Can I get a WA-HOOO!

When it comes to movies based on comic book superheroes I am of the opinion that the best I can hope for is it doesn’t suck too much. Two or three bad super hero films can kill the genre for about a decade. Look at the 80s for an example.

Fortunately for fans of comic-to-film cinema Marvel has been doing a pretty good job lately in their choices. What helped I think was an overall vision or if you prefer, a story arc. Beginning with Iron Man a connecting theme of sorts has been present all with the goal of maintaining a franchise to culminate in the Avengers movie slated to be released next year. Clearly, a lot is riding on the Marvel characters to pay off in the end and the recent Captain America movie probably did not hurt the studios chances of wrapping up the story with good box office.

I saw Captain America, the First Avenger, The Movie (to use the full official title) in the theater last Monday and I was pretty impressed. It exceeded my expectations that the movie not be merely OK which is about all I really want from a super hero flick. While I really enjoyed the film I did accidentally pick the 3D version from the hard to navigate sun-washed touch-screen kiosk outside the box office, so ouch to my eyes. The 3D was alright but it is not my entertainment viewing preference.

The film was fun, exciting and the producers didn’t get stupid with the script or go cheap which is the death of any comic book film (for instance the 1990 Cap). Production values were high and there were plenty of Easter eggs to delight the geeks like myself such as the Human Torch android safely sealed in a vacuum tube and the Arnim Zola giant face in the monitor. Chris Evans and Hugo Weaving as Captain America and the Red Skull were pretty great. Wisely, a young Nick Fury was not included.

The film managed to acknowledge the entire published and cinematic history of Captain America and as a fan I was pleased it did not ignore the contributions of Simon and Kirby among other creative teams. Honestly though, I thought the 1990s Red Skull mask was superior to the one worn by Weaving. The 2011 Red Skull had smooth and flawless skin. I expected more veins, raw exposed teeth and muscles similar to the one worn by Scott Paulin in the 1990 film.
The initial Hydra spy foot chase could have benefited from some tighter editing and the musical number, with Cap punching co-splay Hitler was a nice scene that set the stage for the journey from propaganda jester to hero. Also, a nice touch was that Captain America was made in a process that meant more than the physical aspect as a pre-super soldier Steve Rogers obsessively studied militarily history and tactics. It was clear that not just anyone could be Captain America, something that the comic books has addressed for decades. That the Nazis were only incidental to the film and Hydra was the big bad initially caused some story concern for me. What is Cap without Nazis? But it became clear that the Nazis were petty, venal thugs with limited vision and ability. In recent cinema (after the 1940s) this idea was also put forth in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The fate of the Red Skull is pretty obvious and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t make an appearance in the Avengers film or a Cap sequel. Bucky was also set up to make a return as the Winter Soldier if the fan interest is there.

So as a lead in to The Avengers and as a stand alone film I was not disappointed with Captain America: The First Avenger. Most of all, are you listening, Marvel? This film I would pay to see again.

All in color for a won

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t recognize South Korea if I visited it again. When I was there almost no one had internet and now it is one of the most connected countries on the planet. My impression of the country was that a person could walk a mile and the landscape, lifestyle and technology would change to resemble anything from 1930s American Heartland to the 1980s and back again all within a comfortable stroll. From new pictures I can see that many of the cities are completely transformed.

The popular music I heard while out was more often than not self-produced, self-promoted and self-distributed and the bands commonly consisted of a small electric organ with pre-programmed bossa nova beats. One of the interesting things to watch while I was in Korea was the evolution of rap and rock music. As restrictions of an oppressive government eased and Korean youth could speak out they did so angrily through their songs, though more polite by several degrees than the urban American inspiration that shocked so many people.

Watching the slick, corporate-owned and high production values of some of the newest Korean pop groups is something of a shock since all I recall are stiff, rote performances to a cassette tape playing on a chair next to the performer. There are few surprises in the music videos though and all pretty much follow the standard themes familiar to anyone born after the 1980s. The girls are cute, bouncy and sexy (very few affect a public street or gangster persona though this is changing) and rapid changes in costume and sets are the rules. A lot of cosplay costumes are involved though I’m sure this is what producers are confident that the audience wants.

The male performers in videos are usually depicted as living large and horribly tortured by emotion, definitely appealing to teen girls. The videos are hilarious because of the overwrought scenery chewing of the performers. I suspect focus groups or something similar dictate the format and themes of the music videos to an extreme perhaps more than their American counterparts and that these groups are similar to the heavily-managed and manufactured boy and girl groups of the American 1990s music scene.

5 Dolls is a typical Korean girl bubblegum pop group featured in a video with a comic book layout theme. Kind of fun and a little daring.

On the male side is So Goodbye from the City Hunter television series soundtrack and it’s pretty slick. My wife is addicted to the show and many others that are not fun to locate in the US but she enjoys immensely. Being a good husband, I focus on procuring Korean films and television nearly as much as I do gathering Hayley Mills memorabilia.

Voyeur enabling comic book ad

While not being privy to the creation of the ad copy for this mini-camera from a 1958 girl’s romance comic book it is hard to believe that the following sales point for the camera was meant for anyone other than emerging pervs or creepy adults. It is possible that it was totally innocent but the sleaze-factor, combined with the explosion of “camera clubs” during that time period leads me to doubt that the camera was meant just for laughs.

Brides In Love #9 - Stalking Ad (Sept 1958)

In case you can’t read the copy it proudly states one of the positive features of the small, easily-concealed camera is:“Your girlfriend and other bathing-beauties will all relax in their natural pose and make a swell pin-up collection. Through a paper is just one of many ways to go about it.”

You can view the entire ad (among others) from Brides in Love #9 (Sept 1958) via this post here.

From the Library of Ada Winemiller, Part 2

The presumably young Ada Winemiller that claimed this copy of Brides in Love #9 back in 1958 would have been reading tales of romance that perhaps misled her as to what gender roles were really like in the late 1950s. Other than the social programming within the book Ada would also have been exposed to the somewhat non-gender specific advertising within the pages as well.

The advertisements that appeared in comics were not really targeted to both genders back in the day. Comic books were primarily and rightly so aimed at the young male demographic. Female customers were almost an after-thought and romance comic books held the same place the more adventure oriented books had as a product, as a safer alternative to the racier and more lurid pulp and gossip magazines that dominated the news stands.

Comic book advertising was almost certainly sold based upon volume, not a targeted youth or older group. Ads for submarines, rockets, space suits, cowboy gear and body building dominated pages set aside for outside revenue. What the sales department was selling was eyes on the page, not what percentage of boys versus girls were tempted by their products. Even the romance or female-oriented magazines for the most part contained advertising directly aimed at the young male reader. Ads for fashion and makeup were typically published in titles like Miss America or Calling All Girls which while they contained sequential art were considered full-fled magazines and were on a different tier than the other four-color comics.

So it was that Brides in Love #9 contained the usual advertising of the era. That several of the ads depicted muscle men is likely incidental and while possibly of interest to Ada were probably not placed in the book specifically to her market.

The opposite may be true for the male youth market as the amount of T&A in most of the mainstream comic books were obvious and gratuitous far beyond what the artist or writer knew was sensible. The romance books, while not as adventuresome thematically, supports my personal theory that even the girl-oriented books were also primarily meant for the male reader and served as a safe and acceptable form of pornography or at least a source to satisfy curiosity, somewhat like the notorious lingerie ads in a Sears catalog. Given that so many stories feature panels of women in their underclothes and showing them fitfully tossing and turning on their bed with frustration is provocative to be sure. A scene in an issue of Marvel Comics 2003 mini-series Unstable Molecules, reflecting the era, bears anecdotal witness to the idea. You can view the semi-NSFW page here.

These type of cheesecake voyeuristic images were almost exclusive to the romance comics. Unfortunately when this imagery, combined with the more violent ones that were ubiquitous to the action and adventure comics reached a sort of parental saturation the result was government and group involvement that resulted in the Comics Code Authority.

Of the eight pages of ads in Brides of Love #9 there are three are shilling body building, four are pushing a combination of toys and science-related instruments. Arguably given the perceived audience of the time these ads were correctly and most effectively aimed at a young male.

One ad features photographs of popular media stars, which is the only ad that might be considered by advertisers to be directly of interest to a girl of that era. But what sort of young woman was Ada Winemiller? If she took any interest in the ads at all who is to say she wasn’t the most intrigued by the rocket kit? Maybe she liked the idea of breaching the walls of America’s enemies in a tank? It could be she grew up to be a force to be reckoned with in the business world after learning entrepreneurship from selling salve or Grit. Out of all the advertisements from Brides in Love #9 presented here, which ones may have captured the attention of Ada the most?

Maybe she chose her own path and did whatever she wanted be it in business, science or as homemaker. Perhaps the old men editing the romance comic books of the 1950s, who mandated stories of women who yearned to be housewives and mothers and nothing else because there was no other goal worthier than domestic breeder, would be shocked to learn how Ada Winemiller ultimately turned out.