Written by Fred Patten, and published on the LASFS Rex Rotary, December 1, 1965. Intended for Apa L, Fifty-Ninth Distribution, LASFS Meeting no. 1477, December 2, 1965. Address: 1825 Greenfield Avenue, Los Angeles, California, 90025. Phone: GRanite 3-6321.
|San Diego in 1966!||Cleveland in 1966!||Salamander Press #138.|
The Copenhagen Affair, by John Oram, Ace #G-564, 144 p., 50¢.
This is the third book in the "Man from U.N.C.L.E." series, and is far and away the best of the lot so far. It's the first of them that seems written on an adult level, rather than just being a novelized comic book plot. The name of John Oram is unfamiliar to me, but if what Ted Johnstone says is true, he's one of a pair of British authors relatively unknown in this country, that Ace agreed to let write volumes 3 and 4 in the series in return for distribution of the entire series in Britain. Ted is, of course, currently working on vol. 5, and the parts I've heard about sound good so far.
The first two books, by Michael Avallone and Harry Whittington, respectively, were pretty much of a disappointment, though Whittington's was notably the superior of the two. The Copenhagen Affair finally brings the series of novels to a level of maturity equal to that of the television series. (That's both praise and a warning, to be taken according to how you feel about the tv adventures.) The writing is very competent and superficially quite logical (accepting the basic premises of U.N.C.L.E. and THRUSH); there are a few errors in common sense, but the plot moves fast enough that you tend to glide over them, only noting out of the corner of your eye as you pass that they are there. A comparison in this respect to some of Ron Hubbard's dashed-off hackwork for UNKNOWN would seem appropriate. The basic plot concerns THRUSH's development at a hidden base in Denmark of a flying-saucer/hovercraft type of airplane, presumably (reading between the lines) all they need to finally begin their open conquest of the world. Napoleon and Illya are sent out with orders to not only stop this, but to take the craft over intact for U.N.C.L.E.'s use. The following action is, as I said, consistent in quality to an average television episode. I didn't quite feel that one lone hovercraft armed with a hydrogen bomb was as much of a danger to the entire world as the characters in the novel seem to; and I consider it rather unlikely that any crime lord as important and as supposedly secretive as the Chief of the Danish THRUSH Satrap is supposed to be would introduce himself so blatantly, doing a job that any of his run-of-the-mill underlings could have handled as well, if not better. However, these are forgivable flaws, since the first is essential in establishing a Great, but not unbelievably far-fetched, Menace (one of the major rocks on which Whittington's book piled up); and the second nicely presents a definite Physical Opponent at the beginning of the book, letting us know who the principal players will be. (U.N.C.L.E. and THRUSH are themselves too vague as entities for reader identification, and the first two books both played Who Is The Mysterious Enemy Leader to such an extent that the reader could never be sure just what Napoleon and Illya were up against.) So all in all, The Copenhagen Affair should be enjoyable reading to any U.N.C.L.E. fan; if you haven't gotten around to reading any of the books yet, this is a good place to begin.
The Great Comic Book Heroes, compiled, introduced and annotated by Jules Feiffer, Dial, 189 p., $9.95 ($12.95 after Dec. 31).
"Here is the definitive book on the age of capes and masks", states the endpaper blurb about this book, bringing to mind a similar claim to Alva Rogers' A Requiem for ASTOUNDING: "This is the definitive analysis of the magazine" . The parallel is exact; both claims are inaccurate, and for the same reason. Both books are (and in themselves, make no claim to be any more than) nostalgia pieces, harking wistfully back to a delight of the author's youth. As such, both books are invaluable to anybody who has ever gone through a period of reading ASTOUNDING or super-hero comic books in his own youth, and who currently enjoys reading the "good old days" type of book about bygone movie serials, sandlot sports, the great days of radio, or what have you.
To continue the comparison between the two books for the sake of contrast, Feiffer's book is much more slickly written than is Alva's. Alva was writing for a basically in-group readership, all of whom not only read and worshiped the old ASTOUNDING, but who still do; who are only prevented from holding the same sort of feelings about the current magazine by the fact that the magazine itself is no longer being published. Mr. Feiffer is writing for a much more general audience, one which may at one time many years ago have had an interest in comics, but which has long since outgrown it, and which has no interest in the current genre. (Yes, I know about the Comic Fans, but the book isn't aimed directly at them. How many of today's comic book readership are going to pay $9.95 for a book? Certainly nowhere near the 20,000 copies that've been printed.) Because of this, the emphasis is entirely on light-hearted nostalgia, the "gee, remember when?", and the "weren't we innocent and cute?" In its own way, reviewing the field through Feiffer's boyhood eyes, it is a good picture of the action comic books between 1938 and about 1943, inasmuch as it shows the field as it was seen by the average comic-book buying boy of the period. Outside of that, though, there is nothing that could be called definitive; there are many favorite names, both of comic book characters and illustrators, but virtually no solid factual data -- no specific titles or dates, no complete information as to who was responsible for any comic character, no following the development of any hero through the years. Besides the nostalgia, Feiffer does attempt to analyze the super-hero comic book: what made it so successful, what its appeal is to youth, where it stands as literature, whether comics are Good or Bad, etc. Though he is no trained psychologist, his opinions seem sensible to me. He disagrees thoroughly with Dr. Wertham as to the innate evilness of the comic book, but he does decide that they are junk, without any values or respect, existing to "entertain on the basest, most compromised of levels", solely on their superficial entertainment content, but nevertheless performing the useful social function of helping provide youth with a world of its own, a harmless area into which a boy can retreat from the regimen of school and parental authority and generally being pushed around by adults. "...a child, simply to save his sanity, must go underground. Have a place to hide where he cannot be got at by grownups." This, the comic book helps provide.
But the textual content of this book barely takes up 60 pages. By far, the bulk of the book (128 pages) consists of complete full-color reprints of assorted superhero stories of the old comics. The term "definitive" might be a little more apt here, since a large number of these are Origin Stories showing the first appearance of a famous hero. It doesn't cover them all, but it does get the most important ones. The comic-book section consists of the origin stories of: Superman, the Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Captain America, and Plastic Man; plus other early adventures of Superman, the Batman (origin of the Joker), the Human Torch, the Spectre, Hawkman, Wonder Woman, Sub Mariner, and the Spirit. Also included is one forlorn page from the origin story of Captain Marvel; all that Feiffer could get permission to reprint of this once-great hero, now forced into oblivion due to legal pressure brought by the publishers of his greatest competitor, Superman.
All in all, this is a book that anyone will enjoy, though if you're not a diehard Comics Fan, you'll probably find it sufficient to read it at your local library rather than paying $9.95 for a copy of your own. Of course, if you are a diehard Comics Fan, you already bought it the day it was released, so you don't need my advice. Have fun.
--BEING COMMENTS ON LAST WEEK'S DISTRIBUTION
Dan Alderson -- Your views on morality as expressed in comic book (Superman cheating to triumph over evil aliens, vs. the Flash's obeying the local laws even when inconvenient to him) at first stirred me to violent disagreement, though on second thought I'm forced to reluctantly agree that you do have a point -- desirable as it is to obey the law in all respects, it's going too far to the other extreme to state categorically that any law should be obeyed, no matter how disastrous and harmful its effects might be in a given circumstances, simply out of a blind robotic devotion to "carrying out the law". This was the defense offered by many Nazis at the war crime trials after World War II; that they were merely obeying their superiors' orders -- their laws. Yet I still feel that comic books often go too far in picturing their super-heroes as beings who, because they are super by definition, should be allowed to be superior to the law, apparently on the grounds that they're more efficient than ordinary policemen and courts. A prime example of this has cropped up in the current issue of SUPERMAN, in fact, in issue #182 (Jan. '66), in the lead story, "The New Lives of Superman!" (This is particularly surprising considering how much emphasis is usually placed on Superman's oath to always use his powers for the benefit of others, but never for his personal unjust benefit.) In this story, Superman is forced to temporarily abandon his standard cover identity of Clark Kent and choose a new one. For an unexplained reason (probably for closer identification with a teen-aged readership), he decides to compete for a post as disc jockey at a small radio station in England. There are several competitors for the post, and the manager decides to try them all out; the one who draws the most fan mail will be hired. Instead of competing fairly with the others, though, Superman uses his super-science to rig the station's transmitter so that while he is broadcasting, the station's range is increased for an additional 100 miles; this gives him an added edge over all the others, and he is hired. The very fact that he feels compelled to do this in order to win the post is an admission to his possible inferiority to the other candidates; he has blatantly cheated to win. This is so obvious that the story writer feels obliged to offer an rationalization for the action, having Superman say (pt.2, p.3, panel 2), "While what I did wasn't exactly ...er... cricket, I'll be able to perform a great deal of good for law and order with this disk jockey show for a "front"!" In short, the end justifies the means. This is the rationalization used by any policeman who decides not to bother about getting a search warrant or otherwise not bothering about observing citizens' rights; it may violate a few technicalities, but as long as it results in Bringing a Criminal to Justice, it doesn't matter. How many masked avengers are there whose stated reason for being masked is that they feel America needs someone who can carry out Justice in cases where the legal authorities are helpless? -- where the masked avenger decides what Justice is and when the legal authorities are being made helpless, or are just stupid?
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"If I resumed my name I'd be just one more man, the owner of a silver mine.
Fran Striker, The Lone Ranger Rides North
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Despite the rule in the Comics Code that our legal institutions must be treated with respect, the implication remains clear in almost every super-hero comic (admitted, it's hard to avoid even if you try) that the hero is superior to the mortal policeman, and that therefore he should be allowed to enforce justice with no other check than his own judgment and good sense. While this isn't often present to any alarming extent, it is an invitation to vigilanteeism that I feel should be soft-pedaled, and certainly not emphasized in the manner of the Superman incident mentioned above.