Random Musings: The Brixton Brothers recalls series books of yesteryear

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Brixton Brothers #1

Twelve-Year-Old Steve Brixton is a huge fan of the Bailey Brothers Mystery Series by MacArthur Bart. He considers them the best detective stories of all time. And as far as Steve is concerned, The Bailey Brothers Detective Handbook is the greatest book of all time.

Steve, who lives in the Pacific coast town of Ocean Park, owns all 59 books in the series (including The Detective Handbook) and has read most of them twice (and some three times). After sending away 12 cereal box tops and $1.95 to an address in Kentucky, he received a Bailey Brothers’ “Genuine Detective’s Investigation License”, which proclaimed him to be “one ace sleuth.”

He’s also a detective in his own right.

Except no one told him that. Until he finds himself embroiled in a case involving a national treasure, with everyone he meets— police, criminals and secret agent librarians— insisting he’s a real detective. They’re also convinced he’s working for the bad guy.

That’s the situation in The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity, the first of the four (so far) books in the Brixton Brothers series by Mac Barnett, with illustrations by Adam Rex (the fourth book is illustrated by Matthew Myers).

The books in the series— The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity, The Ghostwriter Secret, It Happened on a Train and Danger Goes Berserk— offer just the right mix of humor— via a good-natured poke at series books of decades past, especially The Hardy Boys— and genuine mysteries. In fact, The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity and It Happened on a Train were both nominated for Edgar Awards by the Mystery Writers of America in the “Best Juvenile” category.

The Brixton Brothers series pays tribute to The Hardy Boys through Steve’s love of The Bailey Brothers, selected passages from various Bailey Brothers books written in the vein of the Hardy Boys and with endpapers similar to those in the Hardy Boys books. What’s more, “The Missing Chum” and “It Happened at Midnight”, chapters in The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity and The Ghostwriter Secret, respectively, recall two Hardy Boys titles: The Missing Chums and What Happened at Midnight.

Some of the good-natured pokes at The Hardy Boys come in the juxtaposition of a portion of Bailey Brothers text with Steve’s own situation. For instance, in The Ghostwriter Secret, Steve consults The Bailey Brothers Detective Handbook about common clues that can crack a case. These, we’re told, include gorilla masks, exotic birds and broken swords.

Steve, walking along a road where a crime may have been committed, sees sand, leaves, an orange peel and a dirty green visor.

Much of the humor comes via Steve’s personality. His mother, Carol, is dating an Ocean Park police officer named Rick, whom Steve doesn’t like. At all. So when Steve makes a list of suspects in a particular mystery, Rick is always on it. The evidence or motive he assigns to Rick never varies:

“Jerk.”

He’s also not impressed with Rick’s skills as a police officer.

In The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity, a note Steve leaves for his Mom tells her he won’t be home that weekend because he’s wanted for treason and that he took the last Sprite from the fridge.

He also reflects on his three big problems: he’s being hunted by “trigger-happy” librarians; he’s being hunted by the police and he has a social studies report due Monday.

Steve may emulate the Frank and Joe Hardy-like Bailey Brothers, but unlike them, he’s a real kid deep down. And most kids would probably consider a social studies report (or any other kind) to be a big problem.

He’s also an only child. He calls his detective agency “Brixton Brothers” because, as he said in It Happened on a Train, “It just sounds cooler, okay?”

Because Shawn and Kevin Bailey (and likewise Frank and Joe Hardy) used the word when referring to their best friend, Steve insists on addressing his best friend, Dana Villalon, by the long obsolete term “chum.” Dana doesn’t like it.

We learn in The Ghostwriter Secret that Dana is a “silent partner” in the Brixton Brothers Detective Agency. In other words, “he wanted nothing to do with the Brixton Brothers Detective Agency.”

Unfortunately for Dana, he always gets embroiled in Steve’s cases. Usually by being captured by the bad guys.

In It Happened on a Train, Steve meets Claire Marriner, a 12-year-old fellow passenger on a train to San Diego who indirectly gets him involved in a mystery (even though he insists he’s retired). He also finds her to be unlike the girls in the Bailey Brothers books (they don’t yell at the Bailey Brothers), but more interesting.

In The Ghostwriter Secret, Steve has a business card. Frank and Joe Hardy never used one, so I wonder if that’s a subtle nod to the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators Mystery Series. The Three Investigators (Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews) used business cards. Steve has something else in common with them, too. Unlike Kevin and Shawn Bailey (and Frank and Joe Hardy), Steve isn’t the son of a great detective. Nor are any of the Three Investigators. Like them, Steve solves his own cases. They’re also based on the West Coast (Rocky Beach, California), like Steve. Frank and Joe Hardy live on the East Coast.

I previously talked about The Three Investigators here: https://rickkeatingsrandommusings.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/random-musings-a-look-back-at-the-three-investigators/

When Steve doesn’t have a motive for a suspect, he puts down ???, which also happened to be the symbol of the Three Investigators. However, that could be a coincidence.

As I said, these books involve actual mysteries. Steve is depicted as smart and observant and Barnett plays fair with the reader when it comes to planting clues.

I enjoyed reading the Brixton Brothers books, which I first discovered in 2012, and hope there will be more in the series; we’re told at the end of Danger Goes Berserk (2012) that Steve would soon receive a Message from a Maniac. It’s been four years, but I’m hopeful Barnett has just put The Brixton Brothers on the back burner for a time and will return to the series.

You can read more about The Brixton Brothers at Brixtonbrothers.com.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Commemorating TV’s Batman 50 years later.

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Batman TV series

On Jan. 12, 1966, Batman debuted on ABC, launching a short-lived nationwide fad known as “Batmania.” The two-part opening adventure concluded the following night.

Batman was also the first network series about a comic book superhero (the 1950s Adventures of Superman having been a syndicated series). True, Batman doesn’t have any super powers (except in the TV series, where he displays the ability to recall arcane facts (and to tolerate Robin’s “holy this and holy that.”)), but he’s still considered a super hero.

Yes, the TV series has often been decried by comics purists because it made fun of the “dark knight detective”, but it’s important to remember that A) the series was a satire and B) the Batman of the comics wasn’t all that dark and brooding at the time (he had been in the 30s and would be again in the 70s, but in 1966 he was only a few years removed from having strange, otherworldly, science fiction-based adventures that didn’t really fit with his original incarnation as a pulp–inspired scourge of the underworld).

That having been said, one unfortunate side effect from Batman’s popularity was that for years ignorant newspaper and magazine articles about comics would lead off with “pow” or “zap” or other such inane declarations.

Yes, the series was a satire. At times a brilliant one. The second season episodes “Hizzoner the Penguin” and “Dizzoner the Penguin” finds Batman (Adam West) and the Penguin (Burgess Meredith) competing for the position of mayor of Gotham City. In one campaign speech, Penguin points out that unlike Batman, who is always seen with criminals, the Penguin is often seen in the company of the police.

The facts that the penguin is being arrested during these incidents (and that Batman is fighting the criminals around him) are ignored.

Penguin campaigns

The Penguin campaigns for mayor.

The series was innovative in that each hour long episode was split in half and shown over two consecutive nights, with the first part having a cliffhanger ending, emulating the movie serials of the 1930s-1950s. Narrator (and executive producer) William Dozier would ponder how Batman and Robin (Burt Ward) would extricate themselves from that week’s ghastly predicament.

The cliffhanger stories only happened during the first and second seasons. In the third season, by which time the fad was waning, episodes were cut back to a single half hour adventure. Some of the stories were good and some were bad, but the overall best thing about the third season?

Batgirl

Yvonne Craig as Batgirl.

Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl was resourceful and able to hold her own as a crime fighter (though she obviously would have been better served as a character had the series aired in later decades).

Another “gimmick” was that popular celebrities were hired to play the villains, getting a “special guest villain” credit in the opening titles. These included Frank Gorshin as the Riddler (who appeared in the opening episodes), Julie Newmar as Catwoman, Cesar Romero (and his mustache) as the Joker; Roddy McDowell (who, sadly, only appeared in one story) as the Bookworm and David Wayne as the Mad Hatter.

Other celebrities, including Edward G. Robinson, Jerry Lewis, Dick Clark, Werner Klemperer (in character as Col. Klink of Hogan’s Heroes (set in the 1940s!)) and Sammy Davis, Jr., appeared in cameos at windows as Batman and Robin “climbed” the side of a building.

In fact, Batman and Robin seemed to prefer going in and out of buildings via windows on various floors than by other means. Was there, as Superman would ask in the 1978 movie of the same name, “something wrong with the elevator?” Maybe, but Batman was probably on the money at the conclusion of the 1966 movie (based on the TV series) when he advised Robin to leave, “inconspicuously, through the window.”

My first exposure to Batman came in the early 1970s, when it was airing in reruns. I loved the show as a kid and had the Mego Batcave playset, complete with Batpole. I also met Adam West and Burt Ward at an auto show in 1976.

Ah, yes. The Batpoles. The best way to dress for work ever invented. Slide down a pole and when you get to the bottom, you’ve changed from whatever you were wearing to the appropriate clothes for your particular job. And if your job is to do the job of the police (and not actually get paid for it), then it seems you dress up as a bat.

To the Batpoles

“To the Batpoles.” Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson prepare to dress for work.

When I first saw Batman as a kid, I came up with a logical explanation for how Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson could change into Batman and Robin. I must have assumed the show aired live, because I figured that they must have gone down a short distance (to a “mezzanine level”, though I wouldn’t have known that word at the time), changed into their costumes during the commercials, then continued down the poles to the Batcave just as the commercials ended and the show resumed.

Kid logic, but since I knew you can’t change clothes while sliding down a pole, I also knew there had to be a stop somewhere.

Actually, I was closer to the truth than I realized. Adam West and Burt Ward slid down one set of poles in their regular clothes in the Wayne study set and down another pair in costume in the Batcave set.

Now, riddle me this!

In the Batman TV series, what was Bruce Wayne’s first name?

That’s absolutely correct. His first name was “Millionaire.”

Throughout the 120 episodes, practically everyone referred to him as “Millionaire Bruce Wayne.”

Just about

every.

single.

time.

Even in Bruce’s presence. In “Catwoman Goes to College”, Catwoman is brought before Warden Crichton and Bruce. The Warden tells her that her parole has been granted and that “Millionaire Bruce Wayne” will be her parole officer. Crichton refers to Bruce twice by his “full name.”

Hell, even Batman calls him that. In “The Joker’s Last Laugh”, he tells a bank manager, “I’m sure I speak for the chairman of the board, Millionaire Bruce Wayne, when I say…”

Batman, being Bruce Wayne, should know his own name. So, no, they’re not all saying he’s a millionaire. Because that would be weird to emphasize that point over and over again. No, they’re not all obsessed with Bruce’s wealth. His first name really is “Millionaire.”

Batman remains a fun and enjoyable series.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: A look back at Doctor Who season 27/series 1, a decade later.

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Doctor Who logo series one

In 2005, Doctor Who returned to TV screens after 16 years (save a one-off TV movie in 1996). Starring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor and Billie Piper as his companion, Rose Tyler, it proved to be a massive hit for the BBC.

The debut episode, “Rose”, was broadcast on the BBC on March 26, 2005 and much later in the year on the (then) Sci-Fi Channel. Luckily, I was able to pick up the CBC over the air and saw it beginning in April.

Rose Tyler meets the Doctor

“Run.” Rose Tyler meets the Doctor.

In “Rose”— and indeed for that first season— Rose Tyler is very much the viewpoint character. Executive Producer and head writer Russell T. Davies knew that for the show to be a success, it had to appeal to a broad audience, as Doctor Who did in the 60s and 70s. By the time the series left the air in 1989, it had become too self-referential. Many of the scripts were good and it was starting to have a bit of a renaissance under then-script editor Andrew Cartmel, but there were also a lot of references that casual viewers wouldn’t understand.

Therefore, Davies (himself a fan of the original incarnation of the series) set out to draw in as many viewers as possible. And one way he did that was to have recurring appearances by Rose’s mother, Jackie (Camille Coduri) and boyfriend Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke). He also didn’t inundate the viewer with details about the original run of the series. In fact, it wasn’t until David Tennant’s run as the Tenth Doctor— after the show had been well established— that explicit references to the original run began appearing.

Jackie and Mickey

Jackie Tyler and Mickey Smith.

Every episode in season 27/series 1 also took place either on Earth or a space station above it. We met alien creatures, but never visited other planets.

I call it season 27, by the way, because the 2005-present incarnation is a continuation of the 1963-1989 series, not a start-from-scratch re-launch.

Yes, Davies did bring back an old adversary— the Autons— but he said in Doctor Who Magazine #485 (May 2015, page 40), that he’d have used the Autons had he brought back the show in the 90s; and that they were the best monster.

He also pointed out that “the grammar for [science fiction] barely existed, and certainly not on Saturday night prime time BBC One. So I was being careful. The monsters were dummies. Simple as that.”

Autons

The Autons advance on Rose.

As to the Doctor himself, neither we nor Rose (in her researches about him) are given the slightest hint that he’s ever had other faces. Another wise choice. Depicting images of the Doctor’s other incarnations (or even mentioning them) in the first episode would only confuse new viewers.

By the way, there’s a scene in “Rose” where the Doctor regards his ears in a mirror. Davies revealed in Doctor Who Magazine #485 (page 42), that it was not meant to indicate the Doctor had only recently regenerated.

“He doesn’t act very post-regeneration, does he? He appears in command, waving a bomb. This is a man who knows himself, and has known himself for a while.”

Throughout the season, Davies and his fellow writers provide information about the Doctor and his background piecemeal. In the second episode, “The End of the World”, the Doctor tells Rose that he’s a Time Lord; that his world was destroyed in a war and that he’s the last of his people. In the third episode, “The Unquiet Dead”, by Mark Gatiss, we learn from gaseous creatures called the Gelth that there was a time war. It’s not until the sixth episode, “Dalek”, by Robert Shearman, that we learn the Time War took place between the Time Lords and the Daleks. Viewers also learn the Doctor has two hearts.

( And in the fourth episode, “Aliens of London”, the Doctor reveals to Rose that he’s more than 900-year-old.)

In “Dalek” , the Doctor tells the damaged, lone Dalek who somehow survived the Time War that he made their destruction happen. He also angrily screams at it “Why don’t you just die?”

Ninth Doctor and a Dalek

Old enemies: the Ninth Doctor and a Dalek.

Brief aside: Actually, the Doctor didn’t destroy both the Daleks and the Time Lords, as we learned in the 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor.”

In that episode, The War Doctor (John Hurt), the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) decide to change history so that the War Doctor does not activate a sentient weapon called the Moment and destroy both Gallifrey and the Daleks.

The Doctors and the Moment

The Doctors decide to disarm the Moment.

Or so they think. I believe their actions (hiding Gallifrey away in a pocket universe, leaving the Daleks surrounding the planet to destroy each other in their own crossfire) are what always happened.

At the end of the episode, the War Doctor says, “I won’t remember this, will I?”

“The time streams are out of sync,” the Eleventh Doctor replies. “You can’t retain it. No.”

“So I won’t remember that I tried to save Gallifrey rather than burn it.”

(the Tenth Doctor also acknowledges that he won’t remember the events, either).

As soon as he’s departed in his TARDIS, the War Doctor begins to regenerate into the Ninth. It’s been established in the past that the Doctor suffers from a bit of post-regenerative amnesia. So, the newly-regenerated Ninth Doctor not only won’t remember the events of “The Day of the Doctor”, his last clear memory might well have been stealing The Moment with the intention of using it.

Because both the Daleks and Gallifrey are gone, the Ninth Doctor reaches the logical conclusion that he did activate the Moment. Thus, when he tells the Dalek in “Dalek”, “I made it happen”, he’s making an assumption; he’s not recalling a specific memory.

This belief that he killed his own people (and the accompanying guilt) carries over into the Tenth Doctor and most of the life span of the Eleventh. It’s only after the Doctors act to preserve Gallifrey does the Eleventh learn what really happened: he’d always hidden  Gallifrey away in safety.

Throughout the season, Eccleston plays the Doctor as a man haunted by his past, one rushing ever forward in order to avoid having to stop and look back.

The family drama aspect of the series really comes into play with episodes four and five, the two-part story “Aliens of London” and “World War III.” In the former, the Doctor returns Rose (who has seen the end of the world in the far future and met Charles Dickens in 1869 Cardiff) home 12 hours after she left.

Or so he thinks. Turns out it’s 12 months later and Jackie has had “missing” posters of Rose posted everywhere in the interim. Jackie has a very hard time dealing with truth about Rose’s adventures, reacting with panic when she first sees the interior of the TARDIS.

Rose missing poster

After Rose disappeared, Jackie started putting up these posters.

Another “family” episode is “Father’s Day”, by Paul Cornell, one of the best of the season. Rose asks the Doctor to take her back in time so she can see her father, Pete (Shaun Dingwall), who was killed by a hit-and-run driver when she was a baby.

She tells the Doctor that Pete died alone and wants to be there with him. However, she impulsively saves him, instead, creating a wound in time. Pete, who has come to realize he was meant to die, deliberately throws himself in front of the car, putting everything back to normal. Rose rushes to his side and holds his hand.

At the start of the episode, in a flashback scene, we see Jackie telling young Rose about her father (which is how Rose knew he died alone). At the end, because the adult Rose had been there, Jackie says how an unknown girl had sat with him until the ambulance came (and how the driver had stayed as well).

Rose comforts her dying father

Rose comforts her dying father.

In the season finale, “The Parting of the Ways”, when Jackie scoffs at Rose’s claim that she met her father, a crying Rose reminds her of the girl.

Rose: “Remember when Dad died? There was someone with him. A girl, a blonde girl. She held his hand. You saw her from a distance, Mom. You saw her. Think about it. That was me. You saw me.”

Davies also appealed to a wide audience through comedy. in Doctor Who Magazine #485 (page 44), he discusses a scene in “Rose” where a plastic rubbish bin drags Mickey inside it and burps.

“We wanted 5-year-olds to watch this brand new show. Little kids hooting at a burp. It was absolutely right.”

That’s probably the same reason why the Doctor says “excuse me, do you mind not farting when I’m saving the world?” to the man he thinks is the prime minister (actually a disguised alien with a gas exchange problem) in “Aliens of London.”

David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi have all helped make Doctor Who a continuing success, but it was Christopher Eccleston who put the series on the map. His season of Doctor Who is well worth a look.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

 

Random Musings: Recommended listening: “Superman vs. the Atom Man”

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Superman Vs Atom Man

Over the past 77 years, Superman has made a name for himself in various media, including comics, television, movies and serials. He’s even appeared in a stage play.

What some people— especially younger fans— may not know is that he also appeared on radio. The Adventures of Superman radio show aired from 1940 to 1951. One of the best storylines was the 38-chapter serial “Superman vs. the Atom Man”, which ran in fifteen minute installments, Monday-Friday, from Oct. 11- Dec. 3, 1945. In that adventure, Supes faces off against his deadliest foe: Nazi Heinrich Milch, AKA Henry Miller, the Kryptonite-powered “Atom Man.”

Radio Spirits released that adventure in a digitally restored and remastered format on both cassette and CD (along with a detailed program booklet) in the late 90s as part of the “Smithsonian Historical Performances.” Radio Spirits no longer publishes “Superman vs. the Atom Man” for some odd reason, but you can probably find copies on the secondary market. Or at your local library.

The serial, narrated by Jackson Beck, starred Clayton “Bud” Collyer as Clark Kent/Superman and Mason Adams as the Atom Man. It also featured Joan Alexander as Lois Lane, Jackie Kelk as Jimmy Olsen and Julian Noa as Perry White. The actors also voiced various other characters over the course of the serial.

The storyline opens with Clark Kent investigating a murder and a mysterious fire. He subsequently discovers that a half-mad Nazi scientist named Der Teufel (Matt Crowley) has escaped back to Europe. Kent believes Der Teufel has a sliver of Kryptonite and is concerned that the scientist will make good his boast of creating an “Atom Man” with it. However, Inspector Henderson (also Crowley) dismisses his concerns that anything could harm Supes.

Superman flies to Germany and tries to trace Der Teufel as Clark Kent. However, Allied occupational officers also dismiss his concerns about the urgency. Impatient to see if a scientist friend has succeeded in developing a defense against Kryptonite, Supes returns to the States, just as the military police begin to close in on Der Teufel.

The MPs don’t find him. Instead, they discover a destroyed cave and leveled forest and conclude that the Nazi scientist blew himself up. Which comes as a great relief to Clark Kent. However, no one realizes that Der Teufel succeeded in his plan to inject a solution of Kryptonite into a man’s bloodstream and create his “Atom Man.” Nor do they realize that friendly, outgoing new Daily Planet hire Henry Miller is the man in question.

Kent begins to suspect that Der Teufel may have survived, but both Perry White and Lois Lane dismiss his concerns; and when Kent becomes weak when he first meets “Henry Miller”, Lois takes it upon herself to have him committed to a “rest farm.”

Good old reliable, supportive Lois Lane.

The ever blustery Perry White is so annoyed at these intruders in his office that the attendants almost haul him away.

All because of ever helpful Lois Lane. With friends like her, who needs Lex Luthor (who didn’t actually appear in the radio series)?

Kent doesn’t stay long, of course, but soon has bigger problems. Using the unsuspecting Jimmy Olsen as bait, “Miller” lures Superman to a beach house 50 miles from Metropolis, where he reveals himself as the Atom Man and brings the Man of Steel to his knees with his deadly onslaught of Kryptonite-powered lightning.

Luckily for Superman, The Atom Man refuses to believe Der Teufel’s claim that the fallen Man of Steel still lives and buries him deep beneath the sand of the torn-up beach. Unluckily for Der Teufel, the Atom Man, drunk on his own power, kills him.

Determined to destroy Metropolis, the Atom Man is dismayed to learn that he has exhausted the Kryptonite in his bloodstream. He needs to find more.

Meanwhile, Superman, unrecognized because his uniform has been reduced to rags, has been discovered and taken to a hospital. But he’s believed to be beyond help. He recovers (somewhat) and returns to the Daily Planet, still dazed and weakened, as Clark Kent. And while Henry Miller has been revealed as a Nazi, no one believes he is the Atom Man.

Both men ultimately recover their powers and the stage is set for the rematch. They engage in their final battle high above the Metropolis reservoir, which the Atom Man is determined to destroy.

Ostensibly aimed at children, The Adventures of Superman was by no means childish. It was more of a show for the whole family than one for “kiddies.”

It also tackled more “real-life” issues than Kryptonite powered madmen. For example, in both “Clan of the Fiery Cross” (June 10- July 1, 1946) and “The Knights of the White Carnation” (Feb. 22-March 17, 1947), Supes takes on racist organizations.

Still, the show had its share of amusing moments, such as Clark Kent’s propensity to almost spill the beans by saying things such as how he’ll get to such and such location in a few minutes.

“I mean Superman will,” he hastily rephrases.

And then there’s the time Kent tells Jimmy to go into a courtroom and get Robin (Batman made occasional appearances on the show).

“Robin?” Jimmy asks.

“Er, I mean Dick Grayson.”

Still, Clark Kent’s habit of nearly giving the game up notwithstanding, The Adventures of Superman is enjoyable radio fare.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: In Preacher, humans seek an accounting from God

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Preacher

Rev. Jesse Custer is a small town minister who never wanted the job. But his will was broken by the sick and twisted machinations of his Gran’ma and he went into the family business.

Then one day, Genesis, the offspring of the unprecedented and forbidden coupling of an angel and a demon, escapes from Heaven and merges with Jesse, destroying the small town of Annville, Texas in the process. From that point on, Jesse can literally speak the word of God. Anything he says in that voice— anything— must be obeyed.

When Jesse learns that God has left Heaven, he decides to track Him down and make Him account for Himself. Accompanying him in this endeavor are his girlfriend, Tulip O’Hare, and the Irish vampire Cassidy.

That, in a nutshell, is the premise of Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, which was published by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint in 66 issues (plus ancillary specials) between 1995 and 2000. The entire saga has been collected in nine volumes.

Of course, even with the power to command anyone (well, anyone who can understand English), Jesse’s not going to have an easy time of it. Heaven wants Genesis back and has sent the unstoppable Saint of Killers— whose hatred shut down the fires of Hell when he arrived there and who killed the Devil himself— to kill Jesse. What’s more, Herr Starr, an ambitious member of The Grail— a secret organization dating back to the crucifixion— intends that Jesse should be their new Messiah, whether Jesse likes it or not.

And it’s not always smooth sailing with either Tulip or Cassidy, either.

If Preacher were a movie, it would be rated R. There’s a great deal of both sex and violence; and while some of it is gratuitous, some of it reaches almost absurdist levels. The indignities hoisted upon Herr Starr are prime examples of that absurdity.

It’s also a great read; and the characters are very human. As a young man, Jesse stole cars with Tulip. He also drinks, swears and smokes too much. And his— if you will— spiritual advisor appears to be the spirit of John Wayne.

Jesse has a strong sense of right and wrong and doesn’t use his “powers” for personal gain. He tells Cassidy that he intends to make God face up to his responsibilities; and that if he uses his gift to lord it over people (or get suites at the Ritz Carlton), who would he be to talk about responsibility.

Tulip is strong-willed, a crack shot with a gun and was briefly employed as a hitwoman.

Cassidy prefers alcohol to blood and is more or less a fun guy; but he also engages in self destructive behavior that often takes others down with him.

The tragic turn The Saint of Killers’ life took— the one that led him to damn himself— was orchestrated by God Himself. So the Saint wants words with God, too.

Preacher also has some genuinely funny moments. In one storyline, Cassidy meets a relatively new vampire in New Orleans who embraces the Bram Stoker model. He sleeps in a coffin, only drinks blood and believes vampires should remain apart from humans (except when feeding). That’s a bit too much for the hedonistic Cassidy, who ignores his soliloquizing companion to join a rowdy crowd.

If you’re easily offended, you probably won’t like Preacher. But if you’re not easily offended or if you’re willing to look past the parts of it that do offend you, you might like it after all.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Crisis on Infinite Earths— a 30 year retrospective

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Crisis on Infinite Earths #1

In 1985, DC Comics commemorated its 50th anniversary by publishing the 12-issue maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths, which not only changed the DC Universe, but comics in general.

The house ads proclaimed “world will live, worlds will die and the DC Universe will never be the same.” They weren’t kidding. Crisis, written by Marv Wolfman and penciled by George Perez, “rebooted” the DC multiverse into a single universe. This multiverse consisted of the following Earths (among others I might have overlooked):

Earth 1 (home of the then-“modern-day” versions of DC’s heroes and villains).

Earth 2 (home of the “golden age” (1930s and 40s) versions of same).

Earth 3 (where analogues of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, the Flash and Wonder Woman were villains known as the Crime Syndicate and Lex Luthor was the world’s sole hero).

Earth 4 (home of characters originally published by Charlton Comics, including the Blue Beetle, the Question and Captain Atom).

Earth S (for Shazam. Home of the characters originally published by Fawcett Comics, including Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Mary Marvel and other members of the “Marvel family.”).

Earth X (home of characters originally published by Quality Comics, including Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters).

The idea of the multiverse began with Flash #123 (Sept. 1961), when the “modern day” Flash, Barry Allen, accidentally crossed into another universe and met Jay Garrick, who’d operated as the Flash in the 1940s.

Barry Allen meets Jay Garrick.

Barry Allen meets Jay Garrick.

Jay debuted in Flash Comics #1 in 1940. Barry kicked off the “silver age” of comics with his debut in Showcase #4 in Oct. 1956.

In a letter to readers in Crisis #1, Wolfman wrote that DC mythology had become convoluted, with all those multiple Earths causing confusion among writers and editors because they couldn’t always keep straight “who lived where and when.”

He had some valid points, though I never had any trouble understanding the difference between a story set on Earth 1 and one set on Earth 2 (the two Earths most often seen in DC Comics at the time). My first exposure to the multiverse came in 1979 when I bought Adventure Comics #462, which featured the death of the Earth 2 Batman.

Adventure Comics #462

No, he never got better. He didn’t need to; his “modern day” Earth 1 counterpart was still alive and well.

For years, team-ups between Earth 1’s Justice League of America and Earth 2’s Justice Society of America were a regular occurrence, including this issue of Justice League of America.

The Justice League and Justice Society team up.

The Justice League and Justice Society team up.

In Crisis #1, a wave of anti-matter destroys Earth 3. In a parallel to Superman’s departure from Krypton in Action Comics #1, Lex Luthor and his wife, Lois Lane, send their son, Alexander, to Earth 1.

Alexander Luthor is sent to safety.

Alexander Luthor is sent to safety.

An individual called the Monitor, who’d been a shadowy background figure in Wolfman and Perez’s New Teen Titans, is “recruiting” various heroes and villains from the past, present and future of different Earths to band together to halt the anti-matter destroying universe after universe.

The Monitor explains himself.

The Monitor explains himself.

The Monitor is opposed by his anti-matter opposite, the Anti-Monitor, who seeks to destroy all positive matter.

As part of his plan to save the five remaining universes, the Monitor arranges to have the partially-merged Earths 1 and 2 placed in a “netherverse” in issue #5, removing them from immediate danger. However, past, present and future intersect.

Lois Lane and Tomahawk

People on one Earth can see events on the other, as if through a glass door. In one scene, a distraught elderly couple on Earth 2 glimpse their late daughter’s Earth 1 counterpart.

Eventually, Earths 4, X and S join with Earths 1 and 2 in the netherverse. But they continue to merge and still face annihilation.

A contingent of heroes cross into the anti-matter universe to battle the Anti-Monitor in Crisis #7. They won that battle, but at a great cost.

The death of Supergirl.

The death of Supergirl.

Kara Zor-El’s death was hardly a surprise, given that it was advertised on the cover.

Crisis on Infinite Earths #7

It’s a cover image that’s been the subject of several homages over the years, including this one:

Supergirl #79

Supergirl wasn’t the only hero to fall in battle. In issue #8, Barry Allen died destroying the Anti-Monitor’s anti-matter cannon.

The death of the Flash.

The death of the Flash.

In his introduction to the slip-cased hardcover edition of Crisis, published in 1998, Wolfman wrote that while he’s one of those who misses Kara, her death was a consequence of the decision to reboot Superman as Krypton’s sole survivor.

Elsewhere, he said he expected DC to eventually recreate a Supergirl character.

As to the Flash (whose death had been editorial fiat), Wolfman said he left a way to bring him back. In brief: Because the Flash was moving back in time as he was dying (he made fleeting appearances in early issues of Crisis), Wolfman reasoned that he might emerge from the time stream at some point, never knowing when it might close in on him again. Thus, he’d be living on borrowed time.

Other heroes who died in Crisis include Dove of Hawk and Dove; Lori Lemaris; Aquagirl; Kole of the Teen Titans and the Earth 2 Green Arrow, Robin and Huntress.

Some villains shuffled off this mortal coil, too.

Death of Alexi Luthor.

The death of Alexi Luthor.

The “final battle” took place on two “fronts.” Most of the heroes fought the Anti-Monitor at the dawn of time, where he planned to destroy all positive matter; while a group of villains traveled back a mere 10 billion years, seeking to prevent the accidental creation of both the multiverse and the anti-matter universe.

It was an interesting division of forces, given that when the multiverse was rebooted as a single universe in issue #11, only those who’d been at the dawn of time remembered that there had ever been a multiverse.

And some found themselves anachronisms in the rebooted universe.

The Earth 2 Helena Wayne and Dick Grayson realize the world no longer remembers them.

The Earth 2 Helena Wayne and Dick Grayson realize the world no longer remembers them.

Within the next few years, however, almost everyone forgot the multiverse (at least it stopped being mentioned in the books I was reading). I always imagined it as the result of a post-Crisis “aftershock” washing over the new DC Universe.

The “rebooted” universe combined elements of Earths 1, 2, 4, X and S. Jay Garrick still inspired Barry Allen, but they lived in twin cities rather than different universes.

It would have been easy for Crisis to have eliminated all that was old at DC, but to its credit the company didn’t do that. Except for those characters who had “present day” counterparts with the same “civilian names”, like Superman and Green Arrow, the “golden age” characters were more or less unchanged from their pre-Crisis versions.

Especially in the post-Crisis universe, DC has been good about creating “legacy” heroes, those who carry on in the name of those who have gone before. In Crisis #12, we see one example. Wally West, Kid Flash, steps into his mentor’s role.

Kid Flash becomes the Flash.

Kid Flash becomes the Flash.

He would go on to star in a long-running Flash series.

As to the original Superman, he and the original Lois lane went into a “paradise dimension” with Alex Luthor and the Superboy of Earth Prime (AKA “our” Earth. Yes, we all died in the Crisis, too; bummer).

Superman goes into a paradise dimension

In addition to a new Flash series (among others), the post-Crisis universe saw major changes to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

Wolfman, who has said he wanted the heroes to have been in the own eras and not at the dawn of time when the universe rebooted (but was overruled), had suggested that every title restart with #1, which might have better illustrated that DC was starting fresh. It did happen in more recent years with DC’s latest “reboot”, known as the New 52 (I can’t say much about that since I’m not reading any of those titles).

Ironically, the multiverse has returned. In fact, a storyline in the Flash TV series involves Jay Garrick crossing over from Earth 2 and meeting Barry Allen. A scene in one episode emulates the cover of Flash #123.

Barry and Jay

Crisis was the first major “event” series published by either DC or its main rival, Marvel Comics. Both companies would subsequently publish “event” titles, usually starting in the summer, on a regular basis.

In his introduction to the hardcover edition, Wolfman wrote that Crisis existed in its pure form “only to bring DC back to an easy-to-read beginning before endless continuity took over. The idea was not to make comics accessible only to longtime fans, but to everyone.”

Crisis didn’t just breathe new life into certain corners of the DC universe in 1985; in my opinion, it’s the best of DC’s “event” titles.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Flying high with Supergirl

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Supergirl #1
Tonight Supergirl debuts on CBS. It marks the first time the character has ever had her own network TV series.

The character of Supergirl has appeared in different incarnations over the decades. She was introduced in Action Comics #252 (1959) as Kara Zor-El, Superman’s teenage cousin. Overjoyed to find that a family member had also survived the destruction of Krypton, Superman immediately put her in an orphanage and had her wear an unnecessary brown wig. Since he was keeping her existence as Supergirl a secret, why would anyone care about her hair color? It’s not like she needed a secret identity. In fact, she remained his “secret weapon” until Action Comics #285.

As both a character and a title, Supergirl never seemed to have a clearly-defined purpose until Peter David’s 80 issue run from 1996 to 2003. It was also the longest run any incarnation of the character has had.

To set the scene for David’s run on Supergirl, I need to provide a brief recap of DC Comics history. In 1985, DC commemorated its 50th anniversary by publishing the 12 issue maxi series Crisis on Infinite Earths, which (unnecessarily, in my opinion) merged the “multiverse” of several alternate Earths (created to explain, among other things, why characters like Superman and Batman, who’d been around since the 30s were still young) into one Earth, with a single history. Kara died during the Crisis and Superman’s origin was reset so that he was the only survivor of Krypton (as he had been in 1938).

In the years that followed, various aspects of the “Superman family” were reintroduced, though in different ways. Writer John Byrne established that Supergirl had been created in a pocket universe out of shape shifting protoplasm. She later came to the main DC universe, but had no direct connection— biological or otherwise— to Superman. This version, known as Matrix (Mae for short), appeared in various titles over the next few years. But when David began his run, he had the Matrix Supergirl merge with a dying girl named Linda Danvers.

Supergirl merges with Linda Danvers.

Supergirl merges with Linda Danvers.

In an interview in Wizard #63, he explained why:

“I had trouble connecting, on an emotional and creative level, with a character who is essentially a blob of protoplasm that coincidentally is in the shape of a human female… I felt I would he able to connect better with the character if she had some sort of personal stake in humanity…”

This merging— which may not have been a conscious decision on Supergirl’s part— led to all sorts of complications for both women. Linda had been the intended sacrifice in a cult ritual, but it turned out she wasn’t just some random, hapless victim. She’d been a member of that same cult and participated (or at the very least had been an accomplice) in a number of atrocities, including at least two murders. In short, she was as far removed from the naive, innocent Kara Zor-El as you could get.

Supergirl became more human through her merger with Linda, while Linda began to rebuild her life and make amends for her past and reconnect with her parents. This incarnation of Supergirl was, according to David, an earth-born angel (a reference to Kara’s vow to act as a guardian angel at the orphanage and the surrounding town) because the Matrix Supergirl sacrificed herself to save Linda, who was beyond saving.

In Supergirl #50, Linda and Matrix are separated, but Linda retains some super powers. Specifically those Superman had when he was introduced in 1938. She can’t fly, but she can leap 1/8 a mile, for instance. Later, Linda would regain her powers of flight and telekinesis.

In Supergirl #75, David began a popular storyline which ran through the end of the book (though it was hoped at the time that it would serve to revitalize the title; he goes into detail in his introduction to the trade paperback “Many Happy Returns.”) That story line has Linda meeting a pre-Crisis Kara Zor-El prior to her landing on Earth One.

Linda Danvers meets Kara Zor-El.

Linda Danvers meets Kara Zor-El.

In the original comics, Kara took the name Linda Lee and was later adopted by a family named Danvers. David set his series in a small town named Leesburg and named Supergirl’s human half Linda Danvers as nods to the original. What’s more, in his last storyline he established that Kara’s decision to call herself Linda Lee came from vague recollections of her encounter with Linda Danvers in Leesburg before being sent back to her proper timeline.

By the way, it’s interesting to note that more recent incarnations of Supergirl, including her appearances in Smallville and the new series, has her using “Kara” as her “civilian name. Since it’s a common enough name and doesn’t sound the least bit Kryptonian, there’s no reason why she couldn’t use it.

Peter David’s run on Supergirl was more than a superhero book. It also explored themes of forgiveness and redemption and showed how anyone, under the right circumstances, could be a hero. The entire run should be collected in trade paperback. It’s a travesty that DC has only collected the first nine and the last six issues. Still, the back issues are well worth seeking out.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.