Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Awesome Insanity of the Golden Age Superman

I talk about this a lot, but seriously: the Golden Age Superman was purely batshit. I've been rereading the Superman Chronicles, a series of reprintings of all the old Siegel and Shuster Superman stories, and man, is he one murderous, grinning psychopath. Superman will impersonate a sports figure, declare war on rigged pinball machines, or destroy the wall of a radio station to announce to a town that he's essentially decided to destroy all of their cars if they cross him. He enjoys being shot at, stabbed, and poisoned because it gives him the chance to show off how nothing can hurt him, and he'll actually destroy an entire slum on the off chance the US Government will replace the ruined buildings.

I suppose we should be glad he didn't decide to try that in New Orleans.

I just get such a massive kick out of raving asshole Superman. Let's not mince words: the Siegel and Shuster Superman is a crusader against social inequity, a champion of the little guy, and a grinning, smug as all hell complete fucker who is just itching to fuck with you before he throws you into the harbor. He will deliberately crash head first into your propeller if you try and fly to safety, too.

I wish I had scans of the issue where Superman, in his Clark Kent identity, comes upon a man who has committed suicide after realizing his purchase of stock in an oil company has ruined him because the two gentlemen running the company prefer selling shares to actually drilling for oil. In short order Superman buys all the stock available in the company (coming right out and saying that he wiped out Clark Kent's savings to do it... at one point he buys $5000 worth of stock from a buyer, in 1938, implying that Clark Kent's got some cash stocked away) then runs out to the derelict well the company owns, knocks out the night watchman, and drills for oil himself until the well strikes some. We're then treated to the spectacle of the fraudulent stock swindlers hiring goons to kill Superman (in his cover identity as 'mysterious guy who buys stock in worthless companies that suddenly aren't') because he refuses to sell his shares back to them, followed of course by the inevitable 'Superman lets the goons kill him, then gets up and beats them half to death while smirking' sequence.

We then get Superman demanding a million dollars for his shares: the crooked oil men pay, because the well is worth many millions. Superman promptly changes into his costume, breaks into their homes, kidnaps them, drags them to the well and forces them to watch as he destroys the derrick and throws a gasoline cocktail into it, setting it ablaze. That's right, Superman set an oil well on fire. Perhaps it's even still burning. The best part is, he pockets the million dollars.

It's majestic, in its way. Sure, the evil oil guys had it coming. They even hired assassins, so you really can't feel bad for them. But the magnificent bastardy Superman displays as he methodically dismantles their lives, toys with their thugs, and finally takes all their money while burning down their property is just... I mean, seriously, why can't we have this Superman around when we live in the age of massive govenment bailouts? Then again, do we really want to see Superman hanging Bernie Madoff from a flagpole? I know most people would probably not accept Superman heading into GM and destroying the place over its safety record. Not to mention pretending to be an undead spectre just to screw with a hit and run driver. (I seriously cannot get enough of 'Superman as car safety demon'.)

I get why Superman had to mellow out, and I'm a huge fan of the complicated Weisinger-era mythos of the character. But man, every time I read one of these stories (Superman versus giant yellow rats on Luthor's volcano island! Superman vs pinball machines! Superman vs... Yale, I guess? I'm not sure. Some ivy league college football coach who hires assassins to stab opposing players, I don't know if the sport was just rougher back then) I'm just in awe of how didactic, bombastic and even outright insane (Superman forces a munitions manufacturer to join a foreign military in order to gloat as the guy almost gets killed a few times, then forces the opposing generals into a fist fight, and this somehow fixes everything) these stories get. The Ultra-Humanite first tries to take over Metropolis' cabbies, and when this fails, he unleashes the Bubonic Plague! With no stops in between! He doesn't go from cabbies to, say, ambulance drives, he leaps straight from "I will control all the gypsy cabs in Metropolis" to "I will wipe out 90% of all humans and make a superior race" in one go.

Of course Superman routs him, because if there's one lesson to these stories, it's that scientists can never win against brute force that's very smug.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Uncomfortable Comics Truths 4 - The Kirby Era Edition

Believe it or not, Jack Kirby didn't shit rainbows and lactate wonder. A very good artist, professional, and seemingly a wonderful guy, but come on: he did Dingbats of Danger Street. It's pretty clear that his work on the legendary run on FF was only helped by the presence of Stan Lee to help rein the guys more elaborate fancies in. This isn't to say I don't love the idea of a small planet of vampires and other monsters in Dabney Donovan's basement, much less the idea of Superman fixing everything by playing the film version of Oklahoma at it. But take Darkseid, for example. Since Darkseid is basically a god of pure fascism, it's difficult for most writers to avoid failing to actually use him effectively in a story. The best stories involving Darkseid outside of Kirby's work are ones where Darkseid actually acts, which is rare: the best non Kirby Darkseid story for my money is stil The Great Darkness Saga because (gasp) Darkseid is an active force of evil and menace throughout the story! He does things! He turns an entire planet into a bust of his head just to be a dick! Compare this to "Legends" where Darkseid's evil plan involves daytime talk television. I realize I'm blaming Kirby for what people did with his creations here, but it's not Kirby's fault, it's the fault of the ridiculous fetishization of his work. Still, Darkseid's a less compelling villain than half of the ones ripping him off, because they at least get to go around doing evil things. Darkseid gets to sit around and talk to Desaad.

You do have to give Kirby credit for understanding that the Marquis De Sade was pretty up front about tyranny and how he'd go about it. So many writers just use Desaad as a sniveling henchman and toady, but Kirby always depicted the relationship between the two much more subtly. Desaad is often the only one willing to tell Darkseid off. Admittedly, he usually ends up paying for it. "Once upon the throne of kings" and all that. I wish other writers could grasp that complicated relationship: when Paul Levitz managed to have Darkseid actually miss Desaad, he got the point of what Desaad does for the figure of Darkseid as an evil force. (Then again I hail from a country where people are totally okay with torture so maybe I expect too much.)

Please, though, fuck the Eternals. It's not even that they're a bad idea, it's just that Marvel already has too many cosmic entities patterned after various mythological figures. The Eternals would work perfectly as a stand alone, doesn't interact with the Marvel comics in any way story/setting, but having Ikaris and Thor hang out is just too weird. Thor actually is a god! It's weird! Having the actual Greek gods running around in a setting with cosmic powered immortals who were thought to be the Greek gods is just storytelling hash, you end up with story after story trying to reconcile the two. And frankly, multiple stories (even ONE story) that are just excuses to explain minor points of comic book trivia aren't really compelling. I was surprised that I didn't hate Gaiman's Eternals more. (I honestly don't have any major complaints about it even. I was surprised too. I didn't like it, but it didn't actively enrage me.)

They used to call Marvel "The House of Ideas" but aside from Kirby, Ditko and a few others like Steranko it often seems like the only idea was "Wouldn't it be neat if the skies rained shit down on superheroes?" which, to be fair, was a fairly novel idea at the time. (I'm actually giving Ditko incredibly short shrift here, which is totally unfair of me, but bear along) - stories like Brave New Day bore and disappoint because they borrow heavily from the "Look at all the crap Peter Parker has to go through" without any of the "Lost city full of whacked out freaks" aspects of Marvel's Silver Age. What Marvel needs now is a passel of wildly creative types and a moderately clever guy with a real editorial flair to round them all up and make them produce good stuff without letting their egos out of check so that we don't get a year of Norman Osborne running the world.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Why I am an entire pain in the ass

Go read this webcomic.

Most people read that, maybe snigger a little at the clever Linux joke or don't get it because like the majority of human beings they could not care less about computer operating systems. Either way, they get that its a joke, laugh or don't, and move on.

I spend six hours saying "But there's no way for your nerves to interact with the USB port in any useful or meaningful way! You'd need more hardware than currently exists, it's not just a software problem, he'd just have to rip the USB port out again later and install whatever adapter will allow chemical based nerve impulses to be read by a USB device" and then we're off to the races and it takes me days to get my brain to slow down and laugh at the joke.

This is entirely the fault of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. You have no idea how many hours of time I obsessed on just how loud Black Bolt actually would have to be to blow up a city by speaking.