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Remember when Iron Man changing his armor was a big thing?

§ September 7th, 2022 § Filed under batman, dc comics § 8 Comments

So now that I’m getting my primary comic book shipments from three different distributors, the days I can expect the new titles can vary from week to week. Well, I mean, Diamond’s boxes still turn up the Tuesday morning before the Wednesday on-sale day. The DC Comics boxes will show up at any time between the Wednesday before the next Tuesday’s on-sale date (rare) to, generally, the Monday prior the big Tuesday release. Marvel shipments usually come Monday or Tuesday for Wednesday release.

My DCs for this week arrived last Thursday, and having nothing else better to do at that moment, aside from everything else I have to do, I went ahead and busted opened the boxes and got everything sorted and counted. And did I maybe abuse my evil retailer powers and read a couple of this week’s books way ahead of time?

Sure, of course I did. The Big Event Books, as weirdly frustrating as they usually are, are always must reads for me. Not so much for the fictional in-world changes they make, though I’m interested in those too, but why and how those changes are made, if they can be inferred from the story itself. And a lot of it is also “how far away from the relative simplicity of the original DC Comics Multiverse are they going to get themselves this time?”

Which is a long way of saying “I read Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths #4 and Flashpoint Rebirth Beyond #5 last week, before purt’near everyone else.”

Now I’m not going to discuss that issue of Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths here today, except to say I’ve rarely seen so obvious an example of a comic book’s name made entirely from flopsweat.

But what I am here to discuss, as hinted at by my mostly blind-itemed tweets, is that new issue of Flashpoint Beyond. And those tweets were purposefully vague because 1) I didn’t want to spoil anything from a book that most folks out there couldn’t possibly have had a chance to look at yet, and 2) mmmmm, DC’s distributor frowns on anyone doing stuff like that. So I kept my mouth mostly shut, though I did do a search or two online to see if anyone else was talkin’ about this stuff ahead of time, as mentioned in my linked tweets.

Now that the book is out in the wild, I’m gonna talk about this thing, even though I’m fully aware many of you, while theoretically able to read this book now, have not yet, either because you haven’t been to your local shop yet, or perhaps more wisely you decided to give a pass on anything that was called Flashpoint Beyond. As such

SPOILERS AHEAD

First off, it was kind of weird that DC would be doing two multiversal/self-referential/let’s talk about talking about parallel Earths again series at the same time, with Dark Crisis and Flashpoint sometimes, as with this week, releasing installments simultaneously. And in case you were wondering if everything in Dark Crisis, a series with a few issues to go, was going to turn out okay, don’t you worry kids because Flashpoint Beyond #5 has got you covered:


I realize realistically nobody thought the Justice League was really dead, nor did anyone have any doubt as to whether or not Dark Crisis would conclude with our heroes (presumably) victorious. But maybe some pretense at suspense through a little willing suspension of disbelief does go a long way in enjoying event stories like these, where you do want to wonder “how are our heroes gonna get out of this scrape?” without having it undermined by some other in-universe source telling you “yeah, it’s all fine, don’t sweat it, but enjoy the next, what, three issues of that series.”

Anyway, that’s kind of a minor annoyance, maybe sort of equivalent to the build-up to Iron Man’s new armor in issue #200 of his title, only whoops, here it is on the cover of an issue of Secret Wars II. But then Mr. Terrific, addressed in that panel there, does spend the next page or two describing the structure of DC’s multiverse and omniverse and how it gets messed with from time to time and that’s actually pretty interesting. Though, again, I think some of what he’s explaining is the result of the end of Dark Crisis, so, um.

Here is the big thing I wanted to talk about, however. The one I really wanted to discuss soon as I saw it, but knew I couldn’t until the ol’ distribution/release date embargo was lifted. The phrase that really surprised me when reading this book, just casually tossed out there with barely a “how d’you do” or a “Bob’s your uncle” — and it’s just a name:


That’s what I’d been searching on Twitter and Google with no results last week, and finally got some results Tuesday afternoon as people were equally puzzled about what was going on here.

Oh, to be clear, apparently that’s the Joker’s real name.

On the plus side, “Jack” is the first name, which I think sounds right. And there’s a slight hint of that from Legends of the Dark Knight #50, where the Joker’s cousin starts to use his real name:


…only to have Joker interrupt him and say “nope, we don’t use that name any more.”

Curiously, he’s given the middle name of “Oswald,” which is not only already the name of another Batman villain, the Penguin, but a version of that character is a regular in this series, and only goes by the name. Not that people can’t have the same names, I realize, but it feels weird when it happens in a work of fiction…like, writers avoid that sort of thing to keep confusion to a minimum. And “White” — I saw reference to “Jack White” being one of the Joker’s many alias over the years, and I haven’t done the research on that bit yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

We see “Jack” with his family in this alternate “Flashpoint” timeline/Earth/wherever we are, reflecting 1) the backstory as given in The Killing Joke, and the retrofit survival of his wife and child in Three Jokers. And the way the name is just offhandedly presented, we have no real reason to doubt that would be his name…could be a trick, could be an unreliable narrator, but it doesn’t feel that way, despite the source proffering the info.

It also feels weird to just have the name tossed out there after years of teasing, and a relatively recent mini-series where the upshot was “oh sure Batman knows his name but he ain’t gonna say.”

Not that this name is going to stick around longer than any other “real name” for the Joker. The longest lasting is “Jack Napier,” from the first Tim Burton film, which carried over into the ’90s animated series (but later downgraded to “alias” rather than a true name) and currently being used in the ongoing series of alternate timeline White Knight books. He got a real name in that Joker movie, which I’ve already forgotten, he got a backstory and another name in the Gotham TV show, there was a story in Gotham Knights, I believe, where he was given yet another name. I think I said before “Jack Napier” was my favorite because 1) it sounds a little like “jackanapes,” and 2) the fella what played Alfred in the ’66 TV show had the last name “Napier.”

And also, like I said, this is an alternate timeline/parallel Earth thing, and thus not in the regular DC universe. It’s possible whatever changes the whole Flashpoint thing forced onto the timeline somehow altered the Joker’s real name, too, or put some other failed comedian into the Joker’s place with his family. I mean, who knows…seems unlikely we’ll ever see this name again outside of this context.

So that’s what I was going on about on the Twitters, if you made the mistake of following me there. An odd reveal, countering the purpose of another Joker series, seemingly factual in-(a)-universe but easily done away with. Strange, and we’ll see if it stands by the next, and final, issue.

I mean, seriously, the age is given right there in the text.

§ August 26th, 2022 § Filed under batman, multiverse talk § 17 Comments

[um, SPOILERS AHEAD for Dark Knight Returns, I guess]

Joe Gualtieri has a question that should’ve occurred to me during my Old Joker discussion:

“I expect this kind of thing from these apps, but in the specific instance, how did they not think of Dark Knight Returns, never mind any of the stuff you named, Mike?”

Welllll…I forgot, and who knows about the people running the Hot Comics App…something like Dark Knight Returns is probably ancient history to them. But lemme defend myself just a tad here.

The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, as most of us know, is about an older Bruce Wayne who returns to being Batman (hence the title) after having given up the costume a decade earlier. In issue #4 of Dark Knight (or “Chapter 4 of Dark Knight Returns” for you newfangled trade paperback readers) Bruce’s age is specifically stated as being 55:


(Oddly, I found this article that goes through a lot of trouble figuring out Batman’s age in Dark Knight Returns and other related works by Miller…which ignores the explicit statement of 55 and comes to the conclusion that he was 48 in that series.)

Continuing the assumption from my previous post that Joker is likely of a similar age (the symmetry of Batman and Joker being “two sides of the same coin” and whatnot would, at least in my interpretation, possibly preclude too much of an age difference between the two), he would be about 55 as well. When we first see him in Dark Knight, he’s sitting quietly in the asylum watching TV when he sees the news of Batman’s titular returning:


And then he cleans up pretty well for this TV appearance later in the story:


Now, to the Frank Miller who wasn’t yet 30 when writing and drawing Dark Knight Returns, 55 probably seemed terribly ancient to him. It would be inherently ridiculous for someone to still be running around dressed as a bat at that age. You know, instead of just running around dressed as a bat in his twenties, like a normal person.

But we can say neither Batman and the Joker are necessarily old-old in this series. I mean, the working premise of the story is that Bruce Wayne is too old to be doing Batman stuff, which isn’t necessarily the same as being elderly. Heck, even the 70-ish age we’d pinned Joker’s age at in some of his appearances listed in my previous post doesn’t seem as old as it used to. It all comes down to just what you think the world “old” entails. That Justice Society Annual entry in the Hot Comics App could simply be understood as “first appearance of a Joker that’s older that what we’re used to seeing.” They’d still be wrong, of course.

I think what I’m trying to say here, Joe, is that, as a person who as of this writing is 53 years old, I’m not going to think of 55-year-old Joker as old. Nope, no way, I REFUSE.

I wonder if the same Bat-Mite visits all of them.

§ August 10th, 2022 § Filed under batman, dc comics, multiverse talk § 14 Comments

Tim noted

“My first real introduction to alternate universes was reading the classic ‘To Kill A Legend’ in a collection I had as a lad. The idea of Batman going to another universe with the chance to save the lives of his parents BLEW MY LITTLE BOY MIND.”

The comic that story originally appeared in was Detective Comics #500, released in late 1980/early 1981 when I was about 11 years old. Here’s the great jam cover that wrapped around this extra-sized funnybook:


Very early on here on this site, I did a series of posts about anniversary issues, including an entry on this very issue giving an overview of all the contents.

In “To Kill A Legend” by Alan Brennert and Dick Giordano, the Phantom Stranger shows up to lay all this on the Caped Crusader:


He’s obviously referring to the Earth-2 Batman as the Bruce Wayne whose parents were murdered 40 years ago (at then-press time), pictured there with an image evoking Batman’s first appearance on the cover of Detective Comics #27 back in 1939. The Bruce Wayne of “twenty years later” is Earth-1 Batman, the star of this particular show. (As an interesting side-note, assuming Bruce was somewhere between 5 to 10 years old at the time of the Waynes’ murders, that would put Earth-2 Batman at about 45-50 years old, and Earth-1 Bats at 25-30.)

The interesting implication of this story is not only that there is a new, apparently unnumbered parallel Earth in the DC Universe that may or may not have a Batman (not spoiling the story, you should read it!), but that there is a 20-year-cycle to these events duplicating in alternate universes. Going by that, we should’ve had another couple o’Batmans since then…and in a way, maybe we have, what with all the Crises and Rebirtheries, if perhaps not on a strict 20-year timeline.

It is a very good story, and one of the rare multiversal excursions in the DC Universe that doesn’t involve travel to one of the recognized Earths in the company’s established cosmology. To my knowledge this is the one and only trip to this particular Earth. There’s another parallel Earth that I think was only visisted once, in Justice League of America #38 where they go to…Earth-A? I haven’t read that yet, but I suspect I’ll be reporting on it here very soon.

Overall, this comic is excellent, so, Tim, and everyone else reading this, if you get a chance, give it a gander. I hope DC eventually releases a nice hardcover edition…there’s too much good material in this book as a whole for it to languish in back issue bins or be partially reprinted across trade paperbacks. But then, there are a lot of DC Comics of the past I wish they’d do that to.

Progressive Bully #3: You gotta be kitten me, Batman.

§ June 8th, 2022 § Filed under batman, Bully § 8 Comments


Bully here again, to bring you another installment in an increasingly confusing week of “Progressive Ruin Minus Mike Sterling.” I imagine Mike is lying back in a comfy hammock with a tall glass of lemonade and a pile o’ Swamp Thing comics by his side today. Surely a comics retailer doesn’t really have anything busy to do on a Wednesday?

Let’s start this post off with a quiz! No, don’t fret, this grade will not count towards your final, although I will ask you to use only a #2 pencil and to work neatly within the space provided for you.

Q: Which among his many foes is Batman’s most despicable enemy? I know you have a lot of DC supervillain characters to contemplate while I play the thirty-second-long Final Jeopardy music (those of you in the UK can substitute the Countdown…er, countdown). Is it the Joker? The Riddler? Orca? The Penny Plunderer? When answering, please cite issue numbers and provide panel scans, or at least rip ’em out of your comics and hold them up to the monitor so I can see.

Time’s up!

The answer is, of course, as all true Batman scholars know, Mr. Percy Swann, the deadly and diabolical nogoodnik of the Batman comic strip’s 1944 story “The Missing Heir Dilemma.” Until Swann’s run-in with Batman and Robin, he had previously escaped prosecution by being owned by the Queen, and his ability to break your arms with his mighty wings.

all panels are from “The Missing Heir Dilemma” from the Batman comic strip (1944), script by Alvin Schwartz, pencils by Bob Kane and Jack Burnley, inks by Charles Paris, letters by Ira Schnapp and the DC Bullpen;
as reprinted in Batman: The Dailies 1944-1945

Batman’s been called in by heavyset Golden Age Commissioner Gordon to hunt down confidence trickster Swann, a baddie the Gotham Police have been unable to touch. Maybe if you stopped depending on Batman so much, your men and women of the GCPD would do a more thorough job, Commish? Naw, that’ll never happen. He likes the big spotlight on the roof too much.

Batman and Robin, havin’ nothing else to do today (Penguin’s out of town, Two-Face is beside himself) immediately check out Swann’s hideout at the Hotel Elmo, the swankiest place on Sesame Street in beautiful downtown Gotham City. Please: no Groupon offers.

To be a superior crime lord in Gotham City, you’ve got to have a henchman or two, and Swann’s got one stuffed into a men’s Big & Large Store suit,: the ironically named “Tiny.” As doorman to his boss, Tiny plays rough, bopping Batman and Robin in their respective snoots, but he’s a crook with love in his life. That big ol’ over-stretched heart belongs to Tippie, his little foundling kitten. Already he’s Selina Kyle’s favorite underling.

Batman’s retort? A punch in the guts so loud that Tippie cries out a sound effect of “meow!” I think more supervillains need to have pets that exclaim loudly when their masters are popped a fist of justice. A penguin that awks loudly when Batman kicks Oswald Cobblepot’s posterior, a howler monkey that shrieks for the Joker getting hit over the head, or  a weiner dog that barks ever-so-cutely when Robin hits Condiment King. So far the Sensational Character Find of 1944 is Tippie, all the way, and I just bet we’ll love and cherish his furry little antics all the way through this story!

Genteel Swann pours on the charm and invites the Caped Crusaders in for a cup of tea. You’ve gotta respect that. Why, if he’s offering cookies with that tea I’d already be signing up to work for Swann. Just gimme the sweatshirt that says “HENCH #2” and I’m in, munchin’ on my cookie and giving Batman hard stares.

Round about now you should be getting frightened, very frightened.

Yes, that’s why I called him Batman’s most despicable villain: Swann has killed Tiny’s kitten.

Let us now have a moment of silence for Tippie the kitten.

———————————————————–

For the next couple of months Batman and Robin investigate Swann and his fiendish plan — something about swiping an inheritance by impersonating an heir (see the title of the storyline) — but even when there’s exciting stunts and swashbuckling derring-do it’s hard to keep our minds off that poor little cat. I know, it’s going to take me a long time to get over him, too.

It’s actually a pretty solid storyline, with mysteries and fights and cliffhangers galore, and it’s paced dynamically to keep your interest whether you’re reading it daily or all in a big fat collection. It would have made a dandy movie serial. It’s even got some nice scenes for Bruce and Dick in their civilian roles, as well as Alfred saving the day once again.

And yet still, like Tiny, we cannot forget that Swann coldly and brutally murdered a kitten.

Like all Batman stories from “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” on through to “Tom King’s Big Ol’ Crossover Event ’22,” it all winds up with everybody just punching each other in a swamp. I’m not saying that now would be a good time for Alec Holland to make a guest appearance, but I’m not not saying that either.

No fool Tiny: he’s popped a few punches at the Caped Crusaders, but he’s gettin’ out while the gettin’ is good. Swann too, has turned chicken and flew the coop a few minutes before. Will the next six weeks of the strip just be Batman and Robin chasing them across country?

Suddenly: quicksand! Thanks to animated cartoons and movie serials, the number one fear of my young life. Swann’s trapped waist-deep in the muck, but he’s kept his gun above water. Just shoot the quicksand then, Swann, that’ll work. Tiny, on the other hand, is considering his options very carefully. Now this is a very interesting development we find ourselves in, boss, he might say, if he had the vocabulary and the sense of irony.

Swann shoots Tiny, but Tiny lets Swann drown. It is, as it says in the song, the circle of life. I guess Swann and Tiny won’t be coming back for further adventures in Batman comics, and I for one say of Swann, good riddance, and of Tiny, well, maybe Tippie the kitten is waiting for you on the other side. Batman, meanwhile, shakes his head at all this tragic, tragic waste, but it saves the public a long, drawn-out trial and he can use that “case closed” rubber stamp Alfred gave him for his birthday to cap off his detective notes that evening. One aspect of the adventure that won’t be in the Black Casebook is what happened to the kitten. May we, as Tippie’s sole memory keepers, salute him and shed a soft tear for his peaceful rest.

I told you Swann was a despicable villain, and you may choose to argue with me that the Joker has murdered thousands, that Penguin has driven men and women to their ruin, that Zsasz is an unrepentant serial killer, that Bane has broken so many backs he’s become Santa Prisca’s patron saint of back-breaking (Feast Day August 22, observed). Maybe because I have a cat myself, I will never forget or forgive Swann for killing that kitten, right on the newspaper page in black-and-white in front of impressionable youngsters who flipped past news of this Hitler guy on the front page to see what their favorite hero was up to today.

Rest in peace, Tippie. Roast in hell, Swann.

Or it could just as easily be a prequel to 1966 Batman.

§ February 23rd, 2022 § Filed under batman § 1 Comment


Was just browsing the DC Comics section of HBO Max, hoping they’d added back on those remastered Shazam! ’70s TV shows I didn’t finish watching on the DC Universe channel, where I saw they had the first two seasons of Pennyworth available. Well, I gave the first episode a try over the weekend…and now I’m about four episodes in and it’s pretty great.

When I first heard they were doing an “Origin of Batman’s butler Alfred” series, I was…well, not “skeptical,” because, you know, whatever, do your show, but more “indifferent.” As of a couple years ago, I had already been mostly burnt out on the sheer amount of superhero TV and had really cut out a bunch of the shows I’d been watching, so I wasn’t really in the mood to start up yet another series. Helping that decision was that Pennyworth was originally airing on Epix, a streaming channel I didn’t, and still don’t, have.

Now in the couple of years since the show launched, whatever little I’d heard about Pennyworth was very positive, with folks describing it as kind of a wild ride. And now that I’ve seen it…yup, that’s a fairly apt description. It’s an action/adventure set in 1960-ish alternate-history England, that in a way feels like similar adventure shows made in the ’60s, along the lines of The Avengers and such. Only, you know, with more swearing. Great opening credit sequence, too.

I said someone naively on the Twitters “yeah, the Alfred in this series I could definitely see growing up to be the Alfred in Gotham, which was another buckwild TV take on the Batman saga. Apparently this connection, or lack thereof, had been a point of contention since Pennyworth started. The two shows are very much of a piece, and at that link there it quotes one of the honchos from the show as just straight out saying “yes, Pennyworth is a prequel to Gotham, so I guess that’s that.

Anyway, good show, glad I finally tried it out, and now I just need to figure out when to watch my free entertainment time seems to just grow smaller and smaller nowadays. But the seasons are a short 10-episode run apiece, and the episodes go over easy. I should also note that the show hasn’t really leaned into “look at this, this will be a Batman thing in the future!” much at all, aside from the presence of Bruce Wayne’s eventual parents Thomas Wayne and Martha Wayne née Kane. I’m hoping it stays that way, but I wouldn’t put it past this show to lay a giant penny on us at some point.

I’ll lay off the boner jokes this time.

§ February 3rd, 2021 § Filed under batman, giant-size man-thing § 4 Comments


So reader Paul reminded me of this: the Blackthorne Publishing edition of Boner’s Ark, published in 1986. Boner’s Ark was a newspaper comic strip created by Beetle Bailey‘s Mort Walker in 1968, and it ran, I was surprised to learn, until 2000. At my previous place of employment, we had one copy of this book floating around that I tried, for a very long time, to unload on eBay…in fact, at this point, I can’t even remember if it ever sold or it’s still languishing in a box in the back room over there.

At any rate, we had that item around for a good, long time (and if my former boss Ralph ordered it when it was new, then he had it in his stock three years prior to my even working there). But in all the time I was trying to get this book to sell, I don’t believe even once I thought about the naughtiness implicit in the name.

Now, much like the deal with Bill Finger the “Joker’s Boners” story he wrote, we can’t say for sure that Walker intended any kind of dirty meaning in title. I’m inclined to think not, that he liked it just because it’s a silly name and it signals that Captain Boner is bit of a goof-up (and let’s face it, Captain Boner is a genuinely amazing name). But we also know from some of the naked Ms. Buxley pics you’ve maybe seen (and some of the more adult-ish gags in Beetle Bailey*) that Mr. Walker was bit of a dirty bird and surely he knew of the alternate meaning of the word. (Plus, as Turan tells us of Scott Shaw!’s experience, if there’s a question of whether or not a cartoonist meant something to sound dirty, the answer was usually “yes they did.”)

Now, last time I suggested that, given the date of story (1951) and the seeming lack of evidence that the term “boner” was in wide use, if at all, I concluded with the assumption that Finger was likely not aware of the double-meaning at the time. But…thinking about it, Bill Finger was a writer. Maybe he wasn’t a young teen hep to the new jive, but as a professional writer he would have been more likely than the average person to have had an ear out for interesting turns of phrase, be they passé or Today’s Newest Thing.

Of course, we’re about 47 years too late to ask Mr. Finger if he’d meant the story to be a string of endless double entendres, or just purely as a synonym for “mistake.” Much like Jane Austen’s use of the word “nice” in correspondence, there remains some ambiguity. Though to be fair, Austen did include a passage expressing some feelings about “nice” in Northanger Abbey, and far as I know Mr. Finger never did the same with “boner.”

So ultimately the question is “did ‘boner’ mean, well, you know, ‘boner'” back in the 1950s?” Reader CP Bananas peeled away an excerpt from the OED featuring their information about the word and sent it my way, for which I thank this person for the contribution. It includes an attribution for the meaning with which we’re concerned from 1936:

“In his dream he had a feeling he was ‘pulling a boner.'”

…and the OED notes that while this usage is meant to refer to the then-popular sense of the term of “making a mistake,” the context made clear it was specifically the sexual definition. So at least there was an explicit, so to speak, antecedent for that usage in that form prior to 1951.

Other comments to Wednesday’s post brought up several usages of “boner” in seemingly innocent fashion, across many decades past that Batman story I keep going on about. In my very unscientific survey, that would seem to tell me, even as the naughty definition became increasingly attached to the term, the primary meaning of “mistake” remained the dominant one. Also mentioned was the supporting character from the Growing Pains sitcom, nicknamed “Boner” after his last name of “Stabone” — probably intended to get laughs just based on the fact it sounded dirty, because 1980s sitcom, but I’m sure no exact reference was made to that meaning otherwise the FCC would’ve had some words. And maybe they did, I don’t know.

I don’t know where this leaves us, exactly. I feel like, given the existence of the base term “bone” meaning essentially the same thing as the vulger version of “boner,” I would say that it did exist, at least for some people, as an active naughty word. As such, chances are good someone read this story at the time and got a solid dirty laugh out of it. But as to whether or not Bill Finger his own self loaded up the “boners” on purpose for Big Laffs…I don’t know. I still tend to think not, but it’s not impossible he did.

Or, as my experience with the Boner’s Ark book, maybe it’s just all in context. “Boner” wasn’t meant to carry its sexual definition in the Batman story,” so nobody thought about it that way and it wasn’t inteded to be read that way. Or it’s a secret dirty joke from across time left for us by Mr. Finger and his accomplices

Okay, if you have more to add, you know where the comments section is. I didn’t mean to change the main blog into “Mike Sterling’s Progressive Boner” an’ all, but I was doing it…FOR SCIENCE.
 
 
 

* Look, you’ve read the strips, General Halftrack might as well have been named “General Boner.”

This is kind of hard to figure out.

§ February 1st, 2021 § Filed under batman, giant-size man-thing § 19 Comments


So a few decades back, my maternal grandmother (whom we called “Nana,” as “Grandma” “sounded old”) gave me the above book, found in one of her visits to a second-hand store. It is, as it says, the Dictionary of American Slang, and it is a first edition from 1960. It was, and still is, the source of much education and enjoyment, beyond immediately looking up all the dirty words I could find, of course, but even doing that was turned out to be more informative than prurient. It was a great gift, and one I still treasure to this day, though I know it has since been revised and updated, and there are any number of competing volumes on the same topic.

So why do I bring this up here, other than to show off something neat from ye olde Mikester bookshelves? Well, it came to mind while listening to pals Matt ‘n’ Chris on the latest “Every Story Ever” special from their War Rocket Ajax comics podcast. In said special, where they rank comic stories submitted by listeners, with Identity Crisis at the bottom and a comic that isn’t an issue of Swamp Thing at the top, a listener sent in Batman #66 (1951) for their consideration.

Oh, which comic is Batman #66 (1951), you’re asking? “Why, we’re not familiar with that particular issue!” you add. To which I respond, “oh, you know this comic.” In fact, there was a time on the internets where you couldn’t avoid the continuing mirth this comic inspired, with its panels scanned and uploaded and shared and hotlinked to the point of everyone everywhere getting an eyeful of Joker’s boner:


Yup, it’s that story, officially titled “The Joker’s Comedy of Errors!” and, according to the Grand Comics Database, credited to writer Bill Finger and artists Lew Sayre Schwartz, Charles Paris, and, surprisingly, Bob Kane, who apparently did draw the figures of Batman and Robin themselves, probably under duress.

Anyway, you’ve seen the panels, there are lots of talk about “boners” (in the meaning of “mistakes”) and reading those panels in our hip, modern, ironic age, where “boner” can mean something else entirely…well, you can see how the story comes across quite a bit differently now. The entire story is “boner” this and “boner that” – “how can he force you into a boner?” “They laugh at my boner, will they?” “More boner crimes to come!” And so on.

Now, the Bits Boys on War Rocket Ajax contend, as many do, that at the time of the comic’s publication in the early 1950s, “boner” did not have the more vulgar meaning associated with it today. In contrast, I posted on the Twitters that the writer of the book knew exactly what he was doing, entertaining himself with a story-long dirty joke that he got past his editor.

Which got me to thinking. I once heard that pretty much any filthy word you know now, people knew back then, and whatever scatological or sexual term you may utter ain’t any different from what your great-grandpa would say. You don’t need to tell me that’s overstating it a bit, as I’m aware. But it would seem that “boner” in its vulgar sense wouldn’t necessarily be a recent innovation, would it?

Thus, to the slang dictionary, where the definition of “boner,” as it stands (heh) in 1960, according to this book’s editors:


That’s that then, I guess, right? Well, not necessarily, in that 1) this is the first edition of this work, and perhaps future revisions have expanded the entry and provided more dating citations, and 2) I’m sure some slang didn’t make it in, either from limited use or just not being picked up during the research phase.

And then there’s this…the definition for “bone” just a couple of entries earlier. Didn’t take a pic, as it’s a long (heh) entry, but definition #5 is “[taboo] The penis, esp. the erect penis.” So at least by 1960 the base (heh – okay, I’ll stop) of “boner” is present and notable. It feels like it isn’t that far of a jump from “bone” to “boner,” particularly since the term “boner” already exists in a more socially acceptable form and thus was a recognizable variant of the word.

I did some further online research, which of course required typing the word “boner” into website after website — hello, NSA! — and didn’t find very many helpful citations. One that did seem to support the idea that ol’ Bill Finger was pulling a fast one in his funnybookin’ was this entry from Entomology Online, which notes

“Meaning ‘erect penis’ is 1950s, from earlier bone-on (1940s), probably a variation (with connecting notion of ‘hardness’) of hard-on (1893).”

I checked for “bone-on” in my Dictionary of American Slang and found nothing, which again could just mean it was missed in the initial surveys.

This other online source, Green’s Dictionary of Slang, has as its earliest citation for the meaning we’re seeking as 1966. And Merriam-Webster cites a date of 1896 as the earliest use of the word “boner,” admittedly not in its naughty sense. But the construction “boner” existed in the world, and again, I contend it’s not that big a leap from “bone” meaning an erect penis to “boner” meaning the same thing.

Whether it was in common usage by the early 1950s is another question. I think it’s possible Bill Finger would have known the other meaning of the term…we would have only been about 37 at the time, still young enough to have been at least vaguely aware of the New Hip Slang all the kids were using, but, to be honest, probably old enough not to want to screw up a paying gig by trying to get a dirty joke into print in a children’s comic book.

As such, my assumption is…while “boner” (or at least close variations of it) may have been in use with its sexual definition at the time, Finger most likely used it innocently in this story. Howver, I’m guessing a non-zero percentage of readers in 1951 probably found this as funny as a bunch of bloggers did circa 2006, for the exact same reason.

Now this whole Toni Gay/Butch Dykeman thing that pal Andrew reminded me about:


…I mean, there’s no reason to expect that was anything but innocent comic booking, surely.
 
 
 
 

Note: I know about the Nicholas Cage dirty word documentary series on Netflix.

Also, if you have additional information/links regarding the history of “boner” — yes, please leave that in the comments. We’ll get a grip on these boners yet!

Spoilers for Batman: Three Jokers #3 herein.

§ October 27th, 2020 § Filed under batman § 16 Comments

So in Justice League #42 (cover date September 2015, released July 2015), the following happens. Batman, gets a hold of Metron’s Mobius Chair, a repository of nearly every bit of information from across the universe that it was possible to obtain, gathered by the chair’s (former) owner.

Once he plants his Bat-butt into the seat, Batman decides to test the chair’s accuracy by asking it a question:


The chair makes some pinging sounds (pinging panels omitted from this brief recap) and delivers the answer:


As you see there, Batman acknowledges that the answer was correct, pauses for a moment as he ponders his next move, then asks for the Joker’s “true name.”

The chair beeps and boops further, before delivering a tantalizingly unseen answer to Batman, who responds thusly:


And how do you keep a sucker in suspense? We’ll tell you what Batman heard several months later in Justice League #50, cover date July 2016, released May 2016:


Now, cut to Fall 2020, where this Three Jokers business is finally being addressed in a prestige mini-series titled, what else, Batman: Three Jokers. I’ve gone on about the first two installments in the series, at length on the first issue here and I managed to restrain myself a bit for #2 here. The conclusion to the series is out now, and like I said in the title way up above there, there’s gonna be SPOILERS, so don’t come crying to me.

At first glance, the conclusion of Three Jokers appears inconsistent with the set-up in Justice League #42 shown above. Batman asks the Mobius Chair for the Joker’s real name. One of the big reveals in Three Jokers #3 is that Batman’s known the Joker’s real name all this time. If he knew, why’d he ask?

Well, looking back at the Justice League comics, I suppose there’s kind of an out. Batman tested the chair with a question he already knew the answer to (that Joe Chill was the murderer of his parents). Maaaaaybe, if you squint a little, one could claim that his next question about the Joker’s real name was also a test, to see if the chair would spit out the right name. The twist in that story is, of course, as we eventually find out, the whole triad of the Clown Prince of Crime thing.

The problem with that interpretation is that the comics do not read that way. In context it feels that Batman’s question about the Joker’s real name was made as a sincere inquiry, not a further test of the system. It’s…that pause before he asks, and the intensity with which he asks it. It doesn’t feel like a question being asked by a man who already knows the answer. It reads like someone excited by the chance at gaining knowledge he’s desperately sought and now finally has a chance to have.

That said, there is enough ambiguity to where both the Justice League stories and Three Jokers can remain consistent. When Green Lantern is prodding Batman in JL #50, trying to find out what the chair said, Batman evades the issue at first. He’s being deliberately cagey in relation to any questions about the Joker’s true identity, perhaps because of what we know now from the ending of #3. He doesn’t want to discuss the subject in order to protect….

…Well, yes, protect whom? So way back when, Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke gives us a backstory for the Joker, told in flashback and implied heavily to be the Joker’s own memories. We see a failed stand-up comedian who has agreed to participate in a crime to gain money to care for his wife and his as-yet unborn child. However, policemen find him sitting in a bar to inform him that his pregnant wife was killed in an accident…one of the tragedies leading to this comedian’s coming transformation. However, the text of that comic tells us the backstory as shown isn’t necessarily the backstory for the Joker, as his own memories are likely unreliable. But it’s the Joker saying this and he’s the very definition of unreliable, his narration saying one thing with the truth being another.

It’s left ambiguous in The Killing Joke, but that ambiguity is stripped away as, in no uncertain terms, it’s revealed that was very much the Joker’s backstory. That the pregnant wife in fact faked her death to get away from the now-revealed-to-be abusive comedian husband to raise her child, and that the Batman keeps the Joker’s name to himself to keep the media from tracking her down somehow.

Now…I’m okay with this conclusion, actually. I like the idea of Batman being smart enough to actually know who the Joker’s been all this time, and that he has good reason to keep it a secret based on information revealed in previous stories. Like I said, it does remove the uncertainty from Killing Joke, but, you know, eh.

Of course, that begs the question “if Batman was smart enough to know that, how was he not smart enough to know he was dealing with three different people saying they’re the Joker?” Especially since at least one of them looks like he’s drawn visibly older than the others. Whatever process they’re using to make more Jokers is making them physically identical, I guess? I don’t know, Batman’s being bamboozled by this ruse doesn’t seem to follow.

Also, as discussed in my look at the first issue, it’s said in-story that the Joker first appeared, quote, “decades ago.” But #3 has Bruce Wayne looking in on the Joker’s wife and son wherever they’re living out their lives…and the son appears to be, well, still a kid. Not 20 years old or so, as the “decades ago” comment would imply. I am presuming this is a flashback, but nothing seems to indicate as such, aside from the child’s age. Those panels aren’t colored differently, like the other flashback panels involving the Joker’s family. I mean, it has to be some kind of flashback to Batman looking in on them just a few years after they started their new lives. But that’s not what it feels like when you hit that point of the story.

It is snowing in that particular sequence, and I don’t recall if the current time of year was established for this mini-series, and that the snow was to imply a change in time frame (like sometime in the past). I just figured they were in Alaska, hiding out with Jesse Pinkman. (Um, spoilers for El Camino, too, I guess.)

Overall…I enjoyed this series for what it was, though whether there is any longterm impact on Batman comics from here on out remains to be seen, if it’s not just outright ignored. Jason Fabok’s art is gorgeous throughout, and I do think the thematic interweaving of Batgirl’s trauma from The Killing Joke and the Red Hood’s trauma from “A Death in the Family” was interesting. I like the symmetry of Batman and the Joker keeping each other’s identities secret for their own reasons. And as I said above, I think the big reveals at the end of #3 were fine. It’s just that the set-up, that there were multiple Jokers running around, requires Batman to be dumb, and nobody likes a dumb Batman.

Ah, well, I suppose we can look forward to the major work years later by some other creative team, reaching back to repurpose Geoff Johns’s story for the eventual “The Joker’s Son” special event. Turnabout is fair play, I guess. Maybe they can team up the Joker’s Son with the weird Clark Kent/Dr. Manhattan amalgam kid from the end of Doomsday Clock. Run with that, Future Hot Writer and Artist!

Low Contrast Mode.

§ October 16th, 2020 § Filed under batman, eyeball, publishing § 15 Comments

So as many of you know (and I mostly can’t shut up about) I have had some eye trouble over the last couple of years, which has (among other things) interfered with my ability to read comics. Slowing me down at first, then, now and again, stopping me entirely.

While I’m still having the occasional bout of clouded vision, it’s a little less often, and my sight is pretty much as good as it’s going to be. My left eye is mostly good, my right eye is somewhat impaired, and my prescription glasses do help quite a bit, and I’m functioning more-or-less normally. I do have bit of a problem dealing with low contrast writing and images, but I’m adjusting best I can.

As my vision has stabilized, I’ve attempted to catch up on all those comics I’ve been accumulating but not reading. For example, I just finished reading something like 20 issues of the current run of Daredevil this past week. And I’ve done similar bulk-reads of titles trying to get current (and stay current as each new issue comes out).

One of the tools I’m using to read comics I’m behind on is the DC Universe digital library. While I do have print copies of the books I’m reading via this method, this actually makes it easier on the eyes to have larger (and sometimes clearer) panels that I can read a little more quickly than their on-paper counterparts. (And yes, I know I can get free digital copies of several Marvel titles, I’m just too lazy to go through the process of typing in the codes printed in the back of the books.)

Mostly I use my iPad mini to do the DC digital thing…my parents had ended up with a couple of free ones after buying a pair of iPhones, and gave one to me, which was nice. I have half-considered buying a larger iPad for my funnybook perusing, but that can wait for now. But I have used the DC Universe app via my television to read some material when certain troubles arose, in this case being the 2018 mini-series The Batman Who Laughs.

“Trouble you say?” I’m sure the three of you what still read the blogs are asking. Yes, the trouble is the very thing I’ve been having difficulty with ever since this particular evil Batman was introduced…his goldurned black-on-red word balloons:


It’s…not easy for me to make out in print comics, and even reading it on my iPad, zoomed in as much as I’m able, was a pain in the rear. I made it through an issue on my pad, and then opted to try reading it through my television instead.

That did the trick…blowing it up nice ‘n’ big on a large flatscreen made the red-on-black balloons a tad easer to discern. But apparently this mini-series realized it was being far too lenient on me, and unleased its secret weapon: RED ON GREY TEXT:


Man, there’s, like, almost no way I could have read this except for being blown up on a flatscreen, and even then it was a struggle. When I was doing screengrabs on my computer for this post, I found I couldn’t make them out, and I have a pretty good-sized monitor for my desktop computotron.

I eventually muddled through the series (I ended up enjoying it, despite everything), but man, I have a real distaste for these novelty-colored captions and word balloons. I think Swamp Thing’s black-on-orange dialogue is about as far as I’m willing to travel, and even that isn’t quite as legible to my peepers as it once was. If comics are going to continue to do that sort of thing, either bold the text more, or use higher contrast colors (the Batman Who Laughs seems to have white-on-black balloons in current appearances, which is a vast improvement).

And in short order DC Universe (when it becomes the digital comics only DC Univesre Infinite) is going strictly to tables/phones/computers, dropping TV support. I’m sure there are workarounds, but it won’t be as convenient as “selecting the app on my Roku” easy, so I may be losing that option for reading other comic lettering in this style.

Okay, okay, that’s enough waving my red-tipped cane at you publishers. I just hope they take things like “readability” into consideration when they do stuff like this.

I do have one more question arising from my Batman Who Laughs reading: what was the Gotham street planning commission meeting like that resulted in putting up an actual damn street sign that reads “Crime Alley?”


I mean, yeah, sure, it’s Gotham, this is probably the least crazy thing the city’s government has done. However, even assuming there are no businesses or residents on this particular stretch of road, surely anyone located nearby would be all “WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO OUR PROPERTY VALUES?”

I always figured “Crime Alley” was the nickname inhabitants of Gothan had for the road, I never realized it was an officially sanctioned street name. Though I suppose we’re lucky millionaire socialite Bruce Wayne didn’t insist that it be called “My Parents Are Deaaaaaad Way.”

Look, I’ve never been to a Piggly Wiggly.

§ October 12th, 2020 § Filed under batman, question time, retailing § 13 Comments

Okay, let me follow up briefly (ha, you know how that usually goes) to some of the responses to my last post. Regarding the idea of getting comics into supermarket checkstands, it was pointed out that’s a lot easier said than done, given that 1) Archie digests were basically grandfathered in (hence that brief deal Marvel had with them to get their digests distributed into your local Piggly Wiggly), and 2) there’s a stupid amount of competition for that immensely valuable space. Marvel and/or DC aren’t exactly going to be able to march right in there. (Y’know, without cutting a deal with Archie again.)

Also noted is that putting comics into anything other than a bookstore environment is likely not going to work out. Department stores are, in general, allotting less space for books and magazines these days, and even if they did, there’s no real care or curation going on there. No guarantee you’ll see your comics on a regular basis (as Brad points out, a new run of Disney comics are pretty tough to find), or even at all (I never did see any of these DC Giants at Walmart).

I suppose it doesn’t really matter so much…as long as they’re there, they’re visible, and kids show an interest, and the sale is made, the job is done. These sources can act as feeders to places like actual bookstores and even a comic shop where there would be ample supply of related material and (hopefully) a knowledgeable employee to help them along. Which is ultimately the goal of this sort of distribution.

Thom H. asked, in response to my assertion that comic shops may not be ready for a switch from a periodical model to a trade based model:

“Is this because there are so many readers of the periodicals still around, and they wouldn’t make the switch? Or comic shops wouldn’t be able to handle the change in format? Or some other reason? I’m genuinely curious because I can’t decide how I feel about the idea.”

I’m probably being a tad bit shortsighted, admittedly. I’ve heard of stores that have made that change, at least partway, focusing more on the book end of the comics market versus that weekly Wednesday (and now a little Tuesday, thanks DC) bump.

But as it stands now, it’s the arrival of the new comic books that drives most customers into stores. Now if suddenly the only way to get stories of your favorite characters is to buy a $14.99-$19.99 trade paperback of new material once every four to six months, then I suppose several people would make the switch. But the frequency of visits would decline, I’d imagine…instead of coming in monthly for Green Lantern comics, now it’s every few months for the new paperback), and yes, prices may go up but without as many people buying as many comics on a frequent basis…well, basically, there’d be a lot of economic adjustment on both the retailer and the customer’s parts to continue this hobby.

Short answer: I don’t know what would happen, but it would involve change and after 32 years in this business, change gives me the stomach-tumblies. But I’d figure a way to make it work, because what else am I going to do at this point? Get a real job?

• • •

Okay, let’s try to tackle a couple more questions before I hit the sack, and let me tell you, that sack has it coming:

Dean puts me on double secret probation with

“Since you e opened your own shop., what’s the oddest/most random request for a back issue you actually had in stock?”

That’s a good question…I don’t think I’ve been hit with any particularly wild requests, though. I think having someone ask “do you have Reagan’s Raiders

and lo, I had it.

Not to say I’ve not had people amazed that 1) I’ve heard of the comic they’re asking after, and 2) I actually had a copy, but I don’t think it’s been anything especially strange. Had one fella just falling over himself in surprise that I had any copies at all of Too Much Coffee Man, for example, but that’s not really a weird or funny answer, I think. I guess Reagan’s Raiders is the one that comes to mind. Sorry, I’ll try to remember if there was anything else!

• • •

Tim conjures up this question

“Do you, like me, think the Joker is played out as a viable character?”

I think he’s overutilized, especially right now (what with an extended storyline in Batman wrapping up, a prestige series currently in progress, and a couple other oversized Black Label books running or just wrapped up). Plus we had a high profile movie featuring the character not too long ago, back when there were still movies, and other mass media appearances of the Joker tend to cast long shadows. So yes, there’s more than enough Joker to go around of late.

But does that make him less viable? The Joker is Batman’s arch-nemesis, the literal embodiment of the world’s chaos that Batman seeks to bring to order. That, I believe, makes the Joker eternally viable…as long as there’s a Batman, there will be a Joker, to be really on the nose about it. But how can we miss the Joker if he won’t go away, and having Joker always appearing in something on the new comics rack makes his appearances less special, have less of an impact, and that does lessen the viability of the character. Batman: Three Jokers should stand out more than it does as A Special Event, but instead it’s Yet Another Joker Comic.

Maybe it’s nostalgia feeding this feeling of mine. I remember reading one Joker story as a kid where he seemingly dies at the end of the story (a boat he’s on blows up, and Batman’s all “is that the last we’ll see of the Joker?”). I knew full well the Joker wasn’t dead, but I was looking forward to his next appearance where I presumed there’d be an explanation of how he got out of that one. However, when he eventually popped up again, no dice. We just swung back into the next Joker adventure.

Now I bring that up partially to register a complaint from Young Mike about comics continuity, but mostly to point out I had to wait for a follow-up Joker story. It had to have been a few months, at least. It kept me wondering, and anticipating his return. But today, you kids have it easy, what with a Joker in every other comic.

Well, Joker is immensely popular, and he sells comics, so I see why DC wants to use him as often as they do. But maaaaybe spacing out the appearances a bit might make those Joker stories a little more special. I mean, c’mon, when was the last time we had a good Tweedledum and
Tweedledee story? Let’s give them their time in the sun with a multi-parter already.

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