Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Dynamic Man and Dynamic Boy"-- from Dynamic Comics 23-- 1947 (!)

Warm salutations, friends and countrymen! Dorrie's Diner has revised its hours. We now open at 9 AM and close at 3:30 PM. This affords me more time to devote to my beloved panelology than I've had in eons!
As well, "Sparks," now that he is dis-connected to the mysterious breathing apparatus, has bounced back considerably. He is still weak, and Dr. Denner advises him to stick to bed-rest. This edict could not be harder for a human being to follow!
"Sparks" earned his nick-name. He has always been an "on the move" type of fellow. Quick on his feet, quick-witted, and, to be honest, nervous!
As long as I've known him, he's rarely been in repose. His mealtime habit, unchanged through the decades, is to rock back and forth, rapidly, while humming "Over There," as he shovels down the food on his plate. "Over There" will cease for half-muttered exclamations such as "Gee! Good chow!," "Hits... the... spot!" and "Crunchy!"
"Sparks" will typically finish a meal--plate almost licked clean!--before I, or anyone at the table, has made a significant dent in their dishes. Once he is done, "Sparks" makes eye-contact with me, claps his hands (loudly!) and shouts, "Ho-kay, Macey! Let's get at them comics!"
I cannot help but blush when he does this "bit." It is a thorn in Dorrie's heel. She considers the ultimate complement to her cooking to have someone linger lovingly over every bite. I have learned (the hard way!) to chew slowly, and to make an "Mmmm-MMM!" response--somewhat similar to Andy Griffin's on the old "Ritz Crackers" TV commercials.
That one civility has kept ours a happy marriage all these years. The best part is that those responses are rarely forced. Dorrie is one heck of a fine chef! She insists on serving green vegetables, but I eat them, as I know they're good for me.
After Sunday dinner, "Sparks" insisted that we spend the evening at the New Pantheon. "Mace, we've just gotta go there! Tonight! No kiddin'!"
"But, 'Sparks,'" I countered, "Dr. Denner's orders... you're suppoposed to stay in bed--"
"Bull cookies!" was "Sparks"' response. "We've got work to do!"
Dorrie was disappointed, but agreed with me that it would be good to get him out of the house for a few hours. We took along a new portable "Breath-Pak" device. It is like a rucksack--worn on the user's shoulders, with a face-mask and clear plastic tubes that can easily be attached in case a burst of fresh oxygen is required.
"Sparks" insists on wearing the face-mask, which somewhat muffles his speech and distorts it. Thus, most of what I hear form him is "Buzz buzzaty buzz... bz zmm?" In the car, "sparks" rocks back and forth, patting his thighs in a fast rhythm and buzzing old favorites suchas "Mountain of Love," "God Bless America" and "Lollipop." As I said, he's an active sort!
We arrived at the New Pantheon. "Open the door, boy, open that door!" "Sparks" barked. He was uncommonly eager to get inside!
I hadn't switched on the lights, and already he dashed for Boxes 3-W through 7-W... the miscellaneous publishers holdings. Many of the comic magazines in these boxes are post-1942, and thus of less interest to me. But "Sparks" is noting if not surprising, and he did not fail with his inquisitive, searching nature once again.
"A-HAAA!" he cried (the cry more of a buzzing "Z-HZZZZ!" through his mask). He held up a copy of Dynamic Comics. I did not recognize it. I recall buying these with great excitement. Due to their 68-page count, I assumed they were pre-1942. Alas, this was a ploy for a small publisher--Harry Chesler--to carve a niche in the over-crowded post-war comic magazine market. While all other magazines trimmed down to 36 or 52 pages, Chesler chose the pre-war standard.
To be fair, these magazines were a hodge-podge of old and new material. Some of it is surprisingly good; some is shoddy and amateurish.
"Zzs zs za zun, Zace! Zzs Zs ZIT!" "Sparks" cried out.
He opened the cover and demanded that I read the very story I breathlessly presetn to you today. Ready yourself, dear friends... 'tis truly a golden surprise from the post-war era!

In view of today's "gay rights movement," one can long for the days when innocent tales such as this could be read without irony or interpretation. Many costumed comic book heroes do indeed appear "home-erotic" in the light of the 21st century. Their chiseled physiques, tight-fitting costumes and provocative names are fuel for the fire of modern irony.
It would surprise some of these modern smirkers to realize that, indeed, some of the 1940s' super-heroes were, indeed, intended to be "gay" or "lebsian" in their orientation. In their highly coded, metaphoric manner, certain of these features were beacons of hope and reason to the hidden, cloistered souls in small towns and big cities who dared to embrace "the forbidden love."
Dynamic Man was the brain-child of Hess Merrill, a playwright, gardener and (some have claimed) gigolo who turned to the comic magazines for pocket money.
Merrill had created a rash of similar characters in the 1940s, for various small publishers--many of them never printed. Merrill's "MO" was to take an exciting adjective, add "Man" and "Boy" to it, and craft a colorful tale of crime and punishment.
Thrilling Man, Exciting Boy, Magnificent Lad, Surprising Man, Aggressive Boy, Energetic Man, Intense Lad--these, and more, were the creation of Hess Merrill. While Merrill was no great shakes as a writer (his tales are highly formulaic and prosaic), he always included a couple of "tells"--as a sort of silent signature to his work.
Each of Merrill's stories has a scene just liek this one:
This is nothing if not a coded message to the cloistered "gays" of 1940s America! In their daily lives, they also faced such a crisis. What if their "secret identities" were discovered? Was there a "Dymanic Man" living next door to you--or was he your postman, your green-grocer, your ship's chandler?
Merrill's other significant "tell" was to conclude his stories with a scene of his heroic couple bathing or showering--and being interrupted by a third party, as seen here:

In a 1977 interview for Thrust! magazine, Merrill spoke briefly--and cryptically--of this ritualistic "tick":

I felt that the act of bathing--naked, soapy, active--was a sign to my fellow lurkers that they were indeed clean, proper, fit entities for a modern world. It was the world, its sad little self, who failed to take heed of this obvious truth. Poor world; I pity you so...

Merrill predictably drifted into the twilight world of "adult fiction" in the 1960s. These themes of his panelological work continued, unabated, in his fiction. Merrill made a niche of himself during the "camp" craze of 1966 with a series of tongue-in-cheek super-hero spoofs.

Merrill wrote each of these books under a different pen-name. Thus, they are resoundingly difficult to track down. I had the good fortune to acquire my lone Merrill adult novel, Wham! Pow! It's Vigorous Man!, at a Girl Scouts rummage sale in Idaho, some 20 years ago.

Here are the closing paragraphs of this "Kurt Weedon" novel, copyrighted 1968:

Vigorous Man peeled off his sweat-soaked costume. How tight it was! It left nothing to the imagination. And, yes, there was indeed plenty to reveal!

"What an adventure," Vigorous Man sighed. "I can't wait to get to bed..."

"I'm with you," Vigorous Lad muttered. He removed his mask and tossed it into the growing pile of sweaty, glistening fabric.

"Bet I can get undressed before you can!" Vigorous Man laughed.

"You've lost that bet," said Vigorous Boy. He slowly peeled off his colorful tights...

The warm water of the shower felt like a million heavens. How taxing, how strenuous were their actions in saving Townville! Yet a long, hot shower, with his faithful crime-fighting partner, was the ultimate reward for their manly feats of derring-do...

"Soap my back?" asked Vigorous Boy.

"All that and more!" quipped Vigorous Man. He lathered his young ward's shoulders, and massaged his rippling shoulders, slowly, lovingly...

Then the door opened. It was Sgt. O'Flannery--flabby, jowly, in need of a shave, smelling of corned beef. "Ah--there you are! Fine work, fellows. Fine work!"

"Sgt. O'Flannery! Holy potatoes!" cried Vigorous Boy. "W-we can explain..."

"Ah, 'tis nothin' t' explain, me lads... nothin' t' explain... I'll leave ye t' yer foine washin', noo."

O' Flannery tipped his hat and exited.

"We've just got to get a lock for our front door," Vigorous Boy sighed.

"I'll put up a barricade," Vigorous Man quipped.

"Brother, we'll need it!" They both laughed, a long lusty and sudsy laugh.

Hess Merrill died in 1981. Had he lived, I truly believe his ground-breaking trance-gender stories would be hailed by progressives. Instead, they linger in their own cloistered twilight... in the yellowing pages of obscure, unwanted comic magazines.

I am, without a doubt, heterosexual. But as a panelologist, I vividly understand what it is like to be outside the margins of acceptable society. What it means to be thought a fool, a coward, and an eccentric!

Needless to say, "Sparks" Spinkle has struck vintage gold once again! I've a good mind to let him rummage through the "W" series boxes. I hope to present other unearthed gems via his tireless discoveries!

POST-SCRIPT: As a reward for this outstanding "find," I allowed "Sparks" 15 minutes of crime-fighting in the downtown retail area. We discovered an arsonist, another parking meter cheater, and several litterers. Without leaving the car, "Sparks" put them in their place with a bracing lecture. They stopped in their tracks. Litterers properly disposed of their trash; the arsonist stopped to stamp out his cigarette butt; the meter cheater ran into the night.

"We've done good tonight, Mace," sighed "Sparks," as he replaced his breathing face-mask. "Ze've zun zood zoonight."

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