Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Captain Britain and MI 13

I Want to be a cowboy
I live in central North Carolina. When I was taking a walk the other evening through a residential area just off the main college drag, I came across a wannabe cowboy taking a cigarette break. Don't see too many cowboys standing around in the Capital City. He was around college age and little shorter than average height, he had perfected that slight sneer of aloof disdain or disgust about the state of affairs as he smoked. He was wearing his cowboy hat, a rodeo/western styled shirt that was slightly wrinkled and worn, slightly faded blue jeans and the brown leather belt with the over-sized oval buckle. What killed his attempted look and gave him more of a humorous appearance of a poser (beyond being in an area where not a single home was on a piece of land more than half an acre) was that he had no boots. More than no boots, but had on nice clean white socks, the toes which peaked out of the end of his too long jeans. My first thought was that maybe he had gotten dressed and couldn't find his boots, and was waiting for his girlfriend to deliver them. Or maybe he got kicked out of the house and she kept the boots. I mean, who would go through so much trouble to put a specific look together like that, but then was jonesing so bad for a cigarette, he didn't have time to slip his boots on but did have time to grab his hat? I just found his appearance slightly ludicrous. I could only think his look would work if he actually rolled up the cuff of his jeans and stood there bare-footed, giving him a more rough edge than that of a typical teen slacker. Just one of those little asides in life that I felt like sharing.

A LETTER: Normally, I just let the replies go into the comment section. However, this came pretty much on the heels of my blog answering a question I raised there about the reported Silver Star mini-series Steve Englehart was to write that never came out. As it deals directly with that question, providing us with a few more facts, I thought it deserved more up-front exposure as not everyone necessarily reads the comments.

Kurt Busiek said... Steve E. did write the first few issues of a CAPTAIN VICTORY revival, which would have followed the VICTORY! crossover. But the crossover was never finished, so the follow-ups never happened. And Steve's right -- the artist who drew his scripts wasn't really up to the job.

Finishing SILVER STAR is something that comes up every now and then -- we're currently talking it over with Image.

There you go. Looks like Topps had big plans for Silver Star, a character with all sorts of potential.

Captain Britain & MI 13 Preview

Comicbook Resources has released some pages of the new Captain Britain series as well as some interviews with the writer and editor of the book. I enjoyed the old Claremont-Davis EXCALIBUR series and so I thought this might be worth checking out. Then I saw the preview pages. The artwork is clear in its storytelling, so that it's easy to follow even minus any words or text. The action is very dynamic and the characters seem to be mostly drawn on model (though why Dane Whitman isn't actually suited up in his chainmail, no idea). And, it's cool to see some preview pages that actually show excitement and some of the actioin. So many previews are obviously put out with no actual thought given to them. They just seem like someone grabs the first few pages out of the book or the first few done and sends them on their way. And we end up with a lot of previews that are just of people talking. Admittedly, with some writers, if they showed some of the more exciting parts of the book, that would be pretty much it for the book. Instead, editors (and the websites as well should strive for this if they can) should treat them like movie previews and trailers. They don't just show you the first five minutes of the movie, they grab bits and pieces from all over to give you a feel for the type of movie is and its story, the previews are advertising, it's supposed to draw people in. They shouldn't be just some advance looks for people ALREADY buying the book but to sway those on the fence.

While these previews do show some action, and we can be sure that's probably more by accident than design as we see so many of the aforementioned bad previews, the effect on me is the opposite. In the space of a 6 pages, every hero on the page graphically and brutally kills one of their opponents. Sure, they're skrulls, but they're still sentient beings. These scenes do raise some plot questions which are enticing such as thought the Black Knight had that pesky curse to worry about and why is Spitfire acting like a vampire, but mostly, I'm just turned off by these heroes casually killing the bad guys. In Thomas' INVADERS, Spitfire didn't even kill the Nazis.

The other turn off? This is from the first issue. Right off the bat, the comic is part of the big crossover event. An event series I'm otherwise avoiding. This heavy pushing of crossovers is why I dropped She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel. It's why I didn't pick up the Nova series. It's a big part of the reason I avoided the Annihilation mini's. And it's liable to play into my not getting Avengers/Invaders as it looks like it too may be crossing over into other books. It's one of the little things that's annoying about the Defenders mini. Something's seriously wrong when even mini-series must strongly tie-in to inter-continuity and not be allowed to be its own entity, to survie on its own. Ultimately, it's going to hurt future tpb sales and collections. Because years from now when the book is collected, one must not only be interested in that title, but be very aware with what was going on in the other books and the larger continuity at the time. Oh, this is when Civil War was going on. This was after Civil War but before so-and-so was revealed to be a skrull. This is after 20 years of history was retconned because so-and-so was revealed really to be a skrull all along. One of the highest selling trades right now? A re-release of THE KILLING JOKE. DC has made quite a bit of money over the years steadily reprinting O'Neil & Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow run, a run that lost money at the time, but now gets reprinted every so many years. But those titles stand on their own very well, even after all this time. You don't have to be aware of what Superman was going through or who the JLA were facing at the same time.

Mind you, I'm not saying write for the trade market, at least not in the sense of storytelling structure. Just that much of these crossovers are dictated by short-sighted gains and immediate sales. But, they are choking the life out of the books and the universes. We're getting less creativity and less variety because every book is covering the same one of three plot lines. It's making books too difficult to attract new readers or even casual readers because they demand too much of an investment into other books, other titles and in-depth knowledge of past continuity. It makes it easier and easier just to look for other books that don't require that kind of commitment.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Call to Action!

Spirit #16. A lot of what I said about this book a few blogs ago, pretty much still stands. It’s now Paul Smith on the artwork, normally a favorite of mine. However, his art here matches the storyline in that it is more of a pastiche of the Spirit. Smith’s lush linework and talent is wasted on him using a more cartoony style. Eisner’s style on the Spirit was often exaggerated, almost a parody of those creators and characters that played it straight, but it was also a bit gritty, the Spirit’s clothes often looking rumpled and slept in. The end result is the book that is almost charming but it and the characters don’t come alive because they are too much about mimicking. And that’s not what Darwyn Cooke was doing that made the book seem so vibrant and a joy to look forward to. It’s like Brandon Routh’s performance in SUPERMAN RETURNS. He’s not allowed to play Superman/Clark Kent as a real character. Instead, he’s playing Christopher Reeve playing Superman/Clark Kent which comes across a little bit creepy and out of place.

JLA #20: Ethan Van Sciver takes over the art chores from Ed Benes this issue. This is a breath of fresh air as we go from Benes’ scratchy lines and muddy artwork giving the impression of detail to Van Sciver’s deliberate linework and meticulous attention to true detail. Ethan Van Sciver’s ability has grown quite a bit since I last saw him. While his work is still very detailed, he goes easier on the amount of lines put on the page so that the panels aren’t as dense and cluttered. In fact some panels would be almost spare if it wasn’t for the colorist making up for it by filling backgrounds with textures and such, really ruining the overall mood of the artwork that would have been better served by leaving it alone. Remember when the Flash used to run with only thin parallel speed lines depicting his speed? Now it’s flashy color blends and zigzaggy lightning cluttering up something that should be streamlined to truly speak speed. In many ways he’s to Brian Bolland the way that Phil Jimenez was to George Perez for the longest time. Both, captured the look and the lines of the originals, but not the actual spirit. Both were very deliberate in their lines, but their figure work and storytelling was limp when compared to the originals. To the degree, that only someone really unfamiliar with the artwork would confuse them. As I said, Van Sciver has come a ways. His figures aren’t as overly rendered as I’ve noticed in his earlier work, but they are still a little stiff in places, maybe because the linework is so impeccable, so deliberate, it gives everything the same type of artificial feel whether it’s a stone or a human being.

The story is a done in one issue that for once doesn’t serve as a lead-in to some story in another book. However, it falls flat considering that it not only doesn’t address any ongoing plot issues, it also doesn’t address the cliffhanger from the last issue, namely that the Martian Manhunter is missing on a planet full of supervillains. Yes, I know that is probably being addressed in SALVATION RUN, but as I’m reading JLA and this was brought up in the last issue, it’s odd to see Wonder Woman cheerfully having a chit-chat with the Flash without addressing it. It’s been an ongoing problem with this title and it will continue with the next issue as we get a story that serves as lead-in to FINAL CRISIS. Bleh.

CAPTAIN ACTION #0: There’s no reason for this to be a “Zero” issue. It’s basically the first issue, just extremely short. To the point of wondering why you’re having to pay for it, online previews are almost as long and they are free.

The artwork by Mark Sparacio is passable, but it makes the new Captain Action’s costume look like it was designed by the people that make the costumes for “Who Wants to be a Superhero” with seams and rubber padding.

The story on the other hand makes a big blunder. At least it’s a blunder if you are planning on creating an ongoing series vs a limited story. It ties in the lead character’s origin and motivation too tightly with the conflict of the plot/story that it makes it hard to resolve the story and yet keep a reasonable motivation for the character to continue on as the hero. Ultimately, the market tires of the ongoing, never-ending battles of maintaining the status quo. Dr. Kimble cannot find the one-armed man, the lost space travelers of “Lost in Space” and “Voyager” cannot find their way home, etc. It’s why both Rom and Micronauts floundered once they succeeded in their primary missions. Otherwise, the zero issue doesn’t do much other than establishing the basic plot and status quo. Captain Action is the leader of an organization that exists to combat microscopic alien parasites that get in the blood and control people. Time’s passed and the threat is neutralized. There are now superheroes in the world, making Captain Action a bit redundant as he only had some cool weapons and ability at disguise going for him. Then the aliens come back and it looks like Action's son is the world's last hope. Again, these other superheroes all have one origin, they are beneficiaries of knowledge gained while fighting the alien menace. By tying everything in to one core concept, we have a superhero universe that is self-limiting. This is fine when planning a finite series. But, when you start out from the offset and define things so narrowly, it also takes out a bit of the sense of wonder and excitement that fuels superhero universes. It’s where the books of Valiant started becoming dull as they tried so hard to reflect the world outside the window apart from the “superheroes” and spider-aliens. Got tired of the one trick. It’s fine to build one book around a central concept, but one shouldn’t build the whole fantasy world around one with such limiting boundaries.

With Moonstone doing Captain Action, think Dynamite will respond with Big Jim and his P.A.C.K?


An interesting look at the early days of the comic publisher Pacific Comics and the impact they had on comics today. Go, read it and come back. I’ll wait. History of Pacific Comics

Definitely learned a lot there. I think a big problem with some of Pacific's early comics was they hired big-name artists, but not writers. Any fan of Kirby's should have been able to recognize that his biggest successes were done in conjunction with someone. And I say this as enjoying Kirby's superhero work, even his 70's run on Captain America and Black Panther. But it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that even with all the creativity behind projects like Omac, the New Gods, Kamandi and the Demon, his actual writing style wasn’t the stories strong points. And I liked the concepts and the art on Silver Star and Captain Victory, but the execution of the stories lacked. And the shoddy printing didn't help. I'd snap up a nicely done trade in a heartbeat. Then you have Neal Adams. Hardly a proven writer/character creator or even a timely artist, his biggest achievements being re-designing long-standing characters and some wonderful covers.

Another thing that struck me as strange that needs a little more information was this: Jack Kirby’s Captain Victory was revived in the ‘90s, planned for a short-lived publisher called Topps Comics, owned by the baseball card company. Comics legend Steve Englehart wrote the revival. “I wrote three double-sized issues,” he says on his website, “but the artist they chose for the interiors - not Paul Gulacy, [who did the covers for #1 and #2 below] - turned out to be not ready for prime time. They chose not to publish the issues they had, and by the time they went to look for a new artist the company was abandoning comics.”

Now, Topps did release a single issue of SILVER STAR (as well as VICTORY), but Steve Englehart wasn't involved with either of them. Silver Star was by Kurt Busiek and James Fry. No Gulacy cover either. Another project if I had the money for my own company, to get Busiek to revisit and finish those comics.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Captain Midnight & the Secret Squadron

This little blog will be a bit link heavy. Much of it got it's start from a posting to one of my favorite online hangouts and I ended up with some neat stuff that I wanted to share.

Anywho, the following little song on Youtube was posted which I found enjoyable and funny. Hot Girl in the Comic Shop

I've been to a few comic stores that actually had the audacity to have women employees. In the context of the song, I wondered if that helped bring in customers or maybe it made some of the geekier fans a little uncomfortable. Then, I got to wondering, what if you combined the concept of Hooters/Flying Saucer with the comic shop, having the employees dressing up in a short shorts and too-small tees. It prompted me to use a little artistic license of what one of those potential employees would look like.

Now looking for Captain Midnight artwork to make use of, I came across another really cool site, devoted to Captain Midnight and his radio adventures! Meanwhile, Moonstone is in the process of releasing new adventures of Captain Midnight in both prose and comic stories, having him join the ranks of the Phantom, Kolchak, Captain Action and others. The artwork there looks like the stories will be in the present day with futuristic aircraft blasting across the pages. And, he'll be a bit more in line with his radio/movie serial persona and not the Fawcett version with the gliding superhero costume. Ought to be interesting.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Superpowers of the Twelve

I know, a little late in reviewing the most recent comics. Part of that is that they really haven't changed. THE TWELVE is still a book looking for the actual plot and story that we got a glimpse of way back in issue 1. SUPERPOWERS is still all plot shoehorning characters in with random changes. THE PHANTOM by Moonstone still fires on all cylinders. ABE SAPIAN is moody and creepy, but am I the only one that thinks Mignola's writing could stand a little more depth to it instead of just creepy spooky things happen with minimal explanation or exploration? Especially when the character is Abe Sapian who is just a bit more introspective and cerebral than Hellboy whose solution is to either shoot it or hit it.

THE TWELVE is more character bits as the characters try to adjust to the present day. And a whole lot of nothing happening. This is taking the superhero concept and writing it as a soap opera which is a bit different than having soap opera developments in a super hero story ala what helped make Claremont and Byrne's X-Men and Wolfman and Perez' Teen Titans stand out. If you watch a soap opera, there's a lot of talking about action and character interaction and characterization, but in reality very little happens on camera, and if it does, it's fast and over in an instant. While the talking about said events go on for some time. So, it fails for me because despite the fact it involves time-travel, super-powers, and costumes, it's not being written as a superhero comic. It's a soap opera with superheroes in it.

Which is why the characterization doesn't work. While it seems like that JMS is making more rounded, three dimensional characters, he's not really. If you argue they were blank slates with generic personalities before, he's only subsituted that personality for an equal singular personality trait. So far, in The Twelve, most of the characters are still flat, defined by just one or two things and nothing more. Only the Phantom Reporter is really fleshed out and his moaning about not having contacts and no purpose in the modern world was the least convincing as his job would have been one of the easiest to pick back up. Even he would have noticed that there is FAR more options for reporters these days. We are so many issues in and the only character so far actually given that life and a motivation for who and what he does has been Rockman. The others aren't really more well-rounded characters yet, they are still as much single defining character traits as they ever were. Dynamic Man is a bigot but we don't know why he got that way or why such a man would be a hero, so instead of being a generic do-gooder, he's now a generic bigot. Mr. E's a self-hating Jew, again how does that tie in to a man that seemed to be a very effective hero, what inspired him to take up the dangerous life he lead and be so good at it? Giving a character more personality is not the same thing as giving him serious character flaws or dealing with sexual issues only. Somehow, that has become the shorthand for being more 3 dimensional character. It's not. It's just as two dimensional, it only happens to be on the other side of the coin. You want a character that lives and breathes? He needs more than just negative characteristics. James Robinson understood this to some degree. He gave Jack Knight a life: hobbies, interests, conflicting emotions and feelings. You give the characters likes and dislikes and motivations. And, while THE TWELVE has taken its sweet time giving us all these little character bits and interaction, it hasn't really done that for any of these people, especially in regards to them being superheroes. This story could just as easily be told if it was just a science-fiction fueled tale of some soldiers thrust through time with minimal re-tooling. In which case, it's a bad superhero story.

The plus side is JMS’ take at least doesn’t out and out contradict what we know about the characters. SUPERPOWERS, on the other hand…It's hard for me to be excited about this great project bringing back the heroes while there approach seems to be, what can we change? Even saying the urn is darkening the heroes, it again doesn't work story-wise because Krueger hasn't bothered setting the characters up for us to see how they were different originally. Thus these changes don't have any power relevant to the context of the story, they just come across as just modern revisionisms, that they cannot really be bothered to actually try to really treat the characters with any kind of respect. Reminds me of the criticism I had of Casey's LAST DEFENDERS, instead of bothering to give us relevant story information, the writer is being lazy thinking the fact that it is a superhero comicbook it excuses any actual work at writing.

And look at one of the panels of the Flame arriving at the Hollywood sign up above. It shows him hitting the ground, but the angle has his legs and body are facing away from us, yet, somehow, his right arm and head are positioned as if the body is facing us. The image could only work if his head and arm had somehow become completely detached from his body. However, we see him stumbling around in the next panels. Ugh. Even the inker should have realized something was wrong with this graphic.

Other notes: Page 1 - If you don't know the characters and/or this was your first issue, the captions would lead you to believe this is the Fighting Yank when it's actually the Death-Defying Devil nee Daredevil. While I was never really a fan of the character as he was done in the 40's, you have to admit, he's one very cool visual design and Ross wisely didn't tweak him too much. "You don't say much, do you?" from when we pick him back up a few pages later is a reference to his first story and origin, where he was struck mute as a child from witnessing the crime that left him an orphan, but strangely enough could speak while in costume. This little bit went by the wayside as the series progressed.

The Scarab - this is a new Scarab, the design had people speculating that it was Blue Beetle. To further the Blue Beetle theme, the original Scarab was an Egyptologist who transformed into the powerful Scarab via a magical ring just as the Silver-Age Dan Garrett Blue Beetle transformed via a magical scarab. When that version didn't take, Steve Ditko introduced a new Blue Beetle in Ted Kord who used technological gadgets to make up for the fact he had no magical powers. So, now we have a techno-Scarab as well to make the circle complete. The hooded and blind-folded old man is the Samson from the first issue. Before he was just superstrong and invulnerable to everything other than things like fire burning his hair off and him losing his strength. His being more Baldur-like and weapons just not harming him is a new bit. Interestingly, Baldur was brought down by a simple dart thrown by the blind Aesir Hodar.

The Flame - Linda is Flame Girl. When he thought he was dying the Flame had given his girlfriend his powers. He didn't die and so they became a crime fighting duo.

Really not liking the changes to Black Terror's mask.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Jim Mooney RIP

Jim Mooney passed away. A great tribute to the man and his life as well as looking a bit at his history in comics can be read here.
Makes me wish I had known more about him. I especially love the section about his interviewing with Stan Lee from Lee’s perspective.

When he was doing Supergirl and the LSH books for which he is well known and lauded, I wasn’t at an age I could read more than words like “cat”. So, I was exposed to a lot of his work via reprints and reading old comics from various sources. While the artwork was clear and crisp and the stories fun, I was at an age that most artists didn’t really register with me. I couldn’t tell you which of the stories I read was by him or by Curt Swan or any other of DC’s stable of artists at the time. Indeed, about the only work I probably was aware of was Omega the Unknown and that was some time later after that series had come and gone.

My appreciation for Jim’s contributions came a few years ago. AC Comics had been reprinting golden-age comics for awhile and various people on the internet were also getting in on the act. Through them I was gaining a deeper appreciation of artists that I recognized their names as being from the 70’s but turned out to be groundbreaking much earlier. Men like Dick Ayers, Irv Novick, and, of course, Jim Mooney. In one of AC’s reprint books, they focused on Quality Comics and interviewed Mooney. In the book Mooney talks about his work for Fox on the Moth and who was turned into the Lynx after threat of lawsuit from DC, his work on Wildfire, Phantom Lady, and the Spider Widow at Quality.

Now, I’ve seen a Moth story or two as well as the Lynx. Frankly, I don’t see the similarity between it and Batman. Even quality wise, I have to agree with Mooney’s own assessment of his talents as compared to others at that point in time. However, it’s like looking at Novick’s first stories for the Shield and then seeing his later work after being exposed to Simon & Kirby’s hyper-extended kinetic frenzied work and taking all those lessons to heart and applying them to his own work but with a more organic and softer feel. Mooney’s own talent explodes while working for Ace on strips like Magno for SUPER-MYSTERY COMICS and becoming a regular cover artist as well as interior work for them. He made the Magno stories a lot better than they had any right being considering the generic nature of the character. Again, taking a page from Batman, Magno would most often face a killer clown of a villain called the Clown though cannot really say who actually created the villain. The Magno strip would have several artists over time and have a decent run for a character that languishes in almost complete obscurity today. Mooney’s skill grew quickly by leaps and bounds.

Over at Quality, Mooney worked on the Wildfire strip. Wildfire is possibly most notable for NOT being in the All-Star Squadron. Roy Thomas apparently wanted to use her but the powers-that-be thought it might be confusing as a Wildfire was a member of the Legion of Superheroes. Keep in mind that All-Star Squadron as an Earth-2 WWII book already has similar but subtly different versions of Wonder Woman, Batman, Robin, Superman, Hawkman and Hawkgirl as well as very different versions of the Flash and Green Lantern in it. Would Wildfire be all that confusing? So, Roy created a new Firebrand instead. But, one only has to look at his work on Wildfire and see just how far he had come as an artist.

(SNIP) I cut a paragraph that was originally here. Mainly because I have a memory of an interview that Mooney did saying he worked on the Spider Widow and Phantom Lady and he introduced the character, the Raven to the strip. The Raven was originally meant to spin off into his own strip but never happened. The problem? I cannot verify this interview, all the online sources cite someone else as the creator and artist at the time of Phantom Lady, Spider Widow and the Raven. And, I haven't had the time to hunt up the actual comic with the interview all though I'm reasonably certain I've tracked it down to AC's MEN OF MYSTERY #20. Anyone else remember this?

In the late 40’s would have Mooney as one of the ghosts for Sprang working under Kane's byline on Batman, in many ways bringing Mooney’s work almost full circle. Only this time, he does a very passable Dick Sprang and there's no lawsuit.

So, I’ll miss Mooney, not so much because of his work on Supergirl or the Legion (but thank you for Streaky), but because I really enjoyed his work from decades earlier and seeing how his skill and style grew and changed over the years. I find Magno a lot of fun to read. And I enjoyed the Spider Widow and Raven stories quite a bit, whoever did them.

Who is Hugo Hercules?

It’s been a strange couple of weeks. Stuff I’ve been wanting to comment on, just kinda gotten forgotten or slipped by the wayside. Such as when I reviewed MEN OF MYSTERY back on March 6th. I mentioned that one of the stories concerned a character called Dr. Drew. As I was actually working on the D’s of my golden-age heroes encyclopedia, I made sure to include him. While doing research, I found another couple of stories of the character leading me to a better appreciation of him and the Eisner-style atmosphere of the stories. Then, lo and behold, Don Markstein includes him about the very same time on his Toonopedia site! So, Doctor Drew is getting a bit of exposure these days it seems. And Mr. Markstein and I must travel in some of the same circles in our research.

When I first encountered Toonopedia site a few years back, I thought his name sounded familiar. Yet, it wasn’t until last week that I realized where I had heard it before. He’s the editor of COMICS REVIEW, a magazine I’ve been getting for close to 10 years! For those not in the know, COMICS REVIEW reprints comic strips such as the Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Buzz Sawyer, Ally Oop, Krazy Kat, Modesty Blaise, etc. Sadly, when I first started getting it, it reprinted a bunch of current adventure strips as well as various classic story strips and the odd spattering of classic humor strips. These days, it’s almost all old strips and I would love to be seeing the Phantom dailies since my paper dropped that strip a long time ago.

Yesterday, my brother wanted me to find comic strips that had to do with muscles (something for his student teaching, I didn’t ask). It’s always interesting how sometimes you cannot find what you are looking for but also the esoteric things you find you weren’t looking for.

In this case, it’s a little known strip from 1902 of a fella by the name of Hugo Hercules. Hugo predates not only Superman but also various other incredibly strong characters such as that other more famous Hugo, Hugo Danner of Phillip Wylie’s GLADIATOR (1930) and comic strips’ Mandrake (created in 1924, first saw print in 1934), the Phantom (1936), and the Phantom Magician (1935), as well as the other supermen that pre-dated comics such as Tarzan (1912), John Carter of Mars (1912), the Night Wind (1913). Heck, he even beats out the Scarlet Pimpernel (1903)!

Hugo is a big burly but amiable chap who talks in a blue-collar type slang and seems to wander around looking to aid people with his great strength such as lifting automobiles, a porch as an umbrella, or even wrestling various animals (a horse, elephant and a bear, all of which talk) into submission. His response to his incredible displays of strength that astounds others is invariably “Just as easy.” In one strip and possibly the earliest crossover of its type, a building catches on fire and Hugo rescues several of the inhabitants, four other comic strip characters: Alice and the Duchess of “Alice in Funnyland” and Archie and Boggs from “Archie and Boggs”, all of whom seem aware of their comic strip status. The strip only ran for a few months. Samples of those and all of Hugo’s strip can be found at: http://www.barnaclepress.com/

Hugo is the creation of William H.D. Koerner, a German immigrant who was on staff for the Chicago Tribune. He eventually left to study painting and became an accomplished illustrator/painter for Harper’s Magazine among others. One of his paintings, “A Charge to Keep” was a favorite of George W. Bush. The President’s account of the painting, its name and what it symbolized was very different from the story it was used to actually illustrate and became a source of ridicule among various pundits and critics of the President. Especially as Bush even used the “name” as the title for his memoirs.

While the name Hugo is an interesting similarity with Hugo Danner, it should be noted that Phillip Wylie was only 6 months old when the strip ran. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster wouldn't be born for another decade. Hugo Hercules may very well be a proto-superhero, but he is reminiscent of the American Folk Tale or Tall Tale, though he predates some of those as well. He serves as an illustration in that the idea of a Superman wasn't really all that new, these ideas and archetypes were already part of the American culture from the tall-tales, the dime novels (there had been various "super-villains" for Nick Carter and his kin to face), the dime novels, and even in the comics. Siegel and Shuster had even already paved the way with Dr. Occult, Superman was just applying even more of the Tall Tale mentality and a science fiction veneer as opposed to a magic one.