Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bold Fashion Choices--The Fox!!

One of the best things about heroes with a poor fashion sense? They can get better.

Take poor Paul Patton, "former all-around athlete at Penn State." Apparently he wasn't good enough an athlete, all-around or not, to make it in the bigs in any sport. So, naturally, he winds up as a newspaper photographer.

Sadly, Paul wasn't an all-around photographer. He never got good pictures, and while on assignment in West Virginia, he allowed star reporter/potential girlfriend Ruth Ransom to get kidnapped by the Klan (I guess with a name like Ransom, she should have seen that one coming, eh?).

But Paul has a solution to both problems--become a super-hero with a camera in his costume!! First he invents a new kind of camera...

The designs the costume around said camera...

...and straps himself in!

You know, it's only 1940, but Paul sorts kicks Peter Parker's ass here in the "take pictures of yourself doing super-heroics" category.

So, surely this brilliant scheme is accompanied by a dazzling costume for The Fox. Right, Paul? Right??

You have got to be kidding me!!!

No, he's serious.

Even by the laxer Archie hero standards...that's a sucky costume.

Seriously, he looks like an escaped mascot from a college football game, or a refugee from a children's television show. It would be considered crappy even if it were a Halloween costume!!

And that mask!!

But even the most serious sins of all, fashion sins, can be redeemed. It took a few months, but eventually Paul managed to come with with something a wee bit sleeker and dynamic looking:

But even in that tight costume...

...he still had the camera going!!

Call the Pulitzers...AND Mr. Blackwell!!

Before is from Blue Ribbon Comics #4 (1940). After is from Blue Ribbon Comics #18 (1941).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Modest Proposal--Damn The Numbers, Full Speed Ahead!

Last week at the Fan Expo '11, members of a Marvel panel were questioned repeatedly about non-ending stream of re-numberings and re-launches. Among other speakers, Matt Fraction replied:

If someone saw the Iron Man movie, and looked at the comics and saw Iron Man #489, that will intimidate them.

So that's the world Matt Fraction lives in: a consumer is motivated enough to go into a store looking for an issue of Iron Man, but they're NOT motivated enough to overcome their fear of large numbers. "AIIEEEEEE, it's #489, run, save yourselves!!!"

It should also be noted that this is coming from a writer whose Iron Man leaped from #33 to #500 to #500.1 withing a two-month period, so it sure seems as if Matt is slamming his own company. And of course, Marvel has arbitrarily jumped up hundreds of issue numbers in recent years on Incredible Hulk and Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four and Captain America and Thor in the past few years, so Mr. Fraction is obviously in deep disagreement with Marvel's own marketing department.

What do I think of the theory? Let me put it this way: virtually every single person working in the comic industry today started reading comics with big issue numbers (including Matt Fraction). Virtually every single person buying comic books today started by reading and buying high issue numbers. Somehow, all of us became creators and fans, and weren't intimidated. Either every potential reader today is a dumber, more fearful creature than we were back in the day, or the theory is a load of fetid dingo kidneys.

Meanwhile, constant re-launches and new #1's surely are no less intimidating for a fan. Picture Fraction's hypothetical potential fan who walks into a store, and fearing high numbers, asks for Iron Man #1. Now picture that fan's reaction when the clerks asks if he means 1968, or 1996, or 1998, or 2005, or 2008, or...Yes, that's much less intimidating.

And don't get me started on zero issues or 1,000,000 issues or -1 issues or 1/2 issues or...

No, it seems to me that if you truly believe that high numbers are deterrents to new readers, re-numbering or re-launching just makes things worse. The real question is--why use issue numbers at all?

If you go to a newsstand, look at the magazine section. How many monthly or weekly periodicals display issue numbers on their covers? Damn few (but congratulations to Rolling Stone on making it to issue #1138!!). Some will list it on the table of contests of indicia (People Magazine is on Volume 79, no. 6?? Hurray!!).

But we all know that nobody, and I mean nobody, refers to any of these periodicals by by an issue number. When cited in the press or research, no one says "Time Magazine, Volume CLXII no. 23." They say the "August 26, 2011 issue of Time." No one reminisces about issue #763 of Playboy; they remember the centerfold from the June 1998 issue. And even those magazines that do put issues numbers on the cover are never referred to by those numbers. No one knows what Maxim #492 was; they will know if you ask about the September 2011 issue, though.

I'm sure there's some reason, some historical accident that caused comic books, and comic books almost alone amongst periodicals, to emblazon their covers with huge issue numbers, and to be identified in discussions primarily by those issue numbers. I'll leave that research paper to someone else.

But it clearly didn't have to be that way. Take, for example, Justice League Of America #1 (1960):

Look closely there, kiddies--you won't find an issue number anywhere on that cover. DC believed at the time that new titles would scare away readers (and more importantly, newsstand vendors), so they left the #1 off the cover. Hell, it was a common practice for DC to leave of the "#1" on their early Silver Age debuts:

Yes, I know, that seems like Bizarro World-marketing in 2011...

And yet the world continued to spin on its axis. The issue sold, the series sold, and the lack of a prominent issue number did nothing to hurt the books collectability.

So if--IF--you believe that high issue numbers, or issue numbers in general , are a barrier to new readers (and I don't believe that for a minute)...if the Big Two seriously believe that, than why not dispense with issue numbers all together? I don't see that referring to Fantastic Four #170 as the May 1970 issue of FF would be of any detriment to anybody. For weekly or semi-monthly comics? Put the full date. A July 17, 2009 issue of Trinity would smell just as sweet as Trinity #36.

Wouldn't that solve the "intimidation" problem, DC and Marvel? No more scary numbers, just dates.

So, the ball's in your court, comic companies. You can continue to talk smack about your own product (and then act surprised when new customers don't come storming in); you can continue to jerk current readers around while erecting more barriers to new readers with constant re-numbering/re-launches; or you can do something to actually fix the "problem," and just drop the issue numbers altogether.

I call your bluff. Your move.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Manic Monday Bonus--In The Days Before Line Extensions

CORRECTED: A house ad in Iron Man Annual #5 (1982)(click to embiggen):

"All four titles"??? All FOUR titles? You mean that in 1982, Iron Man and Cap and Thor and the Avengers had only 4 titles between them??

Man, no wonder my wallet seemed fuller back in those days...

Manic Monday--The World's Hippest Landlady

The Stranger has come to Earth for the first time, and he needs a pad to crash in!!

Damn, that woman can sling the slang!!

From X-Men #11 (1965)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Rang-A-Tang Would Kill At Charades

It has come to our attention that not enough of you are properly impressed with Rang-A-Tang the Wonder Dog. Why, I've got a paltry ZERO votes for his Friday Night Fight over at Spacebooger's crib so far!!

So, allow me to re-emphasize for you just why Rang-A-Tang is so special.

In a true Scooby Doo plot writ 3 decades early, someone is staging a bunch of accidents to cause the collapse of Mammoth Pictures studio. Whoever could it be?

With our decades of hindsight, it's obvious that the arrogant, beret-wearing, pipe-smoking twit is the guilty party, right? Perhaps not so obvious in 1940, tough...

Anyhow, Rang-A-Tang is the have actually seen the culprit in the flesh. But dogs can't talk, so the perp is in no danger, right?

WRONG. This is Rang-A-Tang the Wonder Dog:

Scooby Doo, you're not fit to eat Rang-A-tang's poop!!

BONUS: In the climactic showdown...

...Rang-A-Tang kills his ass!!

Rang-A-Tang 2, Scooby Doo ZERO.

FACT: You do NOT $%^&* with Rang-A-Tang The Wonder Dog!!!!!

From Blue Ribbon Comics #5 (1940)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Self-Awareness Saturday--Grounded, The Rebuttal

Paul Cornell's two-panel reply to the concept of the Grounded storyline:

Really, couldn't someone hold told that to JMS a year ago?

From Action Comics #904.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Night Fights--Rang-A-Tang Style!!

Well, since I've grown tired of waiting for Spacebooger to declare an all-animal round of Friday Night Fights, I've got to take matters into my own hands!

If you've read this blog long enough, you know that one of the most important rules in the universe is that you do not %^&* with Rang-A-Tang The Wonder Dog!! This week, we'll learn that even the king of beasts must bow to Rang-A-Tang's powers!!

Rang-A-Tang and his "master" are visiting a Hollywood set, when danger strikes!!

BAM!! The mighty lion, king of all beasts--beaten by Rang-A-Tang without a single blow!! Even Simba would not dare not mess with RANG-A-TANG, THE WINDER DOG!!!!

I'm sure Spacebooger is now considering making the next bout all animals...

Joe Blair and Ed Smalle show why Rang-A-Tang is the true king of all beasts in Blue Ribbon Comics #5 (1940).

Now, there's one very good reason you should vote for my fight this week. Why? BECAUSE RANG-A-TANG SAYS YOU SHOULD. And you don't want to make him vote.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

If They Were Smart, They Wouldn't Be Criminals

The world's greatest private detective, Crime Smasher, walks into a deadly trap set by underworld goons:


Now, this Crime Smasher guy is something of a mystery. Late in his original career, the Fawcett hero Spy Smasher changed his name to Crime Smasher, and started smashing crooks instead of spies.

This story is from Charlton's Badge Of Justice #22 (1955). Some sources suggest that this story does feature the renamed Spy Smasher, while other sources say no, this is a completely different character with a coincidental name who made only the once appearance.

The story itself is no help, as the guy is never referred to by name...even his dame just refers to him as Crime Smasher!

So is this Alan Armstrong? Someone else? Or, as one website suggested, is this guy just the Earth-4 counterpart of Earth-S's Spy/Crime Smasher?? God, it's great to be a nerd...

Anyway, now it's later in the same story, and the hoods have an even more inescapable death trap:

Kids--stay in school and at least take basic physics before becoming a crook!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Farewell, "Old" DC Universe

Don't worry, friends, this shan't be a rant about the "New 52." But as today is the last appearance of the "old" DC Universe, I thought a few thoughts, and a brief eulogy, were in order.

As long-time readers know, I started out as a Marvel zombie, and that was that. Oh, I'd read my friend's DC comics that he bought, if I came across any at garage sales or quarters bin I'd take some (especially the ones with crazy covers). But, to my younger tastes, at least, Marvel had the better art and stories and characters.

But then along came Crisis On Infinite Earths, and the cats at my local comics shoppe were all agog over what was promised to happen, so what the hell, right? I was familiar enough with DC to be able to follow along, and it was a corking good story by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, whom I knew best from their Marvel days.

So I bought it, and read it, and got swept up in the excitement of being in "on the ground floor" of a whole new DC universe. And John Byrne was coming over to do Superman, so I had to read that, right? And I might as well read Batman too, right? And...

Yeah, it was like giving crack to a baby. Those were heady days in DC, post-Crisis, as it seemed as if the influx of talent and ideas was just never-ending. I seem to remember one occasion (and this may be faulty memory on my part) when new issues of Dark Knight Returns, Man Of Steel and Watchmen all came out on the same day. Hell, how could I not get hooked?

The Charlton heroes were being incorporated successfully, in very different ways; it's hard to imagine that both Blue Beetle and The Question were coming from the same place, but DC had the courage to try drastically different approaches, and commit to the characters.

To me, Barry Allen had always been boring, dullsville. But even though parts of Mike Baron's approach struck me as a little bit clunky, I thought Wally West was a great character. Alan Moore's Swamp Thing was, of course, brilliant. Perez was bringing us a more vital Wonder Woman than I had read before. The Justice League has always seemed very, well, staid and corporate and snooze-inducing, but DeMatteis and Giffen? That I could get into (for a while, at least. I soon found that a little BWA-HA-HA went a VERY long way, and far too often it was much more than a little).

But clearly, DC was doing a better job at that time of attracting talent, whether raiding Marvel, bringing over Brits, or giving shot to creators known mainly for their "independent" work. And, in a reversal of what happened in the Silver Age, Marvel was a full decade behind DC in putting creator credits on their covers. DC was (in part) marketing the creators, and by that point I was mature enough to appreciate the difference creative teams could make on books, and follow writers and artists.

It was a time, too, when Marvel seemed, to my eyes, to be in a bit of a downswing. After Byrne's Fantastic Four and Simonson's Thor ended, it felt as if a little light had gone out of the Marvel Universe, as if all of the innovation and risks had gone, post-Crisis, over to DC; and after the New Universe crashed and burned, Marvel seemed to settle into an increasingly stale mediocrity. Oh, I know, it's all subjective, and quite probably a good part of my perception was that DC was mostly new to me, while I had been reading Marvel forever.

But most of all, best of all, DC created one coherent universe. At a time when Marvel almost seemed to be fracturing itself into fiefdoms, DC removed a lot of those artificial barriers. The real problem before Crisis wasn't that there were too many alternate worlds. It was that those worlds presented needless hurdles to telling the stories we wanted. Bob Haney's Brave & The Bold excepted, if I wanted to do a story with Batman and Wildcat, I'd have to spend several pages explaining the alternate worlds, and then explaining how we breached the barriers. Now, it's all one big happy world, and if we wanted Wally West to be mentored by Jay Garrick, hey, he's just down the road. A Starman series set in the modern DC universe? Easy-peasy. I want to have the Question trained by Richard Dragon, and then have him beat up the Riddler, and then pal around with Green Arrow? Cake. A world where Mary Marvel and Superman and Doctor Fate and Phantom Lady and Peacemaker could all team up to fight Solomon Grundy and Terra-Man and Mordru and a Khund warfleet? Pricelss.

No, all wasn't a bed of roses. Not every idea was great, not all the executions perfect, not all their treatment of creator idyllic. And plenty of what DC did at the time just wasn't my bag. But still, the landscape was bright and shimmering, overall.

And doing it the Crisis way had created problems. By doing a full reboot only on Superman and Wonder Woman and Hawkman, there were plenty of cracks left in continuity. Most people got over it. But some people, including many in the DC hierarchy, seemingly became obsessed with making every story fit, which it obviously couldn't. But like that mosquito bite you can't stop scratching, DC couldn't seem to leave well enough alone. A few sentences in a Secret Origins story, and just ignore most of the problems, and eventually they would have gone away. But the need to make Hawkman's history "make sense" or to come up with 3rd and 4th post-Crisis iterations of "who were the founders of the Justice League", led to more and more navel-gazing events, where "making things right" and "creating jumping on points" became more important than telling a good story. Why it was necessary to reset the Legion timeline--several times!!--just to somehow make things "consistent" with stories that took place 1000 years earlier, was never really explained. And the constant half/mini-boots did more to alienate fans and complicate continuity than any "fanboy entitlement" that DC liked to blame. (If only everyone at DC had had the good sense of Roy Thomas, whose books were frakked with more than most by the changes Crisis wrought. He didn't pout, or try to undo the Crisis; he just adapted, realized that he had tons of ancient DC-owned characters who could fill the holes, and carried on)

But let's not dwell on the negative. At it's height, the post-Crisis DC Universe was a marvelous, exciting place, chock full of new ideas, new directions, new creators, and lots of creative risk-taking. And it was MY DC, you know?? It's what brought me over, and kept me there.

I can't say I agree with the current brain trust that it was time chuck it in and sort of kind of start over again. But I can remain hopeful that they will take their cues from what was done 25 years ago, and strive for that same level of creativity and quality and daring.

Goodbye, post-Crisis DC Universe. I will miss you.