Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dogs: Man's Greatest Enemy?

During the years of Stan Lee's editorial reign over Atlas Comics, there were frequently stories repeated amongst his various genre books; there are certain western plots which not only turn up again and again, but even with the same characters and dialogue; similarly, the various science fiction/fantasy titles of the 1950s revisited certain ideas. Because many of the books do not credit their authors one cannot assume certain ideas were repeated intentionally, but occasionally one does wonder.

Earlier, I posted a panel from an inane Atlas book wherein dogs are believed to be setting themselves up as mankind's replacements. Unbelievably, this was actually a recurring plot in Atlas Comics!

The above hails from Marvel Tales#133 (1955): "The Talking Dog" (art by Bob Powell). In this tale, a man discovers his dog can talk; the dog claims his species learned speech before humans and have secretly guided mankind down the centuries. The owner is outraged at the idea and tries to exploit his dog's power of speech, but the dog ends up running away, regretting have shared the information.

Two years later we have Astonishing#59 (1957): "Who is the Master?" (art by Robert Q. Sale). This time a scientist believes his dog possess psychic powers and have malevolent plans to surpass humans, conquering the Earth. He goes after his dogs with a gun but neither he nor the dogs are seen again. *dramatic stinger*

Finally, in Journey into Mystery#62 (1960): "There is a Brain Behind the Fangs!" (art by Don Heck). This is easily the silliest of the lot. Allow me to repeat the above dialogue:

"But Frank, there is no evidence that dogs have been getting smarter!"

"That's right -- and that's why I say they're a menace! They have been developing but they haven't revealed it!"

I'm sure I've seen the latter person in various internet forums. In this outing, the dogs turn out to be the servants of the real brains behind mankind's downfall: the cats! Seriously.

Perhaps these stories were ripping off a popular science fiction pulp magazine tale (Atlas frequently plagiarized the pulps). I do think it interesting, though, to wonder why creators of the 1950s would set up dogs as a potential threat. Was it an outgrowth of HUAC and McCarthyism, encouraging US citizens to distrust everyone, even the gentlest most inoffensive creatures? Was it a reaction against the rigid conformity of 1950s culture, suggesting an underlying menace within the nuclear family's own backyard? Or was it the byproduct of extremely disenchanted hacks trying desperately to fill up comic book pages so they could afford sending their kids to school? The truth is out there.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

By request: Pacific Rim

I was asked by a friend to see the new film Pacific Rim as soon as possible, then comment on it; having watched the film last night, I'm happy to oblige:

Set in the not-too-distant future, director Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim features giant monsters (kaiju) who emerge from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean via a portal between Earth's dimension and their own. The monsters' goal is to destroy human life and as years pass their attacks become more frequent and the monsters, more powerful. Earth's best defense is, naturally, to construct immense robotic men (Jaegers) to combat the Kaiju. Because just one man cannot handle the mental strain of operating a Jaeger, the pilots operate in pairs, linking their minds together. The central action of the film arrives at a time where the Jaegers have almost all been destroyed or decommissioned; the last four Jaegers are sent to defend Hong Kong and attempt a desperate effort to destroy the Kaijus' portal; the central figure is Raleigh Becket, a Jaeger pilot who formerly worked alongside his brother; with his brother dead, Raleigh needs a new partner.

Just arriving at the point outlined above - where the defense of Hong Kong and destruction of the portal - are identified as the primary goals of the protagonists requires a lot of backstory on the film's part. First, here's how the Kaiju attacks started; then, here are the Jaegers; subsequently, here's the Jaegers being defeated and Raleigh's brother dying. Finally, here we are, ready for the actual plot of the film.

Surprisingly, this is not a "USA saves the world" picture. Raleigh is certainly from the US, but the other pilots include teams from Russia, China and, significantly, Australia. The battle against the Kaiju is an international effort which is kind of neat to see (and may account for why the film is performing much better internationally than it is domestically). There's also Raleigh's eventual co-pilot, Mako Mori, a Japanese woman. Although the film is ultimately about them proving their compatibility it is not concerned with setting up the pair as a romantic couple. On the one hand, I felt like the film kept me waiting for a shoe drop which never came; on the other hand, it's very refreshing to see a male-female relationship which doesn't require the couple to lock lips at the climax.

There are a few familiar faces in the picture such as Del Toro's personal good-luck charm Ron Perlman (playing a dealer in black market Kaiju body parts) and Jaegermeister Idris Elba, who appears to be speaking with his natural accent (for a change).

Unlike most of the dull shakey-cam films in most summer attractions, Pacific Rim puts a lot of effort into its visuals - terrific colours, interesting fight choreography and a fighting chance for the audience to understand what the opponents are doing to each other as they grapple. I should have to acknowledge a film for being coherant, but such is the world we live in. Similarly, although the story spends a fair bit of time explaining what's up with the Kaiju, you're never at a loss as to what the characters are trying to achieve. Because Pacific Rim is (again, unlike most action film offerings) not a sequel or adaptation, there's tension in not being able to anticipate how the plot will unfold or how the characters will wind up.

Is Pacific Rim a gift for giant monster movie fans? In a way, yes. Those who enjoy their Godzillas - especially films where humans go toe-to-toe with the Big G such as Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002) - or who wished Neon Genesis Evangelion spent less time navel-gazing (to say nothing of light fixture-gazing) will have a blast. However, Pacific Rim could be enjoyed by anyone in the mood for a fun action movie. It hits the right beats and is ultimately very satisfying.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

"Confie mas confira, como dizia meu pai." Private Eye em Português

Continued from yesterday...

When I began studying Portuguese last year I made an effort to seek out comic books printed in Portuguese which might help me... but the internet failed to turn up many leads. To my immense pleasure, Brian K. Vaughan & Marcos Martin's Private Eye is sold in a variety of languages - even the ever-elusive Portuguese!

Of all the languages I would choose to learn, it had to be one seldom used in North America, sim? Print resources on Portuguese are lacking, especially in the European dialect I'm trying to favour. Although the internet has been very useful to me, very few online comic books offer Portuguese translations - and those Portuguese comics I have located were series I'd never heard of before (they probably originated in Brazil).

Having seen how Private Eye manages their translations, one wonders why every major publisher doesn't offer multiple language versions of their work? Surely the big companies are better able to afford these services than a little creator-owned digital book with a "pay what you like" donation box? As seen above, the finished project doesn't go to the trouble of translating advertisements, book covers and other English-language background details - it's just a matter of finding a decent translator for the dialogue balloons.

Best of all, thanks to the DRM-free nature of Private Eye I can read the English and Portuguese versions at the same time on my computer, running samples side-by-side. I'm certain to be back for more of Vaughan & Martin's series... if only to aid my pitifully poor vocabulário.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

"Trust, but verify, my Dad used to say." Thoughts on the Private Eye#1

I may not be the first to climb aboard Brian K. Vaughan & Marcos Martin's Private Eye#1, but at least I'm not the last. Although I was a huge fan of Vaughn at the beginning of his career and for a time collected everything with his name on it, I broke away when he wrapped up his Runaways series. I might not have come back for the Private Eye except for two factors:
  1. The compelling artwork of Marcos Martin, perhaps the best adventure hero artist in the business today and
  2. A very compelling creator-run distribution method, enticing readers to choose the format, language and price point which they prefer.

Projected to run just ten issues, the Private Eye is sold online here; the series is set in a world where people have rebelled against our present-day lack of privacy by installing intense levels of secrecy and privacy as virtually everyone wears wears masks and aliases; naturally, this is the perfect landscape for a mystery thriller and thus our protagonist, known only as "Patrick Immelmann," is hired to learn people's secrets the old-fashioned way - legwork, surveillance and evading the law. Following the usual pattern of a "typical" escapade, Patrick is hired to investigate the background of his client to ensure he can't find anything incriminating (and thus, hopefully no one else will). Naturally, complications ensue and amongst people this paranoid, would you be surprised to learn a few lies are spoken?

The premise is fine for an excuse to see Marcos Martin unleash his creativity on futuristic cityscapes and fasionable disguises. The concept is not believable, but we'll see how the story itself plays out; if the ride is fun, I won't complain about the suspension.

More about the Private Eye coming tomorrow...

Friday, July 19, 2013

"Almost at birth he contracted that most dreaded of literary diseases, monotony." Steranko's History of Comics

"We cannot die from obstacles and paradoxes, if we face them with laughter. Only of boredom might we perish. And from boredom, fortunately, the comics keep distance."

-Federico Fellini, who did not live to see DC Comics' Genesis

Thank goodness for the University's extremely limited library of material about comics, enabling me access the first volume to this well-known yet (like so many histories of the comics) out-of-print 1970 trend-setter. Knowing Steranko primarily as a comic book creator, I was curious to see how well he made out as a historian of comics of the 30s and 40s.

Steranko's personal interests certainly shaped this book; there's quite a bit of space given to Jack Kirby (including exclusive art), but why wouldn't there be? The troubles of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster are by-passed; the worst thing said about Bob Kane is that he wasn't a very good artist. This book was written at a time when virtually every major creator responsible for the "Golden Age" of comic books was still alive and willing to talk to Steranko. Steranko offered up brief biographies of the creators and provided their quotes, but his primary interest was in the creations, not the creators.

I was certainly amused to find seven pages about the pulp novel antics of the Shadow in this, supposedly a comic book history! It's not that the pulps didn't influence the comics - Steranko certainly connects the dots between the two mediums - and the Shadow was influential in his own right. But seven pages? At least it's never boring; knowing as much as I do about comics but as little as I do about pulps, the pulp hero histories were a pretty lively read.

Often Steranko just fell into list-making which, compulsive list-maker that I am, I certainly related to. Each list was worth looking over as Steranko's wry humour often slipped out between sections: "The art looked like it was done by Bob Kane working left-handed." Zing!

"There's room enough for a million different stories in the land of Oz." Thoughts on the Royal Historian of Oz

For all that I've enjoyed reading comics from Slave Labor Graphics over the years, their recent publications are maddening to the collector. Despite being on their newsletters, I'm frequently at a loss as to what's become of books I was trying to follow... and so, my interest wanes and I forget about the series. It's a shame, because SLG titles surely need every fan they can get.

It was clear the wheels were falling off back in 2009 when James Turner's new series Warlord of Io was refused by Diamond so only the first issue was printed; SLG continued it as a digital-only comic; then they abandoned the digital version and printed the story as a trade. Hooray, I finally had the whole story and boo, I had to buy it across three platforms and was constantly unaware as to when/if/where it was being continued.

In retrospect, the 2010 debut of Tommy Kovac & Andy Hirsch's Royal Historian of Oz may have been the last gasp of SLG as a publisher of single issues. Despite issue #1 bearing a $1 price tag and trading on the ever-interesting world of Oz as source material (plus some favourable internet reviews), the series faced the same ultimate fate of Warlord of Io; four issues were published with immense irregularity, a fifth issue was printed in digital format and the whole series was collected in a trade.

Despite having bought issues #1-4 in print, I didn't realize #5 existed in digital format until last week... somehow SLG never fails to spam me about Johnny the Homicidal Maniac but remains clueless about my actual interests. Why is it so hard for me to give you my money?

Royal Historian of Oz featured Jasper Fizzle, a hack Oz novelist who discovered the wonderful land of Oz truly existed and began pilfering doodads from Oz to Earth to help him write his stories. The point-of-view character was Jasper's son Frank, frequently embarrassed by his father, but forced to help sort out his father's problems when people from Oz came looking for an explanation.

The concept of the series was loose enough to fuel a long-running open-ended series, but the comic reading populace's lack of interest in the material seems to have doomed it to an early grave; issue #5 wraps up matters at a frantic pace; protagonist Frank is suddenly rendered irrelevant as the problem at hand (the Wicked Witch of the West has possessed Scraps, the Patchwork Girl) is resolved by Jasper who even invokes the deus ex machina in the climax (an admittedly novel deus ex machina). Fallout from the problem's resolution leads to Frank being given the chance to keep adventuring in Oz, but it may be a prologue to a story we'll never see. And if a sequel should come to pass... I can't imagine how I'll find out it exists.

Tomorrow: something more pleasant.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Unearthed: DP7#5

I've long wished to bring my love of the New Universe series DP7 to this blog; delving back to the early days of the series, I'm revisiting DP7#5 (1987) and the story "Exorcism" by Mark Gruenwald and Paul Ryan.

Of the eight titles comprising Jim Shooter's New Universe, DP7 came the nearest to fulfilling the objectives Shooter first outlined - even Shooter's own Starbrand tended to forget the concept of the "world outside your window" described in promotional material. I didn't discover DP7 until years after the series' cancellation, but reading it together in a single evening was an outstanding experience for me; "Exorcism" was especially memorable.

We open in "Central Wisconsin, twenty-seven miles from Stevens Point." Our cast, travelling across Wisconsin in a trailer being pulled by a truck, catch sight of a church bus which crashed into a tree. Our seven lead characters met at the Clinic, a facility which helped paranormals such as they to cope with their powers, but they fled after discovering the Clinic had ulterior motives (namely to supply the CIA with paranormal operatives); although the seven have been trying to keep a low profile, the bus accident attracts their attention.

Randy O'Brien, a physician with the power to release a flying, ebon-black creature ("Anti-Body") from his chest insists on stopping to help; besides being a dedicated care-giver, Randy was frequently the default leader of the seven characters. When Randy suggests helping them the other three men - Jeff Walters, Dave Landers and Dennis "Scuzz" Cuzinski - go with him while the three women - Stephanie Harrington, Lenore Fenzl & Charlotte Beck - remain with the trailer. Stephanie was formerly a housewife with three young children and she desperately wants to rejoin her family; Stephanie's own power is to increase people's energy levels by touching them, enabling people to heal more quickly or receive bursts of adrenaline. Stephanie's power manifests as a series of bright sparks around her body and recently the sparks have been ever-present around her, even when not consciously using her power. Stephanie asks Lenore to help, as Lenore skin's gives off a white light which causes people to fall unconscious. Lenore exposes Stephanie to her white light but it has no effect - Stephanie's body is producing more energy than Lenore's power can handle.

At the bus, Randy begins treating the wounded; despite being a fugitive he gives his real name to a hurt teenager: "I can't lie to a kid." Dave's superhuman strength and Scuzz's acid-like touch help dislodge the bus from the tree. Dave suggests they push the bus back to the road, but the priest is skeptical. "Have a little faith, father," Dave suggests. Sure enough, they are able to move the bus back on the road - but only because Dave is so strong he can drag the bus almost single-handedly. During all of this, Jeff uses his superhuman speed to scout and ensure the situation isn't a trap (Jeff's speed is such that he's always moving, appearing as a blur on the page). The problem dealt with, the men return to the trailer and discuss how nice it felt to help people in need; Dave notes he doesn't believe in God, yet wound up promoting faith to a priest. Scuzz isn't willing to admit he enjoys being altruistic but enjoys any opportunity to use his powers.

Soon the seven are back on the road; Scuzz rides in the flat of the truck, musing how irritating it is for him to be the youngest member of the group; suddenly, he notices his spit is so acidic it leaves a scorch on the truck's body; experimenting with his power, he makes a spitball and throws it at a road sign; the spitball blasts a hole through the sign, much to Scuzz's entertainment; he decides to keep this discovery to himself. Jeff comes running by the truck and has a friendly chat with Scuzz, offering to pick up cigarettes for Scuzz while making his regular phone call to his mother. As Jeff runs ahead of the trailer to make his phone call in the next town, Scuzz wonders what Jeff's ulterior motive is - still suspicious of people'a altruism.

Jeff phones his mother, which is as good a time as any to note Jeff and Stephanie are the only two of the seven with real personal ties outside the group; Scuzz barely tolerates being part of the seven while Lenore, Randy, Dave & Charlotte seem to have no closer friends than those in the group. Jeff's mother has a suggestion about his superhuman powers: if there is no medical cure for his powers, perhaps Jeff should visit an exorcist. We have an "A" plot!

Jeff brings the subject up for discussion back at the trailer, prefacing his story by first asking if any of them have seen the movie the Exorcist. While the group are fairly dismissive of this idea, Stephanie latches on it instantly, noting they've never been tested for demonic possession - why rule it out? Scuzz notes Stephanie's sudden assertiveness, musing "Stephie puttin' on a little weight?" Dave is easily the least-persuaded by this idea and tries to talk Stephanie out of believing something from "the Dark Ages," but Stephanie challenges him to supply a better origin for their paranormal abilities. Randy suggests the White Event (which actually is the source of their powers), but Charlotte doubts it because she didn't see the White Event happen. Lenore notes all of their powers manifested after the White Event; Jeff counters "They all came out after Ronald Reagan was re-elected, too. Is he responsible, maybe?"

When Stephanie repeats her determination to explore the idea, Dave offers another objection: going to an exorcist would involve an outsider with their group and they haven't had good experiences with outsiders (Dave invokes a recent guest appearance in Kickers Inc.#5 where the Kickers Inc. cast tried to capture them for the Clinic). Jeff notes the matter isn't really open for discussion - his mother set up the meeting with the exorcist for him, not the group; if the group isn't interested, Jeff will go alone. At this, Randy insists everyone accompany Jeff, but Scuzz refuses. Now vocally objecting to being the "punk kid of this chicken-licked outfit," Scuzz angrily notes the group haven't been using his ideas, such as the super hero codenames they all agreed to use (back in issue #2, which was basically the first and last time the characters used codenames - outside of various promotional material fot the series). Unlike the others, Scuzz likes his powers and doesn't want a cure; he storms out of the trailer, quitting the group.

Randy thinks Scuzz needs the group and goes after him, insisting they make amends, but Scuzz angrily elbows Randy in the chest; this causes Randy to release his Anti-Body and Scuzz assumes the group wants a fight; Scuzz demonstrates his new spitballs, blasting a hole through the Anti-Body and burning Dave's arm before Stephanie finally intercedes and insists they let Scuzz leave if it's what he wants. The other six return to the trailer as Scuzz walks away. For a moment, a tear runs down Scuzz's face as he considers being alone, but Jeff suddenly returns, causing Scuzz to revert to his tough persona; Jeff leaves his mother's phone number with Scuzz should Scuzz ever need to contact the group again but once Jeff turns his head, Scuzz burns the scrap of paper into dust.

Randy feels guilty about leaving Scuzz behind, but Jeff is convinced they'll be cured by the exorcist and Scuzz will rejoin them for the cure. Jeff declares his attitude is "God only helps those who wanna be helped." That evening as the six prepare for bed, Stephanie insists on gathering for group prayer, praying aloud that if their powers are a form of punishment that it will be driven out. After they go to bed, Randy and Dave sit up for awhile, discussing religion. Dave admits "I'd love to be able to believe in something again... but since Ma and Pa died, and my brother Mark before that -- well, I guess all the faith I had died with them..." For his part, Randy has begun to wonder if perhaps their powers are an "act of God;" from this, Dave correctly guesses Randy is a Catholic.

Outside of a Burger King, the six (all in coats, hoods and dark glasses) meet Jeff's mother, who thanks them for looking after her son (again reminding Stephanie of her children). They quickly move to a Catholic church where they're introduced to Rev. Armand Koehn. The six use aliases with the priest to (somewhat) protect their identities and demonstrate how their powers work to him. Koehn admits he's never seen abilities like theirs and he doesn't sense they're being possessed; he gives them a very basic explanation of how he'll pray over them; even Dave is impressed by Koehn's conviction. As they finally move to the sanctuary for the ceremony, Dave asks "does it matter if we believe in what you do?" Koehn replies, "No, my son, it only matters that I do."

In the sanctuary, Koehn creates holy water by blessing salt and water ("That's all it takes?" muses Dave) and begins to pray over them; Dave wonders whether he could actually be cured of his massive bulk and muscles - and if losing his powers would restore his lost faith. As Koehn reaches Randy, the force of his prayer causes the Anti-Body to exit Randy; the Anti-Body phases through Koehn, transmitting its memories to them (the Anti-Body cannot speak and can only communicate through memory). Koehn quickly restores order in the room and regretfully tells the six he can't cure them - he's confident the Anti-Body is not a creature of evil and thus their powers are not the result of demonic possession. The most Koehn can offer them is spiritual guidance. Stephanie breaks into tears at the news. The six dejected paranormals exit the sanctuary as Koehn prays Reinhold Niebuhr's famous prayer: "God grant you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change... the courage to change the things you can change... and the wisdom to know the difference between the two." This prayer reflects well over the struggles of the DP7 cast throughout the series.

Thoughts: I couldn't tell you how many atheists have worked at Marvel or DC over the years, but I certainly tell you who the most "loud and proud" was: Mark Gruenwald. Atheism came up frequently in his columns, his series Quasar and in DP7 via the character of Dave Landers. Dave probably represents the viewpoint closest to Gruenwald's, yet Gruenwald was open-minded enough to play Rev. Koehn straight, not as a caricature. Considering Koehn is an exoricist in a post-1973 work of fiction, it's admirable to see the care Gruenwald took in to avoid exploitation (exorploitation?). Further, Randy, Jeff & Stephanie are revealed to be Christians but not for simple mockery; Jeff and Stephanie's belief in the exorcist could have reduced them to naive simpletons - so, kudos to Gruenwald for being sensitive to beliefs outside of his own.

Randy & Dave's discussion about faith was easily a highlight; the series began in issue #1 by following the duo's first meeting and how they came to the Clinic; while the cast of DP7 underwent a lot of changes throughout its run, Randy & Dave would remain constants. They're a terrific example of a comic book male friendship; although divided by occupation (Randy a physician, Dave a factory worker), faith (Randy a Catholic, Dave an atheist) and ethos (Randy an altruist, Dave a pragmatist), their devotion to supporting each other throughout and frequent quiet moments where they voiced their difficulties kept them the real stars of DP7.

DP7's style of people with powers who don't become super heroes has been frequently compared to later (more popular) tales such as Rising Stars or Heroes; I think it's the best comic in the $0.25 bin. Experience it for yourself.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Presenting: Kitsune!

Following up my earlier look at Sasuke, I bring you another fine character from Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo: Kitsune, thief with a heart of... well, a thief with a heart, shall we say?

Debuting in the story "Kitsune," (Usagi Yojimbo#32, 1992/Usagi Yojimbo vol. 7: Gen's Story), we're first introduced to Kitstune as a street performer who demonstrates tops to enthralled audiences; her real goal is to lower the defences of the crowds so she can pick the pockets of whomever she judges to be carrying a purse. "After all," she says, "a girl has to do what she can to get by."

In this first tale, it's Usagi himself who unwittingly becomes Kitsune's mark; still, despite his initial naivete, he later has enough on the ball to pick Kitsune's pocket and steal his purse back. In her second appearance, Kitsune encounters Usagi while he's travelling with his frequent companion Gen; Gen takes an immediate interest in Kitsune, but Usagi neglects to inform Gen of Kitsune's true occupation, allowing Usagi a rare opportunity to one-up Gen (who typically finds means to trick Usagi into paying all of his bills).

It's quite a bit later when we finally learn Kitstune's background, narrated by her to Gen in "Kitsune's Tale" (Usagi Yojimbo#52, 2001/Usagi Yojimbo vol.16: The Shrouded Moon). There, we learn how her stepmother sold her to work at an inn; when faced with the prospect of being sold from the inn to a brothel, she ran for her life and eventually met Sachiko, a professional thief. We learn "Kitsune" is the name Sachiko gave her (explaining why Usagi's tales could include both the supernatural being Kitsune and a woman simply called "Kitsune").

Under Sachiko's guidance, Kitsune learned how to lift money and create diversions; working as a team, the duo prospered for some time, until they made the mistake of robbing a samurai who had already witnessed one of their earlier robberies. The samurai murdered Sachiko, leaving Kistune by herself. In the wrap-around to this tale, Kitsune meets Kiyoko, an orphan girl who tries to rob Kitsune & Gen. Reminded of her own childhood, Kitsune takes Kiyoko under her wing as an apprentice thief - and thus, the two have appeared together in Usagi Yojimbo since then.

Kitsune is always an interesting character to revisit as she almost always has enemies following in her wake requiring Usagi's intervention. At times she's been considered a romantic interest for Usagi (and Kiyoko for Usagi's son Jotaro), but would the honour-bound Usagi ever seriously romance an unapologetic thief and liar? Kitsune creates fine complications in Usagi's life; she's easily one of the top supporting players of the series.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The allure of the vigilante hero

"We do not need to get good laws to restrain bad people. We need to get good people to restrain us from bad laws."

-G.K. Chesterton

Another tribute to Colin Smith's Too Busy Thinking About My Comics II; image from Rawhide Kid#36 (1963): "the Prisoner of Outlaw Town!" by Stan Lee & Dick Ayers.

Unearthed: "The Game" by Christopher Priest & Cary Nord

Heading back to 1999, we find the JLA 80-Page Giant#2 book, a potpurri of stories featuring members of the Justice League of America, some set in the past, some in the contemporary setting and one tale in the future (via their "One Million" scenario). I'd like to consider the first tale from this otherwise average comic book: "The Game," a Green Arrow & Batman story by Christopher Priest and the Great White Nord's own Cary Nord.

The story is narrated by Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, who is considering the person of Bruce Wayne; Queen muses how he despises the hypocrisy of people within his own social setting, people like Wayne; and yet, although he suspects there's something wrong with Bruce Wayne, it isn't to do with how he conducts his business affairs or his politics; Queen thinks he's seen a "gleam" in Bruce's eye which suggests Bruce Wayne is "one of the world's greatest liars." As this is narrated, we see Bruce Wayne crash his car into a snow drift; although bleeding from the crash, Bruce laughs from behind the steering wheel.

Stepping back in time a few days, we see Oliver Queen at a dinner party; he notices an attractive woman, Kelli, but Kelli is on her way out, fuming; she was stood up by her date Bruce Wayne, who came all the way from Gotham to Star City for the party, then failed to show. Just then, Queen's pager goes off, alerting him to a police emergency requiring Green Arrow; this being back in the Silver Age, Queen dons his classic Errol Flynn-themed costume and drives in his Arrowmobile to the scene of a crime, cursing himself for designing an outfit with short sleeves (and a car without anti-lock brakes). To his surprise, Green Arrow finds Batman at the scene.

Well up to the 1970s, Green Arrow was a poor man's Batman - Batman by way of Robin Hood. This tale acknowledges the similarities up front: "I'd heard Batman had a car. And a plane. And a CAVE. So guess what? Green Arrow had a car, and a plane and a cave. And he had about as much use for them as Greenpeace has for Big Oil. A cave. What the hell was I thinking? I guess I was thinking about HIM. About how nice it would be to actually BE him." Green Arrow arrives at the fight just as Batman is facing the last man; Arrow doesn't realize this crook has wired the roof of the building with explosives and holds the detonator in his hands, so the confrontation ends when the startled criminal drops the detonator, setting off his bombs.

Batman suffers a bad injury in the explosion and fall, breaking some ribs; Green Arrow catches Batman mid-air and gets him to the ground, then Arrow lapses into uncontrollable laughter: "an inappropriate nervous release," Queen believes. However, Batman isn't the jolly bloke Green Arrow is and disappears without saying so much as a word.

Returning home, Queen picks the glass from his hair while his sidekick Roy Harper watches on (the sidekick being yet another detail borrowed from Batman). Just as Queen begins to relate to Roy how the evening transpired, he suddenly recalls Kelli mentioning Bruce Wayne came to Star City, then stood her up. He begins to wonder; Queen quickly phones up Bruce Wayne and claims he has to visit Gotham on business, suggesting they play racquetball while he's in town. On the other end of the line, Bruce is being patched up by Alfred. Bruce is all too aware of Queen's rationale for the game - he wants to see if Bruce has the same injuries Batman suffered that evening. Alfred suggests bringing Queen into Bruce's confidence, but Bruce decides the only way to maintain his secret identity is to confront Queen directly.

And thus the titular game unfolds; as they play, Queen wonders about Batman and Bruce Wayne. "Far as I knew, Batman's only super power was arrogance." He notes how terrible Bruce is at keeping appointments and generally "useless." Queen intentionally hits Bruce with the racquetball, just to see his reaction; Bruce falls down and Queen suggests he give up, but Bruce refuses and resumes the game. And thus, Queen comes to his supposed epiphany; he sees the intensity Bruce places on winning the racquetball game and the facade Bruce maintains in stifling the childhood trauma of his parents' deaths and determines "no one so LOST could manage the things Batman does."

Following the racquetball game as Bruce drives home, he finally succumbs to his wounds, having used "zen techniques" to stifle the pain earlier. Losing control of his car, he crashes into a snowbank and, as we saw in the opening, laughs - the same "inappropriate nervous release" Green Arrow felt.

Thoughts: This exploration of the similarities between Green Arrow and Batman features one obvious aspect which - naturally - Oliver Queen doesn't comment upon - he and Bruce Wayne are both wealthy playboys, which is how their double identities can afford their sidekicks, lairs and gadgets. Of course, in this story Queen sees his wealth as a burden, forcing him into a society he'd rather not participate in; it's suggested his personality isn't terribly different whether he's in costume or out of it. On the other hand, Bruce Wayne uses his wealth and status to help disguise his identity at Batman, to the extent of making Bruce seem to be the "useless" person Queen sizes him up as.

At 10 pages the story needs a little more room to breathe, but Priest fit a lot of colour into this tale. I think the most potent idea Priest had was in how people who know about Bruce Wayne's past must think about the false persona he adopts. Queen describes it as, "a guy so full of HATE he had to INVENT Wayne the Party Boy just to keep from sticking his HEAD in an oven." In some ways, it points back to familiar ideas about Bruce Wayne being a mask while Batman is the character's true identity; here, Queen correctly surmises the grief-stricken child is the "real" Bruce Wayne but can't connect that buried identity to Batman.

We also have the "inappropriate nervous release" of laughter, demonstrating as with Batman: the Killing Joke, having Bruce/Batman laugh inappropriately is just a little creepy. In this case, I like seeing Batman withhold the urge to laugh while Bruce is the one who gives in to his emotions. In that moment, all "masks" are off.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

"A fella has to die sooner or later. Let them come." Captain Easy: the Complete Newspaper Strips Vol.1

I keep having ideas about where my recent interest in newspaper comic strips is going to wind down... and then I unearth something from our comic art collection at work and have to completely reassess my plans. I knew practically nothing about Roy Crane's Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy comic strips when I began sorting the collection; after browsing through just a sampling of the strip, I knew I had to see more for myself - and from the comfort of my home!

The advertisements for Fantagraphics's Roy Crane's Captain Easy Soldier of Fortune: the Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips Volume 1, 1933-1935 (deep breath) didn't do the tome justice; as you can see above, it's a beautiful big hardcover book, measuring 15 inches high. Gosh, I love giant comics.

In fiction, I find myself more interested in seeing where ideas originated as opposed to where they are now; so often I find authors borrowed concepts from creators who inspired them while those inspirations themselves delve back even further. Having already seen where much of the development of the adventure strip came from while reading Terry and the Pirates, I was interested to look back even further to Captain Easy. This is probably where my journey ends unless I develop a sudden yen to read Hairbreadth Harry.

To those who know nothing of Captain Easy (I was one of you some 6 months ago): Captain Easy began as a supporting character in Roy Crane's humour/adventure strip Wash Tubbs circa 1929, proving to be far more macho than the strip's own hero; in 1933, Crane began featuring Easy in his own strip on Sundays while Tubbs held down the daily strip. Captain Easy was one of the earliest adventure strips and also among the most influential. Like a progential Indiana Jones, Easy traipses across the globe looking for adventure, rare artifacts and lost civilizations - but his primary objective is to make some money. He has no particular need of the money, spending what he makes on just having a good time and funding further adventures. He's essentially a hand-to-mouth adventurer.

And yet, despite his mercenary origins, Easy has a heart; when the slave girl Rose Petal insists on being his property he repeatedly refuses her: "...You're free. I won't have you for a slave. Understand?" The monarch Mogul tries to put Easy to death but later needs Easy's help to escape a bandit hoarde; rather than abandon him, Easy first smuggles food to Mogul, then breaks him out from the bandits and carries on to save Mogul's life several times over.

In the course of this tome, Easy goes treasure hunting in a remote part of China, only to be forced to aid the local emperor against the greater threat of mountain bandits; next, Easy acquires a slave and carries her home, enduring attacks by pirates and thieves; following this, Easy goes diving for treasure in a sunken city but attracts the attention of a fierce tribe of warriors and another band of pirates; finally, Easy helps a princess return to her eastern European kingdom only to be thrown into local intrigue when a nobleman challenges him to a duel, then plunges the entire nation into war!

Although Captain Easy is a mix of humour and adventure, the war storyline at the end of the book becomes a little more grim than typical episodes; the above sequence is like a very twisted Looney Tunes cartoon - first soldiers depart on a train; second, dead soldiers are sent back on a train complete with cars marked "Without Legs" and "Without Arms;" third, a body is strewn over barbed wire. By 1935, obviously the fear of another World War was on people's minds and here Crane seemed to be channeling the horrors of World War I, which is what people would have anticipated seeing replayed (but as Will Rogers said, "You can't say that civilization don't advance, however, for in every war they kill you in a new way.").

After the increasingly-realistic efforts of Milt Caniff, it's something to go back to Crane and see how while he used realism in some things (such as the European castles or industrial factories), he usually eschewed realism. Animals (including bears, elephants and tigers) tend to be very cartoony; the horrors of war seen above are also depicted in very simple and (darkly) comical lines. Rather than realism, Crane's strip seems to have had its own continuity of form and design and stuck with it. It certainly suits the high-flying adventurous spirit of the strip - and of Captain Easy himself.

Captain Easy is well-aged fun and Fantagraphics seems to have done right by it; highly recommended!

Friday, July 12, 2013

"Like all inexperienced people with art, they would find a flaw that isn't really a flaw" - the Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage

The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage : Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art by Stephen D. Korshak & J. David Spurlock is a coffee table book which isn't produced to be a coffee table book. I shall explain. This hefty 184 page tome is devoted to Margaret Brundage, one of the most popular pulp magazine cover artists of the 1930s, renowned especially for her Weird Tales covers; when Weird Tales left her home city of Chicago it was the end of her career in the pulps, even though she continued to produce art until her death in 1976.

This book was assembled by Vanguard Productions on fine, glossy paper with a very nice section devoted to reproducing Brundage's covers; additionally, pin-up, original art and never before-seen artwork grace the various articles which comprise the rest of the book. If you find Brundage's work intriguing, the graphics will certainly not disappoint you.

Unfortunately, I'm here to say I find fault with virtually every other aspect of the book. The book opens with a foreward by Rowena which amounts to little more than "I don't know much about Brundage, but isn't her art nice?" Followed by an article by Stephen D. Korshak; then an article by Robert Weinberg; then Charles Wooley, R. Alain Everts, Ray Russell, George Hagenauer, Melvin Korshak and finally a 60-page section by J. David Spurlock. Some of the authors (such as Weinberg) have anecdotes about their history with Brundage which are very intersting to read and Everts republishes an interview with Brundage; virtually everyone steps on everyone else's toes, however, as they each feel the need to write a biography on Brundage. Again and again. There's no flow to the book - not only because each author's section has nothing to indicate where it ends (you turn a page and, oh, a new author) but because they're each in competition with each other. Rather than the ultimate Margaret Brundage coffee table book, it reads like a Weird Tales fanzine which was accidentally distributed on fancy paper.

Contributing to the amateur feeling are various formatting errors - lines of text missing from the page, paragraphs not set correctly and in at least one place, I had a sense that a page formatted for the left-hand side was moved to the right.

I would have liked to have seen a book with a stronger editorial presence - the interview and the artwork sections are fine, but I would have preferred a definitive single biography with various anecdotes distributed throughout. If you buy the book for the art, you'll love it; if you want a great Margaret Brundage biography, well, it remains to be written...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Crowd Roars!

"It's interesting to watch the people on the high wires at the circus and you hope they don't fall. But, if they did, that would be interesting too."

-Stephen Vincent Benet

Another tribute to Colin Smith's Too Busy Thinking About My Comics II.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

8 Odd Bogart Pictures

One fascinating thing about the "classic" film era is how the studio-controlled casts would cross into virtually every type and kind of movie produced on the lot. A typical supporting player like Sam McDaniel could appear in more than 200 films in their career, then be forgotten. Films were made so quickly, practically on an assembly line; it meant a lot of performances were instantly forgettable, but occasionally true classics emerged, if only to appease the law of averages. In such circumstances, some bit players gradually worked up to claim lead roles - a few even became stars. It's utterly amazing to look back on some actors known for particular film roles or types of performances, then see what the rest of their filmography was like.

Such a person is Humphrey Bogart, being indelibly linked to Warner Bros. films for most of his career. He started out in bit parts, proved he had screen presence in the Petrified Forest (1936), then languished in repetitive "gangster" parts until the one-two-three punch of High Sierra (1941), the Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942) built his stardom.

So far as Bogart's Warner career goes, histories usually invoke the aforementioned four films and likely touch upon To Have and Have Not (1944), the Big Sleep (1946), Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), possibly even citing his appearances alongside James Cagney in the Roaring Twenties (1939) and Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) as representative of his gangster roles; true Bogart aficionados will bring up Black Legion (1937). But what did the rest of Bogart's output look like?

I bought the recent DVD collection Humphrey Bogart: the Essentials which offered a decent overview of the actor's career at Warner from the Petrified Forest to Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but I noticed a lot of his career was skipped over - particularly the period during the 1930s where he was floundering. It makes sense for Warner to put forward the best of Bogart from their catalog, but what, I wondered, was being overlooked? Eventually, I delved into all of Bogart's Warner movies; many of them featured the actor in dull gangster parts, such as Racket Busters (1938). However, from the full range of Bogart's Warner career prior to High Sierra, there are eight films which I think are particularly unusual in terms of Bogie's performances; they're what I'd like to share with you:

Three on a Match (1932), directed by Mervyn LeRoy

This was early in Bogart's career and he ultimately made such a small impact on Warner that when he returned to them for the Petrified Forest (1936), many on the lot didn't remember his earlier work for them, even though this film was one of the biggest Warner pictures of the year. Bogart's part in the film (a gangster) is small, but he still managed to rank above Edward Arnold in the credits (Arnold's appearance is essentially a cameo). Three on a Match is known today as one of those "pre-code" movies where characters could engage in drug use and extra-marital sex without being nixed by the censors. Looking past the "racy" material, it's very odd for a modern viewer to look back and see how much of the cast is squandered; the "three" referenced in the title are Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell and Bette Davis; Dvorak is almost forgotten today, but she carries most of the film; Blondell is somewhat remembered today, but her role peters out quickly; Davis is better-known now than either actress, yet her part is muted and her presence is almost invisible; the "three" aren't treated as equals by the film.

It's very late in the film when Bogart finally puts in his appearance. By this time, Dvorak's character has become addicted to cocaine and involved with a man who owes a lot of money to the mob; Bogart gets exactly one standout scene when he meets Dvorak: Dvorak angrily confronts the gangsters, then rubs her nose in the manner of an addict. Bogart glances back at his men, humourously rubs his own nose and declares through a sideways grin, "Uh-oh." It's the one moment which suggests an excellent actor was lurking beneath the paint-by-numbers gangster he'd been hired to play.

The Great O'Malley (1937), directed by William Dieterle

This film... boy, this film. Here's a movie which is pretty hard to define, at least by the typical genre conventions of movies. By Warner's standards, it's once of their "social" pictures, a movie about life and trouble during the Great Depression with a fairly strong left-wing message. But whereas a social picture like I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) could be called a "prison movie," what exactly is the Great O'Malley? It's the tale of a police officer played by Pat O'Brien who believes in upholding the letter of the law, memorizing every piece of city ordinance and enforcing them on the populace, to the point of becoming a local nuisance but technically, being a good cop.

The problems begin when O'Brien stops Bogart to give him a ticket for his noisy muffler; consequently, Bogart is late for his new job and loses the position; ergo, he robs a store for money; thusly, he is arrested and, believe it or not, O'Brien involvement in this chain of events is seen as an embarrassment to the department, causing O'Brien to be demoted to working a croswalk at a school. Coincidence of coincidences, he befriends a little girl who turns out to be Bogart's daughter; through caring for her, he learns to become flexible about the law.

Then we reach the unbelievable climax: Bogart gets out of prison and hears O'Brien wants to see him; it's just so O'Brien can secretly deliver some gifts to Bogart's family, but Bogart panics, pulls a gun and shoots O'Brien. Before he passes out, O'Brien takes the gun from Bogart. The police capture Bogart and bring him before O'Brien's gurney bed to identify him as the shooter, but O'Brien insists he accidentally shot himself. Bogart is so grateful he winds up giving O'Brien a blood transfusion to make up for what was spilled.

Warner films of the late 30s got pretty lefty, but this takes the cake; it's so leftist, it might've inspired Ayn Rand to punish society by inflicting Objectivism upon it. The journey of a man from abiding by the letter of the law to its spirit is a decent enough premise - O'Brien's character is essentially reformed like Ebenezer Scrooge. But reforming to the extent of refusing to press charges after someone shot him with intent to kill? It would be like A Christmas Carol ending with Scrooge at first pretending to be the same old humbug as before the spirits visited him, only for Bob Cratchit to explode and bash him in the head with the coal scuttle; Scrooge responds by refusing to punish Bob and gives him gifts besides. On the one hand, you could read the Great O'Malley as portraying a very good Christian message about placing others before yourselves; on the other hand, you'd never buy Pat O'Brien as the Christ of the Depression.

Marked Woman (1937), directed by Lloyd Bacon

This film is notably mainly for pairing Bogart with Davis following the Petrified Forest (this time as more or less equals, albeit Davis in the lead). Davis' own career followed a path not dissimilar to Bogart's as she rose up the ranks (although she had to make her film Of Human Bondage (1934) with a different studio in order to finally get Warner's attention). Davis works in a nightclub which is being taken over by the mob; this time, Bogart is one of the good guys - a crusading district attorney who wants to get the mob and needs Davis' testimony to do so; unfortunately, their first attempt to go after the mob fails and leads to Davis becoming the titular "Marked Woman" when the mob disfigure her; steeled by this and Bogart's encouragement, eventually they get the mob. Although Bogart is something of a hero in the film, he has an interesting shade to his character in how heedless he seems of the danger Davis is being placed in by helping him; it's only after the mob have been broken that he seems to realize what a mess he's made of Davis' life. It isn't a performance you'd recognize as "typical" Bogart, but it's a very interesting stop along the journey.

Swing Your Lady (1938), directed by Ray Enright

Bogart considered this his worst film, which it might be (but see the next entry before you decide). It's a hillbilly musical-comedy, but I'm sorry to report, Bogart does not sing and dance. Rather, Bogart is a wrestling manager who brings his client to the Ozarks where the wrestler falls in love with a tough-as-nails hillbilly gal. Bogart at least received top billing for this picture, but at what price? AT WHAT PRICE?!

The Warners' musicals were only ever engaging when directed by Busby Berkeley; one wonders what a Busby musical featuring Bogart would have been like. Perhaps it would have been close to...

Men Are Such Fools (1938), directed by Busby Berkeley


Here is my nominee for the worst picture Bogart ever appeared in, a comedy-romance featuring Wayne Morris and Priscilla Lane, with Bogart causing complications as the third member of a love triangle. You might suppose the problem with this film lies in Bogart being in a comedic love triangle - surely if Bogart is in a love triangle it should be played for tragedy, right? This film is a tragedy - a tragic footnote in Berkeley's career.

The premise has Lane as a career-minded gal determined to climb the corporate ladder through hard work and initiative; Morris portrays a boor who determines he's in love with her and wants to give up her career and marry him (basically in that order). To force her to become engaged, he parks his car on train tracks until she complies. You might wonder (not without reason) why we should find this funny.

It feels as though everything Busby knew about romance and comedy from his earlier musicals was forgotten by the time he made this movie. It's not as though one character badgering another until they fall in love with them can't be played for laughs - it's certainly a staple of the romantic comedy genre. But here? Take the scene in Bringing up Baby (1938) where Katherine Hepburn steals Cary Grant's clothes while he's in the shower, all to force him to remain with her instead of rushing off to his wedding; with his clothes missing, Grant has to don a frilly nightgown belonging to Hepburn. That's funny because it undermines Grant's dignity. Compare this to the scene in Men Are Such Fools where Morris wants Lane to marry him so he dunks her under water until she agrees. There might be an angle to playing this latter scene for laughs but if there is, it eluded Busby. All we're left with is an unsettling sense the filmmakers want us to laugh at domestic abuse.

Bogart is far from the worst thing about the film; he gets some fine sardonic dialogue, although he's never credible as a romantic interest for Lane's character. Blessedly, his part keeps him off the screen for most of the picture. Swing Your Lady was just a simple, silly musical; I think it's far worse to appear in an unfunny comedy.

Men Are Such Fools has fallen into obscurity but it deserves to have its profile raised, for more people to be talking about it; above all, it deserves to be on more people's worst movies of all time lists.

The Oklahoma Kid (1939), directed by Lloyd Bacon

This wasn't Bogart's only western - it was followed by Virginia City (1940) - but even though the latter picture depicts Bogart (improbably) as a Mexican, I'm much more fascinated by this film. Here, Bogart is the villain to James Cagney's hero, as was typical for films they shared. The very idea of casting these two in a western is a small part of why I love going through the lesser-known studio pictures of the 30s; later on, you had actors who worked primarily in westerns or part-time in westerns, but actors appearing in genre films seldom criss-crossed between them. In 1939 the thinking seemed to be, "Westerns? Aw, they're just gangster pictures on horseback!"

It's actually a pretty good 1930s western picture (this coming from someone who doesn't typically like the western genre). Cagney and Bogart's presence is a little distracting but I never felt they were miscast. Cagney essentially plays his "I may be an outcast, but I won't work for the mob" character while Bogart is a mob boss with a fancy hat. It's as good as a Cagney-Bogart western could possibly be.

Dark Victory (1939), directed by Edmund Goulding

I'm cheating a little by including Dark Victory because it's a fairly well-known movie, considered one of Bette Davis' finest pictures. Here, she's a spoiled rich woman who loves horseback riding; Bogart is her Irish (yes, Irish) stable manager. Tragically, Davis comes down with a case of Hollywood Illness and begins reexamining her life, even dallying with the idea of romancing Bogart. Ultimately, she settles on the less-interesting doctor played by George Brent.

Bogart wasn't bad as a romantic lead, definitely feeling here like a credible rival for Davis' affections (whereas I couldn't see Priscilla Lane falling for him in Men Are Such Fools). The Irish accent was an odd choice which hindered his performance, but he did all right with the material; ultimately, it was Davis' picture and she carried it. The real impact of the film was the attention it brought Bogart at Warner Bros., as they finally saw his range and began seeking better roles for him. First, however...

The Return of Doctor X (1939), directed by Vincent Sherman

Ah, this film. When you think of the studios which produced the "classic" horror films you think of Universal (Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy); RKO (Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie); MGM (Mad Love, Mark of the Vampire); Paramount (Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Island of Lost Souls). But although the Warners made a couple of chillers in the early 30s (Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), Doctor X (1932)), by the late 30s they weren't involved in the genre; indeed, the horror genre was mostly dormant in Hollywood.

And so it was Humphrey Bogart became cast in a sequel to Doctor X... except, it's a sequel in name only. Bogart felt like he was being punished to appear in this film, where he was a mad scientist who'd learned the secret of bringing the dead back to life; being a dead man himself, Doctor X needed fresh blood to sustain his existence. It's all depicted in the clean, sanitary environment you expect to see in a 1939 Warner Bros. picture. Crisp black & white photography with warm, familiar character actors; it's too pleasant to be terrifying, not that the picture really attempts to mount any suspense until the end, when Bogart kidnaps the leading lady for her blood.

What better place to end my look at Bogart's less-notable work than one of the actor's own least favourite performances? The Return of Doctor X is available on DVD, believe it or not; for Bogart's only horror film role, you might expect more from it. Rather than a mad scientist, I think he'd have made a swell mummy. Or perhaps a mad strangler? I need to put more thought into this.

Thank you for reading; if this list entertained you, then please seek out some of the referenced pictures for your own viewing pleasure!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Tale of Two Custers

General George Armstrong Custer and his pitiable Battle of Little Big Horn: it's a popular historical tale ripe for the improvement which can only be found through the pages of a Marvel western hero comic book. So it is I bring you "Massacre at Medicine Bend!" from Rawhide Kid#60 (1967) by Gary Friedrich, Dennis O'Neil and Dick Ayers.

The Rawhide Kid meets with a Sioux leader named Bald Eagle who wants to make peace with the army before things get out of hand; the Kid brings his request to General Custer himself, but the Kid has to conceal his own identity, being a wanted man.

Custer isn't particularly inclined to believe the Kid's tale, but if there's any chance of averting a massacre, decides it might not be a bad idea. Unfortunately, when Custer heads to the appointed meeting place some Sioux agitators (and a white man selling them guns) start a fight; Custer winds up thinking the Kid was part of a conspiracy to have him murdered.

Considering this, he's rather merciful, simply ordering the Kid to leave and not return. To set the timeframe for this tale, we learn in closing the infamous Battle of Little Big Horn occurred just one week later. This dangling subplot would eventually be picked up in Rawhide Kid#91 (1971), just 31 issues after (even in western comic books, Marvel-time applies). This time, we peer in on "The Outlaw, the General, and the Little Big Horn!" by Roy Thomas and Dick Ayers.

The Rawhide Kid has returned to the Black Hills to find his never-before-heard-of cousin, son of the Kid's uncle Ben who died in his origin story; the Kid somehow thinks his cousin's testimony could clear him of being an outlaw, even though his cousin wasn't present when the Kid's uncle died... and never mind the Kid becoming an outlaw had nothing to do with his uncle's death (a sheriff saw him shoot a cattle rustler and didn't understand the circumstances; the Kid refused to be arrested, fled the sheriff and thus became an outlaw).

In the week since they last met, Custer has been to his stylist to have his hair curled. Fortunately, he hasn't been taking his lithium and doesn't recognize the man he promised to try for treason just seven days earlier. The Rawhide Kid has two factors in his favour:

  1. He didn't give Custer his real name or alias last time.
  2. The colourist has camouflaged him by colouring his hair blond.

Custer hires Johnny Bart to be a scout for the army. Unfortunately...

...Yep, Custer woke up sober that day. Soon he'll be asking himself, "where was this wanted poster last week when I needed it?"

Thus it transpires that the Rawhide Kid is sent to the stockades; Custer rides out to Little Big Horn to meet his appointed massacre and the Kid's cousin is amongst those who perish. What a senseless waste. Of trees.

It's a good thing both stories were drawn by Dashin' Dick Ayers and edited by Smilin' Stan Lee or some continuity errors might have crept in!