Saturday, September 12, 2009

"The Eternal Brain: A Brain Begins!" A Classic From "Red Raven" #1!

Greetings and fond wishes, my friends.

Before I get too started, I want to share with you a picture of The Pantheon. I took this with a new-fangled digital camera we have at the office.

I had to photograph some damage done to a laundromat over on the west side of town. Someone had broken the lock on the place's restroom, and the owner has an insurance claim with us.

Anyway, though it's hardly the finest photograph ever lensed, here it is. You'll note that the padlock is off the hasp. That's because I took the opportunity to fetch what is perhaps the rarest comic magazine in The Pantheon: the legendary first and only issue of Red Raven Comics.

The Pantheon is looking a mite worse for the wear on its exterior. Mother Nature runs roughhouse, but it's proved quite weather-proof and water-proof. We've been spared the floods that perenially attack this region. Fingers crossed, we'll have a dry autumn.

I went into the office today, expressly to scan the story I'm excited to present herewith to you now. I woke with a touch of indigestion and gas.

Last night, "the missus" and I had a pleasant eve at home. Dorrie (that's her name) prepared one of her specialty dishes, "Smokey Mashed Potatoes." This dish blends paprika, garlic, black pepper, tuna fish, capers and Swiss cheese on a bed of thick mashed spuds. Dorrie knows that I like my "taters" a bit lumpy. She mashes the potatoes herself, and the results are magnificent--if a wee touch on the spicy side!

For dessert, we had Royal butterscotch pudding. I fear I over-indulged in the latter. As we enjoyed the pudding, Dorrie got out the Scrabble set and we had a pleasant game. (She won, of course. Beat the pants off me.)

To amuse myself, I tried to put down words that related to the characters in my prized Red Raven. I spelled RAVEN, HUMAN (for "Human Top"), MERCURY (got a triple word score with that move!) and, since Dorrie had placed ETERNAL on the board, I had to intersect it with BRAIN.

That reminded me of what is, perhaps, my favorite story amongst the many jewels that fill the magical pages of the lone Red Raven. I chuckled to myself: Dorrie had not a clue I had brought the tenets of panelology into our seemingly innocent match of Scrabble!

I needed to return the camera to the office this afternoon, so I took the time to retrieve my coverless (but still irreplacable) copy of Red Raven from the Pantheon.

Jim R________, our self-proclaimed "techspert" at the office, disapproves of shutting down computers. He puts his machine in "nap mode" over the weekend. This proved ideal for me. No fussing with passwords.

Before I go further, please allow me to share my memories of how I came to acquire this very rare and unique comic magazine. The year was 1960; the place, Skokie, Illinois. I had just turned 11, and was sent to Skokie to visit my step-aunt, Mrs. Groves. (You know, I never did learn her first name. Everyone addressed her as "Mrs. Groves.")

Mrs. Groves was extremely hard of hearing, but she was a sweet soul, and I looked forward to my yearly visits to her home in Skokie. Her home smelled of Brunswick stew--a sweet, hearty fragrance that lingers still in my memories.

She had it in her head that I was an ardent admirer of all periodicals and newspapers. She saved any and all published matter that came through her hands in her basement. Although I tried to convey that it was comic magazines I cared for, my message never quite got through.

"C'mon, hon," she'd say, opening the door that led from her kitchen, down a long, rickety flight of painted wooden stairs, to the basement, which smelled of a chemistry set accident that occured there sometime before the Second World War.

Neatly piled and bundled on the basement floor were stacks of newspapers, magazines, and, yes, the occasional comic magazine. It was our shared ritual; she'd sit in a wicker rocking chair and watch, beaming, as I feigned excitement at the intact back issues of the Skokie Crusader-Inquirer, various seed catalogs, trade magazines and such.

It seemed to bring her so much happiness. If there was a comic magazine, I considered it a dividend.

But, dear readers, I did not find the Red Raven down in that sulphur-smelling basement! One morning, she sent me up to her attic to fetch a box of sewing materials. She was famous in all of Illinois for her quilts, you see.

I knew that another boy had lived in the house before the War. He was drafted, and saw action in the Pacific Theater. I believe he was killed amidst one of the gruesome battles of that region.

This lad, may he rest in peace, was a fellow panelologist. He might have scoffed at the phrase, but he was a purveyor of various early comic magazines. His tastes, unfortunately, largely ran to mundane, familiar fare. But he was a voracious reader of the comics. He must have been enchanted by the cover to that rare Red Raven. There it was, sitting atop a pile of well-read comic magazines.

Its cover was missing. It was years and years before I was able to "place" this comic magazine in the historical timeline of the era.

From the moment I first encountered it, its stories burned themselves into my brain. Little did I know that the bulk of this book's characters would make only this one appearance--and then be damned to the cool flames of oblivion!

By far, the most striking tale in those fabled pages was a feature entitled "The Eternal Brain." This story struck a deep chord within my 11 year-old psychology.

Please read this story, and then I'll share just why it's so near and dear to me.

These scans are not the best I've ever done. I blame it on a strange command made to me by the scanning software. "Continue miffling?" is what I believe the command asked of me. It only gave me one option: to click a box marked "OK."

I have never heard of "miffling," and, to be quite honest, have not a clue what it might achieve. The end result was this series of dark, rather fuzzy scans.

I must confess that, for years after I first read this story on Mrs. Groves' back porch, I harbored an intense fear of Mongolians. As of this writing, I have never yet encountered such a person. I have worked with many Koreans and Japanese, and find them polite, industrious and cheerful folk.

From its start, the lone tale of "The Eternal Brain" abounds with rich, educational details of science. Electric swords! Machines that allow disembodied brains to speak and control the will of other men! Even in 1960, such visions promised a futuristic future on the horizon of life.

We may not have electric swords (although Dorrie does have an electric carving knife--excellent to use on pot roast and Thanksgiving turkey!), but our world is chockablock with such wonders as the Internet, scanners, microwave ovens, and digital alarm clocks. These things we so often tend to take for granted. Yet, when we take a moment to step back and regard them, they become as magical as the inspired visions of this thrilling story.

You know, I'd wager a week's salary that the fellows who came up with that "sci-fi" story, Donnegan's Brain, got their "idea" from this panelological gem of 1940. I know that picture didn't come out until sometime in the 1950s. I saw it on "Dr. Acula's Mad Pad," a "spook show" which ran on the old WBVJ back in the 1960s and early '70s. (Oh, how that dates me! But I remain young at heart.)

My father, Austin Moray, had a loud voice that carried a great distance. Like "The Eternal Brain," my dad used that voice to achieve many tasks. "Ellen, get me a beer," he'd say, and a person across the street could hear it as if they were a fly on the wall of our living room.

Dad enjoyed many heart-to-heart talks with me, throughout my childhood. These would often occur as I did my chores in the yard. From his seated position on the sofa in the living room, Austin Moray's voice reached out to the world around him.

I vividly recall the afternoon when he explained all about "the birds and the bees," in colorful detail, while I mowed the lawn (with a push mower). As he explained the rite of human reproduction to me, sparing no details or descriptions, a large crowd gathered around our house.

Finally, old Miss Holcomb, at the end of the street, called the police. "No need to press charges, officers," Dad said, from the couch. "Unless explaining the facts of life to your 15 year-old son is against the law!"

Dad would scare the dickens out of the neighborhood kids on Halloween.

In contrast, I've always been a soft-spoken gent. I couldn't complete with my dad's magnificent voice. He could have been a radio broadcaster, or a cab dispatcher. Possibly an opera singer, although he found "longhair music" a "big waste of time."

Perhaps that's the reason "The Eternal Brain" has stuck with me. I cherish the raw emotional realism of the story's finale. I've often wondered, over the last 49 years, if Mary Carmody took her father's advice to heart, and wasn't mean to her fiance, Jim.

I regret that the electric sword disappears so quickly after it is so briefly wielded by our hero, Jim. I'm doubly glad we are spared the gruesome effects of the "electric needles" that threaten him.

You know--we do have "electric needles" today! What about sewing machines? Those contain "electric needles." And what of the world's tattoo parlors? Foolish youth spend great wads of ill-gotten cash to have cheap, vulgar, unsavory images drilled into their skin--again, with "electric needles."

The Mongolian fiends needn't have bothered--they might have done better to open a 21st century tattoo parlor! Our modern youth are all too eager to empty their pockets (most likely, their parents' pockets) to submit to this "ghastly torture."

I auppose I've stepped up on the old soapbox again. "The missus" calls it that when I get going on a topic. If she only knew what a grand "soapbox" I possess now, via this blog!

Goodness--it's dark outside! I've been here for hours, making these scans and trying to collect my thoughts on this remarkable, bracingly life-like peak of panelology. I fear tonight's meal will consist of another round of "Smokey Mashed Potatoes."

When Dorrie isn't looking, I'll take a couple of Alka-Seltzer after dinner. I'm still a bit gassy--thank the fates the office is empty today!

May your evening meal sit well with you--and please join me here again soon for another gem plucked from the humble heart of The Pantheon!


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  2. This is one of the greatest deranged comics I've ever had the privilege of reading. Thank you!