Comics Corner: Hippies Hate Superman!

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As one of the longest-surviving comics publishers in the business, DC Comics did so (like everyone else who made it) through a combination of quick turnaround, constant reinvention, and relentlessly squeezing every last penny out of their comics. In one of their less-inspired moves, in the 1950s, DC created a spinoff to their tentpole property Superman that came with the highly prosaic title Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.

hippieolsen1So far, so bad. However, in one of those granular moments of surreality that comes when publishers chase every cultural trend and damn the logic, that series produced one bona fide classic. We give you: 1969′s fabulous freakout Hippie Olsen’s Hate-In!

Firstly, there’s the issue that Jimmy Olsen looks here more like a bearded dandy from the Edwardian era than hippie (details). Then there’s Jimmy’s tendency throughout the entire series to want to kill Superman. Blog into Mystery notes:

…You don’t have to be Freud or Jung or whoever to see that he has some issues with the most important people in his life. He has no problem with dreaming about punching them, tripping them, or KILLING THEM, without a whole lot — let’s be honest – of provocation for any of those deeds.

This strikes me as a problem.

It seems that Superman has always had this problem. Unlike some superheros—Batman, Spider-man—whose enemies have wanted to do away with them for interfering with their dastardly plans, Superman’s very existence appears to be the driving force behind the hatred, from friend and foe. The very indestructibility that makes him so powerful a force for good and (unfortunately) so uninteresting as a character also engender some very mixed feelings in the all-too-weak people (villains and not) who surround him.

Must make for a lonely life.

Reader’s Corner: New Edition of ‘Stardust’

Even though he hits the Times bestseller list on a regular basis these days with novels like American Gods and The Graveyard Book, back in the 1990s Neil Gaiman was not on the mainstream reading public’s radar. He was still mostly known on the fanboy circuit as the guy who created the stunning, magical graphic novel series Sandman (which, reports now have it, he’ll be returning to in 2013).

Then in 1998, Gaiman published Stardust, a beautiful fable about love, other worlds, and — most importantly, and like all good fairy tales — the dangers of magic. It also came with these gorgeous, early 20th century-style illustrations by Charles Vess that aren’t available in every edition. Fortunately, this fall you will be able to buy a nifty gift edition with new artwork and a gorgeous new cover that was designed to Gaiman’s specifications:

I wanted it to look and feel like something from 90 years ago, like the books I treasured as a kid that I found in the school library (the ones I’d buy for a penny in the school library sales, and loved ever after).

Gaiman (aka “British Fonzie” when he had his cameo on The Simpsons) has done plenty of great and magical writing since then, but decades from now this novel (you can read an excerpt here) — and the collected volumes of Sandman – might well end up being the works that endure.

From the Vaults: Will Eisner’s Rifle Manual

In 1968, the United States Army decided to try and different tack for its largely conscripted force: instead of relying solely on telephone book-thick manuals and the barking of staff sergeants, the Army would pass on policies and training by utilizing a then still-disreputable art form: the comics.

At the same time, Will Eisner, one of the cornerstones of the American comics industry (also credited, incidentally, with essentially creating the graphic novel: 1978′s autobiographical  A Contract with God), was doing a lot of industrial work. One of the assignments he took on was the creation of one of these comic training manuals, which had the less than illustrious title of: “US Army Preventive Maintenance Manual for the M161A Rifle.”

While the subject might have been prosaic, the treatment was certainly not. As  you can see, Eisner doesn’t just slap images into a traditional A-B-C kind of manual, he breaks up the narrative into a visual and dynamic flow, spiked with jaunty dialogue rippled with colloquial language. It’s a wonderful piece of work.

You can see it displayed in full by Retronaut.

New in Books: ‘Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City’

Key to Guy Delisle’s easygoing, self-deprecating approach is this all-access take on his artistic endeavors. In theory, this should be a painfully navel-gazing type of thing; the artist trying to create his art generally being one of the most enervating brands of narrative. He makes this quest a running theme of his newest and likely greatest work, Jerusalem, looping it neatly into his explorations of this uniquely fractured city. In between his threading the needle of transportation, whether braving the epic traffic jams or just trying to find a cab that will take him to East Jerusalem, he is always stopping to note an especially spectacular site. Like most Westerners new to the Holy City, it’s nothing like what he expected. Unlike many of those visitors, fortunately, he takes everything in stride and eagerly experiences everything that he can…

The graphic memoir Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City is on sale at better bookstores and online emporiums everywhere. My full review is at PopMatters.