Thursday, August 30, 2012

It's Cass-Batmas in Japan already, and I haven't even started my shopping!

While Dan Didio recently replied, "Sure" when asked for the one millionth time if Cassandra Cain would re-appear in the ongoing DC universe narrative, it doesn't seem likely to happen anytime soon.  But we Cass fans are a never-say-die bunch of Quixotic fools, so we're doing something pro-active to hurry along that fabled day.  Yes, it's the Support Cass Campaign, a day of celebration and comic book purchasing, one that I hope will become an annual tradition and, eventually, a national holiday.

The idea is, on August 31st (today in Japan) you go to Comixology and buy Batgirl #1.  I think this is a marvelous-- er-- a DCelous idea.  As the old saying goes, "Money talks, bullshit (and waffles) walk."  I'm going to participate as soon as I get off work today if I can find my credit card.  I've already done a little bit to support Cass by staggering as a sweaty human wreck into Blister in Tokyo-- despite having the flu, as it turns out-- and paying a ridiculous amount for a battered copy of Batgirl:  Fists of Fury, a book I've bought twice before.  I've bought three goddamned copies of this thing, DC!  Do what I tell you!

Just kidding.  But not about the three copies.  I still own two copies of Fists of Fury.  One I gave to an EFL student at a previous job.  Share the epic goodness that is Cass, I always say.  Well, I sometimes say that.  Occasionally.  Rarely.  I just now typed it and it's the first time that sentence has ever crossed my mind.  I have a Fists of Fury at my mom's house back in the US and the new one on my shelf alongside all the Marvel, Dark Horse, Fantagraphics and IDW books I buy.  I'm proud of my little Fist of Fury book.  It's in good company.  It's the little book that could starring the little character who could, until someone, somewhere, deemed it necessary she could no longer.

Maybe she could again.  With her mom barely old enough to vote and her dad also missing in action (as far as I know), it might be a long wait.  But in the meantime, you'll have a digital copy of Batgirl #1 to remind you of the good old days, when she was silent and running and fisty and furious.  And a new holiday I call Cass-Batmas.

Which we should celebrate by not speaking for 24 hours, dressing all in black and kicking copious amounts of ass.  And... I don't know... maybe by spending time with loved ones, drinking eggnog, exchanging gifts and decorating a tree of some kind.  I can't think of any other holidays where we do such things, so that seems like a good idea to me.

Dani Moonstar and Baron Karza. I take care of both of 'em, which ain't easy, 'cuz when they met... it was moider!

For a moment, I had hope...
You'd probably expect something called The X-Men and the Micronauts (January-April 1984) to be a light romp, a bit on the silly side. After all, one group is known for its various underage members while the other is based on a toy line.  You'd also expect with Chris Claremont and Bill Mantlo handling the script it'd be a worthy reflection of their considerable writing talents.  Wrong, wrong and wrong.  It's a queasy slog through some fetishy set-pieces before it finally devolves into a ludicrous mess.

It starts pleasantly enough, with space opera.  Who doesn't love space opera?  The Micronauts lead a lot of clunky-looking spaceships into battle with an unknown invader with a starfleet of his own.  It turns out this mysterious enemy is so terrible our familiar characters, the Micronauts, have even joined forces with their recurring nemesis, Baron Karza.  Karza is a deposed tyrant, a mass-murderer, a thief of bodies and souls.  That his lifelong enemies have teamed up with him-- he's the lesser of two evils-- shows just how nasty a foe this mysterious invader truly is.

I truly did.
Who is this nefarious being, so terrible he causes the Micronauts to compromise years of anti-Karza activism?  The Entity.  With a name like the Entity you wonder why his parents didn't just call him the Being or the Guy.  No, he's the Entity and what the Entity is, is a maniacal mesomorph in a golden gladiator helmet.  He wreaks all this havoc simply because he gets off on it.  Not metaphorically, or in the sense he enjoys causing trouble for its own sake.  It sexually arouses him.  His male member becomes rigid.

Start with Storm.  Of course.
We know this because if there's one thing the Entity enjoys as much as destroying and enslaving, it's talking about destroying and enslaving.  He captures the Micronauts with ludicrous ease and straps them to rocks so he can tell them all about himself, his plans, and his desires.  He's like a celebrity who gives interviews where he can't shut up about his sexual encounters.  The Entity is so lascivious with his captive audience he doesn't stop blabbing about this stuff even when he finally notices Baron Karza.  Karza, being smarter than the Micronauts, takes that as his cue to get the hell out of Dodge.  He jumps in the Bioship, a living robot/spaceship and escapes.

Cut to... Earth.  It's the X-Mansion in Westchester, NY, and the X-Men are lounging about in various states of undress.  Storm poses in a bikini, Nightcrawler juggles because he's an ex-circus performer and Kitty Pryde complains about having to study while wearing only a top and a body suit.  Professor X and the New Mutants are hard at work in the Danger Room when Baron Karza pops in to say hello and borrow a cup of underwear.

That's when Dani Moonstar, with her new codename "Spellbinder," uses her powers on Karza and for her trouble gets beaten up by a toy.  Actually, her entire team loses to teensy-tiny Karza.  I know Karza is practically all-powerful within the framework of this narrative, but the sight of a miniscule figure manhandling normal sized teenagers illustrated in a semi-realistic/slightly heroically-exaggerated style is absolutely hilarious.  At this point you can almost forget the villain's motivation isn't anything so prosaic as conquest or revenge but sexual perversion.  Almost.  It's going to be rubbed in your face later, and considering the Entity's tastes in fun, if he had his way that would be literal.  He would literally rub his genitals in your face.  He no doubt does this to several of the characters in this story at various off-screen moments.

Like a mid-90s chatroom.
Where were we?  Oh yeah...  Karza beats up the New Mutants, fights the fully-grown X-Men to a stalemate, then switches bodies with Kitty Pryde for some reason.  Since he has mental powers enough to control both bodies, he keeps it a secret and Kitty spends most of the following three issues of The X-Men and the Micronauts being puppeted around by an evil dictator from another dimension.  Their personalities start to merge, too, so that Kitty slowly begins to enjoy acting out ruthlessly from inside her black armored prison and Karza, in her body, learns to say things like, "He has a point, Storm.  I... am kinda scared."

It turns out the Entity isn't just some sadistic cosmic outsider come to subjugate both super-teams for concupiscent kicks (thanks, Wallace Stevens).  He's the "evil side" of good ol' Professor X.  Not only is this convenient for involving the ever-popular X-Men in the story, but also Professor X's evil side likes to involve everyone around him in bondage scenarios.

When the idiotic interrupts the disturbing.
In the third issue, we get to see bearded, beefy Commander Rann simper before being killed and resurrected, then stammering, "T-thank you, Father!  I-I'll be good from now on!" while the Entity playfully strokes the poor bastard's chin.  Later in the same issue, Wolverine, in despair at being subjugated so thoroughly and comparing himself to an eager-to-please dog, attempts to murder his teammates then commit suicide as a means of escape.  And if Wolverine hasn't already made the point, formerly proud warrior-king Acroyear falls to his knees and details his similarly ambivalent reaction to complete emasculation while tears stream down his face.  I mean, if you love the idea of mind-controlled heroes fully aware of their debasement and endless pages of them bemoaning it as entertainment, then you’ve come to the right comic.  Okay, we get the point mind control is kind of invasive.  But the book drubs you with this concept to the point where it goes past that mark only to circle around to where the story really seems to be reveling in it.  I just wanted to read about the time Dani Moonstar fought a toy.  Have a few laughs with a little light-hearted entertainment.

But allow me share with you the two most magical moments of all.  

Halfway through this issue (wittily entitled "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory!"), the Entity, after having dressed Kitty Pryde in some kind of chiffony harem girl outfit, attempts to seduce her.  He's even wearing a Hugh Hefner-style robe over his armor and has a snifter of fine liquor.  Courvoisier, perhaps?  Doesn't bother to take his helmet off, though.  I suppose knowing it’s Baron Karza’s thousand year old consciousness inside Kitty’s underage body makes it slightly less creepy—until you once again face the fact that the Entity is the dark id of her trusted mentor and teacher and thinks he's about to score with a teen.  This takes the power exchange to a new level of wrongness—really, you have to wonder just what the hell was going through the writers’ heads when they scripted this—because here, revealed for all to see, are Professor X’s secret fantasies.  This is the stuff that goes on in the recesses of his brilliant mind when it’s idling.  I’m sure we’ve all had passing inappropriate thoughts at one time or another.  That’s human.  This, however, is a comic that uses those micro-fancies as not only the fuel for its villain’s scheme, but also his existence.

Unfortunate implications, indeed.
This leads to a mind-boggling scene in #4 where the Entity, in the guise of his normal self Professor X, Dani's trusted mentor and the man her grandfather specifically chose to look out for her wellfare, literally orgasms Dani Moonstar into joining his ever-growing harem.

On panel.

That's all it takes:  a single super-duper psychic climax and the promise of more to come and Dani immediately tosses aside everything she believes in and the very person she was up until that moment.  Sure, there's mind control involved as well.  Gotta have a little of that for seasoning.  She's no longer herself, but there's no getting past that it comes as the result or some kind of side-effect of the sexual assault.  The new Dani wants more of this treatment, too.  Also note when Dani loses herself, she alone among her teammates doesn't put on her regular team uniform.  Everyone else turns evil but they keep their ordinary, non-evil fashion sense.  New, improved evil-Dani, on the other hand, decides to wear some variation on what's supposed to be Native American clothing.  I thought she was going for the Dani Pornstar look she sports in New Mutants #17 when she joins Illyana in Limbo and dons a torn deerskin halter top and ass-less chaps, but that book is cover-dated July, three months after this book.

Well, I don't know why she doesn't just put on her New Mutants uniform like the rest of the kids.  The story, which will belabor explanations at its end, doesn't see fit to spend any time telling us.  There may be a real-world reason, though.

The X-Men and Micronauts isn't the first mainstream superhero comic to fill itself with barely sublimated sexual subtext-- or text, in this case.  A more honest comic would actually acknowledge there's more to Professor X's duality than just some split-personality villainy that leaves his usual benign self blameless.  It would deal with Dani's mind-rape by her trusted teacher as something more than just an extra-sleazy way-- both in-story and, inadvertently, at the script level-- to add a layer of difficulty to the final battle. A better story would probably would just leave it out altogether since, as a plot detail, it's completely gratuitous.  After all, it wouldn't have been that difficult to simply have Entity-Professor X use his position of trust to talk Dani, Sam and the others into fighting the Micronauts.  But that wouldn't have been as decadently fun as involving Dani with a sex fiend, right?

Still, all the darkness and humiliation might be worth it if this story had anything interesting to say about betrayal of trust, loss of self or built towards some kind of revelatory moment.  But no such luck.

Why isn't she wearing her regular costume?
Mantlo and Claremont separately wrote some fantastic stories, which means it’s reasonable to assume together they’d work up some kind of synergistic magic.  Unfortunately, X-Men and Micronauts once again proves the old adage about making assumptions.  Have you ever been watching a Major League baseball game when a top pitcher uncorks something so wild you think, “Jesus, you actually have to be a pretty damn good athlete to throw something that erratic?”  Any fool can bounce one to the plate.  It takes a top flight hurler to wing something off at such a cock-eyed angle that leaves everyone goggling in disbelief.  This is the comic book equivalent of that kind of wild pitch, a misfire so wrong it could only have come from a couple of men working in such complete confidence of their mechanical writing skills no one thought to say, “Uh… no.”

Don't worry, Prof.  Not your fault, huh?
Essentially, after they’ve exhausted all the readers with these padded-out scenes of tops and bottoms, Mantlo and Claremont abruptly end it all with a song-and-dance number.  Arbitrary metaphysics and the ridiculous rules of comic book psychic warfare.  Oh, and a whole lot of body-switching plus some perfunctory fisticuffs-- Dani gets her ass whipped again, this time by a teensy-tiny Bug and Wolverine-- and then a sequence where Professor X and the Entity in their naked ghost forms writhe around in some nether region. Fortunately, for no discernable reason, while in the Microverse-- where presumably the laws of physics are completely different thanks to the whims of plot device-- Professor X’s Entity-self has the ability to alter reality with a snap of the fingers, while in our universe he’s only an orgasm-inducing mind-reader and susceptible to naked ghost-wrestling on the astral plane.

I truly feel for Jackson Guice and Bob Wiacek (Kelley Jones is in there somewhere, too), because they draw their asses off in the service of this mess.  Starships and superheroes, exploding planets and naked ghosts.  As far as Michael Golden impersonations go, this is one of the better ones.  And for their efforts, they get to illustrate the last couple of pages which consist of characters standing around like a bunch of idiots while Professor X fills their heads with a huge wheelbarrow-full of complete horse shit.  This lets the poor readers know what they just witnessed because it doesn't make much sense otherwise and the writers need to wrap it all up before the page count runs out.

Marionette of the Micronauts, as confused and disappointed as anyone else, asks, “How’d we beat that all-powerful godlike pervert?” and Professor X helpfully explains, “Well, I tricked him.”  With the script already badly stressed, the seams finally come undone, groaning in protest.  And if you're wondering just how empty of substance this tedious exhibition of soft-core fetishism has been, the final proof comes with Professor X’s conclusion where he blames the whole mess on the darkness inside us all, then says words to the effect of, “It’s too bad I can’t resurrect all those micro-people I murdered or un-rape all of you, but I can’t, so let’s never speak of this incident again.”  And they never did.

I'm so very sorry to have done this to you.  Here, this will make you feel better:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Anyone in Japan want a ton of great American comics?

I'm not sure how many people in Japan read this blog-- probably close to 1 or maybe even 2-- but if you're out there and hungry for some comics to read, I know someone who can hook you up at a very reasonable price.

A nice guy named Gabe emailed me the other day.  He's got a dilemma.  He owns two longboxes full of fantastic comics.  The problem is, they're in Japan and he's in the United States.  Gabe wants these comics to go to a good home, to someone who will appreciate them.  Obviously, as I'm the number one Western comics freak in Japan, I was his first choice.  Unfortunately, as tempting as the offer is, I'm not really in a position to take them myself.  I barely have enough room in my apartment for the books I've already accumulated.

So there it is.  Two boxes packed with comic book goodness, yours for the taking.  The offer is good until the end of September.  If you're interested in working out a deal, email Gabe at

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Archie tangles with the Clampetts and the Munsters!

The official car of hillbillies.
Man, I knew I read these stories but it's taken me all this time to find proof.  Proof that I'm not insane!  Years ago, on a roadtrip, my mom bought me a little Archie paperback with the weirdest little trifles in it.  Instead of double-dating with Betty, Veronica and Reggie or scarfing down hamburgers with his foodie pal Jughead, Archie was scuba diving into undersea civilizations and meeting thinly disguised versions of families from television.  Now, thanks the wonders of the Internet, I now know these were reprints from Life With Archie, the unusual Archie comic that frequently featured the Riverdale gang in strange settings or as superheroes.

The book contained the scuba diving adventure, plus a truly lame story where the whole gang live in prehistoric times and involve themselves in a primitive form of golf, which they amusingly call "glof."  I'll deal with the undersea antics later, but right now while they're hot on my mind I want to spend a little time with my two favorite tales, the ones that have haunted me down through the ages, when a simple Google search about 10 years ago would have brought peace and possibly sobriety to my household.

The first, "The Riverdale Hillbillies," comes from Life with Archie #28 (July, 1964).  Veronica's dad needs money to keep his business afloat but instead of petitioning the federal government for a bail-out like today's brand of super-risk-averse capitalists, he asks his second cousin Clem Lodge, the "richest man in Sassafrass County."  Many years before a branch of the Lodges migrated south (I'm not sure where the others headed because where the heck is Riverdale anyway?) and settled in the Ozarks where they amassed a fabulous fortune.  So claims Mr. Lodge, who apparently isn't prepared for Clem and his less-than-modern appearance when he and his family show up in the Archie comics version of that weird car the Clampetts used to tool around in.

Okay, they're not perfect caricatures of The Beverly Hillbillies cast, although thinking about it now, Mr. Lodge does bear a slight resemblance to Milburn Drysdale.  Artist Harry Lucey made a few modest alterations to the guest cast in the interests of parody, fair comment and avoiding litigation.  Clem looks a smidge like Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett, but with a brushy mustache.  Close, just not a dead ringer.  The costume is dead-on, though.  The floppy hat, the collar-less undershirt, the weathered suit jacket with jeans years before all the other California millionaires made that look au courant.

Lucey changes the others even more.  Instead of Irene Ryan as Granny, we get Grampa Gooley, a bearded old fellow who dresses like a stereotypical female witch for some reason.  Ellie Mae is bisected into two little girls named Lulu and Lily, each half the age of Donna Douglas' character.  And Max Baer Jr.'s lovable lunkhead Jethro becomes a huge hunk-a-man called... wait for it... Mildew.  Veronica takes a personal interest in his well being, complete with flying hearts and-- from a heretofore unknown part of her anatomy-- a BOINNG sound effect that isn't symbolic because Mildew can actually hear it.

Oh man, she doesn't even care that he's her cousin!  And I'm sure Mildew is even less concerned.  If ya know what I mean.  But don't worry.  Nothing comes of it.  Apparently Veronica's sexual arousal was merely a passing fancy, or else she somehow satisfied it off-panel at some point.

The hillbilly Lodges have all sorts of comical hayseed misadventures over the next few pages.  Grampa Gooley tries to bathe in the washing machine, Mildew mistakes an inflatable pool toy for a monster and Lulu and Lily destroy half the lawn and Mr. Lodge's prized dahlias with a riding mower.

And what is this vast amount Mr. Lodge needs to keep his fortune?  The impossible-to-obtain sum of $500,000.  That's all it takes to threaten a worldwide consortium of real estate holdings, aerospace plants, hotels and fast-food restaurants.  He gets cousin Clem to help him out with a uranium mine, they all race to the Ozarks and back to beat the impending deadline, using the deed to the mine as collateral Mr. Lodge saves his vast financial empire-- only to find out he owed the money to cousin Clem in the first place.

I have to admit there's one panel that confused me as a child thanks to my imperfect grasp of English.  At one point Grampa Gooley cooks dinner with a toaster, burning the food.  Here it is:

Okay, obviously I knew the meaning of the word "hot."  "Grub" is the one that threw me.  This was before I learned it was just another way of saying "food."  I distinctly remember thinking the plates were burning Grampa Gooley's hands and "grub" was some kind of painful grunt the poor old guy was making.  Well, I puzzled over that for a while and even acted it out.  "HOT... GRUB!" I'd say in an approximation of an old man's voice, one who'd left far behind him the familiar rustic comforts of his hillside shanty and was now suffering third degree burns to feed his family in the confusing modern world of 1964 Riverdale.

Anyway, you can read the entire thing for yourself at a neat little blog called Eep!  Omigosh! that, unfortunately, appears to have died sometime in 2009.  It's a fast-paced tale complete with a little bit of meta-humor.  Pretty far-sighted for the mid-60s.

The second story, "Archie Meets the Kreeps," is from Life With Archie #39 (July, 1965).  This one made a stronger impression on me at the time, as evidenced by my vivid memory of its final panels.  A strange young woman named Wendy bewitches Archie with a love potion and takes him home to meet her family, who prove to be stranger still.  After Archie and a jealous Veronica escape, Wendy transforms into her normal appearance-- that of an anthropomorphic fish.  Yeah, right at the end of the story you learn a talking fish has been putting the mystical moves on our favorite mixed-up teenager.  Wendy the fish-girl is heartbroken at having lost Archie.  Aunt and Uncle Kreep attempt to console her, but it falls flat.  This is where I learned the idiom "There are plenty of other fish in the sea."

Even though Wendy isn't particularly nice, I felt for her.  Just a little.  She would spend the rest of her life isolated from others her own age, never knowing the joys and terrors of true love, something Archie, Betty, Veronica and even resident misogynist Jughead would take for granted.  And I wondered how a Frankenstein's monster who's a Fred Gwynne lookalike and a vampire resembling Yvonne De Carlo could possibly be aunt and uncle to a fish.

A stronger impression, yet a skimpy write-up.  I wish I could tell you more about "Archie Meets the Kreeps," but I haven't read it in thirty years.  I'm dying to, though.  Here's hoping it sees a reprinting, and soon.  Someone out there really needs to collect this material into a book featuring the strangest Life with Archie stories.  If you want to know more about "Archie Meets the Kreeps," including its relationship to none other than Frank Frazetta,  Scott Shaw! has you covered, once again proving there is nothing-- not a single weird, outlandish or freaky comic-- that I can remember that someone else hasn't already written about at length on another blog.  And better.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Conan's elephant friend

Here's a page from one of my favorite Conan stories.  It's from "The Tower of the Elephant," adapted by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith (with inks by Sal Buscema) from the Robert E. Howard short story, and it appeared in Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #4 (April, 1971).  As you can see, Windsor-Smith's art is in a transitional state between his earlier clunky Jack Kirby imitations and his current ornate pre-Raphaelite look.  But his Conan is still wearing that silly horned helmet Windsor-Smith stuck on him right at the start.

In this story, we find a younger, slimmer Conan just starting his adventuresome career.  It's right after he quit McDonald's, but before he studied accounting at the local two-year community college.  Like a lot of young Hyborian dudes on the make, Conan spends a lot of time in the taverns of Arenjun, the "thief-city of Zamora."  There he overhears a big blowhard spouting off about the Tower of the Elephant and its fabulous treasure, the Heart of the Elephant.  Someone really likes elephants.  Probably Yara, the priest who lives in the tower.  He used to collect clown figurines, but his mom got him this little elephant carving for his birthday one year and he was never the same after that.

Anyway, the mouthy braggart has a Conan-type accident, and our favorite barbarian slips out to snag that fancy jewel for himself.  He's a little nervous about it-- this Yara guy is some kind of magician, and magic is the one thing that gives Conan the shivers-- but he climbs the walls, meets another thief with the unlikely name Taurus.  Taurus proves useful when a couple of lions show up.  A quick puff of the ol' black lotus and it's good bye, lions.  Taurus doesn't last long, either.  They manage to shimmy up a slender rope Taurus thoughtfully brought along, right to the top of the tower-- itself made itself of jewels of incredible value-- but then the ever-prepared Taurus dies from a spider bite.  Guess that's one thing he didn't see coming.  Conan kills the spider, then makes his way down into the tower only to meet this green elephant.

Yag-Kosha is his name.  Yara's blinded him and kept him in torment for 300 years while trying to learn all his elephantine magical secrets, such as the special ingredients to his famous chocolate chip cookies.

It's really kind of a melancholy story, the kind that proves Howard had more on his mind than just pulpy action.  It resists cliche.  Thomas, taking his cue from Howard, treats the first killing almost coyly.  We don't see it, just its aftermath.  Then there's Conan's palpable fear as he undertakes his thievery; he's not just a stolid, dull-minded hero.  Rather than have Conan fight his way into the tower, the story has him just a moment or two behind the action as Taurus else dispatches the guards and the first few lions for him.  Conan does get to fight a lion a little later, which is pretty sweet, but Thomas and Windsor-Smith don't dwell on it.  It's over in four panels, the first being a small silhouetted image.  Windsor-Smith crops the killing blow so we actually don't get to see it.

Yag-Kosha could easily have been a monster for Conan to fight, but instead he's treated sympathetically.  He simply tells his sad story-- which fills Conan with shame at being human-- and uses the barbarian as a vessel for his vengeance against Yara.  Which also doesn't involve violence, but a strange transformation that freaks poor Conan right the hell out.  Conan doesn't gain a treasure and comes away with nothing but an interesting story.  And that's what I've always liked about it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tiny People Theatre presents "Tuna Fish: a Fable from the Ancients"

Tokyo Comic Book Report: Japanese girls love Deadpool!

Majority of patrons that Saturday were women.
Well, to turn a generalization into something more accurate... at least one does.  When I visited Blister in Hamacho, one young woman was flipping through a Deadpool comic, cracking up and excitedly sharing various panels with her friend.  Before I left, she had in her hands a huge stack of American comics, at least one of which featured Deadpool.  So someone in Japan likes Deadpool, Marvel.  Take my infallible advice and start a huge marketing push centered on Deadpool over here and I'm sure it'll pay dividends!  Thank me with money.  You're welcome.

I'm not sure how I got the idea Blister was so difficult to reach, like a comic book Shangri-la.  It turns out it's pretty darned easy if you're staying in Hatagaya.  The subway train that takes you to Shinjuku will deliver you to Hamacho Station and from there it's about a five minute walk.  The first time I visited Blister I believe I went to a different platform in Shinjuku Station, but that was several lifetimes ago.  I've cheated death so many times since then, they all tend to blur together.

Blister's running on limited hours these days, but on Saturdays, they're open from 11am to 5pm, which gives you plenty of time to get in and browse.  The store is very cramped, and on this particular day there were six or seven other customers.  It felt crowded.  The store is heavily invested in Marvel and DC, mainstream stuff.  The going price for a brand new American comic magazine in Japan these days is 540 yen.  That's about 6.85 USD to you and me, Russ.  Blister does feature some bargain 100 yen comics in longboxes to your right as you enter.  The selection is hodgepodge and I long ago bought them out of every single Cassandra Cain Batgirl back issue they had.  None are to be had these days, but you can still buy issues of the Stephanie Brown series.

The Avengers were hanging out in Shibuya.
Speaking of Cass, I bought the very last copy of Batgirl: Fists of Fury found in the wild here in Japan, so don't look for that, either.  It cost 1800 yen (22.83 USD, quite a mark-up from the 14.95 US SRP), but it was worth it to reaffirm my position as her #1 fan in Japan.  It seems the other Cass trades like Silent Running and Death Wish are slipping out of print and going for mega-yen on  While Fists seems to be hanging in there and I could have paid 500 yen less for it online, the trouble I've had getting things like Showcase Presents Batman and the Outsiders 1 and New Mutants Classic Volume 1 means snap it up if you see it.

Besides the Cass book, I also bought Astonishing X-Men #52 (because it has a neat Xi'an Coy Manh cover), Conan #32 (a random choice because it was 100 yen and I still enjoy Kurt Busiek's run on that title), Conan the Barbarian #2 and 3 (more Dark Horse, love Becky Cloonan's art), Minutemen #1 and 2 (the pull of Darwyn Cooke proved too strong to resist), New Mutants #46 (more Xi'an, but this time with Dani Moonstar, also irresistable) and Walking Dead #100 (Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard-- this is the second time you've scarred me with a single horrific image!  I nearly barfed!).  No Dark Horse Presents, so no new Nexus.

Blister is stocked deep with Before Watchmen titles.  I only wanted a sample, so I didn't catalog everything they had, but I think I could have bought the entire run up to current if I'd been so inclined.  Good runs of the New 52, if you're into that.  Heavy on the Marvel mutant stuff.  They also have a lot of trades and collections, plus just about every Avengers movie action figure you could want, along with The Dark Knight Rises stuff.  The guy working the cash register was friendly enough, but we didn't chat due to the language barrier.  I think he recognized me from my last visit there, way back in 2010.  Now that I know an easier way to get there I could see myself patronizing Blister a bit more if I lived in Tokyo.  Maybe they could order more Fantagraphics and Dark Horse stuff for me, too.

Probably jet-lag, but Hulk really wanted to punch Thor.
My other comics-related activities included visits to Tower Records in Shibuya and Kinokuniya in Shinjuku.  Tower Records was having a major sale in their English-language book department so I snapped up a few bargains.  Now, Tower Records stocks a lot of Fantagraphics titles, but they seemed kind of depleted.  Coupled with the close-out type prices on other books, I'm wondering if they're overhauling things or getting out of the business.  That would truly be tragic because Tower Records has been a Tokyo destination if you want groovy things by Los Bros Hernandez, Peter Bagge and the like.

At Tower Records, I bought Lone Wolf and Cub volumes 4 (783 yen, marked down from 1565, or 9.93/19.85 USD), 19, 20, 22, 23, 25 and 26 (290 yen each, 3.68 USD).  I was tempted to go back and clean them out entirely.  I also found and bought a shelf-worn copy of Showcase Presents Batman and the Outsiders 1 (2573/32.64).  See what I mean about snap it up?

Kinokuniya has a very small section for Western comics, but it was there I managed to find and buy the elusive Perla La Loca (receipt lost, price unknown, a pearl of great value to me) to complete my Locas collection.  I'd ordered it months ago from, but kept getting messages that it was delayed.  This was the only Love and Rockets book they had in stock, so apparently it was meant for me.  And now we are together at last and all is right in the comic book world.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Isis meets Bigfoot, shallow moral lesson ensues...

Back in the 1970s, your TV show wasn't anything unless it featured Bigfoot in some way. Colonel Steve Austin, known for his bionics, had a memorable tete-a-tete with Sasquatch in a wo-part episode during the third season of The Six Million Dollar Man. But he wasn't the first. On October 18, 1975, Joanna Cameron as Isis had her own encounter with...

Well, let's watch and find out.

The gentle sounds of Rick Mason. Quite the talent on guitar, isn't he? The director gives him a spectacular musical spotlight to begin this episode. Do I detect a subtle sexual tension underlying his scenes with Andrea Thomas? No, I don't. They're as chaste and awkward a pair as you're likely to meet.

I'm not sure how accurately Isis depicts Egyptian mythology, but the narrator is right-- Ms. Thomas is a young science teacher. A very young science teacher. Cameron was a mere 24 years old when this episode first aired. Essentially the same age as most of the cast portraying her students. Scott Colomby, the actor playing Lee (not to be confused with Joanna Pang's character named Cindy Lee) would later go on to menace Michael O'Keefe as tough guy caddy Tony D'Annunzio in the 1980 slobs vs. snobs classic Caddyshack. He's about a year younger than his teacher Cameron.

I don't know about you, but I'm anxious to see what kind of special effects make-up or costuming the producers use to realize their vision of Bigfoot! Here's more Isis.

Ah, Cindy Lee. Cindy wins the Most Scholarly Student Award, and also Concerned Citizen of the Year. You may notice Bigfoot has come to the same conclusion as Thoreau, but for different reasons. Mickey hangs out in the woods with the boys, but still carries on a monologue.

Colomby really sells the ankle injury. That's the late William Engesser as the tragic giant.

We're roughly halfway through the episode and yet there are still so many questions left unanswered. For example, why is Mickey dressed like Howard Cunningham on an off-day? And did the actors die inside a little each time they had to pretend to interact with Tut the crow?

In our final installment, Bigfoot puts his life at risk for what I consider to be a silly reason. Can Isis save him then hammer home the episode's simplistic moral lesson? Let's watch the exciting conclusion of Isis: Bigfoot.

Here's a special bonus feature with Cameron guest-starring alongside Nicholas Hammond as Spider-Man.  Yes, the white bikini is gratuitous, but Cameron's body easily acts Hammond right off the screen.

Well, that about wraps things up with Cass Cain...

Unless she's a zygote in the New 52.  In the meantime, a small group of dedicated Cass-fans are attempting to organize a mass buy of the digital Batgirl #1.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Joe Kubert was something else!

I was all set to tell you about buying comics in Tokyo this week, but I just learned the saddest news.  Joe Kubert passed away at age 85.  It stings my heart.  His line was expressive and instantly recognizable.  Loose yet controlled.  Figures constructed like Renaissance giants.

Joe Kubert was a major force in my childhood and in my love for the best in comic book art.  The first book I ever read had a Joe Kubert cover, so he was there when words first started making sense to me.  Certain artists just own certain characters.  For me, it's Neal Adams Batman, Curt Swan Superman, Jack Kirby Fantastic Four, Al Williamson Star Wars, John Romita Spider-Man and Joe Kubert Sgt. Rock.  Somewhere along the way I began to love his art passionately, and used to spend hours copying his covers line for line.  I dreamed for years of attending his school.

He started his pro career as a child.  1938.  Which means he leaves us after a career spanning more than 70 years.  Are you impressed?  I'm flabbergasted.  That puts him in the company of Mickey Rooney in terms of professional longevity.  Almost unheard of!  Kubert appeared to be busy right up until the end, still doing vital work.  Two days ago I saw a brand new comic with his byline on the cover.  I wish I'd bought it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tokyo comics junket underway...

Yesterday I bought a metric ton of Dark Horse's Lone Wolf and Cub series for the ridiculously low, low price of 290 yen each.  Mostly later volumes.  Where?  At Tower Records, Shibuya.  They're having quite the sale at the moment.  I also bought Showcase Presents Batman and the Outsiders volume one, but I overpaid for that.  I had a copy a few years ago but gave it away to one of my English students.  I believe it's out of print or at least scarce now, so I had to snap it up at full price despite being a bit soured on DC lately, and this copy showing some serious shelf-wear.  Gotta have early Katana adventures, though.  She's the only current DC character I like, and mostly because her costume looks so cool.

Today I'm going to brave the Tokyo broiler and find Blister in Nihonbashi or Chuo.  Wherever it
is.  I need to buy Dark Horse Presents with the new Nexus stories.  Getting there is going to take some effort, so here's hoping it's worth it.  If I don't find anything to buy there, I'll retreat to Kinokuniya in Shinjuku and buy some Nana.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Comic book quest... begins!

I'll be gone for a few days.  I plan to find Blister, the comic book/toy store hidden somewhere in Tokyo.  I've been there before.  Come to think of it, it may not be open.  Well, here's hoping.  Wish me luck and all that.  My goal is to buy the new Dark Horse Presents with Nexus.  If I can accomplish that, it will be worth the heat, the humidity and the broiling sun of Tokyo in August.

If you want my advice-- stay out of Tokyo in summer.  Go in spring or fall.  I'm just not that bright.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Reed Richards, what the hell is wrong with you?

He's a red-blooded heterosexual male, that's what, you filthy degenerate atheistic Commie pinko red!  Just when you're convinced Reed Richards is nothing but an unfeeling computer on legs, thinking of nothing but the square root of the Einstein Theory and the co-efficient of the hypotenuse, it turns out at heart he's all man, right?  That's one interpretation, certainly valid.

However, look again, please.  What we're seeing is the comic book embodiment of that peculiarly American cognitive dissonance where we're obsessed with sex and tumescence-inducing imagery, yet puritanical and filled with shame and anxiety over it.  Indeed, proving himself quintessentially American in this regard, Richards uses this fabulous device to manifest his girlfriend Sue Storm as a sex object, but-- ambivalent due to his lifetime's conditioning in the laboratory of Protestantism-- cannot fully unleash his id and therefore timidly clothes her fantasy image in a very modest (also hideous) green one-piece swimsuit.  And what appear to be matching metal slippers.  What a contradictory imago his classically suppressed libido draws forth!  How fearful he is of the sexual woman, a woman's sexuality, even one he makes up in his mind!

Still, within the rigors of the Comic Code, what this splash page to Fantastic Four #27 (June, 1964) proves is Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were wise enough even in those pre-Internet days to understand there is virtually no new technology that can't be used for pornography, even by squares like Richards.  Prescient in a way.  Pure pop genius.  I'm reminded of this each time I check Google search terms that bring up When Comic Books Ruled the Earth and the leading one for the day is either of the phrases "Batgirl boobs" or "Cassandra Cain nude."

While Sue quite justifiably protests* even this fairly mild invasion of her privacy-- shades of the various "leaked" nude scandals that currently play out almost weekly online--  the boys aren't ready to put away their new toy.  Let's hook Ben Grimm up the machine and see what happens--

Oh, that poor guy!  

Note how Richards wisely refuses the hormonally-addled teen Johnny Storm (his powers incongruously activated despite the ostensibly safe domestic environment, heat amd burning both signifiers not only of arousal but of danger-- caution, don't touch, hot!) access to his incredible sex fantasy image-maker-- no doubt aware of the pimply carnal imagery that would result, and, once seen, never be un-seen-- and sticks the device on Ben's head only to have his friend conjure up a hallucinatory menace that threatens to destroy the new invention itself.  Ben, his powerful rocky form a monstrous mockery of American manhood-- as a former USAF test pilot, astronaut and college athlete perhaps a satirical comment on America's chest-thumpingly uber-masculine patriotism and over-weening pride in our Cold War martial prowess as a sublimation of our more prurient urges similarly suggested by Stanley Kubrick's dark comedy masterpiece Dr. Strangelove-- can't even summon as Richards did the mildly suggestive form of his own lover in a swimsuit.  Instead, his thoughts turn immediately to threat and violence.  Only by forming a symbolic bed for his friend to collapse onto can Richards prevent disaster, the loss of his prototype.

The type of bed symbolized depends on our reading of the Thing's pose.  Is it infantile, as if he's a baby waiting for his diapers to be changed?  In this case, Richards provides a comforting crib.  Or, continuing our linkage of this sequence to the underlying sexual repression/phobias/concerns of the American male psyche, is he spreading his legs for penetration, for intercourse, in which case Richards is providing him with a marital bed, in parody or gender inversion of a wedding night ritual?  Does this mean the imaginary "pineapple" Dr. Doom-- himself a stern father-figure which further suggests something deeply Oedipal-- throws at the Thing is phallic, or is it vaginal?

What is it the Thing truly fears, which only the embrace of his friend can relieve?  What is it the men of the United States feared most in 1964 (the year of the long-haired Beatles and the dawn of the Sexual Revolution) and possibly to this day, as evidenced by certain anti-feminist screeds so full of castration/feminization anxiety they tell more about their authors' psyches than they do the supposed goals of the movement they purport to criticize?  And doesn't he look silly with that damned thing on his head?

*Remember when Marvel used to pretend the FF were real and Stan and Jack were just transcribing their adventures?  As violated as Sue feels by Reed in this story, imagine how a real woman would feel knowing Marvel sometimes has her illustrated by an artist who literally traces pornography, frequently causing her not to look energetic or adventuresome but blatantly orgasmic.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mike Allred on the Fantastic Four?

Okay, it's not Marvel, but it's Allred!
Whereas DC's kind of like, "Nyahhh nyahhh, we don't need you!" it seems Marvel's going out of its way to solicit my hard-earned yen.  They've got Dani Moonstar practically headlining a book and now this exciting news.  Exciting to me, anyway!

I've loved Mike Allred's art for quite some time now-- and he's just such a positive, nice guy I can't help but like the man himself and his whole family, too-- and have especially fond memories of the last Marvel series other than the new New Mutants I bought with any regularity.  I'm talking the awesome X-Force/X-Statix book Allred did with Peter Milligan.  I really need to go back and re-read that.  It's been too long since I communed with the likes of Mr. Sensitive, U-Go Girl and Doop.  I can't even remember the other characters' names.  Spike?  Tike?  Man, it was gloriously weird and emotionally engaging in a way few mainstream comics ever are.

While I'd love it if Allred also happened to be writing Fantastic Four, just the presence of his artwork is a guarantee I'll be tracking this down over here, across the sea in Japan!


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Xenozoic Tales coming back in a big way!

Literally.  Next June (2013 for those counting the years), IDW will release Mark Schultz's Xenozoic Tales Artist's Edition, 144 pages printed at a whopping 14" x 20" size.  It's their latest in a series that's seen big ol` versions of Walt Simonson's The Mighty Thor, Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer and others.  You get to see blue lines and all that jazz, almost as if you were holding the original art in your hands.  It should prove as instructive as it is aesthetically pleasing.  As both an artist and an art junkie, I'm going to buy this book when it hits the streets, probably leaving a massive crater.  Mark Schultz is just amazing.  I've already read these stories dozens of times each, but I never get tired of looking at his pages.  If you can get the regular comics or one of the many reprint books it's more than worth a lazy afternoon charting the Schultz's growth as a writer and artist.  You can actually see him working through various techniques and influences, starting with Wally Wood, then Al Williamson, Roy Krenkel and Frank Frazetta plus others whose work I'm actually not familiar with until he emerges as a unique synthesis of all these classic elements, his personal style as easily recognized as that of any of those other giants.  The plot itself goes from EC-inspired vignettes to something more epic as Schultz gains confidence as a writer, too.  It's a super cool progression.

IDW must love huge books because I've got their Genius Isolated:  The Life and Art of Alex Toth book and that crazy thing must way thirty or forty tons.  We had to hire a special heavy lifting crane to winch it into my apartment and it's left the floor permanently depressed.  Not only that, but it's the first of a trilogy of books.  I'm going to have to build a special annex with some sort of carefully engineered load-bearing elements and perhaps a shock-absorbing system installed in the floor to handle them.  I find these kinds of books worth the expense, though.

You'd have to be some kind of nut not to be excited about this next piece of news.  You're not a nut, are you?  No?  Great!  Then, let's celebrate because it's official!  At the Flesk Publications panel during this year's San Diego Comic Con, Schultz promised when he finishes his book Storms at Sea, he's going to do another issue of Xenozoic Tales.  Finally!  It's been something like 16 years since he left us hanging with mechanic-shaman Jack Tenrec ousted from City in the Sea and planning to head back to Fessenden's Station where the story began.  The last few issues of Xenozoic Tales raised a lot of questions and its hiatus left them hanging in the air.  What are the reptilian grith?  What's their relationship with Hannah Dundee and how much do they know about her mysterious origins as a foundling?  Can the sometimes bull-headed Tenrec maintain his tenuous new alliances, retake City in the Sea, reinstate the Machinato Vitae and restore the balance between humans and nature before destructive elements in control of his home cause another catastrophe?  These questions drive me to distraction at times!

It may take a while for Schultz to get around to it, but in the meantime, here's a cartoon version. You know, for kids...


The Hulk has been spotted in Japan, called "incredible"

Yeah, it's a guy in a Hulk mask.  You have to scroll down a little and it helps if you can read Japanese.  Is it just me or is there something of a Mark Ruffalo likeness to it?