Posts Tagged ‘superheroes’

Is he in hell?

Friday, 16 July 2010

I'm rather a fan of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), and the reasons are largely to be found within about 8 ½ of its 97 minutes. I offer those 8 ½ minutes here in a clip. The excerpt can be understood without being set-up; all the essentials can be inferred as one watches. So you may want to skip ahead to watch the video. But, for those of you more comfortable with more context, I'll provide some:

La Révolution française is cutting-off heads by scores daily. (There is some confusion in the movie over the year in which la Terreur began.)

Percy Blakeney had married Marguerite St. Just about a year earlier. Some time after the marriage, he learned that Marguerite had been instrumental in bringing-about the execution of a French aristocrat and his family. Not knowing that she had been tricked into providing the information that had led to that execution, Percy asked her about it. Marguerite, given to impetuosity, did not explain, but angrily admitted that she had. Percy began paying for the fact that he loved — that he still loved — Marguerite, by adopting the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel (the red pimpernel being a wildflower) and forming a team, the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, who enter France in disguise, to steal political prisoners from la guillotine. The identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel is unknown to all but members of the League. Blakeney further secures his secret — and pushes away his wife — by adopting the persona of a fop.

Marguerite's brother, Armand, part of the League, has been taken prisoner in France. Chauvelin, an agent of the French, has offered to surrender a key piece of evidence against Armand if she will reveal to Chauvelin the true identity of the Pimpernel. Unaware that the Scarlet Pimpernel is Percy, she has done what she could. Last night, she learned and reported to Chauvelin that the Scarlet Pimpernel would at mid-night be in the library of an estate where a party was being held.

When Chauvelin went to the library, Percy was there, pretending to sleep on a love-seat. Chauvelin eyed him suspiciously, but then adopted a derisive expression. Shortly after mid-night, Chauvelin himself briefly fell asleep, then awoke to find a mocking note from the Pimpernel, with Percy still apparently asleep. Chauvelin glanced at Percy as if dismissively, and then left. Percy arose, and wondered how Chauvelin had come to be there and whether his dismissal were sincere.

As the clip begins, Lord and Lady Blakeney are returning home.

There's all kinds of things right with the scenes in this clip.

When Marguerite comes to speak with Percy, we see that his affectation of effeminacy is, as much as anything, a very bitter way of rejecting her. Harry Stack Sullivan once wrote Hate is love turned angry, and when Marguerite says You … hate me. she's not far from the truth. However, Percy's question in reply isn't merely rhetorical; he truly wants to know why she denounced the Marquis de St. Cyr. At the least Percy wants to see what sort of person she really is, but what he really wants is some vindication for her actions, so that his love for her will not have been — will not be — wrong.

After he hears her explanation of what really happened with respect to the Marquis and his family, there remains the issue of Marguerite's trade with Chauvelin. Note the desperation in Percy's voice. He doesn't just need the information qua Scarlet Pimpernel; he wants to know whether, after all, she's still done something dreadful. He want to feel free to love her. When he learns what she gave to Chauvelin (a report that the Pimpernel would be in the library at mid-night), Percy is almost ready to laugh aloud from relief. And watch Leslie Howard's left hand, as he raises it up, partly into frame, almost to his heart, his fingers flexing; his character wants to reach out and take hold of Marguerite.

When Marguerite says that the Pimpernel might be going to his death, and Percy says Well, that's all the fellow lives for, he's really now talking of how he has been living. That demmed, elusive Pimpernel has not been in Heaven. But now he's climbing out of Hell.

The subsequent meaning of Percy's body language is obvious to the audience. The rest of their interaction is, of course, two people speaking of their love one for another, with one of them almost oblivious to what is being said, as she doesn't recognize the relationship amongst referents. Almost oblivious, but as Percy leaves the room, Marguerite knows that there's something that she isn't seeing clearly.

The principal reason that the story-telling in this clip stays with me is because it has a moment [Marguerite, suddenly reälizing who the Scarlet Pimpernel is] where pieces all click together in the mind of one of the characters, revealing something important.

For this sort of moment to work, it's important that the character not have been positioned for the reälization before hand. Rather than having some twit finally see something that he or she should have seen all along, the story needs to put that character in possession of a new datum (preferably no more than one) and then have the character's mind move with fair intelligence towards the reälization.

I love the way that Merle Oberon presents Marguerite's reäctions, all within a matter of seconds. She questions her reasoning. [Marguerite, overtly reäcting to the reälization] As she looks again at the painting, her mouth is asymmetrical as she moves towards laughter [Marguerite, almost laughing] at the deception Percy has effected. But the joke is displaced in her mind and her expression moves towards a different, symmetric sort of smile [Marguerite, almost smiling] as she starts to think that her Percy is a better man than she had come to think him, and indeed a better man than she had thought him when they married. She doesn't get very far with that thought, as it hits her [Marguerite, seized with fear and with grief] that Percy has sailed off not only into danger but into danger that she has caused to be greatly increased.

Mighty Man of the Night

Tuesday, 6 July 2010
[Ted Knight, disturbed in bed, takes off his pajamas under which he has his Starman costume]

Really, it's a shame that Starman never made an appearance on The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, on Aquaman, on The Batman/Superman Hour, or on Super Friends.

Degenerate Matter

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

At Kingdom Kane (a 'blog focussed upon the art of Gil Kane), Mykal Banta has reproduced The Birth of the Atom. a story which contains what I have long regarded as an epitomal sequence of what I call comic-book science: Ray Palmer leaps over a wall in pursuit of a meteor seen in the distance, about to hit the Earth.Ray Palmer excavates a meteor composed of about 1000 cu cm of degenerate matter from a white dwarf star, buried about two feet in the earth. 'So heavy-- I can hardly lift it!'Palmer, holding the meteor, looks at in amazement. 'Puff!'Palmer carries the meteor back to his car. 'Puff!'

As I noted to Mykal, a white dwarf star has a density of about 1 million grams per cc, and the meteor appears to be about 1000 cc, so the whole thing should mass at about 1 million kilograms.

It's not apparent why 1 million kilograms should stay compressed into such a small volume. In the case of a dwarf star itself, the gravitational mass of the star as a whole creätes sufficient force, but this is just a fractional piece of such a star. It ought to fly apart as a terrible burst of radiation. But let's assume that this somehow doesn't happen, that the meteor just stays together in a nifty one-liter piece.

The meteor that creäted Meteor Crater in Arizona was under 30,000 kilograms. Ray wouldn't be excavating the meteor at all; he would have been killed by the shock waves from the impact. Those who later did excavate the meteor wouldn't find it buried just a couple of feet deep.

At the surface of the Earth (which itself masses about 5.97 × 1024 kilograms), this meteor would weigh about 11 hundred tons, but Ray picks it up! He subvocalizes a few puffs, but he manages to carry the thing back to his car! Now-a-days, they don't make cars that can carry 11 hundred tons. I don't think that any grad students can lift 11 hundred tons. And, really, Ray ought to be sinking into the ground, as even if he has big feet and has both feet on the ground he is applying over 7000 kPa of pressure to the soil.

It might be suggested that the meteor, while perhaps of material that were once compressed to a density of about 1 million grams per cc, were subsequently uncompressed, and that what Palmer recovered were only, say, 100 kilograms of material. But I don't know how, then, it would be recognizable as originating from a white dwarf star. For example, the core of the sun compresses matter to a greater density than 100 grams per cc.

D_mn'd Yanquis

Friday, 22 January 2010

Readers of this 'blog might recall the Decimator. Well, according to Hugo Chávez, the United States has one.

I'm just hoping that it doesn't fall into the wrong hands, and get directed at the Amsterdam Fault. Meanwhile, maybe I can become one of the Rocket Men. At my age, hopes of becoming a super-hero have dimmed, but I at least look younger than Jeff King.

A Superstitious, Cowardly Lot

Saturday, 22 August 2009
[logo: The Doll Man by Wm. Erwin Maxwell]
[image of the tiny Doll Man punching a regular-sized villain]
['So! You're the Doll Man! Now I know why criminals quake at the mention of your name!']

I first encountered Darrel Dane, the Doll Man, in a copy of Feature Comics #114 (September 1947) given to me by a friend.[1]

You can encounter Doll Man — if you are ready for the thrills — at Golden Age Comics (search both for doll man and for Feature Comics), at Pappy's Golden Age Comics Blogzine, and at Golden Age Comic Book Stories.

[1] WTF? In middle school, friends just gave golden-age comic books to me! Another friend gave a copy of Action Comics #125 (October 1948) to me.

The Batman

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

In 1992, Tim Burton made a movie, Batman Returns, in which his alleged Batman sees a woman fall from a ledge on a building. The supposed Batman waddles to the edge, looks over, and watches her fall to her death.

If the actual Batman sees a woman tossed from a building ['Moon of the Wolf' pg3 panel 3] then he immediately jumps after her ['Moon of the Wolf' pg3 panel 4] pushes off something because she's been accelerating under gravity ['Moon of the Wolf' pg3 panels 5 and 6] and figures-out what he'll do on the way down ['Moon of the Wolf' pg3 panel 6] because he's the g_dd_mn'd Batman, when there's no hope…

…except him.

Moon of the Wolf, by Len Wein, Neal Adams, and Dick Giordano, from Batman #255 (April 1974), is reproduced at a Grantbridge Street entry for 18 May.

For he is the Man of the Hidden Face!!!

Monday, 20 April 2009

While I'm trying to get readers to visit the Pictorial Arts I'd like to point to a specific pair of entries, The Great Comic Book Heroes part 1 and part 2, from 9 February.

It was in Jules Feiffer's book, The Great Comic Book Heroes, that Buchanan and later I first encountered an untitled story by Will Eisner earlier published in the spring of 1941. Buchanan writes It showed me what comics could be. My reäction had been much the same. I'd seen some awfully good comic book art before I saw this story — Steranko's three issues of Captain America come immediately to-mind — but I'd just never seen anything like this. My sense of what a comic book could be was deeply changed.

(Later, I found more stories by Eisner, and discovered to my great dismay that Eisner had given the character of the Spirit a black side-kick who was depicted in a profoundly racist manner. I'm glad that that side-kick didn't appear in this story, so that my first exposure to work of such quality wasn't blighted.)


Sunday, 15 March 2009
[Page 0 of Coded Wisdom Comics, OKRAY]

The Other Self

Saturday, 28 February 2009

As the story has evolved, a significant amount of the power of the Batman came to be in his wealth as Bruce Wayne — as with the later Iron Man, there had to be a way to pay for the stuff.

I'm not the man they think I am at home

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Yester-day morning, I watched King of the Rocket Men (1949), the Republic serial whence flowed Radar Men from the Moon (1952), Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952), and Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe (1953) (the last being written and filmed as a television series, but released first in theaters). King of the Rocket Men (or one of its sequels) was also the principal influence on the Rocketeer, though Bulletman (who appeared in 1940) is probably another direct influence on the Rocketeer, and was surely a direct influence on King of the Rocket Men. (Republic Pictures, who produced Rocket Men, had earlier produced the serial Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941), based upon another Fawcett character, and with the same special effects team.)

It is, frankly, a bit of a surprise that King of the Rocket Men managed to inspire much beyond derision.

[image of Professor Jeff King wrestling-on the Rocket Man suit for the first time]The male lead, Tristam Coffin, looks notably older than his 40 years, as if from hard living or merely from a hard life. (Coffin has one of those pencil mustaches which are more make-up than facial hair.) The female lead, Mae Clark, was 39, but looks even older than does Coffin, perhaps from harder living or from harder life. (Mae Clark is notable as Kitty, the girl who gets a grapefruit in her face, in The Public Enemy (1931), and as Elizabeth, the fiancée of Henry Frankenstein, in Frankenstein (1931).)

But the real problem with King of the the Rocket Men is that the protagonists, including Jeff King (Coffin's character, the Rocket Man), are worse than ineffectual.

A villain named Dr. Vulcan is trying to get control of the inventions of Science Associates, including King and a Professor Millard. King repeatedly fails to capture criminals, or captures them and then leaves them to escape, and he fails to prevent killings with almost perfect consistency. At one point, King takes a guard's gun, directing the guard to phone the police, and then fails to provide anything like adequate cover-fire for the guard, who is thus gut-shot.

King and Millard have been working on the Decimator for the benefit of mankind. The Decimator is named and consistently described as a weapon — indeed it is described as the most powerful weapon ever designed — which might lead one to ask how King and Millard conceptualize its benefits. King and his side-kick, Burt Winslow, leave the Decimator unguarded, so that they can pursue a suspicious motorcycle. Naturally, the Bad Guys take the Decimator. When King and the side-kick return, King doesn't notice that the Decimator is gone, but the side-kick does. With the aid of a photograph, King is able to tell the police the plate number of the truck being used by the villains. The police locate the truck in a mountain pass. King tells the police to stay back so that Rocket Man can deal with them. The villains try to blow Rocket Man up with a bomb, but he escapes uninjured, and then flies away, not even bothering to follow them as they drive off in a car with the Decimator. The police might have done a better job.

Eventually, King &alii have allowed Dr. Vulcan to fly to the east coast, where he plans to use the Decimator to black-mail New York City. Dr. Vulcan secretly sets-up the Decimator on Fisherman's Island, a little more than 300 miles south-east of New York, and gives the mayor a dead-line of a few hours to agree to paying a ransom of $1 billion. The mayor ignores the dead-line (G_d only knows how a mayor could come up with $1 billion in 1949, let alone in a few hours), and Dr. Vulcan uses the Decimator to trigger the Amsterdam Fault, which lies between New York City and Fisherman's Island. Earthquakes and waves begin to destroy the city. King figures-out where Dr Vulcan must be, and the Rocket Man flies to Fisherman's Island. The city is, for the most part, destroyed. King gets to the island, and blasts the Decimator with his ray-gun (something that he might have considered doing back in that mountain pass). Meanwhile, the mayor has had bombers sent to pulverize Fisherman's Island. King and Dr. Vulcan and Dr. Vulcan's henchman battle. The henchman is accidentally killed by Vulcan. The bombs begin to drop; the Rocket Man gets away just before the house from which Dr Vulcan has been operating is blown-up. Later, the mayor takes credit for saving the ruined city, and promises to rebuild (no Naginesque declarations about restoring the dominance of an ethnic group). Jeff King and his pals think the mayor ridiculous for not giving more credit to the Rocket Man. [image of NYC, as it is being destroyed by Dr Vulcan, with the use of the Decimator] BTW, did you know that, if you jump out of a speeding car, all that happens to you is that you get a little dusty? Well, neither did I.