Saturday, February 21, 2009

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

Just to clarify things in general, the planned progression of this storyline -- which started off in my mind as a brief anecdote, but then mushroomed into a virtual monster -- is to show how I grew from writer wannabe and comic book fan to someone who actually got my feet wet as a comic book writer, albeit briefly.

After this storyline, I will complete my "Reunion of the Super Pets" story... and that's regardless of whether or not I've gotten the snail mail letter promised to me by the artist of "Reunion."

And after that? I'm not sure, but I promise it will
not be about comic books, nor will it be a "Dover Street" story.

You're welcome.

* * * * *

A Sickly Supporting Cast

Yup, there couldn't very well be a Cranston Comics Group if Red Raven was its only title. So I created more.

One of the worst-named heroes was my Incredible Hulk clone, "The Hunk" (later renamed the Gargantuan, which was a damned sight better).

I had an Iron Man knock-off called the Avenger, who wore Iron Man's old golden suit, but the Avenger's suit was multi-colored. Orange helmet, red boots, green gloves, etc. Neat visual. Too bad I couldn't draw.

A lot of my major superhero characters got a sidekick or partner at one time or another. The sidekick was usually killed off, a la Bucky Barnes, only an issue or two after his debut. Those were fun.

What was the most idiotic name I came up with (even worse than The Hunk)? That undoubtedly came about one day when I was trying to come up with something reminiscent of Captain America (I'm speaking of the name only, because the character's origin resembled Thor's). For the first part of the name, I thought of "captain" and decided I needed some sort of rank, or title. For the second part, I thought of "America" and thought of countries, and states... Thus was created -- I swear to God -- "King State." I have now -- and had then -- absolutely no idea what that stupid freakin' name meant. Being seven years old wasn't even a good enough excuse for that name. (But it did look kinda cool when I gave it a "Here Comes... DAREDEVIL" kinda logo.)

I mentioned that King State -- God, even forty-five years later, I still cringe when I read that name! -- had an origin like Thor's, an origin which lost more than a little "something" in my re-working of it. If you know Thor's origin at all, try to make sense of my version:

In his civilian identity (long since forgotten by yours truly), King State was... not a doctor. He had gotten lost while on vacation somewhere, and had also lost his cane. Schmuck. He had found a walking stick to replace his own, and smacked it into a rock at some point. It immediately changed him into a powerful costumed being -- although I don't remember what his actual powers were -- and his newly-found walking stick became... not a hammer. It became a sword. And on it was an inscription -- don't forget, this is Thor's origin I was swiping from -- saying roughly, "To whom it may concern, you are now a superhero named King State!"

Since King State was not Thor, he didn't have the pantheon of Norse gods to fall back on, nor was his weapon a gift of sorts from All-Father Odin.

I guess King State's unseen benefactor was just some guy who decided that a magical sword was a good consolation prize for a superhero with the world's suckiest name.

Hey, a magical sword! Now that I think of it, I think the sword held all the power. It could shoot out rays, and other cool stuff.

Sometime later, I decided that the sword was actually the legendary Excalibur, although I'll be damned if I know how it ever got changed to a stick, and why it was delivered so haphazardly to its intended recipient. Where was the Lady of the Lake when K.S. needed her, huh? What was it, low tide?

King State's original outfit consisted of a blue shirt and blue pants, red boots, red gloves, a red cape, a red beauty-pageant style sash attached to a red cummerbund, and... a wide-brimmed blue fedora. Okay, so Oleg Cassini, I wasn't.

After only two or three issues of his own title, King State switched to a different costume. He now wore a two-piece bright blue suit, with a black necktie, a bright red shirt, red boots & red gloves, and a more modestly-styled blue fedora. And a red cape, almost as an after-thought. It was like Frank Sinatra -- whom I was only vaguely familiar with when I was seven -- had become a superhero during The Voice's "hat stage."

Even with my bad art, the character looked kinda hip, and I have yet to decide whether the look was hurt or helped by the sword.

Too bad his name still sucked, though...

In issue #4 of King State, K.S. got a sidekick named Mr. America. For some strange reason, Mr. America looked just like I did when dressed in my Remco "Monkey Division" camouflage uniform, with the addition of some Buddy Holly style glasses.

King State #5 featured the return of issue #2's villain, the Bluejay. The Bluejay was to King State what the Joker was to Batman, Magneto to the X-Men, Luthor to Superman, the Red Skull to Captain America... You know what I mean. He'd been beaten pretty decisively by K.S. a couple of months earlier, but this time, it took two heroes to subdue him. And not only that, but Mr. America, King State's brand new partner, was mortally wounded during the battle.

Told you it wasn't good to be a sidekick in Cranston Comics.

Around that time, for whatever reason, I received a gift of two identical cast iron (or -- ooooh! -- lead) figures of medieval knights. Identical, that is, but for the color of their armor. One was the proverbial "black knight," and the other was silver. I decided they would be Cranston Comics superheroes, too. Finally, a comic book idea that didn't come from the comics themselves!

I decided that, like Hawkman and Hawkgirl, these knights would be a crime-fighting team comprised of one male and one female. They were taken from the past and catapulted -- no, not literally -- into the present. Actually, the "present" was 1958, because even though I created them in 1964 or thereabouts, I was busy "writing" the history of the Cranston Comics Group at the time, and decided they'd "already" been around for about six years. Retroactive continuity!

The black-armored knight was the man, and the silver-armored knight was the woman. Their superheroic names? Knight and Day!

Hey, for a seven-year-old, that's not bad...

As mentioned above, I gave the Cranston Comics Group a history, with its own Golden Age characters like Mr. Dynamite and the "original" Red Raven! I ret-conned a scene into the Silver Age Red Raven #1 -- easy enough to do, since the stories were all in my head -- where Jonathan "Red Raven" Parker approached the widow of the first R.R. to ask her permission to use the name. (The first Red Raven's alter ego was "Scott Springer," by the way, a name that was obviously inspired by the X-Men's Cyclops, Scott Summers.)

Cranston Comics occupied a good two or three years of my creative time. Seems like a lot more. I suppose that's because I actually revived these characters a few years later...

* * * * *

"Street Cred" for Red Raven

In my last chapter, I mentioned Paul Howley and Insect Man. In addition to writing and drawing all the Insect Man titles, Paul also used Insect Man as his playtime alter ego.

Not me. My friends and I took things to a higher level. During the time I was "writing" Red Raven, I was Red Raven.

Of course, the first person I shared this intimate knowledge with was my best friend, Kevin. Eventually, friends like Jeff and John discovered my secret, too.

(Nobody really believed me, of course. But we were all into a role-playing game which out-did normal goofing around in the schoolyard. And we all treated the Red Raven character like he was in the news every day or so, but no one really knew who he was.)

I even brought a lump of "Kryptonite" to school one day. Okay, okay, it was actually a lump of coal which I'd covered with green paint left over from my many Aurora monster model kits. The biggest problem (after the paint had dried) was how to carry it without its being lethal to me, Red Raven, of course.

Superman Red Raven could be protected from Kryptonite's rays by lead shielding. I looked around the house for a lead-lined container. Not a lot of those around, as you might have guessed.

Aha! This called for a slight change in the Superman Red Raven mythos: Red Raven could be protected from Kryptonite's rays by... ummm... plastic shielding. That'd work. My mom didn't have any lidded plastic containers in the house, so I used a yellow wash-tub from my toy Beverly Hillbillies truck. It had no lid, so I more or less kept the exposed part of the Kryptonite facing away from me... when my friends and I thought of it, anyway.

Then one day, at recess, my friend Kevin made an honest slip in front of our friend Michael that told Michael that I was "really" Red Raven. Michael was in on the game, of course, but we all played by our own unspoken rules. So it wasn't until that moment that he officially "knew." The way he pointed at me, open-mouthed, and stammered, "Y-you... ?" was so cool! Great little actor.

Michael insisted I make him my partner. He gave himself the name "Red Rawhide" and drew his superheroic self so I'd know what his costume looked like. Actually it kind of looked like a man (or boy) wearing an ant suit. I never asked why he gave himself antennae, nor did I ask if he'd gotten the "Red Rawhide" alias from being a Rawhide Kid fan. The latter question would have been like breaking the fourth wall.

Michael moved away from Oxford a year or so later, and as far as I know, is still around somewhere. Red Rawhide -- in my comics, at least -- didn't fare so well.

It started when my Red Raven comic was "cancelled" after 40 issues.

A school kid in issue #5, Sylvester "Red Raven" Morgan had become a young adult by issue #40. He'd gotten engaged, and gotten married. On the day of his wedding, Sylvester Morgan was attacked and apparently devoured by a blob-like, alien beast! Of course, being an invulnerable Kryptonian, he didn't really die. But instead of devising a way to explain how Sylvester Morgan had survived, Red Raven apparently shrugged and said "Oh, well. F**k it. No more secret identity," and let his new bride, and all of his friends & adopted family think he was dead! Whatta guy, huh?

Shortly thereafter, a Red Raven feature began in issue #94 of another Cranston title called Science. In that story, R.R. got an adult sidekick -- okay, okay, partner -- named Red Rawhide.

Red Rawhide died in the very next issue, #95.

I told you sidekicks didn't have a great life expectancy in Cranston Comics.

* * * * *

Next time: How I got interested in comic book history, comic book collecting, comic book retailing, and comic book writing! (UPDATE: Due to the confusion of -- and/or a general lack of interest by -- my readers, this storyline was never finished! Frustrating, innit?)


  1. The "HUNK"? I remember a Nickelodeon "chuckamation" type toon that featured one hero called the "Flesh". I think it was called "Action League...Now". They basically used an old nude He-Man action figure for the character. Looks like you may have been way ahead of your time :) Oh, the tag line for the Flesh-"He's super strong...and super naked!" And this was geared for the tween set!!

  2. Did you ever see Nick's Fairly Odd parents?

    The Crimson Chin comic always makes a comeback.

  3. Ishat here's another from Rocko's Modern Life-"Really Really Big Man"-he could hypnotise you as you gazed into his "Nipples of the Future". Who the hell was writing this stuff?

  4. My superheroes all wore costumes.

    Never heard of the Fairly OddParents (but I looked the show up on Wikipedia). What's the connection between Cranston Comics and the Crimson Chin?

  5. David,
    What do you mean by "Paul PLAYED Insect Man?"...I am Insect you've destroyed my secret identity! Curse you Lynch!

  6. I wrote "played" so no one would realize you WERE Insect Man! YOU'VE destroyed your secret identity! What a senses-shattering, pulse-pounding development! You fool! You mad fool!

  7. "Thus was created -- I swear to God -- "King State." I have now -- and had then -- absolutely no idea what that stupid freakin' name meant."-Hey, I know King State! He is King Shit's older more dignified half-brother! They were both named after their father(King Kong, perhaps?) but that spineless bastard had like 5 different aliases which is why their last names are not the same....hahahaha The shit we come up with when we're kids...And when we are sitting alone at nearly 4 a.m. as full grown ass adults. Yeah, I need a life. I know.


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