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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

ETERNITY MAN! Chapters 1-5

These are the first five chapters of Eternity Man!, my new rock 'n' roll superhero novel.  Rather than continue to serialize this chapter by chapter, I want readers to get a better feel for how this work-in-progress begins.  Feedback is appreciated, and I hope you'll hear from Eternity Man! again in the near future.
 
 

CHAPTER 1

It doesn't take a genius to know that falling out of an office window is not a great way to start your day.  What was I thinking?

Easy:  I was thinking I was gonna die.

Let's back up a second.  My name's Jenny Woo. Yes, it's my real name, and yeah, it's just like that Little Richard song, "Jenny, Jenny WOO!  Jenny, Jenny!"  It used to bother me when people did that.  Now, it bothers me more that they don't remember the song.  I'm 28, and I played bass guitar in about a zillion bands you never heard of.   Okay, actually four bands you never heard of:  Elegant Cream Vehicle, Warriors Of Romance, The Lemming Pipers, and Attica's Finch.  My fifth band, The Dust Bunnys, just got a major label record deal, so you'll hear about them pretty soon.  But not with me.  The Dust Bunnys kicked me out of the damned band.  Like, literally kicked me out--out of a 52nd floor office window.

And that's where we join our story, already in progress.

Your life doesn't flash through your eyes; there's not enough time, even though it seems like an eternity as that long free fall nears that regrettable sudden stop at the end.  I thought of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century.  Classic, goofy sci-fi comic strip, awful '80s TV show.  I recall wishing my last thoughts could have been grander, loftier...some Biblical rumination, some cosmic truth, or at least a Kinks song, for God's sake,  I guess my terrified screaming must have drowned out the rest of the world.  This is The End.  And not much of a friend, The End.

But, just before The Doors became my final gasp of life, I was falling...UP.  Up, up, and...what the hell?!

I hadn't felt any sense of my rescuer's approach.  Y'know, me with the falling, him with the flying.  He'd grabbed me with about five yards to spare, gently--no risk of this girl's neck snapping like Gwen Stacy--and carried me to the roof.  It wasn't Superman.  I almost swore that it was Buck Rogers.  He stood there in his gleaming, colorful uniform, his helmet sparkling in the morning sun, his cape moving slowly in the light breeze.  It had started to snow, just a dust, but nothing cold could reach us.  I was warm, and comfortable.  And still alive.

He stood back from me, and smiled.  "Hello, Jenny," he said, his voice deep, confident, but reassuring in its humble tone.  "My name is Eternity Man.  I'm your grandfather.  And I need your help."

CHAPTER 2

             
ETERNITY MAN'S JOURNAL

My granddaughter Jenny is in trouble, and so am I.  Runs in the family, I guess.  I'm looking forward to finally meeting her, back in her own time.  Back in early 2016.

Superheroes aren't known for introspection.  Our general routine is to save innocent citizens, thwart evil, and punch bad guys until justice has won the day.  Repeat as necessary, and bonus points if your adversary is a malevolent genius reduced to whining about the unfairness--the indignity!--of being tossed in the hoosegow by a musclebound simpleton in long underwear.  That was always one of the best parts.  And it may seem simple, but it got the job done back in my heyday, back in the '40s and early '50s.

I miss those days.  I wish I could go back there more often.  Perhaps it's ironic that I don't have much time for time-traveling nowadays.  But there's a little patch of 1947, early '48, that I still haven't gotten around to.  Vacation.  Someday.  If there's any justice.

But for now, and some more immediate yesterdays, there's a job to be done.  A job for Eternity Man.

I relish this role, this chance to do good in a grand way.  The high stakes, the danger, the dire consequences of failure...none of these things are ever far from my mind.  But they don't stop me from enjoying--appreciating--the thrill of doing the impossible, of being larger than life, and they don't quell the inner contentment of doing the right thing, just because it's the right thing.  I'm a superhero; even my sin of pride is balanced by humility.

Hmmm.  That does border on introspection, doesn't it?  So be it.  Eternity is large; it contains multitudes.

And I can fly.  I can travel through time.  My strength is near-infinite, and not even a bursting shell can penetrate my gaudily-clad skin.

And, for all that, I know with absolute certainty that this will be my last adventure.

CHAPTER 3

                                              
What do you say when you meet a real, live superhero?  What do you say when you meet a real, live superhero who just saved your life?  I don't know what a normal person would say.  I said, "Are you outta your mind?"

The back-story explanation didn't help.  Eternity Man.  Visitor from the future. Grave danger.  I am your grandfather, Luke...um, Jenny.  It sounded crazy.  Crazy!  Oh, God...!

Then I threw up.  See, that never happened in the superhero comic books I'd read.  Didn't happen in the Archie comic books, either.

I've never found nausea to be especially helpful in bringing clarity.  So, first time for everything, right?  But as I recovered from vomiting, as Eternal Superdude stood patiently, concerned but calm, and the chilly air surrounded our warm, cosmic cocoon atop a skyscraper, I slowly but surely began to feel more at ease.  Well, as at ease as any recent attempted murder victim rescued by her superhero grandfather from the future was likely to feel, anyway.

"Do you know why my bandmates tried to kill me?"

"No, I don't know," Super Grandpa replied, his smile grim, but oddly reassuring.  "That's a mystery we'll have to solve together, Jenny."

My eyes narrowed.  "Superheroes don't lie, my friend.  You know something you're not saying."

"I have suspicions, but not certainties.  I don't want my suspicions to influence our investigation.  Finding out what happened to you is one of the reasons I'm here."

"Yeah?  What's the other reason?"

"There's trouble."

"Gotcha.  Of course.  Superheroes and trouble go together like cable news and fearmongering.  What kind of trouble?"

"I'll explain as we go.  But the stakes are high."  He paused, and almost let out a bemused chuckle.  "If we fail, it could be the end of the world as we know it."

I actually snorted.  "Are we gonna team up with Leonard Bernstein?"

"What?"

"Never mind.  If you'd been born in the late 20th century, you'd get it."

"Oh, pop culture reference.  R.E.M., right?  I do get it."

"We'll get along fine, then.  Okay.  No reason to be cautious or rational or anything like a sane person would be now, right?  What's next?"

"We start with the circumstances of your, uh...departure from your former band.  The Dust Bunnys?"

"Yeah, fine bunch o' individuals, those Dust Bunnys.  I'm like their Pete Best, except Lennon and McCartney never pitched Pete Best out of an office window.  I think."

"It was your record company's office, correct?  The Dust Bunnys were about to sign a recording contract?"

"Yes, with a major label, at that."

"Rocket Surgery Records?"

"Yeah, Rocket Surgery.  Why?"

"Rocket Surgery Records is part of a vast media conglomerate, as you know.  Influential, almost ubiquitous in the daily lives of millions, if not billions, of people.  The company is the other reason I came to your time.  I don't believe in coincidences."

"Coincidences?"

"Yes.  The same monolithic corporation that owns Rocket Surgery Records also owns a publishing company, Rocket Media.  Years ago, they published comic books, under the Rocket Comics imprint.  They got out of the comics business in the mid-'50s."

"And the coincidence you're building toward...?"

"In the '40s, Rocket Comics' flagship title was Rocket Comics Quarterly, an anthology book.  The book's cover feature was 'Eternity Man.'"

"You were in comic books?"

"Yes.  The Eternity Man comics were credited to writer-artist Herm Wood.  That was a pseudonym."

"Look, I dig the dramatic build-up.  I do.  And his real name...?"

"Her real name.  'Herm Wood' was Hermione Woo.  Your grandmother."

CHAPTER 4


From  the FOUR-COLOR FORTUNES comics blog by Reed Roberts:

THE FORGOTTEN COMIC BOOK PUBLISHERS OF THE GOLDEN AGE
Chapter 23:  Rocket Comics (1941-1953)

The relative obscurity of the Rocket Comics line stands in sharp contrast to how freakin' huge the company became in later years.  But long before Rocket Media began its own worldwide dominance, it was just little old Rocket Publishing, a decidedly low-rent publisher of decidedly low-rent pulp magazines in the '30s.  Rocket Publishing was founded by Miles Gandolfini, reportedly as a means to launder money from illegal alcohol sales and distribution during the Prohibition era.  In truth, we should scratch out the "reportedly" part; Rocket Publishing was clearly funded by the mob, and a few members of the Gandolfini family did time in Federal prison, presumably as willing (and well-paid) patsies for high-placed members of the East Coast Combine.

Rocket's pulp line was nondescript, though not without its own simpleminded charm:  Western Fantasy,  Circus CrimeOuter Space DetectiveExciting AdventureMerciless Justice!Crusading Reporter, and The Snowman, the latter a blatant rip-off of The Shadow.  As the success of Detective Comics' Superman inspired a comic-book gold rush and opened the floodgates for countless colorfully-costumed imitations, Rocket Publishing likewise moved into comics.

Most of the Rocket Comics line was comprised of uninspired four-color versions of Rocket's pulp line (an uninspired line to begin with!).  The one original title was Rocket Comics Quarterly, and that was a unique title in many ways.

Rocket Comics Quarterly debuted with a Fall 1942 cover date.  And, at least for its first eighteen issues, the anthology title was almost entirely the work of one writer/artist, the pseudonymous Herman "Herm" Wood.  This was, by itself, highly unusual in the comics industry at the time, and not all that common even now.  Commercial comic books in America have almost always been a product of some kind of assembly line, if you will:  a writer, an artist (and often two different artists, one penciling and the other inking), a letterer, a colorist, and usually an editor overseeing the whole process.  Furthermore, the 1940s were the heyday of comics studios that specialized in packaging comic books to order for multiple clients--shops run by the likes of Harry "A" Chesler, Jerry Iger, the great Will Eisner, and the legendary Simon and Kirby.  A comic book, whether produced in-house by a publisher or packaged by an outside shop, was definitely not a one-man job.

But Rocket Comics Quarterly was indeed a one-man job...or rather, a one-person job.  For "Herm Woods" was in reality Hermione Woo, a young writer-artist of mixed British- and Chinese-American heritage.  And this was utterly unique in comics at the time; while there were a few scattered female, Asian-American, and even African-American creators toiling (anonymously) in the Golden Age of comics, I defy you to find another case like Hermione Woo:  a woman of mixed race, white and Asian, doing virtually all of her own work--writing, penciling, inking, and lettering, leaving only the coloring to the indifferent folks at Rocket Comics--and even self-editing.  Yep, she pretty much called her own shots.  Unheard of for a woman?  Unheard of for a woman whom a rude society mocked as "halfbreed?"  Hell, that would be unheard of for anyone.

Woo created a bunch of original (if derivative) ongoing characters for the book.  There was a Lone Ranger type (The Copperhead Kid), a Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle copy (Princess Africa, though--notably!-- Woo's character was dark-skinned, rather than a white jungle goddess), a Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon spaceman (Captain Cosmos), a two-fisted detective (John Sherlock), a flying ace (Clouds McCormick), a teen humor strip (Hey, Angie!), and a kid gang (Home Front Kids).  And there was Woo's cover feature, a superhero called Eternity Man.

In substance, Eternity Man was not terribly different from Superman, Captain Marvel, or any other superhuman superdoer of the time.  He was strong.  He could fly.  He was nearly invulnerable.  He wore a skintight costume with a flowing cape.  The only (sort of) distinctive thing about the character itself was that he was supposed to be a visitor from the 21st century, who had traveled back in time to help defend America from Hitler, and to protect innocent people from greed and corruption.  One could say the future was at least a different origin point than the planet Krypton, or being given a magic word by the wizard Shazam.

But even if Eternity Man was a cookie-cutter character, there was something indefinably warm and human about his adventures.  Woo invested a personal touch to the stories, almost as if she believed them, as if she'd lived them.  It's a subtle vibe, and difficult to articulate without seeming incoherent.  There was something intangibly real about Eternity Man's adventures.  Yes, even as he did impossible things, as he traveled through time, and clashed with the evil Professor What, and thwarted the mind-control schemes of the insidious Dr. Skeleton, and smacked Adolf Hitler in the schnozzola; and it seemed especially vivid and real when our hero battled racism, corruption, greed.  The latter, real-life battles weren't unique to Eternity Man, even among comic-book superheroes--at All-American Comics, the Justice Society of America touched on the same subject matter--but no one handled it with a heart and verisimilitude to match what Hermione Woo was doing in Eternity Man.

Woo left the book--and comics entirely--in 1947, and Eternity Man and the rest of the Rocket Comics Quarterly suffered for her absence.  The title limped along into the early '50s--the publisher never needed it to do anything more than launder dirty money--and the entire Rocket Comics line was cancelled in 1953.

But...

Right before Rocket Comics Quarterly launched into the sunset for the last time, Hermione Woo returned to create the final three Eternity Man stories.  And quite a final arc that was, as Eternity Man defended an African-American man wrongly accused of being a Communist sympathizer.  Even more shocking for the time, the evil mastermind behind the sinister plot turned out to be a thinly-disguised caricature of Senator Joe McCarthy.  It was a bold move, but at the wrong time for a publishing company doing its best to remain anonymous.   Woo never worked again, and her subsequent history is unknown.  Rocket killed its comics publishing, and turned its attention elsewhere, to great financial success.  And, as Rocket Media got bigger and bigger, with massive interests in film, television, recording, retail, banking, manufacturing, and--some say--even government itself, no one ever gave another thought to this forgotten, time-traveling superhero.

Ultimately, the Rocket Comics line meant little to anyone--including the publishers themselves!--and is not even a footnote to most comics historians today.   Most of the line was pedestrian, and deserves its obscurity.  But Rocket Comics Quarterly?  That, my friends, was the best Golden Age comic book that no one ever read.  And it's likely to remain undiscovered; copies of Rocket Comics Quarterly never turn up on Ebay, or in comics shops, or auction houses.  The books aren't even listed in Overstreet.  They are gone, feeding the nagging suspicion that someone--probably someone at Rocket Media--has removed them from the marketplace, by whatever means were necessary.  Rocket Comics Quarterly, and its unsung hero Eternity Man, are totally, totally forgotten.

Too bad, really.  One wonders if a real-life Eternity Man would stand against a smugly complacent colossus like Rocket Media, and fight once again for the interests of the little guy.  If only he were real.  Because, frankly, addressing the rampant corruption of Rocket Media sound like a job for Eternity Man.

NOTE:  This was Reed Roberts' final blog entry.  Roberts died shortly thereafter, an apparent suicide.  Roberts left no suicide note, and no one knows why he chose to end his life by jumping from the window of his Los Angeles office.  This blog entry was subsequently deleted from the server.

CHAPTER 5
                                                 
My grandmother.

What was I doing here?  I'd played along, as if attempts on my life and science-fantasy, superheroic rescues were everyday things.  Superheroes aren't real.  There's never been any such thing, outside of comic books and movies.  In the back of my head, I knew this was all some elaborate trick of the mind, either a desperate flight of fancy before my body hit the ground, or even a weird, metaphysical after-death state.

My grandmother.  And I started to cry.  The superhero who claimed to be my grandfather reached out to comfort me, and I shook him off angrily.

"Don't.  Just.  Don't."

I could still feel the ache in my stomach, still taste the bitterness in my mouth, still smell the bile that had erupted from within me.  The snow kept falling, heavier now, but it still couldn't touch me.  Oh, God!, I thought, with a numbing chill that had nothing to do with the weather.  This is real.  This can't be real, but it is....

"My grandmother is in hospice care."


The hero lowered his head.  "I know," he said softly.

Sometimes I'm as gullible as they come; other times, I'm a cynic, through and through.  I am large; I contain multitudes.  You would think a preposterous situation like this would call for the latter.  But there ain't so such thing as another preposterous situation quite like this one.  It was time to embrace the moment.

"Okay, Eternity Man--wait, what should I call you?  No offense, kind sir, but I'm not quite ready to call you Gramps yet."

"No offense taken," he replied, with a smile that seemed genuine.  I couldn't read the look in his eyes--maybe a hint of sadness, maybe not--but his demeanor was positive.  I could feel myself growing more at ease.  "Outside of my own time, most people do just call me Eternity Man."

"What do they call you in your own time?"

He paused; it was such an obvious question, but he hadn't anticipated me asking.  Another smile, bemused at first, then wider.  "Grant.  My name is Grant."

"Did you say Grant..?"

"Yes.  Uh...yes, I know what you're thinking.  Your father was named after me."

I wasn't gonna stop to let that sink in.  "Okay, Grant.  What's our next move?"

"If you're ready for another flight right now, I suggest a return to the scene of the crime."

I gulped.  "Aw, man...."

"Sorry, Jenny.  It's time to get the band back together."

NEXT:  Meet The Dust Bunnys!