Seriously, who builds a girl robot in a mini-dress that’s in love with him–which is a creep move to begin with–and then spends all of his time yelling at her? This guy. That’s who.
Seriously, who builds a girl robot in a mini-dress that’s in love with him–which is a creep move to begin with–and then spends all of his time yelling at her? This guy. That’s who.
From “The Roll Call of Heroes,” by Bob Kanigher and Joe Kubert, via Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock v.1.
Generally speaking, Weird War Tales #114 is not very good.
As another blazin’ battle blockbuster by none other than Robert Kanigher (a fact that’ll become readily apparent in a few minutes) and Fred Carrillo, this issue hit stands at about the same time I did (August, 1982) with a story starring the Creature Commandos.
I’ll admit right off the bat that I’m not all that familiar with the team. Why? Because the Creature Commandos represent one of the greatest gaps in quality between concept and execution in the history of comics. I mean really, on the one hand, they’re monsters fighting Nazis, but on the other, well, one of them is named “Velcro.” And he’s a vampire.
Velcro the Vampire.
And the rest of the team doesn’t really hold up either: You’ve got Dr. Medusa (who inhaled some vaguely sciencey fumes that turned her hair into snakes), werewolf Warren Griffith, “Lucky” Taylor (described as being a “mute” Frankenstein’s Monster despite the fact that he mumbles to himself off and on throughout the story), and they’re all bossed around by Lt. Shrieve, who is not a monster in the traditional sense, but manages to fit right in by being a total and complete dick.
So yeah, as we’ve all no doubt learned from Dave Campbell, even a character named “Dr. Medusa” can’t save this one from tanking pretty hard in its bid to become the finest of all Monster Versus Nazi Action Epics.
There is, however, one redeeming quality: It has what is quite possibly the greatest cover blurb of all time:
In my time as a comics reader, I’ve seen covers promising to shatter my senses and melt my mind, but before I grabbed this one, I’d never seen one that promised me HITLER WOULD FREAK OUT.
Unfortunately, once you get past that, there’s a pretty sharp drop-off in quality, owing mostly to the fact that Hitler never actually freaks out once in this thing. But I will say this for it: Whether or not it happens in the way that Kanigher & Co. intended, this is actually one of the most genuinely disturbing comics I’ve ever read.
After all, anything that opens with a scene like this…
…probably isn’t going to end very well.
So here’s the deal: Sent on a mission to retrieve Professor LeClair–a nuclear physicist who was working on the atomic bomb before the war–the Creature Commandos and their complete asshole CO find out from his hot teenage daughter that he’s been captured by Nazis who, unaware of his previous work with Einstein, have sent him off to a concentration camp. This, as you might imagine, presents something of a problem, so the Commandos are reassigned to infiltrate Nazi Germany and rescue LeClair.
I’m going to go ahead and assume that everyone reading the ISB has seen the landmark triumph of cinema that is Snakes on a Plane, so bear with me here for a minute: You know that part where one of Ricky Verona’s henchmen voices his thought about how maybe taking out an entire passenger airplane with a bunch of pheromone-crazed snakes might not be the best plan, and Ricky responds by yelling “Don’t you think I’ve tried everything else?!”
That is, without question, my favorite part of the movie, because, well, actually no, I don’t think Ricky Verona tried every possible way of killing off the witness before he finally had to resort to snakes on a plane, because if he had, the movie would’ve been about sixteen hours long.
What does this have to do with Weird War #114? Everything. In order to get LeClair out of the clutches of the Ratzis, the top brass at the OSS decide that the absolute best course of action here would be to dress up the Creature Commandos as a traveling circus (complete with Shrieve whipping and berating them as a ringmaster, representing absolutely no change from his normal behavior) and send them behind enemy lines, where–after a stirring display of headstands–they get the okay from the Furher to tour the concentration camps.
Let’s stop here and think about that for a second, shall we? A Traveling Freakshow That Only Tours Concentration Camps. I’m not sure what exactly Kanigher was going for there, but that concept is absolutely terrifying.
Especially when you consider that it involves scenes like this:
And of course, my personal favorite:
Monsters… with machine guns… dressed as clowns. Enjoy your nightmares, folks!
In the absence of the cover’s promised Hitler freakout, the absolute greatest thing about this comic becomes a missive sent to the letter column by Staten Island’s Mark Amundsen. Unfortunately, my copy’s stained and a scan wouldn’t be all that legible, so you’ll have to take my word on this one, but I assure you, what I’m about to write here actually appears word for word in the issue.
Anyway, after his disappointment in WWT #110 (the Creature Commandos’ first appearance), Amundesen writes (among other things):
Robert Kanigher is DC’s greatest and most versatile writer, yet ye takes so many liberties he is infuriating. I am a stickler for explanations.
For instance: When the Commandos looked into the lake, they saw themselves as they once were. This was a great device. The contrast helps us realize how sad their plight is. But why did the lake reflect their images in this way?
It’s all very well and good to say that Dr. Rhodes has a Medusa hair style. But why? I find it hard to believe that a mixture of chemical fumes could transform her hair into snakes. Humbug!
The actual response from editors E. Nelson Bridwell and Julie Schwartz is as follows, and again, I swear I am not making this up:
Why did the uniform of the Flash shed tears the day Barry Allen hung it up? Why did the Viking Prince scream “Kill Me–Kill Me!” in the heat of battle? Why did Herbert Small’s (silent) canary cry upon the deaht of the lonely postman? Why did the Metal Men die issue after issue after issue? Why did Rock kill Johnny Doe? Why did a GI metamorphose into a dinosaur? Why did Superman substitute for the State and act as prosecutor when Lois Lane was charged with murder? Why did RK gather photos of Wonder Tot, Birdboy, Merman, et al, stuff them in his desk and cause said characters to vanish? Why was Rex, the Wonder Dog, able to think coherent thoughts?
The Kanigher touches.
That’s right, folks, you heard it here first: DC’s official position on the matter as of August, 1982?
BECAUSE BOB KANIGHER. THAT’S WHY.
When flipping through DC’s recent Showcase Presents Wonder Woman trade, the reader is often confronted with far, far more questions than they get answers to. Questions like…
Why is Wonder Woman’s marriage to Steve Trevor entirely contingent upon her wrestling a shark?
And perhaps most importantly…
Why are all of these stories about Wonder Woman shrinking?
If you think about it though, the answer should be pretty obvious: Because Bob Kanigher. That’s why.
Once that little bit of logic is applied, everything else makes a lot more sense–relatively speaking–but there are still stories in there that stick out even when you consider that they were written by the guy who brought us the Metal Men and managed to out-crazy even Bob Haney with stories like The Gunner is a Gorilla. Take, for instance, 1958’s “The Fun House of Time” from Wonder Woman #101.
Whenever a Fun House shows up in a super-hero title, it’s not going to be any fun whatsoever. It’s one of the last unbroken rules of comics, and as someone who grew up in South Carolina and attended the County Fair on a number of occasions, I’ve never once gone into one of those things and ended up fighting for my life against a series of deathtraps, each more diabolical than the last.
Clearly, I’ve been missing out.
Wonder Woman, however, suffers from no such problem:
The whole shindig gets kicked off when Wonder Woman and her reasonably useless and vaguely militaristic sidekick Steve Trevor head out to one of the charity carnivals that one can assume were held weekly back in the late ’50s. See, they’ve been invited out to be the first couple to test out the ride by the friendly (yet Cryptkeeperesque) proprietor of the Fun House, Ty M. Master. And yes, they have to say his full name–including the completely unnecessary middle initial–like five times and still have to be told that he’s actually the villainous Time Master.
Anyway, once entering, they find themselves confronted with a room full of doors and, after picking one out and going through it, end up in the time of dinosaurs fighting a giant pterodactyl.
Now, one would assume that this would be the point where all traditional logic would go rocketing out the window, but beleive it or not, Kanigher managest to actually top his own crazy within three panels:
His pistol doesn’t work… because it hasn’t been invented yet. “But Chris!” you may well be saying to yourself at this point, “Clothes hadn’t been invented either, and they’re not walking around naked! Why doesn’t–”
Because Bob Kanigher. That’s why.
Wonder Woman’s able to save them by lassoing a convenient meteor and using it to create a smoke screen, and once they’re teleported back into the room with all the doors, they start to suspect that something fishy’s going on. Time Master pops in to tell them that he plans to destroy them, blah blah blah, and their only chance is to find him hiding behind one of the doors. So they pick one, and end up in the middle of the ocean circa 1492, being sucked into a whirlpool along with Christopher Columbus’s flagship.
The Pinto, hm? Looks like that whole Wisdom of Athena thing’s working out pretty well for you.
Anyway, Wonder Woman sets things right with Columbus & Co., and once she heads up to the future to harness the power of 1.21 gigawatts of electricity…
…she figures out that she can easily defeat the Time Master by vibrating her molecules so that she can go through the doors without actually opening them. This was, for the record, the method by which every single DC comics super-villain was defeated in the ’50s. “Vibrating your molecules” was the “sentient nanotechnology” of its day.
Thus, evil is defeated once again, we’re left with a pretty incomprehensible moral to send us on our way:
Yes, children of the ’50s, evil will always be defeated, because the world is like an eternal amusement park. Strong words, Mr. Kanigher. Strong words.
When I was reading through the second installment of Bob Kanigher’s Bat-Witch Saga last week, I came across this little gem…
…and if ever there was a panel that cried out for digital manipulation, that is it.
I mean, really: He might well be ordering his best friend and said friend’s famous ancestor to fight each other to the death for his own amusement, but can even that be the source of such intense mania? I think not.
No, I think that crazed gleam in his eye can only come from the anticipation of the Daily Planet’s Thursday lunch menu:
Of course, Mark Hale thinks the Man of Steel’s just psyched about passing a message of safety to The Kids:
What do you think, readers?
Ah, user-generated content. The lazy blogger’s truest friend.
In addition to the ones posted in the comments section, I always get a few of these in email, and then immediately forget about them. But not this time! Here’s what you guys had to offer:
Aaron Rushton brings some new shit to light with these two:
Filthy McMonkey violates the ISB’s standing “No Star Wars” Rule:
Jim “Flashback” Shelley offers up this trio:
I knew when I set out a few days ago to review World’s Finest #186 that it was going to present something of a dilemma. After all, as much as it was physically impossible for me not to post something as mind-bendingly awesome as S for Shakespeare, it’s just the first installment of a tantalizing two-parter, and without the following issue, it’s just not complete, which caused no small amount of wailing from my outspoken readership.
But tonight, wail no longer, friends! Thanks to the herculean efforts of ISB reader Julio Dvulture and the always-stalwart Shane Bailey, I have secured a copy, and while I can barely believe what I’m about to type, it may actually be crazier than the last one.
For those of you whose brains have been melted by the sheer Kanigherian madness of our last installment, I’ll recap: In an effort to find out who made a bust of Revolutionary War hero “Mad” Anthony Wayne–who surprised the heck out of me by being an actual person–in a Batman mask, Batman (his descendant) and Superman took a quick trip to the eighteenth century, where Superman:
1. Got in a fight with Anthony Wayne and his horse.
2. Said the single greatest sentence in comic book history.
3. Made a bunch of superstitious townsfolk think a sea-serpent had freed an accused witch.
4. Framed Batman for witchery.
5. Acted like a total jerk to Benjamin Franklin.
All caught up? Good. Let’s get on with it.
The story picks up the next day, and with Batman just about to be burned alive as punishment for his foul consort with the Man-Goat, Ben Franklin shows back up to make one last effort at getting the caped crusader a pardon:
Let this be a lesson to you from the Founding Fathers: We can’t go on together with superstitious minds.
Of course, this is Silver Age Superman we’re talking about, and if you think that a little thing like the pleading of the architects of modern democracy’ll stop him from having his best friend burned at the stake for witchcraft, then check your Bottle City at the door on the way out, buster. That’s just not how Kal-El rolls.
Why exactly Batman’s alleged demons would set themselves on fire, we may never know, but really: That’s the least of our problems here.
It’s at this point in the story that Batman–who has inexplicably forgotten that he’s fucking Batman and generally gets out of deathtraps more complex than a sheepshank around a log four times before breakfast–finally remembers that he can lie, and gives us what might be the second best panel ever:
That is literally all it takes to turn the town against Superman, thus setting a record for the most easily influenced townsfolk that would stand until the advent of the Springfield Monorail. Batman is freed from the stake, Superman takes off to join up with the British and crush the Continental Army once and for all, and we get a fantastic chapter break.
What follows is pretty much what you’d expect, given the circumstances. Superman joins up with General Henley and the British forces to track Mad Anthony down, and considering that he can fly and has X-Ray vision, it’s not long before he drags Wayne back to encampment, lays down his pimp hand…
…and then declares that Batman and Mad Anthony must fight each other to the death with their bare hands.
Normally this would be a cause for concern, what with the damage to the space-time continuum that would result from Batman killing his own ancestor, but in keeping with this issue’s theme of showing Batman at his most inept, he is immediately put face-down into the mud by Mad Anthony’s use of the “20th Century fighting tactics” of karate and judo. This is, as I’m sure you all expect at this point, never explained.
Before he can finish the job, though, Tony’s interrupted byt he arrival of his own sidekick, Robby, who (of course!) bears an uncanny resemblance to Robin and fights the British with his slingshot, which gives Batman the idea to hand over a chunk of Kryptonite hes been carrying around for the entire time and tell him to shoot Superman in the head with it. Robby does, and this is where things start to get crazy.
Once he takes the shot to the forehead, Superman stumbles around for a second wondering where he is, then singlehandedly defeats the entire British army in one panel, reuintes with Batman, and finally–FINALLY–explains just what the hell has been going on here:
Oh, right. An afreet. Well that makes perfect–what?!
Sorry, Batman, but that does not explain everything. But if you’ll allow me, I think I might be able to clear things up here. So, why do Superman and Batman go back in time to the Revolutionary War, where Superman frames Batman for witchcraft so that he can save him from being posessed by a genie that also knows karate?
Because Bob Kanigher. That’s why.
Every now and then, I’ll run across a story that I am convinced is The Craziest Thing Ever Published.
It happened when I read the issue of Metamorpho where he fights off a two-foot tall galactic conqueror by using a guitar that shoots laser beams; it happened when I read about the little man with a radio that lived in Sun Boy’s ankle and spied on the Legion; and it happened–of course–in the story that brought us both Bizarro Computo and Hate Face. And each time, I found something that was even more nuts to fixate on for a few weeks.
But this time? I don’t know if anything’ll ever top this:
Why is Superman hanging with a bunch of Puritans and accusing Batman of consort with the Author of All Lies? Because Bob Kanigher. That’s why.
Yes, springing from the pen of madness itself with pencils by the late, great Ross Andru is 1969’s World’s Finest #186, wherein Kanigher apparently read The Crucible and decided that it just didn’t have enough super-heroes, a theory that a sixteen year-old Christopher J. Sims would later pose in Ms. McDonald’s 10th grade English class. Unfortunately, this one’s actually a two-parter that ends in WF #187, which I couldn’t find, but I think there’s enough here to be getting on with.
The whole thing gets started at–where else?–Stately Wayne Manor, where we find Bruce Wayne brushing up on his family history with a volume about Revolutionary War hero “Mad” Anthony Wayne, a choice of recreation that, by the sheer coincidence that made up a good three quarters of the storytelling back in the ’60s, is going to be important in about three pages.
In fact, no sooner has he finished reminiscing aloud about his famous Redcoat-hating ancestor than Commissioner Gordon gives him a ring on the hotline, asking him to guard a priceless bust that’s just been donated by an anonymous collector, because apparently, crime had been completely eradicated by this point in history. Of course, due to the fact that the businesses of Gotham City are staffed entirely by incompetent maroons, his services are rendered unnecessary when the curator drops the bust–which has been covered in a sheet and never seen by anyone, including the museum staff, before it went on public display–and shatters it into a million pieces.
Clearly, this is a job for Superman.
The way I see it, there are essentially two possibilities here: A), that whomever sculpted said bust went through the trouble of carving out an exact duplicate of Anthony Wayne’s head, then (somehow) made a Batman mask out of marble and managed to fit it over; or B), which will seem far more likely after the next few pages, that Superman’s just messing with Batman. Either way, the fact that Superman shows Gotham’s museum-going public that Batman looks an awful lot like Bruce Wayne underneath his mask is never brought up again.
Needless to say, this sparks Batman’s curiosity, so after Superman whips up a couple of Colonial outfits out of Wayne Manor’s drapes–no, really–it’s off on a trip through the Time Barrier to Colonial New England, which somehow manages to be slightly less historically accurate than, say, Colonial Williamsburg. No sooner have they landed, however, then they are immediately mistaken for British spies–probably because Batman’s drapes were made of a soft lavender, when everybody knows that earth tones were in during the summer of ’75–and attacked by “Mad” Anthony himself:
The World’s Greatest Detective, ladies and gentlemen.
Oh, and then Batman fights a horse:
During the scuffle, Anthony “Ol’ Stabby” Wayne manages to rip Superman’s Colonial outfit, and gets the idea from Superman’s red cape that he’s fighting a couple of redcoats, which leads Our Heroes to the completely logical conclusion that they’ll be far more inconspicuous if they just wander around in their super-hero outfits. The side effect of all this?
The Single Greatest Panel Of All Time:
Sadly, all copies of the Eighth Folio version of Hamlet, which included Laertes seeking vengeance as “a Bat-Man,” were lost to the ages.
The townspeople are pretty easy to convince, but to be fair, they’re a little distracted by the fact that they’ve got a witch trial going on, apparently completely oblivious to the fact that they’re actually living almost a full century after the famous Salem witch trials, but hey, they’ve got a long way to go before they get TV, and there’s got to be something to kill the time, right?
The lady in question–as is so often the case with this sort of thing–is actually completely innocent of witchcraft, a fact Batman is able to instantly determine from the evidence of her astonishing hotness.
Rather than let Sylvia–the soaking wet blonde in the previous image–die, Superman leaps into action faster than the eye can see, biting through the dunking stool in the hopes that the superstitious townsfolk will leap–however illogically–to the conclusion that she was freed by an underwater serpent. Seriously. That’s his plan. And amazingly, it works, although it doesn’t quite solve the problem of keeping a woman tied to a plank of wood underwater from drowning.
No, that’s the kind of thing that requires a Batman, and once he drags her to the shore and unties her, she rewards him with some good ol’ fashioned 18th Century makeouts, thus proving that every romance novel cover I have ever seen is 100% Accurate. Superman finds his attempts to get on some of that, however, totally shot down:
That is just how Batman rolls.
Superman doesn’t take this sort of thing lying down though, and while Batman’s off making time with Sylvia in a tavern, Supes sets out to have his best friend convicted of witchcraft and burned at the stake. How? By dyeing his costume and flying around on a broom and using Super-Ventriloquism to make it look like a black cat was talking to him, thus reminding us all that when it comes to Silver-Age Dicketry, nobody does it better than the Last Son of Krypton.
The townspeople immediately find Batman guilty and sentence him to be burned at the stake at noon the next day. Thus, Batman is left in the stocks to contemplate his impending death, and since he apparently forgot that he’s fucking Batman and could free himself from an 18th century pillory in less time than it takes me to make a sandwich, things are looking pretty grim for the Caped Crusader.
Is there anyone–anyone–who could help?!
Yes, Benjamin Franklin shows up, and hits on the brilliant idea of freeing Batman from the stocks by tying a kite to the lock and waiting for lightning to strike it. One can assume that after failing that, he would’ve attempted to spring Bats by burning him out with a pot-bellied stove, focusing light through a pair of bifocals, or banging a couple of French broads.
It doesn’t quite work out that way, though, and with Superman around to stop the lightning from reaching the lock, Franklin’s forced to call it a night and go back to founding the Post Office, leaving Batman to be burned at the stake in the next exciting issue.
But like I said, I don’t have that one, and after having my mind irrevocably shattered by the first appearance of the Batman/Ben Franklin team, I can only assume that everything works out okay. If I had to hazard a guess, though, I’d say that it involves a deception resulting in Anthony Wayne being mistaken for Batman, an appearance by Kryptonite that somehow pre-dates the explosion of Krypton, and the stunning revelation that Batman was making out with his own great great grandmother about five paragraphs ago.
Time Travel, folks: Never A Good Idea.