#Batman

It’s the 80th birthday of Batman and the 1000th issue of Detective Comics!Related image

I grew up watching the campy Batman of Adam West and the Super Friends who guest starred on Scooby Doo once in awhile. I didn’t really get into the serious iteration until The Dark Knight Returns and later, the seminal Batman The Animated Series.

One thing I’ve always felt about Batman….OK, I love his rogue’s gallery. It’s the best bunch of nemeses in comics. Only Spider-Man’s comes close.

They’re so great that, for me anyway, Batman himself has kinda paled in comparison in terms of interest.  Of course they don’t exist without him. He’s the linchpin that brings them together. But I’ve always been a bit bored of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and his nocturnal, perennial one-upper persona (at least, as he seems to be portrayed in the last decade or so).

So I got to talking about this just for fun with my buddy Elliott McMillan – how could one make Bruce Wayne more interesting?Image result for batman bruce wayne

We live in an age of instant gratification and internet pseudo-celebrity. People can make a living and get famous opening boxes of toys on Youtube or ‘influencing’ a bevvy of followers into buying some company’s latest shoe or scent, or scented shoe, whatever. Thousands of people can be herded to a remote island and fleeced without facilities simply because a model pursed her lips on a beach.Image result for the shadow unmasks

Now the original inspiration for Bruce Wayne/Batman and Lamont Cranston/The Shadow and a bevy of other moonlighting capitalists has always been  the 1919 All-Pulp serialized adventure novel The Curse of Capistrano, later republished in the 20s under its more well-known name, The Mark of Zorro. I’m sure there have been other characters, but Zorro/Don Diego Vega is Batman’s direct literary ancestor.
Image result for tyrone power don diego

The central and enduring conceit of the playboy turned masked vigilante was that Don Diego was something of a fop. Watch The Mark of Zorro with Tyrone Power.  Don Diego is a well-dressed, handsome, wealthy guy, impeccably groomed whom no one suspects as Zorro, because he practically faints at the sight of blood, and is quick to dab his forehead with a lacy handkerchief at the mention of violence.  How could a guy like that be the daring, swashbuckling Zorro?

This is, I think, where the writers of Batman have kinda gotten away from the concept.

Bruce Wayne, billionaire playboy, is usually portrayed as more of a James Bond type than a Don Diego. He’s ridiculously handsome and charming, yes, a proven lady’s man, a world traveler, and usually the fittest guy in the room.  Everybody wants to be him.

How does anybody in Gotham not know he’s Batman?

Batman – the crimefighter, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. He would stay the way he is.

But how could you make Bruce Wayne completely unrecognizable as Batman?

The answer jumped out at me.

Make him a Kardasshian.

Image result for kardashian instagram post

Bruce Wayne is from the rich set.

What if he’s constantly posting shirtless selfies on Instagram with models in exotic locales and exclusive clubs?

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Count the sixer! #BDubya #Gettinshredded #Yolo

What if he’s an obnoxious social media guru who goes by B-Dubya, a witless narcissist whom his detractors say rode the initial sympathy over his parents’ double murder to pseudo-celebrity?

“The apple has fallen very far from the tree, Mr. Wayne.”

I’ve heard this line used a couple times, but it never quite strikes true for me. There’s usually no reason for anybody to disparage Bruce Wayne.

But what if he was that privileged, talent-less one per center everybody loves to hate? The shallow, wealth porn wastrel who seems to be on the internet 24/7 pushing products and influencing his millions of devout followers, alternately lamenting some trendy pet cause and flashing expensive wristwatches and magnums of Cristal?

Ooo you’d hate him. Gotham would hate him.

How could a guy like that ever be Batman? With all the posting he does about The Bachelor, he’d never have the time.

Image result for instagram the bachelor

Related imageExcept it’s Alfred, sitting comfily in his easy chair at Wayne Manor, putting aside the Emerson he’s reading during the commercial breaks, to tweet under Bruce’s account about Colton’s dubious taste in women.

It’s Alfred posting a set of pre-prepared selfies taken in the VIP booth of Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge with a passel of fawning starlets, perhaps tagged with mindless webspeak drafted by Bruce or young Dick Grayson, B-Dubya’s obnoxious ‘pet’ orphan, a Jaden Smith style freshman philosopher molded in Bruce’s image.

Bruce snaps a fresh from the shower selfie, duck lipping at his phone….then hands it to his butler.

“Alfred, I want the first one posted in a half an hour. The windsurfing stuff at 3:30. Spread the club shots out over the rest of the night. I’m in Montevideo, so remember the time change.”

And then he pulls back the bust of Beethoven and slides down the pole to the Batcave…

Maybe Jim Gordon is the only cop to suspect anything – because what kind of ally/foil would he be otherwise? Maybe he spots a baseball game on a TV in the background of one of Bruce’s live tweets – a game that actually aired three days ago…(WTF is Batman? #BDubya #1Luv)

Now as I said, I love Batman’s rogues gallery, so in the universe of Hashtag Batman, what are the villains up to?Image result for batman rogues galleryHarvey Dent – Bruce’s frat buddy in college. He came from humble beginnings, and unknown to him, Bruce paid his way through law school via various dummy foundations. Seen as the straight edge, the good one of the so-called ‘dynamic duo.’ The guy who stayed home at night and stuck to the books while the future B-Dubya went out partying. Eventually Bruce dropped out and went traveling for a year. Now Harvey’s Gotham’s star prosecutor….for a little while, anyway. When he goes beyond the law to prosecute one of Gotham’s worst mobsters, the guy’s wife flings acid in his face in front of the courthouse and his inner instabilities come crashing to the front.

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Harley Quinn – An in demand criminal psychiatrist, regularly called upon by Harvey to give weighed psychiatric evidence to get otherwise legally insane suspects jail time. When Harvey’s racket is exposed, she is discredited, and winds up on the Arkham Asylum staff as only Hugo Strange will hire her. Just in time to meet the love of her life…

TRelated imagehe Penguin – The second wealthiest man in Gotham, a sleezebag who made his fortune as a Hollywood producer, a salacious Harvey Weinstein running a popular garish nightspot, The Iceberg Lounge, where women parade around in skimpy penguin costumes and anything goes in the VIP areas. A blackmailer whose club is wired for sound and video. He’s got something on everybody who passes through his doors.

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Art by DanniSketches

Poison Ivy – An extreme eco-terrorist at the head of a pagan, earth worshipping movement who also leads an Anonymous-style legion of radical cyber-terrorists intent on bringing down the lumber and farming industry.  Because I’ve always felt…if Ivy reveres the life of plants, she wouldn’t be a vegetarian at all.

The Riddler – A once brilliant young video game designer (I admit I borrowed this from Batman TAS) fired and disgraced in a Gamergate-like scandal after Bruce Wayne responded to a comment on one of his Instagram posts (“Hey B-Dubya, what do you have to say about the misogynist Ed Nymga, who encourages the harassment of his female co-workers in the Triple A game company Wayne Industries owns?” “I say Ed Nygma’s fired. #BDubya #YaDoneSon #MeToo”). Now he’s been banished to the fringe of Youtube, a raving, alt-right misogynist with a personal beef against Bruce Wayne (“Riddle me this, friends! How does a rich wastrel with no formal training lord it over us all from the headquarters of a mega-billion dollar company? Answer: He spends his dead parents’ goodwill credit. But not for long!”).

Image result for the scarecrow batmanScarecrow – A legendary horror filmmaking auteur in the vein of Dario Argento, John Carpenter, and George Romero, so obsessed with instilling true fear, he’s employed hallucinogenics and subliminal hypnotic suggestion in his weird experimental films (with the help of collaborator Jervis Tetch). He was fleeced in his career by Penguin and holds a grudge. Now, he’s making a comeback on the internet with his bizarre short films. Horror acting icon Matt Hagen often collaborates with him.

The Ventriloquist/Mr. Scarface – Arnold Wesker is head puppeteer on a wildly popular children’s show, but he is implicated in a sexual scandal and cancelled, re-emerging with the Mr. Scarface puppet persona. The puppet is enamored with his former co-star now partner in crime, Baby Dahl (because how has that great character not made the jump from TAS?).Related image

Now if you’ve gotten this far, you must be wondering about The Joker.

The Joker works best when the audience has no idea who or what he is.

The Joker tells three stories about his origins.

He was an innocent man incarcerated on a trumped up charge and disfigured during a prison assault.

He was a veteran, employed in chemical warfare. When wounded and suffering from PTSD, he returned home to find his government unwilling to give him the medical and psychiatric help he needed. He found solace in the fringes of the internet and in conspiracy theories. He detonated a gas bomb of his own devising and was disfigured in the process.

He was a comedian with gambling debts who had his face slashed by debt collectors.

Later investigations by Batman turn up three individuals with matching stories. All of them were admitted at Arkham Asylum. None of them emerged. Their skeletons are found in the basement.

But what’s the Joker’s angle in the universe of #Batman?

This brings me to Jokerphish.

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From Batman Digital Justice – memba THAT?

The comments sections of B-Dubya, The Riddler, and Poison Ivy, as well as various other internet celebrities, are usually rife with discussion. Then a phantom account ‘Joker’ begins trolling every major site, posting the most outrageous stuff, contrary to whatever the popular opinion of the page is (it posts liberal feminist stuff on Riddler’s page, enraging his incel followers, it posts anti-environmental stuff to Ivy’s, etc. Whatever the most contrary opinion is). This invites loads of replies, and every reply initializes a virus that displays a fish with a mouthful of human dentures and locks the system. The virus spreads like wildfire, initiating a temporary shutdown of most major social media sites.

Gotham PD investigates, and Jim Gordon turns up a room of dead hackers, their faces slashed into bloody smiles.

The next day The Joker hits television. He rants about his dislike of the internet and its shallowness, its celebration of mediocrity.  To prove it takes nothing at all to achieve fame there, he demands to be made into the top trending topic on every site, or he will murder ten people a day every day he isn’t trending. His catch is, he won’t set foot on any website. “After all,” he says, “I’d never join a club that would have me as a member. HAHAHAHAHAHAAH!”Image result for joker fish

And the deaths start happening, because Jokerphish has downloaded the personal info of every respondent. Thousands of users have replied. Each one is found dead with a smiling fish on their corpses…

Anyway, happy 80th, Bats.

DT Back Issues: Unknown Soldier (1997)

1983-1995 (the Copper Age) was the height of my comic book collecting, and a great time to discover the medium.  Starting with Larry Hama’s GI JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO for Marvel and gradually segueing into TRANSFORMERS and GROO THE WANDERER, I started frequenting comic shops and began to pick up anything that caught my eye. The mid 80’s saw the release, in rapid succession, of Frank Miller’s WOLVERINE (with Chris Claremont), THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, Alan Moore’s V FOR VENDETTA, WATCHMEN, and THE KILLING JOKE, and other positively seminal works in the field.

But I don’t wanna talk about them. I’m by no means a scholar or expert. I got out of comics for the most part when I started college, only popping in now and then since to pick up the occasional trade collection. All those books have been written up and dissected by far more qualified people than me, and you can look them up anywhere on the internet.

I’ve decided I’d like to revisit comics I’ve kept in the long white boxes in the back of my closet, titles that for whatever reason may not have been the most popular, and indeed, were likely forgotten for the most part, or mostly went underappreciated. I don’t know that I’m talking about rarities, or anything. I wasn’t really an underground comics guy. I’m talking more about mainstream gold that for whatever reason floated off down the creek. Stuff like Andy Helfer’s SHADOW, MARSHAL LAW, Steve Gerber’s FOOLKILLER miniseries from the 90’s, John Wagner’s BUTTON MAN, and Evan Dorkin’s MILK AND CHEESE. Here’s a list of everything I’ve covered so far. 

Unknown_Soldier_v.3_1Today I wanna draw attention to Garth Ennis and Killian Plunkett’s four-issue miniseries UNKNOWN SOLDIER from DC/Vertigo in 1991.

I have never read the original incarnation of the Unknown Soldier comic. The only time I remember ever seeing the character was in ads on the back of THE SHADOW in the 80’s and interspersed in the pages of an issue of GI COMBAT or maybe MEN OF WAR or WEIRD WAR TALES. I actually thought he was a part of Sgt. Rock’s squad or something. The only thing I ever knew about him was that he was in GI fatigues and his face was swaddled in mummy-like bandages. He was supposed to be some kind of battle-scarred master of disguise.

ssws168 unknownHaving never read the original series I have no idea if there’s a level to Ennis’ miniseries I’m missing. Are the various elderly characters mentioned and depicted (like the General, or the Soldier’s handler, Boothe) recurring characters from the first run? The series is pretty self-contained and each of the characters backstories are succinctly told, so I don’t know. It doesn’t suffer in the reading from a lack of acquaintance with the Unknown Soldier’s previous adventures.

Unknown_Soldier_1997_4_cover_3321I think what induced me to pick up the series were Tim Bradstreet’s full color covers. I became aware of Bradstreet during my Vampire The Masquerade days, when he did a series of stark and devilishly good illustrations for White Wolf. I met Bradstreet once when I was in high school at my local comic shop and still have the quick little profile sketch he did in the cover of one of my RPG books.

Vtm3-Brujah Ennis, I was familiar with from Preacher, of course, a series for another time on this blog.

The story opens with the debriefing of a CIA black operative, Agent Clyde, being reprimanded by his superiors for refusing to liquidate two ten year old Latin American witnesses to a company-led Green Beret assassination. Clyde explains not killing the kids, deflecting every interrogative with cold reasoning. The American team was heavily disguised, and never spoke a word. But he finishes up with an ill-advised (considering his profession) moral jab that if part of his mission parameters included the murder of innocent children, his superiors should have made that clearer in the mission briefing. Exiting his reprimand, his shadowy handlers curse him and make the decision on the spot that he’s not cut out for black ops work.

An unspecified amount of time later, Agent Clyde is driving a desk in an office environment full of noncombatants, among which he is something of a pariah for his boy scout demeanor and nose to the grind stone super patriot work ethic.  It seems Clyde, in the midst of a mundane investigation into something called California First, returns from a meeting and boots up his computer to find a name has been added to his list of POI’s (which is mostly populated by thinly disguised Simpsons characters – Lionel J. Hotz, Ken Bruckman, Seymour Skinner, Robert Terwilliger), Joshua Markewicz.  Interdepartmental inquiries as to why Joshua’s name has appeared on his list hit a brick wall, so Clyde heads out to interview the new guy, finding, to his bewilderment, a very old guy, languishing in a retirement home, suffering from Alzheimer’s.

lookwhatourenemyhasdoneClyde soon figures out that Joshua has never had any knowledge of the tax dodging group he’s been tied to, but admits that this is the second CIA agent to question him in the past year, not about California First, but about The Soldier.  He then proceeds to relate the same story to Clyde, about how as a young grunt during the liberation of Dachau concentration camp, he witnessed the arrival of a soldier with a bandaged face riding with three high ranking officers. This Soldier becomes enraged at the sight of a mass grave of dessicated Jewish corpses and raves that ‘If this is what our enemies do – if this is what America must fight – then we are ALWAYS right! And anything we do IS RIGHT!” as he grabs Joshua’s machinegun and proceeds to gun down the captured German camp guards. One of the generals orders a radio man to call command and tell them that Codename Unknown Soldier has ‘totally fucking lost it’ and then proceeds to rifle butt the maddened mystery man into unconsciousness.

Clyde returns to the office perplexed. A database search for Unknown Soldier draws a blank but earns him an immediate phone call from his superior, asking him what he’s doing on the computer and ordering him back to work.

In a seedy apartment whose furnishings consist mainly of guns, ammo, and a fax machine, an unbalanced young woman named Screwball aims out her window with a high powered sniper rifle at various passersby apparently out of sheer boredom until a call comes through telling her to silence Joshua Markewicz and ‘put the frighteners’ on Agent Clyde.

In Clyde’s apartment, he receives an unexpected visit from one of his coworkers, a female agent named Wallace with whom he’s up to now shared a mild flirtations. No dark ulterior motives here. Wallace shows up just to invite Clyde to a coworker’s party. Clyde offers her a cup of coffee by way of assent. While brewing up the joe he hears via news report that the retirement home he just visited that afternoon has partially burned, claiming Joshua Markewicz. Wallace comes into the kitchen at the same moment that a bullet comes through the kitchen window and shatters Clyde’s coffee cup, killing Wallace.

ennis_usoldier02_08 Screwball is taken to task by her handler for accidentally killing Wallace, and put on Clyde’s trail, which begins in earnest when he finds three more names mysteriously added to his investigation list. The bulk of the story is then Clyde finding and interviewing the people on his list, hearing their reminisces of brief encounters with the Unknown Soldier (he instigates civil war in Iran, disguises himself as General Westmoreland in order to force a Green Beret unit to massacre a group of Cambodian civilians, and, after destroying a Sandinista hospital, almost singlehandedly fights off fifty guerrilla fighters deep in the jungles of Nicaragua). Typically, soon after the interviews, the witnesses wind up dead at the hands of Screwball.

As Clyde’s journey progresses, Ennis takes a page from Preacher and has him imagining conversations with an idealized spectre of the murdered Wallace, which becomes a device for bringing Clyde’s internalized thinking to the fore, yet also reinforces his naivety/humanity. For an espionage agent, Clyde is more Captain America than Unknown Soldier, decrying the dark deeds of his peers and finally the Soldier himself. When Screwball fails to kill Clyde, a backup wetworks team bursts in to finish the job, and Clyde finds himself on the run with Screwball, tracing the Soldier all the way to his personal handler in the CIA, Boothe, the same guy who put Screwball onto Clyde.

As humanistic and questioning as Clyde is, Screwball is sociopathic and unquestioning of her orders, until they personally contradict her own well-being. She has no compunctions about murdering Boothe’s butler and later his entire family in their sleep. Boothe provides a tantalizingly brief but satisfactory origin story for her. She cut her own parents’ throats at the age of eight and was recruited by the agency, who thought she’d be perfect for wetworks. “They were right,” he observes.

In a way, I guess Screwball and Clyde are two facets of the ‘perfect’ American operative. Clyde is the clean-cut, hardworking, idealistic American boy, blonde haired and blue-eyed – the guy the public likes to think of as the defender of democracy. Screwball is the unquestioning, violent ‘dark side’ of the espionage game, and a counterpoint to Clyde. She’s dark haired (and short cut, the antithesis of the typical moralistic female archetype) and a woman, crude spoken and punk rock-y.

Of course neither of them have anything on the Unknown Soldier himself, when they finally meet.

Desperate to learn more, Clyde (in, I admit, a bit of a leap in logic for plot’s sake) decides to disinter his predecessor in the quest for the Solider, Agent Anderson, hoping against hope that Anderson left something on his body that could help. While Clyde is digging in the rain and having a debate with Wallace in his imagination, The Soldier dispatches the uber-competent Screwball without a fight, proving himself every bit the apex predator he has been made out to be.

img061The Soldier then confronts Clyde in the rainy grave of Anderson, revealing it was him that added all the names on Clyde’s list, without Boothe’s knowledge, because he wanted Clyde to learn about him, and understand him, and finally, to replace him.

Because after fifty years of doing his duty like Screwball, without question, the Soldier can’t do it anymore.

And his reason is Project Winterthor.

The General, the same one present at Dachau during the Soldier’s epiphany, called the Soldier to his deathbed to make what amounts to a final confession. He describes a secret meeting in 1945 between himself, a CIA agent, and a cadre of top Nazi officials. Hearkening to Operation Paperclip, the Nazis regale the Americans with evidence of their technological breakthroughs, which are lacking only America’s nearly unlimited resources to proceed into the practical application stage. They promise to put a man on the moon by 1949. Their only request is safe and secret extradition to South America where they will continue their work under American supervision, along with Adolph Hitler himself.

The Americans agree to terms.

So the United States agrees to fund the survival of the Third Reich in exchange for technological advances, not even cutting England in on the deal, which leads to the unexpected death of the German would-be conspirators when an uninformed, routine RAF patrol shoots them down over the Swiss-German border.

But this becomes the Unknown Soldier’s second epiphany. He smothers his former commanding officer to death in his hospital bed, enraged by what he takes as personal betrayal of his ongoing mission. It all began with hatred for the Nazis as the ultimate evil in the world, and Hitler as its beastly architect, and the government’s willingness to deal with that ultimate evil, for the Soldier, invalidates his justifications for every evil he has committed in America’s name since.

THE SOLDIER: A lifetime spent groping in the guts of horror, in it up to my elbows, committing atrocity to order. And five years ago, discovering Winterthor, knowing at last that the regime that gave me those orders was….tainted.

Winterthor is the reason the Soldier kills his first choice, Agent Anderson, believing the knowledge of the failed conspiracy will dishearten Anderson as it did him. Yet he can no longer afford to keep the history ‘clean’ with Clyde.

THE SOLDIER: The need remains for the one man who can make a difference. The war that I spoke of continues even now. The enemeny has not left us. America’s obligation to do what is right does not end because her masters flirt with devils. There must be someone to accept that obligation. To hold it as a clean, untarnished truth. There must be a soldier….

img058In a way, Clyde and Screwball are the two extreme halves of the Soldier himself. The Soldier is motivated by duty and a real human outrage at the extreme inhumanity of the Nazis, whom he lumps in with all the enemies of America itself.  In the Soldier’s simplistic worldview, if he is outraged, and he is American, than the ideals of America are good, and if the enemies of America are capable of such horror, than all who oppose America must be evil. All actions against evil then, must be justified. But in this, he becomes Screwball. Violent and sociopathic, incapable of making his own moral decisions if they contrast with the will of his superiors.

He totally misunderstands Clyde because while Clyde is a patriotic America soldier and proven assassin, he tellingly defies his superiors’ immoral order in the opening scene. He can still choose between good and evil without relying solely on the paradigm of nationhood to define his morality.

The Soldier is baffled when he lays what to him, is a logical destiny for Clyde at the agent’s feet, and Clyde chooses to utterly reject it, speaking fondly of Wallace and the promise of a woman’s smile, the notion that there are good things in the world.

CLYDE: You justify regimes every bit as bad as the ones you fight against. You want me to do your work even though you no longer believe in it yourself. You would have concealed your loss of faith in what you fight for, and you expect me to carry on as if I’d never learned the truth. Well sir, you are NOT an American soldier. I deny your legacy. I will not let you wash the blood off your hands onto mine.

And with that, Clyde takes out his pistol and shoots himself.

In this, Clyde teaches the Soldier a lesson which in the final panels, leaning on the flag atop the tomb of the unknown soldier in Arlington, he acknowledges.

Clyde is the true American, unsullied by the dark machinations of politicians and the fog of fanaticism.

img059What’s brilliant to me about this miniseries is that it hardly features the title character until the last issue, and by that time his reputation has been built up so much that you’re sort of champing at the bit to finally meet him. Ennis effectively ratchets up suspense and stakes without ever showing you the object of everybody’s obsession, using only original characters. It’s sort of like a story I once heard Ricardo Montalban tell, about how he was dubious about appearing in Wrath of Khan until he read the script and realized that despite his comparatively meager amount of screen time, every time Khan wasn’t center stage, every other character was talking about him.

It’s in effect, a cold war style mystery thriller, with one unfairly marked man pursuing a line of inquiry for the sake of truth to his own detriment and against the will of unsavory, conspiratorial forces all around him.

The series’ titular character reminds me a bit of a dark Captain America. Consider this, in my favorite bit of dialogue, when Boothe describes the Unknown Soldier –

CLYDE: What is he? Some kind of superhuman assassin?

BOOTHE: No. He’s seventy-five years old, Agent Clyde. He’s in ULTIMATE human condition. He’s been up to his neck in the bloodiest, darkest, most shameful corners of US foreign policy since 1942….but he’s just a man.

It sounds like a description of Cap, doesn’t it? And in a way, this whole conspiracy thriller reminds me of the recent Winter Soldier movie (or rather, Winter Soldier reminded me a bit of this).

img060Killian Plunkett’s art is gritty and wonderfully textured, with the almost lost art of inking showcased perfectly. Every wrinkle of clothing, every strand of hair, every slash of rain is vividly realized. I’d love to see the original black and whites, but I also have to praise colorist James Sinclair’s choices, especially in the ultimate episode, which takes place within a limited palette due to the rainy setting.

The series is collected in trade paperback and listed as (New Edition). No idea what that means, or there’s anything added to it, but I recommend checking it out. In this current climate where nationalism and patriotism are used as tools to not only exploit and distract the poor and oppressed, but to justify all levels of horrendous acts and behavior, I believe this one still has something relevant to say.

unknownsoldieropening

My Love For Comics Has A Giant Sized Origin

I’m a comic book fan from waayyy back. I can trace my interest in funnybooks directly back to four big oversized comic books my parents bought for me back in the day. This was a couple years before I could read, so I used to make up the story and dialogue as I followed along with the pictures, running to grab an adult when something particularly interesting to me came up and I just HAD to know what was going on.

Marvel Treasury Edition #18

Marvel Treasury Edition #18 featured Werewolf By Night, whose standalone series is the only complete run I’ve ever hunted down and purchased. There was also an Iron Fist story about a guy who was born old and aged backwards, the X-Men (out of costume, so I had no idea who they were) and Morbius the Living Vampire, and a Ghost Rider story with a bad guy cyclist called The Orb, who wore a big blue eyeball motorcycle helmet for a very good reason. He had ditched his bike during a race and crossed the finish line ON HIS FACE. Leaving me with this indelible image (I think I might’ve been four)…

The Orb Unmasked

Gah! No wonder my interests went the way they did. I covered my eyes through the climactic unmasking in Return of The Jedi because I imagined Vader would look much like The Orb….but Anakin had nothing on him.

Marvel Treasury Edition #25  – Spider-Man vs. The Hulk at The Winter Olympics. I remember The Mole Man created a machine to lift the Olympic village out of reach. Peter Parker was there covering the games. I don’t remember why the Hulk was there. I think the Mole Man’s guys competed against the Olympians for some reason, and I don’t remember if they were actual real life Olympians. All I remember about this is there was a lady with a bubble head space helmet which got cracked and made her rapidly age. The Mole Man carried her off and The Hulk pounded the village back to ground level with his fists.

Sweet

Hulk, MODOK and The Harpy

Marvel Treasury Edition #26: The Rampaging Hulk. My impressions of this one as a kid are hard to put to words as an adult. I remember being fascinated and repelled by MODOK, the leader of AIM. The guy is just a huge head and face with relatively spindly mechanical arms. Freakish. There was also The Harpy, who was a hot chick (apparently Betty Ross) that seemed to have the same problem as The Hulk, except she turned into a green skinned half bird woman, which again, freaked me out (and yet was also titillating, because her clothes tore off).

What is it with me and green chicks? Later there was the Orion girl, She-Hulk, and Oola, but first there was Harpy...

The thing I remember clearest though was the little story in the back which featured Hercules getting into a barfight with a trucker looking guy with nails that came out of his fists. I think the fight started over Hercules hording all the chicks in the place. At the end, their tremendous fight cleared out the bar. I had no idea who Wolverine was till years and years later. This story confused the heck out of me as a kid because I thought the trucker guy was a bad guy and couldn’t figure out why they got along in the end.

It also introduced me to the term ‘skirts’ as a word for women.

Finally, there was the magnum opus of my collection, which I wish to God I could find. Thankfully DC put this one out again recently in a nifty hardcover edition which my lovely wife got me for Christmas.

Oh yeah.

Superman vs. Muhammad Ali.

It’s as awesome as it sounds and not nearly as bad. The Neil Adams art is great, the story line killer. An alien fleet appears in orbit and demands to fight Earth’s greatest champion over the fate of the planet. Superman steps up to the challenge, but Muhammad Ali argues that as a native earthling, HE’S Earth’s greatest champion.

They decide to settle it with an exhibition bout, battling it out under a simulated red sun. Ali OWNS Supes, apparently putting him in traction.

Ali goes toe to toe with the massive alien boxer, but sensing the alien commander’s duplicitous nature, Ali and Superman had previously formed a plan. Bundini Brown (Ali’s real life cornerman) is in reality Superman in disguise. He goes off to cripple the alien fleet while Ali takes a pounding in the ring. What happens next is best left to the actual panels…I think by the time I got a hold of this one I could read a little bit, so imagine a six or seven year old little white kid speaking Ali’s dialogue in his best Mr. T voice.

BAD-ASS

Meanwhile, don’t think Superman has been slouching all this time either….

SEE ABOVE

And the real kicker at the end, which was a stipulation Muhammad Ali demanded before he allowed DC to use his likeness…

Haw! Yeah, Ali figures out in a single issue what it took decades for Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen to learn. That’s why he’s the greatest, I guess.

Anyway, in retrospect, these four comics likely informed my own storytelling for years to come. I’ve always been attracted to old fashioned stories transplanted or retold with weird concepts.

Jack Russell’s (AKA Werewolf By Night – yeah, like the terrier) appearance in #18 probably went a long way towards fostering my love for werewolves, which I expounded on in my pirate horror novella Red Sails.

Bizarre, oddly sympathetic villains like The Mole Man, MODOK, and The Orb have always appealed to me. My first encounter with martial arts was probably the Iron Fist story in #18.

My professional Star Wars story was a boxing tale, and part of the Chevin cornerman’s name, Eedund Cus, was just Dundee (ie Ali cornerman Angelo Dundee) backwards.  My appreciation for Muhammad Ali no doubt sprang from reading his exploits with Superman at a young age.

Of course, my tastes changed over the years. In the 80’s, like most kids, I was reading The Punisher (but enjoying DC’s illicit modern day continuation of The Shadow with Howard Chaykin, Bill Scienkiewicz and Kyle Baker more) X-Men, and Wolverine, with an early stint through Marvel’s fantastic GI Joe and Transformers comics. That was probably the peak of my collecting days, when I built up my boxes, finding little gem titles I continue to return to every so often like Milk and Cheese, Groo The Wanderer, Hellboy, and Marshall Law. Then came The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and all the heavy stuff that followed.  I don’t pick up monthlies anymore, relying mainly on word of mouth and wikipedia to keep up with what’s going on there. I still go to Comic Con every year, pick up the occasional funnybook or trade paperback.

But I look back on these (and probably a giant sized Shazam/Captain Marvel edition I can’t even begin to remember enough to seek out) early, slightly goofy but genuinely great books as the beginning of my comics education. I lost them all a long time ago. Read them so many times the covers disappeared followed by the title splash pages, and finally the whole shebang.

Think I know what I’ll shop for at Comic Con this year.