Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tales of The Batman: Don Newton

DC continues their series of high-priced collections of Batman stories by a single artist and this time around it's Don Newton. Unlike the Marshall Rogers volume I wrote about a few weeks back, Tales of The Batman: Don Newton is $10 cheaper and 144 pages shorter. Still, at $39.99, one might expect a bit more effort being put into it.

I mentioned in my column about the Rogers book that my script was the first Batman story he drew. I did not realize until I got the Newton book that Don's first Batman story was also one of mine. The story, "With This Ring, Find Me Dead" ran in Batman #305 and was the first half of a two-parter. And that's where the lack of an editor or designer who pays any attention to the material first becomes obvious; in between the two parts of my story is a Denny O'Neil tale from the issue of Detective Comics that went on sale between the two issues of Batman. I could perhaps understand the desire to have Don's work appear chronologically, but they could have fudged it a little. [There's a similar situation later in the book when a Michael Fleisher story that ends with "To be continued--!!" is interrupted by an eight-page short by Marv Wolfman, again, presumably to maintain chronological order.]

As seems to be the case with virtually everything DC reprints these days, they are using the original film negatives and not bothering to fix any problems. As a result,  blurbs for the next issue -- including on sale dates -- are left on the pages, without any regard for their correctness. In one case, the blurb reads, "Next month: Batman has 'A Bad Day in Baja!'" Amusingly, that story begin on the very next page and is titled "Bad Night in Baja."
In another example, the aforementioned Marv Wolfman 8-page story is numbered 1 through 7 with the last page numbered 41!

Similar to the Rogers volume, there is a dearth of information about the artist being spotlighted. The only text is on the back cover flap: "Don Newton was born in1934 and began his career as a professional comic book artist in 1974. After becoming an art teacher in his home of Arizona Newton became an active participant in the culture of comics both as a fan and a creator. He produced distinctive work on iconic characters for companies such as Charlton, Marvel and DC. His work on Batman and several other DC characters is still widely respected for its deft storytelling and characterization. Don Newton passed away in 1984 at the age of 49."
At least, unlike the case of Marshall Rogers, they do acknowledge that Don has died. (By the way, had that paragraph been shown to DC's ace proofreader, Arlene Lo, she probably would have pointed out where there are commas missing.)

The Table of Contents pages provide additional proof that more editorial oversight was needed. The stories written by Denny O'Neil list him as "Dennis J. O'Neil." Okay, I've seen Denny use his full name a couple of times on his work, so maybe that's how he wanted it to appear. But inker Bob Smith, who has always worked under that name, is listed in the ToC as "Robert R. Smith," which is particularly bizarre since I'm pretty sure his middle name is Allen!

And then there are the black pages. I can only presume that the book designer set these up expecting them to be filled with a foreword and an afterword. How else to explain three pages that are solid black save for an inch and a half of spot art at the top? But I can think of no explanation for page 301 being completely black!

I know there are other books in this series. (I have not seen the Gene Colan edition; I don't recall Gene ever having drawn one of my Batman stories, so DC won't be sending me a copy.) One has to hope, though, that at some point in the future, someone will start paying more attention to what they are publishing.

And Now, the Really Important News...

Congress has declared that pizza is a vegetable, citing the tomato sauce as the primary reason for this pronouncement. It is good to know that with all of the problems in the world today, they have the time to devote to this important question.

This is particularly important to those of us who work each summer at CTY Chestertown, where we place requirements on what our students eat. For example, when we tell them they must have a serving of a fruit or vegetable with a meal, we do not count ketchup, pickles, any form of potatoes or anything that is fried. [One student, wanting us to count onion rings as his vegetables, argued about the latter. He even called his mother to verify that an onion was a vegetable. He gave up, however, when it was pointed out that he was pulling the onion out and eating only the crunchy coating.] We've also refused to count such things as orange soda, grape jelly, cherry Jell-O, and Froot Loops as servings of fruit.

As far as pizza, we've conceded in the past few years to counting it as a protein, but one that could not be eaten for every lunch or dinner. I can only imagine what is in store in the coming year, when some up-on-the-news student tries to claim a slice as both a serving of protein and vegetables.

Hey, if Congress says it, it must be the law, right?


In other important news, Starbucks has announced that they will close the public restrooms in their New York locations. Apparently, having long lines of customers waiting to use them interferes with the ability of the employees to do so, thereby slowing down service.  Clearly, Starbucks' ability to dispense vast quantities of liquid to their customers far surpasses their ability to receive it.

Given NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's propensity for issuing ordinances regarding such things as smoking and the sale of fatty foods in the name of public well-being, it is probably only a matter of time before he weighs in on this one. Surely the idea of New Yorkers, their bladders filled with super-duper-grande coffee beverages, having to wander the streets in search of relief is an imminent threat to public health!

I'm so glad I don't work in New York City any more.

Monday, November 7, 2011

'Mazing TV

Twenty-five years after his debut in the pages of a DC comic book, 'Mazing Man has become a cartoon character, part of an episode of Batman:The Brave & the Bold on Cartoon Network.

'Maze, co-created by artist Stephen DeStefano and yours truly, had a twelve-issue run of his own monthly magazine plus three Specials over the next couple of years. Sigfried Horatio Hunch III, independently wealthy because he had won the Publisher's Reading House sweepstakes, donned a helmet he found in the trash and became the superhero of his neighborhood in Queens, NY. He lived in an apartment with Denton Fixx, a comic book writer for BC Comics, and Denton's divorced sister, K.P. The cast was rounded out by young marrieds Brenda and Eddie Valentine and wanna-be lothario Guido Garibaldi. It was a TV sitcom in comic book form, years before six other "Friends" became mainstays on NBC.

"Kitty Catastrophe," 'Mazing Man's cartoon appearance, is loosely based on a story of the same name that appeared in MM #8. (You can watch the cartoon at Stephen was the one who suggested 'Maze when the show's producers were looking for characters to use. He did the storyboards and gets onscreen credit for his handiwork. (Unless there was something in the impossible-to-read, squished-into-a quarter-of-the-screen-box closing credits of the show, I was not acknowledged as co-creator of the character.)

DC and Warner Bros have nixxed another 'Maze short that Stephen has proposed, so it seems likely that this will be his only TV appearance. As for a reprint collection of the comic book series -- though some fans have suggested it, DC is not listening.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Tree Grows in America

A big old tree sits right where the property lines of four backyards intersect. It's a massive tree, providing plenty of shade in Anderson's yard, but the branches that overhang Baker's yard drop leaves into his swimming pool. Carver has discovered that the tree's roots have stretched across his yard, making it impossible for him to plant his vegetable garden as well as starting to cause damage to the foundation of his house. Denton has severe allergies to plants of all kinds, including the tree.

One morning, the four homeowners converge at the tree. After a few minutes of discussion, they realize that there is no consensus about what to do. Finally, one of the neighbors says, "We each have our own needs and concerns. We should hire someone to come up with the best solution."

Independent of one another, each neighbor hires a tree specialist to come and analyze the situation.
Apple, hired by Anderson, says there is nothing wrong and, except for some minor trimming of dead branches, the tree should be left just as it is.
Birch, hired by Baker, decides that all the branches on the pool side should be cut off.
Chestnut, hired by Carver, says he will excavate the yard and remove the roots that are causing the problem.
Dogwood, hired by Denton, proposes cutting the tree down. 

Armed with the proposals they've gotten, the four neighbors reconvene. It does not take long for them to realize that no one's plan is going to satisfy the other three. The only thing they can agree on is that their four "experts" need to sit down together and come up with an answer.

Apple, Birch, Chestnut, and Dogwood, each happy to be collecting a "consulting fee," meet at a local coffee shop. Cutting off the branches near Baker's pool will take away the shade in Anderson's yard. Digging up the roots in Carver's yard would be dangerous to the tree's health as well as damaging to its structural support; in a bad storm, the tree could be blown over onto one or another of the houses. After four hours of debate, they resolve nothing.

Apple, Birch, Chestnut, and Dogwood report back, each telling the neighbor who hired him that they have made no headway, but that they should continue to meet until they can come up with a plan. Seeing no other alternative, each of the four neighbors agrees.

After six months of these meetings, all at the neighbors' expense, nothing has been accomplished.
Carver, frustrated that he has missed an entire season of gardening, confronts Chestnut. "These guys are intractable," says Chestnut. "They don't care about damage to your property."
Equally angered, the other neighbors meet with their representatives.
"They refuse to see the environmental impact of their plans," insists Apple to Anderson.
"Their response to your health issues," reports Dogwood, "is that you should take a pill."
Birch tells his client, "They say that if you can afford a pool, you can afford to clean it."

Each of the four neighbors is left with the same assurance, "Don't worry! I've got your best interests in mind. I'll keep meeting with these guys until we get our way." Left unsaid is, "And you will keep paying me to do so."

One day about a year later, Sycamore knocks on Carver's door and says, "Listen, Chestnut isn't getting the job done for you. Hire me and I'll make sure to convince the others that those tree roots have to go."  Carver agrees, fires Chestnut, and sends Sycamore in his place.
Realizing that getting someone else might be a good idea, Denton fires Dogwood and hires Hickory, who claims he can get the job done... and at a lower price than Dogwood would have charged.
Birch convinces Baker that he will have the advantage over the new guys and keeps the job.
Apple, pointing out to Anderson that the tree is still just as it was, says, "Hey, I'm doing my job and will continue to do so."

The four "experts" continue to meet. The four homeowners continue to pay them, a bit more, in fact, because the "experts" determine that their time is now more valuable.

One afternoon, weeks later, a man sitting nearby in the coffee shop listens in as the four "experts" debate. He has been there many times before and has heard them argue the same points again and again. After a few minutes, he says, "Pardon my interruption, gentlemen. It seems to me that you could cut back just a few of the branches, keeping most of the shade but reducing the amount of pollen and the number of leaves in the pool . And as long as you leave some of the roots in place, the tree should be okay; the garden might have to be a bit smaller, but you can stop the damage to the foundation of the house."

The four "experts" look at the man, shake their heads and smile. "You don't understand," says Apple. "We don't need to actually do anything; we just need the people who hired us to think we are."

"And these homeowners don't realize what's going on?" asks the man.

"Oh, no," laughs Apple. "We get paid to sit here and talk and blame each other for nothing being resolved. In fact, I've convinced enough clients of my expertise that having these meetings has become my career. I will never have to pick up my chainsaw again!"

The man walks away, thinking that, despite the fact he can't tell a palm from an evergreen, he would like to have a career as a tree expert. "Perhaps I should pay a call on some of those homeowners..."