Armagideon Time

Here’s where things start to get interesting (and by “interesting,” I mean “an opportunity to re-tell a familiar story which gets less rose-tinted and more self-critical with every successive iteration.”)

In the autumn of 1991, I leveraged the popularity of my Warhammer Fantasy Role Play campaign into a successful bid for president of UMass Boston’s Sci-Fi Club. The idealist in me saw it as a way to dethrone the old guard geeks, who’d traditionally used org’s positions of power to boss around and generally condescend to the younger crowd. The vain motherfucker in me saw it as a pretty laughable means of external validation, Otto the Sneering Punk Rocker finally laying to rest Andy the Grade School Paste Eater.

Regardless of my motivations, I did try to take the role somewhat seriously. My first initiative was an attempt to get the club members to do stuff instead of vegetating in the office between classes. I’m not talking about Peace Corps shit, but scheduling regular events and trips aimed at fostering a sense a friendship and community. The first test case was an outing to a Friday night screening of an animation festival at the Somerville Theater in Davis Square. Everyone (that mattered) seemed onboard for the idea, so tickets were purchased and plans were made.

My ascension to the presidency was accompanied by a sense of romance in the air — the real kind, not the ambiguous and usually one-sided business which marked my previous experiences. There was an older (22 to my 19) punky woman with a dark hair and streaked bangs I’d talked to on and off over the summer. There was the quiet bohemian gal from Iowa from my Intro to Drawing class. And there was the freshman art major who looked and talked like Ione Skye and started hanging around the club (due to a fellow member who was a high school classmate) shortly after the start of the semester.

The thing with the Iowa gal never made it past the first conversational hurdles, when it became obvious that we really had nothing in common. That left the dark-haired woman and the art major. I’ve never been particularly perceptive about picking up cues associated with the courtship business, and doubly so when trying my damnedest not to embarrass myself or risk possible rejection. Despite all the clues and repeated calls of “how can you NOT see it” from my pals, I could not believe that an older, cooler woman would want to have anything to do with me.

The guardedness turned out to be mutual, which tipped the scales in favor of the art major, who made her intentions entirely clear. On the afternoon before the festival, she accompanied a group of us into Davis Square to pick up the tickets. We stopped in Harvard Square on the way back. The other kids went off to get some lunch and comics, while she walked with me to Second Coming Records, where I picked up a used copy of the UK Subs’ live In Action compilation.

On the walk back to the subway station, I asked if she wanted to go out sometime. She said yes, and that’s where things really became complicated.

Fun Fact: I haven’t listened to or looked at In Action for over twenty-three years. You’ll understand why over the next half-dozen installments of this series.

Six decades before some indie comics tyro tried to recast Old Hickory as an intergalactic hero, the folks at DC launched their own misbegotten attempt to channel the historical echoes of genocidal imperialism into high concept space opera.

Meet Chris KL-99, who made his debut as the lead feature in DC’s (or, more accurately, “National’s”) Strange Adventures anthology series back in 1950. He was the brainchild of Edmond Hamilton, a prominent sci-fi writer of the day whose legacy outside the realm of funnybooks has been largely overshadowed that of his more talented spouse. (The art chores on Chris KL-99 were handled by Howard Sherman, co-creator and illustrator of Dr. Fate’s Golden Age stories, and more’s the pity.)

Chris was the product of a time any concept could be elevated to science fiction by appending “in space” to it. The Knights of the Round Table…in SPACE! The Tempest…in Space! Cab drivers…in SPACE! The Korean War…in SPACE!

The only limits were the shaky sustainability of an ephemeral trend and a relative paucity of real imagination!

In Chris KL-99′s case, the driving concept was “Christopher Columbus in SPACE.” Chris was the first human child born in the interstellar void, and his parents chose to honor the historic event by naming their son after the man who was not only “earth’s greatest explorer” but also the guy who directed Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. (Blame the obliteration of most historical records in the Robot Wars of 2053 for their understandable confusion.)

The numeric suffix to Chris’s oh-so-futuristic two-letter surname was granted after he graduated from the Space Academy with a 99% perfect score (which is why I will ask folks to refer to me as “Andrew WY-Squeaked-By-With-A-3-Point-0″ from here on out). Inspired by his namesake, Chris set out with his Martian and Venusian assistants to explore the far reaches of the galaxy in search of strange new worlds.

Unlike the original Columbus, Chris KL-99 was not motivated by a rapacious blend of religious zealotry and naked greed. Indeed, many of Chris’s adventures centered around his battles with those retrograde souls who sought to exploit his discoveries for financial gain. That said, Chris was still a bit of an egomaniacal little prick when it came to his duties.

Chris KL-99′s run in Strange Adventures turned out to be short-lived. While National may have been banking on Hamilton’s involvement (enough to land him a creator credit back when such things were all but unheard of), it’s iteration of the “square-jawed white dude exploring the galaxy” trope wasn’t enough to distinguish from the scores of similar funnybook tales pursuing that exact same angle.

(The fact that Hamilton was essentially auto-plagiarizing and bowdlerizing his old “Captain Future” space opera prose material for his Chris KL-99 stories probably didn’t help, especially after the Hamilton-inspired Captain Comet became a regular feature in Strange Adventures a few months later.)

The character did pop up again some thirty years later as part of DC Comics Presents two-part “Forgotten Heroes/Forgotten Villains” old school continuity jam, followed by a half-page Who’s Who entry and a couple of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

His last appearance was in a Secret Origins filler story which tried to put a mildly grimdark revisionist spin on the Chris KL-99 concept. (Why? Because it was 1989. That’s why.) More notably, the tale was illustrated by John Workman, who stepped outside his Letterer Emeritus role to turn in some pretty decent Toth-inspired artwork.

Grotty historical call-backs aside, it’s hard for me to bear any real animus to this ill-starred child of Silver Age sci-fi. The material is so lightweight and generic that it’s more forgettable than anything else. Lacking John Broome’s weird flashes of reactionary politics, Garnder Fox’s manic factoid pulpiness, or even Hamilton’s own better spins on similar ideas in other comics from the era, Chris KL-99 adventures were flatter than the paper they was printed upon and the very essence of Nobody’s Favorite.

Song for Sunday #133

March 29th, 2015


Lady Violet – Inside to Outside


(from “Secret of the Moon Sphinx” by Otto Binder, Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella in Mystery in Space #36, March 1957)

What price paradise?

March 27th, 2015

Well, the first thing we need to do is wake up, wake up…

…start working with fire and steel…

…and not allow ourselves to fall prey to wishful thinking…

…but never forgetting that the world spins, I’m part of it.

Howl, then weep

March 26th, 2015

“I saw the best minds of a generation locked in a circular argument over who had the largest emotional investment in heavily merchandised intellectual properties owned by massive media conglomerates…”

Don’t get me wrong. If this is going to be the playing field, it should be as level and inclusive as possible.

Yet I wish more of the discussion centered on the parties which own that playing field, and their business of selling consumption habits as personal identities.

Cui bono, kids. It’s the only question that matters.

Counterpoints of reference

March 25th, 2015

I was once stuck on a stalled Red Line train with a dude from one of my theater arts classes. We’d never spoken to each other previously, but the combination of “familiar face” plus “time to kill” resulted in a (mostly) friendly debate about our individual approaches to writing.

He was into serious literature, with a gusto only a sophomore English major could possess. He rhapsodized about various “difficult” foreign novels read by a small circle of Nation subscribers (print edition, naturally), MFA students, and nobody else. I was of the Gen X surrealist-absurdist school, informed and inspired by the anti-folk movement, Kids in the Hall, King Missile, and Clive Barker’s novellas.

This was anathema to my classmate, who accused its practitioners (including me) of getting by on facile non sequiturs and lazy popcult references. “They date themselves so quickly,” he sputtered even as I considered the act of writing for the ages to be a self-defeating exercise in hubris. There’s no shorter route into the memory hole than the one taken by folks who self-consciously set out for literary immortality.

Granted, there were nuggets of truth in his rant. As this site’s traffic will tell you, the market for Paul Lynde references and jokes about Kajagoogoo gets smaller with every passing day. My semiotic lexicon is at least a decade out of date, and it’s hard not to draw parallels between my current situation and the puzzled looks I used to greet my dad with when he’d crack jokes about Pinky Lee and Nash Ramblers.

It’s why I (barely) strive for more than just throwing up referential flashcards while hoping that readers’ nostalgia will do the heavy lifting. I may not always succeed on the contextual value added front, but my looming obsolescence has nothing to do with my lack of “serious” literary ambition. The audience for this type of material still exists, it’s just that the generational demographic has shifted outside my ken.

(And that’s fine, honestly. I don’t want to be the forty-three year old dude making One Direction and My Little Pony Jokes in hopes of sustaining an audience. Let someone else write for the aeons. I’m too busy trying to write for this afternoon.)

The historian in me loves the ephemeral nature of popcult references, as they provide handy core samples for sussing out the fixations of a given era. For every hundred whose significance fades beyond comprehensibility, there will be one or two resculpted by the currents of time into something unintentionally bizarre.

The top honor there goes to Mike Nelson’s line during the Horror of Party Beach MST3K episode, where he quips that he’s starting to agree with the Taliban’s prohibition on dancing — a below-the-fold world news gag in 1997 which took on an entirely different (and cringeworthy) meaning four years later.

And then there’s this morbid little morsel (from Blue Beetle #7, December 1987; by Wein, Cullins and Barras) I dislodged while doing research for an upcoming post…

“Delayed-action grimdark” is the new “decompression.” Pass it on.

Domestic scents

March 24th, 2015

Ladies:

“I haven’t brushed my teeth.”
“I haven’t shaved my legs.”
“I didn’t shower or wash my hair this morning.”
“I just vomited into the sink.”
“I have a highly infectious flu that makes people shit fire.”

Guys:

“I don’t mind if you don’t.”

Speaking as a typically sorry representative of dudekind, the body odor thing is bullshit, Cookie. It’s more likely that he’s not really into women, but married you because the era’s social and familiar pressures forced him to mask his real self behind a false front rather than face sanction and shame.

Or he contracted VD from a showgirl on that last business trip to Manhattan, and doesn’t have the courage to tell you.

Even money or either scenario.

This week’s installment is a quick hit, a fitting description considering the tale behind it.

Considering how much I adored the Anti-Nowhere League’s debut LP, I was pretty chuffed when I stumbled across the band’s 1987 follow-up for a buck in Disc Diggers’ “Misc A” bin.

My expectation for more rude ‘n’ crude melodic punk were dashed once I brought it home, threw it on my turntable, and was (mis)treated to the sounds of some pretty generic hard rawk music. It was a crushing disappointment, and I vented by breaking the record over my little brother’s head.

Or I tried to, at least — multiple times before realizing that vinyl pressings do not break easily, even over a protesting sibling’s skull.

He still carries the memory, and can you blame him?

Not as awful as I remember it being, but still fairly redundant in a world where the Lords of the New Church already existed.

Song for Sunday #132

March 22nd, 2015


Spandau Ballet – To Cut a Long Story Short

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