Man, there’s lots of stuff today. There’s lots of stuff most days. Dr. Satan concludes, Dr. Miles Nervine concludes. In between, brutalism and shoe cartoons.

The snow was gone by noon. The sun came out and beat it to death, so that was good. Mostly I wrote. Now you read. Deal?

Last week Daughter was on a college tour in Chicago (pause to grab the desk, steady self, stunned by time’s swift passage) and has sent back some pictures of places they’ve visited. She did not like the University of Illinois, and sent back pictures of the place to explain why.


I texted her: it was a style called Brutalism, believe it or not. The campus is the only one in the country built entirely in the ghastly style, and they seem rather proud of the fact. It was built all at once in the mid-60s, and you might think its example was enough to put everyone off the idea for the rest of human civilization, but it became the defining style of an era when lots of money was poured into college construction.

This looks like a place for a robed, mutated council to pronounce sentence on a man from the irradiated outlands:

Of course, it has its defenders; everything has its defenders. It has a stark truth, I’ll give it that. The drawings for the project look exactly like the real thing, because the drawings are devoid of the usual romantic projections and angles.

There’s simply no way to make these spaces romantic, and they didn’t want to make them romantic. These were technocratic machines for making technocrats and social scientists. It is possible to be rational and beautiful, but there’s always a certain type of pinched soul drained of wit who distrusts beauty: it cozens and seduces you from the true goal, which is usually some sociopolitical objective. If we have curved, meandering paths and different styles of buildings, the students we produce will have minds so accustomed to disorder they will hesitate to shoot the proletariat when - I mean, they will be unable to properly grasp the need for theories that shape the masses for the betterment of all! Also there should be some shooting. They promised there would be shooting.

What fascinates me: this is the one era in human history where everything they knew about beauty and people’s relationships to structures were completely ignored - cast out, banished, hooted, ridiculed, jettisoned in the name of theory. You may not like a Gothic style, or you may find a 20s office lobby a jumble of classical cliches, but it’s aspirational and historical - they reach forward, upward, and backward. When the Streamline Moderne / Deco mutations took over in the 30s, they were rational and romantic, machine and spirit bound together. Post-war styles were either gleeful and experimental, like Googie, or Miesian mausoleums that nevertheless had a crisp, cosmopolitan confidence - at least in the big lobbies. Acres of white marble, the obligatory Calder, floating steps, black marble by the elevator banks. It was as timeless as a Chanel dress.

But it all went to hell, and it wasn’t young rebellious counter-culture types who did it.

After writing that I googled the architect, and learned a few things. The architect of the campus was in his 40s, and had . . . a Theory. Field Theory, to be exact. He said:

We had a very modern, sixties attitude towards what an urban university should be. We thought it should provide skills and philosophies that would help resolve the urban problem. Of course it didn’t. But the buildings reflected that effort.

Their answer to “the urban problem” was to raze history and replace it with something unmoored from human experience.

Back to that building shown above:

On the top, the organization. In the middle, the group. On the bottom, the individual.

I'm sure that's just a coincidence.


The magazine's illustrations weren't all funny comics about the travails of a cobbler. Now and then they got quite serious about . . .

Man, I'll bet people hung on every word of that subhead, waiting to see what could possibly follow.


Old Man Economics. Look at those faces: this artist did so much with just a few strokes.

You get the sense who the story seems to favor?

That's not Old Man Economics. It's Old Man Boss. Who drew them? We'll find out tomorrow.




We are at present studying the criminal strategies of the man known only as . . .

I hold in my hand . . . the

So he’s holding out for higher wages?

Let’s see where things stand . . . oh nice work Lois


C’mon, she was overpowered and tied up. Not fair to say she failed.

He would, wouldn’t he? You don’t get to be as high up in villainy as Dr. Satan without having good instincts.

In a rather startling break with the form, we don’t see the Copperhead get out of the box. But he calls Lois with a full explanation, masking his voice so she doesn't know the Copperhead is really the other guy in the world with the same build who showed up in her world at the same time as the Copperhead and is also intimately related with the fight against Dr. Satan.

Well, that's a relief! He’s calling from a bar, and wants Lois to call the District Attorney.

Why he doesn’t call the DA, I don’t know.

Well, Dr. Satan’s feeling pretty good about things, and tells the henchmen to go knock off Dr. Scott, the Captive Scientist who is no longer needed. Copperhead sneaks on the truck so he can punch everyone who needs punching, and man, it’s a long list. But how can the Copperhead take on three men?

Never doubt that an old scientist doesn’t realize the immediate need of some chair-cranium interaction.

The good Dr. Scott tells the Copperhead that Dr. Satan has his lair booby-trapped, and he can help the DA get past them. But the DA and his men are already there:


Doesn’t everyone have something like this at home?


End result:


Somehow Dr. Satan regards this as His Greatest Triumph, even though it’s obvious everyone knows where his lab is, what his schemes are, and so on. Well, he lets his Robot out to squeeze everyone to death, one at a time. But the Copperhead is inside the house now, and gets straight to work:


He puts his Copperhead mask on Dr. Satan and puts him the Room of Imminent Squeezing. The Ribbert picks him because the Cupperhed was the main plan-foiler, and needed some robot hugs. Alas, Dr. Satan's henchmen are not at the controls. And so:


There’s a concluding section where Bob Wayne asks Lois, who is a reporter now again I guess, to tell the story of the Copperhead, and how his father got a bad rap, and she says she will, and . . .

Was it the most flamboyant serial? No. No rockets or ray guns, no teleportation, none of that stuff. But it was as solid and entertaining as the genre can provide, and for that we have to thank Dr. Satan. The same year this serial came out, he had a role in the movie Kitty Foyle, and was nominated for an Oscar.

He didn’t get it, but still, that’s an honor.

One more thing: before he was an actor, he went to medical school, and was certified as a physician. That’s right: Dr. Satan wasn’t just an honorific.

Bob Wayne, or Robert Wilcox? Only a few more roles. Drank too much. Died in ’55 in a train berth on his way back home to Rochester New York.

They never made another Copperhead serial.

That'll do! See you around. Dr. Miles Nervine requests your presence for the conclusion of his fun-filled sedative brochure, below.



blog comments powered by Disqus