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Logo for Homeys on Film: Homeland Security Lessons from Bad Movies

I’ve been working on a Master’s Degree in Homeland Security Studies at the Naval Postgraduate School. One of our assignments is a group project to start a homeland security-related blog. My team’s contribution will be called Homeys on Film: Homeland Security Lessons from Bad Movies. The “business plan” is to provide springboards to discussions of homeland security best practices by snarking on awful examples of policing, intelligence work, civil defense, or international relations from (mostly) bad films. We’ll be providing content ourselves (see one of my recent posts for an example, this one snarking on King Kong vs. Godzilla), and we’ll be inviting our readers to submit content. I think lots of you (especially those of you involved in public safety, public health, or homeland security professions) will have a lot of fun plugging your favorite/least-favorite movies and your homeland security lessons into our simple template.

I’ll be providing more details as I get them. In the meantime, here’s our new logo! (Can anyone guess which movie the image comes from? Hint — it was Bela Lugosi’s last film, and it starred Tor Johnson).

Homeys on Film logo

Surefire Indication of a Wave Election

front page of 11/5/2008 Washington Post, laminated, for sale at Rainbow Gifts for $8/copy, now discounted to $5/copy

front page of 11/5/2008 Washington Post, laminated, for sale at Rainbow Gifts for $8/copy, now discounted to $5/copy


I voted yesterday, then promptly “forgot” an election was going on. I didn’t bother to listen to the results last night and did not tune in to the radio or Internet on my ride into work. So I didn’t know who had won in Virginia, or if the Democrats had held the Senate, or if the Republicans had taken the Senate, or if they had, by how many seats.

Beneath my office suite, underground on the main retail level of my building, is a sundries and gift shop called Rainbow Gifts. As long as I have been eating lunch at a table next to their entrance, the “featured item” nearest the door has been a laminated Washington Post front page from November 5, 2008 with the giant headline, “Obama Makes History.” Taped to the laminated page is a hand-written note that says, “Do you need a copy? If so, please speak to the cashier. $8”

Out of curiosity, I took a peek first thing this morning before heading upstairs to my cubicle. The laminated front page is still hanging where it had always been hanging. It still has a hand-written note taped to it. Only the note now reads:

“Do you need a copy? If so, please speak to the cashier. $5”

That $3 discount represents a decrease of 37.5% — a very husky overnight reduction. Even the price of gas hasn’t been going down that fast.

I guess this means “Obama Makes History” in a different way: biggest losses to a sitting president’s party in a mid-term election???

Theodore Sturgeon’s Law for October 31, 2014


Happy Halloween! Something about the day and the morning’s train ride to work got me thinking about Sturgeon’s Law, which can be paraphrased as, “Sure, 90% of science fiction is crap, but then 90% of everything is crap.”

This is, quite possibly, the most famous quote to ever emerge from the universe of science fiction. So famous that not a day goes by without the quote appearing in a news article.

That notion got me curious. In what news articles would Sturgeon’s Law be quoted or referred to on Halloween, 2014?

Google makes life easy for those embarking on such absurd quests. I found a grand total of 26 news articles that fit my criteria. I selected a sample of four.

One, “Artists expected to toe the official line,” is about the travails of Irish artists who dare to criticize their local art scene. Another, “I like most films I watch. Am I a sucker?” is about a desire by a film critic to watch and enjoy bad films. The third, “Tuba instructor works hard to fight musical stereotypes,” is about a song a tuba instructor composed in order to fight prejudice against tuba players (really). And the fourth, “Tim Cook Makes Waves, Creates Ripple Effect,” is about the CEO of Apple coming out as gay. Richard Adhikari, the author of the last article, writes for TechNewsWorld, E-Commerce Times, and and mentions Sturgeon’s Law in his byline self-description block, so Theodore Sturgeon is mentioned (indirectly and parenthetically) in every single article he writes.

This is a fun little game. If I get enough positive feedback, I may make this a recurring feature of What say you?

Cover for Hellfire and Damnation

Hellfire and Damnation - High Resolution

This is the cover for my upcoming book, Hellfire and Damnation: the August Micholson Chronicles, Book 2, coming out from MonstraCity Press in August, 2014. And here is the “teaser” for that book:

The second book in the thrilling Civil War steampunk supernatural suspense series begun with Fire on Iron. In this installment in the series, August Micholson must clear his name — he is accused of being a traitor to the Union and a sabateur and faces a court martial. He escapes his prison in an observation balloon, but then he is faced with monumental twin challenges — restoring the mental health of his “madness plague”-striken wife Elizabeth, and figuring out a way to halt General Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania!

Here’s a gallery of the work that James of the Humble Nations: the Book Covers, Musings, & Fiction of ‘Cheap Literature’ Smith’ has done for me thus far:

James has hundreds and hundreds of pre-made covers available for writers to purchase for $35 apiece, and he often offers specials on them. If none of his pre-made covers work for you, he also does what he calls “Commission Rapide,” which is where you pick out a few images from ShutterStock and give him your title and instructions, and “Full Commission,” where you let him do all the work and he presents you with three different alternatives. He is very easy to work with and very friendly, and his prices are some of the best out there. As you can see from the gallery above, the quality of his work is quite high (the book covers are all “Commissions Rapide,” and the logo was a complete original that he put together for Dara and me for MonstraCity Press). He does ebook covers and for a small additional charge turns an ebook cover into a full, wrap-around cover for a CreateSpace or Lightning Source/IngramSpark trade paperback. I highly recommend him!

Have Been Sick in Hospital; Very Sorry To All Friends

I am very, very sorry to all my friends and readers who look at my website. I have not put up any posts in over three weeks. The reason is that I have experienced a nervous breakdown and spent a week in a hospital during Thanksgiving week. I have never been in an inpatient mental treatment facility before in my life. Had some of the hardest days I’ve ever experienced, but overall it was a positive experience. I committed myself, because I did not want to experience a breakdown at home in front of my children and wife.

The reasons for my nervous breakdown included longstanding extended family conflict and cutoff in communications, and my oldest son’s worsening autism and Asperger’s symptoms. He was having many, frequent loud crying fits in school and other places due to very low frustration threshold. At school, due to bureaucratic regulations, administrators refused to give my son an IEP (Individual Extra-Help Plan) or an adult shadow in class to help him with frustration by answering questions quickly so he would not panic. They refused because he is at grade-level for academic achievement. Their “solution” was to shut him up in a printer closet by himself whenever he suffered a fit, with a monitor standing outside. Other children, including Levi’s younger brother, Asher, could hear him crying and screaming in this room; Asher said Levi was in the dark. Teacher would let Levi out when fit subsided after 20 minutes or so. Never told Dara or me about this printer room isolation; we found out from third parties who are friends. Later I experienced one of Levi’s hour long fits in public when I had little son Judah with me. It was terrible; made me feel like I had been in a car accident but body had not yet experienced extent of physical injuries. Early next week I experienced my first panic attack at work — was afraid blood pressure had spiked and was having a stroke or a heart attack. Nurse took my blood pressure; was normal! But immediately started crying and screaming about Levi. A week later, after bad reaction to one medication, I admitted myself to hospital.

New medication I am on for anxiety makes me very slumberous/comatose and feels a little like I suffered a benign stroke. Talking and writing are difficult; must do both very slowly, with much concentration. Cannot operate car or “heavy machinery.” Even walking Romeo, my big dog, exhausts me with effort of concentration. So many projects are being delayed until medication can be altered; I cannot stay on what I am on now because it is addictive long term, and besides, it does not seem right for me, although it does help control my panic attacks. This is the first time I am typing since leaving the hospital, although I hand wrote a journal there.

Here’s what’s going on with MonstraCity Press. Fire on Iron is out in Kindle and I think is out in Smashwords formats now. We have received proof copy of paperback book from Createspace and are having my sister-in-law proofread it. It should be available for order soon. My next Jules Duchon Fat White Vampire novel, Fat White Vampire Otaku, is completely written but not yet edited and formatted by Dara. We had planned for the paperback to be available for order during December, but now this will be delayed by a few months, maybe two months. I am very sorry to my friend Marita Jaeger at Boutique du Vampyre down in New Orleans, because she had on her website that Jules Duchon fans among her customers could advance order Fat White Vampire Otaku for Christmas. Now it will be February, 2014 at the earliest. I will soon return to working on the second “Midnight’s Inferno: the August Micholson Chronicles” book, Hellfire and Damnation, as soon as I can write fiction again; maybe in a month. It is the direct sequel to Fire on Iron. I still hope to have that one come out in April, 2014, as originally planned. The book which was supposed to come out in February, 2014, The Bad Luck Spirits’ Social Aid and Pleasure Club, will be rescheduled for sometime in the summer; it connects up with Fat White Vampire Otaku.

I am very, very sorry to disappoint my readers and friends. I truly love you all. God Bless each one of you. And please pray for me and my family. Thank you all very, very much. I love you.

More Handmade Monsters!

Here to save the planet... it's Mothra!

My youngest son, Judah, continues to request handmade monster toys, so I continue to make them. My first efforts were Gorgo and Tarantula (seen here in this earlier post). Gorgo was a simple paper puppet, two layers of construction paper glued together over a straw. Tarantula, however, was a more elaborate project, involving two plastic token cups from Chuck E. Cheese’s, a ball of black yarn, and several dozen black pipe cleaners. I made sure to over-build that sucker, reinforcing his legs six ways to Sunday (or eight ways to Sunday, given the number of legs).

Now I just need those two tiny Japanese twin gals...

Next up, per Judah’s instructions, was Mothra. Making a Mothra isn’t too hard; making a Mothra that won’t get destroyed after one or two sessions of play is a taller order. Mothra’s body is a cardboard toilet paper roll, coated in yellow construction paper, with pipe cleaner legs inserted through holes. Her wings are two layers of construction paper, reinforced on top with “veins” of variously colored pipe cleaners (which also give the wings some stiffness). Her head is construction paper with fuzzy ball eyes and antennae made of Bendaroos (wax-coated string). So far, she has avoided mortal damage, and she has been in Judah’s hands for over a month. So I guess I must’ve built her right.

Ghidorah vs. Godzilla!

Having seen the “Ghidorah Trilogy” (Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster; Monster Zero; and Destroy All Monsters), of course Judah would want a Ghidorah for his collection (and professionally made Ghidorah toys aren’t too common, at least not here in the States). I’d originally intended to make a simple two-dimensional Ghidorah puppet, along the lines of what I’d done with Gorgo, but then I got a bit more ambitious. I couldn’t figure out a workable way for me to make him fully three-dimensional, but by making his heads, wings, torso, and legs separately and then slotting them together, I was able to make him at least partially three-dimensional, plus able to stand on his own (a definite plus in a household inhabited by a kitten who loves to chew paper).

Another view of the wintry grudge match

I printed out a nice, cartoony drawing of Ghidorah from the site and cut out portions to use for the fronts of Ghidorah’s heads and legs, the most difficult parts to draw, then drew the wings and torso freehand. I did my best to draw the reverse sides of his legs and feet and of his heads and necks on another sheet of construction paper, plus reverse sides of his wings and torso. I then traced the parts onto a sheet of corrugated cardboard, which would give all the parts the necessary stiffness. I cut everything out, glued the construction paper “skins” over the cardboard “skeleton,” and then, after it had all dried, cut slots into the various parts and slotted and glued them together, sort of like how you would put together a cardboard model of an airplane. My finished product didn’t come out exactly proportional (the torso and wings are too big for the heads and legs), but he turned out exactly the right scale to battle Judah’s plastic Godzilla, which is more important. And from certain angles, he is rather impressive, if I do say so myself. Besides, Ghidorah was always sort of a lumpy, ungainly monster, anyway, at least in the original 1960s Toho films.

The best thing about Yongary, Monster From the Deep--the hero's 1964 Corvair convertible

This past week was a bad one, health-wise, for my family. One by one, we all came down with bouts of stomach flu. Judah and Asher caught it nearly simultaneously, and while they were on the mend, I stayed home with them to give Dara a bit of a break. The three of us watched Yongary, Monster From the Deep (1967). This was one giant monster picture I had somehow not managed to see as a kid. Yongary is essentially a South Korean Godzilla, with the monster-loving little kid from Gamera, the Invincible tossed in for good measure. The model cities weren’t bad, at least on par with those seen in the early Gamera movies, but the monster costume was a step down from those featured in the Gamera creature-fests, about as silly looking as the average kaiju in an episode of Ultraman.

The worst thing about Yongary, Monster From the Deep--the heroine's absurdly obnoxious little brother, Icho

What made the film stand out in my eyes were two things — the hero drove a splendid 1964 Chevy Corvair convertible, and Icho, the six or seven-year-old kid whom the filmmakers unwisely (and sadistically) foisted on us for much of the film, was simply the most detestable and obnoxious child character I have ever witnessed in any monster movie, ever. Worse than any of the kids in the Gamera movies (even that horrid, virtually unwatchable little Caucasian girl who wore a Scottish tam in War of the Planets). Worse than the kid in Godzilla’s Revenge. Worse, quite possibly, than any of the kids in The Lemon Drop Kids Meet a Brooklyn Gorilla (although I’ll admit I haven’t seen that one, so I can’t say for certain). One gizmo that plays a role in the movie’s plot is an itching ray (yes, an itching ray) developed by the hero (for God knows what reason; he’s already invented it when the film begins, before Yongary ever appears). The first time we meet Icho, he is hiding in the bushes, having stolen his new brother-in-law’s invention, and he zaps his sister and her new husband with the itching ray as they drive past (in that splendid Corvair convertible), forcing them to pull over and jump out of their clothes while they are on their way to their honeymoon. Icho gets even more obnoxious as the film rolls on. At one point, the hero scientist and the military have found a way to render Yongary unconscious, after he has knocked down most of those parts of Seoul that weren’t already knocked down during the Korean War. What does cute little Icho do? He steals the itching ray again, runs to the giant monster’s side, and wakes him up. Just as a goof, you know. Yongary then proceeds to knock down those parts of Seoul he missed the first time around. At that point, I was rooting for the big lizard to squash the kid already. Doesn’t happen. Evil triumphs; Yongary dies.

View from my back deck, January 21, 2012

But enough about itch-inducing child actors. We got a bit of wet snow last night, enough to lightly coat our back yard and replenish our stream. Knowing I’d be posting about giant monster movies, I began wondering whether any of them had taken place in the wintertime, during a heavy snowfall. Dozens of them took place in the desert, in the American Southwest, near where the atomic tests were carried out. All of the Japanese kaiju movies that I can recall took place in the summertime, with the exception of the early parts of Gigantis the Fire Monster / Godzilla Raids Again, the second Godzilla movie, in which Godzilla (or a second Godzilla-like creature, the original having been thoroughly disintegrated by the oxygen destroyer at the close of Godzilla, King of the Monsters) and Anguilus are discovered fighting each other on a northerly, ice-covered island, before they both invade Japan. The Deadly Mantis begins in Antarctica, where the titular giant bug makes his first attack on humanity, but when he gets up to the cities of North America, it is summertime. Much of Ray Harryhausen’s Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, which features numerous giant creatures, takes place in a mysterious region of the Arctic, but that’s more a fantasy-adventure film than a traditional “giant monsters attack” movie. I haven’t seen The Beast From Twenty Thousand Fathoms in a long time, and I seem to recall that its climax takes place in Coney Island during a storm. Was it a snowstorm? If anyone has a good memory for this kind of thing, help me out here. I just think it would be neat to see New York City or Washington, DC or Tokyo (or even Seoul) get attacked by a gigantic lizard during a beautiful snowstorm.

(Ah, memory just kicked in; Peter Jackson’s New York City scenes in his recent remake of King Kong took place in the wintertime, one of the nicer touches in that film. Digital effects make much possible that perhaps weren’t so practicable during the era of miniature models.)

Gladiator in the Light of Subsequent Super-Men and Superheroes

I just finished reading Philip Wylie’s 1930 novel Gladiator. I’d heard about the book for years, both as one of the earliest speculative fiction novels on the subject of a super-human (appearing five years prior to Olaf Stapleton’s Odd John and ten years before A. E. van Vogt’s Slan was serialized in Astounding) and as the purported inspiration for the creation of Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938.

On the surface, certain parallels between Hugo Danner, protagonist of Gladiator, and the original version of Superman are striking. Their power sets were virtually identical; Danner could run as fast as a locomotive, leap forty feet straight into the air or hurl a church steeple with a running start, lift up to five tons, and had skin impenetrable by anything short of an exploding artillery shell. Also, Danner spends part of the book attempting to root out corrupt politicians and industrialists from their center of power in Washington, DC, a pursuit echoed by a decidedly populist Superman in many pre-war issues of Action Comics and Superman (in Metropolis, rather than Washington). However, according to Gregory Feeley, who has looked into all the relevant sources, Gladiator may not have had anything to do with the inspiration for Superman. The novel initially found very few readers, selling less than 2,600 copies in its first hardcover printing from Alfred Knopf. During interviews they granted late in life, both Siegel and Shuster acknowledged several inspirations for their character, including the pulp action hero Doc Savage, but do not mention Wylie’s Gladiator. Sam Moskowitz’s claim of the link between the 1930 novel and the 1938 Action Comics character, published in his 1963 book of portraits of SF writers, Explorers of the Infinite, was based upon a single interview with Wylie. Gregory Feeley points out that the differences between Hugo Danner and Clark Kent/Superman are more notable, perhaps, than the similarities. Danner received his powers as the result of an experiment his chemist father carried out on Danner’s mother while she was pregnant, not as the result of coming from another planet; and Danner never puts on a costume, adopts a secret identity, or battles criminals as a vigilante, although following one of his frequent failures to achieve his ambitions, he fantasizes about doing the latter (or, alternatively, about becoming what we today would call a super-villain).

A friend of mine located for me a paperback reprint of the novel, published by the University of Nebraska’s Bison Press in 2004. Having just spent weeks laboring through Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March (more on that in my next post), I decided I needed a palate cleanser, something less challenging and a much quicker read. Gladiator seemed to fit the bill. I mainly picked up the book out of archeological interest, wanting to determine for myself any linkages between what I figured would be an antiquated, eighty year-old relic of the pulp era and the subsequent development of the super-hero in comics and films. What I discovered to my surprise was a novel centered on a sophisticated and sometimes subtle characterization of a believable, conflicted, and very three-dimensional protagonist, a book that could bear favorable comparisons, not only with its more renowned contemporaries like Odd John, but also with far more recent novels on similar themes, such as Robert Silverberg’s classic Dying Inside (1972).

As a reader in 2011 who has been marinated in forty years’ worth of super-hero comic books and films, I came to Gladiator with a considerably different set of preconceived notions and penumbras of earlier reading experiences than the novel’s original readers would have had back in 1930. I’ve had the benefit of having read Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Miracleman, Peter David’s Hulk, Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme. A familiarity with these comics and graphic novels enormously enriches one’s experience of Gladiator, because one can easily see reflections of Hugo Danner’s travails in all of those later works, whether the influence was direct (as it possibly was in the case of Moore, who visually “quoted” Gladiator in Watchmen) or indirect.

To me, a far more interesting question than whether or not Jerry Siegel or Joe Shuster read Gladiator in the 1930s is if Stan Lee read Gladiator in the early 1960s. The novel’s portrait of a man more cursed than blessed by his super-human strength and abilities is strongly echoed by Lee’s characterizations of Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the Silver Surfer (and Lee’s pioneering work in the 1960s led to those deeper examinations of the dilemmas and conundrums of being super-human that I list above). Hugo Danner spends his entire adolescent and adult life searching for a purpose toward which to apply his enormous strength, and the varied purposes he pursues and ends up abandoning encompass almost the entire range of plots utilized by writers of super-hero stories since 1938. In order of attempt, Danner seeks personal glory through excelling at collegiate athletics; accumulation of wealth (or just making enough dough for a meal) through use of his physical strength; satisfaction through saving lives in danger; being able to “cut loose” during wartime and seek vengeance for the deaths of friends in battle; he tries to live up to a parental figure’s hopes; temporarily turns his back on his abilities in an effort to find normalcy and serenity; tries to root out corruption in government and the justice system; seeks to use his strength in the service of scientific exploration; and finally contemplates founding a utopia in the jungle and populating it with children having abilities like his. The tragedy of the novel — and it is a tragedy — is that Danner, despite his pure intentions, despite the rigid control he mostly maintains over his use of his abilities, either is foiled in each of these pursuits by the ignorance, fear, or venality of his fellow men, or he has rueful second thoughts about goals for which he was initially wild with enthusiasm, realizing that his dreams are unrealistic, given human nature. The book ends with Danner considering himself a failure, even though the reader will recognize that he has won many small victories throughout the novel, albeit victories on a far smaller scale than those for which Danner had yearned.

In many respects, Hugo Danner more closely resembles Peter Parker/Spider-Man than he does Clark Kent/Superman. Danner’s scientist father’s goal is to find a way to increase the efficiency of human muscle mass to that of the muscles of ants and grasshoppers, and he succeeds with his infant son (after first succeeding, far more horrifically, with a kitten he comes to name Samson). Danner ends up with the proportional strength of an ant and the proportional leaping ability and speed of a grasshopper, whereas Peter Parker ends up, far more famously, with the proportional strength and speed of a spider. The famous scene from Amazing Fantasy #15 and the first Spider-Man movie of Peter Parker, under an assumed identity, entering a ring with a professional wrestler in order to win a cash prize was foreshadowed decades earlier by an almost identical scene in Gladiator, wherein Hugo Danner uses a false name to win a hundred dollars by knocking out a professional boxer a foot taller and eighty pounds heavier than he is (in another Peter Parker-like touch, the reason Danner does this is to raise cash for a bus ticket back to Webster College after having been seduced, then robbed by a call girl in New York City). Danner’s foray into heroism and service to others, like Peter Parker’s, is preceded by a tragic death caused, in part, by a personal failing on the part of the protagonist. In Peter Parker’s case, his selfish refusal to interfere with a robber’s escape leads to the death of Peter’s Uncle Ben at the hands of that same robber. In Hugo Danner’s case, his anger on the football field at a personal snub from the jealous captain of his team leads Danner to momentarily let go of his self-control and hit an opposing player too hard in the process of scoring a touchdown, snapping the young man’s neck in three places. The big difference between the two characters? Peter Parker, meant almost from the start to be a character in a recurring series of stories, utilizes his shame and self-recrimination to forge a philosophy of “With great power comes great responsibility” and then embarks upon a career as Spider-Man which has now lasted nearly a half century. Hugo Danner, the protagonist of a single novel, struggles mightily to find a purpose for his power and never succeeds, or at least never manages to live up to the Olympian standard he sets for himself.

Danner also resembles another Stan Lee creation, the Incredible Hulk. Danner’s scientist father experiments on a pregnant cat before experimenting on his own wife. The result is a kitten with the strength of an ox. In a series of horrific scenes, among the most effective in the book, the super-kitten nearly destroys the Danners’ home and savagely kills several sheep and cattle. A farmer’s rifle bullet fails to kill it. Danner is forced to poison the creature when it returns to his house for a saucer of milk and a plate of meat. After this experience, Danner and his neurotically religious wife take special care to condition Hugo, once the baby shows signs of his super-human strength, against any expression of anger, use of violence, or open display of his prowess. They are mostly successful in this, although both as an infant and as a child, Hugo occasionally lets signs of his abnormality show, which results in his being ostracized by most of the other children in his town and by their parents. Throughout the book, Danner worries about his potential for losing control and struggles against incitements and temptations to give his anger (and his inhuman strength) free reign. His college career as a star football player is ended when Danner, goaded by a jealous teammate, momentarily forgets to self-limit himself to one-fifth of his abilities on the playing field and accidentally kills an opposing player. Danner’s potential as a killer is shown in full during his service with the French Foreign Legion during World War One, when, in the bloody aftermath of the death of his best friend from German artillery fire, Danner plows into the German trenches and kills a thousand soldiers with his bare hands. Another parallel with an early Hulk story (in this case, The Avengers #1)? Seeking refuge and peace, the Hulk “hides in open sight” by joining a circus and performing as a super-strong robot. In Danner’s case, when he suddenly learns that his parents will be unable to pay for his second year at Webster College, he raises money for his education by getting a job as a strong man on the Coney Island midway, trusting in audiences’ assumption of some form of fakery to mask the extent of his natural abilities.

Another theme of the novel is Danner’s continual search for acceptance, friendship, and love. The ordinary people who surround him can sense his difference, even when he is completely successful at hiding his abnormal strength. This sense of difference leads to distrust, fear, and often to hatred. Danner, after taking a job as a farm hand, finds love with the farmer’s neglected wife, only to see her love turn to horror after Danner is forced to kill a marauding bull by breaking its skull with his fist. In one key scene, Danner rescues a bank coworker who has become trapped in a bank vault and is close to suffocation. All conventional efforts to open the jammed vault have failed. Danner offers to rescue the man, but only if all other persons will leave the basement and will not inquire into his method. He then rips off the vault’s door with his bare hands. The bank’s president questions Danner, suspecting that he has devised a new method of safe cracking that he means to use criminally in the future. When Danner refuses to answer his boss’s questions, the executive has Danner arrested by a corrupt police chief, who then attempts to torture an answer out of Danner. Stan Lee utilized this pattern of a protagonist’s good deed leading to social condemnation and ostracism regularly, particularly in stories involving Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Sub-Mariner, or the Silver Surfer. Of all these, Hugo Danner is perhaps the most similar, personality-wise, to the Silver Surfer, one of Lee’s personal favorites. Both characters are portrayed as lonely introverts, frequently soliloquizing on the short-sighted foolishnesses of humanity, yet yearning all the same for human companionship and acceptance, trying to help those in need and sometimes succeeding, but never achieving any recognition. No issue of the classic Stan Lee-John Buscema run of The Silver Surfer was complete without the Surfer retreating to an isolated mountaintop and ruing his exile on Earth and the shortcomings of humanity. Gladiator ends the same way, with Hugo Danner on a mountaintop in Mexico, remonstrating with God.

As a reader conditioned by the “Dark and Gritty” era of super-hero storytelling that followed the publications of The Dark Knight Returns, Miracleman, and Watchmen in the mid-1980s, I kept waiting for Hugo Danner to truly lose it. In an early scene set during his time at Webster College, Danner gets drunk for the first time in his life, at a party attended by his fraternity brothers and a horde of showgirls. Intimations of Alan Moore’s Miracleman led me on, making me anticipate a horrific consequence on the scale of one of Young Nastyman’s drunken binges in the South Seas or Young Miracleman’s nihilistic destruction of part of London. But the worst that happens is that Danner goes home with one of the young women, passes out after having sex, and awakens the next morning with his wallet gone. Danner does let his anger and grief take over in 1918 in France after the Germans kill his best friend, but the Young Miracleman-like slaughter he inflicts on the German troops is camouflaged by the far more massive carnage taking place all along the Western Front; even a man who can kill a thousand enemies in a single night is overshadowed by a war in which a single battle could result in half a million casualties. In his civilian life back in America, the one time that Danner would have been fully justified in cutting loose and dismembering his foes, following his torture at the hands of corrupt police after he has freed a man trapped in a bank vault, he manages to retain control, limiting himself to an intimidating display of his abilities. I thought I might be disappointed by the author’s choice not to have his protagonist engage in vengeance which (most) modern super-characters would have allowed themselves. But Wylie is so successful in illuminating Hugo Danner’s character, his upbringing, and his sense of ethics that I fully “bought” Danner’s decision to be merciful, not feeling that it was a cop-out on the writer’s part.

Fans of the best work of Stan Lee, Alan Moore, Kurt Busiek, and Frank Miller exploring what it means to be super-human owe it to themselves to find a copy of Gladiator and read it, not as a historical curiosity, but as an engaging and enlightening novel. Philip Wylie covered their territory first, decades before most of them began their careers in comics. And he did so with a deftness, craftsmanship, and powers of extrapolation that make his book just as readable as it was upon its first publication in 1930. In fact, perhaps even a better fit for today’s comics-savvy audience than it was for those 2,568 readers who bought copies of the first edition from Alfred Knopf during the early years of the Great Depression.

Thanks to All My Commentators!

I’d just like to send out a big THANK YOU to all the readers of my article, “The Absence of 9/11 in Science Fiction,” who took the time to write me and point out books or stories that I had missed in my (admittedly somewhat cursory) search.

Stories you mentioned included:
“Pipeline” by Brian Aldiss
“Dawn, and Sunset, and the Colors of the Earth” by Michael Flynn
“Family Trade” series by Charles Stross
“There’s a Hole in the City” by Richard Bowes
“The Things they Left Behind” by Stephen King
“Closing Time” by Jack Ketchum

Novels you mentioned included:
Paladin of Shadows series and The Last Centurion by John Ringo
A Desert Called Peace series by Tom Kratman
Orson Scott Card’s Ender books written post-9/11
Variable Star by Spider Robinson
Quantico by Greg Bear
Illium and Olympus by Dan Simmons

I didn’t include Robert Ferrigno’s books, such as Prayer for the Assassin, because they were marketed as thrillers, rather than science fiction (although Robert apparently emailed Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit to complain that he was left out of my survey, so he, at least, considers his books to be SF, despite how they were labeled by the publishers). The same goes for John Birmingham’s novels, which have been marketed as military techo-thrillers (although his Axis of Time series is certainly SF).

Three cheers for crowd sourcing! I’ll have to take a look at all of your suggestions, then post a revised version of my article to incorporate them. Stay tuned!

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