Tagged: Ben Cooper

Mike Gold: Halloween, Cosplay, and the Human Torch

Riddle me this: what’s the difference between dressing up in a Halloween costume and doing cosplay at a comic con? Answer after my weekly rant.

Strap yourself in. We’re on another bumpy ride to my time-share condo on Memory Lane.

Time was, there were no “big-box” toy stores, or “big-box” stores at all. Toys R Us started (as such) in 1957 and before that, all we had was Woolworth’s – a large chain of small, wood-floored three-aisle neighborhood stores where you could buy just about anything, except at certain locations if you were a black person in need of lunch. The back half of one aisle was devoted to toys. That wasn’t a lot of space compared to Target and Costco and contemporary outlets. But, hey, I was a little kid. By my standards, that half-aisle was huge.

(An aside. Sometime around the Depression Woolworth’s started building two-story stores in the downtown districts of many big cities, and they lasted until shopping malls made downtown shopping redundant. The chain went blooie in 1997 and the owners converted a lot of them to Foot Lockers. Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy protection last month … and most shopping malls aren’t looking too good either.)

So, back in those thrilling days of yesteryear when Halloween came around our parents took us to Woolworth’s to get swathed in gaudy costuming. The unlucky kids were taken to the arts and crafts area where they could get material for some sort of home-made illusion. The lucky kids got to buy “professional” stuff made by one of a number of different companies, usually focusing on monster imagery that was in the public domain. But the lucky comic book fan kids got costumes made under license from the Ben Cooper company.

There wasn’t a lot of comics merchandising in those days. Actually, there was hardly any you could count on – some cheaply made tchotchkes masquerading as toys, some licensed food products… and Ben Cooper. That company had the licenses to Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and Archie. Later, they also acquired the licenses to Spider-Man, The Hulk, and other Marvel characters. So, in a way, the first DC/Marvel crossover happened at Woolworth’s.

Parents liked ‘em, probably because they sold for a buck and a half a piece. Kids loved ‘em, even though the costumes really didn’t look all that much like the real thing. That didn’t matter to us. We were starved for comics product. A few parents were concerned that these cheaply made costumes might burst into flames, which might be why we didn’t see anything with the Human Torch. Remember, back then most parents smoked cigarettes – as well as some kids – and the idea that a wayward roll-up could ignite your child was merely a risk taken on with your addictive behavior.

There really was a Ben Cooper, and he did know a thing or two about the business. He had designed costumes and sets for the Ziegfeld Follies and for the Cotton Club back in the day, and he was smart enough to sign on when Disney did its first big merchandising push in the mid-30s. Over time, Cooper acquired the rights to such “characters” as Davy Crockett, Zorro, John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, C3PO and The Simpsons.

When I did my first run at DC Comics in 1976, I learned four of the top five merchandised characters were Batman, Superman, Robin and Wonder Woman. Why Wonder Woman, I wondered alliteratively? Simple. Male kids wanted the various male characters, and female kids wanted the one and only female character – not counting generic princesses, witches, and Jackie K. Through its Licensing Corporation of America subsidiary, DC was able to sandwich WW in with Superman and Batman despite the fact that they were having a very hard time selling the Wonder Woman comic book. That licensing revenue went a long way towards paying the Marston family their annual dues, and it certainly kept the comic book alive.

This year the top Halloween character is Wonder Woman, and the second is Harley Quinn. We’re not just talking about kids anymore, but, still, I think it’s pretty cool that this year of all years the women are ruling the roost.

Oh, yeah. You might see a few Donald Trump doppelgängers next week, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily a compliment. I’m also uncertain who sells the merchandising rights to that character.

Riddle me that: The difference between dressing up in a Halloween costume and doing cosplay at a comic con is… candy. And a somewhat reduced likelihood of harassment.

Mike Gold: Sinful Sin City

I had a whole rant plotted out in my mind, but when my fingers hit the keyboard I decided against it. Perhaps I’m mellowing in my antiquity. I hope not, as being not-mellow is how I make my living. Maybe it’s because I’m going to this weekend’s Baltimore Comic Con, always a wonderful event, and I’m awash in breathless anticipation.

Well, either way, I’ve got a deadline and ComicMix’s editor-in-chief is an asshole (not to be confused with this column’s editor, Adriane Nash, who is not an asshole) and I’ve got all these Sin City thoughts attacking my brain like anti-bodies at a clown orgy and I’m willing to share. Let’s see how long it takes for me to become non-mellow.

Fellow ComicMixer Martha Thomases and I saw Sin City: A Plot To Kill With last week. I enjoy going to the movies with Martha because, together, we tend to like just about everything we see. We have a spirited and usually positive conversation afterwards, often at the fabled Katz’s Delicatessen on New York’s lower east side, where we both enjoy the pickles.

This time, well, not so much. Maybe it’s because we were creatively filling time before the Doctor Who season debut. Maybe because we went to an Italian restaurant where they didn’t serve pickles, although the garlic bread was great. But, you see, I’m spending all this time talking about food instead of the movie. That alone should tell you something.

It’s not that A Plot To Kill With was a lousy movie. It was, essentially, a remake of the first one. The rule of thumb for sequels and remakes is “what about this is different from the original and, at the same time, worthwhile.” There are plenty of sequels that equal or exceed the source material: From Russia With Love, Godfather II, Spider-Man II (the real one, not the doppelganger featuring the Flying Nun), and quite a few others. But if “they” were to do a sequel to The Maltese Falcon (and they sort of did, and it sucked) it would have to pick up a dozen years later with Humphrey Bogart waiting for Mary Astor to get out of prison.

Oh, wait. They did that. It was called Blues Brothers 2000.

Sin City Il Secondo brought us nothing new. The Frank Miller comics-to-movies style is no longer new. It’s been used in most subsequent Frank Miller films. These days, I watch that stuff and I wonder if Lynn Varley gets royalties. Most of the multiple plotlines simply vanish into a haze that is more boring than it is confusing. There’s some truly fine performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Christopher Meloni and Christopher Lloyd, but storywise I’m reminded of what happened when they poured acid on the Toons in Who Killed Roger Rabbit.

Worse still, the amazing thing about the first movie – the surprisingly powerful performance from Mickey Rourke – was just lame. His character was predictable and not engaging and, even worser, his Marv prosthetics weren’t as impressive as they were in the first movie. He looked like he was wearing a Ben Cooper mask.

Sin City Le Deuxième was one of those unfortunate movies that got worse upon reflection. When we left the theater we didn’t particularly feel we wasted our time. With each passing day, that feeling faded and by now I want my time back.

I looked up the opening weekend box office receipts. Sin City Zwei pulled in $24.00. That means: a) we didn’t see it in 3-D, and b) we were the only ones in North America who paid to get in.

And that means the entire rest of North America is smarter than we were.