Cobraganda

The following is an excerpt from COBRAGANDA: Winning Hearts and Minds In America’s Second Cold War by Professor Winston Gambles (Harper-Collins, 2008), reprinted here with permission from the author.

 

Like all wars, America’s ongoing conflict with Cobra Command was fought on the battlefield as well as in the theater of public opinion, and it was at this that the Armed Forces found themselves at the greatest loss. The enigmatic Cobra Commander, after all, claimed to have risen himself from the ranks of the common man1 and was recruiting not from our traditional enemies2 but from our own disaffected and disenfranchised citizens. When combined with the fact that the Commander claimed to be offering a true alternative to politics-as-usual, complete with subsidized housing and tax-free weather domination, recruitment to the Vipers was steadily gaining a foothold in major urban centers.

To counteract this, the Department of Defense authorized an advertising campaign at incredible expense to refocus the public’s attention on the enemy by reviving an engine of propaganda that hadn’t been seen since World War II. The resulting production provided a generation with some of its most memorable images, beginning with the classic “When You Ride Alone, You Ride With Destro!” poster that graces the cover of this volume and moving on into other areas, though the themes remained the same.

Often, the images preyed on paranoia…

 

 

…especially after the discovery that Fred XXIV had infiltrated the National Security Council, when the message was changed, using members of America’s daring highly trained special missions force as examples:

 

 

Other members of the team–most notably female soldiers–were used for images that would later be criticized for downplaying their contribution to the war effort:

 

 

By contrast, however, Cobra’s female soldiers were portrayed in a significantly more negative light:

 

 

In addition to the pieces directed at the public, there were also items designed for the military itself, although many, like the cigarette lighters that were given to soldiers during visits from actor Burt Reynolds3

 

 

…were decidedly less subtle.

 


 

1: Cobra Commander also claimed at various times to be a half-snake emissary from another dimension that was ruled by Burgess Meredith and Hawkman, but these are generally dismissed as the ravings of a madman. See Appendix 4.

2: Excepting, of course, the Australians.

3: Reynolds volunteered to aid the war effort after he was forced to outrace the Dreadnoks when they attempted to disrupt the filming of Smokey and the Bandit 2.

The Week In Ink: May 29, 2008

One of the most annoying things about pushing back my reviews until Friday is that I don’t get to put anything up for Bahlactus’s Friday Night Fights. I mean, I could do two posts, but… Well, let’s not get crazy here, folks.

Instead, we’ll just have to make do with this:

 

 

See? It even meets the Black & White requirement.

Still, this stack of comics here ain’t gonna review itself, so it’s time once again for the Ineternet’s Most Procrastinated Comics Reviews! Here’s the truly ridiculous amount of crap I bought this week…

 

 

…and that is why I needed the extra day. Let’s get to it.

 


 

Comics

 

All-Star Superman #11: You know, I’m pretty sure that we haven’t gotten three new comics by Grant Morrison since… well, since DC One Million, and that’s only if you count plotting. It’s tempting to call it, I don’t know, “Grantapalooza” or something, but as you can tell by the absence of the word “livejournal” in the address bar, we’re better than that around here.

Anyway, this one kicks off the final two-issue arc of “The Twelve Labors of Superman,” and speaking of DC One Million, sees the return of Solaris the Tyrant Sun, which I’ve been waiting for ever since Morrison mentioned that he was bringing it back when the series first started. And while there’s no shortage of complimentary things to say about this issue–right down to the perfect little moments like Luthor’s “How’s your mom?”–I think it can all be summed up in one sentence:

This is a story where the sun tries to kill a dying Superman, so he punches it so hard that it explodes and then writes his own obituary.

Sometimes, I love these crazy comics.

 

Batman #677: The second part of tonight’s Morrison Trifecta brings us the second part of “Batman R.I.P.,” and while I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this story, I’ve got to admit that I’m enjoying it. Admittedly, it’s not as engaging as the Club of Heroes story–or even his initial arc–but it’s surprisingly entertaining.

I think what I like best about it–aside from the sequence with Batman’s parents, which is just thrilling–is that Morrison’s revisiting one of the themes that he often revisits, showing how different the world of the DC Universe is from ours. The last time he did it, I think, was in the JLA Classified arc that led into 7 Soldiers, where Superman had a great line about how the simple solutions of gritty vigilantes just don’t hold water in a complex world of telepathic gorillas. It’s the same note that he hits here with Jezebel Jet’s criticisms of Batman and his obsessions–which are often cited as criticisms of the character and of super-hero comics in general–but applying a normal logic to a man who has routine battles of wits with genocidal murder-clowns just doesn’t work out. Of course he seems crazy. He lives in a crazy world.

Beyond that, though, the story’s appealing in that it reminds me a lot of another one of my childhood favorites, The Untold Legend of the Batman, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who’s read it. And if not, don’t worry: I’ll probably be covering it next week.

As for the art, well, as much as some folks don’t like it, I can honestly say that I can’t find much fault with Tony Daniel’s work on the title. I mean, it’s not great, and it’s a definite step down from the kind of page layouts and attention to detail that you get from a guy like J.H. Williams, it’s competent. Of course, for a flagship title written by one of comics’ top writers, “competent” should be a given, but as strange as it is to be defending the guy who brought us The Tenth/, Daniel’s work is at least readable and he’s able to pull off some neat stuff on occasion, and that’s a lot more than you can say for the guys who did the fill-in a few issues back.

Incidentally, Kevin’s response when I told him that I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it was, and I quote, “Yes, there is. It’s ugly as sin and his storytelling is stupid and you’re stupid.” So, you know. There’s that.

 

Final Crisis #1: And rounding things out for Grant Morrison, we have DC’s latest foray into the world of the Grand Event. And, well, it is what it is.

Pretty vague, I know, but to be honest, it was exactly what I was expecting from a crossover written by Grant Morrison and drawn by J.G. Jones: It’s well-done, entertaining and beautifully drawn, with a rapid-fire stream of high concepts that deliver on a lot of what Morrison’s been promising. I will say, though, that out of the three comics that guy came out with this week, this is probably the one that I like the least. Then again, since one of those comics had a super-powered evil Lex Luthor and the other had Batman… well, being Batman, it’s safe to say that it was up against some pretty stiff competition.

And actually, the more I think about it, the more I like it. For a book as loaded as it is with reworked Kirby concepts, getting Dan Turpin as the viewpoint character is a nice touch, and as promised, this is a book that opens with Anthro at the dawn of time. It’s fun stuff, and while there’s nothing in it that’s really grabbed me in the way that I’d hoped it would, I’m going to chalk that up to the fact that Sonny Sumo hasn’t appeared. Yet.

 

Firebreather #1: If you’re a fan of things that are awesome, then it might interest you to know that Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn’s Firebreather returned to comics this week with a new ongoing series.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, it goes like this: Duncan Rosenblatt is doing his best to grow up as a normal teenager, which is somewhat complicated–even by comic book standards–by the fact that his mom is a normal suburban woman and his dad is, you know, Godzilla. Just… just don’t think about the logistics behind it, and you’ll be okay. The original mini-series is an incredible amount of fun, and the idea of a kid torn between a mom who wants him to do well in school and a father who would prefer him to focus on grinding the world beneath his draconic heel is typical of the high concepts with which Hester does his best work as a writer.

They’re elements that we’ve seen before–the teenager dealing with developing super-powers, the kid struggling against a villainous heritage–and they could easily turn into something trite and clich├ęd, but Hester and Kuhn keep things fresh and highly entertaining every time the character shows up. If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of the original mini-series on the cheap and give it a read, then grab the new stuff. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Giant Size Astonishing X-Men #1: So I’ve got this friend named Brandon that I’ve mentioned a couple of times on the blog before, and he’s a big Joss Whedon fan. He’s the guy who got me to actually sit down and watch Buffy on DVD long after I’d dismissed it as a bunch of teen angst nonsense. Which, you know, it is, but in a very entertaining way.

Anyway, we were talking about Whedon’s X-Men stuff a few months ago and I mentioned that I was pretty sure Kitty Pryde was going to die at the end of the story. “But Chris,” says Brandon, “he can’t do that. That’s exactly what he did on Buffy.

And yet, here we are.

Ah, but I kid Whedon and his bag of tricks, because despite the fact that Brandon’s the only guy I know who didn’t see this one coming from a mile away, it’s actually highly enjoyable. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for a good bit of Spider-Man action, and between the opening sequence and the fact that it’s his own neuroses that allow him to snap out of the trance, there’s a definite appeal there. Really, though, this one all comes down to John Cassaday, who takes the visuals called for in Whedon’s script and just runs with them, delivering page after page of absolutely gorgeous art. It’s a good issue, and while it doesn’t offer quite the surprising punchout finale that I wanted after the run that led up to it, it’s well worth it.

 

Helen Killer #2: So here’s something that hit me as a little surreal when I was getting my comics yesterday: The back cover of this week’s Helen Killer features a quote from Stan Lee… and a quote from Chris Sims.

Specifically, the quote they use involves me saying that if the rest of the series lives up to the promise of the first issue, then it’ll be the first great mini-series of 2008, and when I saw it, I realized that most of my feelings about Helen Killer up to this point have been conditional. At first, it was “what a great concept! If the series lives up to it, that’ll be awesome!” and then “Great first issue! I hope the rest of the series is that good!” Now that we’ve got a second issue that’s just as good as the first and delves even further into Helen Keller’s struggle against her berserker rages, however, I think it’s safe to say that Helen Killer really is that good.

Just like the first issue, the second is sharper and funnier than it has to be, in a way that shows a complete awareness of the story’s inherent goofiness without dropping into the self-congratulatory, and it all comes off as an incredibly entertaining comic with a sense of fun that comes through from the creators to the reader without missing a beat. Give it a read.

 

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #50: With this issue, Tarot hits its landmark fiftieth issue.

I’ll repeat that, as it bears repeating: Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose has been coming out for fifty issues. To put that in context, here’s a brief list of series that were canceled before they hit #50:

Aztek
Bob Haney’s Metamorpho
Breach
Chase
Gotham Central
Grant Morrison’s New X-Men
Human Target
Jack Kirby’s The Demon
Jack Kirby’s Devil Dinosaur
Jack Kirby’s Eternals
Jack Kirby’s Forever People
Jack Kirby’s Mr. Miracle
Jack Kirby’s New Gods
Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man
Major Bummer
OMAC
The Order
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane
Untold Tales of Spider-Man
Walt Simonson’s Orion
Young Heroes In Love

Once you wrap your head around that, consider that Tarot is also bimonthly.

In other news, according to this issue, breasts are the last thing on a corpse to decompose, Tarot has an interdimensional counterpart named Thornwic who dresses like a French pirate, and I need a drink.

 


 

Trades

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

Jack Kirby’s OMAC Omnibus: The reasoning here should be obvious.

 

Starman Omnibus v.1: I touched on this briefly last night, but really: This thing is beautiful. It’s got a great printing on high-quality, glossy pages gorgeous cover art from Tony Harris, and for a book that’s got seventeen issues of one of the best comics of the ’90s, a fifty-dollar cover price isn’t that bad. And while the story of Starman spreads well beyond the series itself to Annuals, Showcase stories, the Shade mini-series and a crossover with The Power of Shazam (among other places), DC has promised to include everything in the hardcovers. So for those of you who, like me, are thinking of switching out the issues for a more convenient version, I can vouch that this one, at least, meets pretty high standards.

For those of you who haven’t read Starman, however, allow me to make a recommendation. Starman‘s not just a great comic. It’s certainly that, but really, it’s a little more, and it amazes me every time I read it that someone could take bits of the DC Universe that nobody was paying attention to at the time and build something new out of them that had this much heart and personality, and it’s something that you rarely see in comics. I’m not sure how to describe it, but it’s the same sort of feeling that I get when I read Hitman, or Jack Staff. It’s the sense that there’s something more to these characters that you just don’t get from other places, and James Robinson and Tony Harris (and later, Peter Snejbjerg) are able to pull it off, creating a book that’s not just about Jack Knight or even about his family, but about Opal City itself and its residents, past, present and future.

People who like Starman are die-hard fans, and with good reason. And I’m most certainly one of them.

 


And that’s the week. As always, questions and comments, etc., and hey! I just realized that I left Angry Youth Comix off the shopping list. Boy howdy, that Johnny Ryan.

Boy howdy indeed.

The Only Review You Need This Week

 

 

OMAC LIVES–
SO THAT MAN MAY LIVE!!

 

That’s right, folks: This week saw the release of Jack Kirby’s OMAC in DC’s Omnibus format, and I’ve got to say: It’s absolutely gorgeous.

As you can tell from the cover above, it was designed along the same lines as Fourth World books, and while I would’ve liked to see a cover with OMAC hurling a dismembered sex doll at the reader–since, you know, that’s what’s on the cover to #1–the recolored version of the color to #6 just pops right out with the action that’s typical of the series.

Plus, just like the Fourth World books, the cover beneath the dust-jacket is a huge blowup of the original page:

 

 

As for the content… Well, I’ve made my feelings about OMAC pretty clear over the years, and while the Fourth World stories are probably his best work, it’s not much of a stretch to say that OMAC is my favorite Jack Kirby comic, and definitely one of my favorite series of all time. And while it has the same lightweight paper as the Fourth World books–which, incidentally, they avoided with the all-glossy, all-awesome Starman Omnibus–getting a vibrant, hardcover treatment of pages like this

 

 

…just makes me happy.

Still, despite the top-notch presentation, I’m sad to say that the OMAC Omnibus is still incomplete. The issues are all there–although the Starlin stories from Warlord and the DC Comics Presents issue are still uncollected in trade–but unfortunately, it lacks the text pieces that ran in the original series.

That might seem like a pretty small thing, but to be honest, the text piece in #1 is one of my favorite parts of the series, if only to see how precient Kirby really was:

You and I know darn well that we’re eating hamburgers and drinking milk shakes in a world where missiles are hunting missiles, where people are cruising 12,000 feet below the sea, and computers in Chicago are exchanging the time of day with computers in New York.

Any hatful of concepts today would flip out Captain Nemo and turn Dr. Frankenstein into a depressed catatonic.

Think about OMAC: If fantasy can become reality, what kind of man will it take to contend with the World That’s Coming?

Aside from the text piece in Devil Dinosaur–which, by the way, is included in that omnibus–where Kirby said that he was depicting historical fact right before the aliens showed up to fight the cavemen and super-dinosaurs, it’s probably my favorite thing he ever wrote.

So, as a service to you, the burgeoning OMAC fan, allow me to present the text piece from OMAC #1 in its entirety:

 

(Click to Brother-Eye size it)

 

Enjoy!

 

Reviews for the rest of the week’s comics will be up tomorrow. Not only did pretty much EVERYTHING come out this week, but despite what you may have heard from Godless heathen Canadians, comics shipped a day late.

Silver Age Tech Support: Chief Concerns

 

 

Hello, and thank you for contacting the Will Magnus Institute of Super-Science, the world’s foremost source for information on Shrink, Freeze, Death, and other assorted rays. We at the Institute are dedicated to providing you with the advice you need to deal with the problems you face in the fast-paced and exciting world of sentient computers and gurgling chemical monstrosities, and we understand that each problem is unique. Please be advised that for an additional fee, a solution can be delivered via Cosmic Treadmill before your problem arises.

 

PROBLEM: Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t bother to contact your organization, since Magnus is a third-rate roboticist who had one–one–good idea in his entire career, but a problem seems to have arisen with my mechano-man.

Due to an unforseen flaw in his design–which I assure you is far more durable than your silly “elementobots” or whatever it is you’re calling them these days–an old foe of mine has been able to use radio waves to override his command circuits, and now…

 

 

And to make matters worse, said foe has attached what appears to be a Colecovision controller to a small explosive charge just below my automaton’s brain, dipped him in lead to prevent me from regaining control with my own radio signal, and forced him to dig for lost Sumerian treasure.

 

 

Clearly, the situation has me vexed.

 

 

So much so, in fact, that I’m willing to consider the advice from the technological marvel who thought giving the Periodic Table breasts and a nurse’s cap was the culmination of his life’s work rather than a weekend diversion.

Sincerely,

Dr. Niles Caulder, Midway City

 

SOLUTION: Always a pleasure to hear from you, Niles! Apologies for not responding sooner, but I was enjoying my afternoon walk when your letter arrived. Ah, the simple pleasure of walking. Such an incredible joy.

Regardless, the solution to your dilemma presents itself in a fairly obvious manner when one is not distracted by the maintenance of a truly ludicrous beard. How was Burning Man this year, “Chief?”

Still, one cannot fault you for missing such a straightforward solution, as it, like so many other things you have a hard time understanding, involves a woman. Simply arm that lovely actress of yours and dispatch her to the problem area to separate enemy from control switch.

 

 

Should this fail–and let’s be honest here, Niles, given your track record, it will–then it should at least distract your opponent long enough for you to ready something to intercept the detonation signal before it reaches your Robot-Man. Ideally, such an operation would be performed with a more reliable agent, like the Magnus Industries Hg-9000–the only robot that remains liquid at room temperature–but given your reliance on substandard parts that tend to tend to burn out after the first minute, I suppose your creatively named “Negative Man” would work almost as well.

 

 

Problem solved. And do give Rita my number, won’t you?

 

More simple solutions to complex problems can be found in The Doom Patrol Archives v.1, wherein Robotman is destroyed at a rate of once every eight or so pages.

One Batman Too Many!

Last week, I took another look at one of my favorite comics from when I was a kid, and I gotta say: “Unintended Consequences” really holds up. Admittedly, it holds up more like a Road House than a Die Hard, but it’s still a fun, highly enjoyable story with a lot to like about it.

Unfortunately, not all of my childhood favorites can say the same.

 

 

Case in point: The two part saga of Tommy Carma that ran in Batman #402 and 403, by Max Alan Collins with Jim Starlin on art.

Obviously, these issues came out about two years before Batman started throwing car batteries around in #425–and they have the distinction of being the last Batman stories before Miller and Mazzucchelli showed up to drop Batman: Year One and make everybody else look like slackers–but I vividly remember reading “Diplomat’s Son” first. I might just be misremembering, but then again, there’s a shop where I live that has comics from three years ago on its new release wall, so who knows?

Point is: They are not very good, especially considering that they were written by man who created Wild Dog. Twenty years ago, however, I thought these things were awesome. Which probably has a lot to do with the fact that they’re probably the most violent comics you could get at the Ameristop convenience store in 1987.

 

 

Interestingly enough, the sound of Batman breaking someone’s neck is exactly the same noise that Curly Howard makes when Moe pokes Larry in the eyes.

Oh relax: It’s not actually Batman. And if that fact wasn’t made abundantly clear by the fact that he’s handing out the death penalty on Gotham City’s thriving mugger population, it should be a few pages later when the ersatz Dark Knight returns to his lair:

 

 

Even at six years old, I knew the real Batman did not rock a bright yellow pompadour.

So say hello to Tommy Carma. To make a long story short, Tommy here was an overzealous cop who idolized Batman and went right off the deep end when his wife and daughter were killed by a car-bomb meant to keep him from testifying. Cut to a few years later, and he’s roaming around the city in a Batman costume taking out every crook that crossed him while he was on the force.

Like I said, it’s by no means a good story, but it does make an interesting commentary on hero worship and the lines Batman–the real one–will and won’t cross in his vigilante war on crime.

Incidentally? While murder’s right out, that line completely allows for making someone think about their dead daughter and then punching the living shit out of them:

 

 

It’s just how Batman rolls.

And the second issue’s even crazier.

This time around, Collins is joined by Denys Cowan–of The Question–who opens the book showing Tommy in a full-on hallucination, battling Two-Face and the Joker with some of the worst one-liners of all time:

 

 

As bad as that is, I actually really like it. I mean, of course his fight banter’s not going to be any good: He’s not the real Batman.

Unfortunately for Tommy–and Barbara Gordon, Jason Todd, Sarah Essen and about six thousand other Gothamites–he’s not actually killing the Joker, but instead going crazy on a couple of orderlies at Arkham:

 

 

Thus, young Chris learned an intense distrust of men in sleeveless half-shirts that lasts to this day.

Anyway, Tommy pulls off the unheard-of feat of actually escaping from Arkham Asylum, which–in a coincidence that even young Chris thought was bullshit–is right next to Wayne Manor. And when Tommy finds a cave that he uses to hide from the cops, it ends up leading right to… oh, you know where this is going:

 

 

So yeah: From here on out, it’s pretty much the exact same story. Tommy’s dressed as Batman and on the streets looking for revenge and Batman once again shows that violence makes the most efficient problem-solver:

 

 

 

 

Batman is cooler than cool. And that’s ice cold.

And that’s all for Tommy Carma. Well, theoretically, anyway: At the end of the story, Batman walks off into the sunset with him and promises to get him some help. Which, now that I think of it, is exactly how he got into this mess to begin with, but as far as I know, he was never heard from again. And really, that’s a shame.

I mean, this might just be the nostalgia talking, but come on: That Grant Morrison story from a few months ago with the three evil Batmen who had been Gotham City cops before they went over the edge? That would’ve been perfect.