Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Hot Rods & Racing Cars #84

Hot Rods & Racing Cars #84, April 1967, Charlton Comics
contributors unlisted

Before I dive into today’s review, I’d like to respond to a comment posted by “Hal” regarding my post about Eclipse Comics #1. Hal remarked that a potential handicap of the A Comic A Day challenge is its singular look at any given series. He cites, for example, “. . .your reviews really have little relevance for a continuing comic series. When you reviewed Ninja High School #6 . . . you were disappointed to see that it didn't seem to actually involve a high school . . .Which is why you shouldn't have been reviewing NHS: It wasn’t meant to be a stand-alone comic issue but that's all you’ve seen of it.” Further, “I had a similar reaction when I read your review of Prime #1. Breyfogle’s viewpoint . . . made the comic work. You weren’t going to appreciate that in a single issue. And that’s all the time you could give it.” Yes, indeed, Hal, and as you said in so many words, therein lies the rub.

Respectful, critical commentary. I really appreciate his feedback (and anybody else’s if you’d like to chime in), and to elaborate, while the sheer momentum of this project effectively prevents further examination of the specific series I encounter for the first time (and I am planning on revisiting some surprising favorites eventually – Freaks of the Heartland comes to mind), my narrow focus on each day’s respective material offers a unique insight I may never have experienced with the baggage of my fifteen years’ worth of reading comics. Yes, I’m reading comics I never would have touched before, by creators whose efforts I would have remained ignorant of, but even more importantly, I’m experiencing a phenomenon that is inevitable with such a growing market (and art form) as comics – the presumption that every comic book could be somebody’s first comic book, without the benefit of an apparent lifetime’s worth of collecting. I understand how storytelling works, and how an issue or three of Ninja High School can actually be void of ninjas and high school without missing the coming-of-age angst that truly drives the series’ essence. But a novice reader that digs the title and buys the issue on a whim? Without even a “last issue summary” (a fairly recent addition to most mainstream comics that show how spoiled we readers are), I imagine the reader would want his money back. Yes, the whole quarter.

The bottom line is, I’m trying to get a vibe from comics, not any singular series – not that you misunderstood, Hal, but simply to clarify the focus of this binge/purge reading process. I’m looking at the comic book, every comic book I get my hands on, as an interactive work of art – yes, a part of an ongoing whole, but still a singular entity that should evoke some merit on its own. Otherwise, the single issue format should bow to the graphic novel phenomenon . . . and in many ways, it already has. Still, the comic book has nearly a century’s worth of content still begging to be read, and if any given issue is too dated by its era, then as art it still silently beseeches to be seen a significant forefather to what the medium has become. For better or worse, I’m answering that call, and eight months deep, I still feel like I’m driving blind.

Speaking of driving, I chose to read Hot Rods & Racing Cars today as a makeshift warning that tomorrow through Saturday, I will be on a work-related road trip to San Diego, thus my reviews will most likely be reduced to a mere sentence or two, hopefully with a solid recap to follow the beginning of next week. Thankfully, Eclipse Comics #1 evoked plenty of material to keep you faithful readers busy for a day or two, I hope. Yes, I’m trying to write more now to make up for my forthcoming limited effort, so just grit and bear it, okay?

That said, I must admit, I’m not a car guy. I got my driver’s license late in life, and I still ride my bicycle nearly everywhere I go. (Yeah, like the forty-year-old virgin. Ha ha. You’re the one reading a comic book blog.) Moreover, a comic book about hot rods and racing cars seems like a conflict of interest, because while both are visually entertaining, the still frame storytelling of a comic is the sheer opposite of the fast-paced drama of the racetrack. Still, the four stories in this issue pull it off, if only by injecting each tale with a challenging conflict supplemental to the rubber hitting the road. For instance, the first story is about an old driver that tries to shoo some gypsies from his property only to face a curse that results in a cat propelling his hot rod off the road. The same fate befalls his son, and soon thereafter his grandson, if next issue offers a similar yarn (I think we’re meant to believe otherwise, with this kind of build up). Now, if gypsies were on the cover of this comic book, I’d have bought it without the hesitation my hand felt reaching for a vehicle-centric rag. In the end, a comic about cars just seemed novel. I guess it still is.

The second story is actually less a battle of the engines than a battle of the sexes, as a good Samaritan rescues a puppy hit and run by a police captain’s daughter, so spoiled that she insists that his reckless driving nearly hurt her. The captain insists that his wife taught their daughter how to drive well, but when a fellow cop finds dog hairs on her bumper, he confesses, “Also, I don’t like to say this, Sir, but I’ve seen Pam and Mrs. Vandergrift drive, and I think they both could use some instructions . . .” It’s typical mid-century domestic hierarchy, as the captain assures us he’ll send his wife for more lessons immediately. Hey, women don’t drive that bad . . . when they’re driving you up the wall!

The Rebs was the most confusing tale of the four, told in a first person hick vernacular that made the linear plot difficult to follow. From what I reckon, two adventurous brothers are arrested for reckless driving, released, then challenged by some local rich boys to a race, where they all become friends and plan to romp their cars another day. In contrast to the previous story, I wonder if this tale implies that mid-century hidden homoeroticism I’ve heard so much about. A bunch of guys . . . getting together to rev their engines and whatnot . . . manly to a fault, I think.

Clint Curtis Meets the Golden Boy is this issue’s cover story (literally, as the cover simply reproduces panels from the interior art), in which Curtis and “Golden Boy” Gary Golden square off in a soap box derby race. Golden yearns for the championship and has a rep for cheating, but still loses despite Clint’s right rear wheel popping off. Gary’s dad stifles his son’s whining and encourages the boy to front good sportsmanship so they could effortlessly scheme a later victory, and ironically, Gary wins a sportsmanship award. This is a fun, old-fashioned tale – essentially a glorified Goofus and Gallant strip, if you ever read Highlights Magazine. I enjoyed it and was glad to see it end the issue rather than kick it off, as the cover suggested. With the two potential duds in the middle, this comic had a solid skid into the finish line.

Logistically, a few minor elements about the construction of Hot Rods caught my eye. First of all, the lettering appears to be typed. I don’t know how else to describe it, but the font simply looks too consistent for someone’s penmanship, even a professional letterer’s from ’67. The typeface is centered in balloons like a standard comic, though, so while its perfection is noticeable, it isn’t distracting. Also, interestingly, the second page in the first story was placed out of sequence. Fortunately, the error was so recognizable the reader could compensate, but I wonder if later reprints (if there were any) were corrected.

I’m sure my road trip this weekend won’t be as thrilling as these vehicular adventures, so I’m glad I got to experience them vicariously through Clint Curtis and company. We geeks have a few staple rides we treasure – the Batmobile, the A-Team van, Doc Brown’s time machine – but a nice turf-tearing street race always excites, no matter who’s behind the wheel or what kind of car is in front of it . . . or if we only see it panel by panel. Hey, at a real racetrack, spectators only see the cars for a moment, as well, as they zip past their section of the bleachers, eh? Just as I only see one comic in a breadth of any series during this challenge, eh?

Ah, see how I bring that back ‘round? Like a spinning wheel, I tell you.

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