« Let’s just say you weren’t born to be an octopus… only a poor fish! »
Salutations on this most diverting day of the week, Tentacle Tuesday! Today, we take a little trip to the 60s… but perhaps not the 60s as you remember them, those who were around back then.
Rip Hunter was created by Jack Miller and Ruben Moreira – the “Time Master” part is explained by Hunter’s invention, the Time-Sphere, that allows him (obviously) to travel through time. Other characters in Rip’s world include his girlfriend, Bonnie Baxter, and Bonnie’s kid brother Corky (who’s being grabbed by a tentacle on this cover). Maybe Corky was spotted as an imposter because he’s wearing jeans instead of yellow pantaloons? Fashion can be quite goofy in some of these far-away, long-long-ago kingdoms…
When The Jaguar gets into trouble with The Human Octopus, you know the Jag is going to come up trumps, mostly due to the fact that he has all powers of the animal kingdom at his disposal, whereas the Octopus has to make do with some unconvincing tentacles and an evil stare. The Jaguar (or zoologist Ralph Hardy, in his everyday life) was created by Robert Bernstein and John Rosenberger as part of Archie’s “Archie Adventure Series”.
Some fodder for your nightmares? Of course!
I believe Hawkman needs no introduction (although I will mention that he was created by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville!), and we don’t have time for one, anyway, seeing as he’s currently stuck between a dragon and some tentacled nest-creature.
«Then suddenly, like some gigantic serpent out of the deep, a huge, quivering tentacle tose from out of the sea — a sight from any seaman’s maddest, most impossible nightmare –! »
Today we pay another visit to Subbie (or Subby), which every bit as horrible an abbreviation as ‘hubby’ for ‘husband’. We’ve gone over his history in a previous post (see Tentacle Tuesday: Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner), so now we can concentrate on Action! Adventure!! Excitement!!! What’s on his charged schedule, you might ask? Why, a quick tussle with some Soviet submarines, a few pompous (I’m sorry, I meant ‘dramatic and exciting’) speeches, a plunge intro ‘wintry, unplumbed depths’, a lengthy trip to memory lane, and an epic fight with an unliving cyborg!
My favourite, naturally, are the Soviet submarines.
Moving forward by a little more than 15 years, we get embroiled in a slightly different kind of evil…
When Wakes the Kraken! was scripted by Roy Thomas, pencilled by Sal Buscema and inked by Mike Esposito. Aside from a lot of dialogue (check out the ‘ay, woman… but the time has come for battle… not words!‘), this story also has a lot of plump, high-quality tentacles.
This cover is fun, given that the Symbiotic Man appears to have tentacles on the soles of his feet and the ends of his hair as well. Did somebody actually demand that Namor should fight alone? I was under the impression that Marvel readers were more into ‘the more the merrier’ type of fun.
The cover story is titled Death Is the Symbionic Man!, scripted by Bill Mantlo and illustrated by Jim Mooney. Note the typo in ‘its’ in the second speech bubble.
All pages are scripted by Robert Kanigher, pencilled by Ross Andru and inked by Mike Esposito, except for the first page from Stamps Of Doom!, which was scripted by Bill Finger.
I bitched about Kanigher WW in Tentacle Tuesday: Wonder Girl in the Silver Age, Part I and Don’t Let a Mysogynist Plan Your Wedding: Robert Kanigher and Wonder Woman’s Utterly Unsuitable Suitors. I’m starting to feel like my needle is stuck in the groove, but I will however note one more thing: in my righteous anger about Kanigher’s preposterous depiction of women, I’ve been ignoring that he’s not great at writing men, either. That is… he can write wonderful male characters (see Enemy Ace, for instance), as long as romance is totally off the menu. It’s as if he is saying that romance transforms intelligent, capable men into utter, snivelling dolts (a point of view that one could defend, but within limits). Take a look at what kind of suitors poor Wonder Woman gets saddled with (perhaps their stupidity is one more way of spiting her?) in these panels from Wonder Woman’s Impossible Decision, published in Wonder Woman no. 118 (November 1960):
Allow me to drive one more nail into that coffin, and after this I shall forever hold my peace. I stumbled upon this rather entertaining quote, taken from an interview with Kanigher conducted by Tim Bateman and Steve Whitaker in 1989 (read the full thing here). Here it is, with no further comments from me:
« So Ditko […] tried to force meanings where meanings did not exist. But he tried to tell me that I knew nothing about romance, because his idea of romance was professorial, pedantic. I know what romance is, I’ve written more romance probably than anyone alive. Romance is an excess of passion, and I don’t care if there’re a thousand books that says romance is not that, romance is a time period. Tchaikovsky is a romantic. Excessive, that’s what romance is. So to say that my idea of excessive emotion is not romantic…»
And now, I shall remain mum, and let you savour these tentacles in peace!
« Mer-Boy! You’re making me angry! »« You’re beautiful when you’re angry! »
Today’s batch of tentacles all come from the heads and hands of one team: scripts by Robert Kanigher, pencils by Ross Andru and inks by Mike Esposito. I make no secret of my dislike for Kanigher scripts when there are women involved*, but the Andru & Esposito team deliver some very nice art to go with the dubious plotting. Besides, we are concentrating on tentacles… though I can’t promise an occasional plot-jab. 🙄
*My complaints about his scripts are two-fold: that his plots make precious little sense is one, but that sort of nonsense is often fun to read, as long as one doesn’t take it seriously. However, the barrage of misogyny, not so much. I go on about it in some length in Don’t Let a Mysogynist Plan Your Wedding: Robert Kanigher and Wonder Woman’s Utterly Unsuitable Suitors, but if you need an immediate example, here are some example of great art and scripting claptrap. I just chose a random, non-tentacle issue from that era… the following panels are from The Cave of Secret Creatures, published in Wonder Woman no. 116 (August 1960).
It’s too bad, because it’s really fun to spend some time with this underwater society of mer-teenagers hanging out, drinking seaweed sundaes, and gossiping.
Anyway, I promised you some tentacles, and by Jove (or by Hera!) I shall deliver. Between issue no. 112 and issue 126, Wonder Girl (occasionally her grown-up counterpart, Wonder Woman) has fought more octopuses than one can shake a stick at.
The reason for that is simple – the daft Mer-Boy (and the adult Mer-Man) is a frequent plot hinge of these stories, either harassing Wonder Girl for a kiss, quarrelling with her other (equally daft) suitors, or being in desperate need of rescuing when his imbecilic antics land him (yet again) in hot water. I guess that’s one thing I can say about the plotting – at least WG is not a damsel in distress… And I by far prefer him to Steve Trevor (the other suitor who often comes up in these things), whose behaviour is exemplified in, for instance, Wonder Woman no. 127 (January 1962) – he tricks Wonder Woman into agreeing to marry him by faking a serious wound, complains about the food she cooks for him, and then flies into a murderous rage when she takes off from their honeymoon to stop a nuclear missile. (Oh, and it was all a dream, by the way!)
As if to emphasize the retrograde nature of these comics, each issue we are treated to a “marriage around the world” page detailing strange customs. For example, from Wonder Woman no. 128 (February 1962):
Created by Bill Everett, Namor the Sub-Mariner first appeared in Marvel Comics no. 1 (October 1939). The offspring of a human sea captain and a princess of Atlantis (and thus proudly bearing the title of Prince), he possessed the aquatic talents one expects of a regular merman and the exceptional strength of a carnival strongman. The cool thing about Namor is that right off the bat, he was a rather negative character – to be more precise, he was an Enemy of the United States (Everett didn’t mince words or characters, huh?) As Les Daniels states in his Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics (1991), « Namor was a freak in the service of chaos. Although the Sub-Mariner acted like a villain, his cause had some justice, and readers reveled in his assaults on civilization. His enthusiastic fans weren’t offended by the carnage he created as he wrecked everything from ships to skyscrapers. » This chaos culminated in an epic fight with Human Torch in 1941 when Namor took things a little too far and threatened to inundate the whole island of Manhattan. This little skirmish didn’t prevent him from joining the Allies’ side once World War II started, however, which gave a more constructive outlet for his somewhat destructive energies.
Right from the beginning, the Sub-Mariner was a complex character who just wouldn’t fit into the standard good guy/bad guy dichotomy. He underwent through quite a few transformations, disappearing for a bit right after WWII like many of his super-and-anti hero compatriots (but never for more than a couple of years at a time) and resurfacing during the Silver Age as a slightly different character. Namor’s concern about encroaching technology and hate of humanity, his fierce independence, made him a likeable character for those of us who like mavericks. He is a tragic character, a king without a kingdom who finds that Atlantis and its people have been destroyed by nuclear testing. After that, who wouldn’t hold a grudge? Anyway, if you’d like a more cogent overview of the Sub-Mariner’s history, visit The Great Comic Book Heroes.
To get back on topic, given how much time Namor spends underwater, it’s hardly surprising that he quite frequently encounters tentacles.
First, a story scripted and drawn by Bill Everett – who better to introduce the character than his creator? This is “The Octopus-Men!”, printed in The Human Torch no. 38 (August 1954).
Skipping ahead some twenty years, a page from “Namor Agonistes!”, scripted by Roy Thomas, pencilled by Ross Andru and inked by John Severin, printed in Sub-Mariner no. 38 (June 1971). This is sort of an origin story of the Sub-Mariner. Lovely art, n’est-ce pas?
A page from “When Wakes the Kraken!”, scripted by Roy Thomas, pencilled by Sal Buscema and inked by Mike Esposito, printed in Sub-Mariner no. 27 (July 1970):
Oh, let’s have a couple of covers, too.
I mostly sneer at modern “reboots” of Golden or Silver Age characters, but Namor’s appearance in the excellent Thor the Mighty Avenger (Marvel, 2010) was completely à propos. (The series is a happy union of an absorbing story with great graphics – it’s written by Roger Langridge with art by Chris Samnee.) Here’s a page from “Thursday Morning“, published in Thor the Mighty Avenger no. 5 (December 2010).
Poor Wonder Woman has gone through quite a few transformations during her lifetime. You can read about her kinky-yet-feminist beginnings elsewhere (for an interesting article about how this character was created, read The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman at the Smithsonian; or take a gander at Wonder Woman, the sexualized superhero for a great discussion of how a character can be objectified or empowered by being portrayed in a sexy way) – today I’m concentrating on some goofy Silver Age covers from DC’s long-running Wonder Woman series.
My interest is twofold. On the positive side, I like the team that worked on WW covers in these days – Ross Andru on pencils and Mike Esposito inking. (All covers in this post are by them.) On a more sour note, I have a whole boneyard to pick with writer Robert Kanigher, whose scripts I generally like… as long as they don’t involve women. Who had the bright idea of choosing a hardened misogynist as writer of a major female superhero? (Purely a rhetorical question, I assure you.) Kanigher took over the scripting with Wonder Woman no. 98 (May 1958), “revamping” (as Wiki gracefully puts it) the character, giving her a new origin story and a new cast. It’s not that I object to the idea in principle, but this so-called revamping involved continually trying to marry the intrepid Amazon off to some schmuck, sticking her into stories that don’t make a lick of sense, making her burst into tears randomly – Like a Real Woman™ does – and forcing her to make Sophie’s choices between the lives of boyfriends and family, on random shuffle.
So here’s a gallery of covers I like and cover stories I don’t.
Well, Mer-Man clearly doesn’t have a leg to stand on in this competition. Come to think of it, neither does Amœba-Man. How are these two even standing? And how would either of these consummate the marriage?
The cover story is Wonder Woman — Battle Prize, a good example of the “marrying Wonder Woman off” theme. “Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men” (by Julian C. Chambliss) explains that sort of thing is designed to « affirm [the super heroines’] proper femininity by regularly demonstrating their heterosexuality“. Now he’s right and all, but for that purpose one could easily come up with something more appealing than a romance with an amoeba, a unicellular organism that reproduces mostly by fission. Stay away from pseudopods and fishy scales, Wonder Woman.
The Terror Trees (old Bob clearly liked alliteration) are trees that can move and attack, found on a “sinister, uncharted island”. For some reason there’s a Sun Sword (another alliteration) stuck in one of them, which Wonder Woman must retrieve to defeat some nasty alien invaders. At some point, a tree attempts to crush her, leading to an epic scene in which she whirls her head around, using her tiara (made of “amazonium… hardest metal known…”) like a “circular saw” and slicing her way out of the “ruthless tree”. I’m not even going to summarize the rest of this nonsense, but suffice it to say, the story ends – as it always does – on a happy note. Who’s the lizard on the cover, you may ask? No fucking idea, he’s not part of the plot.
The Phantom Sea-Beast is just such a tangled mess of claptrap that I don’t even know how to summarize it. It also involves some romance between Mer-Mite and Wonder Tot (in which the former tries to trick the latter into marriage), which is a good representation of what Kanigher seems to think as a Jolly Good Time. Bald zoo-keepers! A fight with a T-Rex! Go read Carol A. Strickland’s review of it, from which I shall quote a paragraph:
« Wonder Tot had just gotten out of the whale. As Wonder Tot surfs alone back to Paradise, she sees her family diving off a cliff and goes to meet them. They practice acrobatic stunts. Not only is Diana surfing in heels, as she is wont to do, but Wonder Girl conveniently wears a Wonder Woman tiara as she has never worn (she’ll need it later in the story). The queen’s pointy crown does not impale her daughter’s head. And even more oddly, gravity does not affect Hippolyta’s skirt. What can I say? It’s just a dream.»
In “Wonder Girl vs the Teenage Monster!“, the Glop, a blob-like alien, swallows 100 rock’n’roll records and proceeds to serenade Wonder Girl with regurgitated lyrics, coming up with gems like “Glop… glop… I’m not a mop! I want my pearl – wonder girl!” And by the way, it was all a dream (a convenient cop-out that Kanigher resorts to far too often): Wonder Girl fell asleep while looking through a photo album with Wonder Woman’s “boyfriends” and mourning her own romantic troubles. We hear you loud and clear, Sir Kanigher: women’s pretty little heads can only think of men and all manner of frilly, sweet things, even if the woman in question possesses great power and even greater intelligence.
That being said, this is probably my favourite cover of the lot. I just melt when presented with a blob of goo!
Groan. Here we go again with this ridiculous obsession of marrying Wonder Woman off. After Wonder Woman is hounded by her usual three beaus who practically threaten her with matrimony (including the awesome line, uttered by Steve Trevor, “When are you going to marry me! Better hurry! Before you’re an old maid!“), she encounters Monster Prince, who, as it turns out later in the story, is handsome when he does good, and ugly when he does evil.
A sample of the romantic dialogue that leads to the altar for these two lovebirds:
Monster Prince: « Stop pretending I’m an ordinary man! You almost sacrificed yourself like a driver taking pity on a dog on the road — and risking her life to avoid hitting him!»
WW: « Only a man who thinks like a giant — could have defied a whole army of Amazons as you did before! You raged like a storm! You were magnificent! Anyone who married you — would be lucky! »
And that’s it, they’re betrothed! Except that the Prince ditches her at the altar, claiming that he doesn’t want a beautiful girl to sacrifice her life to a monster like him. Err…?? More nonsense follows. It becomes painfully evident that Wonder Woman is attracted to bipolar assholes who make her feel inadequate. It reminds us once again that according to you-know-who, women are emotional weaklings who need an overbearing male hand to tell them what to do (or where to get off). Brr. Read the full synopsis, if you dare, over here.
You know how sometimes a restaurant proclaims to have a dish so original that it’s only on offer at that particular joint? It sounds like hype, but occasionally the claim is actually accurate… because the recipe in question combines elements that clash so badly that no normal person would think of combining them. This “most unique villain ever created” is in that category: he’s a bloody stupid idea. He’s not terrifying, he’s silly… though I did develop a headache while trying to figure out how he got into that tight outfit with his 8 sets of arms and 7 sets of legs.
Joanna Sandsmark, who wrote a hilarious review of the Crimson Centipede (be sure to read it here!), remarks that « I am thoroughly convinced that the germ of the story came to Bob Kanigher when his wife had a run-in with a centipede. Somehow, he thought it would be a good idea to have Wonder Woman afraid of it, as his wife was. Apparently, he forgot that Diana was a superhero who had all kinds of powers. Lucky for him, she was female. Problem solved! » (I think I’m not the only one who has a low opinion of Kanigher’s female-depicting prowess.)
So there we have it. Is this bigoted balderdash worthy of a man who co-created Sergeant Rock, or Enemy Ace or the Unknown Soldier? Nope. What do these have in common? There’s no women in these series, or at least no recurring female characters. (Well, okay, the other commonality is Joe Kubert.) Metal Men could have been great… but the presence (and more significantly, characterization) of a female character, Platinum, kills it for me. There’s no doubt that Kanigher *could* wrote emotionally resonant stories with complex characters and excellent internal logic. In the case of the Wonder Woman series, he just chose not to, preferring instead to produce a lot of hooey with giant plot holes and pepper it with sad clichés. It’s a pity.