The HI AND LOIS comic strip is fifty years old today, though it was yesterday's newspapers which carried the spiffy celebration shown above. However, it should be noted that, although the comic strip made its debut on October 18, 1954, Hiram and Lois Flagston were first seen a few months earlier in some BEETLE BAILEY strips. Beetle and Lois are brother and sister.
HI AND LOIS were created by Mort Walker and Dik Browne, two of the most beloved talents in the history of the comic strip. Their creations - Beetle, Hi and Lois, Hagar the Horrible, and others - have kept the world laughing for over half a century.
The Flagston family has changed a bit since it first appeared on the comics pages. Homemaker Lois works as a real-estate agent. Oldest son Chip aged from eight to sixteen, while siblings Dot and Ditto stayed pretty much the same. Infant Trixie got more play in the strip when Walker and Browne started sharing her thoughts with the readers; the change proved popular with the newspaper editors running the strip as well.
There has never been a boom in HI AND LOIS merchandise. The usual trade paperback collections. A few comic books. Some other odds and ends. However, despite the lack of outside promotions of that nature, the strip continues to be a favorite among newspaper editors and readers alike.
Two decades ago, the sons of the creator took over the strip. It's written by Brian and Greg Walker, and drawn by Chance Browne. Sadly, Dik Browne is no longer with us, but I suspect Mort Walker still keeps a fatherly eye on the strip.
Here's wishing the happiest of half-century birthdays to the Flagstons. I enjoying having them in my home every day and I hope they'll keep coming around for many more years to come.
HI AND LOIS IN THE COMICS
After writing the above section of today's column, I wondered how few/many HI AND LOIS comic books have been published over the past fifty years. The answer surprised me.
Dell published three HI AND LOIS issues as part of their long-running FOUR COLOR SERIES. They were numbers 683, 774, and 955 in the series and dated March, 1956, March, 1957, and November, 1958. It doesn't appear they sold well.
Charlton published a presumably bimonthly HI AND LOIS series for eleven issues, November, 1969, to July, 1971. Since Charlton continued to publish other King Features characters for some years beyond that, I'm going to assume - perhaps incorrectly - that those issues didn't sell very well either. If anyone has any information to the contrary, I will most happily stand corrected and share the information with my readers.
Amazingly, I don't believe I have ever read an issue of any HI AND LOIS comic book. Once I began working full-time in the summer of 1970, I could afford to buy virtually every new comic book being published. It's possible that, since my aim in buying these comics was to write for any comics company which would hire me, I didn't consider HI AND LOIS an open market. It's a plausible explanation, but it doesn't feel quite right to me.
The only other plausible explanation is that I never saw them at the neighborhood store where I bought my comics from 1970-1972. However, Charltons were always in plentiful supplies in Cleveland, so that doesn't feel right either. It's a mystery I may never be able to solve.
Maybe I'll hit eBay and see if I can pick up any cheap copies of HI AND LOIS. If I succeed, I'll write about them in some future edition of TOT.
CATWOMAN #35 [DC Comics; $2.50] features "Betrayal"...or part seven of act two of BATMAN: WAR GAMES. In reading this issue, I've become aware of two truths.
The first...the current Batman editorial regime has apparently decided its star character is, to put it as politely as possible, a richard. Unless the Bat-boys - and girl; mustn't forget NIGHTWING writer Devin Grayson - have a surprise waiting for us in the third act, the gang war which threatens Gotham is pretty much the Batman's fault. He drove the desperate-for-acceptance Spoiler to enact one of his mad contingency plans. He didn't recognize it until lots of bodies started piling up. He addressed the crisis by manipulating allies and taking control of the police.
The second truth...Batman's my least favorite character in the three-month-long event. Catwoman, in trying to protect her part of town, is acting in a more noble manner than Batman, even though her role in this issue of her own comic book is greatly reduced to move the overall plot forward.
CATWOMAN writer Ed Brubaker, penciller Paul Gulacy, and inker Jimmy Palmiotti all do their jobs well, but, as of this issue, WAR GAMES became an endurance test for me.
Can I actually read nine more issues of this?
On our scale of zero to five, CATWOMAN #35 picks up a miserly two Tonys. Blame it on the Batman.
BATMAN #632 [$2.25] brings the second act of BATMAN: WAR GAMES to a close with "Orpheus in the Underworld." Bats is still blowing through Gotham as if his plan for ending the gang war is the only option, this despite the fact that it was one of his practice plans the abandoned Spoiler used to start the war. He treats his allies and the police with borderline contempt. He loses more points for, in a DC Universe filled with disguise-masters and shape-shifters, not realizing that Orpheus is now being impersonated by one of his old foes.
Writer Bill Willingham tries to make the best of this awkward event and succeeds better than most, but he still can't transform sow into silk. The art by penciller Kinsun and inker Aaron Sowd is good, but some characters do look stunted in places.
In other news, Orpheus is still dead, an unacceptable tragedy given the shameful paucity of African-American heroes in DC Comics, and the gravely-injured Spoiler is still missing.
With Batman's plan depending on the man he believes is Orpheus uniting the city's gangs and so ending the war, act three could get interesting. Let's hope so.
BATMAN #632 picks up two Tonys.
THE HECKLER Guest commentary by Mark Stratton
This online journal has never been about just comics, so, when my friend MARK STRATTON offered me his short essay on great power and responsibility as applied to the world of professional sports, I was delighted for the opportunity to share it with my readers in this form. Here's Mark:
The recent incident (Sept. 13) at Network Associates Stadium in Oakland, CA has raised an interesting question that needs to be addressed. Namely, what right does this man have to spew venom or anything he wishes out his head?
For a quick recap, Texas Rangers pitcher Frank Francisco reacted poorly to a heckler in the stands and threw a chair at the heckler. The main fan antagonist was Craig Bueno (the Heckler), an overly ardent supporter of the Oakland Athletics. Bueno stated at a press conference after the fact that he bought a set of season tickets near the visiting teams bullpen for the express purpose of heckling the pitchers in the pen. So, after several innings of abuse hurled at the pitchers and Francisco in particular, Frank reacted and threw a chair into the seats at the Heckler. The Heckler ducked and the chair struck the Heckler's wife, breaking her nose and giving her several lacerations on her face. Francisco was arrested after the game, and released on bail. He has since been suspended for the remainder of the season. The couple is going to file a civil suit for damages.
The question becomes: who was more wrong? The Ranger pitcher didn't have to toss a chair into the stands to get his point across that he was upset with what the Heckler was saying. That wasn't a very mature or reasonable response. I hope that MLB gets this point across loudly and clearly and that the Players Union doesn't stand in the way by appealing either the suspension or fine. This kind of behavior isn't acceptable and it shouldn't be tolerated by anyone. That said, what about the responsibility of the Heckler?
Doesn't he bear some of the blame for this incident? Are his First Amendment rights so sacred that we will excuse him of any and all culpability? Should a jury of his peers award his wife a large cash settlement for an incident he incited? How much responsibility does the Heckler bear in this instance?
Time for me to bring out the dreaded Spider-Man card. That's right, I'm playing the super-hero card in this discussion. Stan Lee once wrote, and it's been repeated many times over the years, "With great power, there must also comes great responsibility."
It was true in the case of Peter Parker and it's true for us as citizens of the United States as well. The power in this case is freedom of speech. The responsibility is using it wisely. I don't believe that the Heckler used his power very wisely.
There is nothing acceptable or cool about being an abusive heckler. The fan booing or hollering, "You stink!", is an accepted part of the experience and one I have no problem with. But to go out of your way to buy limited season tickets near the opposing player's bullpen with the express purpose of riding the visiting players and hurling constant verbal abuse at them isn't part of the "tradition of the game." It's loutish behavior and shouldn't be tolerated. Not by those sitting around him, not by his wife, not by the Heckler's new personal injury attorney, not by the community. Not by anyone.
Not for a minute do I think that the Heckler and his wife got what they deserved. Nobody deserves a chair being thrown at them, no matter how offensive their language might be. Francisco was out of line and out of control. He has been suspended for the remainder of the season, hurting his team's chances during the stretch run. He is getting exactly what he deserves from MLB. The justice system will certainly follow.
What he doesn't deserve is to get pilloried in the media and sued by the Heckler and his family. The Heckler doesn't deserve the payday which is likely in his future. He will probably receive a financial settlement from the Rangers baseball team, Francisco himself, The A's baseball club, or other parties.
Since the Heckler instigated this chain of events, I don't see it and I don't get it. This baffles me beyond comprehension.
Where is the Heckler's responsibility? He has publicly stated he went to the park to get under the skin of the opposing team's pitchers in the hope he could help his team win, thereby becoming the "10th Man" on the Oakland A's roster. That he goes over the line and becomes an overly abusive fan who incites a small riot, ducks and lets his wife suffer for his indiscretion, is apparently being ignored by most.
I feel little pity for the Heckler or Mrs. Heckler. My wife wouldn't stand for that kind of behavior from me, nor should she. His actions precipitated the outcome; he should bear a good chunk of the blame for this. His wife should take him to task as well, but that's her problem and not mine. They are both nervous about going back to Network Associates to watch a baseball game. It seems they have a problem with this bed they have made for themselves, doesn't it?
What Francisco did was inexcusable, but what the Heckler did was just as bad. He shouldn't be taken care of by getting a large settlement, or being portrayed as the victim in this instance.
He brought this on himself and should suffer the consequences, which don't include being a happy litigant. I mean, what kind of message is THIS sending to our children?
I'm not 100% in agreement with Mark on this one - our laws do make a distinction between verbal harassment and physical violence, routinely judging the latter more severe than the former - but I'd be loathe to see the victim get anything beyond his wife's medical bills in any settlement.
Feel free to add your own thoughts to this discussion, either by posting on my message board or by e-mailing your thoughts to me for possible inclusion in a future column.
It's Monday and that means we have a new batch of TONY POLLS questions for you. This week, SMALLVILLE is on my mind and you're getting eight questions on the show and its characters. Cast your votes at:
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
Please send material you would like me to review to: