Friday, June 09, 2006

Turtleneck Of Righteousness

Simon "Wonder Man" Williams was way ahead of the non-costume trend for superheroes. Sure, the original Mister Terrific wore a jacket, but did he pair it with a comfy sweater? I think not. After debuting in a hopelessly complicated red-yellow-green Jack Kirby number, he switched to this tasteful ensemble -- seen here on the cover of "Avengers" #203 (January, 1981). When I was younger, I absolutely hated this costume. I think part of it was that the jacket seemed dated, and I also wasn't ready for the concept of superheroes in casual wear. As a grown-up Blockade Boy, though, I think it's boss as hell.

(Above panels from "Avengers" #207, May, 1981.) It holds up from all angles, doesn't it? The safari jacket and the boots say "I'm off for a dangerous advenure in the great outdoors" while the turtleneck and the tight black pants say "But meet me in my tent for martinis later -- and come alone!" Comic fans liked Simon because he was shy and self-effacing, and his fear of death was a very human flaw that others could relate to. These qualities, combined with his movie-star good looks and his sheer physical power, made for an irresistable combination.

In a two-year story arc in "West Coast Avengers," Steve Engelhart had Simon overcome his insecurities and "blossom" into a raging asswipe. No longer ashamed of his goopy energy eyeballs, he ditched his trademark sunglasses and traded in his Banana Republic duds for a new costume. Which sucked donkey balls.

God DAMN but it's an eyesore. Note the "old school" zig-zag edges on the boots and gloves. Just because Kirby did it doesn't make it right, people. And the massive, wrap-around logo, with the pointless yellow diamond in the middle? Very nasty. Maybe if the letters were thinner, and if they didn't touch, it could work. But as it is, it's too bulky and clumsily proportioned. But in any event, the costume would still be sunk by its color scheme. It makes Simon look like a Christmas elf on steroids. Thankfully, my opinion was shared by legions of comic book fans, who inundated the letters pages with complaints. And so, at the end of "West Coast Avengers" #24 (September, 1987) we were treated to this little scene:

I love how that tacky little creep is giving somebody else directions on how to dress. (Nice sunglasses, jerk. What did those things cost you, three bucks at Spencer's Gifts?) And so on the very first page of the very next issue, Wonder Man appears in a new costume!

It's a leather bar pile-up in the Mighty Marvel Manner! This outfit isn't terribly interesting but at least it doesn't give me a headache. Red and black are always a good combo for a superhero -- it's one of the things I like about the new Batwoman costume. But I'm not thrilled about the overly blow-dried hair. Didn't it used to be naturally curly? Don't tell me Simon has taken to getting it chemically straightened. Like Ryan Seacrest. (Ew.) Well, let's get a side view of his new look.

It's the Abomination! Oh, and there's some kind of scaly green monster as well. What? "The Abomination" is my nickname for Simon's mullet. I think he kept this look for quite a while, until he died the second time. And then he came back. And the last I remember, his superhero look was kind of a bubbly lavender coating of ionic energy with a red "W" on the chest. *sigh*

I miss the safari jacket.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Startling Secret Origin Of Doctor Strange's Funky Biker 'Stache!

At some point in the early 80's, artistic license or editorial fiat mandated that Doctor Strange be drawn with a more fanciful Ted Nugent biker moustache instead of his traditional pencil-line number. (I say "biker moustache" instead of "fu-manchu" because technically a fu-manchu features a clean-shaven upper lip and the only hair is on the sides of the mouth. I'm a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to facial hair, so I know these things.) Nobody knew why Doctor Strange switched to this groovier style of face fuzz until "Doctor Strange" #54 (August, 1982). The issue begins with Doctor Strange moping about his student/girfriend Clea leaving his eldritch ass (her stated reason being that she thinks another woman loves him MORE but seriously, come fucking ON.) And then, doodly-doodly-doop! Cue the harp glissando and the swirly effect on the TV screen, we're transported into a flashback sequence by a different writing and art team. In other words, it's a cut-up filler issue that never got published, and they'd better go ahead and print the damn thing because Clea is still Strange's girlfriend in it! It starts with a biker 'stache-free Doctor Strange and the buxom Clea enjoying a stroll in Washington Square Park. And who should they run into but Shaggy of "Scooby Doo" fame!

Zoinks! Shaggy sports a "My First Goatee" (by Playskool) and as Jeremy likes to quip about such dodgy facial hair, "A little club soda and it wipes right off." Note also the pseudo-braid on the back. All you need is a half-dozen rubber bands and forty-five seconds of free time and voila! Your unruly mane of dry, hopelessly damaged hair, which has never seen a bottle of conditioner, is arranged in an unreasonable facsimile of a braid. This look is wildly popular with roofers and carpet installers. "The psychic emanations pouring from his body are almost palpable!" thinks Doctor Strange. No, honey, that's just the heady melange of patchouli and B.O. But yes, it is quite palpable.

Since the filler story is written by J.M. "Starbaby" DeMatteis, it ends with a bunch of hippies passed out on the floor. Then the regular team of Roger Stern and Paul Smith tack on a new last page, in which Clea makes an interesting request:

This should have been Doctor Strange's first clue that his relationship was in trouble. Clea's basically telling him, "I want to start seeing other people, but for now I'll settle for you just looking like other people." And Doctor Strange, still so gooey-eyed in love with her and yet so self-centered he's not really listening to what she's saying, goes along with it. Kind of sad, really. That said, I think Doctor Strange looks cooler with the biker 'stache than he does without it. The VanDyke's pretty nice, though. Does he still have that? Now, if only he'd do something about his hair. Really, if I had my way he'd look like one of those Ultimate Fighting guys, with the crew cut and no shirt and a lot of tattoos and... sorry, I kind of drifted away for a second. Um. Heh. Anyway...!

Bonus! In "Doctor Strange" #71 (June, 1985) we find out what Doctor Strange would look like with a full beard and Shawn Cassidy hair.

And the answer is, "Like a suicidally depressed llama."

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Glass Holes

If you're a supervillain, and male, you're probably not going to be one of the "beautiful people." Odds are, your mug is going to fall into one of two categories:

1. Long and narrow, with a knobby, pronounced chin, a high forehad, eyes that are way too close together, arched, pointy eyebrows, and possibly some sort of ill-advised facial hair, like a pencil-line moustache. Sinestro, Felix Faust, Loki, the unrejuvenated Vulture and the pre-Robinson Shade all fall into this category. (Although Loki was quite the looker in his very first appearance; remind me to post about that some time!)

2. Broad, fleshy, and brutish, with a squashed-in, bulbous nose (optionally broken), a full square acre of space between the nose and the upper lip, and either no eyebrows at all or comically bushy ones that meet over the bridge of the nose. That'd be your Kingpin, Sandman, Hydro Man, Blockbuster, Hammerhead, Attuma, Blastarr type of face.

Ironically, a lot of these villains would look infinitely more intimidating if we couldn't see their faces. Facelessness, be it complete or partial, lends an air of mystery to a villain -- and more importantly, it makes them seem less identifiably human. That taps into mankind's primal fear of "the other" and ratchets up the intensity of their threat in our minds.

Case in point: old Aquaman villain, the Scavenger (seen here in "Who's Who" #20, October 1986).

Scavenger's costume was no great shakes to begin with. Pretty blah. Although I like the belt... I could match that thing up with some leather pants and a pirate shirt and have a mind-blowing night out on the town. But the rest of Scavenger's outfit basically sucks. It's a leech costume.* Leeches aren't scary. A little gross, maybe, but not frightening. He may as well be dressed as a tapeworm. But the worst part is the goofy helmet. Because it's a diving helmet, with the window part all dolled up to look like a leech's mouth. With Scavenger's big, ugly mug peering out of it.

It doesn't make him look like a leech. It makes him look like he's being devoured by a leech. His battle cry should be "This thing is eating me alive oh dear God why won't anybody help me!"

Another good example of this phenomenon is Firefall, from "Rom" #4 (March, 1980). The Firefall armor used to belong to Rom's "special friend" Karas. (Greek, huh? Sexy!)

Note how the only indication of facial features on Firefall's noggin is the two flashing lights for his "eyes." Not a bad piece of alien cyborgery, huh? But then Karas dies, and the evil Dire Wraiths get ahold of his cyborg body. The Wraiths somehow excise all of Karas' fleshy bits out of the armor, probably using those big metal cracker deals they give you at lobster restaurants, and then they stick it on a criminal named Archie Stryker. Archie has one of the worst cases of Sal Buscema Face I have ever encountered. Sal gave him the Deluxe Package: pug nose, beetling forehead, teensy-weensy eyeballs, a mouth like a rockfish, and as a bonus, an intricate web of stringy drool is visible whenever he screams at somebody. Which is often. And this bleary, sweaty, "angry drunk" face is fully visible through the Firefall armor's visor.

It doesn't convey "evil" so much as "seriously pissed because the bartender cut me off plus that bitch in the corner booth won't give me her phone number, aw she's prob'ly a lesbo anyhow C'MON BUDDY JUST ONE MORE SCOTCH ROCKS I SWEAR I'M GOOD FOR IT." After his battle with Rom, he's probably going to make some harrassing calls to his ex-wife, punch another hole in the wall of his crappy hotel room, pass out drunk on the floor and wake up the following afternoon soaked in urine.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think Firefall looked better with just the two little blobs of light.

*I have since been informed that the Scavenger is meant to look like a lamprey. I think my point remains valid.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Um, We Can Still See Your Entire Head

More techno-woes at Jeremy's creepy little bachelor apartment. After his Pre-Cambrian Macintosh had its little meltdown, I decided to "borrow" his wallet and buy a fancy-shmancy new PC with all the trimmings! Including a 21" flat-panel widescreen monitor. Which worked great for about a week. But last night, it decided to stop taking any input from the PC and just do its own thing instead. Which was to rest. A lot. As soon as I pressed the power button, the monitor would flash the message Monitor going to sleep now for about half a second, and then it would slip blissfully away into energy-saving mode. (I've dated a few guys like that.) The good news is that the manufacturer's technical helpline was fantastic and they'll be sending me a new monitor in just a few days. The bad news? Right now I'm having to use the old 13" CRT Macintosh monitor, and the computer's in "widescreen" mode, so it's like watching a Cinemascope movie from about two miles away. I think I'm slowly going blind just typing this post. I need to use super-magnifying goggles and a tweezer to operate the mouse. But it'll be totally worth it, I promise! Now, on to business. Space Ranger! What's his problem?

What's wrong with this picture? (Besides the walking affront to human decency that is Cryll; I'll get to him in a moment.) Give up? The dialog makes it clear that "Space Ranger" is a secret identity -- of shipping heir Rick Starr, to be precise. And yet the helmet is see-through. I'm baffled! Does Rick know the helmet is completely transparent? What the heck is going on here? Some theories:

1. Someone is playing an elaborate "Emperor's New Clothes" type practical joke on Rick.
2. When Rick ordered the helmet at the space-haberdasher's, he requested one-way glass. But they put the mirrored part on the inside by mistake. Rick's effectively blind as a bat, but he does get to admire his Clooneyesque visage all day long! Sweet!
3. Rick's drunk off his ass right now, and on a lark dumped out a bowl of pretzels and put it on his head. In fact, he's so hammered that "Cryll" is merely a nightmarish hallucination. (If only, huh?)
4. It's a giant contact lens.
5. In the future, draconian health codes require all citizens to wear individual "sneeze guards."
6. Rick's honestly just kind of stupid.

The rest of the costume is pretty blah. Too dull-witted to think of an icon for your chest, Rick? Yeah, I thought so. The baggy Firestorm sleeves are a charming touch, but Rick'd be better off loosening up the fit in the crotch region where it could do him some good. Because the fabric down there is stretched tighter than Saturn Queen's facelift ("32" my ass, honey) and it's definitely a case of "move along, there's nothing to see here" if ever I've seen one. Dude's package is smooth. Like, "post-Photoshop Brandon Routh" smooth.

And then there's a hero's ultimate fashion accessory, his sidekick. Selected and costumed properly, a sidekick is a miniature version of oneself, dressed in a complimentary color. Space Ranger, on the other hand, has Cryll. Who is deeply disturbing. I don't know what that obscene protuberance on his puss is and I don't know what it does (besides talk, which is bad enough) and you know what? I don't want to know. And to top it off, he's wearing underpants. For, I presume, modesty. Jeezum Pete! What new horrors could be lurking under that electric blue spandex? Oh, he's just awful! He's like a highly sexualized scoop of strawberry ice cream. I think I once saw a scanning electron microscope photograph of him, lurking in a cow's eyelashes. I bet he makes squishing noises when he walks. And he smells like a vinyl patch kit. You know what? I hate him. I've never even met Cryll, but I loathe him with every atom of my body. And I hate Space Ranger for associating with him. At least the Martian Manhunter's imbecilic sidekick "Zook" looked cute. Providing you think a naked dwarf version of Chameleon Boy with Bat-Mite eyeballs and a Beatle's wig is cute. Cryll, though... eeugh. I don't feel so good. Kind of urpy, really. I'm going to take some Alka-Seltzer and have a little nap.

Blockade Boy going to sleep now!

Monday, June 05, 2006

This Town Isn't Fabulous Enough For The Two Of Us

Shootout at the "Oh, gay!" corral! Hawk, Son of Tomahawk, is beyond a doubt the queerest-looking western lawman I have ever seen. Yes, more so than Bat Lash. Or even the Rawhide Kid, when he's wearing that weird floor-length nightshirt. Observe Hawk's exquisite chartreuse embroidery, done in an Art Nouveau botanical pattern. (Quite remarkable, that, considering Hawk was born about a century before the advent of the Art Nouveau movement). Note also the perfectly coifed hair, described in "Who's Who" #10 (December, 1985) as "brown, with a blond streak." And I'm sure that's completely natural. He keeps a bottle of peroxide in that beaded man-purse, er, Native american pouch, doesn't he? Oh, sure, his pop was a natural blond and his mommy was an Indian princess, but human genetics don't work like that. He's a frontiersman, not an alleycat. Naw, ol' Hawk just wanted some bangin' highlights. I completely understand; I also like to express my feelings through my hair. Sometimes I get so mad, I just wanna punch something, but then I take a deep breath and touch up my roots and I feel all better. And then there's Hawk's limp little scarf -- no bandanas for him! -- and of course the tight-fitting, open-to-the-navel shirt. At least, I assume it's a shirt. The way Frank Thorne draws it here, it could very well be a one-piece. All that's missing is the ice skates!