Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Unearthed: Tigerman #3

Howdy, tiger. What say we bring Unearthed's Tigerman retrospective to a close? Catch up by reading my looks at Tigerman #1 & Tigerman #2. Remember, Tiger-Man's not just good, he's gr-r-r-r-eatly average.

The cover to Tigerman #3 gives us a fairly stock super hero image by line editor Larry Lieber himself. Elements feature a civilian in peril, a villain uttering a threat, will the hero be too late, etc. It's not as interesting as issue #2's collage by Frank Thorne, but it's still way more enticing to a 1970s super hero reading audience than Ernie Colon's "this hero is a loser" cover on #1. It is worth noting how different the "snout" on Tiger-Man's mask looks depending on the artist. Here, he looks like a wild tiger wearing a mane. In the 1960s & 70s, Larry Lieber seemed to base his art style on Jack Kirby and consequently, it gives his covers a very Marvel-esque feel no matter who the publisher is; of course, Atlas Comics were all too eager to invite comparisons to Marvel what with the cover's blurb "The most savage super hero of the Atlas Age!"

Although the cover warns "Death Is a Man Called Hypnos," our tale inside is titled "Hell Is Spelled... Hypnos." Hypnos means many things; it was the Burma Shave of 1975. The previous issue's creative team of writer Gerry Conway & penciler Steve Ditko has been kept intact, but Ditko is no longer being inked by Frank Giacoia as Al Milgrom has joined the team (Milgrom also inked Conway & Ditko's Destructor #4). What difference will Milgrom's inks make to this series, you might well wonder. Well, see above; Milgrom emphasizes the animal features in Tiger-Man's face, rather than the more abstract look from Giacoia's inks last issue. In general, the obvious thing Milgrom brings to this story are in the characters' faces, which have fewer traces of Ditko than the previous issue. Personally, I preferred Giacoia's work on Tiger-Man's mask. But let's get to the story...

Tiger-Man bursts into Harlem Hospital carrying a smouldering body and demanding medical help. While the professionals treat this man, Tiger-Man avoids answering questions and leaves the hospital, roughing up a security guard who tries to force Tiger-Man to explain what happened. It turns out the guard need not have forced him, he just had to read the next page as a flashback begins. In Harlem River Park (it's worth observing how feel black people we see in Tigerman comics considering the locale), a man who lost his job and his wife and was told by his shrink that he's "a hopeless paranoid" suddenly dumps a container of gasoline over his head then lights a match. Tiger-Man arrives and grabs a blanket to smother the flames. So, that's where the smouldering body came from. This page is pretty effective at introducing the mystery and making the events frightening. The only time the man's face is seen is in the image above, as he pours the gasoline over his head.

Back to the present; Tiger-Man enters a storage room in the hospital and assumes his guise as Dr. Lannie Hill, concealing his costume within his medical bag. He wonders why the man lit himself on fire and muses "Unless -- perhaps he was protesting something?" To audiences in 1975, that would have obviously brought to mind the many self-immolations which went on in the 60s & 70s to protest the Vietnam War. Dr. Hill now changes clothes again as he dons a surgical outfit (yes, it appears he's a surgeon) to join a Dr. Morgan in treating the burn victim. The man mumbles "Hypnos" before dying. Dr. Hill is tormented by the man's death, stating "It's all so useless... so pointless." Dr. Morgan, however, casually smokes a cigarette in the hospital (because its the 1970s).

This death causes Hill to enter another flashback, this time revisiting the events of issue #1. The difference being, this time it's being drawn by Sturdy Steve Ditko, not Ergonomic Ernie Colon. This time we see Hill's sister the moment before her death and we see Tiger-Man actually kill his sister's murderers, something Colon proved incapable of rendering in a comprehensible fashion. I am frequently frustrated by the storytelling choices Steve Ditko makes when he publishes his own stories, but when it comes to adapting another writer's story, Ditko has always been a pro - you are never left in doubt about the basic things a story needs in terms of location, action and expression. Anyway, thinking back over these events, Hill wonders "Maybe I'm not a hero. Maybe what I am is a psychopath." Considering Hill is a physician who took an oath to do no harm, it's great that Conway has granted him this inner turmoil which issue #1 gave little attention to.

Tiger-Man goes on another patrol and sees a woman on a set of train tracks, waiting patiently to be run over by the train. Tiger-Man tries to save her, but he's not faster than a locomotive; the woman is killed. The next day, Dr. Hill reads about the suicide in the newspaper and learns the victim was Hannah Markham, a student of Dr. Otto Kaufmann, a psychiatric who runs a clinic in Midtown. Thinking there might be a clue to Hannah's suicide in the file, Hill visits Kaufmann and asks for his help, but Kaufmann flips the matter around, refusing to lend the file and saying "You appear deeply perturbed, doctor -- perhaps you should be in therapy." Hill rejects this but Kaufmann insists Hill needs treatment: "Everyone does." Before Hill leaves he sees another of Kaufmann's patients Miss Day waiting for her appointment.

Not long afterward, Tiger-Man sees a car being driven erratically. He leaps upon the vehicle's roof to try and get to the dirver, but the car is deliberately driven over a bridge. Tiger-Man rescues the driver who is Miss Day and she mutters "Hypnos." This convinces Tiger-Man that Kaufmann is connected to the suicides so he breaks into Kaufmann's office to read his files. Kaufmann discovers him and tries to fight him, but of course Tiger-Man is superhumanly strong so Kaufmann has no chance. "But brawn isn't the only power that exists!" Adjusting his monocle, Kaufmann unleashes a beam of light from the lens which bathes over Tiger-Man. Calling himself Dr. Hypnos, Kaufmann plants a hypnotic suggestion in Tiger-Man's mind to set himself on fire, being aware of Tiger-Man's intervention in the earlier suicide case. Hypnos declares his means will "Pave the way for a new race of supermen. A world of beings untouched by neurosis. A world that can only exist once everyone on Earth has been destroyed!" Tough medicine!

Tiger-Man goes to a gas station and begins pouring gasoline over himself, but luckily the station is in the midst of being robbed. The two thieves knock Tiger-Man out and frisk him for money, then depart. The next morning, Hypnos is using his power on another patient, ordering him to kill himself, but Tiger-Man leaps in through a window. Knowing Hypnos' power now, Tiger-Man evades the monocle's beam. Hypnos runs from his office to the roof for a showdown. Hypnos finally succeeds in striking him, but only because Tiger-Man deliberately comes in close to grab the monocle; reversing it on Hypnos, Hypnos declares "Death... it's the only answer... after all... I'm insane!" Hypnos leaps off the roof and Tiger-Man crushes the monocle. As Tiger-Man heads back to the stairs he notes "He wanted everyone to be perfect... the fact that nobody can be drove him insane!" To that end, Tiger-Man thinks there's a lesson for himself: "Starting right now, I'm going to accept myself -- just the way I am!"

Comments: Tigerman #3 contains the series' first letters column. The letters are all reviews of issue #1 and are fairly positive, although one complains about the lettering and another didn't like the cover and complained about the Ernie Colon art being "cartoony."

There's something in this story which, had it been developed, would have been brilliant. Tiger-Man notes at the end how Hypnos' inability to make people perfect through psychiatry had driven him insane. I would have found this story more intriguing if Hypnos weren't trying to kill people, but instead was trying to hypnotize them into perfection, but this caused a weird neuroses in his patients so that they, realizing they could never be perfect, went around killing themselves. In any event this is a pretty good story, with the man immolating himself being the most *ahem* hypnotic passage. Pity that the Blue Leopard plot from the previous issue wasn't followed-up on, but such are the perils with hastily-cancelled series.

Both the Destructor and Tiger-Man had a bit of creative shuffling going on in their limited runs (Tigerman moreso) but unlike the Destructor, Tiger-Man never changed into a new costume or developed new super powers. There was a similar lack of care about long-term plotting and supporting casts in both books and Tiger-Man didn't have the glorious scripting of Archie Goodwin to enhance its tales, but Tigerman is not awful - once Ditko arrives. If the creative team had remained the same... well, I wouldn't have bothered reading it to begin with, I only bought #1 so I could know what exactly Ditko inherited. Conway did well with his scripting, giving Tiger-Man a decent Spider-Man feel to his monologues.

This is the end of Tigerman, albeit not the end of Unearthed and my look at Atlas Comics. Stay tuned for another Atlas feature in my next Unearthed!

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