The Infinite Jukebox: The Moody Blues’ ‘The Story in your Eyes’


Not many people remember when Top of the Pops introduced its short-lived album slot. It came at the start of that year for weird music, 1971, in response to the Underground music that permeated 1970 and led to the creation of Radio 1’s 6.00pm strand, Sound of the Seventies.
It didn’t last. Audiences for a singles oriented pop programme did not react enthusiastically to a slot that, initially, gave serious rock bands three tracks to perform. The first change was to cut the album slot down to one song and then, unloved and unmourned, it vanished as if it had never been there.
Though I watched the show every week, I can only remember two bands who appeared in this slot, The Groundhogs, with something fast, bluesy and completely lacking in anything I recognised as a tune, and The Moody Blues, playing a track from the new or immediately forthcoming album, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.
It passed me by then, as did anything of the Moodies’ except ‘Go Now’ and ‘Nights in White Satin’. I heard that a fair amount, enough to be surprised, once I got Simon Frith’s Chart Files, to discover it had barely scraped into the Top 20, reaching only no 19.
That was the back end of 1967/the early weeks of 1968. For some reason, the single was re-released in 1972, one among many Sixties tracks that kept coming out again and again in that era. I started hearing it several times a day on the radio, and in the charts as it outdid its previous success, going to no 9.
So I started wanting to hear more of the Moody Blues. To begin with, I bought their most current album, which was still Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, instead of the album that actually had ‘Nights in White Satin’ on it (given how stiff and stilted Days of Future Passed turned out to be, I may have saved myself much subsequent musical shame if I’d gone for that one).
No single was released from Every Good Boy Deserves Favour in the UK, though the one they’d played that time on TOTP, ‘The Story in Your Eyes’, was released as a 45 in America and was a modest Top 30 hit.
Based on the sound and the feel of the album as a whole, ‘The Story in Your Eyes’ was the stand-out track on the album in many ways: excluding the pretentious opener it was the shortest track, it was an out-and-out uptempo rock song in a way the other seven tracks decidedly weren’t, and when I last, curiously, tried to listen to the album again, it was the only one I didn’t want to sling out the window with my boot up its jacksie.
So what makes this track something to celebrate instead of bury so deep in memory that twenty-five years of counselling should be needed to extract it?
Firstly, it’s a Justin Hayward composition, as was ‘Nights in White Satin’. If you are strapped to a chair and threatened with having a Moody Blues album track played at you, insist on it being one of Hayward’s. Hayward has a more pop-oriented tone when he wants to employ it, and an ability to construct songs that are meant to be played fast. He also has a remarkably lush but burning guitar tone at his command, and both of these attributes are on show in ‘The Story in your Eyes’.
And, even this late in the run of the Moodies’ ‘Classic Seven’ albums, he is capable of brevity: a lot of songs at this time and in the solo album period are extended by having the band ‘finish’ the song and repeat the whole thing from start to finish again.
And that’s what ‘The Story of your Eyes’ is: a surprisingly tight, blisteringly fast and, for the Moodies at least, raw in sound as Hayward works his guitar solidly in service to a real, effective tune. It might sound like faint praise but after allowing the Moodies to dominate my musical thinking for the first half of the Seventies, before the spell was exploded in an instant, that there are songs that can light me up with the old enthusiasm is a remarkable thing.
The Moody Blues are the only ones of my past favourites I now want to disown. If they’d been a bit less cosmic and fey, and a lot more inclined to tracks of this power, I may well not feel that way about them.

Sunday Watch: Dalziel & Pascoe – s01 e03 – An Autumn Shroud


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At ninety minutes a go, the Dalziel & Pascoe series was never going to offer up long-running seasons. Series 1 consisted of only three episodes, this being the third, each adapting, in order, the first three novels by Reginald Hill, though for some reason – presumably the time of outdoor filming – the episode’s title was amended from ‘An April Shroud’ to ‘An Autmn Shroud’. And the episode, like it’s novel original, takes a bold step for a series about the relationship of two contrasting coppers by dispensing with one of them for 95% of the screen-time.

‘An Autmn Shroud’ difered from its two predecessors in being adapted by Malcolm Bradbury instead of Alan Plater, to the episode’s detriment in my opinion, Plater being far more adept in bringing out the comedic element to things. It’s a Dalziel solo, taking him completely off his patch by setting the story in Lincolnshire instead of Yorkshire. Pascoe is disposed off after a slightly embarrassing introduction featuring DS Dalziel at Peter’s marriage to Ellie. They then slip off on honeymoon whilst Andy decides on a touring holiday of Lincolnshire (why? I’ve driven through it many a time and the place is flat, and I mean bloody flat, what’s the point in seeing the country when anything five foot above sea-level counts as a mountain?)

It’s raining. Dalziel sees a funeral cortege travelling by boat. His hired car conks out in a country lane when he tries to go through an overlarge puddle. Soaked trying to get it to start again, which it won’t, he is offered a chance to phone for assistance – and later a hot bath, change of clothes and bed for the night – by Bonnie Fielding (Francesca Annis, still looking exceedingly elegant and attractive). Bonnie is the widow of the deceased, Conrad Fielding. Dalziel doesn’t know it yet but he’s arrived in the middle of mysteries within mysteries. He’s also in Bonnie (and the late Conrad’s) bed the next afternoon.

Hill chooses to structure the book on the foundation of a suspicion that Conrad Fielding’s death was not the accident it was ruled to be, an interpretation that is partly justified but, in the episode’s final scene, not in the manner we’re all led to expect. The Fielding family consists of father-in-law Hereward (a superbly pompous and splenetic performance by the great Robin Bailey), a noted poet awaiting investiture by the American based Gumbelow Foundation and which includes a cheque for $50,000.00, the welcoming Bonnie, her three children, colourless Louise by her first marriage to a husband who died of an accident, Nigel the youngest and most drippy, and Bertie, by Conrad out of wedlock. Bertie is an offensive tw*t.

The household is completed by Bertie’s pal Hank Uniff, a modern-day film-maker, Hank’s sister, the sardonic Mavis (of whom it would have been nice to see more for reasons totally unconnected to the plot) and friend and investor Charlie, a nice but brainless quasi-yuppie.

The Fieldings live at Lake House, a stately home. They are not-so-slowly going broke and attempting to restore their fortunes by setting up a Medieval Banquetting Hall. Conrad died because, the builders having walked off in the rumour of no cash, he was up a ladder with an electric drill when the ladder slipped and he came down and so did the drill… And it was still going when they found him and only the shredded remains of his heart.

Andy Dalziel is in the midst of this, wanted as a guest by the lovely Bonnie, welcomed as a kind of would-be drinking companion by the locquacious Herry, resented by the easy-to-hate Bertie and seen as an intrusion by everyone else, except young Nigel, who’s run away, again. Being a suspicious bastard who can see plenty of things to be suspicious about, Dalziel starts investigating, with the help of the local Police, who he treats a bit more gently than he does Pascoe and Wieldy, but not essentislly any differently.

We’re not really dealing with murder here, for once, despite the pall of Conrad’s dodgy departure hanging around like the dead rat wrapped in tinfoil and carefully saved in the freezer. What’s going on is a massive planned insurance fraud involving all of the family, except possibly drippy Nigel, and yes, that includes the warm and welcoming Bonnie. It becomes more directly a murder when Claims Adjuster Arthur Spinx is found under the jetty – another ‘accident’ – and even more so when the blousy blonde housekeeper Annie Greave goes abruptly missing, only to be found in Epping Forest, strangled.

Dalziel stage-manages the investigation. He turns up as Henry VIIIth in the Medieval Banquetting Hall when it opens. So0 too do Peter and Ellie, back from Barcelona and wholly unprepared for the sight when they attend as guests of the local Bowls Club, of which both Ellie’s Dad and Detective Sergeant Green are members. There’s seventeen minutes left at this point, some of which Pascoe enlivens by being Dalziel’s foil, giving the episode a momentary sense of brio, but most of which he spends as a silent Greek Chorus as Andy, having gone as far as he could to giving Bonnie the chance to go straight, finally lowers the boom.

Nigel hasn’t run away. He’s been hiding in Annie Greaves’ room, partly to avoid speaking to Dalziel, but also because he’s been shagging her ever since she got here. Unfortunately for Bonnie, the drip believes he loves her, and when Annie said she was leaving, Nigel lost control and… well, you know the rest.

It’s part of the structure of the seeries that Andy Dalziel and Ellie Soper-Pascoe raise sparks off each other. Ellie was created as an early feminist, and a sociology lecturer: she is anti-Police by instinct and principle. She’s heavily sarcastic about Andy, about what he’s done to that family, by acting like a Policeman and not a ‘human being’. It’s a loaded scene, and loaded against her for she seems to be suggesting that the only human thing to do would have been to allow Nigel to go free, notwithstanding the fact that he has killed someone, about which she appears unconcerned. It’s crass, stupid and token. Later in the TV series Ellie will divorce Peter and drop out, presumably on the dichotomy between their respective beliefs. in the books, they remain at odds on this subject but negotiate ways to live with this disparity and their love for one another.

But then, from what little I’ve seen of them, the later TV episodes, free from the novels, are pretty shit.

A second series, still adapting the novels and consisting of four episodes, was to folow, and I will work my way through that on Sunday mornings in due course. This episode was unsatisfactory, removing Pascoe, using a large cast too few of whom had any real chance to establish themselves as personalities, and a story that was not merely grubby and sordid but also sadly trivial and confused. Even the real revelation about Conrad Fielding’s death fell flat, clever though it was. Better luck next time.

Take Three Heroes: Comic Cavalcade


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Unless I were to go for Action Comics or Detective Comics, which I’m not inclined to do for reasons that have as much to do with general disinterest in Superman and Batman of that era as it is with neither title having a finite end, there’s precious little left of the Golden Age that I want to know more about. Comic Cavalcade is pretty much the last series of substance to read.
Comic Cavalcade
debuted in 1942. It differed from the titles of the day in being an anthology of existing characters, a kind of Greatest Hits without the big two, and in being one of a very few titles to run at 96 pages for 15c, instead of the standard package.
The series’ intent was made plain on the first cover. It’s actually a wrap-around cover, showing all the characters from within in a race in an athletic stadium, with the front cover being a crammed close-up of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Flash.
Wonder Woman opened with a long story about fighting Nazi saboteurs and tying women up with ropes. Next were that service trio of Red, White and Blue, with some pretty openly expressed misogyny about women – i.e., intelligence Agent Doris West – thinking they can do the same things a man can. Since we were talking about walking down a flight of stairs in a fire-stricken building, and Doris does indeed come a cropper, we’re not exactly playing fair here. This was succeeded by the Ghost Patrol, who I never liked. I’d call this piece of tosh nonsensical if it made that amount of sense. Hop Harrigan appeared in prose once more. There was more of the flat and stagy Ed Wheelan stuff, corny gags from Fat and Slat and a Minute Movie with his repertory cast, The Black Pirate and a Green Lantern story clogged up with Doiby Dickles again but featuring another different version of Alan Scott’s oath. Wildcat pounded on a guy fixing to fix Ted Grant’s next fight, Scribbly returned to the old neighbourhood to find his old girlfriend overly impressed by a snotty marine. And the Flash brought up the rear with the best story of the bunch, though it wasn’t up to the best of his Flash Comics base: at least it didn’t feature Winky, Blinky or Noddy.
So that was the first issue. With a line-up like that, who all enjoyed a consistent level of popularity, it’s easy to suggest Comic Cavalcade was an attempt to replicate All-American Publications’ All-Star Comics, without the promotional aspect, things like new series soon to be forbidden as paper rationing was introduced. Given the standard of the stories, it’s also easy to suggest this was a case of Never Mind The Quality, Feel The Width.
The second issue was more of the same, only in a different order. It did add some Mutt and Jeff pages, more than enough to squeeze out Hop Harrigan, and whilst its humour is of the day and hasn’t outlasted its era in the way that, say, Pogo has, I’m always happy to see more of a classic newspaper strip. Once again, The Flash was the best thing in the issue, with a genuinely sweet story that, in its way, was all about match-making.
Covers still plugged the ‘big 3’, and always in the same left-to-right order, but issue 3 heralded a comprehensive change in the back-ups, with everybody out, Hop Harrigan back, and a host of ‘new’ features. The King, that master of disguise in a top hat, who kept turning his villainous foe The Witch loose (those two just had to be making out behind the panels) was billed as exclusive to Comic Cavalcade. Hop Harrigan was back, this time in comics form, preceded by a true story of an American airman, killed in action saving his crew. Another patriotic feature, written by M.C. Gaines himself, took the spirit of the Minutemen of the War of Independence and stretched it through of America.’s military adventures, stealing countries from other people… sorry, I mean extending the light of the torch of freedom… up to the then-current War. Green Lantern managed a decent story then there was a third true-life story, this time about Spanish conqueror, Vasco de Balboa, which I found far too long and uninteresting. Finally the Flash, as usual the best bit even with a silly story about a country town with ridiculous laws.
The first three issues were scanned from microfiches and were consequently a little blurry, but issue 4 was a scan of an actual copy. Immediately, the clarity made for a better issue. Even Harry Peter’s art looked clean and well-defined and the story was not confused in any way. Or was that me?
The Gay Ghost was added to the roster in this issue. The Green Lantern story was particularly silly. The problem with Alan Scott’s stories is that they’re not actually about Green Lantern. They’re about Doiby Dickles, with the Lantern as a back up character dragged down to the comic relief’s level.. The writers don’t seem to have any idea as to how to write a story without the tough little cabbie than to fill it out with his pugnacious scrapping, his persistent mangling of the English language and his need to have his fat pulled out of the fire whilst the crooks escape to make the story last longer than it ought to. One true delight was Scribbly and the Red Tornado, Sheldon Mayer at his finest, and one black spot was an O’Malley story, Long John O’Malley, the five foot tall cop. Unless he turns up in the next issue I’m going to write this one off as an unused five pager when his original series in Flash Comics fell on its face.
As for The Flash, he’d gone three issues straight but it couldn’t last. Winky, Blinky and Noddy turned up and quality turned down.

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Comic Cavalcade started as a 96 page comic but it also started in 1942, with America in the Second World War. Increasing paper restrictions reshaped the comic book industry irreversibly: by issue 5 the series was down to a 72 page format.
O’Malley was indeed there again in issue 5, but the exclusive King was replaced by Red, White and Blue. The Flash is still being credited to Fox and Hibbard but there’s more than a touch of Martin Nadle to the art, not to mention the figure work. If I was certain such things were done in 1943, I would say Nadle was doing layouts and Hibbard finishes, because the work is still much too good to be Nadle alone, and it’s not his cartoony rendition of the Three Dimwits, that’s still very much Hibbard.
In issue 6, Jon Blummer contributed another tribute to a heroic American airman who died in his country’s service. Green Lantern came up with an amusing story thanks to a metafiction conducted by ‘The Author’ (Alfie Bester?) reacting to his wife’s claim that GL and Doiby win by luck not brains: the outcome is his firing by Editor Mayer and being replaced by… his wife! Red, White and Blue offered one of their latterday solo stories, this one featuring Army Private Whitey Smith. And The Flash operated without comic relief on an unrealistic story about a town that had all their secret impulses liberated, and not a single pretty girl got kissed!
The changes continued to be rung, Scribbly and the Black Pirate back in issue 7, not in the same story, obviously, and there was a seismic shift on no. 8’s cover as The Flash appeared on the left, with GL and Wonder Woman next across the page. Behind that, the Wonder Woman story was screwy beyond belief and, even when it was all explained, displayed a twisted sexuality opposite to that which usually underlaid Marston’s Amazon stories. He’s usually all about feminine dominance and loving bondage, but here we have Steve Trevor pushing Diana Prince around, demanding she go out eating, drinking and dancing with him. And she’s loving being dominated by him in total chauvinistic manner, and that’s before she drinks the drugged coffee meant for him, has a long dream of losing her powers, succumbing to his demands she marry him, Trevor acting like the superhero and the Holliday girls trussing her up to deliver her as a bride. Even after she straightens it all out and goes back to refusing to marry him because the Amazon code means they can’t submit themselves to male domination (and there’s no other way of being married, is there?) she still hankers for big ol’ Steve to push her around and take absolutely no account of her wishes, wants or needs. Christ, this was rancid!
Much better was the rather odd tale of an American pilot shot down behind Japanese lines in China and rescued by a farmer’s family with whom he had no language in common. East and West was a strangely sweet story of cultures clashing yet complementing each other, which ended in a direct repudiation of Kipling’s Never the Twain shall Meet that was actually rather moving. There was a paean to the American seaman, the history of his Union and the dogged determination to see the War through, and a silent Hop Harrigan story of being shot down and escaping whose only words were the 23rd Psalm.
Add in a Picture Story from American History and the whole issue was an unusual line-up reliant on its three stalwarts.
This continued next quarter with, of all things, a history of the Co-Operative Movement, stretching back to the Rochdale Pioneers, painting it in glowing colours and promoting its continuation, and expansion throughout America, despite the whole thing being, in American terms, rank socialism.
And there was an astonishingly strong Green Lantern story, with Alan Scott out to save the life of Doiby Dickles, mortally wounded and dependant for his life on a surgeon forbidden to practice in a hospital because he is Jewish. The whole story is an angry, indeed raging attack on race hatred, hatred of other religions. It makes the American ideal, of all being free and equal into a creed and brooks no exception. I wish that spirit prevailed now, or that at least there were crusaders to battle the White Nationalists with the same fervour as the writer of this story.
And contemporary fans complain about ‘Social Justice Warriors’ introducing politics into comics. They should read this and then spit their venom.
Another East Meets West story drew a true distinction between Japanese and Filipinos and the Hop Harrigan story was another direct attack on German Aryan superiority over ‘inferior’ races. The whole thing was wonderful to see. In the end, the Flash’s story was a grave disappointment, even before you added the Three Dimwits.

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Issue 10 added a contents list on the inside front cover emphasising the reduction in the regular list to the three stalwarts of Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Flash, and no other superheroic figures at all. The issue contained an adaptation of the Frederic March-starring play and film, ‘Tomorrow – the World !’, a frightening yet thought-provoking piece about a young German boy, son of a heroic philosopher who has died in a concentration camp, and who has been taught to be a Nazi. He comes to live with his Uncle’s family in America, bringing his attitudes with him. Responding to what he says and does, the family have to decide what to do with him, and if he can reform. It was a very strong piece, all the more so for the ending being left open, unlike the film. After that, the Green Lantern nonsense was even more of a disappointment.
The latest story prepared in co-operation with the East and West Association was narrated by Johnny Everyman, who was to be the regular star. Comic Cavalcade was now producing so many stories and features about freedom, democracy, equality and sheer basic decency that it was putting the superhero stuff to shame. It was stirring, heart-warming stuff, a statement of ideals in action. How much of a resemblance to reality it was doesn’t matter. Yet the generation that could have grown up on this was the generation that has led America this past twenty years: so much for good intentions.
Hop Harrigan, decently, and Red, White and Blue, boringly, filled the space given to the play next issue. The Flash escaped to have a story without Winky, Blinky and Noddy but unfortunately it was drawn by Martin Nadle.
Issue 12 had the same line-up but only the Johnny Everyman story interested me.
Sometimes, you have to pause to draw conclusions. Over the past couple of years, I’ve read a colossal amount of Golden Age comics, the adventures of the Justice Society of America in their solo series. I’ve been spurred on by a combination of the fascination for these character born in me by my first, magical exposure to them at the age of ten, and by the insatiable urge to know everything there is to know. I’ve read tons of Wonder Woman, The Flash and Green Lantern, and I’ve reached conclusions about their Golden Age careers that, frankly, aren’t that favourable. I think I’ve just read enough Golden Age comics now to be unimpressed with their flaws, their silliness, their awkwardness and the overwhelming reliance on comic sidekicks. Doiby Dickles ruins Green Lantern, plain and simple. The Three Dimwits are a depressing clog on The Flash, who’s being doubly crippled by Martin Nadle art. Wonder Woman is just plain cuckoo. Especially in comparison with the plethora of stories fiercely promoting tolerance, decency and brotherhood, the three stars aren’t even adequate.
Nevertheless, in the grand old words of Magnus Magnusson, I’ve started so I’ll finish.

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For once, the Green Lantern story in issue 13 was worth reading, being the second appearance of Solomon Grundy in the Lantern’s series. It ended with his imprisonment in a green globe, but not the one that he escapes to confront the Justice Society in All Star 33. In between, GL’s origin was twisted with the claim that his former railroad lamp was actually given to him by Tibetan lamas.
But Comic Cavalcade was going down better with its contemporary audience than with me in 2021 and, with issue 14, and the War over, the series was promoted to bi-monthly status. The running order was shuffled to promote The Flash to midway. Hop Harrigan and Tank Tinker left the War behind to find modern slavery in a small American midwestern town and the horror of ordinary folks talking lynching with approval.
A new feature began in issue 15, ‘Just a Story’, written and drawn by Howard Purcell. Though the series would rapidly develop in a different direction, this first episode was tremendously effective. A man, a scientist, Louis Manton, has been discovered, raving, with a scar across his forehead. He is dying, pleading for someone named Joan. The Doctors hope that if they can identify this Joan and fetch her, it will save Manton’s life. But Manton’s Joan comes from the past, in France, a strange, young, forest main who aided Manton when he travelled in time, whom he loves. But this Joan, or Jeanne, hears voices in her head. They lead her to the Dauphin, to military command, for she is Jeanne d’Arc, Joan of Arc, and the story is her story and it does not end well for anyone, least of all Manton. Crude though the art is, and the telling, the story had a strange, compelling charm to it.
The Flash featured Winky, Blinky and Noddy and that rarest of all things, a joke that made me laugh. Hop Harrigan’s bit was more about Miss Snap, Gerry and the idiot kid, so it may have been deliberately confusing nonsense.
Sadly, Johnny Everyman’s attempts to convince American kids that people the whole world over were humans under the skin, with hearts and minds of their own, was now gone, but I think I’m already on safe ground in saying these were the best thing about Comic Cavalcade. After a strong start, the second Just a Story was just a silly story.
Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, was a very well read character but that didn’t stop him coming an absolute cropper in issue 17. Diana Prince and Steve Trevor are in occupied Germany, about a new Nazi Underground when they get involved with Valkyries carrying off handsome fighting men (hellooo, Steve!). The story is based on the notion that the psychic energies of the German nation during the War years has created Odin and the Valkyries for real and evil. The idea is actually both clever and interesting, but where Marston makes a colossal bollocks of it is that Odin and his cohorts are Norse, as in Norway, and integral to their national myth-cycle. The Germanic myths involve Wotan and his Rhinemaidens, and they don’t have a Valhalla under that word.
I’d seen the Just a Story in issue 18 before in some reprint, and it was equally as good now, a slice of life in a city night that deftly interwove an escaped murderer, a lost dog and a kid wavering on the edge of going bad and brought all three home with a naturalistic tone that was Just a Story but one very worthwhile one. The same went for the feature next issue, a sweet, sentimental tale introducing a character as yet known as Mr Nobody, who interrupts his attempts to clear his name from a false accusation of murder to look after a maltreated young girl. The same issue also included a dull Cotton-top Katie story featuring Myrtle the Kangaroo.
She was bounced in issue 20 in favour of an O’Malley story, whilst Just a Story this time overdid the sentimentality with the story of a little blind girl gaining a dog whose owner was demanding it back, until he saw her.
But after making such a strong start, Just a Story was going downhill rapidly, with something really silly in issue 21. Mart Nadel turned in another of his ridiculous art jobs on The Flash, O’Malley persisted to blight the page.
Mr Nobody returned to Just a Story in issue 22. He was named Johnny Peril and he became the star of the series, related a war story with a bittersweet twist ending. He wasn’t officially linked with Mr Nobody, but we all knew who he was. Now The Atom barged in, full of more misunderstandings with Mary James (why did he put up with her?) And the Thinker turned up in The Flash’s story, under a notation that had the tale originally prepared for Flash Comics 93. Sadly, the last two pages were missing so I missed how the story ended.
Johnny Peril told Just a Story next issue but this one was a lot of rancid SF tosh: the feature was unpredictable to say the least. The Flash had gotten past Mart Nadel so his stories were looking up, Cotton-Top Katie replaced The Atom and Green Lantern battled Solomon Grundy in a story that was complete nonsense. There’s a reason why I’m not commenting on the Wonder Woman stories: can you guess what it is?

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Black Canary paid a visit to issue 25 to appear in the most un-Black Canary story of her short career: did any other story have her mutter a magic rhyme that summons hundreds of avian black canaries to save her falling out of the sky? A thumping great minus twenty-five points for that effort.
At long last, in issue 26, Green Lantern managed to get through a story without Doiby Dickles. What’s more, it was drawn by Alex Toth, though not one of his best jobs. It’s notation was AA101: very near to All-American Comics‘ end. On the other hand, Just a Story had disappeared. It’s track record was not good, with maybe one story in every three worth the effort.
But that was just for an issue. Johnny Peril was back in issue 27 with another schtumer, whilst Green Lantern’s least reputable foe, The Fool, was his next target. Next issue, Peril’s feature became his Surprise Story but it didn’t make it any better. Molly Mayne and Streak the Wonder Dog turned up in Green Lantern but in the case of one of them, not for long enough. The Atom popped in again, now showing his completely unexplained super-strength whilst The Flash put a lie to my saying The Fiddler had only appeared once in the Golden Age, the last issue of All-Flash by tangling with the violin virtuoso.
Other existing series kept thrusting themselves into Comic Cavalcade. In the case of the Atom, I wondered if the series was just being used to sop up a surplus of stories that, with the Golden Age titles slowly closing down, would otherwise have gone to waste, but that surely didn’t apply to Leave it to Binky in issue 29. Green Lantern let Doiby in again whilst The Flash offered another second show to an otherwise one-timer with the return of Star Sapphire.
But the Golden Age was slipping away. The superhero titles were all undergoing cancellation or repurposing, and Comic Cavalcade was no exception. Issue 29 was the last outing for the three stars, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Flash, and that shifting array of extras. From issue 30, the series became a funny animal comic. The Fox and the Crow. Blabber Mouse. The Tortoise and the Hare. The Raccoon Kids. The Dodo and the Frog. Goofy Goose. Giggle-Toons. Willy Wolf. Nutsy Squirrel. It all sounds too grisly for words but two of those series are supposed to be humour classics.
However, my brief is with the superheroic and so my review ends here. What have I gained from this? By now I must have read all the Golden Age Flash and Green Lantern’s adventures, or if I haven’t then there can be no more than a handful outstanding. I had already read as many of Wonder Woman’s story as any sane man would wish to, and the extra ones here did nothing to change my mind about the necessity of reading the rest.
But that brief War-time run of stories about Equality and Decency, and the fervour with which they delivered, made the run worthwhile. It reminded me that there was a time when people stood up for things other than their own advantage and interest, and I wish we still had that now, because it’s needed again, in spades.

Good Omens: s05 – The Doomsday Option


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Now all roads were running together to the East to meet the coming of the War, wrote Tolkien in The Return of the King and, save for the fact that Oxfordshire lies west of London, it goes for the penultimate episode of Good Omens as well. Though Neil Gaiman took a lot of trouble to keep all the narrative strands spinning in as many disparate corners as he could, there was no question about it: everything was now leading to one place only, and that was Armageddon.

Considering how much of this section of the book had to be left out to prevent it flying apart under its own centripetal force – I really did regret the excision of the Four Other Bikers of the Apocalypse – there was still a lot of territory to cover. There’s Aziraphale, unexpectedly discorporated anf having to improvise by possessing the body of Madame Tracey, albeit on a purely co-operative basis, of course, and Crowly going hel-for-leather in a car on fire, the only instance of weak CGI in the series, let alone the episode, there’s Anathema and Newton, having hung ut between episodes and now concentrating on the urgent matter at hand, and there’s Adam Young, Antichrist, doing the one thing unexpected of him, the one thing you thought was beyond even his red-flashing-eyed power: being human.

So the Four Bikers ride to Tadfield Airbase and kickstart the end of the World – now a mere 17 minutes hence – whilst the opposing forces gather. Adam’s supposed to meet his friends here, his new friends. But instead he brings his old friends with him, his real friends. I’m here, he calls. And we go into the credit sequence in disbelief that already 52 minutes have passed, because we sure didn’t notice them going by…

A Marston Baines Thriller: Malcolm Saville’s ‘White Fire’


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For at least two reasons, White Fire is the Marston Baines book that I find easiest to get on with. The first of these is that it is primarily set upon Mallorca, a place I have been to more often than any other outside of the UK, and of which I have the fondest memories, albeit that this is a Mallorca fifty years before I knew it. The second is that, because the subject for this book is diamond smuggling, there is no hobby-horse for Saville to ride with his usual desperation, though that hobby-horse does get a look-in, around the edges of the story.
And there’s a third reason in that White Fire turns out to be the one Marston Baines I glanced at in a library when I was young, only to hastily put it back on the shelf when I discovered a scene with kissing in it.
Apart from Marston, who has much the best front-of-house appearance to date here, and the ubiquitous Simon, we have only one other young assistant this time, a return for Rosina Conway of Three Towers in Tuscany. The book starts with her, on holiday with her convalescent mother, staying at the Blue Bay Hotel in Palma, as is, it turns out, a familiar thriller writer.
Rosina’s changed. There’s far less of the hysterics of her first appearance, though they’re not dispelled entirely, but overall she’s much more mature, despite the awful situation she’s put into. She’s befriended nine-year old William Yeats, son of rich and over-distracted steelman John Yeats. William is bored and overlooked, his father and Hugo, his private secretary, have no time to pay attention to him but Rosina does.
Except that when she takes him on a coach trip to visit the Caves of Drach (been there! done that!), the lights are unexpectedly switched off, Rosina is grabbed and held back by the woman next to her and by the time the lights go on again, William is gone. It’s as clear a case of kidnapping, and a well-planned one as well. However, practically everyone from Yates on down, via handsome Hugo, thinks she’s making it up (though it doesn’t stop Hugo wanting to take Rosina on a romantic moonlight trip and, no doubt, despatch her knickers to Ibiza by glider).
Rosina’s rather more stable in the middle of this than before, which is pleasing to see. But there’s one aspect in which she’s as she was, and that’s Simon. Despite his having dropped her pretty precipitately, and her recognition that he’s a philanderer, Rosina still loves Simon Baines and, before the end of the book, and in the face of his renewed romantic comments, up to and including Puerto Soller as an ideal place for a honeymoon (it is rather beautiful), she’s simultaneously candid with herself about his unreliability and confessing he is the only man for her.
Ah yes, Simon. Once again he’s answering his Uncle’s summons to somewhere sunny and foreign, delivered in the knowledge that his nephew has behaved shabbily to the fair Rosina, and that she’s on the spot and still besotted. But this is where duty calls, and as Marston already knows Simon is being considered very seriously for the Service, it all has to come together.
Marston’s been sent out to research the background for another thriller because, implausibly, it seems that someone is trying to establish Mallorca as a new centre for diamond-smuggling. More specifically, embedded Service Agent P4, aka half-Spanish Juan Clark, lately working as a waiter at the Blue Bay Hotel, has been missing and not reporting for ten days. Marston, who will have the not-entirely enthusiastic co-operation of the Spanish Police, is to find P4, or what happened to him, and to get a line on who’s behind the smuggling.
On the surface, that’s it. We’re talking criminal enterprise, not threat to Britain and, oh yes, the world. But I said there was a hobbyhorse round the fringes and whilst Saville doesn’t overdo it this time, it’s still there, if not totally expressed. According to Stephen Biggar’s Foreword, quoting from one of the writer’s sons, throughout the Sixties Saville was obsessed with the Chinese Menace. Mao Tse-Tung’s ‘Great Leap Forwards’ was intended to transform China into an industrial country which would overtake England, and industrial diamonds, intrinsic to manufacturing machine parts and armaments, are a vital part of this threat… process.
So disrupting a new source of smuggling would protect Britain from the Yellow Peril.
Nevertheless, the book is superior to its predecessors in letting that motive be intimated early on, rather than declared, and then not pounded into the ground. I suspect a degree of editorial pressure to dial it down. Already, the series was not fulfilling expectations as to commerciality There had been no paperback editions, and there would be none until the GirlsGoneBy reprints over half a century later.
So Marston, both with and without Simon, pursues P4’s whereabouts and what clues he has left to be discovered. First Marston, and then the pair, find themselves in dangerous situations involving a hot-headed motor-cycle rider, Carlos, who goes on to commit the first onstage murder of these books. The problem, which ties into Saville’s approach to the series, is that both are raised as chapter-ending cliffhangers, only for the following chapter to leap elsewhere and the outcome of the risky situation to be described, offhandedly, in retrospect.
Though he’s been summoned to assist his Uncle, Simon spends most of his time supporting Rosina, who’s being treated as the criminal here. Yates holds her responsible for his son’s disappearance. Rosina holds herself responsible but doesn’t sound as if she’s going to sue for damages. Everybody seems to think she knows more than she’s telling but only Simon is able to lead her to the one additional piece of information she can recall that might provide a lead.
But there’s a great deal of the usual frustrating responses. Yates, as many rich people do in fiction, decides that the Police are useless and that they’re not trying because they’ve taken longer than thirty minutes and failed to get William back, not to mention that they haven’t dragged Rosina off in chains to be interrogated. Marston’s supposed to be helping Yates too but, just because he isn’t at Yates’ beck-and-call twenty-four-seven, is written off as useless too, Simon, who hasn’t bowed-and-scraped once is a boor and Hugo tells both of them to get off the island because they’re not wanted.
Whilst Marston tracks down P4 and the nerve centre of the new cutting and polishing industry, Simon takes Rosina off for a day that he wants to solely devote to his own selfish leisure, leading up to a snogging session or four. Swimming and sunbathing is to be the order of things, he thinks, and throughout the book Rosina is in and out of her (colour never specified but I think white, for purity) bathing suit and bathing cap.
But she’s determined to get to the bottom of things by checking the industrial building at Pelacor – a slip of memory for Manacor, did no-one have a map to consult? – where Hugo had been seen sneaking around and then getting deliberately left behind to explore the Caves of Drach and find William.
This all works, against Simon’s will. William has been removed and is saved by P4, offstage, when the conspirators are rounded up by the Police, equally offstage. Simon and Rosina find his half-mad gaoler, force the truth out of him and get him to show them almost all the way out before he pushes them into the underground lake. They’re in no real danger as Marston is at hand but nevertheless Rosina saves them both before bending in for the kiss at which a single-digit version of myself rapidly shut the library copy and went looking for something more his style.
There is an unusual twist to the coda. By now, we know Yates is a successful diamond-smuggler, and that William has been kidnapped to coerce him into selling out his organisation to the new conspirators – who have Hugo working for them – for a pittance. William’s the son of a baddy, who’s been at this operation for something like a decade. As soon as he’s rescued, William disappears with Daddo, not to see Rosina again but, most inexplicable of all, despite his long and serious criminal career, Yates will go free in exchange for returning all his reserves. That’s right, steal for ten years but escape punishment for returning your ill-gotten gains or, more realistically, what’s left of them after ten years spending.
It’s a foreshadowing of Kevin Smith in Strangers at Witchend. Even though William has a seriously offstage mother somewhere, his father can’t go to prison because he’s got a son to look after. Good and evil, Black and White, both become meaningless in the face of the appalling prospect of a broken home.
As for Simon and Rosina, it’s all lovey-dovey. She’ll meet him in Puerto Soller for any reason (so once Sixties freedom can seep in, that’s the dirty weekend sorted: no, seriously, it will never happen, not even with the ring on the right finger).
But I still like the book for Mallorca, places I’ve been and places I love. It’s better than I now have come to expect, but let’s talk more about that at the end.

Danger Man: s03 e04 – Sting in the Tail


danger

Now this was an episode as enthralling, intense and intricate as last week’s was flat, dull and directionless. Under the directorship of Peter Yates, he of Bullett fame with Steve McQueen and that car chase, we were kept in brooding suspense that built to the only possible, yet unwanted climax.

The episode scored very heavily by casting Derren Nesbitt as the villain, Rashid Noureddine, an assassin. He’s not the only formidable guest star this week, though it’s surprising that he’s not credited as such but only gets his name under ‘Also Starring’. The official ‘Guest Star’ is Ronald Radd, playing a superb broad comic role as Alesandros, the Greek: broad, boisterous, overwhelming, but also with a surprising part to play.

The open showed us two men talking over drinks in Paris, the older Sir Alan, a British diplomat, being entertained by a smooth young man, the Sheikh of Assimi, about some business in which the Sheikh is involved, about which he’s promising not to take any action without consulting the British Government. When Sir Alan leaves, the Sheikh immediately switches on the radio to some swinging music, calling for his wife, Michelle, obviously intent on the 1965 French equivalent of the boogie. But Michelle is tied up on the bed (kinky bondage) and the Sheikh is shot twice by a silenced gun. The last shot is of the assassin’s face: we recognise Derren Nesbitt, with black hair immaculate, radiating charm and deadliness.

The episode’s only flub was an unworthy short cut. Inspector Roget of the Surete, having interviewed the histrionic Michelle, telephones Our Man Drake, getting him out of bed, with no explanation why he should be involved. Drake in turn calls his colleague James (John Standing) in Beirut to berate him for letting Noureddine slip out of the country. He then visits the studio of artist Stephen Miller, who’s stuck between his wife shouting at him that her Daddy won’t let them have any more money this month and trying to paint this hot blonde in the background, wearing a very short Roman toga and about six feet of leg: Drake buys the whole kit’n’kaboodle – except the model – and ‘Stephen Miller’ takes a rough and ready room in Beirut, rented from the larger than life Alesandros, with five days in which to somehow get Noureddine out of the country, back to Paris and his appointment with le Surete and, behind them and referred to only in passing, Madame la Guillotine.

Like the open, I loved the brief introduction to the world of the real Stephen Miller. Both scenes were taken up with things of not even tangential relevance to the plot, but both economically indicated the existence of an outside world, going on, things of concern only to passing characters, whilst Drake and Noureddine conduct a private and increasingly tense battle in the shadows.

Drake’s tactic is simple. Noureddine is in love with Marie Valedon (Jeanne Roland), a beautiful French singer currently working nightly at the Hibiscus Club, where she sings various songs in French, the centrepiece being a French version of The Zombies’ ‘She’s not There’. Noureddine is a jealous man, very jealous. Using some sneaky techniques, ‘Miller’ sketches Marie as she sings (very nicely indeed) and accosts the lady to present her with his sketch, persuade her to give him five minutes and tries to get her to agree to sit for him as he paints her. There is an appealing suggestion that her painting could equal the famous ‘La Giaconda’, better known to us as the ‘Mona Lisa’.

But Noureddine is so jealous he has a man permanently watching Marie Valedon, a man who telephones him so that Noureddine drops into the Club and starts to ask questions of ‘Stephen Miller’. MacGoohan fencing with Nesbitt and vice versa: the writer and the director known when they’re onto a good thing and give us scene after scene of this, slowly ratchetting up the tension as Noureddine tries to deflect ‘Miller’ without actually killing him, as Marie Valedon continues to grow slowly interested in the importunate artist, and Drake deliberately sets himself up for a beating that demionstrates how well his plan to provoke his target is working. It’s noticeable how very rarely he looks directly at the assassin, as if he isn’t worth real attention, and correspondingly how frequently Noureddine calls him Stephen.

The ultimate aim is to make Noureddine think that ‘Miller’ and Marie Valedon have run away to Paris together, to jolt him into taking a flight to Paris and arrest by Inspector Roget. Drake decoys Marie Valedon to a safe house, ostensibly to paint her. James breaks into the home she shares with Noureddine, takes all her clothes and things, to make it seem like she’s left him. One thing he doesn’t take is the Golliwog doll, casually seen in the background.

At the safe house, Drake spills the beans to Marie Valedon. He enlightens her as to Noureddine’s true business, he admits he’s not a painter, that the ‘La Gioconda’ business was a set-up, a manipulation, that he’s lied to her and played her throughout. Like ‘The Outcast’, two weeks ago, it’s a plain confession of the dirtiness of Drake’s job, and when he leaves her for the last time, his regret and weariness at having to do such things is clear in his voice, but he doesn’t see Marie Valedon turn from the window out of which she is staring to show the tears on her face.

Unfortunately, there’s been a mistake. James didn’t take the Gollie. Noureddine isn’t on the plane to Paris. He’s in ‘Miller’s room, with his two henchmen and Alesandros. The Gollie’s name is ‘Ju-Ju’. He’s Marie Valedon’s lucky charm. She wouldn’t go anywhere without him. So he wasn’t fooled onto the plane, and he’s going to sit there, smiling, as his henchmen knife ‘Miller’ and Alesandros to death, making it look like they killed each other in a drunken brawl.

We know what’s coming but we’re unprepared for what happens. There’s a fight, Drake in action, bodies hurled all over. Alesandros is no match but Drake pulls him free. A knife spins away, Alesandros grabs it, for self-defense. Drake downs the hemchman, one of them with his new gadget watch that can be primed to give a paralysing injection, or sting, but Noureddine has his gun and it’s pointing at ‘Stephen Miller’. Until Alesandros, that great over the top character, the clown, throws the knife he has picked up, into Noureddine’s heart.

Drake has, once again, failed. Sure, Noureddine will kill no more, which is good news in anybody’s books, but he has not been taken, has not been brought to justice, has not been executed in accordance with the strictures of the Law. On the other hand, John Drake, having at the last been outwitted, has survived where he thought he was finished. And that makes for a surprising, but very effective, downbeat ending.

More of this, please.

The Infinite Jukebox: Joe Jackson’s ‘Steppin’ Out’


I remember when Joe Jackson was the first ‘new Elvis’ – Costello, that is. He and his three piece band, with whom he played piano, came along in 1978, and I’m pretty sure he got a John Peel session at the time because otherwise I wouldn’t have heard him. I remember a couple of unconvincing singles (one of which I later learned to love immensely) before ‘Is she really going out with him?’ (which was actually being reissued) came along and I was gratified to see that my liking of it coincided with a Top 20 hit, Top of the Pops, etc.
The same went for its next but one follow-up, ‘It’s Different for Girls’, which I also liked, and bought on a gimmicky 10″ single, and which was an even bigger hit, going to no. 5
Apart from the latter containing no piano, the two songs were out of the same mould, cool, dry bass-laden records with pointed, clever lyrics, hence the Costello comparison.
But this was not where Jackson wanted to go, where his heart was ultimately set. The big band sound, jumping jazz, still was what he wanted to do and what I didn’t want to go anywhere near.
It’s a familiar story by now. Never rule anything out. There is no genre of music so closed that something won’t slip out and get you going, and in Joe Jackson’s case, it was his only other hit, ‘Steppin’ Out’.
There’s a brio and a swing to the song from the moment it starts, a bright, pulsing bass-line supported by Jackson’s piano, introducing dramatic chords before he slides into the lyrics. The melody line is smooth but excited, a rush of fun and anticipation as Jackson sets out the story of a couple, a married pair probably, lost in the mundanity of their days and nights, coming close to splitting, certainly fighting, as much out of claustrophobia as anything else.
The mist across the window hides the lines, he begins, but there’s an immediate salvation at hand. Nothing hides the colours of the lights that shine, lights not yet defined but already we see the city and its neons, lights powered by electricity, an electricity that needs to be injected into their relationship. Look and dry your eyes. And the beat and the pulse pump on.
They’re tired, tired of all the darkness in their lives, run out of angry words to say to each other, but they can come alive, so simply and quickly: get into a car and drive, to the other side.
Me, you, steppin’ out, into the night, and paradoxically into the light.
It’s simple to the point of shallowness, but it’s the solution they need. Go towards the lights, the lights of night, recharge themselves at the electricity, go glam for the night, and remind themselves of the rush of love and romance. It’s a deliberate bid to recapture the youth they’re shedding too soon, a flight from the TV and the radio, the passive entertainments they use, go out and surprise themselves with what they’ll find.
She’s not quite convinced though, and Jackson seeks to draw her into his vision with colours, she who could dress in pink and blue, just like a child, and in a yellow taxi turn to him and smile. It’s not that far away in space or time, they’ll be there in just a while. If she follows his lead…
The video of the single, which is in itself a minor masterpiece of colour, possibility and role-confusion, has nothing to do with the lyrics. It’s story is of a young couple, in tuxedo and ball-gown, out for the night, Jackson the piano-player with his jazzman’s flat hat in one room, the maid tidying the room the woman occupies, falling in love with her elegant gown and dreaming of wearing it, awaking to her real life just in the last seconds before the woman returns alone, as the man returns to the room with the piano, where he sits down and starts to make notes towards the song he’s going to write, and Jackson returns to the street outside, picking up the flower the woman has discarded…
It’s a colourful look at the night life of the elegant people we’re not, the aspirational generation, the yuppies who would invade the world. Like I said, it’s shallow as hell, but Jackson and the song’s underlying pulse, it’s air of life-energy, makes it something that, for a few minutes, people like me can look at and not despise.
That’s the beauty of ‘Steppin’ Out’, to make the world look good for a time, to make it look exciting and full of the possibilities we don’t normally get to see, without the sharp edges that ‘real’ life contains. And to do it over and over again, every time you play it.
The Jackson boy done good.

Sunday Watch: Country Matters – The Sullens Sisters


Country

There were a few moments whilst watching this latest episode from the Country Matters DVD that I found myself wondering exactly what was the purpose of the series. ‘The Sullens Sisters’ (misrepresented on the disc as ‘Sullen’ sisters, which would have changed trhe bent of the entire story if it were true) was a prime example of a story that seemed to have no dramatic point.

But that was to misunderstand the purpose of the series, which was to adapt country-based short stories written by either H.E. Bates or, in this instance, A.E. Coppard, set away from the noise and the grime and the sophistication of the cities of England, rather in the much slower and confined, yet gloriously natural countryside, in the years immediately before and after the Great War. As the following account will show, the stories can meander, and can seem to lack narrative focus, but they are slices of life, moving portraits, reminders of what life once was within what was then living memory, and sometimes they show how cruel life was in times many would call The Good Old Days. The Sullens Sisters certainly did that.

After a dismal start with an opening voiceover telling us some basic information the adapter couldn’t find a way of introducing within the story, we went on to a somewhat stagey and, in some of the acting, stilted tale centred upon young Tommy Adams (played by a young Peter Firth), who we had been told had just started his first job, and was now the support of his family, consisting of his domineering mother (Gillian Martell), full of hard-headed northern common sense and the total inability to accept that her son had a mind and wishes of his own. Mrs Adams did not consider Tommy in any way adult and you could tell from the offset that she never would, even if she lived to see him reach sixty-five. No, Mrs Adams wanted Tommy tied to her apron strings even as everything he said or did was shot down or dismissed as foolishness and waste.

But Tommy, in his new suit, did have wishes of his own, wishes to be expected from a young and utterly naive and unknowing young man, namely girls. Or rather a girl. Strictly speaking, a woman. This is Rachel Sullens (Penelope Wilton), aged 26, an orphan with a younger sister Lindy (Clare Sutcliffe), of Tommy’s age, who works at the sub-Post Office, where Tommy comes in every lunchtime to buy a ha’penny stamp. Tommy is fascinated with Rachel, who regards him as too young for her and better suited to her sister.

But Tommy has no interest in Lindy, and can barely see her for his devotion to Rachel, even though their landlady and surrogate mother Molly Batts (Queenie Watts, going madly OTT with the cockney banter) tries to push him away, and even tells him that Rachel is going with Arthur Dagnall. Rachel even goes so far as to tell Tommy that she and Arthur are engaged, or at least they have an understanding. She invites him to kiss her, a momentous step in those times, and even, when removing his hand from her shoulder, draws it lightly across her breast. Then she invites him to tea on Sunday. To meet Arthur.

We don’t even need to hear Arthur (Trevor Bannister) speak to know him for what he is. All we need do is see his glaringly garish blazer, of yellow and brown stripes. You wouldn’t need floodlights at a football match, you need only shine a torch at his blazer and the reflection would illuminate a medium-sized Midlands town. Arthur, we understand, is not to be trusted. Tommy, paired with Lindy for the meal, is easily dismissed by him. He and Rachel go off for a walk down the canal bank. Tommy prepares to leave with the alacrity of a man released from Poilice handcuffs without an (actual) stain on his reputation, but is shamed by Lindy – an inveterate chatterbox who actually loves him – into taking her for a walk down the canal bank, which seems to be the principal place of municipal entertainment, not least for its overgrown banking where young men can persuade young ladies, even those as old as 26, to remove their outer garb and giggle in their bodice and bloomers.

We know what’s going to happen and sure enough it does: Rachel gets pregnant and Arthur gets gone. Tommy will marry her, it doesn’t matter that she’s carrying someone else’s baby. At first Rachel won’t have it. She’s fond of Tommy, fond enough not to do something like that to him, but she’s going to be an unwed mother, an object of disdain and sneering and, when a reluctant Lindy says its best, she gives in.

But there’s a fly in the ointment and it too is the very much expected one. Mrs Adams is not having it. This Rachel is a bitch, a sneaky, conniving bitch, which is proved by her working at the Post Office where they rob pensioners. Mrs Adams will never see her and, what’s more, Tommy isn’t going to marry her. Not yet, at any rate, for Tommy is 19 at a time when Coming of Age is 21: until then, he can’t get married without the consent of his parent or guardian, and as far as Mrs Adams is concerned, he can whistle for that. Such a loving mother.

So that buggers things up for Rachel, more than somewhat. The baby’ll be walking before they can get married. She’s not in the mood for a walk, she’d rather stay home, what witrh her showing like that. She tells Tommy to go with Lindy instead, so Tommy goes with Lindy, whose bare arm we see in the underhgrowth, carefully setting down her new hat. And giggling.

So that’s both sisters pregnant and Tommy’s the father of one forthcoming baby. Of course he has to marry Lindy, which leaves poor Rachel ill-disposed to her baby sister, at first: she comes round philosophically – blood is thicker than water, eh? But equally of course, Tommy isn’t going to be allowed to marry Lindy either, not without Mrs Adams’ say-so, which from here to eternity will only ever be an implacable say-no. Unless, that is, someone not a million miles away forges that consents and goes to the Registry Office as ‘Mrs Adams’, even if Molly Batts forgets that’s her ‘name’.

The happy couple are in so much of a rush to catch their train to Southport for a honeymoon weekend, large parts of which they spend seeing the sights instead of shagging, that they forget to takre the Marriage Certificate with them. It’s there on the mantlepiece when Tommy gets home from his weeelkend with his pals. Open. And with a grim relish. indeed a pride in not letting anyone, least of all Tommy, get away with putting anything over on her, not Kathleen Adams, she’s already shopped him to the Police. And you’ll get a damned good telling-off from them, my lad.

But this is England in the 1910s. They all end up in the dock, Tommy and Lindy, the heavily-pregnant Rachel and Mrs Batts, for the Law is not to be flouted is this disgraceful manner, in which the only thing for praise is Mrs Adams’ public-spiritedness in bringing this to the Law’s attention and its need to maintain its Majesty. Mrs Batts is to be fined £10. Tommy, Lindy and Rachel will each go to Prison for six months. Only then does the consequences of her copper-bottomed nastiness strike home to Tommy’s mother, the grandmother of his child-to-be, and she cries out, “Let them go!” Too late, Missus, too late.

We’ve reached the end of the story but there is a coda and an incredibly black joke to end upon, that had me laughing uncontrollably. It’s a wedding. Tommy and Lindy’s union is formally consecrated. In prison, in prison uniforms, with the even heavierly-pregnant Rachel and Mrs Adams as the witnesses, oh, and two prison warders, one of each gender. The bride and groom are allowed to kiss once, as per the ceremony, but when Lindy seeks a second kiss, a more passionate one complete with hug, she is hauled off by the female warder. Tommy returns to his place of incarceration without complaint, probably because he knows what he’ll get if he does, leaving Mrs Adams to turn to Rachel with a beam of pride on her face and bring the house down by saying, happily, “It’s what I’ve always wanted for him”.

It’s less of an ending than a stopping point. All the pieces, the different phases, have led to this juncture and there’s an almost discernible logic to what has happened, but at no point does the story seem to hang together as a single thread. Nor does the ending have the kind of finality that we want in our stories, a sense that this is what we’ve been leading up to. Everybody seems to have been left hanging in mid-air, not least poor Rachel, who will have her baby in prison and, in all probability, see it taken from her and adopted, whether she will or not.

And as I say, the acting is oddly stilted, particularly in the mouths of Peter Firth and Clare Sutcliffe. Gillian Martell gives off the air of acting in an Amateur Dramatics performance whilst Queenie Watts is not only out of place as a Londoner but playing her role as a deliberate caricature. Only Penelope Wilton comes over as anything like natural but who’s surprised: she is Penelope Wilton.

The effect is so total, and the indoor sets so obviously artificial, that I can’t help but wonder if this was a deliberate approach by the Director, Barry Davis. If so, I question his decision, as it doesn’t help the story to have it presented a play with no tangible consequences. That said, I still enjoyed watching it, and of course I enjoyed looking at Mesdamoiselles Wilton and Sutcliffe, even if all we got to see were bare shoulders and a single bare arm. Country Matters was, and is, about the country around the time of the War, and the people in it, and what they did. Such a pity a DVD of the whole series has never been released, nor a DVD of any part of it in the UK.

Showcasing Showcase – Part 2


We’re at Showcase 52, almost exactly halfway through the series’ run (counting its revived version of the late Seventies). The comic has had its glory days of invention after invention, a long streak of successful try-outs leading to series, but that has come to an abrupt halt. Over the second half, very little will progress to series of their own, and of these, only a couple of titles will run more than forty issues.
What we’re going to see is amply evidenced by issue 52, yet another, and thankfully final attempt to launch Cave Carson, given just a single issue. That made seven all told, and not enough takers.
Next up was two issues of G.I. Joe, the soldier toy figure, written and edited by Bob Kanigher as short war stories using heroic soldiers from different branches of the service. Not only was this feature licensed, thus reducing any profit to be made, but it wasn’t even the first attempt at bringing the toy soldier to comics. Two issues was all the connection lasted, with only some excellent Joe Kubert art to show for it.
Julius Schwartz had been absent from Showcase since issue 36, three years previously. After The Atom, he’d stated that he would not be updating any further characters from the Golden Age. Instead, the Justice Society of America came back in their own right, first the Jay Garrick Flash, then the full team. Now, Schwartz was looking at a full-scale revival, with the next two issues of Showcase devoted to the team-up of Doctor Fate and Hourman, with the smooth, polished art of Murphy Anderson.

Showcase 57

The Super-Team Supreme, as they were billed on the cover, were an odd mixture, magic and science (though the text page on the good Doctor sought to minimise that aspect, pegging it to the great discovery of how to convert energy into matter). They had little in common except their founding membership of the JSA, and for a villain they had to borrow the original Green Lantern’s Swampland foe, Solomon Grundy, thus dragging in Alan Scott as a downgraded third wheel. It’s full of holes, and Gardner Fox really was no longer suited to any kind of story portraying magic, but I can’t be too critical, because I loved it nonetheless. I’d discovered the Justice Society a year before and everything about them fascinated me.
The second story, introducing the new Psycho-Pirate, and giving him a super power to control emotions via a very dry pseudo-scientific means, was more to the point. But for once, Schwartz’s ability to sense what the readers wanted was off. The wave of enthusiasm for the Golden Age heroes was receding. Or maybe it was that the kids enjoyed reading new versions and having them team-up with the oldies, as demonstrated by the success of the annual JLA/JSA team-ups, but didn’t want the Golden Agers by themselves, because they were old.
The Super-Team Supreme’s two issues were gems in the eyes of some of us, but not enough, any more than were the two part comeback teaming Starman with Black Canary in Brave & Bold.
Showcase‘s strike-out run continued with two issues of Enemy Ace, by Kanigher and Kubert. This is a legendary series that I have never read before and now I have I found its intensity astonishing. Rittmeister Hans von Hammer had been introduced in Star-Spangled War Comics in February 1965. He was a fighter pilot in World War 1, for the Germans, a killing machine, cold of intent, but an honourable foe. The response to him was tremendous and he became a regular in that series, a virtual co-star to Sgt. Rock. His appearance in Showcase for, again, two issues, was, I presume, a trial to see if he could carry a title on its own and as he continued to appear in Star-Spangled War Comics after this, one that was failed. But von Hammer was one of those special characters, one that you might almost say was too good for the audience, not enough of whom, at DC, were ready to support an anti-hero.
Then the winless streak was broken, with one issue, issue 59, devoted to the Teen Titans. They’d had two one-offs in Brave & Bold, the second only four months previously, so how much credit their appearance in Showcase could take for the decision to give them their own title is dubious. But they were the first to get a go since the Metal Men. But the only thing worse than Bob Haney’s ‘super-hip’ dialogue and narration was the ludicrous and idiotic plot. Yeesh.
It was back to Julius Schwartz, Gardner Fox, Murphy Anderson and the Golden Age for the next two-issue run. Originally, it was intended to be another JSA team-up, this time between Doctor Mid-Nite and The Spectre, though if the treatment eventually decided upon for The Spectre flying solo was already set, it’s impossible to see how the Doc fit in.
Once again, these are two issues that I love tremendously. They were the first issues of Showcase that I ever bought, bought on Saturday afternoons in Droylsden, walking on my own to and from the newsagents at Fiveways, the memory so clear. The first of these stories, in issue 60, holds a place in comic book history as being the first superhero retcon. The Spectre, an all-powerful ghost, had disappeared twenty years previously: Fox and Schwartz set about explaining how and why a being of his powers could have been removed for so long a period.
There was a letters column in the second of these, headed with Schwartz’s announcement that they were going to take a breather on reintroducing the Golden Age characters, but it was clear that he had hopes of succeeding with the Spectre. For one thing, despite his usual tendencies, Fox played it straight on magic and a ghost’s powers, and for another this was a new take on the Spectre, a force of unlimited good without the aspect of the judge of crime who frightened people to death.
But the sales didn’t live up to Schwartz’s expectations. Not yet.

Showcase 60

Instead, the unlikely subject to break the streak was the heroes of issues 62-63, E. Nelson Bridwell and Joe Orlando’s The Inferior Five. Now spoof superheroes were nothing new, they’d started with Sheldon Mayer’s The Red Tornado nearly thirty years earlier, and the text page in issue 62 laid it on a bit heavy, but the comic was fun. It preceded Marvel’s similar spoof, Not-Brand Echh by over a year.
The second issue took the gentle piss out of the Incredible Hulk, and included a couple of genuine, laugh-out-loud lines. However, the third issue was pushed back to issue 65 to allow Julius Schwartz and co. one last try at selling The Spectre. Before that, Schwartz had given the Ghostly Guardian a prime role in the 1966 team-up, and now oversaw a story that scaled The Spectre down from Universe-threatening levels to a rather less rarefied level.
This one did the trick, despite what we would now see as an extremely dodgy notion. It comes when the Spectre, cut off from Jim Corrigan’s body by an evil squatter spirit, wraps himself in the energies of Good to enable him to force his way in. Church services, hospitals, even a Peace Corps worker spreading education, yes, but an American soldier on patrol in Vietnam?
The third Inferior Five appearance, in issue 65, swapped in Mike Sekowsky for Joe Orlando, which was a perfect pairing given Sekowsky’s awkward anatomy. If I say that in this issue the Inferiors met the Eggs-Men, would you guess who I was talking about?
So that was two for two, though both series only lasted ten issues each. The next notion was reputedly scheduled for a three issue try-out but ended up only lasting two. Why? If I tell you it was B’Wana Beast, would you understand?
Even at DC in 1967, B’Wana Beast was regarded as racist. The use of the Swahili word for master, applied to a white ‘saviour’ in Africa poisoned the whole concept from the outset, the provision of a recurring villain as an African who was drawn like a monkey and the ‘White God’ saving the ignorant blacks was so horrendous that artist Mike Sekowsky refused to draw a third part. Who then was responsible for this abortion of a concept? Editor George Kashdan and writer Bob Haney. I don’t want to call either of them a racist but when you read shit like this it’s very hard to imagine a line between. Though I can imagine the bluff Haney, with his contempt for the ideas and wishes of fans, simply being defiant in the face of condemnation. Good for Sekowsky.
Unfortunately, what followed was, in a totally contrasting way, almost as awful. The Maniaks were a four piece rock group, three boys, one girl. That’s it, you don’t need any more. Sekowsky could be forgiven yet again, but there were no excuses for editor Jack Miller or writer Nelson Bridwell. Bridwell may well have been a walking encyclopaedia when it came to anything superheroic but when it came to music, his imagination was about as wide as a sewing needle and nowhere near as in depth. This was the year of the Monkees, but they were Led Zeppelin in comparison to this crappy bunch. That made four awful, awful issues in a row.
Issue 70 was filled with a revival of Leave it to Binky, a teen comedy series that had originally run for 60 issues between 1948 and 1958, since when Binky Briggs and his pals had only been seen in DC’s Public Information Shorts, one page stories promoting understanding, tolerance and liberal values. Henry Scarpelli provided the art for four shorts based around the single theme of Binky and his rich rival Sherwood van Loon competing for dates with the beautiful blonde Peggy. It doesn’t sound much, especially not in 1967, but it bought the series a revival from the old numbering until issue 81.
The Maniaks returned for a third and final appearance in issue 71, paired up with a Woody Allen who barely looked like and certainly didn’t talk like the real one. This story was awful. It was sneeringly nasty about Twiggy, threw in a brief Groucho Marx impersonation and then spent what felt like 50 pages on a supposed Civil War musical that allowed Nelson Bridwell to re-write show-tune lyrics, half of which I didn’t recognise despite growing up with parents who loved musicals: the kids of 1967 would sure have identified with these, who needed Jefferson Airplane? Ghastly stuff.
Next up was an issue under the title, Top Gun. This was a Western comic, once again bringing back old ideas. Up front was a new story featuring the Trigger Twins, in back was a reprint of an Alex Toth story featuring the other Johnny Thunder, the one with a stallion instead of a Thunderbolt. Anything would look good compared to the Maniaks but this was good, solid comics, though it was worrying that the reprint was better than the new story. Was Showcase really still in the business of finding new characters?

Showcase 62

The answer to that came in the next five issues, all single try-outs, each of which getting their own series, but not for long. Firstly, in issue 73, was a real classic, Steve Ditko with dialogue by Don Segall introducing Beware the Creeper. The story shot along like a rocket, Ditko’s art was dynamic and fluid, this one was an instant winner. The issue also contained a plug for another Ditko creation coming soon, The Hawk and the Dove.
First, though, was Anthro, the cro magnon cave boy, created by Howie Post, and giving Carmine Infantino an editorial role. Post’s art, maintaining a clever balance between realism and caricature, using multiple soft lines to define instead of the customary hard edges, created a superb atmosphere. The story intended to show that the humans of the caveman era were as human as us, and it was also very funny at the same time.
And with this issue, Showcase went from bi-monthly to eight times a year, a frequency supposedly reserved for popular titles dependent upon a single artist. In this instance it could only signal that, however unlikely, Showcase had transcended its point and was being bought by enough readers for it’s own sake.
We weren’t asked to wait long for The Hawk and the Dove as they arrived in issue 75. Compared to The Creeper, this was tame stuff artistically, though as the issue was the gulf between the separate and naïve political stances of the protagonists, that’s not really surprising. The issues in America that inspired Hawk and Dave’s creation, the pro- and anti-stances towards the Vietnam War in an Election year, are no longer the same imperatives they were, which slightly diminishes the story. But DC awarded the boys a series.
As they did from the next character’s debut, Bat Lash. With gorgeous, loose art from Nick Cardy, using a more impressionistic line than on the Teen Titans, this was another gem of a story, about a smooth-talking, peace-loving, flowery-waist-coated western drifter turned reluctant trouble-shooter, and it was also funny as all get out. This really was a strong run, and it was rapidly restoring Showcase‘s reputation for bringing through new characters.
And that continued with the introduction of Angel and the Ape in issue 77, a gloriously goofy private eye comedy about Investigators Angel O’Day and her partner, Sam Simeon. Angel’s a doll of a platinum blonde who looks dumb but who’s clever and highly skilled whilst Sam’s a gorilla. What’s more, he’s a cartoonist working for an editor called Stan Bragg. Do you detect the writing of Nelson Bridwell? You do, with art by Bob Oksner. Bridwell was as laugh-out-loud good on this as he was stupefyingly rotten on the Maniaks.
So that was five new ideas in five issues, each one jumping into their own series without further issues. Was this recognition of a a string of strong ideas? Was it a recognition that, with Marvel growing ever more dominant, DC had to change. Or was it panic at Marvel’s rise and the grand old tradition of throwing things at the wall to see what stuck?
I don’t know. Like I said, all five got series of their own. Those five series lasted, respectively, 6 issues, 6 issues, 6 issues, 7 issues and 7 issues. It’s not a great track record, is it?
The run came to an abrupt halt with issue 78, devoted to another, more serious private eye, Jonny Double. Despite a fine, impressionistic cover, the reason for the streak ending was obvious inside. Double was an ex-cop turned loser PI, permanently broke, can’t catch a break, gets beat up a lot. The plot, by a fan turned intern, name of Marv Wolfman, attempted to be downbeat and realistic but was confusing instead, Joe Gill’s dialogue was tired and unimaginative and Jack Sparling drew the story with angular lay-outs like crazy paving and equally as legible. No thanks.
An intriguing but decidedly minor character, Dolphin, made a single appearance in issue 79. The creation of Jay Scott Pike, Dolphin was an undersea woman, a beautiful platinum blonde (any relation to Angel O’Day?) dressed in a light blue blouse with the sleeves torn off, and slightly darker blue and decidedly brief shorts.
The story centred on Naval frogmen, specifically CPO Chris Landau, trying to recover intelligence documents from an American ship sunk during the War. Pike borrowed the trick Milton Caniff used to introduce Steve Canyon in his strip, focussing on everybody’s reactions to someone/something seen underwater and not putting the girl onstage until page 6. Dolphin’s a complete enigma: she can live on land for up to five or six hours but lives underseas, breathing water and immune to the Bends, it seems. She has gills and prehensile webbing, but is also highly intelligent, quickly learns to speak English but, after helping get the documents back, overhears someone stupidly comparing her to a fish and returns to the seas, breaking Landau’s heart but not necessarily her own.
Weird stuff. Dolphin was eventually equipped with an origin over twenty years later and became a supporting character in Aquaman. What Pike intended for her was never revealed as far as I know.

Showcase 69

Issue 80 brings us to the Phantom Stranger. Once again, DC were reviving an old, and failed character rather than come up with a new idea. The Stranger had been created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino in 1952 for a six issue run where he was a bit of a debunker of supernatural phenomena, which made sense in that for his reappearance, he was being paired with Dr Thirteen, the sceptics’ sceptic, except that for the purposes of this issue the Stranger was pro magic.
But the real reason for the revival was that it was a cheap comic to produce. Only eight new pages were drawn, as a framing story with a ludicrous ending, surrounding one reprint for each character. Not the Phantom Stranger we’re familiar with now, but cheap enough to foster another new series, this time lasting 41 issues.
The Way Out World of Windy and Willy in issue 81 was a bust of major proportions. Not only was it out-of-date and stupid, the very obvious different lettering showed it for what it was, a reprint of something that had appeared under a different name. I suspected, and Google confirmed, that it was a retouching of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, a decade old series based on the TV show of the same name. Unbelievably, it got a series though thankfully only for four issues.
Windy and Willy were the twentieth and last feature to be spun off out of Showcase into their own series. Enemy Ace does not count, not just being pre-existing but current.
Next up was Nightmaster, given an old-style three issue run. The creation of Denny O’Neill and Jerry Grandenetti, the series was an attempt to introduce Sword and Sorcery fiction to comics. Nightmaster has enjoyed a degree of respectable life over the last quarter century but made no progress in 1969, for the plain fact that the comics were crap, not least from the insistence on clogging the fantasy stuff down with good old American feet of clay in the form of a rock musician – playing to teeny-boppers (!) – with a sarcastic tone of speech dragging everything down.
Astonishingly, a new artist then drew the final two issues, and astonishingly it was Berni Wrightson and unastonishingly he was good. Indeed, he was very good, which only served to emphasise just how lousy O’Neill’s Jim Rook was as a character, not to mention O’Neill’s overall failure to capture anything of the substance of S&S. At least the third part offered some kind of a conclusion, leaving everything set up for an ongoing series that, deservedly, didn’t materialise.
Firehair, a Joe Kubert creation, took over issues 85-87. Though set in Western times, Kubert announced that the theme of the book was to be modern issues. Firehair was a white boy, red-headed, the sole survivor of a defensive massacre by Indians against the Cavalry. Brought up a Chief’s son, Firehair faced prejudice from both worlds, Indian and White, neither of them accepting him as one of them.
Once again though, the story was far outweighed by the art, the earnestness and undisguised intent to make it about social issues making the whole thing leaden. It was the times, the era of Relevance. But the series got stronger as it went on, as Kubert rowed away from its declared premise, and the final issue was all-round excellent. Firehair would get a sporadic back-up in the final ten issues of Tomahawk, but that would be all.
Issues 88-90 were dedicated to Jason’s Quest, a short-lived concept from Mike Sekowsky, currently riding high on his revamp of Wonder Woman. The titular character was a young man who, on his seeming father’s deathbed, learned that he was actually adopted, that his real father was murdered for some mysterious secret being sought by a villain named Tuborg (a once popular Danish lager) and that he had an unsuspected twin sister. Jason set off in pursuit of, first, his sister Geraldine, and then revenge.
I was immediately prejudiced against the first issue, which took the questing young man into Britain, or rather one of the worst and most ignorant representations of my home country. I’ve only one, very short experience of Paris but I think the French got it just as bad. Anyway, Jason found his sister and dragged her round Paris from flashpoint to flashpoint, never finding the time to explain to her exactly why he was dragging her around like a postbag so that, when he was forced to leave her to draw Tuborg’s men away, she was determined not to rendezvous with him or see him ever again. A neat idea executed poorly, and never followed up on.
Showcase’s final feature was previewed in issue 90 before getting the regular three issues. Manhunter 2070 was another Sekowsky creation, and a dumb one. Sekowsky went straight for the early, inglorious days of SF by setting up a ‘space western’, Starker, a bounty hunter. To show what level this was on, Sekowsky provided Starker with two hot, short-skirted girlfriends, with no rivalry so clearly some people were into threesomes. He just didn’t give either of them a name.
Starker’s brief existence came to an end in issue 93, marked by the innumerate stupidity of claiming that a 30% of 2,000,000 credits came to 25,000. Says it all, really. Peculiarly, the story ended on a cliffhanger, a primitive tribesman about to cave in Starker’s head with a club. But there was no outcome. And no more Showcase.

Showcase 73

Not, at any rate, for seven years. In 1977 the title was revived, at the DC of Janette Kahn’s re-modelling, albeit only for another eleven issues (plus two unpublished). Though I wouldn’t normally include these, I did buy at least seven of this late run so let’s see how the revival compared with the rest of the run.
Before that, I have to mention that the concept, if not the title, had been partially restored earlier in the decade in a thirteen issue run as First Issue Special. This was a slightly farcical series, built on Publisher Carmine Infantino’s theory that no. 1 issues always sold well so why not have a series consisting of nothing but no. 1s?
Issues 94-96 were devoted to the New Doom Patrol, by Paul Kupperberg and Joe Staton. It was a typical Seventies superhero comic, everyone snapping in each other’s faces all the time and despite having Robotman (in a re-designed metal body courtesy of a little-concealed Dr Will Magnus) and General Immortus, it lacked any of the original DP’s quirkiness.
Staton stayed on, this time with Paul Levitz, for the first solo stories of Power Girl, Gerry Conway’s creation from the revived All-Star Comics, the Earth-2 Supergirl. What we got was Power Girl’s origin and the establishment of a secret identity for her, bound up in a battle with the Brain Wave in which Levitz has the ugly little runt decide on Power Girl as his number one enemy because she’s been responsible for more defeats than anyone else, which is true only if you count at least two encounters that don’t exist.
At least PG wasn’t continually spouting her crude feminism, though it was noticeable that she left the Earth-2 Flash and Green Lantern imprisoned to tackle the villain herself. Why was Seventies superherodom at DC so all-fired dumb?
And Staton made it seven issues in a row with the celebratory issue 100. Written by Kupperberg and Levitz, it was in its way the antithesis of everything Showcase ever stood for, an extended story, and a convoluted one at that, featuring as many people from the series history as could be crammed in and never mind coherence. The cover boasted sixty stars, but if you think I’m going to count… Actually, Levitz did that in the editorial pages and the numbering was correct, even to the only other appearance of Fireman Farrell. Off the top of my head I can’t remember anyone who got left out.
It was back to normal business from issue 101-103 with a three part Hawkman story, co-starring Hawkgirl and Adam Strange and introducing the idea of war between Rann and Thanagar. This came from Jack C Harris and Al Milgrom. Harris’s intent was space opera mixing the old Hawkman with the modern style, so he and Adam argue all the way through three issues. Meanwhile, the Equalizer plague (Justice League of America 117) that was keeping the Hawks on Earth as opposed to Thanagar was vanished in the background and replaced by a Thanagarian Queen who banished Katar and Shayera for not supporting her war against Rann. Plus ça change…
But once again Showcase hit the cancellation buffers, with issue 104 as the last. This time it was not necessarily the series’ own sales, though these obviously weren’t great, but rather the infamous DC Implosion that wiped out half the line in a day and almost did for DC completely. The honours went to O.S.S, Spies at War, like Enemy Ace an existing feature in one of the war books, put up as a possible spin-off at exactly the wrong time.
The cancellation, like all the rest, was abrupt. Issue 104 had Deadman billed for its follow up issue, and The Creeper would have starred in issue 106. Neither was published, at least not then. The Deadman story appeared in one of the Cancelled Comics Cavalcade mimeographed collections put out privately for the writers and artists whilst The Creeper saw print 32 years later, as part of a Graphic Novel reprinting Steve Ditko’s work on the character. They’re both on the DVD I have.
The Deadman story was quite promising, despite having to undergo two writers, Len Wein having only managed to produce half the story before being felled by a medical issue, requiring Gerry Conway to complete it without any idea of what Wein had planned. Jim Aparo held the whole thing together wonderfully.
And the Creeper was once again good fun.
The Deadman issue was copied from an actual comic book, including a letters page. It talks about future features. Somewhere on Earth-2, where there was no such Implosion, DC Comics published Gerry Conway’s new Western character, The Deserter, in issues 107-9, The World of Krypton and a three issue solo for The Huntress. There was also reference to an unnamed hero team from Len Wein. But we all know these stories never happened.
And that was the story of Showcase, in all its glory and ignominy. It’s almost an encapsulation of the Silver Age in itself but without it, would we still have DC Comics today? The answer to that may well be on Earth-3, but we don’t go there, not even in fun.

Showcase 80

Good Omens: e04 – Saturday Morning Funtime


good omens

Adapting any book for film or television automatically requires simplification. Themes are altered, characters reduced, emphasis shifted towards those things that visual representation does better. Sometimes, though, a television series offers the opportunity to expand. Sometimes it demands it, requiring transitional scenes that can be sped through on the page. What Neil Gaiman has done, on many occasions, is to concretize parts of the book that existed merely as comic asides: footnotes a la Pratchett.

There’s a perfect example in the open to episode 4, as Gaiman and Amazon go to a lot of time and trouble and expense, not to mention the CGI, to animate the near throwaway paragraph where Atlantis rises from the ocean depths. It’s a direct transition from the previous episode. which ended with Adam Young – the Antichrist, you may recall – under the influence of Anathema Device’s New Age concerns, dreaming away an entire Nuclear Power Plant, and this is his raising Atlantis.

It’s fun, and very well-made, but I think he and Pratchett got it right first time, since the joke works well as a quick, clipped, absurdist sting, setting up and smacking you with its punchline and clearing out of the way for the next gag. Here, it’s spectacular, but inevitably slow. The camera has to linger to make it worthwhile.

There are other examples that are more important in that they directly impinge on the story: the UFO landing and the message of Cosmic Peace delivered to Newton Pulsifer that blows it thanks to some very poor acting by the Alien Leader, and the Tibetan pair digging a secret tunnel and causing Pulsifer’s Reliant Robin to crash outside Anathema’s cottage. They have to be done but in each case, the concretization doesn’t completely work because the book version is more compact and the series has to convert things into real-time, not reading-time.

On the other hand, since time is now at a bit of a premium, our Delivery Driver has to summon the two remaining Horsemen, Pollution and Death. And you can guess just how he has to attract the latter’s intention. So before this happens, Gaiman throws in a scene early on Saturday morning, in his bedroom. The Driver’s wife, Maud, an ordinary middle-aged woman in a garish orange nightie, doesn’t want him to go. She’d rather he came back to bed, It’s nothing sexy. It’s just an understated scene demonstarting the love and commitment between two people, who you wouldn’t look at twice in the streets, but who together make up a pair, committed to one another, for whom love-making is every bit as vital as it is for the handsome and the virile, yet is just one of many ways in which they share their lives together. And which is about to stop dead.

This concretization expands wonderfully on the implications in the book. Death describes the Driver’s demise as ‘leaving early to avoid the rush’, but it’s a foreshadowing of what’s actually at stake here, an understable and touching microcosm represzenting the macrocosm that is at the end of this story but which is simply too much to imagine or take seriously. This we can, and do, take seriously.

We’re now in the back half of the series and, more importantly, it’s Saturday, the day of Armageddon, so not much time left. Crowley and Aziraphale are still not working together, a combination of the Angel’s genuine concerns about the propriety of working with the Demon and the total contrast between their attitudes to where they are. Crowley has given up hope, it’s all useless, Armageddon is going to happen and nothing, least of all the pair of them, will stop it. Aziraphale, on the other hand, is still blessed with the belief that everything can be resolved without all this nasty destroy-the-Earth-and-everybody-upon-it business, if only everybody would just sit down and discuss it sensibly, over a nice cup of tea and some thinly-sliced sandwiches. Cut diagonally.

It’s just not going to hapen. Things are coming to a head. Wars have been stigmatised as merely the end product of economic competition, which is basically blinding yourself to the truth: that often they are just what happens when people reach the point of not being able to tolerate the sight of each other. All the Angels in Heaven and Devils in Hell, except one on each side, are set upon War. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing if we weren’t stuck in the bloody middle. And it’s going to be bloody alright.

Because the focus of it all is an 11 year old boy who happens to be the Son of the Devil, the Antichrist, etc. Adam Young, leader of the Them, a Just William mischief-maker for no better reason than that he’s 11, and his friends Pepper, Wensleydale and Brian are 11, and they live in an idyllic land that Adam has, subconsciously, made into the perfect children’s book playground, and he’s the World Champion at filling up the endless hours with the best games, to keep boredom at a distance.

And Adam Young has just stared at an image of the Devil in Anathema Device’s cottage. He may not have had the least instruction or inkling as to who he is and what he can do but he’s still the trigger for Armageddon and, matephorically he’s started ticking. Adam is taking control of the world, starting with the rest of the Them, and he’s terrifying them. With an 11 year old’s zeal he’s going to wipe the world clean and re-start it with all the games that an 11 year old mind can conceive, free from anything constraining him or them from doing whatever they want whenever they want it. Adam’s so lost in himself he can’t see that he’s doing the exact oposite to his friends, who are left with no option but to do whatever Adam wants whenever Adam wants it. When he removes their mouths so that they cannot even say they disagree it’s a moment of utter horror, all the more forceful for its relevance to a world in which one political party is doing everything it can to stifle even the most inefectual opposition to its actions.

It’s also a moment in which trust is irrevocably breached. This is a story, and things will change, but I for one could never again give the remotest amount of trust to a ‘friend’ who forced that on me.

So it’s begun. Not only are Crowley and Aziraphale out on their own, without support, but their respective sides have begun to suspect them of collaboration with the enemy. Which is, to be fair, true. Aziraphale finsally reaches as high as he’s going to get, the Matatron, the Word of God, Derek Jacobi’s floating and talking head. The rot goes all the way to the top. He’s going to have to ally himself with Crowley, because there is no-one else on his side. Which is when the misunderstanding Witchfinder-Sergeant Shadwell intervenes, performing an on-the-fly exorcism that results in Aizraphale stepping over a line he shouldn’t have, and discorporating. And his bookshop catching fire.

Things aren’t looking very hopeful, are they?