Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Red Rocket in "Crisis: Peace Rendezvous [1945]!"

This morning, before I left for the office in my 1972 Chevy Nova (a personal favorite automobile of mine, from the inception of its release into America's automotive marketplace), I paid a visit to "The Pantheon" in my backyard.

It looked overcast; the air had that, shall we say, pregnant feel that predicates rain--if not a good solid drizzle. Water and pulp paper are strange bed-fellows, so I moved with caution.

My goal: to extract a vintage comic magazine and present to you a sample of the "hidden masterpieces" that dot the published past of the American "funny book."

I reached in, without looking, and extracted the 1944 Standard Comics title, Captain Flight--the 10th such issue. I gently tucked the fragile booklet 'neath my arm as I closed, secured, and re-wrapped the archival box in which it resides (C-24).

Then, fearing a sudden downpour, I locked The Pantheon, made double-sure it was securely closed, and trod into the front yard. (I had taken the precaution of warming up the Nova--it tends towards stubborn-ness until it's been on the road for a half-hour or so.)

Traffic was rather vexing; for some reason Thursday morning brings out the crowds in this town. Fortunately, oldies radio played some of my favorite tunes--"Judy In Disguise," "She'd Much Rather Be With Me" and "Lady Godiva." These life-long "pick hits" of mine dispelled any bad mood that the traffic snarls might have conjured up.

I'd placed the Captain Flight comic magazine next to me in the front seat. At red lights, I found myself glancing over at it. Its still-bright colors; its exciting action scene of its cover; its bold hand-rendered typography--these all spoke to me in a rich, resonant voice--a voice that stretches across chasms of time and space, from writers and artists who, themselves, are all gone from this mortal coil--gone, that is, except in the hearts and minds of those such as myself: the panelologists.

I had a manila folder ready, the better which to conceal this rare vintage comic magazine. You see, my co-workers (or "team members," as they are tiresomely referred to by our ineffectual, dithering district manager, Reginald W______), share with "the missus" a less jaundiced--but similarly out-spoken--sentiment towards panelology.

Theirs is a common prejudice. The so-called "funnies" that infest our newspapers are treated, in their estimation, like gold, or manna. Yet show them a comic magazine, which quite often features material superior to the dreadful newspaper versions, and they scoff: "You still read those things? Those are for little kids!"

Fortunately, I was well-armed against their verbal attacks, via the placement of Captain Flight amidst a stack of amortization forms in said manila folder. It worked, dear friends, like a charm. The folder sat unobtrusively on my desk all morning.

On Thursdays, the other "team members" enjoy a ritual lunch of barbecued ribs at the "TGIF" franchise, across Highway 17. I choose to eat in the solace of the empty office. Only this day, I had plans to use the office scanner.

It is jealously guarded by Jim R_____, who fancies himself our office "techspert." Only in recent months has he relenquished the use of the office photo-copier to "mere mortals" such as myself.

On these Thursday respites, I have educated myself in the use of the scanner--in preparation for this blog. I wanted to be sure that I could quickly and efficiently create superior digital scans of my favorite comic magazine stories.

My secret purchase--and possession of-- a key-chain "thumb drive" further enabled me to secure copies of these "hi-resin" scanned images, and delete the originals from the computer desktop of Jim R______, lest he find them and suspect me as the culprit.

Whom else could it be? Whom else would harbor such an esoteric love of "kiddie stuff?" What they don't know won't hurt me.

I apologize if the scans may seem a bit crooked. They were done in haste.

Today's offering is a small miracle--a comic-magazine story rich in political philosophy, symbolism, as well as overtones of allegory. I have much to say about this story.

It does not feature the supposed "star" of this comic magazine. I chose the exploits of the lesser-known (but decidedly superior) "second banana" hero, The Red Rocket. Here, for your enjoyment and edification, is his epic 1945 adventure, which is untitled, but which I have named "Crisis: Peace Rendezvous!"

I shall offer my thoughts on this story after you've had the privilege of reading it. I do not know the identity of the story's author. I believe the artwork to be by Troy Marsden, who often illustrated Standard's secondary features during World War II.

The setting may be the fantastic realms of outer space; the time may be the distant future. But the rich political allegories of "Crisis: Peace Rendezvous!" [hereafter "C:PR"] reach back to the end of the War, and still linger presciently in the very air we now breathe.

For, truly, have things changed for the better since the defeat of the Axis in 1945? Can things change in the distant future?

Is man always doomed to self-hatred--to lashing out at one another, motivated by fear, insecurity, and the brutal desire to be "superior?"

The un-named author, whom I feel was clearly influenced by the kindred allegories of author C. S. Lewis, chooses to cast the threatening situations of the 2nd War in fantastic terms. Indeed, is not his choice of "Nazania" not dissimilar to Lewis's "Narnia"?

I have read of the religious allegories that run rife through Lewis's work. (I intend to read one of them soon--perhaps over the December holidays.) It seems to me that a similarly spiritual streak, in the scarlet form of the Red Rocket, runs deep through this thought-provoking tale.

With his ability to read the minds of other men, Rod Page (the openly acknowledged alias of the Red Rocket) seems to me among the few genuinely Christ-like figures the humble medium of panelology has yet produced. Fearless, commanding, sarcastic (I particularly cherish his comment on page 3, panel 1-- "I suppose I must do something about this!"-- a brilliantly subtle jest), and, painfully human.

The story's symbolism peaks on its last page, in which Rod/Rocket places a "time bomb" (a symbol of outpouring, of devotion, of delayed effect) in the vehicle of the Nazanians. Later, he declares, in a moment of too-human vulnerability: "Play like this makes a fellow hungry! Wonder when we eat!?" [Note the daring placement of exclamation mark AND question mark at the close of that statement. The author clearly intends the line, with all its raw emotional power, to have a certain reading in the observer's 'theatre of the mind.']

Unlike the pitiful likes of better-known "heroes" such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, ad nauseum, the Red Rocket, in his vulnerability (completely open alter ego, exclamations of wit and hunger), his powers (to read men's minds, and to break ropes that bind him) and his authority (he is the main speaker at this galactic peace rendezvous), is a true, toweringly heroic individual. I rather wish I knew him.

In fact, through his handful of similarly superb stories, I truly feel I do know him. Hello, Rod Page. Good to see you, old friend.

I have been asked to leave my den and move a large pile of raked leaves into plastic bags. I suppose tomorrow is garbage collection day. A man's work is never done. I know how the Red Rocket must feel after a hard day's labors.

Until we again meet, my friends: be well and rest assured that your love of panelology is the right way!

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