Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Notorious Ilda Robot

happy times
A biopic about 50's pin-up Bettie Page is about to be released nationwide (I predict it will rake in millions at the box office and win eight Academy awards! All for sound design, strangely enough! I am from the future! Heed my words!) and it got me to thinking about Ilda, the robot secretary of DC's detective-of-the-future, Star Hawkins. (Example panels from "Strange Adventures #125, February 1961, reprinted in the softcover book "Mysteries In Space: The Best Of DC Science Fiction Comics" published by Simon & Schuster in 1980.) Ilda, though a wonderful secretary, isn't exactly easy on the eyes. Clearly inspired by the children in "The Family Circus," Ilda's distinguishing feature is a football-shaped head with a prominent widow's peak and no nose. And her fussy, eye-searing mini-dress puts me in mind of barber poles, sailors, and hookers. Not necessarily in that order, and sometimes in upsetting combinations.

(Side note: WHAT IS THE DEAL with that lady in the foreground? She's got one of those hats with the attached scarf so it can be tied around her neck, and yet she's still trying to clamp it down on her head. My diagnosis: OCD. She probably also used Krazy Glue and a nail gun to permanently adhere it to her skull. Check out the squat, orange Neptunian tourist taking a picture of her as part of his misleading anti-Earth propaganda campaign. My alternate theory? She's one hell of a magician, and in a surreal bit of prestidigitation she's going to smoothly press the hat all the way down to her neck, causing her head to disappear. Let's see you explain that away, Penn and Teller!)

Alrighty, I can sense you're growing restless. "Why the hell would that goof-ass robot remind you of Bettie Page?" you might ask me. And I would reply, "Enough swearing! Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" Maybe I'd slap you, lightly, on the cheek. Once. Just once. And then I'd say, "It's because of 'Twilight,' a three-issue DC miniseries from 1991, written by Howard Chaykin and drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez."

"Twilight" was a "mature readers" take on the DC sci-fi heroes of the 50's and 60's. To quote the back cover blurb of issue #3, "Immortality made Theater of History -- or was it History of Theater? After hundreds of years of the Forever Plague, Mankind lost most of its humanity. We replaced those innate sensibilities with rituals and role playing, emotional shadowboxing that deluded the Children of Twilight into thinking the Long Night would never come." Huh. Did the Pretentious Captials key on your typewriter get jammed, fella? Should I be listening to Tangerine Dream while I read this? Anyway, to bottom-line it, living forever turned people into assholes. The canyon-sized hole is this plot is that it's written by Howard Chaykin, so most of the characters were assholes to start out with.

There was one bright spot in this series for me, and that was the character designs -- or at least, some of them. I didn't need to see Tommy Tomorrow as a taller, skinnier, mustache-free Hitler, thank you very much, but I did applaud what they did with Ilda. Which was to make her look like a robot version of Bettie Page. Sadly, she's stuck in the middle of a Howard Chaykin comic, so this kind of crap happens to her.

dark days

And then she gets turned into a half-human, male-shaped hermaphrodite-thing with Moe Howard hair and really pretty eyes. Aw, well. You were cute while it lasted, Ilda.


Anonymous said...

Oh my god! That girl in the Guy Fawkes hat is looking RIGHT AT ME! Normally when they break the Fourth Wall in comics, it's Flash telling you to buy that comic or he'll die, or Batman telling you that nobody's leaving that comic until a murder's been solved. That girl's making me very uncomfortable.

I haven't read Twilight, so I don't want to say Chaykin got it wrong, but Ilda is clearly meant to be a spoof on the classic gumshoe secretary who was somehow the absolute best thing in the detective's life (if he could only see it!). The fact that you could pawn her and she'd say "I'll be rooting for you, boss!" is really funny. But those women, whether it was Sam Spade's Eppie or Mike Hammer's Velma or even Miss Moneypenny were not there to be sleazed on (flirted with, yes). Any one of them would have walked out on Hawkins long ago.

Scipio said...

" WHAT IS THE DEAL with that lady in the foreground? "

It's a Volcano Bonnet, silly, and she's containing it.

Jeremy Rizza said...

Sweet Lord, Anonymous, you're right. The lady in the funny hat is looking at us. All of us. And she saw what we did.

Scipio: ah, the classic Volcano Bonnet. Dopey me! Or maybe... (affects hushed, nervous tone) that's where she keeps the bees. The trained bees. (Finally, a legacy hero for Rick Raleigh!)

cozmic said...

So let me get this right...Star Hawkins wants to have sex with a robot that possess his brothers essence?

Anonymous said...

Twilight pretty well summed up all the worst aspects of "re-invention". It was loathesome, even by Chaykin standards.

Of course, when I picked it up way back when, I was expecting the Post-Crisis Reinterpretation of all those characters. It took me a couple of issues to realize that this was, in fact, what would later be called an "Elseworld". Since Crisis had retconned one of my favorite childhood characters, KAMANDI, into the '50s Tommy Tomorrow, I was utterly aghast at what horrors had been wrought on the Last Boy On Earth.

When I finally figured out that this WASN'T in any kind of DCU continuity, I was relieved -- mostly relieved that I could simply ignore the book and walk away before it was over.

Anonymous said...

Something bad is about to happen to that poor robot.

I actually think I'll have nightmares about that now.

Anonymous said...

Yeah... the whole "Let's make comics gritty and mature and sexed up" is what made me stop reading comics regularly.