Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Birthday, Superman AND Captain Marvel!

February 29 is Superman's official birthday. By that I mean, there actually was a comic book story where Superman's birthday was established. As an alien, Superman will never know his actual birthday. However,  facing a world's wanting to celebrate his birthday, he very cleverly picked Leap Year Day as his birthday so that he could stifle the celebrations. Oddly enough, Captain Marvel evidently did the exact same thing! If you aren't familiar with Captain Marvel, he's the guy who switches from being a little kid into a full-grown super-hero by shouting, SHAZAM! He, too, didn't have an actual "birth," so when pressed to reveal his day he chose February 29.

To honor these two great super-heroes, I'm suggesting re-read these two books if they are part of your collection. If they aren't then fly over to your library and reserve both of these books. Or rush over to Barnes & Noble OR and buy them. You won't regret it.  

by Alan Moore and Curt Swan
This is the "last" Silver Age Superman story before he was rebooted in 1985 without Supergirl, Krypto, Superboy, and all the great (?) trappings of the Sixties and Seventies. The tag line is "This is an Imaginary Story......Aren't they all?" Lex Luthor, Brainiac, and all of his other terrible foes get together for one last deadly confrontation....and Superman dies! If you are a fan of old-time Superman stories, this is a great one. When I first read this I had two complaints: the costumes of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and the absence of Aquaman (of course!). Now I realize that the costumes seen here were used to evoke the early Sixties, so were appropriate. The absence of Aquaman? Unforgiveable, haha. Other than that, this story is perfect.

SHAZAM: THE POWER OF HOPE by Paul Dini and Alex Ross
Sure, I would have killed to have this pair create an Aquaman treasury-edition story, but this one still is a great read. Captain Marvel's and his alter ego, Billy Batson, visit some children in a local hospital to help lift their spirits, trying to give them the power of hope in this fully-painted adventure.

Both of these stories bring tears to my eyes. Now, those of you who know me know how jaded I am (can be), so believe me when I tell you that if you like well-written and illustrated comic books, you should read these stories.


BHM 2012 Late Lamented Milestone Media

In 1993, comic book creators Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan, along with several others, founded a company called Milestone Media. They wanted to have a comic book company where their creators would be able to keep the ownership rights for all of their creations. Oh, and they wanted to have more variety of characters portrayed in comic-books. All four of the founders were African-American men, and they had grown tired of Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and Wonder Woman all flying around a world that was so  White. 
The four flag-ship titles at Milestone were HARDWARE, ICON, STATIC, and BLOOD SYNDICATE. In the simplest of terms, these books represented the company's versions of Iron Man, Superman, Spiderman, and The Avengers. Each made their debut in the Spring of 1993 plastic-wrapped with a trading card (if I remember correctly; maybe it was a poster?). Each were created by Dwayne McDuffie and designed by Denys Cowan or John Paul Leon (STATIC).

At that time I was living in Japan, but I was getting some comics delivered to me via subscription, so I knew about this start-up. In fact, I quickly subscribed to all four titles and when XOMBI and SHADOW CABINET appeared in the next year I subscribed to those, too.

I did this for two reasons: 1. first and foremost, I have always been a fan of the creative teams getting part of the profits from their work. If someone writes or draws a SUPERMAN comic that sells a gazillion comics (such as the DEATH OF SUPERMAN, right about this time) I think they should see a piece of those profits. Obviously Siegel & Shuster created the character of Superman; but others created that particular story, and I think it's fair for them to get more money for that. Until very recently comics contracts were established that  writers/artists/colorists/letterers were "work for hire" and did not see any residuals if their books sold five copies or five million. Call me "socialist" but to actually reward hard work is OK in my book. And 2. I like minority characters and underdogs. Of course I like Superman, Batman, and Spiderman; but my favorites have always been the *other* guys: Aquaman, Robin, and Captain America. Plus growing up in St. Louis surrounded by various other ethnic and religious groups, I always hated that the universe shown in comics was Lily White.

So it should go without saying that I enjoyed these books very much.

HARDWARE starred an alpha male scientist/engineer who creates a high-tech suit of armor and then has his ideas stolen by his employer, an older white guy (think: Batman or Iron Man working for The Man instead of themselves). It was very strong Angry Black Man stuff for the first few issues, and I'm sure there was a bit of "work for hire" commentary going on there, too. However, after the first arc or so was completed he became (to me) just another Iron Man type character (done in a very gritty, violent, Nineties-ish way) and I lost interest. I stopped reading it after the second year, however it lasted the longest of all of these titles, so *somebody* was reading it, haha.  

ICON featured a strange alien from another planet who lands on Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Instead of landing in Kansas and looking white, however, he lands in the South and is black. Instead of being the "icon" that Superman becomes, he hides his abilities and stays out of the limelight until he is convinced to step forward. This series was in many ways the most interesting to me because the creators posited "What if Superman were Black?" in various ways. Augustus Freeman was not mild-mannered; he was more like Bruce Wayne sitting in Wayne Manor NOT being Batman. When he finally decides to pick up a mask and cape, he is very laid-back about it. But he's the equivalent of Superman! So there really isn't much that can hurt him. In that sense, he kind of reminded me of the Superman as portrayed on TV by George Reeves; an easy-going guy who calmly watches the chaos around him until he steps in and solves the problem. I may be mis-remembering the series, because there was also a "hot-head" "side-kick" character named Rocket who was very militantly African-American, but I remember their relationship as being based on affection, not antagonism. I also remember the wonderful artwork of Mark Bright. This book was consistently excellent.

STATIC was a wonderful series co-created by John Paul Leon about a high-school kid name Virgil Hawkins who happens to get electro-magnetic super-powers. He was defnitely Milestone's version of the Spiderman character: the "teenager full of angst also needing to stop the bad guy and get home in time to do his homework" shtick done again, but done well. This was the most "fun" book Milestone had, and I guess it's fitting that Static as a character is probably the best-known Milestone hero: he appeared in animated form for the WB from 2000 to 2004 and has been made into an action figure.

My favorite title, given my preference for group books, was the Milestone collection of super-heroes, THE BLOOD SYNDICATE. If I am remembering it correctly, there was a gang-war going on between The Bloods and The Syndicate when the radiation occurred in their dimension, giving super-powers to those that were not killed out-right. The survivors decided to merge as The Blood Syndicate and work to improve their neighborhood, at first targeting drug pushers. Because none of these characters were Superman-Batman famous, they could and *were* killed during adventures, which to me heightened the drama. (SPOILER!) Famously, their first leader dies within the first story arc....and we're off! Not only was there a heightened sense of drama, but there were also Korean-Americans, women of color, gays, Latinos, and yes, even some white folks, thrown into the mix. You know, like the real world. The majority of issues were written by Ivan Velez, Jr. I still remember this series fondly.

For some reason (monetary?) Milestone stopped publishing in 1997. Several times in the past few years McDuffie has tried to merge his characters into the DC Universe proper (they all existed in a separate universe called "Dakota"); just recently several characters appeared in JUSTICE LEAGUE, and there were several Milestone-DC team-ups, such as Xombi meeting The Spectre in BRAVE & BOLD. Unfortunately, Dwayne McDuffie passed away suddenly one year ago. Although STATIC was part of the recent "New 52" rebooting of the DCU, there were creator differences right from the start that basically guaranteed that the series only lasted a handful of issues.

I miss Dwayne McDuffie's vision and I miss Milestone comics.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

BHM 2012 Saturday Morning Cartoons

The most influential Saturday morning cartoon for race relations as far as I am concerned is JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS.

Now hold on....think about it. When this cartoon made its debut in 1970, there were NO other cartoons with any minority characters. Sure, JONNY QUEST (1964) was a blonde, blue-eyed American boy whose best-friend was an Indian boy named Hadji. And FAT ALBERT, everyone's favorite African-American cartoon (atleast until THE BOONDOCKS came along, haha), didn't start until 1972. Other than that? Nada. Think about how great it would have been if one of the Scooby Gang had been African-American or Asian...! The world today would have been a better place.

Unfortunately, TV executives in the 70s were just as cowardly as they are now, so even after THE ARCHIES were a *huge* success and so was spin-off SABRINA and spinned-off spin-off GROOVIE GOOLIES, executies still didn't want to keep Josie, Melody, and Valerie in tact: they wanted to make Valerie white!! Luckily Archie Corp executives said no, and we got our very first African American cartoon super-star!

Sure, it was a stupid show. But it had music, some romance, and hijinks. Those were the three requisites for Saturday morning cartoons in the 70s. And in the larger scheme of things, it helped millions of little kids realize that blacks and whites COULD get along. I mean, if The Pussy Cats could do it, why couldn't we kids?

This show actually had a very long shelf-life. It premiered in 1970, and was still on the air in 1976. It had been updated as JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS in OUTER SPACE, but there was obviously enough fan support to keep it on the air. Those singing women were doing something right!

The early Seventies were a good entry point for minority characters in cartoons. For some reason, lots of cartoons suddenly added minorities to their casts. There was an African-American Bugaloo, for crying out loud! (or was he British? I didn't really watch that show, haha...) Besides JOSIE, in 1977 SUPER FRIENDS started adding minority characters to their rotating mix of "guest" characters; "lead" Super Friends Superman, Batman & Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman teamed up with new characters like Black Vulcan, Apache Chief, and Samurai,  along with established characters like The Atom, Green Lantern, and Hawkman & Hawkgirl. Then in 1979 with CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER FRIENDS these three "guest" heroes were bumped up to full Justice League status, in place of established characters like The Atom, Green Arrow, and Plastic Man, who, it must be said, are all white male Americans. Although nothing was ever told about the origins of these three new characters, Apache Chief was obviously a Native American (first Native American lead cartoon character ever? when did Tonto finally get animated?) and Samurai was Japanese (or Japanese-American). Black Vulcan was given even less background, although he was voiced by the American actor Buster Jones, so I am going to say he was an African-American. In that case, he was the first African-American super-hero to make it into the cartoons. Of course, he was followed very quickly by rising star Cyborg (voiced by Ghostbuster Ernie Hudson) in 1985. There has been plenty of talk that Black Vulcan was made up by producers Hanna-Barbera in order not to have to pay DC royalties for Black Lightning, a very similar character who had made his debut in 1977 (created by Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden, it must be said). That may be, but it's more likely that the staff writers came up with these characters out of whole cloth; I mean, come on, look at them...they even *look* similar!

Anyway, these two trios are part of Cartoon History, and I for one am wanting to celebrate that! So here are their TV theme songs...go ahead, sing along if you remember the words...or get a chill down your spine as the narrator introduces the Good Guys and the Bad Guys. Good stuff!!!

This is the intro of the cartoon re-played against "the single" from their 1970s LP. Groovy! Best quality animation I could find, so....haha, cut off after 1 minute if you don't want to hear and re-hear the chorus. :-)

(By the way, Black Manta was shown to be a African-American in 1977, as well, so we also had our first African-American super VILLAIN here, although he never took his mask off, so...never mind, I guess)

Monday, February 27, 2012

BHM 2012 Michael Jackson

The African-American with the most number one songs in the US is either Michael Jackson or Diana Ross, depending on how you calculate it.

Michael Jackson has 13 solo Number One hits. 
Diana Ross has 8 solo Number One hits. 

However,  both were originally the lead singers of their respective groups. So if you count the 12 Number Ones Diana Ross had with Mary, Flo, and Cindy, she wins with 20 total. That beats Michael and his brothers' combination of his 13 and their 4.  

However, I will go out on a limb here and say that Michael Jackson will have a stronger impact on music in the next generation than Diana Ross will or has, so I will only count their individual hits. With that math, Michael Jackson wins. He follows The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Mariah Carey in fourth place overall.

I have nothing to say that hasn't already been said about the sad, unique life that was Michael Jackson's. All I know for sure is that his music will live forever. He had many, many wonderful songs to choose from, but in the spirit of this series I have chosen BLACK OR WHITE, his Number One single from December, 1991. It was written by him and produced by him and Bill Bottrell.  As far as I am concerned, his music can do the talking. (Although the first 1 minute 40 seconds is stupid; you can skip that, haha~!)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

BHM 2012 Lightning Strikes DC!

So for the first ten years that Black Panther was the first African super-hero over at Marvel, DC had one (1) African American character, and he was named Mal Duncan. He had no powers, no costume, and no future.

Speaking of the future, in April, 1976 a new super-hero named Tyroc appeared in SUPERBOY/LEGION #216. He was created by Cary Bates and Mike Grell to be the first Black Legionnaire. See, the Legion of Super-Heroes exists in the 30th Century, with members coming from the United Planets. In other words, aliens work side-by-side with Earthlings to help protect the universe from the Fatal Five, the Suneater, and the Khunds. However, with more than 20 members, none of them were black. As a side note one of the Legion writers (Jim Shooter) had intended to make Ferro Lad an African-American when he created him in 1966, but the editors refused this trait and Ferro Lad was made caucasian instead.

So that brings us to Tyroc, who was one of the worst characters ever created. His voice was magical; he could scream and do anything. Need to have plants grow super-fast? Got it. Need to have bombs' fuses melt? Got it. Need to have a good origin story? Oops...that seemed to be out of his realm! It was revealed in S/LSH #216 that the reason we never see black people in the pages of LEGION is because they are all segregated on an island called Marzal. Tyroc is their hero, and hates the Legion for never helping them out. Luckily, the Legionnaires in this story are oriental, blue, green, and white, and they convince Tyroc that "we're all friends."

It never got much better.

After Cary Bates left as LEGION writer, Tyroc was never shown in action again. His next appearance was when writer Gerry Conway wrote him off the stage completely, more than five years later. For some reason, in all this time DC couldn't come up with any other characters in the Legion series that happened to be black. It was a pitiful situation.

Meanwhile, back in "mainstream" DC continuity, Black Lightning made his debut in 1977. Black Lightning was Olympic athlete and teacher Jefferson Pierce, who became a super-hero vigilante in order to help fight organized crime in Metropolis. Black Lightning was created by super-talented Tony Isabella and artist extraordinaire Trevor Von Eeden. He was created as another Batman-type urban crime-fighter, and as such was well done when he had his own series. He was a victim of publishing changes, but a few years later returned as a member of  The Outsiders. He has since become more of a mainstream super-hero, joining the Justice League and fathering teen-aged girls who are/were members of Teen Titans or something similar.

Well, remember Mal Duncan, the no powers-no costume-no hope character who was DC's token (oops) black character during the early Seventies? When TEEN TITANS was revived, so was he. He became first The Guardian (with an exo-skeleton that gave him super-strength) and then The Hornblower (too complicated to explain). He also suddenly had a girlfriend, Karen Beecher, who became The Bumblebee. Finally, DC had two African-American characters with super-powers, neither with "black" in their name! Unfortunately, they were both in TEEN TITANS, which was cancelled after less than ten issues. So nobody out there knew about them....

Two years after Black Lightning made his debut, DC was about to create their first major Black Super-Heroine, The Vixen, and put her in her own series. However, she, too, was a victim of the same publishing changes that cancelled BLACK LIGHTNING. Her eventual debut was in ACTION COMICS #251 (July, 1981). She was created by Gerry Conway and Bob Oksner.

Mari McCabe is an African model who via the Tantu totem can "borrow" any animal abilities such as the speed of a cheetah, the swimming abilities of a dolphin, or the flying abilities of an eagle. She was initially intended to be a soloist in a baby-blue and yellow costume that just screamed "fox" (actually, it sorta kinda resembled Wolverine's original costume...imagine that!). Then when her creator also re-created the Justice League, he decided to add her to that mix, giving her a terrible haircut but a better (brown/gold) costume. Thus she became the JLA's first non-white Earthling member. She has since participatded in such books as SUICIDE SQUAD with her on-again off-again love interest Bronze Tiger (another African-American martial artist super-hero) and back in JUSTICE LEAGUE. For a time she and Black Lightning were members together, making it clear that the JLA didn't have a regulation on having only one minority member at a time! ;-)  She has also appeared several times on Cartoon Networks' JUSTICE LEAGUE cartoon. For lots more about Vixen, please visit my buddy Jason's blog Off My Bird Chest and he will tell you everything you'll want to know. :-)

DC's biggest Poster Boy for African-American characters quietly made his debut in 1982 as a member
of The New Teen Titans. Cyborg was created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez as a half-man half-robot former athlete named Victor Stone. The entire "NTT" re-boot was a huge success, outselling all other DC titles for several years. Cyborg eventually made it to Cartoon Network as one of The Teen Titans and also appeared on the WB television series "Smallville," played by Lee Thompson Young. Currently he has been added to the rebooted JUSTICE LEAGUE as a founding member.

At about the same time that Cyborg made his debut, DC and the LEGION finally created a super-hero in the future who happened to be black....out of the entire universe, they finally found one! He was the new Invisible Kid, created by Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen. Oddly, he, too, like Black Panther and Storm, is actually from Africa.

In 1997 DC created another major African-American super-hero: Mr. Terrific, who eventually became the leader of the Justice Society. He was a reboot of a Golden Age character as re-envisioned by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake. Most recently, Batwing was created as The Batman of Africa by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham.

At this time, neither DC nor Marvel has a major, successful super-heroine who is African-American.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

BHM 2012 Spies Like Us?

It is another one of life's little ironies that in the mid-Sixties, while the FBI had *no* Black agents whatsoever, TV had not one but two super-spies who were African-American. J. Edgar Hoover, then director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was most likely a racist, homophobe, and sexist pig product of his time. For the TV series The FBI (1965-1974) there were only white male agents.

Meanwhile, on NBC, Bill Cosby portrayed Alexander Scott, a Temple graduate, a Rhodes Scholar, and a spy whose cover was tennis trainer to co-spy Robert Culp (as Kelly Robinson). They had a definite charismatic chemistry to their partnership, which made the show a huge hit for three years (1965-1968). Bill Cosby won an Emmy for Lead Actor in a Dramatic Series for three years in a row for his work on this show.

On rival CBS, Greg Morris portrayed electrical wizard Barney Collier on MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE (1966-1973). This was much more of an ensemble piece than I SPY was; Barney often worked closely behind the scenes with fellow operative Peter Lupus as Willy Armitage as the "stars" Peter Graves, Martin Landau, and Barbara Bain played the con up front. For seven years, all the operatives treated each other equally and with respect, working together to topple the dictator or drug lord of the week. It was fantasy, yes, but it's what all fair-minded people *wanted* to be true, yes?

Several years ago I read that because of these two shows, the number of Black Americans who applied for federal jobs increased dramatically. Nowadays it is nothing to see African American Secret Service agents, Federal agents, and, yes, Presidents. Did Bill Cosby and Greg Morris have something to do with this? Well... that is confidential information. :-)

I leave you with the two wonderful theme songs to these two wonderful dramas.

Monday, February 20, 2012

BHM 2012 Little Eva

The classic song THE LOCO-MOTION by Little Eva was the first Number One hit by an African-American woman in the Rock Era. It hit Number One in August, 1962 and stayed on top for one week. However, its place in pop music/pop culture history has continued to this day! The song THE LOCO-MOTION is one of the best-known songs of all time. According to Billboard Magazie, it is one of only nine songs that hit Number One that were later re-recorded by different artists and hit Number One again.

This original version was written by the (then) husband-wife writing team of Carole King & Gerry Goffin and was produced by Goffin. Little Eva was in reality Eva Boyd, who was their baby-sitter. They knew she could sing; she knew they worked for Don Kirshner's music company: it was no surprise that she was asked to record some songs with them. Originally she was only going to do the demo work (the unreleased versions that the actual artist listens to to judge whether she wants to record the song), but when recording star Dee Dee Sharp didn't want to do this particular song, and Don Kirshner liked Eva's version, it was released.

Little Eva was one of the first "One Hit Wonders." Although she recorded several follow ups to her hit, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who knew her for anything besides this song. She died in 2003.

In 1974, the hard-rock band Grand Funk had already hit the top with their rock anthem, WE'RE AN AMERICAN BAND. In the spring of that year their producer heard them horsing around trying to harmonize to THE LOCO-MOTION. He convinced them to record it and then to release it, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In 1988 Australian super-star Kylie Minogue released another version of the song THE LOCO-MOTION. However, it only (?) went to Number Three on the US charts. If it had gone all the way, it would have been the only song to go to Number One three separate times.

For completists, the three versions are included here. But I'll only cover-feature the original below..... Let me know which version you like best. :-)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Life In The Theatre (Intro)

me as Mr. Kirby (R) with Priscilla McFarland as Mrs. Kirby
and Diane Whitenack as Gay Wellington (2002)
As I get ready to go do our last show of MAME! with the Gahanna Community Theatre later this afternoon, I wanted to take this time to write a quick note about why I do theatre. Short answer: not sure, haha! I think I have some sort of drive to be creative and it manifests itself in drawing, singing, telling jokes, writing (this blog?), and, I guess, performing. I've never had any particular passion to be a "star" or a lead; I've always been satisfied with the bit or supporting parts. But when I'm surrounded by other people who have that "bug" to perform, I guess it's contagious enough to infect me, too.

My first actual "part" on stage was in high school. For three years I was only on the Stage Crew, but for the Senior Play I played the Chef in some forgettable play called MRS. McTHING. The play was stupid but the experience was fun. I also helped out in some American History Revue, singing and doing one or two small bits ala the old variety shows. That, too, was fun. And I got to kiss the girl! Mostly, though, I enjoyed crew work on shows like HELLO DOLLY, GREASE, and A RAISIN IN THE SUN.

Fast forward about 20 years when I came back from Japan and took a job in Portland, Indiana. There wasn't a whole lot to do in Portland, but there *was* community theatre. So after I went to see their version of ANNIE and verified that they didn't suck (haha) I went to Open Auditions for YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU. I had wanted to introduce myself and volunteer my Stage Crew expertise. However.....! Jay County Civic Theatre suffers from a chronic need for male participants (aka "you have a penis, you have a part") and I went away from the audition with the role of Mr. Anthony Kirby, father of the lead. YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU is still my favorite show and experience; the role was just big enough for me to not fret over too much, the people I worked with were fantastic, and there was a minimum amount of stress. As a newbie, I really didn't know there was plenty of drama behind the scenes, even in comedies! This show, however, was almost 100% fun. Plus the book itself by Moss Hart & George S. Kaufman is just so well written, it's impossible to not enjoy it.

That was the beginning of a fun time with Jay County Civic Theatre. Even after I moved to Columbus I remained the Home Page Editor,so I went to every show and took cast and show photos. It was fun.

Eventually, however, I got that *itch* again. I looked around my neighborhood and found community theatre groups in two nearby towns: Pickerington and Gahanna. Gahanna was putting on GUYS & DOLLS, an old favorite; Pickerington was putting on BYE BYE BIRDIE at the same time as an Indiana show. So almost by default, I ended up auditioning for Gahanna. They wanted a song with music....and the only thing I felt confident enough to do was "The Star Spangled Banner." Now, this is a notoriously difficult song to sing, so I figured if I could do it to their satisfaction I would be in. I got to the higher notes ("and the rockets' red glare...!") and they stopped me and said I was IN. :-) Last year was a lot of fun hanging out with "the gangsters." I think I actually had one or two lines; otherwise I was strictly chorus. But this was just the introduction that I was looking for.

me (third from L) as one of "the guys" in GUYS & DOLLS (2011)
This year for Gahanna's production of MAME I almost didn't audition. Because my schedule has been so crazy and I didn't really know the show itself, I initially intended to sit it out. However, a few guys from last year and the producer, too, FB'd me and said "I better get my heinie in the show." And now I'm glad I did. The music and dancing has been very difficult, but last week when it all finally *clicked* we've been able to enjoy the whole thing. I actually get a role this year as Stage Manager. (If you're familiar with the show, I'm the guy who says, "Sorry, Moon Lady.") We've had two great shows, and now we have one more today and then we're done for another year...and I think I'll keep coming back as long as I can. 

I'll be back in a few days with pictures from MAME. Until then... 

On With The Show!

JL #14, "The Story of the Justice League!" History

The History of the JUSTICE LEAGUE
 (Major Events Only)

* The Justice League is founded by AQUAMAN, BATMAN, THE FLASH, GREEN LANTERN, MARTIAN MANHUNTER, SUPERMAN, and WONDER WOMAN. They almost immediately face the super-powered robot AMAZO, the alien starfish STARRO, and VANDAL SAVAGE for the first time. (The founding members are shown here.)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

JL #14, "The Story of the Justice League!" Friends

"Friends of the Justice League" are divided into the following three categories.  
Batgirl, Supergirl, and Mera are the current three reserve members. When the Justice League is very busy or when there is a danger where the League needs assistance, these are the super-heroes they call first. Also, because the Reserve Members are Batman's ally Batgirl, Superman's cousin Supergirl, and Aquaman's wife Mera, they are very easy to contact during an emergency.

These are the super-heroes who are more difficult to contact than the Honorary Members or who are not full-time super-heroes. Currently the main Honoary Members are The Phantom Stranger (the League is unable to contact him easily), Zatanna (a part-time super-hero),

Friday, February 17, 2012

JL #14, "The Story of the Justice League!" Foes


There are many mortal enemies of the Justice League, but the following are the most dangerous they have ever faced.
AMAZO (#12)
He is a robot that has absorbed all of the super-powers of all of the Justice League members.
STARRO (no appearance in this series yet)
A super starfish alien from outer space. He has stronger mental telepathy than Martian Manhunter.
A villain armed with various time-themed weapons.
The most powerful black magic sorceror in the world.
DR. DESTINY (next issue!)
A mad scientist with a dream machine that can make nightmares come true.
An immortal scientist with an evil heart. His body faded awa the last time he fought the JLA, but is he really dead?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

JL #14, "The Story of the Justice League!" AFTERWARD

So, what did you think?

Given that my premise was to create a sort of "behind the stories" story, I think it succeeds. However, every time I have re-read it since it was printed I thint that I should have succeeded *better.*

JL #14, "The Story of the Justice League!" Satellite Map

This issue marked the debut of an actual group shot "masthead" for my series. From this issue onward, whenever I had a page that explained vocabulary terms or cultural items, I re-printed this JLA group shot on the top of the page. For those of you who are long-time JLA fans it is obviously a reference to the old JLA letter column masthead. I based my design on the illustration by Dick Dillin and Dick Giordano & Tex Blaisdell, who originally based their design on an illustration by Murphy Anderson who based *his* design on a panel by Mike Sekowsky. For the whole history of the JLA Mail Room masthead, click here to go to my buddy Rob Kelly's JLA Satellite Blog.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

BHM 2012 Storm and Power Man

(dramatic narrator voice):
Last time on "Wednesday Comics," you may recall we discussed the first Black Super Heroes. we are going to talk about the first Black Super Heroine and the first African American Super Hero to get his own comic-book. Are you ready, True Believer!?!

Storm was created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum for GIANT SIZED X-MEN #1 (May, 1975). She is  a mutant who has control over the weather...basically a more down-to-Earth and pretty to look at "Thor". She had been designed originally by Dave Cockrum while he was working on DC's LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, but when he quit that book (and publisher) and went to Marvel, he brought the character that would turn into Storm with him.

Storm was an African princess named Ororo whose father was an American photo-journalist, so she is truly African-American.  

For years Storm stayed in the background, comic-book wise, while Wolverine and Nightcrawler got more creator love. Eventually, however, she took her rightful place as the leader of the X-Men. When the characters made their Hollywood debut, Halle Berry played her with paniche. She is now one of the most recognized comic-book heroine out there. In current continuity, the character is married to Black Panther. It seems only fitting that Marvel's first African super-heroes would marry, I guess.

By the time Storm had made her debut, however, there was already a new man on the block. LUKE CAGE, POWERMAN, and/or HERO FOR HIRE had made *his* debut in 1972. Created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita, Cage was in prison for something he hadn't done. In order to get paroled, he volunteered for an experiment that sounds chillingly like something White Supremicists really did in Alabama. But I digress. He gets enhanced super-strength and invulnerability and paroled. He then tries to be a super-hero slash private detective, taking money for his cases. This brought him into contact with THE DEFENDERS, another Marvel super-hero group and one of my favorite reads during the early-mid Seventies. The Defenders were a group of heroes who hung out because they *had* to; they didn't really like each other that much, but their sense of civic responsibility insisted they stay together to help fight alien invasions and other dire threats. While fighting the racist group Sons of The Serpent the group hired Power Man to help them, and he stayed around for several issues. It was a fun book. Eventually Power Man teamed up with martial artist Iron Fist (a Caucasian; don't get me started) and helmed the series POWER MAN AND IRON FIST for several years as "heroes for hire." He is now a member of the Avengers.

So far we have only been talking about Marvel. What, pray tell, was DC doing all this time? Well....not much, actually. DC had always been the more conservative company, and had only created ONE African-American hero by this point: "Mal," who didn't even have a super-hero codename. He also had no powers or fancy costume. He hung out with The Teen Titans (the Mod Squad of Super-Heroes?). Although Marv Wolfman and Len Wein had tried to create DC's first black super-hero, Jericho, in 1969, they were not allowed to and moved to Marvel in frustration (do you see a theme here yet?). So there wasn't much to  cheer about, really, until 1976. More about that next week.

JL #14, "The Story of the Justice League!"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

BHM 2012 Star Trek

The most famous inter-racial cast in TV history, in my opinion, is the cast of STAR TREK The Original Series.
When it was being developed in the early 1960s creator Gene Roddenberry wanted to present a future that was optimistic. During the Cold War, and then the Civil Rights Movement, and later the Vietnam War demonstrations, the local & world news was not very "good." Instead of showing a future that was scarred by war, he wanted to show a universe where we mostly all got along. And in creating Star Fleet and The Federation, he knew he had to show that Earth had gotten its own act together first.

So when the series made its premiere on Sept 8, 1966 we are introduced to officers who were not just white American males (Kirk and McCoy) but also an alien (Spock), a Scott (Scotty), an Oriental (Sulu), and an African woman (Uhura). A Russian (Chekov) was added a year later. This was unheard of at the time. Other "military" shows of the era were all white and all male: McHALES NAVY, VOYAGE to the BOTTOM of the SEA, and GOMER PYLE, to name just a few.

Sure, the women were in mini-skirts and go-go boots; but they were shown to be competent and respected members of the crew regardless. Although it was never explicitly shown on the series itself, Lt. Uhura was basically fourth in line in command of The Enterprise; I remember one specific episode where most of the officers were planet-side but because there was a visiting Commodore or Admiral on-board, Lt. Uhura was out-ranked. In the Filmation cartoon version of STAR TREK, in the episode "The Lorelei Signal," Lt. Uhura and Nurse Chapel do take command of The Enterprise against an invading force of alien females when all the men are incapacitated.

The point of the series was its inclusiveness. I remember watching it as a kid and wanting to spend more time with the supporting characters instead of Kirk and Spock. (And who would have guessed I would grow up to have a "mixed marriage" and a little Spockette of my own?) People as varied as Whoopi Goldberg and Astonaut Mae Jamison have said that they watched STAR TREK to see people like themselves on television. A quick perusal of other 1966 TV shows paints you the picture: besides MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (another Desilu producion which  also made its debut in 1966), I SPY, DAKTARI, and HOGAN'S HEROES, *NO* other TV show featured any African-American as a regular cast member. And all of these series featured actors, not actresses. So that's approximately 60 shows that were Lily White. No wonder Whoopi watched STAR TREK, haha!

Nichelle Nichols, the wonderful actress who portrayed Lt. Uhura, has told the story about her planning to quit STAR TREK because she was not satisfied with the scripts for her character. Certainly, especially in the first year, her charater is wontonly unused. Several episodes where she should have been used she was replaced by some other nameless Lietenant who just happened to be White. (I'm thinking specifically of "Shore Leave" and "The Squire of Gothos") However, she happened to meet Dr. Martn Luther King at about this time, and according to her he insisted that she stay, saying that this barrier, once crossed, could never be closed again. She stayed.

Originally Lt. Uhura wore Command Gold.
Lt. Uhura was placed directly behind the Captain's chair, so almost every time there was a close-up of Kirk, there was Lt. Uhura in the background. Symbolically, it couldn't get any better than that. In fact, in those episodes where Lt. Uhura is not present, her absence is felt almost viscerally.   

After STAR TREK went off the air and into syndication, mainstream US TV went into a very segregated direction: sure, there were now shows like SANFORD & SON or THE JEFFERSONS, but ensemble cast-shows were still almost entirely white: BOB NEWHART, MARY TYLER MOORE (who lost John Amos to GOOD TIMES), HAPPY DAYS, and MASH, to name just a few. Even now, there are more shows with no minority characters than there are with. "Separate but equal" seems to be the term for network television now that there are so many different channels to choose from. That's a shame, and not the future that I had hoped for.
The original Communications Officer in the pilot, Lloyd
Hayes, who went on to stardom in ROOM 222

Monday, February 13, 2012

BHM 2012 Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke's classic love ballad YOU SEND ME was the first Number One hit by an African-American man in the Rock Era. It hit Number One in December, 1957and stayed on top for two weeks. It was written by Cooke and produced by Richard Blackwell.  

Anyone who knows anything about popular American music knows Sam Cooke. He wrote and/or performed such hits as CUPID (later covered by Johnny Rivers, Johnny Cash, and the Spinners), WONDERFUL WORLD (covered by Herman's Hermits, Art Garfunkel, and Bryan Ferry), ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT (covered by Cat Stevens), and TWISTIN' THE NIGHT AWAY (covered by Rod Stewart). This video especially is fun, as it's him performing live on some variety show. The picture quality is wonderfully clear,  but I have no idea what show this is from!

Sam Cooke was also a pioneer of the Civil Rights movement; his anthem, A CHANGE IS GONNA COME, was another protest song along the lines of BLOWING IN THE WIND and IF I HAD A HAMMER. 

My favorite songs of his are ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT or the very odd CHAIN GANG. I just always loved the "huh! huh!" of the chorus on that one, haha! 

Sadly, Sam Cooke was killed on December 10, 1964 when he got into a fight with an angry land-lady over a rendezvous he was trying to have at her hotel. He was only one month away from turning 30 years old.    

Sam Cooke was an American classic, and I'm happy to present this presentation of YOU SEND ME
from what looks like Dick Clark's  "American Bandstand."  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

BHM The Black Panther and The Falcon

The very first Black super-hero in a major super-hero comic-book is The Black Panther, who made his debut in FANTASTIC FOUR #52, July 1966. The Black Panther is the King of the African nation of Wakanda. He is not a US citizen, and never has been. He has super-speed, super-agility, and some super-strength. He fought the Fantastic Four (as Marvel heroes are wont to do) but then became their ally. He soon joined Marvel's other premiere super-hero team, The Avengers, and was a member in good standing throughout the rest of the 60s and early 70s. He eventually headlined his own series, and ended up marrying fellow African and fellow Black super-hero, Storm. He was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

The very first African-American super-hero in a major super-hero comic-book was The Falcon, who made his debut in CAPTAIN AMERICA #117, Sept 1969. Sam Wilson was an athletic hustler who got on the wrong side of The Red Skull and ended up turning against him and partnering with Captain America. It also turned out that he had an almost-supernatural ability to communicate with some birds in general and his pet falcon, Red Wing, specifically. Originally he had no super-powers other than that (ala a grounded Hawkman) but eventually he worked with Black Panther and incorporated a flight-pack into his uniform so that he could fly along with his pet/ally. He was created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan.

Silly kid that I was, I liked both of these characters as soon as I came across them. Sure, I thought Black Panther's costume looked a tad too much like Batman's, but he was level-headed and cool. Cap, meanwhile, was a bit of a boring guy, and The Falcon questioning how he fit into the role of super-hero that he had been handed was a dramatic and interesting story for me. It didn't hurt that both of these characters were allies of The Avengers, my favorite Marvel book.
It should be pointed out that The Falcon was the first African-American super-hero to not have the word "black" in his name. For several years in the 70s every new black character was called "Black this" or "Black that." It wasn't like there were hundreds of caucasians called, "White this" or "White that," though. So I really didn't care for it. That was another reason I liked The Falcon. He wasn't a Black Super Hero; he was a super-hero who happened to be black. And for years, he was the first and only African-American super-hero doll action figure! So there's that cool factor, too. And yes, I had one of these as a kid. Are you kidding, I had them all! ;-)  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

BHM 2012 The Mod Squad

THE MOD SQUAD premiered on ABC-TV in the fall of 1968. This was the year that both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were murdered assassinated, so it must have been a very difficult time to be an American. It was in this world of chaos and hatred that the cast of Clarence Williams III, Peggy Lipton, Michael Cole, and Tige Andrews (not shown) got together to breathe life into the Sixties version of "21 Jump Street." The three young leads played undercover cops (or deputized cops; not sure of the specifics) whose job was to help "the man" catch villains who were preying on the youth and disenchanted in Los Angeles who thought the police were out to get them. Young people didn't trust cops, so this special group was created to help their own. It was a hugely popular show until its last year, 1973, when it was cancelled after its fifth season.

When I was a kid I remember watching this show and loving it. I was all about watching young people on TV (I mean, really, who else was popular at the time....Dragnet? All in the Family? Gunsmoke?). Besides liking it, though, I didn't think too much about it.

It was only later after I got older that I realized that in its own way THE MOD SQUAD had been important. Here was one of the first (if not THE first) Black Cops on television. Not only that, but he was hanging out with a White Woman. Only forty years earlier, black men were getting lynched for doing less than what "Linc" was doing with/for "Julie." And throw in another guy, "Pete," and the mind is thoroughly blown, haha! I imagine ABC-TV must have gotten some pretty strong hate letters! Unfortunately for the haters, After the first season or so of getting to know and trust each other, these three characters actually became friends! At the end of the show you knew that they really had become more than just co-workers: they cared for each other; in some ways, they had become each other's surrogate family. In the racially charged USA of the late 60s and early 70s, this must have been huge.

And to all the kids like me watching it without realizing it *was* a big deal, it never WAS a big deal. What I mean is, my generation was the first to grow up knowing that blacks, whites, and men-women could get along....because we had seen it on TV! Who said they couldn't? Now, as an adult, I use THE MOD SQUAD as Exhibit A as proof that TV, movies, and other pop culture stuff really does matters, because it mattered to me. When I was older and white people would say disparaging things about black people, I would think of Linc being friends with Pete and Julie and realize that it wasn't necessarily so. For a whole generation of white kids, we grew up thinking Linc was cool...and we didn't care that he was Black.

Watching this series again now, it is almost funny in its overblown drama. While it is definitely a product of its time, it is also just another cop show ala "Charlie's Angels" or "TJ Hooker." At the time, I'm sure, it was revolutionary. And I appreciate it.

Next week: the most well-known integrated show in television history!

I leave you now with the wonderful theme song to THE MOD SQUAD, written by the incomparable Earle Hagen.

JLA Roll Call portraits version 4

Starting with number 14, I changed the portrait format a bit. I had two versions, the so-called "left" and "right" versions. For example, Ralph is standing on the left, so the next member Hawkman is illustrated on the right. It gave each page a better "balance." 
continued after the jump---!

Monday, February 6, 2012

BHM 2012 The Platters

The Platters' MY PRAYER was the first Number One hit by an African-American group in the Rock Era (which historians agree began in July 1955 when ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK went to Number One). It hit Number One in August, 1956 and stayed there for two weeks.

The Platters were formed in early 1953. They consisted of Tony Williams, Herbert Reed, David Lynch, and later Zola Taylor and Paul Robi. Their first national hit was in 1955; a song I had to sing for karaoke in Japan dozens of times: ONLY YOU. I first heard this song on the "American Graffitti" sound-track, and I have loved it ever since. This clip is from the movie, "Rock Around the Clock."

Then they had another huge hit, THE GREAT PRETENDER, which is a classic of the whining-pining love song genre. It's probably my favorite of their songs. Finally, in early 1958, they recorded Georges Boulanger's French song, AVANT de MOURIR, with English lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy, produced by Buck Ram, and it went all the way to the top.

In April 1958 lightning struck again when The Platters had their second Number One hit, TWILIGHT TIME. Then in late 1958 their most popular song made its debut: SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES. This was originally written by Jerome Kern in 1933 for the musical "Roberta." The Platters' producer re-arranged it a bit and it hit Number One in the middle of January 1959 and stayed on top for three weeks.

However, in August 1959 the male members of The Platters were arrested in Cincinnatti on morals charges, accused of using drugs and paying for prostitutes. Although the case was thrown out of court, the damage was done. They never had another hit record.

Now enjoy their first Number One (which one could argue is not their best-known song!) to a video with plenty of stills of....The Platters!

JL #14, "The Story of the Justice League!" FORWARD

Last issue, you may recall, Hawkman and The Elongated Man were inducted into "my" Justice League in what I consider to be one of the worst if not THE worst story I ever wrote! So...if you missed it, you literally didn't miss much. The framing sequence was ten of the world's greatest super-heroes sitting around. No, you read that right. All they were doing were talking. Blah!

JL #14, "The Story of the Justice League!"

The current membership dwarfs the original seven members.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Black History Month February 2012

Every year when February rolls around some smart-ass white male comedian makes some comments about it being Black History Month. These are the same guys who probably have no idea who Thurgood Marshall  is, let alone people like Marcus Garvey or Marian Anderson and her troubles with the Daughters of the Revolution. It's no longer funny (it it ever was); it's sad.

In my opinion, the teaching of history is one of the most difficult subjects at school. One person's victory is another person's defeat. One person's triumph is another person's tragedy. Who gets to tell the story is important to how (or if!) the story gets told. For example, the internment of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast during WWII was not a shameful story for years until, suddenly, it was. Now the majority of Americans see it as another dark note in our history.

I remember when I was in the sixth or seventh grade and I was handed a textbook for the first time that was ALL about African-American history. I was already familiar with some of the names in it (Crispus Attucks was a point on a Revolutionary War test, and growing up in St. Louis I was very familiar with Dred Scott). Everybody knew who Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks were. But the others? I'm ashamed to admit I don't remember most of them. I do, however, remember the overall arc of the book: since the birth of our country in 1776 and before, Black Americans were always around, living, breathing, and dying. Just like all the other Americans.

I recently happened across this video of Morgan Freeman speaking against Black History Month. He's obviously being interviewed by Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, but I have no idea when this is from. It doesn't really matter, because I'm sure he still feels the same way. Watch it and then come back.

You know what? I can see his point. However, I'm also a realist: we're not there yet. Now don't get me wrong, I know lots of people who don't speak of race. My friends and I try not to do it, God knows. But there are still so many people in this country (world) who say, "Two black guys walked into the store and I got nervous" or "He's a pretty good swimmer for an Asian" or worse. And if you go abroad it can be worse; when I was in Japan anybody who wasn't a Chinese or Korean was "a foreigner," indiscriminately. They didn't care what nationality you were; you weren't one of them, and that is all that mattered. Racism isn't an American institution and we can't act like it is.

So Mr. Freeman's advice is to stop talking about it. Well, for those of us who "get" it, I think it's fine that we stop talking about it. Somedays I think we're in the majority and other days I think we're in the minority, haha. For all those people who don't "get" it I don't see any problem with reminding the masses that Garrett Morgan invented the traffic light or that Booker T. Washington was the first African-American to dine at the White House in 1901.

Meanwhile, I think what is really making this country a better place is that the older generation is dying off. My parents' generation and even some Baby Boomers SEE blacks and whites and Asians and straights and gays and Catholics and Baptists, haha. It's not necessarily their fault, because that's the world they grew up in. But nowadays I sometimes get a tear in my eye when I look around my current hometown (Columbus, OH) and see so many inter-racial and gay couples. Nobody seems to care that they exist! And why should they? But these couples were ILLEGAL less than a generation ago. That, my friend, is progress.

And progress is what I want to celebrate when I think of Black History Month. Because even though it's called that, it actually *is* American History Month.

In the meantime, I hope it will continue so our younger generation can understand just how stupid some of their elders were, and how noble or clever or strong or brave some of their other elders were. US History isn't just Washington, Lincoln, and Reagan! (God forbid, haha) Because so many textbooks and Hollywood movies want to WHITE-wash so many of our stories (pun intended) I think BHM serves a purpose, and I'll support it.