Comic Book Review: Essential Killraven Vol. 1

Comic Book Review:  Essential Killraven Vol. 1 by various

In the far future Earth of 2018, the Martian invaders rule.   Having learned their lesson from their last attempt, this time the Martians immunized themselves against Earth diseases, and neutralized the humans’ nuclear stockpiles before landing.  Scattered free humans scrabble for survival in the ruins of their civilization while their alien overlords make over the planet in their own image.

Essential Killraven Vol. 1

Many of Earth’s scientists were brought over to the Martian side, and became the Keepers.  Perhaps the greatest of these was Keeper Whitman, who had created a fine gladiator for the masters.  Jonathan Raven had been captured young (and his younger brother Joshua shipped elsewhere) and physically enhanced by Keeper Whitman into a superior combatant.   The young man gained the gladiator title Killraven for his skill.

Killraven yearned for freedom, and eventually managed to escape with a small group of allies.  Later, they raided the citadel of Keeper Whitman, and Killraven got his revenge on the corrupted scientist.  To Killraven’s surprise, Keeper Whitman thanked him for killing him and revealed that Whitman had enhanced Jonathan for the specific purpose of overthrowing the Martians.  But he did not reveal the full extent of his experiments.

Now Killraven and his Freemen have a glimpse of a goal–but where to go from here?

This interesting series took concepts from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds novel and ran in Marvel Comics’ Amazing Adventures from #18 in 1973 to #39 in 1976, with a graphic novel that concluded the main plotline published a bit later.   As a low-selling series that could be cancelled at any moment, the creators were free to experiment.  Writer Don McGregor and artist P. Craig Russell took full advantage of this, with some innovative storytelling, painterly art and also the first serious interracial kiss in American color comic books.

 

Early in the series, Killraven learns that his brother Joshua is still alive in what used to be Yellowstone Park, and the Freemen start making their way cross-country to there.  Unfortunately, there are no surviving maps, and our heroes get turned around while escaping from Chicago, winding up in Florida.

Thus the graphic novel involves the Martians moving Joshua, now known as Deathraven and somehow some years older than Jonathan, to Cape Canaveral as part of a trap for Killraven.

The series’ connection to the Marvel Universe is tenuous, consisting of one time-travel trip by Spider-Man (later explained as an alternate timeline) and a hallucinatory scenario that may simply have involved a comics fan’s memories.

The art and writing are excellent, particularly in the back half of the series, though the glimpses we see of pre-invasion future America are inconsistent and perhaps poorly thought out.  P. Craig Russell does some nifty monsters!

Also amusing is Killraven’s original outfit, which is one of the few male costumes of the period to match the stripperific costumes foisted on female characters.  (He quickly switches to a slightly less ludicrous outfit.)

Recommended to fans of Marvel’s less mainstream comics, and to fans of P. Craig Russell.  (The black and white reprint does muddy the graphic novel’s art a bit.)

And here’s a trailer for another War of the Worlds sequel:

Book Review: Green Kills

Book Review: Green Kills by Avi Domoshevizki

Disclaimer:  I received a download of this book through a Goodreads giveaway for the purpose of this review.  No other compensation was offered or requested.

Green Kills

Ronnie Saar knew venture capital was a cutthroat business when he agreed to become a partner in one of the top firms.  He just never expected that to be literal!  The Israeli businessman is put in charge of safely delivering a pharmaceutical startup through the final phases of its funding as their product undergoes drug trials.  His job becomes much harder when the president of the firm commits suicide (or does he?) and two patients dosed with the new drug die on surgical tables.

The company’s value to investors is plummeting, and Ronnie is getting pressure from all sides to make a quick sales deal.  His pride as a financial professional is on the line–and it’s distracting him from whatever is wrong with his fiancee Liah at a critical point in their relationship.  Ronnie should be able to trust his old friend Gadi, a security specialist, but Gadi’s been acting strangely too….

This is the first book in a planned series, and I believe the first published novel by this author.  Mr. Domoshevizki is according to his bio an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, and both the financial workings and details of drug trials ring true.  There’s a couple of footnotes to explain details.

There are,  however, a number of problems with the book that seem typical of first novels.

The first is that Ronnie is very much an exaggerated and more successful version of the author.  He’s already a multi-millionaire at the opening of the story, having gotten a golden parachute from the buyout of his own start-up company.  It’s not clear why he feels the need to join a venture capital firm; his stated reason would be a motive for keeping the job once it turned sour, but not for taking the job in the first place.

Much is made of Ronnie’s previous service in Israeli covert ops, but it comes to nothing.  More relevant is his flashback to making friends with Gabi, though Ronnie comes off a little too good to be true in his retelling, and I can’t tell if that’s supposed to be deliberate.

The dialogue is often clunky, and the author relies more on tell than show.  One grating moment has the narration tell us that the reason a character uses another character’s name when addressing him was to make the sentence sound more personal.

Speaking of names, the narration stubbornly refuses to give a major character one, resulting in clumsy workarounds.  And eventually we learn there was never a reason the name had to be hidden from the reader to begin with.

Liah’s subplot feels contrived and inserted to amp up the drama rather than organic to the story, resolving mainly off-stage.  (Content warning: discussion of abuse.)

There are also perhaps too many red herrings–Ronnie’s partners at the venture capital firm are acting shady from day one, well before any of the action starts.  And there’s an encounter with a sinister-seeming fellow whose name raises Ronnie’s suspicions, but then vanishes from the story altogether.

All that said, there’s the germ of a good book here.  The overall plot is nicely complex, several scenes are genuinely suspenseful, and Gadi is the best of the characters, competent and roguish.  A competent editor could have improved this book immensely.

If the author steps up his dialogue game and tightens his prose, his next potboiler could be much better.

Book Review: The Inkblots

Book Review: The Inkblots by Damion Searls

“What do you see?”

Hermann Rorschach (1884-1922) was a German-speaking Swiss psychiatrist who developed an interesting experiment involving inkblots.  The son of an artist and himself artistically trained, Rorschach was fascinated by visual perception and hoped to use the things people saw when they looked at his inkblots to help understand their minds.  The experiment was surprisingly successful, and the strapped-for-cash doctor barely managed to scrape together enough money to do a first printing of Psychodiagnostics  and the associated illustrated cards.

The Inkblots

Rorschach died short years after the publication of his book, and before he could see the test gain acceptance outside his native Switzerland.  Without its creator to correct any flaws or incorporate new insights, the Rorschach Test became a force to reckon with in international psychology.

This is, according to the introduction, the first full-length biography of Hermann Rorschach, but it’s also a history of his famous creation–which doubles the length of the book.

We learn of Rorschach’s childhood happiness and sorrows, his education in Zurich, his fascination with Russian culture (Hermann married a Russian woman who’d come to Switzerland to become a medical doctor), and his important but poorly paid institutional work.

The inkblots themselves are reminiscent of a children’s game, blotting paper and trying to interpret the shapes.  And some similar psychological experiments had been  tried before.  But Rorschach was the first to craft specific blots, neither too abstract nor too obviously one thing, and to systematize the interpretation of what the examinee saw.

Because the inkblot test interpretation contained both crunchy numbers and fanciful imagery, it could be used in a number of ways.  It was adaptable across language and cultural barriers, unlike many written tests.  So the Rorschach Test grew in popularity and influence, not just in the realm of medical science but in pop culture.  Its imagery resonated in 1940s film noir and 1980s comic books.

But one of the flaws of the test, as Hermann Rorschach noted, was that he’d found something that seemed to work, but not laid a solid theoretical foundation under it that explained how and why it worked.  So the test became itself “a Rorschach test”, with different people reading into it according to their own psychological theorems.  This caused schisms among those who used the test in different ways, and eventually gave rise to a movement that believed Rorschach Tests didn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know.

The author of this biography thinks the inkblot test is still of importance, and still of use.

There are black and white illustrations throughout, and two sections of “colored plates.”  An appendix directly reprints Olga Rorschach’s speech on her husband’s character.   There are extensive end notes and an index.

The subject is fascinating and the writing is interesting, though sometimes veering into deep psychology jargon.  There is discussion of famous cases and people involved with the inkblot test, including Adolf Eichmann!

On a side note, Hermann Rorschach was quite a good-looking fellow, and one of the few psychiatrists who could be played by a Hollywood star without suspending disbelief.

Highly recommended to those with an interest in the history of psychology.

Disclaimer:  I received this book from Blogging for Books to facilitate this review.  There was no other compensation requested or offered.  Sadly, the BfB site is closing down, so this will be my last review from that source.

And now, how about a scene from Dark Mirror with a Rorschach-like test?

Book Review: How I Resist

Book Review: How I Resist edited by Tim Federle & Maureen Johnson

Disclaimer:  I received this advance uncorrected proof through a Goodreads giveaway for the purpose of writing this review.  No other compensation was offered or requested.  As an uncorrected proof, there will be significant changes between this and the final product.

How I Resist

As I write these words, yet another school shooting has sparked an upsurge in student activism.  Thus the appearance in my mailbox of this collection of essays and interviews on activism and hope aimed at the young adult market was timely.  The selection of authors and artists includes such popular figures as Jodi Picoult and Javier Muñoz, plus a wide variety of folks I have never heard of but younger Americans may be more conversant with.

The first essay in the book is “Could We Please Give the Police Departments to the Grandmothers?” by Junauda Petrus which waxes lyrical about solving crime problems with stern looks and good food.  Very Afrofuturism.  Last is Karuna Riazi with “Refilling the Well”, which is about her emotional self-care while trying to change the world for the better.

One of the hazards of reading such an early proof of the book is that none of the interior illustrations are present, including the ones that are a contributor’s entire entry.  Also, there’s a comics trivia error in Maya Rupert’s essay about imagining a black Wonder Woman that I can’t tell if it’s the author’s or a typesetter glitch.  (Have I mentioned that I’m an annoying nerd about comics trivia?)

I do, however, like the cover with all the author bio pictures.  It does a good job of giving faces to the people writing and drawing these pieces.

This is a collection curated through a strong political lens for a particular type of young person.  If you are the sort of young adult who thinks the right person won in 2016 (Hillary’s loss hit several of the contributors hard); that America’s problems are caused by uppity women, dark-skinned people and “weirdos” being allowed to have a say; and that protests are only acceptable when you don’t have to see them, hear about them or be influenced by them in any way…this book will not go well with you.

Most of the contributions are interesting or thought-provoking–I’m a bit disappointed by Rosie O’Donnell going with a glorified tweet.  The editors have an introduction, mid-word and afterword, which is a bit much, and they come off as trying too hard to be “woke” and “down with the young people.”

There’s a list of suggested reading in the back, ranging from 1984 to We Should All Be Feminists.

Consider this one as a gift for a teenager or college student who’s into political or social activism.  Older readers might want to pick it up if you are a fan of one of the contributors.

Book Review: Herb Kent West Point Cadet

Book Review: Herb Kent West Point Cadet by Graham M. Dean

The United States Military Academy in West Point, New York was established in 1802 as a training ground for United States military (primarily Army) officers.   It’s known for its high academic standards, strong Code of Honor, oh, and its students’ athletic achievements.

Herb Kent West Point Cadet

The last is the primary focus of this novel, written in 1936 when West Point’s football team was particularly well known as a powerhouse.  Herb Kent is a young fullback who’s the star of his hometown high school team, but also good at academics, and a stand-up fellow.  His father was a football star at West Point, but never served in the military due to the sudden onset of an eyesight problem.  His real estate business is suffering in the Great Depression, and Herb’s three dollars a week from a part time job is keeping the family out of the poorhouse.  There’s no chance of Herb going to college–unless he can win an appointment to West Point!

The first third of the book is the lead up to and detailed play by play of Herb’s final high school game, hometown Marion against rival Milford (evidently in their state in the 1930s there’s no playoff season.)  This serves to introduce Herb, his best/only friend quarterback Ted Crosby, and jealous rival fullback Steve Moon.

Steve is the sort of villain who often appears in boys’ fiction of the early Twentieth Century, the “small town rich” kid who has more money than sense, and resents the hero for having success based on talent and hard work.  Steve has good technical football skills, but no sense of teamwork or sportsmanship, which has resulted in him riding the bench most of the season.  He tries various dirty tricks to get Herb out of the big game so that he can be the star.  (And later in the story escalates to attempted vehicular homicide!)

After the big game, Herb, Ted and Steve prepare for the USMA entrance examination (even if you’re great at football, you still have to qualify.)  Herb and Ted win highest marks and are recommended by their state’s senators, while Steve barely passes but his wealthy father uses leverage on a House rep to get Steve a slot.

A friend of the family gets Herb and his buddy summer jobs as camp counselors in northern Minnesota, where they save some campers from a forest fire.  And it turns out one of the camp’s leaders is a famous football coach who gives our heroes pointers.

Finally, Herb arrives at West Point, where he and Ted are immediately tagged for their company’s football team (plebes don’t go on the college’s varsity team no matter how good their high school record was.)   You’d think that the grinding schedule of the plebes wouldn’t allow for any serious shenanigans, but Steve Moon just will. not. let. it. go.

After leading his team to victory over the other plebe football squads, Herb is ready for a big celebration.  But look, the neighboring barracks are on fire!  Herb goes in and saves Steve (who may or may not be responsible for the blaze) but Steve isn’t exactly grateful.

Despite the age of the main characters, this is very much a children’s book aimed at boys maybe ten to twelve.  Situations are black and white, with no subtlety, everyone cares  far more about football than any other subject, and the only female character even mentioned is Herb’s mother.  She cooks well and worries about her son getting military training.  (Perhaps she should be more worried that his father’s eye condition (never explained) is hereditary.)

Herb is a star athlete, intelligent, morally pure, and oh yes handsome.  This last we learn in a lovingly described shower scene he shares with Ted, who also gets his lean but muscular body mentioned.   You know, for kids.  Anyhow, the one flaw Herb has is that he is far too reliant on handling things on his own.  For example, he deals with Steve’s attempt to run him over by challenging the other boy to an impromptu boxing match.  Herb is warned by adults that this approach could backfire, but it never does.

The football scenes are well-written and exciting, while all other activities tend to be sketchily described (as, for example, what classes one takes at West Point.)

While this was clearly meant to be the first in a series of Herb Kent books (the title of the next one is on the last page) no sequel seems to have been published.  Given the timing, Herb would probably have made First Lieutenant just in time for World War Two.

The archaic attitudes may make this book less appealing for modern boys, but I’d still recommend it to football fanatics.

And now, let’s enjoy a football game from the year of publication, as Army battles its age-old rival Navy:

 

Book Review: The World Grabbers

Book Review: The World Grabbers by Paul W. Fairman

Dane Morrow feels like a failure.  He used to be a bright young man, enthusiastic about becoming a writer, and seeing a lovely young woman.  But his stories didn’t sell, and his book vanished into the publisher’s slush pile without trace.  Plus, Dane began to feel there was something missing from his life.  He tried studying Eastern philosophy, but nothing clicked and he lost interest in keeping jobs.  Now, he’s been dumped, and is down to not quite enough money to pay the week’s rent at the downmarket rooming house he’s been reduced to living in.

The World Grabbers

That’s when Dane sees an advertisement for a lecture by a swami called Sri Ahandi.  Supposedly, this man has some information about human potential that allows his disciples to become successful.  Dane is skeptical but somehow intrigued; as he has nothing better to do, he goes to the lecture.

Sri Ahandi (nee Robert Jones) at first seems to be peddling the sort of “power of positive thinking,” “law of attraction,” “prosperity gospel” hokum that many gurus pass off as wisdom.  But as Dane becomes acquainted with the people in Sri Ahandi’s circle, and strange coincidences begin piling up, it becomes apparent that this teacher has something more than empty words up his sleeve.  Especially as the mysterious man who calls himself William White is insistent that Dane should sever his association from Sri Ahandi immediately for his own good.

This book is marketed as having been inspired by One Step Beyond, a television program that ran from 1959-1961 with tales of the supernatural and psychic powers that were allegedly based on real events.  However, this particular story is just plain fiction.

I shared Dane’s frustration as the people he talks to continually evade straight answers and explanations, though none of them precisely lies.  (There are characters who heavily slant their perceptions of what they’re doing to put themselves in the right.)  Still, there’s enough information that Dane should have figured out that Sri Ahandi was bad news well before he sees it for himself.

It seems that Robert Jones was a faith healer who was nearly lynched for attempting to save a girl’s life.  Embittered, he came to be trained by the Enlightened Ones (they don’t use that name themselves) in certain advanced mental techniques.  He cut his training short to come back to America and become a guru.  Sri Ahandi has gathered a group of people ruled by greed to give them the ability to gain money hand over fist as the first part of his plan to gain world domination.  He seems to think he will rule benevolently, but eggs, omelets.

To his credit, once Dane realizes the collateral damage Sri Ahandi is causing people, he tries to fight the guru.  Alas, he has no such mental powers, and the Enlightened Ones are pacifists who will not interfere beyond words to the wise.   Will Dane’s courage and refusal to cross a moral line save the day?

There’s an attempt to have a love triangle between  Dale, his ex-girlfriend Marcia, and Sri Ahandi’s top disciple, the unprincipled Veda.  This aspect of the story is rather wooden, and in the end matters little at all.  Dale’s relationship with the annoyingly vague William White is much more interesting.

Perhaps the best bit of the book is one of the minor characters describing Sri Ahandi’s methods as applying Western efficiency to Eastern training so that one doesn’t have to spend decades in a drafty mountain cave somewhere to become a more effective person.  Which sounds great until you see the burnout rate.

The book is very much a product of the early 1960s, and I don’t believe has ever been reprinted.  You might be able to find a copy in used bookstores or garage sales.  More of a curiosity item than a must-have.

Speaking of One Step Beyond, here’s the opening:

Comic Book Review: The Building

Comic Book Review: The Building by Will Eisner

This is a ghost story.   In New York City, a brand new building has risen where another one stood for eighty years.  But not all remnants of the old building’s history are gone.  Today, four people from the past appear, their tales entwined with this site.

The Building

Will Eisner (1917-2005) was one of the first creators to produce original material for comic books, which had started out as reprint magazines for newspaper comic strips.  His best known creation was The Spirit, who ran from 1940 to 1952.  The strip was known for its innovative layouts and strong writing (even if done by “ghosts” during most of World War Two.)

He kept busy with various projects, including training manuals for the military, and a monthly preventive maintenance magazine with comic book elements.  In the late 1970s, he returned to fiction with A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories, which popularized the term “graphic novel” for long-form comics storytelling in a single volume.  Mr. Eisner’s work in this line continued, and was so influential that a major comic book award was named after him.

In this story, we learn about the four ghosts.  Monroe Mensh was a shoe salesman who minded his own business until the day a child was gunned down in front of him.  Anguished by the thought that he could have done something to prevent this tragedy, Monroe dedicated his life to charity, trying to save children without a great deal of success.

Gilda Green, a pretty dental assistant, loved penniless poet Benny, but married her successful employer for economic stability.  She couldn’t commit fully to either relationship, which resulted in heartbreak for everyone.

Antonio Tonatti loved to play the violin, but he wasn’t quite good enough to make a living at it.  So he got a decent-paying construction job and only played for special occasions.  That is, until an accident left him disabled.  His pension being good enough to keep him housed and fed, Antonio returned to his first love, and became a street musician near the building.

P.J. Hammond was the son of a real estate magnate, who followed his father into the business.  At first, he had some idealistic notions about the social responsibilities of landlords, but exposure to what it really took to get ahead in the business hardened his heart.  As part of a huge development deal he put together, P.J. was adamant on repurchasing the first building his father had owned.

But the new owners refused to sell, and P.J. became obsessed.  He finally resorted to the most underhanded methods that were still marginally legal that he could think of–but it was a Pyrrhic victory that eventually bankrupted him.  P.J. was finally forced to sell out this last remaining building, which was razed, and the Hammond Building put in its place.

Today, these four ghosts appear, and each in their way intervenes in events.   The new building is now free to collect its own stories, and its own ghosts.

This is great stuff, pictures and words working together to tell a story that would not work without either.   The long-story format allows for many single-panel pages focused on the tall buildings that are the setting, but also multiple-panel pages showing changes over time.

We get to know the characters, their flaws and failings as well as their good intentions.  There is much sadness here, but also hope.

Highly recommended as an example of what the comics medium can be used for, and an excellent story.

Comic Book Review: The Superman Chronicles Volume One

Comic Book Review: The Superman Chronicles Volume One by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster

While there were several precursors to Superman, he’s generally agreed to be the first full-fledged comic book superhero.  Superhuman abilities, a distinctive costume, and a dual identity, he had them all.   When Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938, the readers had not seen anything quite like him before, and the comic book flew off the shelves.

The Superman Chronicles Volume One

However, the fellow who appeared in those early issues wasn’t quite the Superman we’ve come to know after all these years.  The “Chronicles” series of reprints gives us full-color reproductions of the stories in order of publication, starting with the very first, plus the covers of the issues.

Action Comics #1 starts us off right with the classic scene of Superman smashing a car into a rock, which turns out to actually happen in the story.   The feature begins with an abbreviated version of Superman’s origin.  The dying planet that sent a single rocketship to Earth (not yet named Krypton), a passing motorist (not yet identified as the Kents) who takes the infant to an orphanage, his growing powers (strength, speed, leaping, nigh-invulnerability) and his determination to use his powers to help those in need.  Clark Kent’s powers are explained by his physical structure being far more advanced than Earth humans, giving him the proportionate abilities of an ant or grasshopper.

The story itself starts in media res, as Superman carries a murderer to the governor’s mansion.  Leaving her tied up nearby, the Man of Steel forces himself past the governor’s servant, and through a metal door to that worthy’s bedroom.  He produces proof that the woman about to be executed is innocent, and stays right there until the governor pardons her.

The next day, Clark Kent is pleased to see that the Daily Star did not print anything about Superman’s involvement.  But the rumor of a superhuman fellow in a bright costume has already come to notice, and the Star’s city editor puts his rookie reporter Kent on the job of discovering the truth.

Kent learns of a wife-beating in progress, but it’s Superman who appears at the scene and roughs up the abusive husband.  The cad faints, and it’s Clark who greets the police.

Next, it’s time to establish the “mild-mannered” part of Clark Kent’s persona.  Clark convinces fellow reporter Lois Lane to go dancing with him, but she’s showing a distinct lack of enthusiasm.  When Clark backs down far too easily to a hood named Butch who cuts in, Lois is disgusted at his cowardice and leaves the dance hall.

Butch is angered by Lois’ refusal to dance with him, and sets out to abduct her with a few of his criminal friends to teach Lois a lesson.  Naturally, Superman shows up and the cover scene ensues.  The Man of Tomorrow carries Lois home and advises her not to tell anyone.  Sure enough, the next day, no one will believe her wild story.  It will take her a couple of issues to fully process her reaction to Superman.

The Star’s editor has a new assignment for Clark Kent.  South American republic San Monte is having a civil war, and since the home front is getting so dull card games are front-page news (I am now imagining a 1930s version of Yu-Gi-Oh), Kent should go down there and file some war reports.  Oh, pictures would be good too.

Rather than head directly south, Kent first travels to Washington, D.C.  He spots a Senator Barrows being furtively contacted by lobbyist Alex Greer, who’s known to be connected to “dark money” but no one knows whose.  Eavesdropping on their next meeting, Superman learns that the bill Senator Barrows is pushing is designed to entangle America in European affairs.   (We never come back to this plot point.)

Afterward, Superman approaches Greer to find out who his backer is.  Naturally the lobbyist declines to state this information, so Superman picks the man up and starts leaping all over town with him.  He even finds time to impart a science fact about birds and power lines!   His last leap doesn’t quite make it to the next building, and the men begin to fall….

All that in thirteen pages!

Action Comics #2 does not have Superman on the cover; he would not make it back until #7, and thereafter would usually be mentioned in a text box even if the cover was of someone else.

The story picks up where #1 left off, with Superman and Greer landing on the sidewalk.  They survive, the sidewalk doesn’t.   Greer spills the beans on his boss, international arms dealer Emil Norvell.  Superman then uses his considerable persuasive powers to make sure that Norvell travels to San Monte and enlists in their army.

Lois is assigned to go along with Clark Kent to South America.  Lots of things happen, including Norvell learning what it’s like to be on the pointy edge of his munitions, Lois nearly being shot as a spy, Superman just straight up killing a torturer (oh sure, we don’t see him land, but being tossed several miles away?  He’s not going to have a soft landing) and the Man of Steel finding a creative way to stop the war.

The story is followed by an advertisement for the daily Superman comic strip, soon to come out.

#3 has Superman get a neglectful mine owner to improve safety conditions for workers.  (Some ethnic slurs by baddies.)    There’s also an announcement of the first Superman fan club, the Supermen of America.

#4 is Superman kidnapping a college football player for several days to impersonate him in order to prevent a game from being fixed.  As a side effect, it also improves Tommy’s love life.

#5 has Lois Lane get enraged by the editor’s sexism (“no job for a girl”) and trick Clark Kent into pursuing a fake story while she goes off to cover a bursting dam.  Superman saves Lois a couple of times and she admits her feelings for him while still despising Clark.

#6 is the first Superman impersonator story.  A crook dresses his henchman up in a Superman suit and has him do faked stunts of superstrength so that the crook can claim he’s got a legal license to sell Superman merchandise.  Lois easily sees through the fake, but still needs rescuing.  Also has the first Superman-themed song.

#7 has Superman join a failing circus to give it an attendance boost, and reveal the criminals that are trying to take it over.  This is a good spot to mention that Superman’s distinctive costume was partially based on a circus strongman outfit, including trunks worn over tights to keep certain body bulges smoothed out.  This story also introduces Curly, the first of what would be a recurring type of bully who also works at the paper and pranks Clark Kent.  By the end of the story, Clark finds a way to get some payback.

#8 is another classic moment for Superman as a social justice warrior.  He decides to tackle the problem of juvenile delinquency in slum kids–by tearing down the entire slum, thus forcing the government to build them new housing ala FEMA!

Of course, actions have consequences, and in #9, the police bring in Chicago cop Detective Captain Reilly, known as “100% Reilly” for always getting his man.  Reilly’s plan hits a significant snag when he attempts to chisel an informant out of the substantial reward money promised.   Clark Kent is barely able to escape detection, but at the end, the visitor is known as “99% Reilly.”

#10 is another social justice story–Superman goes undercover as a prisoner to expose inhuman conditions imposed by a crooked warden.  (Warning: torture.)

#11 continues Superman’s impersonations.  To expose a crooked oil company, he poses as investor Homer Ramsey and contrives a beautiful scam where he tricks the oil company executives into trading their real money for their own worthless stock.  Environmentalists may cringe at how he does it, though.  (Presumably Superman turns the money he made over to charity.)

#12 has an interesting Zatara cover with a nifty spaceship.  The Superman story has him getting angry at reckless drivers and automobiles that are unsafe at any speed.  So he imposes a reign of terror on the city.  (And admittedly, fixes a particularly bad stretch of road.)  You can just feel Siegel’s outrage boiling off the page as Superman refuses to use doors in his pursuit of strict traffic enforcement.  Also in this issue, an announcement of DC’s second superhero, the Batman!

New York World’s Fair #1 ties into that 1939 event.  Clark and Lois are sent to cover the opening, but Superman spends most of his time helping attractions open on time and thwarting a criminal plot.

Action Comics #13 starts its story with Superman fighting the “Cab Protective League”, a shakedown racket aimed at taxi drivers.  However, we soon meet the first ever evil mastermind to battle Superman.  The Ultra-Humanite is a bald scientist who has given himself super-intelligence (which may or may not have anything to do with his paraplegia.)  Moriarty-like, he’s been secretly behind some of the criminal schemes Superman has thwarted.

His vast knowledge of science allows the Ultra-Humanite to stun Superman, but not kill him.  The evil scientist then appears to die in a plane crash, but Superman is unable to find a body.   He’ll be back several times, until Lex Luthor takes over his ecological niche.

And the volume concludes with Superman #1, as Superman became the first superhero to have his own solo comic book.  Most of the contents were reprinted from Action Comics #1-4.

However, the first story had a new introduction naming Krypton and the Kents for the first time, and establishing that John and Mary Kent had passed away from old age after training Clark in American values.  We then see how Superman learned of the innocent person condemned for murder and where to find the murderer seen in the first story.

The explanation of Superman’s powers now explained that Earth’s lighter gravity aided his advanced body structure to perform his superhuman feats.

Finally, there’s a two-page text story.  These prose stories appeared in comic books to force the post office to classify them at a lower postal rate.  Usually, they weren’t very good.  No exception here.

The art is crude but dynamic, and it’s fun to watch Superman perform his many feats.  This is a rougher-edged fellow who very much has opinions, and isn’t afraid to take matters into his own hands.  Soon he’ll calm down a bit and become more authority-friendly (and develop a code against killing.)  No more random kidnappings!

Highly recommended to Superman fans and those who want to know more about the early history of superhero comics.  Check your library!

 

Book Review: You Can’t Eat Peanuts in Church and Other Little-Known Laws

Book Review: You Can’t Eat Peanuts in Church and Other Little-Known Laws by Barbara Seuling

Laws have a purpose.  It is not always a good purpose, but track them to their passage and you will usually see the reasoning behind them.  With the passage of time, that purpose is obscured, and many laws passed to deal with a pressing but temporary need seem arbitrary and pointless.

You Can't Eat Peanuts in Church and Other Little-Known Laws

It is often difficult to repeal such laws; perhaps they happen to favor a particular special interest group, or include provisions that specifically forbid a simple repeal, or they might be helpful if a criminal can’t be charged for their important crimes.   So it’s often the case that these statutes linger on the pages of lawbooks even decades after everyone began ignoring them.

This slim 1970s volume features a few hundred of these obscure laws from around the United States.  They are accompanied by humorous illustrations of people breaking the laws.  In the hardcover version, these illustrations were by Ms. Seuling; the paperback quietly replaced them with ones by Mel Klapholz.

Many of the laws do come off as funny, such as the city ordinance which forbids frightening hats.  Others are just outdated, such as the one requiring a person to walk in front of an automobile to warn of its approach.  Some laws can have their purpose divined if you know your history, such as one about “laundresses” which is clearly aimed at prostitution, and a San Francisco ordinance aimed at Chinese cultural customs.

This is the sort of lightly humorous book sold in tourist traps and hospital gift shops as gifts for people in need of quick entertainment you don’t need to think about too hard.   So there’s no citations or bibliography for further research.  And it’s been forty years, so some of these laws may finally be off the books.

There are probably new books with the same basic premise, so the main reason to look this one up is the illustrations.  Check garage sales and used book stores.

Book Review: The Edge of Tomorrow

Book Review: The Edge of Tomorrow by Howard Fast

There have been several books titled The Edge of Tomorrow, none of which have anything to do with the recent Tom Cruise movie, which borrowed most of its plot from the Japanese light novel All You Need Is Kill.  (I think you can see why there was a title change.)   This particular volume contains seven science fiction stories by the author of Spartacus and other fine historical novels.

The Edge of Tomorrow

“The First Men” starts in 1945, as Harry Felton is discharged from the Army following World War Two.  His anthropologist sister sends a request for him to stay in India for the purpose of finding a child allegedly raised by wolves ala Mowgli.  He finds her, but she is mentally unable to function except as a very smart wolf.  Similarly, the South African boy raised by baboons is essentially a furless baboon.

Then the actual idea behind Jean’s research is revealed.   Children at an early level of development raised by animals can never be more than animals.  Children raised by flawed human society will never surpass ordinary humans.  But what would happen if a group of highly intelligent infants from around the world were raised under utopian conditions by enlightened scientists?

Harry helps gather the children for this experiment, which must be carried out in complete isolation from the outside world.  In 1965, he is called in by the government.  It seems all communication with the creche has been lost, and a zone of nothingness has sealed off the area.  Does he know what’s going on?

As it happens, Harry has a sealed letter from his sister for just this moment.  In it, she reveals that the experiment was highly successful, and the children have taken the next step in mental evolution.  Hyperintelligent and telepathic, they are preparing to bring the children of humanity up to their level as fast as they can expand their zone of influence.

Harry’s government contact reacts badly.  Not that I can blame him, given the implications.

Some readers may be squicked by discussion of sex among the upraised youngsters.  At the time this was written, 1959, certain readers might have been more upset with the idea that all the races of man were equally capable of being uplifted.

“The Large Ant” has a writer on vacation instinctively swatting what appears to be an oversized insect to death.  Upon realizing it’s no ordinary insect, he takes it to a museum.  It’s not the first specimen they’ve gotten of this type.  And given that every human that’s encountered them has immediately defaulted to killing them, we can no longer assume that peaceful contact is possible.  Heavy on the infodump.

“Of Time and Cats” has Professor Robert Clyde Bottman, who teaches physics at Columbia University, help out a fellow professor with a defective experimental circuit.  As a result, he ties a knot in time, and multiple iterations of himself keep appearing.  That gets fixed, but not before his friend’s cat also ties a knot in its own timeline.  The best story in this volume, with a humorous touch.

“Cato the Martian” posits a civilization on Mars that has become aware of Earth due to the radio and television waves of the last few decades.  One of the members of the Martian Senate is alarmist about the potential for the violent Earthlings to escape their home world and invade Mars.  He’s been saddled with the insulting nickname Cato, after the Roman politician who wanted to destroy Carthage.

But Cato has taken the name as his own, and gradually won over most of the Senate to his cause.  His plan is to drop atomic bombs on the U.S. and U.S.S.R. to make them think the other has attacked, and start World War Three.   Turns out the plan has one fatal flaw….

“The Cold, Cold Box” is a chilling tale of a Board of Directors meeting where they discuss whether or not to continue committing the crime that has brought them to be de facto rulers of the world.  By rights, they should turn over power to the person they act on behalf of, but things are running so smoothly without that person.  And to be honest, that person was kind of a jerk anyway.   A look at how easy it is to salve your conscience with the other good you’ve done.

“The Martian Shop” concerns the opening of three stores allegedly selling products from Mars.  It’s really more of a vignette than a story, going into great detail about how the shops were set up, the merchandise they had, how bizarre the shop personnel were, etc.  Then there’s a couple of paragraphs at the end revealing what the shops actually are.  Between this story and the Cato one, I’m beginning to see where Alan Moore gets his ideas.

“The Sight of Eden” is the final story.  An exploratory mission from Earth lands on what appears to be a paradise planet.  One that is mysteriously empty.   Still, this is the first sign of an inhabitable world they’ve found, and the first sign of other inhabitants of the universe.  Then they meet the caretaker and learn why the place is empty.  Downer ending.

Overall, decent writing but too reliant on infodumps, and I’ve seen most of these ideas done better.  But if you enjoyed Spartacus and want to see what else Howard Fast wrote, this is a handy start.

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