The Archie Legion

2018-07-01 Archie Legion

I started reading comics at age eleven and have continued reading since that time – but I don’t necessarily read everything. When I find a good combination of story and art  I’ll read a book until the situation changes so when the industry made the big “gritty” change in 1985 I came close to leaving the genre behind.

The Legion of Super-heroes is a two-time favorite. It was one of the first titles I regularly collected and I collected the spin-off Legionnaires in the mid-90s when Chris Sprouse was handling the art. Some fans dismiss that 1994-96 run as lightweight,  referring to it as “The Archie Legion” but I am quite vocal  about liking it.

…and after a late-night text-duel on the matter with my good friend Mark Angell I came up with today’s sketch.

1970: The Great Escape

1963

As much as I loved the sweeping epic motion pictures of the Fifties and Sixties I did not see “The Great Escape” when it first came out. Oh, I saw all the previews and was extremely interested in the subject matter but wasn’t able to actually see the movie because I was on the losing side of an ideological divide as vast as  Crown & Colonists or Union & Confederacy.

I was a Fourth Avenue theater kid and the “The Great Escape” was being shown at the Denali.

In those days before the Good Friday earthquake  there were just two movie theaters in Anchorage and they were located at the two ends of Fourth Avenue. Kids from the west side of town went to the Fourth Avenue theater while the kids from the east side went to the Denali….and never the twain did meet.

 1970

 “You’re welcome to finish out the year but I don’t see you accomplishing much other than developing good lab technique. Based on what you’ve done so far there’s no way you can get a passing grade.”

  I had to give Mrs. Denison credit; the executioner’s axe had cut quickly and cleanly, but as it swung three thoughts came to mind:

  • Shirley Denison and Mom were friends, so my folks probably knew about this already.
  • With the new English program1 I had a lot more options that I would have had the year before.
  • Given the axe-analogy I had to expand my leisure reading beyond John Carter of Mars and Conan the Barbarian.

The change to my class schedule was just as quick and clean; by the next day my newly-vacant third hour was filled with a brand-new journalism class to match my existing sixth hour debate class. I put up a token fuss about the move, but my protest was more of the “don’t throw me in that briar patch” variety. With a schedule made up of physical education (teacher’s aide!), history ( always a breeze!), geography (ditto), and two English classes I would have my first-ever “easy” semester.

…which would be finished off just as pleasantly by a sixth period motion picture class during the final nine week period.  Introduced as part of the new Literature & Communications curriculum, the Motion Pictures class had been the subject of some controversy until instructors demonstrated that the class entailed some academic rigor and was not just a “rocks for jocks” fluff course. We would start out with basic instruction on script-writing and cinematography, but the bulk of the class involved viewing/discussing two movies:

  • A Thousand Clowns: An Oscar-nominated MGM classic from 1965 starring Jason Robards as a nonconformist Madison Avenue drop-out forced to take conventional employment.
  • The Great Escape: The aforementioned United Artists epic concerning a mass POW escape in World War II Germany, also an Oscar nominee.

The class was possible only because of another recent change at KCHS – after eight years of unanticipated growth, an addition had been made to the building that included a cafeteria, a suite of business classrooms, and a little theater. Normally  partitioned off into three separate classrooms, the theater could be opened up into one large space for the motion picture class – or classes to be precise. Overwhelming demand meant that there were three sections scheduled for the one Motion Pictures class, which meant that in addition to regular classroom challenges the instructors had to:

  • Maintain order among a mob of 50+ students sitting in a dark room for fifty minutes at the end of a school day.
  • Keep students on task during a spring break-up  warmer and sunnier than usual, which should have posed no problems in a darkened classroom but fire laws required the rear exit doors to be open to a breathtaking view of the aforementioned glorious spring.
  • Complying with licensing and technical limitations which restricted students to viewing the films for less than half of the class period, including scenes from the previous day’s viewing repeated to maintain continuity.

Not to be out-done I had my own personal list of bullet-points to contend with:

  • I was concerned about my current girlfriend2. Our schedules were such that we  saw each other at most twice a day, which didn’t include Motion Pictures class. It might not have been quite so worrisome if there had been any depth developing in the relationship3.
  • I was quickly getting bored with the class. I’d been a movie buff since fourth grade making me better prepared than my peers. Repeated reviewing of very basic principles quickly became boring.
  • I was developing junior-osis. While it’s common knowledge that accumulated fatigue, boredom, and arrogance can lull fourth year students into an end-of-the-year malaise called senioritis,  junior-osis is a similar ailment that strikes at end of the third year of school as well. Year three involves minimal pressure – no letters to write, plenty of time left to clean up your GPA, and the closest you get to any sort of crunch point is the pre-SAT, which is just a warm-up for college placement tests the following autumn. It’s another example of a valuable lesson I learned later in the army: “Morale is lowest when the duty is easiest”.

…all of which conspired to rob me of any sense of urgency or dedication for that sixth and last hour of the school day. Snoozing in class was quickly ruled out by the clackety-clack and warbling sound track coming from the projector, and in 1970 I could draw in a darkened room about as well as I can now (I can’t). The semester was shaping up to be just one step up from Chinese water torture when fate smiled on me in the form of Mike Cole.

Mike was a service brat living on Wildwood Air Force Station, and in addition to the motion pictures class he was also in that first hour PE class. Our common service brat heritage and similar sense of humor made for an instant buddyship, and as he was equally bored with the motion pictures class we’d entertain ourselves by quietly chatting during the movies. It was during one of those conversations that he literally dropped a bomb shell: my former chemistry class had covered the required material a little early so Mrs. Denison was filling the final two weeks with for-real “BWAH-HA-HA” Mad Scientist projects that involved mixing chemicals, heating test-tubes and extracting the results with filter paper, said results subsequently given nonsense names like “flaming yekk” and “booming yakk”. It was obvious that the yekk and yakk were in fact  weak versions of flash paper and contact explosive, and at first the idea of supplying teenagers with such materials had me wondering if Shirley had been huffing some of the chemicals herself …but when I discovered the process required an eight-hour drying time, it didn’t seem quite as worrisome.

That all seemed to have no bearing as the class limped along the final week of school  – but then the perfect storm hit. We were on the last reel of the The Great Escape and collectively chewing the armrests while nervously watching  Steve McQueen’s attempts to jump a motor cycle over barbed wire when the power went out, halting the movie and extinguishing the aisle lights. The room was pitch dark and totally silent for several seconds, then there was a creak-CLUNK and a waft of fresh air when one of the instructors opened the exit doors.

Have you ever been on a horse that smells water after a long ride? They are uncontrollable – you may think you’re going to the house, but the horse is heading for the barn and the water trough whether you want to or not. That’s what was happening in that darkened room: students surged en masse towards the sun-lit exits like a 1950’s movie monster but hesitated momentarily at a brief flash of light and a low pop from the center of the student-blob.

Mike quietly dropped the “F-bomb”.

It turned out end-of-the-year indifference hadn’t existed in just the motion pictures class. Chemistry students had been a bit casual with measurements for the latest batch of yekk and yakk which halved the expected cure time, which in turn meant that today’s output was fully weaponized four hours early. The first few explosions had been purely by accident, but as I looked around, students were gently touching fingertips to the chemical-laden filter paper giving them a magic finger tip that either flashed or popped when touching a surface of any kind.

As a mature young man of seventeen  I took the proper course of action and acted in a responsible manner –  I reached down to Mike’s chemistry book and loaded up both sets of fingers with yekk and yakk, then started finger-popping everyone around me.  After initially resisting the impulse Mike reacted in kind and we were having a great time until we noticed three instructors methodically moving toward us through the darkened student mass, checking for the yekk and yakk. We figured we had time for just one more round but as we both reached down to “reload” there was a blinding flash of light that left me temporarily daze /visually impaired and within grabbing range of at least two of the instructors.

I would still be serving detention KCHS to this day if the end-of-class bell hadn’t gone off at that moment, followed seconds later by the power coming back on. Between the blinding glare of restored classroom lighting and the collective surge toward the exits I was forgotten by the patrolling instructors and eventually made my way out to the bus. The trip home was uneventful other than slight bewilderment when I spied Mike wearing a polka-dot shirt as his bus pulled past mine and out to the highway.

The next day was Friday and the end of both the school week and the academic year, a half-day with time for little other than signing yearbooks and settling out financial obligations. In my case, that meant paying Mike ten bucks for my share of the damages inflicted during the motion picture melee:

  • The polka dot shirt Mike was wearing on the bus home was in fact the same light blue garment he’d worn during the day – what I had mistaken for dots were little burnt marks left from me tapping him with the yekk.
  • That last big flash? In our scuffling Mike ended up dropping his chemistry text book from about knee height, which wouldn’t have been a problem had he not stashed three additional sheets of yakk, inside the front cover, which together contained enough potential energy to blow the cover off the book as it hit the ground.

With my debts paid I blithely went on to a wonderful summer filled with Boy’s State, Youth Conference, a summer job in Seward and football,  and when I came back in the fall it was to a kinder, gentler chemistry class – a special section Mrs. Denison had formed for math-impaired students like me.

The lab component was different too. No more flaming yekk or booming yakk.


 

Notes:­­­­­­­­­­­

  1. In the fall of 1969 English classes were radically changed for sophomores, juniors and seniors. Instead of taking one class from one teacher for the entire school year students were to enroll in a different module every nine weeks. There were some guidelines – you had to take a set number of classes in three categories (literature, composition and oral skills) but other than that students were free to put together their own program.
  2. Bachelorette #1 from: 1971: “…then Dave turned sixteen and discovered girls…”
  3. The unsettled nature of my relationship with Bachelorette #1 didn’t stay that way for long and I soon learned why she’d been evasive whenever I’d talked about dating over summer vacation. In a note delivered by her half-sister she explained that she’d be working on a set-net fishing site during most of the summer break and didn’t think she’d be able to get back up the bluff at the end of a day and get cleaned up in time for a date. There is definitely an air of finality when you get brushed off by someone  who has to “wash her hair”  for three months.

 

1963: He’s A Cool, Cool Cowboy

I’ve kind of drifted into listening to recordings of old radio programs at night before going to sleep so it seemed natural to tap this post for this week’s Re-Run Saturday.

David R. Deitrick, Designer

One of my most prized possessions is the cabinet to an eighty-year old RCA Victor radio …and you did read that sentence correctly; it’s not the actual radio but the wooden box that used to hold a working device. It’s a beautiful example of Art Deco styling made of warm colored wood with dark Bakelite (cellulose-based plastic) trim and a large cloth speaker panel located in the center. Just below the speaker is a glass frequency gauge that would glow softly when the radio was on – and for the entire two years we lived in Anchorage it was on a lot.  I listened to that radio every night without fail.

I miss AM radio – not the jungle of evangelists, sports talk and conservative ranting we have now but that magic ethereal net of music and words that held us all together years ago.  It might seem that I…

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1965: (Not Really The) Submarine Races

Re-run Saturday. One significant omission in the original blog-post was the Edmund Scientific Catalog that Robert Eschleman added to our technical library. Periscope designs became much more ambitious after reading about the ba-jillion different lenses and optical devices listed in that publication.

David R. Deitrick, Designer

From its calm exterior you’d never guess that Sterling Elementary School was once a hotbed of naval architecture. During the mid-1960s the seventh and eighth grade classroom buzzed with the production of home-built submarine concepts, occupying all the spare time of a team of crack naval designers consisting of David Deitrick, Wayne McNutt, Dillon Kimple and Robert Eschleman. (There may have been more participants, but those four were the core members of the effort.) There are unfortunately no documents or drawings remaining from those countless boy-hours but I can personally attest to the several tree’s worth of  paper we went through during the project.

What started us going? It could have been any number of things. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was in its second year of broadcast and as Star Trek would not start airing until the next fall our attention was firmly focused on inner instead…

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1963 Turnagain Terror Trail

This week’s entry in the run-it-again sweepstakes!

David R. Deitrick, Designer

BikeInTree

Though my days of active hiking and biking over trails are behind me, I still find that I enjoy vicarious trail-bashing – looking over trails on a map and reading accounts of routes covered on foot or on bike by active sloggers. When my collection of topographic maps gets a little stale I turn to any one of the countless mountain biking websites containing various lists of superlatives such as “most scenic bike trail”,  “longest bike trail” and my favorite – “most dangerous bike trail” all of which are much easier to navigate via lap-top than in the saddle. As I surf the ‘net more and more it looks like Colorado’s Barr trail has a lock on the bike-specific dangerous paths. It climbs 7500 feet over 13 miles of widely diverse terrain and riders are warned to prepare for more than one weather state during their sojourn. The view –…

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Star Boy

Star BoyIt was  another one of those nights where I felt like I was breathing through a soda straw so at  2:00 AM I finally surrendered and left bed for the studio where I spent an hour or so reading a trade paperback collection of THE LEGION OF SUPERHEROES. Reprints of comics I’d read in the mid-1960s, the Legion stories are set in the 30th century and feature the wonderfully clunky art of John Forte. In my youthful estimation the Legion ran a close second to Batman because:

  •  The stories drew in both the superhero and science fiction genre
  •  The stories were about kids that I could readily identify with
  •   There was such a wide variety of both good and evil characters

 However, in some respects  that large number of characters could be a liability as well as an asset. Not only could it be difficult for an eleven-year old mind to keep up with all of the interweaving plot lines, I think that in the beginning the rush to pad out the roster gave us some fairly one-dimensional characters.

 A prime example is Star Boy, born Thom Kallor to parents living on an orbital platform about the planet Xanthu. While the character was eventually fleshed out and linked to several other notable DC heroes, in the earlier Legion stories his sole super power was the ability to make things heavy, and I’m not talking mother-in-law poundage: Heavy as in up to the weight of a planet.

 Hmmm. A superhero that can make things heavy, as in:

  • Helping  construction workers by making foundation blocks sink into the ground
  • Hiding  valuable objects by making them so heavy they’d sink into the ground
  •  Stop fleeing villains by making them so heavy they’d sink into the ground

 …and at this point I run out of ideas…Other than the “sinking into the ground” bit the main benefit to Star Boy’s power would be helping Kate Moss to get across the street on a windy day. Even as a kid I couldn’t figure out how he’s managed to stay on the Legion roster with such limitations, but as I drove past a city maintenance crew the other day I finally figured it all out.

 It was the stereotypical nine-guys-standing-around-one-guy-with-a-shovel scenario, but that mob was not what caught my interest. It was the older guy sitting sideways out of the passenger seat in the truck, doing absolutely nothing but drinking coffee. That’s when it hit me:  The Legion of Super Heroes is a union shop! Star Boy was hired early on and has so much seniority he can’t be “downsized” no matter how limited his powers may be.

Color Study: Toothpaste Tube Fairy

2018-05-03 Tube Fairy

Latest member of the Informal Fairies.

When the linework is done I have several copies made – at both 100% on 11″X17″ paper and 64% on 8 1/2″ X 11″. That allows me to try out several color combinations involving both paper and marker. When I find a palette that works I’ll start cutting and pasting.

…and I will still have a clean copy in reserve if I have to start all over again!

1966: Billy and the Bear

Some people have a “Throw-back Thursday”; I have “Run-it-again Saturday”

David R. Deitrick, Designer

It is the nature of most frontiers to have boom-or-bust economies. Alaska is no different than any other frontier, but in some ways that boom-or bust mentality has permeated throughout the whole population in both mind and heart. It brings to mind a bumper sticker I saw on a car in the late 80s when the state was still reeling from a devastating downturn caused by OPEC’s reduction of the price of oil: “Lord, please give us another boom. I promise not to p*ss this one away too.”  I kind of doubt the driver followed through on that oath; as I said that all –or-nothing mindset is totally ingrained in the Alaskan psyche. Private industry investment, purchasing new vehicles, individuals’ spending money –there was rarely any in between. One night you’re sleeping on satin sheets and the next night you’re sacking out on steam grates.

With the Boy Scouts…

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Stumble Fairy

2018-05-02 Stumble Fairy

…actually I did consider naming her “Stumblina” but the concept is already a few degrees to the side of the core Informal Fairy concept:  impish little ladies garbed in formal attire causing mayhem. With this young lady it was easier to see her doing the stumbling than try to portray her with implements she could use to cause a regular person to trip and fall.

A unforeseen time crunch kept me from finishing this drawing to the same degree as the Vision Fairy but I think the marker work establishes volume well enough.

I think I am going to have all the Informal Fairies in white gowns to be watching for a revised Vision Fairy

2018: Trip to the Eye Doctor

At my age any kind of doctor’s appointment can bring on anxiety. Everyone is so serious and concerned that I can’t help but think that maybe there is a pull-date stamped on my fourth-point-of-contact or that I shouldn’t be buying green bananas. However, as I was going to see the eye-doctor I didn’t imagine there to be too much stress involvedbut because my last visit had been in 2008 this session was going to be a little more involved than usual.

First:   They’d remodeled /reorganized the place, a fact I found out when I ended up in a supply closet while trying to find the restroom.  The second thing I noticed? Other than the doctor the entire staff was female, blonde and had an “eee” name (as in Kristie, Melanie, Lacey etc.). They were all very professional and courteous, but it was a bit unnerving to be surrounded by a small army of petite tow-headed cheerleaders.

As it had been a while since I’ve had my eyes checked I had to go through a whole battery of semi-exotic tests – some of which I’d never had and some I’d never even heard of. The little blond “eee’s”  would patiently explain the name of the test and what it was supposed to detect/measure but unfortunately when you factor the “geezer element” into the equation it became one of those “in-one-ear-out-the-other” type of situations.

As best as I can remember the tests included:

1)    Looking through an aperture at a circular glowing grid that would turn red, blue or green depending on how I lined my eye up. When the grid turned green there was an incredibly bright flash. A Jimi Hendrix soundtrack would have been most appropriate.

2)    Looking into another aperture at a tiny laser-like red dot while a very faint white circle would periodically appear just below. I was to press a button every time the light came on but as the test progressed the circles got more and more faint. At one point I thought the lights had stopped but then a very faint green circle reappeared, so I started pressing the button at what I thought were the correct intervals.

3)    After they took away the button-remote from that last test they had me look into yet another aperture while they flashed a really,  REALLY bright light, so they could take a photograph of the inside of my eye. As I would be driving myself home I’d earlier declined getting my eyes dilated but after than photo flash I had just as much trouble driving as I would have had they used the drops.

4)    The >PfftT< test – a puff of air shot at my eye to detect for glaucoma, which came close to triggering the same response I’d have to a drink thrown in my face…but I managed a smile instead.

With all those tests I was sure some sort of terrible malady was lurking behind my retinas, but it turned out I am doing pretty good for an old guy2 –  no major defects, no “conditions” waiting to pounce. I’m a little nearsighted but inasmuch as there are only three situations3 when I need help with my vision they recommended single-vision (least expensive) lenses which took only three days to make.

I could do with more doctor’s visits like that.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Notes:

  1. ….until I started to obsess about glaucoma, cataracts, detached retinas and tropical parasites living inside my eyeball.
  2.   I toyed with this vague idea for an eye-pushup joke and Patti McGuire’s Miss November 1976 Playmate fold-out, but it just didn’t work out.
  3. To be precise:  Watching movies, driving and shooting at the firing range