Story Hour on the Commute
It’s been so long since this happened to us that I forgot it does happen.
Our trusty PT Cruiser that we acquired a few years ago, that’s never given us any trouble at all to speak of, suddenly developed issues. One day, out of the blue, it was extraordinarily difficult to shift gears and I began to have nightmarish visions of the transmission needing to be replaced and all sorts of other horrors.
Pause here to note that I am an English major with zero mechanical ability. I flunked guy school. I can change a tire, but that’s about it. Julie is the one that can do minor shirtsleeve repair jobs on the car. But apart from the fact that we’ve both been down with the flu and the Northwest is getting pounded with snow, ice, and — worst of all, believe me– slashing sideways rain and high winds, this seemed beyond her skills as well. So there was nothing for it but to take it to the shop. Which put me back on the bus as a commuter for a week or so.
I was annoyed at first, but you know what? I found I rather enjoyed it. For one thing, when you’re an older gentleman who walks with a cane, you get the seats up front. And young folks actually will give you their seats– yes, even on my ghetto route where there is the occasional shooting or other mayhem. Other guys in their fifties who freak out and go have affairs or buy sports cars or dye their hair are missing a lot of good stuff… honestly, my bones ache too much most days to run around trying to prove something. Since I decided to just give in gracefully and accept that I’m a gray-haired older guy, life got a lot pleasanter. There is a certain zen dignity in making peace with one’s lot and letting people be nice to you.
But what I found I really enjoyed was that, with an enforced three hours or more every day spent either on the bus or waiting to board a bus, I could get a lot of reading done. I usually managed at least a couple of books a day and put a pretty fair dent in the pile.
I’d been sitting on my nice hardcover reissue of John D. MacDonald’s novel, The Brass Cupcake, for months.
MacDonald was one of the kings of the paperback-original in the 1950s and 60s (a member of the group of writers known as “the Gold Medal guys,” along with Brett Halliday, Donald Hamilton, et al) and it’s only in recent years that he is getting the respect he deserves. I am amusing myself trying to see how many of the MacDonalds I can find in hardcover– he has been a favorite of mine for many years, the Travis McGee series in particular, and I am finally working my way through his stand-alone novels as well. This, his first, was a fine one to start the week with. It was amazingly polished for a first book, and so many of the trademark MacDonald touches were there. Even given that he’d done an apprenticeship in the pulps, it was still an impressive debut and a hell of a fun read.
I generally had a novel and some kind of comics book and I usually alternated. So I knocked off the new hardcover Avengers original by Warren Ellis and Mike McKone, Endless Wartime, too.
That one I really liked a lot. It struck me that of all the people who’ve looked at Warren Ellis and what he did on The Authority and tried to apply that to books like Avengers and JLA, Warren Ellis himself has never done that. His Avengers is different than his Justice League and they’re both different from the Authority, but by God they’re all a lot of fun and each one feels completely authentic to me. I don’t know that this particular hardcover original is twenty bucks’ worth of fun, but I paid less than ten for mine (mail-order including shipping) and for that it was great. I would be a happy man if Marvel and DC did more one-off projects like this.
The interesting thing, though, is that it was a conversation starter on the bus ride, particularly with mothers and their children. Since I am all about kids reading and getting new audiences to take an interest in comics, I would often find myself talking to kids and their mothers about where to find books like this and which ones were ‘okay.’ (My heart broke a little at how shocked people were that there were whole books full of Avengers comics that you could walk into a store and buy. Seriously, a lot of people think that comics are no longer being published at all and the movies are some sort of nostalgia thing.)
I daresay the comics retailer down the street from my bus stop will be getting some new business. I don’t think much of his comics shop but he’s on the bus route and stocks a lot of trades. I hope he can put down his Magic cards long enough that he treats all those moms and kids right. (I did warn the mothers not to expect a lot of guidance from him and that he’s a typical Simpsons Comic Shop Guy, and to be sure they looked at the books themselves.)
But by far the book that got the most inquiries was this one, a “new pulp” collection from Airship 27 featuring the public domain character the Masked Rider.
I’d picked it up on a whim a couple of years ago and was finally getting to it. At the time, I’d known nothing about the Rider at all, but in the intervening years I’d educated myself a little, and so when people asked questions, I was ready. My wife will tell you that I’m incapable of ignoring a question about a book, and to my mild surprise, my fellow passengers seemed really interested. Especially the younger folks, teenagers and kids. I fielded questions about the Masked Rider for a couple of days.
It would usually start with someone taking an interest in the cover. “Is that a book about the Lone Ranger?”
“Almost. The Lone Ranger started in 1933, and The Masked Rider showed up about a year later, in 1934. I think he was supposed to be for the Ranger fans… but really he was more like Zorro. He had an Indian friend named Blue Hawk, like the Ranger had Tonto, but he also had a cape and a secret identity. The Rider was really Wayne Morgan, drifter cowboy.”
“What was his deal?”
“He just fought for justice, but the Masked Rider was way more of a wanted outlaw than the Lone Ranger, kind of a Robin Hood guy. Wayne and Blue Hawk would ride into a town and find bad stuff going on, and they’d stop it and give the money they found to the townspeople or build a school or feed the orphans or something.”
“Was there ever a movie?”
“No, but his magazine did pretty well. Ran well into the 1950s, and he had something like a hundred separate adventures.”
“And the Ranger guys didn’t sue?”
“Naw, there was room for both of them. It was kind of like how DC has Batman and Marvel has Daredevil. And the Ranger was more a radio guy, and later TV. His magazine only lasted seven issues or so.”
“And now they’re in books?”
“Quite a few, actually. There were a whole bunch of them in paperback in the sixties, the Masked Rider was pretty successful.”
“Huh. Can I get these at the library?”
“Not your school library. But the local branch might have the paperbacks. And there’s new paperback collections you can get online, or on your Kindle.”
“Can I look at it?”
And I’d hand it over. I bet I made a few sales, or at least library inquiries, happen.
The odd thing– well, I thought it was odd– is that there were never any Masked Rider comics that I am aware of. At least, not the Wayne Morgan kind. There were a couple of Masked Riders around in the Golden Age, but I can’t figure out if they were based on the pulps or not. The character names were different– one was named Bronc Randall, and the other was Les Wilcox. But that in itself doesn’t mean anything, because sometimes the name didn’t make it across from the pulp version if there was some sort of conflict. Without seeing the stories themselves, I couldn’t tell you.
There was also a Masked Raider out there from Charlton that looked like he might have been similar to Wayne, but again, that’s about all I know.
The Masked Rider– Wayne Morgan, that is, the pulp guy– is now in the public domain, though, so comics are certainly a possibility. Someone should get on that. Judging from the kids I talked to this week on their way to school, a smart publisher could sell some Masked Rider comics if he figured out how to get them in front of those kids. They don’t go to comics shops, but they go to libraries and drugstores.
Also, I can tell you that I ended up doing such a sales job on the Masked Rider pulps, I talked myself into trying to find some more. The hell of it is, when we get the car back on Monday, I probably won’t have time to read them.
See you next week.