Sunday, September 8, 2013

Uncle Vic's Vault, or How Not to Treat Your Comics....or Why is Aqua Man Such a Jerk?

Once again I made the pilgrimage to my home village in search of rest and relaxation, inebriation and indigestion, rural debauchery and ritual decompression.  It was my parent's 60th(!) wedding anniversary and my good friends Jacob and Kristen's 15th wedding anniversary in the same weekend.  The wife and I flew into Minneapolis then drove north into the heat and humidity.  It was that stick to everything kind of heat that made you sweat sitting still.  Perfect weather for exploring a dark, dank, musty Silver Age sepulcher. 

I came back with what you see above: Justice League America #10 March 1962, #21 August 1963, #35 May 1965, #56 September 1967; Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane #70 November 1966, Adventure Comics #353 February 1967, Plastic Man #10 June 1968, World's Finest #176 June 1968, Brave and the Bold #78 June 1968, Wonder Woman #177 July 1968, and Challengers of the Unknown #77 January 1971---a reprint of Showcase #12 written and drawn by Jack Kirby in 1958.  These were books I didn't see the first time I went through Uncle Vic's collection the last time I visited home.
"Umm Clark, you're squeezing kind of hard..."
The real score of the expedition was Justice League of America #21.  Near mint, bagged and boarded this issue is worth $345, but this copy to the left is worth maybe $45.  It has disintegrated along the edges, color faded, the pages smell of mildew and mold.  Listen up kids, treat your comics right and maybe you'll have a real-and-true-gods-honest ART-I-FACT on your hands, or you can leave them in a damp cardboard box in an uninsulated garage in the middle of the woods and get this.  If the 11 books I brought back were kept dry and clean they would be worth almost $1,000 on the open market.  The JLA/JSA team-ups usually are bit more valuable than other JLA issues.  JLA #21 is significant for the first named appearance of Earth-2. It may be beat up but I still love looking at this book.  The off-set printing lends to certain flatness of color.  The highly limited use of color gradients (only on facial skin tones, none on costumes) is indicative to the technology of the era.  In 1962 off-set printing was less than 100 years old.  See also: Compounding of Information and Technology, Doubling of Information.
In this post I want to focus on JLA #10, "The Fantastic Fingers of Felix Faust" written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mike Sekowsky.  

Gardner Fox was a pivotal player in the Golden and Silver age of Comics.  He helped to co-create the Sandman in 1939 with artist Bert Christman, tag teamed early Batman issues with Bob Kane that included the first use of Batman's utility belt, the first use of the Batarang, and the first Batgyro (later Batcopter).  He wrote the first three issues of Flash Comics in 1940 (Golden Age Flash) where he introduced the title character and Hawkman for the first time.

However, what Fox is credited with mainly is the creation of the first ever super team, the Justice Society of America, during the winter of 1940 in the pages of All Star Comics #3.  Fox went on to a prolific amount of work (he's credited for writing around 4,000 comics, 1,500 stories for DC alone ), which I won't get into here, but I do want to mention Flash #123, "A Flash of Two Worlds!"  It is the
This does not seem practical to me at all, it could make shower time a bit....confusing.
introduction to the concept of Golden Age Heroes living on a parallel Earth, Earth-2, thus giving birth to the DC Comics Mulitverse, the source of plot points for decades to come (Crisis, Infinite Crisis, The New 52).

In Flash #123 Barry Allen (Silver Age Flash) smashes the Fourth Wall suggesting comic book author of the Golden Age Flash, Gardner Fox, has a psychic link with Earth-2 and that's why Golden Age Flash comics exist in "his [Silver Age] world." I think it's amazing a 70 year old concept still so strongly reverberates through DC publications today.  Iconic or cop out?  If it's not broken don't fix it?  Or is it still metaphysically relevant to the audience today? They do seem to sell well don't they.
Title page of JLA #10 and an advert for the Greg Land School of Art

Here we see Felix Faust's motivation for taking mystical control of the Justice League.  He WANTS to make a deal with the devil for supernatural powers because it worked out so well for his "name-sake."  I don't think he read the same Marlowe play I did.  Although some reiterations of the story have a redemption of sorts for Faust, most end with him being carted off to hell.  Maybe Felix read the beginning and got distracted? Maybe there was a sale on mystical robes and hats downtown and he just never got around to finishing it?  This brings me around to point #2 kids, always finish reading the stories you start,  especially the classics, because you never know what kind of things you'll learn, like selling your eternal soul to the devil is a BAD idea.  See Also: The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), "The Devil and Homer Simpson"  "Tree House of Horror IV," The Simpsons (1993).
Unexpected discovery, who knew JLA#10 is actually a prequel to the Evil Dead?  

This is something I'd gladly welcome back to the pages of DC comics, a "Science says you're wrong if you believe that" page.  They could talk about creationism or Pres. Obama's birth certificate, it'd be a huge hit.  If they would only sacrifice ONE PAGE of self promotion.  I genuinely did not know that female reindeer have antlers too...but I also didn't really give it much thought in the first place.  I suppose if the question would have occurred to me I would have looked it up.  But that's the point of the random knowledge page isn't it?  To spur the real world imagination of a kid?  I like it.  They should do it now.  It would be good for them and good for their audience.  DC needs to do something in service to comics for comics, something better than Batman and Catwoman grinding on a roof top, or killing off the black Green Lantern,  or not letting Batwoman get married to her girlfriend.  What's strange about that is they just made a big to-do about their new Earth-2 gay Green Lantern last year.  
What's worse, having the title character on the cover "flaming" or killing off his boyfriend in the opening pages?  Their social policy is schizophrenic at best. Too many corporate cooks in the kitchen man.

JLA #10 also features the first appearance of Epoch, The Time Lord.  I dig the's epic...see what I did there?

I also enjoy the warriors emerging from the Time Lord's computer wall through some sort of portal or screen.  I want to see a spinoff of Viking vs Centurion vs Mongol where they team up for sure.  That is a Mongol down there right?  You tell me. 

What's happening here is Batman and Flash are going to confront Epoch but, as fate would have it, Felix Faust has simultaneously cast a spell to bring the heroes under his control.  When Flash touches "the wing of the bat" and when Batman touches "a clam shell" they will be under Faust's control.  Batman's cape does the scarlet speedster in, and a mother of pearl light switch foils the caped crusader.  Yes, a light switch.

 You know how you can tell Epoch, the Time Lord is a time lord? He has a sword and a (presumably laser) gun...and his tight, tight yellow pants.

That friggin' helmet man, where were you when I was 13 tooling around on a 75cc Honda mini-bike?  Cruising with my big yellow goggles...that would have been so sweet.

 That is a Mongol warrior down there right? What's up with the hat, is he Dutch? What is that on his chest? Patches?  His bus pass? Two swords, one scabbard? Thank Jar Jar Greedo is coming from the future to back him up.  Pro-tip #3 kids, don't bring a sword to a laser gun fight, you will not win.

Oh Flash, I can't count how many times I've thought the same thing, last call sitting at the bar, next to some bleary-eyed young lady who can't seem to stop talking about her job...or her dog...or something else I couldn't give a damn about.  Flash looks how I feel after too much beer and someone has passed a joint around the party...oh god just make everything stop moving, please oh please please of please, blargggghhhhhhh (me getting sick).

I have a soft spot for anytime the Flash tries to vibrate through solid matter, later it would allow him to travel through space-time.  This is Gardner Fox at his best, introducing children to the mystery of quantum physics.  You have to remember this is 1962 and the main demographic of this comic is 10-14 years of age.  Good job Mr. Fox, good job.  See also: Quantum Tunneling, Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, Wave-Particle Duality of Matter.

"Aquaman...dude what the hell!? My shell is not spear and arrow proof!"

This panel sequence really grabbed me.  To save the hammerhead shark from being hit by arrows and spears Aquaman picks up a sea tortoise and uses it as a shield, "brother tortoise" indeed.  I think PETA is going to be calling Aquaman soon to have a little talk...not cool bro, not cool.

At this point you may be asking yourself, "Self, who the hell is that guy?"

Why, that's Snapper Carr!

I lifted this straight from wikipedia...basically because I didn't want to waste my time talking about this throwaway character: "Lucas  "Snapper" Carr is a fictional character in the DC Comics universe, most famous as a supporting character to the superhero team the Justice League of America.  He has often been referred to as the team's mascot.  Snapper Carr, along with the Justice League, first appears in The Brave and the Bold #28, written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mike Sekowsky. As the JLA could not have the sidekicks of all its members wandering through its secret headquarters, but needed a character to whom the reader could relate, the group needed a distinct character not associated with the home town of any of its members.  In order to rationalize that an ordinary person could become an honorary member of the JLA, he had to be important to them at the moment of that group's formation."

This guy. This eff-ing guy.  He's popped up all over the DC universe in the last 40 years.  I like him the most in The Dark Knight Returns.  See also: The Brady Bunch "Oliver," Different Strokes "Sam," Growing Pains "Luke", The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show "Poochie."
Unlike today, the letters-to-the-editor page is midway through the book.  It's comforting in a way to see somethings don't change.  The letter section of JLA #10 is full of anal nitpicking and general sucking up, much like any comic book letters page today.

This one is especially stupid are you DC?  Green Lantern's mask is green, not blue, duh!  I feel for the poor printer, the fact they printed their letter as an explanation must mean they got lots of mail about it.  Can you imagine if that happened today?  The corporate backlash of then versus now?  No thanks.  If I was their printer and I get a call from Geoff Johns...I'm at lunch....all week.

Something occurred to me when I read this issue...Aquaman is the Tom Sawyer of super heroes.  He doesn't really do anything, he gets the sea life to do it for him with his telepathic powers.  He literally coerces animals to take the risk for him.  What kind of hero is that?  A lazy one, that's for sure...and people wonder why Aquaman gets no respect.  He's a jerk!  He's like any other king who has his supplicants and armies do all his dirty work for him. He's no Geoffrey Lannister, but he sure seems content to let his little minions do the hard work for him.

Green Lantern should have let the rocks bury Aquaman.  He'd probably just get some octopi dig him out anyway...lazy A$$H@!3.

So after gaining control of the JLA and getting them to assemble the three magical items he needs to take over the universe, Felix Faust casts his spell to release the demons that will put him in charge.

But unfortunately for him his magiks need time to take, and although he has power over the JLA physically he doesn't have power over them mentally.

Guess who comes to the rescue, Aquaman! He gets a whale to flip a bunch of flying fish through the window hitting Faust in the face.  I do love the slapstick of it all, "wap wap wap wap" I can hear them slapping him in the face.  Faust falls down and hits his head, releasing his control over the JLA. *Slow Clap*

Faust is defeated but his plan is still in's just going to take a 100 years to come to fruition.  That's a pretty crappy plan Felix. 

So what have we learned from all this?  Keep you comics dry and clean.  Read the classics all the way through.  A laser gun is always better than a sword.  Aquaman cares more about hammerhead sharks than turtles, and he's a big blonde jerk.

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