Monday, December 31, 2012

Writing Prompts

I was reading an interview of an author whose work I enjoy and the interviewer got to that question that has probably been asked of every creator of fiction since Oog the Caveman told his first story: "Where do you get your ideas?"
And, like so many others who have answered the question, the author replied that inspiration is all around us. A writer never knows when something will spark his or her imagination, but it could be just about anything.
To that end, I've been looking out the window while sitting at the computer and a variety of things have happened on the street over the past hour. For those who are inclined to write (especially those former CTY students of mine who I've encouraged to practice their craft regularly), here is some inspiration. Call it a different kind of "writer's block."

  Two boys, about twelve years old, walk past the house. One carries a football; the other has a broken half of a slat from a picket fence. What game / mischief will ensue?

  A man on a bicycle, bundled up because it is only 37 degrees outside, has the gears set so that he is pedaling furiously, yet not moving very fast. Why? Is this more of an exercise benefit?

  An SUV stops across the street. There is a string of blinking Christmas lights strung around the roof rack. The driver appears to be texting someone, so I guess we should all be thankful that she pulled over. Presuming that the driver lives somewhere nearby -- this is, after all, a residential street, not a main thoroughfare -- what message could be so vital that it needed a response before she got home?

  Our mail carrier usually parks in the dead end across the way to eat his lunch. I think he sometimes reads a magazine. What kind of article might he find so interesting that it will delay delivery of my copy of Entertainment Weekly?

  A red pickup truck drives past the house. A minute later, it drives past again, slightly faster, in the opposite direction. It passes a third time, once more in the original direction, faster than the first two times. What did the driver forget and have to go back for? And what is he presumably now running late for?

Saturday, December 22, 2012


According to the New York Blood Center records, I made my first donation in 1982. It was at a blood drive at work. Warner Communications held them twice a year and I became a strong proponent of donating. Though DC Comics was a very small part of the WC empire, we represented a disproportionally large percentage -- sometimes 25% -- of the total donors. One time I even got a print salesman who was taking me to lunch to come and donate a pint first. It gave him a story to tell for years, how I not only wanted excellent printing and good pricing, but that I also wanted blood.

In the mid-'80s I started to supplement my twice-yearly blood drive donations by visiting the nearby Blood Center. It was at the Center that I met Joe, an appointment coordinator who would actively recruit whole blood donors to try doing apheresis -- platelet donation. And so, on May 25, 1991, I made my first one.

This morning, I completed platelet donation #200. In the five hundred or so hours I've spent donating,  I've watched a lot of episodes of TV sitcom reruns on TBS; for awhile, it seemed that the same episode of "My Name is Earl" was on every time I donated. I've made the acquaintance of many blood center staff members, as well as numerous fellow donors, both long-timers and newcomers.  I have also eaten a lot of Lorna Doones for breakfast.

And, presumably, helped a whole lot of people I've never met...


If you are already a donor, great! If you aren't (and only 2% of eligible people actually donate, so there are a lot of you out there), please consider becoming one. Contact your local blood center or the American Red Cross.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The End of the World

The above is from George Takei's Facebook page. He is well worth friending as his posts are always entertaining.

So, if tomorrow really is the end of the world, exactly what time should we be expecting it? High noon? The stroke of midnight?
And what time zone should we use? Were the Mayans in the Central Time Zone? Or Mountain? After all, it will be December 21st in Asia and Australia long before it is here in the U.S. Will they all be gone some time this evening?
Or should we be waiting for the moment it is December 21st all around the globe? (Which is when, by the way? I'm confused by the International Dateline.)

If the world does end tomorrow, a lot of people will probably annoyed that they did all their Christmas shopping. Especially those folks who lined up in the cold and rain to be first in line for those "door-buster" sales at 3 a.m. on Black Friday.
What about the folks who've been putting money into 401k plans and IRAs? Not going to have a chance to use that. On the other hand, people who ran up big credit card bills and have huge mortgages won't have to worry about paying them off.
Personally, I'm going to be annoyed that I have a whole pile of books I want to read and I'm not going to get to them. Then again, I can probably skip going to the gym.

Hmm, could it be that the reason the President and Congress are stalling about dealing with the "fiscal cliff" is that they know something they're not telling the rest of us?

In any case, to those folks who actually believe that the Mayans were able to predict the end of the world, perhaps you need to ponder this: Why did these people, who were supposedly so precise in foreseeing the future, not realize that their empire would be long-gone well before their calendar ran out? Shouldn't they have known they weren't going to need it?

Friday, December 14, 2012


   I started playing volleyball in the Farmingdale Adult Ed program about twenty years ago. Back then, it was just on Tuesday nights and we had a relatively small but avid group. In the intervening years, there has been some turnover in players, as well as in who was supervising the class. Through attrition (or just the fact that I didn't run away fast enough), I became the "guy in charge" half a dozen years ago.
Members of the Fall 2012 Tuesday night volleyball crew
     Registration has swelled in recent years. We had an influx in players when a nearby school district shut down their Adult Ed Volleyball class. And word-of-mouth brought us more players from among those we played with at Jones Beach during the summer. We maxxed out the capacity of the gym and so I asked the powers-that-be about adding a second night.
    Though the high school gym was being used for other programs the rest of the week, we were able to start Wednesday night VB in the middle school gym in 2010. This has, at times, been a challenge, as the equipment gets moved around from season to season and finding it becomes an adventure. (Just a few weeks ago, I arrived to set up and found the nets had been taken somewhere. While the players waited, I had to drive to the high school and retrieve the nets we use there.)

Members of the Fall 2012 Wednesday volleyball group, bathed in a strange green glow. Kryptonite, perhaps?
    We have now reached the point where both the Tuesday and Wednesday night rosters fill up well before the session begins. (The folks in the Adult Ed office refer to the regulars, who send in their registration forms the first day they are available, as my "volleyball cult.") In the past two seasons, we've had to turn people away.
    So what are we doing? Adding a third night!
    Beginning in February, we will play on Monday nights in the girls' gym in the high school, taking over the space from a Golf class that had faded away due to lack of interest. Unlike the Tuesday and Wednesday night games, which can be quite competitive, we are billing Monday night as "kinder, gentler volleyball" for beginners and players who like a more relaxed game.
    You might notice from the photos above that there are a number of people who play on both Tuesday and Wednesday. I fully expect that there will be some familiar faces on Mondays as well. In fact, if we could find the gym space, it's likely we could fill the courts every night of the week.

Monday, December 10, 2012

BobRo Archives: Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2

As promised, a lightly-edited compilation of my decade-old recap of Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2...

   Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2, in the same blank-blue-paper-cover format as #1, opens with a “cover” by Alex Saviuk showing a business-suited guy (sometimes suggested to be either Joe Orlando or E. Nelson Bridwell, but actually just a generic numbers-cruncher) kicking Omac, Steel, Shade, Prez and other characters out of 75 Rockefeller Plaza.
   That building, which is still Time-Warner corporate headquarters, bears the sign “Unemployment, Inc.” and was DC’s home before the moves to 666 Fifth Avenue, 1325 Avenue of the Americas and 1700 Broadway. It was been pointed out that DC had been slowly but surely moving west on 53rd Street across Manhattan and could eventually end up with offices on a barge in the middle of the Hudson River. (These days, however, it seems more likely the next jump will be across the country to California.)

   Unlike the first issue, which sported a 10c price (and an annual subscription cost of $10,000), #2 jumped to a dollar (but subscriptions were reduced to $7.65… in West German marks only). 
   The intro page also thanks “Neil of the Magic Finger deep down at Warner Duplicating who kept the spirit of PLOP! Alive when Paul Kupperberg came down with about a ream of original art and asked for 35 collated copies. Neil’s hat actually flew off his head and, when he fell straight backward, an audible ‘Plop!’ sound was to be heard.”

      Kamandi #60 leads off this volume with a cover by Rich Buckler and Jack Abel. “Into the Vortex” by Jack C. Harris, Dick Ayers and Danny Bulanadi (misspelled as “Bulandi”) is Chapter 2 of Kamandi’s “vortex adventure” and has him being pulled through an opening in the wondrous western wall. The Voice of the Vortex explains all about parallel Earths and alternate histories and advises Kamandi that “you are the pivotal point of infinities uncountable!”
   Meanwhile, Dr. Canus, Mylock Bloodstalker, Doile, Spirit, and Pretty Pyra are boomeranged to a wall by the murderous Kangarats. The three mutants, Ben, Steve and Renzi , transform into a gigantic energy beast which drives off the Kangarats before they can kill their captives. Then the energy beast fights with Pyra’s spaceship, which is actually an alien creature. The outcome of this battle will result in either the possible death of Ben or the possibility that Pyra will never be able to return to her home world.   
   Back in the vortex, Kamandi watches his life pass before him. He decides that, of all the possible worlds he could journey to, he wants to return to his own. The Voice tells him to return via the Dream Stream. Moments later, a pair of odd-looking characters named Brute and Glob grab Kamandi, call him “Jed,” and announce they are taking him to The Sandman. There’s a space for a “Next Issue” blurb, but none is in place.
   The balance of the issue is “The New Origin of OMAC” by Jim Starlin. In this 8-pager, a videotape prepared by Quair Tox, chief science officer of the planet Vision in the star system Mira, retells and revamps the origin of the One-Man Army Corps. Other than that, it adds what amounts to a “coming attractions” for where the series will lead and introduces a new villain named Dr. Skuba. Further chapters were never completed, so we never learn about this epic battle to come.

   Like Claw in CCC #1, Kamandi was one of books which was on or ahead of schedule, so the complete #61 is next up in the volume. Of course, the deck was stacked in their favor.
   Editor Al Milgrom had unearthed the unpublished issue of Jack Kirby’s 1970s Sandman and he and Jack C. Harris cooked up a way to incorporate it into the adventures of the Last Boy on Earth. “I’ll See You in My Nightmares” by Harris, Ayers, and Bulanadi (his name spelled correctly this time) is little more than a “wrapper” for “The Seal Men’s War on Santa Claus” by Michael Fleisher, Kirby and Mike Royer.
   By the way, following up on the “cliffhanger” in #60, Kamandi does indeed bear a resemblance to Sandman’s pal Jed. After all, both are blond-haired boys originally drawn by Kirby. Not surprising that Brute and Glob got confused.
   In his headquarters, Sandman utilizes his view-screen to “show” Kamandi the 18-page story of the Seal Men. [In the 80s, we used to joke in the office about using this gimmick to get series that were running late (usually New Teen Titans) caught up with the help of series that were ahead of schedule (like Star Trek and Firestorm). We figured we could have George Perez draw an opening page of a couple of the Titans sitting around their HQ with nothing to do. Then one of them could say, “Hey, let’s watch Star Trek” and the rest of the issue would be a story from that book’s inventory.]
   Jed is sent to the mansion of stingy millionaire Titus Gotrox to ask for a donation to the Christmas Fund. Cutting to the chase, Gotrox tells Jed he’ll contribute $1 million to the cause in exchange for proof that Santa Claus exists. Flabbergasted by the proposal, Gotrox’s nephew Rodney follows Jed and witnesses the arrival of Sandman when the boy blows his special whistle.
   Jed tells Sandman of his quest and the hero replies that “Santa Claus is a friend on mine from way back.” Off they go, unaware that Jed has dropped his whistle in the process.
   After a brief stop at the Dream Dome, Sandman and Jed jump into the Dream Stream and head for the Fantasy Forest, home of the Nightmare Wizard. “We’ll need his help if we’re going to make the long journey to Santa’s workshop in time.” (One wonders why the Dream Stream couldn’t take them directly to Santa.) Said “help” consists of loaning Jed a parka -- leaving us to also wonder why there weren’t any available in a more accessible location -- and providing a sky sled for the trip. Obviously, the Nightmare Wizard runs the “Sky Sleds R Us” franchise.
   Meanwhile, Rodney has found and blown the whistle, bringing Sandman’s sidekick Brute to the scene. Rodney is brought back to the Dream Dome, then tossed into an ejector tube. In the Fantasy Forest, he is quickly grabbed up by a man-eating plant, but rescued by the Nightmare Wizard. Rodney tells the Wizard he’s a friend of Sandman’s, gets his own parka and sky sled, and heads off after the hero.
   Sandman and Jed arrive at the North Pole where they are immediately attacked by hammer-wielding elves who mistake them for Seal Men. Thankfully, Mrs. Claus sets things straight before anybody gets pounded. She advises Sandman that the Seal Men have kidnapped Santa and Christmas will have to be called off if Jolly Old Saint Nick isn’t rescued.
   Sandman and Jed head off in search of the missing Mr. Claus. When Jed asks how many Seal Men there are, Sandman says, “Roughly ten thousand! But don’t you worry – good will always triumph over evil!”
   In short order, they get lured into a trap and captured by the Seal Men. They are locked in a dungeon with Santa, but easily escape when Sandman melts its wall with his hypnosonic whistle. Unfortunately, they are immediately recaptured.
    As they are taken before the king of the Seal Men, we learn the reason for their war against Santa. Seems they haven’t been happy with the gifts Santa’s been bringing for Christmas: wool gloves that don’t fit their flippers, scuba equipment, and fishing rods! If they can’t have  a merry Christmas, neither will anyone else.
   Sandman and Jed explain that even Santa can make a mistake. “You just got the wrong gift boxes by mistake,” says Jed. “Somewhere out in the Sahara Desert or someplace, there are probably kids wondering what they’re supposed to do with cases of frozen fish they got.” [Okay, and what were kids in the Sahara Desert going to do with gloves, scuba gear, and fishing rods?]
   Once Santa promises to have his elves exchange the gifts, the trio is set free. Christmas is saved, or so it seems until they get back to the workshop and find Mrs. Claus bound and gagged by Rodney. He’s not about to let the existence of Santa interfere with his inheritance.
   It’s Sandman’s sand capsules to the rescue and, once Rodney is overcome, we switch to Gotrox’s mansion. Santa drops the bound up Rodney down the chimney, then arrives himself, convincing the millionaire to make the contribution he promised.
   The story finished, we’re back in the Dream Dome where Sandman explains to Kamandi that “in another reality…your name would have been Jeb instead of Kamandi.” [In still another, where the proofreading is better, it would have been Jed!]
   Sandman takes Kamandi back to his own Earth, defeats the energy creature threatening Kam’s pals, and warns that Kamandi’s reality is “the nightmare of one called Omac.” It is up to Kamandi to turn this nightmare into a pleasant dream.
   “I’ll remember,” promises Kamandi as Sandman -- and this series-- fade to black.

    Following Kamandi is an issue of Prez featuring “The Devil’s Exterminator” by Joe Simon, Jerry Grandenetti, and Creig Flessel. Yes, it’s another book from the DC “Written Off” inventory.
   Insects of all sorts invade our nation’s capital and Prez calls in exterminator Clyde Piper to handle them. This is little more than a retelling of the Pied Piper fable. (Please don’t think the member of Flash’s Rogues Gallery was in any way involved.) I’ll spare everyone the detail-by-detail recapping of the story.

   We next come to Shade the Changing Man #9… and I have a confession to make. Back in 1978, one of my duties as Assistant Production Manager was proofreading all the books, which, frankly, is not a bad deal for a comics fan. However, of all the titles DC published, the one I always dreaded was Shade. Thirty-four years later, I couldn’t tell you what exactly about the book I didn’t like, but every time an issue showed up, I’d put off reading it for as long as I could.
   Anyway, #9 features Shade in “The Deadly Ally” by Steve Ditko and Michael Fleisher and it opens with the hero heading off to battle Doctor Z.Z. and save Earth and the Meta-Zone. The hero battles Klugs, then gets sucked into a corner of the Zero-Zone where he is subdued by Zekie and forced to join the slave-troops.
   Meanwhile, on Earth, Doctor Z.Z.’s agents have disguised as regular folks and are infiltrating something or other. One of Z.Z.’s trusted allies is Wizor, who is actually plotting to overthrow the madman. Wizor is awaiting the arrival of an N-Agent who is two weeks late and who, we find out in a flashback, has been killed by Lt. Emp, who is actually Kempo. Who is Kempo? I don’t know, but a footnote tells us to see Shade #1.
   Shade escapes with a former enemy named Xexlo and eventually defeats Zekie, amidst lots of Ditko’s phantasmagorical art. And when the hero finally arrives on Earth? He floats past the Occult Research Center and notes that the lights are on. “But what’s going on inside? What’s happening with Wizor and Dr. Z.Z.?” he muses. We won’t find out, however; as Shade floats off into the night, he thinks, “Odds are, I’ll find out tomorrow, because that’s when I intend to begin my reconnaissance for my mission.” (Whatever mission all this infiltration has to do with can’t be that critical if it can wait till tomorrow!)
   The backup tale in the issue is The Odd Man in “The Pharaoh and the Mummies” written and drawn by Ditko. The Odd Man is on the trail of a killer who dresses as a Pharaoh and mummifies his victims in plastic. The Pharaoh is gathering “Nile Gems” for his queen, the reincarnation of  “the first Nile Queen” (Cleopatra, one presumes), but the Odd Man intervenes. After the Pharaoh accidentally mummifies the Queen, he does himself in the same way…in the last (very narrow) panel while the Odd Man shouts, “No! NO! Too late!” Sure looks like Ditko ran out of room at the bottom of page 8 and needed to end the story quickly.

   Next up is Showcase #105, starring Deadman in “Requiem for a Deadman” by Len Wein and Gerry Conway, with art by Jim Aparo. This story eventually appeared in Adventure Comics #464, though a two page sequence in which Deadman saves a boy chasing his cat on a building ledge has been excised.
   Paul Levitz’s text page in the issue includes some comments about upcoming issues. The Creeper was scheduled for #106, followed by three issues of The Deserter (one of which was in CCC#1), and then a triple-dip of World of Krypton. WoK instead holds the distinction of being the first comic book miniseries when it came out in 1979.

   The Creeper's Showcase appearance is next with “Enter Dr. Storme” by Steve Ditko. In Gotham’s Cosmic TV studio, Jack Ryder finds himself turning halfway into the Creeper without having activated the change. Before he can deal with the problem, he’s in the middle of an energy blast created by Dr. Storme. Seems Storme is really Al Whetly, the former weatherman at Cosmic, who was replaced by his former assistant, Sunny Daze, and now he seeks revenge. (Today, he’d be seeking an attorney and filing an age discrimination suit.)
   Another half-change to the Creeper takes place just as Storme attacks again. (The Odd Man makes a cameo appearance, getting caught in the attack, but doing nothing to stop the villain.) Throughout the tale, every time someone makes a comment with the words “all wet” in it, Ryder and others try to figure out what it means. This particular bit gets beaten to death by the end of the tale, though long before we’ve decided that every one of the characters is a dolt.
   The Creeper does stop the villain, who dies when he completely dehydrates himself whipping up a storm. Ryder also solves his half-change problems. And they all live happily ever after.

   Up next is Steel #6, featuring “Super Soldier” by Gerry Conway, Don Heck and Joe Giella. We’re in London in 1940 and Steel finds Nazi spies attacking the British Ministry of War. Their leader, “Die Schwartzer Meuchelmorder” (or “The Black Assassin” for those of us who don’t speak German), escapes while Steel makes short shrift of his henchmen. The target of the assassins is Winston Churchill, who invites Steel to join his team.
   In a flashback, we learn that Dr. Gilbert Giles, Hank Heywood’s mentor and the father of his fiancee, has learned of Hank’s dual identity. He demands that Hank give up being Steel or break his engagement. (And since the book is called Steel, not Hank Heywood Comics & Stories, you can guess what he does.)
   Back in London, Churchill recruits Steel to join a commando team he’s sending to Germany to kidnap Adolf Hitler. Action follows as their plane is shot down and the commandos are captured by a colonel known as “The Butcher.” Steel, minus his costume, awakens in a concentration camp. (Conway plays a bit fast and loose with historical continuity here, particularly when one inhabitant of the camp describes the “bath-houses” and the experiments being tried on the captives.) A battle in the camp hospital leaves “the Butcher” splattered by a bottle of acid Steel has thrown, setting the stage for some future super-villainous revenge. And the cliffhanger has the melee abruptly halted by the arrival of Hitler himself. Alas, we are not privy to the next issue’s confrontation and the debut of Baron Blitzkrieg.

   We’re going to jump now to the final story in CCC #2. (I covered the Secret Society of Super-Villains / Freedom Fighters / JSA stories some time back and you can read about them here.) The last full-length book included in is The Vixen#1. Is she the same character who finally debuted in Action Comics #521, three years after the DC Implosion? The same one who became a member (with Vibe and Gypsy) of what’s been referred to as the Justice League of Detroit? Well, yes…and no.
   Super-model Marilyn McCabe is on top of the fashion world and a modern businesswoman, but after seeing President Manitoba of the African nation of D’Mulla on TV, she faints. This brings back awful memories of her childhood, memories buried in her subconscious of her father being murdered by Manitoba.
   After consulting with her attorney and realizing she can not pursue Manitoba from a legal standpoint, Marilyn discovers that a necklace left with her by her father has mystical powers. It awakens powers within Marlyn and she dons the costume of The Vixen.
   The Vixen learns that Manitoba, while now preaching peace, intends to unite all of Africa under his rule…by force. His true mission in coming to the United States is not to preach peace, but to murder the sole remaining witness to his crimes in his own country. Luckily, The Vixen is there to save the day. In the battle that ensues, Manitoba is killed by his own manic attack, bringing down a massive cross which crushes him.
   The story ends with Marilyn feeling that a new energy has taken control of her, that she has been reborn. And the bottom caption promises us that this is “The End…and The Beginning.” (Well, so, it took three years before she actually appeared. Maybe she was just a slow starter…)
   Beginning with issue #2, there was to be a back-up feature in The Vixen, one that I was going to be writing starring Duela Dent a.k.a. The Harlequin. It never got past script stage… a series SO canceled that it never even made it into CCC!

  Wrapping up the volume is a collection of covers, beginning withArmy At War #2 and Battle Classics #3, both by Joe Kubert. Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin did a reworking of the “Flash of Two Worlds” cover (replacing the man about to be hit by the girder with the super-villains tallying their loot) for Demand Classics #1. Ross Andru and Dick Giordano collaborated on Demand Classic #2’s cover… featuring Superboy and the Legion and the ghost of Ferro Lad. The (unsigned but it looks like Jim Aparo to me) cover for Dynamic Classics #3 is a split between the Goodwin/ Simonson Manhunter and the Phantom Stranger. Michael Golden and Russ Heath teamed up for a really nifty Mister Miracle cover. Joe Kubert provided the cover to Ragman #6, while Joe Orlando did the one for Weird Mystery Tales #25. (The latter, showing an alluring woman with a serpent’s body saying to a hunky guy, “Come in, my darling – I can’t wait to embrace you!” was eventually used on one of the other titles.) A Michael Kaluta cover was scheduled for Weird Mystery #26. (This one was also used elsewhere.) Finally, the covers to Western Classics #’s 1 and 2, featuring Bat Lash wrap things up. (The first is by “Sherman and Whitman” and the second is unsigned.)