Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The "Secret" History of the Sandman

Or, perhaps, "The Lost History" would be a better title. There is an awful lot of crucial information about the character of the Sandman hidden away in the two Sandman stories in the 1939 and 1940 New York World's Fair Comics. Indeed, until reading these stories in the DC Comics Rarities Archive, I have to say I didn't have a full understanding of who the Sandman was.

Right off the bat, we learn that the Sandman has an amazing amount of back story we have never learned about. This one panel begs the questions -- which other continent (we can presume one is North America)? What crimes is he suspected of?

Billions. Until DC later retconned Bruce Wayne into being a billionaire, the Sandman was the richest superhero in the DC Comics pantheon. And note here that he has invented a raygun for the government that he, as the Sandman, has never chosen to use. This is a man who uses a gas gun, not because it is the best weapon available to him, but because it is a weapon that leaves him with an element of risk. And, when even that doesn't leave him vulnerable enough, he will later go unarmed except for a 'wirepoon' gun.

This is Agent Henry of the Secret Service. He's apparently this Javert-like character who's been on the trail of the innocent Sandman for years, trying to arrest him. It's a shame this conflict is resolved in his very first published appearance.

Later retcons often show the Sandman wearing an ordinary gas mask, but this panel clearly shows, better than any drawing I'd seen before, what the Sandman's highly stylized gas mask is meant to look like. It's easy for those comfortable with the superhero genre to dismiss the Sandman as just a guy in a suit, but the Sandman was a man in a mask, suit optional. Here he runs around shirtless, having swum out to a yacht to confront the bad guys.

Another preconceived notion I had about the Sandman was that he routinely patrolled New York City, or a New York City-like fictional city, like Gotham City or Metropolis. But in 1940 New York World's Fair Comics, the Sandman is home, in a city that isn't in New York, and has to fly to New York to attend the fair. Where is he from, then? My money is on Boston now, being the next biggest East Coast city after NYC circa 1940.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Golden Age Action Comics #8 - Prologue 2

It had been 48 hours since the last bomb detonated in Steinkjer, Norway and 24 hours since the last fire was extinguished. Large portions of the port town had been leveled flat and, from the air, Superman could only count 15 buildings that appeared wholly undamaged.

I can’t be everywhere at once!  Was on Superman’s mind. He landed on a rubble-strewn street and surveyed the scene from the ground with a grim look on his face. Although he had suspected Norway was in danger for weeks, since the sinking of the HMS Glowworm off Norway’s coast on the 8th, but Superman had been distracted in Poland, dealing with the new menace of Luthor, and could not make it to Norway until now.

Superman could hear the sounds of fighting to the north, maybe 40 miles away. It was a situation he was anxious to look into, but there were people here, not only in need, but with useful information he needed.

The town was not deserted -- Superman had seen plenty of people milling about from the air – but they were fearful and staying clear of him. Superman knew he had to do something to show his peaceful intent. He strode into the sloping pile of rubble that had once been a building and began separating pieces of it with his bare hands. He quickly made two piles, one of completely destroyed material that would be no good to him now – largely charred wood, but also limestone bricks that had been completely pulverized -- and another of material that was still intact enough to be refashioned. 

Minutes later, Superman had a good-sized pile of re-fashionable materials, such as steel bars, bricks, and a few sheets of aluminum siding. Next, he used a steel bar as an improvised shovel to begin digging a pit, as he needed access to clay. When he struck clay, Superman moved to the pile of destroyed materials and sifted through it. He separated again the pulverized limestone he had gathered and, with gusts of wind from his super-breath, blew it into the pit. He then fashioned a giant bowl by bending a long sheet of aluminum siding and leaped to the waterfront. The docks and piers were gone, but the Namsen River still flowed past and Superman filled the giant bowl with river water. He then leaped back to his improvised construction site and mixed the water in with his mixture of clay and limestone in the pit, stirring it with steel bars, and fashioning the concrete he needed.

Ten minutes later, Superman had two opposing brick walls built, 10 feet high, 50 feet long, and spaced 50 feet apart, with steel bars jutting out of the ground to serve as posts to help support the roof he planned to build next.  It would be a modest covered structure, but it would give the many obviously homeless people of Steinkjer one more roof to keep over their heads for now. It was also having the desired effect of luring the curious out of hiding, for Superman now had an audience of 11 watching his work.

Du trenger tre, vil vi hjelpe deg å finne noen,” an old, weather-beaten Norwegian man said, daring to come forward and talk to Superman.

“I don’t speak Norwegian,” Superman said ruefully, knowing he would have to rectify that the first chance he had. “I speak English, Spanish, French, German, and Polish.”

“I know English,” another, younger man said, coming forward. “He said we will help you find wood. What are you? An angel?”

“Just a man,” Superman said. “I don’t have wings and I can’t fly, just leap very high and very far. It looks like you’ve lost 80 percent of your town. How many died here?”

“No one,” the man said proudly. “We were able to evacuate everyone in time when we saw the German planes coming.”

“Good,” Superman said, “but that still must have left one thousand to two thousand homeless here.  I will come back and help you build more shelters, but I need to know about the fighting to the north. Who is fighting?”

“The Germans left here and headed north to fight the British forces that landed before them,” the young man said, pointing helpfully.

Superman nodded, as that confirmed his suspicions. “Those are both occupying forces. Do you want the British here?”

The young man turned and discussed the matter quickly with the old man and another friend who had stepped forward, in their own language. Then the young man turned back to Superman and said, “The British tried to pressure us into this fight with Germany. We thought our neutrality would protect us.  But, if we had to choose…we would help the British, because it was the Germans who leveled our town.”

“That seems a fair assessment to me,” Superman said. He recalled his difficulties with knowing which side to be on in the Spanish Civil War and felt relieved to know it would be easier to choose sides this time.  “Tell the others to keep rebuilding,” Superman said. “If the Nazis come through this way again, it will be in full retreat.”

Golden Age Action Comics #8 - Prologue 1

When I'm writing fanfiction, one of my biggest problems has always been starting the story too soon.  I know where I want to end and I've got to get there in 6-8 pages and -- because I don't like to write scenes in reverse order -- I sometimes pick starting scenes that I realize, while writing them, will take me too long to get to that end point from.

This time around, I wound up with two false starts I had to scrap.  But I liked how the scenes were going enough that I wanted to rescue them here.  The full story hasn't been posted online yet, but watch for it here.

Prologue 1

April 8, 1940

Clark Kent and Lois Lane, foreign correspondents, had been expected in Poland a week ago – and they would have been, had they been able to take the plane they had intended to from England. The interference of German spies had thwarted that and Lois and Clark were smuggled out of Dover aboard the British cargo steamer, the Collins, bound for Norway.

The North Sea was a dangerous place to be. British and German warships played a waiting game of seeing who would shoot first. Under the waves, U-boats on both sides tried to trail the warships on the surface unnoticed, or were busy trying to track each other.

It was 10:30 in the morning when Lois and Clark were summoned to the bridge by Captain McFadden.  It was a foggy morning, and they discovered just how foggy when they came up on deck.

“It’s a pea soup!” Lois exclaimed.

“Yes…” Superman said.  He could see through the fog better than Lois, likely better than anyone on board, and what he saw to the east troubled him. Hopefully the captain already knew of it and would have some information.

Though a lesser officer had the helm, Captain McFadden was standing next to him on the bridge and nodded to Lois and Clark as they entered.  “Good, I need ta’ speak to you Yanks,” the Captain said, waving for them to come closer.  McFadden was not concerned enough about privacy to discuss this away from his crew, but he still spoke in a low voice, perhaps because of the grim news he carried.  “It was made plain ta’ me that I have ta’ take you as far east towards Poland as I can manage, but our situation has taken a rather…dramatic turn.  We just had word by radio that Denmark has fallen to Germany.”

“Fallen?” Lois asked, incredulous.

“You mean Germany has invaded…” Superman said.

“No, I mean fallen.  It just happened.  It was all over in six hours, they say.”

“Good Lord,” Superman said.

“Aye…it’s too dangerous ta’ continue on. I’m half-tempted ta’ give the order ta’ turn us around now…but as close as we are ta’ Norway…I suppose we could drop you off in the Port of Bergen.”

“Wait, Captain,” Lois said.  “Couldn’t you drop us off in Denmark instead?”

“Lois…” Superman began.

“No, can’t you see that, if this report is true, Poland’s occupation is old news now?” Lois continued.  “We’ve got to go where the story is.”

“Lois, accommodations are waiting for us in Poland. We have work visas for Poland,” Superman protested, but with Clark Kent’s level of persuasiveness.  “We don’t even have a single Danish krone between us.”

The door to the bridge flew open, held by a worried-looking sailor.  “Captain!” the sailor cried.  “The HMS Glowworm has been sighted dead ahead. She’s sinking, Captain!”

That was the news Superman had been expecting.

“That’s one of ours,” McFadden explained for Lois and Clark’s benefit.  “Back ta’ your post and tell the crew on the forecastle ta’ watch for life rafts in the water.  Ensign, take us forward.”  Moving to a speaker tube connected to the engine room, McFadden yelled, “Engines ta’ half-speed!”

Everyone stared into the fog through the window of the bridge, but it was Superman who let out a small gasp a minute before anyone else would see what he saw.

Mistaking Superman’s utterance of surprise for fear, the Captain said, “You two Yanks best head below deck now.”

“Captain, I—“ Lois began to protest.

“That’s an order,” Captain McFadden said sternly.

“We’d best do what the Captain says, Lois!” Superman said, grabbing Lois by the shoulders and moving her as fast to the exit as Clark Kent should be capable.  He hid the concern from his voice because no one else had yet seen the second closest ship that he saw through the fog.  It was a German heavy cruiser.

“If we go back to our cabins we won’t see anything,” Lois protested again.

“If you want to convince the Captain to drop us off in Denmark, you’d best not make him angry,” Superman countered.

This, for the moment, seemed to work.  Superman was able to move Lois back below decks before anyone could shout about sighting the German cruiser on deck.  It took an awfully long time to reach the next deck down and take a long corridor back to their adjoining cabins, but had Superman left her any sooner, he knew she would have just doubled back to the bridge right away. He watched her go into her cabin, aware that she was watching to make sure he went back to his cabin. They both went inside, fully intending to leave and head back to the main deck.  Lois, though, would have to sneak all the way back to the stairs.  Superman doffed his clothes, revealing the Superman costume he wore underneath, opened his porthole, slid his body through, then with what should have been an impossible feat of acrobatics flipped all the way back up to the port side rail.

By now, the ship’s siren was sounding and the crew was well aware of the German heavy cruiser on the other side of the sinking Glowworm.  Captain McFadden was wisely turning the ship around, hoping the Germans had not spotted them yet or would lose sight of them in the fog. It seemed to Superman that they had been spotted, as the cruiser looked to be coming around the Glowworm.  The Glowworm was still closer, just about one-sixth of a mile away.  Superman was fairly confident he could jump that. Superman ascertained all this in a second, then jumped back and made a four-step run towards the railing before making his long jump to the sinking ship. With luck, not much of the crew of the Collins would have glimpsed him in that short span of time, so there would be few questions to answer on his return.

From mid-leap, Superman could see just how clearly the Glowworm had lost against the German cruiser. The bow was broken and the sides of the hull were ruptured from the inside out – either its boilers had exploded, its full payload of torpedoes had exploded, or maybe even both. Superman could see at least three dozen men in the water, clinging to wreckage.

Rescuing those men would have been Superman’s top priority, but the German cruiser still posed too big a danger. From here, Superman could read that the cruiser was the Hipper.  If Superman seemed to be hesitating, it was only because he was judging the distance and figuring if he needed to take a step or two back before making a broad jump across to that ship.

She was the first of the line of the Admiral Hipper–class of heavy cruisers. She had entered service before the War and already been active in it. The Hipper had led the assault on Trondheim during Operation Weserübung. Now her crew on deck were still cheering at the sight of the HMS Glowworm sinking after their engagement.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Spider-Man '67

Another fanfiction project I would write, if I had the time, is a mash-up of the Amazing Spider-Man comic book with the Spider-Man cartoon show that aired at the same time.  This is a synopsis of what it would be like.

Spider-Man '67 #1 "The Win of Dr. Octopus"

Spider-Man tracks down Doc Ock, mad that his last fight with Doc put Betty Brant in the hospital.  Spider-Man arrives too late at a Stark Industries lab, where Doc had stolen a "nullifier" device, but with Tony Stark's help, they Tony and Spider-Man build a tracker that can pick up the energy signature of the nullifier.  Spider-Man uses it to find Doc in his mountain cave lair in the Adirondacks.  When Doc uses the nullifier, it knocks them both out, but Spider-Man recovers first and ties up Doc.  However, Spider-Man has amnesia and remembers nothing past the last 20 minutes! 

Spider-Man '67 #2 "Disasters of Crime"

Spider-Man remembers coming from NYC, so he has returned there, but still doesn't remember who he is or where he lives. But the Sandman has spotted him and, sensing Spider-Man's confusion, decides to take advantage of it. The Sandman follows Spider-Man around, committing thefts everywhere Spider-Man has stopped. Eventually, Spider-Man reads of this and wonders if he's actually a criminal and doesn't remember each theft.  He gets lucky, though, and catches the Sandman at his next crime and, though he doesn't remember how to defeat the Sandman, manages to chase him away.

Spider-Man '67 #3 "The Coming of Dr. Magneto"

Spider-Man remembers Betty Brant in the hospital and visits her, out of costume. Betty, awake now, tells Peter his name and he starts to put things back together.  However, elsewhere in the city, a mad scientist has managed to scientifically recreate Magneto's powers and calls himself Dr. Magneto.  On his first crime spree, he runs afoul of Ka-Zar, but Spider-Man also appears and helps take down the criminal.  But Spider-Man is injured in the fight and Ka-Zar has to save him.

Spider-Man '67 #4 "Blueprint for Killing Spider-Man"

Spider-Man recovers in the hospital, fully recovered in mind and body.  Ka-Zar had hired a private doctor under strict orders not to leave any record at the hospital of Spider-Man's true identity.  Meanwhile, Spencer Smythe hires the Enforcers to steal a missile blueprint for him, seeing it as the final weapon he needs for his new Spider-Slayer's built-in arsenal.  Spider-Man witnesses the Enforcers fleeing on his first swing around town since recovering, follows them back to Spenser's home, and battles a mostly-completed Spider-Slayer robot. Spider-Man uses the robot to defeat the Enforcers by getting them between him and the robot, but Smythe escapes while leaving the robot on autopilot to distract Spider-Man.

Spider-Man '67 #5 "The Sting at the Gloom Room A-Go-Go"

Mary Jane gets a job as a go-go dancer at the Gloom Room A-Go-Go.  The Scorpion is also holed up there, while in hiding.  He has a serum he stole from his creator, Dr. Stillwell, that will increase his powers. When Mary Jane finds him, and Peter is there with his friend Harry and girlfriend Gwen, Spider-Man soon appears.  The Scorpion's serum makes him 7 1/2' tall and even stronger, but the growth is painful and distracts him enough to give Spider-Man an edge.  The serum winds up being temporary, leaving Scorpion too spent from the experience to avoid capture.

The Gloom Room A-Go-Go is, of course, a front for the Kingpin.  But the publicity from the Spider-Man/Scorpion fight would bring too much attention to his plans for the place, so the Kingpin abandons that scheme.

Spider-Man '67 #6 "Sub-Zero Victory”

The Kingpin decides on a slightly different scheme, abducting Capt. George Stacy and using a brainwashing machine on him.  Peter sees something is wrong with Stacy and follows him to police HQ, where Stacy steals important documents. Peter wants to follow and find out where Stacy goes with them, but a police report of a giant alien ice monster causes Peter to change priorities and just put a Spider-tracer on Stacy for now.  Spider-Man arrives in Central Park to fight the alien, only to have the Human Torch show up as well and they quickly subdue the alien, and return it to the FF for further study.

Spider-Man ’67 #7 “What a Tangled Web We Crawl…”

Stacy’s brainwashing has worn off, he tells Gwen what he remembers, and Gwen tells Peter.  With Peter’s help, Capt. Stacy finds out that the papers he stole were about Dr. Curt Conners.  Meanwhile, the Kingpin confronts an abducted Dr. Conners and reveals that he has the papers – letters Conners had left with the NY police in case he should ever turn into the Lizard again while working here.  The Kingpin plans to extort the Lizard formula out of Conners with the papers.  While giving Conners time to think it over, the Kingpin sends hitmen after the Stacy’s and Peter Parker, who all know too much.  The hitmen catch up to the Stacy’s at the airport, trying to leave town, but Spider-Man confronts them, roughs them up, and finds out where the Kingpin sent them from.  But, before Spider-Man can get there, the stress has made Conners revert to the Lizard and he wrecks the place.  The Kingpin flees and so does the Lizard, but he reverts back to Conners before he can do more harm.

Spider-Man ’67 #8 “Make Way for Electro”

Electro seems to have gone straight, working in a publicity campaign for a big company.  However, Electro is just using the job to get into position for a daring robbery.  He is interrupted by Medusa of the Royal Family of the Inhumans, in New York on a “goodwill tour”.  Electro is about to win the fight when he sees Spider-Man swing by and flees.  When Spider-Man arrives, drawn by a burglar alarm Electro just set off, he only sees Medusa and mistakes her for a thief.  They tussle before Spider-Man learns the truth and they go after Electro together to defeat him.

Spider-Man ’67 #9 “Wings in the Night”

Blackie Drago, the second Vulture, escapes from prison, but thinks he is being haunted by the original Vulture’s ghost.  One night soon thereafter, Peter and Gwen are out on a hot date, when the Vulture flies by, thinking he’s fleeing from the Vulture’s ghost.  Peter leaves, but promises to explain his secret very soon to Gwen.  As Spider-Man, he tracks down the Vulture and, together, they learn that Mysterio is behind this, trying to make Blackie think he’s crazy to give up the Vulture costume, so Mysterio can sell the designs for it.  Spider-Man manages to beat Mysterio, but the Vulture flees.

Spider-Man ’67 #10 “The Vulture in the Sky”

Spider-Man goes after the Vulture, who next steals a device that allows him to control birds.  He assembles a flock of vultures and uses them in his next run-in with Spider-Man.  Despite the slight upgrade, Spider-Man manages to best the Vulture again and return him to jail.  As Peter, he goes back to Gwen and tells her his secret – that he’s Spider-Man.