Armagideon Time

Surprised to see my unheralded return? You shouldn’t be! This the spooky season, when dead things crawl from their graves and torment the living.

What tricks and treats do I have planned for the next thirty days? You’ll just have to wait and see. Or not. The affairs of the living are of no concern to the dead.

Recommended listening:

Eh, I’ve seen groovier ghoulies.

And so we reach the end of an other Halloween Countdown that Sorta Wasn’t. Behind the scenes, I managed to cram my October with all sorts of ghoulish delights, from 1970s made-for-TV devil movies to the original PS1 Silent Hill game to a long-overdue reread of Stephen King’s Night Shift.

It was great fun, but I didn’t feel the need to rush back here and pontificate about any of it — and I suspect the former has a great deal to do with the latter. Shaking off the sense of obligation that overtook this site is still a work in progress.

Recommended listening:

Recommended listening:

I was hoping to get a bit more substantive during this countdown but, as they say, the devil is in the details.

Recommended listening:

Recommended listening:

Recommended listening:

Might as well, I suppose.

Recommended listening:

The nice thing about clearing the archives is being able to double-dip musical selections with zero shame.

Rad influence

June 11th, 2021

All those PSAs and parental lecture were right — peer pressure can make a person do the darndest thing.

I can hear my mom’s voice now: “If Mike Sterling bought some original comics art, would you buy some, too?”

Well, yeah, mom. Mike is the coolest cat in the funnybook blogging scene, and that would still be true even if there weren’t only a half-dozen of us left standing in 2021.

Besides, it wasn’t as if Mike was trying to tempt me with a pack of purloined Parliament Lights. At most, he reminded me of a dormant goal which somehow failed to make it on my current wishlist. Scoring a favored page of comics art was a dream deferred by concerns about storage and display space, expense, and what page might possibly justify the above.

In an ideal world, it would be the Perez/Ordway group shot of the “Forgotten Heroes” which kicks of Crisis on Infinite Earths #12, but that’s never going to happen. So I settled for my second choice — a page of Henry Scarpelli art from A Date With Debbi.

As luck would have it, I managed to find a reasonably price page from issue #8 of the series, which also happened to have one of my favorite Debbi panels ever. It’s the third one in the above photo, in which Debbi exhibits the qualities which set her apart from her teen comedy genre peers (and may also mirror those occasionally displayed by a certain Queen of Animals).

Now it is in my possession, and I can proudly say that I own original artwork by a legendary teen humor illustrator and the father of one of the supporting cast members from Jennifer Slept Here.

A smashing find

June 4th, 2021

About five years back I caught some fortunate breaks which increased what the beancounters would call my “discretionary income.” Being a sober and pragmatic middle-aged man, I used that windfall to chase down various childhood artifacts of deep personal significance.

This was not some wild spree, however. Taking a page from my renewed record collecting, I set very specific ground rules about how and what I would buy. The goal was quality, not quantity — a carefully curated collection of representative samples instead of complete sets. Repros and re-releases were fine, as long as the price was low enough, the quality was high enough, and the do-over captured the essence of the original item.

There was wiggle room for smaller and cheaper stuff, such as the 1984 “Action Command” rebadging of Hot Wheels’ set of mid-1970s military vehicles or an assortment of most favored MUSCLE figures. And there were a few cases where estate sale lots ended up being cheaper than a specific individual item, which is what happened with the Galactica Colonial Viper and Flying Aces PRC jet plane.

Most of the items were replacements for things I’d lost during the upheaval following my mom’s death or from the half-remembered days of the pre-Star Wars 1970s. Reassembling this toybox of the lost hasn’t radically transformed my life, but there is a certain level of restorative satisfaction in seeing them on the shelf or occasionally turning an item over in my hands and vividly recalling a specific moment in time.

Relatively speaking, there weren’t a lot of items on that nostalgic reverie wishlist. It only took a few months to acquire most of them, at which point I switched to other retail therapy obsessions (7-inch singles, collected editions of favorite funnybooks). The remaining artifacts were either too expensive, impossible to find, or instances where I couldn’t remember enough details to conduct a search for them.

The quest for most significant and coveted item in that elusive remnant — a complete, good condition SSP Smash Up Derby car — actually dated back to before the millennium. It was the focus of some of my earliest eBay searches (next to a Pakistan-made “katana” and the second series of G1 Transformers minibots). I can’t explain why the toy came to symbolize the earliest years of my childhood (instead of, say, Mego dolls which were more in line with my geeky demeanor), only that it did. Obtaining one became a background noise level obsession, held in check only by the asking prices.

For those of you who aren’t old as dirt, Kenner’s SSP cars were 6-inch long plastic vehicles kitted out with a central gyro-wheel. Slotting and rapidly pulling out a notched “T-stick” into the center of the car set the gyro-wheel literally screaming, making the toy rip across the linoleum floor at high speeds until it smashed into a wall, bit of furniture, or family pet.

The Smash Up Derby line improved the formula by adding spring-loaded front bumpers, which sent parts of the toy flying off in all directions upon impact.

So you can see, given the above description, why obtaining “a complete, good condition SSP Smash Up Derby car” might not be an easy proposition. Other toys might be incidentally subjected to rough play, but SSP cars in general based their entire concept around it.

I’d have settled for a vanilla SSP model based on a period muscle car, but even those run for ludicrous sums for ones which looked like they’d been excavated from an ancient battlefield. Eventually I settled on a smaller, but functional “Laker Special” model given out by Citgo stations as a promo during the Nixon Era. It wasn’t the big score, but it ticked the appropriate boxes well enough for me to move on and quit searching…

…until two weeks ago when I was fucking around on eBay and decided to search for a Smash Up SSP car just to see how much further that dream had slipped away. My heart stopped a second when the first listings returned was for a sealed-in-plastic deadstock 1975 Classy Crasher “Luxury Limo” with T-stick, for a buy-it-now price well within my acceptable range.

I’ve come to accept a certain degree of bullshitting when it comes to auction listings for vintage toys. The deadstock claim, where the toy had been sitting in a warehouse for forty-five years, seemed a little too good-to-be true, but the photos did show what was at least a complete model in decent condition. I mashed the buy button and awaited the what minor letdowns might arrive.

It arrived two days later and was amazed to discover that it was indeed shrinkwrap-sealed and utterly pristine. I’ve bought MIB toys from this decade which weren’t in as good condition as this Luxury Limo was.

Not only did I score a long-coveted childhood relic, I got one which was in perfect condition, looks classy as fuck, and is molded in apex-1970s orange plastic. I’ve been glancing at it on the shelf while I’ve been writing this, and I still can’t believe it’s real.

While I have revved it up a few times to savor that oh-so-familiar screaming gyro sound (Exhibit C in “why 70s parents always seemed cranky”), it has not and will never achieve its true smash up potential. While I was testing the bumper’s spring action, a wheel popped off and rolled under the sofa, and I felt my heart stop for a good sixty seconds until I retrieved it and snapped it back into place.

Should I need to terrify my animals with high-speed gyro antics, I still have my Citgo promo jobber.

(Sorry about the delay with the Crisis posts. What I though was going to be a low-key stretch of time has been filled with two major home renovation projects that have claimed most of my mental real estate.)

For past reference

May 17th, 2021

I’m still in the process of sorting out the first “real” installment of the Crisis feature, so let’s take a gander at an ancillary project which showed up on my doorstep this past weekend.

Who’s Who in the DC Universe has been on my short list of projects since I got onto the whole custom binding kick. DC’s looser and more artsy answer to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe was a crucial companion piece to Crisis of Infinite Earths, showcasing DC’s rich historic tapestry while getting readers up to speed on, well, who was who in the mega-ensemble proceedings.

Who’s Who and its pair of miniseries updates encompassed the peak era of my DC fandom, which was spurred on by Crisis and lingered through the Millennium event’s diminishing returns and my shaky finances forced a pullback into dwindling number of favorite series. Like the original OHOTMU’s pre-Secret Wars status quo, it provides a snapshot of a specific, dear-to-me moment which I’ll never tire of revisiting.

I had just started getting serious about the binding project when DC announced it was going to release the entire run of Who’s Who and the update minis in a massive omnibus edition. The prospect of better printing (more on this in a bit) and less work on my end was mighty tempting, but I ultimately decided to continue with my custom edition.

Who’s Who makes for exceptional idle reading material — something to browse on a lazy afternoon from the comfort of the couch. That’s not really possible with the 1300 page, ten pound grimoire the omnibus was solicited as being. My plan was to split the material into two volumes to make it a bit more manageable and reduce the likelihood of it collapsing a lung if I nodded off while reading it.

The omnibus also scrubbed the Atari Force characters and team listing from the book because of licensing issues, which might not sound like a big deal but remember who is writing this post. The custom binding route also let me play around a little with the contents, such as appending the Who’s Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes spinoff miniseries and the Who’s Who parody issue of the first Ambush Bug miniseries.

Because this was a prestige project as far as these things go, I did spring for fancy die-stamped logos on the front covers since the bindery already had them on file. The trimming process did cut a little close to the center, but that’s to be expected custom bind jobs and doesn’t really bother me.

Overall, I’m really happy with how two volumes turned out, and they still managed to set me back less than the MSRP of the official collection.

A few other notes about the project:

– Most of the source issues were pretty inexpensive and purchased via eBay lots. The only real hassles were finding acceptably legible copies of the first two issues, which were printed using the shitshow “Flexographic” process the Big Two toyed around with in the mid-1980s. The person who sold me the first eight issues courteously included extra copies of #1 so I pick the least cruddy of the lot.

– The toughest issues to find were Update ’87 #4 and Update ’88 #4 — the former because it had a Todd McFarlane cover (and speculators are knuckle-dragging dipshits) and the latter because…honestly, I don’t know why, apart from being the final installment of a format that had lost its novelty.

– The Who’s Who in the Legion issues were also surprisingly pricey and hard to find, considering the current state of LSH fandom. The paper stock also had greater degree of discoloration than I would’ve expected. If it was just one person who stored the lot a little carelessly, that would be one thing, but the issues were sourced from multiple vendors around the country. Oddly enough, I had the same problem with Update ’88 #4, which makes me wonder if there was something going on with DC’s printer and/or paper supplier at the time.

– I have never encountered a more perfect dichotomy between the 1980s and 1970s as can be found in the opposing pages below:

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