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Author Topic: Proof of Cary Bates's Genius: ACTION #509  (Read 23482 times)
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JulianPerez
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« on: November 13, 2005, 06:04:35 AM »

Any chef can make a great fillet mignon, but it takes somebody special to do some absolutely amazing onion rings. Cary Bates does just that in this sample story, where he tells a fun story centered around Superman selling out to shill Radio Shack computers. The Jim Starlin and Dick Giordano art doesn't hurt, either.

I direct your attention to ACTION COMICS #509 (1980). Not the lead story - it had one of Bates's trademarks, a clean, correct mystery story involving a three-eyed ghost created by mental energy, that Superman has to use his wits to defeat.

No, I mean the second story: "The Computer that Saved Metropolis" starring the TRS-80 Radio Shack Computer Whiz Kids! It's basically a commercial for a Radio Shack computer. Superman's boasting of its INCREDIBLE POWER is kind of hilarious now in the year 2005. I'm not a computer type, but I'm betting I probably have more computing power in my electric toothbrush than this thing had all over their colossal mass. The full-page advertisement that precedes the story it is pretty awesome in its own right: it makes an amazing point about its "astonishing 12" video display," and makes a point that "You can also buy ready-made programs (called 'software')" (!)

Question: Are the TRS-80 Radio Shack Computer Whiz Kids considered canon? If so, I'll gladly write a supermanica entry about them. I know for instance, that the Hostess Cupcake Ads are obviously not considered to REALLY have happened (they're too demented even by the terrifyingly low standards of the 1970s, when Superman fought both Don Rickles and Mohammed Ali) however, some of the Marvel comics that were done under liscense ARE canon: the 70s GODZILLA comics are canon (Englehart even had a monster from it to guest-star in AVENGERS WEST COAST) as are the CONAN/KING KULL comics.

Ms. Margaret Wilson (the kids' teacher) may be the point where the canonity of this story can be judged. For instance, she clearly claims to "know" Superman somehow. Does anyone know if she has appeared elsewhere?

There was a discussion not long ago about the limits and powers of Superman's superintelligence. If this story IS canon, we get a very good sense of how powerful Superman's super-brain is: Superman states definitively that "When you're sitting behind a TRS-80, each of you has the potential to think and solve problems as fast as a Superman!" And later, the kids put their computers in a race against Superman, the result is "how about that! A tie! And they both came up with the same answer!" And most significantly: "See? The TRS-80 really DOES think as fast as Superman!" It is assumed Superman is working at full capacity when this happened, as Major Disaster's brain drain effect only works on the second problem. The more flattering explanation to Superman is that he WAS under the influence of the brain-drain and just didn't know it until the second problem.

The story also puts forth another very interesting theory about Superman: it is only Superman's superintelligence that allows him to judiciously use his other superpowers. Without his super-brain to calculate flight paths, for instance, his flight is wonky and he hits buildings. Without his Super-Brain to calculate force, he smashes through the floor of his own apartment when making landings.

The story is as follows: Major Disaster intends to create a series of natural disasters, however, Superman, who was at the time telling several kids the history of computers (which goes ON and ON for several pages) and explains the AMAZING FUNCTIONS of the NEW Radio Shack TRS-80. is struck by Brain Drain chemical by Major Disaster. Major Disaster however, strikes Superman with a brain drain chemical. Thus, in order to appropriately solve Disaster's Disasters, he has to rely on Shanna and Alec, the Radio Shack Whiz Kids, to calculate how to handle them.

For those of you with the issue, here's some commentary:

pg. 1, panel 1: Major Disaster may be evil, but he has good taste in antiques. That's one sweet pocketwatch. Interesting how he'd use it despite all the technical stuff he's got access to.

pg. 2, panel 2: WOW. I'm hot for teacher.

pg. 3, panel 1: Supermanica take note: this panel says that Superman is a computer expert.

pg. 5, panel 5: I think this may be a misprint. He may have said "Great, thunder!" instead of "GREAT THUNDER!"

pg. 8 panel 2: The only background detail that I know about Aberdeen and Shockley is that one of them hated black people.

pg. 11, panel 3: A nice break from Superman giving exposition on how his powers work - some kid did it for him.

pg. 13 panel 2: So THIS is what people did with computers before the invention of pornography and Space Invaders. Write programs that say "HELLO THERE, I AM YOUR NEW TRS-80 MICROCOMPUTER."

pg. 16 panel 1: This may possibly be Superman's most humiliating moment: getting OWNED by a ten year old. Who then laughs at him.

pg. 16, panel 4: Can you imagine Major Disaster going into Wal-Mart to buy that? "Make my giant television L-shaped, please!"

pg. 17, panel 1: Though it isn't stated, what we can speculate based on this panel is that Kryptonite is both odorless and tasteless, otherwise Superman would know what he just inhaled.

pg. 23, panels 1-3: Wow. Just...wow. When they say "Whiz Kids," they don't mess around - these ten year old kids are doing math problems I couldn't write out in college.
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TELLE
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« Reply #1 on: November 13, 2005, 08:22:09 AM »

Quote from: "JulianPerez"
Question: Are the TRS-80 Radio Shack Computer Whiz Kids considered canon?


I could swear this was discussed, but can't find it.  I must dream in Supermanica discussions.  Anyway, good question:  I would say there is a pretty good chance that it is a canonical story for the purposes of the project.  Unless there is some sort of editorial indication on the part of DC in that issue (ie, Special Advertising Feature), the story could be canon.  As to the TRS-80-like strength of Superman's computer brain, there is enough evidence of his brain being either faster or slower throughout the canon for me to safely qualify whatever this story says about it.

Quote
the terrifyingly low standards of the 1970s, when Superman fought both Don Rickles and Mohammed Ali)


Hey, you are referring to perhaps 2 of my favourite Superman stories of all time!  We're talking quality stuff!  Kirby and Neal Adams at their peaks!

Quote

 however, some of the Marvel comics that were done under liscense ARE canon: the 70s GODZILLA comics are canon (Englehart even had a monster from it to guest-star in AVENGERS WEST COAST) as are the CONAN/KING KULL comics.
 

I'm fairly certain that these comics will never qualify as canonical for Supermanica entries!  (And don't forget the appearance of Red Ronin in the Avengers!)

Julian, if allowing an entry involving the Whiz Kids or their teacher is what it takes to get you to add more Supermanica entries, I say go for it! Cheesy
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #2 on: November 13, 2005, 09:01:39 AM »

Quote from: "TELLE"
Quote from: "JulianPerez"
Question: Are the TRS-80 Radio Shack Computer Whiz Kids considered canon?


I could swear this was discussed, but can't find it.


WOW. This is my kind of forum!  :shock:

Quote from: "TELLE"
I must dream in Supermanica discussions.  Anyway, good question:  I would say there is a pretty good chance that it is a canonical story for the purposes of the project.  Unless there is some sort of editorial indication on the part of DC in that issue (ie, Special Advertising Feature), the story could be canon.  As to the TRS-80-like strength of Superman's computer brain, there is enough evidence of his brain being either faster or slower throughout the canon for me to safely qualify whatever this story says about it.


Quote from: "TELLE"
Quote
the terrifyingly low standards of the 1970s, when Superman fought both Don Rickles and Mohammed Ali)


Hey, you are referring to perhaps 2 of my favourite Superman stories of all time!  We're talking quality stuff!  Kirby and Neal Adams at their peaks!


Nobody's a bigger fan of SUPERMAN'S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN than Yours Truly. It says something, though, that they've got a story with Don Rickles, yet the Hostess ads are "too far out." I mean, jeez, how weird do they have to be? (Anybody that's seen these slices of LSD know exactly "how weird.")

Speaking of Kirby, TELLE, a while ago we had a conversation about writer artists and I made a pretty darn bold statement, which was that without a writer to guide pacing, Kirby's art got "lazier and more simplified." You called me on this, and I wasn't certain what to say, as something like the complexity and business of art is a subjective choice. Perhaps one possible way of determining whether Kirby's art is "busier" come FOURTH WORLD is by panel count than when he was working with a writer.

FANTASTIC FOUR #52: 104 panels

MISTER MIRACLE #7: 88 panels

It might be said that I have "cherry picked" two comics to prove my point, however, both were selected fora reason (their panels not counted in advance): both have a visual fight scene (Mister Miracle going to Apokolips for dueling and the Fantastic Four having their first meeting with the Black Panther). Kirby's visual language was astonishing. However, without a writer to control his pacing, he indulged come MM #7 in FOUR splash pages (including one that stretched over two pages) as opposed to ONE in FF #52, as well as pages with four panels or less.

MR. MIRACLE also has THREE non-splash pages of four panels or less, whereas FF #52 had two, and it should be pointed out that the "four panel or less" pages in FF #52 established locations and concepts never before seen: the Techno-Jungle, and Wakanda, and thus needed space, whereas the four splash pages in MM #7 were: a person's head shouting something, a splash of Apokalips (a place seen before), Mr. Miracle and Oberon talking, and a cliffhanger panel of Mr. Miracle being attached to the Lump. Of these four, only one (the lump) was arguably "necessary."

Perhaps I'm working from the premise that brevity is better, and the less brevity, the less impressive the art is. And further, the function of art in a comic is to advanced the story and not for its own sake. Perhaps you don't share this belief. However, that's the criteria I judged Kirby by.

Quote from: "TELLE"
Julian, if allowing an entry involving the Whiz Kids or their teacher is what it takes to get you to add more Supermanica entries, I say go for it! Cheesy


I wanted to do King Krypton, but somebody beat me to it.  :gloom:
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« Reply #3 on: November 13, 2005, 09:37:04 AM »

Well, it does show that Bates is capable of both being a corporate shill and still entertain us eloquently at the same time, which is no mean feat.

I'd consider the Trash-80 ... er TRS-80 ads to be non-canon in the same sense as any of the other marketing ads DC put up to add to their revenue.  Regular books had more honesty in that they were only selling the books, for the most part, not counting the ads not in the stories.

C'mon, guys!  Going by Moore's Law, the Trash-80 was obsolete within 18 months to a few years after those stories were published anyway.  No friggin' way do we want to compare Superman's super-brain with a lowly computer from that era.  That's esp. after the likes of Hans Moravec have calculated that our regular human brains operate in the minimum teraflop range (compared with even a modern desktop PC in the 10 - 100 megaflop range), and Kurzweil has suggested our brains have a lot more processing capacity if we include intraneuronal processing capability.  We're only talking about normal brains here which are millions of times the power of said TRS-80.

Now, if we were to suggest that Superman's idling brain were just keeping pace with the sheer speed of a computer's electrical impulses, then that hasn't really changed in all these years.  But intellect is more than just speed but memory capacity, complexity, creativity, deduction, induction, etc.  We're not even counting emotional intelligence nor subconscious physical reflex control (which turns out to be about a million times more complex than conscious thought).

No, on the basis of corporate shilling and the laughability of Superman being limited to a Stone Age equivalent computer, I'd vote no to including this in the Supermanica.

But I do agree it was a fun, if laughable, read even back in the day.  Seriously, those were such simple formulas the kids could input that you might as well have used a pocket calculator for them.  The real advantage of a TRS-80 would be in programming elaborate processes which just wasn't possible for that kind of story.  Can you imagine Superman waiting an hour while the kids keyed-in a modest program?
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« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2005, 09:58:29 AM »

Quote
the terrifyingly low standards of the 1970s, when Superman fought both Don Rickles and Mohammed Ali)

Hey, you are referring to perhaps 2 of my favourite Superman stories of all time!  We're talking quality stuff!  Kirby and Neal Adams at their peaks!


As a young boy growing up in Sweden in the 1970s, the only American comic books I could find were Superman and DC Comics Presents. I only knew the Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, et al. from those bizarre Hostess Twinkies ads, which I used to read with rather disturbing fervour, as if trying to decipher intertestamentary scrolls.

"Rich devil's foodcake!", the villains used to extoll as  they were dragged away to justice. I used to wonder what these snacks must taste like, and imagined them to be immeasurably delicious. To this day, I have never had one; if they still exist, they probably taste like chemical dumps.
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« Reply #5 on: November 13, 2005, 01:42:23 PM »

They're sugary food of the gods
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« Reply #6 on: November 13, 2005, 02:36:23 PM »

diabetuous!
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« Reply #7 on: November 13, 2005, 06:59:08 PM »

Quote from: "JulianPerez"
Question: Are the TRS-80 Radio Shack Computer Whiz Kids considered canon?


You bet.  Aside from their appearances in other giveaways, Shanna, Alec and Ms. Wilson appear in SUPERMAN #358, in a story that makes direct reference back to "The Computers That..."

Quote
Ms. Margaret Wilson (the kids' teacher) may be the point where the canonity of this story can be judged. For instance, she clearly claims to "know" Superman somehow. Does anyone know if she has appeared elsewhere?


Aside from #358, the map of Smallville in NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY #22 indicates that she grew up living at 611 Oak Street in Smallville, across the street from Joey Silver.

And those Twinkie ads aren't completely out of continuity, at least not at Marvel.  Icemaster, one of the Crimson Cowl's Masters of Evil in THUNDERBOLTS #25 (now who wrote that?) debuted in a Twinkie ad...

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