Category: Featured

Snarky Six: Gorilla My Dreams

Snarky Six: Gorilla My Dreams

With Kong v Godzilla lighting up movie theaters real and virtual, it’s time to revisit that wonderful phenomenon, our gorilla-laden comic books.

The big apes have been a cultural force since staples started to bend and popcorn started to pop. I’m sure there have been thousands of doctoral theses written explaining why people are so attracted to our simian brethren, but I am certain about one thing: in the 1950s and 1960s, when you slapped a gorilla on the cover, you sold comic books.

By the time the Comics Code came into being, publishers were trying to cater to their horror-story-loving audience by deploying these colossus of sinew and fur as the Big Bad. Fine. But, just as those horror comics before them, things started to get kind of weird – particularly at DC Comics, and then, particularly when editor Julius Schwartz was involved. Here are six stunning examples of the form, each completely lacking in the type of realism that readers of the time demanded.

6. Tomahawk. As we began to realize the whole cowboys-and-Indians thing was exploitative, inaccurate and bigoted, Tomahawk — one of DC’s longer-lasting features — switched from chasing native Americans to protecting America from the evil British. It’s nice to see that by this time Tomahawk and his Rangers opened their ranks to the people they conquered. Obviously, when you’re taking on a gorilla so huge King Kong would cross his legs in shame you need all the help you can get.

5. Strange Adventures. I haven’t counted, but it’s possible that this particular s-f title had more gorilla covers than the Planet of the Apes. This one is my favorite, as it explains exactly why reading is, indeed, fundamental. I should point out that the covers to this Julie Schwartz title were by and large quite compelling. So compelling, in fact, that the actual stories rarely matched their impact.

4. Judge Dredd. The big ape thing was not just an American thing, to be sure, but in the world of Judge Dredd having a big ape Judge was just another day in Mega-City One. In fact, I’d say it was about as surprising as the sun coming up. Note that this guy is called “Judge Heston,” in tribute to the astronaut who inspired one of Jack Kirby’s best covers. Take a closer look and you will see the name “Heston” was engraved on the badge by, evidently, someone who’s penmanship was lacking in an opposable thumb. Evidently, Judge Heston had a thing for doing Batman-like poses.

3. Bizarro Titano. If all you know of Bizarro is the current not-well-defined Solomon Grundy pastiche, you’re missing out on “Tales of the Bizarro World,” one of the most unusual, bizarre, and clever volumes in the greater Superboy oeuvre. The original Bizarro was manufactured by a malfunctioning duplicator ray that was shined upon the Boy of Steel. Bizarro wasn’t an ape, but he sold comics during the JFK administration as though he was. Before long, there were Bizarros made of all the members of the Superman family and many of the members of the DCU at the time… not to mention a Bizarro Marilyn Monroe hanging out with a Bizarro-President Kennedy. God, those were good times. It wasn’t too long before Superman’s simian foe Titano got his own Bizarro doppelgänger. Fair is fair. Which leads me to…

2. The Real Titano. Talk about upping the ante: Not only was Titano a truly great ape, but he had Kryptonite rays beaming out of his eyes. This made Superman’s day all the more difficult. Like the original Superboy Bizarro story, Titano’s initial appearance ended quite nicely and in a laudable, humane fashion. But, as noted above, later somebody found that Bizarro duplicator ray. I loved this story, and I even remember where I was when I first read it

1. Grodd. There’s no contest (in my feeble brain, at least) that Gorilla Grodd is the most impressive ape in all comics gorilladom. He is one of the most evil of all the DC villains. He’s got one of the best backstories in all bad guy history, and his world (Gorilla City; I would have given it a more impressive name) is fully developed, fascinating, and fodder for many a good subsequent story. Grodd looked great in The Flash comics, and he looks even better on The Flash television series. In fact, he’s one of the three reasons I still watch that show. I don’t think he’s in next year’s movie (the one with several Batmans), but I’d hardly be surprised if he shows up. Just as long as you’re not sitting behind him at the theater.

Honorable Mention. There were plenty of gorilla covers in the pulp days. This particular one deserves notice because the name of the magazine is Zeppelin Stories and, therefore, the stories therein are built around zeppelins. Those things were to biplanes what King Kong is to Detective Chimp. So, yeah, that’s a gorilla hanging from the ladder hanging from the gasbag, which is why the story is called… “The Gorilla of the Gas Bags.”

I swear, if there’s just one more comic book in me and I can find the right publisher, it will have an absolute killer gorilla cover.

Thanks to my pal Marc Alan Fishman for unknowingly yielding me his snark space.

With Further Ado #141: Discussing “Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books”

With Further Ado #141: Discussing “Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books”

At Ithaca College, I teach a business course called Hidden Entrepreneurs. In this class, we explore and dissect entrepreneurial lessons from the lives and activities of non-traditional entrepreneurs.  These are the folks who are NOT on Shark Tank. These people are the often unrecognized entrepreneurs who nonetheless “make it happen.” Their stories are amazing, and there is so much to be learned from studying them.

Author Ken Quattro has done me one better in his brilliant new book, Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books. This new book details the lives and careers of black comic book creators.  Some are astonishing, some are heartbreaking, and they are non-traditional artists.  Their stories, for the most part, have been forgotten in the mists of time. So, it’s all the more important that historian Quattro, a real life comic book detective, has hunted down all the information and connected all the dots.

Quattro has done this all in a fun, engaging book. The stories of these artists’ trials and tribulations are almost all more interesting than the short comic stories included in this volume.   It shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us, though. His The Comics Detective site is brilliant and always informative. Continue reading “With Further Ado #141: Discussing “Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books””

Brainiac On Banjo #110: With This Ring…

Brainiac On Banjo #110: With This Ring…

It’s gone away from me / The thrill is gone baby / The thrill is gone away from me / Although, I’ll still live on / But so lonely I’ll be / The thrill is gone – The Thrill Is Gone, Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell, 1951

Today, as we currently reckon time, is the day DC Comics launches a brand-new Green Lantern title. Have they done this previously? I mean, previously in 2021. I know it’s only early April, but every week they do not introduce a new Green Lantern title, or at least a new Green Lantern, seems to me to be a rare week indeed.

I’m not complaining about this new series. I haven’t read it. I haven’t even decided not to read it, but, as the song goes, the thrill is gone.

I clearly remember buying the first silver age Green Lantern in late July of 1959. I was a week shy of nine years old, and new superhero launches were very few and quite far between. I took to it as though it were a barbecue beef sammich. A rocket crashes (I’m telling you the short version) and inside the rocket is a dying alien. His ring — his ring! — sought out the nearest fearless person worthy of herohood and found a test pilot named Hal Jordon. Go figger; a handsome white American dude. He said “OK, fine, you’re worthy. Put on this ring and go figure it out. I’m dying here.”

It was really cool. The artwork, storytelling, and design work were stellar, and the new guy could do anything as long as he wasn’t using that ring on anything yellow. Yellow? Do you know how much stuff out there is yellow? For crying out loud, yellow and green are next to each other on the color wheel! Yet the stories were so compelling I accepted that, just the way I accepted his tedious, time-consuming oath. I eagerly followed the three Showcase issues, I was pleased to see he was in the original Justice League of America six months later, and then I was thrilled that he got his own series — all within 10 months!

In no more than a few years, Green Lantern’s bosses thought there should be a standby GL just in case Hal meets the same fate as his predecessor. Guy Gardiner wasn’t around all that much, but he was there when he was needed.

Several years after that, the little blue men with the Dr. Zorba haircuts decided the neighborhood needed still another backup Green Lantern. It was nice to see, John Stewart, a Black man get the gig, a very rare thing for 1971. But I got to thinking…

The little blue men, who took to calling themselves the Guardians of the Universe (the other Guardians have a tree), had divided all of the universe into 3600 sectors (that number later doubled; after all, the universe is ever-expanding). Each sector had its own Green Lantern. OK, initially that was really cool because most of the other GLs did not appear to be humanoid, and such diversity was not so fully embraced in the comics of the time. Hal, and Guy, and John all worked in Sector 2814 and by now all three were full-timers.

Why does Earth get three while every place else only gets one? There’s something really unfair about that.

Kyle Rayner became still another Earthman Green Lantern. That’s four from the same sector. In the ensuing years Simon Baz, Jessica Cruz and now Keli Quintela became part of this overwhelmingly Earthish group of heroes. Even the original-original Green Lantern, Alan Scott from the 1940s, got retconned into this horde, and others in history have popped up from time to time. Sojourner “Jo” Mullein is or was or will be a greenie as well.

Is Anya Savenlovich still a Lantern? Probably; in comics, nobody ever disappears forever. Does anybody remember Charlie Vicker? I think he grew up to be Ryan Reynolds. And then there’s Donna Parker, and I think Jennifer-Lynn Hayden, a.k.a. Jade — Alan Scott’s kid — is back on the scene along with her father’s increased exposure in the DC universe du jour.

I won’t go into the Green Lantern who appeared in last month’s Zack Marathon. That wasn’t a comic book, and if it was supposed to be it never would have been published.

To be fair, I don’t mind the GLs from those thrilling days of yesteryear. History goes back a bit, and it makes sense that the ones from the 20th century were not the first. But I’m not as certain about all those many Green Lanterns from the “future” that lurk around every corner.

The whole Green Lantern concept is no longer special, but, then again, I’m no longer nine years old, my behavior notwithstanding. Soon there will be as many Green Lanterns as there were Elvis impersonators — and Green Lanterns have a much longer shelf-life. Of course, now somebody is going to come up with an Elvis Presley Green Lantern, but I doubt AT&T will pony up the licensing fees.

You may very well be a Green Lantern. If so, please don’t take this personally — I’d take the gig too, if offered. But my power ring wouldn’t work on anything gray.

With Further Ado #140: Vintage Marketing & The Power of Comic Book Storytelling

With Further Ado #140: Vintage Marketing & The Power of Comic Book Storytelling

“Bob West, Who IS This Woman?!?”

I am still enjoying, and sharing, my copy of Comics Ad Men by Stephen Brower. It’s a fantastic recent book, published by Fantagraphics, that celebrates the advertising work created by comic book artists like Neal Adams and Frank Robbins. I wrote about it recently here.

There’s a certain irresistible charm to those old ads. And that’s coming from someone who just loves new ads and all the innovative marketing that surrounds us today.  With that in mind, let’s take another look at vintage ads with a comic book connection.

The White Rock Fairy

The White Rock Company has been selling spring water for 150 years. The idea is that spring water, in this case from Waukesha, Wisconsin, is a little better for you than Royal Crown, Nehi or even Nesbitt’s sodas.  This independent company continues to innovate and keep afloat in an incredibly competitive market.  They are still independent.

Back in 1894, the company showcased a version of the Geek goddess Psyche as a spokesperson. She is often considered  the Goddess of Purity. That’s why they chose to use her in that iconic pose, leaning over a rock peering into a spring.   The corporate logo they created was based on the painting “Psyche at Nature’s Mirror” by German artist Paul Thumann.

The cynic in me can’t help but think that the strategy may have been more straightforward.  It doesn’t’ take a marketing genius to realize that a topless blonde is simply bound to be memorable.

In mythology, Psyche was gorgeous and that enraged her boyfriend’s mother, who happened to be Venus.  And when the Goddess of Love gets into a catfight with you, you know you have real problems. In the end, it all worked out and she married Eros. (Only he wasn’t a baby like you imagine when you use his other, more popular name: Cupid.)

The product itself, White Rock Seltzer, would enjoy an aura of glitziness, Celebrities of  yesteryear, including Gloria Vanderbilt (aka Anderson Cooper’s mom), Charles Lindbergh and the King of England, served White Rock in a showy way.

And that’s why this series of comic-style ads are so enchanting and perplexing. In the 1940s, White Rock launched this series of print ads, employing traditional panel-by-panel storytelling traditions (that’s comics to you, me, and Scott McCloud) to push the narrative forward. It looks like Holm Grey was the artist. Continue reading “With Further Ado #140: Vintage Marketing & The Power of Comic Book Storytelling”

Brainiac On Banjo #109: What Jessica Walter Means To Me

Brainiac On Banjo #109: What Jessica Walter Means To Me

Don’t you ever miss your house in the country, and your hot little mamma too? Don’t you better get a shot from the doctor, for what the Road Ladies do to you? – Frank Zappa, Road Ladies, 1970

I was just 21¼ years old. Old enough to know better. And, well, I did know better.

I had started on the radio about two years earlier, doing freeform “underground” shows overnights on Chicago FM stations. Back in those days, FM wasn’t on most car radios and station owners bought them just so that their competitors could not. At that time, nobody made money on overnight FM except for those slots that were purchased — brokered — by churches, far-right-wing political howlers, and foreign-language shows. That is, nobody made money until we came along.

In short order, my peers warned the 19-year-old me that, from time to time, women would call the studio in the middle of the night and make it clear that a personal appearance need not involve guitars and amplifiers. Remember, this was during that hallowed time between the invention of the birth control pill and the onset of HIV, and it was a wonderful period to be a 19 year old with Y chromosomes that screamed louder than a pack of shock-jocks.

My peers pointed out that these ladies had never seen me, and that I had never seen them. All they knew was I was on radio which, admittedly, can be an intimate experience at 3 in the morning. According to my instructors, other than an hour’s pleasure nothing good could come out of such parlances… and quite often there’s a world of hurt around the corner.

Yeah. Right. I was pushing 20 and I was full of three things… one of which being myself.

I had just started at a station in Evanston, Chicago’s northern neighbor and their studio was along the Chicago River about two miles from the fabled “L” trains. As is wont to happen, one night my car broke down in their parking lot and I had to choose between a long walk or an even longer wait for repair. I was three hours into my five-hour shift and I knew that walk would be annoying. I mentioned my situation on the air. At three in the morning. Sadly, my “Uh-Oh Sense” declined to stop me. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #109: What Jessica Walter Means To Me”

With Further Ado #139: Uncle Lev Made Comics

With Further Ado #139: Uncle Lev Made Comics

Much has been written about comics legend Stan Lee lately.  Casual fans and hard-core comic aficionados have been debating which authors are ‘getting it right’. Was Stan a brilliant creator that fans of current cinema (and streaming platforms) recognize as the guy who started it all?  Or was Stan a rotten, self-promoting glory-hound that elevated his own story to the detriment of his partner and co-workers?

After enjoying John Morrow’s Stuf Said, Danny Fingeroth’s A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee and Abraham Reisman’s True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee I think I have a pretty good understanding of it all. Maybe you do too.

Now that we’ve got that one solved, I must admit I didn’t know much about comics publisher Lev Gleason. In some ways – he may have seemed like a proto-Stan Lee.  Gleason was, among other things, the publisher of Lev Gleason Publications, producing comics like Daredevil, Silver Streak, Boy Comics (this one starred Crimebuster and is one of my dad’s favorites) and the wildly successful Crime Does Not Pay.

And like Stan Lee, Lev Gleason made it clear was the big cheese behind these efforts. He even plastered his  name (and the company name) on his comic covers.

I have learned that Lev Gleason’s personal story is a fascinating one. He was an entrepreneur and a crusader. He was flamboyant and generous. He learned how to pivot and how to do it quite often.

But unlike Stan, Lev’s extended family didn’t really celebrate or even understand his connection to comics.  And that’s why it’s all the more incredible that Lev’s great nephew, Brett Dakin just wrote AMERICAN DAREDEVIL: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason.

Dakin, who isn’t really a comics fan, aggressively researched Gleason’s life. The pursuit of truth took him everywhere -from newspaper articles to old comics to FBI files!

I enjoyed Dakin’s book so much that I invited him to speak to one of my Ithaca College classes. As Gleason was both a tireless entrepreneur and a pillar of the Golden Age of comics, he fit right in to the topics I teach.

The students seemed to get a lot out of meeting him (via ZOOM) too.

But I don’t have to explain that you. Check out what some of my Ithaca College students had to say:

“Hearing about Brett Dakin’s experience of writing his book and learning more about his great-uncle was very interesting!” said Alexis Davis. “He is a prime example of how with dedication and passion, you can accomplish a lot even if it isn’t within a profession you are familiar with.”

“”Something that Brett said that stuck with me was ‘there is learning through doing and experiencing’ and I think that’s something so important to remember,” noted Jade Rynar.

“Learning more about Brett’s investigation into his great uncle’s life, through searching archival publications and reconnecting the pieces of his personal life, really made me realize the importance of historians in the documentation of our pop culture,” said Quinten Hernandez, who is in his senior year.

“Brett gave an inside look into the comic book world with an outside perspective”, wryly observed Tess Kneebone , who is also a senior.

This is great book for folks who love the Golden Age of Comics and for those who enjoy entrepreneur’s stories. And who knows ? Maybe American Daredevil- the Lev Gleason story will make it to Netflix one day- just like all those Marvel characters. Wouldn’t that be something?

 

 

Weird Scenes #124: Smoke on the Rotter

Weird Scenes #124: Smoke on the Rotter

“Just ‘cause somebody can’t handle anything don’t mean we have to pay for their pain / Nicotine, caffeine, chainsaws and guns gotta, make your own regulations / Psychedelic mushrooms good for your mind. If you’re ready to use ‘em, then ya outta try ‘em / How did freedom mess up your life? Decide for yourself what’s wrong and what’s right.” Mojo Nixon, Legalize It!, 1985

Yeah, I’m gonna bray about weed again… and I’m gonna launch my first verbal attack on our present president. You know, Joe Biden. Nice guy, but…

As you read this, dozens if not hundreds of White House staffers have been “suspended, asked to resign, or placed in a remote work program due to past marijuana use,” according to the Daily Beast. Five such staffers have been fired already.

Well, that’s liberalism for you.

Personally, I would be inclined to think that any potential White House staffers who haven’t smoked weed – first or second hand – or haven’t tried an edible or had a medical condition that warrants such use has been living under a rock and therefore has been too isolated to function properly in the job.

Or, perhaps, that cat is simply lying. This might very well be the point. If you’re working at the White House lying is pretty much in the job description.

According to the Daily Beast article, “For the FBI, an applicant can’t have used marijuana in the past three years; at the NSA, it’s only one. The White House … (states) that as long as past use was ‘limited’ and the candidate wasn’t pursuing a position that required a security clearance, past use may be excused.”

But if you’ve toked around a bit, for whatever reason, at any time, the Biden White House thinks you are a security risk. You can put away as much alcohol as you want, but if you’re doing your job and you don’t use politically incorrect language, they’re completely fine that you won’t blab our secrets to Putin.

This is not the matter of following a law that can’t get through the RepubilQan filibuster. As we have seen during the previous administration, the president has the final word on who gets a security clearance.

Let us also note that Joe Biden has appointed Dr. Rahul Gupta as his Drug Czar, a.k.a. the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Gupta was public health commissioner in West Virginia from 2015 to 2018. He ripped apart that state’s needle exchange program, showing a lack of concern about HIV and hepatitis. This is the moral position known as “Shoot up and die, creep!”

By the way, West Virginia is a national leader in drug overdose deaths, so maybe his policy wasn’t exactly a “Mr. Watson, come here; I want you” kind of moment. According to Filter Magazine “West Virginia also had the highest rate of hepatitis C infections in 2015. Today, West Virginia is experiencing multiple HIV and hepatitis C outbreaks.” Continue reading “Weird Scenes #124: Smoke on the Rotter”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #072: The Good, The Bad, and the Synder Cut

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #072: The Good, The Bad, and the Synder Cut

I wanted to extol the virtues of Wanda Vision this week. Truly. I wanted to expound and extrapolate vividly how Marvel was able to slow down their relentless phase-after-phase serial storytelling to truly stop and explore the power of grief in the superhuman world. It was 9 episodes of brilliance capped off with a decent-if-by-the-numbers finish. Ultimately though, I made the mistake of following the zeitgeist over the last two nights and watched Justice League, as envisioned by its original helmsman, Zack Snyder. And now, all I desire to share… is my snark and malaise. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #072: The Good, The Bad, and the Synder Cut”

Brainiac On Banjo #108: The Purple Zombie! – Women’s History Month

Brainiac On Banjo #108: The Purple Zombie! – Women’s History Month

Thanks to several decades of following Trina Robbins’ research, I’ve been a Tarpé Mills fan since… well, probably since dinosaurs started making oil.

Mills is best known as the creator/writer/artist of the costumed newspaper comic strip hero Miss Fury (1941 – 1949), which, for the record, debuted six months before Wonder Woman. But prior to that, she worked for a variety of neophyte comic book publishers, creating such features as Diana Deane / White Goddess (1936), Devil’s Dust, The Cat Man, Daredevil Barry Finn (1939), and The Purple Zombie (1940). It is this latter creation that now brings my fingers to the keyboard.

In addition to my affection for Mills’ work, I have a serious thing for stories that are insanely weird and bizarre. The Purple Zombie was so weird it makes Herbie The Fat Fury look like Mark Trail.

Here’s the short version: a pair of scientists come up with a way to create zombies, but one is an evil scientist and the other wants it to be used for the betterment of humanity. Zombies For Peace! Right on! The bad guy does not kill the good guy, although he does try. He gets killed in the process and P.Z. divines the good guy as his master. So, the good guy drafts P.Z. into joining the 1940 anti-fascist movement which, at the time, was pretty much limited to fighting Nazis and the Spanish civil war. By the way, in Spain the American antifa was called “The Abraham Lincoln Brigade.” Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #108: The Purple Zombie! – Women’s History Month”

With Further Ado #138: Volume Four of Sex and Horror

With Further Ado #138: Volume Four of Sex and Horror

You’d think for St. Patrick’s Day I’d find a way to sing the praises of my Irish heritage with some pop culture twist. Well, I hope you all enjoy the holiday today and find some way to enjoy green beer and corned beef.

But today I am celebrating the other, more dominant side of my ethnic heritage. I’m mostly Italian. So instead let me laud the praises of Korero Press’ fourth volume in their Sex and Horror series.

As a bit of background, many Italian comics aren’t anything like domestic (U.S.) comics. During the U.S. Silver and early Bronze Ages (in the 60s and 70s), Italy’s fumetti sexy comics were all the rage. They typically showcased lurid and suggestive covers and then black and white interior stories.

To me, they all seemed one step over from those scary Hammer Films of the day. That mix of scary stuff with attractive women that serves to titillate and repulse the viewer all at once.  The brilliant part is that they used magnificently skillful artists.

The British Publisher Korero Press kicked of this  series with a volume devoted to Emanuele Taglietti. Like the smell of red sauce wafting from your favorite Italian Restaurant – Korero has been beckoning me to come back for more.

This volume is a little different. Instead of focusing on just one artist, in this one we’re exposed to (emphasis on exposed) so many skillful artists:

  • Alessandro Biffignandi and his covers for Messalina, la dea dell’amore (Messalina, the Goddess of Love) follows the ancient adventures of a Roman Empress.
  • Il Vampiro Presenta ran for 123 issues, and features covers by Fernando Carcupino and Karel Thole.
  • Fradiavolo (Brother Devil) , subtitled Storie di Briganti (Tales of the Brigands) showcases the art of Eros Kara Pintor.

These illustrations are fantastic in the classic sense of the word, but they aren’t for the squeamish. In the old days, I’d advise you to hide this book if your mother came for a visit.

But still – it’s deliciously repugnant fun and yet another chapter of Geek Culture to dive into and learn about.