Sexy, Sexy Fight Club

The Black Cat is a Golden Age comic book heroine that was targeted, perhaps unfairly, by watchdog groups for excessive violence and as being unsuitable for children. While I agree the latter issues of Black Cat were a product of an out of control industry desperate for market share and were not suitable for young readers, the earlier pre-Comics Code issues of Black Cat were pretty mild, standard superhero detective fare. Not that it was easy to keep up as the book went through several format changes in order to attract readers. Compared to the infamous Radium Cigarette issue there really wasn’t much in the earlier issues worth gathering the pitchforks and torches over.

What made some people concerned were not frank depictions of adult relationships and extreme violence but the occasional back-up feature depicting the Black Cat showing readers how to practice martial arts moves. All the martial arts features were purely defensive in nature but groups complained that children could use the information in the title inappropriately and possibly hurt themselves, others or if the illustrations are any judge, the occasional wandering Italian. Most of the time the wink-and-nudge was ignored or missed in the Golden Age. This shows parent groups and other advocates did not read, or if they did read the content, did not understand the medium and they focused only on the obvious.

Black Cat #11 (May 1948) is noteworthy for another reason other than the self-defense courses for women and it has all to do with the often over-looked subtext.

Sexy fetishes aside the two-page back up tale A Day With the Black Cat is an early depiction featuring a clear and disturbing schism between the civilian and superhero identities. I would be hard-pressed to find an earlier example so dramatic. This is a theme that would later become the foundation for superheroes for several decades as characterization and continuity would be introduced by creative teams expanding the genre. The Hulk, Doctor Fate and Batman are just a few examples of characters that expressed extreme differences in their personalities, in some cases completely different psyches that displayed they were not fully in control.

In the two-page story Linda Turner is a famous, wealthy and gorgeous (though probably repressed) actress. After a hard day at work she falls asleep in her dressing room only to be awakened by her other self, the sexy, sexy Black Cat. As the Black Cat explains, now that Linda is asleep she can behave in ways that Linda never would or could. In the dream, Linda wakes up as her other personality begins to rifle through a closet for sexy, sexy clothes to wear on a date with her long-time and probably equally repressed boyfriend. One could easily claim that every single item in the dream setting is full of meaning, from the closet to the items within it to the room itself. It is clear that Linda is at war with herself.

A fight ensues with both sides of Linda’s personality struggling for supremacy in her dressing room, a place which obviously represents Linda’s mind. Inevitably the sexy, sexy exhibitionist in fetish gear wins the fight and Linda Turner is bound, gagged and left on the floor. The triumphant Black Cat departs via the door, obviously in this scene taking control of the body and leaving the Linda personality, which was first seen in this feature wearing head-to-toe Elizabethan clothing, to be suppressed and forgotten in favor of a woman wears fishnet and leather.

When the Black Cat awakes she dons the same sexy, sexy dress she previously picked out in the mental “closet” and proceeds to replace Linda in her life. I think the boyfriend is in for a surprise or two.

Wow. To think Congress got all upset about the Judo.

Sleestak reviews: Who Can Save Us Now?

Like many comic book bloggers I receive about once a week or so an offer to review a book, comic or DVD in return for a free copy of the product. I usually decline the offer since until recently, I just did not have time to read or devote the energy to doing a review. One offer a few months back made my ethics-sense tingle. In return for a link and write-up (presumably favorable) the blogger would receive a free copy of the item from the promotional company. Even though I was gagging for what they offered, I politely declined since it seemed sleazy. I wouldn’t promote something I haven’t seen beforehand (unless I was getting paid for it). Even though I later purchased my own copy and can heartily recommend it now, I replied then that I couldn’t in good conscience do as they asked. I didn’t receive a response thanking me, which would have been professional, but I knew it was too much to expect from marketing shills. Other sites, I noticed, in their eagerness to receive some free goodies before it hit the stores did not hesitate in promoting their goods. To each their own.

I mention this because from reading a number of reviews of the new superhero anthology book Who Can Save Us Now? attention seems to be focused only on the first story in the book, Girl Reporter by Stephanie Harrell. From the various sources I’m reading I speculate that a few of the many amateur reviewers (And I consider myself a complete amateur) are taking advantage of the offer of a free book by giving a perfunctory read of the first story and pounding out a paragraph of why they liked or disliked the collection as a whole. I understand the business model behind it, and the promise of a little free booty gets a lot of people all drool-y but it would be nice if the company chose their recipients a little more carefully. If a little publicity is all that the publisher expects or wants for handing out a promotional copy then, fine. Most of us are not journalists or professionals and our readership is low enough that I seriously wonder about the cost-effectiveness of handing out umpteen copies of a book or DVD.

The most obvious comparison to Who Can Save Us Now? is to an older anthology collection, Superheroes. Some comic books fans are familiar with the 1991 re-issue of this 80s collection. I first read this collection of short stories deconstructing the world of superheroes in the early 1980s. It had a great amalgam superhero cover and contained short stories printed in various magazines from as far back as the 1960s. In Superheroes there is a story similar in theme to Girl Reporter, as both stories feature a Lois Lane and Superman archetype. The former story is about an obsessed woman who tracks down the hero in his secret identity to fulfill her fantasies only to discover he really is a “strange visitor”, who only looks human and has nothing in common with humanity. Girl Reporter diverges from this idea in which the character doesn’t discover a monster but instead creates one. One of the amusing ideas about this story is that I think Stephanie Harrell completely and accurately nails Lois Lane’s character as a selfish, sex-addicted manipulator.

Who Can Save Us Now? is not Mayhem In Manhattan. Much of the anthology will appeal not to comic book fans looking for text adventures of their favorite heroes but rather those readers that enjoy the work of Chabon, Lapham and Grossman. These authors have found a niche in the neo-geek market and this book ably fills it. Several of the stories are not so much about heroics as they are about hope and even delusion. They carry the theme that there is a little hero in everyone. The emo Oversoul and Nate Pickney-Anderson, Super-Hero are two examples.

The Pentecostal Home for Flying Children is like Peyton Place on a dose of Marvel 616. One of the things that is difficult to do in these stories is get away from the mythology of Marvel or DC. Both of those companies have been around forever and there are very few original ideas left for creators to mine. Still, there are plenty of evil geniuses and superheroes to read about and several of the stories are fun, creepy and even scary.

One common theme in any modern story about superheroes is the new habit of creators making the characters act just like real people. Not in the sense of hopes and dreams and drama but in the style of such fare as The Boys by Garth Ennis. Kevin Smith penned a funny bit in Mallrats where a character was obsessed about the details of superhero anatomy and the physics of sex and the toilet, but that’s all it was, a comedy bit. Sooner or later all the fanboys wonder about it and even, in some cases, probably fantasize about it. I know there are entire websites devoted to the idea and featuring superheroes like the Fantastic Four having sex. Again, to each their own. I’m just not interested in Kitty porn.

Many modern writers have run with the idea and made it seem to be a central theme of their work. Okay, yes, we get it. Superman gets erections and Wonder Woman has a menstrual cycle. Unless it is an Harlan Ellison story or Wild Cards character please let the tawdry biological descriptions rest. It makes the eyes roll when every single story you read has a passage devoted to Ultra-Defecation, Hyper-Sex or the Super-Penis. Once upon a time it was edgy, new and humanized a character but now it seems trite, like the amateur fiction of a stereotypical fanboy.

Still, other than the occasional melancholy ending there is much to like in this collection. My Interview With the Avenger and the League of Justice (Philadelphia Division) tweaks some of the conceits of the Batman and the unfairly dismissed Detroit Justice League of America era.

If you enjoyed Fortress of Solitude and Soon I Will be Invincible then don’t hesitate to get this book. If you don’t care for those entries then it is still worthwhile as several of the stories are a modern take of the Silver and Modern Age of comic books. Basically, if I didn’t receive this book free I’d still buy it. I enjoyed most of the stories as they added a bit not only to the continuing legitimacy of the superhero as an art form but also to the canonical, what one writer, Devon Sanders at Second Printing!!, is calling the “New Mythology“.

You can order the book here.

Futura – Chapter 7

Planet Comics #49 (July 1947) features a very nice cover credited to Joe Doolin. A Fiction House regular, Doolin did a lot of very nice work for that company. Modern readers could favorably compare the cover art and the fine line work to Bolland or McGuire.

The comic books of the Golden Age often get short-shrift from readers for several reasons. One factor as to why they are often dismissed is due to the quality of writing and art. While lack of interest by many in the works of an earlier era is a factor, honestly, many of the old comics are a chore to read even in the context of the times. It is often only my own fanatic love of the pulps that get me through many of the old magazines and comic books, not because of the silly science or impossible plots but because lots of times the story is just simply awful.

There are several instances where the other Planet Comics features are are superior in concept and execution to Futura. The Nazi-allegory setting of the Lost World aside there are many enjoyable chapters in that series. Mysta of the Moon contains some very high-concept ideas I have not noticed before their appearence in that series, but have noticed cropping up over the years in different science fiction media afterwards. The quality of the art in the lead stories rarely dipped below a certain point in execution, even when it was clear the magazine was in its final days.

Other than the printing process, publishing deadlines were probably the main reason that many of the pulps and comic books suffered in percieved quality. Overworked and notoriously underpaid creators of the time had to work fast. Often one artist or writer would work on several features at once over various titles, using different pen names or laboring under one house name. Even strips a creator has a fondness for and invested interest could suffer under less than ideal working conditions.

The next several chapters of the Futura Saga seems to be affected by such creative problems. If the letters pages were any true indication Futura was appreciated by fans over several of the other regular features, yet the strip received little cover space and perhaps less editorial attention. Chapter 6 of Futura’s story in Planet Comics #49 still retains some great concepts and a few panels reveal some fine line work not entirely wiped out by the inking and printing process, but something was happening behind the scenes creatively and it appears as if short cuts were being applied that was then reflected in the quality of the strip.

Enjoy!

If only this was our Earth

In What If v2 #30 (October 1991) Ron Marz* scripted an alternate universe tale of nationwide social change brought about by the activist child of Sue and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four.

I’ve always enjoyed this particular page for featuring some look-alike Bush Sr. and Cheney characters when they realize that the orgy of unchecked feeding at the public trough and abuse of a nation for personal gain is over. I think the sequence could easily apply to 2008. Ha ha! That’s right guys, you better worry!

Power to the people!

Man, I hope the next guys are better than the last bunch.

* I am so very thankful for all those wonderful, subversive, hippies that worked at Marvel.