Friday, October 31, 2008

A General Glory Halloween Monster Story

Here's another one of my General Glory pastiche stories, also published in Justice League Quarterly #16, which featured four such stories of mine surrounded by a framing sequence that introduced the, yes, new General Glory.

Anyway, this one was done in the style of a 1950s Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Marvel horror comic story and is entitled "I Fought Groout, the Creature Who Came From the Cracks in the Earth." It's a special story for me because it's penciled by my brother-from-another-mother, Kansas City's own Rick Stasi, who knows his comics and played the Kirby-emulation pitch perfect, while Dick Ayers, the sweetheart of a man who inked most of the real 1950s Stan lee/Jack Kirby Marvel horror comic stories, lent his brush to this story.

Do I still gotta tell you to click on an image to view it in a readable size. And to just say "No, thank you," to drugs.

Happy Halloween!

© DC Comics

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Fight For Love and General Glory, Part the Second

Check out yesterday's post for the details. Here, as Paul Harvey said, is the rest...of the story. Please click on an image to view it in a readable size. And eat all your vegetables.

© DC Comics

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Fight for Love and General Glory

In the 1990s, DC published a comic called Justice League Quarterly, a big 80-page anthology starring the various characters and groups associated with all the JLA titles then being published. I wrote, among other things, a semi-regular character called General Glory, who was, in that continuity, supposed to have been a "real" character who had actually lived and functioned in the DC universe of characters as far back as World War II. He was supposedly a top secret agent of the government in the war and beyond, but as part of his cover, his adventures were published as comic books, as a radio show, a TV show, etc. That way, if anyone reported seeing a guy running around in that costume, it could be chalked up to a delusion or some nut in a General Glory Halloween costume.

JLQ would feature occasional short stories purporting to be reprints of old General Glory comic book stories from across the different eras, from the Golden Age to then modern times. They were supposed to mimic (with tongue-in-cheek and irony at full bloom) the tone, storytelling and art styles of the eras we were parodying. So, f'instance, to imitate the flavor of a late-1950s Superman comic book story, we got late-1950s Superman artist Curt Swan to pencil it. For the riff on 1950s Marvel monster comics, my brother-from-another-mother Rick Stasi penciled and Dick Ayers, the dude who actually inked 3/4 of the stories we lovingly mocked inked it (I'll run that one next week).

My favorite of these, strictly from a script point-of-view, was my pastiche on The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller's seminal Batman graphic novel from the 1980s, the granddaddy of the grim & gritty movement. I thought I caught the tone of Frank's writing fairly accurately and wrote a couple of really dead-on metaphorical captions that could have come out of the original even with their sheer goofiness. I can be a half-way decent stylistic mimic when I try and on this one, I tried.

Alas, happy script, not completely happy result. I mean, not terrible, just...not all it could have been. The artist drew some nice pictures, but on many pages, he ignored--or more likely did not understand, as he was a South American artist, I believe, who's handed a script translation by the studio he worked for--the instructions to do the layouts like Frank's in The Dark Knight Returns. He didn't, so what could have been a solid home run turned into a double and I promise never again to use another sports metaphor here.

The second half tomorrow. As ever, click on an image to see it in a readable size:

© DC Comics

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Avenger Chronicles is Here!

Last year I wrote a short story for Moonstone Books' The Avenger Chronicles, an anthology starring the 1930-1940s pulp character. The book is out and I share space with a batch of talented writers, including Will Murray, Ron Goulart, C.J. Henderson and others. Here's how it starts:

The Avenger Chronicles: THE CLOUD OF DOOM
© respective copyright holders

“So, you think you’re a tough guy, eh?”

The tall, lanky man in the yellow checkered vest and straw boater planted himself in front of the approaching couple, jabbing a finger at the man and blocking their way along the Coney Island’s Boardwalk.

The male half of the duo, dressed in a pearl gray summer weight suit and matching fedora pulled low on his brow, peered up at the taller obstacle, his eyes hidden behind round-framed dark glasses. He was of average size, no more than five feet eight inches tall and one hundred and sixty pounds, but something about the man’s dark stare chilled the humid July air around the suddenly unsmiling Boardwalk barker.

“Excuse me?” the gray man said.

The barker swallowed and stepped back, trying to regain his smile, but fear kept it sliding from his lips.

“The bell,” the barker stammered, no longer shouting for the benefit of the crowd that surged around them. He held up the large wooden mallet that had been dangling at his side. “Ring the bell ... win a Kewpie doll. For, for the little lady.”

The “little lady” in question, a small, delicate young woman in a yellow flower print sun dress and wide brimmed bonnet to shield her porcelain complexion from the rays of the sun, tugged discreetly at the man’s arm. “Yes, Richard, why don’t you win me a Kewpie doll.”

Richard turned the black, endless stare of his sunglasses on her. “I wasn’t aware you needed one,” he said.

“I don’t, but you’ve obviously made this poor man very uncomfortable, so the least you can do is ring his bell,” she said. Then, in a whisper meant only for his ears, “Relax. Remember why you’re here.”

Richard looked at her for several seconds, than reached into his pocket for a quarter, which he flipped to the startled barker, who dropped the mallet to catch the coin. Before the well-worn handle could touch the ground, Richard had it in hand and, as effortlessly as waving farewell, he swung it against the padded wooden lever that sent a hard rubber ball racing up the eleven-foot length of cable, past the crudely painted summations and artistic representations of levels of strength, from “90-lb. Weakling” to “Hercules!!!”, to slam into the waiting bell with a resounding clang that brought an “oooh” and a smattering of applause from onlookers, then gasps as the force of its momentum drove the ball under the copper bell and jammed there.

The barker looked at Richard, his mouth moving but making no sound. In the distance, the sputtering engine of a slow-moving biplane towing an advertising banner through the thick, hot air thumped dully off the water. Closer by, a train of rollercoaster cars thundered by on the Cyclone and from it came a girl’s scream of terrified delight.

“I believe there was mention of a Kewpie doll,” Richard inquired, handing the barker his mallet.

As they walked from the still speechless barker, a cheap little celluloid cherubic Kewpie tucked under her arm, the woman said to Richard, “That was entirely mean. He was just doing his job. Some people have been known to come to Coney Island for fun, you know.”

“I was doing a public service, Nellie,” he said. “One look at that rickety contraption and I could see it was only a few good wallops away from collapsing and injuring someone. I gave him a hundred dollars and made him promise to replace it.”

“Oh,” Nellie said and smiled. “Yes, of course. I should have known.”

Richard didn’t smile back at her. He couldn’t. Beneath the shade of his hat and mask of his glasses, she could see the flesh of his face, so pale as to make her own peaches and cream complexion seem almost ruddy. She had long accepted the dead white immobility of his face, a result of the unimaginable trauma he suffered when his beloved wife Alice and their young daughter Alicia were murdered by gangsters. Nellie and the others who worked for this man’s Justice, Inc. could read his mood by his body language and voice, just one of the many small adjustments they all made when they joined their destinies with the man the newspapers called “The Avenger,” but who they knew as Richard Henry Benson.

His voice when he spoke was warm. “I appreciate your coming along, Nellie. I realize this must be awkward for you.”

“Awkward? Why on earth would you think that”

Richard lifted one shoulder and let it settle back in place, as close a sign of hesitation as he ever made. “We’re business associates. This is a personal matter. I just thought you might be uncomfortable...”

Nellie sighed, “Dear Richard, after how many years together, you still don’t understand, do you?”

But he was no longer listening. His chin had gone up and his gaze had shifted elsewhere. Nellie tried to see what he saw, but all she saw were revelers. Men, women, and children, clustered in all possible combinations and groupings, some in street clothes, many more in bathing suits, all in motion, pausing only long enough to loudly and merrily sample some amusement or Boardwalk delicacy. She couldn’t begin to guess how many were jammed onto the Boardwalk, beach and surrounding streets, but they had to number in the hundreds of thousands. And still more were coming by the minute, spilling out of the subway cars screeching into the elevated Stillwell Avenue station, by car, by bus and by packed trolleys that hissed south along Brooklyn’s major arteries, all culminating here, on a tiny spit of land jutting into the Atlantic Ocean.

It was the Fourth of July, 1941 and, until about thirty seconds ago, Coney Island seemed absolutely the best and most American place in all the world to be celebrating that.

Brightly buzzing neon and countless blinking, flashing light bulbs fought for attention with miles of red, white, and blue bunting flapping atop every arcade, game, attraction, and come-on joint along the Boardwalk. The air was thick with sound and smell, the roar of those countless voices muffled under the ceaseless thunder of the Atlantic surf. Nellie could smell sea and sand, sizzling hot dogs, diesel exhaust, roasting corn, and cotton candy. A pair of biplanes made lazy circles over the beach, one towing a banner extolling beachgoers to drink an ice cold Pepsi-Cola, the other to freshen their breath with new Julep cigarettes.

What she couldn’t see was anything amiss.

“Male Caucasian, blond, in his shirt sleeves, at eleven o’clock,” Benson said.

And then she had him, a tall, muscled man in his late-thirties, wearing a worn, grease-stained blue workman’s shirt with rolled up sleeves, dungarees, and steel-toed boots, striding away from a hot dog vendor, taking a big bite from one with everything.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Enough Already with the Jew-Jitsu Cover!

How about something from the inside, where it really counts?

Sit, read, enjoy. As always, click on an image to view it in a readable size. And, please, buy the book. There's 108 more pages just like these.

Jew-Jitsu © Paul Kupperberg
© Michael Simses

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's a Capes, Cowls & Costumes Friday!

That's right, yet another thrill-packed episode of Capes, Cowls & Costumes is up and ready for viewing on ('Reading Material to Get Excited About'). Not a week goes by that I don't pick up or add to my list at least one book I've seen reviewed thereon. This week, I look at some superhero anthologies.

Weekly World News XIII

A kind-of follow-up to an earlier story I wrote for Weekly World News, "Praise the Lord, Get Valuable Points" in July 2005. I'm not sure of the exact date, but I believe it was sometime in early 2007:

© Weekly World News

VATICAN CITY – In recent years, the Vatican has turned to novel marketing approaches to help boost church attendance, including issuing the ‘Indulgence Card,’ which, when swiped on collection plate readers, earns worshippers valuable points towards getting into heaven (“Praise the Lord, Get Valuable Points,” Weekly World News, September 5, 2005).

“We felt that was all well and good for those of our parishioners who still inhabited this mortal sphere,” said Bishop Doyle Dane. “But we wondered: what could the church offer those who have left us, to help ease their journey into the next world?”

The answer is the RestEZ-Pass, which is being field-tested in Chicago.

“We simply clip it to the clothing of the dearly departed,” said local funeral director Cal Dukesbury. “When it’s time to go in whichever direction the Almighty has determined for you, the RestE-Z Pass is activated.

“The deceased is whisked straight to his or her destiny on an express lane, bypassing limbo, purgatory, and long check-in lines at the Pearly Gates and Hell.”

Father Joseph Mario Spumdilini, pastor of the Windy City’s Our Lady of Perpetual Rationality, is hoping the test is a success.

“It’s a comfort to know that when you pass on you can do so with a pass on,” he said.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jew-Jitsu Sighting!

Jew-Jitsu: The Hebrew Hands of Fury is on the shelves! I walked into my local Borders this morning and there it was, a generous stack of them (face-out!) in the 'New Arrivals' section by the entrance!

Needless to say, I'm excited.

Check your local bookstores...let me know if you see the book and where!

The Goddamned Batman, Part 2

Last week I ran Part I of this short story I wrote that appeared in The Further Adventures of Batman, Volume 3: Featuring Catwoman, edited by Martin H. Greenberg (Bantam, 1993. Here’s Part II:

© DC Comics

Selina Kyle was disturbed by the night’s encounter. Oh, not by her failure to steal the wealth of books and manuscripts that had been within her grasp. She was happy just to have the Eliot manuscript, which she now set in a place of honor on a display stand on the shelf of a bookcase in the den of her Gotham City penthouse apartment.

No, she thought as she walked over to curl into a large, cushioned chair facing the bookcase to admire her new prize. No, as far as she was concerned, she had fulfilled her mission. What was disturbing was Batman’s observation on her behavior.

“You’ve always been predictable, Selina.”

As the Joker sought out novelties and chaos; as the Riddler persisted in taunting Batman with clues to his plans disguised as riddles; as Two-Face based his crimes on his strange obsession with duality, so was Catwoman overly fond of items with cat-related motifs.

The only difference between them and her, of course, was that they were all quite insane.

So, yes, she allowed, in that way perhaps she was predictable. In some small measure. Selina absently stroked the silky fur of Cassie, the Persian that hopped up on her lap, lost in thought. Why did she confine her activities to such objets d’cat? Could it be that, like that ridiculous little Riddler, she had some sort of warped, subconscious ulterior motive?

“Nonsense,” she hissed. The Persian perked up its ears and blinked at her. A tortoise shell tabby and an orange tom leapt up to join the cat on her lap.

Criminals like Riddler and Two-Face acted as they did because they wanted Batman to catch them. They were psychotics and sociopaths whose obsessive behaviors were literal cries for capture and help. They were the ones who kept the padded cells of the Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane full and its psychiatric staff working overtime.

But Selina Kyle? She didn’t fit that description. She had been arrested any number of times in the course of her criminal career. On those few occasions the authorities had been able to hold her, she had undergone psychiatric evaluations, each one resulting in her being judged sane.

And yet...

There was no denying that Batman had known exactly where to find her tonight. Nor was there any denying the feelings that gripped her when he was near. She had always tried telling herself that her feelings for the Dark Knight were that of respect for a worthy adversary. But she was being honest with herself now, thoroughly analytical. And if the absolute truth were to be known, even to herself, she had to admit there was more to her emotions than respect.

Selina Kyle took pride in needing no man to make her life complete. In her former existence, before there was Catwoman to sustain her and make her whole, she had lived an empty life being used by any man who could pay the price for her services. But that was long ago and now she would as soon kill a man before she allowed him to touch her.

So it was certainly not a matter of need.

But want. Now that was an entirely different matter.

Could Batman be the one to make her forget the dirty, unwholesome touches of the strange men of her past?

Selina became aware of the low, pleasured rumble of feline contentment. But the cats stretched out on and about her were all asleep, silent.

The purrs were her own.

For Batman?

Selina sprang to her feet, startling and scattering the cats, more deeply troubled now than when she began dissecting her emotional state. She couldn’t believe what she was thinking. Since their very first encounter, Catwoman had always sought to triumph over Batman. To dominate him as she would dominate all men.

But now she was no longer sure. Now she didn’t know if she wanted to win out over him... or win him over.

This was going to require some very long, hard thought.

* * *

“Tell me, sir,” Alfred Pennyworth said. “Might I spend another hour in the kitchen preparing some other dish you can allow to grow cold while you ponder the mysteries of the universe?”

Bruce Wayne sat staring out the dining room window, chin resting on steepled fingertips, brow furrowed in deep ridges of thought. “No, Alfred,” he replied absently, eyes fixed on something beyond the dark of night outside the glass. “No, thank you. This is just fine.”

Alfred sighed softly to himself, his professional demeanor preventing him from too ostentatious a show of his displeasure. Mr. Wayne was, after all, the master of the house. And though Alfred had been hired long ago as the butler of the household by Wayne’s parents, and in spite of the fact that he had literally raised young Bruce from the time of Dr. and Mrs. Wayne’s deaths, the elderly British gentleman’s gentleman always insisted on maintaining the proper level of decorum.

Which was not, he admitted with no small amount of pride (but only to himself), the easiest of tasks.

Because how many men in his position were servant, confidante, friend, and provider of first aid to the Batman?

Alfred stepped to the table and removed the plate of cold, untouched food from in front of Wayne. “Am I to assume, sir, that something is troubling you?”

Bruce Wayne made a sound deep in his throat which Alfred interpreted as assent.

“Might I suggest speaking of it as a method of alleviating your concerns?”

Wayne looked at Alfred at last. “I’m sorry, Alfred. Did you say something?”

“Yes, sir,” the manservant said patiently. “I was asking if you might like to talk out your problem vis a vis, Catwoman.”

“Catwoman,” Wayne repeated. “Selina. I suppose I should be grateful no one was killed tonight. Considering the murderous crime spree she’s been on lately, that’s some consolation.”

“She is proving most vexing, yes, sir. But then, Miss Kyle is always a problem when she embarks on a rampage.”

“The woman’s insane, Alfred.”

“Yes, sir,” the butler replied dryly. “I accept the diagnosis from a man who wears leotards and a mask whilst leaping about the rooftops of the city in the dead of night.”

Wayne suppressed a smile at Alfred’s response. Sometimes, he thought, his old butler must have invented the fine art of sarcasm. “Point taken, friend, but you’ll have to admit that there’s a considerable difference between my motives and Selina’s.”

“Quite, sir. Flip sides of the same coin, as it were.”

Wayne had come to expect this reaction from Alfred. The older man was as close to family as he had known since the murder of his parents by a mugger when he was a youngster. He had always been there for Bruce Wayne when he needed him, to talk or be comforted, when he limped home in the dark of night and the aftermath of his self-appointed crusade against evil. But Alfred Pennyworth would never approve of the way he spent his nights. He would support Bruce as best he could, he would mend his wounds when the crusade turned bloody, but how was he to approve of any activity that saw Wayne putting his life on the line night after night?

What was he to do but hate any activity that threatened the young man he loved as dearly as his own flesh and blood? Even if that was an admission Alfred would never vocalize, not even under the threat of the most heinous torture. Because that, of course, would be a breech of the decorum he so valued.

“Whatever my reasons, Catwoman’s a criminal and a killer, and it’s up to me to stop her.”

“If you say so, sir. Although, sometimes I must wonder...” But Alfred’s voice trailed off and he shook his head as he started to turn with the dish in hand to leave the room.

“Wonder what?” Wayne asked.

Alfred stood with his back to Bruce Wayne for a long moment before turning back to his employer with a look of concern spread across his normally closed expression. “About Miss Kyle, sir. It would seem to me that she appears to prey on your mind far more than do other foes whenever you and she encounter one another.”


“Meaning, sir, that you might wish to consider investigating your emotional state where Catwoman is concerned.”

Wayne laughed, or at least made a sound as close to a laugh as he could muster in light of Alfred’s words. “What are you saying, Alfred? That I’ve got feelings for the woman that are interfering with my work?”

“I merely think you have a tendency to... shall we say, obsess over Miss Kyle and her activities. Her crimes are terrible, to be sure, but no more, and certainly often less, than the acts of others, such as the Joker. Or Two-Face.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Alfred. Naturally, I’m going to think about her when she’s active. But I think about every criminal I go up against.”

Alfred nodded and his features settled back into their usual neutral repose. “If you say so, sir,” he said, but he allowed a hint of skepticism to creep into his voice. He wasn’t hiding anything from Bruce Wayne.

“I do,” Wayne asserted. But he heard his old friend’s doubt and it bothered him more than he was willing to admit. He was too tired to argue, though. And he had too much to think about.

Mostly about Catwoman.

“Will there be anything else, sir?” Alfred asked.

“No, thank you.”

“Than I shall clean up in the kitchen and be retiring.”

“Good night, Alfred,” Bruce Wayne said softly, turning his gaze back to the black stare of the window . Alfred was almost out of the dining room when Wayne called out to him, “Before you turn in, Alfred, could you fix me something to eat?”

Alfred looked down at the plate of cold food in his hand and shook his head.

“Certainly, sir,” he replied. “How silly of me not to have thought of that myself.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Where Have You Gone John Kemmerer?

Here’s something I found rooting around in archived folders: the manuscript for Mythology Around the World: Mesoamerican Mythology, a non-fiction book I wrote for Rosen Publishing in October 2005. Due to a misunderstanding (meaning I probably didn’t read the Series Guidelines closely enough), the book I wrote was a survey of the myths of all the Mesoamerican cultures when it was supposed to focus on a specific people (I forget which). I was paid a kill fee and this was never published.

Mythology Around the World: Mesoamerican Mythology
© Paul Kupperberg

Chapter 2: “This is the Beginning of the Ancient Word...”

No matter what the culture, regardless of their history, we all share the need to understand who we are and where we came from. While modern man depends on science for his answers, earlier cultures had to rely on their imagination and nature. Myths, traditional stories presenting supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serve as representations of certain types and ideas, are the response of primitive societies to this need to understand their place in the world.

Modern cultures also have the advantage of the accumulated knowledge of the past millennia, allowing us to better understand our place on this planet, this planet’s place in the solar system, this solar system’s place in the galaxy, this galaxy’s place in the universe.

We know that that thunder and lightning is nothing more than the interaction of electrons and moisture in the air. We understand that the sickness afflicting us is caused by a specific one of any number of microscopic organisms that infiltrate and disrupt the body’s natural and normal functions.

Nature and the Gods
Prior to learning these things, people trying to understand their history, their lives and their place in the world and the broader universe had to create the reasons based on their limited understanding of how the world worked. Unable to peer through powerful telescopes out to the edge of the universe, they credited beings created in their own images with responsibility for everything from the stars in the heavens to the crops in the fields. Uncomprehending of the organisms that sickened them, they could only believe that disease was a sign that they had somehow offended a god.

History becomes mythology, changing fact to fiction as it is told and retold down through the generations. A storm that may have turned the tide of a long ago battle becomes the epic tale of a divine intervention that determined the fate of a nation. An eclipse is the hand of a god blocking out the sun to punish a rebellious people.

Traditions and rites of passage are formalized in myths as stories that give them a history and a reason for their observance. Family tales, life lessons, the interactions of man and nature are all explained in myths.

A tale from the Oaxaca valley warns of the danger of pride in a story about the bat who, though he complained to the gods that he was cold, was in reality jealous of the colorful plumage of birds. The gods asked each bird to contribute one feather each to keep the bat warm. With so many different colored feathers, the bat became the most beautiful flying creature around. Day and night, he spread color across the sky and could even create rainbows.

The bat became insufferably proud of himself and the birds soon had enough of his arrogance. So they flew to the gods and asked that something be done about the bat. The gods summoned the bat to the heavens so that he could show them what he could do. But as the bat demonstrated his abilities, he began to lose his feathers, one by one. Soon, his feathers were gone and he was back to being his old, drab self. To this day, the bat is still ashamed of his ugly, unadorned body and only comes out at night, flying rapidly back and forth in search of his lost feathers.

The Power of Mythology
In his book, The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell, the cultural historian and chronicler of mythology, outlines two distinct orders of mythology. The first is the naturally-oriented myth, created to explain the origin of man and his universe. The second is the socially-oriented mythology that explains man’s place as a member of a particular society.

Together, Campbell writes in The Power of Myth, “they integrate the individual into his society and the society into the field of nature. It unites the field of nature with my nature. It’s a harmonizing force.” These myths may be stories about gods, but these powerful gods are really just metaphors, “personifications of a motivating power or a value system that functions in human life and in the universe—the powers of your own body and of nature. The myths are metaphorical of spiritual potentiality in the human being, and the same powers that animate our life animates the life of the world.” In other words, “there is a natural order and harmony to nature, and what the individual or group must do is fit in.”

The epic legend of the Popol Vuh, the creation myth of the K’iche’ Mayan, exemplifies the interplay between man, nature, and the gods, determined to inhabit the world with a people who would worship and praise them. After creating the world itself in the first age, the gods made animals. But the animals couldn’t praise the gods so they told the animals that they would therefore be of service to others as food.

In the second age, the gods tried again, this time making a body from the mud of the earth. This too was unsuccessful, crumbling and falling apart and capable only of speaking nonsense. This creation they let dwindle away, until it became “thought.”

In the third age, the gods created manikins of wood, the man of coral wood, the woman of reeds. But though the manikins could walk, talk, and multiply, they had no hearts to love their creators or minds to remember them. So a great flood was released to smash them, and today only monkeys, it is said, are still made of wood and look like humans as a warning that people must have a heart.

Finally came the fourth age when the gods at last understood how to make proper humans. Fox, coyote, parrot and crow bring yellow and white corn to Xmucane, the goddess of corn. She ground it up into cornmeal that becomes human flesh, arms and legs. Their blood is water; the water in which Xmucane rinsed her hands became human fat. These beings can speak and think and, most importantly, praise and thank the gods for having made them.

Here is man’s place in the cosmos: created by the gods to worship the gods, made from the very things that sustain them and tie them to Earth and nature. It integrates, as Campbell believes a myth must, man “into his society and the society into the field of nature.”

The universality of Campbell’s statements can be seen in the many cultures whose mythologies would seem to be drawn from the same or similar sources. It is not uncommon to find the story of a great flood that partially or completely wipes humanity from the planet (which we know as the Biblical story of Noah’s ark) in cultures from all over the world. Is this because they have all experienced a great flood at some point in history, or because the fear of such a cataclysmic event is common to the human experience and, therefore, likely to make its way into multiple mythologies?

The myths surrounding creation also contain common ideas and themes, including the shaping of human beings from nature (clay in the Judeo-Christian world, corn and water in the Mesoamerican) by a superior being. Even the telling of these tales may share surprising common ground. The King James Bible (a translation commissioned by England’s King James I, published in 1611) opens with the sentence, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Mayan Popol Vuh starts with “This is the beginning of the ancient word, here in this place called Quiche (K’iche’).”

But while mythologies may share themes, every culture puts its unique stamp on their myths. Feathered serpents, giant brothers posted at the four corners of the universe to hold up the sky and gods who turn into black ants to bring corn to mankind are only the beginning of the rich and ancient mythology of Mesoamerica.

Monday, October 20, 2008

More Batman: The Script

On Friday, I posted the art for an 8-page Batman story I wrote that appeared in Gotham Knights #29. This is the script that artist John Watkiss drew the story from. The illustration is by the talented Rick Burchett, a piece for a Batman reader that I edited.

Paul Kupperberg
"No Escape" (8 Pages)
© DC Comics

NIGHT. The old, abandoned CIRCUS MIDWAY of THE HURLEY BROS. CIRCUS on a deserted waterfront section of GOTHAM CITY. The Circus was third-rate in its hay day, old and always kind of seedy, with a ferris wheel, merry-go-round, concessions and carnival games, a rotating roster of Big Top attractions, and an old fashioned sideshow with "freaks" and human oddities. Now, the attractions are boarded up, old posters featuring a variety of attractions and bizarre sideshow acts dark with age and peeling from walls. Darkened light fixtures dangle from poles and walls. Torn tent canvas, blackened with weathering and age, flaps in the wind. Litter blows across the gloomy, shadowed midway. This place was boarded up 10 years ago and has experienced a lot of abuse and vandalism since.
A TORN POSTER on a wall in the FOREGROUND FEATURES ESCAPE ARTIST "THE GREAT DODGE," hunched over, wrapped in thick chains secured with heavy padlocks, his hands chained in front of him, but smiling mysteriously out at the viewer (this is a take-off on a famous shot of HOUDINI, ATTACHED). In the poster, he's young, handsome, thick head of hair, muscular...but this is a 30 year old poster.
PROMINENT IN THE SCENE IS THE FERRIS WHEEL, as old and rusted as everything around it, half its cars missing, others hanging from the large, dark wheel. And, chained spread-eagle and upside down to the hub of the great wheel is BATMAN, his UTILITY BELT GONE.
(We won't see this amount of detail in this shot, but for the record...) BATMAN is PHYSICALLY CHAINED TO THE HUB by heavy-duty chains that crisscross his chest and wrap around him, held by many locks. His arms and legs are held by heavy iron, padlocked manacles, one chain to each limb, but NOT CHAINED TO THE FERRIS WHEEL ITSELF, but rather stretch off to attach to the wheel's support structure or some such: the whole idea behind this trap is that as the wheel begins to turn, twisting BATMAN'S torso, the chains hold his arms and legs stationary so that he'll be torn apart.

3 BATMAN CAP: MAX DODGE said, “You get IN, there's a way OUT. It’s EASY, when you know HOW.”
4 BATMAN CAP: He also said, “Of all escape mechanisms, death is the most efficient.”
5 BATMAN CAP: Both quotes run through my mind, the only options of escape: success or DEATH.
6 BATMAN CAP: Max Dodge had taught me everything I know about escape.
BATMAN created by BOB KANE

2. CLOSER IN ON BATMAN, your basic grim and determined, so we can better see how he's chained up.

9 BATMAN CAP: He also created THIS gag.
10 BATMAN CAP: I was there. Watched him crack it a hundred times, step-by-step, as he did.

3. FROM BEHIND BATMAN'S HEAD, LOOKING OUT at the windswept, dark and gloomy deserted midway.

11 BATMAN CAP: A hundred times...EXCEPT for how to get out ALIVE.
12 BATMAN CAP: He kept that to himself.

# # #


ESTABLISHING SHOT OF THE HURLEY BROS. CIRCUS MIDWAY, 15 YEARS EARLIER. There was life in the circus in those days, the midway alive with customers, the concessions and sideshows thriving. With the lights and the color and balloons and excitement, you almost don't see the flea-bitten tackiness of the place.

1 BATMAN CAP: Max Dodge kept a lot of secrets.
2 FROM BIG TOP: You Dodge?

INSIDE THE BIG TOP, currently deserted between shows. In the middle of the ring stands MAX DODGE, a man a little older than the one in the poster on page 1, middle-aged, starting to get a little thick around the middle, hair thinning, and his overindulgence in alcohol starting to show on his face.
DODGE is wrapped up in a whole mess of chains, secured with padlocks, concentrating as he squirms to free himself. Standing outside the ring is a YOUNG (20ish) BRUCE WAYNE, wearing jeans, t-shirt, denim jacket and boots.

4 BRUCE: I'm an admirer of your work and...
5 DODGE: I'm kind of TIED up here. Buzz off, willya?
6 BATMAN CAP: Houdini. Thaddeus Brown. Zatara. The Great Dodge!

Still squirming, the chains are starting to slip a little from around DODGE as BRUCE looks on.

7 BATMAN CAP: Geniuses all. Except Dodge never broke out of the carny circuit.
8 BRUCE: I want to learn escape.
9 BRUCE: From you.

The chains are slipping from DODGE'S shoulders as he squirms and contorts, except now he's laughing. BRUCE is totally serious.

10 DODGE: HAH! Dream on, junior. Kind’a idiot you think I am, give away everything I know for NOTHING?
11 BATMAN CAP: A monumental TALENT...housed in a MISERABLE human being.

DODGE'S hand is slipping out of the chains now, reaching for the thick wad of $100 bills that BRUCE is offering to him. DODGE'S eyes are wide.

12 BRUCE: Not for nothing.
15 DODGE: >whew!< style="text-align: center;"># # #


The chains are falling away from DODGE as he steps out of them, clutching the wad of bills in his fist. He's walking away from BRUCE.

1 DODGE: You'll get it. I think this calls for a DRINK.
2 DODGE: Bring those with you, willya, kid?
3 BATMAN CAP: I needed his knowledge, his skill.

2. BACK TO THE PRESENT, for a MEDIUM-SHOT of BATMAN chained to the ferris wheel.

4 BATMAN CAP: How does Dodge fit in with THIS?
5 BATMAN CAP: A TIP on a CRYSTAL METH LAB in the area...
6 BATMAN CAP: Ambushed at the gate...

3. PULL BACK, to show a VIDEO CAMERA MOUNTED on an old, leaning light pole, pointed at the ferris wheel and BATMAN.

8 BATMAN CAP: WHY go to the trouble...? Doesn't matter.
9 CAP: "Awake is he?"

4. CUT TO: an ESTABLISHING SHOT of the old, battered and weathered SIDESHOW TENT. There is light coming through the holes in the tent.

10 FROM TENT: Good!

5. CUT TO: INSIDE THE SIDESHOW TENT, still hung with banners, now faded and torn, featuring the array of oddities it used to house: the LIZARD MAN, THE INDIAN RUBBER MAN, FAT LADY, THE GORILLA-MAN, HALF-MAN/HALF-WOMAN, BEARDED LADY, etc.
Not much left inside, except for some shelves on the wall on which sit large jars containing an array of “oddities,” now just vague shadowy objects in murky liquid. Lots of dust and gloom...and THE RIDDLER, with a trio of HENCHMEN...and MAX DODGE, older than he looked in the flashback. He is a tired, defeated man, twitchy from too much drink and hard living, unshaven, his suit worn and way out of style.
RIDDLER is standing before a small TV sitting on an overturned bit of debris, showing the view of the video camera of BATMAN, chained to the ferris wheel. RIDDLER’S enjoying the scene as he reaches for a large, old fashioned gear level, jerry rigged inside the tent with a large cable snaking out of it. The HENCHMEN all have some heavy duty fire-power on hand, pointed at DODGE, who looks like he doesn’t want to be there.

11 RIDDLER: Wouldn’t want him to MISS this, eh, Mr. Dodge?
12 DODGE: I...n- no, RIDDLER.
13 RIDDLER: Well, then, as you carny folk say...

6. CLOSE-UP OF RIDDLER’S HAND as it shoves the gear-level forward.

14 RIDDLER: ...Let’s get this show on the ROAD!

7. Smiling broadly and dusting his hands together in a gesture of a job well done, RIDDLER is turning to face the quivering, cowering DODGE.

16 RIDDLER: Power ON...’round and ‘round she GOES, where she stops...
17 RIDDLER: ...heh heh heh!...The Batman DROPS!
18 DODGE: I- I did like you asked, Riddler...did my part...

# # #


1. RIDDLER, grinning maliciously, is shoving his face into DODGE’S, sending the old man recoiling, sweating in fear.

1 RIDDLER: Then TELL me, Dodge...if I dropped YOU and Batman from a roof at the SAME instant...
2 RIDDLER: ...WHO would hit the ground FIRST?
3 DODGE: ...I don’t...I don’t know...who?

2. RIDDLER is crouching down, looking happily at the TV screen at the image of BATMAN, chained and seemingly helpless.

5 RIDDLER: Still, you DO give good death trap...for an OLD RUMMY.
6 RIDDLER: Don’t you just LOVE the GESTALT of the MOMENT? What says DISMEMBERMENT better than a CIRCUS?
7 BATMAN CAP: It’s starting...

3. CUT TO: BATMAN, still in place, of course, but now the ferris wheel has started up, old and disused, creaking slowly into operation, starting to turn clockwise. With the chains attached to his arms and legs, holding them stationary while his torso begins to rotate with the ferris feel, he doesn’t have long before he’s torn apart.

8 BATMAN CAP: With my TORSO chained to the ROTATING hub...
9 BATMAN CAP: ...My arms and legs IMMOBILIZED, I’ve got maybe THREE minutes before I’m torn to pieces.

4. NARROW PANEL: On the open palm of BATMAN’S GLOVED HAND. His THUMB is crossed over the palm, pressing on the base of his pinky, which is forcing a small, flexible narrow strip of metal--a lock-pick--up from where it’s hidden in the seam of the glove, on the inside of the pinky finger.

10 BATMAN CAP: Time enough...provided the gag’s on the square.
11 BATMAN CAP: One PLUGGED LOCK and I was OUT of time, dead.
12 BATMAN CAP: Dodge, he never cheated.

5. NARROW PANEL: CLOSE-UP of the UPSIDE DOWN BATMAN, just a portion of his face, showing his concentration, biting the corner of his lip.

13 BATMAN CAP: No gaffed locks or tricked out boxes for him.

6. NARROW PANEL: back to BATMAN’S hand, maneuvering the lock-pick between his fingers, getting a better grip.

14 BATMAN CAP: “Nothing drives ‘em out of the tent faster,” he’d say...

It’s still 15 YEARS AGO, out behind the midway, where the trailers the performers live in are parked. DODGE is sitting on the step outside his trailer, wearing a t-shirt and holding a bottle or bourbon, drinking while he watches BRUCE rehearse.
BRUCE is hanging from a gravity-boot-like set up, chained at the ankles, upside down, and wrapped in a straitMaxet, which he’s struggling mightily to wiggle out of. His head’s only a few inches off the ground in this gizmo.

15 DODGE: ...Then the rubes knowing you were never REALLY in danger.
16 DODGE: They wanna think you might DIE. CHEAT that and they’ll know.
17 BRUCE: Uhhnn...I think I’m STUCK, Max.

# # #


DODGE is standing now, leaning against one of the uprights of the gravity-boot-like thingie BRUCE is dangling from. He’s ignoring BRUCE, who’s struggling, twisting around at the end of the chains holding him up, raising the bottle to his lips.

1 DODGE: I don’t just DO escapes. I GIVE them escape.
2 BRUCE: Could you give ME a HAND?

SAME AS ABOVE, except now DODGE is glancing down at the struggling, twisting BRUCE.

3 DODGE: Escape’s a TRICK...but never a CHEAT.
4 BRUCE: Max...?
5 DODGE: Done trying to do it YOUR way, kid?
6 BRUCE: >Sigh!< style="text-align: center;"># # #


1. CUT TO: DODGE, eyes riveted on the TV screen as he pushes forward, brushing past RIDDLER, who’s looking at the old man in surprise.

1 BATMAN CAP: I learned.
2 DODGE (small lettering): ...Can’t take the pain...
3 RIDDLER: What? Is he SUPPOSED to do that?
4 DODGE: Umm...INFLATABLE lining in the boot he deflated to give him SLACK to slip the chain.

2. RIDDLER is looking suspiciously at DODGE, who’s face is almost up against the TV SCREEN, watching it like he’s searching a crowd-shot for a familiar face. RIDDLER is reaching for a knob on the front of the set.

5 DODGE: Can I ZOOM IN...on his face, I mean.
6 RIDDLER: Something I should KNOW, Mr. Dodge?

3. TIGHT CLOSE-UP on DODGE’S EYE, wide and staring, with a CLOSE-UP of BATMAN’S inverted face reflected in it, still contorted in that grimace of pain.

7 RIDDLER (off): What’s the DIFFERENCE between ME and the LETTER “T”?
8 RIDDLER (off): I DON’T like being CROSSED!

4. RIDDLER has grabbed DODGE by the hair, yanking his head back, DODGE shouting out in pain.

10 RIDDLER: Yes, you WOULD. But you SHOULDN’T.
11 RIDDLER: I told you--either Batman DIES...or YOU do.

5. CLOSE-UP OF DODGE, in the foreground, looking down in shame as the angry RIDDLER towers over him, looking down at DODGE with disdain.

12 RIDDLER: Some thanks I get for giving a broken down, drunken HAS-BEEN a LAST shot at glory!
13 DODGE (small lettering): Last shot...?

Once again, 15 years ago, this time on the MIDWAY, DODGE, BRUCE and the CIRCUS MANAGER standing in front of the ferris wheel, talking.

14 DODGE: ...My last SHOT, Wally! I’ve been working on it for a YEAR!
15 MANAGER: I CAN’T, Max. There’s liability issues...

TIGHT IN ON DODGE, surprised, is looking down at his hands, which are trembling, as MANAGER walks away. BRUCE is looking away from DODGE, embarrassed for the man.

17 MANAGER: You’re a DRUNK, Max. I let you try this stunt, I’d be as good as KILLING you.
18 DODGE: Bu- but...I NEED this...!
19 BATMAN CAP: Max Dodge had no chances left.

# # #


1. CUT TO: DODGE, in the present, looking down at his trembling hands, miserable, a man on the edge.

1 BATMAN CAP: He disappeared after that. The Wheel escape was never performed.
2 BATMAN CAP: Until tonight.
3 DODGE (small lettering): ...last shot...

2. DODGE is suddenly up on his feet, shouting out in determination as he races for the flap in the tent to escape. RIDDLER is looking after him, angry, signaling for his henchmen to get the escaping DODGE.

4 DODGE (burst): LAST SHOT!
6 RIDDLER: Don’t just STAND there, you dolts!

3. EXTERIOR OF THE SIDESHOW TENT as DODGE races from it, across the MIDWAY, towards the FERRIS WHEEL. The HENCHMEN are just emerging from the tent.


4. Stumbling, almost falling over on his face, DODGE is racing around to the front of the ferris wheel, the HENCHMEN in hot pursuit, raising their guns.


5. DODGE is stopping, looking up at the ferris wheel in wide-eyed shock.


6. FROM DODGE’S POV: the chains that were holding BATMAN captive are there...but BATMAN ain’t! The chains are hanging loosely, still swinging on the turning wheel.


7. DODGE is whirling to face RIDDLER and the HENCHMEN, who have caught up with him. RIDDLER is pointing angrily at the frightened DODGE.

10 RIDDLER: So tell me...what’s DEADER than your CAREER?
11 RIDDLER: YOU are!

# # #


1. BIG PANEL, as BATMAN swings down the ferris wheel on one of the chains that had been holding his legs, swinging feet first into the HENCHMEN. But he’s not in time to save DODGE, as one of the HENCHMEN is getting off a shot that’s hitting DODGE, spinning him around. RIDDLER is starting to run.

1 BATMAN CAP: Dodge never would show me the BIG FINISH.
2 BATMAN CAP: It took me all these years to figure out WHY.
4 DODGE (burst): Unnnghh!

2. The HENCHMEN down, BATMAN is throwing a BATARANG at the fleeing RIDDLER, taking the criminal down. DODGE is crumbled to the ground, clutching his chest.

5 BATMAN CAP: He didn’t HAVE one.
6 BATMAN CAP: He’d RIGGED it so that ONE lock, once opened, LOOSENED all the chains.

3. BATMAN is kneeling beside the downed DODGE, still holding his chest, clearly on the way out.

7 DODGE (weak): Cr- cracked it, huh, kid?
8 BATMAN: Finally. The more COMPLICATED the set-up, the EASIER the trick.
9 DODGE (weak): Never...could make

4. CLOSE ON DODGE, fading fast, while BATMAN leans in to talk to him, urgently.

10 DODGE (weak): ...had to...>koff!<...had to CHEAT it...
11 DODGE (weak): Hey...nice mask, kid...heh heh!...bu- but you STILL can’t t- take...the pain...
12 BATMAN: I make do, Max. Hold on, ambulance is on the way.

5. CLOSE-UP OF DODGE, head starting to slip to one side.

13 DODGE (weak): Heh! Like I always...said...“Of all...escape mechanisms, death... is the most efficient.”
14 BATMAN (off): You stole the line, Max. From Mencken.

6. SAME AS ABOVE, except now MAX’S head has sagged to one side, his eyes closed, dead.

15 DODGE (weak): ...yeah...another...ANOTHER...cheat...
16 BATMAN CAP: And then, on the midway, for the final time, Max Dodge slipped his bounds...

7. LONG-SHOT of BATMAN, kneeling over DODGE’S body on the midway, against the backdrop of the circus.

17 BATMAN CAP: ...And made good his ESCAPE.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Invasion of the Lizard People!

(I know this has nothing to do with my work...
...except, sometimes I really miss Weekly World News!)

More Batman

Same character as yesterday's entry, different medium. This is an 8-page back-up I wrote for Gotham Knights #29 (July 2002), part of the 'Batman Black & White' series of stories, edited by the wickedly talented Mark Chiarello (who's also a hell of a fine artist and one of the truly good guys; check out his book, Heroes of the Negro Leagues from Abrams whether you care about baseball or not) and drawn by John Watkiss (also wickedly talented and who also has some books to offer). This story, along with a couple of dozen others, can be had in Batman Black & White Volume 3. I recommend all three of the Black & White volumes, each one being chock full of stories by the greatest names in comic books from here and abroad. And me.

I thought that today I would run the finished story in all its black & white glory and, next time around, the script it was drawn from, your behind-the-scenes peek at how the sausge is made. By the way, the Ferris wheel gimmick? It was my son's idea, which he came up with in oh, about three seconds, when he came into my office and saw me slamming my head against the desk because I couldn't think of a Batman-worthy deathtrap. He was about six at the time.

As always, click on any image to see it at a readable size.

© DC Comics

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Goddamned Batman, Part 1

The first section of a short story I wrote that appeared in The Further Adventures of Batman, Volume 3: Featuring Catwoman, edited by Martin H. Greenberg (Bantam, 1993):

© DC Comics

She padded across the alleyway, shrouded in the protective darkness of night, picking her way over the city’s debris. From beyond the alley came the sounds of the city, the drone of car engines and the swish of their tires on the damp pavement, the murmur of a million voices, the muffled rumble of the subways filtering up from the tunnels below. The alley stank of the rotting discard overflowing the trash cans and dumpsters over which she stepped. Car exhaust, the mingled odor of exotic foods from street vendors, vapors from the sewers that flowed beneath the streets all assailed her sensitive nostrils.

Gotham City was all sounds and smells around her. She purred, content with the comfort derived from their presence.

Gotham was where she lived and where she prowled, the place that provided her with everything she needed to sustain her.

She leaped up onto the top of an open dumpster, balancing delicately on the edge. What she sought was nearby, would soon be hers. All she needed was a few moments alone to ferret it out. But she was accustomed to the solitude of her activities. She needed no one. She...


A footstep scraped across the pavement behind her. Perched on the dumpsters edge, fur bristling, ears straining, nose twitching to catch scent of the source of the intruder.

“No, no, no,” came the soft spoken response to her alarm. “You’ve no need to be afraid, little pretty.”

The brown, matted cat turned her head to the sound of the voice and blinked large, glowing green eyes. There, at the mouth of the alley, stood a tall, slender figure. A human. The cat had been born of the streets, in a corner of an alley not unlike this one and had never lived among these beings, had seldom experienced anything but torment and abuse from them. She had rightly learned to fear them.

“I’ll be out of your way in just a moment,” the human whispered in reassurance, advancing slowly into the alley. “You have your work to do and I have mine.”

The cat sat, fur settling. She watched the human and purred. Humanity was the enemy, but this one... this one posed no threat. This one was a friend, indeed a kindred spirit. This one possessed the spirit and soul of the cat.

The woman paused before the watchful feline and extended a hand to be sniffed before gently scratching the creature’s head with a claw tipped leather glove. She was tall, lean and graceful, her sensuous form encased in a matte black leather bodysuit, its lines broken only by the small leather pouch hanging at the gentle swell of her hip, capped by a sleek mask that hid the upper half of her face, except for the startling, cat-like green eyes that peered out the mask’s eye slits below a pair of cat ears. A full, red lipped mouth set in a strong jaw turned up in a secret smile she shared briefly with the cat.

“This has been lovely, my dear,” Catwoman purred, withdrawing her hand. “But I really must be going.” She pointed into the air and the cat followed her hand with its wide eyed, glowing gaze. “Up there.”

The cat blinked as if in understanding and stood, stretching its thin little body as Catwoman leapt nimbly to the edge of the dumpster beside her. She settled on her haunches to watch her newfound friend.

Several feet over her head was the extension ladder of a fire escape. Catwoman’s eyes narrowed as she briefly judged the distance, then crouched and sprang upward, her gloved hands grasping the ladder’s lowest rung. She effortlessly swung her lower body up like a practiced gymnast on the parallel bars, landing with only the slightest rasp of shoe leather on rusted metal slats on the fire escape’s lower landing.

The cat peered up at her for a brief instant and, with a remorseful meow in farewell to the only human to ever treat her with kindness, she turned back to the contents of the dumpster to continue her search for the evening’s meal.

Above her, Catwoman was on a quest of her own. On the balls of her feet, she ascended the fire escape steps, her matte black leather outfit rendering her nearly invisible in the night against the brick of the building darkened by years of grimy Gotham air.

She stopped on the third landing, poised, listening to the sounds from the city below. Car horns blared. Voices rose and fell as citizens passed by the mouth of the alley. Somewhere in the distance, a police siren wailed mournfully on its mission of intervention in someone else’s misery. She didn’t care where it was headed as long as her work was uninterrupted.

Reaching into the pouch at her hip, Catwoman smiled her secret smile once again. How accommodating that the treasure she sought was held by one who made its acquisition by her so simple. Certainly, the window opening onto the fire escape where she stood was protected by an alarm. This she knew merely by looking at the grimy glass on which she could see etched the fine line of wire that was there to prevent its being broken by the crude method of entry commonly referred to as the “smash-and-grab.”

But Catwoman was far too subtle a professional to engage in so brutal and crass a practice. She pulled from her pouch a small plastic box with a single toggle switch on its face and, attached to its other side, a suction cup. The box was quickly affixed to the window pane, directly over the wire strip glued to the inside of the glass. The toggle switch was flicked on by a clawed fingertip and, within seconds, the box let out a single, gentle tone.

The alarm was deactivated. The wonders of modern electronics, she marveled, available to those who knew the correct wrong people. Catwoman knew them all.

Now her work was simple. From the pouch she produced a slender tool, the tip of which she applied to the glass. With a barely audible hiss, she traced a circle in the window pane with the glass cutter. A tap of her knuckle at the center of the circle sent the etched out glass to the floor inside the room with a crystalline tinkle. She reached through the hole left there, flicking open the simple latch holding the window closed.

Catwoman purred with delight as she slid open the window and stepped delicately inside. She closed the window behind her, disappearing into the dark office beyond the night.

A visit to this place the previous day in civilian garb and the guise of an interested customer had given Catwoman the layout of the office, so she had no need of a betraying light to guide her steps. She went straight for the wall on the far side of the office, snaking sensuously through the maze of office furniture and display showcases. Her goal was the large built-in, walk-in safe that dominated that wall. A Wm. Finger Deluxe Model M, Series A-1949. Installed here in the offices of the C. Paris Rare Book & Manuscript Co., her research told her, in October, 1952. Security technology had, of course, grown in leaps and bounds in the forty years since the safe’s installation, but the Model M was still regarded as a fine example of post World War II safe building. A solid box consisting of three layers of one-inch thick tempered steel plating, fireproof, bombproof, with inlaid door hinges and dead bolt locks and four separate tumbler mechanisms that made cracking the locks next to impossible for all but the most experienced safecracker or someone equipped with a good supply of explosives.

All in all, a most formidable and impressive box. Except for someone in possession of the combination.

Someone, like Catwoman.

Once again, her acquaintance with the correct wrong people simplified Catwoman’s task. In this instance, it was Buddy Wexler, a small, round shouldered old man with a perpetual squint and a thorough knowledge of safes built in America during the last century. There was hardly a model he had not, at some point in his long career, gotten into before his retirement. And, being a professional of the highest caliber, Wexler always sought the simplest way through the steel and locks confronting him. In the case of the product of the Wm. Finger Co. constructed prior to 1969, that usually meant consulting the installation records copied late that same year from the company’s offices. Most people, Wexler told her, amused, never bother changing the combination set at the time of a safe’s installation, not even forty years later. It’s too much trouble to memorize new combinations, he assured her as he handed her a slip of paper on which a series of numbers had been written in exchange for a sum of cash.

The dial spun beneath her fingers, first right, then left, then right again. Then, a metallic click and the safe’s handle giving under a gentle push.

The safe door swung open and Catwoman laughed in delight.

Within the safe were shelves and on the shelves rested a wealth of paper rarities, the creme de la creme of the C. Paris Rare Book & Manuscript catalogue: a first edition of Miguel de Cervantes’ El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha from 1610; the original manuscript of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in Lewis Carroll’s own hand; a set of nine Shakespeare plays bound together and dated 1619, the first published collection of the Bard’s work printed four years before the almost as rare and more well known First Folio; first editions of Moby-Dick, Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim’s Progress, and other rare volumes, many inscribed by the authors.

And the object of Catwoman’s excursion into the night: the original, handwritten manuscript of T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

There were far more valuable items housed in the safe, items that Catwoman would take with her for sale and profit in the world’s extensive blackmarket in rarities and antiquities. But the Eliot manuscript, she reflected with emotion approaching ecstasy, as she lifted the leather folder containing the sheaf of papers, was for her own, private collection. If she left here tonight with only this in her possession, she would consider the night’s efforts an unqualified success. Little more than a bit of poetic doggerel, this lesser of the poet’s works was most famous for inspiring a long running Broadway musical, but it had as its theme that which was close to Catwoman’s heart.

Cats. Her life. Her pleasure and passion.

Her obsession!

“You’ve always been predictable, Selina,” a deep voice rumbled behind her.

Catwoman knew, even as she turned, with the manuscript clutched to her breast, whose voice it was.

He stood, framed in the doorway to the office, a tall, broad figure sheathed in shadowy gray and midnight blue. His face was hidden by a mask, pointed ears reminiscent of a bat’s head rising from its crown. Shining on his broad chest was a brilliant yellow oval in which was emblazoned a jet black emblem in the shape of a bat and, to complete the image, a billowing cape with a serrated edge hung from his imposing shoulders like batwings at rest.

“Hello, Batman,” she said, her voice as casual as someone meeting a friend on an afternoon stroll through the park. “Fancy meeting you here, of all places.”

“Not so very fancy at all,” he said, pointing a dark gloved finger at the leather folder in her grasp. “The auction tomorrow of the Eliot manuscript has been in all the newspapers. I knew it was only a matter of time before you tried for it.”

“But how could you have known I would try tonight?” she asked with a slow, sensuous shrug of her shoulders. Catwoman’s tongue flicked out, briefly touching her suddenly dry lips. But there was no fear or apprehension attached to the gesture. This was something else, something that always seemed to grip her when she was in the presence of this man.

It was Batman’s turn to shrug as he strode into the office, his hand held out as if to take the folder from her. “I’ve been keeping tabs on this place,” he said. “It was still in the safe this evening at closing time. Tonight was your last chance at it before it was shipped to the auction house tomorrow morning.

“Now, hand it over, Selina.”

Catwoman sighed. “You have no idea how you vex me, dear Batman. Don’t you find it astonishing how our paths are always crossing!”

Batman stopped within a yard of her. “No. As I said, you’re predictable.”

“Oh, no,” she cried in mock horror. “I’d hate to think that were so. But I do know what I can do to drive that silly notion out of your mind.” Now Catwoman laughed and her hand, which had been creeping towards the pouch at her hip as they spoke, came into plain view holding a Zippo cigarette lighter. She flicked it to life and the flame leapt up a full six inches to fill the dark office with flickering shadows.

“This,” she giggled with undisguised pleasure, “Is something you never predicted!”

Batman started in surprise as Catwoman spun and tossed the flaming lighter into the open safe. Into the midst of millions of dollars worth of old, dry and brittle paper.

Still laughing, Catwoman moved towards the window even as Batman sprung into the safe with a single leap. The lighter had bounced once on the floor inside the safe, the flame of the Zippo reaching for contents of the lowest shelf. The manufacturer of the lighter guaranteed its performance in even the stiff wind, so its brief flight from Catwoman’s hand to the safe didn’t dim the flame.

A leather bound book began to smolder. Batman grabbed for it, hearing as he did so the pounding of Catwoman’s heels on the floor and the crash of glass as she dove through the window. As he swept the burning book and flickering lighter up in his hands, the sound of the rasp of her soles on the metal rungs of the fire escape reached him. He rolled out of the safe, holding both sources of fire away from the rest of its precious contents, snapping shut the lighter and slapping the small fire licking at the pages of the burning book out against his chest.

He was back on his feet in seconds, heading for the shattered window and the pursuit of Catwoman. But she was gone, swallowed by the night. Along with the Eliot manuscript.

A cat with matted brown fur sat on the fire escape among the shards of broken window glass, looking expectantly up at Batman. His lips set in a hard, grim line, the Dark Knight peered into the alley below. Catwoman had escaped him again because he had again underestimated her cunning.

He routinely faced and overcame foes who were both stronger and smarter than she. He survived the treacherous nights of encounters with danger and death with physical prowess and wits sharpened to the pinnacle of human perfection, yet this one woman all too frequently bested him with little more than a look from those startling green eyes.

What was the answer?

The cat’s plaintive meow broke his train of thought and he sighed. Catwoman’s time would come, he knew. It always did and always would, as long as she remained the creature of habit she had always been. Batman turned from the window to place a call to Commission Gordon to report Catwoman’s success and his own failure.

The cat cocked her head to one side, waiting on the fire escape. She sensed this human might love cats almost as much as had the first one.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Weekly World News XII

Written in May, 2005:

© Weekly World News

ROME, ITALY -- Here’s a warning to all those underachievers who fall back on the old claim that 'Rome wasn’t built in a day.'

"Turns out it was," says DeCry Institute archeologist Professor Rupert Valt.

The proof was found in an old earthen jar uncovered by construction workers digging a sewer line in the heart of the old city.

"When we opened the jar we found tablets carved with the plans and work schedule for the building of Rome," said Professor Valt. "Signed by Remus and Romulus themselves, the schedule called for 20,000 workers, soldiers and slaves to be on the construction site at 5 A.M. sharp. There was a timetable that had them working 24-hours straight during which time they were to build the entire city."

"This is a very exciting discovery," gushed historian Ima Borr of the Italy Community College. "According to legend, Rome was settled by the twin brothers in 753 B.C. on the Palatine Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome. This is not only the first actual record we have that they lived, but that they supervised the construction of the city."

The blueprints and work schedule were prepared by a Roman builder named Trumpicus, whose diary was also found in the jar.

"It’s a big jeroboam of a jug," Valt commented.

With winter fast approaching, Trumpicus proposed a bold plan to replace the smattering of tents and caves with a proper city consisting of dwellings and shops, roads and parks, temples and public spaces, arenas and theaters.

"Trumpicus was evidently quite full of himself," Ms. Boring remarked.

On the morning of October 20, 752 B.C., just a year after the founding -- "Remember, the BC years count backward," Boring added helpfully -- every man, woman and child in Rome set to work under Trumpicus’ direction. The burliest men cut white and azure marble in the quarries, the dust of which turned their collars blue. These stones were hauled to the hill by horses and raised by wooden cranes. Women directed the men, of course, while children provided food and drink.

"The work went relatively smoothly," Professor Valt noted. "There were some instances of workers not pulling their weight in which case Trumpicus would point to them and say ‘Tu exussum,’ which roughly translates from the Latin as ‘You’re fired.’ Although in this case, it apparently meant the workers were literally set on fire as an example to dawdlers."

With such strict discipline the building of Rome was actually finished in 23 hours and 49 minutes.

"Remus and Romulus rewarded Trumpicus with a palace," Volk said. "It was the first casino in Rome."

"When we heard this revelation you could have knocked us over with a feather," said Dr. Raoul Platitude, director of the Central Language Institute for Collecting Historic Evidence. "Here at C.L.I.C.H.E.. the saying, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ has always been one of our bedrocks. We’ll have to change it, of course. We’re considering ‘Saskatchewan wasn’t built in a day,’ but we’d welcome any thoughts your readers might have."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cat-Girl and the Black Queen, Part The Last

The end of this unpublished 1980s Archie Comics superhero story (Part I, Part II, and Part III here) I scripted, with art by the amazing Pat Boyette. As always, click on the images to view the images at a readable size...

© Archie Comics