J.D. Roth…Time Master

“Ha ha. This doesn’t make any sense,” I told Kris the other night. I was reading in bed with my red head-lamp on. She was trying to fall asleep.

“Mmflphh?” Kris said.

“This comic book,” I said. “It’s Rip Hunter…Time Master. Rip and his friends are going back in time, but they’ve got it all wrong.”

“Mmflphh?” Kris said.

“See, they start from one point on Earth and then boom they’re back in time at the same point. But that’s not how it would work. All time-travel stories make this mistake.”

Rip Hunter...Time Master

“You know time travel’s not real, right?” Kris asked.

“But pretend that it was,” I said. “If you were going to travel to Earth’s past, you wouldn’t just have to travel through time. You’d have to travel through space, too.”

Kris laughed and covered her face with the blanket.

“What?” I asked.

“Time travel’s not real!” she said. “It’s not like it’s an actual phenomenon and someone just forgot to work out the details. Besides, space and time are two sides of the same coin. You can’t move in time without moving in space. They’re connected. When you move back in time, you move to where something was in the past.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” I said. “Time and space are different. If I move back in time just an hour, for instance, but I don’t change my location, I’ll appear in the middle of space, right? Because the Earth is moving and the sun is moving and the galaxy is moving. If I want to appear in the same spot on Earth, I have to move in space, too.”

“J.D.,” she said. “It’s the space-time continuum. It’s physics. Space and time are the same thing!”

I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

xkcd on the space-time continuum
The great xkcd on the space-time contiuum.

Time passed.

“I know!” I said, as I finished my issue of Rip Hunter…Time Master.

“Mmflphh?” Kris said. She was almost back to sleep.

“It’s like passing a football,” I said. “When the quarterback passes the football downfield, he’s actually throwing it into the future, right? I mean, he’s passing it to where the wide receiver is going to be in a few seconds, not where he is now.”

Kris sighed and muttered something I couldn’t hear. I set Rip Hunter aside and picked up an issue of Amazing Adventures.

“I told my co-workers about you and your fascination with time travel,” Kris told me the next day.

“What did your little friends have to say?” I asked.

“Well, they laughed at your inability to grasp basic science, but they were more amused by the fact that you read comic books in bed,” Kris said.

“Doesn’t everyone?” I asked.

Superman Believes That a Wife’s Place is in the Home

I’ve been reading a lot of old comic books lately. Since I love comics, this probably doesn’t sound unusual. But it is. I mean I’ve been reading actual comics (instead of compilations) from the 1950s and 1960s.

Lois Lane #22 Cover

I find these books entertaining, even though their stories are often dull and repetitive. (The DC comics of the era are just plain bad most of the time.) I’m fascinated by the window to the past these comics provide, by the glimpses they give of culture and values that have faded to memory.

For example, I think we take it for granted how far the role of women has come in U.S. society. Sure, there’s more work to be done, but when you see how women were portrayed in comics fifty years ago, it’s like a whole other world.

My favorite example of this is the Lois Lane comic series, the full title of which is Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane. Every issue contains three stories, and every story features Lois pining for Superman. (She’s usually trying to prove that Clark Kent is Superman in these stories, too.) And although Lois is portrayed as a strong “girl” for her era, she still needs Superman to save her over and over again.

Lois Lane comics are filled with “imaginary stories”, stories that the editors claim are “what if” stories. They’re not part of the official Superman storyline, but imaginary tales about what could happen — if Lois and Superman married, for instance:

Lois Lane #22 splash panel

These are nice because they give the comic a change of pace. And, presumably, they satisfy the female audience’s taste for romance, though I’m dying to know the demographics of the Lois Lane readership during the early 1960s. Did women really buy these? It’s hard to believe now, but comics regularly sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and the most popular would sell over a million copies per month. Surely some women read this. But how many?

If the magazine’s letter column is any indication, plenty of women read Lois Lane (though most letters are from men). Here, for example, Anne Zeek of Kearny, New Jersey, writes to ask how Lois and Clark would handle working in the same workplace:

Lois Lane #22 letter

Dig that answer: “Superman believes that a wife’s place is in the home.” Mind boggling! Can you even imagine a magazine printing something like that nowadays? Yet, fifty years ago, this was the prevailing attitude. (This letter is from the January 1961 issue of Lois Lane.)

For a long time, the only bastion of strong womanhood in comics came from Wonder Woman, who starred in adventures like this (from November 1959):

Wonder Woman #110

Even Wonder Woman wasn’t immune to sexism, though. She palled around with Steve Trevor, “ace military intelligence pilot”, who often was depicted as stronger than she was. (Though, to be fair, most of the time the comic really did feature role reversals: Wonder Woman was saving Steve Trevor from danger.) The sad part about Wonder Woman is that after creator William Moulton Marston left the book, its writing and art sunk to the bottom of the barrel — worse even than Batman (which was dreadful at the time).

Marston was the psychologist and feminist theorist who created Wonder Woman. But even his noble aims seem patriarchal today:

Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.

Do women have stronger roles in comics today? I don’t know, to be honest. I rarely read modern comics, and almost never read modern superhero comics. I do know that when I was a boy in the 1980s, there were some strong female characters. And I can’t imagine any editor in the 1980s writing that Superman believes that a wife’s place is in the home.

Comic Book Christmas Covers

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas, everyone. To celebrate the season, I’ve brought you just what you wanted: a small collection of Christmas-themed comic book covers. Don’t say I’ve never done anything for you.

First up is a comic that adapts an actual 1964 film.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Sound like a bad comic? It was apparently a bad movie. In fact, it’s considered one of the worst films ever made.

Next, here’s an issue of Superman back when Superman comics were bad. They stunk. (I know this because I’m actively reading issues from this era right now.)

Superman 166

Note how the kids talk. I hate this. For some reason, DC comics of this era always have kids who mix up nominative and objective cases. I’ve never known any kid who does this in real life, so it baffles me why it’s a standard prop for comics from the fifties and sixties. (Also note that the kids often drop their “to be” verbs, which is another thing I’ve never heard…)

Here are some older comic covers, including a couple of Batman covers.

Action Comics 105

Batman 27

Batman 33
Silly Robin. He should have asked for Batman’s help.

Apparently Batman likes Christmas. Here’s a Batman cover from the early 1970s:

Batman 239
Batman Claus? Santa Batman?

Finally, here’s a comic I can remember actually buying in the grocery store when I was a boy. It’s notable as John Byrne’s last issue on X-Men and as Kitty Pryde’s first solo adventure. I think it’s also the first appearance of the Brood. (That means nothing to most of you, I know.)

X-Men 143

Have a merry Christmas, everyone. Be safe and kind and well.

Spider-Man in Invasion of the Dragon Men

There are some things I treasure from my youth that kids today will just never get to experience. Film strips in school, for one. Buying your favorite song on a 45rpm vinyl record, for another. And, most of all, those book-and-record sets you could get from the local department store.

When Dave gave me his hi-fi record player recently, one of the first things I listened to was my book-and-record set of The Hobbit. I love it still after all these years.

While browsing at the Marvel Masterworks forum (where I’ve been mostly a lurker for over five years, though I visit it every night), I discovered a lost treasure. Apparently some enterprising folks have taken it upon themselves to actually record some of these old book-and-record sets and upload them to YouTube.

For example, here’s Spider-Man and the Invasion of the Dragon Men, a set I actually owned as a boy:

While listening/watching, I was grinning from ear to ear. I remember this distinctly, and have thought of it many times over the years. I never thought I’d have a chance to hear it again, though.

There are other book-and-record sets on YouTube, including:

If you’re a fan of these recordings, too, then hold onto your seat because I’m going to let you in on the mother lode: Check out The Power Records Pages, which has audio files and image files on separate pages. Wow!


Kris and I spent the weekend in Lincoln City with Michael and Laura and their two children, Ethan and Sophia. We had a fine relaxing time, including good conversation — and a round of miniature golf.

One strange thing we noted: Up the beach from the rental house were several large pieces of driftwood. Driftlogs, if you will. And one of them was burning. There were no flames jutting up from the thing, but it was smoldering with hot embers. This was an enormous log — 20-30 feet long and maybe 8 feet in diameter (though there was a U-shaped gouge down its length) — and it was hot and smoking at both ends. What gives?

Over the course of the weekend, I was able to ply my trade: indoctrination of children. Here we see Ethan and Sophia falling under the sway of a bad, bad man:

Maybe next time I can introduce them to Advanced Comics. Heh.

Speaking of comics indoctrination, Lisa e-mailed me last week and actually asked me to help her indoctrinate Albert. Like I’m going to refuse that? Albert doesn’t know it, but he has some Tintin in his future. And some Little Lulu. And some Disney ducks from Carl Barks.

While we were at Lincoln City, I checked out a couple of bookstores. The first is actually about 20 miles from the coast, almost at the casino. I don’t know what it’s called, but I remember that longer ago — ten years? twenty? — it was a decent bookstore with a fine collection of comic books. It’s not longer a decent bookstore (if it ever was), but it does have some comics.

Unfortunately, they’re all kept in a glass display case. The woman who helped me seemed intent on showing them to me one at a time. Since there were a couple of hundred, I gave up rather quickly. There were some comics I wanted, but they were priced way too high (four times what they ought to have been), and I wasn’t about to spend all day with an old woman piecing them out to me.

Another used bookstore — near the outlet mall — was only rather average. It did have copious collections of railroad and radio books, though. Strange subjects for specialization, but there you go.

But there was one bookstore that took my breath away. It’s amazing. Robert’s Bookshop is located south of the downtown area near the theater multiplex. (Kris says it’s across from the Christmas store.) It doesn’t look like much from outside, but inside it’s a labyrinth of old books. There are paperbacks and hardbacks. There are comics and magazines. There are science fiction books and personal finance books and children’s books and cookbooks.

It’s been a l-o-n-g time since I let loose in a bookstore, but I let loose in Robert’s Bookshop. And I don’t regret it. This store is sort of like what Powell’s used to be back when the latter was a decent bookstore. (Powell’s is a hollow shell of its former self nowadays.)

Our trip to Lincoln City was about more than books and comics, though. I do have some video recorded. If I can find time to edit it, I’ll post a bit to YouTube.

Through a Glass, Darkly

At book group Sunday, we discussed Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Though the book is not about comic books, comics provide the background for the action. The entire story is informed by comic-book themes. I’d argue that one of the characters (Joe Kavalier) is intentionally drawn as a sort of comic-book hero, complete with a series of comic-book villains and a comic-book secret lair.

During the discussion, Kris wondered aloud why it is that men — or some men — are obsessed with the things of their childhood, stuff like comic books and videogames. Her question implied several sub-arguments, including:

  • Women are not interested in the trappings of their youth.
  • Comic books and videogames are something that only young people are interested in (or should be interested in).
  • It’s somehow wrong to be interested in the things we liked when we were younger.

The group discussed the first point at length. We talked about reasons men might like the toys and activities of their youth. We even noted that some women do cling to girlhood toys and activities: dolls, Nancy Drew books (of which Kris has a large collection), etc.

But I don’t feel like we explored the second and third topics much at all. Since I disagree with Kris’ premise, I’ve given this some additional thought.

Kris calls this fixation on the things of youth “childish”, and she means it with the negative implications of that word. I don’t agree with her. I think it’s fine to like the things we enjoyed as children.

For one thing, I’m not convinced that comic books and videogames (or dolls or Nancy Drew) are meant only for children. Many people come to these things as kids, it’s true, but many come to them as adults, too. It seems artificial to label these things as childish — especially when the labeler doesn’t have much experience with them.

What’s more, collecting the things from our youth, doing the things we used to do, can provide a heady sense of nostalgia, a visceral connection to the past. It’s a great way to feel connected with our personal histories, with our family and friends.

Hobbies kept from childhood can also help us better understand our selves. I’m able to look at my life-long interest in astronomy, for example, and trace its role in my life. I can do the same with comic books, tracking how my tastes have changed — or stayed the same.

I think it’s foolish to just blindly cast off our childhood interests as “childish” simply because we’re older.


You know, I love comic books. I own a lot of them, and I read them whenever I can. But there’s a reason they’ve earned a reputation for…well, this. From the Wikipedia entry for Genosha:

Mutant apartheid

The island [Genosha] is located off the east coast of Africa, to the north of Madagascar, and boasted a high standard of living, an excellent economy, and freedom from the political and racial turmoil that characterized neighboring nations. However, Genosha’s prosperity was built upon the enslavement of its mutant population. Mutants in Genosha were the property of the state and children who were positively identified with the mutant gene were put through a process developed by David Moreau, commonly known as the Genengineer, stripped of free will and made into mutates (a Marvel term for genetically-modified individuals as opposed to those who developed mutant powers naturally).

The Genengineer was also capable of modifying certain mutant abilities in order to fulfill specific labor shortages. Citizenship in Genosha is permanent and the government does not recognize any emigration. Citizens who attempt to leave the country are tracked down and forcibly brought back to the island by the special police force known as Magistrates, and mutant problems are handled by a special group known as the Press Gang. The Press Gang consisted of Hawkshaw, Pipeline, and Punchout, and were aided in their task by Wipeout.

The foundations of Genoshan society has [sic] been upset in recent years due to the efforts of outside mutant interests. In the first storyline to feature the nation, some members of the X-Men (Wolverine, Rogue, and their ally Madelyne Pryor) were kidnapped by Genoshan Magistrates, under the order of the Genengineer. Later, in the multi-issue, multi-title X-Tinction Agenda storyline, the X-Men and their allies rescued their teammates, Storm, Meltdown, Rictor and Wolfsbane, from Genoshan brainwashing, toppling the government after discovering their alliance with former X-Factor ally turned mutant hater, Cameron Hodge, and that Havok was one of the Magistrates since having his memory wiped by the Siege Perilous. Havok himself, woken from his conditioning by his brother Cyclops dealt the killing blow to Cameron Hodge in the process. Another ally, a member of the New Mutants named Warlock, was killed by Cameron Hodge. The news of this death was broadcast worldwide.

And that’s just a small part of the entire Wikipedia entry for Genosha!

No wonder I’m more apt to read Little Lulu these days. Mainstream superhero comics have turned into soap operas for boys. (I know, I know. They’ve been that way for decades…)

A Comics Geek Gets Serious

I originally intended to post this at Get Rich Slowly, but Kris rightly noted that I’ve beat this topic to death lately. I’ve revised it for posting here.

I’ve spent a lot of time this weekend thinking about my motivation for collecting comics. On some level I do it because I’ve always done it. I’ve been buying comics for 35 years. It’s a part of me. It’s a habit. But more and more, I’ve come to realize I don’t enjoy all of the comics I buy. That’s the main reason I’ve been able to cut my spending on them so sharply over the past few years.

After two days of introspection, I realized that what I really enjoy are the comics I remember from my youth, the ones I might have picked up at the grocery store or the mini mart when I was six, or twelve, or sixteen. I’ve decided to focus my collecting on the years between 1975 and 1986.

Making this decision is a huge relief. It gives me direction. Now I can look at my bookshelves and know exactly which anthologies to sell and which to keep. Now I can budget for future purchases. Now when I stumble on a stack of comic books at the thrift store or a garage sale, I won’t feel the urge to buy them all.

I’m actually excited in a geeky sort of way because I’ll be able to apply several of the techniques I’ve shared at Get Rich Slowly:

  • First, I’m going to purge some of this Stuff from my shelves. I’ll sell the books on eBay or the Amazon Marketplace. The money I earn from selling these books will be used to fund my future purchases.
  • In fact, I’m going to create a special savings account specfically for my comic collecting. Initially, this will act exactly like the stuff replacement fund I wrote about last week. As I sell the comics I no longer want, the money will go into this account.
  • Even more exciting (and I can hardly believe I’m saying this), I’m going to set a comics budget. That’s right — J.D., the man who does not budget, is going to create a budget for one aspect of his life. I’m going to place $50 a month into my comics fund.
  • To implement my monthly comics allowance, I’ll make an automatic transfer from my checking account into an ING Direct subaccount. It’s from this pool of money that I’ll allow myself to buy now books.
  • I’ll draft a list of goals. It may seem silly to have comic-collecting goals, but without them, I’ve just been buying things willy-nilly. (Why on earth do I have an Aquaman compilation? Nobody needs an Aquaman compilation.) With some goals for my collecting, I can focus on what’s important to me.

Earlier this month, I wrote:

There is nothing wrong with buying things that you will use and enjoy. That’s the purpose of money. If you’re spending less than you earn, meeting your needs, and saving or the future, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to afford the things that make life easier and more pleasurable. But when you purchase things based solely on the idea of having, I believe you’ve crossed the line from using money as a tool to becoming a tool for money.

For a long time, I’ve been collecting comics because I liked the idea of having them.

Kris, who views comics as a waste of time and money, would probably prefer I just got rid of them all, but I enjoy them. Now that I have no consumer debt, I can afford to spend a little money on them, and I’m happy to do it.

This isn’t really about the comics, though. It’s about taking a hobby I enjoy and determining why it brings me pleasure. It’s about setting limits, about setting goals, and about turning a collection of Stuff into a books I will read and enjoy.

Next: How I discovered that May 1980 marked the start of my “golden age” of collecting.

Watchmen Trailer

I’ve been sorely disappointed by a lot of comic book movies. That’s a tough thing for a life-long comics geek like me. There’s a bare handful of comic films I like: Spiderman 2, Iron Man, Batman Begins. (And I hear The Dark Knight, the new Batman film, is pretty good.)

When I first heard that Watchmen was being adapted into a film, I was nonplused. How could anyone possibly do it justice. This is one of the best comic book series of all time (from one of the greatest comic book writers). Early production stills didn’t do anything to bolster my enthusiasm.

But this? This is the trailer. And by god, they might actually pull it off:

At the very least, this trailer has ruined my plans for the afternoon. Forget writing. I’m sitting down to read the graphic novel.

Note: I’ve replaced the pulled version with a new one. It works!