About Me

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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.

Friday, August 5, 2016

UNFINISHED AND ABANDONED: The Notebook Notions, Part 3: If The '70s Were The '40s, starring Captain Marvel, The Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, and The Justice Society Of America. [Plus The Shadow. And The Beatles.]

Unfinished And Abandoned digs deeeeep into my unpublished archives, and exhumes projects that I started (sometimes barely started) but abandoned, unfinished. I am such a quitter.

When I was a fledgling teen-aged writer, I filled notebook after notebook with vague notions of things I might like to write some day.  The Notebook Notions is a series of backwards glances at those early glimmers of almost-ideas.

The '30s and '40s were big in the '70s.  I'm not sufficiently well-versed in history or sociology to know precisely when nostalgia began to play a role in contemporary pop culture, but the wistful 'n' longing gaze back at times gone by had certainly taken a pervasive hold by the mid- to late-'60s.  In the 1970s, nostalgia was everywhere, man.

When I was an adolescent to early teenager in the early '70s, my Mom used to joke that I was born in the wrong decade.  Given my then-current obsession with Charlie Chaplin, The Marx Brothers, and World War II-era superheroes, it would be hard to debate her point.  I guess it started in fourth grade, when I developed a sudden, keen interest in World War II. Over the next few years, this dovetailed with a growing awareness of the movies and the comic books of decades past, an awareness fed by late-night TV screenings of the Brothers Marx in Duck Soup and Horse Feathers, by theatrical re-releases of Charlie Chaplin's City Lights, Modern Times, and The Great Dictator--in 1972, I was the only twelve-year-old in America with a crush on Paulette Goddard--and by a flood of Golden Age comic book reprints.

Much credit for the latter must go to Carmine Infantino, the great comics artist who was then in charge of DC Comics. Marvel Comics had recently surpassed DC in popularity, and Infantino was looking for new ways to compete. Infantino had a veritable treasure trove of previously-published material at his disposal, stuff that was long since bought and paid for, and he wanted to exploit that (essentially free) catalog as much as possible. E. Nelson Bridwell was the single person most involved in selecting used comics for DC to sell again, and he did an exemplary job in this largely thankless task. It was, frankly, a misguided effort to recapture market share--reprints of Boy Commandos and Newsboy Legion were not going to steal any discernible readership from Marvel--but I know there was at least one kid in North Syracuse who couldn't get enough of this.

Um. That would be me. Just to be clear.

Concurrent to Infantino's desperate mission to raid DC's archives, there was also a greater embrace of old comics within a broader nostalgic context. There was a sudden growth industry in books--like, hardcover books at the local bookstore--focused on comics from decades passed.  Crown Books published a couple of retrospective collections, Superman From The '30s To The '70s and Batman From The '30s To The '70s, and Ms. magazine sponsored a Wonder Woman book; all three of these contained pages and pages and pages of vintage comics reprints. Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes (published in 1965, but a bookstore staple in the early '70s) combined Feiffer's wonder-filled recollections of being a comics fan in the '30s and '40s with a choice selection of key reprints. All In Color For A Dime, edited by Dick Lupoff and Don Thompson, and Steranko's two-part History Of The Comics included no comics at all, but were just as inspirational for their spirited essays on '30s and '40s comics, and for the gorgeous comics art reprinted in each.

The collective result of all of the above? I was just as into old comics as I was into the great contemporary comics work that Jack Kirby or Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams were doing at the time. I read Charlie Chaplin's My Autobiography the same summer that I saw Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal in What's Up, Doc? (itself a throwback to old screwball comedies), and I attended my first screening at the Syracuse Cinephile Society before I'd even seen a James Bond movie at Cinema North in Mattydale. Old. New. This affected some of my notions.

The Further Adventures Of Captain Marvel movie serial

I recently wrote all about How I Became A Captain Marvel fan. The 1941 movie serial The Adventures Of Captain Marvel played an enormous role in my burgeoning interest in all things Shazam, so I decided to write a sequel.

What's that? Movie serials were long dead by the era of Watergate? Tom Tyler, the actor who'd played the World's Mightiest Mortal in the '40s, passed away in 1954? A mid-'70s Captain Marvel movie serial was a silly, silly fantasy?

Oh, you and your real-world thinking! Such mundane, practical limitations aren't even speed bumps on the path of a truly dedicated, delusional Notebook Notion!

The thing is, while I didn't bother addressing the fact that no one would be interested in an old-fashioned black-and-white chapter play in 1974, I did justify (to myself) how a young Tom Tyler could star in this hypothetical waste of time. In my mind, I figured that advances in digital technology and computer magic would someday allow filmmakers to manipulate existing images, essentially using special effects to make brand-new movies starring W.C. Fields or Marilyn Monroe. My fanciful vision of this process imagined a seamless, realistic end result: for example, Humphrey Bogart in Return Of The Maltese Falcon would be visually and virtually indistinguishable from Bogie in his original role as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon.

Nonsense? Yeah, probably. Though, honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if something like this became possible in our lifetime. We've already seen a hint of it in TV commercials for Snickers candy bars, which blend existing footage of Marilyn Monroe or the cast of The Brady Bunch with new footage. It's still a long jump from mixing and integrating old footage with new footage to manipulating old images to create all new footage (and the moral quandary that may present). But impossible?  For now.

Anyway. I envisioned The Further Adventures Of Captain Marvel as a time-spanning epic pitting the World's Mightiest Mortal against the insidious Dr. What. Why What? Wait...what? Sorry...confused myself for a second there. For whatever reason, I didn't want to use an existing Captain Marvel villain like Dr. Sivana, nor re-use The Scorpion from the first Captain Marvel serial, and I liked the comic-book sound of the name Dr. What.  I don't believe I had ever heard of Dr. Who by this point in my life, but I'll concede the possibility.

I had Chapter One written; details are fuzzy, but I think Dr. What travels back in time from his far-future home in 1965 to loot and steal and otherwise be a bad guy in the 1940s. I'm sure he has his reasons, and I betcha they're evil reasons, the swine! Intrepid young reporter Billy Batson witnesses Dr. What in the commission of a criminal act, and uses his magic word to call upon the power of Captain Marvel. Our hero confronts Dr. What, confident that the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, and the other fine properties that come with the letters that spell out SHAZAM would be more than capable of making short work of this thief.

But Dr. What is ready for Captain Marvel! The sinister time-traveler is armed with a super-scientific gizmo from the world of tomorrow; he fires his mysterious weapon at our hero, and--in a blaze of light and a haze of smoke and sulphur--Captain Marvel is gone!  The World's Mightiest Mortal has disappeared without a trace! Has Dr. What succeeded in destroying the mighty Captain Marvel? Don't miss "Silver Bullets," the next exciting chapter in The Further Adventures Of Captain Marvel, at this theater next week!

I got about half-way through writing the next chapter, "Silver Bullets," before coming to my senses and moving on to something else. In Chapter Two, we learn that Dr. What's weapon hasn't killed Captain Marvel, but has sent him back in time, to the days of the Old West. There, Captain Marvel meets The Lone Ranger and Tonto, and enlists their aid in returning to his own time. My use of The Lone Ranger was inspired by a letter I'd read in a recent issue of Justice League of America, requesting that The Masked Rider Of The Plains be inducted into the JLA.  And yes, just about everyone would think that an absurd idea, but I was instantly taken by the incongruity of a 19th century cowboy crimefighter joining forces with contemporary superheroes. A little while later, when a series of stories in Marvel's The Avengers showed the Earth's Mightiest Heroes traveling through time to meet The Rawhide Kid, The Two-Gun Kid, and Kid Colt, no one cheered more loudly than this guy.

I have no idea how my story for The Further Adventures Of Captain Marvel would have progressed. But I tell ya: far from being embarrassed by the absurd concepts I was pursuing, I'm still kinda jazzed about it. I could see it as a cross-licensed comic book, combining not only Captain Marvel and The Lone Ranger, but also Tarzan, Buck Rogers, and more. I've even toyed with altering it to a story with just DC Comics properties: Captain Marvel, the Western hero Johnny Thunders, Rima the Jungle Girl, Space Ranger, the Camelot-era hero The Silent Knight, the Revolutionary War character Miss Liberty, and Phantom Girl from the 30th century's Legion of Super-Heroes.  And the story was in the back of my mind as I started writing ETERNITY MAN!, my rock 'n' roll super-hero novel.


The Justice Society Of America radio show

Sure, this one I finished (though I haven't seen it in decades). Spurred by the books All In Color For A Dime and Steranko's History Of The Comics, I spent a lot of time drawing fake covers for an imaginary revival of All-Star Comics, the comic book that had been the home of The Justice Society of America in the '40s and early '50s. I was dyin' to read one of the original JSA stories from the '40s, and was just over the moon when my wish was granted in 1973: DC 100-Page Super-Spectacular # 17 reprinted the Justice Society's first skirmish with The Injustice Society of the World, originally printed in All-Star Comics # 37 in 1947.

Seeking to try something different, I combined my infatuation with the 1940s JSA with my love of old-time radio, and with my unconscious wish to start a new religion honoring The Batman's '70s stories, as created by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams. And I wrote a full script for an imaginary Justice Society Of America radio show.

Trust me:  it was terrible. But, I was enthusiastic! Since DC Comics had recently licensed The Shadow for a new comics series (which I loved), I decided to have The Shadow join forces with the JSA in this adventure. My memory has erased all specifics--probably as a mercy--but I think this radio adventure featured a rematch with The Injustice Gang, and I'm sure I included The Joker; I was obsessed with The Joker's dark, murderous return in "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge!" in Batman # 251 (September 1973), so it was for damned sure I would pit The Joker against The JSA, The Shadow, and The Batman.


The Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin in From Here To Infernity
The Marx Brothers and The Beatles in A Hard Day's Night At The Opera [working title]

Getting back once again to the idea of new movies starring digital recreations of old movie stars, I had a very vague idea to team Charlie Chaplin with Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo, and Gummo--I was a stickler!--in a film variously called From Here To Infernity or From Here To Internity.  I don't remember if it was supposed to be a war comedy (like Duck Soup and The Great Dictator) or a medical comedy (like the operating scene in A Day At The Races).  I only remember that Groucho's character was to be called Gladiola Mosquitobite.  I later amended the idea (without doing any actual writing, mind you) to replace Chaplin with The Beatles, perhaps in a cross between A Night At The Opera and A Hard Day's Night.  This notion never got past drawings of potential movie posters.  It shouldn't even have gotten that far.

But I wonder: would Paulette Goddard have been interested?