Person of Interest: s03 e17 – / (Root Path)


A walk in the Park

Here endeth the past.

According to my DVD, this episode’s title is simply “/”, which I interpreted as Forward Slash, which nothing in the actual episode would justify. imdb have it as “Root Path”, which is clever because that is what the episode is about. A moment’s googling tells me that the term is a computing term indicating where all files are stored in a system. Which is another relevant term for this episode. The people who write these things aren’t stupid, you know.

Amy Acker has been a full member of the Person of Interest cast all season but, in terms of screen representation has been held back, often to the point of invisibility. This won’t be the case any more.

Our first indication is the credits, Finch’s monologue. For a second week, the show incorporates variation to set up its point, with a truncated version alternating line-by-line between the familiarity of Finch and the strangeness of Root. It throws you, as it’s meant to.

The first act is a Root solo, temporarily springing a car thief from transportation to prison to use his likeness to intercept a package before abandoning him to recapture. It’s a lovely, complex, freewheeling sequence as Root talks away along, to Billy, to the Machine. She’s following a path created for her in which everything the scam needs is provided on the fly, but beyond the fact that she is acting to save both the Machine and the future, Root hhas no idea what she’s doing. The Machine directs its human Interface but doesn’t tell all, or even a fraction. It likes Root to work it out for herself.

I could happiy stand an entire episode of this, but the show intends something more dense than this. Root is next direced to locate janitor Cyrus Wells (Yul Vazquez), former financial wizard and millionaire, whose life was changed by tragedy, and a believer that there is a plan and that everything that has happened to him, however terrible, is a part of that.

What’s about to happen to him is definitely part of a plan, two in fact, but not with any thought for Cyrus. Root follows him to a snowy Central Park, for his morning walk to help him sleep daytimes. Someone else is watching Cyrus. Root sits down by Finch. Cyrus’s Number came through at 7.04am, the very minute Root approached him. Root, it would appear, has brought Cyrus into danger and the Machine is playing both ends against the middle. Or is it urging two diverging viewpoints towards collaborationn and merger?

Root is convinced she can protect Cyrus better than Finch, Reese and Shaw, because she has the Machine in her ear. Her confidence is overconfidence, or hubris. Because something bad is coming into being, something that will become the series’ focal point from now until the end. Two forces are after Cyrus Wells. These are Vigilance… and Decima Technologies. Peter Collier and John Nolan.

Because Decima are building a rival to the Machine, a rival called Samaritan. It’s crashed once, because there wasn’t a processor fast enough to run it. Two days ago, one was invented, in a secret NSA lab working under cover on the 19th Floor of the building Cyrus cleans at night. He’s the only Janitor with clearance to clean the 19th floor, who can pass the retinal scame. Can you see why Decima wants him now?

And they’ve the technology to sever Root’s connection to the Machine to ‘blind’ her and get him.

Finch chides Root, or Miss Groves as he will persist in calling her, for hubris. The two argument their viewpoints. Harold ‘broke’ the Machine by limiting it but even in its broken state it caresabout Cyrus Wells. Finch puts that down to his teaching the Machine.

Cyrus believes there’s a plan. Root denies that. There never was, there isn’t a plan. it’s all horribly random. But if Samaritan gets started, there will be a plan, its plan, to direct and regulate everything. There will be two AIs, two ‘Gods’, and they will be at war. What is more important? Saving the processor from Decima, or saving Cyrus Wells?

In the end, the team saves Wells but Decima gets its chip. Here endeth the past. Root warns that when Samaritan comes on line, a lot of people will die. And within the first thirty minutes, four people will be marked out for death: Finch, her, his helper-monkey, and Shaw. She’s been trying to save them all along. Our klast shot is the Machine. Samaritan’s completion percentage is rising rapidly. So too are the Probability of Death ratios of her assets. There’s an awful lot of red filling the screen…

“/” is an awesome episode. It’s fast, it’s tricky, it’s slick, without a moment’s sag. Everyone plays their role to perfection. It pursues its spinal story implacably, but not without the littlle asides and twists we come to associate with the series. There is a moment that stands out. Cyrus insists on taking a photo with him, three people, together and happy. He won’t talk about them, not at first. They were his friends from college, who started a small, careful financial business that became a major player by avoiding the crash of 2008. They got up somebody’s nose. An unidentified gunman walked in one day and killed his friends, wounding him and ten others. He spent weeks in the ICU, came out and abandoned his past and his money. But it was part of the plan.

The scene carries with it a frisson of understanding. Instinctively we know, without needing the slightest flicker of Root’s eyes that betrays her to us but not Cyrus. In a way, it’s a tiny moment of weakness that the episode decides it has to play to its slower audience by having Root admit that the gunman was her, in days of a greater moral depravity that are now gone: the Machine is making a point to her.

All things are connected. Everything leads back to itself. There is a plan. There are two plans. And two tribes, or rather gods, who are about to go to war.

Three Fells and No Ridges


It’s been a long time since I last gave myself the pleasure of recollecting a day out in the Lakes, at least, not one I haven’t written about before. Currently, I’m picking up the threads of a part-completed novel set in the Lake District. The place where I left the book the last time I worked on it is actually set somewhere I never actually walked. Nevertheless, there is a fell the scene’s associated with, and that’s triggered a recollection of one of my oddest days fellwalking.

Every year, from the Eighties to the Nineties, I would budget my holiday time for two weeks away, walking in the Lake District (the remainder of my allotment would be carved up by whatever days I wants for the cricket: the Roses Matches, the Old Trafford Test).

I would choose weeks in April and September, just before and just after the full-blown tourist season. These usually proved to be best for good walking conditions, and the fells were rarely so crowded that I couldn’t find convenient parking for my base for walks.

One year, for reasons I can’t remember, I managed to get enough time to go away a third week, in the last week of October. The hour hadn’t gone back so I wasn’t prejudiced by early darkness, but it was colder than I was used to, and darker overall, the skies greyer and more overcast, though not noticeably worse for cloud on tops.

I remember an excellent walk up Steel Fell from Grasmere, rounding the head of wet Greendale, all its little streams and becks backlit and looking like veins of quicksilver, before returning along Calf Crag, Gibson Knott and Helm Crag, a nice little low-level ridge round.

The next day, I moved on to Keswick. It was a dark day, the sky and the air mostly grey and overcast, though the cloudbase wasn’t actually hanging on the fells, not even Skiddaw, the cloud-magnet. There weren’t going to be any sparkling views wherever I walked, so I decided I’d repeat my visit to Latrigg.

1…

There was no problem parking at the roadhead, where spaces abounded, and I let myself out the gate, crossed the slightly rushy region in the base of the hollow and set off up the back of the fell.

Climbing Latrigg this way is one of the dullest walks you can make. It’s literally nothing but an uphill trudge, without a glimmer of a view. You are confined between Latrigg’s sprawling slopes and the rising wall of Skiddaw behind. The only benefit of this approach, apart from conservation of time, is that the view only arrives with the last few steps. Even under that sky, it was a thing of beauty.

But once you reach Latrigg, you’ve nowhere to go but back, especially to a car at the roadhead. And it’s quicker downhill, so much so that it’s difficult to stretch the overall round trip out to an hour, and I still had much of the afternoon to go before nightfall. It was then that I hit upon a crazy idea.

With so little time used, why couldn’t I climb another fell? Another low fell, requiring not very much in time and effort? Another isolated  fell upon which I wouldn’t to waste a better day? It didn’t even need to be in the same book of Wainwright.

So I set off down the Underskiddaw road without changing out of my walking boots, back to the big roundabout, and turned towards Penrith. I left the highway at the turn for Matterdale, but instead of wandering through that lovely reserved valley to Ullswater, I turned off left, onto narrow lanes and valley routes, until I pulled up at a corner and hopped out again, handily placed to start a walk up the back of Great Mell Fell.

2…

I’ve always said that I retain memories of every fell I’ve climbed in the Lake District, but Great Mell Fell hasn’t troubled the memory banks by much. I remember that, instead of the direct and steep route from the south, where I was, I took a circular path round the west side and worked upwards gently, before using the direct route for descent. My one solid memory is disturbing three or four slightly shamefaced people, rooting around by the side of the path. They were searching for mushrooms, they told me, and one said, in pointed tones, ‘Magic mushrooms’.

Of course I’m now well aware what they meant, but back then I’d never heard of Psylocibin and, apart from guessing they were hinting at something pharmaceutically stimulating, had no idea what they were talking about. I’ve never met anyone else looking for natural highs in the Lakes, except from the scenery.

Overall, Great Mell Fell used up not much of an hour, and daylight was already checking its baggage and starting to consider moving on, but if you’re going to have to do both Mell Fells, why save the Little one for another day? I got behind the wheel, drove the short distance up onto the Hause and set off for my third fell of the afternoon.

…and 3

Once more, the direct ascent from the Hause was a short and uninteresting uphill trudge, and the summit was less that two minutes walk from the ‘crest’. With a view over Ullswater, despite this being only the lowest reach, it at least offered better views that its higher neighbour, and the effort expended in ascending it was minimal (it was so easy that, two decades later, my then wife and I sent two small sons up the path on their own: they were only out of sight on the summit for five minutes, no longer and they had fun being independent).

After that, I got out of my boots, dumped them into the boot, and returned to Keswick, to contemplate what to do about an evening meal. As walking days, or half days go, it was nothing to write home about, but the weirdness of the experience of climbing three fells in the same afternoon, without any ridge routes between them, was great fun, and there are worse things to think about in these latter days.

Film 2020: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


I’m sorry to say that, despite mentally attuning myself to the deliberate pace of the film, I ended up finding the third film of the ‘Dollars’ trilogy frustrating and for the same reason.

It wasn’t helped by the difficulties I had in simply watching the film. The DVD played normally in my laptop for just under half the film’s length before freezing, switching off and refusing to reload. I tried transferring it to my portable all-region DVD player, but it wouldn’t even load, because the disc was warped and would not sit flat. I had to take an impromptu ten minute ‘Intermission’ whilst I downloaded a copy to proceed. No pretty usherettes with bored expressions sold ice cream during this break.

The third film, chronologically a prequel if you accept that Clint Eastwood plays the same person in all three films, which I don’t necessarily think is so, was based on a loose and simple plot idea: three gunslingers pursue a buried fortune in Confederate gold during the Civil War. That’s the story the film was sold on and that’s the story it tells, taking almost three hours in the extended version of the story that, in both halves, I watched.

The trio of the title are Eastwood as a gunslinger known only as Blondie, or once the Blonde One (which is weird because Eastwood’s hair is darker than mine was when it was still brown), Lee van Cleef as a ruthless tracker and killer called Angel Eyes, and Eli Wallach as Tuco Ramirez, a Mexican bandit.

Actually, the title is technically a mistranslation, the Italin original being Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo or rather The Good, the Ugly, the Bad: doesn’t scan anything like so well as the American title, does it?

As with For a Few Dollars More, the credits are shot in stylised animation, replete with gunshots, over grainy close-ups of the leading characters. At one point, near the end, a horsed rider gallops to and fro across the street as a foreground cannon blasts it every time it passes the middle, which brought up amazingly distracting memories of Space Invaders.

I was prepared for Leone’s formula: widescreen shots of dry, dusty landscapes, close-ups on faces, scenes stretched out to increase the tension, and at first I slowed myself down to the rhythm. Three bounty hunters, entering from opposite ends of town, closing in on Tuco, who shoots, kills all of them and escapes.

Then Angel Eyes, arriving out of nowhere to kill a man called Jackson who tells him the tale about the stolen Confederate gold. He accepts an opposite commission, to kill Baker who wanted Jackson dead. Angel Eyes never backs out of a job once he accpts it: he takes both men’s money and kills both men, leaving only one who knows the money’s whereabouts, a man going under the name of Bill Carson.

And then there’s Eastwood’s Blondie, taking in Tuco, collecting the bounty, waiting around until he’s about to be hung and then shooting through the rope so he can escape. They pull this Pied Piper-like trick again but Blondie gets fed up of Tuco’s complaints, as well he might, takes all the money and absndons Tuco on foot in the desert.

Only now is the introduction over and this, plus the credits, has taken almost half an hour. I remained patient.

Angel Eyes then disappears from the film for something like maybe an hour. Tuco catches up with Blondie in a Confederate town being bombed by the Union Army. first, he plans to hang him but not shoot the rope, only for Blondie to escape when a shot strikes the hotel. Then he catches up with him in the desert, and forces him to walk for safety, without hat or water, accompanying him every step to sneer and laugh and generally gloat cruelly.

Let me interject at this point that Leone originally thought of Gian Maria Valente (again) for this part before choosing Eli Wallach – with whom he became great friends on set – based on a comic performance in a 1962 Western. Wallach plays Tuco as a babbling, gabbling, stupid-but-shifty clown in a performance that contains more ham than a hickory roast, complete wth the constant cackle that turns the character into a tiresome excressence every time he’s on screen, and believe me that’s a lot of time. and given that Tuco’s the Mexican whilst the two Anglos are played seriously, there’s a racial tist to the whole thing that stuck in my craw.

Anyway. With Blondie half-dead, the pair cross the path of a runaway truck full of dead Confederate soldiers, one of whom is only mostly dead. This is Bill Carson, who barters $200,000 in gold for water. He tells Tuco which cemetery it’s buried in but it’s Blondie who gets the name on the grave.

Tuco has to keep him alive so he takes him to a Monestery to recover. Travelling on in Confedeate uniform, they are taken prisoner by Union cavalry and transported to a prison camp where, without any explanation, Angel Eyes has been acting as Sergeant, beating, torturing and cheating the prisoners, for ages. He recognises Tuco and Blondie, and they him, without ever having met before, and takes an interest in the former when he answers to Bill Carson.

Angel Eyes and his Sergeant beat the cemetery’s name out of Tuco, who is sent off for execution but escapes. Knowing it won’t work on Blondie, Angel Eyes frees him to go with them. Blondie catches up with Tuco and together they kill all Angel Eyes’ men but he escapes.

By now, we’re two hours in and, to be honst, I’m flagging. The comes the interlude with the drunken Union Army Captain and the bridge the two sides are fighting over. This was too much for me. It’s twenty or so minutes of the film, taken at a dragging pace, none of which is in any way essential to the story. It’s just one more incident made up to stop us getting nearer to the quest’s end. The whole sequence could have been cut without anyone ignorant of the film noticing anything missing and quite frankly I wish it had been.

Finally, we reach the cemetery. Tuco runs round in in a widening circle for three minutes, looking for graves before finding the one Blondie’s told him about: Arch Stanton. He starts digging. Angel Eyes arrives out of nowhere, gets the drop on both. Only Blondie’s fooled everyone. He sets up a three-sided duel for a riock with the right name written on it.

Cue much close-ups on faces, eyes dartling left and right. Hands hovering near pistols. Until Angel Eyes cracks. Blondie shoots him. Tuco would shoot him only Blondie’s unloaded his pistol. The gold, eight heavy bags, is in the grave marked unknown, next to Arch Stanton. Blondie takes four, leaves four for Tuco. Only by now Tuco’s standing on a wooden cross under a tree-branch, hands tied behind his back, neck in a moose and wobbling. Blondie rides away.

And as the icing on my cake, with two minutes left, the sound cuts out. Blondie turns, shoots, severs the rope. Tuco runs after him screaming things I can’t hear, probably abut revenge. Don’t care by now. The end.

Once again, ultimately the film, at just under three hours, is too long, especiaally for so simple a story. Essentially it’s a journey story, and these pose two inherent problems. One, what happens when the characters arrive, is well set-up and played out. The other is the journey itelf. Is this to be a picaresque tle, or one in which, rather like a games story, the incidents of the journey build up and provide the platfrm from which successful completion can be reached?

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly settles for picaresque, though I doubt Leone ever thought of it in such terms. But to be successfully picaresque, the incidents of travel must themselves be interesting. They must feel as if they are worth experiencing for themselves. Leone operates on tension, dramatic presentation. He saw the film as a satire on the West, though it has no real satiric element, just an instinct to dirty up the cliches, heavy on the brutality. van Cleef was chosen early on because he’d played a good guy in For a Few Dollars More and this was a role reversal: early on he brutally slaps a woman across the face, five or six times, enjoying himself.

The various scenes do, to some extent build upon one another, or at least they lead to one another, excepting the bridge sequence, which is just in passing. But in the end the slowness with which Leone approaches every step starts to drag, and I found myself eager for the end to come.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was filmed in 1966 and show in America in December 1967. The three films of the trilogy were all therefore premiered in the same calendar year. But is it a Trilogy in the sense of being three stories about the same character?

If it is, this is definitely the first, chronologically. Eastwood wears mainly a long grey Confederate coat, over a patterned dark blue shirt, later acquiring a sheepskin waistcoat: he dons the famous poncho for the cemetery scene. They call him Blondie. Is this just an asinine nickname because he’s not blonde? It could have been, except that Angel Eyes refers to him as the Blonde one.

In A Fistful of Dollars he’s a drifter with no name, nicknamed Joe in the Town, and in For a Few Dollars More he’s a bounty hunter named Manco. Are they all the same person? What happened to the $100,000 in gold coin he rides off with in this film? How come he doesn’t recognise Gian Maria Valente or Lee van Cleef when he’s aa bounty hunter, especially as he’s shot and killed van Cleef.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds according to Ralph Waldo Emerson, but at what point does consistency become foolish. I’d answer that when you can’t reconcile two things, we’ve gone beyond foolish, and for me, much as they strive to create the appearance, I think the ‘Dollars’ Trilogy is really a Trilogy in theme only. I wish I could like it better.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Beatles’ ‘In My Life’


Until now, there have been no posts on The Infinite Jukebox about any Beatles songs. This is not because of any lack of quality or interest on my part, far from. The opposite is more nearly true, there are just so many that I love, that still sound as fresh as when they were first cut to vinyl. Age does not wither them, nor custom stale their infinite variety. Besides, when you think of how many people have had their say on every song, what can I hope to add that isn’t a mere echo?
And anyway, The Infinite Jukebox deals in singles, or tracks on singles, and whilst these were amongst some of the greatest songs of the decade, there are lots of great tracks on albums which, in some ways, are even more worthy of comment. And not just the obvious ones like ‘I am the Walrus’, or ‘A Day in the Life’, or ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’.
But I do have a very special place in my heart for John Lennon’s ‘In My Life’, the fourth track on side 2 of Rubber Soul. The words are by Lennon, McCartney claims to have written much of the melody (entirely believable) and George Martin contributed the baroque solo by playing a slow piano melody and speeding this up to twice the original tempo to create the quasi-harpsichord effect (on a long ago, pre Brian Matthews Sounds of the Sixties Martin brought in and played several tape rareties, including the original, natural speed solo).
I’m quoting all these things because my own lack of musical knowledge means I can’t offer judgements much more sophisticated than ‘I like this’ or ‘I hate that’. Certainly the song, which owes a little to Smokey Robinson’s ‘Tracks of my Tears’, is quiet and understated, with only the piano solo standing out musically.
But ‘In my Life’ owes everything to its words, to the air of nostalgic regret that hangs around its shoulders, apparently representing John’s regrets for the days before stardom when they were all free, and all part of the worlds in which they had grown up. But I hear it as a love song. For me, it is one of Lennon’s most powerful statements about love, and it writes itself upon my heart every time I hear it.
There are places I remember, John begins confidently asserting their hold on him as a past that, despite the changes time has made, good and bad, is integral to who and what he is. They have a meaning for him, they are who and what he comes from, and he is formed by them. They cannot be forgotten.
Yet the past, powerful as it is, vital as it is, pales into reflection against the woman he loves. He’ll never let go of them, forget them or forsake them, but what she is rises above all of this: In my life, I love you more. That love, stated so simply but indelibly, that commitment to the loved one above everything else that has ever held meaning, demonstrates to me that Lennon was the true romantic of the Beatles, not McCartney with his facile sentimentality, but Lennon, the hard man, whose real love songs came from a deeper part of him.
If you read this blog regularly, you will know that I lost my father at the age of 14. I have a younger sister, who also lost her Dad, at little more than half my age. We are not alike. As time has gone on, it has become clear that the only thing we really share are the same parents, and for a long time we have gone our own ways.
Forty years ago, when I was living in Nottingham, and exchanging letters with our mother, she told me that she had just learned that my sister had been collecting condolence card verses. In response, I wrote out the lyrics to ‘In my Life’ for our mother to show my sister. What she thought of them, I don’t know. By the time I was next home, I’d forgotten about it, and she never mentioned it. I don’t remember our ever discussing the loss that joined us, the one thing that only both of us can understand. I wish we had.
What message I was trying to send, I no longer understand. Though Lennon intended the song to be a lament for people and things that went before, and that my sister had a hole in her life at least as large as the one in mine, and that it affected her in ways we were never to talk about made it appropriate among the words she was collecting.
That I saw it otherwise, as a statement that what we have been through has the greatest effect upon us but that the love of who we are meant to be with (she has been married for nearly thirty-three years now) is more important, I doubt. I responded to love and commitment, and hoped she would understand and be moved by it.
Which is why I decided to write about a Beatles song for the first time and why I decided to write about this Beatles song. Sometimes, and for the oddest of reasons, too much of yourself gets caught in a song. In my life, the past is the only thing that remains.

A Spot of Adventure: The Bronze Age – Part 2


For 324 issues, Adventure Comics had been part of the Superman stable of titles. 200 issues of Superboy. 80 issues of the Legion of Super-Heroes. 44 issues of Supergirl. Now, editor Joe Orlando had two months to find a new star for DC’s fifth oldest title with any recourse to the Man of Steel’s offshoots. What would he do?
There would be ample time to think for, from issue 425, Adventure went bi-monthly, requiring only six issues per year, a sign that circulation was in decline, as it was elsewhere at DC, and in places you wouldn’t expect, like the Justice League of America. Orlando’s response was defiant: the new Adventure would become a mini-Showcase, home to all sorts of stories and ideas, ever changing, always springing surprises.
There were four stories in the first issue, no 425, only one of them continued, the others – one only two pages long – complete in themselves. They were miniature shockers, with twist endings and no comebacks. The exception, Captain Fear, was written by veteran Robert Kanigher and drawn by newcomer Akex Nino, first and most abstract of the wave of Filipino artists about to flood DC’s pages because they were insanely cheap, as well as stylish, quick and talented. Captain Fear was a native indian pirate Captain, where you could make images out.
The Vigilante was added in issue 426, along with The Adventurers Club, an anthology series drawn by the already brilliant Jim Aparo, who was already working for Orlando on The Phantom Stranger.

And then everyone was ditched for a three-issue run by the mysterious Black Orchid, created by Sheldon Mayer and Tony De Zuniga, backed up by Dr Thirteen, the Ghost Breaker, also drawn by De Zuniga. The Doc only stayed one issue, however, before being re-replaced by Captain Fear, now being written by Steve Skeates, who was in turn replaced by The Adventurer’s Club in issue 430.
As for the Black Orchid, the character was attractively drawn but the stories were functionally identical. A bad man is given the opportunity to repay his thefts by the Black Orchid, who turns out to be disguised as someone close to him. She can fly, is bulletproof and no-one believes it when they see her. Meanwhile, she has no name, no identity and no personality, just an enigma. Three issues were enough, and she was replaced by Adventure‘s most notorious ten issue run of all time.

This run, in issues 331-340, came about by the coincidence of three things: young writer Michael Fleisher, researching a projected six-volume History of Comic Books of which only two appeared, proposing a revival of the Golden Age character, The Spectre, just after Joe Orlando had been robbed in a street-mugging in front of his wife. Orlando, angry and resentful of his humiliation, was ready to approve a version of the character that went back to his roots as a vengeful ghost, bringing retribution to evil, and to take advantage of the recent relaxation of the Comics Code to permit a greater licence in what could be depicted..
I loved it at the time. The run was bloodthirsty, it’s most obvious single flaw masked in my eyes by superb, dramatic, atmospheric art from Jim Aparo. The most obvious flaw was that the stories were basically identical: unrelievedly evil characters with no personality or even a second note, commit brutal crimes: the Spectre kills them in even more brutal and inventive ways. That’s all.
I was just feeling my way back into comics again after a three year hiatus, still overawed by the changes there had been during my absence, stunned by artwork from the likes of Aparo. But for him, I wouldn’t have lasted anything like as long: the lack of variation would have turned me off. A few years later, a higher sense of morality would have had me more repelled than thrilled by Aparo’s depiction of death-by-supernatural-circumstance. Yes, you could argue that the Spectre’s vengeance bore no resemblance to ‘ordinary’ killing, and Fleisher reacted to criticism by arguing that his Spectre wasn’t doing anything the original hadn’t, and he’d been written by Jerry Seigel.
Leaving aside the comprehensive difference between Bernard Bailey’s art and Jim Aparo’s, I somehow doubt this: as early as the fourth episode, The Spectre animates an axe to chop Jim Corrigan’s would-be girl-friend Gwen Sterling into eight separate pieces in a single panel, just because she, under mind-control, has tried to kill him. We the audience know this ‘Gwen’ is an animated mannequin but the Spectre doesn’t. Not until after ‘Gwen’ is being labelled Parts 1 to 8.
The run was popular but also highly vilified for its violence. There’s no definitive explanation for its cancellation with issue 440, but piecing things together from various sources, the probable explanation is that Infantino, coming under intense criticism at conventions and fan-events, took the opportunity of the first small downfall in sales to kill the feature, so abruptly that three bought and paid for scripts were never drawn, just written off, not to appear for thirteen years.
The Spectre period featured several different back-ups, including the final Captain Feat two-parter, but the most significant was a loose serial starring Aquaman, back in Adventure after a gap of 150-odd issues, with art from the up-and-coming Mike Grell, an artist who gathered raves everywhere he went but always looks stiff and unnatural to me. More thrilling was an unused Seven Soldiers of Justice story from the Forties, newly-drawn and serialised in issue 438-443.
The Seven Soldiers serial may have outlived the Spectre but it was Aquaman who replaced him, for a dozen issues, a rather better, or at least more varied use of Aparo’s art, allied to scripting by another former fan easing his way into the industry, one Paul Levitz.

It goes without saying that Aquaman in this run was better by far than the repetitious, meaningless stories of the Fifties. The opening eight issues built up as a serial that saw Aquaman deposed as King of Atlantis, at first by the mysterious Karshon, supporting the King of the Sea’s regular enemies of his Sixties series, but ultimately by his trusted Counsellor Vulko. It was well-made but I couldn’t really get into it, not then or now.
In the wider context, the arrival of Jeanette Kahn to replace Carmine Infantino as Publisher saw Joe Orlando promoted to Managing Editor and Paul Levitz become ‘Story Editor’ on Adventure, at the age of 20. Meanwhile, the three-issue back-ups moved on from The Creeper to the Martian Manhunter, his first appearance in years and a dumb one as he just assumes his murdered fellow Martian has been killed by a Justice League member, on the grounds that it was obvious. And Denny O’Neill wrote this.
Worse still, this ‘three-parter’ turned out to have four parts, the last being published in a completely different title, World’s Finest.
And Aquaman’s run ended abruptly in issue 452 with news that his own title was being revived and that he would transfer back there. Unfortunately, this came one issue too late for Adventure to escape the stigma of hosting one of DC’s most hateful and sickening stories. Aquaman’s ongoing battle with Black Manta reaches an end that few have ever condoned, as his son, Arthur Jr., Aquababy, held hostage by the villain, was killed, drowning in air.
Yes, that’s right, a little kid, not more than two years old, murdered. Where’s the Spectre when you want him? That Black Manta was allowed to live and remain a viable character to this day is an obscenity. David Michelinie wrote this, Jim Aparo drew it and Paul Levitz took editorial responsibility.
So, guess who got wheeled out to lead Adventure for the next phase? Why, it was Superboy!
It was the same story as Aquaman:better than the Fifties but still not good. Superboy got a solo because the Legion were pushing him out of his title, a familiar pattern, but he was saddled with Bob Rozakis and John Calnan as his creators, a combination that spelt commonplace. Aqualad got his first solo series as the back-up but that was no better, going around threatening to beat up pacifists to discover the secret of his past.
The cycle was supposed to be three 11-pagers plus back-up, and one novel-length story, but this was comic book’s nadir, when novel-length meant only 17 pages in a comic, and nobody settled into writing or drawing the series. But Superboy’s tenure only lasted five issues this time before he was moved over to Superman Family. Adventure was going down the pan. It had no regular lead feature, and the name, Adventure had simply outlived its recognition factor after forty-plus years, lacking definition for its audience, who looked for characters first.
This latest wholesale change reflected the decision to add Adventure to DC’s line of Dollar Comics, 68 page comics costing $1, but featuring all-original material. The initial line-up, in issue 459, featured The Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Deadman, the Elongated Man and The New Gods, not to mention a very long editorial from Levitz about the values and virtues of the new comic, restoring the glories of anthology comics.
From this distance, the editorial reeks of desperation, as well it might since the infamous DC Explosion/Implosion was right in the headlights. The New Gods feature was already a foretaste of what was coming: this was nothing to do with Jack Kirby but instead was the completion of Return of the New Gods, an extension series written by Gerry Conway that, despite a few good lines here or there, is justly forgotten now.
Most interesting was the information that when this feature concluded, after two final chapters, it would be replaced by The Man from Neverwhere. But Adventure was about to be buffeted once more by the winds of change.
The intention was to have Flash, GL, Wonder Woman and Deadman as regulars, with shifting back-ups, but by the second issue, Green Lantern was on his way out, displaced by none other than Aquaman (again) because his solo title had been cancelled (again). The New Gods ended with Conway killing off Darkseid, but only for the first time: it would become something of a habit with him.
So to The Man from Neverwhere. But we all know that never appeared. Because the DC Implosion saw half the DC line cancelled in an afternoon, among them the revived All-Star Comics. It had been due to feature the Death of (the Earth-2) Batman in its next issue so, just like Return of the New Gods, Adventure became a home to finish things off.
Levitz moved on as editor, to the Batman titles, as he probably had to do, being the Justice Society writer, and was replaced by Ross Andru, who would soon be shaking up The Flash’s life in his title. This coincided with the final loss of Jim Aparo, after so many issues and features, the last of these being Deadman, which continued under Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.
One thing that immediately becomes obvious in reading this phase is a story-telling technique prevalent in 1979 but thankfully long abandoned. This is an attempt to generate immediacy and action by starting in the middle, in a desperate situation, sometimes only on the splash page, sometimes covering a page or two, before rewinding to the beginning to see how the whole thing was set up. This achronology is clumsy and incredibly irritating to read forty years on.
But the Dollar Comic idea didn’t last. None of DC’s attempts to sell bigger comics for more money ever lasted and with issue 466 it was done again. The Justice Society left on a high, the explanation for their retirement during the Fifties tied into McCarthyism, and they were going to be leaving anyway. But there was not a word of warning anywhere in the title of what would happen in issue 467.

Yes, everybody was out. Adventure was restored to its bog-standard 32 page size, and to monthly status at the same time, with Len Wein installed as editor and a brand new line-up of a revived Plastic Man, complete with Woozy Winks, demonstrating yet again just how hard it was to capture Jack Cole’s lightning in a bottle, and a brand-new Starman series, featuring a brand—new Starman, by Levitz and the legendary Steve Ditko.
The latter intrigued me. I never read it at the time, though I’m familiar with this version, Prince Gavyn, from the superb James Robinson Starman series around the turn of the century, so it was nice to see the building blocks being built.
Starman was actually quite decent space opera that I would probably have enjoyed a lot in 1979/80, whilst the Plastic Man revival did its best but, lacking the light touch of Plas’s creator, got bogged down in excess silliness rather quickly.
Still, DC had not given up on Jeanette Kahn’s dream of bigger, better comics, and with issue 475, Adventurer extended its borders (and price) again, jumping to 50 cents and junking eight advertising pages to bring the creative content up to 25 again. That required a third character and who do you think it was? Tall, blond, favours orange scales? Yes, it was bloody Aquaman again.
But only for three issues. Without warning, issue 478 had every series scattering to the horizon for their continuations, Aquaman back to World’s Finest, Plastic Man to Super-Friends, Starman to ‘a conclusion – sometime’. And not a word of explanation in the lettercol or elsewhere.
By now, it must be long obvious that Adventure was a dying title, struggling and gasping and desperate. There wasn’t even a lettercol in issue 479, which was taken over by Dial ‘H’ for Hero for the remainder of the series’ life, nor credits. The series was being written by Marv Wolfman and very clearly being drawn by Carmine Infantino.

Back in the Sixties, I vaguely remember reading one of the original Dial ‘H’ for Hero stories starring Robbie Reed, in which the idea was that if Robbie dialled letters that were equivalent to H-E-R-O on a mysterious telephone dial (no telephone attached) he would turn into new superheroes for an hour at a time.
The revival had two High School teenagers, Chris King and Vicki Grant, who discover two dials, one as a wristwatch, the other a necklace, and also turn into superheroes. Lots of superheroes. Streams of one-note superheroes with all the developmental space of a puddle. This is because practically ever character has been suggested by a reader in their teens (except the Silver Fog, created by Harlan Ellison, aged 46). In short, it’s a wildly jarring, screaming mish-mash of stock Infantino shots, and my how stylistically angular he’d got, and it’s horrendous to read. Oh, and just in case anyone comes up with a good character, DC owns them all. Just in case.
The sheer vapidity of the comic – three seven page stories per issue, is this Mort Weisinger making a comeback? No, it’s Jack C Harris as editor, which explains a lot – was DC’s attempt to grab a younger audience at the very time it’s older audience was taking hold of the industry, via the Direct Market. It was a killer. Adventure lost its last, tenuous grip on its audience, throwing away one that had shown some loyalty in pursuit of another that it hoped to create out of nowhere.
With issue 490, cover-dated February 1982, Adventure Comics died quietly, in its forty-eighth year, just ten issues short of its 500th publication. Apart from a mention of where Dial ‘H’ for Hero could next be found, there was no announcement of the cancellation. By turning it into a digest-sized publication, mostly reprint, the title was got to 500 eventually. There have been revivals since, but one of the oldest titles in the business had run out of reinventions, doomed by its failure to produce a character it could be associated with who could save its life.
Action could live off Superman and Detective off Batman. But Adventure could only ever eat its own tail: if it produced a charismatic, exciting, popular lead character, it would lose its star to a solo title in its own name. Ultimately, it was doomed. And it went.

Lou Grant: s03 e15 – Indians


After a long series of episodes that have focussed on human beings as being in situations, this week’s Lou Grant reverted to its didactic roots by presenting a situation about which to show well-meaning liberal concern in which the humans involved were only tokens through which the subject was displayed. It didn’t work. It was well-meaning, and earnest and failed to make any connections.

As the episode title makes plain, the subject was the American Indians and their place in American life and culture in 1980. The Indians occupied a different culture, imperatives that were at odds with the overwhelming Anglo culture. Four tales were told to illustrate different aspects of this.

Raymond White (David Yanez) was a twelve-year old boy, a Papago Indian from Arizona who’d run away from a North California boarding school to find his Uncle, Howard Sweetman (Ned Romero), who was having difficulty getting a job because his cultural heritage, including attitudes to time and honour just didn’t mesh with basic Anglo business creeds. Howard got fired for leaving his job to help Billie Newman change a flat tire. He wasn’t doing a good job of sorting out his nephew’s schooling once animal had reunited them, but was better served by appplying to a business run by a Sioux Indian, who understood him.

Billie went on to Indian School, teaching children within their own understanding. Theresa Davies (Julie Carmen) was smart, beautiful, westernised, happy to help Billie and Lou understand, but her husband Gordon (Ray Tracey) was much more wedded to the Indian tradition of masculinised company. This was strong, warming, cooperative, but he was out every night, with no time  for Theresa.

Eventually, she ‘divorced’ him by placing all his clothing outside the ‘hogan’, or rather their apartment, just to try to get his attention. he reacted angrily to that but the episode ended at a Powwow, a cultural signifier that Gordon didn’t normally attend but did so, as an indication that he wanted to try to bridge  their differences.

The fourth story was openly lecturing, aa ddelegation of Indian activists attending on Lou and Charlie to get over some little known facts to the audience without any pretence of doing otherwise than editorialise to our faces. Not good drama.

All worthy social arguments and no convincing storytelling. A throwback episode and a disappointing one. Must do better next week.