Rummaging through a pile of old books and magazines the other day, I happened across this:
It’s a copy of the now-defunct comics / sci-fi / toys / trading cards magazine Wizard, from all the way back in February 1994! There’s all manner of crazy, brilliant
(or just eye-rollingly bad) stuff in it, giving a very intriguing insight into how different the geography of the pop-cultural landscape was all those eons ago....
twenty-three years ago, by my calculations! Since we know how fun pointless trivia is - and while I prepare the next season of Cosmos: Old School for your
delectation - I though I’d share with you the highlights of my dalliance into the wonderful world of Wizard:
* Green Lantern #50: Oh no! Hal Jordan has gone nuts, killed the Green Lantern Corps, absorbed all the energy from the Central Power Battery.... aaaaand flipped
the bird at 30 years of consistent characterisation and DC continuity. The full page ad proclaims ‘An era ends here!’.... Well, considering they’d already killed off
Superman, broken Batman’s back, and replaced Bats with a lunatic in Iron Man armour by that point, they ain’t far wrong....
* Marvel debuts yet another edgy ‘90’s character: Nightwatch! Uh, guys, you do realise he is clearly, blatantly and incontrovertibly a complete rip off of Todd
McFarlane’s Spawn? Changing the colour scheme and giving him high-tech gloves REALLY doesn’t make it any less obvious. Sorry, boys, try again.
* Kenner expands its new Aliens action Figure line with a whole menagerie of gimmicky zoological monstrosities: the Panther alien, Killer crab alien, Razorback alien,
Tarantula alien, Rhino alien, Mantis alien, Snake alien and the Queen face-hugger! What? No Screeching cockatoo alien? Bah. Slackers.
* The main comic companies extant in February 1994? AC Comics, Archie Comics, Bongo Comics (The Siiiimp-soooons.....), Caliber Press, Continuity comics,
Dark Horse Comics (Hellboy, Monkeyman and O’Brien, other awesome stuff), DC Comics, Defiant, Express Publications, Fantagraphics Books, Image Comics
(T n’ A capital of the universe, at that point, unfortunately), Kitchen Sink Press, Lightning Comics, Malibu Comics, Marvel Comics, Northstar (creators of Klownshock:
Freakshow! Gotta get me a copy a’ that!), Now Comics, Rip-off Press, Topps Comics.... and Valiant. Phew. Quite a few of those companies are not around today....
* Out now on Genesis and Game Gear: Robocop 3! Now with SIX whole levels of side-scrolling action!
*What’s So Hot Right Now? #1/2 issues and Ashcans! What’s an ashcan, you may ask? Why, a black-and-white, larger-than-normal, autographed prototype
of an upcoming ‘in-demand’ comic. So name because of their generally disposable nature once the final retail version shows up-- No, no, wait! They’re supposed
to be collectible! Don’t-- Ah, geez. Too late.
* The cost, circa 1994, of a mint-condition copy of the very first Fantastic Four comic from the 1960’s? $9,800.
* Among the competitions in Wizard #30 was the above - wherein you could win Kevin Eastman’s 1969 Chevrolet Camaro, all done up with artwork by comic artist
Simon Bisley (It’s Death-metal Bumblebee!) I’d imagine there would have been quite a few entries for that....
* Behold the bleeding edge of trading card ‘technology’: UV coating, Spectra-etch (your guess is as good as mine), 3D holograms, Thermo-foil, uncut card sheets
and the all-powerful Chromium! Guaranteed to not become passé for, oh, I’d say about five minutes....
* The top ten ‘must have’ comics of early 1994 were.... 1) Moon Knight #56, 2) Daredevil #319, 3) Wolverine #75 (with hologram card! Woo hoo!), 4) Moon Knight #55,
5) Daredevil #320, 6) Daredevil: Man without fear #1 (wow, lots of DD in this list!), 7) Ninjak #1, 8) Prime #2, 9) Avengers West Coast #102 (‘When Avengers Collide!’,
the cover screams), and 10) Green Lantern #46. Would I actually read any of them today? Ehhh, probably not.
Welcome back to part two of the disgustingly-early (or repulsively-late?) Cosmos Christmas special! Last time, I dealt with the A-Team cast’s surprisingly brief
contribution to the yuletide melee, all confusing Sunday strips, mistletoe and defective exploding Christmas lights; and the first mini-story from the B-Team cast,
featuring a very unfortunate Mall-Santa who probably wishes he has never met Peter Anderson....
Now it’s all about the B-Team cast (specifically Peter, Jamie and Timmy), as they prepare for the festive season while pondering the driving issues of the day:
Top: This entire story is (very loosely) inspired by a Calvin and Hobbes comic wherein Calvin, having listened to ‘Santa Claus is coming to Town’ for two panels,
turns off his radio and addresses the audience “Santa Claus: kindly old elf.... or CIA spook?” You know, I’m not entirely certain how the modern pop-cultural caché of
Christmas - complete with its iconic red-suited spokesperson - was transplanted to Cosmos in the first place.... or whether it’s some incredibly bizarre form of convergent
evolution. But as with most things of this sort, it may be better if we simply accept it and move on....
Bottom: Oh dear, the Terrible Twosome are attempting to pull a face one on Jamie, possibly the most alarmnigly-astute ten year old since Lisa Simpson - this will not
end well, mark my words. Peter also appears to be seriously mixing his geek metaphors (meta-metaphors?) in the fourth panel.... In for a penny, in for a pound, huh, Pete?
Top: Ahhh, Unicron! Welcome! Leave it up to Peter (and by extension, me) to deliberately cram a Transformers reference into an already contrived mash-up. Still,
when you need an entire planet destroyed in the most horrific fashion possible, who better to call? From what I remember, the implication in these strips was that
Kreepton (great name there, Peter) is populated solely by Type-two Cosmosians; being an ‘alien planet’ rather than Cosmos itself. How well this cultural statistic
comes across in the story, though, is open to debate.
Bottom: Chaos! Destruction! $50 million dollar visual effects! The great thing about comic strips is you are basically unencumbered by budgetary concerns -
if you can imagine it, and you can draw it, then you can do whatever you want for no money down!
In doing so, however, Peter really seems to be digging himself into a sizeable hole....
Top: The penny drops. With sufficient force to shatter concrete, by the looks of things. I’m not going to speculate on whether there actually are such things as
Snow elves (I think I’ve got enough types of Cosmosians to worry about already, thanks), but Peter’s story has been exposed as the sham it truly was -
a shame, really. It was just getting interesting!
Bottom: Smarty-pants she may be, but Jamie can’t resist rubbing it in when she knows she has the advantage - which, in the circumstances, is fair enough.
Unfortunately, Peter - unable to not be a sulky eight year old - is equally determined to dig that hole he’s in just that little bit deeper, just on general principle....
Above: This is interesting - the story is about the B-Team cast, but the title bar is all A-Team cast, all the time! A very rare occurrence; and only a few small steps from
the two casts appearing in the same strip together! Could you actually call it a crossover if they did, though, given that they’re both in one comic anyway? Hmm. Anyway,
the story itself: Peter’s first Transformer toy (Mr. green, yellow and orange) is entirely made up, but Transformer no.2 - rather unintentionally - is a dead ringer for one of
the pre-1984, Takara Toys versions of Optimus prime in terms of colour scheme (sans the red accents); although at that point in time, I had no idea any such toy existed.
And Cosmos again sounds like it gets a whole bunch of TF stuff we never did - ‘Deluxe Protectobots’ only appeared on Earth in the recent Combiner wars toy series; and
there are (thus far) no such things as Mega-changer cannon mounts, Throttlebot car launchers (which would be awesome, given that the Throttlebots had nifty
pull-back-action friction drive rear wheels), or an Iacon Duo-mode battlestation playset. Dangit, Cosmos, what other secrets are you hiding from us?!
COSMOS: OLD SCHOOL WILL RETURN THE MINUTE YOU LEAST EXPECT IT!
What? Christmas strips, in April? Well, sorry, everyone, but the temporal confusion will have to remain: we’ve reached the tail end of 2001, and therefore it’s
time for part one (of two) of the annual glut of yuletide comic-ness!
Don’t give me that look - I’m presenting these things in order, and this is what’s next in the queue.
Deal with it.
Ever since Cosmos’ sneaky evolution of both an A-Team cast (Artie, Gene and Co.) and a B-Team cast (Peter, Timmy and the gang), I’ve tired to divide my Christmas
strip collections so that there are comics representing both groups. It’s not always a totally even distribution, depending on what gags I come up with and who can best
deliver them - and this two-parter is no exception. Atypically, it’s the B-Teamers who get the lions share of the comics here: while Gene and crew receive four randoms
and a Sunday strip (all in this installment), Peter and his friends get a Sunday and a whopping 10 four-panelers; forming a nice little story.... or perhaps two mini-stories,
if you consider the comics in this chapter and the ones in the next separate entities. But enough hair-splitting - let’s get on with the comics!
Above: Whoo boy, this strip confused a LOT of people when I first completed it. Part of the problem was that it was originally just in black-and-white, making it very difficult
to tell what the snap was going on; especially since (and here’s the other half of the problem) it was A) very detailed, and B) not actually structured like a traditional Sunday strip,
with a logical progression of the plot from top left / panel 1 to bottom right / panel 8. Here, your eyes just sort of drift onto the page, and.... you don’t really know where to go.
I went nuts with the colour after my disastrous test run, which I must say has helped immensely; as you can now finally understand what’s going on in the scene, if not the joke.
Gene is bringing in a Christmas tree to put in the big wooden tub in Artie’s panel (top right), but since the tree is too utterly gigantic to fit in said panel, and is in fact almost too
big to fit in the Sunday strip template itself (which you can now distinguish from everything else, having stayed black-and-white), it’s tearing through all of the other panels and
messing up the locations within them.... Yehhh. A little too avant-garde and meta to follow without a road map or diagram, isn’t it? Even in colour. Having the Artie panel and the Explorers Inc. panel the other way around might have helped slightly, as well: at least then Artie’s dialogue (effectively the punch-line) would have been in the very last panel,
and as a result the thing your eyes would naturally gravitate to in search of some sort of clarification for the rest of the wacky scene. It looks nice, though!
Top: Uh oh - there’s that ol’ Male-pattern Deafness again (last seen in 2001, part 12).... All the hints in the world doth not sway it; all the smoochy-smoochy lips on all the
girls maketh not an impression upon it! And, showing its head above the battlements again - Macy’s peace symbol badge! Not there in panel 1, front and centre in panels
2 and 3, and (probably?) gone again in panel 4.... who can comprehend its mysterion ephemerailty?
Bottom: The one problem with having a friendly-but-dim rodent living under your garden shed is that he will occasionally pay you a visit.... and help himself to
various insignificant trifles.... without your permission. Oh, Newton.
Top: Gene is not the most paitent of people - anything that he can do to get ‘spoilers’ from things that intrigue him, he will do with all due enthusiasm; especially
at Christmas. But speaking of things intriguing: if Gene has an aunt Harriet and an Uncle Herman, he must have parents as well, right? In fact, the same must go for every
member of the A-Team cast.... but in all the years I’ve been doing Cosmos, they’ve never shown up, or even been mentioned! Not even once! There’s something going on, here....
Bottom: Are these the same Christmas lights that blew out three blocks (and plunged the neighbourhood into darkness) in the last Christmas special (2000, part 21)?
They very well could be - but by the looks of things, they’ve just reached the end of their operational lifespan. Duck and cover!
Top: Like most kids of the ‘Me Generation’, Peter has unrealistic expectations when it comes to his Christmas want-lists.... both in terms of quantity of gift items,
and the feasibility of finding, let alone affording them. His attempts to game the system, I must say, are hardly helping matters either....
Bottom: She’s back - it’s Peter’s adorable next door neighbour, Mindy Simmons! This is her second appearance in 2001, and - as a matter of fact - her second
appearance, period. She last showed up in the TV Special, remember? And she seems remarkably perceptive for a six year old....
Top: This shopping mall Santa, aside from being a potential recurring character at Christmas, provided an excellent way to bring in the main (and not-so-main)
members of the B-Team cast for their five minutes of screen-time. All being children, they would naturally want to visit Santa’s Grotto; and their differing personalities
(and want-lists) would produce interesting reactions on the part of the poor, beleaguered Mr. Claus....
Bottom: Uh oh, and it looks as though Mall-Santa has just met his nemesis.... Unless I’m very much mistaken, Peter is reading from the very same ‘nice, short Christmas list’
that he (almost) fooled his mother with earlier; and is now forcing it upon his supposedly captive audience instead. I have to say, he is being EXTREMELY optimistic in
his requests, here - the most recent item on his list (the quiz book) was new in 1998, and the oldest (the 3D puzzle) comes from way back in 1986!
TO BE CONTINUED....
Following in the (very large) footsteps of Mad Magazine and Bill Amend’s Foxtrot, I set myself the task of creating ‘movie stories’: tales in which the Cosmos cast would
go to see, pass judgment on, or otherwise interact with various sci-fi / fantasy / superhero movies that were OMG So Hot Right Now. A laudable goal, and I started with
(somewhat) a full head of steam - Star Wars: Episode One (2001, parts 17 and 18) had already been given the Cosmos treatment, and now I was moving onto a movie
I’d been looking forward to for quite a while: Jurassic Park 3! I know, I know, sequel of a sequel; but it’s a dinosaur movie! Work with me on this. I’d teasered the tale in
my preceding set of Murph strips (check out the magazine Gene is reading in the seventh strip in 2001, part 19), but it was soon time to go whole hog....
Top: Yep, that rule is indeed a thing. Although there was nothing stopping Artie and Gene (or, in fact, any Cosmosian) from geeking out over The Valley of Gwangi or
Reptillicus on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I still wanted to keep Earth-type prehistory out of Cosmos in anything other than a pop-cultural context. For example, if someone
went to the museum, they would see ancient Cosmosian wildlife, not dinosaurs and mammoths; and the same would go for a time-travelling jaunt back to 97 million
years BP. Separate worlds, separate histories, separate evolutionary origins.
Bottom: I fear I put rather too much of myself into Gene’s dialogue here - while I can see him becoming enthused enough to do some preparatory reading (and, as
per the ‘No Dinosaurs’ rule, he would have borrowed the books from me, not the library), his gushy dialogue might as well be me with a Gene hand puppet going
“Look at me! Look how much I love dinosaurs and stuff!” There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the joke, but the script seems a little bit contrived....
Top: See, this is a better way of doing the dino-geek thing - fully pop-culture factoid-ed, exactly as Artie and Gene would do it. Rather conveniently (and presciently),
the flash-forward in panel four is set in the right year for the release of Jurassic World, so in that sense, it’s bang-on accurate! There weren’t 154 different species,
though, only 14 - but that’s still two more than Jurassic Park 3, so the trend continues unchallenged!
Bottom: Another strip that suffers a bit form the same Get-Out-Of-It-Jon problem as strip no. 2, but at least this time I’m at least lampshading it by making no bones
about the fact that I can’t stop myself.... as much as Gene has no qualms about aiding and abetting my heinous crimes!
Top: In my experience, there’s nothing more enjoyable than watching a movie with a group of friends - not only is it a fun social activity, but you can also laugh / gasp /
grumble / rant along with everyone else, share movie snacks, swap trivia, and have a good post-movie critique / deconstruction afterwards! Seriously, though, Macy,
what were you expecting to go and see, if Artie and Gene were inviting you along?
Bottom: The one thing that annoys me about movies these days (says the bitter, cynical old man) is how easy they can be spoilerised before you see them; courtesy
of the internet, TV and magazines. In the build up to Jurassic Park 3, I tried to avoid as much as I could - but then I came across an article in a sci-fi magazine (which I
couldn’t not read, y’know?).... and all of a sudden, I knew there was going to be Ankylosaurs and a Ceratosaurus in the movie, which otherwise would have been a nice
surprise. And not long thereafter, there was a thing on the news about JP3 - which had pretty much the entire T.rex / Spinosaurus fight in it! AAAAAGH!!!
Top: Hey! Gene! What was I just saying about spoilers? You can call it ‘getting warmed up’ all you want, but if it’s telling everybody else in the theatre things they
don’t want to know yet, then you’re just ruining the experience for them....
Bottom: Once again, a case of ‘Too much Jon-wants-to-talk-about-dinosaurs, not enough letting-the-characters-get-on-with-it-themselves’.... the dialogue isn’t exactly
clunky or overly wordy (for a change), it just sounds rather forced coming from Ax and Macy rather than, y’know, me. Ax, for example, would not be able to site chapter
and verse on what is or isn’t a Therapsid - let alone know what the word even means.
Top: Oh yes, Gene, the Pteranodon sequence was indeed a highlight of the movie, given that good Pterosaur scenes (especially scientifically-accurate ones) are
pretty rare in the history of dino cinema. Traditionally, they are limited to background fly-bys or really bad props with visible wires (I’m looking at you, Land that Time Forgot);
and only on the odd occasion - say, Ray Harryhausen movies - were they given a chance to strut their stuff properly. But how much sugar-coated junk did you snarf
to make yourself see that, Mr. Ellis? Artie-dactyl has a very good point - you need to cut down!
Bottom: Frankly, I’m amazed Gene and co. haven’t been thrown out of the cinema by this point, what with all the explaining / arguing / yelling / tripping out they’ve been
doing (and the Spinosaurus vs. boat bit was well into Act three, remember).... So either there were very few people in there with them to start with, or whoever was in
there has long since left! The fourth panel is taken from real life, by the way: my friends and I definitely found that goofy purple
nightmare more terrifying than any of the other dinosaurs....
Top: Clearly, Artie and Gene did not watch the same evil, spoilery news story that I did before rocking up to see JP3 (Good work, boys! Better than me!) -
still, given that the Spinosaurus was front-and-centre on the movie logo, making any sort of wager on the outcome of the fight would be rather a silly thing to do!
Bottom: Another one of Gene’s Sugar High-llucinations? Yeh, let’s go with that.
My ‘movie stories’ proposal was a great idea, but it had one fatal flaw - I had so many other Cosmos strips to do, that were usually quicker and easier to complete; any
regular pattern of yearly movie critiques / promotions was lost (especially since I was already referencing so many other things anyway, in my regular strips). More often
than not, I couldn’t find enough snarky things to say about a particular movie that hadn’t already been said, or I ran out of steam halfway through; or by the time I got around
to doing a story, it was long past the time when the movie was the ‘latest must-see thing’! In fact, in the Old-School era, I only did four further ‘movie stories’ after this one -
one for the first Hulk movie (2003), ones for Star Wars: Episode 3 and King Kong (2005), and one for the first Bay-splosion Transformers movie (2007). Stories for Star Wars:
Episode 2, Cloverfield and the ensuing Transformers sequels didn’t make it past the sketches stage, and any others I considered were either passed by or dealt with in
basic nerd-reference format whenever I dang well felt like it. Shackling myself to a schedule of I-have-to-do-this-story-just-because-it’s-there wasn’t go to do anything
than drive me nuts.... so I just went with what worked. And look at that! It did!
TO BE CONTINUED....
What would the internet be without its ubiquitous canopy of cat pictures? Considerably smaller, less cute and much, much less interesting, I’d wager - but luckily
for you lovers of online felines, my next selection of Old School strips just happens to feature Cosmos’ resident Felis constrictus, Murphington T. Catt, the Third! Murph
allows me to get a ‘pet’s-eye view’ of the inanities (and insanities) of suburban life: given that he is generally restricted to the confines of Gene’s property -
unless it’s Vet-Day, Newton is dragging him off on an ‘epic quest’, or the Dog Next Door has chased him down the street - Murph must entertain himself indoors
or in the garden. Which usually means getting up to mischief, testing the boundaries of the pet-owner relationship (both Gene and Murph believe they belong in the
latter category, obviously), or just being a layabout couch potato. Just like a regular cat’s week, then....
Top: how does one scratch that troublesome itch when has no hands? Murph has three options - rub up against something, use the flexible (if imprecise) tip of his tail....
or rely on the dexterous digits of that bipedal oaf he deigns fit to share the premises with him. Very obliging, those bipedal oafs.
Bottom: remember two of the Rules of Humour I detailed in my last blog entry? ‘If you can say it in five words, don’t say it in twenty’, and ‘Let your artwork do the talking’?
Here’s a strip that combines both of them - it certainly doesn’t need any extra dialogue to make sense (or be funny), and the visuals are just the right level of ludicrous;
especially given that both Artie and the audience’s expectations are so abruptly subverted in panel three....
Above: Tail Chasing 101, part two. Murph’s whippy, snake-like body is ideally suited to the rigors of his chosen sport, since he can easily bend his body into a smooth
circle and then whirl around like a fly-wheel, in the never-ending pursuit of his foe. Dizziness? Potential humiliation? Fah. When he manages to sneak up on his tail
unawares, and actually catches it, though? Well.... the second strip on this page earned a comedic shudder and a ‘Waauuugh, that’s just wrong....’ from my friend
Jeremy; which I consider to be a complement of the highest order where Cosmos is concerned!
Top: Sometimes, much like Hobbes the tiger from Calvin and Hobbes, Murph decides to stalk and capture much more dangerous and active household prey than his tail....
which, as we can see here, rarely ends well for anyone concerned. Ouch.
Bottom: then, of course, there’s his blatant disregard for the well-being of unattended (and, therefore, unguarded) captive sources of food - in Murph’s world, rules are
things that can be bent, broken or out-and-out ignored as his whims dictate. After all, if he’s hungry, then he needs food; and if he needs food, and there’s some Right
There, then surely logic dictates he should eat it, right?
Top: psychological warfare, cat-snake style. This strip is also (insert another plug to my last blog entry here) a prime example of the ‘Rule of Three’ principle - Gene is irritated
in panel one, attempting to maintain his composure in panel two, but finally blowing his stack in panel three; allowing the gag to smoothly transition to the
denouement / punchline in panel four without everything overstaying its welcome.
Bottom: one wonders how Murph managed to actually build his scrap metal exo-suit without any hands to hold the tools.... until we remember that his somewhat-prehensile
tail would serve the purpose quite nicely (as he has used it as a surrogate limb in a number of Cosmos strips before and since). Either that, or he had Newton there to help
him out - just remember to share the spoils of your victory, Mr. Catt!
Top: Murph, in the most literal sense of the word, clearly likes to play with his food. And there’s that pesky Rule of Three again! You’ve had your time!
Let some other rule have a go! Shoo! Shoo!
Bottom: what is it with cats and balls of yarn? Where, in fact, did the whole feline / knitting material dynamic come from? Does history record some sort of mythical
‘first contact’ event, deep in the antediluvian past; when the primitive ancestors of cats and yarns began their utterly adorable Dance of Death? Unfortunately, Murph
seems to have forgotten that this relationship can go both ways.... Those fuzzy balls have defense mechanisms like you wouldn’t believe!
Top: I’m not sure whether Murph is exaggerating about the Dog Next Door’s predatory prowess - especially in panel four, which smacks a little of me fishing for a good
punchline, but having to go with what I had - but there’s no doubt (based on my own encounters with large and unpleasant canines here on Earth) that he is a palpable
threat to anything that sits still long enough to be folded, spindled and mutiliated. Or, no doubt, anything that dares NOT to sit still....
Bottom: one of the untold tales of Cosmos Past I really must address at some point, is how exactly Murph and Newton first met; let alone became such staunch allies.
Cat-rodent relationships in cartoons are in the main antagonistic (Tom and Jerry, Garfield and Squeak the Mouse, Itchy and Scratchy), so their fast friendship - as Correctly
pointed out by Newton himself - is rather anomalous. There must be some incident in their pasts which first brought them together, and then bound them together; but what?
Er, watch this space. Speaking of anomalous, though, Newton is clearly still going though his ‘Character design identity crisis’ phase: he has lost his belly-stripes
(since 2001, Part 2), but he still has his stripy tail (also present in 2001, Part 11) and - Jeez Louise, 2001-Jon! - possesses four-fingered hands instead
of his proper three-fingered ones!
TO BE CONTINUED....