Friday, September 25, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
We begin with "There is Laughter in Hell This Day" by Robert Kanigher, Neal Adams and Bill Draut. In my mind I have always considered this to be the first real story of the modern Phantom Stranger. Before I get to the story though, I have to say that the strange combination of Neal Adams and Bill Draut came off pretty well, though it looks like Neal went back in and reinked quite a bit of this himself, so who knows what it actually looked like.
We begin in Haiti, where Dr. Terence Thirteen and his wife Maria are witness to a crazed tourist's dive from a waterfall into a pool during a native ceremony calling for Tala. Terry dives in to save the man but discovers an underwater vortex sucking everything into a tunnel. He barely makes it back to the surface and the next morning has the authorities use explosives to seal up the tunnel. No one notices the swirling smoke the explosion released that forms into the beautiful Tala.
As the Thirteen's jet back to New York to check on a supposedly sobbing brownstone building, their jet is engulfed by an enormous black cloud. From outside it is clear that the cloud is a manifestation of Tala's cape as sit stands astride the jetliner. A crackle of lightning from a vast white cloud signals the arrival of the Phantom Stranger. As they arrive in New York that evening the area is in the midst of a strange power blackout, when, low on fuel, the plane's lights and radio also die. Terry thinks he sees a beautiful woman standing on the plane's wing, but realizes it must be an illusion caused by strain.
A glowing Phantom Stranger guides the blinded plane in safely and Tala confronts the Stranger before flying off. Terry Thirteen also confronts the Stranger, calling him a phony stage magician, but the Stranger disappears in the smoggy darkness of night. the plane down and out of danger, the power suddenly returns to New York.
The next day a quartet of teenagers trade some junk with a Brooklyn junkman for some money and what he calls a "a book to raise the dead." The foursome then head for the supposedly haunted brownstone building where they plan on crashing for a bit and on of them mentions that the old how has been dead for years and that maybe the book could "wake it up again." Inside they find a huge old fireplace with massive gargoyles and above the mantle, a painting of a beautiful girl. In a mirror off to the side is the reflection of Tala.
Suddenly they hear the sobbing the house is infamous for and they drop the book on a dusty table where, unseen, Tala forces open the catch and flips the pages to a voodoo incantation for raising the dead. They read the incantation which asks Tala to bring them life. Unfortunately, the life is passed to the two gargoyles who attack the foursome. But the Phantom Stranger suddenly materializes as well and intercepts the gargoyles doing battle with them, turning them into a pile of broken plaster. Tala then emerges from the mirror and offers herself to the Stranger, but she is rebuffed and flies off in a fury.
Moments later the Thirteens arrive and Terry accuses the Stranger of playing upon the delusions of the youngsters. But they say they have heard the crying in the building. The wailing starts again and the Stranger cuts a hole in the wall with his finger and inside they find an old, skeletal woman. Thirteen tries to explain away her existence but the woman, barely alive tells of how she came to the building when she was 18, to visit her fiancé and how she told him of her love for another and how in a fit of rage he sealed her up in the wall and became a hermit, spending the entirety of his life in the house to be near her.
In his will he saw to it that the house could never be touched and so it and she remained. Suddenly the house begins to shake and tremble. As they run from the building Tala can be seen on top of the house laughing. Thirteen calls it an illusion. The woman says all she wants is to sleep forever and the Stranger promises her it will be. The next evening he places flowers on her grave. Thirteen is there, calling it all a hypnotic illusion staged by the Stranger. The Stranger tell him that there are "more things in heaven and Earth-- than one can imagine" and then disappears, leaving Thirteen still convinced that the Stranger has duped them all. This was Reprinted in Showcase Presents Phantom Stranger Vol. 1 TPB.
The back-up story "Out of This World" is by Robert Kanigher and Murphy Anderson and is presented as one of the "Strange Tales from the Phantom Stranger." This is the old story of a guy picking up a hitchhiker, taking her out dancing and falling in love with her. The next night he returns to the house he dropped her off at and discovers that she died one year ago yesterday. This is very close to the plot of the old Dickie Lee song, Laurie (Strange Things Happen In This World).
Last night at the dance I met Laurie,
So lovely and warm, an angel of a girl.
Last night I fell in love with Laurie -
Strange things happen in this world.
As I walked her home,
She said it was her birthday.
I pulled her close and said
"Will I see you anymore?"
Then suddenly she asked for my sweater
And said that she was very, very cold.
I kissed her goodnight
At her door and started home,
Then thought about my sweater
And went right back instead.
I knocked at her door and a man appeared.
I told why I'd come, then he said:
"You're wrong, son.
You weren't with my daughter.
How can you be so cruel
To come to me this way?
My Laurie left this world on her birthday -
She died a year ago today."
A strange force drew me to the graveyard.
I stood in the dark,
I saw the shadows wave,
And then I looked and saw my sweater
Lyin' there upon her grave.
Strange things happen in this world.
Reprinted in Showcase Presents Phantom Stranger Vol. 1 TPB.
The letters page features a letter by the late comic historian Richard Morrissey and one from letter column regular Gary Skinner.
Edited by Joe Orlando.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Firehair in "River of Gold" is written and drawn by Joe Kubert. I can't tell you how much I am enjoying rereading these stories. In Firehair Kubert created the perfect tool for telling his tales of morality, human nature and the turbulent times on the late 1960s. An old prospector searching for gold stumbles into the land of the Crow and finds himself surrounded by warriors thirsty for revenge against the white men. Firehair comes across the confrontation and calls out the Crow for even contemplating "murdering defenseless of people."
Black Eagle, the son of the Crow Chief's issues a personal challenge to Firehair for interfering in their business. Years of having to fight for a place in his own tribe gives Firehair the advantage and he soon forces Black Eagle to concede. Firehair demands to be taken to Black Eagle's father, who as a great chief must be a just man.
The chief chastises his son for attempting to use his protection to right his loss in single combat to Firehair, but he also worries that the old prospector may not deserve the gift of life that Firehair has given him. He worries that the old man seeks the "yellow stones! The soft, worthless pebbles they value more than life or land" and that should he find any that their land would be "over-run by his kind!" Firehair explains to the old man that at tomorrow's sun dance ceremony he must fight Black Eagle again and that if he wins again that they will both be set free, but that the old man must not search for gold and must leave the land of the Crow.
The old man says he understands. but that night he attempts to sneak out of camp. However, he sees that he is being watched and returns to camp but not before spotting a trove of gold nuggets in the stream running through the village.
The next morning Firehair and Black Eagle once again square off in single combat and once again Firehair is victorious. The chief declares that they "will be as one -- in honor and trust!" and Black eagle and Firehair become blood brothers. The old man notes to himself that "they sure know how to settle their arguments!' but while the sun dance ceremony begins he sneaks off with his mule and a few sacks of gold from the stream.
Later when they discover he has gone, it is Firehair who must search for him as it is Firehair who has accepted responsibility for the old man. Firehair tracks him down and finds him just as a grizzly has also found him. Firehair intercedes and kills the bear. The old man however, pulls his gun on Firehair and says he will kill him rather than let Firehair take him back to the Crow.
Back at the village Black eagle wonders if Firehair will return when a moment later he and the old man are seen coming back. The old man turns over his gold saying that "I couldn't shoot someone who'd saved my life...twice! I guess...there's some things even more valuable than an whole river of gold!" The chief gives the old man his freedom and Firehair moves on in his search for a place he can belong.
"Saturday -- 1787" is written and drawn by Ric Estrada is a great little slice of frontier life and hardships of the early settlers. It does a terrific job of showing the hard choices the early settlers sometimes faced. A little gem from the late Ric Estrada.
Edited by Joe Kubert.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Monday, September 07, 2009
Sunday, September 06, 2009
So, I was alive when all this was going on. I was young, but I remember "Downtown," I even remember singing it in elementary school choir. But for the life of me, I don't remember ever hearing the song "Crazy Downtown," but it seems Mark was, shall we say, enamored with it and the Petula Clark hit as well. But exactly how enamored was Mr. Evanier? Just how big of a "Downtown Jones" was Mark in the clutches of? It was pretty bad folks.
You see, my other blog, DC Comics 40 Years Ago, causes me to spend some part of each week reading old DC comic books from, you guessed it, 40 years ago. On September 4, 1969 Batman #216 was published. It was a pretty good issue, but what I found really interesting was the letters page and a missive from one Mark Evanier of Los Angeles, California who extolled the work of new DC writer Frank Robbins is his own unique way. It went something like this:
Dear Editor:Oh yeah, that guy Evanier had a real "Downtown" monkey on his back!
The following is a song parody of the type I used to win original Inferior Five artwork with. It is sung to the tune of "Downtown"...
When there's a mag, wherein the stories don't drag,
The writer is probably--Robbins.
In all his glory, he can write a mean story,
Johnny Hazard's pop -- Robbins.
It may be in a Batman or it may be in a Flash,
If it's not his first issue then it's certainly not trash,
Top it off with Novick art,
You have a Batman story that comes straight from the heart,
It's by Robbins...
Frank is a real find.
Robbins...Bad stories are behind.
Robbins...Immortalized in this song.
Saturday, September 05, 2009
Heavey (sic) storms confined the members of the Corps of Discovery near the mouth of the Columbia River. For six days in November 1805, they set up camp at an area Wm. Clark referred to as a "dismal nitich". (sic) Today, this place is still called "Dismal Nitch" and is located just east of the Washington end of the Astoria/Megler Bridge.
Friday, September 04, 2009
"The Day the Flash Failed" is by Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. This is one of those rather convoluted Kanigher stories, but I found it compelling. The real interesting thing in this story is the reason Flash fails on the "Day the Flash Failed." I don't think this was ever done in a comic before or maybe since and for 1969 it is pretty progressive of ol' DC. The Flash fails because he is late getting to the launch of a Navy submarine because he was busy, uh, servicing his wife Iris. I kid you not. Check out the page below if you don't believe me. I will say as a horny teenager this subtle reference to Iris's carnal needs totally slipped by me.
So as we can see by page 2 here, the Flash is running late for a meeting with a Navy submarine that he was supposed to be aboard. We have to forget for a moment that the Flash can swim at super speed and can vibrate through walls and could easily "catch up" to the submarine because to remember that would just ruin the whole story.
Anyway, the sub disappears and Flash does do some super speed swimming and can't locate it and everyone blames him for the sub going missing and his life is hell, yada, yada, yada. Did I say I found this compelling?
Iris wants to get Barry out of the house and get his mind off of, you know, him being a failure and all, and so they go and visit a friend, Phil Anderson, at a lighthouse. There is a storm and the helicopter Barry is piloting is hit by lightning and Barry has to turn into the Flash to save them and Phil is a mess and his wife is missing and his heart is giving out and geeze, do the coincidences just keep a comin'!
It seems Phil and his wife went on a super-secret mission for the CIA, where they pretended to be a couple on their second honeymoon crossing the Atlantic in a small sailboat, but were actually looking for enemy nuclear subs lurking off the Greenland shelf, which just happens to be where Flash's sub went missing. Anyway Phil and his wife, Phyllis, get knocked overboard in a storm and picked up by a, you guessed it, enemy nuclear sub.
After being captured Phil and Phyllis escape through the sub but are trapped in the torpedo room, which is being filled with poisonous gas and Phyllis stays behind while Phil is ejected through the torpedo tube and eventually picked up by an American fishing boat. Phil is now waiting for Phyllis to come walking back across the water and into his arms because she promised she would.
OK, so the Flash goes looking for Phyllis and of course finds the underwater lair where the "enemy nuclear sub" is hiding with Phyllis and the missing sub that the Flash lost while he was busy "getting some" from the missus. Flash rescues everyone, but Phyllis was exposed to too much of the poison gas back in the torpedo room and is dying and the Flash super-speeds her to Phil, but she dies along the way and Flash sees her ghost walk across the water to meet Phil's ghost (his heart gave out at the same time). The end!
I have to give Robert Kanigher credit for the Flash gets laid and is late plot idea, proving that Barry is not "The Fastest Man Alive!" in all regards, but man, did this thing go south quickly.
Edited by Julius Schwartz.