Monday, June 27, 2016

Superman Vs. Another Muhammad

Last month, I wrote about alternate tribute comics that weren't just simple rehashes of Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali.  (I also found this perplexing single panel Ben Wicks cartoon that's possibly a reference to something.  Since I'm not well-versed in Sports trivia, around February 1980, I'm going to admit ignorance)

That was a watershed moment in 1978, but in 1981, there was a lesser-known Superman boxing match in the Newspaper comic pages.

These comic strips were not the same ones that concluded in 1966, and scripted by the legendary Bill Finger, but revamped to take advantage of the popularity of the Superman movies.  (One of these storylines was the staff of the Daily Planet going to the production of a Superman movie, which while sounding like incestuous self-promotion, was a pretty common staple of early Superman stories)

It actually started out under the title of The World's Greatest Superheroes, before shifting its focus to its number-one cash cow (at the time).

These comics were drawn by George Tuska and inked by Vince Colletta, with a rotating writing staff, including Paul Levitz.  But to simplify things, this arc was scripted by Gerry Conway.

Please excuse the poor quality of these strips - the source came from scans over thirty years ago, and most of the dailies are missing.  Even so, there should still be some understanding of what's going on with the bare bones of the plot, such as it is.  Steve Lombard and Lois Lane are looking at the possibility of corruption in the boxing world, and whether high-profile athletes are being pressured or bribed to take a dive.

So, in order to find out whether these allegations are found, do they investigate the staff circle if there's been any suspicious activity or uncharacteristic behavior changes?  Pfft, nah.  That's too boring.  No, they decide to go right into the boxing ring and go up against the boxing champ himself.  If they manage to knock him out, then that's all the proof they need.  If the champion knocks them out... well, they'll be battered and bruised, but they'll have verification the champion's not under the take.

This foolhardly plot seems too risky, short of throwing yourself out the window and hoping Superman will save you at the last possible minute, so Clark Kent (secretly Superman!, but don't tell anyone) decides to take matters under his own hands.

Here, we see the wild strongman in his natural habitat, undergoing his ritual for implementing his impenetrable disguise.  Step one - Super-compress his outfit into a ball, and firmly stuff the wad into his pants, where no one will notice a subtle bulge.

Step two - apply silly putty to his face so he'll be rendered indistinguishable from any other muscle-bound schlub flailing their beefy arms around.

Step three - get instantly recognized by Lois Lane.  Seriously, this is a woman who's dedicated her career on proving Superman is really Clark Kent.  For an investigative reporter who gets constantly waylaid by something as simple as a pair of glasses, something as flimsy as silly putty on the face shouldn't be that much of a deterrent.  Or maybe he didn't disguise his voice well enough.

The man Clark Kent is facing is none other than Mohammed Sphinx, a cross between Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks, the only man to take a title from Muhammad Ali in the ring.

Lois is obviously incapable of watching the bloody boxing match between the heavyweight championship of the world, and the strongest 98-pound weakling reporter that ever lived, but that doesn't stop her from sneaking a peek through her fingers.

Rather than engage in exchanging fisticuffs, Clark goes for the tactic of dodging his opponent's blows instead.

This tactic of wearing out your opponent while he whales upon you was what Ali used in his later years when he was no longer as light on his feet.  Even so, there was the impressive round against Michael Dokes where Ali dodged twenty-one blows with his back against the pole.

Eventually after six rounds, Lois is amazed that Clark hasn't fallen yet, and is managing to hold his own, all while having yet to throw a single punch.

And then, amazingly against all odds, Mohammed Sphinx who'd been doing so well up to this point, suddenly starts feeling unwell.

In the same way that boxing fans were upset over Ali's "upset" at winning his matches through dexterity rather than brute strength, so do the audience feel cheated at the champion fainting without once having a single leather-bound glove on his person.  These people came for blood, and if they don't get it, they'll darned well get it any way they can.

And of course, it turns out to be a previously unnoticed third party that's responsible for these high-vaulted matches from faltering at the height of their climaxes.
The boxing fan's bloodlust has reached such heights that the body of Clark Kent has been reduced to a puddle of sweat and his boxing gloves.  (No facial silly putty to be found)

Having recapped the Sunday pages for those who weren't fortunate to get a subscription, Superman makes his way to the roof... where he's instantly caught off guard.

And here's the mastermind behind the whole ordeal - a D-lister named The Fixer, whose modus operendi is limited to pointing weakening ray guys at olympic athletes.  Truly, a force to be reckoned with.

There's almost a whole week of redundant fighting missing here, but chances are you're not missing much.  After holding Superman at bay, The Fixer sets his sights on Steve Lombard and Lois Lane who've taken the stairs to the roof to see another unfair mismatch between a powerhouse and a nameless unknown.

Superman figures that if he can't get close to The Fixer, then he might as well deal with him from a distance.  And the best way to accomplish that is to bring the whole roof down around him.

"No one deserves a fate like that!"
"I might as well save him."
"...any moment now."
"Any minute now..."
(Peers over hole) "Let them have their way with him a little longer..."
(Examines his hand) "Hmm.  These nails are getting dirty."
"Alright, that's probably enough for now."

After undeservingly rescuing the Fixer and locking him safely away (or removing his bloodied body, which we never saw), the device he'd been using is examined at the Daily Planet, which is given hokey bad science to rationalize away any potential plot holes it'd been building up over the course of the story.

Of course.  Kryptonite!  Because if you want to weaken Superman, just use the nostalgic radioactive material of metals from his home planet.  With a cursory glance, The Fixer's only power source and appeal is melted and thrown away where it can't do any more harm.  I wonder what he'll do for an encore?

And the story ends off with Perry White playing a prank on Steve Lombard.  There's a few more strips along those lines, but I figure you probably wouldn't be that interested in seeing them.  They're not exactly memorable or clever.

So yeah, it's not as memorable or well-known as the Neal Adams comic, which explains why it quickly fell out of public memory.  The boxer is hardly acknowledged or followed-up, the villain behind the schemes is a complete no-namer, and the dialogue is clunky, repetitive and unconvincing.  I suppose you forgot that Lois dislocated her arm at the beginning of all this.  Don't worry - so did the writer.

It's also fairly typical in its treatment of Black people.  Having defeated the boxing champion, there's no need to go back and ask for a rematch, having exposed the rogue element that was exploiting these athletes in the first place.  Once the Black Man's gone down, all that matters is confirming the old ways are still tried and true.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Black Hole

Recently, there was the news that one of Japan's Black Hole Satellites just mysteriously reappeared with no explanation, spinning wildly and emitting strange undecipherable sounds.  In addition, it sounds remarkably close to the plot of Event Horizon, a space-horror movie that's ACTUALLY scary - a rarity in itself.

There were also claims that it sounded similar to another lesser-known Disney B-movie, that previously was only seen in bits and pieces elsewhere, either in another language or recoloured.

Back when my paper first started out printing Sunday comics in pamphlet form, their main export was various Superhero titles, such as Superman, Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, with Mary Worth and the occasional family-friendly fare tossed in for good measure.  Soon, the flux of serious art would get phased over for more cartoony flair, which appealed and disappointed various readers.  Even then, there were some diehards who complained that removing these serial stories was ruining the comics page.  Nevermind that the format - a narrower panel and page margin with the risk of art and text becoming intelligible due to image reduction and constant recaps every week or day - would grate on the nerves of even the most faithful fans.

The impetus to release the Sunday comics in this format was to take advantage of the strip Walt Disney's Treasury of Classic Tales, which would choose various movies for the Newspaper, ranging from 13-20 chapter divisions, depending on how much story they wanted to tell.  Only a handful were ever reprinted, and memory of these have been mostly lost.

At that time, they were adapting Disney's Black Hole, also known as their attempt to cash in on Star Wars.  Ironic then, that Disney would eventually purchase the Star Wars license years later with more favorable results.

Most Disney comic movie adaptions were limited to 13-20 pages.  The Black Hole weighed in at a whopping 26 pages.  More after the cut, if you dare...

Thursday, June 23, 2016

I've Got You Covered

A major update to the last time I came across a batch of old newspaper Sunday Comics - I've just recently come across another large collection of old strips that had just been made available.  This latest batch helps greatly in filling in a majority of years that I had large gaps in, particularly 1980 and 1981.  So far, I've only got a few missing dates here and there, but my collection of old Gazette Comics is mostly complete.  I can't do much about the comics I'm missing from the second half of 1987 to 2000, when the pamphlet format stopped, unless someone as fanatical as me saved those as well.  I was offered some Edmonton Comics for sale, but was reluctant to purchase those without being aware of those contents.  I didn't want duplicate strips, not to mention my interest wanes the further back I go beyond my birth date.

The earliest Sunday strip I wasn't aware of that was cancelled early on was Corky Trinidad's Zeus!, a retelling of ancient Greek Myths.  Since this is a subject that's less well-known compared to Anachronistic Cavemen and Medieval Tyrants, it didn't catch on.  That should be easily remedied with a quick purvey into George O'Connor's Olympians, a retelling of the Greek Gods that've captured the world's imagination, though little is known about their history.  It's currently up to the 8th book, Apollo, as retold by the 9 Muses, but for context on the above strip, you need to look no further than the 3rd book, Hera, Zeus wife who makes it her life's mission to personally punish all of her husband's out-of-wedlock children, the most memorable being Hercules, also known as Heracles.

The very next week, it was replaced by For Better or For Worse.  In a competition for familiar territory, the former stood no chance.

Going through these ancient comics was a memorable trip down memory lane, but would've been only relevant to someone who'd pored over their contents and discarded them to be forgotten later.  Only, the scant images that stayed with me for years had been tickling the back of my mind without gleaming any content of their meaning.

A word of advice - daily Newspaper comics are meant to be consumed on a daily basis.  Marathonning a singular comic is hard enough, but can be made worse with the lack of theme or storyline.  Going through multiple strips gives some variety, but after awhile, a certain kind of numbness starts to seep through.  Unless you'd been heavily acquainted with these comics in your youth, you'd be hard-pressed to make a compelling argument for why these comics were so valued in the first place.

In a way, I was likely the first reader to ever open these comics since their printing.  This was confirmed when I found a comic that had it's pages stuck together due to a printing error, and no attempt was made to dislodge them apart so the interior pages could be seen.  They'd been lounging in a collector's long box for years, and never seen the light of day in that time.

What particularly surprised me about these "Comic Books" was the sheer variety given for the children's drawings on the covers.  For the most part, many of them were devoted to the contents of the Comics Page.  The most popular strips, such as Peanuts, Wizard of Id, BC, Garfield, Beetle Bailey and others were a given.  Some drawings had some... interesting view of some of the comics present.

Iterations of Snoopy had some decidedly weird results, with him looking more human than usual.

There were even drawings of cartoon characters who weren't even in the comics, such as Ziggy, The Pink Panther, Mickey Mouse and Popeye.  Such was the power of their ubiquitous appeal.  But there were the rare covers that would have fan art of comics you wouldn't think of having illustrations in the first place.

The Gazette comics briefly ran The Lockhorns on its pages before they were phased out for The Better Half.

Even the extremely British strip Andy Capp got an appearance, with Flo taking charge front and center.

There were other Muppet covers, but I included this one solely because it resembled the poster for Gone With the Wind so much.  (Which would be an appropriate role for Kermit & Miss Piggy, come to think of it)

The most impressive was the only fanart for For Better or For Worse, back in its early unremarkable days when it was still finding its voice.

As you've no doubt noticed, a high proportion of these covers have their characters wanting nothing more to do than read the funnies.  Since their livelihood depends on their audience, this shouldn't be too surprising.

For me, the most interesting drawings were those that didn't focus on specific cartoon characters, but on random, sometimes abstract childish drawings, perfectly emblematic of their target audience.

Expect to see more contents of my finds in the next couple days... when I've got the time.