Tranquility Base, Revisited

We’re watching the real time feed of the Apollo 11 coverage. It’s awesome! I’m personally immersed and it’s surprisingly easy to pretend that this is going on right now. It’s nice to remember a time that America did great things. Mostly we’ve seen shots like this one. There’s clearly an alien or a stagehand or something moving around behind the faux lander.

Occasionally we see the simulation of what’s happening inside the capsule. I hate to admit that it looks hilarious. There might be an actual astronaut inside one of the fake suits. That would explain the muffled explanation.

Meanwhile, Armstrong is about to go EVA. They spent a startlingly long time waiting for the cabin to depressurize. And I’m wondering if there’s a guy in a moon man costume somewhere. That’s secret of a successful simulation. Preparation. Will there be moon men? Probably not, but you have to be ready for the unexpected.

Armstrong’s backing out of the lander, still seeing simulations.

Real picture. Very fuzzy. Cronkite thinks Armstrong’s stepped on the Moon. It’s not completely clear to me.

There it is. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Followed by a description of the sand. And the environment.

Now we’re seeing Armstrong bounding around in the low gravity. “That looks like fun” says Cronkite. Later he compares it to walking on a trampoline.

And Aldrin’s on the surface. Soon they’re going to move the camera.

Here’s a shot from the new camera position, with both astronauts.

And they’ve now planted the flag. The point is made that this is NOT the traditional claiming of territory; this is just a statement that we have been there and a reminder of what we’ve accomplished.

Finally, for this post, Armstrong and Aldrin get a congratulatory call from President Nixon. They haven’t been on the moon for an hour yet. If you haven’t watched this yourself, I can’t recommend it more strongly.

Now I’m going to just relax and enjoy. I hope you do too.

One Giant Leap for Mankind

Today is 20 July 2019; fifty years to the day that humans first set foot on another celestial body marking the culmination of the Space Race and one of humanity’s greatest technological achievements.

To commemorate the occasion, we’re flying a flag featuring the NASA Insignia, a streamlined version of the NASA seal. Other than the the fact that it contains text, the insignia is a perfect centerpiece for a flag. It’s striking without being too busy and it’s easy to sketch. It also has nice, clear symbolism.

From the NASA website:

The round red, white and blue insignia, nicknamed the “meatball,” was designed by employee James Modarelli in 1959, NASA’s second year. The design incorporates references to different aspects of the mission of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The round shape of the insignia represents a planet. The stars represent space. The red v-shaped vector represents aeronautics. The circular orbit around the agency’s name represents space travel.

The Symbols of NASA
The NASA insignia and the more formal seal

We spent a decent amount of time deciding which flag to fly for the occasion. Our first thought was the Earth Day flag, and then an Earth Day flag with a stylized crescent moon and the southern cross, but neither of those seemed to feature the Moon clearly enough. There were other options, but the NASA flag seemed most appropriate.

The first two options above could be deemed “photograph flags” and, for my purposes, flying a flag based on a photograph seems fine. If any of the images below were available in flag form, we might have chosen it. Perhaps I’ll order one of these custom made for the 51st anniversary.

The flag played a prominent role in the Lunar Landing. One of the more dramatic moments was the raising of the flag, which I can clearly remember seeing on the teevee. I explicitly recall being puzzled about the flag’s behavior. It seemed to snap out with the top sticking straight out from the pole. I was only five, but this seemed strange. I’d seen flags before and they certainly didn’t do this. It must be something strange about space, I thought. Or the Moon. Or something else. Here’s the news footage.

Astronauts Plant the American Flag on the Moon.

Turns out the flag had its own “frame.” Five year old me missed that. If you have any doubts about the significance of the flag in this event, let’s turn to Arthur C. Clarke’s July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century. Published in 1986, this book is a collection of Clarke’s speculations about the state of life and technology on this very day. The first chapter is a fictional letter, written by Clarke himself, from his home in Clavius City, Luna on the book’s titular date. It begins thusly.

It doesn’t seem like fifty years – but I cannot be sure which memories are false and which are real. Present and past are inextricably entangled. The monitor screen has just shown the ceremony at Tranquility Base, culminating with the third hoisting of the American flag. It was blown down, of course, by the blast of the Eagle’s ascent stage, and lay there on the trampled Moon soil for thirty-six years until the Apollo Historical Committee reerected it. Then the big quake of 2009 knocked it down again; this time, we’re assured, it would take a direct hit by a fair-sized meteor to lower it…

Arthur C. Clarke’s July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century

It’s a romantic image; historical societies reerecting and preserving the flag for future generations to see and enjoy, but sadly, that may never come to pass. The condition of the flags on the moon is a subject of speculation. The conditions are harsh. The surface is bombarded with UV radiation without the protection we receive from Earth’s atmosphere and the temperature ranges from -280 to +240 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of the flags could have disintegrated entirely. At a minimum, the flags must be so sun bleached that they are now completely white. At least as recently as 2012, however, there was evidence that the flags of Apollo 12, 16 and 17 were still standing. You can read about the condition of the flags in the links below.

References:

Apollo 11 on CBS News

In just a few minutes, it will be 20 July, 2019: the 50th Anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin becoming the first humans to walk on the moon. I’ve periodically looked for contemporary news coverage on YouTube. In particular, I’ve really wanted to see the interviews on CBS News with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a wealth of things on YouTube now. Here’s a sampling as our first commemoration of the semi-centennial of the first moon landing. I haven’t reviewed all of this yet; I may update the selection as I do.

This appears to be a comprehensive collection of all of the CBS coverage of the landing. It’s only the audio and it’s about 6 hours long.

Coverage of the launch, with video from 16 July 1969.  Arthur Clarke is on hand for some of this.  It looks like this started out as a live stream and it’s now up as a video.

Here’s the live stream of the CBS News Coverage, starting at 3:30 EDT.

This is the CBS coverage from the exact moments of the Moon landing. A bit more than 3 minutes.

And here are Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. About 4 minutes.

You can clearly hear Armstrong’s quote, “One small step for man, one giant leap for Mankind.” Cronkite didn’t quite hear it all first time through. Of course, there were many people who thought it should be “One small step for a man…” Armstrong’s response? “That is what I meant to say and that is what I thought I said.”  It’s possible that he did say that.

Finally, the end of my personal quest, the interview with Clarke and Heinlein.

More tomorrow!

Quick Take: Superior Spider-Man (2019)

I read the first issue of the New Superior Spider-Man when it first came out and I wasn’t inspired to invest in the series. Not even Terrax was enough to inspire me to purchase issue 2. But while my car was being serviced, I noticed that the first issue was available on Marvel Unlimited. I decided to give it a second read. It did not get better. The set up is obvious, Dr. Octopus’ mind now resides in a cloned body of Peter Parker, with all of the powers that implies. He’s teaching at Horizon University in San Francisco and trying to be a better hero than Peter. The whole thing has a perfunctory “been there, done that” kind of a feel. It’s the same themes as volume 1 without having Peter’s story to bolster my interest.

The art isn’t superior either; it’s competent, but all the characters look like posed manikins. I’ve seen people talking about how they really like this series and it isn’t terrible. Maybe I’ll return to it in a couple of years, once the entire run is on Marvel Unlimited, but then again, maybe not. I can’t see investing in this series for the individual issues.

Also, do you remember a time when comic book companies tried not to overexpose their characters? In the 1940s Superman, Batman and Flash couldn’t be in the JSA because each had his own book. Similar policies persisted for a long time. But now Peter has two books, Miles, Gwen and Otto have books and there’s something called “Symbiote Spider-Man.” If Marvel isn’t careful, we’ll all have brand fatigue before long.

Bottom Line:

Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains Part 1

WANTED the complete collection, finally complete.

I had a few issues of this title during my first period of collecting (1973-1976) and I’d been slowly amassing issues since the early ’80s. When the last few issues fell into my lap in February, it became time to once again spend some time with the title. In this post, we’ll talk about the first three issues.

Promotional blerb for issue #1

I had fond memories of this title from when I was a kid and depending on which issue I first owned and when I obtained it, my exposure to this title might predate my decision to become an actual collector. There’s a lot to like about WANTED; there appears to be a lot of golden and silver age goodness between these covers and the marketing is wonderful; The World’s Most Dangerous Villains promises drama and high stakes! There’s also a heavy representation of the Earth Two characters who I had first encountered in the pages of Justice League. I took an immediate liking to the Golden Age characters and the JSA in particular; immediately preferring them to their more modern counterparts.

DC Comics lowers its prices.

I have to wonder if this book and its sister title Secret Origins of Super-Heroes and Super-Villains weren’t a repository for the reprinted material no longer appearing in oversized 25-cent issues, but I’m not sure the timing completely supports that.

Issue 1:

The title of the book is immediately tested in the opening story of the first issue, “The Signalman of Crime,” reprinted from Batman 112, December 1957. “World’s Most Dangerous Villains?” I actually had to look this guy up to determine that this wasn’t his only appearance in addition to being his first. It isn’t, but even switching to being a Green Arrow adversary under the name of “Blue Bowman” this gentleman doesn’t exactly have a distinguished career.

He’s a small-time hood who can’t recruit a gang and decides he needs a gimmick to make a make a name for himself. Inspired by the Bat Signal, he settles on committing crimes using signs and signals. Seven lackluster but vaguely charming pages later, Batman and Robin apprehend the Signalman after many sign related puns and a wholesome lack of Danger.

The second story is the “Crimes of the Clock King” from World’s Finest 111, (Aug 1960). Clock King has no real powers to speak of, but he does move a minute hand forward to enable himself to steal some jewelry. Sadly, the strongest impression made by this story is the extent to which Green Arrow used to be nothing more than a pale imitation of Batman. We see the Arrow-Signal and the Arrow Car and I can’t help but wonder if there’s an Arrow Cave somewhere. The story is filled with puns and features a giant prop, in this case, an hourglass. At least I’d heard of the Clock King and the time-related puns weren’t quite so dreadful as the sign related puns.

Finally, there’s “Menace of the Giant Puppet” from Green Lantern #1 (July/August 1960), a monument to early Silver-Age tropes. A villain called the “Puppet Master” is controlling small-time hoods, making them commit crimes. Meanwhile Carol, despite the progressive move of having her running Ferris Aircraft, spends a lot of energy pining after GL, trying to maneuver him into a proposal. We find out she actually called her dad and asked permission to date GL. The titular confrontation with the giant puppet feels kind of tacked on, driven mostly by the interesting visuals rather than the plot. In the final confrontation, the Puppet Master’s defeat is embarrassingly easy, especially given the book’s sub-title.

Ultimately, issue 1 features three profoundly second-string bad guys.

Issue 2:

The second issue finally gives us some big name villains; the Joker and the Penguin team up in the “Knights of Knavery” from Batman #25 (Sept/Oct 1944). which reminds us strongly of the fact that comics, as good as some may be were initially publications for children. There’s a cheesy sit-com quality to the story. The villains, who strangely enough are sharing a cell, manage to escape through the masterful ploy of borrowing a broom.

There’s also an extended sequence where Penguin is pulled aloft by a handful of helium balloons with Batman and Robin in tow. Not only is this physically impossible, but it also appears that Penguin has super strength of which we weren’t previously aware. Over the course of the story, the two villains bicker, then team-up and then let their desire to one-up

each other proves to be their undoing.

Really, the best thing about this story is the narration. If you’ve ever seen the Batman TV series, you can’t help but hear that series’ narrator in your head when you read this. It’s evident that comics from this era or at least the stories written by Donald Clough Cameron ( credited as C.A.M. Donne) had a strong influence on the voice of that program. This makes a rather mediocre story much more enjoyable.

The other story in issue #2 gives us another “name brand” villain; it reprints the second appearance of the Trickster from The Flash #121 (June 1961).

James Jesse, The Trickster, we’re reminded, was a famous aerialist, who invented shoes that made it appear as though he could walk or run on air. He began a life of crime using gimmicks and gadgets as a trademark.

At the beginning of the story, Jesse, a. k. a. inmate 10828 is allowed to build toys for orphan children in the prison yard. He escapes by installing a compressed air system in a model plane.

Once out of jail, Jesse makes sure that he’s on the scene whenever Flash apprehends any criminals, then he uses one of his gadgets to “make off with the loot.”

Eventually, Flash tracks Jesse down to a toy factory where he builds his equipment. We momentarily think Flash is defeated, only to be treated to a careful explanation of his escape.

Flash apprehends the Trickster with ease. For a 12-page story, this one, much like the Green Lantern story in issue #1, seems surprisingly lightweight. There is little drama and any jeopardy was ephemeral. The high stakes promised by the title are nowhere to be found.

Issue 3:

The third issue returns to giving us no brand name villains but is 100% Golden Age. All Earth-Two all the time. Sadly, the first story was a bit of a slog. It’s “The Little Men Who Were There” from Action Comics #69 (Feb 1944). In this, The Vigilante faces

The Dummy who is either a small man resembling a ventriloquist’s dummy or a ventriloquist’s dummy brought to life. His original gimmick was to pretend to be inanimate so that his ventriloquist was thought to be the real gang leader. We might give this story some credit for trying to match the book’s subtitle. The Dummy was one of the most prominent members of the Vigilante’s Rogues Gallery and could be considered the hero’s archnemesis. The two met many times including a number of times in stories featuring the Seven Soldiers of Victory. In pre-Crisis continuity, the Dummy killed Vigilante’s sidekick, Stuff, the Chinatown Kid.

In the story, the Dummy and his gang are using a shrink ray to sneak onto planes and robbing them reminiscent of train robberies in the old west. Eventually, they use the shrinking ray on the Vigilante and Stuff and leave them to the mercy of a chicken. This should be hilarious, as we all know that chickens are inherently funny, but no such luck. I’ll give the writers some credit for using the phrases “thieving jackanapes” and “homicidal homunculus” but it’s not enough to save the story.

The second story gets more interesting as Doctor Fate encounters “The Fishmen of Nyarl-Amen” from More Fun Comics #65 (March 1941). Nyarl-Amen, with his fishmen to serve him, ruled the world from his undersea city 50,000 years ago. With little explanation, he now seems bent on returning to power.

To that end, Nyarl-Amen interrogates an American serviceman and his Fishmen invade Hawaii almost a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fate confronts the Fishmen’s leader and then destroys their city, killing everyone within. This story and its reprint are Nyarl-Amen’s only appearance.

The final story in the issue is “The Human Fly Bandits” featuring Hawkman and Hawkgirl from Flash Comics #100 (Oct 1948). This is towards the end of Hawkman’s run in Flash Comics which ended with issue 104, although he remained featured in All-Star Comics through early 1951. The plot revolves around a gang who have stolen a gyrocar and a gyrobelt that allow the possessor to defy gravity. It’s the so-called science in this 8-page that makes it so abysmal. We do get an oversized prop; the Hawks are captured and left to drown in a huge thermometer, †which is being heated by a stove so that the mercury will rise. They escape by causing an explosion which throws them through the glass with no ill effects. I guess we know much more about the toxicity of mercury than we did in 1948.

Also, the Gyrocar can drive up the side of a building and park there because of gyroscopes. The gyrobelt works the same way, because “the rotary action of a gyroscope overcomes the force of gravity.” Nonsense! You can see how gyroscopes work here. I hope this is the low point for the series. The plan is to cover the remaining issues, but that might be a long time in coming if these don’t get a bit better.

References:

Happy 4th of July! Bennington Flag


Happy Independence Day everyone! Last year to celebrate, we flew the Betsy Ross flag. This year we’re flying what is, at least according to legend, another Revolutionary War flag, the Bennington Flag. Legend has it that this flag was flown by General John Stark and his men at the Battle of Bennington, which happened in Walloomsac, New York on 16 August 1777. General Stark’s forces, including troops from the Republic of Vermont, defeated the British forces under the command of Lt. Colonel Friedrich Balm. This was a turning point in the war, leading to the defeat of the British at the Battles of Saratoga.

So, the Bennington Flag is purportedly an “early US” flag that stands beside many others. The “Betsy Ross” flag is probably the most recognizable but others include the Cowpens Flag (below, right) and the flag designed by Francis Hopkins for the US Navy which used 6-pointed stars and arranged the stars in rows with a 3-2-3-2-3 pattern.

Two Early US Flags

Why so many? Well, on 14 June the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution of 1777.

Resolved: That the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.

This leaves a lot unspecified, namely the arrangement and orientation of the stars, the kind of star, the size of the union (or “canton”) and whether there are 7 red stripes or 7 white stripes. Individual flag makers made their own decisions on these points leading to the plethora of variants. The Bennington Flag mostly adheres to the Flag Resolution with some distinctive variations, including the arrangement of the stars inside a canton that is taller than it is wide. The choices to make the outer stripes white and to use 7-pointed stars are also uncommon. The one departure is the addition of the large “76” in the canton to reference the passage of the Declaration of Independence.

The legend claims that the original Bennington Flag was flown at its namesake battle and was carried off the battlefield by Nathanial Fillmore He passed the flag onto his nephew, Septa Fillmore who carried it in the Battle of Plattsburg, the turning point in the War of 1812. Subsequently, the flag was passed down to other relatives including President Millard Fillmore and Philetus Fillmore who flew the flag during the centennial celebrations for American Independence and the Battle of Bennington. Because of its close affiliation with the family, this flag is also called “the Fillmore Flag.” If I were determining the nomenclature, I’d probably keep the term “Fillmore Flag” for the original flag that now resides in the Bennington Museum.

The Green Mountain Boys Flag

That Fillmore Flag was examined by Grace Rogers Cooper, Curator of Textiles at the Smithsonian Institution. She determined it to be of 19th century origin and dated it to around 1820. The flag itself is made of cotton and sewn with cotton thread neither of which would have been readily available in 1777. Various theories exist as to its possible origin; it may have been made during the War of 1812 to evoke the spirit of the Revolution or it may have been made to celebrate the visit of Lafayette to the US in 1824 or the semicentennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. One thing that’s generally agreed upon is that that particular flag could not have been at the Battle of Bennington. What was flown at the battle? The “Green Mountain Boys Flag” shown above, a regimental standard know to have been flown by General Stark and his men. The Green Mountain Boys Flag is currently the flag of the Vermont National Guard.

References:

Picture Credits:

Solar Eclipse: Today, 2 July 2019

There is a solar eclipse happening today, starting at 12:55 pm EDT. Here’s more information.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/solar-eclipse-2019-crowds-chile-argentina-hoping-to-capitalize-today-2019-07-02/

If you’re lucky enough to be in the right place in the middle of the Pacific or in Chile or Argentina, here’s the path of totality.

Eclipse path: July 2, 2019

If you want to watch the eclipse on-line, here’s how to.

https://gadgets.ndtv.com/science/news/solar-eclipse-2019-where-and-how-to-watch-live-total-surya-grahan-south-america-2062907

Or here:

And, here’s a screen cap from the live feed at the moment of totality.