Category Archives: Comics

Farewell Mr. Sekowsky: Wonder Woman #194-6

Mike Sekowsky’s career is a mystery to me, which online research has so far failed to solve. After years as a penciller, he starts writing multiple books at the end of the Silver Age, not just Wonder Woman but Supergirl, Metal Men and the unsuccessful Showcase tryout series Jason’s Quest and Manhunter 2070. Then in 1971, he writes Wonder Woman #196 and after that he’s an artist the rest of his career. I’ve tried researching him online but the reason for this sudden swerve into writing has so far eluded me. That said …

Wonder Woman #194, “The Prisoner,” has Diana vacationing in Europe, sans I Ching, in a small kingdom where everyone’s treating her like royalty — except some goons who make the mistake of trying to kidnap her. It turns out it’s because she looks exactly like Princess Fabiola. Which inevitably means that the princess gets captured and, just like the classic Prisoner of Zenda, Diana has to replace her or the next in line to the throne will use Fabiola’s disappearance as an excuse to seize power. This is really awkward as the princess is getting married tomorrow, but of course Diana sees it through. It’s a departure from the usual spy thriller/neighborhood hero style of this era, but it works.

#195, “The House That Wasn’t,” is another departure. It’s a snowy winter night when Diana and I Ching stop to help some stranded motorists. Unfortunately they’re actually escaped convicts who force our heroes to walk along with them (though if it wasn’t necessary for the plot, either I Ching or Diana could have taken them down). They end up in a small inn along with a writer and a guy who appears to be an embezzler fleeing with his loot, which attracts the convicts. The smiling owner and her son are friendly enough, but I Ching senses Evil and Diana feels something wrong too. One of the cons murders the embezzler, but it turns out he’s just a man running away from his marriage — the briefcase he carries holds travel brochures for the trip he’d hoped to take. But then something kills the convict …

It turns out the owner and her son are ghosts, killing travelers in death as they did in life; the more they kill, the more frequently they can materialize. Despite their ghostly powers, the owner’s son makes the mistake of under-estimating Diana; that and I Ching’s occult knowledge lead to their destruction.

For Sekowsky’s last story, “Target for Today,” we return to espionage and intrigue. A dying military intelligence agent collapses in the room, begging I Ching to get a message to the man’s employer, Gen. Stuart. I Ching knows the general, having worked for him too — which seems odd, as we know I Ching was a monk who left his contemplative life when Dr. Cyber wiped out the monastery. Then again, we don’t know what he was doing before he entered the monastery, so why not?

The message involves the ambassador from Koronia being the target of an assassination plot. While I Ching goes to the general, Diana bodyguards the handsome ambassador, saving him from a gunman and a glass of poisoned champagne. When Gen. Stuart informs Diana that her Army intelligence discharge papers include terms allowing him to reactivate her, she’s not happy, but as she’s protecting him anyway …

After another assassination attempt, the ambassador finally gets to meet President Nixon — but at the last second, Diana realizes he’s an imposter: his real mission is to kill the president, blowing himself up in the process. With no proof he was a ringer, the government will be thrown out of power and the bad guys will take over.

I’d have liked to see more of Sekowsky’s work, but it wasn’t to be. With the next issue Denny O’Neil returns, Don Heck replacing Sekowsky on the art (followed by Dick Giordano the rest of this run). It wasn’t a change for the better.#SFWApro. All covers by Sekowsky, all rights remain with current holders.

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A long time ago, I went to a drive-in movie

They had one close to our house and our family went and caught a film there, though I don’t remember which one. Later they switched to exploitation movies, so we didn’t go; I didn’t have a car or a girlfriend to make out with in a car, so I never went (though I sure fantasized about some of the films).

I can’t help thinking that if a scene like the Dick Dillin cover below had happened at our drive-in, I’d have gone a lot more often. Because that looks pretty cool.

#SFWApro. All rights to the cover remain with current holder.

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The Diana Prince Years: Wonder Woman vs. tyranny and tragedy

Welcome back to my on-going look at the white pantsuit era of late Silver Age Wonder Woman. Following Diana’s trip to China, Sekowsky’s last seven issues were all over the map: horror, sword-and-sandal adventure, a Prisoner of Zenda knockoff as well as stories in the styles he’d already established, with Diana defending her neighborhood and dealing with international intrigue. If Sekowsky wanted to show the series could do more than just spy stuff, he succeeded.

Detour in Wonder Woman#190 launches a three issue sword-and-sandal tale, though #191 was actually a reprint with a few new pages added as a framing sequence (Diana’s companion asks who she is and how she came to be, so she recaps the transition from Amazon to Ordinary Woman). Diana goes to visit Paradise Island in its otherworldly home again, but a dimensional storm blows her and her guide Leda off-course, landing them in the world of Chalandor. The local queen’s forces capture Diana for the arena — she doesn’t go down easily, of course — and she ends up thrown in a dungeon with the barbarian prince Ranagor. Diana, however, has some of the spy gadgets she acquired during one of her previous adventures and busts her chains using a button that conceals a powerful acid. She and Ranagor escape … but their getaway path just leads the to the arena. The queen unleashes her nastiest beast, the reptilian gnarth, but Diana finds a way to beat it, then she and Ranagor bust out.

The duo find Ranagor’s father’s army, which lays siege to the queen’s Castle Skull. It goes badly for the besiegers until Diana mixes up some gunpowder to make small rockets and even then the fortress is able to hold out. After a duel with the queen fails to resolve things (the queen cuts and runs rather than admit defeat), Diana hits on the idea of blowing up the castle gates with a whole lot of gunpowder (shouldn’t that have been an obvious option?) and the fortress falls. Leda shows up with the Amazons, too late to help but they do provide Diana a way home. It’s a mixed bag. “Hey, I know how to make gunpowder” is a resolution I’ve seen in god knows how many adventure tales of heroes trapped in lost cities and the adventure as a whole is too stock to work for me. Sekowsky’s art, however, is great and the story shows off Diana’s formidable abilities at their best. This time out, she doesn’t need a man, not even I Ching, to do the heavy lifting.

Angela brings Diana back to her current neighborhood. When Tony Petrucci disappears, packing his gun, his Mom reveals to Diana that three years earlier Tony’s sister Angela went into a coma after someone spiked the food at a party with “funny seasoning.” Eddie Dean, Tony’s buddy from ‘nam was at the party and Tony accuses him of being the culprit, given his history of practical jokes that went wrong. Eddie denies it, pointing out he got sick from the stuff himself. Mrs. Petrucci explains that Tony has never given up searching for the person responsible; his increased frustration has led to him lashing out and beating up the local homeless population simply as a convenient target. Now he’s found a fresh lead and his mother is terrified, with good reason obviously, that he’s going to cross a line.

Diana investigates which immediately generates blowback. Hoods try to scare her off; when she slaps them around, they tell her a local lowlife named Runty Sneed hired them. Diana finds Runty dead, but pretends he gave her a dying message, figuring that will bring the bad guys after her again. Sure enough, there’s another hit, which gives her the clue she needs: Eddie’s behind it. She arrives at his upscale apartment to learn Tony’s already figured it out and has dragged Eddie up into the girders of the under-construction skyscraper next door.  She climbs up after them to find Eddie has a slight edge in the fight, but not once Diana shows up. After she decks Eddie, Tony wants to finish him off but Diana disables him temporarily, then the cops show.

It’s almost a great story of revenge and redemption, but not quite. For one thing the plot is confused: Eddie’s simultaneously a stupid practical joker — he tried to spice up the food with hot sauce, unaware the bottle he found was the maid’s container for cleaning fluid — and a drug dealer who thought getting the guests high would help him find a new batch of customers. That second reveal comes out of nowhere, and I imagine the autopsies would have established “drug overdose” was the cause of death three years earlier if that had been the case. Similarly, Tony pegged Eddie as the culprit because he’d pulled a joke like that once before and because Tony figured out Eddie’s lifestyle was financed by drugs. Its like Sekowsky considered two explanations and went with both of them.

And then at the end, we have a too-convenient happy wrap-up when it turns out Angela’s doctor has finally brought her out of the coma, and not only that he wants to marry her. Much as I enjoy a good eucatastrophe, this one was a little too miraculous.

#SFWApro. Covers by Sekowsky, all rights remain with current holder.

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Chinese Wonder: Wonder Woman #187-9

When we last looked at Wonder Woman during her Diana Prince phase, she’d defended her neighborhood from Them and Morgana. For the next three issues, written and drawn by Mike Sekowsky, she’s back in international super-spy mode as she and I Ching hunt Dr. Cyber in China.

We open #187, Earthquaker, with someone having gunned down I Ching (the story inside follows directly from the cover scene). I Ching gets a call for help from an old friend in Hong Kong and arranges passage with Patrick McGuire, a roguish Irishman he knows from back before he lost his sight. Diana, of course, insists on going along; on the flight they meet Lu Shan, an attractive Chinese woman. Mid-flight, stowaways with guns sneak out and try to steal something from Lu Shan, confident two women and a blind guy can’t be much of a challenge …

In the aftermath, Lu Shan identifies the men as members of the Tiger Tong, an adversary of her employer; I Ching identifies Lu Shan as his long-lost daughter by half of a broken talisman she carries (he has the other half). When they land in Hong Kong, the Tong strikes again so we get some lively action scenes as I Ching, Patrick and Diana deliver Lu Shan to her boss. Patrick gets lost along the way, but gets a dinner date from Diana.

Unfortunately Lu Shan’s boss is Dr. Cyber; the cargo Diana and I Ching helped Lu Shan deliver contains the power source for Cyber’s earthquake-generating technology, which will now level Hong Kong as a demonstration to the world. In return for her part in the scheme, Lu Shan gets her fondest wish: to kill I Ching in revenge for the murder of her mother! Despite which Cyber offers Diana a place in her organization.

At this point the Tiger Tong leader shows up to claim the Earthquaker. Cyber electrocutes him and his men with a booby-trap but one of them, dying, fires his gun at her, knocking over a brazier and pouring hot coals over Cyber’s face. Diana rushes I Ching to a hospital,, as Lu Shan does for her employer. Cyber directs her to activate the Earthquakers and also send hit squads after Diana and I Ching.

In the following issue, Lu Shan unleashes both earthquakes and kill squads; with I Ching in hospital, Diana fights back alongside Patrick and Hong Kong cop Inspector McLean. When she captures one of Cyber’s agents, the woman tells her how to deactivate the Earthquakers, but Diana deduces they’re booby trapped and forces the woman to show how to deactivate them.

At the last Earthquaker, however, Cyber’s waiting, filled with hated for Diana for scarring her — although as Diana points out, she didn’t have a thing to do with that Tiger Tong gunman. Cyber attempts to kill Diana but ends up falling into her own machinery, electrocuting herself and in the process destroying the Earthquaker. Cyber is dead, but Lu Shan swears to avenge her; in the end we learn she’s fled into “Red” China with I Ching, recovered from his injuries, on her tail.

Diana and Patrick disguise themselves in yellowface and slip into China. When they find I Ching, he’s been diverted from pursuit of his daughter by the need to help his friends in a small village: they will soon be shipped north to work in the mines unless they escape across the border. To that end, they’ve found an old riverboat with which to travel to Hong Kong, and enough weapons to hopefully hold back any Chinese forces that try to stop them. I Ching, Patrick and Diana travel along and help them accomplish the impossible. McLean informs Diana that for the unauthorized border crossing her passport is now revoked, but she won’t have to leave before he, and a slightly jealous Patrick, take her out to dinner.

The first two parts are a good spy/action thriller, the third more a war comic very much in the commie-smashing mode of the Cold War, plus some uncomfortable White Savior elements (just look at the cover). It’s noteworthy for being the first story in which Di wears the all-white pantsuit outfit most associated with this period, and for turning the formidable Cyber into a scarface disability cliche.

It should have been notable for launching Lu Shan as the book’s new villain, which clearly what Sekowsky intended. Too bad it didn’t happen before he left the book; we saw her one more time, as a kind of generic villain, and never learned anything about her blood feud with her father.

Oh, I almost forgot, the middle issue includes a backup story in which Diana roughs up a cross-dressing pickpocket, “Creepy Caniguh,” who’s a dead ringer for former WW-writer Robert Kanigher, whom Sekowsky loathed.

#SFWApro. All  images by Sekowsky, all rights remain with current holder.

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Comic and pulp covers for Tuesday

First Jack Kirby —Then Virgil Finlay, for a creepy thriller by Joseph Payne Brennan.A Gil Kane actioner with a female Robin Hood in the old west.I don’t know the artist, but that’s a title that gives a good feel for what you’re getting into.One by John Romita catching an awkward romantic moment.A whimsical image by Hannes Bok—An eerie one by Boris Dolgov, though C. Hall Thompson’s work is third-rate Lovecraft.And one by J. Allen St. John to finish with.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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From Rome to Skull Island: books

THE EDGE OF THE EMPIRE: A Journey to Britannia From the Heart of Rome to Hadrian’s Wall by Bronwen Riley dramatizes life in the Roman Empire (circa AD 130) by taking us on a journey from the imperial city itself all the way to the ultimate thulei of the isle of Britain, where Hadrian’s wall at the northern border literally marked the edge of the empire, This was a very good premise, allowing Riley to talk about Roman food (fish paste and olive oil!), travel, ships, military structure, life in colonial towns and weather without feeling info-dumpy. Among other things it makes me see just how much travel was going on in that era, and how risky a great deal of it was. Very good.

SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP: It’s Scooby Time! wraps up the Sholly Fisch and (mostly Dario Brizuela) series in the same cheerfully silly, fun vein as the previous volumes. Scooby and his human friends team with Mr. Miracle, Metamorpho, Black Lightning, Flash’s Rogues (haunted by the ghost of the Top) and in the final issue have to deal with pranks by both Batmite and Scooby-Mite. The issue is a tribute to all the Scoobies who’ve gone before, bringing back multiple sidekicks (Scrappy Doo, Vincent Van Ghoul, Red Herring) and multiple versions of the core characters (including DC’s rival series Scooby Apocalypse). Goodbye guys, you’ll be missed.

NIGHT RAVEN by multiple writers and artists collects the complete run of the Marvel UK series concerning a mysterious vigilante (“Night Raven” is one of the birds of abomination in the King James Bible, though the specific inspiration for the name was a John Milton poem) waging a one-man war on crime in 1930s New York, and leaving his brand on the faces of his victims. Much to my annoyance, this turns from comic strips to text pages — never as interesting — about a third of the way through; the early strips are decent, then they get really good under Alan Moore, who traces the battle between Night Raven and the immortal Asian crimelord Yi Yang across the decades. Unfortunately the last 40 percent of the book is text pages by Jamie Delano who is no Alan Moore (I’ve never particularly liked his comics work) so I wound up skimming a lot of them. I’ve been curious about the character but my curiosity is now satisfied. Still, the Moore stuff is really good.

As I said last week, I couldn’t resist reading Will Murray’s DOC SAVAGE: Skull Island, which opens with Renny applying his engineering savvy to figure out how to remove King Kong’s corpse from outside the Empire State Building. We then flash back to the post-Great War years, when Doc and his father went searching for Doc’s missing grandfather “Stormalong” Savage and found him on Skull Island, where Doc meets Kong. This confirms my opinion that Murray is no Lester Dent (not that he’s ever claimed to be) — he does great with the Kong scenes but Doc’s encounters with dinosaurs are nowhere nears as good as, say, The Other World, nor does the book capture how much Doc thrives on excitement — I think he’d have much more of a blast here. There’s also a lot of time spent battling uninteresting headhunters (and they’re a little too stereotypical savage brutes for my taste).

What does work, at least for me as a fan, is the spotlight on Doc’s prickly relationship with his father, and details such as how Doc acquired his nickname (working as a medic in WW I), a little about his mom (named Kendra Robeson, an obvious in-joke), Clark Sr. grumbling about his son reading puerile popular fiction such as Burroughs or Doyle and constant speculation about why Dad trained Doc the way he did. Regrettably it’s canon that Doc never learns so we can’t get an answer (I love Murray’s passing suggestion that it might have been Doc’s late mother’s idea, but that doesn’t work with what little we do know). So this one did have its charms.

Oh, and over on Atomic Junkshop I’ve posted an expanded version of an article from this site a few years back, about DC’s Beowulf.beowulf4

#SFWApro. Cover by Scott Jeraids, bottom by Ricardo Villamonte, all rights remain with current holder.

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Farewell, Dame Diana

So as you’ve probably heard, Dame Diana Rigg passed away last week. Which got me reflecting how much I insanely, madly crushed on Emma Peel in The Avengers as a kid.

Emma Peel was awesome. Intelligent (one episode established she had a higher IQ than Steed). Fearless. Able to take down the toughest foe with her bare hands. And gorgeous — even before I met TYG, I liked dark-haired beautiful women. I’m quite sure my crush was based mostly on her looks, but I don’t think it would have been so intense — certainly not as long-lasting — if she’d been a bimbo or simply Steed’s girlfriend. She was also an excellent actor, playing a chillingly ruthless Regan to Laurence Olivier’s Lear in a 1983 TV-movie. She’s delightful (and yes, beautiful) as a female reporter and early 20th century reporter in The Assassination Bureau and Vincent Price’s deadly daughter in Theatre of Blood. She was funny in an early 1970s sitcom, Diana — British professional working in the U.S. — though the series didn’t last.

She was also a big influence on X-Men, via an episode A Touch of Brimstone slugged in the UK’s TV Times as “Steed joins the Hellfire Club and Emma becomes a queen of sin.” I was too sick to stay up and watch when it originally aired but even at eight years old I knew “queen of sin” sounded awfully er, interesting. And yes, it was.Still is (I did see it eventually). And this episode had a huge influence on the Hellfire Club arc in the Chris Claremont/John Byrne era of X-Men, particularly how Byrne drew Jean Grey during her brief time as the Club’s Black Queen:Jason Wyngarde whom you see in that scene was modeled on Peter Wyngarde, the Hellfire Club’s leader in the Avengers episode.

#SFWApro. Comics art by John Byrne; all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Women and their men: books read

Tim Hanley acknowledges that the title of his BETTY AND VERONICA: The Leading Ladies of Riverdale isn’t always accurate: for a lot of their history the girls have been supporting characters in Archie’s life, either prizes for him to win or plot obstacles (can he take them both to the same dance without either girl catching on?); progress away from that was often two steps forward, three steps backward (as might be expected from books created by men in their fifties, the women’s liberation era was particularly painful). At the same time, the need to create lots of stories within a limited fromula led to increasing emphasis on them being capable, and to their friendship becoming more important than their rivalry over Archie.

Hanley looks at how the girls’ stories has adapted to the many trends of Archie’s long history: the spy and superhero era (Betty became Superteen), writer/artist Al Hartley putting lots of Christian themes in the books (the point at which Good Christian Girl Betty began stealing some of the spotlight from Veronica), the rise of specialty comics stores (surprisingly good for them as the effects on the comics market led to their books outselling Archie’s), 21st century variations such as Life With Archie and Afterlife With Archie and the various attempts to bring them to other media (including a radio show, lots of TV cartoons and most recently the hit Riverdale). I’ve never been an Archie fan, but I still found this one fascinating.

Listening to the soundtrack of Six: The Musical (What If Henry VIII’s Wives Were a Spice Girls-Like Pop Group?) and realizing how little I really know about the women prompted me to check out THE WIVES OF HENRY VIII by Antonia Fraser from the library. Fraser does a good job showing there’s more to the women than their stereotypes (Betrayed Wife, Sexy Temptress, Good Woman, etc.). Anne Boleyn, for example, was just as interested in religion as Catherine of Aragon, though less devout and considerably more Protestant (a view that often put her at odds with her husband); Catherine Parr wrote a couple of religious texts herself. Fraser does well detailing the tangled scheming and political maneuvering around not only Henry’s marriages but the proposed marriages for children Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, as well as on some of the mundane details (no sooner did the royal decorator replace Catherine of Aragon’s symbols with Anne’s than he had to start over replacing Anne’s logo with Jane Seymour’s). She also makes clear that Henry was seen even at the time as an outlier, one monarch quipping he’d marry off his sister to Henry if only she had a second neck. Very good.

#SFWApro. Covers by Bill Vigoda (top) and Brittney Williams, all rights remain with current holders.

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Alien cuckoos: this week’s reading

“One of the luckiest accidents in my wife’s life is that she happened to marry a man who was born on the 26th of September.” So opens John Wyndham’s 1957 novel THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS, an eerie SF/horror novel that I read last week for the first time in years (as prep for watching the film adaptation, Village of the Damned for my Alien Visitors book). I so much associate the story with my mother’s hardback, I was surprised to realize I had this paperback version and not Mum’s copy.

The narrator, Gayford (who explains that by virtue of talking to others about what they did, he’s able to incorporate scenes he wasn’t present for into the story) explains that he and his wife Janet were out of the small, extremely quiet, rather dull little village of Midwich to celebrate his birthday. As a result when something puts everyone in town to sleep and spreads a zone with the same effect for a one-mile radius around the community, the Gayfords miss it until they return. And unlike every woman of childbearing age in Midwich, Janet does not give birth to a golden-eyed baby nine months later. Every other woman does, regardless of whether they’ve had sex or not, married or not; Althea Zellaby, wife of an eccentric scientist/philosopher, is the exception because (I gather) she was already pregnant. In a nice touch, the village leaders (Zellaby, vicar, doctor) work to let all the women know what’s happened, as a group, so none of them has a chance to feel like a freak and nobody starts gossiping about the single ones.

In the best tradition of SF babies, the kids grow super-fast. And while they’re still infants, they demonstrate they can control others: women who left Midwich are forced to return, a mother who accidentally jabs her kid with a diaper pin has to jab herself with the pin repeatedly. As the kids grow older, the responses start to get more violent, which Gayford learns was there was a colony in the USSR and the Russians nuked it. Now the kids are determined to deal with threats as brutally as necessary.

Zellaby deduces that they’re cuckoos, planted in the human nest to eventually push us out. The British government is onto that too, but held off acting to see if they could exploit the alien kids. Now it’s going to be a lot tougher …

Part of what makes this work is that it’s so very low-key. It’s obvious the kids are Not Right (they’re two gestalts, one male, one female) but they aren’t attacking so the government and the village hold off. The response is muted bureaucratic and military observation and discussion rather than direct action (Zellaby at one point contrasts this mockingly with the typical 1950s alien invader film). This could easily produce a dull, talky story, but it’s quite gripping and creepy. A little less so in the last portion when it does get too talky. An argument about how England is simply too democratic and civilized to crush them as the Soviets did feels uncomfortably like the cliches of the Cold War where the USSR has the edge because they don’t respect life like we do.

While one woman does mention this is a creepy violation, Wyndham doesn’t do much with the rape overtones of this. In general, even though the women are the victims they’re acted upon rather than acting (in contrast to the female lead of I Married a Monster From Outer Space, though even there the men have to do the fighting). It’s the men who have Althea address the other women and convince them to stay calm; none of them is as horrified as I think they’d be in real life. Zellaby explains this for the author, saying that while he always deplored the idea of women’s natural role being stay-at-home mom, almost all the women he meets seem perfectly suited for the job. On top of which he adds that women simply can’t imagine the threat: in their simple, calm hearts they think the world just has to go on forever. It’s gratuitous sexism; why not just say the women were influenced by the babies even in utero?

Despite that, this is still an excellent book.

#SFWApro. Cover by Dean Ellis, all rights remain with current holder.

 

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It’s midweek, how’s it going?

Hopefully better than these dudes.Mine’s going well, but a little too busy to get a substantial blog post in, so …

#SFWApro. Art by Ross Andru, all rights to image belong with current holder.

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