Sunday, August 13, 2006

Time-Travel Challenge: Grunge To Rockabilly

Welcome to the third of my time-travel design challenges, in which I select a comic character who is mired in his or her decade's trends and imagine how they'd look if they had been created in another era. This time around I selected Grunge, whose name doesn't even have anything to do with his powers. He may as well have been called "Polka" or "Viennese Waltz." From his original "Kurt Cobain by way of Fantastic Sams" haircut to the overabundance of leather straps to that stupid winged skull tattoo on his chest, Grunge was a transparent attempt to lure readers by lumping together a bunch of fads.

But comic book writers have pulled that crap for decades... as you'll see when I pluck Grunge from the depressing 90's and drop him down in the paranoid-yet-peppy late 50's. Behold... Rockabilly!


From "Sunshine Superman: Popular Music Trends In The American Comic Book" by Professor Nicolas Kim Coppola, published on Earth-4/4:

"In December of 1957, Elvis Presley received his draft notice. He entered the Army on March 24, 1958. That same week, in 'Blackhawk' #122, editor Jack Schiff introduced a pompadoured, super-powered guitar player named Percival Chang. His superhero codename: Rockabilly.

In that original story, Rockabilly is introduced in civilian garb as the American nephew of the book's repulsively stereotypical Asian character, 'Chop-Chop.' (The interaction of Rockabilly and Chop-Chop was visually jarring -- Rockabilly was depicted with a reasonable amount of realism, 'Archie Comics' eyeballs aside, while Chop-Chop was afflicted with a lemon-yellow hue, a massive overbite, and what can only be described as a 'Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey' penoir. ) In the midst of Rockabilly's visit to Blackhawk Island, the villainous Killer Shark attacks. After Rockabilly and Chop-Chop scurry for cover, the Blackhawks are mystified by the appearance of a mute 'Metal Man' who helps them to vanquish their foe. Near the end of the story, the Metal Man reverts to human form, revealing himself as Rockabilly. On the last page, he explains the origin of his powers. It turns out he had been practicing his guitar in a jalopy in the middle of a desert, not realizing until the last minute that it was the site of an A-bomb test. He found a foxhole but its sole inhabitant -- a spindly, bespectacle scientist -- panicked and pushed him back out of it just as the bomb exploded. Instead of killing him, the radiation gave him the ability to take on the property of any inanimate substance he touched. To this end, he had taken to carrying about various minerals in his pockets.

Rockabilly proved popular enough that in 1959 he was granted his own series, 'Romp With Rockabilly.' It was here he first donned his memorable, gem-bedecked belt, gloves, and boots. Alas, he wasn't so popular that he could survive the seeming demise of rock 'n' roll music that occurred prior to the advent of the Beatles, and a mere fourteen issues later, the book was cancelled.

Rockabilly's appearances were few and far between after that. In the 70's, Denny O'Neil used him for an issue of 'Black Canary/Black Orchid' (under the moniker 'Rocker') and Bob Rozakis included him as a member of 'Titans West' in two issues of the fading 'Teen Titans' comic. In the 80's, he played at Donna Troy's wedding in 'The New Teen Titans.' Also that decade, Phil Foglio starred him (under his original codename of 'Rockabilly') in a four-issue miniseries that revealed his third cousin to be the Wonder Woman villain, Egg-Fu. His last appearance -- and certainly his least illustrious one -- was in the background of a single panel in the "Kingdom Come" miniseries. There, literal-minded painter Alex Ross, never one to resist an obvious joke, depicted him in his old age as resembling the 70's Elvis: paunchy, bloated and stone-cold dead... on a toilet."

I liked the general idea of doing a 50's version of Grunge but Jeremy has barely any comics with him in them, none of which are "Gen13." So my fictional backstory for him has zip to do with his real-world ficitional backstory. Sorry.

Anyway, I gave him a nice wide belt for his fancy rocks, plus Western-style flared gloves and cowboy boots. Note the very 50's collared cape. And I translated that dopey tattoo into a logo combining wings, a guitar, and just for the hell of it, a heart. I think it works okay.

I'm not a big fan of trendy characters. I wonder how Grunge will fare in the coming years. At the very least, a name change is in order. I don't think even Dazzler would have lasted this long if her named had been "Disco Belle."


Anonymous said...

Just the look on his face bouys my spirits (I was gonna say "makes me laugh out loud [for joy]" but that could be taken the wrong way).

What a awesomely, magisterially, innocently swell costume! Its power is such that it looks upon poseurs who dismiss it as "cheesy" and--with a withering yet pitying glare--says "Yesss...and your point is?

The winged heart guitar is my new friend.

Steven said...

The belt! The BELT! It is a thing of beauty!

Jeeze, these new histories are things of beauty. Obviously they must take a lot of time, especially the detailed histories, but they are great. (though if it'd just snarking for the rest of the week, I'd be very happy with that as well)

And y'know, considering his ability to become living stone, "Rocker" or just "Rock" is a BETTER name for the current Percival Chang than "Grunge" ever was. It's not like rock ever really went away.

Anonymous said...

He found a foxhole but its sole inhabitant -- a spindly, bespectacled scientist -- panicked and pushed him back out of it....

While it's no "Gail Atticus," I still giggled like a schoolgirl.

(And I really like that Rockabilly's got some smarts--since he carries his own materials, he'll never have to worry about "Pulling an Absorbing Man," and touching glass, tissue paper, etc.)

Steven said...

That's actually one of the few good ideas from the "real" Grunge, who has a belt just like Rockabilly's.

It just doesn't look as good.

Scipio said...

I think he needs some Captain Marvel Jr. stitching on the cape....

Jeremy Rizza said...

Chawunky: You're quite welcome.

Steve: Reading about the belt in the Wikipedia article is what inspired me. I can't imagine what the actual Grunge's belt looked like, though.

The Thing: Glad you liked it!

Scipio: That might be pushing the Elvis/CM3 connection a little too far. (Still waiting for someone to mention the Nicolas Kim Coppola reference.) And just the thought of doing all that embroidery makes my hands cramp up!

Anonymous said...

Another beautiful piece of work, and the backstory is all one coud ever wish for.

If I had one little quibble from the fashion design point of view, I would have worked in pegged/cuffed-up pants into the costume, since that always screams "Rockabilly" to me. That would, however, make the great jeweled boots harder to work in (and believe me, jeweled boots are already hard enough to work into an outfit), so what can you do...