Friday, December 8, 2017

Thoughts on Being the Rare Person Who Admits to Liking Avatar

I don't like to see movies by myself. I make exceptions, as when I discovered I had a narrow window to see Shin Godzilla and no time to alert any friends - but typically I go to the movies when I have a friend who wants to join me. On rare occasions, I've seen a film with my friends then later that month seen the film a second time with members of my family. I very seldom see a film 3 times in the theater.

One exception is James Cameron's Avatar. The first time I saw it a friend had invited me. The next two times I was the one inviting people to see it with me. I truly liked this movie and I continue to enjoy it. I delayed purchasing the DVD of the film because I wanted to wait for the limited collector's edition so that I could be sure I was getting the most complete version of the film for my library. I watch it at least once each year.

Don't get me wrong, the longest version of Avatar is not better than the theatrical cut - in fact, the longer cut serves as proof of Cameron's instincts in terms of what to leave out of his film. The theatrical cut is tighter and less flabby - the collector's edition cut exists just for the sake of Avatar fans who wanted more footage - people such as me.

I came onboard with the film without seeing any of the promotion (which is easy to do when you don't watch television). I didn't see the trailer until the day after I first saw the movie - I became convinced I should see the picture after hearing Cameron speak about it at San Diego Comic-Con. Hearing him talk about the work which went into making the picture left me impressed and certain that, as a fan of films, it would be of some interest to me.

Yes, I have heard the nitpicks. Yes, I have heard all the "Dances with Smurfs" jokes. Despite the film being the all-time box office grosser, there are many corners of the internet which despise this film. Nathan Rabin featured Avatar in his Forgotbusters column at the Dissolve, in spite of the fact that the stated purpose of 'Forgotbusters' was to explore top-grossing films which had been 'forgotten.' Avatar, as a film with planned sequels, continued merchandising and a still-active theme park, can't be said to be 'forgotten' in the way other entries in his series were - he bent the rules of his column because of his own distaste for the film. Likewise Forbes posted a well-circulated editorial titled "Five Year Ago, 'Avatar' Grossed $2.7 Billion But Left No Pop Culture Footprint". Many were and are skeptical of the sequels and remain incredulous that the film was the successful production it ended up being. As those sequels come nearer, I imagine there will be more articles such as those two.

And yet, Cameron seems to be 100% aware of these criticisms as he goes forward with the sequels: "Let’s face it, if Avatar 2 and 3 don’t make enough money, there’s not going to be a 4 and 5" he told Vanity Fair recently, also casting this shade:

"Basically, if you loved the first movie, you’re gonna love these movies, and if you hated it, you’re probably gonna hate these. If you loved it at the time, and you said later you hated it, you’re probably gonna love these."

Now taking all of this into account, here's how I feel about the sequels:

  • I will go see the 2nd film in the theater BUT
  • I'm not particularly engaged with the idea of a sequel either.

Again, I like Avatar enough to watch it once per year, but I don't want to see the film remade - that is, I don't want the sequel to replay the same narrative; if it's about the company trying to exploit Pandora and Jake having to band the Na'vi together again, I can't promise I'll enjoy it. Revisiting the same plot as the first film would be the easy path to a sequel - that's why sequels are so very often underwhelming. I suppose my hope is that - as Avatar was inspired by the John Carter* novels - that like John Carter there will be something else fascinating and adventurous to discover over the next hill on the planet.

So yeah, I'm part of the 'silent majority' who enjoyed Avatar. Yet even I'm uncertain about these sequels.




*=By the way, I liked the John Carter film too. Yeah, I don't really have a place at film fansites, do I?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Now at Comixology: Marvel Monsters: From the Files of Ulysses Bloodstone!

Comixology is now selling copies of Marvel Monters: From the Files of Ulysses Bloodstone and the Monster Hunters, a 'files' format book which I created as head writer back in 2005 as a participation in Marvel's "Marvel Monsters" month-long event. It sported a nifty cover by Eric Powell and its conceit is that it compiles a variety of profiles on giant monsters in the voices of Ulysses Bloodstone and his fellow Monster Hunters.

The solicitation:

Creatures on the loose! This volume contains in-depth bios on a cadre of classic creatures, from Blip to Zzutak, as catalogued by the famed Monster Hunters themselves – including Ulysses Bloodstone, Dr. Druid, Makkari the Eternal, Namora of Atlantis and Zawadi of Wakanda! With updates by Elsa Bloodstone, modern-day monster hunter and daughter of Ulysses! Highlights include Devil Dinosaur, Fin Fang Foom, Goom, It the Living Colossus, Krakoa, Orrgo, Red Ronin, Scarlet Beetle, Spragg the Living Hill, Tim Boo Ba, Van Doom’s monster and Xemnu the Titan.

I remain very proud of this book. Go buy a copy from Comixology! Only $1.99 USD! Cheap! Tell 'em Gomdulla sent ya!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thinking back on Planet Hulk

Thanks to the new film Thor: Ragnarok borrowing a few ideas from the comic book storyline "Planet Hulk", that story is hopefully acquiring a few new fans. As a fan of that story, I was a little disappointed that such a rich tale was barely tapped into at all for the film, as it could have anchored a motion picture of its own. Let's take a moment to look back on Planet Hulk together.

When the storyline "Planet Hulk" began running in Incredible Hulk #92 (2006), I was at the time a freelance employee of Marvel Comics working on the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and related projects. At the time, Marvel didn't supply me with comps of all their titles so I had to spend my own money on their new products. Usually I only purchased books which I needed for research and as our staff of writers had each eaked out particular corners of the Marvel Universe, the Hulk was one such character I could safely set aside. My friend Anthony Flamini had the Hulk material under control at the time as he wrote the book Planet Hulk: Gladiator's Guidebook.

I hadn't been reading the Hulk for a very long time - this was just after a brief, unlamented 2nd run by Peter David, but I hadn't followed the book regularly since that author's 1st run had ended the previous decade. Then and now, the Hulk was a character who I could enjoy, but it depended on the creators. The creative team for Planet Hulk of writer Greg Pak & artist Carlo Pagulayan made almost no impact on me. I knew Pak only for a revamp of Adam Warlock which I hadn't liked at all and Pagulayan I wasn't familiar with. The concept which was being promoted - that the Hulk goes into space and becomes a gladiator - didn't thrill me.

Fortunately for me, one of my areas of expertise in the Marvel Universe were the alien race the Kronans and I came into Planet Hulk when Kronans appeared in the 2nd chapter (I wrote an entry on the Kronans for the Marvel Appendix). I had previously thought Planet Hulk was using only new alien races and was pleasantly surprised to discover that although Sakaar was a new environment with its own history it had ties to familiar Marvel aliens like the Kronans and Brood. The trappings of the Marvel Universe can at times feel like they've been so set in stone that no new significant corners of said universe can be revealed without seeming out-of-place. Sakaar not only proved to have a very well-thought-out and interesting history which was slowly expanded on throughout Pak's stories, but also a unique mythos (everything to do with the stone priests and repeated mantras such as "Sakaarson, hear my cry..." or "May he who dies, die well.") and weight within the larger Marvel Universe via the use of the Brood, Kronans and Silver Surfer.

Pak was coming to the Incredible Hulk at a time when Marvel's comics were largely segregated from each other (although Civil War was primed to change all that). There was not a great sense of continuity from one creator to another as popular writers like Brian Michael Bendis didn't particularly care about whether their characterizations of Marvel characters held with prior interpretations. This is one way in which Pak's characterization of the Hulk was a nice surprise as Pak invoked continuity within Planet Hulk's first four-parter, noting how when the Hulk first met the Silver Surfer he had asked the Surfer to bring him to another world. This was some incredible continuity-fu Pak employed, giving added weight to the idea of the Hulk making an alien world his new home.

Pak has said at various times that his take on the Hulk's theme is "the price of anger" -- that however cathartic it might feel to see the Hulk tear down a deserving foe (namely the Red King in Planet Hulk), eventually there is a price for that violence. In the case of Planet Hulk, the Hulk's own decisions and actions set into motion the climax in which his queen Caiera is murdered, thus setting up Pak's World War Hulk and Skaar: Son of Hulk. Planet Hulk is a tragedy.

...And yet, it is a tale of many tones. There are spectacular action scenes of the Hulk and his Warbound surfing across a bed of lava and battling hordes of zombiefied Spike; there's the gentle humour of Miek in the early chapters, or the sardonic robot ARCH-E-5912; the fire-forged bond of friendship between the Warbound which helps the reader care for the Hulk's allies Korg, Miek, Elloe Kaifi, Hiroim and No-Name.

But yes, ultimately it's a tragedy. There are haunting images of Caiera holding a child which is burned until it crumbles in her arms; Miek's own tale is a tragedy run in parallel to the Hulk's as the Hulk doesn't see how Miek is adopting his values for himself and Miek's inability to cope without an enemy to fight leads to the greatest tragedy in the story's conclusion.

Then and now I give Planet Hulk high marks for the emotions it provokes in me. I enjoy the high adventure of seeing the Hulk as a gladiator, rebel and king; I love the Warbound, particularly Korg and Hiroim; the Silver Surfer's farewell to the Hulk is a heart-warming occasion; so is the Hulk choosing to become Banner for Caiera. Planet Hulk is ultimately my favourite Marvel super hero comic of the 21st century so far. If you still haven't checked it out, please do.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Creator credits for the Punisher (season 1)

Netflix has another of those Marvel programs up; this time, it's the Punisher's turn. Although my name has appeared in proximity to the character (as googling will bear out) I've never been particularly fond of the character. Even so, man, the Netflix version is almost unrecognizable. Short list of comic book material this time, fellas.

All the same, contact me if I forgot something and check my complete Marvel Cinematic Universe list here.

Ross Andru: co-creator of the Punisher, a war veteran who becomes a vigilante, wearing a black costume with white skull design on his chest and wielding vast arsenal of firearms and explosives in a one-man war on crime (Amazing Spider-Man #129, 1974); of Jigsaw, the Punisher's greatest enemy, a criminal who survived a near-fatal encounter with the Punisher but had his face slashed apart by glass, disfiguring him (Amazing Spider-Man #162, 1976); of the Punisher maintaining safehouses; the Punisher carrying his arsenal within a custom van (Giant-Size Spider-Man #4, 1975)

Gerry Conway: co-creator of the Punisher, a war veteran who becomes a vigilante, wearing a black costume with white skull design on his chest and wielding vast arsenal of firearms and explosives in a one-man war on crime (Amazing Spider-Man #129, 1974); of Frank Castle becoming the Punisher after happening upon criminals in a park who set off a gunfight which killed his wife Maria, daughter Lisa and son Frank Jr. (Marvel Preview #2, 1975); of the Punisher maintaining safehouses; the Punisher carrying his arsenal within a custom van (Giant-Size Spider-Man #4, 1975)

Mike Baron: co-creator of the Punisher wearing a trenchcoat overtop his costume; of Curtis Hoyle, a one-time member of Frank Castle's unit who became used in recruiting former soldiers for a non-army operation (Punisher #1, 1987); of Micro, David Lieberman, a reclusive, tech-savvy ally of the Punisher who supplies him with weapons and information (Punisher #4, 1987); of Senator Stan Ori, a government official opposed to the Punisher; of Frank Castle related to Sicilians; of Frank Castle using the name "Castiglione" (Punisher War Journal #25, 1990)

Klaus Janson: co-creator of the Punisher wearing a trenchcoat overtop his costume; of Curtis Hoyle, a one-time member of Frank Castle's unit who became used in recruiting former soldiers for a non-army operation (Punisher #1, 1987); of Micro, David Lieberman, a reclusive, tech-savvy ally of the Punisher who supplies him with weapons and information (Punisher #4, 1987)

Garth Ennis: co-creator of Frank Castle preferring warfare to a civilian life (Born #1, 2003); of the phrase "welcome back, Frank" (Punisher #1, 2000); of William Rawlins, a one-eyed operative of the U.S. government who used his resources to falsify data and combat the Punisher (Punisher #14, 2005); of the Punisher murdering Rawlins (Punisher #42, 2007)

John Romita: co-creator of the Punisher, a war veteran who becomes a vigilante, wearing a black costume with white skull design on his chest and wielding vast arsenal of firearms and explosives in a one-man war on crime (Amazing Spider-Man #129, 1974); of the Kingpin of Crime, a New York mob boss (Amazing Spider-Man #50, 1967)

Len Wein: co-creator of Jigsaw, the Punisher's greatest enemy, a criminal who survived a near-fatal encounter with the Punisher but had his face slashed apart by glass, disfiguring him (Amazing Spider-Man #162, 1976)

Mark Texeira: co-creator of Senator Stan Ori, a government official opposed to the Punisher; of Frank Castle related to Sicilians; of Frank Castle using the name "Castiglione" (Punisher War Journal #25, 1990)

Tony DeZuniga: co-creator of Frank Castle becoming the Punisher after happening upon criminals in a park who set off a gunfight which killed his wife Maria, daughter Lisa and son Frank Jr. (Marvel Preview #2, 1975)

John Wellington: co-creator of Colonel Ray Schoonover, Frank Castle's superior officer during his military service; Schoonover becoming a drug dealer, killed by the Punisher (Punisher War Journal #4, 1989)

Carl Potts: co-creator of Colonel Ray Schoonover, Frank Castle's superior officer during his military service; Schoonover becoming a drug dealer, killed by the Punisher (Punisher War Journal #4, 1989)

Jim Lee: co-creator of Colonel Ray Schoonover, Frank Castle's superior officer during his military service; Schoonover becoming a drug dealer, killed by the Punisher (Punisher War Journal #4, 1989)

Dougie Braithwaite: co-creator of William Rawlins, a one-eyed operative of the U.S. government who used his resources to falsify data and combat the Punisher (Punisher #14, 2005)

Stan Lee: co-creator of Karen Page, a blonde legal secretary (Daredevil #1, 1964); of the Kingpin of Crime, a New York mob boss (Amazing Spider-Man #50, 1967)

Marc Guggenheim: co-creator of Brett Mahoney, a police detective (Marvel Comics Presents #1, 2007)

Marco Checchetto: co-creator of Frank Castle as a veteran of Middle Eastern conflicts (Punisher #4, 2011)

John Ostrander: co-creator of Frank Castle growing a beard while living anonymously (Punisher #17, 1997)

Bil Mantlo: co-creator of Frank Castle suffering from mental problems (Spectacular Spider-Man #81, 1983)

Al Milgrom: co-creator of Frank Castle suffering from mental problems (Spectacular Spider-Man #81, 1983)

Dave Wilkins: co-creator of Brett Mahoney, a police detective (Marvel Comics Presents #1, 2007)

Gene Colan: co-creator of Turk Barrett, a gangster who fights Daredevil (Daredevil #69, 1970)

Roy Thomas: co-creator of Turk Barrett, a gangster who fights Daredevil (Daredevil #69, 1970)

Greg Rucka: co-creator of Frank Castle as a veteran of Middle Eastern conflicts (Punisher #4, 2011)

Darick Robertson: co-creator of Frank Castle preferring warfare to a civilian life (Born #1, 2003)

Tom Lyle: co-creator of Frank Castle growing a beard while living anonymously (Punisher #17, 1997)

Bill Everett: co-creator of Karen Page, a blonde legal secretary (Daredevil #1, 1964)

Dale Eaglesham: co-creator of Billy Russo, Jigsaw's true name (Punisher: Year One #3, 1995)

Andy Lanning: co-creator of Billy Russo, Jigsaw's true name (Punisher: Year One #3, 1995)

Dan Abnett: co-creator of Billy Russo, Jigsaw's true name (Punisher: Year One #3, 1995)

Leandro Fernandez: co-creator of the Punisher murdering Rawlins (Punisher #42, 2007)

Steve Dillon: co-creator of the phrase "welcome back, Frank" (Punisher #1, 2000)

Frank Miller: creator of Wilson Fisk's name (Daredevil #170, 1981)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok creator credits

Once again, here's a list of where all the comic book elements in a Marvel Cinematic Universe originated from. Corrections & additions are always welcome! My master list is kept here.

Jason Aaron: co-creator of Doctor Strange wearing a buttoned-down version of his blue shirt (Doctor Strange #1, 2015); of Thor having a sister he didn't know of (Original Sin #5.1, 2014); of Thor with his hair cut short (The Unworthy Thor #2, 2017)

Chris Bachalo: co-creator of Doctor Strange wearing a buttoned-down version of his blue shirt (Doctor Strange #1, 2015)

Daniel Berman: co-creator of Fandral and Hogun perishing in the events of Ragnarok (Thor #82, 2004); of Thor losing an eye during the events of Ragnarok (Thor #84, 2004); of Thor permitting Surtur to destroy Asgard so that he could vanquish a greater threat; of Volstagg perishing in Ragnarok (Thor #85, 2004)

Robert Bernstein: co-creator of Frigga, queen of Asgard, mother to Thor & Loki; of the Valkyrie, an order of Asgardian warrior woman who ride flying horses (Journey into Mystery #92, 1963); of Thor's ability to channel lightning through his body even when separated from Mjolnir (Journey into Mystery #93, 1963); of Loki trying to usurp Odin's throne (Journey into Mystery #94, 1963)

John Buscema: co-creator of Ultron, the Avengers' enemy (Avengers #54, 1968); of Quinjets, the personal aircraft of the Avengers (Avengers #61, 1969); of Odin having only one eye (Thor #274, 1978); of Gungnir, Odin's great spear (Thor#275, 1978)

Sal Buscema: co-creator of Grandmaster, a cosmic being dressed in yellow clothes with pointed white hair and blue colouring; Grandmaster's obsession with games, often pitting superhuman people against each other (Avengers #69, 1969); of Valkyrie and the Hulk as allies (Defenders #4, 1973); of Valkyrie's enchanted sword Dragonfang (Defenders #12, 1974)

John Byrne: creator of Thor called "Odinson" (Namor the Sub-Mariner#13, 1991)

Olivier Coipel: co-creator of Thor with his hair cut short (The Unworthy Thor #2, 2017)

Gene Colan: co-creator of Doctor Strange's Sanctum being located at 177A Bleecker Street (Doctor Strange #182, 1969)

Gerry Conway: co-creator of the Man-Thing, a monstrous character (Savage Tales #1, 1971)

Tom DeFalco: co-creator of the Revengers, a team named in reaction to the Avengers (A-Next #12, 1998); of Mjolnir being shattered by an immensely powerful foe (Thor #388, 1988)

Steve Ditko: co-creator of Doctor Strange, a sorcerer based out of a sanctum in Greenwich Village who wages war against mystical forces of evil; Strange wearing a blue shirt and orange gloves; the Sanctum's window bearing a symbol with two curved lines pierced by a third line; of Doctor Strange's golden amulet (Strange Tales #110, 1963); of Doctor Strange wearing a magical cape (Strange Tales #114, 1963); of Doctor Strange opposing Loki (Strange Tales #123, 1964); of Doctor Strange's red Cloak of Levitation and round amulet (Strange Tales #127, 1964); of Banner transforming into the Hulk during periods of high emotional stress; of the Hulk having a savage or childlike disposition (Tales to Astonish #60, 1964)

Andrea DiVito: co-creator of Fandral and Hogun perishing in the events of Ragnarok (Thor #82, 2004); of Thor losing an eye during the events of Ragnarok (Thor #84, 2004); of Thor permitting Surtur to destroy Asgard so that he could vanquish a greater threat; of Volstagg perishing in Ragnarok (Thor #85, 2004)

Steve Englehart: co-creator of the Black Widow as an Avenger (Avengers #111, 1973); of Valkyrie and the Hulk as allies (Defenders #4, 1973); of the Bi-Beast, a two-headed creature (Incredible Hulk #169, 1973)

Al Ewing: co-creator of Thor having a sister he didn't know of (Original Sin #5.1, 2014); of Loki's headband with horns (Loki: Agent of Asgard #1, 2014)

Ron Frenz: co-creator of the Revengers, a team named in reaction to the Avengers (A-Next #12, 1998); of Mjolnir being shattered by an immensely powerful foe (Thor #388, 1988)

Gary Friedrich: co-creator of Hulk's stated desire to be left alone (Incredible Hulk #102, 1968)

Lee Garbett: co-creator of Thor having a sister he didn't know of (Original Sin #5.1, 2014); of Loki's headband with horns (Loki: Agent of Asgard #1, 2014)

Keith Giffen: co-creator of Valkyrie wearing silver armor (Defenders #47, 1977)

Steven Grant: co-creator of the Grandmaster holding a "Contest of Champions" in which superhumans are pit against each other for the sake of his games; Thor and Hulk as contestants in the Grandmaster's game (Marvel Super-Hero Contest of Champions #1, 1982)

Mark Gruenwald: co-creator of the Grandmaster holding a "Contest of Champions" in which superhumans are pit against each other for the sake of his games; Thor and Hulk as contestants in the Grandmaster's game (Marvel Super-Hero Contest of Champions #1, 1982); of the name for the Kronans, an extraterrestrial race of rock-like creatures (Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #5, 1983)

Don Heck: co-creator of the Black Widow as an Avenger (Avengers #111, 1973); of Tony Stark, a wealthy industrialist who became a hero (Tales of Suspense #39, 1963); of the Black Widow, alias Natasha Romanoff (Tales of Suspense #52, 1964)

Dan Jurgens: co-creator of Loki impersonating Odin to claim the throne of Asgard (Thor #16, 1999)

Gil Kane: co-creator of the Soul Gem, from which the Infinty Gems were derived (Marvel Premiere#1, 1970)

Jack Kirby: co-creator of the Avengers, a team of super heroes including Thor, Hulk & Tony Stark, Loki battling the Avengers (Avengers #1, 1963); of Hulk battling Thor (Avengers #3, 1964); of the Hulk, Bruce Banner, a physicist who transforms into a massive, brutish creature with superhuman strength; the Hulk describing others as "puny" (Incredible Hulk #1, 1962); of the Hulk having green skin (Incredible Hulk #2, 1962); of the Hulk traveling vast distances by leaping (Incredible Hulk #3, 1962); of Thor, Asgardian god of thunder whose hammer Mjolnir can control weather and has a worthiness enchantment which prevents others from lifting it; Thor's silver helmet, red cape and blue bodysuit; Thor encountering extraterrestrials made of stone (Journey into Mystery #83, 1962); of Jane Foster, Thor's mortal love interest (Journey into Mystery #84, 1962); of Loki, Thor's evil brother who possesses the power to cast illusions and wears green/yellow; Loki's horned helmet; Asgard, home of the Norse Gods which connects to Earth via the rainbow bridge Bifrost; Heimdall, guardian of Bifrost; Odin, father of Loki & Thor (Journey into Mystery #85, 1962); of Thor's ability to channel lightning through his body even when separated from Mjolnir (Journey into Mystery #93, 1963); of the Frost Giants, creatures from the Nine Worlds; of Surtur, the immense fire demon who an enemy to all of Asgard (Journey into Mystery #97, 1963); of Sif, female Asgardian warrior, love interest to Thor; of Hela, Asgardian goddess of death; Hela's green costume, cape and large black headdress (Journey into Mystery #102, 1964); of Asgardians piloting sky ships; of Skurge the Executioner, an Asgardian warrior who wields an axe, wears blue armour and opposes Thor; Skurge's black beard and tattoos (Journey into Mystery #103, 1964); of Laufey, Loki's father, a giant; of Odin adopting Loki as Thor's foster brother; of the Hulk's fans waving banners and signs in a Hulk vs. Thor contest (Journey into Mystery #112, 1965); of Thor and Loki being friends in their youth (Journey into Mystery #113, 1965); of the Fenris Wolf, an immense Asgardian wolf (Journey into Mystery #114, 1965); of Volstagg, a red-haired, overweight and jovial Asgardian warrior; Hogun, a mostly-silent grim-faced and dark-haired Asgardian; and Fandral, a blond-haired dashing, adventurous Asgardian clad in green (Journey into Mystery #119, 1965); of Loki seeking to rule Asgard; Asgard possessing advanced technology (Journey into Mystery #120, 1965); of Tony Stark, a wealthy industrialist who became a hero (Tales of Suspense #39, 1963); of the Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff (Tales of Suspense #52, 1964); of the Cosmic Cube, a massively powerful artifact (Tales of Suspense #79, 1966); of Earth referred to as Midgard by Asgardians (Thor #126, 1966); of the prophecies of Ragnarok in which Asgard will be destroyed (Thor #127, 1966); of Surtur being the one to finally destroy Asgard at Ragnarok (Thor #128, 1966); of Ares, god of war (Thor #129, 1966)

David Anthony Kraft: co-creator of Valkyrie wearing silver armor (Defenders #47, 1977)

Stan Lee: co-creator of the Black Widow's red hair (Amazing Spider-Man #86, 1970); of the Avengers, a team of super heroes including Thor, Hulk & Tony Stark, Loki battling the Avengers (Avengers #1, 1963); of Hulk battling Thor (Avengers #3, 1964); of the Hulk, Bruce Banner, a physicist who transforms into a massive, brutish creature with superhuman strength; the Hulk describing others as "puny" (Incredible Hulk #1, 1962); of the Hulk colored green (Incredible Hulk #2, 1962); of the Hulk traveling vast distances by leaping (Incredible Hulk #3, 1962); of Thor, Norse god of thunder, defender of Earth, wields hammer Mjolnir which can control storms, always returns to his hand and can only be lifted by those who are worthy of its power; Thor's silver helmet, blue costume, bare arms and red cape; Thor encountering extraterrestrials made of stone (Journey into Mystery #83, 1962); of Jane Foster, Thor's mortal love interest (Journey into Mystery #84, 1962); of Loki, Thor's evil brother who possesses the power to cast illusions and wears green/yellow; Loki's horned helmet; Asgard, home of the Norse Gods which connects to Earth via the rainbow bridge Bifrost; Heimdall, guardian of Bifrost; Odin, father of Loki & Thor (Journey into Mystery#85, 1962); of Frigga, queen of Asgard, mother to Thor & Loki; of the Valkyrie, an order of Asgardian warrior woman who ride flying horses (Journey into Mystery #92, 1963); of Thor's ability to channel lightning through his body even when separated from Mjolnir (Journey into Mystery #93, 1963); of Loki trying to usurp Odin's throne (Journey into Mystery #94, 1963); of the Frost Giants, creatures from the Nine Worlds; of Surtur, the immense fire demon who an enemy to all of Asgard (Journey into Mystery #97, 1963); of Sif, female Asgardian warrior, love interest to Thor; of Hela, Asgardian goddess of death; Hela's green costume, cape and large black headdress (Journey into Mystery #102, 1964); of Asgardians piloting sky ships; of Skurge the Executioner, an Asgardian warrior who wields an axe, wears blue armour and opposes Thor; Skurge's black beard and tattoos (Journey into Mystery #103, 1964); of Laufey, Loki's father, a giant; of Odin adopting Loki to be Thor's foster brother; of the Hulk's fans waving banners and signs in a Hulk vs. Thor contest (Journey into Mystery #112, 1965); of Thor and Loki being friends in their youth (Journey into Mystery #113, 1965); of the Fenris Wolf, an immense Asgardian wolf (Journey into Mystery #114, 1965); of Volstagg, a red-haired, overweight and jovial Asgardian warrior with a wife and several children; Hogun, a mostly-silent grim-faced and dark-haired Asgardian; and Fandral, a blond, green-clad, dashing, adventurous Asgardian (Journey into Mystery #119, 1965); of Loki seeking to rule Asgard; Asgard possessing advanced technology (Journey into Mystery #120, 1965); of Doctor Strange, a sorcerer based out of a sanctum in Greenwich Village who wages war against mystical forces of evil; Strange wearing a blue shirt and orange gloves; the Sanctum's window bearing a symbol with two curved lines pierced by a third line; of Doctor Strange's golden amulet (Strange Tales #110, 1963); of Doctor Strange wearing a magical cape (Strange Tales #114, 1963); of Doctor Strange opposing Loki (Strange Tales #123, 1964); of Doctor Strange's red Cloak of Levitation and round amulet (Strange Tales #127, 1964); of Tony Stark, a wealthy industrialist who became a hero (Tales of Suspense #39, 1963); of the Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff (Tales of Suspense #52, 1964); of the Cosmic Cube, a massively powerful artifact (Tales of Suspense #79, 1966); of Banner transforming into the Hulk during periods of high emotional stress; of the Hulk having a savage or childlike disposition (Tales to Astonish #60, 1964); of Earth referred to as Midgard by Asgardians (Thor #126, 1966); of the prophecies of Ragnarok in which Asgard will be destroyed (Thor #127, 1966); of Surtur being the one to finally destroy Asgard at Ragnarok (Thor #128, 1966); of Ares, god of war (Thor #129, 1966)

Larry Lieber: co-creator of Thor, Norse god of thunder, defender of Earth, wields hammer Mjolnir which can control storms, can only be lifted by those who are worthy and always returns to his hand; Thor's silver helmet, blue costume, bare arms and red cape; Thor encountering extraterrestrials made of stone (Journey into Mystery #83, 1962); of Jane Foster, Thor's mortal love interest (Journey into Mystery #84, 1962); of Loki, Thor's wicked brother who has the power to cast illusions; Loki's green & yellow clothing, horned helmet; of Asgard, the realm where Thor lives; Bifrost, the rainbow bridge which connects Asgard to other worlds; Odin, lord of Asgard, father of Thor and Loki; Heimdall, guardian of Bifrost (Journey into Mystery #85, 1962); of Tony Stark, a wealthy industrialist who became a hero (Tales of Suspense #39, 1963)

Ron Lim: co-creator of the Infinity Gems, six all-powerful stones wielded together as the Infinity Gauntlet (Thanos Quest #1, 1990)

William Messner-Loebs: co-creator of Odin being temporarily stranded on Earth in a mortal identity (Thor #497, 1996)

Bill Mantlo: co-creator of the Grandmaster holding a "Contest of Champions" in which superhumans are pit against each other for the sake of his games; Thor and Hulk as contestants in the Grandmaster's game (Marvel Super-Hero Contest of Champions #1, 1982)

Gray Morrow: co-creator of the Man-Thing, a monstrous character (Savage Tales #1, 1971)

Michael Avon Oeming: co-creator of Fandral and Hogun perishing in the events of Ragnarok (Thor #82, 2004); of Thor losing an eye during the events of Ragnarok (Thor #84, 2004); of Thor permitting Surtur to destroy Asgard so that he could vanquish a greater threat; of Volstagg perishing in Ragnarok (Thor #85, 2004)

Carlo Pagulayan: co-creator of Sakaar, an alien world which has a portal that has drawn various people from across the universe to the planet; the Hulk brought to Sakaar; Miek, an insectoid gladiator warrior on Sakaar; slaves on Sakaar controlled with discs pinned to their skin (Incredible Hulk #92, 2006); of Korg, a Kronan serve as a gladiator on Sakaar; Korg encountering Thor, Hulk and Miek (Incredible Hulk #93, 2006); of the Hulk donning full gladiator regalia including a feathered helm (Incredible Hulk #94, 2006); of Korg and Miek becoming revolutionaries; of the Hulk encountering an old ally from Earth in Sakaar's gladiator arena (Incredible Hulk #95, 2006)

Greg Pak: co-creator of Sakaar, an alien world which has a portal that has drawn various people from across the universe to the planet; the Hulk brought to Sakaar; Miek, an insectoid gladiator warrior on Sakaar; slaves on Sakaar controlled with discs pinned to their skin (Incredible Hulk #92, 2006); of Korg, a Kronan serve as a gladiator on Sakaar; Korg encountering Thor, Hulk and Miek (Incredible Hulk #93, 2006); of the Hulk donning full gladiator regalia including a feathered helm (Incredible Hulk #94, 2006); of Korg and Miek becoming revolutionaries; of the Hulk encountering an old ally from Earth in Sakaar's gladiator arena (Incredible Hulk #95, 2006)

Keith Pollard: co-creator of the planet Xandar (Fantastic Four #205, 1979)

Don Rico: co-creator of the Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff (Tales of Suspense #52, 1964)

John Romita: co-creator of the Black Widow's red hair (Amazing Spider-Man #86, 1970)

John Romita Jr.: co-creator of the Grandmaster holding a "Contest of Champions" in which superhumans are pit against each other for the sake of his games; Thor and Hulk as contestants in the Grandmaster's game (Marvel Super-Hero Contest of Champions #1, 1982); of Loki impersonating Odin to claim the throne of Asgard (Thor #16, 1999)

Luke Ross: co-creator of Odin being temporarily stranded on Earth in a mortal identity (Thor #497, 1996)

Marie Severin: co-creator of Hulk's stated desire to be left alone (Incredible Hulk #102, 1968)

Walter Simonson: creator of Beta Ray Bill, an extraterrestrial warrior whose skull is shaped like a horse (Thor #337, 1983); of the Eternal Flame, a mystical flame in Odin's custody; of Surtur needing to forge his sword in the Eternal Flame in order to destroy Asgard (Thor #349, 1984); of Odin dying before Loki and Thor's eyes (Thor #353, 1985); of Hela reclaiming her power without Odin to oppose her (Thor #354, 1985); of Thor forcing Loki to undo one of his spells by holding Loki by the neck while summoning Mjolnir to return to his hand (Thor #359, 1985); of Skurge the Executioner having a change of heart and giving his life to hold a bridge against Hela's army of the dead, dual-wielding two machine guns to destroy the dead soldiers, then wielding them as clubs when his ammunition runs out; of Skurge seen clubbing the dead from atop an immense pile of soldiers (Thor #362, 1985); of Loki's magic transforming Thor into a frog (Thor #363, 1986); of Thor wearing a beard (Thor #367, 1986)

Joe Sinnott: co-creator of Frigga, queen of Asgard, mother to Thor & Loki; of the Valkyrie, an order of Asgardian warrior woman who ride flying horses (Journey into Mystery #92, 1963); of Loki trying to usurp Odin's throne (Journey into Mystery #94, 1963)

Jim Starlin: co-creator of the Infinity Gems, six all-powerful stones wielded together as the Infinity Gauntlet (Thanos Quest #1, 1990)

Roy Thomas: co-creator of Ultron, the Avengers' enemy (Avengers #54, 1968); of Grandmaster, a cosmic being dressed in yellow clothes with pointed white hair and blue colouring; Grandmaster's obsession with games, often pitting superhuman people against each other (Avengers #69, 1969); of Doctor Strange's Sanctum being located at 177A Bleecker Street (Doctor Strange #182, 1969); of the Night-Crawler, an otherworldly creature (Incredible Hulk #126, 1970); of Valkyrie, an Asgardian warrior woman who encounters the Hulk (Incredible Hulk #142, 1971); of the Soul Gem, from which the Infinty Gems were derived (Marvel Premiere #1, 1970); of the Man-Thing, a monstrous character (Savage Tales #1, 1971); Odin having only one eye (Thor #274, 1978); of Gungnir, Odin's great spear (Thor #275, 1978); of Thor and Hulk joining forces to battle Hela (Thor #489, 1995)

Herb Trimpe: co-creator of the Night-Crawler, an otherworldly creature (Incredible Hulk #126, 1970); of Valkyrie, an Asgardian warrior woman who encounters the Hulk (Incredible Hulk #142, 1971); of the Bi-Beast, a two-headed creature (Incredible Hulk #169, 1973)

Len Wein: co-creator of Valkyrie's enchanted sword Dragonfang (Defenders #12, 1974)

Marv Wolfman: co-creator of the planet Xandar (Fantastic Four #205, 1979)

M. C. Wyman: co-creator of Thor and Hulk joining forces to battle Hela (Thor #489, 1995)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Remembering Bert Christman

Today being Remembrance Day, as a comic book scholar the most appropriate person to think of must be Bert Christman. Many comic book creators entered the military during World War 2, some even saw combat - but Christman is the only one I know of who lost his life.

Christman's career in comics was a brief one as the medium was only in its infancy when he left it. In 1936 he created a feature titled "The Spinner" in which a police detective would relate unusual cases from his career to listeners. The Spinner spun about into various magazines under the Centaur imprint and others.

The big development for Christman's career in 1936 came when the famous photorealist artist Noel Sickles left his newspaper strip Scorchy Smith, an adventure series featuring the titular maverick pilot Scorchy. Christman replaced Sickles.

While still creating Scorchy, in 1938 Christman created an adventure hero of his own for DC Comics: The Sandman, a figure garbed in a gas mask who would put his enemies to sleep by use of a gas gun. It proved to be a popular enough feature during the war and the character would become a permanent part of the developing DC Universe through his membership in the Justice Society of America, but Christman would never know Sandman was his artistic legacy; in 1938 he left Scorchy Smith & Sandman behind and joined the US Navy's American Volunteer Group. Like Scorchy, he became a pilot, serving in the group known as "The Flying Tigers."

On January 23, 1942, Christman's squadron went into battle over Rangoon, Burma against a much-larger attack group of Japanese fighter planes. During the combat, Christman's plane was hit in its engine. It wasn't the first time Christman had lost a plane to combat and been forced to bail out. Once again, Christman bailed out and opened his parachute, but a Japanese pilot strafed him mid-air; one of the bullets went through his neck and killed him before he reached the ground.

Here's to you, Mr. Christman.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Do Not Panic! Steve Ditko is 90!

This week Steve Ditko celebrated his 90th birthday! Ditko is one of the few living comic book creators who can unequivocally be termed "living legend." Although best-known for being the creator of Doctor Strange and co-creator of Spider-Man, Ditko's unique artistic styles have keep him a perpetually devoted (albeit shrinking) fanbase. He still publishes comic books to this day, as I have occasionally pointed out on this blog. Ditko's unique perspectives, his way of depicting alien realms, his lightness of touch matched with grotesqueries and, of course, those expressive fingers he draws have made their mark upon my mind. If Jack Kirby was not the greatest comic book artist of all-time, then surely Steve Ditko is.

One of my early favourites is the story "Do Not Panic!" which first appeared in Strange Tales #95 (1962), although I first encountered it as a reprint in Curse of the Weird #1 (1994). Stan Lee was scripter and signed his name, as he often did on Ditko tales.

From a worm's eye perspective we see people panicking as an otherworldly craft descends from the skies. From there the perspective moves to people indoors listening intently to radio broadcasts of the craft's descent; people lock their doors. A squad of tanks arrive to encircle the craft at its landing sight. It's very much in the spirit of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

A lone astronaut emerges from the craft, clad from head to toe in a spacesuit. The wary soldiers demand he drop his gun belt; the astronaut politely complies. Offering friendship, the astronaut removes his helmet to reveal he is a normal-looking human man. The soldiers are Martians and the setting has, from the start, been upon Mars rather than Earth.

"Do Not Panic!" is only four pages and it's the right length. The story has a very simple premise and the tale gets in and out right on cue. Ditko was very careful to avoid depicting the Martians' faces until the last panel, but he did so in ways which would not tip the readers off to the twist - the lack of faces simply adds to the sense of paranoia gripping the populace. This tale is representative of many of those which Ditko produced for Atlas (nearly all of them scripted by Lee). These tales were almost all based around a very simple twist ending, but sometimes that twist could be unclear or require too much explanation at the climax. Here, the twist is told entirely through visuals, not text and that makes this a particularly special thing in comic books, a medium where all-too-often emphasis is placed on text instead of image.

Do enjoy your ninetieth year, Mr. Ditko.