Friday, February 20, 2009

The Story of "The BIRD" and Me -- Chapter One

The format and subject of an upcoming post on my David'Z RantZ blog is going to make you think you're actually reading an entry meant for this blog. Appropriately, this post, the post you're about to read here, may make you wonder if you've stumbled onto David'Z RantZ instead!

Sorry about any and all confusion. You should see what it looks like from
my side of things lately!

Anyway... My last post here was entitled OHO! (prequel to "The Reunion of the Super Pets") and this post was supposed to be Part One-and-Only
of "The Reunion of the Super Pets." However, I am waiting for a "snail mail" letter from Bruce Meservey, the artist of that extremely unofficial DC Comics "Crisis" crossover. The letter will hopefully contain a few details about the artist's involvement in the "Reunion" which I can weave into my story!

To tide you over until I do get that letter and can integrate it into what I've already written, I plan to tell the tale of what came before and after the one and only issue of a title called The Bird: Pan-Dimensional Victim of Circumstance, which I co-created in the 1980s with my former writing partner, artist "Skip" Simpson.

This first self-indulgent chapter* will dwell heavily on much of the childish silliness & goofiness spawned by the developing creative mind I possessed as a little spud.

* * * * *

The Early Bird... sort of

One of my earliest creations -- coming after Lobster Man and about the same time as the Gremlin (whom I've not yet told you about) -- was Red Raven. When I was between the ages of seven to nine years old, pretty much, I liberally stole borrowed a lot of concepts from the comics I enjoyed reading, re-worked them, and "created" my own characters. I can justify that behavior today by saying that I was too young to know any better, and that it's not like I was actually trying to get money from them by pawning them off on anyone as my own.

If you're more than a little familiar with Silver Age comic books, you'll know the name Red Raven. You're no doubt thinking, "Okay, he obviously swiped the name from a Golden Age Marvel Comics (Timely, actually) character which Marvel had dusted off a couple of times in the late sixties."

The one and only Golden Age appearance of Marvel's Red Raven.

But you'd be wrong. "My" Red Raven character pre-dated Marvel's revival of their old 1940s one-shot hero from Red Raven #1. (And until he re-appeared, I didn't even know there was one in the '40s!)

In fact, there was another Marvel appearance of a Red Raven character, one that came before the X-Men and Sub-Mariner issues pictured above. He was a Western character, a villain in an issue of Rawhide Kid. Maybe you know about that story, and so you think I got my Red Raven from that little tale, instead.

But you'd be wrong again. Sorry. In fact, I never even saw an issue of Rawhide Kid until issue #44 or #45...

Nope. I wasn't even reading Marvels yet. I was too young to know one comic publisher from another, and at this point -- middle to late 1963 -- I'd only read one or two comics later identified as Marvels (Fantastic Four Annual #1 -- which my sister had bought -- and Tales to Astonish #49**. And I'd heard about a new character named Spider-Man, but didn't get to see an issue until #10.) The name of my Red Raven came from a DC Comic, of all things!

"The Batman Nobody Remembered" was a story in World's Finest #136. In it, Batman, Superman, and Robin fought a villain called Red Raven. I liked the name. I stole it. End of story.

* * * * *

The Cranston Comics Group (because "The Incredibly Dumb Comics Group" didn't sound as good)

Actually, it was only the beginning of the story. I had the name for my character, but now he needed a costume, an origin, a secret identity, some villains, and maybe even some kind of supporting cast. Most of the material I came up with could charitably be described as "derivative."

For example: Red Raven's origin totally ripped off Superman's, right down to the home planet named Krypton! Only instead of being found and adopted by a couple named Kent, he found a home with a single woman he ended up calling -- *ahem* -- Aunt May.

He had all of the same powers as Superman, too. Flight, invulnerability, super-strength, super-vision, super-hearing, super-speed, super-breath... He even had the same weakness, Kryptonite. The biggest difference was that much later, when I'd discovered the X-Men, Red Raven developed a power beam like my favorite X-Man, Cyclops, had.

R.R.'s uniform was really simple. Hell, even Lobster Man's had been more creative! Red Raven had a red hood (kinda like a ski-mask, but with smaller holes for the eyes and mouth). A red shirt. Red pants. Red gloves. Red boots. No chest insignia. And finally, a red cape. Only the cape showed any originality. From a rear view of Red Raven, the cape looked much like an elongated, inverted heart. (We're talking a cartoony, Valentine-type heart, not an anatomically-accurate heart!) I guess that was my way of suggesting wings -- the only concession to the whole birdlike "raven" concept -- as he flew through the sky.

Unlike my former employer, Paul Howley, who had painstakingly drawn each and every issue of his Insect Man title (and its various spin-offs) during his childhood, all I needed for each issue of Red Raven was a drawing of the cover of each numbered issue, and a vague plotline for the issue in question in my own mind.

Red Raven's secret identity was Jonathan Parker, a name which came from Jonathan Kent and Peter Parker, I believe. But he only had that alter ego for four issues. Jonathan Parker was an adolescent, and upon returning from a battle with a foe called -- *ahem* -- Spider-Man, he was changing identities in the back of his school, and was spotted in the act by a school chum who was probably outside cleaning the chalkboard erasers.

The Jonathan Parker I.D. was kaput. By issue #5, Red Raven had found a new secret identity and a brand-new foster family! He was now known as Sylvester Morgan. Nice trick, huh?

Wonder whatever happened to Aunt May?

Most of R.R.'s villains were based on stolen DC characters, and later, Marvel characters as well. There was the Human Top, and a Lizard clone called Lizard-Man. I've forgotten most of them, which could be a blessing in disguise. I do recall one adversary, issue #6's The Nut -- that's "nut" as in "wacky, zany, goofy kinda guy" as opposed to a peanut, a piece of hardware, or whatever unsettling thing you may be thinking -- who had an m.o. similar to that of Mr. Mxyzptlk, but with a strikingly different visual. Then there was #3's Mr. Ugly, who wore a Dr. Doom-like face mask to hide scars received in (again) a Dr. Doom-like lab accident. His death at the end of the tale was oddly similar to the death of Baron Zemo in Avengers #15 for -- *cough* -- some reason.

I wasn't satisfied with having only the Red Raven character, however. As time went on, I developed other titles by what I came to call the Cranston Comics Group, Cranston Comics, or later, CCIG (Cranston Comics International Group). I'd gotten "Cranston" from a factory called Cranston Print Works in Webster, Massachusetts, the town next to my own home town of Oxford. I assumed that "Cranston Print" referred to publishing. It didn't. They printed fabrics. Cloth. Oops.

With those other titles came other heroes and villains. As I aged, the rip-offs were joined by some original ideas, but at first, they were really dumb-ass versions of DC and Marvel heroes with -- usually -- stupid names.

Many of those "dumb-ass heroes and villains" will be discussed in the next chapter.

* * * * *

*Lately, these two blogs of mine are becoming increasingly "self-indulgent," as I call it. I am writing more and more for myself. Maybe that wouldn't be the case if more of my readers -- and my StatCounter tells me I have quite a few more than those three or four who still bother to comment regularly -- would give me an idea of who they are and what they want to see more of, or less of.

**It's interesting -- to me, anyway -- but I might have started reading Marvel Comics somewhat later if it hadn't been for DC!

In 1963, DC published an issue of Batman which featured a villain called Ant Man. Like World's Finest's Red Raven villain, Ant Man was a one-shot character. I wasn't aware of Marvel's Ant-Man, Henry Pym, in Tales to Astonish. A few months later, however, Tales to Astonish #49 cover-featured a story in which "Ant-Man Becomes GIANT MAN!"

Of course I bought it.

Then, when I got it home and started reading it, I found that there was no mention of Batman, and that this "Ant-Man" was not a dark-haired villain, but was, instead, a blonde-haired hero!

And the art was like nothing I'd ever seen before, either.

But I loved it! And if I recall correctly, house ads inside the book mentioned that Spider-Man guy I'd only heard about up until now (except for having read his brief appearance in Fantastic Four Annual #1). That meant that these "Marvel" guys did those Fantastic Four comics, too!

So this was an entirely different publishing company. Cool.

It wasn't until about four months later that I finally got ahold of an issue of Amazing Spider-Man (#10). After that, to paraphrase what I said much earlier in this post, "End of story. Beginning of story."

* * * * *

Next time, a post that'll be as short as I can make it. It'll be a hopefully-brief follow-up to this one, telling about how I "lived" the role of Red Raven -- somewhat -- and it'll also tell about my "revival" of Cranston Comics in the early 1970s.

And I'll keep watching my mailbox for that letter from Bruce Meservey!


  1. That's okay David. get wordy all you want. I speed read, anyway.

    And I didn't know Paul had a wiki entry. Niiiiice pic of him and Tex. I think I remember that day.

    King State? At first I thought you were kidding. But I didn't read as many super-hero comics, growing up. I liked the war ones( Sgt. Rock, The Losers, Haunted tank, Sgt. Fury, etc. )

    And PLASTIC SHIELDING, with no LID( excuse me a moment---BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA!!! )***sniff***, okay, the moment is gone :)

  2. Well, I was editing it up until a couple of minutes ago, adding this'n'that... So you might want to speed read it again.

    Re: Plastic shielding and anything else in that article that sounded silly.... I wuz SEVEN!

  3. By the way, I was at T.E. on 12/10, and stood next to Rex Trailer when Paul took a picture of my ordinarily camera-shy self. One of the only pictures taken of me that I've liked since the early '60s!

  4. Having not grown up watching the show, I don't think I actually went. And for only seven, at the time, you showed some pretty wild imagination. These days a kid'd prob'ly get doped up with ritalin. Wouldn't want to encourage creativity, now would we?

  5. Tex, Rex, whatever. I told you I didn't grow up here...then. and pics I don't like, I buuuurn!

  6. "When I was between the ages of seven to nine years old, pretty much, I liberally stole borrowed a lot of concepts from the comics I enjoyed reading, re-worked them, and "created" my own characters"-I used to do the same thing before I could read or write by looking at the pictures in old picture books my grandmother had saved from my mom and uncle's childhoods and creating stories that I "wrote" out (scribbled down on paper so that everything looked like vvvvvvvvvvv which was apparently the first letter I actually learned to write). I can remember studying the pictures in a book of the Pied Piper of Hamlet and then studying the pictures in a "Three Little Pigs" book and coming up with this fucked up story where the pigs were out to get all of these small children and this guy came along and played some music and...Yeah, real original. hahaha But we all have to start somewhere I guess. My ideas improved only slightly with the ability to read, write, and comprehend stories...


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