First Comics, Christmas Edition

Action 425It’s about a month on, but I thought I’d share one of my Christmas gifts with everyone. I got a copy of Action Comics #425 from my lovely wife, Joanne. It’s a beautiful copy for a 46 year old book with an iconic Nick Cardy cover.

This book is a quasi-key for me for although it doesn’t have a historic story element or first appearance, it has an important place in my history as a collector.  Prior to this I’d had limited exposure to comics.  I had some vague memories of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and “The Marvel Super Heroes” cartoons, although I was convinced that that last was called “The Merry Marvel Marching Society” because of the closing theme (I have no recollection, what-so-ever of the opening theme btw).  I think I recall my Dad reading a Daredevil comic or two to me but, 50+ years later I’m not even sure that’s an actual memory and not some sort of mental ret-con.

Over the previous few months, I’d gotten a few comics and enjoyed them and as seriously as a 9-year old could, I decided to become a “comic book collector,” whatever I thought that was.  I promptly marched out (as promptly as I could, anyway, given that I needed to amass 20¢) and picked up this issue.  This was my first comic as a collector.

I hadn’t reread this book for most of the intervening time, in fact all I really recalled of it was that there was a “story about an emu.”  That’s still better than it could be, I suppose.  I can’t remember anything about my first Batman comic, although I know there must have been one since at some point in my life, I didn’t own any Batman comics, and now I own a few.

I’d made a few attempts to figure out what this “first official comic” was in the 80’s to no avail.  I knew it was an Action, I thought it had an emu in it and I knew it came out sometime in 1973.  That’s surprisingly little to go on when your main resource is whatever happens to be in stock at your LCS.  Still, 45 years after I’d first picked up the issue, with some skills of google-fu and a visit to what a friend calls “that dark web site,” I managed to track it down.

It’s easy to see why I’d have picked this book.  The cover is amazing.  It’s unusual in that the main hero isn’t the focus; the cover centers on some older kids reading a comic while a little red-haired kid is excited to see Superman flying by in the background.  I’m sure it spoke to me.  I can’t imagine a better cover to attract a kid who just decided to become a collector.

The interior of the book is less impressive.  There are three (Count ’em! 3!) stories, which is a surprising number for a standard sized comic.

Spoilers follow, but come on… you’ve had 46 years people!

The Superman story begins in New Zealand when a hunter, Jon Halaway is attacked by a 12-foot tall flightless bird.  He kills it in self defense.  It turns out, the bird was a Moa (Sorry, Emu fans). There were nine species of Moa in New Zealand, but all of them had been hunted to extinction by the year 1500.

img_4360

Halaway is distraught, and becomes obsessed by this tragedy.  He searches and discovers the Moa had left an egg near an underground hot-spring that emitted “strange fumes.” He wastes no time bringing the egg back to the States, where it becomes clear that it is sapping his life force.

img_4361

The egg hatches and the Moa develops some bizarre powers, including the ability to fly by flapping its feet.

img_4363

After getting telepathic messages from the Moa, Superman is able to return it to the hot spring and Halaway recovers.

img_4364

It’s a pleasant, lightweight story, and I liked the conservational aspect.

The second story features the Atom though the title, “The 13 Men Who Run the World” is a bit of a bait and switch. A lot happens and is hung on a thin plot in a mere 6 1/2 pages. We discover Ray’s size-control mechanism is malfunctioning and that Jean is representing a biochemist who is accused of stealing gold from Fort Knox. Her client is being falsely linked to the aforementioned 13 men in the title. In quick succession, a witness who wants to come forward is murdered, Ray and Jean are kidnapped, we learn that the 13 men don’t actually exist, Ray beats the actual bad guys as the Atom and they are brought to justice.

img_4365

The final feature is the first installment of an early Human Target story and it stays close to the character’s formula: someone is in danger of being murdered and Christopher Chance assumes his identity to catch the killer. In this case the potential victim is “the Great Antonio” who is scheduled to walk a tight-rope across Niagara Falls.

img_4366

The ads are fun too. Did you know that a BB gun is an ideal way to convince your parents that you’re responsible enough for an actual, real gun? The ad doesn’t quite come out and say that, but I think the subtext is clear.  Evidently owning a B-B gun leads to responsible gun play in later life.

img_4359

Also, you can get enough training from an outfit that advertises in comic books to get a good job in “electronics.” Mr. Bemis, by the way, is the name of Burgess Meredith’s character in the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last.”  Things do not end well for him.

img_4362

There’s also 3 pages of ads for “Pirates of the Caribbean” model kits, which probably seemed excessive for the time and still seems excessive after 5 movies.  Also, also there are Sea Monkey’s but not Polaris Nuclear Subs or x-ray glasses.

This book was a pleasant trip down memory lane.  It makes an interesting addition to my collection; it’s wildly different from the other books I have from the same time period.

The Doctor Who New Year’s Special

It’s a sad commentary on the new season of Doctor Who that we actually forgot about the New Year’s Special until today. We still purchased it from iTunes, but our usual pattern is to look forward to the Christmas Special, pay for it in advance and watch it as soon as humanly possible.

Here are my thoughts on the special.

“Resolution” is perhaps the single least creative title for a New Year’s episode possible.

The science fictional elements (in the context of season 11) started off surprisingly well. To avoid spoilers: the special took a classic Doctor Who adversary and added in elements from one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time. It goes downhill from there and some of the elements of the final confrontation are downright cheesy.

Like the rest of season 11 the character moments lacked all subtlety and were frequently over written and difficulty to watch.

Jodie Whitaker may have finally settled on a personality for her Doctor, although if she has, it’s a pretty generic one. At least she was finally recognizable as the Doctor, which evidently, is no small feat. None the less there were some false moments. The Doctor should be a source of strength for her companions and that precludes telling people that she is “panicked.” Every other Doctor was able to convey the gravity of a situation without undermining morale. The 13th Doctor should be able to as well, but this incarnation seems weaker. Further, this Doctor still seems less competent than previous incarnations. These differences take on greater significance in the context of the First Female Doctor, who needs to be as confident and as competent as her predecessors. Anything else undermines the entire premise of the gender-swap and is simply bad writing.

Overall, I’d give the New Year’s Special a “C.” Somewhat better than any individual episode of the last season, but not great.

Most of the issues with season 11 were in the writing and I can think of three simple things that could be improved for season twelve.

1) There’s no reason to think that Chibnall isn’t a competent show runner. He should concentrate on that role and appoint a new head writer, preferably someone with a number of good strong Doctor Who episodes under his or her belt.

2) Bring back some seasoned Doctor Who writers. Clearly the experiment of having a staff of all green writers working under Chibnall led to a weak season.

And 3) drop the policy of creating all new adversaries for next season. There’s a reason the classic villain are the classic villains; they’re known and they work. The audience is familiar with them and so, more time and energy can be devoted to other elements of the plot. That’s part of the reason that the New Year’s Special was a bit stronger than the episodes within the season proper; it used an established adversary. It’s possible that if the show could maintain this level of quality, it could limp along well enough that there could be a season 13 to follow 12 after which Whittaker and Chibnall plan to make their departures.