Friday, February 22, 2008

Do You "Qualify for the Giggling Academy?"

When I bought the new Lost Teen Titans Annual recently, I expected (based on the hype) a "wacky" '60s-style comic. No such luck. Yet this week I picked up a comic that's entertaining in the way I had hoped the Titans book would have been.

Tiger Girl 1 (Gold Key, 1968) seems to be a kind of superhero parody, but it takes seriously much of the drama of 'superheroics' (at least I think it does). Written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, who was 54 at the time, it uses the "swinging" vocabulary of ‘60s teen comics like Bunny, with references to "groovy-thrill lovers," "way-out doings," etc. Yet it also plays the romance plot with a straight face (at least I think it does), such as in this panel, when Titan the Great pines for his fellow circus performer, Tiger Girl:

He's not behind bars, just closing a tiger cage - but the staging of the scene is likely intended to add a little pathos to his words, for Tiger Girl prefers the more physically streamlined goverment agent, Ed Savage.

There can be something compelling about a comic when it's not really clear what the author is going for (is it serious; is it a parody?). Siegel relies excessively on expository dialogue, and I can’t tell if he’s doing so to mock others’ use of this device (it's rampant in comics of the era), or simply as a way to get information across.

What makes the issue most entertaining to me is the writing - the silly phrases that populate the story:

I can’t pinpoint why, but "he gloats prematurely" sounds funny, and it's an awkwardly formally thing to say as you are about to be crushed by a giant cat statue's severed head. More of the same:

[above] "I return the towering stumble-bum to you . . ."

It's the insertion of "unerringly" that I like . . .

Maybe if the comic had been drawn in the more serious, muscular style of 60’s Marvel superheroes, these things might be less humorous (and is Wolf Hound about to fall over, above?). But Jack Sparling’s art is scratchy and energetic - and even when the villains are bulky, there’s something clownish about them, and in Wolf Hound's case, his ears change position as his emotions change, making him look even sillier:

[When he's telling the Men of I.N.F.A.M.Y. about his powers in the panel above, his ears are down.]

And speaking of clowns, one of the good guys is a Ditko-esque circus performer named "Laughing Boy":

Are we supposed to think that the guy who just got his brains bashed in is asking the question, as a way to let young readers know that he is ok, that his head is not a bloody mass? It's not clear, because there are others in the scene who could be speaking. The over-the-top, gleeful violence of this sequence is out of place in a way, but that's part of why it works.

These are the kinds of things I was hoping for in the Teen Titans Annual - silly jokes, "wacky" word play, etc - but it just fell flat . . . and plot-wise, the annual was convoluted; things didn't seem to make sense, and not in a good way. At times, its ambitiousness worked against it.

Tiger Girl 1 offers up some of the gestures towards feminism found in late '60s superhero and romance comics, but it seems confused about this, and backtracks pretty quickly:

This comic is the most interesting writing I have seen from Siegel, but unfortunately, there was no Tiger Girl 2.


Ted May said...

I love all the references to Wolf Hound's nostrils. Is that his super power? Super nostrils?

Ken Parille said...

Yeah - smell, some strength - and his costume has ears that move like a dog's when he gets excited! You can see their different positions in different panels --

Devlin Thompson said...

Siegel's work for Archie around the same time is similarly strange, and was really maddening for me to read as a ten-year old when reprints of the '60s-era hero stories were scattered through various Archie digests. The occasional Simon and Kirby FLY and SHIELD stories made sense to me, and the later Fly and Jaguar stories were dull, but ordinary enough, but then you'd hit a crazy BLACK HOOD or STEEL STERLING story that was just inscrutable and WRONG. But boy, they'd stick in the back of your mind. For whatever reason, "The Awesome Bravo" is still one of the most striking super-villain names I can recall. You might also check out Gold Key's THE OWL, which is probably even more what you were looking for.

Ted May said...

The Jack Sparling layouts are really nice. Especially that four panel sequence with the Laughing Boy. I don't think I'm too familiar with Sparling's stuff. Somewhat similar to Infantino in places with those near-horizontal floating bodies.

The bit about Laughing Boy's "bladder" is great, too. Is it supposed to be a whoopee cushion? This comic is pregnant with fantastic shit. Thank you, Ken!

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