Thursday, December 30, 2010

Irony, Thy Name Is... Well, OK, Irony, But Still...

So I go out and place the ad on Girl Genius (a really fun webcomic by Phil and Kaja Foglio), and get a little bump in traffic over at Hero Go Home. Then I'm checking my traffic numbers and I see I'm getting a (relative) ton of traffic here at Frazier's Brain. What gives?

Freaking Foglio. The esteemed Steve Bissette (who was the kick-ass penciller on Swamp Thing back in the Alan Moore glory days) has linked to my article about D'Arc Tangent in the midst of a discussion with Dave Sim on Creators' Rights in the context of shared works. And on the one hand, I think it's really cool. And on the other hand, I'm sort of embarrassed by my uninformed BS'ing all the way through the article.

And I really wish I had the cojones to shill for Hero Go Home in his comments, but that would be in bad taste. Shit.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tiny Progress

So I've dipped a tiny toe into the advertising waters by placing a tiny button ad on Girl Genius. Which is to say, I never see the ad when I click over there to check on it, but I have gotten some traffic in from it, so I know it's there sometimes. Apparently, even though I bid one price worldwide, the system breaks the bid down into regions, so basically, my ad is showing on Girl Genius everywhere but in the U.S., where the majority of my target audience is. I'm not sure how to fix that.

I'm placing the ads through Project Wonderful, which seem to be only wonderful for webcomics so far (in fact, I originally started the account when I was putting together the Hero Go Home webcomic, but never used it).

Here's the cool thing about Project Wonderful: it's set up like an auction, so you're bidding for space on the site, and your bids are automatically regulated so you never pay more than you have to.

Here's the bad thing about Project Wonderful: it's set up like an auction, so if your site has really low traffic (like mine, though growing slowly), you may get no one bidding on your site, and therefore make no money from ads.

So traffic is the key. And the two steps I've taken recently--adding Movie Monday and Out of the Vault, and placing the Girl Genius ad--have noticeably increased traffic, though it's still barely comparable to this blog, let alone a successful one. Networking would be good, except that I've pretty much cut ties with most of the people I should be networking with. The closest thing I've got to a networking arrangement was the guest appearances by naamah and sargon, who are also serializing a novel (an idea I shamelessly stole from them), but I haven't linked it because our audiences don't really overlap at all. I need to fix that; they did help me out, after all. So I'll just put a big NSFW label on it or something.

And all the things I'm trying to do to increase the viewership of the blog take away time from producing content for the blog. This is really hard, and I worry, now that a couple of people have read the first chapter and no further, that I need to go back and punch up the beginning to keep people reading. But I also need to be moving forward. Aaaarrggghhh, too many things to do and no idea whether any of them will do any good in the long run.

Monday, December 27, 2010


So there was no Christmasiness around the blog, because I put it over on Hero Go Home. And really, as I've probably said before, I'm not much of a fan of the holiday season. And if anything could make me even less of a fan, it's working retail.

My God. The day before Christmas was a frantic rush, with people grabbing whatever they could for last-minute gifts (and just as often, picking up something, changing their mind, and leaving it in another part of the store--that always happens some, but that day, there were just carts and carts full of it). The day after Christmas, when we put all the Christmas stuff on clearance, the crowds descended like locusts. The Christmas corner looked like a bomb went off back there, and there was a huge pile of discarded stuff all around the nearest price scanner, where people couldn't be bothered to take the things back to where they found them after deciding they still weren't cheap enough.

As for Christmas itself, not terrible. Dressed up in tie and hat again, like last year, and took my daughter her present. I was really proud of this year's choice: an art instruction book called Dragonart Evolution. Daughter likes to draw and is on a big dragon kick, so this seemed like a natural. And she seems to really like it, so I'm glad it worked out.

Went to Muskogee later to have dinner with my family. And that was nice, too, although everyone's getting older and frailer.

Present-wise, well, I have a car and a job (for now, at least), so I don't really need presents. Which is fine, because I couldn't really afford to get anyone else anything, either. But I did get a really nice antique plate from Japan from my mother-in-law, and a really unexpected gift from my stepbrother, which was awesome.

Now we just cruise into the New Year, and then I'll fill you in on what's happening with the other blog. I think it's staying.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Awesome Is Measured In...

(ETA: In case you don't know what this is referring to, you can read about it on Wikipedia here. I just thought it was kind of silly. The original artist is the same guy who inflicted this on us, though, so don't this is some kind of blanket endorsement of his work, though if he hadn't done that, we wouldn't have had this)

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Sorry, just listening to the echo. Without Out of the Vault and Movie Monday, it just seems so empty around here. It's my own fault, I know. The funny thing is, I did more posts this year than in any previous year on this blog, and yet now, it has fallen to almost nil.

The move has worked a little, though. I'm getting a little more traffic over at Hero Go Home from people searching out either the comic featured on Out of the Vault or from people searching out the featured movie. It's a bare trickle now, but traffic was so sparse that it's really noticeable.

My next step (assuming I'm able to renew the domain) is to get some ads out. That means I have to make up the ad banners, which means I have to come up with an interesting idea for an ad banner. And I'm debating whether to make it an animated GIF. Which would mean I have to learn how to make an animated GIF.

I doubt it's all that hard, and one of the things I've enjoyed about the whole Hero Go Home process is all the new things I've learned to do, but at some point, you just get tired of doing it all yourself. Plus, there's just so much work involved--every week I write a chapter, put together a new Extra, read-scan-write entry for Out of the Vault and watch-screencap-write entry for Movie Monday, plus most weeks revising the banner as well--that it gets mentally draining after a while. I would like to get back to some Big Game Wednesday, as well as doing some non-superhero-related Movie Monday over here again, but there's no way I have that much energy.

The holidays add their own kind of crazy on top of that. I've not been much of a fan of the Christmas season since I was a kid, anyway, and working retail during the holidays doesn't help. And with the present economic woes, I know several people who are hurting this Christmas season. At least I was able to get my daughter an affordable present that I think she'll really like. I hope.

Not sure where I was going with that, actually. Just venting a little, I guess. Go over to for the entertaining content. Nothing to see here, at least for a while.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas 2010

Another OSFW Christmas party last night, and while it was a good one, it felt kind of strange. The group has really changed. Many of the folks who were regular attendees when I started no longer show up with any regularity (if they haven't moved away entirely). Of the 20-odd people who showed up last night, less than a third were regulars when I started a little over, jeez, seven years ago now.

Which has me questioning the whole writers group thing, really. The first few years there, the group was an exciting place to be, with several old pros mixed with newer up-and-comers like Matt Reiten and Richard Cox and me. I was writing stories in different genres, stretching my wings, finding what worked for me and what didn't. And I was getting to know people in the sf/fantasy community.

But over the years, everything has changed. I lost confidence in everything and mostly withdrew from the writing community again. I rarely write short stories anymore, and don't submit the ones I do write for publication. I'm concentrating on blogging and on the occasional novel, though I'm really not submitting them either. Plus the disintegration that has happened in my personal life.

The point is, when I joined the group, I had a reason for joining. I wanted to step up to the next level in my writing career, and the group seemed like a way to do that (which it was, quite frankly). But now that reason's no longer there, really, and now it has just become sort of a social obligation. Now I just show up but rarely contribute, except with an occasional chapter or the roughly one short story per year I write now. I'm just questioning whether the group is worth the effort any more.

Anyway, as usual, here's my fragment from this year's contest. But first, a word about how it came to be. Several years ago, a bunch of the group's members colluded behind the scenes to write their fragments around a single theme to tweak K.D. Wentworth, who as coordinating judge on the Writers of the Future contest, was seeing a lot of stories with the same elements over and over again (I was not in on the joke, so my fragment was one of the few that didn't fit in). It was so much fun that in subsequent years, we decided to formalize a theme for all the entries--bad science one year, robots the next. Last year was steampunk.

This year, they decided to have everyone write from a plot seed rather than a theme. The seed: the phone rings, and no one's on the other end, but the person answering knows what the call is about anyway. I wan't a big fan of the specific seed, nor of the general plot seed concept, and was considering blowing the whole thing off this year. But one member who was also not thrilled with the idea proposed writing around a counter-theme, that being pirates. Which gave me the hook I needed to actually work in the seed and the theme, as well as probably breaking an unwritten rule by writing about the holiday itself, however obliquely. Because the Christmas fragments are almost never actually about Christmas.

Anyway, here's the fragment, entitled FORTUNE: DANGER!

The lozenge of plastic was only a couple of inches long, pink with the white face of Hello Kitty at a jaunty angle. Nikolai picked it up with blunt fingers and looked at the scarred man across the table from him. "And this is all of it?"

Junkers nodded. "IFF transponder codes for every air force in the northern hemisphere," he said.

"What about the southern hemisphere?" Nikolai asked.

"Exactly what major air power were you worried about down there?" Junkers asked, and Nikolai laughed, baring yellow, uneven teeth. "You should know," Junkers continued, "Warlord Motumbo has his men looking all over for you."

"He's still mad about the drugs," Nikolai said.

Junkers nodded. "It's harder to quash a rebellion when the rebels have access to medicines that the government withholds. People's loyalties can turn against you. He got wind of our meeting somehow, has had men tearing up the quarter looking for you. They're led by someone I've never seen before."

"What does he look like?" Nikolai asked, though he feared he already knew.

Junkers squinted, twisting the puckered scar under his right eye. "I've never used the word 'beautiful' to describe a man before, but this one is. Beautiful and scary, with blond hair that..."

The door burst open and several armed men ran inside, followed by a beautiful man with flowing blond hair. "...looks quite like that, actually," Junkers finished.

"Nikolai," said the blond man, "at last I have you."

Nikolai's smile was perhaps even more disturbing than the blond man's beauty. His round face twisted, making his whiskers jut out in random spikes, and there was a glint of wild madness in his eyes. "It's been a long time, Scratch, you old chicken-counter."

Nikolai's arm moved and there was a magnesium flash, accompanied by a ball of acrid smoke that forced tears from the assembled men. Machine pistols clattered, echoing harshly in the small room, and a man's scream was quickly cut off. Scratch wiped at tear-filled eyes and saw one of his men on the floor. Nikolai was gone.

"After him," Scratch shouted, "quickly!"

Nikolai thundered down the back stairs. Two men tried to block his way, but Nikolai was larger and had momentum on his side. He batted them aside as easily as if he were a bowler picking up a split. He heard footsteps coming from above and below and cut into the second floor corridor to try to confuse the pursuit. He dashed for the elevator, but it dinged open before he reached it. Three men stepped out with machine guns.

Nikolai ran the other way with the men in hot pursuit, when suddenly, a door flew open just as he ran past and a huge, scaly wing stretched out across the hallway, clotheslining all three pursuers. They fell to the ground, senseless.

Nikolai turned as a tall man stepped into the hallway, the squamous wings stretching up from his back brushing against the ceiling to throw both men into uneasy shadow. "Miguel," Nikolai greeted the man.

"Nikolai," the winged man greeted in return. "Let's go."

Nikolai followed the winged figure through the room and out onto a fire escape. In moments, they were standing on the ground in a narrow, dirty alley. Miguel turned to Nikolai and said, "That'll throw them off for a couple of minutes, at least. You're welcome."

"I didn't need any help," Nikolai said.

"You always say that, but it never looks that way," Miguel said.

"Looks can be deceiving," Nikolai answered. "Just ask your brother."

"Oh yes, Scratch. What was he after you for this time?"

Nikolai held up the Hello Kitty flash drive. "IFF codes for the Solstice Run."

"Are you still doing that?" Miguel asked in disbelief.

"It's a tradition," Nikolai said. "I've got to go. My ride's waiting."

Nikolai set a finger to one side of his nose and shot into the sky. Miguel looked up to see a sleek craft turning north before zooming out of sight. "Vaya con dios, my friend."

As Nikolai stumbled into his office, later, the phone rang. He picked it up. "Hello?"

There was no voice on the other end, no sound except for the creak of wood, the lapping of waves and the distant cries of gulls. "Captain Geisthammer, if I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, I don't work for pirates," Nikolai shouted into the silence. "No-ho-ho!"

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Future of Hero Go Home

This is copied from an identical post appearing at

Okay, here's the deal. I'm enjoying Hero Go Home myself. And I had hoped that the story and the site would find an audience, but I have about three weeks before I have to pay a little over $200 to renew the domain and the hosting. And to date, I haven't gotten a single donation.

So on the one hand, though I really like the idea of the site, and think I've been doing some interesting things with it, they're things that have been of interest to me only. And I'm wondering if $200+ is too much to pay to continue what is essentially a vanity site.

Then again, I've got plans for the future of the site if it continues. I'm going to be putting ads on the site very soon, and perhaps advertising on other sites as well. And then there's the crazy plan.

What's the crazy plan? Well, how does another novel sound? And not another Digger novel (although I have another story planned for after Hero Go Home), but a completely original story set in an unrelated continuity. The absolutely insane plan is, two days of Hero Go Home content (until the current storyline is finished--it's about halfway done now) a week, plus two days of columns (Out of the Vault and Super Movie Monday), plus another two days of the new novel, a Sam Spade meets Cthulhu/Godzilla story set in the 1930's. That's one chapter and one multimedia extra every week for two novels running concurrently, plus two weekly columns.

Now how much would you pay?

But wait, there's more! Because that's only six days a week, and there are seven. What would I do with the seventh?

That's a surprise.

Okay, actually, I don't have a plan for the seventh day, yet. But if turns into a money-making venue, you can bet I will. So, the terms:

If I get at least one donation before the end of the year, even if it's only $5, I'll renew the domain and continue the experiment. If I make enough to cover the $200+ renewal cost (a long shot, I know--that would take over 40 people at $5 a shot), I will launch the new novel on the first Wednesday of the year (January Fifth). And if I get enough to launch the second novel, the biggest donor will get the option to pick what feature will run on the seventh day.

This doesn't mean I absolutely won't renew the site if I don't get any donations--I'm still willing to reconcile with my wife after 2 1/2 years apart, after all, so I'm an easy mark--but a donation, no matter how small, would certainly take out the guesswork, wouldn't it?

Monday, December 06, 2010

These Are Not the Movies You're Looking For

Movie Monday has moved to Hero Go Home. Today is part one of a huge, picturiffic recap of "Superman, the Movie," starring Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman and 15 others. Learn about relativity and big blue Kryptonian balls!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

It's Time

If you think things are looking a bit bare here, you're right. Out of the Vault has moved to Hero Go Home, along with Movie Monday. Today's title: Action Comics #402, one of the oldest Superman Comics I own, along with a special bonus featuring a certain writer's secret origin as a superhero fan (hint: it's genetic).

BTW, having listened to all the hype, I decided to try a Four Loko the other night. To start with, it tasted nasty. But man, it really did knock me on my ass. I drank about 3/4 of the can (it's a pretty big can), decided to go to pass out (though to be fair to my own male ego, I was only operating on about 2-3 hours of sleep because of my weird Target schedule), woke up about 4 hours later with a weird coffee smell coming out of my pores. So from my one experiment, I'd say the hype is real, but I'm not on the side of banning it. And bring back ephedra while you're at it. That stuff worked.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Smeatons and McClanes

Had to move our game night around this week due to my crazy Target holiday schedule. So we gamed Monday night and it was a doozy. We were involved in a huge battle that was a combination of Helm's Deep and Pelennor Fields which ended up a bit like Task Force Smith. Smeaton rode out with a chariot sortie into the thick of battle, while the rest of our group stayed on the walls.

And suddenly our resident witch, who has lately been growing all kinds of awesome from the higher level spells she's been learning, performed a face-heel turn which made Smeaton's look about as convincing as Dave Foley's conversion to "pure...... evil" on Newsradio.

Our leader was taken captive, the rest of our group was knocked out of commission, but Smeaton fought on, killing a couple of giants to rescue a fallen king and commandeering a war mammoth to help his comrades escape.

Because although Smeaton may suck at being pure.... evil, he is still teh awesome. In fact, as I got stuck in a "Die Hard" quoting loop last night, let me state right here and now that awesome is a measurable quantity, and the unit of measure for awesome in America is the McClane.

But in Europe, where they operate on the metric system, awesome is measured in Smeatons. And there are roughly 2.1 McClanes to a Smeaton (cause Smeaton's a really big guy).

That is all.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Movie Monday - Superman and the Mole Men

In the previous series of entries detailing Batman's films, we saw that the character's media history in his earlier days was a bit spotty. Introduced in 1939, he got his first on-screen appearance in the serial Batman in 1943. Six years later, he appeared in another serial, followed fifteen years later by a live-action TV series and movie, followed over twenty years later by the Tim Burton film that finally established the character as a media giant with legs.

Superman was different. Introduced in 1938 in Action Comics #1, he appeared three times on screen during the 40's, in a series of theatrical cartoons and two live-action serials. But it should also be noted that during that same span, he was appearing continuously on radio, five days a week, from 1942 through early 1949 (not counting an earlier syndicated series that ran from 1940 to 1942, or a couple of retoolings in 1949 and 1950). Batman also appeared on radio, but only as an occasional guest on Superman's show. Superman was a fixture of mass media in the 40's in a way that Batman simply was not.

So it should come as no surprise that Superman's return to the big screen after his second serial came sooner than Batman's. A lot sooner, in fact. It was only a year later, in 1951, that the feature film "Superman and the Mole Men" hit theaters.

The film starred George Reeves as Superman and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane, and served as the pilot for the subsequent TV series. And it's only fitting that it should be the product of the combined efforts of the folks who made the movie serials and the radio serial.

"Superman and the Mole Men" was written by Robert Maxwell (under the pseudonym of Richard Fielding), the writer of the radio series, and directed by Tommy Carr, who had co-directed the first Columbia serial. It opens with a brief nod to the Superman origin story, mentioning that Superman is the last survivor of an alien race who has come to Earth. This opening sequence features visuals that look much like the opening of the cartoon series.

The story opens in the town of Silsby, home of the world deepest oil well. Clark Kent and Lois Lane arrive to do a story on the well, only to learn that the well is being shut down. Not only that, but Kent notices that even the tools used to work on the well are being buried. Strange.

Must say at this point that Reeves cuts a dapper figure as Clark Kent. And though Lois berates Kent as cowardly, Reeves portrays Kent as a smart and no-nonsense fellow, much like Superman himself, a far cry from the warm and fuzzy portrayal of Kirk Alyn.

Later, Kent decides to visit the mine, but Lois, ever fearful of being scooped, elects to go with him.

Meanwhile, at the mine, strange creatures emerge from the well shaft--a couple of bald midgets wearing furry Dr. Denton's.

They creep up to the window of the night watchman's hut. Later, Clark and Lois arrive to find kindly old Pop Shannon dead of a heart attack. Clark calls the sheriff, then leaves to have a look around. Lois then spots the two creatures in the window and screams.

Later, when the sheriff and Corrigan, the well foreman, arrive, Lois tells them about the two creatures, and it should be noted that she is the source of all the trouble to come later. When asked what the creatures looked like, she describes them as beasts with mole bodies and human heads (which they were apparently supposed to look like per the script, but the make-up man couldn't bear to make them look so grotesque) and says, "Those creatures killed that poor old man, and they wanted to kill me."

So the sheriff and Lois head back to town, while Clark stays with Corrigan to wait for the coroner. And once they're alone, Clark asks why Corrigan really shut down the well and buried all the tools. Corrigan relates the story of how the samples brought up displayed increasing levels of flourescence, and how he worried that they were drilling through pure radium. When Clark suggests that the glow may be simple phosphorescence, Corrigan says he couldn't take the risk that it was otherwise, so he shut down the well. Then Clark notices that the oranges the night watchman had in his hut are glowing. The creatures have brought the radiation with them!

As Clark and Corrigan are hashing things out, the Mole Men are investigating the wonders of the surface world. They encounter sunflowers and a snake, then peer in a window at a little girl. And of course, the girl is not scared at all. One of the actors does this really perfunctory head tilt, like he's supposed to be curious, but isn't really feeling it. And then in a scene reminiscent of the original Universal "Frankenstein," they play with the girl.

Anyway, as Clark Kent is trying to stop the townsfolk from forming an angry mob, they are interrupted by a scream from the girl's mother, and everything falls apart.

An angry mob stampedes toward the little girl's house, grabbing whatever weapons are handy. One guy even breaks off a barber pole.

I don't see how he's going to scare the Mole Men with that, seeing how they're already bald, but whatever. Clark switches to Superman and flies ahead of the crowd to head them off. He tries to talk sense into them, saying that the girl and mother are unharmed, but the crowd, led by a troublemaker named Luke Benson, is not easily swayed. Luke and his friends use their bloodhounds to track the creatures.

Luke and his boys corner the Mole Men on a dam, and one of them is shot, but Superman catches him before he can fall into the water and contaminate the water supply with radiation. And in this early effects shot, we see the return of our old friend, Cartoon Animation, for the flying scene.

Then it cuts to a close-up, featuring George Reeves catching a dummy hanging from a fishing pole.

Superman flies the wounded Mole Man to a hospital as Luke Benson and his boys chase the other one.

We then see several scenes of the lonely Mole Man fleeing. He encounters a grizzled old hobo cooking a pot of beans on a fire, and though the man flees in terror at one glimpse of the Mole Man, not only is his appearance not scary, but we can clearly see the zipper running down the back of his footie pajamas, proving that this is an outfit, not his natural body. Anyway, the Mole Man is trapped in a shed, which Luke Benson burns down. But the Mole Man escapes through a floorboard, unnoticed by Benson and his men.

When Benson returns to town, he tells the sheriff that he has killed both Mole Men, but the sheriff informs him that the one his buddy shot is in the hospital. So Luke organizes a lynch mob to go seize the creature and kill it. But they are hindered by Superman, who likens them to Nazi stormtroopers, then starts throwing them around as he confiscates their guns.

Meanwhile, the Mole Man who escaped the fire has headed down the well shaft and returned with buddies. One of them carries an Electrolux vacuum cleaner with a funnel on the front as a ray gun. They head for the hospital to pick up their lost buddy. Superman intercepts them, and the one who has seen him before does an interpretive dance to tell his buddies that Supes is a good guy, since these creatures apparently can't vocalize at all.

But as Superman is fetching their buddy, Luke Benson shows up with a shotgun, and the Mole Men zap him with radium-filled paint balls or something. Superman leaps in front of the deadly ray, saving Luke's life, then carries the wounded Mole Man back to the well shaft, which the Mole Men climb down and blow up behind them. Their worlds are separate once more.

As a pilot for the show, it's not bad. The personalities of Lois and Clark are sharply defined, and Reeves makes an interesting lead. On the other hand, this makes the Atom Man serial look positively profligate with special effects. With the exception of the one super-catch and a couple of gags featuring prop guns, there's nothing super on display at all.

But one thing is different from the serials. When Superman takes off, he's actually lifted on wires, making for some dynamic take-off shots.

A few episodes into the first season of the series, an accident with the wires would cause the show to stop using them, and then Superman's take-offs would all be portrayed with a springboard and a quick cut.

The show would eventually run for about six years, and in another interesting nod to the serials, Phyllis Coates would be replaced as Lois Lane after the first season. Her replacement?

Noel Neill, who had played Lois Lane in both Columbia serials.

Next week, Movie Monday will be moving to, although there will be at least one more movie featured here sometime soon. See you there!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Out of the Vault - Rust #2

Another of the dozen or more small comics publishers with big dreams who crashed and burned in the 1980's was NOW Comics. NOW tried to establish themselves as a profitable company in the same way that others, like Comico, had tried before them: by producing comics based on licensed properties. In the case of NOW, they produced comics based on Speed Racer, The Terminator, and even Married... With Children.

But they also tried their hand at original properties, which is where Rust comes in. Rust, scripted by Fred Schiller from an "original story" by Steve Miller and Bill Harrison, tells the story of Scott Baker, a cop who is the victim of an industrial accident involving toxic waste or something. It coats his body with rock-hard "skin" and makes his touch toxic. And between his own misadventures and the machinations of the evil Benzodyne Corporation, which was apparently the origin of the toxic waste in question, his life goes downhill rapidly. He was kind of a low-rent cross between Swamp Thing and Concrete.

That's what I'm gathering from the second issue, anyway. As the issue opens, Scott gets a visit from a group of good-hearted street people, at least one of whom is a Vietnam vet. Scott then decides to go for a walk, where he seems to levitate some aluminum cans (?) while opining about how everything he touches either rusts or dies. At which point a couple carloads of gang bangers drives up and decides to hassle the freak. First they try pounding him with a baseball bat, and when that does nothing, they pull out guns and shoot.

Six guns fire, and seven guys die from the ricochets. It's seriously idiotic.

Anyway, there some other nonsense about the homeless people being people and not freaks, and there's some sort of subplot where Benzodyne is offering a reward for information about Rust. The homeless folks vow solidarity with their bud Scott, but $50,000 bucks is a lot of money.

Meanwhile, Scott's being broody in his trashed-out house, so he tosses his teddy bear Rupert into the river.

There's a few more pages of boring filler featuring the Chief of Police taking orders from Benzodyne and more soul-searching from the homeless about the reward. And then we see Scott playing with Rupert, who is looking seriously trashed and nasty after his float in the river or canal or whatever it was. No explanation about why Rust took him back.

So Scott's conteplating suicide when some folks from issue one show up--Sherm and Jessica, the former owners of a diner that got burned down, along with their daughter Cheryl, who thinks Scott is the greatest. They're homeless now (it's a theme, apparently) and need a place to stay. And since Cheryl thinks Rust is neat, they ask to stay in Scott's nasty hovel.

There's a review here of a later issue in which the reviewer thinks Cheryl is retarded or something, but I think it's just that Fred Schiller can't write little girls, because seriously. Toxic zombie teddy Rupert is not going to be enthusiastically received by any little girl.

The art is by John Statema who made a career out of filling in for better artists on books like Evangeline, Grimjack and Prime. He was also the subject of an odd on-line death hoax. Inks were by Bob Dvorak with muddy, muddy colors by Cygnet Ash.

Rust ran for seven issues, although you can probably tell from my comments above that I didn't stick around for them. And unlike other characters who went on to be revived at other companies or on-line, Rust never returned.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Splinter In My Mind's Eye

So there this gaming blog I sometimes read, and Jeff Rients was talking a while back about how different the Star Wars universe would look if you knew nothing about any of the films past the first one and all the retconning Lucas did. And a few days later, while it was still obviously on his mind, he mentioned Splinter of the Mind's Eye, the Star Wars sequel written by Alan Dean Foster and published in 1978, the year after "Star Wars" came out.

I didn't remember much about the novel except that I didn't much like it, so I reread it last week. And I still don't much like it.

The novel takes place on a planet called Mimban. Luke, Leia and the droids are on their way to a secret rebel meeting on a neighboring planet when Leia's Y-Wing fighter develops an engine malfunction and she sets down on Mimban to effect some quick repairs. Problem is, Mimban is a savage, mostly unexplored planet, and both Leia's ship and Luke's are irreparably damaged in the descent. Even worse, the settlement they thought was a repair station or scientific outpost is actually a secret Imperial mining facility. And the planet holds another secret, a fabled mystic gem called the Kaiburr Crystal that can magnify a person's ability with the Force.

According to Wikipedia, the novel was written as a proposed low-budget sequel should "Star Wars" perform as Lucas apparently expected and tank at the box office. There's even mention that Foster had a space dogfight sequence in the book that Lucas nixed because it would cost too much to film.

In other words, even though books have no effects budget, Foster was apparently obliged to write his to the budget of a TV show. So that, for instance, not only is there no space dogfight (leading Leia's Y-Wing to crash-land because of a coincidental and unidentified engine malfunction), but later scenes in an Imperial jail feature metal bars that disappear and reappear instantly, like most of the special effects on the Lost in Space TV series. Also, since Lucas apparently did not have Harrison Ford signed for a sequel yet, Han Solo does not appear in the book and is only mentioned in passing a couple of times.

There are also clear elements of sexual tension between Luke and Leia, though they don't go anywhere. It appears pretty clear that Lucas had not yet decided to make Leia Luke's sister. This is further supported by the fact that, though Leia fights Vader with Luke's lightsaber, she displays no Force sensitivity at all. The presence of the Kaiburr Crystal, which both Vader and Luke can sense pulling at them, doesn't affect her at all.

Not that I mind the fact that Luke and Leia appear to have a budding romance in this book. That's not my complaint with it at all, nor that it departs from later established canon. After all, I didn't like the book upon first reading, when there was no other canon.

So what didn't I like? A few things. Number one, it didn't really feel like "Star Wars." The scope of the story, limited almost completely to one swampy Dagobah-like planet, felt cramped and small compared to the sweeping interplanetary action of the movie. Also, although the first film built tension by intercutting often between parallel storylines--Luke and Ben trying to get to Alderaan, Vader and Tarkin interrogating Leia to find the rebel base--the book doesn't really do that. Luke and friends flee through the woods, knowing that Imperial troops are in pursuit, but the reader never sees the pursuit. It's kind of boring.

Number two, I didn't like the way Foster used Vader. Foster first sets up the local Captain-Supervisor of the mine as this bad-ass villain, then brings in Vader, but holds him back until the final confrontations. It felt kind of cheap and exploitative to have Vader, such a constant menacing presence in the film, reduced to a cameo walk-on in the sequel just so fans wouldn't feel cheated. If Vader's going to be the bad guy, bring him in early and let him do his thing. If not, then let the other bad guy be the bad guy. As it is, the villainy is spread too thin between two minor figures.

And yes, by "minor figure," I'm speaking of Vader, because he's a chump here. Another big problem I had with the book was the way Foster writes the Force. Taking heed of Kenobi's admonitions to "Let go your conscious self," Foster has Luke using the Force instinctively and unconsciously. Luke blacks out, and when he wakes up, people are telling him, "Wow that was awesome." And despite having only a few hours at most of instruction from Kenobi (on the Millenium Falcon from Tattooine to Alderaan), Luke faces Darth Vader, a Jedi Knight who's been using the Force longer than Luke has been alive, and beats him in a lightsaber duel. At one point. Luke even repels an energy sphere attack by throwing up his arms and closing his eyes like Lois Lane fainting at an imminent flying saucer collision. Please.

I also expected the MacGuffin to come into play in the end. Although I didn't really buy the idea that Luke could beat Vader on his own, I certainly was prepared to see Luke whip Vader's ass with the help of the Kaiburr Crystal, which doesn't even come into play until the fight is over. Halla the crazy woman makes off with Crystal during the fight, and neither Luke nor Vader really seem to care, even though the Crystal is the reason they were all there.

And worst of all, I hated the ending, in which Hin and Kee, the two faithful alien allies who supported Luke throughout the book and were pivotal to his success at several points, were basically forgotten and left to rot once Luke had what he wanted. Luke didn't try to save them with his magical healing crystal, nor did he even consider it. Once Vader was defeated, Luke didn't even offer a moment of regret for the loss of his friends. Instead, the book ends with everyone amused at Threepio's cluelessness. It's very weird and off-kilter.

But it is a fascinating look at how the "Star Wars" universe might have developed. Luke going to a swamp planet to develop his Force abilities is clearly a foreshadowing of Dagobah, with crazy Halla and her magic Force crystal standing in for Yoda. And the big battle between the Imperial soldiers and the native alien Coway tribe clearly scratches the same itch for Lucas that the Ewok battle in "Return of the Jedi" and the Gungan-Droid battle in "The Phantom Menace" did, with primitives pitting themselves against the most advanced technology and prevailing.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Movie Monday Supplemental - Parting Thoughts on Atom Man vs. Superman

So now that the second serial is over, what more is there to say about it?

First and foremost, of course, is that despite taking so much inspiration from the radio serial, this serial bears absolutely no plot relationship to one of the most popular and long-running storylines of the radio series, in which Superman fought Atom Man, the Nazi agent powered by a Kryptonite solution injected into his veins.

Second is that this series managed to jack up the spectacle by cheating as much as possible. By reusing as much effects footage as possible from the previous serial along with using stock footage of several natural disasters, the producers were able to pack every episode with action while saving up their money for the really big effects in the last few chapters: the flood, the flying saucers, the missile, the rocket ship. Between that and the futuristic menace of the teleporting villains, Atom Man vs. Superman feels a lot more super than the first serial.

Also, and this is pretty significant, this serial may be the only comic book adaptation of the serial era to actually use a villain from the comics. Captain Marvel, Captain America, Batman, and even Superman in his first outing battled generic serial master villains who had never appeared in the comics. And though Superman would next star in a long-running television series, not one villain from the comics appeared there. Brainiac, Luthor, Toymaker, Mr. Mxyzptlk: they were all ignored in favor of generic gangsters. Not counting any of the animated series, Superman would not face another villain from the comics onscreen until he faced Luthor again in the Richard Donner film we'll discuss in two weeks. So that was one significant thing this serial did right.

That being said, Kirk Alyn still makes an underwhelming lead. It's not just the way he moves, either. There are scenes where he's got this goofy grin on his face like he's not all there, and there are other scenes where he seems to be having trouble with his teeth or something; his mouth twists funny when he delivers his dialogue.

And that's not counting the inconsistencies in the writing, when the writers seem to forget that he's just as super when he's Clark Kent as when he's in costume as Superman. One of the cooler moments in the series is when Clark uses his super-thumb to dent a coin to make it look as if it was struck by a bullet. One of the dumber moments is when Clark spends 25 seconds changing clothes when a plane crash is imminent, just so he can rescue a fainted Lois and change back before she wakes up.

Not the mention all the times the writers simply invent new super-powers to get Superman out of a jam, like being able to divine the combination of a safe merely by spinning a dial or control an electric typewriter with the power of his ghostly mind. This wasn't unique to the movies, of course. They did it in the comics of the time as well. Superman gets cornered by Lois who's sure she has proved he is Clark Kent, and whoops, suddenly he has the power of Super-Ventriloquism! Nor was it unique to the 40's and 50's. Superman was still coming up with weird one-shot powers even in the films of the 70's and 80's, like ripping the "S" shield off his chest and using it to trap Ursa (but we'll get to that in a few weeks).

One other thing that becomes apparent is that, at the time, Superman was way cooler than Batman. I mean, since the late 80's, when first the Tim Burton movie and then the Bruce Timm animated series redefined Batman in the eyes of the viewing public, Batman has been perceived as this edgy, cool character while Superman was this boring whitebread straight arrow who only got any kind of attention at all because he could just do anything. Batman had the interesting origin, the psychological hang-ups, the cool gadgets, the epic villains, and the moody atmospherics. Superman was a farmboy who could fly. Yawn.

But back in the day, it was Superman who was by far the more interesting character of the two for audiences. I mean, compare these serials to the two Batman ones. Superman stopped fires and floods, got sent into space, bounced bullets off his chest, got zapped with heat rays, shot by missiles and electrocuted. Though both Luthor and the Spider Lady had a pretty shallow menu of plot options (announce your plans over police band radio, then capture Lois Lane to lure Superman into a trap), the chapter endings themselves featured a wide range of perils. By contrast, Batman and Robin were constantly getting into fistfights (that they usually lost), then running their car off a cliff. It got old.

And why was this true? Two reasons. Number one, despite the adage that Superman stories were intrinsically boring because Superman's only dilemma was figuring out who to hit, his powers gave the writers great flexibility in coming up with varied situations to throw him into. And more importantly, number two (cue sound of broken record), his supporting cast--the one developed for and lifted from the radio series--was more interesting. Lois, Jimmy and Perry formed a group dynamic of varied personalities that you just didn't get with Robin, Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, and whoever Batman's girlfriend was this week.

Which is why it was over 15 years between the second Batman serial and his next live-action appearance on a weekly television series, while for Superman, the transition was almost immediate.

But more on that next week.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Movie Monday - Atom Man vs. Superman, Chapters 12-15

This is it! The titanic conclusion to Atom Man Vs. Superman, the second Columbia serial from 1950, starring Kirk Alyn. And before we get into Chapter 12, "Atom Man Strikes," I must say I'm confused so far. I mean, I thought sequels were supposed to be bigger and more elaborate than their predecessors, but so far, this sequel has been cutting corners at every opportunity. I mean, even more than your usual serial. Reusing special effects, exploiting stock footage of natural disasters, and even inserting several minutes of Superman's origin from the previous serial into one chapter. What gives?

Speaking of exploiting stock footage, in the last chapter, Superman had headed upstate to rescue people from a stock footage flood. Then Lois, in an attempt to make an "epic of TV reporting," ended up trapped in the truck as rushing waters from a burst dam rushed down at her. As the new chapter opens, Superman swoops down and...

So that's where all the money went. Given the way the miniature truck flies, I'm guessing this miniature was not reused footage from some other movie but was built especially for this production. So Superman saves the truck and Lois, and for once, she's not smiling inappropriately seconds later. She actually seems to have a reaction to this near-death experience.

Superman notices the secret compartment inside the truck and asks Lois to keep an eye on it, then flies away. When Lois and her crew return to Metropolis, they win Luthor an award for awesome journalism and public service in the TV coverage of the flood, which I guess compensates him for the loss of the TV camera Lois abandoned. As soon as they leave his office, Luthor radios his headquarters. And he's no longer identifying himself as the Atom Man, but now using the call letters "XL." In fact, the whole Atom Man persona with the robe and the glittery mask never appears again. For the rest of the serial, it's just Luthor.

The next day, Lois and crew are doing man-on-the-street interviews again, while the thugs in the secret compartment use the special X-Ray viewer to read the combinations on safes inside stores in the area. Helluva zoom on that thing. Lois ends her live remote spot by sending the viewers "back to the main studio for the time signal." And I know TV news still does the same thing, occasionally giving the time, but wow, the way she says it sounds so formal and antiquated.

The next day, Lois becomes suspicious when she learns that three stores were robbed in locations where she had been doing her live interviews. She calls the Daily Planet to tip off Clark, but Jimmy says he's still upstate covering the flood.

Upstate, Clark is listening to an emergency radio call with the same cop who warned Lois's crew about the bursting dam. There's a fire in a chemical factory and there might be an explosion! Time for Superman to battle some more stock footage!

Superman flies over the burning stock footage factory and lands inside. And I must say, it's pretty cool that the animators had such an eye for detail that they added highlights to account for the light from the fire.

Switch to live action just long enough for Superman to grab a box conveniently labeled "Explosives" and Superman takes off again. And that wonderful eye for detail I just complimented? Not so much this time.

Lois goes back to Luthor's office for her next day's assignment, where she sees him tear a page off a notepad and put it in his pocket. So she surreptitiously swipes the notepad. But as she leaves, two thugs come in from the secret elevator and say they saw her swipe the pad. It has more safe combinations on it, so it must be retrieved.

The thugs chase Lois down the street, where she foils their pursuit by ducking around a pillar, then running into an insurance company where we encounter the Batman corridor!

I don't have screen grabs of the corridor from the other serial, but trust me, this is the same set used for the Norton/Markham building in Batman and Robin. I've missed you, old reused set. Anyway, after another tricky bit with a fire escape, Lois escapes into the Daily Planet building with the note, where she shows it to Clark and Jimmy. Now every schoolkid knows the way you read impressions on a notepad, right? The thing where you lightly color with a pencil lead across the surface of the paper? Lois, Clark and Jimmy have never heard of this trick. Clark suggests letting the photo department somehow try to read the impressions, then simply defaults to super-fill-in-vision.

Meanwhile, the thugs report that Lois got away, so Luthor does the only reasonable thing. He orders his thugs to use the Thermo-Ray to destroy the Daily Planet. The thugs drive out to the Planet building, where they open a panel in the roof and aim the Thermo-Ray... Hey!

It's not the same ray cannon from the previous serial, which was the reused Atomic Disintegrator from the first Batman serial. But it is the same prop as the Teleport Ray we've seen used throughout the serial whenever someone coin-teleports, only with a different mount and barrel.

Anyway, they start zapping the building with it, which causes sparks to fly and papers to burn. Clark changes to Superman and flies out to stop the menace, so the thugs turns the ray on him. He is stunned and falls from the sky onto an electricity generating station. Ouch.

But as Chapter 13, "Atom Man's Flying Saucers," opens, we see that Superman is merely stunned rather than killed. He gathers his wits and leaps back into the sky to fly in the window of Perry White's office, where he announces the danger is over. I have no idea how he thinks that. I mean, he just got zapped out of the sky by a heat ray, then electrocuted. The danger would appear to be far from over.

Back at the truck, it turns out that... the danger is over. As always happens when ray guns are used against Superman, the power has somehow reflected back to the gun, causing it to overheat and shoot sparks. So okay, Superman was right. But how did he know?

Superman points out the departing truck to the Planet gang, although for some reason, the truck's roof is solid, without the sliding panel the thugs used to shoot the Thermo-Ray from. Superman recognized FGD-Alpha standing outside the truck, so he knows they're the Atom Man's men, and the sheet of paper with the safe combinations on it prove Luthor's crooked (although it probably burned when the Thermo-Ray struck). Nevertheless, Superman believes he has enough evidence to haul Luthor in. He tells the Daily Planet folks to follow the truck while he flies to Luthor's office.

At the same time, though, Luthor has already been informed that the destruction of the Daily Planet was a no-go, so he decides to make himself scarce. He grabs some essential papers and tells his secretary that he has been called away "indefinitely"--he's such a considerate boss--then teleports to his cave. Superman's too late!

The thugs call in to Luthor that they're being chased by the police. Luthor orders them to ditch the truck, but leave the power circuit on or something so he can blow it up remotely. They follow orders, abandoning the truck and watching from cover as the police arrive with Lois and Jimmy. As Lois reaches for the door, Superman yells from the sky not to touch the truck. The police and reporters retreat just as the truck is exploding.

Superman then tracks the vibrations of the Destruct-o-Beam back toward Luthor's headquarters, causing the Destruct-o-Beam to (what else?) back up and begin sparking and smoking. Luthor decides he's going to have to abandon the mountain caves soon and use his spaceship to go into orbit (what spaceship? the one he never mentioned before but is almost finished building, apparently).

Back at the Daily Planet, Superman confers with Perry, Lois and Jimmy. He decides that the best way to locate Luthor's lead-lined lair is to have Clark Kent and Lois Lane do an aerial search in an attempt to draw a response from Luthor that would give away the location.

Now, I can see him suggesting Clark go; Clark would be safe from any attack. And I can see him suggesting Lois go; he could fly along and shadow her to make sure she was safe. But what possible reason could he have for suggesting they both go together? It makes no sense.

Anyway, Superman flies off, and Lois for the first time in any chapter of either serial throws a wistful look after him like she's pining for his love. When did Noel Neill decide to turn on the acting chops? And what about poor Jimmy? Oh well, after taking a cheap shot at Clark Kent's cowardliness, she goes out to the newsroom to hunt him up and take him flying. Moments later, they're in the sky over the hills, and Luthor isn't happy about it. So he orders a flying saucer be sent up to take care of them. The flying saucer (singular, despite the chapter title) is fearsome and deadly.

Okay, maybe not fearsome. But certainly deadly when it crashes right into the plane, blowing it up.

But like a lot of serial chapters, the opening of Chapter 14, "Rocket of Vengeance," takes us back in time a step. As the flying saucer approaches, brave, brave Sir Lois screams and faints, leaving Clark free to act. He runs to the back room of the plane to change clothes, then runs back up to the cockpit, grabs Lois, carries her back to the door (this airplane interior, btw, also appeared in Batman and Robin) and jumps out seconds before the saucer collides with the plane.

Got that? Lois not only faints, but faints a full 25 seconds before the collision. And Clark's the cowardly one. Or maybe it was bullet time.

Anyway, Lois comes to just as Clark's zipping up his pants (okay, no, but it would be funny), and Clark tells her that Superman saved them again. Lois asks Clark if he's jealous of Superman, but before Clark can answer, a cop pulls up, and it's the same damn guy, the cop who warned Lois and crew to flee the flood, then told Clark about the fire with the explosives (he has a very distinctive voice). Man, they got their money's worth out of this guy.

Lex Luthor's spaceship isn't ready yet, so he decides to bluff the police into backing off. He broadcasts on the police band that unless the police abandon their search, he's going to destroy the city in an earthquake from his Sonic Vibrator. He then arranges a brief demonstration, including many stock shots of urban destruction.

The Police Chief is in Perry's office debating how to handle this situation, and son of a bitch, the Chief's cigar is lit while poor Perry's sits on his desk, ignored.

Perry can't catch a break. There is a public outcry over the Luthor situation. The men of Metropolis demand the police comply with Luthor's demands so he doesn't turn the Sonic Vibrator back on, while the women are demanding he turn it on for just another minute, because they were so close...

Luthor threatens to destroy the Daily Planet building next, so Clark offers to take a look around outside and changes to Superman. The earthquake strikes, and Superman tries to save the Planet building by hugging it, but it doesn't work as well as it did for the bridge in chapter 1. The Police Chief accedes to Luthor's demands, and the earthquake stops.

Luthor orders that his men redouble their efforts to finish the spaceship, and after he leaves, one of the men mentions that Luthor's starting to go off the deep end. Alber replies that Luthor is the greatest genius in the world and "we're in it with him to the end." Somebody has a crush (shameless plug).

Superman refuses to give up the search, however, as do Lois and Jimmy. They decide to drive around the Culver Hills to search for Luthor's HQ while Superman searches from the air. Luthor is at his desk when he is informed of the searchers. And Luthor's desk has an ashtray on it, which is funny, because Luthor has never been shown smoking. The good guys, like Perry White and the Police Chief, smoke, but Luthor doesn't. That would be completely reversed nowadays.

Anyway, Luthor orders that his men deploy the Atomic Projectile, and here we have yet another bit of reused footage from the previous serial, as the "Atomic Projectile" is the same weapon as the Kryptonite Missile the FGD fired at Superman in the previous serial. Like before, the missile is fired, and Superman catches it and throws it back at them. The two thugs duck into a cave, and the explosion seals them in.

Now Luthor's angry, so he gets on the police band again and says that since the search is still proceeding, he is going to destroy Metropolis with a giant rocket. Huh, launching the rocket uses the exact same controls as the Sonic Vibrator. Who'da thought?

So after a stock footage launch, cartoon Superman jumps onto the cartoon rocket. Back in the studio, Kirk Alyn sits on a rocket mock-up and makes faces as smoke blows past him. Perry orders Jimmy to take a picture, so he grabs the camera and takes it to the window, then drops it and says "You can take it yourself" before running away. And I've got to say this for Tommy Bond. He may have had a grotesque little pushed-in face, and his character may have been an incompetent foil for Superman, but he was the only actor in the entire series to get me to laugh intentionally. Clark's and Lois's attempts at humor were invariably lame, but Jimmy made me laugh a few times. He could sell a joke.

Perry grabs the camera, but doesn't take the picture either, as he is frozen in terror at the sight of the rocket heading right for him. Could this be the end?

Not quite. We have finally arrived at the final chapter, "Superman Saves the Universe," which is a pretty grandiose title. I mean, so far, all Superman has done is foil the plans of one admittedly brilliant inventor , but mediocre crook. It's quite a leap to jump from that to saving the universe. I'm guessing the title might be a slight exaggeration. Let's see.

After making faces doesn't work, Superman decides to use his cape as a sail to turn the rocket off its course.

And what do you know? It works! The rocket flies over the Daily Planet building and out to sea, where it collides with some stock footage of an A-bomb test. Luthor's gang start to panic, because there's nothing to stop Superman from coming after them now. But Luthor says he still has a trick up his sleeve and cuts loose with a brief, but pretty creditable attempt at a crazy evil laugh.

Later, a package is delivered to Lois, with a note that says, "From an Admirer." Lois opens it and oops, it's another teleport coin. And it's not even her birthday. She disappears and materializes in Luthor's cave. He informs her that she is fortunate in that she may end up being the only surviving human woman. Of course, looking at the guys Luthor intends to be the only surviving human men, "lucky" is probably not the word she'd use. The only halfway good-looking one is Alber, and he only has eyes for Luthor.

Luthor orders Alber to take the spaceship into orbit while he sets the Sonic Vibrator to destroy Metropolis. And since Alber's not there to throw the switch, some other nameless henchman does it. Seriously, this guy has not appeared in the serial at all up to this point. It's probably just a random guy from some other serial that they just cut in there.

Of course, before Luthor can start the earthquake, he has to brag about it on the police band radio. Then the vibrations start. Buildings fall and women scream, perhaps even in fear. Superman saves a few people here and there, then heads for the mountains to join the cops in the search for Luthor's machine.

When Luthor learns that Superman is just outside, he decides to call in an earthquake on his own position. FGD-Alpha and sidekick, realizing that a world in which the only woman is Lois Lane is not exactly a fantasy come true either, rebel and try to stop Luthor and shut down the machine.

Meanwhile, outside, Superman is climbing the hillside when a big boulder rolls down toward him. He nimbly steps aside, watching it roll by to crush the cops (okay, we don't actually see it crush the cops, but they were right behind him).

Luthor pulls a gun and manages to keep the henchmen at bay long enough to beam himself and Lois up to the ship. Yes, this cheap serial may have been the first screen depiction of a man beaming up to a spaceship. Put that in your pipe and look for a match to light it with.

Superman arrives seconds later, ignores the useless synthetic Kryptonite and knocks out the henchmen, then flies up after the spaceship. He catches up with it moments later and leaps in through a hole in the floor!

What the hell is that? Is that supposed to be, like, the moon pool in a submerged platform or something? Whatever. Superman grabs Luthor and Lois and leaps back out of the ship, leaving henchmen Alber and Baer, who die when the ship is hit by a meteor and explodes seconds later. Wow, Luthor's lucky Superman arrested him.

Superman drops Lois and Luthor off in Perry White's office so the Planet can get the reward for the capture or something. And later, as Clark and Lois discuss how everything is resolved, Jimmy comes in with a little box of Luthor's Craptonite. Lois immediately opens it and holds it up to Clark's face, not having heard the news that it has lost its mojo. Clark is unaffected and Lois's suspicions are once again proven silly. As they leave the office, Perry searches his pockets for a match to light his cigar and finally finds one. He strikes the match, and it malfunctions, hissing and shooting off sparks. After 15 chapters, the gag finally pays off. Ha!

The End. Finally.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Out of the Vault - The Scorpion #3

In the mid-70's, Marvel Comics founder Martin Goodman started up a new comics company called Atlas Comics. The company attracted a lot of big-name talent thanks to generous rates, secured nationwide newsstand distribution and put out a flurry of interesting, if derivative, titles. It folded within a year, with most of its 23 titles running fewer than 4 issues. You can read the entire story here, if you're interested.

But one phenomenon occurred as the company was flailing: what is referred to on Wikipedia as the "Third Issue Switch."Basically, publisher Martin Goodman demanded that several titles be changed to become more like Marvel, because he knew that Marvel titles sold well. The issue pictured here, The Scorpion #3 cover-dated July 1975, is one example of the switch.

You see, the Scorpion, as created by Howard Chaykin (who has made appearances in Out of the Vault before, and will again), was a 30's era pulp-style man of action, an immortal hero-for-hire named Moro Frost who fought crime with fists and pistols. But Chaykin left the character after two issues and a new team was brought on board.

Writer Gabe Levy and artist Jim Craig begin their mission to modernize and Marvelize the character by killing him off on the first page. Moro Frost is shot down by Nazis over Italy, though no body is ever found. Thirty years later, The Artist Formerly Known as Moro Frost is now crusading journalist David Harper, editor and publisher of the Daily Times. By night, he fights crime as The Scorpion!

Having explained away the changes on page one, Levy and Craig begin the story proper on page two, as a rabbi and his daughter prepare for Sabbath. But suddenly, armed intruders break in, wearing very familiar outfits.

Yeah, I know the caption says "the familiar Gestapo uniform," but the uniforms themselves look more like agents of Marvel's Hydra. But even that is not what prompted me to scan this panel. The daughter's face on the right is rendered in a very familiar style, and it's not that of Jim Craig, whoever he is. That is totally a Jim Mooney face; his style is unmistakeable (Mooney was a long-time comics artist who worked on, among other things, Omega the Unknown, featured in the very first Out of the Vault). Mooney apparently inked the issue without credit.

The Nazis, led by a Red Skull-type figure named the Golden Fuhrer, kidnap the rabbi with the intention of forcing him to resurrect the dead leaders of the Third Reich. The rabbi protests that even if he could, he would refuse to help Nazis. So the Nazis go back and kidnap his daughter to pressure the rabbi into helping them.

Why not just kidnap both at once? Because then the daughter, who just happens to be a reporter for the Daily Times, would not be able to bring the Scorpion into the story. Before she is kidnapped, Sara pays a visit to David Harper, who is wrestling with the state of the world.

A little historical perspective: President Richard Nixon had just resigned the year before as a result of the Watergate investigation. And because the President had used the CIA to facilitate the cover-up, the CIA itself fell under increased scrutiny, which brought more disturbing details to light over the next couple of years.

So having David Harper fume about the "fascistic" CIA was just lazy shorthand for "he cares deeply about the state of the world." Although you have to wonder, if he's powerful and important enough that he can just have his secretary call up the President on the spur of the moment, why is he wasting his time putting on tights to fight crime?

Then again, we don't ever see him actually talking to the President. Maybe the President won't take his call. Maybe he's just thought of as a muckraker or a crank. Maybe he's simply delusional to think he can just give the President a stern talking to and suddenly, the CIA will be fixed.

But for now, he listens to Sara's story about Nazis and advises her to let the police handle it. He also plants a tracking device in her purse to keep tabs on her in case she ignores his advice. She returns home, having fulfilled her plot function, and is promptly kidnapped by the Hydra-Nazis, dropping her purse.

Meanwhile, the rabbi, who really can't resurrect the dead, decides that his only option is to play along and pretend to resurrect the men, while actually using his magical powers to summon forth a golem he's been building in his basement (he's been worried about neo-Nazis, you see, and he was right).

Back at the paper, David Harper checks his tracker to see that Sara is at her home. He decides to drop by in costume anyway, and we get our first glimpse of the new Scorpion in action. Does this remind you of anyone?

The Scorpion arrives at Sara's house to find her purse on the pavement outside. After briefly comparing his bugging skills to those of the bungling Watergate plumbers (yes, again--what can I say? this was just part of the national consciousness then), the Scorpion wonders how to find Sara and her father when the golem bursts out of the house. The Scorpion tries to stop the thing, but it is too strong, and soon, he is helpless in its grip. But instead of killing him, the golem transmits an image into his mind, of the sewage to energy converter in the basement of the World Trade Center (which was also fairly new at the time, the second of the towers having been completed only four years before). The golem then tosses the Scorpion aside and takes the subway tunnels to the WTC complex.

The Scorpion races ahead and starts fighting Hydrazis as the Golden Fuhrer rants ineffectually. When the golem shows up, controlled by a mental link with the old rabbi, things get messy.

These panels illustrate what's good and bad in the art for this issue. On the one hand, the figures in the bottom panels are stilted and the layout's a little off. On the other hand, I really like the panels at top right where the Golden Fuhrer's being dragged away. I love Mooney's inks on that outstretched arm.

Anyway, the Golden Fuhrer, about whom we learned nothing interesting, dies not with a bang nor a whimper, but a splat. And then the golem smashes open the sewage pipes, causing the underground complex to flood. The Scorpion saves the rabbi and his daughter and then swings away to spend one panel contemplating intolerance. A note at the bottom of the panel says to look for the next issue on June 1st (newsstand comics generally came out a couple of months in advance of the cover date), but it was not to be. This was the Scorpion's final adventure.

But in an irony to end all ironies, the character survived in another form. Not the generic Batman-Spiderman clone created to make the character more like a Marvel comic, but the original 30's adventurer created by Howard Chaykin. Chaykin renamed the character Dominic Fortune and took him to, you guessed it, Marvel Comics. At around the same time as the Scorpion's final issue was coming out, or not long after, Dominic Fortune made his first appearance in the black-and-white magazine Marvel Preview.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ninja Robot Super Battle

Fists and feet are flying at Hero Go Home this week, featuring not only a fun chapter, but my favorite Easter Egg so far. Go check it out here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Game Break

You may have noticed that there was no Big Game Wednesday today. It turns out that due to the new job I'm taking a forced break from my weekly game, and since I had reached the end of the California stories, it seemed like a good place to break for a while altogether. I'm having to take inventory of my current blogging activities and decide how best to maintain in the future.

The big question mark I'm dealing with now is herogohome. There's not a lot of traffic there, which is understandable, because there's not a huge flow of content. With only one weekly chapter of about 2500 words, plus one small Extra on Tuesdays, it's just not active enough to become a habit-forming destination.

But I can't really do more than I'm doing over there, because of all the content I'm committed to over here. Movie Mondays and Out of the Vault take up a huge amount of time and energy during the week, which keeps me from being able to commit to any new on-going features over at herogohome.

So, since the bulk of Movie Mondays and Out of the Vault are superhero related, I'm contemplating moving both of those features over to herogohome, to drive more traffic there and make the site a better value. I would then save this blog more for commentary and non-superhero related stuff, which means that I would update this one less frequently.

I haven't made a decision yet, but I've got to start drawing and retaining traffic if I want to be able to maintain the site. I'm going to have to pay to renew it at the beginning of the year, so anything I do needs to be done quickly.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Something Different

Today's Extra over at Hero Go Home is something a little different, and it was a lot of fun to put together. I'll probably end up doing more like it in the future. We'll see.

The job is okay, although the hours are shorter than I'd hoped so far. One thing that surprises me is how sore I am. I'm not doing the stockroom thing like I was before, so the job is far less strenuous. But I am on my feet for several hours at a time, and given just how inactive I've been for most of the year (between the very sedentary desk job I had for most of the first half of the year, plus all the chair-time I've put in creating features for the two blogs, plus just stupid stuff like playing games on Facebook), my body wasn't ready for it. It's a sad reminder that I'm approaching 50 and my body, never very fit to begin with, doesn't bounce back as quickly as before.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Movie Monday - Atom Man vs. Superman, Chapters 8-11

Here begins Part 3 of our extensive recap of 1950's Atom Man vs. Superman. And in the tradition of Batman and Robin (and since it's Saturday night and I don't begin my first official day on the new job until 3:30 tomorrow afternoon), I'm going to designate this episode as the official Atom Man vs. Superman drinking game. For the sake of self-preservation, I'm not going to drink a whole shot every time I drink, but just take a swallow from this Nyquil I've mixed up (vodka, Chambord, Blue Curacao, and Grenadine--It's purple and really tastes like Nyquil).

So, the ground rules: Drink when the narrator mentions that Superman is "once more" using his X-Ray Vision. Drink when a sequence reuses footage from the previous serial, or when it uses stock footage from a real disaster. Drink when Jimmy is knocked out. Drink when Lois smiles inappropriately. Drink when Perry White can't find a match to light his cigar. Drink when Luthor announces his plans on police band radio. Drink when the Planet plants a fake story. Drink when either Superman or Luthor recognizes a trap, then decides to walk right into it. I could come up with more, like when Superman invents a new power to solve his current problem or when they reuse sets or props from other serials, but those eight will do.

So, when we last saw Superman, he was being dumped into the back of a fake ambulance after being knocked out by Luthor's fake kryptonite. As Chapter 8, "Into the Empty Doom," opens, the ambulance wails away, watched by a mysterious stranger. Could it be the deadly Professor Stone, come to be a real villain?

Nah, just an Innocent Bystander, apparently (gratuitous plug).

Once in Atom Man's secret cave headquarters, Superman is revived and forced to stand under the Main Arc. As Atom Man is preparing to send Superman into the Empty Doom, he asks if Superman has any last words. Superman channels his Inner Arnie and says, "I'll be back."

After Superman has disappeared, Atom Man begins to remove his mask. Will we finally see on-screen proof that Luthor is Atom Man, or will the director continue to play coy? Coy.

Back at the Daily Planet, Lois and Jimmy realize that both Superman and Clark are missing. Then Lois has a frustrating bout with her "darn newfangled typewriter," so Jimmy plugs it in for her. Yes, this will be important later.

With Superman out of the way, a new crime wave strikes Metropolis, and though ghostly Superman tries to stop it, he can't actually do anything.

Meanwhile, Perry White has also noticed the missing Clark, and decides this means that Clark Kent=Superman. He orders Lois to write up the story, which Lois surprisingly balks at. Apparently, all those times she tried to prove Clark was Superman, she was just a dog chasing cars. She heads out to her desk, and Perry searches for a match. DRINK!

So Lois heads out to start on the story. Ghostly Superman tries to grab the paper out of her typewriter, but fails. I think they meant him to seem insubstantial, but the film is misaligned, so he's clearly grabbing several inches to the side. The Empty Doom screws up your depth perception!

She finishes the story and hands it in, but before Perry can get the front page replated, Clark calls in to say he's on the trail of a hot story. Turns out Jimmy Olsen can imitate Clark's voice perfectly, almost as if Kirk Alyn were doing a voiceover. Jimmy and Lois flirt a little afterward, because there are still flashes of romantic chemistry between the two. I wonder if Noel Neill and Tommy Bond ever hooked up off the set?

Suddenly, Lois's typewriter starts typing by itself. Superman has apparently visited that creepy old ghost in the subway, because he can now concentrate his superpowers to move the keys of Lois's electric typewriter. He tells Lois that Atom Man's HQ is in Cave Mountain (the same one where they found "bare rock walls" before). He tells her to go to the police, but she just grabs Jimmy and heads there herself. She even channels her inner action hero by knocking out a guard with her purse.

But once in the cave, she and Jimmy are caught by Atom Man and his thugs. He gives Lois a sporting chance, telling her one of two switches will free Superman, while the other will doom him forever. She tries reading the thugs' faces while reaching for the switches, but one thug stays stone-faced, the other smirks no matter which switch she contemplates, and Atom Man is just a glittery helmet. So she chooses lady AND tiger and throws both at once.

BOOM! goes the Chapter 9, "Superman Crashes Through!"

Lois and Jimmy are knocked out by the blast. Atom Man orders his thugs to dispose of the bodies. So they drag Lois and Jimmy outside, where they run into a couple of repairmen from the electric company. Atom Man has apparently been tapping into power lines illegally, the fiend. The thugs learn not to mess with the power company. These guys obviously belong to the union, because they beat the crap out of the thugs, who run away. And once again, when the union toughs explore the cave, they only find bare rock walls.

Back at the Daily Planet, Superman types another ghostly message to Lois with the power of his crotch.

When Perry sees the message, he phones up a friend at the press association and says he needs help. Soon, headlines appear that Superman has returned from the Empty Doom and will appear on television live to prove it. Luthor doesn't believe it, but he turns his fancy big-screen TV on anyway.

We see Superman stop a couple of thugs in footage reused from the previous serial. DRINK! Is Superman really back?

No, it's just a fake story planted at Superman's request--DRINK!--abetted by a television station (not Luthor's) showing old newsreel footage of Superman's exploits.

But Luthor wants to be sure, so he sends one of his henchmen into the Empty Doom to take a look around and see if Superman's still there. Which of course, he is. There's a chase in space!

Superman catches the thug and tosses him away into oblivion, then rides down the beam back to Earth. One of Luthor's thugs pulls out the synthetic Kryptonite, but it has lost its potency over time. Superman slaps it out of the thug's hand, then knocks Atom Man's head clean off!

DAMN, Supes is hardcore! Oh, it's okay. It's just a robot (convenient). Later, Clark Kent shows up at the Daily Planet, claiming he was saved from the Empty Doom by Superman. He and Perry cook up a plan to prove Luthor is Atom Man.

Perry chews Lois out in front of the entire newsroom, so Lois quits and goes to work for Luthor's TV station. On her first day, doing man-on-the-street interviews for the cameras, there's a robbery in a nearby jewelry store. Clark and Jimmy run off after the robbers, while Lois hands her mike off to a random bystander and steals the Planet car to give chase. Thugs shoot the tire out, and Superman has to stop the car from crashing. Lois gets out, thanking him while smiling as if nothing has happened (DRINK!), and Superman says, apropos of nothing, "You can thank Clark Kent." For what, exactly?

Meanwhile, Jimmy has chased the thugs to a trainyard, where he gets his foot caught as a train approaches. He's doomed! Doomed, I tell you!

Oh, look, Chapter 10, "Atom Man's Heat Ray." Wow, we don't seem to be drinking much so far. The opening theme music has changed slightly for some reason. And Superman once more stops a train instantly without derailing it. But while he's busy saving Jimmy, the thugs coin-teleport away. Clark and Jimmy suspect it was no accident that the robbery happened so close to one of Luthor's TV trucks, or as Clark says, "Luther's" TV truck.

Luthor suspects the same thing and pledges to help catch the crooks. He hires a couple of mooks to get caught robbing a payroll trailer the next day.

Lois visits the Daily Planet, where it's revealed that her quitting was all a ruse. Only now,Lois thinks Luthor is telling the truth. Unfortunately, a thug standing outside the door overhears and tries to blackmail them. He orders Clark to open the safe. Clark tries to fight, but is knocked through the door to Perry's office. Jimmy is knocked out, too. DRINK!

Clark changes to Superman and confronts the thug. The thug shoots, but Superman just lets the bullets bounce off his chest. And looking at his smile, I'd guess he's been drinking a lot more than I have. Plus, he decides to ricochet one of the bullets off his hand, knocking a light fixture down on the thug's head. Ouch!

Superman races out and changes back to Clark. When Lois finds him out on the window ledge, he gives the lamest excuse in the history of lame Clark excuses, which is not something I say lightly.

The next day, the mooks and FGD-Alpha rob the payroll trailer. The mooks get caught, but Alpha flees, pursued by Clark, Lois and Jimmy. Alpha calls Luthor, who tells him to let himself be seen, then lead them into the trap. He lets the trio see him, then ducks into a doorway. As the three reporters enter the room, Alpha hides behind a crate marked "Rubber Life Raft" and coin-teleports away. A steel door slides down to trap the three reporters, and then Luthor pumps in poison gas.

Now, I know I'm not a brilliant criminal mastermind or anything, but it seems kind of counter-productive to me to set up a fake robbery to prove my innocence, only to kill the reporters who were set up to be the witnesses.

Oh, well, who cares? Welcome to Chapter 11, "Luthor's Strategy." Glad to know he has finally come up with one. And I'm still (mostly) sober, darn it.

Clark changes to Superman and inhales all the gas in the room. Then he punches a hole in the steel door and blows the gas outside. He forces the steel door open and carries Jimmy and Lois outside onto a sidewalk covered with dead pigeons and passers-by (okay, not really, but that would be funny).

Later, Clark and Jimmy try to convince Perry that the entire scheme is a big scam being pulled by Luthor to divert suspicion away from him. Perry toys with his cigar and says he doesn't believe it. Could we be about to drink?

Nope, it cuts away to two of Luthor's thugs in a TV truck outside listening in. Drink denied! They report the conversation to Luthor, who is unhappy that Kent is so smart. Funny how Clark is so smart while Superman is so stupid. In order to throw Clark off the trail, Luthor gives a press conference in which he displays letters he claims to have received from Atom Man, threatening him. And then Atom Man's voice sounds in the room and stuff starts blowing up!

Notice Lois on the left, wearing a Flash Gordon-looking outfit. She's practically a superhero herself in that dress. BTW, is it drink-worthy if it's Luthor planting the fake story in the Planet? I think so. DRINK!

Back at the Planet, Clark is telling Perry he's still not convinced of Luthor's innocence when Jimmy rushes in with a teletupe (sorry, teletype) story about a lfood (sorry, flood) upstate. Cue the stock footage! DRINK! Okay, maybe I got a little buzz going.

Lois and her cameraman set up to film, while Superman flies around sving people from hte stock footage. Look, more crates marked "Rubber Life Raft." They actually have a purpose this time, tohugh, as Superman uses them to save people from the rising waters.

Then a cop drives up to Lois's crew and tells them to clear out because the dam's about to burst. The men want ot leave, but Lois offers this rousing sentiment: "Let's make this an epic of TV reporting." Not quite a St. Crispen's Day speech, but what do you want on this budget?

So the dam bursts nad Lois's crew flee to higher ground (it appears to only be about a foot higher, but still...), but Lois stays womanning the camera until hte water is rushing down upon her, at which point she leaps into the truck, and can't get it started.


To Be Concluded Next Week!