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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Red Tornado

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

In 1968, the world seemed like it could shatter. Assassinations and protests, an increasingly unpopular war, conflicts between races and generations, and a general feeling of unease and ugliness permeated the year. I was eight years old. I was oblivious to much of what was happening, but even I could tell that things weren’t quite right in the world.

This was not necessarily reflected much, if at all, in the comic books I read.

Comic books were safe, stable. Even within the occasional soap opera mishigas of Marvel Comics, justice could be expected to triumph. This was even more true in the relatively staid and conservative world of DC Comics, the home of familiar, comforting do-gooders like SupermanBatman, and The Justice League of America. In the pages of a comic book, an eight-year-old could be in his heaven, and all could be right with the world. Even in 1968.

In comics, one symbol of stability was the annual two-part crossover of the JLAand their parallel Earth counterparts The Justice Society of America, the original super-team from the 1940s. The first issue of JLA I remember seeing was the second part of the 1966 JLA/JSA team-up, though it remained on the spinner rack unpurchased (I bought an issue of Batman instead). Just shy of a year later, my first issue of JLA was part one of the ’67 crossover, cover-featuring an adult Robin taking his older mentor Batman’s place in the Justice Society. I was hooked, and dutifully (and gleefully!) purchased part two the next month. A cumulative twenty-four cents well spent.

By the time the summer of ’67 became the summer of ’68, I’d somehow figured out that these team-ups were an annual occurrence, and I was right primed for the 1968 two-parter while on vacation in Missouri. Justice League Of America # 64 only featured the JSA, with only Hourman returning from the ’67 team-up. I sort of knew Starman and Black Canary from seeing house ads for their co-starring appearances in The Brave And The Bold, and I remembered Dr. Fate from the cover of that JLA/JSA comic book I didn’t buy in 1966. This may have been my introduction to The Flash of the JSA’s Earth (Earth-Two), but I immediately dug his costume, with its helmet inspired by the Roman god Mercury.

That left one more new character: The Red Tornado. Over the course of these annual JLA/JSA crossovers from 1963 though ’67, writer Gardner Fox had reintroduced all of the original JSA members except the Earth-Two Batman and Superman, both of whom had been reserve members of the team in the ’40s; Batman had been represented by the above-mentioned adult Robin in ’67, and the original Superman would finally reappear in 1969. The original Red Tornado–nicknamed  “The Red Tomato,” in reality a muscular housewife named Ma Hunkel, who donned costume to beat on neighborhood nogoodniks in Sheldon Mayer‘s comedy strip Scribbly–hadn’t ever been a member of the JSA, nor even a reserve member; she’d stumbled into a one-page cameo in the Justice Society’s first meeting in 1940’s All Star Comics # 3, and was never referenced in that context again.

Although Fox and editor Julie Schwartz weren’t averse to using goofball JSA member Johnny Thunder for comic relief, they plainly had no interest in reviving Ma Hunkel (whom Starman recalled as “all brawn and no brain” in the ’68 story). Like ol’ Ma Hunkel, this new Red Tornado barged into a JSA meeting uninvited, but that and the name were the only things our two Tornadoes had in common.

Unlike the tough street fighter Ma Hunkel, the 1968 model Red Tornado had super powers, basically the ability to create powerful whirlwinds of force. The new Tornado believed himself to be the original Red Tornado from the ’40s, but he wasn’t; he was an android, created by the evil T. O. Morrow to infiltrate and help destroy the Justice Society, all as part of Morrow’s scheme to kill his real arch-enemies, the Justice League. Morrow didn’t even bother to give The Red Tornado a face; there were no eyes, nose, mouth, ears, nor any features at all beneath the mask of The Red Tornado. Nonetheless, The Red Tornado refused to be Morrow’s pawn, and instead helped our heroes defeat the villain. The Red Tornado joined the JSA, and later migrated to Earth-One to join the JLA. He perished saving both Earths in the climax of my favorite JLA/JSA crossover, Justice League Of America # 100-102 in 1971. He was resurrected again within a few years.

The Red Tornado’s 1968 debut roughly coincided with Marvel Comics’ introduction of The Vision in the super-team book The Avengers. These two characters had notable similarities. Both were androids, created by sinister masterminds (Ultron in The Vision’s case) as weapons against the good guys, and both rebelled against their evil overloads and went on to join the teams they were supposed to snuff. Both, incidentally, were also Silver Age remake/remodels of lesser-known ’40s characters. Even visually, both had red faces and wore collared capes. Mere coincidence? Yeah, almost certainly. But remarkable coincidences just the same.

I liked the new ‘n’ (supposedly) improved Red Tornado at the time, but looking back, I’ve come to prefer original Red Tornado Ma Hunkel to her android counterpart. For one thing, those Scribbly And The Red Tornado strips that Sheldon Mayer did for All-American Comics in the ’40s were a hoot, energetic stuff just loaded with sheer personality, more interesting to me than the modern-day miasma of a square-peg android wishing he could fit in. Great, a superhero from the island of misfit toys. I first read a teasing sample of Mayer’s Red Tornado in the ’70s, in DC’s oversized reprint of the JSA’s first appearance. I later read a few months’ worth of Scribbly And The Red Tornado stories when they were reprinted in the hardcover book A Smithsonian Collection Of Comic-Book Comics. I would love to read the entire series. Writer Geoff Johns finally brought Ma Hunkel back in the pages of JSA around 2004.

(Although Ma Hunkel never appeared in any of the old JLA/JSA meetings, I would have definitely wanted to include her if I’d had an opportunity to write such a story. I picture a scene of a group of non-powered JLA and JSA members, huddled in hiding while surveying an enemy army, Batman urging caution as he comes up with a plan of attack, only to see ol’ Red Tomato break ranks and dive-bomb headfirst into battle. Green Arrow joins the fight, saying “I like this dame!,” and Wildcat replying, “Told ya so!”)

In 1968, the world was in a fragile state, a state of frightening change. There were even changes in the comics, changes too subtle for a clueless eight-year-old to discern. Justice League Of America # 63, the issue before “The Stormy Return Of The Red Tornado!,” had been the final issue of JLA penciled by Mike Sekowsky. Sekowsky had been the League’s regular penciler since the team’s debut in The Brave And The Bold in 1960, but he was now moving on to other projects (including Wonder Woman). His replacement Dick Dillin debuted with The Red Tornado’s debut, and remained at the job until his death in 1980.

The Red Tornado two-parter was the JLA finale for Gardner Fox. Fox had created the Justice Society in 1940, and the JLA in 1960, and he’d been the only writer the League ever had. Until he wasn’t anymore. In 1968, DC wanted fresh blood, younger blood, to help it compete with those pesky upstarts at Marvel Comics. Thank you for your service, Fox; you know the way out. The winds of change were approaching storm velocity. Batten down the hatches, heroes; it’s gonna be a rough one out there.

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Marvel Comics

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

This was originally posted as part of a longer piece. It’s separated here for convenience.
Make mine Marvel?

In early 1966, I was six years old, and a de facto DC Comics fan. I didn’t know about different comic book companies, but the Batman TV series made me a voracious superhero enthusiast. The superdoers I knew were pretty much all DC characters: Batman and RobinSupermanThe Metal Men, and Superboy. I think my comics reading at the time may have stretched to include the grizzled, battle-weary World War II soldier Sgt. Rock (in an incongruous meeting with The Viking Prince) and humor comics like Gold Key‘s The Flintstones and Harvey‘s Hot Stuff and Casper The Friendly Ghost. This would change and expand as the year wore on. And somewhere in there, I also discovered Marvel Comics.

Marvel was both a veteran and an upstart publisher in the early ’60s. It had been in the comics biz since the 1939 publication of Marvel Comics # 1, cover-featuring the debut of The Human Torch. The company had done well in the ’40s, with the Torch, The Sub-Mariner, and Captain America, but had slid to lower-tier status in the ’50s. In 1962, legend has it that Marvel’s boss Martin Goodman heard DC’s Jack Liebowitz boast during a golf game about how well DC was doing with superhero comics again, particularly with a new super-team book called Justice League of America. Desiring a piece of that super-success for his own marginal comics line, Goodman then directed his wife’s cousin, Stanley Lieber, to create a superhero team for Marvel.

Stanley Lieber had been working for Goodman for almost as long as Goodman had a comics line. Lieber wrote, Lieber edited, and Lieber probably swept the office on occasion. His first published story was a text piece, “Captain America Foils The Traitor’s Revenge,” in 1941. Lieber felt that comics work was demeaning, and didn’t want to sully his name by association with this seedy medium. Hoping to some day become a respected novelist, Lieber used a pseudonym for all of his comics work. To this day, though, no one has read nor even heard of novelist Stanley Lieber; but we all know Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee.

Lee basically ran Goodman’s comics line (variously called TimelyAtlas, and eventually Marvel) from the mid ’40s on. As superhero stories fell out of fashion, Lee churned out Westerns, romance, horror, teen humor–anything that might find a place on the fickle newsstand. The line shrunk. The staff shrunk. The assignments for freelancers all but disappeared. But Lee was still there. One presumes he wasn’t thrilled with the fact, but Lee was still there. And he was still there in ’62, when Goodman gave the command to concoct his own Justice League.

Is the story of the golf game that inspired the Marvel Age of Comics fact or fantasy? It may not matter. As we learned from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. Lee had his orders. And Lee even had a super power at his disposal: he had artist Jack Kirby. It’s no slight against Lee to suggest that Kirby may have been the single most important creator in the history of American comic books; Kirby’s talent and boundless imagination leaped off every page he ever crafted. Working with Joe Simon in the ’40s and ’50s, Kirby co-created Captain America, The Newsboy LegionStuntmanBoy’s RanchThe Boy CommandosThe Fly, the genre of romance comics, and that’s not even a thumbnail c.v. After Simon and Kirby split up, Kirby continued working and creating. His vibrant visual style added impressive zing to the generic monster stories Lee was slapping together for Marvel’s Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery. Together, Lee and Kirby would make magic. Together, Lee and Kirby would create the Marvel Universe.

Although it’s easy to get carried away with (deserved) praise of Kirby, it’s important to also celebrate how integral Stan Lee was in this partnership. We weren’t there, so we’ll never really know how much work Lee did, nor how much was pure Kirby, but one suspects this whole lightning-in-a-jar of the Marvel Age of Comics couldn’t have occurred without both of them working at the top of their game. Neither Lee nor Kirby could have done it alone, nor would it have been the same with, say, Stan Lee and Carmine Infantino, nor Jack Kirby and Gardner Fox. Marvel was the House of Ideas that Stan and Jack built.

And it started with The Fantastic Four, the superhero team Lee and Kirby created to answer Martin Goodman’s decree. Although much of The Fantastic Four‘s dynamic was immediately reminiscent of Kirby’s previous work on his creation The Challengers Of The Unknown at DC, Lee’s dialogue added a whole other level of seeming verisimilitude. Unlike the monster stories and other disposable strips Lee had been generating, Lee was engaged and energized by writing The Fantastic Four. The spark ignited. The book sold. Success! Success breeds a demand for more. Lee and Kirby accommodated.

The Incredible Hulk! The Mighty Thor! The Amazing Spider-Man, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (though Kirby claimed at least partial credit, and that’s another one we’ll never really know for sure)! The Invincible Iron Man (creation assigned to Lee, his brother Larry Lieber, Kirby, and underrated artist Don Heck)! The hits just kept on coming. Uniting Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, and Ant-Man and The Wasp finally gave Goodman his own Justice League, with the coming of The Mighty Avengers. Captain America was revived, both as an Avenger and as a companion strip to Iron Man in the split book Tales Of Suspense. More! MORE!
And yeah, I was oblivious to all of that.

As near as I can determine, my first Marvel was Tales To Astonish # 80, cover-dated June 1966. It was probably a book that one of my older siblings picked up. Like the above-mentioned Tales Of SuspenseTales To Astonish was a split book, shared by The Sub-Mariner and The Hulk. The book fascinated me in ways I had no way to articulate. It was…busier than the Superman and Batman stories I’d seen, denser, maybe grittier. Even as I write these words, I also recall the claustrophobic art style of DC’s Wayne Boring on Superman and Lois Lane (a 1965 Lois Lane 80-Page Giant is the earliest comic book I remember reading), so maybe I wasn’t really as unprepared for Marvel art as I thought. But man, this still seemed different.

The first story in this issue starred The Sub-Mariner in “To The Death!,” pitting Prince Namor against an undersea behemoth controlled by his arch-enemy, the evil Warlord KrangGrinnin’ Gene Colan‘s pencils (inked by Dazzlin’ Dick Ayers–Smilin’ Stan Lee had a flair with credits) were simultaneously smooth and dirty, and the image of just the behemoth’s grasping hands, clawing at the ocean’s floor as the creature sinks finally into a deadly quagmire, made a permanent impression on this six-year-old. The second story was no less striking, as The Hulk was kidnapped by his foe Tyrannus, who looked positive creepy as a dying old man depicted by Kirby and Bill Everett.

Well. was hooked.

As a kid in 1966, long before there were any such things as comics shops or the direct sale market, you could never be sure you weren’t going to miss the next issue of any given title. Adding to this frustration, Marvel stories were almost always Continued Next Issue!, not done-in-one like most DCs. But I did get Tales To Astonish # 81, and I found it equally gripping. I didn’t get another issue until spying # 84 on the spinner rack at a grocery store in Aurora, Missouri while on vacation that summer. The cover image of Namor wearing an open trench coat, running while discarding his disguise, grabbed me, reminding me of Clark Kent changing into Superman; Namor didn’t have a secret identity, but I wished he did. I could only buy one comic book that day; I had my choices narrowed down to this one, Batman # 184, and Justice League Of America # 47, and my mother told me to buy the Batman and be done with it. I picked up the Tales To Astonish within a week or so after that, at a small store in nearby Verona, Missouri. I didn’t get that issue of JLA until many years later.

So that was my gateway to Marvel Comics. That same summer in Missouri, my sister Denise and cousin Cheryl returned from a walk with a copy of The Avengers # 13, a comic book from early 1965, but any book you ain’t read yet is a new book. With that, Marvel fully joined DC in my comics cosmology. This new appreciation was immediately reinforced by the debut of The Marvel Super Heroes, a syndicated package of (barely) animated adventures starring Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, and The Hulk on a rotating basis. The cartoons aired daily in Syracuse on WHEN-TV Channel 5, as part of the kids’ show, Jet Set.

Marvel continued to enthrall me throughout the rest of the ’60s. I saw no reason for specific brand loyalty–I read and enjoyed DC, Marvel, Gold Key, Harvey, CharltonArchieMightyDell, even the short-lived King Comics line–but there was something particularly invigorating about Marvel, something irresistible in the carefully-crafted illusion of camaraderie created and nurtured by Smilin’ Stan Lee. In the ’70s, I began to identify myself more and more as a DC fan; the reasons why may be subject for a future blog someday. Nowadays, following a brief period where I was buying more Marvels than DCs, the pendulum has swung back to my familiar ratio of more DCs to Marvels.

But I still love Marvel, too. I love the characters, I love the history, I love the tapestry woven all those years ago by Stan and Jack, and Steve Ditko, and Larry Lieber, and Don Heck, and Bill Everett, and Dick Ayers, John BuscemaRoy ThomasJohn RomitaSterankoNeal Adams, and so many others. The House Of Ideas was a very, very, very fine house.

‘Nuff said.

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Tarzan

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

It all started with a scream.

Everyone knew the scream. It didn’t matter if you were young or old. The fierce jungle cry of Tarzan was a shared reference in our common pop culture, as was the familiar exchange of “Me Tarzan, you Jane.” Some knew the story with a greater measure of depth than that. But everyone knew the scream.

And, with that said, I confess I don’t know exactly where and how I first encountered this iconic Lord of the jungle. Well, except that I’m reasonably certain that my introduction to Tarzan came via my TV screen.

I was six years old when the weekly Tarzan series debuted on NBC in September of 1966. Contrary to the collective popular conception of Tarzan as a savage warrior with limited command of the English language, actor Ron Ely played the title hero as articulate and educated. He still had the scream, of course, but he spoke in complete sentences. Years later, I would discover that this well-spoken character was the (if you will) real Tarzan, the Tarzan featured in the original novels written by the character’s creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs. That “Me Tarzan” jazz mentioned above? That was just Hollywood messin’ with the concept. Eff the man, man.
But, as much as I want to say that Ron Ely and his two televised seasons of protecting the jungle served as my gateway into all things Tarzan…the math isn’t there. I was six years old, already a veteran viewer of TV heroes from Flash Gordon and Superman to The Cisco Kid and Batman. By the age of six, I knew about (or at least thought I knew about) Tarzan. Everyone knew Tarzan. The guy with the scream. Tarzan of the Apes.
It’s quite plausible that my early knowledge of Tarzan formed via pop culture osmosis. I may or may not have seen a Tarzan movie, but the character was such an integral part of Americana that, well, he was just there. Always. A specific introduction wasn’t strictly necessary. No one introduces you to running, or clouds, or snowfall, or the idea that girls can be cute. It’s a fait accompli. It is because it is, was, and ever shall be. Chicken. Egg. Tarzan. 
Anyway, knowing Tarzan wasn’t quite the same as being interested in Tarzan. Let’s presume I caught an episode of the TV show in there somewhere. Let’s further presume I’d had a glimpse of one or more of the older Tarzan movies in TV reruns. Neither of these presumptions is Gospel, but sometimes ya gotta grab that vine and take a swing of faith. I might have thumbed through one of Gold Key‘s Tarzan comic books at the doctor’s office. But even if I did see something of the new or old adventures of Tarzan, they didn’t inspire me to become a fan. Not yet.
The first Tarzan product I ever owned was a Big Little Book. I went through a Big Little Book phase in fourth grade, 1969-1970, and I snapped up as many of those little treasures as I could. The Big Little Books were licensed properties, tiny hardcover volumes featuring a page of text accompanied by a facing page of illustration. I accumulated BLBs starring Batman, The Fantastic FourTom and JerrySpace GhostAquamanDick TracyThe Lone RangerDonald DuckBugs BunnyFlipperThe FlintstonesMickey MouseFrankenstein Jr.…man, any of ’em I could get my hands on. I even grabbed some BLBs based on TV shows I didn’t really watch, like BonanzaThe Man From U.N.C.L.E., and The Invaders. And my haul included the lone ’60s Tarzan BLB, The Mark Of The Red Hyena.

I remember the cover. I know I owned it, and I know I read it. I have no other recollection of The Mark Of The Red Hyena.
But my interest in Tarzan was about to manifest. In 1972, the Burroughs estate terminated Gold Key’s license to publish Tarzan comics, and DC Comics eagerly picked up that license. At DC, writer-artist Joe Kubert began adapting the original novels, and the result was stunning and irresistible. It would be a little bit of an exaggeration to say I was hooked, but I was intrigued, and I read the book as often I could fit it within my comics-buyin’ budget.

Kubert’s work was my real gateway into Tarzan’s world. From there, I started watching the old movies on TV, both the ’30s and ’40s films starring Johnny Weissmuller as the less-loquacious hero and the ’50s and early ’60s action flicks starring Gordon Scott or Mike Henry. I soaked up reruns of the Ron Ely TV series when I could find it. I started reading some of the novels, and DC even published a 100-Page Super Spectacular reprinting a Tarzan newspaper strip storyline, with gorgeous art by Russ Manning.

I became dismissive of the Weissmuller movies, smugly insisting that the monosyllabic brute depicted in those pictures was a distortion of the character. Yet I enjoyed those anyway, especially Tarzan’s New York Adventure. Ron Ely was my favorite Tarzan, but I came to respect the Weissmuller films, too.

In this 21st century, Tarzan isn’t quite the ubiquitous figure in pop culture that he was in the ’60s and ’70s, when I was a mere lad and beardless youth. I’ve never seen the Disney animated take, and I’m sure the House Of Mouse’s Tarzan provides the key contemporary reference point for today’s kids, if they know Tarzan at all. When my daughter was in college, one of her fiction courses required her to read the first Tarzan novel, ERB’s Tarzan Of The Apes from 1912. That was, at least, a text book she didn’t have to buy, as I lent her my copy instead. She hated the book, of course, appalled by its casual, implicit racism and its imperialist POV. I’ll have to ask her if the Disney version is more to her liking.

And maybe I should check out Disney’s Tarzan, too. Does he still have the scream? Gotta have the scream, I say. Gotta have the scream.

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He THOUGHT He Was An Artist! (Memoirs From Back At The Drawing Board), Chapter 2: Hero

Dark and gritty, 1976. Eat your heart out, Frank Miller!

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be an artist almost as much as I wanted to be a writer. I kept writing, and I got better at it; I didn’t really stick with the art to the extent that would have been necessary, so those skills never improved. 

I think that Hero, my 1976 attempt at dark ‘n’ gritty superhero storytelling, slightly predates Agent 690: Man Of Action!, the over-the-top action hero comedy detailed in this spot last time. Both were done for Mr. DeAngelo’s art class when I was 16, in my junior year at North Syracuse Central High School. They may have even been related assignments, like, “Do something serious, then do something funny.” Maybe not. That specific memory is not gonna repair itself, so we’re stuck with guessing. Whatever path its origin tripped over, let’s have a look at my oh-so-dramatic, tortured superhero called…um, Hero.

Looking back, I am reasonably certain that no one working at Marvel or DC was worried about competition from me. Actually, this would have been around the time DC rejected a Batman script I had submitted, a tone-deaf story called “Nightmare Resurrection.” “Nightmare Resurrection” was an inept attempt to slap together–the word “craft” would be inappropriate here–a tense and mature take on The Batman, and the attempt failed miserably. It was self-conscious, it was violent, and it–what’s the word?–sucked. I am not being too hard on myself in this assessment. Seriously, I’m a big fan of me. I’ve done a lot of work that’s pretty good, and I’m not shy about putting that stuff out there. But “Nightmare Resurrection” wasn’t good, and DC was right to reject it.

Hero was perhaps similarly misguided, but I think it kinda works as a one-off art project. I don’t think I ever had any intent or interest in expanding it into a complete story; it was meant to be a conceptual snapshot, a snippet of a tale already in progress, no beginning, no end. I like it in that limited context.

That said, Hero was obviously created by someone whose talent did not match his vision. That’s okay; I was 16, and trying things out is how you improve. The writing is stiff and pretentious, but I think it shows promise. The artwork is even stiffer, clunkier, but I view it now without shame. Well, other than the clumsy application of Wite-Out. That’s a little embarrassing. 

And sure, the faults are glaring: no backgrounds, not even an attempt at creating a scene for the characters to frolic and fight within; the tacit admission that backgrounds and scenes were well beyond my ability to execute; no evidence of a working knowledge of anatomy; shaky use of panel structure, inhibiting the flow of visual storytelling; the sloppiness of a would-be artist lacking any discernible finesse. But the effort’s there, the experiments with lighting and shading, the attempt to vary perspective. It was all mine. I wish I’d thrown in some swipes to make it look better, but if I did this work in the classroom, I probably wouldn’t have gotten away with propping open a comic book so I could try to copy some Neal Adams figures, nor an anatomy book so I could try to get some plausible feel for how human beings should look in various poses and positions.

But again: it was mine. 

I was not a particularly good art student. Mr. DeAngelo didn’t discourage me, but I clearly lacked the motivation, dedication, and work ethic to hone whatever skill I may have had. Although I’ve never stopped drawing, I realized in high school that art could never be my primary creative endeavor. I could write, and I could improve as a writer. That possibility was potentially within my reach. I could never be great as an artist.

The package I submitted to DC also included art samples by my friend Mike DeAngelo, Mr. DeAngelo’s son, who was a far more accomplished art student than I ever was. Alas, those few pages weren’t sufficient to catch an editor’s interest, and they were rejected right along with the mistake I called “Nightmare Resurrection.” 

As noted in our previous chapter, Mike and I worked together on a few comic strips for the high school literary magazine The NorthCaster. I wrote, Mike drew. I think the depiction of The Shadow shown above was the only artwork I ever did for The NorthCaster. The Cafarelli-DeAngelo collaborations were all humor; I don’t think we ever tried to do any adventure or science-fiction for The NorthCaster. The closest we came was a one-page pirate story called “The Jolly Roger,” about a masked pirate who plundered other pirates, but it all built to a gag ending. It was also the impetus for Mike and I being kicked off the paper in ’75, when a dirty word made its clandestine way to the bottom of the published page. It was a stupid stunt, and I regretted it immediately. The editor wouldn’t even speak to me again after that, and I don’t blame her. Karmen, wherever you are, I am sorry. I was sorry then, and I still am. You were right to be pissed at me.

We were allowed to return to The NorthCaster the following year, chastened and humbled. We did a little more work together, but the new editor definitely preferred for me to concentrate on prose humor rather than comics. Mike graduated in ’76, and I did the same in ’77. We remained friends, though our paths eventually diverged, as paths tend to do. Those paths did merge a time or two in subsequent decades. That’s a story for another day. I have great fondness for the DeAngelo family, for Mr. and Mrs. DeAngelo, for Mike, for his sister Lissa (who became one of my closest friends after Mike graduated), and for their younger brother Mark, whom I barely knew, and who left this world at an ungodly young age. That’s a story I’m not qualified to tell. Its memory saddens me anyway. I caught up a bit with Lissa at Mr. DeAngelo’s wake in 2007, and Mike was one of the dedicated caregivers helping my Dad in hospice at the VA in 2012. Mike and I had a short conversation via Facebook just yesterday. The connection remains.

As years went by, as I wrote more and drew less, I continued to doodle, usually pictures of Batman. Go figure, and that still hasn’t changed. In the ’80s, I bought myself a sketch book. We’ll talk about that sketch book when He THOUGHT He Was An Artist! returns.

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This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.
The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:
Volume 1: downloadVolume 2: CD or downloadVolume 3: downloadVolume 4: CD or downloadWaterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download
Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 134 essays about 134 tracks, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).

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He THOUGHT He Was An Artist!


When I was a teenager, I wanted to be an artist almost as much as I wanted to be a writer. I kept writing, and I got better at it; I didn’t really stick with the art to the extent that would have been necessary, so those skills never improved. 

This is a piece I did for art class in 1976, when I was 16, a junior in high school. Honestly, although that date felt accurate, my unreliable memory didn’t think I took an art class during my junior year. But I did, and this was from that class: 

The character of Agent 690: Man Of Action! was created by my friend Michael DeAngelo, intended as a one-off gag depicting me as an ass-kickin’ adventurer. Mike was a senior, and a much more accomplished artist than I was. We collaborated on comic strips for our high school literary magazine The NorthCaster. Those collaborations were strictly writer-and-artist, with me cobbling together the words and situations and Mike providing the pretty or gritty pictures necessary to tell the story. I had hoped we could take that collaboration to a higher level, working for DC Comics as the next Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, but the good folks at DC did not share my enthusiasm, and our Batman submission drew nothing more than a polite rejection slip.

Mike’s father Richard DeAngelo was my 11th-grade art teacher, and possibly my 10th-grade art teacher, too. Mr. DeAngelo was NOT–big letters, in italics, and what the hell, let’s put it in bold NOT–the high school art teacher referenced in my reminiscence The Jack Mystery Story, the teacher who told my parents he had to break me. No, no, no. Mr. DeAngelo may not have been terribly impressed with my prowess as an art student, but he never really discouraged me; that was my freshman art teacher, who I guess figured it was his job to crush the uppity art-makin’ aspirations previously nurtured by my eighth grade art teacher John DiGesare. Mr. DeAngelo did throw me out of his house once–I spent quite a bit of time there, visiting Mike and later on his younger sister Lissa–but that’s another story. 

(There’s also a story–perhaps apocryphal–that Mr. DeAngelo, as an active member of the local arts community, invited John Lennon and Yoko Ono to his house when Yoko’s This Is Not Here exhibit was at the Everson Museum in 1971, and that they accepted his invitation. But I digress.)

Anyway. I don’t remember whether or not I asked Mike if I could use Agent 690 for my own one-off art project, but use him I did. The result was silly and inconsequential, but I was 16, and I look back upon it fondly.

When He THOUGHT He Was An Artist! returns: before Agent 690, I did another one-off comic strip for Mr. DeAngelo’s class, a dark ‘n’ gritty superhero tale called Hero. My apparent lack of shame means it will post here soon.

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You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 
This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.
The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:
Volume 1: downloadVolume 2: CD or downloadVolume 3: downloadVolume 4: CD or downloadWaterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download
Hey, Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 134 essays about 134 tracks, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).

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Superheroes On TV

Batman was not the first superhero I saw on TV. That honor belongs to the Man of Steel, the Metropolis Marvel, Kal-El, the one ‘n’ only Superman. Everyone knew Superman, and in the early ’60s, everyone had watched Superman on TV in reruns of The Adventures Of Superman, the venerable ’50s series starring George Reeves. Concurrent to this, all of the kids in my neighborhood also watched chapters of the old Flash Gordon movie serials, as well as Astro Boy cartoons, both of which were shown every afternoon on The Baron And His Buddies, the popular kids’ show hosted by Syracuse’s own local vampire, Baron Daemon. If you also include the Mighty Mouse and Popeye cartoons we all watched, like, everywhere, then it’s safe to say that all the kids in North Syracuse had plenty of exposure to televised superheroics well before the debut of the Batman TV series in January of 1966.

Nonetheless, it was the success of Batman that paved the way for more superheroes on TV. Prior to Batman, nearly all of the super adventures we saw were old–second-hand entertainment, already enjoyed previously by our elder siblings, or even an earlier generation. Superman was from the ’50s; Popeye from the ’30s through the ’50s; Flash Gordon from the ’30s. Astro Boy was roughly contemporary, but a syndicated import, not, y’know, fresh Amurrican entertainment. At the beginning of 1966, Batman was really the only superhero starring in brand-new televised exploits; he would have plenty of company by the end of that year.

(This new superhero fad had its first effect on advertising. I recall seeing superhero motifs in TV commercials for Bactine and Lucky Stripes chewing gum, and I loved ’em. The images of Stripeman and a flying, bat-caped Bactine container were as much a part of my TV experience in ’66 as The Monkees were.)

Almost all of the new superhero shows would be animated. In September, the new Saturday morning cartoon schedule on CBS included The New Adventures Of SupermanSpace GhostFrankenstein Jr. And The Impossibles, and even The Lone Ranger, starring another character we all knew (like Superman), but who couldn’t be called a superhero because he was, y’know, a cowboy. On weekday afternoons, we were treated to The Marvel Super Heroes, a series of serialized adventures starring a rotating roster of Captain AmericaThorIron ManSub-Mariner, and The Hulk. These were shown in Syracuse on a show called Jet Set, alongside a collection of whatever other cartoon goodies Channel 5 could get its hands on (including Sinbad Jr And His Magic Belt, in which our seafarin’ hero gained super strength via the wonder of his titular magic belt).

There were live action superheroes, too. Most notable of these was The Green Hornet with Van Williams and Bruce Lee, though there were also two comedy superhero shows, Captain Nice and Mr. Terrific. I was aware of Captain Nice, and even owned a Captain Nice comic book, but never managed to see an episode of the show. I did watch both The Green Hornet and Mr. Terrific, but not many people did; all three series were short-lived.

More animated superheroes followed: Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man on ABC, The Superman-Aquaman Hour Of Adventure on CBS (the latter including additional heroics from The FlashGreen LanternHawkmanThe AtomTeen Titans, and The Justice League of America), and a variety of other super-doers created for the small screen: Mightor! Super 6! Mighty Heroes! Birdman! The Galaxy Trio! Super-President! Surely, evil must tremble before this assembled might of right!

The cancellation of the prime-time Batman in 1968 signaled the ebb of the public’s interest in superheroes. Although Batman quickly returned in a new cartoon series in the fall of ’68, the costumed hero fad had run its course.

With the plethora of superhero movies and TV shows available now, it’s odd to look back and realize that it did once seem like a fad that had ended. In the early ’70s, Superman and Wonder Woman made (perhaps incongruous) guest appearances on a Saturday morning cartoon series based on the kids from The Brady Bunch; an ABC Saturday Superstar Movie called “Popeye Meets The Man Who Hated Laughter” teamed the super sailor-man with other characters from the King Features stable, including Flash Gordon, The Phantom, and Mandrake the Magician; and Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Batman and Robin united in a new cartoon series called Super Friends.

Me? I was 13 by the time Super Friends debuted in 1973, and it wasn’t at all what I was looking for in televised superhero entertainment. I wanted a gritty new Batman series–no, not “Batman,” “THE Batman!” I wanted something that would reflect the perceived (by me) maturity of the 1970s Batman comics stories by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams; in my mind, Medical Center star Chad Everett was born to play The Batman in a serious crime drama, with British actor Christopher Lee as the megalomaniacal Ra’s al GhulThat’s what I wanted, not kids’ stuff like Super Friends.


Alas, I never really liked any of the live action superhero TV fare of the ’70s. Well, at the time, I confess I did kinda like the atrocious Wonder Woman TV movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby, and the awful late night TV adaptation of the musical It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman. The original Captain Marvel had become one of my all-time favorite comics characters, but I couldn’t warm to his banal escapades in Shazam! Lynda Carter was a freakin’ knockout, but I found her Wonder Woman series to be too campy, and this young man had outgrown camp, see? IsisSpider-ManThe Incredible Hulk? None of these was ever quite what I had in mind.

It took decades before there would be a superhero TV series that would captivate me. I loved Smallville, the tale of the boy who would be Superman, from the moment of its debut in 2001. Nowadays, I have all the superhero TV entertainment I could ever want, from all those DC Comics shows on The CW to Marvel shows on Disney + and Netflix. From feast, to famine, to an endless bounty, all within my lifetime. Up, up, and away.

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Rock ‘N’ Roll On TV

Just as the 1966 debut of the Batman TV series wasn’t my introduction to superheroes on TV, neither was the debut of The Monkees later in ’66 my first televised rock ‘n’ roll experience. For that, we have to go back to at least February 9th, 1964; sure, I’d just turned four years old a little over three weeks before that, but trust me: that Sunday night, everyone saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Even before Smilin’ Ed introduced these four young men from Liverpool who called themselves The Beatles, I’m pretty sure I’d seen Chubby Checker twistin’ on TV when I was three, and I may (or may not) have seen The Four Seasons on some show, somewhere, singing “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”

Still, The Beatles’ TV debut was seismic. Every televised rock ‘n’ roll moment I saw after that, from The Monkees through Elvis Costello & the Attractions on Saturday Night Live, and all points in all directions, is filtered in my mind through a memory of John, Paul, George, and Ringo singing “All My Loving” for an American TV audience that felt its hair growing longer and its soul growing freer before that first song was through.

In between February ’64 and September ’66, my specific memories of rock on TV are limited and hazy, at best. Aside from one-off fictional combos like The Mosquitoes on Gilligan’s Island or the actual band The Standells on The Munsters (both of which I’m sure I saw in prime time, but really only remember from reruns in the ’70s), there was The Beatles Saturday morning cartoon series, and there was Dick Clark‘s rockin’ pop showcase Where The Action Is! on weekday afternoons. I know for a fact that I saw at least some episodes of Where The Action Is!, but while I remember watching it, I don’t remember what I saw and heard; I wouldn’t take note of the Where The Actions Is! house band–the fabulous Paul Revere & the Raiders–until rediscovering them in the ’70s. I must have seen American Bandstand, and Hullabaloo, and Shindig! in this time frame, but I can’t swear it’s so.

So The Monkees show was also seismic. The cultural impact of the show remains underrated, but The Monkees probably did more to bring long hair and the burgeoning youth movement into the American middle-class mainstream, into acceptance, than any other single source. Yeah, even more than The Beatles themselves. Throughout 1967 and into the time of the TV show’s cancellation in ’68, The Beatles were getting weird by middle American standards; they did drugs, LSD, and were no longer the cuddly moptops we’d seen running from screaming fans in A Hard Day’s Night (a 1964 movie which was televised on election night in 1968). But The Monkees? Couldn’t call ’em clean-cut exactly, but they weren’t perceived as a threat to the status quo: smilin’ and laughin’, too busy singing to put anybody down. Even with their long hair and their beads and peace signs, The Monkees seemed…normalThe Monkees was the most quietly, successfully subversive TV show on the air in 1967. And it got away with it.

The above is a mere tangent to today’s discussion. While Micky, Davy, Michael, and Peter were subtly moving the needle to the left, they were also an engaging rockin’ pop group, playing their great songs on TV, every week. You wanna talk about rock ‘n’ roll on TV? You’d better have a lot to say about The Monkees.

The only other rock-on-TV moment I can specifically recall from this ’66-’68 span is seeing The Jefferson Airplane sing “Somebody To Love” on American Bandstand.  When The Monkees faded to black in ’68, I didn’t really see much more rock ‘n’ roll on the telly for a while thereafter. I guess you could count the animated exploits of The Archies, whose agreeable bubblegum music was way better than anyone should have expected from a Saturday morning cartoon soundtrack, but Riverdale’s Phenomenal Pop Combo wasn’t quite the same as a flesh-and-blood combo, even an initially manufactured combo like The Monkees.

Things changed a bit in the ’70s. I was actively listening to AM Top 40 radio, and starting to see bands on TV. The bands had never gone away from the TV screen, of course; they were still making appearances on variety shows and talk shows, but I just didn’t see ’em. But I did see the TV special James Paul McCartney in 1973, I saw Wings‘ video for “Mary Had A Little Lamb” on The Flip Wilson Show, Smokey Robinson on The Sonny And Cher Comedy Hour, and the new late-night rock ‘n’ roll showcases Midnight SpecialABC In Concert, and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. Those three shows gave me opportunities to see artists ranging from The Rolling Stones to The Isley Brothers to The Bee Gees, and even ’60s acts like Herman’s Hermits.

Opportunities continued to broaden when I was in high school: The Bay City Rollers and The Patti Smith Group on The Mike Douglas ShowAlice Cooper on both The Smothers Brothers and The Snoop SistersThe Rubinoos and Fanny on American Bandstand. A British import called Supersonic offered me my first televised glimpse of my # 1 Pop Dream Suzi Quatro, as well as appearances by The HolliesThe Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, and that loathsome lizard Gary Glitter. NBC’s Saturday Night offered a Simon & Garfunkel reunion, and a one-off duo of Paul Simon and George Harrison, and–best of all!–THE KINKS!! Even more TV rock stars would appear during my college years: The RutlesTodd RundgrenDevoThe Sex PistolsBowieMichael NesmithKISSTom Petty & the HeartbreakersCheap TrickThe RecordsIggy PopThe Clash, yadda und yadda. In the early ’80s, my access to TV was limited, but there was Rick James and Fear on SNL, and The Ramones on, of all things, Sha Na Na. There was a video for Joey Wilson‘s sublime, elusive “If You Don’t Want My Love” on some long-forgotten video hits show. And then there was MTV, a rant for another day (if ever).

As home video became a thing, I acquired a lot of old rock ‘n’ roll favorites, to peruse again at my leisure. I have all of The Beatles’ appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. I have a Blu-ray set collecting the entire series of The Monkees. I have officially-licensed Hullabaloo DVDs, a bootleg DVD set of the complete Shindig!, and an assortment of other televised rock ‘n’ roll goodies, both legit and less so, from The Raspberries to The Dave Clark Five. And it’s all on YouTube anyway, for anyone to click and view at a moment’s notice.

While I miss the feeling of rock ‘n’ roll on TV as a unique and special event, I can’t deny that I dig the convenience of being able to see a Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich or (especially!) Suzi Quatro clip online whenever I wish. Expedience trumps nostalgia. But that desire was built on a bedrock of memories, fond recollections of sprawling before the tube to witness The Beatles sing “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” and all that came after that. Thanks, Mr. Sullivan. Set your antenna. Turn it up. Watch the music, and let it rock.

Carl Cafarelli

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The T-Shirts Of My Life

Don’t tell me that love hurts
I read the book, I saw the movie
Got the T-shirt
“T Shirt” by J. Imray (recorded by The Crickets)

Me in a Monkees T-shirt, my wife Brenda in normal adult clothes

I don’t wear plain Ts, of course; I favor some kind of design, usually a graphic from pop culture, whether it’s a rock group or a comic book character, whatever. I remember wearing a Batman T-shirt when I was six (circa the 1966 Batman TV series). I have no other recollection of what T-shirts (if any) I wore as a kid. (Though I should at least mention my Baron Daemon sweatshirt, proudly emblazoned with the black-and-white image of Syracuse’s favorite TV vampire, and stating, I’m a real cool ghoul.)

Even into high school, I don’t really remember what T-shirts I may have owned. The only one that specifically comes to mind is the Budweiser shirt I had when I was 15. I didn’t drink Budweiswer then, and I don’t drink it now, though the reason why has evolved; in 1975, I didn’t drink Budweiser because I didn’t drink beer, whereas nowadays I don’t drink Budweiser because I don’t regard it as a real beer. Gimme a Belgian, man.

Really, college was when I started getting more into identity-proclaiming T-shirts. I’m sure I wore a bunch of ’em freshman year, 1977-78, though I only remember my dorm T-shirt, my free local disco Club 2 On 2 T-shirt (which was definitely not identity-proclaiming, but it was free), and a White Rock T I won from Utica’s WOUR-FM. The White Rock shirt–which was connected to a ski movie scored by Rick Wakeman from Yes, not some stupid neo-Nazi thing–caused friction with my girlfriend’s roommate Rosanne; Ro also had a White Rock T-shirt, but hers went missing, and it was an uncommon enough item that I can’t blame her for being suspicious when she saw me wearing mine (especially given, as she put it, that I was hanging around her room so much). 

As college progressed, I started to get a few Ts more specifically reflective of my pop tastes. Christopher Reeve as SupermanKISSThe Sex PistolsThe Ramones. I recall a visit to a Syracuse University shop called Tops To Please, which at the time had an amazing selection of rock, punk, and new wave shirts, including a shirt emblazoned with the logo of my local heroes The Flashcubes. Alas, I was but a poor college student, and my budget didn’t allow me to purchase anything there. I never even got a Flashcubes T-shirt, at least not at the time. After the ‘Cubes broke up, and their T-shirts were no longer available, I went to a custom shirt place in Brockport, armed with a plain black T and my official membership button from when I joined The Flashcubes International Fan Club. I went to the shop’s counter, and told the clerk, “Make this shirt look like this button.” Yes, I’m guilty of commissioning the world’s first bootleg Flashcubes T-shirt. When the group reunited decades later and offered new shirts for sale, I made sure to buy one in penance for past sins.

For my 21st birthday in 1981, my girlfriend bought me a Monkees T-shirt. I loved that thing, and I wore it whenever I could. I wore it to a club show by a great British Invasion-influenced group called The Insiders. As the show went on, one of The Insiders told the crowd, “I hear there’s a guy here tonight in a Monkees T-shirt. Well, this is the song he came to hear,” and The Insiders played “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” I think they did “Last Train To Clarksville,” too.  Hey, hey…!

I remember once staring at a Yardbirds T-shirt for sale at Record Theatre in Rochester, wanting it, but reluctantly moving on because the store didn’t have one in my size. But the ’80s opened the floodgates for my fresh sea of Ts. Johnny Thunders! More Ramones! Batman! Um…Madonna. It was free. And, if memory serves, Ms. Ciccone wasn’t wearing a shirt herself in the image on the front, her strategically-placed arm securing the modicum of modesty necessary for one to wear the T-shirt in polite company.

’80s, ’90s, and into the 21st century. I had souvenir Ts from visits to Key West, Yosemite, Peel Pub in Montreal, and Malaga, several shirts depicting images of Batman and/or The Joker, shirts dressed with logos or likenesses of The Beach BoysThe Rolling StonesThe Wonders (from That Thing You Do!), The Cavern ClubGerber MusicThe BeatlesLannie FlowersThe Catholic GirlsCoca-ColaHarry PotterSyracuse University basketballSpider-Man…! Some I outgrew, some I replaced. I still wear ’em, from early, early spring to late, late fall.

My favorite T-shirt? The Kinks. People notice it pretty much every time I wear it, and I wear it often. Am I a dedicated follower of fashion? No, plainly not. I read the book, I saw the movie. Now just lemme have my T-shirts.

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You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Fans of pop music will want to check out Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, a new pop compilation benefiting SPARK! Syracuse, the home of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & CarlTIR’N’RR Allstars–Steve StoeckelBruce GordonJoel TinnelStacy CarsonEytan MirskyTeresa CowlesDan PavelichIrene Peña, Keith Klingensmith, and Rich Firestone–offer a fantastic new version of The Kinks’ classic “Waterloo Sunset.” That’s supplemented by eleven more tracks (plus a hidden bonus track), including previously-unreleased gems from The Click BeetlesEytan MirskyPop Co-OpIrene PeñaMichael Slawter (covering The Posies), and The Anderson Council (covering XTC), a new remix of “Infinite Soul” by The Grip Weeds, and familiar TIRnRR Fave Raves by Vegas With RandolphGretchen’s WheelThe Armoires, and Pacific Soul Ltd. Oh, and that mystery bonus track? It’s exquisite. You need this. You’re buying it from Futureman.

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COMIC BOOK RETROVIEW: Batman #180 (May 1966)

This inaugural entry of Comic Book Retroview was written some time in the ’80s as a spec submission to Comics Buyer’s Guide; it was intended to be the first in a series of reviews of back issue comics (an idea a CBG reader had suggested in the letter column), but editors Don and Maggie Thompson passed on the idea.  This is its first publication. All images copyright DC Comics Inc.

In 1966, Batman and Robin became household names.  The vehicle for this new-found fame was, of course, a twice-weekly televised showcase on the ABC network, a comedy/adventure program which would catapult the Caped Crusaders to national prominence and magazine sales in excess of one million copies that year.  Around the same time that the TV show was beginning to gain in popularity, Batman # 180 was published.

The issue’s cover set the mood.  Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson produced a cover that re-created the spirit of the blood and thunder pulps of yore:  pummeled by heavy rain, the hero struggles desperately with the gun-toting villain–the vision of death incarnate!–as his partner falls helplessly into an open grave.  It could have been a cover for Black Book Detective (starring the pulp hero The Black Bat) as well as for Batman.  The scene is completed by a tombstone marked, “R.I.P. Batman and Robin,” and by the ominous threat hissed by the villain:  “I’ll be the death of you yet, Batman and Robin!”

Inside, the story “Death Knocks Three Times” fulfilled the promise of the cover.  In twenty-four pages, uncredited author Robert Kanigher (with pencils by Bob Kane ghost Sheldon Moldoff, and inks by [I think] Joe Giella) spun a gripping, suspenseful yarn about a murderous thief called Death-Man, who was captured by the Dynamic Duo and brought to trial for the killing of an armed police guard.  Throughout his capture, trial, and subsequent death sentence, Death-Man remains confident and unconcerned:  “Do you really think you have the power to sentence me to death?  I–and I alone–possess the power over life and death!  I am beyond your feeble laws!  You can no more jail a shadow–or punish it–than m-m-m–“

And with that, Death-Man fell to the ground, and was pronounced dead on the spot.  This was on page seven.  Mere pages later, Death-Man would soon rise from the grave to rob again, boast again, and die again before Batman’s eyes.

Although a one-shot character, Death-Man was arguably the most memorable addition to Batman’s gallery of rogues since the 1940s.  Compared to the ineffectual clown that The Joker had become by this time, and to the costumed buffoons Batman would soon play with on the tube, the self-proclaimed master of death cut a striking figure.  Indeed, Death-Man’s arrogant taunts and mocking death(s) were enough to shake even the dread Batman to the point of nightmares.  In spite of an unconvincing explanation for Death-Man’s death-cheating–Eastern mysticism and self-discipline allowed him to enter a state of suspended animation–the villain’s cat-and-mouse games with Batman lent themselves to a fascinating storyline.  The climactic cemetery confrontation alluded to on the cover is wonderfully atmospheric, as Death-Man meets his final fate for real.

“Death Knocks Three Times” was the final flourish of the New Look Batman, begun in 1964 by editor Julius Schwartz to streamline and revitalize the character.  Soon after this issue was published, the camp silliness and “Holy Jet-stream!” expletives of the TV show began to show up in the comics as well, effectively destroying everything that Schwartz had worked for over the past two years.  However, the saga of Death-Man was more than just the last story of that period; it was also the finest, and worthy of standing alongside the later accomplishments of Neal Adams, Denny O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, et al.  Really, they just don’t write ’em like that anymore.

POSTSCRIPT:  Although the original version of Death-Man never again appeared in DC Comics continuity, the character was slightly revamped in the ’60s by  Japanese manga artist Jiro Kuwata, who called the villain “Lord Death Man;” Kuwata’s version is included in the 2008 book Batman:  The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga.  Subsequently, Lord Death-Man has appeared in DC Comics continuity, and has even been retrofitted into Batman ’66, the 21st-century comic-book version of the camp TV show.  Holy irony!

When I was 16, I wrote a script called “Nightmare Resurrection,” a sequel to “Death Knocks Three Times,” bringing Death-Man back from the dead one more time.  It was terrible.  I bow to Kanigher, Moldoff, Giella, and Schwartz.   

By Carl Cafarelli

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Lights! Camera! REACTION! My Life At The Movies

I’ve been trying to remember what could have been the first movies I ever saw. This was the early ’60s, long before there was any such thing as home video, so we’re talking about trips to the movie theater or drive-in. I suppose it’s possible I could have seen a movie on TV, but it’s not likely. My TV watching was exclusively devoted to cartoons, maybe some sitcoms, and kid’s shows like Shenanigans, our local institution Magic Toy Shop, and The Baron And His Buddies, the latter starring Mike Price as Syracuse’s own inimitable local TV vampire, Baron Daemon.

So , let’s say we’re looking around 1964, when I was four years old, or maybe even as early as three-year-old Carl in ’63. I remember occasional trips to The North Drive-In in nearby Cicero, piled into the car with family to see cartoons and a feature. There was a playground at the drive-in, right in front of the screen, for little ones like me to cavort ‘n’ frolic before the pictures started. I also remember wearing my pajamas in the car; the adults had a reasonable expectation that the kid would fall asleep long before the final credits rolled, so best be prepared to lift the li’l tyke outta the car and plop him in bed at evening’s end.

Although I remember all of the above, and I specifically remember seeing a Pixie And Dixie And Mr. Jinks cartoon at the drive-in, the earliest drive-in feature film I can specifically remember is The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night. But I am certain that was not my first movie.

I think I have the answer narrowed down to four likely choices, though there could have been another forgotten trip to the cinema that predates all of them. But I know I saw the 1963 Disney animated film The Sword In The Stone, and I know I saw Don Knotts in the 1964 live action/animation hybrid The Incredible Mr. Limpet. Simple chronology suggests The Sword In The Stone would have been first, but it’s also possible I saw that film on second run, so who knows?

And it’s for damned sure I saw the 1964 blockbuster Mary Poppins at the movies, maybe at the drive-in (predating A Hard Day’s Night). Everyone saw Mary Poppins in 1964!

The fourth, vaguely-remembered flick in this group has been difficult to identify. I recall being in a movie theater–possibly in downtown Syracuse–when I was quite young; I remember a talking snake; and I remember a woman on screen, laughing. That’s it. My only other recollection is of us leaving the theater as this woman laughed; I would guess that the scene on screen rattled precious little me, leading to a decision that it was time for us to go. Bye bye, snake. By bye, laughing lady.

A little internet sleuthing leads me to believe this film was probably 7 Faces Of Dr. Lao, a 1964 fantasy film directed by George Pal and starring Tony Randall. I’ve never seen the film in its entirety–nor at all since we presumably made our hasty retreat from the movie house in 1964–but while the description and YouTube clips of the movie don’t precisely match my hazy memory, they’re close enough for me to call it. The intrepid Tony Randall played the title role, and a talking snake, and a laughing, creepy Medusa, among other parts. Eerie ookiness achieved–7 Faces Of Dr. Lao was one of the first movies I ever saw.

(One other movie worth mentioning in this context is Cinderfella, a 1960 Jerry Lewis flick. I was born in 1960, so I’ll go out on a limb here and conclude that I probably don’t remember seeing Cinderfella on its first run. But maybe a second [or third] run, at the drive-in? That would make sense. Let’s call it a kookie quintet of feature films, all mixed together in a photo-finish tie for the coveted title of Carl’s First Movie.)

I’m not a movie buff. I’ve always liked movies, but I don’t go to see an awful lot of them, nor do I catch up with many films on home video or on demand. I’ve never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ve never The Godfather. I’ve never seen a Hitchcock film, other than seeing part of The Birds once on TV. I don’t say any of this for shock value, nor to be smug or iconoclastic or dismissive of the art of film. I’m not proud of the movies I’ve missed, but I’m also not specifically motivated to correct these omissions in my film-seein’ resume.

This sporadic series of Lights! Camera! REACTION! will look at some of the films I have seen, examine my history as a filmgoer, and just generally chat about my life at the movies. Grab some popcorn, and shhhh! The lights are dimming. I’m ready for my close-up.
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