Category: Brainiac On Banjo

Brainiac On Banjo #090: Powers Roughly Equivalent of God’s

Brainiac On Banjo #090: Powers Roughly Equivalent of God’s

Deep in the dark / I don’t need the light / There’s a ghost inside me / It all belongs to the other side / We live, we love, we lie – “The Spectre” written by Gunnar Greve, Jesper Borgen, Tommy Laverdi, Marcus Arnbekk, Anders Froen, Alan Olav Walker, and Lars Kristian Rosness, 2018

The comment expressed in our headline above was made by the fabled Jules Feiffer in his groundbreaking 1965 book The Great Comic Book Heroes. It was groundbreaking because Feiffer was the first to take the history and craft of comic books seriously — so seriously, in fact, that it was excerpted in Playboy.

The Spectre was created by Jerry Siegel, and if truth be told it’s probably my favorite of his creations — including the Big Red S. Feiffer was right: it’s a bitch to write a series where the lead isn’t really a “hero” and yet has, as Jules noted, powers roughly equivalent of God’s. And we’re not talking about the New Testament’s cosmic muffin — this is the Old Testament’s hoary thunderer, and The Spectre is his personal instrument of vengeance. Yup, the after-life might not be as sweet as you’d hoped.

I don’t know if the kids who were reading comics at the every end of 1939 were ready for that. Within two years the series was lightened up by a bumbling guardian angel called “Percival Popp, the Super Cop.” Think Frank Capra, but stupid. The Spectre became a founding member of the Justice Society, but when World War II ended he was out of the group, out of More Fun, and living off of Officer Popp’s police pension.

Still, the character made an impression and when Julie Schwartz was looking for another golden age character to revive after The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom, and Hawkman, he chose The Spectre. That was odd, but with the arguable exception of Zatanna (or, really, her dad Zatara), The Spectre was the first character he brought back that Julie hadn’t edited during the Golden Age. Despite some decent scripts from Gardner Fox and artwork from the always amazing Murphy Anderson, it just didn’t click. The series was handed over to a relative newcomer named Neal Adams, who did some truly wonderful artwork, but it also did not find success.

But the guy still remained in the hearts of DC’s creative community. Editor Joe Orlando needed a new lead for Adventure Comics, so he brought in Michael Fleisher and Jim Aparo and let them go nuts. The Spectre took this “vengeance of God” thing to a fundamentalist level, and he would kill the bad guys with such creative cruelty that they might have made EC artist “Ghastly” Graham Ingles genuflect at his porcelain throne. It was great. And it lasted 10 issues.

Since then The Spectre has been floating around the DC Universe in all its forms, incarnations, and mistakes. Lots — and I mean lots — of A-listers handled his adventures, including my buddies John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake. They enjoyed one of the longest runs.

So it was with absolutely no surprise whatsoever that I stumbled across a DC Digital First thing called Ghosts. At first I thought that odd — thus far they hadn’t done resurrections of their mystery anthologies in their new digital line. Then I saw “Ghosts” was just another way of saying “The Spectre” and then I noted it was written by Dan Jurgens.

I really like Dan’s work, both as an artist and a writer. We worked together on Green Arrow for a long time, and instead of just leaving the series to do something new, he told me he was making a play to do Superman and, if he got it, he’d be moving on. As much as I liked Dan’s stuff — he and Mike Grell made a great team — he certainly earned the right to take a shot at the Man of Steel. I successfully fought back my overwhelming desire to mindfuck him into staying, although I did think about it. Dan did some remarkable work with the brightest of DC’s corporate jewels. Right now he’s writing Nightwing, and is damn good.

Dan, along with artists Scott Eaton and Wayne Faucher, did a fine job on the story. I don’t know if Ghosts is a one-shot or a play to resurrect The Spectre again, this time without having to resort to paper and staples. They were somewhat restrained in their story… if you compare it to the Fleisher / Aparo run. Then again, a head-on collision between two 10-car passenger trains would seem equally restrained.

DC has done a number of very entertaining stories in their almost-daily Digital First line, unburdened by a continuity that mutates as often as amoebas commit mitosis. Seeing The Spectre pop up in this format evoked a response characters rarely have when they cross his path: I was pleasantly surprised.

Brainiac On Banjo #089: Riddle Me This, Keaton!

Brainiac On Banjo #089: Riddle Me This, Keaton!

“I’ve seen the future and it will be / I’ve seen the future and it will be / BATMAN, BATMAN / I’ve seen the future and it will be / BATMAN / And where, and where … is the BATMAN?” – Batdance, written by Prince, 1989.

I enjoy going to comic book convention trivia panels when Mark Waid is on the dais. Not just because Mark knows almost everything, no matter how obscure, but because he is actually embarrassed that his knows minutiae as well as he knows trivia.

But this question might blow his brainpan right out his neck. Therefore, this Spoiler Warning is just for Mark Waid.

Question: Name all the different actors who have played the part of Bruce Wayne.

Follow-up questions: If he signs the new multi-picture deal, should Michael Keaton be counted twice? And will Bruce Wayne meet Adrian Toomes?  Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #089: Riddle Me This, Keaton!”

Brainiac On Banjo #088: With Respect To An Old Friend

Brainiac On Banjo #088: With Respect To An Old Friend

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

Let me tell you, writing obits and remembrances of old and dear friends is hard work, but after a few decades it gets a great deal worse. So, please forgive me that, this time, I’m going to start out with a Fun Fact about Denny O’Neil.

He had an extra sinus. Really; we’ve got eight, but Denny had nine.

Growing up in the St. Louis / Cape Girardeau humidity, Denny had a hard time getting enough oxygen. This might very well have had an enduring impact on his heart. So the doctors (I presume) drilled him an additional sinus cavity. I don’t think they do that so much anymore, but, hey, Denny breathed like a sumbytch.

When I started at DC Comics in 1976, my office was next to Denny’s. I had been deeply impressed by his writing since Charlton Premiere #2, 1967 – “Children of Doom” showed me a completely different way of looking at allegorical science-fiction in comics. I had never heard of a comics writer named “Sergius O’Shaugnessy” but I was aware of a Norman Mailer character with the same name, in a short story published in 1959. Glomming the reference was pretty damn cool. I kept an eye out for his work, and by the time the Dennis J. O’Neil by-line popped up I was a devoted follower. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #088: With Respect To An Old Friend”

Brainiac On Banjo #087: DC — What Goes Around Runs Aground

Brainiac On Banjo #087: DC — What Goes Around Runs Aground

You know she’s Superman’s big sister / Her X-ray eyes see through my silly ways / Superman’s big sister, superior skin and blister / It doesn’t seem surprising nowadays… yeah! – Superman’s Big Sister, written by Ian Dury, 1980.

When the news about DC Comics pulling its stuff from Diamond Distribution broke last week, we here at Pop Culture Squad — meaning reporter/editor/bon vivant Bob Harrison — covered it, as did just about every other relevant outlet. It really is that important, so much so that I’m going to proselytize the poop out of it.

There was a time, oh maybe a decade or two back, when the rumor-mongers were aroused by their own prediction that DC Comics was going to buy Diamond Distributing. Of course, this was back in the days when we had a functioning federal anti-trust department, and before DC was consumed by the AT&T Death Star.

Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #087: DC — What Goes Around Runs Aground”

Brainiac On Banjo #086: We Can Be Heroes

Brainiac On Banjo #086: We Can Be Heroes

There goes my hero / Watch him as he goes / There goes my hero / He’s ordinary — “My Hero,” written by Dave Grohl, Nate Mendel and Pat Smear, 1995.

Memorial Day, which we celebrate today because usually more gasoline is sold over three-day weekends, was still called Decoration Day when I was a child. It didn’t become a federal holiday until 1971, even though Decoration Day became a thing after the first U.S. Civil War. According to History.com, one of the earliest Memorial Day remembrances was organized by a group of freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865.

In recent years, the definition of Memorial Day has grown to include all of those whose lives were sacrificed for the greater good. Today, we tend to call these people “heroes” and that would be okay had our definition of hero not been allowed to expand to those who do what all humans are supposed to do: help out those in need. That’s where I get a bit cynical. I’ll go along with the hero thing as long as we come up with an equally descriptive term for those who could but maliciously refuse to help out those in need.

I think you know the people I’m talking about.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran the front page I reproduced above. The story, of course, was continued on interior pages but I’m sure you get the point. This was one of the most appropriate front pages I’ve seen, and I’m the type of history freak that reads old newspapers for fun. I rarely go out of my way to praise the NYT, but fair is fair. It would take the effort of a much better writer than I to make the point any sharper.

Yesterday, I had an online conversation with a friend who is a veteran of our recent middle eastern activities, who, by the way, was wounded in the war. I don’t think he is a hero for having been wounded. I think he’s a hero for having been there in the first place.

Be that as it may, we discussed the Times’ use of the word “incalculable.” Obviously, if there’s a list, the number is calculable. That’s true, but I don’t think that was the point. I said it was the loss itself that was incalculable and not simply the number who have died thus far. For every name listed, there are an incalculable number of people who are severely impacted: friends, co-workers, family, online correspondents, vendors dependent upon their business, brothers and sisters in arms, teachers, nurses and physicians and others who have been there in your support system for years, and so on. The impact is truly overwhelming, particularly as it’s all been within the past ten weeks or so.

His initial thought was significant: we should be specific in our rhetoric. Damn near everybody has suffered a loss in this pandemic, and most of those who haven’t probably will before it’s all over. We bitch about our inconveniences, but we are still here to complain. In no way does that make the rest of us heroes. We are survivors, and we should be proud of that. Or, at the very least, appreciative.

We are living through a history we will tell our grandchildren about. My maternal grandfather died of the Spanish influenza that followed World War I, when my mother was about three years old. It took me quite a while to piece together that story. Today, history is no longer written by the winners — history is written every moment of every day, in print and online, with audio and video to flesh out the static pictures and provide a more accurate view, in the aggregate, for future generations.

I am fond of quoting philosopher George Santayana’s well-known aphorism “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I say “well-known,” but I remain amazed by how often I read the words of people in power who simply do not get that. I can’t understand why. Maybe power tends to erode reason.

Maybe it’s more the quest for power that erodes reason, particularly when that power is defined by money.

Yesterday, the New York Times made Memorial Day all the more memorable. Maybe we can’t avoid such disaster, but there is a great, great deal we can do to minimize the damage.

True to the present name for this holiday, we must never forget.

Brainiac On Banjo #085: Crossing The Stream

Brainiac On Banjo #085: Crossing The Stream

Star Wars! / Give me those Star Wars! / Nothing but… Star Wars / Don’t let them end — written by Nick Winters, 1977

With all the streaming at our fingertips, the entertainment business is making a lot of headlines promoting what they’re going to do once Earthlings return to mobility. But don’t get excited just yet: the only cameras operating right now are working Zoom and not Studio Binder. When Keith Richards self-quarantines, everyone should self-quarantine.

Next week’s launch of HBO Max has turned up the heat. Clearly, studios are concerned about competing for subscribers with promises of new content, which, at best, won’t appear until after the winter solstice. My take on HBO Max is simple: it’s goddamn expensive, and right now they’re running little but reruns. It’ll probably work out because they’re not promoting that fact. But reasonable bean-counters understand that few people are going to maintain subscriptions to HBO Max, Disney+, AppleTV, CBS All Access, Peacock Premium, and Amazon Prime – to name but a very few – all at once. That’s a lot of money, and it’s also more programming than one can handle. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #085: Crossing The Stream”

Brainiac On Banjo #084: Me See DeeCee TeeVee

Brainiac On Banjo #084: Me See DeeCee TeeVee

Sweet Little Sixteen / She’s got the grown up blues / Tight dress and lipstick / She’s sportin’ high heal shoes / Oh, but tomorrow morning / She’ll have to change her trend / And be sweet sixteen / And back in class again. – Chuck Berry, Sweet Little Sixteen, 1958.

It seems that almost everybody is using their confinement to catch up on all kinds of television — mostly streaming or DVRed (that’s a verb now, right?). So, lapsing back into my traditional role as August Contrarian, I’ve decided to do a little catch-up on my book reading. Right now I’m about two-thirds of the way through Meyer Levin’s The Old Bunch, written in 1937. That’s only 35 years longer than I’ve had it on my shelf. As Brian Wilson and Mike Love said, I get around. Eventually.

But mopery is a force of my nature, so I have been watching a bit of teevee. Besides, I’ve never gotten a paper cut from watching television. I’ve been watching Stargirl, the latest presentation from Warner Bros.’ DC Comics think tank. The former goes up on both the DCUniverse streamer and The CW this coming week. Pop Culture Squad HBIC Adriane Nash (that’s what it says on her business card) and I had the privilege of watching the first three episodes of Stargirl, and my comments that follow come from the totality of this experience. Spoiler Alert: There really aren’t any spoilers here. Sorry.

Let it be said that I am a Justice Society fan — certainly the original creation, as well as most of its subsequent reincarnations. The JSA was the thing to collect when I was Li’l Fanboy, along with EC Comics, Carl Barks and The Spirit, and I remain a big fan of all four. Indeed, I now get nostalgic for nostalgia.

Stargirl is based upon the 1999 title Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.S. by Geoff Johns, Lee Moder and Dan Davis, with James Robinson riding shotgun on the first issue, which was #0. Yes, the comics racket remains mathematically challenged. The series lasted 15 issues, ending with #14 (reread the previous two sentences), and it was a conflation of the original Star-Spangled Kid, Starman(s), and various versions of the JSA as well as the JSA’s lame doppelgänger, The Seven Soldiers of Victory. A cute teenager discovers Starman’s cosmic belt as she discovers her step-father was the Star-Spangled Kid’s sidekick, Stripesy. Like all smart, precocious comic book teen-age characters, she wants to become a costumed superhero. Stripesy, being her dad, is not keen on the idea but seeing as how he’s got a huge Transformers-wannabe robot suit gathering dust in the garage, he supervises his stepdaughter while on the fly.

I loved the series. I was annoyed it got shitcanned after 15 issues… the last being #14, remember? I’m a jaded old fart — that goes hand-in-hand with being an August Contrarian — and I think Geoff did a wonderful job bringing teen-age angst into the story in a fashion that makes the reader root for the kid while still sympathizing with the concerns of her parents.

So I was quite pleased that the greater Warner Bros. empire chose Stargirl as the newest wing in the DCU mansion, but I was a hell of a lot more pleased that Geoff Johns created the teevee series, is writing it, and is an executive producer. That’s pretty damn rare; off-hand, I can’t recall that happening since The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, a show so ancient that some readers might need to IMBD it. Television scripts always go through a lot of hands and by the time it’s being filmed it’s got more notes than Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. Remarkably and to its credit, the shows I saw still maintain the feeling of Johns’ work, as well as his story.

I’m not letting any cats out of my collection of trick bags when I say that JSA fans of all… stripes… likely will enjoy the hell out of the third episode. It pleased my Li’l Fanboy heart to no end.

Like all DCU-CW series (and now, post-Crisis, much of the rest of their sundry media universes), Stargirl is fraught with continuity possibilities. I’m not saying she’ll show up in the next big-ass crossover, and I doubt the Powers That Be will let Stargirl get too close to John Constantine. That’s reasonable, but if Geoff wants to consider that a challenge, hey, who am I to pour cold water on a jail bait story?

I do have one question. If you’ve read any new Superman family stories over the past few years, you’ve seen the legend “Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. By special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family.” The creator credit also appears on the Supergirl CW show as well as other media derived from The Man of Steel. This was part of the end result of about 70 years of legal wrangling, and all accurate creator credits are well-deserved. Jerry Siegel also created the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy. Shouldn’t there be a creator credit for Jerry as well?

Yeah, I know. But I’ll ask again when Steve Amell returns as The Spectre.

Brainiac On Banjo #083: Why Mickey Mouse Only Has Four Fingers

Brainiac On Banjo #083: Why Mickey Mouse Only Has Four Fingers

The Mayor and Corporation / Have declared such jubilation / ‘Cos the stork has brought / A son and daughter / For Mr. and Mrs. Mickey Mouse / Pluto’s giving a party / And before the fun begins / He’ll present a golden dollar / To the father of the twins — Mickey’s Son and Daughter, written by Tommie Conner and Eddie Lisbona, as recorded by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band 1967.

To no one’s surprise, last week The Disney Company “furloughed” 100,000 workers due to ramifications of the coronavirus plague, a move which is supposed to save The House of Mouse some $500,000,000 a month.

As horrific it is to at least 100,000 families, this is understandable. Disney makes movies, but most theaters are closed… for the moment. Disney operates theme parks, which also are closed… for the moment. Their many television operations are doing fine (well, ESPN not so much) because reasonable people are trapped at home.

I suspect their overall advertising revenue might be down some. However, I should note cable teevee revenue is less dependent upon advertising than it is on payments from cable operators, and streaming revenue is not particularly ad-dependent. Still, Uncle Scrooge doesn’t have quite as deep a money bin as he did last New Year’s Day.

You are most likely aware of many of the company’s jewels. To name but a few: the Disney movie and television empires, the Disney theme parks worldwide, ABC television, the Disney Channels (there are several), the Disney Plus streamer, Marvel Comics, Lucasfilm, The Simpsons, Pixar, Disney Radio, the Muppets, Narnia, the Disney Cruise Line, 80% of ESPN, half of A&E, half of Lifetime, 10% of Vice Media, and enough merchandising and licensing operations to warrant a seat at the United Nations Security Council. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #083: Why Mickey Mouse Only Has Four Fingers”

Brainiac On Banjo #082: This Is Fitting… And About Time, Too!

Brainiac On Banjo #082: This Is Fitting… And About Time, Too!

Famous 1st Edition #C-63, New Fun Comics #1, published by DC Comics, 2020, in hardcover $19.99.

The very first thing that impressed me about the release of Famous 1st Edition #C-63, the first in four decades, is that the subtitle below the logo is “Limited Collectors’ Platinum Mint Series.” Holy crap! It’s Limited, it’s Platinum, it’s also Mint… and it’s a series?

So I looked it up. DC published a bunch of “Famous First Editions” reprinting the first issues of most of the usual suspects: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash Comics, All-Star Comics. Don’t ask me to explain how their numbering system worked; I figured it out with the intent of explaining it, but my head still hurts and it really isn’t important. The number isn’t on the cover, and, anyway, there can’t be a second Famous 1st Edition edition of New Fun #1. What I did’t realize, or maybe I forgot, is that before this Famous 1st Edition Limited Collectors’ Platinum Mint Series book DC had published issues as “Golden Mint,” “Silver Mint,” “Bronze Mint,” and Blue Ribbon series, the latter doubtlessly just to piss Archie Comics off. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #082: This Is Fitting… And About Time, Too!”

Brainiac On Banjo #081: The Crack of the Whip!

Brainiac On Banjo #081: The Crack of the Whip!

I mean to say that every day Is just another rotten mess / And when it’s gonna change, my friend / Is anybody’s guess / So I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’ / Hopin’ for the best / Even think I’ll go to prayin’ / Every time I hear ’em sayin’ / That there’s no way to delay / That trouble comin’ every day • Trouble Every Day, Frank Zappa, 1966

 

People, including your feckless correspondent, have been predicting the death of the 32-page comic book pamphlet for many decades. It’s been an unsustainable model since the late 1950s, and sooner or later it was bound to catch up with reality. Us fans have been copping Sisyphus’s act for six decades.

Well, if you hang on long enough, most predictions kinda come true. This one hasn’t. Not yet.

Premature as they are, there have been conflicting reports as to when comics are going to resume publication and distribution, and how many comics shops are likely to be open – even with curb service. That’s putting the cart before the horse, but the comics racket has taken on the countenance of the buggy whip factory for a long time now. And, yes, they still make buggy whips, but I’ll bet you know far, far more comics readers than buggy owners. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #081: The Crack of the Whip!”