

'Cheeseface, Meaty-Dog and more,' interrupts Shane. 'They'll(sic) even be cameos from rock groups and movie and television stars. It's going to be a Barbi Twins blast.'

Sadly, no more issues were published, so we will never know just how cool Meaty-Dog really was.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - Superman vs. Atom Man, wk 4

Extra-bonus week in the continuing Superman vs. Atom Man saga. I've added two extra episodes this week, so that we end on a Friday.

It's hard to understand nowadays just how fresh everything in this storyline was to the listeners of that time. The war in Europe had ended less than six months before, so Nazis were still a real menace. Hiroshima had been bombed less than three months previously, so that was even fresher in people's minds. The general public had no idea how atomic power could change the world; they only knew it would (and arguably already had).

The storyline so far:

Nazi mad scientist Der Teufel has used a fragment of kryptonite to transform Heinrich Milch into the Atom Man. With the use of metallic gloves and a throat converter that focuses his power (and also changes his voice), the Atom Man can shoot green rays that destroy anything in their path.

Posing as reporter Henry Miller, Atom Man lured first Jimmy Olsen, and then Clark Kent (whom Miller knows is Superman) to a remote cabin in the woods. Weakened by the radiation of the kryptonite in Miller's blood, Superman could only look on helplessly as the Atom Man prepared to destroy him.

And now, enjoy The Adventures of Superman from November 1945...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Theory, Which Is Mine

BTW and apropos of nothing, I know I've been remiss in not mentioning the Lost finale. If you neither know nor care about Lost, you can skip the rest of this post and not miss anything.

Suffice to say that I enjoyed the season overall and it ended with a bang (literally). At this point, Sun appears to be the only character from the original cast who is still alive, but that can't be right, can it? Of course not.

But the reason I'm posting is, I don't spend time on the Lost fanboy discussion boards, so I don't know if this has become generally accepted as conventional wisdom or not. But I want to get this down in print: my theory about the new character introduced in the season finale, the unnamed man in black who was Jacob's antagonist (and has thus been named Esau by fans) and who pretended to be Locke this past season, is that he is the smoke monster.


Second Time's the Charm

The North Koreans have tested a second nuclear device, three years after that last bizarre test. This one blowed up real good.

The U.S. response will obviously be weak and ineffectual. China is still nominally an ally of the North, so I don't expect major action from them. The Japanese and South Koreans? No idea. But if something dramatic does happen in response, they're the ones to do it.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Out of the Vault - Flaxen: Alter Ego

Flaxen: Alter EgoIn the 70's, Marvel came out with a superhero book titled The Human Fly, billed as "The Wildest Super-Hero Ever--Because He's Real!" The Human Fly was one of a number of real-life figures who were featured in their own comic books for whatever reasons, including this week's star attraction, Flaxen.

I was reminded of this book when I went to see "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" last weekend. In the credits, I noticed that one of the storyboard artists listed was a guy named Tim Burgard, and I thought, "That name sounds familiar. I think I have some comics by that guy."

Yes, I am that geeky.

So I looked him up on line and sure enough, he'd worked on at least one comic in my collection, an odd little one-shot published by Dark Horse titled Flaxen.

So I looked through the slice of my collection that I keep in my house (do you ever wonder why I do so many comics starting with B and D and E and O and P?), and could not find the original Flaxen. I did find a second one-shot featuring the character, though, this one published by Caliber Comics with some surprises of its own.

So what's the deal with Flaxen, anyway? Well, the whole story can be found here, but the gist is that a comic book store in L.A. designed a female super-hero to use as a logo and at some point asked a pretty female customer to appear at conventions in the costume as their mascot.

Susie Owens in the original Flaxen costumeThing is, this was no ordinary customer. This was Susie Freaking Owens. She had one of those Richard Simmons/Susan Powter backstories (once frumpy, now fabulous, thanks to diet and exercise and self-discipline) that makes for great TV. And she was a former Playboy Playmate (March 1988).

So pretty soon, all the boys wanted to play with Susie. Steve Rude and Mark Evanier suggested a Flaxen comic book, which was published by Dark Horse with a gorgeous Steve Rude painting on the cover. The comic wasn't very good, but it got Susie lots of media exposure and got her out to lots of conventions, where she met more comics creators and fans.

And a couple of years later in 1995, Caliber Comics came out with Flaxen: Alter Ego, a sort-of sequel to the original Flaxen comic.

A girl and her dogThe comic starts as Flaxen wakes up to an earthquake in L.A. She throws on the "nearest clothes" at hand (she must have been clubbing hard the night before if that shirt is the first thing she has to grab) and flies out over the city to see whom she can help. But a mysterious figure hypnotizes the people into blaming Flaxen for the earthquake, and they pelt her with rocks and garbage. Heartbroken, she flies back home and takes solace in the fur of her wolf-hybrid dog, Jesse (yes, that's really her dog).

Meanwhile, news flash! Teenage Girl Depressed! Film at 11 (10 Central)!

So Flaxen decides to go for another flight out over the city to clear her head or something, because the last one was such a stunning success. And she meets her old self, dumpy Nurse Cora, only with glowing red eyes. She bursts into flame and reveals herself as Dark Flaxen or something, then leads Susie to a crack house (so we can have an obligatory fight scene).

As it happens, depressed teenage girl has progressed to suicidal teenage girl. She decides to visit the very same crack house to buy some drugs so she can OD. That'll show everybody.

I'm the fat, lazy, part of you that wants to live--what?
Once Flaxen has mopped the floor with the crack house thugs, Dark Flaxen reappears and the two have their final confrontation, in which we learn that Dark Flaxen is the part of Susie that likes being fat and lazy and depressed, but Susie likes her new hotness and refuses to give it up or be ashamed of it. So she blows Dark Flaxen to bits in a fury of self-affirmation or something. Take that, haters!

And that's the problem with Flaxen: Alter Ego in a nutshell. Susie Owens is right; she has nothing to be ashamed of. The fact that she was able to use self-discipline to transform her body and her life in ways that made her successful and (mostly) happy is something to be proud of.

But it makes for shitty comics. Seriously. The vanity oozing out of every page and caption just becomes overwhelming after a while. Not to mention (which is a stupid expression, because here I am mentioning it) the fact that Flaxen's origin in the comic dispenses with the most inspiring part of Susie's story. In the comic, Cora is a fat, depressed nurse who is randomly struck by lightning or something and becomes super-powered and super-hot. No effort or self-discipline required.

So just what no-talent hacks did the mighty Susie rope into putting together her little vanity project?

The book was written (horribly) by James Hudnall, who has done some good solid work, like Espers and Hardcase (for Malibu's Ultraverse line, before Marvel first bought it, then killed it).

It was inked by a guy named David Mack, who has gained acclaim as the artist of Kabuki and Daredevil.

And it was penciled by a guy who figured out, shortly after this, that his talents lay more in writing comics than drawing them: Brian Michael Bendis (Jinx, Powers, Marvel's Secret Invasion).

I'm serious, what's up with that shirt?I don't blame these guys for anything, though. Seriously, the power of the pussy is something we all fall victim to eventually, in greater or lesser ways. After all, even after reading the original Flaxen, I still spent money on the sequel.


Because Susie Owens was at a convention here in Tulsa hawking the book, and buying one and getting her to sign it gave me an excuse to talk to her for a few minutes. She was hot. It was a good moment.

See, I'm a victim, too.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - Superman vs. Atom Man, wk 3

Continuing the epic story of Superman's confrontation with the Atom Man from October 1945.

If the Atom Man's voice sounds familiar, just imagine him saying, "With a name like Smucker's, it's got to be good."

That's right, it's this guy.

Mason Adams. I remember him mainly as editor Charlie Hume on Lou Grant, the dramedy spin-off of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But he's played so many different supporting roles in so many shows and movies that you might recognize the voice and be able to picture the face without knowing exactly where you remember him from. He's one of those guys.

The story so far:

Nazi scientist Der Teufel has injected Heinrich Milch, son of renowned chemist Dr. Milch, with a solution of dissolved kryptonite. With the use of metallic gloves and a convertor box attached to his throat, Milch can focus the kryptonite radiation into a beam of terrible destructive power.

Der Teufel has told Heinrich that his father was murdered by Allied soldiers and sent Milch to Metropolis to take revenge by killing Superman and then taking over the world (in fact, it was Der Teufel himself who murdered the scientist). Milch, who studied in America and speaks fluent English, has adopted the identity Henry Miller and gotten a job at the Daily Planet in an attempt to track down Superman. When Miller met Clark Kent, the kryptonite in his bloodstream caused Kent to become dazed and weak, leading Lois to call a "rest farm" to have him committed.

What will happen next on The Adventures of Superman?

Monday, May 18, 2009


Came back from my Monday night game to discover that both Dollhouse and Chuck have been renewed for next season. So I'm pretty pumped. I'll miss Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Life, but really, having these two back when I'd almost given up hope more than makes up for it.

Seems like someone at Fox finally figured out that it's better to have a show like Dollhouse with a small, but devoted fan following in the Friday night death slot than keep wasting time and money spinning the wheel, trying to find something that hits big. And I mean, let's face it, part of the reason the ratings were so low (and going lower) for Dollhouse this season was not due to the show itself, but due to fans' lack of confidence in Fox to give the show a fighting chance. Several Whedon fans I know refused to watch it this season, simply because they were convinced that Fox would stomp it deader than Firefly as soon as they got hooked. Maybe they'll actually be tempted to watch now that the show has been given a reprieve.

On the other hand, Chuck (which came to a roaring climax this season) is either poised for greatness or standing on the dock with rope in hands, waiting for the speedboat to tow him out to the shark. Seriously, the final twist of the season has great potential to ruin the show. But I sincerely hope not. The show has been a ridiculously fun bright spot on Monday nights, and I hope this new direction doesn't kill its charm.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Vault Extra - Showcase #61

So you read yesterday's description of that Blackhawk story from 1966 and you're thinking, "Sure, Fraze, it's a silly story with a cascade of improbable twists, but they're not especially unusual for a comic book story. Alien monsters? Interplanetary travel in seconds? Character suddenly developing super-powers? Just your typical day in a DC comic before the "realistic" reboots of the 70's. Nothing spectacular or over-the-top here. Show me something really strange."

Okay, you got it.

Here's an in-house ad for Showcase #61, cover date April 1966 (on sale Jan. 25).

The scan is not the best, but there's a better version here.

Yes, that's right. That's DC's ghostly spirit of vengeance The Spectre in outer space, punching a demon in the stomach while it bashes him on the head....


What was Marvel giving you at the time? Galactus (March 1966)??? Pffftt....

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Out of the Vault - Blackhawk #218

Blackhawk Issue #218In last week's discussion of Howard Chaykin's controversial reboot of Blackhawk, I said that I'd talk more about Blackhawk's history here.

As I mentioned before, Blackhawk was a Polish aviator (later identified as American) who established an independent squadron of fighter pilots from many nations to fight the Axis menace in WWII. The character became popular enough to be featured in his own radio series (but not popular enough for the series to last for more than a few months) as well as a 15-chapter Columbia serial in 1952 starring Kirk Alyn (who had previously played Superman in two serials for Columbia).

But the concept was very WWII-centric, so as the war faded from the popular imagination, Blackhawk was updated. The team switched from flying prop planes to jets and stopped fighting Nazis. By the 60's, they were fighting monstrous menaces or evil aliens like King Condor and the Human Starfish.

Which brings us to Blackhawk #218, cover dated May 1966, in which the Blackhawks face the menace of the Plantimal, "HALF-PLANT, HALF-ANIMAL--AND ALL MURDER!"

The story and art are uncredited in the issue, but future JLA artist Dick Dillin penciled it and Bob Haney almost certainly wrote it. Haney was not above throwing in completely wacko twists, so we may be in for a ride. At the very least, it's an opportunity to take some lazy potshots at the rampant silliness of 60's DC comics.

Airplane RodeoThe story starts with the Blackhawk squadron flying to a secluded (and apparently abandoned) village in the mountains where the Blackhawks intend to take a brief vacation. Suddenly the buildings leap into the air, so the Blackhawks spring into action. They somehow link rope ladders between their planes while in midair in order to somehow corral the buildings and guide them safely back down to Earth (although seemingly without touching them).

They land and meet King Blingo of planet Ezz, who is fleeing for his life from unnamed enemies. It was they who caused the buildings to fly into the air in an attempt to get rid of Blingo. When the Blackhawks immediately spot the holes his story, Blingo wins them over with this rousing bit of oratory: "All right--call me a fibber! If you won't help me beat my enemies, I'll do it alone--all 97 pounds of me!"

So the Blackhawks pile into Blingo's starship and take a quick ride to Blingo's home planet of Ezz. It's pretty cool of them to drop everything for the days or months or years it will take to get to Blingo's planet, just to help the little guy. But that's the way the Blackhawks roll. They arrive on planet Ezz, where they are promptly taken prisoner. The Blackhawks then learn that Blingo is not exactly king yet. He's due to ascend the throne, but evil General B'adda sent the 97-lb. weakling packing, grabbing the throne and Blingo's would-be girlfriend A'dora for his own. So Blingo, who's been observing Earth for a while, came to seek the Blackhawks' help, faking the incident with the buildings to convince them he was in danger.

While the Blackhawks try to figure a way out of their cell, Blingo decides it's a good time to whistle. Turns out there's an alien monster called the Plantimal that absolutely "hates whistling and will knock down anything to get to the whistler."

So the Plantimal breaks down the walls and now the Blackhawks are free! Good plan, except for the crazed alien monster now trying to destroy them. They try to flee to the palace, but B'adda encases the palace in an unbreakable transparent bubble to keep the Blackhawks out. They're doomed!

But then, in "an Ezzian twist to end all twists," Blingo suddenly develops super-powers!

It's a space-bird! it's a space-plane!
He defeats the Plantimal and flings it toward the horizon. Blackhawk, with his vast knowledge of comic book science, decides that Blingo's powers were the result of his drinking from a mineral well in the secluded village on Earth while he was waiting for the Blackhawks to arrive.

Blingo smashes through the transparent bubble, but B'adda manages to escape in his starship with a contingent of guards and the lovely A'dora. Blingo figures out that they're headed to Earth, so...

Space travel made EZ
There are so many weird things going on in those few panels, it boggles the mind. How did Blingo manage to pick up all the Blackhawks at once like that? What did he make the "super-air bubble" out of? Super-alien spit? How did B'adda and his men know how to find, not only Earth, but the exact same well from which Blingo previously drank?

Then again, we now know that the Blackhawks aren't quite as generous as we thought at first. Turns out, the trip to Ezz takes only "a few seconds" according to the caption.

So B'adda and his men have now drunk from the super well, setting us up for a huge super-battle reminiscent of "Superman II" (okay, maybe "reminiscent" isn't the right word, since "Superman II" wouldn't come out for another 14 years, but still...)! Right?

Turns out, not so much. Thing is, the Ezzians have no powers on Earth (which kind of begs the question of how Blingo was able to land them all safely, but lets just be thankful the Blackhawks are still alive and not nitpick, mm'kay?) The Blackhawks beat the crap out of most of the aliens, but a few manage to escape and grab their alien weapons. Our heroes are doomed!

(which reminds me--all of the Blackhawks wear holstered pistols as part of their uniforms, but no matter how they are outnumbered or menaced in this issue, they never even draw them, not once)

But in a nice bit of circularity, Blingo saves the day with the same device he used to lift the buildings at the start of the issue. The alien soldiers are defeated and Blingo can return to his world as Super-King with the lovely A'dora on his arm. Happy endings all around.

Except for the fact that if Blingo takes B'adda and his men back to Ezz, they'll become just as super as he is, or even more so (or maybe not--nobody ever proved it was the well that gave Blingo his powers, after all). And A'dora, who cursed Blingo as a weakling before falling for him when he became super, makes a pass at French team member Andre' after Blingo has lost his powers on Earth. Sure, she'll be all over him once they get back and he's super again, but she'll cheat on him. You know she will.

So that's Blackhawk #218. If you're thinking it kind of sucked, well, apparently everyone agreed with you, because ten months after this issue, DC made the desperate move to turn the Blackhawks into a team of full-fledged superheroes. A year or so later, they dumped the superhero idea for a couple of issues, then canceled the book.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - Superman vs. Atom Man, wk 2

Continuing the long "Superman vs. Atom Man" storyline. I should probably adjust the number of episodes so that I can present an actual chronological week at a time. Right now, I'm doing Thursday through Wednesday. But if I adjust to Monday through Friday, we would end with even bigger cliffhangers.

The story so far: ex-Nazi scientist Der Teufel has obtained a (very rare at the time) sample of Kryptonite, a radioactive mineral fragment of Superman's homeworld. While Superman and Allied occupation forces search for Der Teufel in Germany, the scientist is moving forward with his plan to create an Atom Man, who will bring first Superman, then the world, to their knees. In this, he has enlisted the aid of a chemist named Milch and his son.

I should probably make some kind of graphic for Big Audio Wednesdays.

(ETA--Oops--I accidentally put Big Audio Thursday instead of Wednesday in the title - corrected now)

Monday, May 11, 2009


Season one (and possibly only) of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse is now over, and I have to say, damn!

By which I mean the good kind of damn, because the show turned out much better than I expected (I was underwhelmed by the premise), but also the bad kind of damn, because it is almost certainly cancelled, although there's been no official announcement as far as I know.

In some ways, it's tempting to blame Whedon's strategy for rolling out this show. In reaction to what happened to Firefly (where Fox showed the episodes out of order in an attempt to hook the audience early with more action-packed episodes), Whedon structured season one of Dollhouse with several self-contained storylines up front, attempting to run a series of "mini-pilots" that could stand alone no matter what order they were shown in. And it's true that early ratings weren't very good and critical reaction to those standalone episodes was mixed.

But when the series really started to hit its stride and bring together the separate threads of those first few episodes, the ratings continued to drop steadily. So whatever hooked me in and got me geeking out over a show I thought was fairly ho-hum at first apparently did not have the same effect on the vast majority of the audience out there.

It's too bad, because the show hinted at a lot of possibilities that I'd like to see them explore. And the characters revealed unsuspected depths in the final few episodes that cry out to be developed further.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Out of the Vault - Blackhawk: Blood and Iron

Blackhawk: Blood and Iron #1I mentioned last week that Howard Chaykin had done a controversial reboot of Blackhawk before doing Black Kiss. And as I was replacing Black Kiss in the Vault, I found the first issue of Chaykin's Blackhawk there. So I figured, "What the hell?"

Blackhawk is one of those second- or third-tier DC characters, not widely known outside of comics fandom, but significant enough to have had his own series (actually a few of them) as well as other media tie-ins. I'll talk more about the history of Blackhawk next week when I discuss an earlier version of the character.

Or characters, I guess I should say, because Blackhawk, like Bon Jovi, is both the name of the main character and the name of the group that surrounds him. Blackhawk was a Polish aviator in WWII who formed an independent air squadron, the Blackhawks, made up of members from many nations to fight the Axis menace.

Chaykin's 1987 reboot puts Blackhawk in an alternate 50's (or late 40's) where the Nazis appear to have won WWII, or at least fought it to a stalemate, thanks to a handy alliance with Tsarist Russians who helped them hold out against Stalin. Britain and the Soviets are still fighting the fascists, but America, which appears to have sat out the war, is in the throes of anti-Soviet hysteria, led by a Senator not named McCarthy who is actually a stooge of the Nazis.

Acting as the bait in an atomic bomb theft is not a promising career pathBlackhawk is called to a Senate hearing, called a Communist and his honorary American citizenship is revoked. This turns out to be partly a ruse, however, because he is promptly approached by the O.S.S. for a secret mission. Jewish gangsters, led by crime boss Emil Bronski, have stolen a prototype atomic bomb (using a sexy woman as bait, natch; she's the one getting shot there moments after the theft). When Bronski discovers that he was hired to steal the bomb by Nazi agents, he scotches the deal and promises to sell the bomb instead to whomever promises to "shove it up Hitler's ass."

Yes, this is a DC ComicBlackhawk is asked to join a special British/Soviet air squadron (thus confirming his public image as a Commie) and buy the bomb back from Bronski. Blackhawk heads to Tehran to make the buy, but arrives seconds too late to keep Bronski from being killed by Nazi agents Sir Death Mayhew and Reba MacMahon (who is seen giving Bronski a blowjob in the most controversial scene in the book, one which was referenced a few times in the editorial pages of Black Kiss). The bomb itself is stolen by street thief Amahl, who in the final panels of the first issue is seen shipping it to America.

Chaykin's miniseries ran three issues and served as the springboard for a follow-on series. However, I never read past the first issue. I liked Chaykin's work on American Flagg! and I kind of liked the Blackhawk concept, but the alternate reality was never explained very well, and the cinematic storytelling approach was very confusing. Plus (as in most of Chaykin's work) the characters were a turn-off. There just wasn't enough there to hook me into the story.

And worst of all, for a story ostensibly starring a combat pilot, Blackhawk is never shown in a plane until the very end of the issue, and even then, someone else is flying it.


More Blackhawk next week as I feature an issue of Blackhawk from the 60's.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - Superman Returns

As a daily serial, The Adventures of Superman often played out like a soap opera, spinning out extended stories undreamed of in the comics where Superman was born. And one of the longest and most elaborate was "Superman vs. Atom Man," running from early October to early December of 1945.

The storyline had its earliest beginnings right after the end of "Dr. Blythe's Confidence Gang," the Superman/Batman storyline I posted back in January. Superman learned that the (at the time) only Kryptonite meteor on earth had been stolen from the Metropolis Museum, and was desperate to get it back. Turns out the meteor was stolen by a woman named the Scarlet Widow, who broke the meteor into four pieces and put them up for sale to four of the most notorious criminals in the world, including an ex-Nazi scientist named Der Teufel (The Devil). The price: one million dollars each.

After the Widow has demonstrated the Kryptonite's effectiveness to her potential customers by taking Superman prisoner, Der Teufel steals his piece at gunpoint and flees. The Scarlet Widow vows revenge against Der Teufel and tries to use the Kryptonite to destroy Superman once and for all. She fails, of course, but by the time Superman recovers, both the Widow and the Kryptonite have disappeared.

In the meantime, Der Teufel has hatched a plan to use his Kryptonite fragment to create a super-warrior powerful enough to destroy Superman--an Atom Man.


And now...

Monday, May 04, 2009

Get Your Trek ONN

I was a Trekkie way back in the day, and was thrilled to death when Paramount finally resurrected the franchise for "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." And I still have a little nostalgia deep in my heart for the original series.

However, I've got to say that this savage satire by the Onion News Network had me rolling.

Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As 'Fun, Watchable'

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Out of the Vault - Black Kiss

Black Kiss #1In the late 80's, Howard Chaykin was a hot property in comics, known first (at least by me and lots of other 70's kids) as the artist on Marvel's adaptation of Star Wars (which suffered from his teaming with a horribly incompatible inker named Steve Leialoha). Things got much better with Chaykin's successful independent comic American Flagg! as well as controversial reboots of The Shadow and Blackhawk for DC Comics.

But in 1988, Chaykin created huge controversy in the comics world when he released Black Kiss, a noir story of sex, murder, celebrity Satanists and vampires (although the word itself is never used). The 12-part miniseries, published by Canadian company Vortex Comics, was shipped in clear plastic wrappers, like porn mags. And for good reason.

The story revolves around Dagmar Laine and Beverly Grove, who look as if they could be twin sisters, even though one is much older and the other is a guy (well, pre-op transsexual, I guess). Beverly is being blackmailed by a mysterious someone who claims to have a very damning film reel, and Dagmar is responsible for getting it back. Beverly and Dagmar end up crossing paths with Cass Pollack, a two-bit gangster on the run from some very bad men (including Dagmar's john/boyfriend). They decide to use Cass as a fall guy to track down the film.

It all ends very badly for everyone.

Black Kiss was a strange experience for me, because on the one hand, I liked Chaykin's American Flagg! quite a lot. And I like old black-and-white suspense films, which this story takes after in some ways. And it was obvious that a lot of storytelling skill had gone into making the comic.

The only panel I could stand to scanBut like Faust or Ralph Bakshi's films, every aspect of Black Kiss was just so unpleasant. The characters are all, every one, cynical and bitter and foul-mouthed. It's practically a relief when they die. Every issue features either sex or bloody murder or both, and even the sex is unpleasant--a prostitute dressed as a blind schoolgirl having sex with a priest, for example, or the gangsters/cops chasing Pollack (I never really figured out who the hell they were supposed to be) raping their way through the story until they meet their unhappy (and very messy) ends.

The story sold well, though, and generated a lot of publicity, including a mini-feud between editor Lou Stathis and Gary Groth, publisher of The Comics Journal, over an editorial in Print magazine by Groth criticizing the story. In issue eight of Black Kiss, Stathis wrote an editorial condemning Groth as a prude. Ironically, Black Kiss would later be reprinted as a trade paperback collection by Eros Comix (NSFW link), an imprint of Fantagraphics Books, founded by Groth.