Darna, Filipina Superhero

I first heard of the Filipina superheroine Darna many years ago, through a brief glimpse of one of the four Darna movies starring the well-known Filipina actor (and now politician) Vilma Santos. I couldn’t honestly tell you which movie it was, and I never got around to tracking down any of the films, or the 1977 TV series, either. So, as iconic as Darna is in Philippine popular culture, I never knew much about her.

Cover of Pilipino Komiks, May 27, 1950. Darna, a woman in superhero costume, surrounded by snakes and other mysterious creatures.
Click on the cover image to go to the (translated) comic.

I originally thought of her as a sort of Filipina Wonder Woman, a super-powered foe of criminals and evil. But really, she’s more of a Filipina equivalent to Captain Marvel: a super-powered warrior from the planet Marte, who can change places with a young orphan girl named Narda (her “Billy Batson”), whenever Narda calls out her name.

I know this, because I recently came across Darna’s origin story, in Pilipino Komiks, May 1950. The story is written by her creator, Mars Ravelo, and drawn by Nestor Redondo, who went on to work for DC and Marvel in the 1970s and ’80s. The cover that accompanies the scan I found is dated May 27, 1950, but Wikipedia tells me that Narda’s first appearance was in Pilipino Komiks on May 13, 1950. So either this is a mismatched cover, or this May 27 story is to backfill her introduction in a previous issue.

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Do Justly, Now

Do not be daunted
by the enormity
of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated
to complete the work,
but neither are you free
to abandon it.

Commonly attributed to The Talmud. Attributed here to Annesley William Streane (1844-1915), a Cambridge scholar and Old Testament translator and commentator.

This source attributes the quote to Rabbi Tarfon, in the Pirkei Avot, commenting on Micah 6:8. See also this reddit thread. So I suppose the quote must be from Streane’s translation of Tarfon’s commentary.

Either way, it’s a beautiful passage.

The Vengeance of Mark Denton

Golden Age Comics meets Old Time Radio!

Here’s another story from The Unseen, a pre-Code horror comic that I mentioned a few posts back. Wealthy stockbroker Mark Denton is murdered by his wife and her lover. But when his spirit arrives at the river between this world and the next, the ferryman grants him a boon: to return to this world and exact vengeance!


The story’s idea was novel enough that I felt like sharing it, and since it’s public domain, it wasn’t too hard to find online. But then I had another idea!

I fell into the habit a while back of listening to old radio plays while folding laundry. One episode is just the right length for a load, and they are really a lot of fun. So why not adapt this story into a script for a radio play? Not only is that a medium more suitable for a blog, but I’d also been reading another comic collection: Charlton Comics’ thriller anthology series The Mysterious Traveller. And guess what? The Mysterious Traveler is also an old radio show!

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Three Thrillers by Jimmy Sangster

We recently picked up the Indicator Blu-Ray release of Hammer’s 1961 suspense thriller Taste of Fear (known as Scream of Fear in the US—that’s the name I usually use). This is a film I greatly enjoy, and have written about before: a wonderful and underappreciated movie that should be better known than it is.

Jimmy Sangster
Jimmy Sangster (1927-2011)
Source: Wikipedia, Fair Use

After rewatching the film and marvelling at it again, I did a little casual research on the movie, and on its screenwriter, Jimmy Sangster. Sangster is probably best known for writing several of the color gothic horrors in Hammer’s Dracula and Frankenstein franchises, but it seems that suspense and psychological horror were his primary loves. And he also seemed to have some favorite plots and themes. So I discovered, after indulging myself with a Sangster mini-marathon of three films with quite a bit in common.

All of the films I watched feature a young woman, the daughter of a wealthy family, who returns home after a long absence. She has a stepparent she doesn’t quite trust, and someone in the house is missing. When strange things happen, her accounts are dismissed because of her “imaginative”—code for “mentally fragile”—personality. Water motifs figure prominently in all three films, as do exotic locales in two of them (three, if you consider the San Francisco Bay Area “exotic”).

Let’s take a look.

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Tales from The Unseen – The Eternal Stooge


While browsing in a comic book store not too long ago, I picked up a remaindered collection1 of Pre-Code horror comics: several issues of The Unseen (published by Standard Comics) from 1952-1953. Overall, The Unseen isn’t up to the level of an EC Comic; but it was still a fun read.

In addition to the graphic art stories, each issue included a straight-text tale, as well. Most of them were pretty forgettable, but I did find one devil’s-bargain tale that I thought was rather cute, so I transcribed it.

The frustrated straight-man to a famous comedian longs for a serious acting career. He sees his chance in a new Broadway production of Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus. But perhaps he should have waited for a play with a happier ending….

The story’s author is one Irwin Shapiro, who according to the The Grand Comics Database was a comics editor at Pines (the publication house that published Standard Comics) from 1949 to about 1953 (reference here). He seems to have written several straight-text stories for various Standard Comics titles. He may or may not be this Irwin Shapiro, a translator and children’s book author who also adapted several classic literary works for Pendulum Press—a series which eventually evolved into Marvel Classics Illustrated.

Nothing from Standard Comics shows up for the children’s book author either in Wikipedia or in the Grand Comics Database, but it’s still an interesting coincidence.

  1. Pre-Code Classics: The Unseen Volume 1, PS Artbooks, 2017

Illustration from the original publication, illustrator unknown.
Source: Comic Book Plus

Medieval Studies and the Ghost Stories of M.R. James

Medieval Studies and the The Ghost Stories of M.R. James
Patrick J. Murphy
Pennsylvania State University Press, 2017

Medieval Studies and the Ghost Stories of M.R. James

One of the pleasures of reading M.R. James, for me, is the way that his stories inspire me to research. Literary or biblical allusions that I’m not familiar with; elements within the stories that “follow the rules of folklore” in a new and unfamiliar way: I consider delving into the underpinnings and inspirations of a James story to be as enjoyable as the “pleasing terrors” that the tales provide. So this book positively called out to me when I discovered it.

Patrick Murphy teaches medieval literature at Miami University, Ohio, and has published extensively not only on some of the same subjects that interested James, but also on James’s engagement with these subjects in his ghost stories. This book is an exploration of the links between James’s fiction and his scholarly life: his research, his interests, his likely anxieties.

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Quotes from Anthony Boucher

The untapped natural resources of crackpottery in this country…would astonish you. There is a Gresham’s Law of the mass intellect: muddle-headedness inevitably drives out clear thinking. And the political science of the future lies in the control and the application of that law to purposive ends.

That’s Anthony Boucher, from the Nick Noble murder mystery short story “Rumor, Inc.” (1945). A bit prescient, no?

This WWII-era story concerns a group of agents spreading anti-US propaganda in Southern California to subvert the war effort: No real need for West Coast gas rationing; Onion shortage due to government bungling. Mid-twentieth century fake news.

Here’s one more, from Nick Noble himself:

Fascist thinks he’s too strong for democracy. Makes his own laws. The hell with justice; do what’s expedient. The hell with debts; cancel ’em by force. Us, we like justice. We pay debts. Our kind of strength.

The debts under discussion here are “debts to society” — as in “if you commit a crime, you must pay your debt to society.” Let’s hope that is indeed our kind of strength.

More Books at the Library of Babble

I’ve finished loading up a first round of books to my virtual Multo bookshelf. These are all the books that were in my current spreadsheet that had book covers online at the Open Library. The bookshelf template I’m using can load the covers from the Open Library ID. Handy!

Next comes the rest of the spreadsheet: books for which I have to generate a cover image. Then, I have to finish populating the spreadsheet, with the remaining entries from 2012 and 2011.

Progress! Do check it out.