My name is Steven Howell Wilson, and I do a lot of different things…

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I’ve written fan fiction and published fanzines. I’ve assumed the role of custodian for my friends who created a fanzine called Contact. I founded a convention called Farpoint, which has run for over two decades. I’ve been a comic book writer for DC Comics (Star Trek and Warlord) and a comic reviewer. I run Prometheus Radio Theatre, and we put out a (mostly) weekly podcast. I’m publisher for Firebringer Press, and a contributor to Crazy 8 Press. Finally, in the mundane world, I’m a recovering librarian, an IT Director and a consultant. And yes, I do all this because I’m allergic to work. I figure as long as I look busy, I won’t have to perform actual labor. It’s worked for nearly half a century so far…

The Colonel’s Plan – Birth of a News Addict

October 17th, 2017

Dear Daddy—

Yesterday I was talking about the accumulation of junk mail in the house, and I got off on the subject of your photocopying habits. Let’s return to where the house was in November, 2015. You had stopped throwing away junk mail. Also newspapers. You had copies of the Washington Post dating back to 1989. Not every issue. We had had a purge in 2004, when Susan moved home after her divorce, and we had to eke out enough space for her to at least turn around. Mother and I shifted a lot of things, but couldn’t throw away much. You wouldn’t allow it. You did consent, however, to having newspapers recycled if they didn’t have “keep” written on the masthead in red ballpoint pen. That was your signal that you either had not fully read that issue, or that it contained an article you wanted to save.

It had all begun gradually, after you retired from the Air Force in 1982. Ostensibly, you were retiring to go into private contracting. You started a company, Research Applications Lab, Inc., for which we all worked. Mother was the Financial and Security officer, Charles and I were the manual labor, you were the talent. While you went to a lot of meetings and I know you did perform some research, being the talent also seemed to involve a lot of time spent scanning the newspaper. You clipped out articles and saved them, making 50 copies of the good ones, and saving them all in labeled envelopes.

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Steve 3.0

So, since this time last week, those of you who have been following my blog posts—particularly my Legion of Super-Heroes reviews, will have noticed that I’ve ceased my daily posts.

It’s been a time of great change for me. Most of you know I lost my father last year, which not only leaves a big hole in one’s life, (assuming one is lucky enough to have a relationship with one’s father) but changes the family dynamic. When a person is gone, you realize a thousand ways in which their simple presence, much less their direct actions, changed everything about them. My father was eccentric, stubborn, often emotionally distant. Who knew he was the heart of the family? He was.

My sons have moved out. They haven’t gone far, and one of them only moved into a dorm. He’s getting an apartment in a couple of months, though. He may still call our house “home,” but he’ll officially be living elsewhere. Renee and I are rattling around ten rooms by ourselves, alone together for the first time in 25 years, and this time with only one of our four parents in the picture.

I realize now that I’m in a new phase of my adult life—the third major phase. I’m not going to call it “Act Three,” because that’s bloody morbid. Nor is it appropriate. I’m not even a grandparent yet, although many of my peers are. Unless you’re in a Shakespeare play, “Act Three” is the last act. I’m not there yet, unless there are pages in the script I don’t know about.

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The Colonel’s Plan – Cleanup Time

October 16th, 2017

Dear Daddy –

The kitchen c. 2015. The lens flare is courtesy of a droplight being used in place of the permanent fixture, which had bad ballast. Photo by Gordon Wilson

And the same angle of the kitchen as it looks today. Premature to share it, but it will make my mother feel better for everyone to know there was a happier ending. Photo by Renee Wilson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m tired today. Didn’t get enough sleep last night. I went to bed after 1 AM, because I stayed up reading. I stayed up so late reading because Sundays tend to be very full these days. We’ve decided that Sundays need to be, as the Bible declared somewhere, a day of rest. We decided that after this past Saturday, when Renee fell on the steps for the second time during our recent adventures in your house. She didn’t break anything, but she wrenched her back, banged her face against a chair, and her nose bled on and off for two hours. We were afraid we were going to have to go to the emergency room to have her checked for internal bleeding.

But she saw the dentist today, two days later, and was told she just has bruising. She feels the whole incident was a result of her just being too tired from overwork, and we have been working hard. So I declared no more work on Sundays.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Legion’s Space Odyssey!” (Adventure Comics #380, May, 1969)

In 1968, no film sparked the imaginations of viewers like Stanley Kubrik’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was released in the United States in the first few days of April, 1968, a year before Adventure Comics #380’s March 27th, 1969 release, and, initially not a financial success, MGM was convinced not to pull it out of theaters when young adults (rumor has It many of them on hallucinogens) began flocking to see it. Young, “mod” people who enjoyed psychedelia were exactly the audience DC Comics was after as the decade wrapped. So whether it was young Jim Shooter’s admiration for the film which inspired him to tell the story of a Legion space odyssey, or Editor Weisinger’s desire to hook an audience, this story seemed like a natural for DC’s most science fiction-oriented property. (By this time, Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern had left his job at Ferris Aircraft and become an insurance salesman, rendering him less spaceborne than before. And Adam Strange, though advertised in this issue, was only appearing in reprints.)

Unfortunate, this space odyssey is short on believability, and turns out to be one of the tiresome sub-genre of “trick” stories, which too many Superboy and Superman stories fell into.

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The Colonel’s Plan – The New Furnace

October 13, 2017

Dear Daddy—

I was telling you about the new furnace. Dave, our Comfort Care Specialist, was very upfront about everything. He looked at our 50-year-old oil tanks and said, “You might want to replace those. They have copper pipes, and a spillover fill system that we no longer use. The solder in the pipes can burst under pressure, and we spray that oil in at about 300 gallons per minute.” He quoted us a price for new tanks, but said, “You can wait and see how they do.”

He quoted us a price for getting the old furnace going. He was very patient about it. We reviewed everything that could go wrong with the old furnace. The burner motor (the “squirrel cage”) could have seized from years of disuse. The fire box could be corroded inside (though Dave thought that very unlikely). If we had to put in a replacement burner, the fire box might not be rated for the much higher heat generated by modern burners. (Not an issue with the dinosaur in my own basement, I guess.) Finally, even if all went well, both American Standard, who made the furnace, and the company who made the burner were now out of business. There were no parts available to order, so anything that went wrong would not be covered by a service contract.) If they hooked up the old one and it didn’t run, we could not recover any of the money we had spent so far. Continue reading

Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Burial in space!” (Adventure Comics #379,

At the Legion clubhouse, six figures are still as death, silent, frozen in the shadowed hallways, as a seventh figure moves among them. Who turned out the lights? Automated systems in the walls, no doubt, conserving power as their masters and mistresses became silent. It must be sleep cycle, surely. The Legionnaires can’t all be—

Wait—Six figures? At the end of last issue, five Legionnaires had slipped into comas and were still. The intruder was not the seventh, as mentioned, here, but the sixth. Well, it turns out that this seventh figure is a second intruder, and the first is frozen, the last man standing amongst the fallen Legion, presumably his victims.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Twelve Hours to Live!” (Adventure Comics #378, March, 1969)

It’s Brainiac 5’s birthday, and at least a few of his friends have decided to celebrate with him. Superboy, Duo Damsel, Karate Kid and Princess Projectra have gifted him with a Lumna-Organ. (No, that’s not something dirty!) Not at all baffled by receiving a musical instrument he’s never played, Brainy teaches himself in minutes, and has his friends swingin’ to the tunes. It’s still the Sixties, even if it is the 2960s.

One might not expect our young friend with the 12th level intellect to take so readily to music. I thought it was a nice touch, meaningful to me particularly because one of the smartest men I ever knew, a dear friend and mentor, collected pipe organs. Alas, Alzheimer’s has robbed him of his ability to play or enjoy them any longer. But Brainy is young and ingenious forever. That’s the beauty of fictional friends.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Heroes for Hire!” (Adventure Comics #377, February, 1969)

No, not those Heroes for Hire. This story came three years before the first issue of Luke Cage, Hero For Hire, nine years before Luke and Iron Fist formed the company Heroes for Hire, and 28 years before Marvel published the first issue of Heroes for Hire. (The original Power Man / Iron First team was the real basis for the Netflix series, The Defenders, which has nothing to do with the original Bronze Age comic of the same name. Netflix is rumored to have gone with “The Defenders” because, as illustrated here, audiences get squeamish about the idea of heroes getting money for their services. They prefer that rich, powerful people or corporations fund their super heroes, an idea older than King Arthur and my 97-greats Uncle Charlemagne.

That, children, is what feudalism is all about, and we do love us some feudalism in these United States.

Which is why this story bothered me, the first time I read it, a dozen or so years ago. Yes, the Legionnaires are acting like Bastard People (for a reason, this time!), putting their desire to earn money apparently ahead of their concern for life and public safety. But a lot of the public outrage toward them seemed to me to be directed at the very idea that they would make money. Which is silly, because the Legionnaires are underwritten by the richest man in the universe and his corporation, and by the United Planets government. If either of those entities were to order the Legion to deny service to a person or a world, what would happen? That idea wasn’t explored in the Silver Age.

But, honestly, I liked this story better on a second reading. It really doesn’t focus that much on public outrage. It focuses more on a sense of “What the hell is the Legion doing?” which is classic in Silver Age stories, if maybe a bit outdated by 1969, especially in what had been one of the most forward-looking books in all of DC Comics. Probably the most.

So criminals are escaping the Science Police and hiding out on the planet Modo, a world protected by an entity called Modulus, and apparently welcoming to all evil. The Legion gets involved when criminals steal mind-altering drugs from a UP research facility. We get to see Brainy have a psychedelic trip, and Win Mortimer and Jack Abel show off some pretty 1960s graphics. One of the criminals is caught, and then we get to see a truly chilling psychic interrogation, in which the thief is told that “Anything you think may be held against you.”

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Execution of Chameleon Boy!” (Adventure Comics #376, January, 1969)

After the fairly dismal experience that was “King of the Legion!” this happy little adventure was a breath of fresh air, focusing on one popular but often underused Legionnaire, and making him sympathetic and even kind of noble. That Legionnaire is Chameleon Boy, and, considering he actually stole victory in last issue’s contest from Chemical King, it’s nice to see him further redeemed.

To be fair, he had already redeemed himself at the end of last issue—we just didn’t know it until this story explained what happened. As far as we knew last time, Bouncing Boy had won the contest which was to determine the mightiest Legionnaire, so that that member could go somewhere and fight someone. He immediately vanished, and a voice told the Legionnaires the battle was joined. Except that then another Bouncing Boy had appeared, and a quick x-ray vision check of fingerprints revealed that this was the real one.

So who got spirited away?

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “King of the Legion” (Adventure Comics #375, December, 1968)

Jim Shooter curtailed a lot of the harshness and nastiness with which the Legionnaires had treated each other during their first 46 issues in Adventure Comics, making what I call the “Bastard People” effect less noticeable. But King of the Legion? This thing is freaking Bastard People porn.

On an asteroid, the Legionnaires meet the Wanderers, a previously unheard-of super team. They shake hands and swear eternal friendship. Ornitho, one of the Wanderers’ number, demonstrates his power to turn into any kind of bird. The others don’t demonstrate, or get names, except for their leader, Celebrand. Kind of an interesting oversight.

Shortly after they part company with the Legion, the Wanderers fly near the Nefar Nebula and are temporarily turned into criminals. Meanwhile, the Legion has returned to Earth, where Superboy will test a supposedly indestructible armor plate for the Galactic Security Force—by flying into is full speed. Now the plate is invulnerable and so is Superboy. But the plate doesn’t look especially well-anchored. It seems the result would be simply that it would move when he hits it. Or, if it is somehow anchored, we’ll find out what happens when an irresistible force hits and immovable object. And they’re performing this stunt on Earth. You’d heard the expression NIMBY—Not In My Back Yard? I would think every citizen of Earth would be shouting NOMFP about this. I’ll let you work out the acronym yourself.

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