A fighting Brit, a fighting American, Scooby-Doo and more: TPBs read

Following Captain Britain: Siege of Camelot, I picked up the character again with CAPTAIN BRITAIN, an older TPB collecting the Alan Moore/Alan Davis run (I’m missing about a half-dozen stories in between because that TPB is out of my price range). We open on Brian in a parallel world where he abruptly shifts from conventional crimefighting to battling the unstoppable superhero-killing Fury and its creator, the reality-warping mutant Sir James Jaspers. This is only the beginning of a string of weird encounters, deaths and rebirths overwhelming England’s champion (as Davis notes in the intro, he often comes off as a bemused straight man) before facing the ultimate challenge: the main Marvel Earth’s version of Mad Jim Jaspers. A good run, obviously of interest as some of both creators’ early work.

After Marvel revived Captain America in the 1950s, Cap-creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby decided to prove they could outdo whoever Marvel had working on the strip. Sure enough, Prize Comics’ FIGHTING AMERICAN (not “the” Fighting American) outlasted 1950s Cap by several issues, despite an insanely convoluted origin: after Red agents kill anti-Communist TV newsman Johnny Flagg (saddled with two bum legs due to his heroic service in Korea), the government transfers his nerdy brother Nelson’s mind into Flagg’s body, which is then restored to peak condition via a super-soldier treatment. That enables Johnny/Nelson (and Speedboy, who apparently had no other name even in his secret identity) to become Fighting American, scourge of America’s enemies. This wasn’t the duo’s best work but as it goes along they do give the series a decidedly goofy sense of humor, with villains such as propagandist Poison Ivan or a Soviet spy whose super-power is his deadly body odor. Fun, but it won’t displace Captain America in anyone’s estimation.

SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP by Sholly Fisch and Dario Brizuela is an absolute delight, with way more in-jokes from Scooby’s cartoons than I could possibly mention. After reuniting with Batman (Scooby-Doo switched to a team-up format for the 1972 TV season) they also meet the Super-Friends and the Teen Titans Go! version of the Titans, yanking masks of villains’ faces and proving that even in the DC universe they have a role to play. Great fun, assuming you like Scooby-Doo.

Fisch also wrote BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND BOLD: Small Miracles, with Rick Burchett and Dan Davis providing the art chores. Based on the cartoon series, this has Batman teaming up with Ragman, Nightwing and Silver Age swinger Super-Hip (against the Teen Titans Go version of the Mad Mod); if you know the show or the earlier TPB collections, you know what to expect.

 

Following Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s next memoir looked at her mother and their relationship. Unfortunately ARE YOU MY MOTHER? lacks the punch of Fun Home, not just because there’s nothing as dramatic but because it’s very, very internalized — lots of rumination on Bechdel’s psychotherapy, her dreams and her relationships. Way too much navel-gazing for me.

In 1932, in-between Horse Feathers and Duck Soup, Groucho and Chico Marx appeared in a short-lived radio show (obviously Harpo’s mute shticks wouldn’t work well on radio). FLYWHEEL, SHYSTER AND FLYWHEEL: The Marx Brothers’ Lost Radio Show by Michael Barson collects the surviving scripts from the show (the productions themselves are lost), telling the story of scheming, wisecracking lawyer Flywheel (originally Beagle, but a real attorney named Beagle threatened to sue) and his nitwitted assistant Ravelli. The early episodes are really funny, and it’s easy to imagine the brothers delivering their lines. As the show goes along, though, the writers (in an interview included in the book they say writing a script a week became a real struggle) began recycling material or borrowing from the films and the show starts to lose steam. It’s probably telling that they stop worrying about Flywheel’s legal practice and simply have the guys vacationing wherever they want to set the story (Canada, a fancy mansion, etc.). Barson says the show actually had decent ratings, and guesses that the sponsor (Esso, a gasoline company) was frustrated because Texaco’s radio show did better.

#SFWApro. Covers by Jack Kirby and Robert Oksner (top and bottom) all rights remain with current holders.

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