Category: Brainiac On Banjo

Brainiac On Banjo #097: Yeah, Baseball!

Brainiac On Banjo #097: Yeah, Baseball!

Steve Goodman

Give me a doubleheader funeral in Wrigley Field / On some sunny weekend day – no lights / Have the organ play the National Anthem / And then a little ‘Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye’ / Make six bullpen pitchers carry my coffin / And six groundskeepers clear my path / Have the umpires bark me out at every base / In all their holy wrath — Steve Goodman, A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request, 1983.

One of the many differences I have with the Conventional Wisdom is that I see professional sports as part of our popular culture and not as a religion. If every player on the New York Mets were from New York City, and so on, that might be different. Root, root, root for the home team. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #097: Yeah, Baseball!”

Brainiac On Banjo #096: At Last – My Flying Automobile!

Brainiac On Banjo #096: At Last – My Flying Automobile!

Sweet birds are flying like the wings of my soul / The warm breeze / The eyes to the sky / Feel the even flow of the change in time — Trey Anastasio, Flying Machines, 2015

I blame Julius Schwartz.

Julie was a major editor at DC Comics from 1944 until he retired in 1986 and, before that, he was one of the nation’s first science-fiction agents. Julie represented — among others — Alfred Bester, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, and H. P. Lovecraft. He co-founded the World Science Fiction Convention, and before that, co-founded Time Traveller, one of the first science fiction fanzines, partnering with Mort Weisinger and Forrest J. Ackerman. So when it comes to the realms of speculative fiction in prose and visuals, Julie was the nexus of all unrealities.

As a child, I grew up gawking at his science fiction titles Strange Adventures and Mystery In Space, which featured many of the top talents that would soon join him in creating what we refer to as the Silver Age of Comics. In true s-f faction, those stories thrilled us with tales about flying skyscrapers, flying gorillas, and flying cars. The first two were amusing but outside the bounds of likely possibility. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #096: At Last – My Flying Automobile!”

Brainiac On Banjo #095: Fair Play Is Terrific

Brainiac On Banjo #095: Fair Play Is Terrific

Middle fingaz in the air / We gonn make it multiplayer / If the game ain’t fair / Better play it multiplayer — Khontkar and Bixi Blake, Multiplayer, 2017

The first golden age comic book I ever purchased was Sensation Comics #7, 1942. It cover-featured Wonder WomanH.G. Peter and William Marston, of course — and it co-starred features of which I had never heard. I thought Irwin Hasen and Bill Finger’s Wildcat was a great character, and I still do. Shelly Moldoff and Gardner Fox’s Black Pirate was adequate but dramatically drawn. A remarkably bad series from Jon L. Blummer and Bill Finger called Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys lived up to the ambiance of its name, and that is a name you do not want to say too quickly. There was some filler material about stamps and things… and, oh yeah, there was a costumed superhero by Hal Sharp and Charles Reizenstein dubbed Mr. Terrific.

That was not exactly the best-named superhero on the block. “Mr. Terrific” smacked of desperation and lazy thinking, as if showrunners Shelly Meyer and Max Gaines said “Oh, screw it, let’s just call him ‘Mr. Terrific’ and hope for the best.” His abilities were negligible, and to draw attention to that his stomach was emblazoned with the legend “Fair Play.” This hardly was “Truth, Justice and the American Way” or “The Weed of Crime Bears Bitter Fruit.” This was just a wee bit better than “Sockamagee.” Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #095: Fair Play Is Terrific”

Brainiac On Banjo #094: Nyah Nyah, Nyah Nyah, Nyah Nyah!

Brainiac On Banjo #094: Nyah Nyah, Nyah Nyah, Nyah Nyah!

Well, I went to the doctor / I said, “I’m feeling kind of rough” / He said, “Let me break it to you, son / “Your shit’s fucked up.” / I said, “My shit’s fucked up? / “Well, I don’t see how / He said, “The shit that used to work / It won’t work now.” – Warren Zevon, My Shit’s Fucked Up, from the album Life’ll Kill Ya, 2000

This week we offer a three short subjects for our attention-span impaired friends…

ITEM 1: Beware of Falling Objects

A couple months ago, WarnerMedia announced HBOMax, the ultimate Warner Bros streaming service. And the most expensive, as I noted. They consumed their first Pac-Man, HBOGo. Go? Go know… I also noted, a few hours after the announcement, that there no longer was a way to keep their DC Universe going. I certainly wasn’t the only person who came up with this analysis — it was obvious, sorta like saying “that yellow thing in the sky is ‘the sun’” — but I blurted it out faster than a speeding bullet.

However, there was some significant collateral damage. The death of DCU (which, as predicted, will see its original programming going over to HBOMax) begat a very severe round of staff-hatcheting at DC comics. After moving 3,000 miles to new “state-of-the-art” facilities — they didn’t mention which art — their parking lot now can welcome more pigeons. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #094: Nyah Nyah, Nyah Nyah, Nyah Nyah!”

Brainiac On Banjo #093: “What the Hell Was That?”

Brainiac On Banjo #093: “What the Hell Was That?”

One day I feel so horny / Next night I feel so bleh / Guess well have to take the whoppee! / along with the bleh / Each night I ask the moon up above / Why must I be a septuagenerian in love? ––Tuli Kupferberg, “Septuagenerian in Love,” from The Fugs Final CD, Part 1, 2003.

Well, this is goddamned strange. Not at all what I expected.

It’s not that I’m big on birthday celebrations. I have a hard time remembering such events; it’s an often embarrassing failing. The only reason I remember my own is because I’ve renewed my driver’s license approximately 18 times, thereby making it a habit. Well, I’ve just put my new driver’s license in my wallet – which was kinda fun because I didn’t have to break quarantine to get it — so unless something terminal happens in the next 24 hours, I turn 70 tomorrow. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #093: “What the Hell Was That?””

Brainiac On Banjo #092: John Lewis – The Great American Warrior

Brainiac On Banjo #092: John Lewis – The Great American Warrior

Hound dogs on my trail / School children sitting in jail / Black cat cross my path / I think every day’s gonna be my last / Lord have mercy on this land of mine / We all gonna get it in due time / I don’t belong here / I don’t belong there / I’ve even stopped believing in prayer — Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddam,” 1964

The first time I was able to have a conversation with the late Representative and true American hero John Lewis was about six years ago at the Baltimore Comic-Con. It was during set-up so the room was comparatively open and, as I was attempting to locate my booth I saw Representative Lewis behind a table. His name was on the sign behind his table — “Congressman John Lewis.” I did one of those patented Tex Avery eyeball takes.

I previously had been at the Heroes Convention at the Charlotte North Carolina Convention Center. A bunch of older white guys were walking around wearing suits that, each, could feed a family of four for three months. In the midst of that gaggle was Sarah Palin. I looked around to make sure I was at the right place because I could not believe these folks were there to add to their Funko Pops collections.

I was right; the state Republican Convention was upstairs and the comic-con was downstairs. The white men in their expensive suits looked disgusted but, to be fair, they always look that way. Sarah saw the cosplayers and beamed a megawatt smile. So you can’t say I’ve never said anything nice about Sarah Palin.

But this time, the statesman at hand was there for a comic book show. Considering he worked in Congress, seeing a couple thousand people dressed up as The Joker (including babies) was just another day at work. I approached him, he offered me a seat, and we chatted about the relationship between comic books and political organizing. It was one of those “holy crap” moments that make life wonderful.

Rep. Lewis did say I was the first to recognize him at the show. I laughed and said “Oh, just wait until the show starts.” He looked skeptical, but my prediction quickly came to pass: that was just about the only time during the show that I could see him clearly from the aisle. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #092: John Lewis – The Great American Warrior”

Brainiac On Banjo #091: DC Universe … From Streaming To Sinking

Brainiac On Banjo #091: DC Universe … From Streaming To Sinking

As of this writing, which is 9 PM EDT Sunday July 12, the DC Universe streaming service is still alive. It’s home to some of the most entertaining superhero teevee programing around, in my opinion. I can’t speak for yours. But that thing coughing up blood all over your Wi-Fi is, sadly, the DC Universe streaming service. And it’s the fault of their own artistic success.

Aside from hospitals, the only place that has had a worse month than the DCU has been the White House. In fairly quick order, the service lost future first-run episodes of Stargirl to the CW, saw The Doom Patrol multicast on the pathetic HBO Max sinkhole, Harley Quinn also airing on Syfy and Canada’s Adult Swim, and is thought to be migrating to HBO Max as well. Titans remains, but might be severely undermined by DC’s new Gotham City Police show (not necessarily the final title) spinning out of The Batman movie the now filming in Europe.

Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #091: DC Universe … From Streaming To Sinking”

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”