The biggest divide in music, for me, is between my parents’ music and my music. Until my early teens, the former was the only music I heard: there was no such distinction. At home in Brigham Street, I would play contentedly downstairs whilst my mother did her housework to the accompaniment of the Light Programme. No other music existed. The only records I do remember hearing from that era are Chas McDevitt and Nancy Whiskey’s ‘Freight Train’, ‘The Laughing Policeman’ from Charles Penrose and The Beatles’ ‘All My Loving’, which might just be the first ‘pop song’ I ever heard.
When we moved to Burnage Lane in 1966, Mam no longer had the radio on. Instead, having bought a for-the-times very impressive stereo radiogram, it was LPs, especially when my father wired an extension speaker into the breakfast room, which led to many meals being accompanied by albums playing in the lounge.
It was still all their music. I heard of pop but didn’t hear it, although that slowly broke down with Junior Choice on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but it was not until the Xmas School Holiday of 1969/70 that I started to listen to Radio 1 daily, all day, and the chasm between me and them opened. Them and me, and though they’ve long since passed on, the difference remains, and I have an automatic block against ‘their’ music’.
But to everything as always there are exceptions. Nat ‘King’ Cole’s ‘When I fall in Love’, Frank Sinatra’s Songs for Swinging Lovers, and Dinah Washington’s version of ‘September in the Rain’ recorded in 1961, an American Top 30 hit and one solitary week in the UK singles chart.
If I heard that song whilst playing in the living room in 1961, it’s lost now. Instead, I date it to 1972, or perhaps 1973. Mam had reverted to Radio 2 around the house, and it was on the station’s equivalent of a playlist, though I associate it with one of our post Low Bleansley self-catering cottage holidays, playing in the mid-morning whilst my little sister and I waited for the grown-ups to decide where we were going today.
Nothing about the song flips any of my usual switches. It’s only just two minutes long, though it doesn’t sound overly short. It’s just the usual thing, a swirling orchestra in the introduction, a tinkling jazz piano, lazily playing the melody, and Washington’s vivid yet relaxed voice making none of the noises that grabbed my ear. Yet it stuck in my mind, and forever after I’ve turned to listen every time it’s been played.
Maybe this is just another example of what I’ve said over again, that no matter how much you may dismiss or even hate a genre of music, there will always be songs that find their way past your most extreme of prejudices, to confuse, but ultimate entertain you. I can’t think of a much more improbable example if that’s what it is.
So the sound is strange, and I usually have little interest in the lyrics of professional songwriters, spinning clever but ultimately hollow rhymes, but that’s not quite so here. The song is a gentle meditation on how time and weather can manipulate your feelings, and how the time of a time can override what you feel on a different day and return you to that moment when the whole world was in tune with how you felt. The leaves of brown came tumbling down, remember, that September, in the rain, and though Spring is here, to me it’s still September.
Like so many of those Sixties songs that sketched out the outcome of love lost and left the listener to invest the deeper events for themselves, ‘September in the Rain’ doesn’t hold its audience up with explanations. We don’t know what happened in September, but we know loss when we hear it, and the heart’s inability to hold on forever to what it had.
Dinah Washington invests the song with a melancholy that answers all questions, turning the lyrics into a resignation. It used to be and now it’s not, and as long at that’s so, it’s September and the leaves blow in the wind. And the music I regard as my own, the songs and the sounds my generation claimed for themselves, are not the only things that can speak to us of the things that never last as we want them too.
I grew to understand melancholy far too young and for reasons that pre-dated the love of eros. We all of us in that cottage, on that day, lived with the loss that couldn’t be healed. Dinah Washington’s mellow tones remind me that it was not a new feeling for any of us.
The problem with Box Sets is that, sometimes, in order to get the things you want, you also have to have the things you don’t want, a dilemma exemplified by this mornings film. Though one mustn’t be too harsh about Superman 3, which has one massive saving grace: it is not Superman 4.
Actually, I think Superman 3 exemplifies the reason why this version of the Superman franchise failed so quickly and so substantially, despite having a massively successful film to lead it off and an actor perfect for the role: nervousness. Or, if you prefer, lack of conviction.
The Salkinds brought in Richard Donner to direct the first Superman movie, who did as he had done on The Three Musketeers, simultaneously filming the majority of its sequel. But the Salkinds fell out with Donner over the direction of the films and brought in Richard Lester, who re-filmed a lot of Superman 2 in order to get his Director’s credit, and who was solely responsible for Superman 3.
The two Directors had substantially different viewpoints. Donner was attuned to the myth and the substance of the Superman legend: watch the first film again, and, with the exception of Lex Luthor’s two unfunny accomplices, Donner treats everything with a seriousness absent from Lester)’s treatment, which goes for the silly and the foolish and the comic with the same directness as the old Dozier/Semple Batman TV series.
It’s not to the same degree as Dozier and Semple, who thought that anyone who liked Batman was stupid and worthless, but Lester can’t take Superman seriously, or cannot bear being thought to take Superman seriously. The whole idea has to be undercut with jokes, and silliness, conspicuously signally to Lester’s equals that he isn’t so gauche as to believe in what he’s doing, that he looks down on it.
And as the Salkinds preferred Lester over Donner, we have to assume that, despite the money they pumped into the first film, and the money they got out of it, they too could not be comfortable with people thinking they actually took superheroes seriously.
And you can’t take Superman 3 seriously.
I actually read the tie-in novel first. I don’t usually read tie-in novels at all, but I’d been recommended to the E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial novel because it was written by William Kotzwinkle and was hilarious, and I saw his name on this book. And Kotzwinkle made the novelisation fun, which was more than Lester managed with the film.
Probably, I’ve only seen this film once since going to see it in the cinema, and that likely a couple of decades ago. It hasn’t changed but I have, and from finding it tedious and unworthy first time round, I now found it to be utter trash, inept on practically every level, from start to finish.
There’s a near complete change of cast, not in itself a bad thing. The Daily Planet aspect is substantially downgraded and Lois is shipped offstage for most of the film, appearing only at beginning and end (it’s claimed that both Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman took exception to Richard Donner’s treatment, as a result of which Kidder was shunted off, and Hackman refused to appear), though Ilya Salkind has denied this).
Lois’s replacement is her greatest rival in the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman comics, Lana Lang, the girl from Smallville, Clark Kent’s teenage crush. She’s played by Annette O’toole and is consequently sweet, and the best part about this picture. Tellingly, Lana is more interested in Clark than Superman, reversing the roles of Lois, though she brings baggage in the form of six-year old Ricky, who restores that balance.
But Lana, and Clark’s obvious interest in her, is the understory, and the overstory is a disaster. It involves Richard Pryor (doing some low-key mugging and grinning and generally operating at one-quarter power) as Gus Gorman, unemployed layabout who discovers a genius-level talent for computer programming. Pryor may be a guest star but he’s obviously intended to be the lead so, given the man’s genuine presence, it’s pathetic to see him being given such a cheap script as this.
Gus comes to the attention of megalomaniac millionaire Ross Webster (played by Robert Vaughn with the brave resignation of a good actor who’s realised that not even his legendary charm can animate a turkey of a role like this) and his unattractive younger sister and bulldog Vera (I feel sorry for Annie Ross).
Ross also has a ‘psychic nutrionist’ (‘she feeds my ego’, a line used in the book but cut from the film). Lorelei is played by Pamela Stephenson as a pneumatic blonde bimbo, who, naturally enough, is hiding a considerably high IQ (she reads Kant’s Critiqu of Pure Reason and disagrees with him, and if that isn’t one from the cliche drawer, then I can’t recognise a lazy gesture if I fall over it in broad daylight).
To cut a long story short, and avoid having to go into unending detail about the shit writing that burbles through the clumsy plot, Ross instructs Gus to help him corner the world’s coffee market by having him use the US’s weather station to manufacture a typhoon and destroy the coffee crops of Columbia, the only hold-out, only Superman intervenes to stop it. So Ross wants Gus to kill Superman by presenting him with a misshapen rock of artificial kryptonite, except that they can’t get a perfect analysis of kryptonite’s chemical make-up: there is 0.57% on unknown, for which Gus substitutes tar.
Tar K doesn’t kill Superman, it just turns him bad. Here is where the film truly shows its inadequacy. Superman turns bad. He wants to make a pass at Lana on her couch rather than save a truck-driver from falling off a bridge. He straightens up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, fer’ Chris’sakes, and, oh my gods the depravity, he gets drunk in a Metropolis bar and flicks peanuts at the bottles behind the bar, smashing them! Is there no end to the depths this hero has fallen?
(Actually, he does puncture a rogue tanker and create an oil-slick of approximately two hundred yards length that threatens the Metropolis seaboard despite no land being in sight in any direction, and he fucks Pamela Stephenson – and I wonder what she thought about these two being treated as equivalents when she read the script? – so it’s not all impoverished imagination.)
All it takes is Ricky popping up in Metropolis to forlornly bleat at Superman to make a comeback and he does, courtesy of a fight in a junkyard between Superman and Clark Kent which the latter, after taking incredible punishment, wins. The fight is slow and overlong, though the first part of that is due to the limited technology of the time, but it does contain the film’s solitary psychologically penetrating line, when Superman throws Clark into a metal compactor, saying he’s been irritated by Kent and wanting to do this for a long time.
So Superman is back, as signalled by him getting his costume laundered, ready to tackle the four greedheads who, in the meantime, have built a supercomputer in the Grand Canyon. Two points about this ‘climactic battle’ that illustrate the level of stupidity and inconsistency on which this film is built.
Firstly, Gus – who has previously attempted to kill Superman face to face without the least level of qualm – breaks from Ross and Co because he thinks killing Superman is going too far. Second, this supercomputer can recognise danger and independently act against it yet it decides a container Superman is holding behind his back is completely harmless, when it’s an acid that, once heated, gets super-acidic and destroys the supercomputer from within. Where’s Julius Schwartz when you need him? He would never have let Gardner Fox get away with an idea like that, not that Fox was ever so stupid as to even try it?
I’m not going to go on any longer. Seen on a rainy Sunday morning in 2019, Superman 3 is a dozen times worse than I remember it. It’s stupid, petty and mundane, because neither writers not director have enough respect for their source material to even think of showing it as respectable in any manner, and certainly not seriously. Only O’Toole as Lana, and Chris Reeve, still putting his all into this dodgy material, are any reason to watch this film ever again. It was a franchise killer from the credits scene onwards (mass slapstick in Metropilis after Lorelei wobbles past in high heels, and completely unfunny at that: Kotzwinkle made it work, though). Only O’Toole as Lana, and Chris Reeve, still putting his all into this dodgy material, are any reason to watch this film evr again.
There was one more, though not produced by the Salkinds. I remember that as being worse that this film. When I get round to watching that, I’m seriouly hoping it hasn’t deteriorated as much as this has…
Let’s make things clear: this is not a post about the Marx Brothers (though I reserve the right to slip in a gag or even an allusion if the context permits). But for the first time in my life, I am going to see an Opera, even though that really isn’t my sort of thing.
If you look to the Links sidebar on this blog, you will see Charlotte Hoather.com. Charlotte is a soprano with a growing reputation, based on a great voice, unbounding enthusiasm and a dedication to the craft and her roles. She is currently singing the lead role of Pandora – she of the infamous Box – in the new opera, The Fyre of Olympus, which is playing for one night at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester on Saturday night, 28 September. And I am going.
Of course, the first question is why? And the answer is that several years ago, when she was still studying in Glasgow, Charlotte started her blog and quickly built an initial wave of support by visiting and commenting on many other sites. I checked out hers in reciprocation, and we’ve been internet friends ever since (by coincidence, we share the same birthdate, though hers is many years more recent!)
I’ve seen Charlotte sing live twice to date, one an ensemble show in Stockport that included songs from Les Miserables, and once at a lunchtime recital in Bury, where I had the chance to introduce myself to her. As well as her excellent voice, she really is a nice young woman, so let’s see how I fare on my first ever Night at the Opera.
Now that the time has come, I’m wishing it didn’t have to be this Night. It’s a lousy day, and I’ve been drenched three or four times already, but most of all it’s been a rotten week and I’m exhausted, physically and mentally, and fit for nothing. But one has to support one’s friends, and I’ve paid for the ticket, so I’m not changing my mind.
My seat, when I got to it, was truly front and centre: middle of the front row. I last enjoyed such a privileged position when my then wife-to-be, much wilier than I when it came to the availability of late release tickets for sold-out gigs, got us onto the front row for Warren Zevon at the Lowry in 2000.
Don’t for one minute expect me to comment about the music for I haven’t the least qualifications so to do. I heard nothing wrong in either orchestra or any of the singing. But if this is Opera, then I’m not impressed. To me it seemed to be a dramatic form consisting of infinite repetition of the same thing, over and over and over (at one point, Prometheus, in the second half, sang ‘they told me you were dead’ thirteen times in thirteen and a half lines: believe me, I got it first one). A first half of 70 minutes would have struggled to fill 15 if this were a play.
Until the end of the first half, I found Charlotte to be dreadfully underused, given only occasional half lines to sing, and off stage for longer than each of the other four singers. When she was onstage, she was excellent in her dramatic role, though Pandora as a petty functionary, long blonde hair dragged back into a single braid, supercilious and sneery, was a far cry from the lady in real life. Where was that lovely grin?
But she came into her own in her solo, leading into the interval. Zeus has casually instructed her to find Epithemeus and seduce ‘him’, though the word seduce is not used: instead, we get, ‘it’s just a fuck’. This shocked and horrified the otherwise loyal and ambitious Pandora into her own revolution, and provided Charlotte with an opportunity for real passion in her singing.
Unfortunately, the interval just brought back my overpowering weariness, leaving me struggling all the more. Frankly, by the second half, the only bits I was interested in were those with Charlotte, and they didn’t start for twenty minutes that included three lengthy spells of offstage noises or music that, as far as I could tell, were included to pad things out. Once Charlotte got back on stage she sang a powerful duet with Epithemeus before leading ‘him’ to the dungeon to free Prometheus (‘they told me you were dead’), and then wimping out with an inexplicable song of moral collapse into defeatism.
After that, she was confined to reaction shots until it was all over and then, when the cast were taking their bows, we finally got that brilliant Hoather smile. I didn’t try to hang around the stage door in the hope of saying hello, because I was bushed and wanted to go home and sleep.
So: an experience, and a delight to see and hear my friend again, but not something I’m likely to repeat any time soon.
This was a much better episode than last week, plainly and simply because the show remembered that its characters were there to be people and not props for its mild indignation.
And the show deliberately downplayed its central threat, its theme, leading to a twist ending that I foresaw a long way out, and not just because this was one of those rare episodes that I remembered something about from forty years ago (I remembered the comic sub-plot).
The episode set itself up melodramatically, with armed police invading an isolated house. This was a headquarters of the Seventeenth of May Movement (which the episode thankfully abreviated to SMM, giving me the excuse to do the same). The SMM had gone ahead of the Police, not to mention Rossi and Animal, but they left behind something that was only wormed out to the audience after a long comic set-up of the main part of the story.
This was a Newspaper Convention in Palm Springs, andCharlie Hume was chairing it. Lou was being his predictably sarcastic self, but he’s jumped the gun: he’s going too. Mrs Pynchon has him chairing a panel discussion.
The imposition, and his obvious dislike for theConvention sends Lou into grumpiness overdrive. He won’t take anything about the Convention at all seriously, and he won’t take anything to do with the SMM seriously, despite Rossi and Billie’s interest in the story. Lou dismisses the SMM as three middle-class drop-outs, and despite the building evidence of something serious about them, he digs his heels in and refuses to take anything about the notion seriously, to the point of obtuseness.
Because the SMM’s plan is to kidnap someone at a Convetion. This Convention.
Security is high but Lou sneers at the very idea to the point of tediousness. He’s justified on one level because the guests include Jack Riley (Kenneth McMillan), the hoaxer who took the Trib for $5,000 in season 1. Riley’s representing himself as belonging to a paper that fired him two months ago, he’s signing Lou’s name to his bar bill, he’s after a job and wants Lou to reference him. Even when Jack correctly identifies a waiter as an escaped convict, Lou refuses to take him seriously.
There are two other guests of note atthe Convention. One is the smarmy Jeffry Nelson (Ivor Francis), proprietor of a Seattle paper. who’s always been making passes at Mrs Pynchon, even when her husband was alive, which necessitates Lou being Margaret’s ‘dinner date’ on the last night to keep him at bay. Nelson is also the only one interested in Jack Riley, leaving Lou desperately trying to avoid him as well, to the pointthat Nelson assumes the Trib is trying to steal Riley, and gives him the job: comic sub-plot A.
Comic sub-plot B is Lou’s ongoing encounters with Lois Craig (Amanda McBroom), a Sports Editor and a damned good-looking one, early-to-mid thirties, perfect hair, wide-open smile and perfect teeth, McBroom even turns up long and lissome in a strapless bathing costume to dive into the pool. Lou obviously fancies her, as who wouldn’t, but his old-fashioned assumptions war with his underlying decency about people with talent. He keeps trying to sound liberated but edoes itso badly that all he sounds like is soomeone trying, badly. Neveryheless, the pair have increasingly fractious encounters that are leading to a dinner date on the last night. Lou has to stand her up for Mrs Pynchon, and the punch-line is that he finally finds her after escorting Mrs Pyncon to her room, and his ‘explanation’ quickly bcomes otiose when Lois is trailing a hunky guy round about her age, who she’s clearly going to shag his brains out (lucky guy).
These comic sub-plots, together with Lou’s perfectly blatant distaste forthe Convention (and some poor supposed humour aboout his predecessor as City Editor) do dominate the Convention element, though everyone but Lou is treating the SMM plot seriously. The increased security, the Governor cancelling out doing the closing speech, the evident tension.
But the serious stuff is left back at the paper, with Billie and Rossi investigating. It turns out Billie used to know Sandra (Laurie Heineman), a Movement leader, having studied music with her for four years. Through this former link, Billie gets to interview the intense, determined and near-Messianic Sandra about the SMM’s goals and tactics. And here was the sting that I’d seen coming for some time: the SMM planned to kidnap nobody. Planted plans to start the hares running, all the publicity they could wish for and not having to actually do anything.
(I sensed the twist coming because I understand how the show thinks, and I worked it out from too much show-time elapsing without a definite move starting, meaning that any actual kidnap attempt but either be a pathetic fizzle of too easy a capture, or else so cheaply melodramatic as to crash the episode. Besides, Lou Grant doesn’t go for stuff like that.)
I did find the SMM a bit too unrealistic. They were, after all, middle-class drop-outs if Sandra was anything to go by, with no clear goals except to expose hos rotten Society is at its core. They wanted to overthrow the System, maaaan, with no ideas what to put in its place, but then a lot of people like that are exactly like that. At this remove, they look hollow and empty, and worse, they look like the fixed idea an older generation have of such small terrorist groups. But this is 1978, only a few years removed from the Radical Undergrounded of the late Sixties, and roups likethis were real, and not as innocuous as this lot were. Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army were fresh memories.
An example of both television’s overt decision not to be too representative for Saturday night prime time and time itself, flowing onwards to new argumentsand conepts. If the show can keep on using its cast as people, not prop, I will go sailing on into season 3, after the next four episodes.
R.A. Lafferty’s next book is, if such qualifications make a difference, an historical rather than an SF book. The Flame is Green was first published in 1971, but my copy is a republication by Corroborree Press, in 1985, in an illustrated edition matching its sequel, Half a Sky, which I obtained and read roughly contemporaneously with its publication: it was some fifteen to twenty years before I read The Flame is Green. This is also the first book in The Cosquin Chronicles, a four-book sequence of which only the first two have ever been published. Sardinian Summer and First and Last Island are just two of a dozen unpublished R.A. Lafferty novels, and I hope to live long enough to see these and all the others into print. The Flame is Green is a difficult book to review. Some of that is that it is but part of a larger story, only half of which can currently be known. Some of it is that it is an at times unfathomable mixture of histories, between the known of the world in the years 1845 to 1849, and the allegorical/symbolic history of Lafferty’s division of things into the the Green Revolution and the Red.
In setting up this opposition between two Revolutions, Lafferty is nailing firmly his colours to the mast. Red links to the redness of communism, which is in the future of this history, but he links it to many of the terms I would instinctively respond to, to liberalism, to progressivism, branding these as the returning Red Failure, a disease that is the death of the individual.
The novel follows the adventures of Dana Coscuin, an Irishman of Bantry Bay who finds himself summoned to the Green Revolution by the mysterious and distant Count Cyril Prasinos. The Count Cyril does not appear, his whereabouts and lineaments are unknown, although a couple of times the tow-headed, stocky and vigorous Dana will be mistaken in the street for a younger version of him.
But Count Cyril is by way of being a leader, and Dana – who is already aware of an unnatural passion for his cousin Aileen Dinaan that sets both of them at risk – accepts his instruction to take ship, on an invisible ship that is not going there, to Hendaye in Spain, and there to ascend to the Carlist Hills, and take instruction from the Black Pope.
The book coincides with the period of the loosely defined Second Carlist War, although what military aspects of this war there were took place in Catalonia, the Basque country, on the other side of the Iberian peninsula from Hendaye. The Carlists were anti-liberals, opposed to the accession of Queen Isabella, because she was a woman, though in the book the Carlists concerns focus more on the direct evil of Isabella, alleging sexual activity with prohibited persons from well before she attained the age of maturity.
But Dana’s course is a tainted one. He makes deep friends of the formidably ugly Malandrino Brume, and his excessively active wife Magdalena. His course is joined, loosely, with the giant German, Kemper Gruenland, with the black man Charley Oceaan, and the Sardinian Tancredi Cima, a mutterer. These are his allies, his Company.
And from the beginning his direct enemy, his immediate opposite, is the knife-man Jude Revanche, whom Dana must finally face in duel, though Revanche is by the blind, though not less dangerous: a duel with a blind man is one that cannot be won on all the levels such things must be won upon.
Yet for a long period, seemingly two years, Dana betrays his company, his Revolution, for lust of Elena Prado y Bosca, who is also an opposite to herself, who is Muerta de Boscage, the Bruja, the death-witch of the Red Revolution. It begins with a meeting on the road, with unusually rough behaviour by Dana towards a woman who carries with her sweet innocence and something of the snake. Dana’s reputation is destroyed, with both the Carlists and the Red Revolution untrusting of him, but he and Elena/ Muerta sin and sin again.
Dana falls not when he sees Elena but when he sees Muerta, the battle-witch, leading a raid on the Black Pope and the Carlists. He defends her from death. He saves her from Tancredi, who will kill her to save Dana, he nurses her, he is lost for those two years that are given as an abridgement, of which there are restrictions on the data. Even though it be more than a hundred, though less than two hundred years after. It is not even certain that all the parties are dead.
Here, it is appropriate to point out that Lafferty will tell you such things, and you will believe in them. He is a writer of fictions and he will tell you things that you know are impossible, or untrue, or incapable of being real, and you will read these things and believe them, unlike the late and infamous Erich von Daniken, purveyor of fictions and lies and gigantic distortions that were presented as true, that he marketed with incredible success as true, and who, had he told me the sun was shining outside, would have caused me to go outside in raincoat, with umbrella unfurled.
It is Brume that wins Dana back for the Green Revolution, Malandrino Brume who conducts him about Europe and its several sites and quarters. But Dana must return to Spain, where he is at risk from both sides, because he is put on this Earth to be the friend to Elena, whatever she be. He intends to marry her, but this is forbidden from all parties and from God. Instead, he is instructed to go to Paris, by a letter he cannot read, signed by Catherine Dembinska..
It is not just the mysterious Catherine who instructs Dana. He is instructed also by the Leader of the Red Revolution, Ifreann Chortovitch, he of the Irish/Polish name whose literal translation is Hell Son of the Devil. Ifreann, who also appears in the middle book of the Devil is Dead trilogy, proclaims himself the literal Son of the Devil. He is Dana’s great adversary. He is also to be the death of the Polish Countess Catherine Dembinska, she who is prophesied for Dana’s wife when he is still besotted by Elena Prado.
The Son of the Devil challenges Dana and his company in Paris, when they have taken over Ifreann’s house and thrown out his cohorts. He boasts and lords it, but the individual duels and combats between each band’s equivalents all go to the Green Revolution, and the only direct combat in which Dana faces Ifreann is to drink him under the table, a mighty feat treated as every bit as much a legendary achievement as any feat of arms.
But this is Lafferty’s way. All things are couched in symbols in which an Irish drinking competition renders as big a blow as any murder.
Though Dana doubts, though he is sent away, in the end he returns to wed Catherine, as if summoned. They love, they laugh, they play, they plan. The Company is to separate, to go to different fates for the next phase of the struggle, and Catherine blithely predicts that this will end with her murder and so it does, bloody and horrible, brutal and vile, at the hands of Ifreann, for which Dana challenges and duels him, and runs him through.
Thus ends the European phase of the Coscuin Chronicles. This is but one book of four, and only one other book was published, and that more than a decade later. People, we will see it in its due time, but for now we must turn our attention to other matters. The Flame is Green is true, but it is not the whole of the thing and we do not have the whole of it yet.
It’s not the best of Lafferty, for all that it comes from that earlier phase of his career when he had not yet turned wholly inwards and abandoned concessions to his readers. It suffers from being incomplete, or rather not intentionally incomplete, and perhaps it suffers from being not fantastic in a world that is not fantastic. We shall see what more we may think when we come to that land that lies beneath half a sky.
This episode was like falling down a very deep and dark well, so deep that you haven’t landed in the water when it comes to an end. It begins with a death and it ends with a death. And it’s a narrowing of threads to pass through the eye of a needle. Though it may not appear such on a first viewing, this is the one there’s no going back from.
Centrally, there is a Number of the Week in Monica Jacobs (Tracie Thoms), software expert, rising star at Rylatech, a walking powerhouse. The astute viewer immediately picks her for the ‘her’ who is digging into the death of Justin Lee and who has to be stopped. This one’s Finch’s job, undercover as an IT expert and developing a bit of a crush on Monicca’s elegant mind. This is because Reese is on a mission already, staking out an isolated house and a ‘quarry’ that’s carefully not identified as a Number, because it turns out it’s not. I admit to not immediately picking up the significance of the letterbox name of Cole.
At Rylatech, Monica, who’s been there ten years and totally committed to the company, is carrying out a surreptitious investigation into Lee, a young engineer killed in a car accident a week ago. Lee, it transpires, is a fake, a plant sent in to, presumably, steal confidential information and designs. For bringing this to the attention of Ross Haskell, head of R&D, a mass of fake information pointing to Monica as the mole is dropped electronically into her phone/schedule/records and she is promptly terminated (no, not with extreme prejudice), publicly demonised as a betrayer of what she sees as her family, and thrown out of the building.
Monica’s at the centre but there other lines developing of too great a substance to be called peripheral. Harold plays chess with Elias, who makes the board a cryptic symbol by removing several of his black pieces and providing extra white pawns to Harold. Two of the removed pieces represent the DA and Detective Szymansky, murdered last week by HR to advantage the Yogarovs, Elias’ major rivals. It’s an imbalanced game with only one outcome foreseeable, but Elias is playing a game of his own. He will play another chess game later.
John’s in the woods staking out the home of Mr and Mrs Cole, parents of Sameen Shaw’s ex-partner. The Government have smeared Cole as a Domestic terrorist and John’s watching against the notion that the parents will be tken out as well. Shaw’s thereas well, disarming him and sending him on his way curtly, but not before expressing a minimised disgust at her former employers dirtying Cole’s memory for his parents. John reminds her that they may walk in the dark but they don’t have to do so alone.
And at the Library, Harold looks up to see Shaw walking in. He’d given her his number to be contacted, though he’d imagined she’d call. Shaw’s making a point abut how unpleasant it is to be stalked, but she’s actually turned up out of gratitude. A story has been planted in the paper, ‘leaked’ by a non-existent operative, that Cole was a CIA Agent who died heroically, combatting domestic terrorism. In her repressed way, Shaw is saying thanks. And she’s still not taking up Finch’s offer of a job, but she does take an interest in Root, together with her photo and the list of aliases Finch has collected. Shaw needs a hobby.
There’s also the first of what will become a series of barbed quips about John, as Shaw comments about Finch in his derelict Library, with his poorly-socialised guard dog, and Bear.
At the Eighth Precinct, Beacher is still trying to get Carter to talk to him, but since Szymanski’s death (under investigation by Detective Terney, oh hah hah) she’s even more mad at him, specially when he won’t give up the name of the Confidential Informant who fed him the false information that led to Szymanski’s besmirching. Carter even gets Fusco to look at Beecher.
Events travel apace. Beecher meets with his CI, his godfather, Alonzo Quinn, Mayor’s aide and head of HR. Beacher is clean, he accepted the information in good faith, Quinn claims it came from one of Elias’s men. Quin and Simmons are concerned about Beacher. As well they might be. Beacher stands off Fusco, knows about his dirty background. But he goes to Rykers, to play chess with Elias, which is no contest. And Elias confirms that yes, he gave money to Szymanski, who threw it back in his face.
That meeting is the trigger. It comes back to Quinn and Simmons, and a decision is taken. The recording of it, via Fusco, comes back to Carter (how Fusco gets it is left unexplained, a minor hole forgivable in the midst of so much). She’s relieved Cal is clean, calls him on stake-out, offers to buy him a drink. But the stake-out is a set-up. Shots fired, Officer involved, Washington Heights. Carter races out there with Fusco but it’s too late. Beecher is dead, on Alonzo Quinn’s orders. A long candle has started burning down.
But we’ve been neglecting Monica and it’s time to return to her story. Or rather, Rylatech’s story. Lee was a spy alright, but not for a rival but the People’s Republic of China. And not of Rylatech’s secrets but rather the company was being used as a conduit to siphon off vast amounts of data from Rylatech’s customers, including Government departments…
And over half the company’s officers are in on this. The scope, the implications are massive. But Ross Haskell wasn’t involved: he’s found dead in his office with a bullet through the head. From, it seems, Martin Baxter, the company’s founder and CEO, the true American story. But Baxter sold out after the dot.com crash, to avoid Rylatech’s bankruptcy. Now he’s going to kill Monica and Reese.
Except that he takes a phone call and the whole edifice turns over. Because the call is from Greer, to tell him that the time has come for the contingncy they talked about when Baxter did the deal. His family will be provided for. And Baxter shoots himself through the head.
Rylatech crashes. Finch has sent the masses of information to the FBI etc. They’ll investigate the China angle. But Finch has already seen that only a fraction of the data was going to China, the majority being diverted to a mysterious source, the onlyinformation he has being a name. For the first time, we hear the words Decima Technologies.
Finch and Reese are talking in the street. They walk past Greer, talking on his phone, planning the next strategy, to find the one source actively opposing them. Meanwhile, that one source is telling his badly-socialised guard dog that he recognised aspects of Decima’s coding in the virus Kara Stanton uploaded months ago.
And that the virus is looking for one thing: The Machine. And we are in the well, free-falling, and the cold water is still a long way below us.
Was this episode really only 45 minutes long? Only on the watch, only on the watch.
It’s always sad when a musician loses their life, removing forever the possibilities of where their talent could have taken their audience. It is doubly painful to think of the death of Jim Croce, killed in a plane crash returning from the last night of his tour.
Croce had started his career, unsuccessfully, in the mid-Sixties, recording one album with his wife, Ingrid, but first came to commercial notice with his third album, an American no. 1 and its attendant single, the title track, ‘You don’t mess around with Jim’. Further singles followed, including his only lifetime no. 1, ‘Bad Bad Leroy Brown’, which was covered by the unlikely figure of Frank Sinatra.
Croce had become a hit, and several of his songs got Radio 1 airplay without selling, but he became increasingly unhappy at the amount of time spent touring, keeping him away from Ingrid and his son, A.J. So much so that he wrote her, after his last gig, telling her he was giving up music so as to stay closer to her. In the morning, his plane crashed on take-off, killing everyone on board: Croce’s letter arrived after Ingrid had learned of his death.
But in 1970, after learning that his wife was pregnant with A.J., Croce had sat down and written a song, encapsulating his lover for Ingrid. It’s recording had been a fortuitous experience: Croce found a harpsichord on the studio which blended beautifully with the two acoustic guitars he played, with the addition of a very small amount of electric bass, and no percussion.
The song was called ‘Time in a Bottle’. It appeared on You don’t mess around with Jim, and after his death, albeit with some misgivings about the sentiments of the song, set against his loss, it was released as a single, and became a second American no. 1. I heard it that year and bought it, though like everything that came before it, and most undeservingly, it made no headway in Britain.
I could never persuade anyone else just how good it was, but then I was surrounded by prog fans.
The song is simple, dealing with the most simple of subjects, the love one person has for another. There are three verses and two choruses, the verses dealing with desire and hope and the awe of that other person, that Croce sings in a higher register, his voice full of wonder at the fact at the thoughts of eternity that dance through his mind. He sings of abstract ideas, becoming concrete in his dreams, the idea of saving time in a bottle, to be used to spend time with her, turning days into forever and words into wishes that come true, so that all of time may be spent within her presence, of a box for wishes and dreams that never came true, a box that would be empty of everything but the memory of how she made them come true.
And the choruses are repeated in a lower register, in a softer, less urgent tone, because the choruses are what is, what is real between them, which is that there is never enough time in the demands life makes for what you want to do, and that is still her, for he has had enough time go past to know that she is the one he wants to spend all his time with.
The contrast between the dream of the verses and the practicality of the choruses, between what should be and what is is the cornerstone of the song, and the painful poignancy of the contrast between the understanding that Croce is singing from the heart and that he never had the time at all, that what he needed was not time in that bottle but rather a genie who would have preserved him to live at least some of that future to which he looked.
The song received a beautiful, crisp, clean production in which each note was individually sounded, with crystal clarity. And Croce was right about the interplay between the harpsichord and the guitars, which mesh seamlessly, creating a delicacy of sound over which his voice rises in what is, in many ways, a private hymn to the woman he loved. But he expressed it in a way that each and every one of us recognises in ourselves, in universal terms that only require the existence of another person, a someone that they want beside them.
Even in 1974, and having behind me only my first, puppyish love that I hadn’t known how to make work, I was moved to deep emotion by this song. Sometimes I wonder if I recognised the future that was waiting for me. There never were enough times to do the things I wanted to do once I found them. This song remembered for me before I had the memories.
The last two episodes of Those that Kill were the best, mainly because by this point there was very little time left for bullshit if we were to have an all-out tense ending. Not completely no time, unfortunately, the series choosing to end on a waffly note that either had no bearing on anything or else related to some plot detail I couldn’t remember because I couldn’t be sufficiently arsed.
And the play-out benefited from giving Signe Edholm Olsen full rein to play the out and out psycopath Stine always was, from the I-am-a-victim denials with which she met Jan’s interrogation through to the avenging fury out to visit betrayal back on her family.
It all came down to that rape by big brother Mikkel, that he lied about to his parents and to Stine’s face, even when he knew she knew the truth. Louise got onto it, and believed Stine, which was more than anyone else ever had. She’d been a troubled child, a troubled teenager. She used to make horrible accusations against anyone she was angry with, which did lead you to think her parents may not have been wholly unjustified in automatically taking Mikkel’s story over hers.
But she’d told the truth (and he’d been trying to catch her half-naked since she was twelve) and they’d betrayed her. They’d chosen him, and even after he’d ranted at her in front of them that she’d ‘been asking for it’ (they always say that, don’t they?) you could see that belief hadn’t shifted.
Louise thought that believing would get Stine to tell them where Emma Holst was. And she gave them what they wanted, but it was a lie. And she stole a policeman’s gun and a police car, and when she found Anders prepared to release Emma, she killed him and started turning Emma into her confidante: Stockholm Syndrome in Copenhagen.
Stine went after her parents. She shot big brother Mikkel in the stomach, and father Ole in the back. Mikkel didn’t make it and I couldn’t summon up much sympathy, but Ole did, and he deserved it no better. He had never had any doubts about Stine being black to the core, denied her a psychologist when it might have mattered but the truly unforgivable thing was that when Stine offered him the chance to get out, and leave his wife behind, he got up and started to shuffle out.
In the end, Jan saves the day: despite a bullet in the shoulder from Stine, he jumps her and belts her several times across the face until she’s unconscious.
So it was all over bar the fuzzy little bits at the end. Louise is half-expecting an invite to dinner from Jan but he doesn’t offer and she walks away without a backward glance, that cliche stuck firmly back in the drawer. The rescued Emma refuses to see her parents. It’s a hint at that aforementioned Stockholm Syndrome, but it’s a red herring: Emma was brought up religious and was a virgin, and she is ashamed of what’s been done to her. But Louise persuades her that they do not blame her, and their reunion is a brief moment of tear-jerking love.
But there’s that waffly bit. The last episode started with the sixteen year old Stine being dropped off at boarding school where she’s to room with the perky, peppy, bubbly, innocent and far too nice Maja. You fair dreads it on the spot. Was Maja in the story somewhere? The last scene is Stine in prison, visiting her psychologist, who naturally enough is Louise, there being only one criminal psychologist in the whole of Copenhagen. Stine is flat and dull. But as the scene goes to black, her voice takes on an added relish as she voice overs: “Maja had a big brother. Would you like me to talk about him?”
Anyone with a clue as to what that’s supposed to mean when it’s home with its pinny on, please leave a comment.
There’s no Skandi next week, so I can take a breather. Hoping for a good one, next time.
Three Decembers, three parts of a story, three family trips. I’ll always remember The Lord of the Rings trilogy that way, for the moments at which the story ends for another year, and the moments of wondering how and where Peter Jackson will resume things.
As a film, The Return of the King is monumental, and that comes before the Extended Edition, which comes to almost four hours. It is not without moments at which the concentration wavers slightly, as it is bound to do on a Sunday morning, and on one on which days of perfect skies have cometo rain and thunder and greyness.
But the film gathers weight and dimension as it progresses, eliding into the High Fantasy mode, until it is not possible to resist its momentum, nor be moved by the stakes it presents. As such, I find myself less able to approach the film with any kind of critical eye. I am audience, drawn in, moved in so many directions, feeling the experience rather than responding intellectually. So many times and places in which tears gathered at the corner of my eyes.
Which does not mean that I can’t be critical, just that the film is awe-inspiring to a greater degree than its two predecessors, and that overall I do not feel it possible to do an adaptation of this part of the book that could be more faithful, and as effective, as Jackson and Co.
Changes there are, and plenty, but like The Fellowship of the Ring, these consist mainly of stream-lining, playing to the visual experience. Some things are missing, minor scenes and characters omitted. Some things are diminished: I would have liked to see more of Eowyn and Faramir’s falling in love, if only to see more of Miranda Otto, but this was downsized so as not to compete with Aragorn and Arwen, which is a bit more important.
The biggest omission is the Scouring of the Shire chapter, and like Tom Bombadil, I think on balance that Jackson was right. What works in the book won’t necessarily apply to film. By the time we get to the Hobbits’ return to the Shire, several chapters have passed, as has story time. Thus this can be thrown up as a sort of Last Battle without detracting from the true climax, the Ring going into the fire. That’s not possible in the film, even with the extended sequence of farewells Jackson employs. Instead, Frodo and Co return to an unchanged Shire, the undisturbable paradise, and this emphasises what Frodo cannot go back to.
The film started very cleverly with a flashback to Deogol and Smeagol – Andy Serkis looking and nearly sounding like Andy Serkis instead of Gollum – which I liked very much. The Theatre version then picks up the story without reference to Saruman, Grima Wormtongue and Treebeard, all of whom disappear into complete silence, a serious omission in the case of the former.
We’d heard that Jackson had filmed an ending for Saruman that he’d left out of The Two Towers for length, and then left out of The Return of the King because it belonged to The Two Towers, causing a serious rift with Christopher Lee. It’s in the Extended Edition and Jackson’s right. It looks an feels wrong, it’s an unwanted appendage, a hindrance to the third film getting going. and it’s a pretty naff write-off of Saruman, switching his actual death in the Shire forward to a point where it has so much less context and inevitability.
The other major change, so far as I am concerned, is to the climax in Mount Doom. Jackson is utterly faithful, to a point, though I regret the loss of the line about ‘I do not choose to do what I came here to do’ in favour of the cheap and blunt ‘The Ring is mine.’ But once Gollum bites off Frodo’s finger and gets the ring, it all goes wrong. Gollum capers and dances. He does it silently, which is a mistake immediately. And he’s so oblivious to his whereabouts, to anything but his Precious, that he capers over the edge, taking the Ring to its destruction, doing the one thing Frodo, at the very last, did not have the strength to do.
It’s a magnificent ending, a game-changer, The Frodo Principle, the hero who does everything he can, but who succeeds by getting the burden to somewhere where another can step in. But it’s not Hollywood. It’s not all-action, not the leading man’s triumph, and as William Goldman pointed oout, you go to protect the star. There must be nothing to diminish him, to make him complex. So Frodo gets up, wrestles with Gollum and both of thenm go over the edge, robbing Gollum of his last shred of responibility, undermining Gandalf’s foresight and Bilbo’s pity, and requiring a literal and entirely cheap cliffhanger to rescue Frodo.
I understand why they did it but, like Faramir in The Two Towers, I profoundly disagree.
Yet I am overwhelmed, every time I see the film. And this Sunday has been no exception. There won’t be a Film 2020, except maybe for a few holdovers, DVDs I’ve acquired since, but I’m going to organise myself a couple of Binge days, each trilogy, start to finish. And I would still love to see Jackson do something with The Silmarillion…
This third post about a Golden Age comic featuring characters who were members of the Justice Society of America will sadly be different to those I wrote about Flash Comics and All-American Comics. It’s nothing to do with Adventure Comics being published by Detective Comics Inc., rather than All-American Publications, and therefore falling under Harry Donenfeld’s purview instead of Charley Gaines. Rather it’s a fundamental difference in both the comic and the DVD.
This time, I’m not working from a complete run: Adventure was not cancelled nor turned into a Western title. Instead, it continued uninterrupted through the Fifties and well beyond, to 1983 before its first cancellation after 490 issues. The period I’m seriously interested in is the Golden Age era of characters like The Sandman, Hourman and Starman, beginning with issue 40 and continuing to issue 102, after which there was a radical change of content, with Adventure becoming a vehicle for Superboy, at first as a solo star and from 1959 as part of the Legion of Superheroes.
The DVD starts with issue 40 and its run over those sixty two issues is far from complete, neither in numbers nor complete issues. I confess to little interest in the post 1946 Superboy era. But I’ll run my eye over it and comment.
As a prelude to the first issue on the DVD, and cribbing shamelessly from Wikipedia, I’ll quickly summarise the pre-history. The comic started as New Comics in 1938, a humour comic. It was re-named New Adventure Comics with issue 12, before adopting Adventure from issue 32 onwards. It evolved into an adventure series, including stories about futuristic scientist-detective Jor-L, a year before Superman debuted, and arrived at a superhero series with the introduction of The Sandman in issue 40.
Which is where I come in.
The Sandman went straight onto the cover of Adventure 40, the pulp detective figure in business suit, cape and gasmask, exactly as we know him now… except that the suit is orange, not green, and the fedora green, not orange. The story, which I’ve seen before in reprint, is credited to Larry Dean but it’s actually by Gardner Fox and Bert Christman. Apart from a surprisingly slow and atmospheric sequence where Wesley Dodd (not Dodds) mooches round his house and leaves a doll in his bed before cracking open the secret tunnel to The Sandman’s lab, it’s not a good story, naïve simple, uninterestingly drawn. It’s just a start.
The rest of the issue is undistinguished. Tiny is a one-page cartoon about a tough-talking, tough-acting bulldog, Barry O’Neill an ongoing serial about some kind of crime buster and Federal Men an FBI story about G-Man Steve Carson that’s interesting only for being by Siegel and Shuster. These are all in full colour, but Jack Woods, a cowboy serial, offered two pages of monocolour, all red shades, like Victor and Hornet used to, before dropping to B&W, and Captain Deesmo, an aviator series, was B&W throughout. Don Coyote, a cartoon two-pager set in some vague and implausible Sixteenth Century Britain that looks like Camelot, was full colour, and dreadfully silly, but it was back to B&W for Bulldog Martin, a broad-shouldered amateur troubleshooter, and Socko Strong, a boxer. Back to colour for Skip Schuyler, Government Agent, and the rather more Terry and the Pirates-esque Rusty and his Pals, which was credited to Bob Kane. Last up was Anchors Aweigh!, starring Don and Red, two Navy adventurers.
In short, the line-up, as might be expected, was a bunch of adventurers in various genres, with art and stories crudely ripped off from newspaper strips. Nothing stands out as more than enthusiastic, or crudely energetic and, The Sandman aside, nothing is interesting except to see the likes of Siegel and Shuster and Kane on series that didn’t make them famous. Adventure 40 was cover dated July 1939, making it contemporaneous with Action 14, and two months after Batman’s debut in Detective 27. The next complete issue available is Adventure 70: long before then, I’m pretty sure neither Federal Men nor Rusty continued.
Next available issue, no. 48 is represented only by the six-page debut of Hour-Man, and not even from Adventure but its reprint in a 1974 Giant-Size Justice League of America comic I once had. Issue 51 is represented only by the ten-page Sandman adventure, by which time art is by Craig Fleishman and it’s all running, jumping and leaping. And issue 57 offers only an eight-page Hour-Man adventure, featuring his buddies the Minute-Men of America and introducing his recurring enemy, Dr Togg.
From Adventure 61 onwards, the DVD offers a solid run of consecutive issues, but these are no more complete. This issue was Starman’s debut, catapulted onto the cover to displace The Sandman, and of course expected to be Detective Comics’ next break-out star, to stand alongside Superman and Batman. Jack Burnley’s art distinguished the feature, being by one of the best Golden Age artists there was. The run consists of no more than the Starman series, not of itself a hardship, until issue 70.
Unfortunately, apart from all these Sandman and Hour-Man adventures we’re missing, the debut of The Shining Knight in issue 67 also goes by offstage.
From various reprints down the years, I was already familiar with a couple of the stories in this initial eight-issue run, so this was my first chance to really see Starman in solo action. The highlight is Jack Burnley’s art, intelligent, well-rounded and anatomically superior to everyone else around him. It’s too simplistic overall to be termed photorealism but it goes closer to that than any other comics artist of the era in its avoidance of exaggeration. The stories? I can be quite as enthusiastic about them. As short adventures, they’re usually competent at worst, and Starman’s wise-cracking is a foretaste of the likes of Spider-Man.
On the other hand, Ted Knight’s self-portrayal as a hypochondriac weakling is laid on with a fourteen foot trowel. That’s not so bad in itself, but it begs the question why his fiancee, Doris Lee, an attractive, forthright, intelligent young woman, puts up with him for more than one story, given that most people faced with such a weak wuss, convinced he’s got every malady under the sun whilst actually being physically hale, would have concluded that the only thing wrong with him was the absence of a spine and given him the very elegant pointed-toe sandal in the unmentionables.
Either that or concluded that he’s a hopeless addict forever racing off for his fix.
In contrast, issue 70 is a complete comic, with The Shining Knight appearing next after Starman. It’s my first solo story with the Knight, and interesting for that, but it’s a slapdash effort with a bits and pieces story, and I found it weird that Justin, museum assistant, talks natural American English when he’s in street clobber but slips back into ‘Forsooth’ language the moment he gets his armour on, and comments on it!
Though he’d been bounced out of the Justice Society by Starman, Tick-Tock Tyler is still around as The Hour Man, minus the hyphen. Bernard Bailey’s art is a bit more sophisticated when it comes to faces, and he’s drawing Hour Man’s hood as a tight-fitting cowl and eye-mask, which I’ve certainly never seen before, but the story’s a joke, with the villain a dwarf on a flying carpet who looks like a visitor from outer space, though he’s not. Maybe I’m not missing much?
The Adventurer theme of issue 40 hasn’t been abandoned completely, as the next strip is Steve Conrad, Adventurer, an ocean diver hired to find buried treasure who’s up against modern pirates. This was the last episode of a story, if not the story, I don’t know. It’s all very early Terry and The Pirates wannabe (as an irrelevant aside, has there ever been a more exciting title for an adventure strip?)
After a brief prose story with a twist ending, next up was… ok, I was wrong… Federal Men, though judged on its art, it certainly wasn’t Joe Schuster any more. And judged by the way the story didn’t throb with frenetic energy, it wasn’t Jerry Siegel either. It certainly wasn’t good.
I was surprised to see Paul Kirk – Manhunter as the next strip, especially as it’s nothing like the series as I have always known it. I discovered Manhunter as that classic back-up story by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson in Detective way back in 1974 – I had the privilege of reading it month-by-month – and later in a handful of Simon-Kirby reprints of the costumed hero original, but this Paul Kirk is by Ed Moore who, if he’s the artist, was the worst so far in this issue. Who and what Kirk is is never explained but he never gets out of street clothes and comes over as more of a private detective than anything else, certainly not a big-game Hunter.
Bringing up the back of the book is, thankfully, still the Sandman, but this is that brief period between the adoption of the yellow and purple costume, plus Sandy the Golden Boy, both accoutred with capes, and the arrival of Simon and Kirby. The dream theme is absent, the art crude and ill-proportioned – this guy can’t get legs right – and the story nondescript, lacking the manic energy of the business-suited Sandman stories.
It was interesting to see a complete issue, but the next eight issues on the DVD, not all consecutive, were back to single stories, Starman once more.
Interestingly, Manhunter replaced Starman for the cover of issue 73 (though we only get to see Starman’s story) and this is the costumed Manhunter, and what’s more it’s Simon and Kirby at their excellent best. And they cover feature again next issue before Sandman and Sandy take back the cover on a full-time basis, from which I take it that the determined push to build Starman into a Superman/Batman level star was already showing itself to be doomed.
Issue 78 switched things up with a Manhunter story, though it was taken from a reprint edition, not Adventure itself. This was vintage Simon/Kirby, all-out action, distorted figures, a truly ugly villain and a pretty girl. I’m not sure I’d want to read too many Manhunter stories all at once, but it was good fun.
It was back to Starman for issue 81, the last of the single story issues, and a change of artists with the story, a reprint from the Seventies, credited to Mort Morton Jr and Jerry Roussos. Given that it features a blind boy getting shot in the head and discovering he can now see, the new firm are clearly not an improvement.
There’s a gap next to issue 87, but that represented a sea change, as from hereon, with only a couple of exceptions, we get complete issues. Sandman kicked off the issue with a story I’d already seen in reprint, but next up was the oddball and little-considered Genius Jones, by Stan Kaye. It’s a crackpot cartoon about a boy genius who knows everything and gives answers at a dime a time. This was my first known exposure to the original and it had me goggling, unable to tell if it were genius or madness.
The Shining Knight was still running, though his art was disappointingly poor. Starman was back as fourth feature, with only three pages to his name. Manhunter got a full share but with terrible art that was trying desperately to ape Jack Kirby with none of the weight of line or detail.
A terribly unfunny one-page cartoon, Jack Potts, gave way to Mike Gibbs, Guerilla, an all-purpose freedom fighter in Nazi-occupied Europe and the one last story to represent the pre-superhero Adventure. Apart from the independent female French resistance Agent, Captain Hwarti (what kind of French name is that?), turning up in Holland, the episode was little better than mediocre and of course it featured a dyke being breached, why would you think it wouldn’t?
Four issues later, paper rationing was cutting a bit deeper. Adventure was down to a bi-monthly status, plus a cut in pages, the cut being Mike Gibbs. The next issue available was no. 100, cover dated October/November 1945, making its actual publication date somewhere round the end of the War in the Pacific. Guerilla was back, in a story with a powerful anti-racism message all the stronger for being set in a War context, but Manhunter was gone now. I wish there were more issues to track these changes more accurately.
At least issue 101 was available, with a dreadful Sandman cover. The previous issue looked like Jack Kirby but wasn’t credited as such, but this story was just plug-ugly, an attempt to copy Kirby by someone with no capability whatsoever. Starman’s story suffered from weak art and dumb writing. We were a long way from the days of Woodley Allen, Doris Lee and Ted Knight’s hypochondria, leaving the stories perfunctory in the extreme and full of incidents like Starman escaping noticing by standing against a poster and ‘blending into’ a background composed of completely different colours from his costume.
And then, with a jump to issue 109, everything had changed, and I mean everything. In fact, it had happened with issue 103: Sandman and Starman cancelled, Genius Jones shipped out to Detective’s More Fun Comics and a complete line-up switched from that title to take over Adventure. It’s still the Golden Age, for a few years yet, but this is not the stuff I wanted the DVD for.
Because Adventure had become the home of Superboy, from now until 1969. Coming with the Boy of Steel were Aquaman (technically, the Earth-2 version, as would later be defined, with the yellow gauntlets), Johnny Quick, the formula-reciting super-speedster (also featuring in Action Comics) and the Green Arrow (who was also appearing in World’s Finest). The Shining Knight was the only surviving feature. Johnny’s adventure had a bit of vigour to it, but the new watchword was bland.
Frankly, Superboy doesn’t interest me at all, especially knowing how Jerry Siegel wanted to write the character, as a prank-player. The first few stories feature Clark and his schoolfriends, in little do-good stories, and young Kent is nothing like the klutz we expect. But I have to credit the Xmas story in issue 113 (cover-dated February!) as a touching little tale, involving neither crime nor villain, just the response of a community to the terrible misfortunes of a man who, for 32 years, has played a secret Santa to the town’s kids, and who needs the good offices of a Santa himself. It managed to be sweet without being sentimental: just a small-town America story that rang true.
Twenty issues or so onwards, not all of them available, enables me to give a bit of a reasoned assessment of Adventure in this form. Superboy’s series is definitely not what I expected from my exposure to the character in the early Sixties. There’s no Ma and Pa Kent, no Smallville and precious little villains. Instead, Superboy uses his powers to help his friends, sometimes in the face of rich boy cheating from Orville Orville, or just genuinely to help against misfortune. There’s not even any melodramatic disasters going on. It’s decidedly low-key and, except as a change of pace, undramatic.
The Green Arrow is just bland. He’s definitely The Green Arrow at this point, and as far as Oliver Queen is concerned, there’s a near total absence. Neither Oliver nor Roy have any personality, and we practically only see them out of costume when they’re just about to change into it. And the era of the trick arrow hasn’t started yet: there’s the occasional use of the boomerang arrow and little else. You really couldn’t imagine this guy becoming the Ollie Queen we’ve know since 1969.
Aquaman is similarly drab, but what do you expect from two characters created by Mort Weisinger to be knock-offs. Again, though the blond stiff is described as the Monarch of the Sea, we’ve a decade to wait for the introduction of Atlantis, and this Aquaman just fights sea-style menaces, most often the pirate Black Jack. Between them, Aquaman and The Green Arrow don’t have enough personality to fill a thimble. Oh for the relative depth of the All-American characters.
Johnny Quick, however, is head and shoulders above the rest, though his slot at the back of the comic suggests he wasn’t as popular as he deserved to be. The very idea of speed automatically makes the series more vigorous, even if some of the science is more than dodgy, and the stories are jam-packed with incidents. And to that some Kubert-influenced art from Mort Meskin and Johnny Quick makes continued reading worthwhile.
Though the Shining Knight would go on until issue 166, he disappeared from Adventure after issue132 due to a profusion of ad pages, which even started appearing in the middle of stories as opposed to between the various features. I hate to say it, but a lot of those ad pages featured art better than Sir Justin was getting! The chivalrous hero was back in 137, after two missing issues, with his occasional sidekick, the Bronx boy, Sir Butch of Beeler’s Alley. And by issue 143, he was enjoying the best art of his career, though not yet from the young Frank Frazetta, but rather Ruben Moreira.
To be honest, the is-he-or-isn’t-he? of whether there’ll be a Shining Knight story is the most interesting thing in this phase of the title, no disrespect to the still-entertaining Johnny Q. For instance, in issue 149, he’s bumped for a five-page tale of the life of author Jack London. Adventure hit issue 150 with a cover date of March 1950 and no fanfare or special features, although I couldn’t help but be amused to discover Johnny Quick’s villain – a man who hypnotised people into believing that he could walk through walls – being named The Spectre. Nah, buddy. And Frank Frazetta made his debut (?) on The Shining Knight: nice art, and the first to make a flying horse’s wings look realistic.
The Shining Knight’s last adventure in Adventure would be in issue 166 but that’s yet another issue that isn’t included on the DVD. Since I bought it for the Golden Age issues, for those up to and including 102, and since issue 164, the nearest to that point, is cover-dated May 1951, three months after All Star 57, the generally acknowledged end of the Golden Age, I’m treating this as the terminus point for this post. It’s same as ever, no Shining Knight to go out on, Superboy, Johnny Quick, Aquaman, The Green Arrow.
There’s the best part of 330 other issues on the rest of the DVD, extending to the final issue of the run in the early Eighties. When I get round to those, it’ll be a whole other story.