Monday, April 6, 2015

Robert E. Howard Taking a Walk on the Wildside Press

This post is to tell readers about a wonderful publisher of great books.  Not just Robert E. Howard, mind you, but his works are the ones that I collect from the publisher.  I do collect Lord Dunsany as well, but, I collect those from the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, and prior.  (Not that it matters, just saying.)  You can find every genre REH wrote from, you can find his obscure work, and the quality of work is well done.

"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing."   Robert E. Howard

"Yonder in the unknown vastness"—his long finger stabbed at the black silent jungle which brooded beyond the firelight—"yonder lies mystery and adventure and nameless terror. Once I dared the jungle—once she nearly claimed my bones. Something entered into my blood, something stole into my soul like a whisper of unnamed sin. The jungle! Dark and brooding—over leagues of the blue salt sea she has drawn me and with the dawn I go to seek the heart of her. Mayhap I shall find curious adventure—mayhap my doom awaits me. But better death than the ceaseless and everlasting urge, the fire that has burned my veins with bitter longing."  Robert E. Howard 1930

"Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars - Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyberborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west."  Robert E. Howard 1932

"If this myth of the harpies were a reality, what of the other legends—the Hydra, the centaurs, the chimera, Medusa, Pan and the satyrs? All those myths of antiquity--behind them did there lie and lurk nightmare realities with slavering fangs and talons steeped in shuddersome evil? Africa, the Dark Continent, land of shadows and horror, of bewitchment and sorcery, into which all evil things had been banished before the growing light of the western world!" Robert E. Howard 1932

"The clangor of the swords had died away, the shouting of the slaughter was hushed; silence lay on the red-stained snow. The bleak pale sun that glittered so blindingly from the ice-fields and the snow- covered plains struck sheens of silver from rent corselet and broken blade, where the dead lay as they had fallen. The nerveless hand yet gripped the broken hilt; helmeted heads back-drawn in the death-throes, tilted red beards and golden beards grimly upward, as if in last invocation to Ymir the frost-giant, god of a warrior-race..."  Robert E. Howard (no date)

"You express amazement at my statement that 'civilized' men try to justify their looting, butchering and plundering by claiming that these things are done in the interests of art, progress and culture. That this simple statement of fact should cause surprize, amazes me in return. People claiming to possess superior civilization have always veneered their rapaciousness by such claims...  Your friend Mussolini is a striking modern-day example. In that speech of his I heard translated he spoke feelingly of the expansion of civilization. From time to time he has announced; 'The sword and civilization go hand in hand!' 'Wherever the Italian flag waves it will be as a symbol of civilization!' 'Africa must be brought into civilization!' It is not, of course, because of any selfish motive that he has invaded a helpless country, bombing, burning and gassing both combatants and non-combatants by the thousands. Oh, no, according to his own assertions it is all in the interests of art, culture and progress, just as the German war-lords were determined to confer the advantages of Teutonic Kultur on a benighted world, by fire and lead and steel. Civilized nations never, never have selfish motives for butchering, raping and looting; only horrid barbarians have those. "

 Robert E. Howard  1935

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Superman's Underpants

Several years ago, Nicholas Cage was signed to star in a Superman movie.  The movie never came through, (which is probably for the best, all things considered), but during the brief period when it looked possible, I saw Cage on a talk show discussing the project.  He said that he had initially been leery about wearing the traditional Superman costume, because he thought that red briefs over the blue tights looked, well, embarrassing.  The designers for the project made up some sketches of alternative Superman costumes, and he took the sketches home to show his son.  Cage’s son was unimpressed by them, and persuaded his father to stick with the traditional look, because the sleeker, trendier designs didn’t Look Like Superman.

Since then, the Superman movies which have come out, and the New 52’s Superman from the comic books, have chosen to disregard the wisdom of the young Mr. Cage.  Whether this is a good or a bad thing is a matter of taste; but it does bring up one of the enduring mysteries of comics:

Why DOES Superman wear his underwear on the outside?

Superman, of course, was the first.  The super-heroes who followed him also followed his precedent of briefs over tights, simply because Superman had set the model for what a super-hero ought to look like.  But even then, the convention received its share of good-natured ribbing.

Sheldon Meyer was arguably Superman’s very first fan.  According to his own story, when he was a young man working as editor for comics publishing pioneer M.C. Gaines, he persuaded his boss that Siegel and Schuster’s outlandish hero, who had been rejected by every newspaper syndicate in the country, could be a success.  But even he recognized the silliness of superhero costumes.  He created a super-hero parody of his own, The RED TORNADO, who wore a tablecloth cape and a helmet fashioned out of an old spaghetti pot along with – and this is the most important part -- red woolen long johns with a pair of boxer shorts over them.  Because that’s what those funnybook heroes wore.

The meta reason is that when Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster created the character, they wanted to evoke the look of circus strongmen and aerialists, and so based his costume design on the tights worn by circus performers.  Another reason which occurs to me might have been that curved edge of the “briefs” show the contour of the figure’s torso and legs, giving it a sense of form and making it look less flat.

But those reasons don’t really serve as “in-world” explanations for why Clark Kent, upon embarking as a career as a costumed hero, would dress that way.

For much of Superman’s history, his writers have just ignored the subject.  Superman looks the way he looks because that’s the way he looks.  Some of the earlier comics depicting Krypton suggest that the briefs look was a Kryptonian fashion, but I don’t think it was intended that way.  I know of one fan who insists that the costume is peer-pressure; that the briefs are a 30th Century style that Superman picked up during his youthful adventures with the Legion of Super-Heroes.   More recently, it’s been established that Ma Kent made his costume, so perhaps Clark just never wanted to tell his mom that he thought it looked doofy.

A friend of mine who with his wife make costumes as a hobby gave me another perspective on this matter.  He was telling me about a really bad costume he once saw at a comic book convention.  It was of Cloak, from the Marvel comic book CLOAK & DAGGER, and it was essentially a dark hooded cape worn over a black body stocking.  Cloak did not wear Superman-style briefs, as the character was created in the ‘80s after super-hero fashions had shifted a bit.  Neither was the guy in the costume wearing a jock.  “You could tell,” my friend intoned somberly.  “Spandex is unforgiving.  It shows EVERYTHING.”

That seems like a practical explanation right there.  Superman has to wear something in addition to his tights for the sake of modesty; and he wears them on the outside, because if he wore them underneath, people could see his panty-lines which would look silly too.  At least on the outside, the briefs become a design element in the look of the costume.

But something else occurred to me too.  And here I’m afraid I’m going to have to allude to Unpleasant Bodily Functions.  I recently read a satirical piece pondering those questions which the movies never answer, such as: how do movie super-heroes go to the bathroom?  Their costumes certainly don’t appear to be designed for that contingency; which is even stranger when you consider that unlike the costumes worn by comic book characters, these have to be worn by actual flesh-and-blood humans.

I can only think of a couple instances I’ve seen where this issue has come up in the comics.  One of them was a bit from Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN in which Nite-Owl recalls a case where he had to heed a Call of Nature while out on a stakeout.  By the time he was able to get back, the criminal he wanted to tail had already left.  After that, he says, he re-designed his costume so he wouldn’t have that problem again.  Silk Spectre does not seem particularly anxious for him to elaborate; and frankly, neither does the reader.

But while musing on this, it all came together:  Super-Hero Bodily Functions, The Man of Steel’s Underpants, the Unforgiving Nature of Spandex; even Red Tornado’s Union Suit.  It was all connected.

The traditional red woolen long johns, such as those worn by Ma Hunkel in RED TORNADO and immortalized in the classic novelty song “Walking In My Winter Underwear” sported a flap in the back, secured by buttons, which could be unfastened to provide convenient access when the wearer had to Do His Business.  By necessity, Superman’s tights would need something similar.  Ma Kent is a practical woman; she would have thought of these things when she made the suit.

And when the woolen long johns were depicted in low-brow cartoons, the flap inevitably came undone, offering a glimpse of the wearer’s hinterlands.  I’m pretty sure that Supes would want to keep his privates… er, private; so in order to do that and still keep convenient access for moments of necessity, the obvious solution would be to cover up with something that can be easily removed.  Like his super-panties.

That is my theory, anyway.  If an explanation is really needed.  Perhaps it’s just better, though, to simply say that Superman dresses the way he does because he’s Superman and that’s what Superman looks like.

It works for me.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Nooses and Words


Recently throughout the United States there have been incidences of racist acts of defiance, vandalism and violence.

There are of course many reasons for these.  Amongst them is the raging wave of assholes that our society has created.  Another reason is anger by some over the perceived "special" rights some people get to overcome the legacies of the past.  But mostly, in my opinion, these are cases where people are being cooked up, by the media, to feel a rage against a system of untruth.  Whatever the case, the academic, law enforcement, military and government agency involved, all find ways to address whatever event without addressing the event, and without telling the truth.  I believe the rage of the youth comes from a sense of anger at being lied to, even passively.  When you throw in all the other shit, like racism, privilege, and classism, you end up creating a house of cards that will fall, because it is not founded upon truth.

Am I blaming anyone?  No.  I think the reason for the attempts to create a language where blame is removed was to make language clear and to make language not the issue when people discussed or debated issues.  What we have now, in my opinion, is a lot of well intentioned people saying nothing and wondering why people can't understand what they are trying to say.

This lack of clear and direct language and lack of blame or assessment of failure makes change almost impossible.  Since Poplitiko has been about considering culture and this is throughout culture, on every side of politics, race, and gender, I do not see how it will change.  Until a great disaster destroys cultures.  They will have to rebuild culture or start over when there is nothing, and then things will change.  But I don't look forward to then.

Our society may have reached its peak.  If so we are bound to face a collapse.  I hope not.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Horses and Warriors, After the Bombs

Robert Adams wrote from his personal pool of knowledge, based upon his career as a military man.  He also developed a political and world view as that, and his writing often provided him a platform to express himself regarding the world, politics, religious ideals, honor, liberty, and more.  The Horseclans is one of his works that would have to be regarded as his great legacy.  He imagined a world devastated by wars, and not those following the timeline we know.  In his world World War 3 followed relatively closely after World War 2.  So as a writer in the 80s, he was writing about a world that had been devastated by a clash of nuclear arms, and rivalries, that the real world had avoided.  This isn't meant to criticize his choice, simply to point out, he didn't feel obligated to pay heed to the actual timeline and present, in writing his work.

He wrote in a way that was able to express action well, but if there are flaws, there are critics who suggest that they could have done with less philosophizing and more character development.  However, there is no doubt that Adams world views added to the reality and context of the battles and depth of politics and tribal interactions found in his world.  The horseclans are filled with great personalities, but more great warriors.  At no point for a person interested in the raison d'etre of the interaction of two tribes is there anything that could be called boring.

One of the best aspects of the works are Adams' ability to embrace the role of Barbarism in the liberating the soul of humans.  Unlike the perceived goal for humans of many utopian writers, or other fantasists, high culture, great civilizations do not bring out the savage or warrior, but rather, society and civilizations subdue that in the human.  Therefore, the world is seen considerably different than the nuclear super powers that had taken the world to the nuclear brink.  The nuclear destruction of civilization as we know has instead liberated humanity to know its true nature.

Follow the world of the Horseclans and the new prints of the series at Mundania

The books in the US were graced with Ken Kelly covers.  They were rather brilliant.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Every year around this time, I get cabin fever

The best thing to solve cabin fever, is comics.  I have a fever, and the only thing that can solve it, is comics.

So light a nice toasty, safe, fire in the fireplace, heat up some cocoa, get a nice soft blanket, a big comfy chair, and turn off the phone, and lock the door.

It is time to read comics.

I greatly enjoyed Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki.  It was a tale that was good, but familiar in art, somewhat a mix between Moebius and an excellent anime/manga
standard artist.  And the writing brought me in to the story and made me adore the main character. The story follows a similar path of post apocalyptic environmental destruction and the reorganization of society. However, the rebirth of society follows a different path than I expected. A warrior who flies over the crystalized forests after nuclear holocausts and communicates with the new life forms, and understands the new earth.

Slaine the Berserker is truly my eye candy.  Yes, I am not so deep that I buy comics only for the story.  Sometimes the barbarian in me needs to be released, sometimes I like pretty pictures.  Sometimes I like both.  In this case, the Simon Bisley art and violence of the comic rocked my world.

One aspect I never understood about Thor was why he spoke in ridiculous Olde English when he was Norse.  I was therefore AMAZED by the awesome raison d'etre, Thor discovers a lost village of wayward Vikings.  The story evolves into Thor versus Zombie Vikings and the Viking village is brought into the present.  It rocks beyond any other Thor I've read.

If you hate reboots of old characters into the present with new motives and you hate political motives placed upon previously non-politically motivated characters, you'll hate this.  Garth Ennis takes a character who had been an all American hero, taking down bastards who needed taking down.  He adds a brilliant backstory and new story of why and who and where for this character, and I was enthralled for hours.  Yes I read and reread it.

Jamie Delano and John Higgins tell a beautiful, raw, brutal story of six chapters, about the primacy of human lust, desire and interconnectivity. The story shows in mythological format, in luscious prose, and glorious color art, the epic circle that gender is.