Random Musings: Graphic novel reviews, Laika and The Arrival



On November 3, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 2 into orbit with a single passenger on board— a small dog called Laika. She was the first living creature to venture into space.

Laika was also the first astronaut (or cosmonaut, to use the Russian term) to die in space. She died several hours after the launch, though this fact wasn’t made public until 2002. To meet Khrushchev’s goal of launching Sputnik 2 in time for the 40th anniversary of the 1917 October revolution (Nov. 7, by the Gregorian calendar), less than a month after Sputnik 1 launched on Oct. 4, shortcuts had to be taken; there wasn’t time to allow for the satellite’s safe return to Earth.

The graphic novel Laika by Nick Abadzis (2007) tells the story of this unwitting space pioneer— originally named Kudryavka (for her curly tail)— through the eyes of members of the space program, including Chief Designer Sergei Korolev, a former political prisoner; Dr. Oleg Gazenko, who trained Laika; Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky, who allows Laika a day to play with his children like an ordinary dog before her fatal mission and Yelena Dubrovsky, who cares for the dogs in the program and forms a particular attachment to Kudryavka/Laika.

Abadzis also introduces us to the two families with whom Kudryavka interacted before she was caught by dogcatchers while roaming loose the streets and sent to the Soviet Air Force. One family wanted her, but couldn’t keep her; the other didn’t and put her out on the streets.

We also get a sense of Laika’s point of view as well. Though often this is through other characters’ interpretations of her thoughts and feelings.

Unfortunately, given the current cultural mindset that disregards anything more than a few years old, most people probably don’t remember Laika. Through his words and drawings, Abadzis gives us the facts of the mission as well as an engaging story.

As to the actual Laika, Oleg Gazenko had this to say in 1998: “The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog.”

He was right.


One of the strengths of the comics industry is that the marriage of text and artwork allows for almost infinite possibilities in story telling. As with film or TV, the “camera” can change angles for dramatic effect, shifting from a wide panoramic “shot” to an extreme close up as we go from one panel to the next. And, as with traditional literature, stories can (and do) touch on all aspects of the human condition.

The graphic novel The Arrival by Shaun Tan (2006) tells the story— entirely in pictures— of a man who emigrates to a strange— even surreal— new country, finds a place to live, finds work, makes friends and finally sends for his wife and daughter. Depending on the mood Tan is trying to set, each page has anywhere from one to dozens of panels. One double-page spread that comes after our nameless main character boards a steamship has 60 thumbnail-sized panels of various cloud formations. A visual indication that it’s a long trip, perhaps?

After the man has found a place to live and hung a photo of his family on the wall, we have a page broken into six small panels at the top and one large one at the bottom (the pages aren’t numbered, unfortunately). Reading from left to right, the three upper panels show a close-up of his wife in the photo; his daughter in the photo and a flashback to his holding his daughter’s hands as he gets ready to leave. Below that, the next three panels show the man looking at the photo on the wall as the “camera” pulls away, until, in the large bottom panel, his is just one of 28 windows along that wall of the building. Is this meant to convey that he’s just another face in the crowd, part of the teeming millions of the city?

That’s up to the individual reader to decide. With no words in The Arrival, what a particular scene might mean is left open to interpretation.

Like I said, the medium of comics and graphic novels— and it is a medium, not a genre— allows writers and artists to touch on all aspects of the human condition. The Arrival, like Laika, is an excellent example of that strength.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: A look at some kick-ass girls and women in folklore


Fearless girls

Think about fables and folktales for a moment. Most of the ones that come to mind (usually filtered through the point of view of Walt Disney and the company that bears his name) feature girls and women not at all; as evil step-mothers and/or witches or as helpless idiots in need of rescue because they can’t handle the particular situation alone.

But there are a lot of folktales out there in which girls and women hold their own as well (if not better) than boys or men would in comparable situations. More than 100 of such fables from all over the world are collected in Kathleen Ragan’s 1998 book Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World.

And some of them seem rather familiar. Remember “Rumplestiltskin”? As Ragan points out, that story has “a female protagonist (who) gets bumped around from one obnoxious man to another.” These being her father, the king and Rumplestiltskin himself. And in that story, she’s saved by happenstance, not by her own actions. Ragan asks why in “Rumplestiltskin” the woman wouldn’t tell the king the truth about spinning straw into gold. Or why she’d agree to give away her child. This woman’s a bit of a moron, isn’t she?

Not so the woman in the very similar tale from Scotland called “Whuppity Stoorie.” This woman, whose husband ran off and left her with a young child and little to live on (and who receives no help from anyone else in the community), discovers one day that a sow soon to farrow is lying on her back, “grunting and groaning, and ready to die.”

This comes as a blow to the woman, who’d hoped for a “fine litter of pigs”, and she sits down and cries. An old woman comes up the hillside and— somehow knowing the sow is sick— asks what the woman will give in exchange for curing the animal.

“Anything”, says the woman, whom the text describes as stupid. And in a way she is stupid, because the “anything” turns out to be her child. But she’s not as stupid as the nitwit in “Rumplestiltskin”, because she gets herself out of the situation, without any outside help. As in “Rumplestiltskin”, the woman can keep her child if she guesses the trickster’s name. In “Whuppity Stoorie”, the woman later hears the old woman singing and sneaks up to investigate. And she hears the old woman state her name: Whuppity Stoorie.

Now armed with this information, the woman succeeds in keeping her baby when Whuppity Stoorie returns, demanding “payment.” And again, she handled her situation without help from anyone else (in “Rumplestiltskin” someone else hears Rumplestiltskin say his name and is nice enough to tell the woman in that story what it is). And as Ragan points out, because she’s preoccupied by the fact that the sow (likely her only source of income) might die, the woman is tricked into a bad bargain.

A story out of England called “Molly Whuppie” involves three sisters, the youngest children of a family that abandoned them in the woods because they felt they’d too many mouths to feed.

The girls come to a house and ask for something to eat. The woman there urges them to go away before her husband, a giant, returns. He’d kill them when he returns, she warns.

The girls say they’ll leave before he comes home and the giant’s wife relents.

But they don’t leave before then and the giant arrives, proclaiming…

Well, you know.

Instead of killing the girls, the giant orders them to stay the night and to sleep in the same bed with his three daughters. The youngest of the abandoned girls, the eponymous Molly Whuppie, notes that the giant had put straw ropes on her neck and those of her sisters and gold chains around his own daughters’ necks. So she waits until the other girls are all asleep and switches the necklaces. The giant comes in the dark room later, feels for the straw and takes and kills his own daughters.

Molly and her sisters then slip out of the house and soon reach another house, the King’s. He gives her three challenges in succession, each involving going back and facing the giant. The reward is that each of her sisters and herself will have one of his sons to marry.

So Molly goes back and in turn gets from the giant a sword, a purse from beneath his pillow and the ring he wears on his finger. On that last expedition, she’s captured and put in a sack. But she tricks the giant’s wife into letting her out and putting herself into the sack.

And she successfully completes her final task.

“Molly Whuppie” is very similar to stories about Jack and his exploits in fighting a giant. But in this case, it’s a clever girl who wins out.

And those are just two of the stories in this book. Even those stories we’re familiar with, like “Cinderella” and “Little Red Riding Hood”, have older variations in which the female characters are capable of handling things on their own. In the introduction to the book, for example, Jane Yolen points out that more than 500 European variants of “Cinderella” have her winning a share of a kingdom on her own.

And in early versions of “Little Red Riding Hood”, the girl and her grandmother handle things on their own, without need of rescue by a woodsman. And in one version, Red Riding Hood meets and defeats a second wolf.

If you like folktales and/or want to give your daughters, nieces and/or young cousins access to more than just Disneyfied damsels in distress, Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters is worth a look.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: Supernatural is one of the best shows on TV


Supernatural season 11

On Oct. 7, Supernatural will begin its 11th season. Not many TV series have such longevity. What’s Supernaturals secret?

To begin with, it’s one of the best shows on TV. It’s also, at its heart, about family.

On its surface, the show is about brothers Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) hunting various things “that go bump in the night.” However, the emphasis is on the fact these are brothers who watch out for each other as much as they save people while hunting things. Each has done things and “made deals” on behalf of the other, which haven’t always worked out for the best.

For example, when Sam was killed near the end of season two, Dean sold his soul to bring him back. He was consigned to Hell a year later and spent forty subjective years there (about four months on Earth) before the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) rescued him. Dean’s time in Hell set in motion a series of events that culminated with Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino) escaping from his cage.

At the end of season five, Sam put Lucifer back in his cage, but a lot of bad things occurred in the interim. And would subsequently happen via a civil war in Heaven and other unintended consequences.

Dean understandably didn’t want to lose his brother, but didn’t consider the long term consequences of his decision.

In season eight, Sam undertook a series of trials to close the gates of Hell. When Dean learned the trials were fatal to the person undertaking them, he stopped Sam just as he was about to finish the final one, curing the self-proclaimed King of Hell, the demon Crowley (Mark Sheppard). But Sam was still on the verge of death; so, in season nine, Dean tricked him into saying yes to being possessed by an angel (Tahmoh Penikett), who would heal him from within (unlike demons, angels must have permission to use humans as vessels).

This angel presented himself as Ezekiel, a friend of Castiel’s, but was really Gadreel, who’d failed to keep Lucifer from a certain garden and had been imprisoned for millennia.

Yes, Gadreel kept his promise and healed Sam, but he also smote the prophet Kevin Tran (Osric Chau), an ally of the Winchesters.

Gadreel smites Kevin.

Gadreel smites Kevin.

Sam eventually drove Gadreel out, but was incensed that Dean— once again— took matters into his own hands. They had a confrontation in the season nine episode “Sharp Teeth.”

Sam: “I can’t trust you.”

Dean: “We are family.”

Sam: “You say that like it’s some kind of cure-all, like it can change the fact that everything that has ever gone wrong has been because we’re family.”

In the following episode, “The Purge”, the conversation continued:

Dean: “I may not think things all the way through, but what I do, I do because it’s the right thing. I’d do it again.”

Sam said that’s the problem and that Dean thinks he’s doing more good than bad. He pointed out that Kevin is dead, Crowley is in the wind and they’re no closer to resolving the current crisis

Sam: “Please tell me, what is the up side is of me being alive?”

Sam, who said he was ready to die, added that Dean saved him for himself, because he didn’t want to be alone.

Dean not thinking things through caused major problems in seasons nine and ten. In season nine, he took on the mark of Cain in order to kill the powerful demon Abaddon (Alaina Huffman), but was too impatient to listen to Cain (Timothy Omundson) when he tried to warn him about the consequences.

Dean kills Abaddon.

Dean kills Abaddon.

Those consequences include being resurrected as a demon if you’re killed (which Dean was at the end of season nine) and the mark (combined with the first blade) making its wearer want to kill. Even Cain, who resisted the mark’s influence for centuries, succumbed. And that was after he’d transferred the mark to Dean.

Dean was eventually cured of being a demon, but throughout season ten, he still did many monstrous things.

Castiel and demon Dean.

Castiel and demon Dean.

Cain received the mark from Lucifer, who’d been talking to Abel. Cain offered a deal: Abel’s soul in Heaven for his own in Hell. Lucifer accepted.

In season ten, Dean— who got rid of the mark in the season finale— learned that it acts as a lock of sorts, to keep out the Darkness that existed before the dawn of time and that God first gave it to Lucifer. It’s implied that the mark’s influence played a role in Lucifer’s rebellion.

Supernatural also explores other family dynamics, including the mother-daughter hunter team of hunters Ellen and Jo Harvelle (Samantha Ferris and Alona Tal); Crowley and his mother, Rowena (Ruth Connell) and the sibling archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Lucifer.

In the season 10 episode “Inside Man”, Dean talked to Crowley about family:

Dean: “Why do you let Mommy Dearest tie you into knots?”

Crowley: “Because we’re family; we’re blood.”

Dean: “That’s not the same thing. A wise man [the boys’ surrogate father, Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver)] once told me family don’t end in blood. But it doesn’t start there, either. Family cares about you, not what you can do for them. Family’s there, for the good, the bad, all of it. They’ve got your back. Even when it hurts. That’s family. That sound like your mother?

Dean and Crowley talk family.

Dean and Crowley talk about family.

In season five, Lucifer worked to bring about the apocalypse via a confrontation with Michael that would lay waste to the world. In “Hammer of the Gods”, Gabriel (Richard Speight, Jr.), who so hated the infighting among his brothers that he ran away and hid for millennia, decided to take a stand on behalf of humanity. He confronted Lucifer.

Gabriel: “Boo hoo. Daddy was mean to me, so I’m going to smash up all his toys.”

Lucifer: “Watch your tone.”

Gabriel: “Play the victim all you want, but you and me? We know the truth. Dad loved you best. More than Michael. More than me. Then he brought the new baby home and you couldn’t handle it. So all this is just a great big temper tantrum. Time to grow up.”

Lucifer and Gabriel.

Lucifer and Gabriel.

Sam and Dean, the angels argue, are the true vessels for Lucifer and Michael, respectively. Sam said “yes” to Lucifer as part of a dangerous gamble to get him back in his cage, but Dean refused to say yes to Michael, forcing the archangel to use the boys’ half-brother, Adam (Jake Abel) as a substitute.

In the season five finale, “Swan Song”, Lucifer and Michael faced off, with Lucifer saying he can’t see the point of their fighting.

Lucifer: “We’re going to kill each other. And for what? One of Dad’s tests. We don’t even know the answer.”

He then suggests that they “walk off the chessboard.

Michael refuses, saying he’s a good son.

Michael: “You haven’t changed a bit, little brother. Always blaming everybody but yourself. We were together. We were happy. But you betrayed me- all of us. And you made our father leave.”

Lucifer: “Nobody makes Dad do anything. He is doing this to us.”

Michael vs. Lucifer.

Michael vs. Lucifer.

Supernatural also asks such questions as why a supposedly loving God doesn’t do anything.

In the season four episode “Are You There, God? It’s me, Dean Winchester”, the demon Lilith forced the ghosts of people Sam, Dean and Bobby failed to save to try to kill them. Dean said incidents like that are why he “can’t get behind God.”

Dean: “If he doesn’t exist, fine. Bad crap happens to good people. That’s how it is. No rhyme or reason. Just random, horrible evil. I get it. Okay. I can roll with that. But if he is out there, what’s wrong with him? Where the hell is he while all these decent people are getting torn to shreds? How does he live with himself, you know? Why doesn’t he help?”

Bobby: “I ain’t touching this one with a 10 foot pole.”

Even some of the angels have given up on God. In the season five episode “Free to be You and Me”, Dean and Castiel confronted Raphael (Demore Barnes) regarding God. Castiel asked where God is and Raphael replied that he’s dead.

In response to Castiel’s contention that Raphael is lying, the other angel reminded him of the 20th century.

Raphael: “Think the 21st is going any better? Do you think God would have let any of that happen if he were alive?”

When Dean made a wisecrack and Raphael responded with “Careful. That’s my father you’re talking about, boy”, Dean had a retort of his own:

Dean: “Yeah, who would be so proud to know that his sons started the frigging apocalypse.”

Raphael: “Who ran off and disappeared. Who left no instructions. And a world to run.”

Raphael said Dean’s living in a Godless universe.

Dean: “And? What? You and the other kids just decided to throw an apocalypse while he’s gone?”

Raphael replied that they’re tired and that they just want paradise.

Castiel and Dean confront Raphael.

Castiel and Dean confront Raphael.

Raphael smote Castiel at the end of season four. When Castiel asked who brought him back if God is dead, Raphael suggested that Lucifer raised him, as he needs all the rebellious angels he can find. Castiel’s response was an emphatic “no.”

God’s refusal to directly intervene reminds me of a storyline in Fallen Angel by Peter David. In issue 5 of the IDW run of that series, the titular character, Liandra, a former angel, tells her son Jude, a priest, that God, having created his crowning achievement, wants to end his existence. But he can’t, because humanity won’t let him go. They keeps praying to him and asking for things, “like adult children hitting Dad up for money.”

It’s strongly implied that the prophet Chuck Shurley (Rob Benedict), is actually God, though Sam and Dean are not aware of this and believe Chuck to be dead.

Chuck Shurley. Or is that God?

Chuck Shurley. Or is that God?

One of the ghosts sent after Sam and Dean was Meg Masters (Nicki Aycox), who was possessed by a demon in season one. She confronted Dean:

Meg: “Nice to finally talk to you when I’m not, you know, choking on my own blood.”

She describes herself as just a college girl— “Sorry. Was”— who became a prisoner in her own head.

Meg: “I was trapped in there, screaming at you, ‘just help me, please.’ You’re supposed to help people, Dean. Why didn’t you help me?”

As she starts beating him, Meg’s ghost asks, “did you ever think there was a girl in here? No. You just charged in, slashing and burning.”

She also blames Dean for her sister’s subsequent suicide.

Meg: “Fifty words of Latin a little sooner and I’d still be alive. My baby sister would still be alive. That blood is on your hands, Dean.”

Meg's ghost confronts Dean.

Meg’s ghost confronts Dean.

The “Meg” demon returned once in season two— possessing Sam and going on a killing spree— before being exorcised again. She returned in season five in a new meat suit (Rachel Miner) and caused the deaths of Ellen and Jo Harvelle. Despite these facts, Sam and Dean allied themselves with “Meg” in seasons six (against Crowley), seven (against the Leviathan) and eight (against Crowley, again).

Theirs was an uneasy alliance, as indicated by this exchange in the season eight episode “Goodbye Stranger”:

“Meg”: “I took how many bullets for you guys and you didn’t even look for me?”

Sam: “No disrespect, but you haven’t exactly been the most trustworthy person in our lives, Meg.”

In that same episode, “Meg” sacrificed herself for the Winchesters.

“Meg” battles Crowley.

I’ve got mixed feelings about the brothers’ alliances with “Meg.” I’d liked to have seen her fate somehow left to the ghost of Meg Masters. That would have been justice of a sort.

It’s not all doom and gloom in Supernatural, however. The show has its lighter moments. In the season six episode “The French Mistake”, Castiel sent Sam and Dean to another dimension to protect them from Raphael. In this other dimension (AKA our universe) they were known as Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, actors who played characters named Sam and Dean Winchester. Dean’s reaction at seeing a clip of Jensen Ackles in a soap opera was, as they say, worth the price of admission.

A confused Sam and Dean find themselves on a soundstage.

A confused Sam and Dean find themselves on a sound stage.

In the season nine episode “First Born”, Crowley crosses himself when he sees Cain’s mark.

“Really? Now?” Dean asks.

One of the most enjoyable bits of Supernatural-related fun is a YouTube parody done by the Hillywood Show— produced by sisters Hilly and Hannah Hindi— this past spring. You’ve probably seen it— it’s had more than six million views— but in the unlikely event that you haven’t, you can watch it here:


The parody, with Hilly playing Dean and Hannah (who also directed) playing Castiel, focuses mostly on events of seasons nine and ten, but references events throughout the series.

It also features cameos by members of the actual cast.

The sisters have done other parodies, including a Doctor Who one with Hilly as the (tenth) Doctor. In fact, in a Q & A session they posted on YouTube earlier this summer, they addressed whether they’d want to have the TARDIS or Sam and Dean’s 1967 Impala.

The correct answer, of course, is The TARDIS. Then just fix the chameleon circuit so that it looks like the Impala. That way, you get two for the price of one.

Supernatural airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on the CW.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Deadman Lives



Boston Brand was an arrogant and (self-proclaimed) self-centered circus aerialist who worked without a net at the struggling Hills Circus. His “gimmick” was that he performed as “Deadman”, dressed in a red costume and wearing a white full-head mask that suggested a bloodless corpse.

Because of his nightly flirtations with death high above the ring, Brand was the biggest attraction at the circus.

Until the bullet from a high powered rifle sent him plunging to the sawdust far below.

And that’s when Boston Brand’s story really began.

Now a ghost, Boston Brand is granted the power by the spirit Rama Kushna to “walk among men until you have found the one who killed you.”

Later, that mandate would be altered at Brand’s request to his remaining as he is to strike a balance between good and evil.

Deadman soon discovers that he can posses the bodies of the living and he begins the hunt for his killer. His only clue: the man wore a hook in place of one of his hands.

Co-created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino, Deadman was a DC comics character who first appeared in Strange Adventures #205, cover-dated Oct. 1967. His hunt for “the Hook” and those behind him continued through Strange Adventures #216 and was also addressed in The Brave & The Bold #s 79 & 86.

And that latter issue was where the storyline of Boston Brand’s quest for answers ended. According to Andy Helfer, the writer of a 1986 Deadman miniseries, the storyline had been truncated due to the cancellation of the Deadman storyline in Strange Adventures. The story in The Brave & The Bold #86 was thrown together to give readers some kind of conclusion, but more had been planned.

I first encountered Deadman as a back-up feature in Adventure Comics in 1979; but it wasn’t until a 1985 seven issue Deadman miniseries that reprinted those Strange Adventures and Brave & The Bold tales that I learned how Boston Brand’s story began.

The 1986 miniseries picked up from the events of Brave & Bold #86/Deadman #7 (necessarily ignoring some tales published in the interim) and answered some of the lingering questions, such as why Deadman couldn’t possess the body of The Sensei, leader of the Society of Assassins.

In the original storyline, Boston Brand ultimately finds the Hook and learns why he’d been killed:

Hook and the Sensei

According to editor Dick Giordano, interviewed in issue #6 of the reprint series, that had always been the intention, because A) Deadman had been conceived as a limited series with Boston Brand finally confronting his killer (“but we liked the character so much we tried to keep him running for as long as we could.”); and B) they realized that after a year of Deadman almost finding “the Hook”, readers would become tired of the device.

As Giordano put it, “even the Fugitive finally caught up with the one-armed man.”

The truncated storyline revolved around Boston Brand’s investigation into the Society of Assassins and the Sensei’s plans to destroy the mystical land of Nanda Parbat. Like I said, that thread wouldn’t be picked up until 1986; but in the interim, Deadman continued to make appearances in various DC titles over the years as he strove to carry on his mission of striking a balance between good and evil.

In at least some of those stories— such as those in Adventures Comics in 1979— his “base of operations” is the circus, where his twin brother, Cleveland, is now a performer.

Why did Mr. and Mrs. Brand name their twin boys after cities thousands of miles apart? Was this a family tradition? Did they have a sister named Piscataway? An uncle named Albuquerque? An explanation was given in issue #5 of a 2002 Deadman series. The boys were conceived while the Brands were en route from one city to the other. As Boston told another ghost, it was their parents’ way of giving them roots.

Boston Brand’s ability to possess (just about) anyone makes him pretty powerful, but he’s not infallible. Sometimes he almost gets the people he’s possessing killed. During his hunt for the Hook, Deadman takes control of a circus hand named Pete to investigate whether a rival aerialist, the Eagle, had been responsible for his murder. In the process, he learns the Eagle was responsible for some robberies, which, in turn, gets the possessed Pete discovered. Deadman-as-Pete climbs to the top of the Ferris Wheel with a murderous Eagle in pursuit. A fight then ensues.

Why didn’t Deadman take control of Eagle’s body before he reached Pete? Probably because he didn’t think of it.

And, from the points of view of writer Jack Miller and artist Neal Adams, it’d have made for a shorter and less visually exciting story.

While he does feel some understandable angst at his situation, Deadman isn’t above having a little fun now and again. In one instance, he takes control of a con artist named Madam Pegeen, who “reports herself” to the police:

Deadman having fun

An amusing sequence near the end of a 12-issue storyline in Action Comics Weekly in 1988 had Deadman and an entity who claimed he was the Devil face off at a diplomatic function in Washington, D.C. “The Devil” and Deadman took control of, respectively, Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan and then Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev.

The 1986 mini series concluded with Deadman having a new raison d’être above and beyond the general “balancing of good and evil” bit. This was addressed in passing in Action Comics Weekly, but was very much the focus of the 2002 series, which, unfortunately, only lasted nine issues.

That series was itself preceded by a five issue 2001 miniseries called Deadman: Dead Again.

Deadman was also the focus of a 1989 two-issue miniseries called Deadman: Love After Death, which concerned his star-crossed romance with another ghost; and a 1992 two-issue mini series called Deadman: Exorcism, in which an insane Boston Brand causes all manner of trouble. Frankly, I could take or leave those two stories.

The character has made various other appearances over the years, including a 2011 “alternate history” miniseries called Flashpoint: Deadman and the Flying Graysons.

Deadman was and is a unique character and his initial adventures have been collected in trade paperback form in Deadman Vols. 1 & 2. If you’re interested in mysteries and/or tales concerning the supernatural, Boston Brand’s story is worth checking out.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: Eagle is a first-rate political thriller



A Democratic U.S. senator of an ethnic background seeks the White House, with many believing he hasn’t a chance against his Washington insider primary opponent.

Barack Obama in 2008?

No, Sen. Kenneth Yamaoka (D- NY) in 2000.

Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President is a 2,000+ page manga by Kaiji Kawaguchi (English adaptation by Carl Gustav Horn), published between 2000 and 2002. The story of a dark horse candidate’s quest for the presidency is collected in 22 monthly volumes of C. 100 pages each and five compendium volumes, ranging from 400 to 600 pages each.

Yamaoka, who announced his candidacy a month before the New Hampshire primary, is challenging Vice President Albert Noah, the man everyone believes will secure the nomination. Japanese reporter Takashi Jo has been asked to cover the senator’s campaign, despite politics not being his field, and much of the story is told through Jo’s eyes.

I’d meant to read Eagle for years. When I finally did (I read the compendium volumes), I found it to be an excellent, page-turning story of political intrigue.

Jo soon learns the surprising reason why he was chosen to cover the Yamaoka campaign. He’s also given total access, with only one caveat: don’t publish anything until after the election.

Kenneth Yamaoka is a third generation Japanese-American who went to Vietnam after his older brother died there and almost died himself. Ever since, he’s been working toward one goal: to become president. Jo learns these facts from the senator, his family and his staff, each with a different perspective on the man and his ideals. But he also learns that however idealistic Yamaoka might be, the senator is also ruthless. Blackmail, bribes and other political shenanigans are all part of the Yamaoka playbook.

Of course the Noah campaign isn’t above taking the low road, either. Especially when it becomes clear that Yamaoka presents a real threat to Noah’s own political ambitions.

The term “graphic novel” is often used to describe comics in hardcover or trade paperback format, whether the story be initially published in said formats or collected individual issues. In most cases, the word “novel” is a bit of stretch. But at more than 2,000 pages, Eagle fits that description beyond any doubt. As the story of Yamaoka’s quest for the presidency unfolds, we not only meet his family and members of his campaign staff (seen primarily through Jo’s eyes), but also members of the Noah campaign and other political players. These include influential African American New York Mayor Gilbert Blackburn, who has been in office 20 years and whose support is being courted by both the Yamaoka and Noah campaigns; the incumbent president, Bill, and his politically ambitious wife, Ellery, who want to influence the next administration; Republican candidate Richard Grant, senator from Colorado, former astronaut and lt. general, USAF Reserves; Yamaoka’s former CO in Vietnam, General Kerrigan; Yamaoka’s old-money father-in-law, William Hampton; and ordinary citizens who see Yamaoka as either a hope or a threat.

The more Takashi Jo gets to know Kenneth Yamaoka, the more he wonders about the man. True, the senator is charismatic and able to win over previously hostile audiences, but how far will Yamaoka go to become president? How far has he gone to get where he is now? Jo, who has become anything but an objective, neutral observer, has information that could derail Yamaoka’s campaign; but should he use that information? Will he?

In an interview printed in Vol. 2 of the compendium editions, Kawaguchi said he wanted the story to have a realistic feel. That it does. Had Kenneth Yamaoka and Albert Noah actually existed and been competitors for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000, their primary battles might well have unfolded in much the same way as those political chess matches depicted in Eagle.

The medium of comics— like books, TV shows and movies— can include any number of genres. Americans have only recently begun to understand that, while the Japanese have known it for decades. As Horn writes in the postscript of the first of the compendium volumes, manga (the Japanese term for comics) are “comic books as mass media, comic books that compete with top-rated TV shows for the eyes of a hundred million people.” He also writes that in Japan, comics are the mainstream media.

If you like a well-written political thriller, you can’t go wrong with Eagle. That it happens to combine words and pictures doesn’t make it any less of a page-turner.


Thoughts on Bill Cosby:

Last year, before the allegations against Bill Cosby became part of the public discourse, I wrote a blog entry about his comedy (it was actually a re-run of one I’d written years earlier for the previous incarnation of this blog). Since then, it’s become more and more apparent that the allegations against him are true.

All the people he’s entertained; all the good he’s done for charitable causes are immaterial. He needs to be punished for his crimes, whether it be in criminal court, civil court or by some other legal venue.

As I said last year, Cosby was my favorite stand-up comedian (I first listened to his records when I was in my teens). His routines were hilarious and one of the great things about his humor was that he told stories, not jokes punctuated with punch lines.

I’m currently writing the fourth novel in a thematically-linked series. In the first book (yet to be published), which is set in 1990, one of the main characters is a fan of Cosby’s comedy. I recently decided to change the three references to Cosby’s comedy albums in that book to comedy albums in general, with discussion of a specific Cosby routine being swapped out for one about a specific Bob Newhart routine, instead. Even though the book is set long before the general public knew of any controversy about Cosby and even though he’s only mentioned three times (and only with respect to his early comedy albums), it felt wrong to keep those references, given what we now know about him.

At some point down the road, maybe I’ll listen to Cosby’s comedy albums again. After all, his routines were funny and it’s important to separate a person from his or her work. I have several comedy records by various individuals, many of whom never went on to become well-known TV stars. Whatever their personal lives were like, their work should be judged on their own merits. Same with creative people in any field.

While Cosby the voice on those records is hilarious, Cosby the man behind the voice has proven himself to be beneath contempt. And he brought his downfall on himself.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: Anya’s Ghost


Anyas Ghost

Anya Borzakovskaya is a teenage Russian immigrant trying to fit in at a private school. She’s embarrassed about her background, having lost her accent as soon as possible, and tells Sean, a boy on the basketball team whom she likes, that her last name is “Brown.” And she wants nothing to do with a boy named Dima, a fellow immigrant, who, in Anya’s words, acts like he’s fresh off the boat.

Her relationship with her family isn’t much better. She finds her younger brother, Sasha, annoying; and her mother doesn’t seem to understand that teenage girls in the U.S. don’t want to put on weight.

Her life changes when she cuts through a park, lost in her angry thoughts, falls into a dry well and meets Emily Reilly.

The late Emily Reilly.

That’s the situation in the graphic novel Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol.

Emily can’t go very far from her bones, so lucky for her Anya accidentally scooped up one of Emily’s finger bones into her backpack when someone heard her cries and threw down a rope.

Or was Anya taking the bone along an accident?

Already shaken up by falling into the well, seeing a skeleton and meeting said skeleton’s ghost, Anya is shocked to discover that Emily has followed her home. She considers this ghost a pest— until Emily helps her with her biology test.

Anya subsequently decides to let Emily stay a little longer.

She has finals coming up, after all.

Anya and Emily soon become fast friends, with Anya sometimes spending more time with Emily than with her flesh and blood friend, Siobhan. And Emily helps Anya gain some self confidence.

Over time, however, Emily undergoes a personality change. She starts smoking a ghost cigarette and she’s developed a bit of an attitude. But by the time Anya discovers Emily’s dark side, it appears that she hasn’t a ghost of a chance of getting rid of her phantom friend.

Anya’s Ghost— which won the 2012 Eisner Award for Best Publication for Young Adults (Ages 12–17) and the 2012 Harvey Award for Best Original Graphic Publication for Younger Readers— is an enjoyable story with engaging characters. Yet another example of how comics offer a wide variety of subjects and stories beyond the traditional superheroes. Anya is sympathetic throughout; and over the course of the book, she learns important things about both herself and others.

I also like that the story has Anya discovering A) that not everything can be found on Google; and B) the resources of the public library. Ironically, it’s Dima who shows her how to use the microfilm machine, something she’d never heard of. I suspect that’s true of a lot of teenagers these days.

Anya’s Ghost is published by First Second Books and well worth seeking out.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: The Man of Tomorrow


His name is Clark. He’s been called the Man of Tomorrow and he has strength and skills far superior to the ordinary man. He generally operates out of a large city, but also has a Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic. And he fights on the side of justice.

Who is he?

Yes, exactly right. Dr. Clark Savage, Jr.

Doc Savage.

Doc Savage

What’s that? Kent? Clark Kent? No, he came along later.

Doc Savage— one of the major stars of the pulp magazine era— debuted in Doc Savage Magazine (cover-dated March 1933) on Feb. 17, 1933, while Clark Kent debuted in Action Comics #1 (cover-dated June 1938) around April 1938. Interesting to note that not only did they both have a Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic (maybe it was a timeshare), but a 1934 house ad for Doc Savage described Doc as a “Superman.”

Doc Savage Superman

Doc, whose adventures were primarily written by Lester Dent (as “Kenneth Robeson”), was also known as the Man of Bronze; while Superman, of course, was the Man of Steel.

The “Man of Tomorrow” designation (a description later given to Superman) came from Dent himself, according to Will Murray, the literary agent for the estate of Lester Dent, in the introduction to the Nostalgia Ventures reprint of the story “The Fortress of Solitude.”

Doc Savage Magazine ran until the summer of 1949, but Doc returned through reprints by Bantam Books from the 1960s to the 1990s. More recently, reprints have been published by Nostalgia Ventures; and as of 2009, under series editor Anthony Tollin’s Sanctum Books imprint. These reprint volumes (more than 80 to date) include two novellas (some restored to their original length from abridged versions that ran back in the pulp era), essays and other material.

(Pulp adventures of the Shadow, the Avenger and the Whisperer are also being reprinted.)

Then there’s the comics and radio adaptations.

In his introduction to the “The Fortress of Solitude” (Oct. 1938 and reprinted in Vol. 1 of the Nostalgia Ventures series), Murray also writes that while the American public wasn’t quite ready for unearthly superpowers, “Doc Savage was everything an aspiring hero could dream of becoming.”

Murray also writes that Doc Savage “took Depression-era America by storm. Within a year he was on radio and later had his own comic books.”

Doc Savage Comics was first published in 1940 by Street & Smith Publications. Over the decades, various other companies, including DC, Dark Horse and Marvel, published tales of Doc’s adventures.

As to his radio adventures, they first aired in 1934, though no recordings are known to survive. According to Martin Grams, in his book, The Shadow: The History and Mystery of the Radio Program, 1930-1954 (page 87), Doc was played by Carl Kroenke, who later played the Shadow (Street & Smith owned both characters). A later series ran for six months in 1943, according to Grams (page 226).

In 1985, The Los Angeles-based Variety Arts Radio Theatre serialized the 1934 adventures “Fear Cay” and “The Thousand-Headed Man” in seven parts and six parts, respectively and broadcast the stories over NPR. Radio Archives.com provides those adventures in both CD and download formats, along with various extras.

Radio Archives.com offers the 1985  adaptations of two 1934 Doc Savage adventures.

Radio Archives.com offers the 1985
adaptations of two 1934 Doc Savage adventures.

So who is Doc Savage? What’s his story? According to the narration of “The Man of Bronze” (March 1933 and reprinted on page 7 of vol. 14 of the Nostalgia Ventures series), “Clark Savage, Jr. had been reared from the cradle to become the supreme adventurer.” The narration goes on to tell us that Doc’s father started him on an exercise routine when he was hardly able to walk.

His mental routine had “started with medicine and surgery. It had branched out to include all arts and sciences.”

That’s Doc’s fictional or “in-universe” background. But in an essay in Vol. 8 of the reprints (pages 123-127), Murray writes that Doc (and likewise the Shadow and the Avenger) was inspired, in part, by Richard Henry Savage (June 12, 1846- Oct. 11, 1903), a soldier, diplomat, engineer and writer. He was also admitted to the New York bar in 1890. Murray describes the real-life Savage as “one of the most colorful figures of the late 19th century.”

Richard Henry Savage

Murray also argues that to whatever degree the real-life Richard Henry Savage influenced the fictional Dr. Clark Savage, Jr., it was foisted on Lester Dent.

Doc’s first name, like that of Mr. Kent, comes from actor Clark Gable.

In a 1953 essay, reprinted in the foreword of Vol. 14 of the Nostalgia Ventures Doc Savage reprints, Dent described Doc as both a physical and moral superman. “He had the clue-following ability of Sherlock Holmes, the muscular tree-swinging ability of Tarzan, the scientific sleuthing of Craig Kennedy and the morals of Jesus Christ. He was an ideal, surrounded by five assistants who were human enough to temper his severity.”

These five assistants— each an expert in his own field— were Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks (AKA “Ham”), “the most astute lawyer Harvard ever turned out”; Lt. Col. Andrew Blodgett Mayfair (AKA “Monk”), “one of the foremost chemists in the world”; Col. John Renwick (AKA “Renny”), “a leading engineer”; Major Thomas J. Roberts (AKA “Long Tom”), the “electrical wizard”; and William Harper Littlejohn (AKA “Johnny”), geologist and archaeologist.

Doc, of course, is superior to each of them in their respective fields.

His cousin, Patricia Savage, also occasionally takes part in his adventures.

Just another day in the life of cousins Doc and Pat Savage.

Just another day in the life of cousins Doc and Pat Savage.

The above descriptions of Doc’s “Iron Crew” (reprinted on page 30 of Vol. 1) come from the story “The Fortress of Solitude.”

We also learn that Ham and Monk (who “looks like a gorilla”) are “sparring partners” because of a series of practical jokes they played on each other back in Word War I.

In that same 1953 essay, Dent also wrote that the intent was to keep Doc, whom he described as a “gadget man”, as “scientific as possible, without becoming pseudo-scientific.”

According to Dent, Doc Savage also contained a number of technological marvels, long before they came into general use. These included wire recorders, telephone-answering machines, sonic detectors and proximity fuses.

To quote the Joker in Batman (1989), “where does he get those wonderful toys?” Well, Doc, like Bruce Wayne, isn’t hurting, financially. He has access to a hidden, Mayan gold mine in Central America.

From page 62 of “The Man of Bronze” reprint story: “This was the legacy his father had left him. He was to use it in the cause to which his life was dedicated… striving to help those who need help; punishing those who deserve it.”

Artist James Bama depicted Doc wearing a tattered shirt. It’s a dramatic image, but you’d think with all his money, Doc could afford a new one.

Doc Savage generally operates out of the 86th floor of a New York City skyscraper— implied to be the Empire State Building— and via a pneumatic tube system can travel to a “waterfront hanger boathouse” on the Hudson River.

As to the Superman parallels, Murray writes in his introduction to “The Fortress of Solitude” reprint that it wasn’t so much Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as it was later editor Mort Weisinger (though Siegel and Shuster were obviously aware of Doc). “It was under Mort Weisinger’s editorial guidance that Superman was given his Fortress of Solitude,” Murray writes. “The year was 1949.”

Doc is in many ways a law unto himself. A box on page 25 of volume four of the Nostalgia Ventures reprints tells us that “rather than turn [a criminal] over to the law, Doc Savage sends the individual to an institution he maintains in upstate New York. There, the lawbreakers are subjected to a delicate brain operation, which eliminates all knowledge of their past lives. On recovery, the criminals are given a course of training which converts them into upright citizens, with a useful trade for gaining a livelihood.”

Bit Draconian, huh, Doc?

Of course, in his early days, Superman was also far from the “Big Blue Boy Scout” he’d later become.

Pulp novels were very much of their time and have more than a few shortcomings. Some novels (and characters) have long since been forgotten, but not Doc Savage.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating